Monday, 7 February 2011

At the court of public opinion


And lo! I found myself in a great vaulted court, upon the bench of which crouched a monster whose limbs shook incessantly, and whose face was bloated and twisted and black. And from his flabby mouth, each time he exhaled, issued a myriad sparks, which were drenched to cinders by the bile that followed them, and fell upon the granite blocks of the walls and on the beams and ceiling, and on the furnishings and on the floor, which was a sea of hissing, creaking clinker, while everything else besides was vanishing under a film of soot.
And I said to the demon at my side, who was naked except for a pork pie hat, and scratching himself, “what manner of creature is this?”
And he replied, “The name of the monster is ‘Opinion,’ and his time is the last winter of the living language. In his realm there is no tender thought that goes untrampled, no guilty dream that is not seized and turned out of doors to be pilloried, no doubt or difficulty that passes unreviled.”
And as I listened and watched, there was a dismal, universal hiss, and a multitude of blackened shapes began moving in the hall, and shaking themselves, so that they spattered each other with droplets of pitch, and I thought that they were dogs or crows, but the demon said:
“These are Opinion’s people, who cleave to him because they fear the silent zones of their imaginings, and because he tears up every day behind them as it passes, and weaves all their life from the prickings of the moment.”
And as I looked, around the margins of the hall appeared others, each holding a box with a glistening eye; and I said to the demon, “what machines are those that the bored-looking men chewing gum are brandishing? I fear an emission of death rays.” And he replied: “Verily. Or not quite. Those are engines which capture a moving likeness and publish it throughout Opinion’s realm. See how the people feign that the gum-chewers and their engines are not there?”
Then the people howled, and chewed the clinker from the floor, and began to utter, all at once: “what I think is” – “there should be a law” – “at the end of the day” – “if I was the government” – “listen...” – “no, you listen...” – “the thing is, basically” – “it’s shocking, disgraceful” – “no other word for it” – “call this democracy?” – with such a clamour and commotion that scarce one phrase could be told from any other.
And all the while the monster writhed and sparked and spat, but other beings, slender, discreetly-besuited and all unbesmirched, moved among the people, robbing them of their wallets and purses, and they noticed them not.
And my demon stopped scratching, and said: “what is now proved was once only imagined.”
Then a woman separated herself from the people, and wiped the soot from her face and eyes, and said, “all this is nonsense; we just don’t understand...” but the monster roared, and showered her with bile, and sparks that fired the pitch on her body, and the other people grabbed her by the throat and buried her beneath the clinker.
I wept, and my demon said, “steady as she goes, old blubber. They haven’t even started on the football, yet.” And he took off his pork pie hat, and put me inside, and we sailed up into the clouds, where there were ice crystals, and the wind fingered my ears, and I do not know whether it was the wind or my demon who sang in a whisper:

I know a man who has nothing to say
Who has violet eyes and hair white as milk
And a waistcoat as green as a willow in May –
Six buttons are roses of pink twisted silk


And we descended in a spiral, over the sea, where I saw numberless waves, lapping and momentarily reflecting the sun, and throwing up patterns of gold and silver, which were as inconstant spheres and intertangled lines of light along the granite cliffs. Then the voice sang again:

I met a lady who never once spoke;
She’d cyclamen eyes and sloe-berry lips
And a tunic as green as a late-August oak –
Six buttons were polished carnelian hips


Then we flew low across the heath, cutting the airy way like a bird, until we came to an ancient tomb, surrounded by tall firs (within which, my demon said, were entrapped the spirits of Roman legionaries). There he set me down, and said:
“Everything possible to be believed is an image of the truth.”
Then he was gone, and a kestrel landed on the high branch of a hornbeam tree, and shifted from foot to foot. And my mobile phone rang. It was a cold call, desiring me to “participate in a survey – your views count.”
To be continued (possibly).

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