Friday, December 21, 2007

Specialist Treatment

"We can't get her mouth unclamped and she's all swollen up like a hot air balloon."

The woman's uncurtaining laughter-lines revealed that she was about to crack a sick joke about her daughter's state, but the doctor had been called from his warm-bodied bed to tend to a supposed emergency and was not in the mood for small talk.

"Is she upstairs?" He fingered the stethoscope that he always kept around his neck, using it as some people worry beads.

"Yes, the dentist is with her."

"Why both of us?"

"We needed a second opinion," piped up an ironic voice from the corner of the study. The figure was barely visible in the roaring firelight - an undersized individual with eyes even darker than the rest of him. If his daughter had trawled any birthrights from the likes of him, she would feel no doubt very ill-engendered and one could scarcely have enough pity left for possible sons-in-law. "There are more bleeding medical specialists in the world than real people, I sometimes think," said this giant foetus of a man whilst he stroked a shiny human skull on a nearby desk as if he were demonstrating the point. He then held up a glass of black wine and said "Bottoms up!"

The mother pulled a long heavy-duty thermometer from her capacious apron pocket, heated it in the raging fire and reinforced her husband's instruction to the doctor to lie face down on the bare floor, so that she could insert it as far as it would go.

Upstairs, beyond the dark landings, the dentist and the daughter were conjoined mouth to mouth, one gradually absorbing more than the other was able to release with integrity...

When Earth's oceans are covered with huge slicks of blood, one wonders if there is any point in normal vampirism, thought the solidified stack of stunted shadows that called itself a man. He climbed the steep stairs towards the snorting noises in his daughter's bedroom, huge hypodermic syringe in tow. Who needed specialists, anyway?

The mother screeched something at him from the foot of the stairs.



Published 'Wicked Mystic' 1993

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Compliments of the Season

Published "Stayin' Sane" 1993

It was a mild Christmas.

I had decided to go outside for a breath of fresh air—fresher than my mother’s parlour, in any event. Of course, Mum had originally been delighted with the prospect of having us altogether with her for Christmas. My family of wife and children lived with me on the other side of the country, if countries can have sides, or even fronts and backs. I had thus conveniently maintained it was difficult to sort out the logistics for more regular visits. She accepted this, of course, but I couldn’t help thinking that she would have lifted up hills to let us through.

I sauntered down the garden path, where I had played at being Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. Watching the lugubrious clouds curdle across the near benighted sky, I abruptly noticed a sleigh rough-riding upon an inverted cone of condensation, drawn by a flight of scrawny reindeers with knotted antlers. The occupant of the sleigh was a Plug-Ugly with a scar laddering down his cheek, designer white stubble and a bag marked swag on his shoulder. His snow-laced tunic was a syrupy red and thus mightily peculiar in the context. “Oi! Oi!” he yo-ho-hoed in a snarl, “nobody’s getting presents this year, except for moi.” He enunciated the ‘moi’ after a pregnant pause and with vigorous deliberation.

I made my way back to my mother’s house thoughtfully. I was indeed somewhat sad because both my children had been killed only a few months before Christmas in a particularly gruesome road accident. My boyhood sweetheart of a wife had since run off with my best friend. I wondered if there was anything in the superstition that bad luck came in threes. I vowed to break something valuable when I returned inside the house.

Mum had already made it abundantly clear that she wanted me to stuff the huge turkey ready for tomorrow’s festivities. Pity there would only be place-settings for her and me at the family table. Sellotaped to the front door was the usual three-dimensional plastic image of a jolly old man in a red cape with billowing white beard. Somehow, I could not summon up the rightful Yuletide spirit. Yet, before entering, I planted a false smile upon my lips, so as not to let the side down.

Later, as we prepared for an early night, my mother announced: “I’m going to leave a nice glass of Sherry and a warm mince pie in the fireplace for Father Christmas.” I nodded, absent-mindedly.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Karew

Published 'A Theater of Blood' 1993


It had not turned out to be the ideal venue for a honeymoon. Having taken my new bride to an east coast, I did hope to entice her into the life-style of the locals and away from that prissy part of London where she thought the world started ... and ended.

Night seems to come earlier by the sea. That’s because the days are shortened by the gull cries, the salt savours of ripe fish and bracing beach walks. It’s strange, the fuller life is, the shorter it becomes. We’re lodging at a fisherman’s hut in sight of the lighthouse. The surge of its sporadic beams through the dark hours acts as the natural seabreak to the crests of our lovemaking. Pent up urgency is far sweeter than its eventual release ... or so all the theory in the manuals told us.

I was brought up not far from here. Nevertheless, the locals have grown beyond my comprehension since I left for the big city as a young man. They now seemed older, more weathered, with gnarled expressions that took rather than gave. Those I half recognised failed to acknowledge me. Even the young women looked as if they were wed to sea dogs. The fish-wives were closer to death, their mouths opening and shutting, upon seeing me again, but failing to say anything.

Many lags pointed to my bride, nudging each other, spitting foul oaths into each other’s ears ... and I did not give them the benefit of naming her by introduction. Even on the first day of this ancient honeymoon, I had surrendered hope of anything good rubbing off on us. If I had been born here, I must have died years ago. I laughed to myself at that thought.

In any event, it little mattered, for we loved each other, Nancy and I.


The hut where we stayed was little more than an upturned hulk, pitted by centuries within centuries of salt spray. The windows had been forced through the seasoned wood with jagged gutting knives, by the look of them. And, by the relentless warning beacon, we watched the gravestone tongues in the churchyard—whereto the cliff edge had reached, already consigning the once-ancient church itself to the fate of the tides. A graveyard with nothing to landmark it except the remnant stubs of tombs, this was one unromantic view from our bedroom window. Though death must have its own romance, I have heard it said.

“I wish it were not so quiet,” Nancy said, nuzzling my chest, as she resettled into the ruckbed from gazing out of the ill-cut window.

I was entranced by her shapely form—sculptured as it was against the twirling beacon—aching for her to tiptoe back to our bed to staunch a new wave of passion in my loins. Now that she had returned, I was falling into half-dreams, so tenuous they may even have been dreams within dreams—imagining her to be but a tenant of one of those graves. Corpses do not stink of fish. But sweat does.

I woke fitfully to say: “The sea is sounding...”

“Yes, but that is just an ingredient of the silence,” was her almost voiceless reply.

If her parents could see her now, they would not recognise the little office girl, their Nancy who was still wet behind the ears with first communion. The words she spoke were too poetic for the city. At least, some good had come, I thought, as my passion was spent against her rump.

The revery became full-blooded dream, though it was merely recounting the previous day’s activities. Searching the town’s library for old books about the churchyard. dusty (sometimes, sticky) volumes that had return dates decades ago stamped down the margins. The retired librarian retained a catalogue, but most of the spines were unreadable and the listing itself stained by foxing. Apparently, though, the most telling books were kept together furthest from the sea in the attic, and we soon discovered in one corroded tome that the set of gravestones viewable from the hulk were those of rat catchers.

Nancy wondered whether rats were common at seasides, but I soon put her right. There was one rat catcher, the book said, by the name of James Wilkins, who had actually been buried with the rat that killed him. A two-way thing, ratting, I assumed. Though in my days as a child in this area, I had known only one rat-catcher who told of killing thousands in one sitting. I didn’t believe him, of course. Until he showed me the bodies he hung as trophies in the tall fishing-tackle hut near the Naze beach.

“There are rats in the sea,” I remember him telling me, with a knowing touch to the nose.


The honeymoon period was due to end shortly. We had long spent our passions, so we both fell fast asleep. Then, I was unaccountably drawn to the hulk’s window to see why the beacon had stopped flashing. Being spring, I know the sunrise would soon streak its screaming oranges and reds along the sharp divider of sea and sky. However, I was quite unprepared for the glow that the sea itself gave off, a lambency seeming to filter, not from above, but from below. It was constituted of a myriad flickering tails, long luminous tangles and tentacles undulating in the manner of living flesh-coloured seaweed.

“Nancy, Nancy...”

She snored, oblivious to my calls. I went over to shake her, but she was trapped by her own dream. I had no option but to return to the ragged window – I could have sworn that one of the gravemarkers was moving, dislodging, even growing...

There was knocking at our door ... our sealords had arrived to turf us out. The honeymoon’s over. It was suddenly strange now to recount my thoughts from an entirely different perspective.

“Mr Karew, Mr Karew,” came the shouts of the landlady, “the sea’s swelling, we have to lodge back at the Bell...”

I recalled the Bell Inn. The regulars had scorned us when we asked for London ale. They had pinned us to the damp circular corkboard with their piercing scowls. Fish in aspic upon the bar sold for less than the price of pork scratchings. Strange spurting noises from the pumps. Beer swill that still gurgled in the glass – I had forced it down my gullet to silence it. I did not want to lodge there of all places. But maybe I don’t know my own mind, and the sea is rising higher...

“Don’t worry, Mrs...” I could not recall the name that had appeared on the booking documents. “Nancy and I will sit out the storm.”

“It is not a storm, Mr Karew, but you know best...” The voice faded, as she spoke.

My confidence in knowing best, as she put it, was not strong at the best of times. I could not keep my thoughts from leapfrogging...out of kilter with their own meaning.

I returned to the window. The sea was indeed rising—the tide was rolling innards—surging rattail intestines, seething eels amid the spume and wild insulting fingerstalls. It all moved as one. Covering the graveyard in one giant swell of disintegrating kelp and fucus.

I relaxed. This could be nothing but a dream. If it were real, then I was surely mad. Or, at best, dead.

I swivelled to her whom I have wed so recently. Nancy Karew had the largest rat head I have ever seen, pillowed against the headboard we had earlier ground our love upon. And I ducked to kiss its red lipsticked snout for forgiveness. I felt its wagging fishtail tongue probing mine, making the curdled beer in my stomach heave in tidal swells of sick.


We awoke in unsion. The Bell Inn, after all, was not such a bad place. Set back from the town’s cottages, it had probably withstood the big swell ... the hulk would have evidently floated off towards the newly islanded graveyard ... the lighthouse no doubt foreshortened, with its night-light still flickering feebly in the watery sunshine.

