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.



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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.


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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.