Monday, 28 March 2011

THE CRACKS - A short story

Here, then, is a little short story from a couple of years back. I won't ramble on here, I'll just post the thing. As far as I can tell this is actually finished now, if anything's a work in progress I shall let you know.


It was on the day before the small people came that Wife decided she had finally had enough of Husband and his philandering ways.

A sort of realisation had been coming to her for quite some time now. In hindsight, and in many ways, it had been the coming of the small people that had helped Wife understand that had she been becoming enormously complacent for quite some time now.

Over the past six months or so, Wife had been experiencing the distinctly troubling sensation of feeling her senses getting subtly worn down; and her emotions becoming dulled to the point where, when He left his clothes scattered on the bedroom floor so that she could not tell what was clean and what was not, Wife wasn’t capable of feeling a whole lot of anything that would result in a gnashed teeth, pulled hair, tantrum or a raising of voices. Or an anything of any kind.

But then; there had been the Small People. Of course.

The Small People had initially been slow in announcing their presence. It was only on that first occasion - when Wife returned home from work early on a Thursday afternoon due to the drama of a health and safety inspection - that she discovered the floors of the bedroom; and their new state of immaculate cleanliness.

What made this state of affairs even more unnerving for Wife were those extra details. There was seeing that exact spot where Husband had kicked her glass of red wine over that last Christmas when he had gone running for the phone - and that other patch, where Siamese terror Pogo had peed because she was in a bad mood with Husband ignoring her all the time. Examining the length of the carpet, wondering if she had perhaps misjudged the stains’ original locations, Wife discovered there was now no trace of either spillage and only the puffy newness of clean white carpet. A surface that, despite being only six months old, had recently started to show evidence of being worn and trampled down, and of having become soiled in certain places; a little like Wife.

Except that now all of these worn places were immaculate; as if some mysteriously charitable carpet-fitting men had surreptitiously been round while Wife had been out, and laid an entirely new pile free of charge: as if to please her with some kind of pre-planned event-style present.

Except in her heart Wife knew it had not been any carpet-fitting men who had initiated the change.

These had been different men; characters more unseen and amorphous. Wife had thought about them that night as she had lain in an otherwise empty bed, eyes fixed on the long crack that ran the near-length of the skirting board that nearly joined the wall to the ground. She tried to see into the split; wondering if there was perhaps something behind it.

But it was a thin line: not even a breeze came through it. Nothing could be there. Except sometimes at night, during the long hours when even Husband slept without snoring, Wife would hear the noises. For many a month Wife had succeeded in convincing herself that these were merely the scrapings of errant mice or vagabond squirrels, playing their arcane games in the loft and in the walls - or even perhaps Owls.

Charity at work had spoken of Owls. She had found a family of Tawnys nesting in the hollows of her garage a few years back and had been too scared to disturb the intimacy of the animals’ lair, lest she frightened them off - fearing that, if she were to disrupt the sanctity of their repose, Charity would effectively soil the creatures’ habitat by the very dint of her presence and drive them away to some cold location where they would struggle, wither and perish.

Some secrets were better left uncovered. Charity was a timid sort, and wasn’t one to generate dispute or enmity of any kind. This was a quality Wife most admired in her workmate, and was secretly jealous of: being so utterly incapable of it herself; or at least, not for any extended periods of time.

And Wife felt such a period was approaching its endtime. As she peacefully seethed in the dark, sensing the angry voices rustling at the back of her head like crunched sweet wrappers, the warmth of the unrevealed night pushed down on her.

Beside her and at this time, Husband was long gone. Wife was inevitably still awake: with all of it to deal.

There were such things as auditory hallucinations, Wife knew - Wife had experienced such a thing once. A terrifying phantasmagoria, she had thought it was, although that was of course an outmoded term; nowadays it was more likely classifiable as something more like hypnagogia, or hypnopompia; Wife had got the two mixed up upon researching but suspected from the thoroughness of her readings that the two definitions were essentially different words for the same thing.

The occurrence had taken place the night of the carpet-cleaning. It had been much later on, in the long hours: the times that Wife both anticipated and sometimes dreaded but not for any specific reason. Husband had been faraway and comatose on the other side and Wife had been lost, in some remote fantasy about a famous actor and an exotic location. The confabulation had been idle and underdeveloped, not seeming to evolve to any significant degree, and it was just as nothing much at all was happening in her dreamitude, Wife’s entire body froze stock still and the sounds began.

