A wooden case of curiosities stands proud against the wall. At its top are two glass domes. When you put on the headphones, the sounds you hear are the inspiration for the contents of the domes. When you push the wooden slides against their invisible switches, the sounds you hear are the inspiration for the stitches against the Perspex in the slides. When you open each of the drawers, the sounds you hear are the inspiration for the trays that you look down upon and through. It is a magical thing, the kinokophone. If you listen to the sounds, you can imagine yourself what made them. There are no clues, no right or wrong answers. You can hear insects, or whirligigs, or the crackle of fire, or the cracking of ice. You can hear a bow drawn slowly across strings, or the call of a mythical creature through the multitude of horns on its head. You can hear people shopping, the beep of a road crossing, fireworks crackling in the sky. You can hear mushrooms pushing up through the damp soil in a forest. The wooden case of curiosities brings you all of these things. The kinokophone kickstarts your imagination.
The sailor bent down to look at the bottle. He expected to see a label, but the bottle was bare. He picked it up and put it back down again. He pushed his sailor’s cap back on his head and scratched his forehead beneath his kiss curl. He was surrounded by silence for the first time in a long while. It was oppressive, as though all vibration had been sucked out of the air. He realised that he was wearing his sailor’s jacket, dark blue with the square collar that hung down across the broad span of his back, tied with a ribbon at the front. ‘Am I dead?’ he asked himself. He looked down at his feet. He stood with one foot in the sand, the other in the snow. ‘Am I now really dead?’ he asked himself again. He picked up the bottle again, opened it and drank. It had a strange taste, metallic and clinical, with hard edges as though he were drinking a shard of something solid and bright. He felt cold, and he saw that the sand had all turned to snow. He stood with both feet in the frozen powder, waiting for something new.
The sailor groaned. If this was his joy, what would his sorrow resemble? ‘Look over there,’ said the small, dark girl. The sailor followed the line of her arm to the end of her pointing finger. She showed him a beach. Two people were crossing it side by side. They passed over sand dunes as though they were not there and walked through the water at the edge of the shore as though it had no depth. The sailor could see them clearly. They were magnified as though viewed through a lens. They crossed the sea and they emerged from the water onto another beach. The sailor saw that they had a wooden mallet and a large wooden bowl. He watched as they pounded the contents of the bowl with the mallet until it formed a large white mass. The sailor felt himself choke. He felt a pressure on his face, as though the large white mass was smothering him. ‘Tell them to stop,’ he begged the small, dark girl. ‘Please. Tell them. I can’t breathe.’ But the small, dark girl was gone again. In the place where she had stood, motionless on her bicycle, was a light blue bottle.
Sunday. Alarm set for an earlier than usual rise, and then ignored. Making us late, running behind schedule as always. You’d think we were teenagers, the way we behave. But we’re not. We’re just lazy, lazy adults with no sense of urgency. We drift through our responsibilities, ignoring the things that need to be done, storing up problems for our future. This one used to be a do-er, used to keep on top of things, used to be ruthlessly efficient. This other one never was. Never was beats always did in a competition over what should be done. Somewhere deep inside, this one doesn’t like it, but doesn’t have the energy to fight the ovewhelming stasis of the other one’s lethargy. Lethargy, it seems, is catching. Time to form a colony, perhaps. Like-minded souls who never get anything done and slowly drown in a sea of paper and good intentions. This one occasionally misses the old self, and wonders what became of her. She wonders how she came to give in so easily. Ignoring the alarm clock like a teenager. Procrastinating. How did that become her state of existence? Is it a form of martyrdom? Or is it just laziness?
Here is a disk. On one side is a picture of a bird. Here is another disk. On one side is a picture of a cage. Colour them in. Give life to the feathers of the bird. Gild the cage and colour in the sky around it. Then stick them together with glue. Make one disk from the two, a picture to either side. Place a stick between them. Rub the stick between your hands. Watch the disk as it spins before you. Can you see the bird fly into the cage? An optical illusion. The persistence of vision. A trick of the eye. Here is another disk. It is blank. I’ll draw a rocket on it and launch it into the starry sky. Here is one more disk. It is also blank. I’ll draw a robot on it, standing silently against a white background. We’ll stick the two together, the same way as before, making one disk from the two, a picture to either side. With a stick between them that we can rub between our hands. Count down to blast off. The rocket is launching. It spins between our hands and now the robot is its silent pilot.
