Melancholy, soliloquy. Hunger and a hundred questions burning in the heart. Turbulence of storm clouds, these tree tops raging in the forest I carry inside me. What it means to be abroad in this world and always searching. And Nature my church. I pray by walking through Her. Endlessly it seems, always trying to lose this body like the pathetic ballast it is, flopping puppet buffeted by futile gestures, the human mime. I wear a new mask for each new town I come down into, after weeks and months of pilgrimage on high plains pacing under this sun, the moon and stars. I sleep in hedgerows, haystacks, I waken with the dawn or when the snout of some curious animal intrudes, investigating my warmth and smells. If only I could learn of their conclusions, know myself, the ancient puzzle as the Greeks first phrased it.
Sometimes it begins with a church spire, like the old days, glimpsed across swaying wheat fields, tolling of bells resounding in my feet. Or more often now with distant tower blocks, hell's teeth, or some swishing by-pass, the constant cars, whizzing hot metal like buzzing flies engaged in a feeding frenzy upon the corpse of civilisation. Because this is how it always is at the end, the selfishness made manifest, the isolation devices, the rash of rush and bluster. What face shall I make for myself today, to meet such people? One forged in steel perhaps, to glimmer, to join the clamour, for valour, for glamour. Warlike music in my tongue and blood, make ready for the great reunion.
This mask thing is a metaphor of course, but then again it isn't. I really am a new person every time, made instantly into what the first of my lost audience yearn for. In that sense, this polished metal face is a mirror, dragging everything in from around it, and by the very contours of its features: fluidly distorting. And then the mask fits, clicks seamlessly into place, as do I, and no one knows the difference. Except myself, who trapped underneath and subtly starved of air over coming days and weeks, suffocates oh so slowly, until sweating, panicking, in the end breaks free and bursts out from some quaint domestic door in the early hours and embarks once more upon the world, eyes lifted, drinking the sky, as it were: the elixir of the soul. And the sun, my gold, fills my pockets, makes me rich and well again.
Today I find a dead deer by the roadside, struck by their hurtling carriages, its carcass bleeding, not long dead, still warm. But wait. I haven't told you about the contraption yet, homemade, strapped with tape to my chest, and the wires trailing down both my sleeves. I reach a hand between two buttons of my shirt to turn a dial then plug my wires into the beast's neck and replay its last hours and minutes briefly in fast forward, flash frame, flicker picture. And then after the jolt, satisfied as by a potent shot of coffee or firewater, I lift the deer onto my back and wear it like a crown, forelegs draped around my neck crisscrossed in front scarf-like, primitive costume, totem, token, atavistic, head dress of a former age, of what they've lost, the pallid insipid ones, the pride and primitivism, antique rage. Let me remind them.
I march down into their pretty country town through all the quiet carefully tended streets, past their immaculate gardens between prim hedgerows. How Nature weeps to be free, imprisoned there, enslaved in flowerbeds, chained in trellises, crucified by the cloche. And all the time sweet red blood oozes down my neck and chest from my hoisted prize. At first a few cars slow, turning, jaded eyes within, goggling. Then some gardeners gasp, retreat down dusty pathways. I stand at traffic lights in magnificent disgrace, parties of school children being paraded by in buses, white faces turned, spattered across their disbelieving screens as meadow flowers or gunfire, loosestrife. Then at last I walk into the little town centre and solemnly approach the foot of their war monument: a bronze lady on a marble pedestal, some grotesquely misunderstood and misdrawn goddess, rising from her knees to lift a burning flame of holy carnage heavenwards in thanks for wars and the blood of young men. She wants more it seems, always more, rapacious for futility. And I take down the bleeding deer and lay it at her feet.
A policeman approaches. Stout, stupid pillar of the law, his notebook bristling. I try to tell him the number plate and the face of the man who slew the deer in his speeding pedal car, a builder apt to dump his debris in rural hedgerows after a day overcharging the idle rich for unnecessary house extensions for children who never come home, but he seems to think me mad. Imagine, in a world this lunatic. I bid him lean in a little closer then I prise off my mask to give him a little glimpse of what lurks beneath and that does the trick, sends him scuttling off like a crab longing for a rock to hide under. I make my way across the cobbled precinct to the old pub, drawn by some ancient music leaking from an open door. Inside somebody passes me a fiddle and I join in, unleash a trail of notes borrowed from circling birds glimpsed on the high moors, semi-quavers gurgled from the mouth of fishes in tinkling burns. And when I'm done a pint of golden amber is placed on the table in front of me, instantly everybody's friend, no need for money. I reach up to scratch my chin and find the joint-lines are gone, the mask is fused, too late for an escape now.
A fellow takes a place beside me, a little weasel of a man, all white tousled beards and dreadlocks, skin nearly as dark as mine. Nadith, he calls me, so there we have it, a name. And says I have a brother, Zenir, who just went through here a few weeks ago, a fine and successful man, a great artist with a promising future rearing up before him like a tidal wave. He talked about me often, Weasel says, this Zenir, about his special little brother, a master of music and words as he is of colour and shape, a traveller between towns. I am that man now, am I not? And who am I to argue? He must take me to Elissa he says, whoever that is, who will have a message from him. But first I must have another drink of golden amber and sit in on their club. What club? -I say. Rotary, notaries? Masonic, platonic, knitting, hair-splitting, reading, bleeding, badger baiting, masturbating? No, just watch he says, and it must be the nectar: he reaches out and lifts the black-and-white chequers of the floor tiles up as if he is tweaking my eyelid and the whole floor distorts with everything on it. There is a light pouring in a steady white line from beneath the far wall, and Weasel pulls on the floor like a carpet. He's drawing us closer to it as everyone else crumples and bends out of shape like sweety-papers. Soon the bright white light is in my face, at the base of the tall wall, about to slurp under and I let myself go, flowing, glowing, into the locked room beyond.
