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Gestalt

onehundredandsixtyone

Snow on iron.
Clouds on fire.
Blood on sheets.
And painted bones.
Those places that I found you.
After you were gone.
You were never really there.
After all.
Always.
One hundred miles away.

I made a charm.
Of burning orchids.
A brew.
Of rust and milk.
A ring of crimson roses
A dress of spider’s silk.
But these weren’t garlands that you’d wear.
Shades of a truth I could no longer see.
The ice that lingered in your hair.
The way you blew across your tea.
A childish whim to pluck and scorn.
The eye from which the veil is torn.

The skirt that clung the night before.
Is cheap material on the bedroom floor.
Mascara that made your eyes so bleak.
A stain on my shoulder and dirt on your cheeks.
These are the tattered edges of our dreams.
The rim of tranquil seas.

Stars will burn and overwhelm.
Those swinging from the tree.
Who put Bella in the witching elm?
It was you as much as me.

Midgard

onehundredandsixty

A serious man dreams reasoned dreams.
But the sleep of reason breeds ghosts.
Kiss the top of their heads.
Kiss the hem of their shrouds.
My kingdom.
For a steed.
Pale horses peal out when you need them the most.

I knew a man who knew a God.
And I asked him for a sign.
He kissed my lips.
And I kissed his back.
And the choir sang for the light.
You can live on their harp strings.
But believe this, my friend.
There will be an end to all things.
And all things have an end.

It’s a bitter medicine.
A brackish pill.
For children who shivered in church.
Shook before.
The desperate roar.
Of Job in James the First.
You can live a whole life.
Having never understood.
Why ever the this cycle begun.
But the snake on the ground.
Turns around and around.
For he cannot raise his face to the sun.

Lord

WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  WORLD WAR II/PERSONALITIES

Seditionist.
Or terrorist.
This is flour.
And also grist.
Angel hair.
Or human shit.
We no longer make distinction.

Yet we serve these words.
As truth.
And swerve.
The roots.
That touch.
Our nerves.
Whilst telephones tell.
The resting birds.
Of the coming mass extinction.

The boot is raised.
The human face.
Ignorant.
Of class or race.
The soul.
Suborned.
Has no place.
In the courts of contribution.

Petals fall.
On tower roofs.
Metal beams.
And crumbling walls.
Flowers grow.
In silver light.
Now a sight that goes unseen.
Not a light that we’d recall.
Amongst the night’s pollution.

A ring of fire.
A raft of stone.
No place left.
To call a home.
No thing left.
To be left alone.
Adrift.
On a Titan’s collarbone.
This is how the ledger ends.
In violent absolution.

Rōnin

onehundredandfiftyeight

A dog as dark as Sturm und Drang.
Stalks on the moors.
And lurks in the drains.
Hangs in the air.
Like spoiled sheets on the line.
Ruined birthdays.
Feeding time.

Pull up the drawbridge.
Lock up the church.
The siege was here.
Now the siege is worse.
Scent the hounds.
And bait the hooks.
Fuck the poor.
Burn their books.
All it takes is a cockeyed look.
We’ll burn the whole thing to the ground.

A dog as dark as a poppy seed.
Feeds the hunger.
But starves the need.
Nothing to do but watch and bleed.
Beneath the skin.
Beneath the sky.
Nothing born, not born to die.

The Octopus, The Horse and The Maiden

onehundredandfiftyseven

 

Once upon a time there was a maiden, though, by the time of our story, she was only a girl. Once, twice, thrice a girl. Perhaps more. For language has decided that, beyond thrice, a thing is no longer worthy of record. And who could argue? Three times anything has ceased to be an action and a matter for the ledger and the courts. It is a nature and is a matter for God, or someone like him.

This erstwhile maiden, this girl by nature, came down to the sea to bathe. In sheaths of cool autumn rain she bent and bowed her bare feet on the damp stones as she floated down the beach. Her hair was the colour of corn, soft as prayer, and her skin had the smell of milk gone sour. She wore a white dress, barely a slip, which she cast off like a caul as she walked down to the cloudy water. Naked, she knelt down in the surf and foam and, with small, childlike hands, she washed herself in the brine.

At a good distance a shadow watched the small white and gold figure attend to it’s ablutions in the rain on this timid edge of the roaring ocean. The shadow was a horse. Made of sinew, glued as firm as mortar and brick. A mountain of ideal proportion, of dense bone and thew. He saw the figure and pricked his ears. Behind him was a rake to which he was lashed. Like a plow in size and resistance but made to sift the grains from the stones of the beach. Day after day he pulled it. Who had set him to the work he could no longer recall. Forward and back for spring summer and winter, before and alike to the tide, forwards and back.

He drew his load closer and closer to the shape that bathed itself in the foam. The closer he came the more his enchantment grew. As the blurred edges became bewitching curves the form dwarfed even the heaving sea in his perception. He stopped just short of her and announced his presence with a stamp of his hoof on the sand and shingle that it was his commission to separate.

She turned and smiled with a smile as pink and white as was her mottled, milky skin, bathed in chill saltwater.

“Hello Mr. Horse” she said.

“Hello young maiden” he said in a voice that was as broad and deep as his chest. “It is a fine day for bathing, despite this rain”.

She smiled shyly and ran a handful of water down the length of a slender arm.

“It certainly is. Have you come to bathe also, Mr. Horse?”.

“No. I wish I were here for pleasure. I must rake the sand, for it is my position”.

