of the fruit of the ground
i haven't built a future, but i've definitly lost my past.
growing up my family were unique. we didn't see much of anyone else, it was just mum and dad, my brother and me. it was fine. we could do whatever we wanted to do, as long as that was working the ground day in day out. that's what we did.
even back then, we didn't talk much because there wasn't much to say. the work didn't lend itself to new discovery, and dad didn't lend himself to conversation
we sit here now, not because of the great acts of any hero. no one person alonedly drew a line from the past to now through their might and their cunning. no, we sit here now because every person who has ever lived had a dream to see the world out there, in some way or another, whatever that meant to them. and we are the result of their attempts, or if not their attempts then their anecdotes along the path. hundreds and hundreds of them, all weaving back to the start of it all.
i wasn't there for the start of it all, of course, but i wasn't far off it, in way or another. but since then so much has changed. some of it for better, some of it for worse. and through it all one of the constants has been us, humans, and our insatiable appetite for dreaming. a living gallery of those who birthed us and all the mistakes we made.
and over time people have used all sorts of different criteria to decide exactly when it is that someone becomes an adult, because the distinction between adult and child is something fundamental to our fumbling. for my money, it's the moment you realise that actually the adults are children just like the rest of us, only they're children with the burden of that realisation bearing down on them. it's like seeing a basilisk, it's the glance that breaks you. suddenly you're stuck knowing that being an adult is no different to being a child, you'll still be lost and confused and hopeless.
i can't speak for everyone. there's far too many of you for that. but while we've got some time to kill, and since you asked so nicely, let me speak for one person, me. let me tell you my first hand experience of fumbling and wandering and seeing my way through the world out there. it'll take a while, let me warn you. like i say, i do like to ramble. but then again, isn't that what makes the journey interesting?
and we all know the history. they talk about the original sin as if it was one thing, one act, one moment. the fall of paradise, one woman, one snake. come on. it wasn't like that. i wasn't there, but i lived with it, for a while. i lived with that sin, with that sinner, and i lived with every sin and every sinner, and for every time i am willing to swear that there was no sin.
what is sin, anyway? nothing i know of.
sin is acting against the divine law, and i'm not an expert on much but i've had enough run-ins with the divine law that i think it's safe to say that most of the time the divine law has more on its plate than whatever humans call sin.
it's not a "bad thing". what is a "bad thing" really? lots of bad things aren't sins, and i know that because i've seen some of the worst people and they would be sinless. but they were some of the worst people so then what does it matter to be sinless? nothing, except for peace of mind.
sometimes the right thing is a sin. i've done the right thing before, and i'd do it again. easy.
sinning is a concept for the underdog, a way for them to justify the misery that they live. a way for them to point at the people who are hurting them and to say, the universe is on my side. maybe you think you're winning now, but just you give it time. then we'll see.
sin is all about time. sin is rooted in the here and now, but the consequences are rooted in eternity. does that seem a bit harsh to you? it does to me. of course it's a bit harsh. as humans we struggle with time even on this scale. there's no way we could make a reasonable call when it comes to forever.
forever is something we talk about all the time, so much, in so many ways. it could have lost all meaning somewhere a long the way. it probably has, but it doesn't need meaning because talk of forever is a drug. i'll love you forever, we say, and we swoon. i wish it could stay this way forever, we say, and we wist. the sinner was banished to hell forever, we say, and we gasp. forever is a scary black box. but the box is inside out and we can't open it, only fear it.
the original sin is a way to pass the blame, to spit at one person. we can say if it wasn't for them i'd be happy right now. if it wasn't for them god would love us. if it wasn't for them... and we'd probably be wrong.
you know that's not true. i know that's not true.
on the first day of popemoon after my sixteenth wintering, i took the cans off to my new outpost.
as a grownup now, i had a responsibility to support the nation, and for a long time now i'd wanted to be an outposty. because of the situation, there wasn't much to travel to, but when we studied the old words i dreamed of travelling in whatever capacity i could. spending time at the edge of things was as close as i could get to that. and being an outposty was the easiest way to spend time at the edge of things---a year with arranged housing and the reponsibility to mingle.
and so it was that i took the cans, three nights on a longboat, out to the edge of things, northish. past the shells of the old places, where they still, now tangled in new growth, wild growth. this was new usonia, the rest of it, uncharted and beautiful and forbidden. i'd heard of people heading out there, but it was dangerous. my responsibility was much more peaceful.
sooner than i expected we'd arrived, tied up in a picture looking settlement, my home for the year, moon town. i thanked the cantain for their service and headed inland to find the public office. it wasn't hard, i followed the road along to the building with the flag of new usonia out front.
inside, an older person, probably original generation, was standing behind a desk, enveloping documents. they looked up as i approached.
you're the public coordinator, no?
they nodded at me and walked round the desk so that we were standing about six feet apart, facing each other. i crossed my hands over my chest, a butterfly bow as a sign of respect for them as my elder, and as a member of the original generation, responsible for my life.
my name is cai emma earlyborn, i've been outposted here for my service. thank you emma.
the public coordinator smiled at me and returned my bow.
my name is aba emma johnson, public coordinator of outpost two two six name honesty. thank you emma.
so they kept their original surname. they must have done something really special to have been allowed that privilege.
with the formalities out of the way, they gestured me to a speaking booth. cai, no? cai, i confirmed. we're glad to have you. i take it this is your first service? i nodded. so you've seen sixteen winterings. that's plenty enough for the way things are around here. i think you're going to have a wonderful time.
i hope so, i said. i've been wanting to visit the edge of things for a long time.
the edge of things, huh? we're not quite the edge, budy. though i guess we're not far off depending where you started. you're from the city, no?
city one, yes.
i haven't been there in a long time. has it changed much? they laughed i guess you haven't been around long enough to know. here, we have a room waiting for you. follow me.
we stood up and headed out of the pub and meandered down the street, past a few houses, but notably no people. aba, it's pretty quiet, no? yes, most of the people here work the farms during the day. we're a farm outpost after all.
that made sense. i assumed that i'd get to see the farms myself pretty soon. but first, my home for the next year. aba turned down a side street and i followed them. it wasn't really so much a side street as a path to the back side of the street. outpost two two six really was small.
this is it, they said to me, gesturing at the red front door and the house it belonged to. our public dormitory. all temporary citizens stay here, and we take pride in its comfort. you go ahead, soak it in!
so i pushed the door open. the room inside was well lit by big empty windows. the walls were painted white and decorated with tiny graffiti illustrations. there were toys strewn across the floor like it was a nursery.
§the myth of the farmhand
i left my family and started an apprenticeship on some farm. i had to be independent, to be by myself. the farm was twenty minutes down the road.
they said it came with lodgings and the lodgings were a caravan down the far end. that's one of the criteria to being a farm in the legal sense, a caravan down the far end. run down, flecked with moss, and reeking of damp. and that's where i lived for five years.
i didn't grow to like that caravan, because i loved it from the start. it wasn't homely, it was my home. i took pride in it. for the first week i slept on the converting bed, its slight wetness coating my skin. the dampness was a part of it all. i cooked on the tiny gas stove which made the whole place smell of gas. chucking vegetables in a pot and eating from the pan. i sat on the grass to eat where i could see the stars. behind me, trees protected me. in front of me, a field of junk separated me from the farm buildings, a tiny barren city.
in the second week i piled up the cushions outside and i ripped out the walls and the cupboards inside, and i burned them all. that's something great about living at the bottom of a farm, they have petrol and starting a fire is just another thing you can do. hosting a bonfire for yourself is one of the rare beauties in life. the sky was watery when i started, a sickly blue. as it lost its colour and the sun set, my fire took its place, lighting the world. and i sat and stared into it, letting the heat curl up my face and the smoke coat my hair and i stared into it. and the flames danced for me and the smoke filled the sky and i was all alone, the darkness and my fire, the wood turning black and the cushions shrivelling and popping.
i burned all the cushions and i slept on the floor.
the next day i scrubbed down all of the outside of my caravan, and i scrubbed down all of the inside. some of the wood was rotten and i ripped it out and it disintegrated in my fingers. there were woodlice living underneath it all, so i scooped them up on a sheet of paper and i took them outside. i found another log for them to make their home. i hope they're doing alright.
in the afternoon, i learnt how to drive a tractor. i drove slowly around another field, covering acres in minutes. up and down and i learnt how to engage the plough. the tractor was small and old and red. it didn't have a cab, i sat on a little seat in the open air.
now my home was cold and empty and it smelt of hospital instead of must. when i talked to myself there was an echo like it was a cave, not a home. and i slept on the floor again.
the next day i took out the entire floor of the caravan so that i could see the grass through the gaps in the trailer. i washed the trailer and i sanded off all the rust. i painted it red like the tractor, not because it would ever be seen, but because that was the only paint that we had on the farm. then up at the top of the farm i cut new pieces of wood for my floor and i plowed another field.
riding the tractor was something special. it was a living creature with mood swings. sometimes it got tired or distracted, and i talked to it like i was its parent. after i plowed the field one of farmhands showed me how to open the side and see the mechanisms. it had its own guts, made of metal and grease. this is what we're capable of now, creating life from nothing.
back at the caravan i screwed my new floor down and then i slept on it.
the next day i added cupboards and shelves to my home. i added a wood stove at the front that i had found among the junk. it kept me warm in more ways than one, in ways that an electric heater never could.
i didn't see a single person all day. i stayed down the end of the field, working, alone. the birds watched me noisily and i listened back. maybe other animals were watching from the woods but i didn't see them. they are invisible to us most of the time.
i'd been planning to put a bed in the caravan then as well, but i wanted to sleep on the floor again. it's something different, primal. so i slept on the floor again.
