26. A Memory of Abel in the future

Abel, monoprint and pen
Abel at Barons Court Station. Monoprint and pen.

The harmonica woman is sitting in the corner of a dark damp tunnel. She still has the white face paint on and bright red lipstick, though it’s running somewhat, giving her a monstrous appearance. She is stitching something together, slowly. carefully, in the candlelight. Her thoughts are of Abel. How she first saw him at Barons Court Station, as we saw him, horror on his face, blood on his hands, in the near future. How he loves Elsie then, oh yes, how he will love her then as he never loved her when she was alive.

Time will go slowly then, so slowly. He will live every second since his very first Spletzer-Martin tablet as detailed pictures in his head. But all that is yet to happen for him. This horror he knows only as confused drug inspired dreams, along with his own death. Currently he lies semi-conscious at the harmonica woman’s feet, registering nothing but the flicker of the candle flame.

She is stitching herself a child.

 

Last episode Red Wine and Revolution 3.

For a list of all the Spletzer-Martin 5 episodes go to The Further Adventures of the Spletzer-Martin 5

21. A Spletzer-Martin 5 Moment

Spletzer-Martin No.5Sit for a moment, just sit, and do absolutely nothing. Allow your senses to take over and let the talking you fade; if the voice continues to babble on just let it, it’s not the important thing now. Breath deeply: in, out. Feel the air going into your lungs, filling you and going out again. You are not separate from your surroundings, your surroundings are not separate from you.

What can you feel?

What can you hear?

What can you smell?

Think how much stuff there is. How full your senses are. So much. How rich it is, this tiny bit of now, amazingly rich, immense and unfathomable.

This sounds a little like a meditation, but I present it to you now because that intense awareness of the moment is what the Spletzer-Martin 5 can give. All your senses are heightened, everything is at its fullest, most intense, most alive. And not only does the Spletzer-Martin 5 give you this amazing feeling, it gives you it for days with no sleep required and no physical side effects.*

* It has recently been reported that there are some psychological side effects. A deep addiction to the heightened feeling. As one takes more and more of it ones brain may become confused, forget the difference between you and your surroundings, loose the talking you in the many other voices of fans, sirens, dish washers…. Hallucinate creatures in the corners, eyes in the machines. You may be terrified. Out of control. Your brain desperately seeking to rebuild you and the safe reality to exist in, but sometimes the brain may find a different reality, reinterprtations of the previously understood and previously ignored, an interpretation that makes just as much rational sense as the old one. Then, what if you find others with the same alternative interpretation? What if you are living in a tunnel under London where the alternative reality now makes a lot more sense?

17. Elsie’s Pragmatism

Future birdCertain moments replayed endlessly in your head, is that love? The irrational desire to relive tiny fragments of time over and over? What is a person? What is it to know someone? What does it mean when they become your default thought? Danger I’d say.

This is how it was for Elsie, but she told herself she did not love Abel. She was obsessed with Abel, she’d admit that, it was irrational but somehow necessary. When she first discovered he had gone she’d looked for him down the tunnels of the Piccadilly line, crept through god knows what for days in the darkness. A stupid crazed search which now, in the light of the Arts Admin office, she saw as a type of madness. A breakdown perhaps.

For what had really happened? Abel had gone off without telling her where he was going – that was very like Abel – and a drunk had told her he’d gone down the tunnels under London. Why had she believed what a drunk had told her? Why had she risked her own life chasing after someone who should be capable of looking after himself? Someone who certainly wouldn’t bother chasing after her!

So she stopped. Forced herself to be sensible about it, got back to work, got busy, tried to forget. She always remembered though, in the quiet periods, those moments when he’d seemed so close.

Although it had been the potential rock-god Abel that first attracted her, it was the weak, vulnerable Abel she had perhaps fallen in love with. The one that couldn’t cope with complicated situations. The one that needed a hug. The one that kissed her as though he really needed her. She knew by the next day he’d forget her. Even she would admit that it was partly the uncertainty, the waiting and wondering, that fuelled her obsession, made her desire him like nothing else.

Now though she was being pragmatic. She had a good job, she had prospects, her boss needed her.

Changes were sort, she vaguely dated other men. What was Abel to her? Just a series of moments now past. Or at least that was what she was trying hard to pretend.

16. The Sin Eater

14. Betwixt and Between

Walking through a woodWednesday 29th August 2020. Just back from Wales.

It is the woods you know, the woods and the ferns and the river that feel most like home, not the house. The way the trees cling to the hillside, their roots grabbing at the toppling rocks, the lichen coating their arms with a silver skin. They shout so deeply it can’t be heard but it turns my insides. They talk and talk, muttering secrets. The first fit I can remember having was in a woods in Wales like this, maybe that is why its ghosts are so powerful.

