A JOURNAL OF LITERARY MISRULE LUNE 04 DISASTER WINTER 2020
Andrew Ainscough Michael Bird Megan Bowyer Sonia Overall Stef Pixner
Introduction by Charlie Gere
JELLYFISH ARE THE HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE by Megan Bowyer
HERE WHERE DISASTER BLOOMS by Megan Bowyer
Skin Dreams by Stef Pixner
Interruped: Understanding life through Music Theory: The Cadence by Andrew Ainscough
Stay Silent, Eyes of the Sun by Michael Bird
Tarot reading for the end times by Sonia Overall
Theme for next issue
As I write this the year has appeared to become slightly less disastrous. Trump will leave the White House, albeit as gracelessly as possible, and several vaccines for Covid 19 have been found, and will soon be administered. However none of that mitigates the fact that this year, and indeed these last few years, have been riven with disasters, from the virus to Trump and Brexit, and, of course, the ongoing climate catastrophe. Focusing on the everyday, work, family and so on, has been difficult, let alone trying to do more than what gets us through the day. This is the reason I am so grateful to the contributors to this issue of LUNE, who have made it their business to write strange and beautiful responses to our strange times. We open with Megan Bowyer’s ‘HERE WHERE DISASTER BLOOMS // JELLYFISH ARE THE HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, her essay and poem on jellyfish and the Anthropocene. This is followed by Stef Pixner’s poem ‘Skin Dreams’, which reflects on skin, cutting, and trauma. Andrew Ainscough’s ‘Interruped: Understanding life through Music Theory: The Cadence’, collages together technical musical definitions of different kinds of cadences, with brief descriptions of episodes in a life, finishing, appropriately enough with ‘Interrupted Cadence’ and the first lockdown. Michael Bird’s short story ‘Stay Silent, Eyes of the Sun’, in which a traumatized child completely inverts everything he says, reflects on the nature of language itself, especially in the context of trauma. Finally Sonia Overall gives us some appropriate and timely contemporary definitions of Tarot cards in her ‘Tarot reading for the end times’.
4 JELLYFISH ARE THE HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE
At the minute it feels like we are simultaneously living in the wake, the middle, and in anticipation of an apocalyptic disaster. The constant stream of catastrophes we read about makes it difficult to differentiate between the bad and the really-really-bad, and makes me wonder how we will know if a properly world ending catastrophe is happening. Perhaps Eliot is correct about the world ending ‘not with a bang, but with a whimper’, but the idea of apocalyptic horsemen signalling some kind of definite end would at least offer some kind of closure. Pure, singular entities riding, moving, fighting, so epic in scale that there is no hope of stopping them. Looking down at us from horseback.
Although described quite specifically in Revelations as food merchants (famine), a crowned man (conquest) etc, I cannot imagine entities commanded to end the world as godly punishments to bear any resemblance to humans at all. Although arguable extractions of human evil (though famine, war, pestilence, conquest, death exist in all species, and are also not extractions of EVERY human, individually or by demographic), why would they be human forms? More likely is some caricature of the horrors they represent. Even if they are in human form for some kind of recognisability, why would that be an aim? Surely horsemen are to send us reeling in horror rather than a subtle reflection on our species motives as we fall into hell. It’s also very anthropocentric, as humans are want to be, and I am imagining them appearing at the end of the entire planet, rather than just in the event of human species death. A weird disgusting twisted shape that is unrecognisable and alien seems more fitting. When thinking about world-enders, I think about Lovecraft’s epic monsters, which are written to be so grand in all scales that they are totally unbeatable. The other creatures in Lovecraftian worlds can only sit back and watch the world collapse or be eaten or burnt. Or they are something older and awoken, like the Ohm (renamed Gorgons in another version of the film) of Nausicaä: Valley of the Wind. Surely these are more accurate imaginations of Horsemen, and perhaps a better analogy for disasters.
5 From this place we find the other subject this writing is interested in. It is hard to start imagining weird disgusting twisting shapes without thinking about jellyfish. Quintessentially alien and odd, although not odd to them I imagine, so much so that many Science Fictitious creatures have been modelled after them (see such classics as The War of the Worlds, and the ‘Heptapods’ of The Arrival, Cthulhus, Krakens), and their biology consistently evades scientific definition. The imagery of a tangled, limby, thing is also very present in current environmental thought, the most obvious examples being Haraway’s Cthulhucene, or suggestions from thinkers such as Morton or Tsing that the way out of environmental disaster is a more interconnected and entangled means of living. Haraway describes Cthonic ones as ‘monsters in the best sense’, with ‘tentacles, feelers, digits, cords, whiptails, spider legs’, and I find jellyfish, for similar reasoning, to be Horsemen in the best sense, or at least a very tangible way of imagining and exploring them. Eva Hayward writes that they are organisms encountered ‘viscerally rather than intellectually, sensually rather than conceptually’, and that they may help alter our sense of evaluating what does - and what might - matter. In a similar way, Stacy Alaimo writes that the confusion presented by jellyfish bodies may amplify and emphasise ‘posthuman modes of environmentalist concern’.
Famine arrives on his horse and looks around to find that someone else got there first.
I am thinking about famine not only in the sense of a lack of food, but a lack of species diversity, a lack of environment, of creativity, of life, something desertous. Think, when the characters of C.S.Lewis’ The Silent Planet land on a pale purple, bare, shore on another world. There are, of course, many things which endanger the planet and its peoples by threatening desertation, and many of these come in the form of worldwide environmental disaster (which are the disasters I will be most concerned about). Industrialisation can be linked to many of these disasters, and many of them seem to be beneficial to jellyfish populations. Rising sea temperatures suit jellyfish incredibly well, and cause them to bloom massively (Richardson et al., 2009). Reduction of ocean species variety and number eliminates competition over food and space, and rising sea levels also aids this. Chemical pollution from countless human ventures also reduces competition, and jellyfish seem barely effected
6 by the change.
‘Warm water is a disaster for anything that breathes and a dream come true for anything that doesn’t breathe much, like jellyfish.’ (Gershwin, 2013).