when i woke up the next day, i was disorientated. the caravan looked so different now. i had a comfortable place to call my own and it alienated me. i stretched and brushed my hair with my fingers, and i lit my wood stove, which took three matches, because i was too busy admiring the first one and it burnt down to my fingers, and the second one went out before it set anything alight. i grabbed my kettle and i wandered up to the farm to fill it up from the tap outside the barn doors, and then i wandered back. the sky was empty and mottled, like looking at a bucket full of pearls through a bathroom window. the air was warming up by the time i got back inside and i put the kettle on the stove to slowly heat up. then i sat in the doorway and quietly watched the woods.
the woods look thick with trees, but it's the space between them that is most worth looking at. you can see a long way in if you concentrate, making tunnels with your eyes, constellations made of forest. and this emptiness is filled itself. if you wait, you can see leaves fall like dandruff and they don't gracefully land, they cause a chain reaction of tiny movements among the rest of the organic litter.
have you ever noticed that grass isn't still? when it's windy it flows in waves but i'm not talking about the wind, it's when it's still that it fascinates me. because it isn't still, grass dances. little jerky movements like a skeleton. individual blades flinch in response to subtle motions that i can't feel and it is alive.
and the kettle screamed. so i pulled myself back inside and i put some tea into the teapot that one of the farmhands had said i could have from among the army of teapots that happened to be on a shelf behind a barricade of boxes and decrepit farming equipment and forgotton toys and bags of gravel, all covered by those heavy sheets you only ever see in old houses and builders' vans, covered with enough dust to supply a whole pillow factory. and i took the kettle off the stove and it stopped screaming but it still burnt my hand, and i filled the teapot, and put the lid on, and took the teapot and my only mug out of the caravan and sat on the grass to wait for it to cool down for me.
i wasn't wearing any shoes and the tiny twigs tickled my ankles painfully. to pass the time i picked one up and rolled it between my fingers and then i lay on my back and looked up at the clouds.
that day the clouds were heavy, clambering on top of each other and piled on the horizon, leaving the roof of the sky blank. but even despite their weight or because of it they squirmed, fish in a bucket, sheep in a pen. they were nicotine stained like dog pissed snow and shaped like my memories but scalier.
everything we see is an echo and a shadow of things we've seen before. what i would give to be a child again, unable to understand anything i saw. what i would give to live before we as a species invented perspective. how did we see? how fundamental perspective is to our existence now. who discovered that and applied it, a third dimension? i can picture words in my head and i can read them. how wrong it is to see text that i can't read. i can use words by saying them and by writing them and they are, they take on their meaning, and they mean different things to everybody in the world, except the people who can't read them, and then they mean nothing, they are meaning less patterns. the written word is art, a painting of meaning. a picture is worth a thousand words, but every word is a picture, and every letter is a picture, a fractal of inherited identity.
then i found that i had skinned the twig i was holding, and the underneaths of my fingernails were stained with lichen.
i poured my tea into my mug and i listened to it gurgle, a newborn drink for me. the liquid was red and transperent, tiny islands of dust floating on its surface and underneath. a tiny ocean, the negative space of a forest underwater. i let it circle in the cup, without even thinking about it. what a wonder are our wrists. then i let it settle itself, the circling turning to rocking and then to nothing. and then i drank the tea.
it was lukewarm. it was okay.
later in the day i was tasked with moving hay bales into a barn. we tractored up and down the fields, stopping in front of each of them and slowly rolling it onto our trailer. there was nothing to it, but it required absolute concentration. hay bales look gentle and kind clumsy, kickable and joyful, but they are malicous and would like nothing more than to see you get hurt. so we worked slowly as the sun rose across the sky and then fell again, six bales at a time and then tractoring them over to the barn, slowly ushering them down, and then back up a makeshift ramp of precarious wooden planks and into stacks. and then back out into the fields, to pick some more, and then back to the barn, the slowest rhythm. we used to have a bloody forklift, one of the guys said, and then it had to break down.
the next day we were back out again. there were more bales waiting and so it went. when the sun was the highest in the sky we parked up in a far out field and climbed onto the bale that was a purpose, back to back to back, and one of the guys pulled out a crate of beers from behind the tractor seat and chucked them, and we popped them open and drank warm beer in the heat. we ate lunch too, i ate flattened sandwiches, sweaty from half a day's work but food, and the bread stuck to the top of my mouth until i washed it out with the warm beer that sparkled on my teeth. and we looked at the clouds, real clouds today, real picture clouds against a matte saturated sky, and we saw us in them, or tried to, a psychological experiment of self manifestation. i saw a cello and they laughed at me, we're not toffs out here, the fuck is a cello then, and i though of home where playing the cello was one of the only things worth doing, one of the only valuable things that school provided, and though it was a priviledge of my middle class upbringing the joy was real, it wasn't a pursuit in the name of being cultured, it was wonder. and as we drank i banged the bale, flumpf flumpf flumpf, and tunelessly droned out bach's cello prelude, da da da da da da da da. and they knew it, they joined in, we all just sat there pounding the bale and shouting da at the sky like we were in some pub and pissed on more than just half a pint of cheap lager, and we all understood that music. we all understood.
and one of the guys points at a cloud saying hey look it's the boss, and we all looked and we laughed even more because that cloud was a cock.
the next day i rested. imagine you had a book and all the pages were blank. it wasnt a notebook, it was an award winning fiction book. you'd seen it advertised on billboards at the train station and your friends had raved about it and the author had a slot on some book show on the radio and something like six different magazine articles you'd read had called it the book of the year. so you ordered a copy and it arrived and you opened it and all the pages were blank. what would you do? what would you think of the author? i wouldn't be impressed. but life is like that book, it's blank and that tells the story of you. you don't write your life but it isn't written either, it just is, it's there to appreciate, and it's there to observe. and that's what i did that day, i observed.
i didn't need to get up early so i didn't, when i woke up i lay in bed and i thought about the fact that i was lying on the floor and that below the floor there was a gap before the ground. i was a foot off the ground, but i only had a perception of that because i thought about it.
when you walk in the forest, you can choose to change direction at any time, such is the joy of free movement and uncharted paths. and when you change direction, for a few moments you feel that you're not walking straight anymore, you're heading in some other direction other than forward. but how quickly your body reorientates itself to your new forward. is it quick? sometimes i feel that i'm watching myself over my shoulder, and this observant me has to run to catch up.
have you ever tried eating with your fingers in your ears? you lose a whole sense, all external sound gone, but your internal hearing is magnified. the sound of your teeth, of your swallowing, of your jaw moving, it's a dimension that is normally lost to us. it takes ridding ourselves of capacity to gain capacity. that's what i observed on that day.
and that was my life for five years. for six days of every week i did the same thing for days at a time, the whole time the sun was in the sky, and as the nights got longer and the days shorter i'd still be working in darkness. the advantage of those kind of tasks was that by the time it got dark i could do them with my eyes shut. and after five years, i headed up to the farmhouse one morning, as i often did, and i told the boss that this was my last week. they seemed pretty indifferent about it, which put me out a bit because it's not like i was a bad worker. but indifference is better than hostility, so i shrugged and walked out.
so i packed up my things. i didn't have much to pack up; that's what comes of living on a farm and having no friends outside of the people who work on the farm and the birds next door. i'd put shelves in my caravan, but all i had on them was one book and my mug, and a brush for cleaning.
as i left the caravan i knelt in front of it and i bowed to it. i'm not sure why, but it felt appropriate, and that's something i remember. i said thank you to it because i was certain that if i ever saw it again, it would once again be covered in moss and rotted and damp. that happens to all of us, but we all like to know that it's worth it.
and then i walked up, bag in hand, through the field of junk, past the farming buildings, down the drive past sheep and grass, past some face i half recognised fixing up a fence, out through the farm gate, and then i was gone.
§the myth of the princess
§the myth of the commute
i was an office clerk and it did not bring me joy. i lived in a suburban commuter town, all concrete blocks and a grey highstreet full of charity shops and five days of every week at seven thirty three i would catch the train in, me and a thousand others, all half dressed up in smart trousers and pressed shirts as if our faces didn't betray a mess behind our eyes, all half dressed up with a whimsical tie as if to say actually, we can have fun too, all half dressed up with a collar and a leather belt as if our jobs were the most important thing in the world.
i did data entry. i'd arrive at my office along with a thousand others, two minutes or so after i was contracted to start but the earlier train was forty minutes earlier and fuck if i was getting to the office thirty eight minutes early, i have my liberties. and i'd smile apologetically at the receptionist though we both knew i wasn't apologetic and i didn't care and they didn't care because we were getting paid what? not enough, a salary to keep us there and uncomplaining, not to elevate us. the bosses knew when we'd turn up, they planned it in to our contract and our salaries and the financial necromancy they performed on the upper floors. height does matter, apparently, because god favours those who are closer to heaven. us in the serfdom of the third floor existed solely to perform the dirty work of those above, except it wasn't even dirty, it was utterly naive.
i didn't have an office, or even a cubicle. our desks were arranged into rows like a schoolhouse, with lockers and a coffee station at the front, so that you could see exactly who was coming in and when, who was talking to who, who was skiving by heading up for another cupfull. fluorescent strip lighting kept us awake and the hum of wires provided a soundtrack to our clacking. i sat at desk number sixty, a number i was pleased with, at the end of a row near the middle of the room. the person working next to me decorated their desk with photos of their family and other miscellaneous oddities. i kept my desk empty because i didn't want it to feel like home. my only ornament was a small marble cow i called paul, who watched me unmovingly from below my monitor.
my flat was concrete inside as well as out. the walls were painted lavender straight onto the conrete. the lights were hanged by their wires a foot off the ceiling and tried their best to light up the space, gasping and flinching. i had a sink and a stove, and my ensuite only contained a toilet. that's who it was advertised: conveniently located studio apartment with ensuite. it was two rooms, and one of them was the bathroom which contained no taps.
my bed was pushed up in the corner below the window, and i had other marble animals there. a chicken, a giraffe, and a spaniel called wren. there was a pot with a dead plant in it atop a stack of books which i had not read, and my alarm clock which was red and circular.
