How should such economy ever be legitimate?
Unless to do with the shrewd cinematic and televisual strategy where they like supply an exciting trifle or ominous commotion before the opening credits?
Brenda and her two Christian amigos had not had pink gunk instead of heads in eighteen years. But the huge clots had splat in them yet, as the day would unfold.
A sunny week near the end of Spring.
In those days, Brenda was a pretty girl . . . except for one thing, a massive wart on her mons pubis, a grape’s weight, right on the bend of the bone, an antimatter clit. It had been daubed with acidic balm, cast in liquid nitrogen and ceremoniously shattered, and teased apart with electric needles. The bloody tuft stubbornly reformed (like a depressed red rose crawling back into bud). Her parents had paid a real witch called January Juice to crochet a cantrip contra it. Nothing worked. Brenda’s wart was fungal, modular. It was a manner of zealous hive, and any surving cell could operate independently, eventually recreating the network. We have no comparable passions.
January Juice had nothing of the sort on her nose. “I had it removed,” she explained esoterically (in a diaphanous cardi).
She stood bent in her shower. She shook hot diamonds from her hair.
Malton. Two days previously.
Mr. Chinwag was glad he hadn’t the mumps. He was a talking donkey – well! – the guy who played him on this kids’ TV show. But he was bringing the office home plenty. And to those who knew him, and in his own mind, he was that motherfucking talking donkey.
What he had instead of mumps was a very bad throat infection. The physician told him to take time off. It was OK, there were two other men who could operate the same donkey suit. The very same. You can’t just stand down a donkey like that. You have to integrate him into society or there’ll be tears before bed time. Scratch that, there will be royal cataracts of shuddering plasma long before anyone’s even “feelin kinda sleepy.”
Yes, pretty soon, there’s going to be so much blood, all the real blood will be used up, and the blood of fiction and drama will begin to pump. The blood of blog. Macbeth will be totally drained, transformed into a dessicated comedy of manners. Just before Macbeth and Titus Andronicus and practically anything by Seneca tip their awesome offal, a gut-shot chaplain will fount the blood of totally unscathed bystanders. “Hey! That’s my blood!” “I haven’t any left of my own I” strangled sob “haven’t any left.”
Mumps, Chinwag had feared, and before that, AIDS. “Tell me it ain’t the AIDS!” he’d more or less said. When the doc’s laughter had more or less petered out, Chinwag had added peevishly, “tell me at least it’s the mumps.” The doctor didn’t reinforce a positive body image.
The doctor didn’t do anybody any favours.
What did Chinwag do? Sat at home and watched Chinwag. He owned every episode. Chinwag couldn’t always tell whether he’d been playing the donkey. All the scripts were the same ‘talking donkey’ shtick, and one of the other two actors operated indistinguishably from Chinwag. Did I say that, wondered Chinwag, did I – feel that?
For Chinwag had been to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and had a fussy, hifalutin devotion to his work. He spent each evening with the next day’s script, putting in and rubbing out petite pencil marks. He felt what the donkey felt.
“Who am I?”
But Chinwag always knew when the third man played the donkey. Cuz the third man had a different interpretation of the character. Just slightly off, like smoking four packs a day of Silk Cut. Like quiche at a rodeo. Like a tall unfamiliar man saying to you, “A kiss without a salt is like a egg without a moustache – no – uh –”.
It fucking enraged Chinwag.
A wyrm of hazard squirmed on his brow, the puff-pastry of his shut throat disgorged and grated.
He was glad he didn’t have mumps.
It is a sunny week towards the end of Spring, in Cambridge, England, a cul-de-sac town for privilege, and calibre, and brooding royalty of all races but especially the rat and fish people.
We seem to see a man with a guppie for a head. The fish flutters away: we are looking through a fishtank at a man (named PREGNANT), brooding on a chair. But he does actually have a guppie for a head. The guppie gasps and the man dies, his crown clatters out of shot.
The shot pans away . . . out the window . . . a street scene . . . an observant viewer may spot CORNTROUGH wheeling his bicycle through the crowds . . . title, “Francis Crot’s Scrum in the Cum” and opening credits . . . as a suicide jumper lands on a mattress . . . several children shouting whee! come onto it after him . . . pans farther . . . another window . . . into another apartment.
A man apparently with a goldfish for a head. The fish flutters away: we are looking through a fishtank at a young man (named LEMON), brooding on a chair. He has a normal head – frankly, perhaps a shade more pensive than normal.
Lemon arises and approaches the tank.
LEMON: You don’t like think.
We see the fish eat a piece of food.
We see Lemon watching the fish.
LEMON: Don’t . . . actually . . . like, experience fish flakes, do you. Do you?
We see the fish.
LEMON: Your eyes detect it and your mouth swallows it. Isn’t that right? Like my heart . . . beats.
The man’s face suddenly comes into shot, pressed up against the glass. The fish darts. The man accuses.
LEMON: You aren’t really afraid! There’s no, there’s uh nothing . . . nothing to fear . . .
The shot changes. Lemon puts another piece of food in the water. The fish eats it. Lemon ponders.
LEMON: Little device.
LEMON: I’ve heard you have a memory of two seconds. What have you heard about me?
Another piece. Lemon keeps putting pieces of food in the tank, with increasing anger/excitement, as the scene wraps up.
LEMON: Is that memory like people have memories, or like my Mac has a memory? Could I see through your weird eyes? Would it thus be a pensioners’ bus tour of the Highlands, a baffling Hellish blur – relieved somewhat – continual – interesting – castle apparitions – ? – You uh see like food, you like swallow it – ? – nut in your automaton brain nothing more special than your automaton gut like you see food and you eat it and digest it and you see food and you eat
For this scene, the quality of the image changes, as though filmed in DV with a camcorder. We are no longer in Cambridge - or are we? STORYTELLER and four OTHERS – two males, two females – clot around a campfire. Our angle is behind Storyteller, over the top of his head, so we can't see his face. The fire lights the dirty faces and messy clothes of the four listeners. They are covered in scratches and bruises and look like they could use a meal. Yet there is a kind of powerful resolve about them – they are not only exiles, but also, survivors.
This noise has a ritual quality.
The listeners wear expressions of extreme absorption. Most of the time Storyteller commands their alertness. From time to time, in response to some evanescent unease, the vigilance of one of the listeners moves to the space around the camp fire – woods? – and he or she stares, or pricks an ear, till the alarm is assuaged, and he or she returns intent focus to the tale.
STORYTELLER: I parked. Mist over the harbour. Beer trucks rolled by, up to their foo-foos in the reeking foliate wash. This is getting old.
STORYTELLER: I hurried across the road.
STORYTELLER: Dr. Zemeckis had huge lapels and intense, smoky eyes. Her heart-shaped face was framed by generous ringlets of unruly, Autumnal hair. She shook my hand curtly, pursing her tempura lips.
STORYTELLER: I didn’t want to descend that staircase with Dr. Zemeckis. I didn’t want to think what lay at the bottom. My motion was pseudopoidal, was toe hegemonikon. Every step was a triumph of will. Dr. Zemeckis was patient and discreet. I had to hammer the blood through my blood vessels exactly like Heinz. In particular I had to beat on the back of my left elbow like a exultant peasant. The final steps were a triumph of internalised oratory. I had to exhort my left foot forward with the figure of exergasia and down with expeditio. I used bespoke combos of litotes, conduplicatio, synzeugma, ratiocinatio, dirimens copulatio and bdelygmia to cobble together a temp minimum coalition of the toes of my right.
STORYTELLER: Dr. Zemeckis circumspectly raised the cerements. My friend and my friend’s friend, and my friend’s friend’s friend had died in this fire. I said, “Yes that’s him – that’s my best friend. This one, although he’s no more badly burnt, I can’t be so sure about. But I am pretty sure it’s him. And this one, I’ve only met once or twice at parties and I can’t say, with complete conviction, that we’re talking about the same – never going to give you up, never going to let you down, never going to run around and desert you.”
STORYTELLER: This was probably the first time a positive ID on the corpses recovered from a tragic farmstead fire had been used as the run-in to a Rick Roll.
STORYTELLER: “Brilliant,” said Dr. Zemeckis, when she had composed herself. “Anyway, you’ve been incredibly helpful. Listen, how busy are you this afternoon?”
STORYTELLER: “I have to be at the gym at four,” I said, “but what can I do for you?”
STORYTELLER: “I don’t want to impose any more than I already have. But you seem like a really well-connected guy. Would you consider giving the rest of the morgue a quick once-over, to see if there’s anyone else you can postively ID?”
STORYTELLER: “If it’ll save the family members a trip, I’d love to,” I said. “The bereaved have enough on their plate – or slab!” I joked.
STORYTELLER: As it happened, I didn’t recognise any of the other bodies personally, but my knowledge of film, music and popular culture trivia came in handy. I pointed out that a gunshot homicide was Steve White, drummer for The Style Council and that that torso belonged to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, best known for the role of Elaine Benes in the hit 90s sitcom Seinfeld. And there was . . . something else.
STORYTELLER: I admit that I expected Dr. Zemeckis to be impressed. But she just seemed shaken. “My God,” she said. “I can’t believe I didn’t recognize Steve White. I used to have the biggest crush on him.”
