by Neil Rothstein
I stumbled forwards into the light, within the confines of the chair and nine points of light. So slight in my glitched white pitch, this mirthless tomb, all the holy relics so opaque, so unreal. You idolater, you unseen myth, you mesmerist, a clown, a clone, a synthesised zone. A vein in a jar or a vehicle oblong star, a staircase twisting through a spinal wall, all the other compliments left to settle with a limpet, within a cloud. I stumbled forwards into the nine points of light. The chair shaped circumference of my face, the reflective surface my face so pitted, so dumb and still. The concrete supports aligned the garage doors, covered roofs covering the hidden, a lifetime of questions stuffed into the pipes and the holes, now blocked and under used, we are underused, like chimes in a dead church, lost and Perspex, putrid and warm on a summers waxen farm.
I became aware of the nine points of light as more than just a concept, more than just an idea, the chair that housed the light was as prosaic as any other chair, a chair, leather, not overly comfortable, not overly welcoming at all and the lights protruded, seemed to just hover, not quite attached, not quite separate, a part of the chair but forever distant, a party of sand. This was the first time I had approached the chair with any real conviction, I had easily avoided it or managed to not think of it at all as it sat there heavy in my bedroom, leaden like a slothed elephant, creeping to the edges of it in the coalescing night trips to the bathroom careful not to catch its edges with my leading limbs.
Where the chair came from is still a great mystery for me, it barely fitted in the bedroom, its many protrusions wouldn’t have survived a brush with the doorframe, it had appeared one morning as I woke up in a fug of cigarette smoke and wine that swirled around my room, the acrid stench bringing me to a state of unreal consciousness, at first I didn’t even notice it, as I scrambled over the floor to open the window, letting some fresher air into my small comfortable hovel, the light through the filth laden windows seemed to scratch memories from my childhood framework which was an unwelcome interjection into my mind that morning, not able to deal with it I opened the window and began to smash my head on the frame until the fleeting images receded. It took a certain cluster of minutes to realise that there was something different about the room, my coagulated eyes focused and unfocused like lambs, suddenly in clarity the chair had a mass I realised it was very there (HERE), suddenly now, dominating the negative space surrounding me, my puzzlement and slight fear where struggling for control, there seemed to be an aspect that I couldn’t quite get a feel for, it had the shape of a human body that had been moulded somehow, and in grotesque fascination I crawled slowly around it like a cheap lion on an amiable savannah, some echo tour disaster scattered at the base of the trees.
The next few hours and days in fact where a lesson to myself in avoidance, as I lived around the chair, averting my eyes from it, looking under it to watch the TV etc., oddly it never occurred to me to move it or even attempt to, it was steadfast in the room, it could have been there forever and only now was I seeing it, it had filled the air with its shape and mass.
Sometime after dawn on the fourth day I began staring at the chair, its shape had begun to change in the night, it had appeared to vibrate and shudder silently, an imperceptible humming. I lay there on my bed, head propped up by the wall, my neck in steep pain as the chair oscillated almost violently, when from the gloom of my view in which my vision zoomed in to sharp focus and to landscapes like universes, when in the bottom right hand corner a light began to glow, elliptical in shape it pulsed slowly, like a blinking eye in a dredged harbour, it swam in and out of focus, drooling its own purpose, but there was something vaguely threatening about it, as its pulsing slowed, it hovered always in my line of sight, resembling a threatening uncle on Boxing Day.
I presume that I fell asleep early on the fifth or sixth day, my fatigue and confusion closing down all my functions in some sudden finality, when I opened my eyes the light had begun to pulse again, they were quickly joined by a second and third light, one to the left of the chair and one in the centre at the top of it. I sat up, slowly, my head rushing mercilessly, I hadn’t eaten for days and couldn’t remember when I had last had a drink, I felt like I had had seven bottles of wine and a million pills, a gyroscopic mind, when my vision slowed enough I leaned forward into the lights, I felt a need to touch the arm of the chair, my hand hovering over it, the sweat suddenly like a stream of personal water on my face and back, my fingers dangled millimetres from the surface and lingered, one second-two seconds, I slowly withdrew them, pulling myself slowly backwards on the bed, finding the safety of the wall again.
