The following story appeared alongside an introduction to my theoretical research as part of an article, The Story of the Third Object, published by Taylor & Francis in New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing on 10/10/17, available online here.

The Battle of San Romano


He was smoking his last cigarette.

The light was almost like that other 11th August, the day of the eclipse, ethereal and extra-terrestrial.

There was a castle on the hill and a buzzard was gliding through the wordless sky with a snake hanging from its beak. In the distance blots of shrubbery peppered the fields, growing slowly, steadily, reluctant to expend too much energy in the blasts of the sun.

He would look directly at the sun then turn back to the hedgerow and see spots and circles in front of his eyes. Under the nearest hedge he could see what he thought was a turtle, but it might also have been a rock.

To his left were the collapsed parasols of an orangeade company, leaning against the back of the white stone building; another set of parasols were up and already protecting the four white tables further away from him. At one were sat a couple, the man hidden from view by an umbrella, the woman with her shoulders and neck rolled back so that they caught the first of the day’s sun.

She was probably going to spend the rest of the day working in the hotel.

At another table, a man in a powder-blue suit talked on a phone. Otherwise it was almost noiseless there, the gravel under his feet audible as he fought the need to piss.

His own shirt was spotted with black dots and there were gaps of light in the hedge winking in front of him like stars in the firmament.

The sky was cropped like he’d been early-evening drinking, like a migraine descending. His mother disappeared on the day of that solar eclipse.

The thought of which made him think he would phone his brother Serge. Pierre would speak to him and he would speak to Gustav. Serge was in between them in age; the Venn diagram at which point the other two overlapped, the darkness of Gustav, the dreaminess of Pierre, but both given to let their minds wander, to follow thoughts to their vanishing point.


Pierre’s brother lived underground, his Paris basement flat extending like a conference hall. Rural in atmosphere, like dark pastoral tales, like the struggle of peasanthood.

Flags hung to the ceiling above the bed, a bed they shared when Pierre visited, hung there to cover the damp patches, but also to inspire. There was one wall that was papered to look like a log cabin.

Gustav had the melancholy face of a horse, wildly disappointed in any idea that was presented to him. He was an expert in international gothic.

Whenever Pierre visited they drank stout, went on silent walks around Barbés and Gustav blew kisses to the North African men who bounced around the market on Boulevard La Chapelle. Hidden faces, turned down to avoid eye contact.

Gustav looked creased, tired, older than he was, though he was the eldest of the three, rolled up, travelled, evening falling through his features.

The tired, creased bed linen was also turned down. There was an old-fashioned alarm clock. Bunting, royal blue, royal white, royal red stuffed into a plastic box under the bed.

Pierre didn’t know what had been there when Gustav had moved in, and what had been added to inspire him, as he wrote his thesis. He didn’t want to know.

There was gauze over the windows in the kitchen that gave what little light there was a mournful quality, as if in wake for its unfiltered past.

The damp on the walls shimmered at night, the blue-black of a panther.

The colours of the pageantry were a lot warmer in the sun.

The flat only got the light in the morning, revealing the details of the regalia his brother had pinned up. Revealing the details and embellishments of the contents he’d previously missed; the sun snuggling into crevices of colour, nestling between dirt and oil, between centuries or political, wilful disregard.

This brought an air of the carnival to the room, despite itself.

The sun brought out the woodiness of everything: hard wood, soft wood, light wood, dark wood, good wood, fake wood.

There was a smear of dark green in the top left-hand corner of the room, above the wardrobe. Clothing perhaps, furred with mould.

Gustav had a cat called Mask; he said when she died he would shave off his eyebrows, as the pharaohs had done.


Serge lived for the sea.

Pierre went to see him, his other brother, in summer, when it was warmer. The memory of seeing Gustav in the winter had marked him, the dark and damp and upturned collars.

Recently restored by a session in rehab Serge had the zealotry of the convert, he welcomed Pierre with a yodelled ‘I’m off the drugs!’ With the excitement and lack of shame of a man who had been through therapy. He still drank though, his eyes hooded and inscrutable afterwards; clouded by thoughts Pierre thought they shared but couldn’t be sure.

If you spend a lot of time in the sea, you spend a lot of time looking skyward. This maybe explained the number of things that Serge left all over the floor of his flat, that Pierre would absentmindedly brush to the side with his feet.

The two brothers went to a party; it was busy but felt different, the revellers restrained, an old- fashioned party perhaps. Decorated by hand with streamers cut from recycled paper. There was a punchbowl and figurines and table decorations that seemed slightly cryptic, begot by traditions not shared with other countries.

It was a warm room, there was bare skin, people in shirtsleeves and he started thinking priapically. He was surveying the scene, trying to decide if he was going to drink. He was trying to stop drinking for a while, but it was hard with Serge, he wanted to go wherever Serge went whilst he visited, mentally as well.

‘Ready for a drink?’

He wobbled his head in answer, in an ‘almost’ way, in a ‘why not’ way.

On the top of the bookshelves was a fruit bowl, he guessed usurped from its usual position in the centre of the dining table by the punchbowl, and he could see the hemispheres of three oranges on the vine. The three partly concealed oranges are he and his brothers he thought.

Later in the evening he was tired, he watched as Serge had a long conversation with a man wearing an elaborately patterned piece of knitwear. Is he not too hot? Pierre thought. Even though it was a little cooler, both because it was evening and because people had left, he was still warm. He could still feel the warmth on his skin, still catching at the militaristic ‘V’s cut into his shirt cuffs, the tickle of sweat in the small of his back.

The man was talking about astronomy or astrology, or both, about the positions of the stars.

He wanted another drink, to try to find the evening interesting but there was a crush at the drinks table, so he decided to wait. He looked instead at a reproduction of a painting hung opposite him: it showed a market, with fish and game hung at the top so as to invert the world almost, the creatures of the land and the sea were positioned in the sky and there were no birds in the picture.

A woman walked across his gaze and started chatting to him.

‘You’re Pierre aren’t you, Serge’s younger brother? The one that lives in London.’ ‘Yes, that’s right; we’ve all ended up living in different countries.’