John Webster sent me a postcard, he's on holiday in Paris: Velasquez, The Rokeby Venus. Quel cul qu'elle a!
'Back soon, hope you found something useful on Schlieman. He sent us a cryptic card from Tokyo. Zen Garden Kyoto, under snow. "Fortune's a right whore! To those who report I was a long time in finishing this tragedy I confess I do not write with a goose-quill wing'd with two feathers!" Any idea who wrote it? Anyway, the bugger seems to be still alive, after all (what?) playing games as usual, the old sod. I'll try to email when I'm back if Sister T assures me it's safe. Keep your eyes open, the net might be closing in.' The quote was beyond me, his warning certainly not the reassurance I needed.
MS in Tokyo or Kyoto? Does it matter where? Not one jot. At what domain is he residing is the only true question to which I might prefer an answer. Reading between the lines more and more, I have come to a new conclusion. Somewhat obvious I have now decided. He was in Japan around 1999, and fell in love with a girl called Yoko working for MI5 following up the Sellafield scams, both of them chasing the mole. On the run. Go go go, said the bird ... Fatally ill, he has now gone back to Yoko and to the ideal place to die. She is at his side, just like the girl with Kawabata when he died. At his own hand.
So what now is Webster's game? Has he read too many Crookshank novels and naively believes what MS has told him? As for myself, there's little point in staying here except to compile this narrative for Webster as I spend his money, and wile away my time ... not in the forests of the ancient hills, but in the jungle of the mind. My dreams get more and more sinister, I refrain from recording them. I used to believe that solitude is an effective enema of the soul, the countryside an ideal de-toxicant of the body. Far from the sirens of the mean city streets, their cries falling on deaf ears, should I not be feeling uplifted by now?
Alas no. All day I've been recalling images MS has re-minded me of, such as the opening sequence of Bergman's Seventh Seal, the camera slowly panning across the windless mirror-surfaced grey sea, the interface of horizon indistinct as a shark's smile, two vast grey diaphanous membranes the size of the aurora melting in the eye, in the foreground the white sand, the chess board balanced on a black rock, a man in a black cloak and hood. Today it's me playing a five dimensional aerial chess with death my virtual opponent, knowing he will win (how not, only he knows the new rules of the game) and drag me into cosmicgraveyard.com, impotent to resist his Faustian gravitas. Lucky I can't play the Japanese game of GO, rumoured to have twenty eight dimensions if you play it right.
What domain was it to be today? I tried my next move with a sense of aplomb forged by recent leads, eager for proof of further chivalrous continuity. MS should next use the nohzone domain name with a new sub-folder name; if not one already used, new texts added. I tried accessing one previous site, astonished to find it empty, all the previous texts erased. Why? Sent somewhere else? I worked for some time with the nohzone/matsukaze juxtaposition, adding other words from past usage, but got nowhere.
I hit google and searched for a Kawabata Centenary Conference, found several results but none in English, so went for Kawabata date of birth. Why had I not done the obvious? He was born in 1899, so the Centenary must have been in 1999. I'd not noticed any date on the invitation brochure MS had printed in his texts. Had he erased it on purpose? Why, if it was so easy to find?
I spent more time chasing Kawabata on the net but soon became dizzy, word-blind in the increasing clouds of diffuse obscurely translated texts buzzing like swarms of midges, my ego drifting on the techno thermals of the web, each moment of poise on the turn of the gyres leading to another word blast and millions of others each more intriguing, or less, crying for attention: Kawabata Needs You! The covert inner truth you seek always just out of sight, however quickly you turn your head, as in a migraine attack, the left and right sides of the brain out of sync (research suggests). Crushed, drained, I felt like one of those albatrosses I'd seen when I was looking up the maps of its extraordinary migratory flights, photographs of pathetic feathered bodies with wings tangled, mangled, half-eaten by fish and other prey, murdered by rampant human greed in trawler's nets, this fascinating species on the brink of obliteration ... much talk of their extinction on the net, but no action in the fishing nets ... the subject of their demise already become facile, fashionable, bland: easy to appear outraged, toes warmed in front of your peat fire, burning lichen covered logs smelling of panther's on heat (as Maria once said) ... so what, a few birds known mostly from the celebrity appearance of the country's finest poet, albeit inadvertent heroin addict ... why worry about them, seriously, when we too are at the crossroads, the whole human race soon to be crucified on the cusp of man-made chaos? Nature's own chaos being enough to contend with at the best of times.
Futile trawling of the net, fed up with myself knowing I was not the least stirred by this K guy, per se, exposing myself to his legacy only because of his apparent significance to Michael, I was getting angry again. 26,715 references to the Albatross! Found in 3.164 seconds. It's finally unravelling, the net closing in on my mind, my curiosity ebbing away. The Conference being some time ago, MS had written this stuff since, after he'd fallen in love with a girl there, dolljunkie that he is. So bloody what? What was this to do with terrorism?
So, alone in this increasingly depleted landscape, I was now faced with a website once full of texts, emptied overnight. A dream erased by the light of day? Who had done it, if not MI5? Keep your eyes open Webster said. Yeah! Avoid dreams! Obviously they must now know I am accessing the sites, there must be software revealing the electronic signature, the identity of a trawler into a site, even tho I'm using a wireless connection not phone line and my chip is devoid of an integrated code number. I'd made sure of that. BUT ... who knows what they can do, always years ahead of the pubic domain.
Exasperated, somewhat inebriated, compelled by a new hunch I returned to the newly emptied site I'd visited a few hours before. And found it occupied! But not with the previous texts. Checkmate?
