Living In Sin

Entry by: Nicholas Gill

10th June 2016
More Sinned Against
(Entry for Hour of Writes “Living in Sin” competition)

The sun shone down on the Cotswold village of Chadthorp Wassup, filtering through sycamore leaves, casting globules of light onto the flanks of sandstone cottages. Some of these light globules oozed amoeba-like around the tower of the parish church which was playing host to an Exhibition of Art.

James and Maddy drew up in their Bullnose Morris, and walked through the lychgate and along the path still strewn with mid-summer snow from a wedding the previous day, their little spaniel sniffing around the memorial stones.

Maddy was fond of conceptual art, something which had ignited several tepid domestic rows of a purely aesthetic nature in their unconsecrated middle-aged relationship. James enjoyed railing against the excesses of “art council funded rubbish” - partly because he knew it aggravated his other half.

“So there's this guy who has recorded a thousand voices of the general public onto a memory stick, sealed it in concrete and had it sent into orbit round the moon with an EU grant...And just what good does that do us? The world is heating up, the economy is broken, the rich 1% are going to leave us to fry while they go to live in a biosphere on Mars...and some precious resources are squandered on a half-witted art project...”

“...and you're about to die and there ain't nobody to bury you. Don't let it bother you, hun,” joked Maddy, quoting one of their favourite Fats Wallerisms.

James noted the well organised graveyard, the oblong stones stacked in irregular rows, an ancient catalogue of forgotten novels.

“No space here, anyway.”

Inside the church, they encountered the ubiquitous grey, loaf-haired woman on the door welcoming them in and with self-conscious humour and urging them to look at her water-colours. Inevitably, they depicted thatched cottages and pastoral scenes, vague washes of colour meandering around hesitant lines of ink. Elsewhere in the ecclesiastical galleries were to be found the usual landscapes, clumsy oil-paintings of dogs and cats, fragile sketches of savage Cornish coastlines and well-executed but unoriginal abstract sculptures.

The situation was redeemed by the wholesome aroma of coffee and a table loaded high with traditional scones and cakes. Less than ten minutes after entering, they had joined a chatting throng devouring Victoria Sponge and slurping some well percolated African Breakfast Blend from generous mugs. Maddy picked up a leaflet from the table urging them to Vote Brexit on June 23rd. She wondered why anyone in this wealth-soaked village would care abut the result of the European Union referendum.

“In or out?” She mused. Then her thought-train revisited a scene from a horror film she had seen some years ago. “Entrails in or entrails out?” said Anthony Hopkins as he was about to hang a detective from a hotel window with a telegraph wire. “I think out!” And the fear-paralysed man was dropped from the window with his large colon dangling incontinently beneath him to the horror of a crowd below, pain, terror and humiliations fused in the death-moment.

Then the phrase “in or out” took her towards the sexual realm, a place she visited with increasing desperation as her lover's ability and interest in it waned. In truth, he had always been flippant about sex. “It's so predictable...same old, same old...why can't we transfer our life-fluids by pressing our ears together? Or have babies come budding out of our knee-caps? Or hide pods of celebrity sperm in a forest and send naked women to search for them...”

They had lived in sin for twenty-two years, and yet she had never felt sinful, sinned against or sinning. Their sexual encounters had all the intensity of the pale watercolours hung before them. It was the lack of sin in her life that was sinful. Increasingly, she felt she was sinning against life.

“In or out, what does it matter to the likes of us?” he said.

“It does matter, it matters a great deal.”

“It doesn't. It won't make any difference to 99% of us. We're like a starved, ribbed old donkey stuck between two hay-stacks which are both on fire. I'd better take the dog out for a little walk. I'll leave you to enjoy the art.”

James didn't get far. He was already feeling tired, as he often did when church-going with his woman. There was something about the vaulting ceilings and kaleidoscopic windows that made him feel that life was making some unbearable demand on him that neither his mind or body could cope with. He went to lie down behind a deep-rooted ewe tree and let the dog wander around the graves. He slept. He dreamed.

He had paid a lot of money to take his father to a special dementia-friendly film-show. They were lying down on a deep,wine-red, funereal carpet, waiting for a silent Buster Keaton film to be shown before them. Young waitresses were coming round with plates of canapes. The young waitresses passed them by.

“Don't pass us by just because we're...”

“Old and past it? Don't worry, they will soon come back,” said an attractively gone-to-seed woman lying next to him.

“I do not think they will sing to us,” said his father, who had once been a professor of poetry before his mind crumbled to flesh, fur and faeces.

“Middle-class bitch,” he said to himself, articulating visceral dream-thoughts he would never dream of uttering in the waking realm. The film started. There were no hose pipes ejaculating over prancing Edwardians or gyrating planks wheeling into heads. Instead, the film depicted different varieties of fungi, clinging to logs and stumps in a fertile forest mulch.

“Very interesting,” said his father. “Look – bracket fungus. And another one.”

The woman next to him lit up a cigarette and rolled onto her back, exhaling her smoke in one long, sensual breath. She couldn't be all that bad if she was prepared to smoke in a cinema.

“That's where it all begins,” she said, indicating a gross mycological phallus rearing up from the forest floor. He began to warm to her. Safe in the dream realm he could become hard and sinful.

“Look – bracket fungus,” said his father. “And another one.”

He awoke to see his dog now standing next to him, expectant for a wider excursion. Waking thoughts flooded in with sunlight on the church wall.

“Strange, this idea of original sin...if God created all this natural world then he made it to be driven by sex. There's no other way to get evolution on the road. If he stuck with asexual micro-organisms, he'd have to settle for amoeba-consciousness and hydra-consciousness, which would be alright but not very poetic.

“So we must have Sex...the ewe tree and the apple tree and the beasts of the field, they are all living in this deathly realm of Sin. And then we have human consciousness, arising like a (fungus) from a tree stump, producing tepid imitations of life before falling back into the generalised mulch. Perhaps our great original sin is our inability to sin whole-heartedly.

“But it seems some brilliant Conceptual Artist has filled this field with thin, stone monoliths, each one a separate work by a forgotten individual but signed in elegant copper-plate inscriptions.

“I wonder why spaniels always look like they are smiling?”