Patrick

‘Ok, here’s the problem with making giant wagers based solely on pride,’ Patrick Marber thought as he slammed his way through Clive Owen with the pneumatic accomplishment of a fuck-mental bullock, ‘when pride is all you’ve got, the wager never ends.’

Then he thought, I should use that, the discovery of the new thought spurring his cock on like a greyhound to a rabbit. He howled, moans of ecstasy reverberating through the network of cave tunnels, echoes upon echoes bouncing off the cold wet stone, multiplying one on top of the other, building, rising like the swell from his balls until he reached his peak. He flipped Clive onto his back and came a ghostly ship’s rope onto his chest and stomach. He looked down at the sperm pooling on Clive’s porcelain skin, bleached by months underground.

“That’s your breakfast,” Patrick snarled at him, and walked away, still erect and beasting half a pint of river water. He filled his cup from the waterfall that took pride of place in his bed-chambers and saw it off in a single draught.

As he stalked down the tunnel to The Great Hall, he ran one hand along the wall of the cave, collecting a slick palm of cool water and using it to soothe his angry balls. A soft murmur of young voices started to crawl up the passage. How many believers lived in this jagged spiderweb of tunnels, thought Patrick Marber, acclaimed playwright of Dealer’s Choice, how many little flies, trying to love their way towards truth, wriggling, squealing, thrashing against life itself. How long had they – ?

A thought overtook him and he turned left at a fork in the rock, away from The Hall. He followed flickering torchlight towards the voices, towards his private nursery. The tunnel opened into a large cavern carved into the rock. The room was washed with orange warmth from the large fire in the centre of the chamber. Rows of rows of small wooden cots hugged the walls, over two dozen, each cradling a small babe.

The wetnurses were attending to the fire when he entered, looking up at the sight of him. Patrick Marber, star of The Day Today, smiled and each of them burst into grateful tears. He ran his eyes across his fleet of newborn seed, none of them older than two months.

“Are they healthy?” he growled at the nearest nurse.

“They drink more milk that we can produce,” apologised Brenda, the elder of the two, “their suction, chief of my soul, they’re drawing blood.”

“Yes,” nodded Patrick, “they are the Sons of Marber. You are preparing them for the Truth.”

“Yes, my chief. Yes, of course,” Brenda simpered.

“Patrick Fourteen is hungry.”

“Yes,” she said, bowing her head and walking away, unbuttoning her blouse with shaking fingers.

He continued on, past the rest of his squirming progeny, down another dank tunnel. The passage curved to the right and came to an abrupt halt in front of a sheet of a dark red cloth, guarded as usual by Sweet Blind George. Only Patrick was allowed to view the calendar and, to best perform his duty as the sacred guard, Sweet George had voluntarily taken his own eyes with a hot spoon.

“It’s me, George,” whispered Patrick, inches away from the young man, standing to attention as he always was.

“I knew it was you,” spoke George softly. “I always know.”

Patrick Marber clasped the back of his neck and pulled him in for a kiss, wet and tender. George opened his mouth and accepted Patrick’s tongue, which scoured his palate like it was looking for barnacles. After a full minute, Patrick released him.

“Thank you,” whisper George.

“No, George,” spoke Patrick, his fingers gently caressing the young man’s eyelids, closed over empty sockets. “Thank you.”

He pulled back the curtain and walked into the small antechamber. In the half-light, it appeared as if the room was empty, save for a small table with a hammer and chisel resting upon it. However, as he moved closer, the torchlight picked out small, deep ridges cut into the far wall. The 50 year old comic actor, still naked, still hard, took up the hammer and chisel, and with the raw strength you’d expect from an Oxford graduate, chipped one more notch into the stone. He stood back and counted them, one by one.

Three hundred and sixty-five.

*

One year ago, Patrick Marber awoke in his cramped Wimbledon flat. Unwilling to meet the sun’s aggressive demands, he turned over, tugging his covers, which dislodged an empty pizza box and three bottles of Westons cider. Patrick lay there, and inside his head he was falling.

