Posts tagged lit
Posts tagged lit
They season the mud,
Nature’s blood, its testimony proclaiming
Ancestral pride, and a glimmer of a
Salt it with your stupid… condiments?
Compliments and awe.
They call him their best friend
But they have never spoken.
Ignore the pain, the raining in the woods,
In the words; they clutter-clatter-clutter
On the roof.
They’ll evaporate someday.
They broadcast their silent heresies
That speak to me in haiku policies
And prodigies. Self-proclamation sells
Their enigma; their mystery cowers inside a hollow box.
They don’t always have themselves
To answer for, or to, or from, to
See it all. To witness a new beginning
And feel something end.
— and thus the world is born
Out of lashing light, light without
Warmth. Too much kindness was never here;
And that is why beams don’t brighten,
But burn like ice.
Spider’s legs, fleshy and fat,
Crawl beside me, as I try to make
The snow leave, but it won’t.
Its fibers are tangled, around me,
Become my vice.
Where is it? — Treasure entrapped
In the sheets; perhaps. I, the confused
Elephant, feel the pangs that are
Pulling at the anchor. It’s
Tainting my blood
That is not there, nor here,
Nor does it exist - but did she? Words
Remain to boil my mud, but chill
It’s beat. I myself have none;
I never could
Expand upon my anarchy, or tell
Myself; why these salted cheeks?
My doing some times, and other times
They were too. Smoking the silence
Like it’s the last
Smoke he’ll ever have. The lights
Don’t work, so he eats, whatever she
Left him from the corpse. It tastes
Bitter, but he eats, and keeps eating what’s
Left. In the past
He might have been wiser. He might still
Steer clear of this future, unless the music
Seduces him to another, or the letters
That tumble out of him tear
Him to pieces.
No no no, see
THAT is where you are wrong and nobody else
Is right. You want the hole filled but it isn’t
Big enough yet. Here,
I’ll help you dig.
Those tough questions have become easy invitations
Because somewhere you resiled from being
Someone less. And that must be where the hole
Came from - that makes sense.
So let’s fill it up.
But first, let me help you make it
A little bit bigger.
Last night, I read the final chapter of Chuck Palahniuk’s career-making novel, Fight Club. And I felt a lot of things. I felt in awe of an author who can command the attention of even the most passive reader with a unique writing style that demands that the book be read. I felt envious that I hadn’t written it, that I hadn’t ‘figured out’ the ins and outs of writing with blistering pace, or the way in which Palahniuk can talk his reader through an anecdote about waiters urinating in minestrone and the ins and outs of life insurance, without making it feel pointless or clumsy or, most importantly of all, dull. I felt a duty to live out the pro/anti-anarchic message, that ultimately nobody can escape life, not even a split-personality insomniac, with a chain-smoking headcase sort-of-girlfriend from whose mother bags of fat are stolen and turned into a ‘collagen trust fund’. We’re all different but we all have to face life.
But the biggest thing I felt was guilt.
You see, I am one of them, in this case. One of the people that watched the film first. I am one of the people that reeled back in thrilling revelation when ‘the big twist’ was revealed, completely unaware that, hey kid, you know that this film was a book first? That someone actually sat down and wrote it and provided you with a framework for the great anti-novels that succeeded it? The truth is, I love the book and I love the film. Equally. Controversial I know but it’s the truth. There are parts of the story that the book did way better.
But there are parts of the story that, dare I say, the film did better.
Before you burn me at the stake, let us regard these cultural masterpieces with objective eyes. Throw aside the attitude of ‘the original is always better’, because, for one, Palahniuk actually addresses this in the afterword.
'Now this is the first rule of fight club: there is nothing a blue-collar nobody in Oregon with a public-school education can imagine that a million-billion people haven’t already done…’
- Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club Afterword, pg. 218
So haters, stop hating. Palahniuk even tells us himself that the pursuit of originality lacks validity in such a media-saturated culture. People have ideas every single minute of every single day, so no matter what you come up with, there will always be someone on this planet that has thought it, tried it, seen it, heard it. Maybe even written it.
The difference is what you can do with an old idea. Isn’t this essentially what David Fincher’s screen adaption of Fight Club is doing? He’s taking the idea from Palahniuk - the seven page story that eventually grew into a culture-defining novel - and expanding it. He expands it in a bunch of ways, the same way that he fails to expand it in others, which I accept; no film-maker has every been fully faithful to the book.
