A tripod. She sets the tripod on the floor – difficult to set it at the right angle for the camera to point exactly down, to be so completely horizontal, parallel to the floor. Difficult also to get her body just right, to lie under the tripod – there isn’t enough space – to lie under, exactly under the camera so that the camera is exactly on her face perfectly framed – how should it be framed? How much space around the face – the face in the middle of the shot? Sets herself down lying under the tripod, the camera right above her head, her face. A white sheet on the floor boards under her head, enough texture to be noticed, not too much to distract from her face – a few creases, crumbles. Sets the camera on the tripod, presses play – the beginning can be edited out. Lies down, closes her eyes – inhale – breath travelling to the bottom of the lungs – exhale – through the nose and then escaping through the lips.
Opens her eyes and stares at the camera lens, unblinking – an unblinking lens, a black eye no pupil. Something like warmth passes through her gaze and across her mouth, her lips staying shut but her eyes now dancing, like looking at something familiar and comforting. And then hardening, the look in her eyes, eyelids tightening like holding tension unheard of, lashes batting now a few times, her lips too tightening, a jaw holding more than before, the heavy weight of fear or tread – thinks about a lump of crystal hard in her solar plexus, digging further in and radiating as it does so. The lump softens and her nostrils flare, letting out the tiniest puff of air and her lips apart and begins to feel the skin around them loosen. Her eyes close again and her eyebrows rise – lost to herself and to the world, taking in a sweet fragrance of orange blossom or jasmine. Then turning that smell into something acrid, her eyebrows coming down in a crease, weighing on her eyes pressing them down, her nose trying to pinch itself closed, lifting the sides of the nose up to meet the eyebrows.
Closes her mouth again. Tongue pressing, resting on the gums – smooth teeth like china. The right side of her mouth escapes and pulls itself into the cheek, creates a dimple, tiny little muscles working hard – narrows her eyes – her eyebrows now a line but not static, quivering almost. Thinks about her whole face, especially cheeks, relaxing melting falling away, breath travelling into her skin into her face eyelids eyebrows, softening lips and tongue as if inflating, ceasing to carry any weight, her jaw coming away from her ears, her forehead melting into the hair line. Keeps looking at the camera, at the lens, a shape of a camera, looks and looks and looks and lets the camera look back. Lifts her right hand and turns the camera off now, fumbling, the button difficult to find at this angle. Click and that can be edited out. Cello music, probably Bach, added on top, after a few seconds’ silence.
RECIPE FOR DISASTER
· A cabinet of free-ranging good-egg whites (not too recalcitrant/gamey or else they have to resign)
· An equal number of good-egg yolks (the yellow rather than the load-bearing sort)
NB. Although the good-eggs might at a distance look like the same thing, they are in fact separate. Leave the whites, and let the yolks Remain to one side.
· Three or four heaped ladles of misinformation
· Three or four imperial tons of cold fudge (for a really strong and stable soufflé, use only English fudge; the Scottish and Welsh fudge is too crumbly under democratic pressure)
· One scant ladle of credulity
· A pinch of crucial detail
· Reason to taste
· A handful of hedge-funded, back-bench sour fruit, to decorate
1. Overheat the “oven” of public interest to 1425F/Gas 97. Then reduce as and when you see fit
2. Break the cabinet of good-eggs and separate into egg whites and egg yolks
3. Place the good-egg whites into a battle bus and whisk around the country/ies, gradually adding the misinformation and just enough credulity until the mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks, when the advertising is removed.
4. Place the egg yolks into a separate crucible and whisk -don’t despair if the result looks like weak slime, this is normal- then stir in the fudge
5. Gently fold the good-egg whites into the slime and fudge mixture and stir to combine
6. Add the hedge-funded sour fruit at several crucial stages
7. Transfer the egg mixture into a scrutiny-proof Chamber of the House, and place constantly back into the furnace of public domain to overbake for 33 months
8. To serve the soufflé…. Ask our dear friends in the DUP
Please note that due to the rapid changes in temperature and having to replace “pinches of crucial details” during the process, the soufflé is likely to be at various times, dangerously full of hot air or flat and beaten looking.
