A Fleeting Love Affair with Comic-con

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There have never been so many people in one place. Like glistening beetle cars, they bottleneck around me before bursting free in a scurrying race across the road. Costumes jostle each other, boxed humans peering confusedly out of their cardboard helmets as they teeter on stilts or platform shoes. There is black body paint smeared on my elbow, residue from the dark shadow man that brushed past me; the rippling darkened muscles of his back as he walks away seem menacing, and passing children stare up at him in awe and horror.

Two hundred thousand bodies, probably more, in a throbbing heaving mass pushing towards convention doors. The building spans the length of five, six blocks, with pointed steeple roof and sheet metal windows. A single road and tram lines separate it from the outside world – and this is where I roam.

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Assault courses, laser tag, Mythbusters, all dotted in hotels, parks, and on street corners. Queue queue queue for snippets of video, panels with Avengers, illegible scrawls by famous illustrators. Duck and dive and swoop in between mothers with prams, their baby Thors clutching their hammers as they grip onto their guardians’ palm. You are spun around by a Prince Charming as he slurs a drunken ballad; stumbling, you bump into the Hulk and dodge his smash.

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Screech to a halt: there is no passing by here.

A hell march of zombies has consumed the streets, flesh dangling from faces, un-dead pets rotting in their arms as they lurch at cameras and terrify observers. You must wait for this reeking crowd to part before you can dart through them to the next street.

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Keep stuffing leaflets into hands and chanting your familiar mantra. You are a tiny dot of promotion, the smallest speck that does not belong with this fandom – but you must learn their language. It is a fascinating one. Wait for a pixelated sword made of blue diamond and pounce on the friendly icon. Twenty minutes of excited gameplay exchanged before you move on.

One day in the manic rush you are given the golden ticket to get inside: enter the cathedral of worship and see what all the fuss is about – one hour only.

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A strange buzz fills your veins when you step on the floor. You are different from everyone else: you cannot move with the lazy drag of their feet that shows this is their hundredth circuit, time is too precious.

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Unbeknownst to you, there are secret loves and passions for comics and characters and films and franchises that you never knew you had. You flit from one stand to the next, stuffing money into hands and cramming goodies into bags. Endless snaps of photos are taken, and mouths open so often it’s like a fish gaping for water as one extraordinary thing after another lines up in front of you.

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You emerge panting from the stands to find yourself in the artwork section. The most incredible work, you want it all but the empty purse is light in your hands and the clock is ticking.

Time is up, Cinderella.

You gather the bags like the hem of a skirt and run tripping from the room, pouting at the early exit. One last look back at your painted hero, Wolverine, before the doors swallow you whole and spit you out on to the road back home.

Ribbon City

Along the side of the freeway is a strip of land, wedged in between racing cars and suburban yards. It is marked along its borders by chain link fences that ripple when they’re touched, the dull metallic scales undulating like the lazy swim of a fish.

It is its own city with rules and family. Tents are pitched, sheets of plastic tied around trees and stretched out to the pins in the dusty ground. Towels, grubby clothes, an umbrella, are piled on top of the makeshift roof, shrivelling in the sun.

The cool blast of air-con is whipping strands of hair back from my face as I zoom past and see an exhausted man in this ribbon city, bending over a small girl. He is topless, the folds of his stomach overlapping the waistband of his jeans and his pale skin gleaming in the harsh sunlight. He is holding a bottle in his hand; squirts white cream into his palm; rubs it onto the child’s nose. Before they disappear I see a grin hoist up the weight of the young child’s face.

A few meters along is a gathering of women, sitting around a small stove fire. They are perched on floral loungers, the rusted legs digging into the dirt. Limp cigarettes hang from their mouths and the soles of their feet are grey. One of them waves and shouts something to a person out of sight.

Along the side of the freeway is a strip of land marked by chain link fences. There is family and love and story telling here. There is dirt and poverty and blistered skin from the sun.

There is a whole ribbon city, in the shadow of the free way to home.

Hush

The door clicks shut and there is silence. 

Stop.