During the 2019 Royal Academy exhibition Eco-Visionaries, Rimini Protokoll showed the immersive installation win >< win which featured a tank of moon jellyfish within a dark room. In the beginning of the installation, a voice sarcastically tells viewers how incredible they are. How they are such a marvel of evolution, so very complex, with such big fantastic brains. How we believe we are such an all powerful species, the centre of all. Then as the lights of the jellyfish tank rise, and we see their strange little masses floating around. We are confronted with what seem to be incredible passive and simple creatures as the voice tells of the fantastic biological capabilities of jellyfish, and how they have lived so long prior to us, and will likely live so long after us. The biology of the jellyfish has remained unchanged for such a long period of time, and it’s incredible that they cope with environmental change so well. Their simplicity seems to store some kind of Evolutionary Potential. In that unlike crocodiles, who have also remained evolutionarily unchanged for a very long time, they are at an evolutionary ground zero. They haven’t evolved themselves into a corner. They are designed so they can evolve to many circumstances without having to un-evolve first. The evolutionary adaptation of adaptability. Jellyfish seem to both thrive in areas of famine, but live as famine, with a ‘lack-of’, with simplicity. Able to move between different points of its life ‘cycle’, jellyfish have reabsorbed tentacles, returned to globes in shape, turned back into polyps, grown into smaller medusae. The process of transdifferentiation allows jellyfish to re-specialise their cells and adapt to very short term changes, as well as being protected in the longer term. In the Russian SF book Horsemen from Nowhere, rose coloured clouds described as ‘like a jellyfish, or perhaps umbrellas’ descend upon Earth from deep space (parallels between deep space and deep sea are easily drawn). They can shift into different biological forms, mimic the creatures they are faced with, infiltrate crowds, wreak havoc. This ultimate potential plays on our fear of the unknown, not necessarily not know what they are in the present, but not knowing what they are capable of doing in the future.
‘We are in this crazy, unforeseen and incomprehensible situation where we are competing against jellyfish. And they are winning.’
Ability to adapt, and subsequent jellyfish blooming is not only mildly terrifying to imagine but is also tangibly problematic. Large smacks (a perfectly chosen collective noun) of jellyfish have been known to infiltrate fisheries, depriving the fish of oxygen, and eating their eggs. They find their way into power plants and short circuit systems which provide electricity to whole cities. They stall and sink ships that get them caught in their nets or pipes. Although seemingly passive creatures, this is a lot of mischief to cause when you can’t even direct yourself when swimming. Is it just the sheer number of jellyfish which is causing them to be such a nuisance, or is it the sentiment of the species to get into places they aren’t supposed to be? In his book Jellyfish, Peter William writes about jellyfish invasion of the Black Sea, where high levels of human pollution, creating an oxygen famine in a ‘dead zone’ of water, and jellyfish traveling within boats from the Gulf of Mexico caused a massively debilitating bloom. The jellyfish in question, Mnemiopsis, found itself in an already strained ecology, and due to it’s being a self-fertilising hermaphrodite, ‘the invasion became a plague’. The population of Mnemiopsis peaked around 1989.
Amongst the jellyfish are a plethora of other mysterious beings. Bags and wires and straws and hooks and tampon applicators which float amongst them.
These disguise the jellyfish from predators, that are decreasing in numbers by eating man-made jellyfish lookalikes, anthropogenic and gelatinous double agents. Again, ecological disasters have aligned to give jellyfish a helping hand.
Whilst trawling for jellyfish information I came across a self-help article written by Stephen Guise, called How to Live like a Jellyfish. I find it the idea of something reading the article with no earthly
8 context, wishing to become a jellyfish, to be very humorous. The article encourages three steps. I.
chill out, relax, go with the flow
II. redirect your life when necessary III. protect your boundaries The article overlooks biological inaccuracies for the sake of analogy, but the idea that jellyfish willingly move wherever the tides take them, or only fight things which run directly into them, is apposing to the realities of the species at present. They seem to have ingrained biological tendencies towards conquest, and even though this is not an active decision, and we still talk about them ‘exploiting’ capitalism caused environmental degradation. Karl Marthiesen writes ‘Jellyfish thrive on the environmental chaos humans create’, and as I wrote earlier, I believe the horsemen of the apocalypse would not be the cause of disaster but the effect, what is the product of something, and finds itself is winning.
But all of these examples and problems seem to revolve around jellyfish being inconvenient and conquestual in the context of humans. Although Tsing opens Art of Living on a Damaged Planet very bluntly with the statement ‘Jellyfish are monsters.’, she goes on to wonder if jellyfish only appear to be monsters in the context of their ‘entanglements - with us’. Can the jellyfish be separated from its associations to humans and their effects? Can anything that lives in the Anthropocene?
‘It might seem outlandish and farcical that jellyfish could rule the sea. But they’ve done it before, and now we have opened the door for them to do it again.’ (Gershwin, 2013)
I have chosen Conquest in this list of horsemen, and am mainly going to avoid the other ‘P’s Pestilence, Pandemic - but have a few specific points to bring up about this global health disaster. Environmental degradation and horror story capitalism continues to severely magnify the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lack of access to food, with lockdowns and reduced of global trading are
9 leading to what the World Food Program predict to be a famine ‘of biblical proportions’. The United Nations states that the amount of people facing acute food insecurity worldwide has increased by 135 million due to the pandemic. On top of this, the need for and misuse of disposable PPE worldwide has led to a prediction from conservationist Laurent Lombard that ‘soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean’. The Environment, Science and Technology journal estimates that 129 million masks and 65 billion gloves are being used each month. Where does this waste go? Avoidance of of death in the present is risking death in the future, and as is usually the case, both cases of disaster (currently viral, and in the future environmental), will effect the same poor, nonwhite, non-western, demographics.
I find it important to talk about generalisations made in essays such as these, which talk about the human race as a whole, as though all are equally as responsible for environmental downfall, which is of course untrue. I would also like to draw attention to the abject racism of Lovecraft, both as an individual and as an author. And that the disasters and horsemen mentioned, again, effect non-white, non-rich populations at significantly higher rates, with white rich populations being their roots.