I crouch in the mud and hang on to the trees trying to stop myself from falling completely, the dogs hover round me nervously. A rush of adrenalin, I breath in as deeply as I can as if to breath in the wood. Vast moments containing too much of everything enclose me, un-managable stuff, colour, sound, light, texture, smell, too much to cope with. My face hangs just above the mud, reflections in the water dazzle my eyes, memories surround me, mismatched, not making sense, I taste the air, I would not miss this experience for all the money in the world!

Of course I gave up believing in witches, fairies and trolls in the woods years ago, as one is supposed to, but i know here there is something big, something powerful, something that breaths and contains all breath.

When I can stand again we follow the river through the woods to the beach. And then there is the sea. I cry when we reach the sea, as i always do, something in me is not strong enough.

I want to make things that are like the woods, things/situations that are magic. A threshold, betwixt and between, somewhere where the self is lost into the moment.

So here I am now, back in London, trying to straighten out crimped thoughts, drowning in cheap wine, watching strange insects crawl across my keyboard. I am homesick for the trees and keeping myself busy.

Busy doing what exactly?

Explaining that I am a Twilighter, as is Steve. ‘Twilighter’ is the official tittle given to us, first by the arts council, then by everyone as we started to become invisible.

I live in a basement flat on Talgarth Road. It was once a council property back when there were council properties. Officially now I am a squatter, but no one will go to the effort of trying to get me out. There are a lot of us here on Talgarth road. The properties are in bad condition, the road is slowly collapsing into the cellars beneath it, there is no money in buying them up and developing, best just to pretend they are not here. So the buildings became invisible and gathered invisible people, Twilighters, those with problems, illnesses, things that can’t be cured easily, those society would rather not have around.

Now Elsie is definitely not a Twilighter, a very respectable lady indeed these days. She lives in a very respectible flat off the main road, just round the corner from Barons Court. We used to be good friends,  but it seems that has changed.

It was when she realised she couldn’t find Abel that I first noticed the change in her. She searched down the tunnels for him, she was determined, I got worried about her wondering along the tracks of the Piccadilly line in the dark. Then one day I saw her and she looked an absolute state, ill and dirty, coughing and wretching. I asked her what had happened but she wouldn’t tell me. After that she seemed to get very career minded, stopped mentioning Abel so much, stopped talking to me much at all, I started becoming as invisible to her as I am to most respectable citizens.

Or perhaps it was my talking to shouting trees that has freaked her out. Still being invisible has its advantages.

Previous:

13. The Alter

12. Malformed and Obscene

11. Her Pet Project

A Secret, an Old Story and a Whispering Maggot

Tulip growing from bulbThe story is about a friend called Lucy I knew at school, but it is also a very very old story, told thousands of times, probably as old as history.

Lucy was obviously very clever, she had been dumped in the Special Units at school because of her troublesome behaviour and managed to get out of them a term or two before  I did. Lucy lived with her mum in a tiny flat on a council estate. Her Mum was an alcoholic with mental health issues, there was no Dad. Lucy was a superb shoplifter, who whenever caught would deliberately breath so hard and fast she’d give herself a seizure. If she did this at school I was always the one the teacher chose to sit with her, I don’t know why, my epilepsy wasn’t diagnosed till much later.

Lucy was tall, dark haired, creamy skinned, high cheekboned and beautiful, which is what caught Richard’s eye.

Richard was very In with the In crowd. He was cool, fashionable, good looking, good at sport, not all that bright but then being too bright would have spoilt the image. Richard was in the middle band at school, being a very middle kind of chap, and it was his class Lucy managed to move up in to from the Special Units, and where I followed later.

I remember the biology class with maggots. The screams as they were thrown across the room, boys trying to stick them down girls shirts. I remember Lucy being cornered by Richard and a maggot, her squealing, him with the maggot between his thumb and forefinger and a sneer on his lips. This may have been where the romance started, I don’t know.

Lucy asked me into the girls changing room for an important talk. “I’m going out with Richard!” she said in an excited whisper “but you mustn’t tell anyone, it’s a secret”. I knew why it was a secret, she was a Special, like me. If you came from the Units you were a Special and there was nothing you could do to change that. A fashionable boy like Richard could not be known to be dating a Special.

Lucy was crazy about Richard. In love. They slept together. For 15 she was very sexually confident, I remember her once brashly informing the biology teacher, as he tried to demonstrate how girls walk,  that girls and boys were different not because of the way they walk but because “he has a penis and she has a pussy”. She  of course told me the details of her and Richard’s love life, as teenage girls do tell their friends. She was so happy how could she resist telling me? And Sasha, also from the Units, and a few other friends that could perhaps keep a secret.

