Monday, 14 December 2009
The wind blew at the gate as Robert Flanagan walked towards the farm house. Past the worn, broken concrete of the road, he travelled down the drive that led to the inner gate of the front garden. Robert pushed open the gate, the metal felt cold, and he brushed away bits of disintegrated paint from his palms. The night was grey, and full of bruised cloud. Some light shone through the canvassed sky and lit up the meagre primroses and tall fir trees, but caught them in such a way as to warm their colours. They looked like they didn’t belong rooted in the earth; they were alien, but beautiful against the harsh, dull sky. Robert made his way to the front door, which was sunken into the wall of the house. It was a very shaded place. The path he was standing on was overcast by the crazed shadows of the perambulating branches of the fir trees moved by a wind.
Robert had stopped, just before the door. He had spotted the outline of a small building on the patch of grass to his right. He crouched on his haunches and touched the wooden planks that comprised the walls of the structure. They were hard and rough, but spattered with small mounds of soft moss, or an insidious lichen that disguised the building’s door handle, making it hard to pick out. Eventually, however, Robert gained the small, flat disc of wood in his hand and wrenched the door towards him. There was a muffled knocking sound as something fell between shelves and out onto the dewy grass. Robert snatched the door closed to avoid further misplacement and picked up the object from where it lay. It was covered in a kind of lace, but felt very hard beneath that. He turned it around and discerned a little doll. He gave a quiet shirk of his shoulders and smiled, then took himself underneath the orange haze of a streetlamp to study his find more clearly. The doll was made of white porcelain, but the face was painted with two inky pools to mark out the eyes, and a thin red curve, forming a mouth. The little woman – for it must have been a woman, on account of its makeup, and its blue lace dress – belonged to Judith’s childhood.
The sound of barking dogs came from back door of the house, they were probably getting fed by the old man. Robert placed the doll on the short wall that supported the entrance gate and passed again to the front door, and knocked. He was greeted by the mother, who was a polite woman, but had never seemed able to be fully conscious of amiability. Robert felt this again as he asked for Judith. The mother smiled, but it was not a whole, full smile. It was much like she’d overheard the punchline of a joke without understanding why it was funny.
‘She’s up in her bedroom at the moment, I think she’s reading. Do you want me to call her down? – you can just go up if you want?’
‘Oh, no bother. I’ll just fetch myself upstairs. Cheers,’ Robert’s voice faded to little more than a whisper at the end of this exchange, he’d got his meaning across, there was no need to properly enunciate everything. The mother moved aside into the dining room, to the immediate right of the front door.
‘Now Rob! Y’alright?’ called the father. He was sitting in an armchair before the fire and teasing one of the kittens with his thick, hard fingers. Robert asked him about the farm.
‘Way! Same old bloody shite, man. But ye-es, still trundlin’ along – but, the old man’s in a one. He’s sick of not bein’ able to do anything, but I don’t know. It’s a pity, it’s a pity. Nevermind!’
Robert laughed quietly, he felt uplifted by the warmth of the room and the farmer’s game with the little cat.
Up the stairs he went, with a great surge of expectation rising in his front. The stairs were carpeted with diamonds of deep red and blue, and each step was worn away at the very edge. Robert felt an overwhelming sharpening of his faculties, as though he were about to defend himself in a fight as he turned at the top of the stairs and moved towards Judith’s bedroom door. He closed his eyes and almost punched at the door when he knocked.
‘Hello? Hello-o! You can come in, you know!’ Judith was sitting at the foot of her bed, painting her toenails in the amber lamplight.
The room felt extremely cosy. The blankets that held Judith were thick and woolly, incredibly inviting after the glass-like coldness of the outside night.
‘Oh – thanks.’ Robert shuffled in and sat on the deep windowsill, looking at Judith all the while.
‘Need a hand with them nails? Here – I’ll fetch this lamp closer. There you go, much better! Hey, they look lovely.’
‘Well,’ she laughed, ‘A’m no artist, but A can do these alright – you like ‘em do ya? Hmm, I’m still makin’ ma mind up – A’m not sure if A actually like this colour …’
‘A clearer light then, maybe? Do you want me to turn the big light on?’ Robert was already on his feet.
‘No, no, don’t worry! Sit back down this instant, boy!’ she scalded him, and the two laughed.
Judith became still as she concentrated on guiding the little wet brush against her nails. Robert looked out of the window and tried to find the doll he’d left outside on the wall. He had to squint and his head involuntarily nodded towards the glass of the window which bore a light film of condensation.
‘What’s outside?’ Judith had sloped off the bed and now leant over Robert’s shoulder. She knew she had startled him slightly, and a little flame lit up in her chest as he muddled together a few words in explanation. He wasn’t instantly sure he should tell her about the doll, it was probably not entirely appropriate to do so. It was a form of trespass after all. So, Robert lied that he’d been watching the wind blow the big fir trees around.
