I have started working again on my newest novel. It is tentatively named ‘THE POET.’ I thought I would share the first chapter with you so far. Please let me know what you think.
The first visit was from the old man with the wistful eyes. It wasn’t a dream. I know it wasn’t a dream …
It is almost gothic I think to myself. I am reclining upon some kind of couch … bed? … Maybe? But all is in darkness apart from one small spotlight away high to my right. It shines brightly and penlight sharp through swirls of smoke or maybe mist towards a point about five yards in front of me.
I cannot move. I try to but it seems that I am restrained by some force. Quite odd really as I can see no chains or ropes although I feel bound by something. I watch the target of the spotlight. Diaphanous tendrils of mist swirl slowly in the bright sharp light. All is in quietness. It would be comparable I suppose to a foggy morning spent out on the moors. But then again I think No! That would be a muffling of sound whereas in my present predicament there is no sound at all. Total silence. Until.
But then? I can hear something. A distant squeaking sound. It is reminiscent of a wooden rowboat in sound. The sound of an oar squeaking in its rowlock as the rower makes his way unhurriedly across a cold Northern English lake.
As I lay unmoving, I try to move my head but I can’t. I hear the squeaking slowly getting closer. It continues inexorably and I almost expect a rowboat to appear within that small arc of incandescent light. Squeak, squeak … squeak. The noise becomes almost like a dentist’s drill to me, or maybe old fashioned chalk on a school blackboard. It sets my teeth on edge. I close my eyes tightly trying to force out the infernal squeaking noise but I cannot. Even the light still permeates my tightly squeezed shut eye lids.
I scream. A sound so pitiful I imagine that even all the demons of hell would feel sorry for me at that moment. It is a scream from the very bottom of my heart. But it ends quickly. I feel tears in my eyes. I feel pain in my head. But the squeaking has at last ceased.
I open one eye slowly. The spotlight still shines glaringly bright. But now the mist swirls in wisps around a figure within the spotlight. I laugh briefly. Not a rowboat! Not a damned boat at all. Gradually the mist disappears.
Within the tight circle of light sits a hunched figure. An old man wrapped in a tartan blanket in a wheelchair. A bloody wheelchair with a squeaky wheel I presume. I laugh again and the man’s sad face lights up briefly with a smile. I study his face. It is as I said a sad face wrinkled but worldly. It is the kind of face that tells of long lost love and scarcely known recent pleasure but it also speaks of once knowing great love, great pleasure, for only someone that has known such love can show such sadness upon losing it.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“It does not matter.” He replies in a voice rich and full, belying his weak and aged appearance.
“It does not matter for you do not know me nor shall we meet again.”
“Then why are you here … why are we both here?”
A small smile again lights the man’s face.
“I do not know the answer to that question. I know of no reason. I may not even guess for I see no point in idle speculation when I see no points of reference. Maybe we are here for some sublime spiritual reason. Maybe our meeting was ordained by God or the Devil. Or maybe our meeting is just one of those inconsequential occurrences that bother us when we do or do not want them.”
I watch without responding as he sits back further into his wheel chair. He reaches out to his left and pulls something towards him. A small chairside table appears. On the table are three objects that I can see. A book and a silver photograph frame which contains a picture of a handsome young couple. I guess that maybe the picture is of the man and his lover taken many years previously but I cannot be sure as the photo is too far away from me to distinguish the faces.
The small table also bears a crystal cut glass tumbler. It is three quarters filled with an amber liquid. Whiskey? … Or maybe brandy? Watered down with soda perhaps? I can only guess.
The old man picks up the drink and takes a sip. A look of complete contentment crosses his face as he savors the drink as if it is the very elixir of life. Setting the glass carefully back upon the table he picks up the book. I see that it is an old bible black leather bound edition although I can make out no title or author details upon it. He sets the book upon his lap and steepling his fingers he rests his chin upon their tips to study me as I also study him.
His hair is receding but it is a fine silver colour. I see old leathery skin blotched by liver spots but his hands and fingers seem untouched by pain or arthritis. He is clean shaven. The tartan throw has been pushed back revealing that the man is smartly dressed in a dark suit. He is wearing a crisply ironed, brightly white shirt and sports a burgundy coloured neatly knotted tie.
He un-steeples his fingers and picks up the book.
