Sunday, 5 July 2009

THE HOOP CYCLE by D F LEWIS



The Hoop Cycle

by D F Lewis


(1)

The apple orchard was a gorgeous aid to sight, floodlit as it was by a high hot sun that seemed unnaturally to focus its beams upon the ranks of trees to the detriment-in-darkness of the gutter-heavy houses around the orchard.

The orchard had long become an oasis of shimmering fantasy-within-reality when, one day, from the houses, a little girl entered by the click of the orchard's gate bowling a wooden hoop over the smooth grass.

Sometimes, the hoop's course met a wormy windfall and it toppled over, only for the girl to pick it up and continue rolling it beneath the golden apples, apples unpicked or unfallen, delicious-to-see or hiding their maturing flavour shyly to taste themselves, with their thump-potential waiting for the nearest wind to help them land thus upon the ground irrespective of any human agency.

The girl smiled as she finally leant the hoop against one of the nutty trunks. She peered through the over-lapping trees to see that the gutter-heavy houses were invisible-with-darkness outside the orchard. She felt the warmth of the sun focused on her face. She lifted up an arm to pluck the plumpest, juiciest-looking apple – but she could not reach it. There was a single inch beyond the added height granted by the tips of her toes upon which she balanced precariously. She righted herself so that she could use the hoop to ring and then bring the branch towards her reach.

There was one other to be picked upon in the apple orchard, as yet unseen. A young man who had also been attracted by the shutter-directed sunlight here. He watched the girl's antics and involuntarily laughed out loud. She looked up.

"Who art thou?" she said.

"I am here to ask thee why it is darker outside of here."

"It is always darker outside of here," she replied.

She had never been warned not to talk to strangers. He, too, had never been warned not to talk to strangers. Perhaps more dangerously, he had never been warned not to be a stranger to whom others might talk.

He laughed again. He pressed his chest with the flat of his hand and said: "It is always darker outside of here."

He it was who had used the expression 'thump-potential' earlier, knowing that it had then stuck out like a sore thump in the flow of words. More so even than 'gutter-heavy' or 'shutter-directed' or 'nutty trunks'. Thump thump. Apples falling one by one. Heart beating in tune with windfalls. All now seemed to give the thump-potential of the day more sense and the girl felt her own heart beating faster as she fully took in the handsomeness of the young man who had accosted her in this oasis of sunshine.

With the instinct of an older woman, the girl forgot about the apple she had been set to shake free from the tree with the hoop and, forgetting, too, the hoop still leaning against the nutty trunk, she walked in forthright manner towards the orchard's gate, pretty head held high in righteous pride.

The young man did not follow her. He would need her to grow older than her thoughts. She was not ripe enough for plucking. He laughed again, this time to himself, as he went to retrieve the hoop so as to keep it for the day when the girl returned as a woman to the orchard from her gutter-heavy house in the darkness outside of here. He could not reconcile the symbol of the hoop nor the meaning of the words that had told its story. He now knew only one language and that was Silence, Silence being a language in its own right, but a language where one never knew which word to use (there being so many) so one ended up by using none of them.

He listened to the orchard's gate click as the girl vanished into the unfloodlit side of here. He twirled thoughts between his fingers, eager to reach their end but, of course, never reaching any end as the sun never set upon the orchard, nor did his twirling fingers reach the end of the wooden hoop that he ravelled through his hands in panic or absent-minded prayer nor, for that matter, did his tongue reach the end of any hoop-within-hoop of words....

It was as if the girl must have brought the wooden hoop into the orchard not only to 'tie his hands' for the moments of danger till the orchard's gate had clicked but also to tie them forever. But the hoop would surely wear thin and eventually snap after centuries of twirling it through his fingers.

Thump! Just that. A single body thump. No sad sigh. Then, a little later, a tinier thump amid the guttering light of reality as the sun itself dropped to the smooth grass with little more sound than a windfall would make eager to gobble up a worm.

Outside of here, only the silent thump-potential of pennies dropping like meanings. A tongue-tied language with nobody to speak to or to speak of or to speak - nobody, that is, to listen out for the slightest click of an orchard gate.


(2)

When I met him, I saw straightaway that he was full of story. It was as if he existed simply for the benefit of story. No point in describing him, as that would take away from the story. And he did tell me story after story, when we sat together, draining a bottomless teapot.

And before I forget, there is not much point in describing me, either.

I was only there to listen. And, well, to drain tea.

One story that still sticks in my mind was one he told of when he was employed as a chauffeur in Paris. Well, I assume it was about him. But whether it was him or not, it was only a story, after all.

"I had been without work for several weeks, and was coming to the end of my money in the last cafe under the last Parisian sky of (what now seemed to be) my last sojourn in the city drinking the last cup of tea that perhaps I would ever drink in France. The French frowned on tea, but I managed to find where they brewed it best. I preferred it to any other sort of drink. So it was with mixed feelings that I accepted a job that entailed driving a car and drinking something other than tea. But I would now be able to stay in Paris a little longer. The man had sat down opposite me at my table as I drained the dregs of my cup on that (what had seemed to be) my last day in Paris. It was like Fate. I was to drive a Princess. Why me? Well, he said it had to be me. I fitted the story. But I must drink alcohol quite a bit of the time, he insisted. That was part of the job. I shrugged. I didn't mind drinking alcohol so that I could later afford to drink tea in Parisian cafes. Sitting pensively in Parisian cafes drinking tea gave me inspiration, led me to all sorts of creative thought for my next story. So, to cut a long story short, I allowed myself to take to heavier drinking while driving the Princess to fashion shops and to cafes where in fact she drank tea, I noticed. I didn't much like the company she sometimes kept. I also turned a blind eye to the baggage she carried. I am not one for gossip. Only story-telling. Well, on the big day, I needed to drink several hard drinks before taking the Princess on a trip that, unlike the previous trips, was more of a mystery tour. I can tell you that, even with alcohol in my veins, I am still a very good driver. So when our car managed to crash in the road tunnel, it was not that I lost control for no reason, but I suddenly saw a little girl bowling a hoop across the road in the tunnel, and I swerved to miss her..."

I put my teacup down and stared at him.

"A hoop?" I said.

"Not really," he said with a smile, "that was only part of the story."

And I blinked. He was no longer sitting opposite me. I must have been drinking tea with myself. The little girl in the tunnel, perhaps, was the ghost of the Princess; a happy creature that wished she'd never meet a Prince. But then without such a meeting, of course, she'd not have been a Princess at all or, if that were the case, even the ghost of a Princess. I poured another cup from the bottomless teapot and stared into the darkening Parisian sky. A faint circle of stars like a distant UFO slowly wheeled behind the clouds.


(3)

There was a hoopless barrel that threatened to open like a fan at the merest whim of wind. The fenced yard also contained disused items of machinery: mutant toasters becoming mangled back into shape; gas stoves as hutches for robot rabbits; fridges beckoning with mouldy tongues; once crashed computers now come back to life without operators, without even the electricity to have booted them up.

This was the yard of lost hope in having regained it. If a scrapyard could itself be derelict, this was it. Damage unlimitation. Detritus squared by it own will to live, to live again. Dogmuck cubed. Rubbish re-rubbished by glimmerings of unintended re-use.

A man entered the yard: chief scavenger of hopeless hope.

"Eeeh, this is growin' messier, I hoop it bleedin' rains," he muttered to himself, tucking hankies back into pocket-areas of his garb that he had forgotten he had areas in. His face was grizzled with (as he put it): "cooping with fings." His lot in life was a 'boot' on solid metal seas. He was happy and rich, by being neither.

The rain, for which he 'hooped', would acid-lick the rusty roots of the yard's gantries, and keep the dogs happy. Dog-tongues were dry-cleaning devices; dog-tongues also scared off the pesky kids, but the dogs themselves unfortunately gnawed the gantry roots and even carved teeth-marks into the finest regrowth of fridge or dish-washer. A mixed blessing – dogs. A mixed blessing, too – kids. Kids had the ability to tempt and shape the stretching metal stanchions of the new machines that nobody had ever seen before. New but dirty.

But not all dirt was filth. The man prided himself on living with himself, despite himself. He picked up a loose hoop and fitted it back around the near-ruined barrel. With rain often came wind. And wind was the direst element of all. He'd pooped himself. The Pontiff of the Yard.

Grinning, grinding detritus became a giant face as part of the google-configured yard, watching him grub around in his own back pocket. A mixed blessing – hoopless men like him. Men who opened like a fan at the focused whim of their own ability to fertilise.



(4)

The toys settled in for the night. The playroom's girl-child had been taken to bed in the nursery by Nanny without time to tidy behind her properly. The Jack-in-Box was not pressed back beneath the lid, now hanging over the edge in a mess of head-springs. The Dolls House was left lit, its front-hinged 'lid' swinging imperceptibly to and fro in the moving air. Air moving because the Radiators were yet to be turned off. The window locked ajar.

No, not Radiators! It was a coal fire behind its metal-mesh guard still smouldering quite warmly in the playroom's dimming light. Radiators were for the future. Not now. As was the screen flickering in the corner where the Rocking-Horse, when untended, used to rock as imperceptibly as the Dolls House's 'lid' did. Time seemed to strobe between then and now. Screen, horse, screen, horse...

There was, if one squinted hard enough through duration's migraine, a large wooden Hoop to be seen leaning against the now re-established Rocking-Horse. This 'installation' was not far from another which was, if every irrelevant detail is required, formed by a Whip and Spinning-Top within the Hoop's circle of sight.

A cuddly Winnie-the-Pooh Bear lolled against the Jack-in-the-Box's box, its ears tangled with the extraneous loose springs that had previously required such little description before the radiators intervened with their own attention-grabbing modernity. In the end, neither Jack-in-the-Box or Radiators deserved description, as it was the Winnie-the-Pooh who had actually now had the gumption to move for real, it seemed, of its own volition. This was the stuff of fairy-tales of which any description here aspires to be part.

No mistaking the Bear's tentative paw moving to comfort the dead Toy Soldiers strewn across the floor in a path of radiant moonlight at its feet. One wondered if the Bear wondered how the playroom's usual occupant was ungirly enough for such mind-activities as soldiering in wars or watching sparks moving up the back of the sooty chimney as imagined armies heading for battles in the sky above the house.

But wait! The slowly gaping door (in magnified mirror-image of the dolls house 'lid') is casting a wedge of marmaladed light from the landing. Nanny returning to tidy up? Or the child herself, escaped from sleep's enticing arms? Or indeed, on the contrary, quite fast asleep enough to dream of this return to the playroom?

Winnie-the-Pooh turned with a sudden snarl and, for whatever mysterious inverted purpose, psychokinetically called the wooden Hoop across the room. This was managed by employing a magic of some scientific force: perhaps hyperlinking it invisibly under the more realistic subterfuge that it had been bowled across the playroom floor (in the direction of the Bear) with an ability to thread between the Toy Soldiers' bodies – bowled indeed by the Rocking-Horse's final nod of grudging acceptance towards the realms of death it clearly saw for itself within a screen.


(5)

She was a Victorian lady turned by the designer museum into a model of the 21st century, with anachronistic props such as swish half-moon eye-shades that she sported on her nose and an over-large plastic hoop that she tried – in an ungainly pose – to spin around her bustle-skirted middle.

"Stand there!" shouted the queue-guide, as he paraded a small party of adults in jeans and T-shirts past the Victorian lady's clumsy attempts to be both herself and a model of a modernity that she did not yet understand – hence these mis-choreographed cavortings labelled: "Welcome the missing back".

The self-conscious audience stood 'there' as instructed and looked up at the epitome of an art 'happening' or 'installation': the biggest selling-point of which was that the lady was a real Victorian, still wearing the clothes she was wearing when snatched by a latter-day Time Machine and planted here today. Her spoken English was so quaint that it needed translation. With no evidence to the contrary, nobody had before realised that people must have used phonetics differently then.

Suddenly, unseen by the queue-guide and the rest of the audience-party, a little girl (just woken from bed judging by her appearance) passed along the edge of the gallery slowly bowling a hoop – a hoop smaller than the Victorian lady's and made of wood.

The Victorian lady alone spotted this small plaintive figure and shouted with enormous passion a few sounds that could be configured into: "Petite Madeleine!"

And with an unlikely Proustian grasp of the Portuguese language shaped into an alien tongue, memories flooded back all skewed and warped. A Time Machine was evidently not a very efficient method to heal injustice or pardon guilt or secure innocence or order the correct course of events. Time Machines were the cause of their own non-existence. Once you had sufficient scientific know-how to create one, you simply knew that you would never believe that one could be created at all because disbelief in Time Machines would be suddenly inbred rather than learnt. Self-evidently.

The small girl was no longer to be seen.

The gallery was quickly emptied by the queue-guide, leaving the Victorian lady 'installation' alone with dislodged shades revealing a real blood-smeared teardrop streaking the white of one eye from within the eyeball rather than from outside it. The saddest sight of all. Tears that didn't need tear-ducts to become tears.

The over-large plastic hoop later fell to the empty floor and rolled towards where the small girl had seemed to have stood by the wall, but toppled over with an echoey clatter before reaching.



"D F Lewis is a one-man publishing phenomenon, a true literary gem. A prolific and wonderfully idiosyncratic English writer who - according to urban.lit legend - has had well over 1500 short stories published since the mid-eighties. His work has appeared in obscure small press publications, high-brow literary reviews, paperback anthologies and on-line e-magazines.

He describes himself as "so Interstitial he falls between a million stools and never sits on any of them."

These days he is equally well known as the publisher-editor of the pioneering (and influential) award-nominated Nemonymous series of megazanthus anthologies. He lives here."

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