‘The old man reckons they’ve bin ‘ere since the farm started, they’re goin wild now, though,’ returned Judith. She held herself steady with one hand on the windowsill while she looked outside. She still loomed over Robert and he buried his heart in her scent. It was like a mixture of hay and sweet perfume and Robert found it an incredible tonic. He became immersed in memories of the two as children and the games they used to play together. It all seemed an infinite cosiness, a period of ecstasy in an unspoiled childhood. He became settled and easy in his gestures and words as the two discussed the night ahead of them.
Off, off and out they would go, tonight, to a gathering in the largest of the farm’s outbuildings – the topshed. Robert had already drunk at his home, but felt a tenacious lust for another. He, being so utterly impassioned towards Judith, resolved to share his evening entirely in her company. So, with a ‘Cheerio!’ from her mother and two slow nods from the father and the old man – for he had returned from the feeding – the pair set off from the front door, and Robert marched ahead to knock the doll from the wall and out of Judith’s sight.
The topshed was decked with a few tables to hold drink, but most of the guests sat around on flat bits of rusted, defunct machinery, and upon a few hay bales strung together with twists of blue twine. Judith soon separated from Robert for a short while to talk to her sister, Katie. She was younger than Judith and Robert had come to dislike her on account of her emotional slowness which came across as a calculating reliance on the opinions of others to compose her own attitudes. She lacked the cutting, decisive qualities of Judith, who knew so definitely her own mind and was very much aware of the acute demands of her body, and – crucially – could govern her life through an instinctual ability to act on the requirements of her great, emotional centres of being.
Robert drank a third glass of beer alone. It wasn’t that he disliked, or even that he was not familiar with the majority of the people around him, he preferred to share his own company because he was waiting for Judith like an inevitability. Yet, he found that the ephemeral rush of alcohol around his body only surmounted to a feeling of impotence within himself, a veritable dulling of his own faculties, which, from experience, he knew did not make him able to engage in the emotional moment. The drink, rather, shut his mind off from his body, and blocked the proper judgement of his blood. He experienced a disintegration of his will, which he hastily tried to remedy with a large quantity of water. Some splashes sank into his clothing and the water touched the skin of his chest. He felt ashamed of himself, ashamed of his ridiculous clothes and of the unexpected chilling on his skin, as though his body should not have had to become embroiled in a crisis he saw as being purely a grasping for order from within his head. He patted his clothes with miserable hands and turned away from the gathering.
Judith, however, had been watching him. She felt quite bored with the chatterings of her sister, and made no qualms about her desire to leave. Katie then wandered off and mingled amongst the growing crowd of party-makers whilst Judith stepped outside. She found Robert sitting in the passenger seat of the cabin at the head of the horse-box. He had been there before, they both had, when Judith’s father, or – back in those days – the old man would ferry them around to the cattle markets of Corbridge, or Hexham. She gently eased open the door on the driver’s side and slipped into the squashy black seat before pulling the door to.
‘LCL lager, Rob, that’s what some of the lads have been drinkin’ she nudged his knee away playfully with the flat of her hand, ‘they’ve been sayin it stands for ‘lose control lager’, but A dunno!’ She chuckled to him gaily.
Robert meekly cracked a smile and drew himself up to look at her. It was easy to see he had been crying. She grew gentler, now, and told him not to get worked up; ‘let’wah not put wrinkles on that bonny face, eh?’
‘Oh, A don’t know, A don’t know’ he exhaled thickly and pressed his eyes ferociously to purge the tears. ‘A’m sorry for never lettin’ you know, I feel like A’m not doin’ what A should be, especially with you,’ Robert felt exhausted and slightly faint. In a way, he was unsure he’d actually said the words just spoken. Yet, Judith was alive, and she was tingling in her chest for him, she felt a soaring pain as she lent and kissed him, a voluptuousness in her very tingling being. She pushed her hand across his front then surged out from her seat and met him before the blank headlights. Robert, revived of his torment, still felt a lingering foolishness within himself, which became usurped by an overpowering desire to take Judith in her room, to impress his triumphant masculinity into her.
Judith dragged Robert towards the house, possessed, as the wild animals are, with the need to complete their unity as an exploding fire overruns all. As they achieved the front gate, Robert looked briefly to the ground by the short wall. He could see the doll, though its fragile dress was ripped utterly from the fall and there, in the warm, amber streetlight, glimmered its exposed and complete form.
Posted by Chris Pattison
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
They say I am a prophet, brought down on this Earth to speak unspeakable things. I find this odd. This is certainly something I had never considered being. But there is no use in complaining. The great task of my life has been set out in the stars, painted in the heavens, and must be carried out. So I speak to a man passing by. I am a prophet, I say. You must listen, I say. The man appears not to hear me and instead walks faster. I try to keep up with him but his pace is quick. I am prophet! I shout. In response he drops a coin which bounces across the pavement in a glittering frenzy. I give up chase and bend over to pick it up. It is silver and cold and not round as I expected, but bumpy. I hold it up so the sun illuminates its brilliant surface. For my toils, for my troubles and hardships, this is my reward.