IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST -- Short story

IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST -- Short story

A Story by RJM Corbet

 

Unexpected kindness -- after learning the very hard lesson that when you’re down you get pushed down further by those who can help you at no cost to themselves.

 

Thunder in the sky at five in the morning.

 

We're lying on a mattress on the floor in a garage. Maggi is breathing quietly beside me. Anywhere we are, becomes home. We share kitchens and bathrooms, we live out of bags, we are always just days away from having to move on, never knowing where next we’ll make our bed.

 

It’s starting to rain. We are secure tonight in our garage.

                                 

                                     +

 

2am, Ibis came with cigarettes.

 

Dreams of running. The hotel verandah. That band -- the grotesque creatures who went up and mimed next to them. The guitar had strings on the back too. It was Dave’s guitar.

 

Then the house on the sea: the lovely aquamarine sea. Chris came, and Dave -- other people -- from the dead -- telling me things. The sea started to smash the windows. The beautiful aquamarine sea would take the house, leaving only an iron skeleton, but we were not going to be inside it.

 

I've shaken out and remade the bed --second glass of coffee --got smokes, airtime for the phone, wired the gate shut, made friends with the dog.

 

Peace at last.

                                          +

 

Terrible waiting -- for one rescue, then another. They never come.

 

Swift: all promises. They come to nothing. Eventually Chris phoned. I put him in touch with Ibis. Filo came, with meth and cigarettes.

 

We sleep a lot -- for a whole week -- day and night.

 

We send out messages, many, but never one response. Maggi has been down today. Electricity off, no coffee. The craving for nicotine is worse than for meth. We eventually got some paracetamol from Abu and it seems to have helped. We are going to get some cash from Chantal, God bless her. There is a message from Josie: ‘Do love you, Dad.’

 

Magg’s leg is a worry. We can’t go on this way.

 

We have slept and lain down on this single mattress on this cement floor in this garden toolshed that is a third taken up by a geyser, with a board on the window and a leaky outside toilet. Eppy’s promise hurt. Mike’s too.

 

Of course: Swift, Tern, Jet.

 

It is 1am.

 

It's hard to see Maggi hurting for her girls. I know anger is better than sadness, and I know its wrong to lie to someone you love, because that only makes her doubt herself. She ‘just knows’. Now the meth is making me sexual. That's all it does really, these days. Is it worth so much? Will Swift come through? Doubtful.

 

Four years like this, now. I pray unceasingly: for us, for our place, our shop, our girls, our self respect.

 

Maggs painted the walls last night.

 

I went to sleep at 6am. Just woke: got coffee, bread, cigarettes. Woke feeling refreshed, even hopeful, to suspicious accusing looks: If I’m smiling, I must be doing something wrong.

 

Doesn’t she see what it does to me? Or do I create that? Do I expect that? So that’s what I get? I only want her to be at peace with herself as she is. And same for me, of course.

 

Dream: someone offered California Sunshine, I was waiting for meth. I was going to take the acid, just never got round to it. There was no meth, but I just ended up having something to do all the time, and then when I was ready for the sunshine, the person wasn’t around anymore.

 

Then we were going to go somewhere, but the girl who was going to drive was too stoned and she drove off the road into the mud, so I said: "I’ll drive."

 

I had to drive this lorry out of trouble, over collapsing roads and bridges, through mud and obstacles, and I ended up not using any meth. And then I was taking a note to someone; I waited for the person and when she came she was an old lady. I had to help her into bed because she was not well, she was exhausted. When she was settled, I said I had a note for her.

 

I had to search through the bedding because the note had got mixed up somewhere in the bedclothes. I found it and gave it to her, but when she opened it, it was just a request for a charity donation, so she told me to give it to her secretary, who had just arrived, and then I woke up.

                        

                                +     

 

Maggs is unhappy now, silent, making me feel as if I’ve done something wrong. So I close off --as always.