Helicopter blades chopping through the night air, thick varnished leaves squeaking against the brick wall, and the rustle of rough bristled curtains. 

Alone.

This is the first moment in three weeks. Exhale. Feel the breath tunnel through your pursed lips and find joy in your puffed, hot cheeks. Everything washing over you in a wave of yesterdays. A montage of faces smiling, singing, slurring, blurring into one. A myriad of places, of mountains and deserts, of boardwalks and sidewalks, and females with feathers.

Blink and you see computer screens and limousines and taxi cabs careening down tarmac, shrieking a blaring note that locals ignore. 

Blink and starry skin is wrapped around your waist, and you grin with a FLASH and the moment is gone. 

Wink at the next girl you see because you share in secret love the city that won’t sleep, just hurls you into tomorrow. Wave it hello and plunge back in. 

Blink and yesterdays line up like ghostly spectres, fluttering and whispering and reminding you of their past lives. 

Hush.

Blink and bright lights dance along lids, winking you into sleep that won’t rest your bones – because in your dreams you danceIMG_6095[1]

Black Cat

You are my feline, whispering stealthily from ear – to head – to heart. Promises you can / cannot keep, wishes you grant / cannot grant; I hear the purrs and grasp your neck between my fingers.

Be mine.

You are still. Frozen; you know I have caught you but instead of bending to my will you pretend you are not there. You embody, you become the oxymoron. Fluffy feline and foxy predator. If I hold my breath for long enough you will think I am no longer there. And oh, so wrong you will be.

Longing does not exist with lust. Longing is the aftermath of lust, tinted with ‘what ifs‘ and ‘should I’s‘ and ‘maybe’s‘. I long for you. With every breath I wish you closer.

And with every breath I wish you gone.

Walking home in the dead of night, you visit me. Sleek black coat, claws that click on pavements, sharp eyes that glint. A tail swishes from left to right in the afterglow of an orange street lamp.

Still here.

Waiting.

Embracing.

Reading Romance

To me, words are the most romantic thing in this world. They lay bare the secrets of the heart and joys of the soul, and birth them for the ears and eyes of anyone who would care to be a part of them. You are a part of these words, right now. You are a part of my romance.

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Miles away in Cyprus is a sleek blue card. Early this morning, it was opened by the man I love, who would have read my soul and smiled. I told him of love and happiness and the future; I painted with ink a canvas bursting with love and gave it to him for his travels. In it I wrote, Happy third year anniversary. 

In those words, I see the whole story of our love. 

I see the beginning, sitting on a boat in the setting sun as planes fly through fog overhead and light up clouds with flashes of green and purple. 

I see the family dinners, with his Grandpa winking at me as he slipped me an extra slice of cake and cousins grinning uncomfortably in the corner. 

I see holidays to bustling cities and blistering beaches.

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I see baklava atop a cliff. 

I see learning and essays and successes at university. 

I see our flat, with the purple fluffy rug you hate, and all the wisps of it that has now been tread into our carpet so it looks like a mottled sea.

I see movies and jigsaws and bottles of wine and boardgames. 

I see night time dancing in an abandoned shopping mall, laughter echoing in the silence as we slip over tiles and spin around escalators.

I see a blurred smile on a computer screen, miming out the words I love you.

On that thin slip of shiny card there lay exposed all that has been, all that is and all that will be, through the eyes of the woman who has loved him. Histories and stories and promises. On the one day of the year I long more than ever to be with him, there is no way that I possibly could be. So I gave him the next best thing.

My words.

My romance.

My thank you, for my Happy Ever After.

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I do not miss you.

I do not miss you.

I do not pine for the touch of your skin when you step out of the shower, the hot, sticky drops that rain on my sleeping body as you bend over to kiss me. The water beads that herald the presence of coffee and foamed milk, the crumbling disaster of pastry in bed.

I do not yearn for the panting breath of evening skies as we tackle the climb from the sea back to the shelter of home. Blood moon rising behind us like a lantern guiding the way as we duck under a tree to steal a kiss.

