24

 

 

I didn't sleep very well. Schlieman's texts of yesterday evening left me feeling threatened. I wasn't sure if I wanted to read what was to come next, I was full of foreboding, I sensed we were approaching the ultimate confession. Whether these texts were factual or fictional, somehow it would be an explanation of the death of Maria, for which he felt himself to be responsible, the event that had coloured his emotional life ever since. Painted it black. When had it happened? Why should it concern me, the death of this wild passionate fractured young woman? It happens all the time these days! The institutionalised violence in  our Modern Times is so harsh brutal in this modern Alphaville we can never be rooted in, but merely pass through as through glass darkly, it is inevitable there are such victims. Some men collect broken girls ...

I went to the bookshop. Still hoping to meet the owner. Mr Moe. A notice in the window:

 

We thank our loyal customers over the years, but we are closing now after 28 years serving the public. The book is dead, long live the book!  It is not possible to compete with the Internet and

Charity Shops. We are giving our entire stock to the charity shop MIND: in Cambridge, near my husbands college. Corpus Christi.

Maria Moe.

 

Why the hell should I care, but I felt profoundly sad. Not just for the  real people who had sold books for so long. But for the books that would feel no longer wanted, needed, loved ... my father bought many of his second hand books in a shop in Charing Cross road. The son of the owner trained Intelligence agents in the ear, worked on decoding the Enigma machine and later invented the way of encoding secret codes onto the silk scarves sent to the young British women agents in the war, dropped by parachute into occupied Europe. Most of whom died within a week. Often captured and tortured by the Nazis. He wrote the original screenplay for "Peeping Tom" ... such is life.

The sun emerged around lunchtime. It hardly recognised me, I had become so pale. Even the remaining clouds seemed intimidated and packed off over the horizon. It was clearly the day for a climb. I made myself some sardine sandwiches, packed a plastic bottle of water and a leather-clad flask (Oxfam) filled with my favourite Islay Malt, in my knapsack. On an old yellowed Ordnance Survey map I'd recently bought, because it looked so quaint (Oxfam 50p), I'd noticed that a nearby 'peak' north of the Coniston road was named: The Old Man of Coniston. 2600ft. Just beyond the Old Man were The Coniston Copper Mines, and a bit further over the Furness Fells was the Wrynose Pass. If I got that far I could head for Elterwater, and then take the back-road to the town. Not forgetting my waterproof poncho and waterproof Australian hat, I set off ...

      The Old Man was predictably all spruced up, wearing a thick coat of Forestry Commission Pulpations, so I gave it a wide berth. It was the copper mines I wanted to see. I had a thing about caves when I was a kid ... pot holing as well as pot smoking! I'd once spent the night underground up near Fylingdales trying to listen, with my home-made laser crystal wave detector, to the local Defence Establishment  Nuclear bomb tracking satellites ... and finally managed to record Cathy and Heathcliff taking a stroll across the moors. Years later I sold the story to The Craven Times. A  journalist was born ... the rest was history.

     As for the copper mines ... were they still being used? No names on the perimeter fence. Just KEEP OUT PRIVATE PROPERTY. No need for the notices really. I'd forgotten to bring my ex-WW2 Churchill tank.

     It started to cloud over so I vamooshed fast down to the main road where quite by chance (or the influence of the 5th Dimension's R Field) I was able to flag down a passing taxi. If looks could kill! Lucky I think,  he took me back to my cottage and not to the local police station.

 

*

  

After sleeping, I explored the Google nets for details of the copper industry in the UK, but nothing about Coniston came up. A waste of time if ever there was one. But I'd got my 20 minutes of sun and synthesised a good dose of much-needed Vitamin D.

     Watched a DVD of Tarkovsky's "Stalker" I'd bought on Amazon, on my portable DVD player. My girlfriend Liza in London (Ukranian) had insisted I watched it on my trip to the northern wastelands. 'That will bring you home a week or two earlier!'

     Eager to return to MS's lapse finally into something resembling a linear narrative, I waded through the recent stream of texts and managed to find another site that opened to me, after clicking on the words in the lozenge on the nohzone map:

 

theoldhouse

 

*

 

Turn but a stone and start a wing ...

 

The Old House:

 

Earlier, in the hotel, reading. Yeats, of course, for some clues about his obsession with Noh plays and the biblical legend of Salomé. In such a discrete and serious writer it is impossible to disentangle (and vulgar to try?) the expressions in his work of his deepest frustrations, sexual and political, from the miseries of his intimate esoteric dreams ... those images grew in pure mind, he says, but quickly seems to contradict himself. Out of what began? He asks. A rusty can, the raving slut who keeps the till ... so I turn to Tanizaki. Why is it that such a writer, expected to be an inscrutable Oriental, appears so much more open, truthful, naked, sacrificing his ego, stripping away his masks willingly for the reader ...I was reading 'The Diary of a Man Old Man' after hearing the disturbing lecture earlier on his work.

    

Satsuko had on a quilted blue robe over a negligee, and matching blue slippers with a pink floral pattern. She was carrying her pillow; she dropped down on the sofa, pulled an old tartan lap robe of mine over her legs, and lay there with her eyes closed ... I'm not sure whether she was still sleepy from being out late at the Cabaret last night or just shamming so I wouldn't bore her with my conversation.'

     'You've been out all day. Where did you go?'

     'Shopping here and there, had lunch with Haruhisa at a hotel grill, and then went to a dress shop for a fitting. I met Haruhisa again and we went to see Black Orpheus ...

     They say a typhoon is coming ...