 

Just when I start to relax into myself, find some hope and happiness inside, and my face relaxes into maybe the beginnings of a smile, of a contented look, just to be here and now, to feel my own life force in my own body -- then the accusing attitude: what am I laughing at? What’s so funny?

 

So I separate myself from it, like oil from water; how can the two spirits ever mix? Maybe opposites attract? Is that all that brings them together in the first place? I do love her, but her attitude towards me prevents her from getting the response from me that she wants to get. I want that to happen -- as much, or more, than she does -- but maybe it’s me.

 

Maybe I do create it.

 

No money. Nowhere to go. No work materials. No energy.

 

It’s cold again this morning. Our bodies are in withdrawal, stiff and slow. We have no food, no tea, coffee, sugar, no cigarettes.

                            

                             +

 

Vultures and crows and bats circle black sky against a storm wracked mountain. Can there ever be hope in that direction? What fool look there for deliverance? There is nothing there but screech of birds and scream of wind.

                                    +

 

Back in the saddle: the oxygen came through.

 

It took eleven days, this time -- the incredible difficulty of crossing the gap back into the active sphere -- people’s reluctance to allow even a phone call, and the broken agreements. Never, never take a person at their word when you are down.

 

My darling Maggs. She is so good and sweet and true to me.

 

She is asleep. Heater going. Rain on the roof.

 

I'm alone with my thoughts at four in the morning.

 

                                      +

 

Everything has failed. Maggi says that the adhan, the call to prayer sung from the minarette of the mosque, frightens her. She says it makes her feel like she's in alien, enemy territory. They are all Muslim people with Islamic names: Abu, Achmat, Hussein. The mosque is close; we hear the adhan five times a day.

 

A garden shed has become our home and workshop -- much of it taken up by a huge, inefficient geyser. I’ve made a hanging table under the geyser, and stepped up rough boards above it, to store stuff.

 

My workbench looks back at me, where I lie writing on this mattress on the floor. The oxygen cylinder is empty, useless. A plastic coke bottle, cut-off, makes a vase for flowers hanging from the wall -- Maggi’s idea -- lovely flowers, red and yellow.

 

An hour ago we had no bread. I got credit from the corner café: bread, milk, a coke and a toilet roll.

 

We have nothing but each other.

 

But tonight we have much; we have cigarettes, we have bread, we have a toilet roll. Our noses stream with hay fever. We have a coke, peanut butter. We have coffee, sugar, milk. We have a tin of vegetable curry and a tin of fruit salad. Our one-bar heater is on. We are rich tonight.

 

Nothing? No, we have everything.

 

Benediction, golden light, within the belly of the beast.

                        +

 

Just to find the energy to get up and shower.

 

How we lay for a month in Sea Point.

 

That final night in Lakeside: we had to be out, nowhere to go. Then Mike and Justin arrived, and I phoned Jet, and he said: "Don’t let me down this time."

 

The first night in that oily garage.

 

No water. Everything covered in oil. But we did it. We cleaned it up and lived for seven weeks in that garage, and left at the end with nothing, to come here, to this tool shed.

 

Now, a month later, here we are again with nothing: no work materials, no energy. Just fifty bucks would get me working again. But whether fifty or five hundred, its as far as the moon from us today.

 

Sly Abu trying to charge us 200 bucks a week, plus electricity. for a garden shed.

 

That it’s habitable now is no credit to him. I play his own game: agree, and just don’t pay him. Swift? I just don’t understand. One day, two days, three -- then he rejected my calls. We trusted him, had no reason not to.

 

I hope there is a special hell for him.

 

And Abu too, won’t lift a finger. Achmat, his brother, is different: straightforward, rough, a yes or no man. Abu is convolutive, serpentine, smooth, smiling -- with a silver 40mm magnum pistol in his pocket.

 

Even Swift is dangerous. All I want is for him to call and tell me what’s going on.

 

Anyway, I've had a shower now, after two hits from Mookie’s pipe, which at least enables us to move around. Without it we just want to lie down and sleep. Sleep. Like Maggi says: each week is a chapter.

