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Chapter Thirty-Five: WarZone 2008 (excerpt from MENTAL SHRAPNEL, by Phillip O’Neil)

Equus Press is proud to announce the forthcoming publication of MENTAL SHRAPNEL, a novel by Phillip O’Neil.

From the pre-publication blurb:

“Chris Mahler was a top psychologist, but that was before the war in Bosnia. Something happened to him during that war – it left him too traumatised to remember. Jasmina was the love of his life. She was killed in the siege of Sarajevo and his ability to live and love again died with her. Or so he believes. Now a shell-shocked survivor, he is the patient, strapped to a bed under the care of the mysterious Dr Steinfelder. To Mahler, the war meant losing the love of his life and his sanity. To Dr Steinfelder, it meant developing a radical new psychotherapy – a treatment so extreme that even the UN has declared it ‘Above Top Secret’. Mahler’s trauma and amnesia can be cured. But what will he remember if it is? Is Mahler the perfect Guinea Pig the doctors have been hoping to find? Or is it a case of kill or cure? Mahler wants to uncover all that lies hidden in his brain. Powerful men want it to stay buried. The Orwellian tyrant known as ‘The Censor’ has his secrets too, but what does he want from Mahler? Once colleagues, Steinfelder and ‘The Censor’ are now arch-enemies. Mahler must go to war once more and this time the stakes are higher than ever before, discovering that in the twenty-first century, psychiatry is the newest and deadliest weapon of war.”

MENTAL SHRAPNEL is forthcoming in spring 2020.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

WarZone 2008

So, here we go, in pursuit of Kate Mortsel and another damn map. Since she went crazy, her only home was the canal and the pubs alongside according to Spoiler. Either the map was drawn by a blindman or my geography was skewed. It was true I wouldn’t have found the place via the safe i.e. Cathexis Zone enclaves.

‘Can you get hold of any Sinequanon?’

‘You got a habit?’

‘No, I’ve got a migraine.’

‘Well, you’ll have to wait until we get over the border. My dealer’s run out over here.’

Shit, shit, shit I was thinking. When we finally got on the right tram it rumbled and rattled arrhythmically down a minor underground artery to the heart of The WarZone’s capital, Catharsis. Va-va-va-voom voom-va-va. va-va-va-voom, va va … Among the revellers were heads of hangdog homeless jerking around like lazy woodpeckers, grunting half asleep in pants encrusted with incontinence and lost fucks. Lost fucks lost in a file of The Eternal Repeat Department waiting for visas for The USDM ‘Unborn living, living dead’, waiting for the war to end. Goulash triple-striped tisane monitoring the doctoring of the passports. I told ya. All for a stamp like a price-fixer in a flow-rap city machine regurgitating the same old, same old. Dead glass geometry, flashes of chance through a shard. Sieving away from the moment. Migraine shot my vision to a lithe girlboy jumping into a turquoise quarry, all barbed wired off for the danger and safety ministry. But coated with glue and tar he carrioned on. The kid was in i-pod land telling me the trip took more than an hour. The other passengers were mostly troops from either side of the warring teams, passing the time chatting like this conflict was like an extended unofficial truce. A tramp came in and sat next to me asking if I had any fags. I gave him two just to be rid of him but he wanted company as well as Abulia. The kid had his eyes closed. I asked the tramp about finding Mortsel.

‘That would require nose-plugs and an adjustable spanner. Cunt like a scrap merchant’s.’

‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Just tell me where I can find her.’

‘Canals are my thang. You know, straight… dykes on bikes, ditches and bitches. As it went, as it blows. Blow blows as it blows. I’m a methadone actor.’

‘No shit, I know she’s on the San Quentin canal. I just don’t know where.’

‘In any one of the hundred pubs down there,’ and I felt like I was hearing a bad recording.

It was late, I was bushed from no-sleep so I asked him if there was a place we could stay the night.

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Just over there.’ He pointed to the other side and walked off. So, he’d got his fags and I could breathe again. He looked back over his shoulder, scanned me and Spoiler and winced, and said, overtly, ‘pervert’.

