Argue it hard, said Socrates, puffing on a pipe. Argue it well. Argue it endlessly. Because they will forget. They will muscle in ideas, weedle out flaws, overstate detail, underestimate the nuances. But most of all they will forget. They will forget the logic, deny experience, erase memory, bury the truths of our lives. They will squander knowledge, decry society, berate individuals, make tragedy of our success, rewrite the symposium, wreck the republic and denounce our love.
Plato laughed and kissed him:
I will write that we loved and that love is indivisible, he said.
The sky was ashen, grey.
On the polished table was a huge salmon; bowls of spring vegetable soup; Scotch eggs; asparagus and hams; potatoes from Majorca; goat’s cheese tartlets; prawns with caviar; pea-shoot jellies; scallops with spiced cauliflower puree; roast chickens and guinea fowl; confit duck; sherbets and ices; five kinds of trifle; a tower of profiteroles and more cheeses than he had ever seen.
* * *
He lay in his bed, visions of dishes lurching round his mind. From his toes to the hairs on his head he felt obese. The best evenings were sordid, he thought, and oh what a feast: he deserved it all.
What a sad old duck it was paddling round the pond. Was it a mallard? Ducks had names – there were all kinds. Short little things the size of a tennis ball or others with long necks, elegant, with all different colours. Oh ducks could be sleek, really dapper, dressed up for dinner like.
That made him laugh. Duck for dinner. He chewed his sandwich and swallowed hungrily. The last thing he’d eat till tomorrow. The duck was eyeing him. He looked at the small corner of bread, half squashed between his finger and thumb and threw it in the pond.
At first it happened slowly, blistering the skyline and the dusty roadside only occasionally. People turned to look, crying out. But soon, more and more little outbursts came, a ceaseless bombardment, and the city became quickly transformed. The past was forgotten.
There were little explosions of colour all across Homs, cherry blossom firing spring into consciousness. The blossom was soon lying thick on the streets and the children said it looked like snow from the movies on TV. Delicate pinks and ethereal whites were strewn across the avenues and clung to the little houses, and all, for now, was good.
They say we have no solutions; that we are in disarray, confused, guileless; we have no plan; we are so loose a collective as to be redundant.
But what a cockeyed view that is: of course, we are all those things. We have been pulled this way and that, confused past our wits, futures beaten away, our aspirations mocked, torn apart and isolated.
Of course we have no solutions. We are not paid to find them. Our wages pay for others to do that. It is they that turn from responsibility, not us. We can only protest, remain, shout, hope.
Kirsty was very tiny and those paths were wide and sometimes she would feel scared but then she would have her dinner and feel full and forget. And soon she was growing and the paths were all thick with flowers and weeds and then some of the paths she couldn’t see so well. And then big machines and people who shouted built houses all along the paths and made fences and the path got narrow and the trees were tall. And Kirsty looked out of her small window and wondered how little things got so big and big things small.
Like at night, talking at the table, and glancing outside to see the snow falling. Like forgetting and awakening; again the clear magic. Like the blackthorn’s spindle branches and grass turned bronze and the endless white sky. And the snow that came like confetti first, and clung to the birches and the oaks, and settled like a warm robe across the woods. Like the gleeful shouts that crack the morning still, the scrape of shovels and crunch of boots. Like the water’s edge with its icy hem and the stealthy strut of a curlew. Like coffee. Like my lover’s eyes.
It was on my mind to tell you that I’d booked us a meal. We could maybe take a holiday in France this summer; I’d like some peace and quiet and you’ve been working so hard. The kids were coming back from school the other day and my how Olivia is growing. She’ll be as tall as me soon. We get so sidetracked sometimes. There’s no rulebook. Sometimes I think of how we used to be and the laughter we’ve shared. I wanted to tell you that I love you, always will. I’m sorry now it’s… now it’s… now it’s…
In the park the dog was wrestling with a bone. Hey, said the man, throwing a ball into the sky. The dog ran across the frosty grass and the ball soared into the winter blue, rising above the trees. Upwards from the tops of the oaks and birches a bird flew – maybe it was a dove – towards the gold-flecked river; and out in the distance, across the water, was a thin white plume. Aeroplanes. Horizons in Europe, the Indian Ocean, warmer climes, desert sun, heat. The heat – a missile caught in a tragic arc, screeching to earth. Earth, flesh, bone.
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