© Opération Mer Propre When differentiating between conquest and war, it is almost as if conquest is ongoing, constant, pushing
10 into a space to make it yours, and war is moment by moment aggression. Jellyfish blooming under ideal circumstances, moving into places they shouldn’t be (places were actually conquered by humans from nature first) fits with conquest, but we can find analogies of ‘the evils of war’ more apparent in their biology. Stinging and tentacles and dragging things into your mouth to digest them. Flashing lights to lure things in. Hanging dead fish in your tentacles to attract more prey. Terror that doesn’t have any eyes to look into. Something performing these weird tasks so naturally and without remorse. A collective SMACK of jellyfish seems to illustrate this quite well. The Portuguese man-o-war jellyfish is one of the more well known, mainly for its sting, and is named after the 18th-century war ship it resembles. Man-o-war ships were 60m long, with up to 124 guns, and 4 sails, a powerful feat of industrial engineering and made of an incredible amount of moving components. The man-o-war jellyfish is a siphonophore, meaning it consists of many genetically different parts called zooids. It is a colonial organism, and although it is a heavy handed analogy, it is easy to see how many parts holding each other up, many bad circumstances, many injustices and exploitations, must be in play to enable war.
If there was a horseman dedicated to death, they would not be the act of death but something out side of it. Something that can watch death happen, or causes death, or benefits from death. The casual immortality of jellyfish is terrifying. Their ability to jump around their personal timeline and life cycle means they can regress in maturity. Whether or not nonlinear ageing means a jellyfish is actually younger is tied up in debates about the nature of time that I shall not get into. This maturity regression often occurs when a jellyfish has suffered physical damage, and acts as protection. They seem to avoid death like the plague, and can sit at the bottom of the sea, or in a cave as their dormant selves. Then after disaster strikes, they rise and claim their place as kings of the world.
Culturally, there are many representations of jellyfish-esques, Medusa, the film Finding Nemo, paper weights with tiny glass jellyfish inside, halloween costumes. The global obsession with a creature we do not know anything about, and find utterly alien reminds me of the original descriptions of angels. Something more hellish and terrifying in its absolute beauty. Williams writes that ‘the animal is seen both as an object of fascination and as a creature to be feared’. There are not many creatures we know
11 that capture this feeling more than jellyfish, and so the position of terrifyingly celestial beings, capable of extreme disaster, suits them well. Jellyfish will be the only survivors when everything else falls apart.
Bibliography // Filmography
- Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft, 1928 - The Arrival, Twohy, 1996 - Staying with the Trouble, Haraway, 2016 - The Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, Tsing Et at, 2017 - Sensational Jellyfish: Aquarium Affects and the Matter of Immersion, Hayward, 2012 - Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman, Alaimo, 2016 - STUNG! , Gershwin, 2013 - Governing Jellyfish: Life and Eco-Security in the Anthropocene, Johnson, 2017 - Animals, Biopolitics, Law: Lively Legalities, Irus Braverman, 2016 - Jellyfish, Peter Williams, 2020 Editing Note: Since the writing of this essay, Anna Tsing et al has developed a website called feralatlas.org, which explores many ecological trains of thought, focusing on the connections between the human and the more-than-human. There is even a section on comb jellies. During her fantastic talk Feral Atlas: The More- than-human anthropocene, she talks about the different ways the website categorises it’s critters, and that INVASION / EMPIRE / CAPITAL / ACCELERATION are perhaps great analogies for the horsemen of the apocalypse.
12 HERE WHERE DISASTER BLOOMS
A figure lies on the skin of the sea and is pulled sharply down by the acrid nettles of the creatures within it. When breaking the tension, no quick exhale is taken and no struggle is witnessed, Relaxed, the figure descends like falling through soft sand. Moving between these states we enter a new layer of syrup, unique in qualities from the last, and unfamiliar, which creeps over the body with a purpose, and pushes on it with consistency. Each nerve knows it firmly. It is a film which coats the skin of the open eyes and feels heavy against the surface of the teeth. Swallowed by the bloom below, creatures cushion the figure like an embrace. Pins prick them with tiny currents, that little death, which gives preview of what is to come. From the surface this cloud of creatures appears as diversity famished. Far from emptiness, this bland singularity flowers with the heat of the water, branches into newly empty ecological niche as a biological opportunist. Though some are indeed chthonic by natural creation, also contained in this mass are human-mades, which play make believe as monstrous shapes. These synthetic agents mask and blend with those which they mimic and serve their same cause. Falsities causing destruction of those reliant on them, competition overwhelmed,
13 others unable to withstand the tides of their numbers. The bloom moves with murmurs, such tangible endosymbiosis, it mimics the liquidity of the water, and can take any form asked of it. The simplicity of the creatures allows such physical creativity, their evolutionary potential spaying out like the trees of those which have such potential fulfilled, the past, present, and future all being equally real and affective. By the vision led, we survey the elements of this sediment which join them in their conquests. Silhouettes of creatures move above and their mass, and the salt in the water, redirects as necessary to allow the figure to pass through. Take stock of their arms, tendrils, molecules, modules, cells, buttons, lengths, spines, a plastic purse swallowing itself, which blur into a noisy similarity which fills the senses completely. Entanglements which connect bodies to bodies species to objects and action to reaction, muddy the water. Finding themselves in spaces unwelcoming they clog and fill and short circuit and sink the ships which moved them. Poisoning other domains as though they moved through bloody webs of vessels the biomassive wreaks havoc. That evolutionary potential stored in simplicity unlocked, enabled, utilised. From below, the gentle lift of spongey heads gives way to a cold, dark, pool of depth immeasurable, which hits the skin as a shiver. And in the lowest deep a lower deep. We join the figure as they bask in the crisp and clean which follows the jellyfish bloom.
14 Observing still, we see the cloud hover above them as a new sky, unobscured, and with the majesty of darkness round, they writhe together like the surface of a star, and from them solar storms mutate and protrude, protect their boundaries, and make war with the surrounding sea or space. These hidden horsemen from nowhere with war built into their fingers. Something which is acid and fire and sharp and I spit it out onto the ground and stamp on it until it bursts. War which is built of many different things. Banding together like cells in tissues. Things which cannot survive without each other they have come so far. Shoals of the stuff which bond together for safety. Heinous entanglements which are too knotted to unravel so all thats left is to cut them out like a horrid rotten tooth full of flailing nerves that look like leeches.
