In a small grotty block of council flats somewhere in a northern town, a man stands at the top of a stairwell. He wrestles with his conscience, and a very large, heavy black bin bag. The contents of the bag, large in density and number, bear down, conspiring to pierce the plastic. Adjustments are made in the man's stance and posture to allow his hands a firmer and more stable purchase on the jostling materials inside.
The man tries to peer over the top of the bag, to see where he is going. He cannot. He attempts to look round each side of the bin bag. He cannot. His forward vision is wholly obscured by low density polyethelene. Exasperation purses his lips. He slides his left foot slowly towards the edge of the top step, finds it, then slowly starts to make his way down.
At the bottom of the stairwell a girl waits. She is not conventionally beautiful. Like Tess of the D'Ubervilles, she has shorn her locks. She enjoys the soft prickling texture of her scalp on the palm of her hand. There are bruise coloured swellings underneath her eyes, symptoms of insomnia, or abuse. She wears overalls smeared with oil, transformed, misshapen, by the character of time and the body that fills it.
“Do you need a hand there?” she asks.
His face is Jude the obscured.
“Please could you open the door?” he mumbles.
She pulls the gum from her mouth and fixes it to the door frame. It is the sixteenth piece of gum on the frame. Starting at the bottom, she is a third of the way up. She has no calendar, so she marks each day with the detritus of her daily mastications. Once the door frame has been fully decorated, it will be time to move on.
The door is opened. She courteously waits for him to amble through, then follows. They emerge into an enclosed back yard, where cigarette stubs carpet the edges of a stained stone floor. The man drags the bin bag across to a corner, pinches and tears the plastic, spilling the cumbersome load into as tight a corner as he can manage. The girl observes as the pile grows larger with each shake of the shrinking sack.
“Smoke?” she offers.
The man nods, accepting gratefully. They sit for a moment, smoking in silence. The man waits for her to point to elephant in the room/yard. She finally relents.
“So... what's that all about?”
“It's rubbish. Fumbled interpretations of life. My life.”
“So what are you going to do with it?”
She stamps out the cigarette, nudging the withered stub with her foot, to join its fallen comrades.
“Not yet,” she says.
She picks up a handful of the discarded materials and begins to rifle through. Sketches, watercolours, scribblings, pages on pages of text and graphics, vitriol and heartache, tears and inspirations, colours and shades. Hundreds of hopes. Thousands of thoughts. Millions of memories.
“I don 't get it,” she says, eventually.
“Most people don't,” he lies. In fact, nobody had 'got it'. Ever.
“It's all kind of... angsty.”
“I like this bit... They don't eat, don't sleep. They don't feed, they don't seethe. Bare their gums when they moan and squeak. Lick the dirt off a larger one's feet. They don't push, don't crowd. Congregate until they're much too loud. Fuck to procreate till they are dead. Drink the blood of their so called best friend.”
“I didn't write it. It's from a song. A band called Pearl Jam.”
She tries to stifle herself, but can't.
“Are you laughing at me?” he says.
“No-oooo. No. Not at all,” she smiles. “It's the best piece of copyright I've ever read.”
The man smiles back.
They sit for a while longer. The air contracts with the heat, stirring the senses and desires of those it touches. She reaches for his shoulder and grasps it gently. The man turns to meet her gaze. Somewhere deep behind those eyes he imagines he sees something. It takes him a while to realise, it is his own reflection.
“I get you want to make a fresh start. But this is not the way to do it.”
“But this,” he waves in the direction of the fluttering pages. “This has always held me back. I get so lost in myself, so lost in my... you know... art, that I can't find my way back. I can't be a father. I've already lost the love of my life to it. But really, I don't have any talent. I need to get back to work. I need to grow up. I need to rejoin the world, be a responsible father again.”
The girl says nothing. She hands him back the thick wad of paper, plucks her matches from her pocket, picks one out, lights it, throws it on the remaining pile. A corner catches fire. The fire devours the fodder. Fragments float on the still air and disperse across the yard. They watch.
“What's your name?” she inquires.
He holds his face in hands, carrying the weight of his sorrow.
“Well Hector, each one of those pages you hold in your hand has two sides. You clearly don't like to use both. Turn them over. There. You have a huge stack of blank pages. Write, draw, paint, whatever, but do it about something else. Something better. The world may have gone to shit, but the world doesn't have to be you. You can, literally, turn over a new leaf.”
Sensing he needs it, she embraces Hector, and plants a quick kiss on his cheek.
“And now,” she whispers in his ear, holding him close. “I must bid you adieu. I really need a piss.”
And with that she left him, holding a wad of blank pages.