Under Current

‘Under Current’ by DF Lewis

Why two words? I often wonder whether the second word is misspelt. Currant not current. Still, if you are listening to this, you might wonder what the hell I am talking about. If you listen to everything people say, you might wonder if their intentions are to confuse rather than to clarify.

Even in writing, there is always an undercurrent of being taken for a ride, and you often need to read between the lines to garner the real meaning. Somerset Maugham once wrote about the Princess and the Nightingale, where the nightingale itself spoke to her. To quote Maugham’s story: “‘It’s not the same thing,’ said the little bird. ‘The rice fields and the lake and the willow-trees look quite different when you see them through the bars of a cage.’”

So why two words? I ask this again as I have just thought of something preferable to ‘under current’, a whole, single word with no gap in it, even better than undercurrent itself with no gap in it. That is the normal mediocre way. Undercurrent. Nothing to do with raisins or currants. But, then again, as I have already confirmed, I suddenly thought of another word: UNDERTOW. Spelt thus. Nothing to do with feet or their digits!

Then again.

Then again.

The current under our feet is sensed as becoming deeper and deeper, almost like an earth rumour. That was an autocorrect for my clumsy typing of tremor. The throbbing beyond the toes of my feet, a shuddering entrenched within the soul of the support I always try to find in the shaky planet upon which we live. Who knows what waits for us beyond the terror of the terrain?

Take a moment, please, to think, to ponder, yes, to wonder. The earth has its own undercurrent and we should listen to it more than we do.

Towing us through space to our final harbour. Death is above and below everything. A swish and swash of tides nobody can truly ponder - or plunder. The bars of Maugham’s birdcage factored into... into what?

Into ourselves.

Not the digitally manipulative illusion of words and sound, nor any ebb and flow of life as fostered by a nuisance of nuance.

Patio Blues

It was a new music genre — invented by Jonty who used music as a way to do nothing. Creating music that started to swaddle him, made him feel less guilty about sitting on the patio, being lazy in the lazy sun.

Nobody realised the sun was lazy, but some of us, like Jonty, assumed if he felt lazy, everything around him was lazy, too. Including the music he put on the open-air loudspeaker. A gentle rhythm of near silence, that suited to sitting under the blue sky. It was always a blue sky. It was as if Jonty lived in a painting with a permanent sun that could not be bothered to cross the sky. And a blue sky that resisted the clouds busying themselves to scud across it. Resisted the clouds as they sat at the edge of the painting as a fluffy frame. If you put an ear to the canvas you could enjoy Jonty’s composing of Patio Blues. Or so you imagined.

It turned out to be the next opted music craze, if only you could bottle it as an option at all. The sound of a painting painted in blue and a smudge of orange above the neat grey patio slabs with not a weed between them. Then you wondered — where was Jonty? The work of art was so minimal, the shape of Jonty had been subsumed. The perfect music would be music that nobody needed to hear. Just an empty patio, patio being a word that had lost its meaning, yet still there.

If there at all, now. An empty painting and no painter to claim its ever being painted.

Listen, can you hear it? It’s there around us, assuming we are there at all. Forgotten the earlier part of what had been written for us, or told to us, and why. Where was the man sitting, what was his name and what is the title that was given to what we are being told and to the piece of music itself? In a world with a frozen sun, any climate foregone. Blue sky event horizon thinking not even an option.

Very relaxing music indeed.

The Yeti

January has yet been decidedly unsnowy this year. Day after day, with a madness of mildness and hangdog expressions and children who no longer play properly. The sleds are kept in the sheds. And Jack Frost is now a dream, with his craziness gone from the panes. Icicles are dangled from gutters at Christmas as glass replicas. Nobody, though, had yet... Yet what? Nobody knew what they hadn’t yet... hadn’t yet ... it was so difficult to finish a ... to finish a ...

A paragraph? Someone once dreamt of taking part in a universal tontine but nobody took part because nobody had yet... Everyone had not yet ... understood what a tontine is? Even the children were still... The old people started to ... Started to what? To die? Well, not yet. Not in any way would I die, for one.

There were so many unfulfilled yets. Yet this, yet that. And then suddenly one day, as January turned into February upon the back of Winter, a white glaze settling over what I could see. But I could not yet see ... hah!

I just added a word after yet. I could not yet see ... could not yet see what? A strange shape began to emerge, at first a vision of Jack Frost with limbs as broken icicles. Then it became a jigsaw of crystals, forming a mound like an unfinished elephant. The face was abominable. I could hardly look at it. The children shouted at seeming snowflakes that billowed to become like analog static over a screen. Normally the children would have shrieked with delight at the renewed onset of a wintry day upon oodles of precipitation. But the face scared them by peering at them through the blizzards of some nightmare, my nightmare, not the nightmare of anybody else. I had won the tontine, it seemed, but what was the point of winning as I sat atop a pyramid that had been crudely carved from the last ever igloo.

