The Collector Project 9: Cutting and Grafting walkthrough
Henri Papin is constructed from various disparate fragments from fiction and history. His multi-personality presents in a conscious and unconscious form which allows the introduction of fantastical and dream-like elements to exist in tandem to the more overtly ‘realistic’ elements of his existence as a collector of things.
Historically, the things collected in this project by our fictional character Henri Papin have been based on experience; Small tokens and souvenirs taken in order to trigger those important memories that enable Henri to relive the experiences over and over again. It is not so much the objects themselves, although occasionally fetishised, of course – but what they represent that is the coveted quality collected here. Whether that manifests as a lock of hair, a stray thread from a jacket, a discarded note, a certain kind of scent, or a particular sensation; these things etc. are de-constructed and notated thoroughly for future configurations.
Eventually though, we move beyond mere things (objects) and into the other things which have determined this character – what of his thoughts and motivations? How has he been shaped and defined?
As we have moved on throughout the project it is these mechanisms which we have chosen to manifest physically. And so we construct devices, and they stand in place for things we take for granted, for processes that are automatic and largely ignored. These things then, become the symbolic objects of Henri’s larger compulsive collecting.
The Magnetic confluence. (Mezzanine, rear)
Three stations – the liquid, the mineral and the particle – three iron-based compounds. Recently they discovered the presence of magnetite in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers. Minute fragments; crystals growing at a scale of micro-meters, that gradually erase memories. Henri is obsessed with memory, and remembering, hence the obsessive collecting and recording; the coveting of triggers.
Gradually though, the obsessional behaviour forms its own trap. The remembering starts to weed out and eliminate the irksome details which interrupt the flow of the narrative, or which become problematic.
This inner censor pulls away the rotting layers to reveal the new, to re-create ever more perfect memories, and a kind of entropy is reached. The perfection is looped in an unending chorus which slowly, due to its inherent instability, eradicates itself. Those appealing things; symbols of attraction and desire, which themselves originally attracted and repelled no longer do much of anything.
Their gestation period is unpredictable; the thing that eventuates is a strange approximation of the original forms which inspired it.
Foxhole (Mezzanine, fore)
Beside the forgetting, there is the transmitting and receiving.
Here also are minerals which determine the hierarchy of things. Here now, the metalloids Pyrite and Galena, receptive materials, prodded with cat’s whiskers they determine the radio frequencies, change the course of currents from alternating to direct. They receive the radio waves, transform them into sound and give their secrets over with little more than a whimper.
These are different loops, loops which play over and over into the ether, largely unconcerned with external communication, they are something of the inner monologue, a retelling of two particularly momentous occasions – one conscious (memory, childhood), one unconscious (dream) – both equally important in his development, both formulate the basis of certain aspects of his character. Using hand-wound loop antennae and tuning coils, they extract the inner voice from one room, and transmit it through the space to be rectified, received and overheard.
The great pocket of Stibnite. (Main gallery)
Downstairs the constructed self is punctured with a pocket of Stibnite.
Stibnite; Sb2S3, source of Antimony; toxic to the touch, descendant of Arsenic, used historically in eye make-up, pyrotechnic compositions and in the turning of base metals into gold.
It grows in the fissures left by the process of dissolution, amongst the vents that siphon off those excess passions and occasionally volcanic obsessions. It takes all the censored moments snipped from the perfection of the reconfigured memories and leaches them through the strata to collect in forgotten pockets. They saturate in those confined spaces,cutoff from Henri’s awareness, left to themselves they spread like veins into any other available space, and within them, sometimes, they form inclusions, concretions and phantoms.
Fractionally they crystallise. Inside the pocket, protected by stibnite (image, sensation, transformation) the discarded moments slowly fuse, and forge and meld into new forms. They take the shape of distorted figures because their raw materials were originally human experience. They hybridise with species that enforce their resilience: arboreal, fungal, bestial.
The raft of the Medusa. (Main gallery)
Some things exist merely to be sacrificed.
The act of cannibalising one’s own memories leaves a steady stream of unidentifiable limbs and dysfunctioning organs in its wake. The process of refining is a kind of distillation of the material down to its fundamental essence.
We are all meat. Under the skin and the teeth and the hair the essential matter differs only so slightly.
The glasshouse. (Main gallery, rear)
Some things in Henri’s world exist actually in his realm. Most things exist to service the greater fiction. This glasshouse, and the intimate collections of fly fishing flies are actual things. The latter one of those obvious cutting and grafting things – hair taken, not always willingly and transformed into lures. The greenhouse is a laboratory of experiments. One material bound to another, inosculated, twisted and made into new forms.
They are a sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal meshing of incompatible media. Like the reconfigured memories there is a disquieting sense of overt control in their configuring.
And yet they are nurtured.
The Sleeper cell. (Main gallery, fore)
We are the voices in Henri’s head.
The relationship is complex, and sometimes we all forget who is in service to whom. And what. One of us writes the stream of consciousness. One constructs the visual narrative. The audience can divert both or either by dropping an index card into the sleeper cell. Its not just the words themselves, or the suggestions – it’s the placement on the cards and the handwriting itself. It’s the tokens and triggers delivering themselves up for scrutiny, for subsuming into the larger overall story.
Speaking of stories, we, as always owe much to Jean Genet.
Divine, Darling and Our Lady of the flowers.
Green-Eyes, Maurice and Lefranc.
Madame, Solange and Claire.
Papin, Meijers and Walsh.
The following “days of the week posts” were constructed stream of conscious texts which were undertaken as a kind of endurance trial on five consecutive days for a period of five hours per day. Audience members were invited to try and ‘divert’ the stream by inserting index cards - with suggestions, or even just words to see where the narrative would go - into the small structure that was inhabited by the artists who have constructed Henri Papin.
The texts are copied here in full. (grammatical and spelling errors intact)
The trees are thick here, I can barely make out the river between them, although it glints in flashes, here and there which serves more to determine the form of the trees in front of it that the river itself.
The river – a slow moving, stolid brown thing, I would say ribbon, but ribbon suggests delicacy and this is more like an uncontrollable flood than a tidy line. It consumes the landscape around it seasonally, swallowing the low lying shores without thought and moves on, looking at the higher grounds with some feeling of resentment.
It is a hungry beast, flowing across a surface of mud that continues down many feet so that if you walk out into it, if you step from the dry land into its bulk then you slide gently through the water (which is inviting) and into the quagmire which fills around your feet and legs, slips between toes with a dreadful urgency. Things live down here. Fish mainly but yabbies and other, unmentionable things that stir fear in the hearts of the groups of children who invade it every summer without fail.
The river moves, well, lolls is perhaps more accurate, in a patient way, the surface rolling like a lazy figure suntanning it sweeps the corners and bend with delicacy.
A few times a year it shows its ferocious self and storms the banks like a militant force, devouring not only paths, but trees, logs, anything that has made the decision to wait, and hold fast.
When the waters recede again it is quite obvious that the paths (cut through by the repetition of feet, bicycles and the like) simply disappear. The river leaves its mud, its twigs and branches, and occasionally more exotic gift as well.
I encounter some such treasure on a bicycle ride, one summer day. The waters have begun to recede, though they still collect in pockets amongst the bush. The children have returned too, like a strange pilgrimage to once again reclaim their rights of use and impose their flailing limbs and splashing arms back on to the surface of the river.
It allows this grudgingly, but occasionally it takes something in return, for the river is constant, and requires balance.
I ma riding my bicycle among the covered paths. If you squint you can still make them out under the press surfaces of rapidly drying mud. The sun is hot and bakes this thin clay into cracks within the week and leaves the entire area like a desiccated moon. My bicycle makes cracking sounds against it as I travel, looking out for things that the river might have left behind.
I have to get off my bicycle at points to drag away the logs which have been left behind. The smaller twigs I stumble over, sliding slightly. The sun is high and penetrates through the leaves at turns, and flickers in my eyes like an old movie projector, caught in a loop. I leave the bicycle after awhile because I have reached the area where the mud has not yet fully dried and I find myself sliding across its treacherous surface in a way that I do not like. I have a bike chain and because I can hear the splashing of people in the river not that far off from where I stand, I use it to lock the bicycle to a tree.
This bicycle has become one of my favourite possessions, since it offers the kind of freedom that I cannot access anywhere else. The kind of freedom that allows a young boy to wander about, being curious without having to answer questions.
I have a secondary tool which similarly offers this, and I take it out of my bag now, and fit it together. The fishing rod and reel are such a good instrument for solitude, even though I rarely cast the line, and even ore rarely actually catch anything at all, it still allows me space.
I carry it now, tucking on rubber shoes that get sucked hungrily by the remaining mud as I wander between the trees where the river has not yet fully drawn back.
It feels almost monsoonal here, with the steam rising off the dirty water and causing a brief spell of humid steamy stench.
I have not known the river to smell quite this horrendously before (even though it is not an unusual state, considering what trickles down into here from the surrounding towns, farms and industries) but even so I glance around intuitively looking for the source of it.
Around a few trees I find a pile of…something. Something greyish and writhing gently and I think for an instant (foot paused, mid-air) that it is a pile of snakes, but no, after that first moment of panic I notice the eyes and the mouths and am able to pick out the multitude of bodies lying.
Horrible, fat distended pale carp have gotten caught in a small area and as the water has evaporated off, it has left them caught in a pile against the foot of a tree so that their bodies intertwine with the raised root system and stop their safe passage back to the river bottom. It is beyond awful – A mass of slimy fins flickering gently, the scales drying out even as they gasp for their last breath, the eyes, staring blindly through substances that must be horribly foreign: heat, light, air.
A few have been dead for some time, and some other person has found them for they have poked their bloated bodies with sticks so that ow the flesh has putrified and it turns my stomach to both see (jellified flesh, pale and weeping around the edges) and smell (beyond description) one has even been skewered and remains still attached to a stick and this angers me so much that I remove it (imagining the fins still flickering, the mouth opening and closing revealing that horrible internal space) and I throw the stick angrily into the bush where it hits the tree with a loud whack, and I am sure that it will draw the attention of the people swimming nearby but after a still minute of standing, amongst these horrible corpses (remembering a similar time, long ago, caught beneath the house and crawling through the darkness to come face to face with a colony of recently poisoned rat corpses – the smell of mushrooms and stomach acid and shit) but they return to their swimming and splashing and imagine, I don’t know, a creature or something nonthreatening.
Next to the fish there is a tiny shining object. I reach down (it seems to take an eternity and I can feel and hear my heart beat rushing into my ears) and pluck a small badge out of the mud. Some sort of boyscout thing, and I think I wonder what badge they give you for tormenting living things while wiping the mud onto my pants leg pocket and then tucking it away fro safe keeping.
He walks on, trying to erase the image of that ripped flesh with the calm of the constant brown water. It soothes more as he steps into the water, feels the mud suck at his feet, feels the water press around him in a caressing and consoling way.
The river holds its own memories, its own knowledge which is a brutal dumb kind of unforgiveness. I pause, feeling anger recede with the river, and consider my own disconnected vengeance as I drop the boy scout badge into the water with a quite deliberate gesture.
We make a deal, the river and I, to attend to our own injustices.
I stand, looking around, feeling the branches underfoot, it starts to calm me. I decide to head back into shore but something makes me pause, as it registers that on the shore there is lying an enormous brown snake. I must have almost stepped over it on my way in, and feel as if the river itself has caught me, and offered me its broad protection. I stay, standing, mid calf into its mud and we both wait for the snake to leave.
It takes some time, the sun beats down upon my shoulders and head, but I wait and eventually the snake disappears, somewhere in the direction of the splashing swimmers, and I think about the boy scout badge left behind by the boy who liked to poke holes in dead things and I feel a strange kind of calm wash over me, and another kind of knowledge about the power of personal things, of objects and tokens, of how we move through the world, shedding not only parts of ourselves (hair, toenails etc) but at the multitude of lost keys, glasses, shoes, sunglasses, notes, etc.
things belong to us for less tie than we imagine, and yet we surround them around ourselves basking in their comforts.
There is something in this, some simple thing that I am not yet mature enough to grasp fully, something about the things around us representing aspects of ourselves that we either choose to accentuate or to try to hide away. I wonder about the objects themselves, I wonder if they hold within them more than the reflection of who we are, if they in fact manage to carry around the seeds of their own beginnings, if they hold in them, like a petri dish of time – the many hands who have encountered them in their lifetimes. The importance of things starts to gain prominence in my thinking (here, in the river, now ankle deep in mud) and I – for the briefest of seconds, wish that I had not dropped the badge into the water, but that I had kept it, kept some token of that boyish cruelty instead of trying to create a supernatural kind of justice, but the thought fades – mostly, a grain embeds into my future thinking – and as I make my way back to the shore, stepping over the fish bodies on my way back to my bicycle, I am sure – that in the distance somewhere I hear the faint, but srill sound of a boy perhaps being bitten by a snake.
My bicycle is where I left it. I unlock it carefully, wrapping the lock around its frame and mounting it with a careful step (learned that one long ago) I continue down the path, and I am sure now that the splashing has stopped, the crying is more insistent but jagged in that i-am-receiving-attention-now kind of way that will probably be soothed with an icy pole later, and I think well, not a snake then, never mind, before continuing and I notice that the train of thought I end up jumping to and from is contained around these distant anonymous figures, and I wonder at it and I imagine it being transmitted – these conversations I am not privy to – through the water, through the mud and the tree roots to float through the air, where I receive them in fragments as I continue on through the speckled light, the patches of mud and the sticks and leaves.
This thing – this intrigue and picking up on things would continue long into his life. It was an attentiveness, you could call it a frequency but that would discount the multitude of senses coming together to formulate a kind of hyper-awareness. It would not formulate in any kind of solid way for some time, but the inkling was there, and apart from acknowledging its importance within himself, he kept cycling, letting the flow of thoughts and images and ideas stream past like air. Breathing some in and expelling them out in equal measure.
Darkness. Darkness like a solid thing that wraps itself so completely around the container of the self that it cuts out light, and air, and everything that exists outside of vacuums. He is here, suspended. Suspended in the darkness like a creature stuck in some silicone – less rigid than the preserving characteristics of amber, say, holding temporarily instead. There is a flexibility to this darkness and as soon as he has understood that, he notices a faraway pinpoint of light.
It is dim, lie a pinhole has penetrated the darkness to let in some external illumination. Like walking down a tunnel that has gone on forever so that the perception of light has dimmed and one has quite forgotten even what the concept means. Like that, like that so much that he is thinking the thought one minute and the next he is walking down that tunnel, towards that insubstantial pinpoint wondering at the sudden sense of freedom that has caused the darkness to recede as equally as the river and his memory of it had once done, and he is walking, even then wondering why the memory of a river should come to him at all, since he is here, walking in a tunnel, not standing ankle deep in the mud wondering at thoughts.
He is older now – the young limbs have stopped their growth, have even paused for a moment waiting for the downward slope into dissolution. He has resolved certain things about himself; he is an engraver, he has his own business and runs it in the same premises that his grandfather (who had smoked a pipe long into the insomniac evening in that same space) had done for the entirety of his lifetime. He has inherited the premises, and the insomnia in equal measures and they seem so inextricably linked that when he ever spends any time away from work (it is rare, but it does happen) he is able to fall into deep uncompromising periods of sleep, like now as he is inhabiting this endless tunnel.
The light distracts him so much that he has not noticed the sounds emanating from the walls, the sounds of shuffling, the vaguely fluid sounds of things extracting themselves from internal, moist spaces. He feels them as a presence more than sees them because he is distracted by the light, by his desire to reach it and end his time in the tunnel.
It is not unpleasant in here, though it does smell strongly of piss and that engrained aroma of confinement. The air feels cleaner in the beam of this vague light, so he remains walking in the centre of the tunnel, in the beam of the light, studiously avoiding the murmurings coming from around him.
Something appears in his hand. It is strange the way dreams go, he has time to consider while raising his hand to look at the thing which has materialised. It feels smooth and cool to the touch and fills his hand in a pleasant way. He raises it into the beam of weak light in order to negotiate its unexpected form and it is then that he notices the slight smell of salt, and something underneath, like the ocean. He lifts it to his ear, like a telephone speaker and the sound of distant waves fills his head.
The combination of the light and the waves fill him with a soothing sense so that he is distracted and does not immediately notice that the light is both growing brighter, and allowing him to see more clearly into the interior of this space that he is occupying. The walls are lined in brick, and between them the mortar has chipped itself away in places, and where the voids are, curious fluids have seeped (over time) and left white stains which upon drying, have crystallised into tiny white forms that still adhere to the walls (even though a number of them have actually fallen to the ground and lie at the base of the walls in clumps.
He pauses, caught still in the light, and holding a seashell to his ear and walks over to the wall to examine one of these stains more closely. His feet shuffle through a thin layer of sand which covers what feels to be a tiled floor (he checks, bending slowly and brushed away the sand, and there below, curiously enough are beautifully clean, almost sterile hospital looking white tiles) while he is down there he also notices that the beam of light has followed him, tracked his progress through the tunnel and has left the pathway he has made awash in light, as if the experience is a photographic print and is exposing the environment around him more and more to its contents.
Things recede away from him, back into the shadows, and he stands, (still holding the shell, sound of the waves still filling his head) so it is with that gentle repetitive soundtrack that he turns to the wall and examines the white things stuck around the borders of the stain. He picks one off and examines it carefully before placing it on the tip of his tongue. (he hears a low groaning coming from the shadows, as if the occupants have either succumbed to collective desire or collective repulsion. He ignores either for either interest him little, and bites down into the tiny crystal which pulverises between teeth and floats a thin coating of salt across his tongue.)
Salt, but not quite just salt.
He tastes it both objectively I his mouth and mentally as a kind of darkening of grief, an overwhelming sense of sadness and as he looks around, back into the darkness of the tunnel the light follows his gaze, almost as if it were being emitted from his eyes like a car headlight, and the darkness recedes back, as if terrified from his gaze and he is able to see the regular punctures in the walls of this tunnel, and the regular stains that accompany them, and he realises that this tunnel is resonating with an undercurrent of intense fear and emotion.
He walks along the walls, plucking and tasting those delicate salt crystals, images and sensations flooding over him, and through him like electric shocks, like hearing the radio from a faulty filling in your tooth. The things in the darkness fall away from their physical forms and dissipate like spectres which sigh and groan as they are hit with light until the entirety of the tunnel is awash, and the groaning has fallen away into whispers.
He turns back to the light – it is still there, more direct now, still calling him in its way even though he nw feels safe, almost resistant to leaving this space with its intriguing flavours and secrete/secrets. But he knows the danger of indulging for too long, and so, grudgingly, he turns back and continues on his way.
The bricks around him fall away and in a few seconds he forgets that they were ever there at all. He?She? Is standing on a flat sand bar looking out at the ocean which is flat, and endless and blue.
It feels real enough, though He/She/They can no longer remember are looking at this ocean from an unexpected perspective, from lower than they would have thought they would stand and they glimpse down at their body which is undeniably female, though a creature still in that early genderless stage of development, and they realise that all of a sudden it has become still where it has been windy and relentless for days, and that She, yes, She is feeling the sand on the bottom of her feet and that it is hot and she dances from foot to foot lightly leaving tiny cavities in the surface of the smooth sand behind her as she runs toward the ocean where the sand is firm and damp, and the ocean laps at the shore like lazy eyelashes hiding the sun.
Less skipping now, more treasure hunting. Things along the shore line expose and offer themselves up for scrutiny. Shells align with seaweed and smooth washed sticks and rounded glass and very occasionally, if she were lucky – a piece of old pottery still with a pattern or a stamp embedded into its eroded surface. The seagulls ignore her. They persisted fro awhile but then realised all the action was happening farther down the beach near the tents and the beer bottles and the loud storytelling. So she is alone, leaving tracks in the sand that move from place to place like a distracted map. Like X actually mars the spot every metre or so. She has a bucket and sporadically things rattle into its hollow container so that over time the pitch changes slightly as it fills. But she is here for hours and is being very selective because she has been told that she will be able to take back only one bucket of these precious things.
There are discarded piles of less fortunate items flanking the tent where they have been staying aways back. It is glaringly yellow from here – that banana or butter yellow, warm and sunny.
She continues on, carrying the bucket (which fills gradually, specifically), sometimes wandering either farther or closer to the gentle waves. It is hot out here, and so it is not long before that overwhelms a sense of collecting, and the bucket is places, buried up to its halfway point in the sand safely from the waves.
She jumps lightly in the water, sending up spray around here, disturbing the one stubbornly persistent seagull which has watched her journey for some time. The water is warm because it is so shallow and it is only really up to her calves or so, She remembers her brother being sucked into the undertow, so she stays close to the sand, doesn’t allow the ocean much purchase at all.
There, not far something stirs. It is like the sand itself is shaking itself awake. It is larger than her, and casts a delicate shadow as it rises up briefly before settling back down and regarding her with cool alien eyes.
She stops, suddenly full of fear for she has not seen anything like this ever before, she makes out a tail and for a second, imagines malevolent saucepans. It shifts again, it is only a metre or so from where she stands, liquid running down her legs that is not seawater but whose matter was once water of a kind, and when it rises again, she bolts to shore, to the safety of the sand where she sits, puffing briefly and hiding the stain on her pants with sand.
She sits there for some time, looking at the shore, feeling the wind pick up slightly, ruffling the tangles mess of her hair. (her mother will be angry when she gets back, will yell at her father for not brushing it but the punishment of the brush will be hers alone to endure) Eventually she picks up her bucket and wanders a little closer to the tent. She cannot go back yet or they will know that she pissed herself and her brother will taunt her incessantly because he is bored and playing with his nintendo that he got for christmas and will be sweltering in the heat of the tent that he refused to get out of except to splash water at her and throw seaweed down the back of her shirt.
She sits down again, drops the bucket and after careful examination of the water for things unexpected (malevolent saucepans, for example) she runs into the water in her shorts so that when she gets back no-one will be any the wiser.
She walks out again after a period of floating in the water, staring up at the burning blue sky, one hand firmly touching the sandy floor so that she did not float out into the undertow herself, her thought scattering from subject to subject while a single white puffy cloud coursed across the sky.
Eventually she grows tired of this, and wanders back over to the shore where she has left her bucket, and continues on her way with it in hand, dripping lightly all the way so that the footprints left behind her are flanked by tiny spots from the drops.
Halfway back to the tent the ground around her suddenly comes to life.
She drops the bucket when they come out onto the sand – the tiny blue and red crabs which all rise together in horrible concert. The bucket squashes one, she notes briefly and feels a pang even though she is standing in the way of wherever these creatures intend on going. Their similarity to spiders is overwhelming, the addition of claws unwelcome to that particular nightmare.
The seaglass and treasures spill all over the sand but she is frozen, and the crabs keep rising up so that in a few seconds more she is completely surrounded and frozen, and quite unable even to scream.
He awakes in a sweat, throat still straining with that silent scream, hands clutching the surface of the blankets into knots.
My grandmother sits in her chair. It is one of those overstuffed things that looks like it is half-swallowing here as her legs tend to stick out at funny angles because of her bad hip. She sits, listening to the television (never watching) and peeling an apple. She peels the skin in ever increasingly long sections and eats these lengths of peel with a strange, rabbit-like delicacy.
I am colouring in a book with textas so that each stroke makes a tiny squeak against the paper at the same time that she chews the apple strips. If anyone walked in at this stage it would look like she was squeaking instead of chewing and that, together with the image of her being consumed by the chair is almost more entertaining than this colouring book which she has given me as a gift “to keep me out trouble”
My brother has slipped away somewhere with our cousins, and since I am the youngest I am coddled more suffocatingly than any of them. I am also a relatively sickly child so this only adds to the suffocation and reduces any chance I have of slipping away myself, even if only out to the garden because that is my grandfather’s domain but he is sleeping at the moment in the chair that matches hers on the other side of the room between the television which is playing midday movies with the volume on low.
I squeak on, purposefully making even louder and more deliberate gestures so that it will irritate her and she will finally allow me to go out into the garden. I know she is watching me because she has stopped chewing and I can feel the full force of her attention.
You’ve gone out of the lines. She says mildly, then continues chewing.
I agree and sigh loudly, choosing another colour and making marks over the top of the other colours so that together they all bland into an ugly kind of brown and obscure the line drawing of the smiling animals underneath which for some reason fill me with a mix of irritation and hatred.
She stand up and shuffles over to the bookshelf to pick out another book, and now I am matching the rhythm of obscuring the colouring in book images with the music from the midday movie and for some reason this makes me feel slightly better.
