20 October 2015

Failing To See You're Freezing To Death

“Are you drunk?”
“You swore to me there was no more booze down there!”
“I’m not fucking drunk!” shouted Gerry miserably. “I had grease on my glasses and I started running them under hot water and one of the lenses cracked because it’s minus fucking thirty. I can’t see shit.”
“Oh. Sorry.” The Berg glinted in the sunshine. “I thought you ate all the grease. And hot water?”
“Not edible grease. Grease grease. For the engine.”
“Hmmm.” The Berg drifted away from the boat a little as if to get a better look at Gerry; wavelets sploshed energetically against the hull. “Your head doesn’t look oversized.”
“My head’s not oversized! What’s that got to do with it? You’re really being very irritating today.”
“Sorry. Something’s too big though, more likely your eye than your actual head. That’s why you can’t see. Your eye focuses light on a point in front of your retina. If your eye was smaller you wouldn’t have a problem.”
Gerry kicked a bulkhead. “Well I do have a problem! I’m starving to death and freezing to death. I spend my days talking to a fucking iceberg. And now I can’t see!”
The Berg trickled sulkily. “Well, if that’s the way you feel… we don’t have to talk. I suppose it means nothing that I could help you get a new prescription.”
“A new prescription?”
“That’s the spirit!” said the Berg, butting against the boat and sending a clatter of shards on to the deck. “Have you got a ruler?”
“Uhh… I’ll see if I can find one.”
Gerry returned twenty minutes later to find the sun had gone in and the Berg floating in a stew of sea ice that had seemingly appeared from nowhere. The temperature had dropped alarmingly.
“Got it? Great. Now measure the distance between your eyeball and the lens you have left in your glasses. Actually don’t! It’s pretty nippy out here. Don’t want the ruler stuck to your eyeball. It’s probably a centimetre. We’ll say a centimetre.”
“OK. Where did you learn all this anyway?”
“I’m made out of ice. I’m reflecting, refracting, all that stuff. Optometry’s easy. Now. Which lens is broken? Left? So hold the ruler up to your cheek and close your right eye. Look along the ruler and move your finger towards you till you can focus on it. How far away’s that?”
“About ten inches.”
“Metric, man! We’re not barbarians.”
“Sorry. Maybe 25cm.”
“Wow, you are blind. OK. 25cm is your farpoint. That’s the point your left eye focusses at when it’s resting. If you weren’t myopic that’d be infinity.”
“Technically, yes. The moon, the stars, they’d be in focus.”
“OK. So you need a diverging lens, one that’s concave on both sides. That’s more bad news actually.”
“If you ever need to start a fire in the wilderness you have the wrong type of lens. It won’t focus the sun’s rays to a point.”
“That’s OK. When I get too weak to move I’ve still got a few matches and a cup of diesel put aside. I’m going to set the boat on fire and be warm again before I die.”
The Berg groaned and cracked. A tern that had been perched out of sight on its far side flew off across the water with a mournful cry.
“That’s the spirit! Getting your sense of humour back – that’s good, just let me know before you torch the thing so I can drift off a bit.”
Gerry smiled. He didn’t want to admit it but the Berg’s high spirits were making him forget the sense of hopelessness that had descended on him ever since the lens had cracked in his numb fingers.
“So your diverging lens will make things appear to be at your farpoint. It’ll move things all the way from infinity to 25cm from your face. Neat, hey?  We just need to figure out the focal length for your lenses. That’s just your farpoint in metres, so 0.25, minus the distance of your lens from your eye, call it one, so let’s say 0.24. You bang a negative in front of that and there’s your focal length! Negative 0.24.”
“I thought prescriptions were in whatsits… dioptres.”
“No problem at all. Dioptres are just a bullshit measurement that optometrists like to use. They’re just one divided by the focal length. So… one divided by -0.24 equals... -4.16.”
“Nice mental arithmetic.”
“Thank you. Now optometrists like the steps to be in 0.25 increments, so your prescription, Gerry, for your broken lens, is… -4.25!”
“Wait I thought you were getting me new glasses?”

“Pay attention. I said prescription. Where am I going to get new glasses? I’m an iceberg. The North Pole is just there over the horizon.”

