Getting arrested is something people make too much fuss about. The worst is over and as long as you have a decent attitude you’ll be fine. Once they realise I’m not going to kick off the cops become friendly and respectful.
I place my wallet, smartphone, cigarettes, lighter and bangles in a plastic tray, then am escorted to a cell. As you’d expect, it is fairly basic with a built-in sink, toilet plus a stone bench grafted onto the wall. The room smells strongly of the pastel blue it’s been painted. Apparently going to sleep in the police station gives a clear signal that you’re guilty. I don’t care. I lie on the bench and go to sleep.
I’m woken at some point by a commotion outside. A man is pushed into the room, still shouting the odds. He’s a skinny bastard with a Northenden accent and greying cropped hair and skin the colour of wet tagliatelle. He launches into a long spiel, full of self-justifications and qualifications and sinister omissions, the substance of which appears that he drank a bottle of Courvoisier and tried to strangle his ex.
‘And they’re calling it attempt murder!’ The self-pity in his voice grates. ‘I mean, I love my fucking kids. I’d do anything for my kids. I never asked for anything. I’ve worked all my life, and the fucking family court –‘
‘Can I just say something?’ The guy’s been talking non-stop for at least ten minutes. ‘I’m not interested in your sob story, and I don’t care if you never see your kids again.’
He goes silent then, and gives me a hard look – perhaps the kind of look his ex used to see, just before the fists began to fly. Finally: ‘You want to show some respect, my friend.’
The room seems smaller. I shoulderbarge him, rush him into the wall and deliver repeated blows to his chest with my free hand, hissing into his face: ‘I’m not your friend, you fucking faggot. Call me by my first name.’ I’m close enough to smell his breath, the moisture and presence of it, and it hacks me off even more.
Officers pile in, separate us and throw me into another cell. I go back to sleep.
Some time later a small blonde female cop takes me to an interview room.
‘Jazz, Jazz, Jazz!’ says the duty inspector. ‘What are we going to do with you?’
The duty inspector is a black guy from Stretford and something of a joker. Gleefully he reads through a PNC printout. ‘You really got to keep a hold on your temper, Jazz. Let’s see what you’ve done. June 1998, assault with a deadly weapon. December 2002, assault, breach of the peace. 2004, assault with intent to kill, 2005, affray, drunk and disorderly, threatening behaviour, 2006, assault, threat to kill, 2007, assault – fuck, how are you not in jail?’
I’ve got the theme from Oz in my head.
He gets me a machine coffee and takes me through a statement. ‘Okay, Mr Jazz Mills, I’m formally charging you with assault, to wit, on the eleventh of July in the Year of Our Lord 2012, you did cause to cause assault occasioning actual bodily harm upon Mr Gareth Tobin, following a disturbance outside the Circle Club on Barton Arcade. Anything to say, Jazz?’
‘I think we covered everything.’
‘Mr Tobin’s a respected man in this city. Seriously, no one could survive this. You gonna wish you’d learned to resolve situations in a non-confrontational manner.’ He raps his fist on the top of my skull.
I’m taken back to the cell. By this time the nicotine withdrawal plus hangover dehydration is kicking in, but no way am I hitting the call button to ask for anything. I do some exercises, but my chest begins to hurt, blows sustained from Tobin and his acolytes, and after a while it kills to breathe, so badly I’m thinking broken ribs. There’s also a mosquito pain in my earlobe, where one of my dangler earrings was torn out, and a steady shooting pressure in the area below my right eye. Noise of disturbance and routine through the walls, images of cruelty and violence cascade into my head and I have to steel myself from kicking off in the cell.
Time passes somehow, and a duty solicitor comes to see me. The solicitor is a friendly young woman with glasses. We sit on the bench and chat.
‘You’ve got, ah, quite the record. Why do you think you get into so many fights?’
‘I have an evil temper, Andrea, I make no excuses for that. I’ve done some terrible things to people.’
‘Do you think you have a problem with anger?’
‘Yeah, quite probably.’
‘Have you thought to get help for this? Because, if you do, that’s another point we can make, that you are trying to address your behaviour.’
She gives me a card for the psychological well-being service and advises me to make a self referral. ‘The good news is that you’re going to be released on police bail. I’m driving into town. Could I drop you anywhere?’
