interior with pvc bucket
We are so quick to look for closure, for the clear termination of sections of our life, that we often invent it. After the debacle at 17 Hill Park I had assumed I would never be caught up with Yaxley again. Indeed, obsessed with the Pleroma, he did leave me alone for two or three years. But after his failure with the ritual he called the Infolding, everything failed. The fear that he would be absorbed by the Pleroma grew daily, until his whole position was undercut by it. Associated phobias developed to include a horror of dirt. That, and the residue of one too many magical operations, drove him out of his rooms above the Atlantis bookshop & I lost sight of him. Then I received a telephone call, I don’t believe from Yaxley himself. After I picked up the receiver there was a prolonged silence, into which I prompted–
Nothing. Then someone said softly:
“Go to this address–”
Other instructions followed, some infantile, some meaningless. I did not recognise the magical operation to which they referred. The voice was hard to hear, let alone to identify. It paused, failed, picked up again. Once or twice it laughed. “Two fucks and a pig,” it said. It seemed to come from a long way away, and there were other voices behind it. “Two fine fucks and a pig.”
I walked past the building twice. It was a spacious modern block on the north side of Upper Richmond Road, close to East Putney station. It reminded me less of Yaxley than Lawson, and perhaps it was in fact some fossil of their brief partnership. The people who lived there worked in property or investment banking. Traffic laboured under their windows all day, but double glazing muted the noise to a comfortable hum. By night their black European executive saloons lined up at the kerb in rows. I went through a cold well-kept entrance hall, unrelieved by two shallow brick structures like small municipal flowerbeds filled with decorative gravel, and took the stairs to the top floor. Between landings I wavered; touched for reassurance the white painted metal handrail. Had I heard someone coming up behind me?
Modern flats have a precision, a bleak openness to their angles, which encourages hygiene. Yaxley’s was painted off-white throughout, with white woodwork. Every wall, every wainscot, was spotless. There were some rather nice carpets in a kind of flushed pink. Furnished properly, it might have been comfortable if rather affectless. But all I could find was a telephone on a table and, in the middle of the lounge floor a state-of-the-art television. (When I switched it on, an unlabelled DVD began to play. I switched it off again immediately.) The kitchen was fitted expensively enough, with oak units, Creda Solarspeed hob, butcher-striped roller blinds. Under the immaculate stainless-steel double sink I found Flash, Jif, sponge floor mops, plastic buckets and Marigold rubber gloves–several of everything, all brand new, as if he had cached them against a seige; or agoraphobia.
Yaxley was in the bedroom.
He lay naked on his side in the middle of the uncarpeted floor, knees drawn up slightly. One hand was curled gently under the side of his head to support it. The other cupped his genitals. Death had aged him. With his long deceitful face, grey stubbled jaw, and lips drawn back over blackened or yellowish teeth, he might have been seventy or eighty. He looked like an old untrustworthy dog, shrunk, famished, reduced. Before he died, he had been trying to make something with two sticks. Above him on the wall was pinned a postcard reproduction of the steps of the British Museum. Under this he had scrawled in soft pencil the words ‘The Place of the Cure of the Soul’, a description reputed to have been carved over the doors of the Library at Alexandria. Otherwise the room was empty. There was no furniture, not even a bed. It stank. Yaxley hadn’t washed since I last saw him. The dirt was glazed on, as if he had spent the intervening years living in a doorway off the Charing Cross Road. In addition some sort of fat was smeared all over his emaciated upper body, perhaps as lubrication. He had been frightened the Pleroma would invaginate him. In the event though he seemed to have been not so much sucked in as sucked.
Behind him on the floor I found an envelope; inside that the key to a safety deposit box in the City. In the box, I knew, there would be two thick black notebooks. I had seen them before. I collected them that afternoon, and over the next two days, coming and going under Yaxley’s dead ironic eye, fetched his papers, his pictures and other magical paraphernalia from locations to which the notebooks gave access. Some of the larger items–an old fashioned Dansette record player, a wooden chair with awkwardly curved arms, two crates of books–I was forced to move by taxi. Decaying ring-binders burst and gave forth yellow papers, upon which I read in a scrawled hand:
- “The door! The rosy door!”
- “…two distinct and irreconcilable worlds, pleroma or fullness–which has come down to us as the muddled Christian promise of “Heaven”; and hysterema or kenoma, pain, illusion, emptiness–the life we must actually live. Between them, it used to be said, lies the paradox or boundary-state horos. But the great discovery of this century has been to knock at the door of horos and find no one at home. Horos is the wish-fulfilment dream, the treachery of the mirror…”
Eventually I had assembled it all in the stinking bedroom. The rest of the instructions proved harder to follow. I was required to set certain small objects–including a stoppered bottle half full of rose water and a Polaroid photograph of someone’s left hand–in precise relationships to one another on a small wooden table, about five feet in front of the corpse. The table itself must stand at the apex of a precise triangle, the other two points of which were represented by a burned-out electric kettle from some Tufnell Park bedsitter; and a split PVC bucket. I was to turn on the old Dansette in its peeled grey leatherette case, play a certain record, then undress, fold my clothes in a particular way, and masturbate. I knelt down before the table, with its burden of futile or malign objects. I pulled bleakly and unhappily at myself for perhaps ten minutes, but every time I felt the drowsy approach of orgasm, I seemed to snap back into self awareness, and feel upon me the dead magician’s amused, dispassionate gaze.
“Yaxley never did anything to anybody,” I remembered Pam Stuyvesant advising me. “He encourages you to do it to yourself.”
From the cloth-covered speaker of the Dansette, to a background of crackles and distant music, some chirpy pre-War entertainer sang:
Who’s been polishing the sun,
Sprucing up the clouds so grey?
Does she know that’s how I like it?
I hope she’s going my way!
Suddenly I felt exhausted and ill. I gave up the attempt and instead was violently sick into the plastic bucket. Yaxley, I suppose, may have allowed for this. It was hard to see whether the act had been designed to free or redeem him; or as a last meaningless sneer. Anyway, nothing seemed to happen, so after a bit I left. I closed and locked the door behind me, and later threw the key and the notebooks off Putney Bridge and into the river.
As far as I know, Yaxley’s still there.
[From The Course of the Heart, 1992.]