Lala The Poet

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ― Anaïs Nin

Stories Stories

I heard on the wordy grapevine
From old mouths with lots of time
That experience is the mother of inspiration:
Perhaps a kiss, savagery, or cruel irritation.

Then why is it
That my artist falls through
When I am in cahoots with nothing,
No one, not even you?

My brain hauls itself toward slumber,
Thoughts bland until – ah! Eclipsed by thunder.
One… two… three…
Something has just come from outside of me:
The crystal drop of pure idea,
Elusive to the teeth of fear.

For now it escapes the conscious prude,
Who may flag it wet, ugly, or lewd.
None of that matters in this fragile hour;
I permit this raw seed to flower.

Emily, Emily,
What do you see?

I see birds burrowing deep into the Earth,
Unicorns gallivanting in the violent ocean;
I see cloud-stuffed skies giving birth,
Woodland imps mixing their potion.

Half way to sleep, let’s explore each absurdity,
I mean it – earnestly.
If nothing is found, then nothing is lost,
Another dead idea, another door sealed off.

Is this the child of experience? I think not.
My head tries to cool but my pillow is hot!

Though they afford me no award or title,
These pockets of honest thought are vital
So as not to stunt the growth of one’s mind,
Or to bury what such an excavation may find.

Bypassing that commotion of feeling,
A vision peels away from the ceiling
Into my skull and out of my mouth,
Pouring south
‘Til it reaches my pen
And the madness begins all over again.

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A Kitten’s Courage

Back home I have a kitten called Mo. She is the only thing I’ve ever loved, besides my family, and I still cry when I think of her. I miss other things too of course, like my bed tucked up safe against the wall, and the charcoal sketches I drew of my grandfather. Two days before we left, I did the best sketch I have ever done, and I bet it is gone now, I bet it is ash, along with everything else. No one ever told me what happened to our house but I do not think it is still standing there. If it is, then why did we need to leave? If it’s still there then I hate everything. If it is gone then at least this pain is for something.

I wanted to take Mo with me. I tried to hide her in my coat but Father saw and he struck me and she jumped out of my arms with the shock. “We don’t need another mouth to feed,” he said angrily. A second later he had taken my face in his hands and he was saying sorry. That scared me the most. I saw his eyes shine wet for the first time in my life. That was the moment I knew everything was going to be different. My Father apologising, crying, trying to scoop up Mo for me but she had always feared him and she ran off, the white tip of her tail disappearing behind the wall. I can see her now roaming the wreckage of my old house, mewing for me, wondering why I left her.

I feel guilty because all I think of is my stupid kitten. I’m seventeen you know, and I should be worrying about grown up things, like how we are going to stay clean, and how we are going to find the right food for my tiny brother Azzam. He is off milk now which makes things harder. He needs food, but not proper food yet. It’s sort of in between – mush. Where do you get mush from? Mama says Azzam is lucky because he is small. What does that mean? She keeps saying she wishes I had been born later, that I was eleven or twelve, she wishes that I was a proper child. Father says I am a child, but Mama seems very anxious about it, as if she knows a secret. She has got very thin since we arrived in this place. She does not look herself. “If anyone asks, tell them you are fourteen,” she keeps saying, “not thirteen, they will not believe you, but fourteen, they will believe that. Praise Allah you are not a tall girl!”

Everything is muddy here and I am always cold, but I am sort of excited. I am on an adventure. I am not even eighteen and yet I am travelling the world. They seem to like children here; there is food for Azzam and even special tents for him and Mama. She chooses to stay with us though in our shack that Father built with some of the other men from the camp. One of them kept looking at me. “I’m fourteen,” I said, even though he never asked. It made no difference to him anyway, he kept on staring. Father didn’t say anything though because he needed help with our shack and this man was quite a good builder actually.

There is dirt on my arm that will not wash off. It has made a little home in the soft warm skin of the crook of my elbow, a smudge. I wonder if it’ll be there from now on. I don’t try too hard to get it off because I think it is dirt from home.

