Behold, he cometh with clouds
He had a second rate mind, and his name had been Register Seven. At two o’clock in the morning, after night fill, the infomer-cial for a “fat-free infuser” caused him to get into his zombie-mobile and drive to a window to collect his succulent “Stak-A-Krap.” He could eat that for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; the taste portable, running all over, smelling like a wet dog on a sunny day. So he ended up working there, managing what management called “the dining area.”
His diseased yearnings had gotten him into difficulties with earlier jobs. Grandmother had asked him to help her in the yard because she hated her trees, their leaves, and mess. Hence, he raked into piles the deprecated detritus and set fire to the piles, as seen on T.V. This had caused problems; the autumnal trash put itself about and ignited the house. The relict had been away with nepenthe, the god of painless repose, and couldn’t be shaken out of her blue dream. So she missed the diminution of her estate.
Father was a professional golfer and role model. He would take autograph books from youngsters and fling them onto the club-house roof. He ridiculed false modesty and strove always to expunge it from himself. He carped at the bright eyes of the current young champion and speculated loudly as to his imminent slump in form. Naturally, he worshipped his underachieving son.
One white Christmas, white with heat, he “tasked” Seven to protect the house against cockroaches. They would come out from under the duvet of leaves from the ever-shedding gum of the rear neighbor’s yard and waltz to a Christmas antiphon into the kitchen, where it was snug and moist, and full of Christmas cheer. The toaster (the traditional roach motel), sink, and oven, the line of external walls, all became thick with pesticide. The lethal work was done under a sky holding hardly a cloud; just one stubborn wisp imploding with a silent hiss in the blue furnace.
Seven came in out of the furnace and sat on the couch, under the drippy air conditioner that roared. The lethal powder he had spread and tried to wash away was in his head and chest and all about. He became awfully pale from life and strife, Algernon. He would sing before sunrise, from pain. He coughed and rubbed eau de cologne on his hands; rubbed his eyes and continued to rub them, in a flagellation of pleasure. His father reigned blows upon him with a Dunlop Volley for wasting his “Allure” and his “Obliterate”.
Fortunately for Seven, his father was distracted by the noise of a cement mixer next door. Father had been waiting patiently for an opportunity to discuss the disruption of his quiet enjoyment due to a drawn-out and long-suffered construction by the neighbor. There was an enormous sheet of green plastic flapping over the ruined frontage that cast an eerie pall on father’s driveway. It had scared Homunculus, before she had eloped with the people over the road. And it frayed, leaving shards of green plastic embedded in the exquisite lawn, which was as trim as the 18th hole at Flagstaff Gardens.
He left the house, swinging his hands from his sides and then smashing them together, as though he were wielding a very large set of shears at a particularly tough branch of ivy in the manner of a notorious American president, leaving the boy to his own devises, nose streaming; ears and head a quiver; resolving to train an elaborate army of snails to obey his every command.
Seven went south for the summer, looking for work. A mishap in the industrial strength kitchens abutting the dining area had crippled his right hand. It only takes a few seconds to do perma-nent damage to stray appendages in those high-powered ovens and render Seven unfit even for Paralympic competition. Father was sick of him sitting at the computer, tying up the telephone line while he clicked and tapped. In honor of his sporting ancestry, Seven greatly enjoyed play.
There were the inevitable parlor games. Avoid the Heretics was too yesterday…One entailed allocating well-knowns to Dante’s nine circles. One former President was given the Grand Tour, wending from the vestibule to sowers of discord, winding up at the sheet of ice. Other luminaries found themselves plonked in with the carnal, the gluttonous, hoarders and wasters, Styx surfers, suicides, usurers, panderers, seducers, flatterers, fortunetellers, grafters, hypocrites, thieves, evil counselors, and falsifiers. A too inclusive jest. A better game was “Flaming Tennis,” where he teamed with the perennial fellow failed arts student.
“Smoke-for-effect media head.”
“Nazi troll.” (That was an ace.)
“Kafir loving cooze.”
“Crowd pleasing sport.
And so on.
You need to know nothing of Lucy, Grant, and Michael, who collected Seven in a 230E the color of wheat. A glorious wet, steamy day; Fuhrer weather, as a Nazi would say, and the conversa-tion went in fits and starts, as the wet road rushed a beat beneath the wheels. They passed through the depressing inner suburbs, the once green and leafy jewel in the town’s crown. A fabulously rich expatriate had returned to his place of birth, by mobile phone, and purchased all the homes in the green belt, leaving them unoccupied and dilapidated, from spite.
They stopped at the Triple Double Golden Happiness where the fortune cookies were retrospective. Seven correctly predicted that his message had a protective coating. Grant’s message was a short poem;
Anyone can whistle, anyone at all
Anyone can whistle with his back against the wall,
Everyone can whistle, whistle if they will
Anyone can whistle, except maybe Emmett Till.
At the tramontane aspect, they found a hotel and settled in a suite for fun and games. Some of these involved bottles of baby oil, the shower alcove, the spa, and three orifices, but you know all about that. In the warm pinks, browns, beiges, and like hues of type which grace motel rooms the world over, they watched, on Zed TV, (the joint had cable) The Caring Defenders, the hilarious weekly docudrama concerning earnest young lawyers representing the downtrodden. They were all guilty, and one girleen in black court shoes said to the heroin cutie, “I’ll try to save ya, mate.”
There were drunken séances, while a sand radio played “Shake Shake Shake,” and as lemonade washed up on a moonlit beach, chicken soup pattered gently on the sealed panes. They dressed a store mannequin as Mrs. Bates, called her Myra Ann and slam kissed and lit fires in the room. Lava lamps whirled, starfish swooned, poets lay in graves, and audiences failed to flock. This led to general decamping and injunctions to send the bill to number 18 Albany Street, Bedford.
Down at the beach where the Norfolk pines are weeds, Seven worked as a relieving handyman at the Beachcomber Resort-style Inn Family Fun and Conference Center.
The summer was a conflux of sea, sloppy sand, needles, motor-bikes, students, bottles, surfboards, sunglasses, lemonade, short-sleeved shirts, ties, and conference tables covered in mints. Into this vortex went Seven with his odd collection of screwdrivers and off-white overalls. He could use the reception computer for emails only but got to live near the pool, which he regularly never cleaned.
He befriended Taisha, who had a brother, Taymore, whose chum was Kordell. Taisha’s mother listed her occupation as “Mother.” Taisha had a homemade compilation of pop song codas—the sturm and drang of “I Want You”; slushy organ terminating “The Rocky Road”; fish and chip fryer in “Travels in Nihilon”. They popped ecstasy placebos and fumbled around in the unused fitness room. They would sneak up to Room 101, which a crazed former occupant had trashed while attempting to free a particularly obtuse and whiny blowfly. The youngsters looked with respectful silence at the shambles, which Seven was to clear during his tour of duty, and contemplated the mistakes of the old, resolving to avoid them.
Christmas means conferences. The Beachcomber was hosting a bunch. Mrs. Smolak, the lachrymose proprietor, tasked Seven to hang colored fairy lights about the great Norfolk pine that ob-scured the sea to occupants of units 18 and 20. This entailed the building of a scaffold (for Mrs. S caviled at the expense of a cherry picker) and the hooking up of the lights, artfully entwined around the great tree, to an outdoor generator.
The discovery that the generator was dysfunctional meant that some amateur wiring to the circuit near the pool would occur; this was not really within Seven’s expertise, but he resolved good-naturedly to have a go at it.
His black Volkswagen made a wobbly base for his work platform, for the handbrake strained on the gentle slope of the needle-encrusted grass, as though the car wanted to rush into the invigorating surf. A roof rack gave Seven the makings of a flat base and, in an inspired piece of lateral thinking, he “took an executive,” by removing a freshly set square of concrete from the western side of the pool bar patio to lash on the rack.
Thus, he could stretch on tiptoes, hang from the odd branch, and still remain close to moist terra firma.
The shade of the tree ran maddeningly away from him while he labored. The worst of the work was the preparation. The lights snagged on him, his car, and the rough blemishes of the trunk as he clambered awkwardly about the stunted lower branches, willing them to hold. He could just touch, with one extended set of toes, the cool base of concrete. Over and around and up he whipped and lassoed the festive line until it grudgingly draped itself upon the pine. Seven decided that it would look better when lit and went to switch on the plug near the pool.
The multi-colored flash was uncertain and then decided not to co-operate. Seven felt that the globes needed a stern talking to, or at least a tightening. Balancing gracelessly on his plinth, he reached up and screwed in a dark, green globe, noticing that one of the connections had not consummated the relationship with his oriental female counterpart. He reached for it, gripped, teetered, and then jerkily tightened his hands around the fatal equipment, swiveling while falling against the tree, where he became entangled in the merry foliage.
An hour later, Mrs. Smolak discovered his charred remains lolling on high when she came to investigate the missing patio square. Being a practical woman, she first tried to command her staff to remove the offending corpse, but all were insubordinate. There was the option of making an attraction of the tragedy in the tradition of the old London Zoo, dressing the apes in nursery school clothes and treating them to tea, after the fashion of the Bellowing Smolak, a bear made to ride the roller coaster as an off-season attraction, wetting itself to the jeers of patrons. So why not aggressively market the burnt offering as part of the Beachcomber’s Seasonal Seaside Toast?
In the event, discretion overpowered valor, and an attractive Chinese screen was arranged before the tree; it failed to cover the view of Seven dangling above and beyond, but served as a distraction. Lanterns were arrayed from low branches, where they gently swayed and nuzzled Seven’s blackened toes. Mrs. Smolak had to issue a stern warning to staff, calling for the identity of the wag that slung a Santa cap onto the dead boy’s head, where it sat at a jaunty angle.
Soon, the power and water symposium would come in to lunch, pull crackers, read out the egregious jokes, eat and drink, and lech; the manager wondered if they could cater for the Coronial hearing once the holidays were out of the way. And at home, Sweetmeat, Seven’s little pooch, sensing something was up, lay whimpering in front of the erratically blinking lights of the artificial Christmas tree.
Companion in tribulation
But I digress, and there is much to tell of seven, and we all know the end of every story anyway, don’t we? Suspense is for the birds. So let us talk of Seven’s other great adventures.
He loved to dream of getting an award. Every night it was something different; an Oscar, a Nobel, a Grammy, a MVP, Olympic Gold, a Booker, World’s Greatest Finance Minister, Victoria Cross, a Logie, an Emmy, a peerage. Or he would kick the winning goal, hit the winning run, fire in the winning basket on the buzzer, sink the black in the corner pocket for the frame and the match. Here he is graciously shaking Karpov’s hand after the other dabs his King to rest; jumping the net carefully so as not to create a divot in the parched grass of Kooyong; at the podium explaining that whilst he doesn’t believe in competition among journalists of integrity, nevertheless he is greatly flattered to receive this Pulitzer…
The adulation of strangers, our siren song in this scared old modern world. Seven would be Orson Welles, who never learned modesty; or Shirley Maclaine, who thoroughly expected to win; Fleming, Watson, or Crick, who thanked no one else for his success; and Celine, who poured scorn on the whole thing. He’d be George C. Scott without the inconsistency; Flaubert with humility; Dante before Beatrice told him off. He would be a man in the temple; proud to turn over tables and nail the triumphant, suppurating prize to the wall.
Seven and his friends liked to play Finger a Pedophile. Creating a virus and sending e-mails at random which, when opened, would blossom into a computer pandemic was simplicity itself, but entailed much mental grunt work. So instead, the kids sat around and put forth names to “out” practitioners of the sport that the news-papers dared to name. Decency forbids transcribing such sessions now.
But one of their putative targets was a teacher at their shared educational facility, an unreconstructed devotee of platonic sex. He preferred the Socratic Method in that he would not stop talking, whilst his pupil had at him like a piglet clamped to its sow. His name is Professor___________________; look him up, if you like.
Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? And other questions rarely engaged Seven’s mind. One’s trust in modern science to find out in due course drew the interest from them. He sits at the wheel, full of this potential, and at sixes concerning his future. His friends could help, but they don’t understand that post-impressionist concept. It is something you get.
So he falls, by dint of distractions and moral fiber, into a fantasy world and speeds up to cut off a pair of New South Welsh plates, trying to make a last minute turn to the right. Then slows, to compound the embarrassment, and verges off to the food lane. Well pleased with himself, he carefully laves with his tongue the cream leaking from the finely cut edges of the epiphany burger and receives a seminal experience. This manifests itself as a vision engulfing the windscreen, in the manner of four-wheel drives, where every moment’s magical, and Ford smoothly glides between the great poplar alley all down the valley of the Rhone, knowing how we need rest and to be alone.
Kind souls decline to sound their Wagnerian air horns; even though Seven lingers in the food lane, gaping maw filled with emptiness, they apparently condone the revelation—they long to have his order.
The windows are filled with seven hundred cloud studies by Constable, swelling and boiling with portentous noise. Seven’s car radio is set on the drone station, which thrashes Eminem but it could be playing Patrick Hernandez, because the car’s interior is fit to burst with harmonious voices, which rise, crash, and repeat as great waves tend to do. Nine pitch changes and raw tremolos; an impossible laughing howl announcing that time was at hand.
Seven had gone to Hong Kong on a football trip when of age. His boisterous mates became steely eyed sober in Happy Valley, smelling the money; fell by forearms and elbows onto the white rail in awe and supplication. It seemed to their round, insular eyes that a million coolies won and lost a king’s ransom with every flashed still. Racetrack frenzy of slips, hats, tickets, cash, field glasses, and beer. Six players, one communal good sport of a girlfriend. Above them watched Seven passively, from the grandstand, half under the hot, wet sun. How the jockey whipped at the brute’s head, neck, and flanks, how it otherwise effortlessly sailed past the painted dummies trying to oppose them. Horse rises above violence, steps daintily over it, looks away. Bear the pain like men. Foaming at the mouth in hot triumph, Seven collected his winnings and joined his friends.
Here’s the bar, democratic haven of winners and losers alike. Racing prints soften the cruel festival. Sophie Lee (not her real name) nurses a Singapore Sling, stubby fingers clutching the victorious Miminy-Piminy; the lads with Tiger beer, helping the sweat along. “Witness to History” tee shirts changed color, and the lettering ran in the liquid heat.
The sea an old onion soup; the bus wended down the big hill. Seven recalled the exotic fruit he had consumed, redolent of vanilla custard on a toilet seat. Her Majesty’s note on his passport remind-ed him that drug use and trafficking led to death or life imprisonment. He had never felt any compassion for people caught in some foreign dragnet. Gazing at the landscape flattening before him, the trash in the alleys, mirrored in the hotel windows, drifting out of doorways, he found any last vestige of empathy trickling out of him as blood from a desiccated carcass.
He had a troubled sleep in his room, away from reveling friends.
The shipping noises intruded more than usual. There was jack-hammering coming from a lower floor, and an oily smell seemed to permeate the artificial air.
From his trompe-l’oeil eyrie he could see locals taking out trash in the machinery light. The alley had an alpine topography and a moonscape that accentuated the random nature of development towering above it. It occurred to Seven that there must one day come the great saturation; when we pronounce the way to replenish what we smothered in filth.
On the hotel charnel, someone is burning a dog. For no particular reason, it’s an art film. And here, a documentary about Congo apes—one sneaks off, leaving his pregnant mate sleeping and has relations with another, apparently for two pieces of fruit. This might have reminded Seven of something close to home, had he yet been born. He washed down too many portions of the “trail mix” strewn in ashtrays the world over and vomited internally.
He heard the others returning and watched on, bearing witness to the bitter end. Botticelli’s Venus floats to shore on scales of elemental spume, another of his angels, with dark circles under her eyes, averring, “Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.” Seven was sick of being managed and told off, buffeted by obsessively washed windows time and again, brushing the living shards from his bleeding hair.
Seven suffered a number of false starts born of un-reflective passion. He started to sculpt, but realized the derivative nature of his work when he scooped Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, out of Deb. Eventually he took up some watercolors in his sister’s long abandoned room and began a lonely crusade to create a myriad cloud study while turning his bedroom into a homage to Francis Bacon’s studio. He pins cirrus on the ceiling and medium clouds around the walls in a crazy collage straight from television-land.
As he rootled among the shambles of his floor, he was startled by Caravaggiesque feet under his nose and looked up, expecting to see the anvil shaped head of his mother, admonishing him to clean his room and get a real job at eleven decibels. Instead, a pair of bare legs, smooth but for a few hairs like tomorrow’s fried chicken, thrust up through the clouds into the ultramarine.
“Why do you do it? I mean, why bother?”
“Well, I think that this means something.”
“Do you indeed? You have a record of clouds. What does that mean?”
“I don’t know the meaning; I feel it’s an experience that needs preserving.” “Feeling is fine as far as it goes, fashionable, but what do you think?”
“I think there is some value in keeping these clouds after they have passed on.”
“You know that a cloud is only one of an infinite number of sculptures from antique water.”
“Such shapes have occurred since well before history.”
“So apart from any primitive emotion, what rationale is there for the cloud drawings?”
“I don’t know. I just think that I’ll be rewarded somehow for them.”
“Why are you talking to the ceiling?”
Better clean the foot marks from the one blank space on the wall. Seven gathered up his pictures and jammed them into an ancient art folio book; his careless way with them a barrier against the general indifference, real or imagined. Protesting that he could only depict what he saw; that his father’s insistence on showing talent early or facing up to failure was misguided, he made a complaint to no one in particular that he couldn’t pierce the clouds alone. He needed someone to share the burden of comprehending, soon.
Ten o’clock Monday morning was the perfect time to place a notice on the University Union notice board. The lock had long died in the ball bearing cradle of the glass doors and soon a crisp new bill displaced the fading pinks and yellows of a dozen defunct clubs and associations.
