Just five miles north of Lancaster lies Morecambe, a seaside town
belonging to Lancaster, the county town of Lancashire in the north-west
of England. Riddled with poverty, ruined by widespread substance and
alcohol addiction, the town has fallen into disrepair. Two piers lost
and a mass exodus of tourism. And yet, the Midland Hotel remains. An
outrageous piece of art deco architecture built in the streamline
moderne style. It stands like a gigantic steamship as a monument to
glamour from a time forgotten, a concrete sibyl frozen to death on the
mudflats. She sings to men overdosing in their beds, falling in
methadone dreams deeper than sleep, out across schoolyards of children
weak with rickets. Starvation plays tricks on the mind and one might see
a mirage rise out of the water. He saw the town drowned in mascara as
black as crude oil.
It was this frisson of the miraculous that attracted Ezra each month. He
had booked almost every single room in the place, forty-four in total.
Tonight, he had room twenty-nine, the final one. Ezra drifted through
the Midland in a daze. When he ordered a pint of Carlsberg at the hotel
bar, he imagined he was being directed by Josef von Sternberg. He
sprayed himself in clouds of Hermès 24 Faubourg and saw himself as Lola
Lola in Der Blaue Engel. That Friday he completed the optimisation
report earlier than requested so he could leave the Preston office at
3pm and beat traffic. Amongst other garments, he had packed a black
Chloé baby-doll, Emille Pucci tulle briefs, garter belt and stockings.
Many a young man has dreamed of the Midland, of corridors that led into
other corridors. Ezra wanted to enter a room and not be aware that it
led into another room; some unknown, adjacent space. In his dream, he
flung open a door and found an Atelier Versace wedding dress with a
single hole eaten through by a red-black cinnabar moth. Its wings shook
and closed like speaking bloodshot.
“Debit or credit, sir?” asked the polite receptionist who recognised
Ezra but respected the relative anonymity that the hotel afforded all
“Credit,” he replied, aware that his funds for the month wouldn’t cover
the food and drinks.
“Very good,” she replied, her manner in keeping with the gigantic
cylinder entrance, its ambient decadence.
Ezra had come into some money following the sudden death of his sister
but that had pretty much all been used up now, what with the hotel trips
and the evenings out with men, often to upmarket bistros in Manchester.
He had taken to shoplifting at the weekends but only from the expensive
boutiques where no one would suspect a man in his early sixties. He
would sometimes wear the Emille Pucci briefs under his corduroy trousers
as he quietly slipped the Charlotte Tilbury eyeshadow into his pocket.
He sometimes wandered through the cheaper chemists (Superdrug, Boots)
and glanced upon the younger girls as they picked eyelashes off each
other’s faces like bonobos hunting for fleas. He wanted to snatch beauty
back from them because they didn’t need it. At night, he studied the
small veins in his wrists like emerald scars and prayed to find a single
piece of ambergris on the beach one day. He looked at failed men in
their 501s. His destiny went beyond denim.
Morecambe Bay is one of the largest estuaries in England and the beach
itself consists of over five miles of pale peach sand. As on that late
afternoon, the blue coast was dotted with trawlers and small boats
returning from the bay. It was February and you could sometimes find cod
in the water that time of year, which attracted fishermen from
Liverpool, all the way down from Glasgow. Ezra watched them as they
jumped from boats and moored them skilfully with thick ropes, afterwards
pulling off their fluorescent, mud-caked overalls with fingers as large
as sausages. Ezra felt a lump inside his throat and zoomed in with his
iPhone on their attractive simple faces. His own face watched from a
window of frosted glass like a silver piece of pewter crushed into
broken shapes. Their innocent expressions were untainted by the irony
that smothered and flooded every mannerism he carried. Their stupidity
was sovereign and this was the paradox of his desire. He wanted
everything he hated. As they left to return to their homes, the pub,
their wives, Ezra thought about the smell of their fingers, jamming each
obscene stub inside his mouth.
He needed to get ready before his guest arrived, studying his naked body
in the long mirror against the wall. His torso was thin and sallow so he
moved the lamp to the far side of the room. In his profile photo, the
boy was wearing a chain with a padlock. It reminded Ezra of the Cartier
pendant in yellow gold that his sister left him in her will. Every
single member of her Zumba fitness class had attended the funeral wake.