More in half-recognition, I saw James Wilkins lying between Nancy and myself in the bed, his body, I assumed, having floated in on the surgetide. “Ridden on ratbacks” were the words that haunted my convoluted thoughts. I must have been a ghost, for Nancy ignored me as she turned to smile on him.

The call of the Bell lady came unseasonably early.

“Mr Wilkins...Mr Wilkins... excuse me, but breakfast been on the table a good half hour. You wanted it a bit earlier, remember, to go on the last lighthouse trip...”

They kissed lightly and slowly dressed.


A gravestone had toppled in the night, they notice, on their last stroll in that direction, with the jagged etching: ROBERT KAREW, Ratman of this Parish, Sorely Rued, 1743-1764.

They soon forgot it as they rode the gentle swells towards the white gull-haunted lighthouse. They had left the best moment for the last day of the honeymoon. Something to cherish when back in the City.

I the ghost must wake and leave the lovers free.



If ghosts do dream and death’s a romance, then I’m a kingfisher’s daughter
THE MISCREANT ON THE MOONSTREAM, Rachel Mildeyes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dear Mr Whizzo

Dear Mr. Whizzo,
I saw your advert in the Chronicle and I was wondering whether you can bring your show to my son’s birthday party on 24 July. You will be required at 3 p.m. at the above address. Please let me know if you require any additional equipment. When confirming your availability for the date, please quote your fee and I will, by return, finalise the arrangement.
Yours sincerely, Mrs. Tidy
P.S. It is a young teenage party, so any dubious props will not be required. Conjuring, balloon-bending and juggling all would be fine. I don’t suppose you’re into jiggery-pokery, anyway.

*
Dear Mrs. Tidy,
I am grateful for your letter which I only received today. The postman is not so lightning quick with his prestidigitation as I! Anyway, I shall be delighted to attend your son’s party at the appointed time. The fee will be at your discretion according to satisfaction.
Yours dutifully “Whizzo”.
P.S. My speciality is sawing a lady in half. I hope you do not consider THIS trick to be dubious.

*
Dear Mr. Whizzo,
With reference to your letter of 21 July, I am pleased to confirm the arrangement. Do you know this part of the town? Our address is not in some of the street maps, believe it or not. To assist you, I attach a little hand-written sketch that takes you from the Broadway. We are at the end of the cul-de-sac that you can see I have called Brown Street because that is on the nameplate up on the end terrace, but the correct postal address is as you see it at the head of my letter. Any problems, please ring the telephone number shown which is my neighbour’s (we don’t have one ourselves). With regard to your P.S. I have only just had the carpet cleaned, so I would prefer you to give that particular trick a miss. I look forward to meeting you on the day. My son is over the moon.
Yours sincerely, Mrs. Tidy.

*
Dear Mrs. Tidy,
I am sorry I did not attend the party. It was not for the want of trying. But my sense of direction is as bad as my rabbit-pulling is good, no doubt. Brown Street turned out to be a long, endless road of semis where some of the houses were unnumbered and others randomly so it seemed. As for the telephone number you gave me, it got hold of someone who said they couldn’t hear me because of a lot of noise from their neighbours. I hope your son was not too disappointed by my non-appearance. I expect he has grown out of my old tricks, anyway.
Regards, “Whizzo”.
P.S. Call me again when your grandchildren arrive!


*
Dear Mr. Whizzo,
Thank you for your letter. I am extremely mystified by what you write. If it was not you who gave such a splendid performance at my son’s party, who was it? When you stepped into our broom cupboard under the stairs saying that when we opened it again you would be gone - and you were right, nothing but the gas meter chatting numbers through. And not one false bottom to be seen, of course, as lesser magicians so often use at the Variety House. I think it’s marvellous indeed you using my house as a prop. You ought to go on the stage! We did get a lot of complaints, however, from parents whose kids never came back from that game of Hide and Seek you organised. No complaints from me, though! I hope that small token of my appreciation I gave you was sufficient recompense. I was so head over heels with excitement, I didn’t know my fingers from my thumbs. Anyway, I assure you that I shall recommend you highly to my friends at the Ladies Group. By the way, your trick of making the house next door completely disappear along with everybody in it was really a coup-de-theatre.
Yours, Agnes Tidy.
P.S. I liked your cheeky costume. Very snazzy! Who sewed on all the sequins?

(published ‘Krax’ 1992)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Unmistakeable Silence

Published 'The Bound Spiral' 1992


From the way her case opened and shut throughout the day, I could assess her moods even if I never saw her in person once.

The thought of abandoning her home was one thing, but the enactment was evidently quite another. Several changes of mind. Once the bedroom was empty even of the case. But the next it had returned and where it had been in the meantime was a mystery.

It goes without saying that my hiding-place was under the bed. I could hear her clip-clopping upon her high-heels around the bed, but I did not lift the tassels of the quilt for a surreptitious look. Until I heard the clicking of the lock followed by a period of unmistakeable silence, I was reluctant to emerge in case she was still at large. But out I’d eventually come, eyes squinting...

I suppose she was justified in having such qualms about staying with a husband who spent most of his hours awake under the bed. But I was taught to look at both sides of a story — and a double-jointed wife who spends most of her time in a suit-case is not exactly a bed of roses.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Parachutist / Penguins at Midnight

THE PARACHUTIST


First published 'Night Owl Network' vol 2 No 13 (1993)


It had been raining for hours on end. But what in heaven was “it”?

I discovered the man hanging from a large tree. The sodden ballooning of the white parachute trailed above him, punctured here and there by branches. I was near enough to guess that his boots dripped blood as well as rain-water. In the middle of Coulsdon, this was a strange occurrence, to say the least.

I looked to see if anybody else of the human persuasion was in the vicinity. There was no surprise in realizing that the force-ten winds of the earlier storm had cleared most of the suburban streets, their full effect having lasted past most people’s bedtime.

I knew the parachutist was not dead, since he was attempting to pull off his boots: a strenuous activity which sent showers of what must have been icy spray upon him from higher branches and, with each groaning tug, the white fabric began to gape with ferocious snagging noises. He would soon topple to the pavement, a good few yards beneath him, far enough to damage a bone or two.

I wondered whence the blood was seeping until, in the increasing light of the declipsing moon, I discerned a black stain down the length of one of his sides.

He had not noticed me witnessing his progress. After all, soon after encountering the sight, I had camouflaged myself behind another tree. An enemy parachutist had been my first illogical assumption.

But the Second World War had been over for forty-five odd years . . . and the other wars which were still proceeding these days across the surface of the Earth were certainly not anywhere near Coulsdon (or even Purley).

I tried to reconcile my feelings. I knew I was a sane person. I worked for an insurance company, so I must have been. On the other hand, here I was roaming benighted Coulsdon when I should have been in my snug togetherness of a bed. Perhaps this alien parachutist was nothing but me dreaming.

Throwing caution to the receding wind, I came out into the open and called to him:

“Are you OK? Shall I call an ambulance?”

There was no reply. The tree had become bereft of any strange, anachronistic inhabitant whatsoever. The wind resuscitated fitfully. The uncanny rustling of the branches made me shiver.

A jumbo jet droned heavily across the clearing sky like a UFO moving gently above a foreign planet, intent on making landfall at Gatwick. Even at the depth of night, pilots stayed awake, matchsticks propping up the midget chutes of their eyelids like frozen ripcords.

For a reason of which I comprehend no more the cause than I know where we are all going on this strange traveller planet called Earth, I wept uncontrollably. The man was beyond help.

Eventually, I squelched home in my wellingtons. It was already whitening from the direction of Croydon. But what in heaven was “it”?

=============================

Penguins At Midnight

Speed-writing exercise at Writer's Group in Clacton


When he talked to himself, he very rarely listened. Being lonely made him feel rather good, inasmuch as silence and lack of company insulated him within a cocoon of self – and the world’s pain couldn’t cross that silence, collecting outside the silence looking in, powerless to touch him through the silence.

Amid the silence, he had his own peculiar and irritating habits as he watched himself in the corner of the room dressing up as all sorts of creatures. He knew he was immune even from his own behaviour, being so utterly lonely – loneliness being the strongest anaesthetic. He watched himself as creatures from the zoo, many animals or reptiles or birds, often all at the same time. Loneliness was a multiplying force as well as a numbing one. There he was in the kitchen dressed in his lion suit and now he watched himself coming down the stairs wagging a trunk from side to side and simultaneously he heard loud noises from the toilet as a swamp creature conducted its ablutions – and as the evening wore on into night, he saw the two thousand wings of a thousand birds – and upon the stroke of midnight waddling penguin suits crossing the moonlit lawn outside the window.

He was immune. Against the disease of mind or body. Perfectly insulated. By the security of silence. By loneliness. By the loneliness of madness screening out the same madness. But one day – following the march of several versions of himself as various wading birds – he suddenly felt decidedly iffy. He tried to warn himself to get a doctor quick but, as ever he wasn’t listening. Or couldn’t listen because of the silence. And so he never knew he was a dicky duck with flu and no quack.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Frightening Landscape

Published before - but where? Magazine lost.



The tree branches were limned against the sky ... at first appearing as zigzags of black lightning then, as the air grew warm, like rivulets of India ink. It was evidently uncertain whether the sun had just set or was about to rise. There was no sense of time. And gradually the air grew a whitened edge or margin ... a migraine of shimmering light, except there was nobody around to suffer such an ailment as migraine or anything else ... whilst the air itself smelt of sickness. Through these ribbons of dawn ... yes the sun was surely rising ... there appeared the loping, humping shapes and, if there were anyone watching this landscape evolve before their very eyes, they would also have heard the bleating noises of these creatures great and small. Pitiful sounds, yet fraught with menace and mystery. Yet there can be no mystery without a conscious mind testing its own ability to fathom it. The mystery ... as well as the menace ... was the landscape becoming brighter, clearer, yet more menacing, more mysterious. The earlier darkness had seemed to insulate itself ... releasing no thought of danger and fright from its cloying embrace. Night had almost been comforting with its propensity to become a shroud. Night had indeed concealed night. Now, with the screaming orange rim of sun peeping above the horizon, the branches of the trees had become ... not zigzags of black lightning, not rivulets of India ink ... but flesh-coloured limbs, praying, begging, that night might hasten its own return to conceal such creatures from each other.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Country Dusk

published 'Dark Dreams' 1990


I fell in love with the picture as soon as I had entered the room. Strangely enough, it was the frame that first attracted me (because there were several other artefacts in its vicinity vying for my attention); it trailed golden vine leaves between studs of even deeper, finer gold. Evidently wood, but spiritually real gold. Gorgeous marginalia, true, but nothing compared .......



