As the axe prepares to fall, I speak to Nicola Dellow, a postgraduate library student at UCL, about the cuts being made to library services.
Could you please sum-up the recent nationwide cuts made to libraries?
Public library services are being cut up and down the country as local councils attempt to keep to the budget cuts put in effect by the current government.
Do you feel these cuts are justified?
Of course not, I wouldn’t be a very good library school student if I did. I think it is completely tragic to be honest, as libraries have such a positive effect on a community. What I find most appalling is the cuts to outreach library programmes, such as mobile libraries and visits to the housebound. Many housebound users have little contact with the outside world and enjoy the chance to have a chat with a friendly member of staff and have books brought to them.
What are the long-term implications?
If public libraries shut, I do not think they will re-open in a better economic climate. I think this is why there have been so many campaigns to save libraries, initiated or endorsed by such a wide range of people. Education and literacy levels are likely to be affected and there is every chance that there will be a de-professionalisation of librarians working in the public sphere.
Do libraries still have a useful role in today's culture given the ease of information access provided by the internet?
Of course. I think that both libraries and librarians have suffered in the past through stereotypes represented in the media. It is important to realise that libraries are not just about the physical space, but the services they can provide. The internet has not stopped parents taking their children to ‘rhyme-time’ at their local library, as a chance to learn and socialise with other children. It has not necessarily made people turn to online forums for book groups instead of attending them at the library to experience debate and the opportunity to meet new people. Public libraries essentially provide a democratic space for all members of the public.
There is so much information available on the internet, but not all of it is relevant and search engines have certain limitations. At a library, it is likely that you will come into contact with someone who really knows about information retrieval, who can help you find relevant information from any number of sources.
Do the rise in e-book sales signal a natural evolution away from physical texts, or are such claims greatly exaggerated?
This is a tough one. The codex has had enduring popularity for centuries and it is a trusted form. I think that the e-book reader, like the codex, is a format for information retrieval and everyone has a personal preference about the ways in which they read. In a society where our working and private lives are increasingly exposed to computers, smartphones and other kinds of technology, then it is natural to want to carry 100 books around on an e-reader. However I think that the relatively slow uptake signals scepticism about storage capability and the chance of e-books reconfiguring as technology progresses, in the same way that early computer games cannot be played on today’s consoles. I certainly don’t think that in a decade’s time, book binders will be out of business.
In your opinion do such changes, both in terms of cuts to library services and the introduction of new technology, affect the types of books we read?
I don’t think changes to technology affect the types of books we read, but I do think they change the ways in which we read. I am not sure how it has the potential to affect the types of books we read, as e-books have the same diversity of genre as printed books.
I think that cuts to library services will really affect those who cannot afford to buy books and DVDs from internet sellers, or are unwilling to take a chance on ordering something that they cannot really browse first. In a public library, you can borrow material that you may not usually invest in and can read all sorts of books knowing that you can bring them back. I think that cuts to library resources will mean that people may be more careful about their reading choices because there is likely to be a monetary investment.
What do you make of Michael Goves' '50 book challenge'?
I think it is somewhat hypocritical to propose this figure when the government you are part of is essentially cutting the resources that will allow children access to reading material. This aim fails to account for any individual reading habits, such as pace. I think that Anthony Browne’s response in The Guardian has it spot on really; it is about the experience of reading, not the quest to complete a certain number of books within a year.
Leaning in the dark, I touch the tip of my shoe against an empty bottle on the floor and calculate the series of events that would be set into motion if I rolled the glass under the feet of Banquo’s ghost.
I would never do it – I’d be an idiot if I did – but I’m still stood there with the bottle and eyeing up his legs...
Down the dark vaults of Clerkenwell House of Detention, Belt Up Theatre are putting on Macbeth, the cells of this 19th-century prison transformed into the mind of Shakespeare’s Scottish king.
Belt Up specialise in immersive, site-specific performance; immersive being a large umbrella-of-a-term that encompasses everything from one-on-one interaction to large-scale promenade theatre. This type of performance promises its audience something different from a traditional stage-play; the chance for direct bodily involvement in the action of the piece.
But being lowered into the bathwater is one thing; feeling like you’re able to splash around is another. Immersive theatre, more so than a platform for sensory play, has the potential to explore something else: the audience’s desire for involvement and a frustration of that desire.
