Title: The Confused Ethics of Thaumaturgy [I, II, III]|
Author: Queen Jane, Approximately
Disclaimer: Purely ficshun.
The scene is: A Friday. Hot. Late afternoon.
Roger, blessedly home alone, having a good wank in the shower.
The telephone bawling relentlessly.
He’s trying urgently to think of those blokes he’d been clandestinely ogling over breakfast in the Abercrombie catalog that inexplicably found its way into his mailbox, but all that comes to mind—
--is the image of a goddamn cartoon telephone with its receiver jumping off the hook, rattling in newspaper-ink panels lit up by boisterous comic book sound effects. No, Roger, those boys. Right, those American boys with their freshman smiles and airbrushed chests—bare chests in a clothing catalog—laughing openly, tossing around a football, and oh, if only their mothers knew, ahhhyes, if only their mothers knew what they’d been up to behind the shed, no, in the locker room, ah, yes, that’s it, tooling around in the lock—
--in the locker room after they’ve finished fake-playing sport, steam on their brows, striding around in loose towels and giving one another that look as they head to the showers. A dark eyed one stands out among the apple-pie blonds; curly-haired and lean, dripping beneath a shower head, sheepish on the other end of a clever grin from the sandy-locked slim-jock who has slyly taken note of his reluctant hard-on and oh, so close—
--so fucking close, hot haze coating the tile and their skin, their young, bare skin made up of...of red-yellow-blue dots? Those impressive...erections...jumping off the hook, rattling in newspaper ink panels lit up by boisterous comic book sound effects and—goddamnit!---
rrrrrng! rrrrrng! rrrrrng!
“For fuck’s sake!” Roger lets go of himself to violently flip the shower lever off, then whips a towel from the rack and throws it about his waist. He gripes beneath his breath to no one as he pads into the kitchen who phones at this hour? leaving a trail this had better be fucking important of soppy prints in his wake.
Snatching the ring-ring-ringing receiver up, he shouts into it irritably, yes?
Roger, blessedly home alone, just trying to have a wank in the shower. This had better be fucking important.
As he listens--
--his face and his cock go slow-motion slack.
"Oh. I see."
Roger swallows the report hard, and though it wedges in his throat like a big, dry pill he manages to interrupt the disconsolate female voice on the other end of the phone/country/universe to say, “Right then. Kind of you to call, Rosemary.”
Shutting his eyes to aid in processing the information, he numbly replaces the receiver, then almost immediately sets about fretting over how rude he was to have left out the questions, the obligatory so-how-are-you-doing-anyways, the condolences, until he realizes it doesn’t matter. It doesn't fucking matter, so he presses his palms against the countertop - important enough for you, Reg? - arms taut and head hanging and watches, catatonically, cooling beads of water slide to the tips of his silver hair and drop loudly onto the granite...
...until this drip-drip-drip chorus finally becomes too raucous, too deafening, and in slips a sudden and brutal fury to reanimate him. He seizes a glass tumbler from the counter and hurls it at the wall with a howl of violent frustration.
It shatters like relief.
“You fucking--! Christ, how could you--?”
Leave me without a chance to explain or apologize. Leave me with the same guilt as always, only now without even the hope of reparation.
“Goddamnit, Syd. Goddamnit.” He places his elbows on the countertop and lets his defeated brow fall into his open palms.
The scene is: A Friday. Hot. Late afternoon.
Roger, blessedly home alone, having a good sob into his hands.
Roger Waters and Syd Barrett. Inseparable. Inscrutable. Kith with a degree of empathy betwixt them so rare and so unreadable that it confounded even those that thought they knew them best. Roger and Syd had always enjoyed this certain...closeness, this certain bond that was warmer than brotherhood, tighter than friendship, deeper than artistic understanding and somehow less innocent than all of those.
It went generally unacknowledged, this indivisible attachment to one another, which left the both of them vulnerable to quiet moments of consideration, moments of deep brooding on the particulars of their friendship, the possibilities of it, the potential consequences, though these instances of contemplation were generally quashed by the fickleness of youth not long after they’d begun to surface, and therefore questions that hadn’t even been given the chance to fully form were left largely unresolved.
For his part, Roger, in his boyhood naïveté, often found himself suffering something akin to guilt at the way his cheeks would flush when Syd flashed him that famous Cheshire grin of his. In his teenaged discomfiture he felt uneasiness, something not unlike disgust at the secret way he would imagine his hands all tangled in Syd’s hair or roaming his desert-highway-slick skin when he touched himself to sleep at night.
In those days, marked by the unrestrained freedom of adolescence, Roger was finding more and more excuses to take his motorbike out with Syd hitched onto its back. To the market, to the park, to the fucking moon, who cares, who cares, so long as your tuneful laughter burns in my ear as the wind-rush plays your cilia; so long as you clutch my chest in that anxious way of yours whenever we hit a bump.
One evening in July, after a particularly debauched tour of the city, complete with booze, cigarettes and leering at summer-clad girls, they sat idling in front Syd’s house. Both silently detested the wash of burnt orange over summer foliage that meant the day had to end, that the vibration of the engine beneath their thighs was soon to be replaced by a vicious, grating silence. After frowning against Roger’s back for a long moment, Syd sighed and swung himself off the bike.
He made it onto the pavement only to immediately jump back at the sudden sound of a vulgar, wicked crack.
“Bloodyfuck!Wotthafuckwustha?!” Simultaneous, chaotic. Both, blood pumping backwards with panic, mentally check listed their limbs and the number of holes in their heads even as they searched frantically for the source of the sound. They found, ultimately, that the bike’s back tire had blown. It seemed, upon closer inspection, that it had in fact been on the verge of detonating all day. The crouching boys looked at each other over the skeletal rim, recognizing in time that they were actually quite lucky to still be breathing.
The protracted moment of stunned, reverent silence—-boys catch their first glimpse of the fact of their mortality--that followed—-boys shaken and swollen with misplaced pride over having lived oh-so-dangerously--was broken rather unexpectedly
by Syd’s familiar chuckle.
Rich laughter; howling, enlightened, astonished laughter. The reaction managed to startle Roger enough to give him pause as Syd took off running, flying into the grasses surrounding his mother’s house.
