A Private Person Travels The World Home
by D. F. Lewis
A calm day, with the sun more a diffusion than a source. A single ship, Radio Caroline, was anchored upon the seas unsettling sheen. Charles watched its mast wavering near stock-still as it transmitted popular music over the Essex coast towards London. Being a writer, he was interested in all forms of communication and he turned to his companion, a woman, whose name he had forgotten, and announced:
Pity all forms of transport cannot double up on duties.
He laughed, imagining a phantasmagoria of old and new-fangled radio stations, on rails, buoyed up simply by air, free wheeling and, yes, waterborne like mythic vessels on spice trails from Clacton-on-Sea to Samarkand or ancient Cathay...
His mind drifted, often working in slow gear yet covering much ground--rather like his novel, a novel, which had been in preparation now for several years. In fact, unknown to anybody but himself, it was gradually being published piecemeal in the guise of Charles independent short stories, prose-poems and vignettes within multifarious magazines, journals and books world-wide [some very obscure or amateurish, others pukka professional outlets, hundreds ranging across this spectrum].
Only in hindsight, presumably when Charles was dead, would the reading public begin to reconcile the leviathan of his work, thus cohering the disparate widespread elements into a composite whole; gaining an organic gestalt of plot from the broadcast kaleidoscope of printed appearances. Why Charles wrote most of his stories in the first person singular was, supposedly, because he was one.
I first met buxom Mygold on bait market day, when the streets were caught alive with sea smells. The man I knew in the area, by the name of Fisher Codge, happened to be hanging hooks along his washing line.
Goodja day, Ben, Fisher Codge called, as he proceeded to lay his nets to dry over the outside coal bunker.
Same to you, Codge, Im sure, I rejoined, leaning over his backyard fence, ready to while away the rest of the day in his company. I had nothing else to do--better than going up to the wharf side where the market loafers were bound to be surly, with there not being much trade about these days. Although the fishmongers did a fitful business from their varicose veined slabs of marble, it did not warrant hiring someone like me to clean off the scale-curds afterwards.
There is a glut of bait, Codge, I said glumly, motioning towards the knot of wriggling worm-sized maggots in the wicker basket I toted.
There be more bait than fish, tis true, Ben, announced Fisher Codge, an therell come a day, I be bound, when peoplell ave to turn to bait isself to feed their tummies. Then itll shoot up in price agin, don be affeared. He then hugged my neck closer, hissing: They do say the earth isself is one great big codling. I nodded, bemused at his logic.
Then, suddenly, quite unpremeditated, Mygold lurched down Fisher Codges back steps which, if I only had my eyes about me, I would have seen had lately been donkey-stoned a waxen red. Indeed, being donkey-stoned was better than being tickled with a bunny cloth any day. But all my eyes were for this unexpected vision of Mygold rather than for the results, on the back steps, of Codges elbow grease.
Ben, Ill duce yer to me niece, he said.
Still nursing my neck in the crook of his arm, Codge pointed at his niece with a fish hook he had been sharpening with a huge rutted file.
Her name be Mygold, he added.
I was temporarily speechless, unusual for a bait-seller. I knew her name already, by reputation rather than physical presence; she had come to stay with her Uncle Codge from a village further up the coast.
Mygold, this be Ben. an ol mate of mine.
And, saying this, Codge kissed me lightly on the pate, as if this was a mans way of knighting a mate. He didnt know I had wandered in the direction of his homestead, purely to see Mygold for my own eyes, a single minded purpose which had evidently been forgotten even by myselfuntil now.
Mygold made a song and dance of ignoring me. Having started to pick fish fingers from the large bowl she was lugging and, laying them out in the sunshine on the corrugated roof of the outside privy, she hummed a tunelessness that matched her demeanour.