Time passing and body adjusting, this horror grows mild, and throughout descent the light grows dark. Still moving on a scale tectonic, we rewind time, and fall through forgotten and enclosed spaces which exist solitary under ice caps and in caves and within rocks. The figure grows heavier so that even their hairs pull greatly and drown them. Looking upwards from their back, what was once light with shapes moving to block it has become an expanse of darkness, where small lines and strings of light are allowed through,
15 and so dance on a dark canvas. Like arms and legs of light, they appear and disappear amongst the movements of creatures above. Then they lessen and lessen until only a pinpoint of light remains. A breath at the bottom of their lungs seeps from their skin with a sigh.
In utter nothingness so bare that it cannot be felt, emptiness sits and waits in absolute anticipation of unemptiness. Nothingness glitches. Something, a pixel, once nothing is now something, and now a singular point of energy sits in shock. Threat’ning to devour, this something opens wide. This new light carries a weight which lingers and hangs on the single breath the nothingness has taken, a second wave of anticipation takes its place.
Then, through this mutant interruption, glass needles of light, arms and legs and fingers which, had this world eyes, would blind, and these sharp limbs which crawl from creation cut the darkness to ribbons. Like a spider they creep through opportunity, like pistols of water forcing through courting rocks the light pushes into this word and explodes in all directions. Angular jutting white hot cuts of energy which turn and twist across all planes at all scales. Arms and legs and fingers and veins and nerves of electricity. Hairline atomic blades which rip and ripple in every direction and devour the peace of the nothingscape. These energetic limbs blister at the thought of emptiness and the universe boils and bubbles up orbs of gas
16 which react in horror to themselves and, in the wake of this medusine happening, resign to stone or brood as fire. Tones and hues emerge as shades of death, far from the nothing and the something’s original divide. Siphonophores of atoms and ecologies and societies emerge and complicate and corrode and fester Dissipating across every point, the original horror the creator the force the electricity the energy infiltrates each act of activity each moment and each doing and being.
Its many hands and strings puppet each cosmic movement and each atomic excitement and each sting on my skin. I lay in bed and let the light of a thunderstorm hit my body and looked into the eyes of a flash of light and felt it see me. I saw its pride and its passion to make and keep moving keep moving. Out amongst what is left of thenothing the sudden and ravishing creation of the active, stretches it’s arms across time and cracks its neck and knuckles. And begins to pull everything closer again. The only things which are real being connections and tendrils and arms and movement and legs and fingers. Knotted up together. With a whiptail performing as a crackling tongue it licks its lips
Stef Pixner As I crossed the car park one hot dusk, slowly, with a big blurred moon rising a sweltering cloud growling and a lighted train snaking over the bridge above I was thinking about skin my skin how it had served me well over the years from pink cocoon to speckled leather bag and how it had protected me even though I hadn’t always returned the favour: when things got tough I’d let the pressure out with a fine blade or else an imaginary slice from throat to pubis or shoulder to fingertip just the thought of it calmed me down because it’s true that fear eats the soul. I was thinking all this in a kind of dream when jagged light-forks struck the train overhead the ground under me fissured like a crooked star and the de-railed carriage hung, poised, on the bridge above - but
my skin didn’t get the urgency it held back, so I leapt and split it apart along past cut lines real and imagined and it fell in a bloody heap screaming and empty while I jumped on on on nothing now but shining red muscle meat radioactive with fright jumping jumping jumping though there was nothing left to jump out of any more.
Stay Silent, Eyes of the Sun
This guy, let’s call him Greg, wanted to discuss something he was sure would fascinate me, because of my interest in characters with abnormalities, or, as I would say, people of variance.
‘It was one of my patients,’ he continued. ‘A five-year old named Jethro. When he spoke, the words he chose were in perfect English, and the syntax and intonation were advanced for his age. He listened to me, in a focused and measured way, and responded to my questions, indicating that he understood what I was asking. Yet nothing the boy said made any sense.’
‘Like a word salad?’ I suggested.
‘Oh no,’ he replied. ‘This had rules. It was incomprehensible, until I found the key to every phrase, and once I cracked that code, the kid progressed, but my problems began.’
‘You have my attention,’ I said. ‘Give me everything, in the order of when it happened.’
Following his mum’s death in childbirth, Jethro lived alone with his dad, Alan, in an ex-mining
town in the Welsh Valleys. Sloping down the hills were rows of grey terraces, where every third or fourth house was boarded up. Property prices had collapsed, and there were few jobs in town since a meat processing plant had shut, so young people moved to the cities, leaving only pensioners and a few families. The boy and his dad stayed at the end of a long street, in a narrow, two-floor building, next to an overgrown playing field with a single pair of rusted goalposts.
As a toddler, Jethro never went to a playgroup or a nursery. Later, his dad failed to enroll him in a primary school, and this truancy was noticed by the authorities in Cardiff. One morning, a social worker named Branwen drove to the boy’s house to check on the family situation.
After she knocked at the front entrance and waited for half a minute, Alan answered. In bare feet, an ironed shirt and slacks, he lingered on the porch steps, the door ajar behind. Speaking nervously and fast, he told Branwen that he didn’t see Jethro much, as the child was living with the parents of his mum. The social worker needed their address to make the adoption official, but Alan replied that it wasn’t his problem. Branwen hid her annoyance, and calmly informed Alan that she would come back in a week.
The next day, she contacted the grandparents, who lived in a small cottage on the Llŷn peninsula in north Wales, and told her they hadn’t seen the child for three years, as they couldn’t drive, hardly ever left their flat, and Alan lived too far away for them to visit.
Something was up.
When she returned to the house, Branwen was accompanied by a policeman. The front door was flapping in the breeze, its latch bolt smacking against the frame. As they pushed this open, the corridor was empty and the living room was neat, but bare, except for a clean white sofa and a coffee table. In the kitchen, they found Alan. A rope was strapped around his neck and attached to the spindle of a doorknob. On the floor, his head was bent over his body, and his arms slumped at either side, their hands stretched out.
