Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Restless Night

Published 'After Hours' 1990

It sprung from the direction of the bedroom window, only visible by being darker than the impenetrable darkness itself. He flinched, expecting whatever it was to cover him with a further blanket on his bed. He wondered why he was awake in the first place; but perhaps the Thing had released the smallest sound before shedding itself. The room was as he usually liked it: without even a glimmer of light, the way he dreamed his sleep would one day become: without those disturbing images that often fleet across the dozing mind’s eye, either to be forgotten in the flurry of life’s waking business or merely half-remembered, only to join up with its other (perhaps better) half, come the following night, when the whole would become a new half of an even more important harrowing. And so forth, until the one true Sleep finally took over late in the day of life. The circle completed

He certainly felt warmer. The Thing had spread itself over the top of his duckdown, its deep black surface rippling like a pond with a sea’s consistency.

The bed should have been the safest place to stay. As a child, he’d considered it a sanctuary against those fears that lurked underneath it and in the corners of the room. He’d crawl down deeper, knowing in his heart of hearts that even the worst bomb of all could not harm him, even if it made a direct hit on the house.

Now, older, with all the hang-ups that adult versions of children can so easily suffer, even the bed lost its glamour as a safehouse. The creature of his nightmare had become part and parcel of the bedcovers themselves.

Secretly, he knew, deep down within himself, as far as he could get from the surface of his body, was a soul, a pinprick of essential spirit, which his whole life heretofore had been spent in protecting. That tiny core was him: the rest was mere masquerade. Others, less knowledgeable than him, had not protected these little fellahs, these tiny bits of themselves, had not realised the dire necessity of so doing, and had consequently lost them in one careless moment of body-letting. Such sparks, thus released, would then wander the universe until they found new vehicles for their manipulative ambitions. Tonight, an evil soul which had once lived upon the Earth inside a body and escaped one morning of flatulence and bleary-eyed unalertness, had decided to seek reunitement with matter and had found purchase in the heavy bedroom curtains: finding some unnatural skein of near-vitality in the material’s woof, it had pounced like a huge faceless vulture moth upon the next rung up in the cycles of existence

But two souls cannot live in one human body.

Most things are possible, except the impossible, and even that becomes possible in time. Never, though, can one body have more than a single master.


He woke with a panic. The window was shining with the beginnings of dawn: the impermeable drapes had parted raggedly at the middle, as if a sleepwalker had gone off half-cock in the reasonless desire to undraw them, only managing to crossthread some of the rings along the rails by tugging down instead of across. The waker could not see whether the sash was up or down. He’d wanted to sleep till noon, but the unseasonable rip of light had evidently stirred him. And the cold, too, since most of the covers had slewed off him in the night. He tried to recall a dream he was having just before rudely waking. It certainly figured the curtains, but he couldn’t be sure. He turned over and was relieved to see his wife drowsing peacefully. More beautiful than he ever remembered her.

She suddenly opened her eyes upon him and screamed…

Friday, June 22, 2007


Published 'Purple Patch' 1989

As I sit inside St Paul’s Cathedral, I write and, by writing, I make the moment true.

Waiting for Doom, some say, is worse than Doom itself. Others, that Triumph and Disaster should be treated as the equal Impostors they both surely are. But what price Death, I ask.

There are many religions in the world, but the only one for me, I think, is Life - where else can you trust your Faith? The rest is Doubt and Dogma.

The Cathedral is echoing with some men stacking chairs. I suspect they are not allowed to swear inside here — labourers haps recruited rather for Manners than Muscle. The endemic Tourists have yet to arrive, probably still partaking of portmanteau breakfasts at their respective hotels. The great insides of the Dome are always empty, except for the odd midget or two crawling round the high circular gallery.

The Second World War was fought within that Dome, I fancy, toylike planes dodging and weaving, dropping pellets smaller than pigeons’ eggs to the marble floor. All the lights had to be extinguished inside the Cathedral, because of the Blackout; so the worshippers in the pews could see nothing but the sparkles and flashes, amid the cracks and gunrattles. Then feel the fluttering of dead wings past their upturned faces.

History books tell us that the War took place outside the Dome; that mighty Dome withstanding all the onslaughts to which its purlieus so easily submitted. Eyewitnesses remember it that way, too.

Life itself lives only in Memory, as the passing of each remembered second becomes the only evidence of existence. What price History, then, when human faculties grow to such a pitch of Doubt,while the Machines march?

The Cathedral’s factotums leg it past me in unison, their senses in the off mode.

As I leave, I wonder indeed whether everything is in my head.

(Written inside St Paul’s, 17.5.89)

Outside, life seems to be going on as normal.

