1 May 2014

Leith

If I somehow send out the message to shut those eyes out there everything goes dark in here, where I live, with no image-inducing impulses zipping along the thin nerve fibres to impinge upon the cells at the back of the brain that create the illusion that models the world outside. And the absence of those nerve signals helps me to view more memories inside my mind, which means inside of me, I suppose… And now I am vividly remembering that it was late one winter night in a flat in Leith when I decided to rise from my bed to investigate the prolonged shouting that had been coming from the top floor balcony, just one flight of stairs above my own.

For about ten minutes a drunken male voice had been screaming many foul-mouthed variations on the theme of, 'let me in', while a muffled woman's voice had been reiterating, 'go away', in several foul-mouthed variations also.

Then for a while the stairwell had gone silent, until I heard a loud metallic scraping and a heavy panting slowly ascending the stairs and past my door. I looked out through the thin crack beside my letterbox flap to see an old and dishevelled man staggering slowly upwards, dragging a scaffolding pole behind him. It was a short linking section, maybe six feet long. I reckoned he was too drunk to notice me, so I opened my door as he reached the top floor and I leaned out sideways just enough to look up. I could see him as he began hammering the pole against the first door of the top floor like a battering ram, and he was screaming again.

'Let me in! Let, (bang) me, (bang) in, (bang) you fucking (bang) fucker!'

The final bang was followed by the crash of the pole falling onto the stone stairway. The woman inside began screaming. The old guy lifted up the pole again and resumed his attack on the door. I went back into my flat and headed for the phone, but someone must have beaten me to it because just as I picked up the handset I heard the police siren out on the street below.

The timing of what happened next was exquisite. With my door shut again and my face pressed to the letterbox I heard, and then saw, the two burly policemen running upwards, two steps at a time, but then pausing momentarily on my landing to gasp for breath and for one of them to wail, 'Why does it always have to be the top floor!'

And just as they tackled the first step towards the top floor I caught a glimpse of the drunk old guy, walking quite swiftly downwards. As the policemen approached him he blurted out, 'Thank Christ you're here lads, the buggers are going crazy!'

And just as the policemen rushed on past him I heard the door of the flat directly above me open and the young lad who lived up there shouted out, 'What the fuck are you...?'

But the phrase was never finished as the first policeman must have charged into him, and from the heavy thud above my head it was pretty clear he had knocked the young lad to the floor. Then the jumbled chaos of angry voices began: 'What the fuck are you doing?' 'Oh it's you again sonny is it?' 'What the fuck?' 'Stop struggling! You're under arrest.' 'Me? What the...' 'Shut up! Didn't you get enough of this last week eh?'

Then a scuffle, a few kicks, a punch. A wail. Then a bit of quiet. The jangle and click of handcuffs.

Then I heard, 'You stupid fucking Keystone Cops! I wasn't doing anything. It was the old guy. I was just coming to see what it was all about!'

'Shut up!'

Some more scuffling. The sound of another door opening, then an elderly woman's voice asking, quite calmly, 'What are you arresting him for? It was my old man Jim that was kicking in my door. Where is he? Have you let him go?'

I left my door and walked through my lounge to look out of the window, just in time to see the old guy - Jim I presumed - wandering down the path into the dark parkland across the road.

And then... One night I was sitting drinking quietly at a table and idly watching three rough young men - builders I presumed, judging from the mess they were in - surrounding a drunk young girl beside the bar. Drunk or drugged, maybe. Perhaps both. She had a very short skirt, was slumping a bit, and I was pondering the thought that she might be a prostitute.

And I heard the men laughing, quite loudly, and pointing at her and saying, 'Oh Jesus look at that!'

She turned a little towards me and I could see the reason for their laughter. She was knickerless, and with the little skirt riding up her thighs her vagina was exposed as a big puffy slit, and looking somewhat red and sore. And then one of the men put his big hairy hand on her thigh, slid it slowly upwards, and then just shoved his finger into her, right up to the knuckle. And his pals laughed out loud as the one who was inside the girl began to manipulate her a bit, the finger moving in and out as she looked at him, too drunk or doped to react properly, but sufficiently aware to say, 'Get out of me!', which he did.

And then as everyone in the pub watched, she slid from her stool and fell to the floor. The barman walked wearily round from behind the bar, picked her up by the arms, and escorted her out of the door.

It was just another night in a rough pub. Until, that is, about five minutes later, when I saw the girl wander in through the opposite door, stagger a little up to behind the big man who had been fingering her, lift up a pint glass from the bar, smash the top off of it, and thrust the jagged end into her assailant's back, around the kidney region.

That was what took the level of squalor and violence well beyond the usual, and as his blue and white striped shirt grew deep red the woman rather calmly smashed another glass, and I, and most of my fellow drinkers, headed quickly for the door.

