That brown water too rye makes stink me dog-breathed gassoping on swallowed air, please to eat down his hair. Till next morning all-over powerful my hand in every toilet, and that one and this one, coldly it seems steeped aah, vomitus, vomitus, Vomitus Erronious, how I have wrong’d thou/thee? No matter, eugckh! no glove! Must be pukka-upped, gut-ruts jumble pro-testy, gnarled fooden terrain mimick ivory lunar surfacesz.
Aah, routine, backandbacktothat again, precise, divide, incisor to incisive mind feeding-back processesz please keep me in tune, no dissonance now, not here, nor ever, never again, the noise…glove needs first, gloves must then wetness other way out, peel back skin as pull on sheath, reminds me, vinyl-latex layer removed sensation, every finger a struggle needling into place grip changes cool metal is dimmed, when flex it’s ribbed, bland textures numbed blunts the scratch of my nails, take-off stretch hairs out from skin spots some missing, plucked.
This drip smucxk hand pull on every lip, lift lid, the naked lunch never seen, they re-use and leave, why would you look? There’s a question! Not keen to discover, see that crust same as biting back on fingernails. Carrot lump, bulk on knuckle, hello clockety-bump, try roll shiny dime style, always shlip-slippering near drain edge, woop! oostill! too squarey plip-offed, between finger legs, knuckles as knees too slow on ther grip, basin-bounded. Real legs skid row in V, needs to be VandUp, right and early, ‘nother daysz working-to-do, from the floor more peace, dull-head take Merrick bowling slid all over, Born into world of worry, heavy on his noggin-loaf but there’s no respect, got to push up, I will catch me, if I should falls.
First through the slit nurse bug-eyes curious intent once over me as she slips into water flicks drops, vaguely to me, ignore it, wipe on black trunks then amble gone suspicious askance edge off round cube column.
Not too bad, to the sink is – it is, some release. Water shot sprack-spat at me, vehement plumbing bummed-out, underneath we’z missing pipes, copper up to gold? Nevermind, now it’s against the soul. Go Nursian: secrete pukka-up hand in leg pouch scram around, get it finger-web wiped off and out, cleanest thistle!
Wipe around shellfish edges slid, smear me powder blush see the face back in the phosphor, tough grimag’d from bleach each sprout drips an inch drag same hair round for walkeach falls random, chrome handles threaten to glimmer they alternate and it’s warm warmer pressed still with finger touch as is life series of lone drips, it’s dry chalky aftertaste, wait for them to swell refract this little scene inverse now I’m upsidedownandheadshrunk, wishing for it willing it to go as waiting on a dream, but no pattern you can determine forget about it till the next day, and rinse.
Written on the walls. Focus. Serial reminders: proper use of soap and other hygiene advice. Deck the halls in legitimate graffiti, do this, wash that, have faith, trust us, be patient. Scream, scream through this promenade of command, shout you down as you pas, all must be obeyed, functions required to meet targets. They lay it on heavy, graphics made to fit slogan, internal media assault the mind in rhyming puns, black-back posters show stained cells cut in familiar signs, bacteria as hamburgers, red on blonde, rugby balls and musical notes, real cute and bad taste, but it strikes no chord all falls flat (use their humour against them) any commonplace thing to suck us in, to keep us entertained and educated, seep into imagination routine becomes the daily dream, but without real sleep dreams you die inside. At first we rise grateful, validated, touched at their concern from afar, notion of some hidden pride, I get it, clever enough, good for you, but really, no need. I’m not neurotic or paranoid, don’t need to watch over me all the time, why monitor over my shoulder if already they know what I’m going to do? Fifteen steps to cleaning cupboard, why follow on?
Green for yes, red for no.
Used for green, go, go on ahead, carry up, hurry on, get to it, di di mao. Raus! Raus! still not finished yet?! Red light. Stop. Think, but only as an afterthought, consider why we rush you; must prevent infection help boost ratings, every step internet people are analysing and dissecting pick our holes apart rip new media-entry orifice, do as you’re told, keep death tolls down (counting on you to rescue our target bonus). All they really want is to predict a better future with no basis, but real lives can’t rest on blind-faith.
Rapid they go, more rush of birds flicker in/out, “Flu Heroes” these silent exposures rise as reflux, “Taking Care. Nationwide.” seen it all before; each one a little piece of your soul eyes pop out blind to the wood, the subliminal expresses itself. No need to resist it’s already in you unconscious acceptance of all that’s written, performance glitters gold, but you already know that. More you see, the more it informs your world, another piece of the social furniture taken as fact as long as it bears the mark of the officious ones. As the sky is blue and swans are never black, we say: smile, die happy, you know everything now, just enough to deceive yourself, uninterrupted, seeming content, life lived as a lie.