What’s the point of winning when there is nobody left to see you winning it?

I peered into cascades of icy clutter, synchronised shards bouncing off a coat of whiteness upon serendipitous sheds, and I was trying to see where everything began and ended. Until I could make out the reflection of abomination upon the underbelly of a glacier. But it eventually melted before I could see the reflection properly. But, so far, it had not melted, never yet. A yetinfinity.

All The Words I Know

“All the words I know are never used in one go, but today I feel most of them brimming up as the world potentially erupts around me by Climate and Trumpate.”

The man whom I knew as Abel Martin, an old man, even older than me, stared glassily at me as he intoned these words. Perhaps all the words he knew?

Nobody knows how many words any one person knows. Everyone keeps their own counsel, gearing up such matters, over their individual lifetimes. We all have our own bespoke vocabulary, I guess, and Abel Martin must have had his own wellspring or bank or sump or collective of words that he could use in expressing his despair at the way the world around him was panning out in real-time.Even as we stared at each other, the world was changing. Breaking news ever brimming over the brink of what we knew and what was knowable. But nobody could know everything, so why have strong views on any situation when any counter-argument could arise to change everything, even with new words that one had never predicted knowing. We can never know everything that there is to know. Words and whatever.

All the men we know. All the women we know. Abel Martin’s only one among many people whom I know. And that group of people I know are few among many I don’t know at all. Children who are to grow into men and women. Or so we hope. Given the circumstances of the world Abel so ably described in so few words. A world of words.

He was now joined by others in the room. He actually smiled as someone sat next to him, as if they belonged together. Even in the darkest times, there are moments of relative calm or light or even hope, I find. Writing this is one such moment. Using all the words I know in one go. Because when the end come they diminish to none. I waited for someone of my own to sit next to me, first. The chosen one from all the people I know. Perhaps even older than me. Or do I eventually know nobody at all as real-time continues to pan out, to pan out despite all my fears. The tontine that faces each of us, till only one of us wins or loses the battle to become the top of the pyramid.

Only unspoken words remain. Unwritten ones, too. Hoping for replacements for any words we have lost. By Create and Potentiate.

Words are the Creatures more worthy than us. “A Triumph for Climate.” He said instead.

Blackstar, White Knight

“Sky’s too black to show up any stars,” said the white knight to nobody. He was alone in the distance; I could barely hear him. When I described him speaking to nobody, it was because he did not know that anyone could hear him. He could not see further than a lance throw. “Sky’s so black that not even the moon shows through it.” He was determined to speak, to speak aloud into the blackness. It was his way of dispersing his loneliness, as if he were the person listening. Casting words into the distance towards himself from the ghost that he imagines to be there. A ghost was second best in the realms of providing company, though. He little imagined that I could read his thoughts. I approached him nearer than a mere lance throw. But even if the moon came out, we were beyond a mere glance of each other. Meanwhile, he reached up with his own lance as if to pierce the blackness above him. I knew that he knew that sky was all show, sky pretending to be sky. And I now stood beside him almost within reach of touching him. But if someone painted us, all that painter would need would be black paint. Unlike grey, there are no shades, only black itself. Abruptly, his lance rent what he thought to be sky and let the whiteness pour down in swathes of a new day. It was then he saw me. Not that I myself could see him, as I was blind. Did I not tell you that? So I reached out at least to feel his presence. But can metal feel metal?

The Missing Photograph

At least one photograph was not missing.

John stared coldly at the old photo of the gold necklace – whether gold or gold-coloured he wasn’t sure, then in real life or now in the photo. The photo was in black and white.

He knew, however, that it had a missing link when the photo was taken and, as part of his regular duty of care regarding his late parents’ property, he examined the necklace’s glittery existence in the dim light of the photo.  Yes, he had stared it at yesterday, as he stared at it the next day, as maybe he will still stare at it tomorrow. 

The link was missing on all previous occasions of his memory, even before the photo was taken.  The necklace had always possessed a missing link within John’s living memory.  Twenty one large circles of interlocking gold links – when there should have been twenty two. His Mum once told him that it should have twenty two because her late husband (John’s Dad) had bought it for her 22nd birthday, when she was still beautiful, she claimed, with a laugh.

One day, not long after that birthday, a link snapped and her now late husband joined the whole necklace back together again.  In his shed, his wonderfully appointed shed, he had used cutting and welding equipment to create a necklace of twenty one links, thus discarding the unreliable broken link (without mending it).

