The best of the stupid
[ fiction - november 03 ]
She clambered in the cab, settling to the seat, then wriggling in, into the new scene, in a new and acceptable rôle, something to apply her surfaces to. Occasioned by the cab, new but retro, a compendium of dress-up & pretends kicked in. We tasted nostalgia for a London neither she nor I had known.
She brightened in the cab's aircon preserve, like a hybrid popped in its own delicious goo, but the skindraw was still there, pallor under the tan, the jaw taut. I sensed a dirty churn in that stomach, in the clench of the crossed legs. She turned to the window, as if to compose a frame: with her elbow on an armrest, her finger poised her chin...
"Is that you're good side?" I said.
"Meany," she said, clicking to the driver, "Can I smoke?" He started to trot out the usual lines. "I'll be ex-tra-ex-tra-care-full," she tricked out, the vowels delivered with hardkick on the consonants. Like a hackney nag nostalgic for the reins, and complicit in its own servitude he responded to the tones as if trained; resistance mumbled down. As I already knew, this was not a democracy...
"You'll do yourself an injury with that," he said, "Pretty girl like you," his own throat raw...
There was no returning sound as she focussed on her flames, "What else have I got to do between now," she muttered under her breath as she lit up, "and when I die, you blubbery old sod. Someone as fuck-ugly as you should know better. Some people just have to set their stamp on things. Control freaks. Don't do this/Can't do that. Nah-nah-nah. Wah-wah-wah. Tut-tut. What business...' Lit up, her head came right. She beamed at him, then fanned a sharpened cloud in his direction. Some fume hit mark and the slidescreen between driver and driven hummed shut...
As I mused how pleasant it could be if she'd try to appear even a little less evidently mad, she looked to me to say, "I love you when you're like that," she said. Wha'?! thought I, W-w-what did she mean by this word she used? Some sense by me unencountered? Unknown to mere mortals? What does it mean? A heady need? exalted but transient, a night's rush to someone whose wants are her needs?
"I've got to be alone with you," she said. Yesss! He shoots!/He scores!, does NumbNuts. I felt heavy and comfortable with relief. I somehow convinced myself that what she needed was what I needed and then she'd be alright. Sometimes it's so easy to lie to yourself. I sank back into the seats. I really looked a right berk. Her head wiggled, she nodded, and drew mightily on that cigarette clamped between rude fingers: I crisped-up, worried I'd looked slobbed-out on a too-comfortable couch...
As we whizzed on, light pattered over the cab selectively, headed through iron-plate leaves dappled with carbon, and we ran on, down at the river side, the bends captive in concrete writhes, as if sectioned for skateboard dugouts, or like some decrepit canal. Exposed, inconvenient and noxious silt slurped and blupped at the side boards...
"Even the waters aren't free," she said.
"No," she said impatiently, "It's 'cause they're moored to the moon. The moon's called the waters away," she said.
"They've gone away to gush..."
"Away to gush..."
"Away to gush away, in different places..."
"... Under different names," she said. "Look! There she is, She's still here; faint but full." Above it all, and impressed on a skyseam of zenith pink, a thin full moon; my sharpened eyes which seemed to have found a register not their own, saw it all in her own, the scene there, the colours, the resident tears dripping over the view... "Half here/half not. La Luna. I'm still thinking in Spanish. She's left the river derelict," she said, looking to where the bowelly siltslicks weeped gut deisel, highstain to the ribboards. "Oh the poor birds!' she said. "Look." Strayed birds pattered in it, pecking, like grimy children who think to find prizes in the mire... "How does it work, the tide? Is it just the weight of the moon?"
"The weight of the moon/the fire of the sun/the sling of the earth. Moves round what-they-call nodal points..."
"Whatever they are...Sounds sore. Like something rubbing. Like a thudding gland. They must be in the middle of the oceans somewhere, somewhere exotic but fearful. It would have to be near Antarctica. Somewhere the waters look like liquid steel. It's hard to imagine them being somewhere convenient like Câp Ferrat or Beachy Head. Maybe the Orkneys. And when you get there, what's it like? A knowdal point? Oh, you say, so this is a nodal spot? right here. On this the oceans pivot. Hello? What's that? So what? Maybe there is one at Beachy Head. That's got to be someone's idea of Antarctica."
"Without the penguins. Drab, really, except on the nicest days. Nearly drab."
