A Tiding – Part IX

by Timothy J Jarvis

Part IX of ‘A Tiding’. The first part can be found here.

Soundtrack: Benoit Pioulard, ‘Calder

I swam to the shore, was cast up on the beach by a breaker, and lay there, gills gasping, on the black sand.

Fucking – a cardboard box falls, scatters Mark’s collection – superficial cult of gaudy – the seven-inch – some kind of arrangement – a really strange dream – a warm evening – a magpie – a drop of the Devil’s blood – a plastic top with LEDs that flashed when it was spun

One evening, Marguerite and Mark were in the bedroom of his flat fucking, stilted, but avid.

Mark’s flat was small – the ongoing cost of the divorce had depleted his savings – the bedroom cramped, the furniture packed tight. The headboard of his bed abutted the wardrobe, and his and Marguerite’s writhing jolted it, juddering a cardboard box that was on top, the box in which he kept the artefacts he was collecting for the old man. This fell, tipped its contents over them. The crime novel struck him on the brow; the tinsel floated down and settled around Marguerite’s neck like a trashy boa. After a moment’s perplexity, she broke into cackles; Mark pushed her off him.

Once her mirth had waned, Marguerite looked around her, frowned at the tart card.

‘What is all this stuff? I thought that book was a gift.’

‘Oh right. Sorry, I lied about that before. It’s a project I’m working on, an analysis of this kind of superficial cult of gaudy that has taken hold of society. It’s just an idea at this stage, really.’

‘I see. Strange…’

‘What’s strange?’

‘Nothing.’

‘No, tell me. I won’t mind.’

‘Alright. It’s just I find your research, your thinking odd, somehow. My work, you see, I engage with it wholeheartedly, throw myself in, but your discipline calls for distance, an unimpassioned stance…’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I’d have made something out of all this stuff, you, you just analyse and archive it.’

‘Hmm… It’s called intellectual rigour.’

Marguerite, ignoring him, sighted the seven-inch, cried out and clapped her hands together. ‘I used to love this band. Where did you find it?’

‘In a charity shop.’

She bowed her head, looked up at him through her fringe. ‘Do you really need it?’

‘Well…’

‘I’d really, really like it.’

Mark, chary of letting Marguerite see his panic, told himself he could get hold of another copy of the record.

‘Okay. I’m sure we can come to some kind of arrangement.’

Marguerite grinned, then looked at him, coy.

They were woken later that night by a siren. Marguerite nestled into Mark.

‘I was having a really strange dream. I was…’

Mark cut her off. ‘No, don’t tell me.’

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t dream,’ he said. ‘When other people tell me their dreams I feel this… This lack, I guess.’

She turned to him, took one of his hands in hers. ‘Hey.’

He looked at her. ‘Sorry. Go on, tell me about your dream.’

Letting go of his hand, Marguerite pulled her hair back from her face, tying it in a loose knot at her nape.

‘I was the first living thing to walk on land. I swam to the shore, was cast up on the beach by a breaker, and lay there, gills gasping, on the black sand. It was night, and there was a storm raging overhead. At first I thought I would die, but then I felt a set of lungs grow within me, and I could breathe. My fins became stumpy limbs and I began to crawl up the beach towards the treeline. I felt elated, but also sad to abandon the sea.’

Mark shook his head, then reaching out to cup her face in his hands, kissed her.

Marguerite pulled free.

‘Is it really true you don’t dream? You must dream as much as anyone else. Perhaps it’s only you don’t remember your dreams?’

‘I suppose, though, to me, it really seems I don’t dream at all.’

‘Strange.’

‘I’m strange? And I suppose dreaming about key moments in the evolution of life on earth is normal?’

Marguerite glowered, reached behind her for a pillow, and landed a blow on Mark with it.

Mark found a replacement for the seven-inch on an online auction site the following evening, was relieved to track it down so easily. Throughout the day, he’d grown more and more anxious about its lack.

One night, a week or so later, it being a warm evening, Marguerite and Mark went to a pub which had tables out front. They chatted, drank continental beers. As the sun sank low in the sky, a  shaft of light, striking obliquely down between two limbs of a pollarded elm, limned Marguerite’s face.

‘You do realise,’ Mark said, at one point, ‘your dream was inaccurate.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Evolutionary biologists don’t now believe vertebrates first invaded the land then later gained the adaptations that enabled them to live there. It’s thought legs and air-breathing lungs were developed in aquatic creatures long before the first terrestrial animals.’

Marguerite yawned. ‘How tiresome. I think I now know why you don’t dream.’

She dipped a forefinger in her pint and anointed his forehead with beer. Mark grimaced, wiped his face on his sleeve.

‘How tiresome? Are you under the impression we’ve been taken back to the nineteen twenties?’

She scowled. ‘Crétin.’

Then her expression softened. ‘I supposed I did deserve that.’

At that moment, a magpie hopped up onto their table. Mark startled and Marguerite cackled at him, scaring the bird off.

‘You know Scottish folklore has it they carry round a drop of the Devil’s blood under their tongues?’ she said.

Mark shuddered. ‘What?’

‘Strange, isn’t it?’

Mark thought he saw Marguerite smirk, but the light was failing, and her face was in shadow. Then they drank some more, went for a meal, and the notion fleeted.

The seventh and final item of Mark’s collection was a plastic top with LEDs that flashed when it was spun, bought in a toyshop. As the girl behind the counter counted out his change, it occurred to him he shouldn’t wait to take his offerings to the old man; he was afraid the giant would try to steal them. He decided to pay tribute that very evening.

To be continued

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