Friday, 29 January 2010

Statutory Statuary #fridayflash

"Bye. Thanks for having us".

"Our pleasure. It was so wonderful to see you all again".

"You must come over to us".

"Love to".

"We mustn't leave it so long next time".


By now their family foursome had all booted up their footwear and bedraggled themselves out our front door. Like a whippet with its tail on fire, my eldest slipped behind me and shot up the stairs. He'd been kept apart from solo devotionals at his console for two hours or so and doubtless there were sanguinary pixel expiations to be made. My wife ducked under my balancing arm into the kitchen, to launch into washing up the tea things. Even the six year old had wearied of playing with the door chain and had mooched off somewhere into the belly of the house. So appears that I'm charged with overseeing the farewell. Adieu rather than valediction.

I myself had errands I could be sinking my teeth into, (or more accurately a televised match I could be sinking my posterior into a cushion in front of), but I couldn't just shut the door before they had even pointed the remote to unlock their car. Could I? No, goodbye and good riddance could be the only possible punctuation offered by the sound of the door being heaved shut on their retreating backs. The air had a definite late afternoon nip in it and my unshod feet felt particularly exposed. Hooking them the leeward side of the door, I inserted half of my torso against the lintel and brought the leading edge to rest against my other side. I must have resembled one of those frieze statues that prop up cornices. I found my hand wobbling ridiculously at the end of my wrist, like a Ronald McDonald cardboard cut out greeter. Albeit without the make up, though I sported the same caked on smile.

How long was long enough to be stationed here? What constituted a decent interval? Did I have to wait until they drove off and disappeared from the vista of our driveway in a plume of disenchanted gravel? No, maybe I could get away with beating my retreat once the ignition was engaged. Not any time soon to judge by the dilatory nature of their self-shovelling into the car. One of the kids had burrowed himself half across the back seat, splayed legs dangling out. Presumably he was searching for something in the footwell to ease the pain of the journey home. A tad young for it to be alcohol, so more likely to be the sensory deprivation of an I-Pod.

In years gone by, it was always the Mother bent double between the interior and the exterior. Fussing with strapping the kids into their safety seats. And I might have walked out to the car with them and hovered around her, counterfeiting a genial host's seeking to preserve the convivial contact. When all I wanted to do was linger in her scent. My hand might well also have playfully hung parallel to her behind, suggesting chivalrous assistance in a most seemly fashion. But now she is firmly ensconced in the passenger seat. She was staring straight out in front of her, but the tinted strip of anti-glare glass meant I couldn't deduce the depth to which her gaze was focussed. The years of extended views of her unimpeachably wiggling posterior were palpably long over. I couldn't feign helping her with anything.

There had been that moment during the afternoon where mine and her glances had locked on to one another. At the time he had imagined it to be less a knowing scrutiny, merely an accidental convergence of rolling eyes. As if, like me, she had caught herself wondering what the hell she was doing sat there in a social situation that was devoid of either affinity or meaning. Four grown ups, stripped of the prompt of babies sat on their laps for driving cooing warmth, seeing as now the kids were re-enacting a bowling lane in the halls of Valhalla to judge by the detonations above our heads. Thereby forced to confront our fulsome lack of any connectivity across the entire quadrilateral armchair topography. Including that between spouses as well. The desultory intercourse of one of the quartet fitfully launching a topic, only to be met with dead air and the sinking despair that we were conducting the obsequy for our moribund friendship. And a wake for unrealised feelings? I still couldn't determine where her gaze was directed. And she could only possibly see half my body at best. The half that had turned to fat.

The engine started up with a growl and with a final cheerless wave, I brought the door to kiss snugly against its frame. "See you soon" I said to the inside plane of its wood and turned to go back inside the lounge.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

What Is Fiction For? - Referencing Bolano

In the twenty-first century I pose two questions of literature;

1) In the light of all competing leisure pursuits and activity, is there still much of a place for reading fiction today?

2) If so, what will such literature look like?

Roberto Bolano's "2666" has been hailed as the first genuine novel for the current century. While epic in its sweep, no more so than "Cloud Atlas" and other (Easy-) Jet Set novels in our global village age. And what are his metaphors for the modern age? Death, madness and sex. Desultory and purposeless. Very 21st Century... Sort of like the late 20th Century only with, well without any added value really. (Though he does bury Magical Realism as Latin America's outdated literary trope, beneath a welter of desultory realism - a Cormac McCarthy for South of the border). The largest section of the book reads like a stitching together of every opening segment of every single episode of CSI. Chapter 1 deals with academics pursuing an obscure author. Come on guy, these are not radical metaphors to change the way we view the world, ya get me!

