I who am so sane and safe in my commuter suit. I keep it together, just, for most of the year. Subdued by the daily anaesthetic rhythms, train on rails, shiny shoes on tarmacadam. Maybe my suit knows what it's all for. It certainly seems to know where it's going. Perhaps I should ask it. But it has so few controls. Perhaps the suit I mean now is the one of flesh rather than the one of tweed and silk. The one with the clockwork heart and the oh so jaded eyes, misted as grimy windows that were once, I do flatter myself to believe, polished and gleaming as bright diamonds that lit up the mournful dark of human habit and self doubt. But those days are passed, I am the lobotomised robotic now, hypnotic, neurotic. Fractured, numbed by the scars and bruises, my memory of my collision with Kyrie, my forbidden beloved. My secret mistress who raised my spirit above the clouds then dashed it on the mean damp earth a hundred miles below. Most of the year I can almost forget her, for whole hours on end. Or maybe only fifteen minute intervals, but that is still pretty good, believe me. Forget her, nearly mostly, until November comes around. That haunted season when I first met her. And the light then, it's all about the light. It has that sweetly tired and yellowed quality to it as the year's end looms. That light and that season seize me every time, and I am lost again. And then I must skirt furtively away and catch a train once more to her side of the city, the Southside, Mirrorworld as we called it. South of the river, where everything was upside down and we walked and talked backwards, our moral order inverted.
These days I've found some shortcuts. The easiest one is through frozen puddles, if the frost has come early. One simply has to look around to check the street is quiet and nobody is peering out from their net curtains, then smash the ice up into a few jagged fragments with your umbrella tip. Then bend down and lift up a jagged edge or two, take a deep breath and leap down and into the darkness underneath. One passes through that momentary shade as if blinking, or fainting, enduring a little death in the thoroughly French sense then abracadabra: you find yourself falling out and upwards and backwards into a similar but different street in Mirrorworld. Shall we go there now, today? I have much to show you, none of which you'll understand, which is of course how you like it. Mirrorworld these days has become my personal museum of Kyrie, haunted by my memories of her, by her own stories of her past, by shadows and glimpses of her friends and relatives, all aged and changed and moved on. Everyone has moved on except me. I am trapped in Mirrorworld essentially, or addicted to it at least, like a high-class drug for rich decadents. I keep coming back for more, and am progressively depraved and degraded by the experience, or artistically uplifted, depending on your viewpoint. Just when does a sad stalker become a creative genius? The day he finally sculpts all his longing into a golden statue of course, and everybody sees at last what he was getting at and confess that they would have worshipped her too. Mirrorworld is Kyrie's living tomb, her cenotaph and autograph. So many fragments play there, simultaneously, out of time and out of tune. And now you must wander through them with me, arm in arm and hand in hand.
Look, here is her street. Brush that puddle-ice off your coat there. Walking backwards a little difficult for you? You'll find it easier after a while. Human societies are like that after all, if enough of you do the absurd, anything really, it soon becomes quite normal and natural and commonplace. It's going back you have to watch. When you return to the north side of the river you'll think everyone is upside down there.
I love her street. The buildings are a strange disparate mixture of scales and styles and periods, all slightly shabby in that Southside seen-better-days sort of way. The golden Victorian or Georgian era, that fit of optimism in which they were conceived and constructed: long since passed. Her flat is guarded by her two daughters Phoebe and Demetra. One has the head of a lioness, the other the beak, talons, feathers and wings of an eagle. No, these are not metaphors. In Mirrorworld all metaphors are manifest, that's one of the rules you'll learn as we go along. I walk up the little pathway through her garden from the street and knock once more on the old painted door, just as I did so many times that winter long ago with my heart in my mouth like a lovesick boy. The echo of that doorknob booms into eternity like grey and dismal waves inside some remote cave off the north sea, before the door creaks open. Once, it would have been Kyrie herself with that enigmatic expression of part-excited love, part-resentment for my having made her love me, part-doom at knowing there could be no possible happy ending to such a saga involving a married man like me. A north-side refugee robot with clockwork heart ticking in his shirt with all the menace of a commuter-train nail bomb. But today it is Phoebe who answers and instead of speech issues the roar of a lioness, a great rolling purr of sound that rattles the pebbles in her rockery and makes my bones vibrate like reedy bamboo flutes.