Every other day or so, a group of strange people come here. Their faces look kind of raw: pink and smooth. And others are the opposite, grey or yellow, like they think the sun is bad and hide from it. They are nice people though, even if they look different to us. Father was suspicious of them until they gave us new shoes, and a fresh tarpaulin for our shack. It is very bright and blue. It reminded me of the sky at home and I started to cry again.

I feel sad that Mo thinks I abandoned her. I know she is only an animal but it makes me feel sick that she is out there alone. What if she catches fire, or gets crushed? What if she is stolen and made to hurt, just for fun? I tell Azzam fairy-tale stories about her; he might grow up thinking he had a sister once called Mo, and Father will beat me for telling lies. But they’re not lies, it’s just that his little brain doesn’t understand stories yet, he thinks they are real. They are not real. This camp is real. The dull freezing ache in my back is real. The dirt on my arm is real.

I had a nightmare last night. There were lots of men strapped up real tight in black clothes and they had clubs in their hands. They broke into our shack and were screaming at us. We were forced outside and it was total chaos, people running around everywhere. One of the strapped-up men pointed his club at me. Another grabbed my arm and pulled me into the centre; I felt pain in my dream, the feeling of his fingers gripping my arm. They started barking at me, a one-word question, “Age?” My throat sealed up and my tongue fell out of my mouth onto the floor. It crumbled into dust at my feet. “AGE AGE AGE?” they shouted.

“Fourteen!” I screamed, but no sound came out, I had no tongue! They all laughed at me and closed in around me… then I woke up, Praise Allah, I woke up but I was shaking and crying. I woke up Azzam with the noise and then everyone was crying. Mama pulled me into her arms and stroked my hair. “Yes,” she whispered, her mouth pressed to the top of my head, “fourteen, yes my sweet girl, fourteen.”

I wonder if Mo feels pain when I cry, I wonder if we are connected in some way and she can sense my thoughts from thousands of miles away. Why do I think these things? I am seventeen you know, I should be thinking of grown up things, like what I am going to say when that builder man comes looking for me; I need to practice some sharp words that will embarrass him and put him off me. I wish I had Mo with me, curled up in my coat; her little warm body would give me courage. But I have no one. My family are shells, their souls bled out long ago, whipped right out of them, lost on some foreign wind. But I refuse to be emptied. I shall think of Mo and be strong.

Hello, I am Aida and I’m fourteen years old.

mo

The Prince and the Bear

There is a person I met more than a month ago but until now I have resisted taking pen and scratching out my memory of him, even in my private journals.  I’ve been uncharacteristically hesitant because I have the depressing feeling I may never see him again, and that if I did, he would be cold – or worse, he would not know me.

I found him in the middle of the city in a crowded bar, the sodden air thick and trembling with body heat. It took so long for me to receive service that I wandered off just as a member of staff lifted their chin at me “who’s next?” and the space I had been occupying was swallowed by three other parched persons. I sighed, turned, and bumped into something firm and warm; it was a gentleman of impressive height, lean, and fair in a luminous way. He offered a polite half-smile, not particularly inviting. His eyes were a cold hard grey-blue, the kind you read about in books but seldom see.

“You’re like Prince Harry,” I said, “crossed with Michael Fassbender, you know, the actor.” He laughed and his whole face changed. His pallor was dashed in gold, and he seemed more natural, less ethereal.

“You really are very handsome,” I went on, quite matter-of-fact. The Prince looked at me properly for the first time, sufficiently surprised. His profile was serene, but dead on his face was disarming, much too good-looking.  “Why thank you very much,” he said. “But you can’t say that.” I frowned why. “I’m taken,” he replied, “and I do love my girlfriend quite a lot.” He sighed as if it were a terrible shame…

Alas! Reader, I have misled you. Despite my extravagant descriptions of this man, he is not the one I first mentioned, the one I really wish to tell you about it. He is a different creature entirely, an individual package of masculinity. While the willowy Prince was sharply handsome and mischievous in his charm, this other man was solid and earthy, with a sedate confidence that made me feel like I was being absorbed.

