- All the Same
- In the Process
- Far, In the Way
- Bank /
From 144D all the way to 336G, past the 321, 322, 323, 324 all-aisle enclave whispering to a forebear each from behind, Julian kept straight and on the task at hand. His tray out before him steady as could be, with an open-topped coffee-juice and a canned warming milk and a tube of bananas. The walk took a long time. He couldn’t remember how long since he had last made it, whether the lights had been up or down, or the outside sheathed away so tightly.
A damp blanket lay over 336G. He put the tray down and stretched, looked around. It was a lagged twilit spot with the smell of perpetual sleepiness. Tatty picked-at cushions: mischief. Yoghurt lids utterly clean: hunger.
Across the way, someone was watching, wrapped in stiff grey blankets, head protected by several headphones; Alan, a little boy or a little old man, passed inscrutable eyes over the tray. Tongue peeping out of mouth. Dirty, tired face, as though with no prospect of any further wakefulness, excepting that for eating, excreting, maybe. —Tuppence, he said.
Julian stared ahead feeling the air dry his skin, scratched at his face as the offer was repeated. Later he would peer through gloom upon gloom for a worthy recipient of his delivery. Past prone forms, milk lights in intermittent flashes, fuzzy fabrics of a resolute seat or other, stitched-together blankets hung for curtains, he didn’t know yet how far the tray would take him, would not have believed it.
—Tuppence. —For 336G, said Julian, that’s all. —That’s no one. I have tuppence. —That’s very low currency. I’m going to have to wait. Julian sat down next to the target, 336G, resting the tray on his bony knees. —You’ve got some milk, it’s what.… —It’s warming milk. —Well I wouldn’t have minded tasting some warming milk. I heard about warming milk. And I heard of organs wanting to be repaired, and then they are. —Hmm. —Is it a medicine then? —I’m just the deliverer. —There isn’t much more than tuppence here.
Julian had glanced through the region, noted the spots empty but for prone bundles, and the regions shielded by darkness, the still. Distinct lack of business.
—So how much is that milk worth then? —You needn’t bother about that. —What.… —Not tuppence. Alan smiled. —Now I’ve heard of one thing being one price and elsewhere another.… —Nothing’s worth tuppence. —And I wonder what you would buy with the money from your goods and service.
Julian didn’t answer. Alan leaned back, tinny music coming from his arrangement of headphones. For six pounds the goods on the tray could be purchased. Six pounds plus their delivery. How the customer had come across the money to pay, how they had developed and indulged their weakness for food, to want to pay for it, was unfathomable. But in the spaces of the world, monies were to be found, and food, as though scattered from original stores in a distant beginning; he imagined heading ever further, raising the price, at a half-exponential rate per 81 passes, considering his overheads.
A light or two, tinted green, came on some 3 back. He shook Alan by the shoulder. An eye popped awake, listening through the brittle music. His age, even this close up, remained indeterminate. —What is your morning, Julian asked him. —About now. He waved a hand about the place. He batted away Julian’s hands. Another green light flickered on. —Describe it. —It is about the time an old sort of group switch on their lights about the same sort of time. Starting over there, and spreading, on that side, then this. And also it’s the time when air flows most regularly. You’ll hear it soonish. And a sort of holiday, about an hour long, will start within the next two hours. —Perhaps the goods are for that sort of thing? —A group purchase do you think? —Now and again this happens. —Perhaps more than you think. —You don’t know 336G? —I see it but keep myself to myself. —Could they pay? —Your job tends to see people in a small way. And what would you pay for, after?
Julian took up the tray once more. He stood gazing into the ahead, attempting to judge the distance of the furthest lights that glimmered red, pearl, and violet.
—You’re off? said Alan. See you on the way back maybe. A hand wrapped in headphone cords reached out. Julian briefly shook it, business-like, and headed off.
On the tray as it travelled beneath the green lights: pool of glistening dark coffee-juice, hazy seasoning on its surface, warming milk in a squat can, tender yellow emblem, and robust tube of bananas, tiny chart of its reputed origin printed directly on the thin metal:
Top Boarding School Unwanted Produce!
with Cool-Pak from Inception to First-Packing
(spread to gut slowly)
Alan watched the delivery vanish into the twinkling haze of ahead, already looking ready to give up, giddy. What must it be like far ahead where the tray and its goods would be roaming, why it would be like the Green Night, and it would be like the Red Night, as he had read in the children’s books, how did it go, ‘In the middle there was a middle …’‘?
‘And there were beings … from a middle world in a middle time …? And these are like useful things, and unuseful things: stock …!’
Alan pulled the blankets over him, settled down into the darkness, secure. But he wouldn’t have minded a drop of that warming milk!
Wan yellow beam, like a guide-light to a toilet, vanishing when a sleepy body passed before it, or followed its path, or raised a hand, stretching or wafting at dust mites or even a tiny imagined living thing; a hand was all it took.
Opening her eyes, Madeleine saw the yellow beam precisely before her like a made thing ready to touch. She remembered her dream as being a long thin yellow bridge suspended in a space vaster than any in the world, and here a small variant before her awakened self. Her hand lifted to strum at it, when it vanished; to her left a body rose. Chatter through the near-space, and the light rose: it was morning.
Books fell as she automatically stretched in her seat. They had collected on her lap as she more and more sleepily flickered through them, forlorn, or suddenly eager, an indication that she was dreaming, and they slowly slipped from her hands into the ready cradle of her prim crossed legs. She left them where they fell, splayed spines, or inward-bending cover, she did not mind at that particular time of that early morning. She wondered at the nature of the beam as it was made invisible by the rapid appearings of personal and more public morning lights. In the evening she could expect it to be back again. In any event, she liked settling down near the wan yellow light and reading her books.
