Limbo

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The crooked palm unsheathes knives that glitter intermittently in the afternoon light of a day that will not appear on any calendar. When the sky lours like this, the wasps stay away. I imagine them folding down their wings in tubes of bamboo or in waxy cells under eaves, recalling an ancestry of ants. The basil turns woody in the stems but, despite rumours of affinity, there’s nothing teak-like there. Somewhere else are men who want their money back; they don’t know who has it and may never do so. An accountant, dressed in leathers, climbs on a black motorcycle and goes looking for stray increments. He will perhaps find them. Limbo is no more, by Papal edict, virtuous pagans and sinless babes cast loose to wander bodiless and forever upon the firmament of waters. Their cries become cloudy miracles that fall as sweet rain. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme flower in or out of season, murmuring remedies. Remember me, they say, to one who lives there. She once was . . . irredeemable, the lost souls, the lost time. Was and will be, two tropic tendrils of a circle that is unbroken yet can never close. A dream without beginning or end: the parade of shopfronts, staggered higgledy-piggledy up one side of a narrow defile. Their antique urns and witches’ spires. Their painted plaster lions. The truck’s engine labours as it crests the rise and goes on towards a delusive rendezvous. In back, the inflatable universe, twelve open steel cubes, a medieval cart, an acrobat’s wheel, seven masks of Anubis and what else is not recorded. The actors are coming from the north, bringing the penny-farthing, a tailor’s dummy, aluminium torches, cotton waste and bottles of kerosene. Their wigs and greasepaint, their tricks and small props. The two convoys are to meet outside the stage door of a municipal theatre in some provincial city where posters for the show are already peeling from the lampposts. The driver puts on whiteface using a crayon, he applies mascara to his lashes, wipes kohl with his index finger across the bruises beneath his tired eyes. Though he cannot remember what part he is to play, or if he has a part to play. His face in the mirror nobody would ever want to see. Unless under lights. Here come the actors in their beat-up cars, a soft-top Buick sedan, a Pontiac V8 station wagon with a leaking petrol tank, a dusty white van full of musicians and gear. There’s a man in a green jacket, wearing a sardonic bowler, harbouring magnificence until it should be required. A slender woman with striped tights and leg warmers, small round glasses, a delicious voice. The fire-eater with flame inside her sleeve. The Strongman and the Marvellous Boy. Bass players, lutanists, drummers, singers; the whole panoply. The Chinese dancer, naked but for spangles and jewels, a fringe at her hips, climbs into the back of the truck. It’s close in there, with the costumes, the moulting velvets and raggedy satins, the disintegrating feather boas, the undertaker’s top hat with dented crown, his high-collared long black coat. Scent of cardamom. Or spikenard. Her pink tongue, strangely forked, slides between her small teeth. She wants cocaine. After the show, the driver says. I’ll give it to you after. The fork in her tongue is lumpy and divides into unequal misshapen parts as, arching her body, without touching him, she brings her mouth close to his ear. Sly insinuation of breath, wisps of pubic hair escaping the fringes of her ceinture, smell of musk, of damson. Now, she urges, I want some now . . . Magnesium flares behind a tin god, a plane takes off for the empyrean. Or is it a dark boat, muffling its oars, crossing the stage? Ashes on the meniscus of the cove? What are those shapes moving before the cyclorama, there in the limelight? A sigh, a hiss like pressure escaping from a valve and then she’s gone, they’re all gone, limbo. Grey light of dawn, a fern frond uncurled in the window and faint music lingering on the air: a true love of mine.

photo by Mayu Kanamori

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