Displaying Dreams

Fred McGavran

No one has ever seen another person’s dreams. When Triglyf Loench showed me how the Baklanov equations could be applied to brain wave research, I felt that ecstatic joy that only a saint or a psychotic can experience. A Nobel Prize, more adulation than Freud, and a public offering larger than Facebook’s would all be mine. And now, well, let me tell you.

While in the Doctor of Psychology program at City University, I was listed as the third author after my professor and a post doc of a survey article on electroshock therapy and the second author after the same professor of an exploratory article on brain wave encephalography during dreams that became my dissertation. With my degree and these student publications, I thought a career in research at a major university or medical center was within my grasp. With rejection after rejection, however, I learned how many PsyDs were chasing how few jobs.

To stay off unemployment, I became an adjunct in my old department, earning far less than the loans I had taken out every year to complete my degree. Maybe that’s why they kept recruiting new PsyD candidates, so they will have a steady supply of low budget instructors to teach the basic courses that lure students into advanced degree programs. My only consolation was that my thesis advisor kept me on for a few hours a week as a lab assistant.         

On Friday nights I went out with my old classmates to one of those beer- soaked bars at the edge of the campus that survive on graduate student resentment. Most of the drinkers were PsyDs or MFAs in creative writing, but occasionally Triglyf Loench, a math PhD joined us. Still in his mid-20s, Loench had that uncut, shabby, introverted appearance that defines the mathematical prodigy. If his degree had been from a major university, his thesis on the Soviet mathematician Dmitri Baklanov would have landed him a tenure track position.

One soggy night Loench had told me about his fascination with what Baklanov called his “dream equations,” so elegant and maniacally complicated that few mathematicians could study them for long without suffering mental exhaustion or a breakdown. The best non-mathematical explanation was that they resembled unraveling a tangled roll of thread to the point where they nearly described the thread and the tangles as a whole, only to dissipate into nothingness with the last strand. Apart from a cryptic remark about the danger of pursuing a theory too far, Baklanov did not hint about any practical application before his suicide in 1957.

In his dissertation Loench speculated that they might describe neurological processes in the human brain, but he could not determine which ones. He was working now, he said, on an algorithm that would predict which post-grads would go crazy, commit suicide, become alcoholics, or go into life insurance sales in the next 18 months.

After three beers and a dinner of beef jerky, I asked him to predict my future.

“Can’t do it, Larry,” he said, averting his eyes. “Not enough data.”

“What data do you need?”

“Enrollments, graduations, job placements and post graduate medical records for all graduate students in the United States over the last 10 years.”

“Why don’t you just use us here” I said, and we all laughed so hard that someone ordered another round.

Loench was devastated. His research was no joke to him.

"Listen, Triggy,” I said to reassure him. “I can get you some really interesting data on brain scan topography during dreaming. Could you do anything with that?”

Loench fixed me with that intense, half-distracted look mathematicians get when they scribble equations across a blackboard until they reach the beginning of time or the depths of insanity.

“I’d like to see them,” he said.

That is how Triggy Loench and I and in a very real sense Dmitri Baklanov became collaborators. While I was working in the lab, I would copy the data from topographical dream scans onto a flash drive and give it to Triggy at the bar. No need to leave an email record of what we were doing; both of us had experienced becoming a second or third author after tenured faculty had hijacked our research. His work went so well that he started buying beers for me Friday nights.

And then he stopped coming to the bar. When I asked about him, someone said that no one had seen him for a month. He never called; we had agreed to avoid leaving any phone record of our collaboration until we were ready to publish. I had to get his address from the math department in exchange for a promise to let them know what had happened to him.

Triggy had a studio apartment two bus rides away from the campus. Climbing to his floor, I wondered how he could think or sleep through the blare of rock music and the reek of marijuana. When I found his apartment, I expected to find him dead. I rang the bell, then knocked and then pounded on the door. Nothing. Suddenly something clicked, and I could see an eye peering back at me through the peep hole. With a clank of a dead bolt, the door flew open.

“Larry, you’re here!” Triggy exclaimed.

He was wearing a filthy T-shirt and shorts, and the place smelled like a garbage dump. The shades were down, and the only light was from a computer screen on a card table.

“I’ve done it,” he said. “Baklanov’s equations really do apply to dreams. All the data confirms it.”

“Have you written it up?” I said, closing the door and following him inside.

I nearly tripped over a pile of pizza boxes.

“Oh, no,” he said, dropping his voice. “It’s so much bigger than that. I have an algorithm to convert the raw data coming from the sleeper into a graphic presentation of his dream.”

“You mean we can see our own dreams?”

“Bring me a scanner, and I’ll show you.”

So that afternoon I borrowed a scanner and electrodes from the lab and took them to Triggy. To celebrate, I also took a six pack.

“Who’s going to be our first subject?” I asked.

“Me,” he said. “You know how to work the equipment. Just be sure to save the results so I can see them, too.”

We linked his computer with the scanner, and I fixed the electrodes to his head. He lay down on the pizza boxes.

“How can you go to sleep at a time like this?” I said as I was booting up the scanner.

“I haven’t been able to sleep for weeks. Give me one of those beers.”

He was asleep in minutes. Lucky for him, I thought, as his computer screen went black. Checking the scanner, I could see it was working properly, recording the typical brain wave patterns of REM sleep. Then a new wave appeared, and I saw a flicker at the edge of the computer screen. He was dreaming.

He was moving through a huge garage holding his keys and looking at the “alarm” button. What was he afraid of? The garage kept changing. Sometimes he was walking from floor to floor, and sometimes he was in an elevator going to different floors, always looking at the alarm. Suddenly I understood. He was trying to find his car by sounding the alarm. On the floor Triggy groaned in frustration. After a few minutes the screen went black, and he slept several hours without another dream.

The psychologists will have a field day over this, I thought. The greatest mathematical mind of the century dreams about looking for something he lost in a garage that keeps changing to frustrate him. The rest of the night just flew by, as I imagined life after we had an initial round of financing from the venture capitalists so that everyone in the country could watch their own dreams whenever they were bored with reruns. When Triggy woke up, he drank another beer and went to the bathroom.

