It was so cold out there in the Portico, Zig-zag and I used to freeze, while in the basement there was a giant boiler where seven and a half thousand litres of slik black gunge bubbled away in a giant throbbing fist of alien tubes and valves that I wanted to crawl inside and fall asleep.
The cold sent me home and my wife found the lost cat posters I’d made and she told me all about Fern and the accident in the bay and we both cried and I felt dead and elevated at the same time.
The next day I got a train to Barrow and when it stopped on the spindly bridge in the middle of the bay I put my hand out of the window and dropped the suitcase with all the lost cat posters inside it into the water, and I thought that I was sending them to the same place as Fern McCaulay, and I knew now that I’d told our story to the public in the best way I could, in a language special to us, and train moved off and as we got closer to Barrow the sky became darkly overcast as it always did on summer evenings on the bay and I switched on my tape and listened to the music that she told me she used to like and mourned her like a lover would.
I had to get to her, but I didn’t know where she was, so I packed a small suitcase and the Storey Institute breathed me in again. I couldn’t explain what I was doing. I had to go to the Storey and wait, that’s all I could say. I would wait for Fern McCaulay to appear. The Storey was our anchor, our Paris, our Rome.
My wife cried, and so did the children, but we had grown a long way away from each other by then.
Fern and I were separated by class; the lino factory, the university, the 11 plus. She thinks I cheated at the 11 plus: ‘There is a charming lack of logic in the way you order your thoughts, Charlie.’
A woman who had fallen in the water was dragged out in a drowning condition by a man, but she did not thank him because:
1: She never felt thankful for small things 2: She did not know the man well enough 3: She was feeling better 4: She was still unconscious
I’m looking at those choices and Fern is absolutely right about the way I think. Every option makes sense to me, and none of them do, and I can’t accept that only one is right, because to me these people in this little scenario have bubbled up off the page and spat themselves into real life and it’s not a logic question anymore, it’s a question about how people think about the things they do, and people think about the things they do in very strange ways.
A man left his wife and children to live in the portico of the Storey Institute because
1: He wanted to smell like a tramp 2: He was having a mental breakdown 3:Street people are always laughing 4: He didn’t like living in a house
That’s how I got here, how I met Zig-Zag.
My Mega Lager cans stood huddled together in the place where Zig-Zag used to sit, like a group of children looking up at me. I hit them hard. Those purple tubes of joy became my favourite things in cylindrical form. Love, pure liquid love, sweet honeyed syrup with sugar on top, smothering, enveloping, numbing. Oh my sweet balm, take me down, take me into that soft world where there are no hard corners, the light is fluffy, and all the harsh noises of the world blancmange into a purple mega womb of love.
Find Zig-zag. The children are crying
(Find out where Zig zag has been living all this time - have a look at Fern’s blog)
I suppose Zig-Zag could have crawled in somewhere and got stuck. I remember when Oxford Archeology were on the top floor of the Storey and they had the old bones of some fellah that had been buried with all his cattle and horses, and the bones were laid out on the floor and Zig-Zag went in, sniffing and licking. Another time he rolled in some grass cutting sculptures and was blamed when they rotted and gave off poisonous fumes that nearly killed the people from the chamber of commerce.
Zig-zag loved to play. He liked streamers and ribbons, and I used to attach them to the window ledge of the portico, and he’d bat them with his paws. I think he’d have liked somewhere like a garage forecourt where they always have streamers and ticker tape and glitter and balloons - like being at a permanent party. Maybe if we put streamers on the front of the Storey he’d come back.
The builder left me with the jacket and the note and I sat on the sofa for a long time holding the note in my hand and looking at the wallpaper. Then I put the note in my pocket and got into the car and drove to a place I like near Arnside and I sat and looked out over the bay, over the sad, sad sands, and I watched the tide racing in, and the trains slipping over the bridge to Barrow and the sheep grazing at the waters edge in this alienplanetscape of grass and sand and slate-grey sea and seeing the train out there on its own on that spindly bridge surrounded by water, frothy waves splashing up on all sides, and the birds squealing and sobbing, waiting for the tide to ebb again and give up its riches, made me decide.
So please find Zig-Zag
THE CHILDREN ARE CRYING
(You’ll see how important the 11 plus exam was to shaping our lives if you look at what Fern has written on her blog.)
I also believed Zig-zag was psychic, and I’m beginning to think he may have been catnapped and his psychic energy harnessed for evil purposes. I imagine a whole generation of cats at the Storey institute, the history of the building encoded in the their genes, the building’s secrets dripping down through the years. I myself have received what I believe are messages from the captured cat in the form of psychic ripples. It’s as if the catnapper is sucking information from the cat’s brain and sending these messages spurting down tubes, and I picture it all happening in a mad professor’s lab in a hammer horror film, filaments of light shooting through turquoise liquid in pear-shaped flasks with orange smoke coming out of them, while the professor, looking like the fellah off the front of the Weetos box, directs the cat’s thoughts with a huge brass lever.
Maybe Fern thought I was psychic and tried to speak to me with brain waves, but if she did, it never came through. I only know that my heart hurt when Fern didn’t reply to my poem. I don’t think my heart was broken exactly, more fogged, the way moisture gets trapped behind a watch face. If Zig-zag is found I think he would help because a cat’s purring has healing properties; mending broken bones, polishing tarnished coins, geminating dead seeds. Maybe it can clear a fogged heart.
The fog stayed in my heart for fifteen years until a man in a high visibility jacket came up the path holding a corduroy jacket I used to own fifteen years ago. The man was one of the builders working on the Storey and the jacket was found behind a cupboard when they ripped everything out.
I look through the window from my place in the portico and I see the biscuity remains of partition walls, dark damp stains creeping asymmetrically across the floor, and I think about Fern McCaulay.
There was a folded note in the jacket pocket addressed to me.
The Storey breathes you out then breathes you in again. Find Zig-zag please.
(If you look here on Fern’s blog you’ll find out what really happened, and why I ended up here)
Zig-zag doesn’t have ravenous eyes, he has pointy eyes. Slick, skittering, pokey little beads that nip about, and sometimes, when he is stressed, are squeezed together like pin ends.
I am one of the few people in the world who have ever dressed as an eyeball. A few days after Fern I had our tete- a-tete in the Storey tasting garden, she came to me with a proposal: the Storey gallery needed volunteers for an art project called THEY FOLLOW YOU ABOUT THE ROOM - volunteers would dress up as giant eyeballs and follow visitors about the building.
I felt like an idiot dressed as a giant eyeball, long stringy eyes-lashes dripping down, skinny legs in black tights poking out the bottom, but I do remember that Fern’s legs looked amazing in her costume.
I enjoyed being an eyeball; I followed one fellah all the way across the road into the bookshop, but John from the gallery said that was going too far One evening I was still dressed as a giant eyeball and I spotted Fern on her way home and I followed her. She knew it was me, and played along and I got on the bus behind her (I had to stand at the front because of the costume) and we went all the way out to her little terraced house in Wharton and her husband was out on a university away day so she invited me in. The kids playing cricket in the street stopped their game to watch the giant eyeball with bony legs follow Fern into her house. Inside, she made me take the eye costume off and I’d forgotten I had no shirt underneath, and we laughed and she looked at my bare chest for a time and she smiled in a wistful way, then pressed her palm against my belly and said, a fissure of shyness in her voice, ‘they don’t spoil you at that lino factory,’ before going into the kitchen and returning with one of her husband’s shirts.
I thought about nothing but Fern McCaulay for days and the place she’d touched tingled as if her warm palm was still there, like a phantom limb. The tingling continued, but everything else went cold, and I never found out why. She got my poem, I know she got my poem, but nothing came back.
FIND ZIG-ZAG PLEASE
THE CHILDREN ARE CRYING
(How can she say that about me? How can she? Have a look at her blog and see what you think. Here)
Zig-Zag was a cat with a sense of humour, you’ll notice if you see him. He picked it up from me in the portico because on dark nights I used to tell him jokes and I knew he was listening because if I stopped he would turn and look at me.
I made Fern McCaulay laugh. The second time we met, I handed her my adult learning request form and she squinted at it weirdly and then said, so, you’d like a course in, uh, handwriting?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘it says hand wringing. I wring my hands a lot. I want a course on hand wringing. To help me stop.’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘that ascender certainly looks like a T to me. Are you sure? Because we don’t teach a handwringing course but we do offer a handwriting course – Calligraphy. I teach it at lunchtimes.’ ‘As well as the unicorns?’ ‘Yes. Listen why don’t you come to my next lunchtime lecture instead. It’s called how to look at cleavage. It’s fun, and full of practical exercises involving manikins and teaches men exactly how to sneak a peek at cleavage without upsetting a lady or embarrassing themselves.' ‘But I don’t need to know about that,’ I said.
