Thus Spake Nebuchadnezzar
I’m gathering wool from my grizzled days – twisting and coaxing the minutes and the hours into thin, wispy layers and draping them over my icy bed – a heap of grey on grey. I’ll spin it into lengthy years, wind it onto spools and knit myself a saviour to keep me safe and warm.
Your name is stirring in my coffee cup. Your face is drifting in my fag smoke.
Sleep does nothing for me.
And I fill my kettle with water.
‘Harken to the voice of Jeroboam, pissSSSSSSSSSSSSShead.’
Pound shop dreams are all I’ve got. And a suitcase with a combination lock. And you. I have faith in you and I pray to you every five minutes or so: my loving Higher Power. That’s what they told me to call you, but I’ll call you whatever I want. I shall call you all manner of names. I shall call you mine. Their reign of clumsy, brutal rules couldn’t last for ever. Its you and me now, my darling. I’m out of their cells and home.
I’ll be ready for you when you get here. I’ve learnt the words to all your songs, I’m doing the required reading and every night just before bedtime I get down on my knees. I do believe that’s where I’ll be when I’ve finished knitting. I’m practising my moves in front of the mirror and I’m wearing my old, grey bra – it still fits, like an empty glove. From certain contorted angles I look ready for your love. Will hands other than my own ever touch me again? Would I want them to?
‘This is the voice of Rehoboam, pissSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSShead.’
It is cold and graceless here. Nothing ever happens. This place holds a grudge against me and nothing good happens. I cried twelve times this morning for twelve different reasons, each one a broken promise. Incompetence and compromise are pushing me towards the black cab – its clock is ticking over as I bleat. Last time it took me I thought I’d never come back.
Constantly dripping, plop, plop, splutter – my swollen innards are home to the crawling ones – unwelcome beasties enamelled and bejewelled with fantastic colour, creeping in my hidden alcoves, growing stronger day by day.
My teeth are stained black from constant infusions of tobacco and coffee. I can’t drown my sorrows because I’m not special or different. Even one tipple, one sneaky siplet, and these three years of liver-coddling, brain-scrambling drought would be immediately undone. I’d be boomeranged to the garish aisles of the off-license, to heated confrontations in the attics of oblivion: a prodigal slave to the unquenchable thirst. That black cab would drive off without me. I’d leave here in an ambulance. Or in handcuffs. Or not make it at all. This is what I’ve been told. I have no reason to doubt them although I wish I did. Its all waiting for me, as I am waiting for you.
In these cold, grey on grey rooms.
I’m sat here on the sofa with twenty unravelling balls of wool, clicking away with a vengeance, intent on knitting you. Its not as if I’m alone, though. I can hear an unearthly, whispering voice and it is distracting me. It can’t be you, my burgeoning man, I haven’t knitted your mouth yet, I’m only on your arms – the arms you’ll hold me with. The voice is hissing incessantly, making my head hurt, disturbing my oasis, interrupting my intense communion with you. I want it to go away. I can’t tell where it’s coming from. It doesn’t sound very friendly. I shouldn’t be surprised.
Where did that striking, well-groomed creature get to? Who’s this I am now, skulking in her long shadow? I let myself go – but where to? Where have I gone? When you find me it may be too late. So hurry. I’m spread thin, become shallow, talents withered. Bereft of the advantages I took so casually – I am nobody.
I remember some artist said: ‘Wear your wound,’ well, I have no choice – I haven’t got anything else to wear. They stripped me of my flounces, my furbelows and trimmings. When I got back my wardrobe was empty, apart from the suitcase with a combination lock, sitting under a clatter of wire hangers.
‘HARKEN TO METHUSALEM, PISSSHEAD! TOY WITH THE BOGEY MAN! DALLY WITH THE ANGRY MAN! LOOSE WITH ANY MAN FOR THE PRICE OF A DRINK! PISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHEAD! DRUNKEN WHORE! GIVE ME HEAD!’
I’m knitting you from remnants to put an end to waiting. At last I am making you real. Row by row you’re coming closer: a truly powerful, splendiferous being. I will adorn you with caresses, sew your seams with presumptuous kisses and enfold you with my body to thaw my glacial spaces. My only one, you will be with me tonight.
Do you care for me like they say you do?
I know I smell cheap – they reduced me.
I should make myself over for you with sacred ablutions involving prune juice and elastic bands, brew potent spells, practice cosmetic surgery using nail clippers, scissors and a compass, dye my skin fetching shades with boiled herbs and vegetables, apply perfumed unguents to soften my scars, slather my legs with glow potions and bathe in explosions of space-dust, mend the fripperies of my booze-blasted face, patch my pretties, darn my dollops, buff my bits, weave egg yolks into my greying hairs and take the tweezers to my memories, revamp my neurons, my dodgy transmitters – my synapses are snapping with a microwaved ‘Ping!’ Rearrange my pain, organise my defences, polish my shield, scrape off the rust, weld my nuts, tighten my bolts and solder my resistance.
I would attempt a transformation but I haven’t got the heart.
Breathe life into my grey rooms. Breathe room into my life. Breathe on me. Let me breathe. Take me as I am.
