Knowing about these books is not enough.

Blue Bells in May
Nearly next Christmas. The small child in its pushchair. The bars of the pushchair’s frame hung with small bells that the traffic deafened. Bells that were once Christmas decorations. Evidently they had been painted blue, it now being long since Christmas when most decorative bells were silver or gold. The child’s father pushed the pushchair ... or the pushchair pushed the father. That sort of day in May’s Britain when things may go in reverse, or everything seemed just so much trouble and the child that had only been a baby last Christmas grizzled and screeched by turn. The father was a single parent now. The mother was still at the beginning of last year, trying hard not to think of the future with the father. If it were not for the child, things would be or would have been so much simpler. In fact, at the beginning of last year, she had no child out or in. The mother had bought the bells, the year before last in the father’s future, when they were still not blue. The bells, too, were still gold or silver, to hang on the tree. She wonders inside how she may avoid any future with the father, even then. She smiled as she felt a gentle weight upon her lap. Or within her lap. She saw a small gurgling child or baby touching the bells with curious longing and pent-up excitement. But too young to know it was Christmas very soon. It appeared to raise its mouth for a kiss. Marcel in Proust. A sort of goodbye, or a sort of hello. Too young, too, to know which colour was which.

Trick of the Trade (2)
(Jeremy wiped his forehead as he stood up.)

Hot in here (he said) too hot to think of much other than this single thought. Most times I mix all my thoughts up and free wheel with fears, hopes, desires, even, and oh yes, call them what they are, worries, grievances, dreads, nightmares of hate, yes, a whole mess of of aberrations and confusions. I suggest it is impossible to have a single thought, as I claimed at the beginning. Just to think of the heat, and nothing else, as I wished to do BECAUSE of that heat. However, there are various tricks of the trade to help one shrink all our thoughts to one thought, to produce calmness in a wild human mind, as all human minds by their nature usually want to be. But it is too hot even to think at all. So for the moment I give way to the honourable lady.

(He sat down sweating profusely. Even the green leather seats seemed to be sweating And up stood Susan to reply. Her security badge hung round her neck. Dressed formally despite the heat.)

Thank you, my honourable friend has raised a very important point. We need to explore every avenue of the mind. Why it is so crammed, so utterly befuddled at all times of the day and night, yes, I use the word ‘night’ advisedly. Even if one is not tossing and turning with worries just before darkness turns into dawn, the consciousness embedded in the mind is still full of thoughts some of which think thoughts for themselves. Thoughts thinking thoughts.

(She sits down and Jeremy returns to his feet.)

I thank my honourable friend for her valuable thoughts. She has the wisdom of the ages. Although I am not impugning her own age! (He laughs, and wipes his forehead again.) What I shall say is that we need to implement a sieve. Not. a physical one, necessarily, although a wartime helmet with holes drilled in it like the one I am wearing would be ideal, as so many people who are emptying their thoughts so efficiently are those who might actually remember the war. ....... No I will not make way. I want to make progress. Oh, OK. I give way to the honourable gentleman.

(He sat down, glistening and glowing in the chamber’s lights. Joseph stood up and started speaking.)

Is that sieve one of the honourable gentleman’s tricks of the trade? It seems a ludicrous suggestion, even for this chamber. (Laughter.)

(Jeremy stands up again, with a new helmet on his head, one with a central spike pointing upwards.)

Point of order (shouted a voice now upright having been sedentary for centuries.) Dear Mr Speaker, is it possible for this House to regard a trade deal as a trick? I think it impossible for Hansard to know that the honourable gentleman is wearing such a helmet without him saying so. I request that you instruct him to remove it or actually make it known verbally for the sake of Hansard that he is wearing one. Brexit be praised.

(The whole chamber intoned a repetition of Brexit be praised. Like a response in a church. They forthwith trooped into the hot lobby to be counted. One in one out. The trick of the trade upon which democracy is based. But there were now not enough thoughts to go round for any clear thinking at all. The Speaker remained on his rostrum shivering. Shivering sometimes comes with a fever. Trick of the trade, but no treat.)

