Published 'Saccade' 1995
I didn't dare open them, did I? I truly believed that by opening them, I would be struck down by God. The whole classroom of us had them squeezed tight, while the schoolteacher, whose eyes would also be folded over, conducted a gloomy intonation of a communal prayer to that same God. A formful of infants, all with lidded peeps, hands pressed palm to palm before the nose, some actually touching the hooded nostrils with the side edge of thinly cushioned thumb knuckles.
How did I know all this, if my own eyeballs had eye-lashed wings of flesh covering them? The simple answer was that all the other pupils would be struck down by God, if they weren't doing what I said they were doing, wouldn't they? Teacher informed us that prayers needed to be said with the soul's well-heads overgrown with the controllable excess face flesh which God had seen fit to grant us—to allow us to dam out the conflicting light, so that we could 'see' His unique light. But not daring to open my eyes didn't imply that it was a physical impossibility to open them at the deepest moment of worshipful prayer.
One day, the temptation became greater than the instilled fear. I could not resist experimentation—even if damnation was a side effect. Death was almost preferable to not knowing. And so, that sunny day, as lessons drew to an untidy close, with clouds of chalkdust choking off our childish pleas for yet more plasticene, I vowed to release my eyesight at the optimum point of prayer—and this vow, in my book, was even more sacrosanct than my faith in God, holier than our holy prayer to Himself.
Usually, we ended the school day by lifting our chairs on to the desktops, after we'd said our prayers. The consequent wooden clatter was a sharp dispersal of the prayer's calm contemplation. Yet, sunny day or not, the prayer never seemed to reach the anxious Amen. Teacher's face droned on about Goodness and Sacrifice and Creatures Great and Small and a Crossened Christ—as if Teacher knew I was watching and couldn't finish the prayer until I stopped watching or died or both.
I opened my eyes.
My now ever-wingless sockets eternally watch along the spiders' choking cobwebs in chalk-clung beams of sight—a stony gaze, from an increasingly knurled face, squinting from either side of the moth-eaten moth's wings pressed together like praying hands—until my eyes mis-soar like docked angels within a cat's cradle called Hell, a Hell that is a single moment of unending prayer and uncontrollable excess flesh. Meanwhile someone else went on with life as me or instead of me.
All I know, his name was Huw.
Mr Rampives asked Huw to mend his car. Well, have you ever been asked to do something which you know full well you can't possibly do? Huw didn't know why but he became flustered as if the man’s eyes told Huw more than words could ever do.
"Yes, of course, Mr Rampives," Huw said.
Mr Rampives pointed with his head at the old black jalopy parked alongside his terraced house. Huw only knew him from having been his paper boy for the last few months, so why he should expect Huw to be able to mend his car was a mystery. Huw looked down at the man’s brown boots with the laces still untied from the night. The rumour was Mr Rampives never went to bed, but merely loosened his clothes. Huw’s mother had not even one kind word for him. "Full of fleas, I wouldn't wonder," was her common expression when referring to Mr Rampives and his ilk.
Anyway, Huw queried the nature of his car's malfunction, saying that would help mend it. Huw lied, of course, because no amount of background information would be sufficiently enlightening for him even to hope to plumb the car's mechanical workings. As with Huw’s own body: he got up in the morning, did things all day and went back to bed: all without knowing the least smidgeon of a human being's physical make-up. Of course, Huw was aware of the various functions of each piece of his equipment, but he never knew why or how. Only clever kids did biology at school.
"It won't start." With that, Mr Rampives disappeared further into his front porch and, no doubt, into the rest of his two-storey house. Huw had often scrutinised the back of this terraced row, but never really gauged which was which. It was as if backs blended together more easily. None of the curtains matched, of course.
Well, the first hurdle to jump was opening the bonnet. Most modern cars, according to Huw’s Dad, were pretty foolproof. However, Huw was more intelligent than others of his pedigree and, so, after a short while, he cracked the combination, which ended with a nifty turn of a catch just below the heavy-duty steering-wheel. The bonnet sprung up like a lazy monster's yawn. A monster who then died.
All the while, Mr Rampives kept peering through the net curtains, to see what Huw was up to. He didn't know Huw spotted him thus eyeing out, but the man’s face was very wan (despite his ethnic origin) and it stood out against the background of penny-pinching darkness. His eyes looked redder, now; no doubt reflecting the one electric bar Huw’s Mother said Mr Rampives kept burning day and night, whatever the weather. Or perhaps the redness was the outcome of chronic sleeplessness. Huw’s friends from the biology class said you had to sleep to live. Huw reckoned instinctively, however, that you had to sleep to dream. But never mind.
