:: Article

Dark Angel

By Laura Del-Rivo.

1. 1951

Sunlight sliced the room into triangles. The visitation by brightness lasted 20 minutes, then the light deadened, returning the landlord’s furniture to a solid state. The room enclosed the most of its tenant, Joseph Kuhlman.

His eyes set close together were the colour of holy oil or dirty engine oil; untrustworthy and fervent as a hip descendent of a tribe of lying prophets or psychotic visionaries.

He had bought the narrow black jeans from a shed whose location was passed by word of mouth.

Mr Angel’s shed was on a bombsite in Tottenham Court Road. A group of three lock-ups with corrugated metal shutters was set back from the permanent businesses by an area of rubble and rat shit in process or reduction to mineral powder. AAAble was a purveyor of paraffin and not new furniture. There was a café, The Ideal. The three traders daily set out their goods and tables. AAAble especially displayed wardrobes and armchairs forming temporary domestic rooms on the disintegrating ground where atoms came and went.

In the sky it seemed that modern jazz riffed the location of American style jeans to youth wanting to be cool.

Mr Angel was not permitted to hear the piano, wind instruments or hissing drums. He had bought the jeans because during the school half term his son had come with him to the wholesaler’s cigar smoke-filled cave under the arches of Liverpool Street station.

The same reflective London sky had shone on the substantial aesthetic of pigeon-hued masonry and the new insubstantial aesthetic which used the elliptical parabola of a flying saucer and the structure of an atom. The boy was undistinguished except that the irises of his eyes resembled cut and polished stones of turquoise.

‘Buy the jeans, Dad. I can help carry them home.’

Mr Angel was defrocked middle class in striped suit and Hombourg hat. His body was large and strong but unelastic; his fingers approached and prodded surfaces. He was cloudy and occluded, now unexpectedly popular with students who were respectful to him, speaking his name as if it was an honour and distinction because the new generation wanted to outfit itself from his trestle tables rocking on debris. Accordingly, Mr Angel moved his regular stock, of imperfect socks and ladies’ vests in pink outside, to the back while he waited optimistically, being a man of much complexity, for ruin.

Joseph Kuhlman deduced that AAAble was the source of his landlord’s furniture.

‘He treats his tenants like cockroaches, he wants to stamp us into the ground, well I will stamp him into the worn-out carpet he has provided me; it has bald patches worn by the furniture of previous owners. Then I will lock him into a wardrobe.’

For this he would need the help of his girlfriend who was fat. Kuhlman was undernourished. His jackal hunger was not satisfied by blocks of corned beef in yellow, lacy fat, or fruit pies containing diced swede in syrup. Although thin, he was dangerous because of his disproportionate reactions and his experiments in anti-clockwise behaviour. To be thus analytical was to be sociopathic.

To go out, Kuhlman wore a hooded jacket, the narrow jeans, and socks made up of towelling. The winklepicker shoes stolen from a Berwick Street market stall had seemed sharp but a rainy day had proved them made of painted cardboard, the product of a desperate East European country. The humped hood and curl of legwear to pointed toe gave a medieval prance and caper to his progress to the tube station.

Tanker had a pale moon face. Her skin was satin, her features peaked. Especially her left eyelid drooped; the eyelashes drowned downwards like the legs of insects. She was uneasy with the other girls in The Hole therefore if she ran with anyone. and because of her plumpness she ran slowly, she ran with the boys.

Kuhlman acknowledged her ability to make scenes with shop managers, ticket inspectors and others. He took the opportunity of confusion in shops to steal food.

She would already be waiting in The Hole because her subservience to him was a form of aggression.

Kuhlman’s parents had doted on his intelligence. However, in The Hole there were others whose chess minds roamed higher strata of the atmosphere, or who were graduates of subjects in which cheating was impossible. For his party he had dishonesty and fervour. He made a lists of books to read.

The squalor of The Hole was peaceful. It gave absolution. The café was formed of two cellar room beneath unsafe stairs. Some habitués might not have been admitted elsewhere. Others exercised their preference for filth over the clean homes of their parents.

