THE AUDIO LANDSCAPE IN A HEAD FULL OF PAIN
Simian Thomas, Durham County
It is a morning dream. The waves are crashing against the windows of the train, portending their strength. The train crosses sand banks that sink as fast as we pass over them, like wet sand beneath feet. It threatens to suck the train into the Earth. I try to grip the sides of my bunk, but I’m paralysed, I can barely move my eyes. Eyes pinned on the ocean, mistrusting how peaceful it looks, knowing with the fear that knows my subconscious-self better than I, that the sea will rise.
It’s flat-lined on the horizon. I have no memory of the Indian Ocean rising up to swallow me. Maybe I never saw it. Maybe I was napping when it swept me up. But I can imagine the sea rising – the horror of a great wall of water speeding towards me and the collective panic of the people. I wait for it to happen in the dream. I stare at the flat line of the sea, waiting for it to swell higher. But it doesn’t.
We were going to Newcastle, a city that had felt that weight of water. I should be used to this kind of disaster zone, but Phuket was like a dream now. I wasn’t sure if it ever happened. It didn’t seem real. I was glad the train was still moving as it meant we weren’t there yet. I hoped we’d never get there. I slipped out of my bunk and sat down by the eastern window. There was no sign of the sea. There was a droning noise in my head. I shook my skull, trying to expel it.
“Is that a no?”
Someone was talking to me, that was the droning, an exterior reality.
“What?” I said, maybe a little rudely. My eyes focused. Claudia, ever impatient.
“Tea? D’ya want some fookin tea?” she asked.
“Yes, please.” I looked around and felt slightly startled.
Everyone was up and sat about. When I’d slid from my bunk it’d been like nobody was there. Just an empty sleepy train. Just me and my horrors. Charlie was rolling a cigarette.
“I thought you didn’t have any tobacco?” I said, trying to prove to myself I could still put things in chronological order.
“Negotiated sum rations with the men folk,” he answered mysteriously.
“Wouldn’t it be better to just give up?” Roxy asked.
Charlie laughed and said nothing. I looked out of the window again at the steadily passing banks and trees. I almost hoped there would be a blockage on the line, so we’d have to stop. It was a bright day, the low sun creating hypnotising webs inside my eyeballs every time it peeked over the bank between the trees. A cup of tea was planted in front of me, nearly spilling over the side. It had milk in. I had no memory of us getting hold of milk. Maybe Charlie had negotiated milk and tobacco. I took a sip. It was still too hot and tasted odd. I looked at Claudia, and she looked back at me. That dead pan gaze.
“It’s sheep’s milk… remember?” she said.
“Oh,” I said. I didn’t remember, but I failed to think it mattered. I stared off into the haze, listening to the vibrations of my stomach telling me I’d not eaten in many hours. The empty, rocking motion like a ship on a sea inside a bottle – back and forth, back and forth. A storm of dissent threatening to rumble and roll. That noise again as well, droning, like an insect inside my head.
Roxy touched my arm. I think she’d been talking. All I could hear was the sea inside the seashell which was my ear. I met her quiet eyes and wondered what she saw in mine – a confused mist of time which had no structure. She’d given up asking me if I was okay (or maybe I could no longer hear her), but she remained quietly patient, as though she could will me out of part-catatonic states.
Things were better when I didn’t have time to think. Things were better when stuff just happened and I had to deal with it or face the last nails in my coffin. It seemed very odd that I was alive at all. I was fascinated by a body that continued to function. As though I was separate from it, as though it wasn’t mine to destroy. Rather it owned me – it carried me to safety when the world became threatening, it sought out food and warmth and shelter. I’d made no conscious decision to walk into the Red Deer all those months ago, beneath a sarcastic rainbow. My conscious decision would’ve been to stay in the doom all day and wait for death to put me at peace.
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