He knew it was in the cupboard, because that was the obvious place, the safest place for it. Under lock and key. In fact, he knew it was there, since he had personally put it there – folding it flat, easier to put down than put up, its wooden leg-frame often getting tangled and then, when untangled, too thin-edged for the soft sand on the beach to bear … and where one intended to erect it, the whole thing sank an inch or two, worming itself towards hotter climes in the Antipodes, no doubt! It sank even further when he sat in it! Then sinking even more the longer he sat in it – neither lying down nor sitting up, but at an angle that meant his body was both lying down and sitting up … but, as time went by, he was relatively more lying down than sitting up.
Inexplicably shamefaced, he’d manage to extricate himself and, when managing to straighten up upon his hind legs, he would ruefully stare back at it. The insipid sun in England was merely the reason for being there or, rather, despite the insipid sun (which he actually found far too hot). His body had indeed been laid upon the stretched-out curve of striped canvas (upon and along it), his long limbs and torso being supported more for the simple sake of such support than for any benefit of relaxing beneath what he felt to be the smouldering sunshine … all remarkably humiliating: a humiliation that eventually lent itself to the thing itself of wooden frame and striped canvas.
But, then, he had no need to be hung up on sun-bathing. This obsession was now locked up in the broom cupboard under the stairs along with the thing that had caused the obsession – and he had no intention of releasing it. He often imagined the thing creaking within, pitifully trying to release its wooden bones, followed by a faint shuffling or rustling… perhaps the odd sound of a breezy wave upon pretending it had found its own shoreline within the darkness.
Then, one day, he found sun-worshipping Susan. Or, rather, she found him. He had never had a girl friend before – let alone a partner with which to share a life. He realised that he should have no secrets from her and when she asked about what was in the broom cupboard (as she was bound to do) – well, what could he say?
She had agreed to live with him – bearing in mind that his house had a long garden with plenty of its own fresh air, although she would never have admitted this as the reason. She convinced herself that he was potential love material and already even just the prospect of him being her soulmate had out-lasted several earlier models because this one – with the long garden – was a good proposition, not short of a bob or two. Not great-looking, not of breath-taking film star quality, but certainly not bad looking. A bit set in his ways, but he did come complete with property and he would probably bend over backwards to please her – and, today, she was inspecting that very property prior to moving in with him.
“Nothing in there really, just a few bits and bobs. And some old paintings I’ve got no room to hang.”
“Anything to sit out in the garden on? It’s a bit bare out there. Not even a shed or any shade, not that I want much shade – as I love sitting out in the sun.”
“Not really. I’ve lost the key anyway.”
“Well, we can force the cupboard door open – or get a locksmith.”
“No point. There are only duplicates of things in there. And some old paintings.”
“Duplicates? What do you mean?”
“Duplicates. You know. Things that double up elsewhere.”
“Not seen anything round here that would fit in that cupboard.” She stared at the slanted cupboard door. “All your furniture is too big to get through … unless you mean knick-knacks or ornaments … or bigger things that would fold away in such a space?”
“Yes, that’s it, duplicates that fold away. Not worth the trouble of opening just for them. Next time I have a skip, I’ll force it open then, and get rid of what’s inside.”
Susan glanced over through the dining-room door at the table, wondering if it was duplicated within the cupboard. A duplicate sofa couldn’t possibly be in there, could it? Not many chairs to speak of. A single arm-chair and a couple of dining ones. Surely, if he had duplicates of them, he’d have them on show and not in the broom cupboard. She shrugged. Why bother about such things? She was a jolly person at heart and jolly she would be. She was slim enough to get into the broom cupboard herself. Instead of shrugging, she laughed out loud.
Well, although they did not live happily ever after – who does? – they struck up a passable living arrangement where – between sun-bathing binges – she did most of the household chores – and she never really questioned the contents of the broom-cupboard and simply used her own body with which to sit or lie out in the garden without any artificial aids. She subconsciously accepted, in other words, his unspoken phobia of the type of seating that he could not even name without blushing – or of even ordinary house chairs taking their place in a makeshift transfer from the dining-room to the garden and back again after dusk. She resided on pillows and lilos – acceptable replacements because they weren’t used upright and didn’t have to be erected or have shiny striped skin-sticking canvas … like the thing in the broom cupboard he now literally began to hate.
One day – a rainy one – Susan was in the kitchen pouring milk from a pink jug into a bowl – and, although rainy, there was sufficient light from the garden to be the only illumination of the old-fashioned kitchen – slanting from the window upon the now portly shape of the upper half of her body clad in a yellow mock-peasant blouse. These days (towards the end of their relationship) she usually wore a floppy white hat to complete the picture of ancient domesticity. Her skin was decidedly pale, despite the sun-bathing. Maybe, in fact, she had already given up sun-bathing at this stage in her life. It was as if she had suddenly become an image quite out of keeping with the image she had of herself. She put down the jug with a puff of irritation. And, just as abruptly, she heard – from the hall – a sound she hadn’t heard before. Someone unlocking the broom cupboard, perhaps. The one under the stairs. And it wasn’t him. She hadn’t heard him come downstairs from the bedroom where he usually stayed these days. Sounded like a lighter breathing …. A lighter touch, a flicker of lighter …. And the crackle of smoke. She’d evidently fallen asleep upon the kitchen trestle and dreamed of the parching sun …
The canvas stick-insect bent upwards with the slow-motion yawn of a B-Movie monster. Trying to replicate itself. Then, when failing to do so, trying to rub its limbs together to spark a flame… and its dream of grassy ground moved beneath the mock pillows … wooden fingers trapped between their own pincers.
The man was a chair himself, one that captured spider-women in its hardwood cobweb vice. And she duplicated the painting in the broom cupboard – the peasant in yellow top and white cap pouring milk from the dripping blow-lamp of paint. She’d become the stretched-out canvas he sat on. The broom cupboard clicked doubly shut and all was dusk. Nobody to repaint the light from the invisible ancient window. All of us end up, one day, in our own antipodes of dark unconscious pain. Even (or especially) sun-worshippers.
Thus, she never lived to leave him.