But critically, he manages to expand on Tyler Durden.
This is not because of Brad Pitt, even if I do have a man-crush on him (not in a gay way, I just think he’s a beautiful man). Fincher made more of a character of Tyler Durden than Palahniuk did, in my opinion. And it works. I feel that the Tyler Durden I see in the film is a little more complete, a little more believable and whole than his literary counterpart. And visually, we can see why Jack/Joe (depending on your allegiance with either the book or the film) looks up to him; he is well-built, strong, fearless, and funny. He isn’t funny in the book. And some may disagree that Fincher made a bad call with this - making the eventual antagonist a witty one-liner machine - but I feel that it just brings about another enviable aspect to his character. ‘Do I go with ass or crotch?’
Let’s not forget about the book. The book makes Tyler someone that you only catch a fleeting glance of, that you hear about but you never really meet, and this works better for other reasons. It provides a truly innovative insight into the world seen through the mist of insomnia, that people are only defined by the glimpses that you catch of them before they go, and so how could Joe distinguish him from reality? Reality has ceased to be - we are constantly caught somewhere between a dream and life. As a result, Palahniuk grants himself permission to ‘cut to the chase’; to evict the unnecessary transitional bits in between each event; to blend anecdotes and the immediacy of action in the present; to drop in phrases that function only as exclamative thoughts, feelings and fears, cleverly compiled in a motif of ‘I am Joe’s _______’. The way everything blends yet doesn’t blend, the uneven edge to the plot structure and the pace, these are all things that a film couldn’t get away with. It would be unfollowable. Fincher had to find a more rigid backbone to the story, because in some places, the story is more an encyclopaedic scrutiny of capitalism, of attitudes of uniqueness and sameness, of dissatisfaction with existence. One all.
I could keep going, but that would lack reasoning. I’ve made my statement. I’ve tried to back it up. But really, I loved every word in the book. It is beautifully crafted, seemingly effortless and sharp and fast. It will eat you up if you read it, race you faster than any other book has, and spit you out the other end gasping for air. But that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t live up to it. For once, we have a movie ‘spin-off’ that is actually brilliant. Yes, it’s based on the book. Yes, it can’t follow the book completely. But let’s not let this undermine Fincher’s incredible achievement; he made Fight Club a book that movie-goers actually wanted to read. That I wanted to read. And that’s pretty cool in itself.
So yes, if you have only seen the film, go and read the book and have your mind blown. But if you are one of the tiny minority left that has only read the book, go and watch the film. You might be surprised.
I think it was a Friday afternoon when Will came scrambling to my doorstep, because there was that general vibe of relief and ease that only hovers about on a Friday afternoon. This was before he broke his leg.
I was the one that answered the alarming beckon of Will’s shrill, ten-year-old voice as he stumbled with fatigue onto my porch, the hair across his forehead matted with sweat - it must have been a hot day too, early September time. I tried to calm him down as he spat each syllable at me, speaking only in vowels as he scrunched up his face, his lungs so desperate for air that his jaws seemed to unhinge against his will. I offered him a drink.
‘No… time. You have to… come and see…’
Will was a lot bigger than me and held a reputation for being a part-time bully, so my hesitation was brief. I made a point to stop for my best friend Jake along the way, though. Will grumbled but gave me the nod as he patted down his dungarees, so caked in dried dirt that they were dyed an uneasy yellow colour up to his waist.
This was before he stopped coming to school.
Upon answering my call, I warned Jake that we were headed up the country lane to Will’s house, and he hastily informed his mother of his departure before following me back to the porch.
‘What are we going to see?’ Jake asked. Will grinned to show us the gaps in his smile where his teeth had dropped out, allegedly because they were late milk teeth. He made no answer, instead sprinting with a foreign kind of elation uphill, back to the origin of the anonymous phenomenon, Jake and I following with small strides.
When we arrived to what Will would normally announce to be his ‘penthouse’ (despite, upon interrogation, revealing that he was unsure of the exact definition of the word), Will simply pointed with obvious glee up towards the first floor window that rested over the landing.
One of his school books was hovering in mid-air perhaps two feet away from it.
