Please Don't Cut the Rope, Mister!
by Peter Adamakakis
"Oi! Mrs. Jameson wants her kid back!" Larzo's calling me. "Float number seven!"
"i know," i mumble to myself, "i know what float her little brat's on."
i move towards the edge of the jetty and take a moment to consider the filthy state of my hands before i start hauling Jameson's kid back. These greasy ropes never get cleaned so i guess my hands'll always be dirty. Larzo got the ropes off an old oil tanker for next to nothing and he's such a tight bastard he'll never consider buying new ones. He's always reminding me i should be grateful i've even got a job any time i dare to bring up the subject of new ropes. That's what i love about Larzo, he's as considerate as an open sewer on a hot summer's day.
The times between putting the kids on the floats and hauling them in when their parents come to collect them, are the times that i spend thinking. About where i want to go and what i want to do. i've been here for five years now i think, ever since i left school anyway. Qualifications for the higher up jobs didn't, (or couldn't), find their way into my hands. They were clean hands then. Artistic hands, before the trembling started and shook all hope away. All i've got now are these oily, shitty ropes that bring the blisters up faster than a whore's skirt. The ropes and the brats out there on their little fragments of security.
i spend most days here thinking about how i'm going to escape from all this. About how i'm finally going to leave Larzo and all his demented degradations and start somewhere new. i also think about how Smoulder left. How my own screeching melancholy drove her from my side. i remember how her words were little sparrows which would flutter 'round the room with laughter and escape tattooed in their pin-point eyes. How she would put on the final line of lipstick, move right up next to me and whisper, "Can't let them get too close now, can I?" It sounds more romantically tragic than it actually was though.
The float's nearly at the jetty and my hands aching before i notice Jameson's kid isn't making too much noise.
"This one's a little quiet!" i yell over to Larzo. He just smiles though. He makes all the parents sign a disclaimer absolving him of any responsibility for any damages. He's got it down to a fine art. That bastard.
"That's okay," Mrs Jameson almost sings. "He'll be easier to put to bed tonight. He's always so restless, but i think he's tired himself out today. Thanks for looking after him." This last part she directs to me.
"It's my job," i spit, "i do it cos i get paid."
There ain't no river
Can wash away my tears
There ain't no river baby
Can wash away my fears
i'm leaning on the wall outside the apartment building where i live on the fifteenth floor. A rotting concrete mausoleum, a decaying monument to the grandeur once envisioned for this district. A tomb filled with the rotting artefacts of lives that've slipped into decrepitude. The brittle, fleshless bones and empty skulls piled upon each other in mute acceptance of this fate as the whole city fades into a grey, tangible mist that stifles any life for miles around. Right down to the shores of the putrid river which smells worse every day.
A quick cigarette with Randall before going up to Mother. Randall's only ten and i met him about a year ago when he came up and asked me for a smoke.
"Daddy said we could have a new puppy if we promise to like Manorma." Randall's staring across the street to the condemned corner shop with faded 'For Sale' signs nailed all over it like some maniacal mosaic. "But I don't like her," he continues, "she doesn't smell like mum used to. She wears way too much perfume…..it's like she's trying to hide something. And dad just sits in his stupid armchair soaking up beer like a fat useless sponge. It's like he died when mum did. And Manorma's just a big phoney trying to trick us into letting her live with us. The government won't give her a decent flat cos she's on her own."
i really don't know what to say to him, and seeing that he doesn't really expect any sort of reply, i just throw my cigarette into the gutter and tell him i'll see him tomorrow. Who the hell am i to offer advice anyway? Randall's the only kid i know who doesn't remind me of work. He thinks my dirty hands are some kind of rebellion against authority. i haven't told him that i can't clean them. i watch him walk off and wander what it's like to be so young and drowning on dry land. Even the brats back on the river have their floats to cling to. Randall's got nothing. Just our little talks where he vents his ten year old vitriol and confusion and i listen and nod occasionally when i think he'd like me to agree.
There ain't no use in cryin'
But how I pity that poor fool
He's gonna cry hisself a river
And ride to hell on a barstool
Mother's standing at the door with her arms folded across her chest.
"Sorry i'm late Ma," i mumble. As i try to squeeze past her, I notice a tear rolling down her cheek.
"He called again today," her monotone voice trying hard to mask the emotion etched in her haggard face. "He told me to pass on his regards. Now to the bathroom and wash those disgusting hands of yours," she attempts to lighten the mood. "I've bought some special abrasive soap that's supposed to get any muck off human skin so I don't want any excuses from you."
