The Snowflake Collector – 6: A Snowflake Not Unlike Him

Some of the snowflakes came down in clusters, others in twirling jumbles, and others still in flighty twists, but he knew he needed a steady snowflake that was on its own, a lone snowflake, disentangled, unburdened, unencumbered, free: a snowflake not unlike him, a snowflake that had been gently descending along its unspectacular way through the world and was now ready to leave its most particular, most individual mark.

Such a snowflake soon caught his eye, as it approached, a little slower than some of the clumpier ones around it and a little faster than some of the ones that didn’t quite seem formed yet, and he held out his bare hand with the glass plate on it, and as if a little curious, as if attracted, as if called by this strip of translucence in its path, it settled, and lo: it stayed. Like a bed made for it, like a throne on which now to sit, like a home that was primed now and ready for it there to live, the snowflake accepted this destination and delivered its presence onto the plate, its intricate shape, its form, its identity kissed into the fast drying liquid.

The Snowflake Collector looked at his treasure in sheer wonder. My dear good friend, I can’t presume to know you, but may I name you Ferdinand. The snowflake did not object to being so named, and The Snowflake Collector solemnly took him inside, looked at him closely, as closely as he could with his bare eyes, under the light, and he dabbed one more drop of superglue over him to fix him and then lay another glass plate on top of Ferdinand, to protect him. Also, he realised, to encase him: his bed, his throne, was also his tomb.

A deep pain and anguish drove through The Snowflake Collector’s heart at this moment: am I committing a crime, am I stealing Ferdinand’s soul? Should he not have been allowed to ease himself onto the ground or the bench or the table, among his companions, and then melt away with the sun, seep into the ground, dissolve into his watery molecules and find his way back into the rhythm of the universe? Is my keeping him captive here now for as long as these glass plates will last not depriving his spirit from turning into something else, something different, but equally wondrous? Is somewhere in the cycle of nature something now missing, because I have named this snowflake Ferdinand and declared him mine own?

This so deeply troubled The Snowflake Collector that he spent many hours sitting at his table in his very small kitchen, not eating anything, not even Bündnerfleisch, and barely touching his Chrüterschnapps, wondering how, if ever, he could atone for this act of appropriation. Who am I, he thought, to claim such a beautiful thing? How dare I deprive it of its link to its past and its future? Is it not insufferably arrogant and presumptuous of me to make me his ‘master’?

He felt the abyss of despair open up its gaping void before him, and the urge to throw his third, his successful case for the snowflakes into the fire overcame him, but he felt no power to let go of Ferdinand. Could it be, he wondered, in passionate silence, that I am already in love with him? Has making him mine already made me his just as much, am I already—only hours after capturing him—entirely under his spell? And this is only one, my first one, how will I bear adding to him? Will he and the power he has over me not become so overwhelming as to be meaningless? Will he and his fellows, his peers, entirely take over? Will I succumb to their unbearable potency?

The Snowflake Collector did not go to bed that night. Slumped over the table by the flickering flames in the stove, he sat there, clasping the glass plates between which he had immortalised—by, he felt, killing—his snowflake friend Ferdinand, and when he woke up in the morning, the blood from his thumb where the sharp edge of the glass had cut into his flesh had encrusted his hand and the table and also the glass, and a drop of his blood had seeped in between the two glass plates, and so together with his first snowflake there was now preserved there also a drop of himself, and he said to himself: so be it. I shall surrender to the will of the universe, and if it is not the will of the universe, it is the frivolity of my imagination I shall follow. Ferdinand will forgive me. Or maybe he can’t. But I shall make his agony worthwhile: I shall share him with the world. And that way, maybe, he too, not just I, can have a purpose beyond our mere existence.

He put Ferdinand in his pocket and, still not having eaten anything, made his way down to the inn on the edge of the hamlet, an hour or so from his hut, and there introduced him—holding out his still unwashed, bloodied hand—to Yanosh.

‘Look,’ he said; and Yanosh took the plate from his hand and held it up against the light, and his eyes lit up with equal awe. Yanosh, after a minute or two of examining him took out his smartphone and photographed him with the light shining through him, and handed him back and asked: ‘what name did you choose?’