Huw gazed in bewilderment at the array of engine parts presented to him, all in arcane liaisons. He fiddled with the plugs. He knew they were called plugs. Spark plugs. He had a magazine at home which, inter alia, had an illustration of spark plugs: one that he had thought then would never be of any use to him. Yet, in hindsight, knowing their name was pretty pointless. But at the time, it increased his confidence by an unwarranted geometric progression. He unscrewed one plug with a laissez-faire that he tried to conceal from any of Fate's spies that might have been lurking nearby. You see, Huw had a paranoia that usually only people who know that word can truly suffer. He was being followed, stalked, tested, assessed, at every corner of life he turned. In fact, Mr Rampives was probably the arch persecutor—the one who was now laying the final trap. If Huw did not mend his car, what the repercussions? If he did mend his car, what the repercussions then? Huw couldn't win. Nor lose.
He went to turn the ignition to see if his fiddling had done any good. The engine gave one sick crank and joined the erstwhile monster.
Inevitably, he returned his gaze to Mr Rampives' house. Yes, there it was: the wan wide-eyed face, mouth downturned, nose squashed in pain, teeth redder now than his eyes, for his eyes were dull, almost sad, no longer piercing. Huw smiled, acknowledging an awareness of Mr Rampives. It was a haphazard thing to do, Huw knows, but desperate measures were called for. Smiling was a reflex action, yet one based no doubt on instinct.
Mr Rampives smiled back. Merely that.
And with one further turn of the ignition the engine burst into sluggish life: fitful, yet positive, turnings-over of whatever inner force made engines work. It then choked, and died with the faintest whimper. And, instinctively, Huw ran.
The car's back-reflectors sparkled in the new-unclouded sun, as he turned round, against his better judgement, for one last gaze at the recalcitrant beast. At least he knew he would be safe from Mr Rampives and his ilk until darkfall, but then Huw'd be fast asleep in his back bedroom at his mother's house, hopefully.
Fast asleep, though, often meant dreaming.
The man walked into the pub to get legless.
"How are you, Mister?" queried the landlord, almost too politely since, not waiting to hear the answer, he scooted off to sell one of his blood-red cocktails to a sophisticated lady who sat on a bar-stool nearby.
"Middling," the man replied to himself, suddenly realising he had spoken to himself. It was a pity that the landlord was now busy chatting to an apparently more attractive customer.
He used to be a soldier in an army fighting in a war few understood. Some may not even have realised which side they were on (and there had been three). Many officers had been retired from the ranks early for surrendering to their own troops. But why give a present the past?
He glanced along the bar and surveyed the lady in the tight red skirt that accentuated the prime cut of her thighs, and the buttonless blouse which, despite its loose fit, did little to hide the weight of her bosom and its deep valley (and the graspable plummy nipples). Before her on the bar was the most strangely constructed cocktail that the man had ever seen. Fizzing liquids of varying degrees of redness had been mixed but in such a carefully arranged column of specific gravities each shade remained unblemished by the other. Thrust through these undulating subtle stripes was a large colourful brolly that protected the drinker from the upward erupting bubbles.
"I'll have one of those," he suddenly decided, pointing at the drink in front of the striking lady.
The landlord, abandoning one of his knowing looks for the lady to ponder, sidled back to the bar in front of the man and, staring him straight in the eyes, said sarcastically:
"Hast thou the readies, eh? Hast thou a brass farthing? It'll cost thee at least an arm and a leg. Or, at least, a frozen chicken."
"Put it on tick."
Saying this, the man shuddered as if he sensed the landlord had really wanted a frozen child.
"Time's gone for tick, Mister. Even your pub-talk has more credit than your purse!"
And the man talked to the pub—in preference to himself. The way he used different voices gave a certain provenance to the conversation...
"It's real strange with all those funny people in our sitting-room."
"Well, we couldn't refuse them, could we, with all the casualties from the war being at Mayday Hospital. Distant relatives do need somewhere to stay outside visiting hours, don't they?"
The last speaker was a red-eyed bar-propper called Rampives: evidently the spouse of the first one.
"One of them has even brought his banjo!"
"Life must go on."
Silence prevailed as they scratched their heads over a saucepan.
