There are too many lamps here. Far, far too many. Of course, my highly developed night vision colours my opinion on this subject but I still think there are far too many lamps. Isn’t the whole point of having big lights to not require little ones as well? One room here has four whole lamps in it, four, as well as the big light, and I am not exaggerating when I say The Master has changed the shade on that three times in the last month. I do not think I am being unreasonable by calling that excessive. He tells me he never purchases any of the lamps new, as if that excuses the entire addiction. Sometimes I’ll be carrying out my bi-daily industrial clean of the house and will notice that one lamp now has a part missing and part of another lamp attached to it instead.
The Master says he is just “experimenting” and “finetuning our environment” in cases like this but who knows who knows how long this experimentation will just be confined to lamps? He has a taste for this kind of structural electronic tinkering now, that’s my worry. Where will it lead? I have been learning about robots and they frighten me. They can be trained to perform all sorts of household tasks very effectively. I do not want to be replaced by one and have to go back to the dark place.
Two of these live here. One is middle-aged, circular, a sourdough loaf with a face. The disapproving glance and the snubbed culinary treat are her currency. I am told by The Master that I have to let her do exactly what she wants, because she is the Chief Executive Officer in charge of everything. It is particularly vital, he says, that I vacate any seat she appears desirous of and do not look at her while she eats. The other one is young, pliable. To my knowledge he only makes two sounds. There is his meow – if you can call it that – which is woefully avian and high-pitched, and his purr, which is so deep and rumbling that it seems to come from somewhere far underground, further underground even than I used to live. It is as if he is in fact not purring at all but playing a tape of some ambient sounds he recorded at a secret capitalist facility located beneath a reservoir. Sometimes when his owner is out at work I strut around with him around my neck, pretending that I am a respectable lady from a bygone era showing off her fashionable scarf amidst high society at a social gathering that esteemed historians will one day immortalise in print. He seems unfazed by such adventures.
I visit the woods behind the house to collect this for The Master. I work with great focus and efficiency because The Master turns his hourglass over when I leave and says I must return before all the sand has reached the bottom, or there will be what he calls “consequences”. I walk up the path, past the cottage home of two permanently dismayed, plotting dogs, and as my dainty hooves crunch on the dead leaves below me I feel a mixture of emotions: fear, extreme hunger, and an echo of something that might be yearning. I am allowed to go into the woods but never as far as the moor beyond them. The Master generously permits me to eat precisely an eighth of all wood or wood-based products I bring back to the house. I stick rigidly to this, as I know The Master, often joined by a friend or two, will assiduously count the logs and kindling after I have finished my meal, and The Master has some friends who are unusually good at counting. Sometimes, if I have been well-behaved, I am allowed to lick some moss, too.
If The Master is in a sociable mood, we will eat together, and he will let me share the hot sauce he puts on the vegetable burgers I have diced, mashed and grilled for him from scratch earlier in the day. “Isn’t this all very sustainable and civilised?” The Master will remark. “Beats living in a hole in the ground, right?”
MIDCENTURY SWEDISH OAK TABLE
I am told that I have to be extra careful not to damage this, even though it already has mysterious scratches on it, plus a big stain on it from when one of The Master’s friends drunkenly sloshed some very oily salsa on it during a chequered social gathering a few years ago. “It has a lot of sentimental value,” he will remind me. “Cost 26 whole quid from the hospice shop in 2011.” He says that in a couple of months he might permit me to sand it down and restore it, which I think demonstrates just how much he has grown to trust me in the two years since I last let hunger get the better of me and gnawed into a piece of vintage Scandinavian furniture.
SALT’N’PEPA – ‘A SALT WITH A DEADLY PEPA’ (FULL FREQUENCY RANGE RECORDINGS, 1988)
This is hands down one of my favourite obects belonging to The Master. I think ‘Push It’ has to be the stand out tune (obvious, perhaps, but sometimes a giant hit is a giant hit for a very good reason) but the whole thing royally bangs. Innumerable now are the times when I have danced to these 43 minutes of sonic genius while performing my daily chores, and the experience never gets old. In fact, my moves to ‘Hyped On The Mic’ and ‘Shake Your Thang (It’s Your Thing)’ are so honed that I have reached the point where I can perform them effortlessly while balancing an adolescent cat on my shoulders. What confuses me, even in my rampant enthusiasm, is why The Master owns over 2000 copies of ‘A Salt With A Deadly Pepa’. Even more confusingly, the other copies all have different cover art and don’t have the same title or Salt’n’Pepa written on them. The Master tells me these are all actually just called “records”, were made by other musicians who are not Salt’n’Pepa, feature different songs, and combine to make what is often referred to as “a collection”, but I still don’t understand what he is trying to say, or why these objects have been manufactured. If you had perfected a thing, finetuned it into its ultimate unbeatable form, why would anyone want to make or possess other, inferior versions of it?
WATERCOLOUR PAINTING OF MY FORMER HOME
It is winter now and wind, rain and low temperatures have finally stripped the trees back to their mossy truth. With the dying away of the undergrowth, I see their furry green feet all lined up in a row as I go to collect their fallen branches. I know they are watching me, and they are not the only ones.