I almost sensed the live weight of her breasts in my itching hands, loosely hanging as such breasts were within the sheerness of her blouse. The expanse of buttocks thrust its visage towards me, the cleft opening and shutting like that of a monkfishs mouth as she placed the bowl on the ground to allow her to reach further up the privy roof. When she finally turned towards me, I was faced with the most memorable features. Once seen, hopefully forgotten. Her peepers, although set back into the jowls, were large filmy oyster beds. Her smeller, long and slender, with mean pinprick nostrils. Her eater, wide and wet, with a slippery customer lolling inside. Her hearers so petite they were tantamount to gills. Her hair scrawled back into wayward plaits of bottle-green tendrils.
This Mygold smiled. Codge winked.
I did not know where to put my face.
She returned to the house, expecting me to follow, as it was plain that she desperately fancied me. I cringed at the trail of glisten she left behind in her wake up the red donkey-stoning of the back steps.
Come in fer a while, Ben, why dont yer? Codge took my arm. I felt the piercing jab of a fish-hook in the back of my neck, as he heartily led me up the garden path.
No, Codge, I got to get off to the wharfside, to sell my wigglies, I stammered.
Cant yer spare alf an our fer a nice cuppa with yer ol mate. These ere fish fingers on the privy roof may be piping hot by then and you can partake of a few afore yer go.
I could not free myself, since the curved copper claw had by now reached the nodules within my back. I succumbed to the fate that often awaited honest baitmen such as I. To be hooked and lined for sinkering before tea.
I got my own back in a sense. While I was otherwise engaged inside, all my wigglies escaped to the privy itself where, finding not nearly enough sustenance to core through in the shit-butt, they had managed to crawl up to the corrugated roof and proceeded to corrupt the fish fingers thereupon into little better than helpings of fried bubble-and squeak.
How I knew this was happening outside the house, I put down to second sight, but the fact was not enough to compensate for the pain I endured inside. It was as if all my bones were party to the same unbearable toothache, while the diamond-sharp tip of Codges abandoned hook penetrated to the one massive abscess within the marrow of my spinal column.
All that paled into insignificance when compared to what Mygold did to me. Had my todger soused by the hairiest bunny-cloth and then poached by the hottest breath that ever came up from innards of the world fish.
The woman spoke these words, although it would have been more appropriate for Charles to have uttered them first, bearing in mind his own thoughts, thoughts possibly read by the woman using a physical osmosis [mental telepathy being too far-fetched even for Charles the fictioneer to credit].
He resumed gazing towards the pirate station, desperate for a new twist, a new plot--simultaneously altering the direction of his concerns towards the woman.
What I mean is, with us sitting here on an empty beach,--indeed the day-tippers had vanished leaving their sandcastles and inadvertent litter-- why not use the time to put the world to rights?
She nodded, unworried that this was a non-sequitur on Charles part, having followed, as it did, his brain-storming preamble about transport doubling up on duties..
The black and white photograph contained two young ladies leaning over cups of tea in a shabby kitchen. With the light shafting from the side, like a Vermeer painting, its frozen tableau of time showed one young lady weighing something the other just said. I was to enter that kitchen via a hallful of weak-eyed home-lovers, those wan faced mooners who were not aware of the streets outside. They merely lowered their faces, hoping that I would even go away before I came.
I had been roaming the streets because I needed to find Codge and to shake his hand as disproof that we would never meet. I earlier found a man opening slots in the road with little more than his bare hands and a dock extractor. My good man, why are you perforating the ground? I queried, pointing to my mouth.
Because Mr Codge said.
Well, carry on then, but I fail to see the use.
Youll have to see Mr Codge about that.
Further on, I saw two young ladies, the same as those in the photograph, squatting over some other slots. Women, I knew, often took a leak together, even hefty ones, thus making it a social occasion. These were chattering a score to a dozen over their days doings. I turned my head bashfully, but they trilled: Dont worry, gent, we dont mind you having a look at our bottoms. Against my better judgement, I ignored them and rounded the corner of the road, only to find more slots stinking to high heaven. I pressed my nostrils together, but the stench was that strong, I could still smell it in the depths of my lungs without breathing.