The canal passed through a Victorian theme-park. Looked like a district in Žižkov that went from a brief era of merchant-class prosperity to slum and was now becoming buyer-attractive and slowly coming back to life. Even here there was a sign said it was a grade two listing the area in an old tourist guidebook Spoiler gave me.

‘A heritage park cleaned up from redbrick mills, workhouses, prisons, and pubs – one for every fifty inhabitants of the slums. Down colonial streets the air hangs heavy with sweat and mildew. Behind the walls are tiny rooms covered with double mattresses on the floors and walls for soundproofing and the floors are gypsy-full with fifty or so residents. So the slum terraces are alternately lodgings and pubs. Adults and children are paid the minimum wage to dress up as Victorian paupers for visitors to this Heritage site.’

I nudged Spoiler.

‘So tourists still come here?’

‘Oh, yeah, there are still tourists like there are tourists anywhere: to the war-cemeteries, old asylums, the Therapy Park of Adventures. And, of course the war-tourists who pay out the most to see what insanity really looks like go pay a shitload of money for the WarZone Experience.’ A guy opposite overheard our conversation and pointed at the guide.

‘You see, drinks and drugs were easily available the other side,’ said the stranger. ‘Most of the shit served at pre-millennium prices so parties often lose part of their package tour. Japanese, South Koreans, pissed on a couple of treacly beers, get rolled for clothes and wallets and wake up on lice-infested sheets with prostitutes faces half-eaten by scrofula, hawking emaciated bodies with blue-white fried-egg breasts staring dewy-eyed with starvation, scratching scabs off with calloused hands. Once visited, always shy of the place. Just another millennial venture got belly up. A game of Risk. But, they’ve paid to enter so they just get guilt or wallet blues. What were you here for?’

‘A room for the night?’

‘Any preferences?

‘Yes, that it’s close, it’s comfortable and I don’t need any kind of freakish companions. I, we, need a night’s sleep, that’s all.’

‘OK, I’d suggest ‘Le Pissoir’. It’s closest and quieter than most of the others.’

‘You staying there?’

‘Me, oh no, I’m strictly a Holiday Inn man.’

‘So why…?’

‘Because I thought you were looking for a discreet place… with the boy and that.’

‘It’s my… kid.’ I said for some reason with enough hesitation to make it implausible.

Luckily, our stop was the next. I nudged Spoiler again and we exited.

We found ‘Le Pissoir’. I paid upfront to a concierge watching a Vietnamese talent show on a laptop and I just about crawled up the stairs. To get sleep. To get sleep? All night, rasping and hacking coughs, the odd climax moan, grizzling babies and mewling cats. Outside, wails from the canals as humming barges made their way to and from the ports. At three a.m. I gave up on the clammy sheets and looked out of the window pretending I was with a secret service or travel writer doing his research. I took my binoculars out of my bag. And the guide provided what I didn’t need to know. I saw what I saw. I accepted another white night. Tonight, I’d just watch.

Barge captains passed lashed to their helms with dead shark eyes: port authority officials were on hand to whip their bare backs when they passed out. To save time, boat crew had catheters inserted up urethras inexpertly enough to cause enough pain in an attempt to keep them awake: catheters drain green-black residue of chronic depressives. Besides the crew there were talent scouts on the prowl for yet more reality heritage series. Long, low moans behind the long-boat pyramids of coal, gravel and sand. These water boatmen were fed on dog livers poisoned by Vitamin A: soles of feet and palms harden and separate making it agony to stand and steer, read the guide. Flesh and pus ooze out of the filthy bandages binding them together. Sometimes the horror hallucinations were not hallucinations at all.

Propped up against the cabin roofs were digital counters showing the number of trips still to go: countdown in their tens of thousands: it must have induced hell through their bodies and minds playing out a civil war of living in the moment and knowing the future shuttling up and down the black city veins as their bodies dissembled with leprosy, gangrene and psoriasis. Only the spoiled fruit and veg thrown by tourists – like they were pigeons – kept them going. Fear that despair and grief would be substituted by nothing at all. Maybe these were some of Steinfelder’s older patients.