"Not nearly drab, really most sincerely drab. But we're like that too, aren't we. Drawn by the moon, we revolve around the moon, the whoosh and sloosh of the moon. Perhaps we're nodal points. In a way. Perhaps someone somewhere thinks we're fearful and exotic too. Like cold places, off the Orkneys, even off-off the Orkneys. All those places on the shipping forecast. Out around the oil rigs. All the solitary Scotsmen on the rigs, looking at the moon with a ration of rum inside, with those spumes of flame blowing out the top of all that gruesome meccano where they live in the middle of the coldest sea. Feeling all greumy and soulful and not daring to meet each others eyes, or getting too emotional, blubbing about... stuff, infantile stuff... starting fights, or wanking, miserably alone, or sloping off for surreptitious buggery in some oily compartment where incomprehensible machinery judders against the bulkheads, leaking vile ointment." She tugged away her shades, let the window down, flicked some ash. Her paling eyes squinted, "Too many pictures!" she said, shaking her head. "Far, far too-many. It's like they're all around and coming to visit. Could drop in at any time. I'd hate to be a fly on the wall. Horrific! Anywhere at all, but especially there. Even more difficult to imagine than Antarctica!"
"Far less plausible."
"And no penguins."
"Far from the saving grace of penguins."
"Lunatic comes from la luna, you know, the wildness caused by the moon. It affects all fluids. Especially the naughtier!"
"The naughtier fluids!"
"My emotions always fly..."
"And la luna's a woman..."
Quick to cut, her voice was authoritative, as pleasuredly ruthless as an inquisitional censor flourishing a badge...
"No. The moon's a man. It's barren apart from a few vital elements which can be mined, and taken away. It's lonely and harsh and flies around on its own. It just sort of pops up here and there, at night, demanding attention, and then fades away. Waning, they call it. The moon's a right waner. But that's ok. Nobody really minds what it does,... It sort of takes care of itself, like some hermit, some deluded hermit in its own dry cold desert..."
"Or like Antoine's sprite."
"...but there's no real point to it. If you don't bother with it, it doesn't matter. I mean, the earth needs the moon, like a fish needs a bicycle... etceteraetcetera and so-forth..."
"Ad infinitum," I nodded.
"Exactly. Egg-zactly. It just goes round-nd-round/round-nd-round. I mean, look at its poor, stupid face. It looks completely brain dead. You have to remind yourself to feel sorry for it, instead of contemptuous."
"'Mmm', I said."
"And the water's a woman, not a man, like they say. That's wrong. And La Terra, is too. It's wrong too. It's a man, not a woman."
"Why?" I said, flummoxed by the inconsistency of it all and much more interested in drugs and the so-local cooze. My balls, allnight, under her influence were gripping some stickleback clenchcurve, spearing my brain and drawing me into a crouch; was going to be hours before I could stand straight...
"Because it looks hard... but it isn't. It's harsh but it's brittle, like a man. Water's like a woman. Because it seems easy, kind. It lets you in, and makes you feel at home, accomodates you, but it's really very powerful once you get into it. It's in control..."
She sucked hot smoke, collecting herself for an assault on my ego...
"...Typical of men, those seafaring men to think they were the water, that the force was theirs. They only saw the turbulence on top, the shouting and the spats, not what was really going on underneath. Or they'd dive, steal a sponge, with their eyes popping out for as long as their little lungs could stand before they'd pop up, desperate for air, bragging about how long they'd stayed down, while the other boys pulled them back into the boat. Or didn't, cause their stupid little boat had sunk because it wasn't on the water at all, it was in the water. And you never know what's coming, or what's really going on... undertows... cold surges... scary jelly fish... sacs, larvae... growing, replacing, popping out of itself, no up/nor down..." Her hands were in the air toward me, pursing, closing, allowing, squeezing, milking the air like squid propulsions, or flowering perhaps, the swirl blooms of hypnosis... "Really, when men look into the water and fear it, they fear it like they fear a woman. It carries you, the water, but throws you when it wants. You can't really move water, like you can move earth. Earth just dumps in heaps all over. And it's always always under your feet..."
"And if you want to go somewhere, even Luton, or something, Croydon, any-where, it's always in the way..."
"Exactly.' She said nodding and anxious to take the run back. "But water, you can't change it, hold it, it just evades you. Think what it's like if you try to carry water, with your arms around a bowl. It's all about the water. You have to step in a particular way, worry about it all the time, cozz it keeps moving and changing, and if you want to keep it with you..."