i'd taped posters to the walls of bands that i liked. somehow their presence made the space look more sparse. the tape at their corners caught the small yellow light and glistened like pieces of art in their own right. tape doesn't stick well to concrete, lavender or otherwise, so tape was a recurring expense.
above the sink and the hob there was single long office shelf, white metal with oversized brackets, for me to store all my utensils. i liked to arrange them in different ways. sometimes by size, with the pans stacked at one end and the cutlery disappearing into the surface at the other. sometimes by colour, with the black metal at one end and the silver cutlery at the other. sometimes by shape, from most round at one end to the linear cutlery at the other. i barely ever changed the order, because there wasn't much point. instead i invented new organisation strategies in my head that fit the already established order.
i lived in a skyscraper then, or the closest we had in that small town. it was seven stories and i lived on the seventh, way up high, and all the other buildings weren't as tall as i was, and i liked it. close to heaven. i'd kneel on my bed and look out to the roofs of the smaller buildings, six floors, five floors, and sometimes i'd see a person, a janitor or a rebellious teenager sneaking up so as to more authentically smoke their stolen cigarettes and write their essential poetry, and i would wave at them but they would never wave back, because why would they look up to this one window in some other block of flats? so what i used to do was stand in the window with no clothes on, safe in the knowledge that the whole world could see me, but nobody could. subtle nudity, a freedom of expression for someone who knew that they had liberty, but was not free.
the lift did work in my block of flats, which was something i appreciated, though it stopped on the fourth floor. there was another lift at the far end of the building which went from the third floor to the sixth floor but it didn't stop in between. you have to wonder who designed these things. i'd like to meet them. i think that if i was designing buildings i'd also put such eccentric features in. i like to imagine the architect was young and disillusioned, having spent so long working at their degree only to be given the honour of designing a concrete square for drone workers like me to hibernate every night between stints at the office. at least that way i'd know that someone was thinking about what i'd done.
but i didn't take the lift, i took the stairs. do you know how many steps there are in the flights of stairs you climb every day? it's a little thing and i bet you don't. those stairs get us where we need to be and we don't take the time to appreciate every one of them. from the bottom of the stairwell to the top floor where i lived was one hundred and fourty three steps. three into the stairwell, three out of the stairwell, and the rest unevenly distributed among the floors, all of them slightly shallow than they should be for a comfortable stepping experience. so every day i would slowly gallop down those hundred and forty three steps and out of my building, walk down the four extra wide steps that led from the front door to the street in some attempt to elevate it above the pedestrian passerbys, up and over the hill to the train station which took me twelve minutes and round eleven corners, up the one undropped kerb and twenty six steps onto the footbridge over the tracks, down the twenty four steps on the other side which had a little resting platform or something, i don't know what they're for, nearly halfway down after eleven steps, and then mind the gap between the platform edge and the train. i would sit for the twenty two minute journey watching out the window as the trackside houses watched us ride past, not even attempting to chase us, mind the gap betwen the the train and the platform edge, join a million other last minute commuters on the escalator into the station---i don't know how many steps an escalator has, i think they move intentionally to keep that intimate knowledge from us---bustle through one ticket barrier and up two ramps and up three steps out of the station, down three sets of fourteen steps on the other side to the road, cross four crossings and turn six corners, walk walk walk and then on the left up six flat steps was my office building. in the office i had to take the lift because the stairwell was locked. that's two hundred and forty eight steps i'd go up or down every morning to get into my job which i did not love.
and i said in my office everyone could see who spent all their time at the coffee machine and that's true, but i didn't spend much time going to the coffee machine. instead i would spend my time not going to the coffee machine and not doing work in as many other ways that i could. there was a clock on the wall above the coffee machine, big enough for everyone to see from their desk, and sometimes i would watch it for as long as possible. actually watching a clock is something we very rarely do, which i guess is kind of funny when one of the most ubiquitious types of clock is called a watch. but you don't ever usually notice the hour hand moving, but i did. i'd watch it slowly move from one hour to the next. never more than two hours, that was the furthest i got. everyone's attention has a limit.
i would spin in my mass-produced office chair with five little wheels at the end of five little legs. i would slowly lower the seat with the little lever and then pump it up again like i was in the world's smallest human powered lift. do you remember when you were too light to make one of those chairs go down? i do. we had them in the computer room at school and some kids would raise them all the way up and then the teacher would have to go round and make them low enough for everyone. i bet the kids who raised them didn't even do it on purpose. i bet they were trying to lower them and were to light and couldn't.
i would have staring contests with the small marble cow and then i would lose and i would have arguments in my head with it about whether it was cheating or not. once i got very carried away and i was having my internal argument with the small marble cow and it got so heated that i shouted at it out loud. nobody cared. they were too busy not doing the work in their own way.
sometimes i would do the work. it didn't take much and if you got into a rhythm with it it was kind of fun. the company had invested in these keyboards which pressed really well, real buttons that clunked like the world depended on the things i typed. which of course it didn't. the data i was entering was usually from postal orders from the mail catalogues we sent out to retirement homes. all geriatric handwriting in that obsolete baroque style with loops and scribbles, that the computer couldn't understand so it was outsourced to humans to interpret. these people weren't working, i wondered where they got the money to buy three new cardigans every week, all in the same style, in three different colours. maybe they returned them after wearing them once. put them on, posed in the mirror remembering when cardigans where in vogue, then wrapped them back up again and sent them back. a good time for the cost of post and packaging, and i'd never know because i wasn't assigned to returns.
i really felt like i got to know some of the frequent buyers. before i started the job all antique handwriting looked the same to me, but a few months in and i was an expert at distinguishing swishes from flicks. every morning i'd flutter through every slip in my in tray looking for my favourites to save until last. cardigan lady, porcelain hedgehog lady, the person who was buying everything in the catalogue in order. the kind of caricatures you don't think exist until you met them through their purchases.
when i was finished transcribing the postal orders, or when i got bored of it, because there wasn't a whole lot of rush, when it comes to the post people expect delays, i would go back to spinning on my chair. sometimes i would watch the other people work, clacking in their own orders or whatever they had to do. sometimes i noticed someone looking at me as i looked at them, and if neither of us looked away, we shared a moment of recognition that we were here because it was easy and there was some kind of joy in the mundaneness, not because we were passionate.
and maybe half an hour before five o'clock, people would start rolling out their chairs and faffing until it was close enough to the hour that leaving wouldn't look too eager. and then we would disperse onto the street like custard out of a tin, blinking in the twilight and unsure where to go next, though we all knew where we wanted to be.
so i would head to the nearest bar and sit in a little booth by myself with a pint of lime and soda. and i would listen to the sounds of other people having a good time. i wasn't not having a good time, it made me happy to experience what other people enjoyed. i would eavesdrop on them, and i'm not ashamed of it. i would listen to the things that consumed them and imagine them consuming me. three children and inflation and my pay is staying the same. the sink is always blocked. the death of my mother. i didn't have it easier than them, but i had it different. every day i would go there and i would listen, and just like my postal orders i felt like i got to know some of the regulars, though they didn't know me, i was a shadow to them, someone who processed what they said and said nothing back. they didn't even know that, i wonder if it made a difference? our words leave our mouths and that's that, unless it isn't and the people who hear them file them and think about them. and so they keep living.
at the weekend i didn't go into the work city, i stayed in the commuter town and i explored everything it had to offer. it hadn't always been a commuter town and in fact its history stretched back further than that of the bigger city. between and behind the new buildings there was a world which offered a different perspective, one of long-dead god fearing parishioners, idle gossip, tragedy, and daily repetition the same as the daily repetition i experienced. there was thousand year old church hemmed in by concrete, half absorbed as if it was a germ in the bloodstream of modernity, rough grey stone eroded into smoothness fused with red brick and steel beams. i found that church by accident, the intentional sort of accident, and it still had a service every week, and a coffee morning every thursday, and a toddler group, though the toddler group was outsourced to some communal lobby halfway across the town. did it even belong to the church at that point? the stained glass was crude, and even though this incarnation was only a few decades old it had maintained the original style, thick with lead and musty colours in tiny triangles that made out those revered figures i knew so well.
it turned out that now and then they held a communion service once a month in the evening, the last saturday of the month, which i found out by accident, one of the accidental sorts. i had formed some sort of habit of sitting in the peace in one of the back pews when a bell rang out, filling my ears with its echo, and the few other congregants who i had assumed were there just like me, appreciating the peace having stumbled upon the simple building when poking around the backs of the apartment complexes, but they stood in a perfectly orchestrated thud. and i watched them with their heads bowed as they ripped themselves each a piece of the body of christ and then drank his blood from a cup they passed between them, a disposable plastic beaker with a red body and a white rim. and i listened as they spoke some litany together and the man at the front conducted them with his words.
halfway through i left because my peace was disturbed. i left the church and i sat on a memorial bench in the tiny graveyard, tiny in size but not in depth because there were graves piled on graves, stacked in rows like dominoes. i wondered where the bodies were because for the graves to be so close together they must have gravedug the old graves every time a new person died, or else outsourced them to some community dump on the other side of town. i would walk through the graves as best i could, looking for the oldest, charting families in my head. back then, so many people died young. and so many families died out. just like in the office and in the bar i would tell stories in my head about the families of the past and feel real loss when one of them died, and when the last one died and the surname disappeared. some of the graves listed the children of the deceased by name and i would seek out their graves so as to gain the peace of mind that they had died peacefully. once a child simply disappeared, they didn't have a grave. i hope that they turned up in some other small town and were happy there and that's why they were gone.
there was a town museum in the back of the village hall down the bottom of the town from about a century ago when the town was smaller and this village really was a village with fields of its own and not just a named neighbourhood with a reputation. the museum was small because people forgot things but it had pictures of the people who grew the town, the one who absorbed the village, the one who made it into some kind of wealth and put it on the map, the one who escaped to the town some miles off and grew that down into the city it is today with real skyscrapers and a train station with shops and public art installations and me, entering postal orders for cardigans and uncomfortable ornamental paraphernalia. and it had books, meeting records carefully scrawled out recording the petty disagreements between the churchgoers who understood their transcendent god in different ways, and it made me smile to know that they cared so much. entry to that museum was free but there was an empty donations box, one of those domed ones where coins can spiral down and hit the pile of gratitude with a saisfying clink, except here there never was, only a hollow clunk. i donated whatever change i had every time i visited. it made my trip feel premium.