STORYTELLER: There it was again! Some vortex, perturbing the quiet of this secular resting place, countervailing upon the patterns of my complex, ginko-enhanced stamina.
STORYTELLER: “This must be hard for you,” I managed to say.
STORYTELLER: “Mr. Quarles, is it just your routine work-out, this afternoon at the gym? Or are you registered for a class?” Before I could criticize her for assuming I could be more flexible about the expectations I set myself, Dr. Zemeckis spoke again, now with a voluptuous urgency, almost of arousal. “Mr. Quarles, you and I both know you have no need to hit the gym today. I’ll need you to assist me . . . in reanimating the corpse of my girlhood crush!”
STORYTELLER: “You’re insane, Dr. Zemeckis! You crave ecstatic, radical experience that evades any kind of moral evaluation!”
STORYTELLER: “This important research could bring back the friend you so cherished! How can let that opportunity slip by?”
STORYTELLER: Suddenly I realized I had another motive for not wanting the drummer brought to life.
STORYTELLER: I had fallen in love with Dr. Zemeckis.
STORYTELLER: “Well?” she said, in a fierce whisper. “My laboratory isn’t far. Our first task is to smuggle out the body. Will you help me?”
STORYTELLER: There was a metallic shudder and the light changed. The door at the top of the stairs had been flung open.
A pub. Late afternoon. Lemon and Joe are playing pool. In the background are a table football table and VANESSA. CHRIS enters, “fresh” from football. Joe pauses his shot.
JOE: Nine’s all right.
CHRIS: Nine’s our season best.
JOE: Nice one.
Joe bends to sink something simple.
CHRIS: All right, Vanessa!
LEMON: You still using the old ‘six-four-zero’?
CHRIS: Had Ben hanging back, didn’t we. Just the three goals in the second half.
Lemon is artificial and discomfited.
LEMON: Now you’ve [sic] in single figures, could it be time to start thinking offensively?
CHRIS: Maybe. And I'm not saying we're disappointed with the wretched result. If anything, we're ecstatic. But as the clock ran down, we faced a team increasingly less convinced of the strength of challenge we represented.
LEMON: Turned down the volume, did they.
CHRIS: Of the final five goals, three were accomplished by aerial scissor-kicks, one can be traced to a quite unnecessary hack-down by Ben, and one was an own goal.
LEMON: Deflection, or . . .
CHRIS: Yeah, deflection. To be honest, Ben kicking it in off Batesy’s elbow, so. Both. Ben played well actually.
Perhaps some soundtrack music begins now, or perhaps it has begun earlier. A pool shot, a real mega-hit, splays pseudo-chaos across the table-top. The camera shot lingers until this pool shot’s very last wobble. Meanwhile, floating away . . .
VANESSA: Did you win then?
CHRIS: Christ, Vanessa!
CHRIS: Have you not been listening? You must've never’ve been listening for a month to be asking me a question like that . . .
A little later. Chris and Vanessa near the foosball, chatting, not playing. Shish-kebabbed men. It’s only beginning.
Joe is leaving the pub.
The soundtrack is continued from the previous scene. Joe puts on headphones, and we hear the two musics overlaid.
Joe is jogging. Cambridge in the evening. He goes past a small protest, organised by PAN – Pandemic Action Network. The placards say things like “Progress Not Slogans,” “Global Action Against Global Threat,” “Cameron Drinks Blood,” “Solidarity in the Face of Global Disease,” and “Repent, the End is Well F*cking Nigh.” The greater part of the activists are dressed as chickens. One stands a little apart, his head under his wing, relaxing. We hear a chant, dwindling. Joe comes past a chapel, where a choir rehearses. Three musics. He takes off his headphones. He stands and listens. Two musics. The soundtrack music fades. The song.
The man and the woman lie naked together. The first part of the scene is shot from Lottie’s POV. In other words, we can’t yet see her face.
LEMON: I don’t have inner experience.
LEMON: It’s very hard to describe.
LOTTIE: What is?
LEMON: Like. There is nobody “looking out of me.” I exhibit all the outer manner of human behaviour, including language and social interaction and so forth, but there is no consciousness to match. Inside me, all the lights are out.
LOTTIE: All right.
LEMON (within the kisses): Is it? I mean is it all right?
LOTTIE (within the kisses): Well I don’t quite know what you mean.
Lemon thinks or “thinks,” We could think, feel, will, and remember, and we could also “act” in every sense of that word, and yet none of all this would have to “enter our consciousness” (as one says metaphorically). The whole of life would be possible, seeing itself only in a mirror. Even now, by far the greatest portion of our life takes place in a mirror.
LEMON: You know how you infer what it’s like to be other people? By combining what it’s like to be you with what you see other people do? Well there’s nothing that it’s like to be me! There are no, uh . . . subjective facts about me.
LOTTIE: You’re nuts!
LEMON: Imagine . . . imagine a sophisticated, sort of, robot that you could make love to. It even groans and moans as if it were enjoying it. And it’s not thinking “God, when will this be over” – it isn’t thinking, or feeling, anything! Except as a kind of, well the way it’s programmed to behave, a particular set of subroutines to change the way it behaves it response to certain stimuli . . .
LEMON (within kisses): . . . like some of the things you do . . . like when your little mouth . . . goes around me . . . and your little hands . . .
Lottie laughs. But there is something in his manner. She moves away, turning her back on him.
We switch to some ordinary shot. There is a trail of still and smudged sperm on her cheek and her neck below the ear. He kisses her spine. He looks at her. He moves his head to speak into her ear.
LEMON: You’ll understand. Anyway I prefer someone looking out for me than someone looking out of me.
LEMON: I’m sorry. We’ll talk about it later.
LOTTIE: It’s just a bit boring.
This goes towards establishing a mood.
Shots of the world. Perhaps the bit of it with ducks in it.
Lisa and Joe meet on a humped stone bridge.
Lisa and Joe are “perfect for each other.” Everyone can see it . . . except them.
Lisa and Joe come to the road press the ‘wait’ button. They wait. They speak. They begin to cross, but a seven-foot Samurai wielding two fiery halberds tells them, “You Shall Not Pass.” They are unperturbed, go another way.
Lemon is watching television and reading a book. Lottie lies with her head in his lap doing neither.
Without looking up from his book, Lemon changes the channel. Terminator II is showing, or perhaps Robocop.
Lottie turns her head and watches. In a moment, he watches too. We see a “Plot Trajectory” subtitle flash up – what the robot sees.
LEMON: When I was a little boy, I had trouble understanding the uh first-person camera shots. I watched on episode of McGyver with my mother and she knew that McGyver was being watched because the shot was low and through some tall grass, and the music had made a sinister switch, but I didn’t know that. I thought the program was just showing me what McGyver and his friend were doing.
LOTTIE: McGyver had duck tape.
ROBOCOP: We can't have that.
LEMON: It’s very difficult to speak properly about what I am. I seem just the same. My brain’s made of the same stuff, nervous cells, memory. Language evolved to serve the needs of people who experience things. Duct tape.
LOTTIE: You're as smooth as a moose on the loose. Have a crisp.
A shot from Lottie’s perspective. His face, up-side-down. He thinks. He smiles. He is inspired.
Joe is waiting in the light rain with a little turquoise and navy polka dot umbrella. Lisa appears some distance away, shielding herself with a yellow folder. He takes down his umbrella, puts up his waterproof hood, ties his umbrella up. She comes close. They start to walk together. A shot from behind; he offers her his umbrella, she takes it and puts it up. She tries to hold it over him but it’s too small. She continues to try.
Joe lies in bed. He picks his nose. The result is dry and malleable. He molds it between his fingertips into a tiny heart. He considers it, rolls it up, throws it accurately in the dustbin.
Joe and Lisa meet on the bridge again.
Lisa is working in a library. She looks up two books in a catalogue; both have been taken out. Any music that may have been running through the montage stops. The cozy awkwardness of long silence. There are a number of people working here. We see a furtive man, trying to work, but preoccupied.
FURTIVE MAN: Does anyone here find libraries arousing?
They look up. They return to their work.
Ten minute shot.
A student is in her room playing the violin. Everything beautiful. Her face focused. Lisa is carrying books past her staircase. She puts down the books, and sits on them, and listens. The girl playing the violin. She stops. Lisa has walked up the stairs and been standing outside the room. She runs down the stairs, afraid and embarrassed. The girl goes to her mirror, squeezes a spot.
Joe reads one of the books Lisa had been looking up. The other lies bookmarked by his breast. There are other books around too.
It’s raining. Joe in the rain. A couple under Clare Bridge, which crosses the River Cam.
Wind moves through the grass and water, near the King’s Chapel.
JOE’S VOICE OVER: Invisible mice.
JOE’S VOICE OVER: Where would you keep an invisible elephant?
Frame moves slowly, as if by an ever-more-likely hunch, to the empty alley.
The scaffolding sways in the wind, rubbed by an invisible elephant.
Joe and Lisa meet on the bridge.
Joe and Lisa press the ‘wait’ button. They wait. They speak. The cars all explode. They cross.
Joe and Lisa meet on the bridge.
Joe and Lisa leave each other.
A park bench. Shoelaces. You’re all like, No no no, don’t try and suck me in with that stuff. Let’s just talk. I don’t know if you’re into sports, what kind of music you’re into, what kind of food you like, if you collect anything. Screw you. Here’s a park. A park bench. A sunny day. Joe is kneeling in front of the bench, tying his shoelaces.
