The front cover will include text that has been torn from all sorts of places: a phrase from a newspaper headline, a word from a Sears catalogue, two letters scavenged from a shoe box, one from a Subway napkin, and three more trimmed from Auntie Linda’s Christmas card. That’s all as it should be, because that’s pretty much how the book is being written. Here are several fragments taped together and masquerading as the opening of a short story:
Once upon a time there lived a king and queen who were as forgettable as all the other kings and queens who had lived since time began. On Saturday, April 7, the queen agreed to join the king for a ride in his dingy along the mighty River Cole. Max Smith turned to watch the launching, gliding in sharp prowed silence with the blades of his single skull brushing the still surface of the Cole like the feet of a water spider below the rowlocks on their riggers. His widow’s peak and run-away mustache completed the skinny antithesis of what one would expect of a champion rower. He had taken gold in the cup races back in October, and yet he looked every pound a weakling as he nodded silent recognition to Habib.
With mock formality, Habib greeted Nichaline, “Good morrow, young miss. I trust she fares well.”
She replied with a very low bow, “Good morrow to the sailor. Neptune be praised that he is returned unharmed.”
“They found better meat, so they didn’t eat me, said the sausage.”
“What courage,” replied the butcher’s daughter.
“Right it is,” he answered, and with the oars steadying the dingy at the bank, and Max Smith’s little dog, Montmorency, unhappy and deeply suspicious atop the Five Arches Bridge, into it she stepped and out they shot on to the waters which, for the next seventy minutes, were to be their home.
Within a few hundred yards Habib was perturbed by the silence. He put on his touch-of-Bronowski accent and gave a speech on hydrodynamics and hull design, “Where do vee get this combination of laminar und turbulent flow? Frum the deepest depths of skience, Nichaline.”
“You’re German, is that why you’re all toasted?”
“I’m half English and half Indian.”
“I though you were a Paki.”
Habib, who had heard far worse far too often, casually replied, “Dad got here before partition. Always called himself Indian.”
“So, which half is Indian?” Nichaline asked, with either surprising facial control or surprising dumbdom.
“Everything from the waist down.”
She became less high spirited, more edgy, ill at ease. Applying steady and splashless strokes, Habib moved them up the river. It was wrapped in a delicate grey haze with a mud brown undertone, like a dirty thought struggling for words through a mist of racing hearts. Turbid waters dodged under the Highfield Road Bridge, threatening to give up a face or a waving arm through its dull murk–a murky depth that suggested drowned creatures, or staring corpses, white from bleeding in some ponded shell hole on the Western front.
In an attempt to defuse the racial shell that threatened the stability of their boat, Habib explained the Troy two to the one-hundred theory. This was his name for the principle that for any modern individual to have been the product of matings between unrelated humans since the siege of Troy, there would have to have been two to the power of one hundred humans alive at that time: a figure that dwarfs the total number of humans that have ever lived. Thus, he concluded, we are all related or highly inbred, “an interesting dilemma for those who support wars against those of different races.”
There he goes, singing his song for me
and I respond,
plunging my hand into his heart.
I separate his life blood –
the cool ripples
entangle my fingers
demanding to never be released.
And even as I lift my hand
he clings to me
as to remind me
that he and I will always be,
that his blood flows with mine,
and now when I hear his song, it comes from within.
He beckoned me from my walls
of stiff, stale air
to join him in his lazy run
down a path violently cut with his rippling liquid fingers
a long time ago.
Those same fingers
now gently tickle my flesh
as I carefully dip my foot in his shadows.
His gentle grasp –
snaking tendrils wrapped around my ankles –
send chills rushing up my leg
to whisper his secrets in my ear.
I inhale deeply and step in further.
He tugs at my waist and begs me to lie with him. I can’t resist.
I lie down and his body cradles me
Pulls me into himself…completely surrounds me;
A tender rocking as he carries me.
Whistles and trills now carry a bass note –
muffled and muted
and finally gone.
Reluctantly, I arise from his wet embrace
the evidence of his touch still shining on my skin
liquid silver dripping off my fingertips.
A smile on my lips.