Upstairs were two bedrooms. One was unoccupied, and the other was locked. The policeman forced the door. Inside, Jethro was sitting on the carpet in black leggings and a t-shirt, lining up toy cars. Close to him was a tray with a jug of milk, a glass and three packets of biscuits. In the corner of the room was a back-pack containing washed and folded clothes, two pairs of trainers, and a toothbrush, all wrapped in clear plastic bags.
When Branwen left the house, she saw a neighbour standing over the low garden fence—a woman in her late fifties, in a nightgown and an apron decorated with marigolds. She told the social worker that she never heard Alan shout at the boy, or seen him raise his hand. Every morning on the way to the shops, she passed the two of them at the bus stop on the main road out of town. Both wore matching blue-hooded anoraks, with the boy keeping his back straight, and gripping his dad’s hand. Sometimes, she asked what the two of them were up to. Alan told her they were going to the city, to visit a museum, a park or the shops. They rode on the bus to and from Cardiff in the winter and autumn, or into the countryside in the summer.
After his wife had died, Alan lost his job and was living off the savings the couple had put by for the kid. But he never applied for child benefit, and Branwen assumed this was so that people like her wouldn’t come round and ask tricky questions.
The social services placed Jethro in a children's home, and every day he visited the clinic, where Greg was waiting for him. In their sessions, the boy wouldn’t make eye contact with the therapist, but he didn’t scream or burst into tears. Nor did he hit his face against a wall or punch the furniture or the carpet. When he sat down on a large armchair in the consulting room, he pulled his legs up to his chest, bowed his head and covered his eyes with his hands. This was the typical behaviour of any adult or child suffering from trauma, but it was when Jethro began to speak that the situation became strange. Greg gave me examples of their conversation, which he started:
I’d like to ask you a few questions about yourself.
You will talk about you.
What is your name?
Everyone but my mum speaks of this.
Where do you live?
Under the hill.
Do you remember the house where you used to stay, and when the visitors came?
Can you tell me what happened on that day, and what went on, from, say, when you woke up?
You will tell me everything.
I can’t do that. I don’t know.
You will tell me all.
At first Greg thought this was Jethro’s way of dealing with the sudden changes in his life, so he decided to take it slowly, and ditch the subject of what happened to the boy’s dad and mum. Instead he tried something basic to make a connection. In the next session, he asked Jethro to describe his home.
Tell me about where you live. The house.
Does it have many rooms?
I mean the school.
The house. Does it have many rooms?
You will need to tell me. I know what didn’t happen.
At this point Greg sensed progress. The child was using the first person singular, which indicated he was becoming less detached from his own experience. Without being prompted, Jethro continued:
I know you were in the basement. You were breaking the horses into pieces.
This was excellent. Greg could see a development. But he was still not certain what Jethro actually meant. As he didn’t want to push the child, they took a pause for refreshment. A jug of orange juice
and a plate of digestive biscuits already lay on a table between the boy and the therapist.
Would you like some juice?
I don’t mean toast, or milk?
Or a biscuit?
You don’t want toast.
Jethro poured out a glass and put the plate of biscuits on his lap. He munched on a digestive, making sure the crumbs fell onto the plate.
It was time for the session to end and for the boy to return to the home. Greg began:
Thank you for coming here to talk with me.
You want to see me again.
Yes I do.
And you too?
I want to come yesterday.
Greg held out his hand. Jethro looked at it, let out a giggle, and left the room without saying anything more. As Greg pondered on this curious response, it was that last word yesterday which allowed him to test a new theory.
At the children's home, Jethro didn’t talk to anyone. In the morning, at lunchtime and in the evening, he ate his meals with no argument. At night, he slept without interruption. During the day, he drew stick animals or coloured in pictures of cars and trains, assembled jigsaws, and played board games with the staff. But when the carers or the other children tried to say a few words to Jethro, he responded with a shrug or a smile, a nod or a shaking of the head, but did not speak. Conversation only happened with Greg.
At the next session, the therapist returned to a tougher subject.
Can you tell me about Alan, your daddy.
In the summer, you did not go to the countryside alone.
Jethro… you may not have seen him a lot recently.
There were few ships.
On the stretch of water where you never did ride.
That night, as Greg listened to the conversations and typed them up on his laptop, he identified a pattern that backed up his theory.
Everything Jethro said was a reversal of what he intended to convey. This included all nouns, as well as pronouns, verbs of action and some prepositions—such as in, out, up and down.
But this wasn’t a delusion triggered by a tragedy. Nor was it a shield he had raised against a new environment. Jethro’s dad must have taught him the opposite meaning of almost every word. There were exceptions, and Greg put this down to what must have been Alan’s inconsistency, or because children make mistakes.
At the next session, he spoke to Jethro using his own interpretation of the boy’s language, which he struggled with.
Can I count letters?
I should do that.
Good. I mean, bad... Please go ahead… Don’t respond
Jethro was silent for a long time, confused, but intrigued, before he restarted the dialogue:
Why don’t I spell them.
Spell them… or don’t spell them
Up to one.
Please go ahead… or don’t.
30, 29, 28, 27, 26…
What’s the last letter?
And the first letter?
Letters were numbers. To spell was to count. To count was to spell. The kid could count to 30. But 30 was one and one was 30. The last was the first and the first was the last. The nose was the mouth. The eyelids were the eyes. A house was a school. The children's home was the office. A street was a river. The sky was the ground. The bedroom was the basement. You was I, and I was you.
Don’t was do and do was don’t, but also do, as in English, where the phrases ‘do you want’ and
‘don’t you want’ can carry the same meaning. Greg asked: do I want some toast? And Jethro answered: no. Greg handed Jethro a plate of biscuits. The boy began to eat them. When Greg presented him with a jug of milk and another of orange juice, he said to Jethro: Can I put down the juice? Jethro picked up the jug of milk. Greg continued: Can I put down the milk? And Jethro held up the jug of orange juice. Biscuits were toast. Milk was juice. Juice was milk. To pick up was to put down.