I watched nightwalk loners and lovers on canal bridges teeter on the blue-painted iron railings. A girl with an eye-patch roared with laughter. She was dressed in an overcoat and plastic beach sandals holding the fingerless gloves of a Down’s Syndrome kidult by her side in a black and red mohair sweater. Her other hand grasped a jerrycan filled with burčák, young wine pearly foggy-yellow. A bottle with a neckerchief looked like a Molotov cocktail. As one barge passed under the bridge they stepped up onto the railing, waited for the payload to appear with its cargo of sand, leapt, fell and played star-fairies giggling up into the smog, fingers spread wide.

Somehow I could feel their hands running through the sand like water, cleaner than the effluent that filled the canals. Maybe they were looking for the exhilaration of the moments before sleep, knowing they will sleep and not getting scared out of it by nightmares or panic attacks. I thought of my room and how these locals knew better. Maybe they fell asleep on sand as I used to on buses and Metros. The patch girl and Down’s boy rested a while until they’re roused by parping barge sirens. My mind went back to a wallet of notes for war-correspondents I had gotten hold of on my first trip to Bosnia. The same treatment works on heretics but was next to useless for terrorist subjects in rendition camps or FBS holes. All they’ll get was a commute of random ideas. I watched naked children quagmired in slicks of nutmeg and peanut butter waving their arms, screaming for lifebuoys that had been stolen from the banks by weekend stag party revellers.

‘Aw, fuck it!’ I said aloud and decide to disengage from my mouldy room. Spoiler was sleeping through this whole thing. I guessed he was used to it. I left the hotel and walked down the tow-path dodging carcasses of shire horses and barge-hands junked or shot for ageing and then I had to hopscotch coils of rope used by some to hang themselves from the monkey-tails and ginkgos – the cockroaches of the vegetable world. Vavavavoom!

Next morning we had the tiny portions of a ‘continental breakfast’ and hurried away from the place. While we scraped out the tiny packets of butter and cheese and spread them on old bread I asked Spoiler what was the plan.

‘What plan?’

‘Errr… finding this Mortsel woman?’

‘She’s got her routine and her preferred pubs so we visit those.’

‘So it’s a pub crawl,’ I said trying to make light of the jam we were in. ‘Anyway how come you don’t have the maps if you’re jumping in and out of the zones?’

‘You’ll see. Every trip is different.’

We left the hotel and visited the nearest pub, a Tudor-façaded affair propped up by wooden flying buttresses. We asked the barman if Mortsel had been in. He said she hadn’t, that she didn’t usually appear until midday. I ordered a drink in any case – a whisky sour. I finished it off quickly, now hoping that this would turn into a pub crawl. I had got the taste, I had got the reason. I had got the time. Then Cyn. I hadn’t picked up the phone since coming down here and I didn’t want to alarm her unnecessarily. After the fourth pub (from which Kate had been banned) I saw her meandering down the path.

Her eyes were darting like a lizard, honing in on anything animate that might listen to her. How did I know it was her? This was intuition land. Besides, Spoiler had told me, waiting on our tram, a bit of her back history. She walked the paths night and day telling the same tale years on end. Was I back in Žižkov? Same story delivered with the same stale alcohol, cigarette breath. Back in the day she had worked as a journalist and suffered the rout of too many freebies and spent the latter part of her career with a gin and painkiller habit. She still wore a St. Christopher medallion around her neck, and used to teach students the inverted pyramid and shebang of writing about conflicts external. That was where I got to know her name and picture on her war-correspondence, but she contracted the brush-off dependency habits of her weaker pupils with affective disorders introjecting woes into pale blue maps of veins. In other words, where civil war mirrored the Divided Self.

