The Mergentleman's Tale
As the sun sank below the horizon Moriatti considered how he tied of nature's daily fanfare. How the once glorious colours filtering through vapour that used to bring such wonder were now tired and cliched. Nature had run out of new illusions for Moriatti, and the repetition of this worn out spectacle seemed only to fascinate those who populated the lower decks, as the Mohican steamed slowly out of the Thames Estrey that Friday evening.
Moriatti was not from London, in fact this was his first visit. Though visiting is perhaps not the right word, he was passing through. That morning he had travelled by locomotive from Birmingham and by 6pm was admiring the sound of his heeled boots on the newly waxed floor of the Mohican's stern bar. His journey so far had been tremulous. It was raining in Birmingham. Though the sky was nearly clear, by the time Moriatti arrived at Curzon Street Station he was soaking, both with rain and sweat. This was unusual for Moriati as he rarely embarked on the outside world without an umbrella. In fact he rarely left his home at all. He lived in a newly built house at the top of a small hill between Moseley and Kings Heath, the remains of which can still be seen today. In a room just to the left of the front door he housed his collection of umbrellas. Most were umbrellas that he had commissioned, and he would spend hours admiring them and planning new designs. Among his favourites was a Birmingham made piece. It had a mother-of-pearl handle in a classic curve, so that it could be hooked over ones arm. The top of the handle was capped with sterling silver, hallmark Birmingham 1890. The central shaft was hand carved from a single piece of walnut into a repeat pattern of naked beauties stood atop one another. This feature of course remained hidden beneath the midnight blue silk that formed a tight sheath around the figures, until it rained.
Another of his favourites was an umbrella of his own invention. When opened it formed two radial silk covered structures, one alongside the other, so as he could walk alongside his love and they would both be sheltered. The outside of the silk was antique white, on the inside he had commissioned Edward Burne-Jones to paint an inspiring scene, based on Aphrodite being born from the seas of Cyprus. This was to be reflected by the love born under the umbrella in a rainstorm in Birmingham. It was a departure for Burne-Jones who's work on windows was typically of a Christian nature, but Moriatti thought that it at least remained with a religious subject.
It was however not this umbrella that Moriatti had stowed for his journey, as he would be travelling alone. Two days earlier he had parted company with his latest love affair, and in a rage accidentally killed his manservant Denis. For the purpose of this tale we need not know much about Denis, except to say that he was a good and loyal, if simple man, and did not deserve his terrible fate.
It was because of this crime, as yet undetected, that Moriatti had thought it best to leave the country for a short while. And so on this day he had to carry his own bags, leaving no hands free to erect the pewter and horse-chestnut umbrella he had selected. Thus upon his arrival at Curzon Street Station he was somewhat damp and in low spirits.
As the white building loomed above him impressively he imagined it was the temple of Apollo, and that within he might worship at Apollo's golden feet, and prey for forgiveness, or at least not to be found out! As he walked up the stairs his imaginations of ancient Greece were interrupted by a woman yelling something at him from the top step. It was a haggard looking wench with a pram, and Moriatti had to screw up his face in concentration to bring his mind back into the present day. As his eyes and ears took focus, he realised slightly to late that she was asking him for help in descending the stairs. She was a cockney, and as Moriatti deciphered the accent he realised that the Birmingham - London train must have arrived. He bounded past the now struggling and cursing woman into the station. Alas, there was no gold Apollo, instead that typical pungent smell of armpits and breath that is generated in such crowded spaces. Combined with this though was the less familiar oil and smoke pouring onto the platform. Moriatti was compelled to fill his lungs deeply so as to remember this combination of man and machine. And so Morriati's journey began.
Although he had a cabin, he had positioned himself within the bar at the stern of the ship. His future being so uncertain he preferred the view looking back to where he had come from, than into the unknown path that lay ahead. Being one of the first in the wood clad room he was able to appreciate the scent of wax and polish that permeated from the floor and tables. It was a dark wood, held together in places with brass plates and bolts. Where the walls were painted, they were painted in a soft yellow, a poor choice thought Moriatti, as the Prussian blue from the darkening sky reflected in the sea poured through the windows. The combination created a pea green effect, a hue that would have brought about nausea at the best of times, let alone on a boat. The bar slowly filled with unfamiliar faces, and the newly appointed staff struggled to cope with the demand for ale and rum.
