Gorgon Supper

  • 30 Apr - 06 May, 2022
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

Describe to us your kingdom, they say. I say, some kingdoms need moats.

I speak like that sometimes, cryptically, as though it betters me, this slipperiness. I’ve been slippery for years. Since at least the time I painted. I worked mainly in oils and gouache and could be found in my studio, adding life and texture to dried grapes.

The wholesome ninety–nine–percent raisins with traces of cotton seed oil you see in the supermarkets. I had an aptitude for turbulence, raged capaciously on the canvas against the soul I was at the time embarrassed to conceive of. But broadsides in oil–based paints and gouache are not always successful. And even I could not save a raisin born primarily of rage. Had my father banned me from painting, its study? No, he’d paid my tuition fees.

Tell us of your father. My father is rich, reflective, dazzling, or not. His lifeless hair is stiffly oiled, his hyper–intelligent mouth sits preserved for all eternity on his face. The funds are forthcoming, always wired from Madrid, or Helsinki, his office. Clothes allowance, expenditures, too. For he is a count, a viceroy. Keeps a dahlia garden in a courtyard. Not that any of that is true. He is bouncer, a heavyweight. He manufactures gloves. Or engines. Or crayons. I go to the past to see him. At night now the nurses wrestle jackals, the ungrateful wounded, while I creak musically in my bed.

Please recall your evening, your terrible sensations. I had been assailing my family, my sister, her husband, okay? With long unsightly prehistoric fingers, I assaulted their faces and shoulders, their joyfulness, élan. There were mirrors lining every wall. The restaurant a desert and I it’s pale mirage. My brother–in–law, handsome, precise, pre–Raphaelite, took my hand. Are you doing okay, Jim? I whisked my risotto, purple lagoon. What can I say? Times are tough, sadder than uproarious. About my being perceived as aloof I am in a way appreciative. I’ll never have to wonder whether intense friendships are enough to hold against loneliness, against incongruity, against the self. Oh consider my training. My family, their reticence. I am an expert. The son of two humans only truly alive when boiling their denim.

For their part my parents are stately, naïve. I test their love of me continuously. I give them the tools to end me and smirk when they cannot hold them at the handles. Come off it, son, we love you, they say. Or Tally–ho. Or Bugger off. Or My darling, my sweetheart, my soldier. For generations my entire family has manufactured something – but what is it? Bombs? Raisins? No added sugar, fibre–rich, ready to eat raisins. For generations we have dined on little else. We do not bake them, we do not chop them, we do not sauté them with spinach. We swallow fourteen grams before bedtime and say our prayers.

Again and again I am not quite exposed. I am nodded at, humoured, this time over the fruit that rots at my bedside table, a hairy still life. Will my parents wish to see my medal? I can sketch it happily – but I no longer remember what it is for. Am I King of Saturn or Employee of the Month? I have brokered a treaty, somewhere remote, the distant past, birches, alder, spruce, a little fortress, a ring of stones. Am I suitably well hidden in these sheets? My pyjamas are long. And I so dread my parents’ arrival, my spectacular excoriation.

As it happens my writhing soothes me. One night I writhe up to the roof, hover above the room, another courtyard. There are boxes, splinters, thick gluey cliché mist. Am I Dracula? I move his earth, his pillows. I have to invent the countryside, the terrain, for I have never been anywhere beyond West Yorkshire, these valleys. Have you ordered the maps and euros, printed the itineraries? my parents continuously say. For I have spent decades describing little villas outside Marsaskala and never taking myself there. Once, eventually, I climb a hill. At the summit I say The frame rate is too low. I am appalling.

And wounded. And delicate, too. A cake of ice. Once I’d abandoned my painting, I moved my attention to the project of myself. Refining my intonation, smoothing out wrinkles. Because all artists are outsiders, I thought my evaporation must have stung – must have stung someone. But there was silence. Lake water. In December I bought a tiger snake and housed it in its own expensive kingdom. By January it had jumped out of its tank and strangled me in my sleep. Have I survived that? I ask the nurses.

But half–heartedly. They are so busy. The ward is always full. Of sycophants and plastic bottles. A patient has started feeding sparkling water to the plants. It is me.

Six–forty. Soon my parents will be here, my sister, oh Christ. Treading water around my bed. My pleasant family, who attend the theatre but always watch the wrong plays, who’ve never once enquired why a term or two at art college has transformed their working class son’s every chirp, every twang, and chipped away forever at his embarrassing love of darts – has renovated their boy into a kind of baffling duke, who reads Keats and Dante but whose grandad, a coal miner, drinks water and digs oils and has worn the same flat cap since 1976. They are here.

They are here. Here they come. Bringing in the golden leaves, while I recover, reluctantly, from my life and from appendicitis, and I wonder whether they have been saving up all their guile these decades, have brought the tools finally to puncture me. But they are only overflowing with empathy, my family who never warped or suffocated or pummelled me, and who played dominos in the front room of our terrace and loved me, unreservedly, their inexplicable son.

They are here.

Here they are, crossing the tiles. Lying flat, I have still managed to put my armour on, my shield, am drawing my sword as they approach. I pull at my muscles. Lift myself out of the centuries. That gathered dread. A shape, a shadow, icy, athletic, unruffled, a pair of trainers glowing in UV light. Still I wonder now, over the wheezing of nobler patients on the ward, while the sun comes down on each of my affectations and the nurses explain to me that, no,

life is not on trial for immorality, that it is only me, I wonder,

just then, as my mother puts her lips to my forehead,

in what new foul uncertified way I will go about repaying them next.