‘Ferdinand.’

‘I like Ferdinand,’ Yanosh said. ‘I’ll have to get hold of a macro lens for my camera, so I can take better pictures.’


< 5: He Had Abandoned the Notion of ‘Hurry’

7: Every Day Brought New Gifts Now >


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The Snowflake Collector – 1: Barely The End of October

Up at the end of the valley, the far end, before it yields to the glacier which reaches down from the mountain pass, slowly receding now with growing temperatures, lives an old man who looks at the world still with wonder.

He is not as old as he seems at first glance, and much older than his years all the same, for he knows. He knows, deep inside, what holds the universe together and what tears it apart, and what being these molecules, what being that energy means. He knows it but he can’t express it, and so he won’t.

He won’t talk about it, he won’t, in fact, talk about anything much, he appreciates silence.

When he was young he used to meet up with friends for a drink and a chinwag, and then it began to dawn on him that much of what he was being told, and even more of what he heard himself speak, was an array of variations on themes: things he’d heard said and had spoken before, in this way, or that, or another. Self-perpetuating reiterations of what everybody already knew and keenly agreed on, or hotly disputed, as was their whim.

And so he let go, he let go of his friends whom he loved but could no longer bring himself to like, and let go of the circuitous conversations that did nothing but remind everybody that they were still who they thought they needed to want to be.

He was tired. And being tired he got old, older than his years, older than his looks, older than the oak tree in the oldest garden. And he moved, once or twice first, then twice or thrice more; and each move took him further away from those whom he had been, had made himself feel, acquainted with. First to the country, then to the coast, then the foreign lands, then the mountains, then the valley, and then the end of the valley, in the mountains again: the remotest place he could find.

It was not that he was happy here, it was just that he was content. Content not to need to desire happiness any more. And here he sat and walked. Sat by the house he’d bought for very little, and walked over the fields and the meadows and up to the vantage points from which he could see the peaks and the woods and the villages, in the very great distance. He liked that distance: distance was space, distance was calm, distance was perspective. Unencumberedness. Distance was good.

Winter came to the valley, and it was barely the end of October, but going for walks was harder now because everything was covered in snow. And this being the far end of the remotest valley he could find, nobody came to clear the snow or pave the paths or even the lane that led up to his hut. So he was stuck, in a way, and he liked being stuck, it meant, in a way, being safe. Safe from visitors, safe from the desire to go out, safe from choices. The persistent demand of decisions, abjured. Simplicity. He’d craved that. And now, he had it.

What he was able to do still was to sit on the bench in front of his hut and watch the world go by. Except the world didn’t go by here, it stood pretty much still. Or so it would seem. And he knew, of course, that this wasn’t true, that nothing stood still, that everything was in motion, always. He found it comforting. Disconcerting too, but comforting; and he had said so. He’d said so and had been quoted as saying so too.

With each day that passed, winter became more present and more unreal: the snowflakes tumbling from the skies like clumsy, half-frozen bumble bees out of a freezer up in the cloud. There was something in him still that reminded him of the kindness of people, and he let one or two of these snowflakes alight on his hand, and they melted and ceased to exist. How sad, he thought to himself, how just and, yes, how poetic. And he recalled once upon a time being a poet, and that’s when he decided to capture and keep them. Not all of them, obviously, only some. And to collect them. To preserve them.

He knew this was futile and went against nature, but therein exactly lay the exquisite sensation of thrill and deep satisfaction. To do something that was futile and that went against nature, but that would be indescribably beautiful.

That was more than existing, that went beyond breathing and eating and sleeping and defecating and shaking in anger and dreaming and imagining and sitting and thinking: that was living. That was imbuing the accidental presence of clusters of mass-manifest energy in this constellation with something that surpassed everything, something divine, something purposeful and profound, something quintessentially and incomparably human: meaning.


2: His Task Would Be Immense >


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{Detour}

The incident with the van was unnecessary.

It never really happened, of course, but that, considering how unnecessary it was, may be just as well. I had found myself on the edge of a village called Checkendon, waiting for someone to pick me up from the Cherry Tree Inn where I had spent part of the night. The other, earlier part, I had spent in a converted barn making up words to no end. These words were then taken by four or five individuals of varying degrees of expertise, importance and relevance to the task in hand, and essentially messed around with, much in the way I don’t like. Since it was a job I was being paid to do and that I had no emotional investment in, I kept a half-pained smile on my lips and retained some other words within, unspoken.

