Out into the distance they stretched, random groups, individuals. Infants, suckled and gurgled. Older children ran amok, or sat at the feet of adults, heads nodding. Resting on cushions; gaudy, bright, subdued, and wide. Drinking from beakers and coffee cups. Sipping red, white, kaleidoscope drinks. Speaking in tongues, touching. Tapping out Morse and Makaton. Sitting in silence, blinking out semaphore to boys, babies and men. Shivering, standing on tip-toe, shaking out the cobwebs of a life.
Above them, smoke drifted from high-rise minarets. Poking through the clouds, suspended like paintings. Caravans of horses, and cars, took people to the horizon. Throwing up great clouds of magnolia dust. Climbers scaled libraries of books, piled high to the sky. Stopping on ledges to read out-loud. Their voices, echoing through valleys of vellum and papyrus, joined string quartets and moog synthesisers – serenading coffee drinkers and sleepers, resting peacefully.
Row upon row of white free standing baths, filled with people of all shapes and sizes. Opening their veins, watching the red mingle with white. Whistling, splashing, letting their toes penetrate the taps. And when it was done, they would begin again, with a rope, and a match and a devil may care kind of grin.
I’m there too, lying with my feet up on an overstuffed red settee. Sucking on a water pipe. Looking out from one of those high-rise minarets. Six or seven, in various stages of relaxation, sprawl next to me. Buried deep within it’s velveteen folds. A woman, sitting alone, plucks a lyre – in the style of an Andalusian shepherd boy. And with her free hand, she rips out pages from self help books. Soon a bonfire is blazing at her feet, pushing round currents of hot air. As the fire spreads, tapers lick the feet of my companions, and we burn like the holy spirit – in a clean blue flame.
Our clothes, sear off, leaving naked, blistering, bubbling flesh. And with no hair or genitalia, we melt into a sexless mass of carbon. At a thousand degrees, we become dust and bone fragments. Scraps for the stray dogs, who roam this area. Parts of me are deposited by the sea-side, in the cellars of a grand hotel. Beside one-hundred-year old wine and bulbous brandy flasks. It’s cool down there, like the damp clay of a freshly dug grave. And it’s there where I sprout, from a piece of bone and half chewed skin. Where I incubate in rain filled cauldrons, growing legs, arms and a head. Down there in the dark, I grow photosensitive, x-ray eyes. I hear them coming, before the rats, mice and cockroaches. And they copy me, hiding in the most inaccessible corners, underneath the oldest of barrels.
Even in the dark, my etiolated body grows. And soon I start to roam the hotel corridors at night. Looking for something more than kitchen scraps. I suckle on the breasts of nursing mothers, stealing formula from their babies, drinking cups of cold Horlicks and hot chocolate. I crave milk in all it’s forms, in cheese and chocolate, in human, cow and goat. I drink until I regurgitate, and then I drink again.
And while I guzzle, the outside unfolds through windows, with sea-views. It comes with the lapping sea and the screams of passing people. Who move below, along the sea front, parading in the darkness. In groups of six or seven, their gaudy regalia illuminated by chains of multi-coloured light. Their doings draw me away from milk laden breasts, and to the thick panes of triple glaze. And with my face pressed close, I can just about hear their talk, their pukeings and wild howling laughter. Some are children, who follow the older people – picking off the slowest and drunkest. Slitting their throats with a gurgle. Emptying pockets, splitting coins and gold jewellery. Trying on jackets with wide trousers, squeezing into dainty shoes; dusting down trilby hats, stolen at a rakish angle. Leaving a naked corpse for the wild dogs, who are always a leash behind.
“Funny old world,” is what they say, when another dead-un is picked up in the morning. They say it to the window, and to the street below. They go all misty eyed for a second, and rub their forehead, like it’s got an itch. I’m not to say anything back: talking, tapping, smiling and singing is their prerogative. That’s what they told me when I sneaked up from the cellar, blinking in my stolen suit and shoes. When I passed for a real person, by the name of Shin. They asked how was I qualified for such a delicate job, so I told them a pack of lies and threw in some half truths for good measure. And seeing I was such a lying, and snivelling wretch – they rubbed their great sweaty palms together, and thought of all the treasures I could hide in my apron and bucket.