content warning: infant death
Pushing the cottage door closed required all my meagre strength. Finally, with my shoulder aching against the grain, I wrestled it to and fumbled down the large iron bar. Thunder complained foully outside, the keyhole whistling as I caught my breath. No, Jeremiah Tinderton – your humble narrator – will never be acclaimed for his titanic constitution. My skills are in the sifting of soil, the cataloguing of stones, and the classification of rare minerals: modest gifts, I grant you, but they are my own and I take comfort in knowing where the streams of my talents flow freely and where they merely trickle tributaristically.
I became suddenly aware of my dripping cloak and the water beading upon the bare boards: I was soaked through. Soaked, and yet I was nonetheless here. The tiny Scottish isle of St. Roderick’s was not a destination for which I would customarily have forsook London or my beloved mother. The island boasted few comforts: toothy crags, scraps of sheep leaner and greyer than the rocks themselves and winds that seemed permanently shot through with ice. The “winter” months could sometimes number four or even five. The small settlement community had shrunk over the latter half of the 1700s – several immense snowfalls being the chief culprits – and now, in 1846, the population had been reduced almost entirely to obstinate cottagers, refusing to abandon their ancient crofts to the gnaw of the elements. My host was one such steadfast example. And she was eyeing me.
“Ye ken put yer boots by the doar.” Oh, forgive me gentle reader! My quill droops, the very ink upon the page protests, and my quivering hand hesitates to precede, but, no – I must try to render her rustic speech as best I can recollect and set it down as faithfully as she spoke it. Therefore, steel your finer senses – they will be forced to endure much more, ere my tale is ended.
“Most kind,” I returned and bowed slightly, instantly feeling a touch of the absurd in my actions. She turned her face back to the fire. Despite the dramatic nature of my entry into her home – not to mention my superior social bearing – neither her person nor features had risen to any degree. Though I had been in her presence less than a minute, I concluded that the old woman was incapable of perturbation.
But, as I mentioned, I relish the analysis of ancient, forgotten and half-buried things. As I gently set aside an obscuring broom and hung up my cloak upon one of the dull iron hooks, I took in the sour hang of her features, her arched back and the flinty hair. The colour of the latter, I keenly noted, correlated almost exactly to that of the knapped Neolithic axe-head Dr Fenbrush had generously bequeathed me last month. Most queer of all, however, was the withered red stump that lay where her right hand should have rested.
“Might I be permitted to warm myself by the fireside?”
“Aye,” she said, crooking her forehead towards the opposing chair. It was larger and I fancied, better made, than her own. A late husband’s chair, perhaps, too painful to remove from the hearth. The seat afforded me the opportunity of further scrutiny of my cronish host, but the fire was, in truth, delightful in itself. Forgotten now were the fierce gales that had earlier cut at my cheeks as I had paced from the mainland boatman – why he refused to stay a second longer than to receive his payment, I could only wonder.
I have often, in my more whimsical moments, considered that I might one day indulge myself in the writing of a treatise – à la Charles Lamb – concerning the joys of the quotidian. The subject of my first essay: the humble fireplace. That welcoming glow, the luxurious warmth bestowed, the utility of food preparation (in lower households of course) and, above all these, the blissful crackle. Oh, how I used to adore the split and pop of the wood, the slow chewing up of a log’s blackened innards, the smoky parabola of an errant cinder escaping the flames’ clutch. Just how many years in the sum-total of our earthly existence has man spent, enraptured and immobile, staring into the heart of a fire. How many hours could I have spent, with eyelids shut, audibly imbibing the flick, click and smack of that blissful crackle. But, forgive me, I digress. Even with the entrancing sound of the fire, I felt a gentleman’s need to inquire further of my host.
“You are a widow I understand, Mrs Darroch?”
“Aye,” she replied, gently rocking in her chair, wasting not a syllable more than was necessary.