I spotted him across the floor, a bear amongst wolves. And he was bear-like – broad, and unhurried. His arms were uncovered and I observed his bronze skin pulled comfortably over his large frame, his light brown hair scorched blonde at the fringe (by the Moroccan sun, I was later told). His face was kind, and studded in metal – nose, lip, brow. His dance was seamless and unselfconscious, and it drew me to him. I proceeded subtly in his direction and wondered, not without irritation, why The Prince followed. He addressed the Bear before I did; they made an amusing contrast, pearl on rock, and I concluded that men value generosity of humour over class.

The Bear tried to engage me but I held up my hand. “Don’t,” I said, “I can’t hear you. Don’t waste it.” The music chewed on my nerves like the obnoxious shrieks of unruly children.

“Do you want to sit down?” I shouted. The Bear agreed in a heartbeat. I abandoned the Prince to the floor of gawking women, and lead the way to a sticky little table. I sat down and dragged a second chair as close to me as I could. The Bear took it but still he did not turn to me properly. He spoke, a lot, but his gaze was far away, out before him, never at me.

I let him talk. His words poured out between little jabs of his tongue as he licked a cigarette paper. “I’m guessing you don’t smoke,” he said, without asking. He looked over towards the door.

I shook my head, “But I can come out with you?” He grinned and we made our way outside. The evening fog had fallen in a thick gauze that veiled the city; I looked up at the furry balls of the streetlights with their stems hidden in the mist. It found my lashes and I blinked it away happily.

I perched on the outer sill, and the Bear found a gigantic flower pot to rest against. We talked. Our discussion was deep, with no forced direction. He had ideas that set my heart aflutter, and he cared about things that resonated with me.

The strangest thing of all though, is that our discourse out there in the fog was the thing that made me decide the Bear was different to the others, but Reader, I cannot recall what he said. I remember staring at him, wanting him never to stop. His tone was that of a half-thought, as if he were talking to himself as much as to me, and it gave him a very real air of sincerity. I don’t believe he was trying to impress me, and that impressed me.

He wanted to know what I thought; he wanted to share with me. I told him about my faith and values. He was respectfully curious. “I have this thing in here,” he said, thumping his chest, “that says to me ‘this is right, this is wrong’. Is that God? I mean… I just don’t know.” He shrugged and started rolling another cigarette.

“Are you ok?” I asked quietly. I didn’t want to shatter anything.

“I’m just going to sit here,” he said, leaning back against the flowers, “and look at your lovely legs.” He drew a long toke and took stock of my figure. I watched him intently, letting his gaze hold me a moment. He never touched me, not once. There was no flirting (a first on my part) and no coercion.

He looked up into my face. Finally! “Fancy me finding someone like you here,” he said. “It’s not often I’m in the company of such calibre.” I remember laughing then, my unattractive guffaw, forgetting to be lady-like. Maybe the silver velvet of my skirt emitted a superior vibe, maybe my garbled vocabulary produced the illusion of intelligence. He smiled at me and I didn’t look away.

Suddenly the street was full. It was 2am and the venues were purging the partiers. I spotted the Prince making his way to me, a Frodo-esque accomplice in tow. “Food?”

I invited the Bear to join us and we set off in search of something fried. We stumbled down the steep narrow streets, the Prince and Frodo up ahead, and I wondered with a savage hope if the Bear and I looked a couple. He overtook me by a few steps and I saw him hold his hand out behind him – was it for me to take? Courage escaped me and I ignored his inviting palm. I’m not sure why… I thought, he couldn’t mean that, surely! Maybe he was just flexing a stiff hand, it could not have been for me… He let it drop and said nothing. He would have thought I had not seen…

Later, when we were left waiting for the others, the Bear and I huddled up against a cold metal railing. It began to rain through the fog and I caught a shiver. Suddenly brave, I shuffled across and leant right into his giant warm frame. He pulled me in with a huge arm – and rubbed my back in great gentle circles, round and round, slowly heating me up. A squeal of delight escaped from between my clamped teeth; I felt like a kitten, something pretty, something small. I am a big person, with strong opinions and long legs, but he made me feel delicate and valuable. I still think of that even now, when I am cold, when I tower over my friends, when I feel too long.

