It’s seven. Morning, definitely. Lots of brightness around. Nectarine, peach then white, as the eyelids fold back. Pills of light dosed through my window. Pellets of glare.
Outside, invisible cats screech for territory. A snail glides, at lower volume, on ooze across the glass. The striation flares. I’m awake.
Of course, the guilt’s in here. Waited while I slept, I’d say. Waited with thousands of green splinters on the floor. On my chest. Sprayed over the quilt.
The asparagus fern, exploded from its pot. Dirt by the door; compost specks, meshes of leaf, convulsing, jitters. Slats in the blind clink and pleat.
We lie together. Twin tragedies stinking up the place.
Questions form. In my position to judge, that’s to say, prone, I’d say the pot is a clue; the contents an explanation of some kind.
I hear a splash. Cat puke on soil beyond the pane.
A magazine ripples by the window and a squirt of red on the cover bleeds into the things of my room. Stains everything, deeper. The floorboards are red, the dirt has red up in it. The blinds, the blister packs and pills, the blanket. Red in them, yeah red, red in those, too. That? Red in that, definitely.
Red flicks on and off. The breeze flaps through the pages:
they form a comfort zone—sprouting beneath paving slabs in Arnos Grove—but the fern has been characterised as invasive, a pot breaker, a home wrecker, a fertiliser guzzler, a mess—in warm conditions the evergreen Asparagus plumosus is not as demanding as all that. Fast growing, elegant. Either from a hanging basket or a trellis, exquisite ethereal textures can be found. Not related to the delicious Asparagus officinalis—appears feathery and soft—middle, razor-sharp thorns will prick the skin with a thousand blood spots; doesn’t this airy, nimble perennial deserve some indulgence?
Victorian florist Constance Spry promoted wider use of the asparagus—weeds, grasses, ornamental kale. Green needle twigs with leaves technically named cladodes—a lattice work of layered lace—will admit a phantasmagorical presence to your home—thick fleshy roots can tolerate—‘strangely resilient spirits’—long periods without water. Yet, do not neglect your regime of care, as the asparagus fern can explode in a fine dust of ghostly needles. Filtered sun is best—respite—control and direct its scrambling instincts—a good mason jar.
Voices murmur beyond the room. The housemates begin another important debate.
Every word contains an old grievance. They do damage. ‘You’re a gutless fucker.’
They love each other. Each weakens the other in equal measure and they’re fit, in the end, for no one else. They won’t offer me coffee this morning. I made a disturbance in the night. They won’t check to see if I’m ok.
One of the graphic designers is a psychic.
‘Très tricky plants, babe; stick to succulents, if I were you.’
I sent her a GIF, my fern from many angles and too many kisses. She bided her time. Everything’s already happened to her, so she knew this was coming. Knew the fern would be wrecked in a shower of fronds and spores. Knew she only had to wait for the change, a catastrophe in my room.
Under the blanket, it’s dark and I’m a root. Embedded, warm. For a moment, I don’t need to know what happened. I don’t need a text, a housemate to check, or a colleague to say that no one will remember anyway.
I stay underneath. A memory lurches forward and hauls me back.
We went together, the girls from work. I’d say we were getting on better.
In the studio, one of them gripped my shoulder. She rolled her lips, closed her eyes and nodded at my screen.
‘Seriously tonnes of opportunities out there. We’ll get fucked up tonight, celebrate it.’
Even now, it seems genuine.
Someone cut their foot on the dance floor and we all looked. Phones shining on the gore, photos were taken, faces made, poses held: gurning, gestures. Red.
Becky didn’t speak to me. Never did. She drove all components of project delivery, from concept to planning and implementation. Maybe I made her life harder. I’d say she had a say. In the decision, I mean.
Because she was bored, Becky talked about ‘the boyf’. Talked about meeting him. Then she left. The psychic said ‘the boyf’ was ‘a fucking scum hill. Kieran Nathan Duncan is a scum-hill name,’ she said. I swirled ice cubes and they gurgled. I didn’t say what I’d say.
The designers with permanent positions talked about colour gradient. Someone laughed about the art director’s Pantone mug, his use of portmanteaus, ‘Fair play that man, fair play. Drinks for the digerati!’ I thought I could make a joke. A portmanteau colour. ‘Purpellow’ or ‘bleen’.
‘Red,’ I said.
It wasn’t the right thing to say.
Above the blanket, the pain is serious. I’m folded on my side. My body crunched up like a ball of paper on which my essential qualities are disclosed.
There’s no sense in shouting. The people in the kitchen are there for no one else. Over porridge and jam they make plans for two in the language of reproach.
‘Train’s at ten for Margate.’
‘You’ve literally never made me come.’
I feel my body separate, float up. Looking down, it’s clear that I’m a glitter ball. Mirrors and broken light. I’m beaming shards over last night’s people, but most things are dim. The dance floor, the walls, mostly shadows. The light I cast swirls over the body-melt; limbs merge in the heat as mute people mime sex, moving closer and then apart, jealousy, rage and boredom, the typical throb of a fashionable bunker.
