Written by Bridget Currie http://bridgetcurrie.com
The Lady, The Scientist and Phlegm
There once was a woman who had to be careful not to touch anything. She couldn’t let objects know she was there. The Lady had a fatal attraction for fabricated things, they reached out to touch her, they reached out to embrace her, they reached out to engulf her. Once, she had received large bruises from a raku teacup knocking into her sternum. It was hard to know why it started, the endless yearning of thing to not thing, object to subject. Chairs clustered like affectionate puppies into her legs, clothes twined themselves tight, hugging the contour of her skin. Hot nights were murder, the bed clothes forming a close ball around her body, sometimes the pillows threatened suffocation in their powerful urge to be near the Lady.
How did the Lady live? She lived in a bare place, hot, dry and ancient, where the crust of human settlement could be scraped off like over-thick icing from a cake. She lived in a Nudist colony built in the ruins of an ancient city. There she could rest on the massive slabs of marble and the fallen fragments of statuary were so eroded that they merely gave her a casual glance.
The Scientist reduced his liver to warm putty considering the Lady's problem. His previous researches in the changes in structural chromography brought on by death, stood him in good stead. As a child, his family home had been filled with stuffed birds and he had noticed that those specimens lost the iridescent shine inherent to the crows outside. He studied the colour effects produced by the physical structure of feathers, butterfly wings and iris tissue and over time became a foremost expert on the changes to those chromatic structures that occur on the point of death.
In truth the Scientist has been shunned by his peers for his research in Epigenetics. He had become wealthy working for religious lobby groups on such unpopular subjects as the inheritance of the sins of the fathers (or more accurately mothers). His own views were unknown. This lucrative field was parallel to his own previously mentioned interests in the fractional changes to biological structures and the movement of molecules after death. In such matters he remained an experimental mystic.
Phlegm waded through thigh high weeds, through the thick pollen fug hanging over the ragweeds, ryegrass and cow parsley. Clouds of yellow green particles and microscopic brown fungi spores filled the air. Histamine hives covered their skin, small ulcers lined their inner lip. On Phlegm’s fingers the fabric of the dermis was ruptured by a thousand tiny sores. Phlegm’s sclera reddened, the conjunctiva burning and lacrimal sac weeping sticky tears, eustachian tubes itching, the membrane of the throat on fire with burning allergens, and accompanied by hoarse asthmatic breathing the crooked figure of Phlegm passed through the field.
But the mind of Phlegm exploded with aspirin effervescence. Ideas popping out like neatly cut cubes of an inverted mango cheek. The electrical thoughts said: air lives, everything burns wet and quick, our breath constantly moves within us like a wind tossed flame. Knowing the world is a structure in motion and requiring motion of us.
Living principal. Principal living thing.
The sun burnt hot, the lady ate grapes, nectarines, peas, all variety raw plant matter. Nuts and seeds there were too – and raw fish and oysters whenever a visitor came up from the coast. Bread was not possible, its loving caresses left her covered in crumbs and minor lacerations, to eat it was agony. As a mass it hugged the inside of her stomach and lovingly attached itself to her teeth. Confectionary was out of the question. As soon as you put a bit of culture into nature, and made say, Veal ragu with porcini and pappardelle the Lady would be for it, pasta burns. Dumplings were the worst being a form of highly enculturated food: Ravioli, Pierogi, Gyoza, Cha Sui Bao and Empanadas within a five kilometre radius were all drawn to hurl themselves at the Lady. She had had to be very careful when selecting where to live, as food stuffed within food is very popular. Not surprisingly considering her diet the Lady was very beautiful with fantastic teeth.
Many men visiting the nudist colony tried to seduce the lady and so long as they had subtle minds and were completely naked of all adornment at the time the Lady would often be enthusiastic. To be honest she was bored a lot of the time. This was how she met the Scientist, he was not bad looking for a drinker. Watching his handmade Roger W Smith watch snap back in magnetic attraction to the nape of the Lady’s neck he decided to run some tests.
He proceeded from the hypothesis that the greater the amount of human work embodied in an object, the greater the force of attraction. And he defined attraction as the speed of approach + strength of adherence.
Trying to operate in three dimensions, a tumultuous many angled thing. Language endows the body with sides like a box: front, back, sides, top, bottom. But it is a thing of infinite curves and a multiplicity of movements and relationships. Phlegm made a thing that struck a fragile awkward elegance, leaning; an all-overness of one spherical dimension. The thing was perfect, its forms almost vibrating where Phlegm’s fingertips had formed it
Maintaining the correct sensibility was the most important thing. A conversation, email, obtrusive image, misplaced song or book could throw it off. Friends, dreams, too much sun, a drink, no drink, a breeze or a disgusting sight on the street was enough to untune the sensibility and force one to unpick later that made sense at the time. Phlegm lived almost as a hermit in order to maintain the sensibility.
The force that allows a person to feel like they are producing a small but useful cog, never entered Phlegm’s room.
