Here are a few bits of fiction I have had lying around for a while. They haven't particularly been written as part of a substantial project, and the idea of presenting them in this severed format doesn't seem too bad to me.
I had a very rough outline of a novel some time ago, for which most of these pieces were written, but I had a Brian Wilson moment and, faced with pages and pages of script, couldn't recall what the original point of it was.
I think of the novel occasionally, but let's face it, I'm never going to write it all. So, since the whole has been all but abandoned, I thought I should at least post some of the most significant parts. I suspect they work better as fragments than they would have as the foundations of something bigger, except that the change in style between each section is somewhat jarring.
The novel had a working title of Love Life
, which I suppose is a little bit precious, but I quite like it, and so it remains the title of this post.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void ; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And the name of this God was Philippe Dupont.
And Philippe said, Let there be light
; and there was light. And Philippe saw the light, that it was good: and Philippe divided the light from the darkness. And Philippe called the light Day
, and the darkness he called Night
. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And after a deep sleep, Philippe found that on this first day he felt a great emptiness down below, and heard a corresponding rumble. This he called Hunger
. And, having wept a little at the rumbling, Philippe was presented with a great nebulous thing so that his Hunger could be sated. And Philippe drank from a mamilla which had been placed on the surface of the great nebulous thing; and lo, the thing made the rumbling cease.
And once the rumbling had ceased, so Philippe’s attention turned to something brushing against his skin, at once refreshing and smarting it, and this he called the Cold
. And so he resolved that the great nebulous thing would subdue the Cold as well as the Hunger; and he pressed himself tight against the velvety softness of the thing until it consumed him, encased his small, cold body, and made the Cold go away.
And now, Philippe decided, his world was complete. There was light and dark, and land and sea, and trees yielding fruit, and moving creatures that hath life (like fowl, and cattle, and creeping things), and there was the great nebulous thing which fed him and warmed him and met all his needs. And this Philippe called Love
In this world, Philippe was God and everything was a mere adjective of himself. All life – all sounds and sensations and colours and laughs and tears – was his. He cried, so the world cried. He laughed, so the world laughed. He made a smell, so the world smelled. And all in the loving bosom of the Great Nebulous Thing. If only such a world could continue forever!
But tragedy loomed. Philippe had no plan for his world. This was an unfortunate and intractable position to find himself in for, since the world and Philippe were indivisible, there was nothing to shake it from its slumber. For Philippe to survive, he had to confess that the world existed outside of himself. This is quite a confession for God to make.
And so it arose that Philippe sat one night, enthroned in the Great Nebulous Thing, dreaming as usual. It is instructive to analyse the dream he seems to remember having in these formative years, though it is clear to neither of us if what I am about to recount was, in fact, something he dreamed at the time, or whether it actually took place, or whether, conversely, it is a product of his subsequent imagination.
*Philippe lay in the bosom of the Great Nebulous Thing
and looked up the blue, starry sky, which he noticed was beginning to crack. There was a man behind the sky with a toolbox chipping away at the moon with a chisel so that it turned from globe to crescent and then faded away entirely. Then, the man quietly unscrewed the stars so that they too faded away and died. There were no sounds to accompany this movement, and all remained peaceful in Philippe’s world. Yet the end was nigh.
Philippe decided to play a game. First he ordered a servant or two to bring some furniture to him: a chest of drawers, a wardrobe, a dresser with a mirror, a hatstand and – why not? – a ceiling and some walls and a large window with a sill. Then he ordered another man to bring him a pot of food and some cutlery to eat it with. Then, having waved away his servants, Philippe took a knife and fork and began carving at his feet: first his left, then his right (this was later to be the order by which Philippe put on his socks and tied his shoelaces). He was pleasantly surprised at how easily he managed to separate them from his legs – such softness of limb and flesh is, of course, an endearing part of any young infant.
