Fondue

The atlas lay open in front of me as I riffled through its pages, peering at the strange shapes of the land masses as created by Nature, and they were staring back at me with wiggly edges to their whites, blues, browns and veins of red in their eyes. Yet there was very little green.

Were these maps of the future, I wondered, as I began to focus my attention on certain of them, while looking for their names. And why were the veins red, not blue, for example — as I expected rivers to be depicted in blue. There were smudges and smears of blue, though, as various shades of sea, ultramarine being a colour that I had somehow heard of, but here it was not so much ultra as faded. Later, I found more swirls of red whereby I imagined furnaces breaking the surfaces, elements not to help us cook but to melt the meat we offered to meet such boiling fires.

Still no names, though. Surely this was not an atlas of the Earth, nor even a future Earth when our green hopes had been due to be dashed. This was perhaps another place altogether, another haven between the Heaven and Hell of the Bible.

Yet, still no names. No names to last us out a whole future. No names to give me clues as to why I was so bemused. Perhaps it was an unknown place, one which whereby we hadn’t yet christened any of the configurations of substance and sea that we had seen through our probing telescopes. An unknown place upon our horizons of hope.

Still, no names, though. I turned further towards the end of the atlas to discover if there was an alphabetical index to guide me. No such chance. It was paper, though, real paper made from trees — or the pages certainly felt like that between my fingers. I even tore one of them straight down to prove my point — through one of the land masses, a jagged schism to outdo any earthquake or sudden chasm. But then I realised I had, by chance, chosen the page that bore some of the swirling fires that failed, not to cook, but to melt the meat that happened to wander near such bubbling swirls.

But now I thought I knew at least one name for sure, even though it wasn’t written down. But this was at least a start. And it was as if I was myself the First Mover. Or the First Christener, at least.

At last an atlas at least with a name inside it. But a name not yet written down.

As I closed the atlas, I sighed. One name, even when it was later written down, was not enough to make it an atlas proper. But then my thoughts took a new turn: what shall I name the book itself, now that I had unnamed it? What as yet nameless title indeed shall I give these words that I have at least written down about it?

Now a single title as name would suffice at least to last us out, to become a name at last, or about to be written down as a name that it was ever entitled to bear.

But not as yet.

Still no names.

It always seems to take an endless time, alas.

Girl Power

GIRL POWER

When I met Abel Martin, I had no idea whom or exactly what I was meeting! He was difficult to describe, even then, so I won’t even attempt to do so now. A bit of a cop out, I guess.

Suffice to say, I found him off-putting and I wondered why this meeting had been set up for me by my employer. Just to explain — I had recently been appointed as the Transition Manager in a large motor vehicle outfit, half owned by the Japanese. Who owned the other half was a bit of a mystery, and I’d better not speculate about it here.

But, yes, that’s right, the Transition in question was from petrol and diesel to electric, to cater for today’s warming dangers. All firms were facing this situation, but I think I was the only such Transition Manager to be chosen to meet Abel Martin.

I now know that he was in fact not an independent consultant at all but someone trying to convince firms like mine that electric cars were not the only option in this impending revolution. And when I come to tell you what Abel Martin was effectively selling on behalf of some hidden organisation, you will not believe me. It is even harder to credit that he could have so easily masqueraded in this role while all the time he had a puppet-master somewhere pulling his strings. A puppet-master who I later discovered was in fact a puppet-mistress! Someone just like me. Career girls who had shed their roots outside the city. Both upstarts in a world of men.

But, that is not all. Not only was she pulling Abel Martin’s strings but moving his mouth, too, and ventriloquising his tangled version of masculine tones from behind some façade or grill that I had not yet fathomed. Although my feminine instinct had already told me the rest of it.

“If not electric, what possibly can we use to replace what we have now? Pedal power not petrol?” I laughed as I posed this question, not wanting him to dictate the direction of our conversation. Even though, now, if I had known then that there was someone just like me dictating his words, I would have been more amenable to his lead.

“Have you heard of the old terminology about cars’ performance called horse power?” he suddenly asked, using a question to answer my question.

“Didn’t they have a system of measurement called that to grade cars, if not the power itself that powered the car as well as being a measurement of them?” Asking such similar questions seemed to be a habit of tautology with which we infected each other.

“Do you not know there can be another power that is somehow even more powerful than horse power?”

“Why should I know what power lies behind such power.”

We seemed to be involved in a series of questionable counter-bluffs, with which I shall no longer bore you.

His final question, however, came at last…”Have you not heard of brainstorming as a power source, whereby initially strange and wild ideas become miraculous solutions to all our problems?”

I smiled at our eventual meeting of minds, which would have been wildly strange in itself, without the power of hindsight, when I replied: “Indeed, without brainstorming, where would our world be?”

Mind had now clinched with mind as well as hindsight — and I watched him open the double doors at the end of the room and there entered what turned out to be my first glimpse of the very first example of the Able Martin model squealing into the room by its own motive power, with a shapely gurgling radiator at the front. Not a grill but a girl like me. Warms your heart, don’t it?

By the way, whoever had opened the doors had by now reversed out of them, without me noticing.

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.