Once drawn into the actual canvas itself, I was enchanted by a little mid-Victorian girl playing by a stream, with a hoop leaning against her - but no way could she have bowled it across the rutted field towards the archetypal thatched cottage where her mother beckoned her to come in. A dusk scene, presumably, but above all its intrinsic charm was quite inexplicable: maybe it was the red flowers spotting the girl's pinafore or the twined green tendrils curling like eels from between her feet towards the mother or the fact I thought I could actually listen to the gurgling stream.



I acquired the painting with the house and, luckily, the vendor did not add much to the asking price to cover it. She was a lady of advanced years retreating, she said, to her daughter's to while away the evening of her life and, so, had no room for such a large painting.



"You sure your daughter won't want it?" I asked mock-concernedly for I could not bear the idea that I might lose such a potential prize.



"No, dear, she's never been a lover of this particular painting."



***



When you live with someone for a long time, you begin to discover traits and quirks that you did not even begin to suspect during the earliest honeymoon days. It's only the test of time that will reveal if those changes (each one small in itself, but taken as a whole may well represent a complete sea change) can mature into something that you can continue to love and cherish or whether they are ingredients that will eventually turn the whole meal into a mess of stinking offal



As with a person, so with that painting.



The mother by the cottage door was in a patch of deepening shadow, I noticed. I could have sworn that when I first cast my eyes upon the canvas, the face had been lit up by the horizontal beams of the setting sun. But now the sun was vaguely further behind the trees, I thought. The girl's face was now infinitesimally nearer to the surface of the stream as if to catch her own reflection before the light finally faded. Her hoop was not a hoop at all! It appeared to be more like a brown snake, thicker on one side of the circle, thinner at the other, like an endless ingrowing whip. The red dots on her pinafore was some substance seeping from the flesh...



I must not give the wrong impression. It was only over a long period that such changes emerged. I would get up in the middle of the night, not being able to sleep or because I had been fitfully dreaming of the eventual end result of the painting if I didn't do something about it. I would storm downstairs, only to be relieved to see that it was not as bad as I thought.



But it was always slightly different every time I looked at it. Until I could imagine that the vines of the frame were beginning to implicate co-existence with their cousin tendrils in the picture.



The girl became more aligned with the dark stream, more like an unwholesome, unnatural beast than a human, her flesh flowing as one with it.



The mother was nothing but a stain of darkness or had she gone in, shutting the door after her, despairing of her daughter ever returning from her twilight play?



And when the moon came out, I turned its face to the wall.



***



If anyone visits me (and the visits of my many friends who used to flock to my social events in my younger days had now begun to tail off, as they often do when you get older), but, if anyone did come, they would question me about the painting with its back to the room.



And I would tell them that it was none of their business! I would play the grand piano loudly to stop them hearing the gurgling tinnitus in my ears.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

CÆSURA

CÆSURA

First published 'Oasis' 1999


Though I never lived during that kingdom of war - the one that rained in London - I could easily imagine the colourlessness (or, rather, variegated brown) in every wet afternoon, prefiguring the contrast of night's man-made lightning. Séances were being held amid the chintz of every blitz-free sitting-room; tears being shed in every outhouse; tender hands held, over and over again, in every beach hut and every park.

Well, for every every, amen. I shook my shoulders - not a shrug as such; more of a shudder. I tramped the back-end streets, wondering if I had been transported in time to those very afternoons when shapes in fragile freedom from the night's shelters (the Underground included) became the slowly nudging together of lightly-fleshed ghosts in the hope that something worthwhile or tangible would emerge by this serendipity of touch. Ghosts, I guessed, were to be everybody, even you and me.

This was to have been a poem. But it felt like a story, with all the trappings of a plot, albeit missing a beginning, a middle or an end, if not all three. I could have gutted this story of its protagonists, but then nobody would have been there to report its waywardness.

I met Nadia in a park where courting couples were more colourless than most, if less tearful. She was someone with whom I assumed an immediate mutuality. She smiled, wiping away her tears with a burnt hankie. Collateral damage, she said, from last night's bombs. I didn't take umbrage at her false modernity. I knew she joked; this was then, not now.

A fleeting image of an evening when Nadia and I did walk under a fleet of doodlebugs - and suddenly a thing like a plum-pudding bursting with a fiery sauce came down and a lot of glass fell out of the windows on to us.

"Good job we were not there": my first ever set of words to Nadia upon meeting in the park. My second: "Ghosts were simply the future."

"Ghosts will forever be the past," were my sweet Nadia's last.

But truth told no rhymes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tugging the Heartstrings

TO BE PUBLISHED IN 2012 - 'THE LAST BALCONY' COLLECTION (The InkerMen Press)

Friday, September 28, 2007

The War Wake

Published 'Cthulhu Cultus' 1997

Upon evacuation from London to Wales, Beatie Bilborough expected everything to be wine and roses - with songs in the mountains, country cottages and a strange lilting language which she had only heard in childhood dreams.

The war had pounded long and hard upon the city, hitting nearly everything and only missing St Paul's Cathedral by the skin of its teeth. She had lain awake at night listening to the bombs coming nearer. Despite having to bid farewell to her best chum Alice Dennis, Beatie was delighted when she was bustled off on a steam train to far Wales.

She eventually arrived at a Boarding House which she had been told in London was run by a family called Ribber. It stood tall and gloomy, like a sore thumb sticking up from the never-ending terraced houses. It faced the railings of a factory that was evidently concerned with some undercover war work involving smoke belching day and night from its tall chimneys.

Surprisingly, Beatie had to sign the guest book, which was an enormous ledger on the receptionist's counter and, as the man Jack, who drove the taxi, wished her good luck on swinging out through the revolving doors, she absent-mindedly browsed through the names of the other guests. This seemed a stake-out for single gentlemen - or so their outlandish signatures indicated.

One or two of those names gave her spine a running shiver, most of them, although mere names on the face of it, conveying a gamut of insidious fears. Being the only female guest, that would no doubt bring problems in itself. To cap it all, she heard an air raid siren suddenly hiccupping into life which, unless it was a false alarm, made a mockery of the whole journey to this godforsaken place.

It was indeed a false alarm. The morning, after a thankfully dreamless sleep, brought an entirely new aspect. The railings opposite were sparkling. The tall chimneys only puffed desultorily. And workers with red spotted kerchiefs and bright blue dungarees trooped from the factory gates, with an odd wolf whistle and guffaw breaking their otherwise silent departure.

Until then, Beatie had seen nobody except the bell-boy of the Boarding House. He was indeed an overgrown boy, with just the beginnings of a bum-fluff beard and a voice croaking on stiffening vocal cords. Quite abruptly, her attention was drawn to a gaggle of guests leaving through the swing-doors below her. She could just see the revolving wings flicking in and out of the entrance, since her bedroom bay window protruded over the pavement. Their voices were in undertones. They all wore flat caps and she was quite sure one of them muttered "Jack's in the salt-cellar, Gammy ga ga." A more outlandish statement it would be hard to invent, but it struck an uncanny chord.

If she had followed them, she would have discovered that they were heading towards the pub down the road, which opened early, in view of it being war time. She looked across to the factory and was startled to see a huge bird-like creature settling on its tall chimney ... a monstrous vision with flowing dewlaps and wattles of wrinkled skin. Upon its bony, knobby legs, it poked its saw-like beak into the top end of the chimney, evidently inhaling the now more fulsome fumes blasting from the furnaces below. The sun glinted off the creature's carapace and ... yes, off the metal wings of Spitfire planes that were now heading towards it, having emerged from the clear sky without warning. One crashed into the creature's under-hide, another skimmed through its blood-red coxcomb and careered off only to explode in a thousand bright splinters of fire somewhere amid the factory complex. Yet another dived suicidally between the yawning beak-halves and was snapped into two like toffee crunch ... just like that. Beatie looked away in horror ... and when she eventually returned her tentative pricking gaze there was nothing extraordinary to see, just the factory chimney releasing little pathetic puffs like messages from a bemused Red Indian.

Beatie put the vision down to a migraine. Her only option, however, was believe her gut-feeling that she had been truly evacuated mind and body ... so that she could carry out some far more dangerous (and infinitely more important) war work than being a land-girl or having flirting campaigns with boys in the company of Alice Dennis or simply sitting it all out in the shadow of St Paul's which was now at least another world away.

The Whateley Arms was full even at eight o'clock in the morning, for this was the time when shifts changed. Fred Tyrell had not bothered to look in this morning, as he had been tipped the wink that the incubators in the processing-plant were on the turn and, being nightwatchman on the day shift, they needed his immediate attention. But all the others whom Beatie had seen recorded by signature in the ledger were there boozing away and smoking fit to outdo the chimneys. One sat in his favourite position by the piano, dreaming of the days he once fell in love with the tub-thumper who used to play medleys on that very joanna. The others chatted incessantly about the new girl evacuee at the Dagonwy Boarding House. They sniggered as they grew drunker and the pub talk took a ludicrous turn; and, finally, they stumbled off to work at the factory.

Outside, they glanced back and saw her face still at the bow window of her bedroom, now smiling beneath her tears. There were deeper myths hanging over South Wales in those days than was ever contemplated by the history books - of Great Old Ones in Llanelly who shuttled between the stars and of their roof roosts here and there, on worlds old and new. The pub-type talk continued as they slaved at stoking up the incubators.

And as they slaved, they chanted "Jack's in the salt-cellar, Gammy ga ga." Soon, they would open up the hatches at the front of the autoclaves. Fred Tyrell had hinted that their contents would soon be ready for the big fling and, thus, the decoy and subterfuge of the other World War could be abandoned.