The frame moves on. It does not rest for long on anything, but there are hints of a boy and a girl who may be in love. There is an elderly man in a straw hat (O), walking with a stick. He may be carrying a bag. There is a child being fussed over by her mother. There is a man walking a dog. There is a very beautiful girl. Her hair is probably either blonde or very dark. She doesn’t just look beautiful. She actually is beautiful. Just to give you a little more background. I know I know. People don't like to be disturbed at home, especially in the evening. Perhaps there is something that you would not expect to find in a park in a movie in the sun. I can’t think of anything. We hear, off-camera, a muted ‘oh, bugger.’
Now Joe is sitting on the bench, trying to repair his glasses with his hands. A lens has popped out of the frame. O in a straw hat is sitting next to him.
O [taking off his hat]: You can see through this hat, you know.
Joe: I don’t understand.
O: It’s a fine weave.
O is offering Joe the hat.
O: The light is focused through these little holes.
Joe is regarding the hat.
O: You can do the same by curling your fingers.
O curls his index finger, pointing to the place where his thumb meets his palm. He holds it up to his eye.
The frame is from Joe’s perspective. We see the blurry mother put a blurry hat on the blurry child. Everything is sharpened and darkened by a finger and thumb.
Joe: Oh right . . .
O has the straw hat on his lap. He is wearing a black velvet hat of some sort. He is offering Joe a coxcomb.
O: If you look through this one, you see the spiritual objects that are attached to people.
A change to black and white. We are seeing from Joe’s perspective again, but a little “swoopy” like in The Evil Dead. Joe sees the couple who are in love. There are various indistinct objects under their clothes. The man’s hands are tied together by a chain. There is a big lock on the chain. We see him place a strawberry with a key tied to it in her mouth. He kisses her.
Joe: How does that work?
His hands reach to cradle her head, and the chain chokes her throat as he kisses her.
O: You can see through the bells at the end.
The hat pulled off: colour again.
The very beautiful girl stops near the woman and her child. She bends briefly and says some things to the child. The man with his dog passes by.
Black and white again. The same activity, seen closer.
The very beautiful girl has gaffs, sharp metal hooks coming from her wrists. She perhaps also has syringes attached to parts of her body. The mother and child are tied up in string and rope. When the girl bends, a metal hook frays and perhaps cuts through some of these bonds. The child can breathe a little better. The man walks past. There are books attached to the dog. There is no leash, only a bright lamp instead. There may be other objects attached to the man. His appearance is brief.
The person who the beautiful girl is here to meet comes into the frame. We have not seen him before. His name is TOBY. He is covered in bandages and wounds. They speak about this and that. There’s laughter. She reaches up to brush her hair from her neck, and a hook glances across his cheek. She leans against him, and it cuts his chest.
The frame swings round to O. He has an animal strapped to his chest. He blinks impassively.
Colour again. O offers Joe another hat.
O: You can’t see anything through this one. It’s black velvet.
King’s Parade, from Lisa’s perspective. Then from Joe’s. As usual, the first person perspectives are bevelled by void. There is one droplet of high resolution moving in a sea of context and supposition. Flocks of threadlike stains rotate. Reality is sewn over a blind spot. From Lisa’s. From Joe’s. Rapidly back and forth, showing how their floaters would combine to outline a god in the mouth of the Parade.
Inside a church. Sunny, spacious, full. An ENGLISH MINISTER, a LAY PRIEST and two ALCOLYTES, all in muftis, FATHER PATRICK, a visiting American, in vestments.
The observant viewer will spot in the pews BRENDA, ELISHA and CORNTROUGH near the exit, TOBY near the front on the left hand side.
LAY PRIEST: It’s the good at are scared, assa fing. It’s them at ave Jesus in they hearts, as are likely a ave pup in they pants. Just a little play on words folks a get the ball rolling. Sermons don’t ave a be all boring you know. I’ll try a keep it short.
LAY PRIEST: But it also contains what I believe to be a very important message, which is fear.
LAY PRIEST: We all, live with fear. Fear of crime, fear of illness, fear of redundancy, of personal, financial, loss. And I just fink . . . it’s really important that we sometimes take a moment, to step back and say . . . hang on . . . ‘the Lord . . . is my Shepherd. Wiff Im by my side, what can go wrong?’
LAY PRIEST: What can go wrong? I’ve already mentioned a few. Illness . . . can go wrong. Monetary investments . . . can go wrong. Faith itself can, sometimes, go wrong. I ave ad the fortune, never to ave to part . . . wiff a thumb. Not so, Mr. Blackwell, who lost is, four years ago, in a lemon cutter, while he was tending the bar, in a night club. Mr. Blackwell . . . is ere today. What I’m tryin a say is . . . you look around you sometimes donchya and you fink . . . fiddle-dee-dee! I’m glad I’m not Jesus! You turn on the telly and you see these pictures of these starving kids and they legs blown off and there’s some bloke telling you the earth is actually warming up and that’s actually going to kill us all. I am in amazement, suffering is totally victorious holdin the floor no effort. And outside for all you know it’s your car at’s getting nicked.
LAY PRIEST: Faith and love are the core of the Christian faith. This as a knock-on effect in almost every area of Christian life. Once you ave developed these key skills it will impact charity, it will impact . . . and it will impact hope. Because hope is the only solution to fear. It is only through hope that we can ever hope to combat fear.
The camera drifts across Brenda’s parted lips, and frenum and septum and across the bridge of her nose and her eye and down her cheek and her neck and her top and her lap, and crash zooms through the fibres of her denim and her knickers and focuses on the wart in her pants. A grand, slow, zoom begins. As the lay preacher continues through his next speech, he gradually fades down as choral music fades in. It is an intricate setting of Delerious?’s “Deeper” somewhat in the manners of Orlando Gibbons. Eventually, deep within the florets we see Mary’s beautific face. Cut music.
The lay priest has tidied his notes. He makes his way into the pews.
The English priest or whatever he is is about to continue when he is stopped by an urgent whisper by the American priest or whatever he is. They bend their heads together, for a frivolous moment Lisa imagines that the ceremony has been delayed so that the American priest or whatever he is could get a light.
ENGLISH: Father Patrick informs me that God has spoken to him. He has warned Father Patrick that there is someone among us today who does not know Jesus. If this is you, step forward.
There is a hush. Lisa notices one or two heads twirling and straining, as if they know she is on her way to the front, and are trying to see what’s keeping her. Elisha and Corntrough both look thoughtful, with downcast eyes and little smiles.
ENGLISH: No? Is there not someone here today, who is without Jesus? Who cannot feel Jesus’ . . . hand . . . on their heart?
Lisa is terrified that if she doesn’t pipe up, Elisha or Corntrough will dob her in. She stares ahead blankly. The hush. Corntrough clears his throat.
ENGLISH: No? We all know Jesus, then!
There is relaxed laughter. The gentle commotion at the front begins to bristle with the next item on the agenda. Lisa feels relief.
London. Chinwag’s enz. These monkeys want Coke! And they’ll do anything to get it! Tins are the best – grenade-snug, their darkling fizz packs more wisdom than a scroll or a roll of piano music. No wonder monkeys want it down their phiz. Cokesuckers. A truck slows at a corner, its interior slung with racks of the ebullient cobs. If these monkeys knew what they were doing they would pelt it with rocks. Together they could get what they want. Instead they get on the underground transport system etc. The roof would tear off the truck as easily as a tab off a tin.
Why do we want it so much, when it doesn’t really taste that good? One philosopher argues that “Its strange taste seems to provide no particular satisfaction. It is not directly pleasing, however, it is as such, as transcending any use–value, like water, beer or wine, which definitely do quench our thirst, that Coke functions as the direct embodiment of ‘IT’, the pure surplus of enjoyment over standard satisfactions [...] The paradox is thus that Coke is not an ordinary commodity, but a commodity whose very peculiar use–value itself is already a direct embodiment of the auratic, ineffable surplus. This process is brought to its conclusion in the case of caffeine–free diet Coke.” It’s not the case. In fact the first thing you taste when you lift a tin to your lips is the tang of aluminium. When your buds slosh with Coke you taste a nectar version of aluminium. That is what Coke is designed to taste like: yummy aluminium juice. So Coke gives you the impression that your spittle has dissolved thin metal into dark nectar. So you must be a god. Monkey long for godhead.
Monkeys pucker like cheese stretching from the roof of a lasagne. A monkey’s mouth is a pubic rubber band, quenching on ambrosia or no! On a “soul” level we want spittle as will melt metal, fingers as will pierce and tear friends.
Lottie moisturised. Lottie toned. Lemon watched from his side. Tomorrow he would take his life. The notion was in him. He’d had difficulty making himself understood. If he’d known of the philosophical concept “zombie,” he might not have felt or “felt” the frustration which would intensify during that sleepless night and sublimate climactically in his suicide in the field the next day. He could have referred Lottie to the literature. In fact not knowing that particular philosophical term is probably what killed him. They had the downstairs of a sunny and pretty semi-detatched, very clean save for many sudden ladybirds, and a single virtuous-looking little mouse towards whom no policy had ever been quite agreed.
