Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra – Dalí, 1936
Having always used her music as an instrument, a gift to stifle hurt in others, a searching for a niche into which she could stuff pansies or wallflowers, a grey to be drenched with peony or tangerine, she became pliable, perfectly responsive to circumstance, a kitten following its master, chase-and-nibble. At first she didn’t notice herself changing, so intent was she on pacifying with titbits the yawning jaw. Filling the jug of subjugation. Until she awoke in a boulder-desert, stone-faced, immaterial. Her life shrunk now to two needers who dominated: her mother and her daughter. Her music no more than a cipher, a distorted keyboard painted on a banner wrung out, flung out between her and the others, a mute offering. The godlike gift something less than animal or vegetable. A split skewed thing. And she, a rock-musician, no longer able to please anyone.
Attendant circumstances: the sun and the moon, in that order. Running home, no reason to think the house would not be as we’d left it. Mother wiping workaday hands on her stretchy pink overall. Father gulping down tea, talking to whoever was there, his soft-steel presence filling the house, so that we breathed in, moved carefully into corners. And my brother: thinning, staring, wandering off for longer and longer, forgetting to say where, just flushed cheeks and eyes shining like polythene. But the noise coiled through the windows and walls before we arrived—a wind of tangled voices sighing and soughing. The back door open. Mother not in the kitchen. Father, loitering. The next room quickly dark with cousins and uncles and Irish people, all here not there. On top of each other, two heads to each person. All the heads crying. And Mother by the fire, flanked by four aunts. Someone took us to a back room, away from the sobbing-wind sound, offered us sweets, as many as we liked, while day turned to night, in that order.
but my past was making it very difficult. Every time I would go to shake its hand, it put thumb to nose and wiggled its fingers. I tried cooking it a nice meal. All it did was make a fuss about the bones I'd left in the lamb tagine, to enhance the flavour. I tried Martinis: it didn't like olives; pavlova: it had a meringue allergy; after-dinner coffee: it couldn't have caffeine after 3pm. I started to wonder if it might have been easier to have remained enemies. Or better still, if I'd thought of it earlier, I could have poisoned the food and killed the past. But I knew one thing the past liked and that was a drink. So I slipped antifreeze into its Amaretto liqueur, and as we sat and drank, smoking Cuban cigars, listening to Andy Williams, I smiled to myself, knowing that any minute, the ethylene glycol would kick in. It was then the past turned to me and said: "I know I act mean, but I would like to make friends or peace or whatever you want to call it." I stumbled to the kitchen, where I added the remaining poison to my White Russian and downed it. Then we lay together, in each other's arms, until, at last, we were at peace.
We do not write about the object--we write about the shadow it casts or the reflection it throws back at us. We talk about the setting, the human dramas that crowd outside it. We try to know them all. The language. The disasters. We write about the wind that moves, throws, or breaks it, but ignore that so low to the ground, something like a stone can remain complete and still during the unhinged run of a hurricane, and that stillness of a tiny thing without so much of a flinch when nothing else stands a chance, is worth a thought at least. The words can follow later, in a mere handful, and that is something. Something at least, on which to build, or not, as the case may be.
What Death Said
Here the wind is too subtle, too unseen. Even the dew on the grass is safe, the ant's straight line over the slate and the slack wire line from tree to wall--even this is static, stock-still in the air. She waits for a change, a sneeze or a sigh, some shift in the view. She does not trust or know nature like this--inanimacy, she finds, breeds a tension like death. For this, she is always unprepared, always taken aback--to the night on a long lost road, waiting out the surprise that comes when death pricks open her eyes and says: you have known me before I have known you.
After many years abroad, I moved to a small village in Cornwall. The locals immediately took to me because I seemed foreign and exotic. The plump, middle-aged woman at the Post Office asked me if I would take on the leading male role in a production that was going to be put on at the village hall. She would play the leading lady. I was too ashamed to admit that I wouldn’t be able to remember the lines. Instead I told her my schedule was already packed, mumbling a lie about a book to write. She blushed as if I’d slapped her. Perhaps another year, I suggested, though I knew my memory would be even worse by then. She shook her head. My standing in the community would never be the same again.