iris campbell-lange
‘What did you tell her?’
‘That’s what I told her.’
‘_____________________.’ The branches were reaching forwards, cutting the voices crisply between the leaves. ‘__________________________.’ A man and woman, beneath a tree.
‘You didn’t have to.’
‘I didn’t.’ A figure of smoke rose above the speakers, attempting a halo before disappearing, leaving only the impression of having been there, in the fibres of their clothes. The cigarette passed to a lip -
‘I think we should go somewhere.’ The smoke dissipated.
‘Where is somewhere?’ A fresh breath exhaled, the halo re-attempted.
‘I want to go somewhere alone.’
‘I’m going to the city.’ He stood up. The ground trembled; the smoke responded by drifting away.
‘To do what?’
‘To work. Think, maybe.’
‘And achieve what?’
‘A change.’
‘Soon. I’m not sure. At a good time.’ X’s companion smiled, the smoke recollected. ‘Maybe today.’ It crumpled.
‘Are you giving up?’
‘I told her the truth.’
‘I’m leaving.’
‘Well, good.’ The smoke circled, dropping. She smiled. ‘And what’ll you miss?’
‘You know what I find strange?’
‘That you haven’t moved yet.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Where are you from?’
‘From the countryside.’
‘You must miss it.’
‘I’m not sure.’
Everyone was strange to X, and begged some reconsideration, some reintroduction. This was a change, and there was strangeness, strangenesses which he was absorbing. Questioning grew tiring and unproductive. But he was growing used to it, becoming known to it, and he supposed it was becoming known to him.
The park consisted of lawns, dilated in parts to give the impression of natural recesses and hills where there were none, trees parting where the view of surrounding buildings was best, where the light could shine through in the golden hours, and which aided in the construction of this perfected natural environment; perfect for walking, and so X complied, and strolled, hands left to drag behind him and pull up any unhinged air they could muster to disrupt the perfect scene. A finger caught on an outstretched branch and it fell, as if it had never existed, hollow on the ground. A gardener emerged and took the branch away, X stood still. The gardener disappeared. He kept walking.
From the outskirts of the park you could see the tall buildings which lined the perimeters, guarding and enclosing, monitoring the pedestrians who entered its bounds, who took refuge from the streets. X attempted to figure out what, what was he not comprehending? You could hear the people milling behind the barriers of the park, the hard bushes and topiary, hear their shouts and their cars; but the park was overwhelmingly pleasant, golden, unmarked. The people within it were satisfied, smiling, taking daily exercise, talking calmly and concisely with measured steps.
Dogs, too, populated the park just as much as their companions, marching behind and heeding their heels, watching the fruit-like tennis balls which hung from their hands; would it drop? X watched as the balls were thrown, returned and thrown again, observing the couples at work. 
The ringing of birds shook the air; he looked over: an aviary. Large ibises jauntily attached themselves upon thick walkway ropes, framing imitated cliffs which the paths overlooked; he searched for another bird.
Aviary and audience sang to each other: the macabre calls of the pedestrians who had been struck by the birds and their unexpectedness, and the ringing birds, surprised at being in a situation where an audience would ever be considered absurdly expected; the singing extended to exact a parallel of the grotesque overpopulation of both parties, thick-feathered birds hunching to enclose their territory as the people did the same, ramming themselves against each other to stare at the creatures in their steel teepee, children helping build the howl of the full-grown. It absorbed X, unintentionally a member of the party behind the bars, grating themselves into the zoo. He observed the individual faces of the birds, their wings, their staggered walk, their refusal to fly; where did they have to go? The peaks of the aviary’s structure rhymed those of mountains. The park seemed to _______________
He waited beneath the sycamore tree, mind still. The leaves waited with him, moving as he ground his head around his neck, clambered as he struck his hands into the air; what was he doing? His expression tilted the haze which gasped back, desperately trying to breathe where there was no air, waited again. The sycamore tree was tired yet, unbelievably, perpetually, alive.
