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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

THE NOVEL FELL APART IN HIS HANDS (MEMO #5): Silphium: A Manifesto: New Love Between Lines

Author’s Preface
All drawn lines have a speed that can usually be deduced: they have a beginning and an end, and therefore represent time, as well as space.David Hockney

The cupboard is full: there is me, and a very large sperm whale, a sandstorm, the atoms of a bloodstream, an Italian train station, a group of peasants escaping the plague, some heart-shaped seeds which Nero ate, an ambush of dreamtigers, an architect, a comely prostitute from Victorian England, a sunbird, a lost elephant, new Christmas cards made to look old, two pairs of remarkably dexterous Indian lovers, an empty box of vanilla tea, a fiendishly inventive French pervert and an equally imaginative, but thankfully less demonical Canadian poet. Most important though there is the Silver Man at his door, and his door is not the door to cupboard – his door is open; the cupboard door is closed, locked, as it should be, cupboards are a good way of making the outside world seem more tidy than it really is, and a good place for keeping secret knowledge, and other valuables. Since he so dazzled me with his multiplicity and lightness, for the period of a lifetime, I have sold my hands to the Silver Man, and a couple of his compatriots. There may be no need to renegotiate the contract in the hereafter.

“Friend,” I said to the Silver Man, “this week, you have been giving me nightmares.”

“Is that a complaint? Are they not the most lovely nightmares in the delicate history of torment?”

“Yes, yes! but they are killing: every night when I am, should be, sleeping, I am, instead of resting, reduced to tears of awe.”

First Nightmare

In sleep, I wake to find I’m drinking sand from the beach at Mouille Point, it goes down dry and every glug makes me five-fold more thirstysome, but yet I cannot stop, I’m bewitched and this is not the nightmare, that begins with conviction when I realise, and how I cannot say, but what I know I know with all the certainty of a dreamer in her dream: the sand is not sand, there is something much more to it, something deeply unsettling, and as if to confirm the insanity of it, at that moment the Atlantic rolls right back to Robben Island, leaving me acres more of sand, the die-cut curves of its individual grains glinting in yesterday’s white sun. Oh God, this is not ocean bed, it is a jigsaw puzzle and each grain of sand from the light house to Shackleton’s South Pole is a piece, and I, I! Who loathes jigsaw puzzles! I am charged unquestionably, unquestionably as only unquestionably can be to a dreamer in her dream, I am thus charged with the task of matching up the billion interlocking pieces. My God, my God, and so for a whole night, which may as well be a century, I work my soul ragged and do you know, I actually succeed, but before I can see what this puzzle picture is I have died to make, I wake.

Second Nightmare

This I keep short, for in many respects it was shaped as the first nightmare, save that in sleep I did not wake to find I was drinking an ocean-bed of jigsaw pieces, I woke to find I was drinking needles and the needles were all black, all different sizes, and some tasted of lead, others of ink. Ah, and the sea did not roll back, but all the buildings vanished across the world. There was a qualitative difference to that cursed puzzle, it wasn’t like a kid’s jigsaw, it was more architectural, and yet again, after working all night, I woke before I could see the picture.

Third Nightmare

Again the same, but this time not sand, not needles, but letters of the alphabet, no, let me be absolutely precise: vowels. Vowels! I was drinking vowels, but they were not the ordinary typographer’s A,E,I,O,U, no, these were refugees, they had come from somewhere, they had lives and histories, and very specific places where they had been meaningful, and the horrifying sense of doom I had at their displacement was immense and I knew standing there in that dream with a first mouthful of 6911 E’s, 4889 A’s, 4107 I’s, 4921 O’s and 1785 U’s that if I did not fix the puzzle of these vowels, humanity would lose part of its soul. And this time, I did see the solution, the picture, but it wasn’t a picture as such, it was …

“Let me guess,” said the Silver man: “I’d hazard, your first mouthful of vowels made complete and fathomable, the first five chapters of the English translation of Don Quixote? Furthermore, you may like to know the needles of dream two were not needles, but lines from off the plans of every building large, small, glorious and insignificant, ever built.”

Fourth Nightmare

It was completely different. Two lines, bruised, still optimistic found each other in a white space. There was some fit, common curves, compatible cuts and in a time that seemed like no time, but was a matter of days, the lines were close, too close, and while in Blouberg the waves measured 8 metres high and the boats rocked in Kalk Bay Harbour, the lines did what lines do, and one found the other a surer delight than Silphium.

“This was a nightmare?” the Silver Man asked. “It’s sounding almost sweet. I’ll need a hanky soon.”
“That was only the beginning.”
Secretum secretorum!”
“Yes, it does come into it. How did you know?”
“I know everything, I even know today it was announced that The Fall has been rescinded.”
“The Fall?”
“Don’t be asinine, there was only one fall in the history of falling called The Fall, and that great fall of falls has been rescinded. In short, there is no longer a line between good and evil, the line has vanished, Lady Lucifer has made apologies for a few millennia of dire misdemeanors, and she has returned to heaven. There are no more devils, and no negatives, so bring the whale and the sunbird, and come out of the cupboard for the atomic structure of the universe is about to change, and it will be a spectacle you should not miss.”

MEMO #5 OF 999


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    November 8th, 2009 @15:51 #

    Dazzling. Unlike anything else. Am running out of superlatives, Ms Camel!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    November 8th, 2009 @17:20 #

    Blame it on espresso. Dazzling sounds very nice, thank you Helenski, but it really is the coffee's fault, double espresso and Victorian Vanilla tea, a wonderful near lethal combination for the realness of reality.


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