"Strange little towns can have their strange allure. After a time you begin to take on their crooked little ways in how you walk. Your thoughts have an odd kink to them that has something of the town’s beveled mindset to them, and your feelings run hot and cold about things that others in the town feel hot and cold about. Everything about you gets just a little misshapen, while you feel totally normal"
In order for me to be truly the heroine of this story I need to admit that after the encounter with the astronaut in the stairwell I resolved, as any sensible person would, to leave Mordan House. It could not be any other way really. But now, on Christmas Day, I plan to tell you what happened with these plans that mean I'm still sitting in this house, with the winter snow across my front door, roads unusable, and with only this internet connection to keep me company. So, what makes me a heroine now, rather than simply foolish? One small word, dear reader. Just one.
You know how sometimes you can fall in love in the blink of an eye, how your heart can be lost before your eyelashes have even settled back upright again, how just one solitary blink really is all it takes. Well, let’s face it, it’s not really love. It’s more like a reflection of a space inside you, a needful space, and the shape that you see coincides with that space. You could call it a premonition of love, at best. I’ve learned that absence can have the same reflective properties, even when a possible object of your love, of your need to love, is not around. The astronaut is the reflection of my inner absence, the needful space, and the astronaut coincides with that space. I know that I want love to fill that God-awful, tormenting, tempestuous hole of horror inside of me, but there’s nothing and no-one here. There’s no-one to love, so I wrap that cardigan around me tighter, knowing it helps a little to dull the pain. Just me and the dead space inside. And look how that dead space arises to take on a shape that threatens to eat me alive. In order to be truly the heroine of this story, I have to fill the void. The void of no progress, of dead vision. The cage of my imagination. So I have to leave the astronaut behind – both inside of me and in these corridors.
Appropriate to raise the subject of love right now actually! Especially when I’m set to tell you of the day I said good-bye to Mordan House and its environs, starting off with the neighbouring town.
So let’s hurtle on to try and bring this story up-to-date with what’s happening to me now. We’re nearly there, you know - this day that I want to write about was only two weeks ago. And this is how it went.
"The astronaut is the reflection of my inner absence, the needful space, and the astronaut coincides with that space. I know that I want love to fill that God-awful, tormenting, tempestuous hole of horror inside of me, but there’s nothing and no-one here"
Strange little towns can have their strange allure. After a time you begin to take on their crooked little ways in how you walk. Your thoughts have an odd kink to them that has something of the town’s beveled mindset to them, and your feelings run hot and cold about things that others in the town feel hot and cold about. Everything about you gets just a little misshapen, while you feel totally normal - yet you wonder why those passing through throw monkey nuts at you from their car windows. You don’t see your own limping shuffle, or notice the disjointed vagaries of your mental inclinations, feelings bounce around illogically, but you know your not alone in the warps and fractures that characterise your leanings.
Here are some of the quirks that this town has as part of its nature. When buying something in a shop, don’t say ‘Hello’ or ‘Can I buy these, please?’ – Jeez Louise, no, don’t say ‘please’! – you just say nothing at all, but then when the transaction's concluded you both say extremely hearty farewells as if you’re the oldest and fondest of buddies. If someone says ‘Hi’ to you in the street, because they say the first ‘Hi’ you simply smile, give a little nod and do a long kind of grunt of acknowledgement. In the café toilets, you have to write down in a book how many squares of toilet paper you used; above the book was a sign that said: ‘Ever mopped up with just one two-ply? No? Then why don’t you give it a try!’ I never discovered if it was about conservation or general stinginess. But, for the record, I mopped up with one two-ply every time! Nobody carried an umbrella, and if it rained then people always put their hoods down or removed their hats, no matter how bad the downpour. Dogs weren’t allowed to defecate on pavements or on any patches of grass – they had to do it in the road! Many a time I saw a dog owner standing in the middle of a busy road with the dog on a lead and traffic queued-up because it was struggling to push one out! Nobody seemed to bother. Lastly, there was a peculiar ritual whereby people would randomly say to each other: “Not yet.” As if something was anticipated to happen that still hadn’t happened. The other person’s reply was supposed to be a simple: “No, not yet.” I tried it in a café once. As I left I plucked up the courage to say to the waitress, “Not yet.” I half expected her to ask me what the hell I was on about, but she just sighed and said: “No, not yet, dearie.” I couldn’t really care less what it was that hadn’t happened, but it did amuse me – perhaps some dog somewhere had been stuck in the middle of a road for weeks trying to push one out and some drivers had died as they waited! “Any sign of the dog actually having a shit yet, then?” Big, long sigh, followed by: “No, not yet, petal. Vet’s going in with a shoe-horn today. See if that’ll budge it.”