‘I only just found out that it could do that. The window, I mean. Like, if you put stuff through it - if you throw things out of that window, just that one - then they float. They float all by themselves like magic or something.’
This was before I came to invite him out to Milly’s party; that was in high school.
I found myself gawping at the book. Jake kept a reserved demeanor. He scrutinised it with tiny orbs beneath his Power Rangers-themed spectacles.
‘How long has it been there?’ he asked, quietly.
‘Erm, probably about twenty minutes or something. I ran to get you two as soon as I did it.’
‘And how did you do it?’ Jake probed. ‘How did you find out about the window, I mean.’
Will smirked sheepishly. ‘I got… a bit angry about Miss Wren’s marking. About my maths homework.’
Miss Wren was the new Year Six teacher. She seemed nice enough to me, but wasn’t particularly amicable towards the Yellow Table. The Yellow Table was Will’s domain; he was king of his realm, a round table of knights wielding a whole host of diagnosed learning disabilities and a universal aggression towards any authorial presence. No teacher had ever ‘got along’ with Yellow Table.
‘So… you threw it out of the window?’ I sensed a tension between Jake and Will growing - Jake being a full-time resident of Blue Table, and thus a sworn enemy to the Yellows - and I made a quick warning glance to Jake to keep his mouth shut. He did.
‘Yeah. I get angry sometimes, and I like to punch stuff normally. This time I thought that I would throw something out of the window, and it was the maths book that was making me angry so I thought…’ He shrugged. ‘You know. But it’s cool, right?’
I nodded emphatically in agreement that it was, indeed, very cool, and that I wanted to see something else floating too.
This was before the window was bolted shut.
‘How much weight can it hold?’ Jake inquired. ‘And how far can stuff go before it stops floating? Like, is there a distance restriction?’
After explaining to Will what restriction meant, we all decided that we would begin testing the window’s capabilities immediately. Jake even agreed that he would miss Judo practice to oversee the testing and, hopefully, be present when the first human test candidate made his way out of that plaster-coated portal.
‘Is your mum not in?’ I ask Will, tentatively.
‘She at work. She won’t be back for ages. She might even stop at Kev’s house tonight.’
The mythology surrounding Will’s upbringing was a topic avidly discussed throughout Year Three, shortly after the sudden and deeply tragic death of his father, Ian Stanbridge, was announced in school assembly. Will got two weeks off school, because the funeral was in Dorset. He didn’t seem much different when he came back. This lead to admittedly malicious rumours, ashamedly entertained within my social circle, that the untimely demise of Will’s father was the result of a (successful) planned assassination; that Will was ‘getting back’ at the old man for leaving him at such a young age. I think the truth behind Will’s indifference was more likely that he couldn’t feel the absence of a person who, by nature, was always absent. It would be like finding out your dog is dead, years after it escaped from the garden and never came back. It was something Will had been preparing for most of his life.
His mother was even more elusive. No one from school had ever seen her, not even the teachers. Will mentioned her from time to time, but never held a conversation about her. He walked to school despite the distance, turned it into a sort-of sport in which he was in competition with himself, and as an unspoken rule, the rest of the school as well. It was his bragging right for a couple of months - an infant managing to walk himself to school every morning. He liked the status and the attention.
In place of his mother at parents evenings was his uncle Pete, who lived over in the next town, but he wasn’t a very nice man; he smoked religiously and was often accused of theft. He was in and out of court, and was eventually convicted while Will was at high school. Nobody missed him much, except Will. Will missed him a lot. That was after Diana’s parents left town. After they moved away.
Testing began with weight capacity. We collected a variety of heavy objects, including a couple of ornaments that Will swore his mother would never miss, and, one by one, pushed them through the window. Eventually, we build a huge floating mobile of bean tins, bowling balls and china vases, and consequentially came to the conclusion that anything small enough to fit through the window frame would be light enough to float.
‘How do we get them down?’ Jake suddenly asked. We groaned in unison.
‘We could hook them back in? Like, a lasso kind of thing?’
‘You know how to lasso?’
‘My uncle Pete taught me when I was younger, but I… don’t think I could show you, we don’t have any rope.’
‘Right. Then, what else can we use? Do you have a pole or something? Like, one of those poles with a little hook on the end that you use to open up the attic door?’
