how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die – an extract

Photo by Bogdan R. Anton on Pexels.com

The next day I decided my great escape was imminent. All things considered, there was simply no way I could no longer subject myself to my parent’s reign and those four walls. I tried to fix up my old bike as best I could and then attached a tent and pannier bags to the back of it. I left the house when they were both at work and headed toward the city outskirts. I watched my neighbourhood disappear into the background as my feet hit the pedals round and round. Soon my city was out of sight and I was in the open countryside. Summer was now here and I cycled freely alongside the fields of crops without even bothering to check a map. Obviously it was true that I never really had a plan or clue about where exactly I was heading in life, but now I realised I was in a situation that encompassed that completely. I just kept rolling on down the road towards whatever awaited me beyond the horizon. Cars went past me and I thought about where they were heading and why. What purpose powered their engines? What meaning pushed down on those pedals? For me there wasn’t one other than heading roughly southward, and for now that was good enough to keep me going. I even liked the simplicity of it in that otherwise confusing moment. It seemed more sane and worthwhile just to keep those pedals turning than what I was doing in my job at Amazon. Just keep on going, further and further into the distance, drifting out of sight of whatever I passed – the same thing I had been doing all my life.

This was what life was to me – a one-way journey to the grave; there was no going back or stopping, one could only head towards their eventual end while occasionally breaking down and getting drunk along the way. But still, I kept looking at the people in the cars passing me and wondering about them. I saw families maybe heading on holiday; couples heading home; people heading to work. I looked at their faces and their eyes and their expressions. Their lives seemingly had structure and stability; some sort of semblance of order in contrast to the total chaos of mine. It was all delusion, I felt – on my part and theirs. Like me, they were just heading nowhere, only ever-forward towards the setting of the sun and the darkness of their death while finding things to keep themselves busy with along the way. For some reason that thought comforted me and, for one of the few times in my life, my brain began to go quiet. I simply kept pedalling without any thought or concern for anything else in the universe. I had become like squirrels, just doing my thing automatically and existing without some grand plan or purpose. I had become like the crashing waves on a shoreline, or the clouds drifting in the sky above, or the leaves being blown away in the wind. I was something just happening for no real reason other than just to happen. 

I kept pedalling and feeling like some sort of monk until the daylight started to fade. It was at this point that I realised I was now technically homeless and needed to find a way to shelter myself. I found a secluded spot in some woodland just away from the road and setup my tent. I then walked to the nearest shop, bought a load of food and beers, and then returned to my tent. I lay in it stuffing my face with cheap sandwiches and cakes, replenishing the many calories I had burned that day, before smashing the cans of beers down. Naturally, I couldn’t help but realise that the last time I was in a tent was in a nice place with a pretty girl, drinking wine and having sex while daring to daydream of some sort of home or companionship with another. Fate had worked its almighty magic once again and here I was a couple of weeks later: back to my solitary state, homeless, jobless, slightly cold –  lying alone in the dark with my only companion being the use of my right hand. 

2

After the second day of cycling, I was down in the Somerset town of Bath. By now, the lockdown had been eased and people were allowed to go to pubs again while being socially distanced. I locked my bike up in the town centre and walked around the town in the sunshine before finding a pub that was a prime place to people-watch. Table service was all that was allowed due to the ‘social distancing’ rules – that was fine with me; I sat back and ordered away while letting the afternoon drift by lazily. I sipped those ciders and watched the happy couples, the well-dressed revellers, the shoppers with their shopping bags. I watched the bike couriers going back and forth, remembering another one of my short stints of money-making. I was back on safari again, observing the human race in all its strange mystery, wondering how people did what they did without going insane or off-the-rails like me.

Soon I got bored of such ethnographic observation and left. I carried on walking through the high-streets and eventually came by a busker. Most buskers drew small crowds and pittance change, but I noticed this man had amassed a crowd of maybe forty people. His guitar case was full of money and he had a stack of CDs available to purchase. Slightly intrigued and having nothing else to do, I stood and watched him play. His playing was wild and fast and flamboyant. He held his guitar flat on his lap and finger-picked the strings in a way I had never seen before. I stood there impressed, watching a man totally transfixed and absorbed in what he was doing. In between songs, he told everyone how he was from Australia, and how he had quit his job to travel the world in a van while busking along the way. Not many people inspired or even interested me in this life, but looking at this man I couldn’t help but be a little captivated. In him I could see a better version of myself. Here he was: living off his passion, travelling the world, seemingly content and even having his own home in the form of a van. I thought about the fact I hadn’t ever made a penny off my writing and that I never had entertained a crowd and that my current home was a crappy tent that couldn’t stand a slightly strong breeze. The contrast between my life and another’s was, once again, stark and depressing.

I decided I’d stick around til after he finished and do something I rarely did sober: approach and speak to a stranger. I wanted to know more about this man and see if he was the real deal. Was it possible for a man to survive while living life completely on his own terms? Did he experience any doubt or anxiety about the way he was living? Was it all a front and really he was just as lost and insane as me? Such questions swirled around my mind as I approached him once he had finished performing. He immediately stopped what he was doing to look me straight in the eye with a bright smile. He thanked me for watching the performance and asked my name. We then exchanged details before he invited me to smoke a joint with him back at his van once he was done packing up his equipment.

I bought us a couple of beers from the nearest shop and went to meet him at his van. He lit up a joint and invited me to sit on the floor of his van which was overlooking a park. People were sprawled across the grass having picnics as we sat there drinking and smoking. I looked inside his van at his living arrangements. On the outside was a tapestry of graffiti artworks, the sort of cosmic shit you’d expect from someone of the gypsy lifestyle, and on the inside was his humble abode – a bed, a mini kitchen and tabletop. The whole vehicle to me stood as a big fuck you to normal life which naturally made me feel welcome sitting there. 

The beers went down as he continued to me a little more about all his travels and what inspired him to live the life he was living. “I remember telling all my work colleagues that I was going to quit my job. They all laughed at me, mocked me, told me I was crazy and all of that. I have autism so I always felt like I didn’t fit in there anyway.”

“I can relate to that,” I said, before telling him my own tragic story, cycling down south randomly after just quitting my job where I also felt disconnected from my work colleagues. I also told him about my novel writing, the succession of meaningless jobs I had subjected myself to, and my general disenfranchisement with anything this world presented to me. He didn’t look at me with pity like most people did when I told them my life story, but instead his eyes had a look of deep understanding and even relatability. It was the ultra-rare look of a human-being’s eyes who actually saw where I was coming from. It was like looking into an alien’s eyes; the sort of look I unsuccessfully scanned for on the faces of passersby on streets. A strange feeling of comfort fell over me.

“Come inside my van man. I wanna show you something.” I put down my beer and entered inside, for some reason wondering if he was going to slam the door and suddenly kidnap me or something. The funny thing was I think I wouldn’t have even bothered to resist being taken away at that point. I needed not worry though; he invited me to sit down on his bed and pulled out a little book. He then proceeded to show me a collection of his photos from his travels, as well as little things he had collected along the way.

“This is me travelling through Europe.” He showed me photos of him performing on the streets of Rome and Paris, as well as pictures of him in his van in the Alps. “And this is me back in Australia.” He then showed me photos of him in his life back home. He looked like a different person: much paler, slightly overweight, with tired eyes and a classic forced smile. “I know right,” he said, knowing that I was struggling to even recognise him in the photos. “The photos only show how my outside appearance has changed as much as my inside. It only reflects the state I was living in then, compared to the state I live in now.”

“I guess becoming homeless was good for you then.”

“Ha,” he laughed. “Becoming a travel bum was necessary for me. If I hadn’t had taken the leap, I’d hate to think of the dark place I’d be in now. I know it’s easy to fall into despair and give up on this world. I mean, society fucking sucks I know, and the worst thing is watching everyone just accept that their lives are nothing more than pointless jobs and television and getting drunk on the weekend and never questioning anything because ‘that’s what’s normal’. The western world in particular is facing a spiritual crisis. Everyone I know back home was depressed or anxious or an addict of some kind. But you don’t need to be a victim of the culture you were born in man. You can choose to unplug and play your own game at any point. You are the maker of your own destiny and, with the right outlook and plan, you can create the life you love. But first you start by summoning something from your soul; it’s there if you search hard enough. The light in the darkness; the fire that can set a whole forest on fire. Find whatever it is and let it burn, burn, burn. That’s what I let happen to me. I was so jaded and depressed and nihilistic at my own job in Sydney. I could see myself falling into a dark place and resenting life. I knew this would make me another victim of this culture, so that’s when I knew I had to quit my job, sell everything I owned, gather all my savings, buy a van and hit the open road with my guitar. Here I am two years on and I can honestly say I’m so much happier and content with my life. I wake up excited every day about what the day will bring, and when I’m out there playing for those people – and people like yourself come up and speak to me – I feel like everything in the universe is in the right place. I’m exactly where I need to be. And ultimately, that is the greatest feeling in life man – a feeling I don’t plan to stop chasing for the rest of my life. So yeah, just keep going man and following that feeling. You’ll find your way man, I’m sure of it.”

Maybe it was the weed or the tiredness from the cycling and sitting in the sun all day, but right there and then that man was making more sense to me than any teacher, parent, politician or preacher that I had come across on my meandering path through life. I didn’t really know what to say back to him after he had been regaling me with his words. In the end, I just thanked him for the words of advice. We then finished the beers before going back to get my bike and cycling out of town while stoned to find my latest spot to pitch my tent alone again for the night.

