It’s a container. Alternatively, or maybe the same, it is a solid block and the insides have been scooped out leaving emptiness, and it is the emptiness that makes a container. Could be a basket, I wouldn’t argue, after all it’s got a head in it, and you – I mean I – cannot but help think of those films you see where there is a guillotine and a drum roll then a woosh and a slicing, then cut to the head in the basket.
Only, this has the dimensions of a box, breadth, length and height, about 18 by 16 by 14 inches, mainly rectangular though the corners are a bit curved, and with sides and base of a uniform thinness smelling, although that is not quite the right word, of having been through an industrial process involving polymers and resins regulated within commercial laboratories. In any case (and, no, I won’t argue if you want to call the container a case), at about 4,000 cubic inches it’s well large enough to contain a human head. Let’s just agree more or less to call it a box. This isn’t a court case so we don’t need to spell everything out precisely. It’s a box. And it’s got a head in it. My head. Call me David Balfour.
This box containing this head is placed on the floor of a larger box from the top of which curves a thick pipe, and three other, thinner, copper pipes run up the back wall. Around the box containing the head, squat cylinders smelling of paint, and tall thin cannisters, one with a big black fly painted onto it, and rising above them all a solid yellow tower like a plastic bleach container, the whole of it making for a dockland perimeter of silos and warehouse.
Above the box that contains the box, outside the box, is a steel lagoon where the water fills, and if this were cut out, severed, separated it too would be a box. But embedded in its surroundings it resembles nothing so much as a sink. And this lagoon and the box it sinks into are contained within a much larger box as big as a room, and this larger box contains many other boxes. The large box itself shares its sides and its base and its lid (for this is a lidded box) with other boxes, and they contain boxes too, and all these boxes are neatly placed together and piled on top of each other to form a huge box, and this huge box is called the Block, even though it is not a block but is hollow. I tell you all this just to help you see that my head in the box is very small compared to the Block.
Don’t think that my head is all that is in the box. There are many things of an imaginary nature there too, , and I have to say as best I can that what most of all sums up the entire confines of the box’s roofless though walled dimensions is that there is in it an abode where lost bodies roam each searching for its lost one. I get little rest or peace. You’d think it wasn’t a bad state to be in, safe in a box with no work or worries, but believe me, it never stops down here and I hardly get a moment to myself.
Hush-a-bye don’t you cry,
Go to sleep-y, little baby.
When you wake you shall have
All the pretty little horses.
Blacks and bays, dapple grays,
Coach and six white horses.
Hush-a-bye don’t you cry,
Go to sleep-y, little baby.
There are things I cannot separate from the imaginary down here too. Spiders, silverfish, seahorses, earwigs as long as snakes, and caterpillars. It is not clean. There are oozes, vegetables have been in here at various times and left to rot. Cucumbers are dreadful the mess they make and the stink from a putrefying cauliflower is exactly equal, precisely the same, as the ridges of yellow mucus that fold upon fold crawl around the stomach. Yes, behind my head there is of some sorts of a body, though mostly the body is in my head, for instance the rotting cauliflower stomach is the same colour, shape and size as my brain which is in the box. My brain is a cauliflower.
My head is a box with a cauliflower in it. My head rests on steel coils like bales of savage wool, yellowing sails like discarded dusters, sponges from the deeps and darks, and petrified forests as hard bristled as scrubbing brushes. Sometimes I am aware of all this, and then when I am, I almost as faint as a glimmered happiness buried in rubble, and this but so rarely and dimly, summon up a feeling, and it is the feeling that I wish I were out of this.
But mostly I live in the imaginary, among the lost bodies each searching to find its lost one.
My Granny Beal used to say, “there’s never anything good on the box” but she’d spend most of the day and night looking at the box in the corner, the one that made faces and talked, talked, talked, laughed and hollered, all day, all night. She had her head in the box the last twenty years of her life even though she knew, knew, knew there was never anything in it. On the box in the corner, though, was a china ornament of a nymph and a shepherd, and next to it the plate with the thick painted sea and sand at Skegness where she and Albert had their honeymoon. When Granny Beal died, they had her in her open box in that room so people could view her before they sunk her into the soil, and the night before the funeral we watched Sportsnight with the light off out of respect.
Got my head in a box. I felt my body move just now, just a few inches, trying to get my arms to move, as if, although it is not possible to clearly analyse every such sensation coupled with thought, perhaps I was making a move to get my hand behind the box my head is in, as if, maybe, I was looking for something. But my body is in my head anyway and I can never separate out what my body does from what I imagine it does. I cannot separate out what I imagine and what is real. Sometimes I have a feeling that what I feel is real, like for instance if I give the dimensions of the box or remember watching Sportsnight, but it is not usual. Usually I am mixed with the lost ones roaming around and searching for the thing or it that is lost.
Just now there are funerals passing through my brain. It’s raining and people are going into Tescos and Linen Warehouse, and shuffling around muttering to each other the things they muttered yesterday, and now and then cackling because you’ve got to laugh haven’t you, got to laugh, got to laugh, and the roads are irritated with the same traffic as yesterday and the damp buildings are bored with standing there just to repeat the same day day after day, and the wet roads and pavements are grey as mucus and I pick out for no reason the distinct networks of commercial funeral activities. No one I know is any deader than normal, it is just that my attention is for no reason whatsoever drawn to the regular municipal cleansing operations and the worn out routes that converge on the central incinerators. I felt a funeral in my brain. Well I felt something. Innit. Is right.