Kuhlman and Tanker sat thigh-to-thigh. Hers were the legs of Venus, plump-kneed with slender ankles.

He said: ‘I’m going to kill the landlord when he goes to the furniture shop.’

‘Oh, can I come too?’

Those gathered on chairs and benches were an electrical engineer, a railway porter, a typist, an art student, a hospital porter, a milkman and a teacher.

The teacher said: ‘Excellent, comrade. Once the landlord is dead, the tenants can take possession of the house in the name of the workers’ commune.’

‘That isn’t my idea,’ Kuhlman explained. ‘I want to be a holy man. I want revelation. But how can that happen in a room where sunlight visits 20 minutes of the afternoon, which is filled with cheap brown furniture and a dusty carpet?’

The etiquette of The Hole was that all were equal and taken at their word. Thus, one describing himself as deity or royalty was addressed as God or King without ado. For this reason, all assembled considered the predicament of Joseph Kuhlman.

The milkman was youthful with a downy chin. His boyish brow was bisected by a crease from squinting at doorsteps and equations.

‘The timespan of sunlight is geometrically determined. There is therefore no profit in killing a landlord.’

The engineer, who stammered, suggested a system of mirrors which he offered to install in the interests of research.

The typist wore an antique velvet hat. She also wore a long tubular coat of black wool crepe. These curiosities might have come from a grandmother’s trunk. She had presence, but said nothing.

The railway porter, a simple soul, mentioned that he had bought, with coupon and postal order, some rose petals dropped by St Teresa from heaven.

Kuhlman insisted: ‘But the landlord has insulted me by renting me this hovel. I have been insulted.’

The hospital porter was a good-natured fellow, provincial in accent and clothing, who carried books in a shopping bag.

‘I agree with Dennis,’ he nodded to the railway porter, ‘that the problem is religious. In your spiritual condition, you should read William James’ Varieties of Religious Experiences or Heidegger’s Being and Time.’

The intellectual starveling, the famished jackal Kuhlman, wrote each title onto his list. He had a sensation of imminence. of a breakthrough about to occur if he could force these books into his brain by the dog leg-shaped theft of borrowing without return. Transcendence was a pilfer away, -God pushed through the tables. He was a tramp. ‘Buy us a tea.’

Mr Angel cogitated such subjects as ethics, business and digestion. Each lunchtime in particular in The Ideal Café, he pondered mutton chops whose rim of carbon-scented sizzling fat could be mashed into potatoes and gravy. Liver was cheaper. To eat liver would not ruin his business, or by progression, make homeless his son with the polished stone eyes. Unquiet in mind, he approached the counter, not knowing what words would be delivered, he sadly punned, from his mouth.

‘I’ll have the liver.’

Mr Angel’s cousin from Manchester entered The Ideal. ‘Henry! Let me buy you lunch.’

It was too late to change the order. ‘The usual’ had been confirmed.

Powdered coffee was spooned from a catering-size drum. Mr Angel now held a metal tray seemingly randomly, but actually by cause and effect, spotted by rust. On this, slightly unclean, tray was a bunch of cutlery and a thick white plate, also smeared, causing Mr Angel to wonder if the smear was on his own glasses or whether monochrome was a function or property of despair, because he had been tempted and then mocked. From the liver arose the odour of bile, of another animal’s digestion, of pungent clay, like the Plasticine his son had once played with.

Later, he sat in his shed prodding into place a pile of knickers that were peach, pink and eau de nil rayon bloomers to the knee.

His cousin told him of a family funeral to be held in Manchester. Mr Angel considered the proposition that he might recover the train fare by visiting the Manchester wholesale district. A small profit might even be made unless the propriety of God, more dreadful than the propriety of Mr Angel himself, demanded a loss.

‘Only for me, such perplexity. To others, it seems easy.’

The cousin said: ‘Is this the new schmutter? People wear it? Who wears it? The Teddy Boys? Or like in France, the South Bank?’

