posted Sunday, 23 December 2007

“Come on … look through the window.”

Charlie’s Mother pointed vigorously with her newspaper which she had suddenly wrapped up like an old-fashioned hearing-trumpet. Charlie trusted Mother. After all, he was only very young and, at his age, who could you trust if you couldn’t trust Mother?

“Charlie! Look up and see…”

Charlie studiously kept his nose in his favourite pop-up book that had been given him for Christmas only the week before.

“…through the window…”

Despite the trust he felt, Charlie was strangely reluctant to follow the direction of Mother’s instrument of pointing. It was as if she had suddenly taken on the air of an enemy who was trying to make him do things that would harm him, see things that would make him wish he had not seen them.

“…on the other side of the road…”

Even though he couldn’t see Mother, with his neck arched downward, he knew she was unchanged, smiling as sweetly as ever, with that welcoming lap where he often sat, beneath her warm bosom, listening to her intone nursery rhymes or lullabies. Yet today he found it hard to imagine the look in her eyes. The look in her eyes was double-crosssed, he guessed.

“…in front of Mrs Cartwright’s front door…”

That was funny. Mrs Cartwright’s house was at an angle across the road and you had to get up and stand by the window to see Mrs Cartwright’s front door and, even then, you could only see a bit of it. Mother, by all accounts, was still seated in her favourite armchair, judging by the direction of her voice and the lack of noises – noises like her slippers shuffling towards the window or her sharp gasps as she tried to get the better of her asthma…

“…you’ll never guess … quick, Charlie, I beg you … before it is too late.”

Her voice remained familiar enough, but the turns of phrase were decidedly off key. I-beg-you was not an expression he recalled Mother using in the past.

Should he look up?

Should he even ask the question?

He lifted his chin, throwing the bookprint slightly out of focus. The stood image of the cat and the fiddle wavered before his eyes as if the paper wilted. The stiff spine was loosening up, he sensed, as he tried to hold the book more steadily in the V-frame of his fanned out fingers. More his imagination than anything to do with an unexpected fear of his Mother’s pointing…

He looked up as suddenly as he could, trying to take the surprise out of the late afternoon. He was wrong about the rolled newspaper. It was a real hearing-trumpet, winking in the day’s last glimpse or glint of light. Mother’s face was a picture.

“Look, Charlie, through the window…”

The voice was made of its own harsh breath articulated upon newer stranger breaths. Yet he managed to tear his eyes away towards a darkish oblong through which the light was evidently escaping piecemeal. The log firelight was unable to stem its flow. Who lit the logs was not even a consideration. Pink logs. Toppled on top of each other like a fat pick-a-stix game.

His heart stopped. The window framed itself. A second window made from flaking wood — with old fashioned sash-cords — was set within the modern PVC struts that the house’s bay windows had boasted since the eighties. A picture window.

He wondered where the curtains were or, if they were there, whether they could be drawn or undrawn.

Charlie got up to open the smaller window. Then he’d be able to see through it properly. The sash-cords rasped within the corrupt channels cut through the wood which they threaded.

“Look, Charlie, through the window … look before it is too late.”

The voice still belonged above a raised lap, he was sure. It took him by the throat before the tussling with the harshly stuck cords were complete. Upon opening his own fan-nerved eyelids, he felt a bloom of growing pains and he saw someone he once knew as Mrs Cartwright clip-clopping on high heels towards her house further down the road.

“Look through the window,” the voice echoed with a croak.

But she proceeded to ignore her own commands in evident gasps of the shortening, shortening bread — oblivious of the pop-up ghost’s renewed broken-voiced baying.

Mrs Cartwright, as if she sensed being watched, turned on her heels and, using the stair-rods she took from her shopping-basket, she looked intently back at the window across the road.


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