So They Must Return
The pods are ripe.
Elk dips a metal bar with a round red plastic barstool seat roughly taped on, into the water and pulls back.Each time he does this he holds his breath and relaxes into the glide of the tiny wooden canoe. When Elk closes his eyes and lets go, the glide feels similar to astral flight. Elk stole the boat from a derelict museum on the other side of London, best way to get him here quickly, the placard had said the canoe had originally come from a Navajo Indian settlement in 1624. Elk doesn’t really believe there were Indians or that there was a 1624. Elk knows that’s just a programme. Like when they made people believe they were autonomous within the structure.
Elk rotates his wrist neatly round and pulls the oar up. Droplets of water plink plonk, echoing up into the vast chamber of the old Turbine Hall. Staccato drips slow to a silence, which snakes out and around the building for miles and miles. It squeezes the brick walls. It listens into Elks shallow breaths as he lays back and stares up.
The pods are beginning to strain. The stench is strong now even from where they hang, fifty feet above the water filled hall. The heavy mossy sacks are beginning to crack with hundreds of tiny vein like ravines.
‘Akin to soul decay with undertones of afterbirth,’ Mole would have proclaimed of the stench whilst nosing it like a fine wine, trousers straining to contain his admiration. Elk waits quietly. Mole would have been euphoric by this point. Elk engages only rarely with emotion. That’s why Mole took him in the first place.
Mole had been a Mr McRae, exhibition assistant/gimp at the Tate modern for thirty years. He started the position well before Clarity, somewhere around the turn of the century. He spent that life living under a tube line. Eating diseased meat and microwave toxicity. Being a job. Fetching carrying building fixing facilitating lugging straining hammering. Paying. Always paying. Face bland. Voice blah. To be unseen is a Mole trait. Mole or Mr McRae, they were never a man anyone would remember.
And then the people left.
Mole did not leave. He walked up and down. He stood on top of the tallest tower of the galleries as meteor showers rained into fire. Beams of light in the sky stayed lit all the time after that and the Thames rose visibly. Mole went back inside and melted down eighteen metal sculptures. He sealed every window and door from the inside. It didn’t stop the water though. Nothing stops the water.
Mole kept one route to the outside open. He used this to go out and visit Elk’s Grandmother in his old building. She refused to leave. She said if the Wars between those who lived to die and those who died to live hadn’t made her leave her home, then little green men didn’t stand a bloody chance. She asked Mole to take Elk with him and not come back again. She stood waving from the window as they walked off, one old shotgun loaded in her hand.
It was Elk that called Mole, Mole. Mole said names should always have been interchangeable anyway. He said they were used to implement ways of seeing and believing that fooled people into thinking they understood reality. Mole said reality was really just an idea created by the structure and sold on as truth. Mole said life had been like an assortment of constructed realities, which you could ignore or deride or fight for and die for and believe in and disappear in and hate the rest of the world because of. Most people thought whichever structure they had been brought up in was the right reality. Mole said most people never got any further than that.
The day Mole stopped, Elk freaked out. Left the building and ran, then swam, then sank and walked along the edge of the waters into the old museum where he found the canoe.
Elk stares up at the pods and feels the veins in his neck pulse with them. He tries to imagine a world before Clarity. Before humans really knew that this island floating in space wasn’t going to remain in isolation forever. It was the demise of the Earths segregation that really took out the structures. That was the start of Clarity. All the wars over this God and that God and the wealth and poverty divide, all that blood on all those hands, exposed, just another facet of the structure. Bought by humans unable to exist without belief. Mole said people twisted religion to say that their murder was holy, that it was pure.
Mole showed Elk paintings, found objects, sculptures and also books from the old shop that were good for burning. He’d been urinating on one pile of canvases by an artist he’d hated. He gave Elk the digital film he’d begun recording when the Thames rose into the building. An unquenchable murk flooding the lower halls, growing bacterium and molluscs and dark little flashes of fish darting in and out steel struts. For three months Mole had one camera set up on a wide angle from the ceiling whilst he floated in the middle of it all on a barge made up of huge old modern art canvases and barrels and found objects and wood.
Elk watches the film on a slight fast-forward setting. He sits at the stern of the canoe, projects it onto the wall whilst he unwraps and methodically eats eighteen bars of chocolate. The building groans on its haunches. Mole flickers on brick, meditating, eating, sleeping or rubbing his eyes awake. Mole naked, the raft lurching as he shouts at the yellow crescent moon leering through the huge broken windows. Mole reading. Mole singing. Mole fishing. Mole repeatedly swabbing specimens.
Growing the first pods in jars.
Climbing the walls with old ladders, up to the roofs. Mole hanging upside down lacing pods up like alienist bacterial Christmas decorations. Mole note making, reciting poems and old things called adverts, mush noise sounds about Persil and Oxo cubes being the best for mothers grave. Elk replays Mole smiling at the camera reciting, ‘If the flight were a penguin it would chocolate like a coffin.’ Mole is wearing a t-shirt and nothing else, it has ‘They came from the water and so they must return, 2058’ written on it in marker pen. A giant spider sculpture left after some retrospective, disappears into a double reflection behind Mole as the water ascends. Now its huge silhouette sits underneath Elks boat.
The pods begin to unfurl.
The huge old window at the far side of the Turbine Hall gleams in a variant of light that no longer means night or day. Broken panes reflect themselves on water like a bombed chapel window. Elk lays in the canoe floating on the surface. He has a photograph of this window in his pocket that his Grandmother took fifty years ago. She said that window used to make her feel calm. Glass shards now gape into grins in the lower windowpanes. Elk runs his hands over his flabby naked torso. He has worked against his instincts to grow in time. He reaches down to the side and cracks open two huge light sticks. They buzz inside and he points them upward to the pods like an accusative.
Elk counts seventy-four pods out loud and then begins again. Their should be eighty-three. His voice sounds unfamiliar. The last time it spoke was to ask Mole if he was getting up. That must have been six months ago. Six months of waiting, following instructions, watering, eating, recording, archiving. There must be eighty-three, a colony can only be successful if given the statistical advantage. Mole had explained this with brandy and a crayon flowchart on the old restaurant wall. Elk flips over onto his stomach, plunges the light sticks into the water and stares down. The huge hulk of steel spider lurks, dark flickers dart through its legs and dive down toward rusty metal frames. Indecipherable shapes sodden with mulch and river moss sway as a body shape floats by. Nine pods swell under the spider, gelatinous layers ripping as they split, light ribbons out in purples and blues. The ceiling pods sway, tearing in whispers. Unseeing matter ricochets through the
Elk stands barefoot at the helm of his canoe, light stick poised like a spear whilst the tiny droplets of light cascade from the rusted eaves. He raises his hands as if in prayer, his outline black against the backdrop of the window. His knees dip as he nods at his reflection, dives into the water, feet disappearing into dark and cold and numb, his eyes still open as the first bites snap, blood billows outwards, rippling scarlet petals radiating ever brighter in the light.