Beatie Bilborough was still at the window like a poster stuck to the glass. Her face smiled broadly, for the big bird had evidently escaped to the inside of her head, where it was growing more complex, even more unbelieveable - and, as her face smiled, it was clear that she, more than anybody, knew exactly what was going on.

At dusk, she left the window and joined her fellow guests in the dining-room for a stew of lights, grits and melts, everybody no doubt stirred into attendance by the bell-boy's vigorous thumping of the dinner gong. She told the others with a straight face that she had been sent from London, a spy ... but for which War? She explained that War fought War in the battle for the right to exist in history, but the one where a man called Hitler cooked his least favourite races in pressure incubators and fought on all fronts at once for the right to do so had no chance at all - too far fetched by half. But the battle of battles had only just been joined and Beatie herself only knew half of it.

The air raid sirens stuttered again that night. And as Beatie lay awake listening to them, she began to recall her playchild friend Alice Dennis - but then accidentally lost her way in a fitful sleep full of dreams and songs in the mountain, country cottages, bardic rounds ... and the misshapen six million people pulp that pulsed and palpitated in the factory stews, across the road from the Dagonwy Boarding House.



The Fair was in full swing, as the Easter evening drew in. At some central control console, an unknown hand tilted a rocker-switch and all the twirling coloured lights were tripped from one end of the site to the other. Beatie stood back in awe and then began to wander between the side-shows. One stall-holder was particularly vociferous in attracting custom. Dressed like a playing-card Jack, he yelled:

"Roll Up, Roll Up, throw rings

Over invisible things -

The art is to guess where,

The prize is to dress fair."

Beatie knew that whatever crazy game she chose, her money would be ripped off and the Evacuation Authorities had not given her much in the first place. But, still, what was life if one could not enjoy it in one's own silly way? As well as the pretty dolls' clothes spreadeagled like anorexic angels across the tent-frame of the stall, she rather fancied as a prize the tall silver salt-cellar she could take back to the Dagonwy Boarding-House. She could just see the other guests's faces.

In many ways, it would be perfect if Alice Dennis were here to see Beatie have a go, rather than still holed up in London Docklands. She glanced over her shoulder and looked at the fair's Big Wheel, revolving slowly, like a vertical version of the Dagonwy swing-doors, lit up like a flying saucer. Incredibly, it seemed to roll across the site as if it were really a wheel. Best pay no attention to her faculties: common sense is much more reliable, if a rare commodity. She approached the Jack of Diamonds and proffered her tanner coin for a go.

"How many go's will that give me?"

"There's no set number, Miss, but you'll know when the go is ended."

"Will I indeed?"

She took the wooden rings - and stared into the darkness beyond the back of the stall. She remembered the Jack's sales pitch. How could she throw rings at invisible things? This was more than just an ordinary fraud. Who was to verify? It did not even have pretensions to fairness - like most wars. Ah well, in for a tanner, in for a ten bob note. She floated the rings upon glide-paths that seemed likely to pay dividends, assuming there were indeed tall, tapering, translucent cut-glass vases standing behind the shadows as targets. With her tongue lolling out in concentration, Beatie continued to launch ring after ring and, as she did so, she listened to the distant hair-brain screams from the dodgems and the ghost-house and the rollercoaster and the Big Wheel and the thudding of Heavy Metal.

When the rings eventually ran out, Beatie found herself automatically bowling invisible discs into the air. She convinced herself she could actually feel them. Her mind was so entranced, she could hardly hear the Jack egging her on. But she had felt depressed when first coming on to the site. The bell-boy had scolded her only that morning for not leaving her bed unmade for him to make it. Then there was that silly argument about the cockerel in the back garden runs. Still, relationships were started and maintained on the thinnest of grounds. Bodies, though, had started to have a personality which could get in the way.

The afternoon had dragged, sitting alone with the fag-end of a love affair that had never been lit. She had unpacked her T-chest full of squashed tracing-paper, which always gave her a good feeling: the clean curves of the bone china her mother had entrusted to her safeguarding, almost translucent in their fineness: the flower patternings picked out in pastel shades, almost abstract, intangible: memories flooding back, memories of endless summers and infinite futures that were the past.

Now, back on a high, with the roar of the fair in her ears, she felt her own body launched like a wooden ring upon the laminae of the air towards the emptiness. Abruptly, without any noticeable shift, she felt herself completely enveloped in blackness; not a real surprise, however, more as if she had been blind since birth and would remain blind after death. As time faltered, she gradually discerned spinning saucers, at first hazy white, slowly gaining definition as they neared her. But before she could reconcile the phenomena with any rationalisation, she began to realise that her skull itself was the fraillest, finest porcelain target. And the first silver halo to arrive would have more substance than sense.

The fairground lights were immediately doused by the man on the rocker-switch at the first suspicion of an air raid siren.

Weeks later, the war almost forgotten, Beatie vaguely wanted to live in the countryside beyond the Welsh town, far from the Dagonwy and the tall factory chimney. Her mother - and Alice Dennis, too - had long since been swallowed up by the Hunnish occupation of London Town, so now the only option was for Beatie to find her own life, even if that entailed risking it. The day was sticky - brown clouds hanging like sweaty duffles - as she walked the long drive to the front entrance. The windows winked in turn as each took shine from the hidebound sun, bringing her to believe that the place had a being all of its own. The "Room to Let" sign was askew. She fondled the money she had lately earned from working as a bar maid in the Whateley Arms. The gutters hung from below the roofs like spectacle frames crippled by recent air raids, even here deep in the country. The porch came out to meet her even before she had time to realise that she had reached the front door, her fist raised to crash down upon its split paint boards and set the fan-lights revolving in their sockets, like miniature swing-doors.

Her eyes were swollen above the cheek-bones, perhaps in readiness, because, she felt, whoever came to answer the door would be determined to outstare her like the blind security-officer at the factory opposite the Dagonwy. The door opened even before she had a chance to adjust her blouse. She had assumed that the owner lived there merely to protect his property, rather than to use it as quarters in which to pursue existence. When she first caught sight of the upper floors, from a distance, rearing above the surrounding woodland environs, she was amazed, because the roofs leaned against each other, as if generations of childhood tree dens had been built on top of one another, growing from the slab walls like inflammable chimney stacks, each with wire sculpture jewellery that (she presumed) would bring in the programmes as soon as television was invented.

"Yes?" The man who had swung the door wide, stood with legs apart, his face naggingly familiar, but his nose out of joint to any accommodation with the rest of his face. His spectacles were crooked, one ear being higher than the other.

"Good afternoon, I gather there is a room to let and I bring a letter of introduction from the Evacuation Authorities..." She held out the sealed envelope. She felt as if she had another migraine coming on, and she could hardly see since the sweat had dripped into her bulging eyes.

"Why are you crying, Miss?"

"I am not crying, Sir, merely hot." She pointed to the sky where the sun was on yet another sprint towards a new hidey-hole. She could hear the underchatter from within the house which she took to be the Home Service on the wireless.

"Call me Jack, if you like." The man took the envelope and tore it open with his red teeth, shredding parts of the actual letter in the process. "Tell me, before I read this letter, why are you interested in this room?" Beatie stopped short. She was about to say that she needed a refuge from a refuge. "I know, I know, you want to live here - for the character of the walls, the depth of the rooms, the ghosts in the attics, the landscape of roofs..."

She shook her head as if to free it from some encumbrance and politely returned down the long winding drive. She had indeed spotted a wheel of flashing coloured lights in the dusk slowly revolving nearer from above the distant Welsh town - and she heard the vague screams of joy and terror.

The one who asked others to call him Jack followed her for several miles even to the ragged coast, wagging his tongue and jabbing it at various distances to snag her clothes. But like the big chimney bird, he was thankfully an intangible chunk of dot-matrix pre-echoed from the televisions that had not yet been invented. Beatie Bilborough was somewhat relieved, as he had scared her out of her wits.

Nevertheless, she still felt the tweak of a beak inside her head tentatively poking the back of her eyeballs. She hiked deeper into the less well-known parts of Wales - but now it did not seem to matter since she found herself hand in hand with the bell-boy. He was still panting from catching her up, his voice strangely lilting and quaintly regressed to a more youthful or effeminate tone ... and, what was more, Alice Dennis, in a frock of polkadots, skipped happily across the green hills in their wake. Fred Tyrell in Alice's wake. Gammy ga ga.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The DFL Baffles

Originally published as a series

She wore a cloak at all times. Her name was Frances. The street welcomed her with its cats. She was followed closely by many paws. She left smiles in corners so that she could return and find them again and be happy. When she finaly removed the cloak, there was no magic trick of a magic trick. Only a large stretched mouth and a throbbing tongue eager for the mouth it already lived within. A tonguecat without skin to cloak it.
Asp killed Cleopatra. She was a mixed up tree.
Climb the fire furbished mountain to find not a vent but a thing stretched on sticks wherein to plump my tired body.

I smell differently when faced with fathoming a crime. If on the forage for food, then I switch noses. And eat the discarded one.

Inching towards being called a fable, the baffle slipped and became an allegory too short to be called anything.

Lost in clouds of confusion, Nemo's Ark forged on towards its hopeful berth within the clarity of a new-born day when the occupants would disembark, breathe in the luscious scents and squat upon their ends to write stories forever.He picked at the armoury of scabs covering his fevered feathered body only to find scabs that went right down as far as he could go using the business end of his beak. Scabs within scabs. Dead beetles laid in a trail of breadcrumbs for Hansel to follow his Gretel to the vast oven called Hell. A pair of scarlet wings was there tying and untying the loose ends of his imaginary heart.

The glass pyramid wanted to become a golden bowl. James and Henry owned both the thing itself and, therefore, the thing it wanted to be. They were brothers who had argued since childhood that most things in lie were too simple to over-complicate with arguments of taste. Fact was debatable enough. James polished the pyramid as if he were about to scry a fortune-teller's globe. Henry painted the scene whilst James modelled with the thing he polished, but Henry made the globe a bowl in mock golden moonlight shafting through the window like God's eyesight. Art is never a mirror, but simply a way of seeing things. Who gave whom red-eye remains a mystery as nobody had a camera for snaps.
The room had five sharp glass corners which the brothers cut their feet on. Before going to weary war over the remains with sanders and files.