By 1:30 in the morning it had been decided, by one person or another who was in some way or other involved with the project, that it was now time to call it a night. So Timmah swung on his motorbike, and I was given a lift by someone else to a B&B somewhere in the countryside, where, having had only three hours sleep the previous night, I immediately went to bed but did not immediately fall asleep.

Instead, I lay awake for a few minutes pondering what my life had come to and wondering whether Timmah felt, as I did, that it would be comforting and reassuring now to hold on to each other, to curl up in one bed instead of the two and to rest in each other’s arms for a while. The option existed of knocking on his door and asking him outright, but I was too tired, and also—as so very often before—I felt that doing so might just jeopardise our easy and uncomplicated friendship.

I woke up amazingly refreshed. I am not good in the morning. I do not get up and trill a summery tune. I do not sing in the shower. I don’t (at this point in my life) yoga and I don’t jog. The only time I get to see dawn is when I’m still up from the night before. But the job in the barn appeared to demand that having left there barely six hours before, we return and continue the dance of irrelevance. Timmah and I had a hearty breakfast which—it later turned out—I enjoyed more than he did, and he then swung himself back on his bike, while I waited for the shortish man with the blonde eyelashes to drop by and pick me up in his car, as he’d promised he’d do the night before.

This took a little longer than I expected because apparently he forgot, and so after breakfast I checked out and sat myself at a wooden garden table outside the pub, enjoying the early sunshine and continuing to ponder the stark insignificance of my own existence.

I was just getting to the point where I thought there’s only so much pondering you can do without anything actually happening, when a rather large man in a larger still van appeared, not quite out of nowhere, but still unannounced. He drove up to nearly as far as he could across the gravelled parking lot—otherwise empty—and purposely decabbed, opened the back, took from it what looked like a plastic tray of something or other and carried it to what one imagines must be the tradesmen entrance or the kitchen, his protruding belly leading the way.

What happened next is, of course, pure fantasy, but what do you do when you’re in the middle of nowhere, called upon to go back to the outskirts of somewhere to pursue the pointless depletion of your brain at the hands of a bunch of people you have nothing in common or store with (except, most certainly, Timmah) and who drain your soul, talking and thinking and living in terms of things that are ‘key’, when in front of you is a getaway van. Stuff in the back, probably food to last for a week, or at any rate something that has at least some sort of value, intrinsic or not. Engine running. Cab door open. Driver at least twenty, maybe thirty seconds off guard. Possibly more. He’d never dream of somebody doing what I did next. A few seconds passed. Tic. Toc. Toc. Tic. No sign of him yet. Cab door open. Engine running. I would be caught within minutes. Or would I?…

I peel off the pub bench on which I had perched and pick up my backpack, not very large. I take two paces towards the van, maybe three. No sign of the driver. What is he doing? Probably having a chat with chef. Or with the girl at reception, more likely. Twenty paces, twenty-four. Thirty. I’m not really counting. I step up to the door nearest me, passenger side, on the left. The slide across to the driver’s seat will be awkward. I unsling my backpack, when: ‘Oi!’

Large man looms even larger as he strides towards me red-faced with rage. For once, my brain cells don’t desert me. Cool as a cucumber I reach across the wheel and turn off the engine. Slide back down, re-slinging the backpack, and look at him frankly, as he approaches. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you might be a while…’

Fucking this bloody that and the usual, but my boldness, I believe, stunned him, into submission. He slammed the back shut, heaved himself into his driver’s position and, revving loudly, took off. He could have crushed me. Decked me or punched me. Nothing of the sort. He just made his departure loud.

I felt a little prouder that morning than I had done before. Not for infuriating a simple bloke, but for daring myself. Perhaps, I then thought, that’s my lesson today: perhaps I should simply adopt a more adventurous lifestyle and push myself further, a little, now and then, to the edge…

8 JoJo

Today is unusual in that it passes slowly. This is unheard of, more or less. For the third time in a row I look at the clock or the watch or the phone and I think, ‘ah, it’s not gone eleven; oh, it’s only just coming up one; hn, it’s not even three.’ Normally it’s, ‘what? six o’clock in the afternoon already, I need to get in the shower otherwise I’ll be late for the theatre the cinema the drinks or the dinner or sometimes the gig.’