No one cares to listen or take further notice. All too busy, nurses dashing away fleet horses, try to get through five-page memo walking on by, others hard at it, tatt-heavy man bleeding from head wound shouts out angry Fs and Cs, then another raw voice in the rush of background noise, junkie teen’s vomit running chin nailed down splayed out on the floor tries to flirt with forty-year old crackhead, sinking in his knees, thinking on all fours trying to catch a new fix, crawling into her, between the heaves odd dirty smirk, nurses and other others try to separate, it kicks off, pretty nurse smackback cracked in the face jerk to move but other hands already in to help, panda-blind patches swell, lightning flash struck across the nose. In the flurry grabbed elsewhere, now to fill in the endless forms, set the parameters of the incident, private security stand avatar for the public too little too late, drag him off wrap whites overhead , vodkatise the girl, restore the quiet, slumped see feet stuck out from behind column, they cancel all the breaks, one giantbootblack, other simple nimble soul. Girl sent home on annual leave, never see the face hair slumpt bloody over, she’s the guilty one, caused more paperwork, stretching out the shifts, no after-hours counselling, no legal support, official directive: “Requiem unto bed.” Sits home alone cries face-askew, not so pretty anymore, crushed butterfly underfoot beats broken solemn with four to the floor.
No time for thinking, the flat voices still calling, always calling me, to look, see, all screaming out to freer dimensions. When do we get the time to read the latest, always come in early, leaving late, into action before blink or breath, missed the meeting should’ve got here first. Every day, every week; a new release, heads-up, keep quiet on that, deny all knowledge, mutated virus strain, attend vaccine session, next week that vaccine was viral, now must attend secondary injection to correct the first, all double standards, hell of confusion, no one keeps tabs, what’s really going on? We glance at spewings of your finest wordsmiths, speechwriters, PR lions can’t catch an eye for more than few seconds, too much pace no one attempts, too demanding, all change weekly, then back again assimilation should be easy, we know nothing and show them so, then nothing is expected simply taken for granted, eyes slip into silence, their bright layout slew of words fade into background stance and so silence, then other subtle orders creep in, treat them as disease, expired, dead-letter messages fall stillborn from the internal-hack’s printer slit, no spread, they bleed ink, walk on by, down cupboard sides, desk gaps, down draw-backs, urgent memos flipped over to take notes, a waste of effort, printing on money, you blind advertise make hospital corridors whispering wall to the deaf, words beg at the shoulder, kick off at lower leg. In fields of dull eyes: your propaganda falls dead.
More than one way to make love secure and maintain their interest: right amount of chemicals in a defined area, a certain space pre-sprayed, or better, placed effusive dispensed with, a million smells to counteract, but it never leaves, cumulative, that hospital smell you know so well, steeped inside clings to everywhere, so familiar never fails to remind where you are, when it hits slapped déjà vu; every dentist appointment, drop-in visit to a side-lined relation, sat in A&E to get few fingers clicked back into place dull throb ache as you pick at spare lint, vasectomy in a cold pale room, MRI scan everyone wears lead and never smiles, tonsils out, smear test pull curtain over let you sit and think as you wait paper gown pulled around naked knees bubble up, just a quick blood sample faint prick at the skin, probably nothing to worry about flooding back those watershed hurts you try to shut away. Longer you stay out they die drop off become easier to forget but the smell strikes catalyst, pulls you back into that dead little world, another lonely cell in the system. Signal shot straight from nose tongue mouth wound round that U-bend tube, glowing remembrance just a few seconds adds up in the lifetime when it hits sensation streams through, the bile rises up in you from you to medeathdecayhygieneinfectionreliefsweatbodycongestionbowelemptinessnilbymouthstomachcrampsdrywhitecrustingmouthedgespoonconcavefingernailscowtongueleatherdryturnbodypressonabcessexplode every turn of the nostril brings another blast of that plastic fug the unique scent speaks to the blood, enlivens mucus brains, break out in saliva drips, no denying the truth, you can taste the atmosphere lungs invaded flooding remembrance of place.
Hot air rising from infection bins, lid up, some reactions happening, orange-yellow glow rip-off plastic apron, polyethylene stretched fantastic as the colour pales out in streaks see wrecked hexagons divide as carbons split, let go of those colours you like yellow and green coughed up and onto sheet s you sleep in, purple blue bruise whatever the reason smacks of abuse, gushing red split, cracked white body as chalk, twirl that ten-for-two shroud in anarchic wheel, when it shimmers in resonant arcs sparks crackle spit cutting the quiet air with electric whorl I see through it even though the shimmers captivated by static, generates its own dead-zone hairs rise on end, that’s where the power goes, like Ophelia interred under water just a time-sink ratio going down fade to ice stick you in the back of the fridge chill blains ran branches as trail in snow caught for the moment singular ebb and flow descending permanent sleep, lid -slam- pushed out waft of trapped air smells curl up at edges evil cauldron bubble out and over no end to the detritus spill, ripped it drifts, infects and spread so unpleasant a stale trap exhumed.