“How sad” she said and her blue eyes swelled “however, you have done such a fine job, the beach is a portrait, have you not earned a minute of rest?”.

The horse, Mr. Horse, seemed to fathom this suggestion. His nostrils flared and his tail swished as he calculated the aons for which he had pulled this apparatus and attempted to ideate if, perhaps, this may have earned him the opportunity for leisure, if even for just a minute.

The girl, Miss. Maiden, who had gone back to her bathing, looked back over her shoulder and watched him struggle between duty and deference. His narrowed, roaming eyes caught hers. She smiled understandingly and, inevitably, duty was undone.

“Hmm” said the horse “perhaps. I might. That is to say, I could. My father used to say ‘overworked and unmotivated, the beast becomes the burden’. I would need someone to disengage this rake, of course?”.

“Of course” she smiled and, standing up, naked as Eve, she set about the straps and buckles that so encumbered the horse.

“My” she said as she ran flat his hair that was in disarray from the fixtures “you have been made into muscle by your work”.

The horse, his eyes heavy and his tail swishing with pleasure, allowed her to admire his grandeur in silence. Her tiny, gentle hands worked each fixing and stud til the stud himself, finally unburdened, stretched out each tendon and joint til they bulged under the unyielding hand of the girl.

“You are as much monument as mammal” she said, standing back to appraise him as a whole.

The horse rolled his glassy chestnut eye over her own esteemable form.

“You are an angel to apprehend yourself, Miss.”, he said, giving one final stretch, shrug and shudder to relieve his nude body of the memory of its bindings, “and a nurse to tired flesh”.

She giggled to herself and, returning to the surf, knelt down again in the water. The horse trotted over and stood in the lapping tide. He looked down at the water and then at the naked girl who was scrubbing at the inside of her thigh with her hands.

“Miss, once you have attended to yourself? The water looks very inviting but I am unequipped to enjoy it to its fullest extent” the horse said looking at his dull hooves.

Stopping her own bathing immediately the girl stood, brushed her long damp hair over one shoulder, and began to adorn the horse’s aching muscles with cool water.

“How beautifully your chestnut coat shines when it is wet” she said.

The horse put back his head and faced the grey sky, the drizzle falling and sticking in his long, dark lashes.

And so we have two from our title, and where else would we find our third but in his home, and half of our setting, the tumultuous sea? For our strange bathers were being watched.

He had spied the lonely girl coming down the shingle of the beach, disrobing as she went. He had watched with keen intent as she knelt in the water to bathe. He had watched the horse watch the girl with an intent of its own and had equally watched, though through slitted lids, the horse approach and engage with the girl. Now, though his eyes still watched, his agile, alien mind was trained on the imagination rather than the image. He wondered how he might insert himself to greatest effect amongst our already introduced and enamoured souls.

Let anyone who has never known an octopus bet against him and lighten their purse! For the octopus is the sole survivor of the world that went before, so they say, such is his peculiarity to the rest of us, and they neglect to speculate if he was even native to that penultimate world of which he is remnant. The octopus has made a fool of cataclysm once and such cunning is to be revered.

A shimmer of light rippled across his body in involuntary reaction, and portent, to the idea on which he had settled and, utilizing his most cunning arts, he spread his limbs wide and allowed himself to float up to the surface.

The girl was still bestowing ardent caresses of water across the unending fields of muscle and sinew that belonged to the horse when she saw it.

“Oh! Mr. Horse, would you look?”.

Her hands falling away from his flesh and gathering between her bare breasts she took a step toward the floating object that so intrigued her.

“Mr. Horse, isn’t it beautiful?”.

The shape on the surface of the water was an iridescent marvel of gold and platinum on the grey sea. A facsimile of the sun as it might appear sculpted or in stained glass. Its beams, its spokes, undulated and hypnotised as the shape bobbed in the water. Its core, as bewitching as the boss of Minerva’s shield, was a whirlpool of flax and ochre and pale ozone blue, all intermingling and dazzling the girl who stared, transfixed. Her eyes as wide as a child’s, her mouth opened and she emitted a surprised little moan.

“Oh…”

The horse snorted, as horses are wont to do, but there was derision still to be heard in the sound. He flicked his tail in a haughty way and rolled his eyes to the far end of the beach but, even in his affected disinterest, one could still catch a twinkle in his pupil.

All of this was exactly as the octopus had ordained for, of course, it was he who, with his talent for mimicry, was assuming the guise of the sun. He had no time to relish the efficacy of his actions, all that he had was going into the charade. Each intricate wave of his arm, each pinwheel movement about his crux, each ripple of enchanting colour had to be studied and executed with the utmost delicacy and concentration if he was to continue to captivate the maiden and confound the horse’s earthy charms. Preparing for his denouement he galvanized all his powers of art and deception and prepared his ink pouch.

Still enthralled on the shore, the girl gazed, glassy eyed, into the kaleidoscope of solar colours that continued to spin on the surface of the water.

“Mr. Horse, Mr. Horse, it’s the sun itself, I swear it!” she cried.

“I don’t see how that could be” he muttered derisively.

Either paying no heed or not hearing at all she sighed contentedly as she continued to observe, stood in an inch of water, her feet ankle to ankle. The drizzle that came from the grey sky mixed with gentle tears and her hands at her side fluttered like birds.

“It is. It’s the sun itself. It’s come back” she whispered.

