A short story in itself. A poster that nominally relates to 1756, but has resonance before and after.
A short story in itself. A poster that nominally relates to 1756, but has resonance before and after.
‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)
Kings Town, St. Vincent, 1756
Llewellyn Ap Davies leaned back against a coconut palm, kicked off his boots, stuffed, and lit his clay pipe. He rubbed his back against the trunk and smiled into the sunlight. He ran his hand through the remnants of his copper hair. He couldn’t get a draw on the bit, bit down harder on the lip and bit his lip. ‘Fuck it.’ He spat bloody phlegm and knocked out the remnants against his left boot. He had taken them off. ‘Fuck it.’ He stuffed the bowl again, taking more care to tamp down the rough shag deep into the bowl. Llewellyn struck a match and relit it, this time drawing smoothly and deeply into the back of his throat and, inhaling again, fully down into his lungs. He blinked in the light, shading his eyes against the waxing sun. He exhaled. Llewellyn squinted through the pregnant, blooming trees, towards the white, square Palladian villa his father and uncles had built thirty years earlier. They were gone, recently, but the Davies’s of Pensarn, Carmarthenshire had a long way to go. Llewellyn would see to that. He sat further back against the tree; a sharp, welcomed breeze cut across his face and the lit tobacco sparked and spat as he double drew and exhaled. He had work to do. He put his boots back on, rose stiffly, and knocked out his pipe against his left boot – they would need mending soon. They would probably last the quarter. Amused, he walked back towards Tŷ Gwyn Mawr.
‘Good arfernoon, Mesta Loo,’ a man, naked but for a white cloth wrapped about his middle, eyes averted, stopped, and bowed before him. He stared at the ground around his feet, no toenails on either; calloused from front to back. He stooped always, but now, his back – striated and welted – neared the horizontal.
‘Stand up straight, Ben. I have told you before, stand up straight. And, it is Mister Llew. LLEW. Or Sir, Sir would do,’ Llewellyn said, standing taller and straighter, until he was a head above his temporary companion. ‘Say it again. Say it properly.’
‘Yes sir. Yes, Mesta Loo, sir. I try better. Thank you Mesta Loo, sir,’ Ben tried to straighten again and gave his owner a lukewarm salute and a much colder smile.
‘What are you doing here? Do you not have something about which you should be getting on with? I do not employ you to amble about the place like some dandified gentleman of leisure. There is always work to be done. Have you not got sufficient work? If you have not, I can find you some. What are you doing here? Why are you not in the north field?’ Llewellyn thrust forward his chest, placing left hand on hip, looking only into Ben’s bare, square chest. No hair and only one nipple. Llewellyn stared at the space where the missing nipple should have been. He had often wondered why God had given men nipples. He knew why God had sent him there. He knew he loved God and that God loved him. God loved his family. He had sent them there. There was land. There was money in the land. This was the land of sugar and money. God’s bounty was everywhere. ‘Ond y mae mor boeth, Ben.’
‘Pardon Mesta Loo. I no. I no no. I here to get the…I here to see you ask you,’ Ben said, wan smile, still not looking at his Master.
‘How many times have I told you Ben? I have told you! I have told you all! Speak properly!’ Llewellyn waved Ben away and strode on towards the great white house.
‘But, Mesta Loo…’ Mesta Loo had gone.
Ben watched him go and waited until he was beyond sight and mind. ‘Fuck you!’ he said. Ben did not walk back to the north field, but continued further and deeper, despite the manacles, into the thicket.
An Unweeded Garden
Île de Gorée, Senegal, 1754
‘Humanity was born here – not yesterday, not today. Humanity was born here and it will return,’ Kofi Uwosu’s mother, Malaika, quoted the same proverb every morning as he walked from the family hut, through the village sprawl, towards the sea. When Kofi repeated it to his father, he told him that he did not understand. Kofi was twelve and wanted to understand.
The sea provided, even when the land around them would not. The sea brought life to the village. The sea brought trade. The sea bought trade. Life brought and taken away. Addition and subtraction – a balance sheet. The ocean brought and bought civilisation. Kofi’s civilisation extended only as far as the roughly drawn boundaries of his village of forty huts, three hundred people, one king, and many queens. All seen, all known, all present – the men who made the village were the village. Everyone knew that. The men: fathers, grandfathers, brothers, and cousins, talked of other men. Men who came to bring them civilisation. A generous gift from above and afar. Men with different skin: with white skin, with red skin, with brown skin, with skin the same colour as their own, but different. Though different, still they were men, and still they had skin. Men, with their gold and guns and spices and cloth and promises, took away so much more. They gave us gold and guns, salt and cloth, sugar and spices. We did not need them, but we took them gladly. They talked in words that fell groundwards or drifted towards the gods, as their mouths opened. Our words did not reach these men’s ears either. There were never any women. We have women. They had some of our women. Did these men not have any women?
