It is said that true darkness is simply the absence of light; it possesses no texture, no subtlety, no poetic license.
But this dark is more than absence. Imagine: The inky blue-black of a starless night; the womb-like static of dreamless sleep. Soon there will be time and with it narrative, but first time needs to be perceived. For the moment it lies in abeyance; unobserved and unmarked.
Gradually