3

The next day the inspiring words of the gypsy musician were quickly knocked out my head as I carried on heading south through a thunderstorm. Rain poured down for almost two hours as I cycled along lonely country lanes watching the lightning bolts flash in the surrounding sky. Cars passed me and I could feel the gaze of the people inside, looking upon me in my drenched glory, determining I was a madman. I guess I was at that point. I knew all my stuff in my pannier bags would be getting wet seeing as the bags were barely waterproof. I eventually took shelter in a cafe the town of Glastonbury until the storm had passed. I then carried on through the lighter rain which continued throughout the afternoon.

By the time I arrived into the town of Exeter, I decided there would be no camping that night. With wet clothes and it still raining, I decided to treat myself check into a badly-rated, £10-a-night hostel. I stood outside and rang the doorbell. Nobody answered. I saw that there was a number on a noticeboard on the door. I called it. A few minutes later, a stoned Spanish man shows up to let me in.

I brought my bike in and dropped my stuff down in the reception area, still dripping from the torrential rain I had been enduring all day. The Spanish guy kept looking at me while he loaded up the computer to check me in. “You’ve been cycling in this weather all day?”

“Yes.”

“You’re crazy man. And where you are heading?”

“I’m not sure – somewhere in Cornwall probably. As far as I can go away from home.” He looked at me and smiled before shaking his head. 

“You’re crazy man,” he said again. “Crazy.”

I kept waiting while he took my ID and entered my details. For some reason I always got nervous when people checked my perfectly official ID – imposter syndrome came in many forms.

“Okay Bryan. That will be £12 please.” I thought about pointing out the room was advertised at £10, but at that point I didn’t have the energy to get into a debate; I simply needed a shower, some dry clothes, and a strong drink of some kind. He then proceeded to tell me the social distancing rules of the hostel. Obviously it was impossible to socially distance in a hostel, but I knew it was merely something being said because it had to be said.

Once I was not looking like a drenched rat, I lay down on my dirty bed and checked my phone. There was still no word off my parents. My mother didn’t own a phone, thankfully, and my dad held some belief that only the kids should contact the parents rather than the other way around. I was quite happy with this. Such a strange belief allowed me to continue in my madness undisturbed. I even went a step further and deleted all forms of social media and my dating apps. I wanted to be off the grid, an unknown wanderer, uncontactable by anyone and everyone from home. I was now one of nomads, like the few people that were staying in the hostel. A quick scan of it showed me a mix of strange characters staying there. Not the sort of people I expected in a hostel. Most were elderly, some overweight, and some even slightly threatening-looking. I soon found out that this was because the hostel worked with the government to give shelter to people waiting to be accommodated in council housing. Like me, they were homeless, just waiting and existing, living off super noodles while sitting there smoking weed and browsing ther phones because they had no job or money or anything else to do. 

I could feel myself staring at one particularly rough-looking guy while questioning where my path was leading me. This insight into the future was too much to take, so I headed out into the town to find a pub. Maybe I’d meet a nice girl? Make some friends? Have a wild night out in a new place? In the end I sat alone at a pub table socially-distanced drinking five beers while speaking to absolutely noone. There was even no interaction with the bartender due to having to order my drink from my phone. I then got a kebab and went back to the hostel where I found the Spanish guy who had now switched from stoned to drunk. He came over to me laughing and asking me to tell my story to his other mate who was sitting at the table drinking. I told another person the story of my random adventure, inspired by total disillusion with my job and living with my parents. 

“You’re funny man,” he said. “So your parents don’t even know where you are? Such a random guy ha ha!”

“Thanks.”

“Hey listen,” he suddenly said. “If you have no set place to be anytime soon, and you want to stay here in the hostel with us a little longer, you could volunteer. We need another person to split the shifts with on the reception. All you’d have to do is check people in, clean the kitchen at the end of the day, and make a few beds. I mean, you said yourself you have nowhere to be and nothing to do. So why not? You’d have a place to stay and get a food allowance too.” I stood there slightly confused. I had just escaped a job and this was the last place I expected the offer of another to come to me. I looked around at the old, slightly dilapidated hostel. I looked at the other looking drifters sitting around under bad lighting either drunk or stoned or depressed. The whole place was sort of symbolic of myself. Maybe this was where I was supposed to be? Maybe such a flophouse was where I belonged? The thought of cycling again in the rain over the hills of Devonshire was enough to make up my mind.

“Sure, why not,” I said. “When do I start?”

thoughts

~ Thoughts of a Bum ~

Photo by Thuong D on Pexels.com

~ Thoughts of a Bum ~

The days of waking up and doing as I pleased continued on. As an unemployed person, you were supposed to feel down about your lack of contribution and participation in society, but there were often moments when you thought otherwise. I lived nearby a river and on a sunny day, I’d walk there to go sunbathe and watch the rowers go by. On the way there – just on the street off beside the river – there was a big office building for some sort of German bank. Often I’d stare into it and see them all through the windows: rows and rows of people sat at computers, boxed into cubicles, working under artificial lighting. I’d look in at them and suddenly feel better about my situation. Sure, I was without much money or security, but in that moment I was at least able to live my life how I saw fit without any controls or confines. I didn’t have to watch any clock or chase any deadline. And there was no boss or supervisor to answer to.

It’s common for unemployed people to feel down or pitied by other people, but at times I looked in those windows and saw some of them sat there looking out at myself without any pity at all. I walked by so often that I was sure that a few of them recognised me and probably wondered how I was always out there strolling freely in the middle of the day. Maybe I was deluding myself, but it was not pity that I saw in their eyes, but envy – envy mixed with a wistful look of boredom. I’d then carry on walking, find a nice spot on the grass beside the river and park myself down. I watched the ducks also living freely, the seagulls flying above. I’d then watch the rowers go by and the sunlight glint off the water’s surface. I’d pour back a drink and appreciate my temporary wealth, just allowing myself to simply exist in peace like the birds around me, living in a way that felt way more natural than the once prescribed to me by my country and culture. Living in a way that had been lost post-agricultural and industrial revolution. Living in a way that at least felt like living.

Truly, time was more valuable than anything; the problem with the 9-5 work system is that you exchanged the vast majority of your days for being at work, going to work, getting ready for work, and everything that came with it. To me, it didn’t matter how much money you had when you couldn’t buy the time to use it. And often that money went on things you couldn’t even enjoy. I’m talking about the house that remains empty cause you’re at work all day, or the furniture you fill that house, or the car and fuel you need to get you to work. Sure, a person had retirement, but the retirement age was now approaching seventy – and we all knew that our best days to be free were far before that time when the energy goes and the health problems come. No, I had a couple thousand pounds in the bank still, and I was gonna make it last the rest of the summer at least. This was my time for freedom; to be alive and enjoy what was left of my youth. Sure, I knew I’d be back at work at some point, trying to spin together some money once again. I knew I’d start other jobs and spend a lot of time at other jobs. But I also knew I’d quit other jobs and never stop trying to get the most out of life without it all passing me by.  I just didn’t want to stop dreaming of freedom, or becoming the person who looks out at windows all their life, dreaming, waiting, wondering, and finally fading into a job position. I wanted to smash the glass whenever I could, to come out onto the sunny street, to sit by the rivers and watch the birds and the bees and the sun shining in the sky. I don’t propose there’s any great philosophy or strength to this thought, or to propose I am some sort of countercultural hero. I’m here only to announce that I am aware that this life is about freedom, and I intend to grab as much of it as I can.

poetry

~ Fading Light ~

~ Fading Light ~

And now the days lose their shine

This sun not setting like it used to

The birds in the sky not inspiring me

The clouds no longer dancing

Only drifting by in greyness.

What are my dreams and thoughts of late

I ain’t thinking like I used to

I ain’t seeing what I used to

Those things that once brought fire to my fingertips

Now do little, if not nothing.

I tell myself that all go through this at some point

The spiritual drought

The rivers of blood in the heart drying out

The spring in the step gone

Nowadays I stagger and stumble

With eyes not seeking anything

A passive journey to whatever

Which is usually self-pity

Or a bar entrance.

Meanwhile I look out and see the courage of other living things

I tell myself that the same energy exists in me somewhere

One day I’ll wake up to brighter and better days

The sunlight will penetrate my soul again

The flocking birds will lift me up

And inspiration will return.

But for now I sit alone in my bedroom tonight

And I can’t help but look out at the city lights 

And think of all the others starving and surviving

Drifting and wandering

Not even dreaming anymore

Just staring up at ceilings

Watching the lights go dim

And getting lost in the haze

Of being human

how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

7

By the time the two weeks of sick pay were up, I had decided I wasn’t going back to work. Freedom had tasted too sweet and I now had over £4000 in my account which would support me for a while. For the third time in twelve months, I informed my workplace that I would no longer be returning through their front door. Amazon of course didn’t care; I was merely another number to cross off their list and quickly replace with another person desperate for minimum wage. Back once more to my default state of unemployment, I carried on writing my novel and sunbathing in the garden. I also fished out my old bike from my parent’s garage; it was in a beaten state but it was okay enough to at least get out into the countryside from some much-needed escapist ventures away from my parent’s house. Naturally, my mum and dad weren’t happy that I had given up my job and were consistently on my case. I shrugged off their comments and told them I had enough savings to last me until the pandemic was over. I told them I could pay their board and stay out of their hair until I was able to up and move somewhere else.

