Sunday, December 26, 2004

Hotel de Filles

The young ladies tripped a dark fantastic, their parasols out in hope of sun, Easter bonnets tilted vampishly. Giggling laughter speaking volumes for subconscious sadness.

Their robes were pulled in at the waist by mock-virginal belts, long plaited tongues hanging from the strap's V-shape, each girl secretly yearning to be the Madonna whom the only truly handsome man in the city would pick from the crowd and take off somewhere in gondola or carriage ... towards a new life, a rear-of-park view from hidden manse or terraced palace. The pair of them would need merely one servant.

Mary's robe was long and hugging, the simple revelation of flickering ankles tantalising those turks who bobbed up and down in the water of the trellissed canal, their steely eyes just level with the paved promenade.

Most of the girls in the group pointedly ignored their half-concealed leers, but Mary allowed a flirting smile to fleet across her impassive face, more in the cheek muscles than the lips ... enough to reproduce those dimples her mother had once nurtured with her knitting-needle as soon as the nursery games had worn far too thin for the late afternoon.

"Oi! Oi! There's love afloat tonight..." came one voice.

"Beauty is never so bright ... than in my eyes' starlight," came another.

"Mary, that willow-clinging dress ... echoes the undules of thy flesh," came yet a third.

The girls, embarrassed by the turks' catcalls, placed hands upon their rose-button lips to staunch the flow of otherwise unbridled laughter from its unbearded den.

Mary loitered at the rear of the group, her tall neck coiling lissomly with the coy back glances of her swivelling eyes. She wished she owned a separate pair of hands which could fondle her body independently ... particularly when nights seemed longer than day. Her stiffened underbodice hid the knuckling of the nipples.

One turk had swung himself to the quay from his punt, sprung strength of limb compensating for the inefficiency of water as a lever.

He followed on in the wake of the girls, head bowed. He wanted so much to take that one who was the slowest walker, keep her as his own forever. He would teach her to laugh shamelessly, thus to pump out the liquid of death and prevent its grand tour of her heart's canals. The lavishly tooled bowl under his bed would be fitting for such emissions; then carelessly discarded at daybreak upon the unsuspecting head of a grizzled river pilot as he steered his craft between the shafting walls of dawn: each stave of yellow light broken and ever rejoined by the passage of him and others like him as they glided homeward upon the silky sheen for a day's sleep...

The turk's dream was abruptly snapped into a thousand scattering fireflies. He just saw the tail of the group disappearing into the Hotel de Filles, evidently, he surmised, eager to see whether their ugly chaperones were still fast asleep.

He stood, vowing to wait forever, if need be.

The sun was missing most of that day. It did however put in a late appearance just at the moment it was dipping in red splendour behind the baroque palisades, beyond the stone sculptures of the classic male, where the fountainous water churned and creamed amid chiselled loins. Mary, at her high hotel window, mindlessly released her ribbons, sashes, girdles and hooks. The body was thus unhugged, convoluted lacy materials shedding gossamer tinsel for the stars to wear.

She peered at one statue in particular, relieving itself by spouting blood upon the canal's dying sun from the stone carving of its manhood.

She heard a girl keening elsewhere in the hotel. Another comforted her, told her, with the acoustic clarity of twilight in the labyrinth of the building, that nipples could never ever turn into stone. Only the heart could do that, was Mary's annunciation to the silence of her room.

"Oi! Oi!" came the ghostly call of the gondoleers in the night.

(published 'Red Stains' Creation Press 1992)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

A Sack of Santa

The house was huger than when I was small and gullible. Perhaps, it had grown extensions with each planning permission that erstwhile owners had instigated. But no record of such paperwork nor invoices for building works, nothing except the sheer bodily evidence of alcoves, vestigial hallways, annexes, attic-complexes, loft conversions of previously non-existent lofts, granny flats, tree-houses, gate-lodges etc. - all of which must have appeared overnight, as it were, without the interference of outside forces.

Even if one were stone dead in the imagination stakes, one could easily visualise the shock on my face as I stooped below one of the new gate arches: part of a castellated surround which made normal battlements look like somebody else's garden fence. Yet, I've forgotten to draw attention to the fact that this house was once a normal two-up-two-down terraced back-to-back so rife in the thirties in this part of Great Britian. So where were the neighbours' houses? Had they been coerced into forming part of the agglomerated mansion that my family home had now become? Not just one straight-up-and-down stairs of bone-aching steepness, but now several spiralling grand strutways which took one all over the rambling edifice. And once upon the topmost landing (which was now as airy and light as it was once so dark and dowdy), one could survey the whole of the factory town, where gridlocked geometries of true two-up-two-downs radiated outwards in terraced interminability.

It took my breath away.

I hadn't been 'home' for decades and I was now older than I was. So, not only had the mind-boggling vastness of the empalaced tunnel-back sucked my lungs clean but also had its countless Gothic floors that one needed to climb to reach the vantage point of which I speak. Yet, I proceeded on upwards until I reached, via a skylight, the massive expanses of roof, rising and falling like mathematical mountains, interpersed with forests of huge smoking chimneys.

I retained a smidgin of puff, as I scrambled over the rattly slate-racks, toting my heavy body with me. I felt as if I was lugging it from under the shoulders, ignoring the grunts of complaint which I recognised to be my own voice. And, at last, just as my breath was taken by the sky like an ocean would a drop of water, I realised what I needed to do. You see, and one as imaginative as you will see, death was much larger than life.

And Santa Claus had a present for someone not unlike the tiny tot I once was who now lay breathless in one of the many chimney-fed nurseries that were ensconced behind every gleaming corridor wall. And that present was Santa's own corpse which would prove that he had existed once, and the child who had believed in him would thus be vindicated. Yet the huge cross he'd also lugged up here pinned to the ends of his limbs had a wing-width too great even for the huge chimneys he'd overblown beyond anybody's imagination.

(Published 'Roisin Dubh' 1993)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

At The House Hotel

I was spending a week's holiday on the Cornish coast during a period when heavy rains had decided to set in. Despite many false turnings and my trusted jalopy's windscreen wipers faltering against the weather, I had eventually reached the strangely named House Hotel.

What I intended to remember about that isolated place were the famous sunsets across the Cape of Long Chimney, which could be witnessed from the hotel's highest bedroom - oranges and reds spreading and silting their oils above those froth-spumed rocky misshapes which the Atlantic had carelessly left uncovered. Even on days when the shipping forecasts on the Long Wave announced tail to tail storms around the coasts, I hoped that the scuttering clouds would split asunder, at the very last moment, to allow the sun free rein for the few painful moments of day's latest death - thus to build bloodstacks sky high from sea to Heaven's base.

I loitered by the window, yearning for a glimpse of such a sunset. Then, I felt a light touch on my shoulder, just as a rim of fire exploded gloriously and unexpectedly into sight. I turned with a shiver and saw, in the wardrobe mirror, the reflection of the framed picture from the opposite wall. It was a black and white painting - almost blue and white, with dashes of imaginary pink - depicting a busy Regency family: prim and proper children and maidenly ladies, one of the latter preening a little girl's hair and adjusting the ribbon to its optimum setting. I felt that a pussy-cat, curled up like a black rose, needed to be snoozing on the floor to make the whole picture sufficiently cosy.

I returned to the window, shiver now shudder, only to find the sky ink-stained, the chimney on the Cape appearing to be a dead lighthouse or a giant hat-pin in an undertaker's storm-tossed titfer. The mood made me forget the touch on my shoulder. Or was it the tugging at the back of my legs that made me less observant of such trivialities? Strangely as if a loyal dog were pulling its master back into an open grave.

I went to switch on the light in my room. The House Hotel was coming alive below me, dinner gongs in counterpoint. How many dinners were they serving tonight, in any event?

"Harry, Harry..."

The whispering of my name came from under the bed. The fear was more physical than mental, wrigglings along the spine. Whoever had heard of pet animals talking? How had it strayed into my room, in the first place?

I recalled the day, a tiring day, trekking Cornish cliff-tops and watching the Atlantic rollers wasting their energies as they beached upon obdurate rocks. Like clockwork, they came churning in, one after another, eternity's repeating performance, holding inchoate power and dread in their toppling combs of bubbling surf. The awe in face of such clues to God made me feel unbalanced. I believed to have witnessed myself that day shattered upon Earth's jagged tooth decay.

Then, there had been the girl in the St Ives museum. She was gawky, full of her own sardonic intellectuality. Her companions were an elderly lady who kept plying the other two with lemon sherbets, much to the girl's supercilious annoyance ... and a sleek creature of a man who looked to be a city gigolo type. I knew, I just knew, all three would figure in my dreams come nightfall, unless I did something about it. I killed with my eyes, shot them through with the pain of non-existence. I saw their bodies literally fade as they passed out into the museum's Sculpture Garden. But what was that a lemon sherbet on the display counter, left carelessly by one of them? Surely, a sign that dreams are real. Yet tonight, in the distance, the sea's undersurge still powered on and my sleep was simply constituted of such background noise. The House Hotel had settled down for the night, me included. With neither care nor dream.

"Harry, Harry..."

"Go to sleep, I say, whoever you are."

And it did. So the ghost must have cared for me, even though its voice was what tree bark should be when turned into sound.

I wake with a start. The House Hotel breathes around me, less than snores but more than sighs. The painting glows in the wardrobe mirror facing the end of my bed. At the dead of night, a strange reversal of time has at last brought the sun up, bleeding into the curtains behind the bed-head ... or is it sparks from the disused tin mine on the Cape fireworking into the black sky from the Long Chimney?

The room's full of shunting red shadows ... and in the painting is no longer the Regency family but that sad trio of people glimpsed in the museum earlier in the day, as so many others are half-seen from the corners of eyes: living Undergrunts with squeezed-up eyes and thin lips, dark companions of shopping centres, seaside resorts, museums and, even, cliff-top hiking paths.

