The Superlative Death of Gerund Clause

Gerund Clause (1938-2010) was the world’s finest grammatician. Even at primary school, he would terrify playground bullies with his diachronic inflections and became known as a powerful allusionist at the end-of-term school performances.

At university, he studied chemistry with metallurgy and wrote his thesis on the extraction of iron from irony. He was a popular young man, full of complements, but also an incorrigible show-off, frequently disrobing the female students with a well placed copula.

After university, he astonished military advisors to the government by splitting an infinitive from forty paces and was immediately employed as grammatician-general to the army.

Gerund enjoyed a successful career with the army. It was said that, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he dismantled an atomic bomb with just a question mark. He became famous in the United States for his reported speech to the UN Security Council, describing members of USSR politburo as “oxymorons”.

Continuing his work with the army, Gerund was considered for the Nobel Peace Prize after his vigorous campaign to replace explosives with expletives in NATO combat operations. Unfortunately for global security, his diacritics defeated the policy and Gerund quit the military in 1978.

After leaving the army, Gerund moved into domestic policy. He became known as “The Postmodifier” after a number of measures to streamline the US mail service. In the 1980s, he proposed the legalisation of prostitution in urban areas and suggested that government levy a new syntax on the vice industries. While working in vice control, Gerund uncovered a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that was extracting heroin from the female protagonists of nineteenth-century English literature.

Although unconventional and not always succesful, thanks to his considerable achievements, Gerund rose to a high preposition in the US government. He retired from public service in 1999 at the age of 60.

In his retirement, Gerund spent more and more time on his scientific interests. He deepened his understanding of astronomy by studying the phrases of the moon and, in 2001, he successfully demonstrated that spacetime was not infinite, but infinitive. In his spare time, he bred race pidgins.

In his 70s, Gerund returned to the political themes of his youth and, in 2009, he wrote a blistering attack on the selfishness of modern society, diagnosing the entirety of Western civilisation with a self-obsessed malaise he called “Meiosis”.

Sadly, last year, Gerund died of a parasitic gap to the brain. He will be remembered as a great man, whose motifs were always pure and who always had a simile for everyone he encountered. He leaves behind his loving wife, Polysyllabic (68) and daughter, Anaphora (41).

The world mourns the loss of a great figure of speech.

Repose

There’s a repose to your room.

Six vases stand on the table in the centre. In each one is a withered flower. Withered of one, withered of another. The petals lie curled up on the table, dropped on the floor, all shades of decay, from crackly burgundy to dusty velvet. I can’t make out the original, but it looks like it might have been budded roses.

The fireplace stands, but the fire is out: deaded coal dust. The lamp is no more lit, hiding the corner where I know the bed does sit. The whole room could be a mausoleam, or a museum piece. Nothing on the walls is unfamiliar, but it’s all cast with a silty pallor.

That picture over there, I took that: a sunny day in Brighton. You’re laughing, I remember, behind me, laughing at the cameraman and his so serious sunsets. But apparently it was worth it, there on your wall, after all.

The carpet is fudgey. My feet seem stuck and I can’t budge inwards. I can’t creep to look at books on your shelf, or the papers you hide in their covers, to twist and turn over the oddments that scatter the room. On the mantelpiece, what is the meaning of that elephant? I’ll never know now. A simple shiny lacquer elephant, still standing where you placed him, faithful, trunk swung. But I can’t move.

I know it is there, there in the corner, by the lurk of the lamp, the lamp you never let me touch. I never switched it off at night, I never switched it on in the dark mornings. The lamp was always the gatekeeper, daring me: when you have the lamp, you have the girl. I couldn’t touch the lamp now, not now. That would violate some unwritten rule of repose.

But I know it’s there, there in the corner. Lurked by the lunky lamp, the bed humps, angle poisoned. The bed I know, with its sheets and shivers, the smells when you clump the duvet down, the secrets of underneath pillow. All that soft sheer thread-count-a-million cotton to smooth out and repose. In your repose.

Fancy a Butcher’s?

His mother was the village butcher. She always dressed elegantly, often in full-length evening dress with a string of pearls around her neck. Then, over her beautiful dress, she would throw her butcher’s apron – the purest white, all the better for showing up blood.

He hadn’t known any different; she’d always been his mother, the village butcher. Every day she’d open the shop very early to take the carcass deliveries, Then she’d prepare the cuts of meat, lovingly, handling the sharp knives with a dexterity that her father would have been proud of. Then she’d serve the village regulars, slicing, dicing, mincing to order and her day would end in time for her to walk down to the school to pick her only son up at the gate.

No, her little boy had never known different, but he’d been told by the neighbours that his mother had been quite something in her day, before she’d taken on the family business, quite something.

When she was young, in the blossom of adolescence, she’d had, they said, the boys of the village wrapped around her little finger. But, they said, there was no one for her but Andrew Hammond. No one remembered Andrew half as well as they thought they did, but everyone said that he had been the pride of the village: the golden boy.

