These castle walls
with no give
These castle walls
These castle walls
have no doors
But you stand
digging your keys
into your palms,
and beating against
for a lock
Darling, they will not.
Alone I hunker, threat severe,
while chaos reigns outside,
besieged by blackguards cavalier
with fragile human lives.
Alone I hunker, larder bare,
'midst clanging swords on shields,
as corpses stack up in the square
with exponential speed.
Alone I hunker, exile met,
discomfort is embraced-
for one should never play roulette
with precious souls at stake.
Alone I hunker, nevermore;
the foes have been subdued-
and stronger shields are being forged
for future troops to use.
What it Means to be Alone
There's a certain serenity in isolation.
I feel it standing on a secluded mountain peak
Feet threatening to slip on glacial ice
Gazing upon a ribbon of jagged cliffs beyond,
The great gray bones of the Earth.
Loneliness is pain, loneliness is power.
There is nobody that can help me
Yet nobody that can harm me here
Life, death, and everything in between
Rests in my hands, my feet, an inch of rubber tread.
No one can tell, when two people walk closely together,
what unconscious communication one mind
may have with another.
- Robert Barr
She walks in. Four bare walls, white paint. No furniture, just honey wooden floors and a light slipping through a window. The door behind her closes, a key turns, and there is only silence left to embrace this mind. She breathes out. What now? Not knowing what to do, she does the one thing that always makes her calmer, she counts. Four walls, two windows, one door. One guard outside. Ten small steps from the center of the room, and eight big steps to the door. Moving to the window, she gazes outside. A big oak tree grows right next to it. It’s late summer, but both the door and the windows closed, and the air inside stuffy. Sweat drips down her forehead and the small of her back.
Your thoughts are melting, darling.
The windows haven’t got bars, but then again why would they. It’s the third floor and she would kill herself if she decided to jump. They know she had a fear of heights. Her hands roll into fists and she keeps counting. The tree has about six meters, four big branches, seven middle ones and...
Loud, loud, loud.
Something snaps and she starts to sob, her chest heaving, back trembling. Her whole body shaking.
How will she get out? What was there to do?
The young woman hides a face in her hands and puts her head against the wall. Tears staining the white paint. Isolation surrounds you, nothing else. Face it, they have you, again. Suddenly the lock in the door clicks, and someone turns the key. Her back straightens, just like a pained line made of smooth iron, as she wipes the tears away and turns around. Suddenly the weak creature from a moment ago turns into solid rock. Hard as granite. Her arms crossed, dignity masking everything else. A man walks in, holding a plastic tray; his face showing no emotions. There is a gun strapped to the side of his belt. It doesn’t seem that he wants to use it. Just a precaution. Watch out for her, she can be a problem. Don’t underestimate her. She flinches, hearing his thoughts but tries to hide it.
The man puts down the tray and leaves. The key turns. She exhales, sits on the ground, eyes moving to the food. Two pieces of bread, one bowl of soup, a glass of water, eight small steps to the tray. She feels nauseous but crawls to it on her knees. Her deep blue dress with sleeves that cover her arms isn’t too long, so the wood scrapes the skin, grazing the knees that have already been damaged before. She doesn’t even notice.
The wounds that cover you, don’t just touch your body.
Don’t they, little girl?
Just keep counting. Distractions were the things that kept her going, pushing insanity away to the farthest corner. Seven floorboards to reach the food, three splinters in her skin so far. She grabs the bread, quickly eats it and drinks it down with water; not trusting the mushy clay matter that pretends to be nourishment for her body.
After over an hour - 3758 seconds of silents and stuffy air, over 62 minutes of dark thoughts sinking into her oversensitive brain. 4 quarters of self-pity mixed with intense panic. A vast amount of tears now soaked into her clothes and skin. One expression of indifference as the door opens, with one camera above that door.
A woman in a lab coat enters, a pad and paper in hand. She moves some documents on it and scrunches her eyebrows together. Not even looking up, a man walking behind her. It’s the same one that brought her food. She knows the woman, another one of the doctors that were taking care of her - a pretty way of saying, holding her against her will when she was no longer cooperating. She looks to the doctor; long blond hair tied into an elegant ponytail. A slim, tall figure, about 5′8 in height, wears low heels. The woman starts to read as if she was all alone in the room.