She carried a sack of old clothes and wore stilettos. Her face was furred, her hair grey, eyes rheumy, skin a river map of blue on white. She walked, knickerless, smelling rotten and fishy. She fingered herself to the point of orgasm and left off, just as we all dream wet-dreams which never get truly wet, just frustrated so much we wake up. In this, her terminal time, Mortsel still believed she could attract men or women, even with her precipitating smell. She was in heat, but other path walkers just held rags to their noses, so she resorted to her one luxury – a third-century BC Thracian dildo, grooved with the hardened mineshaft vaginas of Bacchanals, that she had picked up in a Plovdiv street market two hundred years before. How could I know that?

Mortsel locked on to my gaze and walked into me. Lock ‘n’ load, Kate Mortsel. Like she knew I was looking for her. No, she was just trying to hook a potential client.

‘I can’t anymore. I just can’t. It’s been too many years and I’m never going to…’

I was wincing on account of the stench pouring out of her cavities; she smelt like a refugee-camp massacre. And so, if it brought back that memory, I knew the rest were in there somewhere. This was the A-list reason for wanting to run and hide. Vavavavoom! Another flashback to the HSCC trip to Cathexis, Kit telling me it used to be an old salt-mining town where streets still occasionally cave into abandoned tunnels. Vavavavoom!

Kit, Kate, Cathy, Cathar…?’ Surely not. Was this one of the things I was finding out? That The Facility wanted off me. The ‘myth of the 400-year-old “girl’” It was just a name after all. It said in the guide that she taught awhile at a school given over to the widows, mothers and daughters of the biggest civilian massacre since the Second World War. Srebrenica. And I had to back off from the smell which tunnelled straight through to the side of my head usually reserved for migraine and still operating as such.

Get your mind focused, to get that map off Mortsel, I told myself. Concentrate on the quarry not the quarrier. I was just hoping it would be quick. Like a two-fingered hair of the dog and coke lust-fuck with some prop-mannequin. I was retching spasmodically, trying to breathe through my mouth behind my polka-dot handkerchief: same old, same old. I was right back there in the camp. Kate’s husband had stayed with her until she gave up and headed down to The USDM. As a co-dependent he had had the love of a carer. As she cleaned up he lost a layer of skin, became sensitive as a scratched glans and rubbed salt on his wounded cock: a martyr and his cause tossed into a vat of pickled herrings. When he couldn’t take anymore he’d scarpered with the savings and pension scheme and left her with a semi-detached mortgage torn apart by the internal injuries of addiction. She had signed up to endless rehab schemes but slept with a drip by her bedside feeding her nutrients she could not eat by day or by mouth. If this was true, was she staring out her last years of the alchemical pact? It suddenly struck me that The Facility were more interested in finding her rather than Jazz. Was that what they were after? The secret elixir – the guide to prolong lives, one of the many projects sought by the alchemists. It suddenly struck me. I was sent here to sort out their problem and not my own. Was it the UN? Was it Steinfelder?

‘I’m not going back to the tubes,’ Mortsel said. ‘If I do I’m finished. I mean I’m finished now but then I’ll be washed up. I can’t go back there. If I do I’ll never get out again. I know it. I feel it in my bones. Put me back inside and the marrow’ll be sucked out of me. They do that you know? Wait till the soles of your feet have cracked free and they suck it up for the transplant clinics. It’s all part of the scam. You’re like a siphon-gas pellet. Spurt a few times and you’re dead meat. Always step over dead bodies they say. Huh? What are we? Apocalypse survivors?’ Cockroaches?’

‘In a way,’ I said. ‘No, in all ways.’

‘Look,’ I said. ‘I’m not who you think I am and I need your map to Catharsis Central’

Mortsel rubbed her laddered tights, scratching a skin-pop scab on her thigh. Stained white acrylics revealed scars from falls and decades of cutting. Lacerations criss-crossed tattoes of Gustav Doré harpies. She was wearing a diaper of toilet roll fixed with bandages pilfered from incinerators of The Pont Neuf Hospital.

