A Love Song
By Michael Reid.
I wasn’t going to smoke a cigarette. I’m sitting, just got home, in for the evening, my eyes soft on the books and ornaments around me, not looking at them but letting my gaze pass over them, the manifold textures and warm colours such a relief after the glare of the day, but I’m not thinking about them, no, I’m flushed and full of the love song that I’m going to write to you. There’s an idea of a song and I feel it completely. A love song to you and for you. I’m full of the pleasure of what will have been written, something to you and for you that isn’t me any longer, something admirable and complete in itself… And I feel it in my chest, an ache, a slight tightness of breath, a yen contracting around the shape of a song but there’s something else there, another ache there, two aches there. And I wasn’t going to smoke a cigarette because I woke again this morning with an ache full in my lungs, my poor blackening lungs, from smoking a chain of cigarettes last night, staring at the moon, but there it is again, now that the day has slowed and the song has brought me back to my body, the throb of smoke-damaged pleura, and as soon as I notice that throb I want a cigarette. And I don’t want to trample on the feeling that I have a song in me, that is, I don’t want to stop sitting here, thinking, and I don’t want to start the song before time and have it slough off my shoulders as they hunch over a keyboard, so I smoke a cigarette, one cigarette, as a postponement and a prolonging, to mark the time that I’m sitting. I’m savouring each inhalation, which waken in the back of my mouth a sickly tang, a slick on my tongue, spreading and lingering as if it weren’t the taste of tobacco but something already in me that just needed the smoke to suggest it, a delicious, sweet, acrid tang. My lungs are stimulated, irritated and relieved. I feel restless suddenly. Perhaps now it’s time. I go upstairs and turn on the computer. During the five minutes it takes for me to get the word processor on screen, I worry that I’m about to lose the song but here’s the page, here’s the idea of the page in front of me, now’s the time. I write a few lines. Then I read them. Then I reread them. I stare at the moon out of the window. I read them again. I can’t tell whether they’re good or not. Perhaps they’re not good. Perhaps I wasn’t ready, perhaps I hadn’t sustained that mood for long enough. The lines don’t seem to be part of the song, complete in itself, which must not have come to fruition yet. I sit for a while, staring at the cursor blinking, my mind wandering to thoughts of dinner. I wasn’t going to have dinner yet, it’s better to write hungry, with a body open and unsatisfied. But perhaps I should have dinner so that later it won’t distract me. I fear that if I don’t have dinner, my mind will keep wandering to thoughts of dinner while I’m writing the song and it won’t be a song about you, for you, to you, but a song about dinner, for dinner, to dinner. And after dinner, I can have a cigarette. Normally, I’d wait ninety minutes until the next cigarette but the cigarette after dinner is on a schedule quite apart from the ninety minute schedule, the cigarette after dinner is an essential pleasure, a digestive… And over dinner I can think about the love song. So I start eating dinner, thinking that soon I will have written a song and also thinking about the cigarette. Halfway through dinner, I think that what would make the dinner even better, not to mention more relaxing, more productive of a mood that would lead to writing, is a beer. So I open a beer. After dinner, I go back upstairs and sit in front of the screen, with the rest of my beer, glad that I have a beer to enhance the cigarette, and I light a cigarette, finish the beer, finish the cigarette, all the while reading and rereading the lines I’ve written. I can’t seem to find the life in them but I can’t abandon them either. Perhaps I’m too tense to think properly. The beer wasn’t enough. The dinner was too much. I need lightness. Perhaps another beer? I need that intoxication, that release, that fullness spilling over… I have another beer. And I have another cigarette. Normally, I’d wait ninety minutes before the next cigarette but the ninety minute marker can be replaced not just with the after dinner marker but also with the drink marker. With each drink a cigarette, that’s the rhythm of the evening’s pleasure, the way in which it’s confirmed in cloudiness, blurring, connection, the softening of the world in increments. How long until the next cigarette? One drink. But this drink is my last, so after it it’ll be ninety minutes until the next cigarette. I need to write the love song. I try to think about it, whilst browsing the music on my hard drive, looking for inspiration. The thought is there, tantalising, receding, the thought of what I