Even dincopated music flows with unexpected predictability. It is as if music knows what is going to happen before it happens. I just hummed a tuneless tune, in the hope it would not commit me to its astrological harmonics. I wonder if I shall crack its coda or fathom how it made me dance to its tune. Music is fiction injected straight into the vein. Jerking like a puppet in the silence.

There was a feeling that not enough buffers had been put in place. The woman - in ancient smock - was bent over her needlepoint. The wireless was a huge valved contraption with illuminated dial showing Hilversum, Rabat, Luxembourg, Light Programme, Moscow ... and a woven loud-speaker. She intended to replace the old sound-wave mesh with the new workings of embroidery that she saw grown into illustrative shape beneath her flashing fingers; a porcupine of pins deftly left to find their own use in the tagging of the various lightweight guy-ropes of close-ordered sewing. The tuner was quickly wheeled from one side of the golden dial to the other on its sprung 'tight-rope' pulley action. The tuner knob was twirled by her tiny daughter who had just listened to a nursery rhyme read aloud on the Home Service ('Listen With Mother') and wanted to hear what else was 'on'. Just static interference hissing like gas. Polly put the kettle on.

Fame is not something you can weigh, even value. It is a fulfilling, often challenging, sense of being known beyond the baffles of one's home or inner circle. Firewalls notwithstanding. Fame knows no security. But no matter, fame lasts longer than death. No bluffing.
I'd bluffed my way towards the front. Someone held a sieve like a weapon. I found my dear darling Mum all wrapped up in a five pound note. I helped her out of the limelight

The inch inched nearer to an inch, ever a measure short or long of perfection. So tantalising, it seemed I'd died but my life was still incomplete.

If there were a dining club for shy diners - not versed in prandial repartee - would each member take advantage of the secret logistics of dumb waiter or serving hatch when providing a meal for just one other member, i.e. providing a single meal, by turns, in each of their own homes, while not revealing themselves to the diner visually, only culinarily?
A good question is one which you can't get to the end of and thus find yourself unable to answer it.

There is only one way through. A measure of its uniqueness is coming out the other side ... alone.

Baffle fenestration with subsequent transcatheter closure fails to stop old people choking on their own piss. Good to watch. It makes time stop.

Baffle fenestration is a very complex method used within literary catheters. Without it, the filter is in danger of working both ways. And I would be very much depleted by you reading this. As it happens, with the correct baffle in position, you are the one who is very enriched. And I stay proof against your reading attack. Thank God for Baffles!

Bafflement is a form of battlement.

During the cremation, the guests looked around to see where would allow them a bit of privacy to cry. Nobody likes being confused in public, and crying is the ultimate form of confusion. Or bafflement. Clouds the eyes. Upsets one’s logically unstoppable search for happiness. Logic declines bending to any emotions or motives that divert itself. Meanwhile, the corpse indulged in cry-creation in the full logical ambition of quenching flames.

Aboard the big ship Fable travelled a group of acrobats en route for a slot in the programme at the Cirque de L’une. They practised day and night on deck in contortions of uniform singularity, often with an empty ring of woven limbs about halfway down with two drooping long-necked heads above and an artful duopod configuration below.
“Old woman, overboard!” shouted the baffled shift-worker in the crow’s nest, when the act accidentally toppled into the moonstreams of the pre-dawn. Left to drown in unison beneath the golden wake.

Fanblades can whisk yester-eggs into oubliettes of spent imagination, making today tomorrow. I sit in the carrel deep in study of how baffles work in catheters. So engrossed-out, I fail to notice what I had in mind when I wrote the first sentence. Perhaps I am my own walking oubliette.

Buffered from pillow to pest, I share confusions with the dream that filters me both ways.

Baffles are baffles useful baffles in baffles counteracting baffles broadband baffles surveillance baffles of baffles your baffles internet baffles use.

As close as one comes towards using confusion or obfuscation as methods of filtering, the further one stays beyond the last vent or flap making the baffle. The fable is just the letters mixed up and its moral the f-word.

It was difficult to decide between the left and right baffles. So, I looked straight ahead and saw the triffid squawking: its head a turban of petals. Begging me not to understand. Blinding me to the blinkers it wore.

Frances found her favourite smile amongst the cat litter. She wondered how she could unlock its happiness for her own lips. To avoid swallowing it by rolling up her tongue as a buffer, she almost choked on the air left behind it, changing, as was unsurprising, into a gas in her stomach. Grim emoticon.

Baffles, as well as protecting against clear-sighted surveillance by readers of an author’s work, also serve to protect the author himself from the (a)(im)morality or other negativities portrayed in the fiction he has produced. You see, it is true that much fiction is ‘magic fiction’ with many 'cracks-in-the-pavement' and can bite both author or reader! Thus Baffles often serve as very useful valves or filters or buffers within even the most innocent-seeming of fables that you’ve written which may secretly harbour a sting. Anonymity/Nemonymity is just one form of a Baffle. There are varying degrees of Baffle. The ultimate being death (or if death is not possible) eventual self-imposed silence. And thus my final Baffle impends.

I saw the soldier step in the dogmuck. In the First World War, the trenches were full of such droppings from beast and fowl. Many dreamers collected it up in “doggy bags” to make their hard beds more comfortable in the dream whence the stuff came via the filters of sleep, dream and waking, back to the modern soft beds whence they came.

Whoever starts a Baffle with a question? That defeats the object. Mystifying a mystery makes it not a mystery at all. A swarm of Belief Fleas making the brain itch.

A strange evening: the moon looked like an opening through which angels could come and go.

I watched a dramatisation on British TV last night of Van Gogh stuffing his mouth with oodles of thick yellow oil paint squeezed straight out of the tube, then swallowing it over several minutes, then crunching on the tube itself, with yellow curds still oozing down his chin.
Later today I intend to eat all my stories.

A bellow in my hard of hearing ear was a way to alert me to a beneficial secret. The secret, you see, was an uncoded clouded Baffle. Near stone deaf, too.

My general view, notwithstanding yellow phlegm to write it:
Madness (as defined by the dictionary) is in all of us, except some harness it better.

May we hope to harness madness to climb mountains with.

Words are living creatures, which you can feel or suck or set moving with a literary motive force; they are insects flying in the headlight beams and splattering the windscreen in meaningful and meaningless geographies of collision, until the writer neatly ranks them as dead insects on the page like print.

This always becomes that eventually.

Angels sing loudest when their wings are unfolded, not flying, as such, but pinned to the dartboard by consecutively thrown darts from two contestants.

Too many baffles make a log-jam in God’s filter. Like an army of soldiers in a grave meant for one, raspberry spread as they claw ever deeper for their own share of the sandwich filling.

Tall stories. Long lives.

If you need a clue as to your own whodunnit, don’t ask the murderer who created you.

Abyss Mall was between two high-rise blocks and called by those with imagination 43rd Street.

Fuck is a word used too easily to shock. So, shock itself is no longer a short-circuited version of earthless wiring to the God of Fuck. We just lie back and shrug. Shock is dead. Shock was never born. Out-of-place sex could never shock … in hindsight.

My ambition is to be The Showman as described by Quisser. But that means I lose (myself in) the audience as soon as they start their appalling applause.

Life is harder when you think its should be soft.

Baffles are like gloves that only fit when you don't fit them.

A wet smile eventually becomes a dead smile.

Catch 49

Loaded, the gun misfires. Unloaded, it simply clicks. Jammed, the corpse lifts up its head.

Prime numbers are parthenogenetic. Fifty-one has monogamous sex, however, disguised as a menage a trois.

The sure foot is one that is confident of seeing beyond the ankle.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cracked Meadow

David lived someone else's life. Not that he made a drama out of an identity crisis. Or so he thought. Or was it that someone else thought it? In any event, David convinced himself that he could not really be the individual who, on the face of it, he seemed to have become—working in an office factory in London from 9ish to 5ish: surely it was not possible for him to be a run-of-the-mill routine-toady, especially with a name like David, a name which incidentally had to be real since it could never have been invented.

He religiously followed the channels of destiny which were laid out before him, with glances to neither side. Blinkered by bathos. Dulled by a dire dearth of flair. Cramped by a strait-jacket of uncharisma. His wife, Freda, told him that she loved him—yet how could anyone love a souped-down zombie in the midst of living out a black situation comedy? It wouldn't have stood up to reason, if reason he had managed to apply to it.

Then a dose of doubt dawned on David—causing him to sense within himself the proper person he instinctively realised he truly was. David lived someone else’s wife. So, one night he fell asleep, after having bashed his head seven times on the pillow—a trick that worked better than an alarm clock set for seven next morning. However, that was the very last routine David carried out as the erstwhile self. Indeed, waking up had always been a struggle into renewed existence at the best of times—via the bleary regions of brainache, the blinking yellowmanker custard in his eyes and generous yawnfuls of sour spittle. But this particular morning, it was somewhat different. Everything seemed fresh, effervescent, renascent...

He failed to recognise Freda, since she now lived as someone else's wife. Mind you, she did not recognise him either and, what was more, overnight, her name had changed to Isabel. After the initial shock, they made love, as if it were the start of an illicit affair. Their kisses were searching, their foreplay an extended version of teenage exploration (with the backwash of sweet prurient froth upon the roof of the mouth), ending not in premature ejaculation but in a mutually stunning slowmo orgasm that lasted even beyond the fuel that fed it. The breakfast she then cooked was a feast fit for a banquet: jacket potatoes that had been gently simmering in the oven from the previous evening, providing melt-in-the-mouth flakiness and knobbed off with a generous dollop of fresh-churn butter; rare gammon steaks upon a bed of artfully under-coddled free-range eggs; toasted doorstops of granary bread smarmed with a marmalade so thick with peel it was tantamount to a whole-orange bob game at the fair; and, finally, a breakfast birthday cake where the candles seemed to burn upon the seeping fuel of the rich cake mixture itself—a mixture which was constituted of jumbo currants, molasses, long- and shortbread, oodles of rum &c.).

