Collaborations with Marge Simon

The Horn’s Last Rite
A collaboration with Margaret B Simon


I returned to what I called home, once – this terminal town of clattering trains interspersed with tiny communities last spring when I knew the dogwoods would be exploding like cotton balls amidst the green and the “Saved and Safe” smugly secure in their own implacable manner, strolling about on a Saturday to their yard sales, gossiping anon about me, no doubt. Speculating…

And, to be sure it was just as I remembered – and perhaps yet another reason I had left in the first place. So I brought a bottle of cabernet and took a local motel and waited for the scenes to shift – just to be sure, that is, if that would happen as well. It was twenty years ago, and sometimes you don’t trust your memory, you see. Misfit that I was, the scholar-poet, dubbed a Nerd, estranged.

I’d brought her book with me. Unpacked this, and only this at first. Set it on the table beside my bed. Switched on the light, for the skies were dimming beyond the greenshowers of the oaks and maple. That was the only thing I liked, and now this is going down tonight. Tomorrow I didn’t plan to stay. But as for Janny’s book – the only one she ever published – I’d brought it back with me, just as she said I would, someday.

Of course, why not? I stood watching the reflections from the highway beyond the motel as I sipped the wine seeing my own face in the mackled glass window. Jarred by the sparkle of passing headlights I opened the door to inhale the scent of moonbeams on roses, the vintages of the season timeless – as if her face below me in our passion, haunting me with that cat-perception angst –

I remember going back, glass in hand, to leaf through her spiraled book again. On this night, the pages reeked – a sudden and terrible smell that I’d never noticed previously. Furthermore, each leaf clung, as if adhering to my clean fingers, and every time I would wet my finger, it glued to the page previous (or so it seemed, at the time). My GOD, what she had managed to do to us in so short a springtime and did she command the sun to blind me or was it that part about the skeleton that attracted me most? I limped back to bed. It had been so long to have another go. Femur, bone and marrow lost, like the membranes of a loved one’s hold and a heart that has no reflections …I became lost in the cryptic present, rubbing the stub of my left foot, meditating as if it was possible to make sense of the mental ichor so neatly typed and never typeset – she had warned me to be careful, yet

She tapped my marrow milk
With her silken mouth
Except it came out as creamy blood
She built my bones with human clay
She carved my teeth from volcanic rock
But I loved her for her flesh.
She stole my foot with exquisite ease
And took it to the last cobbler alive
For him to mould a shoe.
The horn’s last rite…

I was interrupted by Janny not being in her book. The window’s mirror told me I wept milky tears – for she’d never been there. The hospital has told me that losing a foot was akin to losing a child and I would suffer …mentally …till it was returned to me. A foundling. A lostling. It didn’t matter as long as the child returned on single footsteps to its father.

The fact that I was home didn’t help. Simply because I had walked here as a child didn’t entail prints for me to follow …until they were indeed shaped slots in loam leading to the track …that line between scrawny cuttings.

Today, I hop from one to the other, knowing that Janny will never allow herself to be caught that way – a maiden tied to the rails and sleepers by a mustachioed brigand. For if she is, you won’t find me untying her. A skeleton’s all bones, anyway, that need scattering. The pages were stuck with the last ration of blood glue, so there you are. And here I am, limp skipping.

Such was my line of thinking that first evening, which I remember quite clearly, as if it wasn’t two months ago after all. Ah, yes “The horn’s last rite” – was what interrupted my sardonic contemplation on that surreal occasion. The sudden buzzing of the telephone jarred me back to reality. I hobbled to catch it, aware of my childish need to retrace steps into the past, while rebuking myself for fear of – what? Unknown phantoms?

It was ]anny’s voice – a bare whisper in my ear, “I will get you out,” she said, “tonight, you must come to the burial grounds and bring a shovel. Eight sharp. Ashes to ashes …I love you.” I started to respond but she cut me . off “This is a recording.” and disconnected.

I sat there on the bed, quite stunned. I could feel the toes of my phantom foot stretching, could detect the aggravation of another ingrown toenail. “Janny used to dig them out for me,” I said aloud, remembering how that on that last night when my foot was bothering me, she took a clean knife and clippers out, came bare to the waist to kneel and at my feet to inspect the objecting toe. I was transfixed by her tumble-jumble of sienna locks, her mock-pout crimsoned lips, tips of teasing nipples half hidden by her face and tresses, the perfumed hint of musk always present in her nearness even though we’d just made love. So there I sat, while she examined and kissed each swollen frog-belly white toe, from large to small (lingering longest over – the one I’d broken long ago – deformed and horrible to view). And finally she smiled, tossing her curls back from her forehead with that way she has and kissed her finger, touched my mouth.

I hardly felt it. Neither her kiss nor the other thing she did, not right away.

“Bring a novel,” did she say? “Eight sharp.”

Ten sharp, with the thumb toes, no doubt. The way I dug each one into her body was something that delighted us both …as if hurt and love entwined She sucked her own juices off my right big toe.

Then, the novel. The book. The one I brought to keep the spiral notebook company. Where had I put it? After all, it was already seven o’clock. Only an hour to go. Yep, here it was. Under the Gideon Bible. A hardback book from the time when Boots the Chemist issued you with library tickets as well as phials of cure-all medicine. Foxed out and thumbprinted, with a strange label centuries wouldn’t unstick. A squashed insect halfway down page 102. And its smell, as I breathed deeply between the crevices of pages 70-71 – was as sweet, yet as salty, as yolky blood. Many book-lovers maintain that an intrinsic feature of a tome’s aesthetic is the manner its ‘nose’ can remind one of better days, endless summer holidays, the wonder of childhood, bee-buzzing meadows, the nuances of nostalgia or the cloying of chintz. A cross between mustiness and turmeric. Cough linctus. Newness and oldness bound together. Permutations of redolence. Speech-masks and spokesmoke. Thick thick dandelion wine. Or liquid bees. Earwax. Even toes and ankle grease. Footnotes.

I wrenched my mind back from plebeian maundering. Showered, shaved. The mirror’s reflection piercing cold, eye to eye – was this my face? A new line beside my mouth indented, curving as a newel post. Hadn’t noticed this before.

Checked my watch en route to the cemetery. Still close enough. I shut off the engine and coasted into a parking area. A haze covered the red moon, lighting up the graveyard, streaks of miser’s milk. As if transfixed, I followed the cement walkways until I found the grave. My grave. Or rather, a part of me – the headstone of the footstone. And Janny, perfect Janny, draped with scarves and fly-away strands of midnight hair. She spoke in profile.

“Hello, James. You’re a bit late, darling.” The mellow tones of her voice invaded my senses. I was again at her mercy.

“Janny! – dear, dear Janny, I-”

“Did you bring the novel, James?”

“What if I didn’t?” I laughed. “What would you do to me now? Bite off my nose? Render me unable to smell the wonder of your secretions, not to mention the simplest joys of ruffling through this – ” and I handed her the novel.

She took it in one hand as I bent to assist her to her feet, but she refused. There was a shadow beneath her scarf, denying me access to view of her face – that marvelous face, so fluent in character and mood – and then the night wind plucked away the veils. Stricken, I saw the stump of her other hand, making an attempt to push the scarf back into place.

“There were others?” I asked, searching for some solace in her eyes.

“James …it’s really too late.” She turned to face me, brushing back her scarf.

Where once there were nostrils, now only one single hole. A hole large enough for a toe, a tool, a few fingers to penetrate…

“James,” she interrupted my thoughts. “James, I can’t smell, but I can taste…” and she parted her lips, flicking her tongue slowly, then faster and faster until I clutched her to my own lips, unzipping myself in frenzied response and we coupled there by the gravestone of my foot until we slept, head to head. At dawn, I awoke. It seemed proper to cover her naked buxoms with the novel, and this I did before I left.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Reaching For Nadir
A collaboration with Margaret B Simon

Published ‘Symphonie’s Gift’ 1995

One faces truth, one denies it. Alexis and I are like that. When she couldn’t rejuvenate her fangs, I replaced them surgically. Always there for her, yet as time passed, I realized it was a waste of personal attention on my part.

When Stalzi Onto released the first computer chip, Alexis took it upon herself to write Best Sellers. Stalzi? Few know the truth, as I say. Everything we do is behind the mind, so to speak. We do credit our inventors, scientists, or physicians, statesmen and particularly our poets and artists, who are not created by mortals. After all, it’s nothing to us. Just passing time.

At any rate, what with her rise to fame late in this century as a novelist, Alex and I separated. We’d done this during the Crusades as well, but for completely and more complex reasons. I was much younger then, and predicting the fall of Carthage – well, I wanted to enjoy myself. Alex had other ideas, and followed the misbegotten on several campaigns. She enjoyed keeping records, innately the Historian of our kindred. Records and a few keepsakes, most of them already very willing to be persuaded.

But I digress. Much later – quite a few centuries, in fact, she showed up in England. There was a “do” with the fellow they call Shakespeare – like as not she provided graphic inspiration for such as “The Taming of the Shrew” and “The Tempest,” among others. All misinterpreted later, due to changing of the times – and then, of course, she did manage a minor affair with Samuel Johnson, who disavowed contact with women other than as servants ever after. Not surprisingly, he was reputed for having not only a keen wit but a bitter tongue. Oh, yes indeed. In many of her various forms and moods, my dear Alexis has influenced – again, I digress.

I went Eastward roaming, tired of battles and conspiracies, a pastime common among those with eternity for a playground.

Stalzi Onto sucked the end of his mouse. It had all gone wrong – especially when they had removed the joystick from his mouth. Thoughts were juicy, but megabytes? He sucked upon the hole in his biggest tooth, (a molar in his case, poor fellow) expecting the air to turn liquid. Like tears, blood soon disappeared. Both salty.

The buzzer down at the street entrance – he simply knew – was Alexis returned from clandestine jaunts amid the remnants of a second Russian Revolution. She’d be dragging (no doubt) a fresh Rasputin who would be eager to be sent back after by Onto himself. Little did Onto in fact really know. Rasputin was merely myself, with new teeth, newer even than those sparkling mouth-bones Alexis sported.

Together, we watched in bemusement as Stalzi staggered to the button which would allow entry to his commodious apartments.

“Never a physical wonder,” Alexis murmured.

“Now, my dear, don’t be so harsh on the poor fellow.” My mental message was interrupted by the bleep to access code, which Alex quickly entered.

“It is rather amusing, I suppose. All this fuss about electronics, – “I began, but Alex put finger to lips in warning. “I’ve plans for Onto, now, don’t you start up on your usual vive les pauvres hommes bull. Follow my lead, dearest.” Saying this, Alex smiled moistly, and taking my hand she guided me up the seven flights to Onto’s spacious apartments.

All was in puerile white decor, with brushes of phantom, greys and pinks. It was rather nauseating, but I’ve seen worse for taste.

Onto had returned to his recliner. When we entered, we beheld him sitting nonchalantly before a ten foot video screen. Just as I’d anticipated, his fingertips were tenderly playing with the alizarin petals of a dogwood rose.

When he touched a button on his chair and swung to greet us, I was hardly surprised. I glanced to Alex, for the fun of her expression.

“You’ve missed me, haven’t you?” she implored. “I do admit I’ve not been in touch that often, but look! I’ve brought company!”

Alex turned to me, her perfect ivory face now radiant, a tangle of dark curls leaking delicately from the diamond clasp above her brow.

Onto gaped for a moment, then stuck the mouse back in his mouth.

I gave him the great privilege of a full smile before I whipped to his side to hold his neck. Alex got firsties. Afterwards, she flicked her tongue, dainty as always, signalling it was my turn. A bit too salty, I thought, but of course, just a snack before dinner.

Onto himself is still with us. He hasn’t found his nadir, but he knows it’s around here somewhere. As most of Alexis’ playthings, he’s gone quite mad, you see. Thinks he’s a dog, which makes him useful for the time being. In fact, we were a bit surprised that he adapted so readily to our ravishing habits, nocturnal for the most part. We do feed him quite well, and he appeared to delight in carrying Alex around on his back on all fours, properly leashed and muzzled by her tender palm.

In the meantime, we have averted boredom by opening up a digital dental practice. Personalized. I can be as charming as my darling Alex. Home visitations included at no extra cost. It’s rather pleasant to be reunited, after all this time.

Alex tells me that the President has been advised of our reputation. He has requested our services for his entire family. Something different to do, and of course –

No muss, no fuss.

One faces truth, one denies it. Alex turned her perfect face towards the dog-tooth darkness. Only a Big Bang – a psionic microchip, a tiny filling in a certain eyetooth could save the birth of mankind. Onto Stasis. Status Quo. Coitus Quietus. The gnawing bone.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


A collaboration with Margaret B Simon
Published ‘Dead Lines’ 1995

Colin Shale was an unpretentious fellow, to say the most and the least about his characteristics. Yet, as the old saying puts it, you can’t be sure what’s inside until you catch the kid with the underground comix mag inside the cover of a Social Studies book. Or cracking open a geode, but Colin wasn’t interested in rocks, per se, unless they were to be thrown at the less fortunate of his classmates, those he called “wimps”, to be precise, whenever nobody was looking and the occasion afforded.

Shale wasn’t a little kid anymore, and he’d had his share of getting rapped on the fingers, the bottom, whatever was most effective to bring him to attention. At 34, Colin had apparently settled into a more or less ordinary life hauling rock for his uncle’s company during the week, and a satisfyingly shallow lust affair with his uncle’s wife, according to opportunity.

Aside from this, Colin had shown no capacity for original thought until recently, and then only to the barmaid who didn’t take his hairy, sweatstain-smelly horny bastard self seriously. And Colin knew that.

It was only three weeks ago, when Colin was situated on his usual perch, third from the end of the counter on the stool that creaked ominously louder as the years went by, and the meat on his shoulders grew to hamhock size, when a wild scheme occurred to him. Colin, with muscles of steel and icy blue-white eyes set close together – too close together (to the discomfort of the barmaid) discovered an original thought.
Yes, why not? Lucy wouldn’t mind. In fact, Lucy didn’t HA VE to mind, did she? He shrugged – without appearing to move his shoulders, wondering how long his mind would endure. However, he soon sank back into his drink.

killing was never to be taken lightly

The bar lights flashed on and off, neon emeralds and fiesta reds as if some distant message from the gods.

Colin knew what THAT meant, of course, and he swallowed the dregs of his diluted crystal ball, forgetting that he had forgotten something. Outside, the coastal February air bit hard, winds drumming at his back in revolutions as he made his way to the truck. He swore, fumbling with the keys. Dropped them to the ground, already a network of hoarfrosted lace. As he stooped to recover them, he heard a woman calling his name.

