The first thing that little Nathan did when he found out about “school” was attempt to discover the origin of the word itself. Collections of letters intrigued him far more than groups of people. In fact, he found people to be alien and awkward — something which shouldn’t be there but which, through a freak of nature, happened to be so. The strangest thing of all was the way that the expressions on their faces and the words they spoke were totally at odds with the exploded diagram of their thoughts which he could see around them. This was a mystery. How was it possible for words and body language to misrepresent their source? Through this he was able to understand that there was a schizoid basis to the social life of what seemed like the whole of humanity (though at his age he thought of it like a fork in the road fighting to be brought together again). To be human seemed to involve having a fundamental divide between an inner and outer being. He saw it in his parents. He saw it in their friends. He saw it in his friends; and, to his horror, he saw it in himself — which was a major catalyst in the deepening of his insight. Observing his parents and their friends, not one of them ever spoke their heart (unless they were drunk, in which case it came out as some kind of slurred insult or emotional wallowing). They seemed to be cut off from themselves, living only as a vague cloud of cobbled-together emotions and whims. In some small sense, they partially knew what they felt inwardly but it never occurred to them to match that knowledge with what they expressed outwardly and it never seemed to them that their outward expressions contradicted their inner thoughts and feelings. At that tender age, it had not occurred to him that there were also many for whom the inner life had become so removed that in fact it no longer existed. That discovery still awaited him.
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.
The Reverend Nathan Delver spoke with calm authority to the sea of heads before him. He opened his mouth and began to speak slowly and deliberately, his eyes staring with a piercing gaze at an indefinable spot above the heads before him.
“How we limit the human mind with our bland, predictable experiences,” he began, with a slight tremor in his voice. His knees were also shaking gently. “How easily we make things so much less than they really are.