David did not understand why there were so many candles on the cake. Surely this was the first day of his life. A ready-born ... not tarnished from having emerged via the channels of a woman's body. But there was something very diminishing about not being able to blow out one's own birthday candles. So, he went to work ... but found his desk occupied by someone not called David, but Inigo, plugging away at routine tasks, the simplest of which would in any event be beyond him. He then lost himself in the city, where he would never find himself again. Freda-or-Isabel did not even bother to look for him, in any event, because she did not know he was lost. And never again did she rustle up bumper reward breakfasts for David.

Westerners, westerners, David hated those damnable westerners. The way they inveigled themselves into his little group, selling bottles of what they called "Titanic" water, it made his blood really boil. One in particular was a nasty piece of work: a westerner who came from a township that was further west than anyone could possibly go. The accent was so broad, it sounded as if the westerner had a wagon wheel wedged in his mouth. He picked David from the crowd, knowing simply from the cut of his face that David was not a pure westerner but from where west and east meet and thus an all-round character actor. But it was drawn stares at high noon.

The crowd faded into the background—and they became, for both David and the westerner, the Undergrunts who claimed that the sun always rose and set in exactly the same place upon the squeezed orange horizon. David, since his days with Freda, had become a professional character, open for offers to appear in plays, novels, poems, operas, bar mitzvahs—even avant garde prose. But his big ambition was to go into the army, since that was the life for a real man...

David, older and, hopefully, realler, had left the army with stars and sunrise in his eyes, to appear in stories, but really his heart was not in them, as he wanted to kill someone for some cause or other. He was not a greenhorn private, being a Captain who had pensioned himself out—well respected, too—they were sorry to see him ride off into the horizon. The only regret was that there were no proper wars about when he was in service. His regiment was also the most respected of them: the Third Royal Mercenary Hussar Reserves. Surprising that they sent them so far west.

The wizened old man—whom David found himself to have become—finally ceased his incessant chatter and looked the westerner straight in the eyes from below his drooping eyelids—one of which twitched uncontrollably like a wounded moth. He told the westerner that his name was David Ogden, a character out for what work he could get. But his continued whining to the westerner was almost imperceptible—a war-monger obviously off his rocker ... and he soon fell asleep like a wrinkled babe in dream's arms, only to be followed by a sleep slower than death. His heart was not in the story, but in the battles upon distant sun-streaked islands which continued within the dreams, until the last glimmer.

Any developments that occur—please tell David straightaway. He is fed up with making idle threats, so the next one will not be idle, he can promise you. By the way, do you like his new wild honeyed look? He has done his hair specially to entice you, but if you snub him again, by God, he'll make it very very painful for you. Hey! Are you listening? David's losing his patience. OK, OK, he has got you to look as if you're listening. That's half the battle. What do you think? Is he pretty? The way he has just raised his voice accentuates the blusher, don't you think? They do say that a woman is far more eye-opening when dressed, complete with suspender-belts and artfully positioned garters and frills, than a bare one. These things turn you on, I know they do. You can't fool David. Like you, David is nothing without his wardrobe. Nor without a westerner like you to hear his caterwauling. But your attention is drifting again—is David that boring? What's going on in your little head? He made you promise to keep him abreast of all developments. What! What! You're leaving him—to disappear into the sunset! You're fed up with him! Good God, David owns your brain, dear wrinkled rinkled westerner, and you'll never get away! You've simply have to keep him fully sweet and fully informed of developments or how else do you think an old man like David can function?

David could tell you thousands of jobs he has had as a character, but he has chosen this one because it happens to be true. Once upon a time, David was a child and, having been a child, one can more readily appreciate his predicament. He knew he was to become an adult and there was very little he could do about it. The necessity of quitting humanity and entering such a state of grown-up disgrace was a nightmare that dogged the heels of puberty. Not that there was a sharp dividing-line. But he does recall waking up one morning a slightly different person to what he then thought he was. Over a few months he became the westerner he is today, a pretty soulless, unimaginative, money-grabbing, moralistic individual with nothing to recommend him except the traces of nostalgia for his earlier state. But can one actually be "nostalgic" for something never experienced? For, then, David was another person. It eased the killing, if nothing else. It all has a happy ending in a way, because he is now in those very early days as a child setting up means to remind a later self of whom he may once have been. Can you credit the joy that gives him? Forever and ever, horizons apart. Yet, dreams come in two forms. Ones you know are dreams when you're dreaming them and the others that seem so real only waking can turn them back into dreams. Most of David's dreams used to fall into the former category but, more and more frequently these days, he experiences large doses of the latter—so much so, he is not at all sure whether he is dreaming now or not. He is pretty sure he is not. But equally he is pretty sure he is mistaken in being so confident about the existence of the current reality around him. And the "you" he addresses is out there somewhere, so simply make yourself known to him: it may help you both.

One day—David witnessed a soldier being gutted by another soldier, and they were both in the same uniform—and in broad daylight in a suburban street. And nobody seemed to bother, nobody went to intervene but merely passed by as if nothing were happening. He couldn't believe his eyes. It made him sick to the pit of his stomach watching a man's intestines being harvested from his innards like a weird bouquet of sexual organs. To think the world had come to this. Nothing but Undergrunts. He put it all down to dreaming—and when he wakes up eventually, he will try to find that dead soldier, to explain why he ignored his plight. But, on second thoughts, if he does wake up, where will that leave you? As the famous quotation goes: "Further west than you can possibly imagine, there's a bed-roll and a pan of piping hot beans—and tomorrow at sunbreak you'll be able to cross that last horizon to the last pattern of islands."

"I've never heard that said before. Anyway, want your usual?"

"No, make it a large one."

David thought he had just suffered a shock. Not that there could be much doubt about having a shock, except he felt as if this shock was self-inflicted, rather than deriving from an external force which could be assumed as the proximate cause. What was more, shocks in general rarely allowed their victims thus dispassionately to speculate about their nature.

"You do look a bit pale."

The westerner, who was not typical of that breed, bore a broad smile across his chops, as if he could not believe his own words. Indeed, after decades of seeking every pub for the innermost pub, he had learned that there was very little said in pubs that could be believed—if any of it.

"I've just had a bit of a fright—that's all."

David felt his cheeks, as if that would allow him to gauge their degree of purported paleness without an element of narrative collusion. As if, as if, as if, all was irritatingly as if. That's all. That's all. That's all. Frights were not exactly run-of-the-mill, were they? David sensed that he had belittled something that had been very big indeed. From now on in, he needed to overblow everything, to bring it all back into kilter. He took a second gulp at his neat rum and said:

"Yes, I was coming my usual way, you know, across Ashy Wood. Done it for donkey's years."

The rinkled westerner nodded, knowing full well that his head, given its head, would rather shake dissent, heads having more integrity than the people inside them.

"Well," David continued, "you know the bit between the field and the road-fence?"

"Yes, it's got barbed wire, hasn't it?"

The westerner had just proved he didn't know, despite David peppering his explanation with the odd "you know" or two. At the end of the day, the sad thing was simply nobody knew.

"Well, sort of," answered David. "Anyway, the sun being hot and real bright, I was surprised I couldn't see beyond the edge of trees—and there was a loud sneeze as if a full-blooded buffalo type of creature had a bad cold coming from it."

Coming from it? Coming from what? There was more meaning in the words than either could countenance or give credit for. Or equally no meaning at all. Nevertheless, David's tongue had escaped his teeth:

"There followed a snarl, or rather a roar, louder and snortier, even doggier, than anything heard from a bull-ring."

There was colour in David's words, like rum so red it was darker than any blackcurrant. Fruit-picking in Ashy Wood was an activity which older and older people pursued these days, he thought. Some of them, really old, with lungs that had become toughened leather as a result of careless burrow-smokes and even earlier youthful solvent abuse. Indeed, the act of scrumping engorged eye-bulbs from the scrawny head-rows was no longer simply the holiday past-time of schoolfolk. David shrugged as best he could without narrative force. There was now no need of such nonsensical words to further the fright or scare or shock or whatever he cared to call it. It just was.

He sucked the drink as if it were part and parcel of his breathing process and winked a loud "you know". But nobody received such collaboration of the cheek-muscles, since the westerner had been called across to a fresh bevy of snorting snifters, a clique of clients who, David inferred, had drained their ankle-socks, yonks ago. One of them looked like someone he once knew as Freda.

And there David's story would end, with emptiness gored upon the narrative vacuum of a story-tellers's ultimate shock in discovering that he was none other than its purely fictitious hero David. An implosion of meaning: an inverted snort: pub talk. Emptiness is tantamount to non-existence. But then Freda breezed back into David's life with very little warning. A confirmed bachelor, being accosted in a shop by a winsome, pointy-faced girl, he suddenly rediscovered a concupiscence he didn't know he had lost. And that was how they met again, even if neither could remember meeting before. She told him that she had become a confirmed spinster. He claimed it was more complicated than that—which was later borne out by the facts—but, at the time, complexity was the last thing on his mind. He was smitten, physically stirred, fighting back an unseemly lust and, quaintly, subsumed by a spiritual adoration, too. What more could a lad like David have wanted? In fact, the whole thing would have been better with less.

They had several dates, before she elaborated upon their encounter. She had been following him for days, she said, a behaviour which, even now, she could not reconcile with her more customary demureness: as if she had been possessed by a third party, one who wanted to follow David but had no body with which to accomplish this. He looked askance. Was Freda quite mad? Doubts bred new doubts, and then back to the initial doubts, in an increasingly vicious circle. She then gave him one of her sweetest kisses which calmed all such tail-chasing: a kiss with no tongue and, even, very little of the lips, but one that tasted of old-fashioned childhood confectionery.

Gradually, without David noticing, in fact, they became affianced: not officially, but as if that autonomous third party, in whom he now believed as much as her, had rubber-stamped their romance: with greater, more significant rites and dalliances waiting in the wings.

"You remember that shop where we met?"

How could I have forgotten? It was a mere month back. Her voice was mellifluous, with a barely perceptible underbuzz created by vocal valves foreign to the rest of us. Indeed, David had begun to see Freda as almost inhuman—not in the cruel sense of that word, but more in its other-worldliness. He believed it was his imagination. But simple imagination could not really account for a permeating feeling of otherness, an otherness truly bestowed by someone other, unseen, yet ever attentive. A westerner with eastern eyes.

"Yes, how could I forget?"

