23

 

 

With growing impatience I returned to the nohzone map, hoping to find more active names palpitating in the lozenge-shaped figures, hung  on the branches of the allusive Noh pine tree depicted there. But no more connections were made, no more active new names. I breezed back through the previous chapters, all named and numbered by me, toying with numerous new word-couplings and quotes but still nothing made a connection to anything new. Having discovered a website about Yeats's plays and intrigued by their titles I tried accessing a few of them, if only as an idle diversion; I was sure Michael Schlieman  had mentioned some of them: Collection of Beauties, League of Notions, What's in a Name, The Peacock Woman, Lady Who Lived in Herself Alone, In Herself Alone, The Shadow of the Devil. Odd names for Irish plays! I read some excerpts in scholarly papers posted on the net. Nothing by MS, and nothing obviously connected to any of his mss. His Memoriae Sacrae: fragments of his interminable epitaph on the virtual cemetery he was making of the web: finally to be collated in "www.and death shall have no domain name.com", presumably.

     In the afternoon another postcard from Webster: 'Got another postcard from MS. I think he really is at the end; looking forward to meeting up when I get back. Maybe I'll visit you. Need some fresh air. A new quote from the old sod: "I do glory yet that I can call this act my own ... for my part the torturing wheel ... I limb'd this night-piece and it was my best." Any idea where it's from?'

     I hadn't the foggiest idea. Nevertheless I tried night-piece.net with a few previous variations of the nohzone domain name without results. After an evening relaxing with music, Brahms' "Four Last Songs" and the "Requiem", lulled and mulled by Islay Malt (rather than that from Mull) and a sound night's sleep, I returned dizzily to my quest into the nohzone. Success! Words had appeared in a new lozenge: "the old house". I clicked on it and it opened to more of his texts.

 

*

Freud would say, take heed, beware, be wary of Heimliche ... The homely. He wasn't always wrong. The Old House. The House of Dreams ... childhood. The fear of incest ...

     The uninvited guest: let's call it plagiarism. As Shakespeare fingered two former plays about a Prince of Denmark, appropriating the coincidences in the two versions before adding imaginings sieved from the troubled waters of his own dreams, and thus he sires Hamlet. Something rotten in their entwined souls ...

     Characters in search of authors ... we who become guests at the wedding of our parents, watching the alchemical wedding they enact to conceive us in the bedlam of their night's domain. Waiting ... waiting for the dusk, the cusp: Miyako in the old house with Yoko. I spent the day reading (dipping into) the texts of the Noh play and the chapter apparently "relevant" (wrote revenant by mistake - a Freudian slip?) from Princess Murasaki's "The Tales of Genji". A mere 1086 pages long: the chapter entitled The Wind in the Pines ... "Unchanged it is when now we meet again. And do you not see changelessness in me? Your promise not to change was my companion. I added my sighs to the wind in the pines."

     Not really wiser,

     but admittedly intrigued.

     Read. Dread. Dream. Dead. Dad. 

     Maria! I am losing you ... you are losing me. You are letting me go ... and I will not return ...

 

The story of The Old House:

 

'See you later! Don't forget what I told you, Michael, you must be cruel to her. It's what she wants. For her the sexual encounter is more than cabaret, never anything less than the theatre of cruelty. Be forewarned. She is as frigid as the winter moon!'

     'Thank you for the warning, you think of everything!'

    

He was trying to think of everything. Things that have passed are passing or are to come. He wanted to move but it was too late, he had lost the use of his legs. A montage of images embellished with the wrong sound-track. He hoped to notice key-words ... find one single all-powerful word that linked the two sound-tracks to the particular pair of doubled images ... a single word in both (the only one identical in both) that subverted the linearity of the narrative ... trying to think of everything before she stooped, before she came down for him, his very own angel of death. Doctor Schlieman, have we met before? He was, of course, falling apart, deconstructed by time, congestive biological clock failure, his soul preparing to leave his body, but still clinging to it for all its unproven worth.

     As in a fugue the layered themes and harmonics, parallelisms mounting, notes in discordant 'unity' in the mind ... the Dissonance  String Quartet ... such angst, never to hear Mozart again!

     A word 'from' the past which was 'from' the future ... he needed it now ... he liked the wooden see-saw image because he had eroticised it, the two girls on a see-saw giggling, knowing he was watching them, pushing down with their naked feet, thrusting, bottoms down, up, up high and higher into embracing streams of air, petticoats in Pandemonium ... Pan'sdomain. The ones he always fell for, daughters of Pan. Holidays from home, from school, soon after his father died ... kneeling over him, prodding him as kids do, his body petrified as now, lying in the long grass, see-sawing over him, losing themselves but only to each other, enjoying something unspeakable with him ... at one remove ... petticoats white as the down on an Albatross chick's breast, red lace fringes as on the feathers of a pelican's breast after its self-wounding ... sisters gossiping, god's sibblings ... a recurring dream ... ''Dance for me little one! She of the short skirts, well done Cutty Sark! Skating on thin ice ... names they carved into the rough bark of a tree with his Swiss army knife. M loves M ... memories too embarrassing to mention, hardly the stuff of memoirs. Yet, here and now, they were demanding to be heard. Recognised. Cherished. Made sacred.  

     Holidays near the lake, Cumbria would be good for him, tough, make a man of him ... a girl in the woods, maybe she had invited him ... books enabled you to imagine the worst. All his life living a lie ... he had always been an enemy of the state, only in his trash novels had he told the truth. As Maria had pointed out, his whole life a search for the perfect heroine; the gun moll, blonde bomb shell, everything about to explode, chaos, anarchy, pandemonium ... fear of commitment, fear of failing to be loved in return ... the soul of tragedy. Betrayal. The death of the father leading to the murder of the father. 

