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L. R. Bonehill
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incumbent.jpg
Art by Gordon Purkis 2009

Incumbent

 

L. R. Bonehill

 

 

I write this journal in the thick layers of dust in the rooms here with a nail that is long and gnarled and black.  The others I bite down to the quick, down through the flesh and gnaw at the exposed bone. I write in the dust, on the flaking paint of the walls, in the scum on the windows, in the drying blood of the insects I am forced to eat. 

 

There is only darkness here at present, both outside and within.  I can barely see to write in the gloom, but I must persist and keep this record. These rooms, this house is a testament to my days, to the fact that this is not my only past.  I must write it all down before I forget, before I lose myself to this.  Yet, I fear it may already be too late.

 

***

 

I had walked past the house innumerable times before; it was part of my route home from the cemetery.  I used to visit mother at least three times a week in those days, while the grief was still raw and sickening.

 

For some reason I cannot explain, I was drawn to the house that day.  Something pulled me back, made me pause and actually look at the house for the first time. 

 

          It stood alone on a corner, guarded by an unkempt and frenzied garden.  Tall trees stood like sentries, their branches reaching to obscure the high-gated entrance.  A rusted chain and lock snaked loosely around the bars of one gate.  The other stood half open, creaking in the breeze.  Grime-caked windows frowned down from their crumbling frames and the yellowed paint of the facade was cracked like dried parchment.  It could once have been elegant, but had long since fallen into neglect and was now a withered and lifeless house. 

 

Then, from one of the upper windows, it blazed into sudden glory.

 

          She was beautiful.  Raven-black hair cascaded down to her shoulders; fair, delicate looking skin; a tender, fragile smile and deep, black eyes, hooded yet divine and hypnotising.  All this in a fleeting moment, the very briefest of glimpses, yet it was enough and I was enslaved.  Then, as quickly as she had appeared, she was gone.  Vanished from the window in an instant, leaving neither shadow nor reflection, only desire.

 

          I stayed below that window, neck craned upwards, eyes squinting to discern the merest shadow of form, for what seemed to be hours.  It could have been minutes, it could have been days.  All I wanted was to see her again, but my patience went unrewarded.  Why did I not call to her, why did I not knock upon the door?  I had not the nerve to do these simple things.  To stand there alone, waiting, even this was an act of unparalleled confidence for me. 

 

I did this, yet not for one moment did I pause to question the logic of it.  Only now, with the darkness suffocating me in its heavy shroud, do I look back and realise how absurd it all was.  Standing there in the wild garden of a near-derelict house, waiting for a sight of a beautiful young woman.  It is inexplicable what one will do to satisfy an obsession, what one will become obsessed with.

 

          Day and night I thought of her, played the scene over and over again in my mind.  I examined in minute detail the gentle curve of her lips, the sheen of her hair, the delicately pinched angles of her nose, the slight down on her cheek, the graceful arch of her neck, the enchantment of her absorbing eyes, so complete was her vision. 

 

I sketched her face again and again on any scrap of paper I could find, delighting in the way I could recreate her elegance with the simple stroke of a pencil.  I constantly deliberated on a name equal to her beauty, but it proved a fruitless task.  I tried to imagine her voice and the music it would carry as, in my sleeping dreams and waking fantasies, she called out to me. 

 

Yet, the one thing I did not, could not do, was to resolve to return to that lonely house and again hope for a glimpse of her.

 

          My life quickly became hers, every thought, every act, every breath.  Not once did I doubt that was the true course.  Eventually, as time ebbed by, my intense desire to see her subjugated my fear of being spurned.  So it was that, shaking with anxiety, I finally made my way back to the house.

 

          That first return journey was ultimately disappointing.  My steps were faltering, my palms were slick with a nervous sweat and my stomach was wrung into a series of ever tightening knots.  All this in vain; once again I could only stand in the garden waiting for something which was clearly not to be.  It was a pleasure just to be there, however, knowing that I was in her presence and that, if she chose, she could come to window and gaze down upon me. 

 

          After no little time, my legs aching from remaining in one spot for too long, my neck stiff, my hopes dashed, I left. 

