THE VISITING STAR by Robert Aickman
“She nodded. ‘Will you take me down a mine?’”
Incredibly, I cannot remember reading this story before, although I surely must have done! It is, equally surely, his masterpiece. The Reggie Oliver-like theatrical story, here, of course, pre-apotheosised by Aickman, taking place in a town of coal mining, where, despite this, the young narrator is studying outdated lead and plumbago mining and I learned more about this activity than I would ever have wished! As well as theatrical — and here there is a wonderful character of a local theatre to die for and its manager and its faulty scenery ‘grid’ and its old timer of an actor called Ludlow also to die for — there is the Aickman classic ambiance of a lodging-house where dinner one night is luncheon meat and chips … and two people sitting in a bar munch interminably on mounds of margarine and bread, without talking to each other, as if in the midst of an argument. Above all, the trans- (Cf trains) triangulation of the actress Arabella Rokeby and the evasive Mr Superbus with his inscrutable luggage and the wan and frail Myrrha is a characterisation that outdoes all else in literature, I suspect. The implications of the story’s denouement in the light of this very triangulation are insidious and manifold and lasting. They will, in fact, enduringly last for any stretches of Null Immortalis that happen to ensue after reading this cracker of an Aickman, I promise you. And the intermissionary visit by the narrator with Arabella (carrying a single flashlight between them) into a lead/plumbago mine is absolutely ace. I can’t help noticing, too, that Aickman seems to have included, for its first publication, this story in this his own edited Fontana Ghosts anthology and he even labels it with a special ‘© 1966 Robert Aickman’ on the story’s title page as if to mark it proudly as ‘mine’!
“Then that will look after you. Where’s the mine? Conduct me.”