I returned home and for days after, I could not eat. I was too full of the Bear, too anxious with my thoughts and memory of him. It was not right. I tried to fill in the gaps of a man I did not know. He didn’t think of me, of that much I was sure. A woman knows these things. My wants were selfish; he inspired me and I wanted him for myself. He challenged me and encouraged me.

“My dad’s a vicar,” he said, “but I… I’m not sure what I think. Would you like another apple juice?” I looked into his eyes, brown like mine. His pupils were enormous. My delight splintered as his intoxication dawned on me. He told me drugs were an aid, a kind of tool. He was too open, too colourful. Did he value my sobriety, my infatuation with the Higher? He chewed on his lip piercing, gazing, not blinking. The moth-wings of unease trembled against my skin for just a shadow of a second.

“Yes,” I replied, “thank you, an apple juice would be lovely.”

beart

Communion at St John’s

I’d only known her an hour or two but it was instinct that took her hand as we rounded the corner into the churchyard. I was nervous. Bethan laughed and squeezed my hand in return, but we were soon parted; the narrow path permitted single file only. It was barely a foot wide, a concrete strip embedded in the mossy ground, making a way for us through the neat rows of headstones, right up to the church front.

My group and I, perhaps ten of us, hesitated a moment.

“Why is the door shut?” I whispered. My breath billowed white in the freezing air.

Nobody answered. One of the lads stepped forward and gave it a confident push. The oak heaved and split open. A damp cloud of heat hit me in the face, familiar, the portable kind provided by ancient town halls with thick walls and no pipes.

Pooling into the building, we declared our presence with the clattering of boots. The cold was stolen from our lungs, eyes streaming a little in the sudden warmth. I huddled into the group, head down, before courage came to me.

I looked up. The church was absolutely stunning. I gazed mouth agape at the gorgeous ceiling, noting the sweet sting of thirteenth century must and old hymn books. One was offered to me by a lady standing ready by the door. “Here you are, dears.” She smiled at us one by one, and my anxiety began to thaw.

Little navy books in hand, we filed into the pews and quietly took our seats. Usually a boisterous bunch, we made an effort that morning to keep tongues bitten and giggles stifled. I savoured the tranquillity and looked about with polite curiosity. Our group filled up nearly half the space; across the aisle, the weekly congregation consisted of no more than six people. None were under fifty.

We rose to sing the first hymn, and I bowed my head, intentionally serene, trying my best to fit in for once. But someone had other ideas. Before the first stanza was out, I felt the presence of God descend on the whole building in a great opaque curtain, wrapping us up in golden folds that shimmered with every note.

“Oh God,” I whispered in my heart, “why here, why now?” I was terrified of bursting into tears and offending somebody. My lips trembled as I tried to stop the tears, but they came anyway. I stood there with sodden cheeks, trying to sing, trying with all my might not to let out a sob. I felt God smiling at me, teaching me, letting me in on a few of His beautiful secrets.

I stole a glance at the six regulars and my heart opened to see. I had an overwhelming sense of how much they loved The Lord; their devotion ran deep and true, and He honoured it with His presence. Everything I had ever heard about old village churches being rigid and hollow was blitzed from my mind. These people were gracious in their duty, joyous in their rituals, gentle in their worship.

The time came to take Holy Communion. My heart thundered in my throat. I knew how we did it at my church, but things here were very different. I resigned to watch and copy. I waited until one of my peers stepped out, and I followed her to the altar. The vicar stood in the centre while an elderly couple tended to the bread and wine. We knelt on a line of cushions that ran parallel with the altar rail, upon which we rested our cupped hands, palms up ready to receive.

The Holy Spirit was at my ear. “I know it’s different,” He said, “but it’s alright.” I decided to trust him.

The elderly lady pressed a dry white disc into my hand and whispered something with her head bowed. I put the sacramental bread in my mouth and chewed it slowly. (I found out later that you’re supposed to let it dissolve on your tongue.) It tasted horrible but I didn’t mind; I tried to think of Christ’s body, broken for me, and my eyes smarted anew with fresh tears.

My spirit stirred as I saw God literally bursting out of everything, erupting hot and alive from the altar, the stone floor, the heavy cloths laid all around. I ran my hand along the wooden rail and felt Him there.

Next, the elderly gentleman came along with the sacramental wine. He put the silver goblet to my mouth and tipped it up gently for me to drink. It was such a tender thing, servant-hearted and dutiful. I looked up into his old eyes as I drank, and something twinkled, two people recognising each other.
           We live inside the same God, I thought, we are in the same family.
He smiled at me kindly and blessed me with more whispers.

Nobody shouted here, nobody cried out – though I sensed no oppression, only a sweet-tempered reverence. I dabbed the tears from my cheeks and made my way to the back of the church for a hot drink. Could their coffee be as good as their worship? I reached the table to find delicate white cups upturned on saucers, and devotees handing out macaroons on gilded china plates – that’s a yes then!

church-broadwindsor

St John’s Church, Broadwindsor, England

Just Add Water

My Father in Heaven,

If only the painter’s brush would colour you true,
But in his ignorance he has selected too drab a hue.
The people look upon his work of art
And mutter: surely that dull thing could not have a heart?

You are talked of, presumptions are made,
Intellectuals neuter your Word and grow cold in its shade.
They fashion for themselves theological membranes,
Folding You into the walls of their small soft brains.

The enemy lends sweet advice to the scholars:
Make comfy the people, and omit all horrors.
God’s Word is not literal; it’s too graphic, too gory!
It is your great duty to rewrite it as allegory.

The young shoot up straight and haughty from the ground,
The recycled trash of humanity’s reason the only sound.
From their mouths comes not fresh thought, but vomit,
And all the while Hell stacks up its profit.

The darkness swells and perversions blossom,
All rotting beneath my feet like the rank floor of autumn.
Surely the gouging of eyes cannot conceal its reek?
Is this blind stench of a life what they truly seek?

Set a hunger growling in their barest being, deep inside
So they cannot but eat of Christ, give thanks and say, I have died.
A new creature is born,
An infant spirit in an old form,
Eyes full of light, with nothing to hide.

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It is not our Lord God

It is not our Lord God who makes hard of life,
But men, with withered hearts and bitter strife.
Eternity’s secret plays naked in the mountains,
Its voice flows with the rush of the fountains;

It says –
Salvation is a gift, not a prize.
It cannot be earned; now, all rise
In the presence of Heaven’s murdered lamb,
Son of the great I Am.

Am I Ashamed?

A rational creature, let down by this major blip in reason, such tragedy! One day she will awake, and be ashamed.  

Am I ashamed of the winter trees drunk on the mist of the moor, waving their spindly twig fingers at me from across the glass lake; am I ashamed of the pink evening, stars already high, the early moon impatient for the night; am I ashamed of the pure breeze, of the rogue poppies in the vegetable patch or the bold robin on the sill who watches me from the corner of his shiny beady eye; am I embarrassed of nature? No!

Am I ashamed of the way my soul bleeds from my eyes, thick and hot and glistening like lava twisting in knots beneath the ocean; am I ashamed of my swan neck that holds up a brain encased in bone, bursting with a trillion thoughts; am I ashamed of the way my elephantine heart beats day and night to the rhythm of delicious things unseen, to hope and wonder; am I embarrassed of my own form? No!

Do I shy away from other people, do I run from these creatures emblazoned with colour and dreams and points of view; do I gouge out their enormous eyes because I cannot bear their loveliness, am I squeamish of their warm cheeks against mine, their sweet words in my ear; am I embarrassed of my kin? No!

Do I throw virtue to the wind and set about constructing a macabre little world without relationship, a shell of horrors? Am I ashamed of intimacy? No!

I cringe not if a person touches their nose to a rose, so why would I cast my gaze to the ground if they point to the sky and say, “Emily, tell me of its creator.”

I tell you, I do not!