Trick of the Trade (1)
I must tell someone. There were telltale signs on her body – the handprint-shaped bruises around the rib cage, the mouth, at that time still full of two tongues. Hers and someone else’s. She had evidently died during the act of lovemaking.
In all, the body showed evidence of a mutually violent passion, rather than an act of rape by either party. It was difficult to be absolutely certain because I was merely looking at one side of the story, as it were. If there was another body, there was no sign of it, neither its presence nor any mode of its exit from the flat.
Needless to say, being a churchgoer, stumbling upon this sight in my own flat, I was more than a little shocked out of my mind. But, of course, there was some need to say it....
Without further thought, however, I knelt beside the bed, palms pressed together, like fleshy moth wings, and have called upon you God, rather than the police. I suppose I was administering last rites, in the desperate hope that it was not too late. Trying to neaten and clean her body, too, ready for your attention.

The following Sunday, I could not find my usual church. This was most disconcerting because I had been attending it since I was a small child. Where it should have been was a block of flats.
Somewhat in despair, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt, becoming convinced that it had always been in the next street. The first street, however, turned out to be longer than I remembered, with rank upon rank of unbroken terraced housing eventually arriving at the park gates. I knew all along that the church was nowhere near because I could not see its spire, which would have poked up higher than the TV aerials.
As a child, I had dreamed that the church was really a rocket ship. After all, it looked like one, despite being old-fashioned and bedecked with stone gargoyles. I’d heard of sending monkeys into outer space … but statues and icons? If Mrs. Smith had been cleaning out the pews when it happened, she must have gotten an almighty shock.
I shook my head in disbelief. Was I really thinking these things? Perhaps that incident during the week was taking its toll on my mind. Which was not surprising. I could hardly credit that the police, when they eventually arrived on the scene, were almost giving the impression that I was the chief suspect in a case of murder. After all, they said. Who else was there? It was my flat, wasn’t it? What was the dead woman doing there? Not surprisingly, I was dumbfounded at their damned nerve. They put my behaviour down to shock. Grunts and wild gesticulations.

I found the church at last, tucked away in a nondescript cul-de-sac – quite close to where I lived, as it happened.
Yes, it did look a bit like a rocket ship – but a lot of churches do, don’t they? Except those with square towers, of course. And, oh, yes. Those newfangled Catholic ones with bits of sculpture outside in the guise of oblique builders’ scaffolding.
Today I was so much in awe of you, my God and Saviour, that I literally knelt down in the grounds of the church and made the rest of the way by crawling, in the process scraping off bits of my stockings, and then skin, and then splinters of my kneecaps. My high heels fell off first.
Once inside, it was certainly a useful trick of the trade to know how to pray in silence – unlike those tub-thumping hot gospellers who seem to do everything with their goddamn tongues.
Rest assured, dear God, I am not praying to you only on my own behalf, for that would be more than a little selfish. I am also pleading your gracious mercy and forgiveness for that poor deaf and dumb man whom the police ended up arresting from next door to my flat. He had lived there quietly for years. His loft connected with mine, it turned out. He was viewing ‘Crimewatch’ on TV at the time, I believe. From what I found they should be looking for a man who is made of plastic. So, even though I know the police are not easily fooled, I am still unconvinced of that man’s guilt. Or am I getting confused, Lord? Only you can tell, I’m sure. Hear my words, dear Lord. As you ready yourself for my arrival in your Heavenly church up so very high.
Above was previously published in the early 1990s, but significantly rewritten today.

Call Home
“When you are born, life is mapped out for you. Unless, of course, things change, even very small things changing, just one small thing being able to alter the course of your whole lifetime, and the whole world’s course will alter, too, alongside and as a result of your own one small change, huge swathes of human fate changed by your making any arbitrary decision, however trivial. This is not the same thing as any old butterfly effect in chaos theory, but what I shall now - for the first time - call the CALL HOME syndrome. You see, when you are about to make a decision in your life, you are able instinctively to call home first, calling back to the base point of your birth when life was originally mapped out for you, so as to check that you are not contravening anything untoward in it.”

I looked at him with some amusement. This was not pub talk, as we weren’t in a pub. His whiskers were afire with the sunset. His eyes dead serious. Older than me, but I knew experience did not necessarily come with age. Dependable experience, anyway.