At last, I came to the right house, outside of which were a group of saucer-eyed crones, with mounds of quills and inkpots, playing a game that entailed crossing out numbers. One shouted the numbers on the street doors and the other shouted: House! The stench was now so mind-blowing that I wondered why they should play here of all places.
Mr Codge, he be waiting for you inside. Go right in, dont bother about the door, croaked the number caller. Meantime, the two young ladies had caught up and, hitching their trews, curtseyed me into that house I mentioned to you before. They followed me as I weaved between the home-lovers in the dark hallway. These fingered my trouser turn-ups as I passed. I was led into a kitchen and told to sit at a small table, which seemed to be covered with all the means of infusing tea.
The two young ladies draped themselves around the place, their eyes staring lushly at me. I crossed my legs. I suddenly saw that Codge was already there. He crawled from under the sink where he had evidently been turning an ancient spanner; his narrow head of hair was covered in dead tea-leaves. I broke the sudden silence:
Im very honoured to meet you, Mr Codge, for Im sure thats you I now address.
Yes, indeed, sir, Im Codge of that name, as you so politely put it. I nodded, as if putting the very words into his mouth, and he continued with not even the merest pause: Yes, as you know, me being here is not right and to put it more bluntly, Im out of my age, sir, out of my time, but most definitely not out of my head. I guess youre practised in the art of shifting and can you manage all my trappings? He swept his hand around him, showing that the kitchen was cluttered with scrawled papers everywhere and a particularly impressive book-shaped Negro skin called Necronomicon resting on the cooker. I modestly said:
Yes, I am a dab hand at temporal removals, but may I shake your hand, Mr Codge before we part our ways?
He wiped his hands on his backside and offered one like a fish. I grasped it heartily. I then suddenly found myself in the age of sanitation when a water closet worth its salt could be flushed upon the merest tilt of a ballcock reacting to the spinning of the world. Indeed, I was soon to learn that the moon controlled the tides of toilets, untouched by human hands and I was glad to have been instrumental in placing Codge and his entourage elsewhere and whensoever. But on mulling it over, with all these modern gadgets, it seems so very unscientific and potentially messy to use the fingers of ones hand, fingers only covered by the merest piece of perforated tissue. There must be a better way. And, no doubt, Codge is, even now, knitting his brows over this problem, testing by hand as well as bottom.
The old photo on my mantelpiece is a memento. I wonder what one of the young ladies has just said, being weighed by the other. Why do we always play house-housey with the same card and the same numbers? or Blimey, he just goosed me! or This teas not strong enough, not nearly brown enough! I could not help thinking one of them really should have offered taking tea to the home-lovers in the hall. After all, Codge was working his fingers to the bone for the sake of easing the friction of the earth through air and space.
In any event, he is no doubt still under the sink grappling with leaks as well as continental shift. Im a home-lover myself these days, so there is plenty of time for my hobbies; studying old family trees, fathoming algorithms and time slots, unravelling miscegenations of race and mythos, testing whether aunts came first, or nephews--and who could have possibly taken the photo.
When Charles and the woman returned to the bungalow, two minutes from the sea front [distance to Charles mind being relatively susceptible to temporal measurement in the same way as duration], he suddenly remembered they shouldnt be in residence there at all. The bungalow belonged to Charles friend, Fisher, who was abroad at the moment. There was an element of excuse inasmuch as Fisher had often invited Charles and his various lady friends to stay and, indeed, once, said Charles could occupy the bungalow whenever Fisher was absent. But that invitation had unspokenly entailed a need for pre-arrangement, such as establishing means of access and clearance with the neighbours, instead of what had actually happened on this occasion, with Charles and the woman arriving unannounced and taking advantage of a secret knowledge as to the whereabouts of a hidden door-key. Neither had flannelling the initially suspicious neighbours been difficult.