The shifting pattern that the octopus was administering grew in intensity and vibrance. Yellows as bright as a field of cornflower, silvers as delicate as the scales on a fish. For a moment it stopped, a second of infinitesimal duration and, in an explosion of shadow the water around it turned black. The shape’s colours melted into rust and apricot, it’s arms retracted and, in a most perfect impression of the setting of the sun, it sank into the blackness.

The girl watched in equal parts awe and despair. The final act had been of exquisite drama and yet now the show was over. Even the horse, forgetting his supposed disinterest, was watching with anticipation for an encore, his ears twitching hither and thither.

Looking up at the rapt forms from beneath the cloud of ink that still sat atop the water the octopus smiled and allowed himself to float upward. In the slick of shade on the surface, two eyes blinked open.

“My goodness!” cried the girl and started to clap her hands, “Bravo!”.

The horse looked on suspiciously as the octopus adopted a more perceivable colour and floated closer to the beach. He reached a long tentacle to the girl and, as she offered her hand, he wrapped his appendage delicately around it, drew it down and kissed it lightly.

“Oh, what a wonderful show” she squealed as she straightened up. “Wasn’t it a wonderful show, Mr. Horse?”.

“Hmm” said Mr. Horse with eyes as green as seaweed.

Madame et monsieur, I am so pleased you took such pleasure in it. My name is Diogenes, what are your own?”

The girl and the horse looked at each other, a little confused.

“Well, nevermind that” said Diogenes, “How do you both fair on this very fine day for bathing?”.

“Who gave you a name?” demanded the horse of the octopus, quite impolitely ignoring his asking for his health.

“I gave it to myself” said the octopus, Diogenes the octopus.

“Pshwah!” snorted the horse, employing one of his own honed arts, for few if any beasts of the land, air nor sky can snort as a horse can.

“And why, Sir?” said Diogenes peevishly, “An appellation is not a kiss, one may bestow one upon oneself and still retain its majesty”.

“Well, where did you find it?” said the horse.

Inflating somewhat in mass and flushing a royal blue shade, Diogenes answered.

“I read it”.

“Ha!” the horse brayed, “A likely story!”

The girl, seemingly too entranced by the strange new visitor to hear, let alone scold for the impropriety of, the horse’s remarks, looked on, wide eyed.

“Diogenes” she said, reverently, “what a marvellous name. Where did you read it?”.

Smiling with his strange eyes and blushing salmon and plum tones, the octopus replied;

“On a temple wall. Deep, deep beneath the waves where the sun is not lost because it was never known. I reached out and touched it where it was inscribed in the stone. Feeling out each letter and shaping my mouth to their forms I spoke it out loud. It was the sound of a clap of thunder. I knew I had to take it for my own”.

“How exciting!” said the girl.

“What a lot of tripe” said the horse. The girl flashed him an admonishing gaze.

Diogenes was riding a wave of pomp and conceit from which the horse’s disdain could not knock him. He flashed his skin the most regal colours he knew and twirled and twisted his many limbs into fascinating knots as he continued to peacock for the girl.

“What other adventures have you been on, Diogenes?” asked the girl.

“Oh my, too many to mention!” replied the octopus.

“How thrilling!” squealed the girl, reaching out to touch the creature’s peculiar, chameleon skin. “I do love the sea. Did you ever come across a boat in your adventures, Diogenes?”.

“Well, I have scoured many a wreck and found in their bellies such treasures”.

“Oh?” said the girl, and there was a twinge of disappointment in her voice.

“Oh yes” said Diogenes, continuing to posture and pose “quite remarkable treasures, in fact. Metals that catch and bend the light. Jewels cut into the most fabulous forms. Statues so real you would swear they were the subject’s own form petrified and set on a podium”.

Diogenes paused here for gravity. In a sly and mordant tone the horse beseeched him.

“But what of ships, Diogenes, what have you seen of ships that float still on the ocean?”.

“Oh yes” said the girl “tell us, do!”.

“Alas” said Diogene, casting a narrowed eye at the horse, “of them I have yet to be acquainted. But I am sure there is still time”.

“Oh” said the girl and her bare shoulders sank.

“Oh” said the horse, and he flexed his neck, “I’m not sure about that”.

“Don’t say that” exclaimed the girl, her eyes filled with sorrow “There may still be. Just because Diogenes has not seen one does not mean that there are none”.

She stood, abandoning the octopuses studied caresses, and looked out to sea. The horse stepped beside her.

“Perhaps you are right” he mused, “Did you ever see the Admiral in the park?”.

“You’ve seen him too!?” she cried.

“Why, of course. Who could miss a man of such bearing?”.

“Of whom do you speak?” spoke Diogenes, but his voice fell on deaf ears.

“Do you really think he might still sail a ship?” asked the girl of the horse.

“Of course”, said the horse, “for what else could he be waiting so patiently?”.

“Who is this admiral?” Diogenes interjected again.

“There is a park near here” explained the girl, “It is so very beautiful. The trees touch the sky they are so tall and the ground is covered in lush, green grass. It’s as soft as a feather bed. Have you ever been, Diogenes?”.

“No” said the octopus, “it sounds very wonderful” he added, without much enthusiasm.

“Oh it is, isn’t it Mr. Horse?”.

“Quite wonderful” he affirmed.

“There is a fountain in the centre of the park. It’s dry now, of course, though it still fills when it rains” she said delicately and, indeed, her own eyes began to fill as she recounted the place. She placed a steadying hand on the horse’s broad shoulders as he smiled out to sea.

