Fiction: Hauntology

By John Higgins

‘Tis better to be miserable than to be alone.” 
―L., Sonnet #14.
The Circuit: a stretch of street. The parameters invisible to all but the well-attuned. Cars slice through mist, oblivious to the truth obscured; in good conscience, they cross a dark ocean connecting neon-lit islands.
But slow down, as our car does now, and press your face to the window, as our passenger does now. See the figures emerge from the night. Glimpse their faces lit by cigarettes. Streetlights splutter and give out a hazy orange light, but the young men never become truly corporeal.  
The passenger asks the driver to slow down, which the driver knows means pull in. As the indicator gives epileptic flashes, and as the young men come out of the mist, we see fine contours merging with dark clothing.
The suited passenger looks through the rain-smeared window. White headlights project twin crescents into the Circuit, put halos above the men’s heads, bleach their skin, make them appear otherworldly. Delicate seraphs straining to be free of their fleshy cages. 
The car pulls flush with the kerb. The passenger rolls down the window just enough to stretch his hand out into the night. He beckons one of the young men closer, his fingers dripping rain.
“What’re you doing tonight?” the passenger asks.
I Went to the Lighthouse Again
By Yukio Mishima
Perhaps it was the country’s images freely reeling through his brain, or the 3 a.m. chainsmoking, conducive only to anxiety and sleeplessness, the perfect conditions for philosophical thought, but Goda had developed a theory of sorts: a person is born into this world facing innumerable gates; in his mind, they were wooden though sturdy, waist-height though unclimbable. As you grow, you begin passing thr0ugh gates, and as you do so, incompatible gates begin to seal shut forever. Afraid of stalling, driven forward by the inability to return, heeding warnings against inertia, you pass through your last gate, and finally stand alone, all other entrances and exits closed off from you. Here you are, out standing in your chosen field. 
Goda tried to quell his restless mind by reading. The house he and Machiko had moved into was an old farmhouse. They had room only for essentials when packing, which meant Goda’s books were sitting on some bookshelf in what was now someone else’s city apartment, his bedroom library traded for a series of dusty children’s books and a single copy of The Collected Stories of Edgar Allan Poe. One story in particular he read with the desperation of a drowning man gasping for air. 
Goda sat at the table by the window, the room lit by a small lamp giving off dusty light. A single cigarette burned out in the ashtray. The book was open on the table, and Goda hunched over it, but not reading yet, merely flicking his eyes over the words. The title, in bold lettering, read The Light-House.
Unable to focus, Goda looked towards the painted image of Law. Every home in the country had one, pride of place. Even Machiko, usually common-sense about such things, had not wanted to risk the bad omens removing this picture after 50 unmolested years may incur. 
If he were to move up close, the picture would show signs of age. Tiny cracks zigzagging across the painted veneer; the wood splintered in places, warping from half-a-century of fire-heat. Yet from where Goda was sitting the painting looked brand-new, hyperrealistic. 
The painting itself seemed to have no setting: a flash of light for a backdrop, the muted purple of dying chrysanthemums. Law took centre-stage. He stood with two miniature figures in either hand: though from this distance they were mere blobs, Goda knew if he got closer― if he pressed his nose to the paint and smelled that must, those chemicals, the treated wood― their features would remain indistinct. Formless matter: to Law, all others are faceless entities, mere vessels through which Law worked.
He glanced away for a moment, and found in the window his own pale reflection, semi-dark, no real thing and yet, perhaps, happier in its world of forms. This was the face Machiko loved, Machiko who was simultaneously unwitting chain around the ankle of Goda’s desire and also his ticket to normality.
For man scorns abnormality, instead raising ignoble homogeneity to an unattainable height, a height man can only jump and grab at like a child. Goda lifted the cigarette from the glass ashtray. Dead ash drifted over the table. Not even the weakest spark, no way of coaxing life back into it. 