The air here is all of me, I am the air. There is no colour or light or darkness down here, as I have dreamed when I imagine, so it is all as if, as if, as if. There is a word ‘acrid’ which I do not use often. It is like the air is acid, it is acid black smoke, it is the lung-filling, chest-filling, head-filling sharp hissing acid stink of chemical burning, it is dry acid, it is the tissues inside that have crisped to a paperthin parched dryness that a single drop of liquid would crack, as if thirst, as if even the most intense thirst, were part of the rich experiences of flesh and the flood of life. I must not, cannot, bear the horror of the real. I am in a long, long room all stainless steel and cool marble, a most luxurious bar, alone at the bar that stretches for ever. Behind the bar, too stretching for ever, the blue glass, six feet high that fronts the cold green waters of an aquarium lit from below and above and from side upon lush fish and wavering plant, blue rocked contours of the world as it was before, before, before. The barman, so impersonal as to be a joyful extension of myself and everything, pours from a silver spout into a glistening crystal glass a green foaming soda, thick and creamy and ice-cold, and I am still and calm and smile and sip, sip, slowly, slowly, unthinking, untormented, unlost, dandelioned and burdoched on summer fields where children play.
Little boy blue, come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cows in the corn
Where is the little boy who looks after the sheep?
He’s under the haystack, fast asleep.
Only a small space in the box but enough for everything, all the thoughts and all the lost people looking for what is lost. No colours or light though a sort of visible darkness, and some real sounds, like the middle pipe there it bumps and lets water down it so I can remember once when I looked after a small spring water bottling plant on an island where the tourists came. I had a small cottage near the water that slid down the purple slatey escarpment into a trough then the pipes that took it to a discretely camoflagued stone clad bottling place, and I looked after the tourists who drank the cold water straight off the wall, and I gave them the leaflets saying it was indeed miraculous water, fed the pool at the hermitage of Saint Columba, water full of the spirits of the earth and packed with atoms of health-giving nutrients, and they bought gallons of the stuff. The other pipes contain voices going up and down, talking about Balfour and carrying memories of something which means there must definitely have been a past time, such as one, a hospital porter saying “Let’s get this head to Xray”, but I find it better not to listen to the voices in any meaningful way, better to let them just go on as if they are water running up and down the pipes. But I am so dry, dry, dry.
Life goes on. Some of me is decaying, undoubtedly. Much of my brain is getting smaller. But the knowledge that the brain is getting smaller is growing every day. That is life. As I decay the knowledge of my decay grows stronger all the time, my mind expands. There is a caterpillar eating my brain, quite slowly. A caterpillar is a small thing as rodents go, but very patient and steadfast. For most of the time it is barely worth noticing because each moment brings approximately the same head and box and a sort of illusion that things are permanent. Occasionally, though, I am reminded of the caterpillar’s feasting on the meat of my brain because its image becomes so big that it spills beyond my head and fills the box almost. The image of just its head with hundreds of tiny pointed teeth and millions of luscious filaments of lashed fur around its glowing green head, its lovely and compassionate liquid black eyes: such colour is so precious to me and so rare, the image of the caterpillar eating my brain and so soon is it gone and there is a head in a box with a body behind it in some vague way making an attempt to reach behind the box, looking for something that may or not be there, searching for it in the the dark.
Do you remember telling me yesterday, David, that you have been kidnapped?
I have lost the words. I cannot find the words. The words are all dead. They should be clean and fresh like crisp vegetables or succulent fruits, dappled in beautiful light, glistening with dew and droplets of clear pure water. But they are shrivelled and dried up, or rotted like cucumber rots to pulp or turned to green powder and dust. The words have sprouted obscene shoots, foul moulds, putrid slime. In the box where no senses grow, no colour or smell, and all is only as if as if, as if, the words and thoughts have gone grey and flat and dead. My head is meat and bone and electric chemistry. The box is 18 by 16 by 14, 4,000 cubic inches. I do not have thoughts or feelings, they run through me: I am a pipe. The words speak me, the thoughts think me, my mind has died.
Behind the bone, in the chemical electrical meat, no one is there. No one is watching, writing, talking, listening. Nobody is there. See? Who? Who sees? What sees?
I see that you are not well, David.
Then the horror comes and I see, I see, I see that my body is not in my head in the box but that my head is in my body outside the box, that I am out of my head, out of my mind, out of the box, and I feel the cutting eyes that slice me all around the world, the cutting looks and glances like shards of glass, sharp as spikes, a million knives behind my back, the locust swarm of sneering whispers around my body, ceaseless snarl of whispers in my head, in my mind, and the caterpillar is too slow, nothing but a tormenting reminder that time will not be hurried and that …
David, trust me. Things will get better. You are safe here,
It is cutting, if only there were a steel ring barbed with a hundred points around my neck. Or a thick strong hook behind my jawbone and emerging through my mouth. Then to be dropped, chained, dropped a great height and sliced away from it all, cracked and gristled, ripped in two and plummeted down to oblivion, cut out of the rot and the dark and the swarm of dead words and out of the box. I see the voices and the world in my head, in my brain, in my falling body, fallen body. Acid cuts my guts to shreds, my guts a million spinning discs of infinitely thin silver spinning faster than light and slicing themselves into nothingness that repeats itself into the same million spinning discs with their razor edges, formless and unreal, imagined and the shape of a perfect globe.
So it goes. A wonderful thing the imagination. You’re never bored, there’s always something to keep the mind occupied. Actually, a lot of my imaginative wanderings end up with an image of a perfect globe, a world quite round. As if! It’s a satisfying aspect of existence this wandering about in mental space but it can be a bit tiring. So by and large I am content to be a head in a box that just rests there doing nothing like something shoved under the sink. At least I know where I am.