THE SOLEX BROTHERS
I boarded the train. 'It's great, the way you use your feet to play that
guitar,' I said. We were all given water, a gesture some interpreted as
political and, on grounds of having no interest in politics, refused to
drink. 'Fools,' muttered the politician. 'Politics is in my hair. Politics
is seeping out of my pores.'
The train mounted a bridge over the sea. Tiny blue swallows decorated us. I
shared a cabin with an undercover policeman and the Solex Brothers, twice the
size of ordinary men. The Solex Brothers were broad and salient, their card
game a distraction. I had heard about them: 'They grab you by the head and
force your head into places it doesn't normally go Ð like into a jug.'
Oh, cruel freewill. Every year I make this journey for reasons known but unfathomable, my mouth tight with disdain.
Yesterday I overwound my watch and the spring snapped with a cavernous sound.
I wish I'd never offered them a cognac, but we are damned to believe a man
when he tells us we are kind: the half that doesn't believe him is relieved.
'Marbles,' said the undercover policeman, producing a bag and spilling them
onto the floor. In the ensuing chaos, we alighted on our knees.
On Platform 4 the Solex brothers ran this way and that, chasing the shapes
of women. They had no luggage, but a Mustang idled to convey them hence. 'Ride
with us, why don't you?' they cried.
I fell asleep in the leatherette silence. I dreamt I was a liar. I awoke to
see turquoise light rushing between the branches. A sandwich board lay at the
'Give us a song!' cried the Solex Brothers. And to my relief I found they
were talking to the chauffeur. A deer sprung over the road.
'Fields of inedible vegetables,' sang the chauffeur, 'midden boys tainting
their flocks. Songs anti- and pro- all have dead melodies; for tuppence I'll
show you my scar.'
And we all joined in the second time:
Fields of inedible
Midden boys, tainting
Songs anti- and pro- all
have dead melodies,
For tuppence I'll show
you my scar.
And the chauffeur sang the next
Shields of gentle
Hidden joys wait in your
Throngs come and go, but
the static will grow,
For instance, when
driving a car.
a chauffeur song,' he explained. 'You know, for the Little Guy.' The roadside
diners glimmered like bookshelves, little glowing bookshelves.
The ecstatic chariots in my lungs.
'These are your quarters, dear boy, above the library. Those are the moors,
this is the bread room, overhead the incident hallway – avoid that if
'And in that room is young Lucida, a prodigy – whom we have engaged you to
teach.' The other Solex brother laughed. 'She is beautiful as a summer
evening,' he yelled.
I was to teach Lucida the works of Pushkin.
I attended to ablutions, marvelling that I had been employed in so happy a
capacity. Not once had I made this journey and found work that agreed with me
as much as lecturing a beautiful young woman on the works of Pushkin.
As I lathered my face and weighed the golden razor in my hand, a bell rang
like a crystal and I cut my face several times so as not to be late.
Dressed in my new suit, I took three stairs at a time, scarcely able to
But to my horror, Lucida – whom I met over dinner Ð turned out to be a rag
doll made of dish-cloths.
There were no words in the library. Sometimes their lectures were just
butterflies released into the theatre; the prevalence of butterflies, their
Under the tutelage of the Solex Brothers I learned that in all things, there
is a kite – whether caked in silence or snagged on promise.
Their house, lodged in a valley, caught fire frequently due to the thin air.
Each day at twelve we ate national dishes. At dinner, a thin gruel called skirmish.
I soon swore off parataxis – its fragments of mistrust.
Behind a locked door they kept an inverted castle, a red ceramic affair,
decorated with hysterical curlicues and loops that went on to form part of
the structure. A black a hole in its side.
I put my head into the thing and something marvellous happened. It was dark
and cold and my headache siphoned off, into the thing and never troubled me
Landscape with Mist and Devils
was painted here.
We were visited with no little frequency by its painter, Emily Easterville.
Her favourite outfit was a lake in the grounds of the house. She would stand
in the middle of the lake, water up to her shoulders, and say, 'Help me get
all these fish out of my dress.'
Underwater the kites flew.
What lurid adoption the Solex Brothers practised. A voice, foreign and new in
the hall each morning. I lay in bed, afraid until the afternoon. Their cars
left at exactly 8:30. I did the washing up in very hot water.
