Read My First Colouring Book Online
Authors: Lloyd Jones
Tags: #epub, #ebook, #QuarkXPress
We buy chocolate in the shop and browse around Joe Brown's, fingering the ropes and crampons. Then we sit quietly in the black Sierra, listening to the river pulsing through the mossy boulders below us. But my mind is much further away than we've been all day â at a lost and defunct trig point, far away in the ceded territory of my past.
He is my friend and companion, this man sitting in a black dented car. I want to tell him about the night I slept with his wife. About the day of the funeral, too.
I want to tell him that I wasn't able to think the right thoughts that day â that instead of thinking about the tragedy and the pain of death, I had thought about the night we had spent together in my bed. I would never be able to tell him how wonderful it had been. In the crematorium, when I looked at the coffin on its rollers, I had thought little of the pain in my friend's mind and body; I had imagined her shape as I had seen it that night in its nakedness and sexual greed. I had thought of her hands as she held me, the curve of her back and the sway of her hips as she left our bed. That is what I thought, not what I should have thought.
And when she died I felt nothing but guilt, and the absoluteness of death. I did not think of him at all.
I hoped perhaps that when I told him part of this story, when I took this story from the cold storage of my memory, he would understand, in that big, big way of his. My friend. But I couldn't. Not here, in a car by a river. Not in Wales, perhaps. The time had felt right. But the placeâ¦ I was beginning to realise that location was going to be more important than timing. And I couldn't find the place. Was that because my guilt was associated with a place?
I would have to wait.
The moment was lost. That unfading memory of what happened must stay within me. Buried under the snows of yesteryear.
I LIVE in a village six miles from the sea. Good jobs are scarce, winters are long.
Our skins are yellow and our feet always wet: we float forever on a cosmic water-bed in which hydrogen and oxygen atoms copulate torridly, endlessly, in sweaty threesomes to make yet more water babies.
Our poverty is typical of western seaboards, from Galicia to Cape Wrath â where the buzzard mews and the bagpipe keens so do men get drunk, women falter and babies sicken.
Our valley is a fresh green leaf veined along the centre with a broad central river joined at various points by six smaller streams. We live under stones by the water's edge and we spend much time sheltering, since the hills around us attract rain as old people draw memories. I need tell you nothing about myself: if you want to find me ask for the man who plays snooker with Mr Smart.
There came to live among us one day an Englishman. There was nothing very remarkable about him and he lived quietly in one of the roadside terraces which remind me, in some obscure way, of a game of Monopoly which has gone on for far too long. He formed an attachment to the many slate tips which linger around gigantic holes bored into our homeland by the mythical beasts of the past, and he spent much time clambering among them. Englishmen, as you know, fall immediately into two divisions when they come to Wales: they either caramelise their essential Englishness, stiffening slowly into withdrawal and aloofness, or they pour themselves into the communal pot and add a slightly new tang to the local broth.
This Englishman did neither, which drew our eyes towards him.
There were certain things we noticed. Although he let slip one day that he was in his seventies he had the gait of a young athlete: smooth, rhythmic, fast, and seemingly effortless. He reminded me of a messenger in an eastern fable, seen first as a dot on the horizon, moving unerringly towards me in a whorl of dust, arriving clear-eyed and resolved, his outstretched arm holding a message of fantastic truth.
His experiences had been almost too many for one human lifespan. He told us stories about Russia: Moscow grieving under the snow, samovars, journeys on a tiny ship ice-trapped in a vodka sea. The silver birches had been babushka brooms sweeping time under the vast carpet of the steppes; he had met Uncle Vanya weeping among the cherry blossoms, seen the onion domes of St Petersburg moonbeamed and mystical; he could recall furtive attempts by a Soviet naval attachÃ© to draw him into the Lubayanka's web.
Then there was India: the flight into paradise with Osho â cock-crow dawns in the ashram with a new name tart on his orange tongue; all the streams of his multifarious life merging in a great delta of knowledge and joy beneath the bodhi tree.
