The Unknown

Fiona Foskin 1

The Gravestones, Necropolis, Lisbon – Photo by Fiona Foskin

Photography: Fiona Foskin, originally from Waterford, has been living and working in Dublin for 5 years. Fiona works as a School Librarian.

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171

– By Tom Offland

I’m worried sick about the ice age. I’ve marked it on my calendar. They say that aeroplanes will fall into frozen seas and that all the oak trees will go extinct and that humans will scavenge in the blinding snow to survive. We will freeze, they say, but I’m not worried about that. About freezing. I’m not the type. When I was a little girl, when there was still rape seed in the fields and frogspawn in the ponds and white teeth in most people’s faces, I found a lady dead on the street. Killed by the cold. Curled up still like a heap of clothes. No, I’m not worried about that.

There are less buses every day. There was a time when London rolled on a red set of wheels, when one could step from bus to bus without ever touching the ground. A time when buses rode nose to tail all across London. So close you’d swear they were red carriages on a single, tangled, city wide train. Nowadays you have to wait in the cold for the buses. Yesterday I waited an hour. There will be more waiting during the ice age. Mark my words.

I haven’t slept in a bed for twenty years. The very suggestion of it seems absurd to me now. I sleep sitting up. I dream as much as anybody. I fidget and I flicker and I wake up as confused as everyone else. We build bathrooms and decorate them with steel and glass and clean them with bleach and water and think it something civilised but really we’re just animals shitting in a corner. There are women in the tabernacles who can sleep with their eyes open. Some who can sleep hanging upside down. I can only sleep on the number 171 bus.

The 171 is the oldest running bus service in the nation. It runs between Holborn station and Bellingham Catford bus garage. It was here when Saint Pauls still stood. When the Thames flowed. I try to imagine the 171 back then and I wonder if I would’ve recognised it, running on petrol, being ridden by people who drank tap water and ate animals and passed saliva to one another with their mouths. They should cut this bus in half and have it dragged by dogs. They should do it if it helps. I would work my fair shift dragging it if it helps.

Sometimes the buses die in the road. Their engines give out and their lights blink out and all the passengers look to one another in the darkness. In the ice age the dead buses will form glaciers and crawl along their routes driven by the ice. In the ice age people will have to learn to walk again. God knows they will have to try.

There are bus graveyards out there in the country. No one goes to the country. Only criminals and murder victims and bus drivers towing dead buses along the narrow roads. It is dark in the country at night. Real darkness. The light has abandoned the country like everything else, it crowds in glowing tenements and squats in squalid lamp posts. The light has moved to the city.

Sometimes I dream that the 171 picks me up from my home, that I open my curtains and it is there outside waiting, turning its wheels nervously, shrieking its horn like a baby bird. Sometimes I dream that the 171 is my home, not one particular 171 but all of them, a fleet of homes all hung with the same wall paper and rattling with identical antiques. Sometimes I don’t dream at all and eight hours of living escapes me in blackness and droning, eight hours lost as though it were shaken loose out of my pockets.

I’m worried sick about the ice age. I can think of little else. They say that the whole world will lose its fingers and that men and women will walk on stumps for feet and that we will shiver for the rest of our lives. But I’m not worried about that. There was a time when people could touch one another without fear of infection, a time before gloves and gas masks when strangers would brush their lips across each other’s faces and lovers exchanged fluids without vaccination. No I’m not worried about that.

There are less buses every day. Eventually there will be none. The last bus will have a route that takes in most of London, it will stop at every house and pick up everybody and it will be the only moving thing on the road, steering through untouched snow and navigating the traffic jams of dead and dark and frozen buses. When the last bus dies all the bus lanes and bus timetables and bus shelters will die too. When the last bus dies it will leave a nation standing in the cold, checking their watches, hailing their arms at the approaching ice age.

I haven’t slept in a bed for twenty years. When the last 171 has gone I won’t sleep at all. I will wander the bus lanes awake. I will try to sleep on other buses, whichever there are left but it won’t do any good. There will be a pair of headlights on in my head. A horn sounding indefinitely. Before the sickness people used to sleep in the same beds. Children. Couples. I can’t imagine it. They kept fish alive in glass containers and they buried each other whole in boxes in the ground and they slept in one another’s beds. Sometimes when I wake up on the 171 there are other passengers sitting nearby. They look at me as though I might be dead. I’m not. I’m not dead.

The 171 is the oldest running bus service in the nation. There is a plaque in Holborn and in Bellingham Catford bus garage commemorating its longevity. It was here when the buses had aisles of two seats side by side and people would sit next to each other with their legs touching. It was here when people still tried to talk to god. When people meant it when they said god forsaken, god damned or god only knows. It was here back then. If I was made of bus parts I would donate my body to keep the 171 running. I would donate it without question.