the town had a high street maybe a few hundred metres long, all uneven paving slabs spattered with grime and dried chewing gum and cigarette ends. there were benches at irregular intervals along the way and poorly kept raised beds, each supporting a tree and hundreds more cigarette seeds. a plastic grid held the dirt captive or protected it from the townsfolk who perched on the edges to while away their days in trivial conversation. there were statues too, a couple of stony figures employed to keep watch in a time when that high street really bustled. not that it didn't bustle in my time; there was a market that set up in temporary gazebos three times each week on mondays wednesdays and saturdays to peddle wares and remember when the market was all we had, not that any of us did. but that market felt purposeful, and i always headed down early each saturday to watch the merchants set up their stalls and slowly start to shout about what they were offering.
the best part of the market was the smell of it. the polished air at the fresh fish stand where a thousand silent corpses were neatly organised by size and colour, glassy vacant eyes staring at nothing and each other in the vast suffocation of the open air. the heavy stench of dried flesh to complement the stained bones advertised as dog treats in a green and white marquee a few steps further on, the scent of fish forgotten. the crisp warmth of the fresh bread in the next tent along struggling to be heard but welcomed when it was. leather and varnish and creosote, soap and garlic, dirty vegetables and boiling fruit.
i only ever bought anything from the greengrocer's stand, enough vegetables and fruit to get me through the week because cooking was something i loved to do. as i say my kitchen was tiny, but you can do a lot with a frying pan if you're willing enough to take the time to get to know it, if you're willing enough to take the time to cook, if you're willing enough to put together a menagerie of spices and go through them one by one every step of the way, taking a deep breath of the frying vegetables and memorising its sent, and then smelling the spices one by one to smell which one would bring the right nuance to the sensory chord and then adding some to the pan. maybe a little bit more. and then letting the new smell fill the room and your brain, letting it overtake you completely, and going through the remaining spices again one by one and repeating the process until the smell is as potent and complex as the sound of a boozy jazz standard after midnight, when the band are playing for themselves and not for anyone else in a delicious and escalating cycle of oneupmanship, pulling one another into a spiral of challenge with passion and overjoy.
garlic also helps. i always had a clove or ten lying around, some in a pot and the rest woven together and hanging from a hook suction attached to the extractor fan, hanging to remind me i'm a real chef. or something.
that's how i'd spend my evenings, cooking by the bowlful. i'd get home from work and collapse onto my bed unable to do anything and lie there in purgatory, until my stomach aching overtook my emptiness and i'd force myself into the kitchen and then love it.
all this to fill the time between the real work, the important work, and the real work just to give me something to travel to. because without people like me travelling to work, what would the people who worked on the trains do for a living?
§the myth of the brother
i don't remember being born. i don't think that's unusual. i don't remember much of anything for the first few years. that's normal too. little scenes that play out, are they important? maybe they represent something. maybe they are dreams.
when i was very young, me and dad would go out to the farm as the sun was rising. the birds would start calling us while it was still dark, and he always managed to wake up with them. i don't know how he did it. i think that sleep is a luxury reserved for those who aren't desperate, and dad was desperate. he would shake me and i would mumble and i would squirm and eventually i was standing in the cold with him, shaking, watching the stars, so many of them above us and i didn't know what they were. i don't know what they are now either, but back then they were all i could see. they filled the sky like tiny crops, a harvest never reflected in the land we lived in.
sleep is a luxury reserved for those who aren't desperate, and i wasn't desperate. i was young and oblivious and the birds couldn't wake me and neither could dad. he would carry me on his shoulders, bump bump, out into the fields. i just kept sleeping as he held me by my legs and i flopped from side to side. it wasn't comfortable, and as the sun rose the light and the motion would wake me up again. and the stars were gone now and the sky was empty, and so was the land we lived in.
every day i would see the world beginning. it was night, and then it was morning, and it was me and dad. the stars would wander away and i would wonder why. from up on his shoulders i could see everything, and there was never anything to see.
and i would sit and watch him work or i would sleep, or i would crawl around and watch the world. the sky was yellow and lazy like spilt milk. it would lie there with me and crawl around and watch the world. the clouds were dragged out like dust and shapeless, pale and hungry, transient and lost. there were birds, sometimes, but not enough for all the singing before the sun had risen. i wondered where they all went when night became day.
i don't know many times we went out to the farm. it was always the same, so i couldn't count. i was young and oblivious, and dad was desperate. he had to work hard, for us. for me. he worked with a rhythm, though he never sang. he worked in patterns, though he never weaved. he cared for the little plants he grew like they were his children. like they were more than his children.
the farm was cracked and flat, like the rest of the world. the world was yellow and grey and dry and hard. however much he worked, there was never enough to show for it. through the day his shadow would get longer but it would stay the same length. he would stoop more over the effort of it all. there weren't many shadows, just mine and his, mine watching me and me watching his, and his working just like him. why he chose to put the farm so far away from where we slept wasn't something i understood for a long time. i think he liked the space, the emptiness, to get away from her and the memories. he could be alone with his plants and he could remember something.
he would get on his knees and whisper to them, the plants that he was growing, and he would cry. he would kneel for so long, the only break in the rhythm, a rhythmic break, just a pattern of the way that he worked on the farm. then we would walk again, to find real water for the plants and for us. this time i would walk along next to him, or i would try to. he walked faster than me, even in his misery and fatigue, and i would have to run, or i would give up and then he would shout. as much as i was just there, with him but apart from him, he didn't want to lose me. he didn't want me to give up. that was another thing that would take me a long time to understand. but for now, that was the most he said to me, most of the time. shouting. i don't know what he said. actions speak louder than words, so they say. but those actions mattered to me.
when we were at the water, i would stay on the dirt and he would wade in. he had two buckets made of wood and big enough to sit in. he would fill them and then we would walk back, the buckets across his shoulders like they were his child, swinging as he walked looking like a corner piece. once i asked to carry one of the buckets and he let me, he set it down in front of me and i couldn't even lift it, i couldn't make it move at all. so he tipped the water on the dirt until i could, i tiny puddle from the rain, what a waste. that happened once.
back at the farm he would pour the water onto his plants. sometims i would talk to them too, but i didn't know what to say. i would say thank you and i would tell them that they were my brothers and my sisters, because dad loved them so much, just like me. maybe i was lying, i didn't know if he loved me or if i was just a fact of life for him. i wanted to be like dad, but i didn't know what dad said to them so i made things up. when i talked to the plants, he would watch me and he would smile, and i liked that.
and then we would go back to the water. me holding an empty bucket, because that was something that i could do, and dad holding the other one, and then we would fill them up and he would hold them both. on the way back i could catch up to him and i would talk to him, and sometimes he would reply. sometimes i wouldn't talk and he would break the silence until i talked again. i guess he liked my company. now i know that walking was the worst time for him.
sometimes it would rain and when it rained it would rain forever. then the world was not cracked and flat, it was flat and wet and the dirt would stick to me. i could draw shapes on my body with the dirt and i would show dad and he would not care. i would take me clothes off when they got wet and he didn't like that. when it rained, we wouldn't go to the water, because there was water everywhere already. the dirt would drink all the water and turn dark, and the dust would go. i liked the rain.
dad liked the rain because we wouldn't have to walk to the water. instead of walking he could spend more time talking to his plants. sometimes he would sit with me and watch the sky, grey and ugly. you couldn't see the sun when it was raining but you could still feel it. the water would rise from the ground like smoke and dance around us. when the two of us would sit, we didn't talk, we would just watch. he didn't mind the silence then. and neither did i.
one time at the water i followed him down. he never let me do that and he didn't that time either. but i went, i ignored his shouting because i wanted to feel this water, more constant than the rain, and no dirt in it. it came all the way up my legs and it was cold. there was enough of it to throw and i threw it and i got my hair wet and i got dad wet and i laughed and i laughed and i laughed. dad threw the water back and he laughed too. his hair was black and shiny and grabbed his face like claws. he chased after me in slow motion and i ran from him in slow motion and i spat, a waste, but there was so much water here. the water ran too and i ran with it, so that he couldn't throw it at me anymore.
and then the floor disappeared and the water held me it grabbed me it hugged me and touched me like something new. and it was cold but that was okay because i didn't know anything else and it was running with me and dad was shouting and then he wasn't and the water was shouting so loud. i didn't know what was happening because the water was kissing me and it was blinding me and i couldn't shout back and i was laughing and i was laughing
and then dad was there and he caught me but this time he didn't shout. he hugged me and that was something new. and he cried, and it wasn't even a waste because he was there and i was there and he held me and it was cold.
maybe that was the first thing i remembered.
i don't know why he took me out to the farm, really, because i didn't do anything, not back then. he used to pull up some of the plants, the weeds, but i couldn't tell the difference between the plants that were his children and the plants that were weeds. i pulled up a plant too once, but it was one of his children and he shouted a lot then. i had ripped it out of the ground so that it was decapitated, the tiny tops of the roots grasping at the air and there was no way to fix it. i tried to put it back, and he tried with me, crying, and we left it like that.
that plant didn't grow, and i didn't eat that night.
when it was time to harvest, i didn't get to ride on his shoulders because we was carrying two baskets, just like the buckets. but that was the first time i really got to help him. i took the plants out the of the ground, this time carefully, and i put them in the basket for him. he'd grown beans too, and we picked the pods off the stems.
it took days and days to harvest everything. i guess all that talking had paid off, because the farm didn't seem small anymore, or maybe god loved him and gave us more than we should have been able to get. back home we packed the beans in clay which hardened in the sun, and we buried them, so that we would have something to eat in the winter. we had to worry about winter, or at least dad did. i was young and oblivious and i just did whatever i was told.
