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    Parlour: Dictionnaire


    The man of letters: chronicler of the English Language.                                                                                          

    Photgraph by Jalaikon

 Wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated.
    On the first floor, the one-eyed myopic watches from the portraits with knotted expressiveness. The blind man, a magician, taps the ground with his rainbow seeing-stick, rattling it across the floorboards. Below the guests are welcomed and beckoned in from the rain. The light of an early spring evening rests clean against the white walls. The magician moves from one side to the other - one blind black fireplace to the other. The door to the stairs: a bridge closed, or open: a cavity at the centre of a skull. He has a skin of ash across his face. He sits squatting beneath the mantlepiece. Black lenses reflect. Illusions for the blind.
    The guests ascend through the doorway. The Cyclops is absent, but named on the bill. On the far side of the room a mourner sits at the window; silent beneath her veil. Unsettled and fortuitous. There's something she's not telling us, staring out on a low building block; a squat monolith, brick-shaped and covered in greenery. Unnatural tone - that green flowering moss against industrial cloud. You want to peel it back and see the insects on the scalp. On closer inspection, she wears anatomical glasses. She observes in detail the stitching of grief and it's caught her living tongue. 
 They talk around her, their backs to hers. They are guests at a wake and they're here for the wine. The blind man keeps moving - he's the life and soul of this party. He holds up a clean scrap of paper for the fire and places it down. It sits like a glint in a dark pupil. He has a glass, a many faceted handle. The colours bleed from the spectrum. Light spills an impermanent stain.
    I wish that the instrument might be less apt to decay.
 A shoe, suspended by one long shoestring, climbs up through the bannisters. Laces undone, its fabricated, lolling tongue and mouth agape. A man in a cheap wig leads a party of curious faces to the first floor. He demonstrates, shoe suspended above him, that his arms fit all around the door which, open, separates the two stairwells. The faces gasp and mutter softly to each other.
 A man enters with a deaf mask, muted by papier-mache handle, gripping a bite of solid pulp. Noticeboard or clipboard - cheap wood regardless - is the centre of his aspect and our attention. Clipping to the edges sensational headlines. Crumpled, hacked apart and flaring; faded-grey assembled mass. He grunts illegible sounds. Some primordial garbled noise, from his belly and lungs; his lips and tongue bound by the grip of his teeth. Suffered to pass for empty sounds. 

    Following the shoestring to the next floor up, the boards creak as they did when he carried his great weight up these narrow stairways. A central room appears, holding coats and a table with the glasses set. A bow-tied man reminds us of the limit. In a glass case is a brick from the Great Wall of China, brittle and unremarkable as a single letter. They'd worked it out long before, simply to keep stock.
    The rooms on either side play faint recordings of a voice, and two sets of half-hidden feet stick out from under the curtains. Boswell sits, his bare and bloodied feet loyal beneath the table. He chews over a fresh sheet and leaves the wine and fruit bowl undisturbed. He chews with focus, carefully reading the space between his bite-marks. He slowly makes his way back to the other room and stands before Johnson, patient. The doctor's quill and wig, curled and sharp-cut paper, rustle in the fervent movement of his head and hand. He passes Boswell another sheet to ingest, who retreats once more into the other room. They keep this up with the steady pace of pages being turned. Their soundless conversation continues across space.
 Who could let your queen remain twenty years in captivity, and then be put to death, without even the pretence of justice, without your ever attempting to rescue her. And such a Queen, too! As every man of gallantry of spirit would have sacrificed their life for.

    In the corner of the top floor, the walls are whiter. A shadow rests over the mother of pearl by her severed head. Her hair is wet, and positioned close to the ground. Her head is served up on a platter for the onlookers. A semi-circle forms. Some stand while others sit. I see a fence of arms at an angle, holding wine glasses or their own jawbones, and swaying their weight on a single leg. Her mouth begins to move, then the muscles around her nose twitch like a hare, her face is red and the platter is clean. The blood has not left her, there's life in there yet. Her muscular spasms oscillate in intensity; her rolling eyes glistening above a silvery pool of saliva. One expects a sudden scream or a death rattle, but nothing, only a stagnant gurgling in the throat. A few short steps lead up to an open window and her mouth is pointed toward the gap. The air is cool with the sound of rain crackling in the background and the welcome last moments of light, dimming the perennial skyline.
 At the other window, J. Catling sits with a looking glass flat on the table. He sits with a pregnant menace, and we all wait for him to move. He is utterly motionless for what seems will be the entire performance. A pair of gloves lies beside him. He puts them on, and with a screech of metal against wood board, he moves over with quick heavy steps to a member of the audience. He leans in aggressively, the muscles in his neck like a falling branch, and whispers into a man's ear. The man laughs nervously. Catling returns in quiet earnest to his seat. He hovers his head above the table and through the gap in his clenched glove, breathes onto the glass. A thin layer of steam appears and disappears. A friend of mine turns to me and says: 'It's just air'. He begins walking away, then turns back to me. 'That's all conversation really is'.

    The sound of hammering echoes up the stairs from the floor below, the first true rupture of the evening's quiet. The man with the deaf mask has gone and the doors behind him are open to a small enclave within the wall. A woman sits with a large brick on her lap. She chisels down the stone. A dust-sheet catches the minute fragments and a rusty stain is printed. She seems un-phased by the task ahead, her expression is still as the hammer and stone take the brunt of her energy. Boswell follows Johnson down the stairs, the mourner and the blind man are still moving around the room. The performances seem to merge momentarily through the confines of the house, like pages turned over by a breeze. All this accompanied by the toiling clang of the hammer.
    Earlier in the evening, while searching my pockets for a pen, I recovered a small note the size of a book mark. In pencil it read: 'You have very sensitive hands'. On the back was printed the following:
    "...And just as he would give all the silver in his pocket to the poor who watched him as he left the house, so, on returning late at night, he for years had been putting pennies into the hands of children lying asleep on thresholds so that they could buy breakfast in the morning..."
    A man sitting by the window, looks through his camera and the memories of the evening so far. She steals up, hovering above the collar at the back of his neck. She holds the note delicately with the ends of her fingers, slowly lowering it to drop. He sits up, adjusting his posture, and she snaps back like a jaw, cradling her notebook furtively. She lingers a moment, pretending to look at a portrait. He arches forward once more and she drops the note lightly down his jacket, and walks away.
    Back on the ground floor, a crowd gathers around a table, their backs pressed against the walls. A man and a woman sit, almost facing each other, not quite making eye contact. They hold spools of cotton string in their mouths. The murmurs of conversation can be heard from the hallway. Between them is a stone, stronger and less porous than those already seen; a smoother surface, like polished flint. The string is tied to the stone: they are connected to the stone and each other by the string. The woman stands and, through the space left by the audience, moves clockwise towards the man at her near opposite. He stays still in his seat. She reaches him and they meet for a short moment. Her string catches on his neck, pressing into the skin, before tightly springing off the contours of his face. It clears and she moves back to her previous position. There is an ornate grandfather clock beside me. I look at the face without noticing the time, distracted by the cherubic sun presiding over noon or midnight. To pursue perfection was, like the first inhabitants of arcadia, to chase the sun, which, when they had reached the hill where he seemed to rest, was still beheld at the same distance.
    The string continues to coil around as the two circle the table in their improvised dialogue. The script forming itself as a pattern of soft strings, sharp angles and hidden shadows; gagged conversation, and sculpture in absence of a chisel. 

    Down beside the staircase, facing the door; the final performance. A writer, for the now surrogate voice of B. Catling (the cyclops in absentia). He reads firstly an extract from the British Medical Journal, describing Johnson's symptoms. ''Involuntary vocalisation, and compulsive actions. These would later become known as Tourette syndrome.'' A chronicler with a condition of language, verbal and nonverbal; of dead unmeditated expression and abortive articulation, long before it had a name. ''Noted by his friends to have almost constant tics and gesticulations.'' The writer lifts and lowers his eyes to the page and his listeners. The front door opens interrupting the volume but not the fluency of the reading. Apologetic palms and fingers squeeze through into the room. He reads on. The words of B. Catling; un-silent on the page.