And for a book pronounced as forward looking, it's curiously obsessed with the literary tradition. Not only of Latin America, but of Europe and America too. Bolano writes of vanished writers, writers committed to insane asylums, writers who hide their identities and writers who steal their way to a writing career on the backs of other, lesser pixie dust struck writers. All well and good if the writer of today in the 21st Century had any status worth devoting so much philosophical study to. But this is no longer the era of authors standing in Peruvian Presidential elections, of poets in the Sandinista Cabinet, of Havel in Prague's (but not Kafka's) Castle, of Sartre, Camus & De Beauvoir marching in Paris with petitions that changed government policy, of Malraux also being in the cabinet. No now we have Blair & Clinton guaranteed millions for their memoirs once they step down from office and oh so graciously endowing libraries. We have bored MPs cheated of being close to power writing novels, Rupert Allason (Nigel West), Douglas Hurd, Anne Widdecombe and who could forget Edwina Currie's? We've got the ex-head of MI5 writing novels too. Seems in our culture, you have to have the commodity name first, before you get a book deal to sell on the back of it.

There are two types of fiction. That which seeks to engage with the world, to try and reflect parts of it, to try and come to an understanding of what lies beneath the surface. Then there are those which provide an antidote to the world, a short-lived means of escaping its dreary, oppressive torpor. I have never understood why people who have an unmediated diet of the latter, don't ask themselves why their world needs escaping from in the first place? A question which might be broached by taking on some of the former reading challenges. Okay, so I am not really addressing the escapist literature here. Who is left reading the former type, that which Bolano would inevitably come to be categorized as? Fewer and fewer people it seems to me. There is no public discourse, on any subject matter. So atomised are we by all the consumer and leisure options we have and our insistence on ceding political decisions to politicians who refuse to open out major issues to a public debate.So with the dearth of public forums for ideas, (at present Twitter and the like are not culturally broad mediums), then what can literature contribute? When did a book last capture the public's intellectual imagination and give them pause for thought on an issue in the real world of their daily lives? Apart from the obscenity trials surrounding "Chatterly" or "Brooklyn", you probably have to go back to Charles Dickens for a fiction that fed back and informed the world in which it emerged from. Nowadays, the fiction that captures the public mood seems to be that with TV/ Hollywood tie ins, instant merchandising opportunities and an ability to leach zombies on to cover art of the Classics. Works that add nothing to the cultural pool (sump) of ideation and self-reflection.

Possibly high literature is still being touted in the universities, but they seem to have been cut off from having any sway over public taste decades ago. Literary academics resemble those art historians who ceaselessly regard the works of Rembrandt and Titian, great works undoubtedly, but fixed in time and with no possibility of fresh additions to the canon. It is museum literature and while clearly the Classics will always be read (at least until the schools dumb down to a year zero and teach kids only how to read html), there is still an anorexic rump of us out there in the market, shades of our former literary selves hovering around the 'literary fiction' shelves on the look out for 3 titles that have been graced with a '3 for the price of 2' sticker. But we struggle to cobble together 3 titles worthy of fulfilling the discount. We are starving because the authors do not feed us with books that speak to us of our contemporary time. The writers fail us, but they claim the market precludes them from writing these type of books because agents and publishers insist they cannot sell them. A vicious circle and also the writers too easily settle for such logic and start self-censoring their output to try and meet the perceived market.

Who cares about the literary tradition if we kill it dead by failing to continue it into our own age? Digital preservation will ensure all such books that have been handed down into our current century will survive into perpetuity. And by all means indulge the academics in talking about 19th and 20th Century literary trends that have seemingly died out in terms of still being produced today; such as the whole Modernist canon of Joyce, Faulkner, Woolfe, Eliot and Pound. Bolano's work was not radical and divergent. He did not continue any legacy stretching back to any great experimenters that I can see. He offered a diffuse, ambiguous narrative that just fizzles out in the same way that the tarmac burns up in the final frames of the road movie "Two Lane Blacktop" and that the film reels themselves are also shown to burn as the final statement of unending and ultimately purposeless journeying.

So to restate my opening two questions, in the light of Bolano not having reinvented the novel in "2666" (except in the hallucinatory minds of literary critics parched for fresh intake):

1) In the light of all competing leisure pursuits and activity, is there still much of a place for reading fiction today?

Apart from escapist literature probably not. Flash fiction and other web-based writing are all fine and good, but a little like some toothsome hors d'oeuvres, with nothing more substantial to fill you up afterwards. And I say this as a writer of literary fiction...

2) If so, what will such literature look like?
I don't know exactly (though I'm trying to offer some fresh perspectives, some fresh language and particularly some fresh metaphors in my novels), but I sure as hell know it wont look unchanged from those books of the last century which we are still churning out spasmodically and calling them 'new'. These are old themes, given a modern spin and no more. I would hazard that as printing technology becomes more and more accessible to writers, even if it is only virtual printing, the 21st Century novel will contain far more design elements within its typography and its look on the page. It may no longer follow a linear block print for example. It may of course also involve embedded videos like Nick Cave's novel "Bunny Monroe". Just so long as these are artistic decisions taken by the writer, either singly, or in collaboration with designers and typographers, then we may just be on to something. However, if they have been initiated by the publishers, in a desperate measure to rekindle sales by offering different packaging, presentation and distribution, then it will be the same tired old book.

Writers, start your engines. We live or die by our content.

And I for one am very discontent.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Grise (#FridayFlash)

He cocked index and middle finger together like a pistol and pressed them against the side of the tumbler, measuring out the gargle of whisky he poured into it. He tapped the same cub scout salute to lever the brim of his hat up from over his eyes. The clock face emerged into his purview. Midnight plus one. The Broad was a no-show. Again.