A smirking Roger leapt off the bike to chase him; predator whipping through the brush and Syd, a gazelle, lithe and light and unsuspecting. This was their favorite game; power dynamics and thistle down. Roger growled as he tackled Syd, overtook him, threw him to the ground viciously and pinned him there. With this accomplished, though, his eyes suddenly became an oblivious cub's rather than a brutal lion's. Ah so, what next, now I've fastened my prey to the dirt?
Syd chuckled as he recovered from the blow, squinting and half-heartedly attempting to squirm away. After a brief time, with a huff and a smile he stopped struggling, only to note Roger staring down at him a bit too intensely.
“Oy, Rog,” Syd slapped him briskly on the cheek and nodded upwards, “’s much lovelier things to look at up there, you know.”
Roger flinched lightly and switched his gaze upward. He searched the sky only to note absently that the stars blazing overhead were somehow dishearteningly pale and worlds away, losing the breadth they'd possessed when reflected in the dark eyes pinned beneath him. He opted to look there again, “I can see them fine, thank you.”
Syd made a face, “you almost killed us tonight, silly bloke.”
Yes, but somehow the gravity of it had not dawned on him fully until his companion had said it aloud. Almost killed them. What a substantial notion. Indeed, what terrible power. Imagine: he had almost taken Syd Barrett away from the world entire! A world that didn’t know him yet but someday, somehow, surely would. And they didn’t deserve to know him, did they, so Roger suddenly found himself sickly yearning for nothing less than to deprive them of it.
“Almost,” he fought not to sound regretful as he scrutinized Barrett’s face; the starlight in his pupils, his hair in chaos after the wind tunnel backroads, his lips still parted and lightly panting from the run or the almost-apocalypse or the strange potency of Roger hovering over him and watching him so so so intently.
Syd began again to struggle, managing eventually to get free enough to climb atop Roger and reverse the pin, if not the tidal motion.
“Stop. Staring. At. Me.” He widened his eyes playfully as he chastised Roger, who only chuckled in response. Then, resting his elbows on Roger’s rawboned chest, Syd settled down to tell him secretly, wistfully, “maybe it’s a shame we’re not all caught in the treetops with missing limbs and perpetual sunset.”
He continued in a hushed rasp while nesting his chin against his folded forearms, brow creased and eyes shifting between star systems; a gloomy ghost hound, an untuned guitar, “tangled up in power lines barring ascension, laughing at the broken boys down below until we realize that they used to be us.”
Roger narrowed his eyes and opened his rapidly drying mouth to speak, but what to say? What to say to that… murky poetry? That haphazard, dejected verse that brought the air down as heavy and thick as it ever did, but somehow even more significantly this time, what to say? What to say, because now there was something, some heart-beating manic heady moment they were gripped in, nearly dead but achingly alive and drunk on adrenaline or pollen and either you enhance it or you wreck it, right, and you certainly don’t want to do the latter, yet you have to say something, right, but then, as it turns out, no...you don’t have to say anything after all because instead Syd’s lips are touching yours, softly, sweetly, timidly...
And you stop. breathing.
Excrutiatingly, Syd’s withdrawal was just as sudden and unexpected as the contact he'd initiated. While Roger lie stunned on the grass, Syd sat up looking nervous; almost expectant of a reprimand. He flinched as Roger’s long, cool fingers came to his face, tense until he realized that Roger's touch was meant to coax his unlocked lips back down again.
So there they shared their first real kiss, in the safe cover of the burgeoning garden, while a summer-dusk mantle hung over them heavy; extraordinarily dense and humid in their teenaged confusion, in the immensity of discovery and near-death, in this fresh and vital, head-spinning humanity of boys-kissing-boys because how strange it all is...
Syd, perched on Roger’s hips. Roger, touching Syd's face with too-much care for his imagined fragility and drawing him back for more; hungry but timorous, mature enough at least to force himself to remain in the moment and consider the texture of these lips--how different from kissing a girl! Sweeter and less clumsy, somehow--the taste, the tang of cheap, covertly acquired cigarettes and even cheaper liquor, plush skin, receptive but not overly anxious, the wet tip of tongue, grass scratching bare skin, the foggy warmth of breath, the immediate and tingling ascension of erectile tissue--because you have to think of it in coldclinical terms or recite the Rigveda or whatever, you understand, to keep from being torn away by the low stiff breezes, you understand--all straining against unforgiving denim, and the weight of Syd’s forgotten hands on bony chest and...
...and then, somehow, they are having their first fumbling fuck in the grass. All punctuated by inhibited groans and awkward try-try-agains and apprehensive are-you-oks? Trying, both of them, desperately trying to be easy and graceful like in the movies, only even the dirty cinemas they'd snuck into never told them about this.
It was all so serious, so solemn; staring unrelentingly into each other’s eyes to convey – what? – the depth of their bond with one another? To convey the absolute trust and admiration and love that had grown between them, because they would neverever dare speak it aloud or, really, even think about it in sober moments? To convey how very grown-up and grave they could be when the situation demanded? Certainly something had to be communicated psychically in this moment, in this moment, because they were both aware on some level that there was the very real possibility of a looming dawn where they could no longer look one another in the face.
But then Syd, blessed Syd, shattered the severity of it all with his musical laughter. Sweet laughter, adoring laughter, infectious laughter that brought Roger’s big grin to life again. They shed the critical earnestness in favor of rolling carelessly together in the weeds to strains of blithe laughter, of exploring with lightness of heart each gauche bone and dip and curve of the other’s young body and then beautifully, just as the notion of an orange-yellow-pink new day was beginning to threaten behind the blackboard sky, Roger fell asleep on Syd’s chest in a pile of discarded clothes.
What he didn’t even suspect until he witnessed the nervous darting of bloodshot eyes the next day was that Syd did not sleep. Could not sleep. Disturbed, unsettled—regretful?--and mostly, mostly grieving without understanding that he was grieving a friendship that had been quite simple just a few hours before.
By morning, ugly glaring morning, Syd had dressed and moved to sit beneath a tree, arms clutching his drawn up knees. When Roger awoke in the haze of sunrise and sat up with a dreamy but confused smile, Syd offered only a weak one back, hey mate, just thought I’d wait about to see you off safely, mate.
Roger scratched at his mussed hair, squinting into the perplexing dawn, "Syd, what--"
"They'll worry after me if I don't go in," Syd responded briskly.
Roger opened his mouth to yawn and when he pried his eyes open again he found Syd scuttling to his feet.
