He wrestled the cut and thrust on the inside, clinging to a heightened sense of what was going on outside, until the tears drained from his eyes. In an assumed and accepted vacuum of obscurity, chained to an ever-increasing weight of bitter shortcomings, he cries out in hope of utopia in the other world.
Nobody hears a word, no one cares.
Trust the present, with its loops of déjà vu, dishing up the same old wilful annihilation, pulling strings of self-destruct, in the same old slammer, with the same four walls geared up, moving in, to crush the life out of him.
Looking to the never-end in-between the bricks he could do nothing, but ponder two questions…
Was he knowledgeable, wise enough, to exonerate and bury those ongoing persuasions this time around, or would the psych police, with their tight-fisted, barbed-wire constrictions, take over his head, implode and destroy what was left of his equilibrium?
Needing more time than most to think things through, to catch up on an answer, he was marked down as distracted from the get go, slow, a dud squib… by the warden’s account, more trouble than worth.
The future slowly evaporated into a faded dream, while the past, misplaced in time, got diverted and detained, before he had a chance to understand the duplicity. Saving any remaining self-respect, from going down the toilet, became a daily occurrence, harder to keep from view, as the clock reeled off the calendar… days, weeks, months, then years…
Forgotten, but not forsaken… familiarity with his surroundings saw the regime, with its candid routine, including the sarcastic and violent jibes, become sanitised, normalised; a known and acceptable, daily, reality… as if it were peculiar to be otherwise. With a wary and pronounced awareness, for what might sneak in behind, he engaged with an occasional documentary, or fictional spectacle, at least the ones they allowed him to watch. On guard, yet somehow deeply unconnected, (who wants to be normal anyway) inertia and boredom set in, enough for his eye to wander over words in a book.
Honing his literary skills, from eyeballing comics, tabloids and hardboiled narratives in the rooms and corridors of the lifer, his curiosity gradually caught the better of him. The bindings thrown in his direction, any number of pages, from any book, saw the hunger for the stories increase and the prospects of confinement diminish. Despite the company continuing to label him a cretin, not a day went by when he didn’t thank the lord for the basic understanding, of the alphabet, he’d picked up in a previous life.
The more he read, the more he saw how ill-informed he was. Parched of clarity, he had no hesitation in asking for every book, film and paper, covering the genre of his chosen field. He couldn’t ease off the breaks completely, because he was never quite sure what slice of trickery might catch him out on the next turn. If a particular book wasn’t in the store and they were feeling bloody minded, damned by their lack of interest in his, they delighted in prolonging the lag, teasing him till anger cut a slice from the eye… he came within an inch of going berserk, but never gave them the satisfaction, swallowed his pride and waited.
Eventually a stack of books came through and he ended up buried in the pile. Out of sight and mind, he was no longer a hapless soul, at the mercy and whims of others who seemed determined to trash his esteem. With a lack of interest in his whereabouts, his angst dissipated, tensions diminished enough to ease into cruise control; only then did the tale really begin to pull into focus and the characters and places engage his imagination.
From the myths and legends of the underworld, he recognised his father and his father before, going rounds with a monster, inside the seventh circle of hell. Outside the lair, he too feared and fought the beast… attacking the sun, howling with jackals at the moon, he looked upon a torturous unholy end, until logic in the stories unleashed understanding, a mighty strength that brought empathy, reason and some precious calm, to the wretched creature suffering the trickery and shadows of his mind.
It wasn’t all honey and roses, a lot of the material was ridiculously bad, or just way above his head. Some works were so difficult to get his faculties around, he’d end up throwing the book at the wall, or ripping the pages free of the binding, in a fit of frustration and anger, then fall back on the habit of a lifetime… chastising himself for his lack of patience, his ineptitude. Nevertheless, within the confines of his allotted time, the library became an intimate space, like a church but without all the rigmarole… here, within the window of his mind, there was freedom enough, he could hear himself think, untie the knots so to speak.
A fish, new to the block, badgering him for stuff to read, asked him one day, how he wangled his way into working the library and why he spent so much time there. He pondered the question and kid awhile… a tapper on the ear’ole, you’re playing me for a fool he thought and said nothing. The tenderfoot, seemed awkward, hurt, rebuffed by the silence and in a fit of frustration banged him up against the shelving… books and papers flying! Who the fuck do you think you are Einstein? You’re no better than me… speak to me, or I’ll make your time in this joint seem like a pushover, compared to what I’ll leave you with….
The old boss, who’d been eyeballing them from the other side of the room, vanished like a rat up a drainpipe.
Catching a glint of feral kinship in the rookie’s eye, he let the pain drift, as a distant call to arms filled the room, adding more weight to the space between them. Oh fuck you!… the recruit said releasing his hold… I don’t need you or this to survive in here…
The kid was halfway to the door, when he divulged the answer… told him how he felt like a guest at a gigantic table, with some of the greatest minds in human history… and who on God’s earth could grumble at that. He identified with them, he added… heard the author’s voices, tied into their tensions, delighted in their joys and wept at their losses… if you want’a see some change, I’d come back here, do as I do and don’t open your mouth, ‘till it’s clear. These men do not come tutored by our sister; they come to view our punishments.
By the time the cavalry turned up they were tidying away the remaining books, the kid playing along wisely, confiding to the letter, in reading room quiet…
They gave no leeway to the screws, who eyed them down at the doorway with suspicion, in disbelief…
I plumbed the depths, clambered dizzy heights, reached into the landscape of the page, until it seemed as if I were lost forever… In other words, he was eloquent enough… enough to understand they’d been rooked by a system, like slaves to a ruse.
From the written word, a pathological acknowledgment for the humanities, social sciences and biophysics, a need for understanding the wider implications of why we are here, engaged his imagination and lifted his spirit. Passing over the threshold, between life and death, he torched a fabled spark, lighting up the cosmological path. On the back of the dragon, spitting fire and fury, he transcended a rigid, tangible, environment, this realm of concrete and waste and took flight.