The mannequins are here again

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The mannequins are here again. I can feel them throbbing in my ears. They’re standing around in the kitchen, impassive as stone. But inside they’re laughing. I’m not getting out of bed for them, not this time.

My watch says it’s twelve o’clock. I don’t know if it’s midday or midnight. The sun and the moon look the same to me.

Everything’s the same really, if you think about it. A table, a horse, a joke, pity. All the same.

I can hear the mannequins talking now. Their voices are like embers. I don’t know what they’re saying.

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I’m having a bad, bad time. Whenever I shut my eyes I see myself as a foetus, glowing in the womb. I’m incomplete: my hands are drippy and my song is lost at sea. Even my valves and pistons don’t work properly.

The obvious solution is not to close my eyes. But I have to blink now and then. I’m sure you’ll appreciate my predicament.

The mannequins have become suspiciously quiet.

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Yesterday or the day before or some other time, I had a visitor. She appeared in the doorway and smiled at me. I shone my torch at her, moving the light up and down, to try to work her out. She wore a green dress that made me think of reptiles. She asked if she could join me, so I moved to one side and pushed back the duvet.

I may have fallen asleep at that point. Either that, or we had sex. Whatever happened, she disappeared afterwards. First she was there, then she wasn’t. But she left her green dress on my bed. I picked it up to throw it on the floor and found it was sticky and brittle, like shed skin.

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I feel as if I’m in a forest. The stripy wallpaper is probably to blame. Sometimes I’m scared. A wolf’s paw rests on my shoulder.

The mannequins in my kitchen will be eating toast now. They’re welcome to it; I don’t even like bread.

My room smells of rotten eggs. I’ve no idea why. The stink would make you gag, if you were here and not elsewhere or six feet under or nowhere. Actually, I quite like the stench, which I consider a charm to ward off evil.

Something’s rustling in the dead leaves.

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Everything in this room looks like an old photograph. Mum and Dad are probably sliding around in the shadows somewhere, their cracked heads leaking red wine.

It’s a good idea to have a book to hand, to while away the time. Not that I’m waiting for anything. You know what I mean. It’s just sensible to have a book, so you can look at words and wonder at their odd shapes and try to fathom their meanings. Stops you thinking about other things.

Mind you, when I was little I fell into a book and was lucky to get out alive.

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Memories trouble me. There are three kinds: memories of things that have happened, memories of things I think happened but didn’t, and memories I invented to amuse myself or cheer myself up or give myself something to be sad or angry about.

I can never tell which category a memory belongs to. Probably doesn’t matter. Memories are stories or disconnected parts of stories, and we all need stories.

Here’s one: I’m walking along a shingle beach under a thin veil of cloud on a warm summer’s day, when I come across a set of false teeth. After I’ve kicked it into the sea an old man with a bleeding mouth walks past.

I often find myself laughing for no reason.

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There are seagulls on the roof, screeching like a Punch and Judy show. They’re probably in cahoots with the mannequins.

Something’s moving among the trees or the stripes in the wallpaper or the bars of my prison.

It’s difficult not to feel uneasy.

—–

This is an excerpt from my book In the Dark Room.

It is available from Lulu and on Kindle (UK) (US). There is also a deluxe colour paperback version available here.

Texts and images copyright James Knight. All rights reserved.

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The birth of modern music

The Bird King’s favourite piece of music is a forgotten masterpiece by Hector Berlioz, the rousing Symphonie priapique.

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Mahler wrote the last movement of his 13th Symphony (a funeral march with braying donkeys and laughter) before he’d even started his first.

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Debussy is known for such mellifluous tone poems as La mer. A less celebrated work was La foule hystérique for demonically possessed choir.

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Igor Stravinsky intended Le Sacre du printemps to be performed by headless musicians. Unfortunately the idea was never realised, though decades later John Cage was to employ a decapitated pianist in 4’33”.

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A deleted passage from the draft of Varèse’s Amériques was scored for orchestra, vacuum cleaners, car horns, thunder and crying babies.

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Steve Reich wrote music to be performed in zero gravity, for example Monotony for violin, in which the musician plays a continuous E, stopping only when all the sand in an hourglass has fallen from the top bulb into the bottom, i.e. never.

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Iannis Xenakis’s best orchestral work is Chthon, performed 1000 metres under ground, the audience being above ground and out of earshot.

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With thanks to Sean Fraser for supplying the John Cage material.

Writing In the Dark Room

Seven years ago I started writing a novel. It’s still unfinished. The story is alive in my head, though I’ve been incapable of writing more than fragments. I haven’t got much more to show for my efforts than the 2000 or so words that Leigh Wright published in Wyrd Daze under the title Blackouts.

Writing my novel should be easy. The story is very simple and clearly mapped out, and lends itself to the terse, fragmentary style in which I tend to express myself. But I can’t write it, precisely because I’ve already planned it. Writing In the Dark Room over five days in July this year has taught me that.

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In the Dark Room began as a vague idea. I wanted to write in the first person, from the perspective of a character for whom the normal categories of the real and the imaginary are meaningless. And I wanted to use my own digital artwork to generate or provide a starting point for each brief chapter. Since April this year I have been collaborating with Mexican artist Viviana Hinojosa on a piece called House of Mirrors, writing in response to her sumptuously inventive drawings. For the most part the words have flown because every response I write plays freely with elements of Viviana’s drawings and has no plan to adhere to, no target to aim for.

It’s only when I’m not trying to write that I can write.

So I decided that there would be no plan for In the Dark Room, beyond writing in the first person and allowing the words to go wherever they wanted, having used pictures made over the past year or so to set them on their way. I chose forty oneirographs (digital dream pictures consisting of layers of heterogeneous elements) and started writing.

The words came very quickly. Motifs explored elsewhere in my writing (for example dreams, forests, doubles, mannequins, the Bird King) found a natural way in. To my surprise, so did some autobiographical elements and memories from my childhood. Equally surprising to me was the emergence of a rudimentary plot. In not trying to write my novel I managed to write a novella, of sorts.

In the Dark Room is narrated by a bed-ridden man besieged by dreams and memories. His words are addressed to a nameless woman who may have left him or died, if she existed in the first place. He talks about his family and his room (by turns a bedroom, a forest, a prison cell, a box) and obsesses about the mannequins who have invaded his house. Maybe he’s mad or asleep or in Hell. I don’t know.

I’ve issued the book in three editions: an ebook for Kindle, a cheap paperback with black-and-white reproductions of the oneirographs and a deluxe paperback in full colour. You can buy it here (UK) and here (US). Or read some of the reviews, by Abbie Foxton, Kate Garrett, Susan Omand and Mina Polen.

The Kindle edition will be free this Bank Holiday weekend, on Sunday 24 and Monday 25 August.

Management by numbers

The Managers are numerologists. They convene secretly to pore over papers and touch screens streaming with mystical figures. However, they have not mastered the numbers they fear and revere. When the statistics roar at them they tremble and perspire.

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In the sacred space of Meeting Room D, the Managers make human sacrifices to propitiate the terrible gods Profit and Performance Target.

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The Managers pray for Mammon’s Orgasm, the prophesied moment at which sales figures peak beyond all rational forecasts.

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The Managers decorate their fluorescent tube-lit temple with such hallowed iconography as bar graphs, dollar signs and motivational posters.

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Occasionally the Managers need to instruct those beneath them, so they employ their hieratic tongue, trusting it will have the desired effect, burbling the sacred phrases whose meanings are presumed lost: “blue sky thinking”, “close of play”, “let’s action that.” The blank looks with which they are greeted don’t discourage them; they assume the power of the words operates on the soul and will manifest in some mysterious but beneficial way before their next pay review.

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The Managers won’t tolerate failure, even in each other. Unsuccessful Managers are ground into pâté and served with champagne and canapés at company functions.

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The Bird King in Love

1

The Bird King has fallen in love
with a radiator.

He adores
her pockmarked skin,
her neurotic arias,
her coldness,
her impulsive warmth.

 

2

Tiring of his dalliance with the radiator,
the Bird King woos an armchair.

She’s amply upholstered
and groans dreamily
when he sits on her.

 

3

Now the Bird King is dating
a pair of curtains.

He strokes her yielding folds,
gently opens her.

But already he’s eyeing up the blinds.

 

4

The Bird King’s amorous capriciousness
reaches delirious heights.

In one week he makes love to
a toaster
a lightbulb
two carpets
a pet shop
a fruit bowl
a political rally
a helicopter
a heart condition
a daydream
half a dozen eggs
a swimming pool
an illegal transaction
a murmur
a cancelled West End show
a sock
five heads of state
a wart
a sneeze
a planet
and a mirror.

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This piece was originally part of my long poem, The Death of the Bird King. I have added new lines to part four.