Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 20

The bionic mosquito: an early experiment of Dr Greene’s.

A youthful Dr Greene at work in his lab creating re-usable live-bait.

Shelby pumping pink nippers for Dr Greene's experiments.

A prototype of re-usable live-bait.

Shelby and Seidel didn’t care that their every move was being observed, and Ted Hughes and T.S. Eliot seemed oblivious to the fact that they were, for all intents and purposes, hostages and in the company of dangerous men. They went to the maritime museum together. They went to the park for picnics. They walked up and down the main street, looking into shops and talking with the locals. The badger had become a real hit, and a photo of this odd beast appeared in the Ulladulla Times.

I was staying at The Afterglow, a lovely cottage-like pub on the outskirts of town. At my suggestion, Dorothy, Merv and the poets who’d arrived on the oblong checked in as well.

Dorothy Hewett was in a rage. “Shelby and that maniac Seidel are running around with Hughes and Eliot and no-one’s doing anything about it! It’s fucked. You disappoint me, Geoff. You write a great, fearless book about Nero, and yet you can’t even get off your arse and go and sort those idiots out!” I looked over at Dransfield, J.S. Harry, Vicki Viidikas and Kerry Leves. They were listening to the new Jackson Browne album on the pub’s old battered stereo. Dorothy was pacing. “I went to that island to do something. I spent three bloody weeks preparing things for you lot, and now look what’s happening! You can’t even stand up to old Ooga-Booga, and that Shelby is a fuckwit.” I watched as she put on her coat. “Where are you going, darl?” Merv asked. “I’ll bloody well sort this out myself,” Dorothy said, and went out the door. “It’s that fucking oblong,” Merv said, and went after her.

Lucinda Williams looked out the window of her room at The Wheelhouse. The harbour looked incredible: ink-like flourishes of decklights on the water, the silver fizz of insects in the light of the wharf lamps. When she looked down at the road she saw a man wearing a fox-skin cap looking up at her. She turned out the light. When she looked again the man had gone.

I could’t sleep. Behind my eyes, a colour-saturated, badly-edited movie of the last few weeks was on repeat. Scenes rushed past and into each other. I saw Phil Spector riding a giant red bat up to the watch tower, where he leapt off into a Wall of Sound and opened a bottle of Ronnette, which he shared with Frederick Seidel. I saw Sharon Olds get pash-rash from kissing Billy Gibbons with Coral Hull’s mouth. I saw a badger wearing a black swan mask walk up to a Waggaist and give it a mouthful of “Go and get fucked.”

Outside on the street, a nightwatchman was painting the doors and shutters of houses and sheds with the beam of his flashlight. Or so I thought, until a yellow beam came wandering over the walls of my room, followed by a tangle of arms and legs coming through the window. I leapt out of bed and turned on the light. Lucinda Williams killed her flashlight and started raving.

Back on The Island, having found the ongoing weight of responsibility too much to bear, Rodney Hall was looking for a new leader. He was hoping to find a replacement before leaving and returning home to the South coast. Yet when he called a meeting, and asked for a volunteer, no-one put up their hand. The poets looked away or down and shuffled their feet nervously. “What about you, Philip?” Rodney asked. Philip Hodgins thanked him and declined his offer, saying he’d rather tongue-kiss a tiger snake than have to deal with another Waggaist. “And you, Bronwyn?” Bronwyn Lea knelt down and started going through the odds and sods inside her big cane basket. “Is there no-one who will take responsibility for the group and take over?” he asked, his voice trembling. “I’ll do it! I’ll be the leader!” Jamie Grant called from where he was standing at the wire of his cage. He’d managed to remove the fountain pen nib and paper clip mouth guard. “I’ll take charge!” he shouted.

While W.H. Auden went off with a plank to sort things out, I pondered the one special gift that being a war correspondent had afforded me; the one thing that eclipsed all others and left them smoldering in its wake: being omnipresent was a total fucking hoot.

