Saturday, 13 July 2013

Feast on Your Life

Feast on your life


Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Derek Walcott

It came at regular intervals, a beating timbre which struck up when Cecilia was not thinking of very much at all. Thud, thud… thud, thud.
When she first noticed it, she was sitting in the dining room, drinking tea with a presupposed air of importance – she had laid all the blue and white china set out for herself, and at this, she smiled smugly to think how much more composed she was than the Jones’ and the Smiths’ and the so many other high-flyers in this rash society. Execution to the finest detail! She remembered how her old aunt had allowed the phrase to be absorbed into her repertoire, the sinewy lips placing an unstable emphasis on the syllables in ‘execution’. Cecilia could still see it now. She sighed, carefully channelling the breath through the corners of her mouth so not to smudge the meticulously painted lips. Execution to the finest detail!
And then the Thud, thud… thud, thud.
She hastily concluded it must have been someone downstairs hauling the splayed carcasses of the furniture back into position after last night’s reception. Did they not have the mind to be quiet? Her mind moved compulsively from one channel to the next. She thought of her father’s stern words to her when she was a child, still reverberating in her mind -  
‘You have no one to see you today, so for goodness sake put yourself to something productive! Now let me get back to my business…’
She shook her head nonchalantly, feeling a slight ripple of pleasure pass through her spine as her brassy curls fell down onto her shoulders.  She didn’t see daddy much now, not now he had moved away and left her with the house to go on one of his ‘business ventures’ – telling her to make something of herself, get to books and studying! How little he knew! For what it was to please people in society, to be female, and known and admired! Perhaps, she could even say – loved! Oh yes, ‘love’ – the dangerous word, the word that even stopped the mouths of the girls dripping with diamonds, the word that Cecilia wanted more than anything. Why, she cared nothing for life’s little trivialities – eating snippets of food and drinking fine wines; she told herself she wanted love.
She practiced tripping the syllables of ‘love’ over her tongue as she observed with a slight irritation, the chipping lacquer on the nail of her ring finger. In an attempt to even out the error, her practiced hand guided the twisted steel letter opener over the nail  - the letter opener disturbed from its arrangement upon an unopened letter, which she would perhaps consider reading later, and aside a bowl of white sugar cubes; the cubes stacked purely, meticulously. Imperfection flustered her. Like last night – the over emphatic girls with their gracelessly running mascara, the men with shaking hands the pallor of chilled meat. It made her sick! She could have asked them to leave, she thought, in hindsight, but there were so many – and after all, it was like permitting an escape from expectation; not the done thing.
Thud, thud… thud, thud.
She licked her lips nervously – that noise! Oh, for now she would be, as routine dictated, borne along through the hum of the morning radio – only last night, Miss Sikes had put her foot through it in a frenzied form of hysteria. Cecilia remembered the glitter of red which long-lectured eyes had come to associate with some fine-cut form of material wealth, the unfurling of tissue as hastily as banknotes to wipe up the excess. But it was blood, and blood on the linoleum! Cecilia had dragged that girl to the door in almost fatalistic manner, feigning to ignore the spluttering cries of ‘It’s  a lie! All of it, a lie! What kind of people are you? What are you!?’- Cecilia only once replying as she saw the girl in black cast surely into the night ‘I don’t want to hear it!’. A necessary expulsion.   Now,  fondly  feeling her lip curl under the welcoming acidity of steam from the saucer, Cecilia mused over how she had returned to the main room and gladly been absorbed into the general approbation of Miss Sikes’ behaviour; albeit it being a little difficult to negotiate, not knowing the young woman’s first name. Ah well, what else could have been done?
Thud, thud… thud, thud.
Her slamming the letter opener nervously against the glass table made a singular, so much different noise. Perhaps the noise, the thud, thud… thud, thud…  - its determined nature, its horrible liquid force - was not coming from downstairs after all – it could be someone knocking at the door with a kind of quiet sincerity Cecilia most liked. Oh, it was difficult not to become flustered! She pulled herself to her feet, and crossing over her boudoir to the door, shot a fleeting glace into the wall mirror as she passed – the wall mirror which bathed in a shocking, glorious expanse, like a sheet of water. She noticed the rouge on her cheeks was slightly out of line, she ran a hand through her hair compulsively. Hard to co-ordinate! So little time to do anything! She opened the door hurriedly. Nothing. Nothing but a greasy handprint, most likely from last night, splayed across the cream panelling on the other side, the finger-marks slightly crumpled as if in a desperate gesture. How idiotic, Cecilia thought, that would take another coat of gloss. Slamming the door in irritation  as she retreated back into the room, she remembered how the door used to close with the elaborate weighted melody of golden locks and chains swaying precariously, but since they had been taken away , melted down– no, never mind – her thoughts were ugly and sporadic, she was tired. She reached for a sugar cube like a small child.
