Posts tagged cracking
Posts tagged cracking
The summer is coming. You can tell by the subtle changes in the air, the way that things seem greener and fresher and imbued with a sweet scent that sends a very particular feeling running down to your toes. The feeling you get when you go on holiday, and you’re walking through the town when the sun rises and there’s nobody else on the streets. The feeling that swells and fills your chest and makes you grin, and you can’t explain what you’re grinning about.
What you still lived at home, you often thought of travelling. There was so much more of the world than this tiny island could offer. And now you’re on the road, and you can’t decide whether you were right or not.
Home. It seems so far away and so far forgotten. And it must be said, forgetting is easier for you. But every so often something reminds you of what you left behind, of who you left behind, and you get to wondering. Is that someone waiting for me? Do they remember who I am, what I look like? Or has their memory of me started to wane, like mine?
You shake your head to clear the memories. At least, you think they are memories. Summer is coming, you tell yourself, and allow yourself to smile.
You’ve noticed the way you’ve been changing whilst being on the road. You’re thinner than before, you can feel muscles corded beneath the jeans you seem to wear every day, your arms are stronger. Your hair is longer. Someone said you looked roguish the other day, and you laughed loud enough to offend them. That’s another thing – you have a tougher skin now. You noticed it not too long ago, things don’t seem to offend you any more. And you’re sure your accent has changed. Little wonder if it has, there’s that many people travelling with you from all over the place you were bound to pick up something.
“Just be grateful it’s an accent and nothing else,” Wolfe had said, laughing.
Wolfe. You wonder where she’s gotten to now. Probably on the phone, organising another show – now that the weather’s thawing out, there’s more customers and Wolfe is busier than ever. Over the phone, people have a respect for her, but you’ve noticed the difference that comes with a meeting in person.
It’s little wonder. People expect her to be older, to look more like an office worker, to be more behind-the-scenes, to be more professional in the outward sense. You know that Wolfe is probably far more professional than anyone else in that kind of job, but inwardly. Her looks are a different matter. You went with her to the last one. She asked for you to be there, asked in her usual I-don’t-care voice that made you smile and agree, and you both dressed smart for the occasion. As smart as shirt and jeans can be, but they were clean, at least. You were intrigued about the running of the show and were looking forward to it. But that look in the woman’s eyes, the woman you were going to meet, the steely-eyed landowner with red painted lips. That look said it all.
You know that it’s her tattoos that make people disapprove straightaway. Even beneath the white blouse you could see them, and it stands to reason that the landowner could too. Black ink covering most of her arms and hands, and you knew they covered her entire body. Not that you’d seen, of course. She’d told you. It was a merit to Wolfe’s business manner – witty and straight talking –that they managed to get the site to set up the show. That and the way she managed to always paint a picture in mid-air, a fantastic shimmering mirage that hung in nothingness and then melted away. An image of the show in its full glory.
“Penny for them?”
Her voice jolts you out of your daydream. Quiet as a cat, as the cliché goes, the sleeves of her shirt rolled up to show lines of some ancient language inked on her skin. She takes a drag of her cigarette.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
You shrug. I was thinking of you. “Nothing. Just… thinking. You know.”
She rolls her eyes and gestures over her shoulder. “All hands on deck for unloading, Dolly Daydream. We need everything up and running before sundown. Home sweet home.”
You turn and follow her, watching the contours in her back as she walks in front of you, the way the afternoon sun adds a raven gleam to her hair. The feeling descends on you again, that summer feeling. But you know exactly why this time.
I often wonder whether you’re alright. If you still long for home. You’ve learned to hide your feelings quickly – either that, or you’ve mislaid them altogether. I seem to spend more and more time with you, talking about things that I haven’t said to anyone before. You have that inviting feel to you. I wonder if you feel the same around me, if we are really friends or if you’re with me simply because I’m the first one you met in this strange and wonderful place. And then I realise I don’t care – it’s enough for us to be in each other’s easy company, and if it feels right… Well, that’s what I’ve always gone on. I feel right around you.
