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Wired Sky

By: Sergio Burns

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- Speech Mark
A European replacement for quotation marks.


Sometimes I can't take it in. Perhaps, I think to myself, this whole deal is the brainchild of some great and mystical comedian. Someone with a warped and cosmic sense of humour, and then again it could be more complex than that. So maybe what happened, happened to me as the result of a chain of events dictated by my own decisions colliding with the decisions of every other space tripper on the planet, the whole gigantic matrix of actions and interactions somehow interconnected and all coming to a distinct point at a certain time in my existence. Is that how it happens.

Graduation parties suck…

I am standing by a flaking plaster pillar in a tacky little pub called The Prince Philip in Woolwich New Road. It is 1988 and there are, perhaps, eight of us trying out the lingua franca of the locals in this noisy smoke filled arena. Rick Astley is belting out Never Gonna Give You Up on the juke box, and a surly looking Marko Lennon is offering his self-opinionated views on pop to the world.
- Astley's a fanny!
The big red-headed loud-mouthed Geology graduate is shrieking above the hubbub in the packed pub.
- Oh, I don't know I think it's kind of catchy actually.
I reply shrugging.
- Talentless dick!
- Yeah, yeah, but you have to understand Marko my man, it's a whole production thing you know.
- What the fuck??
- Stock, Aitken and Waterman man! Ecco di che si tratta!
I explain as he snarls and stares blankly at the air above my head.
- Huh..ugh?
He grunts, I grin and turn away.

The first person I catch sight of is Tom Fleming, one of my flatmates, puking green frogs all over a horrified girl in a red sweater. I, of course, head off in the opposite direction, pushing through the heavy throng of bodies gathered around the bar, waving five pound notes and chanting the names of brands of alcohol like a mantra.

Anonymous people, crowded together in little groups of loud and desperate conversation, their faces bright and shiny and glowing, holding their drinks aloft as I make my way between them to reach my other flatmate Dean McKenzie, a big lad with a super quiff, who claims to be a cross between Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals and Morrisey of The Smiths.

I ask him if he wants a drink, as he adjusts his impressive overhang of razor sharp hair.
- Does Sadie G like sex Col?
He grins.
- Good point.
I concede and order him another bottle of Schlitz.

Someday, I think to myself, someone will write an amazing history of all this. Grotty pubs, rabid uncertainty, unbridled hedonism, student angst, bars full of people pumped up by the primitive and beautiful boom boom rhythms of dance music and the distorting effects of alcohol and other substances - pass the 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine - all of it inextricably linked to absolutely smashing confusion and chaos.

I am tempted to laugh out loud, but by this time the horrendously beautiful Felicity Marsh has joined me at the bar and proceeds to tell me about an old guy with fleece hair who has, apparently, lost his false teeth in the toilet pan. He'd been sick and had flushed the toilet before he realised! His gnashers, I had told Felicity, will be floating around in the Thames by now!

We laugh together, then she smiles at me, a great wide ocean of brilliant white teeth. Taking my hand to steady herself, she steps up onto her tip-toes to whisper in my ear that she thinks I am "cute". After which she runs her fingers through my hair, and tells me with her eyes that, at last, she wants me to shag her.

This is no mean feat. Six months work in fact. Six months of raging hormones, of carefully calculated control, of "being there" when she broke up with Dezzi. I was that shoulder that she cried on, and I would have taken things further earlier, but you have to be clever in such situations. So I've been patient, cool, even pretending to fancy someone else. Plotting the circumnavigation of rivals with nonchalance and aplomb.

I hinted, for example, that Dean McKenzie - who I knew fancied her like mad - was a raving homosexual, and I was as sure as I could have been that she was fooled into believing he was gay. I even intimated that I had seen Dezzi with another woman. "Oh shit Felicity! I thought you knew!" I had exclaimed with feigned surprise. Tears had welled up in her eyes, she had bit her lip and muttered something like: "He can go and fucking screw himself for all I care!" My sentiments as well, I think to myself, though I tell her she musn't be unkind to Dezzi, he's probably upset too. She thinks I am so sweet, and I think that's a step closer to getting her in the sack. Rubbing my hands with glee, and with a twinkle in my eye, I could imagine us entwined in magnificent sexual intercourse.