22 July 2015

In the Night Garden

Simon watched Mum drive away. She reached the gate and disappeared left. Behind him Dad and the man, David, the man’s name was David, shouted in unison with the crowd on TV.
He was stuck in this room. For the moment he was hidden by the couch and erased by the football. To get to his bedroom he would have to pass in front of the TV, possibly blocking the game at a crucial moment, which meant getting in trouble. If he waited till quarter time his Dad and the man David would be bored. He would have to talk to them or get them a beer or sit with them or do something else he didn’t want to do.
Poking his head around the end of the couch, Simon watched the football. Often, when a player caught the ball, no, marked the ball, near the posts they would take a long time to psych themselves up before they tried to kick a goal. He waited quietly, a secret third spectator, while Dad and the man David shouted things like ‘ball’ and ‘kick it.’ When a player finally marked the ball near the goal, Simon waited - sometimes they marked too close to the goal and just kicked it straight away. The player bent to pull his socks up and Simon ran from the room. Halfway up the hall he heard shouting behind him. “Goal!”

He played in his room; then outside with the dog until it began to rain. Dinner was crumbed fish fillets and oven fries.
“What did you do today, Simon?” asked David.
Simon could see David watch him as they ate. He was bigger than Dad, nearly fat, but he had big shoulders too so he didn’t look fat. He had grey hair in a crew cut and a t-shirt with an ugly collar. Simon noticed he put tomato sauce on his fish, which was yucky.
“Hey Simon, guess what? David’s a policeman,” said Dad. Simon looked up in alarm.
“Don’t worry mate,” said David, laughing, “I’m not going to arrest you.”
Little bits of chewed up fish and chips sprayed out of David’s mouth when he laughed. Simon knew about policemen. Last month he and Gavin were playing in the hedge when Gavin spotted a For Sale sign on Mrs Fisher’s fence. The sign was tied on with black baling twine. They had found some sharp rocks and tried and cut through the twine. Simon realised he’d have more success if he separated the thin strings that made up the twine and attacked them one by one. Gavin was still sawing energetically when Simon made it all the way through his.
Suddenly there was a step behind them on the gravel and a hand on both their shoulders. The policeman, Bob Wilson, had snuck up and caught them. Simon was terrified but Bob Wilson had only delivered a very solemn speech about why cutting down the For Sale sign on Mrs Fisher’s fence was wrong – this seemed mainly to be because she was very old. Being caught by the policeman had been scary, but not for long. Two weeks later they found the roller door on the canteen at the oval had been left unlocked, so they snuck in and took as many cans of Fanta as they could carry.

After dinner Simon was allowed to watch TV for an hour; then it was time to go to bed.
“Goodnight mate,” said David. Simon worried he would have to give David a hug but it seemed it was ok not to.
He wasn’t tired and he wanted to find out what happened in the book he was reading, so once Dad kissed him goodnight he got out of bed and crouched in the slice of light that fell in through the open door. He was too big to have a night-light, but his parents left the light on in the hallway until they went to bed. It was cold and uncomfortable on the floor in his pyjamas. Even worse, across the width of the hall was the spare room. Once, reading like this, the door swung back to reveal a dead blackness and the smell of mothballs. He had run to his bed and hid under the covers with his feet pulled to his chest, convinced something living in that black space would devour him at any moment. Tonight though, after a few checks to see the door had not moved, he soon became involved in the story. Besides, the man David was staying in the spare room tonight. Whatever lived in there would not come out.

Simon woke up because he was cold and he needed to go to the toilet. He was sprawled on the carpet, his book an uncomfortable pillow. The door to the spare room was ajar, but that’s how it had been before. He got up and glided quickly down the hall to the toilet. The blue TV-light still flickered in the living room. He stopped when he reached the toilet door because the light was on inside. Was there someone in there? Did David know that when you finished you turned the light off? He reached uncertainly for the knob just as the door opened and David stepped out. Simon jumped and David brushed past him.
“All yours, mate.”
Simon stepped quickly inside, turned and locked the door. The knob moved as David tried it from the outside. The room was bright and smelled bad. David had not flushed and his pee was a dark yellow puddle in the bowl. Simon stood on the cold linoleum and held his breath. The doorknob turned back and forth once more and then David moved off down the hall. Simon flushed and stood for a long time before he could pee. Eventually he finished, unlocked the door and scurried back to his room, not flushing and not stopping to wash his hands.

