posted Sunday, 30 December 2007

EDIT (2 Jan 08) The version below has now been superseded by the workshopped version here:





He tried to be simple but it never worked. He tried it without a name. But it involved several guesses that simply made it more complicated. He then tried it with his real name. This led to an unholy mess of recrimination. He then tried a pseudonym. That worked better. Also two titles worked better than one, but arguably less well than none. Certainly better than more. That could not be explained. So, he had a certain amount of perplexity about possible titles but learned to live with it. Two titles became the optimum. Neither crowded or uncrowded.

He then questioned whether it should have a beginning. And if no beginning, why not no end as well? But everything needed to have a beginning and an end even if he did not intend them to be a beginning and an end. Perhaps they were simply beginning and end by default.

There was never any question about authorship, however. Everything was what it was, with no unnecessary nomenclature together with the minimum use of long words and heavy syntax. And Potter was whoever he was, even if disguised by a pseudonym.

Now we come to the unravelling simplicity of a work with two titles, with no author, with a main protagonist conveniently known by an otherwise unwanted name — and ostensibly a work with no beginning or end, because Potter had caused the whole to be truncated or cropped after it had been finished.


Potter was a lover of old English churches. He loved especially those single-towered or single-spired churches with basic styles, such as undecorated wooden box-pews, an unwordy pulpit, a crudely manufactured (even makeshift) altar, silent bell-ringers and a pervading atmosphere of natural faith uncluttered by any sense of evil or even by a simple doubt.

He had left his wife at the hotel, telling her that he may be quite a long time today as he wished to explore St Nemo’s Church in Desborough with particular care, because Sir George Jackman was supposed to have found his final resting-place there.

Jackman had been a figure who featured quite heavily in an unnamed book which Potter was investigating so as to simplify a view of history that had wrongly been complicated by unworthy historians just in it for the money.

He hoped that there may be some textual or textural inscription on the tomb that would explain why Jackman had been given his title. Particularly with which monarch he had found favour, there being several possible monarchs whose respective periods of reign had crossed the time-line of Jackman’s own life.

“The plural of opus is opera,” said Potter, with characteristic absent-minded absurdity. He then told his wife he would need a lunch-box for his day at Desborough, in hope that this tone of homeliness would make her forget the absurdity he had just voiced.

“Have you asked the kitchen staff for a lunch-box?” Mrs Potter asked. Evidently, Potter’s ploy had worked well.

“They told me to ask again in the morning,” he replied. He laughed upon thinking that the word ‘replied’ had ‘lied’ built-in. Then immediately he brushed away the thought that had caused the laughter.

The night was full of dreams that Potter, in his search for simplicity, also tried to brush away come morning. Dreams were easier to forget than most things. He had effectively forgotten about his own untruth about planning to ask the kitchen staff in the morning because he actually did ask the hotel’s kitchen staff in the morning and they fortuitously provided a lunch-box for him to take, although it was full of what later became a congealed mess.

He said goodbye to his wife and began his trudge through the Essex creeks towards the church at Desborough. The weather was inclement and he was thankful for his thermal vest.

“Thank you, thank you…” he muttered absently to himself, as he watched the spire gradually exceed the distance between itself and the hotel from which he came. The journey should have been more straightforward, but one had to account for the number of missed turnings. As ever, there was only a single complex way to describe everything; unfortunately that would not have helped Potter’s ambitions to capture a confident simplicity from between the jaws of difficult doubt. The journey was probably full of tangents and misadventures. Potter preferred a straight unbroken line between A and B and so it turned out to be for our purposes here. But he did allow report of the lost lunch-box. He would tell his wife about it later to excuse his excessive appetite.

Despite the never-ending glimpses of the spire seeming to move by its own volition rather than from Potter’s changing vantage-point, the destination was eventually reached before the end.

The exterior of the church was lit by a sudden glance of the sun through the clouds, simultaneously lifting Potter’s heart in the process. He had been particularly crestfallen by the loss of the lunch-box as well as by the anti-climax of arrival. The sun, however, seemed to lift the church from its own slough of despond. The wet roofs of the surrounding village could be seen through the trees as simple as an impression. Not a painting so much as a forgotten dream.

Potter approached the door of the church, having first ascertained there was no relevant stone-marker in the graveyard concerning Sir George Jackman. Such an important titled personage would probably have his resting-place within the church walls … and so it turned out to be, his carved stone likeness crowning the tomb’s lid, giving the impression that he had two bodies: one hard and permanent that was on view, the other just the congealed mess within.

“Thank you, thank you…” Potter again muttered absently to himself. “Hmmm, this must be him. A simple turn of events. What was expected is what has happened. Thank you, indeed.”

It was too dark inside the church to make out the box-pews with any degree of clarity. Rearing from one of them, a huge grim shadow held out Potter’s missing lunch-box. Was this simply what one would have expected given the circumstances of time and motion? Or the most frightening experience possible?

The sunshine, evidently now permanently in existence outside the church, was illuminating the altar-window like glimpses of a true Heaven rather than stains of a false one. A diversion thankfully back towards simplicity.

“Don’t forget me,” he heard his wife say inside his head. She must have known he had been in danger; but, sitting in the hotel lounge reading a Henry James novel, she was, in fact, further away than any such impression could vouchsafe.

But there had been no need to worry even if she had given herself good reason to worry. Her hero returned before nightfall.

“There are two Heavens, one called Hell, the other History,” Potter noted in his note-book after lightly rubbing, for many hours, a soft pencil-lead over his own thermal vest stretched like tracing-paper upon the alphabetical interstices of the benighted stone box-lid.

God is the one true monarch: he thought his last thought.

There was no ending to crop off.


This opuscula was first written today by DF Lewis

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