     She was now hidden behind the shower curtains. 'Today you can kiss me.' A leg appeared between the curtains. 'You look as if you're going to be examined again!' 'Today I will let you use your tongue too'. I crouched over as I had on the twenty-eight of July, glued my lips on the same place on her calf, and slowly savoured her flesh with my tongue. It tasted like a real kiss. My mouth kept slipping lower and lower, down towards her heel. To my surprise she didn't say a word. My tongue came to her instep, then to the tip of her big toe. Kneeling, I crammed her first three toes into my mouth. I pressed my lips to the wet sole of her foot, a foot that seemed as alluringly expressive as her face. 'That's enough!' Suddenly the shower came on; water streamed over my head, face, that lovely foot ...

     Dying! Long as I had been prepared for death, the thought of "dying" frightened me. I told myself that I had to calm down, and yet I went on blindly suckling at her feet . I could not stop. The more I tried to stop, the more insanely I suckled—and all the while thought I was dying. Waves of terror, excitement, pleasure surged within me; pains as violent as a heart attack gripped my chest ... the thought lurked in my mind that, as things were going, I ought to be able to keep on with this ... it's scarcely the kind of erotic thriller Satsu likes in the movies or on TV, but I can't deprive myself of at least this much of an adventure. I don't care if it kills me.

     Later she told me she wanted to see Martin La Salle in Pickpocket downtown ...

 

Soon, I too will be happy enough to die. High on morphine and phosphorescent memories ... ... feeling more like one of the trained assassins of The Old Man of the Mountains ...

     I am looking forward to meeting my anima, at last ...

 

*

 

Meanwhile in the old house ...

     The girl and her dancing, her alluring abandon, emptiness needing to be filled, both of us sharing the same void ... ... losing the moment, clinging to his past ... the sound of the train wheels thrumming on the track and the rain drumming on the window, the wind's shifting seesawing cries those of wild birds soaring through the storm, migrating cranes wailing in the distance, raucous high-pitched sounds fusing into the music, fugato sounds on the margin of the nightwood, relentless forward motion meandering around an endlessly repeated drum motif, heavy with the throb of falling wind-severed branches, until the wind obliterated all insubstantial mutations and all he could hear was plainsong.

     Through the chorale, a voice. Bird or girl? A voice whispering in his ear ... 'I am leaving you for a moment. This is the interlude, the ai ... I must change my costume. If she speaks I will hear her but take no notice, she is not a child, or a yujo, known as singing girl, but a mad woman, a child possessed by a mad woman, a monogurui we call them. There is a confession she must make before she becomes free of her madness, her past, of him, her captor whom she must kill, he who imprisoned her, made her into what she is. A fallen woman. We must be ready, willing witnesses of her pain ... with our help she will become free of it ... and of you and me forever. Let us be loving and generous, and give her that! Be ready for her!'

     'I am ready for her ... ' he heard his voice speaking, a dull hollow voice reverberating through the mouth of a metal mask, or an ovoidal hole in a bronze bell over which parchment had been stretched like a drum, his tongue the texture of a rattlesnake's tail ... the word 'I' echoing  endlessly, rattling in his skull, mocking him, he had to close his mouth to silence it. Hadn't Miyako said the girl knew only two words in English? 'No, Wait'? The sound of Miyako closing the sliding door. A baby tawny owl, or an Athena Noctua, maybe a hawk-owl, in the pine trees, calling. Its parent. The lost child. Or more sounds merely reverberating inside his own head. Yes, probably a hawk owl ... hundreds of thousands of years ago the sparrow hawk and the tawny owl seem to have merged ... the hawk-owl hunting its prey silently like an owl but in the pellucid arctic daylight, hunting like a falcon. Sol plus Luna ... la sagesse de la nature ... endless mutation. The sheer fun of merging opposites. Contra-dictions become a single voice. 

     Before him, the past re-emerging, a shared past somewhere along the branch line ... he had searched for her in sacred forests and cabarets  and in the mean streets themselves in city's downtown cobblestoned warrens ... drifting like a beachcomber in the streets around the square, la ronde, round and round and round, the elegant town house in Frith street, now a refuge for young women, from the plague of modernity, as irony would have it: a brass plaque reminding us of De Quincey's stay there, present day pilgrims allowed to traverse the sanctified threshold and inspect the minutiae of premises, spiders in the cornice corners, sense his ghost, one afternoon a month ... the girl, stripped of satin and kimono and shame, without dance to defend her now, lying quite still as if washed up on a desolate plateau, nowhere up, nowhere down, a beach of white sand recovering after a cataclysmal storm, a slave thrown overboard to prevent the Dutchman's boat, doomed forever to drift and play the wind in flight from an impossible dream of love, a body thrown overboard to stop the boat overturning in a gale ... troubled waters between here and Sado island, island of inescapable exile ... whimpering, or it was the sound of the tide's swell under her skirt trying to dislodge a small stone of polished quartz or opal of Orion caught between her thighs ... in somewhere unspeakable ... a mouth that dare no speak its name ... as he saw himself creep forward towards her, kneel down in front of her. Her face was turned towards the far wall and the mural there, a black lace scarf now tied around her forehead; presumably by Miyako. He was there now. He placed his hand on her arm, and then on her thigh, dismayed to find it quite cold. How many years asleep? He and she? How many years now tramping around deserts, climbing mountains, crossing seas, futile peregrinations combing nature's space and time for her ... give meaning to his own fugitive body ... he always an incorporeal image, wanting to compose her body, inside of which he might live, but he is decomposing, now, he has arrived here in a self-imposed exile on the sea shore, with only the company of white birds and the two diving girls ... where was the bridge across the straits on which the train would travel once the storms had subsided, the worst since records began ... a solitary pine tree behind them, bent by wind time and wintry fever, wracked by the unrelenting burden of transmitting messages to us from the gods, bringing them down to us (as the falcon returns with Soma the sacred plant of immortality - which Gilgamesh sought at the bottom of the sea, the elixir of life - in its magnificent claws); gifts from the gods, as we are, which natures' world should be felt as being, the ability to imagine beyond present-tension and appreciate the tantalising touchstone of beauty, the perfection of an innocent girl's face, a painting on silk, a sculpture honed from dead ebony, grained by fungus, or granite from the mountains beyond the source of the Nile ... a commemorative birthstone for those prepared to pause and momentarily sacrifice themselves, & listen.