Adria Morgenstein. Age 26. Has the ability to infiltrate the human mind. Abnormal brain waves limited, skills having the best result in a near range, up to twelve meters. It can influence other people to change decisions if physical touch is possible or the receiver is in bad mental health or shows a predisposition to the power of suggestion.
Dr. Clarkson, they are waiting for you.
Yes, yes, in a moment.
Silence, let those fools with thick wallets wait a couple of minutes. Some things should not be rushed. Now leave, I shall be with you shortly.
The man walks out, and the two women are left alone. Silence fills the room once more. Doctor Clarkson looks up, her expression not showing anything.
Ah, Galilea. I hear you have been misbehaving. It saddens me deeply to see you in such a state.
My name is Adria. I told you not to call me like that.
It’s the name listed in your files, but not the one that you were born with. We checked, trust me. But then again, you already know that.
It was chosen for me first, but I chose for myself.
Yes, always the rebel. If you chose to listen more to others, we wouldn’t even be here.
I won’t be a toy in your game or a lab rat that you can take tests on. Just a matter of time before you open up my brain, and see which cables were working and which were burned.
Honestly, why all the dramatic manner. We are all grown-ups here and I, my dear, do not mean to hurt you.
My mind and body would argue with that.
I roll up my sleeves and show her the purple and green bruises that are near my veins, then I lift the light brown hair that goes to my shoulder blades, and show her my neck. Two burned-out holes still sensitive, that throb whenever I shift my head.
You were being unwise, Adria.
She adds extra tones to the name, causing my skin on my back to crawl like a tortured animal in agony.
We had to make sure you wouldn’t be a danger to anyone.
Now that’s bullshit, you just did it sooner because I wasn’t all meek and submissive like you assumed at first. Everyone has their limits, doctor.
Her stare is cold as it drops to her board. She nods a couple of times and scribbles something down.
You are absolutely right. That’s why I am going to tell Adam to change your medication dose. We wouldn’t want you to be too untamed and misbehaving again. You caused some members of your stall quite the headaches. I felt very troubled by it.
She stares at me from under her glasses and slowly walks up. I stumble back and smack my back against the wall. The doctor smiles politely and takes out a needle from her lab coat. I flinch and her smile spreads. I see the light bounce off the thick needle, as I slide myself to the right. What they did to me before really weakened me. Both my mental powers and my physical strength. I couldn’t defend myself properly and I was on lockdown. My eyes stare at the sharp metal and widen in surprise, as the doctor lifts her sleeve and sinks the needle with a satin grey liquid onto her flesh. The sharp object disappearing into the inner side of her elbow.
I gasp. She doesn’t seem to be bothered. The woman puts everything back into her pocket and stares at me. There is something strange in her eyes and it looks like she is waiting. A couple of minutes pass as we just stand there, none of us really moving - I can feel my clothes turning damp from the sweat, and I feel sick. The doctor looks at her watch and seems to be pleased. She grabs my forearm expectantly. My body tenses as I automatically try to send out my psychic voice message. They’re not even words, more like a silent order or a plea. My thoughts roundup in a shape only I see and hit her. It’s a warning. Stay away from me, let go. Now.
Nothing happens and my body slowly slouches, feeling defeated. They made another drug to test on me, and this time it worked. They’re making progress. But as stubborn as I was, I try again and again - what a naive attempt. My thoughts reach her but then bounce off a mental wall, that the drug supplied. The doctor nods satisfied and let’s go. I slide against the wall and land on the ground, feeling so tired. They already took so much of me, and I felt defenseless as a newborn. Never before did I use my abilities to harm anyone, but today I wish the situation was different - but instead, I couldn’t even protect myself, feeling the whole world crashing on me at once. My chest covered by a big rock, enabling me to breathe, body seeming to sink helplessly. Only then do I notice that the doctor used another needle, this time on me. I sink deeper, but before I collapse completely, her voice penetrates my mind.
Such a dramatic nature, as if she never had any tests before. You would think that after all this time, you would learn something. Try to sleep Galilea, maybe then you won’t cause any more trouble.