Lemon’s suicide would be its own elaborate suicide note: a linguistic treat which he hoped or “hoped” might – through its unorthodox emotional and legal significance – break into ordinarily inaccessible realms of propositional significance. The message was: lacking all subjectivity, Lemon’s life could be justly made the instrument of any value-generating discourse . . . his death could be used to win a five-a-side football game, or an anecdote game, and everyone should flock cheerily to pubs as if nothing had happened because nearly nothing had. His corpse lifted into a skip. That was the shifty and subtle point he would try to put across by trying to kill himself in that way. Lemon adjusted his pillow long-ways, the way he liked or “liked” it. On Lottie’s Facebook profile, he thought with regret or “thought with regret” it said: “About me: people like me cuz I’m cool as the other side of the pillow...”
Joe and Lisa walked. They walked along the curb – and one of them sometimes off it – from time to time glancing consciously at the other’s face. Then the moon came into view and mediated between them. They relaxed. They addressed themselves to the moon. Oh moon! So like a chef! And so useful to Lisa and Joe. When they arrived at Lisa’s, Joe hugged her. They hugged and they thought about things that were pretty obvious to both of them, like that one has just impulsively hugged the other and that here they were under the spry candy of the moon hugging at a gate and it was nice.
Elisha saw, “For example, feminist attempts to isolate a common experience of maternity feel the mountains tremble, did you hear the oceans roar.” Elisha stretched and rose from her desk. Her notes basked in lamplight something garish. Elisha highlighted every word Elisha read in one of three colours. It was “[her] way of working.”
Brenda struggled on her eiderdown. What if an animal, and its net, were evenly-muscled? Then we would have the measure of Brenda on her eiderdown.
She was not asleep. She only allowed herself to think of him for one hour an evening.
But put it this way, she had already been walking the pot-bellied daschund of his favours for some time without knowing it.
All her doubts converged on her wart. He hated her, she disgusted him! Nothing focuses a teenage woman’s vast insecurity quite like pubic fungus.
Chinwag’s collar was a dumb noose. He could relieve the chafe with a certain ponderous nod, as though passing under a low beam. His mouth was dry. Chinwag knew his neck was not really irritated by his collar, but by a nervous tic. If he varied his tic frequently, maybe no one would pick up on it. He would try and transfer it to a compulsive fist. Chinwag clenched and unclenched his right hand. He watched Chinwag. “Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?”
Corntrough tested his body and spirit. He sat nude on the edge of his bed. By, ahem, pure thought he hardened and by, amen, pure thoughts softened himself once more. The rule was he could not touch it. He had done it for half an hour, hard, soft, hard, soft, hard, soft and now he was hard again. He’d do it for that again.
Miffed, joyous, spirit-walking: barnacles don’t share.
Julian’s Morris dancing clothes lay on the kitchen table, intricate patchwork, neatly folded. He drank cider from a pint glass. There was a thumb of flour on it. “G’day mate, I’m from Australia,” he said. “I’m from Austraylyia. What iz op, mon, I am from Jamacia.” Corntrough was damp with sweat. There would be buffer zones of prayer at either end of the fantasies, and complicated hybrids at the boundary between prayer and fantasy. Sex is always a boundary circumstance. In terms of sexual phantasy, Elisha’s practice was more easy-going and sustainable. She tended towards abstinence lobbying, the US import which let one speak in public venues about fucking, often about children fucking, and then in private, plan further such speaking. Elisha turned up the music and did star jumps until the end of the track. It was Elisha’s way of taking a break. Perhaps it upset the bald man next door but he poured sausage fat into their communal sink. She could smell his sizzling them even now. Lottie moved a ladybird. A girl of grave kindnesses, Elisha, with the rare condition of a frowning skull. She wouldn’t be surprised if he was lowering whole strings of cooked sausages into the drain, all the while listening nervously into the rapture of Delirious? for the faltering of her star thuds, the sc-rape of her door. Twisting on his fat neck while the sausages’ fat necks twisted down into the darkness. Brenda peered defiantly into her closet as she still always did each night at this moment. Lottie switched off the overhead light at the moment Lemon switched on the bedside lamp. Elisha chose neon green. Corntough thought, “He felt her warm, wet mouth close around his member.” Chinwag cracked his knuckles. Julian pulled apart an egg with his thumbs. Why are you even reading this crap? You could put it down right now. The Cam flowed and the Thames flowed. And Lisa stood in her hallway and hugged herself. Plenty of things are left unfinished. It’s not too late. Pestilence tensed. And Joe walked down the road and hugged himself. You could be at a surprisingly accurate re-creation of the golden years of Motown for example and either because you are swept up in it or because you are explicitly encouraged to so do by Marvin Gaye you could lay down your Kate Atkinson novel, and perhaps you might leave it there, or one of the other patrons might crawl under the rows of seats and rob you of it. Either way you might decide not to source another copy. That might be it. I do my best. Julian poured batter. Lottie dreamt you stopped reading now. That’s how serious I am. She dreamt it and purred and champed. My hatred for you is pretty astonishing. You, Mike, and you, Carlton, and you, Bradley, and you, Justin, and you, Jefferson, and you, Samantha, and by increments, by deductions from the earliest, by mutation of the earliest, all you readers, gobbling, snuffling, tailoring, testing, clogging reality with your attributes.
Friday. Julian was on his nominal lunch hour. It was nearly four – he simply hadn’t had time yet today – and the sandwich shelves were desolate. He prowled from Pret to Pret in search of egg mayo. As he so did, he quietly sang himself certain songs, each to the tune of the best-known bars of “O Tanenbaum” (“Oh Christmas Tree”). “Oh Elizabeth Peake, oh Elizabeth Peake, you’re te-eh-emping while Jackie’s off,” he sang. “Oh Fiona MacBeth, oh Fiona MacBeth, you wor-or-ork in HR,” he sang. These were his songs. “Oh Simon Charvy, oh Simon Charvy, you’re from the Leeds office.”
He leaned to peek into the back room. Did they really make their sandwiches with as much passion as they claimed? He couldn’t see. Somehow he found himself in a stationer’s. Like most people, Julian sometimes suspected that life was a kind of flicker playing over the surface of something altogether deeper and larger. How to explain these feelings or impressions of unreality, even the innate validity of that word – “unreal”? Reality is only existence, everything is real in its category – a real animal “aloft in the firmament,” or a real hallucination, or a real fiction or fragment of misremembered nightmare. Yet – this pervasive, this persistent thinness. W. H. Smith’s, of course, a monopoly, or very nearly. The closest source of what he craved more than egg.
“Can I interest you in a half-price MacGuffin?” a monkey at a counter asked a monkey in front of Julian.
“A McMuffin? Sorry, a what? No thank you. It’s Coke I want.”
“I can see that sir and I’m down for whatever.”
Soon it was Julian’s turn. “What is one?”
The clerk monkey shrugged. Monkey shoulders move like throws of molten dice. “We’re offer them with every purchase over ten pounds. Here you can look at them.”
“What is it, a sort of toy.”
“No I don’t think so. It’s like a marketing . . . slash . . . media . . . slash trend thing.”
And he paid for his Coke and as he was leaving he was thinking about how he would soon be drinking it. Masked balls in kebab shops, Trend Spotting are saying now, and I’m inclined to believe them.
Sunday. Parker’s Piece, which Lisa till lately had thought “Parker’s Peace.” The sky sweeping with chewy emblems of luminance. A charnel stack of bicycles, and the usual heap of Nike and Adidas “picnic baskets.” The game hadn’t begun. Hallucinatorily cheerful panorama. The boys stood in two groups about twenty yards apart, scuffing a few footballs among them. They didn’t wear bibs – they knew who was who.
Lemon jogged over to Chris. They spoke, Chris shrugged, Lemon shrugged, Chris laughed and patted him on the shoulder.
“What was that about?”
“Got something up my sleeve. Something to add to the secret weapon. He don’t know the half of it.”
The lads took kick-off by ignoring the ball and running around with their arms held firmly at their sides. Gradually they formed four lines traversing the pitch. They were not elegant or even in synch or even, let’s be honest, doing back-flips. Skipping. Aborted toast pops. Gaz was about sixteen stone, he was doing forward rolls. Gut Heathrow for Gaz’s personal dojo, I dare you, he’d hardly learn a grace. I want you to step forward and bear part of the responsibility for this brutal chaos.
Balls are peculiar signs of courage – the only pebbles which buckle. Guts by contrast, when you appreciate how elastic they are and how they pump, gasp with duty, even in the open air . . .
The reality question – it is to do with dreams. Monkeys cannot afford to believe their dreams are unreal. So they must use a flawed notion of reality, conditioned as much by emotional salience as intellectual consistency, a notion of reality weak enough to do for dreams. Soon MacGuffins were everywhere. They came in £1, £50 and £1,000 versions. Their main selling points were:
1) Many outlets stocked cut-price MacGuffins.
2) The first generation of MacGuffins were likely to be very collectable and valuable in the future.
3) Retailers would be judged by their success in selling MacGuffins; to buy your MacGuffin from a particular retailer was a way of showing your support for that retailer, and would help to prevent that retailer from going bust.
4) If you had one, and somebody tried to sell you one, you could say, “No thanks, mate, I’ve already got one.”
