Kosmic Kitchen by Chris Green
Mark is eighteen years old and like many others of his generation is not sure what to do with his life. He has not given it any serious thought. Plans are for straights. Plans are not cool. Something will land in his lap when the time comes; when the world realises how talented he is. Perhaps he’ll be a rock star, he imagines. He can sing Get Back just like Paul McCartney and on a good day play John’s guitar solo note for note. And he has written four of his own songs.
Mark is sitting; perhaps sprawling might be a better description, on a pile of paisley cushions in a room painted in psychedelic patterns. Although it is hot outside the windows are closed and a haze of blue smoke hangs in the air. As soon as a joint gets near its end, one or other of Mark’s loose group of companions rolls another. People might drift in and drift out without ceremony, but while they are here, this is an unspoken house rule. Mark has only recently boarded the metaphorical starship, and is still a little disorientated by space, but the feeling of strangeness seems to him an altogether pleasant one.
Ummagumma is playing. Ummagumma is one of three LPs that are played in random rotation, along with Hot Rats and Trout Mask Replica. Ummagumma and Trout Mask Replica are double albums so perhaps that should be five. None are ever returned to their sleeves. Sometimes Electric Ladyland takes a turn or The White Album, although this is badly scratched on side two and sticks on Bungalow Bill. ‘What did you kill, what did you kill,’ ad infinitum. Led Zeppelin 2 completes the record collection but this does not leave its sleeve. Led Zeppelin are too popular and therefore, uncool. The cover, therefore, is just used for rolling joints on. Gold Leb is around at the moment, but Mark has a piece of Nepalese black, which he is saving for later.
Ummagumma is the best one for astral travelling, Mark thinks, especially Astronomy Domine. Pink Floyd are his favourite band. In between conversations with his fellow conspirators about mystic discovery, thought control and the brain police, Mark has the hots for Vashka. Vashka is about five feet ten and has recently arrived from the coast, or was it the moon. Short-term memory loss is a frequent problem. She came through the door, or was it the bathroom window, with a denim tote bag, an acoustic guitar, and a kite and said, ‘Hi. I’m Vashka. I’ve come to stay.’ She has taken her jeans off now to be more comfortable and is sitting in her pants but no one seems to have taken much notice, except Mark. She is a Sagittarius.
The cottage, which they are squatting, is called Kosmic Kitchen and is painted in bright colours outside, mostly orange and yellow, to attract visitors from outer space to this quiet corner of the middle of nowhere. Quasar comes from outer space, they suspect. Quasar arrived yesterday or maybe it was last week. (time disorientation is a frequent problem) in a jet-black left hand drive VW camper with runic symbols stencilled on the sides and is now asleep on a rug upstairs, dreaming perhaps about black holes and quarks. There is no proper furniture in Kosmic Kitchen, just one or two saggy mattresses and an assortment of mismatched cushions and rugs. As sleep is a last resort here on the frontiers of time and space, Quasar must have come a long way.
Nuala is driving to see a client in her GTE. She is listening to Nevermind. She likes Nirvana because Kurt Cobain killed himself with a gun. ‘I swear that I don’t have a gun,’ he is singing. The song is Come As You Are, recorded four years before he shot himself. Nuala is thirty four but on the phone, she says she is twenty eight. She is five feet ten but does not draw attention to her height. She is a dress size too big, through habitual overindulgence, but on the phone describes herself as nicely curved and calls herself Venus. She is Venus now in her short skirt and black stockings as she drives too fast down country lanes towards the place with the unpronounceable name. She describes her periodic amphetamine weight management programme as seeing Billy. She has seen Billy twice today. The GTE has a digital display speedo and she amuses herself by watching the orange numbers soar as she puts her foot down.
Her mobile phone rings. It is John from the agency. She does not know who John is and John does not know who she is. They have, as far as she is aware, never met. John phones her up at her home to let her know the numbers of prospective clients. She then calls them to arrange a time and place and after she has done the business she sends banknotes in an envelope to a PO Box. John is phoning her now on her mobile to tell her that the number the caller gave for this job does not check out with the information on his database. He says he has been trying to call her for ages, but it seems there is poor coverage in this quiet corner of the middle of nowhere.
Venus is apprehensive now. She does not know whether to go on or turn back. Some of the people in small Welsh villages have unusual sexual preferences. But, of course, there is the money. And what’s the worst that can happen? A few bruises maybe. ‘I love myself better than you,’ sings Kurt Cobain. The song is On a Plain. This is Nuala’s favourite. She turns it up and drives on, faster now.
