My early days in the Quarter were characterized by a peculiar conjunction of silence and deafening tumult. The silence of those days related to my life, which I had made hermetic and undisturbed with a surprizing ease and briskness. People assumed, I suppose, that I was busy with my Pendleton book, and having expressed their terse concerns in relation to my breakup with Catherine, were happy enough to leave me to my own devices. I had been vague in relation to where I was moving, so nobody really knew where I was. I had no classes to teach, no emails to answer, no deadlines – nothing but a surplus of time in which to do what I had as yet no precise conception of. But just as my own inner life was assuming this quietude, the outer, natural world had fallen into one of its increasingly characteristic convulsions.
Our summers now, as you know, are hotter than ever before, and extend their bounty of clear skies and sunshine well into late September and even early October. I believe that these impossible Indian summers engender some slight stirring of an ecstatic paganism in our disposition – the summer sunset in October being like the enigmatic Midnight Sun spoken of in the lore of initiates. However, in December and January we are subject to that other aspect of paganism: the sense of dread incumbent upon our inability to control the natural world. At the beginning of each New Year, as though to test our mettle, we are lashed, battered, and excoriated by nature at its most viscously temperamental.
In the first of those out of kilter Januarys, we had a prolonged period of ice and snow. I recall a strange atmosphere one evening coming home from work. It was very dark, conveying a feeling of late night or early morning rather than the customary evening bustle – the sense of that time which is quiet, hidden, and occulted from the sleeping majority. Perhaps it was the silencing of the traffic – the streets were too perilous to traverse – which created that odd atmosphere. Unable to drive their cars or take buses home, the workers lined the footpaths in droves, picking their way like tip-toeing sleepwalkers across the icy pavements. But what was peculiar, what really impressed itself upon me that evening, was the mood I sensed among my fellow walkers. Everybody was very quiet, and everybody had a certain look, almost childlike, in their eyes.
I believe that they were looking around at the beauty of a frozen, stalled city, and entertaining the suspicion that this was how things were going to be from now on – all the steady, grinding rhythms of the industrialized, technological world were going to fall away to a resurgent and defiantly unpredictable nature. And I really think that at that precise moment, the idea was very appealing to them – they took a quick stock of the whole contour of their lives, the sense of disgruntled panic every morning, the repetition of their work lives, the petty conflicts that festered in those artificial environments, the endless concessions, the small defeats and smaller victories almost lost to visibility like the spokes on a spinning wheel, the lack of real danger or prospect of real reward in their lives - and suddenly the idea of it all collapsing in a heartbeat felt reassuring rather than threatening. It was the particular joy a school child feels at the prospect of school closing due to inclement weather – the magic anticipation of that stolen day, that it might last forever. It was that evening which first got me thinking about those lines in The Circuitous Path, about those young people of 1905 “eagerly willing the catastrophe”, which, in that century, turned out to be the Great War, and those many decades of carnage in which the technologies of the Space and Information Ages tentatively began to take shape.
The snow thawed, however, and our days yet belonged to the classroom roll-call. Since then, winter has denied us even the consolatory aesthetic pleasures of the snow, and we have been subject instead to bitter storms and torrential rainfall, to weather which is apt to make us feel older than our time rather than rekindle childhood embers. It was in the midst of this stormy season that I moved into my apartment in the Quarter. Later, I thought that this appeared like the first stage of some grand conspiracy to make me a prisoner of the place; that those early days in which I barely left the apartment somehow contributed to the peculiar agoraphobia which I came to experience whenever I strayed too far from the Quarter. The gales howled through the canyon between the towers like a beast butting its head hither and tither against the walls of a narrow stall; raindrops were pelted against the glass balcony doors, breaking the light from the other buildings into tiny, liquid projectiles. Up there on the 17th floor, I had the feeling of being at sea, and the guilty conscience of a Jonah drawing his adopted vessel to wrack and disaster.
