She wakes up slowly. The fragments of the dream that she can recall with ease she tries to fit together, all the while knowing that the picture will never be complete.

The pain is in the small of her back and in the space around her liver.

One day, she thinks, it’s all going to come down in a shower of stiff rain, rock and roll and dreadful shimmer. She’ll walk out, be absorbed by the storm, screaming, and no-one will hear.

But in the meantime she just wraps his big coat around her and bends her back into the wind again.

Life and death: a sequence of repeats, a movie that she watches again and again.

How does it all begin?

I of fish? You of pork? They of lamb and we of beef? He of lungs and she of teeth? It of brains and heart and liver and spleen and blood and unrecognizable flesh?

“Offal,” he tells her, “that’s where it starts and ends.”

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Holland Park

14Nov06

And another dawn breaks with the pain of blood like a red mist through fearsome night streets, a new day with all of yesterday’s newly awakened traumas and hung-over tears, banging on the door, embracing him, screeching like murder at the edge of the forest, tearing pages out of the book of sleep, dragging him from his dreams like a detective.

There’s nothing else.

What else should there be?

A negro bass-player’s double bass just before the dawn?

A sense of twilight?

What about the amok-man?

Smashing up the room with a hammer, spitting and hissing like a demon with his face horribly twisted… a terrible grimace.

Eh?

What?

Tell me about that bastard.

God.

I can see him now: sweat dripping from his nose and chin, spit foaming up like whipped snot around the wry, distorted, criminal grin of his gibbering mouth.

Look, I’m telling you it never happened. There was just this woman. Someone called her sweetheart. She couldn’t remember his name.


Comedy

13Nov06

It’s history now, a scenario lost in time. Fatboy in a smart restaurant. Black tie, tux, smoking a cigar, perusing the menu. His date, a huge winged insect in a ball gown and costume pearls, sips a cocktail through a plastic straw. A waiter waits.

I’m cold. The whole room is cold and everything I touch increases it. I pour myself a drink, knowing I shouldn’t. The glass is cold; the blood in my fingers freezes as I clasp it. I really shouldn’t. The warmth of alcohol is artificial, a dead heat. But I knock it back regardless and pour another. I need the inflammation.

How long will it take? How many glasses? If I can drink twenty lifetimes in one day, and if doing so produces enough heat to finish this, I’ll be happy. I’ll die a funny, laughing drunk.

My father calls it his inner ear. I stretch mine and try to listen but there’s nothing laughing in there. There’s just this vacant hum, an inactive drone like the buzz of a dead radio channel, an empty space waiting for the pop of time.

Time runs in grooves, little furrows with smooth, steeply sloping banks that you can’t climb. And it makes a faint popping sound on the hour like a soap bubble bursting in your ear as it runs out on you. It’s supposedly a man made construct but that can’t be true, since there’s never enough of it.

One day I’ll have time, time to do all the things I’ve never had time to do before. Such is belief. Then I realise that what I really mean by “having time” is “owning time”, controlling it. That’s the only way. To own time is to have the time to increase time and bend it, expand or shrink it to our own ends. It’s arrogant of me, I know — my wife leaves me for this very reason — but that’s the way I am and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Imagine, Fatboy, if time was dust. You could spend a whole year in a room just letting it collect and at the end of that year — on New Year’s Eve, say, the final second about to pop — you could gather up all that dust into a great pyramid and snort it up like cocaine through a rolled up banknote or a tube of typing paper. It’s like experiencing the whole of that year in one blinding, thirty second rush, a gargantuan high, three hundred and sixty five days in a shot glass. Or, if you choose, you can do it slowly, selectively, batch it up into daily doses each containing a minute of the year. Five hundred and twenty-five thousand and six hundred hits — enough for twenty lifetimes, twenty lives out of one year of heat, and the real thing too — nothing artificial there, that’s the real thing, dust heat.

If dust was time, if dust was life you could have it all, all the time in the world. You could live forever, you could be the king of time.

I get the terror. It drags me back to the lines at the top of my screen. All the coldness of the room, the streets, the world, concentrates in the pit of my stomach, a small, hard, freezing fist-sized ball of dread. I imagine flakes of ice forming across my eyes.

