THE WRITERS RETREAT #truestory #scandal



The motorcyclists were the first to attack, just as it was getting dark, just as the bats were beginning to whirl out of their daytime redoubts in the woods, diving and wheeling like Stukas in the grounds. Often, in the past, when things had been different, a bat had flown in through a window or a door or a vent. On occasion this had seriously spooked one of the residents, whose hypersensitive artistic imaginations could work against them, leading to complaints and even refunds. These days, under new management, a bat in the house was a rare event. Precautionary measures included:


Chicken wire over all vents, which also prevented the entry of other pests, but not insects or spirits of course.


Signage on all the doors clearly instructing staff, residents, and visitors to SHUT THE DOOR TO PREVENT THE ENTRY OF UNWANTED GUESTS OF ALL KINDS


Strict, regular and continuous instruction to all staff, residents, visitors, occasional workmen and guests by members of the management sub-committee tasked with ensuring that only those people and things got into the house that were officially allowed into it.

The bikers all wore similar parched and dusty leathers, insignia and helmets. I remember best of all the blood red lightning flash sewn into the upper right arm of their padded jackets. A martial gang, no doubt about it. Hunnish, I decided. Approaching in a crescendo of deafening noise, completely drowning out our conversations. Everybody noticed the noise but I was the only one to understand from the very beginning that this was an attack and not an unremarkable convoy of hobbyists on an outing merely passing through the grounds. All the residents, myself among them, were already in the drawing room, having dined and conversed around the long table and afterwards collectively tidied up in the kitchen. We were by this time well settled into our usual evening congregation. A very sedate evening as usual. Languid small-talk, soft-voiced preludes to our oncoming dreams. A wind-down, with wine and digestives. We had as usual been discussing how work on our various artistic projects had gone during the day, before moving on to the house, its histories and traditions, such as who had been raped here, who among the staff had systematically pilfered from the stock, who among present and past guests had been haunted, in which rooms they had been haunted, and by whom they had been haunted. The shift from narcissism to scandal was seamless as always.


But now everything in the drawing room shook as if in terror/worship of the engine God; the antique furniture shook, the sub-standard art that previous guests had left behind on the walls as gifts or payments-in-kind shook, the hundred year old Blackwood’s Almanacs and Punch Magazine annuals shook in shaking cabinets. Our teeth and bones shook. We couldn’t hear ourselves think. We couldn’t hear each other even if we shouted as loud as we could. We were reduced to rudimentary sign languages and trying to read each other’s humours and intentions through the hues and tics passing over our faces.


The most terrified of all was a poet and mystical healer who had never published and was not intending to. In an attic room notorious for its poltergeists and malevolent presences she had been haunted by Nazis in league with ‘an entity of pure evil’. Fortunately, she had at the last moment been saved by three benign ghosts from different generations of the colonials who had once owned the house along with its extensive holdings of forestry and farmland. In the past every one of the guests had paranormal encounters like this, she said, but now there was only herself, and maybe one or two others. I tried to sign the following to her, although I did not succeed: The Motorbike has a Nazi soul, just like the helicopter is a scalping Yankee.


*****


After hours and hours of sonic aggression the motorcyclists retreated, having presumably run out of fuel. But that was not the end of it. Next, from all directions, the so-called North Vietnamese attacked. But I was not surprised. The Ulster hills and the monsoon weather had implied their imminence. War is like lymphatic cancer. It spreads to everywhere eventually, no matter where it starts off, even if it takes dozens of years. The American war had been traveling through the underground veins of the world for thirty years and now it had decided to erupt here in front of us. That was all. I had also befriended a young Texan who had had his cock and balls blown off near Saigon and was now living in the boathouse trying to figure things out. Experimental weapons, based on insane doses of electricity, he told me, had affected a mass transfer from 1971 through to now-here. The NVA now-here in Drumland, (pastiching the enemy, defeating the Yanks and the Aussies by copying and exceeding their depravity), had taken to decorating themselves with the body parts of the slain. One elephantine beauty had made himself a lovely dangling trunk out of a couple of dozen stitched together penises. Others had also decorated their helmets beautifully with shorn penises, transforming the helmets into sacrilegious crowns by attaching a ring of flopping cocks, black, white and mulatto.


