Triptypch by Adam Steiner

This ‘I’ was once an IT in love. A disgusting, bitter, whined-out something. But with a maker, a beginning, some kind of mother. Before bleach and dead cells there was a blanket that held warm. And before that, muffled sounds of quiet desperation, haunting still as lonely breezes, bubbling the grass at slit precipice.

Between ruffled lips steely whispers slipped: “Keep moving, keep pushing, keep moving,” a terrible rhyme we tried to forget. But it drives this little world: a wailing, hairless sphere forced to become something. Once outside it’s first taste of man’s world and man’s needs, put down with a simple shot: all bang, no kiss goodnight, the big-red’s spent in an exhausted whimper.

Tight force at skull-sides, breathing in hair bones that clogged throat, rented from someone else. A pig heart replacement, now lacking motivation, it gives occasional splurge, going through motions of living, still beating, bleeding with the heads cut off as the power fizzles out.

Trapped behind translucent eyes, outside the architect screams desolate. Born of frustration and badly-looped in rhyme, the ‘I’ is still pure refusal, not yet ready to speak. Lips stick dry, hurts to move so keep them sealed. Then graced by sudden trickle of warm fluid, a salted body, breath’s quietly going under. Winding cord out strung like a noose, it chokes as it caresses, slither in between all peachy limbs, vine wrung tight, a bound tree, the ‘I’ says it won’t let go. Wants to stay Nil by Mouth, nothing in or out. But so neatly slotted in meniscus space, sucked clinging to the edges of this deep bowl and incidental kisses from these fleshy sides always threatening to spit, how long will one tolerate the other. Try to scratch, to hurt, but no nails yet.

“Incision to the stomach.” a brown smear, some chemical tinge across the swollen sky. Insert tube, “too young,” “but the best option right now.” Pipes up: “considering Vaxetoral entry,” discourse on last night’s match, blood-spat rushes, not good. Wailing and dragged about, watch-pin lost, “Fuck, it’s Swiss!” Recognise some distant ring-ringing, cold clash escaping, now more metal snatches at the stumps, every abrasion a signature scar embossing new flesh. “Aoxyll mvmnt ovrdng richtine flw.” He says.

Now force goes further, spider legs grip stub-handle limbs, still faintly cauterised. Smell of plastic-skin mired in soap, a mercurial face; that’s Jupiter. Nothing there after brief exploding flash, a sky-blue arena tangled up with over-reaching plaid. Like rats the size of cats, ushered in to go breathe for no one, we’re all trapped in respective plastic bags. Gliding under hungry gasps to break-surface-for-air – no escaping this limited atmosphere, so we exchange one prison for another. This stale space growing warmer by inches, wheels bump along a billowing hazy-pale, shift in colours to feed eyes (half-open) but already choked at first sight.

This one’s happy being sad, burrowed in his warm seclusion. Fight to get at mother until senses prick up (pre-sight): to survive must push out the other from nest we both share.

Now there’s some distant drive, pulse’s rush that propels the big-red to march the beat of one thousand atmospheres glaring down from the heavy ellipsis. A squeeze on skull, ripe enough, a rolling boulder, now grapefruit and a lick of pink blood left to drip thin, some light shows at the edge.

Soft glow soothes with exacting quiet and hushed whispers blown. Pick out gentle spire against harsh silver disc, angled-in to catch breath, drawing me out when I just want to fall deeper inside toward hub of sleep and dream.

Small winkles of blanket crease cushion loops with villi projection that wane their tovey caress, bringing sensation to puckered marble of new skin. Exposed, pores set to react in air’s compress. Shadowy as scabrous bark charred in sun, piercing arrows rise out from history, wrought in lineage of potential scars, yet to make their mark on you.

Eyes open, there’s eager sunrise knowing perfect circles yet to be squared off by the world. Tendons pull like horses chained to instinct, they draw without knowing. Wish every open part could be sutured up, so this promise of life alive could be abandoned then forgotten, given up as a bad mistake. To become dummy, blind and free, to live in permanent shade away from the chase, now dragged out from hiding place, the secret side of safe.