He fell fast, sick and dizzy, backwards through years, decisions and disappointed faces. He saw triumphs flash past him and disappear, saw faces of loved ones fling by as he plummeted through his forties, saw Catherine’s face deform from happiness to tearful anger and she was gone before he could slow his thoughts. He torn downwards through his thirties, the plays at the National, the champagne glasses smashing together, the young, smug fucking on the kitchen floor. Down he went, through his twenties, his belly bulging with beer, the TV years, Day Today and Partridge and radio and stand-up all swirling together in a giddy headlong rush of brave laughter. Oxford streaked past him and Wimbledon High, the sting of gravel tearing across the palm of his hand, the lurch of awkward emotion and down still on, his mind in freefall, until the ground came up and he smashed into that one memory, that jagged rockland, he slammed into it with a recognition that almost made him scream.

“Patrick,” whispered his Nana, skeletal in her bed, “Patrick.”

He reached out and clasped his Nana’s head, his fingers instinctively feeling for the loose skin that was no longer loose.

“Patrick… write me into one of your stories,” she said, her voice breaking with sadness, plump tears forming along the lids of her cloudy eyes. “And tell people I did more. More than I did.”

Two days later she had died, in his mother’s arms. They put her in the ground in St Willens Cemetary, and he’d been driven home in his little suit. As soon as he got to his desk, he took out the fountain pen he used to write his stupid stories about pirates and space doctors.

My Nana, he wrote, By Patrick Marber, age 11.

My nana leaved by the seaside and worked as an assistant in a clinic. But so much more than that, she was

He wanted to put space doctor, but he’d written loads of stories about them. Maybe a pilot, or a circus clown. Which was as far as he’d got. He had been called downstairs to be cheered up by one of his uncles, and he had put the story away.

He opened his eyes, brushed off the duvet, and hauled himself upright. The light from the window played with the dust in the air, long fuzzy walls of the stuff in his cramped bedroom. His eyes travelled to the calendar on the wall. A series of red crosses led slowly, awfully, towards a red circle, in which was written, simply, Doomsday.

He spat in his hand, threw it at the wall, and rose out of bed, reaching for his dressing gown as he neared the door.

He trudged downstairs, navigating the cigarette butts littering the carpet like dead wasps, as he meandered towards the kitchen. As he pushed the door open he was greeted by his sink, a wanker full of plates. The countertops were murals of stains, and mugs full of green tufts populated the small, ceramic room like headstones in a sparse, overgrown graveyard.

Clive Owen was seated at the table, smiling up at him with a puppy-dog look of faithful gorm, his hands clutching a small red box. It had a small gold bow stuck atop slapdash wrapping, and upon Patrick’s arrival, he held it up in both hands, big lovely eyes full of fucking nothing.

“Oh, Clive,” said the acclaimed author of Closer, “torturing me with treats.”

Clive blinked, a reflex to acknowledge that yes, something has been said, and continued to hold out the package. Patrick sighed, took it from him and sat at the cluttered wooden table, messy with empty packets of marlboro gold and increasingly stern letters from the council. He set the package on the table and reached into the pocket of his dressing gown. He pulled a battered notepad from it and small pencil. He scribbled:

You tried to keep it a secret from me, Patch.

He looked up at Clive, who stared back, then down at the package, then back at him. One day, thought Patrick, maybe before I die, I will feel that silly bliss. He went back to scribbling in his pad. A few moments passed in silence, before Patrick ripped the page from the pad and handed it to Clive. He took it eagerly and studied it, eyes narrowing as he took it in. Clive folded the paper and put it the breast pocket of his jacket, then sat back with a newfound prescence and charm.

“You tried to keep it a secret from me, Patch,” he said, sliding the gift toward Patrick with the palm of his hand.

“If I were capable of keeping secret from you, my boy,” he said, running a fingernail under a tab of tape, “my life would be significantly less eventful.”

“I’m the only event you’ve got, Patch. But I’m the main event.”

Patch winced a little. It didn’t sound as good as he thought it would, but Clive was a professional, he went for it with both barrels. He tore a scrap of paper off the small box with a swipe.

He popped the lid of the box to reveal, nestled in a bed of pink tissue paper, a badge. It was large, about the size of coffee mug bottom, light blue, with the number 49 emblazoned across it. He smiled.

“Very close.” Patrick took it from the box and studied it in the morning light. “It’s the nicest lie I’ve ever seen.”

“Well, to be fair, Patch,” said Clive, smiling at him, “you’ve built quite a lovely life on sharing them, writing them, people gave you awards for them. You deserve one of your own.”

Patrick’s smiled faded, and he placed the pin back on the table.

