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Fiction by Norman Lock





We entered the second of the great Nyanza lakes. As we sailed northward, its waters stretched beyond our field of vision to the streams of the Mountains of the Moon. Quigley turned in his deck chair and closed his eyes.

“I intend to keep them closed,” he said, “until we have reached the vanishing point. There is nothing on this side to interest me further.”

I recalled the day Carlson had lost his perspective, and shuddered.

The crossing was not good. We passed through a disturbance of riverhorses. The horizon, which had always ringed us, drew apart. The sun merged with its reflection. A nervous passage succeeded a slippery one. Perspective folded like a fan, shattering the illusion of space. There was a sudden binomial expansion, followed by a release of free radicals. The unfortunate riverhorses atomized. Quigley paled in the absence of all dimensions. The smell of lightning and heliotrope greeted us.

“We have entered the blue zone,” he said. “I’ve seen it only once before, in Bosch’s Seven Deadly Sins in the Prado.”

The vibrations had altered the hull’s molecular structure. I sent porters below with oakum and tar while Quigley prayed to Hermes Trismegistus to seal our vessel tight. The compass needle forsook its true north. I summoned the navigator with his astrolabe and charts. We encountered an aberration. Quigley was horribly skewed. The table of elements wobbled. I did my best to steady it.

“Do you see that?” asked Quigley, blinking his eyes in the strong light that had no apparent source. “It is the Light which has never begun and will never cease, described by Gregory Palamas, a holy man of the 14th century who penetrated the mystery of the Transfiguration. ‘Gott wird Licht genannt nicht nach Seinem Wesen, sondern nach Seiner Energie.’”

I played with the cylindrical mirror, hoping to reconstitute the riverhorses by anamorphosis. They would not be reconstituted; their particles rode the wave of light upon which our boat was borne. I emptied my pockets of matter. Quigley played an invisible game of billiards; I heard the clicking of the balls.

“Quigley!” I called, rummaging in the vague air all around me. “Where are you exactly?”

“That question is meaningless here.”

“Where’s ‘here’?”

He shrugged an audible (though invisible) shrug.

“Here, there ... It makes no difference.”

“What keeps me from going to pieces?” I wondered aloud.

“Your firm grip on reality.”

“And the navigator?”

“His focus.”

“And the porters?”

“Their indifference.”

I took his naturalist’s camera and held out my hand. My hand disappeared in the uncanny narrative in which Quigley was presently involved.

“Take a picture for me,” I said.

He did; but when I developed it in the windowless stateroom below, the photograph was empty. It had been light-struck by a radiance beyond our poor powers of perception.

“Could it have been God?” I asked, throwing my voice into the Void where I supposed Quigley lodged.

“In the St. John triptych by Rogier van der Weyden, God is a translucent red substance. I see nothing but white light.”

I marveled again at the many arcane facts at Quigley’s disposal.

“Can I get you something to eat?” I asked, anxious that he should not entirely dematerialize. I hated the thought of being left to continue the journey all on my own.

“A light lunch would be nice.”

At noon on May 2, we arrived in Butiaba on the shore of Lake Albert.

Perspective was reinstated. Quigley reappeared with “something very like a hangover.” We straightened our clothes and combed our hair. The riverhorses had reassembled and were disporting themselves in the lagoon among pink and purple lilies. I presented the porters with twenty-five sheep in recognition of their steadfastness whereupon they improvised long chants in my honor.

“Bwana Makuba!” they sang to me. “Bwana Makuba.”

The landscape trembled in the heat. We rested in the shade of the papyrus. Yellow-breasted chats flew in and out of the branches. As the afternoon waned, a wind rose and blew off the lake. The sky kindled as the sun went down. The porters danced in a ring to the beat of tom-toms. It was very beautiful.

“The journey is not irreversible,” said Quigley.

I could not disagree.




[first Published in The Cream City Review, 1998]


Our energies waned and with them our belief in the enterprise. The Beacon of Civilization, which we had dragged behind us all those many years in the wilderness, was all but extinguished.

The Bishop was summoned. He arrived, dressed in full canonicals, with the might and majesty of the church upon him. We scurried out of the way so as not to be crushed.

“We want to go back,” we said. “We are worn out with our ceaseless comings and goings.”

We showed him the state of our boots, the holes in our trousers, our frayed cuffs. We showed him our untended cheeks and chins as proof of our growing indifference.

The Bishop thundered like a thousand kneeling benches let down at once on a stone floor. His crosier flashed with anger and prerogative.

We were not impressed.

“Let us pray,” he said, nodding into the wings for the mission boy to bring on the purple cushion. The cushion that was tasseled with gold.

“No!” we shouted, lifting our voices in revolt.

We stamped our feet and whistled. We sent a deputation. We distributed provocative pamphlets. Several of my colleagues (I blush even now to think of it!) shied bustard eggs at the Bishop’s miter.

He cursed us soundly one and all and, picking up his skirts, made haste to leave. The suddenness of his departure raised a swirling cloud of dust, brightened here and there by crimson petals felled in the reckless sweep of his crosier.

