Today I’m doing exactly what I swore not to do anymore – (a) indulging in a spot more navel gazing and (b) admitting to a weakness of character I’d prefer to debunk or laugh off in the circumstances. But last year my body tried its steady best to kill me. It wasn’t North Korea after all.
I don’t know; I guess I got complacent. kind of like the Allies after WWI, thinking my physical self would always hold out. It was bullied, dependable. I think churning out two novels in the course of 3 months at the beginning of 2016 pushed the poor chassis a tad too far, coupled with a comic book script for a new character 18 months in the mix, loaded with ups and downs, that still hasn’t seen resolution The old body threw a wobbly that took me to places I prefer not to return to. In moments of quiet musing, I do however swing back via those landscapes. Hence the advice from several people that I might be suffering a form of PTSD.
Yeah, alright, maybe.
I’m tempted to pull a Roy Batty and say here “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”
Instead Wolram E. Deaps from my own fiction – the novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude – jumps closer to mind. Hence the admission that I might indeed be suffering from something akin to PTSD, just as a few people have suggested.
Wolram, however had in fact recently kicked the bucket. I’m not there yet and would prefer to steer clear of this abyss in future:
“I have meagre proof, no framed-up certification, nothing to toss in a court of law as evidence of a rapid departure from the mortal coil. I recall a gun was involved, pressed up against my
skull, and a loud explosion followed. An ancient Chinese philosopher, whose bloody name escapes me, reckoned that ‘A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.’ This was prior to the advent of gunpowder, so I’m wondering what fluff the fellow would have churned out concerning a single bullet.
ictor LLaszlo by storymancer
“Having proved my credentials—citing the crackpot savant while slinging in a footnote—allows me to get straight to the point.
There is no neat beginning with which to start things. And while debarkation here might be meaningful to the hoi polloi, so far as I was concerned?
My grand entrance in these parts elicited no dull, heavy, monotonous clang of a divine bell, let alone a jaunty toot-tooting of car horns. Festivities, it seemed, were off the agenda.
The climate? Well, this wasn’t balmy enough to postulate the outer suburbs of Hell, but Paradise remained well and truly lost, and one saw nary a pitchfork nor harp. I suppose a better address would be the place to find the Pearly Gates, while Saint Peter must have been gallivanting on French leave. A blessing, since I’m not one for preachy types.
Lacking, to my mind, was a suitable background score banged together by Chopin—though with Frédéric François out of the picture, it was the opportune setting for Victor Laszlo to shepherd a rousing rendition of ‘La Marseillaise….
“You might recall the suavely scarred, excessively honourable
Resistance leader, from the film Casablanca? Sadly, the man was nowhere. At times I found myself humming the melody, deprived of Laszlo’s guidance, but to be honest test pattern music would have sufficed. Alas, I was indulged with silence.
“Not for my ears the faintest chorus of cicadas, wild squawk of ravens, or a reassuring rumble of distant traffic. Tiresome Christian Vespers and their Muslim stand-in, adhān, remained mute, and there appeared to be too few little darlings to belt out for me ‘Oranges and Lemons’.
In the moments that I stopped humming as I hoofed it along, I heard scarcely a sound—a reminder of the hush that prevails with snow.
Hereabouts, we’re fleeced of the sight of pirouetting flakes, so I initially considered hearing loss was a by-product of the hop, skip and lunge, from life to a possible demise. A rival thought that I’d alternatively gone insane later crossed my mind, but let’s not go there now.
Although it was plain to see this domain went through the clockwork motions of day and night, and while the feel was more terra firma than Elysian Shangri-la, some aspects were awry. For one thing, the damned weather never committed.
Occasionally, the wind picked up or a light mist draped the horizon, but there was nought I could point to and declare, ‘I say, there’s the sun.’ I marked an absence of rainfall, thunder, or hail. I missed the rain. Where I came from, it used to pour down by the bucketload.
The sky was a canvas of flinty grey looking like it was painted with a bold brush and careless abandon.
At one time, I spotted a sign writer at work up there in the heavens. If I expected ‘Surrender Dorothy’, I was thwarted—the baffling word ‘Jihi’ slowly dissipated and became nothing.
No matter how far I went, the venue otherwise refused to change.
Around me unravelled a vague, diminishing landscape with barren trees and otherwise no remarkable feature, no cities, no towns, no enticing attractions. Forget a parade or a semicircle of wagons overturned to dispel hostile assault by natives.