He cupped a barely shaking hand (the whisky was faithfully adhering to its task tonight), over his lighter. The recalcitrant flint being reluctant to yield its Promethean secret. Like every ugly critter in this town. The coruscating flame threw more light than the overhead naked bulb ever did. But then it died, leaving a small orange diadem at the tip of his cigarette, hovering in the gloom like a firefly.

How many missed appointments did that make it now, three? Four? Not very good recall for a so-called seamus. He was supposed to keep on top of the facts. His jagged laugh serrated the smoke plume as it wound upwards to do battle with the lightbulb. Draping its cloying veil around the blue lamp, the darkness thickened imperceptibly. Watts struck back and burned its angry wake through the dissipating murk. 'Know just how it feels' mused the Private Eye.

This felt little different to a stakeout, other than he was using a glass rather than swigging straight from the bottle as he did when in the car. He still employed the empties to relieve himself though, seeing as his rent didn't cover the use of a commode. What exactly was under surveillance right here right now? The wreckage of his life. A forlorn cactus his office's ambience had managed to suck dry even into death, stood in a saucer marked by the dirt outlines of extinct water trails. Then there was a bonzai tree, like a little old gnarled homunculus permanently holding him under scrutiny. Both had initially been provided by his receptionist in an attempt to personalise the office. To suggest a human being resided within. But she had eventually beaten her path of retreat from the film of dust that leached out all colour. Leaving these two ugly memorials behind. Now they more resembled miniaturised victims of medieval torture implements; the iron maiden and the back-breaking rack. He had plenty of heresies to recant, but no Confessor to hear him out.

Of course, there was no reason to believe that his missing client case had been a frail. What had he got to go on? Nothing much. Just a mark in a diary. A single barred gate in the cross country run of life's ledger. It's not as though any contract had been signed. He wasn't on any retainer. He just put his card out there, his half-baked self-promotion with a wrong digit in the address, but he had run out of money to have them reprinted. The telephone number was correct though. They could still reach him by that.

He drained the glass and cub scouted his hat back down over his eyes. There was always the possibility of tomorrow. Some new client to walk through the door and misdirect him about their misconceived affairs. The world was full of Broads, Frails and Stiffs. Law of averages says one of them must roll up to a halt at his door.

Yeah right.

Room 1201 was up on the thirteenth floor. Nose bleed territory. Where the elevator to such high altitudes was perpetually out of commission. The clock still read one minute past twelve.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Reflections On A Funeral

Had to attend a funeral this weekend. Been to plenty before, so not a new experience. But there was something about this one...

It was of a close friend of my parents, whom I remember vividly from my childhood, but I hadn't seen for 25 years or so. Nor had I seen his sons in that time. We had played together because our parents' friendship brought us together on numerous occasions. That neither they nor I had chosen to perpetuate the relationship once we stepped on to our different launchpads into adulthood, was judgement enough on the depth of that friendship.

The deceased parental friend formed part of my parents' 'Card Crowd' circle. Every month for 40+ years, a card evening was hosted in a different home, with drinks, nibbles, poker & cigars for the men, Kalouki and chat for the women who sometimes didn't bother breaking open the deck of cards. In all that time the group suffered their statistical share of divorces, child troubles and illness, but they were of an age where if one of the partners dies, they were young enough to remarry. Same thing with divorces, though that always prompted a tricky issue of which of the man or the woman would be invited to the social evenings. In my father's case, he just spurned the card gathering and saw the odd male outside of such a gathering. I ought to add he is a compulsive gambler so surrendering the card games was actually part of his recovery programme. Before he quit the circle, he did use to attend and just watch and chat. But I think that just became impossible for all concerned.

That's the background. Two things struck me about the gathering at the funeral yesterday. A minor point was that I saw the sons for the first time in 25 years and of course they had all grown into men (as I suppose have I). They were instantly recognisable and yet I still couldn't but see them as frozen in time 25 years ago. The conflicted input of reality and memory were really hard to reconcile and hold in focus. If I don't see them again, will they forever be held in my recollection as children, having edited out this one contradicting image of them? In their religion, they maintain a house of mourning for a week, where prayers are said and people are encouraged to drop round not only to pay respects, but to provide support, company and shared recollections. As a part of the coping process, it works rather well. Having initially concluded that I'd paid my respects to the deceased at the graveside, I have now decided to go to a prayer session later this week. Partly to help fix a new image of them in my head and to purge the frozen one I retain. Inevitably we will catch up, however superficially, with 25 years of life about which we know nothing of one another, apart from what our (proud?) parents may have leaked in that period. But then it will be strange to beat a retreat from the door and probably never see them again in the future? I don't know, but there is a tug to attend all the same. It must have something to do with that suspended state of childhood we all bury under maturation and development. Time to disinter it, even for a fleeting moment.

