Thursday, May 10, 2007

elephant and castle. (extract)

When I open the door the room smells stale. There is a metallic, green light falling into the hallway in shafts, rainy and wintry. The walls are cold.

I move in quietly, trying not to make a sound. Something inside me says he might be here, he may have doubled back. He could be behind a door or waiting the other side of a wall a blunt instrument ready. Or that small revolver he carries with him.

It was co-incidence I saw him. Stepping off the Underground train onto the platform and among all those people. His back was unmistakable. Its scrawny shoulders and that tight hair cut and the way he walked, as if defiantly striding somewhere. Forceful but a walk that had something not quiet true to it. I thought he glimpsed me, because he turned and seemed to be looking through the crowd, around the faces of sleepy commuters or unknowing faces and I was not sure if he quickened his pace then. Either way I began to walk that little faster, bumping into a girl in front of me, almost knocking a bunch of red carnations from her arms. And it seemed he disappeared faster and then was around the corner and I knew he must be on the short stairs and heading for the lift. It was then I broke into a light run, feeling an increasing anxiety, sweat coming out on my brow. Suddenly I was aware, if I was on my way to see her, then he could be too and those threats he had once made to me in a doorway, on a freezing cold night backed up against a wall in St Petersburg could be true. There was no reason to believe he would not carry them out. I had learned since he was capable of many things and that his was a mind that worked only on ends, on strategy and accomplishment and that he was capable of making the most calculating of decisions.

Then I was taking the steps two at a time. I came around onto the lift and elbowed my way through the waiting crowd, my raincoat open, my eyes now frantically scanning every face ahead of me until they met his eyes, grey and inscrutable, angry. The set forehead, the nose short and the straight line of his mouth. He was already in the lift, locked in closely among the bodies and backs of heads. Then he gave one of those wry smiles, his almost milk teeth dull in the underground light and lifted his hand in a half gesture of recognition before the doors were beeping and shutting over with sinking solidity. "Damm it" I shouted, "damm it - damm this" and turned, wondering if the three hundred and fifty steps of the stairs were manageable and then bolting up them, my breath coming tighter in my chest, the sweat beginning to come out on my brow and under my arms.

I reached the top and pushed forward, ignoring the objections of an old Indian man, whose grey hair and melancholy eyes looked at me with some sort of reprove about speed and manners and who called after me that I would get there one day, that we all did in the end.

I ran out onto the street, just missing a car and could not see him and knew if he was going where I was going he must be moving fast now. I cut across the open court-yard and up the stone steps until I was on the balcony, heading for her door and gasping to breath, my heart thumping and tearing in my throat.


I step into the flat. I let the door close quietly behind me. Every part of me, every nerve and cell wants to call out her name, see her suddenly appear in front of me and smile questioningly at me, her eyes asking why I am out of breath and what the problem is. But the atmosphere is quiet; too quiet. Catching my breath, I feel the hairs on my neck rise. I am aware that every muscle is alert and that somewhere deep inside me I am expecting something to happen, something not pleasant.

A thin sliver of light is coming from under the living room door and I walk toward it. I notice the smell of stale cigarette smoke on the air and then again as if by instinct, my memory searches out her perfume or the remains of cooking. There is nothing. Only this second-hand smell as if the rooms were empty of anything other than the greenish winter light and impending threat.

The living room is empty and I see that the furniture looks all in place though over by a steel tulip-shaped lamp, there is a pile of fashion magazines lying untidily on the floor.
I turn back into the hallway, going down toward the bedroom and then I freeze. It is as if the floor is giving way beneath me, the walls are collapsing and pressing in on me and all I can do is stop, stand immobilised and just about prevent myself retching up on the carpet.

Through the doorway of the bedroom I can see a leg over the floor. It looks the way a leg would be if it were stretched out and the other was loose and tucked back under the body and the body was lying inert. And it is a leg. It is unmistakably her leg. The sandal-like shoe, the black leather strap across the instep and the way the ankle tapers up and onto that thin, elegant calf and I know then her knee and her soft thigh. I am momentarily paralysed. I feel myself being assaulted by a sort of anger and confused despair. Suddenly I no longer feel inside myself. I am floating away, becoming part of the greenish light that in fact is not greenish but white and then a sort of ash grey. And I am putting out my hand to steady myself against the wall.

For a moment I have forgotten him. He has gone from my mind. Through the spinning, the tears stinging up into my eyes, I am aware only of her leg. Wanting not to think of what I will find if I push open the door.

Then I hear the long dry sigh. The lips being moistened. The almost priestly exhalation of breath. Eerily benign and mockingly threatening.

The door swings open slowly and he stands there. His legs astride her stretched-out body. I want to run at him. I want to beat him with my bare fists until he falls in a heap. I want to take any instrument I can lay my hands on and strike him, strike him till there is not a whisper of breath left in his being. But he holds the gun. The small silver revolver. He is smiling. Strangely. His clouded eyes narrowing.
"She's not dead yet," he almost whispers. "Not dead yet.........?"


He waves the small silver revolver at me, motioning me to raise my arms and back into the living room.
"Sit," he says, and indicates a sofa. I look at him. He must see the anger, the bitterness in my eyes; the desperation.
"If I don't want to," I say.
His arms tenses. He lifts the revolver somewhat, bearing it on my chest.
"Sit I say. I hold the gun."
I sneer but sit. He backs, cautiously into an armchair.
"Now take of your raincoat - slowly - and throw it at your feet. Then turn out your pockets. No sudden movements or I shoot."
I do as he says. Peeling off the raincoat and turning out my pockets, keys, wallet, change, old receipts falling onto the sofa. All the time he holds me in his gaze. His grey eyes curiously searching.
"One more thing," he says when I have finished. "One at a time, roll up your trouser legs. To just below the knee."
Then he leans back and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. He throws it to me, saying,
"Smoke if you like. Because I want you to talk."
I look at him, angrily.
"You want me to talk?"
He leans forward.
"I want you to remember."
"Remember where this all started."
He motions with his head to the open bedroom door.
"Her life depends on it."
'Go back,' I think. 'Go back - go back.'

Copyright (C) Peter Millington

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