Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shifting Sands

When the sands started shifting I knew it was the end.  But to know anything is an end one needs to exist beyond that end to be able to see it for what it is – or was.  That day I met Edna was one such end – as well as beginning. Beginnings and ends can be very close indeed and still keep their identities either as a beginning or an end. Beginning: the sight of a vehicle looming from the corner of your eye – middle: collision – end: death.  All in a few seconds. Except, from what I said earlier, death as an end is not an end in itself unless you view it from afterwards as an end.  Therefore, death is not an end.  It’s something else altogether. An end’s end, perhaps. But not the end.  Not an end in itself.  Not an end you saw as a whole process of a verifiable end after it has ended. And only you can verify it. Anyone else verifying it is merely hearsay.

Before I get you too confused, I’d better tell you more about Edna.   She was sitting on one of those many back-support bench-type seating-arrangements of ribbed solid plank-wood that are plentiful along the promenade looking out to sea. Not that the bench itself looks out to sea, but the people sitting on them.  The protruding pier just off to the right. 

A middle-aged woman (with no name at that stage). Too young for me, and I didn’t really think it appropriate for me to engage her in talking so I prepared to walk on. But then I heard a helicopter off to the left – outlandish clattering growing louder and louder – presumably the air ambulance or a coastguard patrol. It was so low I feared it was going to ditch, but it eventually clattered off towards Jaywick, with no obvious reason for its manoeuvres in hindsight.  I looked back to the bench and Edna had vanished, presumably lost forever in the ocean of strangers with which the world is mainly populated. Some of that ocean is close by in your own neighbourhood, the rest in far reaches of the world you will never ... reach.  A literally man-made ocean with its own inexplicable, often dangerous, tides across cockle-beds or shingle or ribbed beach or sieved granulations or rocky coral.  

But in addition to that ocean of strangers there are usually local inlets or lakes or rivers of non-strangers. Friends or lovers. Colleagues or drinking pals. People you know or have met however briefly  – even just seen in the distance.  Like Edna.  

Thinking about her, Edna probably doesn’t count as a real meeting or encounter, because she would have had to look at me, too. Just an exchange of passing glances would have sufficed for it to have been qualified as a proper encounter. But, as far as I was aware, I had looked at Edna, but she had not turned to look at me. 

As I continued my walk along the promenade towards the pier, I started musing again about Edna. Suppose she had looked at me while I was preoccupied by the noisy manoeuvres of the helicopter? I can’t imagine that would have been the case as I guess everyone was looking at the helicopter at that stage rather than at each other. But that is only a guess. Edna may have scrutinised me closely, even at some length. The incident with the helicopter, I now recalled, lasted at least a few minutes.  Time enough for Edna to get as close as a couple of dancers about to embark on a waltz at the local palais. Skin-pore close. 

I shook my head and shrugged.  I was getting carried away.  The relationship with Edna had begun and ended with my pointless glance of appraisal at a nameless middle-aged woman sitting alone on a bench looking out at sea.  There I go again. A bench doesn’t look out at sea. It’s the people sitting on it that look out at sea. Watching the tide come in and out across the rattly shingle. Wondering which tide would be the last one. Which cloud in the sky the last one that you would ever see skimming above? Feeling eyes boring into your back, and not daring to look round. 

Shingle isn’t like shifting sands. But my lap rucks oh too easily without even daring to move the bent knees within it.  Not daring to move is equivalent to being on the brink of it being impossible to move.  To move or turn. Ever upon the quicksand of hesitation. Ever on the benchmark of differentiating trial and error. Ever upon each edge of the end.   

The tide faintly sweeps in like some soft machine.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Vignellarette

A Vignellearette is a short prose fiction exhumed and /or edited from the past by the serendipitous / synchronous needs of the present.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Haunted Manor

They lived here for real many centuries ago. Today, they are ghosts. Right now, under my nose. Or, rather, if the truth is known, they live for real today and many centuries ago their ghosts lived here. Real people as the eventual fulfilment-in-flesh of their earlier ghosts. In many ways, that seems to be the most logical order of things. For centuries, people have believed we precede our ghosts, while all along ghosts preceded us.  But that begs a question – where is here? It is Haunted Manor on the road between Colchester and Chelmsford – once well known for receiving visitors on day trips, but, today, a near-forgotten hulk where the old family – now on hard times – manages to cling on. I am their only member of staff: a man-with-many-tricks-of-the-trade, they call me. A do-it-all who haunts the Manor in body, mending broken things and, if the truth be known, breaking things so that I can mend them again. Indeed, I do jobs not only for the old family but also for the even older one – trying to match up the old with the less old when and where they happy to coincide in the same part of the Manor. That’s what I call mending things: introducing people to themselves – across time. 

You may wonder whether I have managed to coincide with myself across the centuries in the Manor that haunts the older version of itself. Except when it was older, it was, of course, newer. Which goes for us all, I guess. And tonight is the night when I shall mend myself. I shall discover the broken body with the knife I placed into its chest so very long ago. And then I shall slowly, ever so slowly, withdraw the knife – trying not to hurt him, watching the smile return to his mouth before I can even realise he is trying to smile – trying to smile at me. And as he does so, I feel tears arrive in my eyes – and I plunge the same knife into my own chest. And the noise of traffic from the A12 slowly fades.

