Awake before dawn.
Awake as mist once clinging to colder stones eases away from night. Awake and recognising smaller stones as unfriends that dug gently during this colder dark to create half sleep, thankful of them but wanting easier company in such distressed times.
For amongst us is one who kills, one who ends for others their terror and dis-ease of time spent here in mouldered blankets. He comes quiet, I know it is he for I have seen him despatch misshapes before full light would expose such Samaritan aid. We are cowards here, clinging to life; sordid as such it is, for we have not the strength to finish the slide we started however and whenever we first toppled. He has spied my eyes before peering over damp blankets, knowing I know his business, yet can not, will not stop what he needs must do. Since that time he glances quickly, quietly in my direction whenever his work is discovered, his eyes reflect mine own in mute wonder that I say nothing of his handicraft, that I cannot stir to denounce horrors.
I have learnt here to say nothing of importance, such irresponsibility leads to danger that only living cannot endure. Others, newer to these low places, arrive with hope left tucked into recesses of yet completely sodden brainstems, tucked amongst meagre possessions smaller still images of lives once led, lives that could still yet be resurrected, lives torn in all ways but for their clinging vainly to hope.
In amongst these shadows hope is the worst curse amongst the potions that led us down, no drug, booze will tear a heart in the vicious cruel manner hope brings, hope will remind of what once was, hope rips into sleep and day dreams, creating pain where palliatives eased. Those of us with such knowledge avoid newer arriving blood; such taints are best avoided unless pain is needed as spur for higher violence. Violence is not new, we are past masters, taking the little left from another is no longer low, there is no low anymore in this place where to steal another’s crumb creates continuance and another day of life. We are cowards for we will take these easier plumbed roads hanging onto grey cold rather than lay still to bring on end.
He has struck again in this night, I saw his shape flit amongst the rags, stoop briefly and go, returning to his own bundle, silently, without dramatic stealth but quiet as such trade demands. He is looking at me now as discovery is made; meagre tarnished possessions shared and the body slipped into the river. I wonder if he knows, cares, that eventually inquiries will be made in the world above us, these things matter to those who exist in other places, where light, goods and continuing breath carries meaning. Those who guard their gaudy baubles will some time soon come to begin questions the origin of thin-skinned skeleton figures floating through to reminding of fate. Not that they will chase too hard perpetrator of such deeds, more to push away from their own areas those, he, who would do this. Ghostly reminders floating in the river create reminders for their masters of how life can be and nothing must, should, interfere with mirages created by wealth and hope burnished bright by breath suspending belief. Running dogs will arrive; sniff around, finding nothing obvious to cause such ghastly river ships and then will leave.
Maybe they will find evidence of drugs amongst our ruins, one or two will be taken into custody, given charitable status: clothes, baths, hot meals, possibly tobacco or small amounts of cash. Such are death knell ownings, if they return before tobacco, money, clothing are gone, bartered, drunk, then fights will break out to take same. Shitty, nasty, little knife fights where the first blows are struck from behind or a lurching running trot to strike without fear of return blow. One will fall and others then swarm to take whatever can be clutched. They will and must return, knowing that this will happen but having nowhere else to go or future to create understanding that destiny wears many hoods.
Maybe he wants these things to occur, part of crazed plan, created during wild night when wind howled to throw stench of humanity about. Possibly his hands can only destroy little and he wishes for the whirlwind return and convince others of wisdom in his plan. Such are wild guesses, taken by one who huddles deeper into blankets, observing tightly, avoiding own demise yet viewing all eyes another slipping into the final night. He ties a cloth, ligature, tight around throat, quickly, violently, strong enough that fingers cannot slip under to loosen, tight enough to disorient thought as they waken to die, struggling, choking for breath. Though too, older ones slip in sleep, a shudder gently shaking as breath stops and automatic reactions begin, no noise escapes in these final encounters. The ligature strapped against vocal cords, tightened to crush windpipe does not allow, only slight threshing sounds of stick thin bones against damp rag cloth. He appears not to notice, want such recognition of his craft, he bends, ties and is gone, it is only I open for observance.
