Edgeworth Story 2

This man’s been talking at the far wall for as long as I can remember. He’s sat with his back to me. Just me and him in the room. I’m lying face up on my parents bed. They’ve gone out. I’m on my mum’s side. My mum’s is on the left as I stare upwards. I turn half over to face my dad’s. Next to my dad’s side of the bed, is an alarm clock. It’s an alarm and telephone combined. This other man’s about forty years old and sat half off the the edge of the bed, next to the phone. I don’t know anything else about him. He keeps his ear nearest me free. He’s tracing the red numbers on the screen of the alarm with his right index finger, holding the receiver to his ear with his left. His finger moves and eyes gaze as you would when twiddling a coiled phone cord, like the one he’s choosing not to, or your hair like girls do. He’s just talking, not intentionally to anyone and isn’t conscious of his finger. He’s not talking to the phone or himself. He’s just talking out to thin air, without any thought of, or interest in what his words are. He’s been convinced, bullied himself into thinking, they’ll evaporate into silence before hitting the wall. Let alone reach anyone else. I’m watching his fingertip brush along the red lines and see it tap a few times before each jump to one of the red dots. In doing so, I’m forced to follow what his friends are saying, that he must think only he can hear. If he thinks anything. I can tell he doesn’t know I’m listening from what he’s saying. You can follow his thoughts as he’s talking. There’s no resistance to his speech, no etiquette or irritated cold acknowledgments, like when a foreigner’s listening. He’s talking too smooth even to notice the people he must know well, are on the phone with him. It’s suspicious how how pure of thought he is. I shift my head a little to see if this receiver’s really a slipper or something else of my parents. His friends are talking amongst themselves as much as they are to him, you could tell just from lightly overhearing. He’s not really a man, this man on the bed. He’s more like a doll. There’s a moving mechanical image alongside everyone’s talking. One image envelops every line of speech from both ends of the phone call. It’s the insides of a simple Victorian flying machine trying to make steam and lift itself off the ground. I can’t hear the voices, and I’m seeing them at a stage earlier than my eye’s would, but they’re not from imagination. I’m not generating these images. They’re external and independent but only part of my environment. I hear everything like crystal being said from both sides. It’s not just I’m aware of what they’re saying without hearing them. The voices are audible visually. You can see more from the machines steam and levitation than can he heard, not only from hearing alone, but if you could if you were hearing as well. If you’re to get anything from watching the machine, nothing else can be allowed to interrupt. It’s a conversation from my past. He’s talking to a girl, about twelve years old who twirls her fingers as she talks and gazes away at the same wall he does. An old man’s voice says her words for me, as I say them back to the forty year old’s free ear. Now more twelve-year-old girls are all talking to each other and this image of a Victorian flying machine gets stronger and stronger, the more I see all these additional parts of the conversation join in. There’s more than one person on the other end of the forty year old’s phone call, but he’s never distracted enough for his finger to stop tracing the red lines. The machine pounds harder, like an excuse to try and destroy itself each time I notice a new person talking. It responds only to what I’m experiencing even though it was here, and taking part, before I arrived. It’s like a dog who’s found a new owner. It’s the group of the twelve year old girls friends holding his attention, the man on the edge of the bed, every time his finger jumps to tap on a red dot. Each time his finger jumps, a new girl’s just said something. It’s nothing I’ve seen with a family member, or a work colleague, and I’m convinced it can’t be started in adulthood. I would have started this conversation when I was a kid, and would have been with a stranger or someone I didn’t know well. I must have been here, on and off, without ever being conscious of being here at the time. If I was aware of this jumping around in time, I wouldn’t be here now. The forty year old man leans towards me every now and then, and looks over see what I’m doing. I think he’s a cousin, or a nephew or something. I walk down to the kitchen, where there’s more of my extended family preparing a meal. It’s summer. The kitchen garden doors have been left open to let in the cool air. It’s too crowded, so I walk back out the kitchen door and follow the corridor till it widens out enough to be too big to be my home anymore. Back out the kitchen door eventually becomes the first floor of a tower block. It’s such an expanse. You can’t get an estimate of how many people are around. At least two escalators come up here. It’s tan brown carpets, and wide views like you’re alone between museum rooms. As our kitchen goes straight out to the first floor, I didn’t need to pass security or reception downstairs. Security have ok’d me coming through, and I remember walking past them all early this morning when it was still dark. There’s no sense of it being an airport till you get upstairs, which you have to do via the lift. You can only see the escalators coming up once you’re already on the first floor, and the people on them are real workers here, senior enough to be lifted on the escalators by receptionists when they arrive. They’re dolls, these senior workers, and are at least in their forties. All this would have happened before I was lying on my parents bed this afternoon around lunch time. The applications I process are kept on 12 inch vinyl records, and are for courses in nursing. Police are here in small numbers, taping off areas they want to search later. A record’s fallen down the back of my filing cabinet. I process applications for the tower blocks courses. The corridors are wider than when I worked here. It’s more like Shanghai airport, more open plan and everything wider, with glass windows everywhere. It might even have had those flat escalators on this floor. This building must also be part of an airport. There aren’t any walls that aren’t glass. Through the outside walls are runways joining the carpets to the concrete outside. You can’t see how it passes through the windows, but they’re not open. Police are all around, looking for this missing application form. That they’re looking for something I know the whereabouts of, is enough to make me feel guilty enough not to want to help them. I gently tell my boss, an inch from her ear, that I think I know where the application form is. She grunts. She doesn’t want to help them anymore than I do. The police want the full lockdown search so much, they don’t even want to find it yet. This woman phoned to say her husband hadn’t arrived at work. Reception hadn’t seen him. I arrived at reception this morning and saw they hadn’t got his call today. This man’s unusual in that he always needlessly phones reception ahead of arriving. He’s one of the few people left, or was, with a car phone. He calls to say he’s about thirty seconds from the car park, directly outside reception. As if doing so would reserve him a space. He’s a desperate talker, murdered on his way to work this morning. You’d think sad people getting murdered would be less tragic. His wife knew reception hadn’t heard from him, so phoned the police direct. There was no contact between reception and the woman. The woman hadn’t killed her husband, and didn’t know of his killing. She just knew reception hadn’t heard from him, without hearing this from anyone. So that’s why she phoned the police. This woman has been through what I’ve been through, lying on my parents bed. The scene, we played back together on one of the blank records, me and the murdered mans wife. I saw him get murdered, and the wife only knew her husband had been killed through me seeing it with her. It’s a relief for her to not feel bad for him anymore. If I hadn’t have been there, she wouldn’t have seen a thing. So now I’m back in the office, where I was with my boss, and I know what the police are looking for. The wife and I wrote it on a blank disc just by watching it, so we’ll probably get convicted. The one down the back of my filing cabinet isn’t even the same one. My boss, for some reason, and I are keeping the police from finding it. Now me and the wife both know, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore what the police do. So I was in the office. My boss wants me to sleep with her, now I’ve been with the murdered mans wife. I knew the murdered man, as I’ve seen him get killed, at least as it was played back the first time round. His body was found striped in a hotel room before the police got here. The missing application form keeps reappearing in the kitchen with my extended family. Being around my extended family, and also getting to know this twelve year old girl and her friends, I thought maybe I could reconnect with my old friends as well. But they’ve got kids now and are too busy.

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