Jeff put his hands in his pockets and rolled his shoulders. He was getting used to the sudden flurries of nerves sweeping over him. It reminded him of being caught by storms when sailing. The wind could come up from nowhere and jangle every movable object, putting everyone on board into a panic. But the sail was always trimmed in time, and the gear stowed. Once he’d lost a towel. He smiled. A towel. Not such a big deal.
And now he would find a brother.
This storm had brothers in it.
Blood isn’t thicker than water, it is water. Red, nutritious water. And we are made of bags. Bags of water with bits in. And some brains. But not many—the world’s too full of fools.
There’s no God, we say now, and it makes us dumber than when we thought there was, or that He cared for us. This shiny planet of dullards and bags. And lost wretched hags. And crazy men pitting all their days against oblivion.
There’s a marvellous spirit in our flesh. But are we like the termites building their elaborate nests? Or spiders, lonely and devouring? Or both and more besides? Wherever we look in the jungle we see parts of us staring back.
As a child I used to love the animals and plants that were imperfect, the ones with damaged leaves or missing legs. They had no idea of their imperfections. They lived as best they could, according to what they were. How I envied their naivety.
Now I think oblivion is the most beautiful thing. Honest, endless, patient, loving even. It will take us all without a murmur, as many as we are, for ever. I think that is what light is. Life may be the tunnel, the fallopian, dystopian tunnel, but oblivion is its beautiful light. Blessed be. I shan’t mind growing old now.
Serena heard her mother’s words, hoping to protect her from a cursed future but become themselves imprecations, lit signs to follow. Men whose eyebrows meet in the middle. Men whose names sound like violence. Men who grow obsessed but not with you. She had found a man with all three. And yet, and yet. Within her, power to begin again. It could be easy to forget him. Her buried faith gleamed faintly from deep inside. Jesus would never abandon her even if she had abandoned him. And Jeff was a better man. Jesus and Jeff.
On every other lamp post were written instructions: when to park, what to do with your dog, speed restrictions during school hours, community projects to think about. The roads themselves were a crisscross of lines, yellow, red, pink, white, green. It reminded Jeff of a game he played as a child with a mesh of long sticks that held up marbles in a plastic column. Taking turns, you slid out the sticks and tried not to let the marbles fall. He wondered if someone were to remove the lines one by one from the roads and from the telephone and electricity cables and the train tunnels and drains, how long before the buildings would collapse into the dark hole that was left.
Jeff walked on and found himself drawn to the rose garden. A great mass of roses fanned out before him in impossible colour: dozens of different varieties, each planted in a large bed so that several hundred of each of the dozens of varieties made up a vast throbbing field of pink, yellow, red and orange. He walked slowly around, mesmerised, leaning over every few steps to breathe in the scent from the velvety, curled petals. Each variety was distinct: some light and lemony; others heady and pungent, stupefying almost. And the names were ever more exotic. Wild Edric, Molineux, Jekyll and Hyde Park, Black Vermillion… It was fitting for a royal garden; Jeff could see why they were so prized. Their beauty and fragrance and spiky stems conspired to produce a plant of fierce splendour and dignity.