I tried that reclusive approach as much as I could but it was still a lockdown after all and inevitably I had to spend some time around them in the house. And naturally, they weren’t going to let me live an easy life under their noses without any pushback. They had endured a hard life and, like all people who had endured a hard life, they were not going to let those close to them laze around and smell the flowers. Suddenly I had a range of chores to do, frivolous things like clearing out the attic and whatever it was they could think of to get me to do some work. One day they asked me to mow the lawn even though it had recently been done and the dry weather had meant it had barely grown. I couldn’t help but comment on how pointless the task was. As soon as I did this, I realised my error. This was the comment they were waiting for; this was the comment that allowed them to get into character and give one of their inspiring working-class-hero speeches.

“I didn’t raise you to just sit around like a leech or bum,” my dad said. “You’ve got to learn some work ethic. What kind of person gives up a steady job at a time like this? You might not be able to get another soon. And how are you going to explain all these gaps on your CV to other employers? No one is going to want to hire you if you can’t hold down a job for more than a couple of months.”

“Sorry that I refuse to be enslaved by a piece of paper with some bullet-points.”

“You need to think about what you’re doing seriously. You’re going to end up homeless or living on benefits on some council estate full of drug dealers. I had to do that for a while and we want better than that for you.”

“Stop trying to install fear into me. Just because fear of the future controlled all the decisions you made in your life.”

“It’s called growing up, being responsible and thinking ahead. Everyone else does it. It’s not that hard. For you it’s just taking a bit longer than normal…” At that point I could feel a pool of fiery passion bubbling up within me. There was only so much a person could take of not being understood before they were pushed to breaking point. Most people’s eyes looked upon me and didn’t really see me, but there was something about having the people who created you having zero idea about who you were that pushed me over the edge. At that moment, I snapped and let the internal monologue inside my head make a rare appearance out into the world.

“Look, you brought me into this world,” I started. “I didn’t ask to come here and exist in this stupid society. Let’s be honest, you only had children because it was ‘the next thing’ to do in your life. You didn’t have an interest in doing anything else in life so once you were locked into the 9-5 routine so, like most people, you had kids to give yourself some sort of basic purpose. It’s the same reason nearly everyone has kids. To give their lives some meaning and to keep themselves busy with something because they have no idea what else they can do with their life outside of their job. It helps stop them having too much time to think to themselves. Because, the truth is, if most people did have time to think to themselves, they’d realise how utterly pointlesss and ridiculous their lives are. This is why you, like everyone else, keep yourself busy by working and watching TV and having kids and doing absolutely anything to avoid looking in the mirror and really reflecting on your life. And have you ever thought about how selfish it is to bring kids into this world just to give yourself something to do? And even worse, you bring kids into this world and then make them miserable by trying to make them do things they don’t want to do. You want me to have a stupid career so you can feel good about yourself and brag about what great parents you are – but I’m telling you now that that sort of life will drive me to suicide and make me even crazier than I already am. But still, you don’t care about how I feel. Okay, maybe you’re like other parents and you want me to ‘be safe’ and have ‘some security’ for the future. Well, did you ever think about safe and secure I was when I didn’t exist? There was no risk of anything at all before I entered this earth. What’s the point of bringing vulnerable human-beings into a violent and dangerous world and then trying to wrap them in cotton wool at the expense of everything else? At the expense of their own sanity and happiness? Maybe you do mean well, but have you ever stopped and thought about how insane your behaviour actually is? Have you ever stopped and thought about how insane life is in general?”

At this point my parents just stared at the television shaking their heads. A terrible silence filled the room as I realised I had for once actually spoken the true contents of my manic mind. I knew that the truth was a creature of the darkness that didn’t belong out in the open world, and now it was out it was like the whole universe had crashed for a few moments in that living room. People’s brains couldn’t handle the truth; it caused them to crash and to stall. Time went slow as we all just sat and stared into space. Seconds felt like minutes. My mum eventually picked up her coffee and started to read the newspaper. Then my dad decided to break the silence.

“Honestly, you need to get your head sorted out first. You’ve been reading too many of those weird writers you’re into. You’ve been brainwashed.” At that point, I got up and stormed up to my room like an angry teenager. I lay in bed and let my head spin with thoughts for hours on end, rehearsing things to say to them, imagining how the rest of the argument would pan out if I carried on the conversation. Eventually I could hear my parents come upstairs and go to bed. Once again, I had to listen to them try and fail to have sex quietly. I reached for my headphones and started playing some music at full volume, drowning out the disturbing sounds of the very heinous act that had spawned me into this existence. I lay there staring at the ceiling, feeling like I was paralysed. Truly it was all too much what life could do to a man at times.

Things got even worse the next days when speaking to Eloise. I noticed that her chat with me had suddenly slowed down since our last meeting. Instead of taking minutes to reply, it was hours. And the sentences were shorter. And her general attitude more distant. One night I couldn’t avoid speaking about it any longer. Clearly something had changed between us and I was going to find out what it was. I rang her but she didn’t answer. So I sent a message asking what was up. Two hours later I got a reply. It was a reply telling me about the new situation between us. Apparently she wasn’t really single, but on a break with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend had been experiencing mental issues, and she wasn’t going to be with him until he recovered. Apparently his condition was improving though, as she was now out of bounds. She said we could still be friends but of course I knew that was just the standard meaningless statement. It appeared our chats were to be no more. Our camping trips were to be no more. And my delusions were to be no more. There would be no peaceful life with this woman. There would be no life without my usual war and wandering. I knew I was a fool to even let such thoughts enter my mind, and my cracked shell and exterior suddenly seized up again. I cemented those cracks harder than ever. I doubled down and withdrew once from the world other people lived in. I looked again at joy and peace and love as things like smoke; which could only be seen and not held or kept. I lay there on my childhood bed and life was more grey than ever – just a meaningless, cruel joke which one had to trudge through. Once again, I was detached, dejected, indifferent. Once again, I was a man killing time while waiting to die.

how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

A few weeks later and I was still alive and healthy. It had been almost two months in the warehouse of doom, and I was craving some respite from the long ten-hour days. Fortunately for me, Amazon started operating this VTO scheme (voluntary time off). It appeared the company branch had hired too many people and now they were overstaffed when there wasn’t enough work coming it. As a result, VTO was offered to you in which you could go home of your accord without pay. Naturally, I would snap their hand off as soon as they offered it me. “VTO?” a man with a notepad and a piece of paper would ask me. I looked at him like some sort of angel. He’d take down my details and return fifteen minutes later to confirm it. Once relieved of my burdensome duty, I’d happily marched out of the warehouse into the spring sunshine with a smile on my face. I’d then slowly walk home through the countryside, stopping again to watch some squirrels live out their lives simply in the woods. Ahh yes, once again I’d get a tinge of jealousy with my furry friends. I watched them burying their nuts and appreciating there was more purpose in that than what I was doing at Amazon. Soon after, I’d get home and see my mother standing in the kitchen. “How come you’re home?” she would ask me.

     “No work again today mum’. 

     “That’s a shame, you must be losing a lot of money with all this time off.”

     “Yeah.. yeah… terrible isn’t it.”

     “It is…”

     After that, I’d then sit in the garden with a pack of beer sunbathing and listening to music all day. I actually had quite a bit of money behind me due to my low living costs and not being able to blow my money on benders down the pub, so I’d treat myself to some top-quality Belgian beers from the local shop. Sometimes I’d also order takeaway, maybe even treat myself to a cigar. All of this tasted extra sweeter knowing that I had dodged another day of employment with my corporate overlord. Occasionally I could feel the glare of my mother from the kitchen window, watching her one son living like a retired person at the age of thirty. Yes, accept it mother. Accept me how I am. This is the life for me. I didn’t ask to be brought into this world; you forced me into this painful and perplexing existence, let me at least try and get through it in a way that is slightly tolerable.

     While sitting there smoking my cigars and sipping my Belgian beers, I’d get reflective about the chaos that was happening in the world. Of course, by this point it was becoming clear that the government response to the outbreak was a hysterical overreaction that was going to eventually cause more harm than it prevented, but right now hysteria was king and I could see that this way of life was the norm for the foreseeable future. I guess I was okay with it. As an introvert the lockdown was no huge shock or blow to me; avoiding people and crowds had been a pastime of mine for many years now, and the whole thing was somewhat surreal and interesting to a degree. Still, everyone had their limit and mine mainly came in not being able to go out and try to pull women in bars. While lockdown may have caused most couples to be screwing more often than usual, single people were more alone than ever – unable to stumble around dancefloors trying to attract mating partners through drunken chatter and bad dance moves. There was now only one way to get potentially laid – and that meant resorting back to the dating apps and websites. 

     I remade my profile and went online to check out the hoards of other horny, lonely, locked-down people like myself. Of course, many bios of people on the dating apps were now full of the line ‘lockdown brought me here.’ I guess it was true; it was a period in time when people had to find new ways to kill time in their lives, and these apps served that function well. The journey between the maternity ward and the crematorium was going slower than ever, but thankfully smartphones could keep us hypnotised for a good proportion of it.

     I didn’t really have much going for me before the pandemic started, but at least I had my own place. Now I was back to living with my parents – which just about rounded me off as the quintessential, stereotypical thirty-year-old loser. I was without a career, without a car, without my own place, and generally without much of a clue about anything at all. I guess I at least had a job. I could even say I was ‘an essential worker’ – as the government had labelled me. Right now, about half the population were sitting at home not working at all while still receiving 80% of their pay. This section of people was basically the middle class – the people who worked white-collar jobs on computers or in offices. The working-class were still out there keeping society running by stacking shelves, delivering parcels, nursing patients, and working on factory assembly lines. Yes, like my other working-class comrades, I was a modern-day hero – a hero who stood at a conveyor-belt line all day helping people get their orders of luxury anal lube. I tried that angle when girls asked what it was that I did but it appeared for some reason many weren’t too impressed by my heroics. Still, I didn’t care – I had my premium Belgian lager and fake Cuban cigars while sitting in the sun on a Wednesday afternoon. I was a success in my own mind for the time being. 