Her voice is patronizing and dripping with dislike. As if her personal guinea pig wasn’t doing a good job, not meeting the expectations. My fingers clench and my brain opens up like a plant, slowly - anger making me stronger - tiny vines stretching out and moving forward, a million green leaves made of thoughts vibrating and growing, covering the space between us. Blooming with a new craving.
The vibrations in the room change and the woman stumbles, almost tripping. She clears her throat, trying to hide the embarrassment, probably thinking that in fact, she had just tripped. The door opens followed by a sound of a single click, and then a turned key. Finally, absolute silence. Her body shifts and drops numb. She lays flat on the wooden floor sinking but manages to lift the sides of her mouth. They haven’t destroyed her just yet.
to be continued...
Photo credit : Taya Ivanowa
The social distancing expert.
My landline is disconnected, please email me or text,
My work is set up online, no need to commute or fret,
My shopping basket is ordered , my delivery slot is booked,
My toilet paper is stockpiled and my evening meals pre-cooked,
My bookshelf is overflowing, of books I've yet to read,
My garden still needs tending, with many plants to weed,
My Netflix account is working, so many films are on the list,
My canvases are blank, waiting for me to get artistic,
My whatsapp group is active, I keep track of family and friends,
As a self-confessed introvert, I can isolate
for months on end....
Deepest comfort, warmth permeates,
Hearts bared out loud, shame exstingished,
Insecurities fade, fast as a tan,
Stroking my pale arm, constellating freckles,
I tossle his hair just to peek at the silver patch,
The one he used to hate, to pluck and oppose,
Kiss his smile, makes me smile,
But more than touch, a true ,
No coincidence was uncoincidental,
Eyes need not shift in his direction,
Sensing his very thoughts,
Words spoken in a silent tongue,
Next moment is cold, unforgiving,
My heart didn't break, my very soul relinquished,
For this hole punched out, allows only one key,
That key changed its form,
By the cheapest locksmith,
Dirty trick old friend, or whatever you became,
People pass by my vision,
Emptiness passes my mind,
This handshake feels,
Though garners null emotion,
Nobody to give thought of but myself,
Is a miserable existence, is isolation.
Stuck between the walls,
a ghost who floats from room to room
purpose forgotten but still,
we cannot leave.
There are others here, moving through the days
holding out for freedom.
We will reach it soon, I am sure.
I must be sure.
The TV is on,
Outside, the world still moves
sluggish and usure.
Puzzles fill the living room and
Songs filter out from the balconies.
We write stories of another time
Painting pictures from our memories.
We build forts in the foyer
make cookies from scratch and
find the old home videos
we've been meaning to watch.
We fight this war from our couches
inside the warm arms
of the ones
we are lucky enough to be here with.
There is an ugly thing
that spreads like wildfire
and pulls a dark blanket
across the folds of our brilliant world.
But we are all together
inside the thick walls of our aloneness
and the smoke will clear, I'm sure.
I must be sure.
The Girl at the Rock Show
The availability of craft beer was one major difference. Everything was Bud or Coors Light back in the late 90s, not that Eric was old enough to buy it then. And there were more teenagers then because rock’s popularity had not yet fallen off the proverbial cliff. When he had cut school for a festival as a junior—a memorably rebellious moment because rare—he had spotted at least a dozen classmates in the food line and in the mosh pit he avoided while Staind played.
Most of the crowd here seemed to be approaching age 30. Or past, like him.
Still, it was fun to be up close at a show again, damaging his hearing along with a crowd again, even if he felt less in the thick of something than he did at 17. It was pure chance that a mutual friend had bailed and connected him with Bill. (“You don’t mind alternative music, do you?”) Bill had paid for up-front placement. Honestly, Erik would have preferred to have saved the extra $30 and gone for a lawn seat more suitable to his observer status.
The two IPAs he took from the vendor, like the group onstage, came on too strong and lacked balance; he’d experienced better, but it was enjoyable. This band at least featured the familiar lineup, singer, guitarist, bassist, drummer. An earlier performer had paused his set when the June weather overheated his laptop.
