Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A Discarded Draft For A Eulogy

They say that to the male moth, the sight of a candle-flame sounds like the scent of the female moth on heat. My learned friend, Dr S----- could have explained more succinctly than I the synaesthetic paradox that arises from the combination of antennal sensilla and pheronomal-chemo-luminescence under the light of the infra-red spectrum - but alas, today, via the unwelcome medium of a manilla-enveloped missive from his executors, I learn that he has been killed in a tragic accident: which, from the few, terse sentences I have been furnished with, appears to have been involved with a moonlit perambulation along his beloved cliffs at St D----'s.

With the letter, by separate carrier, I received a notebook: a plain and scuffed exterior, unlined, and filled with the crabbed roundels of Dr. S-----'s minuscule hand. I am uncertain at present whether he intended it to fall to me, or if an oversight has been commited by the no-doubt worthy practice of P---, P---, P--- & P---; however, out of a sense of curiosity, and partly impelled - I must admit - by my own personal sense of loss, I have read it, insofar as it is legible.

The diary is concerned in the main part by his lepidopterical studies. I cannot recall him without seeing him bumping around the table of stacked cases of neatly pinned and labelled specimens, their wings symmetrically arranged, the polished glass flawless, bar the grey snow of dandruff that was his constant and - to him, I presume - invisible companion.

The first pages are concerned with the standard fare of the collector of butterflies and moths: remarks pertaining to time, date, weather, location, occurrence of flowering plants, the particular scent of the landscape, the types of clouds, the hue of the sky; various addenda that belong properly within the domain of the killing-bottle, the chemistries of backing-card, pins; a few vague notes on his temperament each day, his lament for his batchelorhood, his varied prospective appetite for his supper. But then there comes a certain change: almost a slippage of sorts, as if inspired by a tedium that is unnameable to any who have not experienced it.

The first new classification is by smell. Fustian. Hessian. Caulking rope. Aspirin. Lemongrass. Bleach. I recall quite distinctly his habit of opening his cases and while gazing upon each specimen, a certain inhalation - an almost ecstatic qualification of the odours would come over him. I was typically sat upon the fireside couch, and the sight of his shoulder-blades straining the powder-grey cloth of his evening-coat like two sharp hills scattered with the inevitable silver snowfall of the evening never failed to rouse both amusement and sympathy in me. To hide my smile, I would turn to the mantelpiece, and regard his incongruous gilt statuette of Cupid.

This particular taxonomy of smell was discarded swiftly, for he found it difficult to separate adequately the scent of one specimen from its neighbours, and he moved to a simple scheme of colour, such as a child might devise in his first forays into the art of the collector (there are also some remarks and hypotheses laid out that speculate on the feasibility of using the ear to distinguish each from each: various techniques are posited: stroking with a crow's feather, tapping with a fine spill, scraping with a gentle fingernail; but this was abandoned before practical experimentation was assayed).

With colour, he seems to have become unstuck. He starts well enough, relating the primaries to the major species. But then it appears that he would shuffle and rearrange his specimens to a new configuration, and - I can only assume - then attempt to reconcile the new colours to the old. What was mainly black was now the red butterfly. The blue was now the gold-green. The red was the dun. This procedure evidently exasperated him. There is much rending of the surface of the paper by the action of the pen, and all is coated with the copious fine glitter of what, I fear, will be his most lasting legacy. When Papilio Machaon switched places in the night with Lampides Boeticus, his handwriting deserted him. The only words thereafter I could read were the last: "He cannot find her. The moon is too bright."

I hesitate to draw my conclusion. Instead I content myself with my memories of his clumsy bustle around the room, and the gilt Cupid smeared with golden dust on the mantel.


Kate said...

I enjoyed this. Reminded me a little of Calvino, Garcia-Marquez, de-Bernieres etc etc and of course, Borges in its magical-realist tone/style.
Not that I know ANYTHING about literature. Infact, I wouldn't recognise it if it came along and shagged me up the arse. However, in my ill-read, uncouth opinion, this was rather fine.

David said...

Yeah, Calvino's slightly over-arch tone was bugging me when writing. So I think the lady doth protest too much!

I now hate my little 'effort' - will try rewriting. But gilding turds is a waste of gold, and annoys the turd, to paraphrase... um... Churchill?