     I carried on sifting through the profiles of potential lockdown lovers, mindlessly swiping left and right like a bewitched addict. I eventually matched with some girl called Eloise. She popped up asking me where a photo of myself on a mountain was taken. She herself had pictures of her in the woods and walking her dogs. All in all, she seemed like an actual human-being; there were no fake lips, ridiculous pouts, and her face wasn’t totally plastered in makeup. Our conversation quickly started flowing. We talked about hiking and camping. We talked about our lives and music and what we were doing to stay sane. I didn’t know whether it was cause we were both bored as hell or there was an actual connection between us, but we ended up talking for hours on end. I sat there in my parents garden texting her until the sun went down and my beers had run dry. It seemed that for once I actually had found a girl I enjoyed talking to.

     I eventually put my phone down and took myself inside the house. I poured myself a juice and went to sit in the living room where my parents were reliably found watching their five hours of TV for the evening. They asked me if I knew I was going to be working in the morning. 

     “Well, I’ll definitely go in, but it depends how much work they have for me whether I’ll stay or not.”

     “It’s ridiculous that is,” my dad said. “Making you go into work and then sending you home. They should give you half a day’s pay just for dragging you in.”

     “Yeah, well, it’s Amazon. They’re not exactly known for treating their workers with any respect or dignity.” (Of course, Amazon weren’t ‘sending me home’, rather I was volunteering to go home and sit in my parent’s garden all day, but they didn’t need to know that.) 

     “So what are your plans when all this is over?” my mum asked. 

     “I’ll probably just stay here now I reckon. I’m quite happy here chilling in the garden all day with a few beers.” I really couldn’t resist throwing some bait out.

     “Yes, well you can forget about that,” my dad snapped. “As soon as this is over you’ll have to go out and get your own place or start paying £100 a week at least. You’re thirty years old now; you were too old to be staying here five years ago, let alone now.” I sat there with a bored and blank stare. Every line that came out of their mouths was so painfully predictable that you could see it from a mile off. I thought they were done but then my mum repeated a line she had used about fifty times previously.

     “I just don’t understand why you got that degree if you didn’t want to use it. Your sister got her degree and is now working in what she studied…”

     “Good for her, but I don’t want what she wants.”

     “Well, you should do. You should already be earning £30,000 a year by now with your degree. You should be aiming for £40,000, £50,000…. Even more. Not doing whatever the hell it is that you’re doing – which is nothing. Why don’t you get a proper job, like everybody else.”

     “No thanks,” I said, after a moment of non-reflection. “I don’t wanna be another person who spends all the days of my life at work, then comes home to watch TV for five hours before going to sleep. And then only use the money for things that I don’t need and make me miserable – like a rug.” Such a clear personal swipe set my dad off on a rant, saying some vague things about me being brainwashed, and deluded, and whatever else it was that explained why I thought differently to them. I wanted to tell them not to bother procreating just to pressure their offspring into living a life that only satisfies themselves, but in the end I couldn’t be bothered. I simply realised the cold, harsh reality of my current existential situation and went up to my bedroom for some much-needed solitude. I then looked up out the window at those stars once again. I imagined meeting sneaking off to meet this girl somewhere, and running off to start a new life in the forest. I imagined living in peace and harmony like the squirrels. I imagined spending the rest of my days in some sort of tolerable space.

5

The days at work recommenced as the warehouse got busy again. Each morning I’d look around for the angel with the notepad coming around to ask if I wanted to go home, but sadly he was nowhere to be found. It appeared there was no escape out into the spring sunshine, and the long days at work were back as the norm. Fortunately I had at least managed to get myself back onto the inbound section of work where I could stand alone and not talk to anyone. I was back to living in my own head and daydreaming the days away. I was also spending a lot of time texting Eloise on my phone. At work we, of course, weren’t permitted to use our phones. Not a problem; I left some boxes stacked on my workstation and used them as cover while I texted her throughout the day. Sometimes I’d even go for a fifteen-minute toilet break just to spend some time chatting to her. I didn’t even need to daydream the days away by writing my new literary masterpiece in my head; I could simply write to her while imagining how it would be when we finally met. I knew my work-rate was going to be even poorer than usual, and I was waiting for the man with the laptop to come around and get me to justify my incompetence. There was nothing really to say, other than I didn’t care. I was really at the stage where any concern for my job was zero – a dismissal at this point would have been a sweet and merciful relief. 

     While texting Eloise, I couldn’t help but let my mind run away with the idea of meeting this girl somewhere during the lockdown. I was a man of daydream fantasy; of letting stories and events take place in my imagination. I was comfortable with that because I could control them and make them exactly what I pleased – unlike reality which was brutally out of your hands. There was nothing your imagination could do when the whole situation turned to shit as things, of course, usually did. Still, I knew I couldn’t hold on to this daydream forever and we made actual plans to meet on the coming weekend. 

     She wasn’t actually from my city, but a small town 20 miles north. She drove down and parked in a pub carpark near to a countryside park. Before meeting her, the only thing I could focus on was my hair – it was a bushy mess that hadn’t been cut in almost three months on account of all the barbers being closed. Still, apart from the anxiety of my disheveled appearance, it was closest thing to excitement I’d felt in a while in this society that had made any sort of fun illegal.

     We met in the carpark and said our first awkward hello. Then we started walking slowly around the countryside park, chatting about life, exchanging stories of our last years. She was a pale, blonde girl – a couple of years younger myself, with blue eyes and a sad but compelling look on her face. I could see there was a pain there – some sort of story that hadn’t been told or expressed – and I couldn’t help but be fascinated by her as we walked without any particular destination. The spring sunshine was still out and we eventually found a secluded place under a tree to have a picnic. This naturally led to our first kiss and eventually a little more. Sex was usually as exciting as this life got anyway, but when it was out in a public place during a national lockdown, well, I was sure that was the top thrill a person could possibly experience at that moment in time.

     After a while, we got speaking about camping and decided that we’d drive back up to hers, grab her tent, and find a place somewhere to stay the night. This ended up being Sherwood forest, the home of the mythical legend Robin Hood. We pitched our tent in a secluded spot surrounded by ancient trees before opening the wine and playing some card games. Eventually we got into our sleeping bags and cuddled up while listening to some ambient music. I lay there drifting off appreciating that there was even a movie-like romance to the whole thing. The circumstance of meeting during the pandemic lockdown, and of sneaking off to go camping illegally, made it seem like we were characters in some sort of scripted story – one that was actually interesting. The whole country was gripped by fear and hysteria but there we were doing our own thing, making love in the woods, drinking wine under the stars and chatting about whatever drifted through our confused minds. For once in my life I considered that this girl was something more than another meaningless exchange of sex and temporary company. Maybe it was the whole lockdown situation getting to me, but for once I considered a normal, peaceful life alongside a woman. I considered a life of harmony and home. A life without war or wandering. A life without being indifferent and detached from it all. A life where I wasn’t just killing time while waiting to die.

6

I eventually got word of a little trick workers in the warehouse were using to get an extra two weeks’ holiday. The government had put in a law that if you or anyone in your household had come down with or shown symptoms of Covid-19, then you were entitled to two week’s paid leave from work as a way to help stop the spread of the virus. There was nothing your employer could do but comply; it was the law, and they couldn’t even demand proof of your claims. It was one of the few times a worker could take total advantage of their employer, and it seemed that magically everyone in the warehouse had – at some point – been living with an infected person. It seemed stupid not to also stick it to Amazon and get my two weeks’ paid leave. It was a small victory for the little man in the war that he could only naturally lose over a lifetime.

     I rang them up the next day. “Yeah, my parents have just come down with symptoms. A bad cough, a fever, loss of taste and smell… I think it’s best I stay off work until we know what it is.” I usually hated chatting bullshit, but this time that bullshit coming from my mouth tasted ever so sweet. For the sake of health and safety, they had to believe everything I said, take down my details, and withdraw me from work. I put down the phone and stood there with a surreal feeling. It really was that easy; I now had two weeks’ paid freedom from the warehouse of doom. Like the owners and shareholders, I was getting money for doing nothing. 

     I spent the next days really hammering into my new book project. This lockdown situation was raising my creativity and one morning I managed to fire off 4000 words in one sitting. I could hear the voices of doubt once again in my head telling me I was deluded and stupid and that it was a waste of time, but I simply didn’t care. At this point being deluded and stupid and wasting my time was my own private religion. There was something nice about it, even courageous. I guess we were all deluded and stupid and wasting our time to a degree. I only had to watch my dad using his wages to order his 22nd pair of jeans or 33rd T-shirt or 7th pair of shoes. Yes, truly this was what life was all about and I was doing it in my own way, once again attempting to create literature with an edgy dystopian novel that sounded great in my own head, but probably caused anyone else reading to roll their eyes in utter disinterest. 

     I did all of this while sat in my parent’s garden, drinking those Belgian beers and getting a tan unlike I’d ever had before. Of course, I also spent a lot of time chatting to Eloise who was taking over my mind more than I was comfortable with. After our little camping trip, I wanted to see her again at the nearest opportunity. Such a feeling was strange. Here at the age of thirty, my hard shell may have finally been cracking and I was feeling enamoured by another human-being. Naturally, I weighed up whether she was just another escape – an escape from my parents, my job, myself, and my general living situation – but I wasn’t so sure. There was an actual feeling of joy from speaking to her as my fingers typed away for sometimes hours on my phone. Naturally I was cautious and untrusting of this foreign feeling, but I followed it anyway. There really wasn’t a choice in the matter. I was a passenger on some sort of strange trip I hadn’t taken before.