Yes, it had its quirks and foibles, but I’d adapted to them, and I found the thought of leaving the neighbouring town slightly saddening, so I visited it to think and feel my good-byes. After all, there wasn’t really anyone that I knew in the town that I would want to see before leaving. It was just a general adieu, for my own satisfaction.
I parked the Punto, got out and hobbled down the street sporting the slightly cumbersome, jagged gait of the locals. Then I grunted and nodded at a couple of people who sneakily got their greetings in before me; said a passionate farewell to a woman who mutely sold me a newspaper; danced over some fresh canine shits as I crossed the town’s main street; let my hair get soaked a couple of times but then, in between times, protected it from the wind by reappointing my hat; and said “Not yet” to a policeman, a pharmacist, a kind of farmer-type, a mechanic, and a one-legged nun. And the whole darn thing seemed all quite natural and sensible really!
I never did get to rummage around in the town’s library, to look for information - that could have turned out to be clues - to Mordan House’s identity and mystery. The doors stood before me and, before I knew it, I was walking up the stairs and through the wooden doors and into the silence within. To say a 'hello' and a 'goodbye', I guess. Typical of this town though, no sooner had I sensed the silence of the library than I heard a male voice from somewhere utter a loud “Ouch!” before being hastily hushed with shushes from other members of the public. Boy, they can’t even do silent libraries the same way as other people! Yet this was only a thought for a moment - the sight of Mrs Ormsley behind the library’s front desk swept it away, and I found myself with my hand up to my face, circumventing the front desk in sprightly fashion to avoid being seen by her.
Now I found I couldn’t concentrate. I was one quarter looking down aisles, another quarter looking out for Mrs Ormsley, a third quarter thinking up how I might get out of the library without being seen by Mrs Ormsley, and a final quarter trying to remember why I’d come in here in the first place! I felt hung, drawn, and most definitely quartered.
There she was again! I saw her, and I wondered if she’d seen me. I backed-up, feeling the wood of a bookshelf aisle touch my back, then I backed-up some more, reversing round a corner like a car, and feeling a little glimmer of relief as the sight of Mrs Ormsley disappeared.
It could have been me. It could have been my soul aching. God knows the feeling of inner disquiet that is almost palpably one of pain is a common one for me! But I wouldn’t utter it out loud. I turned round. There, sitting under a window at the end of the aisle of books, was a thin bespectacled man in a heavy jumper, firmly clutching a set of knitting needles, from which dangled a multi-coloured angular rag of uneven knitted wool.
His face was one of consternation and he was hunched down over the needles like they were dangerous and highly-charged lightning conductors. The tips of his fingers were white due to holding the needles so tight! His face was puzzled and defeated. His legs were crossed in such a way that they amplified his huddled appearance. And from the top of his head there was a sense of sadness. Yes, sadness! Coming right through his black hair, sweeping aside the concentration and the deliberation, and travelling all the way over to me.
"Something inside rose up like a gush of hot water from some invisible spring, that sprayed and singed me inside, gradually sending its fierce, uncomfortable droplets all through me"
He looked up, fingers not letting up their pressure, and he looked at me, for a second, with the eyes of a sad little animal. He whispered: “Sorry. I’ll try not to shout out again. It’s these needles. I keep stabbing myself. Damn it, I wish I could do the job properly, just slash my guts open with these blasted needles and be done with this ridiculous task.”
