“There now, don’t yer just love that,” Raz said as he carefully withdrew the plastic spoon from Charlie’s mouth.
“Mashed banana and peanut butter. Why, you eat better than I do.” He stood up and his knees cracked like two dry sticks. He went to the kitchen sink, from where he could see through the window over the fence into Mr Dawkin’s japanese-style garden — its grey board walks and pond lilies made him frown.
“Though, I never could cook like yer momma,” he said. “No-one could cook like her, that was one of her good points. But that don’t matter now does it? It’s just you and me and she’s gone to hell. She’s probably being judged right now, don’t you think? What’s that? You think she deserves it? I couldn’t agree with you more. Not that it makes any difference: come December, we’re all goners. We’re goin’ have planes dropping outta the sky, fire all over the place, you just name it. Just gone lucky that we’re on the right side this time, you and me, we’re goin’ see it over.” Continue reading “Spoonfuls of apocalypticism”
Delphine looked down at her feet. Her blue, glossy gumboots, her favourite gumboots that she had bought two years ago at a flea market, were speckled with mud. There was a cricket in front of her that was struggling around the edges of a puddle, spinning and bouncing as if it didn’t know which direction it had to take to save itself. Good luck. Delphine stepped carefully over him with her right foot. Without looking up she leant forwards to find that her left foot had followed her right, then came her right, then her left again and soon she had built up a washing rhythm. Patch! Patch! Patch! Patch!
The path was covered in wet palm fronds, decaying branches – oh look, there’s a feather! – greyish streaks of clay and smooth rocks, possibly from that stream she could hear but not see. The light dimmed and she felt the rain again on the back of her neck, a single drop took the trail down her spine and made it halfway down her back until it soaked into the fabric of her shirt. They had told her to go to the forest, that there she would discover the path, the forest escalator. This was no myth they had assured her, Ol’ Dang Dang had found it while on a mushroom tour, he didn’t dare set himself on it of course but ran home without his mushrooms and shut himself inside for a week. A rolling monster of a thing, he had said, moving upwards like a lumber mill, sending wood chips flying into the canopy above. “Why don’t you go in and see for yourself?” They roared in chorus. Delphine had wanted to kill them where they stood, smash their woolen caps into their custard faces, but she didn’t. After all the cyclical arguments, the spitting, avoidance and blackballing she’d learned that it was not worth pushing back. So she slammed her glass on the bar and left without saying goodbye, without pausing to consider where in the forest she should start looking.
Heavy rain. The type of rain that sounds like the applause after the end of an orchestral movement. The trees stood staid looking down upon the girl as she stumbled along the thinning path.
“Another one?” the tall mossy tree asked. “Why, it was not last week that one of them came through.”
“I didn’t see nuttin’,” said the old gray tree.
“You ‘didn’t see nuttin’?”
“Nope. Not a single scrap of ’em.”
“I hope at least one of them makes it this time. The forest needs more of their kind, not like the insipid blunderers that live in that colony nearby. They’ll burn us down before they take the escalator.”
“I sure hope they don’t do that,” said old gray.
Delphine was so deep in the forest now that her boots no longer appeared blue, but a dark purple, which made her feel nervous. The colours of nature were turning on her, consuming and making her a part of her surroundings. She had reached the end of the visible path and there was no indication which direction she should take, nor could she take orientation from the seething thrum of insects; there were only the trees, like bands of tar stretched from the ground that seemed to be herding her to the left. But in the distance there was something: something moving silently upwards in a steady rhythm, green phosphorus lineaments spaced evenly apart.
She noticed that she had started to run and, contrary to what she had expected, the escalator did not remain hanging on a point in her vision like some mirage but was approaching, accelerating in fact towards her, and in a few minutes she was standing before its glowing form. I’m going to take this ride, take it all the way.
There were stairs of deep red wood, streaked with rays of light and they were genuinely rising upwards to a point that Delphine could not see.
“Well, she done and come this far,” said the gray tree. “Why don’t she just climb up the thing?”
“I don’t believe it’s as simple as that,” the tall tree said. “At least not for them. They have to have the choice to do it and, at the same time, to know that they have no choice but to have the choice to do it. Nothing to do with moral compunction, you see? Going up that path for them means releasing the payload of one’s understanding, it sounds rather frightening. Do you follow me?”
The mossy tree shook his leaves and sighed. “It doesn’t matter.”
The moment the gumboot set on the wooden step the thing began to roll faster. Delphine felt her other foot being lifted from the ground. Too late! She lunged for a railing but could not find one, instead her hand hit a slippery invisible barrier, as if the escalator was encased in an invisible tunnel that was now snaking through the trees. But this was not like any airport travelator she had taken: there was no apparent end to it, no signals or signs of the origins of its design, yet it propelled its cargo with some muted purpose. She thought of her brother, how his broken body lay on the grass, how his mother had retreated in shock. She spoke her father’s name, the ‘Reverend’ who had defined a hell on Earth for them that made the wicked place of his sermons seem like a place of relief. She thought about all of this, but did not cover her face this time or shut her eyes, she laid no blame on invisible dictators or on he books that were thrown at her nor did she find herself clenching her fists to her lap in shame; the escalator was bringing her beyond all these feelings and the higher it took her, the brighter and lighter she felt. It was an alien sensation, but it was the truth, that much she was sure of and regardless of whether there was an edge to this procession, a chasm of white or a drop to her demise, she couldn’t wait to return and do it again.