Nobody died. Several people bled.

Then there were the two pretty and, I initially thought, rather civilized young girls who pulled up beside me in a car one afternoon and wound down the window. I stopped walking, expecting them to ask directions. But as I bent towards the car the fresh-faced blonde in the passenger seat opened her blouse and showed me two bare breasts with very pink nipples.

'It's all for sale,' she said. 'You want some?'

And her companion, the driver, giggled, put her hand between her legs, pushed up a short skirt and said, 'Me too if you want.'

Her dark pubic hair was exposed, as I just smiled, backed away, and said, 'No thanks,' almost apologetically actually, as if I was declining the bland offer of a sales assistant.

Then there came the night when there was suddenly a noise through the wall of my bedroom, from a neighbour who never normally made a sound. There was just a female voice screaming, 'Ahhhhhh My baby! My baby! Oh Jesus my baby!'

I thought someone might be attacking a child, so I sat up, ready to go to the phone, but then there was just silence. Nothing. And in the morning I happened to walk past the woman, or at least I presumed it was the woman, and although her eyes seemed a bit red she just smiled weakly, as she normally did, and offered a quiet, 'Hi'.

Then there was the evening when I was walking away from my car and a scrawny little teenager called out, 'Hey pal, is this your car?'

I called back, 'Yes, Why?', when I was about thirty yards from him, and then had to watch as he calmly stuck a long blade into each nearside tire and ran off.

And yet we are the pinnacle of evolution, apparently, or of evolution on Earth at least, and just the pinnacle of evolution so far, which may not be very far at all ultimately. But still... billions of years of atoms and molecules and ions bashing into one another, maybe, and interacting to make replicating chemicals and living cells and all manner of creatures entrapped within the endless horrors of life and death and predators and prey and driven by nothing other than the tendency of that which survives and reproduces to survive and reproduce some more, maybe...

I suppose it does make sense really, after all. We've done not too bad maybe, but we have a long way to go, perhaps.

And on a bus now, back in Leith quite long ago... the remembered moments never stop, all jumbled together with the new ones that come rushing in, and on that bus there was an old dishevelled man who was looking at a crying baby that was struggling in its mother's arms.

And some women were cooing, and smiling at the baby, as women do. But the man was muttering quietly, and I could hear him as he said, 'Poor bleedin' thing... poor bleedin' thing. I just hope you don't have to suffer like me. Poor thing.'

And the new life quietened, soothed by its mother's attention, while I looked at the man and saw a tear forming in one eye. I realised he was probably drunk, just as he shook his head suddenly in great agitation and wailed out loud, 'Oh... fucking hell! I forgot to get the potatoes! She'll kill me. No fucking potatoes! Fucking, fucking hell!'

And we jostled along in our dirty bus, along the deep canyon of the street and then taking a turn down towards the water, where seagulls wheeled in the sky and some gentle waves hit the harbour wall, and I looked at the baby, then the old man. The baby, then the old man... And I saw my past, my future, and there within me, my present, and I let out a long sad sigh. And I very vividly recall on that bus, as I looked at the baby, the old man, and me in my thirties, that I thought, 'We get a chance of everything, if we survive... A shot at everything, young, teenage, middling, ageing, old... Just one shot at it all...'

And now I am recalling the day, aged sixteen, when I stepped out into a busy street, preoccupied with some thought, and foolishly looking the wrong way for traffic, until a bulky vehicle whisked by me, brushing my clothes and missing my head by a centimetre or so. That could have been it then. So nearly was it then. But it wasn't, and so again, all of us survivors, currently, we move on, never understanding how, or why. Never understanding what is going on. And always wondering...What is out there, around billions of stars? Millions of civilizations? Looking up? Wondering for themselves what is out there? What marvels? What horrors? What dangers, dreams and opportunities? What is out there, around billions of stars experiencing billions of moments? Moments just like mine, and yours, but nothing at all like mine, or yours.

And a drop of rain smacked into the glass of a window just a few feet in front of my face right now, and it was perfectly aligned with my upturned eye and the pale disc of the sun just visible through thin cloud. The solitary raindrop then slid slowly down the pane of glass, gathering some molecules from neighbouring wetness as it went, while losing many other molecules through evaporation. I call it a raindrop, but it was a different thing, a different entity, a subtly different phenomenon every moment of its existence. A simplicity built from ever-changing complexity, and a complexity that is built and powered, I think, from deep simplicity. A muddled up mixture of mystery. Just like me.

2 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

And another muddled,(very muddled) mixture here.
Thanks.
Some bad, some sad, and some ugly here. But there is still beauty too. Which thought I hang on to.

Claude said...

Sketches with dark sides. Life has them....