Exposed, even leaves have saw-teeth and nothing’s as it should be. If you look too close, see there’s no such thing as perfect surface; all pock-marks, scratches and blemish immediate. Soon to be shown in arch scars of acne, coarse winds and harsh words. Signs of life promise at perfection but nature can’t deliver. Anger in the blood, the only true song – so shoot the poets before they mislead us.

First thing, these fings thirst: try move double fours, one, two, three oh, and two big ones. Flex, hold, release. Need another to grip as if round neck, to feel gulps of blood between finger and thumb. In my hand is beat within beat, the big-red, now slipping into polyrhythm, each rushing cell fights to be heard over the other. These thingers and fumbs paw clumsy at the naked air but still don’t feel like mine.

So she held him, he reached out, and she was warm. Two palms met and fingers and toes were counted. Then new arms scooped under, her hand was split from his, lifted up and out. More hands bit, fingered, spat wild at the air, the growing gap turned to scream but she smiles anyway. Then there was nothing, a pale room, a singular cell, set to rest in absentia again.

Wake alone, like every day since. She is gone and I am full-grown: her beat’s a nagging sensation held over, a pain now yours to inherit. Like a tap left running, it trickles on, drips with the lubbdupp thump as same red reams go flourish again, making carnival outlet for the dead. Still hear them perhapsing, or is it drowned organ song? Bubbling away empty without wind, a quiver of other pulses, irregular future sounds blip.

Attempting to fix hole in the big-red but it was never found, so failure bound without her. Staring blind, a negation howled to infinity, now no one hears when she cries, sings, sighs to invade my sleep. So all old/new thoughts are of her, but now even that memory is waning deeper. I am last in line at fraying end of the thread, caught soft in shrill breeze. Dipped in red flecks there was only some brief blooming, a new avenue promised, but each strand is only faintest trace as her blood thins out inside of me.

“Well, fucked if I understand it.” The Dave gushes in half-Brummie drawl. Somewhat forlorn he’s a long way from home and the day is longer yet. I’m stood tall holding tight to a shaken Pisa of toilet rolls, desperately seeking files of the missing years the old ward holds it all. But he’s talking more and I can’t leave no matter how far the knuckles glaze over, pink then purple to blue in the cold.

“Matron said she wanted a new centrepiece; to help forget the old ward.”

Lest we forget

or remember

“It had just burned down, you see,” there’s always a reminder. “Old red-brick, most of it washed away once they got the hoses on it – blocked-up half the drains. Anyway, she got us one of those heritage grants so they brought it up here, this bloody pier monstrosity. Set it right on top of the old ward,” now it stands, a statue still burning without flame to echo our defeats, “which, of course, is laid out on the foundations of the old, old ward. The grant money wasn’t enough though, it soon ran out, which left nothing to finish refurbishing the rest of the place.”

There is wood laid on brick, old with semi-new and breezeblock edge interjects; how could it ever float like that, a cloud standing tall on iron grid? Misshapen, added-to with other authentic pieces a composite structure infected with histories that collide.

“Besides, how do we know it’s the actual Brighton pier?” Million and one driftwood pieces floating around in that same old sea “Tearing down them Victorian terraces all the time to make way for more rabbit hutches; and you can get those cornices anywhere.”

“But it’s from Brighton.”

“Yeah, but that’s just one side of it; it weren’t made in Brighton was it? Like the Crystal Palace, they built it one place, for that Grand Exhibition thingy, then they moved it again before it all burnt down. So then where do you say it’s actually from? Or, even better, where does it belong?” Return it to the sand, glass broken down to make new beaches as the piranha tides take take-away, picking pieces from a shrinking universe. “Point is, it doesn’t have a place of its own.” We both look on, “I don’t know; it’s the politics of the asylum isn’t it.”