As Eric walked the music came to a bridge, and the huge screens displayed the guitarist and his precise fingers. Eric actually recognized the present song. Bill had not assigned homework, per se, but Eric had felt a sham when talking to this friend-of-a-friend who actually knew the bands. He had been afraid to listen on speakers at home, where the children might pick up words and ideas for which his wife would reproach him; headphones were not an option at home either, as he had to hear the inevitable call for arbitration of a sibling dispute, or a jar to be opened, or a spider to be squashed. He had therefore burned a playlist of festival artists to CD and listened to it in his car.
That commute playlist had run him through the stages of grief, beginning with, “That’s not alternative rock.” The more electronic voice modulation and artificial bass drops he heard, the more irritated Eric became, wondering what demonic transference had led the genre away from Soundgarden and the Stone Temple Pilots. Here and there a song would catch him and he’d think it would be good to hear live; for the sake of those, and with the right quantity of beer, he could tolerate the dreck. Bargaining.
Depression came on the drive home that day, when he decided to just listen to his usual classic rock station. When Kurt Cobain sang “All apologies,” he could not relish it. The first time Nirvana had joined classic rock radio, Eric had laughed. Now, he felt he was listening to a museum.
He slowly began to accept the alternative playlist spinning on his car’s antiquated technology. He even began to like the music: if it was not worthy of a museum, at least it was fresh enough not to belong there yet. As he drove and listened he would feel less old; and then he would enter his office to review enrollment data and implement the latest marketing campaign.
He found Bill up front in the “VIP” area as the band closed its set. “They were awesome,” Bill said. He sipped the fresh beer Eric handed him.
“Yeah, they were pretty good. I really like the last song. ‘The Gold,’” Eric added, as evidence of his completed homework. “Good song.”
“Definitely,” Bill agreed. “Sorry you missed so much of it. Long line?”
“Yeah, but I could still hear alright.” Truthfully, his tolerance for crowds had shrunk in the last 18 years; a beer run was a good reason to reclaim personal space before the VIP section filled with elbows for the last couple acts.
“I’ve liked them for a long time. They were the main reason I wanted to be up close,” Bill said.
“I can see why.”
They drank their beer, standing together in the amiable silence two awkward people can enjoy together. They had found enough topics during the car ride up, but Bill remained a man of few words. He was an IT guy.
“How much do you know the next band?” Eric asked.
“Matt and Kim? Some.”
“I’ve heard a couple songs. They seemed alright,” Eric said.
“Yeah. I think they’re fine.”
They consumed their IPAs and listened to the house music. The crew had rolled out equipment, and one of the roadies struck each drum four times.
“Are you guys brothers?”
They turned and saw a younger blonde woman behind them, who seemed two, maybe three more beers from slurred speech. “You’re both pretty tall,” she said.
“No,” Bill said. “Just at the show together.”
“I would of sworn you were brothers.”
Eric laughed. “Nope. Just a random pair of six foot redheads. With glasses.”
She put on a skeptical look. “Would you call that red?”
“It’s red,” Eric insisted, talk-shouting above the house music. “It’s leaning brown these days, but there’s still red.”
“Oh, I see it—in the beard,” she said. She extended a hand. “I’m Alexis.”
The curl in her smile suggested it was a nom du concert, which only added to the charm. “Eric,” he said, shaking the hand. She was tall and slender and pretty, and no matter how happily off-the-market Eric was, he enjoyed the small talk. This, too, was different from the festivals of his high school days, when he lacked both the confidence and charisma to actually converse with such a woman.
She shook Bill’s hand, too. “You’re both very tall,” she said.
“So are you,” Erik responded.
“Being tall works pretty well on a day like this.”
“Sure does,” Eric said. After a moment’s lull, he continued, “Sometimes I almost feel bad being the tall person up front.”
“I don’t,” she said. “If the short people want to stand closer, they could of stood closer.”
“This is true,” Eric said. “We earned our place up front.”
“Exactly.” She playfully pushed Eric’s arm with the word, and he was, again, flattered. “Fuck the short people.”
“Fuck the short people,” Eric laughed.
