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Old 5th Aug 2004, 12:21   #1
Palimpsest_Features
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Default A Scene from 'Greenland' - by John Self

A Scene from 'Greenland'
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“…Fuck!

Miles Winter, the thirty-fourth Baron Ellesmere, rolled onto his back and felt the mattress swell and settle. He began to compose a letter in his head, which was how, he felt, he did his best thinking.

Sir – I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms…

No. Not Sir. Obviously.

To Whom It May Concern… - Madam…

No. Miss…

Miss? He rolled his eyes.

It is with great regret that I must advise you…

Despite our best efforts over many years, all good things…

No. The Winters did not run away . The Winters were fighters. You didn’t get to be thirty-fourth by not facing up and standing square and…

“Darling?” he said, without turning his head. He could smell, though, without looking, that Kitty was smoking. She did it without sitting up, so the cigarette was vertical, erect (he stifled a bitter laugh). A trembling tower of ash would be growing downwards, creeping toward her lips like the plunging contents of a hypodermic. He liked that, the idea of the nicotine as an essential injection -

But then, he thought, people were supposed to smoke after sex as a relaxant, weren’t they? To bring the body back down to earth as the sweat cooled and the heart settled, after an energetic bout of transcendent rutting. Wasn’t that the idea? So Miles glumly wondered if, after one of their own desultory and increasingly brief tussles – where the energies were less animalistic than plantlike – a bowl of hot chicken soup, or good hearty porridge, might not be more appropriate.

“Darling.” He turned to her this time. The cigarette was almost burned out, all ash, leading him to wonder if she had actually lit up while they were still doing it.

“Yes Miles.”

He was momentarily surprised that he had to ask, that she didn’t understand by the simple word darling what he wanted to know. Then he realised he hadn’t sent the letter, or written it, or even known what he wanted to say particularly.

He propped himself up on an elbow. “Well… can you feel anything?”

“Feel what, Miles dear?”

“You know.” He made a wiggly line with his free hand. “Any … activity?”

Kitty sighed deeply, causing a small cascade of loose ash onto the bedclothes, and lifted the remains of the cigarette away from her to let it topple into the oversized ashtray on the bedside chest.

“If you mean, am I pregnant, then I think it’s a little early to say, don’t you?”

“Well … I know darling but … well women are supposed to be able to feel these things, aren’t they?”

“Are they now.” She reached for another cigarette. She talked with it held between her fingers close to her mouth. “Frankly, Miles, I’m afraid that for me to be able to feel your sperm tickling my egg with delicate fingers, they would have to leave home in the first place.” She stuck the cigarette snugly in and lit it.

Miles recognised this symbol – no more talking, the cigarette like a finger against the lips – and turned onto his back. The two of them lay there, staring silently in parallel, like strangers in a lift. He resented Kitty’s suggestion that he hadn’t come again. He was certain he had, and he should know. Even if he hadn’t achieved an absolutely full erection – and who did, in their thirties, with everything to worry about that he had to worry about, like getting a full enough erection to get your good lady wife pregnant? – it didn’t affect the quality of the sperm, or the ejaculation, did it? Or did it? He had to accept, he supposed, that starting short, it might not go as far…

Miles certainly couldn’t throw the accusation of not coming back at Kitty. Obviously she didn’t, after all there was no effort being made in that direction, but if he did, she would come, just to spite him. Kitty used to have extravagant and prolonged orgasms with Miles, or appeared to anyway. That ended around five years ago, when they had been trying for three years. Miles began to grow paranoid and bitter over his inability to impregnate his wife, which took away any edge of pleasure that was left in their lovemaking. So he stopped trying to please her. When she continued to climax despite his least efforts, he grew suspicious and started to believe Kitty was actually preventing herself from becoming pregnant. He decided that she was faking an orgasm at the moment when he ejaculated, so that she could clench her vaginal muscles and prevent his frustrated sperm (he pictured them optimistically, yapping and energetic, gundogs, terriers, tongues out, pawing the turf) from getting any further towards their goal.

At this point resentment had begun truly to set in.