I was constantly struck by the dreariness of the place; as if a frumpy aunt’s discarded beige stocking filtered the view. There was the odd shack, gloomy house, a lean-to or tent—nothing registering significant—and nary a rolled-out red carpet. Some of these places had a crucifix carved on their exteriors, with the added scraping of a vertical divot on the right side of the cross. This resembled less a religious symbol than a cretin’s sloppy attempt at the number four.
“The inhabitants, few and far between, hid behind rough- hewn curtains or skulked in darkened alcoves. Hence, their communication skills came across as altogether disengaged, and I thought, To Hell with them. Figuratively speaking.
“So it was, amid these mundane individuals and across this scenery, dull as dishwater, that I first found myself trudging.
“Which way I ought to have headed depended a good deal on where I wanted to get, and to be honest it didn’t appear to matter which way I went. Despite sage advice from Lewis Carroll that getting somewhere should be just a matter of walking, no matter how much I walked I reached nowhere.
This pointless labour I undertook on shoddy paths made of clay and marked with washed-out, saffron-stained bricks, slapped down willy-nilly between the odd sprouting of wild Indian tobacco, white chrysanthemums, or rue. The surface of the roads needed a hearty levelling by one of those giant rolling pins you see at cricket matches, yet my inappropriate footwear remained grateful.
“It was something else that irked me. Earlier on, I referred to the lack of visible riffraff.
Even so, up ahead on the odd occasion was a diminutive character, half my height, flitting through the scrappy woodlandthese paths trod. The blighter was never less than fifty or sixty feet away, so it was impossible to distinguish details aside from a scarlet anorak.
“I found myself entertaining the bothersome notion that Big Bad Wolf is the role I was earmarked to play, yapping about and snapping on the coat-tails of Red Riding Hood. Let’s cut to the chase here—while my age seriously hampered physical pursuit or a potential shining career in pantomime, the only achievable huffing and puffing would have been the rattle of frail lungs.
Oh, and there was another reason I let this individual be: I once saw a suspenseful Donald Sutherland film called Don’t Look Now.
“In that story Sutherland gives chase to another child-sized fugitive in red. He presumes this is his recently deceased daughter, but it turns out to be a homicidal dwarf.
“Nothing is what it seems. Better to bide my time, chase nobody, and ramble solo. In hindsight, I could have easily fit into a hazy pastoral painting by William Turner: ‘Man in Bedroom Attire Crossing a Bland Brook’ or some such kerfuffle. It could sell for a fortune and add nothing special to an assiduously lit museum wall.
“Artistic overkill aside, I do believe I was going to tell you a tale—but on second thought, let’s chalk this implication up as bunk.
“Rather than a depressingly singular account, it’s going to be a mishmash of anecdotes, for neither the sake of brevity nor the saving of a few desperate trees. I don’t aspire to be that kind of chap. I’d say, instead, my objective in doing a merge is plainly because these anecdotes happen to interlink.
“Let’s press on, shall we?
“The death of a broken-down old man is, unquestionably, the least poetical topic in the world.
What then occurred, however, seemed curious at the time. Following up on brief, if considerable pain, pitch-blackness
“For want of a novel tag, let us dub the place the ‘Hereafter’ since I’m here, after I allegedly carked it. Here/After. Yes, I agree, an infuriating moniker and miles away from quick-witted bon mot. You could always employ your imagination to dig us up a better one. In the meantime, we’re high and dry.
After being here a while, a form of psychosis set in—I put this down to lack of stimulating company and the vapid wretchedness all about. This mental imbalance showed up in the way I harangued myself with incoherent soliloquies, a shade like this one. There was no orderly pattern to command proceedings in the old grey matter upstairs, and on countless occasions, I ended up exasperating me personally with puerile wisecracks.
“Possibly it was one way in which I fended off the truth. There was no epiphany. In this particular Hereafter, Revelation had cleaned up, decamped, and taken with him all notions of figuring out the meaning of life.
“I do concede a little grief that there was no Virgil, or any other Roman poet resurrected by Dante, waiting with a street directory. Neither was there a cowled footman out to menace tourists with a garden hoe—and manna was struck from the carte du jour. Perhaps Cerberus, the triple-headed guard dog of the Underworld, had fled his post to go chasing three sticks, while Charon, with his dinghy to Hades, was amiss.”
Yeah, yeah, fiction spouted by one of my own characters but some of this I think subconsciously leaked across into my brain as I lay there wondering what on earth had happened to me. It lingers still when I think back to the worst times last year.