And now, lying on top of the truck staring into the never-ending night, we seem to fit with each other. I can feel the rise and fall of your chest, the warmth of your body lay next to mine. I’m not a rational person, not in my actions and impulses, I jump before I can see the ground and so I move my hand until it’s touching yours and when you don’t move away, I feel a small thrill in the pit of my stomach. It’s been too long. I doused anything more than friendly affection when I ran away from home, hardened myself so the homesickness wouldn’t overtake me. But you seem to override that. I feel… I don’t know what I feel, what I don’t feel. You confuse me, and I’m glad. Things have been straightforward for long enough. You disrupt my routine, I fall behind in my work because we spend so much time together just being, and it’s what I need. What I have needed for a long time.
Even when you take my hand, we keep looking skywards. Your fingers lace through mine and I smile, knowing that you’re smiling too. I gave up wishing on the first star a long time ago. Maybe I’ll start again.
It’s amazing how well you can see the stars around here. We lie on our backs on top of the truck, watching as lazy clouds drift across the constellations, the mint imperial moon giving them an unearthly glow, and you think does it get better than this? Well, does it? Not at the moment, and that’s all we live in. There’s no point in thinking about tomorrow because we don’t know what it will hold, no point in thinking of yesterday because that’s gone and there’s no room in our suitcases for those memories. We start fresh every day. It’s simpler that way.
We passed a fair last night as we drove to the small patch of countryside that was our destination. The ferris wheel was turning slowly and we could hear the shouts of people on rickety roller coasters. But it was all a blur as we drove on. Like as not there were some of the fairground people there, almost kindred spirits with us, but we don’t stop. It gets tiring, sometimes, when the light is dying and you’re spending every day with the same people, learning their flairs and their faults. Something is changing all the time, but we can’t tell whether it’s us or the people around us, or whether the two are the same. We fall into patterns, a sort of slow and beautiful dance. Dancing the same steps all the while, falling into pace with each other and creating our own rhythms to sway to.
It’s getting darker earlier. The nights are drawing in, the cold is creeping in through the closed windows and the leaves are curling at the edges. You only notice when the sun goes down. The way breath clouds in the air, the streetlights seem brighter but you know it’s only because the nights are darker. The engines take a little longer to turn over and the fires lit don’t quite reach the chill that settles in the bone’s marrow. Even the stones are cold.
The autumn is here, and soon the winter. The time we fear, when the ground is too hard to drive the tent pegs in and you can’t get warm when you’re sleeping in the back of a truck. People are less eager to come outside, no matter how many posters we put up, no matter how colourful the canvas, no matter how much we sell our talents. The audiences drop with the temperature. It’s the time of year where we lose people as well. And it’s this point where we realise how much we had. The cliché is true. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Every time the air gets tighter people realise what they have left behind. The first winter is usually fine – we stay because we want to prove that we can do it, we want to show people that this wasn’t just another phase we were going through. So we stay around the same area, we get part time jobs stacking shelves or cleaning cars and we carry on with the shows. Sometimes we’re lucky and we find somewhere to stay, a relative who doesn’t mind a few guests or, once or twice, a wealthy audience member who takes pity on us. We’re not proud enough to refuse charity. But sometimes luck is not our lady, and we stay in the back of the trucks. We huddle together and try to keep some of the warmth in but the will to stay escapes. And then spring comes round and we seem to forget how difficult it is. It’s the second winter that people leave. You can tell, then, who has somewhere to go. There’s a few of us who have seen out many winters here simply because there’s nowhere else for us to whether the weather.
We miss those who leave us. You live in these conditions for long enough and you become a family, despite many people’s best efforts to keep to themselves. So when the winter does come around, and when our numbers do deflate, we lose a little bit of ourselves every time. Sure, we build ourselves up again and grow another layer of tougher skin, but we carry the ghosts of everyone with us wherever we travel to. It’s like we’re told when we get here – the things that seem valuable at the start get replaced with broken watches and old photos and the friends that we lose to the real world.