Mother chooses to ignore the fact that the gunk has been pushed so far down into the layers of skin that no amount of scrubbing's going to get them clean. But i head towards the bathroom anyway.
"Did he say where he was staying?" i ask with no real hope of an answer. Neither of us knows why he left. He just got up one morning, dressed as usual, and went out. That was the last we ever saw of him. And apart from the phone calls every so often, we've adjusted to the fact that he won't be coming back.
i remember how he used to take me to watch the old movie serials at the local cinema. How we'd sit in the front row to be good and close to the action. How my neck would start to hurt from looking up at the screen, and how i'd never complain cos i was just glad to be sitting next to him in the grainy darkness, watching the exploits of the larger-than-life heroes whirring past me. It's not that i miss him or anything, i just sometimes wish he was still here, that's all.
i've managed to scrape my hands red raw and still haven't moved any of this crap. Mother's not going to be happy, but i really can't be bothered to face another lecture about standards and cleanliness being next to the state of the almighty creator himself tonight.
"i'm not really hungry Ma," i call down to the kitchen, "i'll just go and lie down for a while. Ok?"
My room is as i left it this morning. Mother never comes in here. i think she's afraid of what she might find within. Maybe some proof of the madness she suspects has crept into me. Her darling little boy. i put some blues on my stereo and lie on the bed letting the timeless laments wash over me. So warm and cleansing. Soft and low and sweet like honey laced with good malt whisky.
A body full of bourbon
Squeeze the rye with fists
Drink a little moonshine
Then go and slash your wrists.
i've got this plan i've been working on for months now. The need for escape seems like a razor at my throat. i wonder if that's what Smoulder was feeling when she just got up and left. i wonder if she found it hard to fight the need for a different view. The need for fields vast with opportunity and skies laden with promise. The blues are wailing majestically and i lie back and close my eyes. The blues don't fill the chasm at all, they just make it seem a little less empty.
One night i'm going to stay back at work to make sure none of the parents try to take their kids out without paying. This happens quite a lot with many parents waiting 'til it's well dark before sneaking in and trying to take their kids home. Larzo hates that shit and stands guard most nights. No one's going to stiff Larzo on his fee. And as the disclaimer states, he won't move any brat until someone comes to collect them. So i'll volunteer to stay back one night and wait 'til it's really dark. Then i'm going to start cutting the kids loose. It'll take some time as the ropes are thick bastards, as thick as my arm at least. But i'll stick at it until the last one's been cut free. Then i'll swim out to a vacant float and cut myself free. i'm going to float across to the other side of the river that i can see some days when the mist isn't so bad. Any place has got to be better than here. i'll get myself another job, maybe in one of those glass towers which are a blur in the distance on the other side. And i'll hide my hands in crisp white gloves and no one need ever know where i came from. i'll be able to hold my head up. And i might even be able to get Smoulder back.
Solace was a whisper
Love was but a sigh
Sorrow came a'courtin'
And I felt the passion die
Morning bus rides into work are the pits of hell. i always stand and keep my hands in my pockets so no one can see them. But the bright orange coveralls Larzo makes me wear as a uniform do nothing to make me inconspicuous. The school girls on the back seat giggle behind perfect hands as i almost fall over every time the driver takes a corner or brakes suddenly. i know that Larzo enjoys making me look like a fool. Many's the time he's tripped me over or belittled me in front of parents. Many's the time he's heaped scorn on any suggestion i may have for better working conditions. My first day there he pushed me into the river saying, "You'll have to get used to that if you're going to work here." i really, really despise that bastard. i picture myself cutting into his scraggy, vulture neck and watching the blood spurt out like water from one of those fountains i saw in a park as a child. These are the thoughts i have every single morning and they always bring a smile to my weary lips. The roar of the ancient bus does nothing to drown out the giggling from the back seat.
It's during these times of utter self-consciousness that i think about the strange wooden christ and crucifix Mother used to have hanging on the kitchen wall. What made it strange was that instead of the christ figure being nailed to the crucifix, it had been attached with little silk ropes. The ropes always struck me as a rather wry re-writing of how the 'son of god' was actually treated by the people who now consider him to be their saviour. i wish Larzo would buy some nice new silk ropes. i know that i'm going to have to get out of here very soon. Escape and try to find Smoulder and tell her how lost i feel without her. The fact that i felt lost with her doesn't seem to bother me all that much now. The driver takes a corner like some crazed junkie chasing down his next fix and i become intimate with an elderly woman with white gloves covering what i assume to be gnarled little hands. i stand and apologise and get off five kilometres from work. "The walk will do me good," i lie to myself.
