[Reposting to put it back in its rightful place in the timeline, and for minor edits occasioned by removal of erroneous copy/paste text]

Last week was a short working week thanks to Bank Holiday Monday off. Though still, regrettably, a working week, locked into this global pyramid scheme and unable to extricate. The seemingly effortless genius of the Childish Gambino event for This Is America pretty much set the mood for us.

It’s quite remarkable in its commitment and range of ideas, in any of its various contexts.

Was glad to discover Liz Phair continues to rock.

Need a planet without cars and wars… I wish it could be true.

…got riled by newsletters that just post links and click bait.

Listened to a great podcast, The Horror Self, Conner Habib in conversation with horror writer Brian Evenson. I haven’t had chance to read Evenson’s works yet, but he had lots of interesting ideas. A chance comment they made about Beckett had me wander off dabbing madeleine crumbs from my chin (yes i kno thats Proust) and thinking about the time I saw John Hurt in Krapp’s Last Tape. I am convinced it was one of the stages at the Barbican in London, but… the details are hazy.

Also stirring memories of previous selves this week was the unfortunate Scott Hutchison of band Frightened Rabbit, who went missing in the middle of some personal problems, and whose body was later found by police. Variety’s report on the story gives a fuller picture, though his tweets, first reported in “concerns grow for the safety of” reports, take on a kind of tragic, obvious significance in the light of what happened.

Difficult, allusive thoughts on responsibility, on treating people badly, a judgemental tone, a pervasive sense of personal failure, a combination of contrition, abandonment, resolve and futility… I recognise it all. His words had an eerie resonance with things I have thought, written, expressed, fucked up in the same way. It made me quite emotional, glad I had the great fortune to be able to recognise support from friends, to be able to make it over that great forbidding bulk, to learn from the experience, and not to perish on its exposed flanks.

My sympathies to his friends, followers and so on. And yes, hugs to all your loved ones, perhaps especially the ones you think you’ve failed.

Thank god that’s all done with, anyway.

– Krapp

Finally, this week I’ve been forging new working methods (words and music). The nascent schedule was interrupted by our youngest child developing a comically unpleasant sickness bug, reminiscent of The Exorcist. Full-on, handprints smeared across walls, ankle deep in body horror bathroom nightmares sort of stuff. With that and the day job, it was difficult to establish the rhythms I’d intended… but I got going, if a little syncopated.

One of the things was a writing challenge, for which I missed the deadline… and now I am having bother locating the precise origin of the prompt… but anyway: the task was to go to the New Releases section of Project Gutenberg, pick a title that you liked, then write something riffing on that. Here’s the title I fell on:

Illustrated Horse Breaking

At Wyatt’s Stable Yard, the so-hip-it-hurts hangout of the moment, one of the horses is going through his warm-up routine.

Planting one hoof firmly, with a swagger he floats the other to the ground, a succession of freeze-frames, each movement accompanied by a change in expression: rolling eyes, fury, mugging, a comic tongue lolling, ears flattened, a wide-mouthed grin sheer delight, slack jaw aping the watching press pack. Legs still tense, splayed, he swings up a hoof to close his mouth, his stance relaxes and the spell is broken as he snorts with laughter.

“You’ve got to play around,” he says, and this statement encapsulates the wanton abandon of one of the brightest stars of the post-dressage firmament, Re-Drum.

The unforgettable moment that this heavily tattooed former Olympic champion shocked the precise and exacting world of dressage with a jaw-dropping interpolation of street dance moves is the stuff of internet legend. Clips of that routine – where he first transitioned from Piaffe to Jackhammer, bouncing off one hoof immediately to Change of Direction into a sequence of apparently never-ending Air Flares – stunned the watching crowd and has been seen since by millions.

“The Horse That Broke The Internet, yeah, yeah!” His infectious laugh is as genuine as his self-effacement. “Well, it turned into this thing, but we’d been talking about it, and we knew we just… the time was right, y’know? I mean, we were disqualified, remember?”

Although his easy patter is disarming, this final comment has a barbed quality that suggests his career since has been motivated by more than a love of play.