“Everybody understands gold. Everybody understands guns,” Kofi’s father, Ganda, said. Kofi did not understand either. Kofi often thought about the things he did not understand. Kofi knew civilisation, he couldn’t explain it, but he knew it. Kofi had all the civilisation he needed. He could see it, walk through, past, and around it daily. What could these other men know? What could they teach him? The other men, with the different or same skin, had not come from near or far since he was circumcised. The day his sister was circumcised. His mother did it. Everyone was happy. They killed a calf. They had to stop eating.
Water had been Kofi Uwosu’s life for all of the years that he had known it. Kofi’s grandfather had told him how men came and took men. Men from other tribes. Tribes inland and tribes from beyond the sea took men, but the women stayed. There were too many women, so the king made fewer girls. But, not anymore, it did not matter. There were boys, girls, men, and women, now, and the king said nothing. Did nothing.
Kofi’s father had left before him that glimmering morning, as he did every day. That day, he carried his hunting spear and his club. Kofi had watched in awe, seven years earlier, as he had carved out intricate patterns, lines, loops, and swirls like a giant fingerprint on thick, heavy wood. Often blood soaked it. Kofi had wanted to use the club on his father, sometimes, and on his brother more, but he had never touched it. His father said that he must look, and when he understood, only then could he use it. Kofi still did not understand. He woke every day, hoping that it would be the day. His father said many words that he did not know; that was why he wanted to use the club against his skull. To watch it shatter and splinter too see the blood spill and his brain stall and stop. He never picked up the club. He tried not to think about it. It would come to him as it had to his brother. He asked his brother what he had to understand. His brother smiled and laughed at him, but said nothing. Kofi eyed the club and his brother’s skull.
Kofi’s father taught him everything. He taught all the boys. They knew their responsibilities; they knew the rules that, if broken, meant damaged skin and bruised bodies. Their duties were to the rules and the rules guided everyone. They did not have to think. Their elders did their thinking for them.
‘Africa is no historical part of the world.’ – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (Philosopher)
Kofi Uwosu tasted blood; smelled blood. A glancing blow from a carved wooden club struck him, from behind, on the left temple. A left-hander. Blood again. Smell. Taste. Be. Try to be. Focus shifting to a point. Light. Gone. As he fell, he saw his brother, Quaquo, beside him, falling, too, blinking into the endless sunlight in the unending village sky. Quaquo was two years older, but he fell just the same, in time, falling. Everybody’s brother was his brother. Everybody’s mother knew his mother; was his mother. Kofi tasted blood again. He tried to spit. The reflex failed him, as he fell further. Falling deeper. He wanted to open his eyes, but his lids fell, heavier, deeper. Closed. Fallen. Consciousness drifting, and then nothing.
Following on from my previous two posts, this is my dissertation proposal. Any feedback always gratefully received. Peace and love fellow space travellers
An Unweeded Garden – Articulating the Black Diaspora
I want my dissertation to be the coalescence of all that I have learned on the MA Humanities programme, combined with my passion for black culture, history, and literature. My dissertation will be a symbiosis of creative writing – An Unweeded Garden – and critical analysis; asking and answering questions on cultural identity and self-definition. My creative response to these questions will reflect my passions and form the output of my research and thinking around individuality, cultural alienation, and responses to oppression. My dissertation reflects my aspiration for inclusion and diversity to be much more than convenient badges, but to be instruments for, and of, cultural change, historical reinterpretation, and enriched self and societal understanding.
The Historical Context
Two quotes from Chinua Achebe have come to define my creative writing and underpin my quest for historical truth: ‘The last four or five hundred years of European contact with Africa produced a body of literature that presented Africa in a very bad light… [T]he reason for this had to do with the need to justify the slave trade and slavery (Bacon, 2000). An Unweeded Garden is an expositional examination of the effects of slavery on participants, willing and unwilling, and explores the everlasting effects on the lives of their descendants. It studies voice, language, and authenticity. Voicelessness and the path to reclamation of voices, stories, and histories fascinate me. Achebe’s reading of Heart of Darkness (1899) states that, ‘Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist. That this simple truth is glossed over…is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking,’ (Achebe, 1988). I first read Heart of Darkness in 1988 and was struck by its excoriation of colonial oppression and European cultural hegemony. Achebe has forced me to re-explore my original interpretations critically. My dissertation crystallises alternative postcolonial literary analysis, reflecting on my experiences as a black man. Historically, black culture has been defined by and through white European consensus, our stories have been told for us, images of us have been painted in binary terms.