She always woke softly as though guided up from it. Others woke like there was a shock, a falling dream, a tripping-up dream, an awareness of dribbling “outside” onto a pillow, blanket, shoulder, in view, in proximity to a disgusted public. Awake, recover, and scrub up, hardly more of a thought in between. She had seen a yellow lozenge space, felt an impartial warmth, people, older than others; a spacious toilet made of hard shiny tiles. Things she could not possibly have seen.
She lifted her feet to rub them mildly; around her, others were doing the same, or already up and making it to the toilets; lines formed quietly and with patience.
Claude found his green scarf beneath him, as well as his jacket, his whistle, his stowed-away coffee can. He looked into the morning: lights winking on over packed-together bodies, the guide-lights vanishing, swell of body-smell, can-smell, ahead- and behind-smells. There was Andrews weaving through the crowd for thin-coffee, Solomon not far behind, his bulk like a pillar risen from the surface, dividing the crowds touched with the anxiety of just-morning.
Claude turned to look across at the girl called Madeleine. She managed to retain a pristine white scarf about her neck. Looking at her Claude un-remembered his time, his halting walks to ahead and returns in failure deeper to behind, mockeries and respite working at the pillow shop, he found the blank space he wanted in the face of Madeleine, its colour the colour of the lighting in whatever part of the world she had moved through. He followed. Where was she heading? Only ever forward. Ambitious?
In the continual murk of the perpetual forward he kept her in sight, her skin somehow immaculate reflecting the variable lights of morning, day, night. The blood rush of emergency lighting. Sour lemon of an irreparable toilet. Calming blue of a pillow shop. Throughout, Claude wondered what the true nature of her skin was. If something like a solitary light without colour were to exist – he tried thinking of a pure light, it would not come. But he was placid like knowing a meal was coming, as he stared at Madeleine.
Already the queues spread backward. An upheaval waiting, to start the day. Dawn spread from ahead as the lights at present-point rose to pinky-green to glow steady-bright as the day allowed. If in a queue, you were to be aware of other queues, appearing before you in the ahead, receding behind as though they had always been there. All movement seemed possible in any location, as a reflection of yours or that of your near-mates. Only the light made any difference. Wandering back into a night spot, you could feel sleepy and curl up like it was the most natural thing in the world. Those longest queues would fall asleep in the furthest ranks, until there was no longer a queue, but the normal diurnal moves and rests. All this sleepiness and wakefulness as a movement always ahead. What is there to queue for?
Claude had only a few items to carry if there was going to be any going anywhere. Watching Madeleine, he grouped his belongings together and fastened his shoes. Others had similar concerns. A thin man with bag full of old rags, and a notebook with notations of future garments he hoped to make, were he to encounter the appropriate materials, was a little behind Claude, who had watched him sort through a series of red threads, grouping them in their differing shades. As he watched and the day drew on, and the lights changed, the brightest red had a little green to it, and the darkest something almost blue. The man gave up, but with barely a sigh. These midnight hues swamped all things in sight, it was a clear signal to go to sleep.
Each coming night was like approaching something just beyond, gaining ground, but for the morning that popped up and changed everything. Not so much a losing race but a constant one. Madeleine’s odd dreams gave her a sense of this outside the norm as well as outside the sense of the eternal continuum. She felt it like an inside. There was a secret room where things were different. Not an eternal day or night, but things that could be chosen. I have harboured a little hope, she often thought to herself, Let it now cause effect.
Something ahead she had seen in the past, was that possible?
Solomon patiently watched Claude watch Madeleine. He was aware of this routine. Claude was mostly a constant day by day in the slow moves made, and when he had first seen Madeleine, Solomon remembered, it had been like seeing a man receive a slow blunt punch to the bones. Nausea and outrage. Close to the source of various theories doing the rounds that suggested the outer remnants of a long-lost family, imagining a “sense of the familiar”, “what a thing came before”, “boarding school”, and so on, remainders of a shock lost so far back it needed to be imagined again, and the tendency was to fall asleep unconsciously with something waiting in the future, a hope or something more certain being looked forward to, acting as the reminder so that sleep was a long awake night, a serial expansion of loops, half left to trail among themselves, half extending into the future.
Claude gathered his things almost without thinking, tracing the route as it might play to ahead, tumble or not, step by step.
As she stood up she sat right back down. A rumble passing through the world, those on their feet in queues grabbed at any upright thing. Slow rumble through the world. Madeleine traced her way ahead through the swaying overheads, the slim push through the crowds it would require. She would have very little luggage. But the way is the way, ahead and not behind. The rumble would pass through and she would collect her books before standing up, bag handle wound about her hand, a juice perhaps in the other.
Morning persevered. Air almost chilly circulated and eased the stresses of the life. Some sucked from pipes, others rifled through reading material. It was the time when eternity seemed almost plausible, most bearable. They had forgot tales of grandparents, the absences overnight. Madeleine flicked through stories told to the young looking for indications of the ahead. Without much of anything, she closed her eyes for the first step, then slung her bag on her shoulder, and was off. She took care to fix the arch smile. And the eyes now open and like they knew what they saw.
At the cusp of entrance into what the crowd had waited for, Solomon saw her start to edge ahead. We can’t be side by side or together, he thought, but all the same we can scratch each other’s backs.
World moves through a weather. Course be true. But weather is invisible senseless big thing, if it was seen, the weather, the world move no more. If it’s an end you want – this much is true.
Solomon, face above crowds, neck pulsing, he was just woke-up, looming, as he liked to think of it, hoping for the direct connection from on high, when top-head and vibrant-heaven ceiling met.
That meant he would be feeling awake.
This much be true. This much be true and reliable as words on packaging.