Weasel is in his element here, what a crew. The sky-gazers and weather watchers club, who lounge around in angled chairs beneath a huge skylight, a Victorian gazebo, lantern, conservatory, orangerie, cupola, cornucopia of glass and steel all pleasantly musty and in need of a good paint, although to do so would mean stripping the old lead paint off first, inhalation of which would drive some unfortunate handyman a madman slowly until he began wetting his trousers and falling over six months later, then death. So better not bother. The fug of cigar smoke is prodigious here, we thought they'd banned it, along with freewill, predestination, self-emollition and other innocent pleasures. So what gives? -opines Nadith, adopting the hip vernacular to an old avuncular: Doctor Tolleson by name, who looks in charge-ish. Introductions are made and instantly forgotten as is the custom here and anywhere. A Cynthia Beiderbecker, retired occupational therapist, which sounds like a contradiction in terms or at least a non-sequitur but I desist from the jibe advisedly, watching Weasel's eyes. Secateurs, the weapon of choice of our next: Joyce, John, a gardener. Then sequesters: Henry Packer, quite a card, a banker, a gambler then with others' money, soon we'll have the whole pack: two more. A Mary Winston, with Churchill's jowls and jocularity. Bill Heaney, heinous in his choice of cardigans at least and doubtless much else still to be revealed pre-judging by the shifty face, first impressions of a difficult birth that failed to strangle him.
Our club, says Tolleson, puffing like a steam train, eyes magnified in fishbowl fright behind his glasses, considers the notion that we are all dead, us humans, and all this that we think life now is but an afterlife. How else to account for the ridiculous preponderance of coincidence, the déjà vu, the way what books we read constantly prefigure our everyday concerns, the way the pet cat leaps up a second before the phone goes, the way I think of my Aunty Jean and then she phones me.
Moreover, interjects Packer, so violently that I think he means move over and nearly jump from the chair myself like said prophetic feline, -we find that sitting here and staring up at these clouds, sometimes of a languid afternoon we gain glimpses through the shifting gossamer tissues of celestial modesty and spy the true people up there naked, huge giants glimpsed from below at difficult angles, going about their real and proper lives of which these below are only confused memories, shadows and echoes thrown on a forest floor in which we wander lost as children.
Well spoken, winces Mary Winston, born to be a librarian, winsome in her smiles that her closed eyes and furrowing brow constantly lose track of, as she drags huge thoughts into the light of day from her dusty cognitive attic. You would not believe the considerable detail we have divined from here through sheer unadulterated persistence, of the lives of the Titans as it were, the huge heroic people we were each before we were woken by death and birth into this becalmed shore of suburban banality, a domain one might say of air-freshener and furniture polish, of broken dreams and haemorrhoid creams, where even semen is semi-skimmed, pasteurised and ultra-heat treated. And what do you think, Mister Nadith? (Old Tolleson chokes on his tea at that last, as if to wish he'd had it black).
Now there's the crunch, they've got me cornered. I take my time, lighting a huge cigar that I have no intention of smoking. At last, Olympian, the flame catches. Eternal recurrence you mean of course, I am familiar with it, the most unthinkable of Nietzsche's theories, but even it is a metaphor for the ineffable, the inedible, don't you think? So why shouldn't Buddhist reincarnation and Christian damnation and all the other tosh be rated as equal tosh with all other tosh, fragments of a jigsaw of tosh that cannot be completed or viewed by those still living? Photographs of the same weird object viewed from different angles? Indeed, might we not consider human beings as metaphors themselves, and then for what, would be the next inevitable question. I say we are all asleep, and only art can wake us up for a few mad moments each day, but if we could but catch all those moments like falling rose petals on the dark polished wood of the lid of a grand piano on a summer's day in the drawing room of a quiet house, and read them like tea leaves, then we might hold the truth quivering in our quivering hands like a captured bird, but even then to hold it long would kill it.
Extraordinary, extraordinary, John Joyce interjects, ejaculates, ejects adroitly (Tolleson covers his tea), -Your command of words, your insanely elliptical diction. Is there a guidebook one can purchase on you, as if you were a National Trust-entrusted castle, or a blog one can follow so devoutly nightly and daily as to lose one's job gaily, gaining one's employer's contempt and derision not to say one's P45 on a platter?
No, alas… I sigh in faux despair, I am just all me, and tomorrow I will be someone different.
Back to reincarnation then, Beiderbecker mumbles, bumbles, if indeed we ever left it.
And leaving is what we must do next, Weasel says, rising, I've promised to take Nadith to meet Elissa, hoping to save me from Heaney whose eyes and ears have taken all in and whose gorge is rising to a mighty declamation. Nadith, before you go, he stands, his waistcoat buttons popping like distant shells on the fields of Flanders, -you must take our card and call again, we should like to have you in our club, you theorise like only the truly idle can muster, and sport the foul breath and body odour that in my experience only two categories of men ever possess: great writers and the homeless.
Perhaps they are the same thing, I say as my parting short, pausing at the door, and farting for good measure.