They must have such Undergrunts lurking behind the scenes even in Regency days. But surely not one like the city gigolo (with green eyes higher than any animal on hindlegs) who's now looming closer with each swaying stride. He wields his own long chimney of flesh which begins to return darkness to the room in spurts of black slime.

When I woke in the morning, the Regency family were back in the painting, but now they were looking straight out into the room with imploring eyes. And, now, incredible as it may seem in hindsight, the perspective of time leaves me with the memory that the little girl with the optimum ribbon was no longer in the painting.

As I quickly left the room, something quite low down, with slippery fur, brushed past my legs on to the landing. I feared whatever it was had abducted the girl before returning to taunt me with her cruel absence.

"Another rotten day," said the landlady pointing at the raindrops racing down the hall window. "I expect you'll never be able to see the glorious sunsets that the Cape is famous for..."

I nodded, believing the raindrops to be tears.

I departed House Hotel that day, hoping the weather wouldn't dog me further east. Nor any stray ghosts. Why I cried, too, it's hard to tell. Perhaps the little girl from the painting was intended to be my sweetheart in years gone by. As in dreams, you can never truly focus ... and emotions, like the Atlantic rollers, keep coming back to you, with a strange power which even God cannot end.

In the hotel car park, I discovered an unwrapped lemon sherbet on the driver's seat of my trusted jalopy - and, if I'm not too mistaken, all four doors were still well and truly locked. Not a neat ending, however. It was more of a continuation than a crystallisation. Just like life. An ever-fading memory that eventually peters out into our own eternity of self-ignited darkness. A little bit of Harry in the night.

(Published ‘Elegia’ 1993)

Saturday, November 06, 2004


Namesake. That's me. Someone else. The else. An Else. A person other. I have a life, but where have I left this life? I have a head, a skull that shapes the head, a brain that contains it. I also have or, rather, had people. Belonging is subjective. I don't know even if I belong to myself. An Else is always someone else's. Or am I drifting off into melted mutter?

I have a house. Simply that. A house where those people I don't own no longer live. They no longer live full stop. Their lives no longer belong to them. Lives left behind, like me. Except I still have my faculties. Unlike them.

Now, let's relive their lives. Grant them a few seconds or minutes or hours or, even, days extra. Their names were important as definers. Edward. Jack. Tom. Tina. Matilda. Not forgetting Ben.

The house is probably the best starting-ppoint which may mean scrapping much of what I've already written to make this a starting-point proper. The house stood on an island off France; well, certainly nearer France than England. An island circumscribed by seas, which I suppose goes without saying, except a lot can be gleaned from the manner some things are said, as opposed to the things themselves thus said. There were no cars allowed on the island, which does not go without saying. Dusty lanes map-worked the island where two-wheeled people disguised as tourists biked. They never reached as far as our house (our house?), because our house, yes, our house, was hidden even beyond those unbeaten tracks. Not at the centre of the island, but, to my mind, at its centre of gravity, albeit towards one end and not the other. Our house (and I must become accustomed to that expression when thinking of the people who once owned it) was called GULLSCREECH or was it GULLSREACH or SKULLSREACH? Give or take an odd apostrophe. Memory for an Else often feels as if it does not belong to the same Else - a bit like thinking with cold slime instead of a proper brain.

And so, in the beginning, there was Edward. Yes, Edward. The house then was newer and smaller than it is now, but so was the island and, by extrapolation, the world and its seas. The bikers, at that stage, didn't have the name tourists for themselves or, if they did, they were nothing like the loud-mouthed ones nowadays: dressed top to bottom in their pink-to-brown skins. Bikes were more woodeny, too, clacking over the stone-sown crust of baked-in dust. Words were less woodeny, if wordier. Edward and his family were tantamount to hermits, as far as it was possible for any family to remain hermits, given its need to further itself.

But the house had ghosts. Which didn't explain why that fact was either relevant or a non-sequitur - nor anything else, for that matter. Or was it more melted mutter? Merely let Edward conduct us round:-

"As you approach the house, there are plenty of trees and a choice of two crazy-paved routes to the front door, and the air seems to grow darker the nearer the house comes. The sun-flowers are spiky full-moons in mourning. Once inside, the winding staircase takes you up to the various family bedrooms. I shall leave the downstairs as a place of the past. The bedrooms give more away about the inhabitants. The first one you come to is mine (and Aggie's, I suppose): the master suite with a bed that I sometimes think could easily fit three. But that's enough about that. Aggie's in the past, too. Our children's rooms each have a habit, an obsession, an aura which can't be shaken off. One, for example, is entirely shapeless but, not only that, positively disfigured - leaning walls with lumpen excrescences, ceiling sagging with misshapen breasts, mirrored wardrobe doors hanging from their hinges like dead angel-wings - similar, in fact, to its occupier: Matilda. They do say a room adopts the stance easiest for it to adopt..."

And Edward drifted on, plucking descriptions from the air as if the air were imagination. I've only allowed his ramblings to ramble thus far because I knew he'd soon start rambling about Matilda (after rambling about himself, that is) and it was Matilda I loved. Still do. Who else can an Else love other than another Else?

"There was another room," continued Edward, "Where Jack slept. Not in a bedroom, more in-a-box."

Everybody tried to laugh at Edward's jokes. Another one of his jokes was about the Doll's House: tiny Tina's suitable bedroom because she stayed as tiny as she was when she was a toddler. And the Rocking-Horse Room: where Tom still slept in his cradle, to-and-fro, to-and-fro, till self and sleep became indistinguishable in his head.

Then Edward described my bedroom. Not a joke, I assure you. Nor a game. Nor a toy. In those days, my name was Ben.

Now, before we proceed any further, I should explain that there is a difference between Reincarnation (which the Easterns believe in) and the realms of Elsedom. Straightforward folk (if Reincarnation has any basis in fact, which I doubt) plummet from one ham-fisted existence to another, pell-mell, without thought for fear or favour. In contradistinction, we Elses are obliquities who choose berths with care so that our hosts have no inkling of our co-habitation. I hasten to add that Elses are not parasites. We don't live off physical energy. We're simply lazy ghosts who need a body to rest within for a while, before launching out again upon the ether. A tiring business is bodilessness at the best of times.

So, although I was Ben in Edward's time, Ben was not necessarily me. So when I speak of Ben as me I mean someone else other than Ben as him. It all sounds a trifle complicated, but I assure you that my task here is to clear up confusions, not to create them. I want to give you some inkling of the forces working behind your big days, your small days, your off days, your on days and why you sometimes don't feel quite yourself. And, also, the story I have to tell (am alreading telling) - no, what we have to tell (are already telling) - would not otherwise be able to be told. So when I say I, you know it's me. When I say Ben you know it's him. When I say we, even you need to stand by your beds, as the old army saying goes.

Back to Edward. He was about to describe my bedroom in that island house called (what was it?) GULLSCRY. GULL'S CRY. GULL SCRY. SKULLSKY. A fact of which even an omniscient such as I is unsure.

"Ben's room," continued Edward. "Yes, let me see. This didn't have a nickname. Ben had one, though. Numbskull. Thick as piled water, I'd say. His room was plastered with pirate flags. The island was a hotbed of smugglers - and I think Ben wanted to be one. Skull & Crossbones. He even had a gull skull as an ornament on his tallboy, along with lots of other knick-knacks. A ship-in-a-bottle. A pirate one, of course. He could only grunt, so we never found out whether he really wanted to be a pirate. God has enough blessings for all of us. Yet He did go sparing on poor old Ben."

And I often went spare, too, when I heard Edward talking about God the Creator. God, in truth, was the ultimate Else, giving Him His due. Melted mutter. Prayer. Crossed finger-bones.

"Ben," continued Edward, "was the only one who wasn't a blood relation. We took him in when he was abandoned by one of the bikers. A foundling whose nest was a black saddle-bag at the foot of the sun-flower stems one moonless night. Only a human by virtue of his looks. A foundling who was originally a changeling, if that's not a contradiction in terms. However hard we tried we couldn't make his grunts into words. Even Matilda, with her lopped tongue, could say certain things. And, yes, she took a shine to Ben and became like a mother hen to him, despite being much younger."

I nodded. I had allowed Edward to spin out his tired old tale of past times, because his very act of telling his story is part of our story - whilst the actual contents of his story are not. Edward is a protagonist, albeit an undependable one. And so is Matilda. And so are tiny Tina, Jack and Tom. And so, perhaps, is Edward's wife Aggie who stayed in one of the attics - because she was afraid of the island's tightening circle of seas. Which brings us to the journey, one in which Matilda took Ben on a trip to the topmost attic of the house, via the lower, more accessible attics. Nobody Else had been that far before. Or not since the loft luggage was stowed there by one of Edward's ancient ancestors. In actual fact, Ben took Matilda, not the other way about. Whatever the case, Aggie's attic was tantamount to being a cellar when compared to the topmost attic to which Ben and Matilda aspired - an attic so topmost it reached beyond the roof itself.

The story of their journey is less important than the fact they wanted to make it at all. Its outcome can safely be told, however. A kiss where Ben touched the tip of his tongue upon Matilda's own gristly stub; feeling it slightly wag from the root. Such a stump was not long enough to bite through, which his blood-lust made him feel he wanted to do in the dark. From her point of view, a kiss was the most erotic thing in the world, but when his teeth later entered her neck instead, she couldn't have believed anything could be more erotic than the original kiss. Which was a pity. Because the sinking teeth were as erotic as it was possible to be.

Her body felt like a kite, one which Tina and herself had regularly flown from the island's nearest clifftop. God's kite, this time.

