I — It’s a bit embarrassing
[…] It’s a bit embarrassing. I’m worried about the stretch marks on my back. I know I’m a little overweight and should exercise more, but I’m sure they’re getting worse.
Nobody says anything for a good fourteen seconds; an uncomfortably long time. Think about it or try it now with your partner: get them to say something and then count off four seconds by your watch before replying. Try it a couple of times so that you can look at each other and not the watch. What do you think about? Do you think about sex? Do you feel a perverse urge to do something obscene; pull down your pants and piss on the floor? Are you feeling like a freak wondering what’s going on? Outside, the cars pass up and down. The air is hot. The window is open. The doctor says nothing: just looks at this lady in front of him and tries hard not to tell her that no fat people came out of the Concentration Camps. That despite everything she wants to believe about slow metabolism and inefficient digestion and the puppy fat and what your mother said about being like your auntie the fact is, and this is the only fact: the fact is that if you don’t put it in your mouth it don’t turn to fat.
He wonders about the stretch marks. They start to open up and gape like a cracking buckling pavement in an earthquake. Parts of her fat back fall away to reveal: another fat lady hiding inside. He nearly suppresses the smile but feels the corners of his mouth starting up, so turns it into some words. Come and stand behind the screen and lift up your shirt. I’m afraid the nurse is on her break so it’s only me; you can wait for another appointment if you like. No no, says the fat lady. It’s okay. She steps behind the white screen and lifts up her blue tee-shirt. Can you undo your jeans and just pull them down enough so I can see your hips? The doctor bends closer to examine the skin; which is white and pearly with shallow silver indents running round in elongated patterns. There’s nothing redeeming about it. Just ugliness. Not the oh-so righteous signs of motherhood or any such placations. The lady turns slightly to the doctor. I know they’re worse. They’re deeper and I’m afraid they’ll split open. I’m afraid I’ll split apart. That comment catches the doctor by surprise. He stands up and imagines kicking the lady’s fat-ass. Okay, come back and have a seat again. The lady does herself up and sits back down with the doc. Now, I have seen worse stretch marks, he lies. And what I prescribed in that case was a steroidal cream applied twice a day. It helps the skin stay elastic and repair itself more quickly. But it can also thin out the skin if it’s over used, so you have to be careful. Now you can try that or you might try a good moisturizer first; does something similar but not the repairing. What about your diet? He shifts in his chair. So does the fat lady. He takes off his black-plastic framed specs and rubs the pinch marks either side of his nose. She crosses her legs the other way. A fly hovers. What’s it like? The lady looks over his head for inspiration; wants to look like she’s gonna come up with a rational and well-thought out answer. It might be a downright lie but it’s gonna be a good one. The doctor knows it’s going to be a lie. The lady knows the doctor knows. So at the last moment, just before it gets to the uncomfortable boundary, she decides to come clean. Well. I eat shit, really. The doctor says nothing. He’s picturing the fat lady’ with a hand full of shit; pressing it into her mouth. Makes a sound like he’s pondering it over. When you say shit, I assume you mean mostly junk food; ready meals, cola. That sort of thing? The lady shifts in her chair; looks down at her feet. No. I mean I eat shit. Dog shit. Cat shit. My own shit.