His many lovers emerged, one by one, to form a ghostly line into the past, each bearing a casket of remembrances; this one he'd wooed whilst reporting for a shipping magazine (look, there she is in the background, blinking into the camera); another had read his poems in the pallid light of a London street-lamp â they had met on Hampstead Heath, at a funfair; and still they came, young, amused, intrigued by his enduring vigour, travelling through his eyes to another dimension.
To us, the rough-hewn local boys, this dimension was fenced off, like the slate shafts dotted around us. We could never enter, not because he wanted to exclude us, but because we couldn't unstick ourselves from the slate's Velcro grasp; we were stuck to those purple hills as burdock burrs cling to a cow's underbelly.
He initiated a drama company and new names rattled on our rusty tongues: Brecht, Chekhov, Foe; our young people were fired by the plays he staged in a crumbling chapel. He invited the cognoscenti to his home and they appraised him over the fine wines he drew from his cellar. Inevitably he inspired envy and his enemies sprinkled his winter lawn with frost, killing his crocuses; inexorably he made many friends, who waved to him on the streets, sea fronds caught in the warmth of his Gulf Stream current. There was a lover, too, who tuned his summer lyre.
And then he was gone.
He simply vanished. No-one saw him go (and this was a great feat, since few people can depart completely unnoticed in our realm).
After a day or two people began peeping through his windows, but there was no movement. He had taken a few possessions but his wines, paintings and books had been left behind. We decided that we'd never see him again. His threshold gathered grime and his windows dust. His plants straggled and waned, his gutters grew cluttered and his gate fell unhinged. At some point, I can't tell you when, his lover moved away.
Months passed, a year became two. I got a job in the quarry sawmill, slicing massive slabs of slate into windowsills and lintels. I made good money and got drunk every night. I played snooker with Mr Smart and fathered a child but forgot its name.
One night, without any particular motive, I broke into the deserted house.
I've told you now â do what you will. I've forgotten why I did it. Drunk maybe, or still consumed with interest. I hadn't been part of his circle, but I'd watched his dusty dot speed towards us from one horizon and disappear towards another. I took nothing, merely nosed around, picking up books and putting them down again, looking at his paintings; then I lay on his bed, wondering which poems he'd read by candlelight to his couchant Aphrodite.
I slept briefly on a flamed Byzantine coverlet worked with silver and gold thread; by now the cottage was tinged with abandonment and a musky smell fumed my nostrils. I got up to leave.
By the bedroom door my boot clanged against a cupboard and the door swung open. I rummaged inside but my hand hit on nothing; I was about to turn away when a gentle rolling sound came from within the locker and an object trickled to the edge. I caught it as it fell towards the floor.
At first I thought it was a goose egg, but it was heavy and clearly made of stone; when I polished it with my sleeve I saw glints and swirling striations, a weave of sparkling, brightly-coloured minerals. It was similar to the magical obsidian stones of the Aztecs and Mayans, brilliantly hued, perfectly shaped and finely polished. The temptation proved too much: I stole it.
I know â it's true, I lied to you earlier when I said I took nothing. But it was nothing much, was it? Who cares about a bit of stone? For pity's sake, we're surrounded by the damned stuff, choked by it, entombed, trapped in it like a body left to rot in a cellar. No-one worries about a little bit of stone.
Fearful, however, of being caught with it in my possession I hid the stone in a gap in the wall of the sawmill by my workstation and damped some moist earth over it. Occasionally, when I was left alone, I would dig it out and polish it, watch the light catch on its glinting surface. Then I would bury it again.
We were busy. I made more money, I got drunker every night. One day, as we strove to meet a big order for gravestones, I uncovered a strange enigma as I sliced through the soft bluestone. Through the water-sprays which cooled my saw I spotted an irregularity in the slate after my spinning blade had cleaved it. My workmates gathered round, one by one, wondering why I had stopped, and watched me as I hosed down the divided slab in a shower of rainbow droplets and dust, which dimmed the light around us. I turned off the saw and others switched off their tools also. The din ebbed away and a silence of sorts fell upon us. When I'd removed the dust and debris we stepped between the slabs and looked closely at what I'd seen as the blade hummed through it: a perfectly-shaped bubble in the stone â a rarity beyond memory, probably unique. They touched this unnatural vacuum, my
workmates, running their fingers around its smooth concavities.