The door is duly opened with desultory disregard and I am permitted to enter, closing it shut behind me, then following Phoebe's dispassionate back towards the steps down to the basement. Before we can descend however, Demetra emerges from her bedroom and flies into the air in the hall above us, to peck and tear at my face and shoulders while screeching wildly. Many of her bluish white feathers are dislodged in the process of this unseemly fracas, and left to see-saw down to the floor in that mellifluously weightless way that feathers do. The altercation is terminated by Phoebe turning her furry head around and half-heartedly snapping her jaws at her unruly avian sister. On the way down the stairs I am strangely touched to notice this detail: that Phoebe is barefoot today and in fact has delicate little tawny-coloured lion paws whose nails make clipping sounds against the stone surface of the steps.
Ah what a scene awaits us. This was once the kitchen, with a door onto the sunny backcourt filled with fragments of ruined buildings, the kitchen where Kyrie and I first sat together one autumn morning and I told her how beautiful she was and our love began its slow spiralling descent into magnificent madness. But today, as it always is with the insane internal logic of dreams, the space has been entirely re-organised and displaced in space and time to resemble a small swimming pool, six-feet deep in clear blue water reeking antiseptically of chlorine, at the bottom of which Kyrie herself sits in an armchair in a diving suit, weighted down by heavy metal clogs, reading the morning's newspaper through the thick glass visor of her diving helmet. I strip to my underpants and dip beneath the water to swim towards her, gesticulating wildly to try and gain her attention as clouds of bubbles progressively leak from my mouth and stream skywards like migrating swifts. Getting closer and looking through her visor glass I can see that she has several shoals of little fish, minnows and sticklebacks, swimming around in there in front of her face like idle thoughts.
She smiles sweetly as she recognises me and I am greatly heartened to see her put down her newspaper and reach up to grasp the iron bolts either side of her visor and unfasten it. Swinging open the glass, large transparent bubbles of fresh air pop outwards in quick succession, each expanding like hot air balloons until the pressure in the room gets too intense and the windows shatter and water begins spewing out over the windowsills and into the garden. I grab an air bubble and jostle around inside it, talking to her as best I can in fits and bursts until the barometric chaos subsides. She takes her helmet off with a sharp turn to the left, then steps out of the diving suit whose masculinity-masking-femininity is oddly arousing in a Matryoshka doll sort of way. Bruce, Bruce, I always knew you would come back… she laughs childishly, each musical note spinning across the room like machine-gun fire, amid the spinning diadems of autumn light on retreating water.
Really? You had an odd way of showing it then. By which I mean telling me you'd call the police if I ever contacted you again. Just what kind of a come-on is that supposed to be?
None whatsoever of course, she smiles. You're a complete weirdo shitbag and I meant it when I said it, but everything's different now.
Is it? -I ask sceptically, but looking around to observe again the progressively draining kettle of a room, have to concede that my objection is ill-founded. I guess we're dead or this is some whacky dream, but I must say it's nice to see you up-close again and with a happy expression on your lovely face, as opposed to passing me on the street with your head down pretending we never happened. Your hair, your ears, your eyes. Your lovely girlish knees, how nice to see those again and know that them and you are still connected happily together.
That's sweet of you, she says, in a bonkers sort of way, you always were sweet and kind, even though you were shagging me at the same time as your wife and God knows how many others.
Not true, there were no others… I begin to correct but she interjects energetically:
Enough, no more wind and prattle. That's where we went wrong last time. I see that the water, the collected rain of a hundred winter nights without you, is all draining away now. You're standing there in your underpants so we best change clothes and scenes before I contemplate doing dirty things with you like we used to. What do you say?
With a sweep of her lovely long-fingered hand, Kyrie wipes the water-damaged room aside and dresses us both in long flowing cloaks woven out of multi-coloured autumn leaves and takes us for a stroll in nearby Queen's Park. Which Queen precisely I rarely stopped to ponder when we were together. Snow Queen, Queen of Sheba. Today the myriad colours and textures of our patchwork cloaks are most astounding. Indeed, they are far from static objects obeying the laws of known physics. Each leaf is wont to change at any moment, flickering like a television screen, to reveal distant views of pine forests and sunsets, places perhaps where Kyrie and I wandered once on our secret stolen hours together, falling for each other and struggling not to, in turn, like restless sleepers, drinkers of salt water dying of thirst.
