Come and look at the beautiful grey bunny, this big fat dopey one here, that’s right, this one, this bunny rabbit, all fluffy and cuddly and sleepy and waiting for you, you cute little kiddy, yes you right there behind the white fence, that’s right, the plastic one that your dad still thinks is wooden but is about to realise to his holiday horror is in fact plastic, waiting for you to come and stroke her all the way from her twitching pink and grey dappled nose and her irresistible white whiskers to her fluffy tail poking out between her hairy back legs and huge feet with the cutest tufts of hair poking out between her adorable toes. Come on, kiddies, come right up, right here, nice and close, like this little girl is here, that’s right, this one with the blue plastic apron on with the white print announcing to all of us that she is our ASSISTANT! Don’t you worry about those dried tear marks on her cheeks, that was hours ago when she panicked a teeny bit about the giant praying mantis crawling up her arm except it’s not a praying mantis you know kids, it’s something much nastier than that which is why it looks like a piece of bark with claws climbing up her arm slowly slowly but surely towards the side of her neck and, phew, she was trying to let STAFF know but they were so busy spraying down those other kids, LOL LOL that’s what I said kids, with Hygienic Hand Rub that we didn’t notice, no it’s true that we didn’t notice but you must wash down with Hygienic Hand Rub kiddies, after touching the animals especially little Flopsy here because we don’t know what cutsie fluffsie bunny rabbits like this one might do to you, which is why we’ve erected large banners on each of the four sides of the plastic farmer’s fence with the words RUB DOWN USING HYGIENIC HAND RUB AFTER RUBBING THE RABBITS so that no one — no one kiddies not even dadz and mumz — will run home (or hop back to their holes we say at the farm!) with any bunny bugzy wugzeez and it’s why all of our staff have in one hand a cute fluffy big fat dopey bunny and in the other, a bit like the security guard you saw when you came in through the glass doors beside BHS, yes?, a bit like he is holding his gun, yes I’m sure you saw that you cheeky kiddies, just like I know you all want to get your sticky little fingers covered in our hygienic hand rub. I know I know I know I know bunnies and hand rub or hand rub or bunnies or fluffy cutesies or hygienic liquid or fluffy bunny just like on a farm or hygienic liquid or fluffy bunny (a bit like) on a farm or hygienic hand rub or bunny or hand rub or rabbit or hand rub or hand rabbit or run or rabbit or rub or rabbit or rub or rabbit
The slug of saliva sliding down his chin promises more love than I can possibly give. I’m standing before him, a pound coin in my hand. ‘Take it, please. Buy yourself a cup of tea, go on.’ He’s staring up at me, his eyes so wide and wanting, so full of soul, this could be Mark Rylance playing the tramp in Soho Square, dribbling and adoring. He takes the coin, his eyes fixed on mine. His face moves closer. The sound of the tourists’ voices goes fuzzy, a huddle of retired English couples visiting central London, competing with one another for familiarity, irritating a Saturday morning sunbather wearing excruciating shorts. His face comes closer still, his quivering lip glossy and pink, the fleshiest part of his entire body, the rest of which seems to have contracted in these few seconds standing together. Some kind of passion. I’ve taken hold of his hand. I’m squeezing it. His breath warms my neck. ‘Kiss me, will you? Just a kiss?’ The lip relaxes and I can see his teeth. I can hear the hosepipe shooting water into the air. I know I should kiss him. He wants a kiss more than a cup of tea. I hesitate. I think of all the people I have kissed. Why not one more? Go on. Kiss him. I look down at him. I focus on the saliva. The sheen. I hesitate. I think of the angle at which I could move in order to kiss his cheek and avoid his mouth. I move very slightly in that direction. His lip levitates, then moves with me. I shake my head. I tell him, ‘Not today.’ I drop his hand. I tell him to have tea. He looks for my hand, then at the coin in his. I turn and march away. Three men on a bench are watching, one holding a yellow bag full of books. They look to me, then back to the Mark Rylance man. They seem surprised. For the rest of the day, all I can think about is that kiss. I should have kissed him. I should have kissed him. I know I should have kissed him.