I do not long for the days spent lounging in each others’ arms, laughing and teasing, clambering over the thick branched muscles of the limb to grab the splayed twigs of fingers that wave tantalisingly in the air. Come down from there. 

I do not miss you.

Alone in what we call home, I fumble around the kitchen and make foods that I know you hate, just to see if you will smell them from halfway across the world and hurry back to get me to stop. Make something else, you’d beg.

I need shampoo but buy Head & Shoulders for Men. I stand in the stream and scrub and scrub and scrub, but all I get is the smell of you and people stare when I wedge my hair over my nose like an oxygen mask.

I am counting the days on my shaking fingers, mapping the global movement with bright pins on calendars and coloured sheets of the world. The tiny red dot that is you haunts me when I pass it on my way to bed, and is burnt on my lids when I close them to dream.

I do not miss you.

I do not miss you.

crave you.

 

Reporting for Duty

I curl my fingers around the stem of the wine glass. My fingers squeak on the crystal as they move up and down. The bottle is curiously warm to the touch as I trace my fingers along the edge of the label and run them around the swell, before picking it up with a swing of the arm. Music is playing through the speakers; I hum along regardless of who it is.

* * *

Sand has thickened the flag that hangs stiffly from the pole, lining the fabric and masking the Union Jack in a muted dirty yellow. Years of exposure have deadened it, although lines of soldiers still salute to it every morning. I salute with them, my hand shaking from exhaustion and doubt.

It used to remind me of home. Of quaint English habits and the trumpeting national anthem; the Queen’s weedy speech on Christmas day and bushy, dark moustaches on the mouths of men. Now it is part of my scenery, in sight from anywhere within the twenty five mile radius of the camp, blasting its obnoxious tune with oblivious immortality.

We get anxious out here for too long a time; with nothing to do, we end up pacing, snapping at our tails and whining like dogs, waiting on orders. To make us feel more at ease we have a steel tin trailer, marked ‘Pizza Hut.’ You can order a stuffed crust margherita from the middle of the desert and call it British. I get excited when it arrives and jostle in the queue with the others, but it is disappointing, all I taste is grease and grit. I wonder if it was any different back home.

* * *

The wine tastes bitter as it slips down my throat, but the effect is pleasant. I feel a gentle fuzz wrap itself around my brain, taking me into those familiar arms of a mother soothing an infant. It rocks me, back and forth, back and forth.

Back and forth.

* * *

In a distant corner of Camp Bastion is a football pitch. A rickety corkboard sign is propped up at the edge of the set rectangle, with clumsy letters painted in black.

KEEP OFF THE GRASS.

I like to watch the men play. I love the way their faces set into determination as they race after the ball and crack into a triumphant grin when it bounces past the unknown marker for ‘goal’. I sit on the side-lines and wait to be called in as referee; this happens often and is a near impossible task. In the thick of the sport, the sand is kicked up into a swirling dust cloud that pools around the players’ lower bodies. Within seconds all I see is disembodied chests and heads bobbing through the cloud, following no pattern and getting nowhere.

That was a foul, you must have seen it.

Hands in the air: I didn’t see anything, sorry. Try again. I’ll look harder this time.

But no matter how I squint, how deep into the cloud I wade, I see nothing and shrug my shoulders at the players. All’s fair in love and war, I say.

* * *

Turn the music up. I can’t hear it. No one ever talks about how wine deafens you. I poke my belly: the wine has filled it and pushed it outwards, I am a bloated, stranded whale on the sofa. When I try to stand my legs flutter as if filled with water from the thigh to the ankle; it is sloshing around inside of me. I shake my head, eyes rolling as if to clear the buzz: but my lids are heavy and my brain soft like candy floss – the pink kind, the kind that kids share on a first date at the pier.

All of this I have felt before. All of this I expect. But I had never realised how wine dams the ear canal with cotton buds and refuses entry of sound. I clap, trying to scare noise back into my body, imagining it as having crawled out of me in fear. Come back, I clap. Come back.

My pulse drums in my neck. In the mirror, I can see the throbbing artery pushing at my skin.