    First Published by Parlour Collective, May 2016







    Parlour: The Assembled Image                                     

    The Procession                                                                               
    The low autumn sun shone down on the procession.
    They left through the gate, whose dun coloured bars were now golden in the dry sun light. Slowly making their way down the street, they each left one by one; a singular introduction to their new world.
    Their moving figures formed long shadows against the building, scanning across the height of the wall. Behind, if you were looking down the road, you could catch a glimpse of the landscape in the background; grave but well-coloured by the season; quietly framed by the overlapping rows of buildings.
    MjØsa, on whose shore the town was settled, is the largest of all Norway's lakes. It followed us for most of our journey the day before. It had been greyer that day, but the cold light turned the lake silver against the mist and cloud. We drank from thin tin cans within the thick aluminium walls, while the train cut through the forest. Viridescent Pines climbed up from the lake in row with tawny silver birches. Side by side they stood; the living with the dead; on hills that kept the country's myths between the trees and stone.
    At the front of the procession, Yuko Morita marched slowly on. A stark figure in a black coat and black hair; darker than her shadow which followed beside, twisting against the ledge at the foot of the wall. Her head sunk in bowed concentration. In her hands, she balanced a ship inside a block of ice. You had to get-up close to see the ship. Where I watched from the corner, the sun's gleaming on the ice blinded all detail. All you could see was cold fire. She carried the frozen ship with care, balancing the ice precariously on a reflective board.
    Following behind was Matt Galpin, who was already changing course; leaving the queue to wander off. He wore what looked like a leather blacksmith's apron. He had rolls of plastic tape at the end of his fingers, and round sunglasses. This menacing presence was offset by the bright colour of the tape.
    Kirsten Norrie moved in to his position, renewing order to the line. Faceless, she let blooming purple heather blossom from her throat. She carried thin wooden antlers, held timidly within her earth-red hair, and the tongue of a stag over her own.
    And so the procession continued.
    Jack Catling, with gracious lack of balance, walked along side Kirsten. He had animal masks hanging from his neck in a circle around his trunk; a papier mache carnival held with string. He stumbled from the crowd, across the road and away into a side street.
    Thomas Jeppesen stayed in line, though he already seemed estranged from the group by his unassuming presence. He put a hand in his pocket and produced a small stone. He let it drop on to the tip of his foot and kicked it off into the street. His modest presence was betrayed by sharp, clenching outbursts. As he came closer, I heard what he said. He took out another stone and threw it to the ground. 'Gråstein.' He cried, quietly.
    The last to appear, by some distance, was Lynn Lu. She backed out of the gate with arched back and heavy, arrhythmic footsteps. She pulled a burlap sack in front her. As she dragged the sack along the ground, a pure white line of salt appeared. It began a path that would run through the town; white and silver in the sunlight and the shadows.
    They reached the crossing. There, the procession dissolved as each made their way toward the centre of town. Against the backdrop of quiet traffic and the sharp, clean corners of the buildings, the group took on a striking aspect; unusual, reticent creatures; in search of something, yet already adrift- looking to return
    Journey into town

