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.
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.
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.