Once he had detached his feet from his body, he placed one on the chest of drawers and one on the window-sill. He then moved a little further up his body, carving away at drumsticks and thighs and placing them on various pieces of furniture. Having got as far as his torso (which was placed inside the wardrobe), Philippe performed a full self-lobotomy and placed the goo from the inside of his head on the hat-stand, a manoeuvre which amused him greatly. The Great Nebulous Thing responded magnificently and in precisely the way that Philippe had hoped for – it drew what was left of his head into its loving cradle, then grabbed his remaining body parts from their new homes, so that Philippe was once again complete. Completely and utterly and seductively submissive and beautifully, shamefully passive. This, so Philippe claims, was the last wholly satisfying moment of his life up to this point, for it was soon afterwards that Philippe heard a voice. It was a male voice, and it was making noises which disrupted Philippe’s world, which was usually a very peaceful place. Philippe could not understand what the voice was saying, but it seemed to be addressing him directly, and it said some very bad things.
*Philippe decided that he would respond.
Later, when asked about the details of his answer, he was at a loss to recall the precise nature of the accord he struck up with the Voice. But accord there must have been, for his discussion with the Voice concluded with a handshake. As to the rest – well, something must have been said, whether by himself or by the Voice, which caused the shaking of hands. And – yes! It’s coming back to him! – the Voice had wished him “Good luck.”Good luck for what?
For whatever was to follow the handshake.What did follow the handshake?
Philippe could not recall the details of the ensuing settlement, but he felt sure the memory would surface sooner or later. The mind is a reserve of overlooked data, an untapped resource, full of material waiting to be unearthed. With a little digging, a little raking through the leaves, some pulling apart of the earth, who knows what he might find beneath the top-soil?What was the nature of Philippe’s relationship with the outside world at this stage?
It is too soon to reveal the nature of this relationship, if indeed it existed at all. Indeed, it can be supposed that Philippe’s relationship to the world was limited to his love of the Great Nebulous Thing. But in this regard, there is perhaps one concrete fact which can be asserted in lieu of any further tangible evidence: Philippe and the Thing had parted company.What was the effect of this severance on the boy?
Philippe was like a teddy-bear without its playmates: quite lost and quite bereft. The Thing remained, always hovering in the distance, its warm allure swathed in opulent robes, but it was henceforth out of bounds to Philippe.
Phillipe had often been told that he was capable of anything if he put his mind to it.
This was quite a thing for an eight year old boy to hear. All the innocence of childhood was his, and yet here were grown men pointing at Phillipe’s future and asking him what he saw. His father said it particularly often, especially during the holidays, when Phillipe would follow his father from shed to shed as he bathed and fed his pigs.
“Pip,” his father said, “just you buckle down to your studies and who knows – you could be a rich man by the time you’re twenty-five. Keep your old mum and dad in their dotage, eh?” At this, Phillipe’s father would laugh heartily and pat the backside of the nearest sow. Phillipe always wished that his father would pat him like that, just sometimes.
At nine in the morning on an early birthday, his parents burst into his room in a great stew. Phillipe had been dreaming of a spring camping holiday in the country with some friends and he regretted its disruption, but as he rubbed his eyes he was cheered by the sight of a beaming sun which he spied through a crack in the blind, and by the promise that his parents’ happy faces brought.
“Pip!” his mother cried, running over to his pillow to kiss his forehead. “Betty has won first prize!”
“Old Betty!” his father cried, blinking as if in a daze. “Old Betty!”
“What a wonderful day, Phillipe! Oh, what a wonderful day! Isn’t your father a wonderful man, Pip?” his mother said, looking plaintively into his eyes.
“Good old Betty!” his father bellowed again, as if finally realising the magnitude of what he was saying.
“We’ve made a breakfast, Pip,” his mother said. “Come and join us.” And at that, his parents clasped hands and went skipping down the stairs. Phillipe rubbed his eyes, sighed, and looked out at the sun. He could smell bacon fat from downstairs.
“One day you might do something like this,” Phillipe’s mother said to him at breakfast.
“Something like what?” Phillipe asked.
“You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it, Phillipe – ” his father said, “anything. Look at me. I started off with nothing, and now I have a prize pig.”
“Which pig is Betty?” Phillipe asked as he ate his bacon. “Which pig did this bacon come from?”
