Friday, 21 May 2010

Chapter Three

The morning light was ethereal and bitter, like the sky was wounded somehow. It was raining less heavily than last night.
Serima sat in the passenger seat while they drove, her eyes closed. Jobe glanced at her. She was dressed in figure-hugging blue jeans and a burgundy jumper, her coat folded across her knees, trying to impress her drama teacher and fellow young thespians with her maturity and sophistication. She looked good. There was a little of the debutante in her, Jobe mused.
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz’, from L Frank Baum’s book and the MGM film, it was Seri’s intended master-work. Jobe smiled to himself. A radical reinterpretation of the text, she’d called it. He watched her pour everything into this production. Even though she was admired and respected by her teachers, it was still a bigger venture than any she’d taken on in the past two years. Jobe knew the theatre department put a fair amount of money behind its best students. Serima would feel responsible if it turned into a disaster.
“How’s it going?” he asked carefully. “You still gonna be Dorothy?”
Serima opened her eyes and stared at him. “Not if I can help it. I’m swamped as it is. You know, sometimes I think I’m too young and stupid to handle all this. Maybe I’m trying to run before I can walk.”
“Seems fitting though,” he said with a grin, “You played Romeo, a young boy in love, caught in the middle of a war. Dorothy Gale would be full-on prophecy. Either way, you’ll do a good job. You’re a perfectionist.”
Serima lit a cigarette. Jobe snatched it from her hand and began to smoke it.
“Not in my car, Googley. These things will kill you.” Immediately she lit another one and took a pull. Jobe smiled.
They both smoked quietly for a while. Eventually, Serima exhaled and said, “Anyway, that was in school. A girls’ school. That’s the only reason I got to play Romeo. As incredible as I was.”
“Guess you haven’t found someone to replace your star?”
She bit gently at her bottom lip and raised an eyebrow. “No, not yet. Well, it’s down to two girls actually. I’ve got to decide. Kelly dropping out was all I needed.”
Jobe turned to her and winked. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Serima rolled her eyes but was smiling, hoping that would indeed be the case. She wanted this play to go off without a hitch. If it did it would earn her a lot of kudos in the theatre department and among the other students. She liked Baum’s book but she loved the movie much more. When she was twelve Jobe had given her a poster of Judy Garland as Dorothy that she kept on her wall for nearly four years.
In this production Serima wanted to combine the book and the film, but re-envision a far darker world of Oz. She wanted to walk Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin-Woodsman and Cowardly Lion into destiny’s harsh embrace. And, as implied in the book, Dorothy would knowingly murder the witch.
Dorothy would have a child’s near impeccable sense of style.
Jobe’s Ford Escort pulled up in front of Wells Gate College of Arts. She had a final drag of the cigarette and tossed it from the window. Taking her brother’s hand, staring pointedly at him, she knew what he was thinking.
“Jobe, a shadow-girl was in my dream. She killed a lot of people. She had so much rage. It reminded me of things I’d rather forget. Don’t ask me questions now – I’ll tell you everything when I get back tonight, okay? When will you close up the shop?”
“Around four, four thirty. Don’t let the Man get you down, Seri.”
She leaned forward, kissed his cheek, and climbed from the car. Jobe watched her put on her coat and sling her bag across her shoulder, as she walked towards the stone steps.

Wells Gate Public Baths was an old building, built in 1893. It had survived the Blitz and was refurbished countless times, but it still managed to exude an antiquated presence. The Men’s changing-room was a windowless rectangle with orange lockers that clashed with the polished grey stone of the walls. He stripped and changed into his trunks, taking his goggles and stuffing everything into a locker. Swimming always made him calm, focused and inspired. It illuminated his fears and doubts for what they were; hollow illusions filled with ghostly light.
He thought about the Aquinas here. But not just dark things.
He thought about great moments when he’d realised he was happy. In the water he coveted those precious times, like stolen coins from nature’s unyielding fist. Astrologically he was a Cancer sign, the cardinal water sign in the zodiac; a sign born to lead, a sign with a mother fixation.
So dashingly predictable.
Jobe smiled and raised a hand to Lucy, the cute lifeguard, as he slipped into the pool and began his laps, cutting smoothly through the water. Maybe he loved it so much because it was like being in the womb. Or perhaps, probably more accurate, it was like moving through the subconscious; through a realm of images unchained from the stone of the world, like dreaming whilst being awake, especially if he closed his eyes. He wanted the solitude and the darkness. It would be a darkness of language, a black ocean of words, utterly silent, and armies of angels would resolve the fates of the dreamless.
One day, he mused at his death metaphor. For now, I’ll make do with the light.

‘MasterKey’. It was a name that Serima came up with when she was a brilliant eleven year old on the cusp of puberty. A secret key to all the halls of knowledge, as she’d put it. Jobe guessed she liked the lawless implication. The shop sat on the edge of Thornsett Road, new books displayed in the large windows. Apart from Monica and Serima, it was the only thing Jobe really lived for. MasterKey insured his financial future. He’d be lost without it, merely another young man who couldn’t escape his adolesence. The last few months he’d been working on his third unpublished manuscript, often typing at his laptop between serving customers and trying to update MasterKey’s computer database. He couldn’t afford an assistant, and even if he could he wouldn’t hire one.
This place was his now.
He had put a lot of effort into making the shop visually pleasing; pale blue walls, plants dotted around, paintings hung between shelves. Some of the paintings were reproductions of Picasso, Degas, Magritte. Others, the explicitly postmodern ones, were his own creations.
A young boy kneeled on a vast chessboard floor, replicating the chessboard on a sketchpad beside him.
A girl, naked, arms crossed against her chest, sitting in the branches of a tree that was shaped like a key.
Jobe liked these adolescent images, but back in secondary school his art teacher referred to his strange paintings as ‘false surrealism; a trite pop-psychology attempt at meaningfulness…thoroughly derivative and wholly without depth.’
Jobe had been shaken by the contempt in the man’s eyes, and he wondered why a teacher would need to cut a fifteen year old boy to psychological ribbons. Nearly a year later the man was killed in a car crash that was the talk of the whole school. At the memorial service held by the Greenwood PTA, Jobe placed a single red rose beneath the shiny plaque bearing his name. He remembered feeling sorry for the guy, and wondering if the malicious art teacher had ever really known anything about art.
Jobe smiled now, thinking of Seri at college, forging a path of pure gold for Dorothy & Company. He put a Tom Waits CD in the player, took a sip of his coffee and spent the next few minutes going through the database, checking stock and reviewing orders, as Tom growled expertly on the issues of love and life. Jobe usually felt at peace here. His own kitsch little sanctuary. A church that made him smile, in which nothing skewed could touch him.
When he was finished with the orders, like hundreds of times before, he reached into the counter drawer and removed a photograph of his mother.
Maya Kistori was staring blankly at the camera. Long black hair and dark brown skin. The bindi at her forehead. She was beautiful but cold-eyed. He could see a lot of his sister in his mother’s face, and a little of himself. Seri had her delicate brow and nose. And her eyes too.
He reached in again and removed a photo of his father, smiling wryly. Jobe could see more of himself in the man. The lighter brown skin, the less aquiline nose, the intense yet saddened eyes. Both he and Seri had their father’s full lips. Their parents were good-looking people, and they’d at least blessed he and Seri with a measure of physical attraction.
Yeah, we’re blessed. Those words mean nothing.
Jobe laughed and shoved the photographs back in the drawer.

No comments:

Post a Comment