“There’s a man in the fountain” she continued, “He’s made of stone. He wears a coat of stone, too. A great shipman’s jacket, the kind that can break even the wind at sea. And in each of his upturned hands are a stone compass and a stone spyglass”.

“What a wonderful picture you paint” said Diogenes, “What great man is commemorated by this monument?”.

The horse and the girl looked puzzled.

“It’s the Admiral” said the horse in a condescending tone.

“But which admiral?” said Diogenes, “there have been many. Surely whoever erected the thing left a plaque, or some such, by which to recall the subject?”.

“Whatever do you mean, Diogenes?” asked the girl, “He is the Admiral. Now he is of stone but before… Why, once he must have been of flesh and blood, surely?”.

“I imagine, my dear, it is a statue. A monument to a great man”.

The girl looked perplexed.

“But, who could have turned him to stone? Who would be so cruel?”.

“It was never a man. It was always of stone”.

The girl’s eyes flashed and then clouded.  

“Oh, Diogenes, you are fanciful!” she said, “Whoever saw a man of stone walking around, no less one step up into a fountain and stand there as still as a game of Grandma’s Footsteps?”.

“You misunderstand me” said Diogenes, “I am saying the statue was built. Of stone. And only ever to stand in the fountain”.

The girl and the horse laughed and their giddy feet splashed in the shallows.

“Diogenes, you are a silly creature!” she giggled, “You mustn’t tease me just because I am a girl. I certainly never built the Admiral and I cannot believe you kid on that it was Mr. Horse?”.

“It was not I, certainly!” cried the horse, with some pride.

She knelt in the surf and took Diogenes’ arm.

“And what reason could either of us have to make a man from nothing?”, she said as she stroked his tentacle lovingly, “You mustn’t make sport of your new friends”.

Diogenes felt a fool and a child. A gravity built inside him and he adopted a jet black countenance out of which his eyes burned like hot coals. He wrapped his tentacle gently round the girls forearm and locked it like a subtle vice. Altering the geography of his nebulous body in such a way as his voice would boom and whisper both at once, he spoke;

“There was a time, once, when men of flesh and bone took iron, stone and pitch and built entire worlds. Such was man’s capacity to create that he dreamt up a dream of how he was birthed and then built cathedrals to these mothers and idols of his own invention. He painted the walls of his cave, layer upon layer until they became a reality themselves. And from that reality, a New Man was born. But the New Man did not know the joy of creation. He knew his God and did not need to dream him up. And, just as the Old Man supposed in his tomes and testaments, when one knows one’s God in the flesh, such a thing cannot be tolerated…”

He stopped. His strange flesh was as dark and red as a clot of blood. It trembled like jelly.

“…and one will nail him to a lonely tree”.

The girl’s eyes were as wide and wet as pools as she gazed into the octopus’s piercing eyes. Her hands were trembling in his grasp and her pale, naked body seemed to shrink away from the frightening ideas that Diogenes espoused.

“Then…” she said, meekly, “Then we are all alone? Only stone and the wrecks of ships remain?”.

“Alas” said Diogenes, “It is all I have seen. But there is hope”.

He reached out a tentacle and caressed her feverish cheek.

“As long as there is beauty like yours then life may yet best what was lost. Perhaps ships will sail, if only to see your smile”.

“Oh Diogenes” she whispered and, whilst one hand raised his limb to her mouth to be gently kissed, her other slipped between her parted thighs.

The horse had listened to Diogenes’ discourse with a scornful ear. Now, watching the girl’s hand slither deeper and deeper into the shadow between her legs, his fury grew and its white hot core bloomed into desire. He stamped his hooves in the surf and tossed his fetlocks impetuously as he worked himself into a state of frustrated arousal. The girl looked over and her quiet moaning was struck dumb by the sight of his agitated and prodigious issue.

“My goodness!” she gasped and, nervously but impulsively, she took her hand from Diogenes’ grasp and reached out to explore the article of her interest.

Dismayed, Diogenes let his tentacle fall into the surf as he watched her hand, at first timidly, but then with growing boldness, explore the considerable flesh that the ardent horse had presented. The horse himself was grunting and blowing, his feet striking and scraping in the silt.

Diogenes was alarmed and, somewhat, abandoned. But cunning and resolve were his oaths and he knew in an instant that which he could employ to return the girl’s favour. He reached down between the girl’s thighs and drew her inexpert hand from its search. He splayed wide the fingers, held it steady in place and, with his most dexterous appendages, fell about to work with sucker, edge and tip on her Mound of Venus, the fleshy part at the base of the thumb. Exhibiting all of his wild knowledge, the science of the Occident and the esoterica of the East, he manipulated the most secret, but potent, of the body’s sensory organs with a surgeon’s precision.

Woken in chill and, hitherto, unexplored corners of her senses by the octopuses manipulations, the girl cried out in surprise and exultation. She writhed like a cobra and squirmed like a hare in a trap. The horse blew hot breath into the cold, damp air as she adored his most private person. Diogenes churned the silt with his unoccupied arms as he sought best purchase on the girl’s other limb. The girl closed her eyes and moaned, the drizzle falling between her parted lips.

Her two studious paramours, though each lost in their own devotions, found each other’s eye, given time. Course hatred whipped through the air above the girl’s bowed and trembling head.