The attics had become darker the higher they had painstakingly plumbed the narrow upward hatches from raftered space to space. This phenomenon could not be explained other than by the upper walls possessing more chinks than the roof proper. Then, once beyond the roof itself, whatever the nature of the topmost attic's outer casing, it was certainly impermeable, belying the fact that its interior atmosphere had grown smoky from, no doubt, being above the house's chimneys. Ben thought he saw a rat scurrying in one of the lower-down attics, but then guessed it might be midget Tina following them: dodging behind each leaning black timber when they looked in her (or its) direction.

Tina was as near to being an Else as a someone could be without becoming either. Bigger than a Borrower, true, yet coming to below the level of my knee. The only way to bring her into focus is to permit her the use of speech-marks, borrowed from Edward and employed with eloquence:

"I hate Ben with all my heart," she sang with a pucker. "He teases me as King Henry the 8th used to tease his wives, pretending they weren't there other than for the flesh in his mouth that his teeth tore off their legs. He imagined strange things did that King. One of his handkerchiefs could have made me a frock. Well, Ben's worse than Henry, 8 times worse, judging by the hurts he does me."

Give Tina an inch of cotton, she'll take half a mile of spider's web. Her bedroom is smaller than the others and it's not surprising that Edward compared it to a Doll's House, albeit a rather trite comparison. She looks up as I come in and continues her monologue straight at me:

"Yes, he calls this bedroom a Doll's House, although I'm sure I'm noisier than most dolls, & cry more & laugh more. I'm older than a doll, too - even older than dolls who've had several girls to play with. He'll only admit that there are certain people living in GULL'S CREECH - Jack, Matilda, Ben, Tom and, at a push, little old me in a spotted pocket frock and nothing small enough for knickers except things cut in half or in a quarter or even less. Of course, I'm my own centre of attention, but what about the old wrinkled lady who lives upstairs? Nobody's bothered to give her a name. And Edward's ancient manservant, too long in the tooth for anything bar compiling lists, and what's he doing in the wine cellar? His name? Your guess is as good as mine, or better. Names are merely words by another name. Edward has a way with words, but he uses them too meanly. I don't resort to implication nor can I readily apply inference to other people's implications. Yet, having said that, one can't be too obvious. The old house would fall down like playing-cards tilted against each other soon as look at it too closely. Ben's taken a fancy to Matilda. Ben, Ben, Ben, I wish I knew who Ben was. Matilda's my sister, docked at birth for want of a proper brain - even so, she can say a few things now. Whilst Ben, Numbskull Ben, he grunts and each grunt is random. No thought behind them. A bit like Edward when he gets going - because Edward's words may as well be grunts for all what they may mean. Yes, Ben. He is a son to someone here, but who? Certainly not me. I'm smaller than my own baby would be. But who Else is there? Who Else is still fruited down below?"

"Tina, you're wrong," suddenly announced Edward. "Ben came with one of the bikers in a saddle-bag."

"Why didn't you give him back to the Authorities, then?" Tina's squeak was like Punch-and-Judy.

The same old questions, the same old statements, a ritualistic conversation stone-sown with lies and disbeliefs, cancelling each other out. If the truth were known, Ben only existed in my own head - or me in his.

One day, tiny Tina woke up and knew that Ben and Matilda were already too far gone from her dreams to be recaptured. She'd need to track then down to their earths in the roof and fetch them back to the lower floors where, perhaps - hopefully - she'd see them for what they were. Elses. And then she'd have them trapped within her mind's eye - and then within her sleep in the hope of casting out a butterfly-net of a dream. Edward, at least, would be thankful to rid the house of such worrisome creatures. Ben and Matilda - Lenders, if not Borrowers, to whom Tina duly wanted to return a dream; her dream but their rightful abode.

So, yes, Tina was up and about early that day, waiting for Ben and Matilda to emerge from their respective bedrooms, where Edward had billeted them. Jack and Tom were real slug-a-beds, so she wasn't concerned about any interference from the likes of those ne'er-do-nothings. She'd be free to follow Ben and Matilda to the ends of the Earth. Even to the top of the house.

Jack and Tom were equally unconcerned. Edward's two sons were completely unaware of the shenanigans of the other occupiers, if other occupiers existed at all. Tom's cradle had long since outgrown him, unlike a snail's shell that would have gradually grown with its slug-a-bed - or so the legend went in that island. One could often see Tom struggling under his humpback along the island's coffin-paths - the latter being rights-of-way by the simple virtue of having had a full coffin, once upon a time, travel above it on four separate shoulders. Or merely travel.

Jack was a bouncy sort of fellow. His bedroom was a veritable gymnasium, hung with trapezes, black beams and a washing-line in the guise of a tight rope. His best exercise equipment, however, was a spring of spirals more powerful than his legs. Even at Jack's advanced age, there was a summer in his walk.

One day, Tom and Jack followed tiny Tina, someone they had summoned up as children do (even ancient children) when they summon up secret imagined friends and summon up summers that know no spring or autumn. Tina was the sole small creature with whom Jack and Tom peopled their friendless world - a world so friendless, even two such close friends found it friendless. Tina was their own special imagined friend whom they kept secret from each other. Tom, when he struggled along the dusty island tracks dragging behind him his own coffin-shell, saw Tina's twinkling calves ahead and her polkadotted pocket frock. Jack followed Tom, only because he was following Tina, too. A coincidence, perhaps, yet no coincidence at all, depending on the point of view. Yet, when Tina followed her special imaginative friends Ben and Matilda inside the house, she knew by the creaking floorboards that she was herself followed by ghosts pretending to be people. Ghosts are indeed housebound. Everyone Else knew that except, of course, writers of ghost stories. Good job there's no writer of this. Ben's the nearest we'll get to someone writing us up. In the open air, any following sounds Tina put down to the rumblestrips of the bikers or clumps of horses or the odd choking tractor that threaded the various island by-ways. She sometimes tried to avoid her special imagined friends, little knowing that they simultaneously tried to avoid her, which they needn't have bothered doing, in any event, her being so tiny - a double bluff of a paradox, seeing that they didn't really believe they could see her nor know she was there to be seen. Ben and Matilda were often spotted by snoopy bikers whose sunhatted heads were then shaken in disbelief as if any such visions could only be imported from dreams. They hid their surprise when Ben and Matilda shook their own heads back at them. Or was it Jack and Tom?

Tina only followed Ben and Matilda in the hope of discovering their earths somewhere in the upper reaches of the house. Jack and Tom, in turn, followed Tina, wondering why she seemed to be following someone Else. Or were they each the Else in question? Endless spirals of Elses following the same Elses? Being imagined playmates, they were amazed how each of them explored unpredictable places into which they would never have imagined themselves in a million years: such as the uninhabited parts of the house's east wing (which Edward had made out-of-bounds) or the dark secret passages that smugglers or pirates had once used (priest-holes and burrows whence Edward didn't ban them because they shouldn't have existed) or, as we have seen already, the attic areas (none of them realising that each attic could have its own attic, even to the extent of the loft luggage being left in increasing hierarchies of uselessness - the topmost attic being so useless, its contents regained an antique value that Edward would have reaped if such contents hadn't already reached beyond not only the roof but also the buffer zone of useless memories.

I am Edward. There, it's out. I've peopled my house with everybody but Edward, since he does not need to be 'peopled', as it were, because he is, in truth, the only person in the house: someone to whom I find it easier to assign the third person singular. One day, he negotiated the gull-screeching periphery of the island, as far as this was possible given the natural fortress of rocks and cliffs making the clamber to and from bays a strenuous activity: too strenuous for someone like Edward who eschewed exercise and who was accustomed to having his being sucked from him by generations of folk he'd conjured up from the peopleable air. Some such had not arrived fully formed from his mind and only full exposure to their own motive force gave them their minds and bodies. Others were already too formed for his mind to alter in any way. An odd few arrived from Elsewhere, only to enter his mind and subsequently become ghosts, still autonomous, if unreal.

His 'children' did not derive from such brands of Edward's conjuration. Their coming, their going, their pure static existence, were mysteries to him. He dreamed (or he blamed dreaming) that he performed surgical operations on them - a fact that might have gone a long way to explaining, for one thing, Matilda's parlous physical state. Unlike her disfigured bedroom, some parts of her body were not open to view: so to that extent Edward's butchering remained a dark secret: only later to be discovered should there still remain an element of tenability as a human body following her death when, no doubt, a crafty coroner would begin to smell a rat. A tiny rat.

The House that Jack Built seemed taller than its own height, because all the woodeny rooms were so very very small. He had built it for someone Else. For Tom. He melted into mutter. Prayer. Crossed doll-bones. He tilted back and forth on the ratcheting roof, a horsewhip in his hand, watching hooded figures tug kites from the darkening sky upon the rock-racked horizon. Tom, he knew, enjoyed dressing up in pocket frocks - because he only had one leg left. Like Ben Gunn. Or was it Long John Silver? Having left his left leg between the spinning spokes of a biker's wheel. Numbskull. Tom Thumbskull.

(published ‘Weirdmonger’s Tales’ Wyrd Press 1994)

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Ribbons of Reality

All those lessons back on Farnsworth Planet were now next to useless. To be a human being, they told him, you had to get up on your hind legs, wear an expression that denied your real thoughts and utter nothing but non-sequiturs.

Now, all that was out of the window, along with the good intentions which, as an alien, he had earned here in a brain fundamentally ill-designed, as it turned out, for Earthly living.

He squatted on the Persian carpet in front of a lady human whom he had been nuzzling with his nose, only to be spurned for maladroit foreplay.

The sitting-room was going round and round. Evidently, they (whoever “they” were, he never really understood, other than that they had investments in Farnsworth as well as Earth) were forthwith taking him back home - incredibly utilising the house where he happened to be situated as the transport vehicle.

His recently acquired lady friend was too frightened to be angry. When she saw street-lights flashing by her sitting-room window, it crossed her mind that she must be drunk rather than frightened.

