Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dust to Dust

Behind a Venetian blind, in the upper room of a high-ceilinged house, a woman moves. Nothing except her wrist and forearm are visible. The arm is bare and slender. Slim fingers wield a dusting cloth, like a pianist polishing their instrument prior to a long day of recital. She has better things to do, but this is a necessary prelude to them. A suggestion of jewellery; a bracelet or watch, in a loose cinch around the wrist.

He guesses that she cleans a vase or some unseen fixture. Her half-hiddenness gives her an air of mystique, though, and he clings to the idea that she is one of those housewives who clean in the nude. She is confident in the privacy of walls, and discards clothes whenever she can. He remembers the women at his old office talking about it, and finds it indescribably erotic to think of them, toiling in their underwear. Grunting and pink-faced, holding dustpan and brush, gussets stretched tight across the divide, thrown limbs dampening their cunts, their swollen tits jostling and straining beneath black lace or underwired satin.

It charges the moment with allure as he squints through the grimy windscreen, between lines of reflecting sunlight. Inching the car forward, he narrows distance and periphery, polarising her in the dark, hidden space she occupies. Once attuned, he searches for the deeper detail; giddy in the blatancy of his act. His mind is alert now, a clarity of focus one-pointed by the thrill of arousal and he knows, more than ever in that moment, that he is an unbelonging savage.

It isn't as though he is lurking under her window or stair, hoping for a flash of bare or covered crotch as she descends. His eye just happened to land on her. Besides, he remains unseen by angles of glazing and elevation, and in this way feels empowered, free to subsidise the tedium of queuing with idle speculation, for as long as the interlude lasts.

As though suddenly aware, the blind descends, severing the tenor of his fantastic thoughts. He feels obscurely cheated, as though she had teased him deliberately. The other hand has been holding the sash all along, only ever interested in completing the chore. Then the lights change, and the moment is lost as the traffic moves off like a herd, watchful and bustling.

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Pigeon of Life

You are a thing. Just a thing. A thing made of meat. I've come to tell you this. I am the Pigeon of Life. I roost in these places when the owner is away. Your owner is away. You are under the knife.

When you wake, the world wakes and everything is as it was. But the mind, for a time unknown, is strained through cloth, then set again to jelly. In that time, before waking, while you are liquid and steaming, the Pigeon of Life - me - comes and tells the story of how it is.

We'll have a talk. You'll say: "Why are you here? And if the owner is away, who am I?"

And I'll say: "You are the thing beneath the thing that thinks. The witness."

And then you'll say:  "Where is the owner?"

And I'll respond: "That's unimportant. We're here. That's important."

And then you'll find it fit to question: "Why a pigeon?"

And it'll be a stupid question. Because why a pigeon is irrelevant.  Why not a pigeon? Out of all the things I could have been, I'm a pigeon. What does that tell you? Everything and nothing. No thing. I'm nothing, and you're a thing. This is all just 'thingness'. I'm talking about things being as they are. Just as they are, not how you've made them. When you're in this state, with vapoured  blood and hands disgorging some impractical organ, there's a void. A place of nowhere. The owner can't know, can't feel. Can't care about it. You can suffer a pigeon, though, a timely bird of awakening. And this is practically the perfect moment. The only other time is death, I come to everybody then, but I'm not called the Pigeon of Death.

Then, while you are silent, I'll give you a choice. I'll say: "Put it this way: It's a pigeon or nothing. Your choice."

And you'll say: "I choose life."

"But you can't choose life," I'll say. "Only a pigeon. A pigeon or nothing. And you can't say 'I' either. You're not the chooser, you are not even the one who thinks. You are just a thing. A thing made of meat.

"I choose pigeon then." You might eventually concede.

And I'll say: "Good."

Because they don't always choose pigeon. Sometimes they settle for nothing, preferring to wait the endless wait, lurk dumbly in silence and then wake swearing nonsense. Except there's never ever complete silence, complete motionlessness, is there? Not really. Try and stop motion. Close your eyes. Go on.

"My eyes are closed," you could argue. "I'm asleep."

Not asleep: under. The dreamer is dreaming, unaware of itself. And while this happens, a pigeon can speak. Not just any pigeon, the Pigeon of Life.

Questions may come then. Questions like: "Have we met before?"

And the answer is: "No, but I know you and your soft, human anguish because you know you're going to die. The hundred different ways it colours your waking thoughts, how it makes a saboteur of your finest ambition, flavouring each second of your conscious life.

And then you'll whine and say: "Why tell me this?" Feeling more thoroughly miserable and alone than usual.

And I'll say: "I'm not here, not even talking. And if I am, let me say, it's for my own amusement. In a few minutes or a century you'll wake and remember nothing. No lingering bird, just the ache of a lost organ and a dryness of the eyes. A phantom pain, a phantom pigeon."

And you woke, talking nonsense, and the nurses laughed and the lamps glared dumbly from the surgeons' heads and the way their hands fluttered reminded you of wingbeats. And the strange thing was, you did remember. You thought everything was just as it was, but then you realised it wasn't.  Everything had been replaced with an exact replica of itself and you were just a thing. An interchangeable, scared, meat-made thing. 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Candleflame Jenkins

Aunt Lily was a puma and uncle Jack is a snake. I mean, Lily isn't much to look at now, what with the sunken cheeks and nicotine eyes, but back then - wow, she'd have devoured him in one bite, a midnight snack. All tooth and claw and velvet lashes. Pick her teeth with his backbone she would.

