November 25, 2008

flash fic/ashenden

           -I think the market may be collapsing, Janet calls from the bedroom..

           A grunt; the daily jingle as he drops a handful of leftover pesos into the little decorative change-bowl they keep on the hall table.

           Then,

           -For Christ’s sake, could you please just take your skirt off?

           They pad about the quilted apartment naked that evening. She mixes pina coladas, naked, on the kitchen surfaces. He plays The Girl from Ipanema endlessly, naked, on the piano.

           The following afternoon, under the slow pulse of the ceiling fan, she wakes him up to tell him,

           -Some man called El Chico is telling the locals that their country’s been overrun by American spies controlling the government.

           -And?

           -What do you mean, ‘and’? I thought you’d want to know.

           -I knew we shouldn’t have had a television in the bedroom, he complains. At least the soaps only last an hour. This stuff seems to be on all the time.

           On the TV, El Chico is thumping his microphone-lectern and yelling something. The gathering crowd roars.

           -They do get excited, don’t they...

Rolling onto his other side, he murmurs,

           -Very...convivial people. Now could you please turn it down?

          

           Ten minutes later, muffled in the duvet,

           -Darling...the TV.

           -It’s people in the street, Janet replies from outside on the balcony.

           -Did you ever think, Janet asks, it’s possible we might be in danger if we stay here?

           He rolls off her.

           -I’m doing my best, he says, staring into her eyes. I really think the least you could do is to feign interest.

           -I’m serious.

           -So am I. Do you think we have a future together?

           Another explosion from somewhere beyond the window.

           I’m going to try, if possible, not to refer to the bear at all. What’s really interesting about ‘The Making of Ashenden’ is the way Elkin breaks down the concept of the American upper-class heroic adventurer as an absurd kind of Great Gatsby figure who belongs to no particular place or time. The image of the ‘duel’, which seems to take place in some sort of nineteenth-century world of princes beating their dogs, occurs directly before an up-to-date reference to a Harlem sniper. Brewster’s wanderings appear to be beyond the hands of time themselves, and it is the self-conscious manner of his own narration (“the sort of man who knocks your teeth out if he catches you abusing the water ration in the lifeboat and then turns around and offers his own meager mouthful to a woman or man over fifty-seven”) which suggests that he is not looking for himself so much during these adventures as another role of genteel masculinity he can inhabit. The comedy of his mother and father dying simultaneously and sharing a deathbed for the sake of efficiency lies in its neatness; likewise, the identical girl after identical girl that crops up- before Brewster is confronted by his exact feminine likeness, his anima- suggest a social paradise of a life.

           So the significance of the bear? A gross yet wholly original and living feminity (no coincidence, surely, that Jane Lipton is suffering from lupus, literally wasting herself away); a burst of the dark and unpredictable into an apparently perfect lifestyle. And, of course, it’s also a hilarious anti-climactic adventure story to contrast with Brewster’s exploits. The reason the narrative slips from first-person to third-person isn’t a conceit of style; the fact is that this is the one anecdote Brewster would never want to share with anyone. The reader is allowed to become something more than his audience; a voyeur into a curiously private moment.


November 07, 2008

Silent Meeting

To be stopped- an unfinished thought-

by a tabby cat darting out

from beneath a black Ford Fiesta,

suffering the loneliness

of nightclubs and the three o’clock

drizzle of this walk home.

Stooped in the chisels of tarmac,

he mews surprise, fur adrift.

One ghost-buoy startled in fog

by another, lost-puss; tawny angel,

tracing the threads defining

this hopeless morning.


October 29, 2008

Jane Austen Recaptured

It seems to be a fact that everyone enters this world complaining. I’ve always thought that death is the one time we cease to complain- and even then only because our problems have run out.

           Ted, old, deaf and in need of a decent de-lousing, bends over the chalice. For a few seconds I amuse myself by pretending he’s bowing to me.