What if it isn’t time I lack? What if it isn’t heat I  need? What if I have all the time in the world and the most efficient heating system in the universe and I sit in my room for eternity and nothing happens? No more sketches or skits. No more jokes. No more ironic elbow nudges. What if my screen remains for all time bereft of strange but amusingly contextualised and cunningly placed lexical choices?

Tens of millions of sheets of yellowing, rotting, horribly disintegrating typing paper flutter and flounce around behind my eyes in an invisible breeze, each one horribly blank. I hear the sound of hollow laughter.

Once terror gets its hooks into a writer working to a deadline well, he might as well shoot himself. Soon he is overtaken by a total disbelief in his abilities. He can tell himself he’s a professional, that there’s no such thing as a block but he’ll never convince himself. He will refill his glass. He has to. There are no choices any more, he has to generate heat any way he can before the cold takes over completely. Before the ice expands.

Janitors and bailiffs have broken into writers’ apartments to collect unpaid rent only to find blocks of solid, unmeltable ice hunched hopelessly over broken and frosted-over keyboards.

That’s what terror does, that’s the way he gets you. He creeps up the back of your throat and into your mouth, finds his way under your tongue where the soft membrane is and snatches it up with his talons, bites into it, paralyses you. You have to drown him — it’s the only way — or freeze to death. So you drink. And that’s when the guilt starts.

My father never drinks. In twenty years not a mouthful passes his lips while he’s working.

“You can’t write good stuff you can’t stay sober,” he tells his son. He speaks like that, omitting conjunctions; you can never quite pin down the true sense of what he’s saying; the resultant ambiguity is the source of his humour.

I take a large swallow from the bottle. I can’t write good stuff (and) I can’t stay sober. But I have to write something, anything, anything to obliterate that white obscenity, to cover that loathsome nakedness. With my eyes crunched shut I move my fingers across the keys. Soon I’m pressing and punching mindlessly, shivering with cold, fear and guilt and lack of time and onrush of alcoholic meltdown.

Take my father — please!

What does he know? He’s dead; an old dead, corn-ball one liner re-shuffler. The world is different now. Everything is different now. Comedy is different, I’m different. My chest is bursting, huge breaths increasing body heat. I’m writing. don’t know what I’m writing or what the words mean or if they mean anything at all or even if they are actual words or just bunches of random characters and I really don’t give a damn. My head’s full of the clatter of the keys, faster and faster, echoing, fading and increasing, letters tripping and tumbling onto the screen laughing and squealing and chattering like kids out of school.

Querty and the Black and White Miracle Show.

There’s a cigarette unlit between my lips; indentations of teeth on the filter. I go to the window. Through the glass I can see nothing at first but the dark. Then, briefly, as it passes beneath a street light, a figure. A girl late night walking. My eyes try to follow her but once she passes through the light she becomes just a shadow, elongating and flattening out, expanding and contracting in the glare of a passing headlight like a reflection in a deviant mirror. In seconds she’s gone and I wonder what her name is. Why is she out at this hour on such a cold night? And is it my imagination or does she look up for a split second? Does she smile at me? Is she cheating on some man? Is she a prostitute?

Late night people have defects. They’re all up to no good. That’s what I want to write about: faults, imperfections, stories told in shadow, in fairground mirror reflection, all the fear washed out, the ugliness of deformity draped in ridiculous washes of colour.

I read aloud the few lines at the top of the screen: “Fatboy in a smart restaurant…” The characters dance on the page as I slur the passage over and over again. Tommy “Fatboy” Devine, the comeback kid. No other comic in the business is more terrified of new material and yet his insistence on total originality from his writers is pathological.

For a comedian, telling a new joke or performing a virgin routine is like sky diving. You never know if the parachute is going to open. Fatboy, now, well he doesn’t simply want to jump out of a plane; he wants to dive off the moon, on television, in a “totally original” one man show after five years in the weeds.

