[extract from my book which is under construction, “Reluctant Angels”]
‘Why do so many families behave like little cults?’ was the question Nathan asked inside his head, as he watched the interaction between the larger and smaller people, noting how the larger ones bragged about the smaller ones’ achievements, taking pride in what they were saying and doing and in how they were dressed, treating them as little extensions of themselves to puff up their own egos. Living by proxy. Even in his tender teenage years he could see this clearly. After all, he had spent sixteen years wryly observing his own family, those of his friends and every other family with which he had come in contact. He saw how it worked — these self-perpetuating close-knit little cults which repeated themselves in identical patterns from one generation to the next. He observed how the parents are the cult leaders and the children are its members. So often there was manipulation and control masquerading fulsomely as love and care. There was coercion, funnelling and emotional blackmail, subtle threats of deprivation or abandonment, contrived withdrawal of affection, the conditioning process of praise and punishment, the denial of freedom.
He couldn’t remember the second time it happened. It was when he was a kid — not very long after the episode on the bus with his mother. Some character had come into his vision and it was as if an unseeable multi-dimensional screen had been switched on in his mind. He received impressions, scenes, conversations, sounds, smells, noises, like dribbles trickling down from some infinite network of the sum of human thought and action. Often they would come all at the same time, yet still be individually discernable — rather like those exploded diagrams of engines one sees in car manuals, in which you are shown even the smallest part but also the entire engine itself, thus making it clear how the whole thing fits together. Nathan saw people’s lives like that. “Exploded diagrams of happenstance and synchronicity”, as he called them.
Aged four or thereabouts; maybe five. He would wake up in the night bathing in treacle. It wasn’t the flavour but the consistency. He could move but only as if in slow motion. Still, that was better than being paralysed. One element drove his little body out of bed, down the stairs, through the front door (after climbing on a chair to unlock the latch) and out onto the frozen street. He didn’t know how to put it into words. All he knew was that if he remained where he was in bed, he would certainly die. For a crushing weight had pressed down on him with inhuman force. He later read a story about a man in a room in which all six surfaces had gradually closed in on him and this is what he related to his earlier night time experience of crushingness.
“He fumbled again for his notebook. He remembered when it was new, when he had looked at it and said: “One day you will be dog-eared and dimpled, filled with substance and inconsequence, like an obese cadaver on a mortuary slab”. He noticed some words scratched into the back page from an inkless pen:
I am the hypocrite of a thousand petals
The hole of my life is the empty
eyeball grimace of a skull
I am a ragged flower
A hybrid of deadly nightshade
Of foxglove phantasies
Of morning glory
Of unfantastic gloriousness
I dwell in the suburbs of hell
A flock of birds flew past the window like momentary reflections of some sunlight on a lake. A donkey brayed in the distance. The muffled chatter of grape-pickers rose up from the vineyard like early morning mist. Anticipation dangled from the trees and something smiled. As soon as she walked into the room he knew that she was ovulating. There was no scent in the air — no visible evidence of fecundity — nothing significant in the eyes or facial expression. It filtered through the ether like a message from another world — one to which he belonged and where he longed to be. The body language, though a little awkward, was what one would expect from a woman meeting a man for the first time; though he listened to everything: her fruitly womb, her slightly broken heart, the notes of music played behind her velvet words (where legato met staccato in sonata form and where no coda had, as yet, been written on the stave). She shook his hand and sat down in the chair which plainly hadn’t been designed for sitting but merely looking good. Just like her, he thought. As soon as her eyes locked with his, the bottom of her tightly guarded world began to slide away. Something unfamiliar (though not unknown) had spread like brightly-coloured ink on blotting paper through her head. She thought “The tide is coming in” but had no knowledge how those words had come into her mind. A suggestive roll of thunder beckoned urgely from the hills. “That’s where we now belong”, he thought, “and where we soon will be”…
© Alan Morrison, 2013
“Pain. A word with no anagrams. Indivisible. Unchangeable. Period. It begins with pain. It ends with pain — interspersed with windows casting shafts of strange-coloured light. Mindless, morphinic, mendacious illuminism. Even the end of the tunnel is just another window.”
These were the words he scribbled in his tattered notebook in the halflight, as the sun fell below the horizon.