You know what a story is, don’t you?

Detail of “Journey” by Fenwick Lawson, St Mary’s church, Lindisfarne

            God? I’ll give ’em God. Pray, can’t you? No. Not unless failure to pray is accepted as prayer since the conscious intention will always get in the way, such is faith. Thou shalt make no images, graven or otherwise. Faith? Be thou empty and therefore free from all things including error. Nothing in my hand I bring, see? No bare bodkin, nothing. Least of all forms of words and ceremonies. Faith? Only to keep going, not that there is a choice, short of one’s own quietus making, so to speak, let’s not speak of that, let’s keep going on. In the way our fathers trod. Pray? Imagine. That behind all this there is that. What? Meaning. Meaning what? Meaning that there is meaning, that we have not trodden the way in vain, frustra, pointlessly striven, nisi dominus, it’s all right being atheistic if your theos is an obstacle and prevents your apprehension of God. We have reached the point of pointlessness, apex of a spiritual apathy, a fine view you get from here, now, just look at it. Apathy? See how far we have come! God? Faith to continue and not despair. Why not despair? Is there not a kind of fierce joy, call it joy, in despairing, in admitting failure, in knowing the taste of defeat? Defeat tastes like tobacco, ashes, dust shalt thou eat. I am as the smoke, vanishing, wax melting at the fire, dried up like a potshard. Potsherd? Shard. Sharp edged, but broken. What ceremony else? I must make, in the absence of value, value. Sharply define the edge between worth and worthlessness, create with candles and incense and coloured vestments a sacred space within which lies that worth, that idea of a supreme value which will give that meaning which, though I have sought to understand, is too hard to understand, I do not seek to understand, no words can express the inexpressible, and we have only words, words like these, going on going on to the bottom of the page and beyond. Words which might describe the contents of patten and cup, but would only miss the point at which communication occurs, communion is achieved, a sacrament, a kiss. God? Another word, in the beginning was the word, and in the end too, if there is an end, a conclusion, a fulfilment. Faith. When you pray, say, our father, which art. Art thou there, Cap’n? Art thou sleeping there above? Anthropomorphic deities, oh so yesterday. Greeks and Romans. Norsemen. Pick your own people of the past. How far back? Not fifty years. Even after the catastrophes of the twentieth century they kept praying to their father in heaven. Such is faith. Look, I know he’s not really there listening to us but let’s carry on anyway, in an ironic spirit now of course, but it’s all we’ve got, so polish that brasswork! Sing that polyphony! Hear that sermon saying nothing to the point but so well expressed, so clever, so satisfyingly put! Raise money to keep the ark watertight! Nobody else is doing anything to comfort us in our existential crisis, are they?

            I am. That I am, oh yes indeed. Telling you stories. Once upon a time stuff, you know what a story is, don’t you? No? Oh, I see. You’re sick to death of bloody stories, with their who-where-whattery plotting and, sneer here, character development, as if anybody cared a damn whether Miss Made-up-name gets off with Mister or indeed Miss Other-made-up-name and to what extent her sum of human happiness was thereby increased, decreased, or shown in an ironic way to be beyond such tedious concerns. And as for me, I cannot, I kid you not, cannot for the life of me imagine how the invention of a fiction by me could interest you. Oh, it isn’t hard to do- this is no writer’s block we’re dealing with here- but I just don’t see the point. So I sympathise with you, deeply. You don’t  want to read a story, and I don’t want to write one. Great. What savings of ink and paper! The end of fiction is a very good thing ecologically speaking, if trees are, or in the case of e-books, electrical energy is, to be saved. So what shall we do instead of telling ourselves stories, hm? What are we going to do with the part of our consciousness which was once engaged with God? All that praying and sacrificing, reading scripture and obeying the laws therein inscribed so to speak- what shall we do instead? All that going to places of worship in order to, primarily, worship- although these days most of the serious business concerns coffee drinking and fundraising- what, I repeat, shall we do instead? I for my part shall comfort you in your existential crisis. How? By telling you stories. I know, I know, you’re sick to death of. Stories, yes, sick of them, right. But. You remember that time when you were very sad and I told you the story of my life to cheer you up, you know, the idea being that my life was both funny- cheeringly so- and more wretched than yours- bit of context, always someone worse off than you- and so forth? My life, I said, would make a very funny read, if I could be bothered to write down what I can remember of it. And you said, you wouldn’t dare. And I said, what do you mean? And you said, you would be too ashamed. Either that, or it would be so selective as to be untrue, an incorrect representation of your life and therefore valueless. There’s nothing wrong, I said, sniffing a bit, with a little creative re-working of the facts. In any case, I continued, gaining a little confidence, a true account of my life would be self indulgent, self lacerating, wallowing in misery. A moment ago, you countered, you were suggesting that its wretchedness would cheer me up, by virtue of the contrast with my own relatively satisfactory level of happiness. Hm, I replied, and there was silence in heaven the space of nearly five minutes.

            The story of our negotiating the viability of storytelling is perhaps not very interesting. Oh, who said interest came into it? You’re always banging on about how things have to be interesting. What does that mean? What is an interesting thing like? Well, you might have said- I’m inventing your response here, you see- an interesting thing distracts me from my existential pain, the continuous nagging awareness of my meaninglessness. It gives me some pleasure, for a start. I shall need, I imagine myself replying, some examples of what you find pleasurable and so therefore interesting. Sex, you reply, too quickly, to experience sexual pleasure is the ultimate aim of human being. Everything else is but a means to that end. We work in order to earn money which will enable us to eat, and having eaten, to go about seeking sex. The cycle goes on and on. Yes, but… Do not interrupt me, you said petulantly, with your high ideals, lofty ethics, morality and so forth. The pleasure of sexual achievement is the highest pleasure available to the human being. All the other pleasures are seen in terms of sex. Useful labour, good works, recreation of one sort or another, taking delight in fine food, the arts, even just sitting and enjoying the beauty of nature, manifest in sunset, birdsong, waterfalls, enjoying gentle hills of the north or rejoicing in lofty mountains or coral caves all this pales into insignificance besides the brief but crucial moment when the mind is wiped out and awareness contains nothing but the urgent onrushing

            At this point, you will recall I just had to stop you. Or at any rate, I have decided to imagine myself interrupting the sentence which, I imagine, was leading towards an account of a sexual experience and we don’t want that, do we, no. Interesting though, I concede, it might be, and for all the reasons, I grant you, which you might very well have been giving me, had this conversation indeed taken place. That such conversations did take place, there can be little doubt. You, I am sure, have sat up late with a friend, after the bar closed or the party ended, slightly drunk, queasily smoking far too many cigarettes, idly picking away at the corpse of theology like a couple of tired and unenthusiastic vultures if you don’t mind the image, black greasy trousers scattered with ash or dandruff or worse, oh, you say, no, I never smoked in my life. Well, good for you. I certainly did. Or drank. Really? And my clothes were always scrupulously clean. I was perhaps a little obsessive about that. Well that’s not really the issue here. I think it is, you continue, you see, Christ once you get going there’s no stopping you, is there, I wouldn’t have stayed in the room if you’d been smoking. Apart from the smell, it’s bad to expose yourself to it. Passive smoking, I’m talking about here. All right. Especially in a small room like that one. Which one? The one you’re describing, the one where this conversation is supposed to have taken place. Who said it was a small room?