Then he was gone, treading towards the front step without looking back. Whatever desperate gibberish Roger called after him in an effort to bring him back managed only to strike the front door as it was pushed closed; severely fraught words left only to clatter against the stone walk, unheard.
July 7, 2006
I am sorry.
I am so terribly sorry...
It was three reasonably innocuous words that, like a rusted railroad switch falling unprovoked, sent everything spinning into turmoil.
I. know. someone.
It had come to be routine that, while even the notion of ringing Syd brought terrible tremors to Roger’s fingers, collapsed his lungs, made his heart threaten against the bars of his ribs, an insubordinate prisoner, Roger would still stare down the telephone at least once a day.
The nearer his hands drew to the receiver the more strongly they would rebel, thrash with panic, shake in self defense. The mind, the hands and their ally the ego, all at war with a noosed heart which seemed to be railing against them in its surest of moments.
But if he ever got the strength to lift that heavy receiver, what would he say? That was the ever-present [way out] conundrum. It’d have to be brilliant. Syd was brilliant, so it’d have to be just brilliant.
Listen: everything I ever wrote
was about you,
The composition of this impossible communiqué consumed Roger utterly.
if it’s any consolation.
Slumped on campus benches, sucking up long drags of a cigarette, legs splayed and left foot tap-tap-tapping in time with the grind-grind-grinding of his straining mental gears. Brilliant. Right. Something about…
He had, as usual, come up with nothing by the time he found himself talking to Nick Mason as the day eroded beyond fingerprinted glass, smoking illegally in the room where they’d do their drafts, distracting the hopeless up-and-coming architect from his very serious studies with foolish talk of a foolish dream of rock stardom.
“I agree, Chris isn’t right. But what can you do about it?” Nick doesn’t even look up from his drafting table as he speaks.
Three benign/malignant words tapping persistently at the back of Roger’s skull: I know someone.
“Anyway, it’s a ridiculous thing to waste so much energy on. Christ, Roger, you ever planning to do any actual work?” When he finally glances at Roger, he can see that his eyes are alight with...something, "what is it?"
Three words that—how propitious!—would seem to be the solution to all of life’s current problems. Three words that would bring a vital missing piece to The Tea Set and serve as an excuse to contact Syd beyond hello I fucking miss you I wont say I fucking miss you but you know I fucking miss you, don’t you?
Roger suddenly feels that familiar trembling in his joints, as evidenced by the quaking red siren reflection of his cigarette in a dusk-coated window as he brings it, quavering, back to his lips.
He swallows his trepidation/excitement/foolish imprudence hard and croaks, “I know someone.”
“Bloody hell,” Nick drops his pencil and throws up his hands, “ring him, then!”
So it comes to this again.
…to take credit for your madness would be…
Roger versus the telephone.
…I must confess I knew your eyes dimmed every time they fell on my face, but …
It turns out that even having a tangible purpose does little to quell the anxiety. Slick red plastic glinting in the light; a mocking grin - you going to do it this time, you fucking quim? - and Roger’s hands all a-tremble, bones threatening to shake right out of his skin and clatter onto the tile floor like dice.
Defiantly, he snatches up the receiver and hooks a finger into the ‘4’ hole on the rotary, no turning back now, slaying the dialtone by turning the wheel, and then letting it clickclickclickclickclick back into place. A few more digits to tackle--break it up, Roger, it’s easier that way; this is not a conversation you’ve been waiting for years to have, this is a hole with a two inside, and a seven, and a nine and--and before he knows it he is all out of numerals and the jittering silence is replaced by a rather jarring ring.
“Hello, Barrett residence.” It’s a woman. Not Syd. Then there’s still time to call the whole thing—
“May I…” he hears his own voice betraying him from somewhere in the middle distance. “MayIspeaktoSyd—uh—Roger? Please. Ma’am.” all spat out in a dud-grenade clangor of leaden clumsiness. At least his throat is dry and tremulous enough that Syd’s mother doesn’t seem to recognize his voice.
“Certainly, dear. One moment.”
Suddenly, he feels mercury rising up in his throat, creeping over his face. A part of him had expected Syd would not be home. You’re supposed to be at school, Syd. A part of him had hoped to only have to leave a message.
And then, in the background, he hears, “Roger, dear! Your little friend George is calling!”
Shit. She does recognize him. And she sold him out. The slag.
He hangs up the phone swiftly and instantly regrets doing so. Shit, shit, shit.
He’s still fretting about it months later, burning holes in his throat on the front steps of a house on Stanhope.
He sits stolid, smoking cigarettes down to nothing on the steps of a group house, forcing himself to finish each until it sears his fingertips before flicking it away when really all he wants to do is: light another and another and another. His hands clasped together, elbows on his knees, he takes drags in between resting his forehead on his knuckles and staring at the shoes that pass. Red shoes, black shoes, red-and-black shoes and not a single elastic band on any of them.
“Got a fag?”
Suddenly someone is standing in front of him. Of course it is Syd, of course it is Syd and of course that doesn’t register with Roger who is wrapped up in being irritated by the disruption, irritated at the nerve of some random stroller-by white boots/striped trousers with a really clumsy false-cockney accent—-who fakes an accent?—interrupting his brooding, but Roger sighs, sets his jaw and passive aggressively holds out a hand-rolled cigarette without glancing up.
Syd is pleased to have fooled Roger, or to have Roger playing at being fooled, though he can't decipher which it is. He grins, “Loight?”
“Jesus fuck, you want me to smoke it for you too, you n--” It is then that Roger notes those boots, white boots/striped trousers obscuring green elastic bands and what he is almost certain is a smear of paint. Ochre. Paint.
Now he doesn’t dare look up.
Syd falls into a crouch in front of him and Roger is still just staring, staring at those shoes, because he knows that if he looks up Syd will be there in front of him, or Syd will not be there in front of him, and either way, well…
Plucking the matchbook dangling from betwixt Roger’s static fore- and middle-fingers, Syd sweeps a stick – flick-hiss – to life and then sets blazing the cigarette – crackle-fizz – dangling from his lips and Roger hears it all in senses-expanded, deafening clarity, especially when Syd says, look at me. Roger, look at me.
Look at me, Roger.
Roger inhales unsteadily and shakes his head even as he hesitatingly switches his eyes to Syd’s face. Their eyes lock together; expressions intensely, powerfully...deadpan.
They watch one another's faces unrelentingly. Never the type to greet each other with hello-mate-long-time-no-see-mate, or whatyoubeenupto, oldbuddyoldpal, but rather this ruthless, unspoken interchange, this total communication, with Syd intermittently obscured behind a current of exhaled smoke and Roger’s fag burning down to nothing, forgotten in the folded fists still supporting his brow as he braves Syd’s unwavering gaze.
A foreign/familiar/forgotten feeling—exosphere, thermosphere, mesosphere, stratosphere, troposphere all collapsing with a series of raucous crashes, expelling clods of dust into the shattered atmosphere. This is the part where the world caves in. This is the part where the earth is tipped off its axis by a cosmic dust collision with the north pole, gravity turning on its side and sending everything, everything rushing them, ears filling with pressure like liftoff and a surge of ruby-heat that starts at the hinge of the jaw and spreads outward toward the ears, burning furious, until what comes next, what is inevitable is physical contact, what will mend these souls, keep them from turning inside-out as they draw--magnetized--nearer, is to re-ignite a bond shattered unceremoniously, an acknowledgement they both ache for, hands on face or in hair lips on temple or mouth on mouth, it doesn’t matter, but what is inevitable is—
The door. Opening. The door opening. Then Nick is standing there on the stoop, and the atmosphere flies back up into place like blinking your eyes after they've been out of focus, and the earth tilts crooked again, as it should, and all the edges come back and oh, that wasn’t nuclear apocalypse after all, just traffic, just North London traffic here in front of Stanhope Gardens, same as every day…
“Bloody hot out here today,” says Nick and he lights up a fag as if he hasn’t just stopped the oceans imploding or the sun splitting a big, frightening grin.
Syd smiles beamingly, secretly, and Roger isn’t sure which of their noses he’d like to crack first.
“Yep. Bloody hot,” Roger mumbles.
Syd rises to his full height and offers Nick a hand saying, without theatrics, “Prince Cardamum Arsole Godnose Buckminster-Fullerman The Third,”
“Well,” Nick accepts the proffered hand, chuckling, “that’s quite a na--”
“His name is Syd,” Roger cuts in insipidly.
“Ah, Syd. The Syd I’ve been hearing so much about, I presume.”
“I presume,” Syd echoes.
They make petty conversation—that is, Nick does. For Syd’s part, he manages to weave a most complex, intricate and false picture of his life for his new aquaintence with just the simplest of responses, while all Nick is doing, all Nick is doing is asking him about Cambridge and art school.
“Shall we go in, then?” Roger interrupts by standing abruptly, tired of listening to it, tired actually of listening to Syd speak to someone that is not him.
“I don’t have my guitar,” Syd makes a daffy face at Nick who is, naturally, charmed.
“It’s getting late anyway,” Nick says as he stubs out his cigarette. He slaps Syd on the shoulder, “Tomorrow? Three or so?” and assumes the answer is an affirmative without actually waiting to hear it before disappearing back indoors.
The silence that follows his departure is peculiar. Telepathy was always Roger and Syd's preferred means of communication, but this, this is somehow different. A crooked silence that sets their eyes anxiously to the very important task of studying the treetops or passing cars or ants on the sidewalks or anything, god, anything to pretend to be occupied by something other than how how how shall I fill this dreadful silence?
“How’s Cambridge Tech?” Roger finally shatters it, clumsily.
Syd settles back against the railing to study his friend, one arm thrown about his own torso with his opposite elbow resting on it, chin in his palm, fingers slightly obscuring a slick smirk, “Is that really what you want to talk about?”
“Well, to tell you truthfully, it’s full of insufferable dandies and I… dropped it for Camberwell last year.”
Roger wills down a bellyful of umbrage born of injury as he stares at Syd. Camberwell. Right. “You’ve been in London for a semester.”
“Yes. Yes, Polly from Poly, as a matter of fact I have been in loverly London for an entire semester,” and he stops there, his tone rather daring Roger to follow up asking why he hadn’t bothered to phone.
Instead, he is reticent, and the air thickens and congeals around them and neither speaks until:
“You stay here, then?” Syd cuts the silence with a nod towards the house looming above them.
“Yes,” Syd is grinning again but, “well, are you going to show me?” difficult to read, impossible to read, and it causes Roger to hesitate before too casually inviting him up to see his room.
Once inside, Syd more or less immediately begins to sift through Roger’s box of albums, marking every fifth one with a benign comment. Roger stands behind him, responding just as bromidically although the both of them are secretly sweaty-palmed waiting, anticipating, what happens next, but playing it cool.
Syd pulls out a stack of Chuck Berry records and flips them over. Then he starts in on this most wonderfully Syd Barrett thing of rapping off of the titles, making up a new song comprised of the names of the ones in his hands:
“You know, I’ve had this… Low Feeling ever since Sweet Little Sixteen…”
Roger is, once again, suddenly very aware of a derelict nuclear reactor melting down in his gut. He smiles, rests his chin on Syd’s shoulder and joins in the game:
“Since Our Little Rendezvous, Brown Eyed Handsome Man?”
Syd winces but continues to sing, and it turns out that this is the most heart-rending blues Roger has ever heard.
“How You’ve Changed, my Childhood Sweetheart. I miss The Way it Was Before…”
Dizzy headed from a pinched-up trachea, Roger suddenly cannot take the [dis]honesty anymore. Cannot take Syd, standing there in his room, peeling off his skin with jagged chunks of vinyl. He says, gently, Syd.
“Come On, Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller…”
Then he tries a bit louder, Syd.
“When I say I’m confused, I’m Talking About You. You been waiting by the phone all these years too? Don’t you Lie to Me.”
SYD. Finally, Roger has his attention and as such he reaches around both sides of Syd to take the Berry records away, to put them away, to stop this nonsense. Syd, shockingly diffident, goes back to flipping through the rest of the albums. Roger continues to stand at his back, pulling up by the roots every cluster of nerves he can find to ask gauchely, why, Syd, why didn’t you tell me you were here in London?
Syd stops mid-flip and stares at the worn edges of the album covers in protracted silence.
“What I can’t figure out," he responds, at long last, "is whether or not we died on your motorbike that night in Cambridge. Most of me has never really wanted to know the answer.”