“Well, this place, these love letters from Her Majesty’s servants,” he said, indicating the pile of bills, “the last few years… the time for lying might be behind me, dear lad.”

Clive reached across and placed a large warm hand over his. He rubbed Patrick’s knuckles with his thumb. It was soothing beyond measure.

“Don’t let The Tenderness of Fire bother you, Patch. Not today. It might not have set the world on fire, but there’ll be others. You just need time.”

“I’ve had time,” he muttered to himself. “Time to build, time to love, but I went to bed and I seem to have lost twenty years.”

The rubbing of his knuckles stopped. Patrick looked up, Clive was staring at him, vacant once again, waiting. Patrick reached down towards the notebook, but decided against it. He sighed, extricated his hand from Clive’s and stood from the table.

He moved across the room to the small rusted agar that occupied a corner of the room. Patrick knelt, pulled a clasp and creaked open one of the metal doors. He peered inside. Collected in the small tray under the grill was a heap of burnt paper. He reached in and pulled out a handful of ash. It was mostly burned beyond legibility, but buried in the remains was a small, partially-destroyed headline: “..ness of Fire: the flameout of Patr…”

He rubbed the ash from his hands onto the floor, but the ash seemed to remain, stain his hands. He clapped his hands together violently, slapping at the dirt, which startled Clive. After a few moments of violence, Patrick calmed. His hands were just grey now. They were just old hands, discoloured, pale and thin.

He closed the agar door, entombing the pile of torched reviews, and returned to the table. He took up his notepad once more and scribbled a single line, before handing the page to Clive, who scanned it, pocketed it then knelt before Patrick. He opened his dressing gown and began to suck with gentile deference on Patrick’s balls. Clive worked his shaft, before taking him in his mouth with a healthy amount of pressure and suction. As he worked a warm, flat tongue around the base of his chap, Patrick felt his anxieties peel away with a rising surge. He arced his back and gripped the edge of the agar with his fifty-year-old hands as the age fell away from him, thought after thought vacating his head as he crunched his eyes. He saw nothing but tight orgasmic black, was nothing but black, as he shuddered violently to climax. He leant back on the agar, panting, with his mind very slowly admitting new thoughts. The first thing to slowly dawn in his head was an idea, a base, vulgar, simple little idea.

When his strength returned to him, Patrick took up the notepad once again and wrote a few lines, handing them to Clive Owen.

“So,” Clive said to Patrick, after pocketing what he’d been given, and swallowing, “what does The Artist accomplish in his fifty-first year?”

Patrick looked down at him.

“Change. Truth. The meaningful work”

Clive laughed on cue. “You say that every time, and then you write a three-hander about a failing mill.”

“There’s meaning everywhere.”

“Course there fucking us, old boy,” said Clive, rising to his feet and gazing into Patrick’s eyes. “But just once, stop doing the rest us a favour by finding high-art in the simple things for the simple folk.”

“People want scenarios they recognise, Clive. They want poker games and relationships and…”

“Well how about this year, you create what you want.” Clive kissed him again. “Try it, try not being clever, try naked drama, fucking and screaming. Try mad new worlds… and Gods.”

Clive smiled at him, as he had been scripted, before saying:

“I’ll bet you a bottle of wine that you can’t.”

With that, Patrick smiled, and stuck his hand down the front of Clive’s chinos, gripping him with a large understanding firmness.

*

The recruitment hadn’t been hard, it was a project that drew a lot of attention in the underground cafe art scene. Whispers were circulated in coffee holes with quilted sofas, tapestries of band flyers of the walls and quirky names for sandwich combos. The news trickled in and out of converted warehouses, communes of piercings and improvised quiches. Black and white bookazines, printed on recycled paper, carried news of it to pop-up bars under railway arches where obscure beers were sold by the can.

Patrick Marber had established a church.

He kept the details vague and simple. He wrote copy and emailed it to a few of the not-for-profit culture mags that still worshipped him.

I am in search of the naked truth, the clarity of thought, fleeting and blinding that arrives to us only in the wake of a shattering orgasm. We’re going to have sex together, write a book together, and use it to declare war on all the things that don’t matter. Come and fuck.

The first meeting, in the upstairs theatre space of a mouldy pub in Islington (artfully-exposed brick, with bunting), had taken place within the week. He had bought a giant roll of white paper, almost as tall as he was, from an art store. He’d laid the paper across the floor until it covered the entire space, a crisp, pearly carpet, or as he told the crowd that slowly began to assemble, the “cum canvas.” All guests were given sharpies, a wink and polite but firm instructions to leave their shoes by the door. Then the brief was simple: have sex and scrawl whatever post-ejacule truths came to them.