The moon is orange tonight, the glow of the sun reflecting off the pockmarked surface and bleeding into the sky around it, a watercolour painting that hasn’t had time to dry. We sit on the roof of the main truck and breathe smoke into the cool night, making unnecessary small talk when we know we could just sit in silence. Content with just being in easy company. Three people left us today, apparently eager to beat the frost on the ground. We’re avoiding the subject. Flickering lights of planes trace patterns over head, we must be close to an airport if they’re flying this low. We don’t mention it, but we’re thinking the same thing. Each wondering whether the other will be here when the winter truly arrives, whether the temporary home we have forged will hold against the temptation of a warm bed and brick walls. And who could say for certain? The one thing we all learn passing through here, nothing is predictable when you depend on the road and the crowds under the canvas. When you put your foot on the accelerator and just pick a direction in the hope that there’ll be something at the end of the journey… You can’t second guess yourself. We carry on how we always have, simultaneously dreading and longing for that pull in the stomach that means it’s time to move on.
It’s like a dream, isn’t it? I had the same reaction when I first got here. Everyone calls me Wolfey, and you are..? Excellent. Nice handshake, by the way. You can judge someone by their handshake, you know. Limp fish handshakes rarely make it past the first tent. Come on in. Let’s get you a cup of tea or something, you look half frozen.
This way, mate. You can stare in a minute, I’ll take you on a tour once we get rid of your stuff. Nothing too valuable is there? Just pop your bag down there… Do you take sugar? Sweet enough already, yeah? Right, get that down you, sorry about the mug, it’s a bit chipped. They get like that after a while. What? No, don’t be daft. It’s free. Now, before we go in, I have to tell you.
Once you’re here, you can leave when you want. You are under no obligation to stay, and we’ll welcome you back. People usually stay for a couple of months and then move on, but there’s a few who have been here for years, decades even. There’s no time limit. Time seems slower here.
We move around a lot. That’s probably why you couldn’t find us sooner, we’re constantly on the move. So personal possessions have to be kept to a minimum. I can see that you’ve got one bag, that’s fine, but you’ll amass things along the way… You’ll find that the things worth keeping aren’t necessarily the most important or most valuable. Phones and iPods and books turn into broken watches and pressed flowers and an anonymous handwritten letter.
It’s very close living arrangements. It ranges from bed and breakfasts to sleeping in the trucks. There is no such thing as personal space, not unless it’s in your own head. If that’s not something you can cope with, you just have to man up and deal with it.
Folk keep themselves to themselves. Everyone has their own story, and sometimes people are willing to talk, but there are taboo words. Family. Home. Past. These things get lost here, you have to accept that. It’s a case of do-your-own-time.
You’ll change in here. Get new skills, meet new people, all the usual jazz. But you, your own self, will change. Every day, you have to be willing to lose a little more of who you once were and become something else. I can’t tell you who or what that will be. It’s not for me - or you, for that matter - to decide. It just happens. And the more you change, the more you grow into this new life that you have chosen, the more distanced you will become from the outside world. You’ll see things differently. The world as you know it now will begin to lose its flavour and there are only two solutions to that. You can absorb yourself even more into this new life, discover different ways to see things and more ways to live than you thought possible. Or you can leave. Travel. That’s what most people do after a few months, they go to other countries seeking culture and vitality.
The outside world won’t want you. You won’t have a place any more. And you won’t be able to change that.
Still interested? Excellent. No, there’s nothing to sign, no paperwork at all. Totally free environment here. Now, the show starts in a few hours. Can you do tickets? Front of house, all that? I’ll show you the ropes, don’t worry about it. But I think we should get some food first… Don’t know about you but I’m bloody starving. You can meet the rest of the crew as well.
- It’s always bastard raining when we come here. Pure fact, that is. The weather doesn’t agree with us.
