How specific were we with that kiss? Did we give it full stretch? When I bit your lip and gently suckled, did you comprehend my offer of tender analysis into your illness, while not drawing speculative conclusions (or blood)? Yes I’ve read Illness as Metaphor; but do you know Kissing Specificity, its sequel? I’ll loan it to you. But before that: when I held out, and then, oh, lusty speculation! oh abyss! pulled your belted waist close. Was I not unambiguous: expect nothing but that we are stars to gravity, pulled and pushed in the Milky Way. And what did you make of the timing? So you tripped and bit your tongue, did I not immediately lick it for you, as I would your wounds from smashing the glass ceiling, as I would rush to paint your garden fence (or ‘wall’, or whatever ‘name’ you have for your ‘resistances’—mine is ‘battlement’, both castellated for long sieges and a set of complicated ballet steps). But forget that. Did we nail it? That moment after the baiser longue where you rested your forehead on my chin, and I nuzzled the crown of your head, freshly bleached. No other denotation is available, as I see it: you offered a temple of riches, and I a ledge for you to rest on your lovelorn migration. A fair transaction.
I make it sound what? Ob-verse? No, no, no. You’ve got me wrong. Let me unblock your cloggy understanding. Come, again.
Category Archives: Alex Lockwood
How the engineers managed it no-one knew, but there it was: a Wall of Language. It stretched from Thought in the south to the town of Gesture, above the ridge to the northeast. Nothing got through. A holiday was dedicated. People brought offerings when the virgin lights of the Aurora reached the Wall. Only cooked goods: baked pies, chocolates from the store, nothing living. My grandparents made a scrapbook of good news from the paper to remind the Wall how kind they’d been; and they brought bratwurst, a reminder that even if they’d been bad, they’d not been as bad as people on the outside. They hadn’t built the Wall of Language because of bratwurst, though. It was symbolic.
Before the Wall, the holidays were different. People from all round would come and leave their gifts at the Great Weeping Tree in the Field of Commonplaces. We’d put up a trestle and bunting and drink cider and share whatever else we’d brought. Traditional breads. Stories. Ways of life. It was a coming together.
When the Wall went up, my grandparents said, This is the last place. So they paid Town Hall all their money and took chicken-wire and marked out the acre of land they’d bought outside the border. We’ll stay here, they said.
They hadn’t bought the land, of course. A month later, Town Hall began building their Wall at the edge of their land. Eight feet high, completely enclosing, and every brick made of Stillness.
I think she’s trying to blow me up.
It’s not the fact she dislikes people knitting in public (she finds it annoying). It’s that when I challenge her on why, she reels back, like curds in water. That drives me nuts. I mean, knitting. Who’s it hurting? I guess there’s an attitude to perling while waiting for the bus. Those damn carefree click-clacking needles. I thought it was harmless, like doodling. But doodlers annoy her too (mindless, she says).
She says my dislikes are just as arbitrary. Noisy eating, for example.
I don’t think they’re arbitrary. All my annoyances are based on obvious injustices from childhood. Helpless at the family table.
(Ok, stop. Think. If mine are all based on…).
No, I make a list of why SHE should apologise. I’ve written it out on the back of a beer label that came off in one. It’s waxy, and the ink doesn’t take. But I can make out the words:
1. It’s her turn.
2. How many times have I apologised when I didn’t think I was wrong?
3. What she withholds from me is just as corrosive as what I withhold from her.
The old guy at the bar asks what I’m doing. I don’t answer. (Noisy fucking drinker slurping beer.)
But I guess how hurt she must have been once to be so hardened now. Just the crust of a scab.
I see what I’m doing. Helpless. I look at my list. I blow up
It used to be a game. Like I guess every kid in town (in the world?) church bored the pants off us. So we messed around. After prayers the pastor with those shot-to-death eyes would say ‘in the name of the lord’ and the congregation would wobble and say ‘Amen’. But in the little gap of breath down where we stood we made our own prayers.
In the name of the lord. Poo. (We were kids.) (And while we were giggling, Amen.)
In the name of the lord. Stupid. (Amen).
We got older and braver. The words were pussy unless we did something too. We knew better than our parents that words were no good on their own. They needed acts.
So it was In the name of the lord. Poke.
There were times when the pastor used to whip the congregation up. Just kept going and going after prayers with that line like it was some holy mantra. All these mothers and fathers of our friends swaying with one arm in the air, repeating amen, amen. We left it late so it sounded like our words came first.
In the name of the lord Pinch Amen. In the name of the lord Amen. Stamp In the name of the lord Amen. Punch In the name of the lord. Amen.
And at home father would whip the buckle of his belt at us. Silence, he told us, In the name of the lord. Then we started hating god.
She’d never heard of the Isle of Hand before the six-seater plane clawed a landing out of its tiny airstrip. Winds were stopping them getting closer to their destination. ‘It’s one of the smaller islands,’ the pilot explained, ‘but it’s got somewhere to set down.’
‘Worse coming,’ Walter, sitting next to her, said. They had not met before, a tall and bearded Norwegian not part of the expedition, but he’d heard of the problems. ‘We’re not like you,’ he said when she told him what they were doing. ‘When things happen to our sea, we know about it.’
She could see the Isle was not hand shaped, with five fingers splayed out into the Arctic and ridged with laylines. It was curdled, petrified rock.
Her colleagues were standing a way off, debating whether or not to unload the kit.
She asked the pilot about it.
‘It means something else in their language,’ he said, standing with a shoulder on the wing. ‘Don’t lend anyone a hand here.’
