the m john harrison blog

Month: March, 2013

strange organisms

I dream a lot about watching strange organisms. They’re not large. Infestations. Algal mats. Microscopic activity in crustal basalt, detected only via byproduct, “perhaps the largest ecosystem on earth”. Not precisely animals. And most often, it has to be said, the kind of things that grow in layers in a drain. They’re soft and mushroom-coloured. I also dream of that wiry, fibrous stuff you get in a bad avocado. In this case it’s a dark red and it runs through everything.

cave & julia

A couple of hundred words from cave & julia, a new short story soon to be available as a Kindle Single–

“The Autotelian karst drains itself, through a complex of vast underground caverns–many of which have never been entered–directly into the sea. That whole year, and to a lesser extent the year after, bodies were washed up all along that part of the coast, some whole, some in pieces. A proportion were claimed; many–like the mysterious “Mr English”, delivered by a high tide one summer afternoon on what the European news services referred to as “Autotelia’s Riviera” –were not. The sexes tended to be evenly represented. The oldest item was the lower left leg of a woman of at least sixty years; the youngest a complete male toddler wearing a wristband with the name Ellis, never identified. There were pairs of hands in an expensive suitcase, and heads wrapped carefully in clingfilm or hastily tied up, bunny-ears, in plastic bags. In the south of Autotelia, especially, it was a bad year for bodies; but the body of the vanished brother didn’t show up among them. Passive and silent, full of some incommunicable anger, the sister attempted suicide, spent time in institutions; then, her work suddenly becoming popular, left the country for a new life on our side of things.”

cave & julia is very much a product of the Ambiente Hotel. Back-bar regulars will add value by tracing its genesis in these pages over the last two or three years.

i’m not good at making decisions

I still expect the cat to come running every time I open a tin. In fact he’s upstairs on my desk, in a white cardboard box five by six by seven inches, with a date & “sympathies” written on the front. “I know we’re in a weird place with this,” I tell him. “For you it’s a transitional place. I appreciate that.” Meanwhile, I say, he can entertain himself with the pigeon on the telegraph pole, the magpie on the pavement, both of real interest & easily visible from the window. Spring being on its way–to judge from the hail we had this morning–he can look forward to a lot more action of that kind. “Now you’re not out there so much, the garden’s full of birds.” I pat the box in what I hope is a reassuring manner. “I’ll find somewhere to put you eventually.”


small catastrophes

I like it when people drift off from one life to another. Or live double lives, but the second life isn’t much different from the first. And it’s not recorded, so no one writes about it until years later, when someone unrelated discovers a box of Polaroids at a flea market or some files of emails on a hard drive. These would be ordinary people, who felt the continuity of their lives, but whose acts could only be seen as a discontinuity in the lives of others. I’d like it to be clear that the pathos of this (and I mean that honestly) might best be seen from outside the lives themselves, or from a later point in time; but that the testimony of those left behind is as “correct” an emotional perspective as that of the person who moved on. I’d like to read a book comprised of hundreds of stories like that, not too much above anecdotal length, which would document the cultural web and styles of a generation. A book like that wouldn’t take sides; it would be kind, unjudgemental, and imply another scale at which this behaviour could be viewed.

last transmit, halls of vira co

… saying, once those outsiders get in your tortured halls … I’m saying we didn’t have command of the vast fictions of the day … The city wasn’t, in the end, where those of us who lived there thought it was. We had already lost it in all senses of that word … All we knew of this place was the news … preferring the past’s acknowledgment of humanity, we remained uninterested by the watertightness of the plot … the halls are aware that–in the end–they can never know what, exactly, the plot was. It’s only silence after that. Back at the beginning there’s the tapping sound, like metal on stone … then the call signs, several of them, very amplified and confused … cries in the halls … a cruel few words and then, “We no longer know which way to face.” The halls are still aware … What if nothing “fell”? Nothing was lost but existed just alongside everything else, fifty years later in the rubble by a farm at the flat end of Shropshire … who could write this … everyone has a different story to sell … call signatures in rooks, fresh plough, old silence: “We don’t know what to do. Everything is the alongside of something else.”