A few months later, someone fed me bad drugs and as I found myself in an overcrowded, overheated train from Liverpool Street station to Romford, I started tripping. In the midst of the sheer terror, this metaphor appeared to me:
From the moment he could walk, he could not understand the things that were intended to prevent him from going from one part of the land to the other: doors, chairs, rocks, streams, mountain chains. He could not understand that the territory that opened from the gate of the house, up on the hill, all the way down to the stream that cut the valley in half, and beyond all the way to the mountains, could not be his to walk onto.
Not just his though, because he did not understand the concept of boundary, he could not understand the concept of possession. Everything that was was his, but also mine, and hers, and ours, and yours, and theirs.
At first, he only noticed the animals that were small, and that crawled on the floor beside him: the stick insects, the soldier ants, the small copper-winged arthropods. Before, when his mothers were carrying him, he’d only notice the sky and the creatures that lived in it: the clouds, the dragonflies and the eagles. Now that he walked, he was learning to navigate an entirely different element. He learnt that some things lived under the earth, and some live above. The world was devided into opposites, which helped make sense of everything. For instance, you could divide the world between things you can eat and things you cannot eat. It was not always easy, of course. The world has its deceptive ways.
As he learnt to balance himself on his back legs, his human legs, his gaze started to reach other things: the bridge, the dogs and the bears. He walked, from the shadow to the light, and back to the shadow again, appreciating how different it felt on his skin.
It was always summer, as far as he remembered it had always been summer. Was it because it indeed was always warm and sunny? Or was it because he was so new to the world that he could not remember the full cycle of the year and of the season?
He learnt to climb the dry stone walls that surrounded the garden without enclosing it fully. The tender skin of his soles became thicker, he soon walked with equal grace on rocky paths or soft meadows.
One day, it had been so warm and humid that it had felt like there was no real difference between his body and the rest of the world. It was intolerable.
“It will rain”, one of the mothers had said. She was smoking a cigar under the front porch, where the mothers loved to sit at any time of day and night.
“It’s got to rain”, added another mother who was drinking out of a glass covered with a film of sweat. The boy was feeling restless, yet he did not dare to move from his seat. They were all waiting. The silence fell over the garden: even the cicadas, which perch on the tall ceddars, were waiting for something to happen.
The long awaited event finally happened: a drop crashed heavily on the ground. The mothers sighed in relief as the rain started pouring down. The thunder echoed loudly in the valley, so joyously and without holding anything back, that the boy could no longer contain himself and jumped out of the chair.
He let behind him the front porch and the congress of the sighing mothers, the flickering candles, the snoring generator that was preventing the basement from flooding.
He ran straight to the forest, straight to the stone bridge. The weather had been dry. The silt at the bottom of the trough had cracked under the effect of the drought. The sand dragons, frogs and turtles that normally populated the area were nowhere to be found. Even the bears, which normally drank at the stream, were seen further downstream, where they found water from the lakes. The mountains, like old mothers, had dried up.
Through the sound of the rain and thunder, he could still hear it. The water, running downhill like a fury, gliding over the dry silt without penetrating it, flooding the seedlings that had grown on the banks of the stream.
Then he saw it, white with foam, with all the speed it had gathered on the flanks of the mountain.The stream was flowing higher and higher, until its foam kissed the mouth of the bridge. The child laughed openly. The weight of the atmosphere had been lifted off his chest, liberating the joyous feeling at the same time. He clapped as the stream swallowed the bridge almost entirely, wetting his bare feet. He continued to run. He felt like he could not run fast enough to express his joy fully.
A hornet followed him for some time, whirring like old machinery, but the child outran the insect.
Another day, the child was lying on his back on the volcanic stones that had been heated by the sun. He was observing the clouds, tumbling across the sky like great, passive beasts. He was lying still, pretending to himself that he was no different from the stone beside him. A swish disturbed him from his meditation. A large deer was eating the lower leaves of a young oak tree, just a stonethrow away from the boy. But the moment the boy moved to observe the creature, the deer leaped and disappeared behind the glasshouse.
From the bottom of the valley, far, often resonated the sound of the industry. Down there, the boy had seen from a distance, the factories bled with red molten metals, sparks, and exulted with thick black smoke that covered the walls and the faces of the men who worked in them.