Law was spectacular, unafraid of his own superiority, his own difference. Icicle eyes stared far off into the distance. His body, stripped to the waist, was a map of muscle, of blemish-free skin. Goda patted his stomach. He rubbed and felt the bumps of fat, the slimy lines of stretchmarks. His hand moved lower, sneaking into the space beneath the waistband of his trousers. Law shimmered on the canvas, dusty lamplight cutting him in four, as Goda began to bring life to his penis, rolling it patiently around in his hand. 
A sound from above. Footsteps. The familiar path: from the bedroom to the bathroom. The piss-pause. The flush of the toilet splashing and clanking through the walls. 
Back to the bedroom, of course. Yet Goda still pulled his hands out of his pants, his face flushed with the shame and panic of a man found out. 
Goda looked down at The Light-House. A peculiarly short piece, its brevity explained by a footnote: this story was left unfinished. Goda, with Law on the dusty canvas and his wife upstairs, asleep in her inimitable, open-mouthed way, one hand thrown behind her head, was also an unfinished story. 
As regularly as I can keep this journalI will― but there is no telling what may happen to a man all alone as I am.’ These were not quite the opening words of the story, but they were so searing that it was almost impossible to imagine anything could come before it. It brought to mind the suicide of a wandering samurai in a feudal courtyard, or a solitary kamikaze pilot plummeting towards a lurching battleship, or the awakened Juliet, finding herself alone in the crypt with only her dead lover and his dagger. To be alone, in a crypt or in the forests or in the glassy cockpit of a cherry blossom, is surely to be miserable. 
It is strange that I have never observed, until this moment, how dreary a sound that word has― “alone.”’ Goda mouthed it, vowelsounds ghostly, an elongated suggesting a moan into the unlistening, uncaring void.
And yet did he, Goda, not desire Law, whose very premise was his unflinching apathy? To love and be unloved, to crave and be ignored, was both a torture and, as Poe would have it, ‘a species of ecstasy that I find it impossible to describe.’
Goda listened out for the sound of Machiko. Hearing nothing, he began to masturbate again. His penis took less persuasion this time, the act cut adrift easily regained. He became hard at the mere movement of his waistband. Law glistened, his alabaster skin seeming to undulate with power, his outstretched and ultimately mortal arms straining to fetter his seraphic otherworldliness. 
Law’s blonde hair blew in an invisible wind. The portrait was so lifelike, Law so well-defined, that Goda could imagine gripping the thick arms of Law, or hugging tight his broad, muscled thighs. 
Dawn was breaking. Far away over the fields. That forensic light transformed Goda’s pure love into lascivious subtext. Soon, Machiko would be awake. A pot of water would be set to boil. The portrait of Law would become just that: a portrait, stripped of all beauty.
Goda, desperately, as though grappling with a lifebuoy, brought himself to climax in rapid strokes, his fingers curled in rigor mortis, the glans peering over his foreskin. 
He felt the grey offering spread slowly over the front of his pants. A stain? He could explain it away: he had spilled coffee. Goda faced the verdict of the morning, watching it rise higher and higher, swallowing away the night. The day-to-day would soon begin: the farmers’ markets, work in the bank, dinner set out by Machiko, smalltalk with the closest neighbours.  
He averted his eyes from Law, who pressed heavily on the side of his face, a lipless kiss devoid of love.
Goda lit another cigarette. The fresh taste was sickly, and burned his chest. Yet they were available and they were normal, so who could criticise him for smoking one cigarette too many? 
He listened to the bed-creak above. The cigarette between his fingers lost lustre, becoming a pale imitation of itself, as Goda read the rest of the story, ignoring the icy eyes that had, somehow, fixed upon him. 
Her bare footsteps down the stairs, soft far-away solethuds turning to gulag stomps. Goda read the last words: ‘The basis on which the structure rests seems to me to be chalk.’
Excerpt from ‘Twilight of the Gods: A Comprehensive History of the Death of Celebrity,’ Marko M. Marić, Eidolon e-Books, Zagreb, 2―.