            Let it be a small room. What great thought was ever thought in a large room, unless it were perhaps the reading room of the British Museum. Who said that? I did, just now. No, but-  Hush. A small room in a college, in a university, in town or city somewhere you can identify with. Did you go to university? Where? Really? You have my sympathy, I suppose. For what it’s worth. Anyway, on the occasion I’m thinking of there was certainly smoking going on, Embassy number 1 was the smoke of choice in those innocent days, long before anyone had thought of putting health warnings on the packets, and God, the cigarette was truly the perfect type of a perfect pleasure, thank you Mr. Wilde, exquisite but leaving us unsatisfied. Yes, just like sex. Clearly that was what he was getting at, but in  those days you couldn’t just as it were come out with it. Sex doesn’t leave me unsatisfied, you smirked, stretching your legs out on the narrow bed provocatively it seemed but no, no, you were too innocent for that. Then why, I asked, are you constantly in pursuit of it? Having as it were eaten and been satisfied by that ah dangerous fruit, why do you crave more? I don’t know why I’ve started thinking of myself as kind of rather camp world-weary would-be philosophical student here, we were neither of us that experienced in the ways of the world. As for sex, I don’t believe you’d actually had it off with anyone at that time, if you don’t count snogging, fumbling and furtively frotting until you come in your pants which I don’t. Count, that is. Sex and God, those are the great topics of conversation, because they are the great obsessions. Proxy subjects can be introduced, naturally- drugs, the arts, science, parental influence, tutors- but it always leads as roads lead to Rome to sex and God. Actually, you said, when you speak of God you are really thinking of sex. Tantra? If you like. And do you? Like Tantra? I’ve never tried it.

            At which point, of course, the possibility of trying it seems to emerge like a great sullen beast, prowling the space between us. Dare we? Oh, really, what? Now I can see your problem here. Used as you are to stories with plot, scene setting, character development and all the rest of the obsolete narrative junk, you don’t know what to do with yourself. Imaginatively, I mean. Of course I do! But, to return to the vital question, dare we? Dare we go, boldly, hand in hand, down the dimly lit night time corridor of memory which leads to something you can relate to, some reality of your own which this text can correspond to? Text is only understood in terms of experience. The very young reader might be presented with anthropomorphic animals trying to get their heads around an amusing problem which, though difficult to resolve, is ultimately unthreatening. The problem will concern things they are familiar with, such as food, clothing, having a birthday party, going for a bike ride. But you, the mature and experienced reader, are ready for anything. What will you bring to the text? What dark and dingy deeds long past might emerge, bestial and threatening, in response to cues, triggers, perhaps subtle, but full of potential to disturb. By leaving the details to you, I open Pandora’s box. Who dares do what? You tell me. Oh, you can’t. I nearly forgot! This is not a real two way conversation. I cannot hear your half of the dialogue. Are you beginning to think that I am being lazy? Or that you are being taken for a ride? A bike ride? Into the unknown. We chuck our bikes down carelessly, they fall into a hedge, we walk on a little, under the trees. We are not sure, now we’ve arrived somewhere, what we’re supposed to do. We look at one another, grinning with embarrassment. This was, perhaps, a mistake. But now we’re here, alone…

            Nearly. Could have been a story there. But we’re done with stories. To what end arousing expectations of time, place, people relating to one another, exploring their emotions, growing sadder, wiser, oh, you know the kind of thing? You know it so well that there’s no point in going on with it. Entertaining? Pleasurable? Maybe, but so what. Relax, pour yourself a drink, light a cigarette. Consider who it is that is reading, and what led up to this moment of literary engagement. What of God now? Oh, there I go, dragging God into it again. Sorry. But you see, there isn’t actually anything else to write about now. Our apprehension of ourselves as readers is a religious apprehension, or what might have been religious once. Now, religious might not be the right word. Existential, perhaps? Who are you, reader? Look around you for a moment. How do these objects relate to who you are? Where are you? No, seriously. I’m interested. Are you reading on a train, or in a bus? If so, the chances of your fellow passengers being able to read this text as well as you are doing are minute, hic liber being rather self-consciously aimed at the literary delecti. What are they doing, the fair folk? Scrolling through their social media, or staring blankly out of the window, unconscious? Or are you at home, in an armchair or in bed? What is that thing over there? And this? Can you hear anything? A car going past the window, the television in the next room, a child crying? Should you put this down, go and see? Is there anything you’d like to do instead of reading. Of course there is! You’d love to take a break, go for a pee, go outside, make yourself a drink, have something to eat. Kneel and pray. Our father which art in Sevenoaks, hello! Now it’s just silly. Selly Oak. Birmingham. The silly buggers on the deck. Buggers? Buckets. That had so long remained. And when I woke, it rained.

            Dream. That’s what you’d like, to sleep, perchance. Oh it used to be so simple. Write any bloody nonsense and then finish with, and I woke and lo, it was all a dream. How many times we’ve heard that, from Dante to Bunyan and beyond. Keep going. Am I dreaming this? I dreamed that I was typing a novel and when I woke, I was typing a novel. Row, row your boat merrily, life is but a. This won’t do. Keep going. You might think, aha, we’re going to have a section on dreams and dreaming. Wrong! I utterly crap on your dreams and dreaming. You’ll be telling me you’re interested in Carl Gustav Jung next. Or the wretched Sigmund Freud. Give the man a cigar and pass on. Here’s something else. A large gin and tonic. By large, I mean of course too large. The trouble with gin is that one’s never enough. Like cigarettes, though of course I don’t smoke them any more. Every one a little suicide, as the man said. No, he really did, I heard him. He had a Welsh accent. I shall get me a drink, gin and tonic, all cold and bubbly, and see where that leaves me. He was funny. Quite a character. I might write about him later. Promises, promises. Who else? Who do you know? Her. Him. Funny whom you remember, funny who comes to mind when you start wandering, as I do, wandering here and there in the galleries of the mind’s eye, Horatio, in my mind’s eye. If only I could pray! If the buckets could be filled with dew! What was prayer, in its heyday? I suppose you had have a real apprehension of the prayee’s presence on some level or other. To believe, not just in symbolic terms but in actual as it were mechanical terms, in the reality, personhood or threepersonhood of God. Credo, adiuva incredulitatem meam. There’s got to be something there, beyond our ability to understand. That’s obvious. The difficulty lies in ascribing personality and concern for the person praying to that something. Lord, Lord. Not everyone who cries thus will enter the kingdom. I don’t know where I’m going with this one. Enough.