“Colin! COLIN SHALE!” A slender figure wearing a woollen shawl stepped from the shadows. Wanting suddenly very much to see her face – I can’t see I must know – Colin started toward her when she flung back her arm and something hit him between his too-close-together eyes like a reminder, Remember, Colin? Remember what you thought about, now? Isn’t this a good time, Colin, love?

Blood on his hands. Wet-warm fresh slagheap dollopped with crimson. His blood. His own killing is never to be taken lightly blood. His rocks. His uncle’s rocks … and he sank to his knees, remembering.

Around the foot of a menhir was a band of light that came with the dawn. Like the meniscus on vodka. An alignment of standing rocks stretched into the distance, like drunken armies on parade, all frozen into rough and ready sculptures of fear and retribution. Colin had spent a freezing night sleeping rough. He had not wanted to go home carrying someone else’s blood upon him. In any event, after daybreak he was safe from actions he might have taken amid the draining tides of darkness.

Killing could never be taken lightly.

Nor had he ever been able to withstand the timeless coastal village where a nunnery sat with the top of a chapel abbey bearing a roughly hewn statue of a saint instead of the more customary cross upon its spire.

The fact that Lucy was his aunt by law and not by blood didn’t excuse their bodily excursions …

He suddenly recalled crashing the truck over the cliff, dropping himself from the cab at the last minute.

Crazy crazy crazy to believe that his perilous state could be blamed on such an accident. If only he were dead. That would mend everything. Even his reputation.

Within the nunnery, lonely hooded women dotted the niches and alcoves in a passion of quiet novitiation. A slender figure in a woollen shawl moved among them with a feeding bowl and large wooden spoon.
Shadows concealed the color of the treacly fluid she thus dispensed…
Colin squeezed shut his eyes to search the shadows of his own vision. The rocks were ill-shorn phalli of impotent gods, yearning skywards with no real hope of redeliverance. Hanging tombs of bone arched around his brain like a white spider in half-pounce.

He climbed to a particular rock-one that had fallen on its side-could the coastal winds have caused it to topple? – and he laid himself out upon it. .. as a screaming edge of sun lit the cliff-edge plain of menhirs.

Melting the crystal balls of winter

As the sun warmed his bones, Colin became aware of an itch in his crotch. His hand involuntarily summoned itself to comply. Softly he scratched, then harder and rasping, gouging at the skin of his privates. A single fly buzzed around his head and lit on his upper lip, which sufficed to finish shattering his reverie.

“Menhirs? Tombs? Where am I? What the fuck-?” Adjusting his pants with a final pawing of his privates, Colin rose and slid down the rock. He glanced to his left, for a shadow woman was approaching carrying a bowl and offering a wooden spoon. Her hand was fishbelly white, her eyes hidden by the cowl she wore.

Stunned, Colin stood, vaguely aware that he wanted to scratch himself again, and yet this didn’t seem to be the best time to do this and where in the hell did he get these damned little shits you don’t get them anywhere except whorehouses everyone knows that … and there is something about his reputation he must remember, he must remember what –

“Colin, my love.” Her voice, Lucy’s voice breathing through the shawl. “Here, I have mended something for you.” She extended the bowl, and dipped the wooden spoon inside it.

“Lucy?” Colin took the bowl, then reached to draw aside the shawl on her head. After a moment, Colin looked into the bowl.

“Colin?” Her skull was showing through shreds of shrivelled blue skin. That most provocative full mouth was now a gaping toothless maw. Yet her eyes held him, clear and green-flecked as kelp on a moonlit shore.

“Yes, Lucy?”

“I was in the seat with your uncle when he died. I came to thank you for your original thought.”

“Yes, Lucy?” Colin gazed blindly into the brimming bowl of warm alizarin bubbles. He screamed as she pushed him backwards, his head splitting on the menhir behind him. Lucy’s apparition vanished, along with the need to scratch his balls, along with his one original thought about how

killing could never be taken lightly.

A final flash of sun rays lit the culprit ghost in red ice. The pub would be open, shortly. Colin Shale drifted into the apex of a geodesic comic book, dreamed deep into himself and closed his eyes.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

a collab with Margaret B Simon (published on-line)

Dearest Chevis,
I’m glad you got in touch because I’d lost your new address. Probably never had it, with it ringing no bells. Unlike our dances, once seen, only forgot. Once twirled, never echoed. But a bitter twist of fate, I’d say, with you having moored yourself at the seaside – solely evident from the on-sea name of the town because I own no map to check. The only maps I know are choreographic ones. Bitter? Well, didn’t we always yearn to love and live together by a beach? In the sound and sight of the waltzing waves? And we never satisfied our yearning – our love dying before our lives did, as it were. As it were, as it were, please forgive me – I’ve never been able to control the wielding of my pen, let alone tongue, as you will surely attest.

You pointedly fail to mention Trevor in your letter and this implies, I guess, something significant. Come, tell me the truth – one reason you wrote was for me to infer happiness from the nature of your address. All that self-sorrow over which you so painstakingly pawed in the letter was of convenience, merely to bear your new whereabouts on-sea within the masthead’s silver font. The body of the letter in red biro was irrelevant or, at best, residual. At worst, worse than at worst.

Although unmentioned, I expect you are jealous about Trevor staying here with me. Rest easy, Chevis – his dancing legs are like the hind ones of a donkey!

Anyway, I’m glad you got in touch – if touch is not a misnomer for a closer relationship than simply writing letters to each other. Through your ploy with the address, I can see I was justified in believing all along that you were a nasty piece of work and, if I were as fundamentally nasty as you, my dear, I’d pray for the day when your drowning is reported in the national press – as it surely will.

Meanwhile, my best wishes. The joy of our dances can never be taken away, as long as memory lasts. Matilda.

Dearest Matilda,
Quite apart from being first overjoyed and then, as I read on, stricken to the very core by your response, I hasten this to you in hopes that I’ve not inadvertently severed our relationship. The very idea crushes me beyond recovery! Dearest love, you must understand the circumstances, and I implore you to find it in your heart to forgive me, and to remember what we had beyond the dance – the dance of love, of lust – of a partnership beyond mortal dreams.

It’s all for Sydney’s sake, and it’s he that you have to blame – certainly not me, for this situation. It pains us both so much that you should renew your accusations of my character! Surely, if you knew the truth… He’s sitting at my feet at this very moment as I pen this to you, his delicate silver toenails touching my leg. Shortly, he’ll push his perfectly formed nose into my palm, which is our signal for a walk, just as the sun sets above the sea. A walk? I should strike that! It is the dance!

Ah, how to explain this creature, Sydney? A wisp of wondrous flight in motion, wrapping my soul and sensations in ecstatic twirls, turns – leaping light as wind along the beach! Such talent! Oh, my dear Mattie, if only you could see us! Ah, here – a photograph. I’ll enclose this, and kiss it for you. Surely this will help ease your frustrations.

Might I ask a favour from you? I realise it is an imposition, but I must leave Clover-on-Sea for a few weeks. I can’t rely on anyone other than a most trusted friend – someone who would love him as I have come to love him. I need you – and only you, to take care of my Sydney. And thus, I have but one to ask – you, my dearest Mattie.

It is a matter of extreme importance that I know as soon as possible. You may come here to stay at my beachside lodge, and I’ll provide you with anything you’d require. Just name it, my darling. My only request is that you look after dear little Sydney as you would your own child.

He’s ready for his dance, so duly noted (excuse the blur of ink here, a tender droplet from his nose – a way of showing his love and trust for you, I’m sure).

Truly, Mattie, I wouldn’t ask you if this were not a matter of extreme emergency. It involves Sydney’s welfare, you see.

Unfalteringly your, Chevis


Your letter was as clear as the bell that didn’t ring. You still do not mention Trevor, which makes me think you’re postively avoiding such mention, because you’ve read too much between the lines. Added one step, two step and made four!

Anyway, you say you’ll provide me with anything I’d require at your – what do you call it? – beachside lodge. Is that a misnomer for HUT HUT HUT HUT? What I require inside your HUT HUT HUT HUT is YOU YOU YOU YOU! We dreamed of making love to the sound of waves, and here you cruelly invite me to stay in, yes, in your BEACH HUT, to spend the time there, not with YOU, but with SYDNEY! Although, I’ve not met this particular Sydney – people change, as well as places – but – forgive me if I swear, as I did when you trod on my toes in full view of the judges – but need I repeat the word? You remember what word I swore with? What burst from my lips? Well, here it is again – in writing – – – -> Chevis! The foullest word that ever anyone wrapped teeth, tongue, palate and lips round.

“Truly, Mattie. I wouldn’t ask you if this were not a matter…” you write.

Mattie, matter, wassa matta, matty?

Your weasel words make me sick, Chevis. But, as you knew all along, I shall come at your bidding. I would be the last person alive before I failed to come when wanted. Will you be there to greet me before embarking upon your oh so important absence from Clover-on-Sea? Shall we, indeed, have a few precious moments of bare-dancing between my arrival and your departure? Or will Sydney be left on his ownsome – to open the door of the HUT HUT HUT HUT when Matty Matter rattles the latch? Knowing the Sydneys of this world, as I do, I expect he’ll wait till his nails are dry, before deigning to raise a leg.

“It involves Sydney’s welfare, you see,” you write.

Is it your mission away from Clover that is vital to his welfare? Or is it my ability to soak up his love and trust that is so central to Sydney’s well-being? Or are you going off surreptitiously to find and punish Trevor, using Sydney as an excuse?

You end with your typical valedictory – “unfalteringly” – when you are the very opposite. Indeed, when I arrive – and you’re there to meet me off the coastal express, Sydney at your heels – you’ll wrap me in your arms and say “MATTIE! MATTIE! MATTIE! MATTIE!” as if you’re trying to learn my name parrot-fashion. You’ll then get on the same train as the one I got off – on its circular route back to the city – with no further endearment, consigning me to Sydney’s knowledge of your HUT’s whereabouts. You’ll wave from the carriage window – and oh yes, even blow a smacker towards my cheek – and I’ll wipe the drips from under Sydney’s nose, before tugging him towards the nearest taxi-rank.

Do they have taxis in Clover?

I know – why don’t you bring Sydney HERE? Or has he become amphibious, with the sea now so damned close? Needs a dip every morning to keep the cuticles soft? Needs a prance on the beach to keep his steps light?

Well, I agree. I always intended to. Just had to get things off my chest, so that you knew I was not a pushover. But, yes, I’ll come. Just give me directions. Yours, falteringly, Matilda.

My dearest Mattie,
It is difficult to describe my reactions to the receipt of your latest, which I opened most eagerly – yet, indeed trembling with tormented hopes – quite honestly, I had to sit down after reading your first lines. Sydney came bounding in, just as if he knew, as he has this affinity for precognition – and surely, as I read it twice aloud to him, he settled back upon an armchair, winking and smiling at me in his special way.

My dear, you’ll find a complete map herein of directions, as well as a sufficient cheque for passage – I presume you’ll take the cab. Do feel free to enjoy your trip along the route. Sydney suggests (I can see it in his eyes) that you go ahead and use the enclosed credit card for dining expenses. You’ll note, however, there is a limit to the amount on my account.

Indeed, my mission away from Clover-on-Sea is most vital. I cannot divulge to you at this time just what it entails. My dear heart, when you and Sydney meet at last – and spend some days and nights together – oh! what joy you’ll find, darling Mattie. He’s absolutely marvellous company. I hasten here to add that I am aware of your concerns! Oh, yes!! I’ll be there to greet you, to hold you close when you arrive, whisper secrets (yet not all secrets, of course). You’ll understand, you always are my Mattie. And I promise I’ll be back within a fortnight. I’ll write you. But all this, I’ll explain when I return. And we shall dance!

Sydney sends his love (another blur of ink, here – I dare to think, a tear?) My humble HUT is yours. And too, my heart. Sydney says the same thing. Isn’t he a joy? Insatiably yours, Chevis.

My darling Chevis,
See? I can speak your name without demur. “…just as if he knew”, you say? As if, as if, as if, why is life one long AS IF? Of course – and, needless to say, it does go without saying – I cannot come. I never COULD come. The sea has such strange creatures that flop in with the tides – creatures with gills in their necks – that I dare not come.

Anyway, since you studiously failed to acknowledge my mention of a certain Trevor yet again, I’m left with no option but to describe his and my last meal together. It was third item on the menu and I was tempted to choose it, despite the unsavoury name. I was ever the rebel (was I not, Chevis, even when we were supposed to be timing both our bodies to the same dance?), and now being with someone upon whom I need to project my personality, to whom I need to sell that very dance to which we once cocked our limbs, well, to him I say:

“I’ll have dogleg stew.”

I avoid any wisecrack – or giving any reason why I don’t lock eyes with Trevor or with those of the waiter. I don’t want to make them laugh – nor do I need them to ask why I haven’t made one of the more conventional choices, such as spare ribs or the all-day breakfast.

“Me, too,” says Trevor, with an equally straight face, whereupon the waiter repeats the order to ensure his hearing is all that it should have been.

“Dogleg stew, twice?”

Trevor and I nod.

“And drinks or side dishes?”

The waiter’s question was beside the point because, no sooner than it was asked, an underling from the kitchen – evidently having overheard the order via some electronic bugging means – wheeled a smoking trolley towards the table where Trevor and I sat, the waiter still standing there with his pen poised above the pad … and, upon that trolley were two big bowls. Each contained – half-floating upon an almost liquid bed of vegetable matter – a bent fur-tufted leg, silver paw at one extremity and sealed ligaments around a clumsily snapped femur at the other.

Trevor immediately turned up his nose and ordered a fish dish – or, at least, it was sea-food, I think. I persevered with the dogleg stew, making a face as each mouthful clogged my throat with bone-tangled hide. I was very nearly sick.

Now, Chevis, I’m sorry about Trevor. He didn’t mean anything to me – and, when the going got tough, he chickened out. Indeed, I had to really laugh, when the fish started flapping on his plate and barking like a baby seal. He didn’t know where to put his face. Believe me, Chevis, you would not have wanted to pursue any pleasures with the likes of Trevor!

You see, the dance is everything. And I’ve suddenly realised that Sydney is that very dance, isn’t he? He is the shape of limbs, the graphology of toe-points, the scintillation of loin stops, tessellation of torsos, the air we breathe and make move in gossamer arcs of mock-descent, the very wave-strobes with which we gyre and gimble.