                                      +

 

Brilliant incandescence of tungsten filament lightbulb. When I close my eyes I see the after image, a horse-shoe shape, crimson red on a green background.

 

Achmat says he is going to try and get us a bottle of oxygen tonight. It is the most abundant element in the universe, the essential of all life, the essential of our lives. Just that cylinder of oxygen is all it takes for us to rise from rags to glory, and everyone who snubs us now, wants to be our friend. A week without it is like dying.

 

Sundown prayers emanate from the mosque.

 

Traffic grinds on the highway with a noise like the sea.

 

We wait.

                                      +

 

The wind is slaps and bangs -- a sailor’s wind. I feel so defeated. I need to work. Again a ridiculously small amount stands in my way, and not one person on the whole damn planet will lend it to me -- for twelve hours, at fifty per cent interest -- and the days go by.

 

And f**k Swift. I’d see him dancing in the wind with a stick up his arse, the c**t. I’d like to say he doesn’t matter enough to think about, but he does. His effect over our two lives -- our one life together -- has become so pivotal.

 

Still, I’m just getting back what I did to Raz; what goes around comes around, I suppose, and my tooth hurts.

 

A motorcycle revs past on the highway, like an angry wasp.

 

Wind rattles the tin roof. We lie inside here, drinking black coffee, no sugar, no milk. The heater glows orange at the foot of our bed. My tooth aches.

 

A dog yaps.

 

The wind sucks and rattles. A car whines past like a mosquito. The wind whooshes and whistles. My stomach gurgles. The wind pesters and flaps -- is suddenly still.

 

Water drips somewhere from a pipe.

 

The terrible craving from this afternoon has passed. Golden light comes in the little window. We lie together, sick in withdrawal. But I feel over the loop now. What lies ahead? We must escape, but only God knows how. Tomorrow, and tomorrow. But I do love this woman. Gold fades to pale blue. We lie here in this little room.

 

Withdrawal third day: just lying here -- no energy, no money.

 

Last night: the two brothers Abu and Achmat arguing, and that car revving round and round, and my tooth pounding out pain -- like some kind of hell.

 

Today is quiet. Just empty. Nothing. No back or forward. No up or down. Just flat, empty nothingness.

 

Mookie comes around, and we get a tiny quarter in exchange for the pencil torch. Three days and nights flat on my back are gone like nothing.

 

The meth runs through my bloodstream and I sit up. The stiffness in my back disappears. The depression goes. My confidence returns.

                                   +

 

I have just felt the presence of my mother so strongly.

 

She was a presence of light.

 

I hope Josie knows how much I really love her: golden hair, and golden heart.

 

Last night I lay with a knot in my mind and when I closed my eyes, my mind went to the knot, trying to tie or untie it. I have so much fear -- of the future. Small things that normally should work out, go wrong. We do what we can, but it always falls short. We spend so much time waiting, dependent on others. We are strangers, in a strange land. We are not badly treated, but never really accepted. We are of a different colour and different faith, with different standards and from a different culture, and we are not really welcome here, though it’s a novelty on both sides, for a while.

 

Toothache comes in waves. Maggi is making coloured paper gift bags. Tonight was a beautiful red sunset. We realized we can see the sea from here -- from this joyless, unlovely place.

 

The tin roof rattles in the wind.

 

Alone in this room, this is our world, our place. We have no airtime, no work, no meth, no bread -- a few cigarettes left. All we have is the hope of a visitor -- and our spiritual contact with our loved ones.

 

And each other.

                                    +

 

Everything is grey.

 

It is swelteringly hot. Flies tickle and torment, allowing no rest from the constant cursing and swearing and the noise of cars and trucks. My eyes blur and my brain works slowly, moving thoughts around like heavy barges on dark, turgid water.

 

Is this hell? Broken promises and lost trust -- alienation, resentment, sadness, and suffering innocence? What is hell?

 

Where are the angels?