“From which pig did this bacon come, Phillipe,” his mother said, admonishing him quietly. “I bought it at the shop,” she said more brightly as she pulled a bit of gristle from her teeth.
“Why though?” Phillipe asked. “Why buy bacon when you have a herd of them outside in the shed?”
“A sounder,” Phillipe’s father said testily. “The noun of assemblage for swine is sounder. Herd refers to cattle or deer. Sounder refers to swine. Soouuuuwnder,” he said again, wrapping his mouth round the word. “Now, boy, eat your breakfast, or you’ll miss out on the day.”
*Phillipe sat in the dint of a tree,
looking over at the lane that ran down the side of the garden. Beyond the lane was a row of matchbox houses where some of his school friends lived, and beyond were ploughed fields and thickets of trees. He heard the laughter and screams of girls playing in the garden of one of the houses nearby, and felt a pang in his heart. He got this feeling often, especially in the holidays when he heard other children playing games and making a lot of noise, while he sat in his tree and looked on. From his position in the tree he could not see the children, but he knew who they were – Anabelle Moss, Ralph Brown, Stephanie West, boss-eyed Marcus Baron – all from his school, all from his class. He had thought many times, as he sat daydreaming, of what they might be up to, and he had even thought about jumping down from the tree, walking over to the matchbox-houses, and joining in. But no. No – with sad resignation he always decided to stay in his tree. He did not want to play their games, and they would probably not let him.
The pang in his heart never surprised Phillipe, but it scared him a little. He did not know why it scared him, and he wondered whether Anabelle or Stephanie ever got scared like he did. He thought perhaps not – no doubt they got scared by snakes and spiders and bugs, none of which Phillipe gave a second thought, but did they get scared by nothing? No, probably they did not.
Again those words floated into his head: “you can do anything if you put your mind to it.” He had heard them so many times, over and over, they were like a saying.
Phillipe looked over at the sheds where the pigs lived. His father was seated on the back of one of the female pigs, immersed in a novel. The sow stood quite still with her eyes closed, struggling under the weight of Phillipe’s father, and the pull of twelve suckling piglets underneath. Phillipe’s grandfather had probably said those same words to his father when he was a boy: “you can do anything if you put your mind to it.” And now his father had proved them to be true. He had longed to breed a prize-sow, he had put his mind to it, and now his dream had come true.
While she washed up the breakfast things Phillipe’s mother had told him that the local newspapers were coming later that morning for an interview.
“Your father is going to have his picture in the papers, Phillipe! Won’t that be exciting? We’ll have to buy a copy of each of them tomorrow and cut all the pictures out and put them in a scrapbook so we can remember this day for ever.”
“What time are they coming?” Phillipe asked.
“About half-past eleven I think, darling,” his mother replied. “Why?”
“Bless your heart,” she said, and laughed – at what Phillipe was not sure, though he got the impression it might be him. “I’ll give you a shout when squash and biscuits are ready.” Philippe, sensing his cue, left the kitchen and climbed his tree.
He had been up there for a good hour. Surely it was soon time for squash and biscuits.
* * *Mrs Dupont sat down for the first time since she got up.
It was half-past ten. Normally she would sit down at ten o’clock, but what with having to prepare for Phillipe’s birthday and then hearing Will’s big news, it had not been a normal morning. Still, she had made breakfast, laid out her husband’s clothes, seen that Phillipe had brushed his teeth properly, washed up the dishes and put them away; and it was time for a break. As she stirred a sugar lump into her tea, she realised that there was one thing she had not done. She had not said anything to Phillipe about his birthday. No “happy birthday” or anything. Will had not said anything either, and nor had Phillipe. Perhaps they had both forgotten, she thought. Phillipe’s head was always in the clouds these days, so it was possible that he’d forgotten. But no, it was his birthday – he would remember that.
Phillipe’s mother sipped her tea and decided she would wish him a happy birthday when she got up. It would then be quarter to eleven, which would leave her just enough time to prepare for when the newspaper men came.