"Excuse me ... do you happen to know when the bus is coming to take us to the hospital?" asked one of the visitors who had popped his head around the sitting-room door.
"Be lucky if it comes at all, with all this weather outside," said Rampives, pointing at the window as alibi.
“Oh ... I see. Can we use your car?”
“It’s on the blink, my car.”
"Oh. By the way, I hope you don't mind me asking, but we are all very hungry..."
"We've got very little for ourselves let alone visitors," said Rampives, "but the stewpot's on and we'll tell you when it's ready."
The sitting-room door slammed and the undergrunts continued behind it, with a strident strum or two. Rampives shrugged, remembering someone else’s dream he had infiltrated the previous night when he was the bus driver coming to fetch these funny people in his sitting-room. Dreams were merely one more layer of tick.
The bus driver was finding it very difficult to drive up the snowy hill. The young lady with the neat bum who had recently accompanied him on these trips was standing on the platform next to him, chatting over her flirtations with various young men who had now been conscripted to the war:
"There was one I liked a lot, with ear-rings and oodles of blood. There were so many designer gashes in his jeans, I could actually see more of him than he imagined."
The girl smiled, but the driver couldn't look round at her, since the road conditions were worsening by the minute. He was getting a little long in the tooth, so he found it enormously encouraging to be chatted up like this. There were some good things coming from the war, even if it did mean negotiating the wintry roads to reach godforsaken outposts of Coulsdon to take complete strangers to visit incomplete strangers in hospitals.
Only last week, there were some foreigners billetted the other side of Croydon who moaned and groaned on the upper deck for most of the journey ... crooning and wailing, stamping and shouting. Something to do with their outlandish Eastern religion, he had thought.
He had taken them to a private prisoner-of-war camp in Crystal Palace where they were to stay all day visiting their relatives. When they eventually returned to his bus, they were even more noisy than before, but this time more angry than evangelical.
Today, he was due to transport the members of a country-rock group to visit their wounded fans. What was the group's name ... The Cryogenics of Prayer? The nice young lady on the platform might know...
The bus had never arrived before Rampives stopped dreaming he was driving it.
His sitting-room shook to the sound of tuneless screeching, squawking and high-pitched whining. Eventually, he and his wife shared the stew between countless plates and, as in the Bible, were encouraged to see how far it could go. Not everyone was to be dished out with a suet dumpling, true, but most would have hot blood for gravy and battle-used flesh to mop it up with. But the thousands of songs and party pieces compensated for all the gloom.
The landlord chortled and returned to the red-skirted lady who was now inserting a hinged straw into the curdled top of her drink. And the undertones of their imprecise conversation continued between the noises. The man wondered why females had been given the sexy privilege of owning breasts. Daydreams were often more believable than silly pub-talk tales...
Rampives took one longing look at the house he intended to buy ... and cringed at the dust on the back windows (assuming the back was the correct one vis à vis its front). Despite being one and half miles from the coast, he imagined he could catch the sound of waves. The screech of gulls assisted in this fabrication of a past that, in many ways, was someone else's future ... if he'd only hit upon the key to the mystery.
Without knowing, his existence had a knock-on effect ... both ways. Two years ago (almost to the day) he'd sat on the beach at Dunwich, trying to discover the secret of his father's death. The story (as told by a mother too old to remember anything at all) was that his father couldn’t die properly so he had walked out into those innocent Suffolk seas to catch the sound of cathedral bells, as if they were no more than tiny silver fish one often finds in the cleanest parts of one's house. And his mother had indeed kept her family home pristine. Only to die. Unworried, even, that none would follow in her footsteps, hoovering those secret places which none knew about—least of all the dirt. Listening to clock's lengthening frozen tick.
The Suffolk seas were doubtless innocent—hiding a multitude of sins and untidinesses. It had never been the same since. All beaches, now, even that personally sacrosanct one at Dunwich, were full of tourists mindful of nothing but their dogs called Who and Kay Nine. Why did some of these horrid holidaymakers dress their toddlers in nothing but bare skin? It didn't seem right. And those distant cranes further along the coast at Sizewell were paradoxically tiny giant fishing-rods.
"Come on, Who. Come on, Kay Nine. Put your paws up when I take the photo," called a paunchy man, who squeezed his butcher's joints into a foul crouch. Sitting on the Dunwich beach, that day, Rampives was beset by wasps (that someone should have told him could not have been wasps at all, but hover-flies): they were like dry raindrops on his sunhat. He was also annoyed by black creepy things that massed on carrier bags.