“May I begin?” he asks.
My assent is a nod. I feel no need for words.
He takes a sip of his drink before opening the book. He begins to read.
People don’t see through this mist
Into this land of shadows that masks my pain
Yes I hide this pain
I probably don’t have to
People ignore an old man and his sadness
I become just another of life’s inconveniences…
She left a while ago
Another woman. Long hours, family to feed.
Just another job to her
She will never know she helped this dying hand.
I care as little as she and the others do.
Oh yes I had friends.
Many black and white moons ago
And sometimes I wondered what the worst failing was
Or losing interest?
Because friends do both
They become strangers
They gain legend albeit posthumously
They betray me by dying it seems
I have to allow a bitter laugh as I gaze out of the window
To manicured grass. Flowerbeds.
Bloody roses. Always bloody roses…
In this so called ‘home’ where I have been placed
Out of sight and out of uncharitable mind.
In these twilight days of greyness
Another smile as I think of her.
She hurries to complete her minimum pay duties
Never noticing the pills I pocket each day…
They never know. They never care.
I had life once but now I am just a burden
Sitting alone in this wheeled chair
Weak, Incontinent, Inconvenient.
Please don’t forget.
These legs once were as strong as yours
My mind as sharp.
My loving as passionate.
And you will be here one day
Maybe in this same wheelchair
….gazing at the same bloody roses
Long after my body lies rotting
My memory a fading ghost. Ha!
Those who knew me?
They died long ago.
Evening mist rolls in
Soft grey tendrils, smoke like
They creep in slowly across the manicured lawns
And I shiver involuntarily
My life is so like that fog
People see it and shut it out
Cold, unwelcoming, forget it
It will be gone
No more in the sunshine of a new day
Lost like an old fools life.
The outside lights flare orange outside my window
Ghostly, fluorescent in the night’s clammy grasp.
I think of her one last time
Many years ago I would have desired her
Young, foreign and shapely beneath her uniform
I imagine the feel of her soft body
Ample breasts cupped in my eager hands
That feeling as my seed fills her.
But no more
Her only use to me now has been fulfilled.
I gratefully release the pills
Hidden in the back of my old radio
I have enough now
She never even noticed. I palmed them
It is hard but I shut off my light before pushing.
The little strength left in my arms?
Well it gets my old body closer to my window.
My photograph of you?
Yes my dearest one,
Yes it is in my lap.
Fading in its frame
But still your smile radiates from it. From years ago
And all I want is to be with you
Wherever you are…
Tears? Are they of sadness? Or loss?
I persuade myself that they are of happiness
As I join you.
I wish nothing else.
Night sounds. Toilets flush. Radiators gurgle
Coughing. The faint sound of a nearby room’s television.
The fog outside is thick now
I imagine faces from the past morphing ghostlike from its chill formlessness
All in my room is lit with an ethereal orange glow
In its unnatural glare I lift your photograph to my dry lips
A soft kiss for you my long departed darling.
I stretch out bony fingers to grasp the whisky and soda
One sip. One tablet.
And the others follow.
Slowly sounds fade.
The fog outside? No longer cold.
It’s grey fingers reach out for me.
For us. Welcoming
You join me as all becomes so quiet.
As hands release me from this chair’s metal grasp
The shackles of pain drop from weak arms.
And with you.
I am me again.
Next day? She answers questions.
Too intense for one on such low pay.
And her English? It isn’t so good.
But soon they are over.
She is left to clear the room.
And briefly as she bends down to mop up spilt whisky
A light draft moves her hair
She picks up a photo in an old silver frame
A humdrum life for one moment stops
As she admires the old print.
A beautiful lady smiles back.
Beside her man.
I close my eyes as the man reads. His story is sad … beyond sad. It must be his tale. I feel goosebumps dance across my flesh. Maybe he is just passing this way before he meets his lover again. Could he be between life and death? I notice that he has finished reading and I open my eyes to ask him a question. But he is gone. Not one sign remains of his visit. The table and wheelchair have gone and I never even heard the squeak of its wheel. As I try to recall the man’s face the spotlight starts to dim. It is as if the stage is closing now that the grand old actor has finished his lines. The theater is shut and I am once more adrift in a fluid darkness.
© 2016 Stan M Rogers. All rights reserved.