The idea of classicists becoming energised by urban motifs is nothing particularly innovative. One recalls with indulgence Nigel Kennedy’s football hooligan persona, and insistence on matey abbreviation for composers (Viv) and equipment (Strad) alike. There have been others: the line of RSC actors that have moved from Macbeth to the Marvel universe stretches out to the crack of doom. Yet Re-Drum, formerly Neuschwanstein II, cites his own journey from the Standard Arena to the worn flagstones of Wyatt’s Stable Yard as one of “coming home”.

” For sure, we’re all from the stables. Sometimes gees get used to the horsebox lifestyle, the nosebag, if you nose what I mean?” He feints a hoof past one briefly flared nostril. “But we all come out on to straw. This being born with silver stirrups idea… I never knew my sire. Neusch and me haven’t ever met. Everyone thought I’d do what he did – which was win everything, twice – but I wanted to go somewhere different. I know the old fella’s watching, he reads your paper.”

Re-Drum tips a heavily-accented wink as abruptly he changes direction again. He is keen to recommence practice, and while his candour is genuine he demonstrates an impatience any time the conversation lingers too long on history.

His choreographer – former rider Chantal Wyatt, herself a member of a proud lineage, having inherited the Yard complex from her late father Robert in the early noughties – is certain that there are further changes of tack to come.

“He’s only just started. It’s all Re, no doubt. He’s the originator.” Asked if she feels sidelined, she is quick to demur. “I’m there for balance, but he’s all about the solo stuff at the minute. I’m happier running the keyboard stuff, calendar and so forth?” She waggles her fingers. Without breaking stride, Re-Drum, passing in a wide circle with ostentatious steps, waggles a hoof at eye level. More laughter, and the interview has to conclude.

Across the yard, all around the pair are similar exiles from the formalised restrictions of traditional dressage. Jetset and Stella H are already household names. With more and more talent arriving to go through their paces with Re-Drum the originator, his game could be getting serious.

————————————————————–

Y’know. If there are zones of the multiverse where anthropomorphic whimsy, punning and horses are a mystery, I hope our timelines never cross.

This time, the orange streetlight loomed large in the foreground. With an irritated click of the tongue, Bryan took two steps to the right. 

Right, he thought. 

The overgrown privet now shaded the lamp on its post, but a cloud had appeared along the top of the moon, occluding the upper half. Across the garden Jean, crouching in the shadows, shifted on her haunches.

“How much longer now, Bry?”

“Just a minute love.” Bryan paused, willing the clouds south west with a wave of his hand. Not much cop, he mumbled. 

“What was that, Bry?”

“I said, wrong f stop.” Stalling. “Here we go.” Mercifully, the cloud scudded off, revealing the huge orb of the full moon. “Right, now!” Jean rose slowly from her position by the bay and, as Bryan clicked, she stood with her arms aloft, the brilliant white of the moon illuminating her. 
A few moments passed.

“Well, have you done?”

“What? Oh, yes, sorry love.” Bryan, flustered, fiddling with the dial on the camera, started towards where Jean’s dressing gown hung from a branch on the bay. A fresh cloud scudded over the moon. In the sudden dark, he clouted his foot on the low fence around the lavender bed and with a grunt hit the turf.

“Bry? Y’daft beggar.”

“I’m alright, love… Hang on.” As the moon emerged, Jean watched Bryan heave himself to his hands and knees, groping about for his glasses, which sat askew on his moonlit scalp.

 She stifled a giggle and reached for her dressing gown. Pulling it on and fishing her spectacles from the pocket, she started over to help.

The full moon shone down.

We’d bumped into each other at the GUM clinic. I’d walked into the crowded waiting room of desperately casual out-patients, my first thought being ‘So many dirty fuckers!’, my next being ‘Oh fuck, it’s Jimmy!’. Not through embarrassment, more an amused moment of simultaneous recognition. We both broke into grins that we were there, and sat and nattered with only the slightest of awkwardnesses until it was time whichever one of us had to go off first to get our waters siphoned and urethras scraped.

A couple of hours later and we were coincidentally discharged, or maybe dismissed is a better word in context. At the exit, we both pointed towards the leafy garden of the White Swan and said ‘Pint?’ with a matching hand/forearm gesture, in an amused moment of happily resigned certainty. It was one in the afternoon.

