Book: Black River (2016)

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I’m lying on the stones at the shore beneath Cladagh, the slow waves brushing the coast at my feet like a chorus of hungry ghosts, a concordance of voices, whispering a hymn carried forward just for me from somewhere out there beyond the bay where the grey horizon meets the sky. My feet are pointed out to the water, legs and arms akimbo, and behind my head the boxes and rectangles and triangles and spheres of the city are scattered across the country skyline like the ejaculate of some great proto-architect splattered forth from beyond the confines of space and time. The pebbles and stones and spikes dig into my body and spine, sweet passion and penance, and on my face a perpetual smile. My eyes are closed and the heat and light from the sun casts everything I see as a great throbbing pink and orange mass of nothingness. I have always been here, out in raptures on the beach.

A rumble carries to my ear, slow, deep, guttural and sensuous, and then I feel the slouching beast against my face. Soft mewls and my smile widens. Wait for a moment to see what gift of nature has now arrived for my present attendance and then turn my head and kiss its neck, taste its fur and feline dirt. Slouching beast longing for a touch and it mewls again and I laugh and now I’m on my side and the purring becomes deeper and richer and lustier and we’re rolling together in perfect fluidity, caresses of flesh and fur, beast and I and childhood returns to me and the sweet memories of time gone by. I am a child. I am a child again

And I’m sitting in the pot again, bathing with all my brothers and sisters in the pot again. Must have been in trouble! Uh-oh must have been up to no good again so now I have to be washed clean. The stew boils at my flesh and I am raw and pink and gelatinous and I mewl like a kitten and all my brothers and sisters are kittens, or in any case pre-kittens, foetal things, more like worms really, tumescent and shining in the broth around me. But still with feline features! Cartilaginous ossatures of panthers and lions and tigers yet to be born, still forming shape from the pink soft matter of their tubular little bodies. Oh but I myself to my detriment am better formed, chubby fingers and toes clutching through the stew for some fat potato or carrot to catch onto and steady myself lest I drown in all this boiling nourishment.

The great wooden ladle plunges down from above and stirs a terrible maelstrom about us and all my siblings, blind and mindless, mewl and moan as their plump bodies rub up against my own, sleek and pulsating in the impossible heat. I look up the wooden stem of the spoon, oak of the ages, to the feathered claw that clasps it, black and shining, and above to the familiar face that fills the entire circle of all that can be seen of whatever it is that lies above. The crow is fat and shabbily unkempt, feathers ruffled and sharp-edged. Its eyes are black, pupil-less, and the nares of its beak are covered in some firm vitreous that forbids sense of the rising miasma from its pot below. From the clutches of its beak hang withered bulbs of lavender and blossom, carnation and rose, dusty and fragmenting, faded pinks and purples, dangling gently from desiccated stems. I raise one tiny hand from out of the soup towards the crow and it cocks its head to the side, looking back down, eye to my eye, and it caws once, just: “OM

Years later but still before now, I am astounded to see a great and rusting hulking frame rising up from the water beside the pier where before no such thing had ever stood in its place. Pedestrians walk up and down the way and I try to catch their eye, my mouth open in disbelief and wonder. Doesn’t any other see this strange rig that has to all accounts of sense seemed to have appeared simply over night? What marvellous happenstance has created this impossible structure, for what purpose can it stand, so strong above the water?

And then I learn that it is for the ocean race that has come to town, source of great fortune for local merchant and libertine alike. How they must glide across the waters, these men in their yachts, shore to shore, sea to sea. I have always enjoyed to see the boats in the harbour floating upon the sheeny black.

The streets that night are filled with revelry, a festival of chaos and hysteria, the ecstasy and agony of all man. I move amongst them, throngs and throngs of people, pigs, swilling from plastic cups and fornicating wildly in alleyways, then regurgitating up their festering soup of Guinness, burgers and chips to make room for the next excessive course. How, I wonder, can they not see me? When I stand so clearly in the orange light of night-time before them all. Hum of a thousand voices and yet there is none to speak my name, none to raise a finger and point and then howl with rapture choking every vowel: “There! See now, he has risen! He has risen to judge us!”

They wear the masques of ritual madness, hook-beaked swan and snarling lynx, spider and bird, pigs, pigs and more pigs. A sudden wind blows me down an alley and I see her staggering to and fro, thighs caressed by the lace hem of her short black skirt, a dark web gracing the flesh. Hair long and blonde, in straggles down her back which faces me. She keels forward, clutches her hips and heaves up a soup of stomach acid and alcohol onto the cobbles beneath her heels. I am carried closer. “Shush darling,” I whisper, “shush sweet baby, don’t be sick. Don’t be sick.” Coughing and spluttering, she thrusts a palm against the wall to steady herself, turns so that now finally I can see her angelic face and then, with muddy eyes smeared with clogs of thick mascara, she slides down onto her ass. She lies there. I am above her and she is sleeping. I lower myself onto my knees, her vomitus still warm as it soaks up onto my jeans and I kiss her lips and pull her breast to mine and cradle her in my arms and hold her until together we shudder with sweet release and then I leave her there to rest, my sleeping beauty who will wake to the new day never having known what great and unfettered glory came to her and caressed her in the night.

But that was long ago and in the telling I don’t mean to make you jealous my sweet. That was just a taste and nothing like what we shared. There has never been another. Only you. Only you. I know, now that the spring has come again and the birds are in the sky and the blossoms bloom at the end of every black spider-leg branch, that I was always destined for something more than the profane human entanglements of loin and limb which seem to satiate the feeble passions of all the others. The love I have to give demands a higher plane. What we shared, our ritual and ascension… It’s only you my darling. You have been made immortal in my image and you alone, to date.

And yet as I walk the pavement by the canal I see a young woman on a bicycle, an intelligent thoughtful type with spectacles and supple olive skin, and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that at the very least she makes me think of you. You know I will always be loyal to you, that goes without saying love. But what we had, what I gave to you, by its very nature can only be given once. Only to one once. Would it be just to never give it again? To deprive all others of that gift? It’s food for thought darling. Just food for thought.


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