“Ah! And your children?” I ventured, having caught sight of a tiny charcoal likeness of a “wee bairn” – as she would no doubt have called it – upon the mantel. “They have now departed from St Roderick’s?”
“I see.” Mrs Darroch, it seemed, did not perceive my invitation of further discourse. I was about to dangle a second conversational morsel upon my line, when she pointed her red stump to my right.
Laid out upon a stool was my first evening’s meal – included with the price of my week’s lodging, a regrettably but necessarily costly five shillings and nine; I could find no other place on the island and had to accept whatever terms I was offered. With the two-pronged fork, I investigated the plate of small potatoes, yet smaller slices of turnip and the scrag of salted meat; evidently, my host was as parsimonious with her food as with her words.
As I dined, perhaps owing to a lack of gustatory stimulation, I found my eyes once again drawn to the arm with which she had pointed. Upon this second, more prolonged, inspection, I realised that it was contrary to my first suppositions, not a stump but a hand. In these circumstances, ‘hand’ may well be regarded as a deficient word, as this usually refers to a fleshy palm with five supple, extendable digits; the thing that reposed upon the armrest was a dull red, the skin ruddy and shrunken around a warped mass of clenched sinew. So waxen, unfeeling and alien did it look that I supposed she might use it as a mashing implement should she acquire more than her minute stock of potatoes. Her eyes were fixed upon me.
“A suppose ye’re wonderin’ aboot it.”
“Hmm?” I said, blinking.
“Ma haun,” she said.
“Well, I suppose I would like to – ” I began, oafishly, “I do beg pardon for regarding it with such avidity.”
“Mhm.” I could not tell whether this grunt was but a preface to some explanation of her strange appendage or if she had been offended greatly by my gazing upon it. There was silence, save for the delectable crackle of the fire, and I finished my meal, grateful for the distraction the task afforded me, however short-lived in duration and spartan in flavour. The beams of the cottage roof hung low above me. I noticed the windows had been welded shut – an attempt surely to defeat the winds that battered the house on all sides – and I felt a chill run through me, despite being sat in the centre of the hearth’s orange glow.
She lifted her eyes, took a breath and then cast them back to the fire. Across her features had raced a flicker of softness, which fled in the very next moment, as if she had been considering some difficult point of order then shaking it off.
“Ye’ll need yer rest th’ nicht,” she stated, as she stared blandly into the flames.
“Yes, the boat ride was quite long and not a little treacherous. Does it always – ”
“Ye remember whit a wrote? Aboot yer lodgings?” she said, ignoring my fledgling question.
“Indeed, I do, but it does seem a little peculiar for me to sleep in here? Might I not use a bedroom after all?”
“The bedroom. No a. The. Mine. Ye ken?” The fall of her words reminded me of the iron bar I’d earlier placed over the door. Heavy. Unbending.
“Ah, I see.”
“Ye agreit,” she raised a bony finger to me.
“Yes, I recall doing so.”
“Ye stay in here,” she said and snorted. “A wull nae stay here.”
“But why?” I regretted my impertinence immediately. Her eyes blazed in the firelight.
“A. Wull. Nae,” she repeated, tapping her red stump on the armrest with each word.
Mrs Darroch drew her shawl about her shoulders and rose from the chair. I could only imagine how bitter it would be in any room but this. I doubted her scant supply of fuel allowed her multiple fires about the cottage.
“Sure enough, mah auld bones ur plenty warmed,” she said, as if perceiving my thoughts, though she seemed to be addressing herself alone.
The bedroom door, smaller and flimsier than the one through which I had made my ingress, creaked as she departed.
I was alone.