‘Errm. A friend of mine said you might be able to help me. Says you’ve got a map, a map to the tunnel out of here and into Green Plaza?’

‘You’ve gotta get me inscribed before I get tubed, she said. ‘You’ve got to help me. I haven’t got the money to get credit for my phone. Only get incoming. Weighs in like ordnance. Only callers are creditors and wrong numbers. I could do it if I get on board again. I’ll start tomorrow. I’ll fix for the last time tonight and I’ll wipe the slate clean as crystal tips. I promise, cross my heart, just mark my words. I’m through, through, through with all this. I don’t want or need Abulia. I’m ready to hit Sinequanon but it’s illegal down here.’

I offered her a cigarette. She took one, but her hands were shaking too hard to get it lit. So I lit another in my mouth and handed it to her. Her hands were marbled and splashed with nicotine, blood, shit and grime; fingernails of negligence.

‘I need some money, you know, to cover basics,’ she said.

She might as well ask for a million. An addict relapsing into a spirit lake stabbed by rusting excaliburs can as easily accomplish a mastery over financial matters as fly into the heart of the Sombrero galaxy.

Tears welled up in her eyes. She could not afford to dehydrate or emotionally haemorrhage next to the black cut: nothing living went in there ever came out the same. She had got the kind of history and face that never gets identified in morgues. No monument for The Unknown Addict. L’Inconnue? She’d do as a first-aid resuscitation model for fire-fighters getting used to mouth-to-mouth on the worst mess they might have to deal with. Anyone can blow faith back into a glam and serene fille-perdue. And how many of them do you get at the scene of an accident?

All I wanted was the fucking map but she’d tuned into my pity ducts. Sure, a part of me wanted to get her out of the capsule/squatting mentality. Recalled The Mapmaker who ‘knew a man ran a programme ran up to the hilt with the policy of matching alternative addictions. As we all know, addiction, like energy, cannot be created or destroyed only converted. Give ‘em Librium for a fortnight with 8mg tablets of Subutex to get them enough sleep. Then string out the weeks on Olanzapine for the psychoses and jab ‘em up the arse with Risperdal every other day. Make ‘em sleep and shit regular. And then Sinequanon. Addicts need to catch up on the dream carousel away from the crisis management of a psyche acting out like a sewage farm.

I was staring at the spot where Mortsel’s eyebrows met – a hairy, third eye stuck with sleep and obscured by sties and floaters. Part concern, part boredom, part glazed, drilling into the bridge maybe I’d spook her to pass on by: deal or no deal. I couldn’t stand the ineffectiveness of single mindedness. Recall Dante: ‘The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.’

These days, it seemed everyone I passed gave me the nod or blanked me, making it damned obvious they were all hitting their moral crises the only way they knew how – like compasses set in curling stones stuck in concrete-filled jumbo tyres – grinding through nausea or just too heavy to move. Seemed everyone here in the suburbs suffered from Communism of the Soul. Symptoms like hangovers. For drunks this meant quadruple vision, compound visions of the world through an insect’s mirrorball eyes. And I needed to get results pretty damn soon or I’d get to join the lost souls down this black cut.

So, it was a case of shoehorning myself into the ripe odour of the USDM’s footsoldiers. I was dressed to blend in but came up short with the anti-style of the COTS sufferer. Even the methodically precise fakir has difficulty getting the look. It takes real poverty and breakdown to achieve the style. The look of months of broken sleep requires the talents of a make-over queen to achieve the sunken eyes and the hanging black crescents opening and closing like Velcro lids peeling with the irritation of sand. The newer addicts came to, got clean, spent nights as cleaners on kill floors, rolling around no-sheet, sweat-soaked mattresses. Stench combating with cheap brand deodorants handed out in care packages at a Cathexis Clinic which opened its doors for outpatients twice a week: a soup kitchen with food parcels and a doctor signing scripts and benefits forms. Sound of formica tables with worn rubber feet on linoleum, babble of addicts talking over the imposed boredom, sneaking out to swig from bottles and toke at joints. Anaemic single-mothers with a flush of dole-paid recovering drunks to drink with them at their expense – ride the hotel lobbies and drink the cheapest local wine. Style over content, content that produces bile and urea, veins stretched with uric crystals: preying on routes used by the newer abstainers. Getting kicks from getting them back on the booze. You could see girls’ sunglasses hiding the kohl eyes of a binge, shaking edgily, drawn to a free evening even though last night’s ended up in blackout and a police cell and one more barred-from bar. Sex craving post binge only wants pornographic ejaculation. Spunk spurts higher and longer: second and third spurt further. Anal sex was high priority. Drunks are backdoor men. They want to be milked. They want to shish the female with their nitro-glycemic rods in a merciless counter to ward off impotence.