Through the drawn curtains came a shard of light which seemed to puncture the tension that drifted around me, I watched it as it tried to burn a pattern on to the wall, I imagined opening the curtains and being boiled alive as the sun had advanced on me by a billion years, I imagined opening the window and smelling the deliberate air, of being outside, but with a sigh I reached up instinctively and adjusted the curtains, the shard disappeared, my eyes briefly flickered to where the light had aligned and I knew that some unspoken promise had died. (Over the course of that day a further six lights appeared)
I lay there numbly, my hands occasionally drifting through the air in front of me, to half-heartedly pluck the lights from my vision, but with no conviction, no real intent. The nine lights that surrounded the chair changed colour, and I sat there with the hunger in my bones gnawing at me like shorn fingers, the whiny noise of starvation weakening me, flattening, compartmentalising.
I lived in a tiny room above a florists, which joined onto the owners flat, which incurred me having to share the bathroom, and the light strip which surrounded the door would break occasionally as my landlord walked past on the way to or back from the bathroom: intermittently she would stop at my door, the light broken on two halves as she stood and listened, for what? I used to wonder about her standing there for up to fifteen minutes sometimes, listening, ear pressed to the door, secretly masturbating I used to imagine, with some distaste, celebrating her own futile existence being disturbed by this odd lodger, this time though has she passed she paused briefly but decided against listening to the silence of my life.
I could lie there for hours pinpointing the position of her in and around the house, my inertia so real and complex that the neural tendrils of my mind could stretch neatly through the walls of my room and confirm the angles and atoms that surrounded me.
With a force of will I slid my body onto the floor. I decided to approach the chair from a different position, but the room by now had changed beyond which I remembered it, the space around the bed had receded and the walls had lost some definition, beads of perspiration started to form on my face and my back, the chair now the only object in the room which reflected any light at all, like a star in the darkest universe.
I had to leave this room for a while. The light around the door shimmered. I crawled past the chair and cold invisible hands seemed to brush my back, I made it to the door, exhausted and opened the door onto the suddenly corridor, the pale green walls inducing a vomit reflux, breathing hard I pulled myself up my vision still a confusion of colourless palettes, just relieved to have left my room, the sound of wheelie bins outside being delivered in formation down the cobbled northern alleyways jabbing reality into my mind. I looked to my right suddenly and there stood my landlady half frozen at my appearance, hand placed precariously over her pudenda.
I slipped out of the house from the seedy side entrance, like a parasite leaving a host, the brightness of the cool autumn morning slicing through me, I walked onto the local high street, the beauty salon wilderness, endless waves of women entering and leaving these palisades of loneliness, coming away looking inflated, swollen, wounded. The map of my shadow translated itself inside my head into algebra, into patterns and dust. My need for distraction was becoming acute, I left the main road and walked up a small street, deciding which house to urinate on, which one looked so pompous and unctuous?, but a small dog caught my eye from behind a slatted gate, its brown eyes keeping track of me, not in pleasure but in disgust. I turned away slowly, a tanker in slow motion. I crossed the road, heading in a vague way to the canal, but kept turning around, half imagining to see the chair somehow hovering outside of the flats window, super imposing itself onto the air around me, tampering with the light, I counted to five and spun around, now utterly sure that it was there, 1…2…3…4…5………I spun around like a dead marksman. The wind blew through the opened window in my room disturbing the curtains, and for a brief second I saw the lights glowing, serpent’s eyes filling the entire void of my life.
I had walked barely half the length of the street before I realised the futility of denying the chair’s existence, its purpose, and so by a devious route through the alley ways and candelabra, I entered the side door and walked silently up the worn pattered stairs. I heard the click of a door being closed too gently and realised I was being watched by older eyes, I paused briefly, as the breeze from a window at the top of the landing blew onto my face, an autumnal caress and the last taste of purity, I stood next to the door leading to the land ladies room, the sound of frantic breath clear through the corrugated door, I listened, fascinated. I walked over to the door to my room and ran my hand around the frame, testing the thickness of the wood for some reason, I placed my hand on the handle and with a deep sigh turned the handle knowing deep down, I would never leave this room again.