     But he was starting to panic. Should he be alone with the girl? With she in such a helpless defenceless state? Why had Miyako left him so tantalisingly alone? He tried to turn towards the door to see if she was there, watching, but realized his neck was caught in some kind of metal brace, and if he moved too quickly he would break his neck. What if she returned as he was making love to the girl? Was she watching from behind the screen, raw silk painted with spring wisteria blossoms sacred to the emperor, white flowers with a hint of an oceanic blue wash, as in the ice of glaciers, hanging on convoluted branches like snow?

     He pushed his hand under the girl's kimono to find her breast, as  the sensation of something sharp pierced the centre of his forehead, and he began to fall back, back ... too much to reflect upon ... fragments of a body of texts at the bottom of a tree ... a voice: 'Nothing that occurs to anyone, anywhere, in dream, is untrue ... in and to itself untruth only occurs when we speak, communicate, attempt the cursed project of transcending our gnawing narcissism. When words end the dance begins ... '

     ... a girl wearing a white cotton dress with a decorated lace bodice covering her modest breasts leading him by the hand along a path of flat stones through an ornate gate into a geometrically designed garden inside high stone walls laid out with curved avenues of carved standing stones, thirteen or fourteen, heavily weathered limestone sculptures each a fragment of the human figure symmetrically arranged in circles within circles, a cyclic labyrinth (symbol of the mother's mystery and body) which was incarnating a coded message he knew he ought to remember ... through the centre of this mandala garden ran a stream, while hanging over the walls was lace white blossom ... leading him (only she knew the way) towards a closed door in the outside wall, tall and ornately carved with a motif of snakes entwined around the gnarled branches of two pine trees, side by side, two trunks emerging from a single root, split (by the sculptor) into two halves, one on each side ... 'Once we were a great family ... ' she said. 'We laments ... quarrying semi-precious stone in the mountains ... later came copper and silver and gold, offspring of the sun and moon, and all beauty and joy was lost.'

     It had been a cemetery. Now it was a museum, the bodies and their names forgotten, the sculptures enduring in their place, speaking across time, through time, striving for immortality. She pressed the handle but the door wouldn't open. She stamped her foot in anger before leading  him along the perimeter, tiptoeing as in a childish dance, round and round and round the garden a hundred times ... each single time for each mote of blind love she felt ... he felt secure as she held his hand. Finally she seemed to find what she was looking for. Three isolated, broken stones, old stelae carved with hieroglyphic writing. She pointed to the middle one indicating he was to sit on it before she sat down next to him on another stone. He still hadn't seen her face and even now she was looking away from him as she took a silk handkerchief out of a small vermilion-coloured lacquered box she was carrying. Silently he edged around her until he could see her profile, saw her licking the silk cloth and using it to wash her face, rubbing off the thick white make-up she was still wearing and the smudged red lipstick.

     There was no sign of the snow. He was sure it had been there as they entered the garden. There were fresh buds on the trees, some half open. He couldn't quite understand what he'd been doing all winter ... then he remembered. Writing his book. It had been almost a year since his first visit. He had rented a small cottage in the foothills behind Hawkshead. The place was probably irrelevant. He had worked in a dark panelled room, leaded windows, the wood stained with pig's blood. So they said. He had returned especially to see her, as he had promised. 'In a year I will return for you!' His manuscript was in a security box at the hotel on the edge of the lake. The water-lilies were in flower over which red dragon-flies were darting nervously, and, hovering between them was  a more subdued species, manganese blue with longer tails. The details were going ... he hoped she wouldn't ask for facts. They were eluding him now. 'We will meet here in a year's time, if I am successful in my mission ... ' And he knew that meant murder.

     When she had cleaned off her make-up she turned and smiled, her skin as fresh and perfect as a peach. He remembered the poem by Blake, except in truth he couldn't recall the precise words, but he recited the odd words he could remember, telling her the unlikely tale of a thief who stole a peach. He promised that when she came to England he would to read it to her, and other poems from the same book: 'I saw a chapel all of gold that none did dare to enter in, and many stood without weeping mourning worshipping ... I saw a serpent rise between the white pillars of the door and he forcd and forcd and forcd (till he broke the pearly door) Down the golden hinges tore. And all along the pavement sweet, set with pearls and rubies bright all his slimy length he drew till upon the altar white vomiting his poison out ... ' 'No, Wait!' she exclaimed. 'I don't want to hear an ending.' He had never seen a face so perfect, eyes so wilfully magical and alluring ... a vision in an opium dream ... 'and lo, my soul my daughter, cry, clutching heaven by the hems ... ' the image fading ... time and time again, back to the same wordlines, flightlines, alarmcalls, that wouldn't abandon their hold on him ... essential struts now in his skeleton of feeling.

     He said he would take her to the Lake District, its mountains so like those here, where she could feel at home. She asked him if there was a mountain there which had the profile of a hawk's  head and he said he would find one for her, and if not, he'd carve one. Or a sphinx.