    

*

 

Dusk, the cadenza of falling light, the backdrop behind the old house a pungent vermilion strip of sky above the undulating backbone of an indigo mountain range. Nearer, the foothills, copses peppered with storms of dying leaves the colour of dead blood, blemishes on the swathes of sallow snow ... sporadic huffs of wind flicking snow off leaves clinging optimistically to a branch above his head.

     Michael felt something was wrong. He had stepped out of the front door of the hotel, looked up briefly at the mordant red leaves on the towering cedars above his head, an act without conscious purpose, still thinking what the hell the two girls had prepared for him, and in the next second he was in the garden at the old house. A whole chunk of time had instantly evaporated, passed without him. In three steps, a thousand yards erased. How come so far, so quickly?

     But he was indisputably in front of the old house. He had been here before with Miyako after the night she came to his room, utterly drunk, and seduced him. She had a thing about writers, she said, but never quite discovered what that thing was ... a vulgar, crimson and white neon sign advertising Galaxy Chocolate blinking intermittently through the trees, its exaggerated flickering an indecorous contrast to the subdued sombre light on the dark side of the house, the side hidden from the setting sun. Before him the shaky stairs he needed to climb to reach the wooden veranda around the house, two feet or so above the snow. In parts, the snow so thick they were invisible, like the two feet of a ghost, trying to step back into the domains of the living, for one last game of GO. 'Your move!'  

     He hesitated. The first step. He stopped, decided to while away the time a little longer, explore the outside of the house before going in, as if its outward appearance at this precise moment might signal the nature of the danger lurking within. Wood stained so dark it reminded him of the beams and panels in De Quincey's Dove Cottage (occupied after the Wordsworths left, a weird kind of plagiarism of place) stained by ox-blood. Did they have oxen here? But he slithered on the hidden ice lurking under the inviting surface of soft snow. He nearly fell and split his head open on the wooden step ... his cloven skull resembling the image of the head he'd seen on Webster's wall when he'd heard the death sentence he had to spell out to him ... leaving him as spellbound as when he had heard of Maria's apparent murder.  

     Suddenly he noticed a withered old pine tree standing apart from the clusters of vertical cedar trees shading the perimeter wall, and was amazed to notice something foreign to the tree hanging on a lower branch. Reaching the tree, he found a sheaf of pages bound with vermilion silk cord on which poems were written with a brush pen in the same graceful calligraphy as on the Ukiyo-e prints in the hotel. Some of the loose pages had been defaced by blobs of wet snow, the ink now spreading like tentacles, mimicking newly washed hair on a pillow. He was surprised to see words in English on the first page:

 

Long ago there were two young women ...

 

The design of the facade around the body of the house was disconcertingly repetitive and monotonous under the shaded eaves of the roof. Panel after blackened panel. Eventually he found a back entrance, a reluctant bare bulb hanging inelegantly on the end of twisted black flex, coiled into a double helix, swaying before it.

     He knocked. No reply. He knocked three times on a small loose partition in the door. Silence. He knocked harder. After what seemed an eternity, probably a minute (time already defiantly unreliable), a wooden grille five yards to the right started to slide open, its creaking a slow dirge, until it knock knocked into the end of the wider frame, frozen ice in the grooves creating a sound of dead bones falling into an antique ceramic funerary pot. It was hard to know what was a door in such an old house, or a window. To keep thieves out, the wind out, and what there should be to keep the ghosts out he had no idea ... as yet. 

     'Come in, Doctor Schlieman.' The muted voice of Miyako. He'd not noticed the slurred wailing sounds of the wind until he heard her voice almost drowned by them. He inched along the verandah to the opening ... entered sideways through a narrow gap, cheeky crimson leaves scuttling clawless around his feet as eager to enter the dim space within as he was. Miyako wearing a dark kimono, her face blanched with unsullied powder, bowed slightly. He didn't know if he should kiss her on the powdered cheek or not. 'Never again to be Michael?' he asked, somewhat mournfully.

     The door slid shut behind him. As the gap narrowed, the wailing of the wind pitched upwards tone by tone as in an organ pipe until it resembled the cry of an animal hiding in the trees, howling for a mate, or caught in a trap. Certainly not Vox Angelica. A fox probably. Two feet snarled by the iron teeth of the gin-trap ... had he had a gun in those days he would have shot the game-keeper. "I shot the game-keeper" ... hardly a new song by The Rolling Stones, but it came to mind. At least the title ...

     Michael could see dim lights in rooms off the corridor.

     'Do you remember the house?'  

     'No, I'm lost already.'    

     She wafted by him, the rustle of her kimono the sound of a bed of  oysters in pure white sand breathing; caressed by her cloying perfume he lost his breath. He had no idea what the perfume had been distilled from, but not cherry blossoms, rather the corpse of a pregnant Siberian tiger lying bloodied in the snow, milked of its hormones as it lay dying; or extracted from the fertilised eggs of a dying carp belonging to the Empress, the gift from a transvestite Chinese opera singer castrated (and worse) by a fall from grace: death dispensed by choking on a pearl. The carp, not the singer.

     Suddenly he heard a howl; maybe a fox in the darkness of the garden. 'Quick, quick ... ' she pulled his arm, pointing through a quickly opened panel at a gap in the persimmon bushes. 'Amongst men it is a carrying stream!' But he saw nothing ... except a tall black shadow that quickly faded down to the single white dot, as if on a computer screen.