Articulating the Black Diaspora
It is time to bring the power back. As Public Enemy, progenitors of 1980s black consciousness said, ‘“Know who you are to be black,”’ (Ridenhour, et al., 1988). They called on us all to define ourselves for the modern age within a historical context only we can define. Public Enemy along with the words of Paul Gilroy, Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael, have assisted me in defining my past and present and have led directly to narrative and character choices in An Unweeded Garden. On the album It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, Public Enemy quote Khalid Abdul Muhammad, ‘Once we were brought here, we were robbed of our name, robbed of our language. We lost our religion, our culture, our god’ (Ridenhour, et al., 1988). The quote sums up the intent behind my dissertation, both creatively and critically; I want to challenge historical orthodoxy, but also challenge contemporaneous understanding of self-worth and inculcate progressive self-determination.
In An Unweeded Garden, I will examine the impacts of the eighteenth-century slave trade, on the Caribbean in 1956 and London in 2014, on the descendants of families for whom slavery has come to define them consciously and subconsciously. The creative dissertation continues the story from ‘The Novel’ module, and my own novel, in dramatising the journey of a captured teenage slave, Kofi Uwosu, from the Île de Gorée to the sugar cane plantations of the Caribbean. I examine both European and African participation in the slave trade and black people’s complicity.
It looks to contribute forcefully to the ongoing debate by modern British writers like Jackie Kay, Caryl Phillips, Barry Unsworth, and Andrea Levy in Small Island (2004), ‘…the formation of discursive identity through the encounter with others and the necessity of accommodating difference. Small Island forecloses the possibility of addressing modern multiculturalism as a purported ‘happy ending’ in light of Levy’s formulation of the Windrush moment as disruptive, violent, and overwhelmed by flawed characters,’ (Ellis, 2012) and Zadie Smith, especially in White Teeth (2000), where “…it makes an immigrant laugh to hear the fears of the nationalist, scared of infection, penetration, miscegenation, when this is small fry, peanuts, compared to what the immigrant fears — dissolution, disappearance,’ (Smith, 2000). It is these notions of otherness and difference that I will explore in my dissertation.
In An Unweeded Garden, I offer fresh perspectives on slavery and Empire, specifically focussing on the significant part played by Welshmen and the ignorance and denial of historical oppression and complicity in torture and subjugation. The story is set in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom. To reflect the relative standings of its protagonists, I will continue to write the stories of colonial, subjective Senegal and St. Vincent in the third person, past tense. The London stories are in omniscient first person, present tense. An Unweeded Garden is a character-driven story of repossession, but equally a story of emancipation and reparation.
The distinct narrative choices on the continents and timespans reflect my interest in the effects on individuals, culture, and society when it has language imposed on it. If it is true that history is written by the victors, what then happens when there are no true victors? It seeks to engage with, ‘issues of cultural diversity, ethnic, racial, and cultural difference, and the power relations within them,’ (Ashcroft, et al., 2006, p. 5). The truth becomes increasingly difficult to delimit, let alone articulate. In An Unweeded Garden, through characterisation, setting, and voice, I underscore the opacity of being and the struggle to find new terms to define ourselves against cultural hegemony. ‘I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me,’ (Ellison, 2001, p. 1), Therefore, I have made the narrative voices unreliable and it becomes increasingly apparent that there are no winners, just characters struggling with the past and its effects on their present. The characters in An Unweeded Garden cannot escape contextualised histories, ‘I had seen how deep in nearly every West Indian, high and low, were the prejudices of race; how often these prejudices were rooted in self-contempt; and how much important action they prompted. Everyone spoke of nation and nationalism but no one was willing to surrender the privileges or even the separateness of his group,’ (Naipaul, 1962, p. 230). Prejudice is not the preserve of white Europeans, but it is also clear that united we are stronger and that we have to accept complicity in the past and the self-contempt it has brought. It is clear that to create a positive self-image, black people have to understand the context of their oppression and no longer see themselves as victims, alone, but as agents of progressive personal and ethnic development. The dissertation will stress that empowerment for all is stronger, and potentially immutable, if it is non-prejudicial. Cultural and spiritual domination becomes its own canker and to forestall its perpetuation, and the indoctrination of the colonial myth, I seek to posit new ideas and interpretations of the past. My story endeavours to bridge a world where, ‘It was the look in white people’s faces when I walked down the street,’ (Himes, 2010, p. 4), to a true civilisation where, ‘…one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers,’ (Luther King Jr, 1963).