He kept repeating “call home” as if it was an incantation.

“To call home is a smart thing to do,” he continued, thus breaking his thought patterns in the process, looking up, as he did, at the darkening sky with a stoicism that contrasted with his fingers playing nervously in his lap.

“And does home call you back?” I asked. I was half-joking at least.

“When most of us were born, there was nothing smart about communication,” he said, as if ignoring me. “You had dodgy connections, trunk calls, A and B buttons, an operator who put you through when she could, and a handle for cranking on some telephones. Life with its careful destiny was susceptible to such bad connections. Now, though, we have smart sophistication, and calling home is more decisive, longer lasting, with further potential reach, and capable of precise digital adjustment. This makes chaos seem more controllable. But in reality the call home syndrome is decidedly more chaotic than the mere rudimentary chaos we knew as children. Calling home now sometimes reaches beyond home, towards deeper and darker realms that preceded your home point, towards the tangled incoherence of your pre-birth machinations of trial mapping, and thus towards the tangled incoherence of the whole world’s mapping, involving all us others as well as just yourself. The butterfly becomes a monster, lurching from critical moment to critical moment.”

By now, I had ceased listening to his nonsense. I had already called home, and made sure he would never cross my path in the first place. Time for me to sleep anyway.

The plane was readying itself for take-off.
The plane was readying itself for take-off.

I wondered if a plane was called a plane because it interleaved several planes of reality and dream in order to achieve flight for a heavier-than-air object that it surely was. A transporter for people across the tightening borders of the world. Some countries these days even had walls between them, and only a plane could cross them. This plane, today, was not readying itself on an old-fashioned runway, as runways had all become walls themselves. No, it was on a sloping ramp, pointing to the sky at forty five degrees angle, almost like the way rockets used to take off before the North Korean events of history.

Whilst the ramp looked like a giant youthful Meccano model, it did bear the weight of the plane, and now up closer it seemed like a mighty monster of metal which glinted in the setting and rising suns. This was to be home – for me, my family and friends together with a single stranger – lasting at least an optimum length of time. I learned that gradually. It was not a sudden knowledge. I had to be tutored into the idea of taking off on this plane. And persuade my family and friends and a single stranger to join me. It was a sort of embellishment against entrenched echoes of Trump and Brexit that continued to plague our human world.

So, imagine my shock when I was allowed closer to the plane, and saw that it was pointing down the ramp not up it!

Indeed the bodywork of the plane sloped towards the ground upon the ramp and creaked like a regular clock, each tick representing a separate strain on its rivets. This was its way of readying to take off, and there was nothing in the words 'take off' to prevent it taking off rather than soaring off or lifting off or catapulting off into the sky. The nearer I got, I could see it was measured in hundreds of metres, and even thousands, widening out towards the top, tapering down to the deeply spiralled drillbit on its fuselage's nose, a drillbit poised half a centimetre above the desert floor. It spun gently as the powerful engine above in the main body took light revving exercises and clambering labourers leaned from the gantries to squirt huge gouts of black sludge into the moving parts. As the sun rose – blinding off the shiny areas of the mighty fuselage – the drillbit spun harder; then I, now suddenly being the project leader, pressed a button which I knew was the real starter-switch, all the other switches built into the pilot’s console being just for show.

Years of arranging suddenly entered my memory – poring over incomprehensible charts of aeroplane or now terraplane engineering – debating the ways and whyfores of the avenues towards which it might lead me – vicariously enjoying the false start romances which alternated like misfiring currents between members of the crew – carefully monitoring my own sanity – yes, after all these things, surely the day had arrived. I got to get there. Really got to.

A plane readying itself for take off as a Noah’s Ark, yes, but one with no need to take to the open skies, as had been predicted. It was to be home for humanity’s hope not as the Lark Ascending but, in darker moments of delving doubt, more a Lurk Descending.

The lady was younger than myself, although we both dreamed independently that we had once been the same age – separate dreams that neither could admit to the other. She had peach-blossom cheeks and a name she kept hidden, making me call her by all manner of endearments. She played on my good nature and my deep desire for a partner (even at my advanced years). She stood beside me as I pressed the starter switch.