Now, Jimmy Duggan slumps against his beer. He doesn’t like the band on the juke box. ‘Is there anything worth saying about them? Their art means nothing to me.’ He knits his fingers round the straight pint glass. The sun’s shining in his face and he’s squinting as it’s glaring, the backwards lettering of a beer logo in the big window of the pub shading his mouth and frown. It’s two in the afternoon.

Outside in the baking heat of the park next to the boozer, I can hear kids screaming with early summer delight. The rattle and roll of scooter wheels and plastic beads on bike spokes. I don’t think Jimmy is hearing this, but you never know.

‘The fucking kids!’ He gulps down at least half a pint, as if the mere sound is enough. Refreshed, maybe a bit dewier of eye, he softens and purses his lips. ‘Headachey,’ he mitigates. He’s been talking with alternate bitterness and what is meant to be wry detachment about “The Scene”, with capitals, in quotes, as he insists on pronouncing it, for about at least 40 minutes. He seems to not want to talk about anything real. The knitted fingers are a bit trembly when he unlaces them and runs a hand through his hair. His barnet’s longer and less kempt than I recall from last time I saw him, which may have been six months, about, at least. He’s overall a bit unattended looking. Wearing loafers sockless, cardie buttoned up wrongly – buttoned up at all, on, in these temperatures. He is thin and distracted.

That’s when he mentions the cause of his headache, who he’s been seeing, and my bollocks retreat inside.

Hooves drummed off iron earth and two plumes of breath boiled away into frozen, faintly misty air. The horse and its rider were galloping for the heat through the little valley. It was mid-December and early in the morning. Rapidly, they passed a large tree next to which a rough track began, and then on the track ascended slightly towards the downs of the hills at the neck of the valley. Ahead, the road wound up the slope, snaking through a high wall about halfway up before continuing its climb. The horse slowed, the rider pulled the reins a little more sharply, and they stopped.

The rider threw back the hood of a heavy cloak and felt inside it for a small flask. Uncapping it, he took a drink, paused, looked about, and took another drink. Replacing the flask, his hand wandered to the other side of his belt and clasped the pommel of his sword for reassurance. He knew the valley well, knew it was unfrequented, that he had been through here a thousand times and loved its silence. It was just reassurance.

Whickering impatiently, the horse stamped a foot. With a sigh, the rider leaned backwards and checked for the thousandth time a pack tied securely to the saddle. In a decisive movement, he gripped the fingers of his right glove in his teeth and pulled his hand free to unsnap a flap on the back of his left gauntlet. A green glow showed hazy through condensing breath. He tapped three keys, reins running through his palm. Then he hit another key, snapped shut the flap, and pulled on the empty glove. The horse was dragging a fore foot against the ground in anticipation. Picking the reins back up, with a shout of encouragement aimed as much at himself as the horse, the rider snapped the reins and dug his heels in.

They took off up the track, gaining speed. As they neared the wall, which was broken with a plain stone archway, the rider realised he was holding his breath. He blew out with another shout as they thundered through the arch and vanished from the track.

On the other side of the wall, the frozen ferns shifted slightly in the breeze as something unseen seemed to pass by at speed.

****************************************

Sat at her desk in a windowed alcove, Emma set down her drink and scratched just above her right elbow, underneath the short sleeve of a pale blue shirt, with a pen. Her eyes were fixed on the green glowing screen a few feet away, and she blew a little raspberry through pursed lips. She slouched to her left and swivelled in her chair, tapping the pen arrhythmically on the desk in irritation. Always the same, she thought. Outside the window, the dank tunnel was lit by the glow from the alcove window. She reached for the drink again, sipped a little of the bitter back fluid and inhaled through her nostrils appreciatively.

She sat forward. Something had finally happened on the green glowing screen. Swivelling to face a different monitor, emitting a softer, pale white and blue glow, Emma reached for the keyboard in front of it and tapped at the number pad, three times and then a decisive fourth. Outside the alcove, sat about ten metres in from the end of a tunnel, a cool light appeared. Emma snuffed a short, snorted laugh. Open sesame, she said, half aloud, making a mocking half-circle with her right hand as she stepped to the door.