‘What time is it?’ A stranger, another enterer upon the sycamore tree; the leaves hung, lifeless. 
‘Quarter past seven.’
‘Is it?’
‘It is.’
‘You didn’t look at your watch.’ The leaves rustled, each a bristle being brushed backwards, spiking the air with the smell of the dead, rising around the ground, reaching towards the ends of the branches which stuck like pyres into the soft earth, dripping downwards. ‘I didn’t mean to disturb you.’ The stranger’s eyes crossed with curiosity, then moved off, marked by depressed shoes of grass, watched by the man beneath the tree as he left.
‘Quarter past seven.’ He sat down, legs forwards and calves straining, then crossed them, unfolded them again and sat on his knees as if about to pray; he could feel the ground, feel the moving and vibrating sound it made, the daisies and insects ringing the air; what was he doing?
The haze was lowering now, the veil which had enfolded him: the beauty, the sour ecstasy, warm covers which slowly tore, maintaining small pain perpetually, pushed between his ribs. He fell to the ground, chest pressed against the grass, he could feel it, really feel it; it was him, his heart, his brain, his body, beating into the grass, lowering him, pushing him back up; again, again. This was the pain, he thought, this was what hurt; he could see the branches of the trees touching the ground; he could see the funeral pyres. And he could see the smoke, so much smoke, his heart beating into the ground; why was there so much smoke? He could sense that there was too much, he couldn’t see anything, he couldn’t feel anything anymore, but no - he could feel the panic, the beating was loud, there was too much - why was there smoke?
Then - nothing. The beating dropped, the smoke stopped; there was nothing. That hurt, too. The fullness had evaporated, left no residue but the sourness between his teeth. No, this is pain, he thought, this is what my heart wants.
The grass rose into his eyes again. He buried his hands then rose himself. He looked at the scene again: an unexceptional garden with over-pruned bedded roses; this was his pit, he thought. He looked around. The sky was now becoming dark and real, imposed above his lighted head; it broke and heavy rain began to fall; he walked home.
Days passed with crossings of the park, between his work and his home, his way-bridge. There was a therapeutic effect to it: his pace was steady, his view the same, everything perfectly in place for it to be perfectly what it was. The zoo intercepted this perfection, teasing X with its irregular faces. He began to dislike walking past the zoo for its interruption, its incoherency. No one noticed anything unusual at all, they didn’t notice he avoided it, or that he cared. 
‘How are you finding being in the city?’
‘I like it, I like the park.’ 
As X sacrificed his first route, past the zoo, he became friends with the park: he knew its ways, how it suited what time and what angle of sight, how he might best approach it and more generously provide for it; he would pick up the branches which had fallen on the path and take them away himself. At first, he took them home and would lie them on the kitchen table but eventually he left them on the side of the paths, where they would be gone by morning. And so the park was lovely, golden and reassuring in its broadness and its consistency.
At night the bedroom contained _______ of the day: the clothes, the habits, little pieces of paper, nothings of importance, small markers. These were what attempted to occupy X as he looked around, demanding sleep, some objects half-obscured by the darkness; was it a blanket or a shirt? Why was his coat on the floor? More disrupting thoughts ____ at him, demanding recognition and rejecting solution: what had he said? What had he thought? Why had he responded? It was insatiable, and it continued. This was not entertainment, but __________________________________. He considered getting out of bed; no, that seemed too extreme, then he wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. He continued looking round, all with a blank resignation and the desire not to wait, even for sleep.
He attempted to turn his mind, turn it to the pillow, downwards, forwards, away; what was he thinking? Why was ___________________? All thoughts had become self-observed, as if performed for some external audience. Escape, what escape? The pillow refused to turn, his mind refused. What would they think? ‘You can have it.’
Everything exterior lulled beneath his winding mind and its knotting. Strange sounds began to emerge: a rolling, a scraping. X looked towards the window: no help. What issued from it was a sound like an unmaintained car horn and loud, loud enough to reach X’s bedroom. It sounded again. It was coming from the park. The lion roared again, horn reaching for X in his bed, his resounding mind. That lion is alone, he thought. 
The lion continued to roar, as X laid, looking upwards in his bed, waiting to hear it sound again. Every time it did, X smiled silently, listening to what no one else was listening to.
The days in-between the hot streets took place quickly, as if they had been unintentionally lost and had floated by, through the ___________________. But what came with it was an unexpected satisfaction, the feeling that you were in the place that you were supposed to have been in, spoken to the people you should have already spoken to, and learned something immeasurable and which had taken some piece of you which had not meant to be there. This is what occupied X and began to exhaust him, as the days did. He became the resident of the city, its compliant and its confidant. There was nothing that he needed to do, and nothing that was overwhelmingly boring. His work was enough that it gave him a reason to be in the city’s bounds and glances, and enough to give him things to do and a place to be. He lived ________________, unworried and drunk on the muddied air during the light hours, _____ during the night.
X smiled again, smiling with the night roar of the lion, played against his bedroom. It had interrupted his _______. The sound accompanied him: his city companion. The lion was awake, too, and so no isolation could consume him fully, when there was living voice behind the windows, from across the park.
He wondered why it roared, how alone it was, how many times it had roared without him noticing, without him being there awake and waiting for it. Him and the lion were now consumed against the night, against the water with knots that broke your fingers. When he heard it he could no longer see, no longer feel, but all he could do was feel, find some remorse within himself which called to the lion and made it roar, made X hear that sound. He could feel the internal binding, the breaking; he could feel every moment of that lion, of its call. X slipped past the bed, into the sound
The ground of the enclosure reached towards him, hitting his whole spine, body, mind. He fell to the ground, the palm fronds. He stifled a smile; the ground had caught him and he was now one with it, merged with the palm fronds and the grass: bliss. He let himself smile, smiled for the pain which was pulsing throughout him. He could feel everything, every breaking cell and every cinching thought. What bliss. He stood up; there was no pain. He removed his clothes. First his shoes, then socks, then shirt, then trousers. Everything he wore too became one with the palm fronds and the grass. Finally, he removed his watch and wedding ring: the palm fronds. He could feel nothing. 
The lion was looking at him now, expressionless. The man was crying. The lion stood up, face exposed: the man’s audience. Neither moved. They could imagine how each other felt, how each would fall and die at the exact same moment, in grasping. How both would tumble, cry, return, diminish and again. The ground was all that held them both, all that existed between; nothing hung, cried, disturbed; there was nothing to disturb. There was no sourness, no pain, no ribs; there were two, there was one.
The lion came to the man and took his head. It was gentle; the man felt nothing. When it was over the lion lay again, the man’s head beneath his paw, covering his face.
He went for a walk in the evening, and from the park at dusk he could see the city. It was far away and looked unlike any real life. He could not see any people, hear any laughter; to hear any of that would have hurt, anyway. The sight made him scared, all the buildings, the dusk and the red lights hanging from cranes like headlights at night. He began to panic, as if he was not in the place he thought he would be, as if he had no home and was irrevocably lost; this was not his park, these were not people, he would fall. He could feel his body vibrating. He tried not to brace; to brace would to be fighting against something; there was nothing, nothing to be afraid of; there was nothing to fall into, there was nothing he would lose. He tried to swallow, breathe, walk. His head was ringing, but it was his head, and he was there; where could it go? He tried to ________________________
I think these are more ideas gathered together than a story - or a complete story. And it was written a while ago, about two years ago, when the way I wanted to write was different and what I was concerned with was different. It has never been the right time to finish it, and at a certain point I argued that it would be wrong to finish it as well, because it would be infringing on a different moment in my life. Or maybe I am mythologising the past?
Iris Campbell-Lange likes to write and hopes to write—and sometimes, other kinds of making.