He’s sitting in dirt and dust. Grey-green grit rubs against cheap jeans, staining skin and fabric alike. He barely notices the creak of the old attic; his attention is dedicated completely to the book. He barely remembers writing it, but it is woven with his memory.
He is Damien Banks. He will be twenty-eight in just a few short weeks, and in two hours’ time he will make the biggest decision of his life.
Pages are cast aside without remorse as he searches for those that might help him. Reams of old and forgotten work are scattered without forethought, pages picked seemingly at random as his strange process controls him.
The Watchful Agony
Fields bathed in sunset,
poppies of blood red shine.
Berries, silks, and traders
while away the day.
In sleepy Sunday manner,
I behold my kingdom.
These are my subjects,
and they all love me.
My reverie is broken
in a single angry shout.
A troll stands in lockstep
over a pale unicorn.
He wields the blade Hatred,
and bellows madly.
Once, twice, I am sure
he is going to kill her.
The troll wins his day;
the unicorn gives up
a little magic ring.
She leaves, he stays behind.
In the Beginning
We are destitute.
This house is not
a project, or care-worn.
The mould is another resident.
I remember standing on the stairs,
Dad’s shouting drove me mad.
I was so scared, so terrified of him,
I hid away in make-believe castles.
I couldn’t help but watch them.
I stared at my parents’ fight:
My father, red faced and sickly,
raging at my tired, trying mother.
He yelled with his gin-stink breath,
while he cornered her in the hall.
Twice he raised his palm,
and twice I saw her flinch.
She passed it over;
such a little thing.
A wedding band: returned.
a wedding vow: broken.
Where do I go from here?
He doesn’t even realise he’s doing it at first. As he reads his hands scribble at dirt-mottled sheets, forever marking new words beside the old. His child-self wrote within a fantasy world so thick no-one else could ever see reality within it. He is translating himself, eyes scanning every word of his past as he strives for new answers.
Flashes of his past pass in instants as he reads; every line of his work a new memory from a time he has desperately tried to repress.
He is six years old, sitting by the fireplace. Men from the council came and sealed the failing chimney years ago, so he has placed a torch in there to pretend. Christmas eve. Where the tree sat in years gone by, Damien has laid the biggest stick he could, leaning against the wall, and painted rocks are laid preciously at the bottom in place of baubles.
“There’ll be no Santa this year lad.”
He bounces from his half-slumber by the fire as his father walks in, scattering his carefully laid decorations.
“Well it was yer mum who laid that stuff out. Damned if I can be arsed. I’ll buy you a burger tomorrow, and you’ll be bloody grateful.”
His tree-stick is thrown away, and Christmas is forgotten for the first time in the Banks house.
Breaking from his reverie, Damien surveys his first accidental translation, remembering the changes that his mother’s leaving brought on.
He wonders, briefly, if it would have been better if he’d never known his mother at all. But then, his mother was never the problem.
Noises from the Tavern
It is almost evening, and the prince
is left to wander the empty residence.
He’s been waiting here alone since
the unicorn slammed the door.
Beside this humble castle lies
a solitary inn. The keeper yells
in a deep dark voice, and tries
to clear the drunken menagerie.
From the doors tumble the faces
of elves and orcs and other fools,
walking home, or slipping into spaces.
And homeward comes the troll.
A breath of mead, ale and the like.
He comes in with Hatred, the blade.
I almost argue, but one strike,
and the rest just fades to black.
The King Inn
My nights were always quiet,
my days were quieter still.
In one lay silent terror,
the other abandoned thrill.
The King Inn was just next door,
The patrons kept me up all night.
I saw it all from a plastic window:
drink, drugs, and fights.
I would watch at night, in fear
of closing hour: 3 AM.
The drunkards left the bar,
and my father would come home.
A stinking, mean old man,
aggressive and unfair.
I felt the pain my mother had,
a poor comparison, I’m aware.
He sighs deeply, mostly in relief. He wrote about his father; vile memories and awful betrayals bubble up to the surface of his memory, but it is his father he needs to remember. He is disgusted, in his father, in himself, in Kate for ever loving him.