“Kitty,” Miles said now, as he had said many times before. “You know what will happen if we don’t have…” He wanted to say: a son and heir. The thirty-fifth Baron. “…any children?”

“Yes,” she said. “I do, Miles. Because you’ve told me so often.”

“I’ve got no brothers, or cousins, you know. It’s just me. They’re relying on me.” They: the serried ranks of Ellesmeres past, looking down (or, frankly, thought Miles, up) at him expectantly. The tangled piles and pyramids of forebears had thinned, by various causes – war, madness, accidental death, an outbreak of homosexuality in one whole phylum of the family in the 18th century – to this one strand, Miles. He was all they had! The pressure! No wonder he couldn’t perform.

“Well, maybe this is just the way it was meant to be.” Kitty as usual spoke with no sentiment. “A full stop for the Ellesmeres.”

“Kitty!” He turned to her again. “How can you say that!”

“Because it’s true, Miles. You’ve been bonking me bareback for the last ten years and I’ve never so much as been a day late.” Miles closed his eyes against the word she used for it. He no longer remembered the time when her naïve, jolly, public school language for sex had turned him on.

“It’s not ten years. In fact.” Which was untrue. Miles optimistically, desperately, differentiated between the first two years – when they had simply stopped trying to prevent pregnancy, by binning the condoms and flushing the pills – and the last eight, when they had with increasing determination, and philtres, and timetables, attempted to bring it on. In that time there had been only a handful of sexual high points, such as the time when he persuaded Kitty to let him fuck her in a field of maize, on spurious grounds related to the open air, nature, harvest…, though she had complained for a solid week afterwards about stubble soreness on her backside. As time went on, increasingly the problem was not, or not only, their infertility. Kitty now saw the sexual act as fruitless and futile, and hated even to try. How Miles longed to bear down upon her that they might be infertile together in tropical settings! To counter the coolness they – he – decided to explore the range of pornography together. That too ended badly on the first night when, settled before the set with anticipatory hard-on (him) and mug of milky drink (her), her first and penultimate comment was “Where’s his hand?” As the angle abruptly changed to answer her question, she rounded off the night, and Miles’s arousal, by observing, “You’d think he was spreading the seasoning round a turkey.” There had also, two or three years ago, been a splendid solid month when he had authority from the family planning clinic to do it doggy-style, for greater depth of penetration. This variation put Miles in such high spirits that he even felt emboldened to introduce a little jocular roleplay. “The name’s Bond, James Bond,” he intoned silkily, “and you must be Miss Endura Carpetburn.” Encouraged that Kitty’s silence to this connoted consent (he couldn’t see her face), he was stimulated by his new rearward vantage point to suggest that a little anal penetration might have the same fertilising effect on his seed as manure did on his grandfather’s roses. And that, with a sharp and painful physical and verbal reprisal from Kitty, put an end to all of that.

Dear Sirs, he dictated. Why oh why oh why…

But he said, “You know what will happen, don’t you?”

“What are you talking about Miles?”

“What will happen if we don’t … you know – conceive.” He flushed at the formal word.

“If!” she said, tapping her cigarette on the edge of the ashtray.

In trying to avoid, or superstitiously save for some mythical time when he would have the chance to use it properly, the homely cliché of One day all this will be yours, Miles gave vent to the anger and frustration of the last decade or so and said sharply, “Your lot will get it all!”

Kitty seemed unsurprised by this. Perhaps she had known all along. “All!” she said. “All what?”

Miles rolled his eyes, for no-one’s benefit. “Oh really darling,” he said crossly, wounded. “You know perfectly well that if you go to that window and look out, this family still owns everything as far as the eye can see.”

Kitty coughed out a little burst of bitter smoke. “Only because the eye can’t see past the trees at the end of the garden, Miles. Or the apartment block behind them.”

This was a half-truth, in Miles’s view. The Ellesmere title was still worth having. It was true that the family had had a run of bad luck in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when aristocratic boredom had led several generations of Winters to gambling, and to the card table in particular. This was doubly unwise, with lack of skill multiplying their losses as bad luck alone could never hope to. Over time, as the furniture and trinkets and horses ran out, the acres of land were chipped away, fields fractioned off on the turn of a card like a schoolboy’s mathematics exercise.