Work was a shit again and it was all i could do to stop myself from throwing Larzo into the river and run home screaming. i'm seated in the bar of the Tarnished View, a club i frequent when i want to squeeze the day out of my head with copious amounts of alcohol.
"i'm just giving them a chance at something better!" i'm trying to explain to Marlon. He's a suited friend of mine who seems to think my plan is ridiculous. i should learn not to open my mouth so much when i'm drunk. Marlon and i went to school together and bonded over a shared love of old sci-fi movies and have held this tenuous familiarity ever since. He's the only person who doesn't seem to mind my alcoholic ramblings and i put up with him as much as i think he puts up with me.
"You can't go around cutting children loose like that. It's against the law!" You'll never get away with it! They'll hunt you down and lock you up." The last remark is delivered in an even tone with his hand on my shoulder in a dismal and ineffectual display of concern.
"i'm just giving them a chance at change. The same bloody chance i'm giving myself. No one gives a shit about them one way or the other so why should anyone bother hunting me down? i'm not talking ethics, just a slender ray of hope which lies in the distance. i don't understand! What's the problem here?" My voice has risen to the point where i'm being noticed by others and receiving looks reserved only for the crazed and socially inept.
Marlon's up to get the next round in and leaves me with my demons. This place isn't too bad most of the time and they even play some decent blues every now and again. And as long as you leave before midnight when the young crowd streams in and it becomes a meat market, you don't wake up the next morning feeling cheap and cheated.
i never go up for drinks. That would mean the bar maid would have to see the sorry state of my hands. She'd see and know that i'm not one of the suited ones, and i don't want her to. She probably wouldn't say anything, but i know my hands would make her feel uncomfortable and superior all the same. Marlon's on his way back and i've got the urge to leave. So i'm up and out real quick so as i don't have time to change my mind. Sometimes it's best to just up and leave without philosophising about the whys and why nots. Sometimes it's best to stagger home alone and hope that the labyrinth in your head matches the one in front of your eyes.
"Move it you retard!! I don't pay you to sit and stare into oblivion all day. Float twenty-three! She's been out all night and her old man's come to collect her! Move!"
Larzo's in a foul mood today, so i just walk over, real casual, acting like i'm not picturing my fist sailing through the air, a gentle breeze in its wake, feeling the warmth of his blood trickle through my fingers as it connects with his weasel face.
i walk over and start to drag the kid in, watching the gulls dive-bombing for the rotting fish lapping against the pylons beneath the jetty. The mucus water seems thicker today than most, and no matter how many times this scene has assaulted my eyes, it still makes me sick. i start to picture Smoulder's face to get my mind off the water. i picture her with eyes and lips beckoning. With arms outstretched, inviting and warm. And just then the brat on the float catches my attention. Something in the way she's trailing her hand through the water like no normal kid would tells me she won't be climbing off the float alone. By the time the float is next to me i know full well she's gone.
"Hey Larzo!" My voice is shaking worse than my hands. "Hey Larzo, this one's dead!" i lift her out of the float, lay her down gently, and try to find any sign of life within her rag-doll body. Her father is running towards me, his mouth open in a grotesquely silent scream of denial.
"Hose down the float and get her off my jetty!" Larzo's foaming at the mouth and shaking his fists at the sky, blaming his uncaring god for this pox that has befallen him. "You signed a bloody contract!!" His guttural self-absolution hangs in the air as he throws himself into his office and slams the door.
i turn to watch the father collapse in a heap next to the body of his daughter; his face plastered with guilt, disbelief, and non-comprehension. The ambulance siren slices my head in two and i know i've got to go. This is the last line that i will cross. The final scar to mark my already pock-marked soul. Tomorrow night's the night. But as for now, i need a drink and i need some blues to wash away the shadow of death and decay which, for the first time, i feel has truly entered me.