Thud, thud… thud, thud.
The beats came louder this time, a dull tattoo almost like an outpouring of pain. My God! She spun around aimlessly, her dress slicing through the moist powdered air of maintained femininity like a dull knife. How about at the window? She never allowed the blinds to be opened during the day, during anyone meeting here, as the entire room was furnished in a very fine white – as if adorned with the skeletal structure of several prize carcasses; and it was in the sunlight, the whole emptiness glowed an ugly, unclean yellow. How could she let anyone see that? How could she let anyone see her flustered if this continued? The thud, thud… thud, thud. It was ever louder, quicker, a pace amounting like the slapping of sticks on a dry drum. Nothing behind the blinds, nothing in the lonely expanse of wardrobes – her hands shook under a film of damp.
Thud, thud… thud, thud.
She could feel the noise reverberating in her very ears, harsh salt set on her lips which made her eyes waver and spill as she rifled through bags of cosmetics, perfumes – bags which were split open like swollen stomachs. What if there was someone in the room with her? She saw a hollow cheeked girl with black running eyes  swim with horrible staccato motions across the mirror as she edged to open every possible enclosure – windows, doors, drawers. She tried to tell herself it out be anything – gunshots out in the fields, bullets striking dully into throbbing flesh. It did not matter, it could be fine, it could be…
Thud, thud… thud, thud.
Oh, why didn’t she scream? Her hand froze – she could have someone help her, running in as easily as they brought tea and cakes, the newspaper, letters. She had to open that letter afterwards, she thought desperately, rocking where she fell against the mantelpiece. Everything was yellow, sickly, vacuous yellow. Perhaps she was ill, perhaps it was the food she has eaten last night – such food! How she had enjoyed it! How she could do down again tonight in her white faux dress nipped in at the waist and smile and smile… Thud, thud… thud, thud. A hysterical laugh detached itself from her lips, her breath faltered. She tried to scream, but the noise filled her throat, swelled in her lungs like damp tissue – hard against her chest like a fist. Thud, thud… thud, thud. God help her! She attempted to imagine what people would pray for when they needed it, she struggled on the floor against the sound.
‘I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to hear it!’ she cried, her hands grappling heavily for some kind of reassurance – she felt metal.
Thud, thud… thud, thud.
The room shrieked at her in yellow like a decaying mouth, the door gaped. She flailed desperately – a leaf tortured in a gale of feeling too great for the paper skin, clawed at her chest, the noise, dragged her nails down her face, felt the blood pulse in her fingertips…
‘Who are you?!’ She screamed; a wild animal scream which stopped the room, a scream of utter abandon. A hot white scream. 
She tore through the air with the letter opener.
*
The butler found Cecilia on the floor the following morning, found her after the party had left, had left under a swathe of alcohol and utter oblivion.
There were only tissues to wipe up the blood with – the blood which glittered almost daintily, on the linoleum. There was not much of it. Ah, the poor little thing! The Butler remembered reading somewhere, possibly in one of Cecilia’s old academic textbooks, largely unused, that dead bodies did not bleed for long. He shook his head and called up the undertaker – there was no one else who could be called. Then, almost methodically, he closed the blinds, cleaned the letter opener, crossed to the table, and casting a curious, guilty look at the corpse – proceeded to open the letter which he had delivered only the previous morning. Strange, that it would still be unopened on the table! He told himself that he was opening it, opening it for good reason, as it may be from a relative who he could contact in these necessary circumstances. There was her old man, of course, but his contact was only occasional, long-distance correspondence from wherever he was dragging that dodgy business of his. The Butler sighed, peeling the envelope away, despite it clinging resolutely to the crumpled paper – now coloured a dirty yellow by the direct midday sun. The letter read -
My Cecilia,
I hope you are keeping at your studies, my sweet.
There is no cause for alarm, but I am writing to say that I will be back home very soon – the business deal did not quite catch on, but not to worry.  The melting down of all that gold will still come to good use, dearest, it just means we may gave to control our expenses a little. I have been thinking that going away to somewhere smaller over winter would be a marvellous idea – good for the health, and getting  you back into your learning.  You used to love that my dear, the books you used to pour over. Oh, sometimes I question why don’t you listen to your own heart?
Not to worry, my love, the gold market will pick up soon, and business will be straight back up to the top!
With love,
Daddy.


