“The Glassblower” – Fiction by Brendan Byrne

St. George - Hans Acker, 1440 "Ulm-Muenster-NeithartKapelleFenster-061209" by Joachim Köhler - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
St. George – Hans Acker, 1440. From the Lutheran Cathedral “Ulm-Muenster.” Photo by Joachim KöhlerOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

From our Winter 2015 issue, Brendan Byrne‘s “The Glassblower” is an anti-serial killer story with industrial post-punk undertones.

{ X }

THE SLOW, WET, GAPING PULSE of Chew Stum Valley morning.  I place the cup of crap hotel coffee, cold, on the front porch and lift the crime scene tape, blue and white on this side of the ocean. The door is unlocked behind it.

The hallway is boring; the siderooms are boring. They look kitted out by some mid-century landlady, keen on boiled breakfasts and bachelor boys, all of life justified by air raids. This, despite the fact that Thorne lived alone and unaided for the past several decades. I skip rooms, ignoring the outdated TV, the slack bookshelves with Protestant classics bound in imitation leather, dull watercolors of sheep and boulders and sheep. True Arcadia kitsch.

I treat the home like a canal, cut through it straight. Out the bookdoor, down the pseudo-quaint little cobble-stone steps and through the dead, knee-high garden (how is it that I’m sweating?), straight to the door of the old small chapel, which sits at the edge of the property. No caution tape here which, if I pause and force myself to smirk, I can see the irony of. This is where Thorne really lived. This is where the Glassblower, whoever he was, was born.

I open the door.

 

Earlier, Nailsea

 

Hanging in the air of the small club is a special kind of exhaustion. Post-synth drainage and slow throb the color of headaches. The patient mold of the interior of an orgasm on the screen behind the stage. Two white-suited henchmen disassemble the two hundred-odd pounds of equipment, exchanging quiet, sick little stories. A squat and beautiful young woman with deliberate scaration decorating her shoulders picks crushed plastic cups and discarded drug delivery systems off the floor.  Edward sits on the small, high stool propping open the emergency exit, smoking Silk Cut. A heavy, though not fat man, he has shed his own straightjacket and now wears a gray hunter’s flannel above leather pants. His beard is russet and dirty snow, but he does not sit like a mage, more like a Catholic schoolboy, tilted as if to avoid notice and suggest other perpetrators. He exhales a plume of gray, which then leaks out the door where hot scummy rain pounds the twist of a convoluted alleyway. The resultant battering on concrete is almost a nothing sound. It is distinct, but as if you are always hearing it and have only just caught on.

“Where do you live?”

“Me?” I adjust the glowing iPhone on my right thigh, the digital read of the recording time running what seems impossibly fast.

“You.”

His voice isn’t the soft, unstrained tone it is on the more lunar tracks, nor does it approach his dead bandmate’s abrasive, churning yowl, once over-described very well in the NME as the final screams of a fetus about to be eaten by its twin. It is moderate, a cast-off discursive tone, flowing and clipped simultaneously. I don’t know enough about England to place it, if its origin is in fact geographic.

“I live a bunch of places.”

Edward tightens his posture, legs crossed, knees snug together. Back straight, barely inches away from touching that metal door. He watches as I light my own cigarette, eyes following my movements. I find myself secreting from some kind of self-conscious gland.

“Berlin. Sometimes. I lived in New York longer than anywhere else. My parents live in Roanoke. Thought you’d like that,” I say, even though he’s given no sign he recognizes the name. “CROATOAN and all that. It’s a one-story beach house. They have most of my library, but it’s wilting. Salt air.” I drink some of the Powers he prefers. His is still untouched. “I have an ex in Austin.”

“But you never lived there.”

“No, not really.”

“We lived,” he inclines his chin out the door into the alley, as if Silence was out there, spectral and soaked, leaking fetid ectoplasm from his wounds. “In the same place for nearly 19 years. A few miles west of here, actually.” He accentuates the directionality with the inverse of a hiss, taps ash onto the floor with absent deliberation. “But you knew that.”

“Yes.”

“You work with Hélène?”

“Sometimes.”

“I like her.”

“She speaks of you highly. We got extremely drunk once, and she said how much she enjoyed visiting your… chalet.”

