the m john harrison blog

Category: lost & found

A wasp pushed itself into the room from behind the wooden blanket chest, as suddenly as if it had made itself from nothing. I looked behind the chest and found a ventilator daubed with layers of paint. Had the wasp blundered down the old chimney? It flew straight up into one of the skylights and sat on a bent nail, grooming its antennae. I tried to hit it with the local freesheet but I couldn’t reach that high; and anyway I couldn’t believe in it as a wasp. Long ago my writing filled up with characters who suspect that they don’t understand the world: not because the world is impossible to understand but because they have reached either the limits of their intelligence or the emotional boundaries that describe what their intelligence can be allowed to understand.

Monty Don speaks:

“The desert of the real may now break through. April
the cruellest month in the Baudrillardian garden.”

Monty Don with his old-looking dog
I’m overcome with love for them. See
How the dog stands by the wall, stares ahead.
Hermeneusis now seems so plausible–

Monty Don not solely Monty Don
His dog old/not old
His shed with its lurching kind of door
not wholly a shed

edith plays

Late one evening six or seven weeks after Vic Serotonin’s disappearance, Edith Bonaventure squeezed into the costume she had worn at seventeen years of age and took herself to the gates of the Raintown corporate port. There, she opened an accordion case on the cement sidewalk, strapped on the instrument it contained, and began to play. Cruise ships from all the major lines were in, towering above her like a mobile downtown, their ablated, seared-looking hulls curving gently into the low cloudbase.

That time of night it was both raining and mist. The port halogens shone out blurry white globes, the pavement was black, slick, cut with transitory patterns of rickshaw wheels. Edith’s costume, stiff faux-satin a fierce maroon colour, still fitted; though it made her look a little stocky. Unaccustomed excitement reddened her cheeks and bare thighs. For once, Edith had left her father to his own devices. He could choose to fall out of bed or he could choose to stay there: this evening, she had informed him, that was up to him. It was everyone’s right to choose.

“Emil, you can watch the tour ships lift off, or maybe enjoy throwing up on yourself. Me, I am off to World of Today to pick up a man.”

“If it’s convenient, the two of you can bring me back a bottle–”

“You wish.”

“–then do what you do quietly for a change.”

Emil seemed well, perhaps he was getting over Vic’s defection. Why she told him such a lie, she didn’t know. All she was sure of, she wanted this other thing, she wanted to play. She had picked an accordion to match the outfit, maroon metalflake blends under a thick lacquer finish, with stamped chrome emblems of rockets and comets, which caught the spaceport light like mirrors. Sometimes, as a child, Edith had less wanted to own an instrument like this than to be one, to find herself curled up inside one like a tiny extra dimension of the music itself. Uniz played Abandonada. She played Tango Zen. She played that old New Nueva standard, A Anibal Lectur.

She was quick to merge with the night, to become part of its possibility for the paying customer. Rickshaw ads fluttered round her the colours of fuschia. The rickshaw girls called out requests as they passed; or stood a moment listening despite themselves, puzzled to be still for once, their tame breath issuing into the wet air. While up and down the rickshaw queues, the offworld women shivered–as the sad passionate tango songs made, in cheap but endlessly inventive language, their self-fulfilling prophecies of the entangledness and absurdity and febrile shortness of life–and pulled their furs around them. It was the briefest mal de debarquement.

Raintown! Its very name was like a bell, tolling them back to their true, complex selves! They laughed to wake up so far from where they started, so momentarily at a loss in the face of night and a new planet, yet so in control of the brand new experiences awaiting them there. In search of a gesture that could contain, acknowledge and celebrate this inconsistency, they threw money into the salmon pink silk interior of the fat, odd little busker’s open accordion case.

Sometimes the banknotes they threw floated around Edith herself like confetti at the marriage of earth and air, while she played I Am You, Motel Milongueros, and an uptempo version of Wendy del Muerte she learned in a pilot’s bar on Pumal Verde. She had no idea, really, why she had come to the gates. She was forty two years old. She was a black-haired woman with wide blunt hips who couldn’t afford to be anyone but the self she had chosen at eleven, and who, consequently, blushed up quickly under her olive skin. She was a woman of focus, a woman of whom men said to each other:

“You can’t blame Edith. Edith understands her own needs.”