So, yes, admit it – Sydney is animal made dance … and Sydney’s choreographic template is what you love more than any woman. And how can you expect me to come to Clover-on-Sea, just to care for Sydney and his arc lights – so that you are given the opportunity to seek out Trevor in the city, while knowing Sydney is nursed by me? Sydney is nothing without you, Chevis. I am just a catalyst (aren’t I?) for your passions of sex and saraband. Trevor is just another of my friends you think you want to dance with, eh? But, no – your theory of the-more-dancers-the-better holds no water. The more legs we can get to dance, you say, the more Sydney will SHINE SHINE SHINE SHINE – all hogwash, I say! You see, angel-fish are just one of many ingredients in the wafting of the waltz. And love is a little more physical than alloys of mind, movement and light. Always has been.

Yet, let me tell you, it was too late, anyway. Just imagine Trevor choked on a bone planted in his fish dish and you were never meant to get him, in the same way as you, sweet sweet Chevis, are never again to dance your tides and moonstreams with me … and, surely, you will never now keep afloat that shimmering sea-weedy Sydney. Jelly-fish often have bones in their legs, even at the best of times. Your masthead, after all, was nothing but subterfuge for getting me to YEARN YEARN YEARN YEARN for the toing-and-froing of your new-cloven neaps. I wonder if you actually live in Clover-on-Sea or simply use it as a forwarding address.

So, yes, the dance is finally over, Chevis. In fact, I’d say our letters were always better dancers than the people writing them. Love, Mattie Matter.

PS: I’ll return your cheque and credit card in a bottle down the Pobox River towards the sea – they should reach you by Tuesday if the tides are right.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


a collab with Margaret B Simon (published on-line)

If most people make mountains out of molehills, then Sue was one of the exceptions.

She had been through the hoop time and again, what with her own series of life-threatening illnesses, together with more than her fair share of bereavements, accidents and shattered romances. She made light of them. Her heart didn’t sink. Everything, good and ill, was part of the rich tapestry. And here she was, sick yet again.

In her delirium, she recalled an occasion many years before as a small girl. She was skipping with the other kids, well past the time when twilight had given up the ghost. The street-lamps did little to disperse the encroaching darkness. Then, the tall man appeared at the entrance to the cul de sac – swinging his own skipping rope in tune with theirs…

His bearded face glistened with sweat, and he half-whistled a tune through yellowed teeth, mouth drawn back in a leering grimace. It was difficult for her to tell if he was enjoying himself or enjoying self-torture. On and on he skipped, even after the children stopped to stare at him.

“Sue, Sue, honest and true,
Sweet Sue, dressed in blue,
Sue, Sue, know what I do?
I have come to play with you!”

He stopped skipping and strode directly up to her. The other children shrieked and backed away from them. And she went straight into his open arms.

Back through the hoop. Delirium was like that – delirium with the quality of a dream implied by its dictionary definition, delirium too, with a crazy undercurrent of sound wherein an escaped lunatic revealed his teeth too soon for a smile.

Through the window of the hospital, Sue could see a ragged rank of yellow fence posts, interspersed with scrubby tussocks twitching in the wind. Clouds blew across the sky like wedding skirts escaped from an ancient washing-line. The sun’s one eye was doubled by the renewed onset of that word delirium again. Delirium delirium delirium . . . the more she repeated it, the more it sounded like the rhythm of a skipping-song she once was made to learn.

“Boo, Boo, runnest thou through?
Feet Foo, mussed your shoe.
Boo, Boo, tails and hoops,
Who, who skips and stoops?”

She could not recall the rest. But she had grown up instantaneously that day – almost as if her hips widened, chest swollen, privities bearded in one fell swoop of swinging time.

Slowly she became aware that a face was above her, questions being addressed to her.

“…better today, you’ll be up and about in no time. Just remember to…”

“What?” Sue blinked, then focussed. Could this visage be her doctor? If so, she had lost her memory as well as her momentary grip on reality. He was dressed in tweeds, yet his bearded face was unshaven and scruffy. He moved his mouth as if his upper teeth were missing, and his yellow eyes glistened in a most peculiar manner.

Sue struggled to prop up, but her weakened muscles failed to be of much use. “Who are you?” she whispered.

“I am your delirium-dogma, the man with the hoop, child.” He smiled a thin smile, patting her protesting hand, then stood to stretch. “I’ve been here every day to visit you, you see.” He began pacing around her room, coming close to her face as he spoke now and again.

“I’m no child, sir. I’ve never seen you before in my____”

“Oh? Really, little Susie? If I am your delirium-dream, you certainly have seen me before. We both know it, and shortly I’ll return to check you out. There’s something I have to show you. I assure you that it will be your ultimate cure. How does that sound to you, my dear?”

“And what if I refuse to go?” Sue became aware of perspiration on her face, trickling cold from the pits of her failing arms, even to the cracks between her toes so tightly tucked within the sheets.

“Relax, my dear sweet Sue.” He came again and bent close to her face, his breath smelling faintly of dill and – what? garlic pottage? “It’s only a library, Susie, only a library. Nothing so terrible, nothing at all so terrible as your own fears which indeed have been the cause of your – ah, incapacitation, for such a very long, long time.”

As quickly as he had materialized, so did he leave the room, pausing only at the door to do a little skip-jig, and then he was gone, the door closing noiselessly behind him.

But was her name really Sue? Sue’s a name for nobody – employed merely for its rhyme. Christened by delirium. The doctor’s words had nothing to do with her, since he had called her Sue or Susie. Even his lingering hop, skip and jump manoeuver was a composite twitch that only people-who-knew-they-didn’t-exist performed – to give themselves side.

The hospital walls were covered in frayed spines. The ceiling bore an archipelago of foxing – islands that didn’t rhyme nor knew no rhythm of geography. The air’s aroma was of freshly setting glue. The yellow fence, beyond the windy window was – she thought – a rack of tall tomes, too ill for repair…or simply queuing for admission. Only protagonists could be treated. Strangers and spear-carriers were extras – consigned to a nowhere that even nobodies spurned. A skip for words.

Sue was central to her own story, an eponymous heroine in a book without a title. One without an ending. She even skipped the last few pages…to discover no last paragraph.

Only the Book Doctor’s yellow smile.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Bleak Mansions
A collaboration with Margaret B Simon (published on-line)
Written early nineties

The world is a hard place, full of nothing but the dirt of reality; yet, who knows why, the people living on its surface are dreamers as well as tillers of that surface, ploughmen and ploughwomen as well as gliders and gilders of the sunless dawns. I am one such cloak-and-dagger merchant, swaddled in clouds as well as etched by meaning. My name is Cardboard City, child of the westward Cities, chased by families whose dynasty knows only horizons, never homes. John City was my father and his wife Danielle my stepdaughter.

I always remember the first conversation I ever had, although the second and third have since been forgotten.

‘See this child?’ asked my father.

I nodded. The nod was part of establishing the answer. Down – and, yes, there it was, my body. Up – and, yes, an innocent certainty that created joy for both of us.

Danielle came in (not yet my step-daughter, of course, for I was still a child) and spoke;

‘You, Cardboard, are my husband’s love-spill. I forgive him…’

I nodded. The horizon nodded, too … as our wagon-wheels groaned and tilted to the onset of yet another misplaced destination.

Later, there came memories of faceless groupies, the ectoderms. Silent they would come to greet us, knowing we had what they craved, for we were the Bottle wagon people. And the bartering would begin, conducted by Father John.

I would play the concertina while Danielle danced in her fluorescent pink gown. Sometimes she would spit on me, guarding her movements with shimmering veins as she spun around. The groupies never noticed, of course. Their eyes under the spell of our magic, they stood waiting for Father John to open the rust dusty doors to the Kingdom. Father John’s coffers of blue ice.

‘See this child?’

A frozen cough from a chesty ectoderm delayed my reply. Little did anyone then know that I, Cardboard, was eventually to marry this phlegm-ridden item of rank femininity and was, even later, to discover it was Danielle’s mother. Apparently, Aniseed (that was the ectoderm’ s name) liked the look of my concertina, if not the sounds it played. Indeed, only a nozzle-shaped embryo such as Aniseed could sufficiently unravel the thick hide of its puparium to seek the bandbox within. And Danielle’s pink gown was evidently not a gown at all, but a luminous sheen of outer flesh.

Wagon people were like that. Wigwammers. Skins. Tomahawk-slices. Cardboard frames upon which to erect tents of body-fat. Each corrugated edge of once placental pulp was just another way towards moulding a daughter … or son. Each joined to each like Siamese steppes. Or squeezed pecking-orders of pyramidal miscegenation. Tectonic accordions of horizon and primal cityscape.

The Kingdom was just a topic for another forgotten conversation. Danielle introduced me to the wrinkled leather flagon called Aniseed.

‘Cardboard, Aniseed. Aniseed, Cardboard.’

I kissed her foetal spout, she my papier mache plug.

(Our first kiss – oh, would that words be adequate!

Flashing sparklers of sky-bangled rhythms; angels singing acapello ‘Gladly, The Cross-Eyed Bear’, with cosmic fires in the works, and oh, they were working just fine until the lights went out.)

Danielle! Why did you do it? What jealous notions? What devious intentions? And how did you manage to haul two buckets of Father John’s blue ice up behind me, just as Aniseed and I had barely completed our mating ritual?

It took Aniseed ten years for her eventual corpse to birth our child – at that, what a poor and deformed creature it was. Neither ecto nor endo, but rather wrongside out. Danielle refused to name this, her step-sibling, until it came of age and began menstruating all by itself. This wouldn’t have been so terribly embarrassing, but again, we had quite a crowd that day. I was feeding the Gullibles, and Danielle had Aniseed’s remains strapped to the Iron Pig. The latter was manufactured from Father John’s false leg which the medicine men had managed to replace with a limb of real flesh and bone but only after one of these very medicine men (Father John’s illicit and unacknowledged son) melted and remoulded it in the shape of a worse runt than even himself.

Of course, Danielle had not been able to forgive me for being the love-spill from her husband’s flagon – but it was only in the evening of one day beyond memory itself that she learned the identity of my mother … and this seemed to shed a light upon all that had gone before, even to the extent of removing shadows from the casting of Gullibles’ bodies. My mother’ You see, it is difficult for us Cities even to admit that wood pulp and blue skies can make new worlds where a frigid virgin doesn’t need God to seed her. I, Miss Krook, smiled, knowingly – knowingly and sweetly. After all, Cardboard characters and pasteboard parthenogenesis go hand in hand with bottled Spontaneous Combustion. Wagon-dealers, Weirdmongers, et al.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Only One I
A collaboration with Margaret B Simon

Published ‘The Q Review’ 1997

The sky outside this orbit fades to yellow blues and greens, then ocre like my mind feels rather ochre. Like something someone would eat and spit out. I’ve been here strapped into the seat for ten hours and they keep screaming at me to be still and bringing me beverages which are most distasteful.

I dislike flight by air. I always have, and I always shall. For me, the water soothes me, the winds and waves afford me comfort. Suffer I would gladly behind the blast of sudden storms, I have no problem within. But these nandy pants catering to me make me ill, and their feet are far too small. One of these women who wait on me is quite intelligent. I must not forget this. She could have made a fine cosit, I suppose. Ample muscles, large for these who are representatives and her feet…I am happy with the size of her feet. Her voice I know as a shrill chirp calling. This is good. I asked her name, once.

Nobody would tell me.

It’s black otherwise. I’m in my window watching as we circle.

Once, I watched a vized version of fish in a tank. This is good, I thought, for I know the ways of the fish. This is good. But rather odd, to put them away in a tank, I thought. It’s rather a waste of my time, I think, to try to put these thoughts into a language of comprehension for them but then why not? It bothers me to have nothing to do.

It’s late, now. Milky white skies and spackled with sunstars. I couldn’t make out the landing, but what else could be expected when one realised that this country was at least a couple of centuries younger than anywhere else? Or should I say – older?

I took the eyeglass to the window and could only make out a few phrases here and there,

‘he was heartless…’

‘blood stood still…’

‘one breath of air lasted a lif-’

‘name was … avid – sucked out from the pit…’

‘flights never ended…ailerons slanted’ iced?’

Jolted my handsticks to pen. Feel selfbeing hefted from what I’d taken to be the present to the sun oh too bright through the wind…

Awakingsleep wait for me the scratching of the featherbone on parchment someone sticking me with pinsounds

‘This is your Captain. A bit of rough air, here. We should land shortly. Sorry about this, stay in your secured locations until further notice.’

At last or at least a full and complete sentence. I contemplated squeezing shut my eye in order to see more clearly. Rather than endanger myself further, I extended a disposable feeler which was immediately chopped twice, but no more than a pinprick to me, naturally. There was a sensation of water, shafting of lights, distortions of the less than ordinary for even this otherworld – and thus, I plugged myself inside for emergence level purposes.

‘odd!’…put…sides with tank seven o five charlie are you…?’

‘founder… can’t pull it…’ must be a vi____? Silk on paisley ocre designs explosions seepage no choice but to will myself outward until the scuttle whap of landing jarred me backward to common time and time was empty…

The more that things do not change, the more they actually change. That’s the way it is. Things are intended to change and if they don’t change, they become things other than they are.

I lean back in the deck chair and try to dream of cool beers on a beach where the sun chill blinds. Well, most people think ‘thinking’ is a bit like wearing randy pants and the less you think, the more you can go to swish parties and be held up as a ‘doer’, a man who makes moves without breaking sweat….

A plane roars overhead – probably taking richer people than me to hotter incontinents than the beach. Assuming it doesn’t crash en route – an orc with snapped wings.

Unfortunately, I only have one eye. Always have, always will.

And then again, whatever….

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

Ultimate Creative
A collaboration with Margaret B Simon
Published ZINE ZONE 1997

I measure the circumference of your head; it won’t fit into the trellis as I’d planned: you are also screaming which annoys me no end. You’ve got blood on your face and you can’t stand it, can you? Blood is purity, they say. You should enjoy it for what it’s worth I tell you imagine where Roualt would be without the colour of blood, or for that matter even the faded blood of the Sistine Chapel siennas’ Blood is beautiful and should not ever be associated with pain.

Oh, what times we had as artists, no? You and I, together painting black on blue the canvas of life as you laughed why can’t you laugh now with me? We are still together in this final creative work. I’ll bow to you first, not in alphabetical order for once. Your name will be on the placard before my own, I promise. Now please you must stop slobbering such a distraction here while I must think – and you are wetting yourself For shame! See how fallible you are within? No control, really. I told you that years ago but you never acknowledged a thing I told you, did you? Now I’ll have to shave your head for the fitting which is quite a shame to trim these golden tresses down to brink of bone. No, it will be more than that this one time I’ll have to clear another inch.