“Let her go!” snarled the horse, “She prays with one hand only because you bind the other!”.

“Ha!” snapped Diogenes, “Give up and step off, nag. I do more with this little plot of flesh than you could with a sea of young skin. Once she tires of your trinket I will have her forget your existence”.

“Gelatinous fiend! Your magic tricks and stolen words will never keep her heart and they do not distract her heat from that for which it burns!” cried the horse.

“Stinking crowbait! When the fresh sweat on you that sways her good sense has turned to reek she’ll be well beyond its miasma and in my arms. You crude knot of shit and organs, I should crack your neck and have your head as a trap for eels!”

“You slimy bag of fish heads and brack. I’ll smear you across this beach!”.

The horse bounded at the octopus. The girl was saved from a kick in the head only by her collapse into the surf, exhausted by experience as she was. The horse’s hoof came down next to Diogenes with a force that would have clove him in two had it met its target.

Diogenes body flashed a brilliant blue and golden rings woke on his skin like cat’s eyes coming open in the dusk. For, though he had a tongue as sweet as honey, a vein of toxin ran all about him. He coiled his limbs and launched himself at the horse, who reared and pulled his head away, neighing in terror. Diogenes wrapped his tentacles about the horse’s neck and, once his grip on the flailing beast was assured, he tore into the flesh with his horny beak and vomited poison into the wound. The horse screamed and thrashed his neck, throwing Diogenes onto the shingle.

“You have killed me, you treacherous cur!” he cried.

The girl, regaining her senses, lifted her head from where it lay and watched the octopus flail his arms in mockery of the stricken horse.

“You deserve nothing less you priapic thug!” he hissed, “I pity the poor clerk who finds an envelope bearing your glue, for now you’re not even good for that!”.

The horse was beginning to foam around the jaw. Sweat ran in streams down his broad sides. But his race are made of oaken will and, often, as death creeps upon them, they are galvanized to feats and deeds which the other beasts can but dream of. So it was with our Mr. Horse.

“You lousy web of effluent! You cuntish jelly!” he roared.

His eyes were ablaze, saucers shot through with bloody threads. He reared on his hind legs and hung there, his forelimbs treading the air. He leered down at Diogenes.

“I’ll split you like a child whore!”.

He crashed his hooves down and struck the octopus who appeared to burst in a shower of ink and queer blue blood. The horse collapsed in the shallow water by his victim and, drawing a breath so huge the atmosphere seemed to contract, died with the air rattling its way over his yellow teeth.

Diogenes was wheezing in a dusky spreading pool of his own humours. The girl stood up, still shaky of leg from her exertions, and looked down at him. She put a hand to her flushed chest.

“Oh you silly boys” she said, plaintively.

Diogenes tried to speak, but his voice was choked by the various alien ichors which bubbled up from whatever ruptures his rival’s attack had caused. The tips of his tentacles coiled reflexively and the colours of the rainbow flashed brilliant across his body, one by one, until they were all extinguished and all that remained was an ashen mass in the shallows.

“Oh you silly, silly boys” said the girl.

She turned and walked up the beach and across the stones from whence she’d come. The drizzle had stopped and the sun threatened to break through the hoary cloud. She bent to pick up the dress she had abandoned, slipped inside it and disappeared across the horizon.

 

 

Standby

onehundredandfiftysix

If you called tonight.
Where would I put my tongue?
Though this was never a problem.
Coming through the rye.
Right where it belongs.
But now.
If you called tonight.
What then?
I’ve no more appetite
No longer.
It’s skin on bone.
Whilst everything else grows stronger.
My rage.
My resignation.
My venerated decay.

But I’m okay.
I’m dying
And that’s fine.
Stay in the house.
Stay out of trouble.
Stay on the narrow.
Stay in the lines.
What’s yours is theirs.
But what’s mine is mine.
They write this in the contract.
But the print is fucking fine.

Leeches for gauze.
Bleach as soap.
The audacity of realism.
The nihilism of hope.
You laid down your guns.
And left it to luck.
But the Facists are here.
And now you’re fucked.
Of course, so am I.
But when they turn on the gas.
It’s you who will choke.
Whilst I lay back and laugh.

Purgatorio

onehundredandfiftyfive

I

The yacht was anchored a kilometre off the island. Beyond the sail boats that bobbed exhaustedly in the harbour. Beyond the bleached, limestone houses that peppered the lowland hills of the island, any one of which, brought before the yacht, would have been dwarfed. Beyond the parched heights of the island that bore the perfume of olives and lemons into the the still air. Beyond and above and below paradise. And it was paradise.

The unbounded crisp blue of the sky had to share its take of one’s breath with the sparkling green/blue of the sea, whose colour and clarity seemed to belong to some strange other Earth.

The silver yacht, in comparison, was like some gargantuan monster fish. Shimmering silver in the light; gross and sluggish. Tiered and titanic, the tiny figures on board moving in and out of its decks were like mites or worms squirming around the gills.

On the top deck a beautiful young woman was propped up on a sun lounger, her mobile phone held at arm’s length. She studied the image on screen, studied the face that copied the miniscule tilts and turns of her head exactly. Satisfied with what she saw at last she broke into a soft eyed smile and clicked the shutter button. The smile fell from her face, she looked down and began tapping at the screen. She set the phone down and lay back.