In the white gleam of the mouth to the tunnel, Emma felt a chill that had her jump back inside the office to retrieve a dark blue fleece jacket. She was shrugging into it and struggling with the zip, looking down and carefully feeding it into the fastener, when the rat-tat…tat…tat of a slowing horse became audible. She looked up and smiled as she reached into her pocket for the round mints, catching the reins of the horse as it trotted to a steaming standstill next to her and her hand found its muzzle with the treats.

‘Bleak midwinter at your end as usual then? Hello Roz,’ she said to the horse. Glancing up at the rider, she noticed he still had his hood up. She frowned. ‘You’re not Mercurio,’ she stated flatly. The hood came down. Emma’s eyes narrowed. ‘Do we… know you?’

Sorry about the lack of fiction this Friday.
I had written this quite interesting story about a couple living in a coastal village with a dog. The dog starts acting oddly, and it emerges that one of them has a guilty secret. Stormy climax and a twist ending.
The digital dog ate my homework.

The dazzling bright white lights of a truck hurtled past, accompanied with cacophonous discordant horn dopplering, chased by a slushy swish from the cold rain. Briefly, the taillights morsed as the driver pumped the brakes at the curve ahead, the message from the red squares flashing, over and over: tough + luck + stop + tough + luck + stop + tough + luck.

Silence settled again on the long straight road gunbarrelling between the thick pines, grown in orderly rows for crow-flown miles and miles west and east of the needle strewn, snow-crowned highway sludge along which Dag Heuter was trudging as night fell.

Heuter watched the receding tail lights with his right hand clapped to his head, as if trying to prevent his hat blowing off. With ear flaps tied snug under his chin, the gesture was more frustration, an invocation. His left arm curled in what looked like it could be trying to be a fist coming up for a jab. Brief freeze. He made a pushing gesture of dismissal and walked backwards a few steps, as the four red squares fused into a single condensing gas dwarf and vanished into the cosmic night. Heuter squinted with some difficulty to see as he turned into the rain, still walking, hands jammed back into his jacket pockets, facing the oncoming traffic.

Facing the direction oncoming traffic would come from eventually, he qualified to himself, turning positive, turning again to look at the tiny tiny pulse of red flicking further back down the road. He put a gloved hand up to his throat and tightened the zip two teeth back to the top.

Since abandoning the cold shell of his own wheels, but uncertain which way salvation lay nearest, Dag Heuter had decided to walk back to the last town he remembered. It had seemed like a few miles or so. Heuter knew he was an unreliable guide. The lack of traffic meant he was sticking up a hand for anything, going anywhere, but so far, not so good. He licked dry, chapped lips and thought of one, probably two beers and a couple of whiskies in that little brown wood and smokey bar he’d been in.

It might have been only minutes later that there was a swoosh through the slush and wet. Heuter straightened, regarded the lights playing through the spray up ahead of him, his shadow on the trees. He turned and shaded his eyes with one hand, throwing out the other first in a kind of wave, then a more resolute hitcher’s thumb. The car – some kind of pony – slowed, then passed him, before coming to a halt a few yards ahead. Picking up his step, Heuter shambled towards what he could now make out was indeed a Camaro, the rear lights making a red fuzz in the rain.

Up against the passenger side door, Dag Heuter stood with one arm on the roof. As the window wound down about halfway, he paused for a second before lowering his head to peer inside. There was a moment’s silence.

The figure inside the car said,
‘Jesus, Dag. What happened to your face?’

Dag Heuter looked up into the spray illuminated by the headlights and smiled painfully. Of course. He lowered his head.

‘Hey, Petch. Uhh, gimme a ride, I’ll bring you up to speed?’

‘I doubt that,’ the driver said. There was another moment’s pause.

‘Well, get in.’ A sigh.

The window closed as Dag opened the door and slumped inside.

Coming up in part two: Dag and Petch retread some old ground.

Thoughts on a napkin with circles of gin
Part 2: Enrique and Isabelle.

