by Paul Woodgate
You, on a street, in Army-surplus hazmat suit surfing decades of decay, leaving Armstrong-deep footprints in the fallout. Brick-thick scaffolds of vine with pale orange lipstick flowers border broken shop windows, long ago looted by now dead men.
You sashay in and out of rusted vehicles. The bodywork is so thin you can punch holes in it, but that game tires when a family of scabrous rats with neon tails explode onto the street from a taxi. One stops, eyes you momentarily; stranger in a stranger land. You bang the side of the door again. The echo of impact rolls ahead of you, a sharp industrial yawp oscillating back and forth from the eyeless sockets of crumbling buildings. You follow the echo to the shortened horizon.
Imagine. You can see them through the fog of destruction. Thousands of them. Walking arm in arm along the pavements, tethered to fashionable leather and branded plastic bags. Catheters of consumerism, abasing themselves in front of brightly lit displays that suck them dry one purchase at a time. The warning music plays in your head, blaring from speakers angled out of doorways – ‘all for freedom and for pleasure, nothing ever lasts forever, if it’s not love, then it’s the bomb that’ll bring us together, I’m an ordinary guy, burning down the house, who has the fun, is it always a man with a gun?’
You stick your tongue against the helmet grille, out at the invisible crowds. The taste is ozone and metals, the acrid sorrow of irradiated air. You saw the final act play out long before they accepted it. They suffocated the planet’s pores with their need for more. No more want, you said. No more need. No more more. You took a wet wipe to them all. You are bacteria free. Preach, brother!
Now the world is you. The planet. The country. This city, this street. You run your hands through empty CD racks in HMV – rat-tat-tat-tat-tat. You simper behind a perfume counter in Top Shop, bat your eyelids at rows of deformed mannequins. You wait patiently for the number 10 bus, read the tattered timetable folding in the wind. You sit in the back row of screen two at the Odeon and boo at imagined villains whilst blackbirds rattle in the exposed steels above and circle where the roof used to be. You trace your name in the dust outside River Island; Ozymandias, King of Kings. Oppenheimer’s deadly toy. The boy who pushed the button.
At the crossroads you look up at a sign – ‘Oxford Street’. The sun hovers in a grey soupy dusk. Atomic earth dances in a haunted breeze. Time to find shelter; you cannot be out in the dark. The ghosts don’t like you.
- ‘All for freedom and for pleasure, nothing lasts forever’ from Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears For Fears
- ‘If it’s not love, then it’s the bomb that’ll bring us together’ from Ask by The Smiths
- ‘I’m an ordinary guy, burning down the house’ from Burning Down The House by Talking Heads
- ‘Who has the fun, is it always a man with a gun?’ from Always The Sun by The Stranglers
- ‘Oppenheimer’s deadly toy’ from Russians by Sting
Lyrics used without permission
This is the result of an exercise on point of view at a creative writing class hosted by The Writers Company, run by Petra McQueen and taught by Kate Worsley. We were asked to write a short piece in a point of view we wouldn’t normally consider, that took us out of our comfort zone. I chose ‘second person narration‘, using ‘you’ as a direct address to the reader. It’s gone through some editing since then, and could do with more, but I like it enough to throw it to the t’inter-net wolves.
True to form, I’ve shoe-horned some musical references in there, mostly from the period in the 1980s when some of us genuinely thought mutually assured destruction was just a bad-hair-day-for-Reagan away. If you’re so inclined, you’ll also spot some word-play on a famous science fiction novel from 1961. Lastly, there’s a reference to an Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel too. Or should that be a poem by Shelley? Or the satire of Juvenal? What goes around…
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?