     Looking down (as if she knew it would never happen) she saw a broken pot under the stones. Picking up the pieces and shaking her head with sadness she told him it was a pot made by the famous potter from the village, a reject, but even these were so beautiful the villagers used to steal them when he was feeding the Shogun's sacred carp. She spoke so quietly he wasn't sure if he heard the name correctly. Momoyama. She rubbed her finger along the broken pot's frayed rim, pointing to the patina, explaining it was used on all his stoneware tea bowls, a deliberately precipitated accident provoked by irregular firing in the kiln to make it misshapen, look as if abandoned, aesthetically unimportant, unworthy of respect or the desire to posses it; a deviously subtle process known as warping of the unfired body. The cult of the pariah ... some men were doomed to wander and to wander forever, migrating in search of other lost souls to mirror their own, give their own meaning and hope ... trying without success to escape the perverse barbarity of their dreams. Images with a tendency to seep back during lacunae in the maelstrom of the day's corporeality. 

     And he wondered if she'd drowned. But she was still speaking, speaking such perfect English ... He leant forward to kiss her gently on the cheek but lost his footing, clutching at the stone he was sitting on, falling forward until his face was in the moss at the foot of the stone, and he could taste it, bitter in his mouth ...his face lying on her boot ...  awaking back into darkness, again, endless turning and returning ... turn but a stone and start a wing ... awaking (if that was what it was) to find himself (dying rather) lying next to the two girls. Holding each tightly as if in grief. A wake: grieving his own death.

     The objects in the room were bathed in light which was shining from behind them through a silk screen creating shimmering auras around their silhouetted contours, a light so intense it blinded him ... he put his hands over his eyes to prevent it boiling the eyes's inner fluids.

     Miyako, her profile tinged with radiance, a still photograph from a black and white movie, from between the wars, silk handkerchief in her fingers, licking it before taking off the white make-up from the girl's face, rubbing gently as if it was a newly found ceramic mask by Momoyama, restoring its patina lost by the weather's attrition, a hundred years of lying under snow laced with granite grit. She and the girl reclining in front of him on what appeared to be a bed until he managed to figure it out - several cushions placed together with a black carpet or overlay, maybe velvet, on top. The girl was lying on her back under a thin white sheet, apparently asleep, as Miyako lovingly removed the make-up. When she saw Michael awake, she smiled. 'I thought you were never retuning to us, you'd gone forever!'

     It was too dark for him to see clearly, the white sheet over the girl below the body of Miyako resembling a snow-scape ... but the sheet slipped aside as Miyako moved and the girl seemed to be wearing some kind of black skin-tight catsuit ...  

     'Opium?' he murmured, weakly. 

     'Of course ... didn't you come here to savour our Eastern delights? I promised to make your dreams come true.' She was now licking and wiping off the last anaemic remains of make-up from the girl's face. 'That was always our purpose, the geisha's gift, to recapture the sacred past and make our clinging to it scholarly, respectable ... the art of artifice ... the actress on the stage of history, restorying you to your roots, your origins.' She knelt closer to the girl as if impatient with her work, but then she harshly licked off the girl's lipstick with her tongue, smudging both their cheeks. Turning towards him she snarled; 'Am I not the perfect doll?' 

     'Yes ... the perfect doll ... both you and she ... '

     'Will you know who it is that you have taken, penetrated, entered, breached, nameless, faceless, does it matter?' She took the last smudge of lipstick off the girl's mouth and made two identical round blobs of colour on the girl's cheeks, with lipstick on her tongue. Michael could see, now, that the girl was indeed the girl from the train ... why had he doubted? But was Miyako right about her? So cruel ... but it didn't matter now, she was anyone, anyone's, no-one. Unless he clung to making her someone ... a weakness he must finally, finally overcome.

     'In a moment she will be ready for you; for us,' Miyako announced jubilantly. 'She is faking sleep, it's part of her trip, her masochistic desire for absolute restraint, sublime detachment, pure objectivity, the ultimate bondage ... and that is how you must treat her. I know from your book, you weren't able to hide it with your obscure hyper-text links all the time, that you've been here before, this is your true domain, the house of the sleeping beauties ... and within its windowless walls: cold bloodied murder ... this time designed and choreographed by me, your obedient student, Herr Docteur Schlieman. If only he was here, Herr Kawabata, to witness my celestial sacrilege!'

     He wanted to say 'No ... wait ... not here ... it's not true ... ' but no words came. Yes, he'd written about bondage, psychological as well as physical, the shift in the prevailing paradigms of the collective consciousness away from transcendent romance into pain, the self a stranger even to the self, the lack of affect circumscribing everyone ... he was as much a victim of its errors ... How could he not be? Writing must be sacrifice ... becoming the subject, never the luxury of escape into objectivity; always confession, self condemnation.  

     'She makes no differentiation between male and female, she always saw herself as both, available to you as either, the hermaphroditic doll. Herm and Aphrodite ... the two snakes! Take her as you please, she enjoys pain ... poor thing. It was not her choice ... merely her destiny.'

     Miyako stood up slowly, gazing down at her victim. Michael was amazed to see her long black leather coat open to the ground, its long split skirts falling around her as she stood up, and under it a leather corset, a leather garter belt and black lace stockings with a fake jewelled garter attached to each. She adjusted her clothing, opened her legs wider to show she was not wearing knickers. 'You will obey me, or you will spoil it for both of us,' she hissed. 

     'Yes ... of course.' Normally he'd say no, this was never an aspect  of his preferred role: passivity ... he was something of a romantic, yes, but he cherished the feminine in most of its manifestations. But never never was he submissive ... the opposite! Miyako's wishful thinking! Or was it all a devious attempt to expose him? So what ... she was giving him the girl ... it was the drug, the drug bringing him to the brink ... yes, he must be grateful to her for bringing the girl to him ... the light was almost blinding him ... light, light, light with which the mind reasons, is reason merely light trapped in cells ... the mind witness to itself, the useful illusion of self ... images of his past threatening again to flood in. Was it enough to close his eyes to lock them out? No ... wait ...