i haven't even mentioned mum yet. sometimes she was with us, but she existed in her own place most of the time. she would stare at the clouds like me, but she wouldn't watch them, she was looking for something beyond. she'd walk all over the desert, finding her way back just as we finished making dinner, every time.
mum and dad were rare among couples in that they truly were made for each other. god knows they were made for each other. there couldn't have been a better couple, people said, but then again, people are often wrong.
mum and dad didn't talk, almost never. they'd said it all, had it all, you could say. the silence wasn't a contented silence, it was a crack.
mum and dad didn't talk, but the did fuck. they fucked a lot and there was no privacy back then so i'd have to find something to busy myself with while they did it. sometimes i would pretend to be asleep while they were at the other side of the tent, whimpering.
i think they really did enjoy fucking. it's so primal and instinctive. people say that sex is intimate and it is, in a way, the same way that starvation is intimate. it brings out nothing in you, and there is no need for anything. no need for civility or rationality. they needed it, so they fucked. it wasn't like there was anybody else.
well, things happen when two people fuck and one day i had a brother. it really did happen like that. as i say, i barely saw mum and when i did, we didn't speak. i didn't notice the pregnancy at all. i don't know if dad did, but if the did he didn't say anything.
we weren't there for the birth, she did the whole thing by herself, somewhere in the desert. she came back like usual as we were serving dinner and was holding a suckling kid. and that was that.
i don't remember suckling, i just remember the farm.
but that was when things started to change. suddenly i had to help on the farm and the baby took my place as the useless one. crawling around and staring at the clouds. i barely looked at the sky anymore, i was too busy looking at the ground. the rhythms that dad danced, now that was me as well. when i tilled the soil and then i planted seeds and cared for them, i understood why dad loved those little plants like children.
so i would talk to them too, i would tell them about the things i remembered. i would tell them about the sky like spilt milk and the cracked earth that they didn't know. they didn't know the earth was cracked because all they knew was the soft dark earth from the water i gave them.
i remember the first time i carried the buckets back from the water. dad told me i had grown up now. and i smiled.
i told them about how i used to sleep through the bird song but that now i wake up with them and i listen to what they say, and how i hoped that one day i could say something back. who else could i tell? i told them about dad and how he came to the farm to escape, about how he hated the walking because he was trapped with himself and nothing else and the silence, about how that was when he'd talk to me because he was scared. i'd tell them about mum, her fierce independence and her regret, how she never talked to dad and he never talked back, about how they'd fuck.
i told them about my brother, the waste of space. who i loved. he was like me, but smaller, weaker, more innocent, just like i had been. i was desperate now, like dad. i wasn't a child.
with two of us on the farm we could grow more, and we did. we made a lush forest, tiny, and it was good. one day i was weeding around the beans and my brother tried to join in. he pulled up one of my plants and i felt as if i'd been slapped. my love, dead. its body severed. it was painful. i was angry.
we tried to replant it, and after that he would talk to it every single day. i don't know what he said, little nothings like i used to say. he wanted to be like me and that made me feel something. he wanted the plant that he had killed to live again. that was something.
when it came to harvest, that plant was still alive.
i loved my brother.
when he grew up, he started to explore the desert. he'd walk for days and we wouldn't see him. he'd come back in time for dinner sometimes, and we'd always have made enough for him. he was older than i was when he was born, and it was different now.
one day we were eating our soup and he came back dragging a sheep behind him. the sheep was not dead, but it was not moving. as we ate, we watched it and eventually it stirred. it was confused like a baby. he stood up and we were all watching him. we watched him as he knelt before the sheep and he put his arms around its neck and he stroked its head and he whispered gently, like it was a plant, like it was his baby. we watched him as he kissed the sheep. we watched him as he took a rock and he smashed it against the sheep's head and we watched the sheep collapse again. and we watched him still whispering and looking at the sky and whispering, we watched him from behind holding his broken love like he wasn't the one who broke it. and we watched as he slit the sheep's throat and he let the blood drip into our pot. we watched the soup turn brown like the desert in the rain. and then we watched him fill his bowl again, and we watched him drink his friend's life. we watched him smile.
so that was something.
after that, he would often bring a sheep back with him and always kiss it as he stole its soul. he would use dad's knife to tear it apart, to carve its limbs into weapons and then bury them just like dad and i did with the beans. he would cut up each body like it was an artifact and add it to the soup. and he would burn part of the sheep screaming, thank you god, as if our life was the perfect existence.
one day i refilled my bowl, too. and it was good. thank you, god.
and still me and dad would wake up with the birds in the dark and walk to our farm in stilted conversation. and we would bring back our beans and our roots and our berries, and he would bring back his friends. and that was how it went on.
things changed, slowly. one day i found myself awake in the dark, and everybody else was sleeping, it was just me and the birds, and i shook dad because it was time to head to the farm. and he mumbled and he squirmed and he rolled over. and i shook him, and eventually we were standing together, shivering in the cold and he said nothing. we stood above mum, gone to the world, and we said nothing. then let's go, he said, like i hadn't just been kneeling over him like he was some kind of child. things changed.
when mum and dad were fucking, we would sit together, if he was there, and we would talk. we would talk about everything and our dreams. because we had dreams, even if there was nothing to dream about. do you want to see the world? he asked me, but of course i didn't. what world? the world is here. he said, there's more to it than here. what, sheep? i asked. and he laughed. come and see, he said.
so one morning i didn't go to the farm, i went with my brother down the desert. turns out he had a farm too, if you could call it that. there were no plants. he'd impaled the earth with sticks to make a fence, crude dead bushes. and he kept his sheep there. hundreds of them. there didn't used to be this many. he laughed. i made them fuck, like mum and dad.
and then i watched him as he went to each in turn and he knelt down and he hugged them all. he stroked their heads and he talked to them and he kissed them on the nose. i went to join him and they scattered, they parted like a hoe in the soil. i'm not a farmer of the ground, he said, i'm a farmer of life. and we both smiled. he put his arms around me. i love you, brother.
i love you brother.
and i put my arms around him and i kissed his head. i have dreams, i whispered. i want to see the world. then see it, and what about mum and dad? they'll survive. and what about you? i have my sheep.
i love you brother.
and i pushed him into the ground and he laughed. he grabbed me and pulled me down with him and i laughed. it was a moment, i remember that. and i remember how my hand found a rock and i felt my fingers close around it like a claw and i remember how i raised that rock and i brought it down in his face as he laughed. and then he stopped. i remember.
i love you, brother.
i stood over him unmoving as little beads of his blood crawled over him like insects. i was still holding the rock. his blood met the ground like it was water but it was dark. it was thicker. he wasn't moving and i waited for him to stir, but of course he didn't. the sheep wandered over and stared at him, vacantly, like mum. they loved him like i loved him.
i walked to the edge of his prison and i pulled one of his sticks out of the ground. and then i went around and pulled out the rest of them too. one by one, let them fall, like we had fallen. there is a whole world out there, i said out loud, to all the sheep, and this is not it. this is not it. and when no stick was left standing i took one and i lashed at the sheep and i watched them run away from me, a flock of followers with no one to follow. see the world, sheep. find someone who will love you because he will not.
it was just me and him, and i kissed him again. if i had had fire, i would have burned him.
thank you god.
that night i went back home and dad was sitting by the pot. we drank our soup with blood in it, and it was good. the next morning, dad shook me awake and i mumbled and i squirmed and i listened to the birds. let's go, i said and we walked the the farm and said nothing. then i watered all my plants and i talked to them and i told them about my brother who i loved.
the next day me and dad went to the farm, and he told me about mum, about how he'd been sleeping in the jungle and she woke him up. i hadn't met anyone like her before, he said, and she touched me like i was the only one. i know, i said. i know. and i watered my plants and i talked to them and i told them about my family. what is a family? why do i need to talk to you, when i have them? and i grabbed the leaves of my plants, my children, and i ripped them out of the ground until my hands were full of their body. and i stood and i cried, and i let the leaves fall to the ground.
my plants did not bleed. they lay in the desert, and they said nothing.
dad watched me, and then he put his arms around me. i put my arms around him too and he kissed my head. let's go, he said.
that night we drank soup with blood in it. your brother's been gone a while, he said. i said nothing. mum said nothing, she didn't even look at us. she sat and stared at the dark, and drank her soup with blood in it. and i said nothing. i hope he's okay, said dad. i stood up and dad watched me.
i love my brother, i said. i know. look out for him, okay?
or what. am i my brother's keeper?
i poured my soup with blood on it onto the ground, and the ground was dark and wet. i tried to go to sleep, but i couldn't. so i looked at the stars, and i tried not to listen to my parents fuck.
i woke up before the birds and before the sun. it was dark and cold. i didn't wake dad and i didn't wake mum, who were sleeping together and holding hands. what innocence, i said to the sky, they don't know about the world.
and i walked away.
ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
the day i first started living was the day i invented death.
