Collins1

Phantasmagoric
by Clive Collins

A monument’s a solid thing of stone and metal made to define an age, defy the ages. My monument, the one I speak of here, is formed from less tangible tissue: memory, dream, hallucination.

In Edinburgh once, during a two-year long moment of confused foolishness, I sought freedom from my demons in the streets. On one of my walks I got lost. It was late in the afternoon. The day was already gathering. I was in an area completely strange to me. Where I should have turned back, I kept walking.

Eventually, I came upon what has recreated itself ever since in my dreams.  Narrow sloping streets, cobbled, banked with tall stone tenements. A church that split the way before me, posing left or right. The downward slope grew ever steeper. Afraid, I questioned the sense in what I was about. In front of me reared of a sudden a monumental stone gateway, the same grey-sooted stone as the buildings that pressed in from either side.

Beyond that, well, memory sings; more cobblestones, more buildings, these with half-basements occupied entirely by junk shops whose contents spilled out onto the basement steps or, seemingly, climbed the walls. A shop sign to my left read “Madame Doubtfire’s.”

I thought I’d lost both sense and way. Looking behind me, the last of the day’s light made the dreadful gate I’d passed through loom up dark against the sky.

How I found my road back, I do not know. I did, although in many ways I did not. A marriage died. A probable career deserted me. Now, in my dreams, when I am walking city streets, they are those streets. And always in this dreamscape I see that gateway in silhouette against a black-clouded sky, monument to myself: monument and folly.

PHOTO: “Old entrance to Stockbridge Market, Edinburgh, Scotland” by Macumba (2005).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Memory is deception, of ourselves mostly, but of others too if we choose to air memory’s fabrications. The Stockbridge area of Edinburgh where I became lost in 1973 is not the place that so often forms the backdrop to my dreams or is remembered here.  But I did see “Madame Doubtfire’s” on that walk, the shop long predating the novel and the film.

Collins2 copy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in Leicester, England, Clive Collins has spent the greater part of his life working as a teacher in Ireland, Sierra Leone, and Japan. He is the author of two novels, The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars) and Sachiko’s Wedding (Marion Boyars/Penguin Books). Misunderstandings, a collection of short stories, was joint-winner of the Macmillan Silver PEN Award in 1994. More recently, his work has appeared in online journals such as Penny, Cecile’s Writers, The Story Shack, and terrain.org. He was a short-listed finalist in the 2009 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.  Carried Away and Other Stories is available from Red Bird Chap Books.