    I waited a short while, giving them time to make their way. I watched them from the corner branching out, till the environment reacted. I was there, primarily, for the interaction. It was the town's response I wanted to see. I followed the salt track leading up one of the longer streets, close to the square. It was market day and so the town would be pulsing softly in the midst of their weekly errands. The brighter spot in the sphere of their normalcy, while the stranger creatures crept out from the rectangular shade. And while they walked down their charming and familiar roads, they would soon come across these creatures; these refugees of the imagination.
    As he moved, Matt was beginning to unravel the tape from his fingers. He wandered past a construction site surrounded by anonymous buildings. Red and white tape ran along the mesh fence around the site, enclosing fine lunar rubble; piled up neatly into mounds. He stopped to inspect it, and carried on. As with the others, his primary inducement was to hold some bearing on the town; its shape and structure. He followed the parameters. The tape hung short in many-coloured ribbons by his waist.
    I saw Kirsten too move past the site. She did not belong there in the shade and debris and dust. Her hybrid of flora and fauna from northern terrains; the soft, mystical side of nature perverted. She belonged in the sun, among life, and all its mutations.
    I came across a woman in the street, amused and baffled. She turned to me and said something in Norwegian. I told her I didn't speak any. In perfect English, she asked me what this was. I told her and asked her what she thought. 'Well it's certainly unusual. I don't know how you say it in English.' She paused. 'It's very...strange behaviour.'
    I found Yuko by the yellow wall. Standing between two red wooden doorways. The breeze gently blew her hair. She was utterly still. A small and scattered congregation gathered by the street, while occasional passers-by would step off from the pavement, craning their neck slightly as they moved past. We rested there a moment. She leant her back against the yellow stone and we carried on.
    The salt track formed a circle around the market square. There were only a handful of stalls; food, flowers and counterfeit clothing. A small avenue of trees lined one side. The branches had been cut into perfect cubes; gaps appearing where the leaves had shed. The flower vendor sold heather in plastic pots.
    Jack was veering through the alleys. The faces hung from his body like fruit off a branch. He appeared as a misshapen inversion of the natural order. Between the solid frames of the architecture, he stumbled disorientated; an entangled affront to routine and form. A woman put her coins into the metre and watched as the vagrant moved by; the masks clicking against themselves. Her eyes shone with bemused, and momentary engagement. Jack moved along, knitting his brow in the low winter light, while the silent chorus rattled around him.
    Thomas was on the next street, close now to the park. He walked along the clean, shining pavement, past the cafes and restaurants that looked out on to the water. I walked this way with him earlier in the day. He hadn't had the chance to see the town yet, so I showed him around. He was nervous about the performance. He said it had been awhile and he was afraid anxiety would interfere. I naturally assured him he would be fine and asked him about his piece.
    'Gråstein' was Norwegian for Greystone, a character from a Norwegian fairy tale. He never told me what the story was, but it was one he remembered well from childhood. He arrived with stones in his pocket, which he collected while visiting his hometown. That morning he would stop during a conversation and pick up gravel from the plant pots, stowing them in his jacket pocket. He moved through, blending in almost seamlessly, until another stone was pulled from his pocket and kicked down the street. 'Grastein.' He said. People stared at him. 'Strange behaviour.'
    Kirsten walked through the park, resembling a school child attempting to socialise with the dead leaves. Half-blind, she treaded carefully, finding common ground with the cultivated perennials. The lake in the background washed against the front; nature presenting its own talent for control. There was a cast-iron statue depicting a young stag beside the path. She pressed her hand against its face, measuring the contours with her fingers. A symbolic and mythological kinship seemed to develop in that moment. One a living, but transient image; the other, lifeless but solidly preserved. She mounted the stag as petals from her coat fell dry on to the ground.
    A young father and his children stopped to watch her. The children huddled together while the father observed with silent calm. The two boys stood together, one looking from over the other’s shoulder, while the girl walked forward. Kirsten dismounted, and looked back at them with fragile diffidence. The young girl smiling, with occasional glances to her brothers, stepped closer. The sun shone from above the lake, reflecting off the statue and the water. This had a luminous effect on the girl’s blonde hair and white clothing, making her glow like a frozen star. Kirsten faced her in silhouette; the bruise-coloured heather hanging thick from her neck.
    The Image Assembled

    They were to meet back at the market, each in their own time. The salt track had circled round the square, coiling in to the centre.
    Lynn Lu was resting on her knees beside the collapsed hessian and the final pile of salt in front of her. She held a folded paper boat in her hand which she placed on to the dried-out sea bed.
    I sat and observed from a bench, watching families drifting through the town. They too were drawn to the centre. The streets around the square were lined with the discarded entrails of the performance. Matt's tape, his rainbow-coloured tendrils, caught the attention of some children, who were pointing and looking quizzically at their parents. He too was seated, the remaining tape piled in his lap, like a weekend newspaper.
    Thomas was on the next bench; more distant than before, more unassuming, still throwing stones and still calling out tightly muffled spurts of 'Grastein'.
    Then Jack arrived. The masks were now around his head, looking out in all directions. The gap in time gave the illusion they had climbed up his body and now fighting for position. He too sat down, watching from all direction.
    Kirsten was next. By now, an audience was forming. She walked past the assembly and joined her own. She knelt down beside the potted heather.
    The last was Yuko, still balancing the ship with great care and unwavering composure. She walked the ship around the salt track, then rested.
    They had arrived now, each one of them; all assembled within the square.

     First Published by Parlour Collective, December 2015