     He took off his coat and hat and gave them to Miyako standing with arms outstretched like an Egyptian priestess. She swept away with them leaving her heathen fragrance eddying around him and arousing his body. Bitch! Michael waited where he was, uneasily, not yet drunk enough not to care.

     She returned. 'Please, you may enter ... ' The room wasn't the same room as before ... gone the wisteria ... the large decorative panel across the longest wall portraying a gnarled pine, its black silhouetted branches contorted under the weight of many pitiless Decembers.

     The room was occupied by a black lacquered table, cushions, cups ready for saké, two slender lamps with black shades on a tall narrow side table. Yes, maybe he had been here before, if only in a dream.

     'I will bring drink,' Miyako murmured as he was contemplating how to sit down on the larger of the cushions without falling off. He took off his jacket, folded it neatly and placed it on a small black table near the wall, having seen that his hat was already there. The room was so warm he took off his tie. No doubt about it Miyako looked lovely in her ostentatiously adorned kimono and obi. Ravishing. A bride adorned for her husband ...

     Returning with heated saké, she sat down on her knees in front of him before pouring the drink and proposing a toast: 'So thoroughly this world of ours appears unlivable, so let us rejoin a world gone long ago.'

     'To the present,' he protested, 'which we only seem  to grasp.'

     Her lips puckered into the faintest hint of a smile, the lapse (nanoseconds) almost imperceptible but enough to break the mood of melancholy heightened by the aching fluctuations of soft atonal flute music wafting into the room. An antiphon. He had thought it the sound of the wind.        

     'You're right. The elusive present, we can never pin it down. Certainly not after such a potent saké.' 

     'I hope it's compatible with vodka, I had a couple before I came.'

     She seemed to ponder the question while savouring the drink at her lips. 'Compatible? Perhaps, like two great she‑cats, a leopard and a panther meeting at the same water‑hole at midnight, the same creatures and yet different, reluctant allies but always rivals,' she murmured, quietly. 'Like sisters ... in crime'.

     After a few more sips of drink Miyako stood up, in slow motion, walked behind him to open a sliding panel in the wall, revealing  the  Hi‑Fi. She started a new tape, solo flute with more presence, an onerous blend of despair and lilting sensuality. 'The Japanese bamboo flute ... perfectly suggesting the wistful, fickle interface between autumn and winter ... ' she murmured.    

     'Yes, a dirge, everything on the verge of dying,' he muttered.      'A group called Ondeka‑Za, they visited England years ago, but sometimes play for modern Noh plays, as with this composition.'

     They sat in silence, drinking, while the music played, Michael not wanting to look at her after she had so effortlessly distanced herself,  put him in his place, achieving it with her opening words quoting a literary source she knew he didn't know. She was only happy in control. But he was bewildered. During the bondage scenario she'd recited when they'd been making love, describing the girl from the train, their victim, spellbound, she had hardly created a mood of traditional Japan. Was it a ploy? How long did it take to dress in kimono?

     The saké seemed ominously strong, as more and more shards of time fell out of the frame, disappearing from the mirrorscape before he could protest. 

     Suddenly Miyako was standing at his side holding a man's kimono, woven in a warm dark material, probably black. Maybe Chimini  textile. But why black? 'This is for you, you must put it on,' she ordered, offering to help him out of his clothes. 'No, everything!'  Apparently, beneath it, he must be naked. Dimly he saw her taking his clothes out of the room before returning with a cloak and cap over her arm which she folded neatly onto the wall table, now minus his own coat and hat placed there earlier. He was floating ... warm inside, the drink already sweeping away any final doubts, he was feeling quite stoned, not able to refuse the next glass that Miyako was already pouring for him.

     'We are ama, diving girls, familiars of the ocean and the moon. Today, the festival Day of the Serpent, will bring purification, as the doll floats away on a sea of tears ... have no pity for her. Down she sinks in helpless tears, lost in misery.'

     He was sure he was recognizing the words but couldn't make the link to the hyper-incited involutes radiating from somewhere, nowhere ... a centre of some kind ... maybe the impeached nexus at the dead centre of his mind. Had he read them or she recited them? How many times had the scene to be rehearsed?

     It  happened so quickly he hardly had time to hold his breath. The girl came in through the door trailing tiny novas of light, like little birds fluttering around her, or large fireflies, gliding towards him before passing so perilously close to him he nearly passed out. She sat down at the edge of the black carpet, almost lost in the darkness. At least he assumed it was the girl wearing an elaborate wig. She too was wearing a dark kimono, probably black. He was dismayed to see she had also painted her face quite white. But as his eyes focussed he realised she was wearing a mask, the pallid Noh mask of a young girl, lips painted black. He could now also see that her kimono's decoration was a red motif on skin-coloured silk in the shapes of leaves, of two coiled intertwined snakes.

     Perhaps it was not the girl from the train, Miyako had tricked him, but it might no longer matter; a whore is a whore is a whore. As Miyako had said ... street-wise little bitch ... he must empty himself of expectation, illusion, delusion, this girl was merely an actress enacting the part in a screenplay entitled: The Girl in the Train. Maybe he had written it. 