In his fantasy realm his father wielded hatred as a sword. The blade was worked with sharp notches to inflict pain with as little effort as possible, and created a miasma of gin-smoke as it whistled through the air. Whenever his father touched him, struck him, left another scar on his young, weak skin, he imagined he’d once again been struck down by the sword named Hatred.
He remembers a time he trusted his father, and the pain he suffered for that mistake. He was eight years old, and his father returned home sober for what felt like the first time. He flinched as his father approached, gleeful malice in his eyes.
“Damien! Damien, come sit next to poppa, I’ve got something fer you!”
How naïve was this boy? Without consideration, he walked to his name-only father and trusted that something good could come of this interaction.
Upon an aged leather sofa, his father revealed his plan. Suffering his father’s rank breath, Damien listened to the man demanding a favour from him.
“Now Damien, dear boy! My sweet boy! I need you to do something for me. I made some mistakes involving a very large man and his very nice car, and some rather nosy people got involved. To prove I was in the right, I need you to pee in this cup, alright? Just go into the bathroom and do it, OK?”
Damien asked why. This was his biggest mistake, and he knew it immediately. Fear and adrenaline made his skin rise in goosebumps, too late.
The next morning, his father left with a bottle of stolen freedom. Damien nursed his wounds.
Can the father be blamed for his actions? Is he merely a product of his own father; of the awful man scarred by war? But then, could anyone ever be considered guilty?
A sudden vibration dislodges dust from hidden spaces all across the room. A text from Gavin, in finance.
Hey dude, Colin is crazy pissed. Why’d you take off like that? I blagged you a sickie, but what’s up?
Damien sends a cursory response as he checks the time.
Thanks. Had a moment. Thought of something I should do for Kate, needed to check it out. Later.
He considers, briefly, seeking the advice of his friend and colleague. Gavin has on more than one occasion advised him against his impulsive and ridiculous plans, but he decides this time he has to face his demons alone.
Still more than an hour before Kate returns home, Damien continues his search.
The Nurse from the Kindly District
A king, with heart of gold and mind of grace,
returns, limping from Hatred’s bite.
Storms gather, and the air twists in purple currents.
The winds here are changing rapidly.
The streets are empty, as King Damien returns;
the smiling faces are dead, or hidden away.
And yet there she is, wreathed in second-hand silk,
she is tired. It is a long journey from here to Kindly.
Bright red hair, like blood upon linen, flowing free;
her feet are bound in leather, her hands in cotton.
She takes the king upon her shoulder; she is strong,
and carries him to the cottage of a willing stranger.
Wounds are nursed, poisons cured, scars stitched.
The King slips in and out of his mind, but still he sees.
The purple sky clears, and his people return;
the world is mended. For now.
Lisa from Apartment 143a
I was 11, and beaten badly.
or perhaps just instinct,
I stumbled out to the pathway.
Lisa, that was her name,
lived in one-four-three A.
She was returning home tipsy,
and that may have saved my life.
That image is still so clear,
her red hair flowing free,
her deep fitted boots,
her Thinsulate gloves.
She picked me up like I was nothing,
for that’s all I was.
She carried me to her home.
When I awoke, I was alive.
He had finally found someone able to cure the poisons left by Hatred’s wounds.
He cannot stop thinking about the woman from apartment 143A. she was like a mother to him; for a while.
She was with a man called Devon when he first met her, when he was just eleven years old. Devon was weird; he worked at Skittle’s Chippie, and he was always wearing more scars than the last time.
He’d heard them fighting one day, a few weeks into Autumn when he was twelve. Damien was going over to their apartment with a bloodied nose and limp elbow as Devon stormed out, screaming and swearing about children and abominations and the word “fuck”.
Lisa explained Devon was very old fashioned, and that she was, in his words, “Barren.” She said that meant she couldn’t ever have children.
“Why would you want one? No-one around here seems to like kids.” He asked, confused.
“I like you!” She had exclaimed, hugging him through her tears.
He laughs as he considers how apt it is that he wrote about her; he didn’t even know what it meant then. He considers the kindly girl he’d once been so close to, and how different she is to his gradually swelling fiancée.
I’ve been dancing around it all afternoon.
Reading through my old memories,
rewriting old solaces like worthless daydreams,
cursed is the incurable editor.
Stop dancing then, Damien Banks. Stop it.
