Issue 5

John Saul

Names found in the Atlantic

Raeburn was on the island of Ouessant. There were plenty of people around but he liked to think he was a kind of Crusoe. He ignored them except when he went shopping, or when he received post, or if he needed someone for a practical reason. One day out walking he discovered on the ground a folded paper with a list of names:
       Collins, chairman; Jackson, Dybkjaer, K Jensen, vice-chairmen; Roth-Behrendt, rapporteur; Alber (for Raeburn), Aparacio Sanchez (for Diez de Rivera Icaza), Apolinario, Blokland, Caccavale (for Leopardi), Estevan Bolea (for Grossetête), Florenz, Garosci (for Pollack), Gonzalez Alvarez, Graenitz, Hulthén, Kokkola, Kuhn, Lange (for Waddington), Lannoye, Liese (for Rovsing), Marinucci, McKenna, Olsson, Pimenta, van Putten, Rübig, Ryynänen (for Eisma), Sandbaek, Schnellhardt, Thyssen (for Oomen-Ruijten), Trakatellis, Valverde Lopez, Virgin, White and Whitehead.
      Restraining his excitement at this find, taking time to fully develop his explanations and assemble his arguments, he wrote to the local newspaper saying he had discovered evidence of a civilisation which had once controlled Europe. He appealed for responses from members of the public who might be familiar with any of these names, or who could link any one of them to another. Normally lists bored him. But this list, notwithstanding the fact his own name was included, had such a ring to it he could hardly stop himself from continually taking it out of his jacket and reading it over and over.
      A lady wrote to him directly, saying she had been in touch with the spirit of Kokkola. She knew that Kokkola had taken over from Poggiolini, Roth-Behrendt, and Ryynänen, who herself had already been acting for Eisma. Raeburn read this with incredulity. By his understanding one person could not stand in for three; nor could one committee member stand in for another on the same committee. He thought this over and over; then decided the rules must have changed.

Name for an island

He took a long walk past the quayside, the stony beach, on, on until he came to the ancient rock, tall and handsome, ringed by ferns and grasses. It seemed to face the sea. This was the French nation’s most western land, called sometimes l’île sentinelle. He faced the way the rock faced; both stood sentinel over the Atlantic. He lay down and watched the big low clouds slide swiftly over. Much as he loved this island, the constant proximity to the ocean, the majesty of its clouds, he wanted to leave for Rennes, or even England. What should he therefore do about the dog? Would the tobacco counter at the Café de la Paix face ruin without his custom? But the winters on Ouessant were hard. There was twenty per cent less rainfall in Rennes in the winter. First he would carefully watch the ferries, he decided; then work out, as a challenge, how to board one without paying. Then he would leave.

Names of those painting for the public

Beneath the ancient rock where he had fallen asleep after making his decision Raeburn woke with a dream clear in his head. For the umpteenth time he was opening his chest of drawers, feeling towards the back with his hand. Careful not to tear its pinkened paper, he took out the lining of the drawer, this time to read the following, clearly dated the Sunday Times 29 December 1996.
It is no secret that the two Russian artists, Alexander Melamid and Vitaly Komar, have had professional surveys made to find out what the perfect painting looks like. They call it the Most Wanted Painting, the painting people would most like to have in their living rooms. It is a mainly blue landscape, preferably with a mountain, a lake and a few wild animals, and perhaps the odd historical figure wandering around.
      The results of their polls, now completed for a third of the globe, have shown only very minor variations of detail between countries. The Portuguese would like to have a small village on a far bank of the lake, Kenyans a hippo. Most nations are united in wanting to see two deer grazing. The Danes would also like to see their flag as well as a ballet dancer at the lakeside.
      Rejecting their first hundred attempts as inadequate, Alexander Melamid and Vitaly Komar have worked hard to produce the perfect painting in saleable numbers. People of scores of nationalities have been pleased to buy their work of the blue landscape with the lake and the mountain. The proceeds are not only providing the artists with a livelihood but also enabling them to invest in further national polls for the project.

Name for a dog

Awake, his dream dissolved into air, Raeburn walked back the long walk from the ancient rock, along the stony beach, past the quayside. The dog greeted him long before he reached his gate. He told himself it was time he fixed on a name for the dog. The candidates for names were bafflingly endless. Aaran, Aaren, Aaron, Arran, he said out loud to make his point. The dog barked at this list. Kiss, Inward, Haythornthwaite and Death are all names. The dog barked louder. Raspberry is a name, Zaezilie, Fath, Cuquemelle and Rayssiguier. Rayssiguier? The dog howled. Come here Cuquemelle, here boy. Go fetch, Nightingale, Noy, Nettleship. And don’t forget Winona. King, Mascherano. Ivo, Dibba, Vespasiano.

Name of a ferry

A lady wrote to Raeburn saying she had been in touch with the spirit of Kokkola. She was waiting on his doorstep. In fact she was from the criminal investigation department. He showed her the list. She managed to look round his place: the list had been typed on an old typewriter owned by Raeburn. He told her he planned to live in Rennes but first needed to study the movements of the ferries. Among these he had a predilection for the Enez Eussa. On the basis of her report he was soon apprehended, taken into custody for an hour, and deterred from the idea of jumping a ferry. Asked about his occupation, he said he was retired but was an expert on the European Union. To his disappointment he was not held for further questioning but simply let go, left to himself on the island of Ouessant.