Wife had of course found explanations. Her later studying of the reasons for and symptoms of sleep paralysis, or Old Hag syndrome as it was often called, had not yet taken root in her consciousness, so instead of cool acknowledgement of the scenario, Wife was instead gripped by the most visceral and chilling sensation of dread she had ever felt in her entire life - worse even than those delirious few seconds three years back when she had been abroad; where she had gone back home with a charming but anonymous Gentleman she had met by shadow in Mykonos. Under florid moonlight, the Gentleman he had pulled a knife and held it to her throat; demanding improbable remunerations in a tongue Wife could have sworn was Greek but easily could have been any number of languages; or any number of languages spoken at once. The Gentleman had held her in this lovers’ tranquillity for some moments before releasing her, and had laughed before running off into the night; and it had been then that Wife had found herself flooded with the most impossible rush of endorphins and had become giddy with supernatural delight.

The fear had not lasted then. Wife had once again not asked for it, but the sensation had returned all the same.

It had come flooding back. And with it, walking steadily in tiny footfalls Wife could not hear but knew were occurring in a steady, metronomic rhythm, the Small People had returned; as they had always been returning.

The pulling away of the duvet was the first indication that this time, they really did mean business.

There had of course been that other time, Wife reminded herself as the duvet slid ominously away and she remained paralyzed; two months back, when Husband had gone out to a swingers’ bar and not returned until the morning. Wife had not done the dishes in a fit of pique - and it had been the on that morning that Wife discovered every pot and pan gleaming clean and stacked accordingly back in their respective houses, and even the oven thoroughly degreased - as if worked over by attentive yet elusive hands.

Of course, Wife must have imagined the kitchen was in a worse state than it was. Of course These little vacancies of mind were to be expected.

And that other time, one month back, Wife thought; as the barely perceptible stretching of the mattress under her back indicated the little boots marching onto it, having made their way up from their previous location on the floor. The time none of the bins had been taken out, gathering as they were in the hallway, awaiting the vagaries of some unidentified council official managing to sort out some kind of appropriate collection facility for the street. And just at the point where Husband’s inability to keep old food from spilling onto the floor in disgusting puddles expired, and Wife’s patience was similarly on its final warning, Wife had again returned from Anonymous Work to find the hallway clear and stripped of landlord-upsetting fire hazards. Relief had hit her then; albeit a relief tinged with a more watery sense of unease.

Wife had worried at many times during the long hours that, perhaps, one day, she would just turn out to be one of the people who just slipped through the cracks. Maybe she had thought about it for so long, someone had picked up on one of her unanswered desires and finally responded in kind. But, since Wife never let any of her deepest wishes out into the light - knowing that if they did get out they could perhaps damage someone or something - surely this was highly unlikely. So, like gentle Charity and her itinerant but untroubled Owl family, Wife kept these thoughts to herself.

Perhaps they would not trouble her any more.

The mattress creaked. With a faint and muffled shuffling, Wife felt Husband sliding away; carefully pulled by industrious individuals.

Perhaps Husband would not trouble her any more. Feeling the paralysis beginning to lose its hold on her, Wife relaxed and began to drift into a deep and peaceful sleep; untroubled by dreams of relentless Husband, or of unclean residences; but merely of quiet and noble Owls, going about their business in the closeted night; silently preying on animals that were dumber and slower than they.

They flew glassily through the dark, their wings beating to a strong and unknown rhythm: a rhythm Wife did not recognize but felt it resonating with her very being; lulling her into alpha waves of luxurious torpor.

When morning came, Wife awoke to a spotless environs and the honeyed sunlight of another new day.

She also found to her looming relief that she was no longer a Wife.
Her ring had gone. The bed was clear and free of any clutter. It would be so easy now to spread the sheets.

UnWife smiled to herself. Perhaps she would fetch herself some breakfast.
As she roused herself, just by chance she glanced down at the skirting board; and at the place where its scuffed surface met the carpet.

There was no longer any gap there. The shadowy crease had ceased to exist. Letting slip a flighty, birdlike chuckle, UnWife imagined it must never have been any kind of a crack in the first place.

She went downstairs and headed for the bathroom; all set to shower herself clean in preparation for the rigours of a new day.

It was only upon pausing to assess the severe split that ran the length of the floor in front of the shower cubicle that UnWife thought to herself - for a blank, black moment - that she might perhaps not be entirely free of troubles after all.

A clunking noise sounded beneath her feet. UnWife became distressed.
Swiftly departing the bathroom and closing the door after her, UnWife left the bathroom untended.

Someone else would have to go. The people below would only wait so long.

Making a list of Friends in her head, UnWife began to ready herself for work.

Perhaps Charity would be able to help. No one would even notice me if I wasn’t here, she would joke. Charity was, after all, the very model of her name.

Wife who was no longer Wife but in fact was now possibly someone else entirely went to fetch herself something from the kitchen. She thought there were perhaps still pancakes. Finally, there would be peace to eat.

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