Friday, 21 April 2017
Sometimes at night I hear nocturnal animals walking across the lawn outside my bedroom window. Intruders in the garden, they rattle the feeders, walk dark through the woods, and sometimes howl at the coyote moon. My heart pumps sudden blood, rapid, through my veins and toes and fingers twitch as I toss around, restless, in my bed.
Below me, in the hall, the grandfather clock ticks the night away. I stitch myself up in my dreams, count the black sheep in the family, and iron old ghosts upon the ironing board until they are as flat as the white shirts we wore in boarding school on Sundays.
If I close my eyes, they rise up before me, those Sunday shirts, flapping their arms, and mouthing their apologies for the sorry life they made me lead. No, I didn’t need to spend those days praying on my knees before the stations of the cross. Nor did I need to ask forgiveness for all the transgressions pulled from me, like teeth, in the weekly confessional.
Marooned in a catholic cul-de-sac, I went around and around in rigid circles like an academic puppet trapped in the squared circle of an endless syllogism. Who locked me into this labyrinth of shifting rooms where sticky cobwebs bind windows, doors, and lips? Why does the razor blade whisper a love song to the scars crisscrossing my treacherous wrist? Who sealed my lips and swore me to secrecy? And why?
A tramp with a three-legged dog, I sleep beneath a pier at midnight and watch the waves rolling up the summer beach to catch me out. Sometimes I steal a deckchair, place it at the edge of the sea and bid the tide to cease its climb. The moon winks a knowing eye and the waves continue to rise. Toes and ankles grow wet with wonderment and I shiver at the thought of that rising tide that will sweep me away to what unknown end?
Last night I wrapped myself in a coward’s coat of many-colored dreams. My senses deceived me and I fell asleep in a sticky web spider-spun by that self-same moon that hid among the clouds and showed her face from time to time. My fragile fingers failed to unravel all those knots and lashings and I was a child again walking the balance beam that led from doubt to knowledge.
A thin line divides the shark from the whale and who knows what swims beneath the keel when the night is dark and the coracle slides sightless across the sea? I gathered the loose ends of my life, wove them into a subtle thread, and made myself a life-line that would bind my bones and lash my soul to my body’s fragile craft.
What could I possibly have dreamed as I paraded the promenade a stone’s throw from the barracuda? I crossed my fingers and the beggar at the gate rolled up his sleeves and bore witness to my penitential wounds.
“How many times,” he asked, “can you pay those thirty silver pence? Don’t they lie heavy on your eyes and heavier on your heart?”
“Indeed they do,” I answered. “Yet the debt must be paid, but I don’t know how, and where, and when, and to whom?”
Carnivorous was the carnival he promised and he turned my small world upside down. With coals for eyes and a carrot nose, a scarecrow descended and devoured my town in a clash of flashing teeth. Beneath the waves, the conga stamped its sudden feet of flame. A sea parrot scraped its red and yellow beak against a rainbow of crusty, feathered rage. I awoke to the dog’s sudden tongue in my mouth: an invasion of salt, saliva, and wet, crumbling biscuit.
That night I opened a bottle of Scotch and drained it dry. I took no prisoners. Around me, the dead and dying licked their wounds as they sank lifeless to the bottom of the glass.
“Hickory-dickory-dock,” said the mouse as he ran up the grand-father clock. But that particular clock stopped long ago, at midnight, when the Queen of Hearts tied a dead rat to the pendulum, the house slipped sideways, and my heart was filled with woe.
This morning, fresh snow. The garden basks white beneath pale sunshine. The back porch bears no footprints. The raccoon has abandoned me and chipmunk and squirrel have turned their backs. Today, the scarecrow will scare those nightmare crows away and not a memory will survive to haunt my waking dreams.