They say I see dead people, which isn't strictly true. I just see who they were before their parents were born. I can tell what you were before and what happened to you afterwards, assuming that you died of course, like uncle Jack did, all shrivelled up by spite and whisky.

Aunt Lily is still alive, though. Best thing she ever did was outlive him, and he pretty much reaps what he sowed, slithering round mangrove swamps with one eye on the clock and eels for breakfast.

Name's Jenkins. Jimmy 'Candleflame' Jenkins. Why candleflame? I can make a candle flame appear in your mind. Go on, you don't have to close your eyes or nothin'. Candle flame, about three feet in front. Am I right? Course I am!

Careful now, you might singe that lady's hair. I know, magic, right? Just pops out like a midnight torch bug.

So you might allow that knowing this stuff is a strange thing, but I'll let you into a secret. What I can't say with any kind of certainty is who we are now, and that's got to be even odder. Why, it's almost as though none of us exist, not in this ten-toed, lug-eared thinking form anyways.

The best I can put forward is that I think we might be angels. We might just be angels. Careful you never fall from God's grace, like uncle Jack. That's a cold toe in the water, right there.

You can let that flame go out now, it's nearly my stop. Wouldn't want you being a fire hazard without me here to douse you. Say, you look nice, and since you've put up with my old man prattling these last seventy miles, I'll let you into a secret. Yeah, another one. Seems like this is a two-for-one day.

I know what you're thinking; you want to know what you were, right, before you became an angel? I can tell you that. Then, we can go around the cemetery, looking at the gravestones, and I'll tell you what became of those people too. Come on, this is where we get off. Take my hand. Run.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Catalyst Hero.

The Catalyst Hero.

Prompted by a discussion over on WayoftheRodent about the Die Hard movies.

Is John McClane a 'catalyst hero'? Not altering significantly himself, but acting as a catalyst for change in others? Even his reconciliation with Holly Gennero in the first one is more her forced re-appraisal of him rather than any redemptive transformation his ordeal has engendered. They still get progressively further apart as Mcclane reverts to type, till they are eventually divorced in the 4th movie.

Generally, a catalyst hero is the strongest reason for a film with a strong protagonist to generate successful sequels. You wouldn't expect Dances With Wolves 2 to grace your screen any time soon, for example. Kevin Costner had his journey, was reborn anew and brought his gift of knowledge back to the mundane world he left us behind in. We all walked away, wincing, the wiser. Not a catalyst hero, then, our lieutenant Dunbar. Similarly, Tom Hanks in 'Big'. These central characters tend to undergo their great journey, have their life-affirming experience and find themselves (and, concomitantly, us) changed by it forever. What's left to tell?

Indeed, (thinking aloud) take any bad sequel that does NOT involve a catalyst hero and maybe the reason they failed (discounting technical ineptitude) are that they:-

a) failed to expand on the main character or their journey in an original enough way


b) didn't find anything new to say about the hero or at least cause them to effect change in others

Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions are good examples. Let's chuck Grease 2 in for good measure. Neo ran the whole gamut in the first one with some quasi-buddhist belt-and-braces brilliance. What was left to tell? The protagonist is changed forever and if he is not now a catalyst hero and no-one else is changing, all you've got left are action sequences and a message that has become repetitive - or worse - woolly and didactic to a sophisticated audience (i.e. practically everyone). Should these flagship 'journey' films always get remade then, rather than added to?

A catalyst hero has no such problem. Let's take some others and see how their follow-on potential flourishes, given that they themselves remain who they are while bestowing the opportunity for change on those they bump up against.

Eddie Murphy's character in Beverley Hills Cop - displaced from his ordinary world (just like Neo and Lt. John Dunbar) except here the two sidekicks in his new environment (Rosewood and Taggart) change most significantly, with the correspondingly smaller ripples spreading out from Foley's madcap splash. Sequels, it seems, are practically a no-brainer for the catalyst hero, probably because we ourselves ultimately fear change and cling to consistency. We know Axel will always be Axel as we know Indy will always be Indy, but we're happy to find out who or what they might cause change in next.

The Terminator series adds a twist to the concept of the catalyst hero. Emerging as enemy to John Conor in the first instance, then friend in the second. You could argue that the Terminator does himself change, but in a way that's arguably counter-intuitive to his silicon nature and certainly not entirely satisfying to audiences. We quickly find a voice for our misgiving, even if we don't know why it doesn't sit right. Well, here's why. The cyborg assassin shouldn't be having the human feelings he is credited with at the end of T2. It is a bit of screenwriting wish-fulfilment to tarnish his catalyst hero crown and give his inorganic innards an ineffable whiff of Hollywood meddling. We're not daft enough not to notice, even if we can't exactly explain what it is we're not seeing.

Other catalyst heroes? Ferris Bueller, undertaking his own great, but ultimately superficial journey. It is Cameron who changes most. Similarly, Marty McFly, perhaps one of the most potent catalyst heroes in the respect that practically everyone he comes into contact changes, albeit under the wonky auspices of Chaos Theory, where time is as much enemy as friend, and no outcome can be truly foreseen.

Catalysts come in all shapes and sizes, but they are, it seems, almost always profitable in terms of the sequel.