Baz stared into the distance, eyes locked onto the blank study wall.
His mind wandering imaginary paths, trying to find a starting thread.
He sighed, gazing at the computer screen, as blank as the walls.
Baz had been sitting at this desk for days, devoid of an idea which
might be a useful subject for the magazines. He tapped his foot,
sighed again, and cupped his chin in his hands, staring into the blue screen.
His eyes ached, he’d forgotten to use his glasses again.
Baz wandered back to the computer, drawn by an invisible magnet to it’s electronic glare. He blew smoke at it, disregarding the manufacturer’s instructions. The computer didn’t cough. It merely sat in the centre of his desk, eyeing him malevolently as if daring him to type some words. He found himself disliking the machine more and more, as each unproductive day passed. It wasn’t kind, it wasn’t his friend. It flatly refused to type anything for him, and was downright useless at providing any form of inspiration. It expected too much from his overtaxed brain. Baz shook his head, then turned to leave the room.
In his cramped kitchen, he prepared coffee, opened the food cupboard, miserably empty, must get down to the supermarket soon. Baz had been promising this outing for four days, each time managing to find some half-baked excuse to stay home. The refrigerator was suffering from the same sickness as the cupboard, containing a wrinkled half cucumber, a tin of tuna growing a suspicious looking fur, and a two day old carton of milk.
Fortunately for Baz, the lifts were sometimes working and milkmen delivered. He couldn’t contemplate life if this small service were withdrawn, probably he’d acquire a taste for black coffee. Would this make a good subject for an article? What to do when the milkman stops coming? Maybe he could sell it to some women’s rag pandering to housewives. Come to think of it, they were probably a large part of the reason that milkmen still existed - lonely housewives. Baz made a mental note to research the decline of the British milkman, whilst pouring coffee into his Tottenham Hotspur mug.
Returning to the study, he was gripped by the same sense of frustration that previously caused him to leave the room; he turned and propelled himself toward his sparsely furnished lounge. Baz removed a discarded sweater from the green plastic sofa. The sofa, relic from the flat’s former occupants, a dreary shade of olive, out of style with the white room.. The clash with the brightly patterned blue carpet was quite unique, especially when seen against mustard velvet curtains. The huge sofa dominated the room, having outstayed its owners. Well, who would want to hump a massive, sixties style, sofa down twenty flights of stairs? Baz was shy of carrying furniture up the twenty flights, therefore the ugly sofa suited his convenience. Every time he moved anything heavy into the apartment, the lift was certain to be out of order. Coincidence, perhaps.
He switched on the television, more as a distraction than to watch the daytime pap spewing from the screen. A woman was telling him which food her cat would choose, if it could nip to Sainsbury’s to purchase it’s own. Baz mused on the bizarre image, then wiped it from his mind as the scene produced an unbelievably happy family at breakfast, extolling the virtues of another cardboard cereal. Perfect smiles on perfect family members gleamed with perfect whiteness. Unreal images of perfection. Baz flicked the remote control. School TV, great, he could lose himself in a documentary about some far-flung place or primitive life form. The other two channels were churning banal entertainment, boring the nation to death. He silenced the set, in disgust.
The ghost of an idea glimmered in his mind, quickly he remembered that Stephen King had used it two years before. He toyed with the notion of an article deriding the futility of daytime television, but then, the readers of magazines which paid his fees were housewives. Housewives, addicted to magazine-type programmes presented by plastic, smiling, disembodied hosts.
His shoulders slumped with the effort of trawling inspiration out of thin air. He found the apartment very low on inspiration. Opening the tiny balcony door, he looked down from his eyrie with an altered perspective on the world. A group of young men hung around one of the benches flanking the path to the main road, invisible, beyond the trees. Baz leaned on the parapet, watching, sipping his coffee. The lads horsed around in a mock fight, reminding Baz of his own youth, and the boys with whom he had spent time. He wondered vaguely what had become of them, were they miserably unsuccessful, like him? He doubted it.
At school, Baz had dreamed of setting the world alight with his words, of earning a fortune writing film scripts that were certain to be accepted by the top movie moguls. How naive. His first office job brought him back to earth with a bump. When he was sacked, for writing his own work on the firm’s time, Baz expected instant success, imagining they were doing him a favour. His opinions changed as he waited in the unemployment line.
The local newspaper accepted an excited Baz as a tea-boy. His diligence was rewarded with the position of junior sports feature writer, enabling him to spend hours interviewing upcoming football stars and the high school hockey team. Of course, as the season changed he got to write interesting articles about the Pony, and Cricket Club. Baz realised he wasn’t going to be snapped up by the Guardian to experience the cut and thrust of Fleet Street. The local paper’s closure forced Baz into a freelance situation, now he was terrified he would never find the inspiration to write anything worthwhile.
The youths smoked cigarettes, waiting for something to happen.
A young woman appeared on the path, pushing a pram, bawling child clinging
to her hand. As she approached, a signal passed between them. Waiting
for her to enter their midst, they surrounded the pram. From his
position high up in the block of flats, Baz could see that the boys were
taunting, their victim was terrified. Wolf-like, they quickly manoeuvred
themselves into position, and removed the large black handbag from the
pram. The poor woman’s protests were pushed aside and her attackers melted
away, leaving her distraught, still holding the hand of her now screaming
Baz stared down, shocked and frustrated. He clenched his fists, wanting to help, but what could he do from the tenth floor? By the time he’d raced down or waited for the snail of a lift, the entire area would be deserted. A tide of uselessness enveloped him and he shook his head. The sobbing female shuffled with equal hopelessness, toward her home.
