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Hamish Low: Sycamore

Sycamore


Submission By Hamish Low

Through my closed eyelids I watch the capillaries dilate
the spiderwebs of dreams stretch and snap - this strange transition to waking

Before the caffeine fires up my frontal lobe. Before I stumble drunk on dreams out the door and into another day, cigarette-ash haze staining the mint blue sky.

At my letterbox, bills, requests to renew my gym membership from a gym in a city I've never been to, divorce papers from a desperate lawyer. A complimentary copy of a magazine about preserving animals. I once killed a deer, it was at night and one of my headlights had gone. I felt bad enough about killing it, mounting it's head on my wall I was the last thing I'd want to do. I've heard of identity theft, I guess this is something like the opposite. I've never received any bills for anything I haven't ordered, but it's strange, a glitch in the system so to speak, what some people, if they were interested in taxidermy or signals intelligence, might call good luck.

I restore old furniture. Sand the wood back to the grain, so its warm to the touch. Then stain or varnish to bring out the glow. At work I listen to old Hawaiian 45s on this ancient juke box a friend fixed up.....obscure German noise imprints, nature sounds, suicidal country artists. Everyday i get a newspaper, make a flask of coffee and if it’s sunny sit in the park with the few people that bother leaving their living modules. The old Chinese couple doing Qi Gung. A middle-aged woman walking and talking to her dogs. I pour myself some coffee and read the news.

Fact is truly stranger than fiction, it's a pity that most newspapers, like this one, qualify mostly as the latter. I read a story about some office worker who had altered a microwave oven into a kind of ray device to slowly cook a coworker’s brain.

Cans of dolphin meat in a Japanese supermarket.
Simultaneous military coups in 5 central Asian nations.

World history has gone awry, Politicians are struggling to find even greater simplifications with which to contain the truth. An outbreak of Ebola in Florida is traced to a US military germ lab, the arrest of a lab technician… I mean, what kind of psychometrics do they use to find someone who believes they're doing the world a favour by creating virulent new strains of disease?

And the bodies of the astronauts from the space station have been brought back down to earth. I was at the pub the other week and all it was on all the televisions. "The whole world is watching", the face kept saying that over and over, like a mantra. “Can we get to them in time?”....Reality television has twisted the meaning of the word…..and those long shots of the Russian guy, meditating to conserve air, in lotus position spinning slowly, eyes closed face serene. Through the window behind him, clouds in slow swirls, a typhoon over Taiwan, share prices trailing across the bottom of the screen….and the American woman, before she fell asleep whispering soft prayers for peace far above the earth. The first shuttle was grounded for "unforeseen circumstances" and the Chinese rocket due to bad weather. It would still be a few days before the Europeans could get there…so much junk floating out there now....

Sometimes I go out of town to find old tables, doors, pieces of timber worth salvaging from houses in the dead zone. Only a few elderly people live out there now, those who would rather die with dignity in their homes over those sterile pods in the cancer unit. A truck crash, waste from a nuclear power plant, "human error,..…a tragedy" said the new director almost dismissively. His predecessor had "done the right thing" and taken his early retirement and severance pay. You can get angry but where do you start? there are too many things to be angry about. And I don't like being angry, it affects my work.

I also don't like paint, at least when it's applied to furniture. It’s like using plastic surgery to save your soul. Paint hides the surface of the wood, which is the only thing that reminds us that this table was once a tree. The tree grew in a forest. You can touch it and picture the tree in the forest, birds building nests, little mouths blindly squealing, images stolen from nature documentaries somewhere in my brain. I can't recall if I've ever seen chicks in a nest with my own eyes, and for a brief moment, I want to leave everything, and become a nature photographer, take pictures to sow these seeds in other people's heads, and maybe they too will quit their jobs, buy a camera and head for the hills. I'm glad I'm not superstitious. I only have the normal phobias - nuclear holocaust, ecological collapse, a phobia of large cities, though I'm told even people in large cities suffer from that. I have enough, and I'm surprised at how little that is. I'm not in debt, which means that at least on paper that I have more than most. At the same time I'm no longer reckless, moderation in moderation, no credit card, watch or phone need none of these things when you're on your own. So much is held latent by this vacuous and senseless commercialism.

The function of our obsessions is to keep us grounded
too tired or afraid to leave our nests
We are blind and waiting to be fed.

I stop work at seven for a bite to eat, and sit outside on my old armchair. Across the road the taxis drivers stand around talking, lighting second cigarettes, their cars humming like refrigerators. People waiting for their train stare across the tracks to the houses past the platform beyond. The most beautiful sunset was breaking up the clouds overhead. Night bleeding into day in blues and pinks and purples, like a major artery had burst in the sky. The lightest rain was falling. White birds swimming through the coral clouds.

Later I drive home, crack open a bottle of home brew and watch the candlelight dance on the faces my twelve hundred statuettes of the Virgin Mary. I guess you'd call it an obsession. I mean, I'm not even Catholic. I'm not even anything. In the last census I ticked all the boxes, just to make sure. Once I had a dream that the Marys were crying, warm saline tears collecting in pools on the floor. I guess that's why I keep them.

They seem to understand.
I have a daughter somewhere and an ocean of regret,
she lives with her mother whose name I forget.

That night I dreamt I had moved out to the coast. I had bought a surfboard because all my life I've wanted to learn. And just that morning, an oil tanker had run aground, the sea a thick mat of oil, slow heavy waves sucking life from the shore. I broke down and cried. I vowed never to drive again, never to even set foot in a car again. To walk or cycle everywhere as long as my feet would carry me.

*************

©Hamish Low

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