Blue Hyacinth

      It’s a living and now.

October 2001

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[ November ]

1 October 2001

There was no thought of a blue hyacinth.

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2 October 2001

Before I see it I dare to imagine. It will be a potential bundle of text with a chill blush on its haunches; something I can keep dry while I prohibit growth for a time, just watch and touch. I want to hold it, stroke its roots, peel back a little of its unseen skin and make it real.

In the beginning were the words, even before the bulb.

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3 October 2001

It's still not here.

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4 October 2001

I take three out of the bag to choose one. The opaque hole-punched wrapping rustles a little. The first bulb is the most regular in colouration and the third has a side which seems whiter and blacker, spongier yet also harder in places. I regard these both as somehow a little more perfect or imperfect than the middle bulb. I choose. It doesn't take long to be certain. I put the others back in the bag with the white bulbs. I don't intend to look at them again until I plant.

A few flakes have rubbed off all the bulbs in the bag but the chosen one has shed a single hang-nail fragment that I don't discard. I handle the bulb, holding it between pairs of thumb and forefinger at its widest part, turning it on this axis.

It has one grubby white root, a single filament which protrudes from a tough base. It brushes against me as I turn the bulb. Even when I run my fingers along it, there's nothing there to feel. It's too thin.

Near the tip a patch of dirt or darkness clings, but mainly the bulb feels smooth and clean in my fingers. I set it down and type but can't help glancing sideways occasionally. Even now when I have something to touch and see it is more an idea than a thing. I have anthropomorphic thoughts such as "we're going to be together for a long time, I'm going to get to know you well enough in that time." I have practical considerations too. It's been pointed out to me that a bulb passes a long time below ground. I'm thinking now about whether I want to spend the winter writing about something so completely obscured or whether I should force an unnatural existence upon it in the interests of my own intentions.

I'm thinking. "You're here now." Then I'm thinking, "third person, third person neuter please," and smile.

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5 October 2001

Darker than silk cut and brighter than damson, it’s not completely silent to the touch. The snout scritches and then sheds flakes. Beneath the girth of its equator, almost circumnavigated in the hand, there are patches which pale into hesitant, dusky mottlings. The bulb is left unattended on the arm of the sofa bed overnight.

In the morning there’s a line of purple dandruff on the carpet for evidence, either of custodial carelessness yesterday or (unlikely) its own midnight ramblings. The bulb cost 66 pence, reflecting an extensive retail mechanism (not necessarily) required to deliver it, the profit margins of several organisations and the packaging in which it arrived. A fingernail at its throat provokes a sound like the rippling of cellophane; a reminder that the shop it was rescued from was already installing stocks of Christmas decorations on the day the bulb left.

The soundtrack to bulb is the fan on the laptop singing above the fulminations of a domestic heating boiler. Somewhere buried deep in the backing music is early morning shelling practice (probably) from the military academy. This is a blend of loose rumbling thunder mixed with the sparkier pop of some deeper-throated fireworks. There might also be an overdub of snoring from a room nearby but that isn’t audible to the untrained ear.

This bulb has been specially treated. However, hyacinthus ostara (prepared), does not require specialist care.

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6 October 2001

Cynthia waits for the phone to ring, for someone who knows her to greet and just ask. She is well prepared with tales from her day, week and year. Cynthia is ready and raring to speak.

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7 October 2001

small red onion, a bloodshot eye
dilate pupil rolled down to scabbed
upended snub of plateaued-out flanks

hold cargo with puckered pockets
convex sheen of wing or scale
flecked away below paper-cut scar

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8 October 2001

The well-drained keel lies upturned on the basal straplike margins of the estuary. The boat now offers fertile soil for spreading bacterial rot. Massed informal borders from another culture once infested it. Looters and other pests, swarmed like nematodes across bulblets, forcing the crew indoors and leaving them for dead: staked, discarded and degraded. Bruises now bloom in reflexed perianth segments of forgotten flesh. Oars pitched crosswise in the sand are the cylindrical racemes of this extremely disorderly new growth which propogates in an otherwise spartan landscape.

