The bells of the hospital church peal. The lighter bells count each quarter but when it comes to the serious business of the hour, the weightier bell takes over. As the hour bell counts, there is a moment between peals, a ponderous suspension of life, enough to give you rope to deliberate upon the steady, relentless motion of time and feel that all mysteries will be solved in an instant with the most astonishing of revelations. About every five minutes an ambulance clamours into the Hospital, so many in need of emergency services, every minute someone says; Call an ambulance. The ambulances and the bells, the shrieking of the all-night, manic screamers on the fifth floor, the first metro train at ten past five, disturbing the dust and Dr. Pott next door who begins to root around, scrapes the floor with a chair, slams doors and windows, knocks a glass and a cup over or maybe its a porcelain statue of the Venus de Milo. He knocks into the radiator, making the wall shudder, then he scrapes the floor with the chair again and talks to himself in a distressing, narcotic moan that filters through his nostrils with the smoke. I take a turn around the rooms. For some reason I think of the man running the corner bar, who told me that he works seventeen hours a day between preparing food, serving his customers and cleaning his establishment. He appears to be happy, but his expression is harried by the long hours of hard work. The mind is not helped by sleeplessness and even when the magic shroud of sleep descends it can be for so little time such as to-day when at 5.30 a.m. one of the hysterical shriekers began to pound her head against the door. I looked through the spyhole. Who is it, I said? The sound of my voice startled her out of one concussion into another, and in confusion she ran to the stairwell and darted up the stairs, I saw the soles of her shoes disappearing. I leaned against the door for some time, the now regular rumble of the metro train shaking a glass panel in the living room, a Vespa sparking on a corner, a toilet above being flushed, Dr. Pott snapping his Zippo, then a short interval to the pungent aroma of the weed, the first draw of the day. I imagine him sitting in there among the debris, his brain is floating in the kind of bewilderment and dismay that somehow mirrors my own. I think of a famous, reclusive writer who lived in this quarter. It was some time before his absence was noticed. A nosy neighbour became suspicious. The firemen broke the door down. I take a look around. I don’t have much, a wallet on the table, a passport in the closet, a few notebooks, some clippings from reviews and magazines, a piece about a nineteenth century poet for example, I ripped it from the newspaper, numberless were the manuscripts he created, few of them ever destined to see the light, the grand incremations when he burned them in the back-yard, ably assisted by his children who brought him fresh loads of fuel as fast as their little legs would carry them, burn what is not based upon real emotion, burn the lies and the myths. When I was a young man, I sat in my room like a spider, memories and intuitions slowly crippling me, one leg after the other going dead and one day, when I was very young, one day when I was a young child, I’m there, I’m walking along by large, black railings, it’s me and it’s not of course, a half-wit ten year old, running his hand along the railings and looking in at a white house with many large windows. Suddenly he stopped and pushed his head through the railings, intending to get closer to the house, to stare long and hard at the windows, maybe he would catch sight of someone or figure out what else was in there, what furniture, what delights, what exotic toys the children had, like a model railway that took up an entire room, with tunnels and Alpine villages, or a real live parrot talking in a cage? He stayed like that for a long time, ten minutes or so, that’s a long time with your head stuck between railings, and when he tried to pull his head back out, he found that he could not do it, his head must have swelled up or something, his ears were wedged against the hard iron and he thought they might have to be cut off in order for his head to be released. I sat in my room like a spider. Low ceilings and tiny rooms where time and dust and memories accumulate, cramp the soul and the mind and cripple the legs. I wondered how long I could last, doing nothing, swallowing the dust and letting the dust settle on the notebooks, not eating, not going out and how long would it take them to find me, for the firemen to break the door down?
Edward Mc Whinney lives in Cork, Ireland. He’s neither all that young nor all that old. He has been a regular contributor to Contrary, writing stories of Irish life and Spanish exile. Read more of his work here.