'Garland Nude' by Emmanuela Copal de León
Garland Nude, Emmanuela Copal de León, 1999.


The Mechanical Ocean
an extract
by Claine Helen Keily

They were wed during the week which marked the end of summer. The children — already half poisoned by the chocolate bars and candies which Quin passed out to them to each night — would sit at home eating, while he would drive away in the new car he had acquired with their mother's money. Satisfied that he had inflicted on the children a sticky hypnotic kind of evening, dizzy with himself, Quin would drive away to the nearest service men's club in their suburb and sit down at a table, placed somewhat itchingly close to the hotel's bar. There it was that, Farrow, the children's mother, would smile the thin smile of a ventriloquist's dummy, as she sat for hours stretched wide open, and watched the movements of his throat, as he consumed liquor chilled in chemical black sugars and ice.

The garden was tilted in such a way as they had never noticed before — as though it had gone mad, or old, or drunk for a day — studded as it was with white plastic chairs, which looked as though they would slide over the edge of the world. That day Farrow moved down the tilted garden, with feet slippered in moon coloured, spangled stilettos, so sharp they pierced the ground, causing her to look like a doll being hit over the head with an invisible hammer.

Dirth, Quin's son, his only child, stood watching the procession on the balcony of unspectacular cement. Struck by love for his own rejected mother, he mocked Farrow, who, ventriloquist-mouthed and sinking-shoed, was walking towards her law-bound union, with he who was nothing more than one giant piece of tinsel star dust, fallen to her arms.

All the while the wedding tune filtered through the tin cassette player, while Dirth and his lover, dressed in outfits black and tight, transformed themselves — in imitation of those bent on lawful union — into a suit of nylon grey, and a dress of enormous white flowering proportions. The daughter, unaware of the scene upon the balcony that day, was already so disturbed that she missed her turn to sign her name within the wedding registrar, for to her the sound of her brother's newly captured butterflies, fading to their deaths, was louder than the sparkling of champagne being poured, the sound of her Uncle Kemp's already insistent singing, the mocking laughter of her stepbrother and his lover, or the music of the tin orchestra, which fizzled more than played.

The chairs, tilting and sliding like those on a ship half sunk, and Farrow's bobbing, caused the few that attended the wedding to grow nauseous well before the wedding registrar was closed on those signatures newly signed. Inside the ink ran glistening then blotched, like a snake trodden on while sleeping in the midday sun.

Before the cake had been cut they tired of Kemp and his singing, and of seeing him center stage with cheeks shining and flushed with wine, singing songs more than half a century old.

When the fit came, it took the form of a split which let spin his tiny center, as a man little known to the family, yet called friend, held up a hand flat before him, and canceled Kemp's performance, there in the lounge room, amid the sound of the organ which played along, although the hands of the groom — who had suddenly that day turned stepfather — had ceased their playing.

Already there was a part of Kemp further away than his body could follow. And so he ran from the house as if chasing a vision, until he found himself in a children's playground, surrounded by a park that held trees which formed a miniature forest — a place far from that house now dipped in darkness, yet glowing with party lights all of one orangey colour, so as from the outside it it looked like a goldfish, dead and floating in a pool of stagnant water.

The house became empty of men as they abandoned themselves to searching, not knowing that Kemp had a heart which he longed to hold to himself that night, something dark and captured and private, until he soothed himself and drew himself upwards once more, looked over only by the needles of those tiny trees, and with no mirror greater before him than the slippery dips dim offerings. With no voice to rival his own, save for the sparrows, who because they formed no words he did not let disturb him, for they had no audience other than he, and were not counted by him to be among those who could dazzle the world.

Quin came towards him from out of the night, in a suit of grey, which in the dark, appeared bright like silver. Crazy beat Kemp's heart, a bird caught between the glass of two closed windows, as Quin stretched out his hand stiffly towards him, not as one who lowered himself to the dirty darkened stage of that other, nor as one who sat crouched among the rows of empty seats offering him the warmth of a lighter with which to ignite a cigarette, no, rather he spread his hand towards him like a man destined to break the waves that Jesus had caused to make solid beneath him, all the while calling that tragedy a favour.

Kemp however, being young of body, and a champion of the ring, whose veins still pulsed bright with the memories of his numerous trophies, fled that park, leaving the bridegroom to rest upon a swing formed of yellow plastic. There he rested among the tiny trees, a tall figure slumped with heavy breathing and with a face collapsed and powdery, like a birthday cake taken too soon from the oven.

When Kemp, with the glimmer of trophies within his veins, found himself back in the house, the dark of the night clung about him like a giant shadow, so as when he arrived in the lounge room filled with Tupperware, upon which rested slices of glace cherries — cherries toothpick pinned and glowing with sweat — he shuddered beneath that shadow filled with the beautiful, into which his soul had, for one brief moment, leapt. Gasping, his face turned back towards the ceiling, he no longer sung, but instead began to shudder, before he turned towards his mother and cursed her womb. Tears fell in that room as he pushed the sweating fruits aside. Running, he took his champion fists into a bunch, and pounded against the glass doors which overlooked the garden — still filled with chairs madly slanting — until the glass fell from its frame. Moving towards him, one hand outstretched, and with the voice of the devil spilt over ice, Quin caused Kemp's body to fall down sagging on the carpet, silent mouthed, and hypnotized.

Where Kemp's shadow went, that piece of his heart which he had seen mapped onto the walls behind him, when the glass of the chandeliers and the shine of the fruits had dazzled his eyes, it could not be told. Perhaps it had — as his niece would later come to fear — grown small and tight within him, like a ginger bread man, left, forgotten in an oven. Or perhaps it had — as she had liked to imagine, while the ambulance sat wailing and wild outside the driveway of the house that night — become an enormous suctioned monster, which had stolen him away and placed him back upon the swings beneath the bird calls, where it hovered over him, a giant, warm, wild, black hand of God.

They wrapped him in straitjackets beneath the spinning, glowing blue light, while the groom pulled himself up, his failed birthday cake face firm again, and with about his mouth a tight flickering which was almost a smile.

Turning towards his bride — who had been bent between spilt toffees and sweets, and who now grasped her wretched mother — he saw that her eyes were thin and black as they turned towards the garden, where Dirth and his lover, an infamous pin up contestant, were amid sips of champagne long gone stale, muttering their wedding vows. Words flew from his mouth into that evening, like the wings of birds once known and responsive to names, now no longer recalled. Gone wild, they slashed at those two, who stood in the darkness between the two orange trees, in the furthest reaches of the garden. He named her trash, she, whose airbrushed, forgivingly framed image, he had folded away in the drawers of his bedroom, in a lonely hidden place beneath forgotten linen.

There, as the oranges hung upon the trees unmoved, Quin disinherited his son. All the glimmers of his possessions hovered before him, giving, he believed, great weight to his gestures — operatic perhaps — as he cast out his son from the dark of his garden.

Dirth left and lived out his life with his mother, among her lines of newly planted zucchinis, never appearing again, except to his stepsister, who recognized him one evening on a television program laughing at jokes told at a wedding. He slept lighter than before in those days which followed his banishment, never regretting the loss of what may have been his portion of Quin's once newly purchased car, or ever dreaming for one moment of his father's latest model electric organ, or tiring himself out at night whilst he should be sleeping, with thoughts magnified with desire for the possession of one third of the suburban house — from which he had fled with blood furious and indignant — or disturbing himself for even one moment with a longing for his father's nylon suits hanging silent, in the closets.


Text © 1999 by Claine Helen Keily

Original Graphic, "Garland Nude," © 1999 by Emmanuela Copal de León

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