So happy you agree; silence is consent as you are wont to say. Yet this won’t be as easy as I’d thought. All I can find is a hammer from our toolbox and it’s making quite a mess I fear. As I work, I remember how we used to do things together – how you would pose pouting prettily so that I could capture your image flick of camera on white, then brush and polish (we knew all the tricks didn’t we?) and how your friends adored you and the critics were your friends not mine but we were rich and we would laugh together in that dichotomy of what was real and what was not which brings me to this last work – a statement of life and death with worms and holes those multiple facets of colours revealed as a virgule sculpture beyond temporality the one thing that cannot be duplicated, nouveau without self-destructing; a statement that worms and flies will follow; critics of the finest taste and bittersweet reviews which due to form and societies will remain unpublished…

See now! Your head fits perfectly through the bars; honeysuckle becomes your face and the light is perfect! Pale yellow kisses on red, and best of all the centre of interest appears as your left eye emerges from its socket, sleek and slow and terribly fascinating.

I couldn’t have done it without you! Marvellous, my darling, simply marvellous. ‘Blood is God’s correcting-fluid,’ I hear you say, in return, this time with a silence you really mean. What can I? Say in return?

My own dress is prettier. Than yours whilst you continue to preen your head as though your head is an ordinary head, a head, that is, owning a head’s body, a body that all heads should have as a head’s body. Caesura carving, Alexandrine alembic. These are. Words that only you, my darling, know the meaning. Of.


The story the head told me went like this.

‘You have measured the circumference of my head, so that you can test its threadability vis-a-vis the trellis. You have stolen the crimson from my head so that you can paint its pain, as well as carve its essential headness.’

‘No! No!’ I protest loudly.

‘This my mouth I speak with which you gashed with your chisel…’

‘Margery! Margery!’

I turn my head for this is a new voice. One that interrupts my communion with the head I have sculpted.

‘What are you doing?’

I blush for this is Desmond, come to spy out my doings.

‘Nothing, Desmond. I merely doodle.’

I point at the piece of paper fluttering in the trellis, upon which I try to sketch a woman’s head without the necessary firmness.

‘You cannot draw standing up…’

Desmond is dressed in a gown that reaches his feet. He was once my shrink, now he is my Corrector. Counselling and psychiatry and nursing and guidance and therapy have long since been abandoned – a fact of which you may still be unaware – and, instead of such caring professions, everything has become much more stringent, much more prescriptive, much less descriptive, essentially not taking ‘no’ or even ‘yes’ for an answer.

‘You know we can’t go on like this, Margery!’ Desmond lurches to grasp my right wrist in an iron clamp. He always carries the clamp with him, even when in his bathrobe. It’s disgusting.

The head gives me a condescending smirk, only Desmond doesn’t notice. This infuriates me so much that I call him a nasty name. The name. He jerks my wrist about and shoves my hand into his mouth, severing three fingers.

‘I am not amused, Margery! As your Corrector, I am obliged to – excuse me’ (he wipes the blood from his beard) ‘to order you to cease all creative endeavours, and I am insuring that this nonsense will end.’

Desmond leaves me trembling at the trellis.

‘I can!! I can draw standing up!!’ I scream, as he slams the porch door. Possibly he heard me, because he returns with an axe.

The story the head told me either ended there or paused, only time would.



There was a Swiss man called William who shot an arrow at an apple on his son’s.


I couldn’t get away from the head, it seemed. I’m glad you agree that art is worth more than the paper it’s printed on. A head in the trellis is worth two in the pubes. A stitch in time saves two hundred and six.

Bones in the body.


I looked to see who spoke of such soft straw.

It was Desmond, with axe hanging between his legs like spare meat.

The delayed pain in the three erased fingers seemed now to seep into the paper with a redness that was so red no palette could ever own it. He was now evidently come to come.

Or to remove the head I’d carefully drawn between the cage-bars of the iron trellis. The axe-blade was made of rubber, I guessed, as he began to rub its rubber edge like a rubber up and down the features of the head’s essential headness; the nose went first, eyes next, ears softening like HB lead with each stroke, mouth left to last still mouthing the pain the trio of finger stumps still squawked.

He had a bloody cheek.


‘Blood is God’s corrective fluid’ – somewhere in the dull thumping of my veins, echoes of Desmond’s admonition. Or was he attempting to salvage me, my precious head or my dissolute spirit’

Where the bones hold as a tripod, seductive maddening rhythmic – Desmond’s leering face and the head, the erasure of the head!

‘Too much!’ I cry, shaking with fury. ‘You will tamper no more with my apples, nor my heads! These are my original rights!’ I rush forward, wrenching the iron clamp from my wrist. With this, I attack, ‘STANDING UP, creating new optical illusions, Desmond, watch me put the touches on your portrait … and I’ll leave your eyes for last. I shall!’

Yet in my outrage, I forget about the missing fingers.

Roualt would have been proud of me, Chagall two.

Yes, I could paint like acupuncture. A needle to the eyeball to cure iritis of the soul. Scrimshaw techniques to the bone-that-shows. Then dipping his beard-tip in the blood that oozes from the corner of each eye, Desmond shows me how to paint with no fingers. How to draw. Without strokes. Merely daubing up and down with his beard like a fisherman casting a line in a broom-cupboard. Up and down. Dab, smudge, smear, smut. Each stub then takes their own blood and daub away like kids in infants. Stumps where digits once dangled. Ragged butchered knuckles scraping each clean swipe of tippex/snopake/plasma across the good looks.


There the head’s story paused again. Desmond said he wanted to kiss me.

‘Correction, Margery. I do not want to kiss you. For people with no heads find it hard to kiss. No, what I want to do with you is crowbar names from your mind. The names. Together with the laughter we once shared, where our names of kinship were writ. And with what shall I crowbar it forth, I hear you ask…’

‘I ask no such thing. I can see your beard-tip is no rubber axe-blade. It is sharper, gougier, jaggier, jabbier than any divot-digger. Even with my imaginary finger-tips, I wince as I touch its ultimate point.’

‘Ultimate point. There is no ultimate point. Only the thirsty crucible of pain. The ultimate creative lurch towards the never-ending pause…’

– – – – – – – – – – –

The Good Neighbour
A DFL collaboration with Margaret B Simon
(Published ‘Palace Corbie’ 1995)

The last greenshadows are folding in and from my studio. I can see the small house that once commanded my irrigation: so boundless with energies and youthful joys and jostling children, lawnmowers and much fuss about holidays

As the skirts darken on the oaks, I see wisps flicker; dashing; precocious; nibbling at the last of light, firefly bright – and two months ago I called the police but they just laughed at me so I had my phone disconnected.

I recall the large round man suited in white stains showing in the early dawn, classifiably the rote minister of some inane cult – came here knocking before he went next door, to the Unfortunates. I have a genuine Irish tin whistle and the doorbell is disconnected, so I played my whistle three times four to one, seven to seven in B flat and F minor as he peered into my front room.

He wore a straw hat, I recall that as well. Saw him wet his lips to interrupt me, knock-knuckling the window. I just rolled my eyes, careful to adjust my flats and minors one after the other, in accord. A very boring tune indeed and he left here – agitated I would ascertain – as he had taken off his straw hat twice to wave at me, a demonstration of impatience.

Last year, I decided on planting flocks instead of sunflowers. Much easier for these bones to tend.

You know, it must have taken him several months, as I recall. After he got over to those nice neighbors, that is. Not in the best of moods, I’d say, and he never came back outside once he got in. I watched him with my bino’s that I won at a Bingo game five years back. No, indeed. He never came out and, by and by, nobody else did either.

Perhaps due to my observations, but mostly

because of a growing sense of discomforture, I

requested my phone line be disconnected. You see, I haven’t any use for that sort of man, religious or not.

So, when the phone rang, I tried to play it

down with my genuine whistle. I knew it wouldn’t be ringing, so shouldn’t have been difficult to ignore. Later, the man with the straw hat – except it was now a cowboy one – came into a dream of mine, as large as life. A real jaws of a man. Toting six shooters and he came right up to my face, leering into my mouth as if he were a dentist prospecting for a kiss.

He showed his own sharkfln teeth in a version of a smile.

‘I’m back in real life, too,’ he said, tempting me to wake.

‘Life’s one thing – but dreams are private,’ was the only thing I thought to say.

‘Well, it’s yer fault I’m here, ‘cos it’s your dream,’ he countered.

‘What I mean to say,’ I said with some hesitation, ‘is that you look like a man who knows his own mind, but here you are claiming to be a mere figment in my dream.’

He had no answer to that little conundrum of a dilemma. It was only heresay that he was back in real life. A sort of religion that he existed outside my dream.

Then he shot me through the head.

If blood were music, then I woke upon a pillow piled in pavanes and piccolos and pipes and pickled peppers. My head was buried in the tooth fairy’s corpse. My eyes unsnailed from their ball-hollows. Nose disjointed. Flats and minors mingled with vile juices. Sun’s black bladder blooms beyond the window.

I’d have to call the laughing policemen. With a disconnected phone. Oh yes, and then tomorrow came suddenly bolting through the hole in my head. I shrugged out of the tightly wadded sheets, angered at my disposition. By noon, what with the results of the dream-shot addling my vision, I had become even more insensed. I directed my attention to gardening the flocks, though they needed nothing in particular. As I knelt with spade in hand, a shadow beyond the dark sun cast a line directly overhead.

He wore a straw sombrero but it was the same round man in the white stained suit, smelling faintly of rum. The nightmare man at noon – here; black and white shadows. He produced a harmonica from his vest pocket and bent down to blow it in my right ear. Nine notes, and on each note I felt a finger swell and winch apart from my hands. They fell softly and painlessly into the bed of flocks.

I made a nasty gesture with my remaining digit. ‘Why do you do this to me? Who do you think you are, doing such to me, your good neighbor?’

He wet his teeth, gold incisors flushed from dark, ‘Yer’ve got your nerve to ask! You fucking recluse agnostic bastard and on top of that – and what’s more, I cain’t abide tin whistles.’

Stricken by his insults, I turned to witness the outline of his sombreroed shadow slipping backward slowly, as blink by blink it blurred into the shape of the house next door.

‘It’s a good job he’s there…’ I said to the wall. Or was it the wall speaking?


‘Because the water pipes come via his property and they’d freeze up if this house’s heating wasn’t kept going.’

‘It isn’t his house.’

‘He’s a squatter, then?’

I looked through the window at the cascading snow. White flocks. Black sunflowers. The ground was an ice rink. Strange how seasons suddenly…

Ring! The saxophone again, with a horn-bell. He played it like the muffin man.

For several years, most of our contact – me and him – had been through the wall with all manner of musical means. Or by a telling rattle in the pipes as he drew off a kettleful of water for his tea. I?d only met him in dreams – and oh, yes, when we gossipped over the garden fence of this and that. Once I asked him why he was never in real life what he was really like in dreams. He answered like the Bingo callers but with notes instead of numbers.

I answered: ‘House!’

A fortune win. After all, hope’s religion. But I followed up on disconnecting my phone by ripping its pipes from the wall with my middle finger. As I say, I haven’t any use for that sort of man, religious or not.

I hate Country & Western, at the best of times. Fucking flutes.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

UNREAD STORY by DF Lewis and Margaret B Simon (published on-line)

There were various reasons why Archie murdered Susan – reasons that were actually beyond the mere gratuitousness of the times. There was, of course, the love-hate relationship. Also, he had a passion for her feet. Perhaps that was because he’d had his own foot amputated during the BALKAN WAR (2003). Such a fetiche, furthermore, was enhanced by her feet having beautifully slender ankles, with each toenail varnished crimson. He also thought she aimed to murder him first.

Both had been anonymously named on town centre noticeboards in recent weeks, along with all the other about-to-be-murdereds. Ever since television and the press in general were banned – subsequent to the PROPOGANDA ACT (2005) – there had been an increased appetite for things like scandal, smut, provocation and just plain information syndrome and replacement soap-opera treatment … and everybody was naturally aware of the black market in such material – not to mention the subliminal gossip columns and fiction fixes that could now be read between the lines of political meetings agenda and council committee minutes. Most were aware, indeed, of which ‘publications’ had become allowable in the world’s neo-puritan age. So, yes, if it were not for the static noticeboards – old-fashioned in their use of drawing-pins and anaemic items of essential information regarding water supplies, curfew hours, transport timetables, faces wanted for crimes et cetera – nobody would know of Archie and Susan: both pictured with staring eyes, mean lips and minds with murder on them.

Whilst nobody was permitted a name following the Disnomenclature Act (2006), it was excusable to finger this otherwise notorious couple. They eventually declared their Banes regarding the dissolution of their marriage during the period when it was difficult to find a path – or audit trail – through the prevailing maze of Deed Polls and Powers-of-Attorney. In fact, Archie and Susan managed to squeeze the reading of their Banes between that of their daughter’s and future son-in-law’s Banns in the last Church Service to be held in Western Europe, if barely now under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. The next day they would have had to do voluntary community service even to earn the right to the Mr and Mrs titles – simply followed by a number instead of a surname. Otherwise, they would have been abandoned simply as numbers and nothing else. Mr 2748923 was so much more dignified than simply plain old 2748923. As it was, by the skin of their teeth, Archie and Susan were able to put the wedding in the past instead of in the unmagical present and, furthermore, they could retain documents proving their identities beyond the regimentation imposed by the I-AM-NOT-A-NAME-I-AM-A-NUMBER-! ACT (2007). However, such identities did involve co-habiting till kingdom come. No wonder murder rose to the top of their thoughts, floating clear of the other confusions – in the same way as death’s perfect simplicity always seemed to arise from the midst of life’s tangle.

If we take a closer look at their private lives, we find a disparagement of interests – in short, nothing in common except mutual hatred, by the time their marital documents were confirmed. For example, taped conversations at various times of the day or night were made accessible via the new government and sold to the public, without their knowledge or permission.

Snoring sounds – then breaking of glass.

“Archie! Wake up! Someone is downstairs mucking about!”


“Never mind, you blankety fool, I’ll check it out myself.”

Footsteps leaving the room, followed by shrieks and scuffling.

You okay, Susie doll?”

Heavy breathing.

The tape ends here, leaving the listeners in suspense until another cassette is available. In all fairness to Archie and Susan, most of these recordings were made in a government-owned studio and profits from the sales went directly into the treasury by SPECIAL ACT OF PARLIAMENT (EMERGENCY MEASURES) – or so the public was informed on the labels of the tapes, with a picture of a white-bearded jolly man wearing mittens and a red hat with a fuzzy ball on its end.

Another tape sample:
“Where did you put the salt? Don’t you know I hate it when I can’t find anything? Why are you always putting things where you think they belong? Blanknation, and I see you’ve let Spot play with my replafoot again!! It won’t fit. I’ll have to take it back to the…”

“Oh, shut the blank up, you blanket son of a blank! Here’s your salt!”

Sound of smashing dishes, fists on flesh, &c. &C.

“You blankety blank blank stupid son of a blankety blank! Now see what you’ve done to my kitchen!”

Tape ends here. The public eagerly accepts the imagined brute base forces at work between Archie and Susan.

“I just love travelling very fast along the motorways of England…”

Susan who had spoken Archie had not previously noticed sitting on her own in Service Station 2748923… eating her breakfast, at breakneck speed.

He turned to her, surprised that she was evidently talking to herself, but he was only met by an icy stare in return – so icy, that he assumed she did not want company, especially company like himself with a surrepitious recording-bug and a clandestine provenance as an erstwhile spouse. She continued speaking, however, as if to the air:

“You know, before television had colour, everthing was black and white. Everybody had to buy black and white clothes – boring grey ties and dark suits were all the rage then. When colour was invented, the Brain Washers authorised injections to let pinkness seep into the skin. The atmosphere was thought best filled with a vast quantity of blue gas (but, as it happened, insufficient to prevent varying degrees of grey creeping back in). And millions of zombies were given the job to turn the grass green with ear-wick dye…”

She could not help but cast an old-fashioned look fit to make him reel back on the balls of his mental feet, which momentarily caused him to abandon his sausage to its liberal dashings of grease. She then departed, with not even a bye nor leave, but he heard her muttering until her voice faded: “Thousands of busted bodies all over the fast lane, traffic jam…”

Archie veered from side to side of the psychological carriageway as his concentration slipped. Is it possible that there had been a fraudently constructed collective history? So incredibly well documented … did Shakespeare’s plays have words for colours in them? He couldn’t quite recall. Funny what one thinks about over a motorway breakfast.

Susan was to be killed instantly by a pile-up further along the motorway, her severed joints pumping out a grey slimy matter as if all her arteries were brimming with unwashed brain…

Then he realised his own jalopy of a mind must have cannoned through the crash barrier, since the tomato sauce dispenser spirted wads of grey come upon the jumbo sausage.

Where had he put the salt?

Archie played back his recordings of primary sources when he had returned to his den. He now always had time to back-time travel, because reality was subject to THE NO WAY FORWARD ACT (2008) which cut down on the options quite a bit, bearing in mind earlier legislation such as THE NO TURNING BACK ACT (1997) and its corollary FEET OUTSTRETCHED IN FRIENDSHIP MOVEMENT of the same year.

Listening to the latest tape, he drew the conclusion that Susan had staged the motorway crash to fool him into believing that his earlier murder of her had been a waste of time. Pity all the times of his recordings, though, were in his own fair hand rather than system-dated.

Ice. Eyes cold, cruel-blue and misleading, like the frozen river filled with temptations of skating on such very thin ice.

So went Archie’s memories as he listened to his recordings. A mass of sound and stillness of cold, signifying nothing and everything. NO TURNING BACK< BACK< BACK … articles, dicometrics, social pressures … and the worst and indescribably horrid one was that he no longer had a ticket for the Pub One-a-Nighter. Disgrace added to his mood – the focal point of his once-joyous love (which was Susan, which was hope) flitting and batting him like a moth at an electric light. He picked up the diconanocorder and began The Confessional, according to THE NO WAY FORWARD ACT, item 14, page 10. This time, he took care to be specific, using the system-dated access entry.

After finishing his True Confession, Archie went into the bathroom and opened the medicine chest. Surely there was some sort of pain killer for even a minor headache left – but no. Nothing. Due to the NO MORE PRESCRIPTION DRUG ACT (1998), he was left with the pain in his head – or possibly his inner soul.

In the medicine chest, Archie did find a solution to his headache and heartaches. His fingers were reaching for it when Susan abruptly pushed into the bathroom without knocking first which was an indiscretion of the THIRD REVISION TO MARRIAGE ACT and thus, Archie had no choice.

“You blankety blank fool!” (Susan)

“Why?” (Archie)

“You forgot to take me to visit Mother!” (Susan)

“Oh? Oh, yeah.” (Archie)

“According to the FIFTH REVISION TO MARRIAGE ACT, you are supposed to comply with my reasonable and family interpersonal relationships requests, right?” (Susan)

“We were invited for bangers and mash!” Susan continued (with only a gasp from Archie who couldn’t speak because she had his tie in her hands and was quickly pulling it tightly as one would do if one were preparing to strangle – )

“Archie, I’m sick of THIS – “ (Susan)

Astounded, Archie watched as Susan yanked the NITE-LITE behind him from the wall.

“Do we die, or do we perform a marital?” It was a mutual mental option, and they had (for once) no problems with doing ‘it’.

Afterwards, they awoke to discover a tangle of Acts. Circle of untenable laws, yet tenable by virtue of the circle. Indeed, Archie was in touch with how far round the circle went. He was everybody's friend. Women fought tooth and nail to be his shadow. A good guy … a fine mover … his the only mind worth the thoughts … a slick talker … a soul of any party. Yet, his Achilles Heel was a belief in real people rather than in numbers like 2748923 and 0007000. Not as a joke. Not with any sense of embarrassment. Not for the effect. He merely, simply, quite honestly, thought he knew.

In the early days (before their Banes) Susan often allowed herself to be escorted by him to social awareness classes, humouring his single peculiar quirk of faith with her own ability to vest people with at least an ounce of existence. What was the big deal, she asked. People, like vampires, were as likely as not. Not even worth a shudder.

In any event, misunderstandings were bound to arise – but I must not leapfrog ahead of myself. Up to the present, Archie has failed to prove by law (or even by common sense, let alone tape recording) his own existence, let alone that of other people. I've not yet met him in person, you see, and I need to do that before I can refer to his exploits with any degree of conviction.

Susan? Well that's easier, because Susan's me.

One can never be certain anybody exists. Susan's the most certain viability – for obvious personal reasons of self. Yet, when Susan was faced with the predicament of getting to grips with someone else who, as well as being at first a figment of her imagination, was also himself a self-confessed believer in people, people who may even be at a higher level of believability than the believer – well, I doubt that Susan is at all cut out to cope with such convolutions of truth and non-truth.

Even if she is me.

Especially if she is me.

I was born in a nondescript year with no ACTS OF PARLIAMENT or STATEMENTS OF JURISPRUDENCE – and with the current moment being at an indeterminate point upon the spectrum of duration, I still believe nothing except the nothingness whence I came. Doubting everything. But, as with most creatures, of which having human feet is simply one example, doubts were soon replaced with environmentally induced fixities: landmarks whence the horizons could be judged. I could not have predicted – even if I'd tried – that such steadfast cornerstones would sooner or later have no buildings to be cornerstones of. Call it death. Call it a relapse into doubt. Call it the return of something in the guise of nothing. Call it, indeed, nothing itself. Call it Susan.

So, Susan, how old were you when you broke the ANTI-GOTHIC ACT 1999 by reading books about vampires, those so-called undead creatures that peopled most people's forgotten nightmares? Ten? Eleven? twelve? The answer depends on the starting-point of measurement from the moment of the unborn becoming the born, I suppose. Well, thirteen's a round number, about the age I'd've guessed, given your predilection for the dark side. So, having straightened that out, when did Archie come into your life? Or you into his?

"I canna tell yer," said Susan, as if that was the expected answer. She pursed her lips as if making an adolescent promise to herself, if not to anybody else, that she'd remain steadfastly silent…

How old were you, when you…

"Blank you!" she blurted out, reddening with the sinking of her vow. "I canna tell yer nuffin – 'cept haps the shadders."

The shadders, Susan? Her way, no doubt, of saying shudders. Or was it her way of mispronouncing shadows, her word for vampires and other such creatures of the dark?

"Nope, all that blanking shit about being dead and not dead all at the same time … you should've asked Archie about crap like that, 'cos he speaks nuffin else but blanking fucking shit."

But where was Archie? She gave no sign of answering that all important question. On cue, a black shape emerged from the even blacker backdrop of night – putting his arm round Susan's shoulder … and under her armpit … and over her shoulder again … and again. He then took his slithering endearments to her nude feet, sucking each toe into his tape-recorder mouth.

Yes, Archie knew how far round the circle went. Each circle is a self. Archie and Susan: a marriage made in Hell. Self with self.

But the only self-sufficiently believability on the scale of eternity was my own self. Feeding and feasting upon my own perpetuations of unred blood. A dark curve – mouth to groin. Shadder turned shedder.

Story unread (banned by the OBSCENE ENDINGS ACT (Literature) 2197

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Strafed by Starlings

Tommy Granite was a soldier. But he wasn’t the normal sort of soldier–he didn’t have a kingdom to guard. There were, however, three villages, who considered themselves better than any kingdoms put together–threatened, as they were, by forces unknown. These villages were known as Greensleeves, Sunrays and Larkrise.
“Tommy Granite’s getting a bit long in the tooth,” announced one of the head villagers. “He seems to think we villagers are what he’s guarding us against!”
“Tilting at monuments!” mused another rival for heading a village. Three villages were never enough.
“Look!” said another head villager, one who had been keeping watch with a low profile, rather than prattling. He pointed to a fast darkening patchwork sky.
“We are about to be strafed!” shouted Tommy Granite, quick marching into view, hand saluting the hot sun whence the blackness flowed like a curdled eclipse.
The three villages were gradually whitened by some sort of slimy covering of snow. They cursed with knurling any face that looked like Tommy’s.
Tommy, though, stamped his foot angrily, frozen in mid-march.
This had happened before. The same identical blackness like a flapping shroud over the sun with the same repugnant results and, as before, he wasn’t fast enough to stop it. What angered him the most was that he knew the villagers already suspected he’d brought on these catastrophes simply by his presence.
“Not so!” Tommy cried aloud. “I didn’a do this!”
Of course, nobody heard him.
In the nearest village which happened to be Greensleeves, a man by the name of Bittle decided to take matters into his own hands. It didn’t take him long to find Tommy stamping his feet in the dirt and shaking his fists at the sky. Bittle approached and, without warning, boffed poor Tommy in the jaw, causing him to fall to his knees.
“We’re sick of the sight of you, you worthless old bad of bones. If you can’t guard us properly from being dumped on, we don’t need you. Go away. Find yourself another set of villages to plague, got it?”
Tommy Granite smiled. He didn’t often smile. The snow effect, half-melting, half-crisp, was a new one, he felt.
“But, look’ee, Bittle, isn’t it a wonderful scene? Nuff to set your peepers back an optic fuse or two.”
Snow blindness was more an ill of mountainous districts, so when Bittle checked his own fragile sight, he was dumbfounded to have found it wasn’t there. Tommy’s jaw had glinted like a wide icicle, then gone, once the boffing had been applied.
Another head villager, a-trek from Larkrise, was a comely woman by the name of Hannah. Her brow was browned with sunblock.
“Tommy, what’s all this? Birdmuck?” She arked her arm to encompass the whole world.
Unknown to Hannah, she had been loved from a distance by Tommy and Bittle. They had both secretly announced to themselves–in coincidentally overlapping dreams–that they cherished her so much, that they would build a statue to her memory, once she had been forgotten.
Tommy thought as fast as a soldier’s stony mind allowed in a direction away from action.
“Nay, ’tis the starling’s blessing, even more marvelous than ever, if you’ll give the sight credit!” he told Hannah eagerly.
“Don’t look at it too long, fair Hannah,” cautioned Bittle bitterly. “I warn you, it’ll take your sight as it has mine–and this is all his fault!” He gestured in the direction of Tommy.
Hannah frowned. “You’re as useless as this feather-brained Granite Protector of ours, Bittle. Get a grip! I suggest you start with this.” She put the shovel she’d brought along in his hand.
Bittle was soon joined by a veritable army of villagers from Sunrays. Well, he could never depend on his own Greensleeves rapscullions whose hearts were as sturdy as blancmange at the best of times. And as for Hannah’s Larkrise inhabitants! Well, what could you say, outside of dream?
Thoughts were soon shoved aside, though, when they–these Sunrisers–took out tiny ice-cream scoops and proceeded to attack the blinding melange. Hannah had a fit of laughter. Bittle kept his heart on his sleeve but had, by now, developed too much of a messy nose-cold to even summon up sufficient strength to sneer–after Hannah had spluttered out the scoop story to keep him in the picture. Tommy Granite stood mainly stockstill, his own arm a stuttering fingerpost of renewed indirection.
The bodacious foul souffle took several days to clear away. To pass the time, the villagers sang the Birdy Poop song as they worked:
“Hidey ho, we scoop away
Come again another day,
Lark and Sparrow
In the air,
Far from us we pray you stay!”
Bittle’s sight returned but his mood darkened with each shovelful of birdmuck. Hannah oversaw the entire operation and would allow none to rest until the job was completed and everyone was totally pooped out. Just as they were packing up to go home to their respective villages, the people heard Tommy’s voice raised in warning.
“Avast! They have returned!”
Hannah looked up and gasped in dismay while Bittle bit his lip to keep from uttering a foul oath in her presence. This was too much!
But the latest onslaught was not another plague but a clutch of Greensleevites, folk who rarely ventured out and carried their common colds all over themselves, even glistening amid their outer garb. They veered in on gnarled and knurled numina, floating towards Tommy’s poop-scoopers–followed, in their wake, by flocks of tail-spinning Larkroses upon clunking ailerons of stone. Then further gliders soared and zig-zagged, baring their wing-nut teeth, preparing to stampede the starlings from their skies. Tommy’s rotating gibbet-arm pointed whither the air-battles should flow and flower.
Hannah and Bittle went off arm in arm, whilst still vying for headship of the village with the most phenomenological credibility.
Greensleeves, Sunrays and Larkrise later honoured Tommy with the only statue that ever graced their respective village squares, taking it in turns to lug it back and forth between them. These manoeuvres served some sort of inverse purpose, a ritual, perhaps, that only a study of history would uncover, given sufficient interlocking dovetails that panned out behind in some sort of mix-and-match with more common realities.
The smiling monument, meantime, ever indicated the most likely point of the compass whence its next patination of speckled slime did come.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