In his mind's eye or, rather, two eyes for two minds, he strode nearer to the inland house. He caught sight of a familiar face at one of the windows. He examined the "For Sale" sign for dubious messages. "I was here." "I wasn't here." "You'd do better not living here." The small print was always more important than the stuff one could easily read.
He had decided to jump in his car and rediscover that Dunwich beach. But his car was even now, whilst out of sight, slowly breaking down.
At this very moment, his ancient incriminatory father might be wading back from that city under the sea, signalling violently towards the sand-holes of the short-arse cliffs -
"There you must rest, my son, with those other winged cheese-parers and mindless creatures of the coast."
And Rampives felt himself levitate (all God-fearing Suffolk folk believing in such parahuman feats): he fleeted towards the yellow sheer sides with the tousled green tops and the pebbly scrunch undertoe. He was not a simple soaring bird, though, but one among many dull waspish touches on a sunhat. Not even that, perhaps—more the deadened nonsense of nothing, settling with a dusting of midges, which the wind failed to hoover. So nice to be coming home, instead. If it was indeed his home, that inland house for sale. A house of many backs. Surely, his mother would not want to be seen dead in such a place, with all that dust on the windows.
How he got there without a car, only people who are dead in far-sighted Heaven could tell.
The handle of the front door was stiff—but no matter—he slipped through without it opening.
"Come on, Who. Come on, Kay Nine." There was literally nobody to see on the beach whatsoever—except, of course, those full-bellied, big-breasted, ill-tattooed tourists and yappy dogs.
In disgust, someone’s undead father returned his head below the waspish waves.
The man swallowed a sob and looked at his flat chest and rocked back and forth on the bar-stool, as if gently shaking a bodily cocktail. He imagined the red-skirted lady taking part in the Yoga course he had been attending for some weeks now. He pictured her doing some of the positions in her tight skirt—allowing his gaze to travel right up to the smooth round arch of her silken crotch. He found himself being sucked into the frozen darkness there—and his deep breathing exercises (rippling from chest-cage to belly-sump and back again) were now merely camouflage for a completely different activity that his own thighs engendered upon himself.
He recalled a previous time when a woman had reciprocated his advances. But it all ended with pretend ghosts.
It began with a proposition—to a lady friend to have a short holiday with him. He called her Kay. But why did he need such a reference point? Kay was probably the correct name, in any event. The face was more beautiful than he deserved, with a body to match. He suspected she loved him even more than she hated him, most ladies having generous dollops of each to share out. But, as was customary, he became confused not only about the past itself but subsequent interpretation of it, like his habit of going off on tangents and, even tangents of tangents. And thinking about the future when he'd be a mere barfly with no time to buy.
He had decided to hire an old building in deepest Herefordshire for a long dirty weekend. Down a barely beaten track, his cronk of a car had followed the abstruse directions posted to them by the building's owner, to find quite an idyllic setting for their illicit honeymoon. The entrance (where the key was hidden) was similar to that of an ancient castle or Knights Templar chapel, but the living quarters were relatively civilised. The black beams in the ceiling were real and the oil paintings maintained a heady ambiance. One painting was particularly striking. It depicted the head and shoulders of a grim-visaged individual of the male persuasion, cast in sombre glistening colours. Hands together in prayer. Its eyes faithfully, if tritely, followed their movements about the room, yet occasionally faltering as they glanced piecemeal at the artfully positioned knickknacks the unknown owner had left peppered about. Its gold frame hung over a large disused fireplace which, for some unaccountable reason, housed a safe.
Kay hated the place. Rampives loved it. He even loved the loud clock that irritated even its own workings with rogue clicks. The place had been his choice—or so he believed. Therefore, the dichotomy was, if nothing else, predictable. It was indeed nothing else. It was a non-starter of a romance. He had tried to crank her erogenous ignition, but the engine had only stuttered once. And there in that Herefordshire barn, with the choke fully out, not a murmur, not a shudder. The sound of well-oiled machine parts turning over in a delightful hum was left to the abode's water pump which, far from giving them trouble, was the only ingredient of the weekend to give them grit.
