When other animals come close it is to parent us silently. Especially we whose parents are long buried and who before being buried were butchers. And into whose rectangle of plot we have the written rights to have our own bones tipped. Simply put, you should be alert to the world to the extent that you are ready to be killed by it, but the wireless signal doesn’t stretch to the shed where the shade is.
In the dark middle of the house, every letter on your keyboard had been a hot coal, so you came out here with a pencil to cool things down; out here where ferns reach into the aspic cube of garden and can be stared at until the circulation slows to a rate of intimacy.
You’ve written up to now - When I feel a story coming on my instinct is to pick up a weapon. With your pencil you fully intend to make the writing light like a bird and not like a feather.*
Writing out of doors makes pretence much more difficult because of the liveness that pulls you into points, this way and that. You only slowly discover what you are trying to say because you waste so much of being alive scratching and sniffing and looking for injury. How cruel that being distractible is as necessary as being focused.
At the edge of a charming rectangle of garden steeping in summer, in a 70 to 30 silk to rayon wrap with a magenta and fuchsia primitive peacock feather design, bought for him after you aced an interview, here you are. You are sticking to the warm stone walls of the shed where it is cool. You didn't get the job. When creatures are anxious they cling to the boundary in thigmotaxis because they don’t dare the open spaces. Just imagine if it were being afraid that made us yearn for obstacles.
Your neighbour over the fence, an old communist with a skull-cap of red hair, speaks brusquely to her seated husband who has cancer and a plump pigeon lands heavily on a bough to listen. The neighbours paid for this fence between your gardens and you evaluate their relationship through the lattice. With their investment, they have bought your silence and you pay perverse attention to how they endure each other. The fat wood-pigeon nearly drags the bough to the floor in taking off. A beloved poet told you that a bird takes off into the prevailing wind, its breast pitted against the difficulty that will allow it to make progress.
Pressing on harder with the pencil helps to develop an image of a child in a park being run through by a sharp-beaked bird. Does it go through or does it lodge? Is it your child? God, no, you emphasise, widening your eyes at the page as if being interviewed. Would it be grandiose to suggest that there’s nothing more to a story than a stretched white throat and some fangs to puncture it?
The pencil’s light grey loops on the paper form words that insult what you were hoping for. You are now aware that someone could look over your shoulder and see that you’re making things fit rather than rendering something already formed, there’s even enough evidence to suggest that you are attempting to pin down “what flying is.” Eventually they will, someone else will read this and release the trap you have set.
You leave it and lay out in the sun where a bird beats its wings a short distance above you and, rebounding off your belly, the air sucks you to a tender point from which emerges a triangular pane that tracks the living beating thing over the fence and along with it, the wants that live just under the skin that waken when another wanting thing comes close. Straining what if to the point of damaging your delicate balances, the triangle leans as far as it can before the bird twangs loose. Are there any words that are alive enough?
Alive: being a need to unfold myself endlessly and be touched.
To focus is to be comfortably hazy but the pull from the bird is sore and lingers. You feel through your stomach a togetherness with the beating wings, the cherry heart, the gloss of distance over the jet eye. The upward boundaries of the garden have not been decided. You glory in your uselessness. The shadow of a smaller bird whisks through the loop of your idleness, tightening it for a second. You flinch, keeping out of mind the crescent of woodland that looms beyond the raised end of the garden. You ignore thoughts of eyes made for darkness tunnelling through night. The dainty accuracy of their every hoof and paw, encountering you, all stares suddenly painted over.
You flip over onto your belly but the pencil is the type that won’t darken with a lick; only a pen will capture the durable gaze you’re after. But two birds make an ex over you and you are drawn to the point at which their paths cross, the point hooks a film of spit that lies between your tongue and the roof of your mouth but the thread can’t take the weight of a bird. It snaps and the liquid tent gracefully collapses. The end of something impermanent, not a disaster. Don’t mourn so easily as that you idiot, but every sentence you write in which you recognise yourself, you dislike.
You’ve seen this line of space between tongue and roof of mouth on a film; a sagittal cross-section of a talking head. You stand up and piss into the ferns through a parting in the pink wrap, then spit on the flagstones through the gap in your teeth before lying back out in the sun. You flop open in the heat wondering if you could short-circuit seriousness by admitting how mucky your heart was. Not unclean but black. Like a black vagina. Not a black person’s vagina but a heart like a vagina’s folds, coloured black. Like those lovely furled insides of a handbag that can produce from between their own satin folds a brittle pack of sweetener or a waxy stalk of lipstick covered in tobacco.
The film showed that a tongue in the act of talking is a rude thing full of jerks and darts; allied with that set of cowed mammals embodied in the hamster. The tongue was solid white where black was cavity, daring to part the lips but then retreating, scared of its tether then glad of it, nimbly refusing to accept it was unable to leave the black cave of the mouth. It was a wonder to see the whole apparatus execute a swallow as the tongue crowded out so efficiently every bit of black space the mouth had to offer.
Unlike actually creating, feeling the readiness to produce is in no way disappointing or substandard or below par. Your potential is in ignoring what others think you should do. Thinking hard about ignoring others suddenly becomes prayer. In prayer you count; you want to count. It’s difficult to discount the ego but when you pray, great globs and spurts of what you might soon do issue forth. Prayers, once plans, gush into fountains of possible futures and the fervour gets replenished by planning, you cannot stop it. You’d rather not say issue forth of course. Next you’ll be holding the back of your hand to your forehead.
Oh you have known animals. Your beginnings are in butchery. You know that to slice the brain you must fix the brains first and you know that one method is to ensure formalin is pumped round rat bodies by their own hearts. Unfixed, the brain is tender and yielding and is delightfully compartmentalised. Once used to a regime of cocaine, you know rats can spontaneously ejaculate before they receive it. Under immense pressure, one can become expert at releasing the slippy bean of the amygdala, but under the hand, a brain is never quite as fixed as one would like it and you have seen a heavy formalin-fixed human brain chowderise the liquid in a bucket after a single transportation by van.
You daren’t share what you think of him with the garden. All this fuss because what you’re really avoiding is your prevailing wind. Exactly how many ways can you relay to yourself how it might be if you had it? If you see the signs you’re thrown off course because whatever happens, you must never know what you are doing. Skirting is what you must stick to. But out here, even the smallest live thing picks up your signal, suspending you in a communal attention while you are trying to pretend that this story waiting to be told is yours and that only you can tell it and that the need will diminish once it’s told. With these other interlocking lives, you make up the net under a trapeze. Up there someone’s doing it, not just getting hot, willing it to happen.
You stand up and pull the side of your hand up the sweating gap between your tits. A bird crosses above you and it is in love with you. It’s so obvious. You press your love up into a cone whose sharp end almost pricks the bird. You are bothering a flyer to teach you how to jump. You know all about hovering safely above. You sit back in the shade to tune in to the buzz and randomly, repeatedly, winged life curves toward you, scooping up whatever it is you are giving off.
Rachel Genn works at Manchester Writing School/School of Digital Arts. Formerly a neuroscientist, she has written two novels: THE CURE (2011) and WHAT YOU COULD HAVE WON, forthcoming from &OtherStories (2020). She has written for Granta, 3:AM and The Real Story and is currently working on HURTLING, a collection of investigations into immersion and the creative act; a binaural experience exploring paranoia with Human Studio; and an ACE-funded collection, BLESSED, about fighting and addiction to regret. @RachelGenn
Sally Anne Wickenden is an artist/painter who begins forming paintings in her dreams, where ego is often represented by an animal. She and Rachel often respond to each other’s work. @WickendenAnne