They looked so healthy and vital, and were convinced she would have
pulled through. His sister collected expensive, usually French,
jewellery, which he managed to get his hands on. He wore the silver
Chanel choker to meet a man at the Half Moon Bay Hotel in Heysham, a few
miles south. The man spat on his back and said he was worthless, even
though the choker cost just over three grand. He had held his iPhone
high above Ezra’s head. The way the choker winked around his neck looked
like a broken halo of light. Daddy’s little angel.
Hanging the Chloé baby-doll on the back of the en suite door, he was
feeling more in the mood. He wished he had an en suite at home. En
suite. It means more. His parents were always baffled by his use of
French and found him pretentious. As a baby they had named him Wayne and
he baptised himself Ezra fifteen years later in a sink full of cheap
wine. He was always in a state of transformation. Ezra was never quite
ready, never quite there. Even now, he would fuss and fuss because the
dream of living always outweighed the pittance of experience. Foreplay
has no equal. The first time he had intercourse, he felt he had been
duped. A zig-zag of frustration. He was Maria Callas. He wanted to be
crashed into. Bruises appeared on his sister’s arms when she had
chemotherapy. They puffed up like small lilac clouds, timid and silvery
at the edges, but soon they burst into bright blooms of purple blood.
They heard her weeping from the ward corridor. She didn’t want to die in
Blackpool Victoria Hospital. She wanted to die in Venice.
Ezra wasn’t ready when the boy arrived, or when he rang and left three
messages from the lobby. Eventually Ezra went down to meet him in the
entrance hall and pretended to the receptionist that it was an old dear
“You are the universe in ecstatic motion,” the boy said, sat on the bed,
flushing slightly as he read the Arabic script tattooed along his
The romanticism secretly appalled Ezra but he smiled, and excused
himself as he poured a drink and carried it into the bathroom. He took
out the Agent Provocateur bodice and suspenders from the tissue paper
inside the new box. The boy continued to speak through the open door. He
had come up from Lancaster University on the train, was studying Sufi
poetry. His name was Ahmet. An awkward silence as the boy fumbled for
conversation. He started to describe an abstract painting hanging in the
lobby. A pair of white squares. A second square (paler, cold) floated
weightlessly inside a second square (larger field of cream).
“Kazimir Malevich, been there for years,” Ezra replied automatically,
emerging from the bathroom in the bodice and suspenders. “Shall we
Ezra managed to fasten the iPhone to the top of the four-poster bed. He
saw his own face on the screen smeared in concealer, waxed and perfect.
The wig, cheaper than he had hoped, was fastened on with strong tape. It
was platinum blonde and still smelled of plastic. He sprayed himself
with Tom Ford’s Fucking Fabulous and handed Ahmet the claw hammer. Ezra
placed the glass lightbulb inside his own mouth.
“My name, let me think. It can be Cindy,” he said, before popping the
bulb back in.
Ahmet put on the balaclava and raised the hammer high, as Cindy stared
into the red light on the iPhone. She saw herself broken into glitter.
She saw her teeth smashed out in sticky pools of Dior Lunar Rogue
lipstick, the Charlotte Tilbury eyeshadow darkening beneath her tears.
His body, the body of Ezra, or Cindy, or even Wayne, was simply a
rental. The flesh would find new ways to repair, sew itself across the
broken wrists into new and exquisite Chanel bracelets. The lips would
swell out bigger and brighter than a trip to his cosmetologist in
Salford Quays. Ezra wanted to become a collage of his own anger. He
hated the fishermen. He hated his sister who shared herself only in
death, her exquisite treasure. He hated his co-workers and their small
lives. He even hated Ahmet and his insipid poetry. The night was beyond
language. The smell of the Hermès 24 Faubourg perfume waltzing through
the hotel like a wintertime ghost, a Delphine Seyrig migraine. When the
hammer hit her face, Cindy wanted the blood to never stop. She wanted to
cradle her own jaw like the Holy Grail. She was a carcass in a chiffon
Valentino gown, an Egyptian vulture floundered in black onyx. Beauty
screams inside a shatter of glass. Every necklace is a guillotine.