I know more than anyone about the firework maker’s children, about their antic lives and special deaths.
The night is shrill with colour. It’s bright enough to blind. Rubies change to white cascades. The man I saw becomes a bird. The man I saw becomes a bird. All the sky is filled with fountains. My head falls back so far it hurts. Their little mittened hands clutch mine. They gasp to see the flowers go dancing. Loud saltpetre fills our noses. Mineral light beats out the black. Darkness is defeated. That’s when I remember that I know more than anyone about Bonny and Donald Tod (as they were from that day forward, for better surely and for richer, yes, till death did) and about Poor Eddie and his fearful gift, and about Jean-Marie’s troubles with his work permit, and about Mrs Butt – all about her and her Daph and her Ray and her Ray’s big boy Jonjon, who had double the muscles too. And there’s nothing I can’t tell you about the Old Man Dod who used to work in the print and whose hearing got so sharp with blindness. I can tell you about the teeth and diet of a six-year-old crocodile, and about the way that cancer does its stuff, how it moves like fires beneath the ground. I’ll make you feel the noise of a skull being broken. I’ll make you listen to the motor of obsession. I’ll make you listen to another motor, the one that screeched at night in the dunes to free the wheels – there’s the gun beside him, there’s the panic in his eyes, there’s his forehead slapping against the steering wheel (they found blood on it: AO–1, not much, but enough). I can show you the flaw in the stone in the ring on a stiff finger and you’ll never want to eat another soggy biscuit the rest of your days. You’ll never take the kiddies to see the fleet or to picnic in a wood. Here’s a palm that bleeds to order. Here’s another that bleeds because the bolt went through the line of life and two arteries and a delta of tendons and through the median nerve and right into the wood.
I know these people. I lived around them. I’ve felt their breath and read their brains.
‘Snooping?’ Bonny’s mother used to ask when she found me gaping into the fridge.
I’ve looked on this lot as I did on the lactic profusion and dead animals that littered the racks of that humming coffin all those years ago: I can still inventory the stacked oblongs from the Commonwealth and the fatty fists of beef and the brand-new plastic tubs whose lids were the colour of surgical rubber, what I liked, what I sought when I sidled off to that kitchen was the icy balm, the cold gust when the light came on. There was the excitement. It was the defiance of summer and the certain eternity of electric midwinter that pulled me to it. The chill was all artifice, sure. But it stabbed for real. Did I think thus then?
I didn’t. I didn’t think of the plays that could be made on frozen. I didn’t know the milestones to eternity were quarterly bills – and bankruptcy was a distant state of disgrace, akin to tuberculosis and divorce.
After using this book please wash your hands. Thank you.