It is cold and dark, and I am standing facing my father, who is seated on the ‘throne’ of the outhouse. I am the age where our heads are level with each other. I am there because I did not want his call of nature to interrupt the story he’d been telling me. So he continues, phrasing it between puffs of smoke; and the red glow of his cigarette-end, as he draws on it, illuminates his face sporadically. Brief looks of dialogue are exchanged before we vanish again, overtaken by the realm of his voice, which extends beyond the cramped dimensions of the outhouse into the space of memory and narrative. As the words unreel from him, his cigarette becomes a visual aid, and its animated lipstick blip draws time-lapse squiggles on the 3-D blackboard dark; or, as a continuo between the imaginary pictures, he makes curvy waves of possibility which punctuate or illustrate the story’s rhythm and its tendency to gather into ornate runs and turns. I see it like some instant-recall hologram in all its cursive loops and spirals of DNA red neon. The writing fades as instantly as it is written, but our too-slow brains retain its after-image on our retinas, just as the words of the beginning or a middle section linger on throughout the predetermined narrative: predetermined, yet always new, subtleties of emphasis each time round—the cistern whispering, for example, at some appropriate Cold War moment, or the Niagarous flushing which signals the end of an important episode, where the hero falls into a waterfall.
It reminds me of the ancient magisterial importance of the chamberpot, where courtiers and Privy Counsellors await the outcome of His Majesty’s deliberations like a plot, and perfumes of Arabia are sprayed discreetly round the room from pomander bulbs squeezed by underpaid underlings. Or, one ponders the alternative hologram of the city described by its ubiquity of plumbing and its labyrinthine sewers, the underworld of culverts plunged in Stygian gloom. So, as children, we believed that sewer covers were the portals to a parallel sub-universe; embossed with arcane lettering and numerals, their enormous, thick, cast-iron discs proved impossible to lift. Sometimes, though, boiler-suited emissaries from the Corporation would materialize and insert long metal keys with T-shaped handles into the two slots of the submarine hatch and heave it trembling from its disturbed circumference of mossy dirt, and we would get a glimpse of ladder rungs descending into well-dark depths.