Is it better to leave no trace...or to leave a footprint?
Sunday, 20 January 2013
“I should be putting in lines between these thoughts, creating breaks and boundaries, managing the stream, stop those collisions. I should but I cant. It seems like I just know that it's in those mysterious and random collisions that all the interesting chemicals change and processing occurs. These things are wild and unlimited, their conclusions unpredictable, at times unthinkable. You know how you have those pictures inside your head of who you are. Then you look in a mirror and get a shock, you don't look like the person you feel. That's disturbing but it's also the truth. It's also a collision and a spur. Which person do you want to be? The true reflection or the imagined and what's the difference between the way those two look, think, behave and react?”
The professor closed the door on the capsule. “She'll be fine in there but it is going to be a difficult and a different journey.” The team retreated behind the screens and into the control room. In the capsule Susan was still, serene almost. The mind training allowed her to disembody, dislocate, get away. The trip would be physical but on this voyage her mind and conscious self would travelling separately.
“Look upon your body as a piece of luggage, personal effects, things you'll need when you arrive. I think that's the best way to look upon it. You are a pioneer, your journey will blaze a trail for billion others, in all directions...and I'm sure your luggage will catch up.” He allowed himself a giggle and a smile as he switched off the microphone.
It was sundown when the countdown ticked to zero. A happy coincidence and a extra effect. At zero there was a flash, bright white and then the following on of loose colours from all across the spectrum. The light was so bright that you might have imagined it warranted some accompanying noise, the sound of thrust or schism or energy releasing. There was none however, just light and a vapour that ballooned out and then hung in some kind of good imitation of an incandescent rain cloud. In a few seconds the process was over and the capsule had gone. The team checked the sensors and instruments to ensure it was safe for them to emerge. For some reason it felt right to stand on the spot where the capsule had been even though they had no sense of which direction to look in order to catch a glimpse of it. It had not been a conventional launch or departure.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” began the Professor, “it may be sometime before we hear from our colleague, as you understand our ability to communicate across these spaces is unexplored and untested...but we will continue to listen and to...hope.” They returned to the control room and cracked open the champagne as each shared their thoughts and feelings on the scientific triumph.
And so it was that they listened and waited and listened and waited. Two months passed without a word. The media, having been excited at the outset drifted back and looked elsewhere. There were other better stories out there. Some team members left, they had other projects to work upon and so the personnel shrank to a two person shift, perpetually now in listening mode only. They listened, dozed, read and researched. They reminded themselves of the mission, occasionally they forgot the mission. Time passed for them but not for Susan.
It was almost six months from the launch that she returned. It was in the grey of some unexpected morning, the listeners were diverted by their own fatigue. That was about to change. As had happened when she launched there was light and vapour but no sound, the CCTV caught it all. The light dimmed and the capsule appeared, hot and glowing. They took out Susan's body, they estimated she had been dead for about six months. By the time the professor arrived she was laid up in the laboratory, the medical services hovering and scribbling. One by one the shift members arrived and gathered in the control room. The professor was silent and grim. The triumph of the capsule's return eclipsed by the discovery or the dead passenger. They sat there for a few hours musing over the possible causes and the consequences. It was an emotional rather than scientific time.
Just after midnight a burst of white noise and static shocked everyone in the room as spluttered from the loudspeaker. Then silence, then noise, then silence. Then a voice. “Hi, Susan here, I'm OK, I've arrived, I can't seem to see the screen...I think it's back light has failed...and I seem to have lost my luggage.”
She's moving the furniture around the room, all the time. Like some piece of dancing animation where the couches, tables, lamps and variety of soft furnishings waltz across the lounge as if choreographed by Busby Berkeley. Sometimes they settle, as if to take breath, to review and ponder their latest arrangement then of they go again. Responding like the particles set into a kaleidoscope lens, never ending and unreliable combatants that argue with themselves in terms of function and aesthetic balance. She watches this in her head as if it was a movie, light entertainment, a reality TV show that is only real in her imagination. The thrum of the rolling table, the swish of the twisting carpet, the clatter of chair and table legs and the jazzy canvases that attach and move across the walls looking like a vista from passing by suburbia through a train carriage window.
