Published 'Black Tears' 1995
The worrying thing about the area was that, despite being positioned in the same hemisphere as Feldspar's homeland, each night seemed to blend into the next one, with only a fleeting hint of dawn-dusk round about the time that his luminous watch indicated it to be midnight. In contrast, his homeland was roughly in line with the 20/20 day shift, where seasons only created a small adjustment in the ratio between light and dark. For the record, elsewhere, seasons were harder taskmasters and created wilder fluctuations from the norm. Such concerns should not have affected Feldspar - but, as the events still unfolded around him, he could not guarantee that irrelevancies would not become relevant and vice versa.
He was currently on a job for the Suspended Belief Conglomerate. Its head office was in the outskirts of his homeland, so that, when a child, he could see its tall buildings along the horizon like teeth of a comb. His parents said it was their ambition that he should become an employee of the Conglomerate, as soon as he was able to leave the house on his own two legs. Very good fluctuating emoluments and perks could be taken for granted. So, his awe, and even consternation, was overwhelming as he knelt by the bed and gazed at the distant pillars of his destiny gradually becoming snagged with the strands of night.
Later, of course, Feldspar was far more confident of his own identity. He had been with the Conglomerate for some years, and he was entrusted with their most important missions. His parents were still alive; but the outbuildings of the Conglomerate's original head office had encroached nearer to their house, threatening compulsory purchase in the near future. There was no stopping progress.
He was now located outside his homeland, surveying the lie of the land for a proposed site of another head office, with the eventual aim of moving all the staff from one to the other. Cheaper than renovation of the original head office, the architect had advised. He had already called back on the walkie talkie that the only drawback he could establish was the constant darkness: but, since the air conditioning of the new head office would control light/dark as well as heat/cold, he could see no problem: as long as the staff had all facilities under one roof and the relocation expenses were sufficient.
Despite having been steeped in the Conglomerate's self-effacement programme for three decades of his existence, he still had a soft spot for his parents. He believed the more he held back on criticism of this worrying area, the more it was likely that his parents would be left in peace. However, he could hardly recall what they looked like or what they may have turned into, and one of the vital ingredients of love, they told him, was visual communication between the parties. But that took no account of blind people - or, for that matter, people living, for lengths of time on end, in constant darkness: only at midnight, perhaps, could love flourish. He had conducted himself always in accordance with the Conglomerate's motto:
"Suspended Belief is your one great virtue;
For Dreams will never even start to hurt you."
As he sat shivering between the dark masses of land and sky, he could not guess if his watch told the right time. Then, with the suddenness of a single brushstroke of luminous paint across the sky, he saw the first distant skeleton of an office tower in the process of construction - and disciplined Indian Files of hooded figures trudging towards it. Obviously, the Conglomerate had taken his walkie talkie messages more seriously than he intended. And even more abruptly, it was night shift again, for the short storm of dusk-dawn passed on around the world. He fell asleep like a child at the interface of two nowheres. He called out: his parents did not come. They never had a walkie talkie (except Feldspar as a toddler, of course!). There was no stopping regress. He fell fitfully for sleep's enticing.
The night so far had been quiet, far too quiet. I cursed, for whatever happened, I wouldn't be able to sleep. If our baby started whining, then there was no hope even for a fitful doze. But the utter silence was worse. I sat up in the bed, brow glistening, ears pricking, worried that our baby would rediscover the squalls in its lungs at the slightest suspicion of its father sleeping. My wife snored beside me, although I seldom had the cruelty to describe her night habits, come the daylight.
Soon, despite my posture, I did drift off into some dream interruptions - about a cathedral with a dome and a woman I |oved more than my wife. I then paced what I can only describe as an alien landscape. The sun, if it ever had a sun, was not yet up, but a strange living fluid filled the air with an inhalable light. I noted that I breathed through gills in the sides of my neck and that I possessed a tail which dragged a trough behind my legs in the loamy grey sand. Someone had hung decorations from the sky and I heard the distant thuds of an impending storm. Before much longer, I came in sight of an estate house, like those often found when hiking in parts of Great Britain. Its windows were lit brighter than the pervasive glow, so I walked spritely to a lower bay window. Groups of people stood about in a large drawing-room, barely moving and talking no more than in desultory mumbles. I somehow knew they were mumbles, rather than words, despite the intervening window-pane. One woman had a bundle in her arms at which, from time to time, she cooed and purred. Whatever constituted the bundle, it was alive, moving of its own volition.