There were too many houses in Matilda’s road.
The line of terraced two-up-two downs curved out of sight as her eyes negotiated the parlour’s net-choked window for what she had determined would be the final count. One extra today. One less yesterday. Who knows how many extra tomorrow?
She was a maidenly creature who wished she had been given the chance to audition God before allowing herself to be born. The nearest she’d been to sex was surprisingly in the recent Autumn of her years when a Peeping Tom had watched her through the net curtains – without Matilda’s least inkling. But even this most vicariously tenuous experience had its subliminal effect, since she had spent the rest of that day preening her face in the mirror and pampering her scrawny body with strange lotions, much to her own retrospective disgust.
She received weekly visits from a brother called Tom who had even more reason than Matilda to bear a grudge against God for palming off a willy-nilly existence on him. Yet he humiliated himself in worship of that very God each Sunday.
Bill often fetched a small pet thing in a ventilated hatbox, one that scratched amid the purse-lipped conversations and the tinkly teacups. And squeeked. And snorted. With gentle noises-in-waiting. In the meantime, Bill and Matilda were in staccato communion with trivialities and useless truths, pointedly ignoring the tell-tale shuffly gurgly sounds from this box and the even more tell-tale silences…
And then, of course, beyond the reach of Tom’s fraternal prying, there were portions of Matilda’s life which were, for her, tantalising insertions of time for letting down her hair. An extra whole day now and again, was filleted forth from between say, Thursday and Friday: a period during which any experience could be as easily forgotton as something that had never been a memory in the first place.
So went Matilda’s rather uneventful life, neither active nor entirely passive, for she did withhold a few secrets from her brother. One involved a nightly dose of cream sherry. Exactly one fourth liter, not an ounce more nor less. She would sip it slowly, looking out through the net curtains until the lights of the houses dimmed and blinked out, one by one.
Matilda’s other secret involved what was in Tom’s hatbox. She knew what it was. She had one of her own upstairs but she never took it shopping or to visit a neighbor. At some point during Thursdays and Fridays, she would take it out and talk to it. And it would sing to her in its strange way while she lay prone upon the coverlet, eyes half-closed – as if drugged.
Only during those hours did Matilda lift outwards from her mortal body, soaring into fantasies of other worlds and times, of romance and passion. There were many handsome men, all with black hair and hairy chests, who would press her tender body to their sweaty loins and croon loving things into her delicate ears. But when Friday evening came, she would awake and place the creature back in its vented shoebox. Before so doing, of course, she would make sure it was well fed. This task, in fact, was at last what caused her prying brother to discover her secret. Yet secrets were in hierarchies of secrecy, each secret being a gin-trap or, at least, decoy for the unwary Peeping Tom.
Secrets between siblings, even secrets surreptitiously discovered, were merely secret diversions. Truth and lie were not even considerations. Indeed, some secrets lived a secret autonomous life and were at such a deep level they kept secrets from eath other in a variety of conspiratorial games…
Bill was unaware of these clandestine undercurrents. Today was Thursday and he breathed the frosty air as he trudged past row upon row of terraced housing en route to his sister’s…clutching the faintly throbbing hatbox to his chest. He was plying a different path, owing to the underground station where he usually alighted being subject to a security alert. His walk seemed so interminable, he almost believed he met himself several times coming in the opposite direction. Almost…until he did. He could only think to wave. The other one was equally unimaginative. And each walked on. What would Matilda think? Bill’s conduit into some sort of reality as a bachelor was often via this question. What would Matilda say about it?
“Just because you were dressed alike, Bill, doesn’t mean you were alike, other than the normal limbs and so forth we all have to bear…” She looked towards the hatbox which he was trying to balance on his lap amid various manoeuvres with a tea-cup and a plateful of cucumber sandwiches.
“…and don’t forget, many men are nondescript. By the way, Bill, they’re knocking down No. 17 – you know the one, nearly oppositie here – next week, because they say it’s infested from floor to roof. The way some people live!”
At these last words, the hatbox began a most unusually agitated activity, as if its guest within had a definite inkling of what she was talking about. Its usual squeeks and snorts grew in volume to match the shaking of the hatbox until it fell from Bill’s lap and rolled across Matilda’s Persian rug, coming to a halt at the doorstop.
Matilda gave it a cursory frown of disapproval. While Bill was hastening to retrieve the box before the lid was jarred open, she continued. “We are fortunate, Bill. Decent law abiding people who were raised with proper family values – why, I don’t understand what the world is coming to! Much less, this neighborhood – – ”
Here, she cut short her sentence as Bill was obviously having problem with the contents of the hatbox. He was attempting to solace the thing within, without much success. It continued to clamor and squeel, its sounds drowning out any possibility of further conversation.
At last, Matilda rose, giving an exasperated snort of her own. She went into the kitchen, shutting the door behind her. To her surprise, her hands were trembling uncontrollably. Underneath the sink, the bottle of cream sherry – half full, yes. Just the ticket. She poured herself a full snifter and downed it all, stifling a choking sensation. Turning then, arms braced against the sink, her eyes lifted upward to the ceiling where, above, her bedroom floor was beginning to shake. She could hear a keening noise coming from the cracks in the plaster.
Partly because of her abrupt and most unseemly response to the problem Bill was having with his hatbox companion, and partly because of the effects of the alcohol so rapidly consumed, Matilda’s confused mind centered on one thought: possibly she had forgotten to feed it! Surely, it had never called to her in this manner before…surely she might have forgotten, for last week’s dreams were the very best enchantments she had known to date.
How had the secrets escaped? She had heard, yet shrugged off, Bill’s statement that there was a security alert at the underground station he customarily used when visiting her. Now, it returned to her with a force quite inconsistent with its relative importance. She looked back down toward the sink, where she had decided to remain in case of an onset of being sick…and saw an old potato she had earlier been scrubbing, in preparation for cooking something vis a vis Bill’s tea. Even that assumed a significance quite beyond its intrinsic ability merely to waste space. Everything in her vicinity closed in…sharpening corners, widening cracks, swollen windows, engorged plumbing, as if there were no longer any triviality in life. No relativities.
She heard Bill’s shout from another room, but it sounded further away than being in the same house should permit. Perhaps, the days of the week were only part of the answer. She shrugged, not to shrug off as she had done before, but to remind herself that she was the only trivial thing left in the whole universe. The only unsecret obviousness.
The noise of dozers broke her dazed ruminations. Bulldozers? Yes, they must’ve started work on the demolishment of number 17. So it must be next week already. She knew her stairs to the bedrooms would soon be too steep to climb – all terraced houses thought that their working-class inhabitants would always be fit enough to climb their foot hierarchies, howsoever old age encroached the limbs.
Perhaps Matilta was too late. She rushed, sick or not, toward the stairwell…fearing that her bedroom floor might be smothered in all those secret secrets secreting in and out of the skirting-boards. Worse than bugs. Worse than humpbacked slugs. All trying to reach her shoebox.
“Matilda!!!” Bill’s voice resounded more urgently than the first time, yet more distant, as if feather-pillowed and further distant.
She forced her disagreeing legs into haste, whacking the sides of her hips sharply on corners she’d forgotton existed. Into the living room, half tripping over a mound of something on the floor which grappled with the toe of her shoe, late afternoon shadows kissing the curtained windows, windows now leaning at dangerous slants toward one another. Fully panicked now, she shook off the shoe with thing now firmly attached and without a backward glance, lumbered even less gracefully on in the direction of the stairwell.
Heart pumping, body grieving with every exertion, she fell to her knees halfway up the stairs when everything suddenly tilted sideways. The dozers thrummparation for snoring herself into an unforgiving slumber…or into the only child who needed more than Snakes & Ladders…and Stairwells…and Spuds…and Siblings…and Secrets to expunge the Solitude.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Tendring Hundred
a collaboration with Margaret B Simon

“I learned anatomy from my lover,
by bi-sexing her”

I don’t know what the word flick means.

Only Doreen knows. Don’t ask me. I’m inside her, right now fucking away. I read her as we go up and down springs banging, but I’m not really where she supposes I am.

She is thinking how Larry was the latest in an interminability of boy friends (and I am not Larry by any means – mental picture: pimplescars and plastic cars, bad breath, pinprick nostrils, missing an eyetooth on the left…bad “haircut one hundred”)

Doreen interrupts me. She saw him clearly, fast steadying himself upon the see-saw of her affections – and he had been promising her a Birthday present to end all Birthday presents. Vision: a watch. A bowie watch. She’d been no more certain of its nature close-up than when he’d originally presented it to her from a distance, standing there in the arboretum, his face steaming with perspiration from the summer sunshine.

It worked on a rubber band.

Larry had it ludicrously balanced upon his head as he slowly threaded the trail through rosebushes and forsythia, snagging his trowser cuffs on the blackberry runner guardians Doreen had planted and planned just so – as of course, Larry tripped, just as she’d expected. The Great Birthday Gift landed safely delivered into the branch of a Peruvian pear tree.

Doreen plucked this creation from the branch and examined it more closely. A measureless silence prevailed as she twiddled the tiny knobs at the back (or was it the front?) of the present.

Meanwhile, she was vaguely aware that Larry had lost the customary spring in his step. Larry all over. Anything for a wind-up. Right. She glanced briefly at his prone form on the pathway. He was, indeed, Larry all over. A Hero and a Villain.

Image: Larry’s skull split by rock on pathway. Just as Doreen had anticipated. A thin trickle warm-wet red on her hand, holding the knob of the Birthday Present. “Fuck!” she recalled saying.

As I do, pushing in harder, finding the closed doors.

Doreen twiddled the buttons on the object for a full half hour before bringing it inside to inspect further.

During the interval, she screamed (appropriately) for help and as anticipated, Tom came hobbling over. Tom was a watchful neighbor, who she knew was prone to viewing her undress behind the filmy blue curtains of her bedroom window at precisely 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. He used his dead mother’s rather decadent pearl opera glasses from his bathroom window. Doreen knew this.

Secret doors opened further. I fuck on.

Image: Doreen pours herself a cup of lemon tea. Glances to the mirror in the hallway, gives a flick to her custard blonde curls. Smiles. Sits down with Larry’s gift, lips pursed smugly. She is interrupted by Tom’s banging on the back door. Police arrive. Investigations proceed. She tucks the gift into the pocket of her skirt. Goes to bathroom. When she emerges, she is the picture of a forlorn thirty-something woman who has just lost her lover. Doors close.

Re-open: Right to left. A diamond wristwatch? An engagement ring? Doreen sifts through fantasies. She barely hears her Grandfather’s clock, or is it cock-tik-cock-tit-cock tit, immersed in daydreams. Faulty lovers. Gifts. The moon slips under the drapes of her darkened living room.

I fuck ahead, what the heck. What is this? Wisp-scuttle of fingertips red flipping on switches killing and praying easier with dry fingers/sunlight error error error destruction consumated union…? Doreen washed her hands again.

She evades me with the memory. Very strong, this one. Lady Doreen MacBeth with the chilly willies. Each time she tries to wash her hand, the red stain reappears. Doreen continues to play with the watch. Doreen sips lemon tea. Doreen decides to switch to something stronger. Maybe a creme sherry. Fuck creme sherry (push harder) Doreen’s manicured nails flick twice, one breaking jagged edge: jack in the box with a scalpel mega flipped sideways landing in cushion beside her. Doreen is definitely upset. Flings the watch across the room, where it hits the false fireplace that she is so proud of – and begins to play a recording:

“A sweet moony English couple
Let us oil ‘em, make ‘em supple.
Boil ‘em and then relard ‘em,
But first let us slice off his sting
Before he can sheathe it in her thing”

And out I come. And out goes Doreen – pretty, winsome and teasing Doreen of any man’s tick-tock dreams back into her very own fantasy of being fucked by Mr. Right On Time.

A shame, really. She is quite pretty, even now with no pretension. She could have lasted longer. But I suppose I pushed too hard. Tom will disapprove, I suppose. But so be it. Miss Doreen was a great fuck, if you got inside her head. He might enjoy what else I found before I closed her shutters.

“Saturday was always Doreen’s favorite day, because she was off from the workaday week – the mundane,” Tom remarked, putting me back inside yet another watch he’d fashioned. “You see, after all, this was just another bit of a lark for both of us. Doreen never did appreciate the finer things. She wasn’t even one of the finer things, herself. But nobody with a finer movement.”

“So you’re not upset?” I questioned, nestling inside Watch No.2.

“To the contrary, dear little Larry. Another tenant will be moving in there, by and by. Another bit of entertainment to pass the time, eh?”

Ever since Tom brought me here, I’ve wanted to see what he has in his collection. He knows that. Paradise Lost is one of his favorites, for some reason. The less I think, the better off I am. Maybe so, maybe not. I commit myself into the ball of nanopulse, from which he made me.

Major Tom blows out the candles in his basement office and listens to time. The heart he has to his left ear is dead and rubbery. The end of a tender century.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The Anatomy of the Total