When the stream of rickshaws had abated, and she felt she had had enough, she gathered up the money, packed the instrument in its case. Shuddered suddenly, struggling into her old wool coat. “The winds of memory,” she misquoted to herself, “approach this corner of my abandonment.” At least it wasn’t far along the sidestreets to the bar they called World of Today, by then, a little like herself, just a lighted yellow window from which all custom had fled. Edith pulled up a stool and counted her cash. It was more than she hoped, less than she imagined when she saw those fur coats, the cosmetics by Harvard and Picosecond, the Nicky Rivera luggage custom-stitched from alien leathers.

“Give me a bottle of Black Heart to go,” she suggested to the barkeep; then, “In fact why don’t I drink it here.”

“It’s your party,” the barkeep said.

 

–Nova Swing, 2006

marooned this side of heartfelt

I’m old enough to remember things that happened around 1949, although they are mostly about the weather & building sites. I don’t seem to remember myself at that age, only the things I looked at. Puddles. Careful stacks of materials. Sacks of sand. I don’t have a narrative of those places or of myself in relation to them; I’m careful not to retrofit them with one. They weren’t in cities, or even, really, in towns. They weren’t bomb sites. I wasn’t drawn to them, I already lived there. They were brand new greenbelt housing estates in Staffordshire or Warwickshire, on the perimeters of which the builders were still at work. They weren’t sites of fantasy or escape. The objects in them were fascinating because they were the objects of those places. Or they were intrinsically interesting, on a day-to-day basis, because of some quality, such as being transparent. Or frozen. Or yellow. Or having moved since I last saw them.

being somewhere else

Blustery wind & rain overnight, thumping on the windows, then strong sunshine scouring the housefronts along the curve of the river, transforming gable ends into blocks & triangles of light, investing an aluminium cowl, a sagging phone cable, the yellow registration plate of a passing Audi. A couple of crows parapent happily over the recreation ground, doing airpocket work, loosening up, breathing into their stalls & sideslips. Mornings like these are the only times Hammersmith can be said to have fresh air. Wind shakes the stationary water-drops on everything: a visual cue for being somewhere else, the best thing you can hope for in London. A morning like this the air seems transparent–-go on, laugh. At the same time you’re walking through a frictionless gel, in which mystery nanoplasmas have somehow slowed down the light. It’s cold on your skin. A morning like this you dream of waking up in Cornwall or Pembroke listening to the updrafts banging & bashing about the headland & knowing the next thing you’ll do is abseil to the wave-washed platform at Sennen or slither down the greasy polished limestone uterus that will eject you in one piece into the salt dazzle & sharp rocks beneath St Govan’s Head. Then the real day can start. Anticipation is a supersubstance. It’s the quantum froth under everything. It’s the only advantage of being conscious, when you come to think of it. Meanwhile, framed by a sash window across the street, I can see a single arm. It is ironing. It belongs to someone’s cleaner. The upper arm is parallel to the ironing board; the forearm and fist move the iron towards the body and away again in brusque smooth powerful strokes pivoted at the elbow.

–reblogged from Uncle Zip’s Window, February 28, 2007

the struggle to admit who you were

A quiet morning. I imagine I can almost smell the river. In the garden is a rose so old its best use is to prop up the exhausted, driftwood-coloured trunk of an even older lavender bush. Should I let the ivy grow up both? I like gardens though I don’t know anything about them. This one is dilapidated enough to absorb any effort. New things are naturalised quite quickly. In the beds & borders, bluebells, aqualegia, wild stawberry runners, monbretia, packed & dense around leggy rosebushes. Light falls in at a steep angle between the houses to be fixed by the new leaves of the roses, which show in curiously transparent autumn colours. Each border is edged with two courses of old & tumbled brick, overgrown with herb robert & dandelions. At the sunny end there’s a worn-down lapboard shed, white, windows fallen out. A vine over everything. I think about this when I should probably be reviewing a book. A car passes. A few aimless notes issue from the open window of the upstairs flat, then two chords repeated in an unsteady, clumping rhythm: one of Fiona’s pupils, trying to find her way around the keyboard. In the late 80s I was going to write an HE Bates-ish, VS Pritchett-ish story set in a middle class garden: Elizabeth (60-ish, calm, already in a kind of mild confusion about her life, resilient if a little put upon by her Thatcherite children) would discover exotic species invading a space originally based on the South Cottage garden at Sissinghurst. Global warming, you see. By the end of the story she would have quite taken to them. I didn’t write it because if you cross HE Bates with global warming & the welcoming of bizarre change, all you get is JG Ballard. (Now it’s too late. I’m 60-ish myself & I can see a parakeet here any time.) In my life gardens have always belonged to someone else. I am beginning to be less envious of this, instead just enjoy the spalled and bowed wall, the perfectly broken plant pots in sunlight. Then, between the warm eroded terracotta tiles under the garden bench, a yellow flower with each tiny leaf made up of three blunt heart shapes arranged to form a hexagon. I have no idea what it is; both leaves and flowers have a distressed look, Italianate, as if they were rag-rolled in Fulham in the early 1990s. The cat stops licking its paw & looks up in a brief acknowledgement of some bird’s moving shadow. When I was younger I thought writing should be the struggle with what you are. Now I think it’s the struggle to admit who you were. But I would invent a better past for myself now if I knew exactly how to assemble elements like these, especially without letting myself in to spoil them.

–reblogged from April 29, 2007. All these selections are from the short-lived Uncle Zip’s Window, which ran 2006/2008.

This character wants connection with others, he’s just inept at choosing them. He’s led by his own passivity. He ends up on the edges of other people’s lives and relationships, drawn there by the obsessive-compulsive cycles of his own personality. His favourite pretence is that before the story began, before he met you, he had a life. He had momentum, which he lost through no fault of his own. We see right through that. It’s comically self-deceptive. He leans towards the normal, he’s optimistic he can achieve it: what he doesn’t seem to understand is that any context will satisfy him, however grotesque. If he’s lucky he can settle in a temporary unstable orbit around people who don’t need him for anything. He’s of no utility. He’s damaged goods. He’s the drowned man, the text’s corpse looking for somewhere to wash up.

(First published last June as “Any Port In a Storm”.)

goodnight irene

thcmmttdmb1971-1A lot of moths flutter up when someone disturbs this. 1968, I was so disgusted with the first draft I gave it away. Still can’t say I love the contents, but I always loved the Hutchinson New Authors package and Chris Yates art, which allowed me to think of myself as a proper writer. Covers wouldn’t be so kind to me thereafter, not for a couple of decades anyway. [Image borrowed from Joachim Boaz.]

Oh, and how things do change. An argument which prompted shrieking hysteria less than a decade ago now seems to be an acceptable minority opinion…

who’s dead & who’s alive

Disconnected memories. Uncertainty of events and entities in their “relationship” with reality. The author positioned like Maxwell’s demon, feeling able to claim that this is the inside & that is the outside (the conscious & unconscious, the forgotten & remembered, the admissible & the inadmissible). Calculatedly inefficient filters will be placed at points of transition represented as boundaries and edgelands. The hiatus or glitch, the dropped catch or stitch between the living & the written.

london by train…

…that metaphysical condition or stupid limbo which sucks in your life and jellies it and doesn’t get you anywhere, even if you fetch up somewhere in the end–late, full of rage, depressed, encircled by people whose casual shoes cost more than your car. Then the same meeting as you’ve been having the last forty or fifty years, at which you learn that nothing is possible. You’ll wish you never came. Still, you made your choices long ago. You rediscover that by the end of day. You come out the other side. You decide to cope. You even see the advantages–which means you can begin to maximise them, or so you hope. You look up at the How Late Is Your Train indicator. The thing is, you tell yourself, not to wait too long. Wait too long and eventually, if you aren’t careful, you’re going to end up looking really quite threadbare.