            The story of God. Once upon a time beyond time there is, was, will be a self aware force of love. And this love was manifested in the creating of among other things such as time and space and the periodic table of the elements little self replicating beings called humans. Are you bored yet? Give us a chance, will you? Humans, I say, for want of a better word. And they were trapped in an apparently endless cycle of replication, eating, shitting, shagging, giving birth and dying. They didn’t worry too much about this at first as they were more or less unaware of themselves doing it but all of a sudden they became aware and immediately fell into an existential despair. What the fuck are we, they said, look at me, I shake an impotent fist at an unmoved sky, then I die. All I’ve got is the story of God, who, in fairness, had the grace to become one of us himself, and die, although he couldn’t shake his fist at the sky as he died because some bastard had nailed it to a cross. Romans, eh? Marvellous people. No, it’s no good, we haven’t a fucking clue, have we? All the stories of God are the same. It might look like shit, but it isn’t because. Because what? Because the Lord will provide, or something, it doesn’t matter. Enough. Wait, that’s not enough. Keep going. Have a drink or a smoke or. All right, all right. The story of God doesn’t end there. He might not be a He any more (or a She, I know) but what he represented hasn’t gone away. The striving, the playing of the game of love, the upholding of value in the face of mediocrity, sursum corda, there it goes up, the white wheaten circle, then the golden chalice full of the rarest vintage in the world, elevatio, look at me, here I am, lifted up, drawing all men (and women, I know) unto me. And that’s it. Ite, missa est.

            Dismissed, you leave the church. Ite! Take that to mean either you walk out of the building after mass or you resign from the organisation for whatever reason, yes, English is ambiguous. That verb, leave. I give you leave to leave. Goldengrove unleaving. Autumnal grieving, courtesy of Gerard Manley Hop-skip-and-a-jumpkins. Thank you, Father. I have left a fair number of churches in my time, in both senses of the expression, and grieved for it too. I returned in the end, towards the end I should say, it isn’t over yet, not quite. I grieve for the death of the old certainties that were never really more than hopes. You can’t get away from it, you see. Either one’s individual awareness persists after the clinical death of the brain, or it doesn’t. What do you think? Will you resurrect? Saint Paul, and all that? It doesn’t have to be the old judgement day image with clattering skeletons climbing out of their graves, with ‘excuse me madam, I think you’ll find that’s my pelvis’, and so on, though we were at one stage promised a post-mortem body, if I remember right, because there has to be some sort of identifiable vehicle for the persisting personality, surely? Surely not. But if you take away the hereafter from Christianity, what’s left? Well, polyphony’s very nice. And the coffee. Congratulate the choir as you munch your chocolate digestive. Wonderful, wonderful. So lucky to have you singing here. And don’t forget the pulsator organum. Widor? No, Vierne. Ah. Don’t you think the pedal reed’s a little out, though? Myes, it’s the weather. Can’t keep the heating on all the time, you see, too expensive, and the change of temperature and humidity does affect the tuning. Of course. Nothing to be done? No.

            Rien a faire, as the man said, giving up the struggle. Yes, you’re back by the roadside, waiting. Waiting for someone to turn up, someone who will make everything fall into place, will provide meaning. What shall I do, then, while I’m waiting? You don’t have to do anything. No, I know that, but just doing nothing seems somehow wrong. Can’t we have a discussion? Certainly, if you can think of something to discuss. We could discuss our situation. Of course! That’s the only thing worth discussing really, isn’t it? Our situation. Well, go on, then. What? Start the discussion. No, you start. Why me? I can’t think of anything to say. But there’s… so much to say. Go on, then. I don’t know where to start. Start anywhere, it makes no difference. Really? Of course it doesn’t. You don’t imagine there’s some kind of hierarchy of significance, do you, that one thing is worthier of discussion than another? That there is a natural starting point? We could discuss starting points. Too abstract. Or this, this road. Well, what about it? Where is it going? It isn’t going anywhere. It’s just a road. Roads don’t move. Now you’re being deliberately obtuse. What I mean is of course where does it lead? If we followed it, where would our following of it take us? Somewhere else, of course. Ah. Of course. But it might be a better place. Better? More… attractive. Are you dissatisfied with this place? Well, no, but… But? But? Always complaining, never happy with what you’ve got. Hell is just wanting to be where you’re not. So this is hell? Only if you want to be somewhere else. I don’t, particularly. I was just discussing the road. The road which, apparently, is the road to hell. Paved with good intentions.

            It doesn’t seem to be paved with anything at all. It is muddy, rutted, potholed, unloved. Hardly a road at all. More of a farm track, I’d say. See how the bushes overhang it, narrow it. I don’t fancy it at all. I’d rather strike out across country, if I had to move. Which I don’t. Was that a spot of rain? Either that or we’re being pissed on from a great height. Have you an umbrella? Of course not. Then we’ll get wet. Unless we go and stand under those trees. There are trees? Certainly there are trees. Why not? Let there be trees, and there are trees. With spreading branches which might afford shelter. From the worst of it. Actually, I don’t think it is going to rain after all. No? No. But the clouds. What about them? Grey, louring. Louring? Yes. It could snow. Then we could make a snowman. In our own image. Why should we want to do that? It would pass the time. True. I heard once that someone found two lumps of coal, a carrot, a scarf, and a top hat lying on the ground, and was able to make a remarkable deduction from this discovery. That a snowman had once stood there? Precisely! What he found was nothing like a snowman, but provided evidence of the snowman’s existence in the past. So? So what? I mean, so what is the point of your telling me this? There is no point. I was just talking. Discussing, you know. We were going to have a discussion. Why snowmen, though? Because of the clouds. The louring clouds. They are pregnant with snow. Or rain. Or hail, or sleet. They are dark and threatening. Threatening? Are you suggesting that we might be under attack? They threaten us with bad weather. No, they don’t. They’re just clouds. They have no malign purpose. Really, this attribution of personality to natural phenomena has to stop. You’ll be inventing little gods next. Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that… ha, ha! What’s so funny? Nothing.

            Nothing to be done, then, except to just have a look around. What do we find? A rutted, puddled road, bushes, trees. No, not them, finished with them now. Look the other way, look inside. Country Road becomes Memory Lane. Autobiography Alley. Earliest memories? Hard to say. Why? I don’t have to answer that, and neither do you. Everyone’s earliest memories are more or less the same and of no significance. That little person must have existed, was me, is no longer me. What remains constant, down the years? Probably nothing, though there is an illusion of continuity. This is some comfort, when it seems the disasters of the past come back to haunt you. They are not real any more. They are triggered, formed by reaction of the brain right now to some unidentified stimulus. Habits of thought. When for example a place is mentioned, and at once a face comes to mind, and along with it a whole scenario begins to appear, a dramatic situation begins to make itself felt, yes felt is the word, these are emotions rather than clear images. The brain uses a kind of shorthand. What we call a memory is only a by-product of a mental event the true nature of which we are unaware of. But these experiences, these apparent re-emergences of events in the past do affect us now, strongly. They can be debilitating, like post-traumatic stress disorder. Flashbacks, sudden storms of gut feeling, accompanied by shame and guilt. Why do you say that? What is it that you are ashamed of? Having been young, inexperienced? Having made mistakes? You and everyone else who has ever lived. But the fact is that it is only the traumatic which recur, or so it seems. Where are the happy times? Why didn’t they register?