I was abruptly awoken by a squawking. It was my turn to see to it. Considering that my wife was still snorting like a beached whale, I withdrew my body from the bed, pulled on my stringy dressing-gown and approached the nursery along the dark corridor. Sometimes, I wished its mother had taken up breast-feeding. That would have enabled me to stay in bed whilst she went off to feed herself to the brat. But then, on second thoughts, I cringed at the thought of the milk mountains.
The night-light was still flickering in its jamjar; the curtains seeming to move, as a result. The cot cover budged up and down, as I went over to the tallboy, upon which we had left the creature's comforts. Eventually, when I lowered the teat, I found the opening straightaway and listened to the suck-suck while the clear liquid filtered down. Gradually, its short sharp breaths lengthened, and the guzzling became more of a ritual than a struggle for life and death. I knew the next thing would be the shit, but we could live better with stench than screech.
I replaced the still unwieldy udder on the tallboy, blew on the night-light to tease out its life for the rest of the dark hours, tucked in the cot covers around the gentle rise and fall of the mound - and, unaccountably, tested the strength of the side-bars, knowing babies couldn't fly. I laughed at my own dozy thoughts. Then it spoke. Not with a babyish gurgle, but a shrill voice. It actually negotiated its tiny tongue around real words. Words I understood. Could find in the dictionary, if need be. Write down. I listened unintently, since surely this must also be dream - surely I had drowsed off whilst giving it a nibble of my engorged masculine tit.
"Can you hear me?" it whined, amid a streamer of black phlegm.
"Yes," I found myself answering.
"Dreams," it continued, "within the mother's womb are commonplace, many experts say."
"Within the watery world of tubes and black hanging things, listening to the mountainous thunderflesh, a dream can form like weather."
There was no chance to note my dream's undreamlike quality, since a storm abruptly struck with the breaking of red-flecked waters and an irresistible thrust upon a tiny body. The G forces were so powerful, the body turned wrinkly and unsightly, its mind fogged with fear, beshitted with memories gone bad...
The Elizabethans had a fixation about Death. And that's how most of them ended up. But one travelled ways so straitened, so full of blind alleys, that he ended up in corners of a London where time did not seem to matter, let alone pass. His name was Fieldspear, but today he's Feldspar and he roams City churches, like a noon-time shadow, a black aura huddled up to the church wall as if tapping its spiritual power for a further go on the dodgem of life. I first made his acquaintanceship when I was courting Freda. She was to be my girl and I wooed her even to the point of obsession. Other men often accosted me, by the scruff of my lapels, saying she was in no way my girl. But I preferred to believe in myself, not them. They were liars, in any event. You could see it in their eyes. Freda's eyes, on the other hand, were wide open and she said I could see to the bottom of her soul, and I believed her. I understood her. I was secure in her simplicity. But, then, of course, I had not accounted for Feldspar.
Freda and I, when walking out, often sat in the grounds of City churches, fresh from business lunches with the Exchange Brokers. Our favourite was St Paul's Cathedral, not least, on my part, because its dome looked like a woman's breast. Freda was full of ideas about her future career (as long as she could obtain the right contacts). Often, she expounded about the making of money and what she described as filling the space that a man inhabits with the irregular shape of a woman. But I knew Freda better than Freda knew Freda. She was all up front but, deep within, without outward admission, she saw Feldspar as well. Only Sensitives, I believed, could follow such fleeting hair-pieces which often darted up and down church walls like apprentice angels' dusters. People steeped in Stocks and Shares need not apply. Don't call us...