* * *

The Mastiff moved like a lethargic monster through the sands, beige, caged, prepared for any disaster. If you saw it from the outside, it looked blind, the slots where windows should be boarded up with white board, eyeballs without irises. Instead, the sight was electronic, streamed through cameras and fed to screens mounted in front of the noses of two drivers. I never understood why they needed two. Maybe the first would get lonely, seated by himself in the small compartmentalised front.

It was an afternoon of smooth transitioning, scouting the surrounding area, reporting back on sightings of Terror. Smooth, until –

BOOM.

The world was flung into disarray, my head smashed against metal, and all went black.

Fifty two hours later, I watched as the Mastiff, chest swelling in pride, rolled out of the repairs warehouse. The scorch marks were rubbed away, the dents popped out. It was brand new, ready to do it all again.

* * *

The faster I spin, the more I laugh. My arms are outstretched, brushing the prickly branches of the Christmas tree, the smooth oak of the mantelpiece, the steel stalk of a lamp. A beautiful man – really beautiful, just look at him – stands in the doorway. His arms are folded and he looks serious. I wish I knew why.

Come and dance with me!

He doesn’t move, and so I ask again. And again. And-again-and-again-and-again.

He leaves.

* * *

The world is on its head. There is a shining boot swinging gently in front of my face and I know it is not mine. I wonder whose it is. My eyes feel as though they are about to burst from my sockets. That is how I know I am upside down.

Panic sets in.

I look around me, left and right. Three other men are suspended like me, two of them unconscious. The one other who is awake is bracing his body against the truck roof – or floor, I can’t tell which. He is gulping in air, his cheeks ballooning and collapsing in on themselves in a rapid rhythm. Blood is oozing from a gash in his head; he is blinking crimson rivers from his eyes and he has noticed me. He calls my name, asks if I am ok.

Silence. I fumble at my lap, trying to find the clasp to the straps holding me in. Be careful, he tells me. Brace yourself.

With difficulty, I wrench the belts from me and fall headfirst onto the floor – ceiling. It hurts my bones and I lie still for a moment, just one moment, waiting for it to pass. But I mustn’t stop for long. I shake my head, trying to ignore the screaming ache that is setting in, the thick muted noise that is playing ceaselessly in my ears, and move to help.

* * *

There is a picture of me in uniform hanging on the wall. I hate it. With unsteady hands, I remove it from the nail and tell it this. I tell it three times before I throw it at the fireplace and watch it smash into a thousand glass-shards.

* * *

The news that we are going home reaches me early in the morning. I feel a leaden feeling set in my stomach at the news and start packing up my belongings. It doesn’t take long. One pack; one pair of boots tied at the laces and slung over my shoulder.

A convoy of 31 trucks is lined along the main road through camp. I am pointed to my transport and climb aboard. Our packs are jammed against our knees, cramped in the tiny space. When we set off, my palms start sweating and I wipe them repeatedly on my trousers. I recognise the man sitting opposite me: it is the man from the Mastiff with the tears of blood. He is really beautiful when you look at him. I hadn’t noticed that before.

My eyes don’t leave his face for one second. We are going home. A loud clang sounds through the cabin as we jolt over a rock, and I notice his nostrils flare, the whites of his eyes expand in panic. He notices me watching and his mouth grimaces an apologetic smile before his faces realigns.

* * *

The sun is rising, its grey light seeping around the frayed edges of the curtains. I raise my head to it and stare. My tongue is dry and sticks to the roof of my mouth; I have a cut on my hand and I don’t know how it got there. The empty wine bottles have been kicked out of sight so I don’t have to look at them. Good.

Wincing, I hobble to the window and clutch at the curtain. I pause before I wrench it open and allow the light to blast into the room. The pain is unbearable, intense, blinding, but it is real. I am home.

I am home.

 

*****

This is a piece of fiction I wrote, inspired by real life stories and blogs I have read about soldiers during and after war. It is being published in the literary journal of my university and was written for the theme of ‘Now’ ; right now, we are in a position where we are witnessing men coming home from years of war, and I wish to honour them and remind others of their humanity and sacrifice with my words.