§the myth of the saviour
once there was a selfish queen. they would spend all their time looking into a magical mirror and asking it, who is the most beautiful? and the mirror would always reply queen, you are the most beautiful. and in this way, the queen was happy.
and the queen's subjects were happy, because the queen was so engrossed by their own beauty that they didn't have time to demand taxes from their subjects, or declare war, and so the whole realm lived peacefully.
and once there was a young couple and they were due to have a child. and they did have a child, and they were very happy.
but the day after the child was born, the queen asked their mirror, who is the most beautiful? and the mirror answered queen, you are the most beautiful, but a child has been born who will one day overthrow you. and the queen was not pleasaed with this answer, so they spat at the mirror and said, show me the child. but the mirror was just a mirror and could do no such thing. so for the first time in a decade the queen called the royal advisors to their side and said, a child is going to grow up to be more beautiful than me, and i will not have it. what is the best course of action.
and the royal advisors conferred for some time and then pushed one of their number forward who said, queen, we believe that the best solution is to order the death of every newborn child.
the myth of the lost sheep
§the truth of ford
there once was a god named ford, and ford was not happy. they lived in a land where there were no cans, where there were no barrows, and there were no skates. ford wanted to see the world out there, but they could not, because the world was so big and they were so small and slow.
so ford called all of the gods together and said, we move so slowly and the world is so big. we should create a way to move around the world out there faster, so that we can see it all.
but the other gods laughed at ford, saying ford, your ambition gets the better of you! you dream too much and you get lost in your dreams. why do you need to see all of the world out there when there is so much world right here? slow down for a while and see what you are missing from in front of your eyes while you insist on squinting at the horizon!
now ford was angry, but they were undeterred. so they called upon all their worshippers and they said, bring me many things, for i must find a way to move fast. and one of ford's worshippers brought them some silver disks, for they were a silversmith; and another brought them some enormous pearls, for they were a jeweller; yet another brought them planks of wood, for they were a carpenter; and another brought reams of cloth, for they were a weaver.
and ford said, with these things we will find a way to move fast, and ford worked non stop for six days and six nights. and when they sun rose on the seventh day, they announced that they had found a way to move fast. and they took a lightning bolt out of a passing cloud and they gave their handiwork life, and roar into life it did.
it was a big, black beast. it rumbled as it breathed, and it breathed smoke. it had bright glowing eyes and its legs were wheels. ford had made a mechanical dragon, and it would go fast.
so they sat astride their monster and they urged it forward. and it started slowly to pick up speed, and ford went faster than anyone had before. so they went to meet the other gods and said, do you laugh now? with my dragon i will be able to see the world.
but still the other gods laughed, saying ford, did you not listen to us last time? your ambition gets the better of you! you dream too much and you get lost in your dreams. why do you need to see all of the world out there when there is so much world right here? slow down for a while and see what you are missing from in front of your eyes while you insist on squinting at the horizon!
but ford didn't hear them over the sound of their roaring machine, so they took the gods' laughter as approval, and decided to find a way to go faster still. so they called together their worshippers and said, bring me many things, for i must find a way to move faster still. and one brought them thousands of bricks, for they were a mason; and another brought barrels of tar, for they were a brewer; and with these two things ford made hard black roads across the landscape for their monster to ride on, for the grass ground beneath its wheels and slowed it down.
and ford travelled across the world out there riding their monster, and they saw many things, but the to ford the world out there seemed empty because when they heard the roars every animal ran away and hid.
§the truth of the wolf
there once was a monk who wore a red cloak, and they lived by the edge of a forest. they lived in a small community and everybody knew them as the monk in the red cloak.
right in the centre of the forest was a temple where red cloak's guiding teacher lived. so whenever they were struggling with some contemplation, they would head to the temple in the forest and the two of them would contemplate together, and at the end of it both of them would feel fulfilled.
and it happened that one day red cloak was having trouble seeing the forest among the trees, so they packed up a basket with a tablet of tea and a loaf of bread and headed off into the forest to see if their guiding teacher could make any head or tail of it.
and as they walked they continued to think about their hypothetical forest and hypothetical trees, and they thought so hard that they realised all of a sudden that they had drifted from the path.
§the truth of the
§the truth of the fall
§the truth of the bathtub
§the truth of the war
i walked and i walked and my brother was right, there was a whole world out there. there was so much desert it could be a thousand worlds. i had taken no food with me which in hindsight was a mistake but i wasn't thinking, i was blind, i was alone.
i walked in the night so that i didn't have to see my shadow, chasing me, judging me like it was better than me. instead the stars danced above me and i talked to them to keep myself sane. they were the company i needed right now. i could talk, and they could listen, i guess they just liked the sound of somebody's voice, to keep their minds off their task, whatever that was.
when i heard the birds start to chatter i would head towards any shelter i could see. sometimes there were trees, or rocks, sometimes my shelter was the wind. but i would lie and try and sleep and it was hard like the ground that was my bed and i didn't know what was going to happen to me. as the sky turned red every evening i would get up, an inversion of my life up until now and i would walk, but i didn't have a destination.
my mouth was always dry and cracked, i was becoming the desert. sometimes there were little pools of water like eyes and i would drink that warmth and i would stay a while. i would lick the leaves on any trees for the smallest amount of water, i would spit in my hands just to drink again. and still i walked.
which way was i going? was i walking away or was i circling back? i couldn't tell and i didn't want to, as long as i was seeing the world. and i was, and it was empty. the world was empty.
on the fourth day, maybe the third maybe the fifth, i found a stream. i was walking in zig zags then, and i almost fell into it. but i didn't, but then i stepped into it and i let the water cover me again, and i drank and i drank. the way the water moves like it's alive. it was like the river back home, or not home.
from then on i followed the stream walking upwards and always with a quenched tongue. when i was tired i would sit and i would watch the fish slowly all along the ribbon. they didn't remember, like i didn't want to. they didn't know the world, but their world was content.
now that i had the stream to keep me company, i didn't need to talk. the stream did the talking, bubble bubble and i listened. it kept the silence away and i had nothing else to say. i had already told the stars everything and the stream didn't ever stop to breath so i couldn't even say anything if i wanted to. i just nodded along and laughed at its jokes, and it kept me sane.
it's funny, i couldn't have been walking for that long but it's all i remember forever. the desert gave way to rocks and grass, vague greenery i had never seen before. it blanketed the ground all by itself, no one had tilled it, and it wasn't fighting to be there like the trees and the bushes. the air smelt different there, and there was less dust. the trees had fruit on them and the ground was soft. the birds sang, even during the day, and sometimes i sang with them. my bed was soft and i had shelter. so this was the world.
i sat on the branches of trees and i tried to remember. getting up in the dark, i woke up in the light now. talking to my little plants, i talked to the world now. dad standing in silence, silence was my mind now and i spoke with it often. mum was vacant and dreaming, now i was dreaming too. going to bed in the cold, that was the same. i was a person. and i was near enough content.
at some point i stopped following the stream, it was so small. i had been climbing, and if i turned back i could see the desert below me, beyond the green. lifeless and pale, a huge sandy corpse. so this is the world. i remember.
and it wasn't the only water anymore, there were pools that were cold on my skin, and clear. there were streams and rivers. this mountain was alive and i was the insect living on it. this suited me. i felt safe. thank you god.
perhaps there's something to be said for suffering. now that i wasn't desperate, i didn't know where to go so i would go everywhere. i had nothing to do so i would do everything. i took off my clothes and i didn't feel ashamed. i shouted and listened to my voice disappear. i threw rocks into the water and i heard the scream as hardness collided with softness and the drops flew away. it was an existence. the sound of nothing was gone.
one day i saw a sheep. i was walking and then it was there, in front of me, unmoving. so i didn't move either. and we stood there, looking at each other. i stared at that sheep. i watched it and it watched me back, waiting expectantly for what i would do next. i knew what i had to do next so i started to walk towards it and i started singing and the sheep didn't move. i was going to love that sheep like my brother. when i was right in front of it, i got on my knees, i was still singing softly, no words just sounds like the birds. i got on my knees in front of the sheep and the sheep was watching me, and then it turned and it ran away.
so that was that.
now the sheep were in my mind. was that sheep one of the ones i had chased away? i wonder if it knew any of the ones i had chased away. i wonder if the sheep talk to each other. when they huddle together do they conspire together and tell each other about their dreams? there's a whole world out there, they say. a whole world, ha. this is the world. this mountain and this grass and this water and these birds. we are happy here, you are happy here. what else is there?
there were more sheep after that. they lived free of humans, they didn't need me or anyone else. the grass was covered in their shit and they seemed content with that. and still i didn't love them, though i wanted to, though i tried. i would sing for them and kneel by them, like my brother did, and then they would run away. so that was that.
but my life was eternal and the days went on and still i tried. still i tried and one day i would love those sheep. that was something i decided on that mountain. i remember that.
all these days and i had not seen another person. there were more of us, right? there must have been. it was a lonely existence in the desert, but the mountain was so social, and i believe that humans are drawn to community. i believe that now. but then i wasn't looking for people, not really, though i thought about them sometimes. when i thought about people they looked like my brother and my mum and my dad. who else? that was what people looked like. people looked lost and gentle and silent. broken.
maybe you'd think that meeting another person for the first time would be something worth remembering. it probably was, but i have to admit that i don't remember. life is episodic, so they say, and in my mind i spend forever wandering the lushness of that mountainside, and then i spend forever in that first village.
how i met her, i don't know. she said that she didn't remember either. it just sort of happened. i was probably sitting by a river, and she probably came to do the same, or to collect some water, i don't know. maybe she was striking, maybe she wasn't. i was indifferent to most things at that point, and that wasn't bad. i took everything as it came and saw the wonder in everything. but something so alien as myself surely would have made me start.
and i went back to the village, and that was her world. it was small but it was comfortable, and the people here seemed happy. they had fields for farming and they kept animals. i slept on the floor in her house and every day i woke up with the sun and went to feed the sheep. i was like my brother now, a farmer of sheep, and i enjoyed it. i could tell every sheep apart, and i had named them all. as the sun crossed the sky i walked between them, and i knelt for each of them, and i stroked their necks and i kissed their heads. and every sixth day as i was kneeling before one of the sheep, i would sense the one telling me that this was the sheep he wanted. and as i stroked that sheep's neck i would take the blade that was strapped to my calf and i would whisper the words and i would lead that sheep to the place. and as the sheep nuzzled me, i would slit its throat.
the place was a flat rock at the edge of the village, and it was where the villagers worshipped. the rock was dark brown from sacrifice and the air was thick. i don't know how but i ended up being the one who performed the sacrifices. i would slit the sheep's throat and it would slowly die on the place, and when death had come i would remove the head from the body and leave it at the place, an offering to the one who would keep our animals strong and our crops healthy. i would take the heart from out of the throat of the sheep and leave that at the place too, an offering for the other so that they would not touch our peace. these were the two who kept that village happy. the limits of the world undisturbed.