She was watched from the opposite side of the deck by a man on an identical sun lounger. His mobile phone buzzed and he looked down at its illuminated screen. He looked at the woman and then back to his phone. The screen light flicked off and he caught his reflection. The sun shone through the wispy hair at his hairline. He grimaced and turned the phone face down. He watched the young woman once more.

A deckhand stepped out onto the deck from inside the yacht, carrying a tray on which were balanced two martini glasses. He left one next to the man and carried the other to the young woman. She propped herself on one elbow and gently lowered her sunglasses as the deck hand placed the drink beside her. She smiled and mouthed;

Grazi”.

He smiled back. His crisp, white uniform was pulled taut against his tanned skin which was, in turn, pulled taut by solid, working muscle. She followed him with her eyes as he walked back towards the interior of the yacht. The man on the sun lounger called after him and the deck hand turned, at first to the woman and then, following her gaze, to the man on the sun lounger. He walked over and stopped. His shadow fell across the man on the sun lounger.

“This drink isn’t right”.

The deckhand shuffled from one foot to another.

“Sorry, senor, I will make another”.

“Good”.

“You will have the same again?”.

The man in the sun lounger sighed an exaggerated sigh.

“Yes. Properly made”.

“Of course, senor”.

The woman opposite was watching all this from behind her sunglasses.

“May I ask, senor, what you do not like about this drink?” the deckhand said.

The man in the sun lounger scoffed.

“Try it”.

The deckhand looked back at him.

“Go on” he said, gesturing at the drink.

The deckhand bent and picked up the drink and, as his shadow slipped, the man in the sun lounger squinted against the harsh sun. The deckhand straightened up and sipped the drink. His bright eyes flicked from left to right. He took another sip. He put the drink down and looked down at the man on the sun lounger.

“I’m sorry, senor, what do you wish to be different?”.

“Jesus! If you don’t know…”.

The deckhand looked back silently. The man in the sun lounger shifted like an uncomfortable child. He sat up and pushed himself back on the lounger. He placed a foot on the deck and then shifted it back to the lounger, bending the leg at the knee. He ran a hand over his face and through his hair.

“Look” he said “ get the chef to make one if you don’t know”.

“I’m sorry, senor. I’ll make sure it is done to your taste”.

“It’s not a case of…” he began to shout and then checked his volume. “Have the chef fix one”.

The deckhand bowed slightly and went back into the ship carrying the drink.

The man in the sun lounger looked to the woman.

“Christ, honestly” he said.

She looked back in silence and began to lay down again.

“Idiot” he muttered

She turned her head to look at him from behind her sunglasses and smiled weakly.

He lay down.

“It’s not fucking hard to make a Long Island, honestly”.

She picked up her phone again.

He turned restlessly and then stood up and walked off into the interior of the yacht; the gills of the gross fish.

II

Later, he stood on the deck, staring out to the island. The clinking of plates and cutlery being cleared away rubbed against a subconscious nerve and his grip tightened on the railing. He watched a tourist boat come out of port and pass by the yacht. Huddled masses of pale, overweight sightseers were clumped together on its wooden benches, clutching bags from the souvenir shops that littered the little island where they competed with the high end boutiques for real estate if not for clientele. The passengers gawped up at the monolithic yacht, some drew cameras and smartphones to take photos. The tour guide, a cheap little local in a polyester shirt, was trying to direct interest towards an historical building on the distant coast. Some of the blotchy, burned children waved up at the figure on the yacht. He looked back impassively. One of the deckhands came up behind him, stopping respectfully short.

Senor? Telefono satellitare”.

It was his father. He gazed around the yacht’s lounge from the sofa as the voice droned in from New York. The voice spoke about shares and holdings and shareholders. It spoke with the concentration, pragmatism and disregard for others that it took to earn enough money to buy a yacht larger than the houses on the island off which it was moored.

“What do you think?” said the voice on the phone.

“Yeah Dad, I mean, I don’t know. Is it a good idea?”.

He had no idea on what he was offering his opinion. He hadn’t been listening. The voice droned on. Its tone said “of course it’s a good idea, it’s my idea”.

He listened with half his mind and thought of his father’s affair. It had happened in the eighties, before he was born. The woman had been a movie star, fleetingly. She had been half his father’s age. She had been extremely beautiful. The affair had appeared in the papers. He looked it up online sometimes. The photo that always accompanied these mentions was of his father, balding, bloated and be-suited, stood next to the movie star at some premiere. The photo was washed out and lifeless as if it were bleached. In it his father was smiling broadly, his arm hovering behind the back of the woman who looked straight into the camera with a shrewd Mona Lisa smile.

He thought of his mother. She had been at the same premiere. She had worn a black velvet choker and a chenille dress. He couldn’t remember the name of the movie. It had been forgotten, as most movies are once the parties and glamour are gone.

His father’s voice continued to expatiate on “the idea”. There was no need to listen. The idea would be realized and would then expand. Would break the backs of the men charged with turning it into action. The action would crush anyone who opposed, even passively, its aims. Perhaps the idea was based on crushing to begin with? To grind men or property down to pure, intangible capital and suck it up like smoke. This was the founding principle for most of his father’s brilliant and horrific ideas.

The deckhand passed through the cabin. He clicked his fingers at the deckhand and pointed at the empty glass on the table. The deckhand picked it up and asked;

“Another drink, senor? I’ll have the chef make it this time?”.

“Do”.

“Who are you talking to” his father said.

“Just the help”.

