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How I Became an Artist - A Tale of Two Lives
Nick Malone

'Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky,

Like a patient etherised upon a table;'

T.S.Elliot The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

For thirty years I had wondered what happened to my old friend Makepeace, who disappeared without trace sometime during the autumn of 1986. Although he vanished into thin air, I have always felt his presence guiding me, without precisely knowing whether he had arranged his own disappearance, (as he sometimes talked of so doing), or whether he was, in fact, now dead.

 

Until then we had combined our skills, he the dreamer, the Prospero of fantasy, I the practical, the arranger, the interface with the everyday, negotiating our passage. Thus, when I arranged finance or cars or accommodation, it was Makepeace who suddenly opened what seemed like trapdoors or windows into another world beyond.

 

All of us have different personas struggling inside for dominance, different characters with their different drives and life views, gestated and emerging out of the wide range of experiences that build up to form our lives. Yet if we were to somehow try and categorise them, I feel that they would all fit into two elemental groups - on the one hand, the fixers of everyday life, the pragmatists who deal with what they consider to be the true realities of life, timetabling and organising our experience, feeding the mouths and fixing the roofs of our mortal existence. And on the other hand there are the dreamers that live out of time and place, that in the wink of an eye open the trapdoors of eternity.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

Suddenly I could leave the unanswered questions over Makepeace no more. 

Ever since Makepeace had made his strange disappearance I had searched for an explanation of his vanishing. Of course, one reason for this was my dependence on his extraordinary gift to open new vistas of enchantment that broke through the everyday, like a magician who could just touch his wand-like finger on some mundane object - say, a document or a piece of wood - for it to spring open, as through a magic window, into a galaxy of dreams and possibility.

 

But there was also the money, the vast sums that he seemed inexplicably to have access to, my realisation that in my own case it had only been by following his nefarious advice, leading to my criminal encounter with John Brace, that had enabled me through smuggling to pay for my art education. It was then I remembered that Brace, (also now strangely vanished), had visited Makepeace’s house on a number of occasions after his release. This house had been locked since his disappearance, and it struck me that there might be some clues there to the mysteries that had haunted me for so long, not to mention some indication of the source of that huge wealth on which Makepeace had always seemed able to draw.

 

During the time I had known Makepeace, it was always an absolute taboo that under no circumstances was I to visit his house in Elm Street, and the keys he had entrusted to me were under no circumstances ever to be used to gain access, and were only entrusted to my possession for use in absolute emergency, and only following his express instructions. It was therefore with extreme trepidation that I approached the house that November evening, inserted one of the keys he had given me, and slowly turned the lock.

 

On closing the door, I was enveloped by a fused rush of darkness and buried smells as I located the bannister and hauled myself up the stairwell to the dormer bedroom at the top of the house that I had identified from past conversations as the one he habitually used.

 

On entering the room, it had, to my astonishment, the appearance of somewhere still in habitual use, an impression that was no doubt created by the room being his main base immediately before his disappearance. There was the refectory table covered in drawings and papers, there the open dormer window overlooking a sea of slate. And walking forward into the room, it seemed that everything fused into my own room back at Summerfield, where I had planned so many adventures. 

 

An abrupt movement and noise made me spin round, and there, in front of me, stood Makepeace! With a fixed, blank stare, his face white with determination, he walked slowly towards me. I staggered backwards, flailing, moving, I realised, toward the open window.

 

My nails embedded as anchors in the soft wood, I heaved the world vertical, held it still, dropped the weight of my exhausted arms, my chin, through the open sash, and then peered down.

 

Fragments of wood
on a straight, grey stream;
the morning traffic was already moving.
I looked above
and the sky seemed filled
with blossom where lozenges

of cloud slid in position
like coffins, like petals
on slow moving water
viewed from the riverbed.
From below the drones of engines
rose In swarms

to fill my head
then fixed in the wings
of something hovering
by my shoulder in the empty house.

Twisting round, I saw an effigy
hanging in green armour
in the empty air of the room,
now finally cleared
of all visitation;
I stretched a hand;

the dragonfly swung, then sped
through the open window
where squadrons of insects
were swimming through the moving skies.

I watched the collapsing banks of cloud struggling for structure and again reforming new shapes that changed or dissolved, their shifting fleeces drenched in gold. A flock of wild geese circled in silent sweeps, their white necks so stretched they might choke with longing. Below, the world wheeled on the spokes of streets.

I pressed against the sill, I stood up. I saw in the banks of cloud a roaring chaos dissolving on; and again in the middle of this, something struggling for structure being dissolved and then again rising before final collapse and replacement. I heard the wind to Callisto blowing through my body's frame and on past those random, sky-flung symbols of the night, its gentle roar as a rising flame, as the morning's first cars. 

 

I was one with each struggling shape that mute in the mass of dissolving cloud sang with silence through my every cell as some inchoate consciousness struggling fitfully for meaning and form before being tumbled back in the void for fragmentation and change. The sky stretched taut, lit and translucent, each building vibrant in its frozen light, the distant bridge a blanched rainbow of stone. I was going, making my escape to barely glimpsed worlds beyond all comprehension, a runaway chimpanzee in the dawn and rain, free on the high, empty roads striding for the distant train, tears streaking my tired, century-creased, simian face; or swung from the trapeze to soar without end, the torn tent of the world growing smaller and smaller below.

I found my feet on the window's ledge.

Surely now, now, this time, this time I could fly, could join them? I thought I

heard myself whisper, yes, I can, I can fly, I'm, I'm

flying

I saw the terraces of the turning town
that suddenly flapped skywards, their cobbles as if
nailed in the gates of heaven; I flew

behind them to ranges of mountains
that steamed like cattle in the early sun,
and on past oceans of cobalt, the frames
on their littered beds lighting like x-rays.
And then I could see past the world's rim

as a driver over a wheel,
steering through the gaps of stars
to where, it seemed, all whiteness failed.

. . . . . . 

I am now with Makepeace.

Observe us
here through the green-fogged pane
of the névé,
peer past the ice-hung bars.
Slowly, waiting
for the coming thaw,
our frozen forms emerge -
a menagerie of crystal light
rising for the distant stars.

Ice to leaves.

The owls are rain.
The cave streams rise.
The snow cap dreams.
All things metamorphosise.
All spins as one in the dance of change.
Here we shine forever.

In every locked room strain the rays of the moon
to pull you through your house of ghosts.

Stretch for the hands of the conjured dreams,
drift-dust from the waiting lands,
the movers of your waking days,
still they elude. See them rear

and guide your way, feel their soft power.
They fly for the clouds,

melt and reform. Leap

to where they disappear

as all your drives dissolve and change -
The owl is a flower.

The goat is a flame,

The lidded ground flies up.

The hour dissolves the ice, the flower.
We are all around,
in water, air.
Pirouetting everywhere
we shift and change,
visit habitations.
Dance in dust above the floor,
ascend on light the sleeping stair.
Melt before those yet to come,
pity, lead and wait here fór them.

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