In my first decade I lived in America, not the cold and ancient climes of London as I do now. My mother, Imogen’s sister Gwen, married a man named Ross who Imogen dismissively termed a ‘liberal’ as though in that one word everything paltry and plain could be described. Of what I remember of my parents Imogen may have been right in this. I recall Ross, my father, as a man with a perpetually quivering lip, a kind of high and almost effeminate speaking voice, and many vocal opinions on vapid topics.
Ross’ knowledge was always from books, and always books that he only half read. He adorned the bookshelves more for show I believe, to demonstrate to any visitor – of which there were increasingly few over the years – how well read and urbane he was. I doubt an original thought ever crossed his mind, and if one did it would have died of loneliness.
After a few short years, when you’d heard every purloined viewpoint or piece of knowledge many times over, you started to realise he was a paper-mache type of man. He was made up of the flotsam and jetsam of popular culture, literature and half understood philosophies. What had seemed knowledgeable and broad in scope revealed itself to be cosmetic at best.
It got him a degree in a prestigious university it seems. But forgive me if I comment, just about anything will these days, don’t you think? The intellectual rot probably started setting in during his years I suspect.
You will think me harsh perhaps, but I recall my mother seeming to be dis-enchanted with him early in the marriage. My birth came quickly, and by the time I had enough years to actually notice such dynamics, they rarely spoke without some form of invective. It seemed that Ross squandered family money and made little of it. He had many schemes and plans and dreams, but little follow through. The slightest criticism or complaint at his endeavours and he would give up in a rage. His great sense of self and liberation that had drawn my mother to him initially, like a form of dark, cancerous charisma, in the end proved to be but hubris and hot air.
His flavour might have been a lukewarm lime jelly I believe, insubstantial on the tongue and gone in a slippery moment. My mother had her own flavour of resentment and loss of innocence, though how she could have been innocent given what became of her sister – and why – I cannot begin to fathom. Perhaps she was wilfully blind also and she endured, reaching outside for something that could never be what it seemed. In any case, it was a disaster, a bonding made in hell. The silences of the house were monumental, drawn out affairs, a kind of competition of will between two stubborn and frankly rather stupid adults.
The fire might have been a purifying force, in a way, burning it all out.
After they died in the conflagration Imogen swooped in to ‘rescue me’ from America. She would talk to me about how Gwen had brought this on herself by marrying outside our kind. Imogen was obsessed with family lineage, and I must confess her analysis of the family dynamic of my earlier years seemed sound. I have often found the most mean-spirited analyses of life are also the most accurate. It is a sad but seemingly immutable fact. And it is a sign of strength to look that in the face, and not sugar coat the truth.
Being a man of flavour, of course, I eschew sugar-coating anything. You must bite into the essence of life in its purest form to know the world.
London suits me better than America, of that I am sure. I was a bookish child and a loner. Imogen was right about that too. Few of my school-friends were really ‘friends’ and none like me. London’s cold settled into my bones with preternatural ease, but I was yet uneasy. Imogen would say we were better suited to Germany, and specifically Berlin.
But Berlin’s glory days are over, she would say, lost back in the mid years of the last millennium. I agreed with her, but not with her vapid hero-worship of the fallen Fuehrer. He failed, after all, a pretender to a greater throne. He should have stuck to art, it was his truer calling.
Like him I can draw a little, I can paint. I have many un-developed talents I do not seek to flourish. I found a home in food and taste through the small kindnesses of the kitchen afforded me after the terrors of my conditioning and programming from my terrible aunt. If a young body is stretched on a rudimentary rack for long enough, the solace of a cupcake afterwards is beyond measure.
But the rack and the other devices, which I have now mastered myself, made me stronger and wiser. They leavened me like bread, or refined me like steel.
I do not crave world domination like Imogen’s idol. I want the world in an entirely different manner. I want to consume it, swallow it whole.
Starting with the girl, because she is perfect, and perfection is always the best place to start.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved