A Sort of Scratching Feeling

I did a recent post called Sense and Nonsense where I documented some fragmentary thoughts that I tried to harvest from my unconscious using automatic writing techniques.

Having recorded all these, it all felt slightly unsatisfactory and underwhelming, and sort of lacking in purpose. Not really creative in itself. So I took the odd fragment and tried to sculpt it into something just a little bit more coherent, whether that was aiming to be a little mini-story or poem or something.

Writing is not my forte (as you can probably tell), so this was quite challenging, and oddly I feel quite vulnerable including this stuff. I just try to think of them as word sketches.

My Message

‘There’s something living inside your child’, said the man at the door. ‘It’s a sort of scratching feeling.’ 

I asked him who on Earth he was! He stared at me, confused for a moment, and then handed me a piece of paper. It took me a minute to decipher the words, which said, 

‘Now we wilted into one another’s arms, standing in the overgrown garden, and from a distance we heard a woman wailing. It was the time of lingering fatigue, pain and muscle ache.’

I couldn’t make head nor tail of it, and when he saw the expression on my face he said, ‘Don’t try and understand it. It can only be digested with the forebrain diencephalon.’ 

In no uncertain terms I asked him to leave my property. He patted my shoulder tenderly and I felt a grotesque shudder move through me at this violation of my personal space. I took a step back.

‘I have delivered my message,’ he said, and walked away. I watched until he was completely swallowed by the gloom.

I was shaking, feeling suddenly tired, thinking he must be on drugs or something. But when I turned back into the house I saw my little girl sat watching from the darkness on the stairs. There was a look in her eyes that was both knowing and empty. I shuddered and couldn’t rid myself of the memory of those words, ‘There’s something living inside your child’. 

The Missed Shot

He cocked his eye like a gun 

And shot me a smile across a crowded room. 

But it missed me by a hair’s breadth 

And shattered the window with a boom 

And his plastic smile melted 

Like a wax doll in a fire 

As the wind rushed in and sucked him out – 

Into the vaccuum of the dark and endless skies. 

And as far as I know 

He’s still out there somewhere. 

The Sleep

She faded out of consciousness again. I could tell because she had been squeezing my hand, and then – frail as it was – it relaxed and slipped away. I continued to watch the rise and fall of her breath. 

I was beyond feeling sad, beyond heartbreak, beyond even resentment. There was a cold hard reality in my life, in our lives, and this was it, a hospital room with a sterile smell and fluorescent lights and the beeps and breaths of machinery.

I couldn’t imagine a situation more desperate or tragic or horrible, an unbearable tearing apart of everything we had been and dreamed and wished. And yet somehow it had all become congealed in a horrible monotony, a sort of empty emotionless routine.

She muttered some words in her sleep, I almost jumped out of my skin. This was new. Totally new. I leant in to hear the mumbled words more closely. It was hard, so hard to discern the fragments of speech. 

‘We are in the place now, beyond…’ she was saying, but the rest of the sentence was more breath than words. Then, ‘…long after the others have gone and left us…’ 

My mind was a rush – was she trying to communicate? Or were these crumbs of dreams expelling from her mouth. Some kind of air conditioning came on, a clank and a moan and then a constant throbbing drone, which made it harder to hear.

I spoke her name, and stroked her cheek. It didn’t matter what she was saying, it was some kind of connection. And then her eyes snapped open. She looked afraid. She looked right into my eyes. 

‘Adders are in the maze,’ she said, alarmed. ‘I can feel them moving through me.’ She grabbed my arm, panicked.

I didn’t know what to say. ‘Does it hurt?’ I mumbled, feeling stupid, feeling confused. 

Her eyes flicked to one side as if in thought. 

‘I can feel her eyes on me,’ she hissed, and then looked back at my face, ‘like a blinking light, like a redness.’

I pushed the button to call the nurse. 

She looked suddenly afraid. ‘We haven’t got long. Footsteps echo. You have to choose. You can join me in the maze. Can you hear the voices in the darkness? I don’t know if everything is going to be OK!’

The machines around us were blaring and beeping incessantly. The lights had dimmed to an amber glow that vibrated and flickered.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said, grasping her cold hand. ‘It’s you and me’.

‘The pain is pretty intense now,’ she said. 

I plugged myself into the machine, painful as it was, and felt the world lift around me like the rising of a curtain, and stars burst into existence all around us.

The Wounds

The plaster had crumbled away in a patch in the corner of the bedroom, revealing a black-green wound of moist and weeping damp. After a few weeks of staring at it, I finally called it in. The landlord had come to take a look. 

‘Amazing,’ he said, ‘how you just don’t know what’s going on under there’, and to give him his due there was no sign of damp anywhere else in the building. He said he’d send someone round, but three days later I was still staring at it. 

I thought occasionally that I saw it move, pulsate, like a lung perhaps. I couldn’t resist reaching out to touch it, and I swear I could feel the house tremble at my touch . I lurched away, horrified that I had violated something, but I kept being drawn back and I soon realised that the house had wanted me to make contact, had in some way needed it.