I watch her as she flicks from one book to anther, as she stands reading through the first pages of one on her bad hip, leaning against the wall slightly. She stays standing because it is good for her to stretch and I return to my colouring in but after awhile I glance up because she is still standing with her back to me and I notice that her hand has disappeared, right up the the wrist where I can see her silver wristwatch slowly disappear like it is being sucked through the plaster, like a spaghetti noodle through sauce red lips.
As I watch, the wall encroaches in its slow way, curving around her limbs like thickened cream on a cake, like a smooth jumper, like milk or something more firm, custard maybe, like it is devouring her and as I watch it, I notice that the wall itself – not just at the section where it consumes my grandmother, but the entire wall is flexing and buckling, in time to her slow inhalations.
She turns her head slowly towards me, it seems to turn much farther than I would have thought possible so that even though her back is to me, right now in three quarter profile she has fixed me with her cold eyes.
You’ve gone out of the lines again.
I look down at the page, at my hand which is compulsively jerking all over the page in an irregular pattern, scratching through the surface of the page I am working on and making bleeding marks all over the one beneath it.
Don’t you get that on my tablecloth.
I nod, and cap the texta very careful, afraid to look at her because the wall has taken her up to her shoulders, and her head has turned around even further and I notice that her skin – the loose skin on her neck is twisted around far more than makes sense.
Why don’t you go outside, I have to wake your grandfather.
I nod again, and I stand slowly, painfully aware that I have to move past the place where she is standing, that the wall is expanding and extending like it is full of writhing limbs, I can almost see them beneath because the surface has stretched to a thin semi-opaque sheen and beneath it, dark shadow move in and out of focus.
I walk over to her carefully, avoiding any the objects that touch the walls because I notice now that all of the walls have started to breathe and that the bookshelf that sits against one is moving in that same slithering manner. I walk past, and as I do she places the book back into the shelf,and touches me gently on the head as sh sends me on my way, and a light puff of plaster dust rises from my head and drifts into the air so I slip quickly through the door and into the hallway and I don’t turn around when I hear my grandfather’s voice wake, startled, as if from a dream.
I pass by the bathroom on the way to the back door and glimpse at the mirror. My face is pale (it generally is so that is no surprise) but the place where she touched me on the head, just the size of a thumbprint, really, has caused all the hair in that one place to turn a shocking white.
I pause, swiping at it, thinking it is plaster dust, but nothing comes away, and when I lean in closer and pull it a single hair, it comes out shining silver, complete with its tiny bulb at the base which has the tiniest of roots attached.
I go out into the garden and sit out behind the smokehouse at the back of the yard, back behind the lemon tree and the strawberry patch and stare at the wall for some time. My parents are coming at some point and I wonder what they will find, will that flexing white solidity consume the entire house? Am I safe, even sitting here in the position farthest from the house that I can manage or will it pour out of the house, and cover the entirety of the yard in its slowly encroaching silent whiteness?
I imagine the same thing happening to my hair, and I touch it compulsively, trying to feel the change in it, will the white patch expand to fill my entire head? Will it trickle down my face leaving me scarred with its consuming?
I sit, watching the shadows grow longer on the walls of the smokehouse. I glance at the house from time to time, but the next time that I do I notice that the windows are now completely opaque, and they press out against the glass which flexes to accommodate it, and the reflections of the garden bend and groan against the whiteness in a rhythm that matches the breathing. I see myself in there eventually, As if the windows are bending around, as if I am being searched for, and once I have been found, and I have seen myself sitting there, hiding behind the smokehouse with my new thumbprint patch sized chunk of white hair the house seems to suddenly exhale, and relax, and it constricts back upon itself, once again, a normal house with the windows opened slightly, and the curtains flowing gently in the breeze.
My parents arrive some time later and I re-enter the house to find them all sitting in the ?lounge room, my parents on the couch in front of the table where I have left my colouring books, my grandfather now awake and sitting up higher in his chair, my grandmother peeling another apple. They all look up at me, in the middle of their conversation to acknowledge my presence but none of them mention the appearance of the white patch of hair except my grandmother who stares at it in a satisfied way and smiles to herself.
I am here, lying down on a floor.
From where I am, I can see the bottoms of shelves. Light escapes from under them in flashes, a blueish kind of white light that seems to thud every time it appears. I stand up and brush huge chunks of congealed dust from the right side of my face. It falls to the floor slowly and makes whooping sounds as it rejoins the carpet of it all over the floor. I stand, brushing myself off and I have no idea what has happened, but there are two grocery bags (paper) next to me and they are stapled together shut but i’m fairly certain that they are mine and so I pick them up, tucking one under each arm. The flashing continues, in bursts that light up the room, and I notice that there are other grocery bags (paper) on the shelves though I know that thee two are mine, because this is the amount of rations that I have been allocated, and now I remember that this is why I am here; to collect my weekly rations and that the other people who stand around collecting theirs, or standing up, brushing off dust are doing so because of the flashes that are happening outside, and that only a few minutes ago there had been one all consuming thud, and an overwhelming brightness and it must have been very close, so close that I seem to have passed out and that I am not the only one to do so, because now I can see other people standing, some being shaken lightly but we are all silent or whispering so it occurs to me that we are Not Out Of The Woods Yet.
I watch one couple nearby. They are whispering softly – one is telling a story to the other who is still lying down, something about the smell of the sea, the sounds of waves, and how they first held hands there, amongst the seaweed and the boats, sharing a cigarette in the darkness. Romances such as this are no longer uncommon, but the care exchanged between them might be, or at least, might be for me so it gives me pause until I see the lying figure manage to stand and brush itself off.
There is another flash outside and we all turn – moths to a light, to watch it light up the burned-out city below.
We scatter once the darkness re-descends. The one door opens onto a precarious stairwell which is exposed to the night air so we travel in teams, trying to hold the bags as quietly as possible though they crinkle and rattle painstakingly as we step carefully down the treads and through the rubble below.
There are fires around the city, some contained, others roaring out of control. Hungry beasts leaping from rooftop to rooftop burning with that same blue-white fire.
Pieces of paper litter the roads and one sticks against my pants leg. I try to kick it away quietly but it is persistent so, juggling both bags under one arm, I pull it away. It is slightly charred and seems to be an advertisement for Stockings.
When I look up again, the people who were with me have disappeared and so it is with some tension that I find myself suddenly alone and exposed in the street.
Absentmindedly I stick the paper into my pocket, and hurry int the darkness.
Out here in the streets the dust lays all over the ground in knee-deep pockets everywhere that is not undercover, like exposure to the air has caused this strange irregular accumulation. There is safety in the shadows – not only from this dust which makes breathing difficult, but from the eyes which peer from the tops of buildings, searching for targets.
I cross through the park which is a mixed bag – although there are no watching eyes, the desperation of people like me turns this into a human-mine field of beggars and wounded. I drop one of my bags off in front of a family who are sitting around a woman with a septic wound on her leg, and keep the other which I stuff into my jacket pockets – placing items in each so that I can keep my hands free. I take this path often, although tonight I must have miscalculated, because I end up stepping almost into a clearing that is shining with that same blue-white light, and it is large like a bonfire although no-one would be stupid enough to make themselves into such an obvious target, not anymore.
I scrunch down into the bushes to watch, and am surprised by the presence of a cat beneath the same bush. It has just given birth to a littler but not all of the kittens have survived, and at least one of the ones staggering around the exhausted mother shows signs of mutations. I am too soft hearted to put an end to them, and too aware that the families nearby sometimes supplement their rations with …things that they can find nearby, so I leave them where they are, blocking the sound of the pitiful mewing and watch the figures around the bonfire who, from here, are merely silhouettes which cast long shadows.
There is a figure amongst them who casts the largest one. It seems to connect all of the other shadows together and tries to penetrate into the darkness of the forest. It is tall, commanding and instantly terrifying because I have heard the stories about this figure, stories that turn the blood cold. Thy sway, all in time, side to side, and then the chanting starts, and it almost turns my entire insides to liquid. The figure in the centre is standing hunch shoulders which gives it a bestial appearance, and a low sound arises from its form. This is joined almost immediately by similar sounds from all of the swaying figures. It is hypnotic, and guttural and send the hair on my airs standing to attention, and the sweat on my brow suddenly freeze in place, like I have sprouted some crystalline crown.
The sound continues and I empty my pockets, knowing that if I am carrying these uneven weight about my person that I will never be able to run as I will need to should they discover me here. On the ground where I empty my pockets there appears a bow and two arrows. I pick them up, testing the weight of all three items, and nock one of the arrows which I raise and hold, looking intently for that central figure who is still hunching over like a beast. I will not have another opportunity like this and if I miss then I will surely be torn apart. I have seen it happen, and although it is a fast process it can not be said to be a painless one, if the screams are anything to go by, even if they are short-lived.
I search, and even though I have a spare I know that I would never reach for it in time,a dn so I pause, considering with the bowstring stretching and resonating with the overwhelming hum of the chant coming from the figures.
I find the figure again. For some long moments, it stands in front of the fire and it speaks in a loud voice that I cannot understand.
The moon, which has been swallowed by an almost continuous cover of smoke and cloud takes that moment to uncover itself and suddenly the silhouettes have form, and solidity, and substance. The bestial figure stands, aware of it more than anyone else, and for a moment, in the confusion, I loose the arrow, and I watch it fly straight and true at the figure, which is female, undressed to the waist except for a slick coating of blood which begins at her mouth.
The arrow flies true, and it enters her body right at the heart, and for a second she flashes with that same blue-white light, and she is suddenly familiar, like some long dead celebrity, but I can’t remember their name, and by the time the flash stops anyway I have unwittingly stood up and now stand, completely exposed to the entire group which appear shaken. She roars, although no sound leaves her body except a puff of chalk and wind, but her eyes burrow into me, fierce, terribly shining eyes that glow with that same blue-white and which make my skin burn and crawl.
The arrow has gone straight through her and has left her intact, and now sticks out of the chest of the person standing behind her and they are prone upon the ground, screaming and losing blood with each convulsion.
I do not have time to reach the second arrow.
I wake up with the sensation of my limbs being rent, without delicacy from my torso.
It doesn’t put me in the best mood for the rest of the day, it must be noted.
I have driven my car into town and left it in the carpark near __________. It is the weekend so there are so many people around and they move in that slow, distracted purposeless way that is both easy to replicate in one’s self, and easy to work with when hunting.
I have left the house quite without purpose, even really without my proper tools – generally I at least try to make sure that I have my pair of nail scissors somewhere in my person, but today – perhaps distracted by the dream, I have forgotten them.
At times like this I trust fate to direct me in the right path, and so embrace a casual aimlessness which helps me blend into this crowd with surprising ease.
I wander through the mall, and across the park and sit for some time, reading a newspaper which I have purchased at the newsagency since I have even forgotten to bring a book with me but it is better, I think, and sit for sometime reading and not-reading its contents. The wind picks up after a few hours and besides that I am getting hungry because I didn’t eat breakfast due to still feeling queasy from the dream, so I stop in at a cafe and order a sandwich and a glass of juice (apple) and continue reading and not-reading my paper at the table.
It is relatively full inside but not enough to make the waiters and waitresses worry about how long I sit there, so I feel quite at ease and it is in this state of casualness that the piece of paper falls to the ground from a young woman walking past and I notice that it is an advertisement for stockings and though it is different from the one in my dream, it is similar enough to stop me in my tracks and it takes some minutes for me to lean forward and pick it up. I stare at it for some time, and the woman who is paying for her coffee or whatever, and quickly stuff it into my pocket, and the paper onto the table and stand up, searching for my money. I walk over (not run, even though I rarely get given such clarity of vision) and I pay for my food and juice (apple) and I walk outside, glancing around in what I hope is not an obvious way. I eventually see the woman crossing the street nearby – she has been stopped by the lights (fortuitous) so I am able to casually join the group of people around her at the side of the road and walk across it with them, dropping back the pace so that I might observe, undetected from behind.
She seems to walk with purpose amongst the herds languishing along the way, and so I follow her, after making some unofficial stops of my own into the chemist, into the large building that she enters, clutching her bag in a particular way.
I walk inside and am greeted with an array of books and objects all kept in rather shoddy condition. I watch her covertly from the hardcover area, dawdle around a section filled with buttons and fabrics, and stand at the counter with the book in hand, waiting patiently for my turn.
The woman is looking intently at something above the shopkeeper on the wall behind him, I cannot see it from here, and they are talking in low voices, hers is tinged with a little urgency, his with polite refusal. She gives up, her once gesticulating hands become restful at her sides before she clutches her bag again, and head averted, leaves the store in a rude hurry, brushing past me with a shot-back apology as she left. I am so distracted by the sudden contact that it takes me a moment to notice that the shopkeeper is asking if he can help me, and looking at the book in my hand pointedly to which end I move down so that I can stand where she was standing and ask him if he has a copy of this book in its original printing as I am a collector of fine books and as I am saying this I am scanning the shelves, looking at each item closely to see if I can tell what she might be looking at when my voice catches in my throat, because there above a dusty moose head, and next to a pair of rollerskates is a bow and arrow set that looks almost identical to the one from the dream.
I shake my head lightly and apologise to the man, telling him that I used to be an archer and could I just for a second have a look at the set he has there, hanging on the wall next to the rollerskates and the moose.
He looks surprised for a moment, but reaches them down, using a long stick with a hook on it like a carny at a fair catching down a stuffed toy and he places it onto the counter with its price prominently on display, and all I notice of this is that I have enough money to cover it at which stage I promptly ignore it. I touch the fine timber of the bow and pick it up carefully, testing out the string which is in remarkably good condition considering that it has been hanging there long enough to acquire its thick coating of dust.
He starts talking, obviously he can tell that I am interested, talks about the girl who was just here, how she has been coming in every saturday for as long as he can remember, asking to see the bow, asking if he will reduce the price (no, sorry, no can do, he is selling it on commission for a regular client) and leaving her number, which now I look at the bench, she has done again, on a neat slip of graph paper, but no name. There is just one distracted doodle of triangles in the bottom right corner of the paper.
I tell the man I will purchase the bow and he wipes his hands together in a greasy way, laughing about how he’ll never be irritated by the girl again, and tells me that there is a case and that he’ll go out the back and get it if I will wait.
I nod, distracted by the honeyed timber, and wait until he slips behind the curtain before carefully pocketing the phone number with the triangles drawn in the bottom right corner of the page, and when he comes back I am standing there patiently with my credit card out which distracts him sufficiently so that he doesn’t notice the missing piece of paper at all.
He drags out a timber case and slides the bow into it and when he places it back onto the counter, as I am signing the receipt and he is glancing at it to check that it is the same as my cars, I notice the monogrammed letters carved into the timber case and it is with some shock that I notice that they are the same as my own.
He is smoking menthol cigarettes. It is unexpected and the faint minty freshness of it conjures up images of green – grasses and plants, precious stones and the like. We are both (not together) sitting in a bar, both staring (not watching, not in my case anyway) at the screen above the bar which features tiny figures running across a field. It is on silent, so the soundtrack for this enthusiastic tumbling comes from a jukebox in the corner that is playing country and western music – something sad, something about broken hearts in a way that sounds like sugar syrup running over a leathery whip.
We watch (stare) at the screen with its hyper-saturated colour balance so that the mint colour of the grass blends perfectly with the mint of his cigarette.
He catches me glancing at them and offers one to me and with a moment’s hesitation I accept one, thank him for it, and inhale the smoke after he has lit it for me with a disposable lighter (red)
It is a curious sensation – cold smoke in your lungs. He nods at the television and now that I have accepted his cigarette I feel inclined to accept his hospitality which, I suppose, includes conversation about sport.
He asks me which team I follow and I have to confess that I prefer tennis which he brightens at and I feel a wave of relief because I have had a bout of horrible insomnia and have been staring at the tennis for the last week and at least I can mention names and such and be able to participate in this conversation with this genial character. He orders another drink and asks me if I would like one but I refuse (appreciatively) telling him that I have to drive soon, have to pick up my wife from work or some such acceptable comment.
He asks me what I do and I tell him that I am an accountant for I find that this tends to warrant the least amount of detail that I have to engage in. It works this time and he volunteers that he is a policeman (which honestly, causes me a moment’s hesitation) and chuckles in a completely rehearsed way (holding up his hands, saying Off duty, never fear) and I nod and smile in a way that I have seen men nod and smile which is to suggest that we in that moment, share some kind of secret that only we know about.
I have witnessed and overheard enough conversations over time to know the structure of these things, and so I ask him if he is married, to which he chuckles again (another secret) and says no, he hasn’t managed to find the right girl yet and we both nod in that way again and he taps ash into the ashtray with a sense of finality and we both go back to watching the lurid green screen with the tiny figures chasing a ball. I finish my drink a little while later and I stand up, make some crack about the wife again and pick up my jacket. He leans over and unexpectedly shakes my hand, offers me another cigarette for the road, which I accept, placing it into my shirt pocket carefully and I put on my jecket wishing him a nice day before walking out onto the street.
Even though it was offered and not strictly collected, I find a nice space at home in the cabinets for the man who smoked menthol cigarettes and just hadn’t found the right girl yet.
It is bright outside, the sky is deep blue that is expansive and only marred by a couple of tiny puffy white clouds which sail across without a care in the world. You can smell the sea from here, almost hear the water crashing against the shore in that rhythmic way that the sea does against the sand.
My time here is almost over, which feels strange, considering.
There is a small family outside – parents and a son who is in that stage of development where his limbs flail and seem to be beyond his control. They stand, as I do, at the wall and stare out into the sea, though where mine is wistfulness, I sense a sadness to them, and as I glimpse the small bunch of flowers in the mother’s hand I realise something of the grief involved here. They have lost something, a someone more likely, obviously the person who occupies the awkward space between them, the glue possibly that held these three sightly disconnected figures together.
The son seems angry at the water.
I know that kind of thing too, I saw it on the face of my mother when she ran across the sand to drag my brother from the undertow. She was fierce, a mother beast snarling at an element much bigger but less determined and I wonder at this family, and how their circumstance differed from ours.
She places the flowers on the fence that they stand in front of, I am unsure as to whether thy are leaving them there, or whether they are just pausing until she kicks off her shoes and steps delicately over the wall, buries her feet in the sand before picking the flowers back up and walking stolidly towards the waves. The father and son do the same, almost in an automated fashion and again it occurs to me the strength of women, their ability to stare things in the face.
They join her at the shore and watch as she throw the flowers into the waves. It takes a couple of goes and I can feel her frustration and anger growing from here. Eventually she gets them past the waves and they drift, out to sea.
I understand these kind of offerings, remembering the boy scout badge and the feeling of righting an injustice.
The rails are warm underfoot. I walk them like a tightrope walker does, arms spread, trying not to look down. Although I have nowhere to fall, except perhaps onto the sharp rocks that flank either side of te rail, which is a negligible cost.
They are warm in the way that skin in warm, and feel smooth on the soles of my feet. The sun is shining and I have a bag slung across shoulder, filled with Useful Things.
and a pocket knife.
Slung across the other shoulder and crossing over my chest like bullet holders in cowboy movies is a long piece of rope, would into a loop. This I have secured from a nearby construction site, as is the hammer, which is one with oversized prongs. These will be extremely useful when I finally reach my destination.
This train runs behind my house. I’m unsure of where it goes but I expect it is either to or from the powerstation where my father works because it is one of those old steam-fired ones, that drags behind it at slow pace half sized trucks full of coal. Sometimes small pieces fall out, unbalanced by things on the tracks, I expect, and these I pick up, taking with me in an old pillowcase that has flowers on the front, and which, so far has not been missed by my mother.
That familiar sensation alerts me from thinking and planning about what I was going to do next so I get off the rails, walking gingerly across the pointed rocks, and crouch behind a bush not far from the rails (but far enough)
The rails run through this narrow valley with walls about seven or eight feet high – I think it’s because they run so closely to some of the houses that they’ve done it - When I’m in my room early in the mornings, I can look out of my window and see just the top half of the train going past with its plume of white/grey smoke.
Over time I have dug small hollows out in the walls of this tight valley, and sometimes I lie inside them (it is very constricted, just room enough for myself and a bag) and watch the trains roll past from that odd sideways perspective; a blur of colour and movement. I’m too far away from any of those special hiding places now though, so I tolerate the small shrub, tucking my feet into my runners as I do, and then underneath me, away from sight.
A few minutes later the train lumbers past. It gives off a whistle that makes me jump slightly, and also makes me think that the driver has perhaps seen me, but then a flock of birds suddenly arise from farther down the valley and fly away and I figure that the driver must have been wanting them off the rails.
It takes some time for the train to pass by, and I lie back against the course dirt walls of the valley, feeling the sun on my face, and the grit and dust beneath my hands. It is a contented feeling, right now – the sound of the carriages gently rocking past.
Eventually it passes, and I step out, wander down the rails once more which are infinitely easier to traverse than the steps between the rocks.
There are random train rail nails scattered along the way, and I collect these enormous rusted pegs with me in the pillowcase even though they are heavy and bang awkwardly against my calves.
The sun beams down. From the bushes the sounds of birds converse, barely acknowledging my presence here.
I arrive at the point where the birds flew away and find …something….something small that had patches of matted fur. I crouch down, although the smell does wrinkle my nose quite against my own will. There are some maggots, although the birds have done the far greater number on the remains of this something, scattering it across the rails, where in parts it has collided with the weight of the train rails and become pulverised – paste and dust of bone.
Standing, I notice that the rails curve away around a corner. Usually I take the other direction – generally I always turn right down the rails, and spend time reconfiguring my sacred places, cleaning out the wall hollows, storing Useful Things here and there.
I have a map with me that is marked to the foot where everything is kept.
A long time ago I had taken this path before however, and had had to turn back again because of a group of boys from the neighbourhood. I did not wish to be seen – they had only just discovered this area, and I didn’t want them to know that it was important to me.
This time however I had set out early, had made new markings on the map which up until this time had been solidly concentrated on Known Things. I felt the thrill of anticipation at all of the Unknown ones, and continued walking – the sounds of the birds gradually melding with the sounds of a stream.
The bushes grow close to the rails here, and I glimpse around feeling slightly trapped in this now even more claustrophobic tunnel. I notice however that the sun penetrates into the bushes and with some effort, I pull myself through one that looks the least scratchy, wrench my bag and pillowcase through and am suddenly standing in a series of narrow tunnels formed inside the scrub.
There are animal droppings here and there so I figure that these must have been made by regular passers-by. It smells a little wild and raw, but it is not unpleasant so I continue, although at places it is on hands and knees, dragging my bags behind. After awhile it stops again and opens out back at the tracks, so I am once again thrust out into the open which seems brighter than before, so I look up at the sun and mark it’s height in the sky, confer with my watch and make a note of 11am.
The sound of the running water is significantly louder. Around the next bend the ground falls away entirely and the rails cross a narrow bridge that is sturdy (but still rather terrifying) to cross. There is a small outcrop on the bridge, a floating concrete platform with a rickety rail. I stand on it, holding the rail very tentatively, feeling the rust flake off underhand, feeling the loose bolts and the way it seemed to sway lightly in the breeze.
Far below a thin ribbon of water runs.
It is flanked on either side with thick green ribbons of plants and grasses and trees and seems to emit a sense of cool and comfort from up here on the exposed bridge where the heat beats down rather incessantly.
I continue across the bridge (back to arms out, walking the rails – this time the allusion to tightrope walkers feels definitely more pronounced and the weight of the bag tucked into my belt pulls me in a skewed fashion that is not altogether pleasant.
I make it without incident, however, feeling as if I have survived something, thinking too late that the rope might have been useful, that I might have tied around my waist in anticipation.
However we (the rope and I) are unscathed, and I skip down the hill (grassy) down into the cool gree light underneath the bridge.
Cattails and reeds grow along the edges where it fills out further along, but here it is mainly shallow and running at a rapid clip across weathered pebbles which feel not unlike the rails underfoot except colder. In the shallows the sun manages to warm the water but it does cool off slightly the deeper in I go, rolling up trouser legs, stowing bags on the bank before entering.
The pebbles are slightly mossy, a little slippery but the relief of the cool after the heat overhead is too great to be bothered by moss, slippery or not.
The things in my bag come in useful later.
The hammer and the box of nails that I have…borrowed from the construction site are set to task and I make a subtle kind of ladder out of the long nails by banging them at regular intervals into the bark of one of the trees which hangs all the way across the stream. From up there I feel a little safer, hidden from any possible eyes by the foliage around me, even though this place does not feel remotely inhabited – except temporarily by the trains which pass by overhead once or twice a day (to the power station and back – picking up, dropping off coal)
I stay for some time just watching the water flow beneath my hovering feet. I have strung the rope around two of the branches forming a rudimentary kind of sling or very sparse hammock, but I lie very still, and am generally not a fidgety child, so it feels stable enough and even adds to the sensation of feeling like I am flying (or at least hovering)
I hardly even feel like myself here, as if simply being in this place has allowed me to shed aspects of my personality which feel imposed upon me, rather than things which have developed within. I am quiet, yes. I am shy as well, and I prefer my own company above the company of others, but here, right here and now that feels right, feels entirely appropriate, after all – if I had company, the silence, this wonderful absence of voice would be shattered by inanities, by splashing and rough housing, by competitions of pointless skill; whereas here and now I can just lie, flying far above all of those expectations.