Chapter Forty-Six:
Pollice Verso
As a result of audience participation― ‘a communal egalitarianism designed to serve capital, (with) the individual limited only by their access to a phone or the Internet’ (Why Johnny Can Consent, Aloysius-Finsbury, 2―)― the entire structure of celebrity began to collapse. It had been a symbiotic process of self-promotion existing solely between the media and the ‘star’: the media needed the star, the star needed the media. Co-existence was needed before either entity could exist. 
The ouroboros first showed signs of rupturing at the advent of ‘phone-in’ voting, the audience― for the first time― allowed to participate in the birth of stars that had previously been the private domain of the press. This innocuous business model, seen originally as akin to offering a child the choice of various greens, actually spelled the first imperceptible shift in the paradigm, a return to the days of Ancient Romans deciding the fate of gladiators by a show of hands. The chain was broken, and a new element was added. This would change the face of celebrity-relations forever and ultimately lead to the death of that idolatrous quagmire once known as ‘worship’.
Elizabeth Aloysius-Finsbury illustrates this in her seminal work on audience consent with a diagram of a triangle: this triangle represents the new mode of media-engagement that came to prominence through the 21st century, with the media presenting the stars who answer to the audience who raise or wrap their thumbs around their fist in response to what the star offers, both professional and personally, back to the media, who present the stars, and so on, ad infinitum
Paradoxically, this led to what became known in the mid-21st century as the Golden Age of Adoration as celebrities, under surveillance at all times, began to work for good: volunteering at soup kitchens, hugging fans, signing autographs in restaurants, posing for photographs, turning up in-character to hospices and hospitals, and so on. Of course, they were under immense pressure to ensure their ‘good’ acts would always outweigh any ‘bad acts’ that may transpire in the future. It was a very Christian modus operandi, with good deeds performed in order to enter Heaven or offset the sin (although in this case, it was the gods themselves toiling under the omniscient eyes of the congregants).
There are a multitude of examples of how the public came to shape television and, in turn, celebrity. Early examples include a plethora of talent shows too numerous to name and the 20― USSA Premier Elections. However, as the onus in both examples inexorably fell upon a judging panel subject to the twin tyrannies of corruption and narrative, these examples do not fully encapsulate the nature of the era as much as You Push the Button, We’ll Do the Rest does.
You Push the Button, We’ll Do the Rest signified a mass ontological shift in the way the audience directly impacted the future of the star. Though short-lived, it represented both the light and dark sides of idolatry, and was the beginning of the fortunate end to the public’s obsession with celebrity. 
I will not be engaging in a lengthy summary of the show, nor will I be picking on handfuls of episodes here and there, as I did with New Hollywood (Chapter 30: Make It New!) and serial killers (Chapter 41: Romanticisation). Instead, I will be focusing on a single episode. 
The episode in question gained a certain amount of notoriety after its release, becoming termed, unofficially, ‘The Great Coming-Out’, and, until the on-air suicide of women’s rights campaigner Janet Fox, was the most-rewatched episode in the show’s short history. 
‘The Great Coming-Out’ in itself sparked off a cultural revolution wherein the shackles binding celebrity to golden thrones were cut, and the whole culture was thrown into disarray, ‘straying as though through an infinite nothing’ (Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Commodus Ancient Texts).
The show was 40 minutes in length, each episode featuring a different celebrity who had disappointed or crossed the public in some way. Generally, the participants came along willingly, believing, usually erroneously, that their natural charm and charisma, bestowed upon them by the bestPR firms in the business, would be enough to convince the audience to absolve them of all wrongdoing; in other cases― such as in ‘The Great Coming-Out’― false pretences had to be used. In the case of G.V., that night’s ‘contestant’― as they were known― he was convinced that he would be on the set of yet another late-night chat show fronted by a failed comedian. He had just produced an album, Oh, by the up-and-coming musician of the same name, so yet another invite to be seated on the couch along with an actor and a nodding flunky wasn’t seen as anything out-of-the-ordinary. 