But today I’m running early and that’s unusual and I’m wholly unrushed and wholly unpressured and really quite happy; the sun is out, it’s as hot as summer though it’s only April, and the time is barely two thirty in the afternoon. All of which is new.

The reason today passes more slowly than usual is probably because I’ve been up and functional since about ten, and the reason I’ve been up and functional since about ten is that I woke up about eight, and the reason I woke up about eight is that I went to bed about one, which for me is early, and the reason I went to bed about one is that in bed also was JoJo and I wanted to be with him, and that’s unusual too. (I’m changing his name here as well, by the way. Not that not doing so would land him in trouble, or me, for that matter, I don’t think, but I don’t know whether he’d want to be named and I don’t want to ask him because that would seem like making a big deal of things, and I’m not of a disposition to make a big deal of things generally, really.)

Everything’s a little different since JoJo’s arrived, three days ago. By coincidence, he arrived on the day Maxl departed, and within hours everything changed. Gone is the stuff and the friendly but heavy presence of a man who doesn’t really want to be here but doesn’t not want to be here either, who seems to lack all sense of humour but still retains a modest charm, who has brilliance concealed by sluggish thinking and earthy inaction.

Gone is the farmer who somehow found himself in a city, who almost by fluke made it to London and into my life where for a while I thought he ought to stay, but from where to know him departed I thank my angels, god, the universe and all that is in and around it, because after I previously had asked all of them for him, they have shown themselves wise and forgiving, by putting him there for me just long enough to see what that would be like, and then, without fuss or damage, taking him away again, no questions asked. Thank you angels, thank you god; universe and all that is in and around you: thank you.

JoJo is more than a breath of fresh air, he’s a tonic, a breeze to keep you alive and awake; and he’s done what I couldn’t expect he would do but still knew he would, he’s come back, if only for a few days, and so while we’re not sleeping together as in ‘sleeping together’ now, we’re sleeping together as in sleeping together, and I like him next to me in my bed and sometimes it happens that I snuggle up to him, and when he gets up at an unfeasible hour in the morning to go to work, I briefly stir, sensing him unclasp himself from my probably too firm embrace, and because the sun is already shining and I had a good dinner with him the night before, which he cooked, and because he’s the only person I’ve ever known to come and go like a cat, unperturbed, unencumbered, loyal but free, dictated by his external needs maybe more than by his internal wants but nonetheless appreciative of the shelter, attention and strokes for his warm body and reciprocal appreciation of his comforting presence I can offer, he wandered back into my existence, and I have no idea how long he’s going to be here for, but while he’s here I am happy, and because I am happy I like to be near him, and so when he’s home I go to bed early so I can go to bed with him, and because I go to bed early I wake up calm and rested even though I don’t sleep anywhere near as soundly as I do on my own; and the day passes more slowly than it normally does, and I think maybe the day passes more slowly because without knowing it or being aware of it or consciously acknowledging it, I am waiting for him to come back, and part of me wonders if that has a meaning, and an even more reticent part of me wonders if, should it indeed have a meaning, that meaning is that I am slowly changing, at last, and if that is the case then what, exactly, in turn, does that mean?

11 Death (Imagined)

I noticed I was dead when I saw myself lying dead in my bed, looking down on myself from a great height: there I was. Gone. A lifelong flirtation with significance, over. And nothing dreadful in consequence. No pain, no loss, no uncertainty. Just the remorseless ease of an expired existence. Of almost failure. Of having nearly been. Something or other. Someone? Then I woke up and realised that it had been a dream. I don’t like to say ‘only’, but it had been ‘only’ a dream. I had dreamt my self dead. What new joys. Wait on me.

It’s hard now to say what perplexed me more. Being dead (in my dream), or being alive (after all). But finding myself thus among the quick in a hitherto slow existence, I believed I had heard, and was minded to heed, a call for action: I got out of bed and made coffee.