           Blood of Christ be with you…

           I have to force the cup, applying gentle pressure, out from under from his lips. When he raises his head there’s a faint smear of purple across his lips.

           They do say, the verger says, dipping to the potato stew he’s heated on the community area hob, that Sally Shaker’s been seeing the Thompson boy.

           Seeing?

           You know. Seeing. He giggles dripping stew back into his pan.

           Perhaps we’ll see them at the disco, I say. The stew tastes atrocious. Do you think a lot of people will come to the disco?

           We had about twenty-five last year. Of course, that was the old vicar.

           Of course.

           Thompson will come- he’s hoping to get the sacrament job next year. For his CV. We should probably put the decorations up soon.

           Three schoolgirls are chatting through their cigarettes out by the bus stop. Their hair is blonde-streaked and straightened.

           I do love the church discos, the verger says. A time to have a bit of fun with the young people. And then, as if considering,

           I do hope those riff-raff from the estate won’t come again. I’d swear they just come for the free nibbles and the lemonade.

           He takes a great gulp of potato stew, brown lumps cascading down his chin.

           Body of Christ be with you, I murmur, gazing out of the window.


October 22, 2008

post–trans

Witness #4

…and I reminded her- praise Anocteon- how the Casauvesoyd in awoa held those polls four decades ago, and every pona had a vote to determine which words should be removed from the language, hotchy, vulgar words like ____, ______ and ______. But she just kept saying, this isn’t right, this isn’t right at all.

And I pointed out to her that the best of our doctors had conducted research on the subject and proved conclusively that ipona who knew and understood the meaning of words like ___, ____ and _____ were overwhelmingly more likely to commit ___, ____ and _____. Again, Anocteon have mercy, to no avail.

And finally, as a kind of joke, you understand, simply trying to convince her of the awoa of my argument, I suggested that those who used words like ____, _____ and ______ generally required a session of Tulos in order to purify themselves of the taint of that coarse, hotchy language, an infection which was likely to spread to others who might act these words out in the republic. Did she want her children, Anocteon be feared, growing up in a world of ____, _____ and ______? Didn’t she understand that the ipona had made their verdict clear?

But she just kept saying, No, this isn’t right, this isn’t right at all. Thinking about it now, I should probably have suspected what she’d go on to do.


'Humans–are–basically–good' exercise pre–translation

A vague attempt towards Beckett, so far, which will hopefully become less so under translation.

Witness #4

…and I reminded her- praise God- how the government in its wisdom held those polls four decades ago, and every person had a vote to determine which words should be removed from the language, horrible, vulgar words like ____, ______ and ______. But she just kept saying, No, this isn’t right, this isn’t right at all.

And I pointed out to her that the best of our doctors had conducted research on the subject and proved conclusively that people who knew and understood the meaning of words like ___, ____ and _____ were overwhelmingly more likely to commit ___, ____ and _____. Again, God have mercy, to no avail.

And finally, as a kind of joke, you understand, simply trying to convince her by any possible means, I suggested that those who used words like ____, _____ and ______ generally required re-education in order to purify themselves of the taint of that language, an infection which was likely to spread to others. Did she want her children, God be feared, growing up in a world of ____, _____ and ______? Didn’t she understand that the people had spoken, as a democracy?

But she just kept saying, No, this isn’t right, this isn’t right at all. In retrospect, I should probably have suspected what she’d go on to do.


October 21, 2008

Shakespeare's Maccain

“A reinvigorating new performance of the classic play sees a warrior prince, goaded on by his unscrupulous female consort, attempt to murder his rival to the throne. However, he finds himself tormented by the ghost of his old friend Powell and even by his own remorse...

Sample dialogue:

Third Republican: Maccain shall never vanquish’d be, until

Minorities lose voting apathy

In numbers enough to sustain lib’ral

Support against the conservative core

Of America.

Maccain: That shall never be.

Who can impress upon the urban youth

To take an active int’rest in current

Affairs?