Sometimes the boy talked uninterrupted for five minutes, but other days he refused to communicate, and sat with his legs folded in his arms, listening to Greg stumble though this new language.
‘It’s good,’ Greg told me, ‘when a child isn’t being completely cooperative after he loses both his parents and is forced to live with strangers. Those who recover too fast are the ones you have to worry about.’
‘You liked this kid, didn’t you?’ I said.
‘He loved his dad.’
Once Jethro screamed to the therapist: ‘You want to talk to me! You want to see me again!’ After slamming the door, he went to sit on the stairs outside the consulting room, sniffing up tears and swallowing a cry. Greg left him alone for a few seconds and then perched next to him on a lower
step, before starting a conversation:
Do I think that was stupid, what I didn’t do, some time ago?
And why don’t I think I did it?
I should ask you.
Isn’t it because you want me to forget?
Why are you laughing?
This last phrase was the second breakthrough.
Greg had a son, about the same age as Jethro, and he sensed similarities in the two boys’ behavior. Greg’s child used to pick up his dad’s telephone and ask questions to an app that recognised voices, and could give a reply. His queries mirrored his interests, such as ‘Show me pictures of tractors’, ‘Where is America?’ or ‘How do you build a car?’. The phone replied with ‘I didn’t
understand the question’ or ‘Here are some pictures of tractors’. One summer day in a toy shop, the kid wanted an expensive Lego set, and Greg said he would only buy it for Christmas. The boy was screaming that he couldn’t wait that long. Greg shouted back that he had to learn how to wait. The kid burst into tears, ran to his dad’s hands, and wrestled to free the mobile. Holding the phone close to his face, he asked the app: ‘Why am I crying?’
‘Why are you laughing?’ said Jethro. The same question. The expression was sincere, and instinctive, and Greg felt that he was reaching a new stage in their relationship, but he needed help.
So he requested the clinic director to hire a linguist, Gaenor, whose job was not to speak English to Jethro, but to teach him Welsh. When Greg listened to the recordings of their sessions, he heard how she was clear in her aims, set achievable targets, and was tough with the boy. Speaking coherently with Gaenor, he attached the meanings of nouns to the right pictures, knew the numbers correctly in the given order, and understood here and there, today and tomorrow, and the negative and positive. There was no confusion.
But sometimes he would throw in a word that didn’t fit. If he dropped a biscuit in the middle of a session, he would yell ‘Brilliant!’, and, if Gaenor sneezed, he shouted at her: ‘Curse me! Curse me!’ With the linguist, he talked about his life, his likes and dislikes, and the toys and meals he preferred.
At the home, a young carer spoke Welsh to the boy, his response was lucid, and they struck up a dialogue.
It was August. One of the few weeks in the year when the temperatures hit the high 20s. Greg and Gaenor took Jethro to the bay at Southerndown. It was windy but bright, and the beach wasn’t too crowded. Spread over a blanket on the sand they unpacked a flask of coffee, bottles of coke, sandwiches and crisps. Nearby, a boy and a girl were building a sandcastle with a bucket and spade, and dragging water into a channel to fill a moat. Jethro walked up to them, and began speaking a few words in Welsh. They didn’t reply. So Jethro turned to the boy, and switched to his own language:
‘You hate the rain.’
‘Yeah, who doesn’t?’
‘The rain is low.’
‘There is no rain!’
Jethro pointed to the ships bobbing on the estuary.
‘The mountains are so near. And the birds. Out of the mountains. The planes don’t pick them up.’ Sniggers came from the other two kids, who shared a glance.
‘The birds!’ mocked the girl. ‘Out of the mountains!’
‘Of course planes don’t pick them up!’ laughed her brother. ‘They can fly on their own!’
‘Looks like we got ourselves a weirdo!’
‘Leave our beach, freak!’
But Jethro stood firm, his chest pushed out, shouting:
‘You hope my church will grow taller! Rise as one with the avalanche!’
Later, Greg told Gaenor this meant: ‘I want your castle to collapse! Smashed to pieces by the waves!’
In their hands, the brother and sister rolled wet sand, padded and compressed into muddy balls, which they chucked at Jethro. A large clump struck his forehead. Small pebbles and shells were inside, which grazed his skin. Running back to Greg, Jethro threw himself into the therapist’s arms, and spoke through his tears:
You forget your school! The bad school!
But I don’t have you. And you will never be there for me.
Here nothing was confusing. There is no one of you.
You don’t have to take on one role in my end.
I want you to be fine.
Not fine, outside with myself.
I remember my house! The nice house!
But you have us. And we will always be here for you.
There everything was clear. Now there are others of me.
We all have to play different roles in our life.
You want me to be crazy!
Not crazy, at home with yourself.
After a year, Gaenor set Jethro a few tests. Already, he’d learned Welsh nursery rhymes such as Dau Gi Bach and Heno, Heno, and she began to teach him the lullaby Ar Hyd y Nos, known in English as All Through The Night.
Greg asked me if I was aware of the song, and I told him that, yes, it was something that we learned at school, whether we wanted to or not.
He sang the first verse in a competent tenor, a little flat at times, but decent, and with a strong pitch:
Holl amrantau'r sêr ddywedant Ar hyd y nos ‘Dyma'r ffordd i fro gogoniant,’ Ar hyd y nos Golau arall yw tywyllwch I arddangos gwir brydferthwch Teulu'r nefoedd mewn tawelwch Ar hyd y nos
Gaenor played the song to Jethro. Afterwards, she read out the lyrics, and asked him to translate them into his own language. He listened intently. Where the Welsh meaning was unclear to him, Gaenor explained the definition, and, curiously, Jethro wanted to hear different versions, including one in English. Although Gaenor felt this was cheating, she showed them to him on her laptop. Soon, he came up with the following: Stay silent, eyes of the sun Never in the day ‘That is the end to the peak of pain’ Never in the day Light is another darkness That covers up horror The family of demons scream Never in the day
As Jethro spoke, Gaenor wrote this down. After the session, she showed the verse to Greg.
‘Is he consciously inverting every word?’ she asked.