“Anyway, I’ve come to warn you.” About what? “See them in management,” points out to the hated ones entombed in mythic upstairs, “said we’re not to go in here.” Nods to the torched ward. As if by lightning struck, management interfere with trickling ivy fingers in pink-cracked walls. The two chambers stripped gaunt, depleted cancerous in blistering paint, forever waiting to collapse.

“Unless you need more stores.”

“Then we can go in?”

“Yeah, well, not quite.” Sausage finger wavering, see white meat dying naked in the cold.

“I’m not to let you go in those double doors, they’ve got to be kept locked. Now, you can leave through this door,” chipolata flicks at clear exit sign where running man now hangs limp. Doesn’t matter, never opened in the fire, that’s just part of the problem. “You just push the bar and...”

“I thought it doesn’t open?”

“What? Oh, it didn’t then, but it does...” Haggard, distraction, “…well, it should. We had to fix it after…” hand-rolling stories, “after all that.” Draws lips back on gumteeth, shuffling, rubs back of his neck, “But it’s fine now. Just a bit stiff sometimes, air pressure and that. It’ll be here when you need it.”

“But it’s already burnt out.”

“Well, yes.”

He talks on again, his mouth up and down like billowing whale hoarding-in the verbal krill, so ephemeral. To break, I point at some other double doors: “Why can’t we go through there?”

I step off: “Woah, woah; you can’t go in there.” He stops me with shakes of his categorical head, a great, furry full-STOP.

“Why not?”

“The management went in, right, and they looked about, and they looked at me and said: ‘this ceiling is not safe.’” Rams each word home with finger to the blue sky. Catches breath then with his fist full of thumbs catches down a rollie, sat somewhere in iron wool heights. “Because,” lit aside “I shouldn’t really here,” looks about quick, “it’s got ladders propping it up.” Blow, it burns, he shrugs, “They brought in some ladders. Looked ‘em up, to assess like, you know,” I don’t, “whether it were safe and that. And so they decided, in their infinite wisdom, because there were ladders there, holding it up, that the ceiling must be faulty.” Picks some tobacco off his lick, then flecks it towards me,

“Oh, sorry mate.” leans in to remove.

“Leave it.” he stops just short. I pick at it incessant, stain won’t come away.

“Thing is, right, they don’t quite reach, the ladders, so it could go at any moment. So they reckon.” He blows out long funnel, a happy factory, contented.

“But there aren’t any ladders in there.”

“Yeah, they needed them for another job. But those ladders that should be in there, are the only thing holding it all up,” hands thrown up as lone ember pirouettes up to his head, settling in spiral it doesn’t catch; no burning dead wood “…give or take.”

“And if they weren’t there…” fishing desperately for sense.

“...well, it would all collapse, wouldn’t it. Stands to reason.” ...and falls by it also.

“The only people they trust to go in there is us.” Him and the other Daves, presumed. Thumbs his chest, misguided pride, beams over this triumphant nothing. Suddenly, casts a cocked eye. Seeing me light on my feet; there’s his unexpected depth. “Need to watch mind.”

“What for?”

“Foundation’s gone too; all those foundations showing their cracks now. Got too big, too top-heavy. Just waiting to collapse under its own weight. If you are gonna go in there,” so knowing, “don’t walk where all them idiots wandered trod about, leaving their prints, you mark it. Nothing but dust when they’ve done.”

“Patient hung himself once.” He leans heavy with secrets to spill and desperate to say, “It was a young lad, maybe ‘bout your age.” Supposed to be a shock but it’s predictable enough. He nods slow and determined, lip curled till blood runs out, desperate not to say that dirty word. Like me he keeps them in mind, close, a mirror to the dead souls refracted on a daily basis. Even in his time it was still shameful like the sodomite. Some still reeling from the aching moth trodden hard under King’s horse but that didn’t really count, hysteria’s just another excuse. His way is death, always in dignity. With clean white sheets, probably a priest on-call or someone who understands, a voice that knows what to say, even in a whisper that somehow reflects upon the life early-spent. Secure, it gives some flicker of the eternal, a love-like feeling to outlast your flesh and leave some brittle meaning in the wake. Hard for some to understand the ones who go eager towards death; desire overwhelming life.