For a month I was happy in their patronage, happy in my solidity and in my
arrogance, not to say innocence. I flexed my shoulders; I admired my
shoulders in the deep yellow mirrors.
The Solex Brothers lived at some height, but the intricacy of their
illustrations began to leave me jealous and pissed off. That shameful
dressing gown was always hanging somewhere in my mind, keeping me silent.
And I felt less welcome at the table – was always asked to, 'Go and help
Lucida with the washing up. That girl hasn't stopped talking about you all
So, festooned with cigarettes, I came to resent their sleek dispensations,
came to loath their boring, tidal breath. My hands blistered and chafed for
I collected bread from the bakery. The Father, on his bicycle, whispered, 'A
friend of mine would like a word with you.'
It was not I who suggested murder – after all, other than employing me as
protogé and butler, what was their crime?
But in the apple-strewn antechamber of the half-ruined church I learned that
the Solex Brothers had made many enemies among the townsfolk.
'My vegetables may be inedible,' said Jack Glass, an arable farmer, 'but
there are seven different varieties and they all have their uses.'
They had upset filing systems and undermined the quartz mine by building
another mine underneath it.
'They killed my father and called it collateral damage,' said Sophie, a young
woman the like of which I had hoped to lecture on Pushkin.
During a brief stint as mayors in 1978, the Solex Brothers had devolved every
street in the city until it had its own jurisdiction and parliament. When
they retired three years later, the new mayor attempted to reinstate what he
saw as common sense, but, due to innumerable insolvencies since devolution,
only 3/8 of the streets wanted to be recentralised. The entire community, if
you could call it that, was left in chaos.
But what of all their visitors and friends?
'Nonsense,' said The Father. 'Their visitors are paid actors Ð each brother
takes it in turn to hire.'
As I had access to the meals of the Solex Brothers, it was decided that I
should poison the skirmish and
ring the crystal bell five times to let the city know of their demise.
'A person who does just what he or she has been told to do, and takes no real
interest, will certainly not advance quickly,' said Sophie, handing me a
leather-bound volume entitled The Follies of The Solex Brothers, 1958-2002.
No sooner had I struck the crystal bell for the fifth time with the little
wooden harlequin than I realised the poison in the skirmish had not slain the Solex Brothers. They sat up in
their chairs and wiped the skirmish
from their faces, blinking.
As fireworks burst over the city I clasped my brow in exasperation.
But my fortune was to turn for, while the poison had not ended the Solex
Brothers, it had drained them of any sense forever.
'Few roads on the island are wide enough,' said one of the Solex Brothers.
'There are many brown bears in America,' said his brother.
'There are not many clouds now,' agreed the first Solex brother.
'I myself do not expect the Company ever to look back again,' said his
'The time is come to receive it,' granted his brother.
'The wolverine trap will take too long to build,' his brother complained.
'She was most attractive in her scarlet bonnet,' said his brother. 'We shall
be called The Snow People, I think.'
They wrote many poems over the next few days – and I oversaw this work and
offered advice, taking pleasure in the cruel reversal. Their best was a three
line stanza without a title:
How beautiful the tops of the mountains are,
The red sun above them.
I don't understand anything about it.
I left town on the same train under a banner of knowledge. I had asked Sophie
to accompany me, but she declined. The Solex Brothers gave a moving, harmless
'I've learned so much from all of you,' I said, my lips pressed to the cold
A man was still playing the guitar with his feet, but this time I didn't
A journey back should always be underwritten.
He handed me the telephone. 'It is the Solex Brothers,' he said.
I indicated that I was not to be disturbed, but he wandered into the kitchen,
shaking his head.
'If this is about the poison,' I said. But it was not about poison.
'Why does God allow us to suffer?' they asked.
Over the last year the Solex Brothers had come to rely on me for
encouragement and edification.
'I don't know,' I said. 'Why does he allow us to feel joy?'
Outside the sea lapped the shore. I was trying this new water-flavour chewing
About gum my grandmother said, 'You can chew that stuff as long as you don't
chew it anywhere near me.' She said hundreds of more important things, too.
You lose everyone. Each loss prepares you for a greater loss. She didn't
say that. That wasn't really her style.
'Hey,' said the Solex Brothers, noticing the silence, 'hey, are you chewing something?
And what's with that flatmate of yours,
anyway? I don't think he likes us. What are you supposed to do when someone
doesn't like you?'
'Kill them,' I said.
The line went dead.