Closing the balcony door, Baz glanced sadly around the untidy room, reflecting on the state of society in the 90’s. He wandered into his study to sit once more before the electronic gaze, not a fast typist, but adequate. He tapped the keys gently, and words began to flow through his long, thin fingers. His rate increased as the thoughts flowed into the machine; after an hour, he thought he had the bones of a fairly acceptable article. A scathing social comment, laced with just the right amount of hard facts. Baz worked on, trying to shape the words into a skein which would thread the story at the right pace. He felt pleased, what he read was not bad, not at all bad. He began to tick off the publications possibly interested in such a piece.
His stock of envelopes was almost finished, there were no stamps in the pot. Baz sighed at the prospect of walking to the High Street, better go now, they’d be closed in half an hour. He shrugged on his coat, and, door locked, Baz pressed the lift button. And waited. He glanced casually at his neighbour’s door, a twin to his own. Behind, dwelt Mr Salisbury, a bank clerk of some thirty-five years. Baz had seen him occasionally, fumbling keys into the lock, clutching a brown leather briefcase of the type college professors carry, curling at the edges and shiny from being tightly held. He pushed the button again, straining to hear signs of life but heard none. No familiar clanking of metal, no soft whining clunk as the car reached his floor. Vandals again? He turned to the interminable stairs, and began to descend. The post box would be emptied at five, he must hurry.
Passing each floor, he mentally ticked them off. Nine, that was the woman with three dogs who thought she was back in Russia, rarely seen outside. Eight, here camped two gays, as foppish as you’d ever see; they kept their small landing spotless, hung floral baskets and provided pink carpet for passing feet. Seven, the ever silent floor. In all the years of his tenancy, Baz had never seen either apartment door open, never heard evidence of occupancy. He imagined two prostrate bodies, each murdered by a stranger who one day had called at the door. He hurried to the next floor.
Sigh, the Sixth, a hallway of beer and cigarettes, loud music constantly filling the stairs with a persistent rumble. The apartment to the right, housed a family of leather clad bikers, each member equipped to ride the free highways of South London, with two children, small leather parodies of their parents. Baz picked his way carefully past a pile of newspapers and beer crates, as Megadeath began another ear splitting session from the stereo. It must be a torment living opposite, but in this case, fate had placed Mr Groblinski, a Polish war survivor, in flat 6B, and he was as deaf as a post.
Baz slowed down at Five; it always interested him, this floor. One side of the landing was all mirrored tiles, around a strong, wood panelled door, and a rose hued lamp glowed above the lintel. There was a smell of expensive perfume, and thick carpet cosseted the feet as you rang the bell. Baz had never done that, though he’d often thought about it. Unsure of the procedure, he declined to try. The neighbours, a newly arrived young couple, must have some interesting tales to tell.
Four was a hazardous landing, housing two families with seemingly identical numbers of offspring, their respective doorways littered with plastic kiddie cycles, trucks, a doll’s pram full of old dolls, and numerous brightly coloured toys. 4B’s neighbour had an identical pram and chopper bike propped against the wall, blocking the stairwell. Baz squeezed past the obstacles, anxious not to disturb anyone. A previous occasion had resulted in a near broken leg for Baz and a heated argument with the burly father of the chopper rider, who appeared to body-build for a living. Seems his son’s bike was hurt when Baz’s shin beat it unmercifully.
Three was a nondescript hall, reminiscent of a hospital, stark, naked bulb light threw every passing shadow into sharp contrast, like a mortuary. Here lived Miss Caitlin, a prim school mistress of fifty something. Baz had nodded to her one day at the bus stop, after they’d passed on the stairs, she, desperate for conversation, often seized his arm unexpectedly, chattering into his face on the way home. In 3A was Mrs Burns, her door decorated with photographs of herself as Lilly Davenport, music hall dancer, and quite a belle in her day. Her day was almost sixty years ago. Now, she watched the world behind lace curtains, remembering the footlights and greasepaint of her youth.
Baz shuddered at the next section, this was doggie country, the second floor being home to a strange woman with a small, excitable, pooch that liked to pee every time it met someone. This gave the landing a somewhat strong odour, and also the shoes of any passing visitor, as the strange lady, seemingly lying in wait, would open her door at the first sound of a footfall. Baz hurried past, grateful today for her absence. He pitied her neighbour, a quiet old gentleman with silver hair and clothes made for another age, an age of carriages and steam trains.
The first floor, the worse floor, was where the drug dealers lived. This was a nightmare after dark, the stairway littered with garbage of every description, the debris of squalid life. Dead light bulbs were never replaced, and frequently the stairs were blocked by hunched forms, engrossed in the business of finding nirvana. Broken syringes and discarded plastic lemon juice containers littered the entrance hall, a sad statement of urban decay. Baz noted freshly painted designs on the walls, insisting in painful colours that Oggie was king,. He slid past, foot squishing in something acrid, like vomit, he couldn’t be sure. Wiping his shoe on the edge of a stair, he valiantly held on to his stomach and continued to the street.
As he approached the path leading to civilisation, depression deepened
like storm clouds. His hand gripped the envelope containing his latest
effort at literary genius; he knew it would come to nothing, as so often
before. The past weeks had offered no inspiration, and the weight
of failure seemed to press against his brow. As he posted his missive,
he sighed with despair, looked up at the building he had just left, seeing
once more the grey clad urban dwelling.
“How can a writer ever realise inspiration from the inside of such a block?”