I never – never – answer the door to a knock that I don’t recognise. Re-cognition is a funny thing. I don’t have a door bell for that very reason. Yes, it’s possible to know to whom a bell ring belongs but not as easily done as with the hand on a door. Not for me. The rap is refined and more telling. For me. More like a voice. This form of expertise developed ever since I had that phone call to say that I was a wanted man. A wanted man by those who never forget. You’re a dead mawn, the coarse Belfast voice said down a telephone line. It was a familiar voice yet I have never been able to place it. But I was placed by it. And so the factory of fear starts in its production of idols.
There’s an unfamiliar knock which I went immediately to answer. It is daytime. There was at the root of the action, a powerful sense of self sovereignty. A weary, blackened, endlessly shitted upon will gives way to a new direction. It was a sunny day and wearyingly warm and I didn’t feel it was a day to kill or to be killed. I didn’t stop and sweat, no sudden anxiety, I move wilfully, steadily and without hesitation down the tiled hallway, to the door. The tiles are cool on the bare feet. It’s a hard door to open, there is a raised tile that catches the hem of it, and the bloody big brass knob is too stiff to turn and in that moment only, I confess, between my hand slipping on the smooth burnished brass, and tightening to get a firmer grip, the idea of my imminent demise chilled me to the briefest suspension of action. It took hardly any time at all, just enough though for it to be there, to emerge and to exist.
Revealed to me as the door swung inwardly into the house on smooth hinges, in the bright light, is this guy with something taking leave of his lips that is vaguely language, but identifiable as a question. Unless he’s a Geordie. Mumble mumble mumble…Jack? I know him, Mr Mumble, something of a relief, but his name escapes me. Do I know it or not? I may as well not, it won’t come to me. Then I hesitated, and felt an urgency to retreat, a panic gripped me. It was a panic from years ago. The very same. How do I know it’s the same? It rules me, that’s how I know. It follows me and I follow it. No mistake, though I could be mistaken.
He’s resided right across the street from me for an abundance of years, in fact, for as long as I’ve lived here – about 20 years – he’s lived there, there in a house almost directly opposite. Across a pitted tarmac street. I see him all the time, going in and out of his flaking front door. The colour is an in between blue. There are about four unpainted concrete steps up to the door which, in my experience, he invariably jumps. Not that this indicates his athleticism, rather maybe his impatience.
I see him, getting into his car. Roaring up the street in it. Almost always not the same car, invariably a rusty wreck of one make or another with a noisy, house-shaking exhaust. He never turns the key to lock it, he leaps out and is on his way before the door closes behind him. Sometimes it doesn’t quite close fully, the door simply resting outside its proper flush to the chassis position, and that I found annoying. As is the way he parks the bloody thing, with no attention paid to where it is in parallel proximity to the curbside. He roars it into the spot almost as fast as he roars it up the street on his way to somewhere. The tyres are rasped against the concrete, the rims thud as the car is driven straight up onto the pavement. Total lack of precision. Like with his hair. A mass of motionless mattedness, save when he threw his head back to see the world in front of him. Me, now, here, he threw it back and he saw me.
It became an obsession to watch the imprecision. It drew me to my window. Away from my work. Work that needs precision, that needs my undivided attention. Sometimes it was him, sometimes it was not. It fascinated and terrorised me. The divine demon. The limbo where the self is pulled to and fro. His unashamed presence pulled and forcefully embraced me until I had him practically within me. God’s small voice must have spoken to me as I thought of the Biblical test, it is not I that live but Christ that liveth within me. I am saying NO to me and YES to him.
