*

THE QUEST OF THE MOUTHER

A collaboration with Rhys Hughes first published in ‘Visions’ 1997

He is incorruptibly, deliberately cold, as required by the temperament of precision; but beyond this quality, everything else in him is indefinite.” From THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES by Robert Musil.

.

“Is that a parrot in your pocket?” Lucy lisped, “or are you just pleased to seed me?”

It was a question which coloured Godfrey’s cheek crimson: a blush which, combined with his green shirt and yellow cravat, turned him into a macaw himself.

He stuttered, “It’s a parrot actually, though I do have an erection in my other pocket. My back pocket, that is.”

Raising a plucked eyebrow, Lucy continued, “well, I’ve always fancied a cockatoo.”

A restrained lady, she forbore from further puns about peckers and nuts. These lingered unsaid, and unlicked, on the Surinamese air, humid as hot marshmallow, sticky as maté tea spilled on an anaconda.

Godfrey clutched his groin and announced, in a shrill voice: “Put the cleaver down, cocoa bean. Not on your life, you’ve plumbed my wife. Just a dalliance, wasn’t my idea. Foul rascal liar! Don’t cut it off, it’s the only one I’ve got. A chopper for a chopper. Leave me alone, there goes my bell-end…”

Lucy stood with arms on hips and sighed. Godfrey was muttering, “Shut up!” to his lower regions. He hopped and strutted and grimaced; his coat flapped like wings. Was this the true parrot fashion?

“Godfrey, who the hell you talking to?” thaid Lucy, taking up the envelope he proffered as soon as her lips unparaphrased a password about a pocketeet. The air was then one huge chicken-wing that fantailed outwards, crowing drunkenly that it belonged to a god who could make feathers speak easy.

“Don’t worry, it’s only small talk,” announced Godfrey, whose cheek was a deeper shade of crimson as he ducked under yet another wing the air had become. “Just open the envelope, and we can see where the trail leads.”

“All well and good having a trail, but a trail to be a trail needs a pearl and a dean…”

“Nobody said it’s a shiny fossil that we’re after beyond Surinam’s Crest or even a dog collar. Only a random quest knows where its rainbow ends.”

Lucy, hitching her pencil skirt to the stocking-tops, slit the envelope upon a sharpened suspender-belt clip. But before she could read the enclosed yellow parchment, the air itself flew into the sky with a cackle. And both Godfrey and Lucy donned their face masks.

“It takes a good deal of pluck…” Godfrey began, wondering if his Pan image was marred by a mask that was identical to his real face. One good thing, his privates were communing quietly together now, since even pube talk needed air.

They eventually decided to push on through the forest, which was already choking in the vacuum. A clearing opened round them, as the vegetation withered and died. In the centre of the widening circle hovered a yogi, oily and wise and rather spicy among the wrong Indians. He wore a goldfish bowl on his shaved head, full of water and fish.

Using sign language, Lucy said: “He looks like Sri Yuvaraj Beliram, the sage of the tilted scales. He once weighed justice and coriander and found them frying in the balance.”

Godfrey replied: “But he died two hundred meals ago! This must be a mirage, some sort of exotic illusion.”

Lucy silently snapped her fingers. “Without oxygen there can be no life. And life is what gives meaning to the passing of time. Thus we are in a region devoid of time, where the past and future can impinge on the present! He’s certainly no phoney fakir…”

The yogi nodded slowly, anxious not to upset the fish, and gestured at the ground below. In a graceful loop, large lettered cards surrounded him. Lucy and Godfrey knew at once they formed a sort of Ouija board for a Hindu hoodoo. So they ganesh’d their teeth.

With his thumbs, Sri Beliram flicked cardamon pods onto the letters in deliberate order. Squinting, Lucy saw they made a sentence: “MY QUEST IS TO CONQUER THE TEMPTATIONS OF THE FISH.”

“Does he mean flesh?” Godfrey wondered.

“I AM AT ONE WITH COD. MY SOLE IS FREE FROM HAKE.”

Lucy sighed. “Sole? Does he want to heel us? I don’t understand it. The past really is another country.”

Godfrey shook his head. “No, no, Surinam is the other country. They do things differently here. That’s worse.”

Godfrey shook his name, shook his mane, shook his Codfrey, until Lucy couldn’t differentiate him from any one of the various miners who were surfacing from the depths of an approximate coal mine. They were large animal creatures who sported wagging human appendages as well as leonine heads. The leader was carrying a cage with a dead goldfish in it.