Beyond the reaches of the Known Universe, a few miles from the Untenable Universe, there are bedraggled streamers of reality known as the Cat-Tails. Between one particular fork of two such streamers of reality, sat the Farnsworth Planet, flashing on and off as it rhythmically passed in and then out of each existence. Those who lived there consequently taught their offspring with alternating history books. Much confusion was relieved by such means.

They were a pretty clever race and managed to set up scenarios where it became sensible (and even possible) to send some of their number to other worlds in the particular reality they were, at the time, living through. The rationale was now of course unknown, because it happened to be recorded in history books currently not in existence. But as long as they knew there was a rationale (like human belief in God) they believed in it wholeheartedly and waited patiently for re-enlightenment.

They forgot for a while, in fact, that some of their number had been sent off on trans-universal reconnoitres. They didn’t notice they had forgotten, since their minds were fully occupied with deep philosophical yearnings.

The particular sun-star which serviced Farnsworth Planet was not so reliable as the one to which humans have grown accustomed. But when a semidetached house from Purley, Surrey, England, rose slowly above the horizon, its strangeness was sufficient to surprise even those up early jogging on all fours.

However, what they might have seen through its bedroom window, if it had not been curtained over, would have changed what later in fact became quite a significant religious experience into something far more down to earth.

Or vice versa.

(published ‘Mystique’ 1995)

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Joy Rider

I have asked the same question several times. They tell me I am an alien or, at best, a mutant android. Never ever in my wildest dreams to be even a cyborg. But the fact that I can dream makes me question the whole matter. Why cruelly feed me dreams and memories of a human being, if I am inhuman? There is another entity beside me in the pod as I warden the man-made movements through the universe. Most traffic is cargo being transported from galaxy to galaxy in tin pot spaceships and our sole job is to police the lanes to ensure one way routes stay that way. The other one’s name is Joy. She is beautiful, as well as happy, believe me.

Craftman snuggled down under the bedclothes, trying to make the world forget about his existence. There was once a Russian novel in which a character called Oblomov spent chapter after chapter in bed, failing to summon the will power to get up. Once he started down the slippery slope of wallowing in his own mattress, he found it more and more difficult to summon up the friction. But sooner or later, Craftman had to go to the dentist. So he struggled from his pyjamas, dressed and shambled down the road, squinting against the bright sunlight.

Craftman had forgotten the whereabouts of the dentist's but, being a small town, he eventually found it impossible to miss. He was shown into the waiting-room by the lift boy and there he found a circle of faces staring ahead into the middle distance, colour supplement magazines growing stale upon their laps. Despite being the last to arrive, he was immediately called into the surgery by a sweet nurse in a uniform. He perked up a bit at the sight of her. She fitted in with his dreams of one called Joy.

However, the dentist himself was not a sight for sore teeth. He towered by the long recliner, a metal implement poised in his hand as if he were shaping up for a rumble in the beer belt. He motioned Craftman into the seat, where the patient was to be set back with a violent jerk.

"Well, Mr... What is your name? Your card's got a stain on it, where your name should be."


"Well, Mr Craftman, I don't like the look of your teeth at all."

Without further ado, he wrenched Craftman's mouth open with a crack, and started drilling at the first tooth he saw. The grinding of metal on bone spread to the skull itself, as if the whole upper extension of his neck needed filling. Then, the dentist decided that the tooth would have to come out instead. The nurse pushed her thighs against Craftman's side as she yanked his mouth wider to ease entrance by further implements in the dentist's thinly veiled hands. Another tooth was seemingly gripped by a vicious vice, and not even the strength of the tall dentist, nor the crooning noises of encouragement from the nurse, could entice it to budge, as if it were conjoined to the spine itself. However, after several minutes, it crunched sickeningly, enabling the dentist to gouge out the root in bits with a pair of draughtsman's compasses for the next hour or two, taking delight in a job finally well done.

"That's shifted the little bugger."

It felt to Craftman as if the dentist had been chiselling out wedges of jaw bone.

"Have you got it all out?" he managed to ask, whilst spitting on splinters. The dentist took great delight in matching up the red raw chunks upon the white enamel rinsing-bowl, so that Craftman could see that it was all there. He fainted, his head lolling upon the nurse's bosom, which reminded him of Joy's.

"Blimey, he's completely flaked out," she muttered. But how did I know that?

The Pod's called Oblomov. I wonder why they didn't name me. Even Joy has the privilege of a name. And that's because she's probably a real human being, despite the matchless beauty she disports. Having said (or thought) that, I can report that my own teeth feel like long pearls. Hers must be an irregular saw-edge of white miniature tombstones, to prove she really is human. Her eyes look reflective and vulnerable. My eyes are glassed over with lenses or, perhaps, glass all the way down to the optic fuse.

Oblomov skitters momentarily in a rare space gust, thrusting me against Joy's cushioned thigh-bone. I struggle with the control-stick for a few seconds, until it actually seems to take control of my hands. And then we're on an even keel again. Shepherding a recalcitrant star-freighter towards its destination, beyond any of the smugglers' side-channels, is not conducive to day-dreaming.

"Listen With Mother" was Craftman's favourite wireless programme when he was a toddler. He used to settle down on the floor under a blanket with one who called herself Nanna. He often said he loved her more than all the money in the world (plus sixpence). After listening to what was incomprehensible to one so young, a soap opera called "Mrs Dale's Diary", in which, after the harp strains, someone with a motherly tone of voice was always worried about her Jim, the comforting sounds of something far more understandable (despite being full of nonsense nursery rhymes) was broadcast, so damn interesting and calming,

Craftman often fell into a nap which seemed to overtake both him and Nanna for the rest of the short afternoon ... until high tea and the roaring of the coal fire - a fire which someone-called-Father stirred with violent up-draughts created by a single double-sheet of newspaper stretched across the yet barely flickering hills of cobbled black that had sat in the grate since the century began, only to end up providing shuddering orange silhouette-shows against the queer news stories which filled those far-off days stretching pitifully into an uncertain future.

Everything was endlessly contorted make-believe - until Craftman grew up, listening to Del Shannon records and other black singles which slotted down one after the other on his spinning Dansette auto-changer. His mind was on the brink of acting without its own volition. He could hear every scratching note. But when deafness finally settled upon his head like large padded ear-phones, all he could make out were the sounds of Hell's underground seas. He could no longer listen with mother. The fires had died in the hearth, and nobody had life in them to fight wars, let alone die in them. Father was one of the few who vanished towards the rumour of a war and nearly died of disappointment when nobody would pay him anything for the useless hand to hand mauling that had transpired. They would not even let him have a demob suit to hide the fact he was now shankless and fell out.

Nanna, despite everything, could not listen either, because she was inside the very sound-box of Craftman's plugged-up head, screaming to escape from a tangled tapestry of memories which would never end. And when the nonsense rhymes started up again, Craftman found he could actually understand, as well as hear, them.

Joy places her hand in mine, thus interrupting my revery. We have a juke-box in the pod's cockpit and I key in an appropriate number to get my favourite Del Shannon record, "Runaway", on to the turntable...

There was a tall narrow shed on the edge of those backwaters where Craftman played when still young enough to recall feeling fresh-buttocked from the nappy-changing. A boy slightly older but dim-witted and gangling enticed Craftman into the shed. The boy said he had a secret to share. He proceeded to show a thing which he said was bigger than Craftman's. Craftman ran from the shed, before he could have the enticing opportunity to flaunt his own.

Next day or next decade, Craftman wandered the dank streets of the dock area in a large city. He knew no home nor comfort and had surrendered hope even for one called Nanna. The yellow fog was lower tonight than he could ever remember. It even came close to easing down the drains and then along with the gutter slurry. Dark figures passed by on either side wrapped in night clothes in spite of the lateness of sunset. They ignored Craftman, for they were intent on arriving home in time for high tea. If he had been able to catch their eyes in his like he used to catch sticklebacks in jam-jars, he may have enticed one of them into conversation.

He reached the edge of the wharf where a henge of crates was stacked against the hull of a loose-planked river freighter which dipped up and down in the sluggish oil the river had long since become. And the rubbing, the creaking of the crates made him think of the old days when his childhood bed had seemed like a vessel afloat on dreams. He had often imagined Nanna and Father, together with his several best friends and even a stranger of two thrown in for good measure clambering on board his bed with him ... to drift amid nothingness for an interminable period of survival and camaraderie. Yes, they needed to load cans of food and the other imperishables of life along by the bed's foot-board, in the hope that such provisions would last till the journey ended or the company broke up by hitting the maturity-line, when dreams could safely fade.

All the dangers of the disaster dream-movie would be neutralised merely by the communion of togetherness. But the bed being loaded to the seams, it had creaked, despite the nothingness through which they floated. He set the company tests on arithmetic, general knowledge, capital cities, spelling. That passed the time. Nanna enjoyed that, but didn't like the unfairness of his marking, and threatened to alight.

Now, Craftman inspected the crates on the dockside. More like coffins than cargo. The lids screeched on rusty hinges. In one was a friend from early childhood, but he couldn't remember the name. Whoever the friend was, he had grown older, so Craftman could hardly recognise him, and the body was too big to fit, hunched up and foetus-like in its last resting-place. In another crate was Father, a sheet of newspaper stretched across his face. Nanna slept sedately in another, staring icily into Craftman's eyes, as if he had let her down in one way or another.

In other crates, there were people he did not even begin to recognise, since he had not known them, except perhaps in a forgotten dream: a middle-aged woman with glasses and two dead babies of either sex pressed against her dry breasts in one, and a frilly-dressed gentleman in another who had a date stamped on his forehead. These last ones were the strangers, no doubt, who were the makeweight crew.