     But Miyako, where was she? Was he looking in the wrong place ... the lake had been as smooth and unemotional as a mirror as he passed it, the reflection of the moon as sharp-edged as a rapier. Then he heard her. She was speaking quietly into his ear, so quiet he knew the girl could not hear the words, words he too  found hard to untangle. 'Lose yourself ... you will be Yukihira ... you are Yukihira ... you have come back to claim her. She has been waiting for you all this time. A hundred years. We have the power to make her believe it ... through you she can be redeemed, her sins assuaged ... She has so much to lose. Her past! Her wretched painful sinful past.  Only you can erase it, take it away from her, take it away forever. Her poison! She must be cauterized. She was poisoned by her past. It would be your most precious gift to her, to make her free ... '

     The flute music was accompanied by drums, he'd not noticed them before. Shaman's drums probably. Michael could see dark‑cloaked figures sitting around an open fire at night in a half-circle under the trees, the light of fireflies quivering above their heads like halos ... men caressing small drums with the palms of their hands, the soft skin occasionally flashing pale, the rough backs of their hands quite dark, their eyes transfixed on infinity; drugged out of their skulls. Trance music. Opium, of course ... always the Oriental's drug of choice.    

     At which point the girl unfurled and started her dance.

     The shrine maiden who became the actress who became the wanton girl you could meet at the stage door and crossing her palm with silver or gold take her for any and every sensual pleasure; enslaved ward of dissonant literary reveries in a modern (fairer to say, post-modern) reincarnation. Michael wondered how she would strip elegantly from a kimono, what might emerge from her leather cocoon beneath ... a puppet-doll not sure if she danced amongst the living or the dead offering the chalice of her poisoned lips for a kiss, the host of her body for a pilgrimage into paradise ... or into hell. In the silken limelight the allure of the barely visible luminescence cast on her mask, the pallid pellucid tincture of oceanic celadon in a Green-dragonfly's wing was fiercely painful, the music in constant but subtle crescendo was possessing him, determining his feelings, immaculately unified with the girl's subtly delayed movements, doubling, folding back on themselves, repeated before they had even begun.

     She was facing him directly, not moving from side to side but backwards and forwards, her hands caressing the air in front of her as if it contained, or was, her lover. Once in a while she would draw back her hips, and then a leg, moving them barely a few inches but not having been foreseen, impossible to have been predicted (except by a shaman bombed in ecstasy on Amanita Muscaria mushroom juice) the movement seemed incredibly dramatic, in stark contrast to the minimalism of the other phases of her self-induced trance ... a ritual dance of entrapment. 

     Michael presumed her dance was from the Noh play. In his present state he couldn't recall the names or involuted story-line, such literary allusions irrelevant in the present context, anyway. He didn't need literary parallelisms to infer the capricious notion of reincarnation; a mere girl reawakening a recurring dream, artfully tearing away the veil between herself and those watching her, transforming her audience into appropriate characters for her play ... and potential lovers. Clients. Michael assumed her louche profession entailed creating bizarre erotic contexts in forbidden domains; this was merely one that she and Miyako had decided to share with him, drawing him into the decadent milieu of their blasé version of modern Noh, where usual doubts about decorum were redundant. Had he heard right?

     In the mercurial cast of the fitful lighting the girl's mask was now assuming the features of a much younger girl, still not as beautiful as the real face in the train window, but now, now, her face hovering just in front of his own, as if he could at last lean forward and kiss her lips, black, oddly imbued with promise, hovering in the space in the glass, more precisely on it, a film projected onto the transient double-sided mirror created by the train's windows ... seeing it as if for the first time, with awe, like a child's first seeing, before the mote of knowing (the prison house's attenuated attrition of experience) corrupted vision ... before him, a living child ... numinous hallucinations dispossessing him, stealing the present. And taking him back into his own past, down to the deepest levels of his doubts and misery ...

     If he leant forward would his fingers hit the glass and he'd know for sure he'd been tricked, as one always is in one way or another in the theatre? He put out an arm but it seemed so heavy he found himself starting to fall forwards, going down on his knees, and Miyako hurriedly leant down close to him, pulling him back up ... the brakes on the train had been applied suddenly, the carriage was jerking forwards awkwardly ... as she whispered in his ear, in lilting harmony with the music, half singing words which he knew were part of the play:

 

Life and death, past and present ...

Marionettes on a toy stage.

When the strings are broken 

Behold the broken pieces.

 

And the girl immediately became a marionette, indefinite, levitating between pause and poise, her infinitely slow movements controlled by imperceptible strings, her gestures entirely accountable on two planes simultaneously, the horizontal and vertical and nothing between. He suspected this was an aspect of the way he was thinking but it gave a surreal quality to her dance, not yet moved out of the frame of the still picture, a photograph he had seen in a book about Yeats' plays and his obsession with Salomé; an arrested image not quite holding, not quite circumscribing her limits.

     'The strings are invisible,' Miyako added, murmuring directly into his ear, so hushed he wondered who it could be she didn't want to overhear her. 'Not like the ones I will use to restrain her. You wouldn't imagine would you that under the kimono the girl is bound with a hundred leather thongs. Maybe ninety nine, one went missing  ... god knows what she needed it for ... one for every year, one for every version of her recurring dream, every erotic perversion ... she who is the perfected mistress of them all ... '   

     It was difficult to move his head but he turned slowly to comment. But Miyako had already swayed back into the darkness behind him, fallen out of sight, perhaps mesmerised as he was by the girl's dance, its impalpable language of elusive undercurrents barely materializing as ripples on the surface of the preponderance of the real ...