Moriatti preferred port, and sat surreptitiously with a bottle he had procured from his cellar before departing. He was positioned stationary at a table for two in the centre at the back of the room. Externally he resembled a sculpture or mannequin. His black frock coat was now dry, and he had taken time to shave and retie his cravat. No one could have known the traumatic day he had left behind. In fact nobody noticed him at all. He preferred not to smile or frown, and certainly not laugh, as this would scar his face with lines and wrinkles, tracing the time and nature that he so vermently avoided. His mind was divided as he swilled the dark, rich port around his mouth. His tongue detected cassis, lavender, dark chocolate, brambles, he was even reminded of the thick floor wax. As he considered whether he should heave brought the 1847, not the 1848, his eyes flitted across the room, avoiding eye contact, but watching as girls laughed and became drunk, falling about; men groping the women and downing their drinks.
Moriatti had always felt alone, and it was a feeling that he relished. He found more comfort I places and possessions than he did in other people. He collected compulsively. He spent much of his fortune on furnishings for his home, demanding precise shades of alizion crimson velvet for the curtains, to match exactly the walls and floor. He would create entire rooms in a single colour, with particular items therein in slightly lighter or darker shades. This had the effect of completely overwhelming the eye. He would plan routes through his house to create different effects. The all white corridor would appear orange after the cerulean blue room, and violet after the golden room. He would take some routes at great speed, some slowly, allowing his eyes to become completely affected. Even when venturing outside he would frequent the same bars and restaurants, as then he knew he would be satisfied.
Suddenly he felt out of control. As three tipsy girls appeared to be approaching his table he became tense. He had noticed the one to the left earlier, something about her smile reminded him of his now lost love, but now he could not look for fear of giving the impression that he was inviting them over. As they approached his eyes started to cloud over with crimson velvet. He must have been staring at them blankly whilst deep in a reverie. He glanced at the smile and his coat felt too small, and the lipstick that was painted on to generously completed the crimson veil. Crimson turned to yellow, then to black, then ultra marine as he hurried onto the deck. The sound of the crowded bar disappeared behind him to the pulse of a loudly ticking clock, which slowed to a stop as he reached the railing and the sea. His shoes sounded different, deeper. It was a clear but moonless night; the water lit only by light from the liner and the stars. He was reminded of the last time that he had drunk champagne. The water had taken on the look of an oil painting, perhaps a Turner, or no, a Vlieger. As the ship gently motioned in the blackness he imagined that it was the tip of a celestial paintbrush under Poissidons control.
The air was slightly colder that cool, as a determined wind lashed against Moriatti's face. He was compelled to remove his top hat, and immediately felt the sea air against his scalp, his hair tossed violently to the right. Unbeknown to Morriati, Poisidons brush had gone astray from it's intended path. This was unknown to the vessels captain also. His delicate brushwork had left the canvas completely and was heading down one leg of the easel.
Moriatti stood at the back of the Mohican, staring into the blackness that enveloped him like a shroud. He was shocked to be painfully disturbed in his calm contemplation, and found himself strewn across a bench. His head was between the seat and the back, an arm with it, and the rest of his body dishevelled ungraciously across the rest. He instantly noticed a small area beneath one of the slats that a bad workman had missed with the thick white gloss paint. This, combined with the sudden jolt that had landed him in this mess, left Moriatti less than confident in the vessel in which he now depended. Panic set in as voices became audible and he realised his compromising position. Passengers were running onto the deck creating an effect of commotion that would have been most enjoyable to view, if one was not trapped in a bench. Though the sound alone was having its own, possibly more powerful effect, separated from the visuals. As Moriatti stared at the shoddy paint job, the solid drips of gloss, and beyond the stars, he picked out a multitude of babies crying, women and girls seemed oddly quiet, while various men were barking orders at each other.
A similar feeling of calm spread over Moriatti as when one is half-asleep on a beach or on a locomotive. By closing his eyes he became completely removed from the ensuing chaos, and an audio voyeur, listening in on the ridiculous panic in peoples voices. Shrill screams as news and messages seemed to flow around him like the tide. He could feel himself drifting into a quite beautiful state, just bordering on sleep, when the commotion loudened further and he was touched. "You alright mister?"