Then, abruptly into the room steps her future self. Older, respected, strange, as if seen in a dirty mirror glass. All the moves are over now. The furniture is stock still, the cushions are steady, the painting hang with no swinging. There she is moving amongst the furniture like she was at a party. She's holding a wine glass, giggling, perhaps flirting but there is no one else there. Popping a canapé into her mouth and savouring it. She looks confident and successful, she looks happy but she's had too much to drink. So it seems. She has the hint of knowing smirk that her younger self doesn't recognise. She comes across to her, she's going to talk to her younger self.
“You do know that ghosts live before death as well as after death.” She says. “Time for us isn't fixed, we have our peculiar freedom, we have our ways, we have our ideas.”
“I don't believe we've been introduced.”
“I don't believe we need to do that you stuck up, confused, bitch. You know fine well who I am.”
“Ahem, I'm not getting any of this, you are clearly a figment of my imagination and you're interfering with my plans and daydreams. Simple as that...and what's more if I'm seeing you and therefore going mad I'll just simplify things and swallow a few more pills and gins and...blot you out...and don't call me a bitch you...ghost.”
“Your lazy mind can hardly blot out something that doesn't exist. You can't even arrange furniture without getting stuck in a loop and you can't even see that being civil and communicating with me might actually help you...oh and I'm enjoying myself because, well you can't see it but we are having a party here. Right now.”
“You can't hold a party here without my permission, particularly while I'm rearranging the house. I hereby dismiss you. Please allow me to return to my own imagination.”
“I think you'll find that this is your imagination. You're just so far up yourself you've forgotten how to use it properly. You used to, God knows. Now all you do is fuck about with this junk playing yourself, as if the position of a couch or a lamp improved the quality of your life.”
“You can hardly talk about the quality of life, you're a ghost.”
“I'm a ghost but I'm also you. How does that sound? Perhaps you're seeing a bit of an opportunity here? Some constructive dialogue, some advice from my angle, something from outside of time itself, wouldn't that be attractive? I'm prepared to dip out of the party for few moments.”
The two women sat on the couch and faced one another. They talked for some time. To the viewer, had there been one, all that they would have seen was a woman sitting on a sofa, looking ahead and talking to herself. As the light failed the conversation seemed to slow and then the woman flopped back onto the couch and fell asleep. The sleep was a dark, cleansing and anonymous one. An hour later she was woken by the room light coming on and a man entering the room. “Hello darling” said her husband, “how's your day been? Have you been having a nap?” “No, no, yes...but I'm fine, I had a friend round.” “Anybody I know?” “She's an old acquaintance from the past, she was in town and dropped by, a nice surprise really.” He didn't answer but just nodded, kissed her temple and went upstairs to change out of his business suit. She patted her lap and stood up. She thought to herself that the room arrangement looked rather good.
Later they ate together. It was a simple meal, salad, some meats, a crisp cold white wine. They chatted but he was tired and the conversation was wandered and aimless. She also found concentration difficult, it had been an unusual afternoon. As they cleared their plates she sat back. She looked at him, then she seemed to look through him and she spoke but it was not really to him. It was to nobody in particular or perhaps just herself. “You know, I've just realised, death isn't an event in life at all.”
Sometimes you can get yourself so far into things that it's just impossible to get yourself back out.