The show was shot in a studio, a throwback to late-20thcentury game shows. The audience were arranged in phalanxes. 
As in all episodes, it began with Silenius, the host, standing above the stage and the crowd on a long balcony. He gave his monologue, which, despite containing more or less the same message in every episode, was tailored to fit that night’s contestant: “The circuit, where softball questions are lobbed by hyena-cackling interviewers, desperate to allow movie stars to plug their blockbuster, authors to plug their book, producers to plug their albums. All the while, behind-the-scenes, these stars are guilty of assault, commit statutory rape, cheat on their spouses, have illegitimate children with fans, dodge their taxes, and then sneak their apologies into the news. The public will not put up with it anymore. We will not.” A pause, to allow a cheer from the audience. “They’ve had their chance. We will not spend any more of our money supporting the power-trips of the sick and wealthy.” Here, Silenius began to descend down the metal steps to the main stage. “Ironically, then, that our latest guest is used to a circuit a little more,” he paused for effect, “intimate than the one I refer to.” 
G.V. was brought out onto the stage, whereupon he immediately recognised his surroundings. With the exits flanked by security guards, announcing their disdain with knuckle-pops, and a hungry public awaiting a spectacle, all he could do was utter a censored word. 
G.V. demanded to know what he was doing there, as he was led t0 a chair in the middle of the stage. Cut-away shots revealed an audience physically holding in gasps with their foam-fingers. The camera lingered on one woman in the front row, for reasons not immediately apparent. G.V.’s spittle-filled, frantic questions were met with a mixture of head-shaking sorrow and muted irony by Silenius, which elicited titters from the audience.  
G.V., it quickly transpired from interviews with a taxi driver and a handful of malnourished gigolos, had been ‘cruising the Circuit’, a euphemism for picking up young men for sex and then buying their silence. Audience laughter softened the hard-edged tales of vicious sex and beckoning fingers. 
There were dramatic reconstructions featuring red-tinted eyes and pixelated genitalia. There were testimonials from people who knew G.V.― in fairness, not all demonising him, such as the interview Silenius conducted with G.V.’s mother, although her Alzheimer’s made it difficult for her to judge the modern-day version of him― displayed on multiple screens dotted around the stage. While these played, G.V. sat quietly, not quite on the verge of tears like some guests, but not proud either.  
After the footage had been played and digested, Sileniuscrouched in front of G.V. and asked, “after hearing that, don’t you feel like apologising?” 
G.V.’s head slowly rose. 
If any of that were true,” G.V. replied, “then surely the only person I’d apologise to is my wife.”
Silenius smiled, a smile insured for $1,000,000.  “It’s fortunate then,” he said, with a wink to the audience, “that she’s in the crowd tonight.” The woman featured earlier in the crowd-scan was displayed on all screens. Presented to all in a long, lingering shot as she picked at hangnails. 
Some argued that twists of this nature were inherently unethical, with private relationships exploited for the benefit of entertainment. These voices, admittedly few, brought about a need for a disclaimer made of specious legalese flashed on-screen at the beginning of each episode: You Push the Button, We’ll Do the Rest is an entertainment show. It does not condone the actions of the host/s and/or the contestants and/or the audience.  
“Apologise for what, anyway?”  
Here, a monologue began that epitomised the tribal instincts once held by our ancestors. Every heartfelt plea made by G.V., every insistence upon his humanity, how his difference should be tolerated no matter what his position, was met with hissing mass displeasure. All subsequent attempts by G.V. to cast shame upon the entire affair, by painting the audience as hypocrites “looking to despise people because you’re afraid of looking inward”, decided his fate. 