     Miyako lay down next to the girl, the sheet partially covering her, and beckoned him to come to her ... he slipped off his kimono and knelt on the cushion next to them both as if he was about to receive communion ... maybe he was. Her flesh, her blood.

     'You will make love to me while I prepare her for you. You will see how considerate she has been, asking me to tie her with her favourite ropes ... ' Lifting the side of the sheet a few inches Michael could see the white nylon ropes, knotted, peeping out; tight around her body. Miyako had worked hard while he slept in the assuaging arms of the drug. 

     Despite not seeing all of her body, hidden under the white sheet, he knew the girl was tied from head to foot, sensing the ropes even under the sheet, the image disturbingly familiar ... the look of Carrara marble, a Baroque tomb. A dead princess, deflowered of life. Florence. Her name Florence. Farr maybe ... A wax cast ready to be made into bronze. A photograph by Man Ray. He was trying to find the means of distancing it, ignoring it ... an efficacious pivot word or pivot image ... but none came.

     Miyako, kneeling next him, whispering affectionately, telling him not to move until she said so, as she started kissing him, expertly, making him wince as the tip of her tongue peeled back his foreskin, and ... presumably the effects of the drug, not so immediately sensitive ... and in this state he might go on forever ... so little in the scenario Miyako didn't seem to know, all from reading her books, she said, carefully appraised in her Pillow Book ... he couldn't wait to read it! This or that side of the grave?

     She rocked back slowly, pushing her bottom towards him, and he slid quickly into her from behind. 'Take your time, be very very slow and gentle we have all eternity ... ' she murmured, falling forward slowly until she was lying over the girl. While he was making love to her, as instructed, Miyako gradually slid the sheet off the girl's body and as Michael had foreseen, she was bound from head to foot; an utterly professional job. She had become a work of art ... feigning sleep or asleep from the drugs, utterly immobile, apparently basking in the restraint. She moaned a few times as Miyako nudged her around. Michael didn't want to look at the girl's face knowing that if she opened her eyes and looked at him, the illusion would be destroyed ... and maybe much else ... but he guessed she would know this, she knew the language of the Play, their separate roles so diligently scripted and choreographed. Script by Genet maybe ... music by Satie.

     Miyako was now moaning as if in pain. He followed her rhythm easily, as if they were one body, rising and falling with the swell of the tide ... maybe it was the opium but everything seemed to be so perfect, endless repetition, no need of an ending ...

     But Miyako arched her back and he had to follow her as she pulled the girl round until the girl was directly under her own body, as she opened the girls legs, roughly pushing her further up into the cushions, before she let herself fall back into a position where she could start kissing the girl's vagina ... Michael didn't want to look. But did so. Mesmerised. Was this really what he had envisaged? Miyako's head at first hiding the action from his gaze, but his turn would come. His project at the moment was to serve the mistress who had provided him with her apprentice.

     Miyako was humming to the music, moaning louder and louder,  Michael assuming she was close to orgasm but she slipped forward quickly and he had no choice but to come out of her. She flicked onto her back and drew him down towards the girl's belly which he could barely see in the dim light ... although he knew where she was, in three dimensions, especially her vagina, by looking at the way the ropes had been tied with such elegant, perfect symmetry ... he moved so he could see Miyako's fingers opening the girl, and with her other hand guiding him down ... as if his penis was her own, a common-enough fantasy for such a phallic girl ... presumably the girls had performed such sexual rites before they were clearly 'dancing' in such synchrony. There was now nothing between him and the end of the dream ... this narrative written by the gods.

     'The little whore,' Miyako snapped, suddenly. 'This is what you want, isn't it! After this we punish you for enjoying it so much!' The girl moaned quietly, as Michael saw Miyako produce a whip from the other side of the girl's body and lightly draw it across the girl's tiny breasts ... still caressing her and opening her with her fingers. 'Take her, the little bitch, she is ready for you,' she snapped again.

     It was only a split second of perception but Michael detected there was something in her tone which rang untrue. But he couldn't stop himself as he fell towards the girl, moving the position of his knees, closer and closer ... but he wanted first to touch her, to know her, register the image in his mind transmitted from his fingers, discover how wet she was, and real, perhaps discover to what extent she was still conscious - did he doubt it? But as he put his hand forwards, Miyako pushed it away and hissed at him viciously, 'Fuck her, Michael! She is quite ready, I saw to that! She knows the game, with us girls it's all a question of absolute timing! You know that, don't you! Now! Take her, before it is too late! One single hard stroke, one thrust and she will come, spill out all over you from your merely entering her ... the mad woman always screams for more and more! Madness is insatiable ... she is an addict, mad like you and I! Then you are on your own, it will be my pleasure to watch ... fuck the hell out of her as long as you like! That is what she always craved ... every minute of day and night!'

     But he gripped her hard and twisted her away, and she yelped, as he assertively put his hand down to the girl's vagina and pressed his fingers home. Always one of the greatest pleasures he had known, to feel a woman before he went into her ... wet sopping ... proof of her desire for him ... but Miyako howled furiously again and hit him hard with the whip across his chest, as it all came to him in a flash, in a split second, the whole narrative a thousand years and a thousand pages long, though he had now reached page one thousand and one ... he grabbed the whip from her hand, tearing the skin on her palm as he wrenched it out of her grip before throwing her back so hard she nearly fell off the cushions, but he managed to grab her leg and yank her back towards him, twisting her arm so savagely it nearly came off (as in a sinister Kawabata short story he'd heard about in a lecture the previous afternoon) and she screamed in pain ... 'He will hear!' she shouted. But he didn't care, he was beyond words ... especially lies. Forcing her down on her stomach he whipped her across her bottom, until red raw ... until he flung the whip away, spread her and thrust inside her as brutally and savagely as he could ... as if he was disembowelling her with a sword ... limp, crushed, a broken doll whimpering like a child. Brutally he lifted her thighs off the cushions - as light as a feather - pushed deeper into her, never (he'd make sure of it) would she have the hell more fucked out of her as this once ... pitiless images to remember him by ... bruised torn skin.