 

***

 

After an interminable period of darkness, the light has returned.  I can see the words I’ve etched in the sullied glass, see my long hair as it falls over my face and down my neck.  It is dirty and matted into thick clumps and knots.  Reflected in the window, framed by my memories, I see the clock on the far wall.  The face is broken into a web of cracks, the hands are almost stationary.  It ticks once, loudly, its force crashing about the room, stirring the dust from the floor to dance and skip slowly in the air.  I sit and wait for the reciprocating tock.  It does not come, but I am patient.

          I am alone here and it is unbearable.  I ache for comfort, for human touch.  I do not know if it is this loneliness, this isolation, which has formed a vague muttering in my head.  I cannot quite make out the name which is rolling about my mind over and over again.  Taunting me, haunting me.

 

***

 

My obsessive pilgrimage continued on an almost daily basis.  Finally, one day I saw her shadow stretch across the wall and watched as it became form.  She smiled at me from the confines of the room and raised a hand, splaying her long fingers against the glass.  She was even more alluring than I remembered her being that first time.  Tears welled in my eyes as I saw her lips unmistakably shape my name.  I heard the softness of her voice, not across the air but in the darkness of my mind.  It was more melodious than I could ever have imagined.

 

Each day I visited her, talked to her as I had once talked to mother, desperately wanting her to answer my entreaties as mother never could.  Each night I lay awake in my squalid chambers, watching the damp stains on the walls grow and fester, thinking only of her. 

 

Very often now I would be greeted by her smiling face and she would stay at the window for a little while, mouthing my name before slipping out of sight.  Other times I left without a single sign of her.  Always, I left the grounds of that desolate house elated yet still unsatisfied, with a growing ache which could not be subdued.  Like a morphine addict I needed my fix, then I needed more. 

 

          She had taken to calling to me at night, stirring me from my already fitful sleep, whispering delicate promises.  Physically, I froze when I felt her words exploring my mind, fearful that the slightest movement or breath would dispel her voice and leave me alone once more.  I would desperately attempt to remain awake throughout the night, every night.  Most nights I succeeded.

 

I was a physical wreck.  Confronting the mirror to run through my ablutions, I would be greeted by a drawn, haggard and almost gray visage.  My unwashed hair was lank and slick with grease, my red eyes circled with dark exhaustion and days of patchy stubble clung to my chin and neck.  I had lost weight almost to the point of emaciation. Much of the time I forgot to eat; only the vicious rumbling of my stomach served as a reminder.  All in the name of love.

 

          I had taken to sleeping in that overgrown garden sometimes, directly underneath the window, her window.  At least here I was close to her and that was all that mattered.  Still I had not the strength of confidence to call out to her, beckon to her, rap on the door.  I would wait, exactly what for I did not yet know, nor did I care.  Her judgment would no doubt prove sound.  All that was required was that I show patience and reserve.

 

          At last, after many sleepless, uncomfortable nights spent in the folds of a hedge or against the twisted bole of a tree, after countless apparitions of her graceful form, after infinite vows whispered lovingly through my head, I saw that the front door to that frail house was slightly ajar.  A sliver of light edged across the wooden porch.  From within I heard the ticking of a clock.  It was an invitation.

 

***

 

          I have descended to the basement; the period of light is at its apex and it will be unbearable in the upper rooms.  Once it is safe to venture to the rest of the house, I will no doubt find, as I always do, hordes of dead insects littering the floor. Scorched to a blackened crust by the light, burned in their tracks before they could find the shelter of a dark niche.  If I am not hungry, I will pull off their legs, wings, shells and write this journal with the pieces of their broken bodies.

 

Still, the incessant mumbling goes on in my head, but it is more defined now and the name is clear.  I find myself absent-mindedly muttering it to myself and scrawling it on the floor.  I know it now for what it is and I repeat it over and over in a litany.  The single word she whispered to me when we finally met.

 

***

 

          There was no hesitation when I saw that the door was open.  It was what she had ordained, what I had been waiting so long for.  My mouth became dry and my throat seemed to close so tight I could hardly breathe.  I felt a slight dizzying sensation and a creeping tingle as I walked through the door.