The boy never ventured near the factories. It was too loud, and too bright, and everyone was always in everyone else’s way. But sometimes, he would go as far as the locksmith’s workshop, just at the edge of the valley.
“You are part of the old world, Father,” he had often heard the factory workers say to the locksmith.
“That is true,” the Father would answer.
“You are as old as the old gets,” they would say.
“That is true,” the Father would answer.
But the child knew that the factory workers did not mean good when they spoke in this manner.
The workshop looked like it had been made at the same time and of the same material as the mountains and the volcanoes themselves, and like it had withstood many catastrophes, fires, and floods.
At first, when everything still needed to be done, the father had been a blacksmith. His forge had been warm and loud for days and days on end. There had been so little of everything, and now there was need for so, so much more. It was a time where the world was dominated by such events as: the collapse of the galaxies, the explosions of the stars, the colliding continents, the mountain chains rising. It had all been very loud, in ways that were barely conceivable nowadays. The world quickly started to become very full of things, and very full of people.
That is when the Father started putting all his attention into creating much finer pieces of machinery. It had taken many attempts to figure it out. The Father had had to look for and refine a perfect metal, amongst the piles of material that he had previously crafted. Everything was so intrinsically intertwined with everything else. He then fashioned springs, cogs, small screws, and assembled clocks together. That is when things started to have a before and an after. The first models were rough, and had to be wound up and kept in balance with much care. And so time behave in really odd ways, at first.
Eventually the watches became more complex and precise, and so did time. Trains, places, spaceships could depart on time. Factory workers could clock in and out. The Father had held his head in sorrow.
The Father retired from then on. He’d been unsure that his work was -for lack of a better word- valued and understood. For a fact, he knew that some individuals had abused and corrupted all things that the Father had imagined and conjured up out of his imagination. The Father became more taciturn and withdrawn. He had entire days where his mood was so foul that it manifested in the darkest materials on the surface of the planet: toxic smokes, tar, soot. He would get angry and fires would consummate entire forests. Exploding volcanoes, swallow entire populations. It would rain hell and it would hail, planets and comets would come crashing onto one another.
Moods, and moons,
Which are almost exactly the same
Come and go in cycles
In and out, in and out
His moods, with the regularity of everything that is predictable, moons, or tides, would come in and out in cycles. Short, erratic cycles at first, and then paced, wider.
The child remembered these moods, these brutal changes of the atmosphere and the sheer terror that takes over children when confronted with the world of the night and of the bad dreams.
“You don’t know what it’s like,” the mothers would tell him. “It used to be so dramatic when the Father got angry. Nowadays, it’s rain, and clouds, and every so often, a landslide or a tsunami, or a species goes extinct. Back in the days, back in the days, it was the Jurassic, and the Pleistocene. The world was on fire for millennia on end, hell would freeze over for more generations than you have hair on your head.”
These statements would infuriate the child. He felt like he was being given grief for being young and inexperienced. As if he was responsible for it.
The child had first gotten used to the voice that came out of his throat in long uncontrolled bursts. It was loud and upsetting, this voice of his. And as far as he could understand, not very different from the voices of the beasts that roamed around the houses at night. With much practice and exercise, he learnt subtleties and their effect on others: lower, higher, louder, quieter. At first, he only used vowels, like aaaah or ooooh, because that’s what was coming naturally to him.
The unadulterated expression of sorrow, need or joy, straight from the lungs, passes through the throat without losing any of its energy, and out into the air. There was no teeth in his mouth to hold anything in. No biting his tongue to prevent the bare truth of coming out. No biting his lips in expression of something desirable that he couldn’t vocally claim his. But the first teeth came out, and with the, the need to question the authority of the adults. He experimented with the consonants and the various combinations that they allowed, the child noticed that some of these combinations seemed to wake the mothers’ interest more than others. It was like being in the dark, trying to blindly operate a complex machinery that he had not seen, nor apprehended, and whose purpose was still unclear.
Until then, the child had only been lurking around the Father’s workshop, presuming that if he kept to the shadows, and was very very quiet and very still, the Father wouldn’t notice him. Of course the Father had known the whereabouts of the child since the beginning, but only when the child could, in the industry of his mouth, craft his first words, sentences and haikus, did the Father acknowledge his presence.
