posted Friday, 12 September 2008
CRUMBLING EDGES by DF Lewis
A story written today and first published here.
The damp room gathered itself as a setting. The man in his rocking-chair ... to and fro ... creaked in time with Handel’s Messiah on the wireless. The reception’s low volume begged the question: why was it switched on at all? Merely to give some undercurrent to the silence, should the chair’s creaks become deadened by dust? He was surely scared of silence. It would make him think of death.
He looked down at the frayed ends of his trousers where the turn-ups still contained a month’s crumbs. His wife had abandoned him by entering her own shape of silence a few weeks before. He had tried to keep up the domestic standards she would have expected him to maintain but, in the end, the silence had again begun to gather ... as if it were now his own turn to have the noise of his bodily movements deadened. He kept the wireless chirruping baroque music through the hiss and static to divert any sleepiness that the silence otherwise encouraged as its ally.
The bed remained empty. Strangely, it creaked, too, by its own volition, as if in communion with the creaks of the man’s bite on the pipe stem that had been unnoticed in his mouth when initially surveying the setting. The rocking-chair was well-oiled and silent, after all. The wad of tobacco in the bowl had long ceased to smoulder: now as damp as the atmosphere of the room itself. The spittle still shone where his teeth clenched the mouth-piece.
Beside him was a wedge of durable cheese: aging into ranges of flavour that the man relished in anticipation. Its stitched rind held firmness intact. The smell was uncertain. There was, indeed, no smell at all in the room, a fact which is hard to believe.
The blur-edged shadows were cast by a moon he had tried to switch on like a light.... and miraculously it had indeed started to run on electric and hang from the middle of the room, complete with its own map of desert seas. Lack of noise was silence. Lack of hearing was silence, too. But it was more difficult to use a single word for the lack of smell. Lack of sight was blindness. But the dim old-fashioned crinkly globe hanging from the ceiling kept blindness at bay. But lack of touch was the most painful to put into any word but nothing.
One of the shadows suddenly took on a life of its own ... bending as if to scoop the crumbs from the turn-ups. His own shadow was then suddenly cast upon the peeling wallpaper, its pipe rocking to and fro as the Messiah reached its scratching endless run-off groove that proved it was a pick-up on a record rather than a wireless-broadcast with hiss and static for edges.
The room had now become a silent setting for not one but two living shadows able to touch each other’s gentle moisture. The only way to believe in ghosts was to become one.
The crumbling cheese surely stunk to high heaven.