Philippe’s mother, blissfully unaware of the several chest conditions her son suffered as an infant,
would often put Philippe into a whicker cradle and take him to the end of the garden, where the cornfields were. She would place Philippe amongst the golden stalks of maize so that he could look up at the cool blue sky, his view flanked by green trees and his mother hanging out the washing. Sometimes, when she had finished with the laundry, she would come over and sing to him.
It is funny, Philippe broke off as he told me of this idyllic scene, that I can’t say whether this really happened or not. I think I remember it, he said. It seems familiar. But perhaps it did not happen at all. Perhaps I only think this because of what my mother told me later. Or because of what I have seen in photos.
The corn was like a carpet. Its tall hard stalks were topped with wispish fluffy heads, and when the wind blew they all leaned towards him as if they had something to say. Now, whenever he returned to the country and heard the wind whistling through the corn, he remembered that the cornfields also had songs to sing. But however much they bowed to him, or tipped their hats to him, or leaned forward to whisper something in his ear, he could never quite make out what it was that they whispered. For them to whisper, it must be some kind of secret, Philippe supposed; and for it to be a secret, it must be very important. But Philippe never did find out what it was, for at the end of the summer the farmer would come along and cut the corn down. This made Philippe sad, for the stalks of corn were his friends. They were the only ones nowadays who still treated Philippe as a king.
One day, as Philippe looked over the cornfield, its graceful stalks hacked down and rolled into bales, leaving a hard, spiky stubble on the ground, another human being who had walked round the perimeter of the field approached.
“Hello,” the other human said to Philippe. “My name is Thomas.” Philippe stared at him, saying nothing. He was also a young boy, though a little older than Philippe, around four years old. There was something in the boy’s gaze which bothered Philippe. For a start, he did not trust his smile. It was not right somehow. It had too many teeth in it, teeth which did not seem to want Philippe as their friend. They were like the corn-stubble: hard and hostile. And his eyes were no more friendly; or rather, they were too friendly. They looked straight into Philippe’s own damp eyes, which had become inflamed by the pollen and the corndust, and out through the other side. Their gaze had all the confidence of a boy who was physically, socially and morally superior to Philippe : a boy of some standing in the community, with a reputation to uphold. Its eyes looked into Philippe’s in order to neutralize them. Philippe thought he caught them trying to seduce the Great Nebulous Thing once or twice, though he did admit he may not have been of sound mind at the time.
“Hello,” the boy said again. “I am Thomas.”
“Yes,” Philippe replied. “What do you want?”
“I like your cornfield. I thought you might show me it. I would be terribly grateful if you would.”
“Yes.” Thomas kept his gaze fixed on Philippe, still smiling his copacetic smile. There was an uncomfortable pause as Philippe attempted to hold his new rival’s stare. But no, it was beyond him. After just a few seconds, his head dropped and his gaze shifted to his feet.
“So.” The boy was talking to him again. He should have looked up again, but he couldn’t keep his eyes from his feet. The other boy cleared his throat eloquently. Philippe could not see him – perhaps he could have seen his feet and bare lower legs from the corner of his eye if he had wanted to, which he did not – but he had a horrible sense that Thomas had taken a step or two towards him.
“So,” he repeated. And still Philippe said nothing. “Your cornfield,” said Thomas in a voice considerably louder than before.
“Yes,” muttered Philippe.
“Can I see it?” said Thomas.
Nothing, said Philippe.
“Will you show me around your cornfield?” said Thomas, striding a step closer to Philippe.
“The corn has just been cut and the dust will make you sneeze. I don’t think you will like it.”
“No. No, I don’t think you will like it at all.”
“Oh. Well, I think I will. Please would you show me it?”
“No. You won’t like it. It will make you feel funny.”
“That’s ok. I have a cornfield of my own, you know.” Philippe looked up at Thomas, who still stared intently at him.
“Really?” Philippe asked. “There are other cornfields?”
“Oh yes,” said Thomas with a certain amount of pride. “Yes, several others. I have one, but I could have two or three if I wanted. In fact, I suppose the two I don’t have are mine as well really. I don’t want your cornfield, you know. I don’t need
your cornfield. Perhaps you should come and have a look at my cornfield. Then you will see why I don’t need yours.”