I realise I don’t have my phone. ‘What’s the time?’
It turns out to be half eight in the am. I realise I need to go to work. ‘Going anywhere near King Street?’
‘Sure, I’ll drop you at Albert Square.’
We walk down the corridors of Elizabeth Slinger Road. I see the wifebeater I tussled with, flanked by two officers and walking towards us. Once he sees me, he starts shouting again. ‘You better learn to respect your elders, my friend!’
‘I hope they lock you up on an attempt murder charge, cunt,’ I holler over my shoulder.
What gets me is the excuses. I mean, I’m a bad guy too. But at least I’m honest enough to admit it.
I’ve always been angry. Fights and detentions through school, followed by similar in sixth form; university mellowed me out a little, and I still remember that time with happiness, but then the working world kicked in and my rages returned. It’s beginning to get embarrassing as I’m into my early thirties now. One of these days I’ll go too far and end up on a charge for murder or manslaughter, get sent to Strangeways and that’ll be me.
I pick up my shit at the Elizabeth Slinger desk and we walk out into the light. We get in Andrea’s car and head down Fog Lane. The traffic stalls halfway up Oxford Road and I sit back in the passenger seat, conscious of being just one man among many, another breathing creature in a glass and metal pillbox on a four-lane highway into town.
‘I like your jewellery,’ Andrea says. ‘Where’s it from?’
For something to say I point to each piece in turn and explain its origins, things from headshops and corn exchanges, old lovers and old haunts. Andrea drops me at the Town Hall.
‘I’ll call you when I get the court date,’ she says. ‘Take care.’
I walk across to the engineering firm where I work. The first cigarette hits me hard as the first smoke always does, puts my thoughts and fantasies into a giddy perspective and leaves me with profound regret, and a sense of dizzy sorrow. At work I hit the reception toilets.
I don’t look as bad as I thought. There are traces of blood on my suit jacket, and blood doesn’t come out, but I wear dark suits and it blends in. My face is unmarked and there’s just a tiny gash in my ear where the dangler was torn out. Thing is I’m a big goth guy, with strange hair and tattoos and facial piercings, so the night’s dishevelments don’t stand out.
Our office is small and open plan. I log on to find that the report on the Chorlton Metrolink extension, due in by close of play, has not even been started; and that my colleague, who is supposed to be collaborating with me on the project, has not yet reported for work. I brew some coffee and start writing.
I get very into the report. People arrive, talk, the phone rings, but it all goes over my head. When Walsh finally arrives, I wish he hadn’t. Walsh is a lazy middle-aged cunt from the Heatons with a workstation festooned with photographs of dead-eyed, interbred children. I like the work here; it’s just the people I can’t stand.
Without apology he begins moaning about his son’s school appeal, which he has evidently prioritised above our report. ‘You couldn’t have done the appeal maybe in your own time?’ I bark.
‘No, I couldn’t. The hearing is tonight, my children’s education is important, Burtonshaw agreed to it.’
He continues to moan about council admission criteria. ‘And they’re going to build a big housing development on Broadstone Road, god knows how the local schools are going to cope with the overcrowding.’
‘The fuck should I care? I carried you the whole way on this project.’
Walsh smiles. ‘Sunny and positive as always, hey, Mills? Well, you may not have to listen to me much longer. I heard about your little stunt at the Circle last night. Tobin’s quite close to our management, you know that? They eat at his restaurants. You’re going to be walking, Mills.’
I laugh. ‘How would you know something like that? You’re so out of the loop the loop is a line to you. I would suggest that you mind your own business, such as it is.’
He logs on to his computer in silence.
Unfortunately, Walsh’s prediction – that I would be fired from the engineering place – proved only too true. I had finished the report by two, and hit the New York Subway on Deansgate for a sandwich, ravenous by then, they don’t do breakfast in the cop shop.
I scanned the paper and read about the National Government’s new welfare reform ideas. The Prime Minister gave a speech that day proposing the abolition of housing benefits to anyone under twenty-five, plus another billion-dollar rollout of the workfare scheme. A rant built up through my airways, a hatred of the very inner air, strafed and braced, and I felt the rage come upon me again, a country that hates you, a generation condemned to infantilisation and low expectations. How the fuck could they do this? Fantasies of killing followed me back across the traffic, this grainy rush of slaughter, the idea of a fist driving into a face, again and again.