But the major impression relates back at the funeral. It was packed. I was almost crowd surfed into the hall, such was the pressure of people trying to enter. I am average height, 5'9", yet everyone there seemed smaller than me. Hunched. Old. Grey. Leathered. And it struck me that this time there will be no more remarriages when there is a passing over. On show was a proto-generational cull, waiting in the atrium of the grim reaper. Just a grouping of people who had all reached an age, where they would really begin to be required to attend more and more of these rituals and mark off another one of their peers on five bar gates of death. That was a scary perception and not one limited just to my parents being included, but as I say, that whole generation. And then of course, further down the line, such a similar cull confronts my generation.

The night I've plumped for attending the house of mourning is my birthday. Seemed appropriate somehow.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Deep In The Woods Flash Fiction

Went a bit morbid for New Year's Friday Flash, so have gone for a bit of knockabout humour this week. My one and only venture into Fantasy.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, well really rather recently - and actually it happened on more than the one occasion, at least thrice that I can think of, in fact if you look on a map of the world I bet you can find some place where it's happening right now even - anyway there was this idyllic forest. Or, if the local landowner was to be believed, a wood, since there were all sorts of Prince's tithe and mulct implications. His Madison Avenue lawyers were pushing the boat right out and trying to get its status downgraded to a coppice, after the landowner had spurned the advances of OJ's team who had tendered that they could get it recognised as a mere shrubbery. But none of this concerns us, for the non-human interest story lies with the denizens of this enchanted forest/wood/coppice (TBC).

One fine sunny day dawned and in came Macho the Fairy hurtling in at 3 fmph (mach one in human velocity). "Folk of Sylvania gather round. I have some great news of terrible danger afoot" she panted. "Shouldn't that be 'terrible news of great danger'?" chided Grammarian the hobgoblin with a stutter. Macho made the universal sign of 'W' with her dainty fingers, before eliding like two graceful swan necks diving for food into a pair of 'L's'. (Their secluded woodland arcadia had played host to many teenage human couplings, which inevitably ended with such an exchange of sign language and the pair stomping home in different directions from one another).

"Ooh, I'm all on tenterhooks at yet another of Macho's proclamations" sneered Proam the boggart, as he stretched his mighty frame out over the grass, thereby creating a necrotic zone at a stroke. Then he picked his nose, rolled over on to his side and flicked the mucal yield into the space just vacated. Instantly sprung up a fairy ring (so now you know!) "When you've finished your nasal horticulture Pro ..." scolded Macho, stamping her little foot impatiently, while her gossamer wings resonated to the rhythm. "All right keep your wings on. Would you prefer I just swallowed it?"

Suddenly there was a tremendous howling emitted from the bowels of the forest/wood/coppice. "What's that?" quivered winsome Losesome the dryad. "That is an omen for our future and it is not good I'm telling you" replied Macho. "No, that is just our neighbourhood banshee getting her oats" tittered Easy the nympho nymphette. "The banshee is a disembodied spirit, therefore she is unable to enjoy carnality of any sort" intoned Grammarian. "The luckless status for most of us women, full bodied or not, when it comes to you men" opined Fudge the brownie.

"I know absolutely what that sound portends" shouted Macho. They are the implements of death wielded by the town dwellers. Norm you're a gnome, used to handling minerals. Don't you detect a metallic timbre behind that scream?" "Well I spose ..." "The sound of their axes may not carry this far, but that categorically is the whine of an electrified chainsaw". The exhalations and cries of 'No' and 'Surely?' rang out from this serrated circle. Even Proam was moved to raise his hand from scratching his broad behind, up to his head (and he didn't even pause to smell his fingers).

"Whatever for? What do they want with our home?" asked Riddim the half-elf. "Golf course, car park, logging, Ikea flat-pack furniture, who knows? What difference does it make ?" Macho declaimed. She was so vexed, she crossed her arms and inadvertently stilled her wings so she ceased hovering and fell into the jungle of Proam's fairy circle. No one laughed though. "We've got to get ourselves organised" Otiose the Sprite said sprightly. "Chain ourselves to the trees" she added. "I'm eight inches tall, how's that going to work?" said Macho dusting herself down. "And where's the metal going to come from to make chains? Since we gnomes got cast out of our cast iron foundry. Didn't see much fraternal solidarity when we were out on strike trying to save our jobs". "At least you were offered retraining" snapped Sugarplum the embittered kobald. "Oh yeah right. Do you really see me as a social worker? Family division, with my gnarled old miner's face? Now they've lumbered me with all the changeling cases to stop me scaring the kids".

"Ahem, if I could return us to the immediate business at hand. Otiose might be on to something. We can unionise oursleves. Make it a wider struggle" reasoned Macho. "Oh yeah, Woodland Folk Local 666. Shoulder to shoulder with the Teamsters. Secondary picketing from the Mailmen, I can just see it all now" hissed Sugarplum. "Don't mention 'picket' please I implore you" begged Riddim. "Whyever not?" quizzed Losesome. "I ask you just to think what picket fences are made from? We're all doomed!"

"If I may be allowed to interject a moment here" breathed a voice that sounded like it had smoked 60 a day since the dawn of time. "Yes, what are we scotch mist?" echoed a sister voice. "You will be if their chainsaws get here" snorted Easy. "Let the trees speak" Macho declared. "After all, they have been here longer than any of us". "I challenge that assertion" asserted gormless Norm gnome. "Hey, count my rings stumpy!" "I'd have to cut you down first wouldn't I? How wise does that make you wrinkle features?" "Hark who's talking, have you looked in a mirror recently?"

