Those In Grey – A Short Story

The floors do not creak when I step upon them. But everything creaks in this house for everyone else. I know it is Mother walking on the stairs, or when it is Rebecca getting up in the night to wander, when she sleep walks it is soft and makes the subtle dragging sound of feet of one who still slumbers.

Uncle has heavy steps, unless he is going to bed, then there is certain tone of anticipation when the night draws to an end. Mother and Uncle share a bedroom and on certain nights the bed creaks insistently. I pin my head against my pillow to block out the sound. I do not know why I hate this certain creaking, of the bed, it is something I just intuitively know I should not hear.

I do not remember if everything, outside, creaks as well. I have faint memories ofoutside, memories that are like the frayed photographs we have in the old leather book. The photographs are all stained and dog eared. Faded images of faces and settings.

There are many photos that are missing or torn, making the photo book look more like an old patchwork quilt that was left unfinished and forgotten.  I asked Mother once where were the  missing photographs, the photographs of Father.  She paused washing the dishes, her back facing me, she started running the water before she softly said that they were taken away. By them.

“Because they were of Father?” Once again she started moving the washed dishes which clacked together noiselsy. “I don’t know. Also the photographs were ofoutside.” I accepted this, there was nothing left to do.

I have faint memories, but I still wonder if outside creaks. I do not know for sure, but I recall walking on the grass in bare feet, but the memory of the sensation of it is locked away, locked away somewhere that I can’t get to.

When I look outside the parlour’s front window, out into the front garden, there is one small brown patch of grass.  If it was ever green, I do not know,but I imagine that that now if you were to walk on grass, each blade makes a frightening snap. Or perhaps it only creaks.

2

My sister was too young to remember outside, she had grown up only inside. I guess I also grew up mostly inside. She always calls me Loops, I do know why, or perhaps simply can’t remember. What I do know is that I do not hear my name anymore. No one calls for me, so sometimes when I am alone I say it out loud, but the word sounds strange in my mouth, my tongue fumbles over the now alien syllables, and there is an lingering bitterness which persists, even when hours have passed.

There is a phone in the house, sometimes Rebecca and I used to pick up the phone and pretend we were having a conversation. We repeat the conversations characters have in the books, the books that they drop off with the food. Even whenthey  take away the books and drop off new ones, it doesn’t matter because we have each question, each answer, each tone syllable,and consonant, memorized. We never go off script, we’ve never made up a conversation of our own, but we do take turns on who holds the phone, passing it back and forth whenever it’s the “character’s” turn to say their part of the script. Sometimes it is a conversation between friends, others times it is quarrelling lovers, sometimes even simple conversations such as ordering Chinese food.

The phone is disconnected, so no matter what conversation we are having, the only answer from the receiving end is the continuous dial sound. Our only, sole, reply.

When we first went inside, I remember Mother cried a lot. She would often sit in front of the porch door, seated at the kitchen table. With a cup of tea that was always untouched and went cold. I would watch her from the corner and sometimes she would stand up abruptly, as if she had been building up the strength to do so, and then race to the porch door.  Her hand would reach for the door handle, during that time she still wore her wedding ring. Perhaps my Uncle was always watching, or perhaps he always came at the right, striking, moment. He would grab her shoulders and pull her back and she never resisted much, her voice would sometimes break partway through her protest, but then she always eventually went slack and limp, allowing Uncle to lead her back to her seat. Whispering things softly in her ear,  but I knew they were warnings.

I have never tried to go outside, I saw what would happen shortly after if you did. It was raining that day, and I summoned enough courage to just stick my hand out the window to feel the soft rain drops hit my skin. I must admit, there was the thought of going outside, to let the rain coat my skin and soak through my clothes, making it cling to my body, to pretend that it was an embrace. It was a thought.

The man next door must of had the same idea. Or relatively same idea. But his idea must of been stronger than mine because it pushed him out the door, I remember his front door creaked. He had been younger than Uncle, but less handsome. But I felt a certain hunger, but what I hungered for I do not know.

He had walked out onto his porch, almost as if he was asleep, not knowing that he was walking. Like Rebecca when she wanders around the house at night. I was afraid, I was frightened, I was panicked, I was fear. If only he was the fear, its very self, if only, if only, he did not step farther away from his porch.

But he did. He was outside.

He was so far away from inside, it was like he was in another country, in another continent, in another world, a whole utter different state of being.

He stood in the middle of the street. He simply stood there, feet planted as if he may take root. His head leaned up towards the sky, eyes closed and mouth agape. Soon, the rain took him, swept him up, even though he stood perfectly still. It soaked, drenched, and nourished him, it was returning him alive. His clothes clung to his body, which was so frail and feeble, but at the same time, he seemed too large to be out there in the empty street.

I continued to watch from the window, and I felt a feeling that I now know, was shame. It coated my skin like a damp secretion, bore into my pores and made each one feel engorged and inflamed. I now know why I felt shame. I know that this was the most private moment of this man’s life. It was meant for him, and him alone, but I bore witness. It was more private than the moments he had spent away, from prying eyes, locked away, in his home, inside. Hidden away from eyes such as mine.

I was younger, by how much I can’t recall, but I did not understand how the world now works. The rules and the consequences of breaking them. At that point, unbeknownst to me, in the subconscious of children,  a certain knowing that gnaws at us, some animal instinct that can foresee approaching consequence, at points, deadly consequence. Such knowing dread is too much, so that eventually, as one grows into adulthood, it is shaken off like a sickened layer of skin. There are many things the mind does to cope, even if that means to destroy parts of itself. However, because of this almost forgotten instinct, I knew that the man’s moment was fleeting. That he would never be able to walk away from the street, onto his porch, into his house, back into the seclusion and the fictional safety of inside.

For soon they came. Since that time, before and after, I have never seen so many of them. I can’t remember what kind of vehicle they arrived in, or even if they came to the scene in one. As always, they were dressed in all grey, more pristine than white but more sinister than black.  Unlike the rain, they were the ones who really swept him up, in a violent manner that  did not call for it, for he did not struggle. I think, can only think, that he had accepted this outcome and his fate when he stepped outside. Soon I could not see a trace of the man, he was cast away in a sea of grey, soon they and him were drawn out of my peripheral view.

During all this, I was too frightened, too terrified to look away, so shocked still in place that I risked them seeing me in the window. Risking them seeing me watching, and perhaps be held privy to the rain man’s offence. For I was as much of a part of the crime scene as the man, as the rain, as them, and just as pivotal. Perhaps even more pivotal, more than the rain, more than him, more than them. For they had disappeared. The rain ceased soon after.

I was the only one who remained.

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