Knowing about these books is not enough.

The Statue
It stood in the middle of the market square – a pipe in the mouth, a hat with flaps, a nose as long as Pinocchio’s nose, a cravat and waistcoat. All chipped, chiselled and carved from stone.
I shivered as rain began to threaten with ominous grumbles from thunderheads along the visible part of the horizon.
But I was not shivering alone for long, as a woman, one of the locals, had arrived close by without an umbrella - and she told me that it had stood there for donkey’s years. But, to me, the real life statue looked pristine, unweathered, as if newly chipped, chiselled and carved. It stood in the afternoon appearing as if it had been made in the morning. And I told her so.
During her thinking time, let me tell you that I was on tour of this foreign principality, seeking curiosities. This being the most curious of all. Even the queer animal with large ears skulking in a downtrodden restaurant nearby depleted in its curiosity by comparison.
The woman, meanwhile, gave the impression that she had walked into the square prepared … by pulling out a sepia photograph that she plonked under my nose. It looked as if it had been hastily ripped from an album as the four corners still bore their sticky separate corners.
“Look ‘ee, that was taken afore not afar the war, and proves what I say,” she said.
Lo and behold, it was exactly the same statue, complete with flappy hat, Pinocchio nose, even buttons on the waistcoat I had failed to notice in real life…
“The cravat has gone,” I suddenly announced, having just noticed this fact by dint of comparing the real-life photo with the statue.
“Ah well, yay, that was added by a chipper master,” she said, with a proud, preening gesture.
“How can you add stone to stone and still make it look continuous?” I asked.
I forget how long it was to take me to think of the question. Her answer, too.
“Ah, the scarf was dug outta his chest,” she said.
I did now notice that it was more a scarf than a cravat, and that the real life statue had a sunken chest upon which sat the scarf like something that began to look like something that wasn’t a scarf at all.
“Why was that done?” I asked absently, sensing disinterest creeping upon me.
The woman looked blank. Then she spoke again, as if she were making things up as she went.
“The town wanted the statue changed each year as a mark of time’s wear and tear.”
She seemed more in command of her words, despite the hesitation.
I then proceeded to examine the new-found dips and dingles that were all over the statue’s inner stone, presumably where things had been dug out of what had once been outer stone. I thought I was glimpsing parts of his body under the clothes. I am sure it had not been like that when I first noticed it in the square.
I glanced back, I remember, at the sepia photograph – and the woman was in it – instead of standing beside me. And I felt a sudden pain in my belly, felt it with my hand, as it sank further into the stone.
Except it eventually felt more like bone than stone.
It all ended with a flash of lightning.
Or was it someone in real life donkey’s years ago taking a photograph?

Adapted from last night's speed-writing exercise at the Clacton Writers' Group

Old Friends
Old Friends,
Thank you for coming. As a child, I lived in Old Heath Road and, recently, I learnt that the Heath was nothing to do with Heath but to do with nearby Hythe, a harbour and a word for Harbour. That came as a shock. Being the road to Rowhedge and Fingringhoe, I had guessed all those years ago that the countryside to which it led was heathland.

I used to go on cycle rides to Rowhedge and Fingringhoe in those days – and I always thought it was a miracle anyone could balance on a two-wheeled bike, but I became so laissez-faire I got to free-wheeling down steep hills at break-neck speed…

But that is another story. The Old in Old Heath Road with which I started this speech to all you folks here has now reminded me of other old things. Like ruins. And people who live longer than they should. Living beyond their design model. There is a road in Clacton where I live now that is simply called Old Road. I wonder why it was called that – it was presumably new when it was first built. And there is old money like pennies, shillings, threepenny bits, two bob bits, half-crowns, ten shilling notes, farthings….

Being old oneself is a sort of far thing, a state of existence that still seems distant, a place you never get to – until you do.

