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from White Ivory, chapters 13 & 14

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A Fortnightly Serial.


Chapter Thirteen.

LUNA MODULE’S STAR was rising. And her confidence grew. Charlie watched from the blindness of his act as she put ever more animus and potency into her performances. Now she was a football thug, and despite her tiny frame, she really did seem menacing.

I was approached on a street corner by a man offering me his daughter, his own daughter, for money. Now tell me there’s no differences between the races. His own sweet virginal little girl to be ravished by a foreigner, a complete stranger on a footballing weekend, unaccompanied as it happened by his wife. She was still gabbing over the garden fence back in Bromley. Still insist there’s no difference now between Surrey and Shanghai; Middlesborough and Malawi; Giggleswick and the Ganges? His own kith and kin, fruit of his spouse’s loins, offered for hard cash to a coarse, sweaty, beer-filled football supporter from the opposing side. Principles, eh. So I hand over the money and then it turns out that the slitty-eyed little scumbag hasn’t got a fucking daughter. When we arrive back at his duplex, it was his wife. I know the difference between a wife and a daughter even after eight pints of lager. I’ll tell you one thing though: he wasn’t trying for any daughter with his wife that night. Oh no. Only thing he was doing with his tackle was watching the swellings go down. Got my money back after a certain amount of persuasion had been applied. Then, to add insult to injury, we lost the game, didn’t we?

Luna stared about the now silent faces, and seemed genuinely intimidating. They had gone quiet. Finally this, in a tone of sinister intimacy:

A man is most at peace among his own kind.

They moved in their seats, then one cried out, ‘The mad station announcer.’ They all had their favourites by now. Luna switched to a tone simultaneously disinterested and infinitely irritating.

We are sorry to announce that the 12.37 from Stoke has been delayed by twenty minutes. We are very very sorry about this. Truly distressed, believe me.

Suddenly the voice started to find the rhythms of its mania; there was something unsettling in its hysterical confession.

I’ve been crying actually. One more cancellation this morning and I’m packing in this job and going back on the game. So think on, Richard Bloody Branson. Think on Arriva Trains. Think on Silverlink. I’ve only got so much patience, you know. Three feet from my left elbow there’s a body dangling from a noose. The previous occupant of this chair. Don’t think it’s easy apologizing to everybody about everything every day.

The voice now boomed.

Can fat people stop wobbling about all over the platform. You’re like marquees with legs, some of you, except that you sweat. If you leave suitcases unattended we’re going to open them and tip the contents out all over the concourse. Then everyone can have a look at your dirty underclothes, your rubber johnnies, your sanitary towels. Then you won’t be smiling then when you come back dribbling coffee all over our nice shiny floors, will you? I don’t know why we let some of you through the door and that’s the truth.

Without missing a beat she was warm and consoling.

Funny thing romance, isn’t it? I mean my friend Harriet said, That’s it, after the last one. Not having any more. Can’t always predict these things, I said. I can, she says. Then one night her beloved comes back from the pub with the lovelight in his eyes; cuts his toenails; changes his socks and Vroooom. Before she knew where she was it was down to the nitty-gritty on the thick pile carpet. Nine months later another mouth to feed. No time for precautions, you see. The God of Love takes no precautions, Harriet, I said. No, she said, and neither does Derek once he’s pissed.

And then it was Charlie. They gave him a warm enough reception, though he noticed some of them straggling out once they realised Luna had finished. Afterwards he sat at the bar as always, in his shades, having his glass re-filled as arranged by the barman. The woman came across and sat next to him. It took him a moment to recognize her through his shades.

‘So Blind Charlie Shade, which part of my beautiful country do you come from?’ The voice softly American, from the south somewhere. It was Stephanie Sheehan. He had heard that she was in town. Had made a note to go and see her. She was a seriously original blues singer; he even had a note on her in his thesis. About a song she had written, a very compelling song, one that he didn’t really understand. Charlie couldn’t think what to say. Stephanie pulled away his shades far enough to be able to peer over the top and into his eyes. Her voice very quiet now. There was a smile in her voice.

‘Not really blind, are you Charlie? Know how I can tell? When you moved up to the B flat on the sixth fret each time, you looked down. Just an inch or two, but I couldn’t help noticing. It’s a tricky old change: I use it myself so I know. But blind guitarists don’t look down to check their changes. Because Charlie,’ — her hand was on his knee — ‘blind men can’t see. Being blind stops them seeing, that’s the main disadvantage with it. You were good though. I’m impressed, I must say. I’m also impressed by that guitar of yours. Maybe we could get together — you, me, and our guitars.’ She took out a piece of paper from her bag and wrote the name of a hotel and a room number on it. ‘Give me a call.’ And then she was gone.