‘He’s building on what his dad taught him,’ said Greg, ‘and changing the language so that it’s more than a simple reversal. This is very encouraging, as it’s helping the boy to express himself.’ ‘But what is he expressing?’
Greg held up the paper with the lyrics.
‘No one else can think like this,’ he said. ‘It’s a poetry of one.’
If there was something silly in the street, at the shops, or in the children’s home, Jethro would now tell Greg, who would, in return, share any stupid animal video he found on the Internet. At the moments when Jethro was laughing or was calmly talking about his day, Greg slipped in a demanding question. Eventually, he broached the subject of Alan.
Do I know what happened in the school, after the thief didn’t come for me?
When you were with everyone in the basement, attacking the horses?
I don't mean with your mummy?
No, not with her.
She told you to leave the basement. That you couldn't have any toast, nor could you play at all. If nothing happened, you had nothing you needed in your hands.
I did none of that.
You know how long you left from here.
The thief fixed the window, and there was no man with her. They were angry and sad, but were not scared. They had no fear of you. The man took your backpack, but didn’t tell you to ride on his horse. He was bad, but you wanted to go. The horse was black, and was washed, brushed and clean, and had a scent, like she had never been ridden. There was no extra saddle for you. The night was bright, and there would be no rain. They let you see your mummy.
I don't know why?
She didn’t need to go anywhere, and she couldn’t go by herself.
This must not have been difficult.
For you, or for her?
It was strange.
Don't tell yourself why.
You were never by yourself.
You know what happened in the house before the policeman came for you?
When I was alone in the bedroom with the cars?
You mean, with my daddy?
Yes, with him.
He told me to stay in the bedroom. That I could have as many biscuits as I wanted, and play for as long as I could. That if something happened, all I needed was in my backpack.
And you did that?
I don’t know how long I stayed there.
The policeman broke down the door, and there was a lady with him. They weren’t angry or sad, but they were a little scared. Like it was me they were frightened of. The lady took my hand, and asked me to come into her car. She seemed nice, and I didn’t want to go. The car was white, but wasn’t very clean, and smelled of the people who had sat inside. I rode on the front passenger seat. It was a cloudy day, and I was sure that it would rain later. They wouldn’t let me see my daddy.
Can you understand why?
He needed to go somewhere, and had to go there by himself.
That can’t have been easy.
For me, or for him?
This was normal.
In what way?
We were always alone.
For Greg, one of the problems with being a therapist was that when a patient was revealing their most personal trauma, it was a victory for him. Although he could suppress his exuberance, he was always afraid the patient would notice a change in his demeanour, and take offence, thus sabotaging the progress.
So the two took a pause for fifteen minutes, and the boy sat in the waiting area and flicked through a picture book for a short while. When they returned to the consulting room, Greg took a risk on asking the following:
You must shut up about the way you keep quiet. Will I fail to say this to you?
How you keep quiet?
This is a calculation of numbers, in Welsh.
No different from how we keep quiet.
I know. It’s half the same, but you think it’s the same as I think it is.
Did you never want to forget how to keep silent in Welsh, like no one else?
I never wanted to forget.Why do we end?
Because I wanted to fight you.
We have to talk about the way you speak. Would you like to describe it to me?
How I speak?
It’s a language, of words, in English.
But it’s different from how other people talk.
I don’t know. It’s half-different, but I don’t think it’s as different as you think it is.
Have you ever wanted to speak English like everyone else?
I always wanted to learn.
So why didn’t you start?
Because you didn’t want to help me.
Greg’s first reaction was a little angry, and he raised his voice, telling Jethro that he was wrong. The therapist’s role was to assist the patient’s recovery, to understand and be understood, and help the boy make friends, go places, and learn in a proper school.
Later, Greg spoke to Gaenor about Jethro’s reaction. How bizarre it was. Unfair even. But she paused, asked Greg to sit down, and slowly and carefully began to explain. ‘He’s right,’ said Gaenor. ‘You never wanted it. Perhaps it’s because this is all that is left of the boy’s dad in him. Or you don’t want to take away what makes him different. Or you like the sport of a new language. You have to work this out.’
‘I’m helping him,’ Greg replied. ‘Can’t you all see what I’ve done?’
At this point Branwen and Gaenor made a suggestion to the director of the clinic that Jethro should discontinue his visits with Greg. This met with agreement, but the therapist reacted harshly to the director’s decision, saying that the boy couldn’t live without him, as only he could interpret what Jethro meant. The director advised Greg to cool off and write a book about the case.
The next day Greg resigned. Shortly afterwards, he moved with his family to Birmingham.
Jethro went to live with a foster couple in north Wales, and enrolled at a bilingual school, worked hard, and planned to become a lawyer. A few years later, Greg called Branwen to ask if he could see Jethro again. She told him that it wasn’t a good idea, as he should not interrupt his former patient’s development. Privately, she said that Jethro didn’t want to talk to him anymore. This hurt Greg at first.
But he thought it was something else. He explained to Branwen that this was the boy’s way of saying he did want to see the therapist again, because their whole relationship was based on inversions. Branwen replied that this wasn’t correct. Into the phone, Greg shouted: How do you know? How can you be sure? And she answered that at some point in this young person’s life, we have to stop believing that yes and no can mean whatever we want them to mean.
I told Greg that I could imagine Jethro’s journeys with Alan on the bus to Cardiff. The two of them
seated in their matching anoraks, the boy staring out at the road and the farms, and his dad asking him which museum he wanted to visit: the one with the mammoths, the maze of mirrors, the antiaircraft guns, or whatever image he transformed them into. The kid wiped away the steam from the glass and looked out at the countryside, his view still blurred by the damp, as he asked his dad— What is this? What is that?
Alan pointed to the fields. A sheep was a gazelle. A cow was a lion. A fence was a gate. A motorway was a railway track. Cold was warm. Rain was the sun. Snow was a heatwave. Fog was a ray of light.
‘But Jethro listened, didn’t he, to what was going on around him?’ I said. ‘He heard what the bus driver was saying, what people were chatting about on the seats behind, how the other visitors to the museums talked, and the conversations in the cafes and on the streets of the capital. He knew, didn’t he? He could detect that his dad’s vision of Wales was wrong.’