The cellar rooms of The Hole were filled with argument and cigarette smoke. Whenever the door at the top of the stairs opened, cold slid in. Several people wore the ex-Naval duffle coats released through government auction in Plymouth. A beautiful art student who wore an historic coat with big collars and cuffs like a highwayman stood on a chair.

The evening’s discussion centred on the international brotherhood of physicists, who in peacetime had lectured at each other’s Universities and had been as uncles to each other’s children, which had been interrupted by the war. The best minds had been pressed by their governments into competing against each other to make possible a nuclear bomb.

Kuhlman was bored and thrilled as into the night the hospital porter expounded existentialism, the milkman logical positivism, the teacher dialectic materialism. There was also a discussion about who among them was in love with whom.

God said: ‘Give us a fag. What, you only got Woodbines?’

In a ferment, Kuhlman left the café. He held the talk to his breast like a vial. Occasionally, he stopped walking to sniff its elixir. He could not equate his persecution by the looming furniture of his landlord with the persecution of beautiful minds that were not Aryan, Marxist or in the service of finance. Neither was London a post-war zone occupied like the city which manufactured cardboard shoes. He did, however, believe himself the victim of injustice.

For the funeral, Mr Angel wore the cashmere overcoat which had belonged too a deceased gentleman whose grieving but fashionable widow had demanded payment in clothing coupons. Mr Angel was in love with this overcoat because bespoke tailoring was the subject which he understood.

He locked his shed early in order to catch the train. On the area belonging to AAAble there reared up a mighty wardrobe with decorated shoulders like the epaulettes of an officer of Emperor or Czar. The gloved hand of such a marshal could signal a pogrom. Mr Angel therefore addressed the furniture: ‘I am innocent.’

The wardrobe contained two-gallon tins of paraffin which a customer was to collect.

Tanker said: ‘Are you sure that’s the landlord, not the tailor?’

‘The tailor doesn’t wear an overcoat and doesn’t look at wardrobes to buy for his tenants.

Besides, you can see his shed is shut. He’s not there.’

Kuhlman felt invulnerable. His eyes were pinned open. A shift, or sleight, of aspect had replaced the group of three sheds with a replica groups that was not boring. When he surveyed unblinkingly the overhead signboard AAAble, he saw a signboard identical, except that it was not boring. It was not interesting; it was null. Its existence could not affect him. He gazed dispassionately, as if from a commanding height. His peripheral vision noticed that a metal tray had been left or thrown out. The lights of a passing bus patterned it with winking eyes, but he did not need its complicity, as he did not doubt that to applause he would skilfully avoid treading on it. Nothing oppressed him. He could skate on thin ice, he could kill with impunity. He was the holy joker.

Had it been explained to him, in his exalted state, he would have respected the logic of a man protesting his innocence to a wardrobe. It had not been explained.

‘You’re not innocent, you louse, you bloodsucker, you rent me a room without light, I’ll push you in the wardrobe.’

‘Why are you so fat? You can’t run away quick enough?’

A week later, a police constable crossed the unstable wasteland, the bailroom of electrons, occupied by the three sheds. Mr Angel could not explain how a wardrobe had become the field marshal of Emperor of Czar. He had pleaded, been arrested, falsely imprisoned and soused in paraffin. The overcoat which he loved was ruined. Full of grief, he described the weighty slime of cashmere, the precision of the lapels, the lining of satinised silk, the pockets of velveteen. Conclusively, the button holes on the cuffs undid and did up.

The policeman said: ‘But who attacked you, sir?’

‘You can’t find such pre-war quality now. For example, my brother-in-law has a rag yard in Wapping. He has a Government licence to collect fabrics from bombed buildings. A machine compresses the rags into blocks, officially for mattress stuffing and blankets; can you trust not for overcoats? Life troubles and perplexes me, Officer, but I understood that overcoat and now I can never explain to my son, and God willing, his son, the thing that I understood. Customers require of me only American style jeans and imperfect socks.’