“Show me,” he said, returning to the computer screen.

I hit play back, and nothing happened. I have never seen anyone so frustrated.

“What happened? Didn’t we have it hooked up right?”

I checked all the connections and ran the on line tests again.

"Everything’s working,” I said and told him about the dream.

He didn’t remember any of it. That did not bother us. Most people forget their dreams.

“Let’s try it again,’ he said.

“With whom?”

“With you.”

So I put the electrodes on my head, drank another two beers and lay down on the floor.

"Triggy, this place is the pits,” was the last thing I said before dozing off.

 I woke up an hour later when he was shaking the computer.

“It was the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen, but the computer didn’t save it.”

“Let me see,” I said when I returned from the bathroom.

Everything was connected; everything was working. When I opened up the program to see what had happened, I thought that some command from Triggy’s visualization program must have caused the dream to be erased as soon as it was displayed.

“I can’t understand it,” he said.

“Listen, Trig, it’s Friday. Let’s go to the bar and relax. We’ll get wired up again later.”

We had to take my car. Triggy forgot his keys.

We weren’t into our second beers when Triggy had a crowd around our table, listening to him talk about his dream machine. I had never seen him so animated. Everyone thought it was crazy, but he was so excited that Kenny and Mandy agreed to try it. A dozen people followed us back from the bar. Maybe the fact that Kenny and Mandy were getting serious increased the interest in their dreams. They had been dating since graduate school and had finally saved enough to go to Aruba.

It isn’t easy to go to sleep with so many people watching, but Kenny and Mandy were so far gone that all they had to do was close their eyes. Then, to a chorus of “Oh my God!” and “I don’t believe it!” their most intimate and idiotic secrets were exposed. Mandy was alone, naked, on a beach with an orange sky, and Kenny was riding something like a motorcycle or a dinosaur along a super highway. After they awakened, we gathered around the scanner to replay their dreams. The screen was dark. All we had of their dreams were our memories; they couldn’t remember them at all.

Triggy nearly went out of his mind trying to fix the algorithm, but whenever he thought he had succeeded, the entire program failed. When he was so exhausted he could sleep for an hour or two, we wired him up, and I watched frustration dreams of looking for his cell or finishing the high school gym requirement before the end of the semester.

Kenny called asking me to tell him again what Mandy had dreamed.

“About Aruba, right?” he said.

 “About the most beautiful beach in the world. Has something happened?”

“I’m at the airport. She missed our flight. When I called her, she said she didn’t know anything about it.”

 In other words, she had dumped him. I didn’t know what to say. He took it so badly that he even stopped riding his racing bike.

I didn’t tell Triggy, because he was too upset. He had stopped eating and nearly stopped drinking, except for a six pack to put himself to sleep whenever he thought he had fixed the program. All he talked about was the algorithm, even when the landlord put an eviction notice on the door.

“Are these yours?” he asked me one afternoon, holding out his car keys.

“Oh, you found your keys,” I said.

“They aren’t mine.”

“Your car’s out back in the alley.”

“I don’t have a car.”

“What about your cell phone?” I asked, beginning to understand.

“I don’t have a cell,” he exploded. “Will you stop trying to tell me everything I know?”

“Don’t you see what’s happening?” I argued. “The algorithm deletes the subject of the dream from your memory when it displays it on the screen. That’s why you don’t remember your keys and your car and your cell.”

“There’s nothing the matter with my memory!” he screamed.

“Listen, Trig . . .”

“Get out!”

So I left him there with his algorithms and computer and the scanner, and returned to my teaching and lab work. But I couldn’t forget him. Several days later, I returned to his apartment. A handful of parking tickets were stuffed under the windshield wipers on his car. When I knocked on the door, the only response was a roach that ran out over my shoe.

“Trig!” I called. “Are you in there?”

A rotten smell oozed from inside.

“Go away! You woke me up!”

A week later no one answered the door. He’s dead, I thought and called the police.

It took over an hour for the landlord and an officer to arrive. All that time I was worrying about how much I could tell them about what he was doing without getting myself in trouble. Just as the officer was opening the door, a voice behind us said: “What the hell are you doing?”

Triggy was standing there with his laundry bag over his shoulder, cleaner and sharper and thinner than I had seen him in months.

“Mr. Loench?” the officer said. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” he replied. “Is there some problem?”

“You owe two months’ rent,” the landlord said.

“No problem,” he said, “as long as you get an exterminator in here.”

He opened the door. The place was clean, the bed was made, and the scanner and computer were on his card table.

“Larry, are those yours?” he asked me.

“I’ll take them,” I said, glancing at the policeman.

After the officer and the landlord left, I asked Trig what had happened.

“Nothing happened. My department head said that he’d fired me, but I told him I never got the message, so he’s taking me back. We’ll have to go out for a beer sometime.”

“I’d like that,” I said, picking up the scanner. “Don’t you want to keep your computer?”

“I don’t have a computer,” he said.

I didn’t return the scanner to the lab, though. That evening, after my Subway and beer and two hours grading papers, I booted up Triggy’s the computer and hit “Play.” For a second the screen was black, and then it broke up into a series of equations stretching out from a computer. They rolled across endless blackboards, soaring up into the stars and down into a black sea and finally spinning off into a dazzling sun. Trig had found the algorithm to record his dreams, but as he was testing it on himself, he had dreamed the equations and they spun out of his memory. When they were gone, a new Trig emerged with a personality unburdened by the obsessions of the past. He was free, but he had lost everything he was working to achieve.

Now I was the only person in the world with the equations to see and record dreams. With that computer I was the ultimate therapist; I could see into a person’s most intimate self; I could exorcise their darkest thoughts; I was like Freud; I was like God. But how would I know what a patient was going to dream? If they dreamed about their obsession; it was gone. If they dreamed about their job, or their childhood, or even the way to work, that was gone as well. No one putting on the electrodes could know whether they would awaken a new person freed from their darkest thoughts, or the same person, still burdened by those thoughts and unable to function in everyday life.

So I returned the scanner to the lab. I still see Triggy on Friday nights at the bar, an aging math prodigy trying to find someone to listen to him talk about his work on the theory of numbers. Like so many post docs, he is trying to recover his dreams. He has taught himself how to use a computer all over again and has started to date Mandy.

