I am a slow writer. Others may set daily word targets of hundreds or thousands, I take comfort in a quote from James Joyce, who famously despaired over his output. A friend asked how many words he had written that day, ‘seven,’ said Joyce, ‘but I’m not sure what order they should go in.’ I hate writing a first draft, absolutely hate it. The words are squeezed out, like blood from a stone. My dog likes this stage best - I get frustrated; on go my walking boots and we head up to the mountains. Once I have a rough, lumpen amalgamation of all the wrong words in mostly the wrong order, my mood improves. The vocabulary, syntax, metaphor, and pace can begin to take shape during the course of many, many re-writes. Then, I am totally absorbed, and the dog waits, nose between paws, sighing extravagantly.
Solitary Creatures is based on a premise of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism, not as diametrically opposed, but as a fluid continuum, an ebb and flow of characteristics. The Pigliucci quote allowed me to indulge my fascination for unlovely creatures, and for the nocturnal, and the crepuscular. The dark is a world of ‘otherness’ the unseen, closeted, hidden, secret, buried. Things on the periphery of our thoughts. Perhaps the unthinkable – but of course there is no such thing.
The bar is inspired by a real place. I lived, temporarily, in a part of London not yet transformed by artisan bakeries and craft distilleries. I thought I would miss my natural habitat, but far from being an inert place of concrete and anti-climb paint, I found the city teemed with wildlife. There was a bar on the corner of the street, fly-posted and painted shades of black. Walking past in the daytime, you might assume it was boarded up and derelict. At night, the door opened, people came and went, exotic creatures. Shards of coloured light escaped, moths fluttered, bats swooped, and the pollard planes that erupted through the pavement seemed to dance to a hypnotic beat. It reminded me of the Star Wars bar on Tattooine. There was an exhilarating precariousness to it; I slipped in from time to time and rubbed shoulders with a good many toads.
Jupiter Jones, March 2019
Jupiter was the overall winner of the Wild Words Winter Solstice Writing Competition 2018, with this story…
“We may be particular animals with very special characteristics, but we’re animals nonetheless” -M.Pigliucci
My last boyfriend was a cold fish. After he left me dangling once too often, I said, enough is enough. I stayed home, minding my own business. Eventually of course, such bloody-minded resolve wore thin and I felt inclined to venture out in my dancing shoes.
So here I am, back in this old haunt with its with high stools, dark corners, and venom on-tap. I slip in, unobtrusively. Experimental music thrums, it is late, the place is only just coming alive. I sit at the bar on one of the very tallest stools and I watch the watchers; the predatory ones feigning disinterest; the crepuscular ones kerb-crawling the dancefloor. And the strutters, doing what they do, and dressed to kill. I watch the chameleons and chancers eyeing the VIP tank where the stakes are high. Too high for me.
If you came here, if you were the type, or maybe even if you just stumbled upon it by accident, you would see that we, the in-crowd if you like, have nothing at all in common but our singularity. We are not from the herds or flocks or colonies. We do not huddle together for warmth. We are not lonely. No, we are the solitary kind, the prowlers and slinkers. But even such as we are sporadically driven by the urge to mate, or dominate, to replenish our larders. We come here or somewhere like it; a watering hole of sorts, a gene pool. We make connections, no strings.
I check the time. I am almost late. A shadow falls.
‘You waitin for someone darlin?’
I lie, and he sees right through me with his cold-war eyes.
‘I get you anuvver drink, keep you company, yes?’
‘No thank you.’
He waves at the barman, gestures a bottle, two glasses. I cross my speckled legs and flicker my eyes over him. Not flirting but risk assessment. His accent is a mash-up, eastern European and south of the river. Something in construction, or excavation, probably. Thick-set, bristly; a badger. I imagine him rooting through soil and leaf mould for earthworms or centipedes. Slurping, chewing. I am disgusted. Badgers are omnivores; indiscriminate opportunists. This one would not turn up his snout at a tasty arachnid like me. A dainty morsel, hardly more than an amuse bouche. I try to catch sight of his teeth, perhaps that makes me appear attentive. And the wine is really very good.
He is from Lithuania. He is allergic to penicillin. He quizzes me about my childhood, places I have travelled to, books I have read, all the cars I have ever owned. I spin, I weave. Some of what I tell is the truth. Feeling fickle over the option to ensnare this badger, I steal glances at his meaty paws, tools of his trade. I imagine being scooped.
He leans in, conspiratorially;
‘Go on, you was waitin for someone, yes?’
‘No.’ A half-smile.
A half-truth. I had arranged to meet someone, just not here, not in this bar.
He wraps a paw around my shoulder.
Inside, my silk squirms in anticipation, a web to spin, a dark place to winter. He will have fleas of course. He will scratch and bite and snore in the day.
And across town, in another bar, another bar with high stools and an equally disparate and singular clientele, someone else checks the time, one more time, the last time for sure. He is unsurprised, unruffled, after all, no strings. He turns his head, looking over his shoulder, catches his reflection in the glass, preens his sloe-black feathers, and with eyes sparkling with malice, looks about him for carrion.