An Unweeded Garden, takes its title from Hamlet, ‘’Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely,’ (Shakespeare, 2008) and has three entwined murder mysteries, encroaching narratives, using the cut-up technique to unite interwoven pasts. My characters strive to define themselves, positively, on their own terms and to make their voices heard above cacophonous exploitation. An Unweeded Garden explores nature and the imagination and it advances new ways to understand received signs and signifiers. ‘Yet we cannot live our lives in the realm of pure ideas cocooned from sense-experience’ (Coetzee, 1999, p. 22).
The story’s central characters are fourteen-year-old black slave, Kofi Uwosu, who is found murdered, bound to his white lover – and daughter of his owner – Rhian Haf Davies and gagged before his planned hanging for his part in a slave rebellion. Rhian has an anchor and dragon cut into her face. These wounds match the branding on Kofi’s arm. These symbols of ownership and control recur throughout the narrative and come to define the characters under western eyes.
In St. Vincent in the mid-1950s, Agatha Evans is trapped by an abusive stepmother, a church and religion forced upon her family by her history. To define her future, she has to escape her past and emigrates to the United Kingdom. Agatha is immersed in the stories of her past, from her mother, Maudie, who until her death at twenty-seven, had been similarly desperate to escape it. That Agatha discovers her mother with the same branding marks as her forebears, leaves her desperate to solve the mystery, little knowing that the escape to England will eventually provide her with self-knowledge and with greater insight into who she is and can be. The mystery continues with Agatha’s stepmother’s murder after she has reached England. Characters across the stories, continents, and timespans are trying to escape their histories, but it is left to Agatha’s daughter Gwenllian, in 2015 along with her lover, Deiniol Roberts, to re-contextualise the past. Twenty-First Century London resonates with the past and the anchor and dragon motifs recur. The story’s close is open-ended and defies simple analysis. In this postcolonial world, there are no victors only victims and those struggling for understanding, acceptance, and the freedom to be.
My critical reflection is as one with my creative response in that it tackles issues of culture and race, but also studies gender, sexuality, and received ideas of consciousness and motivation. Women are doubly disenfranchised by their colonial past, often marginalised by a phallocentric, polarised society where, ‘blue-eyed, blond, thin white women could not be considered beautiful without the Other – Black women with classical African features of dark skin, broad noses… kinky hair’ (Collins, 2000, p. 79). I will analyse black writing from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s, taking in Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and the closer contemporary authors Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. I will look at all aspects of contemporary black culture from the Nation of Islam and the Black Power Movement to the co-opted, hybridised, language of the streets, ghettoization, and hip-hop culture.
An Unweeded Garden is postcolonial fiction, determined to redefine an independent place in the world and society. ‘The term post-colonial is resonant with all the ambiguity and complexity of the many different cultural experiences it implicates,’ (Ashcroft, et al., 2006, p. 1). Postcolonialism is contextualised by the past and present whereby, ‘The immensely prestigious and powerful imperial culture found itself appropriated in projects of counter-colonial resistance, which drew upon the many different indigenous local hybrid processes of self-determination to defy, erode, and…supplant the prodigious power of imperial cultural knowledge,’ (Ashcroft, et al., 2006, p. 1).
Through my creative practice, I want to explore the truths, and falsehoods, of racial identity and stereotyping and experiment widely with form and characterisation through the lives and experiences of my characters to get closer to an understanding of who I am and what motivates me as a black man. In An Unweeded Garden, ‘…the juxtaposition of word and image confers authority on the context of what is being described’ (March-Russell, 2009, p. 174).
‘Writing is a means of discovery,’ (Cook, 2013, p. 204) and through the process of character creation and telling their stories, I hope to discover more about who I am and where I come from. I have and will back up this with interviews with family members and detailed research into the slave trade and the exodus of the Windrush generation. As in all stories, the omissions are as important as inclusions that choices not made say much about the creative practice and rationale is instructive. ‘Creativity…is vested in the workings of language, not in the originating self of the writer. Language endlessly interferes with itself…’ (Cook, 2013, p. 208). Though this is true, I will argue that the author has the ability to manipulate language creatively to define new meaning.
I am keenly interested in the construction and dissolution of power structures. Structures contain us, but I argue that they can help emancipate us. My reflection will look at how we can circumvent the language used to define us, when we don’t have our original lexis. We have to reclaim our language and define our own.