‘Now you mention it, in my job I need socks.’

‘For you, I’ll reduce the gents’ half hose by sixpence.’

‘And tell me who attacked you.’

Mr Angel must decide whether to protect his attempted murderer or to lose business during a trial. He retreated to the badger sett of his own complexity.

‘I didn’t see them. They probably escaped into Tottenham Court Road and down the tube station.’ In business dread and anxiety he repented the sixpence taken from the socks.

The sociopath Kuhlman would not take the teacher as his mentor because he, Kuhlman, was uninterested in class struggle. The ethos of toleration within The Hole was in his favour but he was contemptuous of solidarity. The hospital porter had provided a philosophically sensational reading list but no osmosis pushed the books, stolen but unread, into Kuhlman’s understanding.

‘I shall write a novel. Its title will be Dark Angel.’

The hospital porter was himself working on a novel, as were several regulars of The Hole.

Kuhlman bought a notebook whose black end boards reminded him of the false shoes.

‘I will show you the first chapter when it is done so you can help me.’

Kuhlman’s next room was half a basement. The back half was occupied by an artisan, a maker of lampshades. Kuhlman and Tanker had the front room, below the pavement. The meter of the gas fire took shillings at the turn of a metal butterfly. Kuhlman, who bitterly believed that theft from an owner of property was revenge, therefore permitted, burgled its coinbox, but the flicker up the friable incandescent brick was insufficient to heat the room. As in the previous room he was appalled by the intractability of matter when matter took the form of furniture. In paranoid, self-justifying manner, he paced the room screaming:
‘Vile! Vile! Why is the wood varnished in treacle? I have the right to protest against such poverty and wretchedness.’

The lampshade maker, a Buddhist in his own right, was undisturbed by his noisy neighbours.

Kuhlman soon decided that Tanker was too stupid to be the companion of genius. An example of her stupidity was that while he was trying to write, she washed her jumper. She washed, rinsed and wrung the jumper in the little corner basin where they also washed up, prepared vegetables and made their toilettes. The cotton floral skirt of the basin curtained the shelf where they stored their little food.

Finally, she hung the sheep-smelling thing of wet wool over the wire guard of the fire and spread newspaper to absorb the drips.

Kuhlman awaited each drip. Then he threw off the blanket in which he had been hunched and went out to buy milk and soap. He was embittered by the stupidity of everything and by the smugness of shopkeepers who used the Sunday Trading Law purposely to thwart, frustrate and humiliate him. Finally, he descended into an underground public lavatory, where he stole a bar of soap, also public, that smelt of gardenias.

On the way home he noticed that the corner grocery which he had first tried was now closed. He kicked the door, making a crack shaped like a river delta.

‘I am Kuhlman, criminal of the gas meter, thief and murderer. Now regret not selling me soap.’

When he entered the basement, Tanker was cooing childishly to the douce maker of lampshades.

Kuhlman put the pint bottle of milk on the table and went out again. He rode the Piccadilly Line to Hounslow West from where he walked to the roundabout of the A30. The ex-hospital porter, having received an advance from a publisher, had given up his job and moved to Cornwall. Kuhlman would hitch hike there. His pocket contained a publicly owned bar of gardenia soap. He was a dangerous literary jackal.

Only when running for the lorry that had stopped for him, he realised he had left behind the black notebook.

Part 2. 1981

The arterial Ladbroke Grove had an edgy charge of sirens and danger; confluent Portobello was raffish; however the criminal and arts cultures were outweighed by pedestrians with shopping bags. Psychopathy was barely sufficient currency to squat a room in a house iced with stucco. The basement had been filled in with breeze blocks. All the other rooms were squatted.

He was now a figure of barefoot messianic shabbiness, trailing a coat which had belonged, after the camel, to a man richer and less emaciated than himself. His sandals of desert pilgrimage had been cut from rubber tyres. He inappropriately released nervous energy in rapid blinking or facial spasms. These tics did not occur when he was focussed, for example, in painting his room white.

