Thursday, 27 May 2010

Return to Room 101

Day: 1 trillion and fifty-six
Job rejections: Fifty billion
Outlook: Bleak, still

It's 9am. Sunshine and smiles have burned out and a shrivelled cloud of dreary rises from their ashes; a grey stench to permeate skin and spirit. It feels like my heart's been dug out from my chest with an ice-cream scoop, cold chest sewn shut with wire and barbs. Job centre day.

As usual, arrive early. Impressions count. Man with cheeks of mottled skin takes sly sips from a silver hip flask engraved with the words 'Employee of the Month.' The irony plays with my smile and loses.

The level one crowd is thicker than usual and I'm forced to stand. Woman to my left kisses her teeth. Mottled skin man tuts loudly. My foot taps a beat. An impatient chorus rises up and falls flat.

Patience not a virtue I practice, I march over to an employee whose stress is scoring red over her chest and up her neck. She sees me coming, her eyes widen and she sighs before shouting, 'Oh for heaven's sake, I can't catch a break!'

Twenty-five minutes later, still waiting. Three employees off sick and the rest have to pick up 'the slack.' Being called thus offends me. Finally my name is mumbled. The man chews gum with a slow rinse of his jaw and sighs heavily. The only thing they all do so well. 'Right,' he yawns. 'I'm gonna make this quick.' What's new?

Without a glance to my form or a care for my progress, he forces me to sign. As I tear a hole in the sheet with a blue Biro, I feel it build, a scream pinched about my throat. It's May, people. MAY! And I still don't have a job. What am I doing wrong? Why are you not helping me? Hello. Can you even see me...?

The truth hits, a raw thwack. Face burns. I'm just another name on a badly printed form. A box to be ticked, not a person to be helped. I'm a number, not a soul.

I don't like this truth. I wish today was a liar.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Child of Ignorance, Mother of Misery

I don't step on pavement cracks. Opposite my window is a mirror to reflect bad spirits. Every day I rub Buddha's belly for good luck. Crossed knives- I panic. I must throw salt over shoulder when it spills. If I see a lone magpie, I always say hello to his wife and children. And don't even get me started on walking under ladders.

Superstitions are an awkward subject matter. From my Dad they evoke a shrug and an eye roll. One friend takes them very seriously- to the extreme of burying the shards of a broken mirror in her back garden to stop the beckoning seven years bad luck. Another friend sees superstitions as a simple weakness of the mind.

In 1898, Robert G Ingersoll wrote an extensive essay on this subject. He listed, with vehemence, every superstition of his time to demonstrate their lack of evidence. He declared their roots to be a supernatural enemy of science, a disregard for cause and effect, of intelligence and reason. 'Superstition,' he wrote, 'is the child of ignorance and the mother of misery.'

Over one hundred years later, this is laughable. Even the most intelligent people partake in some form of superstition, however small. Perhaps without conscious knowledge of doing so. Picking up a penny from the street. Rubbing dice in hands before a throw. Fingers crossed with a wish. There's no madness in it. Or weakness. Superstitions are subconscious seeds sown as we are nurtured- taught at nursery, repeated as rhymes.

They may be crazy old wives tales. Fragments of a delirious imagination. Outrageous notions that have no scientific basis or proof. But I like them- these rituals. There's an element of security within them. A belief that by performing these rituals, we are protected from a potential evil, or provided with welcome good luck. There is no sense to it, no reason. But reader, do we need one?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Voting for Ghosts

Thursday. I wake from a fitful slumber, feet cold, face hot. As I inch feet to steal the warmth behind my knees, red digits flutter in my periphery. 9.29pm. Late. I'm late. Legs tangled in sheets prevent a successful leap from the bed and I plunge, head first, into the bedside table. Corner stabs temple. Shards of pain to the power of three. Underneath my eye, a vessel starts to twitch. One hand has twenty fingers. That's not right. I'm late...

'Are you alright, love?'
Fingers of cold bone jab one hot cheek. Three outlines of a blurred figure enter my vision. A thousand tonne fog rests on my head but it's only air.
'My head hurts.'
'Pfft! I've known pain far worse.'
'And you are?'
'Name's Emily Davison. Come now, you're late.'

I spin my body out of its circus tangle and off the bed. Vision follows two seconds later. Liquid muscles and jelly bones quiver as I heave myself up onto feet that don't feel like my feet. Hand seeks out the pain bleating relentless in my temple. Contents of stomach don't feel safe. I clutch my side, as if that will help.

The four walls of my room have broken and dispersed. A white descends to curl around me, a whisper to my flesh. I follow Emily along a floorless corridor of fog.
'Where are we going?'
She smiles. I gulp. We reach open nothingness. A woman strides out, her neck held rigid by a high white collar. The sternness of her nose is intimidating.
'Wait. I know you. You're-'
'Emmeline Pankhurst.'
It's official. I am late. For my check-in at the Bethlem mental institution.

A ballot box slides out from the white. A pen drops from nowhere. A voting form appears crumpled beneath the painful twist of my fingers. Empty boxes loom, waiting to be ticked. Tick me. Tick me. No! Tick me. Emily creeps forward.
'I didn't throw myself under that horse for you to stand there.'

Emmeline glares at the pocket watch in her weathered hands. Red digits flutter. Pen hovers. Mind quivers. Somewhere, Big Ben chimes ten but I'm not watching the news. My heart leaps. I fall.
'You're too late. You've missed your chance. I'm terribly disappointed in you.'
I'm faced with the pointed stare of two suffragettes and their suffering. Pain has found a beat and plays like dirty hip-hop in my head. I sink into the fog and drown in it.

Thursday. 9.45pm. Wake face down on floor. Spine jarred; feet, thighs, knees tangled upwards against the edge of the bed. Temple aches. I heave myself up onto feet that feel like my feet in a room that looks like my room. Stagger over to my calendar. 7 days to go. Not late after-all...