we honour you both.
the butcher would take the body and for the rest of the week we would eat well. food was central to life in the village, and we would eat together every day as the sun started to set. and we would sing together and dance together. and that was how i lived.
i've lived for a long time now but after it all i don't think it's an exagerration to say that the time i spent in that first village was some of the best living i did.
you know the story of the woman and the well? which one? there are a lot to choose from. there have been a lot of wells in our time. why even bother to ask? deep down they're all the same. two people meet at the well and end up together. one popular variation is that the woman at the well is a servant and the person she meets ends up with her mistress. another is that the woman is a prostitute and uses the solitude of the well as an excuse to escape briefly from the ridicule of her townmates. another is that the woman is in the well and she wants to get out. another is that the woman is in the well and she wants to stay there. but every story about every woman at every well embraces the fragility of human emotion and the fleet of human love. the rejection of difference through the mutual understanding of thirst.
my story of the woman and the well is not that special. but what sets it apart is that there was no well and there was no woman, in the end. let me tell you about it.
it seems to me that broken family relationships are one of the cornerstones of humanity. we build our futures on resentment towards the people who raised us and build our friendships on sharing that resentment with the people around us. i don't have much resentment towards my family. some sure, but really they were just dresssing up as adults. what do you do when you have no role models? you fumble in the darkness, and most likely you hit the floor before you hit the lightswitch. i entered my parents' life too early, and i accept full responsibility for the problems that caused down the line.
so i don't resent my parents, imperfect though they were. maybe i resent them the same amount as the rest of us do when we start out, before we cultivate that resentment in public and behind closed doors. but that has its problems, because the more we resent them, the more we have to shape the way we portray ourselves too. we should shape the way we behave to free ourselves from the fear of being resented, but we don't, we just project an image of being better people than we are. is that the same thing? maybe.
i wish i did resent my parents more, because that would mean that i'd had people around me i could complain with. instead i was isolated. i went to school with hundreds of people and still i didn't connect with any of them. that's partly on me. i admit it.
i wasn't bullied or mocked, which looking back is surprising. my parents were weird, and i wasn't normal. then again, while children can be cruel, that comes from being focused on themselves more than from seeking out something to mock. and i let them focus on themselves, so they didn't mock me. i was isolated, but not outcast. i'd say i was liked at school. i made people laugh and i had conversations. not deep conversations, or maybe too deep. i was a part of the school community, whatever that means.
after school i worked on the farm, and after that the timeline gets a little messy. so we'll skip forward to the time i spent at the first village, the one i mentioned earlier. i was holed up in a little house with a woman about my age. she had no parents, that's all she said, and i didn't ask her about it. it's best not to ask, because inevitably people will tell you what they want you to know, and what they don't want you to know, it's better to remain ignorant of. usually.
how we ended up living together was a situation of circumstance, the circumstance being hazy. and we lived peacefully our separate lives, me looking after the village sheep, her supporting the other villagers with herbal remedies. and in the evening we would sit together by the hearth in our little house and share a clay pipe of some blend she'd put together from the dregs of her day. and we'd sit together and giggle mindlessly at whatever the other was saying, wrapped in blankets and dizzy with contentment and plants. it was a good, a satisfying way to live.
sometimes we'd talk about bigger things than just the other villagers and ourselves. we'd talk about our dreams, if we had them, and the world that was out there, and where we were in it. we were here, there, and those moments were the important thing. the dreams were a facade because what we really wanted was nothing, except to sit and smoke together.
she was single and happy, she said, and i believed it. other than the youngest children we were the only ones in the village not married, and most likely the rest of the village thought we were, or acted like it. and we did too sometimes, though our marriage was unrealistic in its happiness. i don't remember us ever arguing, just getting on.
and every night when the fire was glaring weakly at us both we would head to sleep, and every night before she slept she would fuck herself. the walls were thin and i would hear her gasping, and i would face the other way and try to be gone before she was.
well, eventually we fucked each other. i don't remember how it happened, but i remember that it happened in front of that hearth on a night that wasn't special in any other way. do you remember having sex for the first time? it should be the worst sex and it is, but the discovery makes it better than any other sex in a different way. you can only do it for the first time once, so it's hard to be objective about it. it's the kind of thing we like to romanticise. do you know what i remember? i remember disovering that her pussy wasn't on the front. isn't it funny? after the first time that seems obvious, but the first time that was something new.
we touched each other clumsily and curiously, and not lustily. we held our warm bodies with our cold hands. i stroked her breasts with my tongue, hoping to hear her gasp like every other night, and she did. she held me by the sides of my face and she scratched my scalp through my hair. and we kissed with our teeth and we laughed like we always did and she tasted of burnt leaves and mouth. i told her i want to watch her fuck herself like she did in her bedroom and she smirked at me, not a secret that she knew i could hear her. then she spread her legs and she traced her own body with her hands and i sat cross legged and i watched her. i watched her as she closed her eyes and forgot i was there and she played a rhythm of sensuality across her skin. and then after she had made herself shake she looked right inside me and she climbed on top of me, crawled up me so i could feel her breathing and she took my dick in her hand and she gently pushed it inside of her. and then it was over.
it was a one time thing. probably everything changed between us after that, but the only real change i saw was her tits, which she left unbound whenever we were inside. i don't know why, it's just one of those things. we experienced something new and we grew from it.
did you ever hear the story of the prodigal son? you most have done, it's a cliche at this point. some precocious loser demands his share of the inheritance before his father dies, squanders the lot, and ends up working as a pig farmer to make ends meet. eventually he musters the courage to go back to his family and begs for forgiveness and to be given the opportunity to work for the family as a servant. of course, his father is having none of it, orders a huge celebration, and takes his son back. the one that was lost is found. it's a trope.
the other brother isn't as pleased by the whole thing. i'm sure he was happy to see his brother---who wouldn't be?---but to see such insolence go without punishment is never a happy experience.
i'll never be able to see my brother again. obviously.
sometimes i get the idea in my head to go back out into the desert and find my parents. they must still be out there, i don't expect they could have died even if they wanted to. they were just like that. someone was looking out for them, or making sure that they couldn't take the easy way out. maybe both. there aren't hard lines like that when it comes to death.
but i don't like the story of the prodigal son. i think it's got a lot of holes in it and there are much better examples of the trope in our tradition. there's no expansion on the impact it would have on the father to know that his son who he loves values him only for the material gains he can extract from him, for one thing.
the reason i bring it up now is because my first encounter with the edge of things was through a person who called themself prodigal. when i first met them i asked them, what kind of a name is that? they said, it'd be something i'd remember, and they're not wrong. i remember prodigal. or at least, i remember what prodigal taught me.
they taught me how to come home. there's a whole world out there, and we live in it. and though we live in it, it's always out of reach for us. why don't i remember meeting her? that's something i glossed over, because in actual fact i didn't ever meet her. there was no meeting, there was the before and the after. i didn't come across that village, and i wasn't led to it. i was put in it. how that works isn't important, but you've experienced it too. i know you have. maybe more than once, but i can guarantee that it happened once. let me go back to the beginning.
there is nothing special about me or my family. i don't know who my neighbours were growing up but they probably weren't special either. we lived in a house on a housing estate built in the seventies or the eighties, with cork on the walls and authentic tiles on the floor. at school i learnt the basics of how to conform in society and i was a good kid, i didn't rebel. instead i would just think about rebelling. i'd watch the people smoking at the back of the school field, sit a little bit away and breathe deep the remnants of the burnt tobacco that drifted through the air towards me.
it would be a decade before i had a cigarette of my own, and it was okay.
though i didn't rebel, i wasn't a model student. i would do as little work as i could get away with without compromising my reputation as competent. it helped that it seems that competent people have a reputation for doing nothing. schoo wasn't about learning, it was about fitting in and it all seemed like a waste of time to me. so as soon as i could,
i was gone and i mean that in the most literal sense. i crossed the threshold of the farm and existence stopped. my foot didn't come down on the gravel track that fed into the country road outside the farm and give a little way in the way that gravel tends to do, that satisfying crunch, instead it came down on a desert. instead it hit the hard ground with a hollow silent thud.
the desert stretched on and on, cracked mud like veins paving my new surroundings. and nothing else. the sky was orange but i couldn't see the sun, and there were no clouds.
as my foot came down on the desert i stumbled because my foot was not expecting the ground to change beneath it like that and then i just stood there. it was one of those situations where there is nothing to do except stand there.
then from behind, first time huh someone said. it wasn't until they spoke that i realised how silent it really was, but it was, until first time huh, and it was broken. and the person who had spoken was that person i had half recognised, fixing the fence, and they still were. fixing a fence in the middle of the desert, a fence around nothing, surrounded by nothing. here was a person. and me.
they smiled at me like they got it, and they unfolded themselves, and they checked out their fencepost with their head to the side. then they gave it a kick and they shrugged, and they shambled over.
they were taller than me, and skinnier, and their hands were in line with their knees. they were wearing a poncho and sandals which struck me as odd for a farm worker, though it hadn't before then. and we stood looking at each other, not quite facing each other, until they stuck out their hand in the way a child does at a prizegiving, out of protocol not out of habit. so i took their hand and we stood there again, hand in hand, a photograph. they were still smiling and though it reached their eyes it seemed forced. you can call me prodigal, they said. i think we're friends now. i didn't know where i was and prodigal seemed to be good and nice so i said yes, that sounds good. come with me, they said and we started walking. to me it seemed directionless but they walked as if they knew something i didn't, which was probably true.
we walked in silence for a long while, a contented silence, at least for one of us. for me, i was happy not to talk but i was just as much curious as to where i was and what had happened to the farm and to my world. maybe i should have been more panicked, but in the strangest situations we have a way of rationalising it, believing that we're dreaming, going with it and accepting it. what else is there to do? so that's what i did.
