It is the hour of the Moth.
I lie on my bed in the half darkness, the perpetual twilight of streetlight and candlelight, listening to night sounds.
The torpid air listlessly shifts the limbs of monstrous poplars and sycamores outside my window, their leaves throwing nightmare hand shadows across flaccid curtains.
The scream barks of dog fox cross the waste grounds where he fucks amidst the rubble of the torn down woolen mill.
A slurring teenager mutters to his mate how he is going to Properly Stab That Cunt Up One Day while their scuffed shoes graze loose gravel and glass, heading towards The Cutting, to glue bag dens and starlit mong-out zones.
Down the street, music. Four lads who house-share drink their way through boxes of cheap lager on the front step. Laughter and the crumpling of cans, the wafting of spliff.
And behind that there is the other noise, constant, the noise of giants, the distant vowels of unending traffic on unending roads, a song of tarmac and steel.
I lie on the damp greying sheets of my bed, naked, prostate, Gulliveresque, listening to night sounds, the sweat leeching from my body, drying, leeching once more until it forms an oily sheen on my skin, a wet patina of heat and booze. I am safe up here, a story up, doors locked below, a terraced tower, each home his castle, his island, his prison.
The window is open wide, curtains barely hiding the night. The stagnant air stirs, pulls the curtain outward, never in, taking air but not returning it, a sigh against the winding cloth.
I lie in a bed that smells of sex with strangers and unwashed bodies, 2am night sweats and vague random fear, of salt marsh, of gentle despair. I lie and watch candles gutter on the mantlepiece, strong flame, weak flame, stutters of black smoke, flickers, flares and goblin light thrown across the walls. The finest light, candlelight, warmer than the sun. You can never stare at the sun, but candle light draws the eye and holds it.
Cheap candles crammed into the necks of wine bottles on mantlepiece and bookshelf, on dust laden furniture that has seen better days. Tiny suns, pockets of warmth, illuminating the squalor, drawing the moths.
My mouth is gritty. Dry. A grey taste. I press my tongue against the roof of my mouth and it rasps. To my right, a glass of water. A pint glass pilfered from a pub. Old and forgotten, lipstick on the rim, tide marks revealing evaporation and a dust scum on the surface. Cloudy streamers in the water, strange bacteria breeding in it’s depths. On the outside of the glass something moves. A sputtering candle behind the glass illuminates it, transforms it into a bleak magic lantern, the water magnifying tiny mites that scuttle across the glass. I watch them, at once appalled yet incapable of mustering the will to do anything about them.
I lift a heavy arm, reach out, find a glass of red wine. The wine is always fine to drink. The water might kill me but the wine won’t, not yet.
I fumble for a cigarette. Another flame in the room and I inhale.
I exhale, and the moths come.
The first are small, flitting aimlessly, carpet moths with mottled wings that splay themselves on the walls and ceiling, feeling secure in their camouflage. A larger moth, grey brown and thick bodied hurtles into the room, hitting walls, fluttering blindly in the corners, hiding then fleeing, leaving dusty wing prints where it crashes.
More moths, large and small, gentle hover and sightless blunder, groping their way around my room, listening, tasting the dead air. The sound of their wings like brittle parchment crumbled between shaking fingers. I lay still, sweat glistening, cigarette limp between my lips, watching the butterfly ghosts dance.
I used to fear moths. They terrified me. The dust, like whirring, clockwork corpses.
Now I don’t care.
I don’t care about anything.
One of the small moths flits near a candle. It drops slightly, as if stunned, then flies upwards before plunging into the flame. The candle flares. There is a crackle and a curl of smoke, then it is over.
A larger moth, it’s body thick like a cigar stub, wings vibrating, lands on a candle. It climbs, legs sluggish in the warm wax, then heaves itself against the burning wick. It crackles, body burning and curling, greasy smoke rising and staining the wall. Then it is gone.
One after another moths plunge into the flames, wings turning to dust, hair to smoke, bodies to ash.
