Dissections logo scissors body by Deena Warner

 


Dissections logo pterodactyl by Deena Warner


 

 

 

 





Artwork: Hermes Becoming a Bird by Will Jacques
Artwork: Hermes Becoming a Bird by Will Jacques

Absence
Neill R. Bell-Shaw

I swiped my Suica card across the sensor and passed through the gate into Shinjuku station. People, oceans of people, flowing across beds of granite and concrete, pouring around vending machines and kiosks, cascading down stairwells and escalators. They, not him or her, them, those, one mass, one body of water. Though they did not always flow towards the same destination, sometimes dividing and merging like masses of currents, they all rolled like rivers stemming from the same sea. Again, I was stepping between the bodies of the city and en route to find the dirty parts of a clean city.

Every few months something in me, some light, needed filling with darkness. I grew up on the rundown streets of a town recovering from an economic crash other parts of the country had forgotten. The streets were like a constant Saturday night haunted by the unemployed looking for more beer, a fuck or, more often, a fight. At seventeen, a third beating in two years left me with a constant sense of paranoia. That was a why I chose to move to Tokyo: safety. I never imagined that the lack of danger would leave me with a new sense of anxiety. As though I carried a boulder on my back for twenty-six years and missed it once I put it down.

During my last three years in Tokyo, I have often taken trips to the sleazy parts of the city. A night in the hostess clubs of Roppongi or Kabukicho talking to women that smiled and looked unhappy at the same time. Tokyo’s idea of danger was like Disneyland’s idea of fun: well-advertised, well-cleaned and well-staffed by underpaid and underage employees. But tonight, I wanted more than watered down, sexual deviancy.

I twisted and turned through the functional chaos of Shinjuku station, avoiding individuals seen only as flashes of clothing, accessories, and bare legs. With my iPod turned up loud, and Pavements Crooked Rain album dominating at least one of my senses, the navigation was more computer game than reality.

His stillness caught my eye. He stood amongst the people like an island of untainted charcoal. I tried to get a closer look but the bodies pushing against me made it difficult to make out details, and yet the silhouette of the man had charred onto my retinas. Even as I moved beyond any line of sight, his shape remained ghosted like a shadow puppet across my vision; his thin soot-coloured hair blowing in a breeze without direction. Already at the steps, I tried to forget him and boarded the Yamanote Line to Gotanda.

Outside the station, crowds pooled around Uniqlo and Mos Burger before dissipating into a drip near the deafening, neon monoliths of the pachinko parlours. The area throbbed with the excitement of Friday night as groups stumbled to and from izakayas too drunk to be going in either direction. Every cluster seemed like a staff Christmas party despite it being the middle of the summer and all were male dominated.

I moved away from the busy end of town, past the first street near the station, up along the mobile-phone shop. The shop was a mishmash of appealing technology undermined by two staff stood yelling into a megaphone about money-back offers while waving cheap, hand-drawn signs.

I could still hear the incomprehensible yelling when I reached the alley. The atmosphere there was stark yin to the playful yang nearby. This area was a nonsensical pattern of alleyways and passages. People mulled here as well but they were residents under the signs that offered massages to patrons of clubs like Kitty Cuddles and Pink Fountain. They were lost to the place and trapped in the neon reflections of fake sex and cheap love.

It only took a minute for a woman to approach me. She wore a cute, pink dress and had a white flower pinned at the top of curly, dyed-brown hair. Her walk was almost a skip and, when she got close, she touched her right hand to her chin to emphasise the coquettishness of her movements.

“Sexy,” she said in Japanese.

“Sorry?”

“We don’t get many foreigners around here. I love English speakers. Where are you from?”

“England”

“England, really? David Beckham, I love him.”

I had no reply but she seemed unperturbed.

“Would you like to have a good time? We have many beautiful girls; all Japanese.”

She was a standard hostess but her face was different to most. Her features were doll-like and her eyes had yet to take on the darkness I had seen on snack girls in nicer parts of town. It was as if she was too pure to notice her surroundings – or too stupid.

“I’m not sure. I was looking for something a bit different.”

“Different?”

“It’s hard to explain.”

She tilted her head and looked at me.
“We have an interesting menu, if that is what you mean?”

“He doesn’t,” a husky, female voice said behind me.

I turned around to see who had spoken. She was tall and dressed in a black, tight, leather dress. Her hair was straight and the colour of onyx.

“He’s looking for me,” the Onyx Woman said.

“You seem confident,” I replied.

The girl with the flower leaned towards me and whispered in my ear.

“Please, not with her. Our place is much safer. Her shop is not good for anyone, even Japanese.”

