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"Now I sleep beside the life-sized jar of embalming fluid where I store your naked corpse. I don't know why, but it reminds me of you"

by HP Tinker


A surprising turn of events overtook me, unexpectedly, like a "contemporary" narrative:

… yeah, well, I met you first in a Parisian brothel, right, 'round 9:30 pm. Maybe 9:45. You were a hooker with a heart of lead. Six years later (feeling down about having no money - none - and after looking into advertising with the idea of - for instance - using your face in an advert, for cash, approaching some agencies, not one being slightly interested) you said, "Look. You're worrying me. You're beginning to sound like a character in a modernist novel and I just don't like it. This is real life you're fucking with. Not just some idiotic stream of consciousness stuff loosely nailed to a postmodernist structure…"

We married the next day: me in a smart Catholic tunic, you with a submachine gun under one arm. We moved to Yorkshire, then to Fulham, then to the Orkneys. Largely because you said we had to. For the next seven years, I managed the local football team, working nights as an avant-garde DJ, alternating Be Bop records with Wagner. Yet I wasn't happy.

I needed to find myself, or at least somebody similar.
I told you I had to go out, buy some Marlboro Lights.
You were immediately suspicious. I didn't actually smoke.
Still, I packed up my kilt and headed south.

By mistake, I found myself in Stockholm, a beautiful city where round two-pin plugs are standard. It was raining and the streets thronged with lost sports commentators, asking for directions. I walked through the dark streets, surrounded by tall spruce and uptight rich bitches. After what seemed like minutes, I reached a broad square of shops and public houses, dimly illuminated by badly-maintained street lighting, into which many other streets converged also. The various quarters of the city were arranged around the square like working-class cake decorations. In the centre was a circular pool of water and in the middle, a small island.

On the island stood a lone magnolia.

Next to the magnolia, stood a white-haired Irish man whistling "Mr. Bo-jangles" to himself.

He said, "… one day, my boy, your mouth will speak of remarkable things: unusual women and as-yet-unnamed psychological conditions..."

Although I had no reason to doubt his words, I did not believe them.

After an awkward silence, he apologised and offered me oddly convoluted directions … which I followed precisely in the sheeting rain … until I found myself dripping in the foyer of a magnificent building where a woman in her early forties was descending a grand staircase. She looked every bit as hardened to life as Castro himself.

"Hello," she said, curtly. "I am Delilah. Head Mistress of the Minerva Academy for Advanced Pornographic Research. We've been expecting you…"

Delilah led me by the hand to the rear of a packed auditorium where a group of overweight naturists were giving a talk about the history and general benefits of pornography. Everybody was naked, except me. I immediately removed my clothes and studied an illustrated brochure:

  • Pornography was discovered by a shy Native American who kept the discovery to himself. He died 18 months later due to the incredible size of the smile on his face.
  • Johannes Vermeer first coloured-in pornography during the spring of 1672, quite by chance.
  • Lewis Carroll, a moderate drinker who disliked tobacco, found he enjoyed pornography so much he required medical help.
  • Pornography was first widely popularised by Al Jonson.
  • As a student, an impoverished Nabokov exchanged pornographic words for Chardonnay and olive oil in order to survive the British winter.
  • Aldous Huxley used pornography for research purposes, whilst under the influence of mescaline. In later life he used it at weekends and Bank Holidays too.

I took the brochure home, beneath my coat.

By August, I was writing pornography with the brute poetic force of a natural polemic where life and myth combine to form a disconcerting picture of the overall human predicament. It was an adrenaline buzz. Nobody knew what the fuck I was doing. My mother thought I was picking grapes, for Christ's sake. My pornography earned me long-distance plaudits from strangers. People telephoned about my pornography. Letters came praising its remarkable quality. When one arrived from a Venezuelan gymnast, I suggested a meeting.

Her name was Katarina.

She was tall and beautiful and resembled August Strindberg from certain angles. We spent the summer exploring award-winning multi-cultural restaurants of startlingly authenticity. "I'm an undercover anarchist," she confided to me and in an attempt to impress her, I travelled to Downing Street to blow up the Deputy Prime Minister by stuffing my pants full of explosives and embracing him warmly. Before I could implement my plan, two plain-clothed policewomen grappled me to the floor. I grappled them back eagerly and was charged with sexual harassment.

In prison, I studied A-level Surrealism. I drew inspiration from a reproduction of Max Ernst's Deux enfants menacés par un rossignol my mother smuggled into the jail inside her artificial leg. A tireless campaigner on my behalf, she wrote to Ted Heath pleading for clemency. He never replied, but sent her a Christmas card every year for the rest of her life. Eventually, she tired of tirelessly campaigning. I was only freed thanks to the efforts of Peggy Guggenheim, with whom I had established a passionate correspondence. Meeting at her penthouse, she had me in handcuffs before I even knew what was happening.

Something then took place I didn't understand.

In New York, Peggy introduced me to Marcel Duchamp. In London, Marcel introduced me to Max Ernst. In Barcelona, Max introduced me to Leonora Carrington. In Paris, Leonora introduced me to Conrad, her pet eagle. I was instantly captivated. Gleaming eyes. Teeth like porcelain. Delightful plumage. As for Leonora, she was a member of an underground group of militant intellectuals who opposed all forms of folk music. We met daily in the Café des Deux Magots with Breton, Tanguy, Peret, Belmer, Arp, freely discussing art, politics and the "magical mystery" of artificial textiles. Other artists such as Picasso and Dali would visit to try the bagels. Many revolutionary ideas were exchanged. None of which I could recall the morning after. Eventually I moved into Rue Jacob with Leonora, who had become a kind of sexual lover to me, a block away from Picasso in Rue Saint André des Arts. He was a small man with a fondness for children. We would watch him bouncing local girls up and down on his knee for hours at a time.

This period of my life was unusually idyllic and therefore did not last long.

Max Ernst got himself arrested for growing a pompous moustache and Leonora tripped over and fell into a nervous collapse. She set Conrad free and fled to the Pyrénées in her high heels.

She was no longer a kind of sexual lover to me.

(After touring the psychiatric hospitals of Spain, Leonora relocated to Mexico with a hard-drinking Irish hairdresser. She had finally found somebody as utterly abhorrent as her late father and so had sex with him repeatedly as an exercise in eroticised self-loathing.)

Meanwhile, I licked my wounds in Lisbon and Tangiers.

Then ate surprisingly badly in Madrid.

Next, the warm air of Dakar stang my lungs.

(I ignored Istanbul completely.)

Difficulties then ensued. I fell into abstraction. I travelled through complex textures, however dense and demoralising they became. I dug down, deep into the langue and parole of the situation. Words that once meant an awful lot to me, now held little or no meaning in my current context.

I came to a complete impasse.

I could proceed no further and decided to recapture the wonder and gaiety of my youth by chartering an ocean liner to a remote world of densely packed ice, snow, volcanoes, mountains, icebergs, glaciers, polar bears, seabirds, whales, seals … stopping occasionally to sample the spectacular power of the Captain's vermouth. Wandering out onto the pale blue landscape, it was hard to believe so many explorers had risked their lives to reach a place where there was so little to see.

"Were those heroic efforts really worthwhile?" I asked.

Nobody answered.

I barbecued a reindeer in silence.

Settling in Prague, I experimented with a new form of pornography, a radical cut-up pornography fusing unconscious revelation with aspects of traditional mythology and farmyard animals. I received complimentary letters only from perverts, lonely housewives, and Harvard intellectuals. Depressed, I drank my way into Rehab and came out dressed as a badly neglected housewife. By this time, the Russians had put a dog into Earth's orbit and pornography was widely available to the elderly on prescription.

Later, in 1972, pornography was nationalised for the first time.

Later still, in 1976, it was nationalised again, for the second time.

Pornography enjoyed great popularity due to the extensive modelling work of Bertrand Russell. Then became thoroughly unpopular again. Utterly penniless, I gained employment as a wine waiter in a Camden gay bar, where I became close friends with some of the people who would later form Dexy's Midnight Runners. And it was around this time I also met Remedios and it was through Remedios that I met Katy and Jose as well as Chiqui.

"London is dead," said Chiqui in that haunting Chiqui lilt of his.

I left London soon after.

(Chiqui was rarely wrong about these things.)

Then, when I saw you again in the Museum of Modern Art, shoplifting Dadaist memorabilia from the gift shop, I knew that a force far greater than my own derisory level of human understanding was at work. Then, when I said hello and you ignored me, I resorted to following you around Fifth Avenue disguised as a Rabbi. I made such a convincing Rabbi, I formed my own well-attended synagogue. Several years passed. Eventually, I had an idea. Using the telekinetic powers that had lain dormant since pre-pubescence, I levitated you into my apartment.

"Pornography hasn't been good for you," you say, from the cage I constructed out of chicken wire. "I think you have mislaid your grip on reality…"

"True," I admit. "Pornography has done me nothing but harm throughout my adult life…"

"Perhaps you can let me out soon…"

I smile.

I slap you around the face several times with a carp.

Months pass.

When I eventually add them up, they total years.

Now I sleep beside the life-sized jar of embalming fluid where I store your naked corpse. I don't know why, but it reminds me of you.

HP Tinker lives in Manchester where he has carved a niche for himself as the Thomas Pynchon of Chorlton-cum-Hardy. Born and braised in the North of England (circa 1969), his award-avoiding fiction has appeared in Ambit, emwriting, Code Uncut, among other places, and at 3am Magazine where is a semi-professional editor who writes about soup. Recently, he tripped up in public. Currently, he is incapacitated.

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