Pete Jones


A solitary hand slowly floats across a wall, the course grain of the wallpaper grating silently across minute striations in the fingertips, the splayed edges of the flaking parchment tickling the soft palm as it fans slowly and methodically over the surface. Searching. Searching as it does every night. The raking of decaying paper gives way to the smoothness of plastic, heads of dust embedded in the paintwork crunch like sand beneath clipped nails. Slowly the fingers find the edges, tracing over the gradual corners, sliding in one fluid mass, each radiating outward to identify the source. The switch snaps, and a dim light traces around the edge of a single chair in the centre of the room. Slowly, carefully a foot pushes the door open, the rusty hinges grinding under the strain, and the legs carry the body like a spectre into the room. The door slams shut; the body falls back into the hard armchair. No skin touches its surface, but the skin still knows the chair is dirt ridden and hard, just as the ears still sense the rain dribbling down the warped window glass, and know each of the hollow reverberations they send echoing down hollow corridors like an old friend. Lazily the pupils flicker and dance over the beads of light that radiate from each sullen water drop's inky trail. They stop and watch the lines after lines march down the pane, pausing only for the stone cast fissures in the brittle surface. The hollow eyes know this window, too. They trace now, as they have done every night, over all the razor sharp legs that jerk from the centre, all the lens like mounds and all the moss filed gaps in the rotting wooden frame. Its form is an indelible plate behind those eyes, developed in stillness over the years, hardening and fusing over a lifeless gaze that has sought nothing else for aeons. So they see nothing else. Nothing, that is, apart from the small telephone in the centre of the room.

It sits there, alone, facing him. All of his furniture points towards it. It's been a while since he called anyone — he doesn't believe in it. No, if someone wanted to talk to him they'd have to call first. At least that way he would know they were interested in calling him. Yes. This way he could better stave off the inevitable embarrassment of talking to someone, realising full well that while they participated in idle banter they would much rather be hanging up the phone and doing something more interesting. No, it's defiantly better this way, better to remove some at least some of the doubt. But even when someone did call he got the impression that they wanted something, maybe just to ask directions or enquire about a book, an author, a date a place, somewhere, something. Not him. And then, when you were finished talking, you had to make polite excuses, like the kettle had boiled or someone else wanted to use the phone. Lies, of course, but it made their lies a little easier to enunciate. "I'm sorry, I mustn't keep you." "Well, I have to go, I'm keeping you from your work." Falsities built upon falsities, all of it a cheap veneer with no purpose other than to delude. To make them feel better. Better? Was he to feel better about something so blatant, so obvious in his mind it made him wretch? No, he'd do without it. He'd do without all of them. So now he sits, staring at the telephone. It's black, not an expensive telephone, in fact quite old. Just a small cylindrical dial full of faded numbers that reset to zero as the numbers were dialled. The table it rests on is small as well, in fact the whole rooms decoration points at the phone. The chairs, like some audience in an amphitheatre rotate outwards in a gentle curve. Watching it. Waiting. Waiting, perhaps, for someone to call. As much as he knew how unlikely it was that anyone would, he was tortured by hope. The hope that someone might ring to simply ask how he was, or maybe just idly pass some time, but nobody does.

He can still remember when people used to know him, and, as much as the memory pains him, he clings to it desperately every waking moment. Just as he still remembered when people in the street stopped saying hello, became more curt, nodded their heads to him and eventually just looked away altogether, pretending they hadn't seen him. He knew it. He could feel it. It wasn't embarrassment, as he'd thought to begin with. Something worse. They had wanted, to forget. They didn't feel inhibited because they didn't see him as the same person. He was different, he was changed somehow, not a man they had known before. No, now. You couldn't ignore someone whom you knew and trusted and had shared so much with. Such cruelties would be against the grain of humanity's most common good. But who would blame you for not greeting a total stranger in the street, what man would ask that you smile and say hello to everyone you might happen across? What man would judge you any differently? So that's what he became; a stranger. And he's a stranger now. Sitting. Watching the phone. Like he does every night. But there are other things to occupy his thoughts with. The window, for example. A street light outside casting soft beads of light that spread across the whole room, giving it a gentle red hue. Very gentle, though. You wouldn't notice it if you'd only just arrived. You'd just see the faint contrast of the phone against the dark, and you'd think it was totally black. But sitting in his chair, and accustomed to it, it seems light enough. He can make out the phone in this light, see the marks on the wallpaper, or unhurriedly trace the rough brush marks on the ceiling. Another day passed.

Slowly the eyes close, the ears shut and the mind darkens.