NYC COMMANDER

The New York Times wraps around her consciousness in the harsh NYC sunlight, like cheap trash caught in a gust. If only she could be as NYC as that beautiful rag? Leather cap on and attitude to match, she cleans up the graffiti with a saintly smile. She feels at home here, down on the sidewalk, cleaning up these mean streets but she hides a deep dark secret. By day, she is the NYC Commander but at night she spray paints a new identity on these poor city walls. Drips of paint brush against her rubber mac soul as she fights two identities on these NYC streets.

She is a true NYC street fighter. But she has only one enemy.

Herself.

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WEST HOLLYWOOD IT GIRL

‘She was something of a legend over on West Hollywood. It was well known that her skills lay in predicting the future through chipped china teacups. If she liked you…

You entered her small 1930’s bungalow, past golden gilded Indian statues that stared with expressions of wonder and helpless awe. She would glide through to greet you with the haughty air of a forgotten Hollywood diva. She was breathtaking in her beauty, dark crimson lips set off by the blackest of curls. It was rumoured that she took the souls of men that she loved and encased them in gold gilt statutes, forever to admire her, forever to love her. Every man who entered her lair forgot about the rumour as soon as they stared into her dark eyes of seduction.

Beware the West Hollywood It Girl. She may tell you your fortune. Or take your soul for eternity. Her choice. Never yours.”

 

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CRIMSON MASK

The blackest of woven silk was her uniform for tonight’s performance. She admired her glance in the ornate mirror in the ink room. She hastily tried to pat down spiky pixie hair but it was standing up on end. Never mind, with her translucent red mask in place, she was fully armed for the outside. And fully disguised.

She knew that her sad eyes reflected far too much, but the crimson red saturated the desolation and gave them a rouge mystery that was hard to read. And that was all she needed in order to mix in the crowd unnoticed.

 

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THE GREY MASK

Haunting eyes sought comfort in the winding cobbled street, wet with rain. This was her home and she had travelled a long way to return to this wayward place. The stepping stones were still in place, hidden well. She would know her way, even in the dark. It was designed that way. Had been for centuries before and centuries before that.

She wrapped the Grey Mask up well above her face. It would not do to be discovered on this cold day. Not here. It was far too dangerous. There was only so much that magic could save you from. There was a power in this place which threatened so much more than raw magic and the thought of it sent shivers down her spine.

Her fearful eyes were swaddled in grey lace. A lace so fine that it looked like spider’s gossamer, spun by an ancient spindle. The Grey Mask was a beautiful shield and a protection like no other.

At this moment, on this cold day, it was all she had…

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HER RED MASK

She still looked more pixie than female; something not quite of this world. She tried hard to disguise the light tips of her ears but even the red mask was no match for them. Donning a black ink feather cape and pearls, she stepped out into the foray, breathing heavily.

The red mask was strangely translucent and hurt her eyes so she stopped to rip a square in it, to allow her eyes to see. Other mask wearers stared at her insolence with disgust. She was well aware that blatant insubordination was a sure sign that she was an imposter but she had to risk it. It was important that she could see properly.

She did not realise that here, in this place, this action would reveal far too much of her pixie soul. An action that she would forever regret.

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FISHNET FACE

She wove her own fishnets from the finest silk imported from the Andalusian mountains. She had been weaving since she was little, helping her grandmother with the large fishing nets at the dockside. Now, she wove silk fishnets and wore them stretched over her face. People would stare; they assumed it was a fashion fad. Not for her. She wore them as silken protection. Nets could catch and snare but they could also protect, woven with ancient words and spells. People would look but never see; her fishnet face protected her soul from prying eyes.

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RED BLUE

He hadn’t detected the change; still assumed she was shrouded in shades of blue. The blue had been her colour for so long that even she wondered if it would ever change. Then, one night, the red had woken her up in the early hours, raging hot lava pouring through cold blue with a burning ferocity. She felt it’s raw pigment, pure and unbridled and was scared and exhilarated at the same time. She was still in the metamorphosis of red blue but the red was already shaping her through molten anger into a creature of power. Soon she would be completely red but for now she was red blue. And no-one would ever know, because blue carefully hid the red until it was time to change.

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CAN’T GO BACK

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

C.S. Lewis

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They say that you can’t go back but today is my futile attempt. I was born four miles from one of the most ancient pagan sites of worship in Scotland, Cairnpapple Hill. I liked to think this is why I was a little different as a child; intuitive and mystical with an aptitude for spinning a good yarn. However the truth is that the hospital I was born in was also the area’s mental institution so the jury is out on that one. Growing up in the back hills of Bathgate was fun; scrambling up the ruins of Cairnpapple and playing in the small seventies housing scheme with a bunch of friends.

