There was a bombing in the city and the launch failed. The hospitals were overwhelmed. The pressure in her chest eases as she thumbs the console in her hand. A button releases morphine. She knows this without understanding it. The images, memories, shift and conflate. Ten years later and she’s back on the trains. A child, dark-eyed and tired, walks circles on her mother’s palm, nodding her head side to side. Katherine presses her forehead to the orange bar. Someone coughs dislodging. A newspaper. Children covered in blood and brick-dust in
Text alert — Transport for London. Bomb threats, station closures.
We will be here when it ends.
Pain sharpens the conflating images. She almost clarifies, conscious. There was a launch. A wine glass burst on the pavement and she stood on the ledge, counting backwards and the countdown died as the bulbous swell of a launch filled orange, seamed through the blue and then bloomed. An explosion, tatters of the vessel twisting back to Earth like shot crows, a whistling death-throe as something emptied through the crowd.
We will be here when it ends.
She presses the button and the memories and dreams conflate and shift. A moment of body — hers — a moment of self — you’re in pain.
She presses the button. Bloom. A wine-glass slips off the ledge. Like a balloon inflating in her chest the realisation is sudden and breathtaking — it’s been ten years.
She got back on the trains. An anniversary humming with portent. She learnt to be afraid and her body remembers and insists.
She’s on leave from work and there is a launch, a book- hers. A response: Concerning the Spiritual in Art.
The patient, animate beeping of her life-support, a code with which she can almost commune.
Bomb threats, station closures.
Sound crumples. Her eyesight milks out. A pressure in her chest gives as a zig-zag fracture ladders her ribs and her lung bursts, wheezing blood and the dusty wet plume of burst bodies. Smothered nightmares and a heart that will routinely skip arrhythmic over the coming years. Paramedics administer a shot to stop it, restart, and in the beatless gap she is always convinced she is dying. The heart restarts and
there, the steady footstep of herself. And the days continue to move but she’s not-quite-right. She’s
The French-man with the white moustache. Support groups. Coffee in paper cups, a circle of chairs, a church hall. The world punctured, rent, and here they sit listening to the Frenchman as the clock marks seconds and she skips arrhythmic.
She finally gets back on the trains and the dark-eyed Asian girl nods her head side to side singing, “Incy a-wincy spi-da climb up a water spout…”
The Frenchman says, “You want to be free, yes? Free like the birds? You ever see a bird with baggage?”
Use the groups, Katherine. Make friends and find strength. Articulate this obstruction in your heart and render yourself explicable.
She got up and left, “I’m sorry-I’m fine-I’ve got things to do.”
Fragments of bone scattered like buckshot. A penny-sized piece of foreign elbow lodges under Katherine’s knee. Infected and then subsumed by the body. A slit-eyed scar of gristle. Katherine never learnt the names. Assiduous, devout, fingers in her ears going la-la-la. A massive, frantic glitch in the system. The world imploded, paused, spread outwards and they pieced it back together —she went to work and the days went forward — but she was kicked off-kilter and her heartbeat spelt the disjunct. It’s been ten years.
Year two onwards, the thin clarity of anorexia, her days a light-headed euphoric daze tethered by obsession. She worked, she worked. Arts Council funding-gallery-partner at the gallery — a bursary from The Royal Court (apolitical plays) — You’re ascendant, Katherine. But she’s
Scoring the world with terse dedication. Pare yourself, Katherine. Abstain, deplete. Leave a sharp and unambiguous black pencil-line on the world, precise as the needle as it settles on 42 kilos, 41, 38… Numb extremities, kidney pain. Blackouts fracture the timeline. More groups. Skinny young women with bad teeth.
Render yourself explicable, Katherine.
There was a bombing in the city and the launch failed. The hospitals were overwhelmed. Pieces of the vessel twisted, free-fall, like shot crows.
A week off- leave.
“Take some time, Katherine.”
Exhaustion behind her voice — Is she still using that? It’s been ten years…
Someone else’s blood moves through her.
Asleep and awake and asleep again.
The nurse’s big soft arms, the hushed blueness of the ward. She rests somewhere behind her own frailty as the nurse helps her onto a wheelchair commode whispering, “Come, come,” and, “Dare, dare.”
The dust settles, the story pauses, she stares at a plastic jug on the nightstand, a lime-green lid, milky particles turning in the water. A pressure gathers in her chest and sharpens into pain.
The launch failed. The image breaks, twisting, folds into itself. The selective burst of a wine-glass on the pavement. Tessa standing out front the bookshop, Barking Road — a book launch, Katherine’s.
“Patterns, Katherine. If you look for them, you’ll find them. And that’s your job, isn’t it? As curator?”