As its popularity has risen, audiences have grown accustomed to the styles of immersive performance and purchase their ticket with certain sensory expectations. In her blog, playwright Sarah Grochola compares last year’s You Me Bum Bum Train, in which each audience member is made the protagonist in a range of disjointed scenes, to the act of shoe shopping.
This year’s One-on-One festival at the BAC catered for the personal tastes of its audience by setting up the event as a series of “menus”, with performances based on flavours such as “reflective” or “dreamy”. We consume this style of performance with eager bellies, but who serves us our dinner?
For a character, the opportunity to escape the traditional stage is a potential movement towards independence: autonomy. Now don’t get me wrong, the world is over-populated enough without an infinity of fictional stomachs to fill and I’m not saying we should give them the vote, but breaking from the walls of a traditional stage could, to some degree, present a chance for self-authorship.
And yet what tends to happen is the very opposite. Characters are often reduced to tableaux; figures that blend into the architecture of the site and serve only to compliment the aesthetic atmosphere of the piece. It would seem that, crushed under the boots of the newly empowered audience, characters run the risk of being reduced to facilitators for sensory experience.
The real power of immersive theatre is the conflict that crops up when there is a clash between audience and character; both parties detached from the traditional rule-book, both hungry for action, yet both unsure where the power lies.
The real question is how should emerging companies work with this uncertainty? It would be unfair to describe Belt Up’s Macbeth as tableaux, but at the same time, the unwillingness to sever the audience from Shakespeare’s text seems to be a missed opportunity.
Should audiences disrupt these narratives, and what happens when characters fight back? Maybe if I roll that bottle just slightly forward…
Five days to launch and all Alice could think about was the pink rash that had formed on her right arm. There was a press event at one tomorrow afternoon but, Jesus, what the hell was it? Just above the elbow on the back of her forearm, a fat pink line. It didn’t sting or anything but it was a nuisance and, let’s be honest, it can’t have looked particularly attractive. Especially now the weather was getting hotter and she would start wearing dresses. She turned her arm over to get a better look, straining the muscles in her shoulder and involuntarily opening her mouth just a bit. Christ, bloody annoying to have something like that come up now, just as the days were getting longer. She was going to wear that nice short-sleeve top for the event tomorrow but would now need a jacket as well. Those PR things are always so sticky and she knew the jacket would just make her sweat, especially when she would have to field questions from mental paranoids about dangers to human nature. And then all that hand-shaking afterwards with the knowledge that her palms were moist and she would probably smell a bit. Terrible, as if the press needed anything else to pounce on. The Sweaty Tech Witch.
She didn’t really understand the need for another PR meeting, it was only for the company to defend themselves against needless worries and in her opinion it came across as weak. All that crap about mind control and intrusion of human boundaries. It’s only a new sensor and, Christ, if they hadn’t developed it Apple would have. Then we’d be using our eyes to sweep across the pages and download useless aps. This way there was so much more we could do, the release titles were a great example of that. In her opinion the developers had done an amazing job integrating her technology in innovative ways, the first time she played the FPS she even surprised herself how smoothly the sensor detected minute eye movements. With the contraction of her iris the program was able to adapt and shift the game-play accordingly, and the resulting papillary response encouraged the narrative to increase the intensity of its content. As she blew a hole through the head of a Nazi the personal tailoring of the game’s action to her own mental state made her heart beat faster and, if she was honest, she had uncrossed her legs and pressed herself forward and down, just slightly, on the leather board-room chair.
Fuck, this rash was growing, she was sure of it, in the past five minutes alone no less. The phone started ringing and she used her left hand to pick it up, keeping focus on the back of her right forearm. It was her PA, he wanted to know what she would like for lunch tomorrow as the conference centre was booking the meals from the catering service in advance. Chicken was fine. She rested the phone between her shoulder and ear and moved her left hand to the rash. Roast potatoes were fine as well. Her fingers lingered above the pink blotch and she told her PA that yes she would be drinking wine and yes she was planning on getting a taxi home. She touched the rash with the tip of her forefinger. It was fine, she didn’t want him to give her a lift home, she was happy to get a taxi. She pressed the finger into the skin and it slowly eased into her arm, the surface opening around her nail and allowing her to push further, right down to the knuckle. Her PA wanted to know if she was sure about the lunch, as once he’d booked it she would be unable to change her mind. She worked her finger further into her arm and, with a bit of effort, was eventually able to slide a second finger in also. She uncrossed her legs and felt the cold phone against her neck. Yes, it was absolutely fine.
Fran Copeman is a 25 year old painter and illustrator. She’s exhibited both locally in London and internationally, in Italy, Germany and Manchester. Her work, mixing hyper-realism and abstraction, often depicts disfigured and restricted bodies sunk in a thick painted landscape. I met her outside the John Snow in Soho for a pint.
How was the toilet?
Piss off. Actually, appropriate word. Why the fuck do we pay for water? It just goes straight through you.
What inspires you?
Shall we wait for this environmental services truck to pass? A dustbin truck moves past the pavement edge where Tom and Fran are sitting.
Generally I’m interesting in relationships and our relationships with each other. Obviously that gets much more complicated when you’re living in such a busy place, y’know?
No. What do you mean when you say relationships?
I mean the way I react with my external world, simple as. I had an early project, crudely called ‘The City’, I was reading Walter Benjamin and all that, but the idea of the city is still an important metaphor of me.
Do you work a lot in metaphors then?
Yeah definitely. I wouldn’t work in a completely representational way – I mean I do often use the human figure but that’s because it’s a form that I can identify with.
Is that identification important?
All I can say from my personal experiences of exhibiting is that I haven’t seen a single recent piece that has been ‘essentially’ conceptual. There’s always been a narrative or something which gives the audience the ability to see what the artist is doing without having to read a manual. Which is nice.
But your figures aren’t representational?
Well apart from the idea.
Is that idea frustration? It seems to be something you frequently work with.
When I left university I wanted a lot of things, but that all turned to shit really – a lot of people seem frustrated like that at the moment. I was also interested in frustrating the aesthetics of the piece to the point of distortion, and that got me looking at what makes something look distorted; ugly.
It’s always a nicer challenge to make something that isn’t pretty.
Do you consider your work to be ugly?
Yes, it’s pretty ugly, but the image itself I find quite beautiful because of the detail created by the restriction.
What’s the process of getting that restriction?
Basically tying people up and getting them to break out of things.
Like with rope. Mainly on the face and hands.
That’s where the most gesturing happens. Basically it started off as me imitating artists I admire, like Robert Longo who was active in the 80’s during the yuppie era. I did nick his style a bit but it’s mine now. (Laughs) History repeats itself anyways. We all forget things.
Is there a political element to your work?
I suppose the way you feel is based on a lifestyle created for you, which is politically created. Maybe if you lived on the top of a hill on Mars then you wouldn’t have that problem; you wouldn’t have inter…interwhatsitcalled?
Yeah, that. None of that. Fran finishes her drink. I was watching a film and they were saying that women make up the majority of the population.
Your subjects are often women, or yourself.
People say they look androgynous. I really only use females because they’re normally the people I have at hand. I’d probably feel more on-edge getting a man to do it. Well, especially the type of man I’d be looking for…getting him to go crazy in front of the camera like that. At the moment it’s just androgynous me. I think it looks strong though. A bang is heard from across the road.
I’d like to just stand up and punch someone in the face. That would make me feel strong.
Why don’t you?
Punch someone in the face.
Are your paintings about people not being able to do that?
Yes, well, no. It’s the fine line; a specific place where someone has seen their restriction and is now at the point where they’re trying to break out of it. My hope is that they’re at a point of rebellion.
What are they rebelling against?
I don’t know, it’ll sound convoluted. I guess their limited channels of expression. Here, look, there’s a big environmental services truck coming.
The same dustbin truck from earlier slowly drives past.
How do you feel about trucks?
That wheel is as big as my body.
The sound of an engine is heard, low and guttural.
Words by Thomas McMullan.
Find out more about Fran and her work on her blog.
Greensides: I was supposed to see her tomorrow and give her the present then, maybe I should’ve waited until the morning.
I only give her things because she needs them. I hate seeing her upset.
A distant explosion is heard.
The dog whines and barks.
Greensides lights a cigarette and begins to smoke.
Boyce: What was it like?
Boyce: Tonight, what was it like?
On the train I sat opposite a man with a dog...Collie I think. It had its black eyes on me the whole way, quiet and still as we sped past the estates near Bermondsey.
Charing Cross was packed to burst…a lot of people being moved by police back into the trains but the place was so busy and chaotic…
Outside there were horns, car horns of course but a brass band must’ve been there somewhere because I caught glimpses of men and women in red uniforms, all playing trumpets and trombones and tubas...God knows why they were there, but I followed them all down Whitehall to Parliament Square...and never in my life...the size of it all there, all those faces glowing in the light, all staring up at the clock-face and that music hanging in the air. People lined the statues, draped around Churchill and Mandela while the crowds pushed together on the grass. Blue lights flashed from the edges, a few faint sirens, but it felt like nothing, all of us anxiously watching the tower. My phone said five to ten.
A woman, must’ve been in her fifties, pressed up close to my side. I could feel the back of her hand against mine, her skin warm and I felt her move it up and down, just slightly but it was such a tender thing…so small in that place.
My lights gone out.
Boyce: Help yourself.
Greensides helps himself to Boyce’s lighter, re-lighting his cigarette.
Greensides: It was a minute to ten; I could see people checking the time on their phones. I don’t know what we expected, nothing I guess.
Just a glowing circle up there with twelve numbers, no countdown, no movement, nothing. I could hear the woman next to me breathing, deep and low against my neck, her hand still pressed against my own…If I’m honest I felt myself get hard, just a little but hard nonetheless…all the blood down there tightening up like a knot….It was ten o’clock…and then, above our heads… the sound of it…The noise shot from the empty face…like thunder cracking amongst the sounds of its wound, split down the looming form; Big Ben’s open mouth choking on all that came from that hole.
Greensides puts the cigarette out on the ashtray.
I tried to go back to the station, but it was too late then.
I didn’t see the woman again.
Boyce walks towards the floor and begins to pull up the boards with his hands.
Yes, it’s true. Every detail, every fact. I’m a well travelled man with a well informed body, a sharpened mind. And, like you, I have a keen eye for beauty.
Who else can say it? Say that they have flown over the dark forests of Europe? That they have watched the volcanoes erupt on Java. That they have peered into the heart of Paris; into the spine of Toyko; into the womb of Buenos Aries? I have spied upon the giddy heights of the world from the cool metal enclosure of the cock-pit, leather on my glorious hide and countless dials at my command.
All these things I carry in my experienced eyes - An Atlas of the skies.
My suit, as you can see, is pressed and worn to perfection. My three-button navy-blue carried like the cloak of a king, closed over a white shirt and tie. A pair of black shoes shine under my straight, single front-pleat trousers, and my styled pilot cap rests on my head, casting a short black shadow. You know this to be true. You feel it in your heart and your blood quickens as you gaze upon my gallant form. Don’t be ashamed, it is not your fault - it could never be your fault. Beauty has no fault.
My scent is golden and my lips are jewels. Women have tasted them from London to Cairo, and so will you; lucky, lucky you.
It is true that I spend my time in the airport; that I walk along the concrete buildings and rest upon the plastic seats of the passenger lounge. Asterion in his labyrinth, you have passed me before and you will again. I lift my left leg and bring it to rest upon the surface of the right.
For two hours before a flight I sit in my pilot's chair, adjusting every sense to that environment; the cool glass of the flashing screens running under my gentle fingers and it is easy for me to become hard. As I press myself against the control-panel I think about what it is to be in that seat, the weight of the vessel and all the responsibility a man like me must take with him into the skies.
But then who could do it but me? You know this. You trust me already - that’s how trustworthy I am. I speak and you listen. We’re a well oiled machine, you and I.
I know the route to the middle. It’s the simplest thing in the world. When I was small, before I was allowed go in. I would study it from my bedroom window. I would imagine it, all the paths and contours. In my head I would run, in a white silk dress and bare feet, between the hedges, straight to the centre.
