Adam and The Miraculous Mandarin

Taking his inspiration from Bartok’s ballet suite, The Miraculous Mandarin, artist, poet and writer, John Moat, transforms the story into a contemporary articulation of the alchemical Mercurius – who redeems fallen Adam.


`Oh God,’ Adam thought, `if only — ‘

He was cut off in mid-sentence
When had God ever liked him getting ideas?

But this time something unusual happened
For one eerie moment he felt he could be in control
That maybe he’d given God the slip
Because this wasn’t just some bright idea
This was more like knowledge
Suddenly he knew what he’d always been about to think
That life is like having mislaid something important
That life is this sense of loss
That stuck on one’s own there’s no point to any of it
God had said, ‘You’re the image of me —
So get yourself properly kitted out Take a pride in yourself.’
God might manage to take a pride in himself
But for Adam it was existentially a non-starter
Taking a pride in oneself predicated somebody else
Not God
There was no way of impressing God
Because everything God did was by his own definition perfect
No it would need to be somebody else
Somebody different in almost every respect
But at the same time someone on one’s beam
Someone who knew how to say, ‘That’s nice’
Or ‘Thank you’ or —
Adam was getting worked up —
Or someone who would say ‘Yes Adam yes I will I do I love you’

There — it had happened again
Definitely uncanny
More of a déjà vu experience
Like suddenly hearing something
And knowing it’s what one’s been listening to all along
Like this queer sound coming from beyond the ceiling

As if there were a room upstairs
And somebody moving about
Shifting the furniture —

Adam held his head in both hands
His imagination had begun to run wild
So maybe there was another room
And maybe the furniture was different
And maybe another room
And a corridor
And a staircase with a stair-carpet
And a pine bannister
And then a landing
And this other room
With blue periwinkles in a vase on the dressing-table
And the door of the wardrobe open
And a pair of little white shoes
With a button and high heels
And laid out on the double bed
This blue dressing-gown

Adam needed to sit down
He felt distinctly odd
He felt electric — as if he’d been turned on
Warm in the middle
And down below he felt — at a loose end
So after all life was full of possibilities
But at the same time there was the spooky feeling
God must have a hand in this somewhere
He’d always fixed everything
Adam began to feel depressed again

Until suddenly he’d snapped out of it
He was looking around him in amazement
Hadn’t he been able to conceive of somebody else?
Well didn’t that make a whole world of difference?
Not just a variety of possibilities
But infinite choice

Immediately the world appeared in a different light
Everything took on a particular quality
The curtains for instance
Adam had always assumed that curtains were curtains
Synthetic velvet in faded canary yellow
Now he was wondering — was canary yellow quite him
Or these reproductions on the wall — all of them abstract
Or the brass light fittings
Or the G-plan sofa
Or this 12″ plastic and chrome
Japanese Television?

And that’s when it began really to happen

Adam had no sooner begun to discriminate
No sooner had his discriminating eye lit on the box
Than a flash of lightning took his mind apart
And there in the centre like a plum on a cracked plate
Was his first memory
God laying down the law
God very much the father
Pointing out everything he’d done for the lad
Mains electric fitted carpets you name it
All on an open-ended lease
The rent a mere tithe the small print kept to a minimum
In fact just the single clause
That he Adam
Should never in any circumstances be tempted ever
To turn on
The television

And memory was only the beginning
What was he now coming up with if not the first educate, guess?
That memory wasn’t about to make life any easier
For instance he might be tempted to start living in the past
And if that happened —

Adam was so frightened by the clap of thunder
He never noticed his error
Didn’t realize he’d begun to reason with himself
Couldn’t think why God should be so mad
Or why he had this creepy idea someone was watching him
Or why he should feel so guilty
Because that’s what he did feel — guilty
Guiltily he looked round
And there winking at him
From the shadows behind the television screen
Was this inconceivable creature
It was a — no other word for it — snake
Adam thought his mind was playing him tricks
Something devilish cunning was going on
Like a form of subliminal advertising
He felt he was being got at
But at the same time intensely curious

He remembered about curiosity
That was something that could land him in hot water
It was time to switch off
He tried but it wasn’t so easy He found everything out of control
Thoughts going round and round in his head
He strove to make his mind a blank
Thought he’d succeeded
Was congratulating himself
And then saw that the blank he had in mind
Was the blank television screen
And there was that snake
Grinning from ear to ear
The snake fixed Adam with an ambiguous expression
Adam was fascinated
His mind had become very still
Very clear
Clear and still and cunning — just like the snake’s eyes
Suddenly he too began to grin
Adam had twigged
So this was what God had kept hidden in the box

This was God’s little secret
Adam was on his feet
There on the side of the box was a button
Marked POWER
And before he could think
And quite oblivious to the cry from upstairs
Like someone in the bedroom having a nightmare
He pushed it

For a moment nothing
Then Adam leapt back
His hands over his ears
From inside the box
Came this uncoiling sound
And then a triumphant hiss
And a moment later the entire screen
Sparkled into life