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9 October 2001

Bulbous is...
Warmer than I scream.
Colder than fire works.
Slower than a speeding bull.
More fragrant than a camel coat.
Stiller than a raging whirl pooled.
Drier than a weather forecaster's tongue.
More prone to new growth than a stonewall.
Smoother than a baby's bottom row of gums.
Less likely to embezzle than a drunken banker .
Less absorbent than a sponge cake with pink icing .
More regular than the consumption of a tin of prunes.
Nowhere near as tasty as stolen chips (or even fries).
More convex than the inside of the limpet shell
Higher than the depth of carpet underlay.
Bulkier than a feather's wait.
Quieter than my mouse.

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10 October 2001

I do stupid things like search for Internet resources on bulb phrenology. I run my fingers over the nodules below the skin. Those fault lines like slit scars healed, will be portents… bulb palmistry…hyacinth fortune telling….. There’s always a hope that someone out there is doing it already, or just itching to start…and now, at least, someone has searched for it. So, tiny and insignificant though the request is, hidden within the bowels of some search engine’s report structure, now there’s a demonstrable demand for these subjects.

Yesterday I carried it around for the day like a lucky charm. A roll of carpet is too large to make a lucky charm, a grain of rice too small. A hyacinth bulb is a questionable choice, not really robust enough for regular use. But this will be its last chance to travel around incognito. Once there’s water or soil involved its world will shrink to the refrigerator or conservatory and an occasional outing into the warmth to be written about. Get out and about while you’re still young I advise it. The bulb appears to ignore me. Our relationship is like that. As I leave the room I like to imagine I hear a tiny bulbish sigh and the muttered oath Good Grief!

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11 October 2001

Waiting for water, a single dry thread probes horizontally. The crusted rim of a scabbed base waits. Coverings split and wrinkle a little more in the warmth.

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12 October 2001

Still dry. Still. Dry. Silver and puce. Bruised. Unused. Prepared. Aired. Reared. Steered. Bluey-red. Blurred. Mottled. Led. All Dry. All Still. Not dead.

Stilled rye. Still, dry. Shiver and puke. Bruised and used. Pre-pared, air red, rear red, steer red, blue-eared. Blur red, mutt led, lead, awled wry. Awl still, not dead.

. . . . . .

After he'd stripped the lead from the roof he hid the van in the lock-up under a greasy tarpaulin. Then he drove back to do the job she'd asked of him. He sauntered past the window with a wry wave as she stood at the dishes, just gazing across the yard. He took the dog out of sight. It was a miserable cur, with a battered look, but still it seemed indecent to do the deed in the open air.

He led it round to the barn. The awl was ready, sharpened. There was nothing to wait for. Except that now another pair of eyes was upon him. He removed the dog's collar and manouevred it by the scruff of its neck away from the dry barley & rye mix, heaped in storage for the malt mash.

He struck. It was a strong blow but as the spike fell the dog twisted in his grip. The tool carved its flank open and his view blurred. Spray splintered the air red but the mutt never squealed, just shivered and puked into the dust. The fine aerosol of blood was everywhere, on his shirt, across the floor and over on the muzzle of the dumb, blue-tagged steer across the barn. He held his arm up to strike again but even though he could clearly see the dog was still alive he found his body wouldn't make that final move to finish it off.

. . . . . .

In the beginning was the bulb, even before the words.

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13 October 2001

"The term forcing can be a bit misleading."

She lowered the bulb into the neck of the flare and then removed it again to adjust the levels. It took several attempts to keep the base just clear and dry in air. A nudge on the only root pushed it down beneath the water. She watched the tiny bubbles rising up steadily, some appearing to cling to the root, fattening it, making it seem more opaque through the fluted Dartington glass. She tucked the bulb and glass away behind the mushrooms at the back of the fridge.

Later in the day she took it out again, letting the chill on the glass damp her fingers. She poured out a little more of the water, not wanting the bulb to rot away before further root growth could start. Already patches on the swelling of the bulb had puffed up white with golden borders, the smallest of them the colour and consistency of the underside of Sugar Puffs. The bulb had been kept far too warm in the room and now some transformation appeared to be taking place inside it with the introduction of cold and moisture. The bulb had assumed the possibilites of a chrysalis, or perhaps something which might just go rotten and slimy at the back of her fridge like so much food before it.

