THE REAL ONE by D.F. Lewis
The house was settling into its history, its beams and rafters creaking in the long nights with strange voices calling by day. I purchased it in good faith, with the aid of a loan from a deceased relation, for the usual reasons– four walls, a roof, a selection of yellowy ceilings, consequent living space and skirting-boards I could scuff with my steel-capped boots when the world got me down.
What first met the eye were the ill-pointed bricks back and front (the sides being terraced over,) a front door with an extended porch too big for its own good, a tall chimneystack which stretched outlandishly from a grey slate roof and was decked with a clutch of aerials, together with sash windows which seemed to bulge from their own peeling, shrinking frames.
The insides of the house led through dark constricted spaces straight into a grimy, ladder-leaning backyard. The jakes was a short step away, built into the jitty wall: its plank door had a diamond-shaped hole sawn into it as an escape route for smells and bogbugs.
In short, the house I’d bought was a two up two down fit for nobody but the likes of me. My lack of self-respect was legendary. My hopes minimal. My death no doubt imminent. Or so I tbought. So why worry? Just keep your head below the parapet, your pecker up and your nose clean. Hopefully the roof would take care of itself.
But there was more to it than just a house. It had secrets. There were ghosts, I feared, even more down-trodden than myself.
When I crept downstairs in the middle of the night intent on the outside jakes, I often noticed a dripping noise from the kitchen. Worse than slow torture. Its pocking echoed and etched insistently throughout the whole ground floor. However, I would make a bee-line for the jakes and back again to bed without diversion.
One night, when I must have been still mostly asleep, I summoned up enough pluck to veer over to tighten the taphead but, in the process, out of the corner of my weepy eye, I glimpsed watery shapes huddled in the corner by the washing-copper. They embraced each other … presumably in fear of the Real One which was me. I shambled towards them in my secondhand carpet slippers, without making it too obvious.
They cowered back into plaits of cold-looking, translucent phlegm, with scarry holes tearing wider in their substance. They sulked and sobbed between a gurgle and a shameful snigger. They skulked and whimpered. The sleep in my eyes and ears made them difficult to describe then, and remember later.
I do remember though rushing to the jakes to open my bomb-doors, and when I got back they were gone.
All a dream,no doubt, but at my time of life, I couldn’t believe it. So I returned to my bed to have more reliable ones.
The days in this place were nearly as interminable as the nights. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do. Was the rest of Britain like this? I could not tell, for no media snotrag popped its head of newsprint through a smile that my door used as a letter box. (The delivery boy didn’t dare breach the porch, in any event). The aerial plug at a loose end in the back parlour didn’t fit my portable TV. My wireless sat silent, too, as its speaker had long since healed.
However, I frequently heard voices in rooms other than the one in which I happened to be saying nothing important, so I ignored them, put them at the back of my mind and explained them away as still-births of an imagination down on its luck.
At night, I heard groaning timbers, footsteps on the ceiling beams, and a chafing noise as if the stone kitchen floor was having its back scratched. I heard, also, animals in the backyard, playing paraplegics on my dustbin lids, intermittently yowling, often, no doubt, revealing the pink of their inner throats when yawing for the moon.
I now ensured that I relieved my bodily functions BEFORE retiring, so that I did not need to visit the jakes amid the dark hours.
But, one night, when the metabolism was half-diluting with the heavings of the hot season, I had NO choice but to unload the night soil. I crept down the wooden hills, hoping not to disturb the dreams … but there they were, this time crouched in the hall, trying to escape from me by squeezing under the narrow bottom of the broom cupboard door. Their weltering scars were undarning bigger, gulping as real mouths, their low coils tighter, darker, less fluid. They seemed to point at the brickwork which was slowly swelling from behind the old wallpaper in the hall.
It was NOT me of whom they were shit-scared, after all.
The end-edges of the walls, the sharpening mantelpiece over the disused fireplace, the ceiling-rose, the ancient gaslight brackets had all joined a trade union! I thought of it in such ludicrous tenns, it being a dream (or so I hoped). But the house-bits WERE growing organic, drooling the black slime of history from the blistering wall-hollows instead of good, clean, honest blood — melding, infurcating … belching out bubbly spores of soot and cement. The creature was a house pet and it blew out a gummy medicine ball of monstrous spikes, a blubbering pin-cushion overgrown into a frightful morning-star, which scored along the edges of the floor, as if it were licking the ingrained paint off.
I now knew that I did not have a monopoly on being a Real One in the house. It was not my boots that had scuffed the skirting-boards, after all.
I dropped my load of night soil on the hall carpet … and hopefully died.
(Published ‘Mean Lizards’ 1992)