“You owe an apology. To your fans, to Oh’s fans, to fans of anyone who has ever collaborated with you. You brought this upon yourself. Art is either ethical or it withers. You are either ethical, or you wither.” Then Silenius unleashed his secret weapon, one so powerful the audience fell silent in the face of its solemn disapproval. A single line that had broken down the most recalcitrant of Hollywood sex offenders, billionaire wife-beaters, Silicon Valley tax evaders. “You’ve let down your fans.” 
“By being a human being,” G.V. replied.
The show went to a commercial break. This acted as a buffer between information and punishment: at home, social media could be checked, and a homogenous conclusion could be reached. 
Besides providing the show with the highest-ratings in its history, with 15.5 million people worldwide tuning in to the show post-commercial break― compared to the paltry 7.2 million it usually enjoyed― plus an additional 3 million streaming it on illegal and supposedly untracked streaming websites, the outrage towards G.V. ensured that a global boycott would later be organised, ensuring that he would never work again if he did not apologise. It is difficult to blame them, as any reader of Maxim Ambrosias’s work on anonymity, ‘Net Loss: Violence and Philosophy in the Anonymous Zone’, would know: ‘(s)ocial media provided a very valuable space where the unhappy and unfulfilled (in short, the victims of the dehumanising ideology once known as ‘capitalism’) could vent their frustrations on the people they felt had caused it. Of course, no one person had caused it so moral outrage took its place. The omnipresence of the law meant violence was not an option so they used the microscope to their advantage: they would boycott, they would send rape- and death-threats to anyone who crossed them, they would use black propaganda to bring others to their side. Eventually, they would be happy’. 
A return to the show found two choices being presented to G.V. Par for the course. The apology itself was the first part of the atonement. As Silenius said in the show’s pilot episode, “words are words.” The contestants were forced to choose between two options, with the audience voting during the break on which they would rather see. 
The choices themselves were symbolic: either a return to the life of falsehood they had previously been leading or throwing oneself into a representation of the future, a life of honour and integrity. 
All of the contestants up until this point, to woo over the audience and expedite the career lull that inevitably followed an appearance on the show, chose the option voted for by the masses. A young weather-forecaster, accused of exposing himself to women at work, chose to give himself a penectomy with a rusty Bowie knife. The great-grandchildren of actor Mickey Rooney underwent on-air surgery to sew their eyes shut. Some critics called it the ‘scourging’.
G.V. could either return home with his wife, as though nothing had happened― after all that had been revealed, an impossibility, but a perfectly acceptable idea in the world of television (here, I would refer you to read D. D. Dylan’s ‘The 20-Minute Marathon’, which expounds upon ideas of static sitcom character and their effect upon inter-personal relationships)― or ‘scourge’ himself of his past wrongdoings. To do this, they brought in a nineteen-year-old boy chained to a large metal pole. Stripped naked, with his arms handcuffed and a metal rod slid along his back and fastened with zipties, in order to keep him in a forward-bend. The idea being that G.V. would have sex with this boy in order to fully repent of his lies, and accept his future as a ‘homosexual’ man― from the Greek, homos, meaning same, and ‘sexual’ denoting an attraction to the ‘gender’ of the prefix. The ‘coming out’ of the episode’s unofficial name is an antiquated idea from a conservative society, wherein ‘abnormal’ tastes in sexuality must be announced, condemned, and/or patronised. By having sex with the boy, G.V. would be able to live his new life as a ‘gay’ man with transparency, a life where his ‘sexual predilections’ would no longer take a back seat to shame and guilt. 
An 99.2% majority of the audience voted for him to affirm his life, as represented by a colourful bar chart shown on the screens, with a mere .8% of conservative voters torn between condoning adultery and condoning homosexuality. 
However, the decision ultimately lay with G.V. The vote was merely a way of allowing the contestant to know which way the wind― and the money― blew. Audience-participation was less a mandate and more a gentle reminder of the public’s wishes, who “ultimately owned whoever happened to have stumbled into the media spotlight” (Aloysius-Finsbury). 