He scratched his arms. ‘Fair is fair. I pay no rent, but I seem to be a hostel for unwanted insects.’

He formed the custom of going out early to walk through the market. The traders in fruit and vegetables, whom he defined as autonomous, used their freedom to impose on themselves rules and habits, one of which was to arrive between the shafts of iron-wheeled barrows before shops opened. On days of national significance, each absolute governor of a pitch demarked by white painted lines hung from his or her barrow the flag of St George.

The arriviste, not hereditary traders in other goods, did not hit the kerb until about 8am, when they threw from their vans sacks, plywood, metal struts, clothes hangers, dirty plastic sheeting, stepladder, mirrors, etc, which took an average one-and-a-half hours to assemble into a business.

On one such expedition, Kuhlman heard a woman screeching.

She had been fat with mousey hair. She was now a skinny bleached blonde with amphetamine eyes like flies. She wore leggings of ice blue, stretch fabric threaded with lurex and a brief jacket of flossy pink fibres of synthetic monkey hair. She was viciously struggling in the doorway of the supermarket with a security guard who was attempting to search her bag.

‘Take your hands off me, fucking rapist perv!’

Kuhlman thought that she had been his woman but was uncertain which one. He told the guard: ‘I work for the BBC. Is this how our viewers will see you treat your customers?’

Tanker ran instantly, but as before, slowly. He caught up with her round the corner, where she clung like a butterfly to a dirty wall. The man now with her, of the mixed race generally described as black, was of an age to be her son but was probably her lover.

Kuhlman asked the man: ‘Where’s the place?’

‘You could try the Golden Cross.’

‘Thanks, man. We’ll see you there later.’

The man said: ‘Laters, Marian.’

‘Laters, Shane.’

Leaving with her, Kuhlman asked: ‘Is Marian your name?’

‘Sometimes. I’ve got to get my gear.’

‘All over.’

Kuhlman quickly understood that she was one of a tribe of white women to whom the streets were a hotel, gypsies with the rights to a bathroom in one place, a bed or a cupboard in another. At one address, a Guyanese man equably handed over a bag and a jumper. At another, a Scottish redhead said: ‘I know you’ve got my fucking bra, you’re fucking wearing it.’

‘I want my Ribena and my clean knickers, fucking ginger skank.’

‘Do you really work for TV or was it a blag?’

‘A blag. Where now?’

‘Shane lives with his Mum. She lets me stay in his room.’

Near St Charles hospital, they entered a row of new council houses, each with a small garden. In a steamy kitchen, a statuesque Irishwoman with badger colour hair was filling in a magazine quiz. Under her shawl she wore a man’s navy tracksuit with the logo of a sports brand.

Tanker said: ‘I’ve got you some stewing steak, babes. Do you need cigarettes?’

Shane’s mother said: ‘Oh, stewing steak. Thank you, Marian. No, I’ve got cigarettes. Are you going upstairs?’

‘Yes. This is Kuhlman.’

‘Will you make him some tea?’

Shane’s bedroom smelt of cannabis and laundered polyester. A football poster was over a single bed.

Tanker’s lurex threaded leggings were soiled with grey frost at the knees. She looked rough in shoplifted chic. She smelt of a perfume oil she said was patchouli.

He said: ‘Did we live in a basement?’

‘Where we lived?’

‘Yes. I was writing in a black notebook.’

‘Not much writing. Plenty of talk.’

‘What happened to my black notebook?’

‘I expect you took it with you when you fucked off without telling me. Got any skins?’

She had a manner of tripping over words in a spoken scribble. She was itchy; she picked at herself. Recognition of the discomforts of use altered and made easy footing on which they stood.

He said: ‘No, I didn’t take it to Cornwall. Where is it?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Yes you do.’

‘A boy came. Or I could ask Shane’s Mum.’

‘What boy?’

‘I don’t know how old boys are. Eight. Thirteen. He had beautiful turquoise eyes. He said you’d sent him.’

‘Did you believe him?’

‘Not especially. I’m taking your last ones.’

