*

PENGUINS AT MIDNIGHT

When he talked to himself, he very rarely listened. Being lonely made him feel rather good, inasmuch as silence and lack of company insulated him within a cocoon of self – and the world’s pain couldn’t cross that silence, collecting outside the silence looking in, powerless to touch him through the silence.

Amid the silence, he had his own peculiar and irritating habits but he still watched himself in the corner of the room dressing up as all sorts of creatures. He knew he was immune even from his own behaviour, being so utterly lonely – loneliness being the strongest anaesthetic. He watched himself as creatures from the zoo, many animals or reptiles or birds, often all at the same time. Loneliness was a multiplying force as well as a numbing one. There he was in the kitchen dressed in his lion suit and now he watched himself coming down the stairs wagging a trunk from side to side and simultaneously he heard loud noises from the toilet as a swamp creature conducted its ablutions – and as the evening wore on into night, he saw the two thousand wings of a thousand birds – and upon the stroke of midnight waddling penguin suits crossing the moonlit lawn outside the window.

He was immune. Against the disease of mind or body. Perfectly insulated. By the security of silence. By loneliness. By the loneliness of madness screening out the same madness. But one day – following the march of several versions of himself as various wading birds – he suddenly felt decidedly iffy. He tried to warn himself to get a doctor quick but, as ever he wasn’t listening. Or couldn’t listen because of the silence. And so he never knew he was a dicky duck with flu and no quack.

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