The Visitor (21) 

The Visitor (21)

(v)
The Story of Cream-at-the-top-of-the-milk, the giant rabbit

Some have called me Woundwort but, really, I have a very sweet disposition. So please do not cower, sweet animals, for I am not going to hurt you and the farmer is not near. Graze at peace for Mother Nature enfolds you and all quakes and neo-quakes are gone forever.

The animals gathered around to hear the rabbit’s contribution to the story competition.

Once upon a time, on the eastern side of farflung England, there was a school (and on dark days it was a dark school) and it was St George’s Primary School. It was dirty orange and towered squatly over the surrounding streets. The roofs, multi-chaotic in appearance, stepped down from the belltower which, when our hero was there, used to signal the start of morning and afternoon class – but, now, I am told, silent is. Circled by playgrounds and sharp railings, the school was, at the time of my story, about 60 or 70 years old. Down a tangential street, there was an annexe to cater for the population bulge (cause by post-wartime copulation). So, children had to walk to and fro to attend lessons in the main school and in the annexe (however, the twits were mainly kept in the annexe). Around the annexe was the school’s playing field and one further playground.

To give my story more immediacy, I will now take some famous commentator’s advice and pitch the prose in the first person singular of our hero.

The roofs looked chaotic to me as I was only a little boy and mere simplicity would have had hidden intricacies to my na´ve and blushing eyes. Right angles were V-shaped and sweet companions were individuals of grim and foreboding nightmare. I always remember the day when the fire alarm erupted and it turned out not to be drill. We gathered in the girls’ playground and watched insidious smoke drifting from the staffroom roof (some stupid bugger had dropped his fag on the carpet). We were herded down to the annexe where we sang ‘Ten Green Bottles’ with the music teacher who lived down there (or so I thought). Another incident that remains lodged in my mind as I write this novel, is when I was accused of cheating in an exam. At the time, I sat next to my closest friend John Watts in a double desk – and I positively copied down an answer I *knew* was wrong. It was ‘Dormouse’ – I forget the question but the correct answer was ‘mouse’. I got most of the answers correct from my own volition but, as a result of my perversity and of my teacher spotting we had both the same wrong answer *and* of the teacher not liking my face, my sweet soul was vigorously berated and I have never been the same since. To cap it all, amid the terrible torment of this accusation, the teacher took it into his head to tell me to take down my knees from the edge of the desk. This habit of mine was so engrained that obeying him was very difficult and, predictably, my kneecaps wandered back to their customary position. He exploded! And I had to stand on my desk for the rest of the lesson viewed by the countless upturned eyes of my ‘sweet companions’.

However, the main incident during my life at this school was the Pageant. Each April 23rd, a Pageant was held on the annexe playground to celebrate St George’s Day. All the kids dressed up in Medieval costumes except for about eight who trooped around covered in one huge piece of cardboard – this was the dragon! There was always one smart kid whom they made St George with a red cross on his chest. All the parents and local newspaper reporters came to watch this spectacle. One particular year, it was decided that the kids in the main roles did not have loud enough voices for their words to carry in the open air. So they made me – yes, me – the Herald, since I had the best reading voice in the school (I always read lessons from the Bible at Carol Services etc.) and I would shout out the story as it was enacted. I had a very large posthorn to blow (bigger than myself on which I practised – for weeks before the performance). Anyway, I, as the star turn, with my proud parents meekly sitting in a back row somewhere, forgot my words.

Pitiful, isn’t it? You must admit, dear friends, that this is a very touching story. And it is even more touching when you learn that this little boy committed suicide soon after. He left this memorial fragment as his epitaph.



A ROOTLESS THOUGHT

I am alone in the house.

Rain spatters on the parlour window like a thousand furious demons gobbing on it from the pavement outside.

Too many horrible thoughts ... I try to shake them off, but bashing one sloped-up ear with my fist does not seem to help at all. Makes it worse, in fact.

Shall I switch on the TV? I look up at its empty screen, only to find it staring back at me. It must be dark outside now, as I am no longer able to tell the ill-gathered curtains from their crack.

I suppose I could write a story for ‘The Visitor’ ... but with all my ideas fast becoming senseless morbid thoughts, not much hope of that. I cannot summon any impetus, mainly because of the lethargic doom threading my mood in the guise of these words, words that probably don't exist at all, even in my own head. And butterflies clot together in a panic to escape by the narrowing exits of my stomach ... or so it feels.

If it were not for the music on the radiogram, there'd be nothing but the utter silence around me. I assume I must be having some thoughts to prove I'm not a vegetable. If I were truly stagnant, my mind would be a blank ... like the TV screen.

A vehicle roars up the wet hill beyond the curtains, forging a path through all the loneliness out there.

*

What was that? A thought just that moment careered through my mind like a distraught pet. Inevitably, I've forgotten it. There it was and there it was gone.

The music on the radiogram is now almost becoming part and parcel of the silence, not quite obliterating the knowledge that there is a silence-in-waiting.

There it was again - that thought! It weltered inside my stomach like the rotting corpse of that pet ... and then abruptly disappeared in such an act of conjuring my mind was incapable of grasping it.

How do I know there was a thought, if I've forgotten it? I can only imagine it leaves something behind inside.

There it was again! I nearly grabbed it full square that time. I seemed to visualise a single bed, a very tidy one, with a cover neatly tucked, a lip of white at the top where the sheet must have been folded over with the use of a set square. Merely an impression, nothing more.

During this thought, I appear to have forgotten about the music. No wonder - the LP has ground to a halt and the sound of reinvigorated silence jeers at me about its victory.



As more cars swish up the hill outside, the thought blinds me more and more with its crescendo of wordless meaning.

There is a child in pyjama trousers that are tied with a straggly cord. It must be a boy. Why is he standing by the bed ... shivering? He's afraid to get in and his breath comes out in misty jets.

The toing and froing of the thought grants me further detail. There is a strange hump at the bottom of the bed.

Amid other unknowable thoughts which interfere with the main one, I comprehend that the vision must be of my own creation. That's the way with thoughts. Something, I suppose, for me to use as a raft to escape the hissing sea of silence ... from its tittering victory over sound ... from the swishing cars which tote dire luggage in their boots ... from the haemorrhaging upon the window pane ... above all, from myself, worse than any of them.

So, if the thought is of my own volition, I can surely do what I will with it. I can encourage that sobbing child to get into the cosy bed and drift into the best dreams I can muster for him. That would warm my vitals. Clear my stomach of the butterflies and ease my concern for his well-being.

No, I won't do that. Too glib. Too easy. But what shall I do? A problem, perhaps, but a diverting poser nevertheless. I know, I'll wheel in his mummy with a carpet beater for his bottom. Serve him right, probably ... the little wretch is begging for a good old-fashioned spanking.

The thought again. This time the child was kneeling down by the bed, tiny hands pressed together, praying ... to God ... to me? Peculiar that I should make him do that, since I've never believed in God. What shall I make him do next?

*
The flowers in the Woolworths vase, which my father arranged this morning, are beside me as I think. Clustered together, a bunch of pastel colours, each petal pointing at me ... or reaching out for me ... or perhaps they're demons' tongues eager to tell me something if they were not drowned out by the bumptious silence. The cackling silence. The flowers will be good as dead by tomorrow, little do they know. Lost their damn roots, poor bleeders. But, isn't that what has happened to my thoughts? One moment almost laughing at the predicament of the flowers, the next finding myself in the very same boat.

I probably lost my root when I was born, wrenched from my mother's womb ... that's why I'm dying ... like those same flowers plucked from Mother Earth ... that's why all of us are dying.

Back to the little boy. What have I next in store for him? Ah, he appears ready for beddybyes, now preparing to fold back the lip of sheet I thought of earlier on. His tentative movements still reveal the undercurrent of fear ... but fear of exactly what? Perhaps the lump under the covers at the end of the bed gives him the jitters ... and so it should. I would not have thought of it, if it did not have a purpose in the scheme of things.

Let's scrutinise this boy somewhat closer. But, too late, he's gone - I've given up thinking of him. Perhaps I shall return to him later ... only if I want to do so, of course. Shall I switch on the TV, now? The reflection of my familiar face on the screen is very disconcerting.

(2006 note: there follows a crudely biro-drawn TV set (labelled ‘black & white’ with on, off, volume and BBC2 buttons) and a bearded, bespectacled moonface in a school cap on its screen).

