As I was walking up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.

He didn’t even comb his night-strewn hair. His face was not ugly, nor was it handsome. His figure was without even a sign of portly or lean.

His clothes were drabber than they were smart; so drab the darkness could hide them in further folds of themselves. His voice picked out words from silence, words which meant little more than the creaks of the floorboards. His touch was like touching one of my own hands with the other. I put him down to nothing but a haunting thought – or, perhaps, at least, the ghostly residue of some man who had once anciently been an infant chimney-sweep.
When I reached the top, I looked back to see his back backing off down the stairwell, disappearing into nothingness—if something could disappear that was never there in the first place.

I lowered myself into half-a-kneel, half-a-bend, all mixed with a crumpled crouch, and picked up from the tousled stair carpet a loose strand that must have floated there from his head of night-strewn hair. I held it closer to my child-young eyes and watched it scribble like the filmic interference on old celluloid, in shapes of words that meant nothing to my childish mind beyond their mere audibility as softest carpet-slipper sounds.
“What you doing dear?” asked my mother, as her tall figure half-filled the slanting yellow shaft of a half-opened bedroom door.
“Following myself up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire,” I said as pipingly plaintive as possible. After all, I had an image to maintain.
“Don’t be a soppy and go to bed. It’s high time, darling, you were in dream land.”
My mother’s voice was the only one that could hold sweetness as well as righteous anger.
I dropped the hair that wasn’t there. I let out my lungs with breath blacker than the sooty air and sucked in a new draught, one that was tinged with the yellowness still left there by my mother’s now extinguished light from her bedroom door.
I was suddenly a child again, one that no longer needed any childish image to remain my mother’s darling. But upon trying the doorknob of my childhood lair, I found it wasn’t there. Only a choking head-mop of tangled air.

published Pantechnicon 2008

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