Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Absent Without Leave

A collaboration with Anthea Holland

Harry fingered the stripes as his boot-burst toes circled the irregular Summer detritus of sedge and mulch.

A pond or pool that was stagnant. No scent of water lilies hung on the summer evening air; no reeds or rushes bordered its banks. Green slimy growth covered the undertow.

Cold for Summer, though, Harry thought as he knelt at the edge. Despite the warmth of the day, little of the sun’s rays would penetrate the thick branches of the ancient oaks that surrounded the pond. Cold oblivion, what bliss.

‘But smelly,’ a little voice reminded him. ‘Do you really want to smell like sewerage?’

‘Won’t care, will I?’ he responded casually. ‘It’ll all be over for me.’

He stood up and shrugged his shoulders out of his jacket. No point in ruining a perfectly good suit.

The plane appeared from nowhere. He hadn’t heard it coming; it was suddenly overhead, its thunderous roar reverberating around the tree circle. He threw himself to the ground, scared shitless, burying his face in the muddy marsh ground.

The jet - for surely it must have been a jet from the Air Force base - was gone as suddenly as it came, leaving a pregnant silence behind. Harry lifted his head slowly, stickily, from the mud and gradually stood up, as embarrassed as if a crowd of people had seen his craven action.

He picked up his jacket.

“And you thought you were going to drown in twelve inches of stagnant water?” he questioned.

"Six inches," said the little voice, now in full hearing, as a long grey glistening back rose to the surface of the turgid brine - making Harry think that the pondbed itself was raising its profile. "Six, quickly becoming nothing," it said, persisting in a commentary upon its own birth.

The creature was in full to empty view, hardly breaking the murky meniscus.

"Who are you?"

Harry stuttered inside but spoke quite smoothly aloud.

The question hung about on its interrogative hook, as a whole series of imputed jets filled the stagnant air with a fleet of shadows and roars.

"I'm whoever you want me to be," the voice eventually stated. "I can be your worst nightmare or your most delirious dream. Which do you want? Think carefully, now, there is only one chance."

Harry thought carefully. He wasn't quite sure what his worst nightmare was.... Then again only a fool would ask for that option surely. But then he was a fool - amongst other things. Only a fool would attempt suicide drowning in a mere foot of fetid water, a pool for a fool.

Perhaps it was all he deserved - this worst nightmare idea. He was a good-for-nothing, low-life character.

He knew that was right, he'd been told it often enough.

But still, his worst nightmare ... what dossier of domestic doldrums could he conjure that out of?

No, better to conjure up his most delirious dream - except if he asked for that - and got it, wouldn't that give him a reason to live?

And hadn't he lunched out for the last six months on the fact that he had no reason to live?

Lunched out; evening dinnered out; night-time drunk out; and outlasted all his friends with his constant harping on his total nothing-ness.

If he were nothing, the pool creature was definitely something else. And the jets tessellated the sky like a patchwork storm, thundering more than a million twisters. Was this death? Even God had to keep an air force handy. Then silence as furlough fornicated with desertion.

"I'm whoever you want me to be," repeated the voice, in a storm that was the eye of a calm.

He looked up and wished he were a tree with tap-roots.

The pool was scummed over with grey Autumn.

Absent without leaves.

(Published 'Roadworks' 1999)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Stories without pain?