“Verminous dole scrounging deadbeats poetically whingeing that’s all it is, lamenting wistfully about the plight of their work-shy genes. The Celtic curse so it is, forever waxing philosophical about being a shite for brains’ pisshead.”
He stops. He has run away with himself and he can’t remember what he was talking about.
Packy is barely cognizant of where he is. He exists in half dream, half myth.
He himself is a creature of ritual lamentation. He feels a longing and a melancholy for times long passed, of things and deeds forgotten.
All he has is his own history, but not necessarily his own truth.
Whatever it is, is not concrete. It is fluid, and Packy has tried every which way to summon it forth and instil in himself a deeper meaning. Syringes squirted into veins and drinking binges spanning several years, and razor slashings and muggings, all these acts performed to understand and dissect himself, to understand what it actually means to be.
Packy Colquhoun looked down at the desecrated flesh of his forearms and hands, the skin scarified so thoroughly it had hardened into rawhide.
Wherever he cast his faded blue eyes they would lay to rest on a jagged line of scar tissue marking his body, or search for some burgled piece of himself that he had long ago forgotten about being removed.
He reels off the vast toll of his accumulated injuries, accrued from syringes, meat cleavers, sharpened pencils and knives of varying descriptions.
“Three feet of guts removed. A collapsed lung. A severed tendon. An abscess that nearly took my arm. A punctured eye, replaced with a schoolboy’s marble that looks where it wants.
A finger lopped off.
My face opened. Twenty-seven pokes in ten sittings. Skewered more times than a Turkish kebab.”
As he shifts on the bench his trousers squelch. He couldn’t recall pissing his keks.
“At least I took the sentence like a man, straight on the chin like, unlike that son of mine Lee, from the south London branch of my sin sired sprogs. Hung himself, over that murder he done, the cowardly pack of no count shit. Choked himself with shoelaces and pissed and shit all over himself no doubt, blue as a berry and swinging like a wind chime when they found him. No fucking son of mine. At least I did the time so I did.”
He thinks of the son he venomously curses, of the holiday to Loch Ness when Lee was still a wee lad. He had nearly drowned.
Something stings his eyes and he clears his throat and moves on. He tries to think of his other children, but there are so many that all of them remain faceless except for Lee. none of his own progeny are more alike himself than the half-drowned boy who grew into a fully strangled man.
But there are more. Many more. Spawn sired by his recklessly fired seed could be traced all over the British Isles.
Wanderer by inherent nature, his bones as crumbled and disintegrated as the Irish roads he tramped as a boy with his family.
His kin itinerant tin smiths and pot menders, going from ditch to ditch in a canvas tent and wagon pulled along by a haggard Pony called Sheamus.
And then somehow, although he doesn’t remember how, the family are in Scotland. Then Lancashire.
Thirteen of them shoeless, scraping coal off the cobblestone streets, all of them in the one room minus the pony and the wagon with one bed and no blankets, only coats and the clothes they had on their backs.
Packy looks into this room, at himself and his siblings shivering and lavender hued with cold and wonders if he was born in Ireland how did he end up in this northern English hovel?
“Where is the fackin Pony?” His voice asks aloud in a gravelly cockney accent that disturbs him.
How did I get to London then, he thinks?
He cannot remember how he got to Kilburn, or when, nor how long he has been in its streets.
He wonders about where he actually comes from and what is actually real. He realises he has no way of separating reality from the stories he has told himself.
He thinks of his father.
His father, Packy snr, a despondent monster so great it left his own barbarism looking like lofty aspiration.
He had tried to kill his father, when he was thirteen, followed him home from the tavern within which the old man had pissed away the pittance the family had scrounged.
Followed him as he staggered and brained him from the side with a chunk of flagstone that sent him poleaxed into a hedge, only for Packy to discover once he rolled him over to finish him off, that it wasn’t his father at all. All these years later Packy cannot see the strangers’ face that stared up at him. It’s gone.
He has drunk this memory down almost to the point of extinction, and it hangs on the precipice.
Sometimes when he remembers this frozen frame the face is actually his fathers, the brains coming out of his ears and nose, and other times it is his son Lee, and Packy has to will himself back in time and plant himself into this memory, back into his own thirteen year old boys body and with the flag stone ringing in his hands smash the face of his own son into mush so he doesn’t have to see it.
Packy takes a deep drink from a litre bottle of cider and rants on.
“Do the time and do the crime is my motto,” Packy notes.
“I had to kill him, knocking up me missus whilst I was away for what I did to the burglar. Me own best pal, slipping Maureen one. Should’ve killed her an all like, thinking I didn’t notice. But notice so I did, I smelled it straight away, But I acted Like I didn’t so I did, played dumb and they carried on under me nose.”
The confused and wholly warped projector of Packys memories judders to life and a series of images and sensations that he cannot control or stop fills his existence. He is no longer homeless in a North London park. He is being a murderer again, and he can do nothing but sit and watch.
Maureen’s guilty blue eyes, pretend happy to see you smile and the smell of a man about the house, lingering.