‘Did you give him my book?’

‘Probably. Don’t keep asking me things. You sound like a white man.’

He noticed that this remark was witty. It contained three pieces of information; that she now preferred black men; that she would consider him an honorary black man; and that this privilege was contingent.

He said: ‘So you never saw my book again?’

‘Yes! I did! The book was pushed through the letterbox soaked in paraffin. The boy was trying to set us on fire, babes. The lampshade man kicked the book into the area. Two fire engines came but the fire was out by then.’

The holy prophet Kuhlman knew that his book of fervent second-hand philosophy was sufficient to burn a house and rejoiced.

‘Have you got any money, Kuhlman. We need a bottle of Blue Nun and some cocaine.’

‘We’ll go to the Golden Cross.’

On the way, he recited the fame of the hospital porter, now a philosopher; the engineer, now a physicist; the girl in her grandmother’s clothes now a novel writer.

‘Of everybody in The Hole, I haven’t had satisfaction.’ Paranoid, oil-stinking, jackal pissing Kuhlman with no satisfaction. ‘I’ve suffered, I’ve made other people suffer, to get this bird to alight on me.’

‘What bird?’

‘The bird that alights on people but only shits on me. Can’t you see, I’m covered in bird shit?’

‘You’re mad, Kuhlman. What’s it called, this bird?’

‘It’s called grace, or genius, or transcendence, or revelation.’

He was in possession of a woman who seemed friends with, or tolerated by, all the black men outside the betting shop.

On Saturdays, the market had legendary or mythical properties. Costumes in shop windows and on passing girls streamed together to the effect that leopards and zebras, also pink monkeys, were cantering in fluorescent colours through the crowds.

The shop Angels was signed by a neon angel.

Morris Angel was adequately, but not exceptionally, handsome and thickening, but not remarkably so, at the waist. His eyes resembled pebbles of semi-valuable turquoise. Angels sold clothes and accessories, such as T-shirts and leg warmers, which were on the breaking, or current news of fashion and of a quality somewhat above trash. Dayglo price placards razzmatazzed bargains which were not so cheap as to downgrade the articles to those of copyists further down the chain.

Moderately hard geezer Morris Angel was famous for a gangster revenge act involving arson; for establishing that the rag trade belonged not to old men with cigars but to the young; for being the first of his contemporaries to wield a brick-shaped car phone; and for the slogan: New stock every hour.

Morris Angel did not recognise Tanker from the past, but monitored the fifty’s, skinny blonde because he distrusted her noisy insistence that she had paid for her pink monkey jacket. He had discussed with the staff banning her, but she sometimes lurched against the rails, hooking up glittery things for which she paid with fistfuls of shakily held notes.

‘Here babes; all this.’

Mr Henry Angel faltered into his son’s shop and was held in a crossfire of acoustics and lights.

‘Is that the firing squad? I am innocent.’

‘Of course you are, Dad. Come into my office. I’ll send out for coffee and gateaux.’

Mr Angel was to be driven to the house of his son and daughter-in-law to see his grandson.

Absolute love had been born in Mr Angel the moment he had beheld the newborn, squinting, scalded by the birth process, sprawled like an amphibian on the beach of life.

Thereafter, Mr Angel was allowed to visit once a fortnight. Whenever he held his adored grandson, the infant bawled. Mr Angel lamented the skill of being which others found so easy. Even a baby sensed his disqualification.

‘I wander in the wilderness. For my grandson, my darling little fellow, I should open a Post Office Savings Account.’

The white cube room was now inhabited by Tanker, Kuhlman and the insects which infested and bit his arms. His tolerance of these real or imaginary parasites was Franciscan. All life forms, all pestilences except humans, had rights. He refused, however, to own any furniture to come between him and enlightenment.

‘Joke, ha, ha. How will I know if I am enlightened?’

‘Well I won’t sleep on any floor, babes, unless it has a carpet. I’m off to Shane’s.’