Sometimes the buses die in the road. It’s happened to me before. To a bus I was riding. Once it happened when I was asleep. I woke up in the darkness. I tried to open the doors and when I found that I couldn’t I went back to my seat and tried to sleep. I wasn’t sure but I think there was someone else on the bus too. I think there was something breathing. I couldn’t be sure. In the ice age we will make the dead buses our homes. We will forget they ever moved.

There are bus graveyards out there in the country. No one goes to the country. There is only snow and bones and foot prints in the country. It is where things go to die. I should like to find a bus graveyard. God knows I should like that. Somewhere a dead fleet of 171 stands rusting. I could make a home there in the rust. I could learn to see in the darkness. Learn to live in the bitter cold. I could.

Sometimes I dream that the 171 is alive, that it is old and kind and that it is dying. I know that if the 171 could give promises it would never break them. I know that I could trust it with my life. Sometimes I dream that I am riding the 171 years and years and years ago, when there were still swimming pools and dragonflies and before all the birds were culled and when the ice age was just a joke people told over dinner. Sometimes I dream of that and the light in those dreams is always thin and pale and the air in those dreams always smells of orange trees and the time in those dreams always passes so quickly but nobody is worried. Nobody is worried about anything.

Tom Offland lives in London. He is twenty four and a half years old. He writes on the bus to and from work. His favourite bus is the 171. He blogs at http://happyhealthynormal.tumblr.com/

Fiona Foskin 3

Sleep For The Angel, Necropolis, Lisbon – Photo by Fiona Foskin

North

By Brian Bennett

1.

As a young boy I moved to a house

by the sea

by the trees

and by the shadow of myself far out in the water.

In the lands

in the trees

and reflected upon myself through passing tides

there was a shadow.

I watched a reflection of myself on the water

as it danced under moonlight on the surface.

I watched.

And waded.

A thousand years went by and nothing.

One thousand years more then something.

It changed and glowed while the water ebbed and flowed.

Then one night by twilight

after shouting to the sky with all my might

I realised I was the same as him, as her, as them and

as the silent breeze that flowed over the water which I swim.

I was not dead nor did I die another death for

my soul sat comfortably in me as he did, she did, or they did.

Except I was the one with breath.

It’s a hard thing to love oneself.

To be forgiven for that which was taken as easily as you gave it.

But it’s not impossible.

I did.

And the people who came and stayed in that house by the sea all left after a time. Then more came. And more left after a time. All in all it was always me. By the sea, by the trees, with the tide taking me, day to day for what seemed an eternity. But not to me.

And when I had forgotten how to swim someone showed me. And when I had forgotten how to climb someone showed me. And when I had forgotten how to sit and be still, I showed myself. And with that act the last of him, of her, of them finally left and what did I find? Myself – shadowed upon the water. And a river and trees and a house by the sea where the people who stayed are still staying right with me.

2.

And on the very last day I’ll be there

watching the coming light with an engulfing stare.

And the lands before me formed by the lands behind

will be shaped by the place in which I did reside.

And I’ll have no mask behind which to hide

for my face will be bare and my eyes close to blind.

And my home, here, at this very time will be close to bursting with the coming sight of a man made God shown up by the light.

3.

And it reaches us, this impasse in the day, when orange turns yellow and black turns grey. People fall where they come, if they come and they may, with silence all laughed for the joke as they say.

These city’s streets are young and they are old with whimpering souls scared from stories that were told.

This is not a statement of intent nor an observation regarding my youths lament but a thought or question or dialogue or hope for myself and mine and you and yours and whomever may be watching while they listen, while they read.

In the farm lands

in the lakes

in the lanes

off tenement squares

in the playgrounds

in the parks

in the fields

off country roads

old men are dying.

Young girls can’t stand

their own thoughts and

young men seem to have forgotten.

We still swing from tree to tree as if it’s not us, oh it’s you but not me. As if we were never here in the times before time. As if we’ve never seen the time before now. Here. Where we are. Where we come from. Where we’e going.

Old women still sit and knit and talk of it.

A little buttercup cradled in arms, from star to star swung gently as if in all the endless reaches, in all the spiraling arms, it’s the only thing that matters. The only reason for myself and mine and you and yours and all of ours to walk these streets. Which we own. Which were built for us. By us.

We are living and we have lived and we are held up for what we will live.

Not by ourselves but by that what we wish to see, by that which we wish to feel, to kneel, to kiss, to caress and to bless. To make a holy of nothing as if it’s the most desired of all homely truths. Mine and yours and ours and theirs.

