Robbie in Midwinter (Dreams from a mountain farmhouse)
We’re playing I-spy in the dark. You and me, naked, in bed, huddled on a single futon, under deadweight of blankets and quilts, fearful of exposing an inch of skin to the sub-zero pitch-black mid-winter Japanese mountain air, we play I-spy. In the dark. Me first. Eye spy with my little I something in Robbie’s deep psyche … … an ocean. “What kind of an ocean?” An opaque, grey, choppy North Sea kind of ocean, cloudy and uninviting, an ocean of destitute black seaweed and rusting hulks of wrecked tankers, their oily slickness long-forgot under the waves. “What else do you see?” A boat, a wooden raft, no, some floating debris, a man clinging, you clinging, struggling to climb out of the turgid water, no helping hand to pull you up…
Did it start on morning of the newborn year when I stripped to ice-textured skin, utterly vulnerable to your fully-clothed wantingness, you utterly vulnerable to my wanton unclothedness, backing into my paper-walled room saying “No sex”, abdicating all responsibility?
Did it spring from the embers of a New Year party as snow deepened outside and drunken guests slumbered, as feet entwined invisibly under massed communal blankets around the fire and a goodnight peck on the cheek was trapped and pulled into something more insistent, as I twisted away, all too conscious of a knowing smile tickling the edges of my housemate’s face and a glint from under lashes I thought masked only sleep?
Did it begin on the trip to town for supplies, when we swapped hats leaving the restaurant, succumbing to the desire to take a piece of each other and wear it on our bodies?
Moist whiteness, knee deep, drifting, silent, concealing. In the kitchen a fragile, sculpted pillar of ice stands between the once-running tap and the surface of the sink. Liquid frozen in motion. It froze on New Year’s Day, after we made love the first time. I sit and play the koto, kneeling on a thin cushion on cold wooden boards, plucking long strings and singing Kurokami, I am black hair brushed in the lonely night, a lost love remembered, I am snow gathering, silently. You come with Japanese porn videos, we watch them together, I am your pink-nylon-suited office girl fantasy, obedient, tearful receptionist, torn pink nylon. This disturbs you, perhaps, more than me.
Harsh white snowlight, crystalline, unforgiving, all-revealing. In this world “Stop!” means “Don’t stop!”, “No sex” means “Fuck me” and I-spy is played in utter blackness, in the smell of wood smoke and ice. This twisted language, you are fluent in.
I’m helpless, even as I seduce you, trapped in an exquisite filigree of inertia, like the ice-tower in the kitchen sink. The jealous goddess of the New Year is punishing me for helping prepare her tall bamboo gate and her white-paper white-rice orange-persimmon red-berry green-leaf offering – she prefers a man’s hands. Only hours before our feet entangled by the fire, I had made a midnight New Year oath at the shrine up the mountain behind the house: that now things would be different, a new start, utter commitment to one person, to Jake, the ever-so tall Lancastrian poet who had just decided to abandon everything – job, home, country, friends, band – to come and meander through Asia with me. I swore that now things would be different, I would allow myself to be tamed, intertwine my dreams with his. Be owned. His sacrifice, my sacrifice. Three days later I’m kneeling naked in a paper room in front of you, begging to be raped.
But you are not without poetry either, internal turmoil your muse; you whisper to me in the dark your dream of dinner parties where one man sits in lonely silence hugging his knees and rocking and one woman bends over the table and pulls her dress up around her waist and parts her pussy for you gazing seductively over her shoulder and another woman holds a gun to her own head and says What will it be and you say What is the question and she says The question is what will it be and you say What is the question and she says The question is/ and one man can’t stop laughing at all of them, laughing and laughing and laughing until all the guests have left and the dishes and leftovers and chewed bones and half-empty wine glasses with floating cigarette stubs cleared away and the tables and chairs removed and the pictures unhung and the light fittings unscrewed and the walls demolished and the world crumbled and the stars extinguished and nothing is left but a sodium-lit orange-grey blankness, a drab and ugly nothing – … how can I help but fall into this obsession?
A New Year’s promise lies broken, something discarded that was never really wanted in the first place.
Ash, dust, smoke, fire. We move like dreams through the smoke, smouldering oak in a sunken hearth with no chimney. Shadows move through shadows, living ghosts through long-dead ones like the one that plays Phil Collins CDs in the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping and makes the kerosene heater whisper its plea in exquisitely polite Japanese – “Please refill the fuel tank, please refill the fuel tank” – even when the tank is full and the heater switched off. I feel myself becoming a ghost too, endless cycles of sweeping and cooking and writing and sweeping and fucking and sleeping, nothing changing, nothing growing; buried under layers and layers of clothing, invisibly I pale to grey insubstantiality in white snowlight. Somewhere glued to a shutter in this ancient farmhouse is a yellow-brown note, written upside-down in elegant calligraphy, a prayer or a curse: ‘the girl does not return’. A lost daughter who fled this hidden ghost-life decades ago for the bright, neon-lit, pink nylon-clad fantasies of the city, the same city I fled to become a ghost here.
What is the question?
In daytime you fix the back wall, nailing planks over the crumbling daub. We carry water in plastic tanks from the neighbours’ well, I sweep the floors and cook Japanese curry rice for lunch. In the daytime, our words take visible form, whiteness hanging like empty speech bubbles above our heads. You wear my coat. I wear your hat. At night, I slip, fleece-clad, into the weight of your bed.
Fifteen days. The end of Japanese New Year. You are out for the day. My housemate and I sweep the dust and ash from the shadows, clean the cobwebs from huge sootblack beams, wipe down the gleaming black wooden floors, remove the goddess’s offering from the household shrine, tear down her evergreen gate. We close all the openings of the house and burn her green wet branches in the open fireplace until every crevice is filled with smoke. Then we open all the doors and windows, release her floating into the blue dusk deepening mountain vastness. I feel my solidity returning, limbs released from long-dreaming. From the kitchen sink comes the miraculous sound of running water.
By the time you come back, it is all over.