When John inherited all his mother’s goods upon her own later death, the necklace was found to be missing, but he had managed to find the old photo and. counted the links meticulously so that he could remember the same necklace she had always proudly shown him.  He remembered her fetching it from its click-tight box (she never wore it) and placing it in little John’s upraised palms just for a minute or so of reverent silence – of wordless but mouthed counting – then replacing it in tissue paper for its latest in a long line of ‘hibernations’. He was not born till she was twenty-three.

The photo proved there had indeed been only twenty-one links when the photo was taken.

Today, though, the day after yesterday, he was stunned to count twenty-two links in the photo,  He counted again, sure he had made a mistake.  No, he was right, definitely twenty-one links. He had somehow hoped that proof of its earlier existence by means of a photo would help find the necklace itself. He could not rationalise why this should be so. But now he wondered if this was the right necklace. Or even the right photo.

The missing link was missing.  Or, rather, upon further consideration, the missing link was not missing.  He wasn’t sure.  John was never sure, it seemed, in the light of today’s events.  If it were missing, there must be a gap the size of a link.  Then the missing link would be simply missing as opposed to being not missing, but still there. He then examined the photo in more detail. Was this indeed the right photo album. And he began to look through later pages and found several more photos of the same necklace. Too many to count the links in each one. Why were there so many photographs of the same necklace?

 The strange journey through the album took his mind away from the mystery and he started thinking of things going missing … hoping his world-weary worries would go missing, too.

He needed his late Mum’s placid logic and the comfort of her Nursery Rhymes she used to recite to him when he was a child.  He could even imagine his Dad banging things in the distance from his Dad’s beloved shed.  He had died longer ago than John felt he was able to remember.  But a comfort nevertheless. Each person in his life was now missing. Seemed to calm him down. At least he could not argue with himself. Being alone was some sort of comfort. Best to make the best of things. The best of missing things,

He again recalled his Mum telling him how his Dad had repaired the broken necklace – making an unbroken necklace whole again, if it was not exactly, as a result, the SAME necklace. 

His Dad had a kind soul and John hoped he had inherited that, too.  With steady grey-iron eyes and a skill for making things and unmaking things, his Dad had once demolished his shed when it grew too old to be a shed.  John somehow remembered that his Dad had not demolished it with a sledgehammer but meticulously plank by plank – even though the planks were rotted through and quite worthless: extracting each nail with the clawed end of a hammer in a devotionally meticulous slowness – even though the nails were rusty and beyond use. Making each tiny part of the shed go missing till the whole shed would finally give up the ghost.

His Dad had sworn there were fifty planks in the shed – he knew this as he had once made it himself.  But now laid out on the lawn there were only forty nine planks, enough to make John’s Dad cry. John remembered his Dad taking a photo of the planks spread across the lawn. He remembered the photo had grey grass and a greyer sky. Even the sun was another shade of grey.

John could remember putting the necklace over his own head as a boy – the twenty-second link JUST giving sufficient slack to allow it over his head which the previous twenty-one inks hadn’t possessed. 

There was no catch. 

It was a necklace that was donned and doffed like this without any mechanism (for breaking its circle then completing it again) once it was around the neck.  He had worn the necklace – for the very first time – with childish pride.  He remembered his beloved parents were watching him. Taking a photo of the end result of the whole event. That photo had since gone missing.

Well, now he knew that was a false memory. The photo never went missing as it had never existed in the first place.

He tried to think of a link, some clever end that would bring matters back to their beginning, John’s story, John’s life – thus making a whole.  The whole felt very untidy.  It couldn’t be a whole because it had actually grown a gap as large as the missing link, leaving his life just hanging there forever at a a loose end.

That was before the thing he imagined around his neck began to tighten with a series of single clicks.  John became the missing link, someone who had never existed at all, the phantom child of childless parents, parents with nobody to whom they could leave their goods.  Every life has a catch somewhere. And we all go missing in the end.

Such thoughts were enough to make any good man cry, as he hammered on the door of Heaven.  Then, in frustration, he banged nails into it. Nailing the missing photograph onto one of the door’s planks, straight through the scrawny grey neck where the 22 carat gold necklace had once sat.

And Then The Lights Went Out

The lights came on when I got married. And they are still on. My wife and I have indeed been married happily for as long as my receding memory stretches. I do recall, though, that when she first met me, I owned a head of hair like the heavy-duty house-mop she has used ever since to attack our semi-carpeted floors ... except the mop-head’s colour has turned from light to dark, and mine from black to grey, if not white. Or, in places, no hair at all. You see, although being overbearingly house proud, my wife actually forgot to clean the tools like mops and dusters themselves.

