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On a hilltop in what would become known to some as the Holy Land, two shepherds lift their eyes into a clear night sky, and it is a shockingly clear night sky, for before all the cars and planes and factories began clogging up the space we breathe and all the lights we leave on began dulling the darkness, you could really see the stars, I mean really see the stars, but then I write stars again, mainly because they’re sparkly, and it’s exactly this kind of slip, this kind of slide from the clearly demarcated ski-slope of my prospective narrative that has the illusory magic these words should be engendering within your synapses pop like a balloon at a child’s birthday party, and then, as happens, one kid starts bawling, and that sets the rest off, tears running down their little ice-cream-smeared cheeks, the game of musical statues we were half-way through pretty much forgotten about, and by now no amount of jolly, happy faces you, me and the other adults try to make will snap them out of it, as thank God, at least as grown-ups, we can all be snapped out of it, and at least sometimes find within ourselves the ability at the root of our being to stop, take a breath and bring ourselves back outside the room to creep around the door and catch me in the act of trying to write this, say, or back at the sink, the pansies blooming in the garden through the window but you can’t get this stain off of the saucepan, or back behind the wheel of the car I’m driving, a gas-guzzling four-wheel-drive monster, as it happens, and easily capable of mowing down this little old lady dragging her tartan shopping trolley toward those trendy lads in their slicked-on trousers and these lasses here in their fashion tracksuits and that young mother persuading her charge that it really was a good idea to have left the party as they congregate at that bus stop just in front of us there as I reach over to prod at my iPhone in an attempt to stop Tori Amos blaring from the speakers and embarrassing me in front of the person in the passenger seat, whom it turns out I do fancy a bit, and I know what you’re wondering, but I can’t go and describe, exactly, what this person looks like without disclosing my sexual preferences, which I don’t want to, frankly, as it’s none of your business, so I won’t, suffice to say they are looking pretty hot right now, sitting in the passenger seat smiling and laughing at all my silliest jokes, and seeming to be really interested in me as well, like really, really interested in me and not just feigning interest so that they can climb inside my underwear, though it’s reasonably clear that they want for the two of us to get it on, that is so obviously mixed up in there, but they’re also interested in me as a person, as a complete human being, but you know, what really sets my fancying them in an amber created from the tree-sap of my desire is the fact as they lean over to say something to me, lean over and ‘accidentally’ brush the outside of my thigh with their hand, I can smell their breath and it smells minty fresh but not so minty fresh that it seems like they’ve put any effort into it, an effortless minty freshness, and their hair is clean, so there’s that, but then there’s also a thud as the car mounts the kerb and smacks into the bus stop, and as I stagger from the car, screams mixing with the ringing in my ears, I can see parts of what were once living entities, real people that just a moment ago were grumbling and moaning along with the rest of us but now lay broken on the pavement: an unattended and blood-splattered tartan trolley, an arm still sleeved in its track-suit’s three-stripes, a bent leg, skinny-jeaned, and the person, that special person I’d thought might just be the one, the one so vivaciously in the passenger seat of my motor just a moment ago, is now resting on the car bonnet, having been thrown through the windscreen in the crash, the contents of their head spread over said car bonnet as if I could just scoop up the sludge of their subconscious and pick our shared dream from it, as yes, now they seem like they are snoozing, waiting for me to arouse them with a gentle word in their lughole, or a kiss like in a fairy tale, and then I feel a small child, down by my left, gently slip a hand into mine and asks where its mummy might be, and oh dear, it would seem its mummy is one of the mushy, squidgy blobs of an ex-person that are currently staining the bonnet and undersides of my Land Rover, but I don’t say so to the child, not yet, and I realise then this is what we all are, really, blobs of mush, like frozen raspberries accidentally left out of the freezer, or, more likely, the egg-shells and onion leavings and banana skins that sit and rot in the food waste box of our corporeality, underneath the slowly defrosting raspberries of all our hopes and dreams, all held together by the compostable liner of our skin, a jumble of hard bits and sloppy flesh wrapped up in next week’s laundry, ambling about, thinking ourselves and our experience unique until you find yourself pulling once, twice, three times on the emergency parachute cord but nothing is released and you’re still spinning head-over-heels toward the cold, hard earth as fast as you always were or you’re sat in your GP’s surgery paying more attention to the picture of the flowers on the wall behind the doctor’s head until the doctor clears their throat and says, ‘I’m afraid it’s…’ or you’re stood at a bus stop, waiting for the 23 bus to come and pick you up and trundle you onward on your journey, past all the stops that you thought were already all planned out when BAM, upon you falls a great darkness, a darkness like the night sky, though without all the light pollution, so more like the night sky if looked at with your eyes closed, like standing out in the high street with your head tilted back and your eyes closed but without the noise of the traffic, or the smell of the kebab shop, so not really like standing out on the high street at all, but then ‘Up there!’ cries the child, pointing into the heavens, and up there I can see a twinkling lambency sparkling in the evening gloom, getting brighter and brighter as the day fades, much like the bright light that is glowing in the sky that is being gazed into by the two shepherds, neither locally nor contemporaneously of course, as has already been inferred they were sat on their hillside some way away both chronologically and geographically from the sight of my bus-stop carnage (which, incidentally, will also be the headline in tomorrow’s local newspaper), but they too are staring at a luminescence high above their heads and are filled with this same teary-eyed and mysterious sense of something as I am and the child is, too, a down-home and warmly sense, a sensation like a Christmas afternoon, a let’s just watch ’Enders like always cause I can’t be faffed not to feeling of peace.

o          o          o

Jack Houston

lives in London with his wife, his two young sons, and the feeling he’s left it a bit too late to be starting a literary career. You can follow his band’s tour dates @bugeyeband and his lazy poetry-based retweets @jackmhouston

Jack’s Christmas song for Open Pen:

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