I eat my lunch, sitting back on the branch, collect my rope and wind it back into its loop, sling it over shoulder, roll up the bottom of my trousers, stow shoes and wander out into the stream proper.
I am distracted by the sudden presence of a distant voice and I duck down quickly behind the reeds, but it is from far away, the backyard of one of those high fenced houses.
I wander on, at some point tasting the stream water to see if it is safe to fill my bottle. It is cold and clear and tastes quite cleanly unlike the stuff that comes out of the tap; a little like mud, so I fil it up, watching the water divert through the neck of the bottle and eventually push out all of the air inside it. I screw on the lid again and stow it safely in my bag.
Further on the water opens up into a broader stream and it slows down. I have to fight through the grasses to get back onto the bank. I follow the stream for sometime, wondering where it will take me. My destination, after all was actually more of a direction, and a kind of trust in what I would experience.
It takes me past the local tennis courts (again, hands and knees through shrubs) and then after awhile, it opens up into a clearing where it meets another stream.
This one comes from the concrete tunnels of the storm water drain.
It is enormous – and it is open. They haven’t closed it off yet, and by the look of it – quite clean, no graffiti, it hasn’t been found by the older kids yet either.
I hadn’t thought to bring a torch.
I loiter for some minutes, imagining the pawing of rats, or the touch of anything really that would be in that darkness. The sunlight outside only manages to penetrate a couple of metres into the tunnel where it is then unceremoniously swallowed by what appeared to be unrelenting darkness.
I am not fond yet of dark space, have not learned that they are my true friend – these spaces which protect and disguise.
I am compelled to enter it though, after all, I have come this far, and should I continue in this direction, I will after all, be hidden from the usual predators.
As I let my eyes adjust I note that the darkness is not solid, but sits more like an opaque curtain which shifts and moves around me but does not obscure my passage.
I take tentative steps at first – my feet at odd angles to my body, as I walk on the round walls of the tunnel, trying not to step into the stream itself which has an eerie feel to it, uninterrupted thing that it is by rocks or twigs – it flows too smoothly and it is the only thing that ends up feeling disconcerting.
This is the place where I discover the comforts of secrets.
I turn corners, the tunnel shrinks and expands at turns, the only constant is the sound of water which rarely changes its pacing, and the quality of the darkness.
Around the next bed though, when the tunnel opens up into a broad chamber, and a steel ladder rises out of the ground and up, there is a light which casts the entire chamber in a pale anemic greeny glow.
This sudden appearance of human touch, of electricity even, makes me think of my father and his job (which he clearly hates) and I think for some time about how the electricity manages to find all of these subterranean places and offer them a moment of respite from the darkness. I sit on the edge of a concrete outcrop and watch the water drop into a secondary pipe, listen to the gurgle change slightly as it falls that short distance before regrouping itself.
I am loathe to leave this place, and I think for some time about relocating all of my Sacred Things to this wonderous place with its solid bunker walls, its free light, its running water, but I remember that this water fluctuates radically when it rains, and that gives me pause until I remember the unrelenting sun outside.
Not safe then, for storage, but good for visiting.
Also the presence of the ladder makes me feel uneasy – obviously someone comes down here, at some point. They’d notice, surely, a collection of objects that don’t belong.
I secure all of my things and go to test the ladder. It holds fast to the concrete wall, very sturdy, and as I climb, the perspective of the chamber falling away beneath me is breathtaking.
The greenish glow does not penetrate far into this narrower vertical tunnel, but midway I am met with an orangey glow from above, and when I look up, I notice the sunlight bleeding around a circular shape like a shining ring above me in the darkness. I continue up, hoping that I will be able to move the lid of this tunnel, hoping that it has not been padlocked shut by the water people, but when I reach up and push it, it moves easily, though with a slight groan, and slides away from the ladder and I am bathed in a sudden wash of light that is dangerously blinding for a few seconds. The heat of it is as sudden, and meets the cool air rising from the water below in a vague gust. I squint around and notice (fortunately) that I alone, unobserved, and right in the middle of a paddock of long dried grass which is completely unoccupied but for the presence of a white/grey horse which observes me quite without any curiosity at all, just whips its tail, chasing flies for a second before returning to the grass.
I am unused to large animals so it probably disturbs me more than I it, but eventually I swing myself out of the hole, cover it back up and stand on top of the odd raised concrete platform which houses it. I look around. Beyond the horse is a hillside of houses and roads, and as I squint, I realise that it is the estate where I live, sitting there in its terracotta and brick horror, far away, quite some miles from where I now stand.
I look at my watch and note that it is three o’clock or thereabouts and drink some of the stream water which tastes less pleasant than it did when it was cold, but which, upon warming, has revealed more of its muddy subtleties. It even looks yellower here, through the bottle when I hold it up looking for sediment. I rinse out my mouth and spit and dig through the bag for an apple which I eat half of, and upon wandering past the horse, offer it up.
I notice the weird bubbles on its nose as it turns toward me but I already hold the proffered apple outstretched and so its mouth opens exposing its yellow teeth and it takes the apple in one gulp and chews it noisily while I look at the spit trail it has left behind on the palm of my hand. I must hold it out like that for sometime because it nuzzles back for more and I drop my hand hurriedly to avoid the glowing yellow teeth and the weird blisters on its nose.
I feel slightly guilty, and so I pat the horse tentatively on the side of it’s head although truth be told it is more to wipe away the trail of spit than to offer affection although we both seem satisfied after it is done.
I leave the horse, wondering about the blisters, about who owns it and would leave it up here on this bare exposed hill, but I forget about it before long as I am reliving the time in the tunnels and the theatricality of the chamber with the light. It strikes me that even the weakest most diffuse light can change the sense of a place, and also that the darkness can be a comfort, and it is probably that moment right then when I stop being afraid of the dark.
The walk home is long. I cross paddocks and eventually come out onto a road which takes me all the way back up to the house. There is a lot of activity there, cars and men in jackets with dogs running to and fro. I carry my bag of railway track nails a little closer to my body, wondering if the shape of them is as apparent as I fear through the thin fabric, wonder if the hammer that I have borrowed has finally been missed, imagine that at some stage I will be searched by these frantic men and relieved of all my acquired objects and the map which allows me to remember where I have stashed the rest of them.
I wander (I’m sure, quite conspicuously) to my house and am ignored almost universally. The neighbour girl next door (who looks perpetually lonely and bored) calls me over and asks if I have seen some missing child.
One of the men overhears her ask it and walks over.
I shake my head. “No.”
And I ask why.
Apparently some kids saw some other kid go into the storm water drain but he didn’t come back out. The man tells me. I shrug, and tell him that I have been making a treehouse up at the other end of the estate which seems to satisfy him for he lets me go, talking into a noisy walkie talkie as he turns away.
I go inside the house, straight to my room. My parents are home, but they are busy in the kitchen with one of the neighbours so I just make some noise as I go, confirm that it is me in the least amount of words possible and disappear into my room where I lie on the bed, suddenly quite tired after the day’s adventures.
They never find the kid. (fortunately) But they spend some time constructing a massive barred door for the outlet to the stream on the drain and they padlock all of the stairwells that access the drain system. I am filled with sadness for some long weeks, thinking about the sound f the water and that particular quality of light, before it occurs to me that I will never have to share it, that it will remain that same exact chamber, untouched by anyone else, kept as a kind of magical memory particular for me. And that too starts a particular quality in me,something which will not change who I am exactly, but which will allow me to realise the thing that I most desire – the things that are most important to me – the preciousness of this unshared, the concept of the sacred, the importance of secrets.
I am here, now.
It is a constricted room, although most of its walls are made of chicken wire. There are small empty baskets that hang around the space in the covered places, filled with straw and densely packed grass.
The floor is concrete and covered in both shit and spilled seeds, so that over time the seeds have begun to sprout from inside the piles of shit and have grown, long sparse blades of green all over the floor.
It is silent, for there are no birds in here anymore. Usually the birds would remain fairly quiet anyway because of the close proximity of the ferret cages which are kept disturbingly nearby. They are silent now but they reek of that particularly wild pissandshit smell that is particularly pungent and impossible to ignore. It is not remotely comforting – the scent of a predator that is thoroughly claiming its space, and I not longer wonder at the lack of success that my father had in breeding the birds here who must have spent their entire lives locked here under the nose of those hideously oily creatures, terrified out of their minds. The only thing that breeds well here are the tiny crawling shapes I can see amongst the rafters. They breed in abundance and every spring, they drop inside this small prison and wait in between the pieces of wire, hovering like tiny jewels, waiting for the first winds to send them on their way.
Some stay – the older ones, one or two of the new, in their complicated structures made of thread and air, somehow managing to share this space with diplomacy, unless I am wrong and that is the reason why the carcasses of dried out spiders drop occasionally.
They didn’t start populating like this until the birds left. I look up, following the trail of a fly which has been attracted to the powerful smell of bird shit. It wanders distractedly, clips the edge of a line and bounces off it, recoiling in horror as if realising the horrible mistake it has made by being here. It flies directly into the interconnected web and sticks there, buzzing frantically trying to free itself. I watch it for sometime, wondering whether I should free it with a stick, but I am loathe to leave should I miss the outcome of this, and I am surprised that it manages to buzz around fro so long without drawing attention.
It has though, of course. I can feel the heaviness of the waiting from here. And then they come, on sly legs creeping they surround the fly, watching it exhaust itself, waiting for the exact moment when they can be guaranteed success. These are patient creatures, though you’d never know by the way they suddenly launch at the fly. I cannot tell what is happening because I have moved out from underneath it, repulsed y the sudden presence of all of these writhing black furry bodies. One of them has succeeded, and it spend the next minute or so slowly winding the still buzzing fly up slowly like a distracted old woman winding up an errant ball of yarn. The rest of them recede, leaving the victor to its captive.
My brother is outside somewhere, I can hear him yelling to someone – some friend who has been staying here since this morning. They are riding bicycles around the streets and come bursting inside every few minutes for juice boxes, icypoles, bandaids and the like.
I am not sulking out here though this is what my mother assumes, especially when she tells me that I can have a friend over if I like, but we both know that this is not going to happen since I have no friends to speak of, since the other children at my school find me too odd to talk to most of the time and whose gazes seem to slide right over me as if I don’t exist. Which is fine with me.
I watch how the other boys who don’t quite fit in get treated. It is not unlike the fly (still buzzing, although muffled now) overhead, and I much prefer to occupy a different place in the hierarchy of that particular system, than the one at the bottom with the bleeding nose and lip whose clothing is sprayed with the water from the toilet.
I look up, watching the spider gradually devour the fly, listen as the sound of the buzzing gently wanes, seems to disappear into silence with little struggle. It almost sounds like it has fallen merely into a deeper sleep.
Clearly my sense of self-preservation is stronger than that fly’s. I have learned already the importance of observation, the necessity of keeping one’s enemies in the periphery at all times.
This is how I know that my brother is around the side of the house now.
He is a few years older than me, and his energy for continuously hurling himself about seems endless. I sniff the air, wrinkling my nose as an unexpected scent fills the air and I can hear a furtive whispering from nearby.
He and his friend are hunched down around the corner, talking in low tones. I know all the best vantage points from here so I climb the fence and lie down on the carport roof, watching them over the top of its corrugations silently. My brother is the clear instigator in this new episode – he holds the cigarette pinched between unaccustomed fingers and expels smoke loudly, coughing like a volcano into the air. His friend (who he has made do it first) is quietly retching into the grass, face as white as soft cheese.
He perseveres however, merely wipes his face on his sleeve and takes another puff. Together they alternate coughing and retching. It is an absurd sight which I cannot take my eyes off; The volcano and the moon.
My brother – who has developed paranoia as a side package to puberty suddenly hushes his friend, and they sit, wild eyed for some minutes while we all listen to the sound of my mother calling all of our names into lunch. I don’t respond, naturally and she doesn’t really expect me to. He and his friend scramble for a small cylinder in the grass, and spray something into their mouths, wincing. They then undertake the most hilarious of rituals by smelling each other’s breath, and clothing. It is fascinating to watch them both agree that they are safe (especially since I can still smell the lingering traces of smoke from here) before getting up and brushing themselves off. They straighten, buck each other’s confidence up and disappear around the side of the house, starting a conversation midway in that is so glaringly apparent that I almost laugh.
I don’t however, because I remember the lesson of the spider and the fly.
I take up hobbies.
Mostly it is because it is such a reassuring thing for my parents (well, mother – father is now out of the picture and I expect we are all somewhat relieved) but it is enough of a familiar thing that it seems natural and gives us all something to talk about (though my brother is perpetually bored of me and maintains a decent arms length at all times) My father left behind a collection of rocks.
He would spend every weekend away from us with his friends up the coast in the search of minerals (and instant fortune) He never quite managed to achieve either, though it allowed us all to get out from underneath his feet on a regular basis. And, I expect – he from ours.
It was hardly much of a transition when he finally left, except that the things he left behind could new be looked at with ease.
The box of duck decoys in the shed.
The few wood tools scattered across the bench.
A packet of cards with naked women on them (my brother pocketed these with such force it almost tore a hole in his pocket) and a box of rocks.
I took the rocks. We left the decoys in the shed, odd floating crudely painted things with dead eyes, I think we were both disinterested in them for our own reasons.
After he had left we discovered the hole in the shed floor where he’d been stashing all of his spare money. It upset my mother but the hole (shoebox sized) dug into the oiled black dirt was actually more compelling to me than whatever the contents had once been.
The rocks I split into colour groups, and eventually into more specific classifications. It allowed me to purchase things that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to acquire without raising some sort of alarm; glass vials, small canvas bags, tools etc that I could use in multiple ways.
Also it allowed me to wander more freely with a sense of purpose.
The paths around our house were substantial, took you across hills and through the bush which had still not yet been developed. Not many people used these tracks, which was probably what made them so pleasant to traverse. I carried my hammer in my hand, stopped every now and again to tap against something in the cliffs, dig out the tighter bound specimens. I never found anything particularly interesting but any time I went out to check on other things, the placement of the various objects I had hidden throughout the surrounding area, I always stopped to bring something back to the house, some symbol of my time spent out here, obviously (safely) occupied in some harmless pursuit.
It really made all of us feel much better about everything.
I am running through the leaves again, feeling the beams of those same searchlights sweeping around and over me. I have my hammer through it has shrunken to the size of a bottle opener and strikes me a less than useless to I abandon it under a pile of leaves, hoping that it will throw them off my scent. They are on foot this time, and I can hear the urgency of their dogs, as they strike this way and that throughout the leaves, scattering the small creatures who live here normally.
I am wearing shoes for once, for which I am grateful. As I run I keep an ear out for the dogs, for random snapping twigs that are not the result of me, and the past I am taking here. I a running at a crouch, I avoid the patches of light that manage to filter down through the trees, and the beams of light that move between the trunks. It occurs to me that I might find more safety climbing a tree but I can’t afford to touch anything and so I run, with my arms tightly to my sides, at a crouch in the most awkward way possible. It is amazing that I am not spotted instantly.
It actually takes them a lot longer to discover me than I imagine – although the timing is not fortuitous for me at all as I have just run into a clearing with the forest at my back and a huge drop off in front of me. I stop quickly, feet scrambling on loose stones, before I accidentally spill over the edge. The dogs behind me are making up ground, one of them howls and it quite freezes the blood in my spine and I feel all of my muscles contracting uncomfortably as if trying to suck me into a tiny ball.
The fear is overwhelming though I cannot move.
The dogs are held back, straining from the edges of heavy chains. They whine and bark at the injustice of being prevented from tearing me limb from limb, and I stand there, still unable to move, to do anything at all except feel this body harden around me from fear into an even more constrictive shell that seems to root itself into the ground. I cannot turn, I cannot even move my eyes, and so I stare out over the ravine, with sweat trickling careful paths around my eyes while I listen to the sound of one pair of heavy footsteps underneath the cacophony of the dogs.
I am going to die. This seems obvious to everyone, and apparently even I cannot debate myself out of this because on top of not being able to move, I can also not scream. My throat feels like a solid block of plaster, feels like it is bulging against the strain of either inhaling or exhaling, feels like an enormous pressure is building up behind my face and that at any minute it might all explode.
The footsteps are louder now.
Inside I am screaming wildly, thrashing around, facing my attacker and flailing limbs that refuse to be rent from my body.
In reality I stand here as ineffectual as a stature, frozen by terror and the possibilities of terror.
The footsteps are louder again, I can barely even hear the dogs anymore because the sound of the footsteps is the sound of my heart beating and the sound of the blood rushing around my head which sounds like a wave descending with the intention of devouring everything (me) in its path.
The hand touches me on the back of the neck and I am expecting it. I am expecting it so much that I know what it is going to feel like and in that moment, just before the cold thin blade touches my throat it feels like a comfort, like this even might release me from this confinement, that everything might be okay but then the arm sweeps across my field of vision and the pain is immense and it is not the wave without, but the wave within that surges and spills over.
I am running. I am throwing myself head first at the ground. My arms are pinned tightly by my sides but this is the process and so I don’t question it but I do feel that tiny surge of relief when I sweep up, into the air, and not faceplant into the gravel as I am partially expecting because although this sometimes works, this sometimes does not work ad it is the challenge of believing that it will mostly, I think for it to actually work.
I am not a person of deep faith so I find this the most challenging aspect, far beyond even managing to overcome the sense of self-preservation by launching at the ground in the first place, but here I am, hovering far above the ground, somewhere in the darkness where the stars are green streaks of glowing gas, and I am unseen, unheard, free to observe.
This flying thing (oddly called, since it is more swooping and hovering) I am getting used to. Initially it was necessary to hold onto some sort of object in order to achieve this level of height and I would find myself, hanging off the handle of some thing or other – teapots, serving spoons – in one memorable instance; an enormous copper antenna. Now I am free to sit here – yes, sit, aloft – and watch the goings on below me like a surveyor taking measurements for a project whose conclusion has not yet been defined.
I never really sleep here. The darkness is too revealing, the air itself filled with the images that rise from the chimneys of houses below in tendrils, like objects caught in the loops of beanstalks, growing past in an endless parade of objects and sentiments.
So much about Love, and fear, and loss. These three things clog the air with their thick sentimentality and just when I have a safe perspective, I am encumbered by the bypassing tokens of someone’s somnambulistic yearnings.
I am fading.
I sweep off through the air, avoiding these loops and strings – they reach out to try to grasp but I am too fast for them. So eager are the occupants of these strings to devour unexpected occurrence into their narratives that I have to remain vigilant to the air around me.
I am safe for a moment and so I float, watching some concoction of figures writhing, the pieces of a demolished car, and a growing patch of house-sized pumpkins and wonder on how the path of that story will travel. I float higher, I head for the less densely populated area where there is much less clutter and I am free once more to swoop up and down, closer and closer to the ground so that the thrill of adrenaline is contained in that tiny air pocket that buffer me from an unyielding surface.
I never crash but at some point this ability will wear out and I will be stranded wherever I am at the time that it happens so I land, I look around this place where I find myself – a carriage in a train, whose gentle rocking mimics my own almost perfectly except for one errant beat which when I hit it, causes me to sprawl all over the floor in an ungainly manner.
People ask me if I am alright and I avoid their eyes, nod, say yes and find my allocated seat as quickly as possible. My ticket is in my pocket (upper left, jacket) and I pat it as much to reassure myself that it is there, as I myself am there.
The inspector comes around and he talks merrily to everyone in the carriage. He has his back to me and am staring out of the window into the passing scenery around us (desert, scrub, greytones) so I jump slightly when I hear him say tickets please partially because it is such an unexpectedly deep tone and partially because the voice seems to resonate inside my head more that I can hear it objectively with my ears. I turn, patting my pocket as I go, reaching in for the ticket when I am struck with his face, which is not human, but the gaping orifice of a bright green and red pitcher plant.
TICKETS PLEASE it is much more insistent and I am frozen slightly, looking into this gaping hole, that I shuffle awkwardly and eventually I stick my arm into its giant hole and reach in, ticket in hand right down into the thick fluid at the bottom hits my skin and I release the ticket in surprise because the liquid burns my hand, and as I extract it once more, (sans ticket) I note that there is a thin milky fluid all over my hand which I wipe hurriedly on the train seat where it begins eating into the fabric of the chair.
He doesn’t seem to mind however, even offers a slight nod and moves onto the next passenger and I am left, holding my hand out in front of me and watching it smoke gently and gradually fall away in white ashen flakes.
I’m not even sure where I’m going and when I ask a nearby passenger they answer me in a language I don’t understand but I nod and smile and thank them anyway and turn back out to the landscape which is barren and greyscale and wait for something to happen.
Nothing does, not for some time. I sit there, one handed and staring at a landscape that seems to roll past me in a repetitive pattern. Bush. Road. Sand. Distant hill. Small tree. Sand sand sand Bush. Road. Sand. Distant hill. Small tree, Sand sand sand Bush etc for some many hours and eventually I stand up, hiding my (lack of) hand in my pocket and walking down the aisle of the train until I reach the door. I look out and notice a man standing outside, and so I push the door open easily and step out onto the concrete floor and notice that the ground is not moving at all but there is a giant wheel with a landscape painted onto it and people are hiding underneath and pushing it slowly around so that from the inside of the train it looks like the land is moving. There are also other people hiding on either sides of the trains, pushing on enormous sticks which jostle the train in its particular pattern. There are three people at each stick like rowers in enormous galleys except for one stick which only has two people on it and it occurs to me that this must be the reason for the odd rhythm of the train’s movement. I walk over to them and offer to lend them a hand (just the one) I joke, pulling my hand out of my pocket to show them that it has dissolved in the acid of the pitcherplant ticket conductor’s horrible gaping orifice, when I notice that it is there, and I wave my finers in a theatrical flourish like a magician revealing a trick and everyone around me laughs heartily and someone claps me on the back and I shrug and say that I suppose I have more than enough hands to lend one and so I take the stick and I help them keep better time with it.
The train moves much more evenly now, and we all feel a collective sense of satisfaction. The passengers wave to us from the windows of the train, they are smiling and one young man even offers a hopeful thumbs up gesture that inspires us to continue on with this perfect rhythm.
This smoke it covers everything.
I can feel it sticking to my clothing like a blanket or more like the droplets of moisture on a surface slowly freezing into a coating of cold hardness. Like that, like the smoke is congealing – but hard – into a covering, like it is forming a kind of second skin.
I smelt it last night, but thought it was a dream.
I sleep with the windows open most nights – in the bedroom at least (the rest I lock down to keep the interior climate at a regulated level) but up here I leave them open for fear of suffocating. So it was something of a surprise to wake up gasping for air, knowing full well that I always out of habit leave the window open.
I got up, floundering at the window, caught in the curtains, struggling in my half asleep state to oen the window that was clearly already open. In the light of the streetlight I noticed the thin cloud of smoke hovering around waist level and the thought of fire was so terrifying to me that it woke me instantly, and I ran downstairs, taking them two at a time to run around the lower floor looking for the source of the smoke.
Everything was still inside, and I could hear the distant sound of a siren. Standing there dumbly waiting for everything to start making sense, I opened the nearby curtains to reveal a burning orange glow outside.
The building next door was aflame. That sounds dramatic and it was – I could only see the outline of the house itself – like a thing drawn by a pre-schooler, pitched roof, rectangular bulk; the rest was orange and red heat and flame and a massive plume rose overhead directly into the sky like a searchlight keeping an eye out for boats.
The figures of my neighbours were outside on the street and almost immediately were surrounded by both the figures of our collective neighbours, and the figures leaping off the sides of the arriving fire engines, grabbing hoses, aiming them at the flames.
I touched the glass on the window which was hot to the touch and looked up to see if it was spreading my way (I personally have no greater horror in the world than to be consumed (myself and these collections) by a fire. It seemed to be keeping away, though as I watched one of the firemen aimed the hose onto my roof and within second there were drops of water running down my windows, slowly cooling the glass, playing with the orange light beyond. I stepped back from the window, safe in the knowledge that my house would be safe, and aware of the fragility of my situation here, vowing to look into more stable circumstances in the morning.