A man enters the only restaurant in town on a Sunday evening. It is not a fine restaurant, the varnish on the chairs and tables is faded and the menus are covered in plastic film, but he finds the atmosphere congenial and the food accessible. As he takes his regular seat in the corner, underneath the print of The Siesta, the waiter approaches him.
“Good evening, sir. Would sir like to see the specials this evening?”
“No, thank you. I’ll have the usual please, a half-litre of merlot and the cod.”
“I’m afraid there is no cod.”
“Since when? I ate here, why, last week on Tuesday. There was cod then. And the week before. And the week before that.”
“The chef, you see, has taken rather a sudden aversion to the whole idea of cod and only yesterday struck it from the menu. Here, you can see the red ink, right through ‘Fried cod and potatoes’.”
“An aversion to cod? Who ever heard of such a thing? Why, this is a cod-loving town, has been for ages. Don’t tell me he’s suddenly become one of those meat-dodging salad grazers, has he? Every time I turn my head, there seems to be someone preaching on high from a crate of bean sprouts the evils of flesh and how our digestive systems are in some way so fragile that we can’t even so much as touch a pork sausage without causing intestinal cancer.”
“Yes, sir. He was unfortunately rather adamant about it.”
“Eh? And what , pray, is his reasoning? Why did he feel it necessary and appropriate to change the menu in such a radical fashion?”
“He says that cod has had its run and that it is time for something new. We have a new fish-based dish however, fresh trout from the river. It looks delicious, I must say. The chef says he has never seen such a good and healthy eating fish; that it’s beyond.”
“Beyond trout, of course.”
“That’s the most ridiculous statement I think I’ve ever heard. Here we are in cod country, we are cod people! What makes him think that cod is suddenly out of fashion?”
“I really don’t know, sir, I’m just the waiter.”
“Well you should know if you’re serving it! Or not serving it in this case. He probably heard it somewhere in the city. Ha! You know, this town is full of fine-upstanding citizens who run about, doing their upstanding business, contributing to our town’s well-being and what happens at the end of a hard day, just when a serving of cod would be most pleasing and adequate? They’re told to forget it because some city folk say it’s no longer in fashion! That … that … that only the sublimely ignorant and clay-eating peasants have any need for cod in their pathetic lives. Now it’s all about having some healthy trout!”
“Well it has been catching on, sir. It’s quite popular with those who have already tried it.”
“And what next? If someone in the city suddenly declares, say, milk to be the new evil, what then? Would we immediately ban the intake of whipped cream and start burning dairy cows in the fields? Oh, here: take this delicious tofu, it’s the latest thing, tastes fantastic and you will soon learn to love it as much as you loved all those cheeses! I mean, lactose intolerance is one thing, but this!”
“Would you like to order the trout then, sir?”
“I most certainly would not like to order the trout! If cod’s not on the menu then I will just have to starve to death!”
“And the half-litre of wine?”
“Oh go on. And bring me a loaf of bread too while you’re at it.”
Away from podiums where sand and fist and bottle mix,
as morning throws its fire on this eastern shore,
the sinner’s footprints set a northern path to where,
confessed once on that promontory,
he begins anew his craggy penance
over splintered rocks
on whipping paths of pandanas
past the mouths and shoulders of the land crawling out into the pacific.
Away from racketeers and white hats
who race their dogs and lean on crusts of concrete spires,
who program machines for maximum absolution,
who fail to hear the drum that beats from ocean floor and sky,
nor the whispers of the land’s intentions,
the sinner clasps the red bucket as a chalice,
holding steady in the wind –
a constant stream bearing witness to his condition.
Between chortling gutters he turns both weed and rock
in pores of the pacific empire,
between folds of silken foaming sheets,
through shells, through cracks and snails
the drums beat louder, the swell retreats
anemones wave banners from crevices heralding the ephemeral tide.
A crab taps grim rhythms with a pincer made of bone,
still she taps as when she had two.
Her defiant tempo fills the red bucket
its brittle casing, the souls of fish and all which it contains:
a temperate blade,
a brine-stained singlet entwined with wire and lead,
the final memory of a dying flathead as it chopped and churned in hopeless breaths,
now overflows once more with songs of endless ocean trenches
ruled by beasts with fins and their deities harking hollowed in the ground.
Across the anglers’ pole
stabbed in passing beyond the range of the frothing cyan styx,
the sinner takes a barb of splinters to his cheek (an offering as such)
scrambles up the jagged tabernacle,
thankful for the salty spit upon his neck,
then rests both hands and bucket against the crumbling mortar –
a bed for the dead lighthouse man.
Today he marvels at his own technique
while even gulls, irreverent as they are
squall in concert with the drums
and invite him forward to share their kingdom.