The stuff of stock photography, this. Leaning into jellied eels, Tubby Isaac shouts over traffic to a short customer who can’t position her ear at quite the right angle. A surge of sentimentality. Then: He might be a right bastard for all you know. I’m starting to recognise the process of my own ageing. A man in a wheelchair is parked against a tree that is dying inside a pot that no one has remembered to water. He stares out. No hat. No hand. No used Costa coffee cup. I pretend not to look for his container. You think I’m a beggar cos I got no legs? I move to a distance before turning to stare. Get a grip, get a grip. I dig about and find a fifty pence piece. Close-up, he’s tanned and blonde. “Thank you love.” Oh, oh, here it comes again.
Even from this distance I can see them spreading over the pavement. Velma is here! And seven women in crocheted ankle socks. A man who wishes he were Italian fidgets at his friend’s neck, flattening the felt ruff she has cleaned with Selotape especially for this evening. An eight year-old girl successfully performs the habit of presumption, aware already that her purpose on this earth is to intimidate adults who lack her vast fortune. She twitches to the curls of her hair that are caressing her shoulders, bouncing about, each and every strand a soprano voice calling Cath Kidston from the heavens. She already knows that one does not smile at Events Like This. Behind her, a stream of highly-educated middle-aged women (all at their sexual peak) duck beneath the barrier and march through glass. Outrage spreads up the line like dominoes keeling over. Crimson lipstick. Black smocks handed out for free at the hairdresser. Rectangular trousers. A very short man walks up the line, encouraging people to form a proper queue to let the public pass more easily & requesting that they drop their sunglasses into the bucket. “They will be handed back after the show,” he shouts. “You don’t need to worry. They will be handed back after the show.” Irritation ripples, but no one is brave enough to question the orders of a dwarf who was born in Mogadishu. But a curator recognises him. “He’s my dealer,” Tedd boasts to Rimmer, a sculptor. They met at Eton. Other conversations are not happening. No one is listening to no one else. Everyone is looking to see who they recognise and who might recognise them. Aldgate can’t sustain this amount of disappointment. So it’s relief all round when the doors open. Half-shaved heads holding clipboards and biros hurry us into the open space. Pallid boys in black shirts offer white wine and apple juice. There are dicks and cunts all over the fucking place. And ironic robots. On three screens, hipsters are washing themselves in green slime. A Slade emeritus has splashed water colours over canvas to capture his retirement home in Provence. “Form!” The stairway is blocked by graduates who can’t sell their work. The queue for the ladies is for the floor-to-ceiling mirror.
No one urinates in these parts, and no one looks at the work.
“Writers … are obliged to try to understand the forces that shape us. They seek to give us a more truthful sense of things, a more nuanced sense of the world we inhabit. They oppose simplification and mystification. They are interested in complex readings informed by history. They write to help us understand what, for many, eludes understanding.”
Steve Wasserman on Susan Sontag, 1 July 2015
“the people in despair/how to justify someone’s death/that he died because he was being honest?/the creation of one more mystery to steal some money?/the drunkenness of the people to forget the suffering/ Speak on the equality of rights/if the people have no roof ?/we are the indescribable/(…) it is no use talking about laws/here is an inconvenient case/we live in disarray/under the dictatorship of a president”
José Gomes Hata “Cheik Hata”, aged 29, hip hop artist, Angola
Ugliness triggers my palpitations, not beauty and the Basilica of Santa Croce. Watching the apple trees, the ones that were planted carelessly last summer by a council worker on contract, shortly before the drought, watching them endure weeks and weeks without water, the odd football cracking the only branch of significance, watching them just managing to survive, and willing them to die but knowing they won’t die for years and years, that they will get just enough rain eventually. Passing these apple trees, then around the corner, the corner the Somali boys work, and across the car park where every so often a fist fight between drivers is narrowly avoided, down the Lidl’s corridor where the shadow of the Swastika painted in black paint two summers ago still holds to the wall, and out in front of the sklep where the blonde woman who works at the butchers is standing with her twin boys, but she’s not in her usual uniform of white overalls smudged with pig’s blood, and she’s looking lovely and sexy and strong and free, despite the little girl just inside the doorway who is bawling her eyes out.
… is to highlight the contradictions which cannot yet be spoken. But also, sometimes, to leave behind history which needs to be left behind. “Could you show me how to remember nothing from the past?” Literature can help us consider what did not happen in the past, but might have. And someone told me this at an important moment in a conversation, and I can no longer remember who or where.