“What do you mean?” Philippe asked. The boy was making Philippe feel awful. He suspected Thomas might be the devil.
“There are cornfields and there are cornfields, if you know what I mean.” Thomas saw that the look on Philippe’s face – the wounded-boy look which is the boy-Philippe’s legacy to the man-Philippe. “You know, there is no need for you to worry. We can share our cornfields. If you show me your cornfield, I will show you mine.”
Like hell, thought Philippe. “Are you a sneezer?” he asked.
“I don’t believe I have ever sneezed in my life,” Thomas replied.
“You are lucky,” Philippe said, and he smiled at Thomas – a nice, gentle smile, in contrast to Thomas’s own superior pout. And then, out of nowhere, he lunged himself at Thomas, submerging his head into Thomas’s stomach. For all his composure, Thomas was slung back-first into the field. It is to be doubted whether this was what he had in mind when he had asked to be shown round Philippe’s field.
As they rucked and tumbled in the stubble, it occurred to Philippe that fighting came more naturally to him than talking. The Nebulous Thing had gone. A voice had spoken. A boy was after his corn. It was time for Philippe to get his fists out.
Philippe and Thomas grappled with each other for five minutes or more – quite some time for two toddlers, and heaven knows where Philippe’s mother was – until Philippe had Thomas pinned to the ground. In spite ofhis timidity, Philippe had won his first fight. Thomas surrendered feebly at the first opportunity.
“Enough!” bleated Thomas breathlessly. “Stop, please! Enough!” Philippe had pinned the boy’s arms to the hard dirt ground, and had manoeuvred a clusp of discarded corn ears into Thomas’s own ears, nose and throat.
“No,” Thomas gasped, “no you mustn’t!” Philippe put his hand ever so gently over Thomas’s mouth and pushed his head, oh so gradually, into the unrelenting earth.
“Stop it!” the poor boy gasped. “Stop it!” Philippe released his fearsome grip and lowered his face so that it was only inches away from that of his enemy. He looked straight into Thomas’s terrified eyes and saw his own reflection in them. By looking at Thomas’s eyes, he saw what they saw: a frightening blonde monster leaning over him, ready to kill him. But how to kill him? After stuffing the corn into Thomas’s mouth and ears, he had run out of weapons. Although he had overpowered Thomas, it remained the fact that Thomas was bigger than him. A blow to the head from Philippe would surely not kill him. And what would killing Thomas solve anyway? Perhaps he would kill the next boy who came snooping round his cornfield, and the next, but eventually someone would kill him. Besides which, Philippe’s arms were tired from pinning Philippe to the ground.
Perhaps, thought Philippe, perhaps we are not so different, Thomas and I. We are both blond, both ruddy-cheeked, both snotty-nosed, both grubby of face, both equally unkind. Philippe was a little fatter, Thomas a little taller, that was all.
“You know,” said Thomas sweetly. “We could be friends.” Philippe released his grip a little from Thomas’s head. Is he being clever, Philippe wondered. Is he being sly? “We both have corn.” Thomas looked into Philippe’s eyes, but this time with the look of one who really does want to be friends. “Your corn is not so bad either.”
“You’re right there,” Philippe replied. “It is some of the best corn I have ever tasted.”
“Oh yes?” Thomas said, his eyes lighting up. “You have actually tasted your own corn? Even I have not tasted my own corn.”
“You have never tasted your own corn?”
“And you have?”
“Oh yes. I have it in a bowl.”
“When? How often?”
“Most days, I suppose.”
“I don’t believe you!”
“But it’s true.”
“No, I don’t believe you,” Thomas said again. “I’m sorry, but no.”
“But it’s true!” Philippe repeated.
“Then prove it.”
That night, Philippe pretended not to be well,
so that he could sit by the fireplace and drink the special tea his mother made for him. She had not sais anything about his birthday, and he didn't think she would now. The last time he had seen his father was on the back of the pig earlier that morning.