Here soon; an open call to a select group with great or some aptitude—for clarity of thought and plain speech. Those lacking ability in this regard need not apply. Perfection not expected but effort is. Please send reply in writing to avoid any misunderstandings. “Nemo”, at pigeonhole # 145678, Department of Humanities.
Seven knew that Lucy, Grant, and Michael, legitimate arts students, would guess at his identity; only they were privy to his nick-name and his appropriation of the slot given to the Harris girl, who never appeared on campus. But he didn’t recognize the note on personalized paper—a sketch of seven palms hovering on curly squiggles of drenched beach. He became quite excited at the prospect of an extended audience for his message, being well aware of the shortcomings and limitations of his friends. The note had an air of reticence and hinted at the undertaking of a long journey by the writer. He or she had travelled from the south in a northwesterly direction; then due east in a straight line as the crow flies; then southwest to complete a round or triangular path; then by air due west—continuing his/her earthbound trek, due northeast; due south east and west to where he/she has begun. I want to find some point which gives me a center to this wandering, (s) he said, if only to cure me of a hankering for meaning to it.
A crisis arose at home that winter. Mr. Seven, confined to quarters by the inclement weather, began to overplay the martinet. His most ill-advised control freakishness was posting a notice in the lavatory:
RULES OF USE
1. Don’t leave rubbish like magazines around on the floor for others to pick up.
2. If you leave a mess, clean it up. For example, if the bowl is soiled after use, use the brush provided. Consider others.
3. If you use up the toilet paper, replace it with new tissue—you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out the procedure. Dispose of the used roll core thoughtfully.
4. Above all, remember that others use this facility and act as you would have them act in relation to it.
Seven wrote in red crayon on the sheet, “Thank you, Mr. Toilet.” The next day, a fresh notice had been printed and was taped to the back of the door in a plastic page-sized packet. Seven carefully removed it and wrote near point 3, “I just can’t get the hang of this. Signed, Dr. Werner von Braun.” This riposte stayed in the family for a while, until a laminated copy of a fresh notice turned up in the same plastic packet. On this occasion, Seven, using carefully the controversial bog tissue, gently lowered a piece of excrement into the plastic packet, where it sat reproaching all anal retentive rule-makers.
Not long after this, came the explosion that had to happen.
His mother, Megaera, managed to prevent actual violence, but it was made clear that any continuation of pretend studies would occur elsewhere.
“Even so, dear…”
“Even so, nothing. He has got to see, as everyone else sees, why there are such rules. Better that he blubs about it now, instead of where we can’t see him. Where we can’t make it clear to him why he’s getting this pain he asked for. Even so…”
He listened in another room, detached as though it was long ago and he was eavesdropping on the agony of his elders. Anyone who has an ear will know when he is an excluded topic of conversation. Not praise, nor blame move us then, but warning of things to come.
The man on Oprah, Doctor Chad Dimple, said, “The universe is wise and compassionate.” It followed that the universe had other plans. The universe had work for him requiring completion elsewhere. His one loyal friend from the old life was still talking to him as he listened to his fate debated through the door-pocked walls. It showed a new home invasion show one involving elaborate deceptions and checkbook inducements. On “Egghead Pretensions,” supposed pundits and commentators vulnerable to certain topics were approached and a bogus interview was conducted in their home for a forthcoming documentary (which had the added attraction of being true, as they say). The audience, duly primed by alcohol, greed, and tall poppy syndrome, were invited to send e-mail bets on the intellectual and aesthetic effect each target would seek to give out during the recording. So, for a bogus ABC colloquium in honor of some dead left-wing scribe, a boozy ex-chum would be slumped in his arm chair and we were invited to guess whether he’d plump for the flowing spotted bow tie and fresh flowers rampant, or the modish mood black, with book waterfalls. The studio supplied furniture and fittings as part of the deal on a long-term lease, so that they kept their victim on a string for follow-ups and could obtain the tax benefits of depreciation. Seven gawked at raw footage of someone on a semi-automated rampage. Modish passion subverted cool competence, with a diminution in fatalities. But why shoot others when the shooter’s the problem? Why run, when you’re on the wrong road? Before losing one’s grip, stripping jack naked with full metal claws, going south, why not take a tepid bath, enjoy a lukewarm tea, and a nice big sleep?
And I turned to see the voice
Seven was banished to a camp for young people with the very, now, Moniker of Stamp, on Kangaroo Island. The most exciting thing about going there was going there. Sporadic visits by desolation groupies, canning dolphins and whales for scientific research. A place for transients to stop and smell the hashish on slumber-and-rain-filled mornings that lasted the day.
Seven spends the afternoon washing the camp boat and mulling over his prospects. When a sunny “Hi,” warmed the working sinews of his back, he dropped the anchor he had been buffing, opening a tiny hole in the bow that escaped his attention.
“Sorry to startle you…I’m wondering why you’re here all alone while everyone else is slacking off.”
“I don’t mind, it gives me some thinking time, you know.”
This accompanied Seven’s vague fumbling about the boat’s innards; he now looked around the junk for the stop button on the cassette player, embarrassed that she had overheard him listening to Disco Apocalypse. He tried a closer look, but she was coming at him out of the new sun.
“I’m Jessica Trust.”
“So, where do you go around here for a drink?”
“On Sunday, the pub’s the best bet.”
So he has a date, muse, drinking buddy. He still can’t look at her directly but doubts not her considerable beauty. Tracing with his forefinger the ice sweat around the glass circumference; still cannot raise his head and look at her face.
“So where is everyone?”
“That type of thing usually ends up here.”
A cold schooner is before him, initiation tipple. “There you go.” That universal mantra sends him into a whirl as he raises the phlegm-cutter to his lips. They go a score of rounds, Seven hot and itchy, resentful of demands on his scanty resources.
She answered the last order, and he struck out for the intellectual shore, well beyond the vermouth dark sea. Before sobering up, he had to face the existence of those grand passions that life diminishes, preferably before she came back from the bar. Too late here she comes.
So let us slide over and play, wondering all the time what this is all about—all we need now is for someone to start playing the jukebox, yes. Perfect. He follows the black with the white. Chalk dust dances in his glass when she yells, “Crush the vile thing.” He pulls the plug on the jukebox rather than stepping on the cockroach she was referring to.
“Sorry, I thought you hated ‘Until the Twelfth of Never’.”
“Who says I don’t?”
Seven remembered his disastrous debut at camp. An induction, consisting of a group grope, had been organized. The boys stood by while the girls were taught some points of self-defense. Then they had to write about the goals of the camp on a piece of paper and exchange it with their neighbor. They got on the bus.
Seven, alone, found himself next to the self-assured head counselor, and they had a debate about local and general politics. He found that his conservative upbringing emerged under the influence of her insouciance. She was no fan of Gush; he had been brought up to despise Bore.
“Don’t you fear globalization?”
“Why should I?”
“Well, people you don’t know are running your life.”
“Why is that novel?”
“Well…” She shook her head impatiently. He regarded this as a victory; they didn’t speak again, and were apart on the boat.
That night, there had been a convocation at the pub. Some spotty, uptight youth had monopolized him, wondering how on earth he could tolerate this diseased racket, given the genius of Pink Floyd. Seven vaguely recalls Kamp Kounselor wandering over to ask Seven for a dance. Having humored the idiot next to him for an hour, he feels bound to refuse gracefully, an act he will regret ‘till death calls.
Last drinks and lights out. Seven hardly registers a glance to see if she is indeed a Botticelli angel, surfing in to the shading palms on a sloping, sandy beach.
Have the keys of hell
Previously, when he had awoken to a head sagging full of poisoned blood, the sun had been in his room, his only companion, baking away the last vestiges of slime. On this day, luckily for him, the sky was an old Tupperware lid behind which the light hid.
Then he turned his seething head and found himself gazing into the unearthly face of his girlfriend; doing so, the sky was rent and through the tatters shone the light of seven great stars.
His attempt to figure how to kiss honey hair with grateful tears, a failure due to his condition, there followed several mental passes whereby Seven emptied his bladder, bowel, and stomach, greedily drank a warm can of Coke, let the cat out, and sat down to an old fashioned fry-up (“Man, this is good coffee,” etc). Meanwhile, back in his prostrate body, he sniggered at his father’s incessant table chatter about the weather and the game of golf. That old stroke maker, an old-fashioned sun worshipper, would be ashamed to his pagan toes by this embodiment of the sun beside him, carnal warmth and light.
He lay back and tried to recover his dream. He stood in the glow of the late afternoon, atop a rocky ledge far above the world. The chasm before and below him was bathed in shade as he jumped, parachute unfolding the bright and jazzy exhortation to drink Yuck Fou, the new orange-infused cola, the ear-splitting music mandatory to extreme sport filling his nose and the gaps between his gums and teeth.
As his eyes became accustomed to the old light, cameras twixt pitch, and stand, he saw that he would be expected to mosh the thousands of people standing around. His narcoleptic attention was drawn to an acoustic wall connecting the rock crops, as if Stak-A-Krap had opened a store in Petra in order to bring peace. Through the doors into the hall, spread out a myriad row of grey metal bookshelves containing works of adventure. Here was Taking Kosciusko My Way, Scramblin’ Over The Grampians, Maelstrom on the Murray, In the Heart of The Wilds of Subiaco, and countless other true tales of regional terror. In a nook at the back of this vast dream emporium was a Christian Fusion Bookshop, with titles concerning issues of faith, life, justice, ecumenical and interfaith relations.
Opening a stiff soft-cover with graphics courtesy of three-year old personal software, entitled The Trinity and Geopolitics, Seven was dissed by the hard-bitten attendant.
“Are you going to read that all the way through?”
“This isn’t a library you know.”
“Ah, these books are for sale.”
He felt a fraction of his former self. He decided to wake.
A “Hi” came softly out of the morning storm of motes. Being turned, Seven beheld a corresponding number of highlights in her hair. The planets were all in a line, the mists cleared over the isle of Avalon, kookaburras warbled an Elizabethan Serenade, koalas dodged a hail of shot whilst growling, “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
And did those paws walk upon the sun-baked island, and those teeth did rip and chew the bark of the few pitiful trees remaining, while the guns rang out for Salvator Mundi. Seven’s eyes were streaming. His skull was cracking and his tongue had taken the form of a little pebble that had fallen through. He felt as if he had just stopped screaming with rage; foolish and vulnerable. But rage came to him reluctantly, and usually reflected self-disapproval: Why hadn’t he told his father to shove it? What was that brilliant riposte he almost formulated in the schoolyard, when he had actually needed it? When he concluded that he hated a certain job, how come he felt embarrassed and to blame? Why hadn’t he said and done things, did things, in fact run his whole life a whole lot differently?
Momentarily, he felt able to receive new insight and analyze it without rancor, and to welcome it.
Trust rose and gathered the coarse-woven blanket to her like a hair suit; it draped from neck to toe, curling and twisting, a golden Busby stairway. Seven felt that the unreal light might simply be reflective of the late afternoon.
Clouds mucked about by scudding over the sun, a fringe of cold and damp growing over the edge of the day.
When he looked up, she stood silently over him, eyes burning into his.
And he stared and really saw her for the first time.
The light rendered her blond hair white as a thousand pages bereft of similes. Up a window drew; the air floated in like wool. She sat on the armchair and looked down majestically upon him, steam streaming over her crown from the cup gripped between the anointing paws. His apocalyptic melodrama plunged from his hands and the pages splashed on his feet, spilling over his toes a photo of friends proudly displaying their chrome and yellow Mercedes.
They stood describing a triangle, the three, plus someone at the wheel who could not be seen; three friends, plus one, in front of one car with four wheels; plus one on two axles, plus one, slowly whirling. Staring out with an uncertain grin, envying Seven’s ordeal.
The late afternoon sun grew fierce, intruded the room, passed through the girl as a sheet of flame. She stood, all white and dream-like, not minding the Diana-trick played upon her by the prurient god. Seven wandered his gaze through the open door and fixed upon some stone steps of mourning, leading from a hayloft, became rapt in the spirit of a classic anxiety dream. He had a lecture in the labyrinth of humanities; a building designed to defeat those seeking entry to the second level—a medieval defense mechanism.
He reached the first floor, (the second floor in certain nomenclatures) then found himself under a sign that blared, “Floor 1&1/2”. Floor 1&3/4 gave onto a twisting set of steps funneling up to floor 3. He took the lift down one colored dot and grandly emptied onto the fourth floor. At that moment, the place was being cleared on account of a bomb scare.
Mist filled the corridors, and men in protective clothing appeared; they swept the building, as janitors do. Seven gave up and soon drove a toffee cream litter to a suburban estate; one of those enclaves that claim exclusivity but deliver squalor. As he thumped onto the driveway, two escapees materialized, hijacking Seven and the car down country back roads. While they were distracted by hordes of cops that came out of the blue, he slipped away but spent an inordinate amount of time getting his car back.
He had a vague notion there were no police at all but some rival gang. Toga clad Jessica now bailed him up, forcing his addled attention upon her. “You’re lying there all grey, as though your number was up.”
“Please don’t tear down my wish-dreams, they’re the only things that keep me from suicide and crime.”
“That’s a tautology. Soon, I’ll tell you my dreams. Those bastards will shackle you to the straight and narrow.”
She drained her tepid cup and trundled to the kettle. It seemed a day for endless refills; the cabin a wintry diner from Edward Hopper, only untidy and hopeful. Australia’s future whined nearby—at the adjacent caravan-park, the raucous pitch of children, celebrating a meaningless milestone, had risen to dominate the ambient noise. Seven peered through the wrought iron nylon and saw five small boys playing corner spry with a puppy.
In the dustiest, darkest corner of the hut lay several books to evoke an island mood. Lord of the Flies, Utopia, Wide Sargasso Sea, and Robinson Crusoe. Put there by a previous cave dwelling wag who anticipated an occupant with more imagination than Seven, a lad with information overload and an obsolete processor. His “passion” an overrated emoticon, romantic narcissism compared with Jessica’s cool competence.
“There’s only a smatter I can give you right now. The entire experience is too much at once.”
“That’s something I’m quite used to, being a mushroom.”
“I’m going out to get some wine first. That will help.”
He looked out from within for a very long time, until she was a pixel in the distance. He kept it up, till his vision blurred and old images filled the visual boredom. Over the course of one long abandoned year, he had spied a most curious parade. This from behind the dark muslin over his window: a young man and woman walking an old arthritic dog, dragging it along as baggage really, whilst they talked. Its yellow pelt matted with the effort of keeping up; it sweated buckets from its fat pink tongue; drip, drip, drip. Seven imagined a turgid geyser of canine saliva rolling along the lazy avenue, building momentum, engulfing and absorbing objects in its path, reverberating as a great series of waves, leaving black holes of echoes in its wake.
“Get along Snooks.”
Every week for a while was the wretched mutt subjected to such meaningless aerobics. Its burnished fur turned ever more ragged—it visibly struggled along the appointed course. Talk was reduced to exhortation and nasty laughter.
Soon, they came wheeling an empty pram, attached to which Snooks alternated between bruised feet and rent shoulders, whimpering lightly at the indignity of it all. His master’s progress an empty, fleeting triumph. After Seven had missed them for some time, they materialized, baby carriage full and the poor woofer in tow, completely ignored now.
Next, the procession was swelled by a female friend, about the age of the couple. They spun down the footpath gaily, slowing down to look at baby, and the dog gamely brought up the rear. Once, Snooks veered off to the right and his lead turned a bin over. Mrs. Walker chastised it while the fellow and their friend chatted.
Then, it was back to the original four. The woman looked older; hideously tired. They dressed sloppily in primary colors. Snooks seemed ever more morose.
Seven considered keeping a behavioral log of these events but it was all too hard. Too hard, even when man and dog alone trudged along the pavement, expensively and unnecessarily re-sealed by the local council. The master set his shoulders into the teeth of a stiff wind; Snooks tucked himself in betwixt the shuffling feet.
One day, the lone figure of a man moved past Seven’s window, carrying a slab of local beer, leaving black holes of echoes in its wake.
The sun had bored a late hole in the day, in time to brush her returning feet with bronze and her hair with gilt. She carried a bottle in each hand and held them up at her sides when nearing his figure in the window. The vessels caught the sun and all three blazed crimson. Padding feet, sloshing wine, crashing waves, a flaming sunset—his bovine eyes dazzled.
Those tanned, fit, slightly grubby skis swept over the rough ground, flattening it utterly. Seven looked about the room, guilty at having done no tidying and putting away. A red crescent shone into the hearth and lit him a healthy Malibu glow.
She was yelling at him from yards away and though her mood was patently joyous, he couldn’t pick her words. He waved and yelled incomprehensibly through the window. He imagined, just for a moment, her jumping up and down like an enraged tribesman, hurling a bottle through the pane with a shriek, when a bird tired with searching committed suicide against it without a mess, fuss, or damage to the thick glass. Quietly, the wine-warm room drew a curtain over the darkness without muffling the crash of cold water on black rock. Jessica fussed at the sink again. The television had turned serious; soldiers swarmed about some kind of Holy Sepulchre held by terrorists, in some heathen part of the world. They weren’t coming out.
She spoke of apparent friends redundant and buried in Seven’s narrow mind, “always moving forward”; his friends would be up and at him perpetually and worse.
“Don’t you wonder how Lucy Grant and Michael are?”
“Well, I don’t.”
The moon was on stage and they wandered to the shade house, which Jessica opened with a battered key-on-a-rope.
“Even in the dark you can be seen.”
“Seen but not perceived.”
“I don’t think there’s a difference.”
“Oh, yes, there is.”
“There’s Grant, in the trees…he’s coming over…See him?”
“You perceive him.”
The wicker chairs were more comfortable in the dark—the landscape was smooth and mellow. She’d brought an elaborate candle, large enough to conflagrate the realm. Compensating by lighting it with a tiny Turkish match, she laid out tarot cards.
