5 Days of Vice

You pass by a mirror and see a twisting, moving mess of rooms behind you. They are encased in glass that seems to shift from smoky and crystal clear. Recognising some shapes moving in one of the rooms you approach it, moved not physically toward it but instead through the mirror in front of you. As you near you are caught in its gravity and dragged inside …

00:00     January 1st           15 First Street, Brompton

… a small stuffy room into which the outside tries to burrow. A worn couch stretches along one wall, it is covered in throw rugs and grimy blankets. Among the food crumbs and slight yellowing from smoke are the indentations of its owner, the evidence of fitful nights spent sleeping—passed out—in front of the TV.

He sits on the edge. Leaning across the coffee table he chews his words through a clenched jaw.

‘Yeah so I have to go back to the dentist tomorrow.’

His broken and swollen face seems to keep moving after he finishes talking. His eyes are fixed on a mirror on the coffee table: a broken wedge of fingerprint-stained mirror that he is using to crush up lines of ecstasy.

‘Do you mind if I change the channel? I’m gonna change the fuckin’ channel, these new year fireworks are piss poor, what a waste of time and money eh. I’ll put some fuckin’ Skippy on.’

Jerking his head towards the TV as he speaks his loosened teeth seem to roll around in his mouth. Stabbing in the screens direction with the remote he puts on some old episodes of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.

He begins to twitch and bends down to snort some more of the blueish powder.

‘One group of dickheads in a dirty fuckin’ alleyway ruin my whole month—lost my wallet, phone, and fuckin’ everything—and I’m down a couple hundred after this bloody reconstructive procedure.’

Throwing his head back he becomes lost in the sweeping arcs of the rickety ceiling fan. The air is cold and the pores of his pallid skin are puckered in the faint light of the television.

‘Now if this magnificent bastard was there he woulda sorted me right out. Ain’t that right Skip?’

Sucking on a cigarette that he seemingly produced from nowhere he jumps up from his seat. Shrouded in thick yellow smoke he hops around the room—sliding along the imitation wooden floorboards—and imitates the kangaroo moving on the screen. He twitches his nose and leaps onto his couch. Crashing into the cushions with the wobbling fat of his stomach—that’s barely held back by his tracksuit—he kicks up clouds of dust and dead skin cells.

‘Ergh and I have to go back to teaching in two weeks.’

One corner of the mirror that you are facing is smudged. A swirling greasy fingerprint hangs there—suspended—between you and the crush of rooms behind you. Through the lines of the fingerprint the blurring motion of the carousel-of-spaces seems to move toward you. Your head spins as your reprieve from the rooms is broken as quickly as it started and you re-enter …

13:45     January 2nd          15 First Street, Brompton

… a room that opens up—stretches out—to let the sky in. Outside, out the back, outward toward the horizon the edges fade in the brightness and the radiant blue from above lands on the darkened hairy flesh of a sickly man. He lies stretched out on a lawn chair sucking in lungfuls of tobacco smoke, resting up as he waits for his appointment with the dermatologist. The nose on his face is half missing. And its other half is pointing towards the sun. The rough lines of scar tissue from where a surgeon cut out his last experience with cancer—a melanoma—are pale white.

‘C’mon don’t be an asshole.’

He chuckles to himself and listlessly shakes his wrist at the fighting dogs near his head.

A large mound of rippling muscle covered in thick black fur, Sabbi a pure bred Rottweiler, grumbles and pulls at the smaller Ridgeback-Rottweiler pup as they tumble around on the grass. Their slavering and boisterous energy propels them together, entwined in their game and in defiance of their owner. An owner who lives for them. In his unemployment he trains them to fight. Feeding them local ‘stray’ cats to get them fired up.

‘I said cut it out Sabbi you bitch.’

Adjusting his weight on the lawn chair he drops the reflective tanning shield that he has been using to focus the sun’s rays onto his deep brown skin.

Beads of sweat tumble in an avalanche down his face as he leans over to pick up the silver sheet of aluminium foil and cardboard. A few meters from him the sparse grass tries to creep into the room but is cut off by a wood-like demarcation line.

‘I said cut it out. What are you fucking doing?’

Sabbi thrashes around and flings the small pup around her face. The pup careens through the air by its collar that is locked into Sabbi’s jaws, twisted around them. They have become entangled in a choking embrace. The steel chain of the pup’s collar is digging bloodily into his throat and into Sabbi’s gums. Whimpering and spraying faeces everywhere the pup is slowly throttled to death by Sabbi’s frustrated thrashings.

