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)