This piece appeared in a prototype of Oik 2. I thought it
very odd (classic Crazy Oik) worthy of a drunken HG Wells or a Borges on LSD.
John does take time to get going but once through these initial longeurs we find
some poetic use of language and quite an imaginative charge. However some
(anonymous) women found it disgusting. I could see what they were getting at and
replaced it with John's equally biological Intensive Care where the organ
of interest became the protagonist's nose. There were no complaints about that.
Europe at that time was covered by a trough of low pressure which had drifted across the Atlantic and settled to produce the coldest May on record since the war. Certainly London was bleak, with gusts of miserably chill rain buffeting the journey each morning from Russell Square to the Barbican. I was staying in one of those new international hotels which seem to pride themselves on impersonality - raw concrete interior wall's, poison green carpeting, and breakfast entirely wrapped in cellophane. It was a week of continuous ineventuality, and the atmospheric depression intensified a sense of boredom which had come to hang like a leaden cloud over my existence in general. I am at that age when there are few pleasures left, and my life is tediously conventional - reasonable salary, job satisfaction nil, loveless marriage, and nothing more than retirement and the humiliating diseases of old age to look forward to. Not that any of this is apparent: I take care to present a lamina of good cheer to the world. After all, my job depends upon it: new orders are not won with frankness and philosophic good faith. In this condition I find that alcohol is an excellent tonic. It helps induce, very palatably indeed thank you, that pleasant state of numbness which assists transition from one day to the next - though on this particular occasion I had been caught in one of those mid afternoon lulls which are such an annoying feature of British social custom.
Business was concluded for the day, - I felt tired after a heavy lunch, and had nothing in particular to do. My taxi ground through spasmodic drizzle and innumerable hold-ups. Back at the hotel I mooched listlessly into the television room but was repelled by the atmosphere of an airport departure lounge. Instead of taking the lift I wandered through a maze of identical corridors just to kill time. Polished aluminium door handles; giant rubber key fobs.; room seven-four-nine, seven-five-one; my shoes hissing over the nylon fibre carpet; no-one about: it was the dead hour. In my room I poured a measure from portable reserves and lay out on a chocolate coloured bedspread which matched the rest of the fabrics in the room as if they had been squeezed, from the same tube. I turned on hotel muzak and switched myself off until dinner.
At least the bed was soft, the music soporific. I felt weighted by a sensuous torpor and drifted off into that state of mindless black rest during which we practice being dead. Then a gentle knock and the well oiled 'clop’ of the door latch announced the rear view of a chambermaid dragging in her commercial vacuum cleaner – though 'maid' is hardly the appropriate expression: she was one of those women of indeterminate middle age and shape who circulate unseen like white corpuscles in the life blood of hotels. Wrinkled stockings broad hipped, and wiry black hair, gasping "O perdone Senor!" when she turned round. "It's all right" I said: "do you want to clean the room?" I waved her in and picked my shoes off the floor. She hesitated, cowering. "No hablo ingles Senor". Half frightened, half embarrassed, she looked at me sceptically but when I motioned again insistently she ventured in with the plug.
The poor woman: uncertain and nervous, she kept casting glances back at me as she hoovered round the room. I sat up in the oatmeal coloured half light listening to the whirr of the machine and its interference crackle on the radio. Her eyes flickered in the dressing1 table mirror like the cautious peasant in a war film. Or maybe she was the hostile partisan? I lay back and was just beginning to drowse again when - bang! - the vacuum cleaner broke down explosively under the bed.
"Aggnhii!" the woman screamed - or whatever its equivalent in Spanish. She rattled the suction nozzle as if choking a snake. "Shall I have a. look?" I suggested, and got down to inspect the damage, I lifted a cover off the big dustbin-shaped cylinder and peered inside. The woman made encouraging noises and twirled her fingers round in lieu of technical description. A drive belt had slipped its pulley, that was all. I tried lifting it back on but the tension was too tight. "Si! Si!" the woman said, indicating by a scooping gesture that it must be tackled from underneath. I tried below, but it was still a two-handed job. Finally with a co-operative struggle and some international sign language we managed to get it on together.
So there I was on a wet Thursday afternoon sprawled across the floor in my best working suit fixing drive belts on a damned vacuum cleaner! I looked across the machine almost as if in disbelief at myself: what I saw returned however was a look which combined the timid scepticism of her entry into the room with a heartbreaking expression of admiration and gratitude. She was actually touched by such a simple act of assistance. I made a reassuring gesture, and from the change this wrought realised that in fact there was something-even more specific than gratitude flooding those doe-brown Mediterranean eyes. This was my second surprise - to think of being at my age the object of anyone's affective interest. How soul-hungry this woman must feel to resort so desperately - though perhaps my interpretation was ill-founded? But no; on making a delicate, tentative check my overture was taken up voraciously and reverberated fourfold. Motivated partly by magnanimous pity but more largely a bored interest in filling-the empty hours which hung so oppressively over the afternoon. I initiated the traditional manoeuvres.
