By Adam Husain
I talk my heart out to Feargus and he listens with a grave expression written on his features. ‘I know these problems aren’t “serious,”’ I say, ‘and I probably shouldn’t talk about them at all,’ I say, by way of kicking off my speeches. ‘Matter of fact, please put me down if I ever make any serious comment about anything –’ at this, Feargus nods sagaciously ‘– but – but I kind of want to talk? And to take them – I mean, my problems – seriously?’
Feargus always has that same response – and he doesn’t have to say anything for it to be communicated. ‘Please don’t.’
‘And if I don’t,’ I continue, ‘I feel it’s not an exaggeration to say I might literally explode – I mean, literally.’ Then the wind comes and shakes his ginger hair (which harmonises with the landscape mysteriously), then the green comes and shimmers the willow trees and everything beckons, opening.
Feargus once intimated something of great wisdom (this was on one of our walks).
Something like, ‘Talking about problems is often like scratching eczema – it only makes it worse.’ Which is of particular relevance because I also have terrible eczema behind my knees, so that when I peel back my high socks in the evening sometimes cuts open like eyes on them, with the pus around the cuts having a mustard taste.
‘Uhuh, uhuh,' I always, totally agree. ‘But what about Mrs. Green? Do you think she was serious the other day, when she said I should do less work? Because in my family, ‘working less’ is only really mentioned, like, as a joke. The other day, Dad said the phrase ‘work-life balance’ was invented ‘by scroungers for scroungers, and -‘
Feargus is always trying to offer me cigarettes. Only once have I accepted them. He lit it up then passed it to me, shielding the wind from the burning cherry.
His face said: ‘Put it in your mouth, then try to breathe.’
But breathing is unnatural to me. I have never tried to breathe (except in Miss Dobson’s drama breathing exercises, and that damn near gave me hyperventilation). It was hard to talk, think even, when you are trying to breathe.
‘Now exhale –‘ I exhaled ‘– then repeat.’
After a few more breaths, that famed cigarette high came stealing over me, and everything went pillowcase soft and grey. I loved it. I breathed and breathed, more now, knowing that as I held the smoke in my lungs their round ravioli were disintegrating (Biology).
‘Hang on,’ said Feargus. ‘No, stop! Stop! You’re not taking anything in.’
‘What?’ I thought, but by then I had already fainted.
When the tide is up, we walk along the cliffs; when it is low we walk the shore beneath them. Big birds – albatrosses and gulls – hang in the sky, matching their white against its white like so many colour-swatches, while the blueish-grey beach merges with the North Sea. Amid the mud of the shore, which is rich and deep, we (once) saw a half-submerged thing. It was mud-covered too, bluish-gray, even the strange antennae, the whisker things sticking out from it were all bluish-gray, twisting and grizzly. What was it? An enormous crustacean, maybe, crawling slowly towards the sea? Or an art installation piece (mixed-medium) from the Arts School Sixth Form? (They were always doing stuff like this to ‘explore’ the pollution in the rural environment etc. etc.) I got one of those big muddy sticks covered in seaweed, while Feargus went ‘leave it, leave it.’
‘And you know what’s really unbelievable?’ I asked, digging round the silt, trying to find the edges of the thing.
‘What’s really unbelievable is that I don’t even try to talk. I mean, I don’t practice what I say before I say it. I just come out with this stuff, which is normally just my inside-thoughts and sometimes not even. When I’m actually in the zone sometimes it’s like they don’t even belong to me. But are attached to me. You know?’
‘And the space between what’s me and isn’t me… what is that? A dream? Like the dead skin collecting in the hollow of my ankles. talking is like taking a 50 or 20p, and sloughing that off which isn’t me but was me, and has attached itself to me. I do it but… it’s very unsatisfactory.’
I whacked at an antenna or whisker – it was a bad move. Instead of staying still the thing flicked back – forward, spraying some mud in a rough horizontal line across Feargus, like an severed artery.
‘I told you!’ His face screamed and he strode off. (But if Feargus hated mud so much why did he come to the beach?) He would keep going now until he reached the soft border, between shore and brambled sea.
‘Feargus! Feargus!’ I called and at the same time prodding and poking the thing, trying to find a name for it slap-dashedly calling ‘Feargus!’ and looking up, watching his silhouette get smaller and smaller as he came into the portion of the beach that was still wet with retreating sea, a thin film of it, turning ground into mud-ground that was pale and shining quickly, lighter than the dry blue sea-sand before it, the wet sky, sea. He really really belonged there, I thought.