In the website, shimmering with colour, was a diagram resembling a map, not of a terrain but a huge fan-shaped mutating model of an extended involute of 'ideas'. Superimposed over a huge shower of milky white dots, probably a digitalised photograph by the hubble telescope of a galaxy or photograph from space of a hurricane crossing the bay of Mexico, the lustrous shape lifting up and out of a luminous indigo black background resembling a face, was the round face of a young girl (I'd recently downloaded the Renoir image of Les Parapluies from the National Gallery so maybe it was my turn to start seeing her everywhere) and on this canvas of embroidered light were tracings of multi-coloured lines radiating out from the centre, crossing over and through under each other like neurofibrils in a brain, links arriving finally at small blank spaces - pale opalescent blue, lozenge-shaped - in one, one only, a name, warning me that in each there would eventually be a name, sooner or later. At first glance (where else had one seen such an image?) it looked like a map of an imagined underground system in an unknown city, and I thought of Cairo, the poet's city, (no underground!) but then I thought of Alphaville! Nothing but underground? But the image was soon suggesting a slice through a brain, maimed lattices, each a domain of the unconscious, the whole image a revolving evolving sphere ... Yes, Alphaville, none other. MS, the charlatan, but wasn't I getting the hang of his thinking! His political memoirs? Was the message at the heart of all this a fictional take on the way we now fail to relate to those we love ... in a community that has no meaning but to cultivate competition and greed?
I was not to know as yet. I might never know, recalling that MS pointed out that in Japanese literature, the main theme in a work is always, deliberately, unstated. If you can't figure it out from the fragments, you won't understand it anyway! Was is the essential moral truth in the relation of the author to his text and that text to the reader of it? Not how can we tell the dancer from the dance, but the chancer from the chance encounter?
Can we truly read, with cool detachment, Goethe's Faust or his Elective Affinities, with no reference whatsoever to the truth in the way he loved his wife, abandoned his son? And for the last twenty years of life could not remember what he had written? Could not recognise the texts presented to him by the birdman Eckermann, insisting a text had emerged from his mind onto the page, via his quills? The best probably coming from the wing feathers of the albatross?
I clicked on the circle in the centre of the image ... a small delineated space, round like an eye, edges shaded as in an eye's iris, and a word appeared, predictably enough: nohzone.
In a flash I'd clicked on the word but screamed in rage when a box opened with the former all-too familiar words in elegant Krone font:
and death shall have no domain name
Back to square one? White or black? Cul de sac? Come full circle? Whatever the game, MS was winning. Determined not to be totally demolished I brewed up a piping hot chocolate, thinking of Maria, her favourite drink, and pondered what to do. Felt the itch of another hunch. I'd wait a couple of hours during which time I could watch a DVD on my laptop. What came to mind? What else! Cocteau's Orphée, arrived from Amazon in the morning. Well done lads!
Watched the film, slept a couple of hours. Dreamt I was writing haiku: Michael Schlieman slept, unaware he was sleeping, the sleep of the gods. Transgenic frog with ... human gene for heart disease ... lives only three months. Dreams and poetry don't sleep well with me in bed.
Wake up desolate. Scribbled on pad next to my bed. Time to go home.
At four in the morning, woke up again. Typed into the website again. Was I still dreaming? In a second lozenge linked by a purple line to the central eye, or I, the single word plucked from the former domain name: matsukaze. As before. But now an image on the map. Was this suggesting impending unity or disunity, further splitting?
Somewhat forlornly I clicked on it and was taken to the sub-site in which the previous chapters re-appeared, but with one more long collage of new texts: not yet downloaded. After making sure it was recorded on my desktop I relaxed and crashed out again.
Awoken by the dawn chorus a short time afterwards: I could hear a voice! "Finchy, what do you think? Today it's the Conference! Of birds. Shall we shop for food early or late?"
I'd give it one more day. Later printed the new texts.
Had I known it was a dream, I would not have awakened.
Kokinshu poem by Ono no Komachi.
As suggested in Wind in the Pines ...
You would know me, delve into me and tear out my ailing heart's secrets? To laugh or weep or rage? Then know my women!
Reminds me of that Edwardian postcard of Freud, a portrait of his bearded face (grey as yet, not blue), the features and contours of his face sculpted from the bodies of lithe voluptuous naked girls.
I am or was, all that I have loved; composed of those that have haunted me, created me from their physical and psychic wombs, goddesses, priestesses, ghosts, movie stars, gun-molls, witches ... you name them ... through my love and desire for them, my self-surrender, (always too soft at the edges when it came to the female of the species) those who have become ineradicable domains on the alchemical map of myself ... La Ronde ... the encircling three-dimensional caduceus of myself.
A final resting place. A hole in the earth promises unity at last. Here. Not here and there but here, HERE forever. A plot ... my plot ... of land. Plot number 118 which I recently bought.
I can feel it now, the crystal being focussed, manipulated against the light by her long fingers, the laser beam prepared for its searing flight across the galaxy, my entire mind soon to be wiped and launched into the fifth dimension. Has it all been in vain? To whom am I bequeathing these fictional genes, as I and my fictions dissolve into digitalised light? 96% of the universe's matter is unaccounted for. Names given to it so far, in the absence of any certain knowledge (as certain as our brains can ever hope to be or appear to be) have been 'dark matter' and 'dark energy'. They are said to "comprise" 96% of the unseen universe, these nano-entities only imagined by us so far, presumed to be there, as yet merely realms of the fields of the ... imagination ... swathes of billions and billions of minute diamonds only a few nano-millimetres in size ... domains not yet explored for want of truly knowing what the fuck we're really looking for. Something present or something absent; as in black holes? Domains where the wheeling systems darken and our benumbed conceiving soars ... a source for this dark energy so far suggested by those in the know (noh!) is an all-pervasive field dubbed as 'the quantum vacuum' ... a field saturated with short-lived particles that pop in and out of existence like snow flakes in a moonbeam ... endowing space with a field through which all kinds of new meanings might mingle and criss-cross, across which time has no single direction but many multiplicities and parallelisms of space time and matter explaining, in a single equation ... all at once ... One to the Power Infinity ... is it ONE or INFINITY? Everything we need to help us create the ONE truth that embodies all others ... I know it already! In a word ... "I" ... then, in the presence of its echo, it becomes ME ... the field I have named, put on record, m'Lud, as the R Field. Why such a name? Robert Temple of the superb "Sirius Mystery" calls it the Anubis Field. The difference between copse and coRpse ...
