Biography, of a man you don’t know, never will, in pictures // fiction

First published in Paraphilia Magazine Issue 12 (August 23rd 2011) //

First there was a thump with no screams, then an audible sagging like a paper bag deflating like a person sinking under the weight of his own bodily fluids like a fish drowning. Upstairs they were desperately trying to get dizzy from smoking flash burn cigarettes made almost entirely of gum paper save for an insufficient streak of tobacco that lit and disappeared into instant ash.

Earlier they had tried packing the tobacco in hard and tight, bits of moist flakes lying prostrate on the floor, but the draw of the lips didn’t give them that burning sensation they were after; it only gave them nicotine, which was kind of secondary. They wanted throat to moan, for they had fallen down. Hence the thump, and the sagging, and the sinking and the drowning and the anger that it was about nothing.

Already laid out down there, they stole the opportunity and whopped the dulled palms of their tiny fists on the dividing wall. They had long ago lost any sense of decency. And because the old man next door seemed to be having a good time in there, and all alone with Terence Stamp eyes, they had slid photographs of themselves standing at the window adjacent to his, their jingoistic eyebrows raised, as if saying:

“Animus?” but playfully,
or simply:
“Yeah?” ruefully,
or
“Why are they nude?
Or is it because they have to?”
and the days were made to make no sense
and none of them were shapely.

Leading to this: The old man was perturbed, probably. But there was, as in most cases, little in the way of evidence, and little in the way of action; only dreary patience for the slug that never comes.

They only sent more gibberish images, polaroids with eyebrows further raised to the in-grown ceiling, one snap with a paperette in the mouth like a kind of sucking pig. It brought them round again full circle, satisfyingly enough to not remember.

It was all for a reason, and one that mutated: They were writing an increasingly subnormal biography of the Everyman who happened to rent the next door and the floors behind it, though their activities were not unknown to him as, with the photographs, they had frequently pasted little snippets of his life under his rented door to go with his door and to go with the photo.

They had accounted for all the events of his life up until that point without sufficient conclusion and, if they were being honest, were poking at him now with the paper-plastic flaps merely for more material.

The work had become laborious, dotted with inconsequential details that made no sense, such as in an in-progress chapter on how the man would respond to photographic images of himself when heading out for some milk and the paper, or how he behaved when visually insulted. To both there was no comment.

Their fascination had begun when they picked up a package from a Hermes messenger man; a big empty box that had almost nothing in it, which they didn’t open as, they had decided, such a narrative choice would prove inordinately pivotal to the denouement of his biography, and they didn’t want to decide his fate prematurely, and while they were at it, they didn’t want to shut out any potential markets by putting a genre on the thing, as the mode of death would irrefutably decide this.

They knew from the package where he worked and probably for how long too, as not just any employee gets a package from their employer with so much empty space spent in delivery. They guessed at something with a nametag and navy uniform.

But accuracy was not of paramount concern to this true-to-life allegory of which parallels were surely to be made between his and the lives of certain martyrs, saints and sundry religious/historical figures, comparisons that could not be easily repudiated.

The man had not bothered to pick up the package, probably didn’t even know it was there (as maybe it was the long awaited, likely unwanted redundancy gift) but they didn’t want to know either, until the biography was completed at least, and finished with in all senses of the word ‘finished’. Then the unleashed spike tail of a twist would come swinging low and heavy, walloping dimly-lit readers away off their chairs, as if that seemingly insignificant event of a package had taken on the vestigial importance of meaning in the Everyman’s vestigial life, which now seemed ever-more useless.

While they awaited riposte for their blatant harassments they would chop shrivelled chillies by the window, rubbing seeds between their fingers until it felt like blood had risen to the surface then, flicking the spiced ovules toward his window as part of their warrior’s ritual, they allowed themselves the small satisfaction of pinging sounds that made the subject imaginarily wince his puce face like one of the desiccated red peppers. They would do this for several hours, before returning to the archived document to add more made-up details. Occasionally, in frustration, they would let out low brick-wall screams in an attempt to goad the unreliable narrator into action. These always failed.

Despite these obvious setbacks, they had invented a florid series of anecdotes and shopping lists intercut with falsified diary excerpts involving chilli-licking (‘A Shot to the Lips’), bakery sprees (‘Breadmaker, Breadtaker, Breadmaker Man’), motivational speeches and their subsequent riots (‘Getting One’s Tit Out’), punch-ups in the office (‘Sit Down Now, and Cry’), as well as the speculative reasons as to why he had left his wife and spat on the cat (‘Prowess’). A number of such excerpts were folded neatly, placed in envelopes and cello-taped to his door.

Other times they would evenly contaminate their prospects of an amicable meeting by sliding spur-of-the-moment handwritten dribblings in the manner of:

“What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?’
or the oft-delivered and overt pleading of: “I just want to get to know you. Fancy a drink?” etc.
All of their forays were faced with stony silence.

These enquiries would lead to further confusion on both sides, occasionally even followed up with seemingly heartfelt condolences and late-night knocks on the door when hiccupping could be heard. Occasionally tumblers of water were left standing on the ‘Welcome’ mat.

These excerpts, on the most part, dealt with the man (misleadingly in the first person) detailing his frequent and destructive bouts of angular depression as viewed through the murk-stained lens of his unsuccessful relations with those around him, surrounding him, particularly an ongoing, rogue-like turf war with the local teenage moped/biker gang, ‘The Circles’.

One particularly salient excerpt read: that his body, in a state of spasmodic self-awareness, “wrenched” with “tonic and toxic vim” when faced with the unassuming faces of the clan, an incident which, incidentally, lead directly to his growing neighbourhood renown for outbursts of “scholarly spiritual vitriol” and “putrid denunciations” of the local chapters’ outwardly hedonistic life choices; incidents in which bottles and helmets were thrown, sharpened words exchanged, along with reams of balled-up newspaper refreshed by cartons of grape juice tossed anonymously from a third-floor window.

But they, his unwanted biographers, paid due to the fact that he, being constantly “at odds” with himself, had learnt the hard way, from his wife, the cat and now the midnight photographs, to “live and let live; ‘fuck the consequences’ (his quote)”. Because of this, the man could often be heard coughing.

They felt regret.

They felt anger, no, rage, at the hours spent looking at the Everyman, like taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph of a man taking a photograph, and so on.

This was before the letters began arriving in their mailbox, before the reel of photographs that would arrive daily, snippets of the biography they had written with added details on how they were written (‘The Turning Worm’). Indeed, the worm had turned and now it was looking back at them, talking in tongues.

The short-lived anger subsided, giving way to free running panic.

Trying to get out of the situation quickly, they wrote what they intended to be the final lines of this fifty-odd years in a haze of dizzy smoke, writing the gurbling of his infamous last words to themselves; a barely audible burr.

And the Unnameds are
survived
by their biographies,
of their biographies,
and 
their ghostwriters,
and the clothing,
 and
photographs
 that separate them.

 The Rest
are not
but nobody knows,
nobody asked.

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