 

Where are the voices of redemption? Faith, hope and charity? The rays of benediction? The holy mother, blue and gold? The lovely Star of the Sea? But I will light a candle now, and in the circle of its light, believe in good and honesty tonight. Amen.

 

                                 +

 

Last night, those strange dreams: trying to understand the book I was reading, then meeting the woman who wrote it; the night boat trip and the man in the house by the sea, and then her showing me the place, like a block of rooms, and it was a place of a sort of sado-masochism, then she said: "So now you can count yourself lucky that you understand."

 

Later the Swiss town. The flat roof. The paddocks, with the electric fencing, and finally the dogs.

 

This recovery, this renaissance, is becoming a nightmare. Stuck in the oxygen hole again.

 

                                    +

 

Cold night, just Maggs and me.

 

Wind eerie through the washing line.

 

Alone against the machine.

 

Dave not here.

 

Waiting.

 

No -- just going on, trying to progress. William, Ian, Duthie, Andre: opponents.

 

Maggi is crying. I don’t know why exactly, but it is a very mournful time. We are very alone, very cold. Alienation. We are rejected. They do not listen to what we say. We are scorned, we are enemy, they are the righteous. They loathe us. The dawn is coming.

 

Andre will be here: angry, violent. William: stubborn, impenetrable. Duthie -- cold, wicked eyes behind glasses. Ian, the serpent. Dave -- the slayer.

 

We wait.

 

We are here, we do not hide.

 

The wind whoops and whistles. I write by yellow light of a torch. My tooth aches. I am dirty, need a shower. My hands are sore. The wind sucks and blusters; the washing line makes that ghostly whoooing sound. Cars rush past on the main road. We are here; we are still here.

 

Alone.

 

Together.

 

Here on the moon.

 

                                   +

 

I waited for the sound of you at the gate, as one train after another rumbled by, until I knew the last train had passed.

 

I waited, but I knew.

 

I lay on the bed and covered myself, but I knew.

 

I could not sleep because to wake in the night, and you still not home, would be more than I could bear. The waiting was more than I could bear. It was going to kill me. Tonight was going to kill me. My heart would not bear the stress of knowing something had happened to you; you were not home, you had not called. You would know my anguish. You would have called if you could -- as first priority -- something was very wrong.

 

Too much stress. Too much.

 

Then you phoned.

 

Safe!

 

Empty, but safe.

 

Come home darling. Get here soon.

 

God help her, please.

                               

                           +

 

They’re pressure-washing the roof.

 

I’ve covered everything against the spray of mud. No energy. Maggi still not back. Andre around, watching the pressure washing. When I saw myself yesterday in the mirror I got an unpleasant surprise. We're coming to the end of the food Chris gave us. I'm watching Molensky, the cat, who is afraid of the pressure washing -- the way his skin flickers when a fly lands on him.

 

The cats are very hungry. Tobacco gone. We haven’t had bread since Friday. Bread has become a luxury to us.

 

There is a yellow City Council lifter-type electricity repair lorry directly outside my door.

 

The pressure washer stops, then starts again: gurrrt-DRUUR-schwssst-gurrr, while the lorry engine thumps: fudafudafuda. Muddy water sloshes in through a join in the corrugated roof sheeting onto the bed where I am writing, and splashes all over the page. I’m writing now under the black plastic tarpaulin I took off Dave’s car. The compressor starts again: hmmm-HRAAAR -- then stops.

 

Silence.

 

The electricity lorry leaves. Voices recede. I stick my head out from under the tarpaulin.

 

Its getting cold now. I'm writing in pencil by candlelight on back of used copy paper.

 

I have been shot by a poisoned dart.

 

I was shot by Chief Magistrate Cornelius of Simon’s Town magistrate’s court. Nothing seems to matter anymore, as the poison spreads through my psyche.

 

The things I loved -- does anything still exist?

                  +

 

                I’m going to fall off this chair unless I lie down.

 

                It happened in less than 10 seconds: Maggi has gone.

 

                We only had each other.

 

                Now we don’t.

