Chapter Thirty Nine: Images And Words

Katy wasn’t ready, so I walked out onto the floor of the gym on my own, my mind buzzing with words and images that I couldn’t express or articulate; they seemed to speed up and increase in their intensity as I walked over to the punch bag, and as I began to pummel, methodically and slowly at first, then faster and faster, they took over me:  Bony fingers dug into my shoulders as he threw me against the wall, over and over again, I felt dizzy and nauseous, and the hands around my throat were choking me as I closed my eyes.  This was it.  I could feel my breath slowing down.  Somehow I found the strength to bring my knee up, and he let go of me as I opened my eyes and fought for breath.  In the surprised shock that followed, our eyes met and we actually saw each other, for the first time in months.  ‘Please,’ I wanted to say, ‘don’t do this, don’t do this…’ but I was too scared.  Pain shot through my arm as he wrenched it back towards him, and I couldn’t see his face anymore.  I struggled, screamed, pleaded with him to let me go, and he shoved me so that I landed face down on the floor.  He kicked me until I stopped screaming, and after a while, it didn’t even hurt anymore; I closed my eyes against the pain, until eventually, finally, everything went black.

  When I came round, he was sat on the carpet next to me with his head in his hands.  He was crying, and as I looked up, he looked at me and I knew that, no matter who I had to be, no matter what I had to do, I couldn’t go through this again; not with him, not with anyone: It was over now, and I would never let anyone get that close to me again, never let anyone touch me like that again, never let anyone do those things to me again.

  Someone caught my right arm as I drew back for another punch, distracting me, and spinning me round: I found myself face to face with Katy, she shook me, and I wriggled out of her fierce grip with difficulty, “What the hell’s wrong with you?” she hissed, but I shook her off.  I pushed past the rest of our kickboxing class, my head was spinning as I walked, and I felt claustrophobic and trapped; I had to get out.

  By the time I was outside again in my street clothes, the images and words were whirring faster than ever, and I could feel the familiar pain in my head as it began to concentrate itself in my left temple, a throbbing pain, as overwhelming as the images and words.  Through the agony, I could smell the spices of the curry house opposite, and I could hear Laura Branigan’s ‘Self Control’ playing in a shop somewhere as I walked.  It was still unbearably hot, and the sun made everything seem muggier and dirtier somehow.

  Katy was red faced when she caught up with me, and when she realised that I wasn’t going to stop walking, she planted herself directly in front of me, a vision of fury in black and white as she snarled, “What have you taken?”

  My eyes tried to focus on her, and failed, “haven’t taken anything,” I mumbled.

  “Bullshit.”

  “I swear, Katy,” I insisted, “I don’t take drugs…at least,” I amended, “not the illegal ones.  I could do with a really strong sedative right now, believe me…”

    “Our last few band practices, when you’ve even bothered to turn up, have been a joke” she hissed, “you might as well have not been there, you obviously don’t care anymore, you haven’t played drums for weeks now, have you? Not since the tour, you don’t care about us anymore!”

  I muttered something, and she grabbed hold of my arm, my bad arm, which has never been the same since he broke it three years ago, pulling me further off balance so that I stumbled into her.  The pain and annoyance at being touched was immense, I could feel bruising in places I’d knocked recently, it happens a lot these days – I seem to be imbued with some strange physical recklessness that makes me clumsy, makes me walk into things, fall over things; I’m not sure of when it was I last slept – there is so much to do – but the pain is worse when I do, I feel stiff from the bruises when I do.  “You’re going too fast,” she said, “I can’t keep up with you anymore, none of us can… what about the band?”

  I swatted her away, “Fuck the band,” I walked away.

  She followed me, taunting me, “I knew that I could never trust you! We should never have hired you for the band! You were always going to leave when something better came along! I should never have trusted you, never tried to be your friend!!”

  I stopped, “That’s right,” I muttered, not looking at her, “all of this is just some grand scheme to fuck with your head; what I really want to do is dance, not play the drums in some silly punk band.”

  “Are you going to tell the others you’re leaving, or am I?”

  “Do whatever the fuck you want,” I muttered as I continued on my way.

  She didn’t follow me.

  The anger was bubbling away, just under the surface, as I strode furiously through Rusholme; my blurred vision not registering faces or objects, only colours and smells.  The spiced meat smell was stronger now, but it mingled with the car fumes, the noise of engines and conversation, flashes of colour and flesh of every hue in pub beer gardens.  I didn’t collide with anyone as I walked – people got out of my way – and if they said anything, I didn’t hear them.  A rare moment of focus occurred as I passed a billboard, glowing with orange and black, it focused into view as I approached, and I saw that it was a tiger; ferocious and beautiful in the bright early evening sunlight: It closed one beautiful eye, and winked at me, before I moved on, towards Oxford Road, and the sweet relief of pills and liquid.

  The migraine was easing a little by the time I arrived home.  I was about to reach for my key and unlock the door, when a flash of orange and black caught my eye.  I walked around the side of the house, to the garden at the back.  Despite our negligence, the tiger lilies were thriving, and as I bent down to pick a flower, the sense of colour washed over me in a wave, and the grass seemed greener, the flower more deeply orange.  It lasted all of a second, and was gone as I slipped the stem behind my ear and walked back to the front of the house, the tiger and the lily, I muttered to myself as I turned the key in the lock, the lady or the tiger, the fierceness and the fragility, permanence and impermanence…

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