In this realm of social activity I have been out of practice for many years now and found it difficult effecting those transitions between the upright and horizontal, between covered and released without at moments feeling an embarrassed sense of the ridiculous. It also occurred to me that the spectacle of two middle-aged persons in flagrante might not be an exactly pretty sight. But gradually as I began to master the task in hand the warm speechless creature with whom I shared this event was positively enthusiastic in her co-operation. The first result of lifting off our civilized restraint, was that the frowzy immigrant worker disappeared: she dissolved into simply a representative female - woman hypostatised, if that doesn't sound insulting - and I too began to feel that rising urgency, that sappy mixture of excitement and apprehension which one experiences on discovering a new world.
First, since there was plenty of time, I wished to survey the terrain: so delicately I began to explore the sallow-skinned contours of this new found land. And what surprises there were! What protrusions! What variations of tone and texture! I navigated the cushioned and padded relief from socket to knuckle, from dimpled tissue-fold to broad acres of spongy flesh covered with fine down like some silken nap. Encouraged by these discoveries, I extended my inquiry to establish contact with the principal region of interest. Her thighs were like hills shrouded in a dense protective cloud layer through which I descended to encounter the dark zone of bifurcation. Here was a fibrilous gorse covering the slopes of the mons: here the musky odour and salty fluids which promote mythologies of woman and the sea; here the labial portals to that fundamental antre rising, pulsing like a roseate cleft in the soft shoreline of this terra incognita. I stop and genuflect, kissing the ground in honour and humility like the Pope visiting some foreign dominion. The land is hot, tropical, fertile, it invites further exploration and facilitates entry with a lubricious welcome. But at this I hesitate: to go further places my own being at risk. What lies inside, beyond the steamy vapours of this sarcoline foyer? My curiosity is stronger than my caution however, so I press on and, taking deep breaths like some pearl diver about to-submerge, I nose forward into the salmon toned combe.
Yes, I'm apprehensive, yet at the same time engulfed by a pleasant awe. The glistening pink walls of the vestibule fold around me and some uncomfortable layers of my own being start slipping away to expedite movement. Deeper inside, the passage narrows: I'm forced to stoop, but still the topography exerts a sort of peristaltic influence to draw me on. All around is an amazing universe of elastic, pneumatic softness, an atmosphere humid to the point of saturation, dim red light, and textures like the inside of a cheek. Soon the viscous secretions of the fleshy tunnel are lubricating my body and I come into more and more intimate contact with the surrounding physiology, my shoulders and hips brushing the macerated walls of this luscious grotto. There are swishing, rushing, pumping sounds such as I imagine a doctor might hear through his stethoscope when ausculating the flow of blood through an active heart; and like a heart the interior is pulsating, throbbing under some impulse which forces me to regulate my own movement and breathing sympathetically.
Gradually the headroom is so low that I'm forced to crawl, slopping through milky fluids which run out of fissures in the walls, but still pressing on into a vague rust-coloured darkness. Affected by this new organic world, I feel myself shrinking like Alice after she had obeyed the bottle's imperative label. The physical conditions are not unlike those which must be experienced by a pot-holer except that I am enveloped, as I wriggle forward, by a warm and protective envelope of flesh. Gradually I feel that this exploration is becoming a journey of some special significance and I press on, deeper and deeper, unconcerned that the cost of doing so is a loss of stature. For my limbs grow shorter, rounder, and the lineaments of age disappear as my skin becomes as glabrous and tender as that surrounding me. Then gradually, as the funnel narrows even further, I feel my strength waning: I'm suddenly tired, unable to press further: I have no force, am utterly enfeebled, and can do no more than writhe helplessly as the elastic tube begins to close around me. Yet frightening though this entrapment was, none of it prepared me for the trauma which was to follow.
For suddenly the whole passage contracts to grip me in a convulsive spasm which has me crying out in a mewl of pain and fear. I'm trapped by a sort of internal sphincter. All light goes out as if my eyes have been sealed over. I'm plunged into a state of frightening darkness and ignorance. I struggle to get back again, but can't. This is terrible. I'm trapped; I can't breathe'! And still the tube contracts more fiercely, suddenly transformed into an immensely powerful muscle squeezing life out of me. Oh my God! What a horrible sensation. It's like some terrifying nightmare combined with an awful physical torture. My panic is so intense that I manage to wriggle forward. Am I? Yes, I've been sucked into a space beyond the constriction. But then one terror is succeeded-by another. My gasp of relief is swamped by an on-rush of fluid - water pouring in from all sides, flooding the plenum into which I've been drawn. Swallowed by blackness, disoriented - and now I'm drowning! A saline solution engulfs me within seconds. I choke. I gasp. My breath gives out, and then slowly my struggling dies away. My limbs go limp, and I submit to this suffocation, my body contracting into a defensive posture under the primal impulse to protect myself against further attacks.
