Digital Ischemia

24/12/2019

Magic Circles

A short fairy-tale about fellow creatures and freedom

Once upon a sill, a crone placed a crock containing a thin layer of compost and a sprinkling of cress seeds. She passed her fingers under her metal waterfall and flicked drops over the terra nova. The gesture seemed more used to issuing fingertip icicle hexes.

An internal program unfurled and ascertained the presence of substrate, nutrients and water. Then darkness sneaked upon the tiny world and was greeted with a quiet curse. The seeds indignantly passed the night by drawing in water and swelling into frogspawn.

My pursed eyes welcomed darkness, as the daylight was far too bright. Plus it seemed to trigger the crone to croon horribly and torture a wooden box in the other room, making ghastly tinkling noises.

During the night it was safe to explore. The hag also kept a jar of alfalfa sprouts. These required nothing more than twice-daily rinsing under her waterfall. However, to keep the sprouts in as the rinse-water poured out, she had fixed a piece of some ancient, revolting undergarment across the top. I could reach this by rolling off the windowsill. I tried to penetrate – I’m sure I was the first to attempt to penetrate that fabric – but it was a sturdy barrier and the effect was like a trampoline. Nevertheless, the fresh, sprouting smell that emanated was intoxicating, even as I bounced up, away and down to the sill again.

After five nights of this tantalising exercise, I was thrilled to see a shimmer of green at the rim of the crock. I imagined wading in that beautiful field of cress. Perhaps I could use my trampoline practice. A couple of clacks and a light whump; bounces building higher and higher; a carefully calculated turn at the point of touching the fabric. I arced like the best of bridges and landed perfect centre.

cress sprouts close-up of tightly packed stalks

Being in among cress stalks was far better than smelling distant alfalfa through hag’s hosiery. I rolled and rolled with sheer delight. I burrowed into the soil. That didn’t take long. But to feel even just a few grains was bliss. When I finally sat up I had a shock. What a mess I had made. Each cress sprout had been barely clinging on to that thin film of earth. My antics had entirely uprooted many of them. The shame! After all that waiting, when I finally reached my heart’s desire, I trashed it.

As best I could I made reparations: I righted each stalk, dusted off any soil, and re-arranged its roots. Still, some could no longer support themselves, so I ingeniously oriented each one to rest on the next in a circle of support. Cunningly I had left a thin gap to the edge of the crock which allowed me to depart without further destruction.

The next morning I was rudely awoken by the hag. Not the staccato bleatings of dismay I had feared, nor the usual piercing clangs from the other room, but a sharp intake of breath into those lungs of hers that made the air pressure drop. She kept drifting her quivering hand toward the crock, but not touching it, as if afraid of something, or trying to sense something without disturbing it. She kept murmuring, “a crop circle!” Daft biddy.

However, the fact that she noticed the results of my leisure gave me an idea. The next night I found the cress had recovered well and was very obliging. By a careful pattern of rolling, I arranged the fronds into an arrow pointing at where I lay on the windowsill. Simple.

Unfortunately, the next item along the windowsill beyond me was hinged scythes. The hag’s quivering hands moved reverently right past me to snip a great sheaf of cress. She sprinkled it over some revolting layered morsel, popped the thing in her mouth, and beamed as she chewed her supernatural snack.

That night I wept to see the severed swathe. I had no appetite for frolics among those amputated stumps. Lying supine on the sill, a movement caught my attention. I found it soothing to watch a large spider roaming at great pace along the cornice, then settling in a corner and lacing round and round: coppe circles. That gave me another idea.

The spider was most obliging and co-opted several other inhabitants to help. They knew the source of the unpleasant daytime plonking and saw an opportunity. A team of woodlice dug in and prised a book’s pages, making it creak like rhubarb growing. A weevil held a page in place with the antennae on his nose – curious but surprisingly powerful. The spider then wove a hem stitch along the page edges, binding them together and keeping the score open at the right place at the piano.

The next day the hag sat down and scrabbled but she could not shift those pages. She cursed the “coppe-infested old box” and viciously stabbed a lever at the left end. It produced a lovely vibration I felt all through me. The spider was poised ready on her shock-absorbing legs but the woodlice went blurry and two fell out. Thankfully, eventually the hag got the message: she played the tune, badly, but the pebble dropped. It was Edvard Grieg’s Småtroll, if you like that sort of thing.

