TO BE PUBLISHED IN 2012 - 'THE LAST BALCONY' COLLECTION (The InkerMen Press)
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
“I see the sea, but can the sea see me?”
The voice sounds physically close to my ear but, when I turn to see who whispers such sweet nothings, nobody is there.
I turn the other way in case the voice’s owner has gone behind my back.
A stranger stands there with a glass of water in his hand, holding it out to me. I know it is water because strangers can only offer water to other strangers to drink. This to avoid skullduggery. Filtered clear, spring-like, untampered with.
I take the glass. He smiles as he nods me to quench my thirst. I surreptitiously sniff it a split second before I sip it. Then a gulp as the next mode of intake. Lastly, a long, breath-held quaffing. Until the glass is emptied to its last drop.
I smack my lips in satisfaction. The stranger smiles. We seem no longer strangers to each other. But friends of recent making.
He takes me by the hand towards the edge of the sea, where it can see me. The sea is short-sighted. The sand starts hard-ribbed as left by the tides, but it is soon pulpy enough to make footprints. I throw the glass into the sea.
He shouts. He is angry.
“The sea’s monocle!” I shout back, stork-legging like a latter-day Jacques Tati, as the ground surrounds me with its dizzying whirlygig of horizons, some man-made, others sea-edged.
The man makes me dig where the sand is pulpiest. Despite the light-headedness, I reach the finger-holes of a human skull.
I shrug my shoulders and try to throw this into the sea, too. But the whirlygig has made me throw it back not forward. Straight at the man’s caved-in face.
A groundswell of mixed emotions. The sea is the only witness. Unreliable, of course. The shattered ribs of a wreck poking through. History is a series of challenges and responses via a filter whose lens-baffles allow a two-way flow. Tides ebbing and flowing into each other.
I sip suspiciously, then hold my breath ready to quaff a million million spinning strangers.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Strange characters - Mr Superbus, Mr Bermuda, and others without names - sit around a communal lounge swallowing various tablets, comparing them, exchanging ... until someone brings a new and bigger supply. Some are pure white with designs on them, others are capsules with multicoloured contents, yet others are huge unswallowable things that have to be inserted elsewhere...
One man seems to grind various sorts into a crunchy paste... Another seems to be satisfied with a simple nose-spray. They look forward to the arrival of Mr Superbus's daughter who always visits on Thursdays. She is bosomy and chiffony but they have to refuse her gifts as they are not prescribed ones. Tablets lent and borrowed, yes, but the tablets need to be officially prescribed in the first place at least to someone in the lounge. Well, that’s the story being stuck to, despite what comes later.
You must just concentrate hard on not annoying Mr Moses (who's in charge) and await the arrival of Superbus's daughter any time soon.
The big problem is that by telling you about the house of Mr Moses at all, I am certain to annoy him. I am one of those to whom I’ve given no name sitting around the lounge with Mr Superbus and Mr Bermuda. My own tablet chart is kept religiously and I very rarely dabble in the medicine chests of others who live here. In fact, we rarely have access even to our own chests, because Mr Moses has the only keys. It’s just his lax care policy that allows us to picnic on stuff Mr Bermuda orders from abroad, brought here by men in hoods.
I keep telling Mr Bermuda that such tablets are not prescribed ones. But he assures us all that we are merely supplementing/mixing our official prescriptions with creative ones, home-cured ones - a bit like with the old-fashioned toy chemistry-sets that we all so much enjoyed during our childhood in the Fifties... and I suppose it’s this sort of information that would get Mr Moses into trouble, should it get out. He should have a more rigorous hands-on policy for one so much in charge of things.
Oh, I’d better shut up. Here comes Mr Moses right now. Judging by his look, he is the bearer of bad news. I watch him whisper something into Mr Superbus’s ear. I reckon Mr Superbus is his favourite here. Oh dear, Mr Superbus’s skin has gone deathly white. As Mr Moses slouches from the room, I watch Mr Superbus literally cram his mouth with a handful of ready-mulched tablets, to such an extent its surplus amounts become tantamount to a facepack.
Mr busy-body Bermuda strolls over. Trust him. He’s probably got a really special tablet or two for Mr Superbus to swallow. Yes, I can see one of them is bigger than a horse-pill. Bloody hell, I couldn’t even take that one up my back passage by the look of it!
Tonight, I dream about Mr Superbus’s daughter. Mr Superbus himself, I understand was once a Member of Parliament ... or have I got that wrong? Perhaps he was only a Council representative in Hastings town where we live. She often told me about how her father was big on conservation and had arranged the recycling of recent years, rather than depending on landfills. I used to work on the rubbish dump in Hastings in the Sixties when all the Mods and Rockers were about.
In the dream, I see that Mr Superbus’s daughter is in trouble. Quite nude, too, but, for shame, I can’t see her clearly enough because the whole dream itself seems choked with the chiffon blouse she usually wears on Thursdays when visiting us at Mr Moses’.
