Gertrude Stein serves lunch in the hospital cafeteria. Wedged into black t-shirt, trousers and macca-style paper hat with red piping, she ladles out innominate soup to traumatised interns, piles potato gems over the lips of thin cardboard cartons for hyperadrenalised nurses. I ask her how she feels about her work. “Some people get emotional about chips but I don’t,” she says, “I don’t get emotional about chips. But cutting up a potato cutting cry I cry when cutting up a potato.”

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Desire

September 16, 2008

He often thought of his childhood as an altogether different lifetime, a ghost-life lived by a distant version of him from which he retained a chaotic mass of disconnected images. For part of that other life, he had resided with his family in a Tudor house in the Cotswolds: flaky beams and indoor windows and crooked doorframes, a priest-hole in his attic bedroom, a spectral odour of rotting finery overlying a stink of blank desire.

            His parents owned one small bookcase, three or four shelves in solid dark wood and lead-lined glass doors with a pointless key. On its shelves were Dr Spock, Mrs Beeton, a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica from the 1930s that was starting to show the first signs of disintegration. One whole shelf was full of Alistair MacLean, another half-full of Sidney Sheldon. Wedged in among the paperbacks was a musty blue-boarded hardback of Longfellow’s Divine Comedy, and in a note to the Inferno he read this: “The desire of a man is for a woman. The desire of a woman is for the desire of a man.”

            It wasn’t until much later that these lines began to make sense.

Good Neighbours

September 3, 2008

“It is required by law that all citizens be convinced of, or strongly suspicious of, the existence of a conspiracy, plot, or intrigue of any acceptable sort (see list at Appendix 26B(iv)) that does not in actuality exist. Anyone found not to hold such a conviction or suspicion, or to believe that life is an unplanned catalogue of events that is completely arbitrary and not ordered by a myriad of secret and complex conspiracies, will be deemed to be breaking the law and will be charged with sedition. It is the duty and privilege of every law-abiding citizen to report any such unlawful behaviour.” From paragraph 42.13.69/P95MT, Laws, Practices and Regulations, Ministry of Proper Behaviour

Mr Crockett, my next door neighbour, is of the opinion that all electricity bills are a cunning attempt at mind-control by Norwegian thought-police. Mr Hardy at number 32 is in complete agreement, although being a sprightly widower his bills are that low that technically he has no objection to being brainwashed as long as it remains cost-effective.

Old Angus at the end of the road, who is not a widower but wishes he was, did actually forward an application to join the Norwegian thought-police as a mature entrant. The subsequent “bloody obvious cover-up” (a flat denial of the existence of such a service and a polite request not to further trouble an overworked Consulate with any more xenophobic communications, but thank you for your interest) prompted Old Angus to instigate a plan to prevent any further delivery of electricity bills in our street. Within a week he had been punched twice by the postman, bitten by three dogs, and had a full chamber-pot upturned on his head by Mrs Tomlinson at 27, who thought he was an agent of the mysterious Tasmanian Rhododendron Rustling Ring – who are so very mysterious, claims Mrs Tomlinson, that even she doesn’t know what, exactly, they want all those rhododendrons for. Mr Tomlinson doesn’t care about rhododendrons, because he thinks that everybody hates him. He is due to appear in court on Friday on charges of Malicious and False Suspicion, the main evidence against him being that everyone actually does hate him.

Meanwhile, Old Angus’s wife, Eleanor, who is rather old-fashioned, continues with her WI meetings, where she insists on the need to prevent small children from wearing pink so that they will be less likely in adulthood to respond favourably to communist, gay, or Martian propaganda. It is a very gentle sort of insistence and is always accompanied by tea and biscuits. 

Next door, however, Mrs Crockett remains heroically uninvolved. She sees the bills paid and listens with sincere attention to her husband’s dutiful theorising, and indeed anyone else’s. She believes, because that is what she is supposed to do; she obeys the letter of the law, and feels nothing. And that would be all, except I know she lies awake at night with a knife in her hand, and tries not to listen to the alien microchip rattling in her sleeping husband’s throat.

“Had much in the way of wild sex recently?” Gary asked after a silence that had lasted so long governments had fallen. We were sat under an ash tree on a birdshit-splashed bench on the South Bank, Gary and me and Lady Godiva; we’d been there a while, long enough to get hungry and thirsty and cold. But we had each other. World peace was still a twinkle in a madman’s eye, poverty had become its own ideology and was beating capitalism hands down. Enough wine was produced in one year in Europe and Australia to keep the whole world anaesthetised for six months. And war was imminent, always, somewhere, and more importantly the Royal Family had flu. Time had become irrelevant. This was the way the world was, this was the way life was. Coyness was something we could no longer afford. Lady Godiva licked her crotch and growled at a passing cat. “Were there any free doughnuts going at the Point today?” “No, not today, Gary.” Crime was fast becoming a tempting alternative.

This woman sits by Argus on a bus. Handbag full of rocks, hair full of crawling things. Mascara all thick and gaudy, horror flick fashion. Argus wanting to look, but not wanting to look, and not wanting to look as if looking, staring, ogling with choking-man orbits is all that his young and acid-blown brain wants to do. Harridan – as Argus bills this woman in his constantly ongoing inward mind flick – Harridan coughs and racks and spits up into a rag that’s a suicidal artist’s grim and odorous paintbox. Harridan folds this rag into its millionth aligning and stuffs it into a dark patch of amorphous mouldy raincoat. A brown stringy slick of gob from Harridan’s lungs grabs at Argus’s shirt, his Villa shirt, his Shirt of Shirts, and soaks in all slimy, sucking bright colour into a dark touch that’s clammy on his skin. Harridan, not knowing of this taint, blabs on in chaotic monotony at hand rails and chair backs and glass. Argus, his Shirt of Shirts now shitty in his mind and on his torso, sits fuming, taut, caught, angry-hot and horror-struck. Hours to go. Hours by Harridan. Hours on this bus.

This brand of anguish always falls on Argus on a bus.

Turner Shelley Byron Bolan

August 21, 2008

This is wonderful, though all 6 of MacBeth’s fictional history essays are worth reading.

I miss the Tate…