Voter: Our fears have made us traitors.”

Too much time on my hands, perhaps, but I’d pay good money to see this.  Now I just need suitably blatant names for the witches.  'Consumerism', 'Multi-National Corporation' and 'Islamophobia', perhaps...


October 20, 2008

Recognising yourself in something horrific…

Remembered this very funny passage from Besy after a heated POF seminar; it should be instantly recognisable to anyone (like me) who's let the strength of their convictions draw them out a little too far...

A secret meeting of revolutionaries is being held; the leaders, Stavrogin and Verkhovensky, have just entered.

'“Stavrogin, will you have tea?”

“Please,” he answered.

“Tea for Stavrogin,” she commanded her sister at the samovar. “And you, will you?” (This was to Verhovensky.)

“Of course. What a question to ask a visitor! And give me cream too; you always give one such filthy stuff by way of tea, and with a name-day party in the house!”

“What, you believe in keeping name-days too!” the girl-student laughed suddenly. “We were just talking of that.”

“That's stale,” muttered the schoolboy at the other end of the table.

“What's stale? To disregard conventions, even the most innocent is not stale; on the contrary, to the disgrace of every one, so far it's a novelty,” the girl-student answered instantly, darting forward on her chair. “Besides, there are no innocent conventions,” she added with intensity.

“I only meant,” cried the schoolboy with tremendous excitement, “to say that though conventions of course are stale and must be eradicated, yet about name-days everybody knows that they are stupid and very stale to waste precious time upon, which has been wasted already all over the world, so that it would be as well to sharpen one's wits on something more useful. . . .”

“You drag it out so, one can't understand what you mean,” shouted the girl.

“I think that every one has a right to express an opinion as well as every one else, and if I want to express my opinion like anybody else ...”

“No one is attacking your right to give an opinion,” the lady of the house herself cut in sharply. “You were only asked not to ramble because no one can make out what you mean.”

“But allow me to remark that you are not treating me with respect. If I couldn't fully express my thought, it's not from want of thought but from too much thought,” the schoolboy muttered, almost in despair, losing his thread completely.

“If you don't know how to talk, you'd better keep quiet,” blurted out the girl.

The schoolboy positively jumped from his chair.

“I only wanted to state,” he shouted, crimson with shame and afraid to look about him, “that you only wanted to show off your cleverness because Mr. Stavrogin came in—so there!”

“That's a nasty and immoral idea and shows the worthless-ness of your development. I beg you not to address me again,” the girl rattled off.'

If I seem quiet in seminars this week, then it's because I'm trying to avoid turning into a member of this generation of "too much thought"...


October 10, 2008

random poem #4

Though scented only

once, you couldn’t mistake that

shit-tannery odour, its engulfing,

wet cloy. Inhale.

I reach the place where they were hosed down. Sustained African jets

through the arrowed cast-iron railings;

tramping feet, one grinful

eye. The trailing,

dawn street tastes of elephant.


October 07, 2008

single–sentence story

Cheating as ever; two versions, one single-sentence, one properly laid out.  A sort of organised worry on male-female relations.

              

           Gentle, gentle, love-

           twenty minutes later, working feverishly in the sweat of the bathroom, he breathes,

           I am excited by all of the wrong things- train wrecks, recessions, everyday misfortunes; once he found himself driven half-mad by a stray dog pelting through the suburbs, nobody bothering to chase after it-

what’re you doing in there, Jerry, Nicole calls from the bathroom; darling, what the hell do you think you’re doing?-

three hours later, he hefts the briefcase, ignoring the tourist’s wheels at the base, and proceeds through the centre of town, gazing at the cashier girl who beeps his sandwich until she becomes uncomfortable and asks,

was there anything else, sir?-

no, no, nothing else,

turning, tearing the package open in the atrium of the store, he moves on, nudging the briefcase forward between his thighs:

his first question to Nicole, if he’d raised the subject, might have been,

darling, how am I meant to pursue you without my becoming a beast and your becoming my victim?-