There was once a tree: thought to be extinct. A pine tree. A variety of pine tree. It was generally held that this particular variety of pine disappeared some one hundred years before, with the Great Migration. Pioneers out of necessity had cut up and cut down everything they could. Often to build their houses, edge the roads, point to where they wanted to go. Often they cut things down because the things were there. They were good at cutting things down and they liked doing it. It became an end in itself. It dawned on some of the later Pioneers that the woods were ever more sparse, the animals much quieter. They decided to preserve what remained of the woods and the animals. They put up wooden signposts that said do not cut down the trees and do not hunt animals. Any of them. It didn’t work. The animals and the trees were gone. The Pioneers found other things to do. About twenty years ago, a young man was hiking across the open spaces that skirted the foothills, with the mountains to the North. He spent the morning scrambling up the scree-slopes of one of the larger hills. At the top of the hill, around noon, he rested and ate some biscuits and drank some water from his silver metal flask. As he surveyed the scene, listened to the birds of prey circling high above him on the thermals, his eye was drawn to an isolated patch of dark green on the opposite slope of the broad valley that lay before him. Maybe three miles away. The patch of dark green was the only object on an otherwise monotone beige-grey beige background. The young man had come out into the wilderness because he had nothing better to do and so he naturally had all the time in the world to drift as the landscape demanded. He took off his light-weight shirt and pushed it down into the bag bundled over his shoulder. It took half an hour to descend the hill and hit the flat valley floor. It took nearly another hour to cross the valley and by the time the young man was beginning to make his way up towards the patch of green he could see that it was a lone thicket of pine trees. Twenty or thirty of them of different heights but grouped tightly together. Nothing else around. Rocks. Tufted brown grass. The soft undulations of the valley slope, of which the assemblage of trees stood half way up. The young man climbed. The trees looked down to him and he looked up to them, pausing when he was near enough to take in the detail. The tallest pine stood close by. A thick trunk of red bark some seven feet in diameter, bereft of branches on its lower reaches. Vertical grooves ran down to where the trunk fed out into thick, tumbling roots that for years had attempted to become the rock below. The tree pointed into the sky above, drawing the young man’s gaze beyond the upper most boughs and on into the blue. Insects crawled up the back of the tree. Out of the young man’s sight: a red beetle. Under the rocks around the tree: grains of sand that the young man would never see. They were there. There were cracks in the rocks, pine needles caught high on the top side of the tree’s branches. The young man couldn’t see them. But they were there. Sugar water seeped upwards in the heart of the trunk drawn up microscopic tubes and turnings, xylem long and thin. Larvae burrowed along below the roots and turned every time they struck a smooth small pebble and then turned again and that’s what they did until it was time to pupate. Become something else entirely. And worm-beetles drew beautiful patterns just under the tree’s bark. But the young man would never see these things always and only just beyond his perception. And he would never know the sinews of his own heart nor if they were even there. He could only assume. Some years before, the young man had a Father. His Father had tried to explain one day to the young man, who was still at that time a small boy that he, the Father, had to go out into the world. The young man didn’t grasp it at the time but nonetheless, the Father had tried to explain to the young man why he had to go. It was a matter of finding one’s self. But whose self was to be found or where this self was, the Father couldn’t be sure. He could only assume. Sometimes he explained that he was helping his son; the young man. Sometimes he seemed to accept that he was trying to do something for his own Self. The devoted young man became adept at reading in between the lines and accepted very early on that the Father could not give him a perfect version. But now, these years later, and stuck on the illusion of wish and disappointment, the young man had found his way to this thicket of lost pine trees. One of which was the last of its kind. And the young man knew that story and had studied trees at university. He did not recognize the particular variation of tree that stood above him and which he now stood below and that was enough. It was significant. A squash bug moved into view. It moved and meandered from the back of the trunk into sight.
March seventeen. Thinking about that body guard who got shot. A long time ago in a sunny place; working as the muscle for a bike magazine. He used to come into the office and talk bikes with the staff. Real nice guy; size of a truck. Always wore denim cut-offs and a beard. Oddly enough: no tattoos. Got shot with a small caliber gun that made the sound of a marble dropping on the floor. Rodman sits back against the wall and starts to die, looking across the street at a blue chop. Thinking about his Dad; if he was still out there selling things. Where was his Mother? Who shot Rodman? Same guy who played Joanie’s pocket? Pushed her back on the green baize; sunlight picking up the dusty air. Never knew if it was a set up or just happened that way. Six men. Six pockets and Joanie and the green baize. Down the road an old man dusts his path. Down the road some more a man looks across to the rails and watches the train coming down out the pass. Driver on the train talking to his mate and points across to the edge of the small town they start through. Joanie turns her head and watches the train through the window. The man pushes into her again. The keys to a blue chopper drop from his hand on to the floor. Rodman dies. A nice guy.