Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Soft Furnishings

She leafed through the “Soft Furnishings manual”, whilst eyeing her own flat’s scanty sticks: giant corpses of insects in most but name. She herself was comfy, if anorexic - the meat on her skeleton still providing sufficient compensatory cushioning for her sedentary way of life. Meals were no longer commonplace - yet she often wandered into the kitchen, if only for the exercise. It always seemed to be raining outside, penetrating her tinnitus with its own brand of splattering. The television set had been lost somewhere in the flat, yet she still retained its remote control. Searching for lost things was pretty pointless, because they would only lose themselves again - once a propensity; always a propensity. And her own slow mouldering would never be reversed - not until she regained the old spirit spark, that smidgin of red-blooded joy which once resided in her soul. The manual flicked over, page by page: the drapes, swags, loose covers, pouffes, plump pillows, antimacassars, frills, fringes, tassels and so forth were depicted in the same range of three or four pastel shades as if their world was bereft of primary colours. An artist had evidently touched up each photograph with such thin veneers of mauve, pink and lime. Within such an environment, she could even give credit to ghosts - in a rose wine décolletage of velvet or drifting wisps of revealing lace or satin-corrupted tints of flirtatious gossamer or flimsy body-hugging skeins of enticing silk. Again, she eyed her own flat, itself full of tawdry hangings, behind which hid most of the elbowy furniture. Her bed, however, was revealed in its pee-stained lop-ended glory - mattress tufted by nights of sleepless terror. She knew it would soon be past her bedtime - yet again - and perhaps forever. And, as darkness drained even the gloom of its meagre differentiation, she tottered up from the foot-stool where she had been squatting with the manual. From the gutted sideboard she picked up the coffin-shaped contraption and pointed it towards the netchoked window - and pressed the hardened pad of her index-finger upon a coloured button - which, as it happened, would have activated fast-text in the old days before losers won. The sound of rain became stitched with the last words, the last rite of passage. And she watched bright blood draining from her own near-exhausted sump for the final time - leaving only the loose covers to complete the walk bedward.

(published 'Tears In The Fence' 1996)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Blessed In Oils

“It’s easy to imagine the subject of this painting being alive. Merely look at the face, the brown eyes shining through near tears, a hint of blusher in the petal cheeks, the nose only slightly too large for perfect beauty, the mouth with shapely lips on the point of moving in speech…”

The guide was pointing to a large oil canvas, in a gold-studded frame, mixed sprays of flowers subtly implanted within the abstracted margins.

“The girl it depicts, as you can see, has been wonderfully caught, no older than it takes to have the beginnings of womanhood in the lines of dress. And, indeed, the dress is a work of art all in itself - drapes of creamy silk, edged with the frailest lace that paint has, in my view, ever conveyed, and a bodice diagonally crossed by embroidered tulips, each stitch finely wrought. See the undulating curves created by her legs, as she sits inside that marvellous dress, all part of a dream that the painter has, perhaps inadvertently, captured with merely a few instinctive flowing movements of his brush.”

His words were designed to bring out items in the painting that were not there, but one could indeed see them, if only for a few fleeting seconds, which was plenty time enough in the short lifetime of the audience.

“But, I suppose, it only makes it sadder, this being such a fine, living image of a beauty with brown eyes, that whoever she was is now dead, nothing but dust, since scientific examination of this work has proved beyond all reasonable doubt that it is by an artist at the turn of the last century…”

A lady in the audience sobbed. She seemed to have a similar hairstyle to the young girl in the painting; natural flowing curls of rust-brown hair, its final heavenly composure dependent upon the deft positioning of lemon-white ribbons, which the artist had neatly concealed beyond the abstract margins.

The guide tried to see who had sobbed. But the crowd had closed ranks.

He continued, more tentatively: “The artist? He will always remain a mystery, for the painting has a unique style, vaguely reminiscent of the preRaphaelite school, but harking back to all styles, all ages. And, being unsigned, undated, with no background documentation, in a frame unlike any other, I’m afraid the world of art can only stand and gaze in admiration which, after all, is the only thing one can do when faced with the nearest to perfection I, for one, has ever witnessed.”

The crowd was drifting off piecemeal, the sobbing lady lost among them. They remembered seeing nothing upon the canvas except a rather self-conscious still-life exercise in yellow flowers. Their petals appeared as if they were drooping even when the artist was in the process of recording them upon the canvas for an age and a posterity which, he must have known in his heart, could only appreciate fleeting images.

“Only those with brown eyes are able to see Heaven,” the guide muttered to himself before becoming merely one more member of the departing crowd.

(published ‘Silver Wolf’ 1993)

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Tales Of Touching Love

I see a ghost.

Yes, I literally see a ghost. What is more, judging by its behaviour, it also sees me, sweeping in haste as it does across my path in the form of a rucked bedsheet. Its mouth and eyes are formed by scorch marks. The rest is merely accidents of fold and tatter.

I attempt a cursory communication, expecting it to ignore me through fear or snootiness. Unaccountably, it does not occur to me to be afraid or, even, incredulous.

It seems to be on another plane of existence altogether. Whether that is a result of a decided antipathy towards the fundaments of mine or its own pride of place elsewhere, I’m unsure.

Everybody has heard of ghosts. Very few can claim to have seen one. Even fewer have actually touched one.

I am in the hallway of a large public museum, just before it shuts down for the day. In fact, an officious old janitor has already warned me of the standard opening hours, and was it really worthwhile purchasing an entrance ticket for just half-an-hour?

Like a bus conductor of the old school, he punches out a long spool of thin paper from his contraption with a handle. As he departs to continue his shutting ceremonies, he gruffly tells me not to get lost. And off he goes with his scowling walk.

It was then that the encounter with the ghost transpires. Inadvertently, I touch it, sensing the delightful tingle of silk bedcovers – an act which causes it to leave a trail of slimy white ectoplasm in its wake, congealing upon the marble floor. I fear the janitor will probably blame me for the mess, taking a dim view, as he will, of such goings-on.

So, I escape the museum, fearing the janitor more than the ghost. But I sense the spectre following me into the street and, upon twisting my neck, I indeed see it dissolve into the early evening sunlight.

I am strangely sad.

I hear a voice shouting and I discern the jobsworth janitor gesticulating vigorously. He holds a white bundle which he must think I left behind on the museum steps. But no, he is not shouting at me. He doesn’t want the ghost to make an exhibition of itself, with all its clothes off, I gather. I laugh out loud at this thought of the janitor’s material concern for the wraith.

I’ve got no heart to dwell further on such matters, since the phantom evidently fell in love with me during that timeless moment of human contact inside the museum. In short, it felt, it was conquered, it came (in more ways than one)… and it went.

“Brother, this weather’s getting real close.”

I turn to him and see that the sweat has made brown inroads into his starched detachable collar.

He points towards the horizon with a wide sweeping of arm and finger where the impending storm has produced a straight division between impenetrably dark cloud and blue sky.

Our pilgrimage is on its last legs. The silhouette of a human-sized crucifix is barely visible on a hill at the leading edge of the storm, amidst the continuous bright bubbling of thunderheads. But we do not blame God for this last-minute hurdle in our attempt to bring our pilgrimage close to Him.

Suddenly, in the middle distance, I spot a white-cloaked figure, bent forwards more at the knees than the waist.

“She’s heading this way.”

How my companion already knows the figure’s gender, I cannot fathom. It’s quite beyond me.

The black crackling sky skews swiftly above, soaking us in sheets of raindrop stitches. To the very bone, it feels.

One bright shaft of lightning slants through my companion’s chest, pinning him to the ground, as it were, with a golden girder.

He squeals like a stuck pig.

The cruel lightning gradually dissolves into trans-substantiality and eventual invisibility.

I hold my companion upon my lap - not so much to comfort him but, with a churchly blessing, to bring a realisation of death’s simultaneity to his shrinking soul.

A further lightning shaft slides through my own body from the dark underblankets of the incontinent sky, cross-sectioning itself in more colours than I have seen in common prayer or, even, in spiritual trance.

The figure arrives from the middle distance and the silk garment it wears barely touches my cheek in a timeless moment of delicious tingling.

I can hear the soft voice whispering sweetest nothings in my ear. I know I cannot die better than with such endearments. Better far than the dry-as-dust spell of churchly blessing called Last Rites.

Unlike my companion in pilgrimage, I have at least fallen in love once during my life, even if such love is to endure for less than one second.

And two spirits touch hands with a shimmering shiver that merely takes an immeasurable moment in a heaven called mindless love.

(published ‘the kore’ 1994)