“OK, OK, I know it was meant to be a canary,” the leader said upon noticing Lucy’s mocking finger.

The rest of the bunch were struggling to keep their lungs still. Having them on the outside of their bodies, their lungs looked like perfect pig-bladder moths, except one particular set of custardy lungs displayed the butterfly beauty of its panting wings…

Sri Beliram, noticing this fine pair of translucently yellow bellows, aimed a chili bean dart and cast it upon the lamina meniscus of the vacuum. And it squarely speared the butterfly, thus venting its left ventricle, allowing the breath within to propagate the otherwise expended atoms into a new swansong of air.

“Come on, you lot, only a random quest knows its rainbow trouts’s end,” Sri the yogi said.

Godfrey snatched off his face mask, Lucy straightened her pencil skirt, the critter with the cage snorted at the now blossoming wind and they all followed Sri towards Lankhmar, with only the tiny gills of Godfrey’s trouser-snake keeping time to their steps with wet hisses.

They passed from jungle to uplands, a region of ribbon waterfalls which giftwrapped the mountains. Toothless caves in the young rock led to a sheltered valley where the houses of a rickety town stood on poles in a steaming lake. There was a market fringing the shore. In the foggy distance, saurians snapped at gliders.

The aircraft were bringing in produce from every corner of the country’s pentagonal economy. Cocoa and lutes from Onverwacht; pepper and bicycles from the towns of Marowijne; priests and submarines from Paramaribo; shoelaces and machetes from the Sipaliwini Reserve on the Brazilian border; radium and jokes from the disputed lands beyond the River Litani and the Tumuc-Humac Range.

Godfrey and Lucy browsed stalls while Sri Beliram blew disapproving bubbles in his helmet. “Something smells fishy,” he tutted. “This is no innocent casbah. Are we among slavers?”

“Yes, yes, a slave-market,” nodded a German trader. “Buy them now, before the morning Jew evaporates.”

“I’ll have a ghetto,” squawked Godfrey’s parrot.

One stall was manned by a potter with the hands of a weaver. Polite as a polyp, he introduced himself as John Gor’blimeysworth, exiled king of Redonda. “My ascension was the start of a new era. But I was deposed and now must sell endings to earn my tea.”

“Cheer up maté,” punned Lucy, inappropriately.

The endings in question turned out to be the genuine articles. They were provided by impatient readers who skip to the climax of this story, looking for rhymes or reasons, and then return to this point to sell the dénouement to the exiled monarch.

“I’d like to hear it,” said one of the bestial miners.

Upon the stall were gathered wax figures, representations of every member of the company, save Sri Beliram, whose image cannot be moulded. They were connected by strings to the king’s fingers and danced to his delicate touch like fevers.

The wax images of Lucy, Godfrey and the others were shown standing in front of a tiny stall upon which were smaller figures, which in turn were standing before yet smaller puppets.

And so on, and so on, and so on…

“That’s not the ending, that’s now!” Godfrey protested.

The king of Redonda shrugged. “Best I can do. All the ripe endings have been snapped up. New batch expected tomorrow.”

The German trader leaned over and said: “A slave-market, just as I told you. You’re condemned to be free!”

Another stall was postmarked “THE WEIRDMONGER”. A strange name for a trestleful of cat’s meat – with Blasphemy Fitzworth himself beaming behind it running his fingers through sinewy strands and gristly melts.

“Cheap shit! Cheap shit!” was evidently Feemy’s new Ratnerok salescry instead of his more legendary GOUT CAT, SPOUT CAT, WATCH THE WHISKERS SPROUT CAT!

But, by now, the rainbow cortege had left the market and was heading towards a distant bivouac. The critter, who had surreptitiously left his canary-cage with one of the stallholders in part-exchange for a soupcon of speech, announced:

“Hey, you three, that there place is a harem for scarums!”

Lucy was beside herself:

“Men are beasts! That’s all they can think about. Sex and more sex!”

Sri Beliram, who had changed his name by inferral to Lankhmar in honour of the quest, was slightly more together, when he responded:

“A harem, yes, but one in which it looks as if the breasts fly around like birds.”