His laughter is an immediate, reserved thing, not trailing off but ending with extreme deliberation. “Is that the word she used?”

“Yes, not without some irony.”

“She wanted to talk about sex, so we talked about sex, though I don’t think she got quite what she wanted. But you don’t want to talk about sex.”

“No. I don’t think so at least.”

“You don’t want to talk about music either. You want to talk about James.”

“Never made a secret of it. It was in the email.”

“I never read the email.”

“It was in the subject line of the email.”

He smiles once, the muscles’ contraction and relaxation forming feral movements. He is still heavily avuncular, without the attendant smarm.

“You don’t want to talk about it. Fine. Let’s talk about The Quartered Man’s commitment to spontaneity.”

“There was no commitment to anything.” And then, before I could figure out exactly what the fuck to say to that: “At times, we could have been spontaneous.”

“‘Could have been?’”

“We were capable of it.”

“Your choice of recording spaces seemed to have been fluid.”

“Choice?” Someone else’s laugh runs wild in the alley. “I cannot remember, dear boy, the number of places we recorded. I believe I slept, shat, ate, and fucked in all of them though. If that helps you.” His cigarette has not gone out yet. I find this difficult to believe. Perhaps I simply did not notice him light a new one. Shafts of remembered cinema history: Cigarettes, despite their prevalence, were always a bitch for editors to keep track of. Whether they were lit, how far they had burned down. It makes me light another of my own, for continuity.

“Do you know much about the Vietnamese culture?”

“I read a bit, knowing I’d be talking to you.”

Co bac?”

I shake my head, sip my whiskey. His is almost gone. Another continuity problem.

“It’s not a test. Ong bac are spirits of the ancestor. Co bac are spirits of strangers. But neither is given preferential treatment. They are obvious, in a way nothing is obvious to the Occidental mind, which needs proof.” He says the word as if shitting with his mouth. “They are equal. Even if the particular co bac was, in life, an aggressor. Such as an American service-man. Each is acknowledged and granted a social existence.” His spent cigarette arcs into the alley; it is struck down by droplets.  “That is why I am going to Vietnam.” Soft, dignified smile. “They will know how to look after my spirit.”

So, I manage not to say, it’s not just the boys then. Instead: “You mean the English are incapable of tending to it?”

He stares at me, the smile unchanged. No teeth. “I would never want to obligate them.”

“But you’d obligate the Vietnamese?”

His laugh is like a muffled tsk. It would be silly to call it girlish. “It isn’t considered an obligation. It isn’t,” he fumbles here, his mouth working, and I see how old the man is inside the fleshy body of a fifty-nine year old, rugger-like behemoth. “Selfless. The Vietnamese understand that movement of persons across great spans is necessary. Their diasporas taught them that, at least. They understand that many of their own kin are now dead, entombed in strange land. Another’s ong bac. Reciprocity is assumed.”

“But shouldn’t be.”

His eyes can go sharp to watery and occluded in seconds; all I can think of is his famous series of alcoholic psychotic episodes, stretched over almost two decades. “Tell me, how do you treat your co bac?”

“I wasn’t aware-”

“Not,” he says, with a fluid chop of his left paw, “your physical co bac. But the psychological variety. The kind you accrue, in your work.”

We pause, to let the girl hump a series of grossly distended garbage bags into the alley. She mutters Czech in the rain, smells old sweat and cheap perfume.

“The victims,” he says.

“Is this your way-”

“Demetrius.”

“-of saying-”

“Demetrius.” He inhales my name, a dry heave. Then pauses as he attempts to exhale.  “You are a delightful boy.”

“And you’re a perfect gentleman.”

He taps more ash. It wriggles on the floor briefly. “Demetrius.” He savors the word like a particularly pungent shit; I doubt I’ve ever felt so disconnected from it. I’m suddenly fighting off very real images of the man squatting.

“Is this your way,” I say, keeping my voice carefully modulated, “Of saying you won’t talk to me?”

“I’d be delighted to speak with you about music.”

“But not about James?”

His smile reopens like a wound. “No, I’m afraid not.”

I sink the rest of the whiskey and stand. “Thank you for your time.” Turn off the iPhone and slip it into my pocket.