The only problem was the amassed throng of people, which were rather anaemic both collectively and on an individual basis. There were seven semi-starved and self-consciously shabby men, and two women who arrived together and very shortly left together. Patrick Marber had done his best with the “brothers of truth” that remained. He’d tied a loose string of colourful paper lanterns along one wall, put some orange gels in the lighting rig, and played Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ through the sound system on a loop, but the ensuing lovemaking had been nervous, self-conscious and merely functional. The men had been scared but thankfully their cowardice was the new generational sort that propelled them towards uncomfortable situations for fear of lost experience, rather than away out of basic self-preservation. There just wasn’t a lot of eye contact.

After the last of the men had left, a nice mid-twenties lad called George, who’d been the vital first of the seven to opine about ‘giving it a go’ (and had basically forced everyone else’s hand in doing so), Patrick beasted a carton of Tropicana, made a half-hearted attempt to scrub sharpie from his upper thighs, and set about examining the sporadic pen scribbles that were dotted around patches of bodily fluid on the paper carpet, black outlines around sweat angels.

They too were disappointing, nervous and functional. One read, “that was nice” with a pathetic little smiley face as companion. Another simply read “I didn’t want to say this during, but I’m big fan of Dealer’s Choice.” The others ranged from the banal (“Can I go, I don’t know what this was”) to the cod-philosophic, (“I feel empty like all the thrown away shoes”) to the frankly incomprehensible (lunatic scrawls that probably resulted from fucks with open sharpies in hand). Patrick was disheartened and contemplated packing in the entire enterprise, when he saw something written near a damp patch in the corner.

“I just brought a man to issue before I asked his name. We shared nothing but sensation, and rhythm, which we found wordless, together. We made a reckoning of beasts. I have no shame, nor fear.”

It was signed “George.”

It could work, thought Patrick. It was simply a monkeys and typewriters situation. He would need to be more ambitious in terms of turnout.

He dipped into the last of his savings and reissued his advertisement in a wider range of publications, from quarter pages in TimeOut to the entire back cover of the London Metro. His invitation to the masses was the same, word-for-word, with one exception. He added at the end:

Clive Owen will be there.”

*

Within a month, he had a small army of Bacchanalian journalistas, rutting and reporting with increasingly satisfying results. So many of his followers had effused to him the therapeutic quality of these “fuckology” sessions, as they’d been collectively christened, that he’d started to charge a modest subscription fee. The cash flow allowed him to rent better venues, buy more pens, and also lots of mops.

He found that Fuckology was supremely attractive to the wayward and nomadic, the wandering youth who prized the pursuit of truth over the pursuit of rent. Soon his Wimbledon home was over-stuffed with scantily-clad and nubile squatters, twentysomething adventurers who slept cross-limbed, arse-in-air and three to the bath.

Any discomfort that he felt, navigating full-nude Shawns and Rebeccas on his way down the stairs were more than assuaged by a burgeoning hero-worship offered to him by his resident nymphs and the frequent egg breakfasts brought to him in bed. As he chewed through a plate of peppered and scrambled he turned to Clive, who lay next to him, looking up at him with bright eyes and tousled hair.

“We need a bigger place,” whispered Patrick Marber, author of After Miss Julie, placing his finished plate down on the bare arse of a sleeping face-down woman called Tamara.

Clive looked at him, with a loyal vacancy in his face.

“Yes,” murmered Patrick, “a bigger place.”

The caves were George’s idea. He was the only follower who’d attended every Fuckology session and his loyalty to the cause was steadily growing fanatical. It was George who mostly provided the eggs.

“It’s a system of caverns that run underneath the Cornish coastline,” said the young lad, placing a map of the county on the kitchen table, after clearing away a feisty round of Eggs Benedict. He spoke with a flattened Cornish accent, but with distilled native fervour. He continued, “I used to explore the caves with my dad when … when he was alive.”

George stifled a private moment without meeting the eyes of any of the followers gathered around the table, most of them nude.

“The entrances get the occasional amount of tourist traffic, but as you move deeper,” he pointed to the far east of the map, “more inland, past Saltash, more towards Callington, no one’s down there.”

