published 'Peripheral Visions' 1992
A DREAM OF REAL AIR
There was no use denying him access to the parlour.
He was my son after all, and I couldn't see him curled up like a whelk in the cold scullery all night.
But when, on that retrospectively fateful weekend, he brought a young lady to visit, one with a dagger-fish brooch on the left lapel of her cavalry-twill costume top - well, I would have needed to resort to the direst vocabulary to warn them both off.
I was indeed sure there would be no safety in numbers. I wanted to continue my life in the magic realism of solitude--and, so, it would be necessary for me to get in my tantrum of making the pair of them unwelcome before they had the chance to sneer at the shortcomings of my abilities as a host.
It is difficult to disentangle my reasoning on such an occasion, as the words slide too easily from my memory, staining the screen of my mind's eye with a pattern of meaning comprehensible only to Hottentots; I even wonder whether I’m actually capable of perpetrating the Queen's English, let alone that alien dialect which the Old Spaceships once crated to Earth in the beaks of insane, if articulate, chickens.
Back to fundamentals.
I opened the front door upon hearing the knock, thus allowing dustmotes and sunlit air to swirl past me. He had warned that he might be coming for a long weekend, if time permitted. There, though, with him, was this female with goggle eyes, both feet planted on the balding doormat. She peered over my shoulder into the well of the hall.
''Yes?'' I scowled. Well, I think that I scowled, since only in stories can a narrator really see through the eyes of others. I had already decided to treat them both as strangers--that was at least what my son deserved by bringing someone I couldn't trust at first sight.
"Hello, Dad ... can I introduce Felicia Kelp?" He did not spell out the name so, even now, I’m unsure as to whether even the Hottentots would be able to get their tongues round what I visualised as the correct words.
I glanced into the sky blue yonder and caught the fleeting sparkle of a star-hopper slowing down for Heathrow . . . or, at that hour, it may even have been Gatwick. Light travel (or travelling light as the popular song of the time put it was so inconsistent. Tachyons had not really bottomed out until AJ Sylvester later dissected one under a microscopic microscope, using a near endless array of diminishing pulleys to guide a scalpel manufactured from one highly sharpened molecule.
Just as I was about to answer as unwelcomingly as possible, I heard a furor from the chicken run in the back garden. The squawking and screeching was fit to raise the Devil on his hindmost. Something had disturbed the creatures' equilibrium. Either too much grit in the meal or the barely perceptible shift of the Earth off its axial cord, which tended to happen nowadays, had gone to their coxcombed heads. Luckily, the moon no longer toppled into the sea, as it did back in the more poetic days of pre-reality--only to be put back in the sky by everybody's image of a God with flowing white beard, trident and sharkbone corsets.
Without a further word (saying nothing was indeed more unwelcoming than pointedly expressing my grievance in stronger language), I showed them into the parlour. There was a put-you-up in there, just big enough for two thin ones, I indicated. I saw Felicity Kell (or whatever her Christforsaken name was) studying the framed photographs on the mantelpiece. One was of me and my late wife.
"Mr. Lewis, you sure looked young in the past." That was no way to inveigle me into accepting her as a complete stranger no longer (or even an incomplete one). I could imagine, indeed, nobody stranger. Before I could protest, my so-called son intervened.
"What's wrong with my own bedroom, Dad? Hasn't it still got hot and cold running water?" He motioned as if to take their suitcases to that very room.
Whether it was the deep rumbling of the starhopper landing across the other side of London, he did not seem to hear my reply:
''You're not taking any see-through floosies up there, Johnny me lad. Your dead mother would turn over in her bed."
He shrugged. He knew I had spoken something, since I had watched his eyes trying to follow my lips. For a man, his eyes were very widely set apart. In his heart, he must have been aware of my misgivings.
"We'll go and feed the poultry for you, Dad." He took his lady friend by the arm (both of which were extremely short for her body, I noticed) and directed her towards the front door, via the parlour door .
"Done it already," I said, pointing to the carriage clock which was between the photographs like a sentry of old. The imperceptible swing of its pendulum proved that the ancient maxim of time never standing still was worthy, at least, of scrutiny by that breed of scientists even now living in the think-tanks of old Ministry of Defence establishments dotted along the eroding coasts of downtown Great Britain.
The lady, who had evidently stolen my son's heart, made herself at home. She spread her legs in an ungainly fashion as she settled down in what used to be my wife's wicker basket, allowing me to see as much as the stocking-tops, but no further. My son smiled at my blushes, if blush I did.
In an attempt to bring matters to an even keel, he started on one of his long boring conversation-pieces about the ancient research into how fish think, make music. Highfaluting college talk, I called it. He needed his brain flushed out. The lady said nothing, while tugging at the harness of her bodice and wriggling to remove her most sensitive areas from the basket's various discomfort points. Then, without prior warning, the shrill alarm in the carriage clock blurted out.
"Time to fill the house!" I shouted, scorching for the tap by the open radiator.
I was just in time. The lighter-than-air water gradually filled the parlour, before our lungs could burst from our mouths like punctured balloons. The water was lukewarm in view of the season. It was strange what routines post-reality brought along in its wake.
That's the way the world is, these days. At least, the three of us stopped the inane chatter. Creatures under water can only open and shut their mouths in the arcane rhythm of misspent speech. When words are empty, lip-reading is worth no more than braille to those now limbless coffins of flesh which were once called human beings kept locked up in disused nuclear shelters, as they are--for their own good, let me add.
My eyes slid round to my temples, slugs that merely looked like the marbles children used to play with. Despite this, I could still discern my son's grinning from side to side, as I think he knew I knew he probably hated the lady (whatever her name) and it was only a matter of time before he unscrewed the stopcock of the sewage outlet under the television set. But would it be wide enough?
The sun shafted through the parlour window and milled with the multi-coloured plankton that swirled from the secret coral seas beyond the stocking-tops.I would have told my son not to darken my door again, if I hadn't first fallen asleep and dreamed of drowning.