- February 2008
Chase loosened the belt around his neck. He drew in a long, deep breath, feeling the welcome rush of oxygen traverse through his hungry veins. Opening his eyes, his gaze settled on the red jocks and black track pants that lay in obsolete resignation around his ankles. The superfluous items had found themselves there far too often these past months. He surveyed them with mild contempt. Surging forward he jerked them upright over his wary frame. Bare-chested, he fell back into the confines of the grey couch, and let his arms drop like slabs of dead meat by his sides. His attention drifted to the television in front of him. The only light in the room emanated from Estelle’s perky white buttocks, as she mercilessly rode Christoff within an inch of his life in the sequel to her debut ‘Estelle’s Basement.’ Chase stared at her with cold indifference.
He abruptly got up and padded into the bathroom. In the stark whiteness he hunched over the sink and slapped cold water over his face. He ran his hand over his stubble and down his neck. Feeling the familiar sting of raw skin, he snatched his hand away and held both sides of the sink, staring vacantly into the drain. Slowly he lifted his head and faced himself in the mirror. A horrendous wave of sickening recognition coursed through him at the sight of the stranger before him. Usually he looked away. But tonight felt different somehow. Tonight he made the mistake of daring to hold his own gaze. Anyone else would have seen a ruggedly attractive man, with deep brown eyes, unruly, short dark hair and a tight, intricately chiselled jaw. But that was not what Chase saw at all. He let his image filter into his consciousness. It was a startling truth that blinked back at him in the luminescence; he was a hollow shell of a man.
The acknowledgement of his hatred for himself burned within him, and settled uncomfortably in the pit of his stomach. Nausea rushed through him. His dark thoughts – the ones he kept locked away – darted to the forefront of his mind, desperately seeking an exit. Her hands … her eyes. He needed the images to stop. He needed it all to stop. Nothing was working. Nothing worked anymore. It was hopeless.
The hopelessness formed a tsunami of vulgarity in Chase’s heart. It grew in hideous complexity, until he felt like he was being crushed by the weight of his own fallibility.
He stumbled blindly toward his bedroom and snatched the bottle of Valium from his top drawer. Thumping up the hallway he fumbled with the lid of the bottle as he swore profusely, then he downed the remaining pills in one foul sweep. He nonchalantly tossed the bottle to the floor.
Finding himself in the lounge, he tore off his clothes and stood naked in front of the television. Redirecting his attention to the finale of Estelle’s raunchy endeavours, he reached for the belt that lay haphazardly on the couch and carefully wrapped it around his neck. He sat down and pulled hard as his right hand drifted down.
Hope looked at the clock. 11:31pm. He should have been home half an hour ago she thought angrily. Dressed in her red and black pyjamas, she let her eyes settle once more on the ridiculous drama unfolding on whatever television programme she was subjecting herself to. Her mind raced through various unsavoury situations which her boyfriend could currently be engaged in. She tucked her knees closer to her chin and snuggled uncomfortably on the black couch.
It was the same fucking thing every Friday and Saturday night! Furrowing her brow, she shuffled her body around in a vain attempt to settle herself. With ravenous thoughts pillaging her mind she was unable to sit still. She abruptly got up and went into the kitchen. She surveyed the dishes. Filling the sink with foaming hot water, she began ferociously attacking the dishes, who had never received such a vigorous bath since their purchase.
When all the dishes were neatly stacked Hope stood by the sink, motionless. She closed here eyes and felt her shoulders slump in cowardly surrender to the unhappiness within her. She delicately put her hand into the bubbles and withdrew the plug. She watched the water drain away and saw her life disappearing with it. Vacantly she stared into the drain. There has to be more than this. The thought rudely presented itself at the forefront of her mind. Agitated, Hope dismissed it and strode into the bedroom.
Curled up in bed she listened to the rain playing softly on the roof. She had an urge to run outside naked and roll in it, screaming. The unexpected urge frightened her. Her body curled itself into a tighter ball. Turning her head she looked around the room at the stark, neat, bland, highly ordinary furniture. She hated it. All of it. Was this even her room? No. It was a room designed to house false dreams and empty illusions. Unable to control her thoughts, Hope felt a surge of anxiety strike at her core. It threatened to evade her sensibilities and unravel her mind. Stubborn as she was, she would not allow it to overwhelm her.
Battling with the unwelcome presence of her anxiety, Hope was distracted by the sound of the front door screeching open. Her consciousness immediately redirected itself to her present predicament – her boyfriend was finally home. Three hours late she noted with pointless irritation as she stole a glance at the bedside clock. Stripped of the energy necessary for a conversation, which would inevitably lead to a full scale argument, Hope pretended to be asleep as the bedroom door slid open. Facing away from the door, Hope uttered a silent prayer that Dean would just leave her alone and crawl into bed. She felt her heart sink dismally as she heard the sound of his closet opening as he ruffled around in the dark for fresh clothes. This meant he intended to go out. She couldn’t deal with this right now, she just couldn’t. Having selected the appropriate items for his midnight jaunt, Dean lay them out on the foot of the bed and sat down.