Oh Lord I knows the damage
Oh Lord I knows the hurt
Standing at the edge of madness
So cold without my shirt
The television's filled with grey ghosts tonight. i didn't say a word to Mother about what happened at the jetty today and she's been asleep for ages. A bottle of bourbon lies empty on the floor beside me and my head is filled with the turbulence of the truly drunk.
i'm going to tell Larzo i'll be staying to do the late shift tomorrow night. i've already got the knife i'm going to use. It's the big one Mother uses to carve the Sunday roast. i'm going to strap it to the inside of my leg, just above the ankle, like i saw it done in an old commando movie years ago. Years ago when things where clearer and different. When there were always voices to fill each and every corner of this place. Sometimes there was even laughter. Smoulder used to fill any room she was in with light and warmth. i don't know why she had to leave with him. At least i think she left with him. They both left around the same time. Or was it years apart? The fact they both left makes the timeline hazy.
She was always telling me i should be more like him. Or was it more like them? Or more like the chiselled adonises which graced the covers of her turgid romance novellas? More like anybody but me. The TV hisses and fades to dots and chaos and i pass out.
"And yes, I've been there at the birth of sentences which I knew were never going to amount to much. But I watched them grow anyway and awaited the eventual collapse. A slap in the face and another ruin to spite the landscape. Another edifice weathered by indecision..."
i've left the TV on and it's 'Morning Philosophy with Professor Intransigence'. Opiates for the obtuse, valium for the vacuous. i heave the empty bourbon bottle at the screen and watch the smoke spiral to the ceiling. Mother's up and screaming inconsolably so i fall into the bathroom to ready myself for work.
"You're just like he was!" she's screeching and pounding the door pathetically and arrhythmically. "What do I do now while you're away enjoying yourself in the sun and fresh air? Have you no consideration for me at all?" She's bawling like a baby now and i'm trying to shower before the hot water's cut off.
"Look ma, i'm sorry, okay?" i try to placate her as i dress and comb my hair. "i'll get you another one tonight. i've really got to go now. Okay?"
She shrugs and turns to the window. "He's out there somewhere," her arm sweeps across the passionless scene of buildings grey and streets black and bleak. "He's out there, not here. Now do you see why i need the line to outside? Now do you see why my sanity is clutched so tightly in white-knuckled fists that it no longer resembles reason?"
i've been down this path with her before. The guilt she ladles out with lashings of pathos and martyrdom unparalleled in the annals of human endeavour is used to drench me and leave me shivering in the wasteland she sees as her life. i nod at her and head for the door, my brain already burying each and every word she's shovelled into it.
I got no sense of reason
Tomorrow's still a blur
I got this knife inside my gut
And it should be meant for her
Larzo's been gone for ages. He went home early after i volunteered for the night-watch. i think what happened yesterday seemed to bite into his paper-thin humanity and leave a little mark. He even thanked me for staying back and mumbled something about spending more time carving his wooden religious keepsakes.
I'm sitting on the edge of the jetty watching the moonlight dance on the ripples in the river. The one kid that's been left is floating quietly in the distance. It's usually five or six and sometimes even as high as ten kids, but tonight i'll only get a chance to liberate one. i'm slowly filling myself with alcohol to both warm me and boost my waning resolve. Doubt gnaws incessantly at my insides and my grand scheme seems futile and flawed in the extreme.
i unstrap the knife, grab hold of the rope, and begin to cut. The knife barely makes a mark on the rope and the oil and grease are making it slippery in my already unreliable hands.
"What are you doing? Mummy will be back soon. Please... I don't want to get lost down the river. What are you doing? Please don't cut the rope mister." The kid's managed to paddle to the jetty and isn't feeling very secure about somebody hacking at his life-line with a large knife. i ignore him and keep trying to cut the bastard rope. He'll thank me when he's finally away from here. When he's finally found the freedom he doesn't even know he needs. i'm trying to ignore his pleas but the rope has yet to even begin to fray.
My hands are cramping up and, thanks to the bottle of bourbon i've just finished, i'm more than a little unbalanced on my feet as well. The jetty is starting to sway from side to side and i place my hand on a pylon to steady myself and watch the knife fall and slide quickly and quietly into the water. i stare, dumbfounded, into the inky abyss for what seems an eternity. The lights sparkle dimly from across the river. Not so bright now. Not the constellation of hope they were only yesterday. Not the beacons of promise and new beginnings. My hands begin to itch.
"Must be the new soap," i mutter to myself in full resignation. "Mother won't be pleased. She won't be pleased at all."
© 2011 Peter Adamakakis
Bio: Peter Adamakakis is a 47-year-old from Oz (-tralia, not the prison in the TV series) with a life-long fondness for good old 1950s sci-fi and Vincent Price-style campy horror. Two of his poems have appeared here in Aphelion.
E-mail: Peter Adamakakis
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