No 166 - 2001
I’m enjoying the sunrise. My father lounges on a sofa indoors, sucks grapes and claims they taste of wine. I stand naked on the patio, little stones from the gravel at the edge of the pathway pricking the soles of my feet.
There are seven magpies on the back fence - I don’t know enough of the rhyme to work out what that means, but it feels like we’re a family of eight and that I can frighten the other birds the way they do. Three steps to the lower garden, more little stones and then the soft lawn. The magpies don’t move. I’m in the middle of the lawn, only three or four metres away from them, and we are sharing thoughts - shapeless fantasies of something warm and indefinable. Over the back fence lies a wilderness. To the left and right, other gardens, other houses. I stretch out my arms and allow the morning to be sucked into my pores, like a shower of life and sunlight.
On the edge of my vision, I see a neighbour struggling to open an upstairs window, trying to plunge a key into a lock that was designed to keep invaders out and is now locking him in. He succeeds. Children’s laughter is first to spill, followed by his voice. ‘Excuse me, you bloody pervert, but kids sleep in this bedroom, you know.’ The magpies fly off in simultaneous randomness, my knees ache with an awkward pose and I hear my father chortling in the lounge, peering through the newspaper with his x-ray eyes.
I can’t remember anything at all about my early life. Maybe I was born at seventeen or maybe there was some kind of switch from one existence to another, a step through a cosmic portal. I don’t know where I went to school. I don’t know how I learned words or courtesies.
My first memory is of walking up a hill by a children’s park. It was late evening. Most of the swings had been wrapped around their crossbars by older boys, seeking to deprive toddlers of their play. As I passed, one of them was practising his art, to the enthusiastic support of his fellows. Back and forth, back and forth, arching his body to build up acceleration, swinging through almost one hundred and eighty degrees and then leaping off at just the right moment, with just the right kick, just the right thrust and momentum - a true skill wasted on mischief. The others counted the revolutions around the crossbar, the rusty chains of the swing getting shorter each time - one, two, three, four …
I was suddenly surrounded.
Not by them. By others. I don’t know where they’d come from.
My body was frail and slender, that of a seventeen year old still stumbling through puberty. They were older and heftier, with shaved heads, raw eyes, bare intentions, ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed across their massive knuckles, one of them with ‘bastard’ written on his brow in biro. They glared at me and time seemed to stop.
‘Hello,’ said their leader. He had no teeth at the front of his mouth and a blueblack spider’s web on his neck, sticking out of the top of his checked shirt. It didn’t feel appropriate to respond aloud so I just smiled. They closed in around me. There was no way past so I kept on smiling and didn’t attempt to move.
‘You’ve a choice,’ he said. ‘You can either give us everything you’ve got that’s worth having - all your money and that - or you can let us kick the shit out of you first and then we’ll just take it.’
The others grinned. Boiler was boss. He was built of bricks but was eloquent in his menacing.
‘Which is it to be?’
I’d just been born. I knew no better. My eyes reached into them and did a quick survey of their souls. I stared, they stared. I saw what they were. I let them see what I was and they turned pale, cowered, stepped back and ran in as many directions as there were of them.
And then there was silence. The gang who’d been vandalising the swings were now sitting on the graffitied roundabout, a little dumbfounded by the frail and slender seventeen year old standing firm whilst half a dozen skinheads beat a clumsy retreat.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have done it.
‘Boy,’ he says, calling from the lounge.
‘Father?’ I stroll back up the steps, across the patio, through the French window. He’s watching TV. His television is unusual because it has infinite screens and you can see them all at once. He has the sound turned down so we can talk.
‘Was that our neighbour?’ he says.
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘He’s distressed. I think he’s complaining about having children.’
He laughs. ‘I’ve told you, nudity makes him uncomfortable. He uses his children as justification, but they don’t mind what you do. It’s him who has a problem with it.’
‘But not with me as such?’
‘Not as such. Being offended is something we do to ourselves. Go through to the kitchen, will you, and get me that jar of pickled chillies from the fridge.’
‘Something hot from somewhere cold. Don’t you ever tire of the games?’
‘Not often,’ he says. ‘And if I ever do then we’ll go somewhere else.’
‘What’ll it be like?’
He shrugs again.
‘Will I remember having been here?’
‘How the fuck do I know,’ he says, ‘until we get there?’
I hesitate. I catch a glimpse of a priest on TV jabbing a finger at me through one of the screens. ‘Are you allowed to say “fuck”?’ I say.
I was on a beach, squashed into a pair of trunks apparently designed by someone with different anatomy to me because they seemed inadequate. People were sprawled across the sandy strip, mostly avoiding the stones. It was fascinating. They all looked the same but no two were identical. Diversity is a difficult concept when you are everything.
There was a young woman, lying face down on a big blue towel. She’d unfastened the top of her bikini and its straps were by her side, her arms stretched out so she formed a shape familiar to me. Her flesh was golden. It looked good on her and she radiated comfort and oneness.
I leaned over and stroked her bare back. It was smooth and warm. Her spine kissed the nerve-endings of my palm and I could taste something intoxicating. The moment was brief, but the memory of it turned out to be infinite.
She screamed - not like a child or frightened victim, but as one snapped out of oblivion by an unexpected touch. She half-sat up to berate me. Her breasts were beautiful, her face compelling, her inner person like a beacon in my darkness. Her words never formed. She saw what I was and lay back down, allowing me to stroke her skin a little longer. A short while later, I returned her space to her, never having sought to steal it, and walked away.
She wouldn’t see the scars I’d left because they were from a different dimension.
The sun is higher now and I am running around the garden again, absorbing the rays. The warmth and thrill empower me to dance dances I feel could alter the future, or even the past. I’m still naked and I like the way parts of my body bounce. The neighbour is holding a telephone receiver and shouting something at me but I can only hear the music, the multi-layered cacophony of Nature’s separate symphonies.
