El Desheredado (Pigeon 33)


Tesla, you don't understand our American humor”. Thomas Edison


On rare days the sun would reach into the suite on the 33rd floor, beating city dirt and the protective shroud of many curtains to cast around inside the room. The windows were a risk, but he had to keep them open for the bird. The danger of open access to his interior world was obvious. On this particular day a diffuse patch of light had cheated the curtains, dived through the makeshift lattice of drapes and shawls and lit up the face of the man. Before him on a smoked glass table sat 33 matchsticks, arranged into peace symbols, 3 per shape. The man gazed at the matchsticks and ruminated, waiting for the flutter that would herald her arrival. 

Each day the pigeon arrived at the same hour, 3.33 pm. In the 33 minutes running up to the momentous hour, the man would halt the entire complex labyrinth of his work and take one matchstick away from the group per minute. This was his daily release as he awaited instructions from the pigeon, and with the furore and complications surrounding his most recent invention, it was a much needed distraction. The pigeon had her own routine. Unlike the grey multitude (who he loved also, though not to the same degree) that waddled on his windowsills and shat copiously, his pigeon simply hovered at eye level, the beautiful white form gently entering his room and alighting on his desk. Recently, however, the pigeon seemed tired.

The man would cross the spotless living room of his two-room suite, and throw back the drapes before she arrived. The curtains were essential, he reassured himself, despite the elevation of the hotel room. Without them, who knows what devious methods they would employ to steal his ideas? The man would then converse with the pigeon for three minutes. Once the conversation was over, he would produce some of his special seeds, count out 33, and drop them for the bird to eat. The pigeon would then take to the wing and dive away from the ledge, sailing out into the New York afternoon. She arrived whatever the weather, invisible against the windowsill snow, lit up by the early death of the winter sun. Without the pigeon, the man knew, he was nothing.  

For some time, the pigeon had been coming inside his room, to truly share the ideas he was seething with. The charged particle beam had consumed him. He knew that there was a limited amount of time remaining in which he could complete his plans, and without the support he needed he must do it alone. Even despite his treatment at the many gloved hands of the world, the man was surprised by how difficult the negotiations for his most recent invention really were. Theoretically, the concept was valid. The directed-energy weapon was, in his mind at least, capable of firing ultra-concentrated energy through the air. He smiled as he shuffled the matchsticks.

In his mind, the superweapon could bring world peace. Of course, the experimental laboratory could not be housed within the suite, but was nearby, 33 blocks away to be precise. There, the open-ended vacuum tube sealed by a gas jet could charge particles with innumerable volts. Using electrostatic repulsion, his weapon would be the prize of any defence department. He was considering the current negotiations with MI5 when the telephone suddenly sounded. He frowned, hating the interruption to his routine.

He reached the telephone within two rings, but he let it ring a third time before picking up. He was silent, holding the receiver away from his ear and mouth. He had wiped it just that morning, yet he wasn’t entirely sure whether it still looked clean.  

“Nikola, it’s me.”

Her, again, when would she understand? He wished that the ‘Do Not Disturb’ that he had placed on his door and never removed could extend to the telephone.

“Are you alright?”

He maintained his silence.

“What are you doing?”

Eventually he responded, very quietly.  

“Waiting for my friend to arrive.”

She sighed, was silent herself for several seconds.

“How is the work?”

He thought he heard some kind of interference on the line, looked at the receiver quizzically.

“I must go, the bird will be here soon.”


He hung up and went back to his matchsticks, moving three at a time to make up the lost minutes. He thought of all he had accomplished and all that had been torn from him. His precious ideas, the inheritance he would leave to the world, and he wondered what it had all been for? Had he really changed the world as he intended? Had he used his unique understanding and creative brilliance wisely? It certainly didn’t feel like it. He was sinking, and without the pigeon the strength that had propelled him through the maelstrom of life would evaporate, diving away from the ledge like the bird herself.  

3.33 pm came, and the man went to the window and opened the curtains. The room, three desks adjoined and heaped with paper, suddenly opened up to the sun. The bird was late, which had not happened since the start of the routine around three years before. The man made a note to check the exact calendar date, a bit over three years, he expected. The bird arrived around three minutes later, three minutes and thirty-three seconds, according to his stopwatch. It flew uncertainly into the room and weekly circled three times before alighting on his desk.

It was not any old white pigeon. The bird was absolutely beautiful. Taking the 33 seeds from his pocket, the man counted them onto his desk – 3,6,9 etc. The bird would not eat and so the man went to the stove, where he kept a large pot of boiled water. It was freshly cooked and could not be contaminated, it was good enough for the bird, the man thought. He reached out and touched the light grey wingtips and thought about what a particle beam would do to those feathers. Of the thousands of pigeons he had nourished and cared for over the years, this was different. He crooned to the bird: “Magnificent girl. What can I do for you? How can I help you?” and the bird stared up at him through impenetrable eyes and it barely moved. Despite her sickness, however, the man had never seen a whiter pigeon. She was so white that there was no chance of impurity, so white he could stroke her and know she was clean.

