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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INSIDE OUTSIDE                                                                              
By Geoffrey Heptonstall

 

 

She had not expected it to happen.

It was no use calling out to ask who was there, although it was obvious that someone was inside. An intruder was not going to answer. An intruder was going to be still and silent, waiting for her to open the door.

Genevieve decided to keep silent herself. She was going to wait at the door in the cold and the dark for as long as it took the intruder’s curiosity to open the door. The tactic was dangerous. Voices within her told her to go. They told her to run. But she remained, quietly planning what to do when the door opened.

Genevieve felt betrayed.

Genevieve wondered if she should speak to someone about her disturbed nights. She was not sleeping well. She was waking exhausted, and going through her days without the satisfaction of doing well or feeling well. She was quieter than usual, as everyone noticed. For a few days nobody paid much attention, presuming her withdrawn manner was part of the cycle of experience it was natural to undergo.

But as time passed and the listlessness did not give way some who saw her became worried. Most did not notice or did not care. She might throw herself out of the window before they recognized any change in her manner. Their first reaction would be to close the window because of the draught of air blowing through the office. ‘Has anyone seen Genevieve?’ they might ask.

A moment in time became timeless’

She found the key to the door that was always locked. Someone had left it on the kitchen table. That was curious because at all times Mrs. Angell kept the key on her key ring with others, most of which were of unknown use. The key ring was secured in her pocket, and taken out perfunctorily before being returned immediately to that deep, dark pocket. If there was a spare key to that door Genevieve had never seen it. Yet there was a key on the table, as if it were waiting for her to use.

It was shinier than it had seemed when brought out to open the door. Perhaps Mrs. Angell had been polishing the keys one by one, forgetting to replace this one, the key to the door that was exactly like the other doors in the house except that it was smaller. It was the door to the kitchen cupboard beneath the back stairs. An adult had to stoop to go into the cupboard. Genevieve as a child could have walked in, but was never allowed to do so. She never even dared ask because she knew Mrs. Angell would refuse.

There was no reason for refusing an innocent request. Mrs. Angell’s habit of mind was to refuse many innocent requests because she did not like inquisitive children. She did not like intelligent children because she did not like intelligent people. ‘Ask no questions; hear no lies,’ she would say. Why would she feel the need to lie in response to a question? Genevieve wondered later when she looked back.

Her dream was looking back. In her dream was the key, shining, on the wooden table of the kitchen where she was entirely alone, something that never happened in her childhood. If Mrs. Angell wasn’t there Bethany was. Even as a child Genevieve could see that her visits to the kitchen were supervised as her life in the house was supervised. There was always someone close by. There was always someone watching. Or so it seemed. So often a shadow fell. So often the eyes of Mrs. Angell were upon her as if the child were an enemy. She was certainly seen as an intruder trespassing on the lives within the house. Mrs. Angell acted like one who was concealing a terrible secret. Within that house was something Genevieve was not supposed to see, not supposed to know about. Of course an old house has many secrets.

The dream changed. She was utterly lost, hurrying down unfamiliar streets in the hope of finding her way back to somewhere she could recognize.

She had been thinking of the bridge that spanned the ravine. It was a sturdy piece of Victorian engineering whose arches were decorated with wrought iron curlicues painted green to resemble woodland growth. It was typical Victorian thinking to combine the utility of engineering with romantic flourishes that were purely decorative. It made an impressive sight, if not a beautiful one.

Everywhere she went she eventually met a high wall and had to turn back. As time passed and her fear rose she began to run in the hope of escaping although there seemed to be no escape. She was hurrying for her life, understanding very well that if she did not find a way out an unimaginable fate was going to be inevitable. 

There was a very long and narrow street of Victorians. At the end was an iron rail dimly seen in the gloom. It was not a gate but a fence with iron spikes. Time was passing and she had no idea how to reach safety. She ran back the way she had come down the street. At the end she turned left into another deserted street of Victorians to make her way out of this somehow.

One house was familiar. Its door was open, with a voice inviting her inside. It was no use calling out to ask who was there, although it was obvious that someone was inside. An intruder was not going to answer. An intruder was going to be still and silent, waiting for her to open the door.

She looked through the window to see a room. It was a room she had never seen before. The house contained many rooms, some of which she was never to see. This room she had never seen before. It was furnished like a Victorian nursery. There were children dressed in period style. They were playing a game until a large, portly bearded man entered. He looked fierce. In his hand was a cane, not a walking cane but a punishment cane. When he stood in the room there was stillness and silence.

The stern man spoke indistinctly behind the thick glass. They were angry words to judge by their tone and by the manner of their delivery. The children had a look of fear, a fear that a child should not know. One of them was going to be punished. Or perhaps all of them were to be punished. The countenance of that man, their father, spoke of punishment as the natural response of a parent to a child. He may not have enjoyed the task, but he thought it his duty to perform dire acts of correction so that children may learn what is right and what is just.

Suddenly, however, the angry father became distracted. He looked at the window as one might look at a mirror. He was looking at a reflection of the room, yet discerning beyond the glass something that was not a reflection of the room. He became aware that he was being observed. He could sense the presence of another. The thought confused and disturbed him the more clearly he saw beyond the glass and into her face.

At this point she became alarmed. It was necessary to go back as quickly as possible before something terrible happened. She might be caught in the past. The key might be taken from her hand so that there was never going to be the possibility of escape. She ran down the long, long corridor back to the kitchen door.

What had been there was in suddenly no more. That instant was final. Time had been frozen for the life remembered. For those remaining it moved with dignity and precision as if it were time itself moving. A clock from somewhere resonantly struck the hour. This had not been planned, but could not have been more appropriately arranged. As the polished black cars edged toward the church the bell tolled not for the dead but for everyone.

A woman said, ‘Where you going?’ She repeated her question. ‘I said where you going? When I ask a civil question I expect to be answered in like manner, as is polite.’ She began to hurry away, with the woman following. ‘You heard me. Good manners cost nothing.  I’d teach you some polite manners.  Are you listening? I said where are you going? WHERE ARE YOU GOING?’

Genevieve began to run, hearing the woman’s rage in the distance. ’

From the finger of cape she watched the yacht sail into the harbor. The sandbank at the harbor’s mouth formed a natural barrier. The lone yachtsman knew the water well enough to navigate the deep channel between the treacherous sands. She was standing beneath one of the trees that lined the visible sandbank. She waved as the yacht passed by. To her dismay she saw that the yacht was empty. The sailor had fallen into the sea. She might have saved him had she not slipped so easily into the water, like the mermaid she knew herself to be.

On the pebbled shore close by the harbor a lifeless body came in with the high tide later that evening when the daylight was fading, and the shore deserted but for Genevieve, naked, walking away from everything to follow the arc of the bay. Her nakedness was unnatural and when seen by others went unremarked. All attention was fixed on the body washed-up on the shore.

‘I knew him,’ she whispered.

‘You knew him by another name,’ came the reply.        
                               
She had not forgotten the kisses and caresses. It was so tender and innocent. She had known more assured lovers. She had known more passionate times. But she had never known such sweet intimacy as she known with him. The three or four since were a different love, a mature and fulfilling love. But none was comparable with the boy she met in the school library one evening.

No, she had not forgotten him. In their different ways they had both experienced a sense of death inside. Keeping a secret, even a harmless secret, was not how trust grows between lovers. She had thought it better to say nothing. Now that felt deceitful, almost sham.

The sun was sinking lower. Another hour and it would be dark. The sunsets had been especially radiant in recent days as if to welcome her back to the territory she knew best.

The sun’s reflection on the water made sea and sky difficult to distinguish. The horizon disappeared into the backdrop of cerise and mauve streaks and while that was the last of sunlight through the wisps of cloud on a clear evening.

Now they had reached a distant shore somewhere in uncharted waters. They felt that they were the first to feel as they felt. It was as if no-one was alive but them. Was this paradise? And if it were would they be found unworthy of its perfection? This they could not think about now. All that mattered now was what was happening now. And it was good.

The ocean tide came in every day, and ebbed again, leaving the pebbled beach washed clean to dry in the sun. Beneath the headland the gulls flew interminably in their perpetual curiosity, or so it seemed. The need to survive was strong. The need to stretch their wings and glide in the air was there also. They were not looking for food all the time, although food was always welcome. They were flying because they had the enviable ability to fly. It was easy to see how ancient minds could believe so strongly and literally in angels. The angels of the rational world were not winged as these creatures were. Reason had lost something these birds knew by instinct.

‘What is like to fly? She asked.  She was floating down from the bridge in voluminous skirts that acted as a parachute, ensuring her a soft landing on the ice of the frozen river. There were others following her, all serenely gliding down. Their reasons for falling remained unexplained. Whether they were pushed or whether they had thrown themselves those desperate acts had failed if the intention was for the women to drown. Some, perhaps, having seen one woman fall were playing daredevil out of curiosity and boredom. She could not say for certain. This dream was of a century long past, an age she could barely imagine in her waking life.

Her dreams allowed her to run again without fear of being mistaken for a fool. As a child she was no fool. She knew herself to be wiser than her years. She knew that wisdom was not going to go. That - her own certainty - was worth remembering every day forward.

Her dreams allowed her to run again without fear of being mistaken for a fool. As a child she was no fool. She knew herself to be wiser than her years. She knew that wisdom was not going to go. That - her own certainty - was worth remembering every day forward.

From the headland she watched the yacht sail into the harbor. The sandbank at the harbor’s mouth formed a natural barrier. The lone yachtsman knew the water well enough to navigate the deep channel between the treacherous sands. She was standing beneath one of the trees that lined the visible sandbank. She waved as the yacht passed by. To her dismay she saw that the yacht was empty. The sailor had fallen into the sea. She might have saved him had she not slipped so easily into the water, like the mermaid she knew herself to be.

She had not heard from him in a very long time. She was utterly lost, hurrying down unfamiliar streets in the hope of finding her way back to somewhere she could recognize
‘I knew him,’ she whispered.          

 

About the Author:

Geoffrey Heptonstall’s publications include a novel, Heaven’s Invention [Black Wolf 2017]. A story, Miss Cramickle, appeared in Adelaide in September 2018. Recent fiction has appeared in Scarlet Leaf Review and Synchronized Chaos.

                                    

 

 

 

 

 

     
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