5) They let market researchers understand monkeys’ buying habits, and so as long as you bought honestly and from the heart they would get clean, clear information and be able to create more competitive markets, as well as to buttress the distribution of goods and services against market failures.
6) They were audaciously ironic – if you were savvy to consumerism you could ironically buy a MacGuffin as the ultimate placebo commodity.
It would be misleading to say they didn’t “do” anything. They “did” of course many things. One example, they generated revenue for their makers Delight & Touch, a company better known for its innovative insurance products (insuring against being unable to claim on your insurance, insuring against having no insurance for something, insuring against wasting money on insurance premiums and then nothing bad happening to you – this was the kind of complicated iterative stuff they adored), and for the entrepreneurs and professional “trendy goods”-counterfeiters who successfully sold forgeries of the £50 and £1,000 MacGuffins.
The Mashing Shamans of Delight & Touch thwarted efforts to understand their processes. They put up a smoke screen to maintain their distinction from ordinary people.
Who would not snigger to have it termed priestcruft. You think all I care about is that the zeitgeist had a goitre i.e. that I’m not going to tell you what MacGuffins were actually like as objects. Well I am. They were the same shape as a matchbox and slightly larger than one and as great as one. They were of satisfying weight. They had on them a design which people very quickly got as tattoos. The difference between the differently priced versions was in the colour and a few other very subtle features. The £1 ones came in a variety of pastels, the £50 were black and the £1000 were the colour of moonlight. One time a clerk did not offer Julian one – although the signs clearly describing the offer were abundant, and the date that day was between the two dates circumscribing the period during which the offer would be valid – but reached over the counter and in one clenched fist pulled free his chin, jaw and tongue. Obviously during that his shriek became a strange, keening spluttering.
Julian conducted himself like – well “headless chicken” comes to mind but then so does “jawless customer.” He left the store, incidentally activating the alarms with clutched merchandises. The smog snaked into his promiscuous lungs, there was nothing to disincline it, and his bellows, after all, pumped like death throes. He made mayhem of the busy street by standing woozily in it.
Shards of tooth and bone dribbled from this “face hole” like boulders tumbling in a blood waterfall. With a chunk! his upper jaw stuck into the windshield, as though a tool designed for it. The driver – Chinwag and no other – had had it! He left the engine idling and went to the boot, where along with his Chinwag headgear – he did not bother, this first time around, with the rest of the suit – he requisitioned a billhook and a double-barrelled sawn-off.
What Mr. Chinwag did not realise is that most of the people he was “slaughtering” were the living dead. Dead bodies, of cancer patients for example, moving in. Depending what you judge to be an acceptable amount of “collateral damage” Mr. Chinwag was either psycho or hero. If say 0.35 innocents cut down per zombie cut down was acceptable to you, you would see Mr. Chinwag’s status fluctuate excitingly between these two possibilities. If you can’t see what’s happening I can’t be bothered explaining it to you.
Samantha Hollybrook earned a badge called Carnage.
I saw one once where . . .
6 months at Brownies.
Naughty – refused to do tasks, refused to sit at table, just ran round.
Housewife stuff – ironing, cup of tea, sandwich, boring, stressful, got told off.
Pulled a girl’s hair.
Literature badge. Rude poem. Didn’t realise it was rude. “I wish I were a moron – my God, perhaps I am!”
Made her sit in the other room. Bit confused.
Sitting in entrance to church hall. Nanny came into entrance with other mummies. Brown Owl came and said they’d been having trouble and she shouldn’t come back.
Cache of automatic weapons.
A little girl will fly twenty yards if you shoot her in the right place.
Brown Owl’s eyes gouged out, so doesn’t know the thing glued to her forehead when stumbling into survivors’ den a grenade.
. . . at that moment Lemon ran into the playing area, took a knife from his joggers and opened his throat. The blood leapt out all at once, like something waiting to be free, and he folded up. To put this into perspective, it was not as surprising as a sudden latticework of mellifluous dogs, a structure some fifty feet high, or anything like that. All players but one crowded around the corpse – the “injury” paradigm was what they had to deal with this. Chris, riven with hysterical panic, yet deft enough to braid a kettle, deft enough to snatch from you your iPod, but not its song from your ear, dribbled around the bloodshed. He faced an open goalmouth and tapped it in there.
Brenda stood in the softly-lit queue, sucking in her lower lip and peering up to the transept, where shadows moved behind a rather perfect Charles Eamer Kempe. There an elfin child perched easily upon His virgin ledge, but at this time of day there was little light to make them glow. Up front, the wafer had billowed, the supplicant found herself poked with a meat bun. The wine scabbed.
The faithful wavered, then slipped diversely forward to see the commotion, the queue disintegrating, but the Church assembling itself in their muttered and sung astonishment and prayer.
Though Brenda was aware that what happened was unparalleled, except perhaps in the early days of the Church, nevertheless she hung back, beckoned - or transfixed, it seemed to her - by whatever little dark triangle scratched against the stained highborn seraphs glass.
As old and young, lay and cleric, thronged in the nave, the large constellation of tapers and candles occupying the chapel all in one instant flared up, as if the building had drawn in breath, though the air was quite dead and close, and dazzlingly sent shadows scuttling into its nooks, then in another darkened so every shadow blackly wavered back over the stones it had covered and father across the walls. There were fifty-three inside the chapel, not counting the useless wizards. Forty-nine of them now thronged in the nave.
Some deep and small part of Brenda cogitated rapidly. It was as though a thought, authentically new, immediately was buried by the several contraries it unfortunately gave rise to. It seemed to her that she yearned to think of incantations, energy, honour, misery, Black Masses, creation, the caress of her eccentric sex, The Consoler, the triangle cut out of his silver tongue. But this other main part of her – this sluggish, rivetted, sick yet calm person, who saw her own hair at her vision's edge, who watched the manta in the half-lit glass, this main part, in ever-improving obedience to her holy and righteous Father, threw out every profane flutter the instant it had form.
Energy, honour, misery. It is some trick, to hesitate, to loiter near to the back, given the Body of the Church – vivified by the Holy Ghost, discrete and distinct in its different members in various times and ages and divided in its distributed receipt of gifts, yet as one certain husk, wherein His Love ever pours, united – began with Abel, the first just man, and given that it will be consummated in the last of the Elect. The triangle withdrew. The lidded mountaineer seemed to have wrenched off His mother’s breast, or else packed a spongy hip flask.
“Sanctus!” reiterated Father Jeremy, who already knew better. “Hallelujah! My brothers and sisters, from the pews all of us can –”
There was a staunch *GLOP* and the altar wine spat a missile out of, it was apparent, membranous clot, falling providentially upon Father Jeremy’s foot, a little sacramental hacky sack ready to go. “Hallelujah,” persisted Father Jeremy glumly. An aroma had arisen. In the ciborium, a sausagey and black puddeny muffin had begun to slop.
Then the widow Mrs. Williamson, who of all the inspired crept into the zone they all exalted littlest by littlest, was beside Brenda, coming past her. Brenda sought Mrs. Williamson’s expression, but could only meet it at an angle, for the woman was engrossed by the marvellous events ahead of them both. Still Brenda could make out, in those offset and darkly-lit looks, what was probably peace and zeal, the bingo-wings of Mrs. Williamson’s highest humour unfurled to their fullest, and this had an awakening effect on Brenda, so that she did not return her gaze to the transept, but fixed it forward, riveted beside Mrs. Williamson’s, and felt for the first time the kind of cloudy joy that had stolen into her own limbs, which dreamily she reined onward, to join those who ecstatically bore witnessed to congealing estuaries of coarse flesh. And Mrs. Williamson, still as agile as she had ever been upon her cemented femoral stem, matched Brenda’s pace. The air was now as though agitated by small insects. It smelled singed, or Mrs. Williamson did.
The meat pumped from the ciborium and the chalice. Mrs. Beckett, keeping an eye on the vicissitudes of thes gibs, stretched her hand into her handbag and begain anxiously to unwrap her untouched lunch of corned beef sandwiches. Meat paving progressed. Toby gazed casually upon squirts of nearly liquid muscle and then was seized by that, as the glass and light and other thing had transfixed Brenda. His heart overflowed with tenderness. A dampness in the air.
Brenda uncertainly sought among the many who sleepstood her amigos’ faces. Fruit pastilles; a wet, black bough. Elisha’s was radiant with joy, song and reproof. Toby's and Corntrough’s were . . . somewhere else, for now, to be seen. Elisha looked pale and rather frightened now. Fifty-one of them, of us, assembled in the brawn’s drainage basin; three frightened by the entrance, the notional meatshed, one of those, him the communion wafer first had touched. Ground wandered into figure. Meat by now had filmed over all the sacraments and was rolling slowly outward from a puddle some four feet long. Strange qualms and misgivings, and what, if Brenda did not take it wrong, felt like xenophobia. Yet there were only a few in the congregation. There! – now Chanique was wrong-footed, and to steady herself put her palm in a griseous creek, and her ducking showed Brenda Corntrough, whose face was darkened, as though he were struggling with a morsel lodged down his throat. The stained glass distinguished its parts somewhat, it turned out its compartments like flaps, what was the sun doing out there? Hideous sunlit numbers. Calf calf calved from a calf floe in a flow of choppy chops. Teddy stretched his hand into his bag as withdrew his mobile, which he waved over the cramming out ham. He turned it to his fellows. The face of the paladin Martin swam through its screen and was ill. Shapes could be perceived in the flesh as in clouds: dogs . . . only dogs. Cartilage’s naiad.
