SHORT STORIES: ‘Crown of Creation’

You are the Crown of Creation
You are the Crown of Creation
and you’ve got no place to go.

Soon you’ll attain the stability you strive for
in the only way that it’s granted
in a place among the fossils of our time.

In loyalty to their kind
they cannot tolerate our minds.
In loyalty to our kind
we cannot tolerate their obstruction.

Life is Change.
How it differs from the rocks.
I’ve seen their ways too often for my liking.
New worlds to gain.
My life is to survive
and be alive
for you.

Paul Kanter (1968)


Mark Tilsley was the Crown of Creation.

He knew it. Beyond any doubt.

He exhaled deeply and the smoke rose in a snaky cloud before his face. He wished at that moment, (as he wished whenever he exhaled), that he could blow smoke rings, but try as he might, he had never been able to master that art. That was a shame, but hey, you can’t do everything, can you? There’s not time for it. And he’d spent his time doing much more important shit that learning how to blow smoke rings. Yes indeed, he’d done some crazy shit in his time, back in the day.

The guitar squealed mercilessly as the smoke drifted upwards. They were speaking to him, you know. They always spoke to him. That’s why he loved them. Airplane, the Doors, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Hendrix… all the way out ones. They all spoke to him, because like him they lived, on the edge. Albums such as this one were magic, the symphonies of the sixties. They don’t write shit like that anymore. Well, most people don’t…

“You are the Crown of Creation.”

Mark inhaled again, but the spliff has gone out. “Bollocks!” he muttered under his breath. That was the end of the weed, and there was still time to kill before Jane came back. What should he do? He felt a pang of hunger so he rose from the settee and made his way out of the living room and into the kitchen. There he switched on the kettle and then delved into the bread bin to retrieve a loaf of white sliced. Then, as the kettle hissed and began to bubble, he attacked the fridge, getting out some margarine and cheddar and created a rudimentary cheese sandwich. That done, he returned to the kettle, took a mug off the mug tree, popped a teabag and some milk in it and made himself a cuppa to accompany the sandwich. All preparation finished, he sat down to enjoy his meal but just after he had taken the first bite of the sandwich something happened.

What happened was that Mark Tilsley looked out of the kitchen window.

And out of the window he saw Gemma Moore.

Gemma Moore (even though he was not even aware that that was the name she bore), had long fascinated Mark Tilsley. He not only did not know her name but indeed, he knew very little about her at all. Her age was sixteen but Mark did not know that although he could probably have guessed from her appearance, and she was a student at the local high school, but Mark didn’t know that either as he was never up early enough to see her leaving for school. He did know where she lived though. The council estate upon which the Tilsley house was located had been built in the 1960s by some benevolent planner who had arranged all the little brick boxes into squares around faux village greens. It was onto one of those little greens, (complete with a genteel ash tree in its centre), that Mark’s kitchen window looked out. And it was on the opposite side of that green that Gemma Moore lived.

Mark had first noticed her about three years before. His eye had been on the house before that as Gemma’s older sister, Stacey, was quite an attractive girl with shapely thighs and Mark had often enjoyed glancing at her as she walked across the green towards the shop outside of which she would congregate with her friends and smoke cigarettes. Whilst pretty and worthy of a glance, Mark had never really warmed to the elder sister. There was something about her that said ‘cheap’. Mark after all, was the Crown of Creation, and so he knew when someone was not worth the effort of thinking about any further than an ogle. He knew that by twenty-five she would be fat and greasy, with kids in tow, working in a dead-end job and living with a wastrel of a partner.

Gemma however, was different. He knew it from the very first time that he saw her walking across the green with her friends in the direction of the shop. It wasn’t that she was attractive, (although she could well ‘develop’ over the years that would follow), but instead that there was something about her, a glint in her eye perhaps, that reminded Mark of himself.

This girl had potential.

He cast his mind back to when he was that age. Just starting out on life, eager, naïve, yet alive. He’d had that special quality about him and he’d gone on to do great things. At eighteen, when all his mates were still tied to their parents, he’d gone off, left home for the Med and worked on the Costa del Sol for a season. And what a season that was, wild parties, lots of hot women, sangria in the sun, and plenty of Es and whizz. After that he’d gone on to the real big time, Ibiza, San Antonio, popping the pills and checking out the best nightlife in the world. The women he’d shagged, the times he’d had. Behind the bar at Bolero’s, then DJ-ing at Pipistrello’s. Yeah man, they were the days, livin’ it large, partying in the sun, whilst all his mates could manage was a night out in the city centre with a soggy kebab afterwards.

