lightbulb moment

Last night I had an unexpected visitor.

It was late, and I was just beginning to nod off, when I heard someone knocking at my mind’s door.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

I groaned.

“Who is it?” I called out sleepily.

“Hello!” came a bright voice. “I’m a new idea!”

“Gimme a second.” I fumbled for the door handle, but as I reached out to touch it, it disappeared, and my hand passed through thin air. The lights began to dim and the door began to fade away…

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

“Hello!” came the bright voice. “I’m still here! I’m exciting, and shiny, and new! I think you’ll like me. Won’t you let me in?”

Lightbulb moment

“Oh yes,” I mumbled. “Sorry, I was just… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…”

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

“Hello!” sang the bright voice. “It’s me again. I only need a few moments of your time. I can’t wait to tell you all about me!”

“Oh. Oh yes. And I’d like to hear about you, I really would. But. Could we do this in the morning?” I asked. “I’m so tired, and someone keeps turning the lights out.”

“Ah, OK.” said the bright voice. “I’ll try again.”

I drifted off, and the new idea went away. And then morning came, and went, and the morning after that, plus the one after that, until, countless mornings had past.

But the new idea never came back.

 

short story: crime and punishment

It is the afternoon. I have eaten lunch but I am still feeling a bit peckish. I just spent an hour paging disinterestedly through some sort of journal, glancing at the sea of words and a few featured pictures swimming below me, without really taking them in. My mind is elsewhere.

“BZZZZZZZZZZZZT!”… ugh. That is my intercom. I hate the sound of it. Loud and untuneful with no introduction, it brings with it an obtrusive atmosphere that is certainly not welcome; someone is here.

“Yes Valerie,” I sigh into the contraption.

“Mr Boswell here to see you,” comes the reply.

“Send him in.”

My secretary’s voice bores through the door. Why do we even have to bother with that thing? I wonder. I can hear her fine as it is.

“The Doctor will see you now Mr Boswell.”

The door handle clicks and the door opens. Mr Boswell shuffles in, flat cap in hand, looks at me and stops. He then glances at the patients’ chaise longue, and his face somehow turns a more pallid shade of grey, if that is even possible.

“Hello, Mr Boswell,” I say, smiling (almost) pleasantly. “Won’t you sit down?” I gesture to the chaise.

Mr Boswell resumes his shuffle and moves towards the chair. He gingerly sits down as though he does not actually want to make contact with the piece of furniture, but realises it is going to be hard to levitate for the entire session.

“So, Mr Boswell,” I begin. “How can I help?”

I am not sure about this one. He seems meek enough. Is he shifty? I cannot tell. He starts to speak, hesitantly at first, then with more flow, more urgency. I try not to switch off. Occasionally I nod and sometimes chime in with the odd question or two, just to keep things moving.

“When did you first notice these irrepressible urges?” I ask.

“Not long after I married my second wife,” he replies. “Well. My dead wife. She is now dead.”

I pay attention. My head moves quickly with just the slightest of inclines, and I ask him about his dead second wife. Or his second, dead wife? Suddenly this seems more interesting.

“How did your late wife pass on, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“It’s sort of a long story,” he replies, gravely.

“We have plenty of time,” I assure him, with one eye on the clock above his head.

“She poisoned herself.”

So. Not such a long story after all then.

“Oh,” I say, somewhat inelegantly. “I see.”

“But… but,” he splutters. His effusive greyness is now becoming slightly disturbing.

“Yesss,” I prompt.

“I think… I think that I… well. I don’t know.”

“This is is a safe place, Mr Boswell,” I say, with (feigned) sympathy. “Of course you can say anything you feel you would like to get off your chest. I assure you there is no judgment here. Only freedom to be yourself.”

Mr Boswell nods. “Well. She left a letter. And… she said… she said that I…”

“Mmmm?” God, he likes dragging it out. 45 minutes, it’s been. Only 15 minutes left, and the clock is ticking, I hope he has the sense to know that I have a 3pm.

“…She said that I… that it was my fault.”

And there we have it. Was that so hard?

“Mr Boswell. People say all sorts of things. Often they don’t really think about what they’re saying,” I venture. Although sometimes they do.

“I had stopped you see,” he says. “I had stopped a long time ago. My… upsetting behaviour. I stopped it. And I promised I wouldn’t punish her again.”

He emphasizes the word ‘punish’, and gives me a meaningful glance. I feel a little cold. His grey face is beginning to resemble something ghoulish, something much more threatening than his awkward shuffling and tweed flat cap could ever suggest.

He continues.

“You see. After the last incident. She completely lost it. She said she’d had it, that enough was enough. She said she’d heard it all, that I was sounding like a broken record, that I was killing her. Then one day, she was cooking in the kitchen. We were having her parents over for lunch, so she was making a huge batch of soup. When I went into the kitchen I saw her there.”

At this point, he grins. I stifle a shudder.

