The Lecture Theatre

Part I

The long arc of the desk curves away to my right until it hits the wall. Along its length we take up our various postures: heads in hands, mouths fallen open, eyes unfocused; or occasionally a pen is poised in anticipation, waiting to track across paper in frantic repetition. We are all contained here in this large theatre: a hidden chasm inside the body of an unremarkable building. Somewhere near the back, towards the end of a row, I am slumped in my chair, the unmarked paper before me reflecting my everyday expression. As the lecturer struggles with the mass of light switches the whole theatre momentarily flickers with darkness, like the rapid blinking of an irritated eye. Beneath the desk my toes curl, clawing for space inside my tight shoes.

As I undo each knot my feet seem to expand, blood running freely into the capillaries like fresh air into suffocated lungs. Both shoes are soon left empty on the floor, but in the contagion of freedom I am already tugging at my socks and now stretching my naked feet as I lean back in the chair, eyes closing. My left hand plays unconsciously with my belt buckle until the trousers have slipped down the length of my legs and rest around my ankles, as if waiting for me to return to consciousness. And suddenly I have. But as the shocking unease passes a deeper routed anxiety twists through my body. I feel as if I am sitting in a glass-walled toilet positioned on a busy street. As I turn my head towards each person they glide ghost-like past the glass, their blank eyes continuing along a straight path, refusing to notice. My breathing quickens, each sharp breath alerting me to the nervous energy prickling in my skin. Continual sideways glances frame the bodies that sit in their self-contained silence amongst the lecturer's drone.

Sitting naked in a university lecture theatre, I can feel the subtle flow of regurgitated air seeping from the ventilation system; I can feel the tackiness of the plastic cover which holds me to my seat; but I can also feel individual hairs as they awaken from the bed of my skin.

I am shivering, trembling violently as if my body is trying to cast itself from the seat. Then, like the sudden pulse of orgasm, my whole body spasms, throwing me to my feet and stumbling into the aisle. A rush of air runs its hands over my bare skin as my legs carry me, skipping energetically, ridiculously, down the steps to the front of the theatre, to the stage. Wide-eyed, I'm dancing; my knees jumping into the air, my hands waving, my genitals swaying rhythmically. I pirouette in front of the projector but soon, with each turn, as my eyes flash past the audience, they begin to focus on a screen of masking bodies, mouths open and mute, eyes glazed, or black and hollow like skeletal sockets. The lecturer's voice continues inside my head, a persistent background droning that cannot be shaken off. As I spin, turning my back on the mounting bodies, I notice my shadow being thrown against the back wall by the powerful beam of the projector.

I stop and stare but the shadow continues on his bizarre dance of freedom. My limp form is shrinking as the shadow grows across the wall like the breaking of a wave, smearing a slick of oil onto the beach. The oil is thick and dark like bile from the inner recesses of a fresh corpse and each wave breaks further across the wall, lapping greedily like a slobbering tongue lathering its tarry saliva. The shadow is spreading. The darkness reaches the ceiling and looms above me, looms above us all, until it shuts the dark in; like an eyelid closing. My own eyes snap open.

The sweaty innards of my shoes are beginning to smell. Bending beneath the desk I pull my socks back on and tie each shoe with a tight knot.

Part II

I try focusing on the lecturer, his mouth opening and closing as he grips the wooden lectern.

As my eyes fall, cutting across the theatre towards my note pad, they are caught (like the trailing leg which snags on a barbed wire fence) by the sight of the girl in front. Her head rests between her hands as if she is in deep thought, pressing her face into a sort of pout which, from this angle, I can almost see. She cannot fail to be beautiful. Her hair is long and dark, unrestrained by clips or bands. As I inhale the enticing scent, it lulls me towards her until I'm leaning helplessly across the barrier of the desk. Her face, which I can't quite see, must be beautiful. Her eyes would draw me into their darkness, pulling like the inescapable gravity of a black hole. I cannot help myself. She's playing with her hair and now I'm playing with it burying my face in the long soft strands. I remain here playing, stroking the hair, feeling its softness on my face, a dazed smile of pure happiness on my lips as I breath in her beauty.

Smelling processed meat I remove my face from the podium of my cupped hands, sniffing in disgust at the residue of a lunchtime sandwich that leaks from my pores. My hand moves to a pen but before I can start to draw her, the electronic shrieking of a mobile phone calls out from behind me. Certain heads turn with ridiculous joy at this interruption (instinctively feeling for their own phones tucked like replacement organs into breast pockets or protruding lewdly from belts) whilst an unmistakably ugly girl reaches between the leather flaps of her bag to silence the shrieking. Her embarrassment unable to show past the plastered makeup which masks her face, enhancing her lack of beauty. She giggles with her friend - the person sitting next to her - a little too loudly, before they resume their sneering expressions. I turn back to my paper and start to draw.

The gentle striking of the pen traces my image of the beautiful girl. I'm working carefully, bending into the page with concentration, but now behind me they talk and breathe. My pen works hurriedly on the paper. The lines become bold, carving the outline until it stands irredeemable on the page as behind me they talk and breath. I glance from paper to girl and from girl to paper and the lines become scribbles until the pen is pressing into the pad and ripping through the thin skin of the neck, into my mouth. My thumb works up and down, clicking the top of my biro up and down, pressing and depressing. I feel the blood scraping through my veins, tormenting my body, which twitches uncontrollably.

With my fist clamped around the biro, thumb pistoning the ballpoint in and out, I stand to leave. But as I turn the girl in front turns her head, clearly annoyed by the distraction of my noise. Her mediocre face is perched on a thin neck, decorated unimaginatively with a thin silver chain. Recoiling from this image I spin around violently, my right hand raising into the air. The blur of the theatre: the solitary lecturer, the collage of faces, a closed door. The cackled laughing of the ugly girl chasing through my veins into the intestinal folds of my brain. I'm bringing the point of the biro downwards. It cuts across my vision, drawing a slash across the image of the theatre, before driving towards the base of the ugly girl's thick neck. It ricochets upwards from the collarbone, sticking into her flesh at an awkward angle.

A moment of peace. I feel myself taking in one deep breath as I look along the length of the desk at the various postures of the students.

Then her phone begins to ring and they're shrieking at the thick, dark blood that spurts up onto her chin and into her gaping mouth. People are making a fuss. Their murmurs raising into a crescendo of baffled concern. Still absorbed by my own calm I tear the top sheet from my note pad. I crumple it into a neat ball and leave it, with some deliberation, on the desk. I place the pad into my bag and take a pen from the desk of the ugly girl to replace the one I have lost. Her astonished eyes follow me as I put the pen into my pocket, but all she can do is pull short rasping breaths as the blood bubbles between her reddened teeth. I slip from the end of the row and walk out of the theatre. Each step sends a shaft of pain up my shins and through my thighs towards my waist. I close the theatre door and bend down to loosen the knot in each of my shoes. But I take them off and pull away my socks, discarding them on the floor. I walk down the corridor to the nearest exit and, bare footed, enter the outside world.

Joe Sinclair