‘I don’t have an attic.’
The debate continued until it began to rain. The spittle of the sky pooled up in Will’s landing, and when he trod in it in nothing but his last pair of clean socks, he slammed the window shut in frustration.
The ensuing noise was deafening.
At first, I feared that it was a lightning strike, that we would be caught at Will’s weird old creepy house in the middle of a storm, but Jake pointed me to the window. Will started to laugh, but Jake snapped at him and said that it wasn’t funny, it was dangerous and we were lucky that we didn’t get hurt.
This was before the blinding fireworks. Before alcohol and dancing, and before losing.
Beneath the window, shining with the fresh, dewy shine of rainfall, was a colossal pile of assorted objects, pieces of objects. They had all fallen the moment that Will slammed the window shut. All of the vases had broken bar one, a stubborn-looking silver piece that Will told us was a wedding present to his parents from his Grandma. His Grandma was crackers now, he informed us, she went to live in one of those houses that they collect crackers people in.
This was before we found out what happened to Will’s mother on New Years Eve.
Jake and I returned to Will’s house the next morning, after a hearty breakfast for our long day’s work, to find Will waiting for us on his doorstep. He ran to us and informed us with a beaming smile that our second experiment had worked. The longitudinal study. Will’s bike had been successfully hovering for ten hours.
‘So let’s assume that the time limit is ten hours,’ Jake said, grabbing my jacket before I had time to run inside. ‘Does that change depending on the weight of the object?’
‘What, like, if you’re fat, you’ll fall quicker?’ Will began to redden. ‘You calling me fat?’
I intervened, assuring Will that no one was calling him fat, and that Jake was just making sure it was safe. Jake was quick to remind us that the final test, the distance test, was yet to be carried out.
So Will trudged inside, and came back out with on old Bart Simpson slingshot, and gesticulated ‘What about this?’ Jake and I nodded as one.
We used a relatively hefty-looking rock that we collected down near the stream running through the woods just beyond Will’s poorly-fenced back garden. It was the size of a fist, dull orange, like sandstone, and Will fired it out of the window on his landing. It got as far as the garage, a perfectly linear flight path, before its suddenly plummeted onto the roof. It took a few tiles with it.
‘So we can go as far as the garage then before we fall,’ Will yelped, drunk with glee. Jake turned to him, adjusted his specs.
‘But we don’t know what weight or speed has to do with it.’
Will made a PSSSHH noise with his mouth, and told Jake to go home and get some of his old Judo belts. Jake nearly asked why, but I shook my head, and escorted him out of the house.
By the time we got back - with all of Jake’s belts up to his orange (he needed to keep his green one until he got enough tabs on it to go on to blue) - Will was dangling upside down above the ornamental graveyard, screaming and laughing, half and half. Scraughter. Leaming. Whatever.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ Jake shouted, his feet anchored to the spot either by anxiety or apathy.
‘I’m having fun, you turd, have you ever heard of it?’
I laughed. Jake handed two of the Judo belts to me. ‘Get him down.’
It took nearly half an hour to coerce Will back inside, with one of Jake’s red belts. ‘Although,’ Will pointed out, ‘I was up there for nearly an hour. How much more proof do you need, speccy?’
It was from that point onwards that Will started to get popular. We returned to school on Monday morning preaching about our mystical revelation. The magic window. Will’s magic window, actually, he insisted. We persuaded a couple of the more popular kids - Danny and Thom, the two best footballers in our year, and therefore, the recognized ‘celebrities’ walking among us - who, in turn, brought with them their usual devout congregation. It was when girls started showing up that we realised we had found something truly special.
Before we were allowed inside the house, Will strode with a military vigor across the line of jittery youth, and explained ‘the rules’.
Rule 1: No talking to adults about the window.
Rule 2: Only two people out of the window at a time, so that nobody gets hurt.
Rule 3: No shutting the window when someone else is using the window.
Rule 4: If Will wants a go, he gets one before anyone else because it is his window.
Everyone nodded, a wave of heads that flicked about. Evening sunlight reflected off our heads like our hair was made of metal.
The window was a hit. We basked in our new-found glory, our status building in secret as parents began to collaborate with one another over the phones, trying to discover our secret.
Have you seen Tommy, Jean?
