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a stitch in time - tim goldstone


content warning - drug use


Before he went travelling he’d looked it up under the constantly flickering strip light in the little rural library back in Lampeter, mid-Wales – Datura: a plant, having long trumpet-shaped flowers yielding a powerful narcotic. Dangerous hallucinogen inducing disorientation of time and vision.


But Tug has no idea how long he’s spent studying what’s going on here – an hour, a few months, the length of a glance: the fit bronzed local men who appear to spend all day collecting blood in plastic bin-bags and showing it off to the disheveled traveller girls living on the beach, making them scream. By late afternoon they normally have at least two full bin-bags each that swish and gulp around inside. You can’t drag them. The slightest tear accelerates sickeningly. You have to be strong – the weight of those things: the distance you have to walk with them.

   

Then they have to carry them up the wide white marble steps of the hospital: towards the two neon signs that are a tired pink in the sunlight – alternately flashing their message: Blood. Blood. Someone told him they get ten thousand liras for each bag and that’s enough for a great night out in that part of southern Italy, past Brindisi, into the deep south. The bags slush about and shift their weight unexpectedly and there’s that warm, nauseating smell. The hospital accepts only full bin-bags.


The first time, Tug had eaten three of the bitter, creamy white flowers. Now he needed a lot more. He’d been warned there was a tipping point.


That night the same young men go back to the beach and smoke Nazionali cigarettes under a thatched outdoor bar and show off their muscles and laugh and joke and drink with traveller girls hanging from their biceps.


They’re joking now – as they watch the old men who try to do the same thing, who come out at night to wander the beach, who constantly stoop to squeeze blood from the smaller stones. After enormous effort and pain they have nothing. They use ordinary brown paper bags – it really is that hopeless. Every now and then though one of them will find some: and a few tiny droplets will fall into the crumpled bag after all that horrible straining of the fist and heart, and what’s still left of the muscles clinging to the sinews of the inner forearm, expecting support from ligaments and tendons that have lost all elasticity. Often the fingers will have to be prised open, re-cracking old fractures on the locked knuckles, until the stone drops to the ground.


Tug notices one of the old men is staggering badly in the wet sand by the edge of the sea and the young men have stopped laughing. They become quiet and some of them squeeze their eyes tight shut each time the man takes a step. The girls become uncomfortable and begin to drift away up the beach.


Tug watches them go. One of them turns on her heel and takes a few tentative steps back towards him –


She is smiling sparingly, waving a finger in admonishment. 'Tug eating too much flowers' she says, and runs to catch up with her friends. Tug hasn’t a clue whether she’s there or not.




Back in Lampeter he found Carys, with her hair dyed blond and pink. When the marijuana ran out he showed her you could smoke foxglove leaves. Carys developed irregular heartbeats and the cough that sounded like wet plates being stacked.

   

Ignoring the acrid black smoke, they burnt twisted, knotted dangling plastic bags they’d tied to a disused light-fitting in the front upstairs bedroom so that the flaming plastic dripped through the dark like fireworks with a zzzip zzzip noise down on to the wooden floorboards – branding them in the semi-derelict stone cottage buried deep in the Welsh countryside, squatting in the summer heat.

   

Febrile in the protection of thick, musty overcoats they’d found under the stairs, they took it in turns to hack a steep single-file path right up the through the ripping undergrowth that kept re-closing behind their backs and over their heads. When they realized they weren’t climbing anymore they frenziedly slashed out a clearing in the heart of the garden where once there must have been a small terrace that caught the sun, with a view over the idyllic valley, and they made enough room to lie down on dusty rugs they carried up from the cottage.

   

The garden reared up around where they lay, besieging them on all sides with towering, swaying, humming walls of brambles, blackthorn, huge nettles, dog roses clawing the air as they’re choked by flowering bindweed.


A surround sound buzzing as flying, chasing, raging insects shoot by them, too shivery-close for comfort. Tug watches Carys’s pupils darting at incredible speed as she tries to follow them all: she says she’s seeing trails in the air – and they laugh and sweat runs down into their eyes and stunned in the heat they watch their lives begin to melt around them. Tug peers back down to the cottage. A soldier just returned, walks up the path after years overseas serving with Queen Victoria’s imperial battalions, sits outside on the stone step. He is showing off his redcoat to his parents. He is proud of its faded red. His father says he preferred it new and bright. His mother strokes the palms of her son’s hands tracing the contours of the burn scars from where his Martini-Henry rifle overheated during constant firing all through that scorching, terrifying afternoon, six thousand miles away from the cheering crowds that sent them off. Tug saw the soldier’s young wife peering from an upstairs window with the secret inside her not yet showing. She catches Tug’s eye, shrinks back into the bedroom’s shadows where Tug can make out through a powdery greyness the thin red lines appear on her white, blue-veined wrists, and the razor fall through the air.