Dad told me that when I turned five I would be old enough to go inside. That night before my birthday I lay wide awake. I thought my heart would beat itself out of my chest. I knew the path, but I was scared. In the dark of my room I looked out at the unmoving shape. I watched the centre and thought of it as an empty city, long abandoned from the war. It was a city only for me, for me to run through its streets and for me to lie in its shade.
Morning came and Dad led me to the entrance. He said he would wait for me, and if I was to become lost, to call out his name. The hedges towered over my head, but I remembered the path and walked right, left, right, left...
I made it. I felt my lips tighten around my teeth as I grinned at the leaf walls, motionless and tamed below the open blue sky. From the centre I could see the house, my home; it's old stone walls reaching up like fat toes. My lips were slightly parted, my neck exposed. My hand was pressed against my skin and I could feel the contours of my ribs. I squeezed the flesh gently between my thumb and fore-finger like a soft-boiled egg. I have a soft boiled egg every morning for breakfast and I thought of it sat in my eggcup waiting for me to cut it open with a knife. It didn’t say a thing; of course it didn’t, it was an egg. It didn’t howl, it didn’t whimper. It silently let me eat it, just like the day before, and the day before that. But today, for some reason today, I listened, hoping it would protest as I tapped its skull.
Left, right, left, right…I made my way back and couldn’t stop smiling. I had made it all on my own, in silence, with no-one’s help. When I got out I could see Dad on the other side of the living-room window. He smiled and waved and I smiled back, frozen on the grass.
Greensides:My friend Oscar, he won’t mind me telling the story, you know him /
Boyce:(From the hole) / No /
Greensides:/ He’s a bit slow, was at school with us. You know Rita.
Greensides:His German girlfriend.
Boyce:Christ, are they still together?
Greensides:Yeah I know. Sickening isn’t it? She’s moved to Berlin now though, long distance thing.
Boyce:They not married yet?
Greensides:Not yet. They manage to keep it together though. He goes over there every few months and she comes over here every few months.
Greensides:Exactly, whatever works for them. And they’re a really nice couple, very much in love, you should see the way they stare at each other, there’s a definite intensity...Oscar does tend to stare a lot though.
Boyce:Lazy eye right?
Greensides:That’s it, lazy eye, always goes a-wandering in that head of his.
So it’s Oscar’s birthday and Rita gets him a nice new pair of trousers, very high quality, well fitting. She mails them over from Berlin, air mail, and, I don’t know if the cargo plane was uncharacteristically hot, or if they got wet, or whatever, but this lovely pair of trousers decides to shrink several sizes between Berlin and London. End up this big. (Greensides indicates around two feet using his hands)
Oscar on the morn of his birthday opens this soiled parcel and, the stupid fuck he is, thinks that these tiny trousers must be the latest German fashion.
God knows how he managed to squeeze himself into them, but he did, and, to be honest, it didn’t look that bad. It was generally more impressive than disgusting.
A whole week he managed in them, and people had kind of gotten used to it; the way he would waddle over with his belly just slightly folded over the top. Then, one day he’s queuing up in the post office, it’s Monday so it’s pretty busy, he’s there to post a small jar of toffees to Rita. She’d never eaten toffee before, can you believe that? Apparently she wasn’t allowed them as a child and fell into the habit of avoiding them for fear of tooth-rot. Oskar thought that was ridiculous, I mean nothing’s wrong with a moderate chew, and he came to the decision that a decorative jar of English toffee he’d spotted in Portobello road would make her rethink her childish fears and ergo she would build a stronger, deeper connection to Oskar, resulting in a bridge for the two of them that, although it was separated by the physical distance between London and Berlin, would transcend their previous adolescent lives and lead them to live solely in the present.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how things happened, but I do remember it was the first truly hot day of the year and Oskar is well known for his sweaty palms. When his time came to talk to the teller it seemed the act of both balancing the jar of toffee in one hand and pulling out his wallet from his back pocket with the other resulted in him dropping the wallet on the floor.
So he bent over.
Greensides:I’ve never made a pair of trousers. I do not know the intricacies required to stitch the seams and I do not know how you attach a metal zip to the material. However, it seems that although an average trouser is adequately able to support a comfortable relationship between itself and an individual’s genitals, continuous close contact results in some tender consequences. According to the surgeon, when Oscar bent over it was like pressing a pastry cutter into a soft mound of dough.