he passes through the core and the shops begin to thin; a dog begins to bark, as if helpless:

mind-Nicole, a beauteous thing with the face of the cashier girl, replies,

curb yourself, darling Gerard, it’s a question of moderation-

but curbing oneself, darling mind-Nicole, is not a masculine trait, nor is it one of mine-

there are four children sharing a bottle of vodka by the embankment; he trundles his briefcase past them:

oi, mate, mate, mate-

I haven’t got any cigarettes-

what’s in the case, mate?-

cats’ heads, he says; one of them lobs a stone at him, and they run, cursing: he can hear to their bikes chiming over the bridge and into the town-

Christ, he thinks, rubbing his grin, have I even found pleasure in this?-

he pushes the briefcase down the bricked slope intended for canoeists; the river pulls it down till its murmurs vanish past the old gas tower:

mind-Nicole, although his prisoner, refuses to disappear: he wades up to the top of his wellingtons in the water as if he could swim after the case and reclaim its contents-

when they find him, he admits,

how could I have avoided it?

and then,

gentle, gentle love.

               Gentle, gentle, love-

           Twenty minutes later, working feverishly in the sweat of the bathroom, he breathes,

           I am excited by all of the wrong things- train wrecks, recessions, everyday misfortunes; once he found himself driven half-mad by a stray dog pelting through the suburbs, nobody bothering to chase after it.

What’re you doing in there, Jerry, Nicole calls from the bathroom; darling, what the hell do you think you’re doing?-

Three hours later, he hefts the briefcase, ignoring the tourist’s wheels at the base, and proceeds through the centre of town, gazing at the cashier girl who beeps his sandwich until she becomes uncomfortable and asks,

Was there anything else, sir?

No, no, nothing else.

Turning, tearing the package open in the atrium of the store, he moves on, nudging the briefcase forward between his thighs.

His first question to Nicole, if he’d raised the subject, might have been,

Darling, how am I meant to pursue you without my becoming a beast and your becoming my victim?

He passes through the core and the shops begin to thin; a dog begins to bark, as if helpless.

Mind-Nicole, a beauteous thing with the face of the cashier girl, replies,

Curb yourself, darling Gerard, it’s a question of moderation.

But curbing oneself, darling mind-Nicole, is not a masculine trait, nor is it one of mine.

There are four children sharing a bottle of vodka by the embankment. He trundles the briefcase past them.

Oi, mate, mate, mate-

I haven’t got any cigarettes.

What’s in the case, mate?

Cats’ heads, he says; one of them lobs a stone at him, and they run, cursing. He listens to their bikes chiming over the bridge and into the town-

Christ, he thinks, rubbing his grin, have I even found pleasure in this?

He pushes the briefcase down the bricked slope intended for canoeists. The river pulls it down till even its murmurs vanish past the old gas tower:

But mind-Nicole, although his prisoner, refuses to disappear. He wades up to the top of his wellingtons in the water as if he could swim after the case and reclaim its contents.

When they find him, he admits,

How could I have avoided it?

and then,

Gentle, gentle love.


September 19, 2008

Fio

“Static,” F says, flinching her hand up away from the rail.

I tell her it’s probably because she’s so attractive. She chuckles at me, rather than with me, for a few seconds, her laughter condensing in the night air, and the queue moves forward.

          She gives her best smile to the bouncer, full of flirtation, and he moves his brick-like arm aside.

          We step into a pounding beat.

          “Static again,” says F, twitching as we climb the stairs. “You’d think it was all across the city.”

          “Probably just you, isn’t it?” I reply, gazing over the crowds of bouncing arms. A muscular young man is dragged forcibly past us and away out of sight.

          “Do you mind if I head for the cloakrooms?” she asks my ear.

          For a moment I can watch her leaving. Then, because in a club you always have to find something to do, I lean on the rail and watch the dancefloor. I rarely feel so alone as in places like this; a multitude of hands, dehumanised, moving to a rhythm I can barely hear.

