Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ghost In The Machine

Gold glowed amid lizard-skinned ashes.

The youth, Simon, with one earring, knelt to warm his hands by the fire. It had been cold outside and his mother had said it would yet be half-an-hour before tea was high enough to be served. This was a common expression of Simon’s mother, one that he never understood.

His stonewashed jeans had such gaping designer-rips at the knees, the lower half of the legs seemed to be hanging merely by a thread. Upon kneeling, parts of his body were exposed that the heat would not normally have reached readily.

He had left his motorbike leaning in the alleyway alongside the otherwise terraced house. Knowing it was only recently bought, Simon was still worried that it might be unsafe in this less than desirable precinct of the city. The “L” plate shone out luminously even after the streetlights flickered off in the late evening (which they tended to do in that area): the plate being red on white, like the jelly and cream his mother had served in just such a design, on the day he passed his test.

He put his hands closer to the fire -- either because they were growing intrinsically colder at the extremities despite the heat or, as he really thought, the audibly crumbling ashes were losing all their ability to tender more than a smidgin of warmth. There was a low, insidious grumbling within the chimney-breast: a wind picking up at the back of the house, he surmised.

Suddenly, he thought the embers were glowing brighter: re-erupting wormcasts of flame. His hands floated like autonomous entities above the rising heat, thus becoming tantamount to translucent. Simon almost convinced himself that he was the angel his mother told her cronies he really was -- at heart.

With growing horror, he lowered his gaze to the knees shyly poking from the gaps in the jeans: like wedges of cut glass with a three-dimensional map of bloodstreams within. He tried to persuade a hand to reach up to his face, but no amount of will-power could accomplish such an amazing feat. Then, after he surrendered all hope, the hand, of its own volition, swept to the top of his head, where a residue of feeling in the fingertips informed him that he was actually touching a soft substance and, as he pushed harder, his own mind performed a consequent flip, becoming madder by the second as the substance grew softer...

His mother entered the parlour where she’d laid the fire earlier in the afternoon. She dropped the tray of tea-things that she carried at shoulder height, extended in front like an offering at an altar. The clatter momentarily brought what used to be Simon to just a smidgin off consciousness -- and he wondered fleetingly why his mother looked as if she had seen a ghost.

The motorbike itself haunted the alley, a red “D”, in¬stead of an “L”, upon a white plate glowing at its buckled mudguard.

(published ‘Gathering Darkness’ 1994)

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