People ask me sticky questions and set snares for my feet; they beg me to blush, to swallow my faith as fantasy; they would have me doubt and stutter. But what I have cannot be taken. What I know cannot be shaken. See my cheeks, pale and bold – no blood to betray me, no rosy shame.

Lord God, dressmaker and supreme scientist, who painted my soul and fashioned my skin, who sprinkled the void with galaxies and moons, my Father, I love you.

Lord Jesus, the Living Word, the lamb slain for me, who spoke the world into being, who kissed my eyes brown and smiled when I was born, who pulled me from the darkness and washed me tenderly in his own innocent blood, my soulmate and redeemer, I love you.

Holy Spirit, great Comforter, presence like honey, touch like silk, who never wanders from me, who calms my fevered woes in the lonely night, my best friend, I love you.

How could I ever be ashamed?

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Gorgeous, What Are You?

What are you?

Your cheekbones cut me and I bleed. I laugh, and I wonder, what are you? You are a human being amongst other human beings, jostled about in an ocean of greedy flesh, everything a mess, everything a bore. You are like an angel invisible, a beautiful thing overlooked. But as the veil slipped, it was I who saw you.

Never have I met a person with a soul so close to their skin. I can see it pulsing beneath, I can hear your heartbeat through your clothes. My love, you are barely sewn shut. You bulge under my fingertips, I must be gentle with you lest you burst.

You are of the world, dead to the light, but for all this chaos, I can taste your innocence. Your eyes are huge, you look at me as if I am a new creature; if I gaze too long I will fall inside and become trapped in this terrible ecstasy. But what I tell you is not young; it is only that others do not understand. No one has held your spirit close as I do now, it has never occurred to them that you could be full of such riches.

Do you believe what I say? Come here and let me look down your throat – what lies have you been feasting on, my love? You have been made to feel as a puddle on the crust of this earth but in truth you are deeper than the deepest ocean. Your mind is not soft as you believe it to be, you are not slow, you are not a clone of your brothers, you are not empty. Throw off these things!

Take my hand, and I shall show you who made you. Oh, what sweet mercies you have yet to sample. Don’t take my word for it, look up, up, there you go. Such unabashed passionate love your Creator bears for you! Do you feel it? So warm, so strong. I kiss you and I am not ashamed. Your tongue is a delicacy inside my mouth, your lips tenderness in true form. Do you trust me? Come, let me show you all that I know.

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Christ In My Eyes

I know it’s late, but I have to tell you this.

I met Jesus.

He was not a vision, not a dream, but actually before me. There were thousands of us in that place but all at once it was just him and I. He held out his hands, palms up, and I took them in mine. Without dropping my gaze, I very gently drove my thumbs into his wounds. My vision was quickly drowned as I began to cry. I felt my insides trembling, pebbles in a gale, but my body did not shake. I was entranced.

Somehow, as if by mere thought, I drew closer to him and rested my damp face against his neck. Reader, let me assure you, Jesus is not a stone god: he is so soft and warm, just like any other man, a real human being. I felt his pulse against my mouth; the melody of his heart beat past my lips, notes that thumped and spoke to me.

I drew back and studied him. I looked upon his beauty but I did not die! He was ablaze with glory, his face a map of compassion. His love is not sickly or pathetic in its devotion as some may believe. His love is boundless, scorching, supreme. It is absolutely devastating. He held me in his gaze, and he knew everything. My pretenses and sticky shadows were familiar to him, as were the good deeds done in secret, and the tiny individual vibration of every cell that makes up my body. I reached out and touched his throat. I withdrew my hand and frowned at my crimson fingers. I rubbed my thumb against my fingertips and began to wonder…

He spoke.
My blood is your blood.

I froze. Your blood is my blood? … My eyes fell shut in understanding, and I wept. Your blood is my blood, your sacrifice is my salvation. And then I was in his arms. His body against mine was solid, flesh and bone, a real person! My skin swelled in the heat of his fire. Oh Lord, you ate death for me! You are a real creature with a heart that beats, who can feel pain and joy.

In that moment I conceived that Christ is not just an idea, or an old prophet on a throne – he is a man, he is God, and he is my closest friend.

jesus

“A Rainbow of Sorrows” – A Short Story.