On the occasion we first encountered Feldspar, Freda was sitting on the gravestone of a City businessman who had founded a Coffee House which later transmogrified into an Insurance Company Conglomerate. She was holding forth in her mock-serious manner to which I had grown accustomed. "If we could demolish St Paul's," she said, "that would leave room for a few more Futures Exchanges or Eurobond Dealing Houses - it's about time this City shrugged off the loose appendages of the past. There are not enough Computer Mainframes for the Unit Trust or Put Option mega-yields to be accommodated - it's a scandal - nobody will miss St Paul's..." She rambled on in her attractive satirical fashion, and I laughed in spirit with her words. It all sounded too much like a speech to be true. I loved her, you see. She was a poet at heart - like me. That was why I brought her to the churches. I wanted to cuddle her, too. I needed someone as sensitive as myself to cradle my head to her soft bosom.
Suddenly, I saw him, creeping like my image of an Elizabethan. The only one left. Freda was at first unaware of his presence, with her back resting against the gravestone. His open mouth seemed full of black ice-cream which he sicked up all over Freda's power dress. He acted like an evil kid. A non-Sensitive would have said it was simply the night coming in sooner than the dusk. But we both knew that we had met Feldspar, a representative from another age. She could not admit it, of course - she pretended nothing at all had happened. And, even when I challenged her with it, she merely shrugged and said it was only to be expected.
We encountered Feldspar on several other occasions. He dug at the graves, black elastic hose stretching back to the church wall like thick kite strings. He followed us along Bishopsgate and Fen Church Street, loping between the shuttered foreign banks in the guise of an urban scarecrow. He swung from lamp standards in the vein of monkey-spiders, his eyes floating in the dark sorbets of Winter. Yet Freda was, from the very first encounter with Feldspar, quickly promoted, not staying in any one job long enough to be discovered as a true Sensitive, as I knew (and still know) was her real condition. She became Stockbroker General and instigated a whole chain reaction of fiscal meltdowns - but, as during an earlier war, St Paul's managed to withstand the decimation around it.
Freda has now begun to live with Feldspar and she does not have much time for me any more. It's like losing a mother, rather than a sweetheart. I still wander the wedges between leaning computer complexes, where churches used to squat. I feel that Feldspar is good for Freda no doubt, because he once lived in the Alchemical Age of Queen Elizabeth the Second where fifties met nineties. The true Elizabethan. One who followed Dickens. And even Churchill. A contemporary of Thatcher. The real McCoy of an Elizabethan. That era of history has much to teach us, since women were in control and there's still nothing like their soft touch.
The last time I saw Freda, I asked her if she remained my girl, since I still had a crush on her. Freda's mouth yawned wide to answer and black treacle stretched like split innards from tooth to tooth. Something moved inside her blouse. Evidently, she and Feldspar are more than simply good friends. But it's no good crying over spilt milk. I merely hope that they will find time, amid all their other civic duties, to visit St Paul's to disentangle it from the barbed wire with which the City Guild has seen fit to surround it. On the other hand, perhaps such fencing is to keep the Sensitives inside the Cathedral, safe from the outside world. And, albeit a man, I'm the only one left outside with the soft touch.
Meantime, either side of the dream, the baby blows kisses of black spittle, for me to suck.
Feldspar dreamed he had a new occupation back in the old days before real life itself became so dream-like - which was buffing up the drearinesses that seemed to build up when nice bright mornings drifted into the degeneration of late afternoons. He was on guard duty from 3.0 p.m., at which time darkness began to have the potential to wheedle its way into the daylight. So he grabbed his mop and bucket of sunlight liquid from the cupboard under the stairs and, by lunchtime, he had hung his uniform by the front door, with battery-lit buttons and luminous carnation in the button-hole. He placed his false ding-dong of a nose, bright red and bulbous, on the door-knob, to remind him to take it with him. But his mind wasn't in the right gear, somehow. He felt a trifle under the weather, despite the morning's sunniness. He looked from the window and saw a rocketship crossing the blue sky. It didn't look at all convincing. He looked down at himself and, come to think of it, and not to put too fine a point on it, he was not the fine figure of the man he thought he was. Who ever heard of putting the brightness back into twilight, anyway? He might as well go back to bed, he thought, because no doubt it's all part of a bad dream. But, too late, the rocketship suddenly slipped a gear, spluttered and finally stalled, crashing towards the house in which Feldspar stood and stared, now believing how convincing it was. Luckily it was indeed a dream (or else he did die and was subsequently dreaming whilst dead).