The smell of honest graft, sweat, hard work, grinding muscles and sawdust soaked into the bed sheets.
The realisation that the smell is not his own. How could honest sweat be his own?
John’s smug, boyish, I know something you don’t smile.
Ten cans of special brew. Each one down the hatch with a murderous gulping of vaguely metallic tasting poison.
Murders the can with a crushing snap of bear trap fingers that should be around a guilty neck.
A knife, from the kitchen, long, grey, silent and final.
A growing blackness building within himself, forming not quite another person but an it, a thing separated from himself and yet a part of himself as well, and whatever it is can step outside of the seething flesh and blood prison whence it had been formed and watch and guide the hand that guides the knife.
A butcher shop crunch and pop as Packy twists the handle and stares deep into Johns dying brown eyes flickering and stuttering, Packy watching the ghost within being given up, coughed up like pneumonic phlegm and spat out.
A mouth trying to form silent words.
Thick snakes of blood shooting out of John from a myriad of wounds and exploding onto the Linoleum and forming puddles.
John slumping. Draining of colour. Even his hair.
The smell of iron and shit and piss smells of a men’s lavatory.
Packys fists raining down onto John’s sightless, expressionless face.
Pain in his hands.
More special brew. Crying.
Cuffs biting his wrists.
A cold blue jail cell that smells of old dirty bandages and farts.
Locks snapping and unsnapping, keys jangling.
And then by ending a life he ended his own.
But he doesn’t remember a day of prison. And what was his wife’s name again? Maureen? Maura? Angela?
He gazes out across the pond, and the tatty park that he has been haunting for months.
“Nothing to say then, you cunt? I tell you something Maureen, I come here every day and all you do is stare so you do, stare at me and fucking swim about.”
The bemused looking Canadian goose half-heartedly preens a glossy wing as if to ignore the seething vagrant ranting at it.
And then it retreats back across the black mirror of the pond before shattering it with a nosedive, as if it would rather drown itself than listen to another sentence.
He hates the goose. He doesn’t know why but he hates it. The Mallards which he loves seem to shun him and always drift off to the far reaches of the pond and pretend they don’t see him but the goose won’t leave him alone.
It had pecked at him once and had tried to take a scrap of a half-eaten egg sandwich which Packy himself had filched from the spattered open gob of a bin, and he had kicked at the indignant bird and some young mums with their kiddies pelted him with bread and threatened to call the police.
He had sworn and staggered out of the park and as he left, he was certain the goose had winked and given him the same smug smile someone else had given him a long time ago.
Maybe it was the perfect ease with which it seemed to navigate through its multidimensional existence that offended him, flying through the sky and gliding across the pond and making both tasks that to Packy seemed so impossible and alien seem so easy.
The grace it commanded as it skated on the surface of the pond made the pond itself seem beautiful, made it seem like something more than the abused, violated dumping ground it was.
Packys arthritic tree root fingers knotted and crystalized with pain from repeated meetings with a dead man’s skull and a steel cell door curl around the plastic flagon of White ace cider, a brand designed he thinks with the sole intention of silently exterminating all those cut from his own soiled cloth.
“Take more than this tramp battery to do old Packy in so it will. Aftershave and medical grade hand wash and even a swill of white spirit that left me mouth in tatters, you name it I’ve necked it. Shat out an oil slick after that.”
He drains the litre of cider, his second of the day.
The shakes have been settled, the sickening quivering gone, but the madness still remains and is now inflamed, the cider an accelerant, gasoline thrown over a bonfire.
The goose floats around in ever widening circles, sensing his building paranoia, his uncontrollable rage.
He starts to see enemies everywhere. He opens the next litre of cider, canes half off it in an almighty gulp and up chucks violently, belching out a stream of foam and bile.
His throat feels torched.
As he vomits something bounces and skips across the cement, rattling toward the rim of the pond.
“Me fucking bastard glass eye!” He lurches behind the prosthetic eye that had musket balled out of its socket with the ferocity of his vomiting, grasping at it with his gnarled hands.
The passing goose snakes its almost improbably long neck out of the pond and snaps the glinting eye in its smiling bill and about turns toward the centre of the bog, skirting around the semi sunken skeleton of an old shopping trolley.
“You spiteful cunt!”
Packy dives into the water in a mad lunge, the stagnant pool thick with crisp packets, used Johnnies and clumps of algae engulfing his tattered frame in a single clapping swallow.
He thrashes, his torn coat caught on the trolley, his mouth full of sludge, a toupee of pond weed and Algae hanging over his face in green fronds.
The small group of colourful mallards on the other side of the pond sense the impending drama and make a break for it, skipping across and then breaking free from the water and into the equally dull surface of the sky.
Packy gets the bird by the neck and it squawks and hisses, its orange beak snapping open. Packys eye vanishes into the pond with a plop.
“You vicious, heartless bastard! You did that on purpose.”
Packy throttles the bird and it beats at him with its powerful wings, kicking up a churning froth of filthy water and feathers.
