“We may delude ourselves, but that’s hardly the point. We must give voice to the irrational as an act of conscience. It’s the closest thing we have to prayer.” - from 'The Siren of Montmartre' by Damian Murphy
There was no use denying him access to the parlour.
He was my son after all, and I couldn't see him curled up like a whelk in the cold scullery all night.
But when, on that retrospectively fateful weekend, he brought a young lady to visit, one with a dagger-fish brooch on the left lapel of her cavalry-twill costume top - well, I would have needed to resort to the direst vocabulary to warn them both off.
I was indeed sure there would be no safety in numbers. I wanted to continue my life in the magic realism of solitude--and, so, it would be necessary for me to get in my tantrum of making the pair of them unwelcome before they had the chance to sneer at the shortcomings of my abilities as a host.
It is difficult to disentangle my reasoning on such an occasion, as the words slide too easily from my memory, staining the screen of my mind's eye with a pattern of meaning comprehensible only to Hottentots; I even wonder whether I’m actually capable of perpetrating the Queen's English, let alone that alien dialect which the Old Spaceships once crated to Earth in the beaks of insane, if articulate, chickens.
Back to fundamentals.
I opened the front door upon hearing the knock, thus allowing dustmotes and sunlit air to swirl past me. He had warned that he might be coming for a long weekend, if time permitted. There, though, with him, was this female with goggle eyes, both feet planted on the balding doormat. She peered over my shoulder into the well of the hall.
''Yes?'' I scowled. Well, I think that I scowled, since only in stories can a narrator really see through the eyes of others. I had already decided to treat them both as strangers--that was at least what my son deserved by bringing someone I couldn't trust at first sight.
"Hello, Dad ... can I introduce Felicia Kelp?" He did not spell out the name so, even now, I’m unsure as to whether even the Hottentots would be able to get their tongues round what I visualised as the correct words.
I glanced into the sky blue yonder and caught the fleeting sparkle of a star-hopper slowing down for Heathrow . . . or, at that hour, it may even have been Gatwick. Light travel (or travelling light as the popular song of the time put it was so inconsistent. Tachyons had not really bottomed out until AJ Sylvester later dissected one under a microscopic microscope, using a near endless array of diminishing pulleys to guide a scalpel manufactured from one highly sharpened molecule.
Just as I was about to answer as unwelcomingly as possible, I heard a furor from the chicken run in the back garden. The squawking and screeching was fit to raise the Devil on his hindmost. Something had disturbed the creatures' equilibrium. Either too much grit in the meal or the barely perceptible shift of the Earth off its axial cord, which tended to happen nowadays, had gone to their coxcombed heads. Luckily, the moon no longer toppled into the sea, as it did back in the more poetic days of pre-reality--only to be put back in the sky by everybody's image of a God with flowing white beard, trident and sharkbone corsets.
Without a further word (saying nothing was indeed more unwelcoming than pointedly expressing my grievance in stronger language), I showed them into the parlour. There was a put-you-up in there, just big enough for two thin ones, I indicated. I saw Felicity Kell (or whatever her Christforsaken name was) studying the framed photographs on the mantelpiece. One was of me and my late wife.
"Mr. Lewis, you sure looked young in the past." That was no way to inveigle me into accepting her as a complete stranger no longer (or even an incomplete one). I could imagine, indeed, nobody stranger. Before I could protest, my so-called son intervened.
"What's wrong with my own bedroom, Dad? Hasn't it still got hot and cold running water?" He motioned as if to take their suitcases to that very room.
Whether it was the deep rumbling of the starhopper landing across the other side of London, he did not seem to hear my reply:
''You're not taking any see-through floosies up there, Johnny me lad. Your dead mother would turn over in her bed."
He shrugged. He knew I had spoken something, since I had watched his eyes trying to follow my lips. For a man, his eyes were very widely set apart. In his heart, he must have been aware of my misgivings.
"We'll go and feed the poultry for you, Dad." He took his lady friend by the arm (both of which were extremely short for her body, I noticed) and directed her towards the front door, via the parlour door .
"Done it already," I said, pointing to the carriage clock which was between the photographs like a sentry of old. The imperceptible swing of its pendulum proved that the ancient maxim of time never standing still was worthy, at least, of scrutiny by that breed of scientists even now living in the think-tanks of old Ministry of Defence establishments dotted along the eroding coasts of downtown Great Britain.
