A philandering submariner is kidnapped by two radical lesbians who subject him to "Total Reform Hypnosis", installing a new past in his subconscious. A tenant, discovering a solid gold fish under his floorboards, installs the fish in the sea in the hope that it will act as a magnet for suspended gold particles. Another tenant, determined to be kind to the miserly Polish landlord who tries to claim the fish as his, takes him to body-drumming classes, where they both experience profound revelations. An auxiliary in a mental hospital voluntarily becomes blank, mute and incontinent to prove that the appearance of annihilation does not necessarily mirror the actuality. The members of the Aquarians, a tropical fish club, are capable of behaving like a shoal. These are a few of the aqueous plot elements, sometimes parallel, sometimes intertwined, of Divers, A. R. Lamb's first novel. Set in a world that is achingly real yet somehow just out of reach, this surreal tale is a tantalizing dream of the very near future or the immediate past. Written in a unique style that blends wit and longing, Divers is multi-layered, seductive, and enlightening.

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Excerpts from DIVERS

Excerpts copyright©2000 by A. R. Lamb

In bed with a sailor? Yes: he'd come home early one day and found Daphne's passages being navigated by a man of the sea. Of course Ken didn't have a leg to stand on. There was no lion to attack with, no gazelle to flee with. And besides, he was ill-that was why he'd come home. His temperature on the ward had been a hundred and three and so he'd been sent packing only halfway through his shift. But he couldn't see it that way round: the sailor had caused the fever and now when he ought at least to be offering a fight he could do nothing but relapse onto the settee in the living-room and stare at the faces which scowled at him from the textured ceiling.

The sailor, who was actually a submariner, came through later. He didn't care whether they fell ill or attacked him, as long as they came home while he was on the job. In the old days, when he was green, he used to secrete himself under the bed or in the wardrobe but the excitement of hiding had soon worn thin. After that he'd stayed and fought, although recently he'd found that fewer and fewer wanted to fight and more and more responded with some kind of sickness. He didn't know whether this signified a social trend among civilians or an increment in his own powers. Often he'd come out and sit listening to the man moaning on the settee while the woman remained in the bedroom paralysed by ecstasy and fear. But now Ken neither moaned nor gabbled: his eyes were open and unblinking and every other muscle was still.

Daphne stared helplessly at the bedside clock: any minute now her mother would arrive with her children and then there'd be hell if she wasn't up and brewing.

"Terry," she called. "Terry love."

The sailor came back in, accompanied by his donkey grin and his unbuckling belt.

"No," she protested, giggling. "You've got to go."

They were just approaching the vinegar strokes when the doorbell rang. She froze. Terry accelerated. The children screeched through the letterbox.

"Wait here," she ordered, tipping him off, dressing, and staggering jelly-legged to the door.

The children immediately began to bicker, although they'd been as good as gold all afternoon. The Gran immediately began to nag. Only when they'd all rolled through to the living-room did they notice Ken.

"What's the matter with he?" asked the Gran, who'd never liked him.

Daphne was astounded by his presence.

"He looks ever so poorly," said the Gran. "He should be in bed. Let's get him into bed."

"No. Leave him in here. It's warmer in here. I'll go and get a blanket for him. You put the kettle on, Mum."

She rushed into the bedroom:

"Ken's in there. You didn't tell me. You must have seen him. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I forgot all about it."

"Quickly, then. Come on out now."

She led him through to the kitchenette.

"Mum, this is Ken's friend Terry. He brought him back from work when he took ill."

"Hello, Mrs. Stone. Nice to meet you."

She was immediately charmed by his sparkling eyes

"Would you like a cup of tea, Terry?"

"Only if it's as sweet as you are, Mrs. Stone."

She giggled:

"Please call me Rose."

"I think you're right, Mum, after all-Ken ought to be in bed. Terry can carry him through."

Ken made no protest while they took him into the bedroom, stripped him and tucked him in beside a lake of loving juices.

"She won't stay more than half an hour."

"Is your old man?-"

"No, he's dead."

"I'll run her home when she's ready."