The people who were my colleagues are in the middle, doing received movement. Loose hair slaps bare backs, knees bend, straws are sucked. From up here, I can see hundreds of citrus segments juiced by the soles of tripping feet, rivers of syrup slowing the movement.
I can see me.
I’m at the edge, my face cupped in the palms of a man with a tote. His thumbs meet at my chin. Bag tucked in my armpit, I can feel wet pleather slip against my ribs.
The music is loud, but I can see his mouth. He can’t master his face. Many expressions. Too much information. He runs a palm over his hair and returns it to my cheek.
He’s saying, ‘You are special.’ He’s saying, ‘When I say special, I mean special.’
A tumble dryer heaves into action and steam from the vent coats my window. I’d say the snail is stressed. Screaming probably, at the viciousness of it all. The smell of detergent washes in. Lavender, camomile.
I breathe in through my nose and air cracks against phlegm; a thin caustic solution enters my mouth. Fists clench, I lift my neck and scan for a phone which is nowhere.
I can see the glossy cover of the magazine—learn how to control and direct its scrambling instincts—I can see an advert. A triangle of lottery ticket. Pale red. The hand with fingers crossed. I can see smears across the front cover. I can see an expired railcard. I can see rolled receipts dipped in red. I can see Vogue cigarettes.
My chest hoists and sweat appears.
I can see that I’ve done this. I can see that I’ve made some kind of choice.
I can’t say why.
The pulse in my chest marks off the rhythm: nosebleed techno. The lights flick red, of course. Hands in the air. A urinal cake skids across a corridor near the toilets and I can taste it. Shots dribble on the bar. Heads lean over drip trays and bark. Pins are not protected. Men shuffle at the edge, clutching bottles, staring desperately into the dark.
The DJ squints into his laptop. Hovers a finger over the space bar. Drops it on my solar plexus.
‘Let’s get some chicken!’ the tote bag shouts.
He’s throwing naked bones over the bushes of a locked square. ‘You’re your own boss now,’ he laughs. His lips are lit by the light of his phone and the grease there is gloss. He stumbles as his arm follows through; the bone twists through the air.
He’s filming it for a project.
It’s good to remember that.
He holds my waist and steers me. There are tall houses.
He smells of the aerosols kids on the night bus turn into flamethrowers. The ones they waft at girls’ hair and use to liquefy seats while the driver says, ‘Please, please’
I mutter, ‘Please, please.’
I’m hurdling bags of peel: orange, potato, carrot. Beetroot, garlic, onion.
I’m running in the road beneath sick green sky.
My headphones make no sound; the cable trails, plugged into nothing and it’s the beat in my chest that echoes now, drags me further into a last night that’s now this morning, reverberates in the cracking of my shoes on tarmac, my breath and the beeping of a bin lorry. Beacons glimmer on the roof like amber terrariums. Hisses fill my ears as rubbish is squashed flat. Bags pop like zits, puffing thick rot into the air that I’m sucking down in draughts.
I’m moving at speed by a railway arch. Ignore my face.
I look deranged.
… isn’t there.
I peck at the lock with my key. Coded panic. The beginning of the disturbance.
I float through the hall, leaving smears in the air behind: skin-coloured drifts in the climate. Contrails.
The clock tuts. Chairs sit in prearranged judgement.
Daylight wraps the kitchen in foil, winks off the toaster and all the chrome appliances my housemates own. The fruit bowl overflows. Flesh they will expose and feed to each other.
They can say whatever they want, because their plates and cutlery (last night’s tagine for two) are drying on the rack. Tupperware is on the side, say what you like; there are leftovers, packed lunches.
I land on the floor and yeah, it’s my feet-feet-feet-feet that carry me upstairs.
The door lilts back and there it is. The fern smashed everywhere. I can see the triangle of lottery ticket, the chalky streaks on the magazine. A large toenail by the bin. I can see myself lying here, prone. I can see myself, stretching to see myself coming in. I can see my underwear, my thighs and the grease on my top.
The things of this room have been here for some time.
It’s clear now that the fern is dead. Its fronds, spores and splinters are brown. Almost red. Like iron filings, rusted. I reach down to the dirt, slide my hands in. I feel the dryness between my fingers. The roots withered, curling up.
The art director wanted us to ‘hack the norms’.
My headphones leak and he gestures at my screen: ‘Show me innovation, young one.’
I bring up the GIF. The fern. Happier times in lossless compression.
‘Very clever.’ He runs a hand over his head. ‘Listen, brainiac, design is work. Kidults don’t cut it in this studio.’
Fading darkness in the soil. Variation spills through the grey, tones appear, and there I am on the bed: deflated, bare-legged. I can see the form and soon it will be time for me to join myself, take on my own shape.
The question like never before. Accident, habit, glitch?
Tonnes of opportunities out there.
Don’t ask for money. Work this out. Say something.
I wipe my hands on my front, climb under the blanket and meet my body.
For no reason, it seems right to say that I am special. I am a special person.
Photograph by Jake Elliott