I was tossing aside Shakespeare when he came over.
“How am I supposed to spend my time now?”
He spoke out of the side of his mouth in that way he had of being too close, all in your space and talking much louder than necessary. It was what got him barred from the library and what was drawing tuts our way at the 24-hour book sale.
“I don’t know.” It was three in the morning and I hadn’t thought I’d have to talk to anybody. The crowd was small but the tables were still avalanching books.
“You were with Peter last week at the café?”
I’d already seen him harassing an old woman by the cookery books.
“You’re the guy banned from the library?” I said.
“Peter said you’re a film-maker?”
Peter and I had talked about making a documentary of his story. We’d follow him around for a few days while he fought the restraining order from the public library. I had a boring office job with paid annual leave and a Super 8 video camera. I’d spent six hours in a bidding war for it against ILIKEBIGTITTIES92.
“Yeah, I suppose.”
Two book sale volunteers pushed through the swing doors battling stacked trolleys. I watched to see if they were coming for the literature section.
“He said you make documentaries?”
Once I made a film at a local talent show of a girl who had taught her chicken to twerk. When she got on the stage the chicken went crazy, pecked its way into the audience squawking and shitting on people while the girl stayed on stage and shook her ass to Beyoncé. One of the male judges gave her ten out of ten.
“It’s quite the story of injustice. I’ve witnesses who’d be more than willing to testify.”
Peter said we’d be taking advantage of him, said he wasn’t “all there.” I said documentary filmmakers were basically anthropologists. It wasn’t our job to question his state of mind, just film what we saw, as we saw it.
“This is Sandra, one of my witnesses.”
I had to look at Sandra for the longest time to understand what was going on. She wheeled towards me in an electric scooter. She was dripping in black clothes that seeped over the sides of the seat, each thing indistinguishable from the next. She’d some of those cat ear clips jammed on her head and the end of her nose and her cheeks were black with chalk.
“She’s boycotting the library as a sympathetic strike of sorts.”
“Well I’m not going as often as I used to,” Sandra said.
One of the volunteers tried to wrangle her trolley around Sandra, and failing, went the long way round skipping literature for the biography section.
“When were you last there?”
“Might’ve been yesterday,” she yawned.
“Sandra, you’re not supposed to go into the library at all, that’s what a strike is! I just had this same conversation with Amanda.”
He was getting all worked up, pushing his black framed large glasses up his skinny long nose. I glanced around for Amanda, expecting another woman in a cat costume.
“Get fucked,” Sandra said as she wheeled off with a toss of the head. I turned back to the books and started thinking about getting a kebab.
“Apologies, Sandra’s not in a great place at the moment.”
I looked over at her parked in front of the musicians, moshing to their folk music and thought she looked like she was in a pretty good place.
“We already have the skeleton of the story, now we have to fill in all the meat around the sandwiches.”
I was pure confused now. I’d spent the night drinking knock-off champagne as if I was celebrating, breaking my own rule about booze—nothing transparent. I was wobbly and silent for so long, he had to break the silence.
“Look, I just want to know if you’re interested in my story, if you’ll make a documentary out of it.”
One of the first films I ever made was a silent movie of my mother’s knickers strewn on the front lawn of our house, dropped there by our dopey Labrador who didn’t care about my mother’s desire to keep up appearances with the neighbours.
“Are you happy?” he asked me.
“Nobody is happy,” I parroted my mother.
“The library made me happy.”
“People, all in one place, close because they want to be.”
I had ended up at the book sale after leaving a party where my girlfriend had wrapped an arm around my waist and whispered close to my ear: “You’re being kind of loud.” She said I wasn’t “coming off intelligently.”
In her world only stupid people get excited about things, intelligent people master the art of joyless monotone emotional control.
“What?” I shouted at her, “I can’t hear what you’re saying!”
“You’re acting unreasonably.”
“Maybe I’m not a reasonable human being.”
I looked over at Sandra doing circles in her scooter to the jazz band that had started up. I passed him a book and told him to write his number in it, and said I’d call him about the documentary. Then I toppled back into the night with two books tucked into the waistband of my pants.
All this happened, this book-stealing documentary-making, because I was procrastinating, and this was my driving my girlfriend mental. The day after the book sale, she came over, all we need to talk, and that was the end of that. In fairness, we should’ve broken up long ago but she’s gorgeous, and fun, and this town is boring. I listened to Kate Nash’s song ‘Foundations’ a few times and then I felt grand.
[I did not feel grand]
My (ex) girlfriend went on about how I couldn’t get out of my own way. That was how a therapist had broken it off with a friend of mine, told my friend there was no more she could do for her because she was doing absolutely nothing for herself. When you go to my friend’s house it’s all flat-packed furniture in various stages of completion, and fancy chocolate bars.
On a whim I had entered a proposal for an exhibition slot at a local gallery space. DIY: Responding to Intimacy. My proposal was to trawl porn sites, screengrab (what I deemed) intimate moments from homemade lesbian porn, repeat, and lay them over each other, then respond to the images with poetry. On the opening night I would perform. The artist-run space was all, OMG AMAZING!!!! and I got a slot. I had eight months to prepare. The day my (ex) girlfriend broke up with me I had three weeks left.
I thought about the exhibition constantly, I read journal articles, learnt how to use video editing software, made, and re-made clips, wrote, and re-wrote poems. I carpeted the floor of my bedroom in stage directions. But if anyone asked, I deflected all of this care away. I’d shrug all the obsessive ways my mind controls me. Once I believe something is not perfect, and I know it will never be my best, then I find it almost impossible to return to the orientation point, almost impossible to re-enter the fray. Every day I try to be less like this. I told my (ex) girlfriend that I knew that my problem was not wanting to be controlled, but also not wanting to be alone, and that I was finding it difficult to reconcile my relationship with time.
[She exhaled loudly out her nose then, people hate when I go on about time being a social construct.]
Whenever she, or anyone, came over I tucked all my care away. I’d sit waiting for them to arrive in the temporary clinical order. I’ve always been very secretive about my process and that’s what puts me off collaborating. People always want you to be a team player. The only person I could work with was Peter. He was the one person allowed glimpses of my squirreled away mind.
[I’d been in love with someone else for years by the time my (ex) girlfriend broke up with me.]
I watched and re-watched the video clips and thought about how the shots I’d chosen didn’t really show intimacy at all but submission, how really the exhibition was about the exploration of butch bottoms. That was the beauty of a process-based practice I told myself, on the night I’d just say things had changed, perform that change for the audience. Explain myself in poetry, the kind of poetry that needs an audience.
I think for the hundredth time about the music. I hear again with submission. I re-arrange, re-order. I smoke a pipe out the window. I watch the Daria episode where Daria and Jane ask Jane’s brother Trent to compose the music for a school project, and Trent, in the end, just can’t do it. Sometimes it is inconceivable, the idea of other people’s involvement.
I have documented every step of my process and think this will form part of the exhibition. I think about piling my research papers in the space. Expose myself. Make of myself a non-fiction. Shout from the pages. Look at it so I don’t have to. Breathe it in, my want, my devoted care.
[I am ashamed of my all-consuming desire.]
I have pulled the hairs from my eyebrows, washed my hands red, and feel none the better for all the picking up and dropping. I want to be devoted. I want a strict practice. Peter walks in as I am slumped by the window on a cushion, watching the day dance in and out on the tide of the net curtain. I hear him put on the kettle.
Next week’s short story is “Extractions” by Karen Phillips.