you’re told is true, he scribbles and hovers, hazy, dog-tired, as two
beads of sweat plop onto his scrawl and spread. He wipes and sighs and
returns to the front door. It’s maybe a bit sad, but it isn’t bad, it
He uses some final energy to haul his bags in properly
and scoop up the last few weeks’ mail, before flopping onto the sofa.
Peace at last!
He is happy, that instant, to at least have rescued
something from the last hours’ wreckage; to know something now quite
definitely at his relatively young age. If you are to be the King of
Writing, Dizzy, you must be the King of Wisdom first.
himself and casts a slightly nervous glance down to the gardens below
then the square out front. One householder and his dog, pretty much. He
knows that peace can’t truly last ’til he has gone out, got some
necessities, and that he should do it soon, before the whole
full-on-ness of a Saturday kicked in. He is new – well, kinda new here,
and meet-and-greets await but he’d rather not get sucked into something
new, some new-neighbourly bonding excess, today, when his wits are few.
Or, worse, something old.
You’re a suckable one, Dizzy. You had a sign about that too yesterday, didn’t you?
He shouldn’t even be here. He was supposed to be in Amsterdam about
now, taking part in a panel discussion. He’d been finishing off a
residency in Italy and the plan was that he would get a train from Pisa
to Rome and fly straight there. Shouldabeen straight, but he’d been
sucked – extended goodbyes with his fellows, the maids, the gardener at
the guesthouse so that, after traffic delays, he’d only just made the
last possible train, there to be thwarted by the toughest of ticket
ladies and an Italian cards-only machine.
He’d reeled. All the
shouldabeen thoroughly-missed flights, and always he’d come through. To
be denied when he was on time, when he hadn’t been naughty, he hadn’t
been slack, he’d just been a little lengthily-nice. It didn’t fit. He’d
always felt someways protected; that there was help, a plan for him out
there, and he couldn’t see how this fitted.
And such a sweet
trip ’til then. All three requirements, the things that make him feel
he’s properly been to a place, met: something mad, something sex and
someone’s house. The mad – well he thinks that was covered that night
he’d, accidentally, near burnt down the joint. And two and three had
come courtesy of an older lady, this divorcee he’d met at a fine
restaurant in Siena.
The owner, sat with his table, had introduced them.
‘Scrittori?’ she’d smiled. ‘Bel-lis-si-mo!’
been minded not to go there, actually. He did not find her so
physically attractive. But as he’d leaned to kiss her goodbye that
night, outside her home, he’d seen a real…hope, need in her. And, yes,
it had been a while for him too, a hold. They’d lain and he’d wondered
why there seemed so rarely charity in this area, amongst humans.
could have done with her, or just some chatty somebody, last night.
Instead he had spent it bootlessly seeking refuge. Status in Siena, and
shit straightforward; padding around in Pisa, like some needy new
arrival, and no-one wanted to know.
And so it was that he’d
reached his wisdom on the night. Adjudged that this, above other
contenders, was the message he was supposed to be hearing: it’s all
true. Money or status gets you laid, guys had said to him, and it was
true. Challenge planes enough times and you will lose. That’s why it’s
called Probability – you were taught it, weren’t you? And if you burn
enough houses, get into enough scrapes, you will surely die. You may
have a protection plan, Dizzy, but even these obey the laws of the
A bit banal, a bit predictable. Very old school, very Newtonian. But true.
reaches for his pad, adds ‘Science Rules’ underneath, and underlines,
then gathers up his mail. There will be a third. After Status and
Planes, a third to assure him that he’s heard it right, and that his
life remained an indulged one. Always a third. Three is his lucky
The letters are mainly official ones – correspondence
from a couple of committees he sits on (just as dull as you suspected,
were told. Is this the sign? Should he resign?) – but eventually one
that is different, that has been hand-delivered. No name, just ‘No 7’
and, inside, a plain, black-on-white invitation.
Shock is too
strong, but there was that proper winded feeling you get when you hear
that someone you know, and imagine hale enough, has died. Well, that
sure explains it, why he hasn’t seen him.
He wonders how, but the
invitation only has the sparse details of the ceremony, and a small,
grainy, photo and he peers at the old, leathery face as if it will tell
Mister A! Huh. Bad Mister A… The one who first gave him an inkling, about Everything.
see him from this same window eyrie, back in college days, when he came
big brother – big, genteel-living brother-visiting, before his brother
upped and rented it out, finally to him. Dizzy fancied he knew his role
in the Square and its arc – the trusty retainer figure who’s at your
service, but ends up with half the secrets, the immovable fixture – and
would observe his moments with the home-owning residents, looking for
clues to where he was on the curve, and whether there was dignity in it,
and the latest trends in class and foreignness.
So when he went
outside for his smokes, with a book and an emergency pen in tow,
enjoying the quiet you got at this woody end of the gardens, away from
the children’s play area down the bottom, and this other intruded, with
his pruning and, could be, prying, Dizzy didn’t mind. He was ready, keen
to put more flesh on the bone. Only he couldn’t see the route in,
initially. He wasn’t big on botany; more a Maths and physics man.
had kicked them off. He’d been aware of a particular cat on his stays, a
ginger cat. The McCullers’ Square favourite, he presumed. But then,
more recently, there had been another, rougher, cat lording it, black
with white bits; or perhaps both still around, but only this latter seen
then suddenly the first had reappeared, only more bloated and less
chilled than of yore so that it was, quite possibly, a third, and,
beyond this, the sounds of mewling and snarling too.
of it was that there definitely seemed to have been ructions in the cat
world and when he proceeded to his spot one afternoon to find Mr
Antonapoulos with gnarly arm crooked around a bruised-up ginger, he’d
taken the chance of getting to the bottom of them.
Antonapoulos had explained, in his someway broken fashion, that there
were indeed two principals. Buster, the incumbent, and Poopy. Buster had
taken ill and Mrs So-and-So had got him to the vets, only for Poopy to
seize the moment and stake his claim across all Buster’s sweet spots.
Buster had tried to fight back, but been worsted and now both Buster and
Mrs Such-and-Such were off their food.
Wow, he’d said, it’s
quite hardcore, the cat/ animal world, only for Mr Antonapoulos to frown
and become his most animated yet. He’d muttered something about birds.
How you would see two together, tending each other. That it wasn’t about
savage or kind; that these were the wrong words, our words. We though
we could stop it, change it. They wanted him to cut, cut, prune.
home, we just let -” he’d thrown out his arms. “They are longer than
us. This, you call honeysuckle, it knows one day you don’t prune and it
will escape. The fox knows one day you leave the hen place open.’
Dizzy didn’t know if this was profound or not, but he wasn’t taking any chances. He’d taken out his pen and scribbled.
after, cat updates, and broader. But always, Dizzy noticed, within
certain confines. He’d share some home country parallel or memory, but
they never quite slid into his story: some light on why or when he came,
some old flame or family. And what he did say about his origins was
different every time.
He’d see Dizzy noting stuff down (“What’s
the name of that town again? Karas? Keras?…. “) but seemed oblivious.
Never commented. Some times he wouldn’t comment, talk, at all. He’d
grunt and avoid your gaze. On such days you could normally whiff some
liquor on his breath and, when you did catch it, you’d see melancholic
red pools in puffy eyes. This is a man, Dizzy began to think, where
something isn’t right. You don’t hold the secrets, you have one.
day, one late summer day, Mr Antonapoulos had come to the woods. He
could smell it strongly that day, but, unusually, Mr A seemed quite
chirpy with it. Smirky.
“It was my birthday yesterday.” Dizzy had said.
Mr Antonapoulos had nodded. ‘You get present?’
he’d laughed. “Just the drink-up with the folks. Ginger nuts, peanuts
and woodpecker cider. The same every year from when we were kids.”
“You want Retsina? I have some.”
He’d mentioned Retsina before. Some rich, red wine, sounded like. Sounded good. And always good to get into a home.
“Sure,” he’d replied.
of keys, he remembers. First, he dropped off some bits in the shed.
Click. Then led the way to his door. Jangle, click, click. Then another,
opened and shut, ’til finally the end of the hall. Jangle, click and
he’s inside a dark, cramped little cubby-hole, stacked half-ceiling high
with books, papers, manuscripts.
He spies a barrel at the back and steps towards it.
God, all these books, Dizzy was thinking. You see me with my reading and my scribbling and you never said anything.
starts turning round, to face his host, to find Mr Antonapoulos in full
spring upon him. The thud of him knocks Dizzy back half off his feet as
Antonapoulos grips him in the tightest of arm-pinioning bear hugs and
slobbers, ferociously, stinkingly, just crazily, all over his face.
see the futures, the probabilities, very quickly. Within a split Dizzy
understands that he is very possibly in deep trouble. He cannot believe
the strength of this old man. Something seemed to have given him the
strength of ten. He can see that he is stronger, and that he will have
to rely on this frenzied man’s cooperation to get out of there intact.
And how likely is that when he’s locked the door and knows you know
He doesn’t remember exactly what he said. He remembers his
tone was level, reasonable, and, shortly, Mr Antonapoulos’ grip
slackened, and the man slumped into a chair. Dizzy moved as far away as
he could, to the table by the door, pushing an open notebook away to
“Please,” said Mr Antonapoulos, “don’t say. I lose – ” and he’d gestured around him.
Dizzy had looked at him, his hand on his brow.
“No,” he’d said, “I won’t.”
Antonapoulos had got up, unlocked the door, stepped out, but Dizzy, for
cool’s sake, perhaps, or reassurance’s, lingered for a moment. His eye
was drawn to the notebook; to those neat, handwritten pages. It looked
like poetry, Greek and English chunks running adjacent:
mouths of black men are silkier than the mouths of white men,”, he
reads, “Softer, more terrifying, more tender and deeper.
More like the mouths of calves from Keras, which die in innocence before they’re slaughtered.”*
His first thought: This is really quite good. His second – but I really better get out of here.
was more a joke thing, that first time. A nerve-settler as he walked
around the block after, playing though the sequence of events. The
Retsina-play, like candy to a kid. Tch! He’d shaken his head. “Like your
Mommy said, “Don’t talk to strangers!”
That was the end of their
tête-à-têtes. We they’d passed each other after, they hadn’t
acknowledged, although sometimes he’d felt Mr Antonapoulos’ gaze on his
back, even thought he’d received curious looks from a couple of the
It’s not that he was so upset about it. He knew
that this was the kind of move, the kind of nasty, drink-fuelled pass
that many men made. It was just that most of the time other men don’t
have to see it. He guessed, though, too that he’d probably done it
before, and since, and maybe worse, and maybe younger.
As his own
literary career had started, Mr Antonapoulos had become this bizarre,
vaguely-guilty pain in his side. When he was on stage, or heard a poet
reading, he’d felt like shouting: We’re frauds! The real King of Writing
is out there, in McCullers Square … He’d thought the odd time that
perhaps he should call on Mr Antonapoulos – get him an agent. What was
assault, when you’re royal?
Dizzy places the invitation by his
computer. He is not overly surprised to discover, when he does step out
finally, that it was a fire that had done for Mr Antonapoulos. These
cosmic linkages are bread and butter messages for us.
later, heavy chicken in his belly, alarm clock near, Dizzy slips in and
out. A bad dream to begin with – a group of them in an old tower, then
the old poet pointing, “I see fire! I see fire! The spirits of the
servants,” and all four in a bed, one by one rolling over …
you my three, Mr A? And what would that be, precisely? Was I too late,
Mr A? What rule did you? The unknown king? Other loneliness too?
hear, saw, sex is the strongest. It always outs. Did you out anew? To
the wrong, tough crew? Was it dog eat dog, Mr A? Or a bird that flew?
What rule for you?
Slipping in, slipping out.
Dizzy’s dimly aware of rain, and the sound of a doorbell and boxes and
bottles and excited voices and, further out in the gardens, more shouts
and commands. Sounds like something.
He feels a lightening
inside, despite the weather. The gardens, the Square, sound fresh to him
suddenly. Virgin territory waiting to be explored, charmed, made his.
He doesn’t know if he remembered to set his alarm for the ceremony. Means to lean over, but slipping, slipping out.
© Diran Adebayo 2006
* Poetry © Tomaz Salamun