Kuhlman had described the market traders in the manner of generalisation, like a writer of fiction. He had ascribed to them the motto: ‘My barrow, my rules’, together with patriotism. If, however, each statement was tested mathematically or linguistically, for its bare truth, the observation would be reduced to: ‘On at least one occasion, during the period of any observation, at least one barrow displayed a piece of white polycotton bearing a motif which was possibly, when not distorted by the wind, a red cross.’

If the observation was magnified, the colour red would be describable as a wavelength, which he looked up in his Penguin Dictionary of Physics: 740-620 nanometres. At this degree of magnification, the context of flag and barrow would dissolve into confusion. The anti-confusion trick was to adjust the magnification to the level at which buying and selling, favourite TV programmes, timetables and politics came into the focus best suited to the human brain. For the convenience, protection and propagation of humanity the view of the multiverse must disperse to give value and importance to the opening hours of a supermarket.

He worked out that we inhabit a fold, or pocket, of limited information, with eyesight for use and pleasure, but that sight protected from bombardment by electrons and galaxies. The past could be remembered, but not the future. Some people therefore experienced unease. The confidence trick that sustained their existence was nevertheless a confidence trick. Joseph Kuhlman was not the only paranoiac.

The patchouli oil which Tanker used reminded him of a carnivorous plant in the greenhouse at Kew. The plant had been labelled, explaining the rarity of its flowering and that its putrid smell attracted corpse-feeding insects. The smell of patchouli was not, of course, the smell of putrescence. What the two smells had in common was that they glued themselves to touch. Already, his fingers and clothes were contaminated with patchouli. Tanker said it was an essential oil sold by Indian stalls on the market.

‘Do any of them sell black notebooks? I’ve had some interesting ideas. I believe I can prove I’m not paranoid. A conspiracy exists to make us believe the world is real.’

It being Saturday, many fashion stalls were out. Some traders used mannequins. Egg shapes of polystyrene granules wore woolly hats. The legs for tights display were expensive because rounded but torsos, being shield shapes that stacked flat, were cheap. Kuhlman did not examine his own actions as good or bad, but as events to be licked, sniffed and tasted. A quality of plastic was lack of quality, specifically smell, to prove which she sniffed the underside of a female torso, wearing a lace camisole, that swung from a butcher’s hook, and found no tinkerbelle urine scent, no fish, no rectal B vitamin.

Years ago, he had not understood the books appropriated from the hospital porter, getting only as far as the opening chapter of The Varieties of Religious Experience. The narrative was simple and in the original, had beauty. The subject Fox had been told by God to walk barefoot through the market place, crying: ‘Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield.’

A market with its co-ordinates permitted and not permitted sheltered the weak-minded and the mad: employed and unemployable. Kuhlman himself had shed the coat of punctured bald camel to earn handouts for pushing barrows and carrying shoeboxes to a van. Had not his inspiration about multiple realities and the turning of reality up and down, which made everything more interesting, started from a football flag on a barrow?

Tanker, with her soliciting eyelid and now grubby pink monkey-hair, beckoned him from a stationary stall.

‘Look Kuhlman, here babes, black notebooks.’ She was snatching at and disarranging the books to cause confusion favourable to theft.

To sustain his shaky employability, however, Kuhlman raked his pockets for coins while snorting the cover of the book he had chosen. As before, a property of plastic was lock of property but he inhaled the potential for heat and combustion which was implicit in its matrix oil.

The trader recognised him as helping on a shoe stall and gave him a discount.

‘Inflammatory,’ Kuhlman explained. ‘I will write something inflammatory.’

Laura Del-Rivo
was an associate of Bill Hopkins and Colin Wilson, who described her The Furnished Room as “one of the significant novels of the 1960s.” Unsurprisingly, she was convent educated but the call of Soho parties was stronger. After many jobs, including working as a bookseller, a Lyons’ counter hand and an art-school model she started running a market stall in Portobello Road, where she can still be found. Her other books include Daffodil on the Pavement and, more recently, Speedy and Queen Kong.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, August 31st, 2012.