I now dream of standing on the hill looking right down over the sloping expanse of houses reaching distantly towards the sea below. The nearest house is the blue one, the House of Mr Moses. But I haven’t seen it for many years from the outside as I don’t walk about so much these days. I’m usually housebound for medicinal purposes. My whole prescription regime is strict for almost each minute of the day. My neighbours in the lounge, similarly. Only Mr Bermuda and Mr Superbus usually have the width needed to get out for breathers. They go to the pier, they say, to play on the Amusements, gawping from side to side like the clowns’ heads whose yawning mouths we once aimed balls into for cheap prizes.
I suddenly see an insect-sized speck in the distant sea. It is intuitively Mr Superbus’s daughter. She’s screaming. I’m sure she’s drowning. But I can’t do anything about it, because I know that I’m still in the blue-painted house below me, and this is only a dream of me standing above it in the open air. But how can I hear her screams? Even in real life, I wouldn’t be able to hear the screams from up here. In the old days, I couldn’t even hear the Mods and Rockers motor-biking or scootering along the prom from up here.
“You should keep taking the tablets,” said Mr Moses with a jokey laugh. I had evidently woken the whole house with my screams. I looked up at his benighted face. He didn’t often joke.
“How’s Mr Superbus ... after the news?” I asked. It was uncharacteristic of me to think of others before thinking of myself. But here I was showing concern for someone else. I secretly admired Mr Superbus and all he had done for the local council.
“He’s taken a sedative,” said Mr Moses. “He’ll be OK.”
Despite his earlier jokey comment, I could see he was annoyed about having to get up in the middle of night.
He lifted a glass to my lips after crushing the multicoloued contents of at least six capsules into it. I swallowed like a gurgling baby, plaintively smiling to assuage any further annoyance.
I wanted to get back to my dreams of mermaids with rocket salad.
Strange characters - Mr Superbus, Mr Bermuda, and others without names - sit around a communal lounge swallowing various tablets, comparing them, exchanging...
The men in hoods haven’t been here for ages. They’ll be running out of tablets soon. Even Mr Moses is taking a low profile these days. It’s Thursday again. This is a nice day. Mr Superbus’s daughter usually visits on Thursdays. She always has a kiss for each of them. Dreams are quickly forgotten. One unnamed lounge-lizard hopes to be off medication altogether soon and then – who knows? – they may allow him out for walks on the cliff. He looks through the window and sees a figure looking down at the house of Mr Moses. Oh, to be like him. He looks even older. Sixty is no age at all. Some people start a new life at sixty. Never too late.
He simply needs a suppository or enema to get him fighting fit. One that can clear his whole system out, hoover out all life’s discards. Shoot him up with a motor-bike to the upper bowels.
He watches Messrs. Bermuda and Superbus look into their pill-boxes with consternation. And then he hears the gentle flip-flop of footsteps outside the lounge door.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Hmmm, to begin a fable ‘Hmmm’ is a little more involving than ‘Once upon a time' or ‘The night was dark’, perhaps indicating that the writer is annoyed or mystified – not by the story he is about to tell – but annoyed or mystified by the reader ... you.
How was the writer to gear the story to an unknown reader, a reader who irritatingly gave away no identification? But the ‘Hmmm’ was perhaps a sign of struggling with the thought of your writing the whole thing retrocausally.
Eventually, no longer concerned with such rarefications of the reader, he teased himself with the prescribed title: The Death and the - - -. The Death and the dash dash dash. Not the Death and the Maiden, of Schubert fame. Not the Death and the Reader. Three dashes implied three words – or one word with three letters.
He turned over his pencil as if poised to erase the three dashes and replace them with words. He decided finally to retain the three dashes in the title and he erased “Death and the” – leaving some tiny bits of used rubber residue sprinkling the paper around the three dashes.
Aflliction often preceded Death but Death in itself was not an affliction because Death had no effect. Death was the end of effects. The end of causes, too. Death and the whatever, Death and the Salesman, Death and the Heart, Death and the Blind Venetian, all good titles, but they could not mean anything even if they had fitted the three dashes. Death could accompany nothing. Death absorbed everything into itself as soon as it was known to be what it was or had been. Death possessed none of the five senses, yours or its own. It had no sense of sensing or of being sensed. It could not be coupled, therefore. Or, if coupled, coupled only with itself. Death and the Death. Never more than two Deaths because as soon as there were more than one there was simultaneously only one. Death and the One.
Dead people write in pencil. Posthmmmously.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Charlie woke before the alarm.
It was a difficult time for him, what with his elderly mother often unwell and he needed to visit her regularly to change light bulbs or to open tight jars.