There was a knock at the door and when I opened it one of the smoke-stained firemen started talking in a loud and fast tone assuring me that my property was safe, that the fire was almost under control, and that it looked like the house next door wouldn’t make it. (clearly)
An hour or so later it was under control and sat gently steaming flakes of ash into the air. They stuck against the windows like dirty snowflakes with no sense of propriety, who had no intention of leaving. I went outside to wipe them off and only succeeded in making the window opaque with them. I gave up, went back inside and after a quick shower went back to bed, this time in the downstairs bedroom that I rarely inhabit because the smoke was much thinner there. I never use this room, I wonder sometimes why I even keep it made up like this, since I never have guests.
I am running late.
I am running late through a station holding a small bag and a ticket and looking for my platform.
The floor is made of some sort of gritty rubbery surface which catches my shoe tread in it, and I spend most of the time staggering wildly and floundering amongst this sea of people who are headed for their own platforms. Each time I arrive at mine I find a discreet sign informing me that my train has been delayed, and will now be departing from platform no ___. When I arrive at that platform I find another and so on, so that after many paths of wildly staggering from place to place, almost but not quite colliding with other passengers I simply stop, and drop my bag at my feet.
I decide that I will wait to hear the final boarding announcement for my train before I run anywhere again, and so I stand, and wait.
The people around me are moving so fast that their features are blurred and I only manage to discern one feature on each face as it passes by and because it is only the single feature upon a hair-topped ball of varying fleshy sizes, then the features start to take on grotesque proportions, so that the woman running towards me with the carpet bag talking on her mobile phone has a blonde bob sitting atop an enormous bloated pair of lips which open to talk loudly into the phone and which expose the whitest of teeth that are separated by space so that they alternate evenly between teeth and no-teeth and give her the impression of a hippopotamus. (minus the other bits)
This is fascinating (a little distubing) but it largely avoids touching me until I am confronted by a figure pushing a trolley full of bags and who asks me (sort of) where the toilets are.
This figure has little to no features however, a shining ball of face which resembles a knee, capped with a pair of the bushiest eyebrows he had ever seen so that the voice itself seemed to emanate from the pores of its faceskin like speakers, and the eyebrow raised and lowered compulsively like dysfunctioning traffic signals.
Do you know where the toilets are
DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE TOILETS ARE
and then it got strange, for I could no longer even understand what this figure was asking me, and the conversation grew more complex and involved that eventually I had to scream JE PAS! JE PAS! Because I couldn’t take anymore and my train’s final departure call had just been announced and I had neglected to hear which platform it was on.
I ran towards the nearest one and decided at the last minute that anywhere was probably better than here and that I would pay the excess fare if necessary once on the train but when I got on the conductor told me that everything would be fine and he took my ticket and punched it and handed it back and I sat down with a sigh of relief, waiting to leave.
There was a woman across from him who was talking to herself in hushed tones.
She was staring out of the opposite window and talking with such urgency that he was able to pick up some of the text which seemed to be about a left note, placed on an…orange juicer…or something and that she was relieved to finally be free of this web of lies that she had constructed with such determination that it threatened to consume her. She was clutching her bag tightly to her lap. It was a black handbag. Above her on the storage nets was a matching suitcase, not large but apparently all she had been willing to cram together in her rush to leave the house, and her lies.
Apparently the source of these initial web of lies had something to do with her smearing peanut butter on the cheeks of her husband’s arse and I was dying to ask her if it had been crunchy or smooth but she noticed me watching and clammed up immediately spending the rest of the journey in silence, clutching her bag to her chest.
It had all left me rather hungry.
I wandered the length of the train looking for the refreshment car but all I could discover was a vending machine that made hot chocolate and a woman standing at a counter which held one shrunken apple and a glad-wrapped muffin of some description. She looked at me hopefully while I considered her meagre offerings and we stood, swaying gently with the rhythm f the train as I considered and she was hopeful before I made a regretful face and shook my head and instead I made myself a hot chocolate form the vending machine and she slumped onto her stool and sobbed into a handkerchief.
I felt bad, of course, but not that much until I started walking back with my cup of hot chocolate and noticed the stares of all of the passengers whose eyes seemed similarly bright and of a colour which one might describe as ‘glowing yellow’ It stopped me in my tracks and I stood, gently swaying with the rhythm of the train, and them all gently swaying in their seats until I shrugged with a sigh and walked back to the counter where I offered her a dollar for the apple, and she handed it to me with a sob which sounded grateful and I stuffed it into my pocket to dispose of later and then returned to my seat.
The seat next to mine was now occupied although I don’t remember the train stopping to pick up any more passengers and this was so profoundly annoying because it was clear to me that most of the surrounding seats were completely empty and now I was burdened with some man who would undoubtedly want to talk. I considered pretending I was deaf but it would be just my luck that he would be able to sign and although I know enough sign to say “I am deaf” I know very little more and it is with much trepidation that I ever consider this course of action.
I sit and naturally the man begins talking almost immediately. He asks me about myself and I grudgingly admit that I am a collector of sorts to which he immediately replies that so is he and what an amazing co-incidence that we should both be collectors and then he told me that he collected fridge magnets and I immediately stopped paying him any attention whatsoever and spent my time trying to imagine ways of making him disappear in increasingly uncomfortable ways.
The woman with the web of lies had disappeared – obviously at the same stop (I didn’t notice a stop) that this man had gotten on.
He was now showing me one of is magnets. It was for a roadhouse called Auntie Ruth’s and I glanced at it in irritation until I noticed his hands – they were quite girly and delicate, almost bird like and when I looked at him properly I noticed that his proportions were really very similar to the woman’s had been and then it occurs to me that she had clearly many many secrets that she had been keeping form her husband and I vowed that before she/he left the train that I would take that Auntie ruth magnet from her/he as a token to remember them.
The train does slow then and I tense because I have not yet had time to secure the magnet but he/she appears to be in no hurry to leave the train and so I relax a little, until this meat-head of a man joins our carriage and lumbers from side to side counter to the movements of the train as it restarts so that he appears to be even ore meaty and neanderthalic than he possibly was. He glances at his ticket and I notice that he sits at the seat exactly next to our and my irritation grows because the rest of the train is completely empty and I vow (additionally to the stealing of the man/woman’s magnet of Auntie Ruth’s roadhouse) that I will be complaining to the conductor next time he comes through because this just strikes me as completely unacceptable.
The man/woman next to me has fallen asleep and I sigh partially in relief until the sporty type decides to strike up a conversation by asking me if this is the little woman and and we both stare uncomprehendingly at each other for some moment before it dawns on me that he is speaking of the man/woman and dawns on him that probably no, it’s not. He is clearly embarrassed and starts to then make suggestions about how I could get into shape. He uses the phrase in this sickeningly jovial tone that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up each time a little higher until finally he gives up and excuses himself to go and find a coffee and it is then, once the doors between carriages closes that I reach in quite guilelessly and take the magnet.
I feel pretty comfortable about it, but the thought of enduring an entire journey sitting next to the sports teacher is simply too much, so I pack up my bag, say a silent and appreciative farewell to the woman/man for their gift and head in the opposite direction to the sports teacher looking for the conductor in order to change seats.
I pause at the gap between carriages to look outside at the gently sloping landscape. The hills fall away from the train tracks in a slow and gradual manner. It is very calm outside and it gives me such a sense of ease that I feel quite content as I enter the other carriage.
There is a man sitting in this compartment who is smoking a pipe. He has a convoluted wire system above his head and has run a cable to the wall of the train where he has – and this is surprising, slammed a rusted railroad spike into the wall. I look at it for sometime. He continues to puff on his pipe, and squint out into the air, and it is then that I notice that he has a hook for a hand, and that it moves across the surface of what appears to be a massive hunk of molten metal.
Galena he croaks at me and the word hangs in the air like the smoke cloud around him.
Ah. I reply, none the wiser.
I’m listening to the wind.
This causes me pause but I nod, and walk to the other side of the carriage and sit down and hope that no-one else will come in since I am starting to get quite tired and feel like I need a rest even though there is a man sitting not twenty metres from me scratching a hook across a rock, still I seem to feel comfortable enough for sleep.
He whistles after awhile, one long, tuneless note, over and over again. I close my eyes hoping that he will stop it at some point, but it continues unabated and after awhile I eventually open one eye and stare at him.
He pauses. It’s the sound of the wind.
Ah. I agree. Great.
He continues and eventually it actually seems to become comforting.
Some hours later the train stops.
It stops at a raised concrete platform in the middle of nowhere. It is hot outside and I take off my jacket and sling it across my bag, take a handkerchief out of my pocket and wipe it across my brow before stuffing it back into my pocket.
There is a dust storm in the distance which has turned the entire west of the sky a rich brown colour. The train starts its journey again and I notice that the man with the hook has also stopped at this stop. I reassure myself that I still have the magnet (I do, it’s in my pocket)
I nod at the man who nods back in a distracted way, he has started hammering his railroad nail into the ground.
What are you listening to now? I ask him.
Country and Western station about a mile away. He replies nonchalantly. I prefer the sound of the wind but you get what you can.
I nod. It seems like sage advice.
I remember quite clearly the sensation of the boardwalk underfoot. It was that kind of wood that has gone silver and started to splinter in sections, the kind that you are painfully aware of with barefeet, and approach with a degree of trepidation.
This boardwalk was almost infinite. It crossed the body of water in a kind of maze, or arterial system, ducking between ramshackle structures that seemed full of life, even though the boardwalk itself was relatively empty. There were small boats, very primitive, almost no more than rafts strung together in a crude fashion. They were occupied, by various people, who all seemed to waiting for something, sitting and talking to each other across the water some distance from the intricate boardwalk system.
I made my way along its greying path, looking at the ocean (grey) and the sky overhead (also grey, foreboding, overcast) the water itself was relatively still but where it poked against the posts of the boardwalk it erupted in flaccid creamy crests which disappeared almost as quickly as they had arrived.
I made my way down the boardwalk, glancing into windows here and there, noting that amongst the grey wooden walls of each shack, the windowsills bereft of glass, where the subtle breeze trickled in and teased the curtains. As he walked he noticed that the teasing was growing more urgent and by the time he reached his destination (one shack, anonymous amongst the many others) the breeze was fairly blowing in time with the rolling in of heavy clouds into the bay.
This shack – not mine, but a family friend? Certainly someone that I knew at least familiarly, was cosy – not unlike a boat, all of the belongings seemed to be built right into the structure itself to make the most out of the limited space available.
I had forgotten something – some shopping that apparently was urgently needed, a can of kidney beans and a bag of pink and white marshmallows, and it would seem that I would have to tread that path back to the store ( a shack like all the others) and fetch them. The man inside the shack was elderly, and his daughter was content though seemed troubled by something that was bothering their small community. The old man offered my the use of his go-cart which I accepted although halfway through the journey to the store; dragging myself on the flat boardwalk with my feet in a frog-like manner, I wondered at the sense of taking it all, as it seemed to hamper my ability to undertake this mission with any sort of ease. I tied it up to a post and, hoping that no-one would steal it I left it behind and continued my way on foot.
The man in the store was standing behind a rudimentary counter – everything in this environment seemed constructed from the same grey washed boards. He also seemed nervous, and kept glancing out at the sky where the cloud had started rolling like boiling soup above an equally churning sea. The small crafts in there seemed to have drawn a tighter circle around a central pontoon which was empty at the tie, but which would obviously be used for what everyone was expecting.
He was nervous, and I realised that I didn’t have any money for the can of beans and the marshmallows so he offered to allow me to take one of the items for free and I stood for some time debating on which I should choose.
The can of beans was dented and the label had peeled away some time ago. The little nubs of glue were the only markers that at some time, the contents had been identified. Scrawled in a thick black pen was the word beans; and while I pondered, he assured me that these were actually beans (kidney) and not some other variety such as beans, yellow or beans, garbanzo. The packet of marshmallows was appealingly colourful. The alternating cubes of pinks and whites seemed like a far better option and I wondered if it was not just the better choice.
After some more time while the man stood watching the cloud roll outside, I decided upon the marshmallows, and thanked the man, who barely turned away from the window. As I approached the door however, he turned all in a panic and told me that I would have to take a different path home, not the way that I had come, and that I should be careful.
I was about to ask him why when we were both struck frozen by the sudden presence of a figure on a small craft outside the window, not far from where we were.
It was wearing red which seemed brighter than was possible, and it (she) had long black flowing hair that waved in the growing wind like tentacles. If I thought about it, it might have occurred to me that they were flowing quite against the wind, as if in response to some inner energy of their own. She was staring at us, me really, in a fairly menacing way, and when I met her eyes I was unable to turn away, so much so that they filed the entirety of my vision and I was momentarily consumed by them, wholly.
I managed somehow to extricate myself, feeling a very physical sensation – as if I was dragging myself out of a long and oily tunnel after a long period of being submerged in the darkness. This seemed to make her angrier and with a flash of those horribly shining eyes, she disappeared and I was left with the shop keeper who appeared to be on the verge of certain collapse.
I made sure that e was okay before stepping out onto the boardwalk, and remembering his advice, I turned not left – directly back to the shack, but right which would take me on a long path around the bay.
I regretted not bringing the go-kart then, because the path started to dip and rise like a rollercoaster so it was with some relief when I turned a corner and there, next to a shack, tied to a pole was the kart. I figured that I had somehow double-backed, or that someone perhaps had taken it and left it here, so I unties the rope, and dragged it up the next rise before sitting in it and letting go.
The kart built up enough momentum that soon it was chugging along quite of its own accord and I was able to coast, feet up on the steering stick, holding the ropes lightly since it seemed to steer itself mostly. I grew peckish after awhile, watching the passing scenery with a lazy eye, barely in control of this craft at all, and so opened the bag of marshmallows and proceeded to eat them slowly, relishing the faintly powdery coating, the almost jellified interiors.
The pink ones tasted more pink that I could have imagined. The white were a little easier, but had crystalised slighty, so between the soft slightly jellied centres were tiny fragments of crunchy material. This started to bother me after awhile, and more from boredom than curiosity I pulled one apart while distractedly watching the landscape pass slowly around me. Inside there were tiny fragments of something. I squinted at it with some bewilderment and managed to extract a piece after some bumpy moments on the kart. I sat, being jostled along fairly roughly and stared at the tiny thing which turned out to be a shard of tooth with part of a nerve dangling from it.
This made me uneasy and quite independently of any conscious thought I found myself gripping the side of the kart and vomiting violently all over the boardwalk which was passing below. I dropped the marshmallows into the ocean after that, but kept the bag, thinking that I should at least have some sort of proof to show the people back in the shack that I had indeed gone to collect at least some of the articles they had asked for. Too late I realised that keeping one of the small horrible squares would have worked in my favour as well, but it was too late, and as I watched them bobbed away from me on the crests of the waves which by then were actually starting to form real peaks and troughs and had begun to crash with some force against the posts that held the boardwalk aloft.
The path I was taking led me round the bay, and close to the grouping of small crafts which by that stage were rocking furiously from crest to trough, crest to trough and I wondered what could be so important as for these people (and their belongings, strapped to the surfaces of the rafts with rope ad string, soaking with sea water) to risk life and limb, so to speak waiting there.
It was not long before I reached the bridge which would cross over them, and the kart seemed to be slowing down, but the thought of being here, at this tumultuous time made me anxious, so I started that same awkward movement (frog-like) of dragging my heels back to try to pull it along.
This however achieved nothing at all, and before I had quite realised it, I had stopped dead still, halfway across the bridge – in fact, right at the crest of the bridge so it felt as if I might at any point fall forwards or backwards but up until that point I was held by some sort of invisible magnetic force. So strong it was, that invisible compulsion that I could not even extricate myself from the seat of the kart.
I waited, and the people on the rocking rafts waited and eventually the sky opened above us all with a deafening crack and it felt like the sky as falling, but it was actually just me falling because the bridge had somehow been blown apart, and it was that which found me atop a kind of my own primitive raft, constructed from the flotsam of the boardwalk, the kart now embedded firmly into its construction, ad I within it.
On the podium, which we were all surrounding (rocking wildly on the ever increasing waves) was the woman in the red skin tight) outfit. She poke in a loud commanding voice that I could not understand but it seemed to create outrage amongst the other people gathered around me. They started looking my way, and jeering (and though I could not understand them either) and I felt quite afraid.
I managed to gather that I had caused (somehow) some horrible tragedy to the community, or at least I was being accused of some such crime. Accused, and it occurred to me in that moment, tried for this crime that I had no way of understanding either, as there seemed to be decisions being made, decisions that ad to do with what should become of me.
At some point – and I admit, I was distracted by the waves, and the storm itself, and the staring; they had obviously discovered the terms of their punishment and I felt suddenly as if I were blown apart, that I was flying through air or something heavier than that, and it was with some concern (I am not an accomplished swimmer) that I realised that I was under the waves, trying to swim.
I could see the bottoms of the crafts around me and I tried to swim towards them though they were eluding me, or I was an even worse swimmer that I had imagined because it seemed to take forever and I started to panic because I knew that I needed air, and soon. I managed to touch the hull of the nearest craft and drag myself upwards to take a massive breath f what I had assumed would be air, but which upon inhaling with all my might, I realised too late and very quickly that I had actually been flailing, held aloft somehow in the air, that I had been swimming through it with my breath held, and that when I had broken through that surface – that membrane between the ocean and the sky, I had burst through the ocean skin and inhaled a lungfull of sea water and it was then, almost precisely, tht I realised that this, this was my punishment.
There are so many kinds of loss – all with their own particular kinds of grief.
I – as an activator of personal losses, often significant, quite often think about the kind of grieving associated with the objects that I ….acquire.
Objects are significant for so many reasons to me, not only for the things that they manage to trigger in my memories, or for the things they signify within my collection, but also for the inherent qualities they seem to hold; the stains (often imperceptible) that they acquire after years (or sometimes even only minutes) of possession.
Objects are haunted by their histories as much as we are.
This object, for example; this pair of sunglasses that I …found this morning, emanate with the essence not only of the woman who owned them before I, but also of the extremity of her emotions, particularly those that she was experiencing directly before she took them off. She imbued these sunglasses with jealousy, and a degree of rage.
She had been sitting at a table, staring at a couple from behind a newspaper. I had been struck with how my intensity had been reflected almost perfectly by hers. She was watching them almost without pause or breath, a coffee sat untouched on the table in front of her; the milk had started to break down into a brown stain around the top of the glass, and I expect that it was almost frigidly cold by that stage.
I have learned that it is most important to maintain an aura of indetectability by continuing with the gestures of everyday, by, for instance – continuing the facade of drinking the coffee that one orders, certainly not leaving it there to form its unappealing crust.
She has not even bothered to turn the page of her newspaper, and I don’t think there is anyone in the world that would be so enthusiastically captivated by the wedding photo section of the paper as to hold it frozen, open for the last forty minutes.
I sip my coffee and glance at the subject of her real attentions; A couple is sitting on the other side of the cafe. They are laughing and eating and every now and then, one of them will reach over to touch the other, in some sort of reassuring gesture of their mutual presence. The waiters and waitresses spend more time at their table than at anyone else’s obviously because of that radiating glow that seems to surround them. It even gives me a shred of inclusive comfort from here – the second to last table away from the door. I glance over at the woman again. She is consumed by the couple, and the more they seem to radiate that charming glow, the more her fingers clench int the paper until I can actually see the ink staining her fingertips just from the pressure of her touch.
I glance past her and back onto the paper.
Of course, the couple sitting at the table are the same two smiling at her unmoving face from inside the pages of the newspaper. His particularly meaty head was easy to recognise, even in a degraded black and white print, from this distance away.
Ah. Jealousy. And even hatred. Such incredibly strong emotions. The sunglasses were fairly smoking from the intensity of that gaze, and I wondered exactly how (since they had now received my special attention and focus) of how I would manage to obtain them.
She solved then for me soon however.
In such a dramatically impressive display, she took them off, set them easily on the table, folded the paper and laid it next to the glasses and then reached out, with such deliberation that it was breathtaking, and sent her glass full of frigidly cold coffee across the room with more force than I would have imagined was possible from one casual hand.
It was both dramatic and satisfying.
It exploded in a ringing shattering of glass and liquid and fairly covered the tables (empty, fortunately – or well chosen) around her in a thick dripping carpet of brown liquid.
Waiters scattered immediately, and every single patron turned their heads to stare at this woman who was now sitting quite satisfyingly placidly with her arms crossed, staring directly at the man.
He turned pale. Pale is the wrong word. It was white, bordering on green, and he looked so close to vomiting at that moment that I almost changed my focus from her to him, who had suddenly become so appealing. The woman next to him was quite unaware of this very visible connection between them, in fact she seemed to be the only person in the room who was completely oblivious to the almost visible umbilical cord that stretched from her table to theirs.
People coughed and looked away, and eventually, rising like a queen from amongst the black d white clad figures hurrying to sweep and mop and clean, she simply walked away, left the table with everything still there, and walked from the cafe, not looking back.
I was frozen to my seat. Would she return for her things? It seemed impossible, given the finality of the gesture. Would the waiters notice the glasses, tucked there, almost underneath the paper? It seemed unlikely although my path to acquiring them was hampered by the cleaning and the tidying.
I sipped my coffee thoughtfully. I had drunk the entire thing, which was a little surprising – clearly I had been enthralled not to notice. I placed the glass onto the table, and rising in a calm fashion, I walked to her table, slid the glasses under the paper, and with a deft movement, had tucked them firmly inside.
I held up the paper to the most harried of the waiters and asked if I might take it with me as it contained a very engaging story on the current increase in value of a certain antique vase etc etc until he merely waved me off with a degree of irritation and I thanked him and slipped it carefully into my pocket, paid for my coffee, and left the cafe.
I was so glad that I had not touched the glasses themselves as it was so important to me to try to capture that raw essence, that uncontainable fury as quickly as possible, so I hurried home as quickly as I could and upon arriving, I slipped the newspaper from my pocket, and carefully slid the glasses into a sterilised glass jar. I closed the lid immediately and then for some time, I looked at the glasses themselves. They were an expensive brand, worn at the edges slightly so that the tortoiseshell pattern became several shades lighter at the tips.
I sat it on the bench and merely looked at it for some time before realising that the paper itself had allowed me to capture a little essence of him too. I carefully cut out the photograph of him – she has dug holes out where his eyes should be with a blue ball point pen, so they looked vacant but fringed lightly with blue filament. I cut out the image and placed in a similar, though smaller jar, and placed them together on a shelf in the spare room.
When I came back to the kitchen I remembered the newspaper itself, which was now flicked to the funeral announcement section and felt a kind f fondness for the lists of names there.
I love funerals. They are so easy to infiltrate. I noted that there was a notice for one that was happening in a couple of hours at the cemetery not so very far from my house. I have a special suit actually, that I had made particularly for these occasions. It is a very nice dark brown that is just that right level of ‘dated’ that allows people to ignore me as someone not particularly significant.
I memorise the address and the name of the recently deceased and then, whistling, I go and hae a shower in preparation.
It is a medium sized service, which is actually my favourite kind – too small and it is so easily apparent that I do not being; too large and there is enough people who feel comfortable being around strangers that they develop a more inquisitive tone to their behaviour.
It is not long before I realise exactly how fortuitous this gathering is for me; two distinctly separated sides flank the gravesite area, both sides scowling at each other inbetween the displays of grief. Discord is always most useful, and I pick a side – the side which seems more uptight, less inclined to overt displays of grief, they stand there in their slightly more tasteful outfits, patently ignoring the people on the other side of the grave, the priest, and each other.
The service is an open casket one, which is ghastly but which allows me to construct a more thoroughly conceived tale for the reception. He is dressed in a remarkable suit, flanked with a small folded flag, and wearing military decorations. He has a ring on one finger which marks him as belonging to an association frequented by builders and tradespeople, and when I approach the grave itself, to pay my respects to dear old ________, I notice that is hands are calloused, and that he is of an age with me, and that his now slackened features would have sat rather more firmly on his (once, I imagine) determined face.
I bow my head briefly, taking just that right measurement of time which distinguishes me from family, as someone of little and past acquaintance, and then I return to the group, standing a little closer in, as if inducted into some sort of club.
People murmur together after the service ad I am asked, only once or twice about my acquaintance to dear old __________, and I explain, quite briefly that we were acquainted at university but had lost touch, which seems sufficient even though I do notice with some interest that one or two of the men are now viewing me with little distaste, all interest in me faded instantly, and of course I had noticed the pinky ring tan line on his finger, and the scar of the earring hole.
He had not been an unhandsome man, though it occurs to me, possibly a lonely one considering the qualities of the people around me.
One of the women – I believe she introduced herself to me as his sister, reminds me that the reception (which will be simple, nothing fancy) will be held in ________’s house, as per his request and that she wondered how they were all going to manage without him now; the family peacemaker.