From faecal matter, burnt toast (again) and formulated evergreen of the n-teenth toilet rinse descends iron cloud no escaping our touch and taste evaporate fingertips another failed memory. Enough years you got used to it, can’t block out the crushed scent of a thousand clinical actions mapped precise in the mind, to the outside just more comings and goings, all blend into one rush, nose cut numb, frostbitten in spite, you can try to ignore but you never forget.
Off my tongue all the wild smells go. Like it was cut fresh, the cells fading in/out, dead and alive at the time. The stump left flailing, nowhere to grow. Stalwart brother Orwell used smell as a moral barometer, finds unpleasant tastes a kind of wrongness in the air of the narrow slave kitchens and coal swept streets, and the mud-dust fall the bombs on Catalonia streets, the catalyst forgotten, that same stench of death and betrayal he followed, a virulent bloodhound found continuous stain wreaked across every putrid surface of cold, uncaring and treacherous world, something stinks on those perfect-green Eton battlefields naturally transposed to every blood-specked foreign soil and British sitting room, same war fought his whole short life. Now new smells seeping on home turf George cannot be at peace whilst war by numbers/button presses errs on human error some say wheat is growing thin but British hops always plentiful here, we shuffle on in decay, not bothered enough, let it go as you close your eyes to watch the other side die.
Patients set themselves, heavy application, bottles of shampoo and over-ripe products specific in design to smell distinct, regain the individual by wearing the same smells, just like everyone else. But even for the regular ones every substance applied was quickly swallowed up, absorbed in the harshness of layer-peeling bleaches revealing the ugly underneath Desire to improve takes hold gathers flight, to cut a sweetish figure through the medicinal fug, like Dr Swan gliding gilded through dust and disease sodden in aquatint-peals leading off every new shape-shifting Molotov deified by branded-alcohol (not to be taken orally). The holiest reach for transcendent scents to rise above their own ego, a self-love equally shared but so painfully divided. All mixed up, the waning hormones beat impulse to entice the confused and tricks the needy rube, wilful ones too eager to follow and in turn become product, easily consumed spat out, chewed up and used, air they breath only oestrogen and nicotine forsaking pale earthly airs, oxygen’s a bore nowadays, she hooks audience in transit, faintly clung wires caught blonde in sun, even in harsh glint of neon bulb eyes alight where she treads movements weave angel hair tremulous faint tint of jagged azure in scarlet bloom clawing itself round dark side of the peach, he-is-she-is that forbidden thing nameless, shapeless, unknowable, unloveable, outward they go raise the gay men jealous, flip the hetero-john forced to confront undisclosed desires doubt every firm impulse ever rested upon so sure, now any notion of permanence wavers for the sake of wandering allure overriding the hospital’s ugly sheen escaping a few seconds from the condition of a patient, contemplated at length and taken with deep heaving breaths neither encouraged or forsaken curiosities’ peak was IT, the dullness of their flesh could not keep up and waning energies lose interest, difficulties not the body it’s believing one’s inner-strength, behind exhausted eyes they sit and stare hacking still their noses and lungs alight, left with the mark of those decadent airs but lacking grace.
Official attempts have been made. Them upstairs hit upon the “Aura” experiment, to counteract “insidious influences”. Nurses all against it, per their usual, complain constantly but never acting, the familiarity like returning to a second nest normally so eager to abandon dug their heels in spirit only. Any changes to routine, upset the set-pace, a certain way of doing. The project aim was to make a deal with environment enhancement company, Fplag Inc. and use their “Aura-Model” to drench corridors in sickly-sweet shades of synthetic Britannia. Some mystical aura, ill-defined, but blind supported. Blurb made to reflect: “what it means to be British and with a sense of Britain’s history” (better read: symptomatic decline, neatly bottled).