They remembered his clean sweep at the school sports day: 100 metres, 400 metres and long jump. They remembered his single-handed demolition of The King’s Head ‘A’ in the darts. They remembered his hat-trick in the final of the West Harkshire Under 19s. And they remembered, perhaps best of all, his shining smile, as featured, almost every week, on the front and back pages of the Croxford Herald.

And it had never shone more than on the day he was murdered.

It was the night of the school dinner-dance. His mother had gone with Andrew, of course. They were the prince and princess of the village, the luminous couple, the day-dream dancers. They said she wore a dress of pure gold that night, with a simple pearl necklace that lit her face just so. But her face had been dark that night, they said. They said that his mother and Andrew had had an argument, about what no one ever found out.

But it made no difference: still they danced and danced around the village hall, her shoes tapping on the wooden boards and his smile reflecting off the mirror ball brought down for the evening. Nothing could take away from their luminescence, from her beauty and his athleticism. Everything was well, it seemed. But that was the last smile anyone ever saw on Andrew’s golden face.

They never found out who did it, who stole the knife from PG White the butchers and who had made the precise cut above the Adam’s Apple to remove the head, found in ditch on the road leading out of the village.

They told him that his mother had never taken another boy after Andrew – out of grief, they said. She had taken over the family business when PG White himself died not long after. They said it was God’s justice that Andrew Hammond had begotten a golden child before his horrific end. They said that his mother was an angel in her virtue, living her quiet life since, slicing, dicing and mincing.

But every time he watches his mother, in her long dress and her white apron, making another incision to the neck of a pig, he can’t help but wonder what really became of his father.

Progression

Do you know what an arithmetic progression is? Of course you do. Our lives are a finite arithmetic progression with a common difference of one: we live one year at a time. One follows one follows one – and so on towards infinity, until, one quiet news day, a bus brings a bloody end to your smug-faced progression. Or maybe it’ll be Gog, Magog and the Lake of Fire, Sarah Palin or a CBRN incident. Oh come on: Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear.

That’s an arithmetic progression. Fucking boring.

Now think of a geometric progression. Are you an optimist? I’m not, I say things get worse. I say we live in a nightmarish geometric progression with a common ratio of a half. We live one life, bad enough, but then we’re back again with a life half as long. After that: another life, half as long again. Then another, again half as long – and so on into infinity until we’re dead before we have a chance to be born.

Think of it like reincarnation. I’m going to live this life as a human, a squalid lump of rotting flesh with a heart that beats for a million ticks and then stops. One human life and then I’m dead and gone, cremated because I’m not worth the grave-space. Call it a hundred years before I’ve checked out – maybe I am an optimist; maybe I just want to make the maths easier for you. A hundred human years.

But then I’m reincarnated. I’m not so lucky, though: I’m on a geometric progression with a common ratio of a half, remember. So this time, maybe I come back as a chimpanzee and only get fifty years before getting smeared.

Then, before you can say “the transmigration of souls,” I’m back as a snake and only get twenty-five before kicking the calendar.

Next, I might return as a camel for twelve and a half years before popping my clogs. I quite fancy being a chipmunk for six and a quarter years and a mouse for three and an eighth, before eating another dirt sandwich.

I could add another eighteen months as an opossum, before rejoining our great majority. As a particularly resilient worker ant, I could manage nine months before being remaindered. I’d follow that up with a life as a worker bee, before turning up my toes to that too.

Then I’ll race through lives as a housefly and a fruit fly until I’m back for just five minutes as a female mayfly of the species dolania americana – and thence to meet my godless maker.

But even if I took all these reincarnated lives, from my fifty years as a chimpanzee to my five minutes as a mayfly of the species dolania americana, and added them together, I still wouldn’t get another hundred years in total.

That’s the nature of this hellish geometric progression. Even if you kept coming back after the mayfly: for two minutes, one minute, thirty seconds, ten seconds, five seconds, two seconds, one second – you’d still never match your hundred hypothetical years as a human.

Don’t waste it.

Death on a Sofa

It could happen right now. The ceiling could collapse on me, squashing my skull under the concrete. The radio could burst into flames and I could suffocate in the fumes. A thief could break in through my window and stab me to death. I could have already ingested a deadly bacteria from a tomato that I didn’t wash earlier. I could have a heart attack. The incense I am breathing in could be poison.

The whole point of death is its suddenness. That’s the game, that’s the framework. I need death to live and life to die. I need you to be me and you need me to be you.

The fluorescent light bulb on in my room could explode and kill me with noxious fumes. The floor might collapse underneath me, crushing me in the rubble. My computer could explode, sending shards of plastic flying across the room to sever my carotid artery and I could bleed to death on this very sofa, right here, as I write these very words.

Still waiting.

Better do something else.