The story of an island can be based on a multitude of things; whilst many may be true, many may also be false. True or not, these things are carefully weaved together, in a dance-like formation somewhere between a tango and a waltz. Rhombic footsteps that glide through a fictional fog. Fog is easy to become lost in despite the rhythmic tap from heel to toe which tries to navigate you through it. A dense blanket drifts over the island and across the rocky shore.
- Advection fog.
The ships that carry the supplies for the island struggle to find their docking points.
- That is why the horns blow so often, I guess we will just have to get used to it.
Unplug the fruit machine in the corner (check first if no one is looking), remove the power source and watch the lights turn off. No longer does it live in the sense of humankind, instead a lifeless object waiting to be re-purposed. Now tip it over so that the face studded with buttons is horizontal and no longer vertical. Get a broom from behind the bar and use it to sweep up the coinage that has fallen on the ground. Pull up a stool and take a seat, rest your heavy elbows on the machines flat surface and use it as a table.
You could use the fruit machine as a marker, a place setting or a buoy that floats in the sea. You could chop it up with a blunted axe and use the parts to build something else, something better. Or you could melt each part down, pour the molten machine into a mould and begin to create something new.
I don't believe everything, in fact there are really very few things I actually do believe. There is almost always an element of doubt when discovering new information. The line between how possible something is and how true it is. When you read a fictional story you know that what you are absorbing is not true. Despite this you allow the ideas to seep into your mind, to shout and whisper in your ears and to attach on the lobes of your brain. You carry these ideas around inside of you, they are heavy and cumbersome. Pack these ideas into your rucksack, you may need them for the trip. These fictional ideas, they are not true, but I can believe them.
It is relatable, the connection between the reader and the writer - and in fact we could include fictitious characters in this arrangement. The reader, the writer and the characters are able to drop out of the framework of truth and fiction and simply digest the ideas given to them. No matter how unbelievable - magic, invisibility, teleportation or eating 83 hotdogs in 10 minutes, there is always a way to believe it. But when dealing with ideas being facts that is very different.
I stepped foot into a museum and I quickly found myself in a room dedicated to competitive eating. The walls were coated in clippings from newspapers; to my left stood a vitrine holding silicon replicas of hotdogs. Phallic and cartoonish, their pink bodies cased in pillowy batons. A plaque in front of the display reads:
James Davis Wins 2018 Hot Dog Eating Contest, an event-record, 83 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, New York State Fair.
Quite frankly I don't believe it.
I am going to set out some ideas here. As I just established we know that this discussion is not true but by laying out these ideas we can pick them up and roll them around the palms of our hands. They will become soft and squishy, in a way that we can manipulate them and understand them. Creating new possibilities. Laying out thoughts about things that don’t really exist. Fiction is no less significant than non-fiction. Fiction is our imagined reality in its purest form.
Ionesco’s ‘Amedee or How to Get Rid of it' is a play about a husband and wife inhabiting an absurd space where the corpse of a man resides in a neighbouring bedroom. The body physically grows and grows, at a much faster rate than when it was alive. The corpse grows so much that his foot bursts through the bedroom and into the living-room. It’s a dream like play, totally unbelievable but you allow yourself to absorb it. It's the idea of liminality. The existence of things between things. The power of the absurdity allows it to possess many meanings.
- The growing feet of a corpse, that is totally absurd.
Take a look outside, the sun is beginning to set. A really nice rich tone of red. It is the kind of colour that shines through your window, it makes you want take an evening walk, to bask in the remnants of daylight. The sun glistens on the water, diffracted by the churning waves. The waves are so far away my eyes can only grasp their edges.
- You need your glasses.
Do you ever wonder what happens under those waves? How the ecosystem functions, how the sunlight transfers energy to the creatures that live in the watery abyss. Subaquatic chemical reactions, bubbling up.
- That's what produces the spume?
Keep looking outside, on the road there is a traffic cone. It sits on the interim strip between pavement and road. The no-man’s land which is occupied only by faded yellow paint and irregularly interjected with drains. Fragments of gravel flick up towards the red heavens as mechanical creatures hammer past. Just before the bend in the road is a set of traffic cones. Three. They are neatly laid out matching an astrological formation commonly spotted in the night skies of the western hemisphere.
- You don't see Orion much out here.
Consider this, if those three cones disappeared you wouldn’t think twice. Perhaps the creatures whose space was marked out by those cones would be frustrated. But imagine the greater picture, one day there was no remaining evidence to confirm the current existence of traffic cones. It was a gradual process, slowly the cones trickled away until there were simply none left. Experts in endangered and extinct species were not sure what had caused their disappearance and it was unlikely they would return. The experts had never been questioned about things such as disappearing traffic cones, it was really quite absurd.
- Quite like Amedee’s dead lodger.
Soon the only way you could see a traffic cone was in photographs, film, or through the VLC player icon. But then even they started to vanish. First the VLC icon, the graphic would flutter in and out of focus, slowly fading away. And after that photographs and film. The original images appeared edited - new objects imposed over the spaces where the cones used to be. Images and videos of the cone began to enter a world where they never really existed.
- It’s like comparing 1977 Star Wars to the 2011 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, blue ray edition. Where it all went a bit too far and lost its authenticity.
Perhaps we won’t discuss authenticity here, it’s not really the right place and we certainly don’t have enough time.
I've just looked out the window and seen the sun has gone.
- It'll come back.
It is night time now, the sun set hours ago. But fruit machines in pubs, they stay on all night. When the pub is plunged into darkness the lights from the hard-round buttons continue to flash. In sequence, three or more spinning wheels. A dizzying coordination of colour, back lit buttons. The smell of aging ale lingers in the air, mixed with the fragrance of Viro-Sol, an attempt to freshen up the place and scrub away the sticky residue from double vodka cokes. No ice, just lemon. The residue leaves water marks, like the trace of an outgoing tide. Rocks that tumble over each other, slip and slide. Saline water trickles over the cold surfaces, pushing and shoving. I wonder if the fruit machines ever get turned off, is the plug ever pulled? To remove the power would shut down the computer system, exposing the buttons under their neon facade.
Power on, all day and all night. Repeating sequences. Bar, hold, cherry, lemon, plum.
The fruit machines have been cultivated all in one place, they are only bred in captivity. On the concrete sands of Nevada, in the waterways of Macau. The world’s longest sea bridge that leads to Macau, it is an artificial island that is becoming unstuck.
Swap the wave-absorbing concrete blocks for wave-absorbing oyster beds.
- Do they still exist?
Is turning things off the same as them no longer being alive? If this is the case the fruit machine is everlasting, immortal! But there are things that are not blessed with this, things that become dormant and sometimes crumble away. If we are going to approach this question we need to consider what defines ‘being alive’.
- Alive, or living?
And when talking about things we could, for the ease of both of us, call these things 'objects'.
To be an object, scientifically, you need to have a state and a behaviour. What constitutes an object really just depends on the point of view of whoever is assessing its object-ness. Scientist, writer, travel agent or coastal geographer. The state of an object needs to be physical, you can touch its velvety epidermis and feel its fibres like microscopic prickles wedged beneath your fingertips.
In order to qualify as 'alive' you must be made up of cells, obtain and use energy, grow and develop, reproduce, respond and adapt to the environment. Perhaps objects don't follow all of these rules, but in the seventeenth century it was believed that animals could be born from objects.
'Carve an indentation in a brick, fill it with crushed basil, and cover the brick with another, so that the indentation is completely sealed. Expose the two bricks to sunlight, and you will find that within a few days, fumes from the basil, acting as a leavening agent, will have transformed the vegetable matter into veritable scorpions.' i
Truth expands over time, as minds grow, rocks erode and sand dunes subside – all ideas change. Nothing is fixed.
Living basil and non-living bricks - those two together can create a scorpion.
- How are we defining an object - it is not alive?
A leaf of basil may not be considered as an object, but the glass herb grinder it resides it, now that’s an object.
- So, if something is alive it is not an object, and if something is not alive it is? This however does not work in the case of dried basil. If all the basil plants in the world ceased existing  and the only form of basil left was the dried sort, then has fresh basil become extinct? And once all the dried supplies had been used then there would be no basil and equally no scorpions. It is problematic.
The island used to hold a colony of about 1,600 oysters. Eight hundred per colony and two sets per island. One thousand six hundred. Sets. A very certain and decided arrangement of the individuals. They built up one by one so that they formed a cluster. They grew upon rocks like barnacles, heaving their crisp bodies over the rocky shore line as they came inland. Natural breakwaters to protect the island.
The fog horn blows. It talks to the ships acting as another sensory organ when their eyes are clouded with confusion. Rocky outcrops, shoals, and headlands.
From oysters to burgers - the crew put them on to the boat, loading them up into shipping containers.
- Perhaps a little drastic, I'm sure moderately sized boxes would do the job.
Stacks of buns, brioche, sliced in half, a perfect fifty-fifty. They are layered one upon the other, upon the other. Again, and again, forming a repeat pattern so abstracted from the original it has no link to the past. A thin layer of sesame seeds coat the bottom of the box. When the energy from the storms entangle with the seas, more seeds topple down from the buns and lay to rest upon this layer. Then there are the burger patties. Raw pink discs like cross sections from a rounded pipe. They lie on top of each other, thin layers of grease-proof paper sandwiched between them in an attempt to prevent them sticking. The corners of the paper peek out from the curved edge of the patties. The box of cheese slices, tarnished yellow, individually wrapped in plastic sleeves. They come in boxes of 250. The burgers are shipped in twice a month, a fortnightly delivery. Since the native oyster population had dwindled to a mere fraction, oysters are off the menu. The idea was to introduce the burgers so that the oysters had a chance to grow before being eaten or shipped away.
- I miss the oysters, the taste, and the texture. They were thick and plump with no tooth resistance, and just a touch too salty.
The shells are the only things left from the oysters now, stacks of them, mounted up on top of each other, stacks and stacks. You can use them as reference points when a tourist asks for directions. Left after the three-meter stack and right before the six. What remains after something is gone, when what kept it alive has left the vessel?
– That’s it, just shells.
'I wondered where his soul had disappeared to as it left his body... It has to go somewhere: it couldn't just vaporize - it must have gushed, trickled or dropped onto some surface, stained it somehow.' ii
I’m back in the museum, exploring the taxidermy sections. My eyes wander over the mahogany frames and into glass casings that surround the idle creatures. The room smells old. Cups of silica gel hide in corners ready to absorb the moisture that sits in the air. I settle next to the case with the large red label stuck to the glass.
The creature looks familiar but you are unsure why. Perhaps it’s the texture of its skin or rather the way its body rests upon the floor. The entire being of the thing, it is something but you're unsure what.
- Read the plaque, it'll tell you all the information you need to know.
i Van Helmont, (1671, p.257)
ii McCarthy, (2015,p.178)
 After days spent deciding which pair of shoes would be best for climbing over rocky coastlines you choose to scrap the sandals. You knew the tour guide wouldn’t approve.
 I cycled past the pub again last night and the fruit machines where still turned on.
‘Ceased existing’ rather than ‘ceased to exist’, the idea that existence is a concerted effort, a choice. Objects could all decide to stop living one day.