posted Monday, 12 November 2007
First published 'Dagon DF Lewis Special' 1989
There was a wooden tree at the bottom of his garden. He could see it from his bedroom window, just where a painter would have placed it to set off the perfect balance and perspective of the landscape. The sunset was in oils, too, bright oranges and reds streaked across the bottom of the darkening sky.
His daughter was still outside rolling her hoop around the tree. She was only eleven. His elder daughter, showing signs of her age, remained in the shadow of the toolshed, whilst the one with the hoop glowed with the last of the day’s sunshine. He could hardly see what Melissa was doing in the wedge of darkness thrown out by the side of the shed. Spinning her large wooden top, it seemed, with a whip far too long and wild for its purpose.
Alison had by now fitted the hoop around her waist and was snaking her torso to make it spin like the golden ring of Saturn.
Gradually, the colours in the lower sky faded, such as a painted canvas would if left too long in direct sunlight. A wispy splodge of white in another part of the heavens hinted at the whereabouts of the moon.
He opened the window with a sash cord and called to his daughters that they should get their skates on: the dinner gong was about to go. They waved at him, Melissa having now come out upon the open lawn of closed daisies. The whip trailed behind her, a vestigial tail. Alison’s hoop dropped from her tiny waist to the ground, as she smoothed down the front of her frock. Both girls now turned cartwheels across the lawn towards the house, their limbs glistening in that sweat-light with which a summer’s enduring dusk is often imbued.
He’d not been far off the mark with his timing, for he heard from far below the gong’s characteristic resonance: the number of strikes was meant to indicate tonight’s menu: one for rare roasts of meat, twice for Royal Salad and High Tea, three for fish stew and, once in a blue moon, four for ... Chef’s special, it was called: and the ingredients were as secret and mysterious as the half-darknesses upon each descent and landing of the winding staircase.
As he tapped his way down, he could hear the girls squabbling in the downstairs bathroom: their mother burnishing their faces with unperfumed soaps. Melissa was far too much a real madam for this treatment: she should have flannel and tuck towel of her own. Alison was still too young to be left to her own devices, he conceded, her cheeks often bearing the grimy skidmarks left by an endless summer evening of play.
He knew the way by heart: as he unfalteringly made his entrance into the dining-room, he felt the perfunctory kisses of his daughter’s greeting. They loved him, of course, but girls being girls they had other thoughts on their minds. He . .. well, he painted with his mind. How else could he have borne the onset of blindness? He lowered himself into the chair at the head of the table.
He heard knees creeping across the Persian carpet towards him ... under the long table. Then he could feel nuzzling mouths beginning to nibble upon his finger-ends that he naïvely laid on his lap.