Hang on, I thought. This was memory, not observation.

Nostalgic ‘me-oh-my’ looked past Kate’s hunched back, re-focussing on the black canal and I saw the ghost of Ghislaine, hard-bodied Moroccan lying on her belly on my bed in Paris’ arrondissement 11. Arse like cleats. Ra-ra cheerleader in a black dress and me shooting hot bolts of semen into her thighs: hanging like spit off my cock – pearly tendrils. She’d got up and wiped herself with toilet paper and my prick started to pump back up as I grabbed her and sunk my face into her pubic hair, breathing in their combined harvesting smells. One of my fugue selves published a book of poetry before the war titled: ‘I Want to Sink my Fangs into Medusa’s Pubic Hair.’ Ghislaine called herself Gazelle, fended me off a while when we went rambling through Père Lachaise cemetery. She said she had a penchant for war memorials and fetishised Holocaust monuments thrown up by the same officials who barked-away Jews, queers and gypsy lives as night-cargo on suburban train station platforms sinking into a rust and spotlight spaghetti-tangle of tracks like aircraft carriers. Just in front of the Communards wall, where the last few 1848ers had been rounded up and shot, she dragged me behind a black-marble monument. I pushed her against the plinth and thrusted with aggressive stabbing lust-fast, pushing her head into the gravel. I wanted to come over her black dress like a spent bowl of angel-hair soup to offer her a different kind of memory.

After that freak show, me and the Gazelle went to a nouvelle-decadence party in Fontenay-aux-Roses for civic engineers en route to Mozambique. They were between partying and packing their cases with flavoured and ribbed condoms, out of sight of girlfriends as they bragged about the pink gashes of black sex. We sluiced down cloudy highball glasses of Sazerac and Pernod. Next morning we rode the metro grinding our hips in the rush hour. I was sick with a volley of heaves. Wanting to see how much come I had left to spend on her. When she left, the Gazelle left me a lipstick gezellig on the window and pillow and I sank back into reading Quatre Ans Dans L’Enfer Des Fous, using her pastel self-portrait as a bookmark.

My senses returned to here and now. Mortsel was second-rate of the lowest order. She had a garter round her calloused thigh, read ‘Touch Me Two Times.’ I was aware that she would tag me like there was a monkey on my back clinging to the chips on my shoulders. I decided the best option was to buy her drinks and scarper when I got the map. So in we went to one of the two-a-penny pubs down the canal. A chain feeding the passing traffic, serving up drinks to the ghosts who walked up and down the tow-path in an attempt to walk off cravings or searching for some kind of misguided, reflective redemption in the sluice-juice canal thick with detritus: carrier bags, cans, milk crates, supermarket-trolleys, old dressings, nappies, identity cards, forged papers, final reminders. Thought of all being: ‘Have I found my rock-bottom. Have I found the place of return? Have I disgusted myself and everyone around enough to stop and… what? Rebuild a life?

‘Can I buy you a drink?’ I asked.

Mortsel swivelled her head and said ‘Go on then.’