Andrews peered over from within his queue, where he stood arms polite at his sides. He peered down at his shirt, then passed a hand over his cardigan. The world as an entire thing seemed to crush him, for one second, then he was returned, and looked over at Solomon his friend. Beckoned him over. Into Solomon’s ear Andrews whispered, —I think the polarities shifted, all my lint has dropped away. They both looked through the queue to the ahead, its dim not-yet-dawn lights faintly shuddering. And then they looked to the behind, at the silhouettes of distant heads in the day light, at the rectangular rolling edifice of a last stubborn snack depot.
So Solomon whispered back to Andrews’ ear, —It’s time to gather it back then. And they would have clasped hands but for the queue, its formats, and its sudden shufflings away.
Wondering what kind of a morning it will be.
And Solomon was left – as Andrews filtered in his queue – thinking over: if something new were to be introduced, how horrifying that would be. He only saw a white lengthy being, length upon length appearing at the moment when he thought it would stop, soft to the touch – and the light of day (the day-light) appeared.
It was a shock like waking up a second time, he had to re-adjust like there were things just seconds ago only he had dreamt of.
The green of certain things registering like a sine wave, the white plastics showing their stains unashamed, the collapsed seating area where can-juices rolled to and were forgotten. Red eyes, open mouths, ridiculous dirty hair; it all got too much and someone dimmed their light, others followed, and the brightness was happily marred by muzzy circles of green readying to turn orange. By consensus, this day shall be “overcast”.
Madeleine imagined her possessions as an array of extra limbs, she parsed through her books to find made-up inhabitable spaces. Each night before sleeping, she held up a sentence before her eyes. Even if she closed her eyes, the sentence would still be there, until the book dropped from her hand into her lap. She collected her books carefully, arranged them spine-up in her bag for the titles to be easily seen. Other things in the bag: an old shrunken orange, she had found it rolling towards her somewhere on her slightest advance to the ahead, a fair few days ago.
What were her books about? They had titles like “How To Cope With The Situation You Find Yourself In”, “Ideas Of Food”, “Ship-Shape And The Stocks”, “When Things Run Out”, “Socks And What To Do With Them”. They were each as thick as a wrapped bread slice, and contained lists and the like, and it all acted as a remedy towards sleep:
‘Upon the cusp of falling asleep, there is a barrier, and in that barrier there is a middle, and in that middle is a middle muddled up.’
As the lights switched to a steady ice-green she was up and away into the ahead. Looming through the lilting plain like passing beneath bulkheads of the imagined plastic edifice of an outer land flooded with amber light, post-morning/noon, she looked utterly unfrivolous and managed to ghost through the crowds to a quiet spot. Here the lights still slowly raised into their day-apex. She eased into a blue-washed corner, picked from her bag a book at random, and rested it on her crossed legs. Partly flicking through, she came to a list entitled “6 Transmissions of Love”:
- <KNEEL> for the moment
- <HAND> a hand is a gift when handed
- <DAGGER> for the all-round suspicious world
The rest of the list was missing, a ragged rip through the page. She leafed further into the book, ah here was a children’s story she had been through a lot, wearing down the pages, but she was still not sure what the story was, if questions were posed; were Madeleine to be asked to contribute an ending, she would mumble something about “walls”, and a comeuppance only half believed in.
There was a soft house, of her and him. One washed the cups, one filled the cups. The soft house was soft but hard like harmony. A cup was chipped, it was cherished. Goings on going on. In the house was a cooker. “What’s a house?” thought Madeleine and everyone who had ever read the book. Imagined exuberance, an exuberant surface, a house-hold. A house-hold, a space, imagined or made physical with hanging blankets to capture the funny full feelings produced like fuel of the world.
The little children’s tale continued: One day the outside entered the house, it pulled down its walls. He went towards a patch of green night. The house had stopped, vanished. Cups rolled away. They would be under seats, thought Madeleine, she softly thought of being transfixed by the sight of things disappearing and lights appearing in the requisite colours – to her, who has stepped out (been removed?) from the old now house. It sounded exciting. She wanted to go after him in the green night, she looked the other way and saw an orange night. He was gone in the green night along with walls and cups. First she would follow him, it didn’t seem right, after all this time together, to now stick with being apart.
Once the green night was entered it was not different to any other night. The green was like a dark. Like in the house there had been a dark, here was a similar dark, she said to herself: like being asleep and seeing. There he was, still standing, he was responding like a cup had been dropped, valiantly he would take on all comers until the situation resolved, he stood straight and stock still. Nothing was around him but that green dark, but it was familiar and had been there a long time. Familiarity with itself like the insides of a cooker.
She took his arm. Perhaps they will try the orange night, or the next night beyond. You cannot go home (a bizarre fleeting thing).
“I think,” she said, “we are a haunted house.”
The book perched in her lap. It was called “Once You Step Out From Where You Were Supposed To Stay”.
It was barely night back to the behind, where Solomon looked at his massive hands at first with glee, and Andrews wondered about joining another queue, but it went backward, but he thought that might only be temporary, and there was probably water to be had somewhere at its end.
Meanwhile Claude, slowly approaching the night-time of Madeleine’s new spot, recited some gestures of minimums, to keep from pouncing, to keep his heart steady.
- when stepping ahead, clasp hands behind back (and this he did)
- when skipping behind, cross arms before chest (but this didn’t apply)
- prefer the circle … (&c, he said, as she came into view, and he found a subtle vantage spot, eyeing up the new night, its colours on her skin)
Dust in large families among the frizzle of over 576 ahead. Julian placed a protective gauze over the open-topped coffee-juice. Still further ahead, a milk glow, like all colours of night and day in convergence.
He continually valued the goods in the tray. All together he had been expecting six pounds. There’s six pounds here and there’s six pounds there. Now even if he got six pounds with no lip it wouldn’t account for the distance of his delivery, the way back. Not the real costs maybe, but time, that meant something, made him feel tired. He found a seat and thought of resting there, maybe for several days, letting a morning catch him up, maybe slowly coming across a morning he could participate in. Everyone so half-collapsed all the time with the goods on them, it takes a different mind to think there are things around him saying: it is OK, what happens happens, then it manages into a sort of multi-dimensional puzzle, and solves itself too quickly to see; some voices could describe this sort of thing, when he was most optimistic, or in need of it, optimism, which required a clear view of the ahead, with only the known and surmountable obstacles.
