So, I’ve got a few designs I’m messing around with for the front cover of The Caitiff and, though I’m wondering whether the continuation of the same theme I’ve used for several previous covers – those of pub toilets – is really the best design, at the minute that design is my current favourite.
So, here is the working cover of The Caitiff, which I will either make minute changes to, or change completely. So, you know, it’s good that I’m giving you guys such incredible information.
Also, if that little peak of the possible cover wasn’t enough, the following is an extract which I have never before shown to anyone, though one line did, at one point, make an appearance in a different paragraph before I began my minimal editing.
I hope you enjoy! Be sure to let me know what you think!
The credits rolled up the screen; names and professions as white blurs within the confines of the television. I attempted to raise my head with as little effort as I reasoned possible. I soon abandoned that pretence, though I enjoyed the brief sensation of cool air against my neck. I fell, again, to the claustrophobic cushions and sought a return to sleep. No. For all my efforts, I couldn’t blot out the cruel laughter; the robotic applause of the ‘live’ audience spread across the screen.
How could anyone dare to call themselves alive?
When I was finally able to lift my head, I had to close my eyes at the dull viciousness on the screen. I saw the crowd of pale ovals, the fixed smiles and the applause like that of trained animals chattering on the conveyor belt.
I hated the television; hated the dead eyes, the canned laughter from pulsating throats and the miserable cheeriness of it all. Yet I was drawn to it, not like a moth to its demise but, instead, like some wilful disgust of myself; this was what I deserved, it was what I desired! To fall back into an eternal oblivion, though only lasting half an hour at a time, including advert breaks.
I often wondered if there was something I had missed. There had to be some reason they sat there, I knew, some explanation as to why they clapped like seals and chortled in their throats like royal children at an execution. The bright lights in a grey world, the comradeship of the audience; they weren’t sure what they were seeing, but it was fascinating to them.
I sat up slowly. My head was heavy and the only reason I didn’t immediately sink back into my discomfort was that I could no longer bear the heat those coarse cushion encouraged. I imagined I would die there one day, curled up in the foetal position whilst the television continued to blare its advertisements to a corpse. I thought I might find eternal life there, but wondered what fresh hell it would be to suffer through the fear-inducing productions, trapped in a body with no means of purchasing the desired alleviation of this product or that; this drug to fight water infections or a cold and this eau de toilette to bring half-naked angels crashing down onto my rooftop.
The host of the programme, some new panel show in which celebrities who knew even less than the audience and, therein, lay the entertainment, was an overtly English imitation of an American stereotype. Fluorescently pale skin had been burnt to the colour of teak, white teeth and a thick, worm-like tongue which seemed desperate to escape from its owner.
His eyes were horrible to look at. They held emotion in them somewhere, something caught between malice and joy and pain; like a celibate man in the midst of an orgasm. His hair was slicked back against his skull, tied neatly into a small ponytail and so dark that I could see the ghosts of the audience in its oil. His suit was one that had been designed for someone smaller than he, so that his shirt seemed to pulsate around the edges of his jacket. It was blue and gaudy and looked like a mould into which the malice which made him him had been poured.
He had a death-rictus for a grin, like the waxy-mould of a king’s corpse. I had never understood why obvious paedophiles were employed as television personalities. Perhaps it was something to do with an innate charm, like that of a serial killer; that it was harder to seduce a child into a hotel room than it was to lure a thoughtless mass into a recording studio. Or perhaps they were looking forward to another scandal, one they could time to coincide with some latest atrocity of war. After all, who wouldn’t hold more sympathy for a molested child than for a hundred innocents caught in a cross-fire? They were foreigners, after all, a vague tragedy that would be forgotten in days, whilst that little girl would be English! To think, such horrors could occur in this country, in the heart of the real world, and not some distanced Arabic nightmare!
I found some enjoyment in waking to find myself drunk, and I had long given up any pretence not to. The bottle was empty, lolling on the carpet by my feet as though the removal of its contents had rendered the thing as drunk as I. I felt like a juror, some equal to it given the temporary authority to judge its very existence. I wanted to destroy it; hurl it against the far wall and rejoice in the disturbance it would cause. Anything to blot out the awful sound of laughter and the gormless stares of the panellists. I imagined the crash of glass against the skirting board, could see the bottle cave in on itself as it collided with the plaster and the thin paint. I imagined every shard reflecting the television’s weak light; a thousand audiences applauding and cheering a decision they couldn’t understand.
On their behalf, I decided that I could switch the television off or I could kill myself, a decision which appeared to be the only one available to me. I spent a few fruitless seconds digging between the cushions, only to see the remote sitting on the coffee table. I watched the light turn from green to red and stood. Dizziness hit me and I clutched onto the furniture’s arm to stop myself from falling back into its embrace.
Every time I poured myself a drink from the tap I seemed to make the same observation. Water, I surmised, isn’t supposed to be white. It wasn’t supposed to turn a clean glass into something marked and dirty. It looked like a pint of malnourished horse semen. It stank of meat, as though that semen had since turned into a foal with broken limbs and shattered bone and blended blood. Unfortunately, in that place, no one had ever told the water that.
The molecules and the air bubbles twisted around each other like lovers. They would come together for brief, illicit meeting before spinning into the arms of another. I waited until the water calmed a little, until the whiteness faded and the liquid’s habitual transparency took over. I drank the stuff in great, mouth-filling gulps; if I could only imbibe as much as the liquid as possible before the after taste I could take some great pleasure in its consumption. I emptied the glass quickly and tried not to gag on the sensation of biting into something’s flesh. There was something wrong with the water in the building, but I didn’t care enough to trouble Moszeki with it. The man had enough to deal with.
Through the kitchen window, hanging over the sink like an ever-shifting landscape, I could see the intermittent flicker of a streetlight. It was an irritation that I seldom cared to notice. It possessed a strange, haunted affectation wherein it would consistently be lit, but the strength would waver. Occasionally it would produce enough weak, yellow light to frame the ground beneath it, like a spotlight, but other times it would barely produce enough to attract the moths who would cluster towards these light in some great pilgrimage. It reminded me of those American films I had watched as a child, the ones with private investigators staring out of their slatted windows towards the flickering neon sign of a bar or a strip club, though my light held nothing of that noir romance.
There was no script for me, as those figures had possessed. There was no certainty hanging over me like that which had protected those tragic personifications. There was no assurance of eventual fortune in my future, if only I could work past some tragedy, solve some crime. There was no assurance that those dark hours signalled the coming of the dawn; no guarantee that I would suffer and, in suffering, find joy.
I wished that I was a character. The product of some tortured intellect. I wished that I were the hero of my own narrative and that love was a certainty in my future, that I was a good man, if not a decent one. I dreamt, sometimes, that my entire life was a fiction, conjured up for the entertainment of creatures so high above me in wit and reason that they might be able to find some joy in my joyless existence, some hope in my hopeless actions, some philosophy in my malnourished philosophies.
I wished I had such creatures to worship, gods to be afraid of and to praise and to rage against. I wished I had some inarguable superior to defy; some formless entity to murder. Then the glass slipped from my fingers, trailing water droplets as it fell.
It hit the curve of the sink, spinning down into the basin of stainless steel. I knew, then, that had my life been an illusion, as I desired, the glass would have hit the bowl straight on. It would have shattered and provided a brief flash of drama; an explosion of excitement to intrigue the reader. I imagined broken glass piercing my hand, driven by those creatures’ malice. I could have bled, healed, scarred. I could have wrapped a bandage around my hand and felt stitches break occasionally, when my ire was raised. If my life had been a fiction, I would have something to say, some witticism to fill the sudden silence and make my gods love me.
But it wasn’t. And I didn’t. And they couldn’t.
So I left the glass where it lay, and I went to bed.