Vol VII: Sigging by Josh Jones

Vol VII: Sigging



Anna likes her Smarties. She once made a dress out of them, took it into town; but she got peckish on the way. And that is how we met. She stood there in her pants with chocolate stains around her thighs and face. I walked her home. It turned out we lived on the same street.

We were both unemployed at the time. And so we both got jobs at Downfall Dictionary, where we had to condense the world’s greatest novels into haiku. For example:

Some stuff happens in
Dublin. Lots of shit and wank.
Modernism roars.

At night we worked on our joint dissertation – ‘Metasmoking in the Postmodern Underbelly’ – before disappearing to the ashtrays of our rooms.

However, she was not without her sorrows. She liked to juggle, but sometimes I would hear the compressed thump of multi-coloured balls accompanied by the quiet metronome, like a buried memory, of her tears. I’d linger like the touch of an ex outside her door, before choosing not to say a word.




One day we had a concert. Anna played a selection of her own compositions on a broken electric piano. (In a moment of desperation she’d sold the plug to a local kid for a pack of Liquorice Allsorts.) She hummed the notes between sweets and gulps of whiskey. I clapped like a child who’d just been given a drum.

We bought a variety of cigarettes by way of research, and spent the rest of the evening coughing until our lungs felt like burning villages.

A hooded guy on a scooter arrived with a delivery of white chocolate mice, and we ate them along with a tercet of ketchup sandwiches whilst writing poems about smoking in ash on the table.

“Juggling is like the fear of being alone,” I said, but Anna had passed out underneath the piano, gargling ‘Plug In Baby’ in her sleep.

I covered her with a duvet like buttering toast and left.




Downfall Dictionary sacked me for being too wordy. The letter informing me was simply a sealed envelope. I went to see Anna to moan and eat Curly-Wurly’s, but found her house as empty as a celebrity biography. The bare room, quiet and settled as dust, existed with complete indifference.

A note she left informed me she had joined the circus. As a mode of expression, she said, haiku’s simply too limiting.

 I remember an argument we had about how life rages like an explosion regardless.

“That’s why,” I’d said, “we need to impose form: to cage off and enclose our own little patch.”

“No,” she’d scowled. “I go wherever I go. The wind blows like a sprawling piece of free-verse and I follow, I’m there, my eyes like throats swallowing all it has to say.”

Evidently one of the windows had been left open. A gust like a knockout punch shook the house, and one of her juggling balls performed a solitary dance down the stairs. It hit the floor in the hall and rolled for a second.

I went upstairs and closed the errant window.

Six weeks have passed. I’m yet to hear a word.



Anna’s new hobby is throwing dead birds off really tall buildings and racing them down to the bottom. She never wins. When I point this out to her she rolls her eyes and cocks her head: “I know.”

It’s always like this these days. Since she returned from the circus we’ve not been as close as before, our conversations have become like badly-synced foreign movies bought from the back of a balding man’s van.

“What happened to you out there?” I ask one day.

“Not right now,” she hisses without looking. “This rope is tight as a noose around your neck.” She’s sat on the couch. Her blinks are like ominous ticking clocks.

I want to push the issue and she can sense it. For some reason the house seems bigger now she is back. My fingers are tapping the silence into a coma.

“You look more like a pigeon with each passing day,” she says and holds my gaze a little too long.


However, her timekeeping skills have certainly improved. Today at lunch she is wearing seven plastic watches, each set to a slightly different time so, depending on the present situation, she can choose to use the one that suits her best.

“Pick that up in the circus?” I ask.


She has quit smoking, and eyes my cigarettes with contempt. She implores me, every time I flick my ash, to think of the babies born with raging AIDs in Africa and the mothers losing their sons in a nonsense war.

“That has nothing to do with smoking!” I protest. “You have no point.”

She scowls and sneers her eyes at me, bends to see the watch strapped to her ankle that claims it’s twenty minutes later than it is.

“Gotta go,” she says and leaves the bill.

And other such things. I’m sick of the way she judges me for not having a job and for hating Damien Rice. Just because she has a job selling stuff on the street.

“Obviously not her body,” I scoff to the darkened room.

I wait until midnight and walk over to her place, armed with a trio of audaciously coloured juggling balls. I hurl them hard as I can at the living room window. They phhhlump against it and wheeze down to the soil.

A sense of déjà-vu accosts my gut and I walk home like a kid with junkie parents.



Today Anna is being deliberately obnoxious. I don’t realise until the answers to my questions stop making sense:

“You alright?”

“It hurts like a motherfucker.”

“What does?”

“It hurts like a motherfucker.”

“What’s your name?”

“It hurts like a motherfucker.”

“What do you say when you listen to Damien Rice’s new album?”