You’re here for a reason, or to find it.
Cat’s in the cradle, bun’s in the oven.
Have to stop the cycle, or die by the Sword.
The cycle. The goddamned cycle.
Son is abused, grows into Man,
Man abuses Son. Son grows up.
Rinse and fucking repeat.
I’ve only known one father,
the same father my father knew, and on.
Can I be anything else, with no training?
What are we, but the product of our parents?
Well here’s the next stage. The next chapter.
Kate’s pregnant. A boy. 5 months, he’s due.
Is that little boy better off without me?
I won’t survive killing his future.
In my fantasies, I was a knight-king.
Did my father escape to unreality like I did?
If he did, it didn’t work. I won’t, I can’t,
hide from what my father made me.
He’s been avoiding the question all night. Scrawling on every page in search of an answer, but refusing to face the question itself.
Can I be a good father? Is it kinder to leave now?
How can he possibly be a good father to his son? The question is looping through his thoughts. He never saw a good father, and his father never did either. There may not be a good father in his family history. The thought has been playing across his consciousness for weeks, months, since they found out. The day it really hit him was when they told their friends.
“Kate, Damien! How’s it going guys?”
Wilbur. What a guy. Stunningly charismatic, wasted in sales, IQ of a sofa. Damien and Kate have both grown to love Damien’s colleague at Pharmix, and meet him at the Fox and Trout every other week.
“Good to see you Willy!” Kate immediately embraces him, Damien shaking his hand at the same time.
“What can I get you fine fellows?” Wilbur always seems happy to treat people when he meets them; Kate and Damien can’t afford the luxury of refusing such kindness.
“Orange juice, please.” Kate requests, looking at Wilbur while directing her order to the approaching barman.
“Ah, you’re driving? And what for you, Dame my man?” He puts his arm around his friend, “Glass of coke? Maybe a couple shots of lemonade if the night gets wild?”
“Sounds great, cheers Wil.”
Drinks are shared and jokes made at everyone’s expense. Kate and Damien share glances throughout the evening, constantly looking for the right moment. It comes as Wilbur returns from the bathroom, before conversation has a chance to resume.
“Willy, we actually had something we wanted to tell you. I’m pregnant! We’re having a boy!”
Wilbur goes quiet for a moment, before glancing to his friend and colleague.
“Oh bloody hell.”
This reaction had grown only too common to the couple. Damien had had to explain to her later that he had always been uncertain of having children, or at least of his efficacy as a parent, and that his friends had always assumed this was due to some misaligned hatred of children. He had then to quickly verify with Kate that, yes, he was happy that she was pregnant, and that, yes, he was grateful to hear she thought he would be a great father.
Wait, what’s that? Damien’s mind suddenly backtracks across his absent-minded consideration.
Kate thinks he’ll make a good father. She knows him so much better than anybody else; could she be right? Or is she just naïve and in love?
King of the Castle
The bulls and trolls are wandering,
they’ve left for other lands.
The sickly stinking savages,
are abandoned once again.
With a bright glint and happy air,
this castle is empty now,
but for the swing of silence.
Peace reigns supreme.
The troll still haunts my nights,
but I doubt he thinks, or cares,
enough to haunt my days.
Let his black heart rot.
This castle is crumbling,
the walls are falling down.
Hatred is abandoned,
Moving Away, 16 Years Old
I was 16, stacking shelves at Robert Dyas.
I made enough money to move
from broken home to breaking house.
A significant improvement.
My father was a monster,
I’ve accepted this already.
But next comes the problem:
I keep having nightmares,
in them, my flesh warps as I grow,
my breath is liquor, my fists weapons.
I become my father, again and again.
What do I do now?
My father is dead.
My home filled,
with 2 and a half residents.
Another buzzing: his phone again.
Gotcha. I get it dude, it’s a scary thing. Just don’t leave Kate wondering where you are all night again man; think about last time.
Kate will be back in an hour. The fundraiser ended about a few hours ago, but she normally spends an hour with her dad before coming home. Traffic on London Road at rush hour? He’s got an hour.
He refuses to consider returning if his presence would ruin his unborn child. With the little time he has left, he redoubles his efforts and madly flips sheaves of paper, searching for more.
