Some old man in an identical hospital gown to his own trundles slowly round the corner and it seems at first he’s doing a dark and dirty ritualized walking, one leg then arm, then neck protruding, then back to the swing of a limb, and another, on and on, eyes aghast at some indefinable point.
That's the gist.
He’s in his bare feet and the gown has flat colour and the motion, tough vigorous it is, is slower than the normal perambulator, like a pompadoured mythology no one has had the time to properly invstigate but nevertheless everyone thinks it's there, as part of the incoming, half memorised myth, something coming through carrying more than just ordinary freight, and more than the grizzly, old, grey look that’s the first thing you notice.
It’s a kind of 'first thing first', as in - there's a word and the word was whatever it was... etc etc etc ... who remembers?
But when someone starts up like they're praying loudly its a sentiment outside documentary aesthetics, more the crouching injunction that instantly embroils you in the bowing and scarping aspect of living that strangely mixes with something imperious.
That's what he thought when the old man came into his purview.
The old man seemed like a stepping stone, one that leaves you behind somehow, so not a stepping stone, more the thing you need a stepping stone for, a strong current, imagine, and one that might take you off.
Farce or tragedy, this guy holds both in the palms, and on the balls of his bare feet as if he understood all the human reciprocities and was out walking them.
The body of the man shook and put its trust more than anyone else in gravity having an off day. It was a kind of physical arousal for utopia even if there was always a threat of the void and Disney and Beckett and Weetabix running around his lunar surfaces, his moon paleness, his parcelled wreckage of a body an' all.
It seemed as if there was a thin veneer of whiteness covering the corridor, snow sprinkling down from a faraway, invisible lascitudinous emporium, winter death camp swirls foregrounding the wrecks in there, each mockery of a human being like barbed wire and a rail line to hell.
There are no echoes, he thought, breaking in, in this place and we'd need a thousand torches to light up the place, he concluded.
Warm ironed shirts, because things are never just one thing are they? was his next sudden thought.
The old patient looked like one of those guys who had smoked for sixty years without having any breaking distance, if you get my drift, reckless maybe but with panache interpreting his late floundering, and his head was one where you’d not have noticed more than any other, here, outgazing and lucid so rightly sad.
Even if his eyes had been gouged out and the distinction between human suffering and suffering was not one you could make, with people like him around then came a distinction that his very existence overlooked and solidified into what you could see and also a thought that he probably was at the bottom of the punchbowl.
There was nevertheless an iconic vulnerable mood in him as he passed by, like you also see with honeymoon couples, with nothing ironical or distanced anywhere about, which was good and beyond ham.
He watched the old percher go and wondered about whether the old fellow thought this was a last phase he was going through, and how many other phases he had had in his lifetime up to then, and which had been the best, and where this one ranked, or if instead there was none of that kind of thought because everything was rather a single drift, a one long swoon from birth to here and on to the end.
Perhaps the better way of thinking, but he wasn't sure.
Tonight this is my party, he said to himself.
This is the brimming cold vodka.
We're here until the bubbles give up the ghost, he wanted to mumble.
I have wondered on the nervous system of trees, was his next thought.
He pondered the way the body of this old patient waved back and forth in thin lines like Occam's razor, veins and graces all out of scale, pared down to prim, and the skin all gridded and made from a soupy material, all jutting and receding in an exaggerated yet liquid way, and not very pleasingly, but more as if smashed about a bit, perhaps by time, in clumsy vigorous punky black humour which appealed to a poetic, sensitive and blunt aspect in anyone, I guess, but was like you might do a portrait of God if you were going to try that these days, even though that wouldn’t really be the kind of thing anyone did now, even conceptually.
This isn't God, he argued, and at that point considered the merits of perspective to be rightly highly rated.
When at long last the figure had turned the other corner, disappearing into the blizzard of soft and silent snowfall, all he saw was his absence like a little dust in the air and this became for a brief moment a kind of archetype with a little piece of chaos attached, like a torqued ellipses.
Is there anything more than what you saw?
That always comes back as a question for some people who want to keep everything at a distance from mystical meanings and the ineffable, which of course enrages those who want some of that stuff because they think it’s good to acknowledge that we have our limits and that in a sense we’re stranded and won’t ever get the full picture.
In fact they might go further and say that everything we have is part of this being stranded, so our compulsions, even the really strong ones, to logic or feelings or colours, whichever you want to highlight, they’re just strandings too, as limited and falling short as anything can be.
It’s a biological limit that means everything is stranded, is the kind of argument you hear, but then you think that that thought about biology is also a stranded one and so the reason for thinking about being limited and stranded is itself undermined.
My friend, who had a cousin in Madrid, did she go visit? Did she come back ever?
He was beginning to feel the wet cold on his shoulders, nose and feet as if he was turning into a shadow.
The shapes were submissive to the winter snow falling in the corridore and reminded him that he needed a coat and some help from the deepening despondency.
'Help' he muttered out loud, as if a quip. It was a bird sound and no one paid him any mind. There was no one there indeed.
There are signifiers and signified and virtual reality and brains in vats and the Matrix and consciousness and Kant.