“It hurts like a... Fuck you!”

I think I’ve been clever, lean back in the beaten leather chair and light a cigar. I hate cigars.

On the way over I saw some people re-enacting battles in a field. They looked so happy, like that morning you took a few too many downers and watched kids TV shows in your underwear.

“Wanna go mess with them?” I ask.

“Don’t feed me after midnight!”

She’s starting to really piss me off. Every day now I bring her sweets and Southern Comfort and she just sighs and takes them.

I get out a book by Michael Brooks and start reading.

“Science is like shit that...shits all over me,” she hisses. “And my eye doesn’t feel right. It feels like someone else’s eye.”

I close the book in a strop and leave the room.




Later on, distraught and disconsolate, I decide to write her a letter detailing my issues. But spite gets in the way like a topless obese man. I start writing meticulous iambic pentameters, abiding by a strict Petrarchan rhyme scheme.

This is so much fun! I forget my original purpose and go off on a cavalcade of tangents; until, like a spider crawling on your face that wakes you up, I remember why I started the letter in the first place. And trying to order my thoughts, I find myself wriggling from under the meter as if from a lover’s cloying embrace. The lines are like streams widening into rivers. The breaks are largely arbitrary. It’s as much for me as for her – but I know for once my verse is completely free.

Before posting it through her letterbox I cover the envelope in drawings of Haribo hiding dead birds in old pianos, but reject the idea of sticking a phallus of Smarties on the front. I don’t want to be rude or tempt her to eat the letter.

There’s a smear of oil by the kerb on the way back to mine. A rainbow of colour has set up shop inside it. I try to remember the scientific reasoning behind it and fail like an old man attempting to leave his wheelchair. All I can do is marvel at its beauty.

Closing the front door behind me I picture the rainbow: it looks like a blurred photo of an airborne trio of juggling balls.



Anna has received my letter but is yet to mention it. And far too distracted for me to try and lead the conversation in that direction – she’s discovered period drama and Word of the Day.

She improvises lines to the blank TV:

“’Oh won’t you have just a little apple tart?’

‘Thank you, but I’m sure I really couldn’t.’

‘But you must, it really is delightfully exquisite.’

‘Well, if you insist, then I must, Mr. Colembert.’

‘No, no, allow me,’ inserts a well-hung gentleman, leaning towards the tight bitch in the bonnet.”

Anna falls into hysterics. I search my pockets for a stray Lorazepam.

“Read anything lately?” I ask, with furtive eyes.

“Indeed,” she replies, missing the point entirely. “You know, when I first met you, what I thought?  What a taciturn person, certainly not gregarious.  Later I learned you were inclined to have a nice chat and share a cancer lolly or two anytime, more so a sybarite than a rude anti-social. Whilst me, I’m not as ebullient as I was when fresh from the womb. This upsets me, and every rosy cheek I see is a young Anna redivius, a paragon of effulgence. Not that I really care.”

My face is a skull and crossbones made out of question marks. I leave the room like a barrel rolling down a hill towards oncoming traffic with a child trapped inside.

“Avoirdupois!” she screeches. “You quidnunc of the pretending variety! You unspeakable sin, you ghost full of holes!”

Oh God, I think, don’t tell me she’s found the Bible...




But eventually we sit down to have our talk.

“I’m sorry I took so long to reply,” she says. “My heart bleeds like a woman: once a month. And your letter just caught me at the wrong time.”

I glance nervously around the room, as if trying to not look at a mother breastfeeding her baby – a beautiful woman.

“You do know that I barely ever juggle? That I’ve never even been to the circus, that I like Skittles, not Smarties, that we’ve never had a single job together, that neither of us have the stamina to write a dissertation?”

I scratch my face like a fly is under my skin. My brow furrows like a rope bridge breaking.

“You made all these things up, like giving CPR to a tin of beans. Then the tin of beans stands up, lights a fag, and begins farting out pretentious twaddle about the surreality of the realist novel. I don’t even remember who I am, I’m starting to doubt of either of us exist, and it’s got to the point where I’m just saying, No.”

“Like a...”

“See, you’re still doing it! And yes, I did speak to you employing literary devices – that’s the problem! A book can’t walk around, and when you turn me into a book, neither can I.”

I reel back, and on the end of the line is a dead fish made up of misspelt words. I try to speak but can’t get anything out, like a simile left unfinished at the ‘like’.

We sit in silence staring at each other. I think about thinking about what I’m thinking about. I realise that juggling balls tend not to be properly circular.

I look at a book, open on the table. The chapter is headed ‘Performative Language’.

“I renounce everything I’ve ever written,” I say, then Anna gets up and does something. But even mentioning that is saying too much.