            I’m sure they did. I can recall happy times, of course I can. But we are apparently conditioned to recall moments of anxiety or danger more readily- perhaps in order to avoid similar situations should they arise again. Forewarned is forearmed. Take our average hunter-gatherer. Two hundred thousand years ago. He comes upon a clump of bushes, and is seized with dread. Why? Because once, as a young man, he was walking by a similar place when a lion leaped out at him. Now he always slows down and takes extra care when he is near such a good spot for an animal ambush. And being at the stage of mental development that he is, he hails the feeling as the god of the place, performs, feels compelled to perform, some little paranoid obsessive compulsive act, to appease the dangerous spirit presence. ‘At the stage of mental…’ Huh? Do not patronise him, because he lived two hundred thousand years ago. Your brain has not evolved in that time. You still have the hunter-gatherer’s response to stress, suspect something, if not a god then a neurosis. A little cod-Jungian self-analysis, and we’re off again. Off where? To church, for confession? No. To a non-clerical but still sympathetic ear, such as yours? Perhaps. Perhaps, as you light another cigarette and stretch your legs out on your narrow bed, I might work the conversation round to describing as best I can the source of my discomfort, or what I perceive to be the source, which may not of course be the source at all in reality, but then, who knows what reality is… in reality? And why is the urge to confess- even to one’s self- so strong? Because it gives pleasure, even if only the pleasure of worrying at a rotten tooth, and we are conditioned to pursue whatever gives pleasure.

            Would it give you pleasure to sip a little Armagnac? Well, yes, it would, although Calvados is my favourite. Why? Happy memories of Normandy. D-Day? Lord no, well before my time, though that does illustrate the point about associations. The word ‘Normandy’ means different things in different contexts, right? Sword, Juno, and the others. Beaches. Rhossili. Pobbles. Welsh, not Norman, though the Normans were there once, building their castles. Not sandcastles, either. Pennard, twelfth century stone, most of it’s fallen into the sea now, of course. Might as well have been made of sand. Time like an ever-rolling stream and all that. Armagnac? No, not any more. No drinking today. Give the liver a rest, if you want to go on being a liver rather than a die-er. Mortality, the end of all this. Let someone else deal with it, endure it. Je regrette rien, or try not to. Happy memories, I should write them down, use them in evidence, show that while winter wakeneth all my care now this tree standeth bare yet there was a springtime, a burgeoning if that’s a word, a force driving through green fuses was it? Yes, it was, there was such a time. A time for sipping Armagnac, or Calvados, or just sitting on the beach watching the waves and the terpsichorean antics of the beautiful, the innocent, the uncommitted. How vibrant the colours when the sun was low in the west, and how sad that, while the scene was full of happiness, the very fact that the sun was low in the west reminded me that my day was nearly over, that night would soon fall on me, and no driftwood fire would serve to brighten that good night. How I rage. Being an obedient old man. Would it give you pleasure to sip a little Armagnac, Dylan?

            Who? Oh, you know. It doesn’t matter, does it? Could have been anyone. Stranger on the shore. Clarinet. You know. Pleasure, though- there’s a topic for discussion. We ought to spend longer mulling it over. Instead of harping on about grief and regret, don’t you agree? Pleasure it is, to hear, ywis, the birdes sing. And the hedges loud with insects saying, Buzz. O the sunshine and the showers, not to mention the flowers, no don’t mention them, my hay fever is back. O happy day. From pub to pub they hurry me, to stifle my regret. And when I fall flat on my face, they think that I forget. And they are right, for a while. Till I woke and felt the pain. How we used to drink! Pint after pint of the foul stuff. And staggering home, to the alarm of my non-conformist parents, who could never quite get used to it. I mean the culture they found themselves in. So we’re back in the grief and woe and anxiety again. You said we were going to discuss happiness. We are. You have to define a thing in terms of what it is not. Every golden cloud has a gloomy black lining. Our little life is rounded with a sleep. I was happy once. Must have been. Stands to reason. Oh, come on, toss the ball back once in a while, can’t you? What would you have me say? That I was happy too? Et ego in arcadia. Death, that is. Here I am, an old man in a dry month, pacing up and down, too agitated to sit still and be read to by boys, although I’ve done that in my time, and been paid for it. There was a kind of happiness in that, a type of pleasure, listening to the faltering voices in the sunny classroom, or even when the weather outside was wet, perhaps even more so then, we were inside with Latin grammar, away from harsh reality, far from those who had never heard of the ablative absolute, still less understood it. The Romans, having attacked the ditch with spears and arrows, sought peace. Translate! I seek peace too. Seek peace and ensue it. And the piece of cod which passeth all understanding- school dinners! The old ones are the best. Happy? Yes, I suppose I was happy.

            Well, that passed the time! This discussion of pleasure is almost pleasurable! What do you mean by saying, that passed the time? You know what I mean. I know what you thought you meant. Such phrases are commonly bandied about. Indeed they are. Time! Once upon a. Time is where stories happen. The medium through which stories happen. Events sequenced in time, see? Wasn’t it Einstein who said, you have time so that everything doesn’t happen all at once? Or something like that? I can’t remember quotes or quotations sorry very well any more. Don’t apologise, please, I can’t bear apologies. They stink of time. I am so sorry for what I did before, what I am doing now, what I shall be doing very soon. Every one a little story about regret. This happens, which is bad for these and these reasons, and I wish it had been otherwise. But it couldn’t have been otherwise, could it, for these and these other reasons. Reasons, always there are reasons. Cause and effect. Oh, I know where this is leading. Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner. So I caused you grief, did I? And you expect an apology? For what, pray, am I apologising? For the whole sequence of events which conditioned my response to the stimulus of which you were a part? For my schooling, my upbringing? For my parents’ attitude of mind? Their cultural framework? The history of my country, my species, its evolution? My planet? Blame the movement of tectonic plates, not me. I had no more choice in the matter which so much concerns you than a rat in a maze. Stimulus and response. Pavlov’s dog. Bell, saliva. Breasts, erection. Oh no, sex again. When will it stop? With time. Time passing. Stories. Here’s how it works. First you must oversimplify a situation, leave out almost everything, filter for irrelevancy, give the auditor just enough of when where and what. Also, naturally, who. Most stories are about who did what, how, and to whom. So you set it all up, introduce your fiction as attractively and indeed alluringly as you can. Then you light the blue touch paper and stand back to watch the fireworks. And then in the morning, when there’s nothing left on the bedewed lawn but soggy cardboard tubes and a lingering smell like frying bacon, then you know it’s all run through as it had to, that one thing followed another with inevitability, that time has passed. Because things have changed. Change is only possible in time. Has pleasure been had? It gives me pleasure to notice change. Does it? What is pleasure? We have got nowhere in our discussion of pleasure, a fact which gives me no pleasure, pain rather. We have failed. Just chucked the same old words around, again. It passed the time. Now what shall we do? Let’s go. We can’t go. Why not? You know why not. Ah.

            Toss me a cigarette.

            Everything you say is a quotation.

            Thou liest.

            Here.

            Every one is a little suicide, you know.

            Yes, I know. Or at least, I heard you say as much a little while ago.

            Are you saying that I’m becoming repetitious?

            Becoming! Ha.

            All right, I repeat myself. I repeat myself. How can I do otherwise? How?

            Tell me a new story.

