richard david lawman
Eyes in the Cupboard
Something made Detective Boll feel uneasy as he stepped into the hallway of the house. Perhaps it was the stillness, the eerie silence broken intermittently by a distant drip as of yet unplaced. Boll stepped carefully towards the kitchen, a pile of garbage spilled from the bin onto the floor. The lino was sticky under his feet. And he still felt uneasy.
He saw the broken chair and the table on its side by the door. The back door lay slightly ajar and began to rock quietly as the wind caught it. Boll looked around for his suspect, his victim, his witness and saw nobody. A dirty trickle of blood on the floor and a red hand-print on the glass window gave it away. He unclicked his holster and let his fingers rest on his revolver. He silenced his breathing and began to step backwards, towards the front door, away from the silence.
Silence comes first. Then the laughter. Then the screaming. He was the last detective left in his team. They always lured them out like this. The child’s swing in the front yard, the freshly mowed lawn and the sparkling SUV on the drive. The eyes were watching him.
He knew there was no point in running, he just stepped back slowly out the door. What chance was he taking by not reporting this? What if it was a real burglary and kidnapping like the screaming woman said?
“Next time.” He shouted. “You’ll have to get me next time!”
Boll drove away, the last remaining Detective. Away from the freshly mowed lawn, the child’s swing, the blood on the window and the eyes in the cupboard under the stairs.
I stood in complete awe, looking out of the window as she walked down my street, watching her sublime figure drift behind parked cars. Her ghostly white skin almost cast a pure light on me, and her black hair hung to her slender shoulders. Her walk was relaxed and steady - a standard trudge home from work probably, but where was she heading to? Mapping out the streets which lay ahead of her, I imagined the possible routes she could take… trying to picture the ones which would lead to me.
The door latch clicked as my social worker let herself in. She sifted through the letters piled on the sideboard before dropping my shopping in the kitchen. No doubt she was plotting another attempt to re-paint my flat, or “spruce it up a little” – the whitewashed walls that screamed bleakness to my infrequent visitors were little more than canvasses to me. Painting doesn’t have to be with a brush. Later, after tea and my mandatory pill-taking fun session, we discussed my looming day in court. Phrases like “duty-solicitor”, “legal-aid” and “pleading guilty” filled the hollow cave of my flat but I didn’t hear them. Instead, all I could think of was the glimpse of her figure between the cars. It replayed over and over in my mind. When I breathed my stomach flipped. Over and over. It flipped. Over and over. It was a ride I didn’t have to get off – a secret ride no one could stop. Not the Social Worker, or the doctor, or the courts. It was my secret ride.
That night I didn’t sleep. I dreamt.
I didn’t always used to be socially marginalised. I was once a tax-payer, a car-drive and a mower of lawns. Now I wasn’t any of these – I was, sociologically-speaking, utterly useless. Taking and not contributing, not in the modern social sense anyway. And whilst they fulfilled their legal duty of keeping me topped up with the pharmaceutical industry’s answers to the maligned brain – pills of every colour – it was more a benefit to them than to me. The days of my marriage and career were little more than dusty photo albums stored deep in the recesses of my mind. It allowed me to remain focused on the here and now – on allowing my imagination to sculpt the world around me into something worthwhile. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t see the bloated, pale blotchy face of a haggard man in his early forties. The black gaps between my teeth, the wrinkled skin on my neck and the tired, thin hair scraped against my itchy scalp didn’t appear. I saw a happy man, with gleaming white teeth, a full head of auburn hair and rosy, muscular cheeks swelling outwards – almost bursting with pride. It was what my eyes saw. It was, therefore I am. I am the happy man, the man who can be this mysterious girl’s, to love and to keep.
Six days after the first sighting I saw her again. This time she wore a red summer dress and shoes I didn’t really understand – kind of strappy, with big wedges. She strode more confidently than last time. Her pale skin unchanged by the glorious sunshine that had baked this small town for the past few days. Grabbing the binoculars, I followed her up the street for a good couple of minutes before she disappeared over the horizon. Once again, I made a note. The A to Z was promptly plucked from my shelf of books and I traced the route she possibly could be taking. Clearly, as she was walking from town, this was a commute home. Her destination remained unknown and it would remain so until I actually ventured out there to find her. The problem was the restraining order as part of my bail conditions. Was it worth waiting or even chancing the result of my court case until I would go out and find her? What if this journey she was taking was merely temporary – instigated by the good weather or possibly some sort of interim travel arrangement. Maybe her car was in the garage? Maybe… and I crashed. The medication dragged me down like an ocean-faring tanker’s anchor on a peddalo. Down I went. And down I would remain for the next couple of days.
A flurry of various local authority-employed visitors came and went before I was back up on my feet and waiting by the window in the spare bedroom of my flat. Waiting for another glimpse. When my Social Worker came I would say I was just “looking out the window”, the notepad, A to Z and binoculars tucked underneath the canvas of the chair I was perched on.
I finally struck gold well over a week later. Absolute gold. Spotting her way, way down the street to the right – only just coming out of town – it provided me a good four, possibly five minutes to scrutinise everything about her. She trudged a little more slowly this time – possibly having had bad day at work, as painful as it was to see my beloved unhappy, providing me a chance to move us closer. I spotted an exposed section of her ID lanyard underneath her green jacket. The colours, the pattern on the lanyard chord were familiar but I couldn’t place exactly where they were from. I watched her face intently - she stared down at the ground a couple of paces ahead of herself, her head tilted forward enough so that her dark hair hung past her ears, shielding most of her pale cheeks from view. I tried to tune myself into her thoughts but only music played. My stomach summersaulted, my skin almost burst with goose bumps… I shut my eyes for a few seconds and pictured myself walking next to her, taking her hand in mine. “What the hell are you doing?” The voice snapped behind me. I dropped the binoculars to the floor. Panicking to catch them, I knocked my notepad and A to Z from the windowsill. I broke out into a cold, painful, drenching sweat. “We’re going to have to talk to Doctor Green about this,” she said, retreating into the kitchen. As I sat there on the chair, still and reflective, listening to my Social Worker – that fucking bitch! – make herself a coffee, I knew without doubt I’d have to make my move sooner than later.
I obediently sat on the sofa in my living room, listening to my Social Worker bleat on about my “responsibilities”, and how they might have to “change my programme”. She scribbled various notes with shakes of the head and deliberately-audible tutts. She counted the pills out on the table, pushing them into piles of ten with her luminous pink acrylic nails. “You’ve not been taking your medication, have you?” She barked.
I sat and stared forward at the wall above my fireplace. A guitar plucked a bittersweet melody to a violin backing. Colours ahead flowed across the wall, fading into different shades with each flow. All my Social Worker saw was a blank wall and me smiling – toothless, gormless and of no use. She made me swallow the variety of tablets, handing me a glass of water to wash them down afterwards before delivering her final lecture. I tuned her voice out and ignored the rhythmic clip-clop of her expensive heels on my laminate flooring. I searched for the music and the colour but it was harder to find now that my blood was slowly filling with chemicals. As she threw her coat on and headed for the door, the walls drained white and the silence returned. The only thing left for me to do was to think of the girl. And soon the happiness returned – my girl, my dark-haired antidote.
The plastic on my newly-pressed, freshly-dry cleaned suit clung with static to my leg. I sat on my bed staring at it. My solicitor whom I had only met the previous day suggested that I try it on for a few hours to get used to it so I wasn’t nervous when I would take the stand. He talked at me for quite a bit, I liked him because he was someone who hadn’t quite built up the same level of frustration and hatred of me that everyone else I came into contact with had. He told me about what the prosecution would say, how I had deliberately stalked my victim – following her everywhere. As it was my second offence, the first being my now ex-wife, he warned me that I could face a custodial sentence, even though that was very unlikely. He explained to me how I should tell them the absolute truth and we practised together in my room. I stood behind the ironing board to get used to what it would be like behind the stand. I lied to him. I lied through my crooked teeth. I lied so I could hang onto the little that I had. I told him – as he questioned me repeatedly about the ten weeks I stalked Rose Barrow – that I had fallen in love with her.
Yet, it wasn’t Rose I was in love with. It was her sister. The sister she didn’t know she had. The sister no one knew she had. I didn’t feel guilt, I felt embarrassed about the confusion. I was never following Rose. She wasn’t who I was interested in. This truth was one I wouldn’t share. Doing so would only see my medicines increase by a factor of ten and the dullness on my senses come more profound. If you can’t fix ‘em – dope ‘em up. When my solicitor left he tried to lighten the mood by making a joke: “Trying to get used to life in a cell, are you?” He said, nodding towards the whitewashed walls of my flat. But he couldn’t see the magisterial murals I had painted. The depth and colour that was impossible to create with paint. The detail, the infinitesimal detail. “You don’t need a brush to paint,” I said before closing the door behind him.
The library! It was the bloody library! I knew I remembered those colours from somewhere. The pattern on her ID lanyard was the same they had at the library. I would have to be quick. I was due in court that afternoon and my Social Worker was to come and collect me at one so we could practice again. I slipped into my suit and for the first time in two months, I left the flat. After a ten minute trek, I was outside the library – palms sweating and heart pounding – I had no idea what I was going to do. It was the thrill of the chase – that’s the bit I always loved.
Inside the library I slipped quietly from aisle to aisle, delicately disguising my stares towards the help desk to look for her with casual glances at the books. I couldn’t find her and panicked. I had blown my chance and would almost certainly end up in a prison cell tonight now without so much as the knowledge I had found her. After another circuit of the library I retreated back into the streets and set off to be back in my flat before my social worker got there. Pressing my hand into my side to abate the stitch, I strode determinedly through town and began the ascent up the road towards my flat. I wondered whether there was anyone watching me as I passed the high windows of the Victorian houses up to my left. As I crested the hill and the road that lead up to and past my flat hove into view, I stopped dead on the pavement.
Ahead of me was the girl. Her black hair shone in the bright sunlight. Her head titled forward slightly. I wrestled with my lungs to establish a more relax breathing pattern, and I forced the pain of my stitch to the back of my mind. I hadn’t expected this at all. She must’ve finished her shift and was leaving to make her way home now – much earlier than I thought. I kept at a safe distance, a good twenty meters back, and I followed her up the road, past my flat and towards the new housing estate behind. This was what it was all about – moments like this, moments or pure happiness. My battle with those who dose me up, with the police, the courts, the Social Workers, the council was one which I wouldn’t win, but whilst I had my freedom, I’d do everything I could to hold onto what I had.
We turned and twisted through the s-shaped roads of the new housing estate, past the freshly planted gardens and gleaming family cars. At the far end of the cul-de-sac we turned into, was a gate to a path beyond. I wondered where she was heading, what she planned to do next. I became aware that my presence would unlikely go un-noticed for much longer. As I palmed back the golden green leaves of the trees that grew into the path, I stepped that little bit closer to her. My pace increased so I would draw beside her before we got to the field. I thought of the whitewashed walls, my blackened teeth and my sad, dropping eyes. That’s what everyone else saw. I hoped she would see something different in me – a handsome man, maybe. But it didn’t matter. I always enjoyed the chase. That’s what I did with Rose’s sister and the dozens of girls before her. It was always the chase that was best – like starving yourself before a big meal, it’s the excitement of what the food will taste like, the anticipation. Once you take a bite it’s all over. And this chase was drawing to an end also.
We were now in the countryside, a wood to our right and fields stretching up the hill to our left. I did what felt natural, calming my breathing. I saw her slow down, looking at me but not turning around, merely giving the impression with her body that she knew I was there. I swallowed hard and caught my breath back, skipped forward to reach her and took her hand. I leant in and kissed her, that beautiful nose was icy against my cheek. The leaves beneath our feet kicked up as we walked, and the icy hands of winter began to grope their way across the dirty ground. We walked, but I knew we weren’t heading anywhere.
A bit further up the path we reached a style which lead to a path which cuts it’s way up the field, disappearing from view possibly a mile away where one couldn’t quite tell if it was still pasture or moorland. I kissed her softly again and she climbed over the style before me. She stopped on the other side and gave me a worried look and said, “Aren’t you coming?” I shook my head, turned and walked away. I could turn whitewashed walls into paintings of infinite depth. I could conjure music whilst I dozed in the sun on the patch of grass behind my flat. I could fall in love by myself.
I left her standing there. I didn’t want to touch her perfect skin, or see that sorrowful look in her eyes again. I didn’t want any of it.
On the way back down the path, where there were fields on one side and a wood on the other, the point where we first kissed, I touched my still-warm lips and felt the saliva drying. I couldn’t tell if it was hers or mine. I looked back and saw her standing by the style in the field, her shoulders slumped and tears already streaming down her face. “Don’t leave me!” She cried, her voice breaking towards the end. But I had no choice. And looking over my shoulder again, watching and trying to focus on her figure, trusting my footsteps on the familiar ground, I saw her turn and fade into the air.
I touched my lips again, still feeling their warmth, and no longer wondering whether it was my saliva or hers. It was mine.
There was once a clown who did not stop growing. He grew and grew and grew. One day, he grew so tall he pushed away the stars, and glimpsed Heaven.
Robert had always wanted to be a clown, and despite his parent’s protests that he be an estate agent, like them, he refused to do anything other than live his dream. And what a dream it was. Robert did not believe in the concept of death, he was convinced death was an admission that their time was up, and if someone was determined enough, they could simply not die and live forever. The young Robert saw height as the obvious manifestation of age, and being a short fellow, as many of these young chaps are, he suffered the indignity of having to ask for assistance when a task required access to a surface greater than his height. The young Robert, joyful, determined and full of wotsits, cooked up a plan that would see him shirk his mortal responsibilities and live forever.
You see, life is like a pair of bowling shoes – you are made to live it, just like you’re made to wear the bowling shoes at the alley, and once you’re finished you have to return them, just like you have to die when your time is up. But what would happen if you just didn’t give them the bowling shoes back? What would happen if you were to just walked out the door, wearing those red and blue, slippery shoes? Would they chase you? Probably. Would they stop you? Well, that depends on how fast you run. Life is the same. What if you just kept on living? What if you just kept on growing? Would you see the stars? With time. What if you wanted to get to Heaven a different way? Would they let you in? Robert wanted to find out.
A sickly sweet taste filled his mouth, it was the taste of victory – his plan, bit by bit, was working. Passing seven foot was no problem, and as he shovelled in more and more food, forcing his body to grow vertically, his bones lengthened, and up he grew. Bit by bit. If you watched him, you probably wouldn’t be able to notice, but he grew every second of the day. That was just the way he wanted it to be.
When he reached the clouds, life took on a different complexion. On a cloudy day, all he had to do was stand up straight and he would be in peace, only the vast desert of white clouds, drifting dreamily on by would fill his vision, and above a steadily darkening blue of infinity. But Robert knew there was an edge. There had to be a point at which eternity started, a place you could touch, feel hold in your hands. Beneath him people lived their busy lives, often peering up to see the towering Robert who just kept on growing.
When Robert grew past the stratosphere and into space, he held his breath and felt the emptiness crushing against his cheeks, the frightening void ahead of him stretched out so far. He reached out to touch it, moving the moon out of the way to reach deep into the inky murk. Nothing. He felt nothing. He had to keep growing.
Once Robert had passed the moon, and could reach out and touch the sun (not that he ever did), and most of the other planets, a worry crept over him – would he ever find the starting point of infinity? Would he ever reach Heaven? Were the bowling alley security guards catching up with him? He could sense himself getting weaker. A pain in the base of his spine forced him to take longer rests, his progress was slowing and the choking effect of space on his lungs was causing him distress. For the first time in his life, Robert felt himself getting older. How old was he anyway? Seventy? One hundred and forty? Maybe older. He never wore a wristwatch as none had fit since he was nine. Robert was dying, slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly, just at the same rate as the rest of us. Gradually, growing old, gradually, inch by inch. These pangs of guilt, self-doubt and worry echoed around the chamber of his mind, reverberating off the plain brick surfaces of the space in which his personality should have formed. How much had he sacrificed? How much was he willing to give? All he has was his will and that was beginning to wane.
Then he ended it all – the doubt, the worry, the pain. He wanted to find out and he wanted to find out immediately. He grabbed the moon, nothing more than the size of a tangerine to me and you, and took an enormous bite out of it. It turns out the moon is made of cheese after all, well a sort of hard, stale cheese beneath a thick crust of dust and rock. With the food rapidly being processed into pure energy, he heaved upwards, forcing his bones to expand, driving him well past the outer edges of the milky way, into the midst of a plethora of galaxies stretching outwards for eternity. He swept his hand out, brushing galaxies aside as if they were sweet wrappers on a coffee table, and then he found something.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood to attention, something moved him inside, an enormous feeling of salvation rushed into him. He had in his hand something solid, something completely different to what he had felt before. Robert looked down at where his little toe balanced – that blue and green speck of dust from where he came, full of mysteries he’d never know, people he’d never love and battles he’d never lose. Robert wasn’t a loser, he had won. He remarked to himself on his great achievement, leaned out a bit further to get a better hold of the bulky thing that was in his left hand, and yanked.
The plug came out and everything went black.
An adolescent teenager put his shirt away in the cupboard; the kettle clicked delightfully in the kitchen below; the tea bags waited in their porcelain grave, thirsty for the monsoon; the cat skulked about the rosebush in the garden; the father picked his nose and flicked it onto the wall behind the TV, and then, nothing happened.
The hairs on her head parted, the nit comb dived in and tore through, looking for the offending white dots; her mother bit her tongue in concentration; the dishes slowly dried; the chicken defrosted on the windowsill, and then, nothing happened.
A middle-aged man suddenly became aware of how old he was, sat in a traffic jam, the blurry red and yellow lights leaving fluorescent stamps on the vision of his mind; his wife sobbed tenderly in the bathroom, a piss-stained strip of plastic carrying an uncompromising truth; their daughter stared into the blinding light of her laptop, her history essay due in a week, she heard a knock at the door, and then, nothing happened.
Some screwed up paper dropped to the floor of the bus, he could see in the rain-soaked reflection of the windows, the young man was in debt; a disappointed builder, laid-off for the third time in his life, noticed his laces were undone just having left the train station toilets; an African lady chuckled to herself as she couldn’t decided between orange, mango, apple, kiwi; an old man farted in the queue in Tesco and no one pretended to hear except the young boy who proclaimed, “Errrr! It smells of poo!”; a strawberry yoghurt balanced precariously on a worktop edge, and then, nothing happened.
Nothing happened in the hallways of a recently derelict office block; or the on the cobblestone back alley behind Allen’s Fried Chicken; or inside the cupboard under the stairs. Coats continued calmly clinging to pegs, tins of paint proudly perch on shelves in the garage; that bit of wire you’ve been saving for when you might need it, remains lodged annoyingly in the cutlery drawer; the curtains hang, not quite straight; rain uneventfully drizzles; and the air is filled with the sound of soft sighs from simple people wrapped in a blanket of boredom, because nothing is happening.
And then, suddenly rising up, descending in some places, filling the faces of children with fright, and the reflections of those forgotten puddles in the street with colour, distracting peaceful fisherman at the lodge from the sunset, giving people who barely meet something to divert them from the barren landscape of their conversation, casting a deep shadow which is boring its way into the ground and steadily marching towards us, producing that dull, distant groan which sounds like it comes from a Hollywood movie, and breaking the pathetic dullness of this ordinary Thursday evening, something happened.
© Richard David Lawman 2016