Monday, 24 October 2016

Vault - Flash Fiction

Once we were gymnasts. Vaulting, tumbling and scissoring. Our bodies soaring, in defiance of gravity’s leadenness. Each was the other’s asymmetric bar containing their flight. Soft landings and angular handholds. Tucking, twisting and pivoting around each’s axis. Contrapuntal convolutions consummately confluent. Heads over heels over hips and all manna in between.

But eventually our mutual routines became routine. Repetitive, rehearsed, rehashed and rote. We became arrhythmic. Hand supination taken for supplication. We floored one another. Me with my fabric ribbons, you with sports ball. You wanted to club me, while I wanted you hanging at the end of a rope. And not even inverted. Each V-sitting at extreme opposite edges of the parallel bars to keep one another at legs' width. Our anatomies reasserted their asymmetricalness to one another on the bars, on the few occasions we made hate, our bodies clashed and collided rather than being cushioned. We flic-flac'd past one another in avoidance. You pommel horsed me, swinging round to keep me at bay or slice me in two. While I lost my balance when straddling the narrow beam of you. The white spray taking leave from your hands was not chalk dust. We stuck the dismount on one another.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Dad's Net - On a milestone in Fatherhood

A couple of weeks ago I delivered the second of my twin sons up to his university and at one fell swoop my wife and I were plunged into 'Empty Nest' syndrome. Even though I have been the main child rearer over those 18 years, the prospect didn't fill me with trepidation, since I have plenty of writing projects to occupy my time. In fact I was looking forward to getting my life back, or at least the great chunks of time perviously devoted to homework, cooking and shopping for them, helping organising themselves, teaching shaving and cooking, running their youth football team, general chaperoning and accompanying and of course those chats on life and stuff, not to say political discussions-cum-arguments. I'll miss 'em of course I will, it is a big wrench, a big change for me from the routines of the last 18 years. But I genuinely also feel a sense of liberation as I had always put them and their needs/concerns ahead of my own. Don't get me wrong, it was hardly a case of putting my own life on hold for those 18 years, I still worked part-time and published 9 books with three others completed and ready to go. But it's hardly coincidental that within a week of Twin 2 disappearing up to uni, I gave my first two live readings of the year at the end of September. I just seem to have more time, energy and attention now to address things in my own life.

Within the first two weeks of his uni stint, Twin 2 had come down with what was probably "Freshers' Flu"; where they cane it so hard on all the free booze on offer in Freshers' Week that their immune system takes a hammering and they succumb to some germ or other. There was a concern that it might have been meningitis as this is not unknown to hit Freshers for much the same reasons. My wife had set up immunisation injections for both of the twins before they went up to their respective colleges, but it is quite possible that Twin 2 Just didn't bother to turn up for his (we were both at work and besides he's 18 now so the responsibility lies with him and we also have to show him trust). If I'd challenged him as to whether he'd made the appointment he would have certainly lied to us if he had ducked it. At one point I played over in my mind that I might go back up 250+ miles on a train and see for myself what the state of play was with him. Perhaps I ought to point out that the word 'meningitis' stirs up deeper resonances for me, since I had an older sister who I never met die from it at age one month back in the 1960s and the shadow of that tragedy loomed large over my parents and therefore also over my upbringing. But I didn't make any 250 mile mercy dash. It occurred to me that this was the same mechanism as when the infant cries in their cot at night hoping the guilty parent will be drawn back into removing them from the cot and into their arms at least or perhaps into their bed. Because we had twins, this really had never been a viable option for us, making it easier to remain strong and resist the wails than for most parents. I didn't make the trek, but advised him which of the pills I had provided for him in his first aid kit he should self-medicate with. Previously at home, me or my wife would have simply handed him the medicine ant the water to swallow it with.