He did not ring me often. When he did, it was because alcohol had numbed his skull, or because a fevered idea had possessed him that he needed to share. I loved him in a way that I find difficult to describe. It was akin to a sibling amore in the sense that no war that raged between us could ever mutilate our bond. But there was passion too: a curious attraction that twinkled in its shyness.  

The night he called me was cool and starless. I know this because I was outside in the garden. Wrapped in an old shawl, I was sat on the bench just outside the front door, trying to write a poem that had been haunting me all week. The golden light from the open door illuminated my notepad just enough so I could see. 

When the phone rang, I jumped. It was 1am; silence had been my only companion for hours. I almost didn’t answer it. The moody poet within resented any sort of interruption, especially at this time of night. I sighed and walked into the house, feeling instantly stifled by the close air inside. When I saw his name on the screen, my heart trembled in my throat.  

“Hello?”

There was a static pause. “Emily? Oh thank God it’s you.”

“Of course it’s me,” I said, and tried to laugh, but it never made it out.

Sobbing. He was sobbing. He never cried. I gripped the phone hard to my ear. 

“Emily,” he choked, “I think I’m in trouble.” It was bizarre to hear tears inside his deep voice. It was like soggy chocolate, dark and ruined. 

“It’s alright,” I said, without even knowing if it was. “It’s alright, come on now, tell me what’s happened.” 

I heard him take a long, shaky breath. “Nothing’s happened,” he said slowly. He sniffed. “I just… I mean, I think I need to talk to someone. Not anyone. You. But I’m so scared. Oh, Em, I’m so scared. You will hate me. Oh God, you are going to hate me.” 

For some reason I sat down. “I could never hate you.” I wasn’t sure if it was a lie.

“You will.” Another pause. Then I heard a stange sound. Tic-tic-tic.  

“Where are you?” I asked. My voice was like stone. “Tell me where you are.” 

“I’m at home,” he replied, the little sobs disfiguring his words.

“I’m coming over,” I said. Without giving him a chance to reply, I hung up the phone, grabbed my keys, and ran out of the house. I didn’t even turn off the lights or shut the door behind me. I flew down the garden path, clutching my shawl tight about my shoulders against the unknown.

II

I burst into his house, my heart pounding. I shouted his name, I shrieked his name. I felt utterly mad with panic. I strained my ears against the pressing quiet. The place was dark, the only lights tiny green pinpricks from the tv. Suddenly I saw him. He was just stood in the corner, watching me. He wore the shadows like a coat. 

“Stay there,” he said. Something slithered down my spine. His voice was no longer soggy; it was bleak and hollow, like old bones. 

“Stop hiding,” I snapped, shocked at my own boldness. “Stop hiding and face me.”

“I can’t, Em.”

“Then I shall come to you.” I took a step forward. He didn’t move, so I took another, and another, until I was two feet away. We stood face to face in the darkness. He stroked my cheek softly with the back of his hand. He was trembling. 

“I’ve been hiding,” he whispered, almost to himself. “I am evil itself.”

I switched on the lamp, bathing us in a cheap yellow glow. I offered him a weak smile; he looked awful. He dropped his head in shame. I lead him to the sofa and we sat down side by side.

“Tell me everything,” I said, holding his hands in mine.

I let him collect himself for a moment. Then he let out a mad little laugh, more of a bark. “It’s funny,” he said, “because you’re the one I need to tell, but you’re the one I’m most afraid of.”

That hurt me, but I did not show it. I squeezed his hand. “Go on.” 

“I went to church tonight,” he said, “St Michael’s, you know, on the corner.” I nodded. “They have evening mass on Mondays, so I thought I’d give it a go, see what they were about. It was alright I guess, and afterwards I got talking to one of the guys that had spoken up front. We talked for hours; everything inside of me just came out and I couldn’t stop. I told him everything. A complete stranger! I’ve never felt more exposed, but it felt good, you know? And then… and then something I had been hiding for so long – for so long – sort of… slipped out.” 