The pressing meat flopped and winced; a vast cephalopod unpacking itself from a I’m On Jesus’s Team lunchbox. Like waves at the sea side in the evening it came except not usurping one another: layering.
When Toby turned his head from the zigzag of mellifluously wiggling faggots his eyes fell upon Brenda. On her lips words were forming which Toby felt sure would begin to recapture the marvellousness of the brute nature afoot, the the butchery food dangled in every wave. Time elapsed without anything like that feat. When Elisha’s voice not Brenda’s did reedily begin an assay which was to have risen ponderously above the dispirited murmur of rote rite and inundation of suet gunk slap, it seemed the container of a death’s head screech, for Corim, the first of the three finally to leave his threshold linger, shrinking aghast into the light, was seized immediately by the arm and not seen again. Gelatin ligaments turned in colon marsh.
It had become clear that the life of those who made to leave was being exacted at the circumference, but that, on the other hand, the enginery of the most profound incongruity which ripened and grew in strength on the altar beside them was as revolted by them as they by It.
The worshippers’ wandering and fiendish glances roved freely about the mass of accumulating muscle subtleified by currents of gristle and embedding flecks of bone like pigment in eye, the productive yet sepulchural force compelling them back, for a norm was made when the first few would not let it flow over them. Corntrough skipped shakily across a purplish-red oxbow lake the size of a child and came beside his chums. Brenda herself moved back from a cut of brook, queerly quivering. It was oozing from its own frayed streaks, like a birch-taught buttock. Martin's foot ploughed into fat sleepless ligaments spurting regurgitated skin and was sucked fast.
But the meat was climbable on, just. Though forcemeat, surely, showing them who was boss, it was not mince: a forest of membranes occupied the slurry, a venous patchwork of ad hoc cauls forever bursting and leaking compartment into compartment and regrowing, diversified moreover according to the paths selected by sick-backboned deltas. There were harder and spongier areas, and Corntrough was treadmilling upon a sluggishly convulsing verge of melted carrion, without sinking too deeply into its gamy flutters. A red rotisserie rolled out for Elisha and she against convention floundered towards the holy articles, tongues of grisly gills sickly nourished by pungent stir cutlets sliding against her shins, still softly singing. Elisha's feet learnt the cadence of the nomadic bleed, and teetering upon the gristlier outpourings in flume she had elected of drainage plasm flop cartilage flume, neared the fountain wherefrom it flowed. But when a wave of thews, nails, spittle, rushing with viscous callous and crested by a plethora of sustaining meat gases swole to her right side and proceeded, Elisha smelling its fretful provision grew giddy and as its diarrhea gristle flushed up her legs and torso she stumbled and slipped, a raising bolus of river hemorrhoids covered her. You may recall Brenda's vegetarianism.
Brenda thought for herself that they would be buried hastily and without ceremony if at all. Elisha's face gasped upwards from the shallots watercourse, laughing up skin cud wall mixed with topple-gush and fitful stagnant continuance nerves. The illness of many lay in the pouring flesh. Chanique knelt by a turning colon marsh for another spate of ill at the meat's inconstant viscous beck.
They looked at the embarrassing bait. They who had reserved the life of the mind for situations of surpassing deadliness, so they thought, surveyed a ground of pig, disarrayed by breakers of fine cartilage flop and rills of rheumy sustenance, and knew themselves to be trapped, maybe doomed, flown with wine and insolence. Their limbs stiffened and their hairs erected, their eyes half shut, and their mouths gaped.
And away in Malton Julian unpeeled the stock cube like it was his special nut.
And on Parker's Piece, Lottie’s woe was a little assauged when her love began to nibble her cheek.
And one of the kids, Seth, recognising what was happening, raced home to put his ninja costume on.
And in the chapel, the tide of flesh was herding Mrs. Williamson towards the exit. As the shadow of sunlight fell across her, her frail, uncertain feet encountered a streak of blood and she slipped violently. For a moment Brenda thought the stone floor would crack open her head but the flesh caught that and nestled it and kept seeping, with Mrs. Williamson as its figurehead, lifting up her shoulders, a bad mixture of ship and sea, peeling back her dress against the floor, despite her little fretting and patting and smoothing hands, and feeding her feet-first to a pack of dead doormen. As the blood began to whiz the floral sneer flipped up past her swollen thighs to reveal an adult nappy, an unexpectedly stark canvas, quickly painted with the red of Mrs. Williamson’s varicose sewers amid Mrs. Williamson’s dying whimpers.
The revolting anomaly winnowed their ranks by driving them into the undead killers at the door, by colliding them into stone so that their heads smacked hard against it, and if they survived those attentions, by flowing meanderingly into their heads and chests and by compressing and popping all their structure, closing fistlike about their bodies and rousing them like puppets then crunching them and deforming them like living Paintshop pixels and disseminating them into the flow.
Eight of them however survived by running past the fell guards whose carious and baneful gaze did not find them through the enormous floods of crimson juice they beckoned from the melting bodies of others, into the little church lawn.
Here they saw one who might have been Mrs. Williamson’s gentler elder sister who had perhaps had the good fortune to arrive late to the ceremony and thus never to have set foot inside the chapel spongebathed with a manhole cover by a revenant. The idea that the inwardly brittle formation of bone was a definitely limited union had taken the eight escapees with surprising force. Did the dead, come sprightly from their beds beside the chapel, motion to one another, as if with positive judgement? Surely they bade, one to the other, to carouse and prosecute the banquet.
A tithe of your leg. Different dead people waited at the entrance to the little lawn to eat them. Damned in concentric traps. Yet between frying pan and fire, a world of difference – for all that they each pitilessly asserted the priority of tactics. Curiously difficult and unsatisfactory was the bloody and grass green lawn, of funereal trenches, and sprinting and young in a sense worshippers. Inside there the meat had the upper hand and wouldn’t let you forget it.
Stained glass shattered. Now bodies within were pushed through the rafters. Out their bones came, crinkle-crankle, through the stained glass and the brickwork. The flesh posies from the chapel’s surface soon began to wave in no wind. These chaoses of human bodies, enormous, blood-woozy ganglia, soft tissue and bone sprouting somewhat like gore-soaked and filled clusters of ultra-thin flourescent tubes, were also possessed by the dark reanimating morphological field, but did not threaten the escapees.
The chapel was clogged, sealed off. A wall of invisible force marked the boundary and the evil meat flowed to exactly that line. The rotting gents slit blue sacks and whirling red rope from your warm screaming friends.
"You can't reap me," Brenda trilled, "I used to draw you!"
"Everyone's just running away," Corntrough called to her, "especially me!"
"Do you have a better idea? You suck at this!"
"Hallelujah!" called Father Jeremy archly.
The relation between aesthetics and ethics is both overtheorised and undertheorised. The key question is, alot of sentences are bad, but are any equally as bad as the holocaust? It is problematic because according to most people the question itself is in the same neighbourhood. The whole struggle is to go beyond satire and just be plain rude, like the chapel, 100% full of meat, did. Were the meat to tense, it could launch a spire like a rocket. That was so not revealing Himself through the beauty of His creation.
So ardently and so eagerly did the one lot go prying meat out of the other lot, and so spirited and wriggle-some were the latter in their reluctance, that amid the frolics points of extraordinary and fell localised stress, like that point where the revenant Missus Williamson lent all her eight stone onto the olecranon fossa of Brenda’s humerus, came frequently into being, and as these little systems discharged themselves, as when Missus Williamson’s smashed hose thwuck'd heavily into Brenda’s forehead and then hip, this or that liberated component, a rib perhaps or an eyeball with a trailing ribbon, regularly would ping in a high arc away from its unfortunate, who knelt and wept from its middle its intestines, for instance, criss-crossing oftentimes aloft with more such morsels, and, indeed, it was just these little impulses, these moments of gore pinging to and fro above the chapel lawn, which sometimes decided other highly-pressurised engagements at the margin, as for example the jolly-hockeysticks SMUCK of a triangular piece of Elisha’s cranium, and its subsequent whizz twixt Henry and wee Marco startled the one without bothering the other, whose childish hands then quickly pliered ribs from him and lit his nerves as they did, such that, taken at an airborne view, the bright lawn about the chapel had the aspect of a touch-me-not, or impatiens bush, whose distended seed pods, if disturbed in one place, may ripely cannonade and crackle left and right and up and down the whole foliate structure, without regard for the artificial membrane of organism, pod setting off pod till the next nervous equilibrium arrives.
So complicatedly elegant – and so laden with humane significance like pain and death – were the forces that vomited and tumbled themselves about the dead things’s feedground, that we can at best make of them a very brief and arbitrary tour.
Congregations boast crazies. Most of these cravens had been among the first fallen, stampeding through the sly slaughter mouth. Henry, a legendary psychopath who always wore his kilt like a true Scotsman so to keep a spare skein-dugh under his foreskin, appreciably reduced their numbers before being clawed and bludgeoned to death. In the corner of her eye – so it seemed to Brenda – it tore off his dick, which was hard with fear, and stabbed him in the eye with it, and his brains and blood landed up Elisha’s vagina, causing her to vomit her unborn child into his pelvic wound, which was unfortunately brimming with piss and shit.
