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“Red is the colour of accidents and sunrises. The colour of medals and honours, of salad bowls and winter curtains.”

There was a candle lit.

The house was sleeping soundly like a child with its head under the eiderdown. An upstairs window creaked on its hinges in a slight wind.

A yellow-grey waxy scent flurried around the room and the flame perched on the black wick twice, once real, once unreal inverted in the mirror while a crumpled cat curled by the fireplace, on the contented glow-shadowed hearth rug with fading tassels. It was a grey cat and looked as though it had been folded very smally and forgotten, its paws slinked under its chin and its eyes slitted.

The fire settled and as it died the shadows in the room lengthened so that the legs of the velvet armchair were stretched long and thin. The back of the chair grew taller, and the top edge rested in the corner joining the wall to the floor. A small tablecloth sat white and laced on a side table near the door carrying a black and white photo. It was a picture of a young girl wearing a wide hat whose brim nearly covered her eyes, the sort of picture taken by surprise at a picnic. Turning back towards the chair the same face passed through a decade and emerged at the end with sunken eyes like deep-sea divers searching for treasure, faded lips, slightly parted and cheeks sucked in so that the bones jut and spike. She was once beautiful. Her chin was tilted back and to the side as she slept and the light from the fire played with the shadows, made thicker by the transparency of her face, giving her an aetherial quality.

The candle had burnt low and outside the sun had begun to rise so that on three sides the air was a greyblue sleepy dawn and on the fourth was a spreading glowred, dustyorange. Timidly it creased dawn into day, curling the edges with the soft warmth that comes from holding a small child for too long. Cloud streaks burnt charred-red underneath while staying grey on top until the morning overtook them and blazed them slashing-red across the sky. Rooftops caught fire. The house turned over and went back to sleep.

She dreamt…

The page is cool against my flick making word curling hand. Sun screaming through the empty window sits mockingly on my face. The view of long days slips onto the tabletop in streaks of window-pane. I must write it all down… Now my pen clamps my hand to the chair arm and will not let me go …

Her arm shuddered slightly and she passed her hand over her eyes as though the curtains had been opened and the sun was pouring in. She ran her fingers through her hair and stood up. The back of her skirt seemed to want to stay chair shaped and she tried to smooth the creases, clicking her tongue against her teeth as she reminded herself again not to fall asleep dressed. She moved to open the curtain.

Now the sun was nearly up over the trees, the underside of leaves turned shadowful while the tops dripped greynight and caught red-dawn. The street, as far as she could see, was empty. She watched a beetle crawling down the pane until it felt observed and froze, as though this would be an effective camouflage. She imagined herself camouflaged against the wallpaper and finery, blending into the mirror over the fireplace so that neither herself nor her reflection remained. She felt herself become a rung on the carved curving banner-stairs, a tap on the stand alone ceramic bath, the spine of a book in the study—Hardy, perhaps, or Austen.

As she stood with her head settled against the glass it seemed as though, just for a minute, the clocks had stopped. Time stood still.

A breeze stopped to listen to the frozen chimes of church bells singing five, holding whisked leaves suspended in a whirl.

Time sped in fast forward and the shadows changed. The milkman came and went, nodding to the wisp of a lady in the window, the postman passed by whistling a sailor’s tune.  A man held his hat half on, half off in a half nod to a smile, eyes scowling deeply, growling at the world. Dirty fingernails from a rose garden retied a stray shoelace. A woman tripped over, her face split down the centre with surprise as she fell, one hand still motioning directions to a stranger with a blue shirt.

The cobbled street seemed alive and burning, the stones merging into eachother as though they were boiling in a witch’s cauldron. The gated hedges came together, distorting perspective and hurrying everyone along. All felt grey, except one blue shirt. As the stranger walked on he became more certainly blue-shirted and the lady at the window became the lady at the door who became the lady in the arms of the long awaited. Her face was pressed against his shirt so that when she let go to look up into his face she had a button imprinted into her cheek. They went inside.

He sat at the dining table watching her boil the kettle and pour out two coffees, the same as she had always done. Have I really been away? And then she turned and he remembered that he had.

 


Vicki Northern is more commonly known as Ermintrude or Paradox, due to a daisy chewing habit and having odd friends. Her favourite things include watermelon pip spitting contests, quoting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and playing unaccompanied Bach. She doesn’t like riding rickshaws down the wrong side of a dual carriageway, aeroplane curries, or the beeping sound microwaves make when they have finished cooking. She spent her childhood in East Africa learning to avoid rabid dogs, cycling through national game parks and wearing flip-flops. She reads anything she can get her hands on, mostly due to the fact that she has never had a television. She writes poetry and fiction. Now she lives in Guernsey and wants to be Postman Pat when she grows up.
© 2006, Vicki Northern
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