The ignition turned the mighty engines, one sparking off another, until the drillbit spun so fast it was just one among many scintillating shafts of the dawning sun. The tip met the hard redness of the Essex desert just this side of its wall, throwing up a wormcast fit to outshadow an Ancient Egyptian pyramid. It eased into the undersoil, to where centuries of misbegotten seasons had sunk. Then it ground into the first layer of bedrock, setting off a rain of white-hot splinters which cascaded past the windows of the plane's cabins. Somehow the wings and propellers continued to be integral even as they entered the ground. Whether the propellers continued spinning was something beyond my ability to see.

My family and friends merely sat and stared, amid the juddering, as the darkness of Earth enveloped them. No need for concern, I told them: the lights on board would not even flicker, since the relentless power of the drillbit's torque would feedback and regenerate the cells. I showed them where the fuse membranes were stored, so these could be replaced with just one turn of a screw and a snap-on-snap-off cassette. The chosen stranger in the crew was less confident, for I did read fear in his eyes, behind the hope. He was suspicious of why I had chosen him to ride at all. Suspicious, indeed, of himself for having agreed to come on such a wayward mission.

'On to the core, away from Trump and Brexit!’ I announced over the ship’s tannoy. ‘That’s where we shall pitch our tents!’

She laughed. She knew at the bottom of her heart that it was far too hot at the core for anything to exist, especially for our bodies of human parchment and the spontaneously combustible brains that our skulls freighted. Global warming was never to be denied.

I had always felt that I possessed two brains: two lumps of grey matter with hot-rod lightning Z-tracking between. I was not schizophrenic, but merely overburdened with thoughts and ideas which, by turns, conflicted and merged. It was like being married to myself. And as the mammoth plane delved downwards between rocks which shifted amid the sluggish marrow of Earth’s inner sky, I had to calm the nerves of everybody on board, needing to contain their fears concurrently while not allowing my own sanity to slip. I boasted that we were the ultimate pioneers, ones that history had foretold would boldly bodily go to the outer reaches of the Universe, finding a new home to flee a terrible world. But this great escape, I told them, was not up, but down. The dire diseases, you see, were wilder, deeper, stronger in the places where the stars flowed in the sky.

They listened open-mouthed, but I soon saw that none of them had ever believed me. No wonder they couldn’t even trust themselves.

How could I have even hoped that any of them possessed the nous for such concepts, when times were so backward? There were other questions, too. Indeed, I set them pub quizzes to pass the time along its rightful channel, tested them on knowledge and on historical perspective. Until the stranger pointed out that we had forgotten to stow the books. How were we meant to preserve the spirit of the world, the very posterity we hoped to further? Old people were meant to have wisdom, weren’t they. Otherwise, they’d be young again.

I unconsciously bit my lip and indicated towards the carved slabs of map-crazed rocks which slid past the plane's portholes, but if I were meant to speak, to smooth away the puzzles on our brows, I could only find two words: ‘Trust me’.

Suddenly, we all heard an edge-toothed rasping and outlandish crunching noise, like the strongest tide upon loose shingle, when trying to claw a way back from drowning. The plane and its drillbit ground to a ricocheting halt, sending the passengers in all tilting directions, my lady collapsing on top of me with a screech which the drillbit itself must have felt as it met an impermeable Hard Core. Sparks in a molten silver river flowed past the portholes, as my family clambered across the steepening floor towards me, yearning for comfort and words of unalloyed wisdom. But she, my lady, spoke first: ‘The air is escaping, we can’t breathe.’

Two brains merged – at this optimum point of time. We gathered that the fuselage of the plane had been stove in by the force of the jolt, and the carefully preserved life support systems were seeping out – not rapidly as they would have done in outer space, but gradually enough to warrant immediate donning of Q-shaped masks. My mask was in the image of Ancient Pan, and my lady’s in that of a birdlike creature with oversize beak. The stranger’s mask was designed along the lines of my own face whilst the rest of the crew presented a motley array of fictitious heroes and villains, spinning on their rumps like dying bluebottles, all doped to the white-clogged gills.

Only two masks possessed the secret air supply instead of the snorts of dope. But such supply was to last for a mere one minute – suitable for my lady and I to consummate our loving union at last. But not before my two brains alternated endlessly between Death and Life. Until, finally, even endlessness eventually ended and, after much debate, Death itself started to write these words.

‘Trust me,’ the stranger said with his last words – but he knew, in his heart, if not his two brains, that these words were trapped between the hard covers of a book, the ink-trod paper crumbling to choking dope-dust in his throat. The lady tugged a washing-line of pure white oblong flags from under her skirt. She smiled and held it out for him to help pull them free from endlessness. They were the virgin pages for a book which became banknotes for invisible money, most blank but some bearing the head of Charles Dickens in the corner. A few even were denominated.

One of my eyes, I somehow know, weeps an old man’s tears; the other eye sparkles like a child’s. Got to get there. Really got to. Right to the core of dreams. Away from Trump and Brexit. Taking off beyond the Wall of Sleep.

Chopin wrote 24 Preludes, one for each hour of the day, but I always played them when there was a full moon. There was something plaintive about them, methodical, as if all was right, bright or even rightly, brightly dark about the world. When there was a misty ghostly moon of any size, I played his Nocturnes that then seemed appropriate. But a clear new moon made something spring or jump inside my spirit, and I played new music, atonal, some might say a load of noise, but I always found something musical in it, something secret, something that normal melodic music couldn’t reach. When there was a clear gibbous moon, I couldn’t play any music at all. I knew I couldn’t, so why did I try to do so and fail? When there was no moon at all, I thought the Chopin Mazurkas or Waltzes would be perfect, but as I sat down to play them in such circumstances out came a single unknown Chopin Prelude. The notes seemed to play themselves, even more beautiful than the official canon of Preludes. It was almost as if I were sitting at a piano with a piano-roll that was cut into by the finger strokes of Chopin himself. They were my own fingers that followed the keys as they indented one by one, as if the music played me and not vice versa. The perfect Prelude. I stared into the starless, moonless sky as I followed the notes or the notes followed me. I guessed it was so utterly black because of cloud cover. But at heart I knew it was the perfect blackness. The perfect prelude to death.

Black Pearls
Black Pearls
"I wonder if a black oyster can culture a black pearl, its pitch black outer shell hinged to another such shell, and tightly contained within them are its slimy innards and a now bullet-hard pellet shaped into a tiny sphere whereupon all the seas and lands mapped upon it are as black as each other..."

He took a few moments to catch breath between the poetic ruminations with which he sometimes tried to impress me, before continuing...

"That was my dream, to cultivate and market black pearls, thus to provide necklaces for everyone's sweethearts to show up on their fair-skinned necks. But then one day they told me I could not do this as it would be seen to conflict with the social norms of tolerance and inclusivity. Everything needed to be available to everyone, to show up on every skin."

I nodded knowingly. I was an oyster-catcher of the first water and he was a half-breeder open for my wares. I poked a finger into my purse and brought out for his inspection the most perfect pearl I had as a lucky keepsake. One I had not been able to sell. It was no colour at all, yes, a colourless pearl like a drop of water. I offered it to him with my voice...

"This is the only pearl of its kind but I now have the methodology to re-create it, given your investment to catch other oysters the same colour as water. Think of it, a necklace of pearls like beads of sweat, or gentle perspiration - each pearl fused to the skin without the need for a thread or Miller's string. Such pearls have the attractiveness of glowing upon the skin and no laws are contravened. Even mermaids can wear them, say, like a belly-dancing delight just above where their skin ends and the tails begin."

He looked at me as if I were mad, but decided to trust me. I had helped him before to discover dust that did not need dusting, food that did not need excreting, see-through hats, clothes that made one thinner than the body otherwise made possible, and false moustaches for women.

"Ah ha," he had said, "aren't you contravening the rules of universal availability by offering false moustaches for women? They need to be available to men, too."

We had always come to an agreement - always a compromise.

"Black pearls," I said, "have always been a difficult choice, both to cultivate and to fulfil social justice strictures. Normally, I found, black oysters produced pearl-coloured pearls just as pearl-coloured oysters did, too. Each producing a pearl that I see as a rich pinky white that glows like Heaven's light, and with an imagined soul of utter perfection emanating from within. But others see that colour and soul differently. And none of us can really know what the others see."

