In moments of solitude, my mind, once far-ranging, now only homes in on one phrase; “mi amo”. I don’t speak Italian or any of the Romance languages, save Latin, so I don’t know what it means, but I’ve a feeling that my hindbrain /thinks/ it knows what it means; “my love”. I mumble it to myself at all times, like a mantra that removes the need for thought, introspection, awareness, alacricity. I can feel tearing, as with the sea’s withdrawing acting upon a shore-loose pebble, at my mind right now, a sleepy desire to just lie down and invoke “mi amo, mi amo, mi – amo”. And, yes, I have work to do. My love, I must work.
Rattling along underground in a vicious humour, all around me are temporarily like me; none can see the blue of the sky. The tube disgorges beneath Kings-Cross and we all barrel out, the stick-wavers, the 20-20s and me. There’s probably some of my kin around too, but we never make eye contact, head for the city. There’s a city in all of our eyes, great towers of rhodopsin raising up, the rods and the cones, an empty city that collapses at the touch of light. In my city the architect’s plans went awry, or he lacked imagination and my city looks all samey, not enough variety in those towering discs. As in the eye, so in the world and my world, outside the vitreous humour (if it’s really there) also has lost something from that failure; colour. I look at those clouds and they’re white, but I look at the blue sky beyond them, and I know it’s blue, it has to be because every book I’ve read talks about it, every romantic pome praises that cerulean floating sea… to me it could be green, or grey or pink or purple. No idea. If I was making a new colour wheel, I’d put it under the lurid category – cos that’s what all of the archetypes of those colours feel like to me. I’m blessed though; for at least I see it, unlike those poor stick-wavers who, for all their avowed, angry independence always look terrified by the tube, which lets no man take his time, as they stagger out of the carriages, one hand clutching for support one hand waving that attenna they all carry, as a warning and an aid, their replacement eyes extending a massive meter away from them. At least I’ve an inkling what blue is; the city of their eyes is desolate, abandoned, unresponsive, cut-off; their city outside must be beyond their comprehension.
A made-up face that speaks of hours in a frilly bedroom dancing around to hair brushes, giggly from half a glass of stolen wine. What’s she doing in the city at two in the morning, with her mate begging the bus fare from a stuttering banker?
Yeah, she says. With her huge eyes, soft face, hands in the ends of her sleeves, you wouldn’t be surprised if she started sucking her thumb. She still stands in a childish way, tummy stuck out in front of her, leaning her feet outwards in unlaced sneakers. She’s looking in on an adult world. Yeah, she says, I live in Brixton.
Dangerous edgy Brixton, is the implication. Dangerous and edgy and hard, but that’s ok, I live it, I’m Brixton, I’m dark corners and ways of life that seems mysterious to you, but not me. I’m there, I’m grown-up, I’m Brixton.
But the impression she gives is soft and easy and comfortable. It’s not the hard, edgy world she wants to conjure. Hers is a Brixton with a hand written note saying Sweetie, your dinner’s in the oven. Hers is a house in a leafy side road and a Mum looking at the clock waiting for her to get back safely. Hers is a loving and gentle Brixton that whizzes past the pimps and drug dealers in a 4 by 4.
Not exactly out of her depth, but looked out for by a half dozen strangers at the bus stop, who chat with half an eye on her and her precocious mate, who’s twirling her hair for the booze-addled banker.
She’s so young she tastes of alcopops in the park. She’s so young she feels of butterflies and the thrill of staying up all night and talking to boys. She’s so young, but she can’t not be here. She has to be here, testing the world out.
But finally her bus comes and six or so strangers breathe a sigh of relief as, no longer their responsibility, she heads home.