The followers were apprehensive. The idea of moving underground was certainly on-brand and the prospect of rutting truth into the world around a fire made at least thematic sense, but… well, what about amenities? The group looked to Patrick. None of them had any wish to betray the integrity of Fuckology’s minimalist vibes, but none of them had a particular yen to wipe their arse with a rock either.

“Impressive,” nodded Patrick, speaking slowly and carefully, so as not to betray his own desire not to live in a world of faecal compromise, “but I’m a little concerned about hygiene. After all, to stifle the libido would be to stifle the very means of achieving our sexual destiny.”

The crowd cooed with appreciation and a young backpacker called Pavel reached over and began to give Patrick a slow, deferential handjob.

“Well,” said George, his big eyes glinting with earnest, “there’s a series of cuts in the rock on the outskirts of Liskeard. The ground’s thin, there’s a few narrow gorges in the rock that lead underground. This river,” he said, pointing out a crooked little blue mark on the map, “this runs into the cavern beneath, like a waterfall. It’s cycled through.”

“That’s bathing taken care off, and drinking water after boiling,” said Patrick. The room murmured in agreement, and Pavel began to speed up.

“I’ve been spelunking down a couple of these ravines, they’re all connected to the cave network, we could set up pulley systems for waste and supply runs?”

Patrick’s orgasm was building. The room fell silent. Two dozen young men and women gazed at him in anticipation, mouths slightly open, eyes wide with something that had grown into love. Clive was sat in the corner with his hands on his knees, looking straight ahead. Patrick came long and hard, throwing his head back with a blast of ejaculation. He breathed out, heavy and slow, lowered his head, blinked and with his mind empty and pure, said:

“Let’s do it.”

Within the fortnight, they had moved into the caves, nearly four hundred followers in total. They had emptied their meagre bank accounts to buy tinned food and bedding, which had taken a full day to transport down into the caves. Fifty days from penning his first call to arms in the art rags of London, Patrick Marber stood in a large black rock cavern, framed in front of a clear waterfall cascading from the jagged ceiling. He stood in front of his fleshy subjects, with his cock in one hand and a sharpie in the other. Everyone had notebooks tied around their necks with string.

That night, they fucked and they wrote, copious amounts of both.

*

The next morning was cold. It took three hours to light a fire, and the church, for the first time, began to falter. In the freezing light of the morning, the honeymoon glow finally faded for a vocal subsection of the crowd.

Patrick spoke to the assembled masses by the (eventual) fire light. They were stood in the biggest cavern that the scout team had found, now dubbed The Great Hall. It was where the mainstream of the fucking would take place, but now it was full of apprehensive tension.

Patrick spoke to them of their mission, their purpose. They would ball each other out in the name of primal, essential truth. The world above them couldn’t hold. It was built on unreality, on sexual frustrations and overthinking, stifled and on the brink of explosive violence. It would fall apart and it would be up to them to lead a new way, with a new gospel. They would fuck, they would write, they would collect their thought into the First Book of Fuckology, a bible for a world of pleasure and peace.

Patrick Marber paused. He could see a great many erections in the crowd, and was certainly working on his own, but there was still doubt in the air.

“I give you my word,” he spoke further, his voice rebounding off the rock walls, “we shall continue this experiment for three months, then we shall return to the surface to evaluate our position. Who’s with me?!”

There was a cheer from the crowd. Sharpie lids popped to the ground and everyone grabbed a partner.

Time passed strangely. After a few days, Patrick imposed an irregular routine on his people. Some days would pass usually – sixteen hours awake & eight asleep, others would be spent with regular short periods of sleep intersected with long stretches of exercise and other group activities. Sometimes they would go fifty hours awake at a time, so as to achieve a blissful delirium. The waterfall chamber, with the only available views of the sky above, he had made his private living quarters. He would permit his followers entrance to bathe only at night (for ‘allure purposes’, officially). After a month without seeing natural light, time became a malleable tool for the author of Don Juan In Soho.

They celebrated their first month underground three separate times, and it wasn’t questioned by his congregation. Sleep-deprived confusion and constant sex-induced delirium kept his people pliable, even as the newborns began to arrive.

“Sixty days underground. Such an achievement!” he would roar to his pale, frotting masses. Four weeks later they would celebrate “Two months of survival. The truth has never been closer!”

Patrick would keep the calendar, and with every notch he carved into the stone, they moved deeper and deeper into the darkness.