When I was touching it, I thought I could hear all the creaks and clanks and groans of the house, the stretching of the timbers, the crackling of the plaster, the whistle of the wind through the tiniest of gaps in the window frames. I could feel the weight of the roof sagging onto the shoulders of the house, and I could feel the lean-to imperceptibly disentangling itself from its wall, and I could feel the foundations rumbling like a great beast. 

I could feel all the archaeology of the house, the layers of paint and wallpaper, the dents and repairs, the scuffs and scratches, the moving furniture, the changing curtains, the different faces of the bathrooms, the smell of cooking in the kitchen, the carpets up, the carpets down, the constant churning of the garden, the cries and laughs and shouts of all the families, the silences of the empty rooms. 

Memories came flooding back, as the rooms and the years spiralled round in my mind, of moving in with Christina, of those happy early days, of long summer days and cosy winter nights, of the simple life, of the days of having no money, of the days when we would get on each other’s nerves, of the things that happened beyond the walls of the house that made us want to hibernate here, from the world, from each other, of our nitpicking and fighting, of a plate smashing against the floor, of slamming doors, and tears wept into the walls. 

And through all these memories… a thrumming drone, just at the edge of hearing, but getting louder, an ache on the ears, teeth being set on edge, a beating drum, heart pounding, a sickening vertigo as the rooms spin and the floors thrust and burst under feet, like an earthquake shredding through the skeleton of the house, joints in agony, a screeching of nails down the wall, scratching blood down a cheek, a screaming child cowering in a corner, a hulking figure, a shadow flashing in and out of existence, lurching dangerously forward, of the screaming electricity tearing, blazing through the wires and coils, lights blowing, fuses exploding, and the darkness flooding into every corner and nook and cranny and through my eyes and ears and nostrils. 

One year spun forwards and then time arched back, and sideways, as the rooms crumpled one into the other and at one moment I was in the cupboard of the bedroom hiding beside a pale child, and then I moved like a ghost through the unfinished, unplastered walls, holes like sunken eyes for the windows, men smoking in the morning sun, then with a woman falling in love while the kettle boiled, then with a filthy man hiding behind the curtains, ‘Ready or not, here I come’, he wants to touch her face, hear her breathing, then in the hallway as Christina left without looking back, then a woman in a slip slides between the sheets of the bed, then merry laughter ringing through the hallway at Christmastime, then a storm many decades ago as lighting flashed and blasted the garden sending mud and debris flying over the trembling house, then an old woman sobbing into a satin pillow. 

The wound beneath my hand seemed to quiver and more words swirled around in my mind, ‘Was it worth it? Feel that? It’s shame’, ‘The green sky is full of flowers’, ‘pathetic – no one can see it, because it’s shameful’. ‘God, she can’t open her eye’, ‘Can you hear something scratching at the door?’ The child in the wardrobe slowly turns and looks right into my eyes, full of fear but also wonder, dust floats, caught in a slice of sunlight, together we float through the dust, and she reaches out and touches my hand, and together we fall through the cracks in the floorboards into the kaleidoscope of this house, and she is as amazed as I am to see it all flood around us. 

She rocks a cradle with a gurgling baby, she sits by the bed of a woman too ill to open her eyes and squeezes her hand, and I am convinced that the woman squeezes back, she laughs with two boys who are hiding under a pile of coats as a beleaguered babysitter scours the house, ‘a ghost’, they cry, in delight, she licks the spoon of a birthday cake for an uncle who’s on his way over (but a badly driven lorry will ensure that he doesn’t make it). Shadows move across lamplight, and she holds my hand, and she cries.

‘Don’t let me go back,’ she whispers, as the flow of dreams spins around us. These walls were full of our suffering. I tried to say that I wouldn’t, that I’d look after her, but my mouth wouldn’t open. I tried to ask her her name, I tried to ask her what was wrong. 

All fell gently into silence, and darkness. 

How long have I been sat here? The wound in the wall seems to have settled, no longer moving. I keep pressing my fingers against the patch, but it has no more secrets to reveal, and I wonder which house that little girl ended up in, and I prayed it wasn’t her own. 

Dream Speak 

You spoke out in your dreams, they said, 

But I knew that wasn’t true. 

While I danced in the night as I lay on my bed,

In a world that was blue

In a world that was red 

Where I could be free… 

My dreams spoke out of me. 

‘What waters are lapping?’, they asked in my head. 

‘What strange and sinister sea?’

‘Are those the tall spires of the ships of the dead?

Are they skeleton trees? 

Are they forests of heads?’

‘Are they fingers that grasp in the dark at your hair, 

Lit by the ghostfire flow of a flare?’ 

You spoke out in your dreams, of terrible things 

Of waters black and deep, 

Of all that shame and misery brings 

Of the bleeding scotch of burning sleep,

The song of the hag as she sings. 

The song of the soul, of laughter and screams, 

These are the words of my dreams.

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