“…that spiky hair what some of them do, but also slashed short on one side,” From that to this?

“Bit like that Swan, queer one him, her I mean.” Which one? “Mind you that was just the hair line sort of, it was all scorched up, could’ve been a woman for all I know.”

“They don’t know?”

“It was a youth ward, mixed. All look the same now lads walking round with their arses hanging out their jeans” (loose-fit) “shaved hair all-round the heads, bloody long bit flopping about” (fringe) “they’ll pierce anything” (and anyone) “I tell you; lads wearing lipstick, these…neon gloves,” (winter) “ and hats indoors; some of them won’t even eat meat.” (Progress).

With eerie gurning he sees his imagined enemy, ‘the youth’ with their changes: shapeless, nameless, all got faster so he can no longer keep up as fashions evolve, out-pacing tiger to the lion, one eats the other and the modern monsters roll on.

“I remember, he was wearing hospital clothes, must’ve wandered off the ward like, started it in the kitchen no doubt. Still allowed matches back then. It’s a terrible thing, it’s one thing to try and do yourself but to take the whole place down with you? I remember when we found him, her, something written on his hand.”

Scr-a-tch-at-itch, “Which hand?”

“No idea what it meant, like a code.”

“Which hand was it? You must know, you don’t forget a thing like that.”

“Ah, well now, you do. I forget. That’s the thing about memory, you never choose what stays with you...” Mumbles something, “…haah, I dunno; all these low jeans,” and flat-soled shoes that destroyed a generation.

“What ever happened to Fred-fucking-Perry.”

One body to another; both shiver in expectation. They promised us new morals, our health preserved, now growing old in the half-light, before our time. To lighten the public load this stale architecture echoes, caught still, like frozen music that spans the arches bent heavenwise out of tune, their instruction has grown diffuse. See that same glimmer from the city of glass, now broken, where our own imperfections shine. Small stars wait patient to explode, the cells forever buzzing we share life in constant friction as static, never settling. Trapped in permanent discord, as I twist another part reacts. Testament to angry possession some entrances stick, these grips are coarse metal, slip and it’s gushing, blood enough to prove it’s real knowing pressure of future death.

The fire was quenched again, swallowed into the sea and streaked along by fading tides that gravitated to the shore. She bought up the precious remains, delivering the shell to us via new afterlife. Resurrected, the hollow dome was soon swollen, brick by mismatched brick. Instead it’s a living wreck, never the same edifice they once knew, an inglorious relic reeking of slow death preserved in fetid salt air – some things are better left behind. Now every orifice is bricked-up, “mothballed” they call it, locked-in and set aside for future use, there condemned to private winter. It stands a reminder of Hastings, Brighton; the places where the dead ones go to die and die again.

They pulled off the shards of tired boards, with shuffling spare brick sold on to new-builds. Rumour was they auctioned them off to some dreary Midlands town desperately seeking culture on the cheap. Some line of heritage to unite what once was, now denied and apologetic.

Ample frustrations marked in peeling of the walls reflect an easy fashion, to slip in permanent decay with no end, harder to tell what fits, spat-in soup as seconds float up in burnt-haze. The design’s all retrograde, but it’s better than nothing. Aping the Georgian ones high above and under our streets, forcing their symmetry onto the rest, neatly in line, we all stand. This seeps much further, the idea. No matter how many times the walls fall down it persists in memory; we are rebuilt, eternally.

Cruel spires stand ugly mired with the siren calls of beeping machines and patients crying harm, the dark soundclash a single, unholy howl. Self-pity dominates the shame, and suffering’s just an afterthought with constant iron rain as white noise violently dapples the walls when so many cries and drops smash it hammers self-destructive. The helpless ones catch whirring grind of staff pressure as two waves fight to overpower each other, one day to meet in the centre, and the noise will crush itself and cave in.

