You are on holiday, sitting at a table outside a café by the river, eating a piece of cheesecake that tastes so beautiful it is actually making you feel sad that it is disappearing from your plate. This emotion eclipses your enjoyment of it, and the only thing that might assuage this sadness would be if you knew there existed infinite amounts of that cheesecake, to which you had been granted access, and there stretched before you a future consisting of nothing but eating cheesecake and growing gloriously, ridiculously, surreally fat, until you are the size of a pleasant field and the river rolls past you as you eat more of this gorgeous cheesecake. So you eat slowly, getting towards the end of the cheesecake, hoping that when you walk away from the cafe, the memory-taste of cheesecake will be saved in your mouth for the rest of the afternoon, the rest of the day, the rest of the holiday… but you know you won’t be able to keep it there for the rest of your life.
Where were we now? Some food had been lost, but the news was unreliable – the truth was obscured with tricks and aliases. All the gardens seemed full of growing but then this was summer. Autumn was on the periphery. People were counting things. So many had died, so many were dead, some were pretending.
Nothing joyful happened, everyone was still and inscrutable. This had been a period of aggressive utopias, everyone in these fresh little villages with their own identities but no history, like places put on a witness protection program. It wasn’t the best, or it might have been the worst.
At night there were more than a hundred dreams, and in the morning everyone spoke to one another and said, “last night,” they said to each other, and they all responded, “ooh yes, last night,” agreeing, but no one elaborated, they just said it again. “Last night.”
You were too easily distracted from difficult things. You wanted to be seated as comfortably as possible. But you felt there was a small gap between the edges of you and the feel of the air. You tried to join in with the conversations, but you had to stop before you reached the end of a sentence because at that point you started to think about how you actually form words without thinking about the formation of each individual word.
Everybody knew that if a thing was broken, you could buy something to fix it, it was just a case of thinking until you knew what was needed, and then walking around until you found the right place to buy it. You were currently looking for a number of items, each of which triggered some vital task too difficult to explain. It would take you days but less than weeks. You spoke to people whilst you were out, attempting casual.
They were praising the machine. “Very good,” they said, as if just good were not enough but some more interesting superlative was not merited. Apparently the machine was intelligent. It had been set up to run all of this, but now the machine didn’t have to do anything. We were all doing everything it needed, and it was just on automatic. They said that somewhere in the machine, it was thinking about the fact that something was happening in the machine. But nobody knew.
You were curious about not being curious. For example, you asked someone what colour the machine was, and they told you, “a normal colour.” This was when you were out counting things, looking for things. You asked someone else what shape it was, and they looked puzzled and said, “its a shape that is not like the shape of a hole. Like an opposite of that.” You told them you had a dream about car parks. “Last night!”
We were tired. We couldn’t remember when we started collecting these banal, vague sentences, things that didn’t mean anything. Or when it seemed like the way to make things more real was to keep repeating them over and over until they became something we made. But that was where we were. That was where we were now.
To the cemetery gates, someone had attached a notice about two missing budgerigars.
I stopped to read the couple of sentences, thinking I had not written anything much longer in months.
It seemed unlikely that the budgies would be in the cemetery, flitting among the gravestones, perching on one and then another, but if there was a chance of some kind of reward perhaps it would be worth me returning when it was not raining so hard, and stalking them with a fishing net.
The notice had been printed in black and white. I thought a colour picture of what were presumably bright and beautiful things would have packed more of an emotional punch. Though the sign had been taped inside a plastic sleeve, the wind and the rain had got in, and the ink had run. I had the hood of my cagoule pulled up and the drawstring pulled tight so my face was small, and that was doing the trick for now.
Something about those sentences being written, the wind and the rain, my making my way home from work and not knowing what would happen next… something compelled me to push open the gate and make my way in to the cemetery to explore the probability of spotting those lost birds. I stepped from the path and begin to wander soggily through the overgrown grass, winding between stones bearing old-fashioned names.
My brain quickly became accustomed to comparing the two dates on a gravestone and subtracting one from the other to establish the age of death, until I was processing this calculation without thinking; my routine only changing when the deceased had passed at a young age, in which case I made a second calculation to work out how many years older or – hell’s bells – younger they had been than I was now.
Soon I realised I had completed a circuit of the cemetery, without spotting a flash of a colourful wing, without hearing a tell-tale chirp. As I left, I wanted to write on the notice, “Went in, had a look. No luck but hope you find them soon,” or something along those lines.
As I carried on my way, I thought of sentences I might write down, feeling revitalised by the dead and lost, those who were still alive and searching, as if together they had pushed and pulled me back in to a world of thinking, noticing, speculating.
At the top of our road was a house we had considered abandoned – rotten windows, crumbling roof, it looked as though it were dead inside. We had never before seen anyone come or go from that house, but now a man tottered out from the back door and into the rain. He looked like a character from the Bible, dressed to play a part in a Victorian novel, for a production by the BBC. It was mid summer and he was taking from the house a Christmas tree. He carried it out of the house in to the garden and stacked it carefully alongside the hundred and fifty or so other Christmas trees that were in that garden, as if one for every year he had celebrated the festivities in that house.
“It’s beautiful outside, I want to be it.”
“To be what?” “Outside!”
The water was calm, chilled out.
Our bodies were warm, before
we got in slowly.
I had not been swimming in ages,
too lazy or shy or still or serious.
But in the sea, you looked so sure –
like you were returning
to a house you once lived in,
You ducked your head in the water,
pushed your legs up in the air,
like they were hands, raised to the sun.
I hadn’t been upside down in years.
Back on land, skin salt-raw,
sore air in our lungs, we got
into the car, shivered, ate crisps.
At home, I tried out being upside down,
head on the floor, feet climbing the wall.
Got you to hold me by the ankles until I
was set and steady and could re-establish