Kay pretended she hated him. He imagined that she did indeed care for him; and the "castle" was, despite everything, an ideal love nest. But love was effectively intangible, a series of showy tangents. One could only check the brimfulness of love's sump by subjective means. Any objective observation was simply a visual version of hearsay. But he did find himself loving her. Whether she really hated him, he somehow doubted, but she said she did. So who was Rampives to argue? At least, he should have grown in mental stature, if not physical, as a result of her brushing up the nap of his life's tapestry and granting him more grit for the pass-over. People needed the grit to strengthen the shells. Like yolks, souls needed shells, in preparation for Death's rite of passage. Life itself provided such grit. Hardship. Sorrow. Pain. Sex. Hate. Especially hate.
Yet Kay ended up loving Rampives. She said something about wanting to be his bus-driver groupie for an eternity of request stops.
But he had only wanted her for the friction, the piston, the funnel and the steam—and the blood yolk that was thicker than motor oil. But there was nothing he could do to prevent love intervening. Perhaps they were two ghosts or mutual catalysts at most. Their souls felt as if they had not formed shells. If only Kay could have used Rampives as her saviour, appreciated him as a target for her hate rather than her love, they would both perhaps be in Heaven now. Instead, she cursed him for making her love him. But it was too late, the damage was done. She could not bear defeat nor the feeling of being deeply in love. It was so intangible. Nothing she could put her finger on. However, neither would admit to being a ghost. She told him a few truths that would have been better left as lies. He felt his very soul craze over with strange maps that were neither Herefordshire nor Suffolk nor Heaven—nor even Hell. He was both nothing and nothing else. Against all the odds, the car's unsparking engine coughed into life with one mere stirring of the liquid muscle which its ignition had become in the Herefordshire damp. He desperately tried to weep blood from the pump of his heart's turbo as he heard Kay negotiate the barely beaten track, leaving him hanging above the fireplace, eyes darting from niche to alcove in search of things he could neither unlock nor untie—nor even give the kiss of life to.
"OK, Mister, if you're not going to buy a drink, I'll have to ask you to leave." The landlord preened his quiff. "This isn't a Free House, you know—yes, I know you're an old war hero—yes, yes, you saved the world from alien invasion, too—and (what was it?) you were once the Holy Pope—but I've got a living to make—and, furthermore, this lady here has told me she don't like your graveyard smell."
He had turned up on time.
But the bus shelter was deserted. No sign of the fine-bummed bus-driver groupie.
Most of the promenade lights were off: the council had not mended them after the big storm. Or perhaps Dunwich had never had lights like Blackpool had.
He sat on the damp wooden bench, only partially protected from the elements by the cracked glass partitions of the circular shelter. The roof was not much better, with a good many slats missing: employed, no doubt, as surfboards by hunks of men in once Summerier days.
He could hardly make out the waves through the gloom, but he could hear them churning across the pebbly beach. The sound made him shiver: he had always thought life comes nearest to death when on a lonely stint by the night sea.
But tonight was not meant to be lonely. He had actually agreed to meet others like himself: drifters, sand-sifters, beach-combers, prom-bums, jacks-of-the-pier, pebble-pushers, bingo-callboys, dodgem speedsters, sad joyriders... bus driver groupies ... blood merchants ... tickertape touts.
There were thousands such who mooned round off-season resorts, buoyed by the wild-salt airs and graces. And tonight was to be their convention, their first meeting and reunion all rolled into one. The message had moved along the coasts for several years, like Chinese whisper chain-letters, none of them daring to halt the passing of the hot breath torch.
So, why was he at the bus shelter on a loner as big as the sea inside the shell of his head? He had got the message straight, hadn't he? That night of the big storm, as he huddled on the prom away from wave's clawback and pebble-slide, he had felt another body nestle close up behind him, winding along spine, buttocks and thighs. And the whisper shot clear through his head, coming out louder than it went in.
"Put it in writing!" he said out loud, not daring to whisper. You could not be too careful.
Then an arm curled round and, amid the scuttlings of wind, he could discern the scrap of sweet paper being proffered by a hand with long slender fingers (like a guitarist's) embossed with spinning rings of light.
He snatched the paper from this bony fan of a hand, but before he could read all the words, the seamuck's vigour screwed him up. He had no option but to turn round towards his deliverer. But the other had gone, leaving a cold emptiness and only his own skin bundle of bones to fill it.
