The Number

I woke up with a four digit number, like a formula, urgently revolving inside my skull. Only the solution of the mystery promised relief from an acutely distressing tension with which I suddenly found myself plagued. Having dreamt this number, I immediately wrote it down.

Normally I manage perfectly successfully with the ordinary business of my daily life, not so today. The coffee grinder wouldn’t work. It took me a long time to discover a tiny fragment of coffee that was stopping me closing the lid.

I stared at the number I had recorded. As it was it meant nothing. I reversed it, added the digits together, multiplied them. I knew it had to be changed into something else, that was given in the dream. It clearly had immense significance, like something I could not quite see, just out of vision. It was something that had to be remembered.

With a simple operation of gematria I can generate a date, but I can’t see where to go from there. To me the date suggests two cities, both very beautiful, one architecturally, the other in another way, a park with naked beauties jumping into the stream.

But there is something more intimate and personal about it, something connected with my whole purpose on this planet.

I divide the date into two smaller numbers, which are those of two buses, local to me. These may have a direct personal reference. The numbers can also be ages through which I have passed.

I search back into my memory, for the key to this problem that oppresses me, which now took the form of a haunting, inexplicable guilt.

The first age, in late adolescence was a time of great religious importance. Maddened with psychedelic hubris, for a while my vision was so clear, but it was not what it has been said to be. That was not its significance. It is hard to say anything true except by negatives. We were drunk with folly, or at least I was. There was insight in the times, there was a secret that had been discovered.

My son, now fourteen, tells me of his experiences. He smokes hashish and takes acid. To me he cheapens it in a way I find very disturbing. I am plagued by persistent ideas about the sins of the fathers, fears that what we did, what we argued for and believed in, was all wrong. To invoke another cliché, the chickens have come home to roost. I am under great stress.

Could it be something to do with a credit card pin number? Or with the nature of my worst secret, that girl I murdered all those years ago? In dreams this guilt returns to me.

What am I the narrator to think of you the reader? On the one hand you are despicable, attached to all kinds of odiousness. Why should I demean myself by trying to please you? On the other hand, I want to speak to you, I want something of you. It is possible some good might come out of you, but I shall not attempt to disguise my distaste.

Next I consider myself as I was in that other year, not so long ago, the one signified by that other number. Then I exulted in my cause of liberty, freedom and riot. Now I feel the degradation of my cause, banality, the horror of music. This is the desolation of demoralisation.

More complex gematria gives a day that sticks in my memory. It was the last day of summer. Not by the calendar I mean, but by the weather. Eleven in the morning was still hot, muggy, sticky. Later in the afternoon the temperature dropped sharply and suddenly. Now it was the first day of autumn. At about six thirty in the evening, I was walking into a pleasant part of town past large Victorian houses. There was an oppressive gloom. There was still a wet summerlike luxuriance of vegetation. I felt drugged. I detected a claustrophobic air about the street, as if some paranoid horror were looming.

I passed a young woman in a blazer, a naval jacket. Could she be anything like * was? I wonder about her. What is she, what were we? Could she have been as wild, as insane? Amazingly she turns to me and speaks,. She is bursting to tell someone about her burgeoning acting career, and her recent trip to Norway. She talks with joy and enthusiasm. I listen, but why should I delight in her good fortune? It is not mine.

What I have always hated most is morality, that it is which thwarts and restricts me. Even selfish people can often express morality, even if it is only the assertion of their right to live. I will not say harm no one, not even harm not the innocent. I will keep to the law so long as I see fit to observe it, but I can only tread one path to happiness.

I read some journalist in a newspaper today going on about the decadence of his youth, and how tame it all was really. It was ultimately innocent, he says. That is not my case. I wouldn’t say I was evil though there were several who would. I am a bit like someone accursed. “Have a nice life”, said Victor, the Vietnam veteran on leaving us in Mysore. One of us did not go on to have a nice life. I get the blame for that as I also do for other things.

I take a bus in a westerly direction. I get out on the Charing Cross Road, cross over and turn up Old Compton Street into Soho. I go into a peepshow and put a pound coin into the slot. I have been robbed. The girl is not even naked. I do not recognise her.

I cross the road and take a bus with a different number all the way home and pass my street it in the other direction to find my son. There is a little Chinese woman on the bus. She has escaped from the paddy fields, to come here, I think. I feel I dislike her.

My son is in the east tonight, with his friend from his old primary school, the mixed race psychopath.

I am worried. I convey my anxiety to his mother. She tells me to shut up. She has had enough. Perhaps he will come back drunk or stoned, perhaps he will threaten not to go to school tomorrow, demanding some unacceptable privilege like the right to go out on Wednesdays, or permission to go camping with his odious friend at Easter. He has me by the balls. The other day I slapped him hard round the face, he threw all my books out of the bookcases.

I get off in the east. I think of his life among the blacks, talking to the crack dealers on what they pretentiously call the frontline. I understand the excitement and affirmation, the enjoyment, even if low.

I walk towards a nightmare landscape of brutalist architecture. Here the streets and buildings are named after diseases.

Today he was on the phone to his friend, sending me out of the room. I overheard him talking about acid tabs he has obtained, and wants to take on Saturday.

I feel terrible, life negative. I am getting nowhere, accomplishing nothing. Today he told me some ghastly soap opera is ‘wicked’, which is high praise in children’s argot. He admires junk culture, television trash.