Saturday, 19 January 2013
“A lump of chocolate now and then for the cancer, a drop of red wine now and then for the heart, a suck on a cigar occasionally for the inflamed nasal passages, a clove of garlic for the prevention strokes, a little aspirin for the blood, a brisk walk for the Alzheimer's, some regular sex for the endorphins, a bit of red meat for the brain cells, a plate of stir fried kale for the iron, a cup of tea for the early mornings and the regular check of the intermediate shaft bearing on the Porsche 997/998 2.7 to 3.8 engine. The one fitted between 98 to 2004. That is except for the 3.6i unit fitted to the Turbo and GT3, they of course use the 993 bottom end so there's no IMS problem. Lucky bastards. No one knows when or if the bearing will fail and Porsche don't seem to offer any reason or explanation. I find it a bit disconcerting that the fault can just occur without any warning. It's time bomb really, a cot death, that's the thing with physical and mechanical health...and well being. You just never really know. One day it goes 'click', one day that thing in your brain just goes 'click'.”
“So intermediate shaft failure is probable rather than inevitable, I don't know what's worse. It's like cot death or spontaneous combustion or something. Lightning strikes even. Some nights I don't sleep for thinking about it, I toss and turn, get the sweats, losing my mind, cancer and health and that IMS failure. I have nightmares about that pool of oil there under the car, I don't notice it (or maybe I ignore it) and try to drive away and there are all those costly consequences. Towed away by a yellow truck. Cancer or shaft failure? I'm shaking thinking about it, I'm disturbed, my eyes fill up and water, I get the shivers.”
“ There are solutions out there, they say the revised shaft and seal, that's the WPOZZZ99Z (6)S**** bit that works. I'm considering it but I've only clocked 46000 miles and the expense is just too much to consider what with all my regular medications and lifestyle costs. I'm keeping it together but it's a challenge. There are no official statistics, you'd think that there would be but no, it's all word of mouth and forum gossip. I don't know about that, those guys are all in California and you just never trust those things. Fly by night. I don't know if I want to set myself anymore challenges, not now; like trying to write a story when there's some other distraction, with a knife hanging over your head, naked, out in the worst weather, dressed as a woman, drunk and incapable, cornered by a mad dog, badly parked with people honking, tied to a lamppost, waiting on that pool of oil forming. What did the forum say again? The pencil keeps breaking and I keep trying to sharpening but it's soft and the lead is broken and the sharpener is blunt and I'm having ideas but I can't get them down, can't hold a single one.”
“In the workshop a job is underway, there is a flange bearing support bolted to the engine with three bolts, the flange is removed and you can see the threaded holes for the bolts. I wished someone could show me the bolt in the middle that shears off. So I could just see it for real, put my finger tip in that threaded hole. It's all in my imagination. What is the truth about the cars? I hear that 20% of Boxters don't make it past 100k without that catastrophic failure, then a £6k rebuild, a whole engine eaten up and shredded. Then again 80% are ok, that's good odds. Still it's those cursed bolts, the bolts fail and everything just falls apart. What if I have them? Maybe if I just keep the revs low, don't gun it, kid gloves and care, light right foot, tender loving care. I could stay well under 4000 revs if I had to, I could do it. Then consider the grip and gnaw of the tension that it would create. That's no way to live.”
“There's an old theory that Porsche know all about it. They build those engines on the cheap, or just cheaper, entry level engineering, Eastern European or Indian bolts, inferior alloy and so on. Wherever they source parts, who knows? Bet they don't make them in Stuttgart. That shiny factory is like a hospital. Beautiful but mean. Better than a hospital, hazy science fiction. Cost cutting or efficiency or carelessness or a plot for the benefit of the dealers. Decisions made in the board room, wood panelled walls, whispers and fine china, maybe a brandy, maybe a whisky, a nod in the right place, cool Germans, level headed, clinical. Well it is a hospital. So times are tough and it's all about pushing out the tin and money changing hands. Long term survival or a quick buck. Just enough quality in there to get them through the warranty period, after that you're on you own, living with the risk and the cost.”