He was back at the flat early that night. He found Jessica’s number on its crumpled piece of paper and he dialled it. A man answered. Didn’t sound too friendly. ‘Who is this?’

‘Sorry,’ Charlie said. ‘Wrong number.’ He put the phone down. Thirty seconds later it rang.

‘Did you just call this number?’ Charlie didn’t like the sound of that voice at all.

‘I just called a wrong number so it must have been you. I’m sorry.’ Then the line went dead. Who was that then? Jess’s other boyfriend? Her brother? Her father? Charlie threw the piece of paper with Jessica’s telephone number on it into the basket. The next day he phoned Stephanie Sheehan at her hotel in London.

‘Well, why don’t you come over, Charlie, and bring that guitar of yours with you. You can find your way alone, can you, with your disability? Or do you need me to come over and take you by the hand?’

So that afternoon Charlie went with his guitar to Stephanie Sheehan’s hotel room, and walked right into the middle of filming.


Chapter Fourteen.

WILL HAD BEEN invited to give a paper at his old college. He had already been on the train for hours. Outside Peterborough, the land flattened. He stared through the window at waterways with soft and leafy fringes. Pylons like the skeletons of Easter Island gods strode over the plain, connected to one another by the filaments of electric rigging. Suddenly they were travelling past hundreds of blocks of bricks, all symmetrical, but because they did not have Carl André’s name attached and weren’t in the Tate, they were simply bricks. Then there were hayricks and seagulls over a puddle in a ploughed field. Another field filled with ruined caravans. Smoking chimneys. An occasional church spire left over from a Constable painting, its architecture now becomes as picturesque as its theology. At March, half the station was decomposing, grass growing on the windowsills where the ticket man once leaned to give the time of day to the drivers. Three brown mares cropping in a field. Two boys walking along a track. A wind-slated hawthorn; a kestrel lifting off from a high fence. A yard of old American military vehicles; a ruined hangar. How many dead airmen still lay underneath the reach of the plough? Now and then old bog-oaks thrown on one side, and solitary houses above the grass, mute revenants from a Wyeth painting.

As soon as he arrived at the station he walked straight to Kettle’s Yard. He sat in the attic of what had once been Jim Ede’s house and was now a shrine to everything that had delighted that delightful man. He stared at the drawings by Henri Gaudier. Ezra Pound stared out still from his demonic intelligence. Primary form, that’s what Gaudier had called it. The electrically diagrammatic. What did it mean to diagrammatize reality? To decide what to leave out as inessential to your purposes. To choose. Sian. Rachel. Marie. Marie. Rachel. Sian. To choose.

Gaudier could convey a face in a couple of fierce free lines, entirely conveying the gist of selfhood. No eagle was ever more eyried; no monkey ever more the incarnation of monkeying. His cock had the very pith of cockiness, its quidditas. No woman was ever more entirely herself, ever more formally female, than Gaudier’s Delilah. Her breasts, her pudenda, her face, her smile. Sian. To choose. Brancusi had described over-exactitude in art as a confusion of familiarities. But to grapple with modernity you must choose. Breasts. Pudenda. Thighs. Sian. Rachel. Marie.

—This is the seventh installment of White Ivory.
See previously
chapters 1 & 2
chapters 3 & 4
chapters 5 & 6
chapters 7 & 8
chapters 9 & 10
chapters 11 & 12

ALAN WALL was born in Bradford, studied English at Oxford, and lives in North Wales. He has published six novels and three collections of poetry, including Doctor PlaceboJacob, a book written in verse and prose, was shortlisted for the Hawthornden Prize. His work has been translated into ten languages. He has published essays and reviews in many different periodicals including the Guardian, Spectator, The Times, Jewish Quarterly, Leonardo, PN Review, London Magazine, The Reader and Agenda. He was Royal Literary Fund Fellow in Writing at Warwick University and Liverpool John Moores and is currently Professor of Writing and Literature at the University of Chester and a contributing editor of The Fortnightly Review. His book Endtimes was published by Shearsman in 2013, and Badmouth, a novel, was published by Harbour Books in 2014. A collection of his essays was issued by Odd VolumesThe Fortnightly Review’s publishing imprint, also in 2014. A second collection, of his Fortnightly reflections on Walter Benjamin, followed in 2018, and a third collection, Midnight of the Sublime, has just been published. An archive of Alan Wall’s Fortnightly work is here.

Image Credits.
Empty stage for comedy show (Carlos Delgado via Wikimedia Commons); silhouette of stage microphone with tripod base, modified (by greyj); sunglasses (by barsrsind); Salisbury Cathedral from the River Nadder, c. 1829, by John Constable (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons); Kettle’s Yard Vicinity, Cambridge (by David Hallam-Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons); Head of a Woman, by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (via Wikimedia Commons); Portrait of a Woman by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (via Wikimedia Commons).

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