The first indication I had of the lady Céleste’s arrival was the fuss and bother in the foyer. I was despatched to represent management – yet imagine my fear at the reputation that went before the lady Céleste.
My speech had been hastily prepared as the fast down lift proceeded to turn my stomach over: “I welcome you, Madame Céleste, to our small but prestigious hotel wherein the mind is as important as the body. No untoward entertainments, such as the bonzo on a electric organ playing “A Bird In A Gilded Cage” to a samba beat, nor the ugly belly dancer wobbling her oversized bosom to an amplified accordion accompaniment nor, even, the tides of inconsequential musak that all other hotels allow to infiltrate their lobbies, lifts and powder rooms…”
I had another section of the speech to make regarding the feast Akengraft had planned for her. I would also invite her to try every bed in all our rooms to find the one, if any, that fitted her best – but I was loudly and rudely interrupted by her male companion. I was previously unaware of his existence, mainly because he hid among the concertina pleats of her voluminous skirt.
“Fetch me the manager!” he whined. “My mistress here has in fact a great interest, both spiritual and financial, in the provision of the subtle wallpaper harmonies and melodies to which I take it you have just referred so pejoratively as musak.”
He paused to take on board the lady Céleste’s approving look, which she accomplished with an indistinguishable flick of the peacock mask that she held up before her face.
“My mistress who even now stands before you as she has graced so many hotel foyers in the past is indeed the daughter of the inventor of the melodic music sublimator device that allows the tape-loops of popular, catchy tunes (such as “Tiptoe Through The Tulips”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” and “Que Sera, Sera”) to be played without cease directly into the consciousness without the need of passing through the ears first.
Astonished (possibly blushing) I stood attempting to appear as non-plussed as the Palace Guards while the lady Céleste’s baggage was brought about and carted to our four elevators. It was a bit of a difficult situation, as several American tourists were brushed aside in order to gain access. Their remarks about this intrusion rankle to this day, for they all complained loudly about the situation. One elderly tourist actually smacked a porter with her attaché case, causing him to fall.
Several nights later, a guest reported that someone had set up a large electronic telescope on the roof, which was interfering with his television reception. As this guest was representing the province of Urquia, minor though this may seem – he was familiar with our staff, and his tips were (unlike the lady Céleste’s) most magnanimous.
“JELP! Tat ladee, shees fromming topical illogistics via jus outsides!”
“Have no fear, Mr Magura, I shall check on this situation immediately,” I replied.
With regard to this very Mr Magura, let me go back a number of years and tell you that the lady Céleste was a less pretentious creature when I first saw her. A prim and proper lady, yes, and she haunted Berkeley Square almost as if she were an ordinary mortal. In these what-turned-out-to-be her younger days, the men in hard hats whistled at her as she passed along, minding eveybody’s business except her own. The Square’s gardener, also, straightened his back with an audible crack, mopped up his fermenting brow and muttered endearments under his breath.
The lady Céleste smiled, unsure of his intentions and those of the labourers breakfasting around after a morning’s slotting the mews nearby. She hardly saw me, as I made myself scarce which, in the circumstances, was not difficult.
A ne’erdowell Urquian had bivouacked in the Square overnight. Most of his sort had too much respect for this precinct, so kept their distance in the usual catchment areas of the Embankment and Waterloo Bridge. However, this individual (if that is not giving him too much credit) thought nothing of besmirching the Square with his so-called presence. I gave the Urquian the benefit of the doubt. That is, until he started creating a nuisance of himself (not a difficult task) when the lady Céleste made an entrance on her personal stage, preening her gait to some extent … but this was long before she strutted grandiosely through hotels upon the back of her father’s melodic sublimations. The Urquian mouthed obscenities above his breath. He winked outlandishly. He made esoteric signs with his fingers, which I thought were only too easy to interpret. I feared he may have gone the whole hog and comprehensively exposed himself.
I hovered between the Urquian and the lady Céleste, no longer shy of her seeing me. In my desperation, I had attempted to conceal the Urquian from her sweet eyes. But the lady Céleste smiled right through me. She dropped a coin upon the Urquian’s lap, thinking him to be slightly less worse (or more so?) than he happened to be. He placed it between his wonky vice of teeth and the crunch of splintered molar was heard all round the Square – and beyond.
“Kerse yer!” he snarled ignorantly, through his wheezing breath.
I wrapped myself around her like an invisible feather boa (at least metaphorically). But she was warm enough. The gardener made a jocular aside, pointing at the Urquian slouching off towards Piccadilly. She waved to the gardener as if to say that her own reward would be in Heaven where angels plied well-tuned harps.
I could have told her that Heaven was full up. Or noisy. Or full of short people who would make her look too tall and ungainly. The truth was anybody’s guess.
She, today, in the hotel, of course, hadn’t recognised me. Well, she hadn’t exactly seen me at all, that day, years ago. Nor did I now recognise Mr Magura as the very erstwhile Urquian ne’erdowell made good – nor, in a million years, would I or anyone else for that matter have put two and two together vis-a-vis the gardener from that London Square being the lady Céleste’s current male companion and spin-doctor, the one who kept getting entrammelled by her wide skirt.
Before attending to Mr Magura’s complaint, I reached into the drawer which holds a flask of Johnny Walker. “Telescopes indeed!” I muttered. “Now what can she be up to?”
My ruminations were abruptly interrupted by a woman’s husky voice behind me. “Simply recording the musak of the spheres, you simpleton! Stay out of my business!” And something hit me on the head. To quote the hack, ‘my lights went out’.
When I regained consciousness, I was firmly tied side by side with none other than Mr Magura himself. Tied, and strung upside down. At first, I’d thought the lights were constellations, but as my head cleared, I knew we were facing twenty storeys downwards rather than flat on our backs. I heard someone was playing a poor rendition of “I Did It My Way” on harpsichord.
Mr Magura was surging along.
People in the past were never the same people in the future, except when there was somebody like me who was in a position to recognise them from each era. And my memory was dodgy at the best of times.
“Following what that ladee Céleste sees as a wondrous complainant I be, she say she goin to sak that ex-gardiner of a skirt-hanger and employ moi in toadee rôle instedd,” said my Symphonic Superman (in the Urquian tongue) as he wrapped me in his wings and flew me towards the stars. And that is the end of the story of how Mr Magura became her Man Friday instead of the erstwhile Berkeley Square gardener. As to me, I had other geese to fly.
“Six dead chickens you said.”
“Say pardon. Haven’t you a civil tongue in your head?”
“Pardon, then.”
“I said six dead chickens you said.”
Preparations were well under way at the hotel for the lady Céleste’s à la carte. Yet two of the helpers, ever squabblers at heart, were making things difficult for the head chef. The steaming kitchen looked as if a bomb had hit it – or at least an exploding liver during a pâté de foie gras process that had gone horribly wrong. The six chickens in question had been placed near an upset cupboard, whereto one of them was trying to crawl away rather than be cooked. Being a boiled pullet did not seem to be its desired destiny.
“Don’t look dead to me,” said the stickler for courtesy.
“Well, the butcher’s boy who brought them assured me they were as dead as the joints of beef.”
The second squabbler gobbled noisily on a scratching of leftover, before he could enunciate his reply:
“In that case, you’ve been diddled and done to a turn, dear Akengraft.”
Akengraft – for that was indeed his name – grimaced. He feared the wrath Mr Magura (who was overseeing things on behalf of his lady) should the culinary shortcomings be short-circuited in the direction of that Urquian’s territory of audibility. So he flapped off towards the rather too lively chicken to wring its scrawny neck…
Meanwhile, the head chef himself had spotted the pair idly chatting and was bemused by the rather abrupt resort to furore of one of them. He’d forgotten the chap’s name. But on busy days like this, the head chef often forgot his own name.
“Hey, Ladee Céleste don’ wanna be lickin chickin!” shouted Mugara from the swing door. “She’s put in an order for bouillon de musak!”
Ask me no questions. I am removed from the scene that followed, wrapped in Mugara’s erstwhile wings, as you will remember you last left me. Still wrapped and, now, basting with almond sauce. My only regret is that I cannot fully appreciate being the lady Céleste’s requested specialty. There are four others, including Magura, all former lovers, I presume.
A final offering to bad taste? At last I discover the Anatomy of the Total, which means you must rerun the programming which indicates a malfunction in the eclective muzak; Lady Céleste appproaches us, licking her glossy lips.
The head chef then remembered.
“Ah, yes, we shall be dishing up the starters any moment now,” he replied, still with a beady eye on Akengraft, whose name had just flooded back to him in all its evil glory. Why did the hotel employ such no-gooders? He had his hands full as it was with wonky cooking equipment, so he could well do without people like – what was his name? – Akengraft. And his sidekick Sidekick (who had once been a gardener in Berkeley Square and, more latterly, skirthanger to the daughter of the melodic sublimator).
Meanwhile, meanwhiles piled up. Sidekick himself, having been sent off earlier by Akengraft on a wild chicken chase, was investigating and prodding into – nay, prying and probing and digging in his tongue as well as fingernail – a wild shoulder of melodic lamb. It still slightly pulsed, throbbed, inched away from the tip of his tongue, almost breathed. Like a large Mugaran wing, it would soon try to flap away no doubt. The thing about shoulders of melodic lamb was that they were the most complex cut of meat in the business. Every cartilage, gristle interface, bone configuration and wide expanses of layered and intertissued erfkin fat and lean – and, yes, of course, the deceptive knuckling of a hip-joint (shoulders often having hips as well as briskets, sirloins, ribs and necks having hips much to the astonishment of the unwashed butchers amongst us) was where the blade of a tenor tongue could actually stay lodged in a crevice that was more saw-edged than a ripped tendon in prime bone stew…
Well, Sidekick could have prattled so disjointedly forever about the musicianship of dealing with such cuts – but today there was no time. The harmonics of the feast for Lady Céleste. The feast to end all feasts. Sidekick knew it was important to everybody concerned. A kitchen-worker’s reputation could fall purely on a wrong note in the crack of a thigh-ratchet.
“Well, Sidekick, that was a nifty piece of work I just succeeded in putting to bed,” announced Akengraft, as he returned with a chicken-wattle hanging from the corner of his mouth.
“Coxcombs!” screeched Sidekick, as if he were trying to invent a new swear word.
They lurched to attention as Mr Magura crept up behind and frightened them with such an overstatement.
“Ah, yes, Mr Magura, the starters are already started…” stuttered Akengraft, whilst applying a shove to Sidekick.
“The starters should already be finished, you pair of over-larded lummocks! Lady Céleste wants them served ten minutes ago!”
Mr Magura stormed off, having failed to notice that the six dead chickens weren’t even boned, let alone had their mastectomies to provide the tenderly stranded chicken breasts, those ready-made natural silicons of Beethoven-ready meat to be stuffed with garlic and onion and, of course, the secret tinkle-tonk ingredient that would be going into all the food that feast.
And so the story went on until its inevitable conclusion, which can readily be imagined by any careful student of textual subtlety.
The untold story however is the one that became important. Akengraft & Sidekick managed, in the end, to fillet the second course of rare bœuf – and to sow the silver platters with miniature hog’s heads, each with a shallot in its mouth. But their major responsibility, the starters, was never served and I, if I had still been myself, would have had to make an excuse to Lady Céleste seeing that she was allergic to any sort of meat or poultry dishes, melodic or not. Instead, they resorted to a starter that was truly a starter. Foetus of shot-gun wedding, neatly sliced off the bone and sauced with umbilical noodles and tomato purée…
Mugara stared at Akengraft and Sidekick as they scraped the kitchen sink, to which low-down drudgery they later became affianced … amid suds and sadnesses.
“Kerse yer!” said the Urquian with the busy aura of being in two places at once. “Dem bones, dem bones…” he went on to sing, as the silversides sweated heavily.
Meanwhile, Mugara’s web-ribbed wings enfolded me like a skirt. The Stars were tinkling heavenly. No story has an end, after all, for ever and ever…
“Her father, at that time, was the only man in the world who could put music inside cartilage … the brain generated it, in increasing audibility, towards the waxy succulence of the inner ears…” Rachel Mildeyes (LIFE OF CÉLESTE MUGARA vol ii The London Low Years)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
LOCKER ROOM by Margaret B. Simon and DF Lewis

When they put me (the man in white with glass eyes) into the freezing compartment I shredded a hole in his lapels but he got away so they changed their minds about procedures.

Banging behind me always: the voices the boomdurm boom a durmaboom! Wall to wall to wall to wall with these four stress fracture failures delete compose icons (he comes to inspect me) I tolerate the disgusting routine. Him to me in four years. Language that is mean.

To escape, I concentrate on recalling a place by an ocean, surrounded by green glades. I was supposed to meet someone there for the annual holiday celebrations. My family was to attend. I remember a family. My father, and my three sisters and a white-haired female. I’d bought a new shirt for the occasion at one of the local Hiphop shops, and shaved for the first time in months. Cut off the tags, swallowed the receipt.

But when I got there, I found Old Tom Mahler was to be smoked from his erstwhile locker room (now a coal bunker) by the fostered forces of his daughter, wife and mother. Old Tom was my father’s older brother. The women, my three wide-apart sisters, although they would have denied any such connections, for obvious reasons.

Tom'd probably blink wildly upon staggering out into the late afternoon sunshine: amazed to see that I was a member of the crowd that had mustered since early morning … on hearing that good old dependable Tom had threatened some form of felo de se. If even men like Tom could consider just a smidgin of self-annhilation, what chance others? Depressions being two a penny these days, half the world should have met their maker in this fashion long before the likes of Tom, or so we the crowd thought.

But none could quite believe Tom's choice of venue. Secreting himself in his bunker and waiting … just the sheer waiting for the Heavenly tip-lorry to disgorge its freight of Earth's black curds upon him.

To my surprise, Tom was not out to greet us upon our arrival. Yet to be sure, the usual amenities were exchanged; a few slaps on the back, a kiss on the cheek from pimply-thin daughter, fat wife, faded mother. I headed for the wet bar, without waiting to be asked. Make it to fake it yourself, I always say, and I announced as much between pouring and drinking several tumblers of Absolute and tonic, with a twist of lime. I’d brought the lime and a bottle of Absolute. Our families never serve alcohol, though several are closet drunks. Quel surprise?
Eventually, I found myself wandering about in search of Tom’s new Locker Room. Not because I was curious, but because I was slightly drunk and very bored. Quite abruptly, I felt a falling sensation as the earth opened up momentarily and took me into its dark, gaping maw. That was the last of the sunlight I was to see for four days, as it turned out. I’d found old Tom’s new Locker Room.

As the coal dust cleared, I could see I’d interrupted Tom playing strip poker with four zombies. Up to his old tricks, obviously on a roll. Three of the four had lost both their hands by now and the other one was bone naked. Only one among them wore white hair.

Meanwhile, Tom's above-ground womenfolk had searched the house long and high for some sign of his living body … but none thought of his deepest den of dens … until the puppy-thin daughter tossed her hoop randomly round the yard and it glided like a dream through a narrow gap between the hinged slats of the coal bunker door.

To the pompom daughter, the rooms of the house were dark enough. So, imagine her consternation when she heard stifled breathing from inside the bunker as she approached to rescue her hoop. If she'd known it was the breathing of her father, the terror of the situation may have reduced. Thank Heaven, zombies couldn’t breathe even if they wanted to do so.

"Mummy, mummy, fat mummy," the pimply-dimply daughter screamed, as she escaped into the house. But none answered, for none admitted being the one thus called. The sun had come round to the bunker's side of the house. It fell in streams of golden light, bathing the early evening in an aura of non-reality. The leading lights of the neighbourhood shuffled into knots of further onlookers, as Tom’s womenfolk sidestepped into the assumed roles of Earth Mother, Half Daughter and Sibling Wife. Each hung upon the same set of constricting bones. With muffled voices, the onlookers waited until the twilight snuffed, dispositioning the bonewomen’s frames, sucking them into one unholy, darkest of the Darkness Pit. Then everyone went home to fornicate, dance and/or drink themselves into oblivion, as usual.

My concentration on this escape-dreaming increased as old Tom stood up and came towards me, smiling in welcome. I was, indeed within his safehold, and he assured me further of this fact by hugging me close to his boney chest. Then, taking me by the elbow, he gave me a tour of his locker room, which contained several caverns, some decorated with plaques and trophies relating to the poker games (skulls, and the like). When I questioned Tom about how he’d met those who chose to challenge him, he pointed to a vast hole in the darkness of the main chamber.

“They comes from dar,” he confided. “Down dar, where dey is, and all’s I do is go boomdrum booma durmaboom on me mine, here, and up comes one and another, by an’ by. An’ we sits here, what’s of them and all of me, and we play cards, y’see?”

“What a fine place you have here, Tom,” I replied. “I rather like it. Do you mind if I stay?”