“The kitchen was all steamed up. She was looking down over a huge pot. It was boiling hot. Her face was flushed red and her hair was a little wild. Something twigged inside me, a feeling deep within. It just welled up, unbidden, and, like the steam rising up from the pot, it began to spread effortlessly; filling me, filling the room, filling up the space between us. I couldn’t help myself.”

I stay silent, willing the confession to come within the next three minutes.

“I moved towards her. She saw me coming, and shifted her stance so she was blocking the chopping board from view, so I couldn’t see what was there. But I saw the knife – sharp as you like – and the blade gleaming with pride after slicing through its prey so effortlessly.”

This time I do shudder, despite my interest and obviously professional exterior. What is this? I think. Why is he smiling that weird smile? Grey-Man is creeping me out. Safe place, schmafe place.

“I walked to the stove. She looked at me. I could see it in her eyes; the challenge. I waited until I was close, then looked down at the giant pot. I put my hands on either side of it and lowered my face to the soup. I inhaled its earthy aroma and from that position I looked up at her. I smiled. ‘There’s not mush-room in that pot,’ I said.”

“I’m sorry, what?” I interject.

“I said, ‘There’s not mush-room in that pot.’”

Oh god. Could it be? Is this really happening? I look at Mr Bosworth. He gives me a sheepish smile. It is happening.

“Ahem,” I begin. “It was a mushroom soup?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says.

“And she was allergic to mushrooms?”

“… Yes.”

“BZZZZZZZZZZZZZT!”… ugh. I wince. It is my 3pm. I don’t know whether to shake my head or to shout, ‘Amen!’. I go for the former. Although, of course, it is impartial, indifferent; imperceptible, if you will.

“Mr Boswell, I’m afraid that our time is up,” I say, with (attempted) regret.

“It’s okay,” says Mr Boswell. “I guess even a quack has to duck.”

Indeed, Mr Boswell. Indeed.

short story: henry

I was four and a half years old, and very small. I remember dragging a chair out from underneath the table to the kitchen bench, to get into the cupboard where Mum kept the sugar. I remember tugging on her skirt when we were out at the supermarket, just to make sure she was still there. I remember walking along a short brick wall, slipping, and splitting my chin open. Dad gave me his hankie to use as a make-shift bandage. I had to get two stitches, and the doctor told me I was brave.

That was the year that Henry came to us.

It was December. My older sister Clancy was on school holidays and Mum and Dad kept chatting about ‘time off’. To me, time was endless, and the thought of time suddenly being switched off was strange, unfathomable.

Then, Henry arrived. My father brought him home one night. We all gathered around to glimpse the newest addition to our household. Henry was very tall, even taller than my Dad, which was impossible. There was something about him. He was naturally handsome, but not in an ostentatious way. He seemed quietly assured, sometimes a little on the dark and broody side, but mostly easy going. The thing he was best at was bringing all of us together. Previously, Dad would be in his study, Mum would be in the kitchen, my sister would be on the phone, and I would be underfoot somewhere. But now in the evenings we would all sit around the lounge room, and talk, and laugh. It was a different world. Understandably, it was not long before Henry felt like part of the furniture.

The days rolled by and I soon struggled to recall a time before Henry. For someone so quiet, he was often the centre of attention. At Christmas, the earliest one I can remember, Mum told me that this would be Henry’s only festive season with us, so we should all get really dressed up to mark the occasion, especially Henry. So we did. And Henry looked beautiful.

For a little while after that, our newly lazy routines carried on in the same way, until one day when Mum and I were going to do the shopping. As we walked through the front door and out to the car I heard a loud crunching sound, over the top of a guttural engine hum. There was a huge truck sitting in the middle of the street outside our house. As we neared the gate I gasped in dismay. Henry was lying on the footpath, but he did not look like himself. He looked sick. He looked weak and forlorn, and so helpless.

“Henry!” I cried.

“Who’s Henry?” asked Mum.

I looked at her, aghast. Then my gaze flickered back towards poor Henry, and the men from the truck that were now looming over him. They swept him up off the footpath, like he weighed nothing, and threw him into the back of the oversized lorry.

“Mum, no! What are they doing? Stop them!” I wailed.

“Darling, calm down, it’s OK. The men are just recycling the Christmas trees.”

“They’re what?!”

“They’re recycling the trees, little one. It’s better for the environment that way.”

With a shudder, the truck lurched forwards and stopped again outside the Thompson’s house. There, on the footpath, was another tree that looked just like Henry. I was in shock. I thought Henry was one of us; I thought he was there to stay. But now he had been discarded, thrown out with the rubbish. How could that be?

The following Christmas, Mum and Dad bought a fake tree. They kept it for 20 years, until the synthetic needle like leaves were so bedraggled that it looked no more than a woebegone stick with a few fronds of greenery. It smelt funny, and it wasn’t Henry. But then, it never could be.