There, sat up on the small square metal chair, he draws an insular power just from his position. He stares up at me, his eyes on me, but lost somewhere, also. “I wouldn’t want to preach to you, dear boy.”

“I wouldn’t want you to either.” I toss my cig out the door but leave through the other one.

 

Nestled between passive-aggressive communiqués from various editors, Google calendar reminders of bills to pay, and a bright, drunken, punctuationless email from my mother, is the GChat invitation from Terstory. Her chat box lacks a profile pic, having instead the ubiquitous platform-provided silhouette of gray-blue head and shoulders. It’s set, perpetually, on red/busy. I click the invite and wait.

I’m in a small, tight room. Worn, squeaking mattress on cracked wooden frame, covered with mismatched, faded, multicolor quilts. The walls are a drab blue-brown, decorated with local amateur cliff scenes and decayed B&W pics of corgis. The thin, fit man just past middle age who fronts the ticket-counter-looking front desk is brusque and efficient enough, but he looks as if he’s been trying to forget for some time that there are other places. I take a pull of the local off-brand cream ale and strain the heavy muck through my teeth.

She’s not online, she’s having a social anxiety moment, or she’s doing something minor and devious. Or all three. I bring up the draft:

The Quartered Man has no early years. Nobody was paying attention, and its two authors were militantly unreliable narrators. Even now their constellation of Wikipedia pages are uncited, unsourced, and policed by self-anointed court-historians engaged in constant internecine warfare. Photographs of members are dated helpfully as “in Thailand, either in the 1980s or 1990s”.

Start with this then:

YouTube footage of Flail’s “Sucked Off”, Salford, March 1977. Most of the group has its back to the audience as they manipulate machines. A still-unknown woman sits on a metal chair, playing violin on her lap, as if it were a child. The music is what we would call industrial; it wasn’t called anything back then, except probably “fucked up”. Its throb has been devalued since by every pop doom-fetishizer, but it has not been, quite, de-weaponized.

Edward Neolithic is not the small androgynous figure on its knees, tearing at its urban-cameo shirt, howl-intoning the repeated lyric: “Take me in/ On your knees/ On your knees”, then clutching a scarecrow man from the audience and sucking his lips, before skittering around on the ground like an animal confused about whether it is meant to be dying or rutting.

Edward Neolithic is the tall, thin man with the goatee and stubble-head, dipping in and out of the shadows, sheened with sweat and salvia, manipulating a multi-use machine, big, black, and lightless. The thing was called a B-Boy, and it was a welded-together compendium of tape-machines, samplers and noise generators. He’d made it himself.

From certain camera angles employed (long, slow pan lifted from Tarkovsky, a hatred of close-up, an obsession with non-human minutiae in detail) the footage can be identified as the product of one John Silence. A London- based videographer who’d become involved with Flail that winter, Silence (his real name) remained firmly on the peripheries of the Flail, often securing and/or providing funding; he never “officially” shot anything for the group. His presence was the opening movement in a decade-long multi-faceted collaboration with Neolithic: artistic, domestic, sexual, corporate, inexplicitly romantic, which would only truly begin after Flail ceased to exist in 1982. Following a permutation of video-performance projects, including The Committee of Unpracticable Effects and Caesarean, John Silence and Edward Crisp (having dropped the moniker) chose to call themselves The Quartered Man in 1985, almost a year before they released their first EP.

They’d met James Thorne before this. Like a social climber from a 19th century novel, Thorne had a little income from an aunt, and was supposedly attracted to Flail’s mortification of the mental flesh, its lack of “professionalism”, and its emphasis on subjugation. Drugs and fucking made him depart sooner rather than later; he did not like the bacchanalia. London is not a city you can “drift away” from; he fled, without alerting anyone. This seems to be one of the few things which made anything more than a vague impression on his compatriots.