That was when he was sleeping, most optimistic – removed from the world – but when awake he had the idea, it went like this: if I can create of my time a physical artefact, might it be sold and act as leverage for a perpetual sales walk ahead, and the tray and contents, its mass of profit increase boundlessly, grow heavy, bend the web of the world, and then he would see the edges of things wiped out (the certainty of profit causing the certainty of the ahead)?
Then he felt anxious and an old hunger appeared (but not for treats!), seeing himself in perpetuity, how frightening! on his feet, tray before him, the lights so far out crimson and pitch blue at the same time, petering together into the ahead, a gathered point.
He thought of worth. His employers knew who he was. A handy man, steady elbow, shoulder, wrist that bends in those spirited ways to pass the tray over heads. Only his manner disappointed them. Wary of pleasing, he slinked through his interactions with other staff, he looked at his shoes, he smirked in their faces, he half-dreamt of spitting on his hands, running his hands through his hair, then handling the goods, then wiping his hands on his trousers, then he would do it all again. Or it’s what he sometimes thought they thought of him, and he pictured the worst thing he could do and felt a thrill. —He’s a plodding evil idiot, he pictured them saying in a dark boardroom, He can’t deliver a kiss. He grinned to hear it, as he dreamt the ahead slowly lilting like weather was being reached, endlessly ahead, and so he vowed to deliver, the ultimate delivery, one that would cost more than the bosses back there had ever seen.
Patch of empty homes, seats managing by themselves among nothing but fondly-thought-of crumpled paper, soggy liquid cardboard that had once been a box, the tenderly-cared-for 10cm2 tin foil still used as bedding, a chewed pencil, pen nibs stored for stitching, band-aids for the washing up, the common litanies.
These between-spots, where 10s to 50s rapidly passed by with barely a seat, and only last lives curled up on the floor at the edges of the world; and suddenly coming across one remaining seat, rooted robust, with arms, and back to the up-most, a marvel. Time will be taken leaning in and carefully picking out hairs. Dust painstakingly moved to the edges then set flying. On the seat is sometimes a sign, for example a sheet of paper wedged in the joint between seat and back, with “pillow shop” written in big blue letters, and an arrow pointing to the ahead.
Half of him wanted to go back, to 336G, give whoever was there the damned tray and everything, and go home, his blanket he hoped he had folded, nestle under, forget.
Back there, far back, where the rules still meant something, he couldn’t quite remember – what colour was his current home morning? how long the queue that slowly built itself every other day, only to lose half its lined-up flock in the night? how close were the nearest shops? – he thought of that last morning before the order came, the period before the final doze out of which he was shook awake. The lights, they must have been blue burnt low like a pitch blue, and that section very quiet. Out of his sleep he came, fingers fastened onto the blanket edge, he only barely sat up. A finger had come through a gap in the behind and poked him between his shoulders. Julian turned half round to take in the message. It was something like:
—This is what happens when we get with shops and the exchange of things, excuse me for not saying this earlier, this is what goes on when you have a pound to make. For 111111G.
Then the finger and the voice went back to their sleep or whatever had been occupying them. 11111G? How far, Julian thought, how far for a message to go. How many ones? And he burrowed back into the blanket.
He had forgotten all about the message! after dozing, being shook awake, the order being told, the goods being secured, the tray balanced. What did the rules say about order vs. message? Which acceded to the other’s priority? Where the authority?
The target was still far ahead wasn’t it. He could communicate it some place soon and it would resume its journey wouldn’t it. The message leaps, he thought. Is it efficient? Well it must be!
Other messages he had helped pass on: —With a clear head and that I am almost optimistic, and I will be waiting where the night is pink and that yellow light always swings by itself far in the ahead. —You’ve reneged on our deal, and there’s a price. Two pound, forty pence, within one night. I will throw in two well-preserved sides of a cardboard box, being a businessman. —No hard feelings please. 81F, don’t you remember? —Are there any more books? Have almost ran out and I can’t get to sleep. —I can’t be going to those shops anymore, it doesn’t feel safe. May I depend on you in these moments? —May have found something! Something divided into as many portions as there are portions to move through! Respond! —What I wouldn’t give to misremember the price of things. —Exactly enough to prevent repetition, in other words. —Nothing but a little agitated air, I had thought, but anyway, what is your location? Do the sides narrow? Respond! —Two steps forward, one back, a shuffle sideways, half a step back, it’s business, don’t give up! —Help me, I am feeling subject to an infinitely divisible penalty.
He stood at 1024, an obsolete row, gaps that went on far beyond the usual thinning, to each boundary of the world. If there was commerce here it would profit him a hundredfold, or there was no commerce, no money, and he would drink the coffee-juice, intersperse it with sips of the warming milk, leaving some to wash down the tube of bananas. And then he would go home. Six pounds down?
First he noticed it from afar, a blue glow about a darkly plump form. Some 32 back there had been a store lit by orange-pinks selling ointments (eye, hand, knee, and ear, maybe?), and before that a stockist of trousers and hats and underwear barely defined from a derelict spread of seats C to F (only the boxes of the goods beneath the seats, and a suspended piece of cardboard with numbers scrawled, which were not the prices of the goods but the calculations of sales, the staff perhaps knowing the numbers in their heads, very possibly those numbers being an improvisation around some fixed lower limit, influenced by the customer, their appearance, their boisterousness in surveying the produce, the evidence that showed what they could be made to pay).