He cursed. He had got it all wrong. This was not the TIME nor the PLACE. Time was ticking on a tangent. One without the other would have been worse, considering the length of Britain's coastline from Suffolk back to Suffolk and the endless tracery of time itself. You needed bi-sections, the crossing of two axes, before any arrangement could be pinpointed. He tugged his stale overcoat closer, dreaming of the years he had worn it, since a small child in fact, his constant companion which, despite its current threadbareness, was the best friend his body was ever likely to have.
Then he heard them—he had turned up on time! The thump of toe-capped feet along the prom, the rising hubbub of voices. He rose from the bench, peered through the gloom's scudding flotsam and could just discern the dark shapeless hunks of men-like creatures, arm in arm, with separate faces skimming about like intersections of the full moon and its seaweedy reflections.
He dashed forward to shake their hands. But they didn't have any.
The force of the windmurk gave him no option but to revolve on the balls of his feet, stretching out his own lengthening ring-bone fingers to return the sodden scrap of sweet paper to the deliverer at the apex of the fanning figures. He failed to see it had been signed ... by Kay. But which one? The red-eyed one with nine lives?
Then there was dead silence, except for the blunt clunk of planks upon the swelling sea's meniscus.
He had indeed turned belly-up on time, toes peeping from the split tail-ends of his soaking overcoat. But death was hopeless for those who couldn’t die.
The man turned a squint upon the red-skirted dame who was now closing the umbrella upon the quenched cocktail. He shrugged and made to leave, but then changed his mind and addressed the lady with these parting words: "I may have a smell you don't like—it's my mind—it's gone off. But I'm a meantime more while-worth than the likes of you—I didn't know this pub was a knocking-shop, anyway."
She smiled as if he were her childhood Teddy she'd once thrown to her younger sister.
His childhood Teddy was frayed at the ear-ends, threadbare in the belly, loose by the limb and more than a trifle doleful at the wobbly eyes. A sorry sight, but one he loved.
It was said Teddy might be valuable, such ancient toys now being part and parcel of the great revolution of memorabilia. In fact, Rampives had thought such matters were going too far, since nostalgia even seemed to be catching up with the present day. He cringed at the idea of teddy bears, such as his, passing through the sparkle-nuggetted hands of dealers in the past. Rampives stared at Teddy, its eyes brighter today. Tears made eyes brighter. Rotted the stitches.
Then, one day, he had a girl called Kay. She reminded him of another one of several other girls called Kay, parading their identities like swells. A strange creature, if ever there was one. She often pointed at jet-liners skimming as close to the top of the blue as possible, with strung-out streamers of cotton-wool clouds—and said they looked like Christian crosses to remind us that God was everywhere. Pantheism symbolised.
This particular Kay was beyond charisma. She was evangelism incarnate, whose cause was self-evident. Her eyes literally beamed both faith and, faith’s inverse, prayer. Why she plucked Rampives from the bunch was a mystery, but that did not matter: mystery was the bedrock she built herself upon. His time with the mercenaries in Iraq had probably swung it.
But she wanted nothing from him, other than the sounding-board of his wide-eyed face. He shambled around, tending to her needs, requiring only recognition and acceptance. In the first blush of womanhood, she was far prettier than was good for her. She did not harness her ripening breasts, simply expected everyone to ignore them, as they prodded the loose silk of her blouse. They looked as if they needed milking—of their blood.
Her open leg stance was one more of innocence than flaunting. The short leather skirts were simply artefacts of convenience. She just had to wear something, didn't she? The high heels were a trifle superfluous, but she preferred teetering to padding: made her feel more human and less like an animal. Also something to do with hair-shirts, not being able to balance properly, toes so compressed they became raging wicks of fire.
She hated his Teddy, loathed the furry little bundle, she said. Claimed it was worse than a false idol. If God had meant men to have comforters, He would have made soft cushiony Christs on crucifixes.
No doubt, Teddy returned the hate.
But that was then. She eloped with Teddy. Her parting words were that it was the supremest hate-love-indifference relationship she could possibly hope to have.
As the jumbo jets left a droning loneliness in their night's wake, Rampives slipped a glance downward and sees that the raggish filling escapes the loose belly-button. Blunted hands cannot even attempt to stuff it all back in. Nor can his eyes look back up. Hanging by the thread. Solid stained tears. Bitter gems plucked from a pursuing past. Hot blood gravy Nostalgia Disincarnate.
