By SIMON COLLINGS.
THE OWNERS OF the café were a Japanese-American couple. The husband was into minimalism and the music of Morton Feldman was often playing quietly in the background. I had found it intriguing at first but the constant repetition of the note patterns began to wear on me after a while. I put up with it because I had a thing about the wife. ‘It’s because you’re tense,’ Yuki said. ‘Take some deep breaths.’ She placed my flat white on the table and adjusted her bra strap. ‘Art teaches nothing about life,’ she said. ‘Just as life teaches us nothing about art.’ The décor was Spartan, wooden tables, white walls, no pictures. Her husband’s only extravagance was an antique shogi set dating from around 1900. He kept it behind the counter in case a customer came in one day who knew how to play. I was thinking of learning the game, so I’d have an excuse to spend more time there.
‘I WANT A speaking part,’ Bill said. ‘I’m sick of just being an extra.’ Frank looked taken aback. This wasn’t like Bill. ‘What sort of thing did you have in mind?’ he asked. ‘Our distance from the divine is both infinite and proximate,’ Bill said. Frank pondered, then cracked his knuckles. ‘Are you feeling OK? You don’t seem yourself.’ ‘Who am I?’ Bill asked. ‘That’s what I want to know. Who am I?’ ‘Take it easy buddy,’ Frank said. ‘Maybe you should start with something a little simpler, like ‘Hi, I’m Bill’ or ‘that’s really funny’.’ ‘I’ve signed up for a course of elocution lessons,’ Bill said. Frank groaned. ‘Are these glasses half empty, or half full?’ ‘I have ambition, Frank. I want to be someone,’ Bill insisted. ‘You don’t know this, but I once played a severed head in a film about the French Revolution. I really think I could go places.’
DURING THE NIGHT my nipples had become unusually swollen, and quite sore, and I decided I should go to the local health centre to seek a medical opinion. The doctor turned out to be an ex-lover who I hadn’t seen for some time. She asked me if I was free for dinner, and suggested we continue the consultation at her apartment, to which I readily agreed. The building where she lived was close by. It looked run down, and the rooms she occupied were shabby and untidy. She had a casserole already prepared, she said, and asked me to put it in the oven to warm through while she went to deal with a few things. The cooker was ancient and rusting, the controls so worn by use I struggled to work out how to turn the oven on, but eventually I got it going. Meanwhile my ex-lover, the doctor, was nowhere to be found. I had taken my shirt off earlier, expecting to be examined, and I was starting to feel the cold. The skin of my arms had goose-bumps and my nipples were like wood.
THE NARROW ROOM was hot and crowded with people. A young man in a suit handed me a chit of paper which I attempted to read. It seemed to be a set of instructions but the words kept dissolving before I could make them out. The man looked at me sceptically, then signalled for me to move on. There was a door to the left through which I hoped I might escape the press of bodies. But this led only to a low-ceilinged gallery, where I was forced to walk hunched over, picking my way awkwardly through the slumbering bodies of the inhabitants. A narrow archway at the far end opened onto an even more constricted space, shrouded in shadow. The floor was covered with earth and had been planted with marigolds. The only way out appeared to be through a hatchway, about the width of my body, low down in the wall opposite. Around me in the spectral gloom the orange blooms glowed with hypnotic intensity.
Simon Collings lives in Oxford and has published poems, stories and critical essays in a range of journals including Stride, Journal of Poetics Research, Tears in the Fence, Ink Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse and PN Review. Out West, his first chapbook, was published by Albion Beatnik (2017), and a second chapbook, Stella Unframed, has just been released by The Red Ceilings Press.