The bartender handed me the gin and the couple of bits of blank paper. I yawned a big yawn as I carried tonic bottle, gin, paper and a fresh pack of cigarettes over to a table tucked away in one corner, behind another of those plastic plants. A little hideyhole. I grunted to myself. Momentarily, I was a teenager again, looking for the one of a hundred ways to be snotty about this situation, this request, this imposition. Taking a long pull on the gin and tonic, I set it down on the napkin – I can’t bring myself to use the miniature paper, what the fuck was it that designer had called it just then? the doily – and hovered over the cigarettes.

I looked across the bar as I picked up the pack, slit the cellophane and pulled out the foil. I’d bought Lucky Strikes because she’d always smoked mine back then when we were hanging out, even though her brand was that terrible French shit with a winged helmet on the pack. I savour the smell of the new carton. Lighting up, I had a little lost time while I savoured the memories.

Coming back to myself, I drained off the rest of the gin, sat up and stubbed out the cigarette. Maybe that could be my tack, I thought. Turning my mind back to this memoir some Doctor from Silversmiths had just talked me into doing with no effort at all. Talk up the old cunt by way of self-aggrandisement. “What was Isabelle Bauze doing with Enrique Hemaski?…” Which would be kind of expected… I wheezed silent laughter at myself, picked up the empty glass and set it back down again. I stared down at the blank paper.

Izzy… Where were you now? She’d have had the idea like that. I snapped shut the lighter as I lit another Lucky, sat back and looked out the window through more plastic plants and thought about mortality and all that bullshit. I remembered this one time we’d been to see some new flick in the early 70s, Gene Hackman bugged out and freaking. We’d both flipped, at last, someone showing it like it was to come off, at least like we’d seen with Sergei. Not nice. He hadn’t made it as far as us.

She was pretty much best known to everyone as the philosopher that wrote Fin, which has been mostly translated as ‘The End’. The film closing, fin-ality, ticks all those Lacanian boxes Dr Jenny would probably fill up, but it’s not what Izzy meant. If it’s a rock ‘n’ roll song you need, and I do, it’s further back: the Orbison melodrama of ‘It’s over’, which sounds like the end of the world, like it is for a teenager, but has something of the seeds of hope, the idea of continuing in the face of desolation. I mean, if that’s what you need. She did a damn good job of getting all that into five chapters.

Halfway down the cigarette, the Big O reverbing around my head, it comes to me, finally. I scratch it out on the paper, laying each line down as it comes. When I’m finished, I wave Dr Jenny’s card in the air, meaning to get the barman’s attention. It occurs to me it’s like I’m signalling teacher to let her know I’m done. Luckily, he’s a gifted mind reader, this kid.

When the drink arrives I make him swerve the jolly old doily and set it down on the napkin. It makes a little figure eight with the mark the other left when finally I lift it to toast Izzy: it’s over.

Thoughts on a napkin with circles of gin

Some stick-thin English chick literally stepped from behind a plastic plant in the bar of the terrible chain hotel I’ve been suffering. “Enrique Hemaski. You knew Isabelle Bauze.” It was almost an accusation. She had her light brown hair in a not-too-severe ponytail, with a stray bang tickling one bony cheek. Dial-a-cliché black trouser outfit on.

OK, here we go, I thought. I’d expected something like this ever since I’d heard Izzy died, having met serious, take it personally girls like this before. I had a couple of gins in me from brunch with a designer and I decided to live down to my rep. “Yeah. And yeah. Who the fuck are you?” I hammed it up, the breathless tipsy swagger, and finished my cigarette off with what I hoped was maximum phallic symbolism, stabbing it in the dirty sand of the ashtray next to the plants.