That’s no kind of response—[that’s the only possible response]—but the important thing is that he has said it. That. Night. It has been evoked, it’s in the air now, and they can talk about it, finally they can—
But Syd quite deliberately roadblocks that line of conversation by crossing the room to slide a John Lee Hooker LP onto the hi-fi. It warms to life, as records will do, Three Long Years Today. Roger looks after him, nonplused, but doesn’t ask.
It's been rainin' this time, baby.
About three long years, today.
Syd stands in front of the player, snapping and singing but quite aware of Roger standing at his back again. Sweaty-palmed, waiting, anticipating, what happens next, and the answer creeps in slowly, Roger leaning in slowly, and begins to sing along, voice dropping hypnotic, hypnotic like the smell of that dark chocolate hair just barely touching Roger’s cheek...
My baby went an’ left me.
An’ she left me by myself.
What happens next is: Roger finds his hands on Syd’s upper arms and the tip of his nose against his ear and his lips saying things they ought not to be saying. Stupid things. Embarrassingly trite things. Things that he must have picked up at some ridiculous cinema.
Syd presses his eyes closed and listens with stiff shoulders, feeling something like a martyr as he naively resigns himself to the fact that this is what their friendship has irrevocably become, what it became in his garden three summers ago. Clearly there are expectations now so just keep your mouth closed and get with it, huh Syd, because whatever happens next can’t possibly hurt more than it hurt to not talk to Roger for years on end.
Lord, I said fare you well, baby.
No, you won't be back no mo'.
And maybe you enjoy it a little too, huh Syd, this bizarre communion and the even more bizarre physical manifestation of it.
Syd—-reluctantly, he’s sure—-turns his face up towards Roger's—-unwittingly, he’s sure—-and they pass lies between their unhinged lips; dank, tentative, silent fallacies or conjecture or admissions that eventually draw them into each other’s mouths and somehow, somehow it is just as guiltless and lovely as before a motorbike’s tire burst and took out with it their collective innocence.
Leave me worried and bothered.
An’ troubled all the time.
Yes, yes, yes…
Until all of it – all of the anger and resentment and lust and desperation and loss and grieving and affection that has been building for three years – surges into Roger like a syringe full of antifreeze, and he is suddenly cold and feral. His fingers tighten on Syd’s arms and he breaks their kiss only to turn him about so that they are facing each other before assaulting his mouth again. Syd is staggered; tense and uncertain and betrayed by his hormones as he is backed into Roger’s bed, dropped there vulgarly, supine and helpless beneath a menacing mass of mauling, growling sinew that could not possibly be George Roger Waters.
Fact is, this is what their friendship has irrevocably become and clearly there are expectations now.
Fact is, this is why I was in London for an entire semester without phoning.
Syd is gripping Roger’s hard upper arms, and looking up blankly at the ceiling as Roger dives into his neck. Showing off what’s he’s learned in the interim with the tweety little birds in-out-in-out-in-out of Stanhope all the time, no doubt. Endless flow of birds, it must be, because Roger is certainly more experienced now, more graceful. Untamed, but far from awkward.
“I’ve missed you so fucking much,” Roger rumbles against Syd’s throat. And the thing is, Syd has missed him too. And the thing is, Syd had actually found himself eager to nestle against Roger’s chest in the sanctuary depths of this private bedroom, to trail goosebumps up his skinny arms, travel the roadmaps of his protruding veins, but it seems that Roger does not want to lark about like the boys they used to be; no, Roger wants to fuck. Earnestly and intensely and ardently, to make three dimensions of the filmic fantasies that have been spinning on snapped reels in his head for three years; a grandiose, groaning, groping cinematic reunion.
Syd feels Roger’s mouth moving against his neck. Too quiet to hear, too taciturn to decipher, words very well just imagined, but nonetheless, words that burrow their way straight down his gullet, invade his stomach, make him dizzy and ill and—-christ, please let me up—-he thinks he may be sick there beneath Roger’s crushing weight—-please, I cannot breathe—-and -Roger misinterprets his squirming and only delves in more furiously, digging pelvis-to-pelvis, sharp and hard and sinister, until Syd cannot bear anymore and he cries out too harshly, “Christ, let me up!”
Roger is epically wounded as he draws back, lacking the strength to retort with even a ‘what?’ as his darting eyes struggle to solve Syd's face.
Guilt slides thick and greasy down Syd’s throat. He takes Roger’s cheeks in his hands because you may be a brute but you are still my brute, and says gently, “Sweet Little Rock’n’ Roller. I have to go.”
Lord I ain't did nothin', did nothin'.
Tried to treat my baby right.
He twists out from beneath a stunned Roger, who looks after him dumbfounded as Syd heads swiftly to the exit.
“Three o’clock tomorrow, okay?” is all Roger can manage to say to the slamming door.
The quaking departure causes the record to stick, ain’t did nothin’, did nothin’, did nothin’, did nothin’, into infinity and Roger lets his face fall into his pillow with a great groan of anguish.
Did nothin’, did nothin’, did nothin’.
Roger feels hungover at rehearsal the next day, wall clock mocking 3, 3:15, 3:17, 3:21 and so on until he has to carve his fingers up on his bass strings to keep from wrenching it down and stomping the glass in.
He’s not coming.
You should have bet on that one, you fucking git. Of course he’s not coming. Way to wreck everything all over again, you rockstar you, way to—
He grits his teeth to silence his mind, not quite ready to confess even to himself, and presses down harder on his frets as the band hacks out Hey, Bo Diddley all around him.
He looks up from his bass strings to see a mirage of chocolate brown coming up the steps. Then; two sad, dark eyes. Then; Syd standing at the top of the attic stairs, leaning against the wall with folded arms. Then; Roger playing better than he has ever played in his life, desperate to pin this hallucination to the wall with thumping bass notes.
Syd looks at anything but Roger throughout the set, and when the song is finished he says simply, “yeah, it sounded great, but I don’t see what I would do in the band.”
While Nick and Richard and Bob talk to him quietly in the corner, Roger looks on silently with masked astonishment. That’s twice now. Twice he’s upset his friend to the point of breaking and twice he’s come back.
There must be something to that.
…there must have been something to that…
Planted in the middle of a U-fo extravaganza, mouth slightly agape and bleeding sizzling remnants of post-stage adrenaline and other opiates, Syd stares up at the dizzying stratosphere of the club; all smoke and vibration and blazing polychromasia.