Ken's eyes were now closed. His teeth chattered away incomprehensibly. Terry gazed down upon him without pity or disdain. His sense of triumph had long since atrophied through over-stimulation. He'd always been a little misunderstood, not least by his guardian angel. When all was done he was much more interested in giving pleasure to the woman than pain to the man.

Twenty minutes later he surged away in his Sacred Cortina, with Rose sitting on tenterhooks beside him. The streets screeched past, each one a heavenly reminder that life went on, even when it wasn't raining; went on until they reached her gate, which whined at her and no doubt would have barked at him had it possessed the anatomy.

He laid her bag of provisions on the hall-table and wheeled out his opening gambit:

"Was Daphne adopted?"

"Of course not. Why do you ask?"

"You just don't look old enough to be her natural mother."

She beamed coyly, believing that perhaps she really had kept her age at bay: after all, the desire she felt now was as strong as it had ever been ago.

Terry knew this off by heart and yet he couldn't believe it. There was nothing more divine than such repetition. But to tell the truth he wasn't all that fussy. If a barrel-organ had rolled in now he'd have embraced it. He hadn't yet discovered a mechanical correlation between interior and exterior. When the fire is roaring even the mantelpiece gets hot. The daughter had brought him to the foot of the steps. The mother would take him to the threshold.

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He must fertilise his experience of Daphne-Rose so it might gestate inside him for the duration of the patrol. He knew that if he didn't take such a pregnancy aboard with him he'd be doomed to madness or mutiny.

How else does order maintain itself below the surface? Only by the strictest possible vetting of personnel, so that the hierarchy which submerges is precisely the hierarchy which would form of its own accord were they all to go down without pre-appointed rank.

In the past few years he'd probably been all round the world driven by the controlled fission of uranium nuclei, and each trip had been one long night, one long nightmare, only made tolerable by that 'negation of the individual in favour of the collective' which we hear so little about.

As there is no evidence to support the rumour that submarines exist either to keep or breach the peace, it seems that they must contain nothing less than an experiment in human engineering, in living death, in supra-personal relations.

His father had been a plasterer but Terry hadn't followed in those crumbly footsteps because the old man was always disparaging his craft as something that an automaton could do, claiming that there was no quality involved, no progress possible. You were either perfect or useless. Once you could produce a perfect plane and a perfect edge that was it: you just had to go on doing the same thing over and over again in different buildings. So Terry had gone off at a parabola from his father's plane and, naturally enough for a Plymothian, landed in the Navy. Having served for a while on the surface he had managed to get below, into the elite.

Dusk descended around Terry while he stood on the edge of the slate-cliff inhaling deeply, as though trying to accumulate a store of real air which would last him for the next couple of months.

The attack was so swift he didn't have time to turn and see who was responsible; he hardly had time to gurgle as the rope tightened around his windpipe and the velvet pressed against his eyes and the needle plunged into his buttock.

His assailants tied him by ankles and wrists to a wooden pole; shouldered the pole; set off in step, down towards the white house on the river.

His guardian angel wrung her hands in disbelief.

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When she'd finished she stood up and went towards the kitchenette, intending to make some tea. But on her way one of the rotten floorboards finally capitulated. Clay leaped to save her from going through the ceiling of the flat below. He helped her back to her seat, fetched the lump hammer and bolster from his tool bag and prised up the collapsed board with the intention of bodging a repair. As he did so he discovered, lying in a bed of fine grey dust, a golden effigy of a fish, about six inches long.

"Fucking Ada," he murmured.

"Look at this," he shouted.

"Clever boy," said Pauline.

"It's ours. It's for all of us-"

"It is pretty amazing," she said. "Do you think it's solid gold?"

"Must be. Feel the weight of it. Anyway it'd be sick if it was plated. I mean you don't find gold-plated fish under your floorboards, do you?"

He pointed out the hole in the upper dorsal fin:

"What do you think that's for?"

"For hanging it up?"

"Exactly. If we hang it up it'll turn the room into a fish tank . . . or a church."

He fetched string and nail and suspended the fish from the mantelpiece so that it hovered in front of the fire. Then he sat down to muse.