Escape and escapism are central to the narrative and characters of An Unweeded Garden, and through this exploration and through the understanding, creation, and definition of identity, just as “Levy’s novel, written more than fifty years after the first Windrush arrival, creates a common narrative of nation and identity in order to understand the experiences of Black people in Britain,” (Ellis, 2012) I hope to craft work that has lasting emotional and cultural significance, that I hope to take further into a Research Doctorate. I want my writing to spark interest and heighten debate, to move, entertain, and transcend the everyday.
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For a man of his age, fiftyish, greying, with the third sign of jowls, this polished Japie has a bloated opinion of himself and his abilities. Maybe once (if I’m lucky), but not now. In this black and white town, colourless and soundless, he is his own grey area. Lovemaking with military precision, everything drilled into chartered place, satisfies him. It kills two minutes every Thursday, every week. Regulated thrusting, squirming, blood pumping, cum face, climax, functional, clean, regular, he collapses into the once-white sheets.
Every morning after nine, I clear away the breakfast bowls, toast crumbs, spilled, spilt milk, and turn down the beds in their new sheets. I catch the bus from the stop by the corner market and wait, wait for the buzz and the practised words…an actor reading his lines. I know mine well enough. I press the buzzer and the door opens, dab perfume, and he is on me again. Precise, exact, clothes folded as his mother taught him, or maybe his Boarding School matron. Perfunctory petting, widened eyes narrowing now, I join him, smile, close my eyes and never let go. Rivulets spring from windblown crags and hollows, the hairs stand to attention at the back of his reddening neck. He is not blushing. I do not blush.
Jaco’s got rugby training. What shall I make for dinner?
I ask him about his day. He likes conversation. His skin warming, deeply scarlet, now. He has never told me his name, but that doesn’t matter. Capitalism made us this way.
He is on me now. A low moan. The rent is low.
Boerewors or Bredie, he’ll need something filling. Melktert for dessert. Did I turn the hot water on?
He is in me now, musty, stale, longing whiskey-fumed words whispered, liver-spotted fingers grasp and grab. Arches, loops, and whorls imprinted. He can be gentle but not today.
I need mince and dates. Ayanda is with the sitter tonight, she needs a new dress. I want a cigarette. My Mills Specials are in my bag. Or did I leave them on the table. He smokes, but doesn’t like smoking. I need a drink. A large one.
Back in the room. I whisper. Swelling. His body stiffening he will cum in five seconds. Racing, crashing at the finish, he will win by a head. Sweat dripping from his forehead on to my lips. I can taste him, taste Johnnie Walker and spiced biltong. He comes and he will go without speaking again.
I’m going to make Bobotie.
Rhodri’s day wasn’t as much unfolding as unravelling slowly, seams frayed and picked and there he lay with he didn’t really know who. He looked towards her, focussing despite the rush, and noticed a small mole above her left breast, and from there he saw her, now, next to him, beneath him, but far away. He wanted to touch her to hold her, to reconnect the switch, but the power lines were faulty. He wanted her, but could not, as she shrank back from him and lit another cigarette; suddenly that cramped room in that vast, open building, seemed so unfamiliar. The Students’ Union – apposite. She made sense to him. He didn’t know where to turn or where to go, or if he should speak. He wanted her, still. As thoughts and words tripped over each other for space and air, he said,
‘Are you ok?’
He’d met her again, inside then outside. They’d been to a gig, but not together. They were standing outside, each, smoking single-skin spliffs. He had early onset gig sweats; she hadn’t. She’d said that the lights she couldn’t see had blinded her. He looked at the floor and forced a laugh from some untapped reserve. It felt natural. The gum tacky and discarded dog end pavement below them swam. The new moon cowered behind clouds. All humanity and no humanity once gathered inside now filtered out past them. Grebos, Crusties, Goths, Skateheads, Hipsters all in their finest tribal costumes. From another door swept the Wednesday night sports stars, stale from their stiffening games of muzakal statues. Multiple clans, immiscible, united in their solitude. Rhodri nodded and raised his spliff to indistinct faces. She said nothing to anyone, but like a clannish chameleon stood, apart, but comfortably with them all.
He still had the keys to the cloakroom, where scattered coats and inkblot stains remained. Two snooker tables, torn raffle tickets, and twisted hangers like mobiles, jostled with them for space. Streetlamps striated her back, as she blew smoke rings towards the full-length mirror propped against the Formica-topped table. The reflected wisps spread to the sides then disappeared to who knows where.
Rhodri squinted as the dying candles mirrored in the puddles around them. It felt like seconds since he had seen blood and she had seen blood and neither had felt pain as she had pressed her arms against his and the first stirrings stirred and everything he thought he knew became everything he couldn’t and he loved it and he wanted to kneel there forever with her and the clutter that kept him coming back, and now, he saw her, his eyes closed, their tongues exploring and now, their clothes about them, unclaimed coats below them, their eyes averted.