Carrying his tray Julian felt a certain shame among this centre of professional commerce. Customers came to it, here somewhat out of the way, barely a single noteable queue, patches between patched seats, like something of a hopeless future had been fastened over a normal quiet day-section. Yet what bustle, what quick notations of price, requests for payment, totting up! He hastened through, scuffing his shoes like he was in school, the buoyant expression of that kind of prickly obedience. But he was simply embarrassed.
Pillow shops are always blue, mostly they extend from the world to a mid-point then return, they are a bulge in the world. “Days be white, nights be blue” says a sign hanging from the overheads, above the common pillow display like a soft shield, cardboard counters and piled trays with demo-pillows atop. Promising pillows of all sorts.
Julian passed by quickly. It seemed an embarrassment of systems, he and his tray here, something of a joke being told to one’s face – blushing, he walked on, he scuffed his shoes.
Past the pillow shop the lights harmonised around a milk pink. Signs of commerce winked away, and remains of things he could not recognise appeared, marked by a yellow seat, a livid pink seat, a boundary of broken stacked trays. The population was straggly. Julian eyed any prospective buyers. Marasmus-ridden returnees to childhood. People sleeping like they had always been sleeping. A girl, a boy like a constantly maintained supply route, smudged faces, just out of school, not knowing what to do with each other. The world not being built for their little adjourn to companionship like settling down safe.
For the first time on his journey he thought he wanted to properly sleep. This was like thinking of settling down somewhere, it meant a safety beyond the day-to-day, it meant peace in one’s time. He passed a rouge-lit canopied-space of two seats, it seemed to be a shop of clothes, handmade from loose threads collected and picked at over a lifetime. A final shop, ahead lay a dank-lit wilderness of empty stubby rows, remnants of decimated queues.
A chair stood out from it, its arms curved, its back back. White edges of fizzy hairs and dusts from long ago. It seemed to Julian an area of surfaces serene and almost pale like a clean toilet basin.
He sat down in the seat among something like an exhaustion, the closest he had come in all his time of service. He thought that he might wait for something, it was an odd thought that didn’t seem to belong to him, who had to press on, had compelling reasons to do so (the selling of the produce, the way the price would change, the overheads, the way things – like a coffee-juice – meant more now). A strange seat he sat in, that had waited all the time passed to have an ownership of sorts of him in it, all his sorts, gendered, though previously meshed, although lost now and again, yes there is a moment of singleness – “where the best dreams are had” – “here, is a point to be followed, or are you ahead, already?”
He woke with an image of the tray floating away, through a toilet door, down the toilet, somehow in free-fall, the goods still intact and arranged pristinely as a final frustration. In a flash he was awake and ascertaining the tray was still there somehow, on his stoic knees, how they mattered at that point, and he fought the pull of lulling in the seat, rearranged the tray – he swapped the positions of the coffee and the bananas – he thought a lot about his work, his world, how it extended into what once was distance, it was like breeding into the past, it was like being kept on a leash, and then to burrow down into a pillow. He went on, he decided: a little further on, it’s the only way.
Signs of commerce; his, only accounted for by himself. People were sleeping in their seats like they had always been sleeping. Lights down. Until things appeared he could not recognise, marked by a yellow seat, a livid pink seat, a boundary of broken stacked trays, 2401, and a man behind a stitched shield of magazines, watching Julian approach.
—Sir, said the man. —Hello. Julian had not seen this before. The magazines hid the man’s body up to his neck, he carried a rolled-up tube in one hand, the other hand was raised palm out as what was probably a warning, configured in a man’s hand – where had he learnt it? It was a daring feat of that sort of co-ordination. —Are you looking to go beyond, sir? —Beyond what? The magazines showed shoes, skirts, people dressed in them. —New entrances are accompanied by a small fee – It’s OK, it’s a world anew it promises – Remember the fear response, it’s somewhere inside you no doubt, remember what was learnt as a new thing to be dealt with – The fee gives a good calm to it as a procedure, it’s an old procedure, it goes smoothly.
Trade like any other. Would he accept a sip from the coffee, a sample of banana, a hand’s warmth of milk?
Julian carefully handled his tray. This wasn’t the time to be paying fees. He remembered the pillow shop behind him, blue cocoon light, products he had had a shy eye on. But the start zone something never seen before.
A sip of coffee would contaminate, the hand would steal the warmth of milk. Best was an arrangement to take some of the contents of the tube of bananas, the tube remains, its label part of the price, and at least half the bananas, this would ensure some sort of continuation commercially speaking.
Julian would make a transaction.
It was at first being squidgy, that’s how the boarding school was known, that it entailed a fair crumpling, and here they were at the mock-up of an entrance, arranged together, the mass unit ready to move, as memories go early, and the remaining scraps, through the home-space world-environment, the gaps only seemed natural as something that could not ever have been remembered.
The normal dim world that was to come, like tired lesions shown by the blunt object on the kitchen table that would create them, seemed as far away as a destination of travel not yet set out on.
Over there is the teacher’s chair. She sits on it elevated on bony knees with a long nose that is neither cruel nor particularly intelligent, but teacher-like, the first glimpse of an authority usually hidden behind partitions and curtains stitched from blankets.
“Welcome,” said the teacher. “A first lesson is always a special lesson. We will all put on our thinking caps for it … that’s an expression,” she said to the ones patting their heads and looking worried. There was always one or two. “Now, sit down. As you begin to enter the clouds of consciousness, you must be sure you become accustomed to the world being revealed in a proper fashion. You may find yourself asking: What is a wall and where did it come from? Whose colour is that? What make? Is there a wall beyond the wall I cannot pass? Who goes where? Can I sit there? Does anyone have a question they are starting to form right now?” She looked over their heads waiting for a thicket of arms, but they still seemed entranced and shocked by the litany of questions, unable to separate one from the other. This lot seem duller than before, she thought, and, had I thought that the last time? But eventually a hand peek-a-booed above, belonging to a tiny boy wrapped in a blanket, meekly smiling at her.