     Like a demon ... a demon he didn't know he had denied, kept hidden from himself over the years ... on and on and on ... he thrust into her until exhausted (opium was indeed good at prolonging endings - writers addicted to opium never managing to complete the 'great work') until, savaging the tip of his penis against her clitoris and arse, he finally ejaculated, resenting his semen going into her ... although on second thoughts (much much later) he was happy thinking she would feel it trickling down her thigh  afterwards, reminding her how he had taken her so brutally; 'You fucking little whore!' he spat into her ear, so loud she winced, sobbing uncontrollably in pain and rage as he pushed her roughly away.

     He pulled himself towards the girl, still lying immobile. He touched her again on the vagina, gently, to make sure he had been right, that it had not been a false impression induced by the drugs. Yes. She was a virgin. Gently, tenderly, he untied the ropes, but before throwing them to the corner of the room he hit Miyako with them, hard, one last time, enjoying hurting her, ripping her across the bottom, drawing more blood, as she howled and sobbed even deeper.

     He lay down next to the girl, wanting to protect her, not only from Miyako but whatever else was there, lurking in the shadows. He could feel the whole house had become alive, although he knew it might be another illusion induced by the opium. Everything alive or everything dead. Putting his arms around the girl he held her close to him to give her his warmth, she was so light, slight, so slender, so uncoordinated like a newly-born fawn. He couldn't help himself but he felt so dis-orientated, so out of his depth, he wept and the tears fell onto her face. He quickly licked them off, kissed her cheek, her neck, her breasts, not out of desire, but respect for her fragility, her innocence, her childish beauty.

     'You are safe now,' he whispered, wrapping her in the sheet, her face still seeming to gaze, emptily, at the ceiling, as dark as the night sky. A Noh mask, the eyes quite closed. She was breathing evenly, so there seemed no reason to fear for her life. Sooner or later she would revive, return to the horror of reality. Maybe it had been a good thing she was so heavily drugged. In time she would learn to cope with the burning house of the world, with man's desire and woman's, so ominous and malevolent when thwarted.   

     Miyako, he recalled suddenly, had worked as a student in a hospital in Tokyo, she'd mentioned it in passing. Probably it was there she got to know about drugs. At which moment he heard a noise from the corner of the room. Miyako heard it also and stopped sobbing. It took Michael a moment or two to focus his eyes but he saw a man standing in the shadows in the corner of the room.  

     'Who is it?' he snapped at Miyako.

     'We can't be sure ... Let me go to him.'

     Michael stayed lying on the makeshift bed, holding the body of the girl tightly in his arms as Miyako stood up, shook herself as if every thing that had happened (nothing really) could be sloughed off like dead skin into an old waste paper basket. Or, as she wrote in her pillow book: 'Old tin waste basket. Snake sheds its unwanted skin. The sound of the wind.'

     To Michael's amazement he saw Miyako lifting up his own  coat from the side table and putting it on, fastening each button slowly, before taking the hat she'd also put on the table earlier, placing it ceremoniously on her head, after which she slowly approached the man who was still standing on the same spot, hunched and frail in front of the screen of white and ice-blue wisterias. 

     Michael had not noticed there were two screens, one with the  wisteria, the other a deformed pine. Miyako was kneeling down in front of the man as if she was in a church, as Michael clung to the sleeping body of the girl, wondering what on earth, or what was not of the earth, would happen next.

     The girl was stirring, her arms moving as Miyako began speaking in Japanese. Michael could see the man wasn't responding. Man or ghost. Michael tried to see if he had feet but his coat was long enough to hide them, missing or otherwise.

     Miyako continued speaking and Michael soon realized it was the spoken Japanese that was awakening the girl in his arms. Not knowing what to do he put a cushion under the girl's head and pressed her gently into it, making sure she was warmly wrapped in the sheet; a baby in swaddling clothes, a mummy with a serene classical beauty, the body of a princess of the royal family no less, illegitimate daughter of the Pharaoh Akhenaten and a Nubian concubine ... so beautiful she had been traded for twenty eight kilograms of pure, best Lapis Lazuli (the colour of her eyes) recently brought from the distant mountains of the Hindu Kush ... a girl conceived by the Pharaoh in an opium dream, and so, his most cherished; to whom he had given the name, meaning: Beautiful Gift from the Gods.   

     Michael crept up behind Miyako and knelt behind her, but he still couldn't see the man's face, though he noticed he was wearing a very long coat, or cloak. He had still not moved a fraction of an inch and it was impossible to see if he was breathing. It might be the old man from the train, not yet buried, not yet dead. Was everything Miyako had said a lie?

     Suddenly Miyako put her hand behind her, waving in the air towards him, as if groping for comfort from Michael and he tried to resist it, shy away, but then he clasped the deathly cold fingers being forcefully offered to him; though he did so reluctantly. Maybe he had misunderstood everything, he should have been better prepared, researched the sources, the script, expected anything ... wasn't it Miyako who had told him that in Kawabata's final novel, all the prostitutes were virgins? They did things differently in Japan. Time would tell, and in the presence of a ghost it was probably wise to forget, forgo, forgive everything. At which moment Miyako started speaking in English.