At a loss once I got back into the office, I sent off a self referral form to the psyche practitioner place. Mental healthcare in Manchester is a joke, and in any case I don’t believe myself mentally ill – I don’t get anxiety or depression or suicidal thoughts, just anger – but as the good Andrea said, it’s necessary to cover oneself.
By five everyone’s gone except myself and Walsh. Walsh would undoubtedly have left too if he didn’t have to make up his hours. He is still going on about the appeal, its composition, independence and competence. I’m not really doing anything, composing a blog post in my head, when Burtonshaw calls me in.
‘Jazz. No easy way to say this, but I’m letting you go.’
‘Fair enough. The thing last night?’
To be fair, Burtonshaw really dislikes doing this. He looks around his office and cracks his knuckles. ‘That, but not just that. Over the three years you’ve been with us there’s been repeated aggressive outbursts, numerous complaints against you – the Taurus actually stopped taking corporate bookings because of what happened last Christmas!
‘We all need a break from you, basically. It’s technically gross misconduct but I’ve arranged a decent severance package.’ He slides a folder across the table. ‘In recognition of your consistently high standard of work.’
I pick up the folder without looking at it. I rise and shake his hand. ‘Well, no hard feelings, Steve. I understand completely.’
He walks with me to the door, ready to knock off himself. The exit is via the office. A fey and vapid grin crosses Walsh’s face. I stop and clear my desk, putting all my work possessions in a box; spare utility belt, science-fiction books, photos of nights out, good times with my ex on the Colorado trails, a happy counterpart to Walsh’s breeder trophies.
‘Shouldn’t have pissed off Tobin, Jazz,’ he says. ‘Good luck finding new work in the middle of a recession. You won’t last the year, my friend. You’ll end up in prison or dead.’
I look at him. He sees something in my eyes. He rears back into his chair, sliding away from the hub. I blindside him and wrench his arms behind his back, tie him by the wrists across the crook of his swivel chair. Then I detach the printer from its housing. I raise my arms up slowly and he understands, shouting and bucking in the chair. I smash the printer onto his head, then jump onto his desk and remove the family photographs from his desk. I tear them up, laughing, and sprinkle the pieces over his head.
‘No one cares about your fucking children,’ I tell him.
He’s quieter now, weeping I think, runnels of blood running down his face from cuts in his head, plus different colour inks from the cartridges – magenta, cyan, they call it.
Still standing on the desk, I get my cock out and piss over his face and chest.
‘Good luck with the appeal,’ I say.
But really I don’t have anything to complain about. My childhood was wealthy and stable, I have a good degree and transferable skills, and I’ve known love. Still, I’m one angry man, and there’s no reason for it. When I wake up, in those tight hours before smoking, there’s a visceral movie reel in my head, hurt inflicted on men, men run down by lorries and hanged in prison cells, jaws wrenched out of sockets, windpipes torn from naked throats, faces raked with knives, dark derisive laughter, specific individuals – my mother’s lodger, senior management, childhood associates from Wilmslow. Probably I just get off on violence, like so many others, and everything else is post hoc justification. Possibly the only difference between myself and the Northenden wifebeater is that I’ve never hit a woman.
I jump a 42 to the Palatine Road bedsit, almost shaking with rage adrenaline. The bedsit is a basement floor divided into three functional rooms and defined by stacks of genre novels and HBO boxsets, heavy metal posters of my youth on the walls. I pour a glass of red and watch an episode of Oz on my computer. I watch the whole series annually and am just up to the part where Beecher ties up Schillinger in the gym. Seig heil, baby!
Then I change, shower, pack my laptop and book in my leather manbag and walk up Palatine Road. The weather is crazy at the moment, bright flared sunshine jostling amongst bloated storm clouds. I figure to get a pint and a burger in the Red Lion and then remember that I was barred from that place a couple of weeks back, after an altercation with an annoying young fellow who kept asking why I didn’t like the Smiths. I trek on up to Fuel, coming down into the after-rage now, a mellow state of easy pleasure and easy fear, pieces of myself all over town.