Day breaks: my blanket lofted on stick to allow air through, what little sun invades here to dry. Little mercies create sufferance in cold nights. My place now is to find cans, discarded cans of revellers from evening before, cans from younger people, eyes bright in glow of lust of each other, light dotted by reflected cigarettes and streetlamps as they kiss in darker corners. They cannot see me as I gaze upon them from below. I catch their antics: furtive couplings and groanings, bared flesh that once I too would have wanted to caress, roughly squeeze in lust, now my eyes follow bounce of cans thrown down as lust takes over, mind following to pick up in mornings. My round is short, stuffing sack with discards and anything else that appears sellable, tradeable. Intrusion, trading as care happens occasionally, these I rebuff; another’s hope or dreams are more burden than any needs to bear. Once, Danny was taken up in a weaker moment by these offers, dressed in second hand sheepskin and old but newer to him boots. His family found, prodigal son scenes from family forgotten by need to hide pain. Dead. Two weeks. The good food and soft bed crippled him, arthritis hidden by damp flared in warmth and care. His family shamed by his finding, killed with kindness, Danny now in a marked grave to show spike of hope needed by another masquerading in kindness. All this not written on the lines in the newspaper blown in by colder winds.
My cans I sell to the scrap merchant, enough for a day’s bread, something to drink, herd out the cold. Occasionally, mainly after weekends there is enough for a hot meal, this taken out back of cafes where cooks slip on extra sausage, beans, bread: “To fill you up”
I cannot finish these meals and instead slide sausage into pockets and throw them to the mob who wait my return, if they smelt instead of being thrown, my pockets would be slit further only my own knife could hold them back. Hot meals hold me for a day or two, round and large, radiating heat through gut. Creating unused to internal sounds. Feelings of grease, over satisfaction and slowness. Hot meals create danger.
Today is one of those. My cans safe behind flattened tin junkyard wall, coins in pocket. The cafe has changed hands many times, though each owner appears to knows me, they jerk their heads back to tell me to go round the back, their nostrils flaring, customers wrinkling theirs at my appearance. I forget I smell to them, they smell to me of chemicals, kitchens and milk dried from puddles. Their view wins and I go out back, sitting on greasy buckets, forking in beans, eggs, gravy, anything the cook will spare, thinks I need. He stands hands on hips, once white pink and blood stained apron covering generous gut, smoking, blowing breath toward me, disgust etched into eye corners and mouth.
” You’re a fucking mess, whydontcha get a job?”
After a while his energy slows, his eyes move to wary, shame at himself for jeering, he offers a coat, a shirt, shoes. I take them, finish my food and sell them just as quickly for a bottle. Their new owner peels old clothes there in the street, low sun catching his grey skin in shadows, hollows and translucence, he is pleased but now would like a nip back from the bottle> I glare and he leaves, too large shoes flip flapping on the pavement. I sit by the river, watching the traffic, ships, boats, pleasurecraft, sailors all. All shifting, weaving to and fro, goods shipped downstream, back up, then down and onto elsewhere again. Dizzied by bottle, noise, traffic speed and light, the day has passed before me.
Back to below, the hidden river, stationed by the last dregs and watching newer cans tossed, catching the arc to remember landings for tomorrow, then back to blanket and troubled sleep. Stones digging, creating half sleep as darkness creates damper blankets.
He comes for me, my lids half open, catch movement, thin shadow and then he is upon me. Rough cloth tightening around my neck, quick, sharp, choking. I am ready for him, quicker, jabbing with knife at his knees, arms, hearing cuts in exclamation. He tries to rise as I stab again, again, his arms fall, cloth tight around my neck loosening as my fingers tear it away. He stares, what little light there is showing white of eye: “how?”
Others were gathering now, aware of a good fight, chance of spoils, action. Rags were lit and I showed him my neck, I’d tied small sticks together there forming armour against his attack, he rumbled for laughter, rolled over and the crowd after spoils took him to the river. Lying back, cool wind shifted showing stars, now I could find comfort there.
Awake before dawn.