I had another rough night thinking about who was going to be the new leader. Rodney was the perfect man for the job, but we needed someone who could fill his shoes. Around midnight in my room in The Afterglow I was still seeing coloured lights, though this time because a migraine had taken over my head. I looked through my medical supplies and found a couple of broken Black Drop tablets that Coleridge had given me. I swallowed these with a shot of malt whiskey and then started worrying about Sam Coleridge - what on earth had happened to him? I hadn’t seen him since the first few days on the Island. He’d been thinking of setting off with Wordsworth on a squid boat, of going to Tasmania to collect a Devil from Tim Thorne. But these thoughts fell apart as sleep came falling like a cast net. I felt trapped as a black tide of powerful opiate started flooding through my veins. My fever and headache lifted, but these were replaced by dreams, or nightmares concerning rhomboids, obelisks, pyramids and dodecahedrons, then a truncated tetrahedron filled the dark cave of my head; though behind these shapes, always the haunting shadow of the Red Oblong.

I woke and almost cheered when I saw the sunlight in my window. After a shower I walked down the hallway and found myself in the breakfast room. Sunlight poured through the bay window and reassured me the nightmares were gone. Two people were finishing their breakfast. I noticed one of them was Mandy Beaumont so went up and said hello. “Sit down, have a coffee with us,” she said. Mandy seemed nervous and I felt she wanted to tell me something. “What happened last night?” She replied by relating an incredible story. Mandy spoke without pauses and I found myself believing every word she spoke. Her tone rang true. This what she told me:

“Last night we went to the Ulladulla Yacht Club. The had a show. Hex were playing and Lucinda Williams and Gig Ryan rocked out. It was great.  Around 1am things slowed down and we were drinking on the terrace. We watched a man row up the bay and tie up at the wharf. He walked up to the club and came in looking dazed. It was Michael Dransfield. He’d just escaped from Dr Greene’s lab under the fishing shop. Vicki, Kerry Leves and J.S. Harry were still there, loaded up on LIMP. Greene had been hitting them up, mainlining the stuff. Though by the time reached Dransfield, the drug had worn off and Michael decided he’d had enough. Greene had trouble finding a vein, and when he was stooped over, probing for one, Michael reached for something on the bench behind Greene and smashed a bunsen burner onto his head. Greene crashed across the table, smashing beakers of red liquid, sending live-bait flying and flapping as  jars hit the floor. Michael took off. He ran down the hallway and jumped through a window. There was a pontoon at the back and he leapt into Greene’s net-boat and rowed up the bay to the Yacht Club.

When Michael arrived, he took up the story. He was so articulate, remembering every detail of his kidnapping and he tied these fragments into a description of the experiments he witnessed. Greene was even more a monster than any of us thought. In the secret lab he was in the process of genetically engineering pink nippers. Creating nippers as big as crayfish that were virtually indestructible. He wanted to market ‘re-usable’ live bait! Beautiful-looking pink creatures hovered in the glass vats and changed colours in the manner of squid. They waved their marbled claws, and whenever one broke the surface, it would snap shut, creating a sound like a rifle shot. There were other half-finished projects going on in there, but Michael was visibly shaken when he tried to recall the details.

The crew of the Red Oblong were totally drugged with a new version of LIMP. Greene had refined the formula. Anyone under the influence of LIMP2 could be mesmerised by the sound of the voice they happened to be listening to as the drug hit home. Dransfield couldn’t work out the mysteries of the Red Oblong either. However it’s red pulsations were a fascination to him. He’d even written several odes to the oblong. When they were at sea and the LIMP was wearing off, Michael would reach for his pen and scrawl some more verses. 

As Dransfield reached the end of his tale, I felt so moved that I put my arm around his shoulders. I felt his body tremble like a fawn, without words, his voice, his poetry. When it all fell away, he was a frail creature.

It was clear Mandy was falling in love with Dransfield, and I wondered where this would end: what could I do to shelter these young lovers from the Redness about to spread through this unsuspecting fishing town?

The Club closed and as we all walked back to hotel, we could see the pulsating red glow down at the docks. On the top of a street light Mandy pointed out an unusual bird. It was an Arctic Jaeger. The others went to their rooms but I went through my case and found my field guide. It’s correct name was the parasitic jaeger. I read the following lines aloud:  “Like other skuas, it will fly at the head of a human or fox approaching its nest. It can inflict serious damage, an attack by a jaeger is a frightening and painful experience.”

G. Lehmann, at the Front

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