I patted her shoulder our or five times, I cannot recall precisely, and nodded, showing my sympathy. She nods distractedly and reminds me of the address before moving on to the next person to recount almost identically, the same speech.
I expect they were close, and her sadness is palpable, and my sympathies were not artificial.
I walk back to my car after it starts to break up and I still have not decided whether or not I will attend the reception, though the address is burned into memory now, and I know where it is fairly well – that neighbourhood and street. I have decided however to return to the cemetery at a later stage and collect a small sample of dirt from the top of the site, in memory.
The car is parked not far away, so I sit inside it for some time pondering how far I should take this journey. I am sure that from a distance that I appear bewildered, possibly grief stricken, so most people ignore me, though the sister – whose name I have already forgotten, waves to me and mouths something that I can only imagine is related to the reception, so I decide, for her benefit and my continuing curiosity, to attend.
His house is lovely, bordered by trees, and centred on a verdant carpet of lawn and flowerbeds that bloom merrily, quite unaware of the emptiness that now resides in the house. Of course, it is not empty now, but is bustling with figures, running inside and around the side of the house – hired caterers, I realise, watching the black and white clad figures move efficiently through the bewildered and belligerent guests who trickle into the house, in pairs and groups. A few men stand out the front of the house smoking cigarettes and drinking beers from bottles. They seem to have no intention on entering the house, and I realise, with a familiar feeling that they are the same men who expressed repulsion earlier.
The source of the division in the families, clearly.
I ignore them, and I enter the house, am greeted with familiarity by a couple of the other guests, and introduced as Henry, An Old College Friend.
People smile and nod, with some sympathy and we all assume the appropriate expressions of grief.
I indulge in a glass of wine, a selection of nibbles, and at one point, excuse myself for the bathroom which I am informed, is upstairs.
I seem to be one of the few people willing to go up there, because it is empty and quiet, and I wander the hallway, peering into rooms leisurely, looking this way and that and absorbing those overtly hidden aspects of this man’s life.
I find a watch on his bedside table. It is engraved on the back, and it is with some shock that I realise that it is my own handiwork which looks back at me with a sly gin. I even recall the face of the man who had brought it in – a handsome man, younger than the one we had just buried. I am so astonished that I almost don’t take it, but then I do. I slip it into my inner coat pocket where it sits reassuringly weighty against my body.
Eventually I find the toilet, which is clean and airy, but upon closer examination, contained already with someone else’s fetid leavings. I flush it, horrified and watch with even more unease as the water around it swells and fills the bowl, spills out over the edge and onto the floor; takes its cargo with it, so that I have to step hurriedly out of the way, but I am not fast enough and the hideous thing touches me on the ankle and I shudder, for in that moment it had the firmness of necrotic flesh, and I imagine it to be a miniature version of this man whose house I am in, whose watch I have taken, whose friend I have deceived, and I am so irritated by both the stain on my sock and pant cuff, and the unexpected emotion of the moment that I step deliberately over to the sink and piss in it, not bothering to run the tap afterwards.
I step around the waste on the floor and walk rapidly down the hall, walk downstairs, once again swallowed into the crowd of confused people, who both ignore and attend each other’s grief. I see the sister again, and feigning too much grief. I excuse myself, leave the house past the men out the front who I ignore, and who ignore me, and go back to my car, firstly disposing of the infected shoe and sock by leaving them in the gutter.
It feels like a kind of exchange. So as I drive home (one foot bare), bulge in the pocket of my jacket reassuring me that I still have the watch with me, I feel content (even though I must undertake the purchase of another pair of socks and shoes)and I dont again think about the seeping pile of waste, and the horribly solid piece of fecal matter despoiling the floor of the mans upstairs bathroom.
I am tired when I arrive home, so I have a rest.
It is dark. It is mostly dark.
I am standing on a pathway which is cobbled. The mortar between the blocks has eroded as if a long time has past since it was first mortared. The moon is out – It casts a silvery light on everything which accentuates the shadows but also eradicated all sense of colour, reduces everything to variations of the same tone. The path winds. It winds around around a central wall that is circular, and with each step I realise that I am walking up an incline, that it is very gradual, and that the wall next to me is composed of the same material as the road so that my sense of vertical and horizontal is horribly compromised and makes me feel very unsteady. When I touch the wall, I feel its inherent warmth, as if slowly releasing the heat from a day of blasting sunshine. It is comforting.
The wall is high, but if I look – directly upwards I note the presence of an expansive canopy of leaves. If I look at it too closely, A kind of flash happens, so that suddenly my entire field of vision is inverted, and I feel temporarily blinded. I avoid it after one or two attempts, as it is disorienting enough.
I feel a mounting sense of urgency around this tree, as if my whole and sole purpose for being here is to find it for some reason.
The path is long, and the winding seems to continue indefinitely, and the faster I start to walk the further away I feel I am. I look closely at the wall, looking for handholds to perhaps climb it instead of persisting with this never ending path, but although the mortar has eroded, it is barely enough to edge my little finger into the crack, let around the front of my shoe. I jump to see whether I can reach it at all, or even gain a sense of how high it is, but as I jump, arms outstretched above me, The walls seem to expand further into the sky, and with each successive jump, I feel as if I am losing ground.
I am infinitely frustrated.
From where I stand the wall is much smaller. I imagine myself – twenty, thirty years younger simply vaulting it, (I was quite the high jumper at school) flying above its hulk and over it to whatever thing I was blindly searching for.
I set out at a run. My determination grows, for why am I here at all if I am only here to fail? Such a pointless possibility seems unlikely.
I skip over steps, over cobbles, over the shadow cast by the impenetrable wall, and this time I notice that the shadows are changing direction, that they are receding, and after an eternity, I feel the progress I have been making because the wall shrinks beside me, the tree is more and more exposed, and its somewhat skeletal self is bathed in the silver light cast from the mostly full moon.
From the bushes that surround it, the mouth of a small stream trickles. It follows the curving wall like a gutter and small leaves and twigs float through its miniscule rapids.
I remember doing this as a child, spending hours after a rain with twigs, walking beside them as they undertake their courageous journey.
The bushes are dense, but still. He tree itself is quite still now too, and I can look at it without the horribly disorienting flash that was occurring earlier further down on the path.
Now that I am here, I have no idea what I am here for.
I dawdle, I trickle my hand in the water distractedly, catching leaves and twigs and filtering the water so that those I determine are fit enough for the task may flow freely. I kneel at the edge of the water, feeling it soak into my knees, not caring – so engaged in this task of clarifying the water that I do not notice the hand.
The hand protrudes from the bushes. It is pale, the left hand of something. It protrudes from the bush, and hovers just above the surface of the water so that its hand sits, very still just parallel to the flow, and the fingers themselves trail through the surface for a centimetre or so.
I am struck still in my pointless activity by this silvered hand, so coolly pale and still that I feel stuck here, foolish in my childish behaviour, and overwhelmed with such an increasing sense of sadness that I begin to weep, quite uncontrollably.
The hand regards me coolly, or regards me not at all. The more that I weep, the more my tears seem to fall into the stream, seem to cause the water to behave more erratically, drags up torrents and whorls and muddies the once clear surface.
The hand, upstream, is unsullied. It is entirely untarnished although from here, I can just see the finger pads of those submerged tips have shriveled in on themselves excessively.
I wonder at how long they have been there, submerged like that.
Then I wonder how the hand could remain so still.
The more I stare at it, the more agitated it makes me s that in a few minutes of staring I am almost entirely senseless, and jerking around in tics and uncontrollable gestures.
From the trees, the moths descend.
I hear them first – the soft, powdering waving of dusted membrane through air, the distinct change in pressure as the air changes its path to encourage this horrible descent. The light of the moon is blocked temporarily from view although the horror of it – those slowly descending furred beasts make it seem a eternity.
I huddle, shaking – the uncontrollable spasms almost lift my entire body from the ground in completely unpredictable waves, and when I feel them – the descending carpet of swarming bodies, of fluttering wings as they cover my body, I clam my hands over my face and scream.
The silence is as thick. I cough and a puff of thick dust explodes from my mouth, and in the horror of that, I stand quickly, shedding a dense carpet of dust that has coated the entirety of my body. The moths are nowhere to be seen, but I imagine them touching me and dissolving, of this dust – the cremations of a hundred thousand bodies, and the taste of it in my mouth is too much and I vomit long strings of saliva and mud.
The hand is gone.
The stream is unsullied once again.
I stand and run from this place, from the lulling sounds of the water, from the sanctity of the tree, and each step leads me further into darkness, and it is with some surprise that I realise first that I am running on leaves, on a thick thick blanketing carpet of leaves, and that the moon has once again poked its way into being, and that I can see again.
I am running through a forest. I don’t know what kind of trees these are but they shed enormous, broad flat leaves which have covered the entirety of everything in sight. I am running, as if being hunted, my heart is thudding in a way that makes me feel even more panic, and I stumble into the knee deep leaves which cover me momentarily within their crumbling embrace.
Lights sweep across the landscape.
Now I can hear the engines.
And I know that they are looking for me.
I am running, I know that my feet are torn and bleeding and I can feel the skin flapping on my left heel. I can also feel the leaf litter sticking to the torn and bleeding edges and it causes pain with each step and yet I know that if this small pain undoes me then I am entirely lost altogether.
They are still behind me;
I fall in and out of darkness, and as I am suspended momentarily in those searching beams of light, I also hear, above the roars of the engines, the sounds of guttural yells that speak of tearing, and rending, and bleeding and bones.
I will be torn apart, if found then. It is something of a relief to know the outcome of a situation, even at times like this, when most of myself is intent purely on survival.
I find a shallow hole in between logs. My breathing, although I am trying to hold it to quieten the rasping of my chest – is slowly growing more silent more still.
My feet are excruciating and as I huddle up on my side, I draw them to me across the hard stones and branches and the softest of whimpers escapes my lips
The roars of the engines pass by and I know that at least temporarily, I am safe. In the moonlight I can see the soles of my feet which underneath the twigs and embedded litter which I pull off with tentative slowness, they are white curds of jellified flesh. There is no blood, but a think encrusting coating of yellowish pus which starts to leak out with tormenting slowness. And the pain is overwhelming. I squeeze them, watching the fluids rise, and fall onto the ground and am perversely reminded of summer fruits exploding slowly in the summer warmth, of the overflowing of juices.
But Iie here, in the cold, trembling out my internal liquid, shivering, and thelast thing on my ind is the taste of fruit which cannot penetrate the much close taste of bile and fear.
Be care ful
I am rocking slowly but this inner mantra soothes, and eventually I am still.
In the distance I hear the engines roar again.
I am overwhelmed with a surge of anger, and tearing the fabric of my shirt I tightly bandage these crumbling feet into solids.
I crawl/walk towards that sound, picking up rocks and testing them for their sharpness, their weight, their horrible potential.
As the sounds of the engine grow louder, and the lights brighter I crouch behind a tree to witness this strange ritual that I could so easily have been part of.
A fat man in a black frock has been bound between the wheels of the motorcycles. He is yelling, face violently painted an asphyxiating shade of purple, but the sounds don’t penetrate far past the gag. He is being tormented by one of the riders, whipped by a loose chain that is attached to one end of his leg, so that the same thing which imprisons him also causes him waves of pain.
The rattling is heard clearly above the sound of the engine.
I sit, horrified, feet forgotten watching this man be whipped into a bloody froth before the riders all remount….and then mount their cycles and depart in different directions, each souveniring a different quarter.
They do not return, at least, not while I am there although I have the sense to leave as soon as possible. But first I crawl down to that killing ground. The circle of spray is vast but it is sucked hungrily into the ground while I am standing here. There is not much left, a small frayed scrap of fabric caught in the link of a chain.
I pocket it.
I go home.
Sir, I wonder if any other readers’ ponies have the same magnetite to make me forget.
He used to escape from his field when I first had him, the only way I could catch him was extra strong peppermints.
I was eating a banana so he poked his head over my shoulder and grabbed it. There was a look of great satisfaction on his face and I thought to remember next time to try pineapple chunks.
Piccolo took peanuts this morning – much to my surprise.
Sir, I am a keen fan of …………. and collect pictures of them,I wonder if any readers would help me collect some to enlarge my collection.
Fur coat and stockings through the double glazing windows made my eyes itch, the car zoomed by.
I seem to be having a minor stroke.
Next door to me is a small building whose occupants come and go at all times of night. I watch them sometimes from the safety of my loungeroom window which looks out into their backyard. The backyard is squalid – not very large and at some point it had been concreted over by an impatient landlord.
The building a three storeys high, red brick and relatively unscathed from the front. They are good, these ones at keeping up appearances, at least. The back however, is a jumble of discarded refuse, abandoned whitegoods, even a rusting car body.
Occasionally one or more of the occupants will come outside and stand in an awkward formation talking and poking the pile of rubbish with sticks in a determined manner although nothing ever comes of it, and the occupants move out faster than the rubbish does.
It’s interesting to me that I feel absolutely no compulsion to collect anything of these transient people.
Maybe familiarity does actually breed contempt, or at the very least, complacency. Really the only time I’ve even been remotely intrigued was when the grandmother of one of the families moved in fro a period of time before her room in the nursing home could be secured.
She was a firecracker of a human. They would wheel her out into the concrete enclosure and leave her there under the shade of a pile of corrugated iron. They would check on her every few hours or so but she actually seemed quite content, sitting there, staring at something none of could see and talking in a continuous burble of mutterings.
I spoke to her once.
I tend not to engage with the neighbours as I don’t want to encourage any sort of sense of familiarity with people who could have such direct access to my house, but it was quite clear that she was both – leaving soon, and completely in her own world, so I figured to take the risk and it had been a slow day besides.
She barely really even acknowledged me standing there with a hose. I was “watering” the lawn, mainly I was making an ever increasing flood in the back of my yard because once she started talking I quite forgot what I was doing, right up until my shoes started soaking through.
She called me Barry, and told me how sad she’d been that I’d left for the war, and that she was sorry that she hadn’t waited for me to return even though she’d been pregnant with our child – the child whose child she was staying with now. (she had moments of lucidity but they were rare.)
She talked long about her life, and eventually when it seemed like it had worn her out, she nodded off briefly before breaking into song.
It was so unexpected that I jerked with the hose and accidentally hosed myself.
Which then broke the spell she has created with her long and involved story, long enough for me to notice the massively flooded backyard, my sodden shoes, the cuffs of my pants legs that were soaked up to the shin.
I excused myself awkwardly – partly for the situation, partly because I knew that I had ceased to exist for her anyway and it seemed beside the point that I was still standing there at all.
They found her a place a few days later so I never saw her again, but I still sometimes wake up with that odd song – some war time thing about being left alone and forgotten – firmly embedded in my head.
It is cool.
I am standing in a hallway, and I am being slightly jostled by the people around me but we make no collective body heat in this room. Everyone has on a long coat and every one of those are some sort of heavily patterned wool – tweeds, houndstooths, herringbones. So many shades of brown. We stand – not quite in a queue, not quite in a casual fashion, for we all stand facing the same direction – like flowers following the sun except that this is not a sun but a curtained door, and it is closed, so we all wait.
Nothing changes - there is no arrival, or departure or evolution or change except that the curtain is now open, and reveals a little of the inside, but the way is guarded by a figure whose face is shielded from view except for its staring unblinking eyes and those are somehow trained on everyone and no-one at the same time but we all feel the sensation of being watched and so we wait, though patience does not come into it at all. This is more like we have sprouted roots where we stand and so we exist here, not waiting for anything more to happen than is what is already happening.
But it is cold.
I can see my breath, those of the others, they rise in thin plumes of whitish fog straight into the air like chimneys in a still valley.
The figure at the door waits with a different sense of purposelessness. It is not hostile, but still threatening in an essential way, a way that tells us all that we are watched and known more completely that we ourselves know.
And then we are standing in a more compacted queue, and we (collectively) are walking through the curtain, and the figure which holds it open looks us each and every one – somehow in the blink of an eye, for an eternity – as we step through into this next room. Inside the room - which is vast – its physical boundaries are felt rather than seen, although far above between the boundary of felt-wall and felt-ceiling there is some light shadowing.
Inside the room then is a single object (and this changes each night as I have this pointlessly reoccurring dream – each night the same process with a slightly different end) this time it is a massive carousel. Horses and carriages and all the trimming. The paint is dull however, and the horses move in an unsynchronised way, some slowly steadily, some jerking spasmodically, some stuck altogether. We wait until it slows to a stop. There is a groan in the mechanisms but eventually it whines down into a standstill. Then we all get on.
The queue is very ordered, and very regimented, and completely joyless, and we get on to our allocated piece, one getting this, the other getting that – and wait.
It is very silent in this vast room. We who have already boarded the ride wait for the others to board. It is a very slow process and seems to take hours for this to happen although there is not one singular or collective expression of impatience.
Eventually the lights turn on.
We, in our heavy woolen coats mounted on wooden horses and carriages are suddenly bathed in magentas and yellows, reds and limes. It adds little to the festive mood. The music begins, and the horses and carriages start to move quite at their own independent manner, so that some people are thrown dramatically around, and others merely bob up and down slowly. There is a great deal of bumping and movement and it becomes clear (but not in an alarming way) that the entire carousel is becoming destabilised.
We stay in our allocated positions, watching each other fall or get crushed by its erratically moving parts. No-body cries or screams out, even when they are caught or speared, or crushed.
The carousel continues to move, its lights flashing merrilly.
I watch this all happen, feeling nothing at all.
Eventually I am crushed, and it is quite without any emotion at all, that I suddenly find myself in darkness.
My eyes clear after a moment, and I am standing in a hallway, looking at a curtain, surrounded by figures, standing not too closely and breathing white plumes of fog into the air.
This happens again and again and again and again until eventually I wake up, exhausted and drawn.
The light which manages to filter through here is so grainy that I swipe at my eyes. It assist nothing and all it really achieves is to tell me that my face is unfamiliar to my hands. I am not what I thought I was, here.
And here- this is some sort of building, constructed out of concrete block, grey and unrelenting. There are windows along the roof line – long small slits that let in very little light, and which are barred besides.
There is a polished piece of steel on one wall and a series of benches that are burgundy but which look as if they have been painted a hundred times,the way that the paint has lost its definition, has fallen into cracking peeling sections in some places, and bubbles convexly in others.
I am on the floor. I am staring at a tiny grate in one of the walls and my legs are cold, my cheek is cold because these parts of me are pressed against the floor which is also cold.
I sit up with effort, and look at myself – at the limbs trailing away from me on the concrete floor – at the limbs which are unexpectedly long and lithe and finished in white socks with black, girlish shoes.
These foreign limbs end on the other side into a pleated skirt, which does little to stop the cold breeze from invading.
My arms are long, slightly tanned and freckled. My hands are the same in form but entirely different in circumstance. Apparently I bite these nails.
Upon them, shredded polish – grown out on one side, chewed down on the other. I test it, nail to teeth and find my body take over in an automatic fashion as the nail is held between teeth and torn cleanly from the finger.
I spit it out onto the floor.
I notice other such fragments, spread here and there, all tiny slivers like new moons, and I wonder how long I have been here, lying on this floor in this unfamiliar body.
There is sudden sound – apart form my rustling about – it breaks in as dramatically as the sunlight which pours in through the rectangle which is now a door, and is allowing dozens of figures to some spilling through – long legged, white socked, girly shoe-d.
They are all laughing, talking with each other loudly and familiarly. They notice me and address me by a name I don’t know. They surround me and I start to stand, but the sudden looming of these teenage girls is terrifying and quickly I hunch back down again and that feels familiar, if nothing else – that oppression, that position even, on the floor.
“What are you doing in here?”
I shake my head, when I speak, to say that I don’t know they laugh and jeer and my voice sounds so odd and high that for a minute I’m not completely sure that it was me that spoke.
I look down at myself as this wave of collective voice waves over me, point out my faults, calls me crazy, tells e that I am mad and belong in a home.
I scratch myself unsurely on these long legs of mine, I scratch my head but it is less satisfying. I go back to the legs although as I do it, compulsively, uncontrollably, I notice the skin begin to form large red welts that eventually open, and yet I cannot stop scratching even then, and watch as the fingers dig deeper down into the flesh, winding around muscle and bone and scratching scratching scratching.
I feel myself dissolving into a hideous pile of bone and flesh and fluid. And yet I am still compelled to continue.
They loom larger and larger overhead, their voices tower higher and higher above me, a canopy of screeching and screaming.
I scratch, face and arms and head and chest, unfamiliar lumps all, scratch and scratch until I feel myself simply not being there any more.
I am underneath the surface, and I am no longer itchy.
They are so far from me now that I cannot hear them and they cannot touch me, but here I am, subterranean, swimming between molecules and layers of strata. I find their intricate root system and I tie it in knots, bind it in on themselves, introduce them to pests and fundamentally infect them.
They will not feel it immediately, but the rot will set in, and it will consume them, one and all.
That last one kept me awake into the evening for many weeks after that.
The persecution and even the dissolution were not unbearable but the unfamiliarity of that body underhand was almost too much.
I find myself lying awake most evening, hands still at my sides, trying to withstand the urge to touch this part or that, reassure myself of its form and function. Ensure that the concaves and convexes have not reversed themselves while I was unaware.
And the hair.
In the dream, as I scratch the flesh from my face it is then that I recognise the thick, long tangle of hair attached to my head. It is the only time I scream- that moment before self-scalping, before the dissolution is complete.
I touch my head. It is the same – the same as that with which I am familiar. Gone is the long tail that looked and smelled like those others. Smelled like a cacophony of sweetness and dirt, and sourness and popsicles, and suntanned skin, and newly developed awarenesses.
I smell like almost none of those.
Sometimes I exclude myself from the rest of the house and sit in one room for hours. I stuff fabric in all the holes and lie as still as possible to conserve oxygen.
Afterwards I escape, I shut off all the exits from the outside and I let the air inside the room concentrate.
I go outside, and if the air is just right – coming in off the ocean, a mixture of pine tree and salt, then it clears my head sufficiently and I take one last breath before re-entering the room that holds a concentrated combination of all my scents.
If the air outside has been favourable, and I have cleaned my palate sufficiently, I can smell the odours that have collected within this space, and they are certainly not the sweet odours of teenage girls: makeup and icecream and fabric softener.
It is more like a sour kind of earth, as if something were in a process of rotting, slowly.
I do this after this dream to reassure myself of my own substantial-ness but all it serves to remind me of is the moment when I am almost dissolved, and I am encapsulated in a thick coating of earth, and it occurs to me that we – she and I might not be mutually exclusive.
Sadly we can not offer to validate your parking.
So much grey. The sky above hangs like a bucket of near set plaster, radiates a kind of internal temperature from within that is more like the essence of heat, rather than any actual radiation of it. It is heavy, and feels distinctly wet, like at any moment it will break open and cascade down all over this, the place where I find myself.
I have been here before, on several occasions actually although my recollecting is imperfect and often it takes most of my time here to realise and remember what it is I am searching for.
It is easy to forget, here amongst the darkened streets with their cavalcade of shadows corners, the fissures between the buildings which leak both human presences and other, less natural ones. I can rarely, barely remember that amongst the thick dust, the weak pale light of the street lamps, and the strange people who look at me with a degree of familiarity, that I am looking for light.
Specifically a building, from which it spills in great abandon.
The building feels like an oversized telephone booth, glass mainly, some sort of steel frame and radiant amongst the other things here. There is a woman, I remember that much, and she has dark hair which may or may not be curly. The building houses a vast array of books. It is not a library, for the woman brings you tea, in pots with tea cups on a tray without being asked, and you are able to sit on deep dark leather armchairs to read your book. It is not a commercial business, for no-one ever seems to make any kind of transaction, save for the exchange of time, and knowledge.
I am looking for this. There are larger details, and more to experience but that is the only aspect of my time here that I can recall with any sense of ease.
The streets are dark, and the shadowy figured although familiar, seem slightly hostile to my presence here. I know that I cannot ask them to help me find this place, and that it is part of my journey to reconcile, but I am lightly frustrated at the necessity of the task.
I have the distinct impression that someone has a plan for my being here, the feel of watchful eyes bores into my back and the overwhelming urge to scrunch both shoulders and neck is so overwhelming that I am compelled to do it, even though I now there is no great eye upon me here, in this place.
I turn corners, walk streets, pass what feels like the same streets and corners and buildings for what also feels like hours. And yet I feel like I am getting closer, somehow. Each step, each turn of a street alerts me internally to the presence of this thing, this beacon in the pale darkness. I am sure that I am growing closer. It seems inevitable that this, or this, or even this corner might be my last and yet, with each turn I am disappointed. Each progressive step is a confusing roller coaster of hope and let-down, until I have almost given completely up.