I looked at the Onyx Woman. She just bit her lip. I waited for her to say something but she stood there wordless, just staring into my eyes. I began staring at her hair. The blackness of it reflected light and I could make out images running across its surface. Those echoes of the surrounding world drew me and hypnotised me with the swaying of her head as she breathed.

I turned to the girl with the flower.

“I’m sorry, I’m not looking for safe tonight,” I said and walked towards the Onyx Woman.

As I moved away, the girl with the flower shouted after me.

“Don’t open the box. Some things are better left unknown.”

I stopped and turned back to her.

“What box?”

The girl opened her mouth to speak but then her face changed. More than her face, the world around us changed. My skin goosebumped with cold and the lights from the signs flickered. Her eyes, which moments ago had held such innocence and hope, grew large and glazed over with the onset of tears. I realised she was staring behind me; locked in place by fear. I swung around. The lights went back up and the August temperature returned. The Onyx Woman stood waiting for me ten metres away. Again, she shrugged and bit her lip.

“Coming?” She said, less as a question more as a statement, and pushed her right hand through that hair the colour of space. It slowed as it fell, cascading down onto her neck. I looked behind me but the girl had gone. When I heard the Onyx Woman’s heels begin to click against the pavement, I darted back around and jogged to catch up with her.

We walked in silence for five minutes through the network of streets. The stragglers had all but disappeared and the place had an odour of sulphur mixed with cheap sake. At last, the woman stopped outside a large metal door with a fenced window.

She banged on the door twice and I sensed something watching us through the window. After a moment, a click sounded and the door opened.

“Sorry, wait a moment. What’s the cost? I mean, you haven’t mentioned the menu,” I asked.

“Our prices are a little different to most,” she replied without looking at me.

“Okay, can you give me an idea?”

“Whatever you can afford is what you pay. We find it balances out in the end.”

“Sorry, I don’t understand.”

“You pay what you feel is right. If you feel the drink is worth a thousand yen, you pay a thousand yen. You decide the prices.”

“Like that cinema in Shinjuku?”

“Yes.”

“But what’s the entertainment, is it a strip club, a snack, what?”

“You’ll see.”

I stopped for a second and tried to think. My hands were shaking and something rolled around my stomach in waves. At the same time, adrenaline had begun pumping through my legs and hands and

I knew I was going to follow her. The thing that bothered me was that she looked to know it as well.

Metal stairs led down into darkness. A faint smell of rust and a stronger smell of stale alcohol mixed in the air. Whoever had opened the door was gone. I followed her down the steps. Each slow footfall made an echo and I pushed my hand against the wall to my right to counter any slips.
When we reached the bottom, she turned right and I followed. An old cigarette vending-machine loitered under the light of a flickering wall fitting. The buttons were thick with dust and the signs proffering tobacco had faded with age. She stepped past the machine towards a large purple door and pushed it open.

A faint jazz melody emanated from the room beyond the door. At first, I expected the music to relax me but the notes were too discordant and out of key to offer any solace. As I got closer to the door, I could hear murmurs of conversation but, like the music, they seemed inharmonious.

The room was thick with cigar smoke. To my left a bar ran along the wall. A mixture of red velvet and dirty mirrors adorned the place. Past the bar, I had no comprehension of size. There seemed to be other clientele but when I tried to focus on them, the smoke thickened making it impossible to see features or demeanours.

“What would you like to drink?” the barman asked. He wore a white shirt with a black waistcoat. It took me a moment to realise he had asked me the question in English. I ordered a beer and, as he moved to get it, I turned to thank the Onyx Woman for bringing me – there was only smoke and the door.

The barman returned with my beer.

“Thanks, do you know what happened to the woman who brought me here?” I asked.

“I’d imagine she went over there,” he pointed deeper into the room but my eyes were still having difficulties adjusting to the place and I struggled to understand where he meant.

“Sorry, I can’t see her,” I replied squinting in effort to see further into the bar.

“You will.”

He moved away to serve an old man down the other end of the bar. I picked up my beer and realised he had not asked me for any money. I guessed I paid on the way out, which meant I had to be careful. The cold glass in my hand soothed me and I took a long gulp.

Stepping with care, still adjusting to the amount of smoke, I moved towards the rear of the room. The area opened up. Somewhere, gauging distance was difficult, off to the right there was a dance floor. Nobody seemed to be dancing and the music lacked any rhythm.

I looked to my left – a table. A small table, the type you would put a house phone on, but there was no phone. Instead, decorated in blue velvet, someone had placed a shoebox. The smoke cleared around the box, only the box, and unlike every other place in the bar, I knew the distance between it and myself. I knew the steps to it. I knew the inches and the shuffles to it. In fractions of seconds, I could measure how close it was to me and I wanted it to be closer. It was not an urge to be closer; it was a need. The box was pulling me towards it. My legs twitched beneath me and I felt like I had drunk five cups of coffee.