Not for the life of me. I think our Katie is out playing with that lot.
Did you know about this sleepover that my Liam is on about? Up at Kathy’s house?
This was before people were warned not to go up there. Because of what happened with that kid.
We were Gods for nearly a month. We would regularly get as many as twenty players, lining up outside Will’s house, eagerly awaiting permission to barge inside, scramble up the stairs on all floors, and throw ourselves into that sacred place fourteen feet off the ground.
The girls arrived after a couple of weeks of gossip, and though at first they were received with a welcome that was tentative at best, it was only a matter of days before they were true members of the routine. Some of the tomboys even invented tricks that could be performed mid-air, usually named after the creator. The most popular trick was called ‘the Sally Robotham’; a backwards flip with both legs splayed out front and back, which required a mid-air stop when both arms would shoot out over the performers head towards the ground, essentially a gravity-defying handstand. Another trick, ‘the Danny Lloyd’, was to take hold of the Judo belt keeping you safely attached to the inside of the house (agreed to be worn at all times by window users) and mount it, tightroping back into the house. This was generally a ‘finisher’, because once you came back inside, it was somebody else’s go.
It took me a few tries to really get the hang of moving in the window space. Initially, I attempted movement by flapping my arms about, mixed with kicking my legs frantically, trying to swim my way through the static air. When that didn’t work, I tried to use thinking power, tried to telekinetically transport myself from one end of the space to the other. Will was the one who finally worked out that by leaning very slightly, one could initiate a gliding movement towards one’s desired direction.
When the girls became regulars, I saw my window of opportunity to spend some time impressing my crush, Diana Priest. She was a very pretty brunette girl, a little taller than me, with glistening brown eyes that I struggled to distract myself from. She was considered by most to be the most popular girl in school. I casually suggested to her one day that I be her tutor for using the window, and to my delight she eagerly agreed. I embarrassed myself a little when I tripped on my way out of the window, but to my relief, I was met with honey-like laughter that contained no threat of ridicule.
One day, we arrived at Will’s house to find a crudely crafted sign hanging up outside the front door. It read: £1 per Go. Our gaggle expressed our bemusement with great volume, and Will opened the door to greet us.
‘It’s one pound a go, now,’ he yelled, ‘so if you don’t have any money, you need to go home and get some, otherwise you can’t have a go.’
Will was met with a great deal of protest. One of the girls shouted ‘That’s not fair, Billy!’ It was the first time anyone had called him Billy since his infamous Year One lectures regarding why he didn’t like being called Billy anymore, and that from then on, the correct mode of his address would be ‘Will’, or at a push ‘William’. He glared at her. If looks could kill.
‘Well, you can’t play anymore then!’ he screamed. ‘Come back with money or don’t come back at all!’
Despite our outrage, Will was the biggest boy in school. No one volunteered to take him head on, especially when it was a means to invade his family’s property. So we trudged home, grumbling amongst ourselves, trying to forge a reasonable excuse as to why we suddenly needed cash for our juvenile endeavours. We decided that there would be a school trip.
We returned to Will’s house with our money, and began filing inside. I stood next to Diana Priest in the line of twos, quietly bad-mouthing Will and apologizing for this sudden demand for money. I even offered to pay for her. She said it was okay.
When we got near the front, Will looked down at the two boys in front of us. They were Year Fours that had heard about the window from on older brother, and, despite having been warned that they weren’t cool enough, had turned up to publicly defy the odds.
‘Two please,’ one of them said. Will sighed.
‘Two pounds then.’
‘We only have one pound fifty.’
‘Well then you can’t come-’
Will recoiled in agony mid-sentence as a small, Year Four-sized fist crashed into his groin, and the two boys, guffawing with laughter, ran inside. He chased them with a fury like I had never seen before.
This was before the school ball. This was before the incident in the field.
So I took my chance; I gestured for Diana Priest to slip inside.
‘We can’t do that, we haven’t paid!’
I shrugged. ‘So? He never made us pay before.’
She smiled a little fairy smile, and slowly stepped inside. I followed, climbed the stairs and beckoned her to climb them too. I had climbed them enough to know the sounds that they made inside out - I knew the path, where to place my feet so that there was no creaking, so that we could silently ascend to the chaos above us. We arrived at the window. I hastily wrapped a red Judo belt around her slender waist, admiring her secretly as I did so, and nodded her out. She smiled at me, kissed my cheek - at which I feigned disgust - and with her signature giggle, departed.