And, now, he has a zip in his penis.
Boyce:Is he okay?
Greensides:He’s fine...well, not really.
Greensides finishes his apple.
I don’t think he can have kids now.
Greensides throws the apple core into the hole.
The apple hits Boyce’s head.
Boyce:Help me up.
Greensides walks to the hole, crouches down next to it and after a few seconds
reaches down into it.
He pulls up Boyce.
Boyce leans on his sledgehammer.
Greensides:This zip, in his manhood,what a thing.
I saw Rita not long ago; bumped into her down Oxford Street - funny how that happens, right? She was visiting Oskar. We ended up going for a drink and she told me all about his condition. I told her it sounded fucking mad, to have a zip like that down there. She swore to God that it was the truth. She admitted that, at first, it became a real issue in their relationship. I mean, can you imagine?
They’re both all right with it now; mostly forget it’s even there. But every so often…Rita said this after a few drinks…every so often when they’re in bed they open it up.
Normally Oskar doesn’t like it being touched…it’s very sensitive you see…he takes quite a bit of convincing. But if Rita lies him down just right, and if she gently pulls it open…
It took me forty minutes to get down the stairs, all 175, there was a line of people spiraling under. We’re to go home, I could see them all down The Strand, yellow jackets and black helmets, directing us to the station. I definitely got the message. A lot of angry people and it’s way too silent on the hour. But two stops in this guy spits right on the other guy’s face, right in the middle of the carriage. Both of them wearing well fitted suits and suddenly he has one of his Brogues on the other’s skull.
All of us watching his foot go up and down, again and again; Jesus, the stuff that came out of that crack.
It’s the lack of information, that’s the worst part.
They’ll make you stand there for forty minutes, and not a single word of information. Lots of us there, like, a load of us there, but do they say anything? No, of course not.
They just expect you to wait. The…that board with all the times on it. I had to keep walking all the way down the platform to check it, and it’s just…it’s just rows of ‘wait for information’.
And that’s fine, I don’t mind…I mean you can understand it…but you hear the banging, real loud, you can hear it on the platform and you hear it getting closer…and they stopped letting people in…I mean you couldn’t see the floor for people but… to not let people in…I do understand it, I do…but when you can hear it, so close…and the look in people’s eyes…white and round and open.
There were kids there, and everyone forgets...
It’s a dirty joke, the cheek of it to steal our hours.
James: I have a technique. What man doesn’t? Jesus, we all need something to do, don’t we? Something to bring a smile to our lips. The moan against the chest, little flutter of eyelids. Control for the fingers, keep that hand steady, steady still all the way down. Pressed tight in the dark. But what more?
“Surely” you plead, “Surely” you cry, “We need more than that.” And you say that with such conviction, Like it’s the easiest thing in the world to have any more than that.
Finds Jess, after she has been thrown into the river.
I made her. Opened up the door and there she was. Perfectly formed.
James walks through the crowd, who part for him.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me describe her:
She stands doe-eyed under warm lights with hair falling from yellow to brown. Skin lying fawn-like over her words. I hear the faint cry of a wild animal and she appears, smiling across the ground. She undresses and I watch a string of orange lights leading from her feet to mine. Snowskin away from my fingers, yet I feel the strength of images in her eyes and all I want to do is speak. All I want to do is speak. But I never can, and she always disappears.
Snowskin left in the water.
Born alive; thing of the imagination.
But who can say, who can truly say?
My sea-eyed girl,
Come into the arms of your ever-loving man.
James embraces Jess.
Jess kisses him.
James becomes visibly on edge.
So I go back into those doors. Even with you, my love. And I’m hoping to be done with it all, but here it keeps on coming.
James smiles and calms.
A thing of my own, made under bedroom sheets.
It’s a story for me to tell, And my God, I tell it well.
James kisses Jess on the neck.
But I feel long and I feel hard and this thing lies down on the river bed.
James pushes Jess down into the water. Everyone is watching, silent.
James undoes his belt.
James advances on Jess in the water.
He is violent and he is aggressive.
He almost drowns Jess, but stops before she can be killed.