And then, of course, there it appears.
From the distance it looks small but as I approach it seems to grow in scale until it fills all of my available perspective and requires the turning of one’s head in order to take in in entirety. The windows are floor length, and show the inside of the building quite clearly – the woman at the counter (she has her back to me now) the people sitting amongst the chairs, and blanketed by thick, full bookshelves of an array of hard cover books. They are all subdued in colour and bear no titles or other information which might allude to their content.
It takes me a moment to wonder at their ability to circumnavigate the entire room with their heavy presence, but still allow me – from my moving, external perspective to see through the ones closest to me into the room itself. However, the normal rules of things lie this simply do not apply here, and before long I am not concerned any more. I’m so unconcerned by much of anything, that I stand outside for a substantial period of time, merely basking in the light that this building has to share with the footpath outside, and it is then that I note that this is not a footpath at all, but that I and the building both sit quite firmly in one of those massive carparks, and that we are on to of a building, for I can see the darkened city below me with its sparity of dim lights.
I almost forget why I am here, so lost in simple contentedness of having finally found the thing I was looking for, content to watch the older man with the thick grey beard who sits (it would seem to me) in the same chair each time I have come here. Eventually the simple light itself is not enough for me, the hungry moth, and I enter (not through a door, or a window, but through this invisible framework that seem to just absorb me into its being) and then I am inside – and the light seems dimmer from here, even dark in places, as it pools in honeyed spots around lamps that populate amongst the chairs. I am drawn firstly – to the bookshelves themselves, they seem to tower on forever, even though clearly the building is playing with me a little here because from the outside it is clearly, objectively one storey high. And yet, they tower above me still.
I am drawn to one in particular, it is not far from me at all and if I stretch out my arm, which feels rubberish and infinite, then I can reach it without having to move. The world around me seems to suck inwards on itself until I am there, standing, touching that hardback cover, which is a dark blue and completely unrelieved by any other markings at all, but yet I am SURE and POSITIVE that this is exactly the book I require.
It is then that the woman notices me, and I her and even though I recognise her hair and clothes (which are quite prim really – librarian in style if the truth be told) her face is as undefined as a ball of mud, but I can tell that she is smiling, and seems happy to see me here, almost little relieved as well if I consider it properly. She glances at the book I am holding and her blob head seems to nod, as if in approval. I make my way over to a chair, that feels familiar as if it has been personally allocated it,as if it is mine, even when I am not here, and I sink down into its comforting darkness and feel the sturdy cushions give way just enough to support and comfort concurrently.
I sigh, and the chair moves in its own sense of relief, as if it has been lonely, and abandoned for some time. The book is on my lap, and its weight is substantial without feeling like a burden. I glance around the room – there are about six of us here, or so – each lost in their own books, steaming pots and cups of tea on the tables beside each one.
The steam from them rises into the light of the lamps, and feels ghostly, or just plain odd – and for some reason, makes me thing of driving in a fog. I wonder when I will receive my tea etc, and then suddenly the woman appears again, bearing it on a tray. I can smell it now, and it smells dark ad strong and slightly floral which is pretty much exactly how I like it, and it makes me feel even more comfortable. I thank her, offering to pay and realising that there is nothing in my pocket except a piece of white string and a ball of lint that has embedded itself firmly in the corner of the pcket and quite refuses to be removed.
She waves my offer away, and suddenly she is smiling, with a clearly visible mouth that I’m sure was ot there a minute or so ago. Then she leaves me, surrounded in the comfortable armchair, the scent of tea, the warmth of the glow from the light next to me. I sigh again, and I open the book distractedly as if putting off the inevitable act of reading it just for a moment longer in order to fully appreciate how safe and comfortable I feel right in that second.
I glance down at the front page which is blank, and thoughtfully flick onto the next page, which is also blank.
At this stage I can feel my brow begin to furrow, and even though my thoughts feel clouded, or muddled (quite like I am driving through a fog) I am aware that this, this is not quite right. After a second of that sinking in, I turn the ages all, flicking them slowly, revealing blank page after blank page after blank page. I check it twice, three times, glancing at the people around me who are quite contentedly looking through their books, completely engaged and almost enthralled and I feel an overwhelming sense of having been ripped off.
I stand, placing the book onto the table, pushing the tea cup and the tea pot into a precarious position on its progressively rickety surface, until slowly, it tips over and ejects it thick, syrupy contents slowly onto the carpet. I watch it without blinking for some moments, it does not occur to me that I should hamper it in any way, even though it smells like quite good tea. No-one around me looks up, not even the woman at the counter who is smiling at someone in front of her, and though I am in her line of sight, she seems not to notice the continuously streaming flow onto the carpet. It is seeping all through the floor and spreading a dark shadow towards me so I step away, backing through the forest f chairs and amps and side-tables without incident, until I come to the old man with the grey beard. I look down, casually at first to see what he is reading, and watch his finger trace even lines over a blank page. He is a moderately fast reader, because his finger moves at a moderately rapid pace, but I cannot really notice anything apart from the fact that he is completely absorbed in what is very clearly a blank page.
He does not notice me at all, even though I am pressing very firmly against his chair, and I can see that the pressure of my presence is actually pushing him slightly forward, as if the chair is actually made of some very insubstantial material, and is being compromised by my presence here. He however, does not notice me at all, and the gentle sliding forward merely makes him brace himself against it in various ways, leaning his foot against his knee, stretching one arm overhead to hold the top of the chair, clamping both feet against the carpet – which I note with some concern has that same darkness spreading over it, coming towards me, and when I leap back, slightly alarmed, I let go of the chair completely and it resounds back like a giant jellified mound. The man sinks back into his position and I note that the chair seems slightly more transparent and that I can see his hulk resting within its hulk, and it makes me feel uneasy though not as uneasy as the still pouring stream of tea which is coming from the pot which is still – I can see it through the objects in the room; still caught in that moment of falling, still emptying itself gradually, still steaming, actually.
The woman, and then I remember her name – Mona, she looks at me and though her mouth has ow disappeared, her eyes have increased so much that they are alarmingly apparent. And disapproving. She is now suddenly, painfully very aware of me, and I lean back, in error, I suppose – of those giant staring eyes with their lowered lashes and the way that don’t seem to reflect light at all, but rather absorb it, in a way that as they appear to grow larger, and darker, the room itself seems to dim, the table lights flicker briefly, the patrons (unaware) simply move their books closer and closer to their faces until they are touching nose to page, nose to page. I look from the eyes of the woman (dark, a giant swirling vaccuum) to the still still pouring teapot ad back again and all of a sudden, there is another person there, standing exactly where I walked in (appeared in) and the woman (Mona) has reverted back to her clay/dough/mud featureless face that exudes a sense of calm. She ignores me and attends to the new person, and I note that everything is back to normal except for the teapot at my table which is now missing. And it is at that moment that I feel a firm hand on my chest push me back, back out of the building and that place entirely, and then I find myself
I look around, the voice seems to come from nowhere, except that in the distance there are a bunch of rowdy children? It is impossible to tell from here, and before too long anyway, they have left, found something more exciting to terrorise.
This here is a kind of ravine, I suppose. The walls are high around me, like in a train tunnel, and made out of dirt, and if I perceive it, actually, there is a ceiling from which I can see very fine, white tendrils or roots poking through, and into the open air. They seem to grow as I observe them although them also seem to hit an invisible ceiling and stop, and the roots shrink back as if they hit by some sort of poisonous surface.
The air itself seems clean enough, however so I relax slightly, feel the constriction in my chest ease and I start walking along this strange path/tunnel/thing with a little trepidation, but with a lot less fear.
Somewhere along the way I can still hear the voices though they seem focused on each other now, and the way they bounce back to me around the bends and curves of these walls tells me that they are far ahead now, and that the space between us is growing. For some reason this fills me with more relief as well, even though I know that really they won’t do anything more than throw something at me, touch something that doesn’t belong to them.
It’s not my problem. I have more pressing concerns because a giant hulk of a person has suddenly, statically appeared around this next corner I have taken, and I am taken aback because the roots have penetrated through some sort of barrier, ad they have grown down to envelop him almost entirely, but for an enormous stomach which protrudes horribly into the pathway, and I am suddenly aware that if I want to continue this way, that I am going to have to squeeze past him physically, and in that moment I am aware that he is covered in a fine coating of moisture. It beads in trails down and around his bulk, and drops onto the floor like rain from a roof – in repetitive patterns – a circlet around his form.
He must ave been there for some time because the drops have weathered holes into the pathway. They look like bullet holes and the drops fall into them and an eternal silence, as if the act of them falling causes the ground to erode faster tan the pockets take to fill.
I look backwards into the path which is dark, and musty smelling and Iam loathe to return to where I arrived and find another path because I am aware that I have a schedule to uphold, and that I am needed at my next destination, and that that time is drawing progressively closer and faster the longer I stand here, contemplating this horrible creature.
I move slowly, looking past him into the tunnel which seems awfully more appealing than the side on which I am currently standing, and I move tentatively as if to try to get past him and it is then that I notice the malnourished child at his feet on the lighter side of the tunnel. He is squatting on the floor, and he looks to be lightly encrusted in gemstones, they attach to him like barnacles on the hull of a ship but seem to offer him little comfort, and I expect that that is because of the chain which connects him to the figure entangled in roots.
Who are you? I whisper to him, aware that the figure has not moved and has not actually acknowledged my presence at all.
No-one. He replies.
Who is he? I whisper back, nudging my head ever so slightly.
The boy shrugs. I’ve never known. He says. It is quite mournful and he is enveloped in sadness much more than he is enveloped in precious stones.
I try to squeeze past the figure , his skin is wet. Much wetter that I had imagined and it feels oily to the touch. I flinch back ad wonder if there is another way.
The figure eventually notices me and it makes a horrible gurgling sound which makes no sense to me whatsoever, but makes the boy flinch back int the shadows, to the furthest point he can reach while still being connected to the figure.
I am perplexed, and glance around again.
The figure gurgles again and although I cannot understand the content of what it is saying, I can recognise anger in those damp sounds. It reaches over – an extremely long limb where the roots have grown longer and thicker like veins on his arms and slaps the boy hard, enough for it to boom through the tunnel, for a patch of dirt to clump onto the floor of the tunnel next to me, and for me to wonder how interconnected he is into the structural integrity of this tunnel.
I am angered by the slap, for the boy who has been down here enslaved to this thing for who knows how long, and I reach back and punch it hard in the stomach. My hand is sucked into the warm flesh hungrily, like it has a throat and is sucking me in to consume me. I struggle with it for a moment, can feel my arm wrapped inside that guttural tube, feel the air move, the fluid congeal and slip around it, can feel the soft but incessant sucking of it. Eventually, I close my hand against something and pull it as hard as I can, yank it from the flesh and into the air, and there, basking in a placental membrane of milkish fluid is something like a tuber, or a root. It writhes for a second in my hand in a hideous fashion like a giant maggot,a nd I squeeze it until I hear a pop and it goes limp, then I discard it onto the floor where it dissolves into droplets and is sucked into the hungry soil.
I turn back to the figure which is dissolving in chunks of flesh, like tearing slabs of jelly which is unable to contain its weight y longer, and it falls; piece by piece, onto the ground where it too is absorbed into the dirt.
The boy, which I had hoped would obtain some sort of freedom turns into a cloud of dust which crumbles down, blown by the wind of the forces caused by the figure next to him he is spread all over the length of the tunnel for as far as I can see.
There is a single ruby on the floor of the tunnel, which, when I pick it up, turns into a tooth.
The natives are restless today.
The tooth dissolves a little time afterwards and by the time I move my head to look down into the tunnel, I notice that I am somewhere else, surrounded by bright blue glass which presses against me like a second skin.
There seems to be little way out but through the glass, so I elbow the panel closest to me which explodes into fragments.
I crouch down and exit this tiny prison, stepping through and over the glass which crunches like toffee but doesn’t appear to cause any pain, though I am concerned about this temporarily. Outside they are not only restless,but hostile. It is hot in that sticky way that heat will do to a being full of liquid, sucks it our through the pores greedily. I am slick with moisture and I am sure that they all notice, but what they seem to be most interested in is my feet, and I am embarrassed, for I always seem to be barefoot in places like this, so I try to ignore it and walk past them until I realise that it is a kind of concern which they are exuding, and I look down at my feet and note that while the glass has entirely coated the soles of my feet like shoes, or slippers, it has also made a mess in the embedding, and through the stain of the blue I can see the easily flowing red, which is slick, and running both down the path way that I have come from, and also – quite against gravity, it runs up my legs, over my torso and threatens to overwhelm my entire body, and it is then that I realise that I am not actually sweating this profusely, but I seem to be slowly bleeding out.
Going mad suggests that I have begun a journey that I actually began quite some time ago now.
I weary of the thought. I wish I could get there already, because this going process is like being stuck on the world’s longest train ride, where the view from the windows is the same, day in, day out and I have nothing to gauge the passing of time except the progressively disheveled state of the people around me.
Madness has a particular odour. So does youth, it smells like mandarines.
It’s not something I am overly familiar with, having moved beyond that stage some time ago now.
Here. It is hard to concentrate.
I am distracted easily when on the hunt because I lose focus in the passion of the moment There are things too precious to possibly lose, and I am here, confronted by one of things right now, in this space.
This space, to begin, is a public one, is full of people passing from one state to another, of terminals and platforms and distinct pockets of smell and sound.
I a on platform three.
I don’t even now where this train goes, it seems beyond the point really. I followed someone here, and the cover of other people is actually substantial enough for me to be able to watch more overtly than I normally would. It is a youngish man that I follow, he has the familiar face of a boy I dreamed of last night, the boy with the jewels. I feel like I have a second chance to discover him, to collect some such token which will allow me to keep him.
He is wearing denim jeans, a woolen scarf, carrying a backpack and a hat which he taps impatiently against his thigh as he glances at the train monitor which tells us all, patient and otherwise that there are still seven minutes before the train arrives and I think to myself more than enough time.
He is standing in front of one of those moving billboard advertisements, and for a second I am distracted with the presence of a herd of tiny fluffy creatures? Dogs? Selling some sort of ecstatically enthusiastic worming tablet or something. It is horribly lurid and for a second I am confused by the presence of worms and the association of them to this horrible lime green colour. It passes soon after and I can focus once again on the man/boy and his impatience. He has a number of things stuck to the surface of his backpack, badges and patches and things and these catch my attention like a shining thing to a magpie. Most of them seem to advertise bands and such but one patch, which is coming off at the seam, just at the corners has some sort of bold text on it and I know in that instant that it is this patch that will capture his presence the best out of all the others on offer.
I push through the crowd distractedly, glancing this way and that as if in a slight panic, as if I am meeting someone here, or have lost them, something which gives my step a sense of purpose, a trifle of urgency which allows me to slip through the crowds more easily until I am standing right behind the man with the bag. I cannot even glimpse at the patch for I want it too badly.
The train arrives, and in the surge of people going in, and people going out, I take a firm hold of the patch, wait for him to be jostled by the crowd and rip it off, then walk instantly to the other side of the platform, stuffing it into my pocket as I go. I don’t look back, but the train fills and I know that he has not noticed for there are no exception exclamations to give me away. I wait until it fills and departs, then I wait for this other train to do the same before I sit, on the temporarily empty platform and take the patch out of my pocket.
I look at it; white text on a black background.
It says, quite simply but obliquely:
I realise now that you were right.
sometimes the things I find are not found at all, but which deliver themselves to me. This is a strange process because it relies on fate, or some such thing, to determine my needs. Sometimes it is so frightfully relevant that it takes my breath away, and other times it leaved enormous question marks whose answers only come some time later, usually when I least expect it.
I have a drawer for these things. It hasn’t bled over yet, just one allocated space for things that don’t have homes. I check the drawer periodically, rifle through its contents in the hopes that something might stand out to me, that some question might finally be unanswered, for I loathe unfinished business.
Today as I look through I notice a photograph, black and white and bordered with a thick white border, it shows a small house, weather board with a tile roof. It looks freshly painted, and I expect that it was somebody’s first home, perhaps. Since, I cannot think of another reason why at that time, when photography was a reasonable investment, that someone would dedicate a negative to this rather unremarkable building.
On the back, in an old fashioned cursive script is simply written home and a date which has been smudged badly and all I can make out is the number 1.
The back is yellowed from age, the font written in a browning coloured ink that I suppose could once have been black.
This photograph came to me by chance. Or nature. Or something out of my control at any rate, since I was standing in a street, looking out over at the bridge in the distance, at the way the light was catching it against an overcast sky in a way that was really rather beautiful when I felt something hit me gently on the back of the leg. I turned around, expecting to see some creature or a projectile thrown by a child or something but all that was there, was this photograph, face down. I picked it up, and often when this happens, I feel a kind of tingle, a kind of superstitious thrill that travel down my arms and into my hands.
I felt it then, and as I placed it carefully into my pocket – shirt, left – I was struck with that moment of anticipation, of the possibilities of it all. The thrill that some unexpected question would allow itself to be eventually answered without having to hunt it down first, pin it to a piece of foamcore.
The house, it would turn out, would not turn up in my waking hours by my sleeping ones. It was daytime, which is odd, for if I have ever noticed one consistent thing about my night musings it is that the sun rarely features in any starring role.
It was bated not only in light, but in familiarity which was odd, because looking at it right then, I knew quite objectively that I had never been there before, had never seen that facade, or knew who occupied it, but I also knew in that moment, equally, that it didn’t matter. That the familiarity itself was enough, that I didn’t need to remember something to allow it to be valid, that it wasn’t I who gave these things meaning, but that meaning itself is built into the very fabric of each thing or object and it is our responsibility to notice it, and possibly to honour it. Apart from that, we come into the equation very little.
So it was this house, this self-important thing who had decided that I was ready to encounter it.
The door was slightly ajar, which felt as much like an invitation as anything, so I pushed open the gate (which squeaked, in a low long drone) and swung out over the neat lawn to bang gently against a pot plant overflowing with succulents. It bounced back slowly as I walked along the smooth flat path to the door.
There were two window open on the front of the house and the curtains – which were that kind of flowing semi-transparent lacy material were edging out from under the window and dancing merrily on the breeze.
Inside – upon pushing open the door (squeak free) with some hesitation – it was light and inviting. The sun poured over everything in the room I had entered which happened to be the kitchen. The light made those same transparent curtains seem more opaque from inside, so the world outside dropped out slightly, made it feel like a stage set, even though – when I turned around and glanced out through the still open door, the path still continued its way to the gate, the fence flanking the road as it was when I was there a moment ago.
Inside then, there was a simple table setting, a doorway (closed) to somewhere else, some articles upon the bench that I would look at in closer detail once I had made sure I was alone, and a small maidenfern in a pot, just by the door. Otherwise it was quite sparse inside, inhabited primarily by the light itself. I moved over to the benchtop and frowned at the surface which held a strange array of domestic articles – a kind of structural problem, or an inventive way to capture the liquid that slipped out of the tap, drop by drop, only very occasionally. There were three bottles in the sink, forming a tripod sort of base that held three butter knives, and atop that, a single, fingerprintless glass, about a third of the way full that balanced quite sturdily on top, and which, every few minutes or so, would be sent ringing by the errant drop from the tap.
I think it was an A flat.
The sun played across the surface of this captured water in such a way as to send regular streaks of light across the room in a hypnotic way. I watched this undertake for some time before I realised that the note never changed, and that the level of fluid in the glass remained the same. Which was perplexing.
A darkening outside the windows alerted me to the fact that time was passing – either at a rate that I was perceiving incorrectly, or I was perhaps the problem, that my focus on this simple mechanism had distracted me from taking in the surroundings, but I was overcome with a sudden trepidation, as if I would be discovered suddenly by the occupant of this house – whomever that was, I could not even imagine considering the state of the furniture and the lack of personal detail.
Even looking around I realised that I was again being distracted into a sense of complacency, that the darkness was becoming more apparent and that the shadows rising off the sparse furniture and from the branches of trees outside constructed patterns on the walls which started to make some sort of sense after a fashion until eventually they, and the light still somehow playing off the water on the glass merged together in a clumsy kind of shadowplay.
There, embedded in the centre of one wall stood a figure, hands crossed and apparently observing him/me with the same level of curiosity that I felt. And that too seemed very familiar – something in the pose, that stance was chipping away at the edges of my memory…or perhaps the memory of this house even, I’m not sure, but I’m sure I heard, in a very gritty whisper (also familiar) the words I still think about you all the time.
It was both comforting and disconcerting to hear that sentiment, strangely personal, from a presence, strangely familiar in a space that I did not know at all well.
I looked out of the still open doorway, followed my eye to the path, the succulent and the gate; the road beyond which was now bathed with a more artificial light – one that I was infinitely more comfortable with.
There are places, after all, in the shadows that one might be able to be unobserved.
The walk to the door felt thick, like I was moving against gravity. The walk from path to gate even harder still, but the tension left as soon as I managed to open the gate, and the darkness was inviting.
I feel much safer out here, where I can hear my own footsteps ring gently into the evening. It is late, for birds and yet suddenly I am overwhelmed by a passing flock which pass overhead, noisily cawing and screeching so loudly that I drop to a crouch, hands over my ears. I am pelted thoroughly, and recoil with the though of being shat on so thoroughly when I realise that there are fish all around me, on me, one caught in the collar of my jacket, one unfortunately expired by the pressure of my knee. I stare at them wildly as they flop, bug eyed, and mouths gaping awkwardly around flies whose barbs penetrate those tiny mouths and choke them with locks of human hair.
Gradually they grow silent, and I less cautious. I poke at one, wincing but it has already died, its eyes turned a milky frosted colour, the body already starting to stiffen with death. I shrug the stiffening fish from my collar, find another in my coat pocket, the stain already drying on my knee of the one I had squashed.
I feel bad about their untimely passing but the only water around here anywhere is that infinite glass back in the house and there is simply no way that I am willing to return there. I stand up leaving that strange dead circle of bodies behind me, feeling the horror of those slimy scales on my back still, and it is when I wipe my cheek that I feel the tiny fly stuck in my collar, its hair brushing my neck with a gentle caress. I take it off carefully, only sticking it into my thumb briefly. It is as I suck the droplet of blood from my thumb while looking at this ghastly handmade human hair fly that I remember that this colour hair, this sandy, slightly wavy hair once belonged to a man of my acquaintance, and that the shadowy figure on the walls of the house, with that familiar stance, and familiar whisper had indeed been something that I once referred to as home.
I am floating. No. I am being held aloft. Maybe. Whatever has hold of me in this moment is unknowable, but it has a gentle touch.
I am held aloft, still in this blackness where the ground rises to meet me. It is a shock suddenly, to feel things underfoot. To feel this surface grow solid beneath my feet when I have become used to the sensation of everything yielding.
This is different, not unpleasant just not expected. I’m not sure what I expected.
I am walking along a road. No. I am walking along a path, briskly. I have shoes on which is a relief because I am growing tired of the sensation of losing my life’s blood through the soles of my feet. It is rocky in patches, but evidently worn well enough, by enough other feet to cut a track between the dense patches of fern. It is dry here, but it smells as if moisture is not far away, whether from the rain (from clouds I cannot see under this canopy) or from a nearby spring (that I can just hear, on the edge of hearing, more like a sense of my body of water responding to its)
Things bounce away from me and this path, things under the ferns, away to holes or logs or wherever they originated from. I know sort of where I a going. I tap the piece of paper gently to reassure myself that it is still there, in my shirt pocket, and it is.
Although after a moment I take it out because I am starting to feel wary, lie something back in the undergrowth has not bounded away at all, but which is laying quietly, under cover in the undergrowth for its opportune moment.
The piece of paper is still there, and this comforts, although I open it to find blankness. And the rustling becomes a little more apparent.
I know that I am now walking faster, a little heavier, heart beating a little more erratically. I can almost feel this invisible thing whose footsteps almost echo mine. Almost, except that it sounds more confident, more familiar with its setting than I do. I test it by slowing, unexpectedly stopping, running but it keeps track with me, almost preemptively which does nothing to ease my mind whatsoever. I stop, eventually and wait for it to descend. It is a kind of surrender, I suppose but I would rather it this way.
What emerges from the bushes is not what I expected (furs, fangs, claws) but rather a man in a suit, puffing gently, carrying an envelope which he informs me will insure me against fire and hail. I blink at him for I have not undertake out any insurance policies, figuring that what I have to lose is irreplaceable, and had to put a value on besides.
He hands me the envelope anyway, and I open it after he leaves with not much curiosity but what I find is a copy of my map, and an x, and a dotted trail that marks my journey so far. It is topographical, and I glance around, noting that the dotted line corresponds perfectly to my position on the landscape, and as I walk slowly, edging my way along the path, it is suddenly not a surprise when another tiny grey line appears on the map in my hands.