But that gets us round to the nub of my speech. You can see it at the top: OLD FRIENDS. And I thank you all for coming here, friends from every part of my life. Some older than others. But none of you look old to me. You look the same as I remember you. Even those of you who have grown so old you hardly ever go out but still have kindly come here to support my speech. You, too, look as young I remember you. And some of you know some of you others here - and this is the first time you have met together for some years.

No need to stay silent. I see some of you silently nodding, smiling, a few of you staring straight ahead as if someone has scared you stiff. Well, rest easy, you are here now. And soon I will stop talking – and allow you to talk together. So, old friends, remember you are only as old as you feel. And if you want to stay silent, remembering our times together – please do so. No one will make you talk back or even listen. And thus I stay silent, too, at harbour’s end. Rowhedge and Fingringhoe, et al.

There was never a speech to hear – never one to deliver. Speech-writing was never my forte. Move on, there is nothing happening here.

(Slightly adapted from my speed-writing exercise at the Clacton Writer’s Group a few evenings ago.)

First in Class

When I approached the shop -- more a storefront warehouse, perhaps, than a high street outlet, although it was ON the high street -- I saw that its fixture of a banner above the showcase at its leading edge upon the pavement carried the words FIRST IN GLASS as set in professional lettering. I thus assumed it was an outfit selling glass in all shapes and forms. The frontage, as with most shops hoping to display things to the public, was made of glass itself.

I turned to my wife who accompanied me and said: "A shop, not seen it before. How long ago did we come along here? Last week, wasn't it?"

"I don't know. But what's it selling?"

Her red hat seemed to stand out attractively against the clear glass of the shop's window, but its reflection in that glass seemed more like a patch of bloodstains.

I held back on my reply so that I could spend some time staring into the window so as to make out the nature of the shop's wares. And in tune with its large sign outside, its sole purpose seemed to be that of selling glass, several panes of it, stretching, one behind the other, towards the hinterland of its inside.

"Glass, dear ... sheets and sheets of it," I replied. I was always methodical in dealing with my wife, when answering her questions. A lot hung on my answers and her reaction to them. One needed to uphold marital equilibrium at all costs, I had found. I ever wanted to be the first in the husband class.

"Glass?" She peered into the window as if seeking to penetrate something that wasn't glass at all, but a series of glass imitations, a labyrinth of smoke and mirrors. Her red hat became almost a feature of the design of some of the sheets' ribbed and inset shards of colour, ranging inward like a kaleidoscope. I hadn't noticed the colours before, having first assumed that each flat-faced item for sale, beyond the last visible one's vanishing-point, was a pane of pure clear glass, even though imbued with a tint of cloud from the sky above us, but now imperceptibly turning black rather than grey.

I had originally met my wife when we attended infants school and on the first day, after our two mothers left us for the first time in our lives, we struck up a friendship that had by now lasted, it seemed, forever. Plasticene sweethearts. Coloured pencils soon in love with each other. School dinners and blancmange puddings rubbing along together. Schoolyard games playing competitively to see which was the better game to play. Outstaring sessions, with eyes fixed on eyes to see who would blink first. And as yet our relationship, even now in old age, had never once blinked. Not that I had noticed.

She, of course, was first in class. Girls always matured earlier than boys, they say, even though boys when they become men show a different level of something indefinable girls never encompassed, not that they wanted to do so. Who can compare anything with anything else from a single set of eyes. You need the coordination or triangulation of other sets of eyes to give perspective and definition to the things being compared, especially when those things are separate inner beings or selves.

Teacher's pet she was. Always beaming at the front, having been given the soft red beret of top swat to wear, reading aloud from her excellent handwriting upon sheets she had in her hand. I was in the corner with a pointed whitened glass hat balanced precariously on my large-for-my-age head. In those days, there was no political correctness. Call a dunce a dunce, they believed. And they did.

That hat was so heavy. I look back at old comics and dunce's hats were supposed to be made out or light cardboard or stiff paper, bent and curved into a cone. Who ever heard of glass ones?

I came out of my brown study, and peered into the glass shop, each shard and smoothly reconciled crack of the layered sheets instilled with pixels of variegated colour, red above smeary pink, with haloes of rainbow from the sky outside.

Plasticene strips of ribbed licquorice colour, oozing through the cracks, were all I could now touch of her essence. My love, my wife, my blancmange.

THE LAST - - -
THE LAST - - -

I often thought I knew what thoughts others thought. It is called being a seer or medium - or even a prophet whereby I can predict the thoughts someone was about to think a few seconds before they thought them. But the real art of such telepathy – yes, that’s the word I was seeking – was to know when the last thought had passed through their mind, or knowing when it was imminent, a last thought that would thus complete the whole sense of everything they had thought up to that point. To clinch the gestalt of the moment.

So, when I was visited by someone who showed me an embossed card of officialdom I thought this was the optimum time to test out my skills in reading thoughts to see if such thoughts contradicted the words coming out of their mouth – and then crystallising their last thought as a sort of joining up of whatever circle they had in store for me – the plan, I fear, of removing something from me because they were about to claim that all these years I had been telling lies about my circumstances, such as when or where my last thought was likely to reside.

But then I thought: what if they can read my own thoughts? I had better stop thinking my thoughts, thoughts that were sneaking upon me even now, thoughts that I really did not think, such as the doubts about whether I had been eligible for the upkeep I had been receiving all my life, and this was still the case going forward. But then I thought I should keep my thoughts rolling on and on so as to prevent myself reaching the last thought that would confirm my lies, because the last thought is always out of the control of the person thinking it, and this is why I am thinking these thoughts, on and on, interminably, but knowing it is too late to change the thoughts I have already thought about receiving upkeep that I did not deserve because of the circumstances I had withheld about my life.

On and on, I keep thinking, thinking with some hope that continuing such thoughts will bury the thoughts I’ve already committed to thinking. So busy thinking I seem to have failed not only to scry the thoughts in the real-time of the other’s actually thinking them from beneath their vast bouffant cloud of officiousness, but also I have failed to listen to what they had been saying to me aloud, or to pay heed to the questions they’ve been asking me about my circumstances and I now wonder if my silence is incriminating. And who is really keeping their last thought so close to their chest, to eventually bring it forth, me or them?

It is too late to wonder about anything, and my regathered concentration on their thoughts has shown me that they are about to have their last thought at the precise same moment when I am due to have my last thought. A last thought being the clincher in any pattern of thinking, often not a last thought at all, I hope, but the predictive beginning of another pattern of thoughts to set beside what the thinker says out loud. And who is fooling whom in this game of cuts by a thousand thoughts, and which of us is thinking thoughts at all? Each last thought cancelling out the last - - -

Sweets For My Sweet
My darling sweet, my darling sweet, we have known each other for many years, have we not, but when we first met, in that tiny playground of the school, we were so young and now almost forgotten as the people we once were. The photos that were taken are what we have to go on, thank goodness, filling in the gaps; even snapshots in black and white can carry the souls of the beings we once were, two tiny kids hand in hand.

To celebrate our long time together, my darling sweet, I am about to supply those sweets we once enjoyed so very much, sweets that you can't buy these days, and although tiny sweet shops with weighing machines and jars and triangular paper bags still exist, they are rare, and even if they do exist their sweets are different. Sweets that do not have the smell of the 1950s about them. The feel of those old times surely no longer exists as sweets, you think. Stickiness that got stuck somewhere in the past, leaving us with flat and unsharp and smooth and unsticky ones today. But I have found the original sweets still edible but with the smell and stickiness of the 1950s still clinging to them. Can you believe it? You know how you have been able to trust me over so many years of happy togetherness. But first you need to find these sweets. This is a game like the ones we used to play. A laughter of tricks and clues.