     Michael said nothing, sensing that Miyako would probably not hear ... not wanting to tell her that, yes, he had imagined those leather thongs ... binding her to himself ... as in the now, the now zone, the snowzone ... bound by words disintegrating as was his mind ... his heart beating violently against his rib-cage, drum drumming on bones, yes, he was also bound with the same thongs, every one tightened with each of the girl's spectral contortions. He closed his eyes to stop himself falling towards her, ever more recklessly close to losing consciousness. Exasperated, this was not what he had expected at all.

     'It is only the beginning, you must be patient ... you must let go of your self ... become Yukihira ... ' Miyako whispered as she poured more saké. She handed him the glass, and he mimicked her precisely, a mimicry he could not escape, bound to her power inch by inch, as if he too was her marionette, both their glasses raised in simultaneity to the girl and her dance, their arms wafting in harmony with the girl's arms, Miyako flashing a conspiratorial glance at him, so fleeting and yet ablaze it would have instantly vaporised a silver bowl-full of snow on a boundary stone delineating the perimeter of a cemetery, or even, simply at rest on the black table beneath the window ... if there was a window there, he couldn't see it ... hidden behind screens depicting pine trees and wisteria and copulating snakes ...   

     Michael could not detach himself from the music as the girl's dance now took deeper root and the inner tempo quickened, the drumbeats accelerating as two heavier drums entered the musical current, starting in unison but one slipping gradually ahead with the threat of an even more promiscuous syncopation to come, forcing further divergence. There were now two flutes deliberately tuned discordantly, the one continuous with the certainty of its own timing, the other jerky and intermittent like autumn rain, a string instrument accompanying them both now sounding like a bird crying in the night, angry that the moon was making its vulnerable young chicks visible to marauding owls ... his mind losing its ability to focus on the parallel melodies as they coalesced into a foetal flux of atonality, the sound of a surging winter sea swelling under the surface of a frozen glacial lake, and he was about to be drawn under its surface, having lost the struggle to remain afloat ... the weather-beaten hands fiercely beating the taut cobra skin of the drums provoking memories of alarm cries of black-headed gulls or whooping cranes ... or human voices given to ecstatic wordless cries, a chorus singing through porcelain masks from inside the womb ... the womb of time ...

     'From the pillow, the foot of the bed, love comes pursuing ... '

     The voice of Miyako. Within seconds the words had been sucked into the music's darkling esoteric meanings, Michael's pulse clawing at the inwardly lacerating skin of his swollen blocked arteries and veins, his heart disgorging life, his throat throbbing as if he was trying to swallow the dancing girl whole ... before giving rebirth to her through the top of his skull ... his lost daughter returned ... Nora's daughter ... the final throes of something he'd not be able to remember he had lost.

     The tempo of the girl's dance was accelerating even more, her naked arms pushing out from the long sleeves of her kimono, now decorated with a mandala of interlocking wings of birds, silver and ice blue. Inescapable the aura of foreboding as the music augmented the panic evolving in all directions, a huge visceral decaying web of empty cellular cages into which he was falling towards an infinitely dark space as its centre, reminding him of one of the images that Giordano Bruno had drawn to illustrate the relation of the map of consciousness to that of the universe, what is here is there, as Hermes knew (he'd been there and powered by the wings on his feet, come back), space in bondage to time ... as his fingers clutched the cushion he was sitting on, the former image of the vast web now woven in heavy brocade like an ancient tapestry or a faded fresco on the wall of a Medieval chapel, he was falling off, knowing he couldn't detach himself from his desire, sucked into the deep deep orifice of empty space ...

     Realising suddenly there was nothing erotic about the dance, at all. Nothing! What was failing him in his naive reading of the dance, the play? He tried to recall Miyako's cutting comments about the girl's infatuation with the fables of sexual theatre, her scathing critique of her love of 'artifice', her sleazy work in trashy clubs, Tokyo, Kyoto, (a pivot word, perhaps, the word pied, backwards, forwards - t o k y o ... k y o t o ... t o y o k o - but the images Maria's words had aroused during their sexual encounter in the hotel were totally at variance with those in front of him. Why had Miyako duped him? Planned the whole thing to be a monumental flop, to revenge herself? Out of his depth, not knowing the arcane language in this alien domain where the north wind began its desolate, infertile heavy breathing ...  

     The pain; how could he separate for himself the dancer from her dance? The girl's slim body swaying to the music like a pawlonia sapling in the wind, pruned so that only the slender trunk remained with two branching arms emerging from its body ... it was  her fingers which disturbed him most as if caressing a lover with prolonged tenderness and deferred sensuality, a second girl dancing with her, her invisible victim begging to be aroused, postponing the climax, denying closure ... 'No! Wait ... ' It was so subtle and beautiful Michael felt like weeping ... he was reaching a threshold where he could no longer draw on other images to repress himself ... should he stand up and go to her ... now ... grab her, strip her and fuck the hell out of her ... hadn't Miyako promised him a sexually explicit, blatant performance? So far, all he could imagine was the girl dancing to Rachmaninov's Vespers, certainly not stripping in a seedy downtown night‑club to Lou Reed's Berlin ... as in one of his trashy novels ... or dreams. 

     'A play she always wanted to enact, its plot the sordid encounter with the stranger, totally anonymous, unknowable, the wandering pilgrim, lost, needing an abode to stay for the night, just one night; she is yearning, striving, crying out to go the whole way, into her own disgust!' Miyako whispered. No, she had fooled him! The girl wearing the mask of an angel was not the fallen angel he had been promised; if fallen, she'd touched down safely in the intricately planted Zen garden of a Moghul prince much celebrated for his mystic poems rather than his harem, her hair trailing flowers of Morning Glory rather than blood-red stars from a self-destructing, imploding galaxy ... 