The three of us walked into the nearest pub, Newton’s Cradle, a converted lock-house. It was a real dive built over a plague pit. Seems the buboes had risen to the surface and exploded like puffball mushrooms covering clientele with a thin layer of viral dust. Sat at the bar: immigrants: Nigerians, Somalis, Romanians, Afghans waiting to wire money to relatives via the Moneygram slot next to an ATM by the jukebox. Every man jack of them isolated by the vocation of single-mindedness; all working two or three jobs: cleaning offices of pullulating finance houses, flipping burgers, filling sausages, collecting cockles. Their communication was silent, bordering on the telepathic, though that’s no surprise since they all thought the same thing: ‘I’m going to pull through. It’s getting better all the time. Soon we’ll be together as a family.’

Some barflies were barfing into bellicose laps and some took fights outside into the alley where penny-thrusts got knee-tremblers from crystal meth streetwalkers, effluent running over all three of their grounded feet. Spoiler and me sat with Mortsel in an alcove the other side of a squaddie doing his best not to give his girl a thousand-yard stare. I knew that look too well. Everything occupying the soldier’s mind was either taboo or meaningless and he was running dry on catch-up conversations about aunts and delinquent friends. When they talked I could see the speechless bubbles occupied with nothing but thoughts of skewed future liaisons and escape clauses. ‘Hey, honey, wanna know about what really happened out there? Wanna know why it made everything else less real? Wanna know how our relationship might be fucked because I had got a junk head full of violence and addiction to going back at the first opportunity (clearing it with you, of course)?’

‘We’re living in a pornocracy, Kate and that’s no word of a lie,’ I said, trying my damnedest to treat her like a human being. ‘All our thrusts and lusts, poked and pecked with no fulfilment at all. But that’s by the bye. Desire eh? Who’d do without it? We live on the edge of our hangovers, titillated by schadenfreude. I stopped myself as she looked at me like a drunk humanities student. After five whisky-sours I was getting there.

‘By the way,’ said Mortsel. ‘It’s staring you right in the face.’

‘What is?’

‘The map you’re so keen to get your hands on.’

‘Sorry, I…’

‘Face it.’

‘I dunno. Maybe another time.’

‘Listen to her,’ said Spoiler. ‘It was what you came for. Jesus! Do I have to spell it out for you?’

‘Your kid’s right,’ she said. ‘The map is my face. My face is the map. So go take a piccie like all the rest of you fugitives. And buy me another drink.’

‘Where’s this map taking me?’

‘Green Plaza. Trust the boy Spoiler. Trust him and he’ll get you through to find your precious Jazz. But be careful. It can’t have escaped your attention that she’s wanted by the authorities. Don’t fall into the trap of leading them to her.’

Spoiler took snapshots of her with his iPhone, said thanks.

‘That’s the last you see of me. I’ll be 500 next week. Time’s shot.’

I looked at her again and figured that Korsakoff’s had finally got her.

‘Hold on a sec,’ she said. ‘Spoiler, go outside and wait for him.’

He shrugged his shoulders, asked for a couple of fags. Said, ‘Here we go again.’

Now Our Lady Of The Facility was managing herself out of her sinking feeling and lifted her black crinoline dress: she was showing her pubic locks cascading from mottled goose-bumped thighs: cobras, yellow sea-snakes, jade vipers, onyx pythons with scribbled venom-ink messages wound around an erect boa that she was pumping out of her snatch. This was a turn up for the books. She covered my head with her lace-trimmed gown and strode over me, the warm ooze of boa-lubricant soaking my jeans which dissolved like rice-paper. The smell was like engine-grease, coupling yards and old salmon bisque. The constrictor, dislocated mouth clicked open, swallowed up my prick which to my eternal embarrassment was now hard and pulsating. The snake, prick in mouth, sent out a tendril that wormed its way up my urethra, expanding with each peristaltic throb like a barbed Rawlplug.

‘How does that feel?’ she asked, apparently concerned all of a sudden. Now, ‘she said. ‘It’s about time we had a little respect for the truth, no?’

I was in no position to say anything.