"Please, this squabbling isn't getting us anywhere. Venerable tree, please give us the benefit of your wisdom". "Thank you fairy spirit. My ancestors were allowed natural deaths, since there were no humans around. But even they were not permitted to rest in peace, once the humans disinterred them and burned them as oil and coal. Humans just cannot abide anything green, anything more permanent and long-lived than they. We all have to be bent to their will. Well, let them do it I say -" "But then we will all perish. For how can we survive without the woods to support us?" "Hear me out. You yourselves may pass on, but your species will survive. Somewhere in the world, preserved in the ether, your spirits will remain. In the meantime, all the fauna will gradually disappear as humans snatch their habitats from them. With no animals, humans will not be able to teach and instruct their young how to read. How to speak even probably, for it is these wonders that first fire their infant imaginations. Without communication, the human race will stagnate and wither and die. I grant this is a long-term strategy, but I am a tree so this is my time scale. But your kith and kin will, believe me, inherit the earth."

The colloquy was brought to a sudden halt with a fearsome wailing and a tree crashing to the ground right in the middle of their gathering. A dishevelled banshee loomed, hand grasping a stout oak for support. "Wow, that was quite a seeing to I've just had!" I'm not going to be able to stand for a couple of days I reckon" she cackled. And with a cry of "Timberrr!" she collapsed to the ground.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Creation Myth - A Serpent's Tale

“The serpent beguiled me and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). So claimed Eve in mitigation for disobeyiing god and consuming forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam blamed her and she in turn blamed the snake. Pretty poor show all round, with no one actually mettlesome enough to take responsibility for their actions. No chivalrous tale this. Still, that's free will for you. And at the bottom of the pile, who could the audacious snake hold to account? Overlooking the fanciful anthropomorphic notion of loquacious ophidia, it behooves one to uncover why the colubrid was chosen to be the er, well snake in the grass and not say the scorpion, or the spider, the chameleon or the komodo dragon. Which of its several traits prompted its selection as the genus most likely to, when the scribes came to set down their salutary tale ? And which species might have offered the model for the serpent, since many of these highly specialised traits are narrowly dispersed within the order. For example, only some seven hundred species are venomous and just a quarter of those pose a mortal threat to mankind. And let us agree, to have deceived Eve with words, to poison her mind with toxic thoughts, our suspect must have been mightily envenomed. “Tongues as sharp as a serpent’s bite” (Psalms 140:3).


When it went pear/apple shaped and god decided to suspend the (pioneer) Eden Project, he didn’t plump to purge it by fire. Nor tear it up and inter it through a convulsive earthquake. No, instead he pulled the plug by dousing it beneath the water of a mighty flood. To rehydrate the colloidal sediment of his creation and merely diffuse it amongst the tides. To wash it away as effluent. He was careful to preserve his intricate origami bestairy, but also opted to scoop up Noah and his family. To what purpose? Was god prefiguring the Masai, by burning off tired scrub in order to foster new germination? Nevertheless, genetically speaking, there was no new development on offer, since Noah’s kin were the tenth generation lineage direct from fallen Adam himself. Once the waters had receded, they were free to carry on reproducing as per his instruction to go forth and multiply. To swarm. To pullulate. Proceeding with their evolution, away from god’s blueprint of perfection. The Eden Project would therefore, to all intents and purposes, continue unabated.

God’s creative procedures invariably revolved around desiccation. Witness the earth coalescing from the misty and cloud-laden perch of the heavens. Then land being distilled from the roiling oceans. Next, once the sodden terrain had been wrung through the mangle, towering tree trunks and more modest flower stems, distended their exhuberant foliage towards the warm embrace of the sun. And incidentally, towards the life-enhancing rain waters, which they gleefully summoned down to perform them service. How they adsorbed the precipitation, enchaining it to transplant their sap, much like snakes swallow their prey whole and trust to their inner digestive chemistry to render them a sustaining broth. Which brings us to the next decoction, the (ex-marine) animals that humbly crawled across the humus, those that flew and those that stood firm on the ground. Each with its discrete corporeality. A delineated incarnation of solidity, which cut a swathe through space and bore down with mass. Then finally the monarch of all this brute matter, mankind himself, in the shape of Adam. The most sturdily upright and substantial of all god’s creations. And the most able. With his princess consort Eve. Yet perhaps she is not quite so condensed as he. With her milk and menstrual surges, subterranean streams and currents consigned to internal flows. Between the two therefore, already a fissure.