“The Bishop’s Departure,” as it would come to be called, was a seismic event without precedent in that part of the world.

What to do? we asked ourselves. What to do?

It was then that George Méliès surprised us by appearing out of nowhere. He did so with the celerity of a shaft of light through a hole in a cloud.

“Why should you be surprised?” he asked. “I was a magician before I began making films.”

We asked him what he wanted on the Dark Continent.

“To make an African Fantasy,” he answered. “Will you guide me into the jungle? Will your porters carry my camera, lighting instruments, and props?”

We conferred. Quigley praised the film-maker’s Trip to the Moon, which he had seen in 1902. Quigley never missed an opportunity to show off his cultural superiority. We denounced him among ourselves as a prig.

Hanby proposed we ditch Civilization’s Beacon and make movies.

“Seeing as how we have nothing better to do.”

I had no opinion one way or the other.

Captain Slade, however, made a pointed observation: “There have been precious few women in these pages!”

I was about to mention Mrs. Willoughby when Mlle. Pavlova knocked.

“Hello,” she said. “I’ve come to Africa to collect native dances. Do you know where I can find any?”

We forgot all about Méliès, I can tell you that!

We offered Pavlova some boiled bongo, which she ate with relish. During the ritual Smoking of Cigars, she regaled us with anecdotes of her recent tour of Japan. All agreed she was a most amusing dinner guest.

To help finance her newest expedition (how different from ours!), she had accepted a commission from O’Sullivan’s Heels for an African testimonial. She gave me a handbill printed with an earlier endorsement, which I faithfully reproduce here:


Mlle. Pavlova, the Incomparable says:


“It is with pleasure that I state to you that O’Sullivan’s

Heels of new live rubber give me great comfort in

walking. I have them on all my walking shoes and

also on a number of my dancing shoes. I recommend

them to every member of my company.”


O’Sullivan’s Heels are made of new live rubber --

and are worn by successful people everywhere.



I wondered if the Bishop wore them under his skirts. He had exited with a liveliness in his step which belied the weight of his authority.

Pavlova showed us her O’Sullivanized boots. Her pale calves aroused us instantly.

“Dance for us, Pavlova!” we begged. “Kick up your O’Sullivan Heels! Perhaps then we shall feel the joy of life return!”

“But, gentlemen -- where?” she asked, looking around her at the entirely too realistic scenery. “I must have structure! I must have a suitable venue!”

Stephens remembered having scene an ornate proscenium arch hidden in a bamboo grove. We adjourned there. On the way, we passed Méliès, who withdrew discreetly behind a tree.

“Your turn will come!” we promised him in our gratitude.


Pavlova reprised her famous roles in Giselle, Swan Lake, Les Sylphides, Don Quixote, and Coppélia. We were, to a man, captivated. Quigley requested the Dying Swan solo dance Michel Fokine had created for her in 1905 -- and which he, Quigley, had seen “in Paris.” Disgusted, we pelted him with elephant dung.

Night fell. We lit colorful Japanese lanterns and hung them in the trees. Each of us took his turn dancing with Pavlova. Our hearts opened. In return we offered to show her a native dance.


We crossed the harbor of Kilindini in a dhow and walked two days south to a Nyika village where a funeral dance was in progress. The countryside was hilly, the ground stony; but Pavlova took it in strike in her O’Sullivan Heels.

“Like a trooper!” said Captain Slade, who was by now smitten.

The Nyika dancers wore queer little wicker-work baskets tied to their legs. Dry beans rattled inside as they moved.

“This death dance has more life and go in it than any dance I’ve seen,” declared Pavlova admiringly.

We spent the night under a baobab tree, overlooking the Indian Ocean. In the small hours, Captain Slade crept out of his tent.


Pavlova left early with the funeral dance mapped out on a sheet of butcher paper and a basket of beans.

“Goodbye,” she said.

Captain Slade entered a period of misery.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked him one night at the Mombasa Hotel Bar.

“Dance for me!” he answered drunkenly. “Dance as Pavlova did!”

I assure you I did not disappoint him.



About the Author

Norman Lock's fiction appears in respected journals throughout the U.S. as well as in Europe, Australia, and Canada (never forgetting that fine Argentine site -- The Southern Cross Review). The work here is from A History of the Imagination, published in Europe as an e-book. Two extended prose sequences -- Emigres and Joseph Cornell's Operas -- are available in one book from elimae. Lock's dramatic works have been seen on stages throughout America and Germany. The House of Correction, published in the U.S. by Broadway Play Publishing, was one of the 10 best plays of 1988 and (for its revival) 1994, according to the LA Times. It was also "best new play" of the 1996 Edinburgh Theatre Festival. Lock is also the author of a film produced by the American Film Institute and shown at international film festivals. He was awarded the Aga Kahn Prize in 1979, given by The Paris Review. Other online work of his may be found at Linnean Street, Unlikely Stories, and Tatlin's Tower. He may be reached via e-mail at NormanGLock@cs.com