I fire up my laptop and bang out a blog post about the government welfare reforms. Halfway through, my vegan burger arrives, and I munch on it over a chapter or so of my Neil Gaiman book.
I finish the piece and post it on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. By this time I’m aware of a raucous presence a table across. Some student people I know are clustered around another laptop, laughing like crazy. The girl Lydia waves madly. ‘Jazz, you maniac! Come and sit with us!’
I pack up my shit and find a chair – the bar has grown busy, and I get hacked off trying to manoeuvre a spare stool through crowds of drunken hipsters. Eventually we sort it out and I scrape my way onto the student table.
‘Thanks for inviting me over. What are you guys watching?’
‘It’s Arabella Bloom! You not heard of Arabella Bloom!’
‘Jazz only likes really violent drama,’ Fred tells the table. ‘Stuff like Oz, like that no one’s ever heard of.’
‘Goddamnit, there wouldn’t be The Wire without Oz,’ I shout. ‘It paved the way for hour-long, quality crime drama.’
‘Jazz, sit down,’ Lydia says. ‘Watch Arabella Bloom.’
‘Who even is that?’
‘She’s a comedian, she’s really good, she puts like sketches up on YouTube and stuff? Check it out.’
We watch a YouTube video featuring a young woman with a finishing-school accent. She takes us through this ridiculous routine, about dating and sex and adult type subjects, but featuring vampires and mythical monsters. It’s like a Twilight parody, very well written and performed but I can’t get into it.
The others are falling about – I thought that was just something people say in books, but seriously, the students have trouble staying on their chairs.
‘Wasn’t that brilliant?’ Lydia says when the sketch ends.
I look up Arabella Bloom on Twitter. This woman has like nineteen thousand Twitter followers so maybe it’s something I’m missing. I can’t really get into entertainment unless the characters are wading through a river of gore. It’s like nothing feels real unless there are bad things happening.
Most people my age hang around with colleagues and married couples. I hang around with students. Maybe that’s my problem: a kind of immaturity. But what’s the alternative?
We continue to drink and then watch Damon Anaconda’s band play upstairs. My phone vibrates throughout the set. The blog’s doing quite well, loads of notifications from social networks. I can’t think why. Even a DM:
@helencriterion Helen Cranfield-Bond
Jazz – I really like your blog. We’re having a kind of ‘open day’ at Criterion Towers this week and it would be great if you
@helencriterion Helen Cranfield-Bond
could come along? Saturday London Fields from 12? A bit short notice I know! Xxx
I’m not sure what to reply to this. Damon’s band leaves the stage and immediately some loudmouthed poet gets up and begins to inflict some half-arsed and pseudo-profound stand up routine on the audience. Worse, it’s Key Williams, a man I know and have tangled with before. My anger isn’t yet full on but I can feel it, outside the skull, gentle little blast-caresses at my temples. I finish my drink and say goodbye and leave.
I am just passed a party house on Palatine Road, and congratulating myself on having got through the evening without a fight, when I see a cop car at my door. A volley of police knocks ricochets into the night. I turn around and get walking. I am still far enough into the trees and shadows to be clear here. A little back up the way, I hear the police car start up. I am back up at the party house. I vault the garden wall and crouch behind it. The car cruises right past.
‘You okay there, brother?’ A wiry fellow in outsized hipster glasses looks down at me.
‘Just hiding from the feds, baby.’ I salute him from the ground.
I chat in the garden with party smokers. Rain begins to come down and I make my way up to Wilmslow Road through the backstreets and shadowlanes. I make it to the Clthulhu Hotel without seeing any other police. The Cthulhu is an old style inn with a rough hipster club downstairs and hired rooms above at twenty pounds a throw. The bar is hung with ironic-cute representations of Lovecraft figures, monsters rendered into lights and decorations in the Super Mario style.
I order my room from behind the bar and take my pint onto the balcony. We are getting full on summer rainstorm now, the trees rustle with it, coming down in great shimmering swirls. I see a couple of clubbers hold their arms out into the rainstorm and marvel at the shivers on their skin.
Violence is a tricky and risky thing. One in three thirty year old men have an arrest record. One blow to the temple can kill someone. Then it’s upwards of three years, for some cunt over a bitter triviality or friendship kink. For this reason prison doesn’t scare me in that visceral way, because my life will be over, and all I need is to find a way to be of use, despite my nature, until that life ends.