Who loaded the tennis ball machine with black pudding? In that sunlit rift, Brenda had misperceived, and Elisha yet lived. And who were the eight survivors? They were Brenda, Elisha, Toby, Corntrough, Henry McDonagle – no longer, let the foetus have his place – Chanique Akinfemu, Helen Freemantle and Father Jeremy Farrier.
“Oh gosh. We’re not getting out of here in one piece,” said Toby. “Are we?”
“We’ll get out in loads of pieces!” said Brenda, and Toby smiled tolerantly, but took his leave.
The inflamed meat sprouted from every chapel aperture but there ceased, quivering, advancing no further. It was not bashful. “Could I be possibly insane?” Brenda entreated an emo Jesus, “Um. Just because I don’t say anything . . . doesn’t mean I don’t like you . . .” Brenda stared at the pert door and began to trace in it a nebulous logic of Satanic cautery. Brenda determined never to go back there. But flesh-eaters interrupted her reverie, as was becoming more widespread.
Brenda saw a dead man stagger towards Toby, his own headstone (either) held before him. Toby, ever socially awkward, misinterpreting the gesture, leant in, trying to read the worn stone. The rotter flogged him to paste right down to the torso with that immense slab.
A cohort of sandy zombies straightened from where they had fed, along with what they had fed on, and all together staggered and skipped towards Brenda, gesticulating their arms like slave oars in a wilderness, chattering their soaking mouths and braying through the wrecks of their throats. If she fell into the hands of the sinuous, segmented, misshapen men, who were about ten yards away, they would tear a hole in her midriff and eat her. She ran, but where? Arabesques. Helen Freemantle reached the outer gate, and a shoal of hands covered her.
The gravestone-flogging had driven Toby’s feet into the earth, so his legs and pelvis still sort of stood there cropped with offal. Brenda cleared the wobbling hurdle. A skein of Missus Williamson’s cloudy skin disentangled from Brenda’s hair at the apex of this leap, floating for the briefest instant on a zephyr before smacked by an airborne length of viscera. They fell and they lay, the saddest flag.
Helen Freemantle, a choral scholar from Gonville and Caius, came apart like a blow-up doll full of vomit – no, that’s unfair.
Brenda skidded and, veering right, collided with the bloodsoaked but exultant Elisha. The girls’ arms tangled briefly but compassionately, then, while both quickly checked out the extent of the pocket between them and death, Elisha said, with faint proprietorial strut, “Hell has blown its top.”
“Why don’t they come?” Brenda wondered, looking to the horde of horrors standing at the church’s outer gates.
“They are like sin!” said Elisha, eyes blazing conscientiously, not understanding Brenda but guessing the general topic of concern. “They are one of those wonderful problems which still is there even when you solve it. Watch out!”
Brenda did not know what Elisha had meant either, yet an understanding was that moment formed between them, asymmetrical, yet in all its aspects to do with the hideous timidity, now, of any overly-solicitious self-expression. As for Corntrough, there was force sufficient, as his timid heart exploded, to send ribs out like the splayed, nervous fingers of a crap shooter.
Like fear – that’s how the feeling felt to Brenda. The emotion was probably actually just “sports.” Her sweat covered her. Within her narrow and God-given compass she and Brenda were libertines. She had kicked off her blood-spattered harlequin green La Senza slippers and went sticky bare-footed on the soft lawn. Who could have foreseen it after all. Elisha was in trainers, the triple knots of their neat bows for once vindicated, the socks down.
She did her best to assimilate the morning’s proceedings. The horde at the outer gate, Brenda had tried to say, looked nebulously different. Indeed little Helen ended her fine run when she mistook them for helpful. Brenda had witnessed Helen’s dip in the barracuda tank in her protective “meat” suit, and had got to thinking. But Elisha was cursed like all Leftists with powerlessness in making usefully nuanced discriminations among the terrible Satanic cannibals who preyed arbitrarily upon her and other screaming people. Henry wildly tore off Father Jeremy’s arms.
“There!” said Elisha.
Through the necromantic delirium the girls began a tactical trot. “Not something I did wrong?” Brenda blurted. She eyed uncertainly the frayed cemetary towards which they were shepherded. They would be slowed, crossing the hideous vacant earth. “In the service? Come this way –”
“Oh yeah,” said Elisha, with restless gloat, “like I really think that’s what God is telling us, Brenda! Get with the programme!”
“Fair play. Look out! Let’s try and go past – they’ve eaten Chanique now, or as much of her as they can stomach.”
To their left Father Jeremy roared and headbutted the freak – something of a freak himself. It drove its weed whackers deep into his stomach, yet somehow he freed himself and began to run towards the girls, more of the horde bearing down on him.
“Oh my gosh, we actually lived to see the Day of Judgement. Though they’re all dead and they’re like, hey whatever! ... we'll come!”
“Um, by the way your face called, Elisha? It wants its left side back.”
Elisha tossed back her braids of blood and laughed. Like fear, this feeling felt to Brenda, but in her private understanding with Elisha, that fear felt altered.
This fear was not wretchedness, fault and sin; it was not an itinerary of identifications with the alien, the counterfeit, and the obsolete or antique; it was not, as hitherto it had so often been, fear finely, irreversibly inmixed with self-loathing. It rather was the bloody and zephyr’d medium through which they two moved. It was a pleasant day.
Was it wrong, thus to flee? Could the Lord have planned them as snacks? They needed pastoral guidance!
“Oh God . . . please God . . . please please, Jesus, don’t let him . . . oh God, please stop him! Girls! Girls! Oh God! Please someone stop him!”
Those murmuring and humorous shufflers at the outer gates, unlike the lurching huntsmen of the lawn, were only recently passed. They were dressed informally, as if unburied. The observant reader will spot Vanessa carrying a femur through them. These “Just Add Maggots” attendants in their muftis, Brenda theorised, though vaster in their number, were of a lesser order than those whose bones had long marinated in the sacred ground. Those who were not already in the church grounds at the instant of the Trump could not cross it now. They desired to enter, but were held, as though by a fierce wind, or invisible shield.
Fear Brenda finally knew united with its proper complement – not guilt, not its crushing delegitimations, the convulsions of a cosmically gauche rationality, but love – fear, and love – love for her Lord – for the line about the church grounds was not arbitrary, but acknowledged by the living dead! Howsoever mutilated, there was structural affinity between the unfathomable atrocity and the religious emancipatory wish which had preceded it various institutional elaborations. “Hallelujah!” she unbidden shouted [lit. “Get me out of here in one piece”].
Even those buried in the cemetary had not entered the chapel earlier. Its sanctity must be of an even higher repulsive order. It would be the ideal sanctuary, were it not full of meat.
This was the meat that Brenda then considered. Infested, overrun by whatever dark principle brooded here, the Deific germ had defended itself the only way it knew how – by secreting a cyst wall of Our Lord’s body, to await, beseiged, angelic reinforcement. Or perhaps the sorcerous airs themselves were the origin of the meat, blotting out this sanctified territory, abhorrent to it, with enveloping spongy tissue from Hell? Then might the holy building yet spit it out? Or perhaps some dark worm in the Divine psyche had agitated it to this abnormal surfeit of flesh, parasites oft are seen thus to disorient their Hosts. The girls were divided and soon Elisha was in trouble again. Its hands cupped her breasts like sinks full of kitchen knives, and came away snagging on the steak within them. Brenda overtook her own hysteric squeal and body-checked the zombie. Brenda and Elisha hated the disorientating zombies.
She had begun to recommend her yet-ramifying hypotheses concerning the meat to Elisha when the second girl darted rapidly off from her side, down the little slope at whose foot stood the clogged chapel.
Folicles, thick as children’s plaits, protruded at random from frank puckers. Elisha seized one of these with both hands and yanked it free. It was crowned with twitching roots of gory flab – plucked like a dodgy upturned rose. Elisha let it fall and clawed sensibly at the exposed pore. Brenda saw at once. They would carve slots in the chapel’s belly and embed themselves, defy the man-eating devil somewhat like snug snow angels.
Snow angels had made an impression on Brenda – ha! ha! – in that without ever really thinking about it, she’d always thought of angels as reptiles. Most people think ‘angel,’ they think, ‘big holy mammal.’ Not Brenda. The cold. This is off-message. Inside the meat, Brenda thought as she ran down the slope, God in His wisdom has given us security.
The zombies poured in a wedge downhill towards them. They would claw basins. They . . . would claw basins! Brenda envisioned herself snug in the meat, blowing a raspberry and having the tip of her tongue snipped, and giggled.
She tugged up a turf of epidermis an inch thick and shaped like Benelux. Before this rug had even quit pulsating Brenda had punched elbow-deep into the ham gauze. Fraying and scooping until she suspected the skin of her blood-drenched arms, face and chest was seeping empathetic river.
But by was by now absolutely certain that they would run out of time to claw basins (perhaps in a living being / superbeing?) suitable to cower in erectly. Same old same old – would Elisha and Brenda draw the line at also biting away the marshmallow soft fidgety carnage swirls? They would not. Like two Eves they took of it.
In the gelatinous, rich paste of pork tallow, it would be uncomfortable.