It is so beautiful today again… Kyrie sighs, like November, those magical days and evenings we shared.
You're reading my mind, I answer. They'll never die, will they? We'll always keep coming back here in our memories and dreams. Like ghosts. We are ghosts already in a way, aren't we?
As if to answer me eloquently, she turns, takes my hand then walks right through me until her head is looking out the back of mine. I must say that it's an entirely new and rather spectacular experience. It makes me tingle all over, sort of like sex but without the sequence or climax, without the mess or the grunting, the beginning or the ending. No form of guilt or tissue paper is remotely required. That was nice, thanks. I say as we pull away.
Yes, look… she says as we keep walking and rotating around a few pathways approaching the top of the park, the little hillock with the flagpole and the spectacular view north to the rest of the city languishing in yellow evening light. How did it get round to evening again?
It always does, I say, taking her hand once more, and trying not to slip right through her. That's one of the trademarks of Mirrorworld. It's always November and it always becomes evening and sunset ridiculously soon. The whole of nature acts as an enormous melodramatic poetic background fixated on metaphors for decay and death.
Oh that sounds so sad and morbid. Kyrie smiles that childlike, slightly unhinged smile of hers, eyes crazed as they always were with the madness of unwise attraction. We weren't about death were we? I felt we were about life and light, potential, the paths not taken, the chance to do something wild, burn bright like shooting stars before we had to fizzle out and retire wounded into the darkness of old-age and incontinence.
A stickler for words, it occurs to me that incontinence, using the strictest definition, was very much our problem, but keep schtum. I think I see at last, I laugh aloud, what we were, what we were for. Something to light up the darkness, to light the way… home, I nearly add but stop myself. She inhales sharply, having read my mind anyway it seems. Suddenly I am more aware of the oncoming darkness, of the chill, of the frost clinging to every shadowed blade of grass, the whisper of winter in the breeze at our backs.
You have to go again, as ever, don't you? She smiles bravely, but I can see that self-pity in her eyes, the essence of a lost little girl that always made it so hard for me not to love her, not to want to help her. Her father had rejected her. It was like a template, a jigsaw piece, an ever-repeating paradigm. Every man that ever said goodbye, even for an hour, never mind a night or a few days, was repeating that, walking over her grave. I bring her close and kiss her forehead, the most chaste and pure of gestures. My beloved Kyrie, lost forever in space and time.
In the far distance beyond the blackened silhouettes of trees, the patchwork city glistens in yellow light, Victorian grid of tartan tenements and needle steeples. Behind it all the hills, the Campsies and Ben Lomond white with snow, glimmer like ice cubes in a glass of whisky before the whole table top is upended. Another hand, not Kyrie's this time, but someone darker's, sweeps the whole chessboard of the city up, collapses it sideways and draws me through one of its black squares, howling for a second like a reluctant newborn, back towards the north side.
Next day Emily reassembles me as usual from my constituent parts, winds up the spring inside me with a key between my shoulder blades, and sets me loose again, sends me out into the world once more to earn a crust. Tick tock, click clack, with the wind at my back, I make my way down through the habitual streets to our suburban train station. But hark, I'd swear that is no ordinary November breeze chilling my neck but the voice of Kyrie sighing as I reach the street corner and whispering into my ear in the frosty morning air Be Careful. We are in love you see and love is like this; it makes the customary divisions between Mirrorworld and the ordinary world of everyday boredom surprisingly weak and malleable. Somehow she is watching me wherever I go. Fantasising about me every night, so she tells me, as she caresses herself with her long elegant fingers. Closing her fluttering eyelids she is able to divine my location remotely, find me wheresoever I may be in the world and watch me like some disembodied eye. This is why I see her as all those blood red suns and ghostly white full moons, those sailing orbs that soar above me as I pace this Winter city and its surrounding countryside, trying to sort myself out, trying not to have an affair with Kyrie. But the eye is vertical as well as horizontal. The fissure of sunset through clouds is also the memory of her beloved little sex, engorged, enflamed red jewel adrift amid the sea of silken pink flesh of her thighs as she kneels over me, giggling. Mirrorworld you see, top to tail, all metaphors are manifest. She and I are the meeting of north and south, dark and light, not just man and woman.