Father’s amused. He’s standing by the French window with his hands on his hips, looking exceptionally proud.
There was a leveret, a tiny creature, learning which plants tasted best. My humanity told me it was a manifestation of all things cute and adorable. Its nose twitched, its fur as soft as a mother’s love. It allowed me to approach it and stroke its coat; smooth and rewarding, like the flesh of the young woman.
I had an instinct born of deep magic and it began to stir. Saliva squirted into my mouth, my eyelids tightened around my eyeballs and I could see a warm lifeform in my infrared, held spellbound by my radio transmitters. I picked up the creature and thrust it towards my jaws. My hunger was intense.
And so was the pain as a high-energy jolt forced itself through my every cell, my every layer, my every dimension.
Father hadn’t said anything about that.
I dropped the creature and it scampered into the hedgerow. Meanwhile, I was on fire, out-fluorescing even the sun, my inner self tearing apart. Just for a moment, my consciousness leapt forward at least a notch further than man had ever before achieved, I became part of the burning celestial sphere and my soul ripped like paper clothing. I was the farthest, the sun, the holey spirit.
For months, I immersed myself in the television screens. At first I was angry and saw terrorism, bombings, brutality, muggings, prefects taking the first-former into the changing rooms and stripping him of his clothes and dignity, precocious teenage girls mercilessly taunting one of their classmates who was still flat-chested and flabby; hoodlums with flick knives, youngsters with switchblades, silicon simulants from the future trying to rewrite their past …
Then I was placid and saw wizards and princesses, flora, fauna, fantasies, guardian angels, kisses with tongues, mythical goddesses, dreams that always come true, perfect clouds, flawless cocoons containing orgasm and ecstasy, successions of naked women running towards me in slow motion, discordant voices singing illuminating harmonies …
My father laughed. He told me stories of his own that made those on his television seem pale. I asked him about the pain I’d felt when I’d picked up the young hare and he said something about walking through fire and nothing being free.
‘But why are some things wrong?’ I said.
He wouldn’t answer.
‘Why are there certain things I can’t do?’
He shrugged. ‘We mustn’t interfere. We mustn’t change anything. Not from within.’
We walked down a High Street, which was unusual because he rarely ventured out. Nobody noticed him and some even walked right through him. I shot a few glances at the shop windows but they ricocheted back, mostly unfulfilled. There was a mosaic of smells - pizza, coffee, chocolate cookies and stale vagabonds’ urine - and each contained another mosaic, this time of life.
We kept turning corners, always to the left, but never seemed to come back to where we’d started. There was a kind of rhythm to it all. Like my dances in the back garden, like the syncopated shifts in the clouds. I felt the oneness. Every thing that was everything became everything that was one. And I was the one.
Back at home, Father has that look in his eye that he gets when he thinks I’ve learned something.
I’m outside again, still naked, still free. It feels like the magpies are calling me but there is only one of them now. I can remember that much of the rhyme.
It’s the biggest one, the fattest one. It’s sitting on the back fence like a feathered overlord and there are no other birds to be seen. Everywhere is quiet. I’m standing just a couple of metres away from it and we’re having a conversation that I can’t put into words. It leaps onto the lawn, gyrates and gives a special wiggle. I copy its movements and we are linked. Father returns to his newspaper.
We dance around the lawn three times, always to the left, me always a few steps behind. Then it hops over a low conifer onto the garden path. I follow it and, as I leap, I catch a glimpse over the fence of the family next door, sitting in their gazebo, looking appalled.
The path down the side of the house is cold where it has been in shadow, but feels fresh to my soles. The magpie thinks excitement, venturing somewhere where it has never been before - to the front of the house.
It’s vast and scary here. We live in a cul-de-sac, so we are surrounded by houses. Our front garden is small - a single bed of flowers and a sapling encircled by a slightly threadbare lawn; no fence, no wall, just straight out onto the pavement. As we emerge from the side, magpie first, there are already people there - the chap from two doors down washing his car, a couple of folk in their gardens, two young girls of maybe nine or ten sitting on their bicycles but not going anywhere… I see them but my focus is on the feathered overlord as he promises me something special. We do that same dance again, this time on the front lawn.
There are others on the street now, more looking through windows, and they are all staring at us, many open-mouthed, every one silent. I take it they are marvelling. The magpie is suddenly motionless. I stop, just an arm’s length away from it and bend right down to face it as evenly as I can. Our eyes meet and there is a further sense of oneness. Nothing else lingers. There is me and the magpie, and I am it.
I reach out warily, but convince myself it will be different this time. I hold its warm light body in my hands. And thrust it towards my jaws.
There is a surge of pain, of hostile energy that disables my whole being. I am almost deaf, almost blind, savaged by appetite and ravaged with rage. I bite halfway through my tongue and my mouth tastes of metal. I beat my head with my hands, as if I can knock it all out of being. I drop the magpie but it doesn’t fly away. It looks up at me, a little disappointed. There is some kind of commotion among the neighbours. A white van pulls into the cul-de-sac and halts at the bottom of our drive. Everything’s fuzzy. I tell myself that the ugly alien faces aren’t really there.
Someone is grabbing me and I’m being pulled away. The pain is pouring through my duplicity, so details are vague, but I see hands and feel them on my arm. I shout for my father. I shout and shout as loud as I can but I know he’s not there; as if he’s never been there.
A blurred portal opens.
A working-class ‘Geordie’ from Gateshead, Kevin Patton has just completed an MA in Creative Writing at UEA. Recent writing projects include a novel, Ankhst, and a set of short stories on the theme of ‘magical thinking’.
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