A map, then, a multidimensional Moirée pattern in which two identical (but flawed) spherical images (skins of an infinitely large onion (makes you cry at mere sight of it), impossible to perceive except from an infinite number of viewpoints) are lusciously copulating, 96%superimposing, this double presence seen where the nets scag each other. Where the faults occur, meaning is created which we seem to recognize, these scags are solitary websites defined and existing by virtue merely of a name ... staging posts where the night mail-coach, or night mail train (depending in which time dimension is the context of the text) can momentarily hesitate, deliver or fling out into a rope receptacle ... (like that on Carnforth railway station to collect the sack of mail, love letters and bills, from the night express train speeding south to London, horn blaring, puffing smoke like a dragon into a little eleven year-old boy's wide, wide-open, wide-eyed eyes ... and instilling pride in man's ingenuities ... the rope basket (reminding him later of a papyrus basket in which the daughter of Pharoah Akenaten's handmaidens might have found, not Moses, but Oedipus ) ... the shape of a womb ... minute by minute hour by hour ... hemp bags sewn by prisoners full of love letters ... (the bags not the prisoners) ... life being the acceptance of hesitation and losing one's animal fear of it ... no, wait, the essential instinct cultivated for hunting ... sniffing for the scent on the wind ... 'Of course it's Chanel number 5, she didn't do 666, now, did she Michael!' ... sniffing not merely the wind, friends ... she weaves this fabric of doublethink, mocking the mirage of unity, meandering copulating snake-lines annulling unity, unity only imagined because we have imagination, we need to be comforted by those illusions which momentarily protect us from horror, horror, horror, especially the horror of unity ... such an illusion as unity only needed at those times when we are threatened by dismemberment, self loss ... loneliness ...betrayal by her, the bitch ... cities he had been forced to occupy ... loneliness, merely a node of neurofibrils in the brain, the all-threatening Knot of Isis, under over across overlapping underlicking underminding, everything under everything else, the un-der-conscious ... each staging point on the night journey in life or in death a person loved, forgotten after being devoured (or devoured by), penetrated, enjoyed, engulfed, rendered translucent, abandoned, each one a moment of hesitation, someone who is about to leave who forces us to say, often against out better judgement: 'No, Wait!' ... each person the promise of the defeat of death ... exchanging genes, the necessary psychic game-piece (more snakes and ladders than GO or chess or Monopoly - he always chose the little wooden steam-train as evidence of his location as he edged across the board) in the multi-dimensional convolution/involution that becomes the/an illusion of a/the Self ... the journey to self realization and beyond, to the real goal ... the start of the journey, the extreme point of departure ... ... and ensuing self loss into HER ... I am Maria, am I? I am Maria ... loneliness, the abject loneliness that has always stalked me was a state of knowing that there was no-one who would understand this simple plea for understanding ... a listener ... someone at the end of the line even if I dial the wrong number ... 'I don't know you but doesn't matter! Let's be notlonely, notbored together!'
How then to become a man, this victim of the sphinx? Learn to unravel her riddle? 'My knight takes your queen!'
She said: I was walking towards the cemetery with the papers in my hand, to give to him. He had asked for a brief précis of the plot of the Noh play to be staged in the next few days. I knew he was following me and people would wonder why we were meeting secretly. I had written for him the following description:
Matsukaze: Wind in the Pines
The play is probably the finest that Zeami, the greatest master of the Noh, ever wrote. And certainly an influence on your poet Yeats!
Two sisters: Autumn Rain, Pining Wind. They are salt-makers living on the ocean beach at Suma. Such girls were considered little more than prostitutes by visitors from the city. In the far past Prince Genji had come to Suma after being banished from Miyako, fallen in love with a diving girl, and later, from far away, sent her a famous poem. "I will return ... "
In the play a wandering monk arrives at a shrine devoted to the memory of the two sisters, and is surprised to meet two modern-day saltmakers, girls who dive all day into the sea to pick sea-weed with which they brew the brine, distil the salt. He persuades them to let him stay the night in the hut where the two girls must sleep. In the night, in the hut on the beach they recite the story of Autumn Rain and Pining Wind.
They were once visited and loved, both of them simultaneously, by the poet Yukihira; unable to decide which one to love, he loved them both at once and they loved him, the three of them happy together. When he left to continue his wanderings they were desolate, mourning him and pining for him, clinging to the image of their lost love, unable ever to forget him. One day, Pining Wind is dancing wildly, and gazing at a solitary pine tree imagines she is not seeing the tree but is seeing Yukihira, returned to her as he had promised he would return; but her sister knows she has finally gone mad. It is a tree, not a man. Pining Wind dresses in Yukihira's cloak and hat which he had left behind for them to keep in memory of him ... as if she is in shamanic trance, has become her lover, become him ... the pine tree. Her sister has to shout at her to break her out of her trance.
The love of Pining Wind was described as being soft and enduring, plangent with painful longing; the love of Autumn Rain was as the autumn rain that falls hard and then gently in fits and starts, her name evoking the cold rains of late autumn.
In the end the apparition of their lover of long ago, Yukihira, disappears and they are left clinging again, only to memories. His cloak and hat. The wandering monk suddenly realizes the two girls are the ghosts of the two original sisters, doomed forever to wander on the earth, to haunt the shrine; but he is unable, despite his prayers, to free them from their eternal yearning and frustrated desire for their lover.
The story of Genji's stay at Suma and his writing his love poems there and of Yukihira also at Suma writing his poem, are intertextually inseparable. Both are in love with two inseparable girls.
The snow had drifted along one side of the walled garden, the left side, until reaching the height of the walls it obliterated sight of the tombstones. The girl from the train, wearing a warm black coat that reached the ground and was adorned with a sable fur collar, was carrying an array of blue-white water lilies wrapped in ribbed rice paper of a natural unbleached colour, the texture reminding him of one of Hamada's late-period pots glazed in Osaka. And where snowflakes had fallen onto the thick paper it was now transparent, its likeness to skin almost complete except for an unexpected flaw: the flowers had first been wrapped in newspapers and the newsprint lettering could now be seen through the wet paper, inevitably suggesting to Michael, a palimpsest ...