Frowning, I stuff it into my pocket again, and continue, feeling slightly more comfortable for having the map back, slightly disconcerted at the map and the man, slightly calmer for stopping running.
My breathing and heart rate are going back to normal and I feel so content that a tune comes into mind and unexpectedly, a whistle escapes my lips.
It’s a familiar string of about eight notes, for the life of me I can’t place it – it’s probably some invasive piece of advertising, I expect, but I continue whistling as I walk, feeling comforted by its simple melody.
It comes back to me with a flash a little further down the track – my brother had shown a fair for music early on and had been encouraged with teachers and classes and an upright piano. My parents, who had decided that skills had been allocated separately forbade me from using it in case my clumsy fingers should destabilise it’s fragile tuning. (I was a clumsy child) so instead I would watch him from the corner of the lounge room, trudging through scales, torturing notes into submission. He played with what was described as ‘passion’ at the time but which would be described somewhat differently now (especially, on reflection, because of the man he would become) and I would sit, waiting for him to take toilet break or fetch a glass of water, and then, when I was sure there was a moment I woud sneak over, and gently touch the keys.
It got to be such a repetitive ritual that eventually I would play the same slightly discordant notes over and again, eight of them. The repetition was like a talisman against my own clumsiness, and the more frequently I was able to play those notes, the more I felt as if I were becoming less awkward, more stealthy, able to walk into a room without falling over something (as had seemed inevitable throughout my youth)
Those eight notes give me confidence now and my steps become lighter, my concentration able to focus elsewhere, other than what seemed a slightly less treacherous pathway.
The trees opened out into a valley below me. I could see the roofs of houses far below, and occasional puff of smoke rising from a chimney. I became overwhelmed with a sense of fatigue, and wished for a cigarette which was odd.
touch your button.
Such a clear night for stars.
I’ve never been much of a dancer, but I stand here on the edges, watching the sweaty couples grope and squeeze. It looks, from a distance, like a nature documentary (if you could ignore the smell and the over-perfuming and the sounds you could just make out over the music)
Every now and again the enthusiastic dj would flood the floor with smoke which would blanket out the entire floor, so that limbs would poke, disembodied at regular intervals. I actually preferred that moment, when the fog was broken by the shadows of trunks, agitated by the waving of limbs. That strange moment when the fog would start to dissipate, the bodies reconnect themselves to their limbs, become whole creatures again instead of parts, weird snakes writhing in a cloud.
It reminded me suddenly of mushroom hunting – those limbs poking beneath the low fog that always covered the fields, of lying on wet grass and feeling it soak into my woolen jacket, of hiding from my parents and brother. (He was more interested in finding dead things to poke with sticks than I, but for some reason, I would inevitably find more than he. There is a willingness on the place of the corpse, I think, towards decency)
I remember finding the bag of kittens. Or what would have been kittens. I expect I should say that bag of bones, since the birds had scattered them mostly all over the floor of the forest. That’s one thing I’ve learned is that dead things like to be found in solitary places. I remember the cold wet wool of my jacket suddenly being met with a similar coating emanating from my body. It was the first moment I became aware of sweat – on my person, at any rate. My older brother excelled quite early in the art of bodily fluids. Disgusting.
This was different though – the sweat of fear, rather than exertion.
I can sense it now, even here on this dance floor, every time that cloud of smoke rises up to consume the dance floor inhabitants, there is a tremulous wash of fear and excitement. Thant same dark smell that filled my brother’s room leaks through this space like a flow of mud.
The fluids surround them, move from surface to surface, transfer themselves from hand to building until we are all bathing in these tepid liquids. Even here, in the corner, can feel the carpet underfoot squeltch slightly, though from alcohol spilled or bodily spilled I’m unsure. Either way, it hardens into sharp little crystals of desire.
From where I sit I have a perfect view of the man I have been following all night. He is used to the collective gaze being trained his way, so I am at ease, and sip lightly on a mineral water (lime) and watch his actions from the safety of this corner table. He is large, almost excessively so – a great mop of hair surrounds his head and face like an aura of nobility, although there is not much noble coming from his mouth, nor his gestures. If he is to be king then it is surely king of beasts. I can imagine him quite clearly in a skin, gnawing on the remains of a kill, dragging a weaker member of his court away for pleasure.
He is surrounded by the lesser males and a ring of bright eyed women. They are not dancing, which is disappointing to me, but I am sitting quite close to them, and between the distance, and the volume of his voice I am quite similarly enraptured as his court at the tales he tells of his own variety of heroism.
It seem to involve a more vulgar kind of hunting than I would like to give him credit for. I had originally noticed him – one of those anonymous office workers making their way from work to home, home to work, he had stood out more than the others maybe it was the excess energy he still had at the end of his day, it was a lot more apparent amongst the slumped shoulders around him trudging up the hill and I was struck, wondering at what made him different to those around him.
I have been following him for some weeks now. He frequents this place regularly, always takes someone home with him on the way out, around 2:30am. I haven’t managed to pattern a particular type yet, although they are all female which just seems less interesting somehow.
I can hear him now, retelling some sort of extreme sport story, where he was of course the easy victor, and the crowd surrounding him laughed enthusiastically, slyly touched him under the cloud of congratulation, and so jubilant was he that he ordered another round.
I cannot decide what to take from him yet. He is enigmatic in the fact that no one object will pin him wholly for me. I consider taking a token from each of his partners fro period of time since he seems to be purely a reflection of these people around him, who seem equally to be reflecting back at him. It’s like a weird prismatic circle-jerk.
And then I have it.
I follow him into the bathroom. These things can be chancy at best but there are certain truths I can rely on within society to dictate certain behaviours. I have set this room in preparation. I am aware of how I present to people like this man, So I manage to herd him to the right stall.
He leaves, none the wiser, and I manage to extract the small vial from the bowl without fear, screw on a lid and wash it down without being caught by any other patron.
When I take this home later, I boil it down until the water content evaporates to a certain degree. Then I collect the tiny urine crystals and place them in a tiny jar, and store them in a drawer that holds very few samples.
No. Not that.
oh. the beep of doom
I am left here, quite momentarily alone to fill the void. The other has left so it is just the two of us left. He and I. He dreams of things long past, things he has no right to think he has experienced yet it is I who implant them into his head. None the wiser.
We are the same, but different.
He, now, is walking through long grass, He is barefoot. (I always make him barefoot) and I have equipped him with a spear but no courage.
There are creatures walking down in the valley, and I have made him hungry, because he likes to hunt but lacks the bloodlust required to take down living things, particularly those which have become extinct, and which (for him, not me, I don’t care) have secured a particular point of importance in his mind. He is particularly fond of things which can disappear from view, our boy here, sleeping soundly. I expect it seems cruel then to make him decide between things to honour and things to sustain but until he has learned that lesson he will no. it’s about developing his sense of judiciousness, about marrying the concept of precious with the concept of need that will make him into the avid collector that he will become.
I know I am sleeping, because these creatures I have never seem out of a natural history museum, or a book. They are enormous, lumbering, at the moment peaceful and I am armed with a paltry stick. There is no way I am going to undertake that particular quarrel. I know that behind the mammoth (or the beefcake on the dancefloor) is the underlings that scamper behind, waiting for scraps. I will start there. I will work my way up.
My feet are bare. Again. So frustrating.
Some things require time to tell. I will investigate the subject of grief at length tomorrow.
She sits, not three feet from where he does. He has a perfect view of the back of her head, where the slightly greying curls tuck around the nape of her neck. The seat next to her is occupied by a jumbled pile of soft fabric bags. Most have a slightly worn look to them, like faded tapestries, or couch cushions left out in the sun.
Earlier in the day the sun had filtered through the window. The glass of the window had smears across it, vaguely at head level; the accumulation of days of weary heads. Weary, and greasy with fatigue.
The ride was some hours – a significant amount, anywhere between 8 and 12 depending on the traffic and the weather conditions.
Earlier on that day, when it had been sunny, and the light filtering through had been golden and full of motes, she had let her head droop lightly at the nape, exposed the patch of skin between hairline and vaguely dirty collar. There was a mole, some light freckling like an undiscovered constellation.
Her bags sat next to her, some vaguely anthropomorpic figure that sagged under the weight of its own fatigue. Its very fabrics, stuffed to capacity and creased with the strain of it bounced along merrily.
The driver, apparently under some sort of mission we were all ignorant to, drove the bus like a seesaw with wheels. Every bump in he road he seemed to find, every squealing corner taken at speed. It turned the inside of the bus into some sort of puppet show – the heavily weighted limbs flailing like some sad, slightly off dance piece.
I sit, as always, quite still. The bus movements are so much better witnessed from a static perspective.
The woman nods herself awake, just briefly and I divert my eyes just long enough for her to relax back into sleep. My heart, for a moment, thuds with the possibility of meeting her eyes.
But I am safe.
The man in front of her has been eating an apple for most of the early part of the journey, but now – with nowhere to dispose of it, it sits cradled in his hand like a wounded bird. I can still smell the faint sharpness in the air, where it mixes comfortably with the slightly rose-tinted scent of the woman.
He lounges. There is no other word for it. He has managed to find a comfortable space by jamming one leg up far under his chin, where it stabilises him. Almost as well as me. We – two static points in a capsule of articulated limbs. I feel a dull sort of affection for him, imagining that like me, he has a desire to witness the ridiculousness of this journey.
Outside the light begins to fade. I watched the sun go down some moments ago, watched it cast the long shadows of the trees along the road into the bus, creating for a moment, a moving forest between our seats.
The woman is well asleep now. One hand rests upon the bag at the very top of the pile. I know that if it should sip she would immediately awaken. I know from this also that it must contain the things that she values most over all. Considering the pile next to her, and the suitcases she dragged from a taxi into the belly of this writhing beast, I assume she is relocating, and I wonder on the contents of that one particular bag.
I itch with the wondering.
The man in front of her has become aware of me. I droop my eyelids slowly, as if in that moment of his glimpse, I too have been startled awake. I droop my eyelids, I slacken my jaw so that my teeth are slightly exposed. I am the very picture of unthreatening. I let my head drop lightly against the window, where fro some moments of particularly bumpy road it jolts lightly against the glass.
I imagine the dozens before me and am sweetly sickened at the thought of what I am unwittingly sharing right now. I imagine the grease of them all coating its slickness onto my own hairs.
The horror of fluid.
The man relaxes, his own body slackens in some strange reflection f mine and he is lulled. The sun has left us. The lights on the bus are ineffectual for anything but spotlighting the players in this strange patch of theatre.
I turn mine off. It hurts my eyes besides.
In the darkness the others take on a heightened sense of theatricality. Skin, fleshy wonderful skin, leaking from badly arranged clothing turns golden under the bus lighting. Suddenly it is all limbs writhing in the lights.
Snakes of wrists and knees bobbing merrily. The driver is unaware of anything from within his container, focused so tightly on the traffic around us all which threatens his very existence.
Around us in the dark are white and red lights. The bus engine blocks the sound of most other things – for instance, the sound of the jacket on the chair in front of me falling lightly to the ground between the seats. I watch it curiously, for a moment it seems to float, then become leaden as it reaches the darkness.
But it is perhaps my eyes.
I do not blink enough, I know this. It gives me a slightly red and wild eyed feel, but I think that it assists with this kind of invisible blending. People tend to glaze over the harried looking. Who needs more problems than their own to deal with?
The woman wakes.
She looks well rested, for all the jolting. I imagine that we share a similar affection for the evening hours.
I can watch her reflection in the bus window. It is actually more perfect than watching directly, as the flattening of the glass makes her appear more distant.
She opens that top bag after dragging it onto her lap with a slight sigh which emphasises the weight of the bag.
After rifling through it for some long moments, pausing here and there to ponder over some significant token, she extracts a tidy ball of yarn punctured through with a pair of needles.
It is bright, violent red and quite thick. I think she must be knitting a scarf of some description because the piece is quite formless and seemingly without direction.
She glances down into her bag again and extracts a small, well worn book.
It is a kind of do it yourself note on how to knit – I can see the scrawled instructions above a series of rather rudimentary diagrams. She is teaching herself how then.
I glance out of the window again, past the tempting reflections of the bus interior and out onto the darkened fields, occasional houses or buildings.
I too know the need to fill time, to keep oneself occupied through the long night hours.
I think it is out of habit, really more than some sort of disorder that causes it.
I catch a whiff of a new scent.
I realise that the young woman at the front of the bus has also awoken. Just long enough to take out a can of something and spray it on herself before she falls back to sleep. This is an odd thing, I think.
The older woman is knitting in a deliberate, straining kind of manner. It looks awkward, as if her limbs refuse to function and she is trying to achieve this tortured mess of wool through mind control only.
I wear earphones to try and dull the sound of the bus which dulls the sound of the passengers anyway.
The fog is allows is what I need. A kind of washed out greyness that allow me to drift.
I rub my eyes. I used to do this almost compulsively as a child.
Every year we would go camping in some forsaken beach, armed with tents and sometimes caravans that were barely any better than those stifling plastic environments.
I have a brother, which perhaps I could mention now.
He and I would sit, probably through sheer boredom, and rub our eyes furiously. It’s a kind of internal kaleidoscope what happens when you do this; in the darkness – because you must keep your eyes closed – to focus into the darkness, there appears tiny pinpricks of light. Not like fireworks, or how I imagine the neurons of the brain to function, but like strange, delayed kind of optical communication occurs.
We sit, we describe images and patterns that we see in the darkness.
He is more imaginative than I. His stories are colourful and engaged, and alwys seem to feature some heroic deed witnessed only by him.
I am frightfully jealous of these tales and so try to make mine seem much more interesting by comparison. But at that stage my storytelling abilities are undeveloped, and I have not yet realised that the mechanism of inspiration to me is not merely through images, but also through the stories on offer from objects.
It is almost completely dark outside now. Now the distance between the membrane of this bus skin and the outside wall grows thicker. We are, suspended within this thick jelly f darkness, collectively bouncing along a road.
I am distracted.
The bus driver has finally become aware that some of the passengers are awakening. He flips a switch on is console and places a rather cumbersome VS cassette into the bus’ system.
Screens flicker into life. Blue light blinding my eyes and leaving an orange afterburn that lingers for sometime yet.
Some talk show flickers onto the screen. He has not even bothered to rewind the tape so it begins, rather rudely with an invasive question on the part of the host to a woman who is sobbing into a grey handkerchief.
The sound is quite low; hidden by the sound of the bus engine, I have to strain to listen to the horrible line of questioning. This woman has lost a child through the fault of some sort of pharmaceutical company. The hst is soothing in a kind of suffocating blanket on your face kind of way, and I instantly hate her and her superficial patting of the other woman’s shoulder.
She glances into the camera as if to share her oozing empathy with the rest of us. And here, I sit, amongst a bouncing pocket of stinking human flesh.
I feel less than a little empathy.
I also wonder why the bus driver wouldn’t put on some sort of film instead of this garbage.
We are close to the sea.
I remember the sea mostly for its smell, the sound of its crashing attention to the shore. The feel of sand amongst intimate surfaces.
We would spend every year there, as I said earlier. My brother, being older would join the gangs of rowdy children that patrolled the beaches and dug pointless holes in the sand.
I for unknown reasons, was attracted to the small concrete building which housed the laundry.
The smell of it that kind of soapy, airy smell that both comforts and suffocates stays with me now. If I concentrate hard enough, I can summon it, complete with the vaguely fishy smell of the ocean, to fill the confines of this bus. It almost works. Almost. Underneath it is the lingeringly greasy odour of the meat pie someone ate not long ago.
Cloying, it eventually wins out and my laundryandsea smell is relegated once more back into my memories.
The bus lulls. Even I cannot withstand its regular movements.
For some time I listen, then eventually the darkness, the hum of the engine and the movement take me.
They take me back to laces I always seem to go and can never escape from.
Every night for many years I would wake from the same terrible dream. Terrible Is too strong a word for it, because although unsettling, I was never placed in any kind of harm.
I always stood – barefoot in a thick layer of powdered dust, staring at a bridge. Upon the bridge, an enormous, out of scale bird stands, regarding me from its horribly beady eyes. They are black, they almost seem to absorb the light itself, although not even that is strong.
It is grey, so many shades sucked flatly to everything that surrounds me. I know that I have to cross the bridge, which is guarded by the bird. I can take the path under the bridge across the thin rivulet but when I get there, I find another bird.
It regards me with the same beady eyes.
I have no way of knowing at this stage if it is the same bird, but I spend all night trying first one path then the other, only to be thwarted at either side.
Some time, many years later I have a different dream. I am sitting on a train, and as I glance out of the window I see that we are passing that same ravine. The two birds watch me go and I feel a moment, encapsulated within the train, of triumph.
I open my eyes now, the surroundings so black that for a moment the images in my head imprint themselves onto it and I can almost see the birds and their horribly staring eyes.
This dream horrified me for so many years. I remember once, after being relieved of it for some weeks, helping my mother with the cooking. She asked me to extract the potatoes from the cupboard below the sink. When I opened it, amongst a curious carpet of whitish dust, what confronted me was some strange and horrifying hybrid of those birds’ eyes with the sunken pockets of the potatoes. Tendrils, long and blind sprouted with an urgency towards any bead of light that might possibly have managed to penetrate into the cupboard.
Like horrible fingers with beady blind eyes on the end. I could feel that same dumb, belligerent expression of the birds weighing on me and in that moment, I think, I became a little less tightly stitched together.
My mother called to me for many long moments before apparently finding me, squatting in front of the cupboard, fascinated by the reeking horrors from within. She dragged me away, and in a flourish of domestic sterility, started to pull those tortured white limbs out with a brutal hand before suffocating them in a plastic bag and disposing of them outside in the bin.
They had left a clouded shadow on the cupboard. An amorphous blob outline into the white powder. I traced a curious finger through it, feeling its lightly gritty texture, but before I could taste it, my mother returned and I had to wipe it hurriedly onto the cuff of my pants.
He remembers these things slowly. Like a gradual unfurling. One thing leads to another and he wonders on that strange hierarchy. The things that he has left behind. He knows now what is important to him, and he suspects that any new memories he develops are according to this particular scale, but what of the things he has discarded?
He wonders on that. He thinks about the potatoes in the cupboard again and wonders where his brother was, tries to tease out the broader picture, the other details that might not have been important at the time.
He knows that tat certain smell will recreate the memories of that time, over and again, without fail. But what of the things that fell from prominence? What for example of the smell of the disinfectant which was to follow. If he tries, he can force the two in his mind, but still the smell of disinfectant allocates itself to a different time, no matter how hard he tries to pin it down.
He wonders, sometimes about the lost memories, after all – with so much emphasis on the collecting of new ones, surely others fall away? There are things after all that trigger the shadows of memories without the details of them.
There is a rose, on a particular street, in the town he grew up in that could quite easily hold him in his step. They use traces of it in perfumes now, and quite often, in certain arts of town he will be compelled into stillness, arms pulled tightly at his sides, all other senses closed down but for this one all encompassing sense. It holds him, quite beyond his will, for seemingly infinite periods of time, and he has no idea why.
It must be attached, or have been attached, at one stage to a forgotten memory. It infuriates him occasionally, this act of forgetting (when did it start? When will it end?) But another side of him relishes the disconnect, the freedom offered to this harmless scent to merely exist as a trigger without ammunition. He doesn’t always need the whole story, sometimes the fragments offer much more in the long term.
He is still on the bus.
He glances through the darkness at the watch on his wrist, it’s trusty being having suffered through many evenings of his regular obsessions.
There are still a few hours yet. He wanders down the aisle to stretch his legs and notes the tiny scrap of paper jittering on the floor beneath the girl with the excessive perfume. He cricks his neck, and under the cover of checking an errant shoelace, he picks it up deftly between forefinger and thumb.
It makes it to his pocket safely, and he strolls slowly back to his seat before unearthing it. It’s in a slightly girlish hand, seems a little self consciously written, and yet all there is upon it is an address, and a spartan map. Three lines, notated with street names, the presence of a tiny square marking a post office. There is a X aways from this tiny box which marks a post office, and it seems an excitable thing. It is marked a little heavier upon the paper. He turns it over to glance at the back – lightly rules, obviously torn from a notebook, just three lines and a square, and an excitable X which has almost pushed its way through the paper.
He wonders upon it for some moments. She is dressed lightly for this weather, and arrived at the bus with a fairly modest suitcase. Not one of those fancy ones with wheels, but a moderately sized one, large enough to be inconvenient. He had watched her carry it along, banging against her calves, leaving a pale pink welt on her shin. She is wearing shorts and a pair of sandals, and her skin is quite tanned except for the undersides of her wrists which he notices when she shows her ticket to the driver.
Holidays, perhaps? Visiting? She is quite unencumbered compared to the older woman beside him with her persistent knitting. (she pauses for a sip of water and a quick dip into a colourful women’s magazine every so often)
The pauses become longer and eventually she tires of the struggle with the wool, the aggressive seeming needles. She has stuffed it back into her bag and it pokes out like a rolled flag, waving surrender. She is fully consumed by the magazine now, holds it firmly against her nose as if to inhale in its shiny surfaces and elegantly dressed strangers.
It is a strange kind of consumption, guilty almost. She occasionally glances up and around the bus in a kind of wary, hunted manner before falling back into the pages of the magazine. She is taking it slowly, I note that she is barely a third of the way through, although she might have gone back over one or two pages.
Her fat fingers hold it tightly.
She sips more water and I imagine her flesh expanding to fill the liquid.
I myself rarely drink on travels for two reasons, although I personally take a great deal of pleasure in the habitation of public toilets, I do not like them when they move underfoot, and the second reason is the possibility of missing something.
I watch her sip and expand. I imagine her skin, translucent like an albino frog filling with a liquid which she ingests and secretes into the separate layers of skin. She balloons before me, fills the space between her bags with ever expanding moistness and taut reddened flesh. She swallows the bags and half of the seat, her guilt and shame at reading what I imagine to be some sort of erotic fiction overflows until it touches tentatively the man in front of her. Before I can blink an eye, she has started to consume him as well, directly and fancifully into this tawdry fiction.
His knee and face protrude from the enveloping flesh. He hasn’t noticed her attentions yet.
She clears her throat, hurriedly turns the page. I can see it from here – less words, more pictures. Fashion, of a fashion and much less of a giveaway. She has one finger wedged firmly into the folds of that other page, and occasionally she flicks it back casually, makes her body language seem casual, although it is more obvious in the forcefulness of her needing to do it.
Eventually I tire of it. Desire is such an oddly subjective thing.
When I look over again she has shrunk back into her own, slightly huddled self. She has satisfied something for now she turns slightly towards the window, leans her head back against the glass and closes her eyes.
The video is still playing overhead although the talk show ended some time ago. Now we are to be treated with a made for television movie. The titles are all cursive and the imagery on the opening credits is hazy and golden, not unlike the lights in the bus, although where they seek to expose, these do rather the opposite.
I take it from the faint sounds of the opening music (strings, cloying) and the prevalence of middle aged women that this will be some sort of emotional story constructed more for women of a certain age than the occupants of this bus and not for the first time I wonder at the reasoning of the driver. Is this some sort of clever ploy to render us all unconscious? Boredom, similarly cloying overwhelms me and I scratch idly at the rubber seal of the bus window.
We turn off the highway (roads, bumpier yet) and pull into a roadhouse which also serves as a bus stop on this rather isolated line. This is my stop. Earlier in the week I left my car here and caught this same bus in the opposite direction.
The roadhouse is bright pink, constructed with pieces of whatever seemed to be at hand. The sign is enormous and the building looks to exist almost solely to bear its weight. The lights are set to some sort of variety of daylight. It spills out into the carpark and relieves the night, a little.
My car (nondescript, white) is parked at the far end of the lot. The woman who works here assured me of its safety when I arrived. I can see her now, bright red hair, corkscrew curls tied back with some sort of napkin or handkerchief. She looks perpetually tired, and though I have actually stopped here many many times before, she never seems to remember me from one visit to the next.
For which I am grateful.
She is striking to look at, a face and bearing – which comes through even under the carpet of grease, and the odour of fried foods – which does not belong to this time frame. You can almost imagine (if you block out the confectionery, the trashy magazines and the bain-marie with its sweating crumbed objects) that she might feel quite at home in a very different world. The lights from the drink refrigerator hit her curls at varying points and the very redness of it gleams like scattered rubies through her tired hair.
She glances at me with a patient weariness, notes the bottle in my hand, and smiled vaguely, takes my money. I wader to the lounge area of the roadhouse, I am in no hurry to get back int anther vehicle after all that time.
There are other patrons here. They sit, mainly silently, slumped with that same fatigue that I feel now. There is a family at one of the tables – young, with two children, a boy and girl. The girl is older and spend most of the time staring with undisguised repulsion at her brother who is inhaling food (crumbed, coated in sauce, oily to the touch and smell) and who has managed to coat most of it in the corners of his mouth rather than inside it.
She excuses herself after some moments and wanders distractedly around the roadhouse to stare blankly at things. She picks random items up and then places them back down after a measured period of time without taking in much of their contents. I know how she feels. I too have distracted myself with “looking busy”
Eventually she wanders over to the public telephone. It is a small one – one of those portable golden box phones you hardly ever see anymore, and after some time spent checking the slot for change, listening to the dial tone, she picks up the telephone book which is attached to it with a length of light chain – like a pen in a bank – and studies it.
I glance back at the family to see if they are concerned at all but they seem more intent on stuffing the boy to capacity with crumbed things, and she is quite safe in her suddenly intense occupation.
From somewhere she has extracted a pen, and she is scribbling in a regular and regulated manner. I am beyond intrigued. I drink my bottle of mineral water (orange coloured, nothing flavoured) slowly as to see them out.
I am patient, ad before long they are packing up their array of bags, scraps and children and ushering them outside into their waiting car.
I wait a few minutes more to see them pull out and drive away before I wander over to the phone, and following (eerily) a similar path of distraction (checking the coin slot for change, listening to the dial tone) I look at the book. It falls open to where she has brutally broken its spine to find the page entirely blank. She has spent her time erasing the contents with heavy black lines. It is textured, from a hand which has pressed very hard and which a sense of purpose into its surface.
I recognise so much about it that for a moment, I feel for the brother.
Outside another bus has pulled up, and an old woman, making rapidly (probably for the bathroom) has taken a spill up the stairs. She is surrounded by people in an instant, but I can see the tin red blood pouring out from between the thin pale skin and it, next to the deep gash marks on the page of the telephone book for an instant; merge.
I return to my chair to dispose of my bottle of mineral water (orange flavoured, barely coloured) in the nearest bin.
I pat down my pockets for some seconds before hearing the reassuring jingle of the keys inside.
The carpark is cool, and empty. I almost feel a twang of regret at leaving the overly lit interior of the roadhouse, where somehow (possibly due to it’s completely over-heated environment) it feels like a blast of summer.
My eyes are gritty from the travel.
amongst the long grasses, yellowed stalks and flighty husks.
I am barefoot, because here I always am barefoot. I’m not sure why but there is always a ceiling here, someties it compresses down upon me like a thicken skin on a custard. Sometimes it is room height, domestic.
Others I can barely see it, only I can feel its distant oppression.
My feet are bare. They are also pale, but then I have always been pale.
My parents would blame my lack of outdoor activity, as if that could leave a permanent stain on my character. I spent a lot of time outdoors, actually. Just not in the yard, beneath the watchful eyes of parents an the like.
My grandfather was a distant man. When I say distant, I mean mad. Madness is that one bridge people find so hard to cross, and yet I find it easy to slip between the two states.
I would spend time in his shed while he worked, both quietly engaged with our different activities. He was a sometimes painter, a sometime clockmaker and the place that I ended up in had a lot to do with him.
Practically, I inherited his business when he died. I remember walking into that tiny room – (it was very small, yet immaculately maintained) after he had just died and smelled the slightly stale, slightly sweet smell of his pipe smoke.
He only ever smoked after hours, which was almost daily. He was committed you see, committed to the preservation of time. It was beyond him to leave jobs unfinished at the end of the day and so he would work, sometimes late into the evenings with his magnifying glasses, his solitary table lamp, the gentle stream of bluish smoke slowly filling up the room.
Sometimes I would come to visit him, particularly as an older teenager when I had a little freedom to spend time alone, away from the watchful gaze. He would always squint his right eye at me, call me by his personal nickname (I forget it now) in a low growl. Almost as quickly as the force of his attention turned on me, it turn away again, back to the microscopic workings of whatever he was working on.
His attention was like a lighthouse beam, never still but always constant.
I would huddle inside that tiny room, surrounded by cupboards and shelve stacked to capacity by gradually yellowing packages covered in handwritten notes. Obscure things. Timing mechanisms, set jewels. Other things without names, and just gauges and sizes.
After he had died and I opened the door that first time I pondered on how I would now be able to look through these things at leisure. I wondered at the other things I would eventually find amongst this ordered space.
The walls were made of cubes. Piled to the ceiling, these formed irregular shadows by the top of the walls and onto the ceiling itself. I sat in his chair and glanced up at the way they made a kind of fortressed castellan around the room and how safe I felt in that moment was something I’ve never managed to forget. There was a dense yellow cloud on the ceiling from his pipe. Strange, that something so airily blue could turn so stinkingly yellow.
I take the boxes down, one at a time, peering into their arrangements. So many people had come here over the years, so many timepieces he had chased and hunted, and repaired.
I packed these up – boxes into larger boxes, making my own notes, according to my own systems, and filed them away. I took over the business, but instead of watches, became an engraver, and instead of saving time, I started to preserve memories.
His voice, so disturbingly close comes at me through the thin walls of this place. So distracted he talks, removing himself from this point in tie to that other, inbetween not quite here or there time. He talks of inconsequential things (to me, possibly to him if I can judge anything from the bored tone) and walks with a deliberate swinging gait.
I watch him for some time, he seems to be either at the point of making or avoiding a decision. He stares up at a building for a moment, listening to some voice describe some such thing, jaw slack, eyes slightly glazed, he reaches into his pocket to distractedly scratch himself, not fully aware that this is a busy street, and that he is like a static island in a suddenly flowing stream of people.
I have to shift a little in my seat to keep him in sight, although he is easy to notice – the vague amongst the people with purpose.
People try to penetrate my thin veneer.
I can feel them pressing against this shabby little facade I have constructed. They want my seat, but I will not be hurried and eventually they stop trying, wander away looking for someone more transient.
He nods, his shoulders slump slightly – clearly he is not happy with the results of that decision. You can almost see him giving up a fraction at a time.
I walk over to that rapidly moving stream and enter it, ducking and weaving silently in order to manoevre myself closer to him. Others bump against him, so it is easy to follow suit, but when I come away I have managed to extract with me a tiny patch of fabric from is suit.
I have done this often. There is some sort of loophole which exists in unexpected human contact. The surprise of it slows time itself, allows me an extended period of time to undertake my certain practices. I pocket the fabric until I have departed the stream of people and turned a corner in the street. I stand in front of a florist window, staring blankly at the colourful display inside while feeling that tiny foreign patch inside my pocket. It is warm (compared to the nail scissors) and I fancy carries some of his body warmth with it in its fibres.
The souvenirs that find their way into my pockets sometimes bewilder even me. Apart from the piece of fabric I have a used lipstick and – and this is strange for me – I have a blue cigarette lighter,(disposable) I rarely take things such as this for fire makes me very uneasy.
For no logical reason.
Is It telling?
Some sort of unevolved survival skill?
I touch it lightly, it is clearly used, although it still has a purchase sticker upon it, there are very feint grooves etched into its plastic sides, as if thrown at the bottom of a bag, carelessly.
I am disturbed by its presence because I don’t really remember having taken it.
I flick its tiny piezoelectric switch cautiously and almost jump with both the hock of seeing the flame and with some long repressed sense of both urgency, and trouble. I drop it carefully onto the windowsill of the florist, its blueness completely overwhelmed by the greens and pinks and reds which dominate it.
It bothers me, but it is no longer in my possession and for that I am relieved.
As I wander away, I notice a teenager linger briefly at the same window. When he leaves the lighter has left with him.
La Science, la nouvelle nobless! Le progres. Le monde marche. Pourquoi ne tournerait-il pas?
I am back in the field. The seasons have changed, no longer the stiff dry hollow tubes of dying grasses, these bend underfoot with surprising ease. They are also green, but everything is green, even the smell on the air is green.
The air flutters around me, vibrates on the wings of the insects around me. Bees, mainly so I tread carefully through the grass. There are some butterflies though, mainly they are that orange and black variety, common as dirt. There are wildflowers though not of the plumply generosity of tamed domestic flowers, these are the hard and neglected, though they seem to please the insects well enough for the air is full of buzzing.
I wonder if they rest? Or if this perpetual compulsion to source food is the only thing driving them. Moths must be different with their odd obsession for light even that which destroys. I expect mostly they delight in that thing that allows them to escape gravity. Flight. The one thing I wish I could accomplish and never probably will. I am even nervous in planes. I much prefer the safety of trains or buses and so have spent only a handful of times with my feet away from the earth.
Right now however, my feet are clenched in soil, dark and velvety. I dig in my toes, trying to ground myself further into the soil, pushing away worms and other ground bearing insects in my path. I feel myself shrink, headheight with the bobbing flower blooms, overwhelmed with their scents which now, suddenly seem to be overbearing and everywhere. I feel like I am breathing in air choked with so much thickness, like dust or pollen but almost as if it is made out of fluid.
I look, squinting across the field at the figure in the yellow sundress. She wasn’t there a minute ago, but if I watch she suddenly changes in stature from what appears to be a rather gaily prancing stance to a huddled, overwrought mess. From here, I can see the tracks in her overly rouged face. Pale streams coursing through powdered red stains on flesh.
She moves from hysterical anguish to unceasing joy in an endless cycle, each step seems to take her from either extreme of emotion in an almost fluid state. It is disconcerting, and from here, bloom height, it is terrifying.
She moves toward me and I am overrun with an immense fear of being trod upon. When she raises her feet, they are huge (and bare) and dirty, caked with the mud that only now I can feel myself sliding down into. Her legs are enormous, and as she steps above (thankfully) me and passes on her way, I am overwhelmed both – by the darkness of her interiors, and by the dropping of blush stained tears which rain upon me, bigger than swimming pools. Too late I raise my hands to defend my self (hands, leaves etc) but it does nothing to stem the flow of the flood and I am trampled, not by feet, but by the wave of fluid which overwhelms me, and eventually which knocks me firmly from my unconscious state awake, into here and now where my heart is thudding against the surface of my ribs like the panic of a freshly caged bird, and I am coated in a thin sheen of delicate sweat.
I am awake.
Outside my window there is a bird singing sweetly into the sunrise, and it fills with so much confusing anger that I just sit, feeling my heart start to slow, feeling my sweat fall into the bedding and the sun peel its way through the thin crack I have accidentally left in the windows.
There is light playing on the ceiling. It reflects off the glass of water I keep beside my bed, and constructs delicate creatures that vibrate at a rate not unlike my heartbeat, the shaking of my skin. I watch it for some time, as it ducks between the clouds which obscure its connection to the sun. The bird moves on after singing its heroic melody to find a more receptive audience.
And I fall. Back into the pillow, eyes closed. I am relieved to not be drowning in a pit of darkening fluid, but I am disappointed to start the day. As always, I find the sleeping hours the most liberating. Even when in the midst of nightmares (which happen, not infrequently) I still revere that kind of LIFE or adrenaline that I only seem to be able to access at thee times.
Waking hours are generally grey. Generally washed out. Generally, but not wholly, forgettable.
This is why I am compelled to construct memories. The things which I collect, not only do they trigger that person, or experience at the time, but what makes one thing more valuable than the next is its proximity to something I can remember from dreams.
You see, if I find enough things from that time/place/space/experience then there is some sort of hope that I will be able to reconstruct it later. These things are the most important to me, so when I took that patch of the lost man’s suit jacket, it was not merely to remember him, and his floundering expression but also in order to trigger a moment for myself when in the midst of a dream I was encountered by a man of such exquisite beauty who was clothed in a suit whose pattern (a very delicate houndstooth) was not at all unlike the one on the lost man. Most people for me, serve multiple functions.
Today my business is closed. I close on Mondays because watching the parade of office people sinks me into a dark depression. Somehow delaying that inevitable vision until Tuesday helps. Mondays I sleep late (usually) and then shower (shortly) and then eat breakfast which is generally the same each morning: (Toast, sourdough. Jam, apricot. coffee, weak.) before disembarking for the day on my local travels.
Mondays are for public transport and touristy sightseeing. With everyone else in their 9-5 routine I am left with the stray stragglers wandering the city. They are more relaxed, and generally less suspicious to attentions. Last week I happened upon a young couple with backpacks who spent the entire time wandering from place to place with a tiny book, apparently following some personal path, I could only imagine at their actual purpose since most of the locations seemed random and unconnected to me. Fascinating though, I coveted that particular little book, though any chances of me trying to extract it were completely countered by the degree of desperate grasping on their part. I followed them for much of the day, stopping here and there to throw myself off their scent. They were so completely absorbed in their path that they were quite unaware of mine. It was almost too easy, so I made myself become inattentive, lost sight of them a few times and was rewarded by that familiar rush of adrenaline.
In the end I managed to secure a button from his jacket (it was a challenge) and a tiny lock of her hair (oddly, less difficult)
I made her into a fly, and placed her into the cabinet with a footnote that connected her to the button in another cabinet. Sometimes I don’t bother but they moved so fluidly like one distracted being that I felt their connection should he honoured, however tenuously.
Today I will go to the museum. It is my favourite hunting ground because people are so ridiculously consumed by watching that they quite forget any other kind of sensory attention and lose themselves. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Which is not to say that I acquire quantity at ties like this,I am still very selective about what makes it into my collection – but rather at these times, I am able to secure the objects/samples etc with less obfuscating. It feels, a cleaner kill, so to speak. I also feel that the objects themselves maintain much less residue of their previous owner’s that they fit much more cohesively as objective tokens. Which is important, in the retelling of things later.
After the museum I might swing by the park because nothing quite amuses me as much as watching people in nature, particularly when they are consumed by technology. Such an unaware breed,it is baffling. Also these people, these park people are generally habitual in their behaviours (as I suppose, am I) that it is as satisfying as re-reading a book to catch up on these character’s lives. How repetitive their conversations, how habitual their behaviour.
Today, since I am in a recreating mood, I am looking for something which will trigger the memory of that monstrous woman. A patch of delicate yellow fabric perhaps, if I was willing to put a wish out there, it would be besmirched with some sort of red make-up. I would settle for lipstick, since rouge seems to fall further and further out of fashion.
But I should not be fussy, it will only compound my disappointment should I fail at this task.
My feet. On the floor, resting lightly against the carpet (floral, dark) I like to feel the filaments trace against my soles for some moments before submitting to the gravity which keeps me firmly attached. I imagine enormous furred beasts beneath my feet, or dry waves, or the powdery dust which seems to reoccur over and over again in my dreams.
I stand, shifting my weight between points on my feet, waiting for the delicate sound of that snap my right foot makes, somewhere near the little toe. (an old break) Only after I ear it do I feel ready to descend the stairs and begin with my daily rituals.
I broke it when I was very young. I had been watching my brother and his friends laying hide and seek around the yard. I was hiding (not playing) from them on the roof where the summer before I had fashioned a rudimentary shelter out of cast off timber and a piece of tin from the neighbours rabbit hutch. It was tucked up between the chimneys of our family home – Somewhere between the living room and the kitchen, I believe. They were miniscule from that vantage point, tiny heads and feet running from the cover of one thing to the next, hoping to find the perfect spot. I had taken (stolen) a scarf from one of my brother’s friend’s mothers it was a pale cream colour, silk probably, and patterned with a very delicate embossing – something like a shield or a crest, I can’t remember. I had taken (stolen)it earlier out of her jacket pocket, and only now, with my hand around it, inhaling her particular scent (smells travel from objects to objects realisation!) that I could hear the somewhat desperate scurry below, hear my mother call my brother who dragged his feet inside. Could hear him say “……..don’t know anything about it” before running outside again, gleefully free, back into the game.
A few moments later, when I – quite distracted by the fabric still – had taken my eyes off the activity below for a minute, not even, was surprised by his face at the top of the guttering. He looked at me in surprise – that I should be there at all, that I was holding the scarf that he had been accused of taking only moments ago, that I had found a better hiding place than any he’d had a mind to seek – all of this exposed quite clearly on his face before his expression turned cunning and he realised that he had something over me.
We were not close, never were, still…even less so.
It was that expression itself that told me that something terrible was going to happen. Fortunately it was not to me. So overcome in his apparent good fortune that he let go (just enough) his grip on the guttering and fell out of sight.
I was frozen to the spot for what seemed like minutes, but which must have only been seconds, for the time it took for him to land (ungainly) and start yelling (which stopped faster than I expected) I had moved over to the edge to see the results.
He was spreadeagled, in a way back against the grass surrounded by boys (one step away from poking him with sticks) who seemed to be debating the chances of their being held responsible.
He had passed out by this stage. Fortunately.
I hid the scarf in the chimney, regretting what I knew would be the loss of its pure creamy colour, and hurried down the other side of the roof where I promptly fell (less far) and landed on the next door neighbour’s shed roof. It was exactly at that moment that I heard the snap, and felt it.
It was an interestingly percussive backdrop to the commotion happening at my house which was punctuated by yells and a general sense of hysteria.
I hobbled, wincing back home to find my brother slowly waking up in my mother’s arms. He stared at me unblinkingly for a few seconds before glazing over and answering my mother’s frantic questioning. He couldn’t remember anything. He didn’t know why he was on the roof, he didn’t remember much before about an hour before that moment.
The scarf, equally was forgotten. I never mentioned my foot, which eventually healed. I was a sedentary child so it was easy to cover.
I still feel it, a tiny dislocated thing that fits badly under my skin. A thing which moves quite independently of anything I plan. I went back for the scarf after my foot healed, even though it had been declared off limits by my inattentive parents. By that time a bird had found it, shredded it into gently charcoaled pieces to make a nest. I stared at that fr some time, I think that was the moment that I realised that coveted things required safekeeping.
Downstairs my house is quiet, and not yet awoken. I tend to draw the blinds each evening before the sun goes down to keep the temperature even in the house, so it is something of a morning ritual, a kind of solar unfurling, that process of exposing the innards of my rooms to the daylight. I am a tidy person. I like the regularity of things ordered into expectation.
Everything I have collected is tucked away. Tucked is the wrong word. Packed is closer, although it does not describe the bespoke process that I undertake to make sure everything fits. The cabinets along the walls are non-descript, medium to dark stained timber, solid fronted they reveal nothing and the only times I have been visited by overly nosy post people and delivery people they have asked me if I am an antique collector, to which I respond with a (nauseatingly) broad smile that yes, I am and I find that an overly descriptive tale about the history of a piece of furniture is quite enough to push curiosity back where it belongs.
The kitchen and the bathroom are really the only rooms in my house where the sun is free to roam around all day. I use the kitchen primarily (except for now, making toast and weak coffee) as a kind of laboratory for the dissection and placement of new acquisitions into my collection. Last night, for example I left the piece of fabric on the chopping board next to the discarded list I acquired from the bus. These will find quite different placement, not because they are dissimilar objects, but because the nature of the acquiring process was so vastly different. I must admit that I refer active collecting, rather than passive, although you can find treasures like that also, it must be admitted.
Really the concept of liking or disliking is quite beside the point. I find it so intriguing when people espouse their preferences so passionately and aggressively, as if it mattered. I find it more interesting at the level of self-soothing this kind of display offers and can only compare it, however obliquely to those awful babies crying on the street outside the park. So tiresome. If only it were acceptable to eat one’s own more often.
The kitchen floor is cool. Tiles, pleasant underfoot and soothing. Opening the fridge door releases a tiny puff of cold onto my toes which is also not unpleasant. The milk, as always, is in the door but as I lift it it strikes me that there is perhaps a little less that I was expecting contained within. I catch myself staring into the open funnel of its cardboard package for longer than I would generally deem appropriate. Things like this increasingly bother me. Things that are not quite left the way I would have assumed to find them again. It seems to happen more and more and I become fearful that this is some sort of downward spiral into age, even though I am not at that stage of life, or so I assumed.
It is unpleasant to think these thoughts on a day that I have set aside for acquiring, so instead I set it aside, and continue with the process of getting on with the day.
Henri Papin 7: The collector of circumstance - MUMA 2012 (walkthrough)
Henri Papin: Lord of the Flies
One might ask ‘who is Henri Papin?’ as with James Boag in the film noir-styled advertisements for the eponymous Tasmanian brewery. Peering through the keyhole, however, one is likely only to encounter the eye of Papin staring back. He is a mysterious figure, a voyeur, he has been revealing himself gradually through a series of exhibitions based around his collections of human behaviour. His first was held in 2006 and comprised six museum-style cabinets, five of which displayed discrete facets of his collection. Each was built up from moments of voyeurism, exaggerated and fictionalised according to his own psychological schema, with the sixth cabinet documenting the original glimpses that had inspired the contents of each of the others.
Papin’s second exhibition was held the following year in Adelaide – up until now, the only one presented outside Tasmania – and introduced his divided persona: the conscious Henry Papin, who works as an engraver, and the sublimated Henri Papin, who typically exerts the greater influence over the exhibitions. This iteration allegorised certain aspects of Henry’s past that had formed his identity, things, as described by Tasmanian artist Tricky Walsh, that ‘stay with you, the oddly defining moments often resurfacing at the least expected of times.’(1) For Henry Papin, these moments are defined by the emergence of Henri, who revealed on that occasion his study of the effect the built environment has on human behaviour, specifically the nefarious activities encouraged by the obscurity of laneways. This he grouped into Marking (urination, graffiti) Inhabiting (sex, vagrancy) and Meeting (for drug-related or other crimes). Papin documented zones that had the highest incidence of such activities and collected samples of the behaviour that took place there.
Henry Papin’s meek exterior coupled with the peculiarity of Henri Papin beneath are possibly the family resemblance he bears to his distant relatives the Sisters Papin, the housemaids from the French town of Le Mans who, with little apparent provocation, infamously turned on their mistress and her daughter, gouging out their eyes and butchering them as if they were rabbits, early in 1933. This macabre affair caught the imagination of French intellectual circles: André Breton published photographs of the sisters before and after their crime – appearing neat and deranged respectively – in the December issue of Le Minotaur; he also ran an article by Jacques Lacan, ‘Motives of Paranoid Crime: The Crime of the Papin Sisters’ and the Papins were the inspiration for the 1947 play The Maids by that connoisseur of criminal activity, Jean Genet.
With The Processor of Circumstance, Henri Papin makes his seventh presentation, his first in Melbourne, in which he has focussed his attention specifically on human attraction. Having moved on from simply documenting and collecting behaviour, Papin is attempting to understand its impulses by devising a machine to measure this elusive quality. Bio-magnetic deviations includes in its structure the form of a pig, the animal whose heart may be swapped for our own. Inside this fabricated carcass Papin has placed mechanisms built from minerals that exert attractive and repulsive powers: iron filings, ferrofluid, lodestones and neodymium magnets – all Papin’s metaphors for desire.
Alongside the machine, Papin displays The rules of attraction, a collection of fishing flies that he has tied from samples of human hair. Having great significance as part of a person’s allure, as well as to practitioners of Voodoo and forensic science, hair has featured in Papin’s collections for some time. Earlier presentations were curiously reminiscent of the anecdote Tricky Walsh recounts of squatting in a Hobart house filled with a lifetime’s worth of hoarded articles that included samples of hair taped to the wall above the bed that followed a chronological sequence from blonde to grey.(2)
It is difficult to address Henri Papin and his work without identifying literary parallels; the flies of The rules of attraction might have associations with Les Mouches (The Flies), a play by Jean-Paul Sartre, written in 1943 but based on the Greek myth of the siblings Orestes and Electra who murder their mother and step-father to avenge the deposition of their father Agamemnon. In Sartre’s adaptation, flies plague the citizens of Argos as punishment for their tacit role in the regicide and as a reminder of the shame of their humanity. The flies in combination with the pig carcass, also bring to mind William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies in which a group of British schoolboys are marooned on an island and descend into anarchy. The head of a sow they had caught to eat is placed on a stake as an offering to ‘the Beast’, a malign presence they come to believe is on the island; Golding’s title, which happens to be a literal translation of Beelzebub, refers to the vision that Simon, the most sensitive and creative of the boys, has of the severed head, now crawling with flies, where it reveals to him that the beast is in fact within them all.
The image in both literary works is one of flies drawn in, like iron filings to Papin’s magnet, but his flies are lures in themselves. Whether the essence he extracts from the hair they are tied with retains the allure it had when still growing on his subjects or has turned repellent as loosened hairs tend to do, Papin’s experiments remain as inconclusive – as fugitive as the picture of him we might glean from his projects. As we look, all we find is what intrigued Papin as he was observing us.
Curator – Exhibitions
Monash University Museum of Art | MUMA