March 05, 2009

Baby & Pop

Baby & Pop



To be or not to be,

That is the question.

Whether tis better to endure

The slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune

Or bring it to an end, and by ending,

End them. To sink.

But where we go- ay, there’s the rub,

That undiscovered bourn

From whence no traveller returns.

           That’s not the right wording, says Baby, from somewhere beyond the Inner Circle.  You've forgotten it.  Be realistic.

Not helpful, Baby. I continue to trace the words over the cold stone.

           I wouldn’t worry anyway, I add suddenly. Nobody ever remembered how it ended.

           That’s not the right attitude, says Baby.

           Baby is as human as any other baby ever was. When I find Baby’s little fragile body in the darkness, I press moss into his open mouth, and when I twist one of his legs so that the joint itself becomes a gaping plastic arse, dirt spills out over my hand. Baby, I am your father.

           Baby came with me from the open places. There was sky, Baby.

           I remember the sky, says Baby, and his plastic eyelids flicker shut beneath my fingers as he remembers. Pop, there were planes. I flew through the sky once by the seat of a little girl. She may have been my mother. I do know she tried to feed me before my mouth even had an opening. Bread and airline salad, and once her snakelike, curious tongue.

           Do you remember the plane that crashed, Baby?

           I remember you telling me about it, Pop. Tell me again.

A Boeing, a big one, and it plummeted into the water, artless but beautiful, and I thought about the school swimming gala. Gracie Johnson. She was from Singapore, and her body was unformed and sleek and she was wearing a white cap and nose-plugs. Like a fusion of plastic and person when she dived. Shrill whistles blowing. Shrieks and splashes.

           We were watching, me and the others, from the hillside, and it was tragic because it was so magnificent and so helpless. The runways were ruined and it couldn’t land. So it just kept circling and circling. Like a bullfight. And then it plunged.


           That’s a great story, Pop.

           Do you need to shit, Baby? I ask. I need to shit.

           I take Baby in one hand and head in the direction of the Smell. When the stone beneath us begins to shift downwards, and the Smell intensifies, we’re heading towards the Shitter’s Corner.

           I squat, feet in their familiar positions. The crevice of Shitter’s Corner, a stained, jagged eye in the stone, has no end. Once, foolishly, I dangled an arm through there, then a shoulder, then found myself trickling downwards. Ever since I’ve only shat into the abyss. It’s an act of retribution.

           When I’m done Baby goes. I’m always terrified I’ll drop him.


           Baby, being the adventurous type, is always difficult to find. Sometimes it takes hours, and he’ll sing the old pop songs so I can grope my way towards the sound, in the upper tunnels or simply fallen into a pothole in the Great Circle.

           Feels like some kind of rush. Yeah, yeah. So good. So good.

           But even then I’m often stupid and clumsy and my hands miss him by a hair’s breadth, and I’ll wander on, crying, calling for Baby.

           He’s patient, though, and he always says that soon my eyes will become accustomed to the dark. But it won’t happen, and every time I wake I wake to nothing.

I’ve spent too much time in the light, Baby, I tell him, I’m sorry.

           The only light comes when I lift my knuckles into my eyes and grind them in. Patterns of gold, like fireworks shooting backwards, converging towards a centre.

           You’re going blind, Pop, says Baby.

           I can’t tell.

           Sometimes, when he’s feeling bored or cruel, Baby tells me we can still find the entrance; we can retrace our steps to the place we squeezed into.

           There’s nothing out there, Baby.

           And he tells me outlandish stories of entire nations floating on the ocean, men who’ve grown gills and cities with names like Atloriana and Xthos. The world outside grows seaweed, he says, and subsists on fish rather than on red meat, leading to the end of heart disease.

           I told you, Baby. There’s nothing out there.



           I trace this on stone with one fingernail, illegibly, shifting backwards along the floor as I write. Sometimes the nail snaps and I have to continue, with difficulty, with my middle finger. The words written with my middle finger don’t seem canon.

           The water drips in odd places. If I incriminate myself, or say something blasphemous, I can splash the stream over the stone where I’ve been tracing and eradicate it.


           When I’m feeling a little childish, I imagine I’ve discovered cave paintings on the surface of the stone; those ancestors, thousands of years ago, stumbling out into the light, chose to etch mighty warriors, hurling thin-line-spears at vague, unexplored monsters. And I add to the hunt soldiers with rifles, a chariot, spacemen wielding lightsabers. Or write,

           Pop was here

           a thousand times over, in the dark.

           Sometimes I cry. I don’t deny it. Memories of Before The Cave are difficult to manage. If you let one in, a vague association of the texture of rubbly stone or the wet taste of moss in the mouth, they all come tumbling after. Headlights.  Sweet legs tucked between your legs. Father, chasing me through the garden with a spoonful of yoghurt. Drawing my hand along mossy rock as I passed on a long summer’s hike; a different sensation, a very different sensation to the delight of finding a new strain of soft chewy moss in your grasp. It’s too much.

           Baby, who’s truly selfish, only ever cries when he wants something.

           I know I’ve told you this before. But I’ll tell you it again. When I’m falling asleep I rehearse it in my head and my finger traces the words in the air.

           The Great Circle is the place of safety. At the very centre of the Great Circle lies the Inner Circle, where the stone is smoothest from my body’s pressure. I can only sleep in the Inner Circle. Explorations into the tunnels can only go so far because I need to know I can get back in time if I become exhausted. Nothing could be worse than to fall asleep in the outer tunnels, under threat.

           I’ve found that patch of smoothness. The heart of the Great Circle. Baby has fallen silent. I should sleep. My limbs burn.

           I think I have it right this time.


