Is what you feel. If feel is even the right word. You go to sleep hating yourself, and wake up feeling the same way. Feel. An absence of. And yet you feel it. This weight that snakes itself around your gut, yet seems to be outside of you. It’s like you’re a blur in-between. Like the shadow of a shadow of a hook, pulling at you somewhere both outside and in. Yesterday you thought about hanging yourself from a certain beam in the outhouse. And then you thought about the kids, so you considered that tree in the woods instead. You don’t want to live in this skin anymore. There is no light. You look into your sandwich box on the dirty table in front of you. You’ll not eat. You’ve not eaten properly for three days now. Four days ago you left the scene of the worst fuck-up you’ve ever committed and there is no way back into the light. And there never will be. You want to tell Grace about it but you can’t. You want to tell your kids that you are a bad bad man and you don’t want to be, but you can’t. You should kill yourself. Have done with it… Through the canteen window you watch as a fork-truck rumbles by. How did you even get here? Your boss has told you twice this morning to pay attention. You’ve messed up three orders already today. You cannot count. You cannot think. You are considering getting up from this table and walking out. And then you’ll keep on walking. You don’t care where you go. There is nothing left. You are empty… The canteen door opens and your arsehole winks. There are only two tables in here and there is no escape from conversation. You just want to be left alone… Hey… You look up from your sandwich box. It’s the new bloke, Curtis. He smiles at you and you can’t return it. He sits bang opposite you. You press the lid back onto your sandwich box. Not hungry? he says. You shake your head. He pulls a yellow Tupperware box out of a carrier bag and pulls the lid off it. Inside is pasta and salad. He pulls a silver fork from his inside jacket pocket and jiggles it in the air. TA-DAA! he sings, plunging his fork into the pasta, and then, You’re Billy, aren’t you?... You don’t even have the energy to stand up and leave. Yeh, you say, feeling your hands cup your head… Not feeling too good? he asks through a mouthful of pasta. Just tired, you say, each word feeling like a concrete boot on your tongue. Ah, he says. Curtis soft-chomps another mouthful of food. You look up and his twinkly blue eyes blink at you. You look down to his mouth and watch his little moustache wriggle over his thin lips. He swallows… Wilt thou then, O mortal, cling to the husk which falsely seems to you the self? he says. You feel your face pinch together. What? you say, your voice a heavy pebble dropped into the well of your head. Wu Ming Fu, Curtis smiles, forking half a tomato into his mouth… What?... An old Chinese poet, Curtis muffles, his Adam’s apple rising with the swallow. Oh, you say, feeling your thumbs press hard into your temples, your palms forming a visor across your eyebrows. You feel Curtis looking at you and you feel vulnerable, sliced open. Eyes closed, the sound of fork against Tupperware feels like little tin birds pecking at your skull… Ever read Kafka? Curtis chirps, soft-chomping again as the fork-truck rumbles by. You have no energy to fight this. The little tin birds peck-peck and a hot worm wriggles somewhere deep in your brain. You move your head slow right then left… No… Ooh you should! Try The Trial! It’s fabulous! There’s this guy who gets arrested but he can’t find out what he’s guilty of. It’s amazing!... You hear the rustle of a carrier bag, followed by the sound of a flask cup being unscrewed, followed by a flask lid being unscrewed, followed by the trickle of liquid. You don’t look up… Slurp… We’re all on trial at some time or other though, aren’t we Billy?... The words Please, Fuck and Off tread soundlessly through your head… Slurp… You shuffle in the hard plastic chair that holds you. Dunno, you say… Ah, Billy, sings Curtis with a chuckle, I myself have stood many trials. Many, many trials… You hear his fork scrape against the Tupperware box. You feel Curtis waiting for a response. You have none. You want to get out of here. Now. You will your legs the strength to stand. Your chair legs scrape back… Do you read at all, Billy?... You get to your feet. You look into Curtis’s twinkly blue eyes. He smiles. You shrug… You should, he says, his grin showing a sliver of tomato skin across his teeth. You turn your back and move towards the door… Don’t forget your sandwich box, Curtis coos. You turn and pick it up, surprised at how much your hand shakes. Try Oscar Wilde! he blurts as you pull the canteen door open. You turn and look at him. What?... To deny one’s own experience, is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life! Curtis smiles. You hear the ticking of the clock on the wall. You hear the needles of birdsong outside. You feel open and known to this annoying cock sat looking at you. Everyone knows everything. The shadow of the shadow of a hook tugs from deep. The boss sighs when you tell him you’re sick, and you have to go home.