... and he was frustrated to know (it was the way with him) what the newspaper's words were describing: the floods in China which in the summer had drowned more than a million people and made twenty five million people homeless, the most destructive floods ever recorded in man's history? Or a new novel written by a young Tokyo schoolgirl, an erotic novel describing a poet who is in love with two sisters, both actresses who agree to enact a triangulated suicide pact, the book now all the rage in Tokyo especially as the authoress disappeared after selling the film Rights for a million dollars. Her disappearance under very suspicious circumstances had provoked widespread gossip that she had been abducted by the Chinese Mafia. Someone had written a play, now become a second film-script as a double to the first, about her disappearance. A bootleg CD had already been released of a Kabuki version of the story (of her novel) to be followed by a Bunraki Doll Theatre production set in Osaka during the American army occupation after the second world war. An internet site for the novel and its spawned offspring, suicideormurder.co.jp was receiving half a million hits per day.
Michael was keeping a respectful distance he didn't want the girl to know he was following her. She would never believe it was by chance he'd seen her leaving the old house when he was on his way to the secondhand bookshop that sold English language books. Near the lake.
The girl seemed to have no feet. Had the ground been completely frozen, it was still the flaky texture of porridge, he would have thought she was skating along the ice, not needing to move her feet backwards and forwards. Had she been a piece on a chessboard she would have been the bishop. The black bishop. He'd seen a ballet once, performed on a huge skating-rink in London, a year or so after his father had died, his mother taking him from Carnforth on the night train as a special treat to distract him from the loss, heal his grief, the ballet entitled Checkmate. The black and white squares were projected from above as squares of blue and white light onto the ice, making it look like a glacier he thought ... the story of a tragic love affair between two of the pieces ... at the time he'd just read the last chapter of the bible and he thought it would be something like this ballet on the ice checker-board, in heaven; according to John and his weird visions ... cool man!
As the girl never looked back, Michael was able to reach the cemetery without her seeing him. She unwrapped the flowers and put the unwanted wrapping paper into a tall black plastic waste-paper bin, after which she walked through the heavily wafted snow towards deeper sections of drift piled against a perimeter wall, next to which Michael noticed a newly dug grave, a mound of earth next to it partially covered with snow. A small wooden peg lay next to it on which was the number 118. In English!
The girl placed the flowers in a tall ceramic pot wedged into a round hole in a square flat stone. Kneeling down in the snow she touched the stone with her lips, but overcome with sorrow she fell, spread-eagled onto the stone and sobbing so loudly Michael could hear the sound resonating in the stone, and, more loudly, reflected back from the snow-flecked bark on the nearby trees encircling them both.
Two double rows of maple trees, leaves bright crimson, cut and cloistered the cemetery neatly in half. Michael edged along behind the trees towards the waste bin, making sure he couldn't be seen (not to be mistaken for a homeless starving beachcomber dredged up from the detritus on the lake shore) as he retrieved the discarded newspapers, the paper pages glued together by melted snow. It was unsettling, reading words projected on such a diaphanous membrane ... an article about the local floods.
Lake Coniston was twenty five feet above its normal levels. Part of the town had been evacuated. Most of the houses along the border of the lake were inundated to the first floor bedroom levels. A wall in the crypt of the church had fallen revealing a vast underground catacomb, a cavern hewn out of solid rock, crammed full of skeletons from the era of the plague ... bones now floating up through the church and out into the cemetery. Many skulls were found with neat round holes, clues to ritual sacrifice. An academic from Cambridge, Dr. Michael Webber, declared this form of skull trepanation allowed the soul to float up and out of the body at the moment of death, common practice in societies in which shamanistic traditions remained central. Perhaps they were members of a Swedenborgian cult, dating the bodies to a later time. Locals were nevertheless talking of the Second Coming ...
The girl stayed in the cemetery even as the snow became so heavy that Michael decided he must return to the hotel.
Reluctant to join the academic crowd he was sitting on a large stone in a small garden set to one side of the hotel, a small Zen garden. He unfolded the wet newspaper, but was only able to read some of the pages not stuck to the rice paper. He was eager to find the date of the newspaper, it would help him to place himself back into time: when he saw a headline:
French Industrialist murdered: his daughter, Yoko,
a young Japanese eco-terrorist, arrested at Kendal Station
trying to board the night train to London.
'Hello Doctor Schlieman, it's Miyako!'
He turned, flustered, embarrassed. He was sitting on a stone in the hotel's Zen garden. His trilby had fallen in the snow, his head now soaking wet from snow melting on the pine tree branches above him ... in his hands the conference paper about the Tanizaki book; In Praise of Shadows. He had followed the girl out of the hotel and into the garden but she had disappeared in the fog of falling snow. He had not wanted to scare her by following too close, she was carrying flowers, bright crimson, Japanese flowers he had seen painted on silk on a screen by Korin. A copy of it in the dining room in the hotel.
'You must be freezing, come inside now, we don't want to send you to England in a cedar wood box as a corpse! We came here to celebrate the Kawabata's centenary, his death not yours! People at Reception say you're staying a few days longer. I thought we had said goodbye, forever!'
'Did they say that? Very indiscreet to reveal my personal plans!' He was feeling resentful at being caught out: his intention to stay on in Japan. Did Miyako know he had been following the girl from the train to the cemetery?
'Yes, imagine if you were MI6 or something! But it's their job to know everything, surely?'
'Perhaps, not quite everything, but certainly not to reveal it.' He had stood up while talking, shaken the snow off his coat. She was looking at him coolly, not his lover now but a condescending student.
'Yes, yes, but come inside before you freeze to death. I almost think you would like that!'
Reaching the warmth of the hotel lobby Michael felt foolish, but happy to see they were alone, no sign of other delegates. They were probably visiting the local hot baths, there had been much ribald talk of it. 'All of us naked, eh, Schlieman! No shadows in such a place! A good time to measure the measureless in man!' He hoped Schwarz and the others had all been ritually murdered for being heathens, as in the good old days. Trepanned to a soul ...
'Listen, go up and have a bath. I am free later on for a short while. Shall I come up?'
'Of course ... a bit later. Any time you want! Later.'
Later. At his desk writing. She knocked. He opened the door.