The relationship went on for over a year. Lucy arranged it so she had lookouts, so her and Richard could have a snog behind the bike sheds without anyone finding out. Richard didn’t mind Lucy’s friends from the Units knowing, as we didn’t count. The secrecy excited her obviously, but still she longed to be accepted as equal. In class Richard became increasingly cold and cruel towards her, she’d often be in tears after School.

Eventually of course, as maggots munch and school girls gossip, the secret slid out. Fashionable people were sniggering at Richard in the corridors, whispering about him in the Gym. To think that he was seeing her!

What could he do but create a scene? Demonstrate publicly his contempt for her.

It was Friday afternoon break time, a hot summers day. Lucy, Sasha and I had dumped our bags on the grass in a pile outside the music huts and were lounging on the grass a few feet away.

A football is kicked over on to the bags, Richard comes running after it, but instead of retrieving the football he kicks Lucy’s bag into the air.

“Richard, that’s my bag!”  Lucy giggles, hoping that Richard is going to pay her some attention.

Richard carries on kicking it.

“Stop it Richard”

“Why?” he says, “it’s just cheap crap like you”.

“Richard?”

Lucy runs forward to try and grab the bag, by now a crowd has started gathering round and cheering Richard on as he dribbles the bag between his feet. Lucy reaches forward and grabs Richard’s arm, he pushes her off, she tries again, he knocks her to the ground. She’s lying there crying looking up at him with big puppy dog eyes. He kicks the bag into her stomach hard and spits on her.

“Fucking slapper!” he shouts “get back to the Units you stupid dirty whore!”.

Laughing and cheers come from the audience as Richard struts off.

Lucy stays lying on the floor, her head buried in her arms, panting. I try to calm her down, get her to stand up. The audience disperse, not wanting to be seen as responsible for what’s happening. She can’t get up but roles over into a crouching position. I sit there next to her, not a lot I can do now. Snot and tears and saliva merge into a constant trickle flowing from her chin, she is shaking, swaying, gulping and choking, turning every colour and eventually blacking out. I just sit there. I know it will pass, as all things do.

I knew also that there were planted little maggots in our heads munching on brain matter for the rest of our lives, and the maggots whisper  “No one can love you, because you’re just a stupid dirty whore from the Units.”

13.The Altar

Abel could hear the sound of running water. It was coming from the altar. He approached it crawling on all fours, standing had not occurred to him yet. In the centre of the alter the rock wall was exposed and from it there trickled a small but constant flow of clear water. Abel, his mouth still feeling like a chalk mine, flung himself towards it, only to be whacked across the back with a large stick.

The mad harmonica lady stood growling at him like a wild cat, stick clasped in one hand, lantern in the other. Then he heard voices, lots of them coming nearer and nearer. To avoid being hit again he scrambled  into a corner.

Suddenly the room was full of people. Men and women, maybe 60, maybe more. All silent. No one seemed to notice Abel, even the harmonica lady seemed uninterested in him now. She was kneeling down beside the spring.

One by one each person knelt down at the alter. Each took their turn, slowly, rhythmically. They closed their eyes, bent and sipped the water. And each time the harmonica lady dipped her figure in the water and made some kind of symbol on the person’s head.  Then each took out a jug and filled it with spring water before returning to the crowd.

For a minute Abel was convinced he could see Steve in the crowd, but it was too dark to be sure.
After what seemed like years the crowd slowly started to leave the room. Abel, his back still hurting from where the stick had hit, creeped out with the others. They were a scruffy bunch so he blended in.
Tunnel after tunnel they walked, one being no more memorable than the next. It was so dark Abel found he was moving with the pace of the feet of the crowd and could not see where he was going. Still it was somehow restful this steady hippnotic pace leading him along, so much so that on waking up on what appeared to be a shelf at the side of a tunnel, a slightly damp blanket flung over him, he had no idea how he  got there. Beside  him lay a packet of Spletzer-Martins.

12. Malformed and Obscene

Abel passed out in the tunnels under LondonAbel stumbles and falls into the ankle deep drain water. He’s been in the tunnels for 5 hours and found nothing but sewage and rats. He’s only managed to keep going through fear of what he’ll become if he stops. Dread is tap dancing heavily in his head, and something seems to be following him. He is lost. Actually he is in the storm drain that carries the Westbourne river to the Thames, but he doesn’t know that.

He tries to get up again but only manages to slide the upper part of his body against the tunnel wall. Then he passes out. If Elsie saw him now she wouldn’t recognise him, he looks so old and ill.