Still unsure as to whether how well fully recovered Twin 2 was, I had a dream this week which proved auspicious. I'm not a great one for the significance of dreams, partly because I don't remember many of my dreams and secondly having studied Freud at Uni, I remain unconvinced by his explanation of them as having the purpose of unlocking our subconscious. However, the mere fact of remembering this one seemed to proffer its significance, while the two main symbols were outside my normal frame of reference so again piqued my curiosity. In the dream a greenhouse was dismantled and replaced by something I wasn't quite sure of the details, but some sort of mechanism for controlling traffic flow and parking. Now I neither drive nor do I do any gardening so both of these symbols baffled me. I went on Twitter asking for any wandering psychologist to offer an interpretation but no one responded. I kept musing on the dream throughout the day and then I figured it out. A greenhouse is also known as a hothouse, so for me I realised it represented the structure of parenting that I provided for my boys (hopefully not in 'hothouse's' sense of unduly pushing their development towards high achievement, which I think I avoided doing). The dream seemed to be confirming/affirming that I had done my job, the boys had flown the coop, so I could finally take down my structure and 'park' that aspect of my life. The struts of the greenhouse were folded and preserved, so maybe they could be re-erected into another framework for a different purpose in my life. I believe the dream was telling me that it was perfectly fine that I hadn't undertaken any mercy dash. The boys have their independence now and I had done my work as a father to get to them to this point where they would be taking it on for themselves. Of course I recognise that such a role is never over, that you are always going to be a father to them, that the family home will always still offer itself as their home, even though they are unlikely to ever come back for any protracted period to live here. Right from the day they were born, I knew that a part of parenting was a letting go; to allow them to develop their own personalities, their own sense of self in their own space and not to impose my values or beliefs on them with a demand for their adoption. I have let them go to fledge and do you know something, for all the love and involvement of the last 18 years, that it's just fine to do so.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Bestiary Of You - Friday Flash

What’s your favourite colour? – Death – Do you mean black? – No, Death. Any colour represents the runt of the litter, those wavelengths not absorbed by host objects but spat back out into our beggarly, misappropriating eyes. But Death, Death is incontrovertible. There are no shades. Not a jot of any filtering out. Death is the absence of everything, not least all colour.

What’s your lucky number? – Don’t have one. Human behaviour on one mundane level is highly predictable, but as to its minutiae utterly inconstant. Beyond algorithm and stochastically unpermutational. Like infinity itself.

It was only when interrogated on your favourite fauna that you entered the game, if not entirely engaged in its whimsical spirit. You offered five specimens, uncountable on the missing fingers of your right hand, unable to fix upon an apex animal. The full quartet were untamed, non-caged. Predators, most beasts are one supposes, but typically none of your selections were so classically trite as the leonine.

Your first was the shark. You liked that it lidded its eyes when executing its attack. Like lovers who close their eyes when kissing, for what is a kiss but near kin of a bite? Consanguine kithing cousins. Also possessed of the best immune system in Nature. Sharks never get ill, they just get hunted by man deludedly seeking the elixir recessed deep in its cells.

Your second, not truly a predator it ought to be pointed out, the vulture. You were taken with its functionally ugly evolutionary determination, for glabrous pate and featherless scruff. Can’t reach its own bonce to preen the blood transfer off see. Which given that it cleans its legs by pissing on them, just means the bird is not a fan of golden showers. The vulture’s stomach acids resist all proxy chemical warfare that god throws their way with his pestilential carrion.

Your third meditative identification was the jellyfish. Serenely floating wherever the pull of the tides took it, a passive predator much like yourself you claim. Indolent energy saver, doesn’t breathe for itself and even its food is swept up for it in the dragnet of its filaments. It also offers the key to immortality, since it can regress from its diving bell mature form to the fully sedentary polyp and preserve itself intact.

Your fourth was the Biblical locus of evil. The snake with its panoply of adaptations. Snakes that spit, engorge, sidewind, play dead. The constrictors that squeeze and suffocate the very air. The sporting rattlesnake which gives you fair warning. The black mamba which uniquely of serpents will not duck a fight with humans, but turn and pursue at pace. The Taipan whose single bite contains enough venom to smite a hundred humans, but with only a single mouth containing just two fangs, it remains moot as to how it could bring about such a decimation squared, but you appreciate its commitment to overkill all the same. You married your own Medusa and quickly devoured her whole and took on her ophidian attributes. She had an Ouroborus tattoo across her spine. You have your fingers crossed that it proves prognostically auspicious. The fingers of one hand that is. 

Your fifth was the one that accounted for your fingers. The only creature you have actually met in the flesh, fur, scales, plumes, mesoglea. The tarantula also has an impressive array of weapons. You ignored its cascade of propelled hairs launched towards your eyes, brought tears to them. And while you floundered around temporarily denied of sight, overbalancing and unseeing of forest floor hazards, you toppled and fell. That human reflex derived from the apes of putting out a limb to break the fall, threw your hand back within the bailiwick of the tarantula who upgraded from its arsenal and sank its fangs into a couple of your fingers. You could have sought help, but you had been introduced to prodrome  Death. You were keen to watch its unfurling. The swelling, discolouration and blistering. The gaseous pressure from within the vesicles. The gangrene and putrefaction. Only when the fingers couldn't be saved did you go in for treatment to preserve the rest of you. You were grateful to the arachnid for smoothing your fears for Death lest the other four fail to deliver you perpetuity.