“That's the buzz out on the forums, all the geeks and honest men, retelling their tales, posting pictures, ground up oily metal and unsmiley faces pasted to the jpeg. Their solutions, their after market additions, putting things right, solving those design faults that the so-called designers missed. Men in white coats looking through glasses, checking the bits against the drawings and nodding at each other. Nobody ever won the Nobel Prize for a reliable engine bearing, nobody. What were they all thinking? Now it's all repeated and played out and frankly I'm at my wits end and it's just a silly machine, a machine with a flaw. Like me, I might get that cancer or blood disease or some STD. All liable to breakdown, out of the blue, but I'm bombarded, all the time, tales of woe, early deaths and failures, diets and quick fixes, cures and snake oil, wrecks and wreckage on the highway. Plagues. No wonder I can't sleep. We are all broadcasting, all the time, all across the social networks and forums. We are all storytellers – that's how we make sense of our lives, but still it makes no sense.”
(“You know, I have another theory. Those blown engines, the intermediate shaft failure, the early and untimely deaths. Well it is just possible that those cars were not driven regularly, not exercised or stretched. Then you get deflection in the shaft from just sitting there, idle. Thermal expansion and cooling, it gets to the metal, gets into the metal. Slowly the tolerances get out of balance. Out of balance is never good. These cars were meant to be driven, their place isn't in showrooms or languishing as trophies and garage queens. It's the open road, whatever that means to you.”)
Thursday, 3 January 2013
“Yeah it was a few years ago, I was a lot younger and I was a part of a cult down in Texas. They were all grim Presbyterian types, kinda skewed in their beliefs. Extreme and driven. They'd pick up and recruit homeless and vagabond types. They kept me there about two years, they were clever cock-suckers, they controlled my weight, held back food, kept us on a low protein diet. They made me work out in the garden most days, other times I was in the kitchen but they made sure none of us ate too much. They had regular lessons for us, morning, noon and night, brought us together for teaching and prayer. That was mostly them telling us what was wrong with us and how we were unrighteous and in need of grace and salvation. They used to speak from the Old Testament, they liked all that conquest and battlefield shit. They wanted to cleanse the country. They wanted a Old Testament solution I think. They seldom mentioned love or Jesus but you couldn't comment or criticise 'cos that wasn't on the programme. The programme was all about their control over us, that bombast of bullying, how they were right, how their reading of it was right and everybody else had it wrong.”
“I was pretty young and impressionable, I'd had a few bad breaks, I didn't feel too good about myself and so I was easy meat for these guys. I just didn't see it. I didn't see how they were controlling me, expecting things from me, the levels of obedience and what they liked to call grace. I just kept my head down, didn't argue, just got on with my work. Day in day out in that Texas heat. They fed us bread and vegetables, communal meals but they (the leadership) never ate to much with us. They ate later when they had their leaders meeting in the evening and we were working pretty much dawn till dusk. They ground me down I can tell you. I'm there, feeling like shit, they're telling me I need to change, what the fuck was that about? I looked at myself and it was true I wasn't much of a person, I had form and history but I couldn't figure how I was supposed to change. I just kept working and eating less stuff and I could feel myself withering away. They worked us hard, kept us busy and we were just too tired some days to think. There was no debate either. When they said bible study they meant they'd read a bit and then they'd tell you what that meant. I was usually that God was mad with us 'cos he loved us so much but we were a disappointment and though Jesus had come to redeem us we were still no making it. We had to work, to change (that word again).”
“I looked around and I looked at them and they were all in pretty good shape. All those leaders had cute wives, pickup trucks, clean blue jeans and leather boots, big black bible books and they didn't do much in the fields. Their hands were soft, they thumbed through those bibles and talked about it like that in itself was hard and worthwhile work. They wore spectacles when they read. They chose their words carefully, stressed service and servitude and faithfulness and that shit and they kept a eye on us all the time. They discouraged us forming little groups, they changed the rotas. I was pretty confused all the time and I felt increasingly disapproved of even though I was doing all the right things on the programme and keeping up with my duties.”