It was hard to think of anything but water in those water-logged days. My only outings were quick dashes across the courtyard to the supermarket which was located on the ground floor of the D tower. On the first such excursion, I bought wellingtons and an umbrella, changing out of my sodden trainers in the foyer of the supermarket. I watched the news on television in the afternoons. At home, coastal areas assaulted by titanic waves and flooding, emergency provisions found wanting once again. Britain is even worse off, its countryside severely flooded, panoramas of drowned villages and towns, helicopters ferrying families off the rooftops of their sunken farmhouses. My television was set at an angle against the glass panelling of the balcony, making the whole a consistent watery study. I turned down the volume, shifting my eyes between the spatter of rain against the glass, and the images of disaster on the television screen. It generated a peculiar effect of synaesthesia between the immediate world and that mediated through the television screen, as though the winds gusting my apartment were travelling into a tiny coastline that existed on the border of the television, and the rain from the balcony seeping into a tiny Great Britain were it was magnified into a great flood. The newscasters spoke with the rising, whistling cadence of the wind, and exchanged terse, meaningful looks.
At night, the steady rainfall was seeping into my brain, and I began to have a series of Flood dreams. These dreams were all variations of the same basic apocalyptic scenario. I awake one morning to find that the whistling wind and patter of rain have finally ceased. There is an overwhelming calm, an utter silence. I get up, open the sliding doors and step out onto my balcony, to discover that the whole world has been submerged overnight in water. I note with a start that the water level reaches to about a metre below my balcony. Everything below that point is lost forever, the beginnings of a new archaeology. By a hair’s breath, I have been selected as one of the tiny Elect, the Chosen remainder. It was surely for this reason that the Quarter was built, and I so strangely drawn to it, that I, and the other dwellers of the topmost storeys of the high rises, should be preserved to carry the human seed into this New Dispensation, and thus a strange new life begins for us, the Elect, the balcony-dwellers.
The weather is always warm and sunny now, and soon our pallid flesh acquires the vivid reddish brown of mariners. We construct make-shift fishing rods from exercise equipment and speaker cords, and spend our days casting out from our balconies, enjoying a languid, mystical kind of subsistence. Strange creatures are occasionally witnessed moving beneath the placid surface, providing the vague outline of speculative future mythologies. A new language of physical gesture, similar to flag semaphore, evolves to facilitate communication from balcony to balcony, tower to tower. People court one another in a sequence of distant, ambiguous facial expressions and physical motions, leading ardent lovers to climb to higher storeys, or swim across the channel between the towers, to join the object of their desire on their balconies. It seems that this gesture, this leap of faith, is enough, and no lover is ever rebuffed. The new lovers embrace, and a quiet celebration erupts among the other survivors.
Up on Roger Grady’s roof garden, a boisterous party is in perpetual swing. It seems to me that of all the Chosen, this, the highest point, is by far the most favoured vantage, the most beloved of whatever mysterious Providential forces preserved us all from the Flood. The party on the roof-garden embodies for me the ultimate expression of an elite sensibility: to retain one’s essential frivolity, even in the face of the end of the world. In every dream, I am nervously preparing myself to finally abandon my own balcony, and commence the treacherous swim and climb which would take me up to Grady’s penthouse, to the apex of our deluge-shrunken world.
Each morning, I awoke from those dreams as though cast out from paradise. The dappled sunsets, the languid ocean beneath my balcony, the strange flag semaphore language moving in waves across the balconies, these things echoed in my mind throughout the day as pure, crystalline flashes of something real and indelible, something which I could apprehend but never quite grasp. Dreams are wasted on our somnambulistic, dreaming selves, just as our lives, I suppose, are wasted on our wakeful selves. In either case, we cannot grasp the delicate, transitory opportunity that is there only until the daylight draws in.
My days then, sequestered in the apartment, were dull and unproductive. I thought at first that I might actually make a stab at completing my book about Pendleton and The Circuitous Path, but the whole project started to instil in me a kind of superstitious anxiety.
The protagonist of the poem is trapped in a cycle of eternal recurrence, destined to lead the same life over and over, the same life characterised by an overwhelming sense of loss, of scuppered opportunity. In one section of the poem, it is suggested that this cycle may have been initiated by a stupid, trivial incident in which the protagonist (Pendleton?) and an American youth drunkenly mock a gypsy woman in a square in Barcelona. The woman curses them by “making a precise pattern in the air with her fingers.” As many scholars have pointed out, if the curse occurs within the cycle itself, then ordinary causality breaks down, and there is no way that the protagonist could conceivably have avoided getting trapped in the circle. Each time he saunters drunkenly to the terrace in Barcelona in July of 1905, he has already encountered the American, and mocked the gypsy, and already been cursed to do precisely this, over and over again. Or was there once an innocent timeline, where the protagonist could have behaved differently, and avoided his fate?
Like many aspects of The Circuitous Path, the episode of the gypsy’s curse is shrouded in mystery, although it is thought to have originated in a real incident in ‘05, which apparently unnerved the highly suggestible young Pendleton. By this time, however, I had begun to take seriously the notion that the poem might itself be in some sense cursed. An absurd notion, of course, and yet, had it not proved a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy for Pendleton himself? He had written it in his early twenties, partially as an expression of his fears regarding how his own life might turn out. He called it “an act of primitive magic, designed to alter my destiny, by writing it, and exorcising it, before it could happen in reality.” In the end, however, his real destiny had been perfectly adumbrated in the poem: Pendleton ended his days huddled in a blanket on the balconies of the Paimio Sanatorium, silent and distracted, probably half-mad, the recipient of a vision which was incommunicable, his mind becoming as sluggish and quiescent as the recuperative regime of the sanatorium itself, possibly burdened by the sense of each moment echoing recursively into the infinite, each moment echoing into infinity while his fellow patients wheezed and snored, and the war that ravaged the rest of Europe drifted in and out in fragmentary whispers, like the hidden world of adults intuited and half-glimpsed by children.
I was beginning to suspect that perhaps the poem might have a similarly disastrous effect on the lives of its scholars. There have never been many Pendleton scholars, and I only ever encountered two in the flesh. Looking back, it seemed like both of them were a little spectral, a little distant, a little suggestive in their manner, as though they knew something, and were carefully sounding me out in order to ascertain whether I was also in the loop, and whether it would be safe to broach certain topics in my company. At the time, I’d written it off as the paranoia or subtle Machiavellian skulduggery typical of scholars in the humanities. Now, however, I wasn’t so sure. One of the professors invited me by email to attend the first ever Pendleton conference, which was to take place in the small Moldovan university town of Mitergrad. My suspicions were quickly aroused when I could find no reference to Mitergrad anywhere on the internet, except as the 18th century setting for La Mashera del Gatto Diavolo ( 1963, US title: Nine Lives to Kill One Maiden), a little seen and critically derided Gothic shocker from Italian director Lucio Soavi, better known for his efforts in the “Peplum” genre.
Once again, I’d written it off at the time as a juvenile attempt at academic sabotage, but I now I had to wonder what I might have found, had I flown to Moldova and followed the email’s complex and peculiarly specific directions. I began to recall the more outré speculations I’d been exposed to as an undergraduate regarding the image of the Bird out of Space and Time, and the peculiar fate of Pendleton’s friend and fellow poet William Edward Pusey, who disappeared without a trace in 1902. Some said that his researches into the esoteric architecture of London had led him to the discovery of a magical portal through which he’d absconded; others that his failure to discover said portal prompted him to jump into a lonely stretch of the Thames, a grim fate possibility covered up by his father, the Rev Anthony Pusey of St Saviours Church, Pimlico. (Perhaps he had also been invited to a conference at Mitergrad?)
Thrown into a panic one afternoon by these febrile recollections and imaginings, I resolved that the project had to be abandoned. By way of a symbolic gesture, I took my dog-eared and heavily annotated copy of The Circuitous Path out onto the balcony, and cast it out over the railing. The winds whipped it up, and the slender paperback unfurled like a bird spreading its wings. I thought for an instant that it might fly right back into my face in a moment of pure, portentous slapstick, but instead the winds died away for a miraculous instant, and straight down it sailed, with a peculiar grace and slowness, as though it were cushioned by parachute, down into the watery grey courtyard below, where the winds caught it again.
Shortly after that, I had the last, and most complex and puzzling, of my Flood dreams. Though following the same scenario, this one started up differently from the others. In this version, I found myself disastrously ill-suited to the post-Flood world. First of all, it transpired that all of my immediate neighbours had been attending a kitsch fondue party on the 11th floor when the world ended, and thus my balcony was a little isolated. All my attempts to construct a fishing rod had been an abject failure, so I hadn’t eaten for several days. Coupled with this, I was badly sunburned and possibly even suffering from mild sunstroke. In this poor physical shape, my mental processes were extremely sluggish and disordered, and I was unable to grasp the basics of the flag semaphore language, which everybody else seemed to have acquired with an almost psychic rapidity. Being out on the balcony became unbearable. I felt alienated from all the other survivors, and became utterly paranoid about what they were communicating to one another with the ceaseless motion of their arms.
I lie in my room in a feverish condition. I have some recollection of the other dreams, where the end of the world had been a tranquil paradise. Something, clearly, has gone terribly wrong. It seems like it might really be all over for me. Just then, I hear a tremendous sound, the angry growl of a motor, coming from the balcony. I pick myself out of bed, and stagger in the direction of the sound. Shafts of sunlight are dancing through the whole apartment, whirling and spinning at tremendous speed. The source of all this chaos couldn’t be more startling: a helicopter, painted to resemble an iridescent dragon fly, hovers directly over my balcony. It is piloted, with considerable adroitness, by the television personality Roger Grady, with one hand at the controls and the other gingerly holding a mojito. He wears a straw boater hat, round, cherry-tinted sun-glasses, and suspenders that hoist up tremendous, high-waisted cream slacks. “Jump aboard, Old Sport!” He grins with crooked, conspiratorial gusto. The ebullient theme tune of Magnum, P.I. (1980-88) plays briefly while I balance myself on the railing, and clamber into the helicopter in a wide shot.
Grady passes me the mojito, and speaks in a rapid, excited cadence: “Well, Phase 2 is well and truly under way now, what? It just happened a lot quicker than I could have expected. But I knew it was coming……it was all there, in the Green Language……it’s all there, back in the tapes.” I have no idea what he’s talking about, and form the distinct suspicion that he has me confused with somebody else, but say nothing. I’m still dazed by this stunning reversal of my fortunes. A couple of sips from the cocktail have an instantaneous effect on my sense of well-being. I feel revivified, almost reborn. This new lease of life, coupled with the upward thrust of the helicopter, leaves me feeling exhilarated. Grady continues to talk: “There’s a little soiree going on at the homestead that you really ought to attend, Old Sport. But I want you to pay very close attention. The whole evening is peppered with vital clues, do you understand?”
The helicopter makes a rocky landing on a makeshift pad on the roof-garden, the pressure from the blades whipping a series of baroque designer follies off the heads of a gaggle of actress-models who have sauntered over to admire the landing. The hats take off like exotic birds, out over the edge of the garden where they will never be seen again. “Oh, well,” Grady, stoical, “they were going out of fashion anyway.”
“But what does fashion mean, today?” I press, vamping the part of a Grave, Humourless Intellectual.
“The same thing it meant yesterday, Old Sport: whatever we can pry out from the wreckage below.” Grady saunters away. “Business to attend to. Feel free to mingle.” He joins a group of stereotypical German youths, clad in a fetishistic polyvinyl chloride variation of the Bavarian lederhosen ensemble, at a Ping-Pong table. The ruddy-faced German youths are embroiled in a heated argument over the game, and two of them replay a particularly contentious volley in mime, over and over, until Grady catches the notional ball in mid-air. He extends it in his closed fist, splays out his fingers, and blows the ball away like a conjuror. The Germans appear to snap out of a trance, and dropping rackets huddle conspiratorially around him.
I make my way nervously towards the party, which consists of a handful of small, insular groups, when I spot a familiar face seated at one of the tables. It is the girl who let us into Grady’s party several years ago, and vanished after going to fetch glasses.
“Hello you,” she says, “how have you been?” She is about twenty two or three, clad in a punkish style suggesting a slight affinity to the Catastrophe Kid subculture. Her face is calm, and has an endearing quality of jaded intellectual curiosity. I take a seat at the table.
“Oh, you know. The end of the world.”
“I know, right? My name is Christina, by the way.”
“Have you been here since the last time I saw you?”
Her face betrays a slight chagrin. “Yeah. I tried to leave a few times at first, but it just wasn’t happening. I dunno, there was something weird about the Quarter, you know? Like it envelops you, or something. Every time I tried to leave, the outside world felt either threatening, or really uninteresting, you know what I mean? Of course, if I had left, where would I be now? Davy Jones’ Locker, with all the rest.”
A girl comes to our table with a tray, and leaves us fresh cocktails in plastic cups like they used to have at concerts. I ask Christina if she lost her parents. “I guess so. I don’t really think about them that much. They were all screwed up. They were, like, middle-aged swingers and pill-poppers. It was more like I was their parent, you know what I mean? They wanted me to work in television, and used to, like, virtually pimp me off to these connections they had. I don’t think about them too much. Hey, you know there’s a theme to this evening’s party? Grady said that we have to figure out which sign of the Zodiac each of the people represent. He also said that Sheldrake might be here, but I think he was putting me on about that. Now, let me see, I assume that Grady must be Aries, and the Iguana Twins have to be Gemini, obviously, but what about the rest?”
I look over at the nearest group to us. They are vamping a nautical theme. There is a Popeye and Olive Oyl, a Captain Birdseye, a Sea Dog Dark Rum sailor, a Captain Morgan, and a Captain Ahab. They are snorting lines of ketamine from an old barrel, and dancing to techno music. With a look of zealous concentration etched into his hoary face, Ahab pounds his stump against the ground to the beat while the others clap and cheer him on. As a group, they are in high spirits, but there is a look about them which gives you the heebie-jeebies. Captain Birdseye slumps against the barrel and hugs his knees, a look of stark terror in his eyes. He is haunted by the same lobsters that pursued Satre down the Champ Elysees.
Finding no obvious Zodiacal parallels in these personages, I continue to scan the crowd, my eyes now resting on the inexhaustible comedienne Maxi Mediumwave. Unsurprisingly, the end of the world caught Maxi in the middle of pantomime season, and this evening she is clad – literally and ingeniously – as Jack and the Beanstalk. She wears a one-piece body suit which is festooned in a dense tangle of lush green vines. Somewhere between her naval and bosom hangs Jack, his face in profile revealing a look of hopeful determination. On her shoulder, the ravenous giant leans over the parapet of his castle, mouth watering and eyes glinting with epicurean malice.
Mediumwave confers with a gypsy fortune teller, who passes her a card. “Always the Tower,” she sighs, eyeing our table suspiciously, “always the Tower.”
Christina is also scanning the crowd for Zodiacal correspondences. “The one I really can’t figure out,” she says, “is Tilda Swinton. Which one is she?”
I follow her eyes to a table where the actress and unconventional fashion muse Tilda Swinton sits by herself reading a paperback.
“How did she get here?” I ask.
Christina’s brow furrows. “I’m not sure. Some people say she came with the Iguana Twins. I also heard that she was at an ironic Tupperware party on the 14th floor, and when the Flood started, she climbed up the balconies with an airport paperback clutched between her teeth as a last keepsake of pre-Flood civilisation. Who knows?”
Swinton is very aloof, and it is almost like she isn’t really there. By this point, I’m growing bored and frustrated. “What do people talk about now, anyway?”
“Well, there isn’t really anything to talk about now, you know. The sun comes up, and the sun goes down. People really just talk about the Party, because that’s the only thing that’s happening at the moment. Oh, rumours swirl around, from time to time, but they don’t ever amount to anything. A rumour went around last week that the people down below were still updating their Noosfeed accounts. It was an exciting rumour for a couple of hours, but of course it wasn’t really true. Sometimes people discuss the shapes which are seen in the water. Are they real, or illusionary? Are they organic, or mechanical? It never really amounts to anything. Then, of course, there are the rumours about Drylandt – the fabled landmass that rose up after the Flood, a mystical new home for humanity. People get quite excited about that rumour from time to time. They’ve actually built a couple of boats, you know? There’s one in the spare bedroom, and a bigger one in the hall. But those boats will never go anywhere. People get into them when they’re high, and pretend that they’re on legendary voyages. They pretend that they are St Brendan, or Columbus, or Magellan, or Picard, or one of those. It’s fun when you’re high. But all of those things are just pipe-dreams. Who wants to go back, anyway?”
“The real topic that engages people’s attention is the Party itself – its movements, its ebbs and flows, its morphing contours and lines of force, its sustainability. Who is falling apart? Who is reconfiguring? Who is adapting to the condition of permanent Party, finding the fluidity, the correct Zen state, to just roll along with the endless ups and downs, all the changes we go through, the slow transformation of the human nervous system into a flashing pinball machine? It really is an interesting topic.”
“The practical end of things is under Grady’s supervision. The main challenge he faces is keeping the supply of drugs and booze steady. Luckily, he happened to have some scuba diving gear handy, so parties go down to the lower storeys every few days to gather booze and tinned food. There’s loads down there. They say it feels a bit weird, lifting booze and food from dead people, but isn’t that just what we were doing before, anyway? Only then we couldn’t see the dead people, except sometimes on the news. Getting drugs is a little more difficult, and a little more pressing, considering the state everybody’s brains are in. Grady sends a couple of dudes on jet skis out to this other high rise where there’s lots of drugs. They barter for the drugs with booze and food. Now, the sustainability of drugs and booze issue isn’t really that serious. The people over on that other high rise, they’re a little wild, you know? Tribal. They were Catastrophe Kids before the Flood, so the end of the world was exactly what they were waiting for. Pretty soon, they’re going to start manufacturing their own drugs and booze. I mean, they’ve got animals over there and everything. They’re way ahead of everyone. So, that issue is safe enough. The Party can go on indefinitely, in terms of resources.”
“The real question is: what will happen to people’s minds, what will they evolve into, under these conditions? The Party at the End of the World is a really fascinating thing to watch. I mean, people are losing their minds, literally losing their minds. Their identities are becoming ad hoc, improvisatory creations that vary from room to room, hour to hour. Everybody is just following the energy of the Party, adapting themselves to whatever conversation they happen to be in at a given time, whatever clothes they happen to be wearing, whatever drugs happen to be in their nervous systems. It’s really free, but a little scary at times. There are people inside the house who have really gone native. They went into certain rooms weeks ago, and those rooms have become their total reality. In one of the en-suite bathrooms, you have three people who have been living in the bathtub for two weeks, and a girl who’s been in the shower for over a month. We leave food for them, but they’re very suspicious about outsiders. They just talk about the tiles, and the sink, and the mirror. The mirror really fascinates them, because I think they don’t understand reflections yet. Every couple of hours, the girl in the shower turns on the hose and just starts howling! I mean, wow, I wonder if she’ll ever make it back. The people in the tub call her the Glass Witch. It’s a fascinating scene in there, but like I say, they’re very suspicious of outsiders.”
I have conflicting feelings about Christina’s description of the Party. Part of me finds it very appealing, and another utterly terrifying. Surely there is a need for something, some stable oasis, some familiar place to return to, something private you may only have persuaded yourself was profound, some separate realm which is yours alone, away from the burgeoning demands of the Party? Or am I just vamping the part of a Grave, Humourless Intellectual again?
“What about you, Christina? Have you lost your mind?”
“No, not at all. I’m an observer, like you. You can’t observe if you lose your identity. I’m still me. I remember my first Holy Communion, my first kiss, the illustrations in a book I used to stare at when I was five. Everything. (Smiling sardonically, vamping an old pre-Flood advertising slogan.) Because we share everything, nothing is ever truly lost.”
The sun is at its zenith, and the small crowd on the roof-garden are all out dancing: the actress-models, German youths in PVC lederhosen, Maxi Mediumwave, the fortune teller, and the Nautical Crew. Captain Birdseye has gotten a ferocious second wind, and plays a squeeze box while he dances to the techno, the Seadog Rum sailor having taken his place in the lobster-infested K-hole. Ahab is being very uncool, asking people to feel his stump, and guilt-tripping them when they express discomfort with the idea.
Things are a little hazy after that. Now it is sunset, and there are only a few of us left. Myself, Christina, Ahab, and a couple of the actress/models. We are all sitting cross-legged on the ground, watching the Iguana Twins play a game of Connect Four. The ground around us is strewn with crushed plastic cups, the spent peels of lemon and lime, cigarette butts, sand, and assorted curiosities that served some now forgotten function in the earlier frolics: the flattened outline of an inflatable woman, an archery target, a pair of walkie-talkies, an amateur astronomer’s telescope. The Connect Four grid is balanced on two large old books: The Loom of Art by Germaine Bazin, and Everybody’s Enquire Within: A Key to 10,000 Questions and 100,000 Facts, edited by Charles Ray. There is an ornate hookah positioned beside the books, its pipe trailing off like a glistening snake into the sand and debris. The game itself is a vintage set, with yellow grid, and red and black checkers.
Perhaps it is the deep, reddish texture of the light, or the presence of the hookah, or the look of rapt concentration on the youthful faces of the Iguanas, but the scene possesses for me a peculiar antique glamour. I’m thinking of Persia, or Byzantium, or the Ottoman Empire, and imagine the Twins as a pair of sultans, caliphates, or rajas, who play an intricate game while they await news from the provinces of some vast empire, news that will have passed into the ethereal realm of myth by the time the hoary messenger arrives into the gilded stillness of their palace. The youthful princes are unperturbed by all the news that comes to them from dying lips, and the far-flung corners of their empire, for theirs is a sensual, mystical time that long predates clocks, a time of cyclical rhythms that turn about one another, each turning of the great wheels one and the same motion, each place the same one that will be returned to the next time around……
I realize that nobody is actually following the game. We are all looking intently at the grid, struggling to remember what ideal placement of checkers is required for a victory. The Twins themselves are equally lost, and keep changing colour from one move the next. Despite our frustrating inability to understand the game, a mood of blissful serenity is slowly creeping up on us, like a cat falling asleep to the low, contemplative hiss of a warm hearth. The sun is beginning to sink now into the gleaming mirror of the earth, and it is as though a marriage of their essences takes place. The sky contains impossible textures, and the water’s still surface is a molten, seething mass of dancing, shimmering, bright-light particles that seem to conjure up an aural landscape of distant bells, chimes, and dulcimers, memories of sandy beaches and soft whispers by firelight, ornaments that adorned the ceilings above our cradles and cots, slowly rotating as we drifted from one sleep into another.
The Twins have given up on the game by now, and fool around with the checkers. Each Iguana takes a different colour, and they place a checker in the other’s eye, like a monocle. Vamping moustaches with their index fingers, they peer at us from either side of the grid, smiling like children. I recall all the speculation in the Pre-Flood days as to which of them, Bradley or Lucius, was the bad one. In the mood I am in at present, however, it seems impossible to me that either of them could be bad. They are the bright, buoyant, and unsullied children of the Sun card; their innocence is timeless, incorruptible, and perpetually renewing itself, regardless of how far we ourselves have strayed from that condition. A peculiar thing happens then. My image of the Twins is split into two separate frames. The frames move apart, and then slowly overlay one another, until Bradly and Lucius are superimposed into a single frame, and become a single being, with a red checker in the left eye, and black in the right. When the images overlay, I hear a delicate, suggestive chiming sound, the type of cue they used to employ on old soundtracks to alert the audience to a significant detail or clue, or to indicate the presence of a hidden, magical dimension to reality, manifested in some apparently mundane object or location.