“I know you are here, child. Come in. Come through the door like a person, stop hiding behind the window frame like a demon-animal. Sit down. Warm yourself by the fire. You never even noticed you were cold until now. You see it’s become winter all of a sudden, and you didn’t see the season go by. It’s how it happens here. The words did that to you. I see how you frown, already you’re worried that time has gone by you and you regret the first days of your life. Do not hold on to this. Summer will come back. You won’t be the same then, but summer will.
Sit down, child, I will show you what it is that I do, and why it should matter to you now, when it didn’t before. What I lay on the table now are locks. I’m a locksmith. I have made all sorts of locks and all sorts of keys to fit them. The rustic, heavy keys of rusty copper, the small precise keys of aluminium and nickel. Look how different their teeth are. Not two keys with the same denture. The lock is a rotating barrel held by pins cut at different length and mounted on springs. The teeth of the keys bite into the lock, push the pins up to the exact position so the barrel rotates and the lock opens.
Go ahead, you can play with it now if you want. I want you to understand how they work. I will put water on the fire and make a beverage for you. You can say thank you, I know you can say it, so now is as good a time as ever to do it.”
He let the child play with the locks, understand the mechanism with the knowledge of the hands, as well as with the knowledge of the head. He made tea and advised the child as to let the beverage cool before sipping it. The bitter liquid made the child frown. It was no longer the time for milk.
“Come with me child, I will show you something else.”
They left the workshop and the warm glow of the fire. Outside, everything had slightly tilted: the colours, the angle at which the sun placed its glow on the dry stone walls. The Father held the child’s hand, but only lightly. As they walked through the darkening valley, leaving behind them the tall factories, the Father started again:
“You see, the reason why I wanted to show you what I do, is because what you have just found out about, using only your intuition, is that language works the same way locks do. Phonems are like the teeth of the keys, and in unique combination, they allow the barrel of comprehension to rotate, and a door unlocks, between the speaker and the listener. As a matter of fact, it is only when the door unlocks that one person becomes speaker, and the other becomes the listener. You understand?
Now, there are all sort of locks. Tiny, simple ones, that teenagers put on their diaries. There are complex ones, that banks put on their vaults. It doesn’t mean that what is hidden behind doors with bigger locks is more important and meaningful -although that is not everyone’s opinion- but it means that some things are more difficult to get to than others. It is the same for language.”
They had made their way to a well. The well was very ancient. From a distance, it looked like a pile of rumble, but it was only an illusion. In fact, the well was very deep and very dark. With caution, the Father invited the child to look into the waters. There, they could see into the world of men.
The child had never seen the world of men. He knew of it, knew it existed, but didn’t know where. It simply was somewhere else. Things there were similar but not identical.
“The world of men was very much like ours, before,” the mothers had explained. “Then the changes happened, and now it’s nothing like here.”
The child looked into the well and was overwhelmed by the information: the neon lights, chemtrails, the entertainment industry, the holocausts, Kafka and Brecht, the cookie dough ice cream, the Venice Biennale. There was so much to take in, and it didn’t make sense.
“You see, that’s the problem of men. They have mastered a certain type a language. They can communicate to each other on a superficial level. They can even in their own way talk to each other about feelings and emotions they are traversed with. But they need to realise that there is another type of language that they need to unlock. The same way you have started to intuitively manipulate sounds in your mouth in order to gain the attention of the mothers, they have intuitively grasped the idea that art was like a language. But they have yet to understand that art is a language, just as much as vocalised sounds are, on a superficial level. And yet, they haven’t found the key with the proper teeth. They clumsily try to open this complex lock with sticks. And therefore they suffer. Every attempt at unlocking the door, or as they call them, every school of art, has an existence only limited in time. Once it has become obvious that the school of art has not unlocked the passage to better understanding and communication, it is discarded. That’s why they suffer. Their loneliness is unbreached. Do you understand?”
The child had grown considerably. He was no longer a child, he was a man, with children of his own, and many summers and winters had gone by. The stream that rolled from the mountain past the house had dried up and flooded many times. He was the Father now, part of it.