The Bedlamites

The Bedlamites.

Our childhoods were defined by lunatics.
Every area in the town had its own resident,
at once holy and reviled.
Driven beyond the pale by illness,
eccentricity, a simple inability to fit,
the simple curse of being unhappy.
And a society, that contrary to popular belief,
was not given to forgive.
In another time or place
they’d have been canonised as saints,
holy fools like Feodor the Bellringer,
Prince Myshkin or mad Prince Ludwig.
These however were unsentimental times
and to be a character is a life sentence.

Their houses haunted the street,
blinds open at night, closed in the day
windows like eyes, skull-faced
to children who see faces everywhere.
You might see them emerge,
walking at strange hours in secret orbits,
donkey jackets and eye-patches,
winter clothes in summer,
summer clothes in winter,
welding crutches like rapiers
or plastic bags filled
with catalogues and dead batteries.

They had fallen through the cracks
and attained a strange kind
of anti-celebrity.
You knew about them
from the earliest memory
and presumed the whole world did,
as your whole world did.
They were markers out on the demarcation
lines of our street urchin areas
(the victorian terraces, Hawthorn, Glasgow
Cedar Street, the ‘gander’s neck’,
the disputed DMZ of Park Avenue),
venture beyond and it was a declaration of war
with the other rival tribes of the Glen,
Creggan, Ballybosnia.

We did not ask their stories.
All successes are essentially the same.
All failures are unique.
Nor the origins of their names,
all of them fallen from a David Lynch film;
Wabbits, the Karate Woman,
Paddy Melon, Mad Eileen
and the old guy, crooked as a question mark,
who went unbaptised.

We were feral children,
innocent until bored,
and we tormented those poor bastards
as meticulously as harpies.
Take Wabbits; poacher, lead thief,
rag and bone man, leftover from an earlier age,
a pre-decimal age of tinderboxes and spittoons,
who lived in a house with no furniture
and a front door with no lock,
who’d chase you for the slightest infraction
on his bicycle, with his trademark standing on one pedal
so he could propel himself towards you at speed unimpeeded
like some crazed vampiric Kinski,
the bike continuing on autopilot,
oblivious to your screams.

This then is a confession
from a tormentor.
We would congregate outside
the house of a recluse and shout
ludicrous accusations, that they killed
their brother despite their never
having had a brother to begin with
and we would be answered
by the inarticulate flailing figure
accelerating towards us,
chasing us for hours,
until all the nervous pleasure
had drained into a form of terror
and exhaustion, lead weights
in our shoes, until it was like running on sand,
lactic acid in our scrawny muscles,
and weary we’d beg him to stop,
to let us go, that we were sorry,
desperately sorry we’d weep,
we just want to go home,
but he just keep coming,
like Westworld, the Terminator,
Night of the Hunter
(“don’t he never sleep?”).
He ran after us
like someone was running after him,
until we had to jump and cling
onto the backs of lorries to escape,
holding on for grim death
as they sped us miles and hours from home.

There is an army of the unhappy out there,
a confederacy, if they ever realise it,
enough to secede from this State
but it is not them I fear,
rather the settling of debts,
the restoration of karma,
the day when the chickens come home to roost,
when you hear the crowd outside,
when you meet your younger self,
see them through the net curtain,
the foot slam against the door,
the chants beginning in unison,
that you killed the brother you never had,
and the urge rise in you
to launch blindly into chase,
the realisation that you’re now one of them,
you’ve crossed over
and the cosmic balance is restored.

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