“I start digging in this medium, trawling and sifting through the past, without knowing really what to look for” – The Undercurrents
Leeds is a minor European city. It has a history, but that history is only vaguely, partially and sometimes present for me in my daily life here. We have a historical society but no popular or literary histories (or should I say, popular literary histories?) except one – the Hounding of David Oluwale. Its past is minor, imperial, and parallel to other cities whose examples might take its place in general histories of the twentieth century.
Berlin is different. It has been a capital, lost that title, and regained it, been near destroyed and separated, by concrete violence, into two smaller cities, and then re-joined. Like a churned riverbed, it shows several traumatic layers flowing together – its surface scarred. This is the surface through which Kirsty Bell moves. She buys an apartment on the canal, and spends her days of abandonment looking out of the window and seeing the past animate and haunt the view. Her book is a haunted book, about a haunted house. A house that is trying to speak to her through water.
A worried king came to me, lord knows why to measure his luck against the Philistines. Strange how an eldritch technique can change from heresy to dogma for reasons of state – anyway, for all my murdered sisters I gave him just enough doubt to put off his aim – he’ll lay down his sword from anxiety, then lie down and slide along it, slowly, to rest. I slaughtered a calf to give precursive thanks and fed him libation to his own pierced flank.
When the gods ascend from out the earth, justice sees tyrants come off the worse.
Goodbye sadness Hello Sadness You are engraved in the lines on the ceiling You are engraved in the eyes that I love You are not quite poverty Because the poorest lips condemn you With a smile Hello Sadness Love of kindly bodies Power of love Whose politeness surges Like a bodiless monster Disappointed head Sadness beautiful face
P. Eluard (The Immediate Life)
In the morning there is a veil of redness draped across my eyes. I lie enjoying the peace which comes after waking in a new room, when I don’t know where or who I am.
The sheets are heavy. I push them off. As I dress, I think back to the night before. I dreamed that I was a whale, and I kept on trying to find someone I knew but they kept on being the wrong kind of whale for my purposes. Then I got lost in the deep and saw a gigantic, ancient hammerhead shark swim slowly over me, and it was so terrifying that I had to get up and stand in the darkness until I calmed down. That’s not like me.
The burial took place in Paris under a beautiful sun, with a curious crowd. So much black. My dad and me held hands with Anne’s old folks. I watched them with curiosity – they would probably come to have tea with us once a year. They looked sadly at my dad – Webb must have told them about the proposal. When I came to the exit, I saw Salil trying to find me. I avoided him. I felt bitterness toward him and it was completely uncalled for… I can’t justify it. The people around us hated how pointless the accident had been. And because I still wasn’t sure whether it was accidental, that made me feel a bit better.
We didn’t meet again until dinner that evening, both being so anxious about that sudden confrontation. I really wasn’t hungry, and he wasn’t either. We needed Anne to come back. I couldn’t stand to think of the face she’d had on before she left, or her grief and how it was my fault. I’d forgotten my patient schemes and careful planning. I felt completely uncentered, dog without a lead and collar, and I saw the same feeling in my dad’s face.
It’s funny how destiny enjoys choosing faces that are unworthy or average as its avatars. That summer it chose Elsa’s. A really beautiful face, if you like, and so attractive. She also had an incredible laugh, expressive and complete. You have to be a bit dull to have a laugh like that.
I’ve said so much about Anne and myself, and barely mentioned dad. It’s not that his part wasn’t the most important in this story, not that I don’t think he’s interesting… I’ve never loved anyone like I loved him, and of all the emotions which drove me, back then, those I felt for him were the most stable, the deepest, the ones I held onto the most. I know him too well to speak freely, it feels too close… But it’s him who I have to spend the most time explaining, to make him seem acceptable.
The next day I woke up and felt fine, barely even tired, though my neck was sore. I must have pushed things a bit far. Like every morning, my bed was bathed in sunlight. I opened my curtains, threw off my pyjama top and offered my bare back to the sun. I rested my cheek on my folded arms, and looked at the thick weave of the canvas curtain and, off to one side, a fly on the tiles, cleaning its eyes. The sun was soft and hot, it felt like it was massaging my bones under my skin, taking special care to heat me up again. I decided I would spend the morning like that and not move at all.
The Rain: streaming with direct argument through the air. The Sea: calm as children swam with their dogs at the whispering surface. The First Doubts: felt by those who stood by the rivers as they rose. Torrents: under arches, creaking bridges. The Water: rising, day on day – perhaps we had hit a galactic cloud of ice, which melted through the plum atmosphere. But it was so relaxing that the scientists lay down, or swam with their dogs in the lakes which were overcoming the cities on the plain. God: when contacted, denied involvement. The Priests: unworried, they lay in the belfry and felt the water lap their ears. The Spire: up out of the water, the church became a rock in the sea, which pierced the bottom of a boat that had been constructed for fun. The Boat Crew: relaxed. Went into the water slowly and quietly. Soon: the earth was blue and yet the rain didn’t stop. It poured between the stars in an unknown mechanism, doubtless to do with the meanings imbued in some partial beginning when pure energy thundered out of the centre of things. Soon: water filled the galaxy, and then the spaces between the galaxies. Underwater Stars: booming in the depths. Comets: moving very slowly, leaving trails in the intergalactic ice as it spread in the manner of mould with a dispersed origin. The Water: perhaps streaming from black holes, connected to another, drowning, diluvian plane. The Water: glub. The Water: glub. The Water: glub.