Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Stranger's Tale

published 'End of the Millennium' 1999

Edgar Filbricks Esq., 7 Arbroath Terrace, Cleminster, Warks - but who ever used Esquire when fixing a recipient's rank and gender these days? So when the letter arrived, hand-written address on the envelope, with 29p excess postage to pay, Edgar wondered who could have sent it. He swiftly slit open the seal and found the letter within was from a complete stranger which meant, of course, that Edgar was a complete stranger, too, because it takes one stranger to recognise another. It takes at least two of them to tango. And, familiarity would no doubt breed contempt.

Dear Sir,
Once upon a time, there was a land of waterfalls, one leading to another, with precious little grazing land between. The place was peopled with folk with straight locks. Their garb pleated vertically. They wandered beneath the sheltering rocks peering through curtain after curtain of spray and white water. Some were arm in arm, some holding hands; others purposefully averted the head, whilst a few deigned to talk to each other. A handful even snubbed their very own selves as they proceeded with noses aloft - almost as if the act of despising was a solitary pursuit like patience.

There was one such person who, in hindsight, I am ashamed to say was worse than any of them, by dint of walking on the water's wild side. He took in the vast views, having penetrated the surging walls, leaving the others rockside to fend for themselves in the shimmering gloom. This person's vestments soon dried in the sunlight, stiffening with a starchy bloom. The hair became matted with an airy saltiness that wafted in from seas that seemed to surf themselves. Waves actually had waves. Fish delighted in being watched washing their fins. And, soon, this person forgot all about the others, learning to wave his own hair by back-combing with bristly crustaceans on the beach. Only turning now and again to check the whereabouts of the waterfalls - fearing that they may be on the move towards him.

Then, one day, after long negotiation with the land mass that began to poke up through the depleting waves, this person decided it was high time to return rockside. There was something decidedly unsavoury about the increasingly mountainous sea-bed that infiltrated the once straight horizon. The sky took on a tinge of rust. The sun no longer a powerhouse of expectation. The fish flopped ashore, unsure of whether they could fly without the oxygen of publicity.

He stumbled towards the nearest edge of misty spray. And found that there was nothing beyond it but a vertiginous valley of Angel falling upon Angel. Their locks and pleats complete. A shallow shift of cold white ribs of sand.

There the letter ended without signature or clue as to authorship. Edgar pondered the whole matter and put it down to being merely a mystery. The Filbricks clan had kept themselves to themselves for most of their history, and it was a wonder that they had been able to perpetuate themselves without resorting to inbreeding. Edgar was the last in the line. A stranger to himself. A starched shirt on horseback. He imagined Sancho Panza waving his arms like windmills though the rain-swept window ... wanting to finish the tale, but only becoming another mystery with which to contend. Edgar waved back with his pen. No more fish in the dried-up stream. Or only dead ones, enveloped in steam.

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