 

          She was not there to greet me.  She obviously wanted me to find her.  I could hardly believe that we were finally to meet after all this time.  Would we embrace, kiss, talk of our shared desire or would we merely be together and silent?  I did not know, but I was sure that whatever happened would be beautiful, would be right.

 

          In all my time watching for her I had only ever seen her from the same upper story window, hence I wasted no time surveying the house but made directly for the stairs.  The climb seemed interminable; each step creaked and groaned under my feet and pieces of the rotting banister came away in splinters in my hand.  All the while she called to me, her mellifluous voice running through my head like the unstoppable course of spring water.  Once on the landing I looked around at the many doors. One stood ajar in welcome and, with a trembling hand, I pushed it open.

 

          She stood at the window, her back facing me.  She was naked, her skin shining.   A vicious yearning stirred deep in my loins, throbbing and pulsing insistently.  I did not step closer, but remained in the shadow cast by the door.  The beating of my heart was furious and I felt the itching of tiny beads of perspiration rising on my brow and the nape of my neck.  My breath caught in the constraints of my throat.

 

          I felt the silky tones of her voice as it breezed through my head, exploring the hidden recesses there, leaving its golden touch.  I caught her reflection in the window and for the briefest of moments I was certain it was my mother's face that stared back at me.

 

          In an instant the voice cracked, deepened beyond recognition.  Her promises were no longer tender and affectionate, but vile and malicious, leaving in their wake scalding, molten lead. 

 

          As she began to turn away from the window, she raised her hands to obscure her face.  Her nails were long and ragged, horribly twisted things.  I watched, stunned, as she dug them deep into her forehead and dragged her hands down, tearing at her face.  Blood welled like silent tears and her skin fell away in ragged strips, exposing the rawness beneath. 

 

          She threw these pieces of bloodied flesh to the floor, savagely biting some of them free from her nails and spitting them out in a reddened mess, before beginning again.  She ripped at the marble of her cheeks, pulling and shredding violently until her face was raw and glistening.  Blood filled her mouth, staining the perfect whiteness of her teeth a dark crimson. 

 

          She began to rip at the skin of her arms.  It came free in long ribbons to flap loosely at her side, reaching for the skin already heaped on the floor.  She took a step towards me, clawing at her chest, leaving vicious streaks to bleed down her body.  And all through this awful performance she twittered and giggled like some sort of gibbering, demented street urchin.

 

I did not, could not move; I was still strangely entranced by her.  As she edged towards me I could hear the blood dripping from her.  It spattered to the floor and with each step yet more fell. 

 

Standing directly before me she raised a sodden hand to my cheek and inclined her head to my face.  This maniacal creature then bestowed a whisper of a kiss on my lips and, turning my head to one side, the kiss of a whisper in my ear, both leaving the mark of her blood.

 

          Then she was gone, through the door in an instant and as it shut behind her I saw that my name had been carved into the wood over and over and over again to form a single word, a single chant.

 

***

 

          I have been alone here ever since.  Never has she returned, never again have I felt the silk of her voice.  I have never expected to.  For some time, I never questioned a moment of it all and certainly never tried to leave here.  Even now I know that this would prove futile; as before I must be patient, I must wait.

 

It took a while to discern what she had whispered to me in that room, but now I repeat it constantly and scratch it into any available space:  Estella, Estella, Estella.

 

There are many names similarly etched in this room.  Crudely carved into the walls, the floor, the skirting boards.  Some of them worn and faded with time. 

 

Estella; it is an obsession, a key to the lock of my cell, but I no longer know if I want to leave.  At least here I am safe, with only the memories of a distant life to torment me.  Confined within these rooms I am free.

 

          Regardless, I have no power of persuasion in the matter, so I take my place at the window and wait patiently for the new incumbent.  One day she will pass by the gate and I will call to her and she will be mine. Estella.

 

          From below, I hear the clock as it resumes the steady rhythm of its ticking.

 

L. R. Bonehill is not to be trusted. Some people made that mistake a few years ago and...well...they paid. He's much more stable now, though, and would really like to be your friend. Visit him online at http://bonehillsboneyard.blogspot.com/

 

 

 

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