I straightened while she waited with a look of detached amusement.
“It’s okay, Mr Hemaski, I’ve read your books. I think you’re funny. Relax.”
I had to laugh. She had me, the insouciant floozy. I relaxed.
“Yeah, I knew Isabelle. She just died. That’s why I’m in this dungeon. I’m going to Paris. You still haven’t told me who you are.”
“My name’s Jen…” I stuck out a hand, which she shook cordially but impatiently, a sharp amused exhalation through the nose and a pursed lip smile. “…Collis. I lecture at Silversmith’s. My doctoral thesis was on Bauze. I’ve been asked to edit a memoir…” She put a hand on one hip and extended the other to the side, palm up. She was a hieroglyph signifying what can you do. I did my De Niro bottom lip shrug and moved my head a little.
“So what do I write about her? That I haven’t already, I mean…” I laughed a raspy laugh and rubbed some silvery stubble. “If you know which of my fuckin’ hilarious books I’m talking about.”
Now she laughed. “Everyone thinks Fin is about Jean-Paul Duchamps. I think it’s about you… Well. It can be read…” she said, a voice that seemed bored with academic qualifiers. I liked her style. In a previous novel, life, I’d probably have tried to fuck her. Whatever. She shrugged. “Well, you knew her, anyway. You definitely had a thing going on. And yes, I think you’ve definitely written about her.”
I cocked my head and waited, my arms folded. She shifted slightly in what looked like an anticipated move. The pony tail swapped shoulders.
“Not in Tricoteuses.”
I waited. She rolled her eyes and her voice took on a quality which suggested a deeply professional annoyance born from a deeper passion for I know exactly what. “Diners Club. I take it you’ve read Alessandro.”
I rasped a laugh again. The air con was fucking drying my throat out and anyway I feel awkward with professional academics.
“I met her, once. Tried to have a man to man chat about her Famous Reading…” She nearly stops herself smiling. “Heh. She didn’t want to know. ‘It’s so aaahb-vious!’… What the fuck, I thought it was funny. So did Edith, in point of fact. I mean, Tricoteuses…” I do the honkiest chateau du Frog I can manage. “C’mon. I wouldn’t mind some credit for doing my job sometimes.”
“Quite.”

Miss Collis crossed her ankles and leaned back slightly. Her hands were together in front of her and she’d magicked a card into them somehow. She held it out with a slight gesture of the wrist. Business card. I took it. “So, if you could say… something… Doesn’t have to be too long. Whatever you think.”
I held the card about chest high and gestured decisively with it a couple of times. “I will, Miss, uh, Collis. It, uh, is, miss?” I added, kind of hamming, kind of weakly. My heart wasn’t even in it for playing. She gave me a knowing, pursed lips smile. “It’s Doctor Collis, Doctor Hemaski. I look forward to hearing from you.” This time she stuck her hand out, and we shook.

I lit a cigarette and watched her head out through the revolving door. So, eulogy from Dr Hemaski. I had a bite in my stomach, which was maybe the dried out scrambled eggs from breakfast, maybe the gins, but mainly a sudden sense of responsibility to the dead. I decided to try for another drink and see how it sat.

Coming up in Part 2: Enrique and Isabelle.

Somewhere outside a pub in Leeds.

‘What, her? Naw, she’s left.

Y’what?

Yeah she was there. In her fuck-me boots and that top.

Yeah, that’s the one.

Ha ha ha.

Y’what?

Hang on a sec… ‘scuse me, love. Thanking you.

Still there?

Yeah, it’s filling up.

Y’what, about…? Hey mate, I’m just talking.

No, I know, but you sound serious.

Ha ha ha…no, but seriously. You better just stop with that.

Well, she’s got a boyfriend. He dunt take kindly to people with designs. Not on Mandy.

Fucker’s six five and plays rugby. He gets shirty.

Look, he’s from Garforth and you stay in Headingley, you get me?

Alright, alright, don’t get upset!

Y’what?

Hey, you asked me. I’m just relating… yeah, yeah… how the evening went…

Before she were in? No, I’m telling… I’m on t’pre-lash in that bar the students go in. See some lass mouthing along to ‘Come As You Are’ on the jukebox.

I dunno, some emo bird…

Yeah…

…in a, in a crop top and drainpipes. Converse All Stars. Asymmetrical hair.

Yeah, tidy. Playing at being the DJ.

That’s it, little emo lifesaver.

I know, it din’t look promising musically, but… I was thinking, “Come on then, surprise me,” and fair fucks to her, she did, follows it with ODB, ‘Got yer money.’

Top. Now she’s mouthing along again as she sticks in more coins. But then Dirt McGirt’s closely followed by Green Day, sort of proving me right the first time, kind of, but anyway.

No, she was with about… thirty mates!

So yeah, I’m all ‘wake me up when this record ends’, about to finish up me drinks and move outside, and I notice Mandy, suddenly, playing Stu.

Stu.

