Lights Out

Wilkins and the Daisy

Tom Wilkins shuffled through the park. It was a warm, blowsy late spring afternoon, headache weather, strange pressure, too bright and muffled. He passed two young Romanians listening to incomprehensible tsk-BOOM-tsk-BOOM-tsk-BOOM music on the bench and thought that you can judge someone’s intelligence from how much noise they can handle. He passed a Chinese family feeding bits of chicken to the ducks and wondered if they went home and ate Tibetans. He passed a sleek young woman talking to herself; she was either on the phone or mad, although there didn’t seem much difference. He passed a circle of twelve young people, all sitting the requisite two-metres apart from each other, all wearing face masks, all drinking milk. He saw, on the other side of the park, Amir, one of the managers he worked with, and swiftly changed direction so they wouldn’t have to stop and chat, or even acknowledge each other, which was too painful, but as he turned he found himself in front of the woman who works at Iceland who recognised him too, although they had never spoken, despite having encountered each other perhaps hundreds of times, but this was an entirely new setting, so Tom felt the need to acknowledge her, but his mind was caught between ‘oh’ and ‘hello’ and what came out was a kind of slurred ‘oh-lo,’ and the woman just looked at him as he hurried on.

Tom suddenly felt tired, humid, drained. He stopped. There were no benches, nowhere to sit, so he just stood in the middle of the field, breathing heavily, looking down at two daisies. Just looking at them.

After a few moments he bent down and picked one of the daisies, and stood up, and looked at it, and cried.

Later that day Amir Baqri was having tea with his wife.

‘I saw Tom Wilkins today,’ said Amir.

‘Oh, where?’

‘In the park. He was weeping at a daisy.’

 

Rebirth

‘Take a seat Sam,’ said God.

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘Call me ‘G’ everyone else does.’

She was a tall, rather harsh-looking black woman wearing a white and gold silk brocade dress.

‘Thanks G,’ said Sam, sitting on the other end of the sofa. Not a recognisable design, just a comfy beaten up old thing. It really made him feel at home — great choice God!

‘How are you finding it here?’ asked God.

‘It’s just… phew… It’s so much better than I thought it would be! If I’d’ve known heaven would be so cool I would haven’t been so worried about dying!’

‘Yeah, it’s alright. We’ve got some plans to make it a bit more transgender friendly, a bit more multi-ethnic — you’ll notice that there aren’t a lot of people of colour here.’

‘God, sorry G, you know, I didn’t like to say anything,’ whispered Sam.

‘No, no, it’s fine. I inherited the set-up from the last guy who was, well, shall we say He was a bit of a dinosaur? The entry policy was outrageous, frankly, but we’re slowly turning things around, making it a modern paradise, one for all races, genders and sexes, you know?’

‘I see.’

And that’s why — well, you don’t have to tell me Sam, I know you were interested in a job here.’

Sam smiled sheepishly, ‘yeah.’

‘I’m afraid we can’t give you one. Yet. We’ve got to open the place up a bit first. So we’ll send you back down to earth, and maybe next time — no, not maybe, definitely next time we’ll think about setting you up here, is that okay?’

‘That’d be amazing God, yeah.’

The two of them discussed Sam’s past, his plans for the future, his strengths and weaknesses, his opinions about life and death and marriage and art. Carried aloft by the excitement of it all, Sam lost track of time, which seemed to melt into pure fascination as the two of them riffed off each other’s ideas and beliefs. A few times God even said, ‘I hadn’t even thought of that’ which puffed Sam right up. Complimented by the creator of the whole universe! Yay!

Eventually the time came though. The meeting was over and it was time to return to earth.

‘Just through there,’ said God, pointing to the curtain behind her.

Sam was instantly tense. He felt a ball of tension rise up his throat.

‘Don’t worry Sam,’ said God soothingly, ‘it’ll be fine.’

Sam got up and walked towards the curtain, feeling like he was about to jump from a plane. He pulled the heavy fabric apart, revealing a large glowing rectangle of light. God, standing behind him, rested her hands on his shoulders.

‘Step into the light and be reborn,’ whispered God, ‘for one last time.’

‘I… I don’t know…’ said Sam, feeling the clenches of panic.