Enquired a high pitched irritating voice that entered Moriatti's head like a drill. He tried to ignore it, but soon the voice struck oil and his consciousness came flooding forth. He was compelled to sit up, splitting his lip against the gloss paint, thus sustaining the worst of his injuries. As more people gathered round his panic grew, and upon negotiating his way out of the seat imprisonment, he endeavoured to find his top hat. It was a silk top hat made in a Midnight blue. He had commissioned it at a more carefree time to match his midnight blue umbrella. Unfortunately the milliners interpretation of midnight blue had been somewhat different to the umbrella makers. The hat was so close to funereal black that only in bright sunlight could one detect any blue at all.
Upon finding said hat behind a small boy crying for it's mother, Moriatti set about straightening his attire, and checking for marks or tears. By now he had managed to move far enough away from the bench so as not to be associated with it. Most of the passengers were now on the deck. Faces lit by starlight took on a slivery hue, as if they were all dead. With the help of his umbrella, which had remained clasped in his left hand throughout his ordeal, he fought his way through the morording plebeians back to the now deserted bar. A single barman remained who did not seem sure whether he was still meant to be serving, or guarding the liquor. Without much persuasion Moriatti purchased a bottle of rum, it seemed more appropriate for 'perils on the sea' than port. He found his way back to his old table and sat down. The floor was strewn with broken glass that had crunched pleasantly beneath his leather-clad feet. It now took on the appearance of diamonds scattered on the floor of Aladdin's cave, and his mind drifted towards pirates. He was interrupted by a small member of the crew in an ill-fitting jacket informing him that he must vacate the bar and make for a lifeboat.
"How absurd" thought Moriatti as he sipped his drink. This was a naval rum, a hint of molasses, vanilla and aniseed, but harsh and strong. It burned his lips and forced a shudder from his slender body. As he put down his glass he noticed that the world was on a peculiar angle, pointing down towards the back of the ship. It was merely ten minutes since his journey had been interrupted but some passengers had already alighted in lifeboats, lowered into the sea in a most ungainly fashion. The small boats had no roof or shelter, and one would be required to sit at very close proximity to others. Moriatti shuddered again, though not because of the rum. He decided it was best to wait and hope for an empty boat if it became absolutely necessary.
The air outside was lit bright white as a fare shot into the sky. The water was significantly higher than it had been and Moriatti was compelled to approach a window to the starboard. The sea was so close and enlarged that it took on a terrifying reality. The swell was jet black, not Prussian blue, or even midnight blue. He staggered, then stooped back across the bar to his seat. It seemed likely that he may die. Only two or three lifeboats had been launched, and the remainders were now half submerged. The thick oil painting was moving in on Morriatti as he straightened his tie. He checked the polish on his pointed boots and rubbed the left one with his handkerchief to bring up the shine. One only dies once, and to die at the hands of nature in such a dramatic way seemed rather appropriate and charming. He considered what the house clearer would make of his collection of umbrellas, and more so his library of pornographic images collected from around the world. One image in particular came to mind featuring a sturdy looking Russian woman and a five wood golf club. The image brought about a rather cheeky smirk as he pondered being revealed as a pervert, without having to serve a prison term.
As a joke he had left everything he owned to himself, declaring that he only loved himself for his money. The only other beneficiary would be his cat Cecil, an English Blue who would be allowed to live in the house and employ a member of staff to provide food and strokes.
The water started to pour menacingly into the bar and he saw his glass of ….rum slide away across the table and smash against the floor. The bar was much colder now, and since the electrics had failed, rather dark. The last twenty minutes had been traumatic but actual drowning seemed terrifying. Moriatti composed himself in the manner he wished to be found. This was to be his final masterpiece. As the last remaining living passengers screamed, yelled and cried, Moriatti adjusted his shirt cuffs to three quarters of an inch below the sleeves of his jacket. He placed his left leg over his right knee, pulling up his sock at the same time. He pulled his leppels straight, reformed his thin moustache and slightly raised his left eyebrow.