One long crate, resting on two others like the top of an ancient gateway, had a gangling lop-sided body in it that was almost alive, grinning imbecilically, with a protruding tongue that was engorging.

There was a single empty crate. Better load the others on the freighter first, though. He'll be in dire need of rest, then.

Such memories echo off the close-formed walls of floating darkness, as if they only have ears to suck them back, like unshared secrets. By now, Oblomov is stationary in night cover. Both Joy and myself have long given up being mutually affectionate. It was all show. How can she ever love something like me?

Craftman's only significant dread was that his eyeballs would one day swivel round in their sockets one hundred and eighty degrees and they (or was it he?) would only be able to see the frightening blackness of his head's cavernous innards. He did not allow this reasonless phobia to mar the day to day conduct of his life, of course. That way would lie madness. However, he did have certain preoccupations concerning these his windows-of-the-soul. He always wore shades, so that the eventual fulfilment of his dread would be less marked, by comparison. Also, he would never allow girls to look winsomely into his eyes, as many other couples allow each other to do, while they waft off on wings of true love. Whether this was purely a selfless act, even Craftman was uncertain. Not that girls ever wanted to cann9odle in this way with him, anyway.

Even as a boy, in one of those archetypal school playgrounds - where the cracking of conkers were often louder than that of boys' skulls in boisterous play hitting the arcanely white-lined concrete - Craftman would never dare enter an "out-staring" game with his friends in case the final Big Blink was not quite as fail-safe as one would normally expect. Opticians, to Craftman, were far more a gross-out than the worst conceivable dentist.

One day, in the local pub, Craftman picked up a loose-limbed lovely whom he christened Joy in honour of his dreams. As usual, all the signs were there. He found himself staring at the blonde down on her legs, travelling up the curves with his eyes, mentally unravelling the knitted dress as he (or they) went.

"What you giving me the eyeful for, mister?" Her voice was as coarse as her body was beautiful. But Craftman was literally trapped by her gorgeously unclouded bowls of sight, mooning out towards him, weltering in cosmetics. "Well, feel my knee!" she crooned loudly, as he shuffled nearer on the legs of his bar stool, knowing instinctively that this was exactly what he wanted to start doing. At least, she couldn't possibly be a qualified optician, with a voice like that. But, when he bent her arm up behind her back in some apparently motiveless nostalgia for the good old boy's school playground (or perhaps he thought she was a fruit machine), he saw the writing on the wall. She kicked him hard in the crutch ... and he found himself teetering above a bottomless pit of black slime seething and burping between the stalags of his own gigantic brain.

Joy is awake, even if I'm not. She has startled me with a jump-start from unconsciousness. Indeed, we require a watch-out, like carnivores need back teeth. The freighters find it easier to give us the slip at night, even though the degree of darkness is unchanged. It's something to do with moods, or with half-chances, because the art of surreptitiousness needs only a tiny twiddle on the tuner for the programme to change. The juke-box whirrs in the background, its needle only a fraction of space and time between hitting the scrawling tracker-groove of "Hats Off To Larry" by Del Shannon and hovering there forever like Pod Oblomov itself.

Even awake, it's difficult to land thoughts.

The voice was clear and bright, like freshly hammered bell steel. Craftman could not believe what his ears told him, for he was ensconced alone in a sound-proof booth, acting as a guinea pig for an experiment in solitary confinement. For days now (it could have been weeks for all he knew or grown to care), he had rested on his back, connected up with relatively silent in-and-out drip feeds which penetrated the sides of the coffinish booth through light-tight valves. Only the sound of an odd muffled bubble had infrequently broken his dreams.

How he had been landed with this job began as a long story. Suffice it to say, he was stony broke, loveless and careless. Hence, the job would give him warmth, sustenance and physical comfort for as long as it would take to use up several dole cheques. So, until the novelty wore off, Craftman was in clover. He had yearned for such an opportunity when not needing to get up nor exert himself either physically or mentally: a perfect memory in the making.

Then (and how!) the darkness grew darker in his eyes, the silence a dead weight, body and non-body alike a mass of aches and mental prickles. They'd told him (and he'd forgotten who "they" exactly were) the various drugs contained in the food streams should prevent any bodily discomfort. But, he began to suppose, that's what the experiment was designed to discover: the efficacy (or not) of such medication and, indeed, the adaptability (or otherwise) of the human condition.

It was strange how he became philosophical under the increasing strain. At one time an "ordinary, relatively normal" member of the human race - listening to the football results come a Saturday afternoon, getting his end away (or leg over), coping with the wear and tear of entropy (though he called it balls-aching old age) and negotiating the trivial, transient matters of which most lives are constituted - he was now speculating on the Existence of God (and why God was so goddamn important to warrant speculating on His (god)forsaken existence), the undependability of the senses (speculating even on the uncertainty of Craftman's own existence), the mind-body dilemma until the thoughts tailed off as if they couldn't be bothered any longer to stop disowning Craftman as the thinker thinking them.

But, then, as the symptons of discomfort infiltrated from each and every angle and as Craftman actually discovered that his body was jacking against the pinions which shackled it, his haywire mind would slip out of gear and become entrammelled in the labyrinthine syncromesh of premature senility. So before such an onset, I should introduce myself as the one running the Oblomov Experiment, with one beautiful assistant, true, but she's currently off sick with glandular fever. So, it's predominantly me with a notepad on my knee that posterity will have to depend on. Sleepless nights galore, all for the sake of science. One dead of night, I will hear the bell-clear voice ringing out at the same time as Oblomov's moving graph pen indicates that the man screams from inside the sound-proof booth. But I fear that the screaming will come from my own mouth, penetrating places where even the Richter Scale fears to tread. Then I'll be dead, or entombed, I don't know which, but not before I have a chance to finish a real dream.

Dear Pod, You feel good in my hands, as I thread you through the channels of space. It just needs the slightest touch on your controls which, by means of the craftily positioned pulleys and gears, shifts your majestic rudder in wide sweeps ... thus drawing as much friction as is possible from the vacuum that space surely is, without the need of fiction.

And you're like a person to me, Pod. That's why I'm addressing you personally. We've been together, it seems, since eternity itself began all those years ago, man and boy. Or is it man and something else? Whatever the case, we took off when I was but a mere stripling and, as you know, I hadn't experienced love. Thinking about it, they (whoever "they" were) were rather cruel sending the likes of me on an endless task like this ... but all's well that ends well (if at all). I've at least known your love, dear Pod, and that I cherish more than anything in the whole world (plus sixpence). The world? What is this thing called World? Only a mind can hope to know, if only via its own filter of reality.

I often speculate on the channels of space through which we thread, dear Pod. I've always liked that "we", makes me feel cosy, but, one day, perhaps, I'll call us me, then we'll never be separated, I'll never be us again, or some such words, if you get my drift, dear Pod, ramble though I'm prone to do. Yet I have nagging doubts. I often wonder if these are but channels in my dreams and if the freight be cargo-cults of memory ... that you don't exist at all ... utter benighted solitude ... just me, in an imaginary impersonal coffin-cask, shifted from pillar to post amid the mere quirkish stalactites and stalagmites of my own brain ... that's a thoughtless doom to face. Not surprising that I'm fed up to my back teeth with consciousness. So, must sign off. Time for sleepy-byes. I can rest long and easy because you'll keep me safe, won't you, dearest Pod. And, surely, you love and care for only me. You see, automatic pilots, by definition, are mindless as well as shankless and old Craftman is no exception. In comparison, I'm a real I-ful, am I not? A real loose-limbed lovely handful. The ultimate lovecraft.

Control is so very very sweet. With that last thought, I sign off, dear Pod. Yours adoringly, Joy Stick.

(published 'Monomyth' 1998)

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Manifold Kindnesses Of Mitchell Much

Most faces, these days, are kept behind glass, since folk have become too scared to venture into the city streets.

Still, they yearn for the outside, hence their mooning faces stuck to the inside of the wintry windows like posters ... seeking sights, often locking on to others of their kind in the windows opposite, then tracking the movements of any diminishing souls who do brave the urban phobias ...watching with clouded eyes.

The streets grow empty, the streets grow dark and, even come the mornings, the streets only grow vaguely less empty, only vaguely less dark. As the cold closes in, too, the smeary ears of those windowfaces can only hear oil-slicks upon the seas of white noise.

The folk behind such faces are realistic and tend to condemn the art of imagination. So, when one of their number sees what she considers to be an elfin creature outside kicking its jingly-jangly foot in the gutter during its apparent saunter between two nowheres in particular, yes, when she thinks she has just witnessed something more fitting for her dreams - dreams which can only occur when she manages to sleep between her lengthening shifts of window watching - she looks imploringly towards another face, another of the windowfolk (yet of the male persuasion), in the bedroom window of the house opposite ... in some attempt, no doubt, to cross-check.


And thus the cross-check. The parlour was a straight up and down place, with wall hangings which looked like bath towels and thick-pile carpets that sank to the ankle. Each angle was a right one, especially the perpendicular furnishings which only real people could soften.

They had elfin names, yet strutted human. Murk - as opposed to Musk - believed that, many years before, an extraordinarily ordinary family lived in the same house, the ghosts of which family still haunted the various rooms, despite, as people, the members of that family were probably still alive somewhere else. Murk's belief stretched into an obsession of listening to the walls, ear pressed tight like a fleshy elfish flower, allowing him, he maintained, to hear the soul of the house beating like a heart. He thought it was a detached house - but viewed from outside, there was, at least, circumstantial evidence of it being semi-detached, even terraced. Not believing in ghosts, Musk humoured Murk, if referring, without humour, to Murk's so-called ghosts as irritants. But, upon cross-checking, like most houses, there had been more than one “family” inhabiting it over the years...


"I'm dying for a cup of coffee," Edwin said, squinting towards the churning darkness of a glass-covered bubble.