          My naked arm crackles. Static, I think, brushing pointlessly at it.

          A beautiful woman falls through the crowd, still vomiting, and disappears.

          Strange, I think, and watch.

          People are beginning to fall out of rhythm; their moves falter, some begin to shout out of time. A black hole of dancefloor begins to open up. A gaggle of overweight, chanting men attempt to detach themselves from each other, but, like mountaineers, find themselves dragged further and further down. A crush of heads makes for the stairs; the entire floor tips, and the furthest back begin to slide comically into the morass.

          The curious thing, I think, as F grabs me by the hand and drags me back down the stairs and towards the doors, is how the music never stops.

          We burst out into the Marylbone night. F, gasping, asks,

          “What was that? An earthquake?”

          Her voice is still tinny; the choking music has numbed my hearing. Loud yells of pain and terror begin to sour the littered sky. And something else; a peculiar humming, unless it’s just my eardrums, is searching through the air, like an old train’s movement. Something like,

fio, fio, fio, fio, fio-

          I turn to F, all pretty and dishevelled without her coat, and open my mouth. She’s staring right past me, and I look back. A group of men are running hard towards us up from Baker Street.

          “Shit,” F says, and turns to run.

          From above, the BT tower swings its precipice around like a baton and crushes them.

          “Uh...” I reply. F is already dragging on my arm, and so I turn and run with her down the High Street. A lamp-post sways violently towards me but cracks itself on a nearby Transit van.

          “Over here!”

          We turn, as one, to the cry. A hand is waving frantically, as if in tune to the flailing skyscraper, from behind iron railings. F scrambles up. Somehow, I follow, and fall into the silence of the park.

          The noise is quieter here, though still audible;

          fio, fio, fio-

         

          The buildings rear angrily at our presence, but do not pass beyond the iron railings and rows of elms. F takes my hand; we move, quietly, through the crowds gathered across the lawns.

          “What’s going on?” someone shouts. A young couple are weeping, by the summerhouse.

          “Terrorists,” says somebody else. A young man yells,

          “It’s the government!”

          A rather younger one replies,

          “No, idiot...the machines are taking over!”

          Someone is laughing.

          An old man is slouching across one of the benches. A stack of Big Issues sits to one side of him; a stolen supermarket trolley full of liquor bottles has been parked in front of him. He continues to laugh, toothlessly.

          “Should’ve asked me,” he says. “None of you heard him, did you? All of you, sleepin’ safe at night...none of you heard London whisperin’.”

          He stuffs one of the magazines into one of the whisky bottles. Liquor splurges.

          “Sleeping on the subway...on the streets...oh, Jamie heard him all right. Whisperin’ away to himself, watchin’ you- he was glad how the governmen’ gave him all those cameras, all those bugs, because it helped him watch. A dark thing, London, lying beneath his own skin, waitin’.”

          “Are you seriously suggesting-” someone begins. A helicopter flutters overhead. The BT tower launches itself up, foundations straining, and snatches it out of the air. The sentence remains unfinished.

          Jamie coughs out his mirth. The younger man asks,

          “What’re we gonna do?”

          I add,

          “And what’s that noise?”

          Jamie glances around the group for a moment, and then takes up another bottle and proceeds to stuff it.

          “Look,” the younger man says, when nobody else has replied. “We have to get out of here. If we can just make it out-”

          “How far,” Jamie says, loudly, “do you think London stretches, these days? To Finchley? To the Green Belt? To the whole country?”

          “All right,” says a portly businessman. “Listen to this-”

          He holds his mobile phone aloft.

          -the situation is under control. Make your way out into the streets: move slowly and the attackers will be sure to leave you alone. We repeat-        

         

          “No, no, no!” says Jamie. “First thing you always do in war? Take over the enemy’s communications! That’s London talking, tricking us- your damned phone may be global, but the radio masts are in London, aren’t they?”

