Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Dreamer - Part Two

When I woke it was early and I was cold and sore. I peeked through the hole, the telephone people were long gone, and all the wires were stitched and tucked away. By each of the one hundred and thirty six phones was a phone number hand written on a little scrap of paper. No one was around and there was no noise so I rolled out from under the table and stretched with stiff agony. I had dreamt about William and in the dream he was a model and he begged me to dance with him or go to dinner. But I declined because there were crowds of men, each one different and stunning, begging for my attention, they all gave me beautiful things and I collected them, detachedly, as though they were stamps and shelved them like a catalogue giving points out for the rarest or most thoughtful.
            The fungi on the bench had grown overnight, it was like a small forest, I wondered if it was edible, and if it was left there long enough whether it would grow in a meal. The jug boiled and I took last night’s teabag from the saucer, the faces in the lino glared up at me and the steam from the jug made condensation on the windows. The newspaper was still full of tedious advertisements, the rain still fell outside and the trains a few streets over made sounds like fog horns.
            My eyes closed and I let myself believe that the sea had surrounded the building, ebbing away at the wood and brickwork of the city. I would build a boat from the debris in my flat, the chair legs and the table top; I would waterproof it with my raincoat and with greaseproof paper held together with candle wax. I would sew together my sheets, tea towels and old clothing for the sail. Then I would float away when the water reached my window and the stars were out and the ocean glinted black beneath me with the tips of street lamps exposed. Maybe I would save William with my makeshift ship and he would be grateful and we would tap telegrams all day to the people who had survived.
            A phone rang three times downstairs rousing me from my day dream and then another joined in, older and deeper like a bike bell. I heard footsteps running, and as I watched through my peep hole, William was climbing up the ladder. He answered both phones at once.
            “Hello?” He took one away and said into the other “Can you just hold for a moment.” Then he talked into the original one “Essie, hi. He did what? No! Really? And how are you? That’s good. Yeah the new place is fine. Your sister? That’s great news! Well I have to go; I have someone on another line. Yeah. Oh, tonight though, you should come around, I’m having a party. Yeah. Cocktails. Great, see you later.”  He picked up the other phone. “Hello. Sorry about that. Oh a questionnaire, ok I guess I have time.” He proceeded to answer questions about his shopping habits for five minutes. He asked the person on the line to the party also.
            He then dialled a number “Hi, operator, could you tell me the time? Nine fifty two. Thanks.” Again he dialled “Metservice? Rainy till Tuesday? Ok, I would ask you to my party but you’re a bit too automated.”
            I snorted into the dusty floor, he may have heard because he looked around, but seemed to dismiss it as nothing. He had several more calls, a few people trying to sell him things, he politely declined saying his vacuum cleaner/ventilation/charity desires were satisfied at the moment but he would get back to them should the need arise and he invited them to his cocktail party. A few friends rang, mostly with news to tell him that I was unable to hear or make out from his replies and they too were invited.
            It started to seem like half the city would be invited, William made some calls specifically to ask people. I had no idea how they would all fit in his apartment, it seemed like it might burst at its freshly sewn seams.  I also decided that I wanted to go, if I turned up and looked amazing and had witty things to say and laughed prettily he might notice me, maybe he would kiss me. Should I just turn up? What if someone asked if I had been invited? Maybe I could call him. I took down one of the numbers; eight seven two four three eight two. I dialled, slowly punching in each number with purpose.
            “Hello?” his voice echoed from downstairs and then through the phone. I couldn’t speak, he would realise I was upstairs, maybe he would work out I had been watching him, I wondered if it was illegal. I had no idea what I had been planning to say anyway. “Hello?” I held my breath. “Nothing? Well let me tell you something. Did you know that animals can rain from the sky? Mostly frogs and fish and no one know quite how it works. Amazing right? Sometimes they even live. Well if you still have nothing to say? No? Come to my party tonight if you think of anything, seven Acacia Street. Bye.”
             William had talked to me; he had said words directed at me, he had invited me to his party. I ignored the voice in the back of my skull whispering that he didn’t know who I was, that I rarely had anything interesting to say. Tonight I planned to be enchanting; I skipped around the room dancing alone as I might dance with someone. I planned small rolls of conversation, minute facts I could reveal about myself as though they were secrets.
             I exhausted several hours watching William plan his party, he hired servers and caterers, organised nibbles and barmen, decided on decorations and had them constructed, lights were hung and silk streamers were twisted, people came and went with tables and cutlery and William stood in the centre of the room conducting the pandemonium.