It is unknown if Crisp and Silence kept up with Thorne during the next nine years, or if they renewed their acquaintanceship in ‘91, when they moved to a ramshackle, ex-manor house outside of Nailsea and began to compose “music which would leak from the land, emanating from a collective memory few can access anymore.” The Quartered Man, as a project, seems divisively separate from “Edward and Jonathan”:  Two utterly pedestrian, obvious middle-class names for two harmless middle-age queers, which is what they looked like in the mid ‘90s, even if it was not remotely what they were. I picture them taking in young James (he is James with them, not Thorne, nor The Glassblower): Though he wasn’t young, I perpetually frame him as a naif. Perhaps because the adjective most used to describe him is “uncomplicated”. Bowie’s “Kooks” plays in the background as the two prance through some serenely bucolic, excessively ordered English public park, finding poor, distraught lost-boy James, and take him home to pamper and occasionally suck off. This undoubtedly did not happen, unless it did, of course.

Thorne had moved south two years before them and resumed his stalled apprenticeship at Maughan’s glassworks. Glass was never a traditional Chew Valley product (strangely it was, in Nailsea). A glassblower in the Chew Valley was a strangely quixotic career; to return to it as apprentice after years in the city seems unthinkable from this remove, but apparently the return caused little comment. Thorne slipped into Chew Valley as easily as he slipped out of London.

Resettled, Edward and Jonathan inaugurated a period of heroic output, which was to end only in Jonathan’s death in 2010. An LP a year, often two, with a scattering of EPs; almost all the records went out of print within a single season. To further obfuscate matters, QM began to refuse to play live shows. James became a fixture in the QM manor-house. He’d discovered, or just decided to reveal, an ethereal, near-castrato pitch, which was deployed sparingly and to great effect on QM’s Ranters and Mummers (‘93). Thorne taught himself bass (very badly, in the Great English Punk Tradition of non-musician bass players) and his clodding, make-shift, deeply upsetting solos would become a recurring distraction from ‘94 to ‘01. And then there was his speaking voice, small and precise, like a child trying to memorize a Bible passage, with an accent so disconnected from the local drawl that it seems to come from some other, undiscovered English borough. It was only used once, in the inaccurate recitation of ten lines of the exiled John Dee’s letter to his wife which opens Accidia (‘99). Almost thirty other non-musicians and collaborators haunt QM’s prodigious and almost impossible to collate output, but none as constant as a backdrop, or as strangely grounding, as “James”.

Interruption. Fierce, low pinging. Insistent. Terstory appears in a small box, and I enlarge, passing my fingers over the brown-skimmed beaten keys of the seven-year-old laptop, my left wrist gaining a slight, barely noticeable electric shock.

“Hi.” Long-tapered face, under-exposed skin, dull red hair collapsing down her neck, a snub-nosed attempt at a smile. “Where are you?” Behind her is a run of brilliant, soft-pink fluorescent bulbs against a white background. Empty and warm and clean. She must be at work.

“Nailsea. Well, outside of it.”

“How was London?”

“Useless.”

“You talked to Clara Cleeve?”

“I talked to Clara Cleeve.”

“And she knew nothing?”

“Oui.”

Terstory tosses her hair back with an extremely pre-planned movement. An actor’s trick; it’s called business. The comparatively wild motion freezes the screen, and she’s caught in a flattering pose, her eyes gone in the red tangle, the angles of her face showing her nothing like herself. Almost sexual. “And Edward was also, like you say, useless, yes?”

“Yeah. He likes you.”

A Gallic shrug, with lip pout. As if to say, of course he would. “But he talked to you.”

“Yeah, not that I have as much as a fucking sentence about Thorne. Nobody knows shit about this guy. The old duffers down at the pub, the barmen, the lady of the Old Vic, his neighbor who found him stroked-out in the garden. The grand-niece of the old fucker, Maughan, who left him the business. Nobody knows shit.”

“And I am supposed to be… your therapist?”

You don’t think, when you’re only seeing an abstract freeze of someone’s motion that they can see you. When of course they can: I mime a smile.  “No. You’re supposed to be my editor.”

Her face becomes slowly unstuck from the environment; she remains unblinking. She is never so unnerving flesh to flesh. Some would write this off to the medium disrupting her personality, but I know her well enough to know the medium is just revealing it. “Make it about the victims.”

“No.”

“Pourquoi?”

“Because we all know victims. They bore us.”

She laughs once, a harsh bark. I notice for the first time a light red welt or bruise or gnaw adjacent to the left major throat tendon. Then her face coming back down: “That is a value judgment.”

“So the fuck what.”

