Prologue: the Manuscript in Mr Vagus’s Loo
Mr Vagus, who knocked up cabinets and other oddments, and was otherwise a dealer in reliquaries, died an undischarged bankrupt. I never had the honour of his acquaintance, but I imagine him to have been a fat and wheezing chump. It fell to me, as an insolvency practitioner and all-round resolver of inefficiently-prosecuted affairs, to assess what of Mr Vagus’s effects could be salvaged for the duns, and whether perchance some morsels might even be left for those unsecured creditors of his, who were to be considered the widows and orphans of his sprees.
Mr Vagus’s place of business, a knackered old workshop, skulked in the shadows of Horfield Gaol. Thither I repaired, and found the ground floor to be a meagre sort of showroom, containing little apart from a quantity of homosexual pornography, a few sticks and planks upon which Mr Vagus had performed some desultory work in the line of turning and polishing; and also a triptych, painted in acrylic on a plywood veneer, purportedly in the Russian Orthodox tradition, although so poorly conceived and executed as to afford little clue whom the Tolstoyan figures thereon depicted were supposed to represent; Rasputin, I was moved to suggest to myself.
Upstairs were living quarters. A large room, with windows looking down into the filthy street below, contained as its only furniture a table and a form of divan, which Mr Vagus had presumably made his bed following the repossession of his home in Filton Avenue. The floor in this room was strewn with spliffbutts, with many more of these clogging the fire grate. There was also a kitchenette, bare but for some jars of instant coffee granules, and some crockery, waiting for someone to wash it, stacked in the sink.
There was also a toilet. Mr Vagus had evidently towards the end suffered from a digestive complaint, for this room announced itself with the most indescribably disgusting reek, such that I scarce forbore to poke my nose round the corner of the door. However, from professional habit I did so, and my eyes alighted upon a roll of toilet paper, resting on a low stool next to the seat upon which Mr Vagus had been accustomed to take his easement. What caught my notice was that the roll in question was covered with a dense calligraphy. My inquisitiveness got the better of my repulsion, and so I purloined the tongs from Mr Vagus’s fireplace, and grasped the toilet roll with these, and slipped it into a plastic bag from the cupboard under the kitchenette sink, and immediately quit that place of desolation.
The work, when I got it home and unravelled it, had evidently passed through several hands, for it was smudged in various places and stained with diverse residues, the nature of which I preferred not to dwell on, for they cannot have been very nice. The thing itself purported to be either the memoir of a tragedy which had overtaken the members of a gym in Hotwells; or a novel, in particular a parody of Moby Dick. I could not tell which, for many of the footnotes with which it was liberally endowed appeared to be later additions by a different hand from that of the original author. I leave it to later readers to decide this question.
Perhaps, if a publisher can be found, now that I have gone to the trouble of transcribing the work from the original filthy bogroll, some funds may in due course be realised, which will to some small extent succour the aforementioned widows and orphans. Such, at any rate, shall be my hope.
Prose Watercloset Insolvency Ltd
Bristol, Bath, Palm Springs & Saratov.