Crumbling Edges - 2
posted Thursday, 9 October 2008
Written today and first posted here.
The ghost was immediate. Like love with no foreplay.
Jack and Sylvia glanced at each other with frightened looks, having glimpsed the ghost glancing at them from where the cupboard door should have been. They hadn’t long moved into the flat and they believed this cupboard to be an airing one, slatted with empty wooden shelves above a large pipe-fed cylinder. It was early in their days of tenancy and the prevailing summer weather had caused them not to have yet fathomed the flat’s heating system. They assumed the cylinder would be central to any such system. Quite divorced from the electric power-shower they had already been using to remove the dust and sweat of the city.
This was the first night of chilly air so they had been investigating the various so-called heating-controls in various dark corners. Jack was not particularly practical. Good looks but not good hands. Sylvia had more nous than Jack but was saddled with a belief that men should look after women, not vice versa. She had her hands full with keeping down an office job to help pay the rent. The flat had been too expensive for them even before the Credit Crunch. Jack was self-employed as a messenger, but his motor-bike was currently out of commission – beyond his own capacity to mend – and he really needed a new one. His good looks alone could not pay the rent. At least Sylvia’s good looks had played some part in landing her a job in an office. A pretty head seemed to disguise its otherwise disordered numeracy and literacy.
Life was not complicated. Merely difficult.
“Did you see that?”
Sylvia’s voice turned into under-muttering... her crumbling nerves on edge. She was tired. Easy jobs were never easy when you made hard work of them. She watched Jack peering into a vase. He had bought some flowers to celebrate the completion of a week in the flat and wanted, evidently, to see if this vase – that came with the furnishings – was worthy enough to display the flowers that would be useless without being arranged and then viewed properly. The flowers had been bought with real money. The opportunity cost was a single destiny too far. Never to be recouped. He sighed as, simultaneously, he too glimpsed exactly what Sylvia had glanced at.
A misbuilt figure – shimmeringly shaped no doubt by a haze or fitful blast of heat – veiled the blank stare of the open airing-cupboard. But wait – the cupboard was not open as such but now completely doorless or somehow shut without a door at all.
Jack put down the vase and continued to stare as the figure took on further form as a transparent example of humanity: waving its arms about in a wild panic at its ill-timed emergence from separate ghostly forces. There was no doubt in the couple’s minds – although they had no time to discuss it – that this was an essentially mysterious event. And thus more horrifying than it would otherwise have been. The only horror for mankind is the supernatural: a truth about the unknown or inexplicable that neither Jack nor Sylvia bothered to rehearse. It only came too naturally.
“Stay still,” whispered Jack, “until it goes away.”
“I’m scared.” Saying the obvious was the only thing she could think to say.
Jack stayed silent rather than admit his own terror.
The edges of their nerves were now as if creeping along the carpet between each of their feet, seeking an electric circuit of comfort, thinly holding out invisible tingling arms to each other.
Almost automatically, Jack surrendered any hope that this event was a dream or a mistake of vision – it was essentially real, there, taking place, moving all the time without any possibility of predicting where it would, as an event, move next. He picked up the vase again, an equally automatic or unpredictable action, as if to catch the ghost in its open mouth.
Sylvia, in turn, made a scraping noise with her chair as if to distract the ghost from what Jack was attempting to do. And, indeed, the ghost’s whole face of a body swivelled violently in her direction, the cylinder and its pipes appearing to swivel with it. It was an uncanny attempt to make something flat three-dimensional.
Jack’s hands were, as ever, uncoordinated, but he managed to bring the vase into an optimum position so as to be able to trap the ghost within it. But at the last moment all he could do was watch helplessly as his own and Sylvia’s lost nerves vanished into it, leaving the ghost alone - simply left to ponder on the crumbling edges of the flat emptiness around it. It scratched its head deciding it had nothing with which to scratch it, being nothing but head. Eventually nothing but a further flatness of face. A grin and a grimace. A final glance or glimpse. Then, nothing at all.
Slowly, time drifted on, with nobody to note its passing. Messages failed to be delivered and files mouldered in deserted city offices.
Sylvia abruptly and unexpectedly scraped her chair. Jack smiled warmly. Time to make love.
The flowers, however, were dead.