‘Are you awake?’ he asked.
‘Yes’ Hope replied with indifference, still rolled up in a ball facing the window.
As he took off his shoes he explained, ‘I’m going to meet Gaz and Phil. We got reamed at work tonight, it just didn’t stop! We were just about to pack up and three more orders came in.’
By now he was stripping his chef’s uniform and donning one of his hideously expensive evening shirts. Hope’s lips tightened as a hot source of fresh anger gripped her insides.
Frozen with icy emotion she calmly said, ‘If you’re tired then maybe you should stay home and just get a good night’s rest for once.’ She knew it was a pointless statement.
Grabbing his necessities from the chest of drawers Dean chuckled. ‘Yeah, but I don’t think I could sleep now anyway. Work has me wired. I need to go out for a bit and chill.’ Hope shuddered at the word chill.
Checking his pockets to make sure he had everything he needed, Dean took one last look in the mirror, adjusted his hair, then threw himself down on the bed and hugged Hope. He kissed her on the cheek.
‘I won’t be long’, he happily chirped as he energetically got up, grabbed his keys, and left.
As Hope heard the familiar sound of his car revving awake in the middle of the night she felt the nasty stab of fresh tears arriving to greet the lonely night.
The light from the reading torch on Tanner’s forehead illuminated the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Leaning against his overstuffed triangular pillow, Tanner’s mind eagerly soaked in the philosophical musings upon the pages, as Lamb’s, ‘What is that Sound’, echoed from his old fashioned stereo softly … I thought that heart was long since dead … His bespectacled eyes flashed vivid blue brilliance as they roamed the corridors of history. His square face was alight with deep fascination. His scruffy brown hair absorbed the sweat beading on his forehead and neck from the balmy night. His long fingers caressed the pages boldly as he turned them.
Tanner was not like other boys of eighteen. Lit up by candlelight his room was a shrine to ancient history. Pictures, posters and sketches of emperors, ruins, art and battles lined his walls haphazardly. Notes on post-its, napkins and torn bits of paper that bore Latin and Greek sprawl, were stuck on his desk, wardrobe and cupboards. His numerous book shelves sported tomes of ages past, mingled with literary classics and philosophy volumes. A proudly ominous bust of Julius Caesar assumed prime position on his untidy desk – littered as it was with books, articles, sketch pads and pencils. But there was something even more unusual about the room – a striking and altogether strange omission of any kind of technology. Electronic gadgets, such as computers, LCD televisions, ipods, tiny mobile phones, and their various relations, were entirely absent. The sole exception was the mini nineties style ghetto-blaster that sat inconspicuously on the bedside table. This lack of technology was something that most people considered nothing short of baffling upon entering the private habitat of a young man in this day and age. Tanner, however, believed that Marx’s premise that religion was the opiate of the people, had in the 21st century, become technology is the opiate of the people. He despised it for what it was doing to the world.
As Tanner began to reach the end of his book his eyes darted across the pages. Feeling the end in sight he slowly drew his hands up in exultation, before slamming the completed book shut with a victorious exclamation, ‘Magnificent!’
He dropped his broad, slender shoulders and sat forward cross-legged on his bed … the sound of two hearts beating side by side … After sitting in meditative stillness for a while, Tanner suddenly leapt up excitedly and approached the fish tank that stood on the shelf opposite his bed. Wearing a white singlet and his favourite jeans – the only pants he ever wore – he tapped gently on the glass of the tank. It should be noted that the said pants were no ordinary jeans, for years ago Tanner had begun writing the names of various historical figures in black marker on them, so that now they could virtually be considered a textual monument in themselves.
Tanner considered his many fish. There were six in the tank, and all but one swam serenely near the top, seemingly happy in their captivity. One lone fish bobbed at the bottom near the treasure chest, swishing its tiny fins. Tanner leant down and pressed his face nearer the glass to examine him. Adjusting his glasses he announced, ‘It is decided – you shall henceforth be known as Marcus!’
With that he stood upright and turned back to the bed before becoming momentarily distracted. He leaned over the fish tank and reached up to adjust the positioning of a miniature military figurine that had audaciously removed himself from the perfect infantry formation of his comrades. Making the necessary alterations, Tanner grabbed a sketch pad off his desk and threw himself on the bed. Moving the light slightly on his forehead he nestled once more into his fat pillow as his eyes narrowed their focus to the blank page before him.