and eventually prodigal spoke. it can be disorienting to find yourself at the edge of things, they said. sorry to bring you here without saying anything. i'd been watching you for a while and it seemed like you might be the right kind of person to deal with it all. i think i was right about that.
they paused for a while so i said i'll take that as a compliment. is it? they replied. maybe, but it's just the fact of the matter.
there's a whole world out there, they said, and this is a part of it too. but at the same time it isn't. it's an in-between place. a mode of existence where we can do things differently. and they nodded to themself.
we were walking on grass now, and i didn't remember the transition. the air was colder and free from dust. the sky was bluer but still i could only hear the rush of nothing on the flatness of it all. and still we walked.
when you read a book, every page has words on it, but the words don't stretch all the way to the edge of the page, because that would be ugly, and it wouldn't work with the way that we bind them. the pages inevitably curve in towards the middle and you wouldn't be able to read them easily. if they stretched all the way to the outside edge, you'd cover them with your hands as you read. so margins are an inevitability of the medium. you need the margins so that the book can properly function, and we can use the margins to write things in. write what we want to say alongside the absolute words.
there were trees around us now. not enough to be a forest. it was as though they had been carefully placed to avoid anyone coming to that conclusion. they stretched up randomly but the sky clearly separated each from the next. an intricate grid of sky among them.
that's what the edge of things is like. an inevitability of form. it has a purely pragmatic purpose, but just like the margins of books we can find our own uses, give some intentionality to it all, some intimacy.
we were in the desert again. i looked back, but i couldn't see any trees. i couldn't tell the difference between where we were now and where we started, except there was no fence. we kept walking, until prodigal stopped, and i stopped with them. does that make sense?
i nodded, because it did. in theory.
good. in that case, we should be nearly there. come with me. and we were off again, them in front, me not far behind, taking it all in. when prodigal walked, they curved forward and they swayed like a top heavy flower, if flowers walked. they swung their arms as they moved, but they did so slower than they moved their legs so that their motion seemed to come in and out of focus. a spirograph.
we were walking more slowly now, and prodigal didn't seem so certain of things. they turned around to look at me, smiling, walking backwards. okay, this is where it happens again. keep stepping, and try not to trip. so i walked a few steps more and i then when my foot hit the ground it was tiles.
we were in a kitchen, nothing special. the floor tiles and the cabinets were off white and the walls were river blue. prodigal was leaning against the hob and there were two more people sitting at the table. there were three orange clocks on the wall, each with a different time like at an airport, but none of them were moving. the whole room smelt like spices and tomato. but i didn't notice any of this at first because i had tripped.
hi, we're back, said prodigal. nice entrance. you'll learn. they turned to the people at the table. i smell food. what's cooking?
same as always, the first said. great. hey, you want some food? and i was hungry so i nodded. the other person who had spoken got up slowly, pushed their chair under the table and wandered over to the counter, opened one of the cupboards, and took out four bowls, each one rough and red and chipped, darker inside from use. we don't have a huge selection, so i'll choose for you. they smiled and prodigal opened the oven, filling the room with steam. they grabbed a towel---once white but now stained and with hundreds of little frogs painted on it---and manoeuvred a black lidded pot out and onto the hob.
beans, said bowl person, my favourite. they looked at me. i'm promise, by the way. they pointed with their chin at the person still at the table who hadn't spoken. that's wren. at their name, wren looked over at me and smiled slightly. it's good to meet you. i reckon we'll get to know you pretty well.
then they took the lid off the pot and scooped each of the bowls in turn full of the stew as if they were spades. prodigal held out the towel to them, arm bowed so as not to get too close and promise took it, wiping the lips of the bowls free of juice. they hooked the towel over the oven door, picked up two of the bowls and put them on the table. prodigal grabbed the other two and went to take a seat. they pulled one out for me too and gestured at it. it doesn't look like much but it's good shit, they said. smells great, i replied and sat down.
there was no cutlery on the table and i wasn't sure what to do, so i waited for anybody else to eat before i started. the three of them were sitting looking into their laps so i did the same. then wren said let's eat and picked up their bowl and drank from it. prodigal and promise did the same, and i did the same. the taste made my tongue shrink. it was hot and wet and flavourful. i have no idea how long we'd been walking in the desert but it had made me hungrier than i realised and i didn't stop until the bowl was empty. you like it? help yourself to more said promise and i did, scooping my bowl full like it was a spade and wiping the lip with the frog towel. prodigal clicked approvingly. you're getting the hang of this, promise said, good spot, prodigal. you know me, they replied.
as i sat back down, wren looked at me. so where are you from? small town down the road. i said. or it was, before i was here. i worked on the farm, and lived down the bottom of it. huh. you know how to grow stuff then? a little, i said. i mostly did maintenance work. fixing things up, ploughing fields, all the rest of it.
sounds like an alright time.
why'd you leave?
it had been a while. i felt it was time.
i get that.
promise nodded emphatically. wren went along the same lines, they said. stacking shelves for too long before they encountered the edge of things. right. and that's where we are now? i asked. nah. this was my mum's house, but she's been out of town a while so we're sort of keeping shop.
all four bowls were empty now, on the table like bloody fleshy mouths of their own. nice place you got here anyway. your mum, i mean.
conversation didn't flow, but i'd never been one to talk. apparently neither were these people. so i looked instead. prodigal was the tallest by far, and still wearing just their poncho, grey and knee length. the torso was pale and skeletal, glowing against the wool when they moved their arms. maybe hundreds of friendship bracelets adorned their lanky forearms. their feet were bare and their toenails were painted a seductive red, and their hair was shaved short. promise was maybe the same height as me, wearing a white tank top and denim booty shorts. they had tattoos down their arms and the shadow of a beard across their jaw. sunglasses on the top of their head pulled their wild hair out of their face. the strands clumped together and some of them were burnt. wren gave the impression of being short, but they hadn't stood up yet so who was to say. they wore oversized round glasses and their hair was tied in a bun with blue rope which dangled right down the back of their chair. they wore a sports bra with frogs painted on it like the towel. their denim shorts were patchy and their calves were adorned with tiny symbolic tattoos. prodigal did them, they said, noticing me looking. it passes the time sometimes.
they're cool, i said. you have skills, budy. ha, thanks. guess drawing in my maths books did come in handy eventually. yeah.
so uh, what's up with all this? promise looked up from the edge of the table, where they'd been scratching at the wood with their nails. with what?
look, i was just walking out of my farm and all of a sudden prodigal was leading me across a desert to your mum's abandoned kitchen. i'm not exactly clear what's happened today. promise looked incredulously at prodigal. you didn't tell them about the edge of things? no no, they did, i jumped to defend prodigal. the edge is like the margin of a book, it has to exist but you can take advantage of its existence.
i don't understand what that actually means though.
of course. promise studied the inside of their bowl on the table. then they picked it up and shook some last invisible dregs into their mouth before banging it down hard on the table, upside down. look, this is the world out there they said, caressing the surface of the bowl. okay?
okay. and this---as they spoke, they traced their finger along the bowl's lip, where it met the table. this is the edge of things. and they licked their finger.
it's like, we have a bowl and a table, and when we put them together we get an edge. and no one designed there to be an edge, it just sort of comes about because of the way that bowls and tables happen to be.
that's just a different analogy to explain the same thing as the book.
yes. i don't know how else i'm going to describe it without resorting to contrived analogies. sorry budy, that's the best i can do.
i still don't understand.
neither do we, really. but you don't have to understand it to accept it as a fact. it's like a test of faith, except that you've lived it. your life is a series of episodes, like a year split into months, and for there to be months in a row, each has to have a start and an end. and if you know how, you can walk down that edge like this: they ran their finger down the edge of the table to the corner, pointedly stopped, and then ran it around the corner with a flourish. instead of moving forward, you're not moving. but you are, it's that you're not going anywhere.
so it's like wormholes. you can separate space from time?
that's one way to look at it.
i guess that makes sense. if i try not to think too hard about it.
we try not to either.
okay. so how did i just walk up the edge?
it was the end of a month, and you're observant enough to notice the gap. even if you didn't realise that was what you were doing. and prodigal was there doing the same thing, so the gap sharper than usual.
it is something.
and what about you then?
what about us?
you discovered you can walk down this edge and you just sit in your mum's kitchen eating beans?
well, we didn't discover it. mum taught me the knack. not everyone just ends up with it like you do. most people don't, in fact. in fact if we're being pedantic, most most people don't walk down the edge. it takes a certain kind of person. so props to you i guess. like i say we're only sitting here eating beans because we were tasked with looking after the house. it's been a bit longer than we expected, but it's all good fun.
so you do just sit and eat beans.
no, we also play a lot of snap.
it's a fine way to pass the time.
i can imagine.
and we tend the garden. gotta get those beans from somewhere.
then wren spoke. we're monks.
that's what we call ourselves. the people who have the knack, who know about the edge of things and choose to make the most of it.
how many of you are there?
there's a few. enough that we never have enough beans, at any rate.
you all live here?
no, but we own a bunch of land here. or promise's mum does. she inherited it, in a roundabout sort of way. and now we grow beans. among other things.
good. there's not a whole lot to it really. we're just like any other community.
sure, any other community who has magic powers.
that's somewhat reductive and really not very accurate.
you can teleport!
i suppose we can, in a way. but you did walk here, remember.
prodigal looked over at me. oh, sorry for kind of just dragging you here by the way. i probably should have given you some choice but i figured it'd clear things up a bit, and it would have been even worse if you'd got stranded on the edge.
hey, that's all good. i nodded at the other two. you have cool friends.
and we sat there for a long while, me taking it all in, the others simply being, until promise said hey, we have a spare bedroom that's yours if you want it. and i said okay. and they said great. you want to play snap? and i said okay. and then i got beaten at snap for four hours straight. and then i went to bed in my new bedroom, and i didn't sleep on the floor for the first time in five years, and i couldn't sleep at all.
you can't teach your father to fuck