Mark gets up and turns the record over. His mouth is dry. No one ever makes tea or coffee in Kosmic Kitchen. Perhaps there is none. Or if there is, there is almost certainly no milk or sugar. He is hungry. He is sure that there is nothing in the kitchen, other than some sunflower seeds, some shrivelled carrots and a bag of flour. He has a vague recollection that he checked the kitchen for comestibles earlier, or maybe it was yesterday. Nourishment does not the prime concern for the seasoned space traveller. The last time someone cooked was he thinks when Rollo made the acid pie, with a batch of the purple haze. This Mark reckons was three days ago. It certainly rocked the starship. The whole universe seemed to be melting at one point.
No one in the house has done any shopping for as long as he can remember, other than the occasional run to the garage for pasties and crisps in John’s A30 van. The nearest shop is four miles away, and John went off somewhere yesterday in the A30 van with Rabbit. And of course, Quasar is upstairs asleep, dreaming of matter and antimatter. Mark hopes someone will arrive soon with some chocolate. All things must pass and people do have the habit of dropping in unexpectedly in this haphazard corner of the cosmos.
‘Go with the flow,’ Maggot keeps telling him. ‘Light is light and shadow is shadow, like yin and yang. When you’re meant to go up, go up to the highest point and when you’re meant to go down, go down to the lowest point. Sometimes there is no flow. If there is no flow, then be still and wait for the flow to begin again. But never resist the flow.’
Maggot along with Maggie was one of the first to arrive at Kosmic Kitchen. They had considered calling it Maggie’s Farm, even Maggot’s Farm, but someone, perhaps it was Rockit, came up with the Kosmic Kitchen and the name just stuck. Mark sits down again, next to Vashka now. Marvin, who recently arrived from California, or was it Andromeda, hands him a fat spliff. Mark takes a greedy pull on it and feels revived. As Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun swirls around his consciousness he has visions of Venus and orange skies.
As the GTE powers its way through the Welsh hills, Nuala reflects on the time before she did all this running around the country. The ennui of daily repetition as she sat at home raising children and watching Pebble Mill, Neighbours, repeats of Dallas and mindless children’s programmes while Roy was out fixing boilers to bring home the bacon. Before the fire and before Holly and Polly were taken into care.
She remembers too, endlessly taking advantage of Roy’s naivety and trust. When early on in their relationship she had told Roy that she had a deep dark secret, he had said that it didn’t matter. So she had never told him about it. As she changes down into third to overtake a procession of slower cars, she remembers Roy accepting that she needed a break from twinkling little stars and the wheels on the bus going round and round. And that she liked to go out in the evenings, leaving him to clear up and put her girls to bed. And leaving him to do all the housework at weekends, while she went to the hairdressers or shopping on the High Street for shoes she never wore. And he did not seem to mind that she frequently came home noisily in the early hours. He may even have realised that she had a string of lovers. Surely it must have been obvious that she did not go out dressed like she did to go to evening classes or girly chats over a bottle of Liebfraumilch. And the messages men left for her on the answerphone must have hinted at her infidelity. Not that he ever complained on the occasions she woke him in the middle of the night to give her a good seeing to. What she is doing now she feels is not so very different from what she has always done, except that now she gets paid for doing it. And she loves the roar of the engine and the squeal of brakes as she negotiates a blind bend in the middle of the road and narrowly misses a cattle truck.
Mark is sitting in a coffee shop in Amsterdam with his friend, John. They are a little drunk and a little stoned. A blues band is playing Third Stone from the Sun, an old Jimi Hendrix song. Mark has just had an argument with his girlfriend, Sasha. She has stormed off, and John’s girlfriend, Laura has gone after her. The four of them have come to Amsterdam for a stress-free break from their nine to five jobs. After the initial regret about their argument, Mark feels relieved that Sasha has gone. Something was in the air between them all day. Nothing that he said or did met with her approval. Perhaps Sasha is premenstrual, he thinks. Why else would she get upset about the magazines that he had bought, or that he had suggested they take in a strip show instead of an Indonesian restaurant. They will make up later, he expects.