Adam watched in disbelief

Deep in the jungle
Wading through a green swamp
Carrying above their heads their Kalashnikov rifles
A platoon of black men

Adam felt he’d been ambushed
All in a flash he understood everything
He was able to see what God had in mind
He was catching up with God’s latest thinking
He was watching the 9 o’clock news

And then these other buttons
He felt the need to know everything
Every channel the entire programme
Everything that was on God’s mind

The top button flip Adam could hardly believe it Coronation Street flip Come Dancing flip snooker wonderful however did God come up with these ideas flip the weather forecast flip Tomorrow’s World so God did have it all mapped out flip Sunday Half-hour flip Adam was on the edge of his seat he’d not realized everything was so in the balance that the Daleks might take over the universe it was all up to Dr Who God was a sick man and so to the last button the one at the bottom the one marked VIDEO flip —

Adam was back in the jungle
The same green light
And this feverish music
He felt he’d walked in on the middle of something
That what was going on was taboo
Something he wasn’t prepared for
That could easily get out of hand
Perhaps what God hadn’t wanted him to see

He ran to the set and pushed another button
Nothing happened
Another button
The POWER switch
Now for certain God would be on to him

But this was compulsive viewing
The green light spilling from the screen
In the music the plot beginning to thicken
And Adam being drawn in
By a string attached to the knot in his stomach
If there was a future to any of this
He wasn’t sure he wanted to know

Something’s on its way up the stairs
Which is why the three bogeymen run for cover
And why the girl in the window
In the black beret
And little black skirt
The sheeny black stockings
The flame satin blouse
That shows almost everything
Is white as a sheet

Adam felt he’d been held up by a memory
For instance this — no other word for it — girl
She was familiar as the night before
Like the one thing he’d always been alive to
And she wore this wonderful scent
Why he could even put a name to it
Je Reviens and Ma Griffe

Enters an old man
A nob down on his luck
Out on his uppers
His tweeds in tatters
He’s come in skipping
Following his nose
Has almost caught up with her
Before the trio can catch him
When they find him skint
He’s made to pay for it

Or later the one on tiptoe
Hesitating on the stairs
The boy in the doorway
The perfect little angel
She’s taken him by the hand
Leads him a slow dance
Shows him the first steps
How a man would hold her
While the three wait in the shadows
Seem to enjoy themselves
But look — the girl’s coming alive
She holds the boy closer
Has this look in her eyes
That’s too much for the gang
They snatch the pair apart
Do the lad over
Rifle his pockets
Fling him out on his ear

But now they’ve baited the trap again
The girl back in the window
She appears to have melted
Has discovered what the boy discovered
How a girl loves to dance
So when she looks in the street
She’s almost contented
Her lips move as she whispers
But can’t catch the name
That’s when the storm breaks
The stomp on the stairs
The mackerel take fright — fair-weather fish
The girl’s backed against the wall
The door is slapped open

And enters an oddity
He’s a man on fire
Or rather in flames
A whirlwind with eyes
Running like the clappers
Seems to know what he’s after
Veers like a windspout
A blue upright of water
A hank with sinews like sparkling wires
His hurry is horrible
He runs like a lighted fuse
Makes no secret of his need
In fact he’s prepared to bare it
At the same time he does have style
Quite the big spender
Happy to splash the entire lot
Everything on his glamour girl
Before he gives out

No wonder the girl is frightened
She could blow on this voltage
The weight of him — the flash of his colours
Once out in the current
There’d be nothing to cling to
That’s when the music slows to a waltz tune
Now you can see her fear is all a front

What’s behind is the dream the boy discovered
She steps into it neatly and picks up the time
She holds this one at arm’s length
Keeps discreet distance
Her eyes are wide open
What she sees in him God alone knows
She’s a wind to his rickfire
He crackles into life
Till in the teeth of the gale
Her hair burns like chaff
He’s unleashed she cuts loose
Yet all the time she manages
To hold something back
This drives him crazy
He wants everything at once
So the girl with the weirdest look
As if she’s seen the way through
Simply floats like it’s happened
Folds in a free fall
He can pick up the pieces
If he choose he will catch her

The three horrormen have their breath back
They share the one shadow
They never guessed what she would sink to
They whisper ‘What a miss
The way she enjoys it — there should be a law
And with something that’s yellow
That’s not even shy to flash it about
He has to be stinking
He’s foul with the stuff
No doubt he’ll choose to pay on the nail’

The trio then grab him
They’re slick as a razor
Quick as a flash
One two then a third
Right to the hilt

They take a step back to admire their handiwork
But now the shock — it’s they who’ve been clobbered
`He’s a queer one this the way he keeps flapping
Like the Easter meal of the chop
Cut to the bone still he’s on with the jig
He’s one track he’s cunt-struck he’s a chow-dog on heat
But what’s odd is he’s empty he’s come ready-kosher
Three cuts like his cake-hole why can’t he dribble
Not a drop of blood in him he’s dry as the sabbath’

