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Fiction

I like the night time. I like it because it’s dark. Walking in the dark is better than walking in the light. Everything sounds different and better. Footsteps ring like church bells on a Sunday. I have learned to walk silently, though. It is one of my skills. A talent. I practice it, and my other talents, in the darkness, when I’m alone. 

When I hear other people, when I hear the clatter of their feet, I wonder how they cope with the noise. With the lack of control. Maybe that even more than the noise. How can they have so little control?

My father built the garden before he left. It must have been so much work, and I wonder that he didn’t want to stay and tend it. Mum told me to think of it as his gift to us. His legacy. So I do. I feed the chickens and I water the plants. I weed. I clean. I care. And in return, the garden cares for me. For us. 

In the cellar, I check on the mushrooms. The doctor tells me I should sell them, because there are so many, but they’re for mum and me. I give him some to take home, which is ok. But they are not for sale. My garden is mine. Ours. Mum and me. 

The chickens cluck and flap at my feet as I feed them. I talk to them and tell them about my day. About the night. In my garden I can share the things I see and the things I learn.

There are plentiful eggs. There is so much fresh food. I pick it and wash it and cook for me and for mum, though she barely eats at all. And I make soups and patties and I freeze them. I turn the extra fruit into jam, so that I have it all year around. I love the strawberries and the raspberries, but best of all is to cut a strawberry in half and eat it together with a raspberry. The flavours smashing together and mixing and washing around in my mouth, the sweet, the sharp, the sour. It’s like every dessert in the world all at once. I keep them in my mouth, not swallowing, and my cheeks swell with the juices. If I don’t keep my mouth closed tight, they’ll leak out, they’ll stain my t-shirt, and worse than that, they’ll be wasted.  

I can climb a tree with my eyes closed. 

Mum wouldn’t let me climb trees. She said it was too dangerous. She told me that if I looked down I’d get scared and fall. So I learned to climb them by touch alone. I can feel my way. It made sense in the night anyway. 

She was wrong, anyway, mum was. I can look down when I’m sitting on a branch. I can look up. I can look straight ahead or turn and look behind me. I don’t fall. She was wrong. 

Sitting in branches is even better than walking at night. I can take off my slippers and feel the wind in my toes. 

I used to see the boys climbing trees when I walked with mum. I used to watch how they clung and they hung. “They’re beastly little monkeys,” she’d tell me as we walked past them. She’d hold my hand tight. Tighter than usual. And I wanted to join them. I wanted to be a monkey too.

When the doctor visits, he says I should get out more. I tell him that I go out sometimes, but then he asks me where I go and I don’t know what to say. He looks so sad. 

I don’t tell him that I go out at night. I keep my secrets for me. He gives me the pills and the fresh bags for mum and he talks to her alone with the door closed. And then he comes out and talks to me and asks me questions about how am I? Usually he plays with me at Connect Four. Usually I beat him. He tells me that I’m good at the game and I tell him it’s because I can see patterns.

He gave me a game called Solitaire, which he showed me how to play. It’s a wooden circle with holes, and in most of the holes are glass balls. There are different colours. You move them and jump them over each other and you have to get it so that there’s only one left. And the one left has to be in the middle too, which makes it even harder. I have been playing the solitaire game for a long time now. Since I was much smaller. I have got it down to one glass ball, but never in the middle. I have got it down to a glass ball in the middle, but always, there is one or two alone in other places which I can’t clear. I have asked the doctor how to do it many times, but he tells me he doesn’t know either. He always says the same thing. “If you figure it out,” he says. “Please show me.”

I have spent a lot of time playing that game. Solitaire. I like the feel of the balls and the clackety clack of moving them. But there is a great frustration. There is a pattern there. I know there is. I can see it. Almost. But it is always just out of sight. It is a creak in the corridor and you don’t know who made it. And every time I don’t make it to the one ball in the middle I think the same thing: next time!

Mum has been speaking to me recently, when she feels up to speaking, on her good days, that I should find a wife. She says it is important to be married and to have a family. She tells me to be a good husband and a good daddy, like my daddy was. But to be sure not to stop being a good husband and a good daddy, like my daddy did. 

I promise her I’ll try and she tells me she knows I will and that I’m a good son. This is on her good days, when she feels up to speaking. But she doesn’t have them so much any more. 

One time, I heard the sound of glass breaking. Outside. I came out into the garden and two panels of the greenhouse were smashed. There were stones in the greenhouse along with the shards. The doctor told me it was most likely kids. Kids don’t think before they act, he told me. They can be vicious and spiteful, but really they don’t mean it. I showed him the shards of glass in the box where I’d collected them. Some of them still stained where they’d pierced tomatoes, looking like they’d drawn blood. 