I am in my room with a bottle of wine from behind the bar and pounding witchhouse shaking the bare boards. I generally watch Oz before I go to sleep, but my DVDs are back in the bedsit. I’m still high and I fire up my laptop and search for something on the computer. The only thing I can think of is the Arabella Bloom show. In the show Bloom is running an internet cafe, and the business is continually disrupted by metasurreal plot developments and outlandish characters. It’s the most ridiculous thing, completely silly and farfetched, but I find myself watching four episodes, beginning to recognise and laugh aloud at the catchphrases and variations.
The next morning I’m badly hungover. A crescendo of imagery, cruelty and sadness, through my head like space invaders or planes marshalled by drunken air traffic control. I think of friendships I’ve ruined, women I’ve let down, pets that died in my arms, and I imagine these entities in another place, calling out for me, sad and wanting only to be loved again. The psychic assault is so bad I actually cry out, alone, in my hired room. I have always wanted to live, if only to see my enemies suffer, but in that moment I feel like killing myself. Instead I put Lana del Rey on the iTunes, get dressed and settle up as soon as and run across Wilmslow Road and dive onto the Transpennine cycle paths.
A mile up this tree-lined underground I feel better, realise the sadness is part of this drug of rage I’m addicted to, the cycle of it, and the lives I’ve touched don’t depend on me, probably nothing does, it’s a life that runs to the bells and chimes of internal chemicals and carries no significance outside it. Just past Alex Park bridge a cyclist stops. He wears no helmet and is in chav gear. The bike itself, while not actually motorised, is chavved up with gold drip spokes and mindless sports and misogyny slogans sprayed across the bars.
The scally asks me for a cigarette. I tell him no, which doesn’t go down well as I’m smoking at the time.
‘No need to be like that, meet,’ he tells me. ‘Be nice.’
‘What is this, a fucking etiquette lesson?’ My hormones, the pushermen in my body, release adrenaline into the bloodstream. ‘Don’t fucking talk to me as if I was a second class citizen. You think you can fucking just snap your fingers at random strangers and they’ll just give you fucking cigarettes? I should break your fucking jaw!’
The scally throws a punch. You can tell in his face it’s pure impulse, the man’s own pusher-hormones making him do it. I duck the punch and throw one of my own. The feel of cheekbone underneath my knuckles, the bone beneath my skin, and he stumbles against the underarc of the bridge. At that moment, his fight’s over. I push him into the brick arch and level more blows into his chest and face. Then I force him on his stomach and grind his face into the mud and gravel of the Transpennine.
At this point he’s barely conscious and crying out for help. The Transpennine’s not a good place to get into confrontation; difficult to outpace an aggressor on a straight road, and help depends on passing cyclists or dogwalkers, neither of which are visible in either direction. The scally is trying to speak but I can’t make out any words. His breathing is unhappy and laboured.
I pick up the bike with both hands and hurl it on top of him in a rattle of spoke bling. Then I pick a few cigarettes out of my deck and throw them down. ‘Here’s your fucking cigarettes, you pathetic piece of shit,’ I shout.
Graffiti on the Alex Park bridge: BEWARE THE ZEITGEIST.
I emerge into Chorlton tram station half an hour later, thinking that Walsh will have raised the alarm, he could easily work his way out of my utility belt, or else one of the security staff or night cleaners will have discovered him. The severance package was quite generous and I figure I need a new look. I hit the Beech Road shops and buy a light fawn suit plus some conservative shirts. I remove most of my danglers and bangles except a few that hold sentimental value. I pay a headshop to wash the dye out of my hair and I shave off my beard in the Beech Road toilets. I donate the jewellery to the Beech Inn market, and wave away offers of payment.
I’m so high off the Transpennine attack I’m almost floating. I hit the Dulcimer and order a Kaltenburg. Alyssa is behind the bar.
‘Hey, Jazz, like the new look!’
‘Yeah, figured there were too many middle aged goths in the world. From now on I’m all about imperial leisure.’
‘It’s David Niven.’ She laughs. ‘So how’s it going?’