Inhale/exhale. Smoke curling through the deluge.
- Do we have to wait?
- Yeah. Nobody’ll come out in this.
Cough into a fist. Shake head.
- Stupid bloody weather.
Cough. Cough again. Can’t see the eyes. Silhouette. More smoke.
- That’ll kill you, you know.
- Thanks for the warning.
- Doesn’t it worry you?
- What? The smoking?
- No. Death.
- Death’s nothing. You can’t be afraid of nothing. You can be afraid of dying, that’s fine. But death? Not at all.
- You can be afraid of nothing. What about when you can’t see your hand in front of your face, and you’re stood on a bridge and there’s no way forward and no way back. You’re surrounded by nothingness and it’s one of the most terrifying things in the world.
- But you’re afraid of what is in the nothing. You can’t be afraid of nothingness itself. You need something to set your fear against, it needs to lean on something. Fear needs support, it needs a purpose.
- What are you afraid of?
A silence. Inhale. Exhale. Tap the ash off the cigarette.
- I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid that one day someone will turn round and tell me that I’m not good enough and I have to go. That someone else can do this job better than I can. I’m afraid of having to go back to my parents and say “You were right.”
- You know that wouldn’t happen.
- Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe it would. I’m only twenty, William. There are people out there who have trained in this sort of thing. At the end of the day, I’m just a thief who knows how to network. And then there’s the show.
- The show must go on.
- Rightly so. Come on, we’ll shrink if we stay out much longer.
Door opens, door closes. Cigarette dies in a puddle of rain. Eyes watch in the shadows.
He got the nickname when he was about seven years old.
One of Tommy’s favourite things to do was stand outside the corner shop and whistle. He would pick a song and then whistle it, over and over again until the shopkeeper came out and told him to get lost. So he’d go to another shop, and do it again. He loved seeing the look on people’s faces. Some would smile and some would shake their heads. Sometimes - not very often - someone would join in. It was harmless, but something that got underneath everyone’s skin for better or worse. They would see his mother and say “your Tommy Tinwhistle’s at it again!” And his mother would sigh and give a half smile. What could she do?
She bought Tommy a kitten for Christmas. She thought that if he spent more time with the animal, then he would stop the whistling. And at first it worked - Tommy spent all his free time with his kitten, Tinker, and the two of them were quite inseparable. Tommy and Tinker. Tinker and Tommy. Tinker would follow his owner to the gate when he left for school, and still be waiting there when he returned. The playful kitten grew into a beautiful cat, a streak of white breaking his sleek coat, a coat as black as Tommy’s unruly hair. Cat and companion would sit poring over books, and occasionally they would walk together through the small streets. People that saw them claimed Tommy spoke to the cat, and his mother just dismissed it. He had never made friends that easily, so she was happy that Tinker was there. Things were hard as it was.
Tommy hadn’t whistled for years, not like he used to. His nickname had faded like writing on fogged glass. The only time he did was to call Tinker, a low whistle that the cat responded to quicker than was natural.
It was raining, and the car that hit Tinker was driving too fast. Tommy found him in the road two days after his fourteenth birthday. He buried what was left of him in the back garden, in the rain, under the apple tree. Tommy waited until it got dark, and the put on his overcoat and walked out into the rain. Someone said they saw him in the glow of a streetlight with a black cat by his feet. They were whispering to each other, this someone said.
Every so often, Tommy’s mother thinks she can hear whistling. The song “My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean” is one of the more frequent ones. It’s been three years now.
We’ve been waiting for you.
At first we weren’t so sure, but now that we’ve seen the resolve in your eyes it is certain. You are the one we have been waiting for. Not that you’re special - you are one of many, but we wait for everyone who we feel a connection with. The thing that pulls us together is that we are all oceans apart.