     'I hope the dancing girls put on a good play for you, that it will inspire you. The whore of Eguchi will return to normal once you have left. I will take her back to the house of the sleeping beauties where she dreams she belongs. Alas, sometimes she is foolish, even mad, pretends she is Murasame, such a desolate, childish fantasy. So I have to punish her, don't I? I promised you I'd take care of her, you know I love her as much as you do. A child still ... is it right that one of us, whose heart is as black as ebony, should die?'

     Turning away from the man, Miyako put her arms around Michael and held him tightly, pressing their bodies together as if the gap between them was death itself ... Michael hoped ghosts weren't capable of jealousy. 'Help me, please, Michael, I am going mad! How can I avoid it? But you can see him too, can't you? Tell me I'm not mad, at least we share the same madness from time to time?'

     'Yes, I see him ... at least I think so ... who is he?'

     'At the first light of dawn she slips away ... ' she murmured, avoiding his question. She had allowed the coat she was wearing, his, to fall, and her right shoulder was now bare. Involuntarily, he kissed it.

     'I am bleeding ... but you had the right to draw my blood. My darling! She is a wave on the surface of a sea of milk, a wave circling back on itself. Though no such dance - I told her, once lost, it is lost - can turn back time. I confess ... it is me who must confess in order to become free ... I confess I wanted to take it from her, her virginity, to be the agente provocatrice. My own worst recurring dream ... not all the trees in the Hazukashi grove can hide my shame ... now you see why my fate looms up so clearly in front of my eyes, an impenetrably woven veil, behind it the iced lucidity of truth, a bitter self-destroying truth I can never escape ... that because of her, this girl, I am doomed to torture myself. Oh, you do not know the pain I have inflicted, year after year, upon myself. Caused by her. Stories that would fill a hundred notebooks of confessions ... unpublishable, not even as deliberately acknowledged lies, lies fictionalised as shishosetsu ... '

     Michael held her tightly as she shuddered and trembled. He looked over at the man who still hadn't moved. A sculpture ... maybe it was all a trick, after all. Trick of light. A laser projection, a holographic image. A good one, it was inspiring, he was enjoying it. Kabuki more than Noh. He still couldn't see the man's features, although for a fleeting moment he thought he was seeing the face he'd been seeing all week, the tortured face on the poster for the conference that he'd first seen in the railway station, the author who had written disturbing novels about erotic confrontations with various geisha, dancing girls, and school-girls he had stalked, strange young girls going down to the canyon ... the man himself whose books they were here in Yuzawa to celebrate, books selling in millions, not forgetting the films they had spawned and the young actresses whose careers had been launched by their sad seductive portrayals of Komako, the girl who failed to inspire love (only desire) in the proud and arrogant dilettante, expert on Western dances though he had never seen one, a lost pilgrim on his quest for divine transcendence ... Komako, the girl stupid enough to believe in her love for a callous stranger, a simple lovely girl who fell from grace and self-love, who afterwards went to seed in the country, destroyed by unrequited love. Kawabata who had killed himself when his search for sublime self-loss came to a sad end, his body found by the young servant girl he had loved, caring for him in his final bitter year of loneliness and misery. 

     Michael shook his head, twice, three times, focussed his eyes ... No, it was not Kawabata but the old man he had seen with the girl. But Miyako moved away from Michael, to go closer to him, close enough to reflect (from her naked shoulder) a gentle swathe of pallid light, as of a pale fire, onto the man's face and Michael changed his mind, again, it was not the face of a Japanese man at all ... a face disfigured by scars, open wounds ... and Michael's first thought was a bizarre one. The man had been a victim of an overdose of radiation. Michael tried hard to recognise the features ... he was from a land in the south, not a northern one after all ...

     Michael gripped Miyako, now hugging him again, stammering, sobbing. 'I'm sorry, sor ... really am ... it's my madness that has brought him and you together here ... he is you and you are him.' Her voice sounding as if it was refracted through a crystal bowl of splintered glass shards. 'I hated him so passionately, with such fear and loathing over the years, disturbing his sleep of death, a thesis I can never finish, a story I cannot tell, that cannot be told. The authorities will not allow it. She tried to save him, at great risk, he may have infected her, forever ... if I told the truth they would kill me, wouldn't they, and her. Only with silence  can I protect her. He had too many powerful friends. The government, big business ... he was evil, he had to be killed ... we agreed the plot years ago when barely out of childhood, she and I would do it together ... One falsified document and we could be erased, all memory of us eliminated. They would call us whores. Find witnesses to prove it. There's too much at stake. Please, please Michael, can you help us escape to England? Only there can we escape his power, his legacy. That's the way they do it here, they'd call us common whores ... women who walk streets ... bodies found in a back alley in Tokyo as in a film noir ... I murdered him, with her, for her, for us both, but she is the one who is irreversibly mad, you know that don't you? Mad to dream she can remain unpolluted in this modern world ... Please, you must believe me, it was always her dream, to give pleasure like that in the house of the sleeping beauties. He sickened her, destroyed her lovely young body. I know, I know! Something I could only imagine ... oh, the tenderness and beauty of it. Until the girl with the black heart and blood and skin is murdered. That is what he wrote, after all. Why did he need to murder that sleeping girl? Was his novel not a confession of a real crime? Or a Buddhist dream as was claimed? Nonsense! The murder of the flesh? I said I would find the girls, he could pay for it, but he was not to murder them ... at least, not until I had left at the first glimpse of the light of dawn. But he betrayed me, rejected me, she is the girl he always wanted, she was his ultimate subject, he said. Object, I said. But she said no ... that is how this hellish story began. She said 'No ... wait!' Until she was older, I suppose. Or forever! She is responsible for everything! Even him, his terrible destructive despair. Then the explosion in the laboratory. Who would want such a father? Please don't blame me, don't hate me, don't reject me, I cannot suffer being rejected again ... especially for her ... by her. By you, by the whole wide world.'

