(published 'Masque' 1994)
When Mirren first met me, I was just recovering from a bad do, suicide being not too strong a word. However, Mirren, china-doll's face with crushed aspirin make-up, was due to become my saint and saviour. To say I hoped that she would save me from myself may be trite, but how else can I tell the truth? By telling lies?
Mirren could speak for herself, in any event.
"I love you for yourself. Nothing else."
"What else is there?" I asked.
Her eyes milked over and I knew she meant the money.
Despite my selfless misgivings, I was rich. Really rich. If you bacon-sliced me, a watermark could be seen running right through. No counterfeit money, me.
Mirren was beyond all that. I could tell from the sincerity in her face. Hard to hide that behind make-up, however thickly applied.
Then there was that day, when I sensed another do coming on me. Depression was like that - crept up when least expected.
In the throes of foreplay, nothing but moving shapes in the heavy drizzle; the red pulsing light of the electronic advertisement-sign making our skin have episodic wounds. St Paul's Cathedral loomed silently through the air's patina - with lighting-effects beyond even those a night-demon once used in my special never-to-be-repeated and often, thankfully, never remembered childhood dream.
Sleeping rough, of course, had its drawbacks. There must have been a general power-cut in the city, since we suddenly discovered ourselves in pitch darkness. The black sky had descended like a sopping wet funeral blanket.
"Bugger!" Mirren was heard to enunciate with some conviction.
Another street-lady moved nearer to her, crushing corrugated cardboard between body and pavement. "Don't fret, Mirren, that bloke's just a dream, cos I had him, too ... once."
And no amount of money in the world could bring me back.
I wandered a Great Britain that I did not recognise. I gathered I must indeed be a dream, rather than actually dreaming myself. I had hiked from London's cardboard city to the Scottish Highlands in less than a day, faster than the railways, in fact. I had negotiated previously untrodden paths, intermittently coming across towns named after Scottish football teams. But snatches of sleep disfigured the dream I was with unconscious darkness.
Eventually, I found myself resting upon a steep slope of heather, gazing down upon a lagoon. I could just discern the forms of children diving and splashing in its inviting pink waters. Their distant cries of joy punctuated the living silence. I was a stranger on the shore and the first to spot me were the older ones. Shame-faced, they continued to careen through the bubbles: evidently a healing process, since the younger ones had long sores along their sides, opening and shutting like mouths: waiting for the white lips to close up permanently. The older ones cared for those younger, keeping them from sinking in the water and encouraging them to move sinuously like sea-snakes. As soon as I became too obvious to ignore wholly, the older ones helped those younger to make as much progress as possible to the centre of the lagoon, where natural frothing geysers concealed them from me.
"Who is he, Meadowbank?"
The one who was addressed was the oldest and his only answer was to teach them how to continue treading water since, there at the lagoon's furthest reaches, no steady footing was even remotely near; the insecurity of that fact could very well lead to panic. The children had paired off - and were embracing in combined attempts to remain afloat, each set of four legs pumping away at the nothing below them.
Meadowbank took hold of his peer, Heart of Midlothian, and pressed himself against her buds and uprearing limbs; she, in turn, pressed back against his scissoring, sapling form. But such frenzied, spinning motions only served to re-open their wounds which, until then, had begun to knit together in the soothing mountain waters. Redness dyed the springs around them. Fearing that the legendary monster had got them, I forged on towards what I thought was a northerly direction.
During the next bout of self-awareness, I had arrived at a black city among the towering mountains. I first saw it from afar as I broke new summits. Its many gothic cathedrals were like the Redoubts of another dream ... dark places of sanctuary and spurts of intermittent foundry fire breaking between the clustered buildings where I could see the wandering populace flinching at each fresh outburst.
As the slopes neared the highly wrought affair of the city gate, I saw the inner watery courtyards where craft with purple sails dodged from quay to quay. Soon, I was below the looming gates and could no longer see within; the ripping cries continued to increase in volume as if it were market day in Hell. I was a tiny dot at the foot of the sky-high city walls, knowing instinctively that it would take more than a day for the heavy workings of the groaning gates to be set in motion. But here, at last, was sanctuary from the dream I happened to be.
The guardian of the gate appeared as if from nowhere, covered from tip to toe in an armour of cardboard pound notes, accusing me of being a carrier of plague dreams and thus not welcome to shelter in the city of Partick Thistle.
I strode on, holding my shut-eyed head high and ignoring the tolling alarums of the cathedrals' behemoth-bells that now reverberated throughout the mighty valley ... seeking the sanctuary of Saints Mirren or Johnstone further north.
"There were no preambles to the conversation," she said.
"What, no introductions?" I queried, not quite believing her version of events.
"None at all. Just two voices emerging out of nowhere, as it were." She tilted her wide-brimmed hat so that the shadow was lifted from her face. The rest of her clothes seemed to big for her, as if appearances were not her prime motive. I recognised her but could not put my finger on where and when. She appeared irritated, as if I were speaking my thoughts aloud. "Of course you recognise me," she resumed, "you were my lover many years ago."
"Ah yes," I said, by and large unconvinced.
"You're not sure then?"
"Yes, of course I am." I was afraid to admit otherwise.
"Well, I was telling you about the conversation, wasn't I?" She knew I was afraid of her, and I merely nodded as she continued. "The two of them started talking as if they'd known each other for years. One minute the room was empty. The next they were nattering twenty-four to the dozen. It was as if reality had started up from scratch, with all memories already complete but not actually experienced. Real memories, by comparison, are built up piecemeal from the sheer survival of existence. Their memories had been born as if from nothingness."
I nodded again, humouring her. How had I become embroiled with such a weird creature? How could I disentangle myself? I looked at the window. It was completely black outside. The door was shut, but with nothing to suppose it was locked. Perhaps I could make my excuses...
"Look here!" she snapped with a scowl. "There's no way I'm going to let you go. It's been ages since I had anybody with which to keep company and you having been my lover in the past, you can damn well stay put and reciprocate."
At that moment, the door swung wide on shrieking hinges. A man of middle years stood in its frame, staring at the pair of us. He was older, or perhaps younger, than he looked, in view of the baggy clothes he had chosen to wear.
"Hello, Meadowbank," she said as if on a reflex to the newcomer.
"Heart of Midlothian!" The one called Meadowbank addressed the woman with the loose tongue who claimed to be my long lost lover from a past so foreign she seemed like a complete stranger with an incomplete grasp of the present. They acted like people who had been lost-presumed-dead in an endless war. But presumptions were what they indeed were: they slid out of sight within each other's gaping wounds which I now realised had been previously bandaged beneath their ill-fitting clothes. Not even the slightest bubbling or gurgling remained, as the dream I was finally expired - like a period return on the railways.
The bells of St Paul's Cathedral tolled loudly, as Mirren settled with a smile into the sticky warmth of my own recently vacated body. It was better than a cardboard box any day. A body-bag of riches for an undressed doshless dosser of a dreamer.
"Bugger!" A misplaced rib stuck awkwardly in her back.