“You’re talking about a deity? An intercession? A sense of harmony underlining and cradling the world?”
“No, I’m talking about a choice. If you can’t make this mean something, then…”
She stood on the ledge and looked out over the city. Patterns, yes. She is given a week off — “Take some time, Katherine.” Ten-year anniversary, back on the trains and the Asian girl sings, “Incy a-wincy spid-a…”
She stood on the ledge and her heart beat arrhythmic and clouds like paint washed past a slither of white moon. Do it, Katherine.
She dropped her glass on the pavement (book launch) and hailed a cab. Her friends, the well-wishers, stood hostless on the pavement sadly shaking their heads.
Ten years now, really, you’d think she’d be over this…
Traffic lights bound in orange hoods and cable ties, a pile of mauve gravel steaming lightly under a sodium lamp. Client number one: Cliff. He linked his fingers through the fence and nodded. Incitement of the Radical Gallery.
Moments before, a café. He drew a dot on a napkin.
“That’s where I am with my work at the moment.”
She nodded, okay.
He drew a cube around it. An image in two dimensions on a napkin, liberated, 3-D- a cube, the dot suspended inside.
“And that’s where I want to be.”
And they stood behind the fence. A floored streetlight blinked, wires exposed, road-works render a tableau, transformed.
Cliff: “We spend our lives recognising the world instead of experiencing it. The Radical Gallery is a way of seeing, a way of experiencing the world. Art is everywhere.”
Pare and dedicate yourself, Katherine. Strict and severe, starve yourself back to that rarefied place — mind the gap and squeeze through it.
A line, Kandinsky’s, Concerning the Spiritual in Art: ‘Apparently aimless alterations in form management will make art seem merely a game.’
Amanda, performance artist, pitching herself in Southwark Cathedral, MA in Movement from the School of Speech and Drama (client number two).
Katherine: “A made-up degree if ever I’ve heard of one.”
“They’re all made up.”
And, Amanda: “Improvisation of movement is not a spontaneous gesture, abrupt, discordant. It’s an adjustment to the harmony underlining it all. Face the right way, and you can feel it. The world is music.”
“Music?” said Katherine, “It’s fucking chaos.”
Aimless alterations in form management will make art seem merely a game.
Why? Because the art is organised merely to provoke a reaction.
For art, see life.
Tanya, Partner: “I’ve received complaints. Cliff complained.”
“I’m not representing his best interests.”
“That’s not what he said at all. He said he’s worried about you. He doesn’t want to work with you anymore. Because he thinks you’ve lost your mind.”
“He has an unreliable conception of sanity. He’s an artist. He makes statements like he’s pulling violet handkerchiefs from his sleeve.”
“What does that mean?”
“That it’s piffle.”
“Nonetheless. He’s important.”
“Fine. I quit.”
“You don’t have to quit.”
“I’m moving to the Caucasus.”
“Don’t be childish.”
“I wanted this to mean more.”
Pain seams through her. Across the ward an emaciated black woman stares at her, her mouth a frozen ‘o’. A trolley clatters over the threshold and there’s a whimper — hers — she whimpers, awake.
The word clarifies: defective. And she whimpers with its hard birthing, like a stone coughed forth and spat out black and glistening.
A slither of foreign bone infecting the world, rejected, subsumed.
Toes over the edge, arms up.
Foetal between the wardrobe and dresser, weeping breathlessly, smothered by nightmares that won’t disperse, the singed acrid stink of electrical fires.
She squirms away, her fingers (thoughts) pressing the edges of something, after which- free-fall. She backtracks off the edge.
But why are you here?
Because there was a launch and the bomb failed. The hospitals were cleared and dead crows shattered like glass.
“Down came the rain and washed the spider out.”
She surrendered to it, retreated and went slack. She stopped coughing on blood and let it and the crumpled mess fill her throat as her lung wheezed and she squeezed carefully out of the world.
Write the book, quit the gallery, sharpen your form until- weightless- bookended and neat, heart set rhythmic, you can step off, Katherine, and leave it all behind…
Time has reassembled itself. It’s day. The psych nurse stands at the foot of Katherine’s bed, turquoise headscarf, a clip-board at her chest.
“Are you with us, Katherine?”
The woman moves to Katherine’s side and puts a hand on her thigh. The patient, animate beeping of herself.
She falls, tracing a silent trajectory, serene, inexorable. And then a sudden bloom of metamorphosis. Pain.
There were bombings in the city and ten years later she stepped off the edge and fell.
Merely to provoke a reaction.
“Did you just want some help, Katherine? Is that why you’re here?”
Joseph Pierson – is currently on an MA in Creative Writing at Kingston. He was shortlisted for 2015 Myriad First Drafts Competition for a novel.