The lady, who had evidently stolen my son's heart, made herself at home. She spread her legs in an ungainly fashion as she settled down in what used to be my wife's wicker basket, allowing me to see as much as the stocking-tops, but no further. My son smiled at my blushes, if blush I did.
In an attempt to bring matters to an even keel, he started on one of his long boring conversation-pieces about the ancient research into how fish think, make music. Highfaluting college talk, I called it. He needed his brain flushed out. The lady said nothing, while tugging at the harness of her bodice and wriggling to remove her most sensitive areas from the basket's various discomfort points. Then, without prior warning, the shrill alarm in the carriage clock blurted out.
"Time to fill the house!" I shouted, scorching for the tap by the open radiator.
I was just in time. The lighter-than-air water gradually filled the parlour, before our lungs could burst from our mouths like punctured balloons. The water was lukewarm in view of the season. It was strange what routines post-reality brought along in its wake.
That's the way the world is, these days. At least, the three of us stopped the inane chatter. Creatures under water can only open and shut their mouths in the arcane rhythm of misspent speech. When words are empty, lip-reading is worth no more than braille to those now limbless coffins of flesh which were once called human beings kept locked up in disused nuclear shelters, as they are--for their own good, let me add.
My eyes slid round to my temples, slugs that merely looked like the marbles children used to play with. Despite this, I could still discern my son's grinning from side to side, as I think he knew I knew he probably hated the lady (whatever her name) and it was only a matter of time before he unscrewed the stopcock of the sewage outlet under the television set. But would it be wide enough?
The sun shafted through the parlour window and milled with the multi-coloured plankton that swirled from the secret coral seas beyond the stocking-tops.
I would have told my son not to darken my door again, if I hadn't first fallen asleep and dreamed of drowning.
"There's an element of something almost fable like about this story, with the events described entirely empirical on the surface, but beneath that the hint of fact and fiction entangling in the manner of sympathetic magic." (Black Static #25 - TTA Press)
Cosmetic surgery has been in the news recently and, with some of the problems attached to it, one has to ask: WHY DO THEY BOTHER?
Anyway, that’s beside the point. Opinion is never a question of absolute truth. Opinion is another form of story-telling. However, what I have to tell you about is the absolute truth: a backstreet in an out-of-season seaside resort (I won’t say exactly where because I don’t want anyone going there to check).I stumble across a building that looks as if it was once a bijou cinema from before the days of déjà vu or dvds.Along its frontage, there are the words SCAR MUSEUM.It isn’t as derelict as I at first imagined. I can still hear the sea from across the roof: beckoning me. I wish to heed its beckoning. But I am beckoned instead by an actual human shape – from a dilapidated kiosk at the front of the so-called SCAR MUSEUM. It’s as if I’m being hypnotised.I feel my cheeks being visually scoured for scars.
I pay over a £5 note. The only one I have. I see a notice that no change is given: just like on carpark ticket-dispensers, a fact that seems strange with a human ticket-dispenser in a kiosk.
“What am I paying to see?” I ask.A little too late to ask.
“Don’t the name give it away?” the individual sneers rhetorically with a backward click.
“You have exhibits then that are ... scars. Body scars.”
“Yes.” The final s of Yes is certainly a hiss and a half.
I feel drawn within. There are cases with sloping glass covers and inside them things that – if I hadn’t already seen the name of the place – I might assume are damp disfigured postage stamps or crumpled bits of beige carpet or torn bits of old parchment.
I feel followed.
Not by the ticket-dispenser but by someone else covered in a huge pair of tights through the legs of which I vaguely glimpse bones.And a face, through the gusset.
And that face seems to have right in the middle of its forehead a mystic Third Eye or, on closer scrutiny, an oriental cosmetic mark or, on even closer scrutiny, a patch torn from a 1950s toy.A reddy brown piece of Bakelite or synthetic flashing that a toddler child might have torn from an Airfix model he had got fed up with glueing soon after receiving it at Christmas.
“I’m starting to heal, you see,” a voice tells me: pointing to the forehead with the reddy brown thing there. “All of me will be healed soon,” it adds.
I think to myself with a mode of story-telling needed during these days of Credit Crunch and Eurozone Crisis – that one can now never depend on demand streams, even supply ones, to process the end products of what one needs to manufacture for mere subsistence if not, one hopes, for entrepreneurial greed or financial gain.