And now, in The Prince Philip, with its garish decor and its lobster faced, balloon-nosed, fish-eyed, huge-gut men, and decadent, heavily made-up women, I have her in front of me. She is malleable; I feel, I have her within my grasp, her fingers stroking my hair, her soft lips brushing my ear.

I must have gone over that night a million times in my mind. Picked over the rotting, decomposing corpse of those fleeting moments in intricate detail. Anxiously held onto the image of her face, the smile, her subtle touch. I sigh and count the tiles on the ceiling. Square white tiles, marbled with grey, and I have these hideous, unforgiving thoughts that somehow and instantaneously melt0 so easily into regret.

We walked home. Dean, Felicity and me singing Rick Astley's "My Arms Keep Missing You", and "Together Forever", Felicity and me on either side of the inebriated Dean (who suspiciously knew all the words to these Rick Astley hits). At length McKenzie staggered off back to his flat, while I stood on the corner talking with Felcity Marsh.

We discussed the stars - little sparklers in the eerie blackness she called them - the universe, Vlad Tepes, New Order, Ian McCulloch, Johnny Marr, Radiohead, Sergeant Pepper, The Celebrated Mr K, Special K, K, Kafka, Camus, God and White Hart Lane. We talked about everything, and while she waxed lyrical about her month in Canada the previous summer, I worked hard to fake interest, as my mind tumbled with delicious furtive thoughts of engaging in rampant copulation with the big-breasted Ms Marsh.

She lit up a John Players Number 7 cigarette, which I found somewhat incongruous for an accountancy graduate, and she said "fuck" and "fucking" on several occasions.
- I knew he wanted to fuck me!
She said, matter of fact about some "dark haired hunk" (her description) of Polish-Italian extraction. Axel Costacuria or some such weird appellation.
- Fuckin' noive of dat Gothamite!
She exclaimed pouting, twisting her mouth into a strangely absurd shape to deal with her fake North Americanesque intonations.

Felicity then went on to tell me of her plans, her magical dreams of working for a "Blue Chip" Corp, her naked craving for the unfettered success, and her yearning for all that state-of-the-art materialism, so desirous of those jumped up neophytes of the new dehumanisation and hollowness.

All of which, you will seriously understand, challenged my council estate upbringing and sensibilities. Nevertheless I wanted to get this woman into bed, so I played along, continued to pretend I was interested in the Mars Barrio pretentiousness spewing from her gorgeous mouth, nodded in all the correct gaps in her conversation.

- Me?
I frowned
- I take the minimalist approach Felice.
I said, admitting to a long felt need to backpack around Europe by rail.
- Oh Colvin!
She tilted her lovely head to the side so that night shadows cast by the streetlamp played upon her delicately angled face.
- That is just so…!
She started up again, looking skyward for the right words.
- What?
I ventured.
- Romantic? Sexy?
- No!
She shook her head vigorously.
- So dumb arse boring, actually.
She waved her cigarette in the air, a trail of red and yellow sparks tracing their way in an arc around her moving hand. Felicity, was so "dumb arse" pseudo-Canadian. A pain in the existence.

- You know Colvin…
Ms Marsh began in superior tones.
- You really have got to get some common sense into that airy fairy head of yours.
She sneered and giggled.
- Anyone ever told you what a fucking boring spangle you really are Flice.
I retorted in Jamie Oliver London "barra boy" mockney. My mouth moving way ahead of what was happening in my trousers.
- You are a sad bitch! You fucking wanker!
I said dismissively and disdainfully of the startled Felicity Marsh.

I suppose, and who knows, it was then I really saw her for what she was. An egocentric stick insect with huge beautiful eyes and perfectly formed cheekbones. Perhaps it was all locked into whatever fate had planned for me - in a reified sort of way - something inevitable and unavoidable, but it sure made me feel suddenly weird and strong. Like there was a huge beach in space on which I had just left my footprint. One small step for man… Though, and simultaneously, I felt like screaming. "Aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrgggghhh!"