I told the doctor that I still had the tomatoes, but he said that I had to throw them away. He told me there could be tiny pieces of glass in them. When I told him I would take them out, he said I might not see them and that it was very dangerous to eat even a small amount of glass by accident.

After the doctor had gone, I took the tomatoes outside and buried them where the pumpkins are planted. I felt sad as I patted the earth down on top of them. I thought about all of the different ways I could have cooked them or eaten them raw. I thought about how good the tomatoes from my greenhouse taste. 

To make mum happy, I have started to look for a wife. There are ladies outside sometimes on my walks and I look at them to see if they could be my wife. 

There are all different kinds. All shapes and sizes and ages. I asked mum which kind was the best for a wife and she told me that I had to make that decision myself. 

“How can I do that?” I asked.

“Don’t worry,” she told me, holding my hand. “You’ll know when you know.”

But so far, I don’t know. I watch them from in the trees, or hidden in the shadows. They are sometimes in groups, sometimes with men. They leave restaurants or they finish working, or they go into and out of the bars and the other buildings that open at night where the walls throb and pulse. 

I saw a woman in the rain and her umbrella was broken. I watched her swearing at the sky as the wind whipped around her and her hair engulfed her face. 

I followed two for a while. They may have been a mother and daughter. I wanted to see where they went, but they got into a car and they were gone. 

This is the story of my search for a wife. Women appear in the streets but they do not stay. They are always going somewhere. Somewhere I am not going. 

One night not long ago, I found one lying by a fence. A young woman. I had seen her before, with her long yellow hair that is dark near her head. She was out a lot, moving between brightly lit buildings, usually in a small group. It was cold that night and she wasn’t dressed for the weather. Her skirt was short and her t-shirt had no sleeves and no covering at her stomach. She was certainly not prepared for sleeping where she was.

I helped her to sit up and she mumbled and groaned but I didn’t understand what she was saying. I wanted to talk to her, to ask her questions, but I wasn’t sure what to say. Her eyes blinked open a few times and her jaw quivered. Her skin was white and cold to the touch. I took off my jacket to put around her to keep her warm. After that, I thought to give her my gloves, so I took them from my bag and took one of her hands, which were so small and delicate, with bright colours painted on the nails. I held it and tried to thread the fingers in, which wasn’t easy. And then suddenly, her eyes shot wide open and she began to cough, which turned into a scream. I tried to tell her that she couldn’t lie there like that because she’d die, but her arms and legs were thrashing around and she started to wriggle and twist and shake her head, and she was still screaming as I turned the corner and the next one. In the end, I don’t know if she stopped, or if I was just too far away to hear her.

The scratches in my face were not deep, and they stopped bleeding quickly. I’ve had worse stings from the bees. I wish I hadn’t dropped my glove though. They were my only winter gloves. The other ones are thin and made of plastic. And my jacket too. I went back the next night, but neither of them were there. That woman will not be the one. 

I find other food when I’m out walking the streets. Nettles or blackberries or nuts, various other berries and leaves. It’s amazing what is growing around the streets if you look. I carry a bag with me, for when I find food. And gloves, because sometimes things are sharp or they sting. 

I found a beehive once out walking in the night, and I went back the next night with a knife and tongs and a plastic box, and I took it home and put it in the shed. The shed windows are open to let them come and go now, and I get stung a lot, but we have honey, which is delicious. When I eat it, I feel like Winnie The Pooh, and I tell mum this. She likes it when I tell her. She always tells me to not eat too much, so I don’t get stuck in the shed. 

There is somebody knocking at the front door. It’s not the doctor because he always rings the bell. It is the third time there has been knocking at the door. People never knock on our door. They used to, a long time ago. I remember people knocking on the door. I remember standing behind mum when she answered. Peering around her leg.

I’m in the cellar with the mushrooms. I’m crouching on the soil quietly. I feel safe down here. Comfortable. I hope the knocking doesn’t wake mum. She needs her sleep. 

Sometimes, I put a single glass ball in the middle of the solitaire circle. I look at it and imagine that I’ve won.

The ball sits there alone. It is the only thing left in the world. I have tried it with all of the different colours of glass balls. I want to know which one feels the best alone. Usually I like a white one. Maybe because it looks like the moon. I imagine leaving it there, somewhere where the doctor will see it when he comes around. Then when he asks me how to win the game I will tell him I’ve forgotten. We will sit together and look at that white sphere in the centre of the board and we will see the pattern of it. We will see it for its purity. For the fact it is one of a kind. 

July 16, 2021 16:58

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