CuiousPages - fiction and nonfiction
CuriousPages - fiction and nonfiction
At the start of the third week (before his application forms developed suicidal tendencies), a curious sequence of events began. Daniel was walking across an office that opened onto the Council’s reception area, when he heard a sound that filled him with dread. It was a short scraping sound followed by a creak, which then repeated—scrape, creak, scrape, creak—and each repetition further drained the colour from his face. In his mind he saw his crippled father walking—scrape, creak, scrape, creak. The sound stopped, Daniel looked up, and across the office he saw his father stood at the enquiry desk, collecting an application form. Daniel made a rapid exit and sought ten minutes refuge in the toilet before returning to his desk, and when he next attempted to speak, his own emotional disability surfaced in the form of his childhood stammer.
Daniel’s childhood memories were dominated by his parents’ disabilities. From as early as he could remember, his father had worn a hollow, steel left leg, whose chime Daniel was at first entertained by but later his memory of that sound came to haunt him. His father transported himself in an outdated “invalid carriage”, as they were called in those days, and in Daniel’s later school years, he came to hate the sight of that carriage, which, in his eyes, only served to broadcast the fact that his father was a cripple and thereby amplified his torment at school, as if his father were colluding with his tormentors. And Daniel’s mother had been equally blessed with ripe pickings for the schoolboy satirists. From birth, one half of her face had been adorned with a port-wine stain whose shape seemed to map some desert island unvisited by humanity.
At school, two of his best friends mined all this material mercilessly, producing satirical gems that openly delighted the idle crowds of break-time schoolchildren and, despite themselves, secretly amused a handful of the less sensitive teachers. Their most popular routine was to act out a particular scene, which became ever more exaggerated the more they repeated it, where Daniel’s father would limp into view carrying a glass of red wine. He would then trip and spill the wine over his wife’s face and her anger would cause the wind to suddenly change direction, leaving her face stained for life.
It was throughout this period that Daniel developed his stammer, which grew in severity as each school term progressed, as if each lesson he learnt added weight to every word in his mind which he found harder and harder to shift. His growing discomfort was not without its benefits though, as—on days when it seemed the satirists had wrung every snigger of life from their sketches—Daniel’s stammer could always be relied upon to inspire a walk-on role for his satirized self; and month after month their performances would stir up a storm of delight which would eventually drive Daniel into complete isolation. He broke off his friendship with the satirists and also with every member of their audience, and in his solitude he became the brightest pupil in the school and escaped to university where he continued his conquest of academia. When asked about his family, he did not mind telling his new friends he was an orphan, for he knew how hard they would need to study and he wanted to spare them the effort of inventing sketch after sketch depicting the comical spectacle of his upbringing. He spared them that effort and his speech became clear and fluent, as though some great weight had been lifted from his heart. He graduated with first class honours and some six months later was working in his first job, which happened to be back in his home town.
He took lodgings within walking distance of the Town Hall, which was miles away from his parents’ home and, he supposed, beyond the range of the satirists’ barbs. For the first two days of his work, his veins seemed to pump a mix of excitement and foreboding, but after the third morning his speech was still clear and fluent and he felt only the excitement, which lasted until the start of the third week when he heard that familiar scrape, creak, scrape, creak, and he began drowning in the foreboding.
Daniel returned to his desk accompanied by a cloud of horror, as though an impish child had draped over him a cloak woven from fear.
Back in the living room, Lily’s solitary goldfish, Matilda Smithe, was hovering in the goldfish bowl.
She hovered in that same spot for the past two hours, remaining motionless—except, that is, for the occasional flap of a fin, which was needed to counteract the slight propulsive effect of the steady trickle of water passing through her gills. And this she only did because it was absolutely necessary, it being a well‑known fact (among goldfish, that is) that you need to counteract this slight propulsive effect with an occasional fin‑flap in order to prevent your nose from eventually bumping into the side of the bowl.
She slowly gazed round the bowl at the usual sight of the bowl’s emptiness. She wondered why there were no other fish in her company. Then it occurred to her that her life seemed pointless, since there were no other fish for her to talk to or be with. She felt her usual aching desire to be with other fish, which would have made her life worthwhile; and without that, her life seemed to consist of this terrible emptiness—like living at the centre of an impenetrable barrier which it was impossible for her to pass through, or for others to enter.
While feeling this, she was gazing down at the living‑room carpet when she saw something that filled her with fear; she saw a vision of death in the living room. And this vision was the sight of herself lying there on the carpet. The vision shouted at her—Do it, do it—filling her with dread. Then she realized why she found the vision so alarming. It was because she was about to obey it; she really was! And that alarming voice continued shouting—Do it, do it.
She looked up to the surface of the water—Do it, do it—but kept on merely watching the surface. She glanced down to the carpet, then heard that vision’s voice again. But it seemed that some other voice within her was preventing her from obeying it. The vision’s voice was still shouting—Do it—but its voice was no longer alarming to her, for she now knew she was not going to obey it; she could not; that other voice within her was too strong—a voice that seemed to be commanding her to go on living, whatever happened; just go on living.
The vision of death faded and she was left gazing down at the empty carpet. She continued to simply hover—but not forgetting to occasionally flap one of her fins.

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