Aye, y’know him.

He’s… He’s got… highlights and green day-glo socks.

Pink and green day glo.

That’s him. Mismatched socks.

He’s not, no, but Gordo thinks he is.

Why? “Cause he dresses like one.”

No, I dunno. Gordo’s…

Gordo’s a rugby player. I told you that already. Supposed to be a law student too…

…I know, it’s fucking deadly, innit? So Stu and Mand are playing pool and notice me slouching over by the bar. Stu’s like “Ah, just the fellow! Come and lend a hand, sir. Mandy’s tanning me arse here.”

Yeah, all that. That expression on his face.

I wan’t biting, no. I looked round nonchalant, you know, doing the de Niro face.

Yeah, internal. Voiceover.

Anyway, he looks a bit shifty, she looks like butter wouldn’t fucking melt as usual, then they both got a call about the same time and shifted sharpish.

No, that were it. I think it…

Naw… I don’t think Stu were at it, no. But I wouldn’t want to speculate.

Of course.

She’s hot, yes.

Shmokiiiiin’! Yeah…

Look, no one’s denying it. No. But seriously: no. Don’t touch her or there’ll be a palaver.

You’ll end up getting… fucking… rucked and mauled by this fucking… prop, whatever the fuck he is. Big bastard. Did you not hear about Nevitt?

Nevitt.

NEVITT.

Yeah, that’s him. ‘Have it!” Well, he tried. Got a kicking for his efforts.

Just sayin, know what’m saying?

Smart.

Yeah, well up for it later, mate. Give us a shout, we’ll see what comes about.

No, just outside… Blakies now.

Yeah, it’s filling up.

Having a smoke.

Alright then.’

The refuting of Newton

The biggest surprise at the symposium had been the Horseman Group’s paper. Their science had, incontrovertibly, they said, been able to draw only one conclusion from years of research. Although raising many questions, rationally, evidentially, there was no doubt about it. There was a big wave hitting the earth directly, and it was going to mean there was no such thing as gravity.

Sir Lionel Horseman commented: ‘Our findings show it – gravity – simply will not work in the way it once did. It’s going to get a bit strange. Sorry.’ Building on the emerging work of von Welle, Hokusai and Lahar, Horseman’s paper meant all accepted views of the earth’s place and motion in the universe had to be revised. Simply, one would have to abandon Newton, Einstein, and, of course, gravity.

Given the significance of this paradigmatic discovery, reaction was curiously mixed. Some embraced the new thinking straight away, ascending off world majestically over the next weeks, dropping encouraging pamphlets, weighted, to the surface. Papers fluttered in their wake, just out of reach. For the majority of humankind, orthodoxy, habit and government-urged caution restricted reaction.

The Horseman Group scientists were, however, unequivocal. ‘The effects will become more and more pronounced,’ stated Sir Lionel, from the Group’s laboratories, in an un-geostationary satellite craft.

Gradually, indeed they did, the effects, become more pronounced. People standing by a fireplace might watch the smoke curl out along the floor. A photo frame from the mantelpiece drifts past noses. In some parts, tea became an impossibility.

For a while, sales of super heavy materials went through the roof. Then the materials began going through roofs, until eventually super heavy materials miners started upping tools and leaving as well.

Willing themselves into a zero gravity state, people found themselves flapping their arms, performing tentative leaps and hops before finding themselves among a rising number of people rejecting gravity, drifting with a smile and shrug, delighted exchanges:
‘What’s up?’
‘Hey, we all are, Jack!’

Many months passed.

One person who refused to believe was Nem. Nem was intelligent. He was inquiring. He had read all the pamphlets dropped by the Uprisers, as they were sometimes mockingly, sometimes reverently referred to. He loved their ideas, but he could not fully commit to them. They were ‘only ideas’, he harangued his partner, Gaude. ‘They’re only words, saying one thing now that other words didn’t. Surely the fact we’re standing here is proof enough?’

‘Yes, yes,’ she would say, forcing a floating foot back to ground, in her affection trying to calm his increasing upset, kissing him tenderly. Soothed, they would nestle in each other’s arms in the sunset, watching little specks of orange and silver rushing up from the horizon across the water like bubbles in a drink.