When Simon woke up again everything was black and there was a horrible noise outside his window. The noise mewled and screeched and hissed, cycling up and down. His tongue felt like a dry stone in his mouth. He could not move. What could it be? His only guess was a demon that must surely be about to burst through the window and kill him. The noise went on and on. Surely Dad would come. If only he could cry out, but no part of his body would obey him.
After what seemed like hours the noise was still there, caterwauling up and down in the darkness. Simon decided whatever was making it did not know he was there and so would not kill and eat him straight away. He also knew there were no stories where the little boy stayed in bed and the noise went away. If he was to be part of a story he must get up and look. With more courage than he had ever summoned before he closed his half open mouth and forced himself to breath through his nose. Breathing right gave him the courage to get out of bed and, as quietly as he could, he crept across the room to the window. Awake, and staring into the darkness for so long, he could see enough to know when he reached the curtains. All the time the noise was still there, spitting and moaning like nothing he had ever heard before.
With infinite caution he parted the curtains and looked out into the garden. The moon was full and in the dead white light he could see two creatures crouched before the rose bushes. The one on the left, which he could see better, looked like someone had scribbled with a thick black pen until they had a scribble that was a little like a person and a little like a dog, cut it out and dressed it in a small set of clothes. The colours were hard to make out in the moonlight, but it looked like it wore a green pair of pants and a red jacket, a battered leather hat and carried a stick. The other creature was harder to see because it had its back to him, but it looked as if it were made from a lot of dead animals all joined together. Simon could see a raggy bit of mouse and what looked like a swatch of magpie forming its back. It had no clothes but was holding a long bone, nearly as tall as itself, by one end. Both creatures were no more than a foot tall and seemed to be having an argument – this was the sound that had woken him.
Simon watched the creatures for as long as he dared. The scribbly one was making the moaning and mewling noises, while the one patched together from dead things was making the hissing and screeching sounds. Although it all sounded terribly violent neither creature moved very much. They reminded Simon of two old men, querulously arguing with one another over a fence, one sometimes banging his stick on the ground, the other shaking its bone for emphasis.
It was cold next to the window in his pyjamas and when he could stand it no longer Simon wriggled a little to keep his feet warm. It made the smallest of noises but suddenly both creatures were silent and looking straight at him. The scribbly one vanished immediately, but the one patched from dead things turned and moved towards him. Simon tried to run back to bed but he couldn’t move at all. The creature came quickly to the window, dragging the long bone behind it. It moved strangely, as if it were an animation drawn in the corner of a book, slow then fast, jerking. When it was close Simon saw that its eyes were just holes with tiny teeth somehow suspended in them like blind pupils. It reached out with an arm that he saw was really the grubby leg of a dead lamb and tapped on the window. It had no mouth at all but it asked him a question in a voice that was wretched and dank.

The next morning Simon woke up feeling good. Then he remembered the creatures in the night and began to feel uneasy. The light under his curtains meant it was sunny outside, and there was a lot of birdsong. This didn’t fit with the strange creatures and the horrible question the patchwork one had asked him. Had that been a dream? The memory felt cold and hard, not like a dream at all, but it was so removed from the sun under the curtains and the birds outside that it didn’t feel like a normal memory either.
No one else was up so he watched cartoons until Dad came in.
“How did you sleep, chief?”
“Did you hear those cats? Bloody things.”
“I thought it was a monster.”
“Argh, I’m sorry Simon, I should have got up and checked you were ok. Did they scare you?”
“It wasn’t too bad.”
“Good boy.”
Dad let him have cornflakes with lots of cream and sugar as a treat. As he was rinsing his bowl gravel crunched in the driveway and Mum’s car pulled up outside the kitchen window. She waved to him and Simon waved back.
“Good morning boys,” she said, coming into the kitchen.
Simon ran and hugged her while Dad asked her about her night. Auntie Jo had been having something called a ‘hen’s night.’
“Were there lots of hens, Mummy?”
She laughed. “Yes darling, it was a veritable chicken farm.”
Simon didn’t know why this was funny or what ‘veritable’ meant, but Mum and Dad were happy and laughing, so he laughed too.
Dad told Mum about the cats. “Did you hear them, Simon?” she asked.
“I thought it was a monster.”
“Uh-oh,” she said playfully. “Alright now though? You know it was just naughty cats?”
He nodded and went to the fridge for some juice. Maybe it had been cats.
“David still in bed?” she asked Dad.
“Yeah, lazy city-slicker.”
But an hour later David was still in bed, even though Mum had started banging around in the bedroom looking for some shoes.
“Go and see if he wants any breakfast.”
A few minutes later he heard quick footsteps in the house and his parents whispering urgently to each other. He got up and went to the kitchen to see what was happening.
“We should still call the ambulance,” said Dad in a voice that Simon hadn’t heard him use before.
“Just call emergency,” said Mum. She was crying and when she saw him standing in the kitchen door she ran over and hugged him. He was scared.
“Oh darling,” she said. “It looks like Uncle David went to sleep last night and he’s not going to wake up.”
Simon wanted to ask if that was because David was very tired, but he knew the truth. “He’s dead.”

“Yes, honey.” Mum started crying again. “We think he had a heart attack during the night.”