She pushed the glass and the bulb back inside the fridge.

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14 October 2001

"It's gone a bit odd."

"In what way 'odd'."

"Well, it's got these gold-rimmed splotches on that look like Sugar Puffs."

"Is that why you were asking about breakfast cereals yesterday?"


"Well, I shouldn't think they actually are sugar puffs."

"No, no...I don't suppose they are..."

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15 October 2001

It's in the dark. It's neither seen nor heard. It's out of sight, not out of mind. It's in the cold. It's growing, definitely. There were signs, last time I looked, of a little more root.

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16 October 2001

There is no greater sin than desire,
No greater curse than discontent,
No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself.
Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.

Lao Tzu

Maybe there was no higher sin than this, or maybe there is no hyacinth and there never will be?

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17 October 2001

Bubbles. Burble. Blubber.

Place the glass on the windowsill in the bathroom while it's still dark outside. Run the water, generate foam. Lounge, luxuriate, generally wallow, sploosh a little. Open your mouth and see what comes out. Gibber, in fact. Tell it everything and then some more. When it doesn't answer go all around the houses and come right back to where the confession first started. Watch the bulb, framed by dark bubbles of glass. Weep. Wait for sympathy. Grizzle a little more and then soap yourself down. Clean the flesh with all of its folds. Step out of the bath, towel yourself dry, turn off the light. Put the bulb away again in the refrigerator, back in the dark.

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18 October 2001

A pimple, a giant pustule. Rampant acne. A monsterous carbuncle. An onion domed building slapped mysteriously down amongst the skyscape of more plausible objects. A fabulous story. Jewelled flight. A winter city, cold minarets formed of chilled glass. No wings. Knowings. Nothing. And then the dawn.

There were two views of the city to be had as you made the overflight. You could approach it at dawn or dusk and these two half-visions were nothing like the same...

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19 October 2001

He lived in the attic story, slept in the dormer, safe within the drum of the tower. He had found his niche there. At night he lay on his back, gazing up at the spandrels and staring out through the oculus, an opening in the roof which gave a direct view of the stars.

His entire world shrank to the confines of the rotunda. The stones themselves formed butresses against the forces of reality. He lived alone, trapped within his own tale. Even a velvet cage is a padded cell.

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20 October 2001 milk in the fridge this morning. Just a bulb.

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21 October 2001

I shall attempt to recount the contents of the fridge. This will set the scene. I don't expect it to make me a better person, a better writer or even a better cook. But here it is: a half-dozen pack of eggs, two tubs of margerine, four bottles of lager (possibly Fosters), four mini-cans of coke, a broken piece from a freezer compartment, a soft goats' cheese, a raw chicken breast, four long red chillis, a portion of green beans, two thirds of a pineapple, a portion-sized plate of left-over sweet and sour chicken with peppers and pineapple on a bed of rice and covered with cling-film, a bag of (possibly carrot) soup, a punnet of mushrooms, some mature cheddar cheese, a little solid vegetable oil, fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, Lee & Perrins, a chinese cooking wine of some description, an open jar of green tomato chutney which still hasn't gone mouldy on top, milk, orange juice, apple juice and a blue hyacinth bulb perched on a a glass vase of water. I wonder if the water needs changing?

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22 October 2001


"      "

"It's got whisky in it...."

"        "

"Is it cool enough for you on the windowsill?"

"       "

"I thought a bit of fresh air might be good for us both. It's not too bright there is it?"

"       "

"I've been wondering how it's going in there recently, in the fridge...whether that's really the right place for you."

"      "

"I like the new root by the way. It's small so far, of course. But, it's something of a start, and I noticed that you've stretched a bit, split some skin. That's got to be good too, hasn't it?"

"      "

"Look, this was meant to be a dialogue, you know, like before. You chip in with some knowing little comments. It'll give you a chance to build up your character."

"      "

"Hmmm...well, thanks for your co-operation pal. Some muse you turned out to be."