My perceptions are becoming increasingly disordered. The scene on the roof-garden is still there, but it is like a film, or several films, are being projected over it. The first film shows the fortune teller, more youthful than she appeared earlier, seated in a dimly-lit, cramped cubicle. She is turning up a spread of cards. The camera closes in on the card she has just turned: it depicts an Indian peacock encased in an alchemist’s retort. We cut to the fortune teller, recoiling with a visceral expression of fear. This short sequence plays on a loop. The anomalous card is an intrusion from Outside; like a curse, it infects the entire System, altering all previous and subsequent permutations. Now this loop is overlaid by another film, and I see a wheel, divided into the traditional symbols of the zodiac, spinning slowly. It is a grainy, degraded film-stock, possibly from an old documentary; I can hear dim snatches of music, and a narrator’s voice. My mind now recalls earlier images of people from the party, the memories transferred into this grainy film-stock. As each person’s image appears, the wheel stops turning, and a sign is aligned with each image: Grady at Aries, Christina at Pieces, Maxi Mediumwave at Scorpio, the Iguanas at Gemini, and so on. Each alignment is accompanied by the chiming sound, and the correspondences make perfect sense as they are revealed to me, although I cannot begin to articulate why.
My perceptions having finally stabilized, I turn to Christina, and say: “I feel like I’m on drugs!” Everybody is laughing, and Christina is eyeing me like an amused, indulgent parent. “Of course you’re on drugs! Grady spiked you on the helicopter! You’ve been in the Valley for the past couple of hours! On behalf of all permanent and semi-permanent Valley-dwellers, I’d like to welcome you to the Party!” Now I start laughing, and find I can’t stop. It all makes sense. The way everybody looked so strange, and vaguely threatening…..it was because they were all in the Valley. The term itself makes an ineffable kind of sense: in the Valley somehow precisely describes my present mental condition. The laughing fit subsides, and we become silent for a long stretch, absorbed in the deepening beauty of the sunset. Our opiated trance is broken only once, when the Iguanas realize that they are still wearing their checker-monocles, and let both fall in a deftly synchronized relaxation of brow-muscles, prompting another laughing fit in the group.
Suddenly, we see two dots moving briskly across the shimmering waters. Ahab springs to his feet with a monomaniacal gleam in his eye, and rushes over to the railing. Now we see that the dots are Grady’s jet skis, returning from their errand at the other high rise. They have stalled alongside the tower, and their riders are waving to the people on the lower balconies. Ahab, his voice fierce and booming as the love the ocean once lavished on the shoreline, hollers down to them: “HAST SEEN THE WHITE BALE? HAST THOU SEEN THE WHITE BALE?” One of the men roots around in his rucksack, and hoists out a thick, bulging bag of cocaine, which he waves gingerly like a flag. Ahab’s hoary features redden with contentment, and he touches the bridge of nose lightly, like an expectant Lothario idly priming his erection. The Seadog Rum sailor, emerging glassy-eyed from the K-hole, teases Ahab: “You’re going to need a bigger nose.”
Grady and the Germans appear, carrying an Ikea couch from the house. The couch is attached to a long, winding cable, and has two makeshift harnesses. After a long preamble, Ahab bellowing: “Heave boys, HEAVE, will ye?”, we hurl the couch out over the railing. Then we are slowly hoisting the two couriers up the side of the high rise, and behind us they are all emerging slowly from the interior of the penthouse, eyeing one another to see what each has come as tonight, wondering, as I am, what new fads, rumours, bitcheries, melt-downs, past-life regressions, spontaneous abreactions, or coolly theoretical orgiastic permutations will emerge in the course of the night, what new symptoms and outward manifestations of the Party at the End of the World will be exhibited for us, and through us……
I came to from this long dream in an instant. The storm had subsided during the course of the night, and the season of wind and rain finally exhausted itself. The world was battered and weary, but once again it trundled along, a slight stirring of spring’s imminence drawing it through the slow and overcast days. Although I didn’t realize it then, strange things were also stirring in the seclusion of the high rises, waiting to bloom and sprout when the temperature was right.
The top image is The Sun from the Thoth tarot deck by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris. The other cards are from the surrealists playing deck by Andre Breton et al, which I discovered at Dangerous Minds. The images of the zodiacal wheels are from the wiki entry on the zodiac. Continued shortly.