Ignoring him as if he was the hotel porter and she a Heian princess or Kyoto courtesan she wafted into the room and went straight to the window where she stopped, her back to him, seeming to gaze at the snowscene outside. Silence for several minutes. Suddenly she let her shoulders fall, her muscles no longer tense from the forced exertion of keeping her head high to sustain the poise of aloofness. She tapped the window with a finger as if to dislodge the fragile layers of gossamer snow collecting in the corners outside, like delicate webs created by white translucent spiders (admirers of 'One‑Corner Ma Yuan' the Chinese painter, for whom the detail in every one of his pictures was always minutely crammed into a tiny corner). 'Look, spiders, I like spiders, look at their gorgeous webs, a white spume like frosted dew on the invisible wavefields that bind us to ourselves, ravenous little carnivores scuttling across imaginary fibres of reflected light blissfully unaware of our pretensions trapped in lattices of mental time and space ... of course, in truth they're just hungry and searching for edible victims like those who cleverly developed wings and flight only to become ambushed, flying too quickly to see the cobweb on which their sentences of death were spelt. Shit! I'm drunk again!'
Michael was feeling fragile. In front of him his open notebook. On top of it a white paper napkin he'd placed there to hide the writing from her. When he'd first come in from the garden he must have flicked his hair and snow had fallen on it and melted. He could see barely intelligible words through the wet paper. One phrase in bold: 'All imagined for us in the gods' ghostly snow country of the mind' He had no recollection of writing it, perhaps a quote from the Tanizaki lecture he'd scribbled before seeing the girl leaving the hotel, sucked out towards her, to be with her, close to her, as if his time had come.
Miyako turned. 'The girl has told me you've been following her, in fact stalking her - her word - ever since you arrived. She saw you creeping around the wall of the cemetery. She was hidden behind a grave, but she knew you were looking for her. She accepts such things without blinking, her profession after all is about being on show, being seen. A sexual exhibitionist if ever there was one. But I came to repeat my offer, if you want her I can arrange it, but ... only with the three of us together, it would amuse her. She is on vacation - hors de commerce - so has agreed it will cost you nothing. She will dance for us and is available for anything. Anything you can imagine, any act of sexual theatre you are capable of imagining . She will see it as a challenge, she is proud of being a professional in her art. As you probably know the meaning of the word geisha is defined in the two ideograms that comprise the name; "a person" of "the arts'' '.
Michael swallowed hard. He started closing the notebook on the table together with the Japanese novels he'd bought in the local second-hand bookshop, still open on the low black‑lacquered table. At least he had tried, finally, to embrace the culture of his generous hosts. He switched off his laptop. He couldn't speak, the cursor of his mind moving erratically as if its mouse had leapt in fright off the edge of the table.
Plastic mouse falling
Babel of erased words in
waste basket icon
He was clicking frantically on his mind's left frontal lobe but it frivolously threw up a blue box on the screen: in it, in bold letters, a question. 'Why can't you answer?' Would he prefer to leave the conference with her image untarnished, safe in the sacred domains of fiction, a virtual image hovering like a hologram in the shadowy echo-chambers of his mind?
Miyako was grinning scornfully and he saw a hardness, a deep coldness in her that he'd not seen before. She seemed tired, her skin grey, her eyes slightly red at the corners. Maybe he was searching her face for something that wasn't there, but she contrived to smile politely as if bemused by his reserve, his naive inability to make a decision. 'I know it is our custom to leave the end of the novel floating in the air, so to speak, did not our much-cherished Herr Kawabata leave the final images of Snow Country as far into the domains of the wheeling systems of obscurity as possible, in the outer reaches of the River of Heaven, your aptly called Milky Way? Image for the divine madness infecting the milksop bloodstream of his protagonist Shimamura? Have you read the novel yet?' He shook his head. 'Good, you must be the only person here who hasn't read the wretched thing and for that I give you credit. But as I was saying, we detest tangible closure, it is our custom to end all real or fictional narratives with apparent inconsequence. An absence which doesn't speak volumes yet provokes volumes, loose ends deliberately left untied continuously reminding us of our faith in reincarnation. But I am a modern girl, I'm prepared to take a real boat to the real island of Sado, famous for its prison and where Zeami, our finest Noh play writer, was exiled; as I'm sure you know by now. Nevertheless, despite your lamentable unfamiliarity of our most precious textual and historical allusions and the essence of meaning in so much of our beloved poetry we will ignore the troubled waters of your emotional clinging and attachment to the senses. We will fly together to the River of Heaven. Sadoshima calling. In a final episode, as she dances and we take advantage of her submissive madness, I cannot promise that everything will be made clear but I do promise that you will emerge with your heart and soul at least partially purged.'
'Yes ... ' he hissed, 'I'm humbled by the way you see everything with such clarity, Miyako, spoken with such eloquence, so many cleverly cultivated allusions even if I don't recognize all of them, so many authoritative images floating in their own world ... all those diaries you wrote as a young girl, you said, books read in search of power, the wisdom knowledge brings of the sad and tragic living ways of dying men and women. If you can' feel for them, you can talk hypertext links and you seem to be sharing, seem to be concerned ... no sorry, that is too cynical ... I ... '
'Yes, like you, I am a slave, a slave of words. Words are getting us nowhere again! You will come to us, yes or no?'
'Okay, I'm ready for the final scene. Does it have a name?'
'Before Completion ... '
Of course! Was her proposal a macabre trap? He'd seen Rashomon too often; all was pure mind but out of what began? But if it was a trap, a political one probably, he was curious about it ... but the girl from the train, he would take any risk to un-mask her ... even dying, he felt it now as never before, what could he lose as everything became, not pure spirit after all, but pure theatre? Maybe this was right, a final act of surrender to the other, his sacrifice to the priestess, a willingness to fall into the trap, was, itself, the essential lesson of his experience here, here at the back of the beyond, revealed in true Zen fashion tangentially and indistinctly, illuminating the very nature of his self-delusion. He must learn to surrender. Stop saying 'No, Wait'. Yes, damn it, he was ready, prepared to be initiated in whatever uncanny ordeal the two girls had plotted for him. He nodded several times, then bowed thirteen or fourteen millimetres.