I open a clean screen and sit there a while just staring at it. Nothing happens. The bottle on my desk is as empty as the screen and I wish I wasn’t drinking. Maybe I should get some more. A few glasses and a wrap I could work through til midday. I could call the local cab stand and get them to send a car over to the 24/7 in Kilburn.

But I don’t. I’m already falling asleep, picking up the phone in a dream, saying hello to a sleepy voice on the other end. Then the phone disappears and I fall deeper. The room becomes a smart restaurant and I’m Fatboy Devine in black tie and Tux.

The waiter waits. The insect has finished her cocktail.

“OK,” I say, “I’ll have the gazpacho, leeks vinaigrette with shrimp, marinated zucchini, the orange mousse, a bottle of  Cotes du Rhone ’68…” the insect’s wings buzz and her pearls rattle “…and you’d better bring me a plate full of shit for my fly.”


Daedalus

12Nov06

In half sleep I see the streetlamps on Constitution Hill glisten inside their frosted halos. I watch them swing softly in the crosswinds that waft the spirit of the sea up through the town and sweep the mysteries of heather and furze down from the low-lying hills.

 I breathe the rimy evening air, moist with soft rain, and feel the purchase of my key in the old lock, the softness of the rugs beneath my feet as I enter the warm stillness of home.

It’s nearly two-thirty. I have dozed for maybe twenty minutes, my only sleep in almost twenty-four hours, and yet I feel wide awake.

I open the double doors to the balcony and a gentle ululation of cricket-song and soft jazz fills the room. I can see the fading shadows of the village and, just behind, the luminous blue of the pool and the the spot-lit piazza of the hotel.

I think of the drive from the airport, of Emile and my tetchiness. I’m tired and the youth’s zippy manner and easy familiarity irritates me, accentuates my consciousness of my own low spark.

“There are many Americans in Crete,” he tells me, “In the town you should feel at home, I think.”

After a deliberate and pronounced silence, I reply that I doubt it and, for his information, I didn’t come all this way to “feel at home”

“Anyway, I live in the UK and my father was Irish.”

“My mother is French,” he says.

“And?” I ask.

“I am Greek. First Cretan. But Greek.”

“Your father is Greek?”

“No,” he replies, “my father is dead. To fully be Greek a man must be alive.”

We continue the journey in silence until we reach the village. Just before turning off to begin the final ascent up the mountain road to the house, Emile points to some steps leading to the entrance of a walled courtyard:

“This is my family’s hotel, it’s called Daedalus. The bar opens late; we have some Irish guests just now. I hope you’ll visit us.”

On reaching the house I offer him some money but he refuses:

“Max is a friend. Come to the hotel anytime. You can buy me a drink.”

Then he reverses into the drive and turns the car around.

“By the way, you will like my sister. She hates Americans.”

I wake late, dress and make my way downstairs, where I find Max Thorwaldsen in the kitchen. He is seventy but looks much younger.

Crete has been home to Max and his wife Eva for nearly twenty years. She teaches English at the school in Old Hersonisos, painting landscapes and harbour scenes in her spare time. Max has Glaucoma and is going blind.


A chill

12Nov06

The dream has no beginning or end and I always wake up at the same time: just before the door opens and the tall man is about to enter the room. The experience never lasts beyond this point. There is no continuation.

But it is the way with dreams that the dreamer is both actor and director and knows every aspect of the script. I know that the tall man is beyond the door. I know his tuneless whistle and dry cough, the bad tattoo on his right earlobe, the jingling of loose change in his trouser pocket against his thigh as he walks and I know that seconds after I wake he will be in the room and the pale, red-haired girl will blanch even paler and the young man in the light-weight khaki Summer suit tied by his hands and feet to the chair will scream.

And though I have never heard that scream I will always remember it.

And the dreamer will be gone, running through the dimly lit corridor into the lobby, past the fat key-man man sleeping at the reception desk and out into the driveway like a tabloid sensation. Running into the road, crossing the intersection, caught in the squealing headlights, creased by the slipstream.

But there is no freedom. He might run this road forever and never be even falsely free. To run is not to find freedom; to run is merely expressive of the desire for freedom and desire is of no consequence. We are simply protozoa bursting, vainly attempting bifurcation, hopelessly blind to the impossibility of success.