‘It’s fine,’ said God. The way she said ‘fine’ suddenly sounded a bit creepy.

‘But is it? Who will I be?’

‘You want me to tell you?’

‘Yes please.’

‘You don’t want to find out for yourself?’

‘Um, no, please tell me,’ his voice sounded like it was coming from far away. Tiny and feeble.

‘Okay,’ God’s voice filled his head, ‘Sam, you are going to be reborn as…’

‘Yes?’

‘An angle-poise lamp.’

Before he had a chance to react God’s hands had shoved him into the doorway, into a supernova of light, exploding without and within, through and beyond him, obliterating every last atom of Samness and leaving, just as God had said, an angle-poise lamp. Rather a nice one, made in Germany and sitting on a shop shelf in a functional household product shop in East London.

 

Lights Out

(an excerpt from Drowning is Fine)

The back roads of Bethnal Green are empty, bleached in inert luminescent yellow. The sky looks like a black room after a striplight has been turned off and on; dark yet obscured with a ghostly afterglow which, at once, tink! cuts out. All the streetlights, all the window lights, all the shop lights; out. A power cut. I hear screams rise up in the distance, awful. Instinctively I reach out for something to hold on to, and find a cold signpost. It is utterly black, no moon, no clouds—and there, before me, above me, are the ghosts of stars.

There is horror in London, I can hear it, sense it, before the infinite, before the endless, empty night now seen. I feel it too, dread—but also compulsion, the same pressure to throw myself off a cliff, or in front of a bus, pulls me up into the endless black. I cling to the ‘no parking’ post, cling to the known; if I let go I’ll drown up there…

Headlights cut through the lightless abyss, a smashing sound, raw shouts, a swell of horror rippling through the world, the appalling midnight truth. I look up into the black, the black that blackness comes from, the void and the source of the void, but not nothing, no, disgustingly alive, an immense predatory vagina quivering in anticipation, about to birth and swallow the flesh of the world, a vast, descending vortex squatting over my insignificant wormbody offered up by who knows what to who knows whom. I close my eyes, but there is no barrier, no screen, nowhere to hide.

It has always been this way, there has never been a hiding place, nowhere I could run could take me one step further away from the awful, shuddering cunt of the cosmos.

 

Morning Coffee

John and Ellen had spent the morning working, she inside at the scarf she was knitting, he in the shed fixing his bike. She put her knitting down and started heating up yesterday’s chili while he showered, then they sat and ate, in silence. They hadn’t said anything to each other now for about eighteen hours, since the afternoon of the day before.

About half way through the meal he put his fork and spoon down and took a sip of water.

‘Yes,’ he said, quietly, nodding.

‘Yes,’ she replied casually.

‘Yes,’ he said again.

‘Yes?’

‘Yeah, definitely.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Maybe? Not maybe, definitely.’

Her eyes opened slightly wider. ‘Oh yes,’ she said, ‘definitely.’

Definitely.’

‘Yes, definitely.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, now I’m sure.’

 

Bonus Story!

Funny House

I can’t recall the first thought or what images came into my head but when I heard my new travel kettle in full operation it made me snigger then laugh at loud like a scolded baboon. I grinned a little at the snaking cable attached to the hard plug in the wall. A plug inserted in the wall? What an amusing audacity! My eyes flowed smoothly around the room in the eager expectancy of more previously overlooked amusements. A wicker chair raised a sardonic smile; the boughing over desk lamp had me in such stitches that I collapsed on to the carpet and oh what a carpet—patterned with magnolia diamond-shapes ha ha ha. I rolled over to the bin in convulsions of unrestrained laughter. Never had I seen a funny bin bag- all transparent and crackly- By the time I had reached the wardrobe on the other side of the room I could barely breathe for laughing- the brass door handle, the lone straggling cobweb, a few coins on the floor covered in dust and this skirting board, oh the skirting board! for certain the funniest skirting board in the world. I crawled slowly through the wooden threshold but even that forced a new explosion of gurgling laughter — the stoic doltishness of a wooden threshold! — such that I ended up involuntarily somersaulting out of the house onto a tarmac river.

I haven’t been back to my house. It’s just too funny.

(by William Barker — read his work here)