The parlour was as quiet as a mouseful of pins. In the depleting light, a pair of armchairs seemed peopled with stares. There had already been words of ghosts and frights, but neither set of eyes had flinched. The fire had dyed itself black, in recognition of the coal that had given it birth. A knock on the door or an unseen hand brushing against the shoulder might have startled their revery. Yet the simple scrabbling of a pointed creature in the wainscot was hardly worth the mention, let alone the pricking of ears - until one of them took up a second spate of speaking:-
“I travelled in a train - an ordinary day - except I listened to a number of ladies from behind me in the neighbouring part of the carriage. I couldn’t see them, but I guessed they were middle-aged or above. They had spent the whole journey so far chortling, gossipping, prattling of - wait for it - knitting! The train juddered northward uncaring, it seemed, of signals and stations - an express in every sense. Their banter ranged from treatises on back-stitches to belly-laughs on chain ones - every combination and convolution of the art of clicking needles together, weaving a web of action or reaction, of colour’s shade or husband’s size, stitches loose or tight, grip or wield, cast on or off. What a nice gathering - how very civilised in this day and age, I felt, listening to a knitting group on an outing. I’d never overheard such laughter and jollity surrounding doubts regarding brown against orange in a knitting pattern - something about tail-end wool. Then, as I heard the chunky clunk-click of large stitches being made, I wondered if they knew about the two main varieties of wool: shorling or morling. It hadn’t arisen in their conversation - which was a surprise, since everything else plain and purl had been chewed over and skittishly aired. Well, let me tell you...”
One nodded in the full-shrunken light of the parlour, as the other continued to speak:-
“...shorling is wool sheared off live sheep, morling that off those already dead. There is, believe it or not, a difference in feel. One is more suitable for men, the other women, but not necessarily for all men or all women. Well, I peered round the back of my train seat whence I heard the ladies’ ribbing, so as to tickle their fancy with my teaser. There, with long tapering bones clasped in their hands, were several large grizzled brutes of men with falsetto voices. One turned and gapped a smile. Another waved a criss-cross weave of vessels that would have looked better on the inside of a body than the out.”
The parlour wore an air of indifference, until the one who had been listening, assumed responsibility for manipulation of the meandering conversation:-
“I myself was also on a train once - the only time, in fact. Being an agoraphobic, I found it hard to travel. As the oil seed rape glanced by and further yellowed the sunshine, I speculated on my own loneliness in the world. Yes, alone in the whole wide world. For many years, people have believed that several dread diseases only needed a merest flesh-to-flesh contact to flourish. So, today, as we reach the end of the Millennium, there are no handshakes, no fleeting kisses, no rubbing together of shoulders, nothing like this can possibly be countenanced, not even the slightest brush of skin on skin - even with clothes between. Hence train seats have become single ones. This has led me to wonder whether all people other than myself are a dream. I have no means to prove otherwise, as you can appreciate. The simple act of dialogue has never been able to disprove this dream theory of mine. So, that day on the train, I was beset, as ever, with an attenuation of reality. No prestidigitation of philosophy could fully bolster the inferred substances of an otherwise rarified life, even when I took thoughts to the most dependable areas of logic. Simple touch between doubters would have been sufficient verification, but touch was simply out of the question. Yet, as the benighted city landscape made cruel overtures to the yellow meadows, I felt a caressing hand upon my padded shoulder ... but it was sheer imagination, a touch of Harry in the night…”
The first speaker had tried to interrupt. Yet nothing came from the mouth, as if it were full of tangled choking wool.
A snouty thing skittered across the carpet and plummetted up the cold parlour chimney towards the cloudless, yet starless, night sky. The agoraphobic, more startled than a rabbit in a sudden beam of light, abruptly realised that the state of death had indeed no more open space than its prior life. There was a sigh of relief as the parlour slowed beyond its way-station with a mouse-like squeak of brakes and anaemic hiss of steam. Both parties were glad that their thick-knitted mitten-ended twinset cardigans swaddled the whole skin’s map of surface needle-bones. Yet two loving vein-knotted touches crossed swords.
“Most memories are false, but when I am faced with the only true memory, which is death, I have then no need for it.” (From Rachel Mildeyes’ AUTOBIOGRAPHY, posthumously published on 31 December 1999 as revised and completed by Allen Ashley and HP Lovecraft)
(Published 'Roadworks' 1999)