“You think I don’t know what you’ve been doing Maureen.”
He punches it in its smug little face, aiming his digs in between its beady, button like eyes.
It clamps its beak on his wrist and he lunges forward and sinks his crumbling teeth into its feathery neck and it starts to thrash madly, tearing out its own feathered throat as bitter avian blood fills his mouth with a sense of victory and instantly curdles his stomach with the threat of impending salmonella.
He feels several of his bombed-out dentures loosen and slip free of their gummy bondage as the bird pulls away, leaving them embedded in its own neck.
He rips the bird’s head off with a motion not unlike wringing out a tea towel and it shits all over his coat, the emulsified white and yellow muck caking his hands as he tries to wipe it off.
“That’s it, kill yourself. You coward.”
He spits out a clump of feathers.
He clambers out of the pond, coughing, dry retching as the foul effluence of the pond and the diseased blood of the water bird crawl up his throat to cling to his teeth.
He still has the bird’s head in his hands, the eyes somehow indignant, defiant, the bill crushed into a smile that mocks him from beyond death.
He skulls the dregs of his cider and staggers in a semi-circle, exhausted from battle and the exorcism of demons.
As he makes to leave a frumpy wind reddened single mother with her snot faced sprog at her side enters the park through the green gate, the boy clutching a loaf of bread, his face frozen in an idiot’s grin.
The woman eyes Packy with repulsion, visibly shuddering, and her mouth falls open slightly as she catches a whiff of him.
He smiles as greenly as possible, revealing for the whole world to see his naked rottenness, his utter decay, and also the raw meat and soiled feathers stuck in the condemned disgrace of his teeth.
“Feeding the big goose so you are wee man? Well don’t bother, because I’ve just killed the smarmy cunt. Here he is. Keep him.”
Packy passes the bloodied bird head into the wee bairns’ pudgy hands before mummy dearest can even think about recoiling in horror, and in the same motion he snatches the loaf of bread and makes for the exit.
He hears the kiddie start to bawl his eyes out and hears the slapper start to shriek, but he doesn’t care.
He tears the bread into pieces and works them into balls and chews them. The sky above, the shit spattered sheet that was threatening all and sundry below it of an incoming downpour had been pulled aside.
Rays of sun began to pour down and soak the streets.
Packys face feels warm as the sun smiles into it and he smiles back in kind, and he knows his squelching feet will soon be dry.
He chews the bread and walks down the street, away from his past toward an offy, thinking of another drink to help him forget himself, and another myth to remember again.
Image by radiosmith_420 from Pixabay
4 thoughts on “Paraffin Lamp by Alex Sinclair – Warning – strong language and content that some readers will find upsetting”
There’s one thing – You don’t do tame!
You had a clear picture of your MC and boy did you let us see him.
Most think that when you have mixed emotions you may be confused. But when those emotions are hate, resentment and rage and the person who is having them is nothing short of a sociopath, you end up with a madness that no amount of Prozac could calm.
All his hate came out with every situation he was in. He was hallucinating, forgetting and remembering which fuelled his madness.
The back story of his family was harrowing and him not being able to see who it was that he killed when he thought he was murdering his father takes you down the road of no conscience.
He had a strange pride in him ‘handling’ life better than his son and again, there was no remorse, he just mocked.
And the poor goose. It got every part of his paranoia, rage, frustration and viciousness. I hate when anything is solely about the torture of an animal but this character believed that the bird was torturing him. Even in his mind, it was nothing to do with him or the goose, the bird was dead for simply being there.
He had snapped completely and you worry for anyone who came across him.
This is horrific, harrowing and upsetting. Those three words emphasise his whole life.
Brilliant my friend – And the title is a phrase I’ve not heard since I was at the school!!
And of course – Happy New Year! All the very best to you and your family.
Dear A. Sinclair:
I admire your skill but despise just about everything that happens in your stories. Still, you are very good. and hope to despise more of your work in the coming year.
Behold Unvarnished Honesty:
At first I said “Fuck this. Isn’t there enough ugliness in the world already to suit this guy?” That was a dishonest reply, the sort of thing I say to myself when another grubby hand reaches out for money on the street. Then I thought about the woman an ambulance dragged off last summer on account of sitting in front of the 7-11 beside the shelter because she was hammering three-penny nails into her feet with a rock. I thought about her again as I paid another woman (who was camping in my building’s the courtyard) a twenty dollar bill on Christmas night to go away because she was scaring a lady who was alone with her baby.
It’s all depressing as hell, and I guess somebody ought to tell it. Good luck to you.
Aqualung my friend, don’t you start away uneasy…. . (Jethro Tull, Aqualung) .. In short, his goose is cooked.
Sinking his crumbling teeth – this stirred a picture in my mind worthy of Bekinksi. (Zdzislaw Bekinski was a Polish painter, his canvasses redolent of a dystopian take on Bosch and Dali.)
Superb sensory images, though Special Brew has more the whiff of petrol.