Saturday, 31 March 2012

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

7. By the river

Last night, for the first time in nearly a thousand years, I slept with my mother. I recognised her by her voice – clear and soft as meltwater. 

“You remind me of my father” she said.
“I remember him” I replied with a wry smile, “He was no oil painting.”

We did it there by the river in the dark with the faint smell of wood-smoke from the fire that had nearly gone out and the sound of the night-birds in the trees. 
But it was so long ago that I barely remember.

Monday, 26 March 2012

6. Night

It is dark and the serpents are out, kissing my feet, licking the air. 
The clock ticks and from behind the kitchen door a long wail slithers down the corridor from somewhere in an upstairs room. It is tremulous, fearful, yet full of rage or horror at our frailty, our cruelty.
We are animals - apes with teeth bared in a subtle smile beneath cold, red eyes. And the walls tremble like leaves in the forest.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

5. Monk to Monkey

Strange, the silence that grows in a room when the door is pulled to and the present company is no more. Their footsteps drift away with their mumbling words towards the stairs and I am alone again. 

The dark oak of the great table breathes its beeswax scent in the morning sun and seagulls cry beyond the glass wall. What to do? Michael squawks in his cage - he never speaks when the others have left, as if he knows it has no value. Not that it matters, but I don’t speak Bird either. Sunlight splashes onto the ceiling in frantic ripples but does not break the spell. Someone cries out a command into the rigging and the walls creak in response.

I glance across the low room at the bright fruit on the sideboard and stretch my lips. I bite the air, imagining the stiff, waxy skin flexing between my teeth and then that sharp, sweet sting of orange on my tongue. A breath of air touches the hairs on my neck, a glance at the door and I am there, right up beside the silver dish, fingers ready to pick. Michael stares but makes no noise, I pause, pluck one to my mouth and bite.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

4. Stanley falls

A little before a quarter to eight. Still dark at home, though the hooves in the street never cease their parade and the gas still purrs in the glass. And here - bright, hot, and the incessant screech from the trees.

Slowly, with my eyes on the far bank, I descend the steps, today as every day, to feel the cool of the river on my toes. It is necessary.
Necessary to be seen, necessary to cool my feet.

Stand a while and watch the farther shore.
See and be seen.
Fishermen. Fish.
The sound of the water, though the river is a roar like the angel of judgement. I remember – the gentle hissing in the ears, soft at first and delicate, like a distant choir of boys. Then a low murmur that grows into a growl, a growl from the crypt behind a door which will not stay closed. That’s when you first feel it in the pit of your belly. The scratch.
And then the chorister screams and you are lost in the maelstrom.

The tomb is not silent but filled with the roar of all the dead. Those dead, my dead. Yes I pity them. Have pity.

I adjust my hat, turn and retrace my path to the house.

3. The sound of a harp

Beside me my wife twists in her carapace. She has never been the same since reading that book. Just before the bell rings, which is not a bell but the sound of a harp, she sighs, and I watch in wonder as her warm breath leaves sparkles of mist on her glossy black jaws.

I found the mandibles a little disconcerting at first but have gradually come to find them endearing. Beautiful even. Now it is the strange clicking that irritates me even though I have learned to make out the words.

The harp rings and she unfolds her many slender legs. Not bad for a woman her age. “Is it morning?” she asks and I reply “Yes, I think so.”

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

2. The Pilot

And so this morning. I peer at the familiar crack in the ceiling through the milky haze that fills the room and if I concentrate can just about make out the sky beyond. The edge of the crack is a mountain range along which rides a man on horseback, silhouetted against an alpine sky as clear as the virgin’s robe. And in that blue, a biplane circles slowly over London, its pilot, my grandfather, making notes and taking pictures.

He wears a leather helmet, with flaps like a spaniel’s ears and his nose is wet with the cold. His left foot touches the rudder pedal and his right knee holds the stick. The tea in his vacuum flask, tucked away behind his seat, is still warm with his anticipation as he scribbles in his notebook and the world below drifts ever more blue towards the dark horizon.

It is Wednesday. It always is. He has been like this for thirty seven years, since Doris died in fact.

1. Silver Nitrate

When I awoke this morning, sunlight was leaking through the blind with the sound of a tired diesel engine about to slip the clutch. Voices muttered in the tree outside my window and a dog barked. Once. Supine in my bed, wound in sheets and tired from a night of reverie and violence I felt closer to the tomb than the womb.

It had rained in the night. Milky splashes of water spattered on the metal rim of the skylight above me, tattooing a pointless pattern in my head, while images of the 1890’s flickered before me in hessian and grey felt. Two women of indeterminate age beckoned to me from a dark upholstered sofa, their silver nitrate faces twisting, floating in the dark as I drank from the glass in my hand.

The first, voluptuous as Venus, heavy as a butcher, ineffectually encased in a brocade corset, waved her painted nails and smiled the enigmatic smirk of the mistress in an Old Master. The second, grey as a mudflat and thinly wrapped in an army blanket watched me sullenly, her lips twitching something unspoken. The room was otherwise empty, save for the rain that now fell in torrents.

I turned and left and, running through a no-man’s land of grey-brown clay was engulfed in a hail of white blossom hurled from the regiments of stunted apple trees that stretched away beyond the horizon.

The image is a study by Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, c.1885