            Time to get ready, I went to my wardrobe. It was old and the mirrored door sat slightly ajar because where it hung on the top hinge the wood was a bit swollen. What to wear? A dress obviously, something sexual, something classy, there was a long, black dress reserved for funerals and job interviews, a summer dress in garish yellow, and some bright oddly shaped dresses I had inherited from various relatives; they all looked and smelt like they had come from a school costume cupboard. Maybe make up would be a better starting place, I thought. I looked at my face in the mirror, my hair was limp, there were bags under my eyes and a picked-at pimple on my chin. I couldn’t go. I looked a mess and there was no way William would notice me. In fact I might be asked to leave if I showed up like this. I would watch the party, up here where it was safe, where no one would stare, or laugh, or point or ignore.  So I waited and then I watched. People started to arrive. A couple entered the room.
             “Lovely weather we’ve been having,” said a man at the door, he was sitting there in a tuxedo and greeting all the guests as they arrived, I assumed he had been hired.
             “Yes, yes very nice,” the couple agreed vaguely. They shuffled in further towards a man taking coats. He helped the woman out of her wet swathing, the man handed across his overcoat and it was hung.
            “Abysmal weather, isn’t it? So windy and cold.”
            “Indeed, yes,” they agreed blandly. “Can’t get a thing dry.” The weather was neither lovely nor windy, though I suppose it was cold.
             The woman was wearing a gold cocktail dress, her hair was slicked back, she looked very made up, but there was some undercurrent of shabbiness about the leaked creases of her lipstick and the gunk of black in the corner of her eye. The man was in a suit and looked jolly but hardly attractive. More people arrived and I clawed at the edge of the hole to make it a little larger.
            “Balmy weather; such a mild and enticing spring.”
            “Yes, why we were just picking daffodils last weekend.”
There were servers standing almost as still as statues, I got a thrill from staring at one till he had to blink or move his weight, I never saw one of them talk. They had platters heavy with glazed prawns, cakes dusted with icing sugar, mini soufflés, stuffed mushrooms and little cups holding ambrosia. The barman was making cocktails as fast as his arms could shake.
            “How’s your week been?” His voice came out in bursts and ice clinked in the shaker.
            “Oh, goo—”
            “Yeah, my week has been appalling too. Never mind, nothing like a drink to fix you up, eh?”

             “Yes.” The woman said it in an undertone, her eyes were close together and large; it gave her a dazed, unintelligent look.
            “Essie!” It was William; he seemed tall and smiled charmingly. He grabbed a couple of nibbles, glazed prawns; I could almost taste the salty honeyed flavour as he put them to his lips. His handsome arms reached out to the dull woman, she looked confused and then curved her lips up, dazedly allowing herself to be pulled into a clumsy hug.
            The room was beginning to bulge with people and it became hard to make out individual conversations, I heard mainly fragments, odd sentences, froth of laughter, the quite beat of music and queer collective pauses. The smell of it all was heady; a mix of spirits and fruit and cucumber, cigarette smoke, crisp grilled food and expensive perfume.
            “But if we lived under water how would we drink tea?” A woman across the room yelled into a tight circle of people, she wrapped her chubby hand tighter around her martini glass as the group exploded with chuckles.
             A few couples danced, dresses flared out in easy turns, there was laughter and apologies at trodden-on-toes and bumps into bystanders that sloshed drinks.
            When I looked over to see where William was, he had left Essie at the bar. She was glaring at the woman he had moved on to who was like a Barbie doll with blonde hair trailing waves down her back, a tight black dress, manicured nails and an engagement ring. I gasped at its sharp glittering surface, William couldn’t be engaged! They were chatting, he laughed, clutching her arm and I strained to hear the conversation.
            “What a lovely idea, have you told your mother?”
 A man walked up with a distinct bald patch, he draped his arm around the Barbie possessively and the relief made me feel giddy.
            “Exceptional weather all week, the warmth has been outstanding” The doorman was greeting a late comer.
            “Oh yes.” But as soon as she turned away the doorman’s face fell into drooping lines, everyone ignored him now, but I didn’t, I saw him, he looked hot in his tuxedo and bored and alone and I felt I had the superior view of the room.
            “Moths don’t eat human hair!” A tall, tanned woman said, she snatched some nibbles, smoked salmon and some green thing tied together with seaweed off the closest tray, she chewed loudly with her mouth gaping. William walked up to the group.
