Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Certain Slant of Light

The dark fills. The boy straps on his wings and throws up into the fountain. Flecks of earlier happiness.

His explosions are brief descents. His stabs of anger, loose, for a moment free. Ranging wildly, they rise but fall. This brevity matched by

(The brevity of the boy, his coal dust coat enlivened by flecks of happiness. Glisters of tiny fallen stars. The dazzle from his angel's wings.)

a sustained cruelty, an elongated turn. It goes on. Forever, so it seems.

This boy with his angel's wings and his winning smile sits on the roof, gazes out across the village.

Arrive into the village, through the main road from the north side, and your hilly descent will reveal the startling image of this boy, in full colour, perched upon his roof. You'll say, to your travelling companion, Christ, look at the size of that bird. Jesus, your travelling companion will reply, stirring himself from his view-induced stupor. But wait, you'll say, look closer and yonder, that's no bird. That's a boy. A flying boy. Look out!

At that moment - at your words of flying boy - he'll leap up, flap his wings and empty himself into the mercy of the tender blue sky. A flying boy indeed. A plummeting boy more like. Right on to the bonnet of your car.

Yes doctor, will he? His mother. Flew up, never seen anything like it. He's a good boy, just a bit. Will he, doctor? Where am I? Oh my! Hush now my darling boy, hush now.

The dip sits in the corner all day long and all night long. She would send him to school but there'd be no point. Or, at least, there was previously no point. Because the boy didn't speak. But now he has. A miracle. Where am I? Did the boy say anything after that? Five weeks later and so far no.

The crime of the village when they shut down the colliery. When they turned off the lives. The boy is a product of this. There, in the foreground, gleaming, mute and startling in his angelic gesture. Behind him, the backdrop, colouring the cracks. Put the two of them together and

(He is more than just some kind of product of the strike. He is, in fact, possibly the son of the scab of the village. Who was responsible for, according to village lore, at one extreme, a couple of deaths. At the other extreme, the loss of the battle. In reality, he was responsible for neither.)

you get the open road of possibility. Flight maybe. Take off.

The boy on this day, the day of the fountain, his stabs of anger etc., is imagining the sky and imagining how nice it would be to be taken by it. To escape into it. The sky his friend. Up there he could flee through flight, loop back occasionally to check on what he'd left behind. But it doesn't work as an angel. The flapping, like a bird. He needs to soar, to fly into flight, not fight against it. It should not, he decides, be hard work. Do angels glide?

They ascend. Symbolism is not enough to carry them.

On this day, the same day, he has been introduced to the man he knows could well be his father. A return to his home, all those years in America. The big car, the unbelievable brass fucking neck. His mother, tongue-tied and trembling, introduces him, this man, and makes no mention of who he could be. She doesn't know that the boy knows. If we were that way privileged we would see that his father - and he is, indeed, his father - knows that he knows. They recognise each other in each other, as the cliché goes. But the boy doesn't need

(His weirdness, his oddness, is most often taken for sullenness, for arrogance. The wings, of course, add to this. The boy could defend himself but chooses not to. This lofty height, such as it is, is better than crawling on the floor.)

a father.

This father, this Ted, has returned home on the occasion of the death of his poor red-haired mother who, because of her son, spent many of the last years of her life alone. These village people, these salts of the earth, knowing an open wound when they saw it. Yes, they made her pay. Her grieving son has taken the opportunity of her death to go through, first of all, a reflection process: hearing of his mother's death by telephone, he dropped the receiver and gazed into the fireplace, or at the TV, for almost two hours, ignoring the repeated hellos on the other end of the line. In that fire, in that TV screen, his reflection. The error of his ways, the mistakes made, all those memories, the past flickering, the glow of it all. His wife, herself dead, who could never bear him children, she too in that fire. And licking away, sparking up and out in tiny explosions of light and life, his son.

The boy is drunk. The droop of his wings tell us this. His various scenes.

Skimming small stones across the fountain. They plop.

Setting his camera on a rock, on the shore of the river, he takes a picture of himself. At the shutter's release the camera snaps back into the river. A bigger plop.

He watches birds somewhere and notes the similarity between them and himself. What with his large feathered wings and they with their small feathered wings. There is some kind of connection between them that goes beyond the literally physical. This point, just in case we miss it, is hammered home when a couple of the birds settle on his shoulders. He has a choice here: zippedy-doo-dah or Alcatraz.

Necking a can of Special Brew behind the Co-Op before setting fire to a pile of old chip wrappers. He singes one of his wings.

A girl his own age - what, fourteen or so - slaps him hard around the face. He reels from the blow, spins theatrically. The boys she is with kick out at him as he pirouettes.

Standing at the bus stop. The bus pulls up. Empty except for the driver. Something tells us that this driver, although being merely a bus driver, has depths you just wouldn't credit. Real wisdom and insight. Pearls. And all delivered with true grace and style. He climbs out of his cab, lights a cigarette, offers one to Angel (let's call him Angel), wearily blows out smoke, gazes up at the early stars and says: You know, there are some people who say - you get the idea. He climbs back into his cab, winks at the boy - that is, Angel - and goes on his way. The lone bus driver of the lonely fucking night.

He falls to his hands and knees, retching, in the gutter.

