Silver Coal

  by damian mcgregor

Blue-white skin outlined by heavy resinous blues and violet greens.  Blue hair

like crisp, silver-washed melancholic detail in a monochrome picture.  Eyes

like beautifully stitched button-holes in a ceruse dinner jacket.

An anvil-beaten, determined jaw, short-crisp goatee, nose a smoothly struck

and weathered stone tool.  All carved without waste, planted moon-lit in the

blue smudge of unfolding distance and the deeper violet tones buried within


Black.  Black like milk.  Black without texture.  Swimming with fingers

outstretched into the black.  Silent, still, immensely, explicitly, untouchably

black.  Impenetrable black.  A night-time ether.  An unblinkable lid of black.

Black gas with no taste, smell, beginning or ending.  Perfect black ink.  A black

lung.  An undiscernable curtain of black velvet.  Void and voidless.  Black

behind the iris of an eye.

And then opening a blue eye.  Light and a visitor on the heavy blue plain.

Quickly the eye closed again.  The light was staying.  A visitor?

Perhaps they would go away?  A delicate icicle of fear.  Both eyes opened.

The painting sped to the horizon.  Beautiful mineral oils in the blue, violet,

green envelope of vision.

‘Who are you?’

The visitor looked around the veridian oilscape and turned her head back, jade

eyes quizzical.  She was shorter, graceful.  A fiery sensual comedian, spun in a

bronze and umber wrap with a top-knot of copper hair.  Feline, finely

symmetrical with a ruddy, creamy skin.

‘I am your guest Sir Stoneface.’  She smiled.

What would be her demands?  She stayed silent and  slightly challenging.

‘How long are you here for?’

‘I don,t know.’  She gestured with her hands - smiling - self-sufficient.

He closed his blue eyes.  She was still there when he opened them.

He felt uncertain, unsure, uncomfortable.  A wind started to touch them.

The almost purple-blue grass swayed.  The sky was overcast in silence and

underwater tones.

‘You need some lightness in the sky.’

She looked up above herself and a band of lighter blue-wash spread from the

horizen across the sky-scape.  The grass took on a richer hue-filled purple-blue.

She looked silently and then grimaced as if anticipating some unpleasant

reaction.  Looking with her green eyes she said.

‘I need your help.  Don,t refuse me.  You know the difficulty of needing

independance and being dependant.  Don,t blame me for coming.  All I ask is

that you give me a little and I will be grateful.’

There was a long breeze-feathered silence.

‘Why did you change the sky?’

She looked frustrated.

‘This is why I hate being a visitor.  Everyone insists they own the rules.  I won,t

change the landscape, but I insist that nobody owns the sky.’

‘What help do you want?’

‘I want you to give me a piece of land to use while I,m here.’

‘What will you use it for?’

‘Improving my soul.  ..............  Is it too informal a request?’

The blue-skinned man turned away, looking into himself and after a while he

turned back.

‘How much?  How much do you want?’

She smiled.  Irony flashed in her eyes.  Nobody owned the landscape.

‘You decide.’

He closed his eyes, gathering his sense of impotence and stepped forward.

‘I will show you.’

They walked across the purple-blue.  The grass rythmically sighing under their

feet.  It was arbitrary.  The blue flat, gently rising landscape was no different,

whichever direction you looked.  No physical boundaries.  They kept walking

and she touched his elbow, waking him out of his forebodings.

‘How long have you been here?’  Her voice was gentle.

‘Ever since I decided to avoid people.’

‘Is that long?’  She turned the words into humour.

‘Its always the same.  Too long and never long enough.’  He replied brusquely.

‘Why are you avoiding people?’

He stopped walking.  They faced each other in a spot no different from the one

they had left.  He trembled slightly.

‘Here, this is your land.’  He waved an arm and with a nod retreated.

‘Thankyou.’  She called after him.

Lying in the grass.  Simple purple-blue warmth.  Rolling slowly, alone, in the

grass.  It was a long time since he had touched the landscape even though it

changed secretly, in imperceptible blushes.  Smell, it smelt earthy - sweetly

crushed air and chlorophyll.  Humour inflamed the purple.  It had taken a long

time to work out the perfect striations, very subtle.  The blue smolt of the tips

with their feathery seed heads.  He sat up.  There in the distance was a verge of

high flaxen gold fronds and in behind - a small forest of shimmering bronze

beeches.  I will wait for her he thought.

She came.  Appearing like a dark animal, out of the gold fronds, moving closer,

arriving with a steady swing of her arms.

‘Hello.’  She greeted him with clear eyes, sprawling down near him, pushing

the grass away from her face.

‘You have worked hard.’  His voice was non-committal.

‘What do you think?’  She was expectant.

‘I think there is nothing to say.’

‘I expected you to say that.’  She propped up her head with one hand, showing

the silky pillow of her upper arm, the golden hair of her armpits.

‘Why?’  She prodded, undeterred.

‘Because.......   the experience that lead me here and leads me now, is so

impersonal yet personal..........  it can only be conveyed by absurd paradoxes -

that you either understand or don,t understand and I know you won,t

understand them.  Besides.......  my existence is full of hypocrisys which make

my explanations............  unjustifiable.  If I try to justify anything it just ends in

absurdity.’  He waved a resigned hand at himself.

‘You see........  even to justify why I think theres nothing to say becomes an

absurdity of hypocrisy.  I say I want to say nothing and need an explanation to

say I can,t explain.’

She smiled aggressively, sincerely.

‘So let us speak in absurdities.’

‘No, we can look at your work - then you have received what you really want.’

Momentarily, grief flashed on her face.  He thought to himself, ‘I understand

her.’  He rose up and she walked by his side.

Across the purple-blue grass with its green energy, they moved without

speaking.  Now she was uneasy.  As they drew near the golden fronds it was

clear she had a mastery of touch.  Delicate waves of long slender, spear-shaped

leaves, rippled with intricate threads of dry gold and pale yellow.  Long burnt

gold woody staves stood up in gentle curves from the centre of each plant with

great sheafed fans of cream at their tops.  They pushed through the outer ring

of flaxen leaves to meet space and a gentle carpet of browny-bronze grass.

Bronze-skinned beech trees lifted up to a quiet vault of smooth limbs

and resting above that, a great cloak of leaves, like grecian etchings, in bronzes,

coppers and golds.  Through they walked, the cerulean man like some

misplaced stone jewel, his blue-white skin and finely-cut trousers, with a sash

cinching the waist.  He was a like a noble prince from a reserved harsh country.

A polite emissary visiting a passionate warm land.

They stopped to inspect trees and some low ornamented flowering plants and

then continued to the sandstone fountain set in the heart of her creation.

The trees seemed to fold back and the bronze grass became fine.  In the centre

was a great circular, rich-grained sandstone monument.  A deep-bronze

flowering chalice, pouring water from flower lip spouts, sat enthroned.

Big and low - trinkling water into a wide deep base.  Thigh-high, the outer wall

carried egyptian-like glyphs of birds and flowers and beech trees.  Here they sat

on the fountain edge and stayed silent.  The beauty seemed to heighten his

reserve.  At last he spoke.

‘My heart is touched by this.’

Her eyes lifted, large and needful and yet detached and wary.

‘But I cannot and do not want to escape from emptiness.  Here in the heart of

your dream about yourself, my heart is touched by the beautiful emptiness of

creation............   and I long to be alone.’

Her head dropped with sadness and then rose again with fierceness flashing in

her eyes.

‘You deny beauty and yet you come and live in this beautiful plain......  that you

have created from your own dreams of self.’

There was no use, no use to explain he thought.  His eyes closed slightly,

narrowing down reflectively.  She came closer.

‘It looks like a life of denial.’  Her voice was low and soft.

‘Touch me.  ..............  See if I am empty.’  Her face was lit with warmth.

He stayed still.

‘Do you love emptiness so much?’

His blue eyes closed.  When they opened she was still there.

‘I love to be free from loss.  I love to see through the vanity of my dreams.’

‘But life is not a dream to be run away from.  Its a dream to be lived, lucidly.’

He felt, a subtle bitter humour.