I want to stop them but I don’t. I drink wine, smoke another cigarette, stare dumbly on as the moths die.
It is over. Smoke hangs in the air where the moths flew. The music and laughter echoes up from street below and the trees sway, suddenly restless.
The curtains flap, stirring the moth smoke. A candle goes out, then another. There is a silent flash of light, halting the laughter of the party boys, then a rumble of thunder.
The breeze feels good against my skin. It stirs me and I wonder when this is happening – is it in the past or is it now? Through the tired fog of alcohol and immense fatigue I know it is years ago, but it could happen again, if I allow it. Alone, with the smoke and the moths, the mites on the glass, the dirt and the fear.
Lightning splitting the sky. A crack of thunder that is felt in the chest as much as it is heard. Curtains flailing, trees smashing into one another. The candles are all out now, their wax drips mixing with the sooty relics of dead moths.
Rain hits the filthy panes of glass. Huge drops, thrown, not fallen. I stagger to the window and blink at the orange glow around the streetlights, watch the lamp posts sway and the streaking blurred diagonals cut the light as the storm grows in strength. The party boys are gone, their can strewn yard deserted.
A squall throws rain into my face and I gasp, stagger from the window. I turn and stumble from the room, down the stairs and reach the back door. The lock is stiff, the door warped, but it opens and I fall into the night, into the rain, grit and dirt beneath my bare feet, rain whipping my naked skin, out into the weed strangled waste ground amongst broken walls and rusting metal of the abandoned mill and I suddenly remember that I am alive and I cannot die, not yet, that others I know will die before me, and I turn my mouth to the sky, to lightning and rain, and I taste the storm, drink the rain, dare God to strike me down, dig my fingers into the wet clay and smear it over my arms and chest and howl into the night with sudden joy, defiant and alone.
God does not strike me down.
God is busy smiting his flock, starving the believers, listening to the prayers of the contented, organising lottery wins.
I am alone and God cannot see me and I am invincible.
I hear a cough.
I look around and see Stan from down the street standing a few feet away.
Stan is wearing an old, weather stained rain coat tied at the waist with string and a tatty flat cap. Rain cascades from his shoulders. A sodden Jack Russell terrier trembles by his side.
He says, “How do, kid.”
I say, “How do, Stan.”
Stan always calls me kid. I don’t like it from anyone else but him.
He says, “Nice weather for ducks.”
I say, “Aye.”
Stan offers me a smoke and I take one. He lights it for me and I shield it from the rain with my cupped hand. We smoke our fags in silence for a while.
Then Stan says, “I see you’ve got your cock out in the rain again, kid.”
I say, “Aye.”
He says, “What was it this time? Moths again?”
I say, “Yeah. Moths.”
We smoke in silence.
I say, “What you doing out in this weather, Stan?”
He nods at the dog. “Barney needed a shit. I always take him out down here coz no-one goes on at me to pick up his turds on waste ground.” He nods at my chest. “Looks like you might have got one of his on you, there, kid. Sorry about that.”
I look down. I have accidentally smeared dog shit on my chest.
Stan says, “Look, kid. A few words of advice. There’s nowt wrong with standing naked in the rain, smeared in dog shit, screaming at God once in a while, but this is becoming a regular thing. You need to get your head sorted, yeah? Have a word wi’ yer sen. Get out a bit, cut down on the booze. Find a nice girl, yeah? Now, Why don’t you go in, have a shower and a pot of tea, an’ get yersen to bed. You got work in the morning.”
I say, “Good advice, Stan. Sorry for the fuss, like. And ta for the fag.”
He replies, “Don’t mention it to our lass. I’m not supposed to smoke anymore coz of me emphysema, but fuck it. We all need a bit o’ summat naughty in our lives, don’t we? Take care, kid.”
Stan disappears into the night.
I take a last draw of smoke from the cigarette and flick the stub into the rain.
I look up one last time.
God still cannot see me. He has forgotten me.
I don’t care though.
I don’t need God to watch over me.
I’ve got Stan.
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