“For dust you are and to dust you will return”. Thus, like all god’s handiwork, Adam is hardened pith. Hung up to dry. Baked in the kiln. Adama itself means ‘red earth’ (did he extrude therefore from a parched desert soil?) Pressed and kneaded by the deft fingers of whom? Now, the habitually aloof god doesn’t strike as much of a potter, especially one without a wheel. Like his creation Adam, he would not undertake anything that threatened contamination with moist, besmirching clod. Anything that might deluge and overwhelm his staunch definition. Sully and fray his precious vinculum to life. No, this resounds more of the order of his mother Eve (or Sophia ‘wisdom’). Sat there in her field of clay, legs splayed out in the mud, joyously feeling the flow and the grain of the indeterminate pulp. Reiterating her own fluid origins, with no distinction between inner and outer, self and other. (The camouflage sported by most snakes, functions so as to break up their outline and thus make them hard for prey to distinguish against the background). Her sole extrinsic appendage, a stunted tree branch for rolling pin and pleasure stick. How she effortlessly moulds the empty vessel of Adam, in order to contain her moon blood. Then holding it to the breast and animating him with the syncopations of her heartbeat. (That wheezy hiss you can hear, is god bronchially attempting to breathe life up Adam’s nostrils). Ah, little Adam, indistinguishable from the clay cup from which he drinks, the bed in which he sleeps and the hoist as his mother shoulders him, when she goes for a dance to stretch her legs. Urtha. Udder. Mudder. Mother. (Adder ... Mamba ...?)

The human squab flexes his fledgeling legs and manages to plant himself erect in the soil. Now sufficiently leavened, some words come to his ear on the wind. God’s chittering, dangling him the opportunity to wreak his own beauty. “Mother, you have discharged your destiny and I thank you. Now there is much work to be done. Since we are to sow this field with trees and flowers and fashion their canopied bunting in order to exalt God’s divine majesty”. (And coincidentally thinks Eve, lacing and adulterating my pottery clay with their snaggly roots, while also covering the traces of little Adam when he could but crawl through the dust). “God? Have you forgotten that I am his Mother as your own?” (Further whispered prompting from off-stage). “Serpent ! Eve was carved from my rib. ‘Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’. I pledge the Father my troth.” “Did he bear your vessel as I did ? Did he fill your hollowness with life?” “No, I will be the one to fill your empty belly, give you being and purpose”. “Then Eve is pressed into Hell ! Would but the earth swirl and swallow me whole”. (That can be arranged muses God, scratching his scraggly beard). “No, it is Eve who is misconceived. You can no longer summon up any of your fecund magic, as I wield the sole power of nomination. For I am to become Father to a great family, that all other nations will seek to follow. You are to become my wife and to suckle and nurture our progeny.”

Though, as with all the cast of characters involved here, she bore no knowledge of molecular biology, Eve somehow intuited  that this might not be so. For if she had indeed been cloned from her husband, then their conjoining would be incestuous, with all the genetic consequences for their offspring. The degeneration would begin immediately. Eve smiled to herself, while she further hatched a plan to thwart her husband’s ambitions, even adopting some of the things he himself had the bare faced temerity to utter to her. Redeploying God’s devious distancing tactic of insinuation. If she could just conjure her enchantments for one final time and coil her gnarled branch. Utilise her skill with pigements and draw from Nature’s palette around her. And to convey the power of speech, she needed to fabricate a tongue. Now, what shape should it take on? She cast around her at her husband’s prototypical tools. “A hoe? Unsuitable. A trowel? Laying it on a bit thick perhaps. A rake? Hardly. But that twin-pronged fork fits the bill. Perfectly. Perfidiously. It reminds me of how my son stands so pincered upon the ground”.


The shall we say nebulous geographical co-ordinates of the Garden of Eden present our first and major obstacle to determining the possible genus of snake. References to the Tigris and Euphrates probably place it somewhere in South-East Mesopotamia, the future cradle of Ur civilisation, the kingdoms of Babylon, Sumer and Akkad. Yet Eden is a specially created garden, distinct from what, savannah? Bush? Scrub? Desert? The last two evoke notions of aridity, which is probably not the primary impression god was striving after with his canvas. It is of course quite possible that they were verdant areas in their own right, but through man’s colonisation and exploitation have since been rendered considerably less lush.

The first snake family under scrutiny (suspicion?) are the vipers (viperidae), since they possess sufficient variation to inhabit any of the above terrains and are widely found throughout the Saharan/ Middle Eastern loci. There are the Levant and Palestinian vipers, (vipera lebetina & vipera palaestinae) which are in the right neighbourhoods. Or else there’s the puff adder, (bitans arietans), a deadly snake that isn’t shy like most snakes and will hiss a warning. Then there is the desert horned viper (cerastes cornutus) a snake found in the Sahara, which has a sidewinding form of movement so that no part of its body is in contact with the blazing hot sand for too long. This snake burrows under the sand during the day and hunts at night, which might rule it out of the Eden scenario. Only, it has two horns on its head which might have prompted the diabolic imagery. That and the forked tongue, with which the snake neither speaks, nor even hisses (this is actually reverberating airflow through the respiratory tract). Rather the forked tongue is the snake’s means of scenting, as it projects out into the air.

Whichever of these, or any other genus, all vipers have long, hollow fangs which fold up into the roof of their mouths and are unleashed like stabbing daggers, or hypodermic needles by the attacking snake. The venom jetting out through the bottom of the tooth, whose length enables it to get deeply embedded within the target’s flesh. The venom of the most dangerous family members is a mixture of haemotoxic (attacks the blood) and neurotoxic (attacks the nerves).