Voices. Somewhere. Not even silence to soothe them. He wanted to kiss her to ‘feed her with his kiss.’ He looked at the mole as his hand pushed back her fringe.
‘Yeah, I suppose!’ she said.
‘I want you…’ Rhodri whispered.
‘To what? What do you want me to?’ she said
‘Nothing, I don’t want you to do anything, I want…’
“’To glide with the air, I breathe?’”
‘Very funny. You know what I mean!’
‘I really don’t.’
Latest in the collaboration with Jane Astley
Echoes, echoes, more echoes, then nothing. Not even silence. Rhodri wondered if for once, he felt alive, if he was alive amidst the life unfolding in stop-motion before him. He wanted to grasp it, but as ever, it was elusive. He loved the comfort in not knowing. Gwenno had said that to him at the club, he hadn’t got it then and now, still, notsomuch, but perhaps that was the point. Of what? Maybe, that was the point, too.
All this elliptical, crazy-perplexing thought, he thought that he had never thought before. Perhaps that was why she always seemed so calm amongst the maelstrom. All Rhodri could see was the past and the future, and her as she reached towards him, taking control, but freeing him. She was in the kitchen, she was there with him, and she held him and he yielded to the sights and smells and to all dreams that he never thought were real. But something, somewhere, jarred. Exhilaration in all its simple-profound-explicable-mystifying glory.
On her toes amongst the steam, the broken bric-a-brac, things he didn’t care for, the clutter that kept him returning to that house, to that kitchen and to…Now, he saw her, his eyes closed and knew through the ecstasy they could never see together. Neither of them could hide from thought, from feeling, right now with their eyes closed, their bodies entwined like Klimt, and their tongues like explorers to the Dark Continent. They would never let go.
Rhodri wanted to say something; it felt like a moment for profundity masquerading in simplicity’s clothes, but he didn’t want to think and didn’t want to speak. Always, so many distractions that took mind and body and soul (he wasn’t sure if he had one, though he knew that Gwenno must) away from the present to a future a microsecond from whenever now was or is or will be. There goes another.
Is she thinking or just being? I never think that I just am…or maybe because…just be. I can’t think.
He had always taken vicarious pleasure in other people’s desire, especially when they were there. Concentrate on not concentrating. He held her arm lightly as she kissed his neck. He recoiled a thousand times in his…he didn’t know where it was or what it was or where it came from, but he shuddered, briefly, involuntarily. Her bloody, light, rounded lips cherubic, and small, straight white teeth on his lips and on his tongue and on his neck and then down his arm and the taste of blood in his mouth as she kissed him again, this time more deeply, before she drew away and said something incongruous about panpipes.
“What did you say?”
“What is that ridiculous sound at this stupid time when I am here in a house in a kitchen with you and you jumped back from me?”
Rhodri didn’t know which question to answer, or even how to answer, but went for the simplest every time. The path easier travelled, clearly signposted, but ordinary.
Still with the panpipes…it sounds like fucking Enigma.
Gwenno had acted on instinct; rigmarole attracted her. How could she possibly deflect a situation on so many different levels? The man-boy she didn’t want to talk about, he always said that she thrived in a crisis. She wasn’t sure. He had said it full of spiteful, spit-spraying, frustrated beyond all manner of reason. He had said that if there weren’t a suitable reason, then she would create one just to feel alive. She’d argued that the majority of her crises involved him. He hadn’t appreciated it and sank back into his passive-aggressive default. Nevertheless, she had to admit she was at ease here with Rhodri.
A degree of crisis was fine by her; she de-knotted necklaces for fun and created puzzles for future solution. She dotted her life with anecdotes and conundrums and revelled in the little joys of discovering them in drawers, under beds or inside books, whilst rummaging for a cigarette. They had been her loyal hangover companions for as long as she had been drinking, always amusing her, and never hurting her.
Somewhere a clock chimed within its glass case but she didn’t count the strikes. She didn’t want to know what she was losing. She had to count something though, so she scanned fallen objects and found suitable deflections. One, clear the scene; Two, ultimate distraction; Three, placate; Four…
Rhodri and Gwenno were two individuals from an ancient civilisation. The last remaining with the implicit knowledge that there was nothing they could do to sustain themselves. Everything, but no one, certainly not each other. In spite of embracing surplus customs and rituals to honour and bind, to purge and practice, it was an esoteric knowledge that set them apart from everything whilst exacerbating their downfall.