‘I accept where my narcissism drags me but I do not live to feed my illusions.

Sickness and decay and death are deeper in the landscape than beauty - than

the beauty of self.’

She came closer to stand almost touching him.  Her eyes looked up to his.

‘And where is love?’

She reached and touched his face, stroking it.  He tremble and closed his eyes.

‘Can we not share illusion even as we look through it?  You think I only want

to affirm my attachments to myself but I have come to share more than just

self-love.’  He opened his eyes.

‘I do not need you.’  His voice quavered.

‘You do not need me but you still want me.’

She gazed steadily into his eyes.

‘Or are you really Sir Stoneface?’  Abruptly he broke away from her.

‘I will come to you tomorrow.’  He walked away a few paces and then turned,

and a smile lit his serious mournful face.

‘Let us see what form emptiness uncovers tomorrow.’

And with an ironic hand-prayer salute, he departed.  She closed her eyes and

dipped a silent hand into the fountain.

From within blackness, memory spun a daylight dream.  Energy exuding

inexorable patient momentum.  There on the plain flowed a river and beside it

he saw and felt himself.  Plunging in, he swam upstream, fighting the current

but then he had to rest, so he pulled himself out and stood again.  Again he

plunged in but this time flowing with the current, and he couldn,t decide if he

was giving in or not.  Soon he crawled out again and stood, watching the

current.  Then he knew, this is was not the river.  And crossing to the far side

he walked on across the plain to the next.  Was this the river of his destiny?

This river flowed slowly and broadly and deeply.  He walked in and found the

current on the edges actually went in reverse to the current in the middle and

with less effort he could swim upstream - pausing and kicking harder through

eddies to find the upstream flow once more.  After some time he had to rest

and climbed up a bank to sit.

Looking away from the river he realised he was on the edge of a small city.

Faintly came the noises of human life and he got up and began walking.

Houses appeared and then the great edifices of wealthy people, denser and

denser, till there were footpaths and many vehicles on many roads.

More and more people passed him, purposely heading to fulfil their work and

their hate and their pleasure, and every face was a map of past acceptances and

past grievances.  He kept walking to the heart of the city that rose in front of the

flowing traffic on a now well-laid and now patchy road.  Till he came to the

broad and monumented streets of the centre where buildings rose high and

massive around him, and then to the great central square.  And in the very

centre sat the sandstone fountain, with its chalice of flowers pouring water into

the broad base and on top - performed the bronze woman in a frozen moment

of dance.  And from her top-knot spouted a slender plume of water.

As he stood in the afternoon shade cast by a high building across the square,

paved in huge slabs of stone, he looked at the bronze woman.  People passed by

and snatches of conversation passed by and he stayed absorbed by her.

After a while he noticed a plaque on the great flower chalice.  With thought-

fulness he read.


And then the bronze woman was standing beside him, her hair wet.  She

looked into his eyes.

‘Are you afraid I will take you away from the upstream current?’

His eyes were clear and deep and he explained.

‘My sadness is so great for existence.  I’m afraid I will be swept by my emotions

back to that place of fear and desire where I once drowned.’

‘Will you not share it with me......  this journey away from sadness.’

‘But how will we understand beauty?’

She tilted her head and looked down then back at his face.

‘Is it part of your journey to find harmony?  The beauty of the land brings

 brings harmony and then it brings gratefulness.  Is gratefulness part of your

journey.  Aren’t we the result of.....  this-that-is-unattached-to-it-self.’

She is right he thought.  She is right.

‘And humility?’

She smiled and laughed, so that he felt his heart surge with devotion for her.

‘Will we not remember that we are but fountains?  Form that love flows

through.  Hollow branches filled with sap.  We are not responsible for love,

it is gifted through us from the world.  Will this not remind us of humility?’

‘But how will we live together?’

‘Wherever we are guided, we will create beauty as selflessly as we can for the

harmony of all.’  And then he understood it was true and he said.

‘Come then, take my hand.’

And at once, both became dressed in gold-blue robes, and their skin was bright

and shining like a lake of fresh mountain water, touched by morning sun.