Visions of a dead man bequeathing a sword to his son plague his mind. He pushes those images out as he works, but they are only replaced by darker thoughts.
The Queen in Black and Red
What is this strange device,
planted upon my being?
I am becoming undone.
A good woman, emptied,
has taken a shining
to a king. How odd.
Black silks from the eastern isles,
fire red hair of the north.
Oh let me never wake.
Lie down, lay me down,
this was not expected.
Once she restored me,
now I stand taller,
she is no longer from Kindly.
She works her spells,
heals first health,
then heart, then hearth.
Soft skin, gentle manner,
be my absolution.
Hatred is forgotten.
Taking in, Taken in; Lisa.
These are memories,
I have no desire to revisit.
Yes, I thought I loved her,
I was just a kid. Maybe I still am.
She treated me like her son,
cared, when others wouldn’t.
And then the discourse changed,
longer glances developed.
What would they say?
“You fucked yer mother!
You fucked yer mother!”
Freudians, look away.
Lisa was kind, and gentle.
I cared for her as she me,
Surrogacy and intimacy,
what uncomfortable boundaries.
He knew Lisa before she took him in, after his father broke him for the hundredth time. She lived a few apartments down, and she always had time for him. When his father was drunk or raging, and with his mother gone, Lisa always had time.
She worked her way into his fantasy world more slowly, where she took her place as the nurse, the healer, who could fix anything. And he needed healing regularly, for Hatred’s cuts were deep, and plentiful.
And then, when he was just 16 years old, she appeared on his doorstep, desperate and cold.
“Lisa? Lisa, what’s wrong?” He is slipping into his memory so easily now, like a favourite coat rediscovered at the back of a wardrobe.
“Fucking Smithson, Damie. Kicked me out. Only a week behind.”
She shivers and shakes, like a frightened mouse. He’s never noticed before how much she looks like a mouse; her little nose twitching as she talks.
“Come in, hon, come in. Jesus, look at you. Let me get the kettle on, I’ll see if I have any fresh teabags left. The radiator in the kitchen works, I think. Come with me.”
With a mug of tea in her hands, one of his old sweaters on her warming body, and her hair still sodden from the December rain, she is finally recovering from her ordeal.
“Had to bloody well cross town to get here. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I visited, Damie, but you know. We’re all so busy.”
She nibbles on a cracker, not helping Damien’s imaginary portrait of her as a mouse, as she continues to monologue. He happily lets her continue.
“What the hell are you doing in a dump like this Damie? Oh but it’s your bastard dad again isn’t it? Sorry, almost forgot for a glorious sec there. Oh I’m blabbering again aren’t I? Always do that when I’m nervous. But how have you been? Looks like you’re coping pretty well on your own! Damie, how you’ve grown! It’s only been a bloody year!”
They were dangerously alike then. He is neither proud nor ashamed of his relationship with Lisa. Nobody starts life perfect, he decides, it must be about development.
He comes across a stack of later poetry. The sword Hatred once again grows vivid in his mind.
At the top of the hill stands
the warrior king.
In the cities and the alleys,
the peasantry rumbles.
The people are good, mostly.
As is the king.
But few, a dirty few,
plot against the monarchy.
A battle, righteous, glorious!
A king is beaten, but alive.
The others, less so.
On Old Street, outside thirty seven,
Jack Vahn stakes his claim.
I’ve upset him, or he’s upset,
I’m still not sure why.
He wants to kill me, he does.
I think he would have, too,
but I suppose in the end,
my father did teach me something.
I could have just defended myself,
I didn’t need to wield Hatred so.
Jack lies bleeding, bloody, broken,
And I walk away with a cut lip.
Lisa hated me for that.
Kindly girl, breaker boy.
Good God, my life had already
mimicked my parents’.
Here it is. He realises straight away this is where he changed.
How can he go home now? How can he dare to step foot in his house, the home he and Kate are building together, knowing what he’ll do to them? He mumbles these questions to himself repeatedly. He’s got his answer. He’s built to fail.
A damned decade, and he never realised just how much Lisa hated who he had become, and how proficiently he had wielded Hatred. Kate thinks he can be a good father. But Lisa saw his father reflected in him. They are both so much more brilliant than he; how could they see him so differently?