“You’re going to his studio tomorrow?”

“Yeah, if I can break in.”

“C’est bon. Make it about that.”

“I don’t think that makes any sense…”

“File tomorrow or the next day.”

“Fuck that, I don’t have a killer, I don’t have-”

“Tomorrow or the next day. This article was a chance, and it was the last one.” Her oversized palm hovers over her keyboard.

“Wait-”

She doesn’t.

I close the mouth of the computer. The battery is cranking, overhot on my testicles. The right one has begun to ache. I push the laptop off onto the bed. Stand up and walk to the window. Cross-barred, the width of my chest, it looks out onto a lacuna of a landscape: a run of concrete on the edge of town, what I suppose to be an industrial road. Teens traipse by, hooting and drinking from long, bulbous green plastic bottles. I take a final pull from the can. Tastes of grit.

 

Now, Chew Stum

 

Hazed sunlight leaks through the visages of minor saints, complex family crests, an endless interlocking swarm of dragons and, adjacent to the garden exit, a white and blue portrait of a young boy, eyes and mouth slits. The lad resembles less a Western Christian saint than some pagan entity, carved into unbending form thousands of years ago by a mad mendicant ikonist, its perspective warped to look ageless and inhuman, no-child and every-child. There is an amateurishness as well as a deliberateness, the saying of that which one has been trying to say. That I can’t understand the language is beside the point. An apprentice-work, from what little I’ve gathered from Thorne’s professional contacts.

Thorne redid the St. George and the Dragon motif for a church in Bristol a few years ago. A local rag had called the job “splendid” and “boisterously coloured”, which seemed like the wording of some helpless octogenarian editor, or at least someone who wanted to be one. I see no need to go examine it myself, unless I become truly desperate. Otherwise most of his sales seem to have been to rich London scumfucks; his dealer, James Graham, described their relations to me as “slight yet attentive, and almost always conducted electronically”. There was never an invitation south for Graham, and his occasional attempts to lure Thorne north were always gently rebuffed. As for the buyers, many of them were at least on the fringe of Industrial and its attendant avant-garde. Idle wealth positions itself inside every underground movement, and artisans always find patrons, of whatever sort. None of these patrons, however, met Thorne after 1983, and their few proffered memories of him before are insubstantial.

I take some pictures with the phone, but I’m not good enough to capture the precision or the curious lack of anything which could be called style. Some pieces are obviously religious motifs, others abstract gyrations of color, others staid and sheer blue-white as ice cliffs, others aboriginal-esque folk-art smear-portraits. Were they drafts, mistakes, or commissions never retrieved? None spoke to the artist who’d created the apprentice-work; it was as if he had done his masterwork as an apprentice, then settled complacently if not comfortably into the realm of the disposable. The apprentice-piece evokes a violinist playing a few discordant notes before a symphony to tell his audience that he knows his trade but is not subservient to it.

The great and ramshackle single room (easily accessed/broken-into) resembles the great cavern of an ancestral mead hall than the stereotypical post-modern urban artisan’s warehouse workspace. Clean but not antiseptic, the stink is of dirt, not mold; the floor is hard-packed earth, so tight that I first mistook it for well-treated wood. Various staging areas, long wooden benches with short, metal stools are stocked with equipment, but there are no half-completed projects strewn about. No chewed-up wood chips. No scattering of sandpaper. No shattered glass.

There is always a moment of frisson when in the habitat of a killer. It lends charge to the bowels and balls; it makes you think you’re going to find the hidden journals, the manifesto, the hard drive with the half-erased search history that the cops missed. And I have, before; the cops fucked up, and I saw something they missed, because I was young and obsessed, with the crime in question and with the idea of myself being obsessed with it. But not here. There are no crannies and no crawl-spaces and the walls are not hollow. There’s nothing the cops missed.

They found a final body here, on the packed-earth, and I find nothing.

 

She calls. Terstory never actually calls anyone. I put down my pint of real ale, which tastes like something a two-year old pukes up after drinking two cans of dad’s Bud real fast.

“Yeah?” I’m negotiating my way through the less reputable of the locals, with Kev, the boiled-beef-cheeked bartender tracing my path with his eyes.

“He’s dead.”

“Who’s dead?”