‘She hasn’t paid.’
A huge paw landed on my shoulder, twirled me round. I shrugged it off.
‘She hasn’t paid. And neither have you.’
‘Why should we? You never made us pay before. It doesn’t cost you anything-’
‘She hasn’t paid! Tell her to get back in, now.’
‘No,’ I spat.
‘Wait, what are you-’
The window came down hard onto its ledge.
Diana Priest screamed. I had never heard her scream before.
… When the cuff pressure is reduced and becomes equal to the systolic pressure, then the brachial artery opens up slightly and there is an intermittent blood flow in it due to which a soft tapping sound just begins to be heard in the stethoscope. And finally, when the cuff pressure is reduced further and it becomes equal to diastolic pressure, then the brachial artery opens up fully, the blood flow in it is fully restored and hence the tapping sound just disappears.
I scribble the final ‘s’ in my answer and drop my pen a little too loudly, and my hand flexes and contorts to relieve a great deal of tension that has been building for… fifty three minutes. Which means I have sixty seven - hang on, sixty six left. I take a deep breath, as instructed by the exam advisor brought into the final lecture of term four weeks ago. Ironically, he was a stout, pitiful-looking man with a face that was always lubricated with sweat, glazing huge red pom-poms that replaced his cheeks, and he always looked like he was struggling for air. In fact, one girl behind my failed to subdue her giggling. She just wasn’t trying hard enough.
I glance up at the clock again - it reads 11.54 - then at the front row of headless bodies, then back at the clock, as if waiting for the long hand to finally hover over the bold line thirty degrees anti-clockwise to the gothic numerals XII. 11.55 comes within twenty seconds or so. My head falls back down and locks into a position that ignores that pangs that shoot through the muscles in my neck.
Q7. List the muscles and tendons in the human body required to stand from a seated position. (4 marks)
Easy. My answer is so concise it sounds suspiciously rehearsed. My pen moves to write:
Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Tibialis Anterior and the Core.
I scan the next question.
Q8. Use these muscles to stand. (2 marks)
I stare blankly for probably about forty seconds. At first, my initial response is to describe in detail the process in which muscles and tendons collaborate to allow the body to stand up. The question is at the bottom of the page. I turn overleaf, juggling my pen between my free hand, ready to complete the three or four dotted lines I expect to see.
But there are none. Question 9 is at the top of the next page.
I ponder with an audible grunt. I exhale. I begin to chew my pen, which I understand is a nervous habit, but I do it anyway. My heart rate is speeding up, so I do my breathing exercises, mentally counseling myself. Re-read the question. You’ll have just missed something. So I do. But it still reads ‘Use these muscles to stand.’ I half read this aloud, and my mouth produces sounds that usually come from a deaf person attempting speech. A couple of other candidates clear their throats in unison. The hall echoes. My eyes flicker across to the boy sat to my right; he is still writing rapidly, and from the looks of it, he is a couple of questions behind me. I start to assess my options. In any other circumstance, I would simply wait to observe whether my neighbour appears as perplexed by the nature of Question 8 as I do, but fate would have it that, for the first time since my first year summer exams, I’m actually doing quite well, and I happen to be sat next to someone who is clearly not as well-prepared as me.
I’m wasting time. It’s 11.59 already, and experience tells me that the latter pages of the exam will require the most investment. So I raise my hand for an invigilator, tapping my pen against the side of the desk in a rhythm that poorly mimics Hendrix’s ‘Bold As Love’, probably due to having it on repeat during the second week of independent study.
The invigilators are not in the hall. I reassess my observation, my head turning slowly, owl-like, surveying the vast hollowness of the sports hall, filled with the clicking of ball-points, and the coughing and sneezing and general non-verbal whining emitted from the students who haven’t had the courtesy to shake off their hay fever before exam day. When did they leave? It could have been anytime over the last hour; my focus on the paper was so intensive that, admittedly, I had isolated myself almost completely from my surroundings. The soft mew of a hinge would have failed to disturbed me. As would footsteps transforming from harsh, echoing clacks to cushioned whispers on the carpet that awaited outside the main doors. I could have been completely unaware of a small group of middle-aged temps abandoning the silent congregation.
