17 October 2001

eclipse dogcircle seagrass spawn


I was reading 'Hosting Web Communities' by Cliff Figallo, with my legs dangling off the bed. I was engrossed. I bent the spine and broke it, and pages 5 to 86 fell onto the floor, next to the cat food. The area surrounding the cat's three bowls was always coated in a fine down of cat hairs. The bowls contained milk dried to a crust of yellowish whey, half an inch of water, and discarded KiteKat biscuits. I loved my cat but resented the demands she made on my time, though my time stretched before me like a never-ending landfill. A cat-hair dustbunny floated across the lino floor in the breeze from the open door.

I looked down at page 86. Cliff was talking about 'relationship-based online communities.' Next to the pages was a curl of my own hair. I'd hacked at my hair with nail scissors yesterday in front of the mirror, dropping the curls in the bin. I liked the effect very much, though I doubted anyone else would. My hair stood out around my head like the light that would have blazed around the eclipse in 1999, had the eclipse actually happened, rather than being one of the biggest washouts of my - and anyone else who had the misfortune to be alive in 1999 - life.

Once a bad haircut would have been disastrous to me. I would have tugged the remaining hair till I cried and then contemplated digging up my arm with the nail scissors. The thought of people seeing me; my hair a mess; face crumpled.... but I had solved that now. Dorian Gray had nothing on me. I had the secret of eternal youth hosted on a faraway domain; freckles and curls and innocence trapped in pixels; skintone pearlescent in a mottled jpeg. That was me now, and this? This was meat. Meat and pelt. Nothing more.

The eclipse was the time I began to retreat. We travelled down to Cornwall in a clappity-out Camper Van for... nothing. The eclipse never happened. The sky was grey. I downloaded eclipses instead till they cluttered my hard drive. Outside had cheated me; my outside was here now. My own head was the sun now, and behind my screen, the world. What need RL? All I wanted was here.

I tossed the rest of the book onto the floor next to the cat food, stood up, pushed the thongs of my flip-flops between my toes, and slapped my way across dirty lino to the front room. It was time to interact.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

I dog-circled the desk and sat down. The coffee sat in my towering orange mug like ice on a pond. I was alone in the room but ghosts span in my head. The friend I had fucked over opened her slate eyes to me like a zombie. She hung in the doorframe and regarded me balefully.

What a cliche, she said wordlessly. Regarded me balefully. A family of words that swim around together like ducks. Can't you do better than that. English isn't even my first language and I can do better than that. She floated across the sparkly lino floor towards me and slid into the gap 'twixt chair and table. The normally squeaky chair's spring-free silence echoed round the room. I could see through her to the tan leather hide of the chairback, but her thighs were still meaty and delicious. Wraith-like, I wanted her again.

Hello, I said. I'm sorry, I said. I didn't mean it, I said. Forgive me, I said. Her eyes were closed now and her hair was all fucked up and I knew it was because of our private mistral, our tornado, chairs flying through the air, seagrass suburban matting ripped apart, shacks crashing to the ground. I had not done it. It was chemicals; those two things you're not supposed to mix in chemistry class - that blow the glass apart - or things you had to put in the fume cupboard - that was us, all Fucked Up and Oh My God and I Thought You Were My Friend and all IIIIIIIII've made a mistake, like Nasty Nick from Big Brother. I bent my head and sucked up some coffee. I opened her email, then snapped it closed. A girl can't think about this kind of thing without her lipstick on.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

It was evening. Light leaked from the edge of the curtains, weeped away like dreary tears, thin and hot, the kind that lick into your ears or into your mouth. I dangled the phone by its ariel. I thought about what I had just heard, words still buzzing round my ear, playing on the tiny hairs, tugging like abseilers.

Now I knew I was officially old. The spawning had started. If it had just been one chick doing it, that would be fine. That would be quirky. That would be something I haven't seen before. O, you're having a kid. Good for you. How'd you do that then then. Oh really. Let me tell you about my abortion. Heh. The original one had told me at my house one afternoon, wearing a grey jumper, the marly kind. She had looked funny, blanched and pinched. Shamed into awe, I had drummed my fingers and wished for my next cigarette.

But two of them? I wanted to go to the offie and buy an enormous alcoholic-sized bottle of vodka and five thousand cigarettes and grams and grams of drugs from the taxi firm by the bridge. I wanted to imbibe them all, till my nose bulged a like pig's and my gut was full like a carton of juice waiting to be stamped on, lungs crammed to bursting point like a fisted anus.

If friend number one had just had a baby and friend number two was four months pregnant - Christ, this was like a school maths problem - and friend number one did not tell anyone till she was three months gone, that meant that according to my calculations friend number two had had but one menstrual cycle between hearing the news and conceiving herself.

I wanted to shout, hello, COPYCAT! COPYCAT! What had you done, friend number two? And why? Did you fling the condoms out the window? Did you quit taking the pill and purge your bloodstream to remove all traces of the chemicals? Two had always had her eye on One, and now Two had bred to entrap One in a world of double pushchairs, vom-stained bibs, green nappies, dungarees, post-natal yoga classes and mutual babysitting circles.

I blipped the phone off and squeaked back in my chair. Was this the way it was going to be, friends lost to spawn and fuckups? I saw the next ten years sweep before me like a runway, a cracked and unmanned runway of loneliness and despair, with brown weeds where the guidelights should be, one lonely signaller left, spelling out the word 'abandoned' in cut-up reflective strips. I hugged my knees to me, a me sandwich, crossed ankles in front, no entry there, don't even think it. I plugged the hole of my mouth with my thumb. I bent my head and shut down.


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