I will never know why those people are in that damnable and accursed place. I will never hear their names in anything but hellish tongues; will never know why the bed is strewn with spent matches or what it is that makes the girl turn away from the window and smile just before the door opens. 

But I will sleep again and dream again and again and again and I will shiver.

The chill in that room: the same chill that lives in the marrow of the dwarf’s spine.

And my heart pounds with the relentlessness of a living steam-hammer, the shock-waves like bullets striking my synapses as I struggle to take in the scene from my hide in a corner somewhere deep in that room that has no right or reason to exist for anyone but me and the dwarf.

The Amok-man scenario, the Mexican Motel room sequence played in dumb-show by crippled actors on a broken set to a symphony of traffic whooshing through the rain and meeting and parting at the intersection. The same monstrous tableau with the unmade bed in the smoke filled alcove, its pale, dirty pink candlewick coverlet awry and its faded paisley-patterned mattress exposed and littered with spent matches, a purple wash in a jagged wedge of luminosity from the down-lighter.

And everywhere the chill. A chill of homelessness and late night early morning train stations, of highways, of strange bedrooms and other lives and other dreams, of the commingled breath of unknown lovers, which freezes the dwarf’s semen, murders his sperm moments before he comes.

Dear Arabella,

how is Arcadia?

I’m missing you too much. I think I’ve been on the road too long this time.

Will write again soon.

Love,

Jon.


I smile at my reflection in the flawed mirror as I shave. The eyes are the same eyes that stare back at me as a boy, now set in an older face. With my razor I trace the course of the scar – hardly visible now, just another fold of falling skin – through the lather in a crescent from my temple to my lip. Suddenly my smile freezes, concern mists my eyes and for a moment an unspeakable panic threatens to overwhelm me. I can’t remember how I got the scar.

As a boy of ten I am small even for my age, I remember that. And I can remember the room in our house, its terra-cotta walls secret beneath the paintings. I remember too the feeling that humans are incidental here, that the house exists not for them but for the others, the people from the labyrinth: the cobbler in the red fez, the veiled women haggling with a rug seller in the souk, kiff-smokers drowsing at their pipes, the beautiful Arab girl on the beach at Merkala…

I recall them all in every detail but I can’t remember how I got the scar. 

Is it simply this, that because I’m a writer and live in my own head the narrative of my off-page life is, of necessity, strange and yet, somehow legitimate? I see things that other people never see. There are things I will never see but I am convinced, as a writer and as a man, that everybody, writer and man, experiences everything. That’s the biggest irony. Everything is strange — the word itself is impossible to define — and yet the concept of everything is and always has been the most central and important of human concepts.

I’m never sure that what I experience actually ever happens and I can’t remember how I got the scar.

Fakirs and snake charmers and holy men, all that remains of my father is in that house, it’s a shrine to him, a vault for his treasures. A prison for his seed? someone demands once of my mother. It just isn’t right, he believes, that a child should be closeted away in this sumptuous, beautiful, smothering museum. Is it not indeed an act of amazing and callous cruelty? 

The reception area is light, bright and brittle, the late morning sun cuts a swath through the conditioned air. In the big smoky bar off the hotel lobby Ted Silversteen, the shoe man, orders Perrier with gin and bitters and sucks on an unlit, over-sized cigar.

Ted’s in his seventies but looks older, a small, frail man with a thin stringy neck and a ferrety head on the frame of a mayfly. He’s been a commercial traveller most of his life (“an agent”) and, in an archaic and threadbare way, has retained the attitude and appearance of one. His shoes are immaculate – handmade, buffed to a military standard – hence the sobriquet. He plays piano in a drinking club off Greek Street and sometimes drives a mini-cab.

He’s always been a bachelor on the inside, even though he has once been married and often speaks of a son somewhere. And there is an air of sequestered domesticity about him, a subtle bouquet of oregano.

I get myself a large Irish and join him at a banquette table by the door. A gentle saxophone weeps some lonely jazz that makes me think of the injustice of being the only man in a crowd to spot a solitary magpie. I can tell from Ted’s half hearted greeting that something isn’t quite as it should be but I think better of asking him outright what the problem is. Instead I light a cigarette and wave the green Clipper at him, motioning towards the unlit cigar still held loosely between his lips.