‘Oh, I think you do, Charlie,’ she said
That’s how the Storey institute breathed me in off the street and it breathed me in again later that week. A big preview night called Bridges over the Lune. She in the green floaty dress again. We weren’t even supposed to be there. Her perfume, I could almost see it in the air, like smoke, curling round the painting of the bridges, smearing into the mist on the banks of the Lune, the haze of her, and the fog in my eyes, then later in the tasting garden…the taste…the taste. But we chatted that night, that’s all. Spoke together and looked up at the stars while from the window above the chatter of voices and clinking of glasses drifted down. Our voices grew softer and softer and slower and slower, and our heads moved closer as if we were magnetic, and I remember our hips touched. We learned everything about each other, everything that had happened since school. For the first time I realised It might be possible to love someone without reason, without logic, without shame. Fern McCaulay seemed to have climbed inside me and settled down to sleep like a cat.
But Fern was married to a lecturer and I was a lino man - a lino man who could write poetry. I put everything I felt about her into that poem, the words soared across the page, and a few weeks later I dropped it into the letterbox at the Storey and it seemed to fall for miles before I heard a soft pat as it hit the bottom.
Find Zig-Zag please, The children are crying.
THE CHILDREN ARE CRYING.
(In Fern’s blog she says I’m a like strange building with weird doors. I like that about Fern, the odd way her mind works. Have a look at what she says here.)
Zig Zag often used sit on the bonnet of a yellow Citroen parked between the castle and the storey. The beardy man from Folly said you could see him from outer space, on Google earth, a grey pixel-smudge asleep on a dark rectangle.
A man who’d stayed at the prison told me that Zig-Zag had given him hope. Whenever he was taken in and out of the prison, he would see Zig-Zag lying on the car bonnet and he used to say to himself, if that fat orange freak is still there when the van brings me back, the day is going to be OK. To him the Storey looked like another institute of correction and he imagined it was a parallel prison in which there lived another version of him and that whatever happened to him in the castle, the opposite happened to him in The Storey, so when he was in a fight, he imagined the Storey Institute version of him lying in a hammock eating grapes with soft music playing.
The poem. I’m sure Fern talked about the poem I sent her. I’m sure she amused her university friends by reciting it at dinner parties with a comic Lancaster burr in her voice and referring to me as the lino poet. But a lot happened before the poem. The grammar school never worked out for me and I ended up at The Storey as well. But not the Storey Institute. The storey factory, with the spread coater, with the transprints inspection area, with the substrate for vinyl, the heat transfer paper, the gravure cylinders. Borden decorative products and imperial home décor. Storeys was a better name. Wallpaper and carpets tell stories - soothing motifs, over and over, like fairy tales - and for people who like somewhere neutral to aim their eyes, are a place of refuge.
Shift work at Storeys, long dead afternoons to fill; that’s when I saw Fern McCaulay again, on Meeting House Lane, wearing a green floaty dress with red Dr Marten boots, and dashing into the storey institute, and I knew it was Fern, and I don’t know what happened but the Storey Institute seemed to breathe me in off the street and suddenly I was in its vast foyer with Fern McCaulay and I don’t think she remembered me from school, but she caught me staring and said, ‘are you here for Dragons unicorns and their ilk: marvellous monsters from the medieval bestiary to contemporary imagination? Its free.’ and I said, ‘well, it would have to be,’ and a small smile deepened her dimples.
I watched her perform. A Storey institute girl lecturing for Lancaster university, and me the grammar school boy, stuck with my subsrate for vinyl and gravure cylinders.
I didn’t fall in love with Fern McCaulay until much later. I knew a lot about unicorns by then.
Find Zig-Zag - THE CHILDREN ARE CRYING.
(I can’t believe that in Fern’s blog she brings up Dave, that dickhead plumber who bodged the job on my dad’s kitchen. Have a look.)
Section 3, 3
We decided that the only way to find Zig-zag would be to make the Storey
institute into a giant toy, cover it in flying tumbling streamers, frozen
8 years ago
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