That was a thought in a tight strung whisper. He wished he had eaten something, because he felt hungry. But the instruction had been not to.
All he could think about was cheap pork.
Take it easy, he advised, take it easy, spread out and feel beautiful.
He placed his fingers on his knees and splayed them as if they were cages across the body, and he was controlling them.
He stopped wondering about the old figure and put his hands on his head for a minute and then back down on his knees and listened to the faint buzz of the light and thought there was a low level scent of patchouli oil in the air, but dismissed this as mad. Patchouli in snow? Idiotic! He smiled just to make all this seem easy.
Is the hospital now being assaulted by angry spirits and dangerous witches? He could just about hear some raised voices and the sound of running feet. But these soon die away just as soon as they had started and he wondered if perhaps he was letting his imagination run wild, like an orphan tasting power.
Food has to be prepared between shadows. We eat the darkness collected in such acts.
No green ebulliance will deny this for me, not ever, and he was vehement and explained his wish to delight in eating alone whenever possible.
Perhaps being in this part of the hospital, despite the snow which was beginning to drift and lay now at least an inch thick in parts, mounting up against the walls and the legs of the chairs, perhaps he is protected, even if semi-naked with just the hospital gown and feeling less and less corporeal.
This is a thought that occurs as we are forced to spiral away for a minute to see him from a long way off, as if we are a drone spying on him with weird x ray vision or something, so that we can see a snow blizzard rushing all around him, and the snow thickening and his plight less a thing of visibility and more daunting like this, as if a dissolvent view was now all that was left.
Perhaps the whole of London outside is pushing its last lugubrious word in the best way it can, a long day waning and the toil of snow covering what seemed increasingly a scriptural view.
And this is what we’re all walking around in all the time, but never realized, and he didn’t either until he got to where he was, sitting there inside and feeling protected and safe even as the whole of modern civilization snows on us outside, sometimes being great and sometimes vile, sometimes glaring, sometimes cartoony, sometimes classic, sometimes epic, transcendental, abstract, sexy, mixed up, demure, sad, angry, filthy, rotten, enormous, red, objective, popular, intoned, complicated, simultaneous, integrated, Jungian, outside forever, cruel, international, rich, burned, surly, intelligent and listless.
No wonder he’s feeling relieved to be sitting there in his lonely corridor being left alone and all these vibes not getting through as they are but only as snow.
It’s as if he’s reached a crescendo of life, just sitting there by himself with a sense of great calm in him and a high level of happiness as if finally he’s understood the way to be the best mythic sense of himself in just this.
If he had it with him, he'd have read Ulysses by Tennyson and asked to play backgammon with Franklin, holding a pocketwatch scalding with ice to his ear.
There are slogans that filter in, or out, whichever way it is with a filtering. Filtering isn’t as straightforward as it looks, is what he takes from this little confusion, which is just another reminder that he’s still alive and more than some set of discontinuous gestures and subjugations or whatever.
Some of the slogans come like this:
‘Apperception is vasectomy’,
‘ Dandruff’s the scalps’ way of saying I’m leaving you,’
‘ Going out on a limb is no further than a foot,’
whereas others developed into short stories of Hemingwayish brevity and legend e.g.
‘Help me! There’s time. Go round them’;
‘ Open other end. Handle with care. No return address;’
‘Funeral today. Venue to be decided. Avoid traffic.’
'The Suicide note's a loan. Once used, discard.'
But whatever you might have thought was going on in these, whether sinister or fey or comical or sweet or high-minded, it doesn’t really matter, and that’s the way it is with most things when in the neighbourhood of dalliance, viscera , seals.
It is just jammed silence, that's all.
No matter how gripped we might be, even mercilessly so, by something coming along that seems intense, relevant and necessary, it tends to fade out or we just lose interest and no longer gripped, and we don’t know why and we rarely bother about it because once the interest has gone it’s gone and we don’t worry about it any more at all, including this, the fact that its no longer gripping us anymore is mysterious and appallingly random.
But these are the sorts of things that come with feeling that maybe you’ve reached a crescendo of life, like you’ve come out discovering your own medley despite everything, all the horrible jobs and the world’s worst events spilling all the time into your consciousness and making you feel so tortured because of how easy it was to live despite the carnage and bluntness.
This was something that had always made him feel that there was something wrong with the way things were arranged.
In the face of traumatic coloratura he'd yanked himself forward again and again. Immortal longings were defeated by the verge of tears, banal episodes of levity and boredom, even the scandalised erratum.
I am a film in reverse at each crisis, a fit of cruel impurity and warm shallows.
These ideas of some whorled elsewhere bugged him all the time because it was a place that seemed to define the times and existence even though he was never there, rather it was as if it was over by a silver lake, way over and across, with loons calling and a breeze and a looming dark forest full of armies and rapists and plagues. That’s what elsewhere was and some of it had crept in across the silver lake, as it were, and so if bad things happened he was able to take it and was prepared - without heroin, without being a bully or the usual things - like a professional.
He remembered when he had been Claudette, all her little horror stories and scenarios that she had solved, one by one, as if she could see straight through to the heart of what was real in the important moment afterwards.
