Summer Reading: Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth

It is 2000, nine months into the new millennium, and he has lived in London for nearly three years. He rents a flat with his girlfriend, on the edge of Brixton, near the back entrance to Brockwell Park. When they first moved here, they would walk across the park some evenings, to a restaurant under the railway arches in Herne Hill. Those days have passed. The combination of night shifts, his need to spend any free time in front of a computer, and their manic and incompatible personalities, has seen them drift apart. All of this has counted against them, stones thrown onto the balance of the scale.

At least he has given up the night shifts. He now works in a library in Tottenham. The journey to and from work, hilariously protracted, at least offers him the opportunity to read. He is currently making his way through Philip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus, after picking up a tattered second hand copy from the Bookmongers store on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton. He’d avoided reading Philip Roth until picking up Portnoy’s Complaint from a stall on the South Bank during his early months in London. Roth’s voice had entertained him in that novel, the broad, antic intelligence of his style, and the hilariousness of sexual misadventures. In contrast, he finds Goodbye Columbus almost unbearably sad.

One Friday night, his girlfriend doesn’t return home, after going to a party with work colleagues. He lies alone in bed, and after briefly analyzing his feelings about this development, he decides that he is mostly relieved. He spends the morning quietly, feeding the two cats (her cats), cooking a breakfast of fried eggs and tomatoes over the antique stove, listening to the radio. The news offers reports of the success of British rowers success at the Sydney Olympics, and of Reggie Kray, released from prison to die. It is a bright hot day. After breakfast, he sits out in the garden, to enjoy the sun. He sits on the step by the scruffy patio, beside an old, corroded exercise bike, smoking a cigarette and reading Goodbye Columbus. He finds the garden an uncomfortable place. When he moved into the flat, the landlady had made him promise to tend to the garden, but bindweed has grown through the plants, the lawn growing dry and tatty under the summer heat, like the pelt of a dead animal. Later, he will experience a recurring nightmare that he has left evidence of a terrible crime in the shed of that garden, a sense of persecution which will haunt him long after those days.

Eventually, he decides to leave the flat. He walks across Brockwell Park, towards the Herne Hill entrance, and visits the restaurant under the railway arches. He orders a pot of mussels, a meal that will always remind him of late childhood and a family holiday, probably his last, to the west coast of France. It was here he learned to appreciate the delicacy of the quick salty flesh released form the black shells. He drinks two beers will his meal, while making his way to the end of Goodbye Columbus, where Neil Klugman loses Brenda Patimkin and returns to his work in the library. The sadness he experiences during the final paragraphs is rawer than anything he has allowed himself to feel about those last months. After lunch, he wanders back across Brockwell Park, the bright sky opening over him, the hill exposing him to the city. Men play football on the five aside pitch, the raw earth almost orange under the sun. A passenger jet hangs low in the sky. He feels a sense of peace in this moment: that despite the upheaval he faces, the city has accepted him.

A few weeks later, coming back from London after the last Tube has passed, he will catch a train to Herne Hill. To save time, he decides to cut through the park, scaling the gates. The night is clear and bright, and as he climbs the path across the hill, he feels as though he has been accepted into a forbidden, equivocal world. Ahead of him, he spies a man and a woman, waiting on the brow of the hill. As he grows closer, he sees that they are walking two Japanese fighting dogs, the white fur glowing under moonlight. Everyone watches as he walks up the path. Although the couple offer no challenge, they follow him at a distance as he heads out of the park, the dogs panting, straining at the leads. The next morning, he will wake alone, fully dressed, with bruises on both arms and struggle to put together the events of the night.

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Summer Reading: Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolano

It is 2009, and the summer is a hot one at its best. Most days, he travels to London for work, heading out from the small town where he lives with his wife and daughter. The journey is long, but he has learned to make use of the time, reading, working on a novel, sedating himself as he watches the landscape reeling past the window. He feels on the edge of things, of family, writing, pushed to the margins of his life.

In an effort to somehow stay current, he picks up a copy of Roberto Bolano’s Last Evenings on Earth from a bookshop on Ludgate Circus. It seems somehow typical when he discovers that Bolano had died six years before. That disappointment aside, he begins to find the stories immersive and compelling. These are fictions more than short stories; Bolano doesn’t seem to care for the moment ‘glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing’, in V.S. Prichett’s definition of the form. These fictions strain at the edges of their own structures, and whole lives will unravel over the course of ten pages, filled with silences or narrated speech, calamities and moments of threatening calm. He reads and re-reads the stories, finding echoes of his life and past relationships amongst some of the Bolano’s oddball writers, political agitators, and hapless conspiracy theorists. It seems that he was found an element of himself inside those pages, or at least something he has lost.