"You're suffering ... withdrawal," Honor answered with a smooth toss of her head. "People don't know what harm it does them.”

"What people?" Edwin's beard masked a scar as well as the expression of his mouth. "I suppose you mean the people who think only tobacco and alcohol are harmful."

"Yes, but a harm here and there is OK," Honor suggested, employing the hand at which she was staring as both a mask and a fan.

"Living itself is harmful and when I give something up, I have to give it up altogether, or it keeps creeping back as more and more again," he said, conscious of his own awkward sentence.

"That makes as much sense..." both of them began by saying, if not exactly at the same moment to prevent overlapping, but with sufficient synchronicity to warrant a silent worship at the altar of chaos. The expressions of the four snail-ball eyes spoke with meaningful soundlessness, more than the mouths ever could - speaking, indeed, of the artefacts that made up their home ... all pretence: their parlour and kitchen being nothing but downstairs to upstairs. Even the portable television set had solid innards appropriate to its correct wielded weight of expectation. The furniture was comfortable despite such furniture not being furniture at all. Edwin wondered if Honor was less than human. He may even have wondered if he himself was less than human. And vice versa. But neither wondered if either was more than human - or even if reality itself was a mock-up. Edwin decided that only a letter would suffice, since conversations were too transient.


Dear Honor,
Assuming life isn't already one seamless block of infinite mystery, I've always wondered why actions, however kindly meant, always lead to unintended results. Some call it Chaos Theory. I call it Sod's Law. But I'll leave it till the end of this letter before unveiling my own explanation as to how this law works. This is because I don't want to colour your reaction to such a startling concept before leading you gently towards it. Indeed, a too sudden exposure to my philosophy would possibly burn out your mind. Therefore, I need to insulate your thought-processes with foreshadowings, extrapolations, positive digressions, guided tangents and constructive deconstructions - padding, call it what you will.

"Why in a letter?" I hear you ask, Honor. Well, I suppose it's a gut feeling on my part that the most effective ideas stem from two-way correspondence. The comparison of just two viewpoints, the teller and the told, where both are fixed identities, sound and sounding-board, can bounce to and fro until they are of one mind on the subject, yet underpinned by a solid base that only the written word and duality can supply. Anything else, like an article, would merely get lost in empty space somewhere, read or unread according to whim and opportunity. Here, with a letter's target audience-of-one, the known intimacy becomes a hell-proof hotbed to incubate too-hot-for-the-press dilemmas. Stories, novels, essays, poems, sermons all suffer from too broadcast a dissemination, spread too thinly, not eye-to-eye ... or, in this case, hand-to-eye with the permanence of print ... a hand-to-mouth existence between two souls: a triangle where the two correspondents at the base balance the leaning sides and the apex becomes the idea - the Platonic Form of Idea: the idea that shall eventually become clear when the point of rest meets above the circumscribed, nay, triscribed area of thought and debate ... even before either of the correspondents realises that that very point is reached - at which cross-section, valedictory and kisses can be appended to round the triangle off, as it were.

I'm sorry if I'm repeating myself, but conversations, by contrast, are too transient.

Permanence is most important - specially where I am trying to solve a mystery concerning kindness and its unwelcome spin-offs. You were kind to me. I was kind to you. So where did it start going wrong? Do kindnesses have inbuilt cruelties? Do you recall, indeed, why we got married, Honor? For others in our own image, that’s why.


"Marriage is built in Heaven," Honor said, speaking to herself - whilst Edwin's attention was distracted by the arrival of Mitchell Much who did odd jobs for these he called the "old couple", a collective expression denoting individualities who had long since merged into marriage. But not odd jobs as such but jobs he did oddly. They could not complain since the only payment he seemed to expect was Honor's smile of gratitude and a cup of coffee.

Today, Mitchell Much promised to clear out the bric-à-brac from under the old couple's double bed - bric-à-brac that had accumulated since the time when their wedding vows of love and cherishment were first enacted upon that very bed. Indeed, the old couple were still careful to preserve the bed’s joints even when passions were spent straining their own ones.

Before Mitchell Much did any work, he often conducted a game of small talk, whilst sipping at the cup of coffee.

"What are you writing about today?" he asked.

"I'm writing about you, Mitchell Much, interrupting my flow of concentration," answered Edwin.

"Well, I like that! Here I am to unbury all those things you've had piled for ages under your bed - and all you can call it is disruption." Mitchell laughed because he was only joking in the same way he assumed the other was joking.

"Interruption - not disruption, Mitchell Much." Edwin's face, as ever, was dead pan.

Disruption was like a splatter gun - whilst interruption was a well-nocked arrow in the perfect bow aiming at a single steady target - assuming that the person who wielded such a weapon was as solid as a rock, himself. Or herself.

Soon after this interchange, Mitchell vanished upstairs to deal with the realms of the bed's open oblong tunnel. The old couple could hear him scrabbling about ten inches above the bedroom's floorboards where the bric-à-brac starting piling downwards.


Dear Honor,
Every time I restart this letter, I have to remind myself to whom it's addressed. When you interrupted to ask "Why in a letter?", I wondered if you knew that Mitchell Much was about to visit - as if you were predicting his interruption with your own interruption - as if you had decided that two closely following interruptions would cancel each other out, thus spiking my guns. How could I complain when the second of the two interruptions was another of Mitchell Much's manifold kindnesses, one that took the blame from you? In any event, interruptions, in whatever shape or form, are the only means of communication between folk.


The pen was lifted from the paper, upon hearing the sound of busy scurrying in the room above - Mitchell Much's fingernails now having reached right through the bric-à-brac, scratching and scraping like claws on a bone roof.


One wild Wednesday, it is, with winds of snow travelling up the river to the conurbation as if on a conveyor-belt. The windowfolk are settling in for a seemingly endless ice-watch, when the playing of out-staring competitions with each other across the city squares is the most amusement for which any can lightly hope - and, even then, all of them secretly yearn to lose such competitions without making it too obvious.

It is then that Honor's face first hears the elfin bell-pad's earnest approach - and whips of wind weep winter from a sorrowful dusk, as her face finally sees the ambling cockiness of the tinkle-trod imp.

Faces that are kept behind the frost-mapped glass are quickly warmed with the flames of sight that are switched on from some spigot in the soul.

Indeed, the snow has already turned to sleet and, now, to a fast-laced rain ... in which the faunish entity is seen splashing its gutter-groovy pitter-patter paces of jingling joy.

Singing in the rain, I'm singing in the rain, what a glorious feeling... It trills with the tune's runes tingling the facefolk's newly pricked-up hear-holes, their window-glass cleaning itself not only of the frost but of its smears of sound-proofing, too.

And they all join in with the chorus.

But, then, the faces and their worst fears are reunited. They watch the creature being mugged by one of the plug-ugly bruisers whose crimes of brutal street robbery are so self-defeating in keeping the city rat-runs free from the wealthy footpad folk whom the faces used to be.

The imp's next plaintive song is a plea for help but it goes unheard as warmth wilts from the windows. Honor’s face and the face cross from hers, both unpeel...


Kindnesses piled on kindnesses, dear Honor - like finding our erstwhile love letters, letters thought lost forever, found under all those romance novels you since devoured and thrust under the bed when finished with. Trust Mitchell Much to drag things from the past under the guise of rat-catching: reminders of that one special rodent which buried itself in your womb, Honor. Childless couples are suckers for misbegotten memories: they only possess the right number of innards and bodily parts between them, give or take the odd biological leaning towards scarce resources...


The scrabbling on the floor above was reaching fever pitch.


...Mitchell Much's damn rummaging is the last straw from this pig-sty world, I'd say. We have not spoken anything but small talk for years, ever since that day of the irredeemable row, but how about it, Honor? Let's do Mitchell Much a kindness for a change. Let's square the circle. Short-circuit birth and death. He'll find your body (if not you), my dear, soon enough, anyway. After he's tugged out the surprisingly heavy picnic hamper from under our bed...


Doodles spread down the page like insect trails. Edwin didn't append an incriminatory valedictory to the letter - nor his name.

The old couple had loved, in preference to hating. Indeed, neither admitted to the other their suspicions. They made the best of it. Give and take. Like all relationships. Once the truck of truth was deprived of an inch, falsities just piled up behind.

Like the baby screeching for its food.

"Wants it milk - wants it more and more," Edwin said with a nod towards continuity in all things, even in the pointless small talk of married people long past their long tooth day. Not that they could now have a baby, unless it were a grandchild. Or a foundling. An orphan. A foster kid. A phantom birth. A changeling. A pigeon and pair.

Whatever the case, Honor trundled off to the kitchen to warm the milk bottle. Her breasts had dried up ages ago - and she smiled in preference to crying.

Beneath the disguises, there was nothing to disguise. Only false faces ever creeping back into position at the window or windowscreen. The old couple had once sent Honor's smile inside a poisoned pen letter to Mitchell Much. But there was many a slip tween cup and lip. As between glass and glass.


The coffee jug bubbled in the corner, as it always bubbled day in, day out, should anyone's craving for caffeine become too much. The bottle-bank, in the other corner, bubbled, too, as it took mock fermentations to the optimum of crystallisation and distillation. The half-breeder, however, in the window alcove, was the biggest bubbler of all: part-way into putting together, it was hoped, a foetus of a face whence another Mitchell Much might be mulched. Another stinking seed-bed oozed between the hamper's wickerwork and, after permeating the brown-stained ceiling, fell upon an old man’s splattery pate's archipelago of discolored warts.


"Are they noisy today?" jeered Musk, his face seeming as normal as a face could be without straining identity as well as credulity whilst his clothes picked him out as a impish shape.

"Yes," answered Murk, without first complaining about the paradox in the question. His shape was also not a lot to write home about and, on top of which, left much to be desired - neither back nor front, but plenty of face.