Yet, Charles did feel guilty in using Fishers store cupboard and his residual wardrobe. The woman had egged Charles on but, of course, she did not know Fisher, nor he her, for that matter.
Today, upon reaching the Bungalow, Charles felt over-warm since, understandably, Fisher had not left behind any summer clothes. So, the garb Charles was forced to wear was often thickly woven and itchy, especially with the dry hot weather fast becoming a full-blooded drought. He stripped to the waist and turned on Fishers wireless, where Radio Caroline came through as strongly as one would expect in the circumstances. The music being played was an old Dire Straits hit, followed by an apt song from Status Quo. Then the Fortunes, and a long forgotten record by an even more forgotten group whose name Charles barely caught. Mississippi, it sounded like. Or Pussy Cat; Or Marigold.
The woman, by this time had also removed some clothing, falling short, however, of a near-nakedness that some modem minded ladies didnt even eschew in public. Charles recognised the extenuation of her actually owning the clothes she removed. Wear them or wear them not, they were hers to shed, disposing them unfolded upon Fishers carpet, as opposed to erecting them on hangers as Charles had chosen to do with Fishers things.
Ive always liked that record, she said.
Not heard it before, so I cant remember it, replied Charles, resting his hand on her bare shoulder. She was sitting in Fishers armchair, flipping through the pages of a thick magazine, one full of photographs of fashionable ladies, the variety of reading material often left in waiting rooms, with text between the pictures that hardly anybody ever read. So who wrote them and who got paid for these unread [and probably unreadable] words?
Charles suddenly spotted a passage that seemed familiar. And then another.. recognisable words. Words from Charles own vocabulary. In fact, someone had strung them together in a way that was more than simply familiar. A passage of prose he had written this morning-- on the beach...at a time before the woman had even woken up, let alone dragged her body from Fishers bed
All aboard for the Motorway!
A simple solution, that.
Captain Hook was in sole charge, but did he realise the precariousness of his position and the complexities of the various passengers travel arrangements?
I, there remains no doubt, was one such passenger.
The horizon was cluttered with steel works, in all shapes and sizes of chimney. The strange thing was that smoke seemed to be emitted from crevices and orifices--everywhere, indeed, except from the tips of the chimneys.
I would have made polite conversation with Captain Hook, but he was busy ordering luggage.
Hillocks were like redoubts from the night land; except the journey was wholly during daylight hours.
One fellow passenger, whose luggage was the last the captain handled, was called Caroline Codge. I ought to tell you she was female, since she acted and looked like something different.
The telling of this is more difficult than it would have been with a straightforward tale. Not that this is a tale at all. It is as true as the day I breathe.
Back to Caroline Codge. A simple route, that.
She seemed someone who could order matters. The only problem was that she was accompanied by some unruly children. And children did not count as luggage, unfortunately; if we could have stowed them with the critter crates, this would have been a tail of cruelty and, being a true tail, cruelty indeed.
Horrid, those children, though. Urchins with a propensity for shouting and activating the automatic doors by a method a little more brutal than telekinesis. They were dressed as boys and acted likewise. Marigold was called the oldest.
But I didnt know what had hit me when a puckered lady ensconced herself in the same carriage as Caroline and myself, complete with far too many suitcases for one person to need, let alone carry. The trouble was that the captain had departed to start the engine from the front and the puckered lady needed to order her unseemly baggage. I could have strangled her. She was worse than the worst of Carolines brood. I looked longingly at the leather strap hanging on the door to the outside world. If only it were not fixed to the window...
Youre going to the Motorway? I asked.
Why I asked such a question is beyond me now, since there were no intermediate stops. Indeed, I cant remember whether I asked it of the puckered lady or of Caroline or of the general gathering for anybody to pick up. Imagine my surprise when Marigold piped up, thus:
Yep. A simple answer, that.
