THE LAKE ITSELF

Anderson wasn’t sure if any heat came from the lake itself. Lazy bubbles of gas would surface as he trudged its dull circumference. But everything here suggested heat, accumulated over millennia, exhaled onto his pale face. 

He was exiled, not hugely unhappy. The entire culture operated this way: fierce dialogue; joyless, but febrile, debate…then a roundup of anyone who diverged from the pre-agreed consensus. 

Most television programmes were a litany of the latest arrests. 

The treatment used extreme measures, to turn those criminals into ‘blacks’. The combined academic, political and artistic worlds had decided mankind needed returning to a fabled African paradise. People could, if they chose, willingly accept. But any opposition necessitated enforced skin change. 

High above, he knew there were caves, where some of mankind’s earliest tracings had been found. 

In truth, they were at a level any six-year old could achieve. Yet queues of art historians and writers wilted in the sun – desperate to pay homage – in desiccated lines stretching to the lake itself.  

Solar noon, meridian sun. 

He needed to get back soon, for his session.      

INTO MY HEART 

The sessions themselves were extraordinarily painful. Every skin cell had to be swapped, requiring sixty drip infusions – via a PICC line – lasting five minutes each. 

Five hours, every fortnight.  

Throughout, he was shown images of his donor: an enormous LA drug dealer, celebrated as a secular saint by white liberals, after choking to death on a chicken burger when his mansion was raided. 

For Anderson, the greater suffering was mental. 

During the process, he was forced to recount numerous anecdotes and long-buried memories, from his childhood. 

These were to be made more ‘diverse’, by converting his past into that of a black youth, raised in London – Tottenham, Streatham or Harlesden, as he understood. 

For some reason, he could do this while remembering, yet concealing, his annual holidays with a distant uncle in the blue Shropshire hills. 

He would recite the obvious poem to himself, as various beepers signalled switches in the chemicals careering through his system.  

With practice, he could time it so that the final line – ‘And cannot come again’ – coincided with each new toxin. The five minutes allowed him to slow down every syllable, yet still routinely answer the nagging voices, rewriting his life.

It was to be his only victory, but he never once divulged this land of lost content.  

 

 

 

Paul Sutton


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