     But as he struggled with his mounting anger, Michael began to detect a curious tickling sensation on the back of his neck. A premonition, an intuition, a question being asked of him despite himself. Could this  ceremony have been so carefully contrived - not for himself - but for someone else? Someone else who was already in the house aware of what was going on? Watching, here and now? Witness to the scene? Soon to be, a wake? Had Miyako's theatrical event been planned as a means of revenge not on himself but  another man ... what had he done to offend Miyako other than agree with her that the girl was hypnotically beautiful?

     Miyako was still rocking in harmony with the girl's movements.

     In her eyes he could see the cold trance‑like look he'd noticed whenever she was drunk, or so he had thought. Was she on drugs all the time? Had Miyako laced his drink? What a fool he'd been! She was as implicated in the girl's dance as he was. Junkies! Stoned or worse ... his body slipping away he tried to cling again to images, regain the present, present himself with a sobering lecture; this was the enacted dance of Salomé as painted by Gustave Moreau in an aberrant context ... or an image from the mind of  Odilon Redon ... the mother hovering in the shadows ... aime l'horreur d'ętre vierge et je veux vivre parmi l'effroi ... escape ... escape ... not at all the image expected by his mind, one painted by an Ukiyo-e painter ... Maybe the girl wasn't even there ... it was a film projected on the screen. From his copse on the foothills, why had he come to this, this travesty; soon to be a corpse in their virtual world? 

     The girl now a dervish, slower, a Catherine wheel, precise circles inscribed by her hands and fingers; he couldn't focus on her without knowing he would then fall off the cushion he was still clinging to with his own, ugly, clenched fingers ... slipping faster as the drug in Miyako's poisoned chalice took deadly effect. So, they had decided to murder him, this was their ultimate sexual trip. Had they found the scenario in one of the porno-graphic-graphic novels he'd seen at the railway station kiosk in Tokyo? This was no Noh play but a trash graphic novel! Why had he been so foolish to assume these two utterly modern fashion-obsessed girls would have any respect for the past? The world of his past he was failing to re-witness? How careless, arrogant, imperialistic he had been; perfect prey for the bitter disaffected Miyako, ingeniously cultivating images he couldn't resist. In revenge, but for what crime? Revenge ... the pivot word now on the loom ... Revenge for what? Not his personal past but the past of his race ... a war her sacred ancestors lost with so much humiliation? Politics? Not the moment surely to return to politics! Had he not escaped his unreliable project forever? His Memoirs ... Should he not be grateful to the two girls for their generosity of spirit? Was this not the first such play he had ever seen - and for free?  

     So, this latest concoction from his alchemical hormonal crucible was again of his own making? When would be become free of the responsibility for what he wrote? Dreamt?

     The dancing girl's skirts were loosening ... unwinding, fraying at their delinquent circumference and tearing with the momentum of her swirling ... had she not anticipated the centrifugal force?

     Where was he? He tried to remember. Had they not met that time at the Hell Fire Club? Then he saw it! The name. A website he must create. Le Club des Hasheesheens ... Opium! Miyako  (a casual aside) promising a few days ago to get some for him ... cunning little vixen! She already had it hidden under her pillow in a lacquered box, on which the cover depicted two fireflies mating! Or scorpions ... 'You must not live in lies, and then only write lies ... this haughty writing of the visions and dreams of your favourite opium freaks ... naive romantic Western addicts of our authentic Oriental practices ... now we will initiate you, you can write 'I' not 'he' ... you must learn to write from true experience of passion, not the virtual experience of books!'

     'Get some!' He'd said it. 'I'll pay, whatever the price.' She had said nothing more on the subject. As pushers do when the supply has run cold. 

     Suddenly the drums throbbed more viciously, the pace becoming frantic, threatening to get out of control. The girl seemed to be resisting it at first as if she was gently swimming back to shore after a luxuriously sensual dip in a warm summer sea off the island of Sado. But the tide had turned and now there was a blustering wind gushing across the beach, coursing down through the avenues of pines at the water's edge ... she must strike out against the waves, the waves of wind and sound, surging and swelling ... Michael was feeling desperate for her. What is Aphrodite but a spume on the curtailed waves, thrust to die on the beach, a penis tossed into the foaming breakers of the sea? The boundaries of his body now receding at the speed of light ...

     Miyako filled his glass. 'For you! For us!' He drank it in a single gulp, before he had time to think twice, no longer lucid enough to ask her (even with the two twisted tongues of he and I) what she had put in it. Too late to complain, to say: 'No, wait!' The drug itself had spoken, he recognized the language. Soon he would be visited by the wretched swarthy Malay with his preposterous turban wrapped around his head like a huge dying rose or tulip, and Ann, urchin Della Robbia angel, the girl whose face he would search for in vain in every fearsome illiterate crowd, in every cheap whorehouse,  through the nights and down the days of the desolate remains of his life ... Writing ('I') and reading ('he') could be so treacherous ... one lonely man talking to another ... his next book might need a more allusive title: Opium's Holographic Dreams ... hinting more at its covert sub-text, an inadvertent investigation into the psycho-pharmacology of the passion for death, its ability to flip deviously into the desire for murder ... sex and murder united ... meanwhile enjoy the lapses along the way, the sultry laptop dancers, the half-castes he was always drawn to, as we are all half-castes on the wheel of time, dangled twixt heaven and earth, cry clutching heaven by the hems, and lo my soul my daughter ... the perfumed breasts and hot dank humid luscious vaginas of the dancing girls of all times and places, each one nameless and as perfect in their brash Roxy kitsch outfits as the other, laugh with a wry smile at the lies, self-deceptions, every girl the same girl with the same name ... and same split skirt ... nature's child ... in whom he might achieve (the illusion of) the unachievable task,  obliteration of the self, drowning with the lost girls without souls in the all-too human domains of sweat lust blood rotting skin ... & I must lay me down amongst the swine ...