However, I am struggling to recall them ever being there in the first place. Real faces are replaced with photocopies of old people I knew when I was younger in my mind, of jumbled stereotypically dull features, and bad clothes, and smells. I find it difficult to recall even an announcement of the rules of the examinations - I had been preoccupied with the memorization of a definition that, I had been almost guaranteed, would be inquired upon in the paper (it had, question 3, imploring for the definition of a cyst).
It is at this moment, this moment of intensive inward surveillance, that a chair a few metres behind my scrapes agains the floor, with a lifeless groan.
An asian man is now standing at his desk.
As I’m staring, I notice a couple of other students also gazing up in confusion, confusion slowly transforming into anxiety, anxiety into comprehension, comprehension into dawning revelation. Their faces express this in grotesque contortions and stretches, forming silent exclamations with lips like worms writhing on their faces, their eyes like marbles shimmering completely static in their sockets.
The asian man himself is glancing about the room, awkwardly. He is shaking visibly. He matches my gaze for a split second, then blinks it away, looking down at his paper, picking it up, fidgeting. He moves his head slightly as if to highlight to his audience that he is, indeed, re-reading the question. He shrugs.
Now some of the candidates still writing stop mid-flow to witness the phenomenon. They seem somewhat irate about the ordeal; there is audible tutting echoing around the hall. The asian man ignores this, scratches his chin, looks around.
Then he starts walking to the front.
I sit watching, bewildered. A couple more chairs scrape against the patterned floor of the hall, both further behind me. I turn again to see a girl, looking a little too young to sit this exam, and one of my housemates, Christopher, who seems to be containing an excited grin, standing among the multi-coloured mass. I snort dismissively.
I turn back to the asian man, who is now at the front of the hall. He is standing at a table that I haven’t noticed before, looking up at something to his right, then back down at his paper, which he is carrying with a trembling hand. When he looks up to his right a second time, I follow his gaze.
There is a very small blinking light in the top right corner of the hall. It is a camera.
With abrupt haste, I swipe my hand across my page to turn overleaf, and read Question 9 semi-aloud:
Q9. Walk to the front of the examination hall. (2 marks)
I clench my jaw. The asian man is already onto Question 10. He’s beating me. I do my breathing exercises again, until the long-haired man in front of me pushes back his chair, and stands up, in unison with the camera as it blinks a green light at him.
Of course. The camera is now marking our exams.
Slowly, I stand to my feet. It takes me around ten seconds to make my way to a fully erect posture, as my eyes are fixed warily on the camera. A tiny green light flickers finally. I smile.
Christopher is nearly at the front of the hall, striding ostentatiously, that stupid grin still built like a bridge of teeth from each hollow cheek. He has left the tentative, young-looking girl behind, who seems now to be close to tears with nerves, frantically searching the room with her eyes for any authorial presence that isn’t automated. The long-haired man in front of me, I can tell, is waiting to see how the asian man is doing. I don’t bother - I have wasted enough time as it is. The clock now reads 12.04, meaning that I only have fifty-six minutes left for a potentially tough and time-consuming final essay question. I need to speed up.
Deciding that Questions 8 and 9 were the easiest four marks I have ever achieved in an exam (except for the opening section of my GCSE Biology paper), I walk swiftly to the front of the hall, catching a contenting green flash in the corner of my eye, and arrive at the table that has somehow infiltrated the hall prior to my acknowledgement of its presence.
The table is barren. Christopher and I stand staring at it, glancing at each other. He tries to gesticulate with subtlety that he doesn’t understand the next question, but I choose to ignore him. Instead, I go back to my desk to pick up my paper, mentally cursing myself for having not done so in the first place, and read Question 10.
Q10. Dr Baines places a rifle on a table. The rifle is loaded with two shells.
Retrieve the rifle with any force necessary. (6 marks)
I find myself clearing my throat, looking up at the camera. I return to the front of the hall, back to the table, where Christopher is still making a performance out of his struggle to interpret Question 10. I crouch to check underneath the table, in case said rifle has fallen through a gap where the table hasn’t quite touched the wall, but I find nothing.
I stand up, re-read the question, and begin to consider that this may, in fact, be a hypothetical question. Perhaps the rifle is in fact a formula. Perhaps this is a unique reiteration of the clichéd ‘find X’ equation. But what equation could I use? There is also no instruction to return to my desk.
I turn around to go back and sit down nevertheless, but as I do so, I spot the asian man. He is no longer at the front of the hall. He is slowly walking down the third aisle of seats, his head twitching from side to side, as if he was looking for something, his arms in front of him cradling-
The rifle. He has the rifle.
I move to follow him, checking my question again. Any force necessary. The asian man seems tense, his movements robotic and incredibly well-controlled, though he is shaking even more extremely than before. I sense his eyes scanning each desk he passes, nervous glances that are met with horrified gasps and frozen bodies as each candidate spots his weapon.
I’m gliding behind him as silently as possible, and I can feel Christopher debating whether to follow me, but when I fire a glance behind, I see that he is still stuck to the table, anchored by what looks like fear. I turn back, and examine the asian man’s sudden diversion into the fourth aisle. He is squeezing through a small gap in front of the desk of a heavily bearded, and now distinctly flustered ginger man, who shuffles backwards with his desk in a terrified attempt at a sycophantic peace-offering.
I evade an encounter with a Hindi girl, making her way to the front without - somehow - regarding the hunter creeping through the thick undergrowth of desks and chairs. Her eyes are fixed on her paper, her eyebrows are dancing.
The clock reads 12.07. I have moved into the fourth aisle a few desks behind the asian man’s diversion, spotting a slightly wider gap in front of a skinny girl with smoker’s breath and wispy hair. She barely looks up from her desk as I pass; in fact, I am fairly sure that she has fallen asleep.
The asian man comes to a stop about five or six desks away from the back of the hall, staring down at a desk to his right, where a black man - skin dark enough to brag Nigerian descent - is staring sheepishly back up at him. I use his brief halt to make my move.
I get within a metre or so of him when I negotiate my plan of action with myself. Do I ask for the rifle? Will I need to take it with physical force from the offset, utilising my brief window of advantage? I opt for the latter.
As the asian man makes to cock the rifle, I wrap an arm around his neck, with the other gripping firmly onto the barrel of the gun. Immediately, I am met with a surprisingly agile retaliation - he elbows me in the solar plexus, and tries to head-butt me, but I spasmodically duck, allowing him to fall backwards onto me. I sweep his feet and he stumbles. I pull hard on the gun and kick him in the chest, and he falls onto the hard floor, and I hear his head collide with the ground, and he yelps, but instinctively kicks my knee, which half-buckles, and I drop the rifle and trip backwards, landing on my foot but he is already back up with his hair all bloody and he looks angry, and I feel angry too so I wait for him to run and I try to dodge but I don’t quite evade his attack and he brings me down to the floor with him, but now I’m in range of the rifle, and as he makes to punch me in the face I knee him in the diaphragm and he goes silent, clawing for air for a second or two before he splutters loudly and falls backwards, and by now the rifle is in my hands, and I have hit him in the face with it, hard. He hits the floor unconscious, with a broken nose and a fractured skull. Some of his blood is on my shirt and I try to wipe it off, but it just stains deeper.
I cock the rifle, and walk - limping because of the shooting pain in my knee whenever pressure is applied - back to the table at the front of the hall, where my paper is. I swallow some blood, and look up at the camera, which ticks my answer with a bright green flash. Another six marks.
I look at Question 11, and my heart stops.
It is cold in here, even though we jump and twist
To thumps in the floor; friction does us no favours.
It owes us nothing, but you
Will continue until it pays up.
But it’s your fault that it is cold in here.
Once upon a time you traded your heart for a clock
Because you preferred the sound of the gears
Clicking together, like applause,
An endless internal applause and your eyes will light up,
But you traded your heart for a clock.
You stand with fiery globes that extinguish doubt,
Momentarily. You are stone-cold joyful.
A voice that resonates into ears but not spirits,
An envelope without a letter,
But everyone agrees that it is at least a nice envelope.
If we wait, we might hear the world turn from your lips
That command more than we know. Less than you
Can understand. Clean out your insides with bleach
If you can, I can tell that’s your plan,
But I can’t yet hear the world turn from your lips.