He remains this way until he is tugged awake via a paisley-sleeved arm by some faceless hep-cat spade—and, oh, we’ll kill that mother for this one, Syd--dropping all of the hip scene words on him like day-glo a-bombs: hey hey, Syd-knee, dig this: you play pretty groovy, man, you and those other Floyd freaks—very keen. You ever try this ahhh-sid, baby? It’ll blow your mind. Put a coupl’a these under your tongue and call me in the mornin’, haw haw.
Syd looks down dazed into his open hand as the afro bobs back into the crowd, looks down into the destiny-lines of his palm converging upon two little white objects. Sugar. Sugar lumps. How delightfully harmless.
Roger is propped lazily against a shadowed wall and keeping company with a cigarette, watching his thoughts drift upward on a curl of grey: this thing, this thing or un-thing that he and Syd are caught up in. He hesitates to call it love—love is for schoolboys and love is something you say to your bird so she’ll keep coming to bed with you. No, this—it is settled somewhere deeper in the gut than love, deeper even than need. It resides in some great aching hollow, it manifests itself in secret languages and rites.
Surely there is a term for this?
A term that summarizes waking every day with a certain name-on-your-tongue preoccupation, a term that embodies the way the larynx collapses, squeezes shut in glorious anticipation of another person’s words. A term for the way you cherish each one of those words like candy, turn them over on your tongue all sweet and bitter and confusing, try desperately to crack them open with your teeth and figure out…figure out… what the fuck is going on exactly?
How awfully poetic of you, Roger.
He smirks at himself as he stubs his cigarette out on the bottom of his shoe. When he lifts his eyes he notes Syd coming into his field of vision; fingers spread, palm up, striding towards him with a mad grin. When he reaches Roger he lifts himself onto the balls of his feet even as Roger leans down just enough so that their heights are equal, and he draws in close--so close—to make sure he is heard over the delectable rumble of sike-uh-dahlia surrounding them. Hey, Rog, someone slipped me these spiked sugar cubes. Told me they’ll turn your whole world into a spiked sugar cube.
One big, pulsing spiked sugar cube.
In fact, all Roger can decipher in the midst of such a furor is
but that is enough to compel him to grasp his free hand and lead him into the green room for further explanation.
Roger is still not certain what exactly it is they are getting into when Syd closes the door and settles his back against it, though the only clarification Syd offers is to grip Roger’s jaw mischievously, force it to unhinge because open your mouth, close your eyes, here comes a great big fucking surprise…
He puts one of the desecrated dice onto Roger’s tongue and the other onto his own, speaking around it shoddily as he notes Roger’s inquisitively cocked eyebrow, “Ahhh-sid, Rog. Some bloke looked a bit like Hendrix...”
Roger sucks in his cheeks and widens his eyes a speck as the sugar dissolves on his tongue. Ah yes, the dread El Ess Dee. Marvelous.
They settle charily onto the rotten carpet, on their backs with heads together, watching the ceiling tiles and waiting patiently—watching the ceiling tiles and waiting patiently—watching the ceiling tiles and, oh, Christ, there they go…
Stained plaster moves in time with the music siphoning warmly through the walls; merely twitching at first, swaying harmlessly, but soon growing fat, swelling up three dimensional, threatening to distend enough to consume the both of them before finally receding again.
Their hands find one another and clutch urgently together.
Roger can feel his irises contracting and expanding—can hear them working like clock gears clucking away within his frontal lobe. His breathing is rapid as tries to suppress his panic, eyeing warily the corners of the room as they stretch and pull, pull and stretch until he is sure they will burst, the seams will split apart and the club, the world entire will flood in and take from them this solitude.
Exposure is what it feels like, as though someone has unhinged his skin, pulled him open like a door and left him lying there in two pieces. He notes with some alarm that the one to his left seems to be chuckling carelessly at the throbbing white sky above. Roger puts his free hand to his forehead, convinced that his thoughts are being projected onto the ceiling. Thoughts consisting mainly, as they do in his most vulnerable moments, of variations on a theme of SydSydSyd…
When Roger gathers the strength to turn his face towards the curly haired imp at his side, he finds that Syd is staring at him--must have been for aeons--and though the words bubbling up from his mouth are distorted and huge in the hot molasses air, he seems to be saying your face, god, your face is such lovely colors. Like through a fish-eyed lens Roger sees a wraithlike sketch of Syd’s hand extending towards his cheek. His fingers are like iced velvet; Roger can feel their every cell catching on his every cell as they glide over his tie-dyed skin. And the empathy, the indelible empathy--Syd’s calm awe washes over him like the surf; violent disorientation chased by a sudden, drowning quiet.
Shut up, shut up, Syd pleads but he is smiling. He presses a hand over the lower half of Roger’s face because he doesn’t like how that mouth looks when it speaks of morose things.
Roger hears that same rusty mechanism pitching about in his skull working to lower his eyelids, tocktocktock, part his lips, chickchickchick, collapse his lungs as Syd dips his fingers into the wet warmth they have found. Overwhelmed, Roger’s skin threatens to burst apart and spill him all over the shag, a flood of salt water because that’s what his insides seem to have become. Taking Syd’s fingers into his mouth he is shuddering, whole body trembling to taste such wonder. He grazes teeth against the great swirling valleys of fingerprints—-imagine, his very identity!--tempted to scrape them right off.
“But then, how would you play your guitar?” Roger murmurs gawkily around the digits. Though he has no context for it, Syd finds this so delightful that from his belly delicate-quick quarter notes of glee rise up to prick the air, disintegrating it into flutter-down flakes all silvery-white, forming around them a wonderland lit up bright with melting tinsel icicles of Syd’s laughter, so real to Roger that he can feel them dripping like chill silk onto his eyelids.
Roger marvels at Syd’s breath puffing vapor words into the air, at the way his lips move while he speaks of momentous things, incomprehensible things like astral projection and the droning on of deadbeat hearts beyond their walls and the miracle of cochlear vibration. Cochlear vibration—at least, that is what Roger imagines he is speaking of, or what is happening, he cannot tell which.
Or maybe what he is in fact saying is that they ought to disregard the quarrels and ill communications that have warped their bond and fall into each other once again. And maybe even, if this little drug ain’t tellin’ little lies, never come back out.
“Do you want to go out there? I bet the lights are fantastical,” Syd says brightly, effectively taking a sledgehammer to Roger’s fragile illusion. And, no. No, Roger certainly does not want to go out there, out into crushing seawaves of people and music that surely sounds better from this side of the door and mostly, mostly he does not want to leave the frail but shimmering potentiality of this moment behind.
“No? What do you mean ‘no,’ you sod?” Syd smirks light-heartedly and sits up, grabbing Roger by the lapels to drag him into the same position, “Come on, then.”
Roger feels his layers being forcibly shed--no, no, wait--ripping away, leaving him stripped and disappointed. His spine curling away from the floor is much like the pain of skin separating from bone as Syd draws him up—no, fuck, no, not now, not when finally we are alone together again and—in a desperately clumsy attempt to preserve the moment, an inept endeavor to force everything into the territory into which he had hoped it would venture naturally, he leans in to catch Syd’s lips with his own.
And all the clocks fall from
the walls with a resounding crash, shatter
soundlessly as Syd draws away sharply and the two of them stare at one another endlessly, one discomfited but hopeful and the other…
Syd scrambles to his feet and starts yelling hysterically, fuckfuckfuck! Fuck, Roger, why do you always have to turn it into this? and tossing things about and advising a wincing Roger to get out, get out without really telling him to get out, but Roger gets it, alright, and he rushes out of the room and back down the breathing, growling hallways with his hands on the chuckling walls still high as hell and somehow when he looks down the floor tiles are rearranging themselves into, my, this is getting rather old, buddy Syd.
Roger makes it back into the crowd and retreats to the relative safety of a corner to watch a nameless guitarist--who is probably actually a friend of his, but who can tell when his features are dripping onto the ground like that?—doing some rather heavy rock-n-roll guitar thing across the stage. Roger gets all caught up in his fingers on the frets, dancing so easily over the frets, just like Syd’s do. SydSydfuckingSyd…
And what the fuck, Syd? Are you back there laughing at me? Were there people hiding in the closet, waiting to pop out and chuckle with you about what a fool I am? Is this more of the same fucking mind fucks?
Most times the drugs had made it better, easier. Syd, full of love and his skin lit up like a neon barsign, all turned inside out and begging for a thousand thousand Shiva fingers to rain over him. Most of those evenings – and Roger couldn’t bear to think what Syd did when he opted to leave the house instead of sneaking into his room during such fits – he would come to Roger, grinning innocent with light decanting from his pores. He’d break Roger’s flimsy resolve by crawling over him and using a grip on the back of his head to pull his skull down to the pillow, chasing gracefully with a kiss rough but earnest.
But then there were the times when Syd had ended up shrieking on the bed, hands plugged into his own crown of curls, screaming, just screaming with his eyes clenched shut until Roger went away.
Roger fights to light the cigarette clamped betwixt his quaking teeth and resolves as the flare of a match lights up his face to surrender, to let him come when he will – and he will, won’t he? – to let him be the sole arbiter because this is, indeed, getting rather old, Mister Barrett.
Darlings of the psychedelic scene
14-hour Technicolour dream
Madcap chasing rainbow prism beam
But what it is sure ain’t what it seem…
Same Stanhope Gardens, but by now Syd has fallen back out of the rotation of revolving door artists and musicians who crash the couch and end up staying for weeks/months/years on end.
Sinking deeper and deeper into the elessdee dream court, Syd is at the house ever less frequently and eventually moves into a rat-flat further north filled with acid heads and a palpable sort of dreamsicle-nightmare insanity. Such legend swirls up around the place immediately that his band mates won’t even enter it, though he does note their eyes darting about to catch as much as possible as he opens the door when they’ve come to fetch him for rehearsal or a gig.
Wanna step in, Nicky?
No. No, Syd, quite a’right, but invariably he leans through the doorjamb, mustache twitching like the whiskers of a curious rat, beady eyes darting about like the same.
By the time the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream comes about, Roger cannot abide it. Jealous, bitterly jealous that Syd could be sharing himself with the others in that shithole flat. Not just his body, but his mind. He has found himself wondering obsessively, each night as he falls into uneasy sleep, what exactly Syd could be doing in that shambles six blocks away; what lucky sonuvabitch is on the receiving end of those sweet trip, pulsing sugar cube words of yours, Syd?
Roger stands against a wall while the rest of the band haul in equipment, warding off their unappreciative sneers with adder-spit snarls of his own, but directed at the floor as they pass. He has one lank arm thrown about his own middle; the other anxiously raising and lowering a smoldering fag to and from his lips. He only bothers to look up with an uncharacteristically bashful smile when he hears the distinctive clip of Syd’s back-and-forth heeled boots, their rhythmic echo stirring agonizingly lurid reflections of the night before.
Mid-strum, Syd had stopped singing and settled his guitar thoughtfully into his folded legs, "tell me; why your eyes get greener every time I sing a song?"
"Because, Syd, anyone listening can claim to know you as well as I do."
"That's the most beautiful thing anyone's ever bothered to say to me."
Later, somewhere beneath the swirling lights of the Technicolour Dream another fatal miscommunication takes place. Roger has approached Syd from behind during another band’s set, wrapped him up tenderly within his arms only to be quite literally shrugged off. Shrugged off like a pest, a fly, Syd giving him only a somewhat apologetic smile before retreating hastily into the crowd, leaving him cold, leaving him dark like impending storm.
In the swirling smear of oil-water-fooddye dripping down the door behind which Syd eventually disappears, Roger sees again the evening prior, cheap like stock film melting behind his eyes.
“Everything is so beautiful here. Even you, you ugly git," Syd, already high and sitting face-to-face with Roger on his bed, had smiled tenderly as he placed a stamp emblazoned with a dove onto his own tongue. He took Roger gently by two fistfuls of hair, pulling him along as he reclined, bringing their mouths together so that he could push the acid tab into Roger’s before uttering with a grin on, "Christ, sometimes I fucking love you.”
“Roger Keith,” Roger speaks evenly as he shuts the dressing room door behind himself. Locks it.
Syd turns about to give Roger a look; a look of fleeting but total disgust and scorn for being addressed as such, “Georgie.”
Roger smirks and watches Syd’s return his focus to the dressing table via the large mirror hanging over it.