He falls into a ditch, cracks his head on a rock. Closes his eyes.

The next day, already late afternoon, and there's this Ted and Angel's mother (let's call her Rachel) telling their own stories in the best way they know how. They wake to the light through the skylight, climb to the roof where they gaze out over the village. They see, in the distance, on the other side of the village, the funeral coterie arriving at the house, Ted's mother's house. And does Ted dash away to make it in time to his own mother's funeral? Does he fuck. The view - in all senses - is much better from up there. Not a word between them as Ted lights two cigarettes, hands one over and - at one point - waves slowly, sadly, as his mother passes below. And would she, were she alive, have understood or appreciated this gesture? Would she fuck.

Would she fuck, says Clive in response to the question: Do you think she'd have wanted her Ted to have been here? Clive is some old fella at the funeral. He's one of Violet's (let's call her Violet) oldest friends.

What does this Ted really want as he carelessly lets slip some nugget or other as he's tying his tie as she, Rachel, looks on adoringly? Looking, we may add, some ten years younger than she did the day before. What is this nugget? What exactly did happen on that rain-soaked night, twenty years ago, when Bob Duffield and John Barryton met their ends in the fireball of their car, forced from the road while on their way back from - get this - a key NUM meeting? Eh? What do you know Ted? Why have you

(John Barryton, as it happens, was Rachel's husband. Angel's dad. Although not his dad, as we full well know.)

come back? As she leaps up, covers herself, tells him to leave and composes herself, tears falling from her face. From her face. A sniff or two, a throwing back of the shoulders even as she slumps, for a second or two, when from the window she sees Ted making his way down to the village pub, The Pandora's Box. But her Angel is

(The boy and his mother. Years together, alone. She was somehow soiled, according to those lovely village people, those rumours of Ted. No wonder the boy's a fruitbat.)

not in his bed. Not even slept in. Don't panic. Ted! she shouts, running from the room.

The ditch. Morning. A small bird hopping next to his sleeping/unconscious/dead head.

What bird? A Brent Goose. A Common Scoter. A Fieldfare. A Knot. An Oystercatcher. A Red-Throated Diver. A Redshank. A Rock Pipit. A Sanderling. A Shorelark. A Short-Eared Owl. A Water Rail. A Wigeon. A Whoop-de-Doo. A Bratwurst. A Common Strumpet. A Farmer Faggot. A Boiled Beef. A Loose Change. A Dancing Murraymint. A Tender Riser. A Slow Diver. An Ear-Muffed Duffer. A Bloated Fool. A Captain Cricklewood. A Liverpudlian. A Blinker. A Brentford Nylon. A Poisoned Arrow. A Laughing Car. An Empty Promise. A Guided Missile.

Oh, there's this Andrew who, for a while, was knocking around Rachel, doing his bit, trying for a little while to be some kind of father to the boy but not quite managing it, never getting it right. A drinker, a bully, a man hiding something. Why did he show all that interest? And why only after her husband had died? She'd known him for years. This Andrew, something not right about him. But she needed someone at the time.

This Andrew sat now, in The Pandora's Box, nursing what he believes to be just one of many of that evening's pints. And what a state he's in.

Angel stirs. The bird hops away. Just out of vision, out of focus. The boy stirs, groans.

Ted marches into the pub, to Andrew who, looking up, shows his first signs of life through terror. He takes the bit of paper Ted pushes under his nose. Ted smiles. Says, See you there. Leaves.

Angel stirs. That fucking bird, still out of focus. It's getting dark. The boy falls back, drifts off, but that bird, squawking or whistling or whatever it is that birds do, stirs him again. Slowly, the bird into focus. He rises, the boy, pulls out his wings. The bird hopping nearby. Angel rubs his head. The bird runs, hops, takes off and soars - really soars - into the fullness of the sky. The boy climbs to his feet, spreads his wings.

Ted, she says, Angel's disappeared. They are at the war memorial, their names livething for evermore. A rise up, a marble angel. Oh, the symbolism. Don't worry love, he says, I'll find him.

The old colliery wheel. A loom over the village. As it starts to rain.

The son of the scab of the village. He dresses, this boy, in angel's wings. He hangs around on the roof of his house. The hilly descent into the village reveals him in all his symbolic gesture and glory, the insufferable little twit. One day he'll leap out into the tender mercy of the blue sky and

(This boy, by the way, doesn't speak. And this, of course, all adds up to a bigger mysterious picture. As a device, however, his muteness is mute.)

find himself flattened on the bonnet of a car. Your car. He crawls from the bonnet of your car and throws up into the small fountain. Flecks of earlier happiness etc.

3 Comments:

Blogger Molly Bloom said...

Very poignant and charged writing Paul. I loved the image of the boy and how he is linked in so many subtle ways to the other characters. There is a plaintive feel to this...the boy is somehow one person and lots of boys all at once..perhaps a symbol of how we all want to have wings and fly away from the truth of our family/situation/what made us who we are. I found myself thinking of different sparks of knowledge too - Icarus, you mention Alcatraz as well.

The structure of it is masterful and controlled too. A touch of Blake here too - innocence/experience - the horror of reality but also fantasy too.

8:05 PM  
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