One Sunday, he takes the book with him as he cycles out to the coast. He has taken to cycling by himself at the weekend, partly to compensate for his weekly journeys, to escape into space. The sun is bright and high. He cycles along the edge of a faded resort town, to a beach beside a nature preserve, where white egrets gather on the marshes. The beach is surprisingly busy, although the tide is out across the dull sands, reflecting shallow water in long bars, like glimmering knives. He finds a private place to get changed, sliding out of his jeans under a towel and into a pair of swimming shorts. It strikes him that nothing is more sinister than a man alone getting changed on a beach.

It is low tide, with the sea on its way back. He gathers up his bag and walks to the edge of the water. He likes to swim, that is, he likes to immerse himself in water; he’s no swimmer, really. Before he reaches the tide, he dumps his bag on a stretch of dry sand and throws himself into the sea. The water is warm, although it is so shallow as to make his attempts at swimming ridiculous. He feels frantic, like a sparrow bathing itself in a puddle, and this idea makes him laugh out loud. The sun has clouded over in a metallic blur. Further along the coast, he can see the towers of a refinery.

When he returns to his bag, he finds a man and a woman standing nearby. They smile when they see him coming, but say nothing. The water has crawled over the sand, and soaked through the bag. The couple stare at him, smiling in unison, as though the idea that they might have moved the bag from the water is inconceivable. He says nothing. The couple stare at him blankly as he goes through the contents. His phone has moisture under the screen and fizzes once as he goes to turn it on and after that does not work again. The Bolano book has bloated with soaked water. He walks back towards his bike.

On the ride home, he leaves the cycle path and rides down to a roundabout along the road, through early evening traffic. Two boys on a motorbike overtake him, flashing obscene gestures at him as they pass. Something grips him- a burst of anger, frustration, injustice- and he speeds to catch up with the motorbike, weaving through traffic to reach them. For a second, he feels the power in his legs and lungs, the blood surging from his heart. It is the most intense sensation he can remember feeling in a long time. He cycles quickly, weaving his way through traffic and catches up to the motorbike at lights. The boy on the pillion laughs when he sees him, and waves, in a gesture he interprets as submission. At the roundabout, he peels away, still waving towards the motorbike as he finds the turning to his street.

The house is quiet when he reaches home. He return his bike to the shed and sits out in the garden with a bottle of wine, the wet book spread on the garden table in front of him. He spends the evening drinking wine and watching the vista from the garden: the frosted back windows of the houses in front of him, the street lights, the zinc coloured sky with a moon as skinny as a blade. He thinks that the book is ruined, but when he wakes the next morning, he will find that the paper has dried out overnight. From that moment on, whenever he sees the book on his shelf, he will remove it and strum his finger against the pages, thinking of how it warped but resettled itself into the binding, and he will remember the journey of that day.

Dream of the High Mountain — Final Part

arcticFront line reports from the Artic war. The light from Proxima Centauri. ‘This is my Husband. Have you seen him? Can You Help?’ The first images from the wastelands of Tehran. A blue whale cub, swimming in the Atlantic. A pod filmed from the ground, its vapour trail unzipping a clear blue sky…

The alarm worked its way into Morgan’s sleep. When he opened his eyes, the bells sounded out in the corridor. Approaching the door, he felt like a crossover had been achieved between two distinct worlds. Outside the residents moved down the corridor towards the stairs; the evacuation happened quietly, without complaint. Probably there was a small fire somewhere in the building. The retreat took its responsibilities very seriously; Morgan had signed a release form when he’d first arrived. ‘Just because we’re searching for something higher doesn’t mean we can ignore our legal obligations,’ the elder had said, the same man who had asked for Morgan’s handset. As he joined the procession down the corridor, he thought of how much simpler this would have been if they’d allowed him to keep it. The thought felt like a pleasant rebellion. Probably it’s time for me to leave.