I got a free ride on those pudgy appendages of hers. She muttered much regret. She had mistaken me for a beautiful nobbly pebble. An ornament! Myopic old mammal. She repatriated me to my beloved banking. I swished between abundant verdure; I burrowed in depths of soil; I lay, free, on a pillow of moss. The joy of that long-awaited dip in the burn!

So now I need a new name – the only troll ever to go inside brickhill, vanquish the hag, and come out again – because small guys are canny.

Merry Cressmas… to crone and troll.

____________

If you fancy a Scandinavian accompaniment: Ture Rangström’s Symphony 1 mv 3 ‘Trollruna’ or Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Piece Op.71.3 Småtroll. Reclaim the troll!

Inspired by Alan Coren’s comic essay ‘And Did Those Feet?’

24/09/2017

Night on the Tiles

I blundered into the dimly lit washroom, thoughtless in my sleepy haze. As I automatically reached over the sink for my toothbrush, a dark mass behind the tap startled me. I was used to spiders and other housemates—woodlice, vine weevils, mites, and other dots—scurrying across surfaces but more often living out of sight. I’d even been bitten by a spider. That surprised me, and left me with a tiny red V-shaped cut in my wrist as evidence. That spider had chosen my cardigan sleeve for refuge and reasonably considered my thrusting arm to be an attack. Apparently biting spiders are common in Britain; fortunately they’re harmless.

I knew August was the mating season for ‘house’ spiders, driving them to roam widely and overtly in search of partners, and hence being seen more often. This one surprised me not only by her location but her size: a good ten centimetres diameter. I dislike surprises, especially late at night, and the ensuing tension. I think it comes down to a fear of insects unintentionally jumping on to me and disappearing up a sleeve or into my ear or somewhere I can’t get them. And then what? I supposed they might bite or tickle or lay eggs or commit some other grievous offence. More irrational conditioning.

I went on with teeth-brushing, casting frequent glances to check she was still there. Perhaps the light had halted her exploration, even though it was dark orange – at least neither of us should suffer melatonin cycle disturbances. Do spiders have melatonin? Perhaps my noise or movement vibrations disturbed her. Still indulging this mental blether, I turned off the light and went to bed. The next morning she was gone.

The second night I had entirely forgotten her existence and so was startled again by her presence on the tiles beside the sink. I was more relaxed, though, and observant. After a couple of minutes she rotated to face the wall and compressed herself against the grout. This seemed like avoidance behaviour. I was sorry cause her discomfort. I have no illusions about this being ‘my’ space. The wilderness may have been long since concreted over, but nature is mobile and constantly recolonising.

The following morning she had stopped just over the edge of the tiled unit, where the panel descends to the floor. She remained immobile during my intermittent visits through the day. I wondered if her exploration had tired her, or she had bivouacked there to extend her range the coming night, or she was awaiting prey… or a mate.

The third night the tiles were unoccupied. No movement, no stasis, no presence. I was somewhat relieved, but also concerned by the not knowing – pure selfishness: once you know something is present, not seeing it becomes unsettling. As the toothpaste foam built up, I wondered about the content of her life of which I was mostly ignorant. I trundled back and forth, brushing, pondering.

Crunch. My right foot felt a momentary resistance. My head leaped to the fateful conclusion. I bent my knee and raised my foot behind me: even in the artificial twilight the sole showed a telltale wet patch. The floor covering was too dark to identify the victim.

Wrong time to choose to freeze on the floor! Wrong place! Why did she not sense my noise or vibrations or the light tonight? Why not flee? Evolutionarily unsound!

My defensive denials fizzled out. Was she starving? Not dehydrated in a washroom, surely. Was she fuddled by sleep disturbance? But I wasn’t there that often. Was she just trying to get from A to B, and like the poor hedgehog, when faced with large, looming movement, made a poor choice. Freezing in the path of a heavy creature means death.

Daylight confirmed my conclusion. She’s still there: a fading husk of legs, pressed on the floor. I’ve slid her aside so I don’t repeat the offence, but haven’t appeased my regret yet. I didn’t mean to, sure, but I can’t say I couldn’t have foreseen that risk. Apologies tumble out as pathetically inadequate recompense for not considering consequences. Why do my needs or arbitrary habits supersede my housemates’? What might I have learned from sharing time and space with her? What have I learned?

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