might have wanted to say in the song, though the feeling, the feeling has already disappeared. I want that longing, those sweet pangs, the dream of you that made me full even in your absence. I come across a folder containing Mark Eitzel’s albums. Mark Eitzel! His love songs that are so strong, so perfect, so flawed, so incomplete, so heartfelt, so heartbreaking… That mood his songs put me into, that unique, tantalising mood. And I remember the feeling of times spent listening to Mark Eitzel into the night, drinking, smoking cigarettes. There’s something about smoking a cigarette to a sad song, the way that your body and your breath give in, the way the cigarette can enfold the song, the way the song can enfold the cigarette, between four and six minutes of loss, of gorgeous pathos and poses. Ninety minutes isn’t up yet and I’m halfway through my last drink so I shouldn’t smoke a cigarette but it’s true that halfway is a half-pint mark, which is as much of a measure of a drink as the pint mark, the half-pint being a valid drink, even legally, so it might count as another drink marker, without that meaning that I’m having any more drinks. So I put on Mark Eitzel, smoke a cigarette and sip the remains of my beer. After this I stare at the cursor some more. The love song is still elusive. The beer is over, the Mark Eitzel song is over, the cigarette is over but still it doesn’t seem like I could approach the love song. I’m too full of Mark Eitzel’s emotions or I haven’t felt them enough, I’m too tipsy to focus or not drunk enough not to give a shit, and I haven’t reached that point of a cigarette where it’s just accompanying the overflow, or where it only focuses the excitement that’s burning. I don’t have any more beer. I do have a bottle of whisky. Whisky? I waver. But whisky and cigarettes! That’s earth and fire, that’s a double rasping over the tongue, that’s lonely bars where sad songs play on the jukebox. Whisky and cigarettes and sad songs! I open the bottle of whisky and I pour myself a tumbler and I find a sad song and I light a cigarette and I toast the moon… And I’m searching. And I’m searching. Having one cigarette (or thereabouts) to one drink (of varied measures) over the sad songs, the cigarette making me want a whisky and a sad song, the whisky making me want a sad song and a cigarette, the sad song making me want a cigarette and a whisky. And soon I’m no longer looking for the love song but for something else, some mysterious point in this triad of cigarette, whisky and sad song, something that only this triad can give me. And I laugh and spit and blur and jerk along with the music, mouthing or singing. I make defiant gestures and I chuck them at the moon. I delete the lines I’ve written and spin the computer on my desk. I clutch at my heart and furrow my eyebrows. I hug myself or raise my arms in the air. I’m gesturing and through all these gestures I’m searching and I’m searching for some kind of point, some kind of end point, and eventually I find myself weeping and singing along to the twelfth Mark Eitzel song, words spitting out flecks of the ninth whisky as my mouth spills smoke of the thirteenth cigarette and I realise I’m not going back to the love song tonight, that I should go to bed, but I haven’t reached that other point yet, so just one more. After one more I’ll go to bed, no, one more. And then another, because there was only a little left in the bottle but to mark it I listen to one of my own songs, weeping and singing along, wondering how the fuck I managed to write it. As the song concludes I sit there for a minute confused and so impatient, where’s that point I’m looking for? Then something starts to rise in my gut and the world reels more than it did before and I run to the toilet bowl and drop the cigarette in there and vomit over it just as it fizzles. And I vomit again. And again. And then the world quietens, though it’s still spinning. I mutter a line from a Mark Eitzel song, Xmas lights that spin all year round, and I light another cigarette, one arm on the toilet seat to keep me steady. I grin and leer. Well, look at me here. After a deep breath I stagger up from the toilet, remembering to flush, and over to my bed where I lie, filling my lungs with smoke as my eyes close and just as I pass out with the cigarette still in my mouth, I have a vision of you coming into my room, caressing my cheek, taking the cigarette out of my mouth and stubbing it out in the over-full ashtray.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Reid is defeated over and over again by words.
You can contact Michael by email: michaeldavidreid (at) gmail (dot) com
ABOUT THE ARTWORK
Dixie Turner is a drawer and print-maker, currently living and working out of London.
You can see more of Dixie’s work at dixiejadeturner.wordpress.com
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017.