The sky was clear as Morgan walked outside. Maybe it was the last trace of the pills, but as the crowd swarmed around him, he felt elevated and removed. His mind turned to three months before, when he’d sealed samples of his hair, blood and semen into a small plastic vial and transferred all of his savings to an account based in Mumbai. His insurance, his secret: he’d pushed it to the back of his mind, not sharing it with his daughter or with his friends, trying to hide it from himself. Now, as he stood under the dramatic arc of stars, Morgan pictured those pods as they drifting through the cold and the dark of space, for years, for centuries. Most would certainly fail, but there was always the chance… He thought of something Elena had said. ‘How does it feel to be one of the kings?’

People ahead of him were chattering excitedly. At first, Morgan couldn’t see what had caused this flutter of panic, but as everyone moved around the side of the house, he found himself on the edge of the crowd. Across the back garden, a section of the coast had given way. The wall had simply disappeared and half of the maze had been ripped apart as the earth had given away. A couple of elders waved the residents along the narrow shale-filled path, while the alarm continued inside the building. ‘Make your way around the front,’ one called out. ‘And keep calm… there’s no reason to panic.’ As Morgan shuffled along, he glanced over at the ruined maze. To be on one side, you would see its shape as exposed, ruined and open, but that side was now only the space between the sky and the sea. To enter into it now only meant finding a convoluted path towards the void.

One of the elders stood on the path, hurrying the crowd along. He looked anxious, distraught. Morgan was thinking about his expression when the man next to him nudged his arm. ‘You know what’s happened, don’t you?,’ he said. ‘People were over there when it gave away…’

As they moved around to the front of the house, Morgan looked out for Elena, but the path was too narrow and each time he stopped, the crowd pushed him on. Once he thought he saw her further ahead, but when the woman passed under the lights from a downstairs room he saw that he was mistaken. His group were among the last to emerge onto the lawn. The alarm continued to sound from inside while the crowd milled around, friends looking for one another under the light from the greenhouse. Morgan had been walking towards the front of the crowd when someone reached out for him. It was the Bangladeshi woman.

‘I’m so glad you’re safe…’ she said.

‘I’m fine,’ Morgan replied. ‘I was sleeping in my room and then the alarms sounded.’

They’d moved to one side. The woman stood very close to him. ‘I heard the ground fall,’ she went on. ‘And I knew, I knew that something terrible had happened, even before the alarms.’ She looked up at Morgan, her fingers tight upon his arm. ‘People were killed. You know that, don’t you? They came here to escape. And this happens…’

Suddenly, she grasped at Morgan’s hand. Her fingers felt fragile, her skin cold. They stood together, awkwardly, almost surprised to be in one another’s company. A group of elders took position on the raised ground in front of the greenhouse. One held a handset, the cold square of light giving a blue tinge to her face. As the crowd continued to murmur, she waited for quiet: the quiet which would allow her to speak, and the quiet which would answer her call. Underneath the night sky, holding onto a stranger, Morgan waited for the names.

Dream of the High Mountain — Part Seven

20140420-voetpad-old-vines-credit-swartland-region-wines-of-south-africaHow many more indignities can be heaped upon the divine memory of R Kelly?’ A girl in a red coat running the aisles of an indoor market. Baggage collated from Flight 45. Dawn over the flooded wind farm. A blue car at sunset driving across a deserted seafront. 

Morgan spent the next day working in the vineyard. He wore a straw hat to protect him from the sun. He’d found it in one of the rooms on the ground floor, a split yellow panama encircled by a red paisley band. He clipped grapes from the vines. His shoulders ached. He could hear the sea. The shift finished after two hours, but when someone came to replace him, Morgan refused to be moved. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I’ll stay. I want to stay.’ He threw himself into the work. He tore the plump green fruit from the vines into a plastic drum. He drank water from a dirty cup drawn from a bucket. Sweat soaked his shirt. Pain spread across his shoulders, up his back. The vines surrounded him, the trunks elegant and atrophied.

He felt, for the first time, complete. My arms are hardening, he told himself. Each time I lift them above my head I develop the muscles. I am improving myself, daily, both physically and mentally, and when these too are combined, with attention and devotion, then I can truly say that I am feeding my self. The pale financial worker he’d once been disgusted him, like something poured from the inside of a bin bag, some pale piece of fetid life nourished on the dust upon old computer screens and the fibres of office furniture, on the crumbs wedged inside the keys of handsets, on stale bottled water, brackish, tainted and old.