Looking at the scene and drowning in the cacophony of the two animals cries he stands frozen. His cigarette hangs from his lips, it’s smoke rising up in wisps that lash at his eyes. Swelling at the edges and forming large droplets of salty water his eyes remain fixed on the scene in front of him.

When the puppy lies limp at his feet and Sabbi’s mouth is dripping with blood the man begins to wake. The sweat and tears pouring down his face have all but evaporated and in the baking sunlight his skin is beginning to crackle and dry out. From his heat stroke, from his dream, he comes forth and begins to move. Slowly rolling a new cigarette he sits down and runs his fingers through his hair; hair which is now yellowed and straw-like.

He returns to staring blankly. He has become as desiccated as his tobacco, as the land around him, as the coagulated blood pooling on the false wooden floor.

You’re just looking on. Seeing past the walls of glass, past billowing smoke, and back into the mirror. You don’t recognise the glimpses of yourself that you steal. Instead your eyes are drawn again to the contorting mass of cubes, of rooms. But now you can feel their movement and begin to question whether anything is actually changing, or …

15:09     January 3rd           15 First Street, Brompton

… just rotating in place a shape twists ungainly on the chair. The shape sways precariously with thin flailing limbs. It attempts to move in time with the loud hip hop that tumbles in distorted waves out of a black cube-like stereo.

Stepping from the swivel chair onto his bed, and losing his balance, the young man lands heavily on the metal bed post.

‘Damn it.’

Crawling along the bed he reaches over to the bedside table and grabs a small glass bowl smeared with resin and tobacco. Its thick smell assaults the nose with an amalgam somewhat like vegemite, ashtrays, and tar. As he packs some of the sticky, filthy, mixture into the cone piece of his bong the anxieties of the day begin to retreat to the background.

‘I get caught doing the same shit that everyone else does and they suspend me from school. Yeah that’s what I need, more time away from class. Fuckin’ idiots.’

A cloud of acrid smoke fills the chamber and the boy sucks it into his lungs. He scrunches up his nose at the taste and reaches for his drink to wash out his mouth. He gulps from a large jug; a brownish grey concoction of left over bourbon, his mother’s gin, and his sister’s Jägermeister all mixed together with milk.

As his head is thrown back the frail ceiling fan above slices across his vision and causes his head to spin. For a moment he forgets school, he forgets being suspended, and instead empties his brain. As the alcohol and THC enter his system he feels like he is floating, above the bad taste, the pain in his lungs, and above the contents of his school bag strewn across the floor.

Laying back on the bed he plays with the lighter and looks at the windowsill. Faded in the sunlight is a row of birthday cards.

Happy 15th birthday, have a great day and eat lots of cake, love mum

‘Mum’ll be pissed. Fuck I’m such an idiot. So many cunts on campus get in fights with the Asians but only I get busted—it’s bullshit.’

With a burst of energy, he jumps under the blanket, throws it over his head, and entombs himself among the linen and feathers.

The tobacco and mild high from the resin scraped out of his bong make his brain feel like it is jostling back and forth inside his skull. Or perhaps it is the deep reverberations of the music as it pulsates through his body.

Grabbing another pillow, he buries his head. The cartilage of his ears folds over itself and his pulse beats heavily inside his head. It joins the beat of the music. It all scratches at his ear drums just as the coarse, cat clawed, fabric of his clothes grates on the dry skin pulled over his skeletal body.

The air surrounding you sits undisturbed. Not a sound moves through it, although it seems like it should. Instead you are flooded by both a sense of tranquillity and an unnerving sense of movement devoid of any recognisable noise. Like being trapped in a vacuum. You begin to grind your teeth. And all the while behind you that Rubik’s cube of rooms continues to slide one over the other like your grating teeth …

05:18     January 4th           15 First Street, Brompton

… slipping out of a bulbous computer screen in thin sheets a blueish light nourishes the face of a young woman. Her large hazel eyes are like great glassy pools that insatiably absorb the LED light. Reflected in her dilated pupils the contorting pixelated bodies on the screen adopt the same glistening sheen as her eyeballs.