Syd has been into something--acid, mandies, speed, something—and it is spread out on the table and spread also in his big-pupiled gaze, which grows even bigger as Roger approaches him from behind. It isn’t just that Roger’s closing in that makes him wary, it’s that step, that predatory pace made cartoonish but intimidating by the wild lank of his limbs.
“Jesus, what?” Syd turns about, alarmed at the contemplative slit that roger’s eyes have become – but trying not to look alarmed - and high and nervous.
“Syd,” Roger stops in front of him and leans down, supporting his weight with a hand on the table and glancing briefly at the drugs decorating the counter before looking at Syd.
Syd only arches an eyebrow irritably in response.
Roger stutters as he speaks, free hand clenching in frustration as he attempts—fails to explain-- “Listen, you’ve go to stop—I mean, the way you just…you shoved me away earlier, do you know that—I’m confused, and I’m always confused, but it’s worse right now because… because last night you told me--”
--I fucking love you.
They’d come together after that, and it was strange and aggressive and brutal; Syd with his hands all caught in Roger’s sandy lank hair, tugging his head back like a very jockey as he took him from behind, his own face pointed towards the ceiling, mouth open, cackling, naked, high, raw, exhilarated. And all the while those words, however haphazardly spoken, continued rattling about inside of Roger’s skull--I fucking love you--causing him to rationalize in that moment that perhaps he would call it love as well then, because whatever, it sounded better in his head than 'unhealthy obsession' anyway...
“Aha, are you joking me?” Syd cuts in with a touch of bitter amusement, “I was high, a’right?”
Iwashigh is like a knife slip to the sternum and Roger nods slowly and drinks it in, Iwashigh, and is finally certain that Syd has been playing him, is more paranoid than the most paranoid spaced up junkie waiting for him to go on stage.
“Why are you doing this?” Roger manages to spit out through his big, quaking teeth. He has been drinking, maybe; Syd thinks he can smell it on his breath but perhaps that is just rancor. Roger’s hands are on Syd’s lapels suddenly, crumpling the satin paisley pattern into muddle. Syd notices that he has on his stupid sunglasses to hide his eyes. Coward.
“What? What am I doing, for fuck’s sake? A cheap fuck in your bedroom during a rush is some kind of crime now, is it?”
A cheap fuck.
After studying his face for a long, incredulous moment, “Christ, I hate the way you are changing, Barrett,” Roger lets go violently, with a shove, and turns to go.
“Fuck off. You never knew me in the first place.”
Roger turns back to him, face betraying his wounds.
“I hate waking up and smelling like you. I hate the way you look at me anymore,” Syd spits, uncharacteristically harsh; his spines up, defenses up.
Roger generally prides himself on his rationality, but with those words he is sure he is a toy that’s been used up, finally snapped in half and tossed aside and it is more than he can bear. For a moment he stays menacingly still, then quite calculatedly backhands Syd across the jaw.
A sick crack and Syd stumbles, taking out with him most of the various detritus littering the dressing table. As he struggles back to his feet he is stunned, stupefied, not sure whether to hit back or to run or---
Roger makes the decision for him, shoving his shoulders violently so that he stumbles back to the floor, all the while screaming abuse, that he’s somehow certain the locked door will be enough to contain, down at the wincing, staggered Syd.
A cheap fuck, huh, I will give you a cheap fuck, Barrett. Roger lunges and even as Syd is trying to scurry away, Roger seizes a handful of his curls and drags him back before jostling to tear his trousers down. He deafens himself to Syd’s protestations and unfounded apologies, and—what is that—tears? Yes; gulping, heaving tears. Well, fuck your tears, Barrett; I have wailed over you more nights than your perforated brain can begin to comprehend.
He claws Syd up by the shoulders, so that they are both kneeling with Roger’s chest pressed into Syd’s back, and holds him there with a hard hand over his mouth while hissing at him like a beast, shut up, shut the fuck up, do you want people to know what you're doing in here? Then he shoves Syd back down callously and yanks him backward by the hips.
Syd is too high to really fight, too high, thankfully, to even fully understand the pain that splinters his spinal cord as Roger shoves into him--like a tree branch, his tripped-up brain deduces, dry and sharp and rigid and twisted. Nor is he able to comprehend the intensely detached arousal he feels—like he’s watching it all on the telly instead of being there; the hand pumping his cock, such hateful arousal, unwilled arousal, body-against-mind arousal.
His elbows on the carpet, Syd buries his face in his hands and begins, lips moving silently, to recite childhood rhymes as distraction and comfort, Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, kissed the boys and made them cry...
Roger hate-fucks him vigorously, digging nails into his hips, revenge incarnate, thrilled to finally be the one in goddamn control of this mess, enjoying the tight-willed, rigid resistance fighting against his dick each time he drives it into this cockteasing little slut fink bastard who has had it coming, oh, he’s really had it coming; at least you have to tell yourself that, right, that he’s had it coming and this is his fault so who could blame you really?
Syd claws at his own skull, growling pain from deep within his throat, knees burning from being dragged to-and-fro on the shag, and still trying desperately to--Ride a cockhorse--to think of something--to Banbury Cross--anything other than the bitter-sharp reality of this.
Red rover, red rover, please let it be over...
Roger does not realize the weight of his actions, does not realize he has snapped until after the rush of guilty orgasm subsides and leaves him staring nakedly at the crushed soul collapsed on the carpet below him, knickers pushed down around his ankles, stunned and sick and thankfully hiding his face within the shelter of his folded arms. Roger stares without seeing for a protracted moment, trying to remember how to blink, swallow, breathe. He is hot, so fucking terribly hot, searing sweat clouding his eyes. He struggles to his feet hurriedly and sets to dressing without managing to give Syd another look. He clears his throat, gropes for the nearest doorhandle and shoves through, slamming the door shut behind himself.
He finds that he is outside—an alley—must be behind the venue. He falls against the building’s filthy brick, gasping for breath with his face in his palms. Dizzy, vision swelling relentlessly, wheezing a fight against his caved-in chest until, quite suddenly, he is collapsed on the ground, supported by his hands. He retches dryly, violently, several times before expelling his stomach onto the stained pavement, clutching at the gravel, grimacing at the sickly wet slap of vomit on concrete--all murky-thick with shame.
When there is nothing left but bile and remorse, he wipes his mouth with his forearm and rises shakily, resting again against the outside wall of the club and staring into the lake of ignominy he has created; very evidence of his transgression.