My spirits were far from dampened however, and after performing my ablutions, I installed myself into the crude bedding the ancient widow had provided. The blankets were coarse but thick; the wool-sacks beneath me were generously stuffed and surprisingly sweet in fragrance. And had I not made it? Had I not proved mother’s fears ungrounded? After the perilous journey and tempestuous weather, I felt worthy of the firelight and the warmth in which I was bathed. Are not the intrepid entitled to their rest at the end of each day’s adventure? The lustre of this self-gratification dulled when I thought of the surely shivering form of Mrs Darroch in the next room. Perhaps she kept some feline companion that might offer her solace and heat. This was, indeed, a lonely island. I wondered if there were some store or tavern, whereby I might acquire some of the more cumbersome tools necessary for my week’s mineral survey. Such musings, along with that luxuriate crackling of the fireplace, transported me into the arms of Morpheus.
Cold. Yes, intensely cold. The flames still danced in the hearth and my blankets were, if anything, more tightly swathed about my person than when I had first drifted off. I thought I had heard a – there it was again. Distinctly, I heard it, as clearly as you now hear me. A footstep. Not upon the creaking boards that lay under my makeshift bed, but above my head. I scanned the room and confirmed what I already knew to be the case: the cottage was but the one level. There were no rooms above. Another step. Another. Could an intruder be making his ingress from the roof? He would have to be a desperate man to ransack such a threadbare abode. Unless…had he seen my arrival upon the island and recognised me for a gentleman of means? I had little coin about me, but what dissuasionary effect could my protestations have upon someone intent on – hah! As these thoughts coursed through my sleep-addled brain, I heard all at once a quick succession of heavy steps. They crossed above me and stopped at what I could only surmise to be the edge of the roof. It was as if something had launched itself from its side. Then silence.
I must admit my cowardice confined me to my blankets. Perhaps whomever or whatever had been pacing above had heard my waking and decided against their initial plan. Perhaps it had been but a cat or some other nocturnal creature who had suddenly taken flight while exploring the cottage roof. Neither of these fully convinced me – and yet the fire began to warm me, my lids grew heavy and I slipped back towards oblivion.
What strange sensory notions we have in that sliver of time twixt drowsiness and slumber: though it had been made up many hours previously, the crackling of the logs seemed to grow louder and more sumptuous than ever, and, as my eyes closed completely – though it sounds quite ridiculous to hear – I thought I saw a shadow interpose itself between my bed and the glow of the hearth.
Despite these nocturnal peculiarities, I rose refreshed. After another of Mrs Darroch’s bounteous meals – a hard oatcake with only slightly softer goat’s cheese – I approached my day’s labour with renewed vigour.
Alas, I was disappointed. The sky was wan, the sun hidden as if shrouded in the sacks that had formed my bed and, despite my entreaties and enticements of coin, the scant handful of islanders would part with little information necessary for my survey. By late afternoon I began to grow homesick and hungered for the abundances of London, its steaming beef and ham shops, its oyster bars – even the homely baked-potato sellers. As I reflected on these comforts and realised that I would have to settle for the island’s meagre fayre, I considered that perhaps my waist could stand a measure of shortening. The owner of the pitiful island store was the most loquacious of the natives, by which I mean that I received two voluntary sentences and those only upon learning of my lodging with the widow Darroch: “Nae good al come af it – poor Feargas on Kennie. Ye should watch yersel’.”
My stomach growled as I stalked back in the dusky light, treading carefully down into the dell in which the tiny cottage resided and prepared myself for another of the widow’s austere repasts. A coarse phrase from Smollett’s Sir Lancelot Greaves crept into my head – ‘for I bee so hoongry, I could eat a horse behind the saddle’ – and I smirked as I considered how mother would rebuke me for such crudity. In hindsight, it was not the words of Smollett, but those of the storeowner to which I should have paid greater heed.
That evening, again installed by the fire, my host appeared to have relaxed slightly, going as far as to enquire on my day’s activities and evening’s rest. Mrs Darroch’s features remained grave and immobile as I praised St Roderick’s bracing sea air and distinctive granite, then remarked charitably on the thickness and sweet fragrance of the blankets and bedding provided to me. It was only this poverty of discourse that led me to mention the odd noises I thought I had heard in the dead of night.