She sits hunched over the desk naked. Her clothes are pooled on the floor around her, mixed in with the chip crumbs and junk food wrappers. The detritus of the night folds into her clothes just as the folds of her skin merge with each other and reach downwards, attempting to drag her to the scratched and stained synthetic wooden floor boards.

Encasing her head is a large set of headphones—sleek and black and emblazoned with a golden fox.

‘Oh yeah, you love it.’

Her hands massage the keyboard; typing messages through the private chat. On screen her World of Warcraft character gyrates half naked while standing over an enormous cow-like figure.

‘Mmm you’re a hairy mother fucker.’

She doesn’t know who she is talking to. It could be anyone. But for the moment they are both lost in their roleplay. The words sliding up through the chat window draw her eyes away from the characters on screen momentarily. Her fingers find the Alt and Tab buttons and she switches to the pornographic video she is streaming. Through the headphones the moans of the actors provide a rhythm for her to follow as she greedily appraises the sweaty forms on screen while caressing her puffy skin.

As she moves her hands underneath the table she steals a glance at her watch: 5.20 am. Soon she will have to crawl out of her darkened study—along the fake wooden flooring and out into the bright morning light—so that she can prepare breakfast for her three-year-old son.

On the screen a message says: you have been playing for 4 hours please take a break.

A sense of frustration and rage bubbles up inside her as she knows that the game is right. The automated message knows best. But she doesn’t want to uncurl her fingers from inside herself.

Instead she remains glued to herself, she throws her head back and closes her eyes—shutting off the invading blue LED light—instead focussing on her feelings. After an indulgent period of being lost in herself she finds a sense of release and then quickly becomes overwhelmed again by the weight of reality.

‘Ugh I have that fuckin’ paper to write as well.’

As she stands her joints crack, as though they might crumble, as though they have become unable to cope with gravity. She unwraps herself from the darkness of her study, and ventures out into the early dawn.

You have no memory of how you got here; to this state of ponderous purgatory. The mirrored surface in front of you is fixed. Your feet are fixed. But it feels that they both move, that they pull you. The movement, the tugging sensation, could all be an illusion: a false perspective. A false reflection. Everything seen in the mirror feels like it is in the past. It has all passed, left lagging behind and yet moving in the present. Moving …

09:50     January 5th           15 First Street, Brompton

… into his thin—open—mouth the thick vapour of the room forms swirling tornadoes.

‘Oh I understand now.’

He glances at his reflection in the blackness of his laptop screen. An emptiness in his eyes is counterbalanced by the animation of his lips as they dance across his face.

He leans back in his chair and his long black hair becomes caught between his slender back and the seat. It blends in with his thick leather coat that hangs down towards the floor as though wanting to devour the artificial wooden surface.

No one else is with him in the dimly lit study room. The walls are covered in whiteboards and an overhead projector points at the large closed doors to the outside. Behind the glass panes of the door stands an impenetrable looking curtain patterned in red brick.

In this room he lectures.

He recounts his tales as though they are a part of him. His conviction is unmistakeable, it is ingrained in him: he has become his conviction.

In his hands he caresses a leather bound book. A beautifully crafted and well-loved tome.

All the while he scans the words on the page, seeking to decipher it, like a secret code. His gums seem to stretch upwards as he pulls the edges of his mouth together to prepare them for the words.

‘Yes it is true that he was one of the chosen people.’

He is skeletal. From his tight scalp his hair billows out, blown by the rush of air from the fan overhead. His skin is thin like the parchment of his tome, yet not as silken or cared for.

The table in front of him is scattered with papers. Crumpled notes and pages covered in obscure drawings: they are windows of white dotted with wild pen strokes forming thick circles and seemingly random scratches on the page. Each piece of paper has come alive as though a colony of ants has been crushed and smeared into an elaborate exhibition.

‘And just like him I do the same work,’ the words come out cracked and dry like the pale skin of the lips that formed them.

He drinks it in. He speaks in affirmation of himself. The words worm their way around the curves of his skull and tunnel into the tissue of his brain. He consumes his book through his eyes, throat, ears, and through his skin. He performs his convictions so that they bleed into him, bouncing off the walls of the room and echoing back at him.

He smiles as he melts into the pages on the table. He drips away from the tangible world around and instead forms a unique existence, one where his interpretation of the book is all that matters.

And then you are left standing there again, facing that intertwining amalgam of cubed mirrors again.

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