Bare Bones

Posted on 12/08/2014

by Christopher Pankhurst

You tread through the collected litter, anonymous and branded, paving the path for you.  The garages set back behind the allotments, at the end of an unused road, now fallen into a disrepair beyond hope of redemption.  Bindweed trumpets white flowers  and plays the final notes for the last of the brickwork.  This frozen architecture already hinting at the rubble to come in years yet to be.

Two garage doors are broken and lost, the other two sit firm, faded to a muted shade beyond colour, the bright dreams of a forgotten past long lost in an already forgotten future.  Even the graffiti has died, its decades old anger passing away into peace perfect peace.

My God, why hast thou forsaken this place?  Only the litter comes here, the excrement of a diabetic civilisation, ebbing and flowing with random breezes, finally settling in this place that no longer exists, the road erased from maps, going nowhere.  Literally nowhere.  At the end of the broken road a rusted metal fence supports the highest of the weeds, pink buddleia, growing to 10 feet or more, pushing through the metal bars like starving prisoners.  It is a trellised garden of the uncultivated fauna of the city.  The buddleia grows to the edge of the railway line beyond the fence where it reaches the border of its possibility.  Here, between the speeding commuters anxious to be somewhere else and the city facing in the other direction, there is a possibility of solitude.

The garages which have lost their doors do not sit next to each other, so as you walk past you alternate between a closed, flat face and an open, damp cave, a closed, flat face and an open, damp cave.  The open caves invite the music of the wind which whistles like an idea of a ghost.  Rainwater drips in all weathers, no matter how dry.  These caves are never dry, they always drip to a time signature that defies human understanding.  And the patchwork of potholes that was once a road collects the rain in small pools that mirror the clouds.  Desolate tarns awaiting a drought.

Behind the garages the weed life is somewhat calmer, the lack of sun stunting growth.  Here, the litter is settled, the detritus comes to the end of the road and embeds itself into the earth beginning its aeon long journey to degradation.  The reds of flattened drinks cartons fade to mauve and the blues and oranges of carrier bags combine and wash out to shades of autumn skies.  The suggestive stink of death is never entirely absent.

This place is a church of rejection, a cathedral of exclusion and disenfranchisement.  This is your patch and you regard it as your temple and canvas.  You drag a stick along the metal fence posts drumming an invocation to a God who doesn’t exist in a temple of the unsublime.  Everything here is manageable; you have no fear.

At the heart of the patch of yellowing grass you see bones.  Walking closer you discern the shape of a bird, a pigeon.  Three days ago you last came here and now there is the skeleton of a pigeon in this place.  It is positioned as though artistically depicted in flight: wings both stretched back behind the body.  But the neck cranes back to a ghastly extent so that the head is upside down, looking back behind itself.  

There seem to be no feathers around the bones; just the perfect skeleton framed forever in an impossible flight.

How could it have got here?

You look more closely at the bones lying flat on the ground flying nowhere forever.  They are the colour of dirty cream but they have been totally picked clean.  Surely they have not been here long enough for the weather to have washed away the flesh and feathers?  Could a fox or a cat have caught the bird and stripped it clean to the bone?  You look around the wasted space and confirm that there are no feathers lying around.  Maybe it was carried here by some filthy stray cat, drunk with the stink of death, its taste buds dribbling saliva down its jaws and onto the dead bones.  In any case, here it lies, here it flies.  The beak is pulled open by the weird positioning of the head, though it’s destined to never sing again.  There must be some meaning to this ghostly intrusion into your patch.  You stare at the bones with greater attention.  The bird is looking back to where it has come from.  Why?  Is it seeking the life that it has departed from, flying inexorably towards death but looking back on life, clinging to it in eternal memory?

You extract a sun-bleached carrier bag from beneath other litter and put the skeleton into it.  You roll it tight and carefully place it at the base of the metal fence.  These bones seem to signify something but a clear interpretation eludes you.  You leave the skeleton at rest and return home.