She left Philippe well alone by the fireside - was this the right thing to do? but what could she say? - but he did notice that she looked at him differently. Now she looked at him like she used to look at his father : she no longer had a furrow in her brow, yet her eyes questioned Philippe more than before. A question perched on her lips, fluttering its eyelashes by refusing to look at him.
At almost six the next morning, Philippe woke up. For a few seconds he smelt bacon, and then realised that the bacon was a myth. Today there was to be no bacon. His mother had gone - he knew this even before he bumped his backside down the stairs to check.
And he was right : his mother was nowhere to be seen. There was no note to say where she had gone, no words to explain her absence. But let's be fair, Philippe said to himself, what could she say? She would never survive in the house without her husband ...
Philippe found some oats in the cupboard and made himself some porridge. It was a little weak and runny, but Philippe felt a profound feeling run down his gut as he drank it. The porridge filled the gaps inside him, it clagged into his pipes and gave him the most wonderful constrictive sensation. At nine o'clock, Anabelle Moss knocked on the door.
"Hello, Philippe," she said, and she looked back down Philippe's driveway awkwardly.
"Hello, Anabelle," Philippe said. "Why are you here?"
"I thought I would come because you don't have a mother anymore."
"I don't think I want you as a mother, Anabelle, thank you."
"I'm not your mother, Philippe. But I thought you might like to see somebody." Anabelle sat on the doorway and fiddled with her hair. Philippe looked down at her blonde, dead-straight hair.
"Actually," she said, "I thought you might like to walk with me. Would you like that?" Philippe wondered. He had been up for three hours and he needed a hug. Anabelle was bony, her bones looked like they miht break. She had some tiny blonde hairs on her les, above her short white socks. Philippe wanted to see her feet, which tapped quickly on the doorstep under black-white ballet pumps.
"Anabelle, I'm afraid we shall have to postpone our walk until tomorrow. I have heard there will be rain today. I don't think a walk is a good idea."
"But we'll have a walk one day?" Anabelle asked. She looked up with one eye towards Philippe and with the other at the door-frame, like they were the only people in the world.
"I expect so. I know where you live."
"You watch me from your tree, don't you? I have seen you watching me. I don't think you know what we do, but you watch anyway. I have waved to you a few times. Have you seen me waving at you?" Both eyes were now looking at Philippe.
Philippe said nothing, and after half a minute or so closed the front-door. He went back to the kitchen, opened all the cupboards, closed them again, sat on the floor, felt silly sitting on the floor, sat at the table, felt bored sitting at the table, ran upstairs to put on some shorts, ran back downstairs, ran out of the back door and through the garden, scrambled throuh the back hedge, and then walked sensibly towards a place where he might find Thomas. He allowed himself to look back at the house, from whose driveway Anabelle waved to him girlishly.
I was at school.
My secondary school. The buildings were my secondary school, and one of the teachers too. There was a girl, much younger than me, and she was following me around. She was attached to my ankle by her mouth. She had bitten into my ankle and I was dragging her around. No, that’s not right, I’m getting mixed up. She was kicking me. Kicking the backs of my legs. I wanted to kick her back, but I would get into trouble because her mother was a teacher and she was younger than me. But I can’t walk around school all day being kicked in the back of the legs by a little girl. It’s not painful, but it’s quite embarrassing. What should I do?
I do not recall what happened after this dream. The look on her face as she kicked me – dead, blank, accusing, and green – had woken me up. I got up and went to the toilet, had a wee, and went back to bed. My bed is a double-bed with a large double-duvet and two plump pillows. There was nobody else in the bed, so I took one of the pillows, put my arms round it and held it tight to my body. I used to do this with two pillows – one against my upper body and one against my legs – but now I find that one is enough. I kissed the pillow, its neck and its breasts, and then the pillow woke and asked me if everything was alright. Yes, I said, I have had a bad dream, that’s all. I love you – I love you so much. And the pillow replied, I love you too. I asked the pillow if I could hold it all night, and it said, yes, I could. So I did, I held her, and I told her, or myself, that it was perfect. The moment was perfect, beautiful. And then we fell asleep.