 

I will cry no more tears after today. I will be a warrior. I will be hard as stone, against evil. I will shine like the sun. I will not be turned to black ash by the death’s head smile. Evil will not burn me. I will not be black ash. I will be white hot. I will be a mirror.

 

Look at me.

 

What do you see? You see yourself. The hole you dig for me is the hole you will yourself lie in. I pray to the Almighty for justice, for heart to bear the pain: her pain, my own pain. Rescue me. Hold me back. I don’t want to fall into the black hole. I want to see the blue sky.

 

Save her. I can’t help her.

 

Justice reveal the truth, God I pray.

 

Give her love, to take away her fear.

 

Give me light to be alone. I will not stoop, broken. I will stand in light. I will stand in truth -- alone, if God so wills. I will not fear for her, or worry about her. God will protect her. I will go forward and upward, not downward and backward. The devil will not take me down. The devil will not make me ash, in my grave.

 

You, who dug the hole for me -- you will fill the hole. You, who see me liar -- you see yourself reflected.

 

What will I do? She is gone. Where is she? I will have to learn not to even want to know. Or even care. Or even think. How long will that take?

 

"I didn’t leave you. I love you. I just can’t deal with crystal meth."

 

Leigh just keeps walking in, no sound, just there she is, standing right by me. It’s her house, I suppose. Will I ever find a place where I can lock the door and be respected? Even for a month or two?

 

Night of tears.

 

I am weak. I know this road of sorrow. I have travelled it before. The familiar pain of need. Do I just accept? No choice in the end.

                                    +

 

There are the adrenaline effects, and the fatigue effects.

 

After a while you can’t be bothered with dates or even days because it isn’t important enough to channel mental energy into working it out. Speed does not give you energy. It takes energy from another place. It shifts the energy balance.

 

What it gives the body, it takes from the soul. Digestion takes energy. So speed takes away your appetite. The increased sex energy is also an adrenaline effect. The urge to reproduction of the species is almost as strong as the will to live: fight for your f**k.

 

Hot early evening.

 

As the sun goes down into the sea I drink cool, clear water-- a wonderful drink. Flies pester, pester. Outside the window a lemon tree, and bougainvillea, purple. Chris was here earlier, calling Warren a puerto thief, with the police, looking for his motorbike which he says Warren sold to Shrike two years ago, but the bike wasn’t here. Warren is a thief.

 

The sleep deprivation hallucinations are starting: the awareness of someone standing watching me; I look up, there's no one there. Toothache. 4am: fourth night without sleep -- gas heater going at the foot of the bed.

 

No food for two days.

 

It’s like trying to ride the tiger, beard the lion and shoot the rapids in a frail canoe while doing complex trigonometric equations in your head -- difficult.

                               +

 

I have slept for two days and a night, and now the evening comes again.

 

My brain is fuzzy, I am weak.

 

I have failed. I sleep, and wait.

 

It doesn’t feel like a lack of anything. It’s not a craving, or even a want; it’s just a deadness and a tiredness -- yesterday, those helicopters thumping all day long, and the toothache.

 

Today is just -- nothing.

 

No feeling.

 

I just want to close my eyes. I’m detached from what goes on inside me and around me. I don’t care. I just have to lie here until … what?

 

I don’t know.

 

There is no purpose, no destination, no gain, no choice. Night becomes light, and morning becomes afternoon, and then light becomes dark again -- day after day.

 

And I’m just here on the bed. I have no wish to do anything. I wish to feel better, but I don’t hope to. I just endure. I shake off a blanket if I get hot, pull one on if I get cold. I’m not sick, but I’m not well. I’m not really awake, but not really asleep either. I’m not feeling good, but I’m not feeling bad. Just -- nothing.

 

Nothing.

 

The slightest thing irritates me.

 

Lodi.

 

Purgatory.

 

No man’s land.

 

It’s like being in a hollow tube. I just want to be able to lie here, with my arms over my eyes. You can’t bet after the race has started, and you have to pay the bookmaker even if you lose.