The tree of life grew with each sticky paper slap and the cards ran in a parabolic curtsy, dangerously near the rough edge of the wormy table. “I’ve never seen a configuration such as this.”
Spiritual nature, the Fool…Mother; three of Cups, reversed…Father; Chariot, reversed…Force; the Hanged Man…Virtue; Seven of Cups…Sacrificial Spirit; Ace of Wands…Genesis; the World, reversed…Venus; the Star, re-versed…Imagination; five of Pentacles…Corporeal; the Tow-er…Strength, reversed; the Hermit; Justice; Death; the Magician; the Moon, reversed; Judgment.
First, the Fool. He has tabernacled with the best of them. He has to be persuaded to comprehend—has to choose to see.”
“Do you believe this stuff?”
“Then is the creative force.”
“Which one is that?”
“The right base of the top triangle, the Father card.”
“Oh, that’s a triangle? My dad, creative?”
“Sshh. The Chariot, reversed. What did you say about dad?”
“Well, what does the Chariot mean?”
“A poor sport.”
“A bad winner, a cheat; Stephen Boyd in Ben Hur.”
“I take back what I said. These cards are spot on.”
“Ye-es. Let’s cut to the chase. It’s cold out here. The upshot is that you’ll encounter a new way of looking at your past, present and future. This is going to be more practical than teleological, more carnal.”
“The cards say what this new way is?”
“No, but you will know, baby. You will know all the ways.”
She shuffled the cards into a rough tessellation and performed a complete tree-of-life reading for him.
Then they did a Celtic divination for Sweetmeat. At last, they went out in the crisp lunar chill and danced without any clothing on. The neighboring children, the windowless monads, were wide-eyed in caravans, but it seemed less silly to themselves after chugging greatly from a bottle of Long Ships Port.
Seven was finally able to peer at her and hold his breath in wonder, for her hair seemed to change radically with every toss and swish, catching the light slivers, disporting it to great mystical effect. She grasped the deck and flung it skywards, gathering in the flying truths with a croupier’s skill.
Seven was determined to trust this girl. He had not one tissue of evidence to verify her claims. Not a jot of credentials, references, nothing. Yet he was determined to accept everything she said ‘till she mentioned the Warren Commission. His horse sense convinced him of the lone killer theory.
The cards evoked Seven’s favorite synthetic universal: a small, gaunt man enters a posh arcade in Big City, the urban biosphere, which declares, “Buy something or die.” He is looking for a lavatory however. Finding none but staff facilities, all barred, he buys tea so as to gain the entrée. With his new old key, he is sent into a labyrinth of stairs and corridors. Too humiliated to admit failure, he returns, further encumbers himself with tea and staggers into the wintry afternoon, the drizzle a gruesome mnemonic to his swollen bladder.
To take another synthetic example: it will become universally given that the concept of equality has been the most evil of man’s time here.
Letter # 1: for my name’s sake hast laboured
When Miss Jessica Trust exhorted Seven to “write his friends” she meant not as an equal, not only friends who were true and hence he had to write to some of whom he had not yet known or met.
And where to find friends who see true? Even after scouring the enormous Australian littoral, picking over driftwood and sea-weed in the simoom, what odds that flotsam in the pools might amount to more than garniture?
None could predict who would be friend, even after years of shared experience. It took some traumatic test to gauge the real level of a relationship. Jim and Dandy, friend of friends, posed an interesting example. Their relationship had prospered against the odds. He’d date-raped her; she forgave him; he stayed for breakfast, and his guilt maintained a balance of respect and power. They became homebodies; let the cat glide against the back of their calves like a grazing shark while they watched their collection of stalking films, such as Play Misty for Me, Fatal Attraction, Sleepless in Seattle, and The Great Gatsby.
It was a mystery that there were no similitudes for friendship. Seven and Jess soon saw the merits of “cold call” correspondence to those who should be honored to become Seven’s friends. Cold starlight constricted their happy fingers: forty-nine salty tears of laughter fell upon the ragged folds of parchment, mixing with lots of ink and vinous spittle.
Seven kicked his little boots under the table near the cabin’s corner’s firepot. “There was a bloke, a businessman, coy about what business exactly, who shelled out heaps to put biblical grabs on buses and cabs.”
“Was the moon up or down?”
“Up and about. A mad, war-mongering moon.”
“Germaine Greer was giving a radio lecture…” said Jess, remembering.
“…hysterical chopping noises, burning and crackling screams…”
“There were evil specters in the prickly air…”
“And ranting underneath the ratlin.”
“It was not a time for sober reflection…”
She sipped some sparkling burgundy, he watched the river wend; hilarity at the boathouse, sun danced upon the water. Over the bridge, the men in white lash leather, to restrained applause, whilst, out of sight, in tower box, sluggards make the tea.
Pay no heed to the languid speed with which our pleasures pass and fast may be the pitch of tents along this great wet rock—but never safe and never free from wending up the river.
Jessica fed the fire with an old Law Union rag, souvenir from a dentist’s office. Like a blinding flash went an obituary for some silly old bugger (“loved by a generation of lawyers”), a report on the outcome of the 19th Reform Committee (“We agree—No wigs on Wednesdays”) and interminable casuistry on rights of a number of minority groups, such as children and parents. Candles dominated the work to be done. A sad sack of sugar slumped by the wainscot, hungry for an impoverished child to glut at it. In the smoky light, the expurgated mystery dime catapulted into the flames. The sheaf of drafts went into the flames. Garbage of a non-plastic nature went in. The contents of ashtrays, the television guide. Not much of consequence without soul escaped from the flickering tongues of the flames.
Mr. B. and Mrs. M. Lud:
Dear Mum and Dad,
I’m at a cottage in Little Sahara, nestled in a crook of the Eleanor R. It’s named Hope Two after one of the three famous Kingscote houses. In this mild weather, the stars come down, like soldiers sent by the moon, until you can grasp them. I get up early, almost at dawn (you’ll be surprised and pleased to know) before my duties and walk quickly in the raw air around the lighthouse.
From my vantage, I see the humdrum of the day and make careful notes. Watching all the island farmers doggedly take their vows of poverty. I’m still, of course, not happy about the way I was bundled out here. I’ve let that pass. I’m as cynical as anyone about psycho-babble—get that from Dad—but it’s easy to forget that people are shallow and childlike, in the final analysis. Some distance, in order to give the family stretching room, has probably paid off. I hope that it has for all.
Perhaps you have been remembering how difficult growing up can be; like teaching a dog to play guitar. Think about the accumulated advice you’ve given me over the years. It plays out to a Polonius-style beat of contradiction, wouldn’t you say? Don’t think I don’t know how much work I’ve been, and hard work at that. I may not have carried on as though I did, and quite possibly, I did not, but I do now. How hard you tried and what a disappointment it must have been to watch my descent these past years. Maybe Dad has been more patient than I gave credit, but I tend to forget that parents are people too.
Hence, this is my first and last letter to you from exile. Do you remember Dad accusing that caddy of stealing when he was the club pro at Burning Bush? Only forty bucks went missing, and it could have been anyone, from the cleaner to the President. But Dad knew in his heart that the caddy was guilty, and brought him up on a charge before the Board of Directors.
Once it transpired that Dad had no evidence and no grounds and only accused him because he thought his caddying was unprofessional, things hit the fan. The caddy got a lawyer; he sent a threatening fax to the meeting, and Dad had to back down in indecent haste. But he was still right and true to himself, because to a golfing purist, a sloppy caddy is pure evil. The point of this is that tolerance has its place in the world but so does intolerance. That’s why I understand better the issues we had, notwithstanding the way I condemned you in the heat of the ordeal. Because in your eyes, I couldn’t talk straight to you, even when you couldn’t know I wasn’t, when I was acting like a character from some Japanese gangster film. I know it all now—better late, etc.
So the nicks and scars earned from family discussions have made us harder, polished our coatings of shellac so we can endure each other. I want to come home one day, one day when you least expect it. Wander in an evening, not some drug-crazed home invader, not like that—and find the light burning on the front porch, the way it did when I’d trudge home cold and discouraged from footy practice, and you would ask un-searching questions and dish up bread and butter pudding.
When forty dollars go missing, the dog returns to its own vomit. As when I said that Mum was stupid (and Dad kicked me, rightly, in the head) when I simulated clinical signs of Asperger syndrome or was carried in drunk on my fifteenth birthday and more. I know that I pretended to be your son for a long time and it was a wearing experience. I’m reconciled to me as your best and most flawed product. Auntie May said that at crib age, I fell out of the laundry basket, down three stone steps near the Hill’s hoist and onto a dry bit of grass. You, Mum, were beside yourself (she said) and so was Dad, oddly enough, in that he only found out about it hours later when he came home. You hate those who cause you fear, and in the aftershock, at the head injury unit, you gave some credence to a sliver of doubt about how successful a child I was going to be. May have even thought that it was lucky I broke my fall with my head.
Carrying me along like a cracked egg yolk. Dad worrying over the script for the hospital….
“Has your wife been depressed lately? Are there ever any bruises that you notice on the lad’s arms or legs? Apart from school games?”
Mum, mortified, wanted to put her head in a convenient appliance and cook for cold comfort. The both of you, silent, complicit, and remorseful, each ganging up against me as though I was some alien. An enemy, whom you were allied against.
Anyone with a little soul to rear will engage in correction. So the child swings its kitten by the tail to teach it manners. Kicks the dog, bites the budgie. Monkey see and do. When Dad “taught” me how to golf, it seemed that Mum had gotten off easy, only labor pains to bear. Women didn’t swoon or swear in those days, did they? They just put up with everything. We went on those treasured greens—I took a determined swing and hit the thing a country mile. You were impressed, Dad, I remember, because you kept your mouth shut, your impression of positive reinforcement. Then the question of delicately chipping onto the green. The experiment led straight to the nineteenth. I got a coke, and Dad ordered brandy with ice, not the sort of tipple I see him have at home. His color had come back and the conversation was stilted. You turned to the so-called sacred cows of golf, and it seems in retrospect that your tearing down was a tad savage, your reference to Ben Hogan as “that cripple playing off the ladies’ tee.”
We used to be close, I remember. I know that our love has not withered but it has turned cold and its color has drained; etiolated a pale, sickly hue. It was kinder when I was young. I played under the green-topped pergola, in the shade of your tender vines. Remember? It is either raining or searing dry, but always it is windy, the wind louder and quicker than our collective mind. Mother is opting out, helping (always)…Dad and I simultaneously amused and sympathetic at the other’s discomfort. The memory is at least clear to me.
Things have backslidden. When I stopped pounding in your wake; gave up watering the old fern in Dad’s study, stopped listening, things went badly downhill. And a cold love is a kind of mad love. It gets mean and possessive, selfish and moralistic, forgets what animated it in the first place. I felt it constricting my neck for the last few years and looking back, confronted a stranger with a garrote.
Instead of some sense of sacrifice, I felt the dead hand of control. I think that there are rules of love. Buzz back, why don’t you, to the almond blossom of the house when it was decked out in black and white corrugations and sparse gardens, all fences and concrete driveway, weeded to buggery, smothered in modest in-come and heavy workload…when the decorations and appellations were meant for us and not for this or that. Not designed for your things.
I’m tying myself in knots but I have to write this, as I had to paint clouds. Through the fog and the rain, I hope that I’m not lost to you; that you remember me as I want to be remembered…from the beginning.
I can date myself from hearsay. Trips in the old Pandora, me in the back complaining, Dad ignoring directions and requests to stop, meals somehow worse because we’d made them ourselves. Memorable detours, destinations forgotten. Not being told a jot about sex. Not being told a lick about love. Anything, really.
I saw you as irrelevant to the person I was shaping, so perhaps I can understand (maybe you can) my calls from afar at inconvenient moments, to complain that you hadn’t been there for me, that you were so negative all the time, against me, etc.
But fearlessly, I love you.
When I was twelve, a man came to the house around teatime, to see you, Dad. He was Carl Lunula and wanted to sign you to a list of golfers endorsing his new item, the Stance Selector. “We’ll all make a gazillion dollars.” I remember just about everything that he said. “Trust me, Blair, this device is the absolute grouse, it sells itself.”
“So what do you need me for?”
“Credibility, mate…solid gold and copper bottomed. You know how people are with new ideas. They need some celebrity to convince them. Once they do, they’ll never look back. This is going to revolutionize the game at the amateur level, make no mistake about that.”
He produced a bound wad of paper, as big as the yellow pages. “All we need is your autograph here, here, and…here.” He identified three pages marked with sticky tags.
“Well. I wouldn’t mind reading the thing first. Do you have to have it today?”
“Afraid so, Blair. This is my last copy from a hundred. I have to stitch up the thing today in order to get the advertising and distribution in place, and if I don’t walk out with your signature now, it’s off to the States to get Hale Irwin.”
I see it all so clearly, Dad sighing and picking up the Papermate, assuming the position, addressing the ballpoint and then, just as he was about to put his mark on the besser-block sized contract, Mum said casually, “Don’t you want to see how it works, dear?”
After some feet shuffling and eye rolling, the man got a set out of the boot of the rented car, and Dad tried out the famous stance selector. This proved to be an unnaturally large set of brightly colored calipers meant, after much jingling adjustment and a few pocked modifications with a geological hammer, to improve Blair Lud’s execution of the tee shot. You don’t need me to describe what happened next, do you?
Why did you raze the fruit trees in the back yard? Yes, those trees were messy, and twisted-up in a resinous tangle, but I loved them. You could climb the boughs tilting upwards at a friendly angle and select a whole variety of fruit—nectarines, peaches, apricots, figs, and plums—from the weird conflux of limbs that arched over the dirt path below. You could see the striae in it from long gone trickles of winter overflow, like grooves in the top of the cat’s head. And there was a cypress by the back door, at the foot of which Faust, the Alsatian, was buried. A wily ghost gum in an overtaxed space behind the tool shed, under which Dad learned his Masonic orders by heart. Each and every bit of life in the garden comes back to me, and they have the same effect as people I saw all the time. My friend Mel came to the front door so often (usually at dinnertime) that Dad told him to go and get a life. Then I called at his house one day, his Mum said that he wasn’t there (she looked nervous, which was novel), and as I left, I saw his bedroom curtains close. We cut down friends as we cut down trees. They can-not be nurtured again.
If we didn’t have love to haul us together, we certainly had hate.
I don’t really need a soapbox, although I carry on sometimes as if I do. No one has to tell the world what he wants most. I want to come home. I’m tired out too young, older and not wiser, bleeding from sawn-branch sites, dead twigs searching among the empty spaces. Friends should be forever, not markers for a phase of life. Until I was a certain age, at home, nothing was allowed to go wrong. Sure, plenty has gone right since then but it’s getting longer between drinks. And I need longer. Need and ought to have.
I know that my childhood comprises typical damp, gloomy, oozy, muggy days, when the humidity combines with a frosty breeze that brings a pneumonic end to the old and the auto-immune deficient. Where, “many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.” Dunk the wormwood in your mug of tea, enjoy Eterne Tranquility! Days recalled as frenetically hot or arctic, endless and truncated, fabulously dull. And organized; all arranged, structured, scheduled, and set. The sports days of a spoon-fed world of Nanny and sound, solid fences. The bunch that takes the field with honor and fortitude, knowing that the contest is corrupted by special interests and a hatred for its banner…yes, many of us love such a team for just that, the sheer perverse pleasure of la belle indifference. We cheer in the cold of the grandstand shadow, we devour our gristle pie and slurp the tepid beer, we hold our bags of breath as another golden child is borne off in a glorious litter, we condemn, we discriminate eunuchs, the figures of the multi-colored worms that stand apart and pass judgment, blurring into meaningless white…and then out to the mud in a hunched study, seething but pinned.
You tried to inculcate a love of sport to equip me for the game of life. Grit your teeth, breathe through the odorous gap, and dream of a day when all the dark embarrassing folk from your darkest days are roll-called and have to mount a steaming dais covered with dung in order to collect a burning Michelin around their nonexistent necks. Confess to their roles in the drug shows of real and play life. In actuality, they sail on, serene and sanctimonious, having blithely received charity in the forms of money, time, equipment, and adulation from governments, companies, and per-sons dazzled by the gloriole. So intent on shaving eggshells, expecting the world to roost at their convenience, unquestioning applause.
Other monuments: slightly older cousins I envied, growing up, with kids who ignore me the way they do their parents, shivering as the sun moves away. What abundant indifference we display to folks that have their part to play. Learning things we should have known only once the bird has flown…I must be one cold, dead, ankylosed tree all right, not worn smooth enough to hug condescendingly but rough and prickly with pre-middling burrs of resentment. Ygdrasil!
I recall a death in the afternoon:
men came and took the body away.
They left an account in the letterbox,
loaded on account of delay.
Death is a funny affair;
those we love are the first to go.
So they slowly drift away,
leaving only ourselves to not know.
Letter # 2: The devil shall cast some of you into prison
Were there defining moments, winning cricket matches in your parent’s dusty backyard, of realizing only last things mattered in human time? You’re in Al Aaraaf, awaiting inalienable right. The Mayor, were you home, would clap you in irons. He has a concentration camp too. You would go into some Pythonesque “iron coffin, with spikes on the inside.”
You rot many nautical miles away; your lawyer yet to appear in court (though frequently on television). You’re a handy propaganda piece, warning to those arrayed against liberal democracies. That’s your role, open-ended as a war on ideas. From my Penguin Classic Koran (where East meets West):
“We have not sent you to be their keeper. Your only duty is to warn them.”
Virgin Islands sound pretty. I’ll bet the half-moon rises every balmy evening, dips in reefs off Honduras, splits twixt shiny blue and pea green. Do they interrogate you in doom’s closing hour? Bad cop, worse cop—you spit teeth and request ginger-ale, imagining their discomfort, promising all’s gradually revealed.
Even as an infidel you made life a game, the more hurt the better. The dead be raised and the guilty won’t stare them down.