There is perhaps a natural human female affinity with the snake. After all, the creature’s wavy movements may recall primordial flows within woman herself. Equally, when the Edenic serpent rubbed itself up against the forbidden tree, it wasn’t just debunking god’s idle threat that death would be the outcome of even merely touching its bark. For he was appealing on a deeper emotional level to Eve. Since does not the snake rub itself against solid objects, in order to slough its old skin and what greater appeal to woman than the promise of eternal rejuvenation, if not eternal life itself? Assailing the tree, that tree, could offer all this. And lastly, it is nettlesome to determine where any snake begins and ends, since its limbless corpus can be all of a piece. Venomous snakes however, are easier to determine frontpiece from tailpiece, since as with human heads making allowances for large brains, these serpents have to afford accomodation for their venom sacs. As with the triangulated head of the viper for example. Whichever species of snake was present in Eden, perhaps he spread his venomous patter, in an attempt to shed his bulbousness and shrink his features back to where he had no discernible beginning, middle or end. To return to a concealing amorphousness. A singular inscrutability. A state of unobtrsuiveness, with which the female human can empathise with her occult inclinations.

Of course, there is the possibility that the snake in question was not venomous, but a constrictor of some sort, such as the foreboding rock python (python sebae) which can grow uîp to six metres long. I have seen a rock python consume a crocodile. Slowly. Such a leviathan as this wouldn’t really need to whisper poisonous thoughts, its sheer girth would entail it had your ear. These snakes have small spurs on their body, for tickling in courtship, or jousting with rival male suitors. But the greater significance, is that these spurs are the vestigal remains of back legs which have adapted out over evolution. Could this match God’s assertion to have stripped the snake of ambulatory limbs in order to make it crawl on its belly for punishment? A secondary consideration is the nature of constriction itself. Once enfurled within the sepent’s coils, having the very life squeezed from it, the prey attempts to exhale, at which point the crafty snake presses home its advantage a little tighter, so that the animal finds it hard to inhale again. The benighted beast dies from suffocation.

Boomslang (dispholidus typus).
The boomslang, a resident of more Southerly climes, makes the line up simply by virtue of it being arboreal. Much religious iconography makes play of having the serpent spiralled around the tree of forbidden fruit during its seduction of Eve. Either draped around the trunk of the tree like some primeval barbed wire prohibition. Or intertwined with the forbidden fruit itself, up on the branches. The boomslang is an intense emerald green so that it blends in seamlessly with foliage and like all arboreal snakes is long, thin and agile so that it can slide across branches. It’s venom is haemotoxic, that is it prevents blood from clotting, causing blood pressure to drop and the heart rate to increase in an attempt to compensate. Eventually, internal haemorrhaging may occur and it has to be said, that by volume, the venom of the boomslang is the most concentrated of all venomous sub-Saharan snakes. However, the boomslang is quite a placid snake. It’s powers of smell inform it that humans are neither threat nor food, while instinctively it must be aware that we are too large for its rear fangs to penetrate us, since anything it takes for food must fit right into the back of its mouth for its fangs to repeatedly bite until fatally envenomed.

God admonishes the serpent even before he vents his spleen on A&E. “You’ll crawl on your belly” (all the better to pick up tell-tale ground-level vibrations through my lower jaw then big guy!) and eat dust (hey, I’m nothing if not a survivor. You just watch me evolve some alternative limbless strategies. I can see it now. Increased concentration of venom to immobilise the prey; swallowing it whole, utilising my whole corpus to push it down, in the place of feeding it through with paws. Anyway, dust’s a good thing right? It’s where we all came from. Keeps one grounded to our humility. Oh and the worms and centipedes and other soil creepers are well hacked off with you, as they thought you held them in higher esteem than that. Oh and while we’re on the subject, the dromedaries asked me to inform you that they’ve got the right hump with you, for giving them a left one as well). “And there will be an enmity between you and this woman and your offspring and hers”. (Hmm, why’s that then, why not between me and her husband as well while you’re at it?)

I’ll tell you why, because Eve has a special relationship with the serpent. And God is trying to drive a wedge between them. A wedge called Adam. Striding mightily through the landscape, janitor of all he surveyed. Hand flattened across his brow, shielding his eyes from the sun and what does he behold? Nothing. Whither Eve? He tracks lower, at ground level and sees her supine, or on her haunches like the beasts. Swaying on a rustling bed of dried, fallen leaves (leaf litter litter). He fails to under-stand. What on earth is she playing at? muses Adam. And he sees that she is not alone. Also present is her trusted sidekick stick. Her nimble fingers engaged with the stirrer, but they are not presently working away at any clay. Something from within makes Adam feel hot and bothered, he knows not what, but he does not enjoy the sensation. It threatens to overhwelm him, to melt and engulf him. To render him inchoate. In her reverie, from the corner of her eye, Eve espies his discomfort. She rises from the leaf mound, brushing herself free of them, (note to future self she muses, try the petals of flowers next time, since they might be softer and more soundless). She leads Adam by the hand down to the mound. And she ushers him into the knowledge of good and evil. The forbidden sapience. The erotic exotic. Yet again, Adam doesn’t under-stand what he feels within, there perched perilously, with just Eve’s body interceding between him and humus and loam. But he instinctively knows he likes it. He believes this to be the way forward. But when he rises up to brush himself down of his leafy investment, he notices the eye of his own retractable snake, glistening in the sunlight. And he is ashamed. Ashamed that it must not be on general view, reserved only for his wife lying back there, basking in the glow (what’s she doing now, seems to be searching for something?) Ashamed that it can display its propensity, its current vein of humour, seemingly independent of him Adam, merely by how long it stretches and unfurls. Perforce he had to conceal this rebellious member, this part of himself that would not come to heel. He veiled it off with a fig life snatched from a tree. And badgered a langorous Eve to do likewise, even though she lacked any overt outward sign of bodily sedition.