Ah, you have found them too easily, my darling sweet. You are so clever, always have been. No change there. But I meant you to search all day, but you are as ever too clever for me. Your smile is as sweet as it ever was, my now seeing you gaze in disbelief at the sweets you've found for yourself, without my help, sweets not as sweet as your smile, I hasten to add. A teardrop at the corner shop of your eye, a sign of joy, not sadness, of course. I try to return your smile with my own, but it cannot compare with yours, I'm sure. Ah, you do not need to open your compact for its mirror. I believe you, as you believe me. And now the game of laughter has tripped your smile into further ricochets of hiccuping. Always the same hiccuping hilarity, and I know you are as happy as Chloe.

Yes, do open the triangular paper bags, to see the sweets more clearly. To feel their stickiness on the tips of your fingers. Sorry, they are not in proper 1950s paper, stiff, and crimped. Pinked. And drizzled with sugar grains. But being cellophane, you can see the sweets without first getting yourself too sticky. Fruit drops, penny chews, humbugs, bull's eyes, pineapple chunks, pear drops, lemon sherbets, and rhubarb-and-custard pieces just for you tasting like school dinner puddings, and yes, I know, not all those were quite the same or even available at all in the old days, but a pick-a-mix today is as good as a choice of beautiful pastel or even primary colours in jars all those years ago.

We used to get our faces covered in stickiness, I remember, thus allowing our kisses to seem to last almost forever.

I watch you touch the sweets gingerly. Testing out the bags for further openings that have inadvertently been ripped into them during your first excited rush at getting at them, after long calm moments of pent up anticipation. Try first the rhubarb and custard ones, my darling sweet. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at their surge of gentle flavour. Even longer moments of nostalgic hindsight as you allow them to seep into you with their essential sweetness of distant past time's premonition of our loving life together...

Go on, suck hard, do not chew. You have to watch your teeth. Ah, I am so pleased. Sweets for my sweet. And your sweet smile itself can now hopefully last forever for me, even beyond the peaceful end of your laughter. Close your compact, my darling sweet. Keep your powder dry.

The Hound of the Hawlers
In the 1950s, I read a book as a child that I had by now forgotten; it came back to me gradually, not in one fell swoop. A library book, you know the sort: plain weathered beige mottled hardboard covers with a little thin cardboard pocket stuck inside and a piece of paper also stuck with a list or rubber-stamped return-by dates. There were also official marks denoting which library, and perforations patterned as some sort of catalogue code. And several weatherings and tiny foreign bodies. That’s all I remembered except the title had HOUND in it. The author’s name escaped me, until I eventually visualised the spine – HODDER & STOUGHTON flooded into my mind at the bottom of the spine. Well, that’s a good start. I closed my eyes and tried to extend my visualisation to the rest of the book. The name of the author was there, staring at me, but I couldn’t make it become entire shapes like words. A peculiar experience seeing real words that I knew was someone’s name, not being able to vocalise them to myself with conceivable articulation. The title in full then suddenly flashed before me as if in a dream, although I knew it wasn’t a dream. THE HOUND OF THE HAWLERS. Not Baskervilles. If it had been Baskervilles, I would have known the author’s name on the spine was Arthur Conan Doyle. I reached out and was shocked to discover that I could actually touch the book, feel the marbled surface of the cover, and finger the frayed edges of a rotten spine. In fact, I could put my whole finger inside the spine. I then riffled the pages and saw panoplies of text shuttle past like an old-fashioned flicker of cards making a cartoon image move. But here, they were words moving, marching with their letters. I threw the whole thing away from me in disgust. And it thumped on the floor with sickening finality. It really existed. I looked through the window, having not closed my eyes as I had originally thought. I saw an ancient coal-lorry from the 1950s parked outside, then shadowy haulers with sacks on their backs approaching the house's fossil fuel bay. For some strange reason, I shrugged and remembered the return-by dates. There was no way I could re-new the book on-line with the library. And it was my name that I had seen on the spine and so I knew that I am probably dead like all 1950s authors were mostly now dead. Night closed in and the only sounds were the distant howling of some gigantic hound and coal slowly settling in the basement bunker.

A Minimal Refrain
I walked across the plain, looking to neither side, interminably, doggedly, as if this were a real desert ahead of me, not just something that simply looked like one, thirst being the main driving force, even though I did not feel thirsty at all. Not even a little bit.