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23 October 2001

I find a small sloughed fragment of it on the arm of the sofa bed. This morning everything is blue and cream and it feels clean, or at least as if it should be. The skin of the bulb is almost transparent, held to the window. A reminder of summer shines through the oak leaves which are still green, still green despite it all. The branches mutter in the breeze behind the slip of bulb skin. If I had a silver pen I could write on this, as though it were parchment. There would be room for a single word, or perhaps two. I try to imagine which letters I might use if the opportunity to write something were so tiny: seven, perhaps eight characters, certainly no more than a dozen in a single line. I place the purple scale from the bulb down next to a limpet shell where it impersonates a scrap of seaweed for a while.

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24 October 2001

bulb, n. A rounded dilation or expansion of a canal, vessel, or organ.

He found that the life suited him. His pension was small, he'd put little enough by, but he earned a supplement occassionally, playing at Church festivals and teaching for the odd music summer schools around the country. Whenever possible he would claim the cost of the inland waterway permits as travel expenses and take a leisurely journey to some mooring from which he could cycle to the college hosting the courses.

His day was his own. He could make his way up and down stream as he pleased, although his favourite stretches were the wider parts of the canals, rather than the more tortuous, narrow, overgrown lengths of riverway. The barge was no effort to steer on the wide sweeping curves of the navigations. If he kept downstream as well, rather than the higher reaches, there were locks with keepers and he was spared the effort of panting to wind the gates open himself every time he needed to pass through a cut.

Life as an organist had been all very well, but people seemed to blur into an indeterminate mass of Sunday hypocrisy, christenings, weddings and funerals. All human life was certainly there, or at least the key stages represented, but it wasn't the same as having the peace to enjoy his own company and just go with the flow, or against it. The choice was his own now. That was the point.

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25 October 2001

The ring at the base is dark, dank. Some opaqueness has broken away, headed down a little. The skin has split in a ring above, moving away, leaving on show some hesitancies of blue, grey, a reminder of mould. It feels harder, tougher less pliant and yielding, perhaps mishaping, shifting inside. It is very cold to the touch.

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26 October 2001

"This is Brava-Uniform-Lima-Bravo you read me? Do you read me....?"

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27 October 2001

I didn't think much about the bulb today. Well, you can't be writing about hyacinths all the time, can you? There's fire and ice to consider sometimes too. Even inanimate things can grow, while sometimes live ones make no moves at all.

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28 October 2001

A new bristle of fatter white probes is emerging to mock the first effort. They sprout around the edges where the blue grey fluff of mouldiness also spreads. The base of the bulb stays permanently sodden even though it hangs above the water. There seems to be a race between growth and decay underway.

The water is changed again. The bulb is replaced in the cold and dark.

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29 October 2001

They rehearse the story. They have bulbs in the refrigerator and angels on their shoulders. At all times they will call each other 'Brother' and welcome the caller to their 'Monastery of Growing Potential'. It's a long-shot really, they don't actually expect the plan to work but they've lined up the bulbs in their banks of vases like boxes of eggs, incubating, an inanimate rosary of hope, waiting for Spring.

It's worth £250,000 off their tax bill, this year alone, if they can pull off the scam. What's a little investment in bulb fibre and some hydroponics kits if they can make this thing work? The officer from the tax collection office is due to visit to discuss the institute's 'religious status' at fifteen hundred hours today. The bulbs and aspiring brethren wait hopefully for the appointed hour.

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30 October 2001

It's the enthusiastic force of the probes which surprises me. Not just one or two of them, here or there. The irridescent purple core of the firework has burst a spray of roots, exploding rays of white light down towards the water. They're not evenly distributed either. The force has radiated, intially, from one side of the base. I don't know if this is about nature or nurture. The bulb gets turned or moved most days, picked up and examined, perhaps tilted when replaced. I don't believe I have given any special favour to one side or another.

There is a determination to rooting progress, an outward as well as a downward thrust. They know where they're heading...of course 'they' don't...that's ridiculous. But I know that they do, and that's much the same thing as far as you're concerned.

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31 October 2001

A scud of clouds puckers across the full moon, filtering and rationing the light to the clear sky. The bulb is balanced on the bunker. We came outside together to be beneath the stars. Its skin is a little clammy to touch; it's cold and tough. The mottled fires smoking round it are like the shepherds' burnings in a shade of sky I've never seen before. This is here. This is now. The darkness won't leave us yet. Bulb and woman, woman and bulb. The hyacinth is already with me, only there are no detectable signs.

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