And he had plenty of people attacking him for equivalent problems in various public works and utilities: like town-planning applications gone astray, dustcarts disappearing before they got back to the dump, park-keepers who lost their parks, communal baths with no plugs and apprentice tighteners who tightened the tops so tight the glass cracked.
He had to walk to work because the bus-drivers avoided the route on which he lived. Once at his work station, he would sort through the morning’s postal delivery - often a month old, having been lost and found again, only for it to be lost again in some pretty sloppy filing systems that he had to maintain himself because the filing-clerks were on strike over demarcation lines set in statute as well as in common law concerning their duties he thus delegated to himself.
Walking to work, this morning, Charlie looked into the sky – knowing that any aeroplanes would be grounded by ill-tempered disputes in the Pilots’ tiny toilets at the Terminal. But, there, soaring above the grey sky, he saw a second sky leaving the first sky suffused with a beautiful shade of sunless blue, then, soaring above that eventually blended sky, a shimmer of silver as if an all-enveloping foil was slowly wrapping his world of existence like a trussed-up fowl about to be roasted. But while the so-called foil visually formed an anti-clockwise swirling – demonstrating its attempt to release what Charlie imagined to be a spiritual pressure-cooker lid screwed down upon the residual happiness left untouched by night’s anxieties – everything eventually separated out into curds of darkest emptiness, leaving him to witness, soaring above everything else, a phenomenon of which he had himself written to himself as Chief Administrator, a phenomenon he called the Rapture. A developing tsunami of synchronised cause then effect soaring above effect then cause. A Rapture about which he had warned himself by post – a letter that had been a month late then mis-filed.
And each soaring above soared above another soaring above for a skittled-out eternity of reality’s demarcations and strikes. (Only a well-aimed hammer would be able to reach the contents of the past but that needed forethought in the light of experience and training).
Charlie went to sleep before the alarm.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Two cream cakes sat on the deck, uneaten, possibly untouched – and that begs the question: how did they get there? The Marie Celeste of the nice-but-naughty set.
We were the crew set to tow this craft into harbour before the storm struck. Tom and I who simply enjoyed tug-work and did it for nothing as volunteers. And when we weren’t tugging, we were in the Lifeboat under Cox Swain’s jurisdiction. Cox did not suffer fools gladly, but Tom and I were trusted crew, I’m pleased to say, woken many mornings – during the fog and its resounding horns – by the Lifeboat Cannon itself resounding in the open cavities of the grounded air and the imaginary skies beyond. We’d race into our wet-gear, then continue racing along the seagull-missing streets towards the Lifeboat Ramp. Our sight often obscured by darkness as well as fog.
Cox Swain would then set the craft slipping, sliding towards the sea, wondering what misbegotten souls had chosen these conditions for sailing through. Becalmed or sinking, we were never sure, till we found those stricken. Tom often grasped my hand as a sign of our togetherness, our spirit of doing-good and never doing bad. We’d even rescue heretics or other bereft souls rather than let them drift away forever towards invisible horizons. But there were some people Tom and I would have simply drowned so as to put them out of their spiritual misery, if not to relieve the world of their corruption. Burial at sea, you see, is just one method of cleansing existence of its foul flotsam. But Cox Swain would never allow any cherry-picking of the crews we saved. His was a simple world. Black and white. Save their souls, to save ours. SOS by mutual selfish consent. Tom once said that he thought some of the missing crews actually went missing at sea in the first place to ignite some redemption for everyone, them as well as us.
Cox Swain – an inscrutable man whom we only ever met on board his lifeboat – allowed Tom and me to moonlight on the coastal Tug, we being volunteers, not paid employees of the Lifeboat Charity. The Tug’s company didn’t pay us, either, as they considered the experience they were giving us was payment enough. Since the Government’s abolishment of apprenticeships, there was more need of apprentice ships (we laughed at that), and we were lucky enough, I suppose, to be allowed on board the Tug as it plied its towing duties from quay to oilrig, from pier to windfarm. We were eventually allowed to crew it alone together.
The stricken craft that day could be clearly seen: etched between the slowly spinning turbines. No fog that day. Just the threat of immediate rain and gales by night-time. We knew, as if instinctively, that the craft was uncrewed even when first spotting it like a dead bug balanced on the taut line of the horizon between two turbines. The swell of the undertow made it seem alive.
Which brings us full circle to the two cream cakes sitting on the deck. And the conundrum of those who had jumped overboard before eating them. Too nice to be naughty, I guess.
Tom looked doleful. I don’t know how I looked to him. The Tug ripped into an engine roar fit to burst our ear-drums as it turned – almost instantaneously – towards its tow of duty. Each turn of the nearest turbine blades punctuated the silence after the engine unexpectedly died. Swish swish. The rain started to soak through even our skinny wet-gear. We had evidently come for the cream cakes as today was someone’s birthday. As well as the day of someone else’s death. A coincidence of epochs. Each worth celebrating. Squish squish.