They told me it was in the papers. They told me it was shouted from the rooftops, that there were articles, plays, commemorative plaques and symphonies. There were pictures of me in every country, in every church and under every stone. My name was gold and it was dust. I was told that my crime was the worst. I was to be fed to a lion. I was shown a picture; magnificent beast, creeping through the night, each stride lain down like a swift slice to the leaves and dirt.
Sat alone, deep underground. No more than a lump of flesh. I remember the lion. My fingers move against the cold stone and if I strain my ears I can hear the faint sound of wind, blowing softly through the cracks of the cell. But I can’t see a thing. Not a thing.
The stadium was planned. There would be helicopters in the sky and police in the crowd. Some called for my legs to be broken, smashed by a blunt hammer. There were those that wished for my eyes to be cut and scooped from my skull. They wanted my arms pulled from my sockets. The tickets sold out. The world had its eyes on the city; an example of economic and cultural superiority, of truly modern architectural planning. The designs were hailed as forward thinking. The surrounding area became a hotspot for business expansion.
I try to scream but all that comes out is hot air and saliva. I haven’t stood for years, my ankles grown into stone.
A lion was chosen from a televised series of auditions. He was paid to endorse food products. He came to see me. I had never seen a lion before. He wore a shirt and told me it wasn’t personal, that he didn’t want to seem inhuman. I nodded and shook his paw.
News spread of an execution on the continent. A mass murderer was fed to a bear. He was photogenic, hairy, broad, a hit with the ladies. He released his own perfume, had an affair with a politician and published an autobiography. His claws were like knives. The murderer died after seven hours of prolonged mutilation. It was spoken of for weeks.
My arms have become string. I rarely lift them. Sometimes I stretch as far as I can, up into the dark, and try to feel the soft breath of a waiting figure, or a gentle bird above my head; its hard beak like a nail in the stone wall.
The lion came back a year later. He spoke a lot and I listened to everything he said. I think he had been drinking. His wife was pregnant and he was afraid. He didn’t know who to talk to. He pulled out a tissue and wiped his cheek. His paws were golden and he let me touch them. I smiled and he cried again.
When I sleep I dream of a mouth, raised above the city, its tongue like a wire, touching the ground, and people climb up, masses of legs and faces, all moving upwards. The city left silent as wet lips smile over empty houses and forgotten parks.
The lion came again. His wife had left him, taking full custody of the child. She had written an article about their relationship; all the details, all the ups and downs. I held his paw. He wept into my side. I could feel the tears run down my skin, dripping into a puddle around my big toe. I pressed my hands into his fur; it felt good against my fingertips. I wanted to dive into his mane, to swim in the golden hair and wrap my body in the soft tender streams.
The lips slowly part, a black hole in the sky.
They forgot the details of my crime. I changed from the devil to a ghost; no-one remembered my name. I was whispered about in school-yards, church-halls, and sewing-circles. The stadium was complete but nothing happened. It was left unlit, the shops were all shut. The streets full of rubble. Soon the guards stopped visiting me. I was slid food through a hatch, sometimes I saw a hand, but most of the time I just heard footsteps, the tray entering and footsteps once more.
I was told that the lion had broken down. He had lost sponsorship from the stadium. He tried to become an actor, but couldn’t get work. He was involved in a violent incident on a train from LondonBridge. He spent a week in jail. He couldn’t go on. He spent his days walking around the city with a suitcase, but it was only full of paperclips and apple cores. I heard he left weeping into the night, carrying a knife.
A roar, slicing through the backbone, blowing people down to the ground. An animal sound, full of hair and teeth.
On the headline news it was announced that an old celebrity who had fallen on hard times was involved in a murder. The public wouldn’t stand for it. They saw the state of the city and blamed it on him. He was an animal. He was a monster. Something had to be done. It was revealed in the papers that this creature was once affiliated with the stadium; the eye-sore, the embarrassment, the waste of money.
The last I heard, the lion was tied to a stake in the ground. A firing squad was instructed to fill him full of bullets until there was more metal than meat. No-one came to watch, miles and miles of seats lay empty. The strips of skin and bone were scooped into a bag and thrown in the river. The stadium was demolished; forgotten. The area renovated. They built new accommodation.
Now I can’t see anything, nothing at all. I’ve forgotten how big the room is, it’s all black. I just sit in this little patch and try not to move.