He stopped. He pulled his hands out of mine and crossed his arms. I watched him shrink into himself. After a moment he looked up at me, right into me. “Emily,” he said, “I’m gay.”

I blinked.

“OK.” That was what I said. OK.
And then it sunk in. Bile rose in my throat. I felt sick. Not because of what he had told me, but because he had kept it from me for so long. He had been afraid of what I would say, of how I would react! He forfeited truth for torture.  

He stood up. “I thought the man at church would understand, I thought he would be kind. But you should have seen his face, Em. It was like I’d told him I’d raped someone or something. It was pure repulsion. He spat at me. He fucking spat in my face!” He paced about the room, angry now. “He told me to leave, to never come back. He said I was evil, the devil’s creation, a perversion.”

I was still sat on the sofa, dazed. “Oh God, help me,” I whimpered. I hid my face in my hands, the lovely coward.

“See,” he said, “not even you can look at me.” His words cut me like knives. 

“No,” I began. I stood up. “No, you don’t understand –”

“I disgust you! You can’t stand me! You and your perfect God can’t stand me!” He pushed past me and stormed into the bathroom. I heard more of those tic-tic-tics, and then it dawned on me. I sprinted after him. He was sat on the floor, an empty bottle of pills in his hand. The floor tiles were a rainbow of colour: blue, pink, yellow. “I spilt them,” he said numbly, like a child.

I collapsed next to him and took his face in my hands. “I love you,” I said, every single word a perfect truth. “I love you so much you complete and utter fool.” He shook his head between my palms but he did not look away. The tears poured from my eyes, the damn burst. “Please, never keep anything like that from me ever again, do you understand me?”

I gripped him angrily, my heart a beast inside of me. In that moment I felt hatred like never before. I hated religion, I hated the establishment, I hated the lack of love and grace, I hated the ignorance, I hated the un-Godliness of it all. I cried out in anger. And then exhaustion took me. I fell limp. He pulled me close to him and held me tight.

“Thank you,” he said into my hair, “thank you, thank you God.”

III

I was staring into a pair of dead eyes. They were pressed deep into a face sunken and grey, cheekbones sharp, mouth slack. Multicoloured beads were scattered all around the bathroom floor. It was him, it was my friend. My heart broke and escaped out of me; I tried to catch it mid-air, but it slipped through my clawed fingers and into nothingness. I bawled like a starving baby, everything crashing down around me. I pounded the floor with my fists, blood everywhere, pills everywhere, death everywhere. 

And then I woke up.

I was back on the sofa, my neck stiff from sleeping at a funny angle. How long had I been out? I scrambled to my feet and called out his name in the dark. No answer. My brain swelled with the horror that comes with knowing. I made the short journey to the bathroom and slowly pushed open the door. He was slumped against the bath, his head resting on his chest. The dead eyes. The rainbow floor. Somebody tweaked the lens of my life, and everything was thrown into clarity. I knew exactly what to do.

I went to him and laid my hands on his broken body. I closed my eyes and appealed to the Lord. In that room that stank of death, the Spirit came to us. I burst into flames. I prayed like never before, my tongue adopting the language of angels. I didn’t know what I was saying, but I knew that Christ Jesus was interceding for me, perfecting every syllable. I felt His breath on my skin, His hand on my shoulder. 

And then I heard the most beautiful sound – a cough. My boy coughed. He lifted his head and gazed about him, his eyes lost for a moment. He wiped his mouth with a trembling hand. I fell backwards in shock.

“You’re alive! Oh my God, you’re alive!” I laughed and laughed, and then I laughed some more. “Oh thank you Jesus, oh my sweet Lord you truly are good!”

He looked at me. For a second he couldn’t speak. He looked absolutely wonderful. He grinned. “I saw Him,” he said. “I saw Him, Em… I saw God!” For a good five minutes we howled with laughter, overcome with an ecstasy not of this world. We laughed until we cried, until we could laugh no more. 

In the small hours, exhausted and trembling, we crawled into the empty bath and fell asleep together. 

No one ever believed us.

Written last August, 2013.