Peter Hammill - Options
What options are open to us! What challenges we all face
daily! How noble a race is Mankind! How incomparable!
We are all born equal, with nothing, with the same, with zero,
with one hundred per cent possibility. We can all make of
ourselves whatever we want, whatever we believe in; and what we
believe is ultimately what we are. We can all draw from the
fathomless wells of human knowledge and experience. Every day, we
do so, and every individual met, probed and felt is another
equation solved in our self-examinations. We can all transcend.
We can all achieve peace, or turmoil, or boredom, or a Good Life;
whatever we self-destinate is ours. We can all become whole. Hope
is not dead. Man survives.
Panander examines his chin in the cracked mirror. The mirror
has streaks of dirt across it like the tracks of proud and un
unrepentant tears. There are no tears in Panander's eyes: they
are hard and cold grey. The pupils are small. The whites are
blurred and capillaried with blood. There is a day's stubble on
his chin. The stubble is dark, but patched and dappled in grey.
The chin is taut and firm.
Panander decides not to shave; it hardly seems worth it. He
feels the root of a back tooth with the tip of his tongue. His
cheek rumples and distorts in the mirror. The tooth feels loose,
but he is careful not to dislodge it; his tongue is funghied and
There is a packet of untipped cigarettes lying on the bedside
table, with five left in it. An empty, crushed packet lies in the
wastepaper basket. On top of the suitcase on the bedside chair is
a pack of two hundred duty-free cigarettes. Two packets are
missing. There is a bottle of duty-free Scotch on the bedside
table, and a half-full tumbler beside it. Panander picks up the
tumbler and gulps from it. He does not shudder. He picks up a
cigarette from the packet and lights it. He blows the smoke out
very slowly, with a whistling sigh. He is waiting for somebody or
something, and he has a lot of time.
It is two hours later. The level of the Scotch has dropped.
There is a new packet of cigarettes by the bedside, and the old
packet, crushed, has joined its sibling in the wastepaper basket.
Panander is lying on the bed without shoes or jacket. His socks
need darning and the material at the elbows of his shirt is
threadbare. He is watching a moth do circuits around the light
bulb. The shades is plastic and it is cracked.
Panander is sitting in this dirty little hotel room with
cracked lightshade, with dusty mirror, with walls which seem to
have been painted the colour of the dirt, with a ceiling scarred
by many plaster repairs, with shaking, decrepit bed and musty
sheets, and it all fits. Panander fits in the room. He is
comfortable here; he is blending with his environment like a
chameleon, like a sand crab, and the only parts of him which
truly remain visible against the sombre background of the room
are his eyes, which are hard and cold and grey. Behind those
hard, cold, grey eyes he is thinking about what he is going to do
when he leaves this place. He is thinking about the colours his
skin must change to in order to blend with new and gaudier
He is trying to decide which of two daydreams he will inhabit.
Both are crystal-bright, sunny, and washed over in sheets of
white. One has dark conifers and scabs of out-cropping rock
through snow. It has speed and steaming breath, exhilaration and
endless parallel lines biting across the white surface of the
ground in pale grey. The other dream is horizontal, inactive, the
gentle hiss of water on burning white sand, sparkling light on
the endless deep blue of the sea, cooling palm fronds and long
alcoholic drinks. In neither dream is there any waiting.
Another hour has passed. The moth is no longer flying around
the cracked lightshade. It has died under the merciless onslaught
of a rolled-up newspaper, and is now merely crushed tissue and
moist juices spread over the crossword. The crossword has been
completed, and so has the moth.
Panander is lying on the bed and thinking about his life. He
is not sure that he likes it: there are certain moments and
actions that he find almost unbearable even to think about. Other
parts he lingers over with a dull sense of pleasure. He has been
both a thoughtful man and a cruel one. Sometimes he has been
gentle; sometimes he has been stupid. He is wondering what being
happy means. He is wondering what Good is. He is thinking that
maybe his dreams have been better than his life. His only comfort
is the absolute certainty of the pronouns.
The door bursts open, and four men come through it. Three of
them are wearing sombre, anonymous uniform. The colour and
denomination does not matter in the slightest. They have black
belts and sub-machine guns. The other man has on a badly-fitting,
belted raincoat of sandy grey. Under the raincoat is a
badly-fitting black suit. The cut and fit of his clothes do not
matter in the slightest. He has black, greasy hair and an
automatic pistol in his hand.
This is not what Panander has been waiting for.
These are not his friends.
These people were not included in his dreams.
Panander licks the root of one of his back teeth. It is loose.
He pushes hard on it, and it comes away from the gum. A small
capsule falls from its hollow onto his tongue. He punctures the
capsule between his teeth. Sudden dreams come to him, sudden
acridity and acidity. He crumples over onto his side, and his
hands tear at his stomach.
The man in the raincoat walks over to the shabby figure on the
floor and kicks it in the kidneys. Panander does not worry,
wonder, think, dream, or feel any more.
Of course I do not know any spies. Of course I have never seen
a man standing in a doorway wearing a sand grey raincoat and
black suit with an automatic pistol in his hand. But I validate
my life by writing about death and I fill my life with interest
by writing about interesting death.
Of course, physically, it is no different from the last
asthmatic gurgling cough. Of course it is no different from the
screaming, distorted union with metal and upholstery on a foggy
motorway night. The only interest lies in the last frame of the
mind's movie. The only conclusions to be drawn are derived from
the photofinish, the dead heat that ebbs away into the air and is
gone almost before it can be analysed. Ultimately, no
conclusions, analyses, answers -- only more questions.
Why did Panander, Rothschild, Kutz, whoever he may really have
been or been imagined to be, explode his being with a capsule of
hydrocyanic acid? Options already form their ranks; the network
of motive and reason stretches out in a spider's web from them.
On one of the threads lies the corpse, first trapped, now husked.
How many options have bred this result?
What if he thought the intruders were about to shoot him out
of hand? Did he wish to deny them such final control over him?
Was this last assertion of individuality, his last, his only his?
Did he side with the option of decision and self-determinism to
the end? Suicide to deny murder? Suicide for Free Will? Suicide
for a 'good name'? Was there really any choice?
Perhaps he saw it differently. Perhaps he saw already the grim
lines of prison bars; dry bread, stale water, board bed,
interrogation, lights, questions, questions, questions. Perhaps
he saw humiliation, public and private; pain; destruction, within
and without; endless non-life, endless anonymity, endless
Was he already dead in the moment he saw all of this? Was he
dead against capture, failure, ultimate repentance? Was he dead
in the destruction of self-respect? The fast against the slow and
Do you think he thought at all? Do you think it could have
been a charade, a joke, a game, another dream? Are you dead yet?
It is inevitable that, one day, each of us will lie, crushed
and inwardly seeping blood, in our true colours at last, pinned
against the blank spaces we fill with clever but isolating words
and the black spaces that are our might-have-beens, our broken
dreams, our failings. Perhaps we are all engaged merely in
moulding our coffins.
What options are open to us!