Godfrey shrugged. For him, autonomous breasts were a smidgin more frightening than they they were enticing. The king of Redonda, whose harem it was, noting Godfrey’s squeamishness, said: “But it’s a great sport clay-breast shooting…” but not before Godfrey had interrupted with: “Ah, I see, they’re only clay ones, so perhaps we can mould them into Sri Lankhmar’s shape…” until he was himself interrupted by the sight of several pigeon-chested women beckoning to them from inside the approaching harem-aviary.

By now, the critter, the parrot, Lucy, Godfrey, Sri Lankhmar, the king of Redonda, Feemy Fitzworth, not to mention the trouser-snake, were more timid than toe-larks, having seen that the faces on the harem’s loose-limbed lovelies were puppets being tugged by hair into grimaces.

One even had whiskers.

“Mouser!” ejaculated the king with a surge of recognition. “Your chest is nothing but a front!”

The said Mouser pulled another face. It was a godawful world where just about any quest was enough for him to follow. But, in his case, to follow was to be instrumental in actually leading them away from the ending they would have otherwise reached. Harem in tow.

Unknown to all, including Lucy, Lucy misheard his name as Mouther.

All the same, they allowed themselves to be enticed into the womb of the bivouac, which was a marquee shaped like a flaccid dodecahedron, the most perfect of the Platonic solids. When they entered through the air-lock, their bodies increased the inner pressure just enough to make the sides of the tent stand rigid.

“I prefer making love in a tetrahedron,” said Lucy.

“I prefer making love in an allotment,” said Feemy. “I like fresh, young lettuce.” He licked his horrid lips.

In the lobby, a group of veterans dressed in uniform were waiting their turn. They oiled their shotguns and talked about old times, when they visited bordellos in Mandalay, Samarkand, Havana, Tangiers, Cairo, Shanghai, Vaduz and Birmingham. “No Platonic solids in my day,” mumbled one. “We had to make do with irregular shapes!”

“Bloody scalene pleasures, what?” chuckled another.

“Bloody scalene whores!” returned the first. “Morals like Euclidean theorems! Buttocks like Venn diagrams! Nipples like Lobachevskian corks! Found their G-spots easily enough but I tickled and tickled and just couldn’t locate their {e to the power of minus j Theta} spots!”

“Isosceles beavers! Need a bit of Fourier Analysis,eh?”

The king of Redonda jerked a thumb and explained: “The co-sines of our fathers. They’re all that’s left of the Male Joy Division, used in the last Surinamese civil war. They gather here periodically to awaken old memories and raise a flagpole or two.”

“Disreputable!” Godfrey and Lucy wrinkled noses.

The Madam of the establishment came in with two sacks. She cleared her syphilitic throat and announced that one held clay-breasts while the other held a family of pelicans. “Take your pick!”

As the soldiers raised their firearms, Sri Lankhmar rushed forward and snatched the second sack. He liberated the pelicans, who pecked the fabric of the tent and caused it to deflate with a deafening explosion. While the birds flew out, seeking refuge from the cruelty of men, harem and occupants were flung high into the clouds. Except the clouds were little more than teasings of cotton-wool that were stuck high in a tree like bits of fluff, where a nest of three fledgling chicks were succubating their breasts for future tweaking by the harem-aviary’s clientele. One spoke through its beak as if the words were formed by human lips, tongue and teeth:

“Where’s Mouser?”

The voice was bird-like with a cute lispiness without actually lisping. The other two chicks pouted as best they could but then made a complete fist of simpering. Why they were expecting Mouser was anybody’s guess, since they seemed entirely shocked by the abrupt arrival of the others questers in the treetop. Lucy decided to intervene at this point since she was slipping groundward from branch to branch:

“This is fast becoming a guest quest and Mouther has decided to become its object rather than a follow member. He thought, I guess, that with a tangible purpose akin to tracking a fox to its earth, the quest would become rather more than its erstwhile condition as a cerebral paper chase which only wispy Greek Muses (or cast-off characters from previous doodlings of our twin creators) would find attractive enough to join. Now, we can expect more men and women of substance like Godfrey and myself…”

Luckily, most of this mouthful of unworldly wordiness remained unfinished as Lucy, its perpetrator, together with the rest of the shifty shipless shiftless crew of goats, monkeys, quare fellows and kings, tumbled into a pile of golden scales at that very moment being weighed in the balance by one of those Greek Muses which Lucy had been so scathing of. The fishy stench was worse than the right old stink raised by the previous sentence ending so very uglily in of. Which of the two textualisers took responsibility for such dross was the very quandary the Muse was alchemically testing with equal measures of…

The debate was short-lived, since Feemy Fitzworth and John Gor’blimeysworth simultaneously equated the mutual spotting of Mouser’s tail flicking from the saddlebag of a Marowijne bike as the next stage of interruption in the meanderables of the rainbow quest.

