Many hours of the office later, and still discombobulated by the morning’s mysteries, I decided to redeem a couple of those happy-hour promises, and instead of getting the Tube back home I walked down to the Cross Keys on Endell Street for a contemplative pint. Dusk had long since fallen; it was winter time, maybe even Christmas shopping time; the gormless streets around Covent Garden were overcrowded and heavy going, and to the untrained eye the crowd of smoking after-workers outside the Keys might have looked like more of the same, but once I’d broken through the knot of bodies and pushed through the door, there was peace and space inside. The Keys was having one of its rare quiet evenings. A couple of the tables were unoccupied, there was a gap at the bar just wide enough to squeeze myself in to make an order, the customers were mostly talking rather than bawling, and with the orange lights glinting off the diver’s helmet and all the other brass and tinsel folderols, plus the usual fuggy heat, the atmosphere was comforting and gently feverish, like a snuggle in a cosy bed with a nice low-grade infection.
I don’t go to the Keys all that often, but its one room is small enough to encourage conversation with strangers at neighbouring tables when you’re in the mood, so I recognised a few faces, like the tall skinny barman, and the little entourage around the blind guy in his usual seat at the end of the bar, and by midway through my pint I was starting to feel slightly normal. The clinking of glasses, the chuntering of punters and the chatter of the fruit machine by the door were like a tiny chirping from an innumerable multitude of Lilliputian grasshoppers around the hem of the barman’s trousers. “…You’re only about four foot six, but don’t worry about it, ’cause there’s always someone smaller than you…” I might have closed my eyes for a minute. When I opened them again the long tall barman was sitting at my table and giving me a meaningful look.
“Sorry mate, is it time or something?” I never like to outstay my welcome.
“I want to be inside you.”
There’s nothing like a direct approach.
“Likewise,” I said.
That foxed him, I can tell you. He looked like he was thinking about it for a couple of minutes, and then:
“Ok, ok, I can do metaphor too. I want to inhabit your heart like a blackbird in buddleia, hidden from view, undisturbed, feeding, fledging. Lifelong love is a shelter as well as an adventure, an unbreakable lifeboat on a white-water ride, but let’s talk about the boy in the boat and you know perfectly well what I mean: intersecting planes in three dimensions, the plumping folds, the wrapping and unwrapping of vessels, blood and water alike; keys fingered to strike the gentlest of hammers; multidirectionality inside enclosed spaces, your lips to god’s cornrow, come on, I’m talking about height and depth and good and bad and the rise and fall of your breasts. Come back to my place, baby.”
“That’s fighting talk where I come from,” I told him in all seriousness. “You want to dish it out but you don’t want to take it. Sod the boy in the lifeboat, if you want to be my lover then you have to be prepared for me to split you, skin you and crawl into your hide like a Napoleonic soldier on retreat. No, no,” I continued, as he seemed about to interrupt me with a knowingly risqué offer, “inside and outside are only the start. I want to push and pull you along the plane of slow aspirated phonemes, not just skin to skin but sonar to surface, flesh to air, the pitch and waveform of tidal breathing, I want to watch us having sex in real time on an oscilloscope –”
“– so that I can prove to you that your planes are beyond flatlines. I’ll ring your water bell, I’ll wedge your bellows, I’ll hotwire your anemone, I’ll do whatever it takes to convince you.”
“I don’t get it about the oscilloscope.” He was looking glum and even a bit defensive. “What would you attach it to?”
“It’ll be really good,” I assured him, glancing upwards through my eyelashes. “It’ll blow your mind. It’s only a moving line of light but it can take each of us right inside the other simultaneously, and after that there’s a whole matrix of fun on the other side. Doesn’t that sound divine?”
“But how could you see the line, that is to say the inside, of any man? You must have heard these things and then dreamed that you saw them.”
“You’re probably right there,” I admitted. I think we were both coming to realise that the night was unlikely to end in great sexual success.
We sat in silence for a time, but I could tell that the turn in the conversation had really bothered him. He was getting agitated, and I wondered whether he was about to get nasty with it. After a while he asked in an injured rhetorical tone, and perhaps just a shade too loudly: “How can a man move in the direction of his inside?” And that was when the blind guy in the corner produced the gun.
All hell broke loose out of nowhere. The blind man’s friends scattered around the room like ball bearings across a bagatelle board. Several people started trying to get out of the door and escape into the street, but they were trapped by the smokers still standing oblivious outside. Someone dropped a glass onto the bar, and it seemed to smash several times over. The fruit machine let out a howl. The blind man was on his feet now, the gun waving wildly all over the room, although he was facing in the general direction of our table.
“I’ll show you how!” he yelled, drunk as a lord. “The motion of an object under the influence of gravity is determined completely by the acceleration of gravity, its launch speed and launch angle, provided air friction is negligible. DO YOU DENY THAT MEN ARE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF GRAVITY?” he roared.
“No, Claude,” said my barman in a scared voice.
“I should hope not. Now, the horizontal and vertical motions may be separated and described by the general motion equations for constant acceleration. The initial vector components of the velocity are used in the equations. The diagram shows trajectories with the same launch speed but different launch angles.”
At this point I made my first mistake of the evening. I said, “What diagram?” and he instantly fired the gun.
What happened next was only, entirely, eternally the bullets’ trajectories, a dance based on combinations of fundamental movements simultaneous with formalised actions following specific rules regarding the positions of the arms, feet and body of the shooter. The first bullet achieved perfect posture, lightly balanced over the barman’s centre of gravity as his legs turned out from his hip sockets. Other bullets made jumps or leaps, rapidly crossing as they did so, or turned in the air, once, twice, three times. Meanwhile, in quick, graceful strides and with immense poise, the blind man stepped right up beside me, delicately pulled out his cock, placed it, not inconsiderately, into my already open mouth, and fired the last bullet, which I now discovered was me as I suddenly found myself speeding through the air. The friction was far from negligible, my skin was hotter than a star as I flew, and the time dilation brought on by the speed of the transformation meant that it took several minutes for me to hit the surface of the barman’s neck and start burrowing through his throat.
I was in his arterial stream, a world of dazzling colour and beauty. The walls of a vast amber-coloured chamber were lost in the distance, hidden behind a floating wonderland: huge red corpuscles, whirling globules, platelets, particles, minuscule fragments drifting with the stream, reflecting the entire spectrum of colour. As I continued to pass through the swirling conglomerations, the elements parted, flowed over and bounced about me, forming new fluid galaxies in a universe of amber. Each grouping and regrouping, every mass and disc, though loosely linked, had a rhythm of its own: the corpuscular drift, the bouncing particles, the parting and the merging achieved a majestic, lyrical choreography, a fugue of sound and motion as his heartbeat, strong and fast now and driving me hard onwards, was counterpointed with the backwash of blood and plasma, the creaks and bubblings of his fluctuating temperature, and his shocked and achingly voluptuous hhhhhh hhhhhh hhhhhh hhhhhh hhhhhh hhhhhh.
After many minutes of speechless beauty I emerged from his flesh to hear the blind man telling everyone, “The mediaeval philosophers were right. Man is the centre of the universe. We stand in the middle of infinity, between outer and
inner space. And there’s no limit to either. Even inner space is endless: everything can be divided in half, no matter how minute.”
“I never… never imagined it could be anything… like this,” the barman gasped. I wanted to say I told you so, but the irony now was that I couldn’t turn around to face him; I could no longer move in the direction of his inside. On and on I flew, passing through solid things, penetrating the other customers one after another, verifying the size and distance of each by the sense of feeling, a strangely fastidious kind of census, and I had plenty of time to wonder when the deceleration would begin before quite without warning I hit the diving helmet and found myself back in my seat with a cock in my mouth which I tactfully removed, prompting the blind gunman to cry out shrilly, “She is vanished, she is dead!”
“Actually I think I’m fine,” I replied, wiping my face on my sleeve.
“Where did the bullet go?” someone asked.
Hands reached up and pulled down the diving helmet. Years of Brasso had kept it clean and shiny, and it was easy to see that there was nothing lodged in it anywhere, just a dent where the bullet had struck it and then glanced off at an angle. All the other bullets were accounted for, prised with a corkscrew out of the wooden wall panelling or retrieved from the smashed optics behind the bar; only this last one was missing, gone soaring off into who knows where.
No one was dead, but the barman was giving cause for concern. He was bleeding badly from the throat and abdomen. One of the other bar staff was looking for her phone so that she could ring for an ambulance; another, probably the licensee, was bitching about the damage to the pub and the hassle it was going to create with the police and the insurance; and mention of the police made some people wonder aloud what to do with the blind guy, who was now holding the gun limply in his hand, his cock lying no less limp against the outside of his trousers.
Feeling sorry for him, and drenched in sudden tiredness, I reached over to help him zip himself back up. If he was going to get arrested, at least he could do so with dignity. As my hands touched his zip he quickly grabbed them in both of his, squeezed them very tightly and bent down so that his mouth was level with mine.
“You’ve not been hit by flying lead,” he said in a hard whisper.
“No,” I whispered back.
He nodded and swayed for a moment, closed his eyes, bowed his head, and told me conspiratorially: “Wait for the ricochet.”