Within the time it takes for two sets of eyelashes to lower - lashes and lids kissing gently, then disconnecting and elevating again sweetly and silently - not only did I forget about Mrs Ormsley, but the other three quarters of the things that I’d had in my mind before I set sight on this man. But also, within that blink, something inside rose up like a gush of hot water from some invisible spring, that sprayed and singed me inside, gradually sending its fierce, uncomfortable droplets all through me. And all this within one blink of my eyes!
I spoke a reply. Yes, me! Actual words. Hell, I even moved closer. One of my hands moved up to my hair to flick it with a ‘hoped for’ degree of sensuality, rather than the fretful tugging I’d been doing for week upon week. I crouched down beside him. Yes, crouched! Like a zoologist attending to a wounded little bear, for Christ’s sake! I wasn’t me at all! I don’t know who I was!
But I knew about knitting, so my fingers hovered above his, gently correcting - ever so, almost, nearly, very closely touching! He explained that his mother had asked him for a special present at her next birthday. She’d said that he bought poor presents. That he shouldn’t put thought into them, but put effort into them instead. He’d seen people knitting and thought it looked easy. He bit his lip for a second when he said this. He said it looked like a simple system repeated over and over again, and with a paper map containing the code to keep you right. He glanced at me a little shyly when he said this, and I was aware of discomfort in him but also awareness that his presumption was humorous. I sent back the same look, both shy but also acknowledging the humour.
And then the words just took over. It was as if they existed in between us. As if they knew what to say because they weren’t paying any attention to us, because this was about something other than just us. Before I knew it, we’d agreed to meet and I’d promised that I would pick apart the ragged sections and show him the techniques for both reading the pattern (or map, as he called it) and getting into a knitting rhythm. The words even discovered each other’s names. I heard that he was James, and I may – or may not! – have said that my name was Stephanie. I may have said George! Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been shamefully wrong, as he seemed to accept it quite happily. I also found that the words structured themselves in such a way as to end up with the knitting in my own pocket, to pick apart the errors, and an arrangement to meet-up the following week and an appointed time and place. He did all of that part: he knows the place and, hell, I have a lot of free time!
Then, all of a sudden, a new voice in the proceedings.
“Oh, I thought that was you!” said the voice of Mrs Ormsley as she came round the aisle and stood before us. I swallowed hard and my eyes widened anxiously. “Look,” she said, holding something out towards me that nestled on top of an old plastic sandwich bag. “Scraps from the bin. Fresh though. Look! Here, take them, before the dog gets a whiff and fights you for them!”
I wasn’t going to argue. I wasn’t going to get into it all. Not with James there. As I walked past her, I grabbed the little bag out of her hand and kept going. I didn’t see James’s reaction and I didn’t listen to overhear the sounds of confidential whispers between them about me. I just kept on going.
"I see on the screen of this laptop just how much I’ve changed and, therefore, what has been done to me. I notice how another man has punctured a vein and slithered in. The way men do"
Even as I put the scraps into a bin that sat just outside of the library, I knew that it wouldn’t, after all, be the last time I’d be outside of the town’s library. Not the last time I would cross the road as a dog began to squat over a white line and a car screeched to a halt. Not the last time I’d walk like I had bones loose and muscles in spasm.
As I reached my Punto I heard an elderly man who was pushing a shopping trolley say to me mournfully: “Not yet, ma dear, not yet.” I nodded towards him, but inside I thought that he was wrong. What he wanted to happen may not have occurred, yet for me it had. A shape now coincided with a space, and I knew that love would not allow me to leave Mordan House and the neighbouring town just yet.
Yes, everything has been changing since I moved here – some experiences that I’ve had have crept up on me, then at times others have blasted me, stunned me, pummelled me - and now I can’t keep it all to myself. I’m not quite the same person that I was when I entered this ramshackle, windswept wreck of a place. I’m strangely firm and resolved, yet I’m curiously unsettled and at war with myself.
I see on the screen of this laptop just how much I’ve changed and, therefore, what has been done to me. I notice how another man has punctured a vein and slithered in. The way men do.
I’m besieged, and many things can come to be lost, and found, at such times, don’t you agree? To my mind right now, words are all I have to help me stay sane, to hold on – to try and handle the black, all-consuming and terrifying arms of love that I now possess for this new-found stranger.
So, I'm still here. Suddenly the heroine of my own life.