- Wanker?
She frowned and made a face, and I had to admit, the connotation didn't really sound feminine.
- Erm..okay…let me see…got it! Cocksucker!
I corrected and Felicity glared at me.
- Have you been talking to Dean?
She screwed up her face and straightened, arms akimbo.
- Why? What about?
I shrugged, smiling, relaxing a bit, thinking she is trying to change the subject, she loves me, she doesn't want to argue with me, she wants to get me into bed!
- Sex, you stupid prick! Did he tell you about us?
She snarled.
- Us?
I spread my arms in a plea of innocence. There is an "us?"
- What?
I laugh nervously, unable to disguise my anxiety.
- You…and Dean?
My voice tails off, a sudden and terrific realisation drifts over me in a wave of anguish and terrible foreboding.
- He told you didn't he? He told you I gave him a blow job, didn't he Col?
Felicity cursed and spat live bazookas into the blue-black night. I couldn't reply, my saliva turned to dust, my whole being turned to stone, crumbled, disintegrated and was blown away on images of Felicity on her knees in front of Dean.

- McKenzie! You mother!
She said in a low voice and shook her fist at the night.
- He always was a damn coward!
She concluded turning away from me, sighing, but I couldn't bring myself to reply to her.

I try not to cry, and from where I am that's difficult. But, I am determined not to weep, that would be too easy. Determined to work it all out. To work out how this could happen to me. What has gone wrong? Perhaps, I sometimes think, it has something to do with the planet's wiring, the world's electronic circuitry. Somehow a loop has developed in the great void that is my existence, so that my universe is, inexplicably, in a state of suspended perpetuity. Like perpetually orbiting an unknown planet and yet I realise, and it puzzles me, that for Dean McKenzie, Marko Lennon, Tom Fleming, Wally, Mandy/Doris…and Felicity Marsh, nothing has changed…

I walked off into that night. Let it embrace me. Never looked back, just headed aimlessly east toward another part of the city. I didn't know where I was going and I didn't care. As I walked I could hear Felicity calling after me: "He didn't mean anything to me! Col! Col, come back!" but her voice quickly faded. I concentrated on the distant horizon, scanning the skyline for telltale signs of a mushroom cloud. Something that would signify the complete collapse of the history of us, the world and my pain. And, how fickle we are with our lives.

I was disappointed to find everything remained the same, no explosions to be seen anywhere, but then, I thought, maybe we're all just dead anyway. Like in that crazy film, what was it Night of the Zombie Roast Beef Eaters, Zombie Flesh Diet, Zombie Vegans or something. Maybe we're all just shells which, conversely, give authenticity to parallel lives. The vast majority of punters playing out this strange obsessive, intergalactic game, where we have nothing much to look forward to but a precarious journey across the economic tightrope of existence.

In the few short hours it had taken us to celebrate - (how does it feel to be) on top of the world? - my whole starless universe had simply turned to powder, and I had dropped a million light years into a huge gaseous ocean of despair.

And tomorrow…tomorrow, I decided, I would put my dream of backpacking around Europe into action.

In a strange pub in a strange part of the city, I settled down on a wobbly bar stool to drink in the company of the latter-day saints of the common Armageddon. Morose souls propped up at the bar in Wes Craven style Zombie postures, cigarette smoke rising in circles to form a huge blue cloud that hung in the stale air above their heads. Dreamers with their fading dreams of betrayal and deceit, of double-cross and doomed existence. The star-crossed stars of anonymity, desperately trying to give some meaning to their lives. Surfing the darkness of their own obscurity.

- Gimme a malt!
I instruct the barman. A tall man with slick gelled hair, a stuck on moustache and slightly camp demeanour.
- A double!
I call out as an afterthought, as images of Felicity invade my mind, my heart sinks and I stare at the bar and sigh.

The man standing immediately to my left studies me, and I can feel his eyes on me. He is a big fellow, Sailor-Jim type, with copious tattoos and the tales of his life written into his face in deep, unforgiving folds. He looks away and when I glance round at him, he looks back toward me and nods.

- For someone so young, you look as if you have the woes of the world on your shoulders.
The voice belongs to a woman standing by my elbow.
- Yeah.
I agree looking round. She narrows her eyes, smiles and gazes peculiarly at me.
The woman is not old, but heavily made up, her mask against the weariness that this life has bestowed upon her.

- Tricked? me.
She enquires cryptically as the barman returns with my whisky. me.
- Betrayed… me.
I tell her quietly, tilt my head back and drain my glass. I glance sideways as the woman pushes her dark, bobbed hair back off her forehead and moves closer to me. She is several years older than I am, and has, I have to admit, a certain rough-edged attractiveness, a certain disturbing prettiness, which suggests something slightly adventurous, something slightly dangerous.