            No such thing.

            Tell me the story of your life.

            Twelve years since, Miranda, twelve years since…

            No. The story of your own life, not a quotation. Come on.

            Impossible.

            Why?

            Because of what we might call the Tristram Shandy problem. There is too much to say. There is not time enough to describe everything that has happened, even what I can remember of it. My autobiography could never catch up with my present reality. The thing is impossible.

            Even your excuses are second hand.

            I do not have to listen to this criticism. I do not understand why, after all we have been through together, after all the experiences we have shared, you still seem to take pleasure in mocking me, making me feel incompetent, inadequate. You are cruel. Well? Speak!

            I could tell the story of your life better than you. I could not only filter out the irrelevancies and self-indulgent side issues in which you love to wallow,

In which I…

but could also achieve a level of objectivity which is clearly beyond you. Also I have more creative energy. I do not lie on my bed all day long smoking and dreaming of what might be, what might have been.

            Begin, then.

            You wouldn’t like it.

            True. There is nothing to like about my life.   Proceed.

            No.

            Proceed!

            It’s no good getting angry.

            I agree, it is futile. Though I have heard it said that old men should rage, rage against the dying of the light. And the light is dying, isn’t it? Is it that late already? Do the shades lengthen, is evening come?

            The twilight can be very beautiful.

            Is our work done?

            By no means. Each age of man is a preparation for the next.

            Bloody sequences again. Cause and.

            The schoolboy, creeping like snail, unwillingly.

            Effect.

            To school. It is impossible to start earlier.

            Effectively.

            Disingenuous.

            What?

            Disingenuous. I just like the sound of that word. Diss.

            Ingenious. But hold! Are there not more voices here? I ever had believed that only you and I held with one another conscious communion. Where have these others come from, sounding like the fall of autumn leaves in Goldengrove? Answer! Are you still there? I can’t see you. Speak! I can’t hear you. Enough. You were never here. The dialogue was illusory, you were illusory, it is as well, had you been real I might have, might have said something I shouldn’t, shouldn’t have said, might have spoken of the forbidden, the taboo, the slightly awkward, the embarrassing, it goes on, this list categorising topics tending towards social faux pas goes on and on stumbling red-facedly around and around, I repeat, round and. Who spoke of autobiography? Not I. Never be it thought by you or anyone that I, that I with all my sins upon my head, red as blood, might bend the knee in some dark confessional, bless me Father, thank you Father, now bless me further, for I have not done, no, I have more. A score. Sing on! But there was a dialogue. It could not have been an illusion. It was real to me. All the world’s an illusion on one level, no-one supposes that sensory input to the brain is an exact analogue of what’s really out there, I mean Out There, beyond a human body’s capacity to interpret the incoming frequencies, wavelengths, voltages, whatever, I’m no physiologist, neuroscientist, whatever, neither however if I may so speak do I subscribe to that Cartesian fallacy, that I am somehow viewing all this as if I were in a theatre, or if René were writing these days I suppose he’s had spoken of screens, whatever it’s all the same and.

            For the sake of getting on, because we do not want to be long-winded or tedious or horrible word boring let us assume then that it makes sense at least as a stop-gap measure to speak of myself as a sentient point of consciousness capable of commenting on sensory input. Which input we must understand as including not only the five senses but the mental flashes of memory and emotion and more or less urgent animal needs, the necessary functioning of the self replicating tube to which we are referring when we speak of ourselves, I hope that’s clear, hope that’s cleared up any misunderstanding. Neither, dear reader, if I may so address you without causing you to suspect any funny business would I want you to err in the direction of thinking me solipsistic. On the contrary, I am acutely aware of the rest of you tubular bowels out there, ringing about your daily rounds your common tasks with, no doubt, more verve and esprit than I could ever muster, though it is true that some of you are right vicious bastards and go about as roaring lions seeking whom you may devour, you are the real solipsists, are selfish, narcissistic but oh tout comprendre comes to your rescue again and I do forgive you your rankest fault, for the nobler action is in virtue than in vengeance, or so I have heard, so I have heard. I speak of myself only because, given that I must speak, myself or my self is the only topic upon which I can speak with any authority, with any authenticity. I find, by the way, that I am compelled to speak, I would not wish to impose upon you, I shall be apologising next, do you require of me an apology? I am compelled, I say, I repeat, I’m prone to repetition, I’m sorry, there, I’ve gone and apologised, compelled to speak rather like the unfortunate, call him unfortunate, writer who sat down one day at his battered old laptop, it was on a tabletop, not a lap, but whatever, and having begun to type discovered that he could not stop, just sat there bashing out words, words, words, all right to answer your obvious objection he did stop for the necessary bodily functions, obviously, but the point of the story is that once he had started he found he had to go on, not because he had anything to say, but because of a fear growing in him, yes, a fear, that is not I think too strong a word, a fear that if he stopped something terrible would happen, it was, he realised as he typed, becoming an obsession, a compulsive obsession, unnatural, an illness, a disorder, an obsessive compulsive disorder. And as he bash, b-b-bashed away he noticed out of the corner of his eye the word count in the corner of the screen slowly creeping up and up and he began to wonder how far it would go before he had to stop out of sheer exhaustion not to mention disillusionment, for who, after all, who would ever want to read what he had written, did he even want anyone to read it, he asked himself with that part of his brain which was not occupied with his flying fingers, I am, he thought as he wrote, becoming ill, I would call for help, he thought, if I thought there was anyone there to help, there was someone, wasn’t there? Just now, lying on a bed, smoking cigarettes? But he typed on while the shades lengthened and the evening came and his window darkened and the world fell silent except for the endless clicking of the keys, and is this not a story?