*

Patrick stared at the scarred wall in front of him. Three hundred and sixty-five notches. He counted again, and again reached the same number.

His fifty-first year was over.

He looked at his hands. They were still old. They were paler now, almost bone white.

He left the anti-chamber in a daze. The passage of time had stunned even him. He could’ve sworn he had been miscounting all this time. As he turned down the passage, mind full, he nearly bumped into George, who flinched. Patrick took the young lad’s cheek in his hand, and George, his most loyal, most devout acolyte nuzzled into it like a pup to his master’s palm.

“My beautiful boy,” said Patrick softly, barely above a whisper, “you’ve served me so well.”

“Is it time?” asked George, in his near-subliminal Cornish twang.

“It is,” Patrick replied, kissing him lighly, taking him by the hand and leading him towards the Great Hall.

Passing back through the nursery, he gestured over one of the least tired wet-nurses and ordered her to run ahead, shout through the corridors and passageways, the cooking stations and water containers, the living nooks and music chamber, the niche corner for the niche fucking and niche writing, the BDSM cavern, the vanilla quarters and the tucked-away Taboo Cave. The message: assemble.

There would be, the first in Fuckology’s vaunted history, a reading.

He led George onwards through the flame-flickered darkness. They moved gingerly, tenderly, the warmth of George’s hand in his a source of great comfort to Patrick, whose heart was racing with his great experiment’s imminent conclusion. He would finally open and read The First Book of Fuckology, the culmination of a full year of orgasm-fuelled musing, a towering work born of determination, sacrifice and enough ejaculate to drown a village. It could well be the work that defined not only his entire career, but a whole generation of sexual youth. His heartbeat only increased as he neared the Great Hall, the thumping in his chest growing deafening as the chittering sound of his public echoed towards him through the crooked passage.

The Great Hall smelled like spoiled Thai food and vinegar, the full-bodied odour of sex in vast numbers. The blacks walls gleamed with slick, savoury sweat, illuminated by the large fires built in an oval, the contours of the giant chamber. The walls were smeared with black greasepaint, large ceremonial symbols dotted evenly around the cavern. They were mostly of wangs.

As Patrick entered the Hall, meagrely-clothed men and women were still rushing in from passages cut into the walls, little alleys criss-crossing off into the darkness. In the light of the fires, his followers, hairy and eager, looked healthy, the amber glow giving their skin a warm, almost human, colour. Their talk subsided at the sight of their leader, Patrick Marber, award-winning playwright.

He stood before them, as proud and erect as a flagpole. The firelight flickered over his bare torso, his rippling nudity. He raised one hand in the air, the hush was snapped out to total silence. Throughout the Great Hall stood four hundred souls, with strong knees, notebooks tied around their necks and really honed cardio. For the last year, these people, his people, these young and brave sexplorers had attempted to chart the fringe’s of human consciousness, to take that momentary burst of orgasmic clarity, and extend it, document it. That flash of sheer void that overrode the senses at the point of climax, they had tried to, by duplicating it in feverish constancy, stretch it out, walk around in it, truly know it.

“The book,” boomed Patrick Marber, acadamy award nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay, holding out a hand. One of the co-editors stepped forward, clutching a thick tome. The covers were a burgundy leather and it was thick than several phonebooks, crammed with loose sheets of paper torn from neck-adorned notebooks. The pages had been arranged into a thematic order under Patrick’s strict direction. The more immediate, urgent, bestial post-coital musings were to be arrange at the front, with the bible progressing onwards in a gradual regaining of lucidity, until fully formed, near-poetic thoughts were to be catalogued toward the book’s end. The brief was, in accordance with the basic principles of Fuckology, that Man’s essential nature would be revealed as you journeyed through the work, with uncontrollable id receding to give forth, from pure pleasure, an uncorrupted profundity.

He held the book aloft.

“How the fuck about this then!!!” he yelled, and Patrick’s followers roared and clapped their appreciation. He motioned for silence.

“For the first time,” he said, “I shall read from the book.”