“Neolithic.”

“Edward? Who? Crisp?” Outside, it has begun to faintly slush; small cold licks the left side of my head, the right side pressed against the pub wall.

“Yes. A drunken fall. Three flights of stairs. His friend’s apartment in London.”

“Jesus Christ. Just how Silence died?”

“Yes, the speculation is it was deliberate.”

“I fucking doubt it.”

“That’s what I want to hear. Come back. You’re writing the article.”

“What article?”

“Edward Crisp’s final interview.”

“You’re fucking kidding.”

“I’m fucking not. Serial killer story is dead. Put it in your memoirs.”

“What’s my angle?”

“By the time you are in JFK, I will have thought of one.” She hangs up.

You’d think there’d be wind out here. You’d think it’d be vicious.

 

The seventh track on QM’s ‘00 EP The Physical Defects of Mankind is entitled “Glassblower.” Recorded during a two- week-long shamanic residency in London, it’s one of two QM releases from ‘97 to ‘08 not to feature Thorne’s input. Reportedly improvised, both seamless and jarring, it circles around chanted Latin, supposedly from a lost book of Seneca’s and various portraits of its owners down the years. This is not quite a concept album since the paltry narrative, if it could even be said to be one, only becomes really understandable after about the twentieth time you listen to it. And even then, there’s no way the seventh and final track fits in.

Sung in a lilting, amateur sing-song that a chain-smoking grandmother might summon, “Glassblower” is a perversion of the Pied Piper narrative. The titular artisan is not a Germanic wanderer, but a local of a small unnamed English village who spends years crafting a stained glass window of St. George slaying the Worm, but when he presents it to the local parish, it is rejected. “St. George looked too much like a man. The Worm, too, a man.” Distraught, the glassblower crafts a shimmering obsidian rod, unbreakable and erect, which entrances, perhaps accidentally, the children of the town. The glassblower, seeking only refuge from disgrace, sets out not to the sea but to the mountains. It is never entirely clear to the singer, the audience, or to the glassblower himself if he knows the town’s children are following him. The result is still something of a forced march. The children are whipped by stinging branches, set upon by wolves, spirited away by falcons, trampled by their fellows, felled by hunger and thirst, swallowed by ditchwater.  Each minor atrocity is catalogued by the stilted voice, which seems to be singing against its will. The tune is of an old standard, though you can never quite place it (and, indeed, when subjected to examination by those who know of these things, proves to be quite original). The glassblower himself is bruised and half-starved yet continues to tramp through “these wooden mountains” long after his train of followers has been decimated, “an emaciated, despised, vagabond”.

The glassblower is never described, save as “not young, not big”; he could be Thorne, though Thorne never killed children, as far as anyone knows. Did Edward and Jonathan know James was a killer? Could they feel it? Did it ooze out of Edward’s unconscious as he compose-sang it?

Does it even fucking matter? They knew him or they didn’t; they knew he was a killer or they didn’t. They don’t know anything now.

 

Down to the sea. Signless, the coastline seems to shiver and twitch when you’re looking away. I don’t recognize the topography even though I’ve been to the scene twice. A black rip, where the earth-colored water meets a vaguely rust-colored sky. Impressive and occult the first time, now it just lulls me. I wonder if people occasionally throw themselves over the side with no planning whatsoever. I trace the drop slowly, not as sober as I should be to have taken the wrong-side-of-the-road drive down here, listening to static and local presentations of arid pub-hop. A local publican, selling me take-out cans of cider, told me that two German bicyclists got confused by the switchbacking and went right off of one of the cliffs, the end of last summer. This seems to be the only thing the locals like about the coast. Otherwise, they hate it like they hate their children: grudgingly.

It’s stupid of me to be out there, hunting for something which will allow me to leave. Salvage, as from a shipwreck. After nearly twenty minutes of almost-careful trudging, I come across the run. A cobbled-together series of stones, not really steps and certainly not even or flat, complemented by the occasional plank of wood, pushed deep into the earth. In some sections, there is even a molting, hollowed-out metal rod serving as handrail. Run your palm along it, it’ll slice you open, leave shards of rusted grit inside the wound.