*****


The house was attacked by porn stars. But is ‘stars’ the correct term? He whose face gives no light shall never become a star. Stars are extremely common and innumerable in the universe. And, what’s more important, by the the time you get close enough to touch them they aren’t even there anymore. The stars look at us and we look at them and both looks contain the knowledge of the impassable abyss between us. I recognised all the attacking stars of course. They were all the porn stars I had jerked off to since the internet. A true legion. A swarm. A large and twirling galaxy with a super massive blackhole in the middle of sucking and sucking and swallowing every thing. Big Bukkake Galaxy. Not that the stars were all the same but interchangeable they certainly were. Internet Masturbation helps me understand the fundamentally split being of, say, the genuine Franciscan. As his to any Magdalene, my inclinations towards the women of pornography are both pastoral and perverse. Perverse before orgasm, pastoral after. That is the best I can do. That was what I confessed to Helen, who had travelled all over and been the cause of some arguments, and she was OK about it. The porn stars ran right up to the bay windows and then they turned into moths, hideous insects with beautiful wings flickering for a while before heading back into the night with no beginning or end to it.


*****


Meanwhile one gets used to living under siege. Is there any other kind of living? This big house had been built, like all dwelling places, to withstand siege, siege from the elements, siege from the animals, siege from human and even supernatural enemies. Everything among the living and the dead is under siege, withstanding siege. Every shape is a siege shape. The planet bombarded by asteroids for a billion years, the asteroids bombarded all the time by cosmic rays, the cosmic rays bombarded by time, and time bombarded by something else we haven’t found out about yet.


*****


In the drawing room, the literary-artistic conversation had moved on to technique. Everyone is getting a little obsessed with technique, I stated, and all seemed in agreement, or at least they did not openly disagree. When people have nothing to say, or think you have nothing to say, when they are without passion for anything at all and think that you are just the same, they want to talk to you and interrogate you about technique. But technique is only paranoia with a plan, I said.


*****


Hares attacked the house. Suicidally. They bounded out of the undergrowth at the far end of the garden and, when they got close enough, leapt at the bay windows, perhaps with the idea of breaking through, who knows, but only succeeding in pulverising themselves, in thudding themselves dead or deeply unconscious, the way whole flocks of birds are wont to do, rousing disturbing suspicions of the possibility of mass suicide in animal species. Animals are not supposed to know that they are going to die, that they can choose to die at any moment. Animals are in the world like water in water. Hares are magical animals in some people’s minds. In some people’s minds they leap down from the moon. And if they can leap down from the moon they surely can kill themselves. Soon after basset hounds, cute and murderous, came into view and started to feast on the fallen hares. Then riders arrived in the picture, in chase of the hounds. After these, death came with his big green sack, taking his time but gathering everything. And then the hares, the hares again, the hares came bounding after death, though they must have known they would never catch it, for if they did, what would happen? Life would exponentially explode and the universe would soon become so crowded with creatures not one of them would have any room to move. I began to doubt that this was an attack at all, but some kind of lesson intended to display the fundamental importance of death to peace and stability in the universe. But why would death need propaganda? Why would death need to start teaching lessons all of a sudden? What was death worried about? I asked my colleagues but they didn’t have a clue though one was painting crows, real crows that at the same time were omens of doom, she said. I told her that in the art of crows, in the pictures painted by crows and in the sculptures chiseled out of coal and obsidian by crows, the human being is a symbol of birth canals and plenitude but also of stupidity and waste.


*****


The house was attacked by envious students from our various creative writing and life drawing classes. All our successes should have been their success. All our praises should have been their praises. All our invites and prizes should have been their invites and prizes. The jealous, accusing students attacked and attacked but they really had nothing to attack us with. They were nothing only steam and pus without us. We had given them all their ideas and inspiration. Of course they wanted to learn but they wanted most of all to replace us in the scholar’s chair, to be the master in the comfortable seat, to be the one with all the ready-made answers. Or else they mistook us for the ones who had caused their deepest wound and transferred all that repressed bile and hatred unto us. I saw my own most jealous student out there howling in the grounds and I knew be the cut of her just what she had reduced her thinking down to: the book I was writing was really her book, the high literary life I was living was really her high literary life. Even these sentences right here belonged to her. I had stolen all my lines, good and bad, from her. These thoughts irritated me. Her presence in my field of vision irritated me so I rubbed her out, bit by bit. I rubbed the left side of her face, and then her complete midriff, and then her right foot, and then the backs of her knees. I rubbed her out inch by inch until the space where she used to exist was as blank as a freshly laundered sheet.