His name tag read “Alan”.
“Yes Alan? What is your question?” Her voice sounded too stern to her, she would take steps to allow a gentle tone now and then.
The little boy called Alan asked his question.
“Where are we?”
The teacher smiled, she was glad of the ingenuity of such a little question, and how it troubled herself. Would she find something new at last in the boarding school?
“I am sure,” she said, “you will partly see some sort of place in the future and ascribe to it various things.”
Another hand tinily raised. On the name tag “Claude”, a boy peering from under a blanket stitched into a restrictive hood, dirty as though worn since the beginning. “What?” he said, and raised his eyebrows like an insinuation, like a joke in a bar. But the children didn’t laugh because they didn’t understand.
That would be the first lesson. She settled into the task.
Claude had two figures in his pocket that first day in school, and knew what to do with them, grapple them in his mittens and place them as though climbing the structures around him; they were utterly dwarfed. The placing of the figures in his pocket was long gone, but the memory of how to play with them remained, like he mysteriously already knew how to eat his lunch mysteriously present in his lunch box. He travelled upon the sheer wall of his world-space with the two figures, one was a man one a woman, one would help the other at the appearance of awkward angles, a hand passed down. He thought of the little figures among the landscape and wondered about the vast surface. He watched a girl in a maroon cardigan eating something from a small yellow packet, he absently allowed his figures to traverse higher the wall as he looked at her. He wondered what she was eating. The various possibilities had not yet occurred to him, he who still saw a bowl and called it “peanut”, and a tray “dinner”.
If she ever saw him it was with the pointed curiosity partnered to a smile typical of many little girls. He would not be remembered there. She would remember what she et maybe. And the clothes she was wearing. Girls growing up like a transformation. Only he would be left to recall all the various ways she had transformed, as though unquestioning the future, as though it would happen anyway.
“How can we know if someone likes us?” went one question from a little boy called Julian.
“Well there are many ways,” said the teacher. “For example, if they ask to spend time with you.”
“But they might be lonely.”
“True,” said the teacher, impressed. “Loneliness certainly negates the evidence that suggests they were being friendly. It is up to you to decide whether this person is lonely and, if so, to discard them.”
She watched as the children diligently took down notes. She wrote on the blackboard in careful letters “loneliness”.
In geography class the teacher drew a series of lines radiating in all directions from a single point. Then she heavily scored straight through, a single thick horizontal line, intolerant of everything else. The children, sleepy in the mid-day, who had seen it all before, drew on their desks or surreptitiously bent their rulers, wondered who could like them, what the teachers did after school, picked their noses. A rumble passed through slowly, from far away it seemed. “Hear that?” Andrews said grinning to Solomon, “It’s like something building up, it’ll come and overtake. Let’s be diffident!” Later they would share some spiky crisps.
The teacher made a blushing Julian read from the textbook “Common World 101”. Slowly he made it through:
The method wasn’t exact, as someone once said, put many 0s in front of the 1, and then past the many 0s, to their left, there can be a 1, so 100000000010036 – and who could tell, who could travel that far? But presume that left 1 as an edge, no matter if it’s unreachable. And I say 1, when it’s just as plausible to say 2, with enough capacity to de-limit, any number could do. And any number beyond (to the left), any number of them.
Main home point for some.
Solomon had twisted his ankle in the middle of the play seat set. He whimpered and said all the bad words he knew. The pain was like a foreign object rattling somewhere down there, it would set scanners off. He wobbled away to the play perimeter all the fun gone. A girl scooted past him.
Solomon, injured, felt there was something wrong, either with him or the world. The way things mussed themselves up, with his ankle throbbing, it didn’t seem sensible to imagine things nicely ahead. This made him angry at things where he was now. Pointless limp moods.
“Hello,” said Andrews, he was touring the perimeter, trying to stay off the floor by leaping from seat-arm to upside-down food tray or toy box, cushions worked too, so he had several strapped to his back – it was cheating, almost. “Help me out here,” said Andrews, “move that box a bit.” Solomon did as he was told, grudgingly, slowly, and watched Andrews, thin and tidy in his buttoned down shirt and cardigan with precise turned-back sleeves, step on the box, then lean into a jump which sent him sailing into a nearby seat. He waved to Solomon, then was gone through the rows, to emerge on the other side of the play seat set.
The teacher of social studies faced the class of 10036, studied their little faces, the same as the little faces of 10016, 24, the classes further back, numbers that now meant nothing. He launched right in: “Look at it this way, try this on for size, the world is a tool owned by you, handled by you to do the job of your life, available to be shared at any time (this is forced, part of the deal), and it makes the time you move in or sit down in or stand up in or view through looking ahead for the jobs you are to do – how about that, people?” He stared into the children, into their multitude of sleepy-eyes, tried to will some interest in his wisdom. He reached with one hand up to touch the roof of the world, wishing to bring it down on their child-heads, wanting them to look at what he could do with ease, appeal to their sense of wonder, his pride.
He remembered a thing he’d imagined his mommy telling him, it kept him up at night, did she tell it to keep him up at night, learning to weather the inconsolable: “There are blank spots in the world, they look like they’ve been tidied up. Like: ‘Tidy up your toys!’ your mommies yelled. Seats may still be there, maybe one upright seat, others topsy-turvy in a pile to one side. But no people, none of you and me. Because everything that lived and worked in that particular spot was there when a gauge read a limit or a nasty switch was hastily flicked or a rumour had started far away and got too much and a wall of the world actually started moving like a block and in the overheads things like cutlery began to move out. …” He dimmed the lights, he rattled his desk, he let his pens slowly roll to the edge and fall, clatter to the floor one at a time. “In the middle middle,” he said, “in the dark dark …” and he continued while thinking: Teaching is ways blended from the past, how the teacher came to be. What I am doing is a sort of blend – the piece of a life added in to classroom procedure – charms added up.… O be careful what you wish for, class of 10036, peace, quiet, and then look what happens, look what’s going to happen!