– Jack? Jesus! Jack! A momentary period of attention was spent on his quest. Soon dispelled and then…
Holy shrines of Shinto! A vision! A separating thought. Taken I am to intellectual sanctuary. My eyes tighten up to a fixed couple of slits, fixed firmly on his teeth and the mouth that freely accommodates them, so removing my mind’s eye from his request. His teeth dig into me and off go my thoughts to ponder the thing I cannot remember what he wants whilst I take in his Stonehenge-like gnashers. It’s like a day out at the National Trust heritage site. Well, a few moments out. He has in the meantime explained something, or nothing, and pointed in such a way to something (and nothing) – a high arm with a lowering finger – that indicates it’s out of sight, over the hill, at the end of the street somewhere. Perhaps. I don’t really know what he said, the discursive detail is totally absent, eclipsed by extension, but he has the word jack back in his vocabulary -jack, jack, jack! – and that thricedom of e-jack-ulations reigns in the distant pondering thoughts of mine,
But the fucking teeth, hell’s gates, those smashed desecrated tombstones will find no neglect with me…the appreciative attention to such an array of decay and demolition must be freely given. In fact I questioned my inner fortress, my freedom, the teeth seemed to be gnawing at it, forsooth to captivate the title holder and deny him his autonomy. But no, I felt my own inclination to admiration of this singular demonstration of oral art. But into the fray came the friar St Thomas Aquinas, as is his wilful tendency, to say that every faculty that is a manifested inclination is a power by which each of us directs our selves towards that aspect of Being, to incorporate it into our own being or be incorporated into it. No, no, no! Thrice no! I deny it. The teeth shall not prevail, nor the gates of hell which they imaginatively resembled. Indeed, a fiery breath lurked behind them, stoked to a spicy heat with a deep turbulent inner spasm.
I’ve seen these teeth before but not in such a circumstance, in such close detail and not particularly as teeth. From a distance I see merely an odd oral chiaroscuro, an unevenness maybe, an imperfection, especially displayed with a full smile. Or is that my way of seeing it? Is there an interference? I wave a friendly hello and he does the same. And we go our separate ways. Him and his hair and car. The very same thing for many years.
I ask him for his name. He asks me for mine. Not giving it I say that we say hello to each other all the time and yet are unknown to one another. He presents to me his teeth in extra close-up accompanied by an after shock of the hot breath. Jack? he inquires. His name was given to me but now it escapes me. He said he thought my name was Patrick, but I told him it wasn’t. But what was it? He said his wife told him that it was Patrick. No, I said. His wife for the life of me I know her as well as I knew his name.
I knew it already, from when I fucked his her. After the exhausting fuck with us lying entwined there totally fucked to senselessness, she said it when the door knob turned. That’s when his name hit me. But I lost it as soon as I had it. I want it that way. The less I know him the better. For I wanted to know his wife. Lilian by name.
But he grabbed me like death does a life from the womb. Only one way to go. His question. His teeth. His hair. His car.
Christ! The Plumber
I opened the door and the man who stood there was more welcome than the second coming of Christ – yes, even more welcome than Christ himself….which I am really not looking forward to…because I am sinner and more, a backslider, a saved sinner who has lost his spiritual way and returned to the reprobate mode of being. Degenerate, corrupt, immoral. I swear, I drink, I lie, I fornicate, I have perverted dreams in mind of women who know not a notion of the place they play in my imaginings. (Imaginings – weak thoughts strong on image. Idle idoling, idolatry. I idolised women.) I am damned, at least in the Lord’s language, in the evangelical vernacular. The Lord has disowned me, he strives with me no longer I am on the hot track to Hades. And heat is very much on my mind.
Wait a minute..rewind…the boiler broke down. There was an abundant absence of heat in a minimal amount of time. In other words, all of a sudden. I heard a suspicious noise in the flue on the Thursday and I know a noise of doom when I hear one. In the car I can recognise a not normal noise. I am always right that something is wrong. On the basis of a noise alone. The boiler is a new contraption but I was putting the rubbish out and I heard it above me…from the flue high up on the wall. A choking, gurgling timbre that was most certainly not a sound sound. A sound that was unsound in fact.