As I recounted the sound of the footsteps running across the roof, I was alarmed to remark that her eyes no longer lingered on the fire. Instead, they bore into mine. Her nostrils flared. On her one good hand, the whites of the knuckles stood out as she gripped the armrest; on her other twisted cudgel of a hand, the redness seemed to beat, as if infected with rage. I felt I had mistakenly stumbled into a patch where I was far from welcome.
“An didyae say the fire wes bricht?” she asked intently.
“Beg, lairge, lively!” she persisted, chiding me like a toddler for my comprehensional shortcomings.
“Yes! Very much so.”
She relented and turned her eyes back to the fire. The same softened look as the previous evening came upon her face. This time however it remained and I waited patiently.
“Ye micht as weel hear it tellt true,” she began, her words tinted by both reluctance and what seemed to me a great unburdening. “Ye wull nae be ’ere lang noo.”
“This but and ben wisnae ay sae lonely. Ye asked aboot mah fowk: mah man wis called Feargas – a stout, bonny lad wi’ hair black as nicht. Oor wee laddie wis called Kennie – ainlie seven months, bit wi’ locks starting tae graw jest as black. Twenty summers ago, there hud bin a snowfall unlike ony witnessed afore. Juist twa years before it, a similar snowfall hud sent mony families fae th’ island fur good. ‘Good riddance’, we said.”
“But this time, th’ snaw wis doubly deep. We hud prepared of course. Like ony winter we hud stored up a stock o’ food, ye ken, bit this wis lik’ nething a’body – even th’ oldest folk – hud ever seen afore. Th’ snaw hud trapped us. It lay aroond the cottage seven foot deep. We wur cauld. So cauld ye cuid see yer breath hang before ye like a ghost. Bit then we grew hungry. Even though we counted oot th’ food intae wee portions ‘n’ ate paukit meals, th’ supply dwindled doon. Hunger gnawed thro’ us as we ate anythin’ we cuid – rotten tatties, clumps o’ moss, boots n’ belts all boiled up with snow water. Soon Kennie hud nee milk fae me. The wee boy teuk tae greetin’ maist o’ th’ day ‘n’ all o’ th’ night.”
“Excuse me.” I hardly dared speak lest I stem this great and unexpected flood of words. “Greeting?”
“Cry-in’,” she translated, sourly. “Bawlin’.”
“Ah,” I replied, as apologetically as possible; though many of her words were hard to “ken”, I was ravenous for more.
“So,” she resumed, “whin we hud barely enough strength tae staun, Feargas decided there wus nething else fae it. He wid huv a go tae git tae anither hoose – mibbie try tae reach Mccallister’s tavern, that wis up oan higher ground ‘n’ wid surely hae braved th’ waither better than this paukit steid. He pushed thro’ th’ thatch ‘n’ pulled his-sel onto th’ roof. Ah tellt him he wis mad bit he wouldnae stop – he hud tae huv a go tae save me and wee Kennie. He bolted ‘n’ jumpt as far as he cuid, thinking he cuid mebbie swim thro’ th’ snaw. He couldnae. Even if he cuid normally, he jus didnae hae th’ strength.
She was staring into the firelight again. Lost in her recollections.
“I managed tae pull him back up onto th’ roof, bit he hud bin in th’ snaw fur sae lang. He wouldn’t stoap shimmyin’ ‘n’ babbling. Ah made up a kip juist lik’ that one.”
I regarded the bedding wherein I had passed the previous night and shivered.
“And then ah wrapped him up fernent th’ fire. He wis shimmyin’ sae much it a’maist seemed lik’ he wis laughing. A thought it wid be best fur him tae bide in ’ere wi’ Kennie ‘n’ th’ warm fire and…”
I had never seen someone so overflowing with speech come to such a halt. How I wish I had counted the seconds that she sat, mouth parted, unmoving, with the shadow of the flames playing about her face, her good hand involuntarily rubbing at the red claw of her other.
“And…?” I ventured, finally.
The trance was broken.