And I do - I so-do!
"...you have to adapt to it, make yourself the means of its journey."
Like a donkey.
"You're so right," I said, demurely, and in perfect sincerity, nodding & smiling...
"But the sun, el sol, is a man. It's ok when you're a distance from it, but if you get too close to it it's just violence, that's all, all it's got is hurt and that's all that holds it together, that confidence, that it destroys anything too close to it, because it can't compromise, because it can't care. And it's even blind to what it does itself. It's got all kind of names for what it does, it loves itself so much, it worships it's own violence so much. But what it does is terrorise and smash! So stupid! The sun's a man, alright, all through, a Narcissus..."
"Couldn't you say it's a woman? Has nurturing rays, smiles on the earth... whether the earth be man or woman... but at it's heart is a burning bright core where no-one may stand but itself? Say it bends matter, gravity, in its own pressure, by its own will, of celebrating being, and changes it, into something new. It makes in its heart, always makes... is the process/the essence/the birth of making... and that the rays that we that give us life are the bright light shed by its making? That the sun is mother to us all, La Sola, the lone one, lone sun, only sun, the unmoved mover, mothermaker?"
"I suppose you could," she said, happy with it, as well she might be, happy with anything that flatters, I thought, that sounds like power, anything that creates a legend of dependence, and from the legend, the fact... She moved her weight a little in her seat, a little rock, a squish. He shoots/he scores, does NumbNuts.
"Yep." She said, affirmatively, resoundingly, conclusively, "Gender in the Romance languages should definitely be reassessed in the light of new discoveries."
We came upon Albert Bridge, aerial, aloof, solo, dazzling to our eyes as swooping pelican. It looked both famous and confectionery above the dunk and sludge, the wiring taut as clipper rigging.
"It'd be nice to live on a bridge," I said, "Neither this way nor that."
"Never having to make your mind up. Seeing both sides of the story."
"Sympathy for both..."
"Not committing to either. And just watching all the little people going about their little stuff, and just thinking, yeah, whatever... Mmm," she said, like she'd had the cream of things... "Bit like now... high... on a nice day... in a London cab..."
The Thames came picturesque, nabobs boated home aboard nebulous clippers, laden with prosperity and rigged with no more than puffs of nostalgia...
"Yeah. It's really like time off..."
"Oh you are nice sometimes," she said, as if we'd known one another long, which I supposed we had. Her hand squeezed man in a warmthwave and she looked at me sadly, as if she'd been wronged, at some other time, by me, as if the last conversation was a mere moment's countercourse in the flow of things. I wondered if I should say something, the absurdity of all of it, some of it, some of her - how-should-one-put-it? - output? I mean, it may be true, all this good stuff, one hears, unrelentingly, about some women, about women-in-hypothesis, but about you? The presumption of that role, the better part, the finer feeling, the default wronged, on the part of someone who's like someone like you?!??! Mamma mia! With that dybbuk?!
Her hand squeezed mine; she turned to me, eyes blue and sillybig, her penchant for parody pronounced; "'twas a plaintiveness nigh-dianadine..."
"Just be nice, ok?" she swallowed, fetchingly. "After all, you're very lucky. I'm making a deliberate effort to like you. In order to maximise nostalgia later on." I started at that. "I can feel the most s-cr-um-p-schuss nostalgia coming on. It's coming over me in waves, all through to my toes. So," she said, fluctuating, tantalising, very like a candle in the wind, "Remember. With every step you take, you're trampling on my memories. No/no." she held up a hand, though I had not yet tremored to demurr, "As so many have, so many."
Be that as it may, that would be as well as it might, but, for now, that expert hunt she'd been under had gone into remission...
I felt glad for her. Feeling me feeling glad she threw an arm round my shoulder, kissed me, my head's side, pressing, rubbing her nose on me, using her whole face, cheeks, her free hand high on my thigh, my further hip, a squeezing dragged hug, then a rawing from her browbone dug to my temple. Somehow she found skin to rub with her teeth, a tasty thickening in my raring cells, and then finding a gentle rest there, within, somehow. Her head drew back and she threw both arms around my neck, her hands joining on my far shoulder in a lavish wreathe and I was bound to her in this wrap...
"You're the best," she said, with a burst, and a hiss, as the cab came to halt, "The best of the stupid."