Mug in hand I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, naked. I do that a lot these days, I examine my body. I marvel at it, not admiringly: bemused. I don’t look for blemishes or signs of decay, I look for signs of familiarity; for something that says: this is you. I don’t find it. The person standing naked in the mirror in front of me could be anybody. It’s not that I’m alien to myself or strange, just: unfamiliar. I’m roughly fifty and not beautiful. What I marvel at is not beauty. What I marvel at is the fact that I don’t recognise myself in the shape I’ve become. I’m not even unattractive. In fact, I may be more attractive now than I’ve ever been. And I’m not even sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure it’s a thing. Any more. ‘Attractive’. To what and to whom and to what end. Nevertheless, I’m a little alarmed because it seems late in the day to suddenly start feeling attractive. Alarmed but a little reassured too, because perhaps it just means I’m not over the hill. What is the hill? Going down is supposed to be easier than going up. What ride am I in for? Now?

Mug in hand I stand in front of the mirror naked, looking for signs of familiarity. The eyes maybe. Or the nose. Maybe the lips. I’m stubbly, and I like it. There. That’s something to hold on to: seeing as it is that I’m alive, there’s one thing that I’m happy with and that’s worth holding on to: my stubble.

I remind myself I am sitting opposite my young self and I had promised my young self – not so much promised, perhaps, as enticed him over by means of the prospect of – a question. My mind goes blank. The memory of imagining my own death, even just as a dream, and the image of my standing in front of the mirror naked, mug in hand and content that I have inexplicably become ‘attractive’, possibly owing to stubble (which has since grown somewhat into a near-mature beard), sends a shudder down my spine, and I put down my mojito too firmly.

‘George,’ I say, sensing that something – anything – is required from me at this point, ‘what are you doing in Istanbul?’

This is not, obviously, the question I’d had in mind for him, but then I can’t begin to conceive of what question I might have had in mind for him, and since it’s a question that is playing on my mind about myself (what am I doing in Istanbul?) I feel it is pertinent, or if not pertinent then perhaps justified, or if not justified then at least maybe useful, useful in as much at least as it might open the conversation and at this point in the proceedings (are these ‘proceedings’, and if so what are they?) I yearn for a touch of conversation.

I startle myself at realising I also yearn for a touch, his touch, any touch, some contact beyond verbal, visual, aural, and I want to place my hand over his in a fatherly gesture. I don’t. But there are now two versions of us sitting at this table in the garden of the Limonlu Bahçe: one, the ‘real’ one, in which he still holds his glass in both his hands and has his eyes not exactly fixed but nevertheless on it, whereas I look at him in my ongoing state of bewilderment, and one, the ‘imagined’ one in my mind where he has put down his glass and I have cupped my left hand over both his hands and I look him in the eyes and he looks back into mine.

‘Not exactly sure,’ he says – in one version examining the glass in his hands and twisting it slightly, in the other holding my gaze with a blend of confidence and the uncertainty his words imply – ‘I was doing Interrail with a friend, I had no intention of coming here really, but maybe circumstances conspired…’

I know at once that they did, even though I still don’t remember this scene from my past, and I am immeasurably relieved; he is, although he doesn’t know it, similarly displaced from his own reality: we are on the same page, more or less.

I imagine squeezing his hand and cupping my right hand around his neck and pulling him close so he can rest his head for a while on my shoulder, but instead I pick up my glass and lift it up to him and say, as if I had any authority to do so: ‘welcome to Istanbul,’ to which, in both versions, he too raises his glass and clinks it with mine and, once again gamely, says: ‘welcome to Istanbul.’

{Vibe}

What kind of a consciousness is it that knows itself to exist but doesn’t know why? In what way does that make sense? In what way does it not?

The quest.

The longing to learn.

The yearning for answers.

The learning to yield. If only my brain were better at retaining information. What is ‘information’? And when it is not ‘information’, what is it then, that we get, if we get it, at all? What, if anything, can be known, can be felt, can be appreciated, understood, can be experienced or imagined, or both? And is there, but is there a difference?

Remembrance of things past and future. The energy stream, and the particles. Obviously, the waves. The idiosyncrasies. Material flaws. Cracks that let the light shine through. Nonuniform irregularities.