“Then one day I was working out on the Long Acre, we were nipping the tomato flowers and I was on a break, a water break. I was there just blowing out and the contractor who maintained the tractors (we had no mechanic for some time due to another little dispute) was fixing something and he stopped up and lit up a cigarette. Well I was there on the spot, hot and hungry and just feeling all shrivelled up inside and I saw him light that cigarette and I saw him suck in and blow out a big lungful of smoke. It looked so good. I stopped over and asked him for one please and I took the time of day. I was about halfway down that sweet smoke when I heard the foreman elder comin' and he was shouting and pointing and yellin' at me and the contractor. The contractor just looked and said that he was all too holy with a real big bug up his ass and too big a head for his hat but the foreman elder just came right up to me and he punched that half cigarette right out of my mouth and knocked me on my back in the dust. I stayed down there for about a minute. He was quoting the bible at me and talking about my body being a temple for the holy spirit. The contractor said this ain’t none of his business but he didn't care for the atmosphere around here. Lying there in that dust I had one sore chin and I had one or two crazy thoughts there in my head. Now there wasn't quite enough sugar in my blood to give me the speed of thought and action I once had but I still had something in there and I was feeling just a bit angry.”
“Time was moving slowly and I got up and looked at that guy. He was tall in his elder's jeans, clean and bright blue and he was looking right down his nose at me. He said something and referenced it all from Leviticus and nodded at me looking for an acknowledgement and agreement. By my left against the fence wire there was a loose piece of 2 by 4. I grabbed it and hit Mr Clean Jeans square across the jaw. He went down then like a pile of purple bricks. The contractor just said fuckin' good work boy and got back to his repair work. I was trembling though 'cos I knew I'd have hell to pay from those guys in the leadership. The foreman was rolling on the ground, both hands holding his chin, he was sobbing and writhing. I wanted to hit him again but I thought better of it. I thought about the rest of the leaders and I could see some of the gang heading cross to where I stood. I jumped the fence and ran across the potato field and down behind the water tower. I was struggling, this effort in the heat and in the state of shock I was in was too much. I vaulted the inner fence and now I was back at the compound.”
“I looked around and saw another of the elders comin' out the ranch house doorway. I just started to walk across to the cookhouse like everything was ok but I knew I was on the way out big time. When I got in there I just lit up every gas burner on the range and I threw towels and paper sacks and any shit I could find at that cooker. It was all in flames in seconds and by that I mean everything. I guess when he knocked that cigarette out of my mouth I snapped. I saw all that cunning and control, the lack of honesty and respect, all the cruelty and disregard embodied in that single act and I, despite my weakness, struck back in my own clumsy way. I was just standing up to the bullies and the hypocrites. I was also running out of the burning cookhouse and headed for anywhere but here.”
“There was a red pick up parked and half loaded with goods to sell at the farmer's market, vegetables and craft work. The keys were dangling in the ignition. I turned them, the engine growled and I was gone. Behind me somebody was clanging on the fire triangle as smoke billowed out all across the yard. People were shouting and I heard women screaming. Right then I didn't care nothin' for any of them, not even the other disciples like me and certainly not the elders and their dumb wives. I just thought I wanted those stupid bastards to learn a lesson and I hoped that even just for a few seconds they might consider that the wrath of their cruel and spiteful god was being wrung out all over them because of their ways and their sins and the disrespectful and casual indifference they showed towards their fellow man and people like me. Whatever the hell that might mean.”
“I was driving fast down the track towards the highway. I checked the mirror, the smoke was rising into the sky but there was nobody following me. I drove a little faster and the dust cloud grew and blew up behind the truck. When I finally hit the highway there were blue lights headed out towards the ranch. I couldn't see much expression behind their sunglasses but they ignored me as they went went on about their business. An hour later I was at the edge of town and I got my bearings. I stopped the pickup in a superstore car park and finding fifty bucks in the glove box took it and then threw the car keys down into a drain. Ten minutes later I'm blowin' the froth from a cold beer and getting ready to tuck into a double cheeseburger and fries. My head was clearer than it had been in years and the words, the prayers and the cruel controls of the cult were falling away from me like rotten fish scales. When the cheeseburger arrived I just whispered to myself a thank you Jesus for fuck all and bit into the juicy beef. I'd gotten my appetite for life back.”