The Mayor of Southwark and the Asselian Age

The Mayor of Southwark and the Asselian Age
Photo by bitslammer (copied from Flickr)

Photo by bitslammer (copied from Flickr)

When the Mayor of Southwark was a boy he held a young, yellow anaconda on his shoulders and it had these golden whisky patches and black borders on its body and a way of moving hungrily and breathing hungrily and a way of clutching onto everything hungrily and the world is a sort of novelty to be navigated by the starving.

Yawning is when a person forms their mouth into a large round opening and lets warm air escape from inside of them and makes a soft, groaning sound as though they are being defeated.

I am in a telephone box on Denmark Hill, leaving sad, short messages on your answerphone. A homeless man watches me from across the road wearing a crude glaucosaurus costume. I shake the telephone receiver at him as way of a greeting and he raises an arm and smiles back warily, his costume going dark and wet and piss pooling gradually around his feet.

In the Asselian Age, Camberwell Green was a shallow, ale coloured swamp and there were reeds and cattails and temnospondyls and crawling was the fastest form of transport and the sun was wilder and whiter and wider and like an empty circle drawn in the sky.

Drinking is when a person eats something without chewing.

I am dropping LSD on the benches behind Saint Giles Church. A Bichon Frisé runs aimlessly on the grass. Its owner approaches me. Why aren’t you dressed up, she says, putting her cigarette to the plastic lips of her coelacanth mask and then pulling it away and breathing out a funnel of smoke. I could learn to love you, I say, and she stands there for a long time, smoking and looking at me, whilst the Bichon Frisé stalks through the weeds, chewing something gelatinous and snuffling its nose.

The Mayor of Southwark is fishing for Butterfly Splitfin on a green lake in Western Mexico, a line of them like bunting appearing out of the water. Below him, on the lake bed, there are fossils from the Asselian Age. Conodonts and fusulinids in the shale. Sweat is collecting in shallow rings under the Mayor of Southwark’s eyes.

Pins and needles are when parts of a person’s body pretend to be dead.

Inside the council offices the Mayor of Southwark is writing furiously on a white board. His pen squeaking. Rows of onlookers watch delightedly from plastic seats. After a while, the Mayor of Southwark stops writing and turns to face his audience and says, try to imagine all the animals from the Asselian Age and try to imagine them all peering down into a deep hole and try to imagine the smallest animals, standing on tiptoes and crowding together with their faces filling up with sadness.

I am being mugged by a group of young men on Coldharbour Lane. How old are you, they ask. Twenty six, I reply, trying to read their expressions. I give them everything I have, emptying my pockets and fanning open my wallet, and they seem disappointed. As they leave one of them makes a sweeping motion with his tail and everybody cheers. I cheer too, smiling and pumping the air with my fist.

In the Asselian Age, Camberwell Green was a desert under a thin film of red water and what life there was lived there in silence, wet up to its ankles and worrying about everything whilst
steam escaped out of cracks in the ground and burst and gobbled on the surface and at night it would sound as though something monstrous was breathing under the water.

Sneezing is when a person ejects liquid from their nose and cries out in amusement at the mechanical nature of their own body.

Then I lifted the Mayor of Southwark onto my shoulders and we walked out together across monomict rocks and into the bone coloured sea and I held our shoes in bundles by their laces and the Mayor of Southwark looked down from my shoulders into the steps of the amber halite with all the wonder of a young world and if there is happiness in the wild I have never seen it.

Then I ran with the Mayor of Southwark on four legs through the jaundice ferns and we were so full of splinters and spruce needles and sadness that we ached all over and don’t ask me how the dead work or what they are doing and I can’t know how the pine barrens grow out of the acid and the mulch and brace their leaves together over us as though they were wringing their hands with nerves.

I am brushing the Mayor of Southwark’s hair as he peers dolefully out the window. And he is saying, we’ll remember this as the summer we first learnt to feel old. Outside, hawfinches are bickering in the harlem grasses and snow is melting in pools. I’m nodding to the Mayor of Southwark but I’m not listening. I’m imagining pairs of edaphosaurus chewing on lily roots and looking sleepily into one another’s eyes.

Tom Offland lives in London. His work has recently appeared in theNewerYork, Corium Magazine and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He is currently working on his first collection of short stories.

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