Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Johnny Grainger

"A dark, bare, dirty room, a lodger’s room, the room of a young man with no money and no spirit. It was dark because they had made it that way, bare because they had taken the sofa, the rug, the television, and left only the narrow bed, the pinewood table, the rough armchair. It was dirty because it always was. They would have made it that way anyway. The window let in a little light from the street and the buildings nearby, blotching the floor and the walls, speckling the room with shifting patterns of sinister shapes that didn’t light anything. You can’t make out the edges, the corners, at all. The dimness becomes blackness before it gets there. Johnny was in the chair, sitting upright, rocking slightly, hands tight on the arms. You could see his face clearly. You had to. He looked ill. He looked nervous. He looked frightened. He didn’t look hopeless. Not yet.

There’s a bottle on the table. It’s empty. And a dirty glass beside it. He doesn’t look at them, he knows they’re finished. He hasn’t been drinking, not today. It’s yesterday’s bottle. He would have thrown it away, but then you wouldn’t know yet why he looks like that, and you need to know from the start. So it stayed there. You might think it’s mocking him, but it’s not. Empty bottles can’t mock. You can get rid of them, or if they have to stay, ignore them. Nearly empty, then they mock. Nearly empty when a flick of the wrist and a swallow is all they have left for you, almost nothing, but not quite. You still need them then. You can’t take your eyes off it. You can’t move. If you did you would pour and then there would be nothing, and the real fear would begin. The little it has to give is everything you have, all that stands between you and the fear; a tiny thing that you desperately need. And it knows it, and it mocks you. But an empty bottle can’t mock. Its power has gone. The one on the table has to be empty, or it would already be over.

He stood up, jerked upright by his body, his mind demanding change in the hope of release. He went to the window, and stood looking out. You could see his profile in the sullen light. It was dark already, but it was still early evening. You know that from the clock on the wall. It doesn’t look right, it’s too big and chunky, but you have to know the time. He stood a long time by the window, breathing heavily, letting his breath massage his tense muscles and then he turned back, crossed his arms tightly, and looked at the bottle. Again there is light on his face, and you see there the pain and the need, and some kind of ghost of strength, a desperate belief in something just below the panic. You can see it all in his face. You have to. There’s no one he can talk to yet, and you need to know it now.

He’ll go out soon, you know he must, he can’t sit there in that room all night, or stand at the window looking at things that aren’t there. He’s going to go out, but it won’t be for a while, there are things he can still do there. He’s going to go out, but he knows what you don’t; he knows what’s waiting for him. And the room is not exhausted yet.

There was a radio playing on the table, you had hardly noticed it till then, but he looked at it, moved towards it, turned it up. It was playing some kind of jazz, something soulful, mournful and slow. He listened, concentrating, tried to make his body move with it, but he couldn’t find the rhythm. He sat again in the armchair, and leaned back awkwardly against the cushion, returning to the shadows, only his face clearly visible. He lit a cigarette then, of course, taking a Woodbine and a single match from his breast pocket. He let the smoke curl slowly upward in the same light that fell on his face, and half-closed his eyes, tapping his feet languidly to the music. It couldn’t last, you knew it wouldn’t, not the length of a whole cigarette. After three puffs he stood and crushed it angrily into the already full ashtray, on the table, next to the bottle. That is not where it would really be, but it looks better, it works..."

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