To accommodate the foxglove leaves, the screen had been pushed a long way down into the water pipe’s chillum. But now it was jammed and blocked so he needed to raise the screen. 'Your fingers are thinner than mine' he says to Carys. He eases the snugly fitting chimney out of the hole in the cork and hands it to her.


'Oh God' she says, I can’t drink the water again it's disgusting.


'We’re not going to' Tug says.

  

'What are you doing?' she says.

   

'Can you get the screen out? Your fingers are thinner than mine.'

  

‘Oh’ she says - and looks down surprised to see the chillum cradled in the palm of her hand. It moves slightly as Tug watches it. She has something to say: wants to be able to get clean – her cuts and scratches and bites are going bad. Wants to settle down just for a while in glowing lovey-dovey homey wifey plain simple clear-eyed life with maybe a couple of children who’ll wear faded grey overalls with tanned little arms sticking out and healthy bare feet and sticking up hair. They’ll hurt themselves playing too roughly while Tug’s at work earning real money somewhere for the sake of the family; and she’ll grab them and drag them into the kitchen by the scruffs of their collars – where she’s been baking something and she’ll hug them and pat them and give them some special biscuits she’s made along with the pie so as not to waste anything. Tug will suddenly arrive home from work and they’ll all go and sit together on the big soft enveloping sofa with the huge arms that the children ride as though they’re on horses and watch the television and cats come and curl up on their laps and Tug will say 'Are you sure they’re all ours?' and their spaniel trots in wearily, stinking, lies down across Carys and Tug’s feet, yipping and snorting as it dozes.


Tug didn’t like that. Tug notices Carys is all out of breath now, and for the first time sees the dark patches under her eyes. He tries to imagine all she’s been talking about but watches his thoughts hit the inside of his skull and fall back. He is sickened. The green bulwark engulfing them starts to pulsate. 'We can walk to that lake' he says.

     

'Yes' she says.


'Yes' he says.


Calm settles again like dust. The cottage is empty.




The very last of the moisture was being enticed out of the marsh. There is a breeze that makes the reeds rasp thirstily, and that brings the smell of baking mud, and the sounds of small, darting birds. The bare soles of Carys’s wet feet make soft slaps as she pads along the abandoned wooden jetty, each footprint evaporating before the next one is made. Sagging planks moan and sigh. Underneath her the water is lapping and kissing at unsafe supports. Carried from the other side of the lake: the buzz of a trail bike; a chainsaw’s drone.


Under the childishly yellow sun and big blue dome of sky Tug and Carys are dangling their legs over the end of the jetty. He stares into the water – remembering cutting himself in the hospital in Italy so he could put his blood in a saucer so the fleas would feed from there and not him. It didn’t work. They’d had to put a stitch in him. It worked itself loose within minutes.


‘This is nice’ Carys says, and begins to cough up a few tiny red droplets. She leans on Tug, her hair falling over his arm and he feels her warm ribs against him.


He corrugates their reflections on the cool surface of the lake, and when the picture returns Tug is alone. He walks back up the beach towards the hospital for help. He has no idea whether it’s there or not. The two signs flash Blood Blood. A bugler boy watches him pass by in a cart. The wooden wheels on the rutted track mean Tug with his bandaged hands is being shaken as though he were a rag doll.


‘A Stitch in Time’ was first published in Main Street Rag’s ‘Altered States’ print anthology, 2011.



Tim Goldstone has roamed widely including throughout the UK, Western and Eastern Europe, and N. Africa. Published internationally in numerous journals and anthologies both online and in print, including The Offing, 11 Mag Berlin, Anti-Heroin Chic, Cafe Irreal, The Speculative Book. Currently writes in remote rural Wales between the mountains and the sea. His prose sequence was read on stage at The Hay Festival, and his poetry presented on Digging for Wales. Scriptwriting credits for TV, radio, theatre. He loiters in twitter @muddygold

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