All Phlegm had to sell was transcendence and transcendence is useless.
The scientist devised a punishing schedule of experiments. He tested the relative attractive force of:
a) peeled potato
b) cooked potato
c) potato chips
a) tree branch sawn from the trunk
b) chopped wood
c) carved wooden Welsh love spoon
a) thrown clay cup
b) cast porcelain cup
c) plastic cup
a) charcoal stick
c) tablet computer
He tested embroideries, worn out pillowcases, cars, plates from Ikea and Song dynasty bowls, used mobile phones and robotic arms, knives and blenders, pickles, an uncut ruby and makume gane rings. He tried: a) a cheap guitar from the local pub, b) a pearwood and inlayed mother of pearl viola, c) a pair of brand new red plastic maracas still in their cellophane. Of these last three only the viola showed a slight lessening of attraction, merely skidding a few metres towards the Lady. This was puzzling as the antique viola was handmade and had in fact been on display for nearly twenty years in a local tourism office.
As one would expect the Lady lived that cruel sweet way of existing on charity. The standard clinical trial reimbursement she received from the tests was a nice addition to the dole. As the Lady sadly said, her needs were few.
The tests were like this: The lady stood or sat on the ground at a fixed point 4 Metres from the Scientist. Two lines were drawn on the ground 2 Metres apart. The Scientist released the object to be tested (padded if dangerous) at the first line. At the second line a speed camera recorded the speed of the object. The time from line one to line two was also recorded. The lady stood an additional 2 Metres behind the second line and in between her and the line a famous Jai Alai player strove to catch the objects. Of necessity the objects tested were not above 5kg in weight.
Attraction was tested very delicately by resting the object on the forearm of the lady and, through an attached liana, slowly pulling it away by using an high sensitivity tension testing machine, the standard measuring device for magnetic attraction.
Musing on these results the Scientist experimented with some works of art. The Scientist pulled some strings and was able to borrow a painting that had been exhibited for many years as a Giorgione but had been found to be largely overpainted and faked at a later date. It depicted a murky landscape with two people resting intertwined by a river and a rider and horse rearing in front of a large rock face. He also found a copy of ‘The tempest’ painted from a photograph in Indonesia and a small amateurish painting of a landscape from a charity shop. He strapped all the paintings securely to a fallen rock slab. The Lady approached. The fake Tempest and jumble sale painting jumped and writhed with hungry longing. In wonder the Lady ran her hands over the Giorgione. There was nothing, the large softly glazed canvas turned a stoic bland face to the lady. She softly stroked the taught fabric, her fingers lightly drumming the surface. Nothing, it had been drained.
That night the Lady slept on the painting.
Phlegm’s room was like this: a conservatory annex to an old house now converted to flats. The lean-to structure ran down the left hand side of the house so that one end faced the street. Three glass walls, glass ceiling. One corner was curtained off with a bed, the rest of the room was filled with three large tables and dominated by plants. In the milky shadowless light of the room Phlegm made things. The sky was glass, the sky was good for sensibility, changing weather conditions were good for sensibility, silence was good for sensibility, lying on the bed was good for sensibility, the quiet growth of plants was good for sensibility, coffee was good for sensibility, handcream was good for sensibility, apples were good for sensibility, dressing gowns were good for sensibility. All of these things Phlegm had.
As the days past into months the lady grew silent, watchful, sad. Her affliction was a mystery to science. There was no window shopping in the city, no books, no television, no drawing or writing, only the sound of nature and the human voice. Everything was barren, the rocks burnt, the sun too powerful, the dust told her nothing. She wanted to touch a paper surface or a carpet or sip from a smooth rim of glass. She grew various cushioning plants and fine grasses, touched velvet petals, drank from the spring in the rocks. In this Eden The lady was bored.
The mind of Phlegm was like a glowing piece of charcoal, deep red embers in a feathered ash nest. Each breath brought a brightness. Each breath a renewal of fuel, a new possibility for a dying thought. A calm bright burning, ‘I am a constant’ thought Phlegm ‘I beat with slow thick blows’.
Phlegm hadn’t left the room for three days. In the street, the wet cardboard smell of dead leaves, an undercooked taste-of-flour day.
Eventually the Scientist drew up a definitive list of his findings.
Processes and Substances affectingthe highest degree in alteration of positive attractiveness:
-Shaping or modelling an undefined substance into a specific form
- application of heat to affect change in molecular structure.
- Refining of one element from a whole (as in the pressing of oil or distillation, smelting etc)
- combination of substances not found naturally together (blending, mixing, emulsification or through layering).
- Plastics (encompassing several of these processes - see above)
- Processes involving thread
- application of pigment
- fermentation (Bread, beer, wine, pickles)
As to processes and substances affecting the highest negative impact on attractiveness, he wrote only two:
-erosion through time and environmental factors
- lack of use value, such as in display within museum context?