I matched my poetics with his. I smiled, before continuing...

"After all, God is colourless, see-through, and sometimes comes down as a certain kind of rain, and is neither man nor woman."

We were now speechless, the whiteness of our eyes a faint Botticelli pink. Silent together, at least before that moment when we left together hand in hand.

Shifting Shadows

"We'll need a belt as well as some braces," she said.

I looked askance at where my wife Rose was sitting. What did she know about a man's need for a belt and braces? Sixty years of marriage and she still thought that anxiety was a word you set in spelling tests. And security as a job someone did in places we never at our age went to any more.

If one thing fails, then you have the other to hang on to, I always tried to explain, a bit like marriage itself, the belt and the braces of self and unself amid the shifting shadows of precarious time. So imagine my surprise when she suggested both methods of holding up the trousers as a metaphor for double banking the fire with coal and wood, with the help of the updraught of a stretched-wide newspaper in front of the flames. Dangerous, looking back on such ancient domestic fire-making practices. I often got my metaphors mixed. I could never keep up with conversations nowadays, because I had to remember what someone had said at least a a minute or so before I tried to remember it - and that was becoming more and more difficult.

What had happened, was that the electricity had gone out, and all the house-lights with it. And by belt and braces, she meant a torch and a candle. We had to climb the stairs to bed, a veritable challenge more characteristic of Everest these days. Especially in an unexpected darkness. I imagined those shifting shadows of my life now transposed to the landing, especially if lit with a candle.

"No, not a candle," I said. "A torch will do."

"We need one to find the other," Rose counter-claimed. "Otherwise we will find neither."

I nodded as if I understood. Except it was too dark to see me nodding. This was a rum do, I thought. Both of us sitting in the darkness, thinking the other one would go to find a candle. Or a torch. Whichever was more readily to hand.

Needless to say, our preparation for such an eventuality had turned out to be pitiful. As we realised at the same precise moment that the belt had failed and so had the braces. But having just written that, I'll probably forget it later. My own flickering inner light was blighted with shifting shadows. And I mused as I watched them for a while or imagined watching them as we continued sitting in silence. Good job I would again recognise her voice as I had no other evidence about with whom I was sitting in the sitting-room. Sitting side by side or opposite each other, I could not remember. I stretched out my hand in all directions and fumbled with a vertical elasticated strap over someone's chest. Didn't feel like my wife's chest. Must be mine, then. Though the waist and its threaded belt felt far too huge to be anyone's at all. Must be a giant, I thought. I resisted feeling beyond the clothes. The light would be back soon.

And it was then I heard a movement in the corner of the room, a shuffly, shambly friction. And the sudden blooming of candleflame amid new shifting shadows, and a face lit up. I squinted to see if it was my wife's. I was sure it was her face, the one that had been lived in for longer than anyone would care to think. My own face was weathered, too. I wonder if she could see it from where she now stood, with that relatively distant candleflame. If it was her at all. Which it must be. It would be an intruder otherwise. An intruder wearing braces.

I laughed to myself. Strange what shifting shadows can do to the mind. And I thought of my own trusty torch that I thought I carried about with me at all times - for just such an eventuality. Its pinprick beam ever primed. But all I'd feel would be my mobile phone which I had never been able to use properly ever since my son gave it to me and showed me how to work it. It might even have its own beam, I now suddenly remembered. Strange what one remembers, and what one forgets. I believe I forget more than I remember, but I am never sure.

I suddenly stood up with a creaking of pain, without apparent volition, to feel better about my person and to seek whatever double security of well-being I could re-establish. And my trousers immediately collapsed around my ankles with a silence from which any friction had already escaped.