            It is not a very interesting story for reasons given passim, ea sunt there is no account given of the protagonist’s engagement with the problems of sex, of God, of time, of being, and so forth. Although, it has to be admitted, his particular mode of experiencing the universal existential crisis is unusual, and the image of him crouched helplessly over his clicking or thumping or rattling keyboard might evince a wry smile. Poor sod, we might think, there but for the grace of God go I. Ah-ha! God! Sod it, He’s back! Still no sex, though. Now look here, you can’t have everything. I shall sulk. Oh, all right, his mind wanders onto sexual encounters he has experienced in the past and he types them out. Go on, then. What? Tell us what they were like, when, where, with whom, with what result! Exempli gratia, he has an image, it was so long ago he can’t even remember her name, of a small dimly lit room somewhere, both of them shy, anxious, guilty, she takes her bra off so that he can see, touch, handle, lick, suck, kiss, is that the kind of thing you want to hear about? Yes, yes. More. There is no more, was no more. Clothes were rapidly readjusted, it was over almost before it had begun. They went back to join the others in the bar, he drank too much as usual, they went to bed separately at the end of the evening, he might have seen her in the morning, he cannot recall, he writes all this feverishly, he tries to make sense of it, he regrets it now, using her like that but she used him too if you like to look at it that way, no harm was done, was it? It was in the past, which is another country, and besides, the wench might be dead by now for all he knows. On he goes, crouching over his stinking logorrhoea, straining to empty himself of the pain, praying that the urgency might fade, cease, leave him in peace. Praying? What? You said he was praying. Ah, we’re back on that, are we? You are here to type where typing has been valid, he thinks, also to inform, to carry report, to entertain? To give pleasure? What is pleasure, he thinks, to lick or be licked, suck or be sucked, pleasure experienced in the osculation of a nipple. God, God, the Corinthians sought their goddess in the embraces of holy whores, so we are told, and who is to say that they did not find her there? We who are less carnal in our religious practices can only wonder. Less carnal? Hoc est corpus meum! Eat my body and be saved from your body, drink my blood and. God, God. On he goes on, far into the dark night, sometimes it is complete nonsense, not even recognisable words, he thinks of the infinite number of monkeys banging away at an infinite number of typewriters and wonders if kfneo dod c oc sofkkdn om]    [s dkj s jfoe lvvke might not be a better expression of his situation than his best conscious efforts. It is very late now, the clock in his peripheral vision warns him, but he dare not stop, cannot stop, those bloody monkeys, he bows over his rattling laptop, infinity! The word seizes him, he types it over and over infinity infinity he wonders how many times he will type it before whatever impulse started him typing infinity infinity infinity fades and he finds himself writing about something else, his position in infinite space, it might be that, yes, motion of himself and his desk with his laptop round and round as the planet spins on its axis, motion of planet round sun, motion of sun relative to galactic centre, he doesn’t know much about astronomy, why did he never study it? Not good enough at mathematics. Used to enjoy geometry, as a boy he dropped a mean perpendicular. But the more advanced stuff, the more abstract stuff, the stuff where you had to intuit the answer or else have some kind of magic bone in your head, no. Too hard, and the boys who were good at maths were all a bit weird, or so it seemed to him. Such was school.

            Oh tell me a tale of the schoolroom days, of maths geog fr hist eng pee are ee ooh no stop really please Miss, tell him to leave me alone. The narration of his novitiate. I will, I will. The sun went round the school day after day and brightly shone the moon at night, though bullies were cruel, school, school was all in all and then one sunny day enter stage left the parish church. Who can sing? Who can I have? Who can I take out of their cosy green jumper and dress in a cassock and surplice and ruff too? Who do I fancy for my latest choirboy crush? Poor frustrated bastard. Oh he soon found a pond small enough to be a big fish, minnow that he was. Water. What a. Waster. Didn’t have the brain for maths, or for anything else if the truth be known, you can’t spend your life picking up someone else’s dropped perpendiculars. Opportunities, opportunities everywhere. Opportunity here, in fact, for a story, a tale of schoolroom days, of music cart tart sing a song of sick sex stupid enough for the humanities, that was soon sorted, what do we do with the dumb ones, eh? Army. Sandhurst. If not tough enough, tough-enough, toughenough for cod’s ache put him in, putting in, puttiminda church. If not wholly holy, holey enough après all a priest a priestly caste out cast of the conglomeration of the faithful then let him go and get on a train away from here far, they said, oh go far flung corners of the kingdom go, go getter, get a plaice, small fish, if you can, universality of dullness. And so, our story continues, he went did he not he did, he went forth all mystified. Story continues. Primed, loaded, cocked, fuse all a-smoulder, he was ready to discharge at the least jarring of his hair-triggered mutton musket. Time flies. That was later. Earlier? Sun shone into the classroom quietly, not asking directly, but gently suggesting a question which might be answered one day, namely, how to manage his life, for he knew he was unmanageable, it had to be done for him or he would be done for. Timetables! Institutionalisation! Schoolmastering! Long summers of sunshine on the Beacons, been there, seen them, studied the art of crapping in the field, of pissing with the wind and not against it lest one gets one’s own back, long summer holidays and no need to manage anything it’s all managed for you, isn’t it, Monday to Friday and weekends off. Long Easter holidays, long Christmas holidays, half-term holidays, holidays, holy days of prayer and praise if only there were Someone to pray to and to praise. The story of his schooldays is the story of his gradual, yes, step by step, drift into a lazy trajectory, he would launch upwards, and after a brief burn, fuel expended, he would return, back to the place where it all began, the sunny classroom. There, where our story of schooldays began, it ends. Satisfying, symmetrical, stultifying. You see, my children, the secret is, he never left school at all!

            Unsatisfactory. The incoherent ramblings of a damaged mind, language going everywhere in a void, nothing relates or everything relates, relating events to memories of events which may or may not have had any significance if indeed they happened at all in real time and space whatever that might be, or could have been, or would have been going to have been had it not been otherwise. Pain. Pleasure. Categories of that old whore emotion. Please, don’t expect anything to make scents. What do you know? I think, therefore I think. I think I am typing, he types, I feel it in my fingertips and hear the keys thudding or clicking or rattling like dry bones, like twigs, like scrabble letters in a bag, like runestones, like dice. Baby needs new shoes. Double six! Two dice, one die. Die. Dice with Death. Unsatisfactory, I repeat, I die, Horatio, Horatio horn in F blower. Unsatisfactory. Rambling, picking at the counterpane, nose sharp as a pin, babbling of green fields, the countryside as they say, the townies, never shot in their lives, twelve bore or arrows, bang, twang, I repeat, bang or twang or dull thud.

            Commentary. He is I would say the type of the perfect pleasure seeker, loving the typing mode of existence typing himself out of the mundane through a type of typing marathon race, typing against type to try to breast the tape to win, win the sandstone from the hill, build therewith an edifying edifice wherein to hide away in hedonistic self delight, autoeroticist that he is, walled about with words, words, words upon words, a world of words. A personal universe, with its own laws of physics, constants, unchanging ever-changing change is the norm, or hyper- or possibly hypo-normative mode of existence, type of a perfect narcissist, he has made for himself a world, a god-like act, a world I say complete with its own creation mythology, genesis leading inexorably to exodus, on the road away from here, wherever that is, to there, wherever that is, unchanging laws two in number ten’s too many, one, thou shalt, two, thou shalt not, simple to understand, honour and obey, typical of him to reduce, reductionist he is, damn him, all is myth, symbol, sign, semantics, what is real? Put your thinking cap on, lucky to have one, lucky to have anything, chances of being being so small. How many spermatozoa? And you were the lucky one. In the beginning. Later, luck deserted him, licked by luck, he lapsed. Failed, he thinks, clutching his crapped in clapped-on hat on his head he has to keep going, he dare not stop now he’s started so he’ll finish. Finish! Some hope. If I stop, then-

            Commentary continues. He has not stopped, he dare not, he continues to comment on his commentary, to comment on the commentary on his commentary, to try, to strive, to achieve, oh yes achieve a fulfilment of all his hopes, his construction of his own universe with its own laws, his testing of the laws, of their unwavering strength, their remorseless enforcement, by whom? Who polices his world of words? Who is it that defines, delineates, marks out I say the borders of the land of acceptability? I say I say I say. He thinks, when he has his hat on, that it is he, but in times of greater lucidity or realism knows that it is not he, that he is not, that all is illusion or if not illusion exactly then only the best available version, the only one he can understand, the only one he is equipped to understand, the only one his body can construct. God? I’ll give you God, I’ll give you any number of gods, said he, since they are all part of my world, even the ones I say cannot be part of my world since they created it from the outside since I created them from the inside and all is speculation, invention, improvisation, symbolism, semantics, what is real? The clatter of the keys, the endless procession of letters across the screen, bless me Father if I had to write with a quill pen I’d be out of geese by now, do quills come from geese? Such questions occur to him periodically, regularly, it would be pleasant to stop and find out the answers, find words which serve to answer, look like answers, but are deceiving words for they answer nothing since they are after all is said and typed just words. More words. More matter for you to read, my Lord. The matter? Between whom? Ah, you want characters in a dramatic situation, do you? Of course you do. Here is my world, he thinks, nicely ordered, waters from dry land, day from night, fish in the air and birds in the sea was it yes and so now let us make man.