I crept into the suddenly blank void, all the furniture, the mirror, the drawers full of clothes, the piles of papers, books, had all gone, I knew instantly the land lady hadn’t touched them in some desperate bid to oust me, it was the chair, it had shaped this space into a different time zone, into a previously locked dimension. I skirted around the now massless chair which had swelled beyond proportions I was comfortable with, the room no longer existed as it had, it had expanded into infinity, vast spaces surrounded me as I observed them and at the same time the dimensions of the room remained the same, overlapping images, one bleeding into the other, I tried to observe it all on the periphery of my vision, which seemed to calm the raging light around me. My bed had remained in-tact and I climbed onto it and lay down, frightened to look at the chair, the points of light becoming so intrusive even as I closed my eyes, they seemed to probe and invade me like the sharpened fingers of a cadaver. I took a violent intake of breath. My hands traced the shape of the chair. The ceiling had disappeared and the walls had lost all reason and meaning, even the words as I thought them felt foreign in my mouth, my brain.
With no other visual and physical distractions I became lost in the glare of the lights, my arms and legs flailing now in some discomfort, I squirmed in anticipation, of pain and torture, less than agony, I propped myself up on my elbows, as a stark wind whistled over my face.
There now seemed less light than before, and the nine had coalesced into four larger lights, my skin burned beneath the glare, distant memories of hired sun beds and ultra violet parents slid from me, just oiled meat treading lightly over me, the trail cold.
The consumed and consumptive walls of my room faded and receded, centimetres from my left hand a ladybird hovered over my little finger, in itself oblivious to this sullen enormity, or was it not reacting, because there was nothing to react to. That all this was sheer folly of the imagination, I decided to test this idea and with all my remaining strength I pulled myself forward and with my hand shielding my eyes I reached out to touch one of the li…… Twelve wooden blocks, cubes, materialised, there, in front of me, me, I, a blanket had been drawn under the jaw of my consciousness, hand -made lines in the sand glued the finger prints of doubt onto my forehead, icosoles and Pythagoras giving way to Euclid. My physical frame still leant forward, inches from the light, viewing this I realised with a jolt-that I was watching this at all, like a foreign movie from the 1980’s, badly dubbed and with awful curtains, as an essence of consciousness I drifted closely to my own face the profile of my mother projecting, frightened, tired, hoping for some answer inside the light itself, but an answer to what I thought, somehow the surrealism of the situation was becoming nauseating, a milky interlude.
Smash cut: I’m lying curled up on the bed, the room returned hazily to its former co-ordinates, and the first thing I do is inspect my hands, convinced somehow that they have changed, slightly altered, frantically my eyes swallow the information, moving millimetre by millimetre over the digits over each line and punctuation, but they have remained the same, although appreciably older, gnarled, a cold bosuns hand, a used hand of rope.
I turned my eyes away from the lights, from the chair, to the wall at a torn poster of a broken bicycle, I rubbed at my eyes, which felt swollen and blue, like oil covered fists, my hand followed the contours of my jaw and nose, both feeling so alien and grotesque, a light breeze disturbed the curtains allowing a hands worth of new air into the room.
Falling to the floor the jolt crippled me spastic as I lay there with my head under the bed and in the darkness the lights burned brighter, now somehow cauterised onto my retinas, a ring of permanent suns to follow me forever.
As I trail around these permanent snow covered streets now I realise there was no reason, no greater understanding of what happened, the chair remains there still, dust covered and symmetric, the suns shine so bright now that my eyes glow like sunken coals in the night, reflecting nothing, an eccentric landing strip for a future civilisation, a totem of convenience, I used to think that maybe there is a chair in every room, to be discovered the moment you looked for it.
The night falls and I lay on the bed, the glow of my eye suns lighting the sky, awaiting ignition.
Check out Neil’s website: A Derangedseagullstudyingaclam