The Scientist was not one of those who could do without. He needed a break. All the healthy living and cognition was a drag. He told the lady he unfortunately had to go away for a while. Pressing work matters, he would see her later.
He left for a place with good wine lists and 60 degree slow poached eggs.
The actions of Phlegm came to the attention of The Inverse Square Cell. A note was gummed to the outside of the conservatory with condensation.
The note said: ‘Art for those who are interested’.
From his high-rise hotel the scientist contemplated moonshine. Not as a form of illumination but as an illegal form of alcohol production. He had been reading an article about the supposed brewing of moonshine from Vegemite in Australian Indigenous communities. The Scientist thought it showed a lack of fundamental understanding of yeast. True that the salty brown condiment was manufactured from beer lees but necessarily those were dead. There clearly are sugars in the spread which natural airborne yeasts might feed upon however the high salt content would render conditions inimical to fermentation. The most pernicious moonshine is made from pasteurized orange juice concentrate. Untaxed, no terroir, no bodega bloodline, alcohol as a drug.
In his pajamas the Scientist took another sip of Quinta de Noval, alcohols may be considered as organic derivatives of water where one of the hydrogen atoms becomes an alkyl group. Democratic molecules switching around. Ethanol CH3CH2OH is abbreviated to EtOH. eh toh ehhh toh えと um.
Phlegm contemplated the note and wrote: ‘Integritas, Consonantia, and Claritas?’ and adhered the note to the inside of the glass.
They came back with ‘We are also concerned with “the fundamental communicability of form” ’
‘You see that it is that thing which it is and no other thing’?
'Ok so you have read some Joyce – would you like to meet on Thursday?'
'Deeply regret, I am as of one mind with the purpose of God, the living principal, cannot make Thursday.'
Slowly the tide of boredom lapped at her. The emptiness under her diaphragm grew, her loneliness now that the Scientist had gone was complete. She couldn’t face any more tests after the Giorgione. The painting was the only thing made by another human being she had touched in years. In the small hours she started out on the soft fine sand of the dirt road, she walked until the grey shale of the bare hills and irrigated valleys broke into clusters of farms, until the small towns with quiet early morning streets surrounded her and once again she felt paving stones under her feet. Along the way objects began gravitating to her body, dressing her in a layer of old tires, forgotten shoes, wire, fenceposts, plastic bags, beer cans and newspaper. Shards of glass scored her skin, hubcaps smacked at her knees, her feet were bloody from the tarmac and the hundred thousand tiny fragments of plastic being pulled from the soil. Covered with a layer of matter several metres thick, bumping, jostling, weighing her down, the lady collapsed in the street.
The Lady had been in a coma for one week in hospital. While unconscious the phenomena of attraction had stopped. As she slowly gained strength the attractiveness returned, but as yet only tiny things flew to her. An enterprising Physiotherapist had fitted a perforated surgical plastic shell to the lady to protect her face and torso from the small bits of detritus.
Tottering like a child wrapped in hypoallergenic Armour (obviously no need for adhesive strips) the lady could venture out. The attractiveness of the Lady was highest with health, now things merely stirred with her passing. The taxi cab mirror charm tilted towards the back seat and the engine developed a knock.
She went to the National Gallery, people averted their eyes from the nauseating thought of full body casts. Inside the Seventeenth century gallery, dark varnish rectangles stared down. She walked closer, the paintings remained quiet , still blank faces remained impassive. Eyes wide the Lady walked through the galleries. Room after room of nothing, the fatigue was enormous. A slow heavy emptiness filled up the ventral body cavity pressing on the stomach and intestine, expanding to constrict the heart. The Lady faltered, dizzy with the endless numbness , the crushing sameness, the blankness of it all.
When the ridiculous post it notes covered the end of the conservatory, the Sensibility was no good. Phlegm went out to meet the ISC at their designated meeting place.
Phlegm walked in the shifting haze of images, each painting pulling a thousand remembered fragments out of cold storage. A rough brushstroke dissolving into Crisp delicate hands or a spray of lace. And then colours that should hum with each other in rare combinations, simplicity that should hold austere power, landscapes that ought to breed strange lusts. Room after room of nothing, the fatigue was enormous. A slow heavy emptiness filled up the ventral body cavity pressing on the stomach and intestine, expanding to constrict the heart. Phlegm faltered, dizzy with the endless numbness , the crushing sameness, the blankness of it all.
The thought echoed through their heads: Nothing Nothing Stuff Stuff,
so strongly it was heard by the other. Across the delicate pale green walled room Phlegm and The Lady stared at each other.
The Scientist was in a bright white room, chic spots bounced off shiny surfaces. The crowd spoke intensely, a loud knickerbocker glory of clean hair, technical fabrics, statement jewellery and mediocre Cava. Nodding his head to the wave of speech, the Scientist smiled happily at a construction of enameled aluminum sheeting and crystals, the light bouncing jewel like from its rich surfaces.
This idea has a tail.
If it doesn't have a tail how you gonna catch it?