Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Ballrooms of Mars

penumbra . 6

It cannot be called a room really; he’d knocked the walls through into the rooms adjoining, creating the low-ceilinged cathedral of arches which he’d filled with the things he needed to sustain him, thereby creating, to some extent, his own personal domain. Anna-Marie’s eye catalogues and consumes her first encounter with shelter for longer that she cares to consider proper.
She takes in the self-centred organisation of the room with the tins of food lined up in the coolest corner along with bottles containing water in various shades of unclearness; she takes in the bed in the warmest corner where the firelight falls to illuminate, black barred windows against the grey night; she takes in the books, sprawled around the entire room as if they own the place, pages fluttering in the draft from the fire that sucks the cold air across the room and up the chimney, there to join the night where the moon shines down in torment of dead men.
You can call me what you like; corrupt; conceited; callous; misanthropist, maladjusted or murderer; but I will not be called a fool.
“You can call me all the bad things you like,” he replies to her accusing face as he removes the rag-scarf from his face, “but my name is still John Smith and your choices remain limited when it comes to who you shelter with. Your scorn is accepted as long as you keep it polite.”
His face, now revealed, is one at once familiar to her and shockingly less fleshed-out than she remembers it to be. Because of, or despite, the pressure of the past she finds she has no names to call him except fool; polite is good she sighs, John Smith it is – so what?
Outside the moon warps the street-light coronae into teardrops, excess light being sucked upward to feed an insatiable hunger. There are not many street lights left with light to spare, having either succumbed to the night mother or been vandalized by the dead men who see them as acolytes to their fearsome tormentor.
Inside John Smith gazes out through the barred window, his mind runs with the wet paint of all of the equations that explain the moon’s behaviour; equations that he had once scrawled across cocooned corporate chalkboards in outline of a utopian future.
Anna-Marie; curled cat-like around her plasma heater in the bed that he’d offered her out of something resembling gallantry; dreams of the Leviathan circling the planet, pulsing subsonic distress signals into the vast deafness of space.
John’s face shows only a frozen surface, like a photograph of a stormy sea, while behind his eyes he questions the weakness of allowing this damaged damsel-in-distress into his domain. What if she sells him to the Aristocracy; or worse, leads the Zealot to him?
He pictures himself as he was: self confident; a man with purpose. He remembers the rush to stardom, a few years between the boy-most-likely-to-succeed and the image known to just about every citizen of MantraRay. His reverie is shattered by the crescendo of a Leviptron making the flower delivery to the siding on the other side of the Great Station Hall. He watches it land on the moon-struck railway tracks, blowing dust and grit to obscurity.
They just keep bringing them in, tons and tons every day until, one would think, all Carpathia would become a desert.
That, he thinks, is a high price to pay.

As the only source of light, the fire seeks to disguise the room with shadows, contracting it to a scene of Victorian warmth and imbuing it with a certain domestic tint. But, like John Smith’s one-time dreams of greatness, the shadowy interior sulks yet, lurking and whispering rotten promises.
He finds himself now gazing at Anna-Marie and, unhindered by the normal to-and-fro of social interaction, he can take notice of her. He sees that, despite the harshness of circumstance and the brutality of the times, it is a face that holds on to its beauty; her hair, though streaked with grey, remains predominantly dark, her hands where they clasp the heater hold onto the memory of her artistic privilege, her eye, which he remembers to be pale blue, flutters projected dreams behind the lid. She has, he judges, that jutting lower jaw so common among the daughters of aristocracy, a jaw from which, smiling inanities, platitudinous, were once want to fall.
Ultimately and inevitably his gaze is drawn to the cavity, the wound, the eyeless void that gazes back, with nihilist accuracy, into the hollowness of his life.

Across the city, in a circle of extravagantly warm light; behind impenetrable black curtains; behind the inevitable night; they dance a paradoxical Charleston, all jitterbug hype and light speed abandon in the face of the abysmal divide between those within and those without.
Now, as before, the manner in which the city’s inhabitants face the world is determined not by virtue, but by the weight of financial influence.
This is the hall of true survivors; the bearers of currency beyond money itself. And who will question such power when wielded in a world where the currency traded is life itself. Not just the life of the individual but the lives of everyone and everything; not just Murder Inc but the Department of Global Catastrophe.
John often questions whether the aristocracy can yet be branded with the specie ‘human; he questions too how far he has climbed to enter into their sphere and where this has left him in the strata of branded specie.
He looks through the barred window and breathes the fumes that roil from the receding Leviptron as, flowers duly delivered, it ascends, no lights showing, dark against the grey night.
He finds his eyes returning again to the figure on his bed, the novelty of such proximity chips away at his, not unearned, paranoia. Anna-Marie’s upper body rises and falls in a rhythm slow and hypnotic, the plasma heater hums whitely, losing heat through the broken top panel.

Her dreams are elusive; they hide behind the receding noise of the departing Leviptron and the glowing warmth of the plasma heater; they occasion her sleep with glimpses of the past, heavy with longing, and even briefer flashes of the future: white petals on black snow.
But the future holds no room for sentiment; at the bottom of her glass lies the sediment of wild speculation and bygone certainties; for Anna-Marie now the only certainty is that she will never again drink to the ownership of privilege, never be the belle of that particular ball. Strangely, this does not give her cause for regret, for even though her life in the penumbra has not been an enviable one, she has become real for the first time in her life; real in the sense that she feels her life happening to her rather than unfolding before her behind a veil of provision. She has had to do unspeakable things in order to survive but now, here, in this place of relative safety, she puts those acts down to a process of accounting; a down-payment on reality; a kitty of reserves that she may draw on to finance her new future.
And she sees them in her mind’s eye, it being an eye that still experiences the world in stereo, how they parade themselves out there in the heated halls of the aristocracy.
as if they’re not made of flesh and blood and shit like the rest if us
She remembers how it was; the rules, the inhibitions against saying anything that might lead to litigation; the dead eyes. The irony does not escape her: she has one eye that sees more clearly that all the eyes in those heated cells combined.
And yet, and this she cannot conceive as irony, they still hold power.
Why do we conform to their rule? What do we have to lose other than everything? Do we, on some level of stupidity, still believe that they have something (other than power) that we do not?
Fuck no.
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Harlequin said...

what a total delight to catch up on my reading here on your blog.... marvelous stuff, Garth.

sorry for the couple of weeks silence.... i've been terribly ill and away from the blogosphere ( well, away from lots of spheres, actually!!) glad to be back and feeling better.

loved the bangkok, by the way. where do you find this stuff??

Garth said...

Harlequin: I obviously spend too much time loitering in the ether...