G.V. chose to go home with his wife. His general attitude throughout the programme, his impassioned rant, and, of course, his refusal to bow to the audience’s wishes coalesced into a movement of its own, albeit an unwitting one, that spelt the show’s demise, and the eventual death of celebrity. 
Even Silenius’ half-hearted promise, “he will face his own punishment,” did nothing to temper the flames that burst into life as a result of G.V.’s actions. Celebrities embroiled in scandals, instead of choosing to apologise, chose to deny it. Others chose to embrace it. The show itself suffered as a result of the unrepentant hedonism that became apparent in every newspaper, every blog, every Tweet. Up-and-coming stars, usually actors attempting to perpetuate a squeaky-clean image, or videographers whose subject was the self, or minor poets working day-jobs for Lockheed-Martin, or politicians unaffiliated with the country’s sole political party, found themselves on the show, but as they were not already-established, a certain bitterness pervaded proceedings. It felt less like toppling an idol and more like aborting a child. Audiences lost interest. The show was eventually cancelled entirely after Janet Fox, tied to a chair in order to add a provocative element to the show, chewed through her own wrists. 
This, of course, led to a hatred for celebrities. Without the cathartic release of the inevitable apology, reading about the hedonistic exploits of this star or that star just fell flat. Although people who had previously filled their lives with idolatry, finding themselves with nothing to fill their lives, turned to politics― owing perhaps to its ‘incessant fixations on the inflammatory― this was the beginning of the end for stardom.

Death of a Lady’s Man
And what were you doing in that hotel room?

Hotel rooms are simulations of human experience. The small desk, monogrammed notepaper, 
diminutive shampoos and shower-gels, the tiny fridge. 
G. lay on the bed, one shoe hanging limply from his foot, the other on its side by the wardrobe. Through paper-thin walls, he heard breathless exultations, the religious ceremony underway. He made a crease in the bed, its placid surface irritating to him. He knew under a UV light, it would not look as perfect. G. got up on his knees, pressed his ear against the wall. All the muffled white-noise snapped into focus: the steady increase in pace, the groans of the bed, the gasping pleasure, the gravelly voice. L., even in lovemaking, was the ultimate in serenity. G. couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, but he knew it was something original, something untapped by the banal eroticisms that had preceded him in that room. Something far more transgressive and transcendental than you like my cum? 
In response to whatever words of wisdom L. imparted, M. let go a shrill cry of longing.
You followed L. to the hotel?
L. was anti-everything. Anti-capitalist, of course, all the way to the bank. Anti-Information-Age. Anti-zeitgeist. Anti-taste. Whatever the cultural mores, he wanted to defy them. His life was one large (anti-) political statement. He believed true art goes against the common consciousness; and, as G. was surely the antithesis of taste, he had come to him to produce his latest album, a glint in his eye he was to call The Sonnets. 
There was minor controversy over the pairing― and disbelief that a star on the rise (L.) would line up with a star whose wane had long passed (G.)― but, luckily for the project, a terrorist attack in Belgium pacified the dissenters. L. and G. were free to record.
And you deny being under the influence of alcohol and/or narcotics?
G. got off the bed. The mirror on the wardrobe door caught the corner of his eye. He avoided looking. Through the window, a view of other rooms, lights pulsed orange against heavy curtains. He shut the drapes and sat at the desk. He tipped a modicum of coke onto the desk and, after tightening the white hillock with delicate baker movements, snorted his way down a thin line.
The coke burned a comet-trail into his brain. Mucus eddied at the back of his throat. 
G. felt hot. He didn’t want to take off his coat. To do that would reveal to himself his bloated stomach, his bosoms drooping against his shirt. He straightened up, smoothing himself out.
I’m afraid I don’t believe that you were just there to talk.
G. went to the bathroom. To use the toilet, he needed to take off his coat. He slipped it over his legs, and, sitting, resembled a crude parody of F.D.R., the coat covering matchstick legs. The spluttering of cokeshits and his own panting, his own straining, provided a wall of sound that covered up M.’s voice. 