Quantum behaviour…

2 The Sultaness

Shaped like a pear, she sits on the bed, doing make-up. Her skin is coffee-coloured soft, her eyes smile with secret knowledge, ancient and wise. She is twenty. Unrushed and unhurried she dabs the powder brush to her cheek; her legs folded. Her voluptuousness is contagious. In her lower lip, a golden ring. She looks like a goddess, and when she gets up, her vast midriff and buttocks bounce to the stoic rhythm of her stately gait. Gracious and large, she beams life into whatever sphere encompasses her. Gorgeous is she.

I remember her, as I look up at the waitress who is taking my order, who by contrast is gamine and lean and angular too. I appreciate her angularity more than I like it but then angular, so am I: assembled in the right way we two could make quite a pattern. But I am seated at a table on my own, still puzzled as to why I am here, and she with her dark brown eyes and dark brown hair makes me feel I belong here. (I have pale blue eyes and no hair to speak of, except in places where it flummoxes now and perturbs me.) I order a Turkish coffee and fresh lemon juice, and I’m given a moment to look at the menu and decide what to eat. I am ravenous which makes me think I maybe haven’t eaten in a while. How long does it take to get from Clapham Junction to Beyoğlu? I suppose it depends on the route.

My rational mind tells me there can be no Sultaness. Then again, my rational mind tells me I am in Kingston, Surrey. Upon the old river Thames. (It pleases me to call it ‘the old river’, though in truth it is unlikely to be older than most.) My rational mind is being irrelevant, I decide, and I order a hamburger with chips, because I am hungry and I don’t remember being a vegetarian, though it wouldn’t surprise me to find that I was. The Sultaness speaks to me now in perfectly formed elliptical syllables, and she says: ‘Nearly time to make our grand entrance.’ I understand her not.

I’m trying to remember the night before in the hope that this would lead to something: ideally some sort of explanation, or if not that then perhaps just a shimmer of clarity. The night before is a blur. I’d come back from Ibiza. I’d been playing water polo at three in the morning with some hearty Scandinavians in the pool. That much is certain. From then on in, nothing much is. I wonder where I’ll be staying tonight, but my burger arrives and puts on hold questions and queries alike.

“Our grand entrance,” she’d said. Are we in this together? I wonder have I still got my phone and I feel for it in my pocket, and there it is, no missed calls. No voicemail. No text. None new, that is, I’m not friendless. Friends! I could phone up a friend, I could call Michael or Richard or David or Sam and say: hey how is it going, what are you up to, have you any idea what I might be doing in Istanbul? My rational mind says that that’s the way forward, but having relegated my rational mind just a moment ago I feel sheepish putting it back in charge so inelegantly so soon, and I ask for some mustard instead.

The agency hasn’t rung to find out where I am. Maybe they sent me here? Unlikely, and also: what for. The fact that the agency hasn’t rung to ask how long I’d be before pitching up, allowing, one imagines, a note of disapproval in their voice at having to chase me rather than me informing them of my delay due to a detour via, erm, Turkey, bodes well and ill simultaneously and in measure that broadly compares.

If they don’t miss me, then I’m not in trouble for not showing up. On the other hand, if they don’t miss me, perhaps I have ceased to exist? Maybe I have never existed at all and am no more and no less than a figment of my imagination. I like the word figment and decide to use it again soon, but unpaired from ‘imagination’ to make it thus more particular, to me. The agency hasn’t phoned and it’s now what, coming up to eleven, but Turkey is two hours ahead, so that could mean that they might phone any moment; maybe I should call them right now. Or would that be overhasty, even drastic. Maybe the agency too has ceased to exist, or has never existed at all and is in fact no more and no less than a figment of its own imagination. (Ah yes, I walked right into that one.)

I notice that I have not run out of cigarettes and decide to allow myself one now, as the circumstances are clearly extenuating. The ritual of lighting it, the sensation of pulling in the warm air. The exhaling, with a lower jaw jutted out just ever so slightly. What obfuscates the atmosphere may yet purge the mind. My headache has gone, that’s a relief.

. . .

The Sultaness was first published in LASSO 5 – The Blackout Issue