"The light is back on." Rose's voice. But I didn't hear it. The root of the fitment had come away from the ceiling. And the rest of the lightshade hanging beneath had fallen with it. The visibility had become its own shifting shadows out of my sight up there, risen there automatically like swathes of bright heat and smoke. I couldn't even remember, meanwhile, whether I was still alive. Only the feeling of someone's fingers loosening the pinions of my clothes. So I could escape through them. Then loosening the sinewy belt and braces holding all the baggy skin to the bones. I was to be cared for by my better half to the very end, I thought - even as I remembered the sensation of it all ending but not quite ending yet. "How do you spell anxiety?" asked the giant, before the mobile broke into light, having already started to vibrate.

Two words in the title tied together by an ampersand. Two words are always better than one. One no doubt better than none. But three or more? That's when you get close to renting a crowd, I guess. Belt, braces, buttons & buckles. Brooches and badges then added, closely followed by bonnets and boots. The list is literally endless, as I have not even mentioned balaclavas and bodices. All to tighten or cover parts of the body, a few of these things to be stuck on as decoration, but all of them presumably to give some certainty to the existence of a person and a personality, depending on what is chosen to upholster the various appendages and to support the several leanings of self.

But one belt and one set of braces were surely enough to keep one's trousers up, to keep not only one's skirt suspended but also the pouches under the eyes. Ensuring there is no slippage. To keep the hangdog expression from becoming something more substantial lower down. A look or image of the schoolboy where there now stands a man. And this is essentially a story about a man, not a woman. Who, you say, a human or a whoman? There is at the end of the day little difference, because under the clothes we know not what lurks. What or who. Only doctors are normally privy to those areas, doctors or lovers. And for them neither belt nor braces give sufficient bar, neither brassiere nor basque able to stop the reveal of what or who.

The man in this story meanwhile sought for his own life companion. Someone sufficiently similar to him to be human but different enough to be mate. He wore his belt and braces proudly, a Columbo of our times, seeing not only whodunnits but also what-withs and whys. And who was next. Not a man at all, apparently.

A regeneration of life companion to launch a thousand bathing-costumes. One or two piece alike.

Till the monsters came. Each with an interrogatively whovian hook.

And then a belt and a pair of braces were worse than useless. As what they suspended became belief as well as disbelief. The monsters wore something like a belt not around their waist but vaguely draped and drooped round their chest instead.
Playing in their amper-sandbox of crowded words and worlds. Renting a mob for möbius.

The police box was covered in freshly laundered corsets and its light was flashing.

The Foreign Connection
I needed a new circuit in my house. Oh, by the way, my name is Francis, spelt in the male way - 'is' not 'es'. I requisitioned, therefore, a specialist electrician as the circuit had lost the efficiency of its ohm resistor and thus required a new connection. I loved connections, even accidental ones, and when the electrician came, he told me he was called Francis, too. This sort of thing boded well. All seemed right and destined to be even better. He took one look at the old ohm resistor, then tickled its inner wires gingerly like a bomb disposal expert.

"Ah, Francis," said Francis (we had already struck up a first name relationship). "This part of your circuit needs replacing altogether and a new connection installed, what we in the trade call the Foreign Connection. We don't often have to use a Foreign Connection, but here we most definitely do."

I stared at him and nodded like a hypnotised puppet. I knew very little about electric currents. He looked into his cavernous bag with many compartments and pulled out a device like a far eastern letter of the alphabet then, eventually, a series of such letters joined together, an intricate pattern of intersecting lines, curves and dots forming a complex piece of equipment in a language that we did not need to speak as we had ourselves achieved an unspoken connection, a telepathic communication that only lovers seem able to master.

This was the first time for me with a tradesman. Most of my previous connections were with artists or writers of a sophisticated persuasion. Sometimes with similar individuals of wilder or more anarchic charms. I felt defiled by loving an electrician after only a few minutes of connections and intervening shocks. And as he worked on my circuit, fitting the Foreign Connection precisely by touching tab with tab, lead to lead, plug to plug, most of these appendages unimaginably small...

I could no longer resist him. A complex circuit, one to the other, both of us with the same name, a name spelt with line, curve and dot with a line through it rather than the same configuration but with two dots instead of one. A male and female socket and plug in a perfect inscrutability of discipline, joining each to each, a ruthless work ethic from the opposite curve of the world's circuit to our own curve of existence. A force or source of current to expunge wars of whatever blame or cause.

I hoped to dispose carefully of the bomb later.


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