     Michael was trying to believe her, as she sobbed inconsolably. Her lips bleeding. He could hear a voice inside his head telling him what to say. 'Miyako ... There is no man there. It is only an illusion, it is a picture of a pine tree ... fell a tree and you kill a man ... an old bent pine tree through which no winds blows!'

     She continued. 'No autumn rain can fall on its withering leaves ... she sees him everywhere, a fetish, a virgin's obsession. She will not rest until she joins him in death. She told me so. I only wanted to help her.'

     Michael suddenly heard a girl's voice behind him. 'No! ... it is all lies! Disgusting shameful lies!' His body instantly rigid as if he had been shot, he managed to turn, still holding Miyako. The girl was sitting up on the bed of cushions, the sheet tucked around her chin. In perfect English she continued: 'She is mad, utterly utterly mad, do not listen to her, she falsifies everything, corrupts everything she touches. She is a total mirror image of the truth. Is it any wonder she falls in love so easily, at the drop of a hat? What am I to do with her? Become as mad as she is?' She stood up. 'You can go now,' she said in a clear commanding voice, looking past them both, towards the old man.

     Michael turned. But the man had already gone. All that remained was the moveable screen, image of a pine tree on three panels, and his own hat which Miyako had worn, fallen on the floor where the man had been standing.

     Michael's legs were trembling. Miyako's hair was in his face and he kissed her head. With pity. She seemed so frail suddenly. But she slithered away from under his grasp and went to the girl, whom she pulled to stand next to her, rather roughly Michael thought, before they hugged each other, both now weeping.

     He saw a garden with a stone wall, square and self-contained, inside of which were standing stones, weathered and broken by  snow, winds and dreams of a thousand years. Stones that in some odd way seemed to resemble the bodies of petrified humans more than petrified trees, though they suggested both. Traces of intense bursts of radiation in the wave grain in the rock. The image of the man's face would never go away, he knew; despite his denying it, it resembled his own. Decayed by the radiation in the laboratory accident ... he had merely been told about it. Sutherland's death.

     'Come here, join us Michael, please. We are in this together, the four of us, it was our fate ... ' Miyako murmured.

     Slowly, mauled, distrustful, he went to them, not exactly reluctantly but with obscure misgivings. He seemed so utterly lucid now, wide awake. Nothing like a ghost to bring you back down to earth. Miyako pulled him close and the three of them stood holding each other, the two girls softly continuing to cry. Michael could feel the warmth of their bodies against his own, his own wracked with pain, as he detected an uncanny feeling, hidden vibrations, as if they had all plugged into an unseen field of energy, benign, nourishing, an erotic force that fuelled the whole galaxy, much stronger than the vibrations he had felt in the forest next to his tree in the garden, the tree he called 'his' tree, and another one he also felt he recognised in the cemetery, saw and felt it to be 'his' own, where the girl had mourned the dead man, or had seemed to ... a relentless unrepentant power beyond all their control, now separating them and yet a moment later rejoining them ... and vice versa ... the systole and diastole of the cosmic heart ... for a moment they had broken through thinking as if in a wild arboreal dance and were now sharing, not only each other, but the wave-field's vitality, drawing them into the same trance, the De Quinceyian involute ... a transient pleasure and pain for being alive, fleetingly together, necessary to the wider picture ... the R Field as he had called it in one of his more esoteric works of fiction ... thank god, purple as the pope's robes, never published.

     Eventually they separated, the girl refusing to look either of them in the face, holding the crumpled white sheet around her, gazing at the spot where the man had stood. 'You little fool!' she snapped at Miyako, as they established viable space between them. 'Why do you always go too far?'

     Miyako said nothing but turned to Michael. 'Do you know the way back to the hotel in the dead of night? It is snowing heavily, the paths are treacherous.'

     'I'll find my way ... the way,' he said.

     Miyako led him into the room where his clothes had been neatly folded onto a low table. 'Dress, and I will show you to the door,' she said, leaving him brusquely to return to the girl in the other room. Thank god she hadn't said, 'Doctor Schlieman,' otherwise he would have hit her straight across the face, without apologising.

     He dressed, tying a knot in his handkerchief to remind him to ask Miyako where she had got the opium, maybe she could get more ... no doubt about it, it had enhanced his performance ... detachment had its merits. He'd not put a foot wrong, frankly, which is more than he could say for the ghost, without a foot to put, anyway, and if he had, it would probably have got more than it bargained for, Miyako chopping it off to take home with her for the night to make love to ... a homage of sorts, to his literary work.

     Miyako showed him to the outside door. 'It was better this way. We are the victims of the scenarios of others, didn't he say, your friend De Quincey?' She kissed him gently on the cheek. 'You see I notice what you tell me, sometimes ... Herr Docteur Schlieman!'

     He raised his arm, but let it fall to his side. Perhaps it was not his right to be critical. It wasn't a De Quincey quote at all ... ah well, the female mysteries. He'd been privileged to be made welcome, in this day and age, by two of the lost, scriptless, forsaken priestesses of the neglected goddess, abused daughters of Gaia, forced to invent their own sacrificial  narratives.

     He'd done his best to keep to their script, on this occasion, rather than his own. Especially the kind of trash that had sold so well, like his awful Girl in the Lake.  The only one Heinous enough to get translated into Japanese, as well as French. 

 

 

Here was the map of the passion that had now finished.

 

Thomas de Quincey

 

A Vision of Sudden Death

The English Mail Coach

Blackwood's Magazine: December 1849

 

 

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