Some ghosts were so quiet, they must write letters to each other instead of talking. But then, what about the extraordinarily ordinary family the residue of which underpinned Murk's belief in the ghosts?


Amid the gently seething percolations of the house, life went on living, in preference to dying. Another family checked their crosses.


"Daddy! What you doing?"

A girl stared at her daddy, believing him to be the person responsible for her, despite him acting so irresponsibly, with his ear-lug plastered to the parlour wall.

She was dressed ready for bed, ten years old and eager to see her favourite television programme. She heard her mother in the kitchen putting the finishing touches to the washing-up. The girl’s brother was in his bedroom, deploying his mind before the computer screen. In another era, he'd probably be reading good books.

Meanwhile, father had stood up and was about to humour his little daughter's question with an answer - when he realised that he couldn't remember what he had been doing. Children were ever asking awkwardnesses, he thought. Like the Creation of Man. The Reason for Woman. The Existence of Ghosts. The Emptiness of Death. The Memory of Eternity. The Meaning of the Millennium. Emptiness was like having the TV screen blank. Being ten years old, she should have grown out of such curiosities and be getting on with an ordinary straitened existence. He didn't know which was worse: his daughter's prying or his son's burying himself alive in the room above. His son thought he should be waited on, hand and foot.

"Switch off the telly manually, will you?" he said to his daughter, in point-blank refusal to be drawn on his actions. After all, he hadn't been doing anything worth asking about. Only looking for the telly's remote control.

She decided it was politic not to pursue the matter but noted it in her commonplace mind for general reference. Her daddy having a few slates loose was yet only a suspicion. She'd have to grow herself a little older before she'd realise the full scope of the demolition by her father of the family's safe haven...


And Musk, thus hearing the ghosts of father and daughter speaking, even thinking, was in a dither as well as a quandary. He couldn't see a way to turn. He finally abandoned the house having despaired of ever being able to supplement his own eccentricity to complement Murk's. All the whispers and glances, too, from neighbours, regarding two people of the male persuausion living together without the hope of procreation, hadn't enhanced the bonhomie of those whispered and glanced at. However, there had been a growing acceptance, with even the woman from next door striking the comforting sparks of small talk upon their bristly cheeks. Indeed, kids no longer screamed up and down the alleyway next to the house - nor made crude catcalls regarding Hell and its creatures. Nevertheless, Murk had no real friends in the area and now - with Musk vanished into the mass of human inhumanity elsewhere - he felt lonely ... so very lonely, he even felt the need to leave himself alone to wallow in the brooding gloom. So Murk vowed to abandon house, too - leaving it to the echoes and the ghosts, none of which had been able to take the edge off solitude. Murk waved at himself before he shut the front door behind him. The dither and the quandary were involved with not knowing who was who.


Or which ghost was which

And Edwin was similarly cube-rooted, if that was the right expression - which he doubted. His daughter was past her bedtime - which was obvious by her lack of presence - trying not to be noticed - vanishing into her own huge yawn. His son was still above, turning a deaf ear to the virtual reality of his bedroom, while his screening of noise images - with specific reference to non-emphasis - primed the available visual space for the next computer game.

Honor - currently in the kitchen where she belonged - was calling out for her son to come and help her with the chores. Both her husband and son wanted to be waited on hand and foot. Mucky pups! If it were not for her daughter, Honor would have truly become the remote control that her husband always lost between channel-blinking. At least, her daughter kept her mother sane. Or as sane as sanity could be in the foreshadow of senility.


Sleep was necessary even for wide-eyed computer boys. Sleep should have been the contrast of darkness that light needed to exist. His latest computer game was about two demonic creatures in a struggle with ghosts. They were called Mork and Musk, or suchlike.

He never woke up from the squared screen of dream, because he'd never fallen asleep as a prerequisite to waking. Or he had not been alive in the first place - having mishaunted hindsight. Or perhaps his mother and father had murdered him: by planting a future with a past's failure to consummate a soul. The pixel ghosts of feasible families squatted the Narrowing House - hoping against hope that a remote life, if not love, could fashion them.


And Honor mourned her memory of a kindness. Scratching her head, she smiled. A thousand ordinary smiles, each shared by a million other faces.


There are no valuables upon the elfin body for the plug-ugly bruiser to steal, of course. None on the outside. And the imp's singing-in-the-rain continues with a strangled rendition of I Did It My Way (or much of it anyway), a plaintive voice that can only be switched off by means of a spigot in its soul ... if Lord Muck’s digging fingers ever reach that far.

Honor, this time, does not bother to cross-check. She simply knows.

(Published ‘At mos faer’ (KADATH PRESS) 1997)

Thursday, September 30, 2004

No Circumstances

Feeling well-born, yet fallen from grace, the Duke needed to pretend he was someone other than the Duke, rather than face the shame. Someone ordinary. However, he drove a long black car, which, tangentially, was a more dangerous activity during daylight hours than at night, for the not so obvious reason that people’s first reactions were geared in inverse ratio to their pupil size. Also, he passed himself off under the name Ralph, for no other purpose than to further his non-descriptness. David and Charles and Peter were such commonplace names that well-grounded suspicions would have been engendered in others from their misguided suspicions as to his pecking-orders of bluff.

His Royal pedigree was so deep-seated, Ralph had given up doubting it. Yet the very act of non-doubt could often lead to smug acceptance which was in turn a precursor to plain forgetting. He did not even bother to rubber-stamp his identity with the requisite self-recognition when he eventually woke every morning after the seemingly interminable night. Certainty, as ever, was tantamount to ignorance.

And such ignorance forced him out some nights, instinctively fearful as he was of waking up as someone completely different. Yet, it was an instinct common to all werewolves, particularly those with noble blood in their veins, incubated somehow within the dark side of their natures: and, like all instincts worth their salt, it failed to touch the actual consciousness of the beast.

Ralph’s forays were, of course, upon fullbright nights, when the less catalytic white moonrib, that betokened birth and beginnings, was merely a memory that had slipped through the mental grasp like a bloody stake through an amateur vampire-hunter’s hands. No, it was the yellow-engorged ripeness of a mother-fucked moon that drew such creatures as Ralph from his bed. His skin became a pelt of costly ermine or mink that had escaped the fur-haters’ hate; eyes like crown-jewels; cloak a murky mane of miscegenate majesty. His courtiers, the suburban fox and other critters that townsfolk inferred from upturned dustbins, followed in his wake. Cats with pinprick eyes of druggy green - tired of pretending to squeal in long drawn-out pain after sparring and spitting with each othe - did open deep the pink of their throats to return colour’s favour that day had granted them. All had their place and duty. Nature meant giving as well as taking. As a man with his body.

Yes, today of all daybright days, Ralph feels fur unfurling, tip-toeing from the deepest pockets of ancient puberty. This is the first time the transfiguration has occurred outside of night’s jurisdiction. He staggers garageward to find his car still black as the rods and cones in his sleepy eyes. He needs to drive and drive - until it is night. The courtiers of his dark dukedom are curled in a sleep as unstirred as death within dens that day-timers can never suspect, let alone discover. So, with no followers, the Duke is his own rebuke.

He cannot believe his dreams are day-dreams nor the nightmare true. He is a werewolf of the old school. Not the next best thing to a King. The steering-wheel shudders in his hand, even before the engine has choked into life, as if man-made beasts have souls to speak of.

He twists his head with an instinct born from dullness. There is a passenger of sorts laid out in the back like a casket - handles and epaulettes of gold, silver cross, carved vine-leaves, heavy nailed lid. The casket’s woodwork is so close to its dark Spring, there sprouts, not foliage, but rich fur itemised like human hair. A coiffured coffin.

He fears that his duty has always been to drive the town’s only premature burial hearse - and, today of all daybright days, he is to be both undertaker and corpse. A sad outcome for a Duke, since, only at night, could there have been the full regalia of a Royal funeral, him being, at the beginning of the day, nothing but a pauper, a down-and-out, a cloudy-eyed dosser. Poor in spirit and - (he feels his head) - yes, completely bald. Like most of us, he has died too late, with no pomp and certainly no circumstances. But, happily, nightmare is king.

(Published ‘The Darklands Project’ 1997)

Sunday, September 26, 2004


When Flit Heardol saw brown paper parcels in various shapes and sizes being smuggled every night into the pub by the customers who then shared them out between them, he wondered if this could be anything to do with the Government’s recent measures against the buying and selling of human organs for transplant operations. He surmised that there would now be a black market in them and he expected at any moment to see blood dripping from the ill-fastened wrappings. There’s no smoke without fire. No image without object.

But he had unaccountable thoughts all the time, so he shrugged it off and continued sipping at his beer - until a parcel was dropped in his lap by a large figure of a man who just passed in the crowd without a word.

He merely sat and stared at it, not even daring to feel it. He left it on the seat where no doubt a bomb warning would result.

Back in the flat, he stewed over the incident. It may have been valuable, something that could have gainsaid the erstwhile meaning of his life. The crazy idea about human organs did not hold water. It had been the drink thinking.

The next evening, he returned to the pub, heart in his mouth (as they say), wondering whether there would be any repercussions.

“Oi! Oi! You with the tall hat! You left your specimen ‘ere last night.” It was the short-arse landlord shouting, handing over the package from under the bar, miming its stench. However, Flit was not the sort of regular whom anybody recognised or welcomed with a friendly “Hiya, Arsehole, how yer jiggerin’?” He was a non-entity. A solitary drinker. One who could never summon the wherewithal to strike up an exchange of sayings with complete strangers.