This is the Father-Son dyad trying to detach Eve from her pleasuring stick. This is the patriarchy coming between Eve and any alien cock that is not nestling under her husband’s fig veil. And also to perpetuate it down the generations, this is Papa sewing the seeds of Oedipal prohibition. Every Adam will have his own Eve, but Eve will not partake of any other seductive male member. Bellying snakes are to be put out of reach of upright (wo-)mankind. This represents the primal kiss off. When women last had any say in their own libidinous pleasure.

God’s final divide and rule imprecation, that (Her offspring) “will crush your head and yours will bite their heel”. (No, I think you're getting your metaphors all confused here oh omniscient one. My kind have no beef with humans. Accidents will happen, when we get stepped on and they get bitten, but normally we’ll just gracefully accede and yield them right of way as we go about our business in peace. If mankind goes genus-cidal on us, we’re not being singled out for special treatment. He’s inclined to do that to any species, cos that’s the way You’ve set him up. That’s the key you wound up in his back. And for what it’s worth, my cranky brethren the black mamba, can rise up and match the height of any man and bite them in the face. I think you’re muddying the mortal-divine boundaries, like with that Achilles chap, but that’s for another time. And as for our heads getting crushed, my learned oriental cousin the king cobra, (learned in the sense you don’t see too many of his magnificent kind swaying in wicker baskets, not without having first being defanged anyway), relates that where he comes from, it is customary for rivalrous males to bring their wrestling bouts to a victorious conclusion by butting the other on the head. Thus demonstrating in a simple Darwinian algorithim, that by cresting the loser, the victor must ergo be larger and therefore more powerful. No hard feelings and no serious injuries either. The loser slides off to look for another dowry, while the victor goes to advise on interior design (the king cobra is the only snake species to build a nest for its eggs). You modelled that whole breaking our heads in pieces and feeding it to the folks thing with Leviathan. You’re beginning to repeat yourself. The onset of a divine Alzheimer’s? Or more likely, a confusion in your original amanuenses.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Rejection Letters (Flash Fiction)

Indelible red digits reached out to claw at his eyes. He shook the gauzy haze from them, to better confront that which he sought. The LED display blinked and then devoured the custodian numbers. A Cerberus of three zeroes licked themselves over with gleeful satisfaction. Midnight. No longer a mere immanence. The witching hour's scythe had transcribed its arc once again.

They were all at large tonight. Vampires, werewolves, ghouls and zombies. Nightmare afflatus, borne upon the keening wind stalking his eaves. Or perhaps it was the cunning legion of undead who had summoned up the wind from hell. In order to cushion the howls of their predatory approach. Wolfsbane, garlic, silver and icons. All were at their appointed stations up and down his house this night.

He gazed up at the moon. Dead satellite to us, yet war standard and pendulum pacemaker to the heartless host yonder. Strange how we look to it for our dreams. Yet it can only ever time us out. Send us scuttling like rats back to our cloistered redoubts. Making each of us in our isolation feel like we are the last mortal on earth. At least for as long as we wrestle with loquacious phantasms in our visions, while the outside world is given over to these wordless fiends. The host forms a corps of sorts, in that they occupy swathes of land. But what could be more illogical than to hold that they follow rules or maintain discipline? They are singular silent assassins, feeding on gutted human husks. Else they starve for nourishment, yet still uncomplaining in their taciturnity.

With only the fragile vinculum of fibre optics now linking him to the rest of humanity, he turned back to address his computer keyboard. He padded the dabs of his fingers against his words hanging in the plasmatic blue void of the monitor. Unloved words. Unheeded words that elicited no response from the destination of beyond. The plasma receded from his touch. Bucking and warping, spiralling his words away and out of his grasp. He jerked his fingers away but the plasmatic sluice remained in place. Siphoning the rest of his word trail along after their predecessors. Lost to the world now. The wind piped a particularly goading lament. He peered in towards the hole in the screen. The plasma appeared to have spun some virtual cobwebs where its surface twisted inwards. Mocking the self-repair of clotting human skin. Suddenly he lurched back, as the hole disgorged a vermillion sputum back in his direction. It appeared to be his own letters. Ripped from their original orderings. Smeared in blood red coagulate. Even the ether could not stand to have his words in its midsts.

The bloodsuckers had claimed his soul after all. They were communicating with him in kind.