Short fiction from Tim Love

Out

Washing up, you might be reaching for the next plate when you hear a noise.
You pause. You hear it again, a creaking. You dry your hands. On the porch
under stars an empty chair rocks. Were this a movie you'd see the rockers
in close-up. But you've watched this too many times before, heard the
cicadas in the night, remembered your father who died only weeks before,
who used to while away his evenings on that very chair, smoking his pipe.
Can you smell the smoke? No, not this time. No prowlers tonight either, no
stray dogs, just a breeze – you hadn't realised how much you'd been
sweating.

Then you see someone approach, slowly crossing the road, opening the gate –
an old man in a suit, dark blue, maybe black. He hobbles to the foot of the
porch steps, removes his hat. “Pardon Ma'm, is Jane in tonight at all?”
“No, not tonight. Try next week” “Much obliged Ma'm” he says, and turns
away back down the path you remember your father putting down one Sunday,
breaking the slabs with a borrowed mallet until the pieces all fitted
together. The man struggles with gate's awkward catch, rattles it until it
loosens, makes his way in the darkness. Just you and the cicadas again.
Then the breeze.

You're here tidying up the mess your son leaves. He's crashing out here
some nights until you manage to sell the place off when the market
recovers. He told you about the old man – how he comes every night, about
half an hour after nightfall. Seeing your lights on he probably starts
shaving, gets out his suit, his talcum powder. You're not Jane. Your mother
wasn't Jane. You don't recognise him though you were born in this house.
You know the noise each floorboard makes, remember which you avoided when
returning late at night. You've started taking things away – knick-knacks,
pictures – the loft emptied a trunkload at a time – its half tins of paint,
lampshades, a broken rowing machine that you'd known nothing about. Your
own loft's filling up fast.

Something, perhaps the light which makes everything monochrome, makes you
think of films again, the camera panning to a town across the valley,
panning up to the moon, then down into the town's main street where a
cowboy's being thrown through bar-room doors that sway, become still. He
raises himself, brushes himself off. Voices start up in the bar again, a
plickyplunk piano. Your son should be back by now. You were going to give
him a lift back home. It's a good neighborhood, always has been. You don't
want trouble. You go back inside. There's the washing to finish and you're
getting cold.

Soon you won't come again. One day – it might happen suddenly – you'll go
round the bare rooms checking that all the windows are closed, noticing for
the first time the pale shadow of furniture on painted walls. You'll give
each room a final sweep, brushing the dust into labeled jam-jars –
“kitchen”, “my bedroom”. You put them in a cardboard box, carry it to the
porch, dusting there too – another jam-jar. Then you'll lock the door, push
to check that it's safe, push again.



*Tim Love's prose has appeared in Panurge, Horizon Review, Short FICTION,
etc. He blogs at litrefs.blogspot.com

One comment

  1. Anonymous

    Much enjoyed. I found the idea of the contents of the loft shifting to another loft, oddly moving. As is the surreal thought of keeping labeled jam jars of dust from each room. More please…

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