'Tonite then? There is no other way you can meet her, she doesn't speak English, normally she has nothing to do with foreigners. It is the half‑caste in her, she hates that part of herself which has haunted and polluted her all these years. But she is amused by the theatre, any theatre, all theatre, Kabuki, Noh, even some Western theatre, it's in her blood, sexual theatre especially. She was always the dancing girl as long as she can remember, even when she was a child she kept a cupboard full of her white and red dresses, folded neatly like flags. This time she will dance for me, for my sake. I couldn't tell you, before the old man died, but we have known each other for some time.'
'Why do you want it ... this way, like this?' he blurted out.
'I am different. Indifferent. We are different, she and I. We always loved the Noh theatre and as a child my father took me there time and time again and explained the plays to me. I was so young I thought the characters were all dolls, the way they strutted about and moved so unnaturally, their faces masked. When they told me the people were real I wept with rage, feeling I had been cheated, betrayed. It left its mark. Later I saw the Bunraku, the real puppet theatre out of which the Noh theatre evolved. I was so split! Love and hate. I was always haunted by our theatres, their threatening essence, pagan sexual roots. Why do this with her? For you? For fun! Why not? We have nothing to lose ... aren't we alive in the here and now, the psychotic present, to ask questions of others' and our own minds and bodies? I'm curious about my sexuality, curious to know its limits and go beyond them. And hers. Tanizaki was in love with Noh and Kabuki, taken there as a child by his mother. She was so classically beautiful her face was on posters all around the country advertising perfume. Everyone thought she was his sister, she was so young looking and as beautiful as a Shinto goddess. How could he survive such purging fire? Soseki, our most serious novelist, he acted in Noh plays. How can I resist the rare possibility of the enactment of a truly authentic theatre, which of course is always incestuous, to see you making love together on the stage, she and you, not only a fake, a truly fake Noh play re-written by us, but also, creating its real purpose, a reincarnated pagan dream. To initiate you into some of the extremes of our culture. She is a courtesan in the illustrious antique tradition, with royal approval of the court, it would be cheap to call her a mere prostitute. She is a perfectionist, not averse to anything erotic, and yet is utterly, delicately, supremely discreet. Subtle. Choosy. Takes her time. I've told her about your books, the critical ones and your trashy sleazy pulp novels - sorry, that's what I called them. She laughed, winced a bit, but is intrigued. She probably wonders how you will handle it, this not-so casual fascination we have in our culture for bondage and pain. Her speciality. The reluctance to detach sex from death ... '
'If you say so ... ' He didn't know what to say.
'In other words it will really turn me on. Isn't that a virtue devoutly to be wished? My right, my piece of silver, my own sleight of hand story?' She was staring at him icily. It dawned on him that she had won - a competition they had been competing in which he had not been generous enough to acknowledge. She had learnt much, filling up all the notebooks under her bed; her pillow books. He'd love to read one! If not all of them. This was her trip. Power. Why not? He would be a mere actor in her power trip, he'd go along with it to discover more about her, this ultra modern young Japanese girl, as well as about himself. And through this girl ... if the girl from the train also became real (a dancing girl is a dancing girl is a dancing girl), assuaging his morbid attachment to the ghost in her (a ghost is a ghost is a dream), if his clinging to her image was mere wishful thinking as were most dreams, if he became exorcised of that haunting, so much the better.
Exiled in a foreign country, arriving at a neglected shrine, had he merely thought of it and suddenly he was there? It was clearly an advantage to know the text of the play beforehand, be fore-armed ... he would read it before he visited them, he'd seen a book of translations on a table for guests .... he wondered if the pilgrim wanderer in the Noh plays ever died and went up to heaven; as a bodhisattva ... it seemed it was usually the girls who floated off ... as mere wraiths.
'Sado‑masochism is in fashion, didn't you say so in your book, saying it was the essence of Emily's sexuality, the sublimated eroticism expressed in her poems about dungeons, torture, murder? She was one of us, yes, it's in our blood. Do you write books as a way of avoiding the truth, as a hypocrite, or have you lived out the experiences, taken the risks? Do you talk as an author, with authority? Or a hack? A mere journalist ... jour-nal ...day by day ... a mere diary! News today, gone tomorrow?'
He resisted reminding her he was describing Emily and her poems and a novel called Wuthering Heights, not himself - it was expected of him, teacher at a university, to be a detached critic, he was not expected to take his research into the field, especially to fuck the prettiest of his students, however plangent with literary allusions they might be, floundering drunk in the sheets ... or, about to commit an act of eco-terrorism, a symbolic assassination he had barely dared to imagine ... the murder of the father. The patriarch.
'Tonite then ... ' she added, coolly.
'Yes, I'll be there ... ' He had often crossed such a bridge of wings in his dreams; caught between the two great atavistic impulses of mankind, the desire to fly and the fear of falling. 'Where?'
'In the old house, of course, the music teacher is away. I'm alone there now. I can make it nice and warm.'
'I'll bring some drink.'
'Whatever you want, there's plenty there. Come there after you've eaten at the hotel. Shall we say ... nine o-clock? We will be happy to entertain you, mere puppets in your hands. I'm sure Herr Docteur you will have an illuminating time in our magic theatre, our doll's house of shadows. I must warn you of one thing, though. You must be wanton with her ... she is as frigid as the setting moon, I am told. But maybe that is irrelevant, no? Isn't desire, like sadness and beauty, always in the beholder?' Quietly shutting the door behind her, she left.
He took out his notebook. The one he had kept virgin, holding back for his true work, the final whole truth, his worst fears, the darkest of his fetishistic dreams; that which should never be revealed, never written about. ('Wrong again Michael! That is the only book you should ever write, the one you dare not write!' Maria had destroyed him in her own sweet, quiet way). Surely, at last, this was the moment to start at the beginning?
Yes, but what on earth could he wear?
While dressing he remembered a conversation with Miyako, notes written in his diary: Kabuki/Ghosts:
'When did Kabuki start?' he asked.
'1603. It was called ''song-dance-art'', it started for a purpose you'd never guess. So many thousands of people had been killed in the terrible wars which lasted over two hundred years, that the survivors decided the swarms of migrating dead souls needed entertainment. So the Kabuki theatre was invented, a performance theatre created for the enjoyment of, and by, the dead.'