To be or not to be,

That is the question.

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune

Or to take up arms, bring about an end

And in ending them, end the struggle.

But what dreams may come;

Ay, there’s the rub, Death’s undiscovered country

From where no traveller has yet returned.


           Wake to darkness. Already hungry, parched, needing to piss, needing to shit. Needing Baby.

           Baby, I hiss. Baby!

           I stretch out my arm and he’s lying there. Close to the boundary of the Inner Circle, where, he knows, he’s not allowed.

           Get needy for me, did you, Baby? I ask him.

           I’m thirsty, he says. I’m hungry.

           I’ll come back and sort you out, I tell him. There’s some moss down by the Pool. I felt it, I didn’t take it all.

           I’m thirsty, he says. I’m hungry.

           I can’t always spend time with Baby.

           There’s something wonderful in being alone. An empty place, and your continued endurance there.

           I slip down the Tunnel Beyond the Shitter’s Corner. You follow it down for one-hundred-and-twelve steps, occasionally more or less, until you come to an impurity in the stone. A vein. You turn away from that vein and the tunnel tightens. I once stood up, struck my head, and lost consciousness here. At one point you have to watch for the sharp rock that can catch dangling genitals and careless limbs. Then the steep fall, the two footfalls, and you can slide down to the Pool.

           Life prepared me for this, Baby. As we all grew further and further apart, we learnt to love to be alone. Perhaps we knew, secretly, what was going to happen to us.

           There are cracks in the stone that moss flourishes in. Moist, springy clumps that taste of the earth. The last time I was down here my hands latched on to the rubber curves of fungus. I won’t expect that joy a second time.

           When I’ve eaten my fill, I slip down the polished surface. Just beyond the familiar egg-like rock my toes dash the waterline. I don’t like to enter the Pool. There are too many memories, and besides, things float upon the surface and touch me. But I feel for the waterline, every time I come down here, just to make sure it’s in the same place as before.

           And I bring a handful of moss back for Baby.


           Tell me again, Pop, says Baby. The story of the end.

           So I trace it.

           We began to predict ends, multiple ends. There’d always at least one apocalypse on our minds but now there was a real market for them. We watched them and we began to feel affection for them-

           Not that bit, says Baby. I hate that bit. Tell me about the gangs.

           Well, they were enterprising. When the flood rose, the emergency services were all tied up. So the gangs began to loot, and got bored of that soon enough. What they realised was that most of what they really wanted lay with the celebrity singers, the celebrity actors. All of these people’s homes and whereabouts were laid out in stunning detail in the press. So the gangs found these celebrities, stole from, raped, and murdered them. It became a badge of respect to have killed a particularly attractive celebrity, of either gender. The murderers would wear clothes imprinted with their victims’ images, and some of them became minor celebrities themselves.

           So were they killed too?

           I press moss firmly into the gash that is his mouth. My penis, pressing against the cold stone, is beginning to flicker outwards and upwards.

           They didn’t have time. That’s when it really began to fall apart.

           I like that story, Pop.

           Baby, do you think you’ll be able to trace the words some day? Like your old man?

           I doubt it, says Baby. My fingers were never separated.

           Bad attitude, Baby, I say aloud. We both need to learn to adapt.



           Baby helps me remember it.

           My Lord is my shepherd

           With him I want nothing

           He lays me down in my green pastures

           His rod and his crook protect me

           I shall worship him on the drums and cymbals

           I shall worship him on the loud cymbals

           In the house of the Lord

           I shall want for nothing

           And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

           For ever.

           Baby, did you know a man called Kafka who lived a long time ago said, ‘There is infinite hope- but not for us?’ And H.G. Wells had one woman ask, “Is there hope?” and her son reply, “Not for us.”

           I sincerely believe there is hope for you, Baby.

           I want to try and think of some rules you can live by when I’ve gone away. You need to live your life well, and to the fullest. Something to bequeath to you.

           Number one. Don’t throw your childhood away.

           Number two. Remember me. I know it’s selfish, but it’ll keep you full of hope. A shrine doesn’t need to be anything more than the Inner Circle. Trace it every day and keep it fresh and I’ll protect you, from wherever I am.

           Number three. Don’t sleep outside the Great Circle. In case of things.

           Number four.


           I know I’ve told you this before. But I’ll tell you it again.

           The Great Circle is the place of safety. At the very centre of the Great Circle lies the Inner Circle, where the stone is smoothest from my body’s pressure. I can only sleep in the Inner Circle. Explorations into the tunnels can only go so far because I need to know I can get back in time if I become exhausted. Nothing could be worse than to fall asleep in the outer tunnels, under threat.

           That’s why number three is so important. There are more to come.



           I draw UFOs, shooting thin-line-lasers at the clouds. Did I ever tell you about my UFO experience, Baby? We were smiling, buttoning and zipping up, her standing. I was fumbling into my jeans while still lying down in the dirt. Silly, I know, but I didn’t want her to see I’d become re-aroused. There was starlight. A flash of blue- Look, she says, pointing- develops a corona of orange, and winks three times before vanishing.

           Do you know what that was? she says. That was a UFO.

           I kept bloody quiet. I’d thought it was an angel, and I’d lost my enthusiasm as a direct result.

I’ve found that patch of smoothness. The heart of the Great Circle. Baby, who thinks my UFO experience is for some reason amusing, has begun to hum the song about the year three-thousand. Neither of us can remember the words.

           I should sleep. My eyes burn.

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  • This is really good Jon. Nice understatement that subtly builds to an excellent final sentence. by on this entry
  • I like this a lot, you have a fast flowing style, I tend to get bogged down in describing everything… by Costa Del on this entry
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