(Written outside St Paul’s, 17.5.89)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Snow at Midnight

Cheryl never knew whether it was exactly midnight when the snow silently started falling; but the morning’s thickness of covering indicated it must have started at least as early as that – judging by the current steady rate of fall seen through her bedroom window, a rate projected into the past until reaching the time it must presumably have begun falling. Not that the process was as scientifically thought out as that.

Cheryl was as old as she could ever remember being, and that was not very old, but legally old enough to drive alone in a car but only if she could first pass her driving test. Today’s driving lesson had already been cancelled, not because of the weather but because of the instructor being ill, but, of course, if he had not been ill, Cheryl assumed, it would have been cancelled first and foremost because of the weather. Cheryl was not old enough to bear disappointments very easily but, in her heart of hearts, she was not really disappointed at all as driving lessons often made her feel nervous, nervous enough for her then never to do justice to her driving abilities.

It was difficult to identify her own emotions – as if she were someone else, someone even more inscrutable than the teacher she never understood; his lessons were always just above her head; his lessons steadily increased in difficulty but she was always just that one degree short of comprehension however quickly her intelligence grew with age.

Was she disappointed at her driving-lesson being cancelled? Nah!

The answer had come quick: a snap judgement that Cheryl was used to exercising whenever wonder hit wonder’s solution head-on. She would be able to lie slug-a-bed watching the snow powdering past upon puffs of wind; she would be able, too, not to worry about meeting her parents head-on, as it were, until much later in the day. It would be just their voices through the door that she would need to face at the moment. She may not have been old enough to make major decisions, but she was still young enough to cherish making minor decisions against the grain of others’ major wishes.

“Can you put the dish-washer on, Cheryl?” she heard her mother’s voice shout from downstairs.

“Is it already unloaded?” she counter-queried.

“Yes, you’ve just got to load it with the new stuff,” came the reply.

Old stuff, you mean, thought Cheryl. The dirty old stuff.

“Is it snowing hard?” Cheryl asked, making small talk between the two floors of the house.

“Yes, but not hard enough to stop me going to work,” came the next reply.

“Shame!” Cheryl called back, puckishly.

“Yes, I could have done with a day off!”

“Dad gone?”

“Yes, he had to clear the drive with the wooden shovel.”

“Shame!” Cheryl replied, with a different tone of voice. She now remembered the earlier scraping sounds, gradually growing more distant the nearer, she now assumed, they approached the other end of the drive.

“I think he did his back in. Good job they already cancelled your lesson, Cheryl.”


“Well, bye. Don’t forget the dish-washer.”

“No, I won’t.”

The back door banged, just as Cheryl sat up in bed again to look through the window so as to check the hardness of the snowfall for herself. The increasing daylight revealed that it was dirty snow, as if it had come through layers of pollution. Or as if it had taken on the stains of its Midnight starting-point.

She was old enough to assume she must have dozed off again, because waking again, as she did, would indicate either the simple fact of having dozed off again or a more inscrutable dovetail with a dream that she forgot as soon as she remembered it ... and she maturely believed that it was more mature to believe the straightforward reasons for things rather than the more indefinable wishful-thinking reasons connected with dreams or religion.

She had been woken by a car crunching slowly over the snowy road with a barely perceptible engine noise. Then silence. She looked through the window. The snow had just stopped. She looked at her watch: exactly twelve noon. She must have imagined the crunching tyres. She slumped back on the bolster pillows. She mustn’t forget the dish-washer or they’d have her guts for garters.

It was then she heard the distant scraping noise – growing louder as it grew nearer. More a groaning than a scraping the nearer it grew, as if the implement used for scraping was grinding against its own internal knots thus making its business-end less edge-efficient for dealing with the encrusted ice and snow on the drive. Her Dad must have been allowed home early because of the weather. Dozing off again made her wonder against wonder. It was all part of a dream ... or of learning to dream.

But she was woken yet again by the back door slamming.

Dad never came through the back door. That was Mum’s way. Cheryl found herself now fully awake, eager to discover which of them it truly was. One was more fiercesome than the other and she was newly conscious of the dish-washer.

She’d better face the music straightaway, rather than let retribution catch her still in bed.

“Foot lightly on pedal ... through to the spinning brushes...ignition off...”

She could hardly see anything in front of her face. Flakes of sleep rather than simply dirty snow. Waking was never quite so difficult and one needed to reverse before going forward again....

It was dark in her bedroom when she finally woke. She looked at her watch. One minute to Midnight. She looked out the window. It was now not snowing at all. Cheryl felt relieved that the only parts being manipulated in and out of gear were her mind and her mind’s dreams, not any other parts of her. She was old enough to understand, but still young enough not to understand that she understood.

(written and published today)