When I’ve finished knitting I could climb inside – I could wear you, knit-man. Yes. I will wear you by day and lie with you each night. You will keep me warm and hidden from their scalpel mouths and comfort me when I’m craving. Won’t you?
‘HARKEN TO SALMANAZAR! NINE LITRES OF LIQUID LUST BUBBLING FOR YOU! PISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHEAD! ALKY! DRUNKEN MOO MOOOOOOOOOO!’
I wonder why it is so cold? There’s ice on my fingers, its pink, look, there’s ice on my toes, its red. I’m too deeply frozen to reclaim lost friends. They’re all so together and hip, spouting hot air, living hot lives, comfortable miles away from me. I once was mature but now I’m fermented, my future a formless mass with only one sure thing. I’m braying at the shivering moon, an off-key lament to myself on the shelf. I put myself here deliberately, to keep safe from the bull in this china shop of seconds – the bull that is me, full of shit. It is gruelling living here. The only cry for help I might muster would choke me. I’d become a soggy dollop of economy tissue, insubstantial, disintegrating fast down my own whirling plughole. I have surrendered. Knitting you is consuming me, but I do, I am. Come rescue me – from myself.
‘PISSSSSHEAD, PISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHEAD,’ the whispering never stops. Maybe it is you, knit-man? If it is, cut it out, or else I’ll cast you off. I only expect to hear endearments from your knubbled lips. Click, clack, click, clack – I’m dropping stitches in my haste to get you done. You will be my man-suit, my god-suit. You will cure my sickness, heal my wound and deliver me from evil. We will live in a wonderful new world.
A prolonged hissing ‘PISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS’ slinks across my hunching shoulders and I know I must let your love in. I know you can protect me. This horrid noise is making me nervous. I will ignore the voice and keep knitting. Knitting you will keep me safe. Click, clack, click, clack – the sound of my needles is soothing. Nothing is real but my own brain-talk and you won’t answer me back. I’m knitting faster and harder to drown out that voice. My fingers are sore, my fingers are bleeding – my blood will give you life. It is thick and dribbling from my fingertips and flowing unto you. Your wool is sticky and coated with my life-juice – we are becoming as one. A whole and purposeful entity is emerging from my hands. Clutching my slippery needles I’m shaking with the thrill of creation.
This must be the type of positive action they were talking about all along. Perhaps it is the thirteenth step – the one they try to keep to themselves. People smile in fragile universes of their own making, all labouring to be closer, straining for that orgasmic clinch with their godhead, be it money, fame or that thing they call ‘happy.’ Now I am amongst them my sobriety is ensured. I am working for you.
‘BALTHAZAR ISSSSSSSSSSSSSS COMING,’ the sound slithers round my rooms.
‘Piss OFF!’ I cry out to the voice.
‘YES, PISSSSY, YESSSSSSSSSSS,’ it carries on regardless. I try to do the same.
I chant a prayer and your strength pours unto me, filling me with hope. Inside my head all is quiet and joyful. I’m feeling clean and serene. I’m bleeding – you’re soaking me up. I’m winding you toward me, stepping carefully into your knotted holes. We are tangled together in blessed union. I run my hands over my body – I am ribbed and welted with you. My flesh is straining at your laces, your strands are gripping me.
I am a wobbly fish caught in your net of love.
I can still hear that horrible hissing. Where the hell is it coming from? I know its not you because we are entwined as one. The map of your face is stretched over mine, pulled tight into a perfect twitching web. Our mouths move in tandem – you are panting, so am I. And when you start laughing I am laughing too. The noise we are making is harsh, ragged twin cackles and the voice gets louder, speaking words I do not want to hear, telling old stories of my drunken occupations, calling out cruel names – the labels people stick on my kind.
We stop laughing. We are doubled over, under the force of the oncoming tirade, our hands pressing against our ears trying to block out the voice. It is ranting raucously, the volume rapidly rising to a deafening crescendo:
PISSHEAD! ALKY! DRUNKEN SOT!
OLD SOAK! WINO! PLASTERED LUSH!
BLACKOUT BOOZER! LURCHING LOSER!
MOTHER’S RUIN! KID IN CARE!
ON TICK! BAR TAB! PICKLED! SOUSED!
LEGLESS! WASTED! OFF YOUR FACE!
LOCK-IN! PUB CRAWL! IN THE GUTTER!
OFF THE WAGON!
My knit-man is crawling across the gritty carpet, dragging me along. Our limbs are stumps lumbering in unison, searching for the source of this verbal assault. At the same time we’re trying to survive it. Tears burn hot out my eye-slits, snot streams from my nose. The walls are callous hulks funnelling the wailing in relentless, pounding wavelengths:
CRIMINAL DAMAGE! DRUNK AND DISORDERLY!
DELERIUM TREMENS! EPILEPTIC FIT!
BURST VESSELS! COLD TURKEY!
LIVER CIRRHOSIS! PANIC ATTACK!
RAT-ARSED! SLURRING! BARRED FOR LIFE!
SENT TO COVENTRY! SECTIONED! CLUCKING!
HEMMEROIDS! A & E! INCONTINENCE PADS!