When was a stranger not a stranger? He’d seen many of the faces in that pub for years now. He’d overheard the tribulations of their life histories, the ins and outs of their business or marriage, the vicarious football expertise, the ludicrous sayings that emanate from typical pub-talk, even the political and religious debates, foundered on shifting sands of misaligned prejudices, which often ensued in public bars. He felt he knew them better than himself. But none of them knew him at all. He expected they wondered what such a lacklustre individual did with his life when beyond their limelight. None of them broke the dry ice. He may as well have been dead (or never born) as far as they were concerned.

Except there was sometimes a lady who also seemed to be a solitary drinker. There were not many of her breed. A matinée idol's wench from a wet afternoon's cinema-going. She would quite often look up from the surface of her drink and, Flit suspected, half-smile at him. But he never smiled back, in case it was not intended for him. He couldn’t smile, in fact. His mouth was set in a thin line which he could not bring himself to change. It would have been tantamount to admitting that he was kith and kin to the smuggling customers and wanted their company. Strange, he never questioned why he went to the Rocking Horse pub in the first place.

On the evening after the parcel incident, he returned.

She was in the corner. This time she was exchanging sayings with a gentleman. They both seemed deep in set routines of talk that excluded all else. Suddenly, she seemed to point at Flit, and the gentleman looked up to follow the direction of her viewfinder.

Flit supposed he must have been seen blushing. He got up to leave, his beer only half-finished. But there was an ugly incident at the door.

He must have looked silly, bobbing up and down in his seat, as if he were a lout on a Works outing.

The parcels were still being passed around - more than he could ever recall on previous occasions. Even the titchy landlord was a recipient of one.

When people look back on life’s matters, they usually have a good grasp of their own personalities and motives. But, here Flit was quite mysterious even to his own thoughts. He knew more about the pub regulars than he did about himself (he may even have known more about those others than they did about themselves, which is another mystery altogether, quite irrelevant to current concerns). So, yes, he could describe every one in detail, down to their last dream. He was the inscrutable one, the intangible element in an otherwise quite understandable scene. If he could just get to the bottom of himself or, at least, round to the back...

He shook himself vigorously and, braving the off-stage fracas at the door, he left for the loneliness of his flat. Not that he was less lonely in the pub.

One evening, months later, he stirred and decided gratuitously to go to a pub other than the Rocking Horse. He wrapped up the animal part he was planning to have grilled rare for supper and took it with him. He hoped, for the first time in his life, that an action he was about to take would break the ice and create sayings of his own which others could share. But he kept the parcel in his carrier bag, never daring to take it out for, of all the evenings he could have chosen at random, he recognised several of the Rocking Horse regulars who were here in the Garden Swing Inn, apparently, to witness a needle match between the two pubs in a quiz league competition. Each had brought a parcel which they proceeded to pass round.

Flit left, of course, toting his own parcel with him, desperately glad that it had not got mixed up with the others. He was unaccountably sad that the lady had not been there. But she may have been. He supposed she could have been in the parcels.

(Published ‘Auguries’ 1993)

Monday, September 20, 2004

Death Sweat

“Can I have a pot noodle, please,” asked the last customer of the day.

“Sorry, sir, I’m afraid we’re fresh out of Pot Noodles - only got prime Scotch Beef Rump Steak. I can let you have a goodly slab of it for the same price, ‘cos it’s on special offer, you see, sir,” answered the shopkeeper.

“I don’t know - I really fancied a Pot Noodle tonight.” And with that he left, evidently planning to forego his supper altogether.

* * *

The shopkeeper spent a disruptive night, tossing and turning in his bed, stewing in his own sweat, for he couldn’t help worrying over his customers. Did the poor lady who bought the tin of cat food end up actually imbibing it herself? In which case what happened to her cat? And why did all those kids from Meadvale Junior High want so much glue - surely not to repair the storm damage on the school roof, as they said? what about that elderly gent who bought three Tampax? And, above all, what had become of him who was hooked on Pot Noodles? Could that gent now be starving, because of his, the shopkeeper’s lack of foresight in ordering sooner? And, oh yes, all those to whom he sold cigs and booze -he was effectively killing them off gradually, just for the sake of their custom, encouraging incipient nodules to poke their flickering tongues of cancer into the spongey grooves of their innards.

He would at last drift off into fitful sleep…

That night, he saw an aged wizard, draped in a cloak of special offer coupons and sanitary towels, waving a string of pork sausages that had magically hardened into a wand and bearing an oversized Pot Noodle container on his head. In fact, the wizard looked a bit like him.

In front of him was the shop counter, not the usual sort with which the dreamer was accustomed, but a slab of marble with old-fashioned brass scales and assorted weights. On the wall behind was one of those wartime Bisto adverts, where two boys in large caps had speech bubbles coming out of their mouths that were full of seething brown sludge, making the words as they spoke them completely inaudible. A rotten rasher crawled across the parquet floor of its own violation, evidently fleeing the bacon slicer in the corner. Potential customers were peering in, wondering why the window display of the shop appeared to be a model of a cobbler with a shoe on a last and a hammer poised above it. Presumably, the window dresser, recently employed by the wizard, had not yet been told that this was a food shop. Taut wires stretched across the ceiling bearing canisters of loose change as they rattled along at great pace from corner to corner for no obvious reason. Perhaps, this corner shop had aspirations above its station.

The dreamer’s attention soon returned to the shopkeeper wizard who was passing his hand evocatively over what appeared to be.... yes, it was, a Pot Noodle, which seemed quite out of context. And the words he intoned:

“O, Pot Noodle, O wondrous Pot Noodle, full of scrumptious cup-o-soup granules and nodules, rubbing shoulders with dried-out diced vegetable ready for scalding into instant biteabilities…”

The wizard licked his lips, drawing in a fleck of wholegrain noodle that he had been trying to masticate into something he could actually swallow. His mouth was in fact chewing away busily at wadges of what looked like live ‘E’ numbers, that together had the consistency of squeaky chewing-gum.

In real life, the dreamer had never heard of the word ‘Alchemy’, let alone known its meaning. But, as soon as the wizard allowed this enticing word to escape from his mouth, floating in the air like a small triangular bag for boiled sweets, he raised his dream arm, plucked it from the wire it had caught upon and placed what looked like a pear-drop into his own dream mouth. And the meaning silted through his body like a flavour that caught the magic of childhood…

He knew, as if instinctively, that the wizard was attempting what had heretofore been impossible: i.e. to convert dehydrated dross into something approaching real food!

The cobbler in the window turned his head to the dreamer, smiled and brought the hammer down with a resounding thud…


The shopkeeper woke with a sudden ending. Dawn was already seeping through the bedroom curtains. Still being in a bit of a state, he went to the window and was shocked to see the last customer of the previous night staring up at him. His eyes were haunted; sweat poured off him like gravy thickening. He could even be dead, despite just standing there.

The shopkeeper looked up and realised that the whole sky was crisscrossed with the wires which were bearing aeroplanes on intercontinental travel. His next dream would be one where they didn’t need the wires!

(Published ‘Works’ 1991)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Jean’s Soirée

"A thousand writers should be killed annually," said the man on the tube.

He looked up from the book to see to whom he had spoken.

I was not going to be the culprit so I pretended to turn back to my own laptop book.

But, too late, because, briefly, our eyes locked like oysterish antlers.

Strange words had captured us for their own. And, as if hypnotised, we left the carriage together at a stop neither of us had intended.

He told me he would like me to meet his girl friend Jean. I told him that perhaps I could make overtures in her flat.

Until then, I didn't know I was a composer.

"Composers, too," he said. "But they should be strangled every time one is born."

We both laughed upon reaching the rain-swept blackness that was recognisable - or, at least, conceivable - as the upside.

The escalator faded away as our memory of it was expunged by the encroachment of more important memories.

Jean, however, was to remind us of it.

We had, by now, arrived at her flat where I would learn, eventually, that the most important memory had always yet to be remembered.

"Have you wondered why there is frequently a strong wind down that escalator...?" she smilingly asked one of us, whilst knowing that her pouting features and pinprick dimples endeared her more to the other.

"A thousand painters should be hung, drawn and quartered every day," was the sudden non-sequitur of someone else - previously unnoticed as he sat near Jean's television set. "At least," he added with the utmost emphasis.

When the night lengthened (almost into itself as if daylight was growing more distant at both ends), the four of us got on famously. Not talking the night away, but more its opposite.

We covered the various art forms, stating why each of us loved music, painting, novels, poems, operas, plays, symphonies, sculptures ... but hated those who created them.

"You know," Jean said, "there'll come a point in the lifetime of the planet when there'll be more people that have died than there are yet to live."

Despite her clumsy use of words, the other three nodded in agreement, knowing she had made a point that actually justified the execution of artists or, indeed, of anybody else even with the pretence of artistry. It could also be seen - with a blinding flash of intuition - that the moving staircase image could be applied to concepts, such as existence, as well as to the tangible things that existed.

"Constructive illness is the opposite of euthanasia," I said, this being my contribution to the tail-end of the discussion.

"Suicide bombers are members of the deconstructionist school..." the man near the television set started to say.

"Only when an art gallery - let us say, for the sake of argument, the Tate Gallery - can actually itself become a work of art when it's devastated by a bomb," announced the man I had originally met on the tube. It turned out to be his parting shot, as, soon after, he departed Jean's flat along with the man previoulsy near the television set.

Jean and I kissed as I unbuttoned her blouse. The lacy bra was tantalisingly brief - as was the subsequent sex we both shared. I suppose, when and if I remember the occasion, I will decide that I was rather put off by Jean's tattooes ... and the way her spine moved up and down. Her eyes tasted like shellfish.

The rest of that night was spent watching the programme that the man previously near the television set had also been watching. It seemed to be on endless repeat.

The only way to know when morning had broken was upon hearing the first tube's sporadic passage under the block of flats, like the end of Sibelius' fifth symphony ... or the beginning of my first. Then, thankfully, the words let us go.

(Published ‘Orbis’ 1997)