'Still, now, performed for the dead? Even the dancing girls?'
'Maybe, most people are technically dead anyway. But listen, in the beginning it was performance art, like some avant-guard theatre today, the audience were seen as part of the performance. But the dances and sex took over, so the project moved into the pleasure quarters like Shijogawara in Kyoto where Kabuki theatres were inside the brothels, every one had its stage, and all the performers were prostitutes for the audience to buy. Like Argentina's brothels near the ports and the boats bringing in the immigrants, where they invented Tango, danced in the streets by men but then by a whore and her client. You danced once with her, then asked her a second time, if she refused you were not her type. If she accepted a third time you had won her and could take her to a bedroom. I tango very well ... '
'I'm sure you do!'
'In Kabuki two prostitutes would often make love as a couple, one dressed as a man, Moronobu's Ukiyo-e prints show this. Then some male characters, Kabuki-mono they were called, were acted by beautiful young boys who were also available for sex until this was banned by the Shogun: after enjoying quite a few himself, of course. By this time all the souls of the dead who were watching - the early Ukiyo-e prints of Kabuki brothel scenes were always seen from the point of view of birds hovering above them - all the lost, unfulfilled souls were longing to come back down to earth to join in the orgiastic fucking!'
'And the Noh?'
'It evolved later, all about people carrying their ghosts around with them like back-packs. It's true subject is incest: and the bastard child of incest which is always named: Revenge. Don't we all have ghosts we bring into our sex games in bed? One day I might let you see mine, by choice or accident, don't you have ghosts which turn you on? Emily, wasn't she your avatar, your fetishistic ghost? How often did you call her down while you were writing Her Book? Did you enjoy fucking her? Gazing at her portrait on your table - your altar - in your bed, a muse in your muse-um? Ellis Bell ... the young boy, her name not to be revealed except in coded confessions, kept hidden in a secret chamber, the hall of records, the sacred locked lockwood box under the pillow; we lost girls and our pillow books. How useful are the dead! Gods, movies stars, writers ... those who left us diaries, memoirs, aids to remember or forget, those who reserved preserved served their secret selves for us, sacrificed their souls into a future tense for us, their psychically foretold children. Bed time stories Emily's sister called them ... the lost souls, the newly dead, the reluctant dead killed in wars ... and now, now, what of our millions of dead in the second world war? All those souls watching the modern dancing girls and their clients ... should we not be serving them with images ... spectacles by which they are entertained ... re-enter ... tained ... ... why not?'
'Yes, I suppose so. And your lover, your muse, you have one?' He knew his question was oblique, he didn't want to talk of death any longer. Now that he had finally committed himself to it.
She looked wistful. 'A man is dying. Early winter snow. Leaves fall under the snow's weight.' Silence.
'I must go. Look how pale I am. I must leave you before I start to resemble the ghost you want me to be, would like me to become. You sadist! I know too much, I've read too many of your inadvertent revelations to be caught in another of your murderous scenarios!'
Little had I suspected, that a few days later she would have led me to this! Compelled to obey her, to enact her play with the girl from the train, in the theatre of the Old House, now that the music teacher was absent.
As soon as he was asleep he dreamt of the girl on the train.
He was visiting a museum. In the basement, the lights had been turned off for the evening and in the total darkness he had fallen asleep and was now locked inside. Starting to panic he inched his way along the walls, hands on the numbingly cold stone, looking for a door, finding a door, but it was a false door from a 1st Dynasty temple in Saqqara. He heard shuffling like leaves rustling in the wind, the sound of an animal on the prowl, and hid behind a fluted stone pillar carved like a tree. In the feeble light from a narrow window he saw her, standing arm in arm with the old man, who was making notes in a black embossed-leather notebook, his hands shaking, pen dribbling ink obscenely. She seemed to beholding him from falling. The couple came so close to him in the virtual darkness but didn't seem to notice him, that he was read the two books in their hands. On the man's book-cover a title and sub-title: 'DESIRE: As the Leaf Falls, so Desire.' In the girl's hand: SHISHA no sho by Shinobu which he knew he knew was: The Book of the Dead.
Cut. The girl was now dressed in a long white dress, archaic style, classical, immodestly transparent, the skirt fluted but its edges torn and burnt as if she had walked through fire. She was taking photographs with an expensive camera, focussing on a series of tall girls on plinths, their bodies carved as columns, some as caryatids.
Suddenly she saw him and scowled fiercely with an icy hostile stare. She continued to click on her camera as if in a panic, recording images at random, of him, the statues, the glass boxes, the windows, her feet, too fast to have time to focus ... he noticed she was wearing nothing on her feet, one foot was cut and covered with newly lost blood. She moved quickly to escape him, but he pursued her into a second gallery filled with cabinets of ceramic relics, utensils and portraits, a space so densely filled with exhibits they both had to zig‑zag, the way a leaf falls from a tree, to avoid striking them. The man had disappeared and the girl was almost running but he kept up his determined pursuit until she was trapped in a small narrow room with a low arched roof and no windows, inside of which were two naked statues, a male figure and a young girl, head garlanded with flowers, each figure with a single stone leaf the colour of weathered chalcedony over the genitals.
The girl pirouetted suddenly and snapped a photograph inches away from his face, with flash ‑ as evidence. He threw out his arm at her and she screamed as he knocked the camera from her hand. As he watched the camera shatter on the slate floor, its fractured lens spilling out of its body, he noticed a door behind them both and pushed her through it roughly, into a room full of empty seats ... as a light flicked on, a beam flickering, an image appearing on a large screen, grainy, black and white. A cinema. The girl looked round, from side to side, as if to be sure they were alone. With one hand she started to unbutton her dress, with the other she seemed to caress herself through a slit in the side of the dress, pushing her hand where a pocket should have been. She was gazing blankly at him, barely hiding her contempt. Yes, he recalled now, he had paid the old man for her, a hundred pounds, cash. When her dress finally slipped down he pressed forward to take her, pushing her back, trying to hold her firm against the wall, but she was pulling him down and they both fell sideways into one of the crystal display cabinets in the museum—the plate glass top covering the sarcophagus splintering into fragments as they collapsed into it.
