Published 'Works' 1995
Ruthven had much pain to come. Once a rich man of the City, he now contemplated what remained of his short life. People to die, people he loved, and, finally, himself--racked with pain and pointlessness. He drew the covers to his chin and followed the cracks in the ceiling to their uneasy confluence of rivers. Suffering had been so far contained within reasonable margins, so he wondered whether the worst pain was incubating, moving slowly against fate's dam, threatening to overspill at any moment.
The bedroom window rattled in a sporadic wind, the only element breaking the only silence. And the only person, perhaps the only one in the world, dreamed everything, thousands of self-imposed dreams crowding nightmare's dam, threatening to break out in one fell swoop or, at best, simply seep through the haircracks in the ceiling--silver teardrop by silver teardrop like counterfeit shilling-coins.
There had been little rain: cold dry summers edging into endless winter. The sun was a dull orange stain upon the curtains, as if it were incontinent. He recalled the others who had shared his pillows--but even the pillows had been stuffed into the rucksacks of derelict ghosts, who were now traipsing into the distance of his fading imagination; the only remaining pillow under his head was sodden with dark sweat, into which he turned his only face with a sob.
There was more than just wind at the window. Fingernails cut their teeth upon it. They were not people, but monsters, the only monsters left to taunt the one monster who still called itself man. He turned bodily in his sleep, if indeed sleep it could be called. His dreams were of clean sheets, silk sheets--and the pillow full of teased satin feathers for a pillow-fight at a schoolgirls' midnight feast--and a body so soft, so luscious, so self-responsive, he was confident that love could outlast the night. He should have known money could not purchase such love when the chips were finally counted.
Then, through the billowing curtains, there came the creature--a huge monstrosity with huge flapping banknote wings, one huge searing searchlight eye and the smallest possible credibility--shaping out the arrival of night in its own shape, a shape the sleeper could not fathom nor, in a million years, have invented. This was the shape of pain to come, now finally come--dripping indeed with spent come. Only to find the bed empty. Empty of even the last dream. The pillow plump.
The cracks in the ceiling drew to a tangled doodle of tentacles--but nobody was left to tease out the final clear-cut image. The sleeper had departed in one final trial of nightmare--to reseek his fortune in the City, where it was said the streets were paved with gold--and the low lying motorway across the central City filled quickly with sea-water after marauders undermined the coastal dam--but the palace was water-logged and the pelican crossings impassable. The money-lenders foreclosed when the Exchange's plimsoll-line for narrow money supply fell short of the realizable residue of the readies.
Ruthven became senior dosser, on the southernmost bank, but did not have enough pockets to take what came floating down with man-made tides. Then there was the body in the water. Ruthven recognised the body that must have thrown itself in. A mock-up, a right Madame of a waxwork.
"Blimey, that body's me!" he screeched to the wizened woman who took alternate sucks with him on a bottle of pother.
"Now! Now! That can't be you, 'cos you are here." And she pointed to the bottle's glass neck which he French-kissed. "That’s your reason for living."
"But it sure looks like me bobbing like a corpse." The Thames twined between hard shoulders that were planned from time immemorial for its course. Large black inverted statues of fish creatures supped at its margins. In the distance, the searchlight on the top of the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral winked like a lighthouse, its beams crossing the whole of the city skyline "with the revolving spokes of qod on His one-wheeler,” some smart-arse dosser nearby whined out.
Professional wreckers were discerned combing the more outlying areas, in wait for bankers--craft to be lured into the darker canal regions--yet unplumbed by any upstart A to Z cartographer recently laid off in Venice. Dislodged pavement slabs with the gold plate flaking off stood on end like reefs. Floating merchantmen cast money-notes to the wind, in the hope that such inflation-ridden confetti would placate any robbers. They even launched giant coins in cork life-rings as some cosmic game of Shove-Halfpenny. The dossers gambled upon them eventually landing between the tramline territories. It was all a cheap way of keeping busy those who would otherwise be dangerous.
Ruthven turned over under the gummed banknotes that were unaccountably warmer than newspapers. He could not sleep properly, however, because of the hard currency in his back. There was old gold with which to enamel the city basin and hard loot to sink in venture capital: such were his waking dreams, born out of sunset, by high-rise. The wizened woman put a finger to his cheek--and sunk it to the bottom bone of spent existence, through the yellow waxy loam of his flesh. She felt his heart turn over like a sick house-pet in its sleep.
The Ferris-Wheel eye in the sky hovered--a huge silent Angel Helicopter. Even as children, they never had enough pockets for the money. She wept to see how shorter she had became than when first a child. The coins were now so huge and dragging, yet worthless. She idly counted the "blessings” as they floated upon the scummy river: ancient uncustomised vehicles which used to circle the City rather than dare cross it. She turned a blind eye and took suck at Ruthven's ribbed chimney-flesh neck, whence the head had crumbled. She believed that God was probably a Dosser who could not bear the flesh-corrupted body with which He had been saddled, so he flung it off him in skin-shit desiccations of gold--whilst the vast money-spider monster sat upon the Cathedral's dome, knitting its tentacles.
The dam which finally burst was not one of fate nor of nightmare, but that of death itself. Yet Ruthven's previous pain had not presaged a healing death, only more pain, a pain that was so painful he could only hope to share it amongst others. And upon the death of each human creature, the residual pain continued to grow for those still left alive. And still does. A tontine of torment.