     Our next meeting was for two days over the weekend. Again, we loaded up on food, wine and music playlists, then found a place we could go and camp. This time we headed out to the Peak District in the centre of the country. Camping at this point was strictly forbidden so we walked for a while along a path before finding a hidden section of woodland where we could reside in peace. We set up our tent beside a stream and made some lunch. Then we went on a hike to the top of a big hill that overlooked a valley. With the sun setting over the rolling green hills, we drank from a bottle of wine and chatted about life. She was soon drunk and told me about her ex-boyfriend. She also told me she had had an abortion, and that her mother was abusive as a child, and that she had been ‘taken advantage of’ when she was a teenager. My initial inclination of her being a hurt soul were true. I guess I was no guru or genius; almost everybody was hurt or damaged in some way, but some were clearly more wounded than others. I think her vulnerability and damage only attracted me more towards her. I knew the general consent was not to go for damaged people, but I couldn’t help but be allured by such marred creatures. Probably I was just attracted to one of my own kind, but also I was always distrusting of those who bore little damage. Surely they had used some sort of cheat to make it through the fire without being burnt. Surely they didn’t know what it was really like to be human. Surely there was something wrong with them by having everything right with them.

     Eventually the sun started to set and we made our way back down to the campsite. We cuddled up together in our sleeping bags as the soft sound of the music from the speaker played. Raindrops pattered on the leaves on the trees above while we lay there like we were in some sort of womb or cocoon. 

     “So what is it you’re looking for?” she asked me, just after a kiss.

     “What do you mean?”

     “You know, in life. You seem to be like me, in a transient place in your life, what is it you want for your future after all this pandemic shit is done?”

     “A beer down the pub, I guess.”

     “Come on Bryan, seriously…”

     “Well, you deserve honesty, and the truth is I don’t really know. I’ve always just kind of drifted around and meandered through life. I only went to university because it was easier than getting a job and nothing much has really held my attention for too long. I don’t have any attraction to some sort of job, or goal, or grand purpose. I like writing but I don’t expect that to amount to anything really. I guess I’m just looking for a place that is tolerable. Some sort of way of getting by and seeing out this life without having to endure too much trouble or discomfort.”

     “You don’t hope for much, do you?”

     “I’m just realistic about things.”

     “I’m not so sure. I think I see more lust for life than just that in your eyes. You speak like a pessimist, but I think within you is a disappointed idealist. You can’t just be looking for a ‘tolerable space’ – there’s more to life than that. I’ve had rough times and felt defeated many times in my life. But still, I can’t help but hope for something better in the future. A future with a home, a family, a reason for being, you know? A future with peace and happiness and even excitement about what each day brings. Don’t you want all of those things? Life is a struggle yes, but don’t you want to get something great out of it?” At that point I could feel that she was sussing me out and trying to ascertain if I was actually compatible with the kind of future she wanted. When she talked about family and home, I couldn’t help but think of my parents’ life. That way of life had only seemed like a secret prison to me and I didn’t see how I could get anything out of it other than the feeling of being trapped even more than I already was. This is the problem with getting too close to a woman, I thought. They eventually wanted you to settle down into their suburban, happy family fantasy which nearly always turned out in wreckage. You had the divorces, the alcoholism, the arguments, the quiet desperation as the days drifted on and on without any spark. The smiling family photos were veils to the truth of the suffocating reality that most people lived in. I didn’t know what to say something that would disappoint her. The last thing someone like her needed was to crush or belittle her one dream that kept her limping on across the tempestuous plains of life.

     “It’s good for you that you know what you want and I hope you get what you’re looking for. But for me, I guess I’ll just see what life brings, if anything at all.” After I said that, we both went quiet and drifted off to sleep as the rain continued to drip down upon our tent from the trees above.

how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

Boxed In

Of course, my parents weren’t gonna be happy with me sitting around the house all day. And when I thought about it, I didn’t really want to do that either. Each hour there caused my brain to go funny. I could feel the walls of my bedroom closing in on me; my old books on the shelf staring at me judgmentally. Any longer there and whatever was left of my sanity would be gone. I still had over £2000 in savings left, but I figured I’d go out and get a job anyway. Naturally, not many places were hiring as society continued its draconian lockdown. However, with everyone spending every waking hour in their homes, it appeared there were new opportunities in the working world. No longer able to blow their wages on drinking, restaurants and football games, people sought to get their fix in other ways. The main way was ordering random useless shit online. The online retailer Amazon was already the biggest company in the world, but now it was set to get even bigger as bored people browsed the website and looked to order anything that might entertain them during the pandemic lockdown. Because of this, they were hiring more staff to work at their warehouses. One of these was conveniently thirty minutes walk from my house, so I said screw it and applied online – anything will be better than sitting around here watching my savings go back down to zero. Thankfully, there was no interview process; I simply registered my details and was due to start the very next day. 

Arriving on my first day, I had to queue for twenty minutes to enter the building. There were markings on the floor to socially distance each worker by two metres as they entered. There were also temperature checks, as well as masks and sanitiser distributed upon entry. I stood there in the queue which was snaking around the car-park while looking at the almighty warehouse before me. It was maybe the widest building I’d ever seen. It stretched onward into the surrounding countryside for what looked like almost a kilometre. There must have been thousands of people at work under that one roof. It was a beautiful sunny day, but I noticed the building bore no windows. I thought of everyone in the artificial lighting, toiling away like robots, doing the same thing every day for years on end for a little more than the minimum wage while the owner increased his millions by the minute. As always, it was hard to shake off the feeling of absolute absurdity before I even entered the building to start my first shift. But hey, maybe I was wrong? Maybe it was actually a fun and engaging environment full of happy and content workers? 

Such optimism was quickly put to bed. Upon entry, the first thing I noticed was that the social distancing was all for show for the outside world. Once inside, people crowded together and pushed past each other to get to their work stations on time. There they would stand in one spot and spend the next ten hours doing something that a robot was surely going to do as soon as it was invented. It was the most dystopian workplace I’d ever seen. There were endless rows of people wearing face masks, separated by plastic screens, repeatedly picking up boxes off conveyor-belts and opening them up. There was an awkward atmosphere and absolutely no sense of community among the workers. There they toiled in silence along with hundreds of other workers like some messed-up version of Santa’s workshop where the elves appeared to be more machine than living creatures.

Before getting started on being another mechanical elf, I naturally had to receive some training for my important role. This was done in a few hours with a woman I could barely understand, partly to the fact of her bad English, partly to the fact of how loud the warehouse was, and partly to the fact I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention. I eventually went in blind on the task and figured it out as I went along. Basically, all I had to do was open a box from the conveyor-belt, scan one of the items inside, and then allocate a certain amount of those items into a plastic tote to be distributed to the correct onward destination. And then do the same thing again. And again. And again. Once more, I realised my university degree had served me well; I was back to doing one of those jobs which was best done by leaving your brain at the front door. That I did as I spent the days staring into space, daydreaming about anything and everything. All in all, it wasn’t actually so bad; at least there were no customers and bosses to deal with, aside from some guy who occasionally came around with a laptop to give you feedback on your work-rate. Typically, you had a target to meet for how many items you scanned per hour, as well as explain any mistakes or periods of inactivity. I expected such dehumanising measures in a company which was basically a giant machine, but I truly didn’t care about any of their targets or staying too long on my break. When the worst someone can do is fire you from a job you don’t care about, then you had a sort of untouchable aura about you. Besides I knew there were a set amount of warnings to get through before they actually had the right to dismiss you. By the time it got to that point, I would surely have quit on my own accord anyway. 

On my lunch breaks I sat socially distanced from everyone else. The canteen was also a giant room with 100m-long tables stretching down from one end to the other. The sight of everyone there eating on their own under the artificial lighting made me sad; all those people sitting apart, most of them out-of-shape with bad postures, eating their lunch quickly before rushing back to their workstations. I suppose I was just seeing it through fresh eyes and that I’d get used to it after a while like everyone else.

It took me a few shifts to realise there was an outside area. The spring weather so far had been one of the best on record – something which only made being stuck in this giant, windowless warehouse for ten hours a day even more horrific. Once I knew I could salvage a small amount of sunlight and fresh air during work, I took myself outside for my two thirty-minute breaks to enjoy it. I’d lie down on a bench sunbathing, thinking of nothing while staring up at the bright blue sky that was soon to blackened out by the great steel roof of the warehouse. The outside canteen area was close to the main exit of the building and quite often I would eye it up before returning to work. Knowing it was spring and the flowers were blooming and the sun was shining and the streams were streaming – yet I would have to return to the bleak darkness of the warehouse – caused that usual feeling of escapsim to fall over me. It had only been a week and I was already looking at the front door and imagining walking out of it once again – just like my last job, and the one before that, and the one before that. Surely I wasn’t the only one who constantly thought this way? Surely the other worker elves around me must have been thinking the same thing? Hell, all across the world, there must have been tens of millions of people who eyed up the exit to their workplace like it was an attractive member of the opposite sex. Why was it seemingly just me that continually gave in and lusted after it? Maybe I was lacking something – I was weak or complacent. Or maybe I was the only one with enough guts or recklessness to actually go through with it? Whatever the case, it seemed that this feeling of running off was inescapable, and as the sun continued to beam down, I came very close to leaving another transient piece of employment yet again. But another thought was also there: what exactly awaited me outside of that fence? The lockdown of the country had confined and boxed me in. I had nowhere to go, no other job I could hope to get, and my only shelter was at my parents – which would be even worse than here. God knows the grief they would get me after quitting this job after a week. I could hear them already. “You’re stupid to quit a job at a time like this! Don’t you know it’s a pandemic? You’re not going to get another job anywhere else. If you’re going to spend all day here then you’re going to have to pay more board….” No, it appeared I was trapped in this strange place for the foreseeable future, so I turned my face away from the sunlight and marched back inside to join the thousands of other obedient workers at their workstations. 

