The following is an extract from Andrew Hodgson’s novel Mnemic Symbols (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019). For more information, visit Dostoyevsky Wannabe.
‘As I’ve told you before – ,’ “I’ve never met you before…” ‘ – as I’ve told you before, it’s not a vase, it’s a…’ but the bus stop was empty, or empty abouts as I took the hand I’d laid on my father’s clay cask as over-under line to a point I’d meant to make but never did, to the metal box that hung from the overhang reading names that coded no meaning in me. The figures made up of numerous thin orange lozenges on black backplates that flipped too regular to edify projected time or place. On the farther side of the road a body moved about among the trees, arms dead limp to the sides, I watched them sway erratic back and forth with the torso, stumble between the trunks. And a – ‘Andrew, what you doing here?’ A woman’s face peered out from one of the doorways lining the street behind me and I – ‘I’m sorry, you must be mistaken, I don’t know who that is…’
‘Why, lad, get in here… you don’t recognise your own –
The impending lights of the bus shot the trees and houses and face and torso, picking up a run of two metal tracks and overhead cables that described rather, a tram. I lifted my feet and left the cobblestone pavement I had followed that afternoon, snaking through this town that rolls from sea to hilly moor, upon such an incline I now approached halfway, and sat to press my forehead against the glass and watch the dark outside unmove.
Watch the dark outside unmove, cobble something together. Memory is a fickle thing. As I sit to write this, in my lodgings, later, it provides the very process by which I might infer, to you, that you and I are the same. I remember a job to follow to forget. Clothes I must recall to wear, before exiting to day. Keys to an apartment door, a window, up there, twelve up second left into which I might here insert my figure. A past tense in I that would force you to comprehend that this is all there, or rather here, on your plane. Or was. But what’s to place complex interiority in this strike upon the page this I, this I, this |, this /, this . There is just so much thing, or void in J, or ], or L or [ – (K’s largely occupied elsewhere). And yet, in this I, you find relief – U (or is that too far?) – a singular syntactic unit, a hole by which 1 might enter the imprisoning relation of [ | ]. A cage, by which recollection might be ratified in relation by units secondary to reporting mark. A recollection you can trust, that has been lived, digested and, after some time, perhaps, reported. And yet, perhaps, perhaps, but how might I to know that I, or J—-, or L—- or even K—– themself are dependable in testimony. What can their discovery elicit but an interaction of I and J and L, of thing tantamount to (w)hole, a series of blank spaces. If the I comes first, the others come chasing quickly after. But, for I that is, for I it is not clear if this interaction draws instability to reliable suspension. Perhaps, they chase to close down a gap that there erupts, not found in the drifting coda that precedes it. In amongst the semantic rabble. It is unclear if these figures present themselves to help or hinder. Rather, the coding of report itself coercive, disjuncture with before like a child’s writing ledger
The letters are not joined up, do it again
The curves are crooked, do it again
These letters do not connect, do it again
Again, it was for this uncertainty I, some hours before arriving at my bus stop come tram, at the edges of the city, where houses fall to rails then anonymous mass of trees. It was for this uncertainty I had, upon arriving in a square lightly bushed, flowered and fenced poured out my bag of documentation. I sat to splay the papers across that patchwork of stones and tarmacadam that makes of itself simulacrum of grounding, though the tangible surface, the soil itself was to be found buried somewhere deep below. Concreted in. I splayed the papers out across the stones and tarmacadam and, rifling, found their narratives made little much sense. I tried to piece each case back in isolation and found, of what I could re-congeal, the charge, the testimony, the corroboratives did not feed linearity with the people dead and locked away at close. The anonymised vowels and consonants claiming this and that as trackable logic, and yet within these letters was a violence, a forcing of reason, of concreted abstraction. Who is it here that has to die? To be removed, for their I to be filled in, buried underneath. When it was my own that, with these pages, picked apart the hands of clerks, guessed at letters and the words they might make, drew them into the clarity of type. Staple-bound, and before burial rubber stamped them C A S E C L O S E D. I had thought myself mechanical observer of passed procedure, passively following wends of histories long since climaxed and ended. But it was I myself that formalised their arc of ending, who scripted their demise. It was I that dressed the scaffold, that scripted the coroner’s verdict, I that placed their remains in pots in the tunnels below the typing pool. Why am I about this? There is nothing in these pages to decode. I stopped to try to re-draw, from the mass of papers now spread by the wind across the floor, flower beds and hedgerows, arc or reason. I tidied the chunks of handwritten papers to hand into the bag and, for final, put my realities away. The scripts that had escaped, I left to blow about within that fenced in square, that, by dimension rather than convention of naming, was rather more rectangular in form.