This is life. This is how it is. How dare you ask? How dare you live?

I have lived. I am living.

My soles are burnt from kicking burning bridges. From bitches and fiends and friends and dicks ripping at seems for late night flicks. And I flicked. And in return I was flicked. And I wanted to do it. And I wanted it. And I’m here. Living. And that’s there. It has lived. And I’m here, living. While that’s there, living.

And I’ll fuck you all as I’ve fucked you all for the Earth is very big and the universe very small and our streets are buckling under the weight of nostalgia. These streets are buckling under the weight of nostalgia and I’m here living unbeknown to you all. Watch me. Watch what I do. I mimic the rest of us as they mimic us too. The Earth is unbeknown so they’ll never catch us. They can’t and they won’t. I swear to you all that they don’t know. No one knows. It’s unknown. But that is OK. The unknown. It’s unknown so why fear it? Why demolish and sink that which is much higher than you and me and this and that and the knowledge of this and the knowledge of that doesn’t make me any happier. It doesn’t put a smile on my face. Are the things you pray to smiling on their face?

And as we fall there will be no catch, no lock on the door that was always there before, no safety net to save us from what we fret, or hand with a slap for our trousers stained wet.

Bone dry. When we fall we will be bone dry. There is nothing to fear for us when we die.

When I thought of him, and her, and they way before I had stood on a porch as the sun went down. With friends, and family, and you in surround, it could not compare or know what was in my heart except me, myself, and I. And with that the sun and the sky, the green grass growing and the later night lie, I had slept. Content in myself for what I truthfully felt. I slept a sound sleep. Content in myself as the one that I seek.

And it reaches us, this impasse in the day, with thoughts of ourselves and what they find who’s to say.

I am not the day, neither are you. Nor the night either, green grass sky blue. They are of another thing, of another dream that will take care of itself and we’ll see as we’ve seen.

It’ll be aright. It’ll be alright. When love finds the love it was supposed to find. When I’m not looking for my sacrosanct sin. When different colour flags are held by different colour skin. When I see all too clearly that which some can’t see. When I give myself over to such uncertainty. For certainty is holding us up, this buttercup and me.

A buttercup. That’s all you pray too. A thing of beauty. And it is beautiful I know and the buttercup is still there but if the buttercup was brought down to the base of man, would I dare say that it’s not?

It all doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but a pebble in an ocean in a land made of time. But for some the pebble’s all and for them that’s the find.

Why do you build up the buttercup? When all you have to do is think it down? It messes you around and then worst of all it never answers when you say it will. What I’m saying is; the thing you’ve named as buttercup doesn’t answer you nor should it because that would be ridiculous no? For a plant to talk but we know they do talk. They do sing and react to our vibrations exact. To the tone of our tongue and the singing song sung. And that’s enough. It should be enough.

That should be the starting point.

On the very last day on Earth

as the sun sets and becomes

nothing but brilliant light.

I will walk North. Head first into it.

And be fine. And be OK.

Because I’m not in my knees

for the light kneels to me.

In this city and others beyond, around kitchen sinks, chatter that chitters in the time hereafter will destroy young girls, young men, for how much and how long cannot be echoed and viewed along the lines that we know for we view them all wrong.

I am not my father nor my mothers woes. I am a man unto myself with many made foes. The hardest of all when uttering a call is for myself to answer. Is for myself to answer myself. And find what I find. And hear what I hear and see what I see and with that comes the knowledge of you unto me.

I’m sick of fearing that which is unknown. The beauty is in the seems, in the joy, how it’s sown. I’m sick of adhering to you and myself, to the glory of it and the glory of wealth.

Is this what I am? The sum of a man is how much he works, how much he can earn, what can he buy not what can he learn? If you could control your death, and live a long life, in the final moments what would you answer when asked, “What are you here for?”. If you think that thought and really think that thought then the questions that arise can emancipate closed eyes. The light once dim now begins with a flicker. But if, with that light you’re driven away, then turn back around and get on your knees quicker.

On the very last day on Earth

as the sun sets and becomes

nothing but brilliant light.

I will walk North. Naked and free.

Exposed to this world that’s for you and for me.

And what my skin endures will change how I walk, how I see and I feel, and that is our burden but I certainly won’t kneel. I will spread my arms open for the engulfing light, a shimmer cascaded and I’ll know I was right. But this certainty is uncertain and with that, the question is wrong, for none of us know and that was right all along.

Brian Bennett is an actor and theatre-maker from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently working on his first novel and a feature script to be filmed next year. He is also working on a photography exhibition entitled ‘Blue’. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianbennett84

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