She was rocking up and down. I was travel-sick but excited. The snake was gone or at least retracted and instead a black-oiled periscope poked out from her labia – a poison stamen slurping and lisping. At its tip a red rectal eye stood up and rotated a slimy black head before two arms forking out with three-headed stalks like crocodile clips, teeth pointing backwards. At the tip of each, a minute choirboy in red and white cassock and surplice yelping impaled screams. The stalks suckered my thighs. The tendril catheter and rectal probe jiggering and juddering as she peeled off her dress and started to recede into what seemed like a graphic novel of vagina dentata Amazons dropped from pregnant bombers on fields of masturbating shamen, penis-tips sore and red as fly agaric. I had seen mosques and Albanian mushroom bunkers like that in my time.

Every time I opened my mouth I could see her in one of the frames frantically scribbling notes. I could see her doodling mind at work. She drew with coloured crayons sticking out of her eyes, dabbing in the Venus fly-traps for ink leeching into old habits with jaundiced spleen and alcohol-rotted nymph glands – waterproof diagnoses – ideogrammed sea-monsters thrashing around in green-black nets. Each time I craned over to look she arced her hand around hiding her drawings. I noted a couple of images thrown out. Reminded me of hyena-chewed bones and black-refuse bags spilling rivers of vegetation but, as you would have it, net-curtains or cataracts clouded my vision.

It was like looking at coral through oil spill. What I could read was reprobate crap trawled from my archives. Does seem to exhibit manic symptoms. Talks of inventing trauma. Experiences of observing own behaviour indicate fragile ego-state. I was thinking to give the bitch fragile ego-state. I’d ram my fragile ego stake right into her green flabby heart. Trying to cover one-tenth of the bases here and I was watching the clock but it was turned into a black-and-white mouth spilling numbers on the purple carpet. ‘Time, gentlemen, time.’

Someone was knocking at the door. Must have been there a while as she was kicking too and the door handle of the pub was pumping up and down. The door would not open because of the egg-white and yolks now separating on the ribbed carpet. I wanted to let her in but I was now magnet-heavy, negatively-charged and swathed in mummy bandages, ropes of afflictive emotion with hieroglyphic stamped Sellotape binding my arms to the chair. A green mist started to blow through the keyhole and filling in the crystal hourglass standing on one of the oyster shells rocking on the glutinous albumen sea, its yolks now yellow coracles filled with life-jackets. Venus in burlap. It was the deputy head of the counselling facility and I was embarrassed. She was a nun and she was well past her pension date and wearing nothing but a translucent negligee. She pecked her head up and down like a woodpecker toy chirping birdsong.

‘You’re over the hour. You haven’t got the money for a longer session so I guessed it means your time was up. What have you done with my shrink?’

‘She’s shrunk,’ I said. ‘Wrapped and slunk slinky to one of those disgusting magazines you lend to patients here. I had got a good mind to call you on this. It’s outrageous. You’re stealing my mind.’

‘Well, forget your mind mon petit,’ she said.

‘That’s what I was fucking trying to do. This was like being force-fed a blotter full. Jeez! D’ja always gang up like this. Look at the goddam carpet!’

She’d write up her impressions and pass it back to the therapist who was teaching the natives, illegally, I should add. All I wanted to do was piss. But I was piss-shy. Accumulating like secret police files stored in various Facility libraries. Freedom of Information Act be damned. It would take a lifetime of bureaucrats just to collate the appropriate paperwork. The nun kissed me three times French-style.

‘It’s all technique. Technique and skill. There’s absolutely nothing else. Three steps to heaven, twelve valves to recovery, fourteen sanctions of an unorthodox cross, thirty-nine steps to Grand Central. It’s a wonder you never clicked before. All the time you’re dreaming up some clever game, a game that only exists in your head. Really! It’s like revising the bible for a test on The highway code. Where do you get off on that one?’

I struggled in my seat. Eventually stood up. Got outside feeling like a dissident after fifteen years mining uranium in Jáchymov.

 text: © Phillip O’Neil

image: © Narmin Ismiyeva

About Equus Press

EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.

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“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” // Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollack, 27 January 1904
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