My next move was to visit the holy of holies, the place of warranties. The ark of the covenants. Agreements. Lordly and worldly. My little safe box full to the brim and running over with documents. Oh how happy I was when I picked it out and held it high to read the magical words that mean my day of atonement has arrived, that I am covered (the original Jewish meaning), I am saved (the Christian meaning), I need only ring the magical number on the 24 hour hotline to enforce my right to salvation.
But standing between me and the water of life, hot showers and cosy central heating on the predicted coldest weekend this winter is the satanic She of the switchboard. The wicked witch speaks the words of doom. A definition. A restriction. The flue is not part of the boiler, it is therefore not covered. See your installer! the She says. I didn’t say it was the flue, I said, and told her that the noise was merely from the flue and it may indicate a problem with the boiler. No, it’s the flue, She says, probably a blockage and you are not covered. No, I only mentioned the flue to indicate where the noise is emanating from, you are assuming it is the flue, are you an engineer? Here She flew into a rage over the flue issue as if She were protecting the keys of the kingdom of Hell. Why did I say the word flue, why did I mention the fucking flue? See your installer, it’s a flue problem!! was her final flourish. And I was summarily cast adrift into liability limbo.
The cold about me seemed colder. The boiler flashed a fucking LCD light off and on to indicate the demise of its intended function. LF, LF, LF, L fucking F!!! F fucking L!!! What could be more fucking annoying? I needed a hot shower but I imagined the icy droplets pinging onto my goosepimpled skin and the mad race to relative warmth. That brainless She bitch, that stupid tart!!! If I phoned again I’d have to wait in line again on the switchboard and they’d have a record of me saying the fucking flue word. So, I had to go in search of a heating engineer and pay through the nose for it.
Then the holy knock on the door. The bastard postman I thought with his bastard late delivery. If it’s a window salesman he’s fucking going to suffer the torment of an icy boot. I don’t need Victorian plastic windows. That very conceptually corrupt idea burnt through me but added nothing in the way of warmth. Standing at the open door with the cold wafting in from beyond is Nigel. Nigel? Yes, Nigel. The Albert Perks (Bernard Cribbins) of the plumbing world. If you’ve seen The Railway Children you’ll know what I mean. The steady station master with the unshakeable morals of an upright working class Victorian, (not the plastic alternative that has all too easily been bought). But he’s the salivating image of Bernard Cribbens as well. The bloated eyes, the white woolly sheepy hair. What the fuck was he doing at the door with all those features? My door? Looking with his bulging beady eyes into my freezing hallway. On his authoritative recommendation I had the whole apparatus of gas and water installed about two years previously. His excitement for the product was unnerving. His interest, his tendency to be obsessed with fuel economy and efficiency concatenated with equal economy (that William of Ockham would have been proud of) my ideas of opposition to the tradesman tendency to advance the case for the practical judgement over the theoretical. In fact it was an advancement of a denial that anything beyond the practical existed or was worth a mental glance. The uninitiated in matters of trade technique were looked upon, and talked to as, idiots. How was it that all those kids who left school early to do apprentiships, thought of themselves as possessors of a unique form of knowledge? Nigel has a folder that is carried like a Bible. He opens it reverently for therein lies his sacred text, the facts and figures and measurements. And from that text he preaches his gospel. Nigel is an evangelist, with a power of conversion, a converter of the domestically destitute who have plumbed the depths of discomfort.
Just passing, he said, wondered how the boiler was doing. It’s not doing, I said. So without hesitation he slipped past me, with a wink, and set about fixing it. Out with his toolbox, off with his jacket, into my kitchen. And he didn’t take a cent. No no! he protested with his hand palm in my face warning away my thrusting attempts at payment. That was as warming as the heat I now enjoy.
OK…that I had to inspect and pass praise on his new full back tattoo, pleasure him with a bounteous blowjob and allow him rear entry are matters of small consequence. His pleasure in his coming freely is the thing. That’s why I am the sinner that I am. As God is the great I AM, I am the great I am sinner.