“A follower may follow, a leader may lead but only the alchemick fallowness of miscegenation can eventually sauce our capon capers.”

With the inference of unalloyed pleasure at the tale of Mouser’s Muse, the cheering group God-sped after the narrow-saddled bike, wondering who or what it was that pedalled towards a segment of the out-stretched horizon which was geometrically furthest away from the rest of the sky-line.

The chase was arduous and required a better judgement of scale than what is needed to tailor socks for a giraffe. They followed the Mouser’s bicycle down a road crammed with cars headed to the west coast. From the centre of Surinam, the only west coast available is the one located over four political borders, across territory belonging to Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela and finally through the Colombian jungle to the Pacific. There would be only one chance for a rest – Bogotá, with its sad cafés, unsung in any ballad. A difficult journey.

Needless to say, the drivers were adventurers and traders, carrying cages of mothers-in-law to the galleys.

“Fool!” Godfrey cried, as the Mouser and his unseen abductor joined them and wove a way between incumbent automobiles. Exhausted, the troupe abandoned the quest for a while, sitting by the roadside, counting their blessings. Between them, they had twenty-four.

The sun set like a juicy hat. In the oblique light, a crescent moon no wider than a cough emerged from behind a wispy cloud, like a scimitar dancing in an exotic show. The company sighed.

“Perhaps we should split up?” suggested Lucy. “If we concentrate on different projects, the sum of our achievements may add up to success in the greater quest! It’s worth a fly!”

As if this word was the key to escape, the parrot undid Godfrey’s fly from inside, flew out of the gap with a triumphant squawk and headed in a direction opposite to that taken by Mouser.

The tier-eyed parrot gone, the trouser snake was left to mourn its fellow nestling’s bifocal biflycation. But soon falling asleep, it dreamed of the two textualisers (one young yet oaken; the other moonish and over-seasoned) carving a word upon an Andean peak: an ‘o’ with a polo-dibbler and ‘f’ with an ell-cross and skewer-ankh. Their ambition was to make as many forms of “of” as there were sentences to end them with.

Meanwhile, the company’s splitting-up was tantamount to a random coming-together, as it turned out. Godfrey and Lucy were the first to find themselves in the same quadrant of the horizon, followed closely by Feemy, Sri, John, the critter et al, in that order. There were two coasts and the company’s bearings were such that none now knew the westernmost version. What was more, a street bisected the two coasts as if it were a long, straggly city leading between the furthest reaches of Pan America. The plumbing and other amenities for such a city were a real headache. Populations needed spreading every whichway, thus to prevent chasms forming from service tunnels.

A multitude of bikes (one of which doubtless smuggled the Mouser in its saddlebag) negotiated the ley-line that stuck up like a fin between the pavements. The gaudy shops tilted, the street-lamps lightly kissed across the thoroughfare, urban trees wickerworked the width and darkened the piecemeal sky, kerbstones crepitated, gutters grooved deep and deeper still…

A pageant, with spectacular floats, managed to move along from behind the phalanx of bikes. Godfrey was agog, because there were people cheering from every window of the City street. He had assumed any inhabitants would be under their bedcovers, dreaming that they were only dreaming, because, otherwise, they would find themselves rats in a sinking City. Many were even crowding into the open, risking their steps to the subsiding sidewalks. Children tugged grown-ups to see the wondrous carnival, uncaring of the leaning steeples that both churches and cinemas once boasted at strict right angles. Once crooked oldsters preened themselves upright in mock stances. Spires aspired to retro-launchers.

A large magic carpet – typical of ancient oriental imagery – skimmed by. With one of its threadbare margins nearer the ground than the other, its starboard tassels dragged along a gutted groove of trees. And, upon this float – the actual one bringing up the pageant’s tail – sat Lucy, beckoning the rest of the company to jump aboard. She frantically pointed at one of the bikes that happened to be free-wheeling (pedals spinning, spokes blurring) into a side road or, at least, a side road that had once been a narrow blind alley to a shop’s backyard or merely an irrigation tunnel turned turtle as well as bottomless.

“Mouther Ho!” she shrieked at the others.

They slumped, they clambered, they skinned their teeth, they clawed their nails and they festooned themselves around by worried tassel and teased fray.