     Her mask, would she keep it on or let it fall, was it wood or delicate porcelain, bone china, hard as diamond or easily fractured as unfired burnished clay... eyes of amethyst crystal, pearls instead of blackened teeth, a diving girl emerging from the sea with a baby octopus caught in her toes ... or vagina ... looking for Hiroshige to caress her with his paintbrush of pure sable ... unstable, drifting further, pulled by deeper more turbulent tides until a sea change in the music brought him back sharply ... to the girl finally letting go, rising flamboyantly, weaving in and out of herself, arms tearing at the air as she wallowed in the music, harshly dissonant as more instruments infiltrated the warp of the music's texture, even more atonal and almost devoid of melody, pure vertical harmonics, mostly outside the range of human ears (dogs lapping it up), as the pain and pleasure shifted into and through each other until the desired synthesis, fusion, symbiotic synchronicity, was achieved and all impression of forward narrative lost, going nowhere but vertically ... the direction in which music of the East had always erred ... perhaps he could try to become an expert on modern Japanese dance ... though it was their pottery, ironically, the eclectic poetry of symmetry and translucency, that had lured him here ...

     A spotlight flicked on from out of nowhere, very thin, a slender laser-like pencil of light, and in it he could see the red satin underskirts under the girl's kimono as it pealed off under the pressure of her writhing. Fascinated, transfixed, stilled by the subtle  spectrums of shimmering light revealing the intricate patterns in the kimono's material, the two serpents copulating, clinging round a tree, its diaphanous leaves becoming their skin, eyes drenched with dew ... tongues spitting fire ...

     Hadn't he wanted to use the De Quincey quote (he'd corrupted it slightly) as an epigraph for his next book? This narrative resembles & was meant to resemble the caduceus, around whose stem two parasitic plants, two copulating serpents, two dancing girls are entwined, one eats of the fruit while the other looks on, the name of one was Dream, the other Echo ... two sisters ... one eats the sacred fruit, the other looks on ... '

     Light oozing away he felt himself going blind, severed from sight by dark premonitions of ecstasy, until Miyako whispered again into his ear ... 'Long awaited autumn is upon us, so we must hurry to celebrate the stars ... she is old but she is young ... she embodies the past, it has passed her by, a season she was too pure to suffer ... the autumn grasses, as a pearl-strewn Koto, touched by a wind, music among the pines ... '

     She caressed his cheek and kissed him lightly knowing he was struggling to cling to himself ... she would help him to submit to his fate. Herself. She began speaking more softly so he had to strain to hear her ... 'Man is never young a second time ... no autumn takes us back to times gone by ... the old days, I do not miss them so! Had I known it was a dream, I would not have awakened ... this evening we will celebrate the stars, they will blossom inside her head, shooting stars of pain and pleasure and she will be mine, she will become me ... they say that when a blindman runs, sane men run after him. The music teacher has died so we dance to his tunes, puppets that he is manipulating from the River of Heaven ... we are mere strings on his Koto that you pluck with your fingers ... we girls, as ever, ripe for the plucking ... '

     She kissed him again, fiercely this time, but he hardly moved. Rain drops falling on his face, whipped by the wind in the pines above ...

     She had presumed he could still hear the words, even though he was for the most part elsewhere, nowhere, fast asleep. Slow asleep. 'One hundred years the child of poetry and puppetry, the orphaned soul ... which young girls going to the mountains would pity. Put garlands in his hair, as he dreamt of death. One hundred years snug in a flower, the butterfly now dances for us ... you and I, to whom she is given, utterly. How could such an old woman resist such a play as this?'

     Michael could hear Miyako reading from a book. He was trying to become awake. Had she also taken the drug? And the girl too? He could see a deep shadow trapped in an aura of vibrating light which was taking the shape of a girl, a snake, a bird ... a peacock, a million eyes, an albatross its wings snaking around the whole world, the skin of her shoulder reflecting the colours of a rainbow ... he presumed it was her ...

     'She is floating along the River of Heaven, she has fallen off the bridge of wings, violent destructive rains have come ... her lover awaits her. Her body of sacrifice. Unfulfilled we must console her, the girl who must un-weave herself to become free. What does a young girl ever weave but her pubic hair to hide her shame? It is too late! She looks so young but she is a hundred years old, this poetess of reservation, left on the shelf, a wallflower, reserved before she has written a single word, waiting waiting for the page to be rent, this shrine maiden who embodies my name, my shame ... '

     And suddenly the words went silent and he surfaced, and there she was again, dancing, not yet stilled outside of time ... caught in a sensuality of temporal neglect ... the rhythm transformed yet again, dragging the music faster into a boxed angular style, spiky and modern, seeming to merge classical music with ethereal modern jazz and Eastern music in a subtle captivating fusion resembling nothing he had ever heard, a thrusting, reptilian syncopation which was undeniably sexual in rhythm and tone, the girl its apparent victim. He could see her fighting for control, desperately trying to get on top of the music as the now blatantly sexual message reached deep into her being, clawing at her womb, passing the threshold of resistance she had imposed on herself. Now, abandoned, she was entering the theatre of the lost.