I call for the barman to bring me another drink, and invite her to join me. She smiles at me, strokes my hair with her hand and rubs her left stockinged leg against mine. The woman asks for a gin and tonic, and I nod the order to the limp-wristed barman.

I down the second whisky and look into the woman's eyes, swirling, big and hazel, her nose long and straight and cute, her teeth slightly protruding, but glittering white, her lips slightly overdone in cherry red.

I find myself in the cool night air, the world around me swaying, the woman laughing and hanging onto my arm, steadying me, guiding me. It is difficult to focus properly, and I am unable to recognise where we are. Then I realise we are walking through a council estate - not unlike the one I grew up in - forlorn, grey, glass, roughcast boxes, blocks of concrete reaching skyward like huge headstones in a graveyard.

I am mumbling as we walk. My words enter the world as slurred ramblings, cursing Felicity Marsh. The woman - who tells me her name is Mandy - is laughing, all teeth and nostrils and cheap dark clothing. I think I am sick in the doorway of a newsagents, Mandy hovering by the street corner puffing desperately on a cigarette.

As we reach the house she takes the keys to the front door from her purse, opens the door and leads me through to the living room, illuminating the house as she goes. The room is untidy and messy. Tabloid newspapers have been left where they have been dropped on the floor, cups are half-full of cold coffee, and greasy dinner plates are perched, ignored, on the arms of the sofa. In the harsh unforgiving rays of cheap artificial light, she looks much older than I had at first thought. At least a decade and maybe more than my twenty-three years and bigger and chunkier than I had originally imagined.

Almost immediately Mandy is tugging eagerly at my trouser belt, groping at my fly, unzipping me like a banana, as I struggle (with some imposed expectancy) to unbutton her see-through black lace blouse. Then we are moving upstairs to the bedroom, snogging, staggering, pulling at each other's under garments.

As we kiss, and her kiss is wet and slobbery, I can smell the stale odour of cigarettes and alcohol from her breath, the sterile blandness of her decaying perfume and the sweet and sour sweat from her body. We kiss, long and hard and throaty, and desperate.

I remember now, the sound of the front door being opened and then slammed closed. A voice calling out to someone called "Doris!" followed by footsteps ascending the stairs toward us. She mutters the single word "nightshift" and leaves it hanging in the timescape of my very being. I am swaying in the middle of the bedroom, bemused by the intrusion, while she, semi-naked and horrified is trying to clamber back into her clothes, repeating "Jesus Christ" like a mantra.

Who the…? My mind is a muddle. Someone warned by Sailor-Jim, perhaps, her husband, who else could it be? Her estranged husband, her boyfriend, her fiance, the gasman, the undertaker, the band Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, Rick Astley…

The door to the bedroom swings open - almost in slow motion - and a man, big, dark and with an ugly scowl on his face lumbers toward me yelling obscenities. He grabs me by the neck with his huge, shovel like hands, and we wrestle in the centre of the room. As we struggle I manage to break free and retreat backward away from him. He is calling out, Mandy/Doris is shrieking and the next door neighbours are banging repeatedly on the walls.

At length the man - she calls him "Wally" - lunges toward me again. I am disorientated, caught off balance, swaying, the world spinning madly, then the glass is giving way and I am falling backward through the window.

The sky is tumbling, the stars - little sparklers in the eerie blackness - look wretched tonight. Purple, yellow, green, blue and crimson streaked wires of light fill the dark brooding Heavens above me. My dreams fragment into a million splinters, shards of wired sky, dripping scarlet blood, which clings to the side of the building from which I am dropping, and, I think, in that instant that Felicity Marsh still has my copy of New Order's Technique. The CD she borrowed from me six months ago. The last thing I remember is a terribly dull and sickening cracking sound as I hit the concrete. Then an impossibly bitter coldness and intense darkness…

I can't move anymore. Nothing, and I mean nothing, from the neck down works. Perhaps, as I have often thought, the whole wicked thing was inevitable. It would be so easy to believe that, but it has to be more complex…hasn't it?

It's morning, nurse Barbara has arrived. She pulls open my curtains and switches on my radio. Almost immediately The Boo Radleys are singing : "Wake up it's a beautiful morning!", and it is. I smile at the nurse, nowadays it is nearly the only voluntary movement I can make. Nurse Barbara cranks up my bed so I can see out of my window at the sky, clear and blue and free. All I can do now is try to understand it all, and wait for a miracle. It's only then I realise I am…

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