As the black, ice-cold water surrounded his boot, he inched his foot back, but this rapidly proved pointless. Surrendering the soft calf leather to the sea he tried to resist the steepening angle of the floor. He had bought the boots just a month previously from a cobbler in London. Feeling particularly nervous of new experiences at the time, and not wishing to leave his mauve room, he had sent his man to collect them. It was a lengthy process. Moriatti was very particular about the point of the toe. He produced pages of diagrams and drawings, tracing his feet and one of his boots, then adding amendments to the design. The curve of the point had to be the same as the shilling piece, the heel had to be two inches, tapering by a third to the base.
"Good thing I didn't wear suede boots, as they would be ruined by all this water"
Thought Moriatti as the sea lapped at his knees. He was mourning the loss of his favourite frock coat when the chair finally toppled forward, catapulting Moriatti's statuesque figure into the cold darkness.
His skin was stabbed with a million needles, his muscles became tense, so tense that he was certain all his limbs and head were snapped clean off. He had sunk to the wrong side of the bar. Flashes of searing zinc white and stark bloody red burned his eyes through the jet black that was infiltrating every part of his mind. His head sharpened to an excruciating point as it morphed into the nib of a fountain pen that he had been given by his grandfather, submerged in a colossal vat of icy ink. A trapeze artist swung over his head and up into the arches of a great cathedral where a Centaur was writhing in an epic eternal agony, it's great scream marked it's disappearance into the green haze, and Moriatti's soul became detached and sank though the grass into a dark moist earth, riddled with biting things that rushed into his every orifice. He opened a door to take a morsel of air and a friendly lizard and a giant golden tortoise took his hand. The gold that now filled his vision started to fade to deep red, and he could feel himself being sucked slowly back to a freezing reality. Probably, possibly, perhaps, or at least it would seem so.
Moriatti was embroiled in what could only be described as a passionate kiss. It could, or would be described as such but for it's rather on sided nature. He was still unable to move his limbs, and, having never swam before would not know what to do with them anyway.
He did manage to force open an eye to try to see what it was that had attached itself to his mouth, and thus dragged him from the architecturally intriguing gates of hell. Close to Baroque, but with a gothic element to the columns. The salt water stung his bloodshot eye, but he could just make out the white pearlesant skin of a young girl.
It was unusual for Moriatti to be at close proximity to anyone, let alone a stranger. Actual physical touching and fluid exchange was virtually unheard off - apart from a phase between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two. He was however incapable of arguing and it seemed he was moving at a great pace away from doom.
The sky was a pleasant calm turquoise blue, the colour of the veins in his wrist. A clement breeze floated across him and he was reminded of how one feels after a particularly destructive nights drinking. Feeling wretched but thankful to be alive. The night that levered its way into his head had begun with an idea to produce his own wine some months earlier. This was the night to try the results. An unusually potent concoction was the plum and elderflower. Dark purple, so dense that when held to the candle it let no light through, it was absorbed into the rich velvet. It seemed to Moriatti to be like consuming a blackened, evil soul. As he swallowed the potion it felt like it would turn his evil with it, and in a sense he was possessed. After finishing the bottle he remembered opening an oak cask of rhubarb wine.
He then found himself lying on a grave in Digbeth, an ungentrified industrial suburb of Birmingham. A fine day had formed around his wretched body, and having lost an unknown number of hours memory to the night he surrendered himself to the present. He felt weak so could barely move, his eyes were so dry it was hard to open or close them, his brain felt smaller and twisted, and his stomach raw and hollow. There was a taste of bile in his mouth, combined with alcohol and a sickly sharp stab of rhubarb. However, externally he felt wonderful. He appreciated the breeze, the warmth of the sun, how soft his skin was, and how well it covered his bones. He knew that his ailments were self-inflicted, and now the cause was gone he just had to set about rebuilding himself. He needed food, water and tea. He felt renewed, born again. It was only as he staggered hunched through the back streets some hours later that he became concerned about the previous night's activities.
"Did the prostitute in the door way just solicit me by name?"
While that nights activities remained a mystery so did his current situation. His eyes struggled to cope with the brightness of the sky so he rolled his head to the side. He was laying naked apart from his breeches on one of a collection of seaweed covered rocks. The only sound was that of the waves breaking and a seabird flying through the hazy sky.