You offer a cigarette to a homeless man and he tells you that voices speak to him through the pavement. And you tell him you hear them as well. You wonder if he was rejected from the same place you are looking for. But he fell before we could catch him, we couldn’t break his fall. There are some who get caught in the between, shadows of their former selves unable to break away from the silhouettes of silence that envelope them day after day. He tells you to have a nice day, thanks you for the cigarette and settles back down on the pavement. For a moment you are tempted to join him there, just to stop for a while and gather yourself together. But you move on. There’s something pulling at your stomach that you cannot explain or resist.
We’re waiting for you.
It’s easy to lose count of the steps you take. The nights bleed into the days and the days into the night until the only way you can tell the difference is by how heavy your eyelids get. You’ve heard of us by now. Whispers on the breeze that only you seem to feel. And you’re looking for us now.
We saw you at the station when you got off the train, but you didn’t see us. We blend in very well. You put down your bag and stood still as the world moved around you, everyone with a direction to head in apart from you. This was the end of the line. And secretly you were hoping for some sort of epiphany, some sort of magical revelation that would give you a new purpose, a new idea of where to go. But there was nothing. Your resolve wavered and then strengthened again. And off you went.
You begin to walk. Your legs ache after a while, and you turn down random streets without looking where you are going, your internal compass trying to realign itself in this foreign land. Street names blur in your head. You start to notice things, things that were always there but stayed under the surface. The way that your muscles tighten on a slight hill. The beauty of a silhouette. The electricity that hums through the night air, so fine that you could touch it if you hold your breath long enough. You find that you prefer travelling by night. Less people, so you feel less out of place. You feel most comfortable when the stars congregate for their nightly discussions, debating worldly topics whilst the moon remains the distant, impartial judge. They don’t notice you.
We’ve noticed how your seemingly wandering footsteps are heading in our direction, beating a unique tattoo upon the pavement. We’ve seen you recognise our name when someone mentions it in a passing conversation. We’ve noticed your eyelids flickering on those rare occasions that you sleep, seen the colours and the patterns in your dreams because they were once our dreams. Are still our dreams.
You’re getting closer.
It could happen to anyone. You get home and walk to your room, and push open the door to find that it’s not yours anymore. Someone else is in there. There is no clutter. No mess. The books on the bookshelves replaced by DVDs, no desk to write imaginings on, no colours on the walls. It is someone else’s room now. And you stand and you stare, and there’s that feeling like you’ve missed the top step going upstairs, but you just keep falling. And then you start to think, is anything mine anymore? Your family treat you the same, but you can’t shake the feeling that you don’t belong. You’re a guest now. Your place at the table seems contrived, the bed that you sleep in is your brothers, not your own. And so you leave early from the two day visit, wait till everyone is out of the house and then pack your rucksack, walk out of the front door. Leave your keys deliberately on the sideboard. And you pause. Your hand lingers on the latch, knowing that if you close that door, you cannot get back in again without the help of someone else. You will be leaving for good this time. And you leave the door ajar as you do the compulsory check for your money, your phone, your passport. And with a final sigh, you pull the door closed. The sound seems to echo.
A dog barks. You walk. You jam your headphones over your ears, attempting to block out the sounds of the street you live - lived - on, wanting to lose yourself in the music. But every song speaks of home, speaks of belonging and it takes a great deal of effort not to run straight back again. You don’t. You flick through to music without lyrics, music that is just beats and synthesisers, hardly music at all, and you fall into step with your own heartbeat. Don’t look back. You feel like the street is disappearing behind you with every step that you take. You turn down the cobbled cut through to the train station.
It doesn’t matter what train you get on, as long as you get on. Pick a platform at the last minute, jump on a train and find a seat. Ask for a ticket to the end of the line, not a return journey of course. Your head is trying to convince you that this is the break you need, this is what will be the making of you. But you cannot ignore the fact that every fibre of your being is crying out for the train to stop, for the conductor to haul you off and send you back home, for your mother to be at the next station to hug you and tell you there’ll always be a place for you there, at home, but where is home now? You’ve grown up. Outgrown home.
There is no home for people like us. It’s not what we do.