What I believed in years ago, which is what I still supposedly believe in. The hideous ecstasy. Life negation. Death threatens from high blood pressure. More numbers. "I know it must come as a bit of a shock to you", said the doctor. There is the systolic and the diastolic. Both are much too high.. What can I make of that? Does that bear any relation to the other number I have been given?

I have managed to create a life for myself, of sorts, keeping coercion at arms length. Now this damned doctor. I find great difficulty enjoying and affirming.

It is like the blasphemy against my beliefs, yet also their hideous fulfilment. What will come, the problem I want to express, the secret I have to solve? What I wanted, what I hate. If no longer for this world. A culture I increasingly cannot stand.

Yet also to remember what was, to save it from what it has been said to be, from how it is usually defined.

A prime a square a prime a cube.

A traditional red Giles Scott telephone box stands at the entrance to the estate and appears to have some significance. It is red and erect like the pillar box nearby. There is a memory of a call once made from here, to some forgotten number. Or maybe it is not a memory at all, maybe it is a call that has not yet been made, but that will be made days, maybe years, hence, and which will have a critical importance for what is left of my life. While making that call I was or will be in a state of some distress.

In the daytime the estate is an eyesore, seen at night with all its lights it is beautiful. What would be perfect would be if all the blocks could descend underground in the daytime to rise up only after nightfall.

I phone home to find my son has returned. So I have no reason to be here. I have been drawn here though. Is the secret somewhere in the middle of this estate? Are the numbers here, some flat I once visited and to which it is advised I return? A passage leads into Malaria Court, from which I can get to Dengue house. Passing tall Cholera Point, I walk up a slope to Lassa Walk, a high walkway which leads me to Dengue House. I walk down some concrete steps then turn right along a balcony. I come to a number. There is neither bell nor knocker. Careful of my knuckles I take a pound coin from my pocket and rap on the door. It is answered by a woman with whom I am familiar, an actress. I walk into the flat. There is something skull like in her features, she does not look at all well.

She greets me coldly, not surprised to see me. She invites me in and asks if would like a cup of tea.

I accept the offer.

I think she might be able to help me, enabling me to recall something I ought not to have forgotten.

Let the dying die, including this one whom I find it impossible to like and who therefore must dislike me. People most strongly dislike me who are most strongly attached to alternative power systems. Disliking the woman and wish her to die, though I may learn something from her that I have come to learn. So I am sure the feeling must be mutual, she must dislike me,

In reality I have got it all wrong. From her point of view it is not that at all, surprisingly. Knowing she has to die she is beyond that. She brings in words like rectum and buttocks into the conversation. A last desperate flicker of sexual feeling. She will not be here much longer.

She claims to be certain that death is unimportant, that there is only change and that she will continue to exist in some other form.

But time heals all.

Ultimately the solution when it came to me would be rather like solving the final clue to a very large and complicated crossword puzzle. I was getting close, almost there.

In her flat I pick up another clue. She mentions in passing a number that I interpreted as that of a house.

On the way back I break the journey to stop off at my friend’s house, which has that number. His house, in striking contrast with where I have just been, is two hundred years old, and overlooks an ancient common. I ask him if he would like to come out for a drink. He tells me he has a better idea. We are to have a smoke first. I roll a joint we smoke it, and then go outside and walk the few hundred yards to the pub. I count the steps. The hashish was very strong.

Now I had it. There is a formula for everything, for every state of mind, good or bad. As it happened this one was very bad.

I had just left the toilet, coming out to rejoin him at the bar when it struck. I am in one of those ultimate situations, with all the promise of infinite terror. Or are they all just one situation? ‘It’s back again, can you solve this one?’ The whole of reality assumes a menacing configuration, one is faced with the impossible test, the ordinary is transfigured into this terrifying metaphysical problem, when ordinary reassurance has become meaningless and vistas of appalling horror open up in every direction. All the possible horror of the universe. Horror as pure possibility. Even to write about this frightens me, it is the damnation I know I may face at the moment of my death.

“The universe is a loaded gun pointed at you head.” This is my friend’s take on what to him was a familiar enough experience.

Some banal little question that comes up, like “am I getting fat”? that opens up the gateway to solipsistic terror.

Here I was lost. I try to call on something to save me, religious images, Jesus crucified, Buddha, naked women, nice girls who were sympathetic to me if it can remember any. A number that offers salvation, a code for something. In my panic all these brief thoughts race around in my head. Now everything is numbers, numbers will save you, damn you, convict you, send you to prison, send you to Hell. Numbers cascade all around and through me. Only one of them will work.

And this horror forms itself into a diabolical flower, a type of jungle orchid. I name the flower “the crossroads of horror” to freeze these nightmarish combinations. Flowers symbolise situations to be encountered in the course of life, ecstasy, triumph, frustration, remorse, grief etc. The flower can also be expressed mathematically. It is the precise symbolic expression of an insoluble equation.

By naming I exorcise. Everything is all right, however bad, so long as it can be understood. At least that is what I tell myself. Horrors recede. I have escaped this time.

There is a cottage that we visit in my dreams, somewhere in Devon, not far from the East German border. It is the pleasantest of places to live for a while. It is very old and quite spacious. A short bicycle ride takes me to the most fantastic Claudean landscape. There is a castle on a hill.

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