(Unaltered off-the-cuff speed-writing exercise at the Clacton Writers Group tonight.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Two Cans of Lager and a Packet of Crisps - II

The man walked into the pub. It was just an ordinary day and he had no reason to think otherwise. To be called ‘the man’ rather than by his own name was rather extraordinary, however. Not that he felt himself to be part of a story as an anonymous man. He felt real. He wanted a drink. Felt it in his undeniably long unquenched thirst. The person he was with wanted a drink, too, the man somehow knew. And a few crisps wouldn’t go amiss. A foregone conclusion that they’d share a single packet with their drinks. He walked to the bar and asked for two cans of lager and, of course, a packet of crisps.  Except he garbled ‘lager’ and it came out as some other word closer to another word for a secret or private language. 

“Cans?” queried the pub landlord. “What do you mean, cans?” 

The man was stumped. He had not expected such a reply. It seemed very important, indeed life and death, to receive cans of lager that they could pour for themselves into empty glasses.  The precision dismantling of each tab with a ‘sizzz – sizzz’ was something almost ritualistic.  Something that they had already done and here they were  - purely to fulfil having already done it. So watching lager being served in any other way was like an act that would likely cause the world to end. 

Another man – during all these singular thoughts from the man already thinking them – had by now arrived at the bar, not the now missing person whom the first man had originally been accompanying, but someone else altogether, someone utterly new, someone with a badge indicating he was a lover of - if not an expert on - real ale. A CAMRA member, in fact.  He already had his own clean empty glass, with a design on it from some beer festival.  In fact, given the absolute truth, this was not a pub at all but a beer festival in a church hall.  The first man had assumed it was a pub because there were all these people – mainly other men – standing around gripping straight glasses swilling with all manner of room-temperature strains of brown, tan and near-black.

Our first man wanted a dimpled glass anyway. One with a handle.  Life and death.  The world would stop spinning if he was forced to drink from a straight glass. 

“What’s CAMRA mean?” he asked the other man, while inspecting his badge. 

“It’s a word meaning a room you can’t get out of. You must have heard of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play IN CAMRA?”

At that point, the person who had arrived with the first man was suddenly aware of his own existence in a room full of others he did not recognise and who stared at him upon him suddenly appearing as if out of nowhere where nobody had stood beforehand.  

He wanted to know what possibilities there were.  What choices he had.  What he could do.  He assumed he must know who he was but if he’d thought hard about it he would have realised he had no idea who he was at all.  Who am I?  A question he did not even begin to ask. 

But what could he do?  That was a question he felt potentially able to ask. In the jargon, what could he accomplish – going forward? 

“Can...?” he began to ask with a deceptive feeling of filling out his existence with a full body. “Can...?” he began to repeat. But he never finished his empty question even on the second attempt as he vanished as fast as he had appeared. With a singular double-sizzz. 

Someone else altogether, someone utterly new, mischievously blew up an empty crisp bag and popped it.  The room, meanwhile, remained at room temperature.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Endless Chronicles

An excerpt from my review of 'The Exorcist's Travelogue' by George Berguño (Passport Levant / Ex Occidente Press) HERE:

A Chronicle of Repentance

“…, and disrobed me with invisible fingers.”

A chronicle can never begin or end, I sense, as someone needs to tell a chronicle, and its beginning and its end are only restricted by what that teller can tell by dint of knowledge or his/her own finite life being within rather than overlapping the period in question of which he tells. But can a chronicle fill in its own gaps (such gaps being at either end as well as partway through) by dint of parthenogenetic imagination. But to save one’s body from ultimate torture in Hell by giving it just a part of that ultimate torture in life is a fool’s errand, a misguided absolution by either one’s self or chronicle of self. And the carnal needs of one person are often simply satisfied by fulfilling the carnal needs of another. But all humanity is connected by desire – for, without desire, they may not have existed in the first place. Eternity through desire, each of us passing the baton of life to another. But, one day, you may give birth to an invisible body on an empty stage rather than just a body, say, with its fingers invisible by having been burnt off in that partial attempt to avoid Hell’s torture. That ultimate creation of invisibility in the guise of something that you deem as real: a creation by those creatures one hated in life, those Pigeons from Hell flying across your last balcony. This is not what I found in this story. This is what this story found in me. (14 Jul 11 – another ten hours later)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Defragging the Past

An excerpt from my review of 'The Bestiary of Communion' by Stephen J Clark (Ex Occidente Press) HERE.

IX. “…the audience were the true source of the illusion.”

Forced to return tonight by the need to fulfil some renewed urge to read before going to bed - it is as if the foundling House has leaves of Vegetation towards a snowy Narnia – but here a filmic, painterly, weird, East European, self-contained, undidactic ambiance of fantasy not a Christian Allegory - a fantasy that reminds me of the day as a youth I always visited the cinema and they customarily had ‘continuous performances’, where the section of the film you watch after being shown to your seat by the usherette’s beaming torch is what you end watching just before you leave, say, from film’s midddle to middle, and you have had to work backwards to visualise the film in the correct order, by changing things, skipping motives, forgetting sadnesses, ditching happinesses, defragging politics and logic and history and desecration and holocaust … in some strange ritual of half-shafting screen-lit darkness, red embers and billowing cigarette smoke – and blindly snogging couples. (My erstwhile vision, not the book’s, but uncannily it is this book’s vision …later, perhaps. But tomorrow never has today’s vision.) (12 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)