Serves about 60 million
There was once a child who dreamed for riches as vast as the starried sky; for wit as quick as a diving falcon; for beauty to cause the heart to stutter; for courage to cause the wildest warrior to feel ashamed; for strength of a bear. Dreams gave way to prayers, and prayers gave way to will.
At the heart of a fertile valley flowed a mighty river, heavy with fish, and birds. Along its bank life thrived in profusion, trees in great density, and animals of claw and hoof. Humans lived on the banks of the valley alongside their scaly, feathered, clawed and hooved neighbours and took from the abundance. But that is not the story, or at least not the main part. Let us say that the humans did well, crops grew, fish filled their nets and they kept and herds of fat cows. They kept their riches close.
The valley was plentitude but nowhere else. Just over two hundred paces from the river bank the ground rose gently and then one hundred more, almost vertically. Rock folded arms over the river and here and there stunted bushes held on with gnarled roots. Beyond the mountain, desert, where nothing lived. On the mountain, life clung on: goats, eagles and a few solitary mountain lions fought to keep alive. Here overlooking the valley, a single tribe of wiry people had their home. The river folk called them Scrabblers, spat at the name and killed them when they saw them singly away from the mountain side. For their part, the mountain people were wary of the river folk and rarely ventured “bankside” except to take a still-born lamb or stray ears of corn after harvest.
A troupe of mountain people found the infant child at the foot of a shingle slope, unmoving with coins on its eyes. The coins had no value to the troupe but the cloth in which the tiny body was wrapped was fine and richly woven. The leader slapped a hand away that reached to take the cloth, and at the sharp sound the baby jumped and cried. The coins covering the eyes fell: the lids had been sewn shut. The leader moved to pity, took the child to their cave and cared for it.
By the leader’s fire the infant, then the child, heard wisdom, fears and folly: decision, argument and persuasion. The child’s mind was sharp as a thousand daggers so the elders said: “and your voice,” they laughed, “is the soothing breeze through river bank willows. Those stupid fat bankside bastards will rue the day they left you out to die, if you go to battle arguing.”
The child overheard everyone’s business and never forgot a thing.
The child thrived and turned adult but only in demeanour – grew neither grew beard nor swelled breast and menstruated and so did not accept to be called man or woman. Not him nor her, rather they-their and Zee said “for I am not one, I am many”.
Zee begged for a job to do and the now elderly leader asked if Zee would sharpen sticks to arrows and strip feathers to make flights. The child’s work rate was terrifyingly fast and soon Zee progressed to spears, then honing blades. In time when there were no more spears and arrows to make. The tribes-people would come to keep Zee company instead, for now the leader had begun to fall silent, sleeping more and more towards the long twilight. They brought chunks of fire wood for Zee to work with, lest sadness take hold. As they chatted away Zee would carve, ask questions and listen. Zee sensed precisely the length of time needed and carved accordingly. Zee had never seen bird, flower, or wolf, yet when the carving and chat was finished the object Zee made, took the breath away: in it the sitter saw their hopes and fears and clasped it to their hearts. Word spread that Zee made beautiful objects, but so personal and precious did they become they never showed them to anyone. One by one they came: Zee talked little and carved fast. Soon everyone had a carving and when they returned to talk some more, Zee carved some more. Soon people even stopped talking to each other about their carvings as they had taken on the characteristic of talismans.
Thus it went: visit one, Zee listened and carved asked a few questions; visit two; refined the carving, also a little talking; visit three, finishing touches to carving, no talking, except finally Zee declared it is complete. And it was.
One day shortly after the final carving, a day when the sun never showed behind brutal clouds, the leader died. The body was taken high up the mountain and strapped to a cradle in the way of the tribe, to return to sky and land what the leader had taken in life. That night a violent storm roared in: high in their mountainside cave, the tribe felt safe while down below, the valley flooded.
Five hundred pairs of eyes turned towards the voice of breeze-in-willows, which said, “We will push the banksiders into the flood and take everything. Arm yourselves.”
Clasping their wooden charms, the tribe rose as one and went into the storm.