He knew there'd be pressure on him to flog it, and not just from Loretta, yet he couldn't believe that the fish had arrived simply to be exchanged for money. No matter how much it brought in, such a sale would surely be a crude and sacrilegious act. It might pay off his debts. They might even be able to afford a few days in Turin. Yet similar debts would soon accumulate as inevitably as mould on a wet wall and then there'd be nothing to show for the fish except a memory which in the end would itself become too good to be believed. He jumped up.

"It must be worth more than it's worth," he declared. "Think of all the gold in the sea. Billions of tons of the stuff, doing no good to anyone. If it were all taken out the ecology wouldn't be affected one jot. And yet it's so thinly distributed that no one has ever found an economical extraction method. Until now. The clue is in the hole in the fin. Forget everything else about the sea. Think of it simply as low-density gold. Now think of our fish as high-density gold. All we have to do is suspend it from a buoy and all the gold particles in the vicinity will flock towards it like filings to a magnet . . . What do you think?"

The women looked at each other, exchanging glances which, although he couldn't quite interpret them, didn't seem to indicate any confidence in his chances of becoming a gold-farmer.

He was about to explain further just how and why the scheme would succeed when he noticed a familiar, high-pitched wheezing sound coming from the landing. He put his forefinger to his lips, tiptoed across and opened the door to find the landlord leaning against the jamb.

"Hello," Clay said. "You alright?"

He was purple-faced after the effort of hauling himself up from the basement.

"I hear some banging. I think you are destroying my house."

"Not at all. Come in. Come in and see for yourself."

Sikorski stood without ease in the middle of the room, in his partially unravelled cardigan.

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Hardly anyone realises, apart from the radical lesbians themselves, the importance of radical lesbianism.

Why is this?

Because hardly anyone bothers to look that far into the future.

We are the third sex, they say.

We are the salvation of the species.

How come?

Because we choose what we are; whereas everyone else is what they are born to be.

Today we're only talking about a new language. Tomorrow we will speak it.

We are the first conscious mutators that the planet has produced.

What is the velocity required to escape from time?

Infinitesimally slow.

How is it achieved?

By the administration of a soporific through a funnel.

Who achieves it?

Diana and Bridget, on a feather bed imported from Pisa.

How can they return without burning up?

In a womb made of Gemini tissue.

They were so deep now their tubes reached to the centre of the earth.

Terry noticed, and was duly impressed by, the new resonance in their voices.

He rowed them out to where Maureen and June (their friends and previous tenants of the house on the river) had gone down.

They dropped gardenias overboard.

It wasn't an anniversary. It was simply that this day was a homologue of that day. The stillness of this sea was identical to the stillness of that sea. The softness of this mist was identical to the softness of that mist.

He saw them rise without disturbing a single molecule.

He saw them break the surface without breaking the surface.

He saw them smiling into each other's eyes.

They were a picture of bliss, which he would carry with him to his own grave.

Then the apparition faded, leaving no trace but the two gardenias.

Whereas on the way out his rowing had been clumsy, on the way back it was inspired.

When they reached the jetty he removed seven mackerel from the hooks which had followed the boat.

Apart from fish, their diet was limited to goat and millet products. This regime was dictated neither by poverty nor by misery, but by one of Diana's dicta, which went something like this:

"You are what you don't eat. So the more you don't eat the more you can be."

Bridget had smiled when she heard it. She always took Diana's declarations with a pinch of sugar. This was one of the many things that Diana loved about her. She never entered into any logical argument. She was neither a sceptic nor a credulist, therefore they made progress. Alone, Diana would have just lain all day in a litter of glittering ideas. Together, they could travel from the ideas to their source, from the glitter to the gold. So although Diana might plot the path of each journey and provide the driving force, it was Bridget who produced the wings.

It wasn't just that she was a three-dimensional mirror. It was that the serpent was extinguished, the apple reconstituted, the garden transplanted to here and now.

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A week later Sikorski, if he could have felt such a thing as amazement, would have been amazed to find himself dragged along to something she called a 'body-drumming workshop'.

"Come on," she said, as she opened the door. "Don't be shy."

He stuck out like a sore bear, all the others being women in the process of raising their consciousness from millennia of oppression.