Now, in the quiet evening of our years, she has taken to strange doings. They are obviously harder to explain than merely to describe, so I shall only attempt to describe them in the hope of finding a way to explaining them, too.

Recently, with us both fast asleep following the customary early nights, she has suddenly woken up and recommenced her housework through the small hours, only to tell me in the mornings that daylight can only reveal the normal jobs. At night, she maintains, different dust emerges, different slops and moulds gone unnoticed during standard waking hours.

“But, my dear, you’re being absurd. I’ve heard of housewives spending all their days making everything spick and span, but disturbing your valuable beauty sleep, that’s another thing!”

“You think I’m mad, I know, George.”

“No, of course I don’t. But there’s not nearly enough to be done in this house to keep you busy, anyway. It’s only a chalet bungalow, after all. There’s no need at all to get up in the dark when all godfearing people should be asleep.”

Then she would repeat her claims about the night being more suitable for seeking out the real benighted corners where real dirt worth its salt collected . . . not your mealy-mouthed daytime muck which masqueraded as encrusted food or merely as dust motes stirred by sunbeams.

So, I have decided to see for myself.

Often, she has been up and about without my having even broken the rhythm of my snores. Tonight, though, I tried to prop up my eyelids with the matchsticks of will-power, listening to her breaths becoming heavier and with longer gaps between. I heard the church clock striking ten which was more often than not the hour that acted as alarm for Mistress Sleep to spread her wings upon us both. This is when our own lights go out, at least for a while.

But tonight, I pinched my lips between the teeth, almost to the gums ... also attached a length of thread between one of her big toes and one of mine. She tossed fitfully, making the job harder than it would otherwise have been. Eventually, we were tethered in dreams...

It was no dream, however, when she awoke into the death-lull that night creates between both margins of nothing. My toe almost parted company with the bone which held it out like a stringless puppet. I followed her on the tips of my feet, wincing away the anguish of gout in them.

Firstly, she proceeded to the broom cupboard under the stairs, whilst I remained at the top of the stairs, looking down at her black felt house-cap. Several jointed broom-handles came out like giant spider-legs kicking.

Abruptly, I had the crazy notion that she must always spend the small hours crazily hoping to earn pin-money as a chimney-sweep in the neighbouring bungalows where chimneys were taller than most. That would explain everything, except the craziness itself.

Before I returned tiredly to our bed, she had bustled into the front parlour, cooing with delight at the layers of minced shadow she was expected to sweep up. Many grains of night soil, too.

I now lie cross-limbed, unmercifully awake. I can discern the still dented pillow next my own, for there is a dimness thrown by the moon feebly shining outside the bedroom window in makeshift pleas for a face.

Almost without thinking, I lift up my own pillow and retrieve the old toothbrush I keep under there for lost fairies. I poke this toothbrush into one of my ears and out the other, thus scattering dust in the air like dirty talcum powder.

There is nothing I would not do for my dear wife, in these her days of crazy old age. So I must at least keep my own brain bright as a button.

Then the lights went out again.

The Ultimate Crunch

To my amazement there sat a frog, and next to him – if it was a him – there sat an imp or, rather, the imp had by now risen faster than I possibly could write this about him – if it was a him -- and he impulsively started leaping around the frog. The frog still sat still, and I wondered whether he was a statue, and if he were a statue did it matter WHAT it was, him or her? I wouldn’t be able to tell anyway, with me being so naïve. Ah, yes, there must have been someone else as a third one present, having just realised I must have been present, or actually AM there still because I am writing this about it all, with things happening faster than I can write them down on paper. The imp, indeed, was now leaping towards the garden gate, and I was following him, still AM following the imp as he tried to open the garden gate. Ah, yes, the imp now has the gate open, it being too tall to leap over, and I was worried, AM worried that the imp would now leap into the road and be killed by whatever was coming. Too late. There steaming on the road was a dead imp, its limbs limp, still-twitching in mid-leap. I looked back to see if the frog was watching from inside the garden. But he had vanished. So not a statue at all. Unless someone else had picked him up and taken him away. I am now by the plinth where the frog had sat, and read what it said: “Those who are dead are dead, and those who are living will soon be dead, no matter who or what they are.” And impetuously I Ieapfrogged into the road. “Ooops!” I croak.

Alive

— As we are now alive, we need to talk.

— How long HAVE we been alive?

— I don’t really know. I felt it coming on gradually. One moment I was dead, no thoughts, no thinking, but I was then thinking I was in complete darkness, everything really black, and then the black seemed to grow greyer...