‘It’s warm,’ she said, although she still pulled up her coat collars. ‘I thought it would be colder.’
‘It’s a strange place,’ said the pilot. ‘Look.’
Along the edges of the landing strip stood, incongruously, palm trees. But then the Gulf Stream touched this place, she knew. She looked again. The palm trees shook in the wind, as if they were lurching towards her, their long leaves gifted upwards, splayed and reaching.
She looked around. But no-one was talking about it.
And then we’re done. Names, ages, family histories, jobs, joint income. The interviewer stumbled over my details. Hers was fine, she’s got a profession; but having no employment history makes it more difficult. You’re a writer? Yes. No references? No, unless you count Amazon reviews. Now that’s an interesting idea—a star rating for suitability in their process (well, it worked for Madonna, sort of). Who’d pass? Siri Hustvedt, of course, Amazon readers love her. And so by proxy, Paul Auster. I can even see Easton Ellis bringing out a copy of Less Than Zero at interview. Yes, you’ll qualify, Brett.
He’s talking to us. Focus. Make a good impression. Don’t crack a joke. This isn’t Friends.
‘I know the newspapers always make a meal of it. But, really, adoption is a simple process in our country. We’re not Russia!’ and he laughs, as if this keeps the agency staff room regularly creased up. I think of those long white rooms somewhere in the blanket of Siberia. An old Gulag building. More bars on the beds than the windows.
He’s still laughing to himself. He’s annoyed we’ve not joined in. He ahems, straightens his back.
‘So that’s it?’ I ask.
He fiddles with the forms. He looks up, as if something’s missing. But then it’s gone. He’s talking.
‘Yes. That’s it.’
We glance at each other. This is it, then.
‘Okay,’ he says, ‘so when do you want to meet your new parents?’
When you ask people if they’ve been to San Diego, they say No, but I’ve been to San Francisco. If you happen to be looking at Google Maps, they start pulling at the screen with their lemon-cake fingers, pawing at the crenellated land while searching for familiar reference. Generally, they’re scrolling the wrong way down the coastline.
We’ve been before. The touchpool is a new addition at the aquarium. Hip height but shallow, a false bottom to force the fish up to the surface so you can put your hand in, feel their strange skins.
You reach out and stroke the cold, fresh water. You pull back, and turn, looking around.
—Aren’t those fish dangerous? I ask.
The attendant comes forward, slowly, one leg in front of the other as if she’s walking a fine line.
—Don’t worry, she says, as she stops by us. They’ve had their stingers removed.
She walks off.
You look in, see the rays dozily flapping, dragging behind them their pinkish stumps. You turn to me.
—Imagine it, you say, the other way round.
This is a recurrent theme. You dream it a lot. Retribution. Like panda bears wiping out eighty percent of the world with hunting knives.
—If people had their stingers removed.
—What, I ask, like that that guy over there?
—The one with the bad haircut?
—I think he heard you.
—Don’t worry, you say, plunging your arm into the water. He’s not from round here.
Worms. No, beetles. What am I talking about—spiders! When you helped Simon dismantle his garden shed, those great black horrors holding to the rotten wood. Or those white striped disc-like jumpers, flat as communion wafers, and fast, my god, in that guesthouse in Zambia. Worse than the attempted break in, I remember you said, worse than the stories from the other charity workers about the rapes and HIV. Kept you from sleeping, those spindly fuckers. Or that time the foot-long stick insect got up inside the back of your t-shirt, and you just thought it was an itch?
Ok, now I’m thinking. Wait. Of course. It’s not bugs, but the water. Sharks. Jellyfish, purple gelatinous globes hanging in the sliver of warmth where the sun just reaches down. But you navigate your way around those. Those, you can see. It’s sharks, isn’t it. From out of the black. The invisible deeps, sure, but even the shallows, you’ve seen the nature documentaries. Four feet is all a shark needs. Remember that time in the sea off Bundaberg, wading out? How about those Dutch girls from the zucchini-picking—now, they were liberal—their nipples cold and hard and all you could focus on was the water past the boats, looking for a fin. Even though other times you’d take your boogie board out at sunset and felt no fear. Its coming and going, catching like a breath. Is that what you dread?
Memories are recalled in long lines. ‘When I think back to that night,’
It’s not only memories, of course. It riddles the future. A ‘line of
We’re made up of long lines. Arteries, veins, capillaries. And things
John clambered half-out the window, then Andy leant out the other side. Matt sat in the front, laughing, pulling on a beer. Their super plan was to shake hands over the car’s roof. I never thought of stopping until the police sirens.
“Step out of the car,” said the female officer.
She led me to their vehicle. I felt the emptiness and the sulphur of lamplight. It wasn’t quite morning. Spray from the road a scattered muddy arc. John and Andy slinked into the back seat, laughing. John put his head out the window, resting his elbows on the door.
“Did you think that was safe?” the female officer asked. She had green eyes. I looked down at her hands. She was holding a straw attached to a plastic bag, like a blood transfusion sac on a hook.
“She’s giving him a blow job,” John shouted. “I want a blowie.”
She looked back at John’s face, red from the beer and wind. “Good friends,” she said. She handed me the straw and sac. “Blow, please.”
I exhaled. The diode turned green.
“Is that good?” I asked.
“You’ve not been drinking?”
For once, no.
“You want to keep them under control,” she said. She looked at her colleague, and with a quiet signal they got back in their patrol and drove away.
I got back in the car. I turned round to the boys and smiled and without looking drove headfirst into the oncoming truck.