This time they’ll do the job clean
Isn’t he the great dangler?
Then belt him to the ceiling
If he’s so eager let him hang there
He can watch himself tap-dance
With both feet off the floor
There he’s nicely trussed
He won’t get off the hook

Adam felt desperate
He felt bound up in this monster
He felt he’d become attached to him
He knew everything was in the balance
He realized that everything now depended on the girl

Something in her’s gone soft
She breathes like an apple
Doesn’t notice they’ve dished him
She checks on her hem
And fingers her button
Whatever it was It seems she’s forgotten
Behind her closed eyes
She could still be dancing

The three have their hand-out
Now they’ve set themselves up
She can do as she fancies
They’ve provided well for her
They’ve left him provided for
Quits — time to scarper
In fact they’re so eager
The lamp gets knocked over

Now everyone’s in the dark

Wait this is eerie
It’s beginning to glow
There where it swings
From the hook on the ceiling
Like water impaled
A sack of what’s past it
The leavings the offal
With a filament of fire
Showing his colours
Like some kind of lizard
Like a shiny chameleon
Shadowing the room
Like a rainbow in a hailstorm In the heart of the fire
A broken salamander
That twists on a pin

That’s where the girl comes into her own
She’s glaring like a pit-shaft
Her eyes are black galleries
A stack of white pupils
Each a minute skull
The dark opens through them
Makes light of the shadow
Pain —
She’s cornered that market
She’s got it sewn up
What she sees is frozen
Nothing escapes her
She’s infernally ugly
Life’s come to this standstill
Something’s going to give

The hit men they’ve had it
Too frightened to think
Her glance was enough
They’ve been put in the shade
But she first wants her boyfriend
She’ll have him cut loose
Her oven-bag of giblets
Her light-show of tendons
This luminous ordure
As it slumps on the floor
Why would she want it
The pale shadow of himself?

Adam felt how the music had begun to tingle
He felt he was in a storm of static
That his body was terminal with live cells
And that trapped in each one wag the girl’s face
The current was making his teeth chatter
He’d begun to shake like a leaf

Her gigolo’s reduced to pulp — which is starting to quiver
On the skin film the lard begins to pump for dear life
She’s happy to handle him even when he’s injured
Holds him on end like a sparkler that’s been lit
He’s the spoke on its spindle and she’s his wild spinner
Who would have guessed they would want to get spliced
They glide to each other and invent a weird waltz
They clinch in a flash in a shimmy of colour
Spoon and canoodle where they’ve nothing in common
When he jitters she jives just watch them ole
He’s such a bright spark no wonder she responds
Samba bolero la raspa fandango —
When suddenly with one cry the cakewalk is over

They shudder to a halt
The light starts to go
The girl’s dance is finished
She’s nothing left
She’s a jelly
She’s gone at the knees

Her breath is like incense — all that’s left of the office
She clings to her boyfriend and bites her lip and sighs
But he’s shot the spark’s gone — too late now for the bellows
In the last of the strange light he’s finally busted

Wait what’s the glow like a mercury arc-lamp
The place coming alight like the night of merry dancers
He’s folded she holds him they’re together not there
No wait he’s found the spunk to try one more time
He needs the kiss — nothing else will ever content him
Does he make it? I think so but it’s hard to be sure
With the light so brilliant it’s practically blinding
Wait no wait wait who would believe it?
How could this vestige little more than a vapour
This love stain on the linen like a holy shroud
Unwind in her arms and smile like a baby
While his three crowning wounds have started to bleed?

Adam looked around him at the clear light
It was like coming back to himself in the dentist’s chair
Everything in the room staring In a state of shock
And him not in on the secret
He felt weak as a kitten
That he’d undergone a major operation
That it had taken a lot out of him
There was a pain in his side
And this insistent sickening noise
He felt he’d been aware of it all along
Like a wind in the tree spelling trouble
He must have dropped off
Had probably needed the sleep
He felt he’d been living through a turbid time
That he’d managed to get himself inextricably involved
That he hadn’t come through entirely unscathed

And then the noise stopped

The silence — it was clear as the light Adam began to laugh

The laughter was like letting go
It was like drinking
It was like being born in another dimension —
Fancy thinking it had been the wind
Know what that noise was?
It was the hoover
Eve upstairs fixing the bedroom
She’d been up there for ever
Listening to the silence it was as if he could see her
One hand in her hair
She listening and he listening
The pair of them listening
And then he heard what they were listening for
One of the babies had begun to cry
Adam knew better than to answer
`Adam the two of them’s woke up
They’re starving they’re needing their change
It’s your turn’
Adam was on his feet
`I’m tied up’ he shouted
`Oh God’ he heard Eve groan ‘Why’s it all so boring?’
After a moment she shouted ‘Have a look what’s on telly’
Adam clapped his hands over his ears
He stood there and waited for something to fall
Nothing happened
Adam began to grin
`Don’t ever say it wasn’t your idea’ he called
And went and pushed the button

For a moment nothing

Then the uncoiling sound
Then the triumphant hiss
And then the entire screen
Sparkled into life.

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