The next day you are distracted and surly all through school.  Each lesson is a tiresome chore relieved only by the sketches of the strange bird that you deface your school books with.  Not until the sound of the final bell do you feel alive and then you rush out and run to the supermarket.  The comics are all the same as yesterday and at your age you are too old for their magic to be effective.  Still, you look again through the Dr Who comic and attempt to induce a sense of awe at the science fiction world it presents to you.  But the pictures are staged and caricatured, and the words are shouted slogans.  You leave the comics and walk up and down each aisle, slowly losing touch with reality as the hypnotic displays of pop art multiply and echo along corridors of efficiency.  You have arrived here before the mothers and it is as quiet as it ever will be.  The music of a lady singer is all around.  “Here you come again,” she sings, and though you don’t recognise the song you wonder if it might be meant for you to hear.  In the frozen aisle the air is chilled and the freezers hum like an unwatched ocean.  There are no shadows here yet the light is cold and its ubiquity carries an air of totalitarian indifference.  This is a place of restless anaesthesia.

You come to the end of an aisle and face the checkouts.  The momentary spell is broken so you leave and head to your patch. As you enter the dead road the rest of the world recedes and the sacred opens itself up to you.  You pass a closed, flat face and an open, damp cave, a closed, flat face and an open, damp cave.  And you stop.  There are low voices.  Quickly but quietly you enter the last garage and the darkness falls upon you.  A wet, dirty, threadbare carpet lies on the floor and muffles your footsteps.  You walk to the rear of the garage where a thin spillage of sunlight leaks through displaced masonry.  You put your blinking eye to the gap and look through.

On the yellowing grass where yesterday you found the bird’s skeleton you see Angela Watkins lying on the ground.  Her trousers and knickers are around her ankles and a boy is lying behind her.  You don’t remember seeing her at school today but she is in the year above you so you cannot be sure.  Her eyes are turned down to the earth and her lips, painted with red lipstick, are parted.  Her hips are dancing in time with the boy’s.  You do not recognise him but he has certainly already left school.  You guess he must be at least eighteen.

His hand reaches around inside Angela’s unbuttoned shirt and holds her breast, still cupped inside her bra.  His fingers pull the bra cup down and her full breast falls out, milk-white.  He rubs her nipple and then cusps the whole breast in his hand.  Angela moans and raises her eyes.  She looks into the gap through which you are looking.  She looks right at you even though you are hidden in a dark cave looking through a tiny slit, no more than a centimetre wide.  It can only be a coincidence, she cannot really see you through a tiny slit, hidden in darkness.  But still she looks right at you and you feel a need to run.  Your muscles are poised but you reason that it must be impossible for her to see you and that if you move you will make your presence known.  You remain deathly still.

She is still looking right at you, even though she can’t possibly be seeing you, and she is still moaning through parted, painted lips.  You look at her naked breast and legs and realise that you’re getting a hard-on.  As she continues to stare at you, as though besotted with your voyeurism, her parted lips stretch to a grimace; her eyes widen, the whites growing larger.  The lips continue to pull back and the eyes continue to widen.  Her moan becomes a groan and skin pulls back from her face.  You still have a hard-on as the skin continues to pull back revealing the white of the bone beneath.  Her eyes are still staring at you, grotesquely exposed in bone eye sockets.  The skin has all gone, pulled back behind the head, and the eyes stare stupidly at you from the skull; the mouth grins in savage, toothy mockery.

Still the boy is fucking her from behind but her head is now pure skull, the eyes disappeared into their black sockets.  The black holes still seem to look within you and you are transfixed in fear clutching your hard-on.  And then you hear the groan turn into hollow laughter and you turn and run.

You snag your school blazer on rusted metal as you bump around the corner of the garage but you don’t stop; the fabric pulls and tears.  The clattering laughter chases you down the road and you run and run, skipping over the pot holes and dirtying your trousers with unclean water.  The laughter gets no quieter with distance and you turn the corner back towards the main road still fleeing from that tawdry epiphany.  Still you run, forever fleeing her laughter.


Christopher Pankhurst is a writer from England.