The music changed.

Strained jazz was now tuneless disco. I threw my body away from the box and towards the dance floor. During the walk, I put down my glass of beer. Now I was dancing, or rather moving to whatever unholy music was playing. I caught glimpses of the DJ and his smile curled up far too wide and displayed far too many teeth. Four women joined me on the dance floor. At first, their curves and tight fitting, short dresses transfixed me but the more I looked the worse they began to appear. Their eyes were distant and glazed like a smack-addict near death; their skins pockmarked and blemished with red sores.

I moved, jostled, and tried to avoid getting too close to the women. All the time I was aware of the box behind me. It seemed closer now and growing closer with each song. It dominated my mind and pulled me towards it.

The Onyx Woman was there now. Her inky-black hair refracted light from the disco ball overhead. She took my hand and pulled me close. I could smell her for the first time but I could not place the scent. As we danced, beneath the melody of the disco music, I could hear the chanting of an ancient tribe. When the chanting stopped, she grabbed my arm and walked me to the box. The music returned to jazz and the hags in tight clothes returned to some corner of the bar. My hand shook as I moved it towards the red velvet lid of the box. I looked to my side but the Onyx Woman had gone. I pulled my hand back. I tried to convince myself that nothing in that box was capable of harming me. That anything so small held little danger to a grown man but I knew, through some survival instinct, it would damage me. I knew opening that lid would mean something bad. With a quick intake of air, I shot my hand forward and knocked the lid from the box.

Seeing inside was impossible from my position, so I moved forward and looked down. It was a mouth. Inside, in the centre of the box, was a mouth. I thought it was a trick and that someone had cut a hole in the bottom and sat underneath pushing their lips through. But the table was too small and the base of the box showed no sign of cut marks.

I looked at it for minutes. It was neither a male nor a female mouth. It was beyond definition by sex or even by species. The shape of the curve was both utterly alluring and repulsing.

The mouth opened and the tongue curled up twice, beckoning me like a moist, thick finger. I did not want to move closer. I did not want to be led by that orifice towards whatever indignations it wanted to make of me. The tongue cajoled me again. My soul weakened at the movement of it.

I was closer.

I could smell it now, the breath of the thing. And it did breathe, a slow kkkuuuu of a breath, no intake, no uuukkkk, just a steady continuous noise like a looped recording of a death shudder. The smell was like the rest of it, a mixture of need and disgust: a stench like dirty sheets and rotted meat. My stomach rolled at the newness of it.

Yet I moved closer.

I touched my ear to the tongue and it whispered. That strange voice, that musical vacation of air, took me. I saw beyond the club. Darkness sucked me or blew me out, something that made me feel like I was a different shape. I fell or I flew, either way I moved. Everything was moving, not that I could see anything but darkness.

But it was not darkness, it was the words that mouth spoke to me, billions upon billions of those words, projected in front of me, repeating and repeating in tiny fonts until no other space remained and I had lost perspective of the individual letters. Typefaces had written over the rest of reality and in writing created a new truth: a universe as black as the Onyx Woman’s hair but with nothing to reflect.

The shapes came.

Like men stepping through fountains of oil, they pushed through the darkness. There must have been some light source because I could comprehend their mass and dimensions. Their gait made me aware of how different each was and how none of them was man or animal.

They changed, shifted and formed into two: one man and one woman. The man wore a charcoal suit and had raven like hair. The other was the Onyx Woman. They swirled together in the air like an orgy of vocabulary: letters and words cascading into black shapes that undulated together. And, with fingers consisting of verbs and nouns, they drew back the curtain of verses.

I was standing on a mountain with a sky above me like that onyx hair. Below, a woman was sitting by a small campfire. Something moved through the forest beyond her: something heavy and slow dragging itself across the underbrush. The woman did not run. She wanted to be there just as I wanted to be there as well.

I understood, as I watched her, what we had been afraid of before the cities and the villages and the tribes. We had bargained away that danger and the price was not merely crowded trains. She had been the first to seek the darkness and I was the latest. It came out of the woods and, as its massive, scale covered arm swung down to pick her up, she looked at me and smiled. Her onyx hair swirled in through the sky, as the thing moved her body towards its large, dripping mouth.

I had no room in my modern soul for that thing. The lack, I thought I had, was not enough to cope. I had sought darkness and I received it and now ached with the knowledge of them. Somewhere I began to cry. I wanted it to stop. I wanted the darkness gone; I wanted people, anyone to comfort me. I wanted the light back.


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Dissections logo pterodactyl by Deena Warner
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