‘Okay, but I got laid off. Any jobs going?’
She shakes her head. ‘Everyone’s asking bar work.’
I eat a full English with paper and pint. A crowd of afternoon drinking males ask to sit on my table, so I abandon it and sit on a barstool and check the social networks on my smartphone.
@ChorltonLife Simon Hart
Just heard from Joe in MRI, he’s okay, but it could have been so much worse. Hope they catch this scumbag. Stay safe #transpennineattack
@GMPChorlton Greater Manchester Police
Police searching white male 30s, 6ft, numerous piercings, black ‘goth’ clothes. DO NOT approach, call 856 7070 #transpennineattack
@ChorltonRifles Chloe Hateley-Jones
Chorlton has officially gone PSYCHOVILLE #transpennineattack
The shit ends up locally trending. This is really bad. With my distinctive look, it’s not going to take fucking Poirot to tie this unknown assailant to the violent recidivist bailed thirty hours previous. These days you need to do something pretty bad to go to jail but I’ve really overplayed my hand here. Great giggling bloodsurges and pleasant pressure, and I’m laughing, and thinking of my last court order therapist, telling me that You will have no friends. You will and when he hasn’t had a drink he’s the nicest guy in the world and me over Tobin on Barton Arcade, laughing and kicking him, Tobin taking the blows, only I see it from his perspective, cunt, fag, fag, cunt, my laughter and abuse in a chrome codeine burn, and my mother: Why can’t you find something nice to think about?
Why can’t monsters… get along with other monsters…
The ‘Helen Criterion’ DM catches my eye. It comes to me that a change of scene is exactly what’s needed. I book on Trainline, fucking nightmare to do on a phone, juggling the phone and card. Then I cross the road and jump on an 85. I keep laughing on the bus and people look round and I try to stop, and can’t.
Old regrets. Old scores. Schoolyard bullying. Sexual frustration. Low expectations. Predictable irritations. Physical ailments. Financial stress. Dim, inchoate ideas of entitlement, and grievance. A compassion or guilt you don’t want to feel. Fear of extinction. The state of the world. I wonder what lies at the base of anger, not just mine but all the world’s rage, the root of it, the twitching coil.
I’m freed of all emotion on the train and this feels like a new city, somewhere too big for me to poison the whole place. I get my daily limit out the ATM and tube south. I hit a Novotel around Clapham and check in under the name of James McNulty. I check my emails. There’s a pro forma holding response from the psychological wellbeing service. It gives me n an appointment six weeks hence in North Manchester, with a warning that I will be discharged if I fail to make the appointment. There is also a plaintive signpost to various chargeable alt-med services.
Then I go out with my Neil Gaiman book and walk into the nearest pub, which is full of what used to be called sloanes and hooray henrys and other bourgeois immigrants, pushed out into the working class areas like Japanese knotweed. The sun comes out and I annex a table in the beer garden. Eleven, I hit a takeaway place, then an off licence then the Novotel and watch a couple of episodes of the Arabella Bloom show over a pizza and a bottle of red. I am really getting into this thing, there is a moreish quality to it. Then I put an Another Late Night compilation on the iTunes and walk over to the balcony with a glass of wine. The darkness outside is dense and ramped up, much more than South Manchester. There’s just so much more going on.
Midday I awake, shower and put some preparation tuneage on, finishing with Silver Jews ‘Send in the Clowns.’ Then I tube up to London Fields. The rain has broken, it’s blue skies from horizon to horizon, and I wander the length of the fields, not knowing where I’m headed, not caring. Eventually I come across the Pub on the Park, with a party spilling out onto the grass, bright sharp laughter and exchange. This is the venue for the New Criterion open day (formerly Leftwing and Controversial). I go in, get a pint, take it outside, and am approached by a young woman who introduces herself as Helen Criterion.
‘Thanks for coming down,’ she says. ‘You’re from Manchester, right?’
I am subsumed into a group of about fifty. A couple of faces I recognise kind of from profile headshots but I don’t know anyone here and am out of my depth. I begin to feel afraid, then angry that I’m afraid. The only person I really know here is – fuck – Arabella Bloom, shorter in real life, but arriving with props and tote bag in a gust of laughing explanations and excuses. She starts talking to Helen Criterion and I walk up to their group. They are talking about online misogyny: rape-threats left below online articles and comedy videos, harvesting of personal details, leaking of street addresses to hate-forums, targeting of adolescent sisters, images of sexual violence.