His voice, in turn, was nondescript, as far as he could tell, from within the body that owned it.

"Well, I was going to buy something—before I saw you."

"I thought you had been following me."

"Well, I had for days and days, but it was quite accidental in the shop—I had in fact given up following you—I had lost the compulsion—then I saw you amongst the cosmetic counters—and I knew it had all been leading up to that optimum moment."

David frowned, or at least he thought he did, without a mirror being close at hand. She had earlier given him quite a different impression with regard to the circumstances surrounding their encounter. He was still in the metaphorical boat, but he had lost one oar. His greatest fear was now of sinking.

"What was the something you intended to buy?" he asked.

Without changing the subject completely, he was steering the conversation away from the white water, even if that meant drifting into a dark island-lagoon of misunderstanding and increasing recrimination.

"A present for... SSSSSsorry."

She was interrupted by the stage-swags opening upon the drama which they had come to see. The audience shushed. The lights dimmed. David's and Freda's heads turned front. His mind was fevered. Her mind was—well, how could he tell? He wasn't omniscient. He was merely a spear-carrier: an oar-packer: a cipher. The play was passable: a typical three-acter, with fewer parts: so Pinteresque David knew he and Freda would leave the theatre repeating inconsequences to each other, carefully preserving the printed programme for what he called posterity's nostalgia.

"A present for who—who was the present for?"

"The present?"

"Yes, that present you mentioned—who were you going to buy it for?

"Someone you don't know."

"Try me."

"Well, it was someone I once knew—before you."

"But you once said..."

"Yes, I know, but once saying something is not everything."

"Not everything?"

The two voices, one under-laid, the other over-, disappeared into the glistening darkness, leaving a dosser called Padgett Weggs with his empty hand outstretched. David would never see Freda again, unless he forgot the earlier meetings.

"When you fall asleep and whilst your mind's far away in dark desert and dream, your real thoughts are dead still, thus allowing the Dream Tracer to renew the templates of your soul."

David said this without thinking, seemingly as pretentious as ever.

"There is only one real way to prove whether you're alive or not: take a deep breath, as deep as you can go, and don't release it till you're dead sure," said the westerner, laughing at his own attempts to beat David at his own game.

"But deep dreaming, as well as death,
Can slow the lungs and blunt the breath."

David's reply in rhyme marked the end of their game of outwitting each other—except the following night ... he dreams he is Scimitar. He slices through the earth as if it were merely scum. He meets the whetstone mornings with a hearty heave-o to the female who has this night been his sheath. There is one, though, by the name of Enigma who thinks he cuts a finer figure than David. Thus, David pledges his future to teaching Enigma lessons of which the past has been sadly lacking. Enigma's latest female is a living animal and, so as to punish him, David decides to steal her from under Enigma's chopper. David crawls beneath the bottom edge of Enigma's wigwam, the sharp side of David's underblade slipping through the surface of the hard desert like a shark's fin. His oaken haft follows behind like the guiding-handle of a plough. There they are, Enigma and Isabel (the latter being the name Enigma calls the female animal). David recognises her ... and a teardrop slowly wells at the tip of his silver curved tongue. Lining up for their turn are several young blades sharpening edge against edge, sparking off. David cringes at the sheer crudity. Enigma does not need David's help to catch a dose of rust. David will leave him to his own devices, to a cruel fate David cannot encourage more than by merely letting it take its course. David will simply forge his own lonely furrow, slide away, unnoticed. He does not fancy blunt marital aids nor animal hide upon his brightness. The only regret is that Isabel once was his sweetheart.

The second dream that night was not unrelated to the first, but only with the benefit of the foresight that hindsight granted. The fire in his throat had raged for a good few hours. But he plugged on westward, regardless, knowing that waiting at the end of the desert was one whom he would love with a love that could not be topped, nor even equalled. Beneath the bloodshot sun, he prayed for the mercy of night. He yearned, too, for slaking of his torrid tongue. He begged that at least a vision of the woman he was to love would be granted him ... in case he should die before reaching the real thing. Then, Eternity's eye would be assured of focusing on beauty. He stumbled, just as the sun lurched from its height. How was he to know, with his eyes riveted upon the curved silver mirage of the horizon, that there was a corpse waylaid to trip him. Least of all did he recognise the corpse as his own remains which twitched as he parcelled himself within that dried-out husk, like a snail to its shell.

She sat at the very edge of the desert, where sand became grass. She was grinding a blade against a whetstone. The relentless noise hypnotised her, as she dreamed of the one who had promised to arrive today for her love. She ground on forever beneath the eye of Eternity.

"There is as much to be done as has already been done, the one difference being the timescale. The past is always finite, if you consider the present as a permanent way station."

The speaker was a wizened old man with a terribly long beard. As David pondered his words deeply, he half believed the old man was God. In the meantime, he seemed surprised or, rather, perturbed at David's lack of response. An interim smile would have at least eased his concerns ... and David's also, perhaps. A smile can often help the smiler even more than the smiled at. But, from either point of view, a smile is worth its weight in gold. So, somewhat belatedly, David made a scimitar smile. But the old man, David’s future self, was already a corpse, breathless as the day before he was born. His voice undergrunted on within his chest, despite the lack of breath to sound it: "When the Dream Tracer delivers the templates of your soul to God, He proceeds to hone His teeth on them." Dead, but pretentious as ever.

And when Freda told David she was going to a place called Moat City, he believed her. Now as old as the oldest dream, David imagined a place with such a name being beyond even the back of beyond. Except for Freda, he had nobody. To be abandoned as an old man was tantamount to suicide by another's hand. Yet he held his peace. Stayed silent. His eyes speaking volumes.

"Aren't you going to wish me luck?" she asked, reading David's eyes better than he could see with them.

"Yes, of course, dear. But where is Moat City? And am I going with you?"

He tried to level out his expression into one of neutrality. But he had forgotten—was he her dog or her husband or her uncle or her father or, even, her son or nephew? He lived someone else’s wife. David was so senile now, he could not even remember whether Freda was married, divorced or a life-time spinster. Or even what his own name was (or had become).

"Moat City? Yes, it's abroad. Too far for you to go, I'm afraid."

She gave a look which was a cross between embarrassment and bereavement.

"Oh, I see. Where abroad exactly?"

His mind combined feebleness and astuteness—a wonderful way to hide shrewdness with silliness. The voice revealed neither.

"It's hard to say. I've got a job there. All I know is an address."

"An address? So you know where it is, then. Way out west?"

"Sort of. No, not west, really. Further than west. It's hard to explain. It's sort of ... in the past.”

East, west, past—north, south, death.

"Time travel, eh?" He had evidently hit the nail on the head, since she reddened in silence. "I did not know," he resumed, "that time travel had been invented yet." He added the word 'yet' against his better judgement, but he decided that he would humour her. "I suppose this Moat City has a drawbridge."

She perked up. "No, it hasn't got a drawbridge. I've seen a photo of the place and its name doesn't derive from there being a moat actually surrounding the place but because the city itself straggles round a huge lake of sea, like an enormous complete circle of buildings, and 'moat' is a sort of metaphor for the actual shape of the city itself."

Her description was painstaking. David did not have the same educational background as Freda, since, like all people generations apart, you try to better yourselves in the shape of your posterity, don't you? And it is true to say that he hadn't stinted at all in giving to Freda all that he could. He even gave up having cooked breakfasts to pay for her pet dog to have obedience classes. A Dad’s duty after all. One that he doesn't regret nor resent. So, some of Freda's words went straight over his head. Hence his question:

"What's a metaphor?"

"It's a sort of shorthand for things."

"Oh, I see."

But he didn't. His question had reminded him of that old joke: what's the difference between a daggafor and a pub? What's a daggafor? What's a dagger for, you ask, well, it's for cutting your tail off! Yet, looking back on it all, after his lobotomy, Moat City did become a metaphor of sorts. A metaphor for life. Body and soul. Mind and matter. Blood and flesh. Moat and meat. Just the right philosophical jump start he needed. Spirit-diluted or flesh-corrupted reality—it depended on how you looked at it.

Freda didn't emigrate after all. And following her accident with a knife, it was discovered that she was a registered brain donor. Very useful to David, as it turned out, and there's nothing like your own blood and flesh coming back to you, is there?. He is glad he got her such a good education, even though originally it was self-evidently not for selfish reasons. Whatever the brain, however, there's, no high-faluting globetrotting for the likes of David. Too long in the tooth for that sort of malarkey. The further west you go, the further east you are. Meantime, his dear old mongrel Enigma keeps him company: the wag he takes walkies to the pub for talk and more talk. A retired office worker like David has got to make up for lost time somehow, hasn't he? Got to cut right through the matter to what it's really for. In the war against time and madness. He lived someone’s else knife.

Sometimes David thinks it is him who is taken out walkies to Ashy Wood. Barks like knife-twists in the trunk. As if. Sort of. You know.

Miscellaneous Stories

MIND AND MATTER

Published 'The Fantasycon Reporter' 1998

Once upon a time there was a man, but it might easily have been a woman. He scrutinised the palm of his left hand as if it were about to reveal something about himself that he did not already know. He saw the date of his funeral (not too far off if you only count shopping days) but, more important, when the next FantasyCon was due. What was perhaps more surprising, there was a divot in the soft flesh under the index finger which indicated the nature of his death in all its horrific detail. So what else could there be? Only the increasingly relevant details relating to FantasyCon, the odd rough edge that he preferred not to acknowledge, even the smallest nick near an under-knuckle.

Sometimes, he saw right back to where Mind started in darkness, but he never dared pioneer those unexplored regions without the aid of a psychiatric prop ... but where, these days, could one obtain the likes of a fellow FantasyCon delegate? Few and far between in such times of universal madness, delegates had never felt so important.

There was knocking on the apartment door: more sudden than the flash of enlightenment that occurs when one finally breaks an impossible code. Probably, another one of those ne'er-do-well do-gooders, he thought. Someone who wanted to nurse him through the worst mantra of wrinkle maps and fingerstalls ... someone who may even want to become a fellow traveller in Birmingham! He ignored the knocking, knowing from his palm that it would eventually cease and go away ... but for the audible pain of wood panels relentlessly beaten. He pinned the blame on circumstances, if odd circumstances at that. There was one item about himself, however, that slowly dawned on him from a new nodule on the thumb's heel: he was fast becoming someone other than himself. His hand flopped at the wrist like a suddenly untenanted glove puppet.