Sometimes, when I have had a bad day, I boot up his computer and watch his dream spin like a roller coaster through the universe toward an awaiting sun. If I ever become desperate, I may wire myself up to see what I dream, too. I might lose everything, or I might become a new person. It is the ultimate lottery: freedom or your soul.

Drug of Choice

Eva Eliav

“D’you know what Glenda said? For people with money, travel’s the drug of choice.”

He smiled indulgently. Glenda was their firstborn, and his favourite. “It is more expensive than wine or beer.”

She kept her tone light, careless. “Or even champagne.”  

“What about coke?” he said.

She raised one elegant eyebrow. “Don’t be silly.”

They were flying to Costa Rica. Costa was a popular spot these days. Good weather when it wasn’t pouring rain. Gorgeous beaches.

They could laugh at themselves, she thought, that was good. Though they travelled often, no one could say they were addicts. They weren’t running away, nothing to run from. They had a spacious house in an upscale neighbourhood, plenty of friends who knew how to enjoy life, money for a comfortable golden age. So they liked a change of scenery now and then. Something unfamiliar and exotic. The best part was, days went on forever when you were travelling, just the way they did when you were small.

Suddenly Frieda scowled. Golden age. That coy phrase drove her mad. But other words were worse. Aged. Elderly. Old. Those unpleasant words didn’t suit her and Robert. They were in their prime, healthy and energetic. Thanks to excellent care, they were looking good. No one would have given her more than fifty. In dim, forgiving light she looked forty five. Robert had all his hair, not much silver mixed in with the dark. Both of them had been lucky with the gene pool.

It was good to have time to themselves. The kids and their families lived far away. Not such a disaster, Frieda thought. She and Glenda didn’t get along. That happened sometimes, she knew, with mothers and daughters. What an uncomfortable person Glenda was. The rare times they were together, Frieda managed to keep her smile in place though she often felt like lashing out or weeping. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt real warmth. Conscience pricked her. Her best friend, May, offered consolation. “Don’t be silly,” she’d say, “Don’t you know…family life’s built on hypocrisy and denial?”  Frieda rolled her eyes, but she felt grateful.

Fortunately, Ben was a sweetheart. Even as a boy, he’d always been concerned about her feelings. A pity about the woman he’d chosen to marry… Frieda shuddered.

Yes, she reminded herself, it was nice to have leisure. She enjoyed her home, her garden. She read thick books. She and Robert had season tickets for the opera. She could cultivate friendships in a way that had been impossible when the kids were growing up and needed her. 

Though she’d never felt the babies were a burden. She’d loved being a mother. As a girl, she’d liked caring for small creatures. Kittens were her favourite, but she’d felt a bond even with mice and turtles. How glorious it had been to discover that having a human baby was even better. Glenda had been a pleasure in those days, squealing with joy whenever they played together. Both babies loved to dance.  She’d put on music and they bounced and clapped and twirled around the room, ending in a warm heap on her lap. So many years ago, but it felt like moments. The memories clung like glittering barnacles. She tossed her head, trying to dislodge them. 

Occasionally, she’d worked outside the house. These days, most women worked, and she didn’t want to seem different or old fashioned. So she’d done a bit of this, a bit of that. A lawyer’s office for a while, then a boutique where clients relied on her taste, which was exquisite. Part time always. Robert made enough to provide a comfortable life for all of them.

She’d never been quite sure what Robert did.  He was out all day, sometimes till very late. And he gave her a generous allowance.    

He was still out most of the time. That was a blessing. She’d heard horror stories about this stage of life. Men underfoot all day. But not Robert. He was the kind of man who was always looking for something new, for exciting projects. 

She’d had dreams herself when she was a girl. She’d wanted to be a singer. Pure fantasy. She’d never mentioned it to anyone. It wasn’t the kind of career that went with family, with being a mother and wife. Frieda allowed herself a moment to imagine gigs all over the country, smoky halls, a dress that clung and sparkled, the crowd roaring. Just one moment, fleeting, impossible.  

Well, there were many things she never mentioned. What would be the point? And now…her, a sixty year old singer? Hilarious.

Frieda made a little grimace. Robert noticed.

“What’s up, darling?”

“Nothing,” she said quickly, “nothing at all. I’m looking forward to Costa. Aren’t you?”

Not This Time

Susan Oke

Mark

I can feel their eyes, flicking from clasped hands to clenched jaws and back, and then cutting away. And that’s almost harder to bear, that looking away—it gouges, leaves me less than I was.

I never thought that this would be the place: the Tottenham Court Road platform of the Northern Line—hot and sweaty and crammed with commuters. He'd grabbed my hand and we'd half-ran down the stairs; he had his don’t-mess-with-me face on, so I moved in-step with him, my own brand of hell-fire and damnation kindling my neckline: white to pink to red. Like an admission.

His hand feels strong, fingers wrapped tight around mine. I lift my head, look along the platform, determined to brazen it out. On the right by the seats, an old guy in a white shirt, fabric stretched over his belly, buttons about to pop, is staring straight at me. 

Davide

He doesn’t fight when I grab hold of his hand; side-by-side we clatter down the steps into the claustrophobic heat. I pretend I can’t see the sudden flush on his skin, can’t feel the way his hand clutches at mine: desperate, not knowing whether to stick or run. He sticks, and I love him for that.

The platform’s packed. Didn’t expect it to be this busy this late. He lags behind; I give his hand a squeeze. Shouldn’t have pulled this on him, I suppose. But he’s mine and I want the world to know. This time it’s right. I can feel it. OK, I want to punch him sometimes; he’s too quick with his mouth, talks a load of crap about things he doesn’t understand, especially when it comes to religion. The boy hasn’t lived. But he makes me laugh. So I forgive him, slap him down gentle like.

The crowd is easing up, or maybe we’ve been granted our own pariah space. I scowl and push on. Who the fuck cares, anyway? He is a reluctant weight; I turn to snap at him and see that he’s got that look on his face—like he’s bench-pressed beyond his weight, and any second it’s all going to come crashing down on him. He gets like that sometimes: wide-eyed and wild, daring me to do my worst. Later, I hold him while he sobs. I just can’t figure the why of it. Every time it tears something inside me. 