Of course it all had to end sometime, and it did for him the season after. He met Kate, fell in love, boy meets girl, you know that kind of shit. He was gutted when she left, so he followed her all the way back to Rochdale and got a job in the local pub whilst crashing with her. To be honest, that had been a step back, a serious one, and true love or not, he was ready to dump her and return to the Spanish sun for the next season, return that was until the unthinkable happened and she got pregnant. Well, what can a man do? If he is a complete twat he might leave anyway, but Mark had standards, and besides, a kid would be fun, and he had debts building up. Ibiza was unfeasible, and so he’d stayed in Lancashire.

That had been fifteen years ago, and since then he hadn’t moved. It was Kate’s fault of course, if she had been more careful then he could still have been there, livin’ it large on the beach, but still, c’est la vie as the French say. Since then he’d concentrated on his music and besides, if the government will pay for you to sit at home, then who can complain? These days his life revolved around smoking on the sofa, beers at the Bull’s Head and gigs every Saturday with the band. A bit sedentary for the Crown of Creation you might say, but you forget, he had done it, back in the day, and even now was building for the future. He was writing some great shit and it was only a matter of time for ‘Omega’. They would be big before long and then…

Mark watched Gemma walk across the green and wondered. Yes, she had it in her too, not like that chav of a sister who had got fat like he predicted. That girl was like him, destined for greatness. She had that quality in her, the quality that could inspire real music, music like that of Airplane and the Doors.

The front door slammed and Mark turned round. Kate lumbered in carrying a carrier bag, looking stressed from her day behind the till in Spar. “You done anything else but smoke weed today?” she asked, not kindly. Mark thought about the question for a while. “No, not really.” Kate put the bag down on the table. It contained two portions of chips and peas. “Can’t be arsed cooking tonight,” she said, “and besides, I’ve had a right day.”

“Aye?” he asked.

“Aye, bloody kids, stood outside the shop making a noise and kicking a ball about. They know they’re not allowed in so they just stand by the window and scare all the customers away. We had to call the police in the end. They should ASBO ‘em.”

“Yeah,” agreed Mark.

“I just seen one of ‘em now,” she continued. “Her from around the back. She walked past me and gave me a right smirk.”
Mark’s ears picked up. “The old one or the young one?”

“The young ‘un. Right little madam she is, bad as the rest of the family.”

“Really? I always thought that she… looked better than the others.”

“Don’t you be deceived by them eyes, she’s a slapper like the whole lot of ‘em. Barbara was telling me just this afternoon, not a boy on this estate she hasn’t slept with. Rumour is she’s got herself pregnant already, doesn’t know who the father is. Just think of it, only sixteen and all!”

Mark was stunned. He sat back in his chair and took a deep mouthful of his now-lukewarm tea. Slapper! Pregnant! Little Madam! How could it be? She was… Different, special, surely, he’d sensed it! He felt the earth slipping away. It was as if with her failure, inexplicably, he too had become a failure as well. It felt horrible.

Kate went into the other room and put on the gas fire. Mark however, did not move. He could not. It didn’t make sense. Then he heard music start up – Kate had put the stereo on. “You been listening to Airplane?” she shouted from the other room, not expecting an answer. “Haven’t heard these for ages. I like this one, number five.” She skipped the disc forward and the familiar chords started.

“You are the Crown of Creation.”

The words jolted Mark to his senses. Once again, they were singing to him, about him. He listened with intent, he listened with joy.

“In loyalty to their kind
they cannot tolerate our minds.
In loyalty to our kind
we cannot tolerate their obstruction.”

It was true, oh so true. He was misunderstood, completely misunderstood. Life could not tolerate his kind, because he was too good for it. That’s why it had conspired to leave him in a council house on a rough estate with no job and only chips and peas for comfort at the age of thirty-five. It was life that had done it, he was not a failure. Gemma Moore, young as she was, might have failed of her own accord. She might have tricked him into thinking that she was something that she wasn’t, but in the end he knew. It was he who had done it all back in the day, it was he who had lived and loved. Mark Tilsley was not like Gemma Moore. It was Mark Tilsley who was the Crown of Creation.


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