Ethel, the tutor, whose heel bore the motto made in California, knelt down before them, her secret aim collective levitation, her ostensible object rhythm-therapy.

"People go to great lengths to avoid doing the right thing," she began. "We could go out and kill a steer, yeah? Skin it and make a drum. But it would be wrong. I mean what's the relationship of the false drum, of all the false drums, to the true drum, the one true drum, which is your own body? It's like what's the relationship of dance to sex. All that other kind of drumming is basically just a way for men to mimic pregnancy. Everything begins with the double heartbeat. If we drum with our two hands upon our stomach, or our knees, or our head, then what we are doing is forming a transcendent reflection of the two hearts. If we were all to sit around with bongos we might get some enjoyment out of it, but what would it signify? What would it do for us? Rather little. Only by drumming directly upon our body can we get it to release us from its snares . . . I ran a prenatal class in L.A. We wired up all the foetal heartbeats to one amplifier and all the maternal to another. For a while you'd just get a messy noise, then gradually the most incredible rhythms would emerge. It was like the ultimate feedback situation. The unborn were communicating with each other. The mothers were centred like they'd never been before . . . We'll do a version of that next time but tonight I want us to start without any technology at all. We know that the matriarchy ended with the invention of the artificial drum . . . I want us to go back to before that moment, which was thousands, maybe even millions of years ago. So we'll go from then, when only women drummed, and the only drums were their bodies, directly to the present, with its potential for amplifying the heartbeat. We'll skip everything in between, that is the whole of history during which the artificial or male drum was dominant. We'll act as though it never happened and if we do it ardently enough in some subtle but substantial way it will never have happened . . . So let's start with a few simple rhythms. Any site you like-thighs, stomach or head. Try to follow me. Remember-any rhythm is possible for anybody as long as they're relaxed enough."

 

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Just as he lived, without believing in living, so Sikorski drummed.

"Did you enjoy that?" asked Candida, as they walked home.

She was quite sure she'd enjoyed it herself. Having hardly done more before than tap her foot she'd been surprised to find how easy it was, as soon as she stopped trying, to follow Ethel's lead. Judging by the tightness and peacefulness of the sound they'd produced, everyone else must have experienced the same ease, with the fatal exception of Sikorski, who'd joined in only intermittently, and then clumsily.

Although she hadn't thought much of the two-heartbeat idea it must have thought a great deal of her: having begun by ringing all the bells in her ovaries it had then gone on to fill her womb with cherub.

"How's your tummy?"

"No worse," he admitted. "But no better."

She felt so good. She was on the verge of the transcendence which Ethel had urged, and yet Sikorski weighed her down. She didn't realise that his apathy was itself transcendental. She didn't realise that the only thing to have held his attention in the last forty years had been the golden fish, and even then not because it was a fish: it may just as easily have been a stoat or a toad; and not even because it was gold: it may just as easily have been osmium or uranium; but simply because of its value, its sole transcendent quality. He'd have exchanged it for banknotes if the price of gold had ever looked like falling, because bank notes would have represented the value just as adequately.

He had no relatives to speak of: his loneliness was absolute. Yet she must have touched something in him, because he continued to come up and eat with them. (Usually he hated his tenants. If he could have filled his houses with rent-paying spiders he'd have done so long ago, because of all creatures they were the ones he minded least, being as parsimonious and as silently independent as himself.) He sat at the table, occasionally saying 'please' and 'thank you', obediently finishing the portions she allotted him, sometimes even tweaking the baby's nose.

She wanted him to thaw. He didn't want to thaw. Her will was stronger than his. In the week which intervened between the first workshop and the second the process began. She'd at last discovered an effective ritual-by establishing pendular contact with the centre of the earth. From this source, which as you know is mostly molten iron, she drew both the heat needed to melt his memories and the fortitude required to face them.

The pain which had resided so long in his stomach, the general pain, the six million pain, now began to migrate to his mind, where it became the personal pain, the personal guilt. Of course, he didn't know that she was responsible, nor did either of them realise that this process was happening spontaneously to many survivors at about this period (forty or so years after the unspeakable had occurred). He only knew that he'd emerged from limbo.