He allowed you to be defeated in order to test you. We alternate these vicissitudes…
They took you to the free gobbet of Cuba and said, “Any room? All full?” That scorched abyss was chockers. I like the orange suit; you’ll like the open air, mild enough. There’s naught to do, no privacy, except from the world. Boethius had a garret; Pound could jot cantos but the roaring lion is outside the cage, he calls the shots now.
Every age has its scripture. Indeed, each one of them demands a scripture of his own to be unrolled before him. “Give us [something] different…or make some changes in it.”
Take phrases pleasing to liberal democracies; rule a blue pencil through write in red ink: ‘‘self-defense”.
The roaring lion cannot reach the oubliette of your heart. It’s the invert panther, angry with you. You suffer cheerfully the loss of things; a self-righteous act no one can stand. How to evaluate what won’t pick at the plate?
What is wrought in what cause.
“He came between the Two Mountains and found a people who could barely understand a word. “Lend me a force of laborers, and I will raise a rampart between you and them. Come, bring me blocks of iron.” And when the iron blocks were red with heat, he said, “Bring me molten brass to pour on them.”…We shall assemble all the sinners…when the dread blast is sounded…they shall be covered with sheets of fire from above and from beneath. On that day there shall be faces veiled with darkness, covered with dust. These shall be the faces of the wicked and the unbelieving. We have decked the earth with all manner of ornaments to test mankind and to see who would acquit himself best. But We will surely reduce all that is on it to barren dust…crush them to fine dust and leave them a desolate waste, with no hollows nor jutting mounds. ‘Build a monument over their remains.’”
Disaster, what you make it and of it. The sluggish world has sluggish ideas about evidence, medieval. So believe everyone’s in the know, knowledge good, sufficient. He who asserts must prove, save a Tribunal impatiently taking judicial notice. Don’t fret wealth if you die for the cause, there’ll be ample reward, hot and cold running (not too fast) virgins with dark eyes, soft divans, smorgasbord, cool waters, hot vengeance. Pay later, Diners Club. Poor kid, Wasted on dud promissory notes, for goodness sake. Your book made easy to remember, hard to divine.
Not allured by divine spermatozoon, tramp issue; one argues from design, under and behind the sun. Thus confidence to resolve these tedious squabbles. Can’t we say maybe they were all sons, leave it at that? Once, that was silly or brave.
“A space of time is fixed for every nation.”
They each have their moments. But though they build on the edge of a cliff, they are never pushed out of the way without just cause or due warning.
“Never have We destroyed a nation whom We did not warn and admonish beforehand. Men cannot forestall their doom, nor can they retard it.”
All empires consist of agglutinated blood clots, their atomic weight the mark of impact at abyss. All violent winds, invisible war-riors, national idols, demented trading, and doubling of paper, di-abolism in pursuit of comfort and feelings of safety are lit by col-lapsing stars.
Through your triumphal martyrdom, I can feel fear. “One day you expect We shall assemble all the sinners. Their eyes will be-come dim with terror and they shall murmur among themselves, ‘You have stayed away but ten days.’”
The triers may be trialed the old fundamental ways, per the Malleus Maleficarum. Heretics and infidels, deniers and usurers, losers all, will be tied up in tautologies, grasped by the scalp and shouted down by alien whispers out of a cold enervating dream.
When you are released, inevitably, one way or another, make your way to a hidden place of safety, some cave of your mind’s eye, far away from idols, cant, and shelter. The devil might seek you but a million foaming minions can’t flush out the best parts of your head. There, grow two cerebral gardens, watered by only the rarest blood, where even durians smell sweet. There, the highest boughs are within reach and you can swing among the foliage as though you were at a coronation for elves.
“Would that you knew what the Height is. It is the freeing of a
Bondsman; the feeding, in the day of famine, of an orphaned
Relation or a needy man in distress; to have faith and to enjoin
Fortitude and mercy.”
But these good works go in hand with acts of self-defense. You feel that attack is the best form of defense. You fear and yet admire the Four Unities of western medievalism…Love, Hate, Death, and Tranquility, all necessary, none sufficient.
How does a tyrant control groups hostile to the regime; you can only cast so many out, from where they return like dogs pushed away from the edge of the dinner table. You can’t exterminate them. Nor can you raze all of their homes; bulldoze compounds into dry mush and tell them to live in designated sector X. People are too lazy, stupid, variegated, and noble to be managed so logically. The object lesson of wasted towns is seen as plain bad luck, which won’t happen to them.
“When the sacred months are over, slay the idolators wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. Idolatry is worse than carnage.”
So there you stand trapped by the howling mistral. You think that this Devil’s Island, poisoned by hash slingers, shimmering under your downward gaze, is hot—as a mnemonic I will send, under separate plain brown cover, marked “Red Cross cushion”, Donald Campbell’s notched teddy, to remind you of a real lake of fire. “Buttons” doesn’t fear another tough stint in your caged company; he has watched Don and his retro car disintegrate before his glaucous eyes, as Icharus smiled knowingly under the sun.
Izmir, in my humble, you had enough meat pie and second hand flag. Your meninges overborne by mantras, some second hand rag. Face blasted by a frontal assault on your tired lobes. You joined the team of strugglers, full of resentment of the established order, the Rolls Royce teams gliding through the lists, you chose endless adversity and tortured, occasional respite…hear that? Nine deep gathering voices of retribution, surely the sweetest sound in all heathendom. Rising over the battleground, calling from dead games and lost seasons, warning of the cyclical inhumanity of chance. Reassuring all who surmount their tinnitus; “You won’t have to go through this again.”
Letter # 3: In the stone a new name written
Estate of Manny Moribund, deceased
To complain is okay no longer. When you spoke up and asserted your rights, you ceased to own the problem and your soul. I know you were right, technically and otherwise. Anyone interested can read the case; visit myriad glib, ill-informed web-sites, for analysis of the analyses.
To complain is okay, if you want to be managed, not helped. You become the loser the minute you do, history. Everyone roped into the fight cheerleaders for the defeated; relevant but helpless as those bodies in the old bank vault up there, buried in praying position.
You were the Lord, atop the throne of the world, in miniature. Where better to start than a fortress of pagan life where the enemy eats its own? Lord, wielding the sword that demanded we talk to you, but which larded you on the follow-through, cutting off your right to escheat. Dear me, the sword got blunt awfully fast, didn’t it?
I was the crowd handing you that sword, designed for cutting nothing more threatening than sheets of paper. When you went, did you ask a mate to trot to the river and toss it in, to slice a bit of healing from the back of Aesculapius? There is definite heroism in your story, but hopeless heroism—you polytheistic Quixote.
Nothing you brandish will recover what’s lost. A complaint is an appeal; appeal is supplication.
Oh, how fiendish the helpful pricks are. Heed special grievances; propose special amends. The special ones and their special help made the object of derision and resentment. Mr. Television pixilates the face, but not hands and feet peeping out from under the tracky-dacks. Hunched over white coffee, steaming outrageously, we shake heads and chuckle with exasperation—“Why do they do it?”; “when will they learn?”; “it’s up to us to take them in hand”, among the more passionate and caring.
Alley-bound behind the old bank, folks would kill to claim your benefits. And in the big smoke, the word “softy” unfolds with a furry texture on the palate. But belated congratulations! You galvanized the court to a feat of syncretism beyond all reason. Mix unattainable elements, justice and certainty; bubble a little pudding of trouble. Add a dash of politics, pinch of racism; simmer, stir. Big, dangerous, unwelcome help; much more or less than bargained for. It hangs over your foreign grave encased in precious, radical clay. Enjoy it in your precious, though hardly radical, way.
This is from a friend of a friend of the people. I sit back and apologize, an absolute smirk on my lovely face. My ilk degenerate, global in its unending, overweening, glorious horror; speeding things up, which is why we think life faster. Callow youth make documentaries, wring the hands of and treasure from their east coast benefactors, as isolated as anyone before the golden age of planes. We know where they live and with whom. They need Timurlane to hang them in front of their spacious offices for a period consistent with public hygiene.
See thou tell no man; but go thy way. If I float my hand toward you, kick it. I’m not cruising for love, after all, just some uncommon decency. Pity is unfashionable but urgently needed against the prevailing tolerance killing you deader than cancer.
I have a fine fat gall to lecture thus I know, a spoilt child of the universe berating the orphan for whining but hold fast and rise above it, to a level of happiness and want for nothing, in other words, wanting nothing. Do, please, take my word for it, so that you may be deserving of the grant of Manny’s probate.
I write in friendship and furious condescension. So please tell me about yourselves. None of my best friends or their friends is aboriginal, even original. Spare the noble stuff fed you; try home truths, hopes, dreams, for size. What did Manny really desire, and for whom did he struggle?
Not common ground.
Your number winnow, no threat to status quo. You’re outnumbered. Hired folks remove jackets and loosen ties, squatting in a circle of dust and talking at you glowingly, with crying, keening and jiggery. Dance to Treaty, a toe-tapper—don’t need rhythm; don’t need it down on paper. Stumble, stammer about an historic homeland, one of these days, gifted by hives of greed-heads.
Must you act like broken down country singers? Will the circle be unbroken? Pitching your tents in Sodom…running a Lilliput administration…grabbing feminist tiger by chalked-out tail…and walking the tufts, clubbing feral cats for the barbecue. We need to talk before I can feel, on behalf of mine, comfortable with yours.
Opportunities for random justice from the grassy knoll of Tent City, where only a racist would investigate. Forget infrastructure; it immolates on schedule. Remember, no coup d’état. Leave the illuminati in control; keep trains punctual and track free of litter. Just don’t snout from their idolatrous trough or lie with their people. Either way, that is not okay, for you wake up not yourself.
How annoying when you’ve got the place looking right, some great floating vector retches into view, bone in her teeth, lusting for dry land and croaking with violent anticipation. A fraternal gathering, suspicion buried and novelty to the fore? So many victims acquiesce in their quite undeserved punishment, answering the door and letting in the psychopath, dressed in gas company overalls and peaked cap, tapping a clipboard with his bloody finger. Never mind. White men revise and revise; you, in your pleasant way, make no objection. Know one’s place in the world (“Mine tink it dey fit!”).
Reasoned debate never accomplished much. We are motivated by self-interest only some of the time. Bargaining power can obtain from a refusal to bargain; man needs an “us-and-them”. Man decides in a naked instant and clothes judgment ex post facto; a decision is never made without fear or favor; you can kill anyone (Corleone’s Law). As you snap your fingers into a truculent cross and paint white death spots on your face, I’m licking that butter knife clean.
Hungry for entertainment, the tribes etched upon collective memory, talking in their own tongues at once so none even pretend to listen. We strike poses against the negative shadow, propose little changes or big that must come with a rush or not at all, reform by cautious steps and let suspicion throw his keys on the coffee table, distracting us with his boots on the armrest and coffee stain on the rug, suddenly we’re all Democrats and Republicans. Casting stones in the murky water and blaming each other for dirtying it.
See the point of your sword glisten and gleam. When think you goes it up again? A wielder has only to lightly poke it in an arc; it threatens that fatty pulp between the ribs of your people. Reverse discrimination, audits, leases, secret business, special tribunals, indulgent documentaries, chintzy flags, concessions, doorstops, all the accoutrements of treachery. To enfold that is like stapling a pat of butter, under the sun and trickling through cracks in the side-walk, disappearing under the laced white shoes of sympathetic lady anthropologists.
[Seven paused and drank an entire bottle of flat lemon squash. The hot time had erased the landscape, and Jessica read his letters. She swayed slightly whilst doing so and caught his attention, leaving a tear of wet lemon down his shirt. The sky was whiter than a lemon bud.] This peace—bread is stone—ground, consume with caution. The victors get their slice; laced around the edges with sweet stuff, satisfying in taste and exclusivity, wrapper and a small hexagonal stone leavened with the loaf. You roll the stone and if your name comes up, the brave player takes a monumental bite with unguarded ferocity, whilst onlookers bet, keeping their teeth intact. The stony bread washed down with salt water, accentuating the peaceful easy feeling that comes.
New tablet exits escritoire.
Letter # 4: as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers
You’ll love this foldout post-card from Kangaroo Island. Remarkable Rocks—pocked, lunar rubble, Kelly Hill Caves with stalactites, Pennington Bay, little wave-cut kennels at the base of cliffs, Frenchman’s Rock, beautiful taxidermal arrangements from Flinders Chase—bandicoot’s last terrified glance, lifeless reproaching Cape Barren goose.
Pray Lake Frome would be suitable to bear The Quiproquo and demolish fritz sandwiches cast out, sauce’s capillarity drenching bread before seagulls swooped. Eyes stretched to the deep’s horizon, bed of luncheon meat and suppressed evidence.
Floating ashore…parking the car…a sad jig home in flight from the flesh-eating birds, skull, feet, and palms well-bronzed in the lucky old sun…that jerry-built history Riya…my mellow impersonation of Destouches…you’re not the least important of my past life’s best friends…don’t let appearances reject you…we both sailed clear of Chaldea…me hunting for game and you chanting for your sailor’s return.
On the sea, freedom for dangerous things…draw a beam of sun-light to the salty, squinty eye…arms outside the vehicle, trailing a vapid hand and forearm in the gulf-stream; a flaming breeze seething from dusty, droughty hill.
To your potters’ field of backpackers and transients I’m writing at my scary friend’s suggestion—she lets me work out the wording. I haven’t seen you since Torquemada; you’ve had distance and silence from me since you were my gravid idol.
You see, I’m not sure I measure up. You married Roger the financial adviser…is he out?
Death carries on in the people whom you meet; he stares, wipes his brow with stammel. Your quiet competence dissolved with this disastrous liaison and the burgeoning cynicism…“That Riya” my parents or some venerable aunt would exclaim at a blood ordeal…“Have you heard?” You’d be dating a biker, spurning nursing, giving character evidence for your husband.
Pass on a big muted hello to your Dad for me. Still hunched over his dispensary, cross-examining anyone wanting a few packets of aspirin ahead of a drinking bout? I’ll bet he hasn’t fallen for that modern nonsense of a trendy, rowdy supermarket, multiple counters, helpless floorwalkers, confusing signs and no service. Cosmetics. Even with a second lease of life, he would have none of this night time pushing of drugs to folks in thongs for him, no sir.
At the beach now, some vermilion Venus who’ll make a far more scandalous match than any of your farraginous attempts. I can picture her formalities in a salon bedecked in murrey velvet; revels into the early morning starlight, post consumative dips in a scarlet swimsuit…
Your brother Nigel and I were close, fair-weather friends, care-free, laughing at unfortunates and other intense states-of-grace. Painless cripples, we’d stretch, luxuriate in impregnable smugness. Pale faces scarred, we brutally suppressed the slender shards of sensitivity. Nigel would disappear when someone became a bore.
A mutual friend developed a fearsome dermatological condition, on his hands, arms, and most depressingly, face. The coin-sized sores wept and coated the strands of his still young hair, like pomade. That feckless well-paid creature, the dermatologist, prescribed cream combining with the oozing sores to a creamy canvas of gray with stray red patches—Hunters in the Snow.
He alternated betwixt a frenzied itch—the instant one patch of laminated skin was relieved by the glowing corrugations of finger-nail or hairbrush, another would sing pain and need, his flailing threshing and scratching arms bent and stretched till the muscles seemed to atrophy—a desiccated pile of dead skin, piled on crevices, heating his face, debridement of which increased the temperature finally, the post-operative outcome, a taut, stretched mask of lifeless tissue hermetically sealing his turbid hot blood. No sleep, no strength to face the cloistered unforgiving public of a secondary modern.
“He dove face first, arms back in classical configuration, from the top of the main building onto the quadrangle,” explained Nigel with sang-froid…Nigel, with no friend in the entire purple-blue distance. “One must keep moving forward.”
Dante and his puisne colleagues of the Aula Regis wish to fashion a fate for Nigel. The pharmacist’s boy acquires a deficiency of the auto immune system, and breaks out in Ebola-like volcanoes. Dies doing what he loved. Extremely difficult to dispense medicines with cheer when you rot in plain sight, Nigel.
Get thee to bed, apothecary…Nigel, feebly struggling, pinned by three nursing harpies of indeterminate sex, whose restraining knees leave all the bruises of the rainbow. In the tussle, his ossuary knocked from a crowded bedside table various relics of dubious authenticity and fidelity spill.
Old Roger will keep, too. “It is singular how long the rotten will hold together, provided you do not handle it roughly.” Do you recall the something at first sight, you bogged down in secretarial phase, at Little Sharpe. You’d glance at Rog while he kept customers waiting, to heighten tension and increase their dependence. Above a tired print of sunny Bavaria, or Ireland, wherever. Loose-leaf tax service gathering dust; punters peering at them, hoping to distill the learning therein by osmosis and thus be empowered, relieved from waiting. Wuthering reverberations of phones, faxes, paper shredder. Morning slouches toward noon. Finally, you shepherd some poor fellow down the hall to the inner sanctum. There he’d be cradling the receiver on head and shoulder; manner querulous, talking with signature stridence, flared lips clamping a gasper. Waves wretch to seat, bleary, once precise features softening, thickening; the facial pallor “wine dark”, the color of blood and butter.
Thin, plump-in-pockets, grimace or querulous grin an aggressive tick, revealing poor gums and teeth. Tax had been good to him; he went calmly about avoiding it, short of evasion.
All the while imagining his eloquence held his audience rapt, that and absolute conviction of his genius, confident navigator in the shifting tides of money. Lavishing on vineyards, emus, alpacas; scrimping on paper clips and employees. Loving money; money casuistry.
No children make noise there. Issue maimed by the fatigue of calculation and neurasthenia from the House That Greed Built. Firm dinners, secretaries, and dumb boy/girl friends in tow, mute. Embarrassment heightened by Mr. Sharpe at your elbow, murmuring that Roger must have secured a babysitter who charged less than five dollars, a remark made with the bitterness of cloves.