Yet in a moment’s notice they were dragged (sometimes unwillingly and sometimes not) into the humid, constantly buzzing, over-stimulated modern world. It didn’t fit. It was as though someone had brought PlayStations and iPads into the sweat lodge. How can there be a true opportunity for progress with a distracting buzzing permeating everywhere they were and went? People were suspicious of silence in familiar places, real silence, not like when the TV has been switched off. And to find this, they’d have to venture further and further to places, it was more likely to be, which was never inside of themselves. Nobody ever thought to look inside to find it. It was like asking, ‘Where was the last place you saw it?’ Peace I mean, not silence as such. Hardly anybody can recall this. We’re more likely to find the keys to our house than internal peace.
For these last members of their race, whatever they were, if merely the last two remaining awake since the gig ended it was something. And the choice was to die or to adapt. Teetering, unsure, at this dramatic crossroads, precipitated by an internal straitjacket, it was a struggle that felt like a dance. If they learnt the steps, it didn’t have to be bearable; if executed well it could be beautiful. Yet they were yanked in opposite directions and sinking slowly down, slithering into an opacity that was beyond them. They could have spoken about it but it didn’t seem the right time. The morning was pulling them quickly now, through its cool and fragrant bosom, toward the high sun. Nothing would ever be said at this time of day that could mean as much to either of them.
So she tiptoed, a ballet dancer’s reminiscence, graceful and stunning, feeling her ankles wake up and their knees brushing. Her eyes were dry yet wide. She saw his look change imperceptibly. He wasn’t anguished. He took her arm and held it with such a soft grasp, droplets of her blood rolled down the heel of his hand. There was still a space between them, there had to be. Only arms entwined and lips meeting. Where would it lead them? They had thought about this before but nothing was ever that clear.
Gwenno wished that she could blink and wake up in Tuscany mist rising from the vineyards whilst wandering through sleepy villages seduced by the Tuscan lilt, she didn’t know the words; they could be saying to another to clean the maledetto bins. She loved melodic and difficult equally. It was her story and that of all the people she had met. It was easier not to know them very well at all, so that they remained for her these enigmatic features of the world or obstacles that she could weave around to reach anywhere else. Then, that she could dwell in the beauty of all that she didn’t understand.
Rhodri didn’t know where he would go if he had the choice. Perhaps he would wake in some unknown location, a language he had never heard, no obvious indication of anything. Life would be pushing him right to the very edge, perhaps from out of a plane thousands of feet over no man’s land. He opened his eyes in the messy kitchen that he would never tidy up. He preferred cleanliness to tidiness and they weren’t the same thing at all. He realised that he didn’t care much for cleanliness, either.
Gwenno wasn’t smiling; she was looking at him as though she had something profound to say. To him. Then she frowned, cocked her head to one side to listen, and asked, “Seriously are your neighbours playing panpipes?”
I speak far more than she does, but she says so much more than I can ever know.
No one ever comes to this dilapidated, dated theme park with its pimps from the Estate Agents on every corner endorsed ‘rustic charm’ and ‘faded glory.’
Gwenno won’t mind, I don’t think. She’ll mention Miss Havisham or Estella or someone else she told me about or someone else she might have told me about that I would know about if I had spent as much time as her not doing what I do. What does she do? It’s too late to ask and too early to think, so I’ll offer her a drink.
This room hasn’t changed since I was last here, so she can’t have been back. Why doesn’t Gwenno give me a sign? Something simple, unmistakable, graspable, and tactile. I am treading water in concrete boots. Her eyes dart, so softly, so slowly, but have taken in everything halfway through the first sweep. I like the flowers on the table, they work, I picked them from next door’s garden, yesterday. Or the day before. I know some flowers, but I don’t know these simple, understated splashes of colour, in this Rhondda grey room. There is china and porcelain everywhere; I have never really looked at it.
“It’s not my house,” Fitz said to a vaguely-heard question about boarding or it might have been hoarding. It would have been too easy to explain it all and what it meant, but that could wait. She said that she was thirsty. Should I tell her, it might help if I see her again, she will probably want to know, but what there is to know I don’t know…if the wisest one is her or me for not knowing what we don’t know. I think I know that it is her, but I might not be completely sure.
“Shall I skin up or make the coffee first?” Fitz asked.
“You can multitask.”
