Feedback on the A String
by Jonathan Jones
My eyes hurt. That’s where the heat collects, out there on the road. Must have been eighty degrees today. I can hear the tape rolling, recording the voice, that is my voice. I must have let it run. Or maybe I’ve been talking to myself so long it just seems like a dream. But I can’t have been dreaming; that’s why my eyes are so sore which means I’m right back where I started. A drink that’s what I need, that’s a good idea. (PAUSE) Much better. Let me see, what was I reading. Oh, yes a little Saki to send me to sleep. Cold atmosphere of golden rooms where couples kiss to Chopin. Pithy echoes of silent screams and silent laughter. I like those kind of bedroom stories. The way I see the picture in my head so clearly. Fast fast slow fast fast slow. These sheets need changing. I think that they’re starting to smell. I’ve spilt so many drinks in the grey furry dark. Don’t you hear that? The scratch in the 45 rpm silence. Bzzz, Bzzz, Bzzz, Bzzz, Bzzz. Oh blessed indifference of the early hours.
When I run it’s the same kind of thing. The all seeing red eye of second sight. “Half aleaguehalfa leaguehalfaleagueonward.” Before I know it I’m back to thinking about the race. Dry heat that tightens a projection of the unconscious on concrete. Time, light, space and above all distance. “Intothevalleyofdeathrodethesixhundred.” Sleep changes nothing. My body shuts down only as a last resort and that’s when I know I’m already out in front of the pack. Fast fast slow, fast fast slow. The worst thing you can do is look back. “Halfaleaguehalfaleaguehalfaleague….”
(Forty two seconds – Section of Chanson De Nuit: Elgar, Op 15 No.1)
I must be drunk by now. I don’t know what’s the matter with me nowadays. The bottle’s empty but I must have something else around here somewhere. (PAUSE) out loud so you can’t pretend. The thing is when you’re in the habit of talking to yourself, it’s not like you can say you’ve not been here before. It’s a vicious circle. Five minutes from now I’ll be splashing cold water on my face. The blindfold is starting to itch. My grandfather gave it me. He was part of a firing squad during the Great War. It’s a soft felt material, well-worn as though well loved. Insomnia’s last gift to a condemned man. One blank bullet that forgives us all alike. All I want is to hear the gun that releases me, fast fast slow, fast fast slow. Slipping into my rhythm without a sound.
(PLAY) still nevermind. Can’t be long now. I can hear the clock tutting away like my dear old mother. When I think about it time has the same kind of neurotic tendency; a caring heart you constantly keep wound up. Like I was saying it’s the breathing you’ve got to remember. That’s your focus; a red haze you have to make your own. Breathe in, “Halfaleaguehalfaleaguehalfaleagueonward.” Breathe out, “Intothevalleyofdeathrodethesixhundred.” That’s a good one. The sun castrates you slowly, dying for a piss, reciting each dry inhalation to Tennyson. Once more my sheets are soaked as I squirm with the nightmare. Pure English countryside, heavy underfoot and unfamiliar. Before you know it you’re miles from anywhere. All your head tells you is keep going forward. Just like the poem, bad idea but then who’s listening to this anyway? Poetry, history, insomnia. Nothing but a rusty old box that’s stuck in mono.
(Three minutes and Forty two seconds – Exerts from BBC World Service Dec 9th 1990)
Still dear old Saki; what would I do without you? I wonder if he had the same problem. In the end I suppose you don’t have much of a choice. The writer writes; the runner runs. Neither one questions what makes the pen move or where the road begins and ends. “Halfaleaguehalfaleaguehalfaleagueonward.” Rain on my window. How many times have I prayed for that? Two hours out of my body; I can’t feel a thing anymore. Blood throbs heavy with electric currency. The grey sky squats fat and low. I can sense the storm prick on the back of my neck like a sterilized needle. “Intothevalleyofdeathrodethesixhundred.” Another suburbia turns to another suburbia. Somewhere the crowd automatically applauds. I scratch my eyes and breathe the dust and tarmac in my nose.
The storm breaks when I least expect it. Three quarters of the way round, deaf, dumb and blind that’s the perfect runner. There was this one time I found myself out in the middle of nowhere. I had no idea how long I’d been running (PAUSE) some car shot past from behind me. They must have been doing ninety at least. “Halfaleaguehalfaleaguehalfaleagueonward.” As it passed I just glimpsed a small child waving out of the window. Then they were gone. “IntothevalleyIntothevalleyIntothevalley.” I just stood there waving back at an empty road, giddy as though I were about to fall over laughing. That the child had actually seen me was nothing in so much as it greeted the same way as it said goodbye. I used to think the world was invisible when I ran; that maybe that made me invisible too. It was comforting, a kind of mental voyeurism that was intimate as it was impersonal. Control and direction, both points of the compass touching. I don’t know how else to explain it.
It was about five miles up the road when the rain finally came. By then it was too late. They must have taken the corner too wide or too short one or the other. The driver had been thrown through the windscreen. I could hear a woman quietly screaming on the passenger side. (PAUSE) tiny little leg sticking out through a vice of jagged metal. I’m pretty sure I said, “Stay calm” yes, I definitely said that because “halfaleaguehalfaleaguehalfaleagueonward” that was sensible. Always say the right thing; that’s all they wanted to hear. So I turned around and started back the way I came. But by then it was too late and it was the wrong direction.
Suddenly the sky was shining bright blue in my eyes. Sweat sliding off my skin like hot grease. With every pace the pungent overwhelming taste of cow shit and silage. I thought it might help if I closed my eyes to get my bearings but it was hopeless. I was lost and I knew it. Tried to run fasterfasterfaster but I couldn’t “valleyofvalleyofvalleyof” catch my breath. By the time I got back to the world it was dark. Just like now. Night made everything look so out of date, as though time had overtaken me on the inside while I wasn’t looking. Everyone was asleep. I found a phone box and called for help. There was a voice telling me someone was already on the scene and thanked me for my call. Halfaleaguehalfaleaguehalfaleagueonward….
(PLAY) That was my mistake. Such a simple gesture to turn out a light, almost innocent. Times like these I really wish I had a grenade. One of those old-fashioned pineapple types with a pin you can pull out with your teeth. They wouldn’t find me for days. Strung out here on the a string, but then all torture is designed to make you talk, right? So why doesn’t it ever stop? Every night the same thing. I can take silence. For a runner, out there is where the body is nothing sacred. Alone as the world rattles round in my head; a rage that’s not inspired by fear or madness. Who knows where it comes from? But it burns even on a cool night behind my eyes.
About the Author
Jonathan Jones lives and works in Rome where he teaches at John Cabot University. He is studying for his PhD in literature at Sapienza, and has a novella 'My Lovely Carthage' forthcoming in the autumn of 2019 from J.New Books.