alchemy

…the transmutation of base metals into gold    

Though it wouldn’t be accurate to say that Oscar was inspired by Smith’s example on the previous night – leading an expedition of the faithless out into the panoply of humdrum wonders of the real world, it would be the easiest way to explain Oscar’s once again blacking his face with boot polish, once again putting on dark clothes and once again venturing into the night’s darkness to peer through the rear windows of the neighbouring houses in order to observe humanity in all its mundane splendour.

Oscar was this night determined to become inspired. Indeed, so determined was he that he left the house at a jog which only petered out when he was around the corner.

His mind was full of the potential and possibility inherent in human life; surely he would come across the germ of one chapter, at least one storyline which he could populate his novel with – a novel which would encompass the whole of human experience and contain within its covers all the questions, answers and everything else to do with our experience of this life. And even though last night’s expedition only offered up the image of an old woman sitting alone in the dark watching a soap opera, Oscar felt that even that seemingly vacuous image held within it a glimmer of the sublime beauty of existence, a sublime beauty which he would come across in spades tonight without the dead weight of Helen and Henry and without Smith whispering of the world’s wonders in his ear every two minutes.

Once in the warren of back alleys Oscar could feel the hum, the beat, the vibrations of humanity – it was only a matter of time before he became inspired.

The first scene Oscar came across was quite promising: a couple, in their thirties, sitting facing each other across a table in between the slats of Venetian blinds, just finishing their desert, slices of chocolate cake with dollops of cream, drinking red wine from champagne glasses, laughing, or rather giggling, obviously remembering something from their past, perhaps the great coincidence of their meeting (What are the chances of two ordinary people meeting like that?), and gestures to enhance the meaning of their words, fingers pointing in the air, palms turned towards the ceiling, heads shaking, nodding, being thrown back when something particularly humorous is recalled, their hands touching on the table, their eyes meting, their heads all of a sudden stopped bobbing, staring into each other’s eyes and the dropping of the dessert spoons and the knocking of the red wine filled champagne glasses to the floor as they embraced across the table, almost pulling each other through the table, the table nearly toppling over and their embrace rolling onto the sofa at the back of the room…

But Oscar felt uncomfortable writing about sex, so he moved on.

There were a family sitting together watching television, a middle aged couple sitting watching television, a woman in her twenties sitting watching television, an elderly couple sitting watching television… everyone was sitting watching television, which made Oscar think that maybe that was what he should write about; he should write about everyone sitting watching television, though it would be terribly dull, though he could turn it around, he could turn it into a metaphor – watching television as a metaphor?

Despite the emptiness and vacuity of people’s lives, Oscar was becoming more and more inspired… at least he felt more and more inspired, and he didn’t dwell on what this inspiration might consist of.

Another scene Oscar came across, framed by the still undrawn frilly curtains of the lower middle classes, was that of a man in his fifties gesticulating wildly at the walls, at the shelves of glass and ceramic figurines, at the frilly curtains which his finger caught and caused to fly up across the window, at the remains of dinner on the table, at the television flickering in the corner and at the bowed shape of who could only be his wife sitting in a hard backed chair. The only moment where he turned around and faced the darkness outside Oscar saw the anger and threat in his features and decided that this was the wrong genre for him.

Oscar froze when he heard the sound of someone approaching where he was stood. He crouched down and hoped that the darkness would be sufficient to hide him. When he felt more secure of the cover the darkness afforded him, and more certain that he wasn’t being stalked by some psycho in the bushes, he stood back up and saw the red tip of a cigarette in the next garden – a young woman, as illuminated by the tip of her cigarette when she took a drag on it, was sitting on top of a wheelie bin staring into space. And for some reason, Oscar felt a strong link with this person – it was her loneliness, her anguish (as written in the wrinkles on her brow and the manner in which she grabbed at bunches of her hair) and her somehow transcending the world of television, frilly curtains and chocolate cake which cast a spell on him. Her allure was perhaps contingent on the darkness and the dullness of the red light which faintly lit up her features, which failed to expose the blemishes and wrinkles of humanity which so appalled Oscar. But allure him, she did. Indeed, so allured was Oscar that he rose out of the shadows and exposed himself to this mysterious beauty.

Of course, the consequences, once you stand back and think about it, were obvious – high pitched screaming, doors opening, more shouts and screams, dogs barking, garden lights glaring and various other sounds and sights thrown into a general melee out of which Oscar was never going to emerge unscathed. He might have used the general confusion to blend in with the crowd of concerned neighbours brimming over with consternation, if it wasn’t for his blacked-up face and black clothes and the manner in which he carried himself – half way between a caricature of a cat bugler and an errant child sneaking away from the consequences of his errant behaviour.

Oscar found himself in the following undesirable situation:

  • cornered by a crowd of irate neighbours in a dark back alley
  • thrown up against a gathering of empty wheelie bins
  • fallen to the floor, his head banged against the cold concrete
  • beneath the weight of someone’s knees, someone’s hand squeezing his neck
  • being tugged at his hands, feet and clothes by a collection of someones or somethings
  • surrounded by the loud bang of many people’s feet about his head
  • pierced by the shrill cry of a cat in severe pain

Oscar found his mind peppered with the following thoughts:

  • the world is a cruel and unpredictable master
  • the ways of a writer are many and varied
  • dying in a back alley through suffocation and head trauma is not only ignominious but dreadfully ordinary
  • how this would make a very ordinary opening to his novel – the trials and tribulations of a writer
  • how real life is ultimately a rather disappointing starting point
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