Published 'Celestial Shadows' 1992
My mind had been drifting upon a becalmed doze. But, then, I heard music from another part of the house. I glanced at my companion in the bed, only to discover he was also looking at me. We questioned each other with our eyes.
The music was an air, sweet but sad in its piping; and the voice which eventually pricked out from the harmonies was that of one who'd rather sob than sing.
The house had single corridors on each floor—so long and thin, it could almost be a frontage for an entertainment. A windy spot, too — and we knew the whistling at night was no more than the various imperfections of the house's structure opening and shutting like valves—and the hissing down the flues merely serpent gods with which our over-active imaginations could dally.
When we first moved in, we'd wander about at night like lost souls, bewildered by the house's settling and slippage which seemed not only in the direction of its foundations as one would expect, but, on occasions, upwards to the roof and chimneystack complex.
At each keyhole, we'd childishly press our ears. Although we knew there was just the pair of us, we relished the delights of ear-wigging. We only received sharp blasts of cold air into the deepest parts of our bodies for our pains.
It was not that there were even ghosts roaming about to justify such behaviour; although, I confess, we both hoped that one day there would be a couple of ghosts fit to haunt the likes of us. Indeed, there's a romantic quality about ghosts; and on long wintry nights in that Chinese Wall we called a home, each of us took turns in pacing the corridors, pretending to be such a ghost. I lay awake listening to my companion playing a "don't touch a crack in the floorboards with your feet or you'll surely die a terrible death" game; and hooting woefully like a wounded owl in the chimney.
I recall it was often my duty to scuttle in the manner of a coaldust imp from room to room. When I acted the spirit ghost, however, I was fearful I'd "come" mid-wall, with all the fibres and tender vessels of my body engrained in the actual structure of the brickwork. And the pain I conjured up in myself was tantamount to drawing-pins being pressed hard into the bone of my skull one by one, till I bore a helmet of them. The whooping screech I emitted from my lungs woke my companion unseasonably ... and I was scolded for it, come morning. I could not withstand his stern looks or the way he played with my tortoiseshell hand mirror.
So, at long last, we come to the night of the music, as I call it. On this occasion, we were both between the long sheets in double-backed slumber. The drama evolving around us was Grand Opera. The walls were breaking out in stretched mouths, their long-held notes reverberating from the empty cellars of the house. The curtains veiled large staring eyes. The firehearth spat flame as from the backside of Heaven, Wagner's anvil hammers thudding time to the soaring music. The four corners of the bed raised a scintillating canopy above Tristan and Isolde who nestled in the breast of the whitest lakeside swan. And such a swan floated upon the buoyed airs of the floorboards' ever-widening cracks...
Our dream duet arched and shimmered, an endless rainbow of perfect sound.
I don't know which of us woke first. I think it was him, since his face suddenly seemed real. I could see all the hairline cracks, his weathered furrows, the worldy worry of the eyes. But I still loved him, despite his liaison with the never-ending grind of living. Eventually, I woke up, too, released from dream duty ... and he cast me from his arms on seeing the crow's feet return, marking time beneath my smudged eyes.
I dream to wake up and, sometimes, I wake up to dream.
I am in an opera chorus. No single personality can be pinpointed among us, since we're not much better than a second audience.
The helmetted soloist, my one and only truly love, stands mighty and alone at the front edge of the stage, his thumping bass notes drawing to him a Lady of Sound, whose body, which only he and I can see, reaches up, like winding scales of heavenly brightness, to the gods; and it's her towering beauty that he really adores.
My own piping song cannot be heard as I'm drowned out by the rest of the chorus. None can know that I'm really sobbing my heart out.
I yearn for the dream to return, where there's no audience to worry us and, if not real, at least he's mine.