I leave the building with a sense of downbeat silence unredeemed even by the one huge tidal teardrop that is the sea.Everything mends in the end, though. Sort of.
It wasn’t always dark, it wasn’t always damp.Or should I have said that the corner was never only dark, it was never only damp.It seemed to go in cycles. It was a top corner of one of the second floor chalet-bungalow bedrooms; near its chimney flue and where the severely sloping ceiling met the outside wall.The cycles comprised periods of not being damp or dark at all. For months on end, and going back in history, for years on end, I suspect.Neither damp nor dark. Then cycles comprising periods of being both damp and dark at once.Never one condition without the other. Darkness and dampness as a tug of war: a host in creative or destructive battle with its parasite, but I was never sure which was which.Darkness or dampness as the cause or effect? How could I tell? I am not a surveyor or professional builder. I was simply sure that you always needed both dampness and darkness for each to exist.
Meanwhile, it was a mystery in other ways, too.There seemed no obvious reason for it. The roof in the corner’s vicinity had been repaired (and eventually the whole roof was replaced as just one repercussion), various other pointing or structural jobs done, chemical treatments given to the wall, even prayers given up to whatever gods controlled dry rot or whatever the condition was called.When in a whimsical mood, I often compared the phenomenon of that corner’s characteristics to those of a real person, someone with moods.Body as well as outer personality and inner mentality.
Someone like Charlie.
Or someone like Mary-Ann.
Both with their own moods and cycles that coincided.A marital pitch-battle that thrived as a battle for its own sake rather than a battle that exacted its climactic defeats or victories.For them, darkness and dampness were called by different names.Only one memory away from a false future.
Charlie and Mary-Ann had lived together in the chalet bungalow for many years. I lived there, too, but they never saw me. I was usually where they were not.Except on the rare occasion when the three of us attended the same room; I would hide behind something in the room, made myself as small as possible, climbing in, for example, behind a book on the bookshelf. Of course, today, with E-books no such hiding-places for me. Not the dampness aura of old books nor the clinging darkness that one imagined littering their fiction plots in the shape of words.Most books had unhappy endings in my experience. Or perhaps that was because I only read books with unhappy endings?
“What’s that noise?” Charlie asked.
They were sitting together in the centrally-heated lounge that stretched from back garden to frontward street.The lounge, being downstairs, was naturally longer than the combined width and length of the two bedrooms, even though one of them was above the stairs-area and the kitchen. Both bedrooms, though, were kept centrally heated, too, in this modern age. I think I was the only one who had got to grips with the logistics of this place where we lived. Its spaces and margins, and its accoutrements or aids of comforting existence that swelled and unswelled with the seasons. Neither Charlie or Mary-Ann gave the impression of ever even thinking about such matters.Mysteries for them were never mysteries. Unless you consider something to be mysterious, it never becomes a mystery.
“It’s the wind,” Mary-Ann replied.
But, upon thinking about it, I am possibly just as unthinking as they are. I never questioned their existence, never thought about how old they must be now, never wondered what I was doing there and why there was a purpose in me being there. Doing and being, different words meaning the same thing perhaps. What and why. What doing? Why being?I knew it was not the wind. I knew it was me they had heard.That was the ‘what’ at least?The ‘why’ remained beyond my reach to know.Beyond, indeed, my reach to be.
I scuttled from the lounge as soundlessly as possible and then up the stairs on all fours, on all my tip-toes.My favourite lurking-hole was in one of the bedrooms beneath the roof. Yes, you guessed it. That corner. That dark damp corner. That damp dark corner.Each room normally has eight corners, half of them ceiling level, the other half floor level. I kept repeating “dark damp corner, damp dark corner” in some form of incantation. Not with words aloud, but from thoughts inside. Thoughts are always silent. Even when you come to speak thoughts, they turn out to be quite different thoughts from the thoughts you thought you were thinking before you spoke them or they are not your thoughts at all!
Perhaps my presence explained everything about that corner. Explained everything that did or didn’t do; was or wouldn’t be.Eventually, I hear the whispering Charlie and Mary-Ann coming upstairs with their light bedtime reading.The days are closing in, growing shorter, during this time, of course.Autumn: the only season I know for certain.For me, mysteriously never-ending. Ever dry-leafing, ever wet-rotting. Very little kindling. Reason unknown.