His people slowly lowered themselves to the floor, until they were all sat, cross-legged on the slick rock. Patrick let the tension play out for a few moments, scanning the sea of expectant, giddy faces. He peeled open the book. The first scrap of paper was simply scribbled all over in sharpie, like a toddler’s drawing. He flipped through opening pages to find scores of such scribbles. Finally he found words, long gutteral cries and wails.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh” he read out loud to the masses, who cheered and howled along with him.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuucccckkkkkkkkk” he bellowed. And so it went for dozens of pages, Patrick reading the barely comprehensible moans that had been scribbled onto paper by his spent believers, who echoed his cries. He flipped through, turning over pages in scores, trying to find the point, the dawning of consciousness. He found it, the first full sentence. He read it aloud.

That was good,” he proclaimed, and the crowd cheered once again. A truthful thought! Primitive, formative, but real. It had been good. Patrick turned the page.

That was super nice.”

The crowd murmured in appreciation again, a bit quieter than last time. Patrick turned through the next thoughts.

I’m so sore.

My knees hurt.’

Man, that was great.’

I’m hungry.’

Patrick flipped further into the book, on a hunt for wisdom. He stopped when he found longer, formed sentences. Here was the good stuff, he thought, reason and wit slowly returning to the post-coital mind.

I feel like a flower, pulled from the Earth.”

Hmm, thought Patrick, that’s a bit cliché. He read on.

I am a cloud.

He turned a few pages.

Why does there have to be war?” he spoke aloud, “Why can’t we just do this?

His followers nodded in understanding, although some were looking a little sheepish, a little exposed. Patrick read the next few thoughts.

Does anyone really understand each other?’

‘We are all together when we have sex. It’s the best kind of together.’

‘We think in terms of being individual drops of rain. We should think of ourselves as one big ocean.’

Patrick looked at his church. He looked at their young faces.

Christ, he thought, this is shit.

He turned and saw George. His face was furrowed, difficult to read. Patrick flipped through a few more pages in desperation. He was assaulted by one weightless platitude after another. He started to feel a rising panic. Finally, he stopped turning, he’d found something a bit more real, pragmatic. He read aloud:

“We could really do with a few more places to bathe.”

He turned the page.

Hi, not sure if I should be using the paper for this, but wondered, what was it like working with Judi Dench in Notes On A Scandal?”

He tore the page out of the book. The assembled crowd gasped. He pressed on.

“I think Judy Wilkinson from the west caves has been hoarding tinned peaches. I saw her with three tins.”

He ripped another clump out of the book. The page fragments fluttered and span in the air.

“To be or not to be, that is the question. I choose to be.”

“I think I’m just having sex with the same few people over and over again”

“I really miss F.R.I.E.N.D.S.”

Patrick dropped the book. It landed on the ground with sick thud, and pages tumbled out from it like spilled innards. Someone in the crowd screamed. Everyone else was deathly silent.

Patrick stood, breathing heavily. He felt nauseous, light-headed. He was falling again, through the years, but a different way. He felt like he was observing himself rapidly age from a mewling, squealing infant, to a basic child, insipid teenager, arrogant youth, pragmatic adult and finally himself as he was now: lost, mundane, self-interested and ultimately, idle.

He looked at George again. This time he could decipher his furrowed brow, his stooped posture. He was heartbroken. My god, thought Patrick, there had never any method. There hadn’t been any keys to unlocking new thought. George had just been a talented writer.

He had never felt so old. His once invincible erection was a limp noodle stuck with sweat to his left thigh. At his feet lay a tome of worthless thought, confirmation of nothing, no truth other than that life had stripped away from Patrick the howls and idiocies of youth and left them unreplaced.

He looked down at the strewn sheets of paper. One in particular seemed to gleam up at him.

Wow. This is really hard.

Patrick turned and walked, in a daze, back to his chamber. The air grew less heavy, and there was a crisp coolness as he emerged into the wide cavern. The sky above, what little of it he could see through the cracks in the rock ceiling, was still dark. He reached his hand to the stream of water falling with a slosh into the bathing pool. It was ice cold. He cupped his hands and splashed himself in the face. He felt his thoughts clear, and the room come to focus.

He turned, and saw Clive Owen sitting on a pile of rocks, with his pretty, vacant face. Patrick crossed the room, approaching a small pile of personal items; clothes, books, blankets. From the jumble, he extricated a bottle of wine, a rather lovely Marcel Servin Chablis. He called over Clive, who trotted dutifully to his side.

“I guess this is yours,” said Patrick, handing the wine to Clive. “How about a toast, my boy? To The Artist’s fifty-second year.”

Clive smiled. Patrick smiled. Neither of them had a corkscrew.

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