A Terrible Master
We all had things that stuck to us in those days. That held us, and
we gratefully held them back. Tightly.
Those days, those clinging days that stuck tight to our taut,
lovemaking skin and had to be peeled off, separately, carefully, one at
a time. Together, they made deep layers, rocks and planets of another
reality, that didn't resemble the feelings they once had been, when
looked at afterwards. We would often cry together, we revelled in that.
It was considered therapeutic. In our black rooms, faces on posters
hidden in shadows yet still watching, we'd sit together, at first
flowing and chopping and changing position, then as one, as we clung to
each other's clenched fists, not knowing, nor caring, which belonged to
whom. Hoping for - well, who can really tell? Some kind of salvation,
some mysterious longed for gift in the darkness.
James was a preacher. Looking back through all these opal years, I
really think he truly believed he had a divine message, a spiritual
burden to unload to others. He wanted so badly to make a difference -
to lives, to libraries, to life itself. Making a difference was his
mantra. He loved the taste of those words. I wonder if that magic taste
is acrid to him now, makes the bile rise? Or has he simply forgotten
the texture of particular words, words of youth, on his tongue?
I remember once, in one of those times where no one says anything,
just breathes and gives thanks, he suddenly grabbed my hand and ran it
through his hair, his palm solid over the back of my hand, covering my
knuckles, as strands of brown slid over my skin. He said nothing, just
looked at my eyes, in them, the edge of a curve of a smile dancing in
his mouth. I took my hand back delicately to pick up my bottle. It was
never referred to again. I don't think anybody noticed either.
Clara measured everything by sight. She believed in very little.
Evidence was one of her favourite words. She was an extremely beautiful
girl, probably just as stunning now in fact. True good looks, the
cheekbones, the bone structure. Should've been a model. Although of
course that kind of thing was frowned upon in those days, by all of us.
She could've made a lot of money from that. Looking at her, you'd never
attain the smallest clue about her past. She was born almost blind. It
was a full two years before her parents noticed, thought even, that
something could be wrong. They'd put the fact that she bumped into
absolutely everything down to her being an extremely clumsy child, and
scolded her needlessly. As a result, I imagine, the naturally bubbly
and enthusiastic toddler was turned into something she never should
have been. Sitting when she should have been climbing. We spent a three
hour session trying to recreate the climate of her early childhood,
trying to recreate the sensation of being unable to see, for her once.
At Jave's - he had the darkest room of any of us. We all came equipped
with provisions, I remember - God knows what Jave's parents must've
thought we were up to. Certainly not what we were up to, I bet that.
Clara mumbled a little, none of us could make out quite what she said.
Something was unearthed during that experience though, I'm sure of it.
Clara was very withdrawn for ages after that.
After her operation, Clara was shaped, ready, she had a path to
follow. She believed nothing unless she saw proof she might accept.
Other people, people who didn't know Clara, thought she was very
shallow, a blonde airhead, judging on appearances, too materialistic.
They had no idea.
Duke did not live up to his name. He was quite the opposite, in fact.
A drop out, a grunger. Provided the music for absolutely everything we
did. His collection must have been stupidly extensive, we wouldn't
know, he never let anyone in even the same oxygen as it. Locked away,
his precious. Gregorian chants, heavy guitar music, funked out jazz -
he brought it all. He seemed to have a sixth sense about it, knew in
advance exactly what would be suitable for that evening, even though he
didn't always know what the activities were going to be. The day Mary
re-experienced her birth - that was fantastic. The atmosphere in that
room was mind-blowing. Most of us sat there open mouthed while Mary
bawled away, lost. Duke did that with his music. And he knew it.
Music was in his soul, I believe. His DNA must've been composed by an
ancient violin. His body was constantly invaded - or, indeed, at home
to - by a variety of beats, of rhythms. It was infectious. Duke became
responsible for the pace of everything in the end. Even set the pace
himself, actually, be it on guitar, tambourine or saxophone. He may
have been a genius, or a madman.
Kat couldn't shake off her self-belief. Despite this, and although I
should not have had a favourite, I did. She was my special girl,
although she never knew it. Her confidence straightened her spine and
sharpened her tongue. I do not imagine she was ever afraid of anything.
Except death, but that was a rule for us too. She may have faked that
Anything she set her mind to, she could do. And she set her mind to
many things. Men, projects, beliefs. Perhaps she even set her mind to
our group mentality? With hindsight - and this thought is only
occurring to me now - perhaps she even set her mind to our whole group
mentality. I would not put it past her. And it's true she was one of
the last to come to us. No matter now.
Although Clara was the pretty one of the girls, when Kat set herself
to looking good, she could look stunning. It was to do with the fact
that she smiled inside - this shone out through every inch of her skin,
and made everyone feel good. This made everyone like her. And think she
was beautiful. Again, her self- belief - a good example of how she
could use it.