As the zombies neared, the girls were able to lead them around the corner of the chapel. Oh the shallow troughs for which they yearned. The flesh snug around their arms. With themselves as bait and liberators, a kind of pattern of movement transpired which seemed to promise triumph to the pair.
Each time the crowd rounded the north-eastern corner of the chapel, mad and leaping, the girls left off their fleshmasonry and begin another brisk clockwise lap. When they were certain they had been followed as far as the south-western corner they sprinted, their gaits by now scarcely less eccentric, the balance of the lap to the gibbous gate and prised more meat. It was then that fatigue took hold. They say sometimes, terrible trauma gives you access to reserves of strength you never knew you had. Perhaps that’s why the zombies endured. No, that’s not right. Brenda felt a funny sort of companionship with the dead. She had to claw thick flesh with her bare hands and so did they. They held this in common. Brenda furnished the meat, to her satisfaction, with the outline of a girl and tried to help Elisha up into it. The wounded girl swatted her and returned heavily to the second outline. Ghosts envy fish, and so on, down to you.
Brenda was off – but this time something was different. Over her shoulder she saw Elisha climbing exhaustedly up – too soon, surely? – into the cavity she had scuffed in the meat. Participants received feedback about their appearance that was either congruent with their self-appraisal, congruent with their reflected appraisal, or more positive than their self-appraisal. Elisha was half-in, half-out when a hand grabbed her thigh. Brenda yelped, so did Elisha and kicked clumsily loose, then she was inside the meat.
Inside the meat, for better or worse, to try whether or no the vagrants might force into the seraglio. With relish they consented. Little by little, they pressed the gelatinous fringe of the holy zone, whittling a crater in the face of Elisha, who shrank vainly into the solid unyielding chops. In seconds they had scrabbled off her breasts and nose. You said it not me. One knelt and tore ribbons from her toes with sharp, ostentatious fumbles. The waned moons of her eyes swivelled, directing bloody tears this way and that. A strange, incommunicative groan left Elisha’s lips.
Yet for all that the zombies tore and guzzled, her injuries might be restricted to the peeling of her superficies – depending where the holy line lay.
She was nowhere near deep enough. The men sanded down the front of her body, to a plane something over an inch behind her face. Brenda tired of screaming. Soon Elisha could not make sounds. When finally all morsels of dead Elisha jutting over the sacred shield were gone, the men moved drunkenly to surround Brenda.
She ran swiftly through their middle and leapt, twirling perfectedly mid-air to face the lawn. Her shoulders hit the meat. He makes me down to lie. As Brenda slotted into her hole, Elisha’s hollowed corpse stepped free. Brenda was pleased she had not followed her first impulse, to clothe herself in her dead friend’s casing. Overzealous solidarity. She saw the sense in leaving that niche unfrequented. The viscera pixie swayed before her now, all trace of their former love gone, and reached both hands towards Brenda’s face.
The others joined her pawing, evil mimes. Was the gutter deep enough? – would the chapel jerk and purge her? – Brenda hypocritically tensed her muscles – prayer must be to speech acts as speech acts are to the words which composit them, only pragmatics cubed can found a proper sense of prayer. Hallelujah, Hallelujah. The moaning men – Elisha, Henry, Corntrough, Mrs. Williamson, the others – reached and reached, and Brenda felt a little nick on her chin. A gallant nail snagged her T-shirt and drew away a thread. She sucked her tummy in. Their fingers tapped on the button of her jeans. Her feet were splayed, forcing her legs bandy. A mushy thumb snapped off near her throat, but tickled. Was it malice or rote, that made them try?
Her body was bent back by the meat, so her chin jutted out farther than her nose. Indeed, her crotch was foremost. And steadily, steadily they were shredding the fabric of her jeans. That they tried to swallow it showed Brenda that she had not exactly been outwitted. Yet perhaps defeated.
Body parts have a certain paradoxical lightness, wings in particular. The chapel of meat about Brenda's back had some of that.
“Give it up boys!” she muttered “I’m not gonna stage-dive!” But her chin took a deep cut; she shouldn’t move her jaw, unless for a very wise crack. Hallelujah, she cracked wisely in her head. A chaos of flesh, yes, the armless, legless torso of Father Jeremy, twitched and writhed with a horrible rapidity to the fore of her attackers and uncannily bit off her wart. The blemishing scarabæus swallowed, no part of her poked out among their attentions, and so, the little figurehead chewed up, and some further suckling by Father Jeremy at the little spray of blood his bite had brought forth, which soon dwindled, the zombies shuffled off to join their brethren at the outer gates, who had already begun to file off into the day.
The manner in which Brenda receives this harmless pleasantry will convince you that she is mad. Let us leave her a moment where she is packed – she is quite safe – her impertinence snipped, and her mind glitching with God, and consider the figure of the zombie, whom by now you trust has inherited a good deal of sense with his zeal, and the figure – I mean the trope, or circumstance – of the pandemic. Generally if you splatter his brain everywhere the zombie will not get up. But the brain can seep into other parts of the corpse, so head-mashing is not a hard-and-fast rule – when is it ever? If you haven’t got the disdain for what passes as a humane thing yet you are basically my point. But I would also like you to consider the dynamics of pandemic, i.e. to bother about how many die and how. It is a difficult and paradoxical enterprise, to “get” the disdain but also to bother about how many die and how. What you can do is, write down your concerns on a bit of paper, walk about half a mile that way and just pop it off our suggestions cliff. Of you, I’ll ask more or less whatever I feel like. Smack yourself quite hard in the head. You’re more of an idiot if you don’t. The disdain, the plague, the smack. Carry on. “Hello! Hello!”
Joe halted in a general cloud of gravel and nearly overbalanced.
“Get away from it!”
“It’s OK!” said Brenda. “This is His body, which He gave for me. This is His blood, which He shed for me.”
Joe revved the engine tetchily. “Get in! For God’s sake get on!”
“Are you Saved?” Brenda gasped.
The glowing ashes of Joe commenced a vigorous search of their options. “Yes,” he said, and Brenda peeled out and straddled the seat behind him and wrapped her thin, stinking arms around his chest.
I said “chest” but my meaning is not thus fully conveyed. They rode entranced over the smashed glass of a row of shops. A large group of moved vaguely from among the dolls and Joe accelerated. Go cupids (I know ye were left here by the previous tenant) and scatter rose petals on their tombs. Better choose white. Here and there a devil torpidly drew out the intestinal perplexities, and beside each Joe slowed to see if anything could be done; beside each it could not.
They came through the market at the centre of town, where most of the stalls were overturned: the debris spread so there was no clear path, and Joe rode carefully over wares whose crying you would forgive and wares whose crying you would most certainly not. Flapping tarpaulin; spilt fruits, loaves and cakes; all dappled with gore; and limbs and heads smashed not much like, you could see, apples; and grand fans of secondhand books: Boykoff (Jules) & Kaia Sand, Landscapes of Dissent: Guerrilla Poetry & Public Space. Palm 2008. 128pp incl. many b/w photos, reproductions of posters, signs, handouts, etc. pages sl. discoloured, wrprs sw., bloodstain at tail of sp., run through w/ little finger prob. of Lisa Morgan, £6.50, etc.; and Dr. Raphael Lyne, specialising in the Early Modern period, straightening abruptly from the stomach of the vendor of spicy cakes and breads still gnawing a rubbery tube of his offal and so drawing forth a placenta of organed gore, and a slick new flood as the corpse jerked free of it, maybe “the touch that did it,” as Beckett would have it. Dr. Lyne, who also had an interest in Beckett, lurched at them ready to hug but was tangled in the cryer’s offal, and he whipped the bike around him without trouble, sending up a diverse bloody spray. Joe remembered the banana bread had not been that good either. They went past a college; a body fell from one if its parapets onto the road behind them.
No, beside each it could not, and besides Joe wavered before the prospect of seating a third on his commandeered lime green (and red: it goes without saying) Kawasaki ER-6n. But he prepared himself to ram one of them, if he came upon an indeterminate altercation. It was not like domestic violence, Joe thought, it was better defined than that. The girl behind him – “Brenda” – shook more than his new bike. “Try and stay calm,” he said, to him it sounded like, “Do not be frightened.” Chris, Howler, Lisa and Lottie were all heading to their row of houses on Cavendish Avenue to warn the others. Nobody had signal. They were to regroup in the parking lot of Addenbrooke's, or if it proved impossible, in the Golf Course along Trumpington Road. Joe had originally left with Jealsie and Vanessa. What do you think of their screamed arrangements.
“I need a mallet,” said Brenda properly speaking to your surprise. “I’m not interested in a mild tool, as adapted for coaxing nails forth at it is for driving them down. I want a masher with approximately an anvil’s heft.”
They left the Kawasaki by the Cam. They found survivors finally near Addenbrooke’s. Chris, Lottie and Lisa were among those trying to drag someone from his weeping o’er scrubs and the endless rose within. Brenda tersely recounted the seeping belfry. There was a lively discussion, scant on logic. Some wanted to barricade themselves into the upper floor of hospital, silencers fitted to their cereal spoons. Others, petulantly arranging their tattered skirts and so on, thought it safer to strike out by foot in the countryside. Does not the pleasantness of this place carry in itself sufficient reward for any time lost in it? Perhaps they should head for Malton.
“Did you go past the houses?” said Joe.