He stared at the retreating deckhand’s back and ran a hand through his hair. He cut his father short and hung up the call. He went out onto the deck.

III

She was on her tiptoes, leading over the starboard rail. Even the soft soles of her feet were tanned. The air was as close and dry as a fever. A gull sounded overhead, flying out to an empty sea. He shielded his eyes from the sun and watched her. She shifted her weight from one delicate foot to the other. She was talking to someone below the rail. Her voice carried indistinctly, the words suffocated in the thick air. He heard her chilly, little-girl laugh and she tossed her hair as she laughed. He called her name but she did not turn. He heard the sea lap against the side of the yacht. He walked towards her.

She wasn’t speaking as he approached and he strained to hear another voice. She continued to stare down from the rail. He touched her on the shoulder and she jumped. She was saying something but his mind did not process the words. He was looking down at the small fishing boat that heaved on the crystal water. He was looking into the eye’s of the man who stood in the boat. The man stared back.

Buongiorno” he called down.

The man in the boat did not respond.

He nudged the girl’s arm.

“What were you talking about?”.

She didn’t say anything and glanced towards the cabin.

He nudged her again.

“Hey, what were you talking to him about?”.

“Nothing. He’s just some fisherman” she said with a scowl.

He looked down at the fisherman.

“What do you want, pal?”.

The fisherman’s face was as still as the air. He turned and started gathering his nets.

“Hey, I know you understand me, what do you want?”.

The fisherman glanced up disinterestedly and then went back to his nets.

“That’s right, man, pack up your shit and go!”.

The fisherman put down the nets and looked up again, squinting his eyes against the sun. His face, as cracked and red as clay, was a mass of deep wrinkles. His hair was a thick shock of jet black strands, stiffened in sun and saltwater. He wore simple linen clothes; a blue shirt, white pants, both were worn and damp but scrupulously clean. The whites of his eyes were bloodshot from the spray, but the irises were the same unearthly blue as the sea.

“What are you waiting for, man? Go!”

The man squinted up from the fishing boat, his lips slightly parted. He ran his tongue delicately back and forth on the tip of his incisor. He rubbed his hand on his shirt. He looked at the yacht and the girl.

Sto aspettando Dio per tagliare fuori la lingua” he said.

He spoke with the accent of the Northern territories.

“What did you say?”.

The girl touched his elbow.

“C’mon, leave it, he’s not doing anything”.

He pulled his arm away. He pointed at the fisherman.

“Look, you got 5 minutes, man. And if you aren’t gone I’m calling the fucking coastguard”.

He stepped away from the railing and turned to the girl, running a hand through his hair.

“What the fuck was he even talking to you about?”.

“Jesus, Julian. He was talking to me about the fucking boat, OK? Relax”.

“So what was so goddamn funny about the fucking boat?”.

She sighed and began to walk away.

“Where the hell are you, going? Li….”

He looked down. The boat bobbed lazily on the water, the nets dangling in the water. The fisherman looked up.

“I thought I told you to get the fuck out? Pack your shit up and get that dirty little tub the fuck out of here or I swear I’m calling the harbour master!”.

The sky was as as clear as the crystal water and yet something, something dark, something between a sin and a shadow, fell across the fisherman’s eyes.

Julian turned towards the retreating girl.

“Come back. Look, I’m sorry OK? I…”

She went into the interior of the yacht.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake” Julian muttered.

He ran a hand across his dry lips. They had a reservation at one of the more upmarket restaurants on the island that night. He loved the restaurant. The food cost good money but the waiters didn’t make a fuss. It meant that their diners were accustomed to luxury. His father had always said this was the mark of a “proper place to eat”. And now the girl was going to sulk and ruin the whole damn thing.

He looked down at the boat. The boat was empty. He scanned the surface of the water. He leaned over the rail. The water was empty. Despite the blazing heat, he felt a tiny, almost imperceptible, chill.  He hurried to the port side rail and surveyed the waterline. Nothing. He looked towards the cabin. Through the window he could see the girl. She was curled on one of the sofas twiddling with her phone. He looked out to sea. In the far distance he saw one of the tourist boats pulling into the harbour. The world seemed very still and he listened.

IV

A loud bang ripped through the stifling air. In the cabin, Julian saw the girl jump and drop her phone. He began to run towards the rear of the yacht. He heard one of the deckhands shouting in his own language. The shout was strangled by a strange high pitched noise.

Julian rounded the cabin and looked to the lower deck. The emergency dinghy was sagging and wheezing around a ragged tear in its surface. The deckhand, the older one, was laying on the floor in a puddle of blood and seawater, his legs dangling into the ocean. The fisherman flicked his knife at the floor. Water dripped from his hair and clothes. He reached down, grabbed the body of the deckhand by the belt, hauled his legs out of the water and rolled him fully onto the sodden, bloody deck of the yacht. The fisherman looked up at Julian.

Julian’s lips were moving but no sound was being made. Like a dream, where the mind exhorts the legs to flee from some dark something but they do not obey. He wanted to call the other deckhand’s name and realized that he did not know it. The fisherman stared. Julian absently noticed that, on the man’s forearm was the folded, semi-circular puckered scar tissue that told of a shark bite. He wondered how the fisherman had survived and then remembered, most sharks leave humans alone after the initial bite. They mistake them for seals or large fish and attack, but then, having torn pounds of flesh or muscle from the leg or torso, casually disappear back into the deep leaving the strange bleeding, screaming scrawny thing to its fate. It was called an “exploratory bite”. The fisherman took a single step forward and Julian ran.

