Within The Flicks

The voice seems to come from inside the wardrobe, rather dull, as if it is straining to talk through layers of clothes flowing from the hangers. From his position in the bed, he hears it move from the ceiling, now a trifle like his own voice, as if he had left himself up in the loft: earlier he had successfully retrieved some oddments for the local scouts’ jumble sale.

The foot of the bed is angled towards the door, with its head just below the window. He imagines he can hear the sash weights behind him moving up and down within the side frames, as if eager to budge the window open on their own, to allow the exit of some evil presence. He knows, however, that it is stuck tight with years of old paint and has not been shifted, even in his living memory. He begins to catch odd shufflings within the chimney breast, where the fire used to be in the days when this was his old grandmother’s bedroom. Then, the ghostly roar of ancient flames within…

Sitting bolt upright, the bolster crumpling beneath him, he raises his knees to eye level to form a desperate shield. No amount of rumbustious visits to horror flicks with his mates, where the only response to the ‘gross out’ scenes was laughter, back-slapping and bum-pinching horseplay, had prepared him for *this*. Real life horror. Unadulterated, unrehearsed poltergeist visitation, or whatever he likes to call it.

Unaccountably, a vision of Dorothy flitters across the backdrop of his mind. He tries to concentrate on that image, in an attempt to block out the changing manoeuvres of the terror entity. They plan to marry in about six weeks’ time. He even booked the honeymoon trip today. Korea had seemed an obvious choice after those splendid Olympics. Full of nice, smiling, slant-eyed people … and fireworks … and meaningful ceremonial dances … and matchless fair play.
He intends it to be a suprise. Dorothy will be delighted.

She is at charm school at the moment. A rather old-fashioned term for a finishing college. Cascades of giggles, he imagines, as the girls duck and bob with the tails of their skirts along the winding staircases of the country house. Not that she needs the input of more charm…

The entity is making him think of things he never knew he could think. He has just invented a fictional fiancee called Dorothy. He bets the girls in the charm school don’t wear knickers… But he’s not even heterosexual.

He tries to lower himself from the bed. But it is as if he’s ill: his legs are like jelly one moment, lead the next. Dorothy sits beside him, intermittently mopping his brow, lightly kissing his cheek, whispering incomprehensible endearments into his ear.

The window has at last managed to grind open behind him, and the curtains billow into the room like participants in a semi-religious ceremony. The night air sheds its warmth and the sweat bobbles like ice on his skin.

Dorothy offers him a box of confectionery. Looking at the display on the underside of the lid, he chooses the crystallized violet and places it upon the back of his tongue to allow the flavour to dissolve slowly. She chooses a marzipan triangle and a sweetloaf: sucks on them noisily.

“Who are you?” he manages to ask.

She drapes herself in the folds of the flowing curtains and dances a ballet with the music of the city night outside. She can throw her voice, disguise it and transform it even into a likeness of his.

“I’m the one who loved with a man in this room,” he hears himself say, “but he spurned me for another.”

At this point, the wardrobe door flings wide and the ceiling bells out, caves down: both reveal the toppling frightened face-blanks of men he once knew: the paint on the window frame blisters out under the flame-thrower of her breath: the chimney breast swells and reddens like the vein at the back of tumescence.

She twirls his still pliable body-part into a stick of barley sugar, sucks it to a jagged point. And giggles insanely as she impales herself upon it.

“Charming!” he mutters, as he drifts into another far worse nightmare: which is the real world full of new plagues that nobody understands.

(published ‘The Edge’ 1990)


Inside The Bud



The Faintest Lady

The Prince did not wonder what the lady was doing in the Palace courtyard. Yet why should he have wondered what the lady was doing there, when he did not usually even wonder about anything in life? Indeed, he did not wonder at the huge paving-slabs of the courtyard and how they could have been transported to the courtyard before they made that courtyard into a courtyard; nor did he wonder at the birds that did not seem too scared to perch in the courtyard at the sun-kissed fountain’s edge; nor did he wonder at his mother the Queen’s nettly insistence that he left his room regularly to cross potentially romantic paths with the ladies who were allowed, against all historic wisdom, to enter the courtyard for simply passing-through it as a short-cut as well as–in this particular lady’s case today–for sedentary solitude.

But the Prince had stopped not-wondering, seeing the lady seemed to be sketching the bird-edged fountain with her sketching-pencil, sitting, as she was, astride a sketching-stool before a sketching-easel with a sketching-pad upon it. Indeed, the Prince was now so intrigued he did not need the Queen’s encouragement to leave his viewing-seat in the Palace’s viewing-balcony and to venture down the spiral slab steps to the slab-baked courtyard where he intended to tiptoe towards the sketching-lady and take a sneaky look at the sketch she was sketching with the longest sketching-arm imaginable. His toes stirred the sketching-lady’s pencil-shavings with a crackly swish and she looked round, thus causing the arm’s length pencil to skid skewedly across the sketching-pad’s topmost sketching-sheet upon which she had been sketching. The lady straightways fainted and taken on a stretcher by the royal gardeners to the local well woman clinic. The Prince returned, through the pencil-shavings, smartly to the balcony simply to wonder at wonder.

The birds scattered to the four corners of the air as the fountains’s faintest edges faded into the shimmering heat … and the Queen, whose lot in life was not a lot she loved a lot, realised that she was at a loss for words and, upon later learning of the day’s events, announced that pencil-shavings did not a match make.

(published ‘End of the Millennium’ 1999)

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