He apologises to John and orders two more pilsners for the two of them, and John lights a spliff to cool things down. They talk about Piet Mondrian, avant-garde cinema and Dutch taxi drivers. Mark has his eye now on a statuesque beauty with long dark hair who is standing with another girl at the other end of the bar. She is dressed in black and must be about five foot ten, he thinks, and she is wearing high heels. He remarks to John that the girl, who he is convinced is also giving him the eye, reminds him of Vashka. John agrees that she does at this moment in time present a tempting alternative to Sasha, but says that he never met Vashka. Mark tries to jog his memory, reminding him of the crazy days all those years ago at Kosmic Kitchen. John suggests that perhaps Vashka may have arrived after he had gone off with Rabbit to work on the oil rigs. Whatever happened to Rabbit? they wonder. Or Flipper? Or Jesus? And what about Dave and Dave Too? Do you remember when they used to sell acid along with hamburgers from the hot dog van? John asks. And what about Quasar? With his monologues about quantum theory. And ley lines. And orgone energy. Quasar was, they agree, a nutcase.
The band starts to play a slow traditional twelve bar blues. John expresses the need to relieve himself and goes off in search of the toilet. The girl dressed in black comes over flicking her hair back seductively as she does so. She produces a thin neatly rolled spliff from her handbag and asks Mark for a light. He swallows nervously and digs deep into his pocket for his lighter. She introduces herself. Her name she says is Nuala. Mark notices that she does not have a drink. They strike up a conversation about cocktails and he orders her a tequila sunrise. She says that she and her friend come to Amsterdam four or five times a year and that there is no place like it for getting your rocks off. She rubs her hand slowly down her thigh to communicate to Mark what she means. Mark tells her it is his first visit. Having said it, he feels at a disadvantage and a little apprehensive. He is more accustomed to being in control of the situation. He is not sure how to react with someone so forward. He looks round for John, who has not reappeared. The bar has suddenly become more crowded. A poster advertising Galaxy Coffee Shop catches Mark’s attention.
‘What star sign are you,’ he asks, out of desperation for something to say.
‘Sagittarius with Leo rising,’ she says. ‘And my moon is in Sagittarius too.’
‘A lot of fire there for someone who doesn’t have a lighter,’ remarks Mark.
Nuala does not seem to wish to pursue the astrological theme. Instead, out of the blue, she says, ‘I expect you’d like to come back to my room and fuck me .’
Mark is taken aback and wonders perhaps if she might be a prostitute, but does not want to ask. Sensing his concern, Nuala quickly clears up the misunderstanding, and giving Mark little chance to decline the offer leads him away by the hand.
Quasar is living on the island of Lanzarote in an imposing villa built out of black volcanic stone. To maximise its darkness, the doors and window frames are painted matt black, and the windows themselves are tinted. It is perhaps the largest house in the village and it blends in perfectly with the volcanic ash in which it is set, but stands out dramatically when viewed against the other buildings nearby, which are uniformly painted white. It is surrounded by a collection of arcane sculptures in various stages of completion. The largest of the sculptures, dominating the lunar landscape appears to be a model of the solar system. Some of the other pieces too seem to represent stellar objects. Another according to its plaque depicts the angel of death, and on the black tiled patio, there is a sinister study of a twisted human skeleton. There are also sculptures of erotically entwined limbs scattered at random amongst tenebrous towering cacti. The sculptures all have one thing in common; they are jet black. A tall radio mast stands in the grounds of the house and there is an immense satellite dish on the roof between the solar panels and the water storage tanks. An astronomical telescope is positioned to catch the light from the stars of the southern sky. The island is reputedly one of the best places in the world for stargazers to view the cosmos.
Quasar keeps himself to himself. To add to the mystique, he wears Arab dress and makes no attempt to learn to speak Spanish. If anyone speaks to him in English too he pretends not to understand. Given the potential for communication he has with other worlds, perhaps he doesn’t feel the need for social intercourse. He works in an underground studio where he plays reverberating electronic music that sounds as if it is coming from the bowels of the earth or perhaps the outer reaches of the Milky Way.
It is Thursday. A red Renault draws up outside Quasar’s gate and a Sylvia Krystel look-alike in a short red dress steps out. She looks conspicuous in this achromatic setting. Dogs bark and an old man outside the historic black and white church down the road makes the sign of the cross. Sylvia is about five feet ten and is wearing heels. A stiff breeze coming in from the Sahara lifts her dress as she makes her way across the picon. The front door opens and she disappears inside. She will stay for three hours, as she does every Monday and Thursday. The old man crosses himself once more. Set in tradition the people in the village understandably disapprove of Quasar. They view all of his activities with equal proportions of suspicion and fear. Rumours have circulated among them that he is a Satanist or worse, the devil. Some even believe he is a cannibal. Shortly, following the disappearance of a girl from a neighbouring village, the strength of bad feeling towards him will see him deported from the island.