But he was now inside her, his hands clutching her bottom, the middle finger in his left hand pushing roughly towards her bottom, when he heard her whisper that she was frightened; he had paid to fuck her not kill her. 'No longer through the glass darkly, the glass is broken,' she said, limp in his arms, breasts covered in blood from the broken glass shards, her neck gushing blood ... he had not wanted her like this, nothing like this, he tried to kiss her on the lips to revive her but her mouth was tightly shut, her lips so small, so small, he had not suspected her lips would be so small, the skin on her cheeks the texture of mother of pearl. Broken glass was threatening his every movement, but he couldn't stop now—the film had started again and he couldn't take his eyes off it as he was moving, trying to keep control, inside her ... the film on the screen, it was her story. And he remembered it ... the scene coming next was the one in which she shoots the man coming through the door ... and he sees her fingers press the trigger, the flash of flame like the flash of her camera minutes before ... and he falls at her feet. She shoots him a second time, a third. 'To be sure!' she says. She is wearing a black leather catsuit. 'Let's go now!' So it was the man she had shot after all ... But there is an explosion followed by a cacophony of demented screams as the audience panic and start to fight and tear at each other, crushing each other in a rush to get to the doors beneath a huge flashing green EXIT sign ... but they are locked. There is no way out. There cinema is now on fire ... The girl takes his hand, pulls him up some dark winding stone stairs through a side door, stairs to the gallery from which people are flinging themselves on top of the people below to escape huge bent timbers falling on them from the collapsing ceiling. She gropes along the wall as if held against it by magnetism until she finds a window hidden behind a wooden shutter, which she smashes with her broken camera, calling out "let me in!"smashing the glass angrily, until she can slip through the space, still holding his hand, and he must follows her, but he cuts his free hand on the broken glass ... she goes first, climbing down a tangled wisteria plant clinging to the walls of the old building, once a silk-weavers house, but she slips and falls and crashes into the burning roof of the cinema foyer below her ... he falls next to her, she clutches him fiercely, pulls him so close he is quickly inside her again, maybe the scenes had been in the film, he seems still to be inside the cinema, having sex with her, but the cinema is on fire, yes, her can see flames curling up the walls, and he can't stop, trapped, he knows to escape he must imagine himself somewhere else, but he can't, he must imagine he is somewhere else ... near water ... near the lake, it is night, moonlight on the water ... she is lying on the wet grass in a torn dress, sobbing ... 'You nearly died you little fool!' he growls ... they are outside the building on a grassy knoll ... her torn dress in his hands is covered with blood, as are his hands, as he tries to cover her body, hide her nakedness, her shame, watching the cinema as the fire finally engulfs everything, the fire engine arriving too late, crowds of people jostling to get a better view ... the girl at his side, it is too dark to see her face. He was looking for a sign of the girl in the crowd. A sea of faces. 'Where is Yoko? Why didn't she escape? I warned her time and time again he would be the death of her!' He turned to answer her but she was already walking away, the rain glistening on the cobblestones on the hill, behind her dark silhouetted figure, diminishing slowly on the narrow road sloping down towards the lake ... and weeping, he went into the bookshop there, with the old crone smirking at him. 'Covered with blood?' she snapped. 'Who have you murdered this time?' He was just about to take out his gun and shoot the hell out of her when the owner of the shop came through from a back door, into the shop. It was the old man ... 'Where is the girl? Yoko?' he asked. The old man turned to the woman. She shook her head, without smiling. 'My daughter has gone back to Japan, where she belongs!' The man had put a book on the table and he grabbed it before running out of the shop, down the hill towards the lake. There was an empty café, with steel tables and chairs padlocked to rings embedded in concrete and covered with slate tiles. Only open during the summer.
He sat down at a table ... opened the book. On the end papers an Ex Libris label. An Eric Gill etching of two girls kissing, fondling each other erotically, their naked bodies entwined like branches of wisteria, and the name: Matthew Sutherland. He turned to the title page ... but it was blank.
And he awoke. His fingers searched for the feel of a body in the bed, but found nothing. An image lingered, grainy, distressed, from another time, in long shot. He was watching from behind a tree, not daring to see everything, needing to keep utterly still, invisible, but she was now lying half hidden, legs white, stretched out like two snakes, her dress torn ... and he was sure she was dead. He had his camera. Took pictures of her from many different angles ... a whole film, as evidence, as if the scene would only yield the truth of what had happened in the past when seen from many different viewpoints ... years later he would blow up the images in the school dark-room, the emulsion abused making the body look completely unreal, like an abandoned doll or dead bird, and he saw a tattoo on her stomach of two snakes ... that is what it seemed to be ... but she was moving, weeping, she managed to stand up, fumbling with her torn dress, trying to hide her nakedness ... and he called to her ... her name maybe. Or words, he'd forgotten what, probably something stupid as in a dream: 'Well done, Cutty Sark!' When she finally saw him hiding behind a tree, she turned her back on him and ran, rushing away along the winding path between the trees and rhododendron bushes. 'No, wait!' he called. But she ran on. Despite everything, the blood on the carpet of dead leaves, her face was so lovely he knew he would never forget it. Never. Whatever had happened to her had happened to him; all that remained, apart from memories and dreams, were the objects, never to be mere objects ... the camera, the negatives, the prints. Fragments of torn underclothing ...
In the copse, his copse, one spring, a sea of bluebells and morning glory, everything quite blue. Even the rain seemed blue ... her umbrella, crumpled, lying on the ground. He picked it up and took it back home with him, kept it hidden under his bed, next to the box of his negatives ... in which he also kept her knickers.
Space, again, what is it in most men's minds?
The lifeless form of the world without us,
a postulate of the geometrician,
with no more vitality of real existence to their feelings
than the square root of 2.
But, if Milton has been able to inform this empty theatre,
peopling it with Titanic shadows, forms that sat at the eldest counsels of the infant world, chaos and original night,—
To meet at noontide, Fear and trembling Hope,
Death the skeleton,
And Time the Shadow, —
so that, from being a thing to inscribe with diagrams,
it has become under his hands,
a vital agent on the human mind ...
Thomas de Quincey