Well, here we are. The rain’s falled in love with my window and left sickles of watery kisses all over it and its romantic sister, cold, has started to make inroads on me. I can feel her flirting as I sit here, running long frosty fingers across my flanks, paying careful attention to my knuckles, my ears. This morning my lover was the sun, all sweetness and light, feeding me flowers and letting me immerse myself, as I sprawled full length in the old red rocking chair in the front room. I pushed my dressing gown aside and showed my knees and hairy shanks to her, opened the blinds and invited her in, felt like I was kissed all over. Now ever the birds can’t fly high enough for romantic entanglements with her, and they flutter haevily to rooftops to absorb warmth from the tiles, a semblance of the affection she lavished on all of us.
I’m feeling really, really lazy.
Also, and this is turning this from an exercise in creative writing into an admission of general abstraction failure, I can’t bring myself to do anything when Maria’s not about. Not that I want to do anything when she’s here, but it’s worse when she’s gone. I just sit, stare at this screen and occasionally remember to eat. Mmm, this morning it was kid’s mini-waffles, cheese crispy pancakes and sweetcorn on the cob. All sugar and starch and fat, mm-hmm! Just broke to eat some canned broad beans, that were delish.
Xavier’s face is under water. He’s holding his breath. The surface of the water is descending towards him and is warm around him. His chest floats up and he blows out, to keep himself down on the bottom. He does it noisily, gurgling water into his mouth as does; he’s not hiding. The water passes his lips and he keeps gurgling out the last of the air, the pocket in his mouth still full until he expels it rapidly. As the water descends it covers his skin with foam. He imagines sitting up, and looking at himself in the mirror and seeing himself all white foam and wiping it off to reveal the black beneath. He’s not black, but the image amuses him. In fact, when he does sit it’s a struggle, his thin flabby body struggling against the bath’s smooth sides. He looks at himself in the mirror and it’s like the first time. The foam isn’t evenly distributed and he’s left with large lumps at the side of his head. Rather than a smooth covering, it looks like he has large tumours growing smoothly out of his flesh, John Merrick style, and it completes alters the make-up of his face, though not necessarily in a bad way. Now it looks interesting, large liquid eyes, thick lips, collapsed cheeks and a crooked jaw flowing into smooth white asymettries of tumours.
Gower was the last of the Banteng. His mighty hooves ploughed up the fresh ground beneath trees, his proud horns shed their winter coating against the trees. He was immortal, he was invincible, he was unchallengeable.
A shot rang out. There were no more banteng.
The rangers’ systems registered the death, sent out a patrol. Gower’s headless body was already surrounded by carrion creatures, but the rangers drove them off and checked the corpse, saw that it was indeed Gower. They dug out the bullet for analysis, removed the tracker, took a back-up skin sample of Gower’s flesh and left him to be eaten.
The systems were already in operation though, deep in the savannah station. An frozen clone embryo was brought out of storage and gently warmed up, while an automatic process started the creation of another ten to provide a single replacement. A large immune-deficient cow was selected from the large isolated flock and implanted.
The foetus grew slowly. Elsewhere systems and men analysed the bullet, found the gun, found the owner, dealt with him. The head and the magnificent horns had already disappeared into the black market but for a short time the local chain of supply was removed. Demand would replace it soon enough.
After many months, the host was euthanised and opened up by a team half vets, half butchers. The over-large calf stood up on legs like spindles and wailed and butted. It was led to its Skinner doll for milk and suckled. It had found a mother.
After twelve months the calf, to all intents and purposes, was full grown. He was drugged and, in a great cradle in an all-terrain vehicle, taken out into the spring of the national park. He woke up, was observed for weeks, was terrified, was lost, but slowly adjusted to the nights. One day he woke and there were no more watchers.
Winter went, spring came. His mighty hooves ploughed up the fresh ground beneath trees, his proud horns shed their winter coating against the trees. He was immortal, he was invincible, he was unchallengeable. With only his genes remaining from the mighty Banteng, Gower was, as ever, alone.
Enough. Everyone seems to think I will write one day, why I don’t know. Damn the premonitory bullying. I will start now.
Here’s my portent. Here’s my book.
