Enda’s Island: a short story in three parts (part III)

January 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Continued from Enda’s Island: a short story in three parts (part II)

What’s the weirdest dream you’ve ever had? I don’t know, Enda, replied his mother, something to do with knitting, perhaps? Yes, mum, how did you know? That’s exactly what I was thinking! I had a dream last night about a huge whale. It had been knitted out of something oily, like hair with tar on it, and it was hanging up in a massive building like a church or a cathedral – like a huge joint of meat in a butcher’s window. Mmm, I can’t top that … she replied. I was thinking more along the lines of an anxiety dream that I once had, about a big green jumper that I was knitting for your father … it kept coming undone. I think it might have had something to do with that darned data set that never seemed to come together … anyway, hurry up with your breakfast, Neil’s arriving soon.

Neil Hue was due to join them on the island later that morning. He was a writer with a particular interest in archaeological illustration and had agreed to examine the journals that Enda was taking care of while the ‘swallowed man’ recovered in Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Enda’s mother had emailed Neil some photos that she had taken of pages from the journals; with characteristic efficiency, he had smoothly sorted out the difficult logistics of travel to the island from his base near Lausanne. They were due to meet him off the tiny boat that occasionally carried birdwatchers to their island from Barra which, for them, had the nearest conventional transport links to mainland Scotland.

Neil stepped awkwardly off the boat onto the decaying jetty. He was carrying an elegant suitcase and an expensive looking black leather folio. He was a slightly built man who wore delicate tortoiseshell spectacles beneath a glossy mane of well maintained hair. Always dapper, he bore a pallid complexion that belied his name. Enda liked Neil Hue – in spite of the fact that he was a man of few words. Enda took hold of the plush suitcase and loaded it into the Land Rover, taking care to avoid the worst of the dirt that encrusted every inch of the vehicle’s surface.

Well, let’s take a look, shall we …

On returning to the Black House, Neil had wasted little time before opening the first of the leather bound journals, wrinkling his nose in slight disdain at the faint fishy odour that wafted up to his nostrils. The first drawing that caught the writer’s attention was from a volume that carried the title Peruvian Sketchbook on its opening page. Surrounded by notes written in a spidery hand that could have come straight from one of Leonardo’s Codexes was a drawing of a dog with an egg-shaped head. Mmmm … very strange, he muttered. What do you think … he said, looking intently at Enda’s mother. You’re the osteoarchaeologist? Enda’s mother, who was, in fact, an expert in animal bones, looked back with an expression that combined thoughtfulness with amusement. Dunno, she said … might have stopped it from barking I suppose … It actually looks like some kind of binding ritual. Perhaps dogs were venerated in Peru? Like cats in Ancient Egypt.

Canis familiaris (from Peruvian notebooks)

This gets better, said Neil, Look at this one. They all crowded round the second of the journals, titled Polynesian Sketchbook. It’s a shark’s jaw encrusted with a full set of human teeth. Very Damien Hirst … He said this with a smile, his mildly continental accent betraying the many years that he had spent in Switzerland. What do you reckon? Well some of those islanders used to put cowrie shells in the eyes of skulls, she replied. Perhaps it’s some kind of offering to a shark god? It must have been a small reef shark by the size of it – same size jaw as that of a man. Also, quite a bit of work removing all of the shark teeth and reshaping the cartilage so perfectly like that … or it could have been a mermaid … she said, smiling at Enda.

The style of these drawings is inconsistent. I don’t think they were done by the same person. Look at this one – there’s no real shading and it seems to bear a Japanese influence. Neil surreptitiously shielded the erotic drawing from Enda’s view, so that only his mother could see it.

Neil then turned page after page revealing, by turns, a delicate engraving on the tooth of a hare, the bleached bones of a strange, exotic plant, the jawbone of a cave bear with an extra set of teeth, a skull with a third eye set into its domed forehead …

Skull with third eye (from Bolivian sketchbook)

There’s a blue burial here, look, it’s a gorgeous colour even though it’s faded a bit. Isn’t there a yellow one that you are investigating at the moment? Enda’s mother peered down at the page, at the delicate sketch of human bones arranged in a foetal position. Yes, the one we’re looking at has got a lot of yellow ochre associated with it. If you include the Red Lady at Paviland that makes the three primary colours: blue, yellow and red! Although, of course, interjected Neil, the primaries are quite a modern concept – though I do believe that the Ancient Greeks had a concept of simple colours: white, black, red and something like green …

Blue Burial, Uist, Outer Hebrides

So, asked Enda’s mother, changing the subject, have we heard any news about our swallowed friend? Well, said Neil, he’s conscious and verbal, after a fashion. He’s raving constantly in some form of eastern Mediterranean or middle eastern dialect but no-one can understand what he’s trying to say. His name is John according to his passport and the theory is that he must have fallen off one of the ferries during the storm a few days ago. Unless, of course, he was pushed … you know the story of course … How he survived the experience physically is anyone’s guess, but what it’s done to his mind is hard to imagine – just picture it – being squeezed in there in the total darkness with that awful stink and only the half digested squid for company. That great heartbeat ringing in your ears … no wonder he’s waking up at night wild eyed with terror.

Enda’s mother nodded with unusual graveness. Well, lets hope he recovers … I expect it’s a pretty unusual situation for counselling, even if they could understand him.

Neil continued to silently peruse the pages, flicking past a unicorn’s burial, past scale drawings of massive representations of tattooed Egyptian gods, past the jawbone of a whale, similarly tattooed . He looked at his watch. It was getting late, the light was finally fading, midsummer nights were long at this high latitude. Well, it’s an early start for me if I’m going to catch the morning tide, he said.

Early the following morning, as they waved goodbye to Neil and the engine of the boat went from a harbour chug to the roar that accompanied its pressing through the north atlantic swell, Enda remembered the short story that he had heard on the radio a day or two before, the one about St Brendan’s voyage. Since then, he had lain awake in bed at night, imagining journeys to enchanted islands populated by fleas, mice and whispering winds – perhaps to distant lands of ice and fire. He knew also that his dreams might be different tonight, infected by poetic thoughts of long, deep nervous impulses passed along the spinal cord of a sperm whale, impulses carrying strange images of a peculiar intimacy shared between a swallowed man and a monster of the deep.

Lewis Longbarrow January 2011

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