Leave then, he decides. Better to be absent than to ruin. He decides he’ll leave, find a life somewhere else.
Hey Jack, it’s Damien. Still got that position at Jamison Construcion? Might need a move soon.
Half an hour left. Might as well finish this.
My giant spires of purple glass,
are cracked and falling down.
An empire of green and gold,
wiped away like dust.
The patriarch-king is fallen.
Troll, monster, demon to many,
the master of all is slain
not in combat, but by context.
The true king is beloved,
where the patriarch was feared.
Why, then, do the towers crumble?
Where did the magic go?
When all the monsters of the world
are dead, buried, and forgotten.
Where is the distinction,
between fantasy and reality?
We’ve Reached the Present Day
My father died in 2004.
May twelfth, six-thirty PM.
The artist lied to me,
It was not a whimper, but a bang.
5 bottles of liquor were found
littered around his corpse.
I was wrong, drink did not kill him,
blame was laid on the pistol in his hand.
This is when the fantasy crumbled too.
It was for my father I’d built those walls.
I hid away through fear of him.
Suddenly I did not need to hide.
A year after the funeral,
as my fingers hovered carefully
over a very real bottle of gin,
I met Kate.
Nary a drop of alcohol touched my lips,
instead they laid upon softer things.
Ten years later, in my late twenties
and we are engaged to be married.
This is the last poem Damien wrote of his fantasy world. He’s shaking and scared, remembering mistakes of the past he’d all but forgotten.
He’s almost out of time. Kate will be back now, and she’ll call him soon. How long can he sit in his father’s old loft? He needs to go home soon, or not at all.
How can he know what to do? Everyone seems to have such different opinions on him. Why must he be entrusted with such an awful decision? Lisa hated him at the end; she would be horrified at the idea of him caring for children. Kate loves him so dearly, and she’s so ready to have this boy with him. Wilbur loves kids, but thinks Damien hates them; is that just the impression he has given? Gavin has always cared, and he trusted Damien to babysit once. His mother was so good, so kind; what would she think?
He can but fill another page.
Question Old Stories
Twenty-four years old, moving with Kate.
What a day to be alive.
Happiness and ready dreams,
in a ramshackle old house.
A year later, redecoration
how odd, to depend upon another.
If she were to disappear,
where could I turn?
are a concerning blur,
constantly at the edge of bottles,
so in love, and so unready.
Twenty-six, our fight.
The instigation of serious doubt,
not in our love: in my readiness.
We both feared my future.
Heavy words heated, hard hours
of fighting furiously.
Shouts and screams ended suddenly,
when I glanced my clenched fist.
I left, for a day and a night.
When I returned, Hatred did not.
Love returned to the house,
and then: conception.
Can I be sure I’ll stay my fist?
When she says such silly things,
when babies infuriate me,
when my feet hesitate so?
Is there any answer?
Everyone seems to disagree.
Stay, risk, and love?
They are everything.
His hunt is nearing lunacy, and he is well aware of that. Damien paws at the sheets strewn across the floor, old splinters embedding themselves in his fingertips. He’s searching for an answer to a question that has changed with every page. It isn’t just his father, and what his father gave him; about what he could do to Kate. It about the anger, the fury, that agonising feeling inside him; it is about the-
Damien sits up, briefly, before collapsing on the hard wood floor with a crash. He breaths in air, and relaxes his tired muscles. It is about the sword, Hatred.
He has his answer. He finally understands what his subconscious has been telling him since the beginning. It is the sword. The sword, Hatred. As real as it isn’t, its effect has been felt. He has his answer. He can tell Kate. Soon. He has one more thing to finish.
I feel like the fool of a fool;
it’s been so obvious all night.
Perhaps I am that fool.
But maybe that’s alright.
My father forged Hatred,
or he worked an older blade.
He cut us down so many times,
and the scars have yet to fade.
He taught me how to wield it;
showed what it could do.
With his death, he gave his son
a blade I already knew.
But a blade is just a thing
and things can be renamed.
Lisa, you’d be so proud,
at what I’ve just reclaimed.
Let that sword called Hatred,
render power unto me.
Now be the shield, Love,
and guard my family.
Blade, I have changed thee.
You are Hatred no more.
For I will never wear
the sword my father wore.