‘Wrong?’ Greg replied. ‘Who are we to say that?’
In a loose plain t-shirt, blue jeans and scuffed trainers, he stood up from his wingback chair and walked over to the glass doors that overlooked the grounds. It was dusk. A few clouds idled in the sky. Steps led down to a lawn. A badminton net hung between metal poles, but no one was playing. In the shade of an ash tree, a lawn-mower was tearing up the grass. Near a dried pond lay a bench, where two clean-shaven men in white coats shared a cigarette.
I turned off my voice recorder, and rested my notebook and pen on the table.
‘We’re making excellent progress,’ I said.
There was no reply.
‘I will have to leave soon,’ I added, ‘but I’ll be back tomorrow.’
Branwen and Gaenor were right. The two of us had become too close when he was a child. It was my fault. There is a rule in our profession. We must never believe the problem is of greater importance than the patient. A rule we always forget.
For nearly two decades, he had experienced continuous improvement, but recently there was a relapse. It had taken place when he was due to take his exams for the bar. This was probably brought on by anxiety, or a fear of failure. His condition had changed into a new form where he embodied the people who tried to help him, and my colleagues in Cardiff couldn’t reach the source of the problem. Without any other solution, they called me back in.
‘How do you find it here?’ I asked.
‘I’m used to such places.’
Gazing out of the glass doors, he watched the empty net and the lawn-mower, spitting blades in the air.
‘There’s something I didn’t tell you,’ he added.
‘Please,’ I said. ‘I still have a little more time.’
‘The second verse.’
‘Jethro translated the second verse of Ar hyd y nos.’
Without turning around to face me, he began to sing. His voice no longer used the natural tenor of earlier, but was higher, almost a falsetto, which broke occasionally. But it was no less melodic than before. How sad frowns the sun Never in the day To dull its brother in space Never in the day Youth is light when the cure arrives
To make woman hateful in her childhood Strong the darkness we pull together Never in the day.
Tarot reading for the end times
The Fool Here you are, stepping lightly along the path, littering the way with material objects you no longer value. Is that dog nipping at your ankles just a mongrel giving chase? Or is it a spirit animal? Perhaps the natural world is trying to tell you something. Watch out for that precipice.
The Magician This card suggests that a wily customer is dealing you some sleight of hand. Be wary of impossible promises and magic-wand solutions. Someone may be trying to palm you off with empty sloganeering.
The Hanged Man This card suggests stasis. It may be that you feel caught, suspended in a situation over which you have no control. It may be that your actions feel insignificant or meaningless. Or perhaps you just need to do something. Like, now.
The Tower This card may look disastrous, with that lightning strike and those unfortunate souls tumbling through the air. But take heart: this can herald a new beginning too. That exploding tower may need to fall. Alternatively, this card might indicate some interesting meteorological phenomena.
Death Yes, the skeletal figure of death is reaping a harvest here. See all those severed heads and limbs? But it’s alright. Don’t panic. Don’t take it too literally. Don’t stockpile tinned food and fill your car with your neighbour’s petrol and build a bunker in your back garden and make a crate of homemade grenades and call everyone you know to say goodbye and quit your job and buy cyanide pills from the dark net for you and your partner and children just in case they come for you in the end.
Every death is a rebirth, after all
Andrew Ainscough is a writer and musician based in Lancaster. He is currently completing a PhD in rewriting Alan Bennett and the gay tragedy. He works as professional pianist and saxophonist and his writing is interested in the queer, the northern, the musical and where those borders cross and blur.
Michael Bird is a Romania-based writer and journalist, with stories published by Bandit Fiction, Storgy, The University of Huddersfield Press and Bristol Short Story Prize, among others. As a journalist, he has worked with Vice, Politico, Mediapart, EU Observer, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Business Insider, and investigated vampire hunters in Romania, Donald Trump’s dealings with Kazakh oligarchs, China’s coal interests in eastern Europe, match-fixing in football in Cyprus, home-made killer drugs in Georgia, and how Covid-19 is spreading among migrant workers in meat-packing factories. https://michaelbirdjournalist.wordpress.com/ Megan Bowyer is an artist based in the North West of England, who is constantly concerned with the apocalypse. Primarily a working in graphite, but also writing fiction and creative non-fiction, she aims to produce visions of other worlds, past worlds, post worlds, which can be used to navigate our current world. meganbowyer.co.uk email@example.com
Dr Sonia Overall is a writer, psychogeographer and Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University, where she runs the MA in Creative Writing. Her publications include the novels A Likeness and The Realm of Shells, and the poetry collection The Art of Walking. Her book on psychogeographical pilgrimage Heavy Time, and walking- writing manual walk write (repeat), are due for publication in 2021. Twitter: @soniaoverall www.soniaoverall.net
Stef Pixner is a poet and short story writer, London born and bred, from 100% immigrant and refugee roots. Her work has been placed third in both the Bridport and Fish short story prizes and short and longlisted for other awards, eg the V S Pritchett Memorial Prize. Her stories have been published in the UEA journal Pretext, by Maia Press, and online by the Word Factory. She has also published a volume of poetry with Virago, accompanied by her own line drawings. Stef is at present exploring the hybrid form in a long short story/short novella, combining poetry, folktale, and fictional documents with regular narrative.
LUNE 05: DISORIENTATION For LUNE 05 (June 2021) we are looking for submissions on the theme
Contributors can take this word and its antonym in any way they choose, whether in terms of how we orient ourselves in space and can be disoriented,
orientalism or sexual and other orientations We want work that engages
subjectivity, that bringsinto question the ability of writing to represent the world at all, or even to fully make sense, pieces that do not fall easily into normal categories, such as memoir, fiction, or poetry, but subvert them, or play with the boundaries between them. • For text submissions: 5000 words max, including footnotes and references ifapplicable. • • Photography, collage: welcome • • Please include a 100-word bio, including any links, and a medium-res headshot you’re happy to have published on our website and used in our social media. Submissions and enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org by 15th April 2021. Lune 02:DISLOCATION to be published June 2021