The man turned to the landlord and, as a final gesture, took a deep Yogic breath that seemed to fill his whole body, even his veins, with air bubbles—and he proudly handed over to the landlord one arm and one leg in a momemt of acu-rupture and concentrated ecstasy. And from one stump-end gash there slowly squeezed out a frozen moth-palmed foetus that screeched “Abort thee!” at the top of its lungs, before it was dunked in someone-called-Kay’s cocktail.
It was ever a walkover.
I called it a foregone conclusion. Whatever the correct term for the arrival of Mr Rampives at parties, he was sure to be hours ahead of the rest of the guests. Kay and I were already there, of course—being the hosts. We were busily spreading nibbles over the various empty surfaces of the house. And uncorking the wines for breath. And plugging spirit spouts into their optics. And beating eggs. And roasting drumsticks. And—I forget what else. We shooed Who from the kitchen back to its bloodbone in the kennel.
Most of the booze we expected to be brought by guests in their own bottles. It was a house-warming. .
For Mr Rampives, being notorious for his early arrivals, we had set aside some chores. Softening the light in the bulbs. Smoochifying the Reggae music from the Stack. Dumping old clothes that Oxfam had spurned upon all the beds. Renewing the lock on the loo. Propping up the bar. And—I forget what else.
But, on this occasion, he was late. Or, at best, less early. One small nondescript guest had already turned up. Not exactly a gate-crasher, more someone making an educated guess at the correct numbers of a combination lock. He didn't look too familiar to either myself or Kay. An incomplete stranger. One wearing winklepickers and blatant sideburns. He said he was early as the person he had been visiting in hospital had died. And the bus hadn't been late.
He wasn't a patch on Mr Rampives, of course, but he did have a bright idea. He suggested we had the TV going all evening with Star Trek and Twin Peaks videos playing as moving wallpaper. Visual music more subtle and meaningful than disco-lights. Apparently, parties worth their pezazz had such a gimmick going for them these days. Fantasia or Citizen Kane or Casablanca or Apocalypse Now all commonly used. Plenty of vampire films often the life and soul.
Videos helped with the ambience, the tiny guest maintained. Softly flickering, volume low (only audible during breaks in the Reggae), faces toppling over each other (ugly and pretty alike), strange events evolving, murderers undergrunting, sub-plots tumbling, owl-wings widening, and—I forget what else.
We couldn't help wondering about the non-arrival of Mr Rampives. Perhaps his car had croaked.
When none of the other guests made an appearance, either, we assumed there was a hold-up on the roads leading to the city centre. Kay danced with the titchy guest, most of the night. I changed the videos between catering and disc-jockey duties. I also undid knots that developed in the curtains. And found the clock under the old overcoats on the bed.
A very hot night altogether—and the hum of traffic outside was louder than anything that could be produced inside. When we were winding-down and balloon-mending in the small hours, the three of us heard a slight sound, surprisingly at the back of the house, followed by gentle clicking and interminable lock-tumblers falling—and the soft hoot hoot that told us that probably Mr Rampives had at last arrived. The low babble of voices indicated he had rounded up the other missing guests.
The eeny-weeny guest increased the volume on the Reggae as loud as loud could be, whilst Kay and I quickly gobbled up all the spiked titbits that remained. The Lilliputian guest jigged frantically to the music, loose furry ears flying.
It was peculiar how it all turned out, because nobody seemed to have brought any bottles. But I reminded Kay later that she had a diary to enter, so she is busy tonight jotting it all out, telling of all the gaps between the memories. The spaces between the clockbeats. The fare stage where Death takes blood on board. Who knows, she may stumble upon her own murderer in the diary—and I forget what else.
Having wagged a completely imaginary cocktail at the red-skirted lady and the landlord, Rampives managed to catch the last bus by the skin of his teeth. A lady driver. He had the same name ready to call all women. Christian names, when peppered amid the small talk, often could oil the engine of pleasantry. It didn’t really matter which name. Or whether it was correct.
He used to have a single name for every man he met, too. But no need, these days. All other men must be at a war somewhere. He asked Kay for a half fare to any part of the coast. He shrugged as he was put off somewhere in the middle of inland Croydon. He wondered why he was drunk with no drink in his veins. The vessels in his eye-whites were no doubt black now, not red. Blood and time shaken not stirred: the yogic sea of existence. The oil of life. Sold in dimpled jugs. He shrugged again. At least, he wasn't a ghost. Nor a dead teddy. Nor a tired undead. Nor dead tired. He heard a night-lonely dog barking out his name, like a broken engine reluctantly turning over. But who was Huw?