          The businessman blushes.

          “You seem to know an awful lot about this,” he says. “It seems to me, sir, that you owe a lot to this city- it provides you with shelter, sustenance, all the things that human people wouldn’t...perhaps it’s recruited you to its side, eh?”

         

          F prevents a fight from breaking out by saying loudly,

          “I have another idea. This thing, this London...we can beat it.”

          The fat businessman goes quiet. Even Jamie stops manufacturing his Molotov cocktails for a moment.

          “What if,” she says, her beautiful face glowing with pride, “we found the old London? Surely that could beat this...this new London, this thing? Bring back the ancient city to fight the new one?”

          “The old London died at the hands of the new one long ago,” someone says mournfully. “Butchered by tour buses and department stores...”

          “How would we go about it, anyway?” someone else asks. “If we went to St Paul’s and asked God to return...”

          “Nah,” a young woman says despondently. “St Paul’s was rebuilt, remember?”

          “Tower of London,” F says. “Constantly rebuilt, never changing. If we could...summon the old city-”

          Jamie stands. He’s filled three rucksacks with his homemade explosives.

          “That’s all very well,” he says, “and if it works it’ll be fine. But I’m headed for the heart of this thing. If I can do it enough damage...”

          “Heart?” the businessman asks, perplexed. “Where’s the heart?”

          A murmur rises through the crowd.

          Oxford Street.

          “So we’ve got three choices,” says Jamie, “so pick your group, the lot of you. If you get into trouble, make for a park; you’ll be safe there.”

          There is a moment of silence. And then someone says, as if working out a thought for the first time,

          “But the city goes under the parks...”

          The grass shakes for a moment and pipes and cables, frothing water and electricity, erupt all around. The portly businessman, seized, is dragged away and down. A tide of hands catches me.

          For a moment I see F, standing on the other side of the chasm, waving at me.

          And then I’m standing with Jamie on the other side of the park.

          “Come on,” he says, and hands me one of the rucksacks.

          We trudge for hours through empty streets. The skyscrapers billow above us like tentacles, apparently appeased. A sticky sort of heat builds; sweat begins to form and reform on my neck.

          “Different sort of heat,” Jamie says quietly. “Heat builds in a funny way in cities. Watch out for the wind too- it can funnel it down the streets.”

          “Do you think this is happening anywhere else?” I ask him. “I mean, what if London can communicate-”

          “I don’t want to think about it,” he mumbles.

          After a few moments, he says,

          “I mean, if London can do this...then what about the smaller places? The towns, the villages? They’d be less powerful, sure, but there’d be less people to kill. I mean, have you noticed how the size of the settlement is in direct proportion to the number of people living there?”

          I reply that I have.

          “We should be at Oxford Circus by now,” he murmurs, scanning the road. “And yet this is only Bond Street. Wait here.”

          He steps forward; sniffs the air.

          The 11.45 Tube train rears up from Bond Street Station and swallows him whole.

          I run, pounding like some strange primal rhythm, down the curving alleys, thinking of F, hoping that she’s somehow found the old London, lured it out to fight.

          -fio, fio, fio, fio-         

          And then I emerge onto a wide, winding street, filled with department stores, and I know I’ve made it. A Lexus burns on the corner.

          The sign reads,

          King’s Road

          I realise then that the city has got the better of us. We’ve never even been close to the centre. It’s lured me here, to the outskirts, far from the heart.

          A futile, hopeless rage takes me. I unzip the rucksack and light the first Molotov from the flames of the Lexus. I hurl the bottle in through the windows of one department store, and then another into a bistro. Several bounce harmlessly off brick walls which were never there before. My last lands in the street, into a fire which was already there. And suddenly the rucksack is empty.

          Cables burst from the sewer and buildings all around, veiling the sky.

          Fields, I imagine desperately. Fields and trees and rolling hills.

But it’s false, and I know it, and the last thing I remember is cables.


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