‘A guy said I should be raped in the bones,’ Arabella says. ‘He capitalised ‘bones’.’
‘The stock response should be,’ I say, ‘thank you for taking the time to post a comment here, particularly as you clearly lead a busy and fulfilled life, with many responsibilities and diversions.’
‘That’s brilliant!’ Arabella says. ‘I’m going to put that in my special hater sketch.’
I do think these troll people are ridiculous. I’m a ready hater alright but at least I only target unpleasant grown men, not whimsical young writers and comediennes. The people I hurt would live worthless, miserable lives… and how strange these thoughts seem now, like erroneous and disconcerting shadows across the allure of London Fields.
‘Jazz has a talent for the killer putdown,’ Helen says. ‘Quite the alpha male. Everyone’s really impressed with the blog.’
‘I can’t think why,’ I say. ‘Does the world really need another political blogger with no real life experience?’
‘Don’t put yourself down.’ Arabella’s voice is less finishing-school than it appears on YouTube, and has even a North Lancs hint to it.
The afternoon eases by in that drunk stage where you don’t know anyone but you don’t care about not knowing anyone. The talk is about banking implosion, welfare suicides, controversies between political microcelebrities, and I let it all wash through and over me. It’s getting to feel like twilight, but not really.
‘So where can I read your blog?’ I run into Arabella at the bar.
‘I’m not sure about it. All I’ve really got to offer is rage.’
She orders a drink, and gestures to me. ‘What do you want to drink? And rage can be good sometimes.’
‘I’m surprised that you would say that. I’ve been watching your stuff recently, some friends up in Manchester got me into it, and you seem… positive, a relentless positivity.’
‘Fuck, are you okay? You’re shaking like a leaf, Jazz.’
I try to talk and can’t. I realise I thought Arabella Bloom could show me the way past the anger, but I realise now it’s too much of a burden to place before her. I realise there are tears in my eyes and she says: ‘You’re having a panic attack. Let’s go outside.’
She leads me out, competent and put together, whereas I feel, and must look, like I’m going completely crazy. She strides on into the fields, and I do my best to keep up. She asks what exactly is wrong and I tell her I have a problem with anger, and do not know how to resolve it. I say that I keep getting into fights and am wanted for serious assaults in Manchester.
‘Nightmare.’ She produces a pack of Camels and offers one to me. ‘You’re kind of an alpha male, aren’t you?’
I laugh at this. ‘Very much an omega male, I assure you.’
‘See, you say I’m relentlessly positive, but we all have dark moments, we all experience irrational rages and psychosis. Even me. The point is not to conquer your flaws but to manage them as best you can.’
Now I’m sure there is twilight in the air, a brisk and painless draught on the skin. We have reached a tree-lined triangle or crossroads, a forest up ahead and particles of speech and sound, pieces of other people, drift across the air, almost like you could reach out and touch the pieces of other lives. ‘So how do you manage it? I tried exercise, I –’
‘God knows. I’d recommend anger management therapy, except that it doesn’t work and its advocates can find no evidence to support it. Possibly we’d be happier if we could admit that we can’t always be good people.’
‘Why can’t monsters…’ I say, ‘get along with other monsters.’
‘Exactly, Jazz! Le mot juste! Listen, you can try, you can really make the effort, but life is fundamentally about being lucky. That’s the conundrum! Scary and beautiful! Here: race me to the tree.’
And she dances off, laughing, sprints away into some distant grassy tangent. As I follow, I feel the energy of this city flowing into me, and that’s what scares me, because it’s like I’m turning into someone else. You could get a security job on some dodgy club, fuck the SIA clearance and disappear into the density of this noise and light. But the tail wags its twitching root, and says that change is an illusion, and soon you will be back running the adrenaline treadmills, and thinking hourly of murder.
Max Dunbar was born in London in 1981. He recently finished a full-length novel and his short fiction and criticism has appeared in various print and web journals. He blogs at http://maxdunbar.wordpress.com/ and tweets at @MaxDunbar1. Max lives in Leeds and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.