Chatter by Chris Green

You would not think to look at him now, but when he was older, Dylan Song was a trailblazer. A dark horse who diced with danger, he flew the rebel flag. Song was a provocateur, an agent for change. He championed the cause of the underdog. He became a hero to millions. He was an original thinker. He seemed to pluck ideas fully formed from out of nowhere. He had that faraway look in his eye that only a true time traveller has. He was front-page news. When he was older, Dylan Song was a force to be reckoned with. Single-handedly, he wrote the soundtrack for the new frontier.

But Song is younger than that now and you would have to say the passing of time has mellowed him. Gone is the restless urge to agitate and unsettle. The dynamic visionary who played electric violin on Desolation Row and was not afraid to look at the Queen of Spades is no longer around. At some point, he needed shelter from the storm. If you were to come across him now, you would find him much more chilled.

But you are not likely to come across him. Dylan Song will not come up on your search. Depending on how you choose to look at it, you have either missed the boat, or you will have to wait for the boat to come in. It may not come in. That’s the way it is with boats. That’s the way it is with time. You can never be sure where you are with it. You cannot tell if time is playing tricks on you. It is probably safest to assume that it is always playing tricks with you and not to be surprised when you find you are not where you thought you were in time and space.

But this is neither here nor there. This story is not about Dylan Song. Or about time. It features a man who fell to Earth, a one-day hero, or at least offers a nod to his name. Also, the name of a man who is up at eight and can’t be late. Or you may come across someone on a long and winding road that leads to your door. Perhaps there will be a mention of a broken king. Not the Eliot one, but this one will be familiar. The story might very well not have a central theme. It might be a Nouveau Roman subordinating plot and character to random chatter about life, the universe and everything, or a self-referential postmodern narrative. I cannot be certain, but we seem to be on the right track. Let’s talk about quinces.

Bowie Mann tells me the quince tree blossoming in the front garden was the deciding factor in them buying the house. Had it not been for the quince tree, the Parker and Presley board outside the 1930s semi-detached villa in Heisenberg Avenue might have gone unnoticed. Bowie and Angie Mann were out walking their lurcher, Elvis. They were not looking for a house.

Look, Bowie,’ Angie had said. ‘What a lovely quince tree!’

Indeed! Cydonia oblonga,’ Bowie had said. ‘In such a beautiful, sunny position. Exactly what we need. Let’s buy the house.’

Just like that?’ Angie had said.

Absolutely!’ Bowie had said. ‘It’s a sign. In this uncertain world, you have to be able to spot these things. And this is a first-class quince tree.’

Their house in Cat Stevens Court was on the market the following day, along with an offer of £500,000 on the house with the quince tree. Bowie tells me they had not even looked around the new house when the offer went in. There was just no need, he says.

Their offer was accepted. The Cat Stevens house too sold in a day. It was as easy as that.

I first came across the word, quince years ago in Edward Lear’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, along with the mystifying word, runcible. Something about dining on mince, and slices of quince, and eating it with a runcible spoon. Mince presumably refers to sweet mince and not spag bol mince and quince is a fruit used primarily to make jelly. A runcible spoon is probably a spork.

Edward Lear was born in 1812 and was the youngest surviving child of twenty-one. There was a high infant mortality rate back then. The average age expectancy at birth in cities was nineteen. A precocious child, Edward first became celebrated as a teenager for drawing parrots, before turning his hand to landscape painting, travel writing and composing music. Although nonsense verse is what he is mostly remembered for, this was apparently just a sideline.

As a writer of short fiction, my works are considerably shorter than Paul McCartney’s Paperback Writer effort, based on a novel by a man called Lear, which is a thousand pages, give or take a few. This is fortunate because I am sometimes called upon to give readings at the Queen Jane Care Home and short is more appropriate than long here. One of the residents, Maggie Farmer, tells me she grew up with Edward Lear in North London. They used to play in the streets of Holloway together and Eddie talked endlessly about the land where the bong tree grows and told her the tale of the Quangle-Wangle’s Hat. By my reckoning, this must make Maggie around two hundred years old, yet she doesn’t look a day over eighty. It’s a strange world. Things are not always what they seem.

I was only familiar with Heisenberg as the pseudonym chemistry teacher Walter White chose to do his drug deals in the cult television series Breaking Bad, but I discover that Heisenberg here is a reference to physicist Werner Heisenberg, the fellow behind the uncertainty principle. The uncertainty principle states that the more precisely the position of a particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. Walt’s choice of the name Heisenberg is by all accounts a joke by series creator, Vince Gilligan, aimed at fans who might remember the uncertainty principle from the long afternoons in the lab for double Chemistry. And then there’s the Observer Effect. The act of observation makes changes to a phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner. Reality is hard to pin down. If you take this to its logical conclusion, nothing can be verified.

As a writer, I find I sometimes have time on my hands while I am waiting for inspiration. To get myself out of the house, now and again I help out at my friend Max Brooks’s bookshop. Brooks Books stocks a comprehensive range of reading, the type of books you may not find at Waterstones. Bowie Mann is a frequent visitor. He comes in for a cup of coffee and likes to spend an hour or two browsing. We chat about Tom Robbins and Richard Brautigan and he asks me to play Highway 61 Revisited. Sometimes he makes a bulk purchase of books. A week ago he ordered twenty copies of Costa Rican novelist, Quince Duncan’s, A Message from Rosa. Today he is asking for Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater. He wants eleven copies and we only have one on the shelves. While I look it up in the catalogue, he asks about the new Edward Lear biography that is due out. I don’t believe there is a new Edward Lear biography due out. I wonder if he might be referring to the Paul McCartney biography, but we don’t stock that. I humour him. He tells me about the yellow fruit on his tree. I may be wrong, but I think I notice a thread running through our conversations. Although I can’t quite put my finger on it, there does seem to be a recurring theme.

Bowie goes on to say that the quinces from the tree ought not to be ripe yet. It is only August. Quinces should not be ready to pick, he says, until September or October. Yet they are. He has one in his pocket to show me. He takes it out and puts it on the counter. I can’t help thinking that it bears a remarkable resemblance to a jar of sweet mince. I don’t know what to believe anymore. As the great Jorge Luis Borges writes, ‘reality is not always probable, or likely.’ In one or two of his stories, he plays with the idea of a multiverse. Might he be on to something?

Copyright © Chris Green, 2023: All rights reserved


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