They had let me out of their prison with no reason not only for releasing me but also for having imprisoned me in the first place. I had forgotten about the trial court, and only now remember it in passing so that I can tell you that I have forgotten it. And the detailed circumstances themselves of the trial have long been buried in expended time, along with the trial itself.

I know who I am, however. There is no mystery there. It's only my memory underpinning such identity that's gone south while I presumably go north.

It's not really a plain stretching into the distance. Now looking to the side, I see that I am bordered or should I say boarded by blank hoardings, upon which I somehow cast a shadow. A normal human shaped shadow. With no defining features. Then I see it is a double shadow, one on each side of me, upon the left and right hoardings that stretch onward alongside of my path. I can’t even see a single light source able to create shadows.

I could go on and on describing this journey, itself without defining features. And I probably shall do so, a minimal refrain, an incantation, an incantation again. Until I look down at myself walking.

Yes, it looks like my walking, and they are my feet, and the fact I'm wearing trousers, but no mirror to look much further – except that I am seeing through the lenses of a pair of glasses, and my hands and arms when they are brought within sight are pink and a bit hairy. Clothes unremarkable, typically an incarnation of me.

Suddenly, I spot a presumably accidental gap between two of the otherwise conjoined hoardings. A terribly narrow slot but wide enough to see a cross-section of the buildings that makes me assume that I am still within an urban area, despite the channel of featureless plain or desert that I otherwise walk along between the hoardings. Incantation by incantation. Refrain by refrain. But completely pain-free, a condition that feels welcome to a body like mine, a body, I feel certain, whose only claim to fame was more and more pain.

I now wonder if this is how death feels. It rings true, somehow.


An aircraft, with thick stubby wings, followed me from above – a sort of manned drone, complete with vestigial propellers and tailfins, indeed following me within the constraints of the channel's hoarding boards invisibly extended skywards, its engine threatening to impinge on my hearing while I was also followed by other walkers behind me that I had not yet noticed following me, and I did not hear their nearing footsteps because the aeroplane's engine had already begun to blot them out even before itself beginning to impinge its own sound upon me.

This all became clear to me in hindsight. As later told by others. Or just by a single other with clearer views than anybody else, clearer even than Captain Ab Bintiff and his co-pilot Clovis Camber who were on board the aircraft.

Overheard conversation between them...

AB: Get ready to drop it all on them as soon as there are enough following through the channel to warrant the use of so much explosive...
CC: What about collateral, Ab?
AB: Collateral what?
CC: Damage.
AB: The boards will stop that widening out, Clove.
CC: The city buildings are now right up close to the boards. And a lot of people have even got houses using the boards as their gardens' back fences!
AB: You of little faith! We are pinprick accurate these days. And there will not even be a scorch mark on any of the boards, rest assured.
CC: Last time we did this, there was some collateral.
AB: Not much. A million is only a million.
CC: A million is still a million.
AB: (laughing) So that got us enough ghosts now to haunt a million houses. Each a story to be told to scare us at bedtime.

With no rear-view mirrors, little did Bintiff and Camber know, but their aircraft was now being followed along a narrow channel of sky by many similar aircraft, each engine masking the sound of the other engines that were following each other's flight path, causing each crew to underestimate the numbers involved.

AB: (shouting) Fire!
CC: Pardon?
AB: (shouting louder) Drop!
CC: Drop our aircraft or drop what our aircraft carries?
AB: We're not suicide bombers, Clove, just bombers. Give it to them!

Camber manipulated the craft’s controls, releasing swarms of living explosive creatures, each like the craft itself, into a downdraught upon those they believed to be dangerous migrants as they swarmed along the channel of passage between the custom-built faceboard fences or proto-Trumpish walls. Its red river rapids.


Ghost Story No. 1, among a million others, even if a million as a glib arbitrary number would never be enough for time’s endless river of souls, each that would want its own story to be told.

The citizen named Emfa Hogga witnessed the TV switching itself off, as he watched the picture abruptly become a white dot in the middle of its emptiness. The Trial of the Century they had called it, broadcast live, and indeed the chosen man had been found guilty, but guilty of exactly what, and was it a punishment at all to bear a single day in solitary confinement then being merely released into the anonymity of a people’s diaspora? The way to show symbolically that each and every single one of the swarming escapees were similarly guilty? The way to pass unnoticed with ease into oblivion, being the greatest punishment of all?

Emfa shrugged; the way the machine stopped. The way to cleanse, even throttle, the faceboards of human frailty, except for the singular selection of self who Emfa assumed himself to be. He looked around him at the traditional objects of his parlour, a large pedestal clock among them ticking near silently, a growing silence beyond the reach of the screens of contact, where faces once had been shown large and living, faces upon globular hairy-topped domes, pore-sticky, with defining features underpinned by every pixel, if pixel was the right word. He no longer believed half of it.

It was then he heard the ghost’s footsteps coming from the wardrobe that separated the chintzy parlour from his brocaded bedroom. The pad pad of easy approach. The slippered incantation of fear. And the buzzing of tiny creatures with vestigial wings that attacked Emfa’s face. Scorching off bits of skin with every jab. Each a sting’s sting as part of the ghost’s refrain of pain upon realising that it was haunted by the man, not the other way around.


Only one ghost story. One is still one, though. Enough collateral to scare us at bedtime.

I Need Closure
I Need Closure
If you say that you need closure, then you are usually referring to an unresolved situation. You need a clinching - I think that is the right word. A catharsis, perhaps, or a purging. So that you can go on and forget about whatever the problem happened to be. Whether it be a bereavement or a lovers' schism - or even, shall I suggest, your own death.

I can see you looking askance, as if you are telling me the obvious: that one's own death is the final closure after which there can be no further closure.

Do you remember the first time I met you? We were somehow under water, two words, under(space)water, not underwater one word; if it's one word it's like a description, an underwater craft or an underwater event, a label, an occasion, a piece of equipment, like a submarine or a snorkel or a fish, underwater fish, as opposed to mermaids who sometime bask on rocks; whilst under water as two words is a position you are in, a state of being, a deliberate act, an immersion, a held breath, a mouthing or miming of words that neither of us could hear as we goggled at each other under water, under the water. I could tell you were trying to smile, and so I tried to smile back, bubbles emerging all around our faces. That was among the happiest days of my life. Yours, too, you once told me. And you didn't often come out long enough to tell me anything!

But I must continue with what I was saying. About the need for closure. You see, I need closure about losing you. And only you can give it to me. I stare across the sea everyday, walking upon the high-heaped beaches between the fishtail groynes, watching the pattern of waves making shapes that often look like you.

I ever return home, having not reached such closure. One day I will reach it, I am sure. You will not let me down. So, I return here, to my home not far from those high beaches and fishtail groynes, and I seem to listen interminably to symphonies composed by Bruckner and Mahler. My favourite Mahler is the 'Farewell' from his 'Song of the Earth'. I can imagine you singing it devastatingly - begging, simply yearning for your own personal closure. And I yearn equally to hear your real voice singing it. But I have obviously never heard your voice under water at all, and very rarely heard it, if at all, anywhere else. A desolation, more than anything.

These later days, I can hardly walk as far as those beaches, even though they are very close to home. So I fill the bath, and then unceremoniously put my head under the water remembering the words I need to say. An underwater death, an underwater love. Closure's closure.

I hope against hope that you understood me, among the bubbles that my breath did otherwise break. You see, it was a song, a song perhaps that you indeed saw but did not hear.

There is nothing in it (2)
He smiled, knowing that frozen positions could not be maintained forever. Playing the blinking game rarely survived schooldays, but here we were trying to keep the eyelids open, out-staring each other for as long as possible, if not forever. But how would we know what forever actually is, until it ends and we can see it as a whole.

"This game is too hard," I said.

"There is nothing in it," he said.

I replied: "It is only easy as long as it lasts."

"Yes," he said. "Once the spell is broken, the difficulty has already pounced and become a reality that makes the whole thing difficult from the start," he said, with another smile, the smiling and the speaking making no alteration to the fixity of his stare. Eyeball to eyeball with myself. With nothing but the windows of our souls between.

But then he seemed to lean forward for a kiss.

"Hey," I said, leaning backwards away from him. "I know we laid down ground rules that we could be reasonably flexible during the game about such things as talking, but I do draw the line at kissing..."

His eyes, now only a few inches away from mine, still stared coldly and unswervingly, with not even an insect's quiver of a tiniest blink. Mine neither, I am sure he would agree.

He laughed, having apparently abandoned the kiss if not the overlapping of our respective territories. I couldn't see how the contortion that a kiss required would have worked, in any event, given the need to keep both of our pairs of eyes locked together.

We then held our positions for a few seconds, a manoeuvre of mutual fondness that ignored the cruelty of our respective stares.

Those few seconds felt like forever.

There Is Nothing In It
There is nothing in it, but whether that means it's a task that is dead easy to do or it's an empty container that sits on my desk, I am not sure. Except it's clear that there is no empty container on my desk, because there is no container at all upon my desk as I sit here looking at its wood-grained expanse with nothing at all upon it, not even a piece of paper or a pen. Just an empty ink-well sunk in one corner, an aperture for when writers used to scratch with a nib that they dipped into it. Ah, that's an empty container, I suppose, of sorts, even though it is not ON the desk but IN it. But usually when you say that something is in a desk, it usually means it is something in one of its drawers. The inkwell as container is part of the desk itself, carved into the wood of its surface, and roughly finished to allow an inner non-wooden container to be inserted that would itself hold the ink. But being an empty part of my desk, it was neither on or in it, but an intrinsic aperture like the slots into which the drawers are inserted and such drawers usually represent a miracle of workmanship whereby nothing gets stuck, but moving as if on smooth or well-oiled runners, even though it is wood moving upon or within wood, without any lubrication between. Not loose, but fitting exactly, and no perceptible gaps, yet avoiding any groans or grindings when pushed in and out, a prime example of the carpenter's art. Even dampness fails to make it work less efficiently. And my study is beset with a decided dampness, ever since my wife died. Why that should be, I have not had long enough since her death to discover. On a sudden impulse, I put my finger into the empty inkwell hole in the corner of the desk, a runnel running off from the side as a method to hold pens and pencils within its groove to stop them rolling down the desk, or, suddenly, I thought, to allow excess ink or any other fluid to be irrigated along as an escape route... But where would it have gone? Only down the slope of the desk-lid toward whoever is sitting at the desk. Ah, that's the first indication you have received that this desk does not have a flat writing surface but a gradient of a desklid that is openable upon a whole cornucopia of contents beneath it. There are after all no smooth running drawers in this desk, as I originally indicated. My thinking has become confused ever since I lost my wife. This desk is an old schoolroom version, with one sloping desklid and metal joints below to cage my bare legs. I look around and see whole rows of such desks around me, each with a bent head above it. I quickly look away as this does not seem to be my study at home at all. And I finally extract my finger from the inkwell and find it dripping blue-back Stephens. Yes, Stephens, not Quink. How can I be so sure? Well, I have touched the tip of my tongue with it and I certainly know the taste of Stephens when compared to that of Quink. "Henderson!" shouted a voice from the front of the room, "what on earth are you doing?" I must have looked confused, and my underpants felt suddenly damp, and while the voice was otherwise abruptly engaged with another child's emergency in the classroom elsewhere, I lifted the desklid slope to hide my blushes. There is nothing in it, I thought, wondering for a moment where all my school books must have gone. My head smoothly running in, with no gaps between, silently pushed shut from behind me towards the final darkness inside, without even a single groan of bone on grinding bone. My wife never liked drawers left open.


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