The Slug

I’ve been away a while. Three months in, and I’ve already broken my resolution to write this thing once a month. It’s a pretty poor show, though I’ve pretty good reason: moving out of my former flat in early March meant that most of my time since was taken up in finding a new one. I could then add wholesale technological blowout to the record of distraction: my laptop and phone, dead within a week of each other. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d be calling suicide pact.

But I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and I’ve managed to purloin a spare laptop, and moreover, I’m here now, living South of the river again, in Camberwell, with my old college friend Lili, in her beautiful ground floor flat. My room is big and airy, with wooden floorboards and a high ceiling. I like the way the dearth of stuff I’ve brought with me this time round sits against its crisp, white walls. There are ochre-coloured tiles on the kitchen floor, too, and even a garden out the back. Cats come. I like it here.

The following is something that happened in the kitchen, just now.

I’m off to bed, quite reasonably: it’s past one in the morning. It’s rained all day, ebbing madly from moderate to torrential downpours. I’ve just walked from my bus to the front door in the rain. Everything outside is wet, and some of that is coming in with me. On the roof, the rain sounds like one of the cats I mentioned, purring; Mousehole’s storm cat in the sky, even. It’s late, so those kinds of memories will steal in. I go to the kitchen, for a glass of different water.

Rain brings things out of the ground. The soil thrills to it, plants lift their hands. Animals too. Slugs. There’s a slug right there, now, halfway down the side of the wide kitchen sink. It must have got in through the drainage hole, via some chink in the plumbing. I’m a little taken aback, but it looks neither gross nor creepy, not slimy or grey. Actually, it’s more like the colour of sap, chiming nicely with the white of the sink, the toffee-coloured wooden surfaces, the ochred tile, like somebody put it there on purpose.

Still, it is there, and it shouldn’t be. The aesthetic will have worn thin by morning. How best, then, to remove it? I go for toilet roll, so I can pick the slug up and take it outside, not wanting to touch it directly. But I soon see that the paper will just stick to the thing, and anyway, only when near a guitar can my hands be said to possess anything close to coordination or dexterity. Everywhere else they’re big and ungainly, like two stegosauruses squatting on the noses of space shuttles. I don’t want to hurt the slug, which at this stage has made a sort of ‘C’ shape against the side of the sink. Again, it’s late, and evidently when it’s this late, I get sentimental. About slugs, even, yes. Actually, I’m often like this, but here the hour neatly underwrites things. Plan B, then.

The spatula. Plastic and yielding, with a thin, flat surface. A perfect barque. I slide it gently beneath the slug’s body, which starts to undulate. I’m not sure anyone could detect a slug’s mood by looking at it, or even if I can rightly talk of mood when it comes to slugs, but this to me looks like mute protest, the slug turning like a saint on a pyre. I go more gently again, and eventually manage to slide the spatula beneath the slug, which in turn makes for the top edge of the utensil, curling up upon it, sitting quite still. Okay then, phase one complete. To the door.

When I get to the door, I remember I locked it on getting in, so I have to make for my bedroom to get the keys. And it’s now that the quiet, acute oddness of the situation makes itself known to me: here I am, a man in slippers, past one in the morning, walking around the rooms of a ground floor flat, bearing vertically a spatula with a slug on top of it. I could be taking a strange flag to a very strange rally. I could be living here by myself, long ago left to my own devices by family, friends, the authorities. Instead, I’m just back from a gig, interrupted on my way to bed by something rain-coaxed in my kitchen. So strange is the realisation that for a moment I feel I must be being filmed, part of a set piece. For its part, the slug seems to be enjoying itself, (again: late), moving what I take to be its head around in a slow, pleasantly bewildered fashion, like a septuagenarian on a long-promised Nordic cruise, looking out from a ship at a place he’s previously only heard of.

I’m back in my room now. My bed, neatly made and covered in sheets of a similar colour to the kitchen tiles, looks promising. It’s good here. I can cope with slugs in the plumbing, and other small arrests of the absurd, better than with any number of life’s more banal vicissitudes. Maybe I should toughen up. Will sleep refresh cynicism? In any case, I’ll allow myself a final mawkish impulse before lights out, hoping the slug makes it through the night, unperturbed by cats, or is at least content enough for now, beneath the rain, on the front yard wall, where I left it.

JH
2/5/14 (the day after).

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