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Manchester's Quiet Space

Warning: this piece of writing contains strong language

It's all getting too much. I need to find Viles. Sometimes it gets so I can't bear it and I'm running down the stairs to the basement. There'll be the smell of the glue and empty cartons - the boxes that junk up the floor. 'Take a seat!' he'll always say, his teeth showing out through his beard, 'Got too loud?', And I'll have to force my way through the boxes - clear a space to sit down on the couch. 'Can't take it?'

He's been sitting behind his 'desk', a large empty box on its side. Affects to come and lean at its front - make out it won't give away with his weight. 'Ooh. So - too loud!' He always makes fun. 'Cars? Buses? Tram doors.'

'It hurts.' - he mimics. I don't know why I come, to watch him shimmy through the boxes towards me. 'The leakage you get from their headphones - or then they're speaking out loud to their mum.'

It's not relaxing - he's too loud. By now there'll be spit flecking his beard and his hands will have pulled from his cords, which will sag 'cos the string is an affectation - never really done up that tight. Some fucking psychologist - but he can always name the names, list my gripes - my unending series of truths.

'Leaf-blowers - they're so loud', his hands lift upwards and open as if peace is flying away - 'The people that use them, insane. Like the fuckers on the tram with their screens.' An ironic, see-through offering to a calm he knows I've never known. 'Autistic, that's what they are. How can you ever live with them?'

Because he does know what I've known. I've been here, loads before. 'And why is the sound always louder for the adverts? The kids and their crisp packets at the films.' He's so accute - there's no one else I'd pay. 'Well, what have I always told you? What don't you want to hear?' His whisper fakes menace as he leans into my face. 'That there are no quiet spaces in Manchester. That, which you hope, is really nothing but a dream.' As if to say he knows every inch very well, and all silence has been taken away.

And it's always a shock when he says this - it drains the blood right out of my face. I know he's leaning in now to harvest the tear - to crop the drama he has grown from my thoughts. 'You're just a fucking addict! A junkie for what you can't have. That's why you come down here.' He's skipping back with glee - with his pay, right there, on a fingertip. [Later he'll dab it down on a slide to have a look. He loves to see the thing I crave: his children's microscope will see me right.]

'You think I'll tell you where it is - give you peace!', he's now shouting, 'That this cardboard, soaks up all the sound', laughing and dancing a jig, 'That this is just a whisper - even when I'm screaming in your ear.'

He's such a bastard, 'cos he's right: I do think he knows where it is. But he's also because I know he won't tell me.

I can't take any more - am up and running to the stairs. There's the door, the lobby, and the street. His feet follow mine in the dark. 'I don't think so. I don't think at all so.' Laughing. Provoking. 'You're never going to go in.' As the minutes pass and the black that surrounds stops being night. 'It's all, right in there, but you won't.' And there's a tiny, metal door in a vast, blank-walled block. I want to turn the handle but turn to run, instead. 'Overdose?!' He jokes. 'Scared of too much of the good stuff? Or are you just a bullshitter: you like the noise. Like me screaming as you run.'

I'm on Whitworth Street, now, heading for Oxford Rd. There's the faintest beginnings of dawn but I haven't got the strength to run. 'Just useless. A liar. A. Liar.' It always makes him mad when I fail to go in. I hold on until I get to Hulme, before I must turn and check how he looks. 'L I A R!' Collapse for a moment on a bench, when I'm hit by the distortion of his face. How the rage and hysteria have shrunk his voice to the croaks, so much worse than being loud.

Another two hours and I'm approaching the park. Viles is treading on my heels, though it might be my limp that's the catch. The masts and the towers catch the light - the sun out of Ashton or Hyde. The trees blink and glimmer in the light. The Pulchro10s and the MatNines thrum overhead, as the sound-cancelling cordon beckons me in, assures me a bench and an oakleaf; the buzzing of a fly over grass.

'Bitch! You know this doesn't work. Nor the sub-leaf tech to suck the noise. You're a fantasist. A self-denier. A sound-agnostic. You. don't. know. what. sound. is. You're here to shoot up on the quiet but you wouldn't know quiet if you heard it. What you're here for, is me. Only I can tell you where it is.'

His voice is so loud now as he faces me on the bench. 'And it's not here!' His screams are yet clearer and slower, as if power is all I can grasp, 'There. are. no. quiet. spaces. in. Manchester!' Screams it, as I smile, and he sees that I'm madder than him. That I've found those little spaces between his words, which have given the lie to what they've said: that it's just me with my fix, on the bench, and not him. I watch as he disappears into air and all becomes peace - and am glad that he's brought me this space. That his bile, spit and spleen are the best - that he's Manchester's quietest space of all.

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