He looked at the vase of flowers on the mantelpiece (which his parents had arranged that very morning before light) wondering whether anything of such relative insignificance could be persuaded to take on a character larger than life. Tomorrow, his parents had been told, was to be his very first interview with the Conglomerate. He kept looking up and looking down, and each time he looked up, he felt sick and sicker. As if the motion of his head up and down was a flight of nausea on a tilting sea of air. Finally, he decided, too late, that he was, literally, going to spew. No time to reach the fire-closet. So he used the vase of flowers. Later, he switched on the TV set, but could not focus its flickering. He was not used to reading between the lines and a sense of nausea revisited the alimentary canal around which he was built. He sometimes felt as if he had vomit running through his veins, instead of blood. He failed his first interview, but passed a second one much later in life because the original failure became a valuable qualification, there having been a change of management. His parents would have been proud of him.
Indeed, I must have been dead, because I dreamed I was not Feldspar nor even myself. I was them. I was us. One thing was certain, I was older. But not wiser. The street was quiet except for the occasional tube train below. The lamps joined up worms of light in the darkness. Yes, the street was quiet, the distant drone of a rocketship several skies away. The lamps were finally doused in the early hours: all that could be seen was the sole glow of a first floor window in a ramshackle joint - and it was in that room where the Conglomerate's business resided. The "we" that "I" had become climbed on to each other's shoulder's to view a middle-aged man at a word processor. He was so intent on his task, that he did not hear the sash-window slip its lead, nor our ingress to the room. It was not surprising, for we were quieter than the spluttering of his veins. Outside, the street was quiet. Inside, the room held for a split second a shop-soiled tableau of our frozen dummies. He must have been deafer than a china vase for he did not hear one of us tripping over the lumps in the carpet. We would have to be more careful next time, for any slip like that could have caused a havoc and a half. What a man! He kept up the nimble fingerwork on the keys, oblivious of us. One of us eventually looked over his shoulder and read what he was writing. It was in English, so we could not understand it. Outside, the street was still there, but we had completely forgotten it. Inside, we ranged wide, rummaging beneath the bed for valuables amongst his night soil, rifling his cupboards for any noon meat that was still sufficiently undecayed to be handled, cleaning out his pockets for mind drugs amid the fluff. Not that we were common or garden burglars. He must have been dumb, as well as deaf for, on seeing us, all he could do was point at his mouth. One of us laughed at him and the other laughed too. It was difficult to tell whether his tears indicated laughter or not. Funny that! Outside, the street had imperceptibly broken its bounds into morning - with everything, except daylight, which morning entailed. Inside, we had killed the man, for we could not bear his incessant silent laughter. It was so disconcerting. He must have been round the bend. His eyes were luminous. One of us (probably me) did the job well, cut his throat with his own scissors, took the adam's apple between the two blades and snipped. His death sicked all over the red screen. Illegible in life, illegible in death. Like the noises from the street outside, all leading hard and fast towards noon; people, cars, trains, kids, sirens merging into an inchoate groan. The rocketships had been grounded, of course, till it was official night time again. Inside the room, we finished searching his bits and pieces. Now, what should we do? Listen, who did you think I was? I talked to myself, you know. Dispose of the body, before it's an incrimination. Speak up, won't you, I can't hear, for the noise in the street outside, it's so deafening: like the spluttering in my veins, the blood of my proud parents.
The sash window slid back of its own accord, yet I ignored it. I put the finishing touches to the words on the screen, English being a language with no hard and fast rules, merely taste and instinct and fear of the schoolmaster's cane. Better than flower-arranging. I was perhaps the only one awake in the whole silent Conglomerate of the worrying world; so busy, I was sure to miss the lightning flash that was both sunrise and sunset. A diptych of dawn and dusk.