“Yep and none,” said Tom. “This is your four days on holiday. More than this, ye’ll not get right about.”

Four years, four days, four hours, four … A number without a noun to master is merely nothing, however big.

And so it went. Tom handed me a fresh deck to cut and in doing so, I noted that the queens bore a remarkable resemblance to his rumpty-dumpty Daughter (hearts) and Sibling Wife (spades). The queen of diamonds had three faces (my three sisters) and the last – the queen of clubs – faceless.

The newly kindled fires inside the house found exits for their heavy smoke, as the main chimneys expelled it fitfully … thus darkening the sky in tune with day's war with night. Having himself by now fed on coal till his belly was a ruptured carrier bag, Tom eventually floated free, in equal ghostly garments of choking grey … and disappeared into the gaping cellar of night, the proud wielder of death's gilt-lit halo.

Those who were left below wended back to their tasks and re-apportioned roles; they soon reminded themselves that ghosts can only appear in dreams.

The pump-easy girl pointed into the sky at the fading ring of golden light. Thunder roared: boom dooma doom. Bim bom, as Mahler says. (Who’s Mahler?) None could reconcile her lisping tears with any feasible sadness … if it were possible for feasibility to encompass sadness at all. I bet my total Free Will on four of a kind or a full house rather than an oubliette or locker room.

“Only God has the power truly to become a Goddess.” – Rachel Mildeyes, from Four Halos and Hoops
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
by DF Lewis and Margaret B Simon (published on-line)

As I was out maundering early today – I like that word, maundering – for it's what I do when I'm not up to writing obituaries – I chanced upon a new restaurant, the open air type down on 44th and Lincoln; a few blocks from the corner, you see, there it was! Welcoming gargoyles circled the flower pots blooming with lotus and some other sort of plant that I found quite profoundly beautiful.

So thus, I ventured through the iron gating, as all appeared to be in accord – a party of ladies dressed in suits, seated on tombstones laid flat, with one for the backing of each seat – a party of businessmen taking the day off – or politicians, it didn't matter to me. I see them all, one way or another in due fashion.

Behind me, I heard the gate snap shut. Before my astonished eyes, everyone was stark naked! EVERYONE! And I felt a gentle rush of breeze, and glancing down, I saw my own boney knees and – blushing – covered my crotch with my hands.

Still, this spot lured me closer to sit on one of the stones, which, to my amazement, felt supremely cushioned. Most comfortable. Immediately, a waiter appeared at my elbow to offer an "early brunch" menu which I noted was embossed in gold lettering. The prices were most reasonable, and since I was rather jagged after my walk, I ordered a cup of cafe au lait 'au supreme', according to the menu, that is. It didn't occur to me that my wallet was also incognito at the time. "No charge, Madame," smiled the waiter. "Today is our Grand Opening. Your meal is on the…ah, house, so to speak."

The coffee was brought to me within a few moments, much to my pleasure. While I was waiting for my order (which, as I say, was very quickly served), I cast my eyes about the premises. Staring beyond the leggo false-o-heart femmes, the silhouettes now devoid of their Neiman Markus suits – still conducting business as usual, I supposed … and studied the images of stone within the garden view. These were new, totally new – must have also been imported from somewhere….so I thought, then.

Gargoyles and skulls, the Grand Reaper, the Widow of Widdersfield – all depicted in broad daylight there, in this sidewalk cafe. This NEW sidewalk cafe.
Wishing I'd remembered to bring my camera, for some insane reason; wishing I'd remembered to leave my taste buds at home for a reason so sane, I wondered if, after all, I wasn't mad. The coffee grounds were just that. Bitty, nuggety, chokelets of dust and ash. Somebody's ashes! With hot scalding water thrown on to make almost half palatable. It wasn't madness, but murders with which I needed to concern myself, then. Murders, ink grains and splinters coating my outer as well as inner throat.

Even my boney knees had spillage sticking out in stubby grits. Stumpy fingernails. Toenails hardened to turtle bone. It was as if my inner skeleton were turning to stone, leaving the flesh to become gristle. Gritty gristle. Grating as I tried to move from the seat. Grinding my teeth in a pain I didn't feel as pain but I knew was pain greater than I've ever been pained with before.

"Everything to your satisfaction, Madam?" The waiter had sidled up obsequiously, except he hadn't really said 'Madam', but "Muddiness", now I remembered…after the event. It's strange how normal things we – when they actually happen – remember. It's like describing an automobile accident – but even stranger than the strangeness of the fact of life I'm recounting about how strange things become after the event, an event which was originally so straightforward, simple and run-of-the-mill.

And now I can't even tell it straight! In the quiet of my own home, later, the events of the day gather strangerness, as well as dust. Perhaps nothing strange happened. And now that I've noted that I'm nude, I merely think I was nude all day. Nudity seems serial.

The cafe soon produced some nicer coffee after I sent the bad lot back to where it came from in the cocina. Olé. One of the older customers had joined me. He, too, I recall, was nude. His coffee was blacker than mine. He had ground a pepper mill over it as seasoning. He used a trivet of green mustard as a finger bowl.

"A new eating-place is always worth trying at least once," he said, trying to make small talk. But I would have none of his trivia.

"I feel like death warmed up," I responded with a forced grimace, because I was holding back the smile for later. I suspected him of being a businessman. I could tell this by his demeanor, despite the lack of clothes.
"Indeed?" My companion wiped his moustache with a checkered napkin. I do believe he was concealing a smirk. I opened my mouth to ask his name and before I could utter a word, he began, "Allow me to introduce myself. Folger Rim, at your service. And you, Madam?" I hestiated for an instant, then told him the first name that popped into my head. "Whatley. Alicia Fortunas-Whatley, Mr. Rim".

"Very good, Ms. Whatley. And may I suggest we try the house specialty, for our culinary delight of this fine spring morning!" He pointed to a dish listed on the menu with three red stars surrounding its title, which I couldn't decipher. It appeared to be in French, only I am quite sure I've never seen or heard of tortore du terre. The price wasn't listed. I asked Mr. Rim what it was, but he shook his head, putting a finger to his mottled lips. "Trust me, Alicia – if I may call you Alicia? – trust me, you'll find it quite unique."

I tried to protest, as I'd already placed my order. The waiter (again beside my elbow) bowed to us both, assuring me that my order would be cancelled immediately, should I agree to Mr. Rim's excellent suggestion.

And thus, in this stranger than strange dreamscape, I recall the waiter bringing us a dish, and I recall tasting it. Devouring it, asking for another serving!
I'm sure that all of this couldn't have possibly happened. It was, after all, only an omelette with apples and cheeses. Not what you'd think. You'd think it would be rotten meat, served up straight from the grave. You'd think that.

It was all so perfectly – normal. The dish, that is. What was so truly strange about being there (and unseasonably nude, serially NUDE) was that there was no accent on sex.

I shrugged my shoulders and tucked in. Folger Rim merely smiled before remarking, "You are a real picture, sitting here eating like that. Only Gauguin could have caught you so – ah, – alive! with shadow-play of color cast by our hyabiscus blooms. Marvelous!" (Or did he, on reflection, say "Gorgon?" – I can't quite recall.)

Suddenly the strangeness was explained. Stones and all. Coating both my throats. Even the word clattered to the cobbles like cryogenic (death not warmed up) curds. Would I never wake from the dreamscape?

"Will I?" Bone all through. Alicia's brunch.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
A collaboration with Margaret B Simon
Published 'Seductive Torture' 1999
Enid's face is a collage of autumn valleys with winter skeined
hair. She turns ice blue eyes to me, asking me again if I mind if she

I drink to that, laugh. It matters not, I tell her – what should it
matter – I'm deaf. I can only read her body, her lips. Long, long ago I forget
how long it was that I could read into her eyes and we would plot and plan
and endeavor together things that mortals only contemplate as schemes.

Enid nods, lights her flame and tosses that mane of curled grey-red hair
behind her neck. I note that it is bound with rubies, her rich coil. Tresses
once laced with the blush of goldenrod, autumn evenings when we would hold
hands and chant our songs together to the bowing trees, under October moons.

I shuffle my napkin, plans to jot ideas confuse me. Something else is here, that which I cannot identify. Something that is terrible and familiar. The
band plays on, loud – oppressive, beating and hooting I can read it. Enid
enjoys this, mouths to me a message of contempt. She puts her cigaret on the
ashtray and cups her buxoms, leers at me with an expression so familiar that
I crush the napkin, stand to leave.

She cups, yes, she cups her buxoms in the manner she earlier tantalised to
press mine into similar cones. Yet the smoke from her cigaret dispels, for
a nonce, my yearnings. You see, for me, such charcoal ghosts prefigure
death – when blood itself does tend toward steaming away with a mind of its
own. Blood's degree of hate for the body that sucks it is, I feel, greater
than the body's love of blood.

Then, of course, Enid's nugget-ensaddled wisps do redraw my passion
ineluctably and I know even my own well nurtured wig's unable to match her
head's undulant chokings.

Abruptly, the man who brought us together and made us meet amid a
namelessness that only Enid broke, says he wants to watch us. Of course,
we'd already planned to meet and deafness made me hear more than simple

"But of course, Mr. B., " Enid smiles, parting those most alizerin lips so
easy for me to read. She licks fingertips to tongue, and touches his hand
to confirm the ceremonies ahead. He looks to me, narrow-eyed, barely
concealing a speck of spittle drooling down the left side of his mouth with
handkerchief. I took this in, of course. He knew so little, did Mr. B.

Enid and I arise as one, taking cloaks from backs of chairs. Enid pauses to
take one last drag of her cigaret, then flips it neatly into the vase of plastic lilies – a gesture which causes Mr. B. to frown, yet he composes himself quickly, takes her arm and nods to me to follow.

I check to be sure that our pouch is secured beneath my sequined belt, then off to trail with them beyond the curtained exit. Mr. B. nods to a hefty
guard, and we pass without further incident. We come to a narrow staircase,
descend three floors. I can feel Enid's heat enervating from her hair, her
billowing satin cloak, already messaged with heavy musk and flavored with
the aftermath of her recent smoke.

We reach a basement area. Storage rooms loom around us.
Cement and casings, machinery, the necessities for keeping electricity and water shimmer faintly in the shadows. If a rat should scuttle past our feet, I would not be surprised. However, as in the way of this tonite, Enid and I have no
impediments. We have a mutual dislike of vermin, you see. I tend to eat them
live, while Enid prefers to – well, it's a distraction that would have altered
the evening. So best it doesn't occur.

Mr. B. guides us to a doorway. As he fumbles out his keys, he presses
Enid's hand and nods to me, yellow teeth flashing in the glare of a bare

We enter. Before my vision is an empty warehouse. In its center is a bed,
with cameras and other electrical equipment, wires willy nilly tangled
about. In the corner of the room's a large boiler-type apparatus that
shudders and clacks while its dials whirr – sounds I infer.

Enid knows him not as Mr. B. Her lips earlier cloyed words towards my
brain's fingers – for Enid, he is Lord Booby. A strange insulting name, that,
I'd thought originally and, what was more, he had – albeit in mysterious
vein – written Mr. B. on my napkin. And she, too, called him Mr. B. to his
face, having read the movement of his pen writing Mr. B. as I interpreted
similar meanings with deaf cunning. But these were thoughts I'd already
managed to relegate to my mind. We were here to perform, not to question.
Yet the cold seeps beyond blood to the very bottom bone – despite the boiler
thing's proximity.

Seeing me shiver, Mr. B. strides overtly to the corner, opens the
contraptions lid – whereby he stirs it with his arm, wincing only once. I
spot the tousled tops of vermin bobbing upon the brew's meniscus and I wince
for different reasons. Upon replacing the lid, with a forceful clunk, Mr. B.
groans. Smoke belches from a valve towards the back, filling the warehouse
with wall-hugging shapes.

I laugh. Bats? Black flickerbats? Vulture-moths? Lungfish? Or wild dreams?

Yet they soon disperse as the thingummyjig whines into even keel, more
smooth to the eyes than noise. Enid's already ensconcing herself upon the
bed; I was always taught that in polite company one removed one's
over-things before climbing upon a bed. And, in all our years together, this
in the premier occasion she hasn't done so and, furthermore, she drapes
herself in wires with no concern for neat circuiting. I almost believe
she's not the Enid with whom I've just dined. She's someone whom Lord Booby
calls Cigwitch, where mouth-to-mouth is neither resuscitation nor its
opposite. Indeed, he's in the process of close-to lip reading even
now…tongue to tongue, the only way to talk.

He rears his head, remembers me and motions me to replace him on the bed with the one I used to know as Enid. I manoeuvre as if to disrobe, but he
shakes his head vigorously. I glance at Cigwitch – for, surely, that's what I
must call her – and cringe at the entwinings of which I must make myself part.

She helps me with the wires, for indeed each seem to have a second link
which she attaches to me at various points around my neck and wrists. Her
lips form words, salamander-esque tongue flickering down my neck. Out of the
corner of my eye, I see Mr. B. watching us intently until she is done. He
steps back to the boiler, teeth flashing yellow underneath the dim bulb. I
catch his intent, and rise to protest but Cigwitch has me in her arms, her
breath still heavy with English Ovals chokes my nostrils. Mr. B. reaches for
the boiler switch; I close my eyes as her hand unzips our pouch. What relief
I feel at this final moment, for the façade we play down to the final moment
is again complete.

Slipping her hand beneath my pants, she bends toward my neck. "Enid!" I
cry out, as her jaws descend upon my throat and simultaneously I know that
Mr. B. has thrown the switch, for there is blackness and an indescribable
stench… which still hangs heavy in this dismal room when I awake, refreshed.

Lord Booby, as I must now call him for real, turns his head from me, as if
shame sits uneasily upon the face. During my sleep, he must have undressed.
His chest, which I've just barely glimpsed, bulges – and, instinctively, I
know he's about to rip off such swelling buxoms by pushing their overskinned
blubber towards his own yellow gnawing teeth. Even if Enid is a mix of
Dine, I'm surely not going to submit to believing that those vermin earlier
I saw boiling were the appendages of Enid's predecessors here.

Suddenly he speaks, his mouth still hidden by the face-turning. His words
explain everything. To someone deaf, however, even an explanation is simply
one more wrench towards nullity. How can I countenance – let alone
comprehend – him planning to smoke me in the way that Undeads bleed their
victims? But then I know. Lord Booby takes from a cupboard what I can only
assume to be sanitary filter tips, an action which has no ambiguity … even
though, I guess in better, healthier times he would doubtless prefer his
joints wireless and unplugged. Yet that's not me speaking is it? Surely,
I'm simply lip-reading the person I've become.


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