“You know, Jon,” says the Shoe Man, “I never thought I’d say this, but I’m ready to leave this city.” Cigar smoke fills the air, almost enveloping him. “Yes sir, I’m ready for a little seaside town up north, Whitby, perhaps, or maybe somewhere in Devon, somewhere with an esplanade and small, clean streets leading up to a lazy town. You know of anywhere like that?” I do. I live in a place like this once… Hell, that’s from another story.

I feel the emptiness come over me again. The music has changed. A double bass slides up and down behind some minor guitar chords and a snare drum brushing a slow train rhythm threatens to suck me in. I gesture towards the speakers: “Death by vacuum cleaner,” is all I can bring himself to say.

“They’ve killed my Charlie, Jon,” says Ted quietly. “He’s dead. I aways knew they’d kill him one day.”

And I still can’t remember how I got that scar.


To be blessed

08Nov06

Three bar scenes, 2am lounge scenarios, backstage kitchen sink sets. Imported stench from the ghettos in perfumed candle or aerosol formats. A few blacks, spics, bubbles and micks around the place, strategically situated on bar-stools and banquettes, just to brighten up the setting and muddy the narrative, for the paradox that’s in it.

“You know that stumbling feeling?” Ted asks. “Like you’re falling over your own shadow in the dark or tripping on a small piece of conversation somebody left on the carpet in a corner of the room? That’s what being me is all about. The sex only helps with the physical stuff, and the alcohol is a waste of time if no-one recognises that the pain is there. You can mend a bird’s broken wing but it sure as hell isn’t going to fly the same again. A bird can’t fly with a limp and retain its grace, and the spirit of the people won’t be raised by a dictator speechifying with a lisp… even if he did come by it honourably, sir.”

And he’s right, the atmosphere just won’t sustain such things, isn’t dense enough. They feed you that garbage all around the world, everywhere you go and it doesn’t get any sweeter no matter where you hear it. So you create this hell, this whirlpool of claws and fangs inhabited and ruled by the Three Disgraces, WHODO, HOODOO AND VOODOO. And they do and we do and you do.

The old thing in its kitchen with its worn and torn dress and the slippers with the soles flapping as it shuffles and shambles all about. She’s always there, like the agent’s pullover or the wallpaper; there all the time, like the stale smell of the hall carpet, like his moods, piss-offs and depressions, and he doesn’t know why.

But it’s all way back when in the long gone and misty now. We live at night, denizens of the dark. Now we must take notice of the day and it doesn’t come easy. Maybe we just can’t adapt or perhaps it’s just that we won’t. Whatever. It seems the past will remain there, right there where it belongs, even though every bone, nerve and thought tells us that it’s been following us all right along, that it’s here right now in the present and will be all the way through to whatever future is waiting.

The dwarf hoists himself onto a stool at the bar and lights a cigarette, waiting for the pills to kick in. On a tall stool in a dark bar he is un-dwarfed. The muscles of his arms and shoulders are developed to a degree that creates the illusion that his head is of normal size. The shortness of his arms might betray the truth but he has his suits cut so that the sleeves are shorter than they would be were his arms of standard length. The protrusion of his shirt cuffs, fastened with gold and ebony links, further enhances an illusion of elongation.

He watches their shapes in the shadows. What he can’t see with his eyes he sketches in with his thoughts. Soon his whole being becomes Zimmerman’s tongue swimming luxuriously in the mucus of Crazy Carol’s mouth and a comet-trail of sequins of bar-room light explodes in his groin like a soft bomb. 

Who can help but marvel at the simplicity of the workings of the mechanisms of hope? At the anticipation of comfort, of money, of buying a ticket to the pleasures and the peace of the big black? At the ecstasy of movement and the emancipation change promises, to develop, to become aware of displacement, to exercise, to feel that magic flow produce gestures that start from within?

Oh to be within touching distance of an understanding of the politics of transfer, to be blessed.