It was an early evening, I think, in my grandfather’s tinkering room while he sorted rusted pieces of metal by shape and projected use, and placed them in piles in separate drawers in the workbench to let continue degrade. Cellotaped slips of paper as labels to each that at the time I could not read, that later, when we went to clear out the bungalow were no longer legible, as the ink had bled into the plastic. It was an early evening while he sorted rusted pieces of metal that my grandfather told the planes he’d flown during a war some time far back. I had an Airfix Lancaster, but he said it was another. That they’d been shot down over the coast of Normandy, that he’d lost his crew in the shallow hills there and I’d wondered why he had not tried to look for them. Instead leaving them wandering about there and by one way or another ending up sorting rusted nails and screws in drawers for me to watch my father empty into binliners sometime later. And I’d gone, ‘Nana, can I have a drink?’ And watched an old woman with blue-rinse fringed bob pour the Kia-ora, then tepid water and you have to get the ratios right or else you’ll get the squits. Everyone said so, I don’t know.
And in the car back, way back now, my father had said, ‘you shouldn’t call her nana, she’s not your grandmother,’ though I’d liked to, but stopped to from then. And he’d explained how, after that war, life had been difficult in that house. That his father, that would be three back in line accounting for my own embodiment, died out there in Normandy his self, which I couldn’t quite grasp, as at that time he had been live enough to sort screws. How, he’d played tin soldiers on the concrete of his bedroom floor as the frost climbed down from the plate glass, and out the unlit fireplace. To the rumble of that window pane shaking in its frame, whether a train was chopping past outside or not, and his mother had gone ‘do you want a drink, lad?’ to him, on the way back through from the priv. And he’d gone ‘aye, Mam’ and I don’t know if it was then, or some time later, she didn’t come back. But she herself was gone some time shortly after, some time decades before I, another lad altogether, was about to douse in pints of orange dilute. And she’d died with little announcement or circumstance, and how her face now shifted, in his head, between this and that middle-aged woman in the street, in the shop, back then, and then, or now. That now. How the photos didn’t help, and the face he’d kept for him now melded between his own father’s two wives who could not live, or persist in separation. What were they called again? The latter or the former. What was he.
And he’d said, Dad’d said, my dad’d said, it was something in the blood, in the body. Had gone wrong. And I wondered now, now that he’d died at same abrupt age near abouts if it wasn’t that this all cycled through, up and down this line full of breaks with modicum of continuity. Where I understood it wasn’t something wrong out there in the alleys of this village on sea, or back in town, or back there in the past, but if it wasn’t something gone wrong inside, that will always go wrong, by providence. A gone wrong to wait for, each time. Every. To replicate, mutate and forever repeat.
“Was that all true?” A woman’s face shifted opaque at that odd trick of light in glass that throws images warped and reconstituted up into the higher angles in passenger cars. She sort of peered out from the window there in from three rows back to count my own and empty in-between, and I muttered meek something, muttered, ‘whose to say, there’s no one to corroborate the testimony.’
“So where you going then?”
I don’t know anymore
Half sunken in the tarmac of the road, so as to give pretence of no break in flat surface, the tram dragged by metal rails carried on. Digging back inland.
Andrew Hodgson is author of the novelesque Mnemic Symbols (2019) and monograph The Post-War Experimental Novel (2019). He is translator from the French of Roland Topor’s Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne (2018) and from the Danish, Carl Julius Salomonsen’s New Forms of Art and Contagious Mental Illness (2019).
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