“Can I? Are you sure?”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter much,”
“Ok, I’ll go and put the kettle on, in the kitchen, next door. You stay here and start building.” Fitz walked into the kitchen and ran the water from the single tap; musty, warm, and with a yellow tinge, even in winter. He waited ten seconds for the stream to run clear and opened a drawer to the left of the sink. It used to slide, but he had the knack. He did, but couldn’t be bothered and tugged hard on the handle, which broke and took the drawer front with it. He picked out a knife and put it by the sink, as he now filled the kettle, lit a match, turned the handle and put it on the stove. He waited and listened. Gwenno fingered the resin; it was about a quarter of an ounce (was that metric? She didn’t understand metric conversion), judging from the crumbled burning, it started out as a half-ounce. Fitz had burned only one side top and bottom. His tin lay on top of Boo Radley’s Kaleidoscope e.p. She could hear him singing from the kitchen as the steam rose and the sweet, burning toffee smell of the hash filled the space, dancing around her. “Every drop of blood that falls I had to share it with you all. Pain’s not pleasure it just hurts. I wept these tears into the dirt. Though I shared it with you all. Men like me have far to fall.” Gwenno knew the final line, but didn’t sing along; she ran through the door into the kitchen to see blood and steam and water and a knife as she instinctively grabbed the kettle and grabbed his arm. Everywhere liquid flew as she turned on the tap of cold, yellowing, tepid water and grabbed him by the other wrist. She didn’t know what she should do, but knew what had to be done. She couldn’t let go; if she did then he would, and then what? She grabbed his arm, stood on tiptoes and kissed him.
Next phase of the collaboration with Jane Astley
Gwenno’s gaze moved to a cracked glass vase of Hydrangeas jutting from the edge of a tall flimsy table. Pastel tissue paper butterflies, the colours of summer fruit-infused snow. Light yet so devouring. She had always considered them nature’s wedding bouquet. Even though her grandmother insisted that it was a curse to bring Hydrangeas into the house, Gwenno remained connected to the omens of superstition. She was troubled more by the women who believed in them. The woman who collected the same style of knickknacks adorning the mantelpiece in front of her now. Surely they were not to Rhodri’s taste. Basset hounds wearing trilbies and cats in Victorian dresses holding parasols. Who actually wants this shit in their house, in their space? Clutter for cluttered minds, fanning all size of fire.
Gwenno looked up at him looking at her. It wasn’t the first time someone had looked at her that way. She was not bewitching but almost faddish like velvet or waistcoats with backs of a crimson sheen.
“You don’t look like a hoarder” she commented, her fingertips pressing against the bone coloured mantelpiece where new ornaments sprung to attention. Dogs with long faces, brass bells, and candelabra slotted between opened and unopened envelopes.
He smiled, “It’s not my house.”
“Ah” she sounded relieved. She didn’t want to know more about this story yet. It would open up the crevices in a portal to a whole new world. A tiring prospect for somebody who didn’t need to know all the details about anything.
He was still watching her observing the new space, acclimatizing herself to it as though he wasn’t even a part of the landscape. If he adapted to a quizzical glance she might have asked why. Instead, he drifted off to the kitchen and with the physical motion, his mind parted ways toward the dull ache of what was now extinct. He’d always allowed the mind free rein. It wasn’t simply an overseer but the ultimate controller over the minutiae of his existence. The power bestowed bent him into submission to the point he had begun walking to a new soundtrack. If he watched its progress from another perspective, he would see himself gradually roll into a ball. How much of his life he had spent slowly becoming a statue made of stone. Eventually he would return to his original existence – a rock. Then someone would launch him through his own window. The mind evaporated these observations and led him by calloused palm to the very pinnacle of deprivation, to the worst of his worst. Pausing before asking him to arouse familiar feelings now. How far had he come in distance in spite of the curvature? Could he realise it without being it? How much of it is inlaid in our mortar, our essence? He felt the origin of all pain, pulsating in his chest this hard, heavy imprisoned weapon.
The sudden influx. Nothing hurt this much.
“What are you doing?” she yelled at him. She was in the kitchen with arms flailing.
She had hurled the kettle and grasped him roughly by the wrist. Cold flowing water on hot static skin as boiling water coursed to the floor. It felt interminable. She would not let go and he didn’t want that anyway. In the quiet that was infused with water pattering across a basin and dripping to the lino, the dark shifted to crimson and to gold. He had known the bliss of that dawn to be alive, as transitory as it was, felt its backlash, which hid all the exits out of its converse. He had never worked out that there was more than one way out. How had a mind as complex as his present so little option? That was the sort of question that Ann Marie would pose. The chest burn faded, compounding to the fresh sensation in the sink. The present moment. He started to laugh, was it really a gift when so often he discarded it in favour of what came before.
She was looking at him in a new way, scavenging the new indelible impressions on his face. Her grip was still strong, impressively so, protecting what was now mottled and numb as though her life depended on it.