October 16th, 2020
Knaresborough House2. Ultimate ShameHunching down he surveyed the pile of mud that gleamed, moist on the rug. The earth was thick with clay, stodgy, yet uncompromising. With the leathery finger of his left hand, hanging on the spade with his right, he poked the soft mush that bounced back, doughy. Straightening up he examined the stain which coated his fingertip up to the big knuckle, it was all under his nail, dark and, stodgy, he thought again, that was the word. Should I suck it off? Probably better not, could be rotten. He looked around for a towel or cloth and finding none that weren’t already stuffed into plaster holes or wrapped around pipes, he brought his hand to himself and drew the sodden mess across his chest in a line that split his lungs in twain, tailing off at the hip and then going up and down a few times on the back pocket of his trousers. He examined his finger again, the mass of lumpy soil below forgotten for a while as he picked the clods from under the nail, using at first the opposing nail of his right thumb, then the jagged ridge of his bottom teeth, sliding an incisor back and forth, chewing on the clumps then spitting them back onto the pile. There it was, his latest display of seething romance, the left-over part of something unhealthy which had spiralled in through the door of a nightclub six months earlier and left sharing a taxi that night, looking for all this world and others, like the picture of a perfect marriage, but covered in sweat and sick with drink that they emptied in the morning light as they rolled over the road into bed. The pile of earth was all that remained and now it was time to be destroyed, to be dissolved and clinically disposed of, lest the seed of a plant come in through the window, though they were rarely or never open, and deposit its goodness in that unholy soil to grow like a nightmare vine, its roots spreading across the living room floor, out into the hall and down to the ground. From there they would puncture the crust of the Big Earth and drill into the planet till they found the hot core and suck it up, all up, till the warmth was gone, and then what would fuel the volcanoes and gas vents that blew up under the sea? How could he go out then, he thought, into the natural disaster-less world? How could he show his face with the weight of that God-like responsibility, knowing that the lives of every soul on the Pacific’s edge had been guaranteed by him from his dusty red rug. There were people out there begging for their parents to die, for neighbouring village to be be brought down in flames, there were terrible souls who made money on the destruction caused by the gas clouds in the atmosphere. How could he face them, those poor hearts whose lives he had wrecked or at least put on hold by saving the world from lava and sulphuric rain? What shame he thought, what unending, unparalleled shame, he believed, what Ultimate Shame to be the never-ending hero of a world that dripped slowly on his face from the sky with millions of balled up paper balls, wet with the spittle of God. ‘No,’ he said ‘no.’ Paused, ‘no,’ again. The smell of his Ultimate Shame grew stronger as he watched a creature of buzzing unimportance fidget its way over to the remaining mud, circling the fuming mess a few times then settling. He could see the eggs that crawled out of the things anus, maggots with a hundred legs that were already big enough to chew on the Shame as it sat there, undisturbed since the blade had come down once, then again, and again, and again, and split the thing. The smell had begun at once and haunted his every step, dogging his nostrils from before he woke till he left to clear his head in the great outdoors, coughing and retching to help the air flow. It was time to despatch the memory, the thing, the memory of the thing, together they would tumble from his world and with a damp thump make food for lesser creatures in the park below. The lice will crawl from the bag and end up tangled in the sinews of the thing, replacing it slowly and steadily with themselves in bundles of eggs and gnawed flesh, sacks of gunk and the memories chewed into new life, new memories made on the floor in a bag let drop from the seventh floor. Outside, sirens, the recored sounds of tortured children wailing back into the world from a boombox strapped to a golf buggy where two large pork sausage wannabes drove, sniggering their giddy success into a tannoy. In the back sat the forlorn figure of the last freedom fighter, pulled down from the statue or up from the gutter and tied up with strings of chipolatas, a ham hock stuffed in their mouths. Mack watched the lights flashing around a corner, the sound whooping into the ears of another watching from the seventh floor of another. He looked down from the roost and the glowing bag stared back, the supermarket logo clearly visible amongst the foliage which reflected nothing save the deepest greens. He shut the window. His shame was finished, guilt resolved, and the breath that left him was a gushing waterfall of relief. It is gone he spat through clamped teeth, feeling at his belt the gauntlet he had himself throw down upon entering the room that morning, the guzzling demons buzzing through the musty air. Somewhere next door or on another level some music began to play, he could hear the bass of it, pulsing through the floors and walls of the rooms around him. It is gone, he sighed, the shame, the shame, the Ultimate Shame, it is gone, it is gone, it is gone.
©2007-2023 Benedict Esdale