There’s little between “financial services” and “fried chicken,” so to understand the rise, dissilience, resurgence, and fall of your ex-husband’s business, we must face his true face and bear, Riya, little flinches of thought and pangs of feeling which oddly catch us off-guard and evoke a wince.
After your success, did you take account? Peer accidentally-on-purpose into his heart? A train home, day almost shot, an absurd salad of relief, anxiety and euphoria, stare failing to piece the moving glass. Instead, to block twinges of remembered pain, behold a sweet vista from the dream future.
When it was clear Roger was not prepared to wait, you leapt, danced, lapsed, let everybody in on the hilarious discovery of his embryonic novel in the proverbial bottom drawer. Quoting from memory. “One fine autumn day, as the dry leaves of summer (sic) swirled and eddied about gutters, the man promenaded to the shops, along the quieter streets, looking into the gardens and houses like the bright jackets of so many airport novels on display, slightly furtively, in the way someone heads to the pub or off on a picnic after calling in sick…”
And I don’t resist adding an appropriate rider ‘…seeking out that residence with the screen door ajar or side window open…’
Roger developed a habit of taking client’s money and investing it in his bank. Well, if he had invested wisely but for his unfortunate habit of debauchery, gambling large chunks badly and boasting loudly and badly. The investigators accepted that you weren’t complicit when they gauged your reaction to the bill for “pizza,” the universal credit-card euphemism for prostitutes.
“Your large, leafy wedding house is built on lies, ordure, usury, and greed; the rest is silence.”
How you fought for him.
The scene, an almost deserted office. You and Roger’s factotum, Olga Lamont, glaring at each other as cats on a wall. Word processing carried on with a new and clinical savagery. Olga revering Roger, mothering him, despairing of him; looks after his departing form affectionately, chides him. A few drinks later, on the two or three occasions in her life when she let go of her insane level of self-control, she lusts for him. Damns him too, afterward but always with deathless hope for redemption.
Over centuries has she waited. Her suicide attempts, large house around the corner, gifts, sacrifices, eternal presence, resignation, and return. Her general sneakiness. Two women, a false idol. They glare again; Olga arises, snatches some printed sheets, and marches dangerously near.
“Where are you going?”
“To put this on Roger’s desk.”
“Roger doesn’t want anyone going in there until this audit is sorted out. I’ll give it to him.”
“Why? I’m only putting it on his desk. Frank asked me to.”
“You’re not to go in there.” You are barring the door.
“Aw, don’t be ridiculous Riya. You can come and watch me if you like. What do you think I’m going to do, steal his diary?”
“I’m not saying anything of the sort. I’m just following instructions.”
“Well, so am I,” shrieked Olga Lamont, attempting to push past. (Throughout this conversation, she begins to quiver with rage.)
“I TOLD YOU NOT TO GO IN THERE, YOU BITCH!” You grip Olga’s arms, feet planted in launch mode.
“YOU…You...” words fail Olga as she expends all energy in her small portly frame.
After several seconds of intense, unruly, unspoken scuffle, Ms. Lamont finds herself sitting on her bottom, in surprise, while you adjust your hair, panting, somewhat contrite. Tears of anguish and rage; she stays where she plopped, looking around. Seeing no one, she rises and gives you a look of pure loathing.
“I’m reporting you for assault.”
“I’ll be doing the same.”
All these gifts are constructively held in trust for other victims.
Roger sits in some friendless nook. It might be an “open farm” with TV, conjugal visits, animal husbandry, but if you can’t walk when you want, it is prison, bartering financial advice for virginity. His natural parsimony brings him o so close, several times, to being sullied. I’m sorry that he knocks away your hand of friendship, but his despair is easier to fathom than your persistence. Your energies debase yourself. You don’t even fight for the former matrimonial assets.
We remember best with smells, colors, tunes. The burning chops and the Little River Band enjoining us to hang on for promised help invariably brings back the family days at Mr. Moir’s intolerably unimaginative back yard. Bowls of potato salad, contributed by several guests, a spectrum from white to gray. Roger wears a natty Golden Breed top and brown shoes, seventies hirsute.
Starwine on laminated tabletop with daring art nouveau curves, circa 1955. Plastic beakers make a rainbow. A squat skyscraper of serviettes, prehistorically large ashtrays, a camera with straps, big as a microwave oven, a phone big as a bread maker, ponderous clock, no numbers. Things you could hold in your hands. We grimly clasp reality.
You in some brown-edged frock tinted the color of the sun (Roger redux seems pale by comparison). When the sun emerges winking from little white crying cloud, it becomes…fleece…and all beer-addled schoolboys hear Janis singing “Get it while You Can.”
You hold the ectoplasm of Roger tightly but it slumps from beer, and it seems you hold fast to the extended aura around yourself; golden motes defining you and the people you really love. A father the age of an older brother swings into view with a surfboard. A brother the age of a son craves attention and mistakes babble for conversation. Friends their children’s age mill, pitch, toss; hanging around this viscous memory-cloud are materiel, less remembered but seemingly adequate.
And the ghost is gone; you are alone; even so, hold on.
An enormous house of money; the fittings, fixtures, furnishings and encumbrances tarnished by reality and an empty, shared, undeserving guilt. Spaces mark missing paintings (horrible moderns but a rare good investment) and dust draws space around the memory of ornaments. Take the photos from the albums; calf bindings will fetch a shekel. Bunting, pedigree pooch made neurotic hence worthless by Roger’s foot-and-mind-games, can exit the door of the Imperial Household, past statuary, rolled grasses, impractical pathways, feckless finials, hedgerows, and wrought iron, Elysian fields to Tsarskoe Selo in a bound. You can sit on a stump in the weak sun, harbingers slouching behind you, waiting for doom’s overcoat.
Roger is a bundle of blank stares that tell he did no wrong and you almost believe it because he almost does. He caucuses with the high-powered languishing their memoirs in medium security, rattling their chains like jewelry, holding them to the thin light, noting it is easier to break out than in to their faded palaces. They parlayed simple lives into big uncomplicated sin, a cheeky mea culpa of a big bad length, lacking edification as do political memoirs. Why not do the decent thing to the wretches for whose blood the mob howls—recommend bail. Cast the object plurality out to the Thermidorian depths. Roger and his friends would be out in the red field, vanishing in the red mist, pots on their heads, nothing for the cold but iron, toward low noon, athletes in a coursing corrida, running exultantly at the trompe-l’oeil deportee’s gate. The baton passed to some poor stranger, a less intense striver, for you can only stuff so much coin into a wallet, and some spoils cannot be shared, after all. That lucky old sun has gone; a crowd has gone rolling after another auto da fé; just causes have gone, there’s only you and me…and if we wake before night falls, we’ll use up everything we used to be. I used to pose the questions, “What do you want?” “How does the cat know you’re coming home?” “Do you know that I love you?” and then, failing a straight answer, “Why does an omnipotent deity named ‘Love’ allow sickness and pain?” but now I pose this question in deadly earnest, “Will you share in the spoils on Hill of Grace as my friend Jessy shall?”
In remembering, we dazzle; our dream surroundings dazzle us. Not for us the nightmare of mirages from the seven deserts…no dreams of lecturing in pantalets or cleaning Xanadu with a tooth-brush. No Aleister Crowley and teeth filing, atavistic gibberish. Are you yet “weary of that game which was always being won yet went on being played”?
[Cold took the room and lazy wisps of blue curled from the hearth. The pilot light dominated, enhanced by the crazy window. Seven downed worried pen, fed fire with a guide that commended the delights of a comedy they could enjoy five years before. Constable’s cotton balls had scudded from their quadrant of sky, deep dark crisp amber blue. Had Ishmail been poling by, he’d navigate by the tattoo in the hollow twixt thumb pulp and forefinger. The hermaphroditic fish would swing on a beam of starlight into his boat, questing for the ripe quinces piled in a sweet sacrifice of labor.] It’s late, Riya. If you want the best of the morning, don’t sleep. It must be lock-up for the Thane of C-Block. But when head hits pillow, neck doesn’t invariably follow. But let me tell you about your Xmas present. It will be under the tree by noon. It glints, but is not metal; is beautifully wrapped, but not in paper. It can’t be exchanged if you don’t like it, but you will. It isn’t a lifetime passport to the polo ground, Cross of Lorraine, Elixir of Life, or Pink Panther. You can’t sell or show, or bring-and-buy it. It’s my love and best wishes, sent sincerely and importantly, not too late. It’s non-transferable boon, my boon.
Letter # 5: On as a Thief
Seven slept badly, that is, heavily. An unseasonal minuity of mugginess prevailed and the mosquito’s lack of stealth ended his misery. After that, there could be no sleep without choking, the toxic bug fumes accommodated only by throats already relaxed in sleep.
Thus, a chance to admonish a contemporary who’d acquired instant world fame by shooting up a Taco bar. Drizzled in from a car park; ribbons of neon bounce off low gray sky. We salute you with caps and napkins, we about to die. Just walk to the counter, regard the brightly lit menu, turn, produce a semi-automatic, and let fly a barrage of warm rain. Everyone will presently be asking why.
Why not? Seven wasn’t with those that wrung, wailed and kvetched; all his human contact shaped such impulses. Many a time he idealized these jaunts. How often had Mr. Ripley, physics teacher, subsided in a daydream staccato welter? Grant Wallbrook, Head Prefect, in similar dance mode?
This wretch, ‘tending to keep to himself’, had displayed a singular outlook and sense of fun as an infant, developing his own game, “Battleships.”
He caught wild mice, smeared them with oil, set them on fire, threw them into the middle of his parents’ pool, and picked them off with an air rifle. They had three types of no chance.
It was timely to write to him.
I was shocked and saddened at news of your difficulties. And the rest of them came upon you like a thief in the night and bundled you through the door. You stare at the world crashing in and wonder that while you gather fore, someone is pruning aft; you’re apt to tread on a tree as you plant one.
As every schoolboy knows, the world came into being during a hectic week beginning on Monday morning, 23rd October, @ 9 am, four thousand and thirty seven years before the Pieta. Starting is half the task. Guns don’t kill, people do. Sensible men reach sensible conclusions. Gaunt faces, all Munch scream, hooked to tubes, barely denting the pillows, bedding vortices spiraling downward to the shades. Your smooth tonsured head, nodding benignly, a crease of ruffled puzzlement chalking in a faint chevron.
Camouflage in plain sight, a universal gesture against nation states, your patriotism making a break from cover, like mine, only when there’s an important game or war to win, your face an anonymous grotesque, smooth, blond and bland as Julian Assange…a face mistaken initially by diners for Tony the Tamale, dazzling with his sound, light, cornhusk, and salsa show…now firmly and gently shuffled, all smudged orange, past a city of cameras and cables.
Next door’s cat has left leaves on the worn coir mat, relic of a tithing penny-age. He shall return with friends, a sullen cloud announcing the time to dine. I hope that he never plays chicken in traffic, never seeks to display his aggression like you. This mode of self-expression fell into desuetude, I thought, another decayed and brilliant idea, banished and arcane.
After dispossession, the usual endgame: foreclosure—backs to the wheel, shoulders the wall—examination by psychiatrists—gatherings of newsmen—bankruptcy—public confiscation of assets—perjury and obstruction—a raft of books by semi-literates—bungled suicide—redemptive appearance on the box—the rest is harsh, un-directed, inattentive, leave-me-in-peace noise. No going on the grass, yet there you abide, hoping to awake that which died. The reaction of taco grease and acids proved a tad too much to handle. So the police work on, not noticing the winking phone, incongruous wiring and the groaning, distended post box. No one feels like a criminal the first time. It is all a tragic misunderstanding.
Sure, everyone knows today that fresh air causes AIDS if you swallow enough buckets full. Clean living is the only safeguard to which we no longer subscribe. And that leads to diabetes. Instead, this lethal path leads to your detached dwelling (revered as a constitutional right and far better understood).
Letter # 6: I have set before thee an open door
FOUND AT POSTE-RESTANTE, PENNSYLVANIA:
Friends. Unlimited love to brothers and sisters living beyond the pond of peace. In the Land of Opportunity and Golden Fleece. Country of tantrums and attention deficit. My letter varies that popular parlor game, Empire. Please cherry-pick some causes of decline from Gibbon and see how enduring the contradictory truths remain.
1. Perils of a long peace;
4. Praetorian anger;
5. Civil unrest:
6. Monarchical tendencies;
7. Weak mercy;
8. A gathering of the vices;
10. Indifference to tranquility.
Tiens, there you go. Find that a help?
Even a cat, whiny and suppliant, can communicate its hunger, yet I wonder if I’m getting through. Too opaque, probably, so I ask: dare I unsheathe claws and speak clearly? Maybe I should approach this letter differently, answer the age-old why the rest of us all hate you but the premise is flawed.
I was enjoying a faux Cajun lunch next to the pirate ride and listening to the folks enjoying their Phamily Phun Pheast. Mom couldn’t work out why Shamona pushed the stuff around her massive plate, in neat counterpoint to the swinish grunting and grazing of the chaps. Why wasn’t she enjoying her meal? Looking down at her feet, experiencing a failure to communicate? Wasn’t she hungry? Didn’t she feel well? Why can’t you tell me what’s wrong?
You can’t fathom what she doesn’t.
They’ve laid more than foundation stones, a vast construction o’er their bones, martyred to a bullet in the brain or succumbed to the Philadelphia strain.
Had a funny dream. Julie Andrews, all pigtail and dirndl, masking tape strategically positioned, singing, “I have confidence in Gitmo!” as she goose-steps across the Caspar David Friedrich Mountains…she stops, does a pretty painful double-take and runs over a crag, into a silver jet engine. Spool unravels. Rodin gates clang shut. The next afternoon, version two; Julie is swirling about high alpine pasture, running twixt stocks in the verdant meadow, when she clutches her chest and falls in a heap. She is horribly, desperately tired, her recovery broken like bad, dry strudel. A bearded dragon swoops but St Georg, perhaps Enguerrand the Second, steps between predator and prey. Behind the retreating banshee, under the rainbow, a door of doors, painted straight onto the rock, forming part of the natural entablature. Daubs refer to a tarnhelm, madmen, friend, opportunity, work-making-free, abandoning hope, sesame, and lilies.
There is Mutt, all Lancastrian-sized Teeth, in piano key number, Pianola toupee and Jeff, small and rounded, a crush pack of cigarettes, assuming a beige bag-of-fruit made famous by Mr. Lorre. Out of the heat into the cool chamber of a San Diego bar, they swagger: Good cop, bad cop, nursing frozen margaritas, painting thumbnail sketches to an unlikely idol. Fortune, fame, exotic locations, a lead in the latest action film, made in a stretch of open country: Salinas, Mexico. Our star can’t know this gentlemen’s agreement will ring-a-ding-down the curtain so utterly on a budding career in hospitality but with eyes bright as limelight, playing a desperate gunslinger with whom time had caught up, he is given what seems inadequate direction.
“Just stand there.”
“But which way should I fall?”
“Shut up. Do nothing, wait.”
“Oh, I get it, retain the spontaneity.”
Whereupon, a black-hatted villain empties a round of very live ammunition, obviating the death speech or further cinema verite.
After the shoot, Mutt and Jeff (glee-less in their chicanery) take a call, promise to send less-of-a-ham next time (this on the phone in their Porsche, ensconced in bucket seats of black leather, hunters lying fallow in the fierce camber of the freeway).
Spotting a working girl emerge, nodding, waving, forming a rape pact.
“How would you like to be in a major motion picture?”
(If she gets in, we don’t take no for an answer.)
Sleeping on clean sheets and pillows.
Jessica put on a record, so the songs were old. “What’s the first casualty of war?”
From An Impartial Description: “The couple in question ruminated speciously they did not meet earlier. Whether this speculation was a feckless nostalgia or fundamental crisis is presently unknown.
The city in question a small, state capital, built with singular foresight upon the most fertile agricultural plain; hot with cool water. The people mainly white; the Judeo-Christianism barely observed. Talking and thinking nonsense. Apathy reigns, maintains the prevailing sense of order. Strongly paternal government fosters the illusion. People are autistic en masse—motivated by wish and emotion rather than logic and fact. The couple (call them T and A) occupy a leafy suburb on the plain edge; the ground undulates before climbing into uncertain green, in summer the elements conspiring to raze homes and vegetation. Here combines civilization with wilderness in smugly attractive meld. On the street where T and A live, houses conform to rigid council specifications, defined lawns (delivered pre-grown in rolls), winding verdurous path.
One of the pharmacological effects of performance enhancers is the total erasion of conscience. No mock anger of the amateur deadbeat, the it’s-not-fair-why-me-and-sadness they bleat; the lying turning to pleading, then abuse, replete with a staggering immunity to introspection.”
Attalus shrugs off the sudden shaving of thirty-eight seconds from his dash, claims to be victimized by questions. Pushes some nerd with a tape recorder down stadium steps. Gets up at the press conference and knocks over microphones. Barges from the locker room and smashes a camera. Pushes mom to issue a statement that there was something in the maple syrup she poured over his waffles, not over J.J. Hunsecker. Soon he’ll push crack on the streets of Swarthmore. But in each and oh, every way, a winner. We leave the perennial heroic victor in Hollywoodland where he belongs; proud nation in a Napoleonic frame, marching on dusty track before an army that’s fed-up. A nation sick of acting grown-up, wanting some fun again, your wars no longer conducted in jungles…Good better best…ye shall never rest, till your good is true, and your best fairest.
There’s been a forty-two month winter. Farmers grumble at the surfeit of rain. Woman’s groups perform sun dances, dressed in nothing but tracksuits, duffel coats, plastic ponchos, caps, scarves, and winter woolies. Myriad boffins re-calibrate their climatographic strings. The little boy who tortured ants moved on, federally funded levees start to sweat and pie sellers are nailing doors shut.