Clara had this confidence. Although I say she used it, she never
really did. This, I believe, was her awful flaw. She only used her
faith in herself in minor ways, or to get through certain situations.
Like so many of us, she could have been truly great, but in the end, I
think she let herself down.
Jave - Jave was just an amazing person. I thought that most sincerely
the first time I ever talked to him, and I still feel exactly the same
way. Despite the fact that he was an incredibly needy person, he did
give back, in small amounts. This was enough. Distilled Jave, if you
will - he gave his purity away. And most of us were too foolish to hang
onto it, to keep it in a safe place.
The thing about Jave was his terrible sense of loss. Most of his
family were dead, and he lived alone. He didn't hardly talk about his
family though - most of us thought that really strange, as talking and
reliving were what we were fundamentally about. He wouldn't talk about
it, and we didn't push or probe, as he seemed so fragile, so breakable.
His loss and longing hung about him though, wound around and around his
body like a constricting garment. He smelt of fading memories, sad and
musky. We all loved him, gave him more love than we gave each other,
trying to sustain him, afraid of what might happen if we didn't. We
were his family, each of us and all of us.
Mary was amazing in an entirely different way. Her image strangled
her, and she thrived on it, on the pain and excitement of it. I'm not
sure if it was a sexual thing. Probably - she was an intensely sexual
person. She was deep, and heady. Everything had its undertones to
She seemed a different person every time one of us saw her. We were
all in awe of her. A queenly girl, but not put on, or even used to
advantage. A glance, a stroke of the eyebrows, could be commanding, and
she never even tried to make it so. She was not aware of the effects
she had, I tell you that. Every day, Mary would be someone else. Her
clothes - her wardrobe, her costumes - were fantastic. Fabulous. The
colours, the sizes, the cuts - all incredible. She could render you
speechless, and did regularly, just by walking in the door. She wore
fancy dress a lot of the time, too - a shepherdess, an Egyptian
monarch, even a monkey once. She was so creative with her image. It was
just an image. She was as forthcoming as the rest of us, she put just
as much into everything, she participated just as keenly, but Mary was
never really there. None of us knew who she was. Including herself, I'm
afraid to say.
Me? I played no bigger part than the rest of us. I was the co-ordinator
and organiser, and the others, I remember, used to joke - "here comes
King Roland", but I took nor gave more than we all equally took or
gave. I suppose the thing that held me the hardest was my words. I was
also responsible for recording everything, you see, and I did so each
time with tremendous care and effort. If I still had these pieces of
paper, they would be snapped up and published like that, I've no doubt.
But they are only paper, and, like so many other things, have only
crumbled into dust.
"Roland? My goodness. Really? Such a shame. Where is the memorial? Ah,
Peter's parish. When? Yes, of course I'll try to pop along. His family
will remember me, they'll need a great deal of support I'm sure. I
don't suppose it was?? Of course. Such a shame. Such a waste. God rest
"I don't believe you. It's impossible?Roland? My God. When's the
funeral? Yes, of course I'll bloody be there. Goodbye. Fucking
"The booze? Would be really, wouldn't it? I'd like to go to the
funeral. Could I bring my wife? If we can get a babysitter? Okay. Who's
doing the music? Oh no, that's all wrong. I'll get on the blower to his
mum, she knows I know what he liked. I haven't forgotten his favourite
"Oh shit. Oh fucking shit. I haven't thought about him in years, you
know - to be honest, I'd completely forgotten he even existed. And now
he doesn't. Oh shit, I feel so guilty?he had a crush on me, you
know?yes, of course, of course. Where is it? Yes, I'll be fine. I'm
fine. Thank you."
"Oh my god, oh my god - Roland? Ohgod ohgod. Roland is dead. Roland is
dead. That fucking drink, I'll kill him?ohgod. What will I do without
Roland? I'd been meaning to give him a ring, I haven't spoken to him in
so long?ohgod. Why, Roland? I loved him. Truly, I loved him."
"Roland? Yes, I'll come. Was it the drink? To be totally honest, I'm
not really surprised at all. I've been expecting this phone call for a
long time now. I'd still like to say goodbye. Even though it's been so
long, I'd like to say goodbye. Dear, dear Roland."
"Dear All, everybody that's ever been in my life. This may come as a
shock to some of you, even to all of you. Taking my life was a major
decision, and one I considered for a long, long time. It has come to
the stage now where I cannot express myself enough, at a high enough
volume. The words are not enough, and too much, for me now. Please
don't cry - remember me happy. At parties, gatherings, down the pub.
I'm still here for each and every one of you, if you need me to be.
With all the love I can possibly give, Roland xxxxxxxxxxx"