Sitting uneasily on the remains of an old washer-dryer, I look up to the sky and toast the world. At my feet, dead yellow grass paws pathetically at my shoes. I light another cigarette and blow smoke into the day. It is nice to feel involved in some small way with this wider conscious, even if their habituality leaves me feeling isolated and pointless.
This old washer is hollow now; just four flimsy pieces of metal with the innards long since ripped out. To my immediate right, a pair of sneakers hang in the thin air of this syphilitic town. The Boy had finally reached his crescendo, despite our best efforts. Even now I didn’t dare look up at the floating, lifeless body looking down on me. Rarely did he gain the upper hand, but here we are – The Boy swinging from a tree and me left to explain everything. I flick a length of ash and grasp his lukewarm ankle. It’ll be okay, I want to say to him. But this seems futile. It doesn’t matter to him whether it will be okay or not.
The houses on the Estate are painted grey, to keep people low. As I sit, waiting for the inevitable and tiresome sirens, I can see a mist seeping into the corners and gaps, between handshakes and hugs like a cold miasma. No gardens; just weeds fighting through the cracks and holes splitting the concrete during the winter like infected wounds. Aside from Her hair I don’t see colour anymore. Even my own eyes and lips are grey.
Oh yes. Her. I should probably address that.
Or probably not. I don’t know where She is now. Maybe she’s setting fire to an orphanage. Maybe she is in – as she liked to put it – bestial carnage with the delusional son of the local butcher again. The rumour in town is that he’s been fucking dead cold meat since before he knew what it meant, but I’ve never believed it. For her part, she defended his inelegance and lack of experience. He fucks like a broken tin opener. He just keeps ploughing on without actually doing anything.
She may be responsible for all of this, but it is hard to tell. The Boy was always a complex character – only under the influence of massive hallucinogens did he ever make sense both to us and himself. I can’t say for certain that he hangs here now, from the last green limb of a dying tree, because of something She said. I once saw him spend three hours threatening to stab his own reflection in a water-filled oil drum. But there is no denying her power any more than there is denying his fallibility.
I think back to when I had productive hopes and anticipating dreams, rather than weary compromises and fetid realism. I remember those feelings of invincibility; not just in myself but everything we touched. Every carved tree would live forever. Every graffitied wall would stand forever. Every memory would remain untarnished forever. At 60 we would be able to slip into our old roles at 16. It didn’t take long for the entire castle to fall down.
The memories fade and the reliance on chemical stimulation only pushes them further away and yet there is nothing like that first hit to bring the colours into sharp focus, and thus we are all consumed by promises tantalised and swiftly broken. The graffitied walls have all been torn down or washed or painted over. The trees have all died or been sliced away in the name of progress. More Fisher Price houses for the unimaginative baby farming fucks who we grew up with; disrupting every English class or Art lesson from the back of the classroom knowing that it would not matter to them, with their dreams of BMWs and properly portfolios, but not knowing how much it might destroy us to lose those precious seconds of sanctuary.
But one tree survives and thrives, even amid the decay both natural and man-made. I realise as I sit on the old dryer that I am surrounded by endings. The dryer is beyond repair, the neighbourhood is beyond salvation. The grass grows a deathly yellow but the tree desperately tries and ploughs on, plunging its roots deep into the chemical soil looking for clean water, one green limb sustaining this gentle cadaver.
The Boy swings gently in the cool autumn breeze. I will have to tell Her at some point, but I’m not ready yet… and neither are you, I say to the corpse. My shoulders drop and I stub out my cigarette on the toe of his sneakers. Whatever happens there will be Hell for this… and I suddenly realise, along with this poor tree, that I am the only one left to deal with this.
Photograph: Jimmi Campkin
Jimmi Campkin is a writer, photographer and creator of SANCTUARY; available to buy via his website. He describes himself as a 16bit child and INFP with clinical nostalgia with red wine for blood.