The man lying in shock on the orlop of some dream chasm, weary foot soldier your foot does not stir, could fall out of bed and bite. Old dog shuffling on boulevards, framed by filthy buildings, apron of run-down yards, will snarl and bite at the stretched-out hand. Fear or empathy, or lust, won’t serve you. Yours is a cold world.”]
The window blind let what light shone through the gloom, sick, stealthy light, in single drafts, hardly drenching the room as rain through a window leaves a dusty smell. Seven, awaiting rude health with morbid patience, knew he was not alone. His heart felt fit to burst at the phone, or scuffling on the floor, crying in the next room, or laughing. Trespassing noises rose from the street, where a breeze wafted angel fire dancing off car bonnets, lifting its lewd and sharpened nail, extended in an obscene gesture. Seven slumped, breezed to the sweated bed, drying to the texture of canvas. The air was cold as stone. He had no ears, lips, fingertips, was stung to inaction. Warm spots faltered, fighting blood stuttered, stopped. Tears fell on ice as lollipops.
I know of nothing more servile, contemptible, cowardly, and stupid than a terrorist.
A deluge of forms, river of dust crowding streets. Rain shots on shattered terrace. Through rain, a golden voice floats full of static to hostages, dreaming release, a coup in the casino, and four walls to turn from. To the born-to-lose, resolve collapsed on cool toilet tiles. Staring straight ahead, they make their way out through night full of voice, waiting for a call in a day or two…collect. Moneylenders don’t fall in debt, suckers do. Sun hosed away rain, leaving a mauve-dominated rainbow in the road.
Points of view, standards too, change from deep dead dark to dawn, which change we missed for the “pot of paint flung in our face,” called glare. The artiste never washes his hair; he brushes teeth ‘till blood is drawn—stows away carefully his walking shoes, the tongues lick minds weary of travel. His genius stands in the shower, washes future generations down the drain—revealing his pain, covering all in kepone, mine genius, caressing flesh from the bone, distorting the figure and his loneliness. There are warts on these poetic hands of his, scars on his Madonna face. Entropy is set in place.
“Art,” says Seven, “is just a process of extracting emotion through technique. Lord, must we measure in terms of courage and pain? Why return to dark houses with no fires burning, no inspiration but dreariness of will? Everything we learnt is: matter burnt tomorrow is revered today, entailing fuels useless yesterday.”
On romantic impulse, the artist manqué rewrites as art his troubled soul and his retinue of stooges feed the vein lodged in his fat maroon heart. Great birds flapping about in a library examine the expressions on faces of dead men—less powerful, more subtle.
The former President, Potus to you, laments he’s missed his train and taken the wrong one, full of demons and malign shapes. Home he travels, his pocky back full of strange eyes that burn, in a cold-floor relic, husks and bones strewn over seats, the bum-shiny vinyl of which is lit by dawn-dim fittings. Outside the rushing door, some demon stirs, whispers at him, shapes his name, beckons, almost welcoming, before melting away. Formless but in the coldest night, ice in the rain.
Paths join in the distance—walls close in, the sun rises from sight. Wheels, rockets and showers of light throw spots of hope upon upturned faces. Dogs yelp like a murder of crows, clucking squabbling, keening—an ambush of widows…panic on cracker night. What’s the metaphor? A fairground? Reflected in the gleam of a helmet, winking and flashing in the darkening light; for smoke has erupted in a dozen directions to form a misshaped cross in the runic sky. A spur of hills stretches bony fingers through light, color, and smoke. The Ferris wheel lists on its hinges and crumbles.
Where credit is given, you bet it’s due. Le salaire de la peur are never re-paid in my view: amid all the whining and excuses, he is true. He will walk, responsibly, in on you.
And then, friends, what? Re-build the shattered pillars, wage wars you cannot lose, apply victory tattoos? Is New Jerusalem a vast construct of flesh, blood, and bone, where none may leave or be alone?
Run slow, down, out. My pen is drooping: fallout when friend becomes enemy, bigger than weapons of mass destruction. An “intervention”, acts can’t be forgiven, like debts.
Can I be callous? When lashing out, expect to be a baby having a grown-up tantrum, ashtrays fly, red clouds form in air-conditioned sky. The enemy no wolf in sheepskin, no fan of Draco—he won’t host some grim banquet where we’re lunch. If you want treachery, try our Marketing Boards.
Dang me, dang me, you’ll take a rope and hang me for this; put me in a cage but here goes nothing: It’s high time you rose above it.
Seven’s friends pointed their bikes at the school-gate and rode like the wind. He, Lucy, and Grant waited while Michael rode before a car that swerved to miss a murderous tree. He was still shivering when his mum collected him. Yet the four still ride, unhorsed, grown-up. A hairy appendage heavily crosses-out school magazine photographs with a sweet smelling marker, emitting a maniacal cackle. This one to market, this under the train; she’ll turn from Mr. Right toward the needle. This on holiday sponsored by the Queen; he’ll acquire the Philadelphia Strain. On the plus side, his father, solicitor for Seven’s old man, has been elevated to the bench. Seven recalls the slightly odd weekend guest, hurrying a desk drawer shut; passing mottled tongue over predatory lips and teeth wet with the best brandy; shaking only a little from the self-medication. When the country was young, “Coon” and his ilk created a system that might work, but through vast gulfs of space, time, and shirking have backslid to tinkering to suit those for whom they work.
Letter # 7: Thou art lukewarm
Honourable Justice Laocoon,
Your Honor must be feeling like having never showered in hot champagne, or the cold rictus of a dune.
Judicial officers repose upon a huge sled of granite, watching for intruders and usurpers—perennial bad guys, chained by secrets and precedent, theft of your own fire, livers corroded by constant lapping of the waves of the future…cold, getting warmer slowly.
A judge must have the authority to go right as well as wrong.
“The Eros overcomes Psyche;
Judge lurches onto feet, hitting the bricks like someone savoring the street—
your head is clear of alcohol but ears look like balloons, filled with your friend’s advice to “do your screwing in the afternoons.”
Enter by the back stair, deposit cares and fear, a session is in session, even the young are old hands here…
Let out no doubt of a sure outlet as a practical outcome; all submissions are accepted, not only some, without respect.
Since your better half died, it must be tough
to carry a conversation, hence these calls to do your stuff.”
Return to chambers, where the ornate wooden panels abound below the bended knee, and the pictures of dead bastards stretch to grey infinity, offset by blow-up of the new Chief on the wall, smiling and uncomfortable with students from Senegal (note the sneaky Flemish touch—bound in claw is a paper entitled Bio-Ethics in a Mercantile Hierarchy). The Court was packed so tightly that some people had to stand and every second day or so a bonfire was planned. There were tests of deprivation as we shook the sleepy heads, for in the slumberers’ absence a fresh breeze changed the beds and whoever was not in the Book of Life was hurled into the Lake of Fire; left to cry wolf amid the flames and in the sweet water perspire.
Now that your Honor’s work is done, here is the Green Fairy, while seven stars turn the shadow of death into dawn. Dear Laocoon, is the Freudian serpent going to crawl from some inter-tidal scum and chastise you on the beach? Or will you discover…
[Jessica loomed and placed a rug of rough weave and childish odor around Seven’s shoulders, now even more heroically rounded in sleep.]
The Sea of Glass
How surprised was he when his heart began to warm. The sun burnt through, his blood boiled, synapses bubbled, suffused in a whiskey glow of peppermint hail and chocolate bullets. This preceded by an invitation that confused in the remembering.
Shouldn’t that have been the more literate, polite, three-word, “Please come here?” After all, peace comes of good manners, but then, peace must be disturbed now and then.
“Come here now.”
Thin drapery of flesh twirls about the gorgeous stairway made of bone and other plastic elements. Some Apocrypha read out loud.
“Come up here.”
He was troubled that he would know all, even momentarily, a painful, tantalizing notion. As a trumpet trumpets, revelation might fall below expectations; was there nothing to know after all? All before informs most of what’s in store. For instance, when might the sun blow up? Before then, will it melt all? Create cockroaches and sea waves eighty-feet tall? And what of the bubble civilization? Will we grandly ascend our course from Mihiragula, busily rolling his elephants down the cliff and applauding their pain and alarm, to the nonentities sponsoring safari parks where live cows and chickens are dumped in the midst of overfed tigers for the amusement of the new middle classes?
“Come up hither.”
Seven inhales twenty cigarettes while remembering a scheme of a formerly friendly correspondent.
“You befriend a number of unfortunates, indigent, alone, abandoned and unhappy. The sheep of this misbegotten flock needs be old enough to have forever lost their zest but too young to carry with them an official record of mental illness, drug dependence, tendency towards violence, or history of self-harm.
“You take life insurance upon each of them. You foster in them a feeling of self-worth and joy. This achieved by the simple expedients of spending time, listening, taking seriously, showing some respect. The purchase of small presents, mere tokens, may be involved.
“You have them execute their last wills and testaments. In these documents, you are appointed the sole executor. The only bequests to a discretionary trust controlled by you, in which you are a beneficiary, and effectively, the sole beneficiary.
“You arrange support groups where these unfortunates gather anonymously, trade stories, build confidence and excitement in their lives. Your burgeoning circle will rely upon that disguise of self-assurance and compassion (for you cannot safely serve your higher purpose without some imposture).
“The benefit provisions of the insurance policies state that payment is to be made into the estate of the relevant deceased, subject to provision of a true and certified copy of the death.
“Co-ordinate and control the vital and profound aspects of your new friends, ensuring they do not build relationships with social services or interfaith groups. For thirteen months, you must dedicate your waking hours to the communal welfare of the group, neither neglecting their spiritual or carnal welfare. It may be necessary to administer medication, for fellowship and good cheer alone will not always prevail against dark canines of the soul.
“You inculcate a unique, virtually complete dependence in your new friends and on expiration of the thirteenth month from the commencement of each respective policy (“the operative dates”), you sever links with each subject, leaving them utterly cast-away, excommunicate and anathema, without support, without recourse to the various substances on which they now depend: loveless, friendless, dysfunctional.
“Best to withdraw without any communication, as this enhances the abandonment and bewilderment. However, with the most intransigent, intractable personalities, a less subtle method may be employed, such as staging some public rejection or humiliation; a false (or better yet, true) accusation of some infamous conduct can be constitute an especially blunt and effective tool. “At this point imaginative and occasionally factual material might be drawn to the subject’s attention: web sites on suicide—novels likely to foster hopelessness, reality television—one might direct members to a special hotline staffed by you, to promote the guaranteed benefits of that most radical form of self-help.”
Someone’s sitting in the chair now.
Is it any wonder that these god-men, buying a tranche of drugs with washed cash donated by charities can’t read or construct a sentence, have staff to wet-nurse them through a basic press-conference, cannot connect with any remotely sober woman, can’t discriminate between performance enhancing and performance depleting substances? That they break down and cry at losing a game or catching a cold? Drive their sports cars into the bollards of hotel car parks? And either choose in their dotage the cosseted nadir of media, or run a night club into the ground, finally bouncing off the edge of remorseless gutters and expiring in puddles of blood and vomit? Terribles, the black mortality seer, nuzzles Jessica’s legs, wanting sardines. The wet green trees in the sun bring a rainbow mandorla to guard her. The clouds have gathered and gathered, seen sitting from her eastern window, trying to stir new affection, even though men say the gloriole keeps on moving because there’s no rest in these parts.
And she was to look upon like a mauve auroral landscape by Corot. Round about Jessica and her amalgam of all fathers sit the elders of substance. Pure red, white, and blue streamers waft faintly from an air conditioning unit. As each elder rumbles, the others disappear, each looming large in his turn.
“Floating above the hullabaloo I stare at the hills, Catoctin hills, specked with trees the winter kills.”
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” is what I thought the thunder said, or a footnote chorus, in snowy anoraks, they’re the charioteer poised to put their boots on blacks. Perhaps somewhere I’ll discover how to straddle time, face fears none know about, including me: why I’m incomplete, shy of what I want to be.
With people I’m uncomfortable unless I dominate, and one is never in command in second gear. Give me freedom to do good or ill, to hand someone else the bill, to knead, to spread earth out as clay, to make the great-and-small obey, to have the world contract and count and scratch and claw and hence surmount the things I might ordain. To crush the bad and end the pain and send the waters up the hill to dampen the clamor, soothe and still the folks who reel from the noise made by the presses of the bully boys and the natter of little, little men, none better than a denizen. There’s nothing as silly as moral rage without the clout to duly engage the Forces of Darkness. Nothing but a pallid facsimile, so long sought to be fairly won or bought. I skate about this sea of glass and find that what will come to pass is predestined; shunning the fatiguing sun. The pile of work yet undone demands a blacker, bleaker rhyme, through methods buried deep in time. Sustaining us amid the storm, we four-score doodle in cruciform: when the coup de foudre comes and our great conceits succumb, coup de soleil strums in coup de vent’s delirium, when the theophany passes, after all the coup de graces are delivered and forgotten, we shall inure at this bright spot; dancing a mystical gavotte.
The energies emerge from the gorgeous girl in humble serge sitting on the comfy chair, carelessly combing her golden hair. “The sun shall not be seen today.” The clouds have drunk and need to spray and as we leave you, let us make clear, we exit snarling with nary a tear: you’ve had some fun, a lot of fun yet there’s a pause as you kick someone, who is gone to ground; where will he run?
“We think that when we suffer a defeat that all’s ended, our way is in retreat but time has only set to start again, the sun appears behind the heaviest rain and those that hate you never win unless you too lack the discipline.”
Jessica Trust rouses from wingéd seat and changes the tone entirely through the cunning mode of lamps. The miraculous crystalline ruins fragmented on plutonian shores.
Jessica is maddeningly beyond light pools, “a white sea, solid, transparent, a clear, cerulean, golden mer de glace”. The splendid sinuous rills and dust-covered tells. A Great Heat propounded, to relieve sumptuary pressures, when drought salted trees and shimmering nets of pearl-hardened lakes stranded praedōnauts, foiling reason and civility.
“And the Green Carnation withered, As in forest fires that pass, Roared in the wind of all the world Ten million leaves of grass…”
All whispering and as rust, never sleeping. They chant, caucus, dissemble, process-obsessed. From channel to channel we hop over carrion, feasting and feasted upon. One looks a leper, another a dripping roast, a mound of corpses and beasts buzzing, affecting casually intense body language, ravenous at table; unceasing, the talk is Lovely, what work was, how it looks, how it will be.
The drought broke with gentle rain that failed to stop: luminous grey half days followed and the darkness let the ground sigh. As it did, warmth rose from its old scarred heart, left the firmament with an air of disappointment and cold grew in its place, entombing the city. Watch as dry white bled into moist grey and rejoice in exercising that… “most beautiful and precious of human rights…that of doing nothing.”
Beasts full of eyes
Glory. A Monarch butterfly carved above an elegant backside. Sunray on the sealed lips of Serapis. Life getting long, complex, and expensive. People tired, enthusiastic, overwhelmed, rapt. Guilty, joyous, irritable, encouraged, withdrawn, high, resigned, weird, lethal, suicidal.
Mr. Television could always talk to him. Show me some sod well worse off. Some Monday, some rainy day with a frown and diet plan near to hand, his tears would find some arms to help him into camp. And Mr. Drink will be there, raw and warm with a smile and a knowing look. Mr. Pill too, a bit of a bore but reliable, very reliable. Mr. Phone trills comfortingly, eventually shutting-up and hanging about on the off chance that he’ll be required. Ms. Needle weighs in at a pinch, and Mr. Razor can let us know when the party’s over.
(It doesn’t have to be this way; when those planes flew into those buildings, it didn’t change the world, a few people decided it was going to change.)
Can you prize the seal from this bond; crack this specialty? Burn wax, lay wafer, post those chocolates with nasty centers? Break the chains on icy rocks and save your livers on that Caucasian ledge in air so fresh it burns. Colder the rain comes down, shaped like file-hangers. Seven’s body shuddered; his blood mulcified his heart, his feelings raced warm, slow and false. The windows were crying without restraint.
Homunculus would have appreciated that blood exists like water, a closed system. It flows ceaselessly, replenishes, and leaves only to arrive elsewhere.
Seven breaks the seal on a new game, Gang of Forty-Nine. The recurrent theme is the utter laying to waste, formwork splashed like piano keys under Beethoven’s mallet.
All is unwell in the peaceful house by the quiet lake. A goodly chunk of the Gang of Forty-Nine attacks. With their herd instinct, low IQ, orange flares and chants, aggression that makes cops and security men scatter, their slattenish garb and facial jewelry and rabid diseases, total ignorance and a strong whiff of sanctimoniousness, they make sounds akin to retching, which is their laughter. There is nothing left to lose, no innocence to drown. It’s the work of moments to breach the pitifully inadequate defenses of the property; balaclava clad intruders swarm hither and thither. However, Householder One has been home all day, he is riled, liquored-up, with nothing to lose except boxes of sporting ammunition and a host of garden and domestic implements. Seven was finding oblivion attractive and idealized it.
The game starts when the first window sash ascends…beanie boy gets one blade of the bouganvillea shears in his head; then we have impalement upon a crow bar with tapered handle [tapers quenched]. Computer monitor cruels another head and orc-like yawps sound over the roofs. A billiard cue is broken in two, and a raspberry mask fills with shards from a brandy flask…blue cap boy climbs in at the upper landing and very soon, he’ll not again be standing.
A fat fellow waddles for the door and taking on a big clock, falls right through the floor. A scrawny runt of no fixed abode slumps over rough diagonal beams, counting them on some primitive level for luck. None such for gold-cap who wears a face full of some acidic cleaner. The fellow’s lips are sealed.
Soon smurf-like villains are strewn; multi-colored disguises breached, masticated Smarties. As slushy organ music heralds an end to formal hostilities, a little animated Monsignor wringing his hands ambles forth. “Why?”
