CREATIVE Daniel Jones

NWR Issue 109

The Always Puzzle of Living and Doing

Say once in a past life you were a soldier. You bear little resemblance to that man, just as that man bore little resemblance to the primary school child that preceded him. There is a defamiliarisation, a displacement of the self, reflected by the difference in environment; the way in which the grand facades of university buildings differ from the mud walls of Afghan compounds. And by your interactions with people, everyone is nice, there’s no place for aggression. You have to have a switch, said your corporal in training (bayonet practice) a switch with which to turn the aggression on and off. What happens if the switch gets stuck? Still, everybody has a thing, and usually the scars to prove it, visible or not. The present leeches off the past, the innards of your life float somewhere within the distended belly, memories cut like a knife sometimes and everything comes spilling out.

You search your past for memories that might mean something just as you searched Afghan dirt roads for IEDs with the Valum. If IEDs are planted too deep, the pressure of the foot above is not enough to trig- ger them. Perhaps it is the same with memories. People are careful to avoid the things that cause them pain. Self-preservation is paramount; a lapse is indicated by the heartbeat accelerating, just as yours did in an echo of the accelerating beeps of the Valum which signal something below the surface.

And then you’re at the pub with some girl and she keeps asking you questions and pressing you for answers and suddenly there’s a click beneath your foot and the ground moves and then you’re sobbing into your pint and this poor chick is sat across from you like what the actual fuck is this bloke on.

It feels a little too much like self-indulgence. Your view of the past shifts imperceptibly in relation to the distance from the event, time like hot breath on the window of memory occludes your view of things. It is best to move on. The army imbues your character with a certain asceti- cism; this has been displaced by an unwillingness to let go, evidenced by the tokens of the past gathered around you. It isn’t quite possible to fully escape. If it was, why is your medal still displayed on the bookshelf, leaning on a copy of An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory?

You search for something all-encompassing that will attribute some kind of identity but all you find are fragments of a self, like a reflection in a cracked mirror.

Some experiences echo through time like a dissonant chord, they create an unrelatability that exacerbates a perpetual sense of exclusion, of being always on the periphery. Half-formed relationships that never amount to anything because you go through phases where you sim- ply cannot make yourself care and people have a tendency to take this personally, which is fair enough, and anyway, who has the time or the energy to really want to get to the heart of the matter? Matters of the heart are... are what?

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Daniel Jones served in the British Army before completing a degree in English Literature at Cardiff University. He lives in Cardiff and his writing can be found in various online publications.


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