Wiping took great effort. Every movement highlighted the imperfections of G.’s body: no wonder M. was now with L., the singer’s thin but toned body blemish-free, not a single codskin stretchmark or bumpy skintag besmirching that beautiful canvas. 
God, G. hated him.
G. finished wiping. The coat slid from his legs. G. flushed and kicked the coat aside. The gun lay gleaming on the floor. G. pulled up his pants. He picked up the gun. He rested the tip of the barrel on his mouth and, with his lower lip, curled it into his mouth. His finger found its way to the trigger. Squeeze? One simple act, like so many other small acts, and none of this would matter. Both rooms would cease to exist. The mattress springs would recede. It would be left up to someone else to deal judgement, some karmic jury. G. was simply not up to the job.
G. jammed the gun into his waistband. It pressed like a tumour against his skin.
G. ran the tap. Water gushed out. He splashed his face, peering in the mirror at himself, imprisoned in droplets. His pupils were needlepricks.
And you maintain your relationship with L. was purely professional?
God, G. loved him. One night, incredibly drunk, with the recording staff gone home, G. and L. kissed. They had been working on the overlaying, designed to bring out the ethereal glassiness of L.’s voice. G. had been able to interest L. in a bump of coke, which they snorted off the mixing console. Their faces, illuminated only by the green lights of the control panel, swam towards each other. 
G. had imagined this manoeuvre many times, beneath tented sheets, while M. had lain downstairs, eyelids closing under milky-white television glow. That erection beneath the duck-feathered duvet was nothing compared to the priapic hardness threatening to burst free not only of his pants, but his body; in danger of flying forth, spilling G.’s innards across the floor.
L. and G.’s faces mashed together, teeth and tongues fighting for dominance over one another. L. was forceful, his hands climbing G.’s chest. L. slumped back and guided G. downwards. G. did not resist, his hands working at L.’s fly, unzipping it with two sweaty fingers. He pulled out L.’s cock with not the slightest trace of coquettishness, more a hunger. That magnificent piece, standing like a proud oak amidst a tangled bush of dark pubic hair, smelled slightly of tea-tree. L., rising slightly out of the chair, worked himself out of his underwear, his marbled thighs leaving sweatstreaks on the leather.
Of course you were hurt, he was banging your wife.
Ascetism is the ultimate in self-discipline, but debauchery is more fun, L. had said at that evening’s press conference, before vanishing. L.’s face and the mindless tittering of the journalists filled the room; the laughter faded, the face stayed, swimming in the corner of his eye, a spectre he could not catch.
And then what happened?
G. knocked on the door. From within the room, faintly, came M.’s voice.
“We’re OK, thanks.”
G. knocked again. The same sound, that triple-tattoo, not angry, just insistent. Soft footsteps on the carpet. Something falling from a pocket. A moment of whispering fabric as clothes were donned.
G. looked either end of the empty corridor. The gun was not merely in his hand, it was his hand. An extension of himself, a necessary implant.
G. stood, listening, as the footsteps came to the door. Something caught in his throat, something that urged him to turn around, to vanish before the door opened. 
L. came to the door. M., half-dressed, stood by the window. A bottle of wine and two glasses, one lipstick-smeared, sat on the desk. 
“I love you,” G. said, raising the gun.
They’re both dead, you know. You’re going down for this.
L., unconcerned, one hand raised to take the gun, replied: “I hope you―”


The Circuit is slick with rain. Puddles form in concave paving, trapping oblique reflections. The boys move about, their threadbare clothing pasted to their skin. Don’t talk much. Supress shivers. Form tiny constellations, shimmering in and out of the rain, circumnavigating each other, both friendly and villainous. At any given moment, one will have to betray the other. 
Guernica, the Circuit Boy, stands apart. Too old to be a sun they revolve around, too eager to be an apathetic star burning miles away. More like space debris, caught in the gravity of the boys’ movements, not permitted to enter orbit. 