(1) Tossing up a hand to smooth down his red hair and
(2) Doing it in a huff, very “seriously” on ground that was
(2a) nature-electric (oil/water) that was
(2b) shining (like a dragonfly’s wing).
Sometimes it felt hard and sometimes soft. At moments, I could have sworn I heard it sighing, this thing, (wheezing out gasses, probably). It certainly smelt like fuck. Then in a particular place the stick went in – as if into a blow-hole – and came up with something stuck in it, around it I mean, still (somehow) covered in this bluish-gray mud.
Feargus reached the curving limit. He stood still against the sea. Once he told me the world would look better if it was in ‘black and white only,’ and maybe that was why he liked to look so much at the sea, which was mainly one colour (blue), as if someone had gotten bored of the collage they were making and filled in the background with one piece. ‘A philosopher,’ that was Feargus.
‘Don’t get any closer with that fucking stick,’ is what he was saying to me.
By the way (and this is relevant) another wise thing Feargus once said to me was that a big problem of mine lies precisely in ‘saying not what, but more than I’m thinking.’ That’s really true, isn’t it? By now, you sort of know me, don’t you? You know that sometimes I can talk and talk without actually thinking the words, and thinking instead a warm nothing within me (like sometimes I’ll sleep in the squashed gap between mattress and wall, pulling the duvet to make a little tent over me). But I’ve got to have someone listening to what I’m not-thinking for me to think that crushed nothing in me that is me. I’ve tried it on my own in my room sometimes, and at best it only sort of works – and only then if I imagine someone is on the other side of the door, or beneath the window, listening to me. (A fat man, lying on his back beneath my window in a grey suit, listening to me.)
As I washed away the mud by dangling it into the freezing sea (like it was Achilles (Classics)), the true form and colours came up, bit by bit. The thing was covered with white fungus. It was the shape of the earth. When the waves came over, all the fungus stems were lifted, and when the water retreated, they were pulled in the other way, aesthetically. Little by little, more dirt was washed out from the earth-fungus, coming out and dispersing in a mustard cloud, first in the direction of the wave then back, in another cloud when that wave retreated, out towards open sea. Feargus took out his penknife (big blade) and edged forwards (myself thinking ‘white noise’ over and over again, perfunctorily).
‘Make sure you hold it fucking steady,’ Feargus looked at me, then slit it open. And half of the thing fell right away (plop!) into the sea.
‘It was an apple; those are the seeds.’ Let me tell you I might have exploded right then and there, literally, just from looking at those pitch black eyes of seeds – all in that white, of fermented apple gupe. I took them out, then threw the stick as far as I could into the sea, which is one colour (blue) when you look at it and no colour when you look at it more closely.
‘I’m going to put them under a jar, or maybe into my back garden,’ (though I didn’t have a back garden), ‘to see them grow into an apple tree. If it’s a different tree, a peach or plum tree, then they won’t be apple seeds. Dad is a scientist, though he doesn’t believe in the validity of my experimentations. Your ‘so-called experiments’ is what he calls them, as if there’s nothing ‘experimental’ about them at all, when I do things like leaving out full glasses of water for weeks and weeks to see whatever stuff is in there turn visible, grey or white normally, sometimes green – I mean, is that weird? It’s never seemed weird to me…’
Feargus had turned away, smoking; we were back on one of our walks. I slipped the seeds into my blazer pocket, completely normally.
When I came back, I filled up an egg-box with soil and put that egg-box with the evil seeds on my window. Sometimes weird thoughts would come into my head just looking at it (the egg box I mean) like ‘cod liver oil is cod liver oil river.’ It was next to a big jar I had put out there some years ago, after taking it back from a family holiday to a Welsh beach (where I had used it to collect snails). The pot had stuck to the windowsill and slowly clouded over, so they were translucent and mysterious (the snail corpses, I mean). The egg box was next to that jar, in a weird harmony or symmetry, or so it seemed to me and sometimes, falling into a half-trance, I’d have thoughts like ‘ooga ooga ooga ooga' while I was looking. I wondered whether someone, if anyone, was listening to me. Would they would note that thought down, that ‘ooga ooga ooga ooga?’ Or would they would dismiss it as irrelevant nonsense? Nothing happened. I looked – nothing happened to me. (Fun fact: ‘grue’ is French for crane – the bird, that is – and also French for whore.) Sometimes it happens like that; you look – nothing. So that night I returned to the fragile mud-ground of the freezing beach and I slopped in the real mud, black now and lit by moonlight, the right kind of stuff (you know it when you feel it) while gulls cried above and the waves fell, pointlessly.
Art by Abigail Hodges