            “They might if you stayed still long enough Miriam.” I saw a server sneer at William’s charming smile, enviously I assumed, and who wouldn’t be? My eyes followed him around the room for another hour, maybe more. Eventually the bar staff began to clean up, the servers discreetly disappeared, the coat man dragged the coat rail further into the room, the doorman perked up in his seat.
            Couples and people in sets of threes and fours left, those that had arrived single departed with a partner, a sly smile upon their painted lips, and they lied parting quips about each other’s taste in clothes and proficiency at work.
I saw Essie lingering against the bar; sipping a drink and watching William thank people for coming and detaching them from the party with a quick handshake or cheek kiss.
            “Watch out for the hail, comes down the size of rocks this time of year.” The doorman said to the last couple to depart as he stood up. He stretched his bulky body, took his coat from the back of his chair and left with a nod to William. Essie walked over, sauntering and swaying her hips like a cat getting ready to pounce.
             “Oh Will, what a lovely evening, it was perfect, really, let me help you clean up.” She moved in very close to him, her hip touched his; she ran a finger down his arm. I couldn’t watch, my mind screamed, send her away! He took a step back; it made me wonder if he subconsciously heard me.
             “No, no, that’s why all these people were hired and I am sure you have an early morning.” He faked a yawn.
            “Well, if you’re sure...” She lingered for a moment, and then her body seemed to snap, her senseless eyes had an angry glaze and she grasped her coat and clomped out. The folded tables and trays of now dirty glasses followed her a few minutes after. The room was now empty except for William; he gave a heavy sigh, and went into the bathroom and a moment later I heard the shower go on.
            I sat under the table in my dark flat, rolling my ring along the floor, the party had been beautiful, the food had looked so delicious, the lights had lit the party with a warm glow and best of all, William seemed to be single. Maybe one day I could collide with into him in the hall carrying groceries, I would drop them, he could pick them up for me, we would start talking and maybe I would invite him for lunch. It would make an endearing story of how we met, if we had literally bumped into each other. I whirled my ring like a spinning top and it twisted around and around reflecting the grey light and then fell through the hole, I heard it clunk conspicuously on the floor below.
            My ring! It felt so close, almost like I could touch it, if I just stretched my arm a little further. I could leave it there but maybe, if I went and he came out, wet from the shower, steaming a little in the draught, I could ask him about the phones. Why did he have so many phones? And he would tell me. We would run away together, hitch-hiking and leaping onto boats as they left from docks, stealing bicycles to ride to the next town. Plotting against minimal rural museum security, for the next telephone, and once they were done, the first fax machines or typewriters or letter openers. There would be parties and glamorous dresses and endless sophisticated games to play.
            So I crept out of my flat and into the dark hallway, the floors creaked in a way that I had never before noticed during the day. Every dark corner seemed to hold a threat and I started to run, taking stairs two at a time, stumbling over my feet. My heart beat so hard against my rib cage that it hurt. I fled into William’s apartment and slammed the door behind me. I could hear him splashing around in the shower and he came charging out of the bathroom in just a towel.
            “Who the fuck are you?” I hadn’t heard him swear before, it lashed like a whip. I was gasping for breath against the door.
            “My ring. I dropped.” I pointed at it on the floor between us. “Hole in the ceiling. I live upstairs.” I pointed up. He relaxed; I could see he had been frightened of me, it seemed a little pathetic.
            “Next time try knocking. Take it. I will call the landlord to fix the hole tomorrow.” I snatched up my ring and looked around. It felt like being on the set of a T.V. show, so very surreal to stand in the stage.
             “Why do you have so many phones?” It came out demanding and rude rather than conversational as I had imagined and he frowned.
            “It’s a collection, a hobby. I buy them, or they’re gifts. Your parents will probably be worried, you know, don’t you think you should...” He gestured the door. He thought I was a kid, so removed was I from the glamorous women that had been here but an hour before. I was suddenly self-conscious of my dirty dress, unchanged for two days, my limp hair, unwashed, my skin greasy. I blushed and left, as I stood in the hallway looking at the light glowing beneath his door I realised that he wasn’t so attractive up close, he was sort of scrawny and lanky when seen at the same level and he was quite rude.
             I returned to my flat, I threw the newspaper over the hole in the floor, I wouldn’t be watching William any more. Upstairs there was a loud thump and a dreadful yell. I looked at my ceiling, at the cracked paint, mouldy patches and the places where it was crumbling away.

No comments:

Post a Comment