“Nothing. Forget ah said anythin’. Ye shuid git yer rest, if yer aff tae hae anither earlie stairt th’ mornin’. A’m aff tae kip. Ignore whit ah said. Ye won’t be ’ere much langer.”
I began to speak, but she was deaf to my protestations, possessed, it seemed, by a sudden impulse to leave the room and blow out the remaining candles. My rationality grappled with my imagination as she did so hastily. She paused as she opened the door to her bed chamber.
“Ar ye a man of god, a Christian, Mr Tinderton?”
I took this as an audacious piece of impertinence. “I, madam, am a geologist,” I returned proudly.
“Ah thought as much. Sleep weel.”
It would be other than truthful to say I was not perturbed. Could I leave the cottage? Yes dear reader, I did consider this course of action, albeit briefly. It was dark. I had little means of navigation to the shore. The boatman would not be present without prior engagement. Then I reflected upon how weak and disappointing was such a speculation. Was I to return to London with no findings? Was I to let down mother and insult all her investments in my scientific endeavours? What would Fenbrush think of me if he were to discover my flight and inability to uncover the scantest of geological specimens? With a rush of elation, at that moment, I remembered my axe head. I disinterred it from the depths of my case and held it tight as I reposed, once again on the sacking. I ignored the possibility of these being the very sacks on which the late Feargas had slept, shivering from his plunge into the snow. Under my breath, I scoffed at the widow’s parting question and comforted myself with the fact that in the deeply unlikely event of my being disturbed, my assailant – whomever they may be – would face not a worthless crucifix or other such talismanic nonsense, but the raw edge of the flint between my fingers; let them best one of the most ancient and effective weapons ever wrought by the hands of man.
As I waited for sleep to descend, I once again took solace in that most mundane yet sumptuous of pleasures: the crackling of the fireplace. The widow Darroch was, despite her paltry meals, no skinflint when it came to building up my fire at least. How can one describe the sound accurately? Yes, there is the crackle undoubtedly. It is so commonplace a sound one may never fully focus upon it. But I did. In that chill-ridden cottage with its shadows and icy history, it was my sole comfort. The smaller pieces cricked as they flamed and fell. The central logs, hummed and trickled with amber flame while the drawing breath of the chimney created a low, steady groan. Every now and then a sharp snap would sound and the limbs of the wood collapse a little into the seething embers. I closed my eyes, exhausted more by Mrs Darroch’s revelations than by my day’s perambulations and faded into sleep.
The crackling woke me. This was not the sudden jolt of footsteps as with the night before, but an intensity of noise than had grown unbearable. Crackling all around me. In accompaniment, the room felt hazy and intensely warm. I scrabbled at the hefty blankets swaddled almost chokingly tight about me. I needed air. It was difficult to focus – as if I was in drink or the victim of some heavy sedatives. How could she sleep through such a cacophony? Through the orange swim of light and din of drawing breath, I saw it. The faint shape I had glanced the other evening, was now undeniable. A dark collection of limbs, made shadowy by its position in front of the fire. Whatever it was, it was hunched over with its back to me.
Without my conscious bidding, my hand gently scooped up the flint which had fallen from my grip in my slumber. I held it tight and dared to rise, slowly, from the bedding. The room was still beating with abominable, near hellish, heat and I began to feel faint as I rose to my feet. Drawn by some entrancing pull, I placed one stockinged foot before another, feeling the boards complain as I ventured towards the dark figure. The crick and snap of the fire seemed to enclose me, at once in front and behind and all around my ears. The trickle of the fire’s slow chew lay sickly under these harsher sounds. It was then I noticed the jerking movements of the hunched form before me and how its sharp motions coincided with those oppressive fireplace cracks. Somehow, the fire and the figure were one. As I neared its right side and felt my grip tighten around the flint, I perceived it more clearly. It was human in shape but almost apelike in movement. It sat cross-legged, head bowed low, its limbs consumed with some highly dextrous activity. There was a hard crack as the creature snapped something in its lap. My brain swam as it reconciled the sounds of the fire with that of the fiend. I rounded upon it and raised my free hand to my mouth in terror.