Neon-warmth from the nightclubs burn through the mist. The apartment complex across the street― where Guernica and the rest of the circuit boys live― is in near-darkness, just a handful of lamps lighting up windows; futile attempts to ward off loneliness, fear, but only accentuating the dark surrounding it. 
Guernica, the Circuit Boy, is the quintessential dirty old man. Asthmatic, bloated, his outfits food- and cum-smeared, it’s not poverty that brought him to the Circuit. The simple fact is: no club or bar in the city will allow Guernica in. They know his face, are wary of his propensity for grabbiness in the bathrooms, grinding on the dancefloor. And, of course, Guernica is old, and fat, and his eyes are watery and jaundiced, and his smell reminds people of their grandparents, and his grey face reminds them of death.
Cars drive by. They pass through the no-man’s-land of desperation. Every female side-profile, obscured by the mist, resembles a ghost: once, he had been that other passenger in the back of the taxi, one hand perched on her knee, moving between the studio and an art exhibition and the theatre and restaurants. The heterosexual dream which became the metric against which all other dreams are measured. 
From afar, through rain-streaked windows, the boys look healthy and strong, but close up they are pale and thin.
More cars pass. One slows. The boys separate. They move to the curb, lighting cigarettes. A vigil of lighter-flames. Eyes appear in car windows, searching the faces and the bodies, a window-shop undertaken while the wife slumbers. Dissatisfied with the anaemic meat on display, the car moves on. 
Air snakes between snot and blood clogging Guernica’s nostrils. Earlier, he had gotten into one of the clubs unaccustomed to his trade, and he’d invited a young man― heavy, sweatpatched, but strong, warm― to come to the cubicle with him to take some coke. Beneath purple fluorescence, Guernica had watched the young man bend over the cistern. Figuring the young man had come this far with him, Guernica decided to give him a little push. A scuffle ensued. A hand moved for a lock. Four feet moved beneath the cubicle. The young man spilled out of the cubicle, ending up on the bathroom floor. The bouncers entered. The young man was instructed to leave, but Guernica was dragged through the maze of bodies, the stop-start of light and blackness. The static ocean of rubberneckers watched Guernica struggle, his nose streaming with blood. 
Guernica has no illusions about himself. He knows, even without the traces of violence smeared over his face, he has no chance of finding love in this wasteland, hemmed in on all sides by towering monoliths, the misty azure of neon, the constellations swirling. But where else is there to go?
Guernica is alone. He sleepwalks through recurring Sunday afternoon isolation. He knows tonight’s playbook only too well: he will stick around longer than anyone, until the minutes between cars become hours, then he will return to his apartment. Zip himself up in his sleeping-bag. Masturbate? If he can get it up. Wake up shivering, drift off again, psychedelic bouts of sleep. Smoke the dog-ends left drying on the radiator. Watch people through the window, watch them pass through the Circuit, arm-in-arm, hating them, envying them. 
A car slows. The indicator cuts through the mist in frenetic atom-bomb blasts. The car stops at the curb. A window rolls down part-way.
Cast in hellish brakelight glow, the boys resemble demons. They are both innocent and complicit; naïve and Machiavellian. They will follow you into bed, wait for you to take the lead, but will accept cash without a thanks, will hurry themselves into trouserlegs. 
The man in the car beckons to one of the boys. Guernica feels the piggy eyes of the driver glance at him in the wing-mirror, a momentary look of disinterest.
Some muffled conversation, what are you doing tonight? and then the boy, red-faced from suppressing coughs, climbs in the back of the car. The driver pulls out, dredging up tabloid phone numbers. The car plunges into the mist.
The boys come together. Guernica drifts away. Far back in the past comes that final decisive sound: the slam of a gate, the rattle of a wooden frame, the forever-click of a lock. 
Surge forth, Guernica, there is no way home.

John Higgins is an Irish writer. His work has appeared in A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Always Crashing, Misery Tourism and more


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