— Do you think we felt ourselves alive at exactly the same moment?

—Just now, you mean?

— Well, just then, if not now, but as soon as I said we we needed to talk. As soon as I said that, I saw you coming out of the grey first, I guess. And soon after I saw you, you seemed to see me.

— I thought it was me who said we needed to talk. Not you.

— We shall have to beg to differ.

— I wonder if there is anyone else round here?

— Alive, you mean?

— Yes, alive, like us.

— And needing to talk?

— Yes.

— Anyone nearby listening to us talk?

— Yes.

— Hey, is anyone there? Anyone listening to us talk? Ha ha, I wonder if anyone else is out there asking whether we can hear THEM?

—- Others who just passed through black into grey - and now here with us in bright sunlight?

— Yes, seeing stuff like we now can see stuff, the beautiful countryside, the distant horizons of sea and mountains, and each other’s faces, so different from each other.

— I guess you are a woman judging by the way you look.

— And you must be a man.

— How do we know?

— I guess we have been here before.

—- But I can’t remember being here before. Can you?

— We must have been here before. How could we have otherwise learnt to speak and how to recognise what sort of faces we have got and what shapes of body?

— Have you got a body? I can only see your face.

— I don’t know. But simply to know we SHOULD have bodies with distinctive shapes as well as faces says something about us, surely. To KNOW certain things is to BE certain things.

— Perhaps we are not alive at all. Perhaps we are imagining we are here.

— Or we are imagining the other one is here, and that the one who is really here is separate and alone.

— Separate and alone. That’s a lovely phrase.

— Separate and alone. Like being alone together.

— Separate and alone, needing to talk to prove that we can be separate but still alone together and alive. A world where there needs to be at least two of us for one of us to exist. To exist in each other’s mind. A balance of thoughts. A balance of perceptions.

— I wonder if there is another one out there, though, a third one coming out of the grey and balancing us both so that one of us at least can exist at the centre of such a triangulation.

— And if there are three, why not four?

— And if four, why not more. Ha, that rhymes. The balance of a rhyme,

— I wonder what the optimum number there needs to be of others for one of us at least to exist from the balance of the belief of ALL those others?

— Each with their imagined voice in an imagined conversation.

— Never knowing who said what next.

— And who spoke first, and who spoke last.

— Yes, who spoke first, and who spoke last.

— Everyone wanting the last word.

— Who was that who spoke just now?

— That was me, the first words I have ever spoken, having just become alive and needing to talk. I came alone and will no doubt go back alone. In fact I already seem to have gone. Already seem to have vanished back where I came from.

— Soon to be followed by a precarious balance of silences.

— An infinite number of silences.

In The Attic

IN THE ATTIC
The attic in question was one where you would expect a ghost to reside – well, at the time I had no real experience of the attic to judge that was the case, as I had not yet visited the attic. It was simply in hindsight that the ghost appeared in it AFTER I had visited the attic. It wasn’t there at the time I visited the attic, but I sensed that a ghost would be visiting the attic after I had left it. Perhaps ghosts are like that, after-the-event visitors, and this is why nobody ever really sees a ghost or can prove that one can exist. There ARE ghosts, though; it’s just they are in places when I am not in them myself. Yet the places have a FEEL that a ghost is coming to visit it later.
In the attic – my spinster aunt’s attic – I found a case in point. She asked me to fetch something from it as she was now too old to climb up there.
“OK, Auntie, what’s it you want from it?”
I had never been to her attic before, so I could not visualise what she might want from it. For all I knew, it was completely empty. Or it was full of things that would be difficult to get out as they had been put up there before the attic’s hatch had been reduced in size during a period of rebuilding and redecoration. Or it was full of toys and old dolls and other personal things – which was a more likely possibility than the other two!
She stared at me for a few moments and said: “You will know what I want when you see it.”
I looked quizzically, and so did she. I shrugged to myself and got up to start my mission to the attic.
It WAS indeed a difficult climb – with a ladder of some missing steps. A rusty one that creaked louder than any ghost, I thought.
I did manage to clamber through the hatch – but there was no attic light. I felt cobwebs or all sorts of imaginary fingertips touching my face. Auntie had not told me to take a torch. Common sense now told me, however, that I should have made better plans. And I could not get her to hear me or me her, although I had left her at the foot of the rusty ladder. So, how could I possibly guess what she wanted me to bring down when I had nothing I could see to choose from. Then, I realised I was in the wrong attic. She’d forgotten to tell me, in hindsight, that the house had two separate attics with no easy connection between them. The ghost must have been in the other one.