Friday, March 21, 2008

A conversation with Mr Ebenezer Bliss

“So, if I can only get to fairyland by falling to sleep or dying, how did the fairy get here? Did she wake up? Come to life?”

“Oh come now, I did not say such a thing.” Mr. Bliss was as impassive as ever, eyes closed against his personal smoke cloud, leaning back in his chair. “A fairy is a creature of dream, of fantasy. A wish, if you like. Somebody thought her up, or made a powerful wish. Perhaps the whole world began that way.”

“But I certainly didn’t make her up. I didn’t know enough about – that is, I wouldn’t have known what to wish for. I was only thirteen, after all.”

Mr. Bliss shook with a silent laugh. “You soon worked out what to do next though, didn’t you! Besides, you are wishing for her now, aren’t you?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Whoever said a wish is granted when you make it? It might be granted to suit somebody else, perhaps. Another plan. That’s assuming that wishes are ever granted.” He appeared to give this careful consideration. Finally he added: “Simple laws of chance would favour some wishes, I suppose. Wish for a girl, wish for a boy, wish to live long, live long in joy.”

Thomas stood up and walked to the window. Sunlight slitted in between the closed blinds. Sounds of carriages and passers-by came as from a distance, or through a filter. Thomas left the curtains closed. The gloomy, smoke-filled room seemed to suit the subject. He turned and peered through the miasma at the indistinct figure on the sofa.

“So are you saying that a fairy appeared ten years ago because I am wishing for her now? That doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t be wishing for her now if she hadn’t appeared then. I wouldn’t have known what to wish for.”

“That’s what you said about then. Perhaps she appeared then, so that you would wish for her now. Perhaps to serve another purpose altogether. And don’t forget her wishes –"

“I thought you said she wasn’t real.”

“Now, Thomas. You really must stop that. Accusing me of utterances that I have not made.” He swung his legs off the sofa, and sat up, flicking a long stem of ash in the direction of table. “I said she was a creature of fantasy. Without getting too obscure, the question of what is real or unreal involves concepts that we really have not time to consider. You must decide for yourself whether your fairy was, and therefore presumably might still be, real. And dream, or wish or fairy-dish, she is very likely to have her own viewpoint on things. So whether you cast a penny in a well, or whether it was all a random cosmic joke, she would very likely have had her own reasons for making a possibly hazardous journey from one reality to another.”

“She said she crossed the Trembling Path.” Tommy said, remembering.

“Did she now?” That near smile again. “Well, that certainly sounds hazardous enough. Did she anything else about it?”

Tommy frowned. He could picture her clear as sunlight in the forest, and later, hair dank, shut in the dark of the foetid cellar …

”I’ll have to think about it. Mostly we told stories about our different worlds. I got the impression that not many of the inhabitants of fairyland ever left. Maybe she was bored.”

“Her mother warned her at the gate,
When finally she left, to seek a mate,
Marry soon ‘fore it gets too late,
Lest Spinsterhood should be your fate …”

Mr. Bliss brushed some white ash from his knee. “There are worse fates than staying childless and unmarried, eh, Thomas?”

Thomas looked at Mr. Bliss. How much did this enigmatic dark figure know about him? Could he know about Sarah and Ruth? Or was he having a jibe that the fairy's fate had been worse than death?

“Is this getting us anywhere, Mr. Bliss? Can you help me find her, or not? So far you haven’t offered anything useful whatsoever.”

“May I remind you that it was you who sought an audience with me. Hunting high and low, including some very squalid places.” Mr Bliss produced a small silver box. A snap of his hand and it flared up into a plume of orange flame. He puffed another acrid cigarillo into billowing life. “Can I help you find this fairy? Possibly. These things are not entirely decided by determination. The three Sisters are not called Cruel lightly. They weave patterns that overlap across very existences, as you have seen. However, I have occasionally remarked that they also have a sort of warped sense of humour, if you could call it that. They like to complexify, as well as terminate.”

“You mean it might amuse the gods if find her? Why should they care?”

“Why indeed? Why bother at all, when after all they are gods, as you say. I suppose that depends upon your definitions of gods, or upon the purpose of things. One either assumes a meaning or meanings to one’s small personal dramas, which seems a ridiculous hubris, or one plunges into the abyss, falling through eternity. Life becomes a messy cycle of birth, breeding and death. The seasons follow one after another, until the moon falls into the sun, and the universe falls back into darkness. There is a kind of story there too …and who knows how the parts would evolve? One can postulate gods, and after all the fates are only personifications, are they not?
“And what do you represent, Thomas Grimes? What are you for? Why would the gods intervene in your shabby affairs?” Mr. Bliss pondered this for a while, and Thomas stayed silent. “Perhaps you met a fairy because you met a fairy. A meaningless event, even sordid. You seek to find said fairy again. Why? Ah! Perhaps to make amends. Perhaps to see what your actions have wrought. Perhaps, perhaps …to give meaning back to your life! Is that it, Thomas Grimes? Has life without your fairy been too grey? Too mundane?”

“I have my reasons. If I believe in a God, it is in Him, one god, not a thousand. But maybe there are a whole host of angels and demons. Perhaps we all have a guardian angel, who knows?”

“And is your fairy an angel or a demon? Do you think she might fall more towards the demonic side, after you schooled her so well?”

“She changed. She became more … real, I suppose. Can a fairy become human? For that matter, can an angel become a devil?”

“The oldest stories insist that that is precisely what happened. As for a fairy, that depends on your sources. There are a thousand tales of dealings between man and Fay. Odysseus had a whole brood with Circe - was she a fairy queen? Men visit fairies in their mounds; mischievous imps play nasty tricks on country folk – the traffic continues in a motley host of colourful tales. Birds talk, frogs are princes, wolves are, well, wolves! Things transform, but the consistent message is, actions have consequences. So, whatever else you can say, your fairy will have been changed by her interaction with you. As you have been, by her. Time changes things, actions alter things. Time in the human realm, they say, moves at a different rate than in Fairyland. Maybe nothing changes in fairyland without interaction with this sphere. Stories need change, they need action, they need time to pass. If Fairyland is a land of stories, then the stories need an injection of mortality to keep them vital.”

“It’s all a bit, well, theoretical, isn’t it? Am I supposed to seek her in a storybook? If she crossed the Trembling Bridge, can’t I just cross in the opposite direction?”

“Possibly. Did she tell you where it is?”

“No, of course not! Why do you think I came to you? Although I’m beginning to think this whole conversation a waste of time.”

“Can you waste time? Is it yours then to fritter away?” Mr. Bliss came over to where Tommy was standing. He was perhaps an inch smaller than Tommy, with skin so black that it either gleamed, or absorbed the light utterly, like a silhouette.

“Thomas.” Mr. Bliss spoke his name carefully. “You need to decide where you wish to go with this. You can pursue your quest without my help. Or you can abandon the whole fantastic idea. These are decisions for you. But if you want to consult me, then understand this: I have no patience for your cynicism or your jibes. If you think our conversation a waste of time, if such a thing is possible, then end it. Go back and reconstruct your life from whatever wreckage you have left.” He turned and walked unhurriedly to door. “There is a school of thought that says that if you have any further part to play in the unfolding of this drama, then somehow the tentacles of the plot will reach out and embroil you anyway.”