His number? An all-too-human one, older than teeth or gums.
They do not sing, they complain melodiously, and sing their Song of the Cross.
A blue moon paints the castle this night, the eyelet of a key through which glows moonlight,
Rows of trees by a stream, none the same genus, leaves all-a-glitter, samite-like shimmer,
A perfect gravel path, perfect in its whiteness and precision,
Three stone columns forming an entrance to a small glade,
A golden arm from the water holds aloft a giant blade,
A sundial in the midst of this fey beauty tells indeterminate time,
Colored birds, no two the same species, sing standing on lilting branches,
Guarding the glade as eunuchs, singing of Capistrano, sap drip-ping from trees,
Ferns sticky with web and dirt cast by the raindrops,
Wet weather lizards and slavering dragons chew on the bodies of juicy insects,
Storm drains echo with water and a pair of white shoes—
Lo, a pair of slacks bedraggle over the edge of the gutter.
A dark cluster of trees drips insinuations; stupid intruders shatter this fey place,
A million eyes glare, make noise like old wars here, wars in a graveyard, ghosts rattling their jewelry,
Steal the rubies of light from the ground, the toll of steps pound on plants centuries old.
One day, perhaps, the trees will awake and make war, impotent weapons, leaves covering fey spots,
Diamonds of light to confuse and twig daggers.
One rock pool as clear as glass, two avenues of trees, infertile to their neighbors,
Three dead maidens in six pavilions exquisitely reposing on stone tables.
Can one accept The offering of heaven on a platter, of rich brocades and jewels,
A palace and pink steps down to the water, of playful vigorous hounds in large gardens,
Accepting sops that would feed two men—and yet be told that a little room was not for you?
To be given the key with godlike largesse, to be young and rip and beautiful,
To be alive and full of health in the midst of so much bounty;
To be ready to fully blossom and have that door barred to you.
To feast every morning on the fertile harvest, to eat of eggs so fresh and still speckled with blood and warm,
To chew on the stout and healthy legs of chickens and quail,
To sit as if in a museum case.
She felt rejected, as he left on business, rejected when she came to him with her eyes downcast,
His apprehension and expression stabbed tiny wounds in her un-veined red heart;
She would run through the woods to seek some release,
She’d lay down on the pine needles, warm as blood where the sun found them,
And look up at the trees swaying and listen, listen to them speaking,
Of birth, death, and rejuvenation,
A single pine cone fell upon a stump and shattered.
The scenery becomes more maudlin. Seven and Jessica frolic far from base, in a netherland from Bosch or Limbourg.
The crowd roar has wobbled along its pivot for an hour at least—eventually hitting a common stride and acquiring real power, the sort of force that flattens a path through the hardiest grasses, knocking crouching creatures over rills and ridges and shooting them into the crusty fissures of the earth, a shouting power that caused a panic, like Pan roused from his nap in Arcady, a magic shout taught by the Kadaicha man, killer scouts hooting O-wa, Te-na, Si-am or that ninth wave, gathering to strike.
An orange phosphorescent flare, star shell to you military types, explodes in his face as he walks provocatively near the hostile throng. Suddenly he is sitting awkwardly while a friendly enemy douses his flaming shirt with beer; blood trickles from both eyes, streams from both ears and gushes from his mouth and nose. He hears the sea and sees the golden aperture to the Heysen tunnel, a structure Hans would have battered to rubble with one of his redoubtable and ghostly eucalypts. He cannot, however, hear or see anything else. Vive voce: how long has he got? How many hands is he holding up? Why did that useless appendage not shield, only expose?
Albeit, the hand has transposed a little shade and hue to canvas’ edge, that to be creased by a frame. The enthusiastic sacrificant is better at length. And while a country ambulance (little more than a Sandman or station wagon, sans wood panels, customized into a hearse) loads and departs, the crowds gather and gather and gather around the oversized biodegradable chairs and drink light beer in the ten thousands and myriad thousands. The highest-grade lamb chops are publically relaxed on the griddles at this most sumptuous auto de fé, picturesque enough to have been staged and rendered by Berruguete, Ricci or even Goya. By which we mean that, arrayed in symmetrical squares of Teutonic harmony but for the weird feathery trees colored in unmixed absinthe, the players, all twisted and raggedy, wearing the most un-telegenic faces to glow in the warmth, struggle to win the eternal game that concludes in the crushing of some life.
Passwords are loosed automatically and flow upon the crowd, the rhythm and melody lost in ridges of acoustic-free stone…and the meaning, while not lost, is left at the aural poste-restante: power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing. Pink has shriveled inside the chops; the burnt offerings are sealed and worthy of receipt but before the devouring, comes the drunken lag reprise.
A bushfly genuflected over the sacrificial chops, worshippers even offering song, while they rode the waves of spray whipped by the wind running through the breakers of dirt. Seven, a beach-comber on the lip of this cacophany, lip balm still in its shell, heard others declaim sub mare [the anchorites of Wẩdi Natrŭn for in-stance, too dry under the formless quilt of salty ocean to summon hawk or spit] or yodel from the decks of lazy skiffs circling the swamp water, of lost souls. All together they melded, medieval coarse troubadour-French and American slang, Levantine shaman and Dutch heretic, they combined as yolks of eggs. Polyphony tak-en to its ultimate became an artful weapon and hurried surfers over cliff-lets. Even those joined in forever planted around the petrified forest.
Blessings, an inverted curse, honor excluded, almost worse, glo-ry, barges in and leaves, power ever flows, deceives. Loiter about the thrones, the see enthroning our authority, the gift, the grant, indulgences by which a kingly figure says, “It’s cool.”
Blessed are those who blessed. His Majesty was not in the car whispering at the charioteer, “The money shot is back next year.” A chorus stands and then persuades pressuring peers at bastinades that striving’s useless, quit the field, best surrender, lay down, yield (as a rule).
I bless whom I never know and honor their blank memento; glorious gold obscurity shall buy a leaden pearl for thee. Value at the trading stages shall be determined in the pages of a scribe in another mart for whom there is no counterpart to fool.
Remember—they chant, caucus, dissemble, covet, are obsessed with process, and they disclose. A black cap is doffed, muffins ordered and pronouncements made with the flourish of a prosthetic left hand, the one with which justice is dispensed.
Thirteen postcards were misplaced during the sending, shepherds dispersed throughout the four breezy corners, not having a wonderful time. They smile with their crooks crowbarred into mounds of skulls, piles of rot-clean infrastructure not taken on the road since the last stroll of the martyrs. “Mmm,” they say, we can smell the lamb from here, bathed and powdered, all pink and clean and fragrant from rosemary and mint, little welts freshened and anti-septized by rubbing salt on them, tiny droplets of blood is a sign of freshness and vigor, the issue flowing from the application of a ceremonial exfoliative.
It sure looks good, nourishing, tender yet tough, dead but un-dead. Its light and shading in the infernal, cleansing heat give new life to its many faces. Seven chops merrily arrayed to personate Jean D’Arc. The corpses are clean and ready for dinner, clap their hands hungrily and wave at their long lost friends, wafting through the warm breeze. What eats is in turn feasted upon and the circle of life goes on and on, eternally renewing and replenishing itself and its various selves.
Shepherds’ wariness, watchfulness, is often suspected of being more—not rustling or shagging, or such A. E. Houseman, but concealment of secrets and message garbling—sweet red at night or in the morning should vouchsafe the fierce sheep a tidy warning. Finally, on this point, did you know that Seven’s farmer uncle, “Lonely” Morant, shot his blue ribbon-sired lamb, Untried Jude, ten times over the years and couldn’t kill it? Seven’s father told him that he too had once owned a gun like that.
The southern ice has melted, revealing an Antarctic hut curiously built in a northern rococco style but less Hunding hut and more Neuschwanstein. Is there an ice angel or a monstrous sugary swan within? Hopefully not still in a dodgy pre-war-fabricated tin. Throaty husky or flatulent wolf? Dare we check or just assume that only real supermen could withstand the polyphonous wind stripping paint from iron and skin? The seas will boil and rise my dear; subside and revert; we shan’t require aprons to keep our knees from floating free of the ice, so one can worship forever and ever.
The Moon became as blood
A dark and stormy day, an inverse parody. The city closes; shutters up, trashcans out. A stream of cars loiters for the milking, shiny gutter trash for guideposts. Day signs fold and night ones sputter; the odd umbrella in a lost dervish of terror, with rests, down the mall.
The cannon is readied to clear the king’s way, road surface mimics night with its rain make-up. If you stand on the west face of the Adelaide hills, you can watch the water sheets aiming at the city; it’s a mini Los Angeles except the rain and the sky paints gunmetal blue rather than orange and nobody’s about and our murders are far more imaginative. Little lights let us in, betraying their mothers.
Jessica and Seven, newly back in the grandeur of Adelaide, had no urban terrors.
Trees complained in the wind and rain. Inside, the handsome young couple can brag and throw smug about the lack of a television set. It is spring and the roses bloom green and pink, many whipt furlongs to the east. Every now and then late sun peeps from the corner of a smudged cloud and the underworld starts at the sting of its touch, infernal precursor of hateful summer. Each object, moving or at rest, has a vivid aura as though seen under water through a glass-bottomed boat, assiduously wiped, as though someone was scared of leaving someone behind.
The tick crouches in the fly’s saddle, cracks a microscopic whip that fan-forces the air. Corrupted moisture transmits as boldly as a stephaned rat with a gold tooth. A small beast of burden chides itself for drinking so deeply that it drowns. Blind searchers in the dreary wild landscape chew the rinds of the dead. Dum spiro spero. The ticks assemble as day frolics to dusk. In artificial light, we choose our sides, the chicken thighs dance along edges of full plates that pave the way to the human buffet, groaning under the weight and blurred faces of wind, fire, water, and dirt.
Jessica, flicking through The Lighter Side of Nazi Germany, a bright Christmas publishing bauble, has some more complicated concept in her mind.
Sticks and stones and bone-dry grass crackle underfoot, where a man darts twixt trees, so as not to meet any paparazzi; to a kingdom he comes who spurns the glory, whose worth is measured out in averages and whose birth is celebrated by the dim. How could that bray not galvanize, nor allay imposition upon his time and his wish to be alone, to revel in the century, that grand tour and forget the meaningless defeats he can’t endure. So imagining a query in a whining little voice, he closes with his quarry as his separate selves rejoice. We log the cypress but quarantine the yew; deprecate Israel and mean the Jew whose cohesion and will we covet. Jessica, typing www.exteminationmyth.com, discovers that Zyklon B was restricted to application as a disinfectant, evidenced by a link to www.notus.com, offering (among documents promoting the 1943 BMW sports roadster, the Fabrikation) a brochure to this effect and she comments: “a general purpose disinfectant”.
Here is a foot, where someone stood and failed to move on…a hand, idle and feckless, no doubt, its wielder fingered for chronic lazy effort and feebleness. The head that governed this persistent and destructive idleness is incredibly dwarfish, a shrunken plumb swinging in the brave new breeze…where are the valuable teeth and ears that failed to hear the orders of the day? Where now the fat and muscle rendered rosy and firm in the fresh, diesel-delivered air, aged forms revitalized to the angularity of youth?
Jessica is crying and smiling; the muscles for this are said to be identical. The mindsets of pity for victims and complete absence of mercy for the perpetrators are the same. The red cloud will swell and stakes shall pierce the gloom; screeching in recognition, the perpetrators shall grow hoarse and achieve an epiphany of horrified understanding.
Seven casts his line back to Lake Alexandrina. A boy and his dog, Cain, traverse the lush blue waters at the ebb; they forage for cool rushes and mud to stop the blood issuing from Able, faithful pup, ruined by his brother. But the waters since withdrew with a start. The beach grows, naked and black, bubbling as though for breath, starting already to grow cold and dry. A guilty little pooch finds himself buried in sand up to his surprised, worried little neck. Tiny howls come—the black sand of Lake Alexandrina formed a stinging and acidic bile, a disgusting Cocytus filled with the dead, corrupt and toothy faces of profligate masters who presided over the forgetful flow they laughingly called mighty Murray River (but we know it is the Lethe).
They stand about, pursing lips, shaking heads, pretending to listen, simulating understanding. No ties or bonnets: TISM. With long faces and flared nostrils, they savor the sulfuric taste and weigh the scale of their assured damnation before clambering gratefully into their limousines with the toy flags flopping about like disappointed seals.
Thence to the Dis & Dat for a counter meal, jauntily spread dead horse on a sooty mixed grill—chop, steak, wedge of kangaroo, sausage, bacon, and some tough sweet flesh that may have once doubled as a beast of burden (or chance). The powerful chew and thank the Global Financial Crisis that unhorsed policy and enabled them to blame duffers who chant, caucus, dissemble, and covet. There is a rusty swing in the pub yard that bears a red coat of a thousand summer days, a drought declared by the Premier to be the worst experienced by man in a million years. No child has sat in this swing for at least half of that time.
Black everywhere—in the unlit, infernally hot “dinning” room; the dying dog’s guts; on the pan with the bilious and benighted water supply; on the tender meats; in the generator powered by electrical horses whence all but they had quit the grid; in the moribund digs upstairs where a girl hand and boy hand are horsing around. The black hand gnawed-off by time props open the out-house door; a dying roast molders in the black rubbish stall; flies paint an old aerodynamic fridge black as Goody Proctor’s hat, the coals of all their eyes blind, inscrutable. And astride the swing is a fresh corpse yet to be noticed. Though it creaks, no one speaks out here where the dust has nowhere to run except the mouths of the tired and famished. Inside all stay, out of the dread heat, blasts so hot its victims feel cold, put on cardigans, start heaters with addled fingers, drift above the melting scale.
Fire was here—came through this yard and took measure in the al fresco sumpture.
Upstairs in the residence, the kids watch Wingnut the Flying Cat, who renders the diseased and thirsty native fauna even more redundant.
The “one pot meal” is carried away; the photographers have completed their work. The community cabinet cannot stay and the convoy disappears. In the distance, the sky clears; the figure continues hunched upon the swing and the reports of the day have a familiar ring.
“A measure of wheat for a whole days work, three quarts per penny.” “Three measures of barley per penny.”
“Lock away that Hill of Grace.”
The popular noontime drama, made locally on land previously wasted for framing, is in recess and prone to preemption. Fire was there too and all the pretty horses, dragging sundry coaxial infra-structure, ran into the dam. In lieu, a white Nehru jacket conducts a fire conference. Where’s the harm?
A components factory on the north side of town, the one that supplies the folks who make the Behemoth, now transporting the community cabinet and its roman retinue (it’s a rusty old shed really no fan and an outside toilet) gives chaps six hours a fortnight and a slab in place of super.
Jessica describes Miranda, watching herself in the mirror gazing at the blue ethereal distance, stroking the long golden hair with expository strokes, shimmying within a constricting corset like a young green cabbage, humming, “White horse, black horse, red horse, grey, trotting down the paddock on a bright sunny day…Green horse, pink horse, yellow horse, neigh, canter to the barrier and there decay…” As certain as death and hades, the horse will tax his fine form until it succumbs to a mixture of no air and no water—and fire. “Light horse, livid horse, dark horse, dun, the hues they wear and blues they bear are still to run.” It’s no picnic being a seer; Delphic glances persevere and shan’t fail the feast nor clear the air.
A cadaverous beast, here for punishment and not least, a cruel carnival of others’ pleasure, whipped into a Roman holiday of gladiatorial splendor. Run, jump, lunge, strive, foam, flail, spiral, forever blow bubbles through those dosed and bloodied nostrils. Horse dances, fine cotton wrap swirls, and purple on grey with mauve dots—see him dance with the jockey. Cut and paste and slice and skewer, throw those steaming pieces in the sewer, as unique and carved as the Jamnitzer ewer. Eyes smile blood at you; feel pity while I jump over you. Blank horse, blood horse, rider-less, starved; pale and dead and stubborn, carved across a powdered shy of burnt shale.
A trap heavy with goods rumbles down a giant little under croft hill and slides around a tricky corner and through it all a butcher’s drain slowly fills a butcher’s pail. Blood settles on the wound of a sky and drains from the bruise leaking under sun’s eye; all is entropy, entropy all. A nebulous mouth sets in a weak brown study; night gives way to harsher light and riders stay out in the storm. Snow horse, warhorse, iron horse, wan, everyone is useless and sick as a swan. Coke horse, stick horse, needle-stick, glue, the steeple is sky high and my skin turns blue. I can color my cold as the masters could not. I ride tired old Dobbin; I ride from habit, affection pride. My old, omnivorous friend, bearing me through the dreariest worlds, dead mane matted and furled in a slow descent, into the greased maelstrom, the screaming pit, potable depth that consumes the ends, the four-cornered void. Over we go; my mouth froths like bottled stout…my head is green; I hope horse will vault my prone and shaking form with its traditional manners and ride towards tomorrow, to round up yesterday, the outlaws, the drunken, the driven…towards the fire and all the pretty horses, dragging sundry coaxial infrastructure, run into the dam.
A swag man watches and decides this billabong stinks of loss.He thought he was the putative boss, that he’d do well by bad and catch a soul but stubs his toe on an empty feeding bowl. Property can be a good mannered theft and possession is never rude.
They’ll never take you alive, says he. Hurtle into that abyss first; make them come to you. Seal your fates. Doom comes last to the party; waves, smiles, grasps hands too firmly, puts diathetic beer in the refrigerator, recovers Coopers Pale Ale, and leaves by the driveway.
Scavengers go hither and thither in search of food. Pigeons sweep from gutter to roof. A dreary hum. Not a soul is really doing anything useful at all. The Usher sky darkens without rain and completes the mood. Behold a pale cause. Cock horse, stock horse, mock horse, fawn, leprous, and putrid in the early morn, primed to run from dusk to dawn, all set…Seven strolls through lanes that he really should not, full of insouciance or moral courage or nihilism or common sense, which usually comes to the same thing. “We don’t know what to do you see, don’t know what to do; we don’t know what to do, we just don’t know what to do.”
Seven and Ms. Trust observe falling rain. Black clouds cavort and their largesse falls uselessly in the sea and down the drains, a sheen rendering the decrepit and filthy clean; a heavy and wondrous horse blanket thrown over manure. By beautiful sea broken carousel horses receive countless oily slaps to bring out their color, unearthly vivid in the separating rain and mournfully constant in the leaps, the lunges…the tune a wurlitzer make-a-leg. Fly over those fences, break your fall on the knowing bones of little humans, we have compassion to spare for only one life-form at a time…we choose equus. The horse chooses sacrifice. If it is not a conscious choice, it must be the twitching of an equine nerve rooted in sheer adoration.
The primeval mud and blood we roll in with the martyred throng that heroically froze for us in the ice age of 1973-76; the sacred dead perishing in the earthly flames of 1997-2007. They have been cowering under this acid-etched piece of curlicue, whispering together and hacking, clawing, scratching at their eyes, backing out of the harsh warm conditions into the cool shade of groaning heterodoxy. They waggle tongues; accumulate driftwood of dubious provenance for their arks, fish for gratitude and nose through sundry cavities to snuffle consensus. They venerate the sad dormouse, weeping hound, keening gull, pathetic man. They chant caucus covet and dissemble, cry, “How long, sovereign Gaia?” ‘Till black flowers spew-forth from dead black-green mouths that drink tears from the dark clouds’ edges and blanch in the torrid air, adding dead color to the still life of a moribund planet.
Chaos will clearly visit the reckless and the ignorant, deniers, skeptics, and obscurantists, all who enhance their point by the word “clearly.” Doom is at the door. It will not roll-up quickly enough—think of Telez who smacks his lips with schadenfreude in Strange Cargo, the horde of haters in the Bloomite pantheon and the soup neither rises nor reduces; the ice hasn’t dislodged my scotch, and we can’t be forever running about with beaks staying stoutly the chalk line. We cannot testify that everyone knows I know something we all know just is not so.
Where is our godhead? How much more must pass to wreak revenge on the oxygen thieves, who steal our valuables and replace them with trash? Bury them in education; stifle them with regulation. Know them into submission. For every pleasure, they will pay a forfeit in pain. For example, every sunny day they squander shall deprive them use of the rain. All simple pursuits are not what the time suits; detach the flesh from the husk, for hidebound will it lusk.
Jessica has applied her crazy collage to the hairy wall.
Determine them wanting, consign them to the billy of time, watch them boil in a sea of ashes, leaving a print in soot on dry unproven ground, where no life is found. Writhing and squirming like a waif by Dore, banging on about the end of the world in a vedantic way, sent by Mara, the tempter, king of kings, arbiter of taste, proscriber of evil. A drink is overdue but there is not any for you until good season. No nudes shall you see until you embrace me. There is a time to kill but never until thou shalt kneel before me and pretend convincingly to love, when a smug smile saunters more than steals across your face, to Trauermarsch, planning the doom of others whilst meeting yours. A march that regrets whilst extolling and circumscribing death must have come from a self-contradictory man, an authentic man in fact.
And Seven looked his silent question at the love of his short, painful, ignorant, valueless life. Why did a callow man with no embroidery of the past deserve such a florid visitation; why was this new aurora of the ages here? He has nothing to say; his sophistry is shattered like evolution on the altar of not so intelligent design.
An Adelaide summer dawn—big, hot, parched and silent—prodigy of doom. Seven and Jessica have climbed to the top of Mt Lofty, pipsqueak Harz, to escape the big stormy heat.
Through the six gates, ignoring signs ordering the purchase of tea and scones, off the path and through the scrubby sward to refresh upon the sublime view—it could be Port Royal, 1692 or from the record of these rocks, Lisbon 1755 or Santiago 13/5 1647. Markers for abstract heaps of corpses. The wall of foliage turned from green, red, and blue to grey. Strange fruits quivered; the couple seemed to tread on them. They looked behind them, out into the void that grasped their eyes and led them safely down the zigzag written in the dry earth; lines so sharp and pristine that they felt it must be two-dimensional but for the rich, dark, foreshortened trench and the corn-gold issuing from the crevice.
As if the world has crouched, sucked in a deep breath and rattled out a clinched load of carbon with a force beyond the scale, the glorious metaphysics that we neglected to kill rampant, unconfined by text. It’s a party where the scenery is designed by John Martin, Caspar David Friedrich, Thomas Cole in a desolate mood, and Piet Mondrian, all in a mood of ultimate romanticism.
The insects are red and the birds are gold as they scream and scream, doing what they love, the livid scone-eaters iced by blobs of white, while the grid below dances with hues and the weeds rise to greet the buildings bending down to say, “Hello, thanks for being here.” Every daughter’s mum is treating herself and the kiosk explodes slowly as though a bomber detonated two charges, stopping in between to savor a nice cardogan-brown cup of tea…Every son’s dad descends the hill with as little forethought as men on fire leaving the towers with eyes darting about in a dirty whirlpool, holding onto objects with some vague atavic notion of breaking falls or free of gravity.
The trees moved the way Ents did not, skidding so slightly and skipping so lightly over ground more liquid than solid, luminous against dappled light playing between leaves and appendages now the color of espresso. The sun itself, prime suspect amongst the faithless, had changed his nature, his irregular dubious features starting to vanish in the busy sky. The moon was going up as the other’s halting steps took still more rock, and she began to loosen her black stockings, getting rather red in that lovely face.
Other planets peered through dust, smoke, high cloud, and time, wondering what we had done. Jessica took Seven’s hand and they strolled to a copse straight from Frederick McCubbin, filled with vitreous blue, gray and aqua, to sit at a charming wrought-iron setting and take in the unfolding display. Would you like a cup of tea? Ah tea. It is best in the very hot weather. In a charming dish with a miniature regatta, shimmering in warm slop-over.
Meanwhile the sun is back, unwelcome and pitch black as if it had been left in the barbeque far too long and the sky wobbled slightly as the landscape melted into a figure-less blancmange. They took no tea and wet their lips as the ludicrous low-rise structures telescoped awkwardly to the pavement down on the once fertile flat of the metropolis, now and forever ignored by the famous, the notable, to their eternal embarrassment. Thirty thousand low folk go the way of Babylon, so much chewing gum in the calcifying firmament.
An androgynous silhouette clad in some sort of ceremonial garb, sackcloth, explodes in vivid flames. A goat slides by, nervously chewing at a piece of black veil. Sheep graze on dead flesh and flies refuse to settle, waved into torpor by hands clutching air from holes in structures and foundations. Burning hair flows freely—the moon is high and red as a thick slice of hamburger beetroot.
It being near the death throes of another day, when the black dog visits the late afternoon who hands over to evening, the ensanguined moon (with silver apron smeared like a country butcher) grows more bullish and arrogant. Mother of all cracker nights—dogs tie ordnance to laces and cats bell necks in a frenzy of campanology. Catherine, Guido, the Man of Steel, Wagner, small boys love cracker night—who wouldn’t?
The space above the sphere descended, bringing night and picking one’s way became treacherous—they were glad of the light from the flaming cars, the luminous dust, the burning rum—the streets are dead full and there really is no such thing as society, as Mrs. Thatcher said.
After the sirocco blew out, little rings of warm air eddied and danced on the lip of the volcano and rangers cleaning the lookout opined to the youngsters that whilst the worst was not over, it was not yet due.
The frazzled frame of trees and dirt was loosed; it vanished with a murky and noisy flourish, a thunderclap where the light effect was missed. Vivid scenery rolled away as the bakery van departed the kiosk quadrangle, the vanguard grimly cosseting individual pieces of cake.
Jellycakes, pear flans, eclairs, Kitchener buns, Frog Cakes had reduced to a fluffy gray pine needle mat of desiccated coconut. Woman and boy sat on the soft cover of a ruined Triumph, ash cakes dotted on the dashed sill, gazing at the absence of machinery skulking behind the missing set. A mere, meager dystopia, damp straw managed by the breeze into a formless puddle with a shell-less shore, an urban ephemera undermined by eight orangutans who have fled their cage, shed chains and fling their own feces at the Head of the Praesidium, who, snarling and howling like a panther, cannot see out from the cage or into it. His movements and attitude of disgust and fear redolent of much younger man, getting out of the way.
All were getting out of the way. At the World’s Highest Tea-rooms, some wag had scrawled “bleak” on a sign promoting “Public Education-Australia’s Future.” On high, Seven and Jessica treated themselves at the ending of the world. On the belvedere, one of the freed orangutans, with the face of Sir Henry Parkes crossed with Bunyip Bluegum, grunted and flung a piece of poo at a low flying magpie. He wandered over to Seven and rubbed his head, with his other hand fortunately, and hung around whilst the lad and Ms. Trust threw smashed cake to the birds. Then Sir Henry waddled about the water taps and took a brightly colored beaker right out of the hands of a thirsty koala. Wiping his mouth with his right hand and his bottom with the paper clutched in his left, he demanded information from an indolent lizard and snapped off his tail while ferrying it to the water trough, none too daintily, in an effort to loosen its long blue tongue. It rushed a ghost gum to goose the koala scrambling towards the canopy and then urinated noisily against the tearoom geraniums, still standing strong but no longer proud. Catching up with the rattled lizard, Sir Henry placed him into the triumphant glove box, quite intact, albeit separated from the car itself, tied with string ripped from the government sign to a rare eave. “Mate,” said Seven, advancing with a Zippo, ready to stand as hop-frog to the ape’s mean king. “That’s enough from you.” However, he had no chance to meddle with Sir Henry’s rights because at that moment the Bide a Wee tearooms, curtilage, plumbing and all, began to sail, then surf, along the grade. It gained maximum speed roughly halfway down the mountain, slowed by the unwieldy brake of disintegration, and Sir Henry’s mucose breathing holes filled so fast with dirt it is likely he suffocated long before his coconut-like head was split open by a rock, peevishly declining to get out of the way.
Who shall be able to stand?
It was Monday, a day of wrath. The intact trees looking plump, fruit a mere sham. A tsunami of rubbish buried the grateful good and great. Scuttling over linoleum in the searing fluorescent light, the warm maternal nooks and crannies became the wounded warriors’ fire blanket. Under piles of junk they hid, pulling a duvet from a craft-witch’s dream. A pallid shrimp with romper-stomper hairstyle and Brooks Brothers suit quivered like a water boy in the cellar of his big white-washed Georgian pile, whimpering and rattling the dead blackberry with a limp left hand and stabbing the flaccid lift button with the right, room for a fail-safe rant against those who cared for his health, defended his realm, splintered their hands on Ixion’s wheel, and splashed on his pulpit. In a few weeks, he’ll knock politely on the ceiling—let’s leave him there for now, unable to limn the gathering darkness with his shiny, audacious, golden medallion of hope. Governance is for clerks.
More people, less kings. Seven and Jess picked their way through the rebuking shards and mysterious splinters, oddly cohesive en masse. Amidships they loitered on a tartan rug, enlivened by its freedom from the dead afternoon air, pretended like children to enjoy a nice cup of tea.
Saturday served up for the gentlemen. The tearoom of recent memory stayed in the synaesthetic mind, its stupefying potions refused and de-gaunt left behind, absently a subliminal calling card. S and J stood at the remnants of a counter, its top treacherous from sharp stone, dust that bit, thorns and prickly vegetation deposited tectonically as bright life faded.
All Martian striving arrayed and safe from failure: the impossible manors clinging to the bony hill, no longer sneered at by the roadside…
The parade ground flat and span, the submarine factory sublime…poles and wires ceased to carry the contemporary bromides and sagged with impotence…arguing over what should be retained, defenestrated, gone. We wanted, we wished, admission, refreshments, kid’s corner, and this is what we get.
“No one saw this coming.”
Every breath expended in scuttling twixt cracks, caressing rocks with paroxysmal fervor, talking to nuggets as though they hold wisdom. Digging down in the golden brown to turn their frowns upside-down, tumbling and weaving, shed a pleiad from their crown, as they howl about town and finally drown…but no frantic spade work will cover them—neither will diving under the falling. Sister Lucia, stubbing her toe, interdicts the bullet’s path and spits Turkish delight. “The earth hath passed away like an exhausted river;” the beige brine has more salt than a lake of fire. Hideously quietly, all clock out. The hide of them.
The useless salty water stings, taunting us to drink. Folk scoop up spume and drink so hard they strain their throats: their guts, brains, and tongues shall know the pain of bloat. Death, among the sunbathers, walks and curls upon the median strip. The water meadow came afire but is extinguished quickly with an octopodal swirl. The water as black as the beach, deadly as Darwin in December. Suddenly the moon gives the only light in a new arcadia, this remove. Then it, too, gives up the ghost, shedding its loom like a turtle dropped by an eagle and instinctively clutching its noggin, joining knees. Seven and Ms. Trust embraced.
Upon the peninsula, a dreary streak of swampy bladder grass is strewn sward leeward to the dehydration plant, suspended by rattling of pine cones, sharks gutting each other for sweetmeats, confessions sweated out in the gins mill where they chew Limoges bric-a-brac and flummery.
The ground hungered; we sorrowed on bricks pocked and stubby from moss and collections of variable masonry. A billion clods fell to earth with gentle violence. It seemed otiose, now vanished. Monday rolled around again.
And then Monday drove on and away, and the tedium of a permanent Tuesday afternoon was sacked, and all were charcoal, aftertaste and ash.
And there was silence
The Norfolk pine creaked and a team of sanctimonious volunteers swayed under it, careless and bored, holding the corners of a king-sized sheet, waiting for some breeze to gently persuade the burnt offering to drop.
The scene’s passivity evoked Ash Wednesday, when diverse carters, depositing the scores of burnt dead at the forensic science center, deployed the most ghoulish humor (“do you want fries with that?”).
Joe Smolak appeared with his two favored sons and barked orders. There ensued a certain weary obedience and in several minutes, others appeared and gave a solemn semblance of vital activity with the slow and deliberate pace, emblematic of remote regions. There was small talk. Already the boat ramp had been cordoned off to prevent aquatic rubbernecking.
A sign lied, in the lead of a portable blue pencil, that the bay was off limits due to the desire to preserve the habitat of the Great Southern Ravaging Loon. The Christmas lights slumped, whipped, and dismembered strangled and cut down but redundant anyway, thanks to the flock of luminous, fluffy, white clouds shining the light back at the water, casting a rosy glow over the picture of debris. The volunteers, bedecked in bright, loud, colored, and sensible, loose-fitting, summer clothing, pretended to strain. The sheet carried a confused and crowded landscape of shapes, symbols, and numbers: a cottage, a wizard peering through a telescope, apparently at the sun, an old man with an ear trumpet, an angel, a Sumo receiving a small pile of white powder, Edward the Confessor, an ass falling down a hole, Ned Kelly, a large commercial building. None of these marks appeared to mean anything and were probably lost to the death, by de-registration, of the bankrupt manufacturer (whose general manager abandoned his car, motor running, doors open and disappeared, presumably in embarrassment and despair at having blown a hugely generous grant made by the people only months before).
Shoes and thongs were removed upon instructions to protect the lawn, rendered brittle by the surge of unusual weather and power. A lad went about the great tree, painting the straw-colored wounds and notches a pretty, cool, deep sea green and removing several blemishes from the significant trunk. The lanterns were down and out now, tapers in the boathouse no longer gleaming, flies curled up on windowsills. Suddenly there was a buzzing abroad, and the air, as though a dead toy were revitalized with a new battery, began to move ever so slightly, chalking shadows on the water, rippling the hued tails of the golden breed and then the dust began to leap over itself in a quintessence of weightless ecstasy.
The rain was big and sparse, punching the air and stomping the ground with casual violence, bringing a feeling of cool warmth and austere bounty, and it galvanized the crew in bringing the vessel in to port. Finally, the fall; down came the figure, charcoal and all, breaking from the cover of an action plan, staying or going a dead issue for the man.
They laid his form down, striking their pietas. Joe and his people knelt and examined him, afraid to touch. One of the new arrivals asked, “Who was he?” and then said, “Oh,” remembering.
A weak sun was making itself known but the dark figure that lay in the newly minted shade. A small mark was seen on the brow, similar to Irma’s and Michael’s in the ken of the rock. The auroral glister made a show of Seven’s frozen face. It had caught crystallized sand and some of the tree’s shedding, creating a piece more soulful and impressive even than that of Pedro de Mena.
The coronial wisdom (to be got a decade later, as per local custom) will be that death by electrocution must have been instantaneous. Nevertheless, in the atom of time between cause and effect, there had to be some caesura, a moment of understanding, because among the anxious lines and folds of startled countenance, lay a calm and tranquil smile.
Apocrypha (translated by E.J. Goodspeed, 1938)
Boethius, A.M.S. The Consolation of Philosophy (525)
Chateaubriand, Francois-Rene, The Genius of Christianity (1873)
Dead Sea Scrolls (translated by Geza Vermes, (1962)
Dennett, E. The Visions of John in Patmos (1919)
Glasson, T.F. The Revelation of John (1965)
Graves, R. The Greek Myths (1955)
Haggith, D. Prophets of the Apocalypse (1999)
Kiddle, M. The Revelation of St. John (1940)
Koran (translated by N.J. Dashwood, 1956)
Lewis, C.S. The Discarded Image (1964)
Milton, J. Paradise Lost (1667)
Moberly, C.A.E. Five Visions of the Revelation (1939)
Roberts, R. The Apocalypse (1921)
Seiss, J.A. The Apocalypse (1882)
Smith,U. Daniel and the Revelation (1944)
Testaments, New and Old]
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