For several days the man stayed beside the bird as she became weaker and weaker. Her illness was obvious and permanent and although the man did not know how much longer it would be he maintained a constant vigil. Over time, it became clear that she would die, and the man watched her intently, waiting for some signal that it was near. He watched very closely, as if waiting for a message. All of a sudden the room was lit with an intense ray of light. Was it the particle beam of his imagination sprung to incinerate his workings? It was so bright and pure, the man had to shield his eyes and turn his head away. He had never seen or created anything so piercing. When he turned back, the white pigeon was dead. He took the tiny body and placed it upon the window ledge. He started to say a few words about returning to the air, but he could muster nothing. From that moment forth his curtains were open. The fight was gone from him. Beaten ragged by a world without credence, the pigeon was the final breaking point. The man sat slumped and dejected in his chair. Sometimes he would turn to the window in hope, but the bird was gone.


Red is the cold dawn

(From The Dictionary of 26 Nothings)


Irving Goya had been holed up in the tiny room above the Boulangerie on Place de Liberation all day. He had chosen the situation badly. Despite the village being virtually inaccessible, the Quartorze Juillet Festival was impending and the place was crawling with tourists. He came in on the Col de Babou, a treacherous pass away from which fell great swathes of wild France. He took the corners at speed, trusting more and more in fate. It was no place to escape. Goya had heard American accents on the boulevard that morning and upon fleeing in terror had spent the rest of the day inside attempting to write. Therein lay the problem. After Blind Heart, his fingers had taken on the properties of badly melted lead, heavily refusing to type. He had expected this French village deep in the Var to unblock him. It had not. 

He had invented and fallen in love with a character, Methtrash, and her cat, Ogilvy. Somewhere in the shadows lurked her father, an itinerant surfer living from an RV called The Wreck. Goya spent hours each day thinking about Methtrash. How alone she was, how hopeless her life seemed, what she was afraid of. Yet when he attempted to recreate this on paper, he found that he could not. Therefore he spoke to her in long, meandering sentences in which he spoke both their parts. When played out like this the dialogue was pithy, sexually charged, breathless in its intensity and pace. He simply could not find the story. So it sat stillborn, waiting.

His vanishing act had worked. He had disappeared the author of just two pieces of published writing: Vulture (a short story printed by Antediluvian Press as a limited-edition chapbook), and Blind Heart, widely hailed as one of the most powerful books in the English language. When he left, it had been translated into eighteen languages and spent twelve weeks capping the best-seller list with no sign of budging. Everybody was delighted, apart from Irving Goya. Leaving his newly recruited publicist, who was the best in that nebulous realm, to spread wild and unsubstantiated rumours of his demise, he had spent a week at the Centre of Universal Truth and then slipped out of the country, travelling under a false passport and an assumed name, rolling in disguise across borders, staying in small hotels and renting a variety of different cars with one shared feature – the ability to run fast.

He stayed up through the long nights of a European Spring, visited a Fiesta in the Picos De Europa which lasted a week and culminated in a day lost in the forest under the thrall of DMT. He was at the School of Rearranged Senses in Berlin when the bust happened, but he slipped out. He slept some nights in his car on the open road, pulling over and falling asleep from exhaustion. Other nights he checked in as Heathcliff, Obadiah Grave, various identities arriving late with no reservation. He spent euros fast without calculating the exchange rate and ate in anonymous restaurants seeking only the company of other people to observe. Never to communicate with, only to watch and watch and try to understand. And when some event transpired to inspire him, he would reach for his pen and scrawl notes on whatever was to hand: napkins, beermats, even the tablecloth of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. He actively avoided his European friends and family, all labouring under the belief that he had been taken by a shark, died in a freak lacrosse accident, was missing presumed dead in San Francisco.

Once he thought he saw his first wife, Florence, across a crowded Auberge. She was sweeping the floor with her hair in scarf and looking melancholy. He left at once and drove hard out of town. He had wound up in the Var whilst heading up the coast, attempting to divert around St Tropez. Everywhere, Blind Heart pursued him, copies appearing on tables, in cafes, one even deserted in a Berlin penthouse with the inscription on the first page: To Julietta, this will change your life. In a fit of pride he signed it and started to read the first chapter. It became increasingly painful.