"Come in," he said, in a voice he no longer recognised as his own. Still the plain knocking. Eventually, he got up and freed the door.

There stood a pony-tailed creature with unshaven legs - and feet that could easily be mistaken for cloven hooves. It held a shopping-bag teeming over with books and magazines in one hand, the other having been allowed to knock by the utilisation of clenched teeth to hold the bag's makeshift handle.

"Blimey, mate, you took your time about it! You know I've lost the door key!"

Its voice was harsher than his. He could see now that its so-called feet were not hooves as such, but pretty outlandish clod-hoppers with which yet another World War had caused the shoe-shops to stock up ... in some misbegotten imitation of the Utility Years. This could only be horror incarnate. He yearned for the days when life wasn't pigeon-holed into categories of fantasy.

He lay beside the throbbing cairn of this creature, wondering what it was. He had just woken up for the second time that night. It was snorting like an oven-¬ready pig in labour ... no wonder he couldn't nod off. The advertising sign outside his bedroom window slowly flashed. He couldn't recall the nature of the latest logo that the electricians had erected only two days before. It cast sufficient light, however, for him to scry the ill-ploughed mandala on the palm of his left hand. He couldn't believe his eyes. It was smothered in goat-fur!

He shrieked, running for the apartment window.

He dangled from the advertising sign like a dead marionette: caught on a green-pulsing inverted comma by the pyjama cord. In worse than slow motion, the pyjama bottoms split and his body flopped through. As the hard pavement drew nearer with tantalising dread, he thought he saw the sign was advertising a new brand of lightweight fiction:

HIGH FANTASY HORROR (WITH SCI-FI)

He shuddered, but not for long.

He swept past the electric bulbs, bulbs that constituted the image of piles and piles of bookish shopping-bags - but the speed of descent thankfully served to make the mind help the eyes pixellise the vision into a FantasyCon Raffle ...

The journey was short, but crammed a lot in. Minds evidently could splatter like Matter.



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BABY DOLL

Published 'Purple Patch' 1992

They call me Baby Doll, but I am little more than a slip of a girl fallen into unbecoming ways.

Flaunting comes natural, even though, in many ways, I feel it is the most unnatural thing in the world for anyone to do. Our Maker does not intend bodies to be playthings.

But, then, when in a different frame of mind, I lose patience with myself.
If our Maker is such a goddam prude, why does He give us bodies with erogenous zones? It's all very well, excusing such devices on a person's body by the need to encourage procreation - but that's all divine humbug and heavenly propaganda.

I bit my tongue.

No need to have done so really, as I'd not said all that blasphemy in actual fact, merely thought it. And I couldn't really bite my brain, could I?

Some people think I'm sufficiently scatterbrained as it is.

So, where was I? Ah, yes, they call me Baby Doll. Most of my customers, that is. They're a godawful crowd, if the truth were known. Two-faced as they come. I sometimes wish I had eyes in the back of my head, because a mere slip of a girl in this profession needs to keep at least one pace ahead of the rabble.

They must think I'm as thick as two planks. They haven't much conversation, presumably because they don't expect me to have any in return. I've got thoughts, though, that I want to express, as you can see. But they just don't come out.

And maybe, they're right. I've no illusions about myself - ever since that geezer bit out my tongue when I wasn't looking.



================================

DEATHCAP

Published 'Glasshouse Electric' 1998

So many stool were needed to accommodate the audience, it was decided not to stage the event at all. Sam's son, however, kicked up a fuss when he realised that the stars came out every night in Toadcroak, clouds or not. This was to do with a certain backdrop and night only being a cover for something far darker beneath (or above) it. Sam's son cut his losses, however, when his nearest dearest pointed out the liver spots star-studded on his pate were hardly better than fancy fungi.


==================================

IF NOT BOTH

Published 'Glasshouse Electric' 1998

The place either existed or it didn't. Yet I could actually believe that neither was the case; it neither existed nor didn't exist. Almost as if it were a dream, whilst bearing some ingredients of reality. But that didn't really explain what I am trying to explain. Not even writers could get close enough. It was not a city - nor a town. Somewhere between, where the main streets with parades of shops were in a sort of rectangle around an enclosed area, a sizeable single-storey type covered-market or oversized underground entrance (presumably with several lines converging in the subways below) or neither of these two things, serving a purpose none of us on the outside could ever comprehend or it was none of any possibilities, being simply, if inexplicably, there, echoing with fitful shouts as the in-the-know people, of dubious exterior, used the various exits and entrances with no set pattern. That very thereness was enough for most of us on the outside. Life's trial went on without the need to delve further. All of us returned to our English castles on the outskirts of the 'place' and only came back to the centre when the need came upon us to use the rectangle of shops and cafes. I knowingly, if inadvisedly, use 'us', despite some of us (even you) having other urges and leanings and, yes, suspicions. I vow to make myself one of the in-the-knows and discover, then if not now, why I always sense myself teetering upon a brink of either full-blooded nightmare or simple waking, if not both or neither.


====================================

MORE OR LESS THAN JUST LOVE

Published 'Arrows of Desire' 1990

When I first met her, she was not my wife, but the longer I grew to know her, the more I was convinced she would one day become, if not mine, that of some brute of a ne'er-do-well. So, for her sake, in a moment of neutered selflessness, I asked her to marry me, rather than abandon her to a fate worse than death, if that's not a pretty meaningless phrase. I suppose I did begin to love her more than I could love any other human being, but whether it was the true love that others experience, I am still uncertain ... even now.

Today, things look differently. Yesterday, when I started writing all this down, not only did everybody in the street have their thumb and index finger as far apart as possible, but even domes looked like pyramids. But today, the tops of the shopping parade look as if their chimneys are sunk to the waist in brick bubbles. She returned to haunt me last night... assuming that she was dead in the first place. I shall never be certain. I knew I should never have started writing about her. It was almost as if I were the one guilty of bringing her back. For months now, I have been sleeping alone in the double bed we once shared ... recalling the way she used to slide the lip of the sheet up and down, playing peeky-boo with me, and rubbing my feet with hers. Even in the pitch blackness we both used to cherish through many a sleepless hour of love together, I could just discern her half of the bed rising up in even darker darkness. I never let her untwirl my pyjama cord, whilst I had already sewn up the fly. Love for me was cuddling. She never complained, only rubbed harder with her feet.

Mary was her name. She once told me of a father who never said anything, only grunted, having once interfered with her as a child. The psychology was beyond me, but it confirmed my belief that marriage without me would have been her ultimate nightmare, worse than any father of doubtful leanings. They do say that a spouse is but an idealised reflection of the respective parent. Last night, she returned again. In the darkness, I saw the breathing mound beside me. It made tears come to my eyes ... real tears, not the ones I used to wet my face in the ensuite bathroom to obtain. The deepest agony, last night, was finding no night smile.

Let me say here and now, I do not believe in ghosts, especially those that pretend to exist by kicking up the bedcovers at dead of night. They're the worst sort, for existence is a foul crime, where such existence is impossible. My only weapon against them is disbelief. Giving them the sense of satisfaction over you would make them into monsters far worse than ghosts can ever be. With this logical response, I ignored Mary's pleas for my acknowledgment. I just turned over in the bed (as I often did following marital squabbles in the old days). My wrenching sobs soon petered out and, turning back, I found that there was nothing in which to disbelieve, anyway.

Today, I feel I can set out, for the first time, the exact circumstances of Mary's death. I must have known, once I got moving with this diary epitaph, that I would eventually reach this crunch point. After all, that was what it was. An amazing coincidence of misfortune, her being in the street, slipping the yale key into our front door, when the chimney stack collapsed upon her with no prior warning. There wasn't even any wind. Those sort of accidents make you believe that if God exists (in itself a farfetched proposal), He must be an evil one. I heard her last scream, cut off in half blast. I was in the front room, you see, channel hopping on the TV, and I literally felt the place shudder and then the scream less than a split second later. I know the feeling will stay with me forever, That loathsome cataclysmic sickness, Because I did love her. What I said earlier about it being for her sake that I took her from the purview of other men is all very well. But underneath it all, I loved her madly. To hear her stifled scream and to witness the bleeding splinters of bone sticking through the low denier stockings, bones that the rubble had pushed out from the belly downwards, made me love her even more ... if that were possible. I knelt in prayer and kissed the feet that had once rubbed so tenderly against mine ... ignoring all the moon-eyed bystanders, none of whom had thought of
calling the ambulance men. Within my own secret heart, I knew then she was dead. I blamed the Building Society surveyor. Madness hits you at times like that. I felt like going round to his high-faluting house in the suburbs (if I'd known the correct address) and doing him the direst mischief imaginable. If not him, the people who palmed the house off on us. Or the Estate Agent himself, who was a greasy looking spiv. It was the way he showed us the photograph of the house back in his office. He had it at an angle, holding it between thumb and index finger. Mary said he probably tricked his wife out of the housekeeping allowance he made her.

Reliving that day has at least done some good. The thing masquerading as my dead wife has not returned. I write this now more out of duty than need. Soon it will peter out. .. much as it petered in. I think I must have needed to admit to myself all the cruel details of the accident. Accident? I still believe someone pushed it off the roof. Perhaps the husband she would have married if it had not been for me getting in first. She never actually told me whether her father was still alive. I always assumed he was dead, though. I never pushed her into describing what he did. The word "interfere" seemed to cover a multitude of sins. Some say there is no such thing as rape, but I'm not so sure. All those who believe a woman "asks for it" ought to look deeply into their own hearts.

She came back last night. It was Mary for real this time, complete with night smile. I untwirled the cord all on my own, even before she had the chance to ask me. It seemed all so much easier now she's dead. Better to believe in ghosts than the love of a man for himself. I think she'll come again. The central heating hums all night now that the cold weather is upon us. I can't stand too many covers on me. Gives me claustrophobia, which is only one phobia this side of frigidity. Although one guilt can hide another, the act of petering out is never complete.