Every mystery she had solved were secret interiors.
It was as if rather than solving them she had obtained them, as if what she had managed to gather up was the complete and inevitable response to the exact moment when whatever had split open into the world and appeared as terror to some was to her no more than the equisite reality of a specific moment, merely the shadow of the everyday but caught in the perception of such fine granularity that only she had been able to receive its truth.
He started at the complex geometry of the snowflakes as they fell and swirled all about him, and marvelled at each one disappearing on his tongue when he poked it out like a child.
He quoted a rememberance from elsewhere:
' The dells are bright with snow.'
Enough of that, he snorted.
But there was the something else that was in this thinking about his Claudette as if there was now a new need for her.
His oncoming operation was another gathered moment, a last deception, perhaps, as mysterious and strange as the interior of a mystical heron's egg.
So he didn’t twitch, didn’t show any signs when pushing her way through the snow, hollow as a willow basket and with beetle-winged eyes darkness assured, the terrifying woman who bent her fingers back too far until they snapped off, who was as thin as an insect's whirr, emerged at the corridor bend and stood, looking with eyes now as sulpher debts, staring insanely at him sitting there by the wall.
She always saw Claudette just as Claudette always saw her.
And he wondered what that meant, and why his fist clenched and then unclenched as if somehow a deadline had been breached by the appearence of this ominous ghost.
It was a sweaty blazing cold thought that came across him now, and more like a trellis of mumbles than anything precise, distinct or clear.
He urged himself to discover the difference between empty mannerisms and other kinds, and then worried that it was a fools errand because there really wasn’t a difference.
He was thinking about the heinous woman's clicking fingers of course.
Where was Claudette now?
He asked this and recalled that she was back there in the little Welsh village by the sea. She was standing with the dead man who had died of fright because of something that had floated into view in the sea under him in a gristle of horror.
What could it have been?
Claudette knew that if she got to the bottom of that particular conundrum then everything else would fall into place.
And so as he sat in his chair, snow beginning to cover his slumped form, and the cold like flies that wouldn't be brushed away, he started thinking about the story as best as he could remember it, in a straight and clear and intelligent way, with tough-mindedness, sincerity and tenderness all mixed in, because that was how Claudette thought and he always liked to be like her because she brought with her a zing of the fey and the spooky which was always something he valued and so wanted these qualities to be part of his own story too.
What was it then, that had floated in from the sea and made the man die of fright?
And why did the old woman in the café seem oblivious or cruel or wrong. Why the weird stuff with tomatoes or whatever she was supposed to have been chopping all the time, with her back to the shoreline and the great withering storms coming in and the high drama of weather and landscape and incessant, incessant waves booming against the colourless beach on polished tides like God?
Why was she such a forcefield of darkness in between her room of ice creams, cakes, spagetti, toasters, hoovers, sausage rolls, salads, beans on toast and all the rest?
He didn’t know why this was the feeling that crept up, but it did, and what crept up was creepy and uncanny like some amphibious-shaped lie.
He shivered as if he knew that something was terribly wrong. Where was it wrong? he wondered. Well, there, on the beach. There was something terribly wrong there. And there was something terribly wrong with the woman. There was something terribly wrong in all the strangely submarine effects of the story.
Claudette would solve this of course. The wrongness would be collected by her and she'd understand what it was.
But it was terribly wrong here too, he thought.
Like a madman he suddenly felt his heart racing and he looked around him, as if he might be able to see it. But he saw little but the corridor and its cold muffled bellhop atmosphere of terror. He found only two thirds of any word. Less the sound. He felt immobilised as if here he was only now beginning to wake up.
He thought he might try speaking to the horrific woman, knowing she was as likely spit bloody teeth into your crotch as answer. But he couldn't even open his wrists to her. No mea culpa no nothing, he screamed to the back of his spine bone.
As he furiously wracked his mind for the answer to the question about what exactly had floated up and frightened the old man to death it came to him as if Claudette had turned her head to stare right into his eyes, and then told him, whilst she stood on the beach and he sat there in his hospitalised second snow.
Once he heard it he knew it.
Now the answer was obvious like every secret order of the world and heaven is when cut from the mouth of saints.
He gritted his molars and clenched his derangements in a gutty violence at jawline level, like a transept's emblem of fear or seriousness or realization or fortitude of being without a prayer, that sort of thing all mixed and mashed.
Had he been Claudette, what then?
This was what it meant to say you have a chapel in your skull, untouched by the Renaissance, Dominicans or alters.
Maybe now it’s time, thought Claudette, and with that so he did too.
It was as if she was taking the shock and impact from out the equation, seeing them running down the snow marooned corridor and turning left round the corner like they were stripping down to an essence of the vast precincts of the mystery she had now solved.
Some ideas are like deformed heads that are too stretched out and have sticky-out ears and smiling yet reversed eyes, where what happens is they grow into the role they have, which is to take total blame. Or blame.
'I remember every drop of your face,' he thought, and tried to imagine what Claudette was doing before everything faded to a voodoo whim.
If you like this you might try these other 3:16 novels: