Fümms bö wö tää zää Uu, pögiff, kwii Ee. Dedesnn nn rrrrr, Ii Ee, mpiff tillff toooo, tillll, Jüü-Kaa? Rinnzekete bee bee nnz krr müüüü, ziiuu ennze ziiuu rinnzkrrmüüüü, Rakete bee bee. Kurt Schwitters, Ursonate (section E)
Snout: O Bottom, thou art changed! what do I see on thee? William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act III, sc. 1
titania grabbed the suitcase & carried it to the boat. already those heads were melting. how far to london otto asked. many more miles than thereâ€™s snow in this winter she replied. otto downed oars & we drifted for an afternoon or so. by now the heads should have grown wings i said. cautiously yet impatiently titania opened the suitcase.
each head had an appropriate text pinned to its tongue. each of us tried to read the texts in silence, but the moment our minds gazed upon their words the texts began to sing themselves to sleep. this boat is taking in water titania cautioned. dusk got into our throats. wearily we hauled the boat out of water to safety.
we left our roller-skates in the grounds of an abandoned abattoir. thatâ€™s the luck the gods owe to us in a godless universe professor doctor theorised. in turn we tried on clean clothes. you look sleepy, i said to titania. iâ€™m too afraid to be awake, she answered. cows in a field watched us, thought bubbles drifting from their brains.
it says these are diseases common in lamplighters & other long-limbed persons, otto wondered. his hand trembling he showed us the place on the page. the weather had changed & otto rubbed my cut & bruised body with sunscreen & tomato ketchup. stars swooped down to a cloudy sea, their harsh cries echoing in amnesia. i wanted someone to comfort.
by now the heads were flowering. some songs lived for ever. we each thought the other absurd in their vocal displays but no one wished to hurt the othersâ€™ feelings. our bicycles had vanished & there was nothing for it but to walk. the sun came up & went & we worried the train was headed in the opposite direction.
titania repainted otto’s lips. again we read the marginal note: “linnets shat on the linen.” we climbed a fire escape. up so high the city stood like slow motion & it was with a terrible pang of nostalgia we accepted i would need to forget tv before my tears could flow. titania edged out towards nothing while police dogs howled.
by now the heads had replaced our heads. it was wonderful to be beautiful, to be mute to an extent. at one of the abattoir windows a decapitated body swayed in a gentle summer wind. the sun was clouded like cloudy honey. titania pointed to the torso & exclaimed that’s otto’s sister. let’s go for a swim said otto’s sister.
i was afraid theyâ€™d think we were freaks; now ottoâ€™s sister stretched out sunbathing; titania was lost at sea; otto slumped with his back to the jetty wall. suddenly there was a persistent, rhythmical drumming from the direction of the seaside town. now shopkeepers pulled down their shutters, hoteliers & bed & breakfast owners stood in doorways brandishing machine guns.
ottoâ€™s sister pulled titania from the car crash. they had so many good things from the supermarket in their possession that her death would be a terrible tragedy. titania was alive yet otherwise dazed. abruptly ottoâ€™s sister remembered the suitcase with heads which they had left in one of the supermarketâ€™s gleaming snow-white freezers. god save the queen i murmured.
in the supermarket beautiful gentian eyes followed us everywhere. the freezer where ottoâ€™s sister & titania had forgotten the suitcase of heads was surrounded by police, all of them dressed in fetish into high-street lingerie. it was time for me to do my dance. the supermarket filled with the creatures of the forest & the police slunk away with impunity.
now we had rescued the heads it was time to deliver them safely. yet, as otto pointed out, we still had no idea where they should be delivered. they had flowered & now that they were rotting they gave off a most pleasant smell of peppermint. titania ran into town to get drunk. we hoped she would guard her thoughts.
for a state of exception had been declared many years conterminously. possession of the suitcase of heads, although it did not exist, could be punished by retrospective deletion from existences of the person or persons or animals or ghosts or other entities in possession of it. titania threw up into the suitcase. the heads laughed & dived into the sea.
it was the first time weâ€™d been in a cable car. ottoâ€™s sister refused to look down for fear of darkness. the tunnel seemed to close in around us, a smell of dead pigeons & grease. eerily the moonlight emitted some high pitched whistles, like radio frequencies. otto waited till we were alone to tell me he loved his sister.
now we were rivals. we each adapted a head to serve as a helmet, & for armour cut off a corner of the mysterious suitcase. i wore a beautiful cloak dotted with stars, otto chose to wear a business suit & ceremonial sash. soon the cable car reached the summit. we all sat down to coffee at the little restaurant.
titania had recovered from her hangover. i slept in a basement, listening to the feet of passers-by, the traffic increasing & diminishing. at night i wrapped a blanket round myself & shook with our terrors. when i could move i skated down the street to the off-licence. professor doctor, at the till, refused to look at my feet for disgust.
titania finished her slice of cake & breathed in the clear mountain atmosphere. we were no longer wearing oilskins & happy because of that. titania asked to look at my shoulders, to see whether or no they had sprouted wings. several of the heads performed surgery on them consequently. i felt so weary, but content not to be wearing oilskins.
we tied up our oilskins with wire & crammed them into the suitcase beside the heads. we could hear the heads weeping. titania sang them a lullaby & ottoâ€™s sister joined in, a thrilling descant. otto swore & continued to beat out a rhythm on the anvil. we looked at the underside of the suitcase. the address label was there.
snails completely encrusted my hair, dribbled down my forehead, clung to my chin. titania breathed in the warm damp atmosphere of the woods. the suitcase was now collapsed & split, the heads smashed to a papery jelly. otto took a ten pound note from his pocket & stared at the picture of the queen. i continued to make neighing sounds.
i was alone with ottoâ€™s sister. we had lost our heads completely. we walked hand in hand across scrub to a small pond. the lights of an aeroplane twinkled in the sky. all was very quiet, despite the hulking proximity of a city. we are trespassing, she warned me. a dog ran towards us, a dripping frisbee in its mouth.
throw the frisbee for the dog, smiled titania. i threw the frisbee right out into the middle of the pond & the dog plunging in, paws thrashing, retrieved it, shaking its coat all over my feet. do see, now you have a friend, said ottoâ€™s sister. all became quieter yet. only the dog remained, bewildered, lost, in the universal silence.
our mouths opened wide but not a sound emerged. titania crawled painfully over broken glass, the noise of shop alarms pounding in her ears. police ran in & out of buildings, desperate to protect widescreen tvs from the owls fluttering above them. otto had stripped to the waist & we admired a necklace of shrunken heads hung about his throat.
& quieter again. we watched the dog run off city-wards. titania picked up the suitcase. the heads were now so heavy & the suitcase so light she could carry it quite easily. we turned into a terrace & looked at numbers on doors. at last we could deliver the suitcase. ottoâ€™s fever worsened, angry purple blotches raised on his stomach.
ottoâ€™s sister passed round gingerbread ottoâ€™s sisters. may we eat them. sky blackened & storm blew up. rain lashed curtains & forest animals ran for cover. the suitcase shook with agitation of its heads. claudius pushed the door. it was open, he stepped inside, he got a nosebleed. otto mimicked titania daintily biting the legs off a gingerbread ottoâ€™s sister.
i pushed at the fence, its panels bent down & i clambered through. then an overgrown garden, great golden flowers turning towards the moon, huge wasps collecting nectar. i made the agreed sound & titania joined me. she repulsed my smiles. break a window, she hissed. i wrapped a handkerchief round my knuckles. the window broke with a silent crash.
when we reopened the suitcase all heads were gone, our grief made more terrible by waking the next day &, for an instant, experiencing absolute happiness. titania showed the bites on her legs. claudiusâ€™ nose bled over them & the bites were already gone, her legs wet from her bath. then she dried herself in the cosiness of the kitchen.
i can’t go out today i said. they looked at my arms & said nothing. i walked through endless streets. lace delicate sky so near my head i could stand on tiptoes to lick at it. everyone’s eyes were out on stalks, sunken in their heads. now i understood. the heads were where we’d left them, uncomplainingly waiting our return.
titania climbed through the window then opened the back door to us. the heads had upturned their suitcase & were using it as a card table. coins & notes were scattered carelessly beside their slashed through windpipes; there was a strong smell of alcohol infused throughout the room. you chase them into a corner & iâ€™ll catch them directed otto.
his sister plunged oars into the water & we were off with the current. at this rate weâ€™ll be in london in time for the celebrations said claudius. some angels flew down from the overhanging weeping willows, curious to see what we were doing. iâ€™m almost afraid of angels said claudius. his police radio crackled & wheezed beneath his robe.
my mouth was dry, my fingers floated distances from my bodies. if i could remember the lyrics my thoughts thought i would remember the tune. i staggered across a road, people shouted. my fingers caressed my bodies. i wandered into an alleyway & continued until i came to an open back gate. i entered a small garden, with strawberries growing.
now it was cool night on the river. titania wrapped herself in an old army greatcoat & glimmering fireflies nested in her pale green hair. from her thin white legs dangled combat boots. weâ€™d rid ourselves of claudius, his head bobbing a last time above the water & then going under eternally. does this mean weâ€™re terrorists asked klaraâ€™s brother.
youâ€™ve forgotten to feed the heads observed klara. she opened up a clean linen tablecloth, tied at corners, holding many hard-boiled eggs. she dipped the eggs in a little salt & fed each mouth in turn. then took a thermos flask from under the bench & poured each mouth a glass of lemonade. the mouths farted. how is that possible.
pearls floated up from the deep. those must be cameronâ€™s eyes. surveillance was everywhere & we were nowhere & surveillance was nowhere & we were everywhere. so i braided my hair with pearls & begged the mouths for a single hard-boiled egg to alleviate my hunger. simultaneously the heads puked out their meal & i gobbled up the resultant stew.
i lay low down upon the ground & gnawed at strawberries. military jets flew overhead, their celestial roar causing my ears to weep. i crawled the few paces towards the kitchen window & hauled myself up by a drainpipe. i leant against the window which gave way & i fell head first into the kitchen bejewelled with shards of glass.
the heads watched me, solemn & occasionally unblinking. then they gathered me up & put me in their suitcase. the suitcase was refreshing to be in, there were scents of honeysuckle & early morning coffee & pistachio. i woke in the small hours. arc lights had been directed at the bedroom window & i shielded my terrors from their gaze.
o so gently klara shook her friend titania awake. in straw gold dawn titaniaâ€™s pale green hair whispered as snow whispers in moonlight. the fireflies were gone. no one knew a person called otto. simon pointed to a landing place; letâ€™s stretch our legs. titania relaced her boots & we jumped from the boat. birdsong, & no jets flying by.
with caution i made my way to the window & pulled the curtains closed. i took three long gulps of booze then fell back into bed. titania jumped across a ditch, laughing. she made a daisy chain & held a buttercup under simonâ€™s chin. i slept & when i awoke was out in the alleyway, my greatcoat under my head.
iâ€™d not spoken to a living person in years. titania ran up the hill & called to us we can catch a bus. klaraâ€™s brother put the suitcase on his knees. the heads were dozing. he brushed away flies which recircled above the suitcase. the bus drove down the hill leaving us behind &, despite our predicament, doubled up laughing.
klara & titania strolled arm in arm, lovingly. the heads left their suitcase & skipped alongside them. i attempted to get simonâ€™s attention, but he was deep in conversation with klaraâ€™s brother. it came on to rain & we sheltered under an overhanging rock. sea moan & skittering sand. sky, bruise enraged. where is our suitcase gone asked the heads.
i pushed our paper boat off & it floated across the pond. we ran to meet it at arrival. container lorries rattled from the ship & titania climbed into the driverâ€™s cab ready to go. weâ€™d packed the suitcase the night before, telling the heads fairytales to scare them before the journey. klara chucked her coat behind the passenger seat.
letâ€™s drive. simon hunched down with the cargo, not daring to dance. now klaraâ€™s brother swung the lorry off road & into a service station car park. neon waves breaking against the shore. klaraâ€™s brother called across to titania, asked what she wanted to eat. outside, i hunched against the cold, frost pouring in through a hole in my head.
titania swung the lorry away from the car park. in the lorry’s cab pale green butterflies flittered about titania’s pale green hair. aren’t the heads allergic to butterflies. simon wore thick eyeglasses & clung to a freezer unit. the noise got louder, jet planes buzzing the roof. he made his way downstairs by jolting stages, booze dribbling from his heart.
it was the hour before dawn when we reached moscow. we disguised ourselves so we would be like any other tourist. klara said do i look real good in these jeans. her brother, otto, ate a bear & died. klara said sheâ€™d see him back home. just like those songs that lived for ever. mysteries, music across water, distort. voiceless.
titania brushed her hair to set free the pale green butterflies. we tied the suitcase to the side of our boat & pulled it jolting alongside us. the heads became quarrelsome. we opened the lid & showed them selected pictures of the kings & queens of england. the heads gave a deep sigh of content. my arm was badly broken.
my instinct was to find a hidden house to hide in. when i was there i pulled the door shut, turned off the lights. i could see ok by the street illuminations. i took a drink & got inside the bed. i could see pale green butterflies at back of my mind. i drank more & walked to the window.
titania raced the lorry down a narrow country lane. every moment we expected tragedy, but a juicy orange moon began climbing above us, church steeples shone with splendour in its light, & the river rolled on to oblivion. we let it take the heads there as it chose. then we burnt the suitcase & wrote our names on it, alphabetically.
i pressed my head against the window. i opened my suitcase; there were bottles still unopened inside. i stood with back to the window looking at the room. i took another drink & switched on the tv. it was the queenâ€™s jubilee in 2012. but this is 1977 said klara. cameronâ€™s head appeared with the eyes of thatcher rolling therein.
by now the heads were sleepy. titania tucked them up in bed & we made ourselves as comfortable as we could in the corridors. professor doctor explained that we would always be quarantined. the hospital began to melt. we jumped into a minicab asking to be driven to london town. immediately our minicab hit a horse trotting down a lane.
we strapped the unconscious horse to the roof. itâ€™s ok, titania reassured the driver, klara knows how to ride a bicycle. the horse trotted off neighing with delight. is the suitcase ok in the boot asked simon. yes, of course, i said, weâ€™ve been in this situation before, we know how to forget our sorrow. titania looked lovelier than ever.
otto’s sister paid the minicab driver & said god save our queen. we’re in a crowded street, some people wear suits made of other people’s bones. a chill wind blows dandelion clocks into our smiling faces. klara & titania carry the suitcase between them, simon keeps being knocked over by people walking into him as though they are not there.
titania shivers in her thin summer frock, her thinner bare arms down by her side. fragments of a new song come into her thoughts & she sings them to the lamenting heads. i help simon to his feet & twist the frames of his eyeglasses back into shape. one of the lenses is cracked, making the world appear like paradise.
the heads are getting frantic now. they struggle in their suitcase. sometimes they bite each other & we hear their cries & shrieks. sometimes they gouge each otherâ€™s eyes & cheer. i push my own head closer & closer to the tv until it oozes through the screen & then tumbles through space. then the walls press in on me.
the lift descends towards me fallen to the bottom of the shaft. titania runs down stairs frantic to rescue klara. serenely the heads look on, the music of the sane resounding from their pliant mouths. at the last possible moment titania pulls klara from the shaft. the lift hits floor, shudderingly. then begins its ascent. icicles form in my nostrils.
a calm night. a few clouds scud across a half moon. stars shimmy down to rest upon the backs of surveillance cameras. titania takes off her combat boots, turns them upside down, shakes some stones out, puts on the coat klara has stitched for her. a few day birds continue their songs, fearful of the intentions of the night birds.
calm grey light suffuses the room; tv turned to the wall throws back an eerie glow like an animal drowning in a river shining a torch up through a glass bottomed boat. we look down, horrified, at the injured horse looking up at us. can nothing be done. we open the suitcase & let the heads roll about the floor.
we drop the suitcase into the river. effortlessly, with no ballast, it sinks towards the injured horse who climbs inside & floats up to the surface. the horse indicates it will accompany us on the final stage of our journey. side by side we head for london town which is ablaze in the distance. turn the tv round to see.
titania says i grew up around here. everywhere is cordoned off. ghosts prise the heads away from us & order us to keep away. but in their haste they have already begun drilling to remove & replace the contents of the headsâ€™ heads. all the names are different, says otto. mention the real names & you are dead we read.
we remove our clothes & stuff them in the suitcase. then we shiver & look at one another with love & revulsion. there doesnâ€™t seem to be another creature on the earth. above is immutable, every cloud fixed in its position. at our feet insect shadows are pinned to the earth. & the shadows of surveillance cameras crisscross the pavements.
titania is the first to say goodbye. there’s no point waiting for the heads to return. we failed, i suppose, says otto. simon’s nowhere to be seen. i want to tell titania my feelings for her, but the words stick in the horse’s mouth. klara has put on titania’s thin summer dress. she waves cheerily out of the train window.
i tell titania i love her, but sheâ€™s not been hereabouts for years & looks at me as if iâ€™m reciting the dates of the queen of nowhere. i try to kiss titania but her head is the rain that was falling when we arrived at an address written on the suitcase. titania tried a key & the door opened.
we carried the suitcase inside, arranged the heads on shelves. they were strangely familiar, people we’d once loved but taken no great notice of. we were so tired, nostalgic for everything we’d seen. the light in the room flickered & went out. people were on tv, strange people we’d never loved. then that died & we were lost for ever. 31st May – June 4th 20012
Depart e-editions 2012 ÂŠ Simon Howard