The figure, now clearly a man, was hunched over a blackened object. Even had it perceived me, it paid me no attention, so free and flowing was the blood that ran from its chin as it ate. It chewed ravenously, continuously, the smacking of its scarlet lips and cheeks merged with that of the fireplace. Swallowing down another mouthful, it raised part of the charred thing in its arms and I winced as it snapped apart something with unblinking force. It was only when it began to gnaw at the thicker end of the stump that I saw the four still smoking fingers and tiny thumb at the other, wriggling in the blazing firelight as if still possessed of life. What occurred next evades my precise recollection. I remember raising the flint to bring down whatever judgement I could upon this form and then its head turning to mine as if it had only just noticed my presence. Instead of the expected terror or defiance, it wore a gleeful expression – how I wish I could forget – a glassy stare of pure wretched indulgence, elation like that of a boy given a freshly stuffed box of Turkish delight and told they are all his, every last cube. I heard the flint drop from my hand onto the bare boards of the cottage. At the sound, then the grinning creature’s face fell and for a moment, it seemed to clasp the remains of its horrific meal tightly in its arms.
It lurched forward, pitching headlong into the fireplace itself. The wiry form of Mrs Darroch was behind it. With all her strength, she was pinning the head of the bloody man into the centre of the flames, not with her good fleshy hand, but with the fiery red stump. She bit her lip, a crimson thread running from it, as she held the face of the shrieking creature, first over the licking yellow and then forcing it down into the glowing white of the embers. As the skin and fat of the man’s cheeks began to run molten, bubbling in the heat and the black hair caught alight, the walls of the cottage span and I passed from consciousness.
When I regained my faculties, I was sitting once again in the larger of the cottage’s rocking chairs. I was propped up, a blanket around my shoulders, the acrid tang of whisky on my lips. It took a moment for me to recall the horror I had just witnessed. The cottage’s disorder confirmed it as no mere illusion: disturbed embers smouldering on the floor; the widow’s chest palpitating with the energy she had expended; the hem of her nightgown smoking where the red stump had been plunged into the fire. But where now lay that hideous, cannibal that Mrs Darroch had so ruthlessly dispatched? Where also was the unfortunate…thing it had been eating? Their disarray remained though both appeared gone.
“Ah suspect you’re wondering who that wis?”
I must admit, that, being so concerned with my immediate safety, my brain had not yet reached such an avenue of questioning. But now she had voiced it, I could think of little else.
“Ah didnae think he wid come again sae soon. Mibbie it’s th’ presence o’ anither mon in th’ hoose.” She looked doubtfully at my person. “Mibbie not.”
“So was that – ”
“Feargus? Aye. It was. Lest nicht, ah didnae tell ye everything.
I waited, unwilling to risk the possibility that, at any moment, she might choose not to relate any more of her tale.
“Ye heard aboot him trying tae swim thro’ th’ snaw tae git us hulp. They wur his footsteps ye heard lest nicht. Efter ah pat Feargas tae kip fernent th’ fire, ah went tae bed as usual. Ah knew I’d wake tae check oan him ‘n’ Kennie soon, being a light sleeper. Mercifully, Kennie wis tae weak tae greet that nicht. Beyond wrappin’ Feargas up ‘n’ giein’ him a dram o’ whisky – th’ ainlie thing left tae consume in th’ hoose by that point – ah didn’t ken whit tae dae. Ah ignored th’ gnawing o’ hunger in mah stomach ‘n’ fell asleep.
“Ah woke up aboot a oor o’ sae efter. Whither ’twas juist worry or th’ soonds he wis making, ah didn’t ken. But as ah left th’ kip ‘n’ approached th’ bedroom door, ah wis sure ah cuid hear something unfamiliar oan th’ ither side, something ah hadnae heard for a while: laughter. Feargas wis giggling.