It calls again, some innate and ancient cry a promise bounced wild on the surface vibrating walls, mutters of a lonely return. Some kind of defeat, the sound penetrates with guttural yell of my death. Like that famous house of glass, so-called grandiose, its greatness is crushed in zig-zag agony, stubbed out by the sky it lies diminished, wrought in modern iron. In few instants made arcane, an overspent form, what kind of place is it where there is room for doubt? A constant illusion when all should be clear and transparent.

Old cracked bricks exchange glances but the points never meet, too sharp to be easily erased. Spares shapes weighing space, half-collapsed, but the breeze gives equilibrium, toying with the loosening edifice. Paws soft enough but claws hidden in retreat waiting to pull brisk thunder and tear something tall: a chimney, a crummy wall already scarred with lightning scratch, an elemental kick of fascias imploding, dust caving-in from the wind-bitten brick.

Wander through giant A-frame, late cathedral style into shell of cracked Victoriana. Step in something unholy, leave scratches on the outer wall, always these sevens recurring. Inside, cheap plastics glimmer as artificial smiles. First hit is the heat. Lean out press on wall, cracked pustule leaves fingers finely sticky, wrong kind of paint quickly rejected as tepid colours glare pissy against the eye. Bubbling and peeled in eager revulsion it leaves flakes of skin on the floor. These rising surfaces a virulent selfhatingart, a reminder of Speer’s great designs. It was made old another classic shaped in decay to become ruin, never to regenerate.

Step out again: birds loop and caw whispering dark ivy thoughts to me, swing as if on string through peaked triangles in skeletal dome. Black bullets punching holes in the sky all the faces blown away as girders haunt like iron butterfly, cutting blue divisions as panes of a glass wing overhanging with guillotine’s licked edge.

Desolate like a coastal reach, stretched to sky there’s salty smell of faded glamour and hopes invested in the ordinary boys now tinged with rust. Dead children crossing here, badly in need of a catcher, watch them play away before the bright night fell. Easy lessons as they’re taught to embrace bitter ironies, a place for sweet kicks and deep-throat pleasures…if you believe even half the myth. But the kids sucked in with honey and bliss gorging too deep. When the seasons change the ghost town resounds senseless during out of hours; no wonder they’re bored. With the littered streets evacuating, howled over by wind, we go comatose post-sugar rush now winter is a comedown as all our honey’s spent and reality hits: split condoms swim in shallows while boy racers tear along the promenade road take what they can to feel like somewhere else, but this nothingness beach is just another wasteland.

Sleepwalk in ashes to resting place of pentagonal fire, forced to dream my spiral runs down as happy self’s sold-out to sea. Still playful screams where the dead kids go, hear them running, round and about, hid behind and ducking under stoop of burning frames, soon put to the deep, crushed in silence as the last brick’s dissolved in foaming jaws.

There’s more slamming from invisible hinges, she makes a sound like banging drum trying to shut heavy fire door, but there’s no helping, it’s been gutted all before. Can’t face it just now, allow that easy blindness to come, avoiding the eyes just another way to get round the puddle.

Now an inland wind wheezes, licking out every last dent and scratch to bring a cold tune to life. It passes from the surrounding trees shedding every odd leaf in its bluster, back and forth a saw-gutting niche of crushed organ pipes. Every last breath squeezed from the writhing corpse resurrected, to soldier on by royal appointment, ostensibly. I walk through a dusting, wheezing monument to metaphor. From border to ward, better watch your step; they see the same as me, but don’t know what it means.

Adam Steiner has worked in several NHS institutions for many years as a cleaner/driver/admin and now writes words for a living. He has just finished editing his first novel, Politics of the Asylum (PoTA), which will be published by Silhouette Press in 2012. To read more about PoTA go to: or follow @BurndtOutWard