     And she was starting to panic, he was sure he could see it ... and it was arousing him, as if she was touching him ... unless it was Miyako's fingers; the idea occurred to him but he rejected it. He wanted it to be her ... the girl ... he had always wanted it to be her, the other girl. Yoko. Now she was here. That had always been his fate. Man is in love and loves what vanishes, what more is there to say ... his mantra ...

     But she too was becoming aroused, he saw it, her naked belly jerking in violent spasms. Without realizing it he clapped his hands. Loudly. But she stopped instantly, froze, became one of a thousand paintings he thought he might have seen before, but then in panic she abandoned restraint and rotated completely round, twice, so fast he was watching two girls (dancing) vying to detach themselves from each other. The disowned pivoting, gyre upon Giotto-perfect gyre, took him so much by surprise he felt his head jolt backward as if an invisible left hand had slapped him in the face. The two-dimensional effect the girl had so far been continuously exploiting instantly destroyed as she became undeniably three‑dimensional, or more, many more, crucified by the hidden agenda of time's expanding consciousness of itself, and insatiable greed for spaciousness ... 

     Time ... desire ... 

     Michael saw her clumsily untying her sash, as if it was choking her being, and it flung off as she whirled in anger and agony, fully revealing the shiny crimson satin underdress she wore, reflecting the light like the lacquered shell of an exotic insect captive in a cage, a long fallopian tail (like the train of the dress) enabling it to keep balance on a twig of a persimmon tree, a sheath woven from transparent mesh silk in a darker burgundy colour much loved by women of Kyoto known for their loose morals as well as skirts ... what can a poor girl do whose only asset is her beauty, the seductive sadness in her eyes, the perfect roundness of her bottom? A few romantic poems about loss, learnt by heart?

     He wanted desperately to go to her and undress her, completely, but he felt Miyako's hand on his arm. 'No. Wait ...' she said. 'Let her finish her dance ... there's more to her than meets the eye ... '

     And he watched, amazed, as she seemed to be struggling to remain conscious, fighting an archetypal (as yet still hidden) demon, her body quivering and shuddering as her loosened underclothes were unfurling, struggling against her chthonic fear of being deflowered by light, light and eyes that could devour her tearing at her mask, all colours smudged, now resembling the huge eye of a primeval chameleon ... it had become extinct in the Great Ice Age from boredom ... jerking from side to side as if trying to get the creature's scaled body off her own but she couldn't do it, its hooked, clawed three fingered limb still stuck inside her somewhere unmentionable ... and he sensed something was wrong ... with her or his own interpretation of her, the girl on the train, the girl in her dance no longer her own ... he was recalling her face as he had first seen it in the train window, the distant lights on the horizon shining through it rendering it eternal ... as Miyako filled his cup again and he promptly drank it ... why was she determined to kill him, and why did he not care? If ... he was prepared to enter into the labyrinth, if this was what they needed, yes, it had been undeniably the most compelling dance he had ever seen in his life or dreams ... he'd loved dance too much to be more than dilettante about it like Shimamura, or suffer the Puritan's fate ... But did you enjoy the play of the dance, Mister Schlieman?

     Not wanting to think any longer, he just wanted her, finally, at last, to become still, so that he could touch her, enter her, his whole being and body ... as the music subsided ... and finally, so did she, wavering like a stalk of barley in the wind, before ... 

     ... she turned squarely towards them, regaining some apparent composure, but only for a fleeting second before she tore off the mask still clinging by a thread and flung it on the ground where it smashed into a thousand pieces ... revealing her bright white-painted face with black lips, her make-up mask, as she screamed, falling onto the cushions near the table, as Miyako grabbed his arm and held him still. 'It is the play,' she said, 'the dancing girl must always go mad before she is released ... '

     And to Michael's amazement he saw the girl writhing as if in pain, holding her head, struggling with her hair, until it came off in her hands. Standing with it high over her head like a decapitated head, she flung it to the ground.

     Michael couldn't believe his eyes. She was completely bald ...

     He felt himself go taut ... like a bow, ready to snap and release its arrow ... 'My God!' he shouted ... 'No! Wait!'

     As Miyako murmured, 'Good ... now the play begins ... ', barely allowing him to hear her words. 

     The girl's body convulsed a few more times as her crimson underskirt came totally apart ... as Miyako was turning off the spotlight she had lit earlier. As Michael caught a glimpse of the girl's naked stomach, surprised to notice she was wearing a pair of white lace-edged cotton knickers as if she was on her way home from school. He didn't dare think what she had hidden in her satchel. 

     But he felt desolate, it was too painful seeing her so broken, crushed, half naked, pulled violently out of her clothes by a hidden force, her arms fallen limp at her sides. She was so slim, so slight, so slender, her two legs showing white amongst the red wings of her still cloying but lost skirt, her body wet with sweat. Her knickers too, compressed almost to a thong by her dance ... and he was sure, yes, he was sure ... he could see it ... she had been shaved.

     'Now, now I can make her ready for you ... ' he heard Miyako say. 'She was always the one who liked to play the games ... keeping me waiting ... little bitch!'

 

     Compared with other plays about the decline of the Big House elite, such as  The Cherry Orchard  or  Miss Julie,  Purgatory  is more darkly driven by dream work, death directedness and compulsive repetition, all preoccupations of Freud during the interwar years.

 

John Kerrigan

 

"Old Old Old Old Old" 

Review of W.B. Yeats: A Life. 

 

 

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