‘Pull yourself together, why don’t you?’ the small, dark girl suggested. The sailor looked around him. The amphitheatre was gone. So was the four-square man. His shovel was leaning against the wall of the green metal container. Someone had kept on top of the shovelling, though. The line of games stretching away from the green metal container appeared to have disappeared. ‘What you need is some joie de vivre,’ said the small, dark girl. ‘Where are the games that will never end?’ the sailor asked. ‘Some joie de vivre and some aquavit,’ the girl continued. The sailor looked at her. ‘What do you know of aquavit?’ he asked. ‘I’m older than I look,’ the girl replied. The sailor shook his head. ‘Pour me some aquavit, then,’ he said. The girl laughed. ‘It isn’t as simple as that,’ she told him. ‘I just said that you needed some, not that I had it.’ Suddenly, the sailor understood the sadness he had witnessed once in a girl sitting at a table in a place that closely resembled his current location. ‘This is my sorrow,’ he said. The small, dark girl slowly pedalled towards him. ‘It could also be your joy,’ she said.
The small, round man, who smells of sweat, leaves a trail behind him. Papers and cards and objects in bags, reasons to return, reasons to exist. He places images of himself in prominent places. Like a fungus, he creates an unseen network of fibres, a web of life-sucking mycelia, hyphae that colonise and absorb. He has a set of keys cut for his own use, so that he can come and go as he pleases. He spends money that is not his, making himself seem generous in the process. ‘Liar,’ thinks the sister. ‘Crook,’ thinks the brother. The small, round man, who sweats and leaves the air smelling stale, dissembles. As he spins another yarn, his beady eyes survey how much of it has been accepted. He is here to visit a friend. He is here to support the mistress of the house. He is here to get away from the pressures of his home life. He is here to reconnect. His words are shown to be lies by his actions, though. He is here to extract as much as he can get away with. He is here to feather his nest. ‘Imposter,’ thinks the sister. ‘Con-man’, thinks the brother.
Last night I went to an event at work. It was a reminiscence and a celebration. There were people in attendance who genuinely remembered. There were people in attendance who merely wanted to observe. There were people in attendance who weren’t even born when the thing we were reminiscing and celebrating happened. They were the ones who interested me. They seemed to think there was something lacking now in the way people organise themselves and come together to do something that means anything. The man who was speaking about the thing we were reminiscing and celebrating spoke of a different era, although it was only twenty years ago. He spoke of a difference in communication. He felt that the ease with which we communicate things now, online, through social media, constantly updating, had nullified the need to come together in a space and create a happening. I wondered whether it also had to do with society growning more accepting of, or at least less willing to be shocked by, cultures and groups who some might say don’t fit the standard model. It might be that we know now that there is no standard model from which some could be excluded.
Finally, the sailor found his voice. ‘I HAVE NO DRUNKEN-NESS OF BEING!’ he shouted at the crowd. ‘I cannot justify myself to you. And what are you going to do about it?’ ‘He is rebelling,’ said the crowd. ‘He is expressing himself. Surely he is drunk on his own being?’ ‘Where is my drunken-ness of being?’ asked the four-square man. ‘WHO ARE YOU?’ shouted the sailor, grasping the four-square man by the lapels of his jacket. ‘Why are you shouting?’ said a voice behind him. The sailor looked down at his hands as they grasped at thin air, miming the action he thought he had been doing. ‘Are you drunk, are you mad, are you losing the plot?’ The small, dark girl circled him on her bicycle. ‘You again,’ the sailor groaned. ‘What hell is this?’ The small, dark girl stopped her cycling. She surveyed the sailor with her eyes that glittered like drops of jet. ‘This isn’t hell,’ she said calmly. ‘This is your sorrow and your joy.’ The sailor released the air that was still clenched between his fists. He felt tired. For the first time in a span that could not be calculated, he felt his weariness.
Suddenly the sailor became aware of a crowd. He and the four-square man were standing in the middle of an amphitheatre. A spotlight struck them from nowhere. When the sailor looked up he could only see blackness. There was no roof, no gantry where lights could be suspended. The four-square man stood blinking in the light from the invisible spotlight. ‘WHO ARE YOU?’ the sailor shouted. The muscles in his arms and chest swelled as he clenched his fists and pulled himself up to his full height. The crowd looked down on him. ‘Justify yourself,’ they seemed to say. ‘Who are YOU?’ said the four-square man through his letterbox mouth. ‘I am nobody,’ replied the sailor. ‘I am just a sailor, and I could have been so much more than this.’ ‘Where is your drunken-ness of being?’ asked the four-square man. The sailor could not answer at first. He wished he were back at the green metal container. He longed for his opposite. He felt sure that this was not the thing he was supposed to do. ‘Where is your drunken-ness of being?’ the four-square man asked again. ‘Justify yourself,’ said the wordless crowd. The sailor couldn’t find their faces.