Friday, April 22, 2011
It was in the air. One could feel it in London. It seemed to vibrate the telephone wires, rattle the panes of glass, pulsate and roll across the slate gray sky like Ezekiel’s celestial chariot.
If you motored to the south coast, which we often did, it was even more apparent. The incessant and ceaseless movement of men and machines along narrow wet roads. Identification numbers were blacked out and insignia carefully taped over. There were night maneuvers in full swing. Gavin and I pulled to the side of the road and allowed a convoy heading south to swing past us. Sometimes charcoal blacked out faces met us along twilight roads. Black, charcoaled faces are curiously and unsettling impassive. They are secret faces, reluctant to reveal the innermost heart of their warring souls, their placidity is an oddly inhuman thing. It is almost as if, gazing into one, you saw a caricature of an ideal of what a human face should resemble. And like all ideals, it was simply a distillation of our most common elements; part fraud and part truth.
I knew it was decidedly forbidden to spread rumors during wartime. It was well known that gossip literally sank ships. The propaganda posters of the day were perversely literalistic; they controlled the industrious wartime masses with such stark reminders of the individual’s power to destroy the war effort with such gems as this: an image of a sailor drowning in choppy, debris strewn waters; his hand outstretched in one last desperate attempt to stay afloat, his face twisted in agony, fear and despair. The caption below reads: “Someone spoke!”
Another poster plastered on walls and doors featured a stylish man in a fedora and pin stripe suit driving a convertible down a pleasant, tree lined two lane highway. In the passenger seat sits a rather grim and humorous black line outline of Adolph Hitler himself; the caption reads: “When you ride alone you ride with Hitler.”
And another: curled at the left-most top of a piece of cartoonishly styled paper, is an assemblage of everyday household items purposefully arranged to resemble a scowling, demonic Fuhrer, his nose a down turned stopper and an opposing brush from a rubber cement cap, the crease between his eyes a paper clip, a staple remover a satanically twisted over a metal washer eye, a rubber band standing in for a lower wrinkle and pins, arranged around his nose and mouth, the stress lines of an all too active mouth. Above it all reads the distressingly literal caption “Waste Helps the Enemy, Conserve Materials”.
Further down the wall is a poster with a hand, whose arm is off stage to the right, is holding a frying pan full of cooking oil. The vicious liquid falls with the force of gravity into a ball of incendiary matter, bright orange and yellow, and from that tumult emerge a host of moving ordinance, traveling toward the viewer. The caption, sandwiched between the pan and the snubbed torpedoes reads “Save Waste Fats for Explosives. Take them to your meat dealer.”
Some were of a more ominous character: a hooded Hun, bolts jutting out of his helmeted temples, bright slitted yellow eyes peering over a dull black wall, his noir penetrating pupils the very embodiment of a noxious evil that only Germany can produce in the eyes of its enemies. The caption, in white block letters against the black, featureless wall, reads: “He’s watching you,” the You twice the length of the ‘he’s watching’ segment, as if to prove that no one is immune from the Hun’s supernumerary skills.
Brown eyes gaze from a deceptively placid face whose malevolence is only revealed by an unkind slant of an upturned brow, and the subtle maniacal smile pressed, reluctant and duplicitous, from anemic white lips. Above, the disquieting caption is in newsprint black, capitalized like a scandalous headline in some yellow daily rag” “WANTED! For Murder: Her Careless Talk Costs Lives.”
It was a time when such unmediated and drastic events seemed all too probable. It was as if the laws of cause and effect were no longer fully functioning. One could speak to a neighbor about a ships movement in the North Atlantic and through a feat of mystical connection lead to its utter destruction
In such a supernatural environment of fabulous case and effect, it was best to keep one’s mouth firmly shut.
But the conclusions were there for the picking: this was the staging for the largest invasion in the history of humanity.
As if in a counter poise in my life, situations accelerated. A certain unwavering momentum had brought me to this dreadful moment.
Back in London again: I kissed Clare’s fleshy, salted lips. Her small quick tongue darted in and out of my mouth. She sat on my lap, her elongated fingers caressing my temples, stroking the hair on the back of my neck, brushing along my broad shoulders with her feathered finger tips. I pulled up her little blue and white fisherman’s jersey and followed the pleasing bulge of her smooth abdomen. She was panting with pleasure. Situations were accelerating. Suddenly, as she sat in my lap, lapping from my mouth, Clare spit the words out:
“You’re such a fraud,”
“What do you mean? There is nothing false about me at all. What you see is what you get.”
“I just don’t know,” she said, leaning her slim arm over my shoulder, running her spindly fingers through the short hairs of my neck. “Something about you just rings hollow, untrue. Despite your obvious presence here, there is a part of you that you’re holding back.”
“It’s all there for you to see, darling,” I said with duplicity.
“No. There are times when I get the fleeting impression that you are more than one chap. It happens more than you may suppose. When you’re not looking; when you’re turned around; when you’re guard is down; when you’re drunk, or when you too painfully sober…”
“What happens?” I asked with a noticeable tremor in my voice.
“A part of you detaches itself from the main bulk, I think, and takes on a life of its own…”
I prevented her from speaking any further. My tongue moved into the furthest recess of her mouth. I carried her to the bed; she wrapped the pale yellow high green downy forearms around my neck. She was all beneath me; slow, lugubrious, quiet, purposeful; a full fusion of Clare and us.
When we were through we lay still on the bed. Her soft hand was still wrapped around my head, cupping the lowest portion of my skull, at the bumpy protuberance where spine joins skull .
“You’re still a fraud,” she said, tickling the lobe of my ear.