            Here he is- look at him! What a specimen. Crouched ape, opposable thumbs ready on the space bar, fingers flying over the noisy keys, lost chord haunting his imagination, what resonance! What implication of more to come! Look at him, note the mad stare, the half-open mouth, the unsteady breathing, the ache in his back, the, well, I could go on. And on. And will. But now, it is time, whatever that is, time I say for the drama to unfold, unfold necessarily in time, we cannot put off the discussion of time much longer since the sequencing of events is now upon us, I was ever unready, unprepared, it’s too late now we’ll have to improvise.

            Still at it?

            Of course.

            I was hoping to do something today.

            I’m not stopping you.

            I mean with you.

            With me? What?

            Can’t you even stop while we’re talking?

            I’m notating our conversation.

            What conversation?

            This conversation. Dialogue. Verbal interaction. Interruption of the flow, but no matter, the flow is resumed. I type what I say, say what I type. Also, naturally, I

            I

            I type what you say too.        

            I want to go out.

            Then go.

            I want to go out with you.

            Impossible.

            You are impossible.

            I am what I am. Take off thy sandals, for the ground

            For fucksake

            the ground, I say, the ground whereon thou standest

            I’m going.

            is holy.

            I might not come back, she says, going, and I can hear her slamming about somewhere, there are various noises off. Some clumping about in obviously outdoor shoes not sandals and incomprehensible muttering she is talking to herself now I am unable to notate the exact words and so, unsatisfactory though it is, I shall have to give a mere indication and not a clear record. There are more heavy footsteps and then a bang which I interpret as the sound made by the front door being slammed shut and now there is silence in heaven the space of

The phone rings, rings, ring

            Hello?

            Now typing with one hand only as holding phone in other impossible notate conversation fully as rate of notation too slow to keep up but no matter as is only gentleman with Indian accent calling from Microsoft Windows technical department warning me that my computer has been infected with terrible viruses so verbal exchange very brief I was polite, phone down, normal typing speed resumed, polite because after all poor bastard must be desperate to be trying that one on after all this time are there really people who are so unschooled in the ways of the world that they take such calls seriously? Must be, I suppose, or they wouldn’t waste their time ringing up. I wonder what he’s like, where he is, somewhere on the other side of the planet probably, trying to extract a few quid from

            It is too tedious to be writing about him.

            It is too tedious to be writing.

            It is too tedious to be.

            Not to be, then? A bare bodkin, quietus making. So that when she comes back, she will come back, she always does, this is not the first time she’s left me never to return, when she comes back she will find me no longer typing, which will please her, because I will be dead, which may also please her, I do not know. And then? And, I say, then?

            The key in the lock, a metallic clicking unheard by the corpse slumped over the laptop. The door opening, closing. A thump as of a laden bag being dropped on the floor. Footsteps. More footsteps. I am making this up, you understand, she has not actually returned and I am not actually dead. Now that I have to the best of my ability made clear the imaginary, speculative, improvisatory character of this scene, I will continue. The footsteps resume, stop. She is perhaps listening. There is an unusual silence, she might realise this, for the patter of typing has ceased. The footsteps resume, approaching. She reaches the door of my cell, stops, she is looking in. Sees the slumped corpse. Possibly her perfect nostrils, I always loved her nostrils, flare, if that’s the word or wrinkle, with disgust, for she has been gone three days and there is a stench. Can she see the means by which I achieved my quietus? I do not own a firearm. There are poisons in the house such as drain cleaners and other lethal chemicals, but I think on the whole I would have gone for the kitchen knife and the classical method, which admittedly ought to be carried out in a warm bath, but if the incision is deep enough, one should be able to enter into the una nox perpetua dormienda anywhere, and so Iimagine her understanding, with a shock, yes, let her be shocked, that the dark stain on the carpet around my chair is indicative of its being soaked in sanguine meo which fusus est though not for her particularly, or indeed anybody else, I was instituting no eucharist, I had nothing to be thankful for, in any case, to whom should I offer thanks? Suggestions on a postcard please, no, that is too stupid. I shall at least dignify my post-mortem speculations by clothing them in common sense. What would she do next? Ring the emergency services? No hurry about that, obviously, spare the blue lights and the whooping sirens, he will stay till you come. Will she wonder where the weapon is that wrought this bloody slaughter? She won’t find it in here. If she notices the trail of gory gouts or ruddy droplets in the passage and follows it into the kitchen she’ll be able to deduce that my final act before collapsing onto the computer was to put it away in the bloody dishwasher. Ha!

            Ha! Satisfactory. Now then. How did they get from the anxious, guilty, furtive removal of underwear hinted at earlier, the osculation, the emotion of it all that first promising time of hope, time again, we’ll get to that, the gradual, step by step, obviously, escalation of the intensity of their coupling, to this ghastly scene? That would be a story worth telling- a tragic tale! You would realise the fatal flaw in our hero’s nature which, under the pressure of his situation, gradually led him to step along the path which led him inexorably, if that’s the word, inexorably I say, to his ah destruction. Ah? Ah. Well, you can imagine the kind of thing you’d end up with, it could be quite a hit with the romantic weepy pass the tissues and are there any chocs left and dare I have another glass of Chardonnay brigade, monstrous regiment rather, of, sorry is this getting sexist? women, is it a female thing, is there a gender issue here? Shall we consider the whole issue of gendered fiction? Shall we brave the twitterstorm and venture an opinion? Heavens, if someone should disagree with us? Oh to be a smartass, now that twitter’s here. Here and gone again, no doubt, by the time you get to read this. Time. Some new social medium will have emerged by now. By now? When is now? Time has passed. What does that mean? Novels exist in a version of time which is essentially just a sequencing of events, an ordering of experience by one who is outside the context within which the action of the fiction takes place. it doesn’t take, place, though, does it? The novel is a model of a world. Is this, he asks himself as he types on onto the dark night of his soul, a novel? Is it even a fiction? I am really here, typing, he has persuaded himself of that at least, he is a creator of a world of words, yes, he’s fairly sure of that, I am, he writes, I am I say at least reasonably confident that I am engaged in the creation of a world with its own laws, rhythms, range of reference, body of knowledge required of the reader, textures and tastes, noli me tangere I haven’t finished yet. I shall never be finished, I’ve started so I’ll never finish, I shall keep talking, discussing, toss me a cigarette.

            Names and places. Motivation. Ambition, desire. Appetites. A long daydream of where, when, how and to whom, with a little history or social commentary thrown in. A little arousal of the basic instincts too? An invitation to let the lust for violence or sex or both have its moment or give you a chance to measure yourself up against these and these persons in these and these situations I wouldn’t have said that, he should have done this, she ought to have been more aware of what he was up to, what she was up to, someone should have stepped in! A lust for violence or sex. Speak for yourself. I have never lusted for violence, nor, though tempted oft have been, sex, not what you’d call lusted for it. Not really. Don’t interrupt. You smoke too much. Be quiet. I’ll lose my thread. Ah yes, we are invited to imagine scenes of this or this nature, think to ourselves, ah, this is it seems pleasurable, satisfying, and go on processing the text until, time having passed, we shut the book at last with a sad sigh, wishing it had gone on longer or hoping for a sequel. What are you reading at the moment? Nothing. I do not read. Nothing? Well, I read off screens, everybody does, but that isn’t what you mean, is it. Fiction is what you mean. Real reading. Or poetry. What are words worth, when all’s said and Donne. Very funny. How late it’s getting! It’s so late it’s almost early the next day. Time has passed away. Is dead, is ended. Time, quartet for the end of.

            Gentlemen, please. Drink up. No. I have supped full of horrors. Leave it out, will yer? I’m going home. See what sort of a mess he’s left for me to clear up. Set off unsteadily, lean on mate for support, what would I ever do without you darling, these men, eh? Men. Gentlemen, please! That’s a laugh. Nothing gentle about men. Mine’s gone potty, you know. Yes, off his rocker. Sits there all day long, typing. Never has a word to say. You should leave him, the prick. I did. But I’m going back. Why? I don’t know why. Because. Once, you know, once upon a time, like a fairy story it was he was my handsome prince. Funny how people change. Come round to my place if you like. No, I’m going home. All right, see you then. See you. Handsome prince, yes he was it’s just that somehow, somehow nowadays, there’s nothing left he’s oh. Oh bugger these heels. Take em off it’s not far now. Where’s me keys. Find the keyhole, can’t seem to get it in, Ha, ha. God I’m drunk. Go straight to bed. That’s it at last. In we go. Oh God, what’s that smell? Like something’s died… Well, you can see what I’m doing here, ladies and, er, gentlemen, the perspective has shifted and we watch as the woman, having made her tipsy way back from the pub, rejecting her best friend’s offer of hospitality because of some vestigial sense of loyalty to her neglectful husband, arrives on the scene of horrors described earlier. We didn’t know then that she would be drunk. Will the discovery of his reeking corpse jolt her back into sobriety? We will never know, because that’s enough of that, we’ve touched a world, a narrative, a fiction. We are leaving it now. Do you feel disappointed, dear reader? Cheated? If you want cheating, I have it in spades. She woke up and lo- it was all a dream. He was still asleep, snoring at her side. What strange dream, she thought, as if he would ever type anything, he’s barely literate. I only married him for his money. And the sex, the sex was good for a while. If only we’d been able to have children. I shall get up and have a pee and make some tea and toast and get myself ready for another bloody day of the same old same old. Tube, office, tube, home. Look out of the window at London rooftops. I should do something different. Yoga, perhaps. Or take up the violin. Or learn a language. Evening classes. Or get a dog. So we watch as she stumbles downstairs, and her day begins, same as all the other days, time is stuck in a repeating loop, only the weekends are different. But one weekend is much like another weekend, so it’s a double loop. Still a loop. She’s forgotten the dream already, although something stirs when she empties the dishwasher and takes out the gleaming razor sharp carving knife.

            That’s enough of her. And her bloody husband. Isn’t it time to deal with Time? Ha, ha, excuse me, the pretentiousness of the man. Now he’s just going to clear that little mystery up for us, is he? Who does he think he is, Stephen Hawking? A brief history of all the books written on the subject, stating the bleeding obvious in a variety of ways, whether reliant on the reader’s knowledge of advanced mathematics or not, might just bring home to our hero the futility of his enterprise. What can an amateur such as he possibly contribute? Time, he might say, is the arena in which all our interactions take place. Obvious, right? So, innocent though I am of advanced mathematical knowledge, I can at least give my admittedly limited perspective on the problem, show how in my own small way I too have been an observant pilgrim along the way, have something to say. Time, he begins, may be an illusion, just as it is an illusion that the sun seems to go round the earth, but we don’t know the nature of the illusion. I cannot imagine that it is possible to perceive about time anything other than time passing as it has always seemed to us that it does if you see what I mean, he says, and you stretch out your long legs in front of you, moaning a little with I suppose boredom rather than pleasure. You point your toes, admiring your new shoes, which I rather wish you’d taken off before getting on my bed. I rather wish you’d take all your clothes off, actually. What? Nothing. God, did I say that aloud? Something about clothes? Taking off clothes? I thought you were going to unfold the mystery of time, tempus not temptation, you murmur sleepily, or coquettishly if that’s a word, it is now, are you flirting with me? Are you, I say aloud, flirting with me? No, you say, sitting up and stubbing out your cigarette, certainly not. Look at the time! I must go.

Don’t leave me.

I can’t stay here, can I?

Why not?

            Because, my dear, we do not have that sort of relationship.

            Don’t we?

            No.

            I’ll sleep on the floor!

            Don’t keep on. You know it’s late and I need to go home.

            I wasn’t trying to suggest you know suggest that we should actually you know.

            Yes you were.

Yes, I was.

Goodbye.

            Goodbye.

            Gone. Because it is late, because time has passed. Because we do not have that sort of relationship. More time will have to pass before we do have that sort of relationship. And how is that time to be defined? I lie on the bed, still warm, straighten out the stubbed cigarette, light it. Waste not want not. Too much smoking, I know. The time which has to pass is defined by the actions it contains, no that’s the wrong word, the actions which occupy it, no, wrong again. Time isn’t  a sort of conveyor belt on which you place things. Time is how it looks to us as things happen or something I’m sorry I’m not putting this very well. If the relationship which I am pondering as I lie here with my thinking crap on is going to develop in the right direction things are going to have to happen. What things? Things which are already underway, presumably, causative things, things which will determine what happens next. Too many things, damn it! No matter, on. This evening’s conversation, for instance, has already determined what will happen next time we meet. Did I ruin everything by suggesting that we should you know actually you know. If so, I absolve myself of blame. What I felt and what I said was predetermined by what I’d already felt and said, said he to himself, looking at the ceiling through a cloud of smoke, watching it shift in the microclimate of thermals, whatever, what was it that made the smoke curl that way rather than this? Air currents yes but why in that particular direction? It is no different with thoughts, he thought, or found himself thinking, he had no idea where the thought came from. And he allowed himself to be seized by a gentle existential sadness, which he greeted as an old friend. The only friend he’d have with him tonight, apparently.

Apart from old Mister Upright Imperial, of course:

typewriter 9

Thank you for reading so far! Do click on the links below to have a look at my novels:

Þe Wyldrenesse of Wyrale 

Anthropocene Park 

Peter and Paul

Tristan and the Dragon Girl: An Easter Story

 

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