Fortunately, for all that time, the belief that it was vulgar to gamble simply for money left the Winter liquidity more or less intact. It was Miles himself who had seen to the dispersal of that, with his taste for vanity pastimes. These included the usual indulgences like cars and bikes and an abortive attempt to get Kitty “into” breeding with dogs. The most extravagant project, however, had been his rock group, The Four Fingers, which for six years had been an outlet for Miles’s creative impulses. He adopted the role of chief – in fact only – lyricist: “the words man.” He didn’t see the seeds of failure in this, that he was only doing that as he couldn’t write or read music or play an instrument (although he had several expensive guitars), “whereas,” he figured, “everyone can write, right?” In this way he made himself believe in his own ability: he was the one permitted to write the words, so he must be the best at it – rather than, because he couldn’t do anything else; and was funding it. So none of the others – university chums – complained when he rhymed autres with Oprah, or when he named their first album (which he paid to have pressed, designed and distributed) after his favourite track on it, a high-minded road safety anthem ironically but unironically titled Too Cool To Indicate.

When his musical career ended shortly after its release – his bandmembers drifted off into real life, and he briefly considered but quickly dismissed the possibility of a solo career – Kitty saw this as further evidence of a trait she had long recognised in Miles. He never finished anything. His failure to get her pregnant was just the latest in a – no doubt unfinished – series of uncompleted tasks.

Miles viewed it differently. He really did believe, at moments like this, that Kitty was bringing into play some hocus-pocus to prevent herself from bearing his child. And while he was determined not to be the end of the family line, he had to accept by this stage that the prospects of it happening by any natural method were bleak. And so he too associated it with his time in The Four Fingers, and all the other times – entry to university, membership of exclusive clubs, winning against chess grand masters hired to the house for the day – when money and privilege had brought him the things that natural ability could not. With a flush of revelation he realised he could apply the same technique to his family planning. The idea was so brilliant and so exciting that he felt the nudge of an erection rise. He turned his head on the pillow to Kitty.

“I think we should adopt,” he said.
.
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Old 12th Aug 2004, 14:13   #2
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Enjoyed this - just a few nitpicky things here and there :D
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Old 19th Aug 2004, 23:59   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colyngbourne
Enjoyed this - just a few nitpicky things here and there :D
Kept meaning to ask, Col (but me holidays got in the way); what nitpicky things?

Really liked this and would like to see more, by the way.
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Old 20th Aug 2004, 10:10   #4
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The 34th Baron - without working it out, the 1st baron would be BCE or something, wouldn't he?

Other rather more unmentionable stuff :wink: about the likelihood of certain things happening or attitudes, notably 'flushing the pill down the loo'.
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Old 20th Aug 2004, 10:39   #5
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Yes Col provided me with 14 pages of foolscap notes - for which much thanks... :wink:
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Old 20th Aug 2004, 11:14   #6
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Old 19th Oct 2004, 19:13   #7
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Missed this, as I was on holiday at time of posting. Then was drawn to it by an obscure reference to Greenland elsewhere.

Really, really nice. Great set up. Obviously very funny indeed too.

Myself, I loved the wonderful incompetence of the Four Fingers, but I would have liked that digression to have come elsewhere. It deserved a bit more space to itself and the scene was already pretty heavy with backstory.

But very impressive.
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Old 19th Oct 2004, 21:52   #8
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Gosh thanks. To be honest I was going to cut out the Four Fingers thing altogether as I wasn't sure about it but I may just move it elsewhere.
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Old 25th May 2005, 8:39   #9
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Only just found this place!

Really like what you've written - apart from the four fingers bit(!) - very funny in a nicely controlled way. Clever thread through it that leads to the idea of adoption and the cigarette image in bed worked very neatly.

Would post some of my stutterings but am scared of Col's foolscap!
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Old 25th May 2005, 10:20   #10
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Me, Fool's cap maybe but the 14 pages of foolscap was a fiction - 14 sentences perhaps :wink: . Do post your writing, kumquat - if it's like your artwork, I think people will similarly appreciate it.

I'm not brave enough to post any of mine though
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