You are adrift in a foreign country, of which you do not know even the name. You look it up in an encyclopedia; it is called Dystopia. You cannot read anything else in the book, which is written in a strange alphabet, like Cyrillic. Nor can you understand the signs on the shops or what people in the street are saying. Everything familiar has dropped away. You are as if abandoned in your own mind. Nevertheless, this place is also a simulacrum of a city you lived in in your youth, and you are able to use relicts of the map in your head to find your way to your sister's house. She is in the kitchen, with her woman lover. You want to break down and cry, and for her to hold you in her arms as once she did many years ago in another house in the city which this place resembles and is not. My life is very complicated, she says, by way of explanation. You leave without saying goodbye and go up past the shops at Three Lamps to catch the bus. No bus comes, so you start walking along the footpath towards K Road. You have no destination, you just want to keeping on moving. You lose yourself down this endless street, which extends further into the distance the longer you walk it.
IIYou are in the kitchen of a cafe called the Verona. Out the back in the yard your partner in crime, a misshapen midget like yourself, is being executed with machetes. You don't know what you have done, nor who these people are, only that they are chopping him up, and you are next. You take a burning coal from the brazier to light your way and run out the front door of the cafe. The night is grey and shapeless. You cross K Road and go down a diagonal street opposite. Once you are out of sight of the Verona, you pause and look at the light in your hand. It gives forth a reddish glow but no heat and now you see it is not a coal at all but a tiny skull, intensely malevolent. In the instant you know that it is futile to run any further: whatever you do, you will be dismembered in your turn. You stand there paralysed with fear as dark assailants drift down the murky street towards you.
IIIYou are unsheathing a woman from her peacock blue dress, peeling it slowly over her opulent white breasts, which spill out into your vagrant hands. She is older than you, beautiful, not so much shy as unused to love-making. Past the rise of her belly, you see a greyish-white stripe running vertically down the centre of the black mass of her pubic hair, like a blaze on the forehead of a horse. As you plough her crease with your finger, seeking and finding wetness, she gasps and says: My husband hasn't found that spot in years! You begin to worry that you will ejaculate prematurely ... the spasmodic thudding of a copious flow of semen from the vas deferens and on down the urethra into the sticky gap between belly and sheets wakes you. A pearly light is gathered at the windows, and the birds are beginning. You have a curious feeling that this woman is real and is staying, or living, in one of the nearby houses. You feel that she too is lying awake in a mood of post-coital sadness, somewhere nearby. Perhaps she is the next door neighbour who smiled wanly at you as she wheeled out the recycling bin full of bottles emptied by a houseful of drunken men at the end of last weekend. What if such phantasms are real projections? And such experiences true encounters? If she were your succubus, would you then have been her incubus? A pity you cannot ask your neighbour for her dreams.
IVYou go to one of your childhood homes to pick up the key to the mail box. It is built over and behind a Chemist shop on Main Street. Your mother is there in the kitchen, doing something, but you don't speak to her. You take the key and leave by the back door. Then you are on a train, going inland. As it approaches the place where you were born, you see old wooden houses gone silver with age. Over the rise and down the hill we come, there are many of us, converging, walking into the town. It is the return of the scattered. We mass, we come together, greeting each other. At a bend in the road is a massive, blasted tree, of enormous girth but almost without foliage. We are overcome with emotion at the sight of this tree. We are weeping. We have come home.
VYou are climbing in some red mountains, where the rock is folded like the grey sandstone outcrops on the hills above this valley. Coming to the top, you gaze across a limitless stretch of water where two seas meet. It is the place of leaping off of spirits. While you are looking out, the bowl of the ocean suddenly reverses, becoming one with the bowl of the sky, and standing before an immense void you are overcome with vertigo and fall fearfully into nothingness. You come to walking along a black shore where some fishermen and peasant farmers are lounging among boulders. They are French. You fill a wooden bowl with a steaming black liquid from their bubbling pot, and sprinkle black cheese upon it. With bravado, in the sight of those derisive peasants, you taste it. It's good. Then you hear a voice, saying the adventure is over and you must return. The mountains have gone a crusty, crystalline white, like snow. You cross over them without any difficulty at all and take the road inland; it is one down which you have travelled before in dreams. As it climbs past great fans of gravel onto a scrubby plain, you see ahead a coach and horses; there is a white hand, the same white as the mountains, emblazoned on the coachman's back. The man riding shotgun is keeping off wolves. As you struggle to catch up with the horses, you realise there are two wolves, both wounded, in a thicket of thorn bushes at the side of the road. They are a big shaggy yellow male and a smaller black female. Again the fear, so intense you have to wake yourself up to escape it. And, waking, you remember the red mountains, the black shore, the white hand and the yellow wolf, as if recalling a landscape from one of the further provinces of Dystopia.
VIA feast of poets, hostessed by a Matriarch—your mother!—to which one poet is refused entry. He is outside in the rain, denied the table where manna is devoured until someone who knows him arrives and brings him in. Wet, shivering, cold, he is a hungry ghost. His friends don't show. He can't explain, so he can't come in. Finally you (yes, you have been there all along) say you know him and that he is a dead man, he died of AIDS, but is a poet nevertheless. You go out, take his hand, lead him in and sit him down at the table. He is given bread and potatoes and soup, but he does not eat. He sits at the table in collar and tie, like a proper poet. Everyone is watching him. Soon, his friends will arrive. Then, perhaps, he will eat.
VIIYou are looking at paintings your sister made four years before she died—the dates are written clearly upon the backs of the canvases, together with notes, jottings, fragments of sketches. They are superb paintings on long narrow scrolls, richly patterned, quite unlike any you have seen in real life. You know she made and hid these works so that they would be discovered after her death; behind the great sense of loss you feel is another, more complex emotion: you have always thought that her untimely death was at least partly due to her inability to find a way of expressing herself, yet here are works that are complex, mature, fully achieved, which she could not possibly have made without knowing what she was doing. On the back of the last canvas is a doodle in which you seem to read your own name. Sensing a message, you lean closer, only to find the lines mutating into a scribble pattern, a dense tangle of black, a mare's nest.
VIIIA woman is lying next to you in bed, a pale boy curled up on her other side, gushing sperm. You are ranting. How dare she have another in your bed? How dare she!? She listens in her quiet, calm way. She listens and says nothing. She will not do what you want. She will not abandon the pale boy at her other side.
IXYou have come to interview a young woman. She is lying in a bed, wearing nothing but a man's shirt. You stretch out beside her, trying to conceal your erection below the edge of the bed cover. She giggles. Is that what you came for? she says. You smile and say nothing. She takes off her shirt: her breasts are small, pendulous, with protuberant nipples. She lies back, and you bend your head to lick between her legs. Everything is clean, pink and curled shut; she has no pubic hair. Her clitoris lies there like the little tongue on a cashew nut. She squirms when she realises what you are going to do, but she does not tell you not to. A panicky feeling, as of imminent, unwanted orgasm, rises, and you wake up. You have not come. You try to go back to sleep, but you cannot. You feel cheated, and you are, but only by yourself.
XA mediaeval artist with a Polynesian tattoo is whispering in your ear. He is trying to seduce you. He says that although he has ended up in a waka—that is, in a wheelchair—he still wants you. He says that you are beautiful, more beautiful than your mother or your sister. His friend, the expressionist painter, is ripping wallpaper off the wall in a derelict house, exposing Disney comics pasted underneath, the brightly coloured, banal images fading, peeling. The tattooed man is still talking. It isn't just that he wants to fuck you; he wants to slit your throat while he's doing it. His voice mutters on like the sea. His tongue flickers in your ear. You stay where you are. You let him.