It was then that a thought struck me and a pulse ran through me, a jab of icy pain which filleted my mind. A heavy wire net tightened around my flapping brain and held it aloft like a terrified fish waiting to be dropped into a hold; my body ran hot and cold, I gulped anxiously. The thought which came to me in the sawmill â when I saw that indentation â came to you also I'm sure, as it came to Mr Smart, instantly. But none of you can imagine the dread which filled me when I realised that a power beyond my control was now forcing me to act on that thought, a force which moved my feet away from the slate slab, towards the hole in the wall by my workstation.
I knew I was making a terrible mistake, but I couldn't help myself. The frisson was too strong; I had to find out, and I had to do so in front of everyone, because my mind had decided to gamble wildly: it had become a drunken speculator chancing all on one throw of the dice. The rewards were too high to resist, the kudos too great.
A single high-pitch buzz filled the cavern in my head... was it the Celt in me, unable to resist a chance to mythologise, en-fable myself? But if I was right, how they would laud me! What glory would be mine!
I scrabbled at the earth around my stone egg, keeping my elbows still so that no-one would realise I was burrowing; I tried to look like a priest at his altar, preparing to turn with the communion. Hurriedly I cleaned off the soil and polished the stone with my quivering fingers. Then I turned and stepped slowly, purposefully, towards the slate. The other workers watched me somnolently. There was almost perfect silence by now, except for the tic-tic-tic of my saw as it cooled, and the occasional scrape of a boot on the floor. When I reached the flaw in the slate slab I lifted up my secret stone, allowing it to glint in the half-light, and then I applied it to the empty bubble in the slab. It fitted perfectly â an eye couldn't fit its socket better, more naturally. There wasn't a hundredth of a millimetre between the slate cup and my stone of many colours, nestling like a lapidary baby in its Neolithic womb.
It didn't take a genius, said Mr Smart chalking his cue that evening, to realise I'd made a monumental mistake. Whatever possessed me, he asked. Had I taken leave of my senses? The stones should never have been matched â couldn't I see that their morganatic marriage was too dangerous a liaison?
I'd realised all this, and more, in the first few moments of my madness, as the saw blade still spun above the rent in the metamorphic mass I'd sliced in half for an hour's beer money up there in the sawmill's gloom.
The repercussions were many. As Mr Smart foresaw I became a legend. I was apportioned fabulous powers. The villagers showed great reverence to me wherever I went; chairmen asked me to join their societies, to talk on this, to adjudicate on that. Children asked me to mend their toys. Young girls asked me to foretell the names of their husbands. Farmers asked me to cure cows and bless infertile mares. I was invited to manage the football team, open fetes, end feuds, patch friendships, restore libidos, enlarge organs, cure damp...
The days went by, one year became two.
By then I was a joke. They scorned me, reviled me openly. I'd been unable to do anything asked of me: no dream had come true, no disaster averted.
I drank even more heavily and I lost my job. I lost my home.
I became desperate when Mr Smart found another snooker partner.
One night I broke into the house again. No-one else had been there, and nothing had been touched: the Byzantine bedspread still held the imprint of my body.
In the same way as the nearby rivers met each other, unavoidably, and in the same way as my two stones had merged, I too had reached a point of resolution, and I found myself nestling in the cupped hand of my nemesis. Change was inevitable; I could no longer continue on this lonely course towards disintegration. I took my stone egg and a few possessions, bundled them into a satchel, and disappeared into the night. Somewhere I had to deposit the cause of my troubles, that lovely, accursed stone. I also knew, instinctively, that I was a mere courier; that the stone would dictate where its next home would be.