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There was a storm coming and they called it Silvia. I knew a woman by that name once. She had a beak like a bird. She sang in the yard. When at the beginning of a New Year I sat in my room, calmed by her song, I did not look out for fear she would fly away. No wonder they called a storm after her. 

The radio said that Silvia would be a category one hurricane. Hours before her arrival I developed a grade-one buzzing in my ears, much more troubling than a common tinnitus. I feared that Silvia’s song would knock the rhythm of the heart out of synch, the little dynamo would go crazy, initiating a loud whirring that would make dogs growl and whine, sending all of nature into a spin, for once subduing the daily uproar of the streets.

The electricity is bound to go said Barry Watson. I have no idea where he came from or how he got in but there he was sitting at the table fiddling with the dial of my transistor. I hope the batteries are strong in this thing so we can get updates when the power goes.

There was a disconcerting glint from his silver-framed spectacles, difficult to see the eyes and he was dressed like an undertaker. 

He said his mother-in-law was called Silvia, a funny woman with whom he shared a certain type of relationship. At least she had a sense of humour, even offered him money to mind her now that she was beginning to lose her mind, maybe I took my tablets already, she said, it doesn’t matter, he said, take them again, will they do me harm, she wondered, they won’t, they might kill you, but what harm is that? You will be devastated when she dies, his wife, her daughter said, she’s never going to die, said Watson. Her grand-nephew, a cheeky little runt recorded an exchange between them on his i-phone in which he Watson, appeared to be snarling at the old woman, snarling at Silvia, and the nephew threatened to put it on some public media system for all to see, some platform Watson knew enough about to be uneasy. It will be uploaded to Playback in Hell, the nephew said, when you get there, all your acquaintances will be able to tune in, sub-titled for all mankind from a bank of a thousand pointillistic, sub-articulable symbols.

Hadn’t you better get home before the storm, I said? It’s not too far off now, indeed I sensed Silvia out over the sea, tearing up the surface of the ocean, creating enormous swells and mountainous waves, while in the street the calm before the storm was coming to an end, the For Sale sign next door began to flap with a more than normal agitation, the trees stirred with unease and the blue canopy on the back of Watson’s Toyota Van began to rock to and fro. 

You better get out of here before the storm hits, I repeated to Watson who just then produced a bag of sandwiches from the pocket of his greatcoat.

I don’t know why I let that clown in, in the first place, with his endless bull, this time a long rigmarole about how he had appropriated the soul of a great writer, or whose soul took possession of mine, said Watson, what pretension you might think, he said, but is it not possible, for what do we know, do we know more than one per cent of what is happening around us? And if the great writer did not choose me, why shouldn’t I choose him? 

I stood. That’s it, I said, enough, you have to go, I don’t want you stuck here during the hurricane. 

What about the sandwiches, said Watson? 

What are they, I asked? 

Sure to be tasty, he said, made by the mother-in-law, a mixed bag of salami, smoked ham and spiced beef.  

I’ll put the kettle on, I said. But when they’re gone you must go. 

Deal, said Watson.  

When he was a young man, said Watson, he believed he was more conciliatory and submissive. He grew a beard and ignored the doorbell. Being remote from other people made it easier to deny himself material possessions. The babble and uproar of the world was muted. Little by little he became distant and unattached. The most profound sentences in the books by the great writer he venerated were marked by the squiggle of a man’s head in a hat, so he could find them again with ease. The squiggle of a man’s head in a hat was everywhere. There was not a page without two or three of them. There were pages he wished he had written, if I had written but one chapter of one book by that writer, I would, I would, he did not know what, but he would, he would… 

Drop dead, I prompted.   

Silvia was very near now. Soon she would be banging on the doors and windows, shaking the foundations and the rafters, knocking the thread of my thoughts for six, images woven from songs and poems, philosophical concepts, forgotten except in essence, films consumed, paintings observed, lessons learnt, forgotten except in essence, wisdom from works of fiction and drama become part of me by osmosis though always at a distance from a final stance, like a retired judge, in a film I saw, in a dark, desolate house, eyes shot with gall, swimming in the bitter blood of a bilious old heart, the veins in his head throbbing with rancour. Stop breathing, a beautiful young woman said, a model, stop breathing was her advice. Yes, I want to do that, said the retired old judge who also practiced the art of resignation, did I tell you, of course I did, Matthews instructed me, I placed my back against a wall, held it there for a minute or two, closed my eyes and thought about nothing but being resigned to my fate. 

When I opened my eyes, Watson was gone. 

I peeled and boiled potatoes and stocked up on water, I dug up a can of beans, a bottle of Jameson and a packet of dried figs. I secured the windows. I found a flash lamp and checked to see if it was working.

Silvia had reached the south-west coast, would soon pass Roche’s Point and make her way up the harbour, where we waited in expectation, mute, that was the word and other words like it, the words pile up behind panic-stricken eyes when the tongue that longs to explode is held in check, words are frozen on the corrupt organ terrified into silence, rattling and lolling before falling mute, the pencil on the notebook, however, the pencil on the notebook begins to move, a ready substitute for the corrupt organ. 

Silvia was coming and she would shake us to our very core and I know why I would continue scribbling right through the storm, as I know why I will always scribble, with a manic compulsion like being my own hangman, the vain attempt of a worm to justify its existence.  

A plate of sandwiches, some corned beef, some egg and onion, and a pint of water lay untouched beside my elbow. Obsessed by the reflection of light in the water, I was incapable of drinking it. I craved only indifference, all peace of mind forfeited, so forgotten that I could not be reviled, shortcomings such as cold-heartedness and self-absorption. Stop breathing said Silvia. I will try, I said, and one day I will succeed, all of eternity before me then without a ham sandwich. Because it is impossible to remember everything, you must stop breathing and become everything.   

16 January 2022 – Harbour Heights – Cork.  

Edward Mc Whinney of Cork, Ireland, is a regular contributor to Contrary. Read our interview with him.