It is the mad harmonica lady that finds him, turns out she knows her way round the the underground rivers very well. She dances along the tunnel, her ripped skirts trailing through the water, singing to herself :

In the blood
in the gene
Malformed and obscene
Its a crack in the glass
And a whisker in the cream

A snake in the garden
He goes unseen
Theres an apple in the tree
And a devil in a dream

There’s bones in these tunnels
Your hands won’t wash clean
There’ll be meat in the belly
Where the carnival has been

————————————

She grabs his arm and drags his now corpse-like body over her shoulder. She is surprisingly strong for an old lady.

When Abel wakes he finds himself in a small cave-like room lit only by candles. There is what looks like an alter on the far wall, and straight in front of him is a roughly carved wooden Jesus on a cross with a hand painted sun as his halo.

Previous:

11. Her Pet Project

9. So, where were we…

 Ah yes, Elsie is worrying, Steve is drunk in stilettos, the mad woman at the station is preaching and blowing down a harmonica, and Abel is slowly creeping down a tunnel looking for the opening Steve told him about. His mouth is like a miniature chalk mine, his brain is set on automatic as he touches his way through the darkness to the tune from the Spletzer Martin advert.

Underlondon is a vast place, a maze created by accident, innovation, experiment and deceit. Ancient rivers merge with sewers, wine cellars link with catacombs. Deathly dark, as you’d expect, and as complicated as the city streets above it. Large parts are permanently flooded ankle deep in water. This does not bother it’s inhabitants, who, aside from the terrapins and crocodiles, have built shelves for their beds above the flood level. All their belongings rest on these shelves, from marmite to stolen diamonds, vast platforms made from found timber and steel, scavenged, as their life is, from the above-landers.

Previously:

8. Drunken Delirium
7. Hallucinari
6. Dread
5. Slapdash
4. Eyes in the Machines
3. Underlondon
2. Abel
1. What YOU Need!

6. Dread

An artist's impression of Dread.Dread sat in the corner picking his nose. He was naked. A large man, his skin took on the colour of the shadows in which he sat, altering shades of grey throughout the day, a green tint, a blue tint, a touch of magenta. It could be best described as having that quality you get if you’ve been using watercolour paints but never bother changing the water. You dip the brush in, take it out and splodge it onto the thick pimply surface of the watercolour paper, the result you get is like Dread’s skin.

Abel had been seeing him in the corners for sometime now, particularly at work. At first he’d been afraid, a strange naked man appeared to be following him. No one else seemed to notice though.  He didn’t dare ask people outright,  he knew his colleagues thought him odd already.

He panicked, was this proof of his insanity? Then he came to the conclusion that even if he was mad, he couldn’t afford treatment so probably best  just to keep on as normal and ignore Dread, everything would probably be alright.

Once he tried to talk to him, but Dread is a silent creature, the only noise he makes is a munching sound when he eats from his hands. Abel was not sure what he was eating, it appeared to be light.

Attempts at communication were given up. Gradually though, through some kind of thought osmosis, Abel knew that it was Dread, but dread of what exactly he didn’t know. He briefly mentioned it to Elsie once, but the look of terror in her eyes made him shut up. Still it left what felt like a large hole in his gut, and a churning feeling that made him manic when in public. It didn’t help that his diet now mainly consisted on Spletzer-Martins and alcohol.

After six months of Dread hanging around, Abel was getting used to him. At work in the early hours of the morning Dread was somehow a more comfortable companion than those all seeing, all knowing eyes in the machines.

Next – 7. Hallucinari

Previous –

5. Slapdash

4. Eyes in the Machines

3. Underlondon

2. Abel

1. What YOU Need!

5. Slapdash

Old woman, theatre performer.
Harmonica player outside Baron's Court Station

There’s a woman standing outside Baron’s Court tube station playing, or rather attempting to play, a harmonica. I’ve seen her here before, she hangs out at Baron’s Court Housing project where they do free meals. She wears a wig and theatrical makeup. I thought at first she was a transvestite, like my neighbour Steve who goes to the Coop in stilettos and a mini skirt, but apparently not.

My other slightly more sober neighbour tells me she is an old theatre performer, been out of work for years though, a drinker with mental health issues. “A right care in the community that one” say’s my neighbour “a real special“.

The story goes that she was having medical treatment for a congenital brain disease during the privatisation of the NHS. She could’t afford to continue the treatment with the specialist hospital so ended up going through the Charity Care system. The hack-up job the church hospital did was well meaning but naive and slapdash, her memory was blown to pieces.

This is all just rumours you understand, but she is quite mad!

Still, she stands there at Barons Court station feather bower and all, screaching out lunacy and blowing down that poor old harmonica. The Station manager occasionally moves her along but she’s back the next day. On Sundays she is particularly enthusiastic, her words seem to take on a hell fearing vigor as she denounes the Sunday shopping  public.

Next – 6. Dread

Previous –

1. What YOU need!

2. Abel

3. Underlondon

4. Eyes in the Machines