The chef, a large pot bellied man, was coming from inside the ship. He was holding a large kitchen knife. The other deckhand, the one who had made the drinks, was with him.

“Qual è stato il rumore? Dove si trova Giovanni?” the chef saide.

“The fucking guyfrom the fishing boat. He has a knife”.

He pointed to the rear of the boat. The girl came running out of the cabin.

“What’s going on?”.

Her hands were trembling.

“Go inside, get your phone, call the police”.

“But…”

“Fucking do it! Now!”.

The cook was leaning hesitantly around the corner of the cabin There was a whistling sound followed by a thunk, like a dart in a board. A pinprick of sparkling light appeared on the chef’s back out of which flowered a scarlet pattern that spread and soaked the white of his uniform. He took two deliberate but uneasy steps back. A length of thin steel emanated from his chest. His arms were thrown out in front of him like a man sleepwalking. His fingers were twitching and grasping at the air beyond the end of the speargun dart that had run him, almost entirely, through. The girl screamed and ran towards the prow.

Julian watched as the chef collapsed to one knee. A tiny hysterical laugh fizzed in his chest. The overweight man on one knee, a sliver of silver like a rapier or poniard jutting from his tabard, the bulging eyes and mouth agape. He looked like a character in an opera. A ridiculous vaudeville. The chef’s fingers ceased to flail at the end of his hands, he vomited a large quantity of dark blood onto the deck and collapsed.

The fisherman appeared at the top of the opposite stair, behind them. He tossed something behind him that clattered on the lower deck with a metallic clang. His soaked clothes were already beginning to dry in the baking air. His hand, clutching a brutal, serrated knife, hung at his side. The girl screamed and Julian backed slowly towards her.

The deckhand who had been mixing the drinks came at the fisherman with the kitchen knife. The kitchen knife was 8 inches of laser cut steel. Julian’s father had had it imported from Sweden. It had cost €300. It came in a set that cost more than the deckhand would earn in a year. The deckhand slashed at the fisherman and missed. The fisherman wrapped a large, reddened hand around the deckhand’s wrist and pulled it towards him whilst, with the other hand, he drove his own knife deep into the pocket of flesh between the deckhand’s clavicle and shoulder blade. The deckhand staggered back, cursing and roaring. The fisherman looked on. He made no move to strike again. The deckhand raised his knife. The fisherman smiled, revealing a row of perfectly white teeth.

Julian looked at the girl. She was stood next to the sun lounger, wringing her hands; her eyes frantically flicking from the fisherman to the deckhand. Her phone was laying on the deck by the sun lounger. Julian cursed and picked it up, pushing the catatonic girl aside. The phone’s battery was dead.

Drops of blood were dripping from the limp fingertips of the deckhand, spattering and sizzling on the hot wood. He pointed the kitchen knife at the fisherman and swore. The blood formed a small pool that shimmered in the sun’s light. The fisherman began to advance on the wounded man, raising his own knife. The metal was dull save for its blade which, as the fisherman traced it back and forth in lazy sweeps, gleamed with a terrifying, precise glare, as if it were cutting swathes in the sunlight itself.

The strike was like a whip cracked or a frame skipped in a movie. The deckhand dropped his knife and his hands went to his throat. The fisherman clapped his hands on either side of the deckhand’s head and, as the man hit the floor, he pushed the dull knife into the deckhand’s temple. The deckhand tried to scream, to shout, to beg; to offer whatever prayer the dying devote but all that came was blood.

The fisherman pulled the knife free and looked at Julian and the girl. A gull sounded overhead, he looked up and watched it circling languidly in the brilliant sky. He tucked the knife into his belt.

Fretta nega tutti gli atti loro dignità” he said.

V

When Julian awoke on the lukewarm deck the fisherman had gone. He heard the groaning of the girl behind him and tried to turn over. He found that he could not move. As his conscious mind came fully to wakefulness he felt the ropes biting into him. At the ankles, at the wrists, at the crooks of his elbows. At his throat. The knots used were sure as tides. He was bound to himself and, in turn, bound to the deck. His heart raced and he tried to open his mouth to draw a breath. His mouth was bound with industrial tape. He groaned and a spot at the back of his head thudded painfully in time with his pulse. The girl  moaned again, a soft, pitiful sound like a child in sleep. He looked up at the sky.

It was evening. The sun would be disappearing behind the horizon soon, the sky a pastel of tangerine orange and bruised purple. The harbour would glow softly, become a welcoming galaxy of candles and lanterns. The air would grow balmy, occasional streams of cool air wrapping round you like fresh cotton. The harbour and the sea would slumber, rocked into dreams by the tides. But tomorrow; tomorrow, the sun would rise. The sun that had bleached the hills and turned the soils to dust. The sun that scoured its perfect, cloudless sky. Julian prayed, weakly, to a God that he did not believe in. He bargained and bragged and begged and, when he had weighed all the options and outcomes, he asked, very quietly, for a quick and merciful death.

The authorities from the harbour did not bother the huge yachts, or anyone aboard them. They had learned to leave those with the power alone. Men had lost their jobs for presuming that the rules applied equally to all. And anyway, what did it matter? “Lasciala stare”, as they say. Let the rich have their distractions. The ocean was wide enough for all men and the sun shone on both the rich and the poor as equals. Besides, there was real work to do.