“Th’ fire wis bult up far beyond th’ day’s ration we hud agreed. He wis crouching doon by th’ fire, laughing ‘n’ chewing something. At foremaist, ah thought he’d found some auld meat we hud forgotten aboot or mibbie he hud snared some wandering wild animal: baith mad suggestions, ah know. Th’ reek o’ cooked flesh hung in th’ air. It sent me pure ravenous, lik’ a beast stirring ben me. That’s whin I saw Kennie’s wee crib was empty.
“‘Where’s Kennie?’ I said, and not stopping for a reply, I said it again, louder. ‘Where’s Kennie!’ He turned a look ower his shoulder ‘n’ a clocked th’ glint o’ a smile in his face. It wasn’t wholly devious bit joyful too – it’s hard tae explain. Bit that look tellt me it all. Ah grabbed th’ back o’ his heid, nearly pul’in oot a clump o’ locks, ‘n’ forced his face intae th’ fire. Ah cuid see mah haun taking th’ heat as he hollered, betrayed. He wis a lairge lad, mah Feargas, bit some kind o’ power flowed thro’ me ‘n’ mah haun stayed doon, despite his flailing, despite mah shrieks o’ pain, despite me seeing th’ very skin o’ mah hauns melt intae this!”
I jumped as she banged her stump hard on her armrest; it appeared to have suffered no injury from the second plunge into the fire.
Some moments of silence passed.
“And your son?” I said, quietly.
“Ah buried him whin th’ snaw thawed. Whit wis left,” she replied, unblinking. “Twas a week efter ‘n’ ah wis nearly deid masell. Aye ah tore at th’ icy earth, mah stump ‘n’ mah guid haun, ‘til ah hud made a wee hole tae let him rest. Bit tonaet, we ken rest.” And I knew she wasn’t addressing her words to me anymore. “Until he’s hungry again, we kin rest.”
The next morning, I trudged up to the highest elevation of the clifftops and let every piece of my equipment topple from the edge. Hammers, chisels, compasses, notebooks – all were swallowed by the grey, foaming waters. I have no further desire to dig up buried things; as with many things, I can no longer stomach the idea. Speaking of stomachs, I succeeded in that regard at least. Mother would be quite surprised to see my reduction in rotundity, were she still here. Hah – I am quite the rake now! I don’t believe it was my failure of correspondence that brought her trouble on, but who can be sure of anything now? I find the right mosses can be quite palatable and mushrooms need not be cooked to be nutritious.
On discovering how I had disposed of my equipment, the store owner (MacCulloch, I have since learned he is titled) chided me bitterly for the waste. In response, I inquired how much coin would convince him to construct the little shack in which I now sit and set down my thoughts in the yellowy pages of my one remaining logbook. It is hard to see clearly – no, not even a candle. Not one single match. The light will fade soon. I know they whisper around the isle. With the passing of years, I care no longer.
Rereading my account, I now see how like a fire this setting down of things truly is: from the first twitches of spark, the flames of my speech arose, words dancing and stoking my memories. In their wet, inky light, I admit I felt something of my former self again. But flames fade. Die down. Ink soaks. Dries. I am embers now and sunken words.
She used to leave me little plates outside my door; how shamefully I recollect my earlier begrudgements of her meals. But they have stopped. The tin dish from the last one, remains empty, uncollected. I can hear beads of rain bouncing from its smooth face. Dark is here. I will reach for another blanket and feel the sweet coarseness of its embrace. I can set down no more.
Jonny Rodgers is a writer of poetry and short fiction from the Northwest. He completed a doctorate in Contemporary Fiction at the University of Manchester and now teaches in South Manchester. His publications include: Envoi, Stand, Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Morning Star, The Cadaverine, Prole, Best of Manchester Poets: Volume 2 and 3, and Cake. Find him on Twitter @JonnyDRodgers.
photo by Headway (via unsplash)