Someone was interested in building a hutch out of old blankets and three shattered seats, what was wanted was a place that was dark and small, not so much for hiding as for resting in. And if everything from those times had been remembered, then there could be mentioned the following other reasons: – to sit still and perfect away from most of the world, while considering the first inclinations to make love – to imagine vast terror loose in the world, with a smile: chopping zones, acid bidets, blankets, obligations to parents, joblessness, the approach of a firm moving wall, the sudden zip-cut of a section wracked with perpetual shaking (this zip-cut was not possible, a section could not vanish, unless there was an instantaneous movement of the bordering sections, so that they would click together, and no one outside the fated spot could know, it wouldn’t work any other way – and who had heard of movement so quick there is no possibility of speed? that’s not movement, that’s a manifestation) – the virtue of ends to all the world – as had been learnt in class, inside a hutch was a good place for a Life-Form Search, scouring the tiniest bits and pieces of the world for signs of little life-forms, any indication, of legs, mouths, sprouting hair, was enough. Nothing, as yet.
Alan sat inside the hutch, thinking, thinking, thinking, until a girl peeped her head in. —Oy, he said, he tried to shoo her off. She poked her tongue out, she’d learnt this friendly annoying sign just seven playtimes ago, half by instinct, accident, half by the slightest half-sign of it as a tradition, like it had been seen in the world already, at an edge, culture.
The start of each day was about assembling in a place where one would eventually expect to be living, there was a queue to follow, practice entering a queue, dispelling of a queue that had lasted long through time, from that to how to find a place to sit down, storing personal articles or leaving them behind as was appropriate. Things became natural very quickly. Until it was over, the place where it had happened closed down, and different parameters to a life sent back, from the place rumoured to be a limit, and was where laws were made.
Gestures of Minimums carefully written on the blackboard to be copied. There would be a test!
- when stepping ahead, clasp hands behind back
- when skipping behind, cross arms before chest
- prefer the circle
- one should want to be a balm on many wounds
- share lots of water, string
- put hand down on reasonably flat surface when putting on light
- ensure demand equals a value, like what is behind
- when about to be loud, be quiet!
Julian’s employment was in a store far far back now, that was not so much a store and more a storage depot, with take-away facilities. They were there because people needed things, and told others: —I fancy some tube bananas, someone would say, and their neighbour would tell them: —I know of a place, and the transmission of an order would be arranged. Julian would wait sleepy and a little bored in his space a blanket over his knees, until the order came through. Always a hand would tug at his ear lobe, and pull him close, and he would be told what to do and how. When he managed to slip off to sleep he would see piles of trays in his dream, watch them fall as he jolted awake. When he was told what to do he felt so adult. And hot drinks in the morning or whatever time it was, time he did his duties.
He stepped through the way and remembered many early moments, all in a quick bundle, and looked up and he was in a start zone.
The start zone, something he had never come across before. He noted the nearest number: 4096. Not 1. Are the divisions of the world so arbitrary? Was the smell a little odd? No food evident. To all intents an entrance, someone had made an effort and cleaned the first six rows. After this the usual tatty bits of old enclave, had left behind a saucer, an old yellow spoon, a bundle of old underwear. At the furthest seen point ahead, a blue orb winked on and off.
The more he had moved on, and the massive invisible product of his tray had added up, he thought he would feel more and more at one with the number-prescribed images of commerce, the exchange, hand to hand, pocket from pocket, resting on his tray, benign, urging him on. But it didn’t seem to work like that.
Some parts of the world were always humming, spots for invisible traffic, or where the unaccountably vanished lived. A lone seat or two among lost space; there was a feeling of tidiness, that this was all carefully arranged, sparse, very few obstacles, pleasant approach for a possible trade, in pillows. We are all welcome in these trades, thought Julian, we are all – he gripped his tray, he hardly wanted to let it go. He headed for the blue light.
Who will bear the authoritative weight of transactions implied as his responsibility only as the passage is a temporary interval, a long and travelling exchange between hands?
Who moves through the transactions, ensures the viability of the objects continuing, from hand to tray, tray to hand?
Who keeps the price like it can be got but out of reach, is a slippy thing, is like being good/bad at a school game? It’s frightening! It’s exciting!
The blue light came from the pillow shop and it seemed to make things clearer, like they were in a stasis, thought Julian. Things could be more ascertained in it.
Who will bear the authoritative wisp for his mild attempt at merely a thought of an insurrection? 336G?
The Pillow Shop Man patted Julian’s head, its contours, all over. Julian felt under command, a soft and old and sensible authority. It knew what was best. It knew how not to be silly.
He was recommended a small pillow, the smallest there is while still feasible as a functioning pillow, for the size of his head. Without any further thought he handed over the warming milk, the open-topped coffee-juice (now with fitted gauze). The Pillow Shop Man looked them over, smiling, holding up the packaging to read the labels. He nodded, and placed Julian’s pillow on the tray, next to the half-tube of bananas. He vanished into the blue interior of his shop, the transaction complete. Julian felt like he’d learnt something. Like getting older as he’d always thought of it, the more and more ready understanding of certain ways of the world. It’s how people make their mark, fare well with authority, be gain-full.
He still had the tray, and wiped it lightly before placing it at his feet. And at his head, as he lay down, for his head, the pillow. It was a gentle sort of hardness, maybe hard-won, maybe another sort of thing after another sort of job. His view from the pillow: a tiny-vanishing speck of blue (on the yellow-stained endless carapace of the world-wall) that allowed him to believe in somewhere past the constant surface. There’s a noise coming, in the churning beneath the pillow, somewhere in the world-floor, approaching to somewhere it stops short, or world or noise surrenders. It’s a kind of travel in itself, surrender like air sucked out by proximal explosives.