School was a different matter though. For a child with a very colourful imagination, attending a strict Catholic primary school in the early eighties was always going to be a challenge. I was also intelligent with a slight speech impediment and a faulty kidney. These were the conditions for a strange primary school experience at best. I could read and write before I went to school, so I guess I must have been what they would call “gifted” nowadays but in the eighties council-run education system, I was labelled a troublemaker. I would tell the other children elaborate stories to pass the time, as I was often bored senseless. As a result, I would get the belt for distracting the class. The hardest corporal punishments though were reserved for religious offences. I can’t remember the number of times I was belted hard across the hands for questioning questionable religious beliefs. Picking holes in the Catholic religion in a strict Catholic school was the ultimate act of rebellion. I look back at that seven year old girl, trooping up to the front of the class to take yet another belting just for asking an intelligent question and I am so proud of her.

That was a long time ago though I think as I travel back to Bathgate today. I sit on the train and I remember a true story amongst all of the farcical tales that I used to make up. I am surprised that I would remember this, of all my many memories. It spurs me to get off the train and walk down the high street, taking a sharp left at the bottom that leads to a wide path. At the end of this gravel path, is a large overgrown piece of ground that faces an old rusted fence. I can’t believe it is still here. As I look through the wire barricade to my small concrete primary school beyond, I remember. And I remember you. You used to stand here, staring through the same wire fence, staring at the other children, looking so lost and sad. But you are not here today because I can’t go back.

I distinctly remember the catalyst for this one particular story; there had been a fight in the playground, over the concrete turtle and blood had been spilt. We were all just working class kids, only seven years old, but at times, we fought. However, in this school, they took playground scraps as a slight against the Catholic religion. Therefore, on the day in question, my usual charm offensive of being the entertaining storyteller was wearing thin. Parents had been involved and for some of us, that had resulted in a kind of playground ostracisation. To be honest, I liked my own company anyway; I could easily imagine a magical world without an audience.

However, this time, it was different. Some kids had started calling me names and I had been struggling to find any friends to play with for well over a week now. For the first time, in the playground, I felt an aching loneliness. It was on this day, whilst wandering the whole boundary of the playground that I noticed the high wire fence. What was over there in the wild open space beyond the fence? I wondered if it was like the Cairnpapple Hill that my Dad often took me to; maybe there were ancient ruins over there too?

As I reached the furthest point of the boundary, near the corner, I heard crying. Now, I might have been a bit mischievous but I could not abide sadness, even at that young age. I guessed it was one of the other kids, feeling a bit lonely too, so I called out, “Hello? Are you ok?”

The crying stopped immediately, followed by a few muffled sniffs. It was a dark morning, one of those cold winter days, which feels like early evening. The wind was up too, leaves swirling round and round faster as I walked towards the fence. I screwed up my eyes, trying to see, trying to make out the small figure in the corner. As I got closer, I suddenly saw a girl, not much older than me, sitting on the ground, arms wrapped tightly around her knees, dirty face watching me carefully.

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I slowly approached her, “Hi. Are you, er…are you ok?” I knew how embarrassing it was to be found crying and didn’t want her to feel bad. She just stared at me in amazement. She looked absolutely terrified.

I walked over tentatively and discovered that she was on the other side of the fence, “What are you doing over there? I didn’t think any of the kids were allowed in that place?”

She stood up then and laughed, twirling around, her dirty dress sending a flutter of leaves up in the air, “This is my home, silly!”

I was intrigued; here was a kid, actually living in the forbidden space beyond the fence! Wow! I nodded back to the kids playing behind me, “Have they stopped playing with you too?”

She looked sad then and put her head down, “Oh, they never play with me. It’s like they don’t even see me,” at this, she looked up shyly, “You are the first one to speak to me.”

Now this horrified me. I knew some of them could be cruel but I always knew that, deep down, it never lasted. The idea that the other kids had never spoken to her was devastating. I was only seven; I didn’t have all the answers but I understood that sometimes adults did strange things. Maybe this wee girl was being kept in beyond this fence for some reason? I will admit that my imagination ran away with me. However, I vowed that day, to always speak to her. I told her that we would always be friends.

From that day on, the wee girl beyond the fence and I became great pals. We would meet every playtime and laugh and joke, mindless of the barricade between us. It was there but in our childish minds, it never mattered. She was such a good friend; the loneliness I had felt before had gone. I often wondered if she might be one of the gypsy kids that sometime frequented our class but I never pressed the issue. I was now in full-blown speech therapy that embarrassingly would be carried out during class time. None of this really mattered though, because my friend at the fence was always there.

This continued until one day my mum was called into the school. What had I done now, I thought miserably, as I walked alongside her to the Headmaster’s office? My mum was angry, particularly as I was unable to tell her why. She thought that I was holding out but I was in the dark as much as she was. As we walked in to the office, I was surprised to see several teachers there, sitting next to the stern Headmaster. He looked like a fire was eating him up, with red fat cheeks and angry lines all over his face. I started to feel scared now; I just couldn’t understand what I had done wrong? I sat and tried to listen but I was so confused. I could easily make out adult conversation but did not always understand some of the things they were discussing. Then, it dawned on me that they were talking about my friend beyond the fence and seemed to be annoyed that I was spending so much time over there in the corner of the playground. I had to speak up!

I was beside myself, “No, no, please don’t stop me speaking to her! No one else speaks to her. You can’t do that to her. I am the only one she has. Please, can’t you just help her to get through the fence?” My voice was wobbling. I knew enough of adults then to know that they could do anything they wanted and I did not want to lose my only friend.

There was silence in the room. All eyes were on me then.

The Headmaster coughed loudly, “Who exactly are you talking about, Anna Louise?” his black eyes squinted at me.

I was scared now, “I…I don’t know her exact name. She…she lives in the space beyond the fence. That is why I go to the corner! I go there to speak to her!”Again, there was dark silence and as I saw my mum put her head down in quiet resignation, I couldn’t understand what I had said that was so wrong. But, I knew in that moment that they had the power to stop me seeing my friend and I broke down; inconsolable with tears and grief.

They boarded up the fence with cheap plywood after that and I was warned that if I ever went near that part of the playground again, I would be expelled. I hated the school after that. I hated the authorities. And I never saw my friend again.

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As I stand here today, I wonder at the cruelty of childhood. I look out, across the fence, from the place where she used to stand and I feel so sad. I am so sad that I can’t go back. I am here today at the Bathgate Cemetery for the funeral of my Uncle and this has brought me back to this fence, which sits as a border between the school and the cemetery. However this time, I am on the opposite side, looking back, now as a grown woman with children of my own. I still took time out to come to this patch of ground where we played, just to see if you might still be here.

However, there is more space now between us than a mere fence. I realise that there was only one little lost girl back then and it was me. Were you a figment of my imagination or just a little ghost offering love and friendship to a sad wee girl who was so very lonely. I can’t go back, as an adult, to the space in which we played, a space between this world and the next. I wonder if you are still here, watching me?  I can’t go back, wee one. I can’t see you anymore but I am still your friend. I can lay down this flower for you, in this patch of grass beyond the fence, and I can thank you for your friendship all those years ago, in the space between.

 

 

 

AULD REEKIE BALACLAVA

Edinburgh was bitter today, windy and cold,

I went for a walk, threw on a hat black and bold

 

I didnae realize that the thing on my head

Was a black balaclava, pure rebel wool thread

 

I marched up to town, battled through tourists,

Came to the Tolbooth, where the street is the jurist

 

I used to be good, used to be so quiet,

Now, I want to start a fucking street riot.

 

When walking old streets in soft balaclava,

Beware the rebels of the city of lava.

 

We might not see ghosts of our ancient city,

But you will feel their cold grief and sad lonely pity.

 

If closes could talk and walls could speak,

The tales of Auld Reekie the stones would shriek.

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THE ART MARKET

An artist gives (not sells) an artwork to a bourgeoisie gallery,

They have no income, no fancy salary.

 

The bourgeoisie gallery sells it on to a bourgeoisie buyer,

Who keeps it in a safe, makes the price go higher.

 

They dole out the cash to the grateful artist,

‘We’ve taken our cut, we know best, We’re the smartest.

Do a few more; keep them large and rare,

Cause we’re taking them all to the latest art fair.”

 

The bourgeoisie gallery turns up in London or Basel,

Everyone trying to act uber posh casual,

“This guys the thing, the latest trend,

For you, we will make the tax rules bend.”

 

“Give us your cash, we don’t care where it’s from,

We will sell you some art. We will all make a bomb.”

 

We have sold our souls to the highest bidders,

When all art becomes a series of figures.

Bourgeoisie art for bourgeoisie sake,

Is making the art market totally fake.

 

Get out of my studio,

I cry and wail,

Art is my soul,

And it’s not for sale.

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