The carpet rippled like an intestine down the alley, avoiding rusty ladders and suspended buckets: all the surplus or expelled goods which a shopkeeper might like to season in the rain. The store’s backyard was an irregular polygon, which boded ill for questers who sought augurs in the cut of a fitted geometrical shape. The rear door of the shop was yawning like a cake; in went the bike, followed by the rug, Lucy at the helm but Feemy barking directions into her ear.

“Backthread driver!” she sneered.

The interior of the shop was gloomy, illuminated by the bike’s lamp and a phosphorescent circle far below. While they watched, the lamp fell in a perfect arc toward the eerie shimmer.

A chill updraught of salty air nearly capsized them. The shop-floor seemed absurdly deep and fluid. Lucy descended at a gentle rate, hugging the wall of jagged rock which dipped a toe into the darkness. Snakes and bats played a deadly game of hide-and-seek among the crevices; unused to low temperatures, John Gor’blimeysworth moved closer to Lucy, displacing Feemy, who reached into his pocket and retrieved a lettuce. Frozen hard, like a polar explorer’s gums, it made a fine tool for fending off snakes which took undue interest in the carpet’s pattern.

Godfrey had studied geology in Lima, where he learned all there was to know about limestone; also with the Sandanistas of Nicaragua, experts on sandstone; and with his grandmother in Torbay, the foremost authority on granite; not forgetting Rachel Mildeyes, the living proof that loess exists. Several perspectives on one discipline gave him a metamorphic edge over his colleagues, who led sedimentary lives. He knew the fissure was not a purely natural formation.

“The shop-floor subsided into the sewers,” he cried, “which in turn collapsed into a metro-tunnel, which broke down into the communication conduits and so on. Fractured water-pipes flooded the depression, making a subterranean lake inside the store!”

A splash indicated that the bike had connected with the water. Then as eyes adjusted, they saw the pool was full of swimmers, customers from forgotten shopping-expeditions. They were racing each other to the bike, which bobbed fitfully, kept afloat by the buoyant contents of its now sealed saddlebag. In the very centre of the lake, other swimmers sat aboard the oldest paddle-steamer Lucy had ever seen, made from galvanised baths and toy windmills, held together by shoelaces and brass screws. They greeted the arrival of the bike with cheers and applause, beginning an impromptu party to celebrate the visitation.

“Aqua-scavengers!” breathed Feemy. “Pooling their resources!”

“I wanna me milk mummy, I wanna me milk mummy,” thcreamed Lucy, suddenly aware of the object of the quest. Not Mouser. Not Mouther. Not even Mother. Lucy was in desperate search of an erstwhile wet nurse called Mrs Gray, the one who had given succulent suck even until the age when Lucy had begun her own pert breasts. And this was no part gimmick on Lucy’s party. Nor was it a random fol-de-rol for a rainbow quest’s dubious end. This was dead serious.

“But, gor blimey, Luthy!” complained Godfrey, his face serious with Sri, beamy with Feemy, critical with critter, carroty and parroty and snakey and cat’s-meaty and pan-fried all at the same time, each toe a lark, each eyeball a softmarine from Paramaribo, each finger a hard-headed puppet, thumbs shiftless blunt-ended polygons, trouser-snake a mere penis, mind just one of many bubbles blown by a carouserful of children with names like Pansy, Chelly and Lettuce. “Do you mean to say…?”

“Yes, Godders old man, I loved Mrs Gray, I adored her, and she is in that saddlebag, a human soul seeking opportunities for outward manifestation despite the death of the body it once co-habited.”

“But the tail hanging out of…?”

“Merely a loose end.”

And Lucy pinched her nose as she ducked under the water searching for an air pocket, each of her clay frontages with a nipply beak eager for a taste of either justice or coriander. Godfrey Fitzworth, losing blasphemous qualities one by one, found a torn and empty envelope upon his person and dried his tears upon it, blotting the address in the process. He saw, in the pan-Surinamese distance, other questers still in search of a whisper from a lisp. Or a ley-line shark ploughing through geomantic anglefish. Or a vegetarian whisker on a sprout. Or a precisely blurred cartilaginous carving of …

.

“Most memories are false, but when I am faced with the only true memory, which is death, I have then no need for it.” (From Rachel Mildeyes’ AUTOBIOGRAPHY, posthumously published on 20 August 1990 as revised and completed by Allen Ashley and HP Lovecraft)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s