It was growing dark by the time he walked back to the house. He could still feel the sun upon his skin. He had a splinter in his thumb. His palms felt dry, like sandpaper. He remembered when he was a boy, when minor wounds— the scrapes, scratches, and those cherished things, scars— were trophies of experience, the desecration of perfect skin. As he walked through to the dining room, he examined the marks upon his hands and arms— cookery burns, accidental nicks from knifes and broken glass— the banal details on a map of a life. He ate his meal alone. A man played the zither on the stage. Morgan had never heard the zither before, but he enjoyed the sound, it felt pure. A group of people at the next table were talking about Kant. Morgan ignored them. He ate beans with brown rice and drank iced mint tea. Lines for a poem formed in his head, but strangely, Morgan didn’t feel the need to write them down. A poem should stay in the mind, he said to himself; the mind, after all, is a poem.

He thought of Elena fleetingly as he climbed the stairs to his room. He hadn’t seen her all day. She had left hurriedly that morning, making excuses about a shift in the greenhouse. She’d seemed distant, almost awkward, missing her usual self-assurance. Morgan wondered if he had said or done something wrong. Wearily, he feared that he’d made a fool of himself. He lay down upon his bed, expecting to fall asleep immediately, but the exhaustion failed to overtake him. Instead, it remained immovable like a dog: a dog that could be shouted at, beaten and kicked, but which would always remain in place. Morgan stared at the ceiling. He saw the sun upon the white paint, even though the sun had now set. A man and a woman walked past his door. Their voices receded into the chasm of this old house, this old hotel at the end of the world. The gentle mellifluence of the voices affected him. He felt tears in his eyes. ‘I am alone,’ he said. ‘I face all of this alone.’ He thought of all the reasons that he had come to the retreat and none of them seemed valid. He wondered what he wanted to achieve. The examined life, which previously had been so important for him, now felt pointless. Probably, Elena was right. This is an illusion, he told himself. And this is all there is. He reached over to his bedside table and took a couple of pills.

Sleep didn’t come immediately. His mind wandered. It was almost like a dream, except that he could still feel the sunburn upon his face and the aches in his arms and back. He saw himself standing upon the hillside above a great city. Glass towers stretched into the sky, traffic steamed in the canyons, an advert chattered upon a billboard. When a great wave surged in from the coast, Morgan watched as people scattered from the fury of the surge, the primal, sacred power. He saw bodies falling from buildings, bodies crushed against brick, bodies pushed under traffic, drowned with other bodies. He saw people fighting, screaming, dying. It was hard to form any judgement on it all. He felt very cold: the wave brought with it a biting prehistoric chill. Something suddenly shifted. Morgan was standing in a room with his daughter. She worked at her desk, headset on, staring at the liquid light of the computer screen. In the window behind, sea water swelled amongst the buildings: a mountain range of simmering glass, quivering with a hesitant intelligence. Morgan watched it for minutes, maybe hours until finally it poured in upon them. At the very second before impact, before the building around them was obliterated into glass and concrete, his daughter looked Morgan in the eyes.

‘I am thinking of a way to make you less guilty,’ she said.

Dream of the High Mountain — Part Six

beijingAn unconvincing Elvis impersonator lighting a cigarette in the Luxembourg Gardens. Sudden snowfall in Beijing. The desecration of the Vatican. Initiation rituals of the Texan rape gangs. A frail Paul Coelho, addressing the crowds in the Maracanã stadium.

Morgan came too quickly. The pills were too strong. He lay upon the bed, almost feverish from his high. Elena lay beside him, stroking his shoulder, whispering soothingly into his ear. Humiliated, when Morgan finally came around, he tried to deflect her attention.

‘You don’t seem to have settled,’ he said. ‘I guess this place isn’t everyone… I had doubts myself when I first arrived… I have to say, I don’t know why you’re here.’

He may have been hoping to goad her into an argument. Instead, Elena sat up from the bed. ‘I want to show you something,’ she said. Morgan watched as she walked naked towards the far wall, her movements graceful and erotic. In comparison, he found his own body mean and unsightly; he covered himself with a sheet. Elena retrieved a black paperback book from the shelf upon the far wall.

‘What is that?’ Morgan asked.

The I Ching. A book that’s followed me around the whole world.’ She sat down next to him on the bed. Morgan reached out and laid his hand upon her side. She had a large mole the shape of a triangle upon her hip. His fingers brushed against the raised, chaotic flesh.

‘I was at work,’ Elena said. ‘I’d just covered something on the Beijing Conference. There’s something in the I Ching about trusting in the small, about the time for great acts being passed. After watching those people, world leaders claiming to act in our interests when they are so far from being answerable to us… I felt I needed to get away. I decided to come here.’

Morgan could see a vein underneath the pale skin of her right breast, a curved blue cord. ‘And now you’re here,’ he asked. ‘Putting faith in the small. Do you feel better?’

She tossed the book back onto the bedclothes. ‘Now I’m here, I can’t quite escape the feeling of guilt.’

‘I thought this was meant to be a time of self-reflection?’ Morgan sang a little irony into the words, but he felt irritated. Why can’t she just relax into things?

‘Well, there’s guilt in action,’ Elena went on. ‘But there’s guilt in inaction too. You can’t ignore it. Sit still in the middle of an empty field and you’re affecting someone’s life.’

‘I don’t see how…’

Elena didn’t even let him finish. ‘Just because you’ve retreated from the world doesn’t mean the world stops feeling your influence. There’s an intimacy of connection which I don’t think you understand.’

‘Like I said, you obviously haven’t taken to the place.’ He felt confused, threatened, exposed. The evening was ruined. They bickered tiredly. Finally Elena said:

‘I just want you to admit that everything you want to achieve out here is an illusion of time. Your poetry, for example. Do you think you’d worry about that when a mudslide is coming for your home? Or your plane is heading into the sea? Or your children are dying of dehydration?’ As she lay back, Morgan found her nakedness provocative and intimidating. ‘Check your history. The chance to lead an individual life has usually been the province of kings. So tell me. How does it feel to be one of the kings?’

Dream of the High Mountain — Part Five

maxresdefaultA tour of an abandoned Russian city. Tanks patrolling the remains of Gatwick airport. Petrol fumes rising over chipboard. ‘Remember Finkelstein!’ The remains of an obliterated mosque, the dome cracked like a blue skull. Conspiracy theories about the second autopsy of Tom Cruise. ‘boy_13_first’.

One evening, Morgan and Elena walked in the gardens. She led him down to the maze, past the residents, even now, tending to the vegetable beds, where the damp earth was the blue-grey colour of faded ebony. ‘It’s why we’re here, after all,’ Elena laughed as she walked towards the entrance. ‘Isn’t all of this a quest?’

They spent an hour inside the maze, tracing the paths formed by the high box shrubs. At the centre, a bench stood upon raised podium, a frieze of the words ‘Cultiver Notre Jardin’ arranged in seashells and stones. Morgan sat down, while Elena remained standing. Beyond the wall, a stretch of stubbly grass led across to the cliff-face. He could smell the sea.

‘Did you know the hotel was abandoned?’ Morgan said. ‘A resort town along the coast flooded ten years back. When I asked about it, one of the elders said the hill was too far above sea level to worry about. Nice to know they have so much faith…’

Elena wasn’t really listening. She stood staring up at the sky. The sun had slipped beneath the horizon and the stars were now distinct. Finally, Elena seemed to remember that she wasn’t alone. She sat down beside him on the bench.

‘How long do you think we have left?’

Morgan shrugged. ‘I have no idea. A hundred years? I don’t think anyone does, really.’

‘I always thought that we’d escape,’ Elena said. ‘That we’d build ships and head for the stars. But that doesn’t look very likely now.’ She let out a sarcastic laugh. ‘Of course, there’s always the eggs.’

‘You don’t approve?’ he asked, while thinking: I’m living through something that I’ve already seen.

‘No. Not at all.’ She shook her head. ‘The very people who trapped us to this planet turning themselves into gods? I don’t find anything comforting in that at all. In the old days the rich would preserve their heads in a California freezer. Now they send their DNA up into space. Tell me, what’s the difference?’

She was quoting herself: the part about gods came from her clip. Morgan didn’t reply. They sat in the growing dark, listening to the sea, the sound of the waves like amplified silence.

‘Come on,’ Elena said, finally. ‘Let’s head back to the house.’

Dream of the High Mountain — Part Four

e53c2a020824b7fde17312e9f4ce1a81‘On waking from a dream of the eating the last banana.’ A live feed from a security camera in a supermarket somewhere in the northern hemisphere. Helicopter wreckage discovered in the desert. An advert for a DNA temple: ‘We Speak Your Code!’

Over the next weeks, Morgan threw himself into the retreat. He tended to sheep and chickens. He mucked out, washed up and washed down. He rescued eggs from straw. He gathered vegetables from the garden. He popped beans from a shell. He mingled with the other residents. He discussed the present and the prospects for the future. He listened to theories and ideas. He offered some of his own. He meditated. He took MDMA, and an opium derivative which made him throw up on the floor of his room. He explored the corridors of the hotel, the aged furniture, the signs emblazoned with the brand of what had once been a globally successful chain. Upon the fourth floor, he discovered a set of tables and chairs looking out over the grounds. He took to spending his afternoons looking out over the gardens: the glass building of an old health spa adapted as a greenhouse; the small maze planted out of box shrubs; the residents tending to the gardens, or working in the vineyard. Inspired by these scenes, Morgan wrote poems about the waves and the sun, about the stars and the first woman he’d seen naked. He felt satisfied, vindicated. This was the reason I came.

Only during the next week did his mind turn to the outside world. It was his daughter’s birthday. Ever since they’d been reunited, he’d tried to mark the occasion with a little gift or a message. Not this year. Before he’d entered the retreat he’d called her. The conversation was halting, the signal terrible. She was heading out for a meal with her latest partner, who turned out to be her manager, a man in his fifties.

‘Perhaps, you really are going to miss me,’ Morgan had said.

But the joke had been too intimate, misjudged. His daughter had clicked her tongue. ‘Very Freudian. Your new friends aren’t going to like that at all.’

When Morgan had first told her about his move to the retreat, she’d laughed, accusing him of losing his mind and joining one of the DNA cults. He’d felt affronted, ridiculous. Even when he’d tried to explain that the retreat only aimed to allow residents time for a little self-examination, she’d mocked him.

”Inner space not outer space,” she laughed. ‘Yeah, I’ve seen the adverts.’

She worked for the Chinese in Lagos. Whenever she mentioned her job, it was to anticipate the big deal that would finally establish a career, which, Morgan guessed, was drifting badly. When they’d first got in touch he’d felt a kind of hope, a faith in the future which until that point had been missing. But somehow it had never been expressed.

That evening he took pills with a young Bangladeshi woman who refused to tell him her name. ‘I want to remain a stranger to everyone for as long as she was here,’ she’d explained. She had the kind of spooky, addled seriousness that Morgan had found attractive when he was a student; he’d enjoyed every minute of her company. The significance also wasn’t lost on him: on his daughter’s birthday he’d gone to bed with a woman almost half his age. I’m making new discoveries, he told himself, exploring the limits of my subjectivity.

They lay together naked in Morgan’s bed. The woman explained how she had advanced her meditation to the point where she felt she had moved beyond her own life.

‘I see a woman wiping her neck with a white rag,’ she told him. ‘It is very hot. I can smell dust from corn. My eyes sting. I think I am… it’s hard, but I think I am allergic to the pollen.’

Morgan rested his head against her shoulder. Her skin smelled bitter and sweet, like some kind of resin. A chemical wave swelled inside of him.

‘It’s these sensations that you have to focus upon,’ the woman went on. ‘The heat, the dust. I’m really lucky to have the hayfever, which, incidentally, I don’t suffer from normally. It’s something special.’

‘So this is what? A past life?’

‘I don’t really like that term. It carries a lot of baggage. I prefer to think… Have you read Schuller?’

Morgan shook his head. The drugs had filled his blood, his blood surging down into his groin.

‘Schuller is fantastic. His theory is that consciousness is only the dream that our DNA has itself.’ She rolled onto her side and began brushing her fingers lightly over Morgan’s penis. ‘Our brains are like the sea. That’s what Schuller says. Ancient and unknown, with depths we will probably never understand, you can see both as metaphors for our survival. Of course, this survival shouldn’t be seen in purely subjective terms…’

‘The eggs…’ The question slipped out of him, troubling Morgan’s high. Static fuzzed at the periphery of his vision. ‘Did you…?’

‘I could never afford it.’ She pulled her hand away. To punish me, Morgan thought. ‘I enter the lottery now and then, but… What about you?’

The static had increased, teeming diamond patterns refracting aspects of the room. ‘I don’t play…’ he said. ‘I’m not…’

‘Don’t worry.’ As the woman moved her fingers back down to his penis, she placed her lips precisely upon his shoulder, as though the matching their shape to a tattoo upon his skin. ‘Like I always say, in some ways, all of us will be there. Like I always say…’