So Judas is crying. He cries a lot at the moment. Perhaps he always was a weeper, a grabber of momma’s shawl, a chaser of comforting skirts. In the grim cities of the old middle east, where men are bound by the newfound strictures that seek to uphold societies and hold cities together, where there are the half-civilised urbanites and the great myriad barely-better-than-beasts scraping livings in the dusty deserts of the land of milk and honey, it’s not hard to be scared. But he’s crying because his childhood friend is dead, the companion who used to sneak off with him to throw stones at the Samarian children, the man who caroused (within the strictures, always within the moral strictures) and set the pace alongside him as they ran headlong into a bright future. I’d cry. You’d cry.
You all know who that friend is, so why dwell on the point? You know what Judas is going to do, you think you know why. Let’s skip over a young man’s tear-sozzled cheeks, let’s ignore the noose in his near future, and just focus on what he was. A damned-from-the-start traitor, a friend of the godly, a faithful one, yet independently wealthy.
Let’s admit again, the whole circle wasn’t comprised of society’s best sort. The dead-dumb fishermen, meathook hands torn by the sharp loops of netting, callused and blistered hands useful for suppressing dissent. The lonely tax-collector, desperate for friendship amidst accusations of collaboration and daily death-threats. A varied bunch of dissolute, stupid and wealthy, some wannabe believers, others simply angry and rough, others just looking to be a part of something, others blowing their cash on this foible, like they’d blown it on a hundred others.
Because what else is there to do in the sandy pits of the year dot? You had to make your own entertainment, create your own beliefs. Hell, they’d only just created a nation out of a bunch of escaped slaves and a bunch of village-states, and now they wanted a new culture, a new identity, something to occupy them in the gaps between hacking a living out of the urban mines. Half-remembered, variously-transcribed myths about the origins of their agglomeration hardly served for such a nobly-born race.
So Judas dreams as he staggers about his room, dreams about better ways of escaping this babble, of making some sense of his life. He dreams of hunting down Pilate, chasing him down through the corridors of his palace, a horde of heroes at his heels, smashing aside legionaries by the dozen, shoving down their florid gladii, trampling them beneath their great shields as they pursue the fleeing fat man. Judas has heard tales of grave-robbers from old Egypt, of the tricks the Pharaohs stuck in their tombs to snare the unwary, so Pilate’s imaginary palace is riddled with traps and without cover from the flying pellets of the auxiliaries and the leaden pilum of the retreating Romans. Gradually the crowd of heroes thins, with the legionaries thinning too.
Soon Judas is alone.
He stands facing Pilate, clutching in his hand a wax tablet inscribed with miscellenaous crimes, an aide-memoire, proving his innocence. He has made copies, he has passed them to friends, he knows of his innocence, he knows the guilty Romans will try and put the finger on him, and he knows he has to get the admission from Pilate before either croaks it. In his dream he dives for Pilate and they struggle, fat Roman, thin Jew, rolling across the marble floors…
It wasn’t the fault of J. Iscariot, oh no, how could it be? He’s the honest and faithful Judas, the right-hand man, the beloved of the godhead, the Judah who never doubted (unlike filthy Judah Thomas Didymus, who no answer satisfied, the endlessly querying child at the Passover feast, damned for questioning and intellectual curiousity, like he should be.) He knows the accusations, the intimations of betrayal. He also knows that every last damn hero of Jewish culture was a Judah like him, Maccabeus, Jacobson, there was even Judah itself, the Judean land, land of the Jews. He is the whole Israelite nation, and he’s scapegoated for it.
Was the godhead trying to save him? To exclude him before the bloody end? His friend, his love, to send him away. Joshua must have seen the end coming – he always saw further than the rest. And he decided to send beloved Judas away, that makes sense yes. To save more would have drawn attention, and by compromising sweet J.I. he could save him and him alone. Only Barnabas knows the truth, old Joseph as was, but he’s in distant Antioch and he’s not telling. Judas, the damn hero. He can’t think how he’s ended up here, crying to death.
Doubting Thomas = detective, crawling through the evidence, consulting the sources, or trying to, before each dies. Every single one is martyred, so naturally plotted.