 

I see pictures in the smoke: death’s heads, a hammer, wild beasts, contorted faces, twisted with pain. I do not trust my thoughts. It is probably easier to sell a man a lie he wants to believe, than a truth he does not want to believe. You can’t move water with a sieve.

 

What a fool I am.

 

There were islands in the sky tonight; it was a huge and magnificent sky.

 

Later the moon painted a shining road across the sea.

 

The moon has gone down now. Is it already nearly dawn? Still, there is only one -- the one we forget and forget -- the One that we are.

 

The worst time is the sunset, the green time.

 

The sun sinks into the sea. I have tears. I have lost all the good that was. As God gave her to me, so God has taken her away. I have lost everything. I am a fool.

 

It's very cold. My hands are numb, sore -- waiting, still waiting.

 

There's just a deadness now. The anger is still there. The grief is still there. The hope is still there. But the acceptance has grown.

 

I have to stop writing now ...

 

                                    /ends 

 

 

 

© 2011 RJM Corbet


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Featured Review

It's difficult to review this as normal, better to let the story wash over ones self, then stand back and see what sticks.

At first, I wanted to discuss the repetition, but that became a feature of the work, almost a mantra. I would consider streamlining the third paragraph: You basically say the same thing 3-4 times.

Anywhere we are, becomes home. We lock the door and our room is the same, wherever we are. We share kitchens and bathrooms, we live out of bags, we are always just days away from having to move on, never knowing where next we’ll make our bed.

I would consider dropping the first two sentences altogether. The third makes your point best, without any edification from the other two. Other than that, going through like an editor is pointless, as it would take weeks to fully grasp the intent and style.

Your writing style submerges the reader into the drug-addled haze of the narrator, an itinerate worker, although I never quite figure out what he does or what is real. He seems to take odd jobs, yet the garage is his workshop. What do they make there?

Maggi's leaving takes him from a depressing hand-to-mouth to a despairing numbness, and finally acceptance ... perhaps even death.

You paint a brilliant atmosphere here through bit-piece narration, like a journal, and you stay deep within his viewpoint, leaving the reader to interpret everything. Maybe too much, as I felt a little glazed over after too much of it. Perhaps that is what you intended. I was too tired after reading it to review right away, so I had to stew on it for a few days.

Do I like it? It's not something I would normally read, but I admire the style. It's like Pulp Fiction, in a way. You don't like what is happening at any moment, but you are blown away by it at the end.

Posted 9 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

It's difficult to review this as normal, better to let the story wash over ones self, then stand back and see what sticks.

At first, I wanted to discuss the repetition, but that became a feature of the work, almost a mantra. I would consider streamlining the third paragraph: You basically say the same thing 3-4 times.

Anywhere we are, becomes home. We lock the door and our room is the same, wherever we are. We share kitchens and bathrooms, we live out of bags, we are always just days away from having to move on, never knowing where next we’ll make our bed.

I would consider dropping the first two sentences altogether. The third makes your point best, without any edification from the other two. Other than that, going through like an editor is pointless, as it would take weeks to fully grasp the intent and style.

Your writing style submerges the reader into the drug-addled haze of the narrator, an itinerate worker, although I never quite figure out what he does or what is real. He seems to take odd jobs, yet the garage is his workshop. What do they make there?

Maggi's leaving takes him from a depressing hand-to-mouth to a despairing numbness, and finally acceptance ... perhaps even death.

You paint a brilliant atmosphere here through bit-piece narration, like a journal, and you stay deep within his viewpoint, leaving the reader to interpret everything. Maybe too much, as I felt a little glazed over after too much of it. Perhaps that is what you intended. I was too tired after reading it to review right away, so I had to stew on it for a few days.

Do I like it? It's not something I would normally read, but I admire the style. It's like Pulp Fiction, in a way. You don't like what is happening at any moment, but you are blown away by it at the end.

Posted 9 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on April 12, 2011
Last Updated on May 5, 2011

Author

RJM Corbet
RJM Corbet

Plymouth, Devon, United Kingdom



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