On a mountainside
[ fiction - june 07 ]
I was flagging but the llama was game.
Phillip the Long-haired Llama was mostly gravy-coloured with offwhite, bleachy stains like huge birthmarks in the sheep-like wool that covered him. He was the height of a pony but he had a camel-style neck and woolified, ostrichlike legs, like used pipe-cleaners sticking from his swiss-roll-shaped body. He had a camelkind of sheepytype head with bananaform ears he could almost fully rotate, and his mouth was full of apple-splitting teeth. He could spit accurately, if riled, and at some range, but we didn't share meals or desire the same females so he was otherwise cordial and there was more attention in his apple-sized, blueish eyes than a horse ever shows. Or maybe he just had cataracts.
I was fond of Phillip the Llama. You can ride a horse better, but a llama is more companionable. A camel is stronger but less easy to store. He knew where we were going but he had no idea why we were going there. Nor did he care. He asked not what's in it for me? Because being here, now was all he required or could even guess at. To be or not to be was not even a question. What was was what is. And what is was all there was going to be, ever. Basically, Phillip was deeply, irretrievably cool. He made no plans, emitted no carbon and did no harm. He was indigenous, he was eco-friendly and he was female. He was exactly the opposite of me, and I found it vaguely impressive, a mode of alterior wisdom that had nothing about it that was smart.
But it pissed me off too, so I amused myself by pulling on her dangly Christmas cracker of a tail, hoping she'd bolt or shit, or something/ anything would ruffle her feathers. Phillip's neck twitched like an aerial looking for a signal, but a twist in the tail was water off a duck's back to a llama and however I tugged I just couldn't get her goat. She didn't mind anything I did. She was too tough and I got bored too easily. She had no memory so I couldn't nag her into losing her temper. Phillip beat me hands down without even peeking.
So I decided I didn't like llamas. But quickly realised the only loser was me. Only I was experiencing my anger. Only my life was scarred by it. This filled me with an unbearable sadness, an acute sense of the futility of my own existence, of a life estranged from love. So I hugged Phillip's woolly neck and made other trekkers take photos of us together. I made people I didn't like promise to email these vacuous images to me, to stay in touch, so we could get together in London and, uh, hang out, y'know... together?
It was a growth experience. Things would never be the same. I'd got that llama feeling. You ain't living till you're lloving and I was a fully loved-up llama-hassler here-on-in. With Phillip to the fore, my soul flowed through the opened door to a whole new world. But in that same instant I realised I didn't know what to do on the other side. And neither did anyone else I knew. So there was no point in going there to be enlightened and alone, was there? It was a relief when the long climb ended.
WELCOME TO THE TOP, the sign said.
"I finally fucking made it," gasped Owen. It was just him and me on the wet stones and he was almost invisible, his voice a message from the swaddling clouds. "I knew it was only a matter of time if I stuck with you, Bazz."
"I wondered what was holding me back," I muttered spitefully. And Owen steps closer, to give me that hurt look he gives me when he feels... cut off from something, some unnamed succour he intuitively believes it's in my power to give. It's so pathetic I almost feel sorry for him. Because it makes me feel better about... something, when I almost feel sorry for him. And I smile thinly, winningly as I can. Like whatever he wants, whatever that unspecified thing is, he'll get it. Within reason, of course. As long as there's… something in it for me.
Owen smiles back, which shows the urinous trickle at the roots of his lower teeth, and the huge blue eyes, frozen like planets of perpetual winter. Like the slack, dead hemispheres of worlds that have ceased to spin, that no longer answer to their star or the seasons and feel only the pull of their own cooling, crumbling core... just for a moment, for me, they swell gently in his gaunt face and his queasily lucent skin gleams like leftover mayonnaise. Maybe that's gratitude, maybe it's some undermining bacterium. Maybe it amounts to the same thing. But he understands, I can see, with something resembling relief, we understand that I have to slap him this way from time to time, if it's to work, whatever it is. And that, whatever it is, it's on him to make it happen. He needs it more than I do.
Our friendship inches into its future.