3

I think it was roughly three months after I had sent out my manuscripts for my novel that I accepted my latest life failure. I must have contacted over forty publishers and agents, and only five had contacted me back. Three of these said they weren’t interested and the other two I turned out to be vanity publishers. They wanted me to pay thousands for publication of the book while they basically sat back and did nothing. A quick review search of these publishers shown dozens of people complaining how they put thousands of pounds into the printing and promotion costs, only to receive a handful of sales. Once again, the impossibility of making it as a writer was made stark and clear – not only would you have to invest hundreds of hours of your time to write a book, but then you’d have to invest more time to find a publisher, and then you’d have to invest loads of money only to see your book pick up a few measly sales here and there. Truly, it was the ultimate waste of time – time-wasting on a godlike scale, in fact – and I thought of all the other millions of aspiring writers that ever existed who spent their whole lives writing in vain before dying without anyone reading their body of work. Such thoughts only reminded me how hopelessly out of odds I was with it all. I could still hear the throwaway lines from teachers and parents. “Do what you’re passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life.” “Aline your passion with your purpose and you’ll find your true calling.” Pfft, it was a tedious script people were fed at a young age, but what is a person to do when their passion was something that didn’t make money? What to do when your passion was poetry, or painting, or sitting around staring into space? Better to be passionate about driving a bus, or stacking shelves, or making cheeseburgers, or sitting at a computer and typing digits into a screen. Better to be passionate about standing beside a conveyor-belt and picking up boxes for ten hours a day.

No, I remembered that the whole writing thing was just another delusional daydream of mine. I shook my head free from such fantasy and focused on the cold, hard reality before me – the reality of being a robotic cog in the corporate Amazon machine. My role on this earth was to not to enlighten and entertain the masses through well-written literature, but to pick up these boxes off a conveyor-belt, open them up, and place items into another box. My place amongst humanity was set and I looked down at the many items I was scanning. It was an eye-opening insight into the current state of consumerism, especially into what people were buying to entertain themselves now they were under a government lockdown. People truly bought anything – including a fan-holder for ice creams, so you could carry them for prolonged periods without them melting. Or a shower curtain with waterproof pockets for your phone. Or a selfie stick for dogs. Or a miniature leaf blower. The absurdity of society was made clear before my eyes and I thought of all the people working jobs they didn’t like and then using money to buy this useless shit they didn’t need. A lot of that shit seemed to only cause them more stress and unhappiness, like the rug in the living room which kept them on edge whenever someone had a drink anywhere near it. It was a system of insanity which I was now an integral part of it, helping everyone out there get their useless gizmos and gadgets made from the bones of this slowly dying earth.

I think it was when I was scanning packs of luxury anal lube that it all started to get to me. Apparently the Covid-19 lockdown had caused people to start experimenting in the bedroom, and I imagined all the people out there screwing for hours a day because there was nothing else to do. For some reason, I couldn’t focus on what I was doing anymore – I couldn’t accept my purpose on this earth was to help people fulfill their sodomy fantasies in the bedroom – so I started working on a new book in my head. Of course, I realised I had just accepted my doomed fate as a writer, but at that point I just needed to occupy myself with absolutely anything that would take me away from the depressing reality of my current predicament. My new literary masterpiece which was destined to be unappreciated in its lifetime was a novel about some kids who discover something which they think is a hallucinogenic drug, but is actually a substance which helps them sober up from the chemical they were secretly poisoned with through their water supply. The drug in the water supply kept everyone blind to the reality of the slave system they lived in, and the substance they found help awakened them from its spell to see the reality before their eyes. The kids would then on a mission to infiltrate the water factory and help sober everyone up from their secret poison and slavery. It was another edgy dystopian novel which had probably been done in ways before, and would cause publishers and agents to roll their eyes, but these ten hour days of degrading work were getting to me – time needed to be killed in any way it could at this point, so I stepped my daydreaming up to a new level, writing whole paragraphs and chapters in my head, plotting the book out as I zoned far out from my bleak surroundings.

I did this for some while and at one point it was clear how much my daydreaming was affecting my work. One of those people with the laptops came around and commented how my scanning rate wasn’t up to the standard required to be a good mechanical elf. Consequently I was moved to be trained up on the outbound section of the warehouse. I was given a pair of work boots and then led on a long walk to the opposite end of the building. My new role was quickly explained to me and I realised the job was going to be a lot more physical and – even worse – I would have to actually speak to people. The other elves of santa’s workshop were walking around, interacting, cracking jokes in between stacking plastic boxes onto pallets.

I tried to get on with my new role in solitude, but as usual my quiet and receptive nature attracted the nearest barking dog towards me. This particular dog was an Indian guy, about 50 years old with a manic look in his eyes. He asked me how long I had worked here and how I was finding the job. Once he had done the required level of interaction to seem like he actually cared about anyone’s voice other than his own, he then barked on relentlessly about himself. Within a few of minutes of listening to him, I knew this was yet another man made violently sick by society. His insecurity about working a dead-end job was instantly clear to see, and he kept continually talking about how much money his family had, and that his daughters were going to university, and that he paid £10,000 for his son’s car for his birthday, and that he worked this job through choice, not necessity. Truly, I was awe-struck by his desperation to impress a stranger – especially one who cared as little as I did. I couldn’t believe this was a real human-being and I kept looking around for some cameras; this insane man surely had to be from some types of comedy sitcom. I knew I had my insanities to a certain degree, but here was a man that was completely maddened and messed-up by the high-achieving expectations of his culture. I looked at his face and realised that this is what society can do to a person – turn them into twitching, insecure, distorted messes who can’t help but pour nonsense out of their mouths constantly. I eventually zoned out as he continued to repeat himself. “Yeah yeah… my daughter will be earning £70,000 a year when she graduates…. Yeah, yeah… my family owns five properties in total…. Yeah, yeah.. I got my son a new car, we like to look after our own, you know, help them out a little bit.…”

When the line got busy again, I took the opportunity to flee to somewhere else to work. Once there, I was free for some time until the line stopped due to a jam. I thought I was in the clear until I was unfortunately spotted by a bald and overweight Polish guy. He got asking me about myself and I told him I was an aspiring writer with a journalism degree and was just working here through the lockdown of the pandemic. “What’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?” he then asked me. It was a question I had heard a few times in my life during my short stints in these low-skilled jobs. For some reason, I must have given off an aura of being too intelligent for such work (maybe it was the fact I had a degree, even though they were worthless these days as nearly half of all young people had them.) I gave some generic answer about making extra money through the pandemic and this prompted him to start telling me how much overtime he does and that he sometimes even works seven days a week. I didn’t really know what to say for the poor bastard. I felt terrible for the guy spending his life in this warehouse, but the worst thing is that he seemed to be happy to work here all day every day. Listening to his story, I could see it was all he knew at this point in his life. Divorced, no hobbies, no social life – what else exactly awaited him outside that fence? I knew his story was a common one – that there were so many people out there were, working through the whole of their lives, all of them inevitably institionalised by their workplaces as their jobs killed off everything else in their life. Soon the hunch-back posture came, the beer bellies, the rings around the eyes. Their best stories were from when there had been some drama or scandal at work. 

As the line restarted and I got back to work, I told myself I didn’t want to end like these strange people. I didn’t expect much from this life but truly there must have been something slightly better than this repetitive, robotic and degrading existence. Surely there was a better way to pass the days then surrendering yourself to something that was not too far off slavery. On the other hand those who chose not to allow themselves to be moulded and melded down into a job role were usually destitute and homeless. They were the insane alcoholics, the mental asylum patients, the lost and lonely lingering in the loveless shadows. Where exactly was one supposed to slot themselves into this system while maintaining some sort of spirit of life? It was absurb and anyone who still had a working heart could feel it. With a heavy feeling in my gut, I looked at the clock which shown there was another six hours to go. I then looked at everyone scurrying around and stacking boxes. Out of nowhere I had a feeling of and I wished to be infected with this stupid virus now. Wasn’t this suppose to be a pandemic after all? Yes, come on, Covid-19 – do your worst. Let me have a bad reaction and let’s get this whole thing over with once and for all. 

how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

Covid-19 was the name of the virus. Just when I thought life couldn’t be any more tedious, in came a new period of lockdown rules which reduced life to something that was merely going to work and sitting at home watching Netflix shows. There were no clubs open; no pubs open; no restaurants open; no gyms open; no libraries open. There were skies without planes; roads without cars; shops without food. ‘Stay Home’ was the national slogan and you were only permitted to go outside for one walk or exercise session a day. I knew most people chose safety over actually living their life, but now there wasn’t even a choice in the matter. Existence was all that was allowed in the name of safety. The only thing to do was dwell, to linger, to wait for something – anything. Yes, the apocalypse had come and my god – it was the boring apocalypse one could have predicted. No zombies or nuclear bombs or asteroids – just a slow dying of the human spirit as we all sat inside staring at screens and twiddling our thumbs.

Locked in my flat, l didn’t really have much to entertain myself with. I didn’t own a television or games console – just my laptop which I used for my writing (which had now stopped). I could have just got drunk of course, but for some reason I decided to pack in the drinking and dedicate myself to living a zen-like sort of lifestyle. Aside from my one run a day and the occasional visit to the supermarket (the only thing still open), all I did was I spend the time sitting and staring into space. Life quickly became a mix of meditation and masturbation; of getting lost down internet rabbit holes for hours into the early morning. My landlord Martin was in the flat too of course, although we somehow managed to rarely see each other. It was just the usual occasional chitchat in the kitchen before returning alone to our rooms. One might have thought the situation would bring us together – two people confined with no one else in the world to see or speak to, but for some reason it only made us more distant than before. Our aloof relationship was just another example of human interaction in the modern age – of having people constantly close to you but choosing to be alone with people on the internet instead. 

This solitary existence went on until sometime in the second week of lockdown when Martin told me I would have to move out after my next rent was up. I checked the calendar and realised this was in five days’ time. Typically, I wanted to question his reasoning behind this, but at that point I couldn’t be bothered to argue or even enquire about his seemingly spontaneous decision. Maybe the fearmongering media had already cast its spell upon him and he didn’t want a potential virus carrier living in his safe space? Maybe he just wanted the flat to himself now he was confined in it for twenty-three hours a day? Maybe I was more insufferable and annoying than I actually realised? Whatever his reason, I wasn’t going to argue about it and – when the time came – I packed my bags of the few things I owned, cleared out the junk from my room, and took one last look at it before leaving. There it went: another transient dwelling of mine now confined to memory; another mostly uneventful chapter of my life over as the dust settled on the tops of the shelves. 

I headed back to my hometown of Coventry via the train. Fortunately they were still running, although you were only permitted to use them for ‘essential or emergency purposes’. I wasn’t sure that the UK government were going to go full-on totalitarian with the rules, but it appeared I was wrong as I got stopped by a police officer at the station who asked me my reason for travel. I told him I’d just been kicked out my place and was having to move back with my parents. He looked at me and my flimsy backpack with almost a sad and pitiful look. He then looked down at the floor and back up to my face. “On you go lad,” he finally said. 

I got on the train and sat there alone in the totally empty carriage, enjoying the rare peace and quiet that was seldom found on public transport (it appeared this apocalypse thing actually had some benefits). I then stared out the window, looking out at the countryside, reflecting on the next chapter of my life that was to come. I hadn’t really acknowledged the situation at hand so far, but at the point of being on my way home it suddenly hit me: I was thirty years old and about to be back living with my parents. It was a situation that was almost enough to make a grown man weep – especially a man who was at odds with his parents as much as me, but I reminded myself that it wasn’t completely my fault and that such a tragic situation was acceptable given the unprecedented circumstances. Still, such mental gymnastics wasn’t going to spare me of the actual horror of the situation at hand. It had been six years since my last spell there; and my last memories of that period weren’t great to say the least. I recalled the frequent arguments with my parents, the constant annoyances, the desire to escape at the nearest opportunity. I recalled the horror of having to listen to my parents have sex through the paperthin walls; of listening to them argue about the most trivial and meaningless things. Could I really endure such a way of being once more? Every year of my life seemed to distance me further away from my parents, and any commonground that was once there was now gone. I almost even felt that I wasn’t welcome in their home anymore – like I was now a stranger in comparison to the boy who grew up there. In the place of that hopeful child, they now had a disenfranchised thirty-year-old man who saw the world through very different eyes than he once had. What was I but yet another adult that had been beaten and bent out of shape by the world that awaited you once you had grew up and left home.

When I got home, I dropped my bags and made a cup of coffee. As soon as I walked into the living room, my mum was stressing about the rug. “Watch your coffee! This is a brand new rug! Don’t you dare spill anything on it…” Once again it appeared they had purchased something that brought them much happiness to their lives. After a brief bit of small-talk about the virus, my dad moved the conversation onto the cost of living there. £50 a week – which wasn’t as bad as I expected. My parents were both working class and were constantly itching to remind me that there wasn’t anything such as a free lunch. “I had to go out and work for a living when I was 16….” “Nobody paid my way.” “If you want to stay with us, you’ll have to contribute…. you’re a grown man now.” It was all the usual stuff that showcased what absolute working class heroes they were. Anyway, I was prepared for their script and told them I’d even pay the first month up front – that got them off my back for a while.

I then sat there with them watching television shows for a couple of hours. These included game shows and television soaps where you sat watching fictional characters live their lives as yours passed by on a sofa. It seemed not much had changed since I had last lived here – the five hours of television each evening before bed was still the norm. I guess that was their way of killing time, each person did it differently. At one point I had seen enough and took myself upstairs to my childhood bedroom. There I sat there on the bed, staring out the window into the back garden. I then stared at the walls, and my old books, and then my reflection of the mirror on my wardrobe. I recalled the times I had stared at it as a child and teenager. Here I was again: my face older, my body with more creaks and scars, my hair now starting to grey. My youth had deserted me and I was now edging towards middle-age, back in the same spot like nothing had happened. And when I thought about it, it was true – nothing had really happened. Like many people of my generation, my twenties had passed me by in an uneventful blur of stumbling around physically and mentally. No relationships, no adventures, no real purpose or meaning – just a constant existence of confusion and dissastisfaction. It was enough to cause waves of sadness to wash over me. I was supposed to be concerned with what was happening out there in the world, but what was happening in my world seemed like the real crisis. My detached nature suddenly escaped me and I looked up at the stars wistfully. I looked at them shining in the night sky and longed for something more, for not simply being dejected and disillusioned with this wretched world that I was stuck in. I longed for meaning and purpose; for some kind of sustenance for my soul. And I thought of all the others like me out there, locked down in their homes or wherever the hell they were. I thought of them staring up at the same sky and feeling the same things – of feeling confused and dismayed with this world; tired of the human experience; bored with absolutely everything that this life offered. Truly this earth and existence was some kind of prison for a certain type of person – the ones who looked up above and thought a bit more about everything than you were supposed to. It was too much to take so I went and rejoined my parents to watch some more mindless programs and numb my brain to sleep.

short stories · thoughts

~ Wandering the Darkness ~

~ Wandering the Darkness ~

At times I knew I was falling too far into the pits of depravity and insanity. My drinking became heavier and my behaviour more outrageous. I wanted to come back to some sort of peace and tranquillity. I always thought it was there, like a bridge I could cross whenever I got tired, but one day I considered that maybe that bridge had collapsed and I wouldn’t be able to easily return to that steady state I was once in. I was stuck in the lands of madness, where the crooked tree branches surrounded me, where wild-eyed vultures picked at carcasses, and dark spaces held hidden terrors. There was no clear way of going back so onward I kept walking into the dense foliage toward whatever fate awaited me. 

On that path I thought of all the others who had gone crazy and lost themselves completely on similar journeys. I didn’t want to be like them and I knew I still had the light inside of me – the light that could lead me to the lands of peace once more. But at that moment a great doubt settled in my head and I couldn’t help but wonder whether destruction and disaster was my inevitable destination. My drinking continued to become heavier as I felt more and more distant from the people who stood in front of me. I was losing touch with reality at times, drifting away in a room of crowded people, fading out from my surroundings, losing my mind while wandering in the darkness.

I wouldn’t be the first in my family to have wandered down such a path. I thought of my uncle who died alone in a room of sadness and alcoholism. They found him amid the empty bottles, unresponsive and not even fifty years old. He had been living in that apartment for some years, separated from his ex, rarely seeing his son and drinking heavily. I remember my father first telling me about his problem. “You have to understand that he can’t stop himself when drinking. Most people can have a few and then stop themselves, but he can’t. When he drinks just one, he carries on drinking until he passes out. That’s why he can’t drink any alcohol at all.” 

At his funeral I looked around at the forlorn faces of my relatives. Funerals were always sad occasions, but when they were for someone who had passed before their time, then there was an extra bleakness in the air. My other uncle got up and told stories of his life before breaking down in tears. Listening to his words, I reflected on the last times I had seen him, usually in passing in the city centre while he was on his way to his job serving meat on a deli counter in the market. As a teenager, I had failed to spot the pain in his eyes, but now I was older and the sadness of the world had made itself home in my heart too, I looked back at those occasions and understood things a bit more clearly. I think about the situation he was in, barely surviving off a cash-in-hand job at the local market, living alone in a small flat, failed relationships and rarely seeing his only child. Like many hurting people, he turned to the bottle to numb the pain of his reality. And now I see his face in my memory; the bloated face, the red cheeks, the lost look in those eyes. The reality was always there in front of me if only I had the awareness to see it.

As a child, I didn’t understand how someone couldn’t stop themselves from drinking. But now I have reached a time in my life where I start to see the darkness in which my uncle lost himself within. The demons lure you in, and it becomes so easy to spiral off into a storm of self-destruction. There had been too many times that I had gone on reckless benders, drinking myself into oblivion, sedating and medicating through the bottle. When your world feels a bit empty, it’s a quick fix to migrate to a different land – a hazy land that may feel like heaven in moments, but is really hell. You make a trade to distort and suppress your senses, but life loses its shine until the darkness is all you know. Slowly you become comfortable in it as it surrounds and engulfs you. You don’t even struggle against it; you like the feeling of seeing yourself slip away in the distortion. That blur of new faces, the hedonistic excess, the reckless and wild behaviour – the brutal hangovers only cured by picking up the bottle again. It’s madness. Pure madness. And you get sucked into the vortex ever more rapidly until that chaos is all you know and understand.

Despite currently drinking heavily and being out of control, a part of me believed that I was able to put the bottle down if I absolutely had to. I had a period every year where I stopped drinking for two or three months in the autumn. I also knew the happiest I’ve ever been were those stages at the age of 26 and 28 when I went sober for a few months. I exercised often, ate reasonably okay, slept well, meditated and didn’t go near the bottle. Even just staring at a drink made me feel nothing at that point. There was zero attraction. I knew it was poison to the state of consciousness I’d acheived – that all the gains of happiness I’d made would be dragged back and taken away from me. But despite those periods, I still find myself here I am a few years on drinking more heavily than ever before. There are reasons for this I suppose. The loss of time and frustration that came from the covid lockdowns; the fact I’ve just turned 30 and want to make the most of this very last bit of my youth. I’d had fun in some ways, I suppose, but these latest benders fill me with almost a fear that perhaps I really have lost my mind; that I have lost control; that I will never return from these woods of madness and find my way back to the lands of peaceful light. It fills me with a fear that I will not be able to stop and they’ll find me one day in that room of isolation, unresponsive on some beer-stained sofa, amid the bottles and beer caps – another soul taken by the need to try and find some shelter and escape from life’s unrelenting storm.

thoughts

Piercing Reflections

‘One morning I awoke in a strange room with a foul taste in my mouth. My date from the previous night was still fast asleep and I figured it was easier for both of us if I just left before she stirred. I had no battery on my phone and wasn’t sure exactly where I was. I walked out of the house which was on the top of a hill. From the doorstep, I saw the city centre in the distance and realised I was on the opposite side of the city. I then started making my long way home through unknown streets and neighbourhoods. I could have gotten a bus, but I had always resented paying for public transport, so I kept on walking – tired, hungover and even more of a daze than usual. I looked at the people walking past me, wondering which of them was also doing a walk of shame. My stumbling continued until I had made it back into the city centre when I caught my reflection in a shop window. For a minute I stood there staring at it. It seemed that on every street a window reflection was there to show you to yourself and suddenly make you question what the hell it was you were doing on that street, in that city, in that life. Did your path have purpose? Were you a good person anymore? Were you even a sane person anymore? Looking into my tired eyes, I could see I was just another messed-up young man, entertaining myself and keeping life interesting in whatever way I could. I was no different than the drunks and druggies; than the addicts and adrenaline junkies. I found my solace in the thrill of casual sex; my shelter in the tangled limbs of a stranger. It was a depressing reality and my reflection continued to stare back at me almost in disgust. There was only so much of it I could take before I had to look away and carry on along the avenue. This is what life could do to a man. He enters it with wide eyes ready to discover and explore, and then thirty years later he stands staring at his reflection in confusion and consternation. The only thing to do was carry on walking and try to avoid that reflection for a little while longer.’

how to kill time while waiting to die

How To Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

All these brief loveless liaisons continued until one girl came along who managed to stick in my life longer than a one-night stand. Her name was Carola – an Italian who had recently moved to this country with her boyfriend. That relationship was now over after he had just walked out the door one day and she never heard from him again. Stranded in a foreign country on her own, she had also resorted to dating apps to find some sort of human companionship. Things weren’t going too well for her and I almost felt apologetic about the fact that I had now stumbled into her life. Our first few dates we didn’t really do anything other than stroll around the city centre, sit on park benches, drink coffee in cafes, and eat her home-cooked food by the river. Straight away I could tell she was someone like me – another confused drifter wandering around aimlessly looking for something to do to keep life interesting. In the last few years she had been a fire dancer in the Cook Islands, had built mud houses in Morocco, and was now training in martial arts and saving to go to China to study in a karate school. The desperation to wring some meaning into her life screamed out of her, and she was only one step away from becoming a life coach or climate change activist.

     She didn’t have much money and I wasn’t doing particularly great on that front too after the shameful amount of dates I had been on. As a result, our meetings became more lowkey until we just spent all our time around each other’s places. We cooked food and watched movies; we drank wine and played games; we lay in beds for whole days sleeping and having sex. It wasn’t long until the whole thing developed into something a little more serious. Out of the blue, it appeared I had become another tangled in the web of something that resembled a relationship.

     Neither of us wanted to call it that, but that’s what it was beginning to feel like with all the time we spent together. And with us now being something of an item, I soon got to see what was really under the surface. Typically this included her dark side – in particular, a violent temper that was the cause of many arguments. I’m not even sure how many of them started; one moment we’d be talking about our day and then the next verbal missiles would be launching towards me.     

     “You’re lost!” she shouts at me. “You’re thirty years old and you have no purpose. You just cycle around town, complaining about the world, and writing your shitty stories that no one reads. Why don’t you try to find some meaning to your life hey?” 

     “And what exactly is your purpose?” I asked. “To kick people in the head?”

     “Oh yeah really hmm.. That’s all I do yeah. Fuck you. You’re so fucking ignorant. You know nothing about what I do. Get a life.”

     “But that is what you do right? Kick people in the head?”

     “You know, I meet people like you all the time. You think you’re cool because you’re not participating in anything. You look down on everyone else, thinking you’re enlightened or something for not doing the things that everyone else does. You only live for yourself and only think about yourself. Your life is a joke and do you really think anyone cares about you, or what’s going on inside your head?”

      “Probably not. I guess we’ll see one day.”

     “No we won’t. You won’t get your books published. You won’t do anything with your life because you’re a loser – a typical loser who is self-absorbed with no ambition. For god sake, you’re thirty-years-old and you don’t even know how to cook or drive. You have nothing to show for your life other than some words that nobody wants to read.” 

     I guess it was true that most people would get offended by such remarks, but I had to admit I kinda enjoyed it. Perhaps it was the masochist in me, but her fiery personality was a nice change compared to the coldness that I found in English girls. On top of this, her scornful words were thought-provoking to me. They were like the critical part of my consciousness I had suppressed, and I even found myself agreeing with her a lot of the time, although typically I never told her that.

     “Okay,” I responded. “Maybe you will go to China and study martial arts and get really good at kicking people in the head, but I promise you that you’ll still feel empty inside. All you’ve done is wander around from one thing to the next, looking for something to make you happy. Face it: the problem isn’t the thing or the place –  the problem is you. You’re always going to be unhappy and unfulfilled. Just like everyone else.”

     “Oh yeah, because you’re so happy? Why should I listen to you about happiness? I’ve known you for two months now and I don’t think I’ve seen you smile more than once or twice.”

     “I guess my natural expression is one of sadness.”

     “Your face doesn’t lie. I see it in your eyes; you’re bored and lifeless.”
    “I definitely am right now.”

     “Listen, you’re not young anymore. Get some fucking direction in your life. Honestly, go get a real job. Contribute something. Make someone’s life better. Then maybe you’ll have some joy and you won’t always look like you’re at a fucking funeral.” 

     “I accept I may have a resting bitch face,” I started. “But you – you are the most unhappy person I’ve ever met. The slightest thing sets you off into an argument. You’re emotionally unstable and violent. You have so much anger and hatred inside of you trying to get out at any opportunity. No wonder you like kicking people…. psycho.”

     The sound of the word ‘psycho’ set her off. Her eyes filled up with a terrible rage and at that moment I realised I had gone too far. I instantly remembered receiving a piece of advice about never telling a psycho that they’re a psycho – especially if that psycho was trained in some form of martial arts. Well, it was too late now as she lunged forward and started attacking me. In came the merciless assault: a punch to the side of the head, a scratch on my neck, a kick to the legs – her verbal missiles had become physical ones as I got pounded from all angles. She then grabbed my T-shirt tight and pulled me towards her, tearing it at the seams on the shoulder. I barely owned many T-shirts as it was and that was another one now ruined. I thought about the increasingly tragic state of my wardrobe as I fought her off, restraining her, holding her arms up in the air as they vibrated violently like rockets ready to explode. She eventually relaxed and fell into my arms, crying from whatever it was that was really hurting her inside.

     What a situation to end up in, I thought to myself. I was already getting fairly well beat up by life in general, but now I had someone literally attacking me too. In the face of such hostility, I began to understand the sudden disappearance of the ex-boyfriend. I considered myself someone who was perhaps at odds with the world, but Carola made me think perhaps my mental health was almost not as terrible as I imagined. Ultimately that was a terrifying thought – the idea that I was one of the more ‘okay’ people in this world. After all, perhaps it was true; working in customer service had already shown me just how messed up some people were. In particular, I recalled the self-harm scars on the forearms of many people I served at a bar. From the outside they all looked neat – nice clothes and makeup and wide smiles – but as they handed me the money I looked down and saw the knife lines etched into their skin. Those scars reminded me that most people looked smooth and polished on the surface, but under that was a world of pain that people never saw. In Carola’s case however, her pain was clear to see. If it wasn’t from the frequent outbursts, then it was from a forlorn look I could see in her eye. It was the look I saw in many people’s eyes, staring into space, wondering what the hell it was they were doing and if they would ever be happy on this earth. She was only twenty-three and reminded me of myself at that age – even more confused and dismayed with life than I was now. I was still those things, of course, but at least I was comfortable with my total indifference with everything around me. She was still discovering such animosity and I knew the two of us being together was about as unhealthy as a relationship could be. In all honesty, I shouldn’t have let things carry on, but the relationship (or whatever the hell it was) was giving me something that I had been missing. It was exciting, after all. There was a constant tension of unpredictability and I didn’t know whether she was going to fight or fuck me at times – and often it ended up being both. We’d go from shouting and her trying to hit me to screwing in bed as we let our anger out through sex. And I figured that perhaps this war we were in wasn’t too abnormal in the grand scheme of things. All human relationships resulted in frequent arguments; it was just another thing we did to try and make ourselves feel alive.