The village appealed to him because it made little attempt to attract a tourist. It was quintessentially and effortlessly French. He spent his days in the Tabac, smoking strong Gitanes and drinking murky Pastis which an Arab waiter brought to him without any signal between them. It was here that Methtrash had manifested herself, perhaps in the sway of some short skirt or the bat of naïve eyelashes. Goya hallucinated her, a technique he had learned during the writing of Blind Heart. From his tiny room he stared down at the square, saw her coming and going between the Chestnut trees and the Town Hall that crowned the place. He spoke to her in fitful starts.


Everywhere I go my dreams are dying. Each new person I meet convinces me that this is it – we are beyond redemption. Are we?”

“My daddy always said dreaming was a waste of a good night’s sleep.”

But dreaming isn’t a choice, Methtrash. All I wish is for the world to be right. To make the right choices.”

“If you got the freedom to make choices, well you’re the lucky one, honey. Where I live there are no choices and no way out.”


And so on. In these discussions she revealed tantalising glimpses of her character; what she could become given time. Some oracle voice for the world. A crier for the downtrodden and the oppressed, a channel for the grief and sadness and slapdash horror that harries the secure and besieges the damned. And all for what? Goya asked aloud, his voice flat and muffled in his cube. For what this inequality, this striving necessity to rise? Methtrash, looking up from the very bottom through huge, unblinking eyes like river pools.

Somewhere in those eyes was salvation. What he had started with Blind Heart he could finish with this. The thought gripped him in sudden ecstasy and he stood and gave a twirl and bow, like a conductor before a rapturous audience, taking credit for his instruments. My stories are sticking plasters for the world. With words I have the infinite capacity to heal.

Periodically these fits of overwhelming self-confidence were replaced by spirals. Every word of Blind Heart committed to memory through tireless re-writing. How he had soldiered, nursing the story through one, two, three permutations. Alternative endings, dead-ends, characters instantly disliked and abandoned. But in that process there had been some crucial expulsion – the evaporation of his energy, sweated out into keyboards, through pens, any channel possible to lay it down with some rich groove in incandescent bursts. This is the closest I will ever get to truly living, Goya had realised with shock one morning. I am nothing without this. But Methtrash was promising something still more, some extra layer of involvement, hideous in its power. Goya wrestled with it night beyond night, angrily trying to control the flames. Whilst Blind Heart was written in euphoria whatever came next had greater significance and some unquenchable evil at its heart – not simple mischief but blind, cold evil. Gradually the destructive core of it ate at him and he had to take to the streets and wonder into the Moor quarter, through those impossibly narrow alleyways that are dark in the midday sun. Head down, the collar of his jacket pulled up high and tight around his neck like a noose. Methtrash again:


“Out there beyond my dreams there is nothing. Big, giant empty nothing. No sound, no shapes, no sky.”


Then the unexpected:


“But there are other people there. Nobody you can see and identify, nothing on which to build a friendship. Eyeless shadows.”


“So this is where we are going.”


“This is the necessary future of the world.”


The thought caused him to lie poorly in his bunk for days considering this life with fevered terror. When he regained lucidity the festival was upon him. Le Quartorze Juillet, the town bursting with energy, the fountain flowing red with wine and the promise of a long night of chaos and beautiful decadence, handled in that uniquely contemplative way that the French adopt to celebrate. How things change in a year, he remembered that girl from Antediluvain Press just a year before, when the world was stuffed full of hope and nothing more.   

Later that night with Methtrash at his side he took the sleek, black rental whose marque he had not even checked and drove into Marseille, sleeping in a graffiti-scarred street whose only salvation was silence. Was he Irving Goya, provider of dreams through which any soul could slip through their own net? Was he Irving Goya, hermit and fugitive bound by Blind Heart to wonder forever seeking opportunity for another story of parallel consequence? Was he Irving Goya of the mind, due to court and chase this fugitive character until her final, glorious manifestation in flesh? Goya fluctuated between his many roles, like us all. Searching, like us all, for a sudden burst of meaning upon which to sail clear, however temporarily, from the awful pursuance of time, this his 21st Century nightmare.

In the end he broke down, literally and figuratively, drove the car out of gas on some remote stretch of Italian road. He wrote 666 words in ten minutes, Beak 666. Got down on his knees in the aromatic dust, the midday sun beating merciless upon him, and he wept and pleaded with her. Show yourself to me, let me understand you. But she simply turned her face to the side, looked out over a Tuscan valley, harboured her dreams and encapsulated his desires. How can you understand me, when you do not understand yourself? And it seemed in her speech that the message was intended not just for him, but for humans conglomerate and universal and the message, though it was spoken by her, came from the world itself. Goya continued on foot, the indents of his tears quickly seared dry in the heat. He walked without knowing whether she would follow.