He imagined a perfect, forever, clockwork-rhythmic cough – with a hint of acceptance, gladness of it, he imagined he would be glad of such a thing, because it meant a length so lengthy but divided as intervals he imagined as compartments, mythic rooms.
The dust would do it. Clockwork lodging in the future throats, lauded man, in the future, would eat less, and, therefore … is done in by its ancestry, too lengthy, too lengthy by half.
At the edge of falling asleep there is a wall, and in that wall there is a middle, and in that middle there is a middle muddled up, that is sleep, a stream one comes to, infinite sleep in a finite head. Rest what one considers the unlikelihood of the continuities of life, rest the head, sleep easy = a pillow.
Dark cone at end of it, here the lights are yellow points in a green glow. Banks of shining modules line the immediate walls. Beyond, there is the first narrowing in the world, a sudden round of curvature that looks like coming to a point (to what would be), to what would be an ending, something to delimit everything behind and create partial order at last (create the form at long last, what came “before”).
Along the limits of the narrowing cone, busy men and women, tapping at their machines, passing papers back and forth, and often mumbling together in little debates about their world and its future. Someone was hungry and wondered aloud about it, someone had dreamt of a beginning and felt sore about it, someone was tired but could not possibly fall asleep, muttering in the darkness:
“This is an up-scale meta-physical joint, if you hear something, it may well be what you think it is, it may well be not, if you think it is a hundred things, it may well be one.”
“It is long since walking got me anywhere – I don’t feel safe now back there – I am going to leave, I can’t go up those shops anymore – I’ve got to move somewhere else.”
Precise clicks of keys and buttons. Papers shuffled like dry skin being scratched. Thing scrapes against thing somewhere further ahead.
“What ruins the work is a reward other than work, what I like about money is that it is meaningless.”
“Press another button, one will do what the other won’t, above my head I shall flick a switch, we can call that a button too, one makes a rocking, another steadies the rocking, one wooshes, one calms.”
“Memory space, an array of zig-zags, between one point and its half (back) and hence multiple (ahead) living space, memorial one.
“between the ‘data’ and the ‘device’ –
“between the ‘device’ and the ‘function’ –
—If the world had a slot, where would it go? —Above and below so as to hem thus horizontal. —Only one slot. —Then around, like a socket.
Tapping into a haze, transports oneself. Merely a pastiche of movement is movement, the real thing is what moves. Feet become no longer living. Transport, transport, I am a thinking of means of continued thought. A person wants to it. I permit. I am likely to find a house, a home, it in bed, it in a bedroom, it in a table, it is a kind of way.
May my light at my seams become a milk.
I is fundamentals of feed.
I is long linger life.
I is time arced beyond and back again.
I is fond of you
(dark, cone, at sudden round, in near, end, half-lit, in a glow come to, school night, bed made, wthr, rd, beyond the dark, cone, admin, enmity, love (nr wing world plane) nd st nrr i th wrld – words, obey – term time, mark ts ofday/dayof – bedtimd)
tender yet people
Listen to this – It’s the latest figures – It’s trade people – Here we go again, I know I know, we are in the mood for dips, but isn’t it like it’s all meshed up now, fused together, it’s the future already, it is copping past and future, I call first dibs!
We startle with previously unconsidered loops – Get yourself out of this one, we say, it’s sport – Well there was, like, time, a space – A beginning as memory – Odds and ends – Can’t meet again people!
We are an event, have unending roots and a gown of self – The point is it’s a world, a picture of bodies already formed, bargain! Towards breathless – In the weather – Outside the world – In two pieces in many pieces.
Clear the morning phlegm – There is a film around breathing apparatus – For emergencies – Like if I be emergent and change the ways of air and man, people!
Be the no man grace to world’s end just beginning to be, the not of you, people! Here in the morning film of phlegm, awaked!
… forsook everything for some roomy surface. Somewhere I am partnered from. Pleat in world, abundance spread forth, hear my journey, I am arrivals.
… no means anymore to try on a new job, no time of the day left, a bit, more, later, will one do the gracious turn of polar transcendence, to get out of, therefore.
—Somewhere a sky?
Echoing in many ways, back and forth, from half then half back again.
“Why, we’ve blocked all exits. No one’s getting out. It’s a solution of sorts. None other occur.”
Claude: spoke to Madeleine only two times. He said: —How are you doing? and: —Sorry – because he had stepped on her toes one time when a rumble passed through, it caught him unawares. That was enough, he thought, of that. He stayed where he was and let Madeleine pass out of sight. He remembered the night as it reached a crimson when she vanished.
Solomon: became as slow as his size had always suggested and snuck away to a corner next to an abandoned toilet. He maintained a fixed watch outward from the corner where toilet cabinet met the wall of the world’s surface, and narrated the view to himself each day: —As sure as the interface, I seen the broad space grow a little green, and 16 people have queued and slowly passed ahead (the left) and when the night-time comes from behind (the right) (the same where the day comes) (and it goes to ahead) a little left luggage, and in the night 1 comes to pass through, where this place is going, actually going, seeing, an actual dark experience, I wouldn’t mind – World move to pity-less square spot – Who goes where? – Until when within doesn’t exist, well.
Andrews: moved on at least 1600. Had he gone 300 more, and had he had the funds, he would have entered anew, and found a new friend.
Madeleine: moved on and on, and read more and more, until all that was left to be done was to read everything through a second time, and by the end of it she might have found herself close to a sleep that promised an endless set of new stories, that was what she wanted, the only way-out, as she closed her eyes.
Julian: eventually made it home. He retreated under his blankets there and fell fast asleep. He dreamt of a vivid space where a supper was being laid on a table. A body leaned over him, he heard the words to wake him up.