Leo is twenty one. He is sitting at his desktop computer eating a poppy bagel and a kabano sausage. He has a bag of Doritos, a selection of dips that he bought earlier at Morrisons, and a glass of Belgian cider. He is catching up on the emails in his inbox. He has about two dozen, about half of which are introducing him to new mobile phone offers with hundreds of free minutes and free texts, or trying to sell him penis enlargements or Viagra. Does everyone receive these? he wonders. Others suggest ways to make his business more profitable. What business? Or try to sell him cheap software. All his software is unregistered, anyway. He does not need Guaranteed Cheapest Prices on Office 2007, Adobe CS3, or Quark. And he has never heard of Quasar. Perhaps it is a new web browser. He sets about deleting the mail, pausing briefly to read one or two messages that he thinks might be of interest.
Leo has been trying to trace his parents for several months now since he became aware that he had been adopted. He discovered that Dave Too and Vashka were not his real parents when he came home from university for the winter break to find the house empty and the Crosby Nash estate agents board outside. ‘Under Offer,’ it said. He phoned his paternal grandfather in Swindon, who had been glad to have someone to talk to about the slugs on his allotment and the new road they were building outside his house, despite protests from all the residents in his street and a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister. After a chat about his arthritis and the lamentable state of the NHS, Leo had managed to get a number that he could phone his father on.
‘I think there’s been a bit of a rift, young Leo,’ Grandfather Too had told him. ‘Tread carefully.’
He caught up with his father, drowning his sorrows in a pub called The Black Hole. Over a pint and chaser, followed by a chaser and chaser, Dave Too told him that he and Vashka had separated, but that it didn’t matter because he was not their son anyway. They had he said been meaning to tell him for years, but there was never seemed to be a right time to break the news. From the angry exchanges that ensued and a bitter reunion with a tearful Vashka later the same day in The Blind Monkey, Leo was only able to deduce that their breakup may have had something to do with an unexpected visit from Dave (One). With oceans of alcohol by now washing through his brain, he was unable to establish exactly what the connection was, or what had happened, or who was to blame. He left with the profound feeling of betrayal and abandonment, and the conclusion that both ‘parents’ were selfish and remorseless. The cold light of day only served to strengthen his feeling of detachment and he has had no contact with either of them since.
Since returning to university, where he is reading Creative Writing, Leo has spent dozens of hours trawling through internet websites, following links to ever more unconventional source material and has discovered that his real mother may have been called Nuala Du Maurier. And that she may have died in 1994 when she disappeared in mysterious circumstances in Wales. An Astra GTE registered in her name was found abandoned in a local beauty spot, but investigations into her disappearance which briefly occupied the divisional police force were able to draw no conclusions, and the case was closed. His own efforts tracing her have drawn a blank. There has been no record of her since 1994. None of the people he has managed to track down that knew her have been able to shed any light on the circumstances of her disappearance, although one or two did mention someone called John that she was in contact with. John, of course, is a fairly common name.
Leo pours another glass of Belgian cider and picks up a half smoked joint from the ashtray and lights it. The television is on in the background. It is the World Cup. England are playing Sweden, but Leo is not really paying much attention. It will probably be a nil-nil draw, he thinks. It often is in these big games where there are high expectations. He shares a house with three other students, but they are in the Union bar. It is nearly the end of term and they are all getting ready to go home for the summer. Leo, having no family home to go back to, thinks he may stay on for a few more weeks.
Leo has also had little success in tracing his real father, the only clue to his identity coming from a newspaper report in the archives of the North Devon Gazette and Advertiser, dated September 1984, about a Mark Friday and a Nuala du Maurier winning a karaoke competition in Ilfracombe sponsored by Venus Fashions singing It Takes Two. Given that he was born in April 1985, this would have been the early months of his mother’s pregnancy. The fact that Nuala and Mark were at the seaside together, in a particularly low-key resort, suggests to Leo that they must have been very close and that Mark Friday might, therefore, be his father.
Despite Friday being an uncommon surname, all his investigations have produced no trace of Mark. The closest match is a Mike Friday who is 86 and living in a nursing home in Lyme Regis. The email with the subject Man Friday that has just arrived in his inbox and he is about to open could be of significance, he thinks. It has an attachment. What Leo does not know is that the attachment contains a virus that will cripple his computer and with it destroy the intricate murder mystery he has been writing about a latter-day hippy and a femme fatale.
Without his computer, it may also take Leo a little while to see that Mark and John have become Facebook friends. The computers at the university will not allow you to log in to Facebook.
Had he been able to he would have seen that Mark would be listing his place of residence as Mundesley, North Norfolk. Not a large place.
© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved