It is difficult to spot things that fail to occur. This is most obvious in Nature. You rarely glimpse the Almost-fish or the Nearly-bird. But the best example in the genre of the quasi-substantial by far is the Bolus Bolan tree, visible only at its roots and very unlikely to ever be spotted at all unless you trip over one that has been upended in a Just-About storm.
A curious property of the Bolus Bolan, wild scent that can drive a rail spike through memory, makes its whereabouts difficult to recall even if you are lucky enough to get tangled up in its spiky thorns.
Which is why those secretive and wily alchemists will pay their weight in gold for a front door made of planks from the Bolas Bolan.
Difficult to see and immediatly forgetable.
Good for those in fear of persecution..
or being hassled by their landlords.
Ebeneezer Scratchbottom, a noted alchemist, achieved some local fame by carving a chess set of Bolas wood. He stapled himself to the tree so as to keep a sharp eye on it and kept all his tools on strings threaded through his sleeves like kiddy mittens so as not to lose track of them.
He got a bit side tracked but duly carved the chess pieces as well as several spoons, a life-size Buick and a scale model of the Eiffel Tower.
The problem was remembering the rules of the game. You were bound to forget them as soon as you sat down to the wild and tangily scented invisi-board. And feeling for the pieces all the time had some drawbacks too.
There are lots of rules to chess. Most of them come before the game is over. But there are one or two that follow after and for the want of which you risk being classified with the Almost-fish and the Nearly-bird.
My father taught me to play when I was little.
He played me every evening.
He always won.
Until one day I was foolish enough to forget the unstated object of the game, to question the covert purpose of his induction…
and beat him for the first time.
The silence was interminable. Peanut beetles droned about in the uncaring heat. Cicadaas chirped nervously. In the background, life was unfolding around the house. But his silence enveloped it all. Slowly it sucked the rumbling vibrancy out of a temperate evening that had done nothing, didn’t mean it and certainly didn’t deserve it.
Eventually he scraped his chair back and left without a word. We never played again.
It would have been better if he’d lost his temper and had a tantrum. At least you’d know what you were dealing with.
A heading and a compass bearing.
Things that fail to occur are, indeed, difficult to spot.
But like Leprechauns..
they will take you to their gold.
The cold silence is not just a witholding of kudos or congratulation. It is also a secret unveiled, slip of a leper’s mask, the furtive life of covert sucking hate. A voiceless howling accusation of betrayal. As though I had struck him from behind against all the rules of honour..
…you have won by a cowardly sleight of hand said the unspoken….
shoulder slump of ingratitude’s complaint….
the unsteady footfall down the hall,
a body carried in rolled up carpeting.
while I sat there, forcing down the equation between success and shame.
over-riding the voice of protest…
that connected the child to reality.
”the disturbing forces that lie below the conscious level of adult life are intuited by the child and give rise to vague fears, apprehensive fantasies, disturbing dreams, disocciation from reality and… anti-social acts.” F Wickes.
And so the boy spends years sabotaging his own efforts, disowning experience, scraping through the fright of achievment’s unspeakable anguish and spunking endlessly into his hanky.
guns and drugs came later.
The Old Man had been orphaned, molested and abandoned in that order by the time he was ten.
What do you do with a horror that wants even less to be told than heard by others? You excise it, licence it through repetition and ram it down the throat of the next generation.
You send your own child to a place …
the things that happened.. happen again.
and history repeats itself with all the faithfulness of an old dog waiting for the master’s return.
You distance yourself like the dead
and order safari-suits from your tailor by the dozen….
so that the horrific split from stem to stern of a fractured psyche need never be more than a running sore, need never open right up, or make you want to cry and scream.
One of his favourite stories was how he would have to get a dugout canoe ride down the Mara river to reach civilisation from where we lived on the Serengeti plain in a tin rondavel at the time.
‘The hippos were so close you could have truck a match on their backs!’
and he’d make a flicking motion with his wrist to demonstrate how it was done, so successfully shored up against some silent terror that even a brush with death by terrible tusks was no more than a moment of amusing nonchalance.
But when the boy wins at chess, he might triumph in all kinds of other ways, not to mention throwing off the legacy bequeathed by trauma’s necessity.
It may all still surface yet.
Not to worry.
Send him to war.
Martyrdom will caulk this threatening spillage. Send him to the thickest part of the fighting. He will soon be cut down.
And so I was duly sent. All my comrades were indeed cut down. But I was not. I lived and lived.
I was on first wave Fireforce duty with the Commandos. Heli born hell. White boys with ancient, dull grievances forged to hate and murder…
armed to the teeth..
I’d hurt myself in a para jump. Rocky outcrops can be so unforgiving. I got my lieutenant to change my name on the Ops white-board…
The siren went before long. Gooks at ten o’clock. The boys blacked up, were duly briefed and scrambled off in some old Hueys. They were mostly rookies from intake 163, average age, eighteen. The chopper I had been assigned to got hit by a SAM7. Everyone died. Though some managed to survive both the impact, the flaming crash and then crawled 20 metres before being boiled alive in their own subcutaneous fat.
Almost-grilled and Nearly-men.
sacrificial immolation that appeased the Dark God no more than a lost pawn or the muffled bark from an old hound.