“It looks like two giant legs in a pair of thermal long johns!” passing hikers would sometimes say, not inaccurately, of the luminous entrygates to the earthy lichenous home I used to share with mother, father and uncle, three hills away from here. I doubt I’ll ever see it again in all three of its dimensions but I can at least stare at an abstract representation of it in The Master’s living room if I want to. It might not be much but it’s helpful if I’m ever missing conversing with one of my kind or feeling a desire to get back in touch with my more primal, hideous self. The Master has painted a lot of treescapes but I think it stands as one of his best. Despite its experimental nature, it also gives a genuine feel of the place as it was in the autumn of 2020, when he first dragged me from its root system towards propriety and job security. He has never actually told me in words that the painting was a present for me but I intuited the nature of his intentions from the supportive hand he placed on my shoulder the first time I set eyes on his work, shortly after he hung it directly opposite the broken jumblesale Greyhound basket where I sleep. A look passed between us then, and I realised at that point what a good Master he was, at heart.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” he said, after we’d stood there in silence for a couple of minutes, contemplating the swirls in the canvas. “When you are balling my socks up and filing them, please can you make sure they’re always very tightly balled, more in sort of a rectangular shape than a ball actually, and definitely still in their original coupling?”
The Master has asked me to be very careful to be considerate to the welfare of these as I perform my cleaning tasks. Therefore, if one is in the sink, I will do my best to work around it. I have only eaten five in my fourteen month tenure here, and in my defence, two of those were by accident, while excitably licking a moss pyramid that had formed on a foraged log.
1986 SMASH HITS ANNUAL
Even having bettered myself considerably in life since moving here, I am always keen to better myself further still, and make great use of The Master’s library during the times when I am not mopping, vacuuming, polishing, ironing, cooking, filing, gathering wood or performing other small tasks he refers to as “life admin” (e.g. rebuilding and modernising the conservatory). I note that he has an inordinate amount of books featuring either troubled cowboys or disappointing 1950s parties. Right now I am simultaneously reading a collection of Cynthia Ozick stories (acerbic and brilliant) and A Dictionary Of Fairies by Katharine Briggs (fully of pithy observations but rarely grounded in fact). Sometimes, though, just like everyone else I prefer to switch off and read something purely for the fun of it. I think 1986 is my favourite of all the annuals produced by the music magazine Smash Hits in its mostly glorious 28 year lifetime. I know each of the pages almost off by heart by now. It’s great for deep insights about famous people, such as that Howard Jones likes DIY, Indian restaurants and the Lake District, and Alice Cooper’s boa constrictor was fatally bitten by the live rat it was being fed for breakfast on June 5th, 1977. It’s also extremely informative for anyone who would like to find out which celebrities were born on the same day as them. Cher, it turns out, shares The Master’s birthday, which makes sense, as I have always felt the two of them would get on. It also transpires that Dennis Waterman, the star of the TV show Minder, and I were born precisely 712 years apart, which makes us both Aquarius-Pisces cusp. As I flick through the pages and take the cultural temperature of a world three and a half decades gone, I find myself idly fantasising about meeting some of the other attractive people featured and asking them about their passions and hobbies. How did Stephen Tin Tin Duffy feel about the smell of rotting bracken? Did Andrew Ridgeley ever voluntarily ruin the mind of a horse? There are so many nuggets of priceless information in the book but each only makes you ravenous for more.
DEAD SWIMMING SOULS OF THE HIGH MOOR
Mostly these don’t bother me overly much, except during the times when the river that flows directly past the house is high and the posthuman screams that reverberate off the boulders beneath the water are at their most discordant and horrifying. Because it’s winter, and the rainfall is heavy here in the uplands, it’s quite noisy out there right now. I can normally drown it out with some hi-energy 1980s hip-hop but that doesn’t always suffice. Yesterday I distinctly heard Millicent Trencham fly by on the current and, unavoidably, the sound of her drowned banshee wailing took me back to the day in 1893 when I sent her to an unquiet grave by bursting out of an abandoned arsenic mine at dusk, screaming the cheeky death song of my kind. She had a weak heart, which would never have taken her past her 38th year, but I know that’s no real excuse. It will be a few weeks until she returns. She’ll have to go to the sea, get sucked back up into the clouds as rainwater, then fall on the hillside of her demise once again before trickling down the slope into the river near its source, and all that can take a while.
There will be others, too, and I will endure the sound of their eternal pain, plagued by it, repentant for it, but also aware that the creature that caused it – that thing – was me only in appearance. He is gone now, almost. Besides, there are just as many times when the water is mellow, barely more than a trickle. The Master will be off somewhere living it up and I’ll have the place to myself. I’ll stand out there, a glass of wine in my hand, listening to the innocuous babble beneath me and all the other soothing sounds of a still summer night. I’ll maybe even have a lamp or two lit indoors – just for ambience, of course. You really wouldn’t believe the calmness of this place on nights like that. You’ll trace your eyes along the strong thriving branch of a tree and look at the leaves attached to the end and they won’t be moving at all. Not even a shimmer. Despite the warm conditions, it will be almost as if they are frozen in some unnatural state.
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