The Butler whistled inwardly.
‘It’s  a lie! All of it, a lie!’ he said to himself, pensively ‘This grand house ‘daddy’ had fashioned her in, these parties… not like he could afford ‘em, ah, a little girl lost in a make-believe, not knowing who she was or what was coming to her…’
The undertaker arrived the following hour. His hands shook as he finally pulled the black shroud over the tear-marked female face, still shaking as he carried the body down the stairs, out of the door. He drove to the chapel of rest, threading through the thickening streets like a starved black beetle.
The journalists were already waiting there, shuffling on the pavement like a clot of damp pigeons. They jostled eagerly for position as the body was dragged desperately from the van, cleaved through the crowd in the arms of the undertaker in a fatalistic manner – the sheen of blood at the sight of the injury just beginning to show through under the interrogative rays of the midday sun, the time when parties were held and broken, the time when people flocked on the streets, still so much time…
A plump, aging journalist in well-worn sandals nudged his younger colleague.
‘We could portray it as a murder, yeah? I can see it now –‘’ He flourished his fat, ham-like hands in the air as if illustrating a headline, half pointing to the body of the girl, and half-gesticulating  ‘Murder of beautiful society girl in her own home. Imagine how many that will sell, hey? I mean…’
The younger colleague looked on despondently.
‘You’re hearing things,’ The young man muttered ‘It’s well known by now that she did it herself. Straight through the chest with a letter opener – my God – if only….’. He mopped his brow.
‘This is top-cut journalism, max my boy!’ the older man retorted ‘It’s all lies, but they’re good lies, well preserved white lies… no real harm done, my boy? Just think of what a cracking story this will make! The readers will love this one, a cracking story…’
His fat, greasy lips lingered over the single syllable of ‘love’, as if he was anticipating the wads of cold hard cash thick between the teeth.
‘We don’t even know her name,’ The young man uttered numbly, twisting his hands.
The older man grinned.
‘ No matter my boy, no matter. Got to keep the public going, give them something at regular intervals. It’s not about execution to the finest detail, not of truth anyway. People like a mess, they thrive on it! It’s just a cracking story, a cracking story…’
He asked for his notebook. He received it jovially, thinking already of the coming frenzy, flicking through the notebook absent-mindedly to find a clean page. Yet each was marked with the same greasy handprint. And there, on the final page, lay the words –
Why don’t you listen to your own heart?

The young man thought of a girl who wanted to be loved. Pigeons tore at carrion along the public walkway, stripping flesh, squealing, pulling, at the same, sharp intervals. Execution to the finest detail!