SHARDS OF GLASS! SHITTY KNICKERS!
WINE-STAIN LIPSTICK! GIVE ME HEAD!
MEAT RAFFLE! MAD DOG! KARAOKE DISCO!
ASTI SPUMANTI! TEQUILLA SLAMMERS!
SPIKED LAGER! SPIN THE BOTTLE!
DETOX! DEMENTIA! DIPSOMANIAC!
HAPPY HOUR! HAIR OF THE DOG!
TIME GENTLEMEN, PLEEEASE!!!’
It is morphing into operatic, hysterical soprano, pulsating against my ear-drums, beating my sodden brain. It is raining down hard. We are awash and filth-ridden, clinging to the skirting board … knit-man, save me, please!
He’s turning out the lights. He thinks its a good idea. We are slumped in the hallway against a sticky door in pure spooky blackness, trying to catch our breath. An angelic serenade, thin and spangled like golden syrup twirled from a silver spoon, looping in a sinuous filament around this small dark space, glues us to the floor:
We’re watching it – we can actually see the song and where its coming from – it is seeping from the door frame, a slick chain puddling at our woolly feet. My knit-man, my glorious god-man, is pulling me upright to meet the challenge of this gilded tormentor. I can’t move. My saviour wants to open the door. I can’t move. His itching ropes are straining tighter, forcing me to stand. I’m opening the dreadful door. Our feet are hampered by my misgivings as we stumble inside.
My bedroom has become a desert. The floor is sifting with sand dunes contorting in unnatural shapes driven by the voice. And the sands are shifting in rhythm, and the sands are red and fine, stinking of methylated spirits, swirling smoothly about our ankles in syncopated routines. My numbed feet are defrosting. My heart is hammering quick-time.
‘PISSHEAD! BEHOLD!’ yells the voice. Staggering and shrinking we take a boggle-eyed look.
On my bed there is a mound of sand. The suitcase perches on top. It has grown extremely large, towering above us in shining black leather, handles glinting, three bright lights flashing on and off from its combination lock. I cringe and knit-man feels scanty. If my labia were wings we could fly away but they’re only drooping sex-flesh, wrinkled and brown, like you. You seem useless now god-man – crusted with my secretions, dampened with my longing – you’re clinging to me, limp with fear. You are in stuttering awe of the rectangular, hard-edged object that is poised and gloating before us. So am I.
‘I AM JEREBOAM!’ booms the voice of the suitcase, its lights blinking red, amber, green.
‘I AM REHOBOAM!’ it thunders forth again.
With every fearsome declaration the monolith shoots up a few feet – soon it must crash through the ceiling.
‘I AM METHUSALEM!’
The black shape expands in every direction and the ceiling simply melts away, revealing a dreary sky. The sands are swaying in devotion and we are down on our knobbly knees. The stench of meths is choking me and so are you, my tatty love, so are you.
‘I AM SALMANAZAR!’ the suitcase informs us triumphantly as the crimson sands undulate and spill.
‘I AM BALTHAZAR! I AM RISING!’
Our eyes are smarting with grains of sand – its pouring from the wardrobe. We are floundering in its weighty embrace.
‘I AM NEBUCHADNEZZAR – FIFTEEN LITRES BEYOND MAN AND TIME! GET RID OF YOUR FEEBLE GOD-SUIT AND SUFFER YOURSELF UNTO ME!’
Who am I to disobey?
I am clambering over the shuddering sands and as I make my way I am tearing us apart. Pulling you off is easy knit-man, I’ve really worn you out. Ratty and frazzled, you are shredding fast. I am using your straggling lengths as a woollen lasso, flinging you at the looming pinnacle so I can climb on board. But you can’t get a grip – you’re too flimsy to grapple the highly polished edifice of Nebuchadnezzar.
The sands are swelling and rolling beneath my straddled feet. Balancing woozily, spreading my arms, I am surfing a surging dune. When the cresting wave reaches its peak I am thrown to the giddy regions of Nebuchadnezzar’s handles. Fingers scrabbling wildly, trying to hold on, I’m dangling like a key-ring way above your twitching threads. The sands are seething to and fro. I’m far too high. I’m slipping. I don’t want to come crashing down. The combination lock is right under my nose. This is an emergency. I’m spinning the same old numbers: nine, nine, nine.
All is hushed now. The sands are standing still. The suitcase springs wide open and topples to the left. I am falling with it through the empty sky blinking with my bloodshot eyes. Face ache. Fuck’s sake. Ouch. I’m chewing stinking sand. The gigantic beached baggage is gibbering streams of nonsense:
‘HARKEN TO THE BLACKENED tongue … behold … the leathered lunch box … you with the jammy … dodger r rr rr r rr.’
Its terrible voice falters, stutters, stops.
Knit-man rouses his fraying power and lashes his twisted fibres around me and the landed suitcase. I am bound fast by his warping skeins to the mighty Nebuchadnezzar on a dry and heaving sea.
Here come the crawling ones, scuttling down my tethered thighs, racing into the suitcase, hunting for the promised wine. They will soon return. Nebuchadnezzar is filled to the brim with fifteen litres of nowt.
Penny Jane Goring