No, I won't switch it on, since I yearn to show the one who watches me that I am impervious to his cold stares. I have the supremacy, after all - by merely filling the screen with the transient images of real life, I can rid the parlour of my familiar's presence. Little does he know that he is at the mercy of the faceless laughter people on the box of tricks.

Yes, he *is* staring at me - I just had a look.

The little boy is now getting into the bed very slowly. He has a sweet face. His soft eyes are wide with fear, teeth clenched like a vice. What an angel he is! He gradually slides his legs down the bed ... and I realise that they are not long enough to reach the lump. Frantically, I try to elongate his legs, but to no avail.

Wait ... the *lump* is moving up the bed. Trust me to think of that. I don't believe the little boy is aware of the covers humping along towards him from the footboard. But, IS the lump moving, though? Yes, it is, never fear, but very painstakingly.

Oh, I've faded the thought out. That gives me an opportunity to invent a good ending.

Let's consider the situation - a frightened little boy in bed with a mysterious lump moving up towards him under the covers. What can the lump be? Let's make it something really nasty! The silence whispers in my ear to make it a giant beetle. It's creeping up to nibble the child's toes with its clicking pincers. What a hoot! But this does not seem to fit the thought ... something not quite right. Damn it, I must think of something suitable.

I pick hold of the bright orange cushion from the sofa as if seeking for inspiration in its loud softness. It is so bright, it is a blasphemy to silence. I hug it close as if it's a vital part of me. It feels hairy. I appear to view it as a dead cushion. But if I tore it apart, there would be no blood, no tissue, no swollen innards ... no mind, no thoughts. But one cannot see thoughts ... anyone knows *that*.

I now seem ready to complete the thought. It would be the little boy's pet cat which had fallen asleep in his bed. The child's face is to light up with joy as he pulls it out and strokes the fur. He is to cuddle it close.

The silence is quite correctly silent. The rain has stopped, no longer feeding the walking rootless ones. I'm switching the TV on, at last...

*

Like a rabbit from a conjurer's hat, a yawning head reaches the blinding light of the bedroom, its long ears taking purchase one by one upon the top lip of the bed-covers to extract itself.

There is, of course, no sign of a child. Only the dead silence of God praying.

***
But wait, it has not ended! The tableau of sleeping child and cat returns. What an artist I must be! The claws and teeth of the beloved pet are buried in the child’s neck and blood bubbles from the torn jugular. I fear I feel the child’s screams within my very body, scarring my very vitals … and the screams well out of my mouth, welling, welling from the depth of my stomach, spurting out in red gushes….

But we most not end my tale on such a note. We must have a glorious climax and, to do so, let’s return to St George’s Primary School to catch a glimpse of one moment of glory. There was a game the boys played in the schoolyard and they called it Denno. The players were divided into two, one group scattered in one corner of the playground (the den) and the others huddled in the opposite corner. One by one, the latter boys ran towards the other corner and if they could run, by darting and weaving, into it without being touched, that was a successful turn. However, if he was touched, he would be trapped in the den until a compatriot actually did manage it, thus releasing all the prisoners. This successful runner would scream ‘Denno!’ as he entered the den and all the prisoners would scamper back to the home corner. Well, one day, it was the Denno game of all Denno games. All realised that this was it. Our hero was known as a fast runner – but not so good as the ace runner defending the den (a massive bloke for his age). One by one, the runners were caught by this giant and they stood awaiting the last runner, their only chance, your hero, our hero, my hero, me.

As I stood there, I realised my life had pointed to this very moment. All depended on me. To calm my nerves, I found myself thinking of pineapple and icecream. Then – I zoomed! The giant leant grimly towards me but – dart, weave, sidestep, jump, zip – I sped through. ‘DENNO!’


COMMENTS ON COMMENTS
By Des Lewis to Peter Jeffery

I am glad you enjoyed ‘The Visitor (I)’ on which you made many kind comments. I will not try to comment on your comments, as I hope all will become clear over the next few months as Abraham and I continue the stories. By the way the full title* was taken from the postmark that keeps appearing on your envelopes. If it were not for those, I would most certainly have forgotten about such a Northern newspaper entitled, of all things, ‘The Visitor’. In any case, how you could think its name would appear on a xeroxed broadsheet in the City of London is beyond me!

* “THE VISITOR” ‘The Family Owned Independent Newspaper’ 1874 – 1974 Centenary Year.”



(written 1974)

to be continued...

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