The carriage was, of course, a sleeper, with the journey being so long [albeit wholly daylit]. I could not, for the life of me, envisage the bedding arrangements. If we were all of a similar sex it may have been easier. What was more, I could see the same thoughts were going through Carolines mind.
It was then that the trains tannoy barked into life, with the captain having reached the front:
I wish all travellers to the Motorway a speedy and comfortable journey. I am now dis-applying the brakes
turning the leaver to allow the steam to travel to
" And so he droned on, explaining every manoeuvre of his cross-discipline job. I yearned for the old days when rail staff were not quite so polite and informative. I settled back into my seat, closed my eyes on all my worries and waited for the first tunnel; the train slowly and majestically drew out from the terminus, amid cheers from spotters at the sight of yet another punctual departure. I soon fell asleep and joined Caroline in a mutual dream. Whether I was merely dreaming our mutuality I would never eventually discover.
When I woke, we were in the middle of a tunnel, it would seem, as it was dark inside and outside. Luckily, Marigold and the other children had not been as noisy as I had dreaded. I simply heard them in some kind of quiet story-telling game, one that included Chinese Whispers, as well as Dares. The puckered lady, well, I could no longer hear her nagging whines.
Has she gone to the necessarium? I asked, startling myself with the sound of my own voice. Indeed, I had awoken unaccountably seething with rage, so much so I didnt feel there were enough outlets for the fuming to escape. There came Marigolds whisper, which may or may not have been intended as an answer, thus:
I heard the comforting sounds of Caroline still snoring. Whatever the case, I relaxed, but we still had to cope with the puckered ladys unwieldy luggage. But I did have a hard shoulder. Luck that, and lucky too, her not having the penny to spend to leave the necessarium.
Charles snatched the magazine, ignoring the womans bleat of aggravation, and stared at its cover. Its date was several years ago, which was not surprising if it was one of those stale waiting room time-fillers.
But he had only written those paragraphs this morning. Surely he would have recalled reading this magazine before, even if absentmindedly, as one does. But he never read such things. They were beneath the likes of him, after all. His forte was prose meticulously crafted with a swelling pride that only wordsmiths of the highest calibre could wield. The throwaway lines of a scandal sheet or of this garbage in a glossy fashion journal could be nothing to do with Charles.
Fishers wireless was now pumping forth a more modem noise, tastelessly, a driving beat. He flicked the switch off.
Whatevers the matter with you? the woman asked. He didnt dare say anything in reply, in case it had already been said before. A paranoia of plagiarism plagued him: a vulnerability of doubts surrounding even the originality of himself as a person.
Outside, he heard the crude tinkling tunes of an ice-cream van as it drew up near
Fishers bungalow, reminding Charles of childhood days when such sounds were a beckoning thrill, stirring him to plead with his mother for a shilling to buy an Orange Maid. Or was it only a threepenny bit?
The following morning Charles again rose early, abandoning the woman, dead to the world, in Fishers bed, the tiny figure in her dark necessarium curled like a whelk. The sun, as yesterday, diffused rather than shone. Only the empty sea would be cold enough. The day was still too young for the holiday yachts: like mosquitoes kissing a millpond, he remembered yesterdays yachts. He vaguely saw a distant tanker: like a steel-works or, eventually, a breeze-block upon the wide horizons tightrope. Or was it becoming a single pirate spice rigger bearing a strange book symbol on its blossoming sail? A blossoming sail, despite the lack of wind.
One day some sense would be made of the world, he hoped, as he opened his notebook to copy out his thoughts. Sooner or later, someone might even understand the words he wrote.
But, today, hed even forgotten his own singular name. And, soon, many of the worlds home-lovers would be arriving from all points of the temporal compass, having threaded the ultimate tunnel vision.
Charles chucked the notebook away into the sea and started the days first sandcastle, as if the planet Earth were a giant potters wheel. Full circle upon a private trip was yet one more pirate person.
First appeared in STRIX.
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