The descent is slippery and steep, becomes a wind-tunnel. Forces slip, battering the small, delicate bones of my inner-ear. The gulch before me, a massive fall-down to the beach where waves lazily crash and froth white, seems inevitable. Half-way down, I transition into something of a crouch-climb, my body against the side of the cliff, my fingers clawing at the rocks and wood and ground in the spaces between, one boot blindly seeking the next notch beneath, the other filling the space recently vacated. My heart is roaming, the wind is banshee, I don’t believe in spirits, and I am sober.

The last ten feet, I stand up straight and run, allowing the last, lush pull of gravity to turn a light jog into a fierce sprint to stay upright, so that when I break out onto the beach, it is at speed, with maddened energy and inflamed senses and I see it as Thorne must have seen it.

A lacuna.

So he filled it. With a body intact. Besides what he had done to the lungs.

Laid out. Young dead Rick Redding, in a state of repose. Here, just at the edge of the tide at its fullest. Hands folded on his chest. Face sculpted in a calm, suggestive relief.

This was the second one he got right. The very first was a public park, almost half a mile from the beach, dragged through underbrush, abandoned half under a public picnic table. Rotting wood. A mother doing advance scouting twenty-five Saturday mornings ago saw it, thought it was a bum, called the rozzers. The second was a highway dump, three miles from Bristol. Third, and his first true success, was a few miles up the beach. This was a re-do, an attempt to see if he could make it work again. He could.

But why Redding?

Any conventional article on the murders would start here. The lens of a single victim: not just the timeline and horrific details and a liberal “recreation” of the minutes, but the squelched hope which blooms under the stress of the investigation. He’d had a drinking problem, she’d only just barely gotten her bachelor’s, she’d been able to move out of her uncle’s, they’d only just gotten engaged. Ad shitum, ad shitum. Here the imagination yanks you away from the more obvious centerpieces (first vic, last, the killing which signaled a shift in approach, the killing which refined the approach, the killing which gave the cops what they needed, and so on and so on and so on and so on and so on). Unlike the other victims, these unbelievable figures exist outside the simple narrative of execution. The reader wants to follow her as she does coke in the bathroom of the only pub which hasn’t barred her, as he somehow succeeds in the most unlikely get-rich-quick scheme yet, and he breaks another fucking promise, you know he would, of course he would. These people weren’t waiting to be plucked out of their staid gyrations of a blest and boring life. They were, and the reader can’t fucking believe it.

So who was young dead Rick Redding? Ran with a few Glasgow youth organizations not approved of by the police, but his now-unfrozen rap sheet is mostly comprised of graffiti-related incidents. Never spent more than a night in jail. Two years of London art school, apparent sideline of selling liquid MDMA. Then he just fucked off; his mates had no clue where to. No idea why he’d come here.

Tall, auburn-hair short-cut. Awkwardly gangled but apparently confident as fuck. Low, empty voice. Smile like it had been dragged from a pile of rubble, unaware it was still capable of even twitching. On his Royal Enfield. There are several pictures of him immediately difficult to forget, they portray with sentimentality an already kind of vanished lifestyle; he seems to be posing in them simply because he knew he was going to die.

With Redding, the person within the victim reveals himself less through action than through the inscrutability of the youth, the not-letting-in.

Except it’s horseshit. Redding was no more real than any of the other eight people Thorne killed, and is now no less dead than them, Thorne, Crisp, and Silence.

This is why I never write about the victim. I start with the killer and stay with the killer and it is always the killer.

I stand where Redding’s head lay, or almost. There is a small, green rock you can spot in crime scene photos. This is where Thorne stood, or almost, but my certainty that I felt what he felt– the lacuna, the need to fill it– has twisted off and screamed away from my mind. I can’t feel anything he might have felt: not the exhaustion of triumph, not the sexual thrill, not the disappointment which comes with the realization that the hunger is again growing. He has left nothing here, and there is nothing here.

I close my eyes and listen to the surf and the wind and wait until I can force myself to feel, soft and measured and rank, his breath upon my neck.

{ X }

bio(1)BRENDAN BYRNE‘s fiction has appeared in FLURB, his nonfiction in Arc. His novella The Showing of The Instruments was published by Phone Booth Press in 2011. He is a contributing editor at Rhizome

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