Maybe now he’ll see that I’m serious; that I can take care of him. I need him to believe that.

The crowd bunches up and I can feel him warm against my back. We thread our way past a skinny guy huddled over a pram, grasping a squirming kid, and a woman—the mother, I guess—busy fussing with bags. There’s a whole I-told-you-so conversation flashing between them, all dark looks and sharp movements. An old fat guy glares at us, looks like he’s just let rip and can’t believe his own stink. I give him the eye and he turns away.

Mark

Don’t look. Don’t make eye contact. Snatch a breath, another. That’s it. Focus on his shoulders, the bunch and flex of muscles, the crew-cut line of his hair, the half-glimpsed lobe of his ear that, only this morning I bit into, making him shout and then laugh, pinning me to the bed and teaching me the pleasure-pain of snapping Italian teeth. And I remember thinking: I want this summer to last forever. 

I read somewhere that the tube has wall-to-wall surveillance to stop twats screwing everyone’s day by throwing themselves under trains. I get a sudden image of Dad watching a news flash, muttering under his breath about the low moral fibre of young people these days. And then Mum glancing up from her laptop with that ‘what now?’ look on her face. Their faces go slack, and then harden in disgust. There I am, freeze-framed on the screen, hand-in-hand with one of them. My guts twist, and with it my fingers, trying to squirm from his grasp. I stop myself and grab hold tighter. 

I can do what I want: it’s my body, my life.

Under the faint pine splash of ‘Homme’ there’s an earthy musk that’s all him. I can’t get enough of it. That’s just one of the things that make him so fucking hot. I remember the salt and sharpness of his sweat, the feel of smooth olive skin pricked with coarse black hair. I practically lived at the gym until I’d figured out his routine. He noticed. Came over to help when I tried to deadlift more than I could handle. There I was trying to impress and ended up looking like an idiot. He just grinned, adjusted the weights and told me that he knew exactly how to get those knots out of my sore muscles.

Davide

I don’t have to look to know that he's chewing his bottom lip. He used to do that when he watched me in the gym—when he thought he was being so careful—blue eyes half-hidden by a fringe of blond. He’ll never know how much I ached to push that hair out of his eyes and kiss him, right there, in the middle of the gym. He has a smile that makes my chest hurt; plenty of muscle on him too, especially since I took over his training. It’s been six weeks since I let him catch me. Six glorious weeks of training and fucking and laughing and, well, just looking at him. 

He can match me in weights now, makes it look easy. 

He's coming back to my flat tonight, no arguments. I keep hinting that there’s plenty of room at my place, and that isn’t it time he moved out of his parents’ house? But he just shrugs and makes a joke about free room and board, or looks away mumbling ‘yeah, yeah, I know.’ So I back off, there’s time, I’ll win him round. But snatched afternoons and the occasional weekend just isn’t enough. I offered to front him for a couple of weeks until he found his feet, but he stormed off, slamming his way out of the flat. Got a call from Lucius a few hours later, said I’d best come pick up my boy. I got to The Village just in time to warn off a pack of bears, sniffing round fresh meat, and my boy so drunk he could barely stand.

Mark

The letter came last week: the unconditional offer to study Industrial Design at Glasgow University, one of the best in the country. Dad wants me to go to Brunel, arguing we’d save thousands in accommodation costs. It’s what Paul would’ve wanted, he said, using my brother’s name like a whip.

Dad can’t stop me. Not this time.

A shoulder slams into mine, the words ‘fucking queer’ spat in my face in the instant of passing. I stagger sideways, sweat-slicked fingers slipping. Davide pulls me upright, his face full of thunder. I want to say it wasn’t my fault; I want to point at the retreating suit and scream: it was that twat. But he doesn’t like whining, doesn’t like excuses. So I grit my teeth and make an effort to walk in the comforting backwash of his scent.

That’s when I see Paul, just a glimpse of dark blond hair tied back in a ponytail, his face half in shadow. He looks back once before the crowd snatches him away. My heart’s beating so hard it hurts. It can’t be Paul. I know that. Still, I crane my neck hoping for another sighting, if only to prove to myself that I’m being stupid. And then I get what I want: the stranger has the same slim build and there’s something about the square line of his jaw… but it’s not Paul. Suddenly I’m cold; my chest aches. I think I’m going to throw up.

And I remember: shouting and the stink of beer and shit, and a man, curled up on the street, arms over his head; the man is shouting, but I can’t make out the words. Paul grabs my arm, slurs in my face, ‘he’s a fucking paedo’, and so I stick the boot in too. Paul’s mates said I was one of the boys and shared a six-pack with me. I managed to get away before I spewed my guts up.

A week later Paul was dead—mashed up by one of those White Vans as he crossed Station Road. I walk blind through the crowd, Dad's voice whispering that Paul will always be watching over me.

Davide

It’s started for real now: the looks, the tight faces, the pretending they haven’t noticed, or like we’re not even here. Some have the balls to look me in the face, not many, and not for long. Well good, look at us, look at him, see how fucking gorgeous he is. Yes, you too ladies. Have a good look at what you can never have. He chose me, and I’m never letting him go. Not this one. Not this time. 

He jerks away, almost falls onto the tracks. What the…? I yank him back onto his feet. Glare into his face: his blue eyes wide with shock and fear. I want to shout watch yourself; I want to shout don’t scare me like that. And then I see the suit, glancing back, face twisted with hate. So I say nothing. My boy moves close; I can feel his breath on the back of my neck. 

Mark

His hand is sweating now, and I know why. I can hear them over the rumble of the approaching train. The shouts and laughter of a pack on the hunt. Too loud, too urgent. Bright t-shirts and flushed faces appearing through the thinning crowd: four, no, five men—a couple handsome and gym-toned, the others the usual hangers on—out on the piss, and looking for trouble.

I expect him to let go of my hand, to square his shoulders and turn away, to pretend that we’re not together. But no, he pulls me closer, hand gripping mine so tight my knuckles ache.