He looked toward the stage and saw the roadie had finished the soundchecks. He sipped more beer, feeling ready for music.
When he turned back she was still there, also watching the stage. “Do you know the next band?” he asked.
“Do you know the next band?”
“Matt and Kim? Yeah, they’re like the reason I came. I love them! Have you really never heard them?”
“Not really.” He felt no need to fake knowledge; there is a freedom and an assurance that come from established marriage. “Just a couple songs here and there.”
“They’re fucking amazing!” Alexis shouted.
“I’ll stand up tall so I can see,” Eric replied. “Fuck the short people.”
“Fuck the short people!” She high-fived him, high, and then the crowd erupted.
Matt was on the keyboard, Kim was on the drums – literally, standing on the bass drum and hitting her sticks together. She hopped into position behind the set and started banging away as beach balls began circulating and Matt sang, “Alright, it’s alright, it’s alright you’ll see…” No one would mistake them for the most technically skilled musicians of the day, but they knew how to work an audience. At various points Matt would stand, stretch one arm to the keyboard and the other toward the open sky and jump as he played, which was quite a thing from a 6’6 guy, and the crowd was all in for every moment.
Electronic music wasn’t really Eric’s jam, but it was still the most entertaining opener of the day.
“Hello Buffalo we’re Matt and Kim how are you tonighhhht!” The thousands roared with enthusiasm they had reserved till after sunset. “Now,” Matt continued, “Last time we were in Buffalo, I remember things got a little rowdy. Like Kim likes it in the bedroom.” Another roar.
Kim teased the thread out further. “So we need to bring all the rowdy out here tonight – we have a level to top. You need to drop that shit down—” she began twerking while Matt covered his laughing face with apparent modesty—“and we need some fucking crowd surfing popping off in here!” Even to a natural wallflower like Eric, their patter was infectious.
“So before we start this next song,” Matt went on, “we need all the crazy dance people up here. Come on crazy dance people, right here in front. Show us what you got!”
The duo started to play and several people pushed forward. Amused, Eric crossed his arms and leaned back on his heels a little. And then a hand gripped his.
“Come on!” Alexis shouted over the music. “I think we can make it!” She pulled him into the crowd as though it were the only possible action.
Eric took one glance at a befuddled Bill and offered a one-handed shrug, then yielded to the moment and followed the woman into a mass of backs. Their shoulders wedged through small spaces between humans. Her trailing hand still interlocked with Eric’s—he tried to remember when he had last held another woman’s hand. She wore a beaded bracelet. Matt and Kim played, lights flashed. He kept following her shoulder-length hair that flowed above everyone else’s, kept holding the possibility of her soft hand. He imagined dancing with her through the night, being close to her, improbably kissing her before parting. A man shifted to the right and he lost her. Eric ducked around him when he eventually could and pressed further forward to reach her. She was fixed in a spot now, dancing with someone else seven feet and a dozen bodies ahead.
He realized with a surrounded pang that he would not be able to reach her. He danced, watched her dance, but even before the song ended he knew it did not matter. He could not stop smiling. It wasn’t really her he was seeking.
Matt and Kim revved the crowd yet higher, and instead of more beach balls, they threw inflatable sex dolls for their fans to bat. Kim demanded that someone dance on the port-a-potty before the next song ended. Eric danced freely with the throng, leapt with the beat and sang choruses he’d never heard before. He felt good as he hoisted yet another crowd-surfer. Young.
Give Me a Taste of Silence
I’ve always wanted to taste the idle fruit of sweet ignorance. I want to get lost in it, bury my teeth into its flesh and let the sticky juice drip down my neck. At least that way, my thoughts could be silenced, for it is always the people who think the least that are the happiest. Happiness the most simple but evasive emotion. Why must it be so fleeting?
“It is fleeting because it has no space,” I can hear my mother say and perhaps she is right. My mind is too occupied with hate, anxiety, and self-doubt for happiness to take a proper seat. Lucky for me, my demons are usually steadied with good company. In those cases, social awareness takes charge and disciplines before the public sees, but in my solitude, they roam free. They run wild without curfew and I find myself struggling to sleep. I suppose I am lucky because even in isolation, my thoughts still speak to me.