Although loving Nem deeply, Gaude’s eyes became sadder day by day, seeing things Nem could not or would not. Nem had begun studying the Real Effects of Gravity, an equal and opposite reactionary movement, becoming burdened with books, diagrams, models, driven to prove gravity existed even as near by objects, for years points of reference and comfort, began slowly to detach themselves and drift off into space. Gaude hardly saw Nem, consumed, agitated. She tended their garden with thoughts tumbling.

One day Nem woke and Gaude had gone. Making enquiries in the village, the few remaining people rolled their eyes upwards, he assumed by way of explanation.

Nem found Gaude’s disappearance an affront to centuries established logic. Living alone in the old house, he studied, annotated, experimented. He stood on the roof and cast lumps of metal towards the ground. The lumps hovered annoyingly around the gables at his feet. One afternoon, the tiles around him began peeling away with the beams. The stones of the house itself fell away one by one, until one morning Nem found himself in a field in the open air, only the faint outline of their former home around him.

He sat alone on the cold ground and cried idiot, heavy, earth bound tears of incomprehension.

After a few days Nem recovered enough to move to one of the inland towns, where the collective effects of massed buildings and people created enough pseudo gravitational pull to allow them to continue their old ways. His research continued. Attempts to distract himself by jumping into guilty, loveless tangles with others came to awful ends.

‘Nem would begin persuasive and engaging. Oh! though,’ speaking as eventually they ascended, chatting as they floated, ‘he would become so serious and angry about it!’ ‘He would inevitably start talking about Gaude, and push us away!’ Another, shaking their head as they rose, slow fireworks above rupturing ground, a patchwork quilt having the padding vacuumed out.

One day, Nem was sitting in a pub trying to keep his drink down. A young woman he’d never met before sat near him. They started talking. Nem thought she was very funny. Mabbel, with beautifully still hair and a kind face, thought Nem was quite serious and strange with his grumpy expression, but he seemed nice. They talked for hours and hardly mentioned gravity at all.

Nem and Mabbel started to meet regularly. He spoke about Gaude a few times, and gravity more often. Mabbel would listen, but eventually her silences made him stop talking. Then they would embrace in the silence. Nem found Mabbel soothing to his anxious mind, lost in her animated eyes. Most of all they loved to dance, and they would dart around each other in the parks and fields around the town, leaping and jumping and laughing in the sun.

Many more months passed.

One day Mabbel came to Nem. She could no longer ignore the non pull.

Nem stood rooted to the spot as she told him. She took him dancing. ‘We have this’, Nem said. ‘Yes we do, my sweet,’ said Mabbel. ‘Though I don’t know if this is enough.’

As they danced they found themselves drifting higher and higher, until Nem shouted fearfully and forced himself to the ground.

‘This can’t be right,’ he called to her. Mabbel managed to struggle to the surface. She threw her arms around him. ‘Does it have to be anything?’ she asked, nibbling his earlobe. ‘I don’t know’ he finally said, and burst into tears as she floated backwards, away from him.

Around him, trees uprooted and turned slow majestic cartwheels into space.

What could have been hours later, Nem looked up. Far above him, to his immense surprise, causing a lurch in his stomach, was Mabbel. A tiny dot, she was not moving, hopping from tree to tree, climbing through the sky.

It looked very dangerous. People were calling to Mabbel from the pro gravcraft stations, holding up space equipment, mouthing imprecations. Mabbel was still calling Nem, her hands stretching out for him. Tears streamed across his face, and he reached out his arms uselessly.

A sudden grinding of ground beneath made him stumble. As he fell, he felt a rush of air against his wet face, and realised finally that all around, a deep rumbling spoke of the very core of the planet shifting. Nem’s mind cleared. He stood and danced, giddy exaltation. He jumped and sprang and bounced. Far above him, Mabbel’s hands flew to her mouth.

Nem finally gave one giant leap and shot through the air, looking about briefly to see mountains crumbling and following. He looked towards and through matchstick trees, spinning in the dissipating blue, to the figure of Mabbel getting nearer and nearer, until he bumped into her arms and she caught him and together they spun wildly, with abandon, kissing and tumbling and laughing and spiralling up, up and away.