Every gauche flower brought on from trivial cuttings, some weeds, harvest of shady allotments built on old lead pits, soily hands wiped on trouser, lined-out gardens boxed in by cheap wire racing-green diamonds, rife with adopted species adopted to fulfil an identity quota. Haggard shrivelled-in spectres shape of ugly ruffled sleeves, none of the refinement of daggerish points, avoiding that other continental persuasion; lilting slender necks or stiletto barbed lips that empyrean nova of Venus extended physical, instead hopelessly calculating with dandified flowers chalked sugar-sweet windowsill pledge, oh-so quaint and outmoded blur English borders with crippled scents skewed musky odours as upright and clean-bred as Richard Nixon III, form hybrid in-with already muddied family line the bastardised fifteenth-gen-carnation, it’s spoken name alighting to many so like the turgid procession of royal ascent (to keep buggering on is equivalent to progress?) vast number living hidden, somewhat ignored, under the floorboards those dreary wilted garden-lovers, patio-patriots blind and ready dead martyrs, shelves lined with Mail lies, no cause but faith in the upper-joneses, take a cue from anything they do, trapped in static polyester, belt pulled tight, so dead from the waist down, a flower is mispronounced then tagged as secret ingredient of turgid yellow mess chicken-cubes sold as a legitimate, rhododendron, the tepid Pink Lady blossoms tasteless and devoid of grace, no lotus flower spilling out inviting, no lily persisting delicate, deny orchids vulgarly exotic, the sexless woman shed all sensuality for dead-end practicalities of the day to day grinding hours wrought in shadows, now count them in years, passion flower dried-out, emaciated, no feeling left for anyone but donkey charities love comes cheap from ideal of pulp romance and all magazines offer endless hollow chatter ease into slow pulse thrombosis some kind of dialogue to stem rowdy quiet she buys flowers for herself trims emphatic and neat to keep busy withhold tears, only flash of pale colours irregular break the silence.
Dance-around legal semantics the system’s installed without a blink, everything else breaks down around us. Already something stinks, behind initial manoeuvres there is shady intent at quick cash cow. Non-narcotic fragrance inducing altered states, verging on non-voluntary drug abuse toeing the line so close to poisoning with semi-legit. chemicals from East-European overspill. Patients and visitors complain of runnynoseredeyesachesallover.
First hits it’s that tone of annihilating sweetness smell moves a force four-hundred times that of sugar, crushed pills spread their dust in the air feeling the crackles spark on my ready tongue and as it touched begin to retch on the chalk dust breeze so redolent of ten-pence Parma Violets designed for parents to trick and subdue their children into a weeping snivelling mess, acceptable tear-gas, unable to protest behind sleeve wipes and drips then marched away to clean their bedroom carrying on if only with the promise of a clean glass of water to wash away the taste, all soapy, foaming at the mouth.
At first we all coped, same as with the asbestos, shrug it off another fact of working life and carry on. But still leaves you sick inside; every blatant attempt to dumb it down deny pain and protest of jobs in the balance, treat us as already palliative acting drones, dangled tails between two cruel claws drifting, twirling in wind so laissez faire an object soon to be removed, doubled up the resentment, the mountain of lies. to let myself suffer willingly such blindness, too easy to pretend, the blurring of reality by sentimental smells, fake stats and power-embracing choke on slogans eerie electioneering make everything seem alright, almost good, a reminder of something better, a time you’d never known but can feel yourself starting to remember somehow the hurt that cannot be ignored, their scum always rises. Aura a tip to trick to remind us of Old England, now-dead with the last veterans gone and their medals pawned or behind glass museums, held apart from the modern dust and decay exempt from time’s harsh reality, so we remember them, sometimes to forgive, but never to forget; covet grass clippings that will grow back again and rumble on about the last time we won the Ashes, forget apartheid lies and denied the freedom to play, easier to forget our own mistakes. Same ill-gotten greed as the legacy stench of Brunel’s second iron age, child-slaves to industry stare through soot-black eyes we look away, can’t face the glare of their clean whites but nothing’s really changed we just contract abroad. As one man struggles, so another can relax. Always on our side the big wheel keeps turning on hinges still greased in residues of the Bismarck diet, the traces of Empire look at stern firm bridges trains on it that slide so well, all this to a head buck stops with the lady who refused to turn, so well-spoken but acting without grace leave her four more hours before one last spin then her memory can be buried and forgotten, send her dust down the shafts she helped to bury, a right-wing martyr and a waste of public space. Still learning, re-learning to forget the present undercurrent with revolution of our public-image (unlimited) more powerful than the original, the first man stands tallest in shadow, new history devours actual events, the carrying of ones and twos, last year’s, ten years many double-figures ago when we were winning and smiles seemed genuine if perfumes can cover up sins and the economic dead-weight of epic mismanagement then the PR machine can conceal or confess at their leisure, not ours, and when the records are finally stamped “Deceased” they will surely erase me out of it.
This story won Third Prize in the 2010 TLC-Literateur Competition.
‘Living Through Saccharin’ is part of a larger novel; please find more details at Adam Steiner’s Politics of the Asylum website.