In Cinnamon Sugar

Saturday, 7 October, 2023
    I write to the sympathetic, that they might understand how even the smallest of events might trigger the most devastating of emotional tumbles. Worn thin, terribly thin; threadbare, they say, a terrific portmanteau. The whole week I had been anticipating the dinner party I was throwing for my parents, becoming stupidly excited, even saying to the cat—‘My parents are visiting this weekend… are you excited? They like you. They like you!’ The cat, becoming more & more vocal, whined back at me.
    ‘Half-four.’ ‘But we might arrive earlier.’ ‘Just let me know. Text me when you’re leaving.’ ‘I might go into town first.’ ‘Okay, whatever, just let me know when you think you’ll arrive.’ ‘I’ll probably pop in while your Mum’s shopping.’
    Half-four was in six minutes and there was no message, so my mind had disaster & twisted metal &  zero battery through it like the most neurotic Brighton rock. Then my dad called me as I was wiping tomato seeds off the chopping board, yelling—‘Do you not answer your door?!’
    And that was it.
    The rest of the evening fell apart, piece by piece. At one point, I was sat on the sofa and my mother was telling me about something amusing my niece had done, when I, unable to listen to what she was saying, began to weep uncontrollably; I stood up, opened the freezer and began to punch the bag of congealed ice until the plastic drawer broke and blood appeared on my knuckles and white dust fell all over the floor. I apologised, choking on my words—‘I haven’t been able to sleep lately.’
    Of course I tried to salvage the occasion, but could not.

Sunday, 8 October, 2023
    The doorbell was going. It was a constant misfortune for me to wake prematurely, like an affliction, disjointed sleep, painful, aching, more awake than at rest, but Sunday morning I had the opportunity and good fortune, after an hour or so, to fall back to sleep. No sooner had I fallen back to sleep than the doorbell rang at ten-past-nine. Ignore it, I thought. Although I would not answer it, I could not ignore the seemingly endless tone. It went on for some time, before it stubbornly ceased. Several moments later, I felt my front door move at the shifting of air, the bellows of my building up the lift and along the corridor. It was a delivery for my neighbour. I heard the greeting, the thanks, the exchange.
    I could not return to sleep. If I did not move, then perhaps, in the glossary of relaxation, it would count as sleep? My eyes were red. I could not return to sleep. Do not cry, boy. Think of something else, and when you can no longer think of something else, arise. I could not return to sleep. The cat sat at the end of the bed, watching me, her pupils enlarged in the dimness of the morning, her whole eyes black.

Monday, 9 October, 2023
    Fool yourself into thinking it’s a good morning;
    Underneath sunshine, it is a good morning, and cool enough till noon;
    Coffee and climate change, wars being fought, distractions, yes; beyond my window it glooms above rainclouds that do not collapse;
    Keep going and when you stop, go some more.
    For breakfast I made myself Bombay toast, because it reminded me of my Grandmother. Some people call it French toast. The French call it pain perdu.
    It was delicious in cinnamon sugar.

Tuesday, 10 October, 2023
    All my days confused, so that I—did I?—think it was the end of my three-month probation. Three months is too brief. My mother says to leave, my father to stay. I waited, wrongly, for some kind of fanfare. Three months with these people and they are still strangers, more than that they have become my opposites; every trait I seek to repel, every standard to object, every opinion to protest! Three months now and I feel as alone in their company as secondary school left me. No longer did I long for their acceptance, but instead to spit in their face! Making it through the probation period, though, felt, forgive me, like an accomplishment, as though I had stomached something inedible or not called out despite my pain. Like everything else, it came and went with little more than a number to differentiate it from the others. Most of all, I thought it was a mess.
    Call your parents and apologise for Saturday night. No.
    I got home and the cat rolled on the Persian runner. She said my name in her native tongue, a high-pitched Russian patois (regionless). I made myself a soup of onion, carrots, spices and lentils, a small amount of chicken thigh with veins and fat, marbles of blood. The cat watched me, scrambling playfully after a pinch of red lentils that fell from the sieve. She was in her tree with me when I got into bed. I was not tired but I wished her good-night.
Wednesday, 11 October, 2023
    Awake before the alarm. The cat heard me cough and came running from the kitchen, where she was causing trouble, to nestle in my arm and make biscuits on my chest. I told her I loved her over & over; she looked at me with big black eyes. The sun was not up. For the first time in her life, it was October and the days were getting short; imagine if she thought the world was ending!
    On site, I waited on the ringtone when the engineer walked towards me. She was a colleague, yes, appeared to have nothing against me, and had spent much of the summer working from a property in Spain. She said hello real friendly, talking a thousand-words-a-minute, eyes the colour of Kandinsky, her hair tied back in a bun, making anyone she spoke to feel like they were being dragged along behind her.
    We surveyed the twenty-first, twenty-second and twenty-eighth floors of a new building that greedily scraped the bellies of London’s swollen clouds. When I went to the old office (twice removed) during lockdown, the building went up. Steel, concrete and glass like skyline’s holy trinity. The main contractor made small-talk to feel me out, handed me an instant coffee and pastry that put butter down my first knuckle. I admired the view when I could, during breaks in the conversation, when I thought it might not get noticed. Going round, my colleague led a bunch of men, calling out demands and critiquing what she thought fair. I lagged at the rear, observing all, until the technical services manager—who reminded me of someone I knew years ago—lingered and made conversation. He asked me how I found my new employer: I told him he was lucky to work before such a view, and he told he took it for granted but it was indeed a grand view.
    Down there was the Thames, Anglia’s smirk. I pulled apart the town like it was biology’s amphibian, beached on the riverside; there, amongst the bones, were organs and tissue. That was my old office, old pub, old haunts, routes & paths, memories between like capillaries, cells under a microscope. (Not long into my first job, I was surveying a school in Bermondsey with a senior engineer. As we climbed the all-girls staircase between classes, I gazed out one of the portholes and he snapped—‘We’re not here to appreciate the view.’)

Thursday, 12 October, 2023
    Again, I woke before my alarm, over an hour before, and could not return. Not so bad at the start of the week but by the end I would work from home. She was glad.
    Shag women who like dogs.
    Marry women who prefer cats.
   Kill those who have no affection for either.
    I put a lance into my ring finger, lefthand. Get it warm, exercise, swing it in circles. I massaged, as instructed, then the blood trickled, hurried, enthused and gurgled, into a small tube. Not enough. I lanced the ring finger again, righthand this time. I filled the tube. Urinate into a cup and draw the pipette. Wash hands. So often do I wash my hands that now, as the air dries and drops, my skin chaps. Carefully, with trembling hand, I pull a cotton swab across the back of my mouth; each part a name that I became briefly familiar with during COVID. But even after it all, lockdown and recession, everything, the back of my throat still looks like stage curtains. Finally, sample four of four, I squatted in the centre of my bathroom, inserted the swab into my anus until I was a human lollipop and then revolved it out.
    I put so much of myself—too much of myself—into the postbox outside Tesco.
    Three months later the postbox outside Tesco will conduct a probationary review, a meeting room, blinds drawn down, ajar windows ebbing small sounds of the street; a clipboard of performance reviews on blood, urine, throat, rectal.
    Reject me here and I will run a hundred miles!
    As though I had repented, had paid my debt to society for a victimless crime, I felt myself return from fogginess into clarity. That evening I rang my mother; she waited before answering the phone; just finishing dinner, turning heat down on the pot while it bubbled. ‘How have you been?’ I told her since Saturday. ‘O, darling, I’m sorry.’ I assured her it was not anybody’s fault, and certainly not hers.

Friday, 13 October, 2023
    ‘I can’t see you right now, but I imagine you’re sitting there, deep in thought.’
    Why did she do it in the first place? Why did she tell me about it decades later? Why did I bury it at sea only for it to float back during a therapy session?
    She walked past with my brother in the pram. It was snacktime in the late eighties and I was sat alone. She was sad and wanted to burst into the hall and give me some friends. She could not. There were years to come. She figured I would make friends. My memories of Philadelphia cream cheese, crackers and whole milk are brushed against the splinters of varnished hardwood. Years later she told me I had no friends and she wanted to rescue me but could not. She walked off to the village shop, wondering why she had looked into playgroup, for it was my life away from her.
    ‘Yeah,’ I said, over & over, assuring my other I was still on the line. ‘Fuck, I’d forgotten she told me that.’ Breathing deeper. ‘I wish she hadn’t.’