*

CRIME OF PLENTY

He bowed low in deference to me – but then leant back so very far, at least as far back as he had just bowed forward, that his action eventually, in a split second, became more of a snub than a deference. His name was Count Innumerate.

I had married very young in life, amid the atmospheric eeriness of a ghost story, because the church was haunted with guests; even the priest wasn’t truly there. Just me and the bride, Angelica Braharniss. And the echoes of a stone vacuum within which christenings, weddings and funerals followed each other upon the crest of prose that served as their only vehicle towards reality.

I had met Angelica at a seaside resort, where most of the well-seasoned old-fashioned manners still prevailed, including afternoon tea dances and brass band concerts on the pier where most of the audience sat in well-behaved ranks of striped deck-chairs. Only a few uncouth holiday-makers were allowed as makeweights. We needed seasides not to be entirely perfect, for them to be seasides. Fish and chip cafes and low dive pubs with loud music were dotted about the sea front to give variety. Angelica had rescued me from one such dive, a pub called The Seventh Seal. It had a sign, that swung in the sea winds, depicting a seal clapping its flippers. She was only there by chance, that fateful day. She had been my own neighbour in the baby ward where we were both born twenty six years ago. So when I say I met Angelica at a seaside resort, it was a sort of second meeting, I suppose.

Which brings me back full circle to Count Innumerate. He was my childhood friend who blossomed from my imagination into someone who actually took on a real life and had his own thought-patterns that were not derived from my own. He grew up into a tricksy grown-up who set about telling me the facts of existence – grew up from an imaginary child-like friend into a real man with monocle, gold-topped cane and black cape, someone whose sense of humour (almost his whole reason for living) was to make fun of me with his silly bows and childish pranks. But, of course, he had always been childish. Child-like, too. As I say. He had christened himself Count Innumerate. I could not spell it. I can’t spell it now. But we are now both old enough to get the joke of the name, I guess.

Well, he told me once that if anyone murders someone else then the murderer and the victim whom he or she murdered are invariably people who were in very close proximity as small babies, so close that their encounter was tantamount to a full-blooded first meeting. Either because the mothers put the prams together somewhere, while they did some shopping, or the prams passed in the street, the babies thus catching each other’s tiny eye, or whatever. Or slept together in neighbouring cots within the same Maternity Hospital ward, as Angelica and I had done. I believed Count Innumerate. Despite, his jokiness, I knew that he never told me lies, although he may have told them to other people. And I believed, too, in his ability to know the unknowable such as the history of murderers and their victims. I trusted him. This begs the question why I then proceeded to marry Angelica Braharniss when I knew full we had ‘met’ as new-born babies. And to beg a question is a like a small seal yapping for its reward fishy biscuit.

Count Innumerate was my Best Man, of course. The church was a really old chapel on some hillside as far as possible from the nearest town as it was possible to be. But I’m jumping ahead. Angelica was no ordinary girl in her mid-twenties. She was a posh prostitute, someone with good breeding (it having been a private hospital where she was born — and myself, too, presumably … based on the Count’s story of our mutual epoch of precise astrological harmonics — if not based on my own memory, and, being an orphan, how else was I to know?)

But why a high-class hooker like her would want to visit The Seventh Seal pub in the mixed-fortune suburb of a seaside resort on the East Coast of England was something that only chance and fortune could possibly answer, and that only a particularly non-average case of the law of averages could possibly take forward…

I began to call her my Countess Immaculate. Angelica was not her real name, anyway; it was probably Susan or Joan, I forget which. When you live fast like me it’s easy to forget things. In the rat-race you only recall the dripping snouts. We had left the pub together, with my offer of sexual employment having been accepted all too readily by the beautiful woman, because, otherwise, how could I possibly have credited our love with love? The same word for two different things. Those seasoned in the arts of love will understand exactly what I mean, I’m sure. We had so much going for each other, the singular locking together (of our two as yet unquenched bodies) being unconnected with the supply and demand of its ignition. Equally with the scales of our erotic economies. A crime of plenty.

The only common denominator neither of us suspected were our roots in two babies’ chance meetings (over twenty years before) in a cottage hospital where our two mothers had met during their respective confinements. Why the doctors or midwives had decided, in their wisdom, to place our two cots together was probably due to the almost immediately consecutive timing of our arrival in the world through the fleshy tunnels of our mothers’ making. There was perhaps some connection between the proximity of the temporarily messy front vents of matriarchal flesh pointed up towards the receiving hands of human gods: placental birth-beds leading to the inevitable natural more bloody death-beds of our future witherings of departure: catalysts towards the enforced premature death-bed of one us in the future as caused by the other through an uncontrollable chemical reaction of mind as well as echoes or hauntings of that erstwhile messy flesh. An uncanny cause and effect masquerading as synchronicity.

“Scrap the words!” shouted someone at the window of my mind. This onlooker’s greasy locks and bent nose were doubled up by the strange refraction of the glass. Angles of incidence convoluted beyond any ratchet of reflection. It was doubtless Count Innumerate (in disguise?) paying a another surprise visit from the childhood dens of the past. Once my Best Man (on his last visit) twenty years ago, now a vagabond varlet girning faces just for the sake of ridiculing my wordiness.

“Where’s your cape, cane and monocle?” I shouted back, if minds can indeed shout. I suddenly descended my gaze towards my hands which I found burrowing into the neck of my wife. Sweethearts soon lose their gloss with the onset of wrinkles. But her skin was smoothing out, even now, like clay, under my moulding hands. Or like shirt-collars under the flat-iron. Suffocation or strangulation made a household art form. A domestic, as the critics would say, if not the police. With only one eye-witness: a real visitor from my imaginary childhood, or an imaginary visitor from my real childhood, it little mattered: his testimony would not hold water in any trial, unless it was held at a courtroom from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which case all bets were definitely off. His cane might indeed have been the wand that conjured decapitations and false memories…

I bowed down, as if I were on a stage. Only to hinge right back as Angelica Braharniss took advantage of this momentary lack of concentration on my part, with a huge upsurge of energy from the pits of her many stomachs. Cowntess Immaculate milked me so dry that I found myself back in that original cot (or imagined I did) where I once yearned so desperately for a mother’s ripened nipple. Arching my baby’s back and neck so that the lips of my toothless mouth coned up for the feed that wasn’t there. Wet-nurses were few and far between those days. And the doctor who thought he so kindly suffocated me had a monocle and black cape, except everything was in negative, and the cape was as deceptively white as an angel’s in Heaven. But he also croaked and clapped like a seaside circus act.

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