1888 c/o Ben Brooks

First it was the sky that flickered and went out, replaced by a heavy tank of grey. From the roof I threw stones. Dear Margot, I wrote. Have you noticed anything unusual? My chest warbled with phlegm.

On Tuesday, Paul will arrive. Paul and I will paint each other painting each other. We will become firm friends and emotional accomplices. My brother has forgotten me. I am certain that my brother has forgotten I exist.

They say I am to stop smoking. They send parcels of paint and make inane suggestions. You might consider wandering out amongst the trees, they say. You might consider sit-ups, or less wine.

They say – and I am paraphrasing here – that the gloom is my own work, that I am to blame, that I ought to be taken to a barn and have the life stamped out of my skull. It has become clear that they are not on my side. Nor, for that matter, are the mallards that traipse through the centre of town each morning.

Paul is now present. Paul is not at all the Paul I had prepared for. He is neither gentle nor interested in collaboration. In an argument, I claimed that his use of colour was insincere. He told a passing heron I was destined to die alone and homeless, stripped and slit across the belly like a deer. This, I maintain, was unnecessary. It is not uncommon for Paul to take things too far.

Gobble gobble, I think. What is the point? No one notices. Instances of content grow fewer and further apart. A glass, glasses, bed; all offer temporary respite. It is not for Paul to object. Who is that man? This is not his house, I am not his husband. He sits before the empty fireplace, foot bent awkwardly to his mouth, spitting chalky toenails into the hearth like sunflower shells.

My chest makes sounds like burly men wading through a swamp. Someone, it seems, insists on hauling rope out of my throat. I have been inventing small games to push the hours past: Daisy Collectors, Man With Concave Buttocks, The Tearful Horse.

At Delaraybarette, I was stood in front of a Monticelli when the light drained from it. I seized the nearest human and pointed. There, I said. Did you see that? The human thrashed in my grip. Dear Margot, I wrote. We are losing the war on nothing. I nibbled at my fingernails in a police cell for three days before Paul had me released. He did not come himself. He sent a child with a limp whose eyes revolved like pinwheels in the thumb of his face.

Dear Margot, I wrote. If this is where I die, please know that it was not my idea. Know that I was dragged here. And that I continued, at every opportunity, to ask whether or not it was time to go home yet.

Last night, as I was drunk and teary, crawling across the bedroom floor, a note fell from a divot in the wall that had previously been inhabited by two barn owls. Doctor Who, the note read. A Seamus Fogarty song and a museum and a poster on the wall of a psychiatrist’s office. I did not understand. I am alone and my stomach howls. It is possible my brother believes that I have died. It is possible my brother is correct.

I smoke outside while the nightjars practice; they need it and I need it too. My ribcage rattles wetly. The planet dims. Paul is no kind of company. He rolls over his idiot grievances like beads on a rosary. I cannot understand his anger. It is as though he is constantly being set upon by angels. It is the truth that I have thus far refrained from physical violence towards Paul. Sometimes, when his back is to me, I crouch and jibber. It offers little to no comfort, true, and I am peeling away from the world.

Paul will leave and I will be left alone. Perhaps it is Paul who is stealing the colours. I have searched his room. Oh, and that has made him livid.

Clearly, I miss Margot. Clearly, there is not a person alive who does not pine for people and places past. Paul is my present and he will be gone soon too. I wonder will I enjoy him then. I wonder does his blue cloud stem from yesterday. Is there a cure? I wish my brother were here. My brother has answers: cells, germs, entropy, stellar parallax. My brother is a calm and kind man who would never forsake his family. My brother is wise. My brother, you will be excited to learn, can juggle.

Awoke in a field stripped of colour. Desperately, I try to commit these memories to canvas. Someone ought to know that this afternoon is an afternoon that happened, that empty blue sky framed the yellow house, that I crouched in the wheat sipping wine and spewing clots of green matter into the crackling grass. When there is no-one left to remember this second, it will be lost to eternity, and that pains me more than the small fists of flesh that bust out of my downstairs following bread binges and days of heavy wine.

Paul said this: Heavens to Betsy, what a life!

Paul said this too: The picture like the story reaches closer to the truth when it acknowledges the impossibility of accurate objective representation and instead relies on emotional extrapolation from the available facts. There is no tragedy without a face, without at least a clutch of desiccated flowers to speak for the statistics. I say: There was a man named Paul. The man painted jungles. Every night, the man snuck into houses, startled people awake, and bound them with rope. The man would then proceed to urinate freely onto the people. The man would sometimes pause his urinating to pepper the people with light kisses. Often, the man would break heirlooms, only to clumsily piece them back together. In this way, he ensured the heirlooms would not be discarded.

Manky dragons and skinny boogeymen below the bed. House currently underwater. I watch shoals of translucent fish flee my desk drawers, organs pulsing as I’m hunting bottles. A fresh pain, behind the knees. Ten days after bottles you’re okay but one day with them and you’re breaking doors off hinges searching out more. Understanding the hijacked head makes nothing easier, just a little more embarrassing. I wink at my hands and my hands wink at me.

Quietly, I paint my idiot self, head swaddled in a Japanese flag. It is unclear what has happened; unclear, at least, to me. Clearly Paul had something to do with it. Clearly I was jockeyed by some amorphous fear. The colours are gone, the planet reduced to a monotonous newspaper. I try to remember. I try to paint. I feel my heartbeat blubbing at the back of my skull.

My brother has taken me away. My brother who is my hero has taken me far away and tucked me into a bed with a floral sheet that smells of summer dust. After school, his son tickles my feet. I watch the sun make its way across the sky and I pant. My fingers are snapped sticks of cinnamon bark. The iridescent lump of my liver is visible through the skin of my stomach. Another day, another day. I am grateful and it hurts. At night, Amsterdam clanks around this gaudy house like an orrery. In the morning, sparrows.