Please enjoy this short story about Modernism, written in the Modernist mode.
He is going to a lecture about Modernism. It’s complicated, he thinks, But I want to understand. A butterfly is circling in the air like a half-remembered dream. At that moment the steps to the Attenborough Building plaza resemble the teeth of a gigantic monster, or maybe the keys of a piano. They remind him of a famous French line.
— ‘Quand j’etais petit je mangeais un croissant.’
He shakes his head. Perhaps he remembered the line wrong. He can taste it in his brain like a spoon of cheap peanut butter. Steve swerves out of the darkness of midday. His words fall from his mouth onto the pavement.
— You’re going to be late.
— You’re going to be late.
Is it true? Could it be that he’s going to be late for the lecture on Modernism? He is doubtful. After all, didn’t Shakespeare say
— Well, heaven forgive him! And forgive us all! / Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.
He is sure about this one. Sure sure sure sure sure. He remembers this line because Mr Jones with the bald head and the spade-shaped glasses used to say it to him when he came in to the classroom after his cigarette break. Cigarettes that smelt of wood chippings. He used to repeat this line. He remembers Mr Jones well. Mr Jones knew about Modernism too, probably. Or maybe.
He started. A cloud had hit him on the head. He is outside the door to the building. He can see himself reflected in the glass. There is another person on the other side of the glass. It is not him. It is someone else.
— Could you move, please?
— Could you move, please? I need to open the door.
— O. Sorry.
The door opens as he backs away. Backs away, and then enters. Down the steps. Another door. The lecture theatre. It is calling out to him, saying
— Are you going to Scarborough Fair? / Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
— thyme and, rosemary, sage, Parsley / ? Fair Scarborough to going you Are
These words swim in his head. They front crawl and breast stroke and butterfly until he enters the lecture theatre filled with people. Steve is already inside, taking a seat. A professor is standing by the screen. Impenetrable faces. Coloured orbs that flicker on and off, surrounded by halos of pure thought. Intense flowers in a brightly-coloured garden in which mental matter stretches out its tendrils and wraps around everything in sight, burning and cold, a thousand empty libraries and a butcher’s shop and a tattered copy of Oliver Twist. An Oxo cube.
Overwhelmed, he takes a seat. The professor starts talking, and the room fills with invisible bees. T. S. Eliot appears in the sky and starts to dance in German. Virginia Woolf is quietly taking notes, but they are upside-down. He tries to listen but James Joyce is behind him, poking him in the left shoulder at frequent intervals.
He wonders if he’ll ever understand Modernism. And then he understands it.