Davide

That’s when I hear them. Hyena laughter—giving the crowd something else to cringe back from. I turn back. Almost. Hot bile rises, burns my throat. Its heat settles in my chest, flashes out to every muscle. I tighten my grip on his hand; it’s the only thing that’s stopping the shakes. The leader of the pack turns to face us, square jaw set, blond hair tied back in a tight ponytail. And that’s when my boy jerks his hand free and steps away.

I watch him fish the crucifix from under his t-shirt and press the blessed and broken body to his lips. He pushes in front of me—all coiled muscle and clenched fists. Warm, stale air gusts along the platform. Blondie is smirking, his cronies bunching at his back, their jeers lost in the rumble and screech of the breaking train. 

I reach out to my boy. He turns, cups my face in his hands and kisses me hard. The jeers turn into groans and shouts of disgust. But he doesn’t stop. He curls a hand behind my neck, wraps the other around my waist and pulls me close. My body responds before my mind has a chance to catch up.

Mark

All I want to do is punch the bastards. And then I feel his touch. In that instant I know exactly what I want. This time I take the lead. My lover curves his body to fit mine, and I barely feel the jabs and kicks as the pack push past to board the train. Something sharp, there and gone, leaving an expanding circle of heat in the small of my back. My knees buckle. I can taste blood. Someone is shouting my name. And all I can think is: looks like we’ll make the news after all. 

Jimmy Different

Julia Coleman

I first met Jimmy at his place just off the Liverpool Road near the Angel. I was dating Charlie at the time and he took me to Jimmy’s as a birthday present to himself.

I had always wanted to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge; if you like, but as soon as I set eyes on Jimmy I knew it was serious and my heart sank.  We had fun but at the end of the evening he put Charlie and me in a black cab; winked in my direction and said “She’s a sweetheart Charlie, and any time you want to watch me fuck her again shout me.”

Charlie was so bowled over by the whole thing he could only grin, but I was devastated at the thought I wouldn’t see Jimmy again and I considered getting out of that cab and getting down on my knees there and then on the tarmac; the feeling was that strong.

Don’t get me wrong I was very fond of Charlie; we’d had a ball together.  He was much younger than me; earned a fortune somewhere near Wapping and had a great flat that looked out over the city and I was more than happy to wake up there some Sunday mornings and admire that skyline in the sunshine or on duller days try to make it out through the clouds.

I was born in Marylebone and I’d tottered my way through those big city streets as a kid of sixteen in my first office job and my first high heels.

At Charlie’s place I’d stand there gazing at the acres of it through the filthy glass of his fourth floor window; like a new mother tracing every skin crease; stroking every silky hair.

London fills me to the brim; leaves me sighing with a satisfaction I can’t seem to know the why of.

I feel that way after a night spent naked too. Tied up; there’s nothing you can do but let yourself go. I’ve never lost my enthusiasm. I wake up quiet with the joy of it. I only have to think about nuns and I want to cry at all that ‘pleasure of the flesh’ they’ve never had – and I’ve had so much pleasure from my own; never mind the company I’ve kept.

 

All the way home I sat cuddled up with Charlie, while the taxi driver - on high alert after Jimmy’s Parthian shot - tried to make a bit of conversation. With the booze wearing off and Charlie making it plain he wouldn’t go anywhere but home, the driver resorted to occasional glances in the mirror, hoping to catch my eye.

If I know anything about men it’s about their desperation and this guy was trying far too hard. It made me think again of Jimmy and how easy we had been together but the thought just made me all the sadder.  Of course Charlie didn’t know that and I wouldn’t have hurt his feelings for the world, or wanted to spoil his birthday either; but I had a desperation of my own in the back of that cab; at the thought me and Jimmy would never be.

 

When we got to Muswell Hill I saw the driver looking in the mirror again and he raised his eyebrows at me and gave me what I call a ‘dog eared grin’ - like when a fella knows he won’t get it but he thinks he ought to try again anyway.  But I felt better by then and decided to throw him a crumb and I said far too loudly “Charlie I think the cabbie loves me.”

Charlie being Charlie; took my skirt, and slid it up over my thighs and then gently parted my knees to let the driver see what he, Charlie, called my ‘Puss’ and Jimmy had lovingly referred to as my ‘cunny’ - grinning and licking his lips.

'Ain’t she a doll driver?' Charlie said in that painfully posh voice of his and the pair of us ended up in stitches. I really cheered up then, and I didn’t think so much about Jimmy after that.

 

The next morning Charlie and I sat drinking coffee on his roof terrace; eating the fresh baked croissants he had run down and then back up several floors to get for me because I said I fancied one. In that little bit of quiet I let Jimmy drift back into my head and there he was sitting with the Sunday Times Magazine and concentrated orange and I knew then I had fallen in love.

Some months later (and sometime after Charlie had left to work in the New York office) I was sitting with friends in “Amici” all celebrating our fiftieth birthdays. We’d had the main course and I was giggly but on the ball.  

The waiter brought over this huge pudding; all cream puff and chocolate swirls and even sparklers for Christ’s sake!  He put it down in front of me, and I looked up at him shaking my head.

“I didn’t order this; it’s not mine.”

Now among my friends I am known for my love of a good pudding and when I’m out to dinner I might say “Am I going to get my afters then, Sir’” to let him know I’m happy to be had. With the right man that can earn me a proper spanking for my coyness; if he’s so inclined and then we’re both happy.

The waiter looked at me and as my friends looked on he said something I didn’t catch and then pointed toward the bar. I followed the line of his arm from pit to fingertips until I caught sight of a big framed guy perched awkwardly on one of those tall bar stools. He was talking with one of the staff but just by the back of his beautiful neck I knew it was Jimmy.

Angie Farrell (who I met working one Christmas in M&S when I was sixteen) probably knows me best in the world. She was sitting across from me; the pudding between us.  She followed my eyes then turned back to me; saw the look on my face and said “Jeez woman, try to contain yourself; you’re fifty.”  So it was unavoidable; Jimmy and me were definitely going to be.

 

He was grinning when he came over and he said with that beautiful curl of his lip “I thought you looked like you might want afters” and I got up and kissed him.  Later when the dancing got going he spun an old woman around the dance floor in a fashion so crazy it made my heart sing soprano.

I knew I would never love any man the way I did Jimmy when a charmless guy in his twenties sat down at our table after dancing with my fifteen-year-old.  She was Cinderella that night. I’d said she could stay until midnight and with her ‘updo’ and her dress from Debenhams and my best blusher; she could have a spritzer and then it was off to a sleepover at her friend Ellie’s house. 

As he sat down the charmless guy said out loud, “Little blonde wants a good seeing to” unaware I was her mother.  For some people that would just be bad mannered but Jimmy was furious and ready to throw a punch unless the guy withdrew the comment. He hated any blurring of that particular line and anyone could see she was a kid and her idea of racy was a boy with his hand on her breast and how precious is that these days? 

When Jimmy asked what we were doing later and then invited me to the casino, my friend Di tried to push in and get his attention; she never could go home alone.  Being Jimmy he chose that moment to visit the gents.  That gave me time to explain to Di that he was a ‘Georgie Porgie’ you know? ‘Kiss the girls but make them cry?’ She knows I’m curious, and that her own taste for life would never go beyond a giggly ‘toys party’ so she pulled a face; huffing and puffing at her ‘lucky escape’ and telling me to be careful.

Angie Farrell thought that was very funny.

 

Almost a year to the day Jimmy and I got married and I left the little house by the sea and came home to London.  We spent week-nights eating pasta at the wobbly little table on his balcony and weekends back in the little house; walking the coastal paths and searching for the bones of dinosaurs among the shingle, which was Jimmy’s big thing.

We both got fatter, but we fucked harder and laughed at our breathlessness and the cracking of our bones as we parted; sweating and spent.

On dark evenings (and quite a few afternoons) we’d pack up our kinks like others do their lunches and find ourselves a crowd to witness our perversions. Then we’d come home and lie there in the dark; warm and grateful for our second and third chances.  

On the anniversary of the day we met, I wore a top hat and a dark red velvet corset to a party and we paraded ‘like a Gentleman and his Whore’ watching others writhing in the opalescent glow of a roving spotlight; finishing each other off; slow and silent in the back of the cab all the way home.

 

Not five months later he had a backache and blood in his stools and when the doctor gave him the worst news he said “Well I’ve always liked my bacon crispy.”

We cried together and apart, but nothing could be done and it fell to me to clean him like a baby and read him the stories he had loved as a boy.

We watched the ‘Jungle Book’ together one rainy afternoon and as we lay there on the bed we’d had such a grand time in, we sang along to the songs; the two of us wriggling and giggling; trying to scratch a few itches, but we knew those glorious, frantic sweats of ours had passed into history.

He had a million and one friends and they all came to see ‘Big Bear’ before his end.  He had shrunk by then to a hungry looking cub.  He could no longer bellow when you made him laugh, although there were days when we lay together choking and gasping; finding humour in the soberest of things.

All those people passed through the London flat; paying their respects and leaving him things they thought he might need on his journey in the underworld.

On one grey afternoon an equally grey-looking, thin man; wearing false eyelashes and too much lip-gloss, came and sobbed at his bedside.  His name was Eddie something or other and he was ever so posh and he gripped Jimmy’s hand so tightly I could see his knuckles bleach white.  

They sat like that together all afternoon and before he left Jimmy promised to leave him his favourite silver-topped cane; but only if Eddie vowed to picture Jimmy barking strict instructions to all the girls in his office as his Mistress beat him with it.  Eddie looked like he might keel over at the thought of it and he went away smiling; though he was among the last; for Jimmy had reached his own contentment and was ready then.

His end held a terror for us both and we were not disappointed.  When he begged me to cut his throat, I began to want him dead and unashamed I let him see it in my eyes.  I wished it, willed it and in the end I begged them on my knees to stop his clock.  Four hours later he took his last gasping breath; like he would have gone gently.

After the funeral his solicitor handed me a letter. I stood on the edge of the platform at King Cross station in a jostling, ever swelling crowd to read it.  It said:

‘Take my ashes to the edge of a mighty ocean
scatter them on the sand. 
Wait awhile; until the waves have carried me to other, distant shores
and as you do
 remember that my love for you was bigger than this ocean
my desire to stay with you; strong as any tide.’

Jimmy Different xx
P.S. What the fuck are you doing in Bournemouth?

How To Be You

Philippa Found

1. Becoming

Begin aged 16 in your bedroom. Get the idea from your gran. She is a life drawing model. Tape a sign to your door that says, ‘No Entry! Artwork in Progress.’ Take it in turns with your best friend, Carla, to strip naked. Draw each other. Your mother will assume you’re a lesbian but she’ll leave you alone. Carla will have a body like Kate Moss, long and lean and perfect for studying line. Use watercolour. Use charcoal. Use your old Polaroid camera. Make a sculpture of her from metal rods. Don’t worry about the phallic implications. Fuse the pieces together in place of her joints.

Display the Polaroids in your art A-Level exhibition in the school gym. A female art teacher will object. Watch her rip the photos from the wall. Listen to her shout that they are indecent. Having learnt during your art A-Level that women artists’ decision to depict the female nude was the start of feminism in art, think: this is ironic. Also, secretly, feel proud: you’re a controversial artist. Controversial artists get nominated for the Turner Prize.

Demand that they are reinstated in the exhibition. Shout. Use the phrases, ‘censorship’, ‘female empowerment’, ‘the history of the nude.’ Rummage on the floor. Piece the tattered shreds together. The male head of department will help. He will argue for you. He will win. Do not yet take this as a negative sign of the hierarchy of patriarchy in all matters to do with female representation. Reinstate Carla on the wall. She is proud to be bare-cheeked, flat-chested and seventeen for the whole school to see. Spread the word about the showdown. Arouse the male populous of the school’s interest in art. Witness the visiting numbers rise. Overhear the boys sniggering, telling the teachers that Carla’s body didn’t need to be censored because she has the body of a boy. From now on the boys will call her Carl. Have this stay with you. Have this be something that you wish to fix.

 

2. Burn

Apply to art school. Have the toughest interview ever. Feel certain you didn’t get in. Wait four to six weeks for a letter with the art schools emblem stamped on the envelope. Wait some more weeks. Get home from school and have your mother hand you the letter. Open the envelope. Feel yourself shaking as you read, ‘We are delighted to offer....’ You got in. You got in! You’re going to art school.

Do not go to art school: a week later, find your mother sitting on her bed surrounded by final demands and a repossession order sobbing that you’re lucky because you don’t have to be like her, you have a chance to escape but not if you go to art school. Learn that there are no jobs after art school. Watch your mother cry. Apply to a proper university to study Art History. Feel a part of your soul curl up on itself like a love letter that’s burning.

 

3. Continued Development

Keep making art although this gets you no extra marks. Continue life drawing. Take every module available on feminist art and the representation of the female form. Get a First. Win a prize. Graduate.

 

4. Know Your Options

When asked, in the student union bar, by well-spoken, sniggering, business studies graduands, ‘What are you going to do with a History of Art degree? Work in a gallery?’, shrug. Say, ‘Yeah’.

Know that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Know no one. Know you are not from the ‘right’ background. Walk into a gallery six days later and get a job. Prove them all wrong.

 

5. Being a Gallerist: Year 1

Be energetic. Be impressive. Be a gallery assistant on £50 a day, three days a week. When the 2008 financial crash hits and the owner of the gallery asks you to type up his agenda for his meeting with his business advisor, read the words that say he’s planning to close the gallery and keep you on as his PA, then walk back into his office and tell him you will not be a PA, you will have a PA. Tell him not to close the gallery. Say you’ll run the gallery by yourself. Say you’ll only pay yourself if you can make enough money. Tell him he’s got nothing to lose. Tell him to sleep on it.

A day later, watch as he makes everyone redundant and you a gallery director aged 23. Feel guilty. Feel impressive. Feel also the truth: you cost 50% less to employ than anyone else did. Don’t care. Accept the job.

Work 13 hours a day, six days a week. Go to private views every evening. Forget the life and friends you had before, you don’t have time for them anymore; you have a gallery now. Notice the gap between what you studied and what is represented. Decide to fill that gap.

 

6. Year 2

Work 13 hours a day, six days a week. Wear the wrong clothes because you can’t afford any better. Work by yourself because you can’t afford to pay anyone else. Don’t always pay yourself. Start to fill the gap between what you studied and what is represented.

Win over artists. They will tell you it is because you have energy, enthusiasm, integrity. Now you have a stable of women artists. With success comes responsibility. Feel the pressure. Be efficient because the only other option is to drown. Try not to drown. At 6pm get up and walk away from your desk to stretch your legs. Stare out of the window. Watch people fill the streets like fresh air. Return to your desk. Keep sending emails. There’s an exhibition you’re organising that opens at a prestigious public space in four weeks time. Know that the marketing materials need to be designed. Know that you are only allowed to use their designer. At 6:05 email the director requesting the contact details of their designer. Five minutes later receive his reply: ‘Fuck off, shouldn’t you be in bed by now, darling?’ Know that you are not respected. Know that you are too young, too female, too capable. Feel sad. Feel angry. Feel defiant.

 

7. Year 3

Put on exhibitions with titles like: ‘The (un)ideal’, ‘Beauty Realities!’,  ‘STRIP: Body art today’. Continue to represent only women artists even though this is hard to sell. Make a name for the gallery. Be asked to speak on radio and TV. Be invited to exhibit in art fairs all over the world. Know you can’t say no. Worry about how you will pay for this. Just about pay for this. Increase working hours to 18 hours a day. Go home to your flat at the end of the day too tired to cook. Eat two slices of buttered toast for dinner six days in a row. When you wake in the night needing the loo, do not fall back asleep again because you are too busy writing to do lists in your head. Hear your alarm go off. You haven’t slept yet. Start having difficulties breathing.

 

8. Year 4

Curate critically acclaimed exhibitions. The artworks will be harder to sell but the column inches in the glossies will be longer. Learn the language. Talk the talk. Rebuke nouns. Anticipate = Anticipatory. Visual = Visuality. Potential = Potentiality. Learn that ‘charming’, ‘honest’ and ‘decorative’ are bad, but they sell. Realise that – unfortunately – your artists are ‘cutting edge’, ‘emerging’ and ‘difficult.’

Contextualise. Install – don’t hang – your artist’s corpus in your space. Next place the work in a collection.  Or try to. ‘Send me the images again’ means she doesn’t want to buy it.

Stare at the sculpture of your artist’s vagina that you are currently using as a paperweight at the top of your filing. She cast it out of her own blood. She had to wear a moon-cup for two years just to make one piece. You’re selling it as a limited edition of one. That way you think you can legitimately demand fifteen thousand pounds for it. The art magazines are calling it her seminal piece. Seminal, menstrual, realise the words sound the same.

Install it in the space. Open the private view. The two questions you will be most frequently asked about this piece by members of the public will be, ‘Is it really made only out of her own blood?’ and, ‘Is it edible?’

Smile, don’t cry.

Try to sell to anyone who might buy. Court art dealers, court arms dealers, court a man who only collects pictures of naked women’s bottoms. Try not to think about it too much, just sell.

 

9. Year 4.5

Devise a marketing plan. Join patrons groups. This will be expensive but you will have to think of this as an investment because you need to meet people who buy art. Go for breakfasts. Go for lunches. Go for dinners. You will have to pay for these. Repeat stage 7, amplified by 100. Last year you didn’t think the pressure could be amplified by 100; you were wrong.

Realise that most men do not want to buy art about ‘women’s issues’. Seek out wealthy women. Notice that all these women have doll-skin. Define doll-skin as the skin that your Barbie would have if you set fire to it. Take these women to lunch. These lunches will go like this:

 ‘I really think the Suskin/Linberg/Barton is a highly unique piece. Her work contextualises and deconstructs the canon of feminist art in a cutting edge way, which is evidenced in this latest landmark piece. It marks a watershed in her image-making and the dichotomous tension that the work embodies creates a unique and unmediated viewing experience that would look wonderful placed within your collection.’

Hear how you sound.

Notice that these women’s faces look both stretched and fallen at the same time. Marvel at the visual contradiction, at the ‘dichotomous tension’ – if you will. Try not to stare.

Divert your eyes to the menu. Each dish on the menu costs more than your outfit. Discuss how delicious the menu looks.

When she asks you where you’ll be holidaying over Christmas, lie. She’s going to her place in the Bahamas and then off to St Moritz for February to ski. Have you ever been?

Notice the only part of her face that can still move are her lips. Think that the skin looks like bubble-gum that’s ready to burst. Imagine them bursting right now and the collagen dripping all over her salad like dressing. Stop staring!

Realise the only way you can age these women is by their surgery; pinched nose: done in the eighties; ski-slope nose: nineties; arse fat in their face: noughties. Realise your exhibitions about the futility of modifying the body to fulfil an unattainable ideal is like throwing salt in their chemically peeled wounds. Struggle to make conversation.

Witness that these women don’t eat. Be hungry but know that it would be impolite of you to steal food from their plates. Watch the waiter clear away the food. Remember hiding under the kitchen table with your mother because bailiffs were bashing at the front door. Remember the times as a teenager that you and your mother had dinner together but only you ate, not because your mother had an eating disorder but because sometimes she couldn’t afford to buy meals for you both. Continue watching the waiter carry the expensive dishes away. Wonder how it has come to this. Feel uncomfortable.

 

10. Year 4.6

Have this conversation with your artists:

‘How did it go with the collector at breakfast/lunch/dinner?’

Reply: ‘She wants me to send her the images again, so that’s positive, and I’ll chase her up next week.’

Hear your artist exhale down the phone. ‘I’m soooo poor. Could you just sell some of my work, please?’

Remember that you specialised in this work because you believed in it and saw there was a gap in the market. Realise there’s a gap because no one wants to buy it.

Stay calm. Say: ‘I’m trying. This new body of work is quite challenging.’

‘That’s what makes it important. This is, like, my seminal work.’

 Suggest: ‘What about doing some mono-prints, they always sold well.’

Be told: ‘I’m not doing mono-prints anymore. I can’t go backwards. You’re trying to stifle me. You’re my gallery, you’re meant to support me.’

Repeat this conversation every day. Experiment with modifying the words but know that the end result will always be the same. Feel like a disappointment. Feel like a failure. Feel you must try harder.

Stay in the gallery later. Sleep less. Start having dizzy spells as a result of your problems breathing. While you wait for your vision to clear plan your next email in your head.

See the doctor about your breathing. Be advised to start yoga. Go to one yoga class. Do not go back because you do not have time for yoga.

Wonder if it really would have been harder to be an artist than a gallerist. Wonder if by not being an artist you really have escaped. Cry.

 

11. Year 4.7

Be mugged one evening when you’re working late in the gallery. You’ll be fine but when the intruder realise there’s no till, they’ll grab an artwork and run. After sitting on the floor for half an hour, crawl back to your desk and type an email to the artist explaining what has happened. Before you hit send decide it reads like a cry for help that no one wants to hear. Decide you can’t afford the increase in the gallery’s insurance if the artist wants you to make a claim. Decide you can’t afford to disappoint your artist again. Delete the email. Draw out £500 from your personal account, transfer it to the artist’s account and pretend you made a sale.

On the way home from the gallery consider calling your mother. Don’t. You don’t want to scare her. Lie in bed staring at the ceiling. Don’t sleep. Write a confessional letter to your artist that you never send.

Return to the gallery in the morning feeling optimistic: you made a ‘sale;’ you don’t need to feel like a failure.

The ‘sale’ will satiate your artist for one day.

The day after, repeat conversation from point 10.

 

12. Year 4.8

Have a lucky break. A curator replies to your letter, they agree with your proposal; your most critically acclaimed artist will have a show at the Tate. Interest and sales of their work increase. Feel elated. Feel that the last 4.8 years are finally starting to pay off. Feel it’s all been worth it. Receive a letter from said artist that says they no longer want you to represent them, a bigger gallery heard about the show, thanks for all you’ve done, they have more wall space, consider your contract terminated. Be stunned. Watch the room darken. It’s as if it’s a coffin that someone just closed the lid on. Wake up on the floor. Wish you could sue. Know you can’t afford to sue. Know your options: move to a bigger space and increase expenses and pressure by a thousand or stay where you can just afford and lose your artists as you make them more successful. Know that your achievements are shiny bullets fired that will hit you in the head.

 

13. Year 4.9

Lose weight. Lose hair. This is not intentional, this is a side effect from not having slept or eaten properly for 4.9 years. Try to remember when you last laughed: you can’t. Try to remember to call your mother back: you have to. When she says she’s worried about you, try not to snap. When she says she just wants you to be happy, try not to cry.

One Wednesday evening, leave the gallery before 8pm for the first time in years to go to a life drawing class. Do this for two weeks in a row. Love it. Then worry about the time you are not working. Do not go back because you can’t afford to spend this time not working. Be angry. Be angry. Be angry.

Receive a phone call at 5am when you have just dropped off to sleep. Sit up in bed to answer the call. It’s one of your artists. She lied to you. She did not get permission to film the models that she used in her last piece of video art. The models think they have been put in a porno. The models are called Kayla and Katalia. Kayla and Katalia are threatening to sue you and the artist. But your artist knew you’d be so good at explaining the difference between pornography and video art that she told them you’d sort it all out. They’re going to be calling you now. You’ll be brilliant at explaining and she’ll love you forever. Thaaaaaanks.

Realise you haven’t had a relationship for 4.9 years. Catch a glimpse of your face in the mirror and realise you look like a Nathalie Djurberg horror-show claymation. Realise you have spent 4.9 years enabling everyone else’s creativity but not your own. Realise it was never meant to be like this. Realise your life looks like a star. Realise that from far away stars look glittery like diamonds, but up close they are balls of fire. Realise you are burnt. As the phone rings make a bet on your life. If you answer and it’s Kayla you will apologise, if you answer and it’s Katalia, you will quit.

Watch your hand claw the air in slow motion as you reach to answer the phone. It’s like watching a child before they fall over, or a glass of milk wobble before it topples off a table edge. ‘N.O.W. Art, how can I help you…’

It’s Kayla.

Hear glass smash anyway.

 

14. Year 5

Go to art school.