I am locked into total darkness. The pulsing swish of fluids being pumped through tubes is still audible, and I am otherwise sensate even though suddenly upside down. In fact the fluid eventually soothes me. This warm aquatic world holds my little body almost tenderly and although movement is limited I can oscillate gently like an astronaut enjoying his condition of weightlessness inside the capsule. It seems I've been suspended in a fluent medium which far from attacking is supporting, nurturing me. The need to struggle disappears: I'm happy to draw sustenance from this lymph-like universe. Yet curiously enough the more I absorb life by some involuntary form of osmosis, so I feel myself further reduced and rapidly losing strength. Even my body is affected: the limbs are contracting, losing their outline. My arms shrink to become like tiny flippers on the side of a fish and my legs shrivel until they're like button mushrooms or buds hardly protruding at all from the atrophied form of a body which is now no larger than a finger tip. Curling tighter under the inexorable forces of this experience, my head nods forward to tuck itself under the remains of my trunk. Now my identity is lost forever: all features have disappeared, my gender has shrunk away, and I am no more than a fleshy bud, a piece of animal tissue.
Yet if the essence of life is movement of some kind, then even at this stage of extreme diminution I still felt the inclination to shift my position when gradually the waters seemed to evaporate and I found myself abandoned, clinging minutely to the side of a fleshy pocket. My direction was uncertain, my reasons must have been instinctive or deeply subconscious, but slowly I began to ease a way amongst the folds of this organic chasm as a limpet might adhesively traverse the walls of a sea cave. Some sort of urge was there, sending me on even though my physical reduction continued. First my rudimentary form shrivelled almost to nothing. I became more or less an elementary life form - a cell no more than the size of a plant spore or botanic seed. Yet even then I felt that this Odyssey had not yet reached its natural end. Faint vibrations of genetic programming indicated that there was a goal yet more remote.
My next shock however, which, confirmed that my existence was rapidly drawing to its close, was a sudden feeling of what I can only call being reduced through simplification in the way that an infinite number of soap bubbles gradually coalesce, popping at random to form simpler and simpler units, or a complex fraction might by stages of arithmetic consumption be brought back towards the figure One. The sensation produced a mental anguish quite at odds with the physically painless stages of decay, I was seized by panic. This was my actual life disappearing into an empty integer, a vacant nought. A sort of metaphysical vertigo swept over me. I wriggled, slithered, moved in any way possible towards the most remote corner of the sac in which I was trapped: there might be a ledge or narrow duct somewhere. Surely there was some portion of this labyrinthine universe where I could hide from these exhausting and fearsome transmogrifications. Progress was slow: it was all uphill. I rolled stickily round what in proportion to my size must have been the dome of a planetarium. But eventually I sensed what felt like a corner or a bend, and simultaneously the sonic reverberation of a more rapidly returned echo suggested a narrowing of the vault.
At this juncture I paused to rest, and that was my - well, it would be wrong to say 'mistake’, but it was because of this bivouac that I never got any further and was exposed to the cataclysm which followed. There was a sort of subterranean rumbling beneath the floor of the cavity: the rumbling then developed into a heavy banging, and the cavity began to shake. I tried to retreat further, but it was too late. The hammering noise became deafening - as if someone were breaking down the doors of a cathedral - and the entire vault heaved convulsively, It was like an earthquake: the whole world was being shaken. At any moment the walls of the enclosure would rupture and - Yes! Here it is! Suddenly there's a paroxysmal eruption below. A violent explosion. And then again; I'm drowning for a second time, swamped in a gluey fluid alive with stinging, wriggling shocks. It's like being thrown naked into a tank of electric eels. My entire surface area is bombarded with the piranha-like stabs of these creatures, butting their sharp little heads against my skin. Suddenly my simple unity, my elementary identity seems more than precious, but - Agh! - with a deadly vigorous thrust one of these myriad tormentors bursts through my protective layer and actually enters my being! What a horrifying yet seminal experience. It's assault and salvation, rape and euphoria. My unity is shattered and some form of generation is going to take its place. I am being created through violation. Through this savage act of penetration new life is being set in motion. I have travelled back in biological time to witness and take part, in my own conception, and…
Although it always seemed to me that there were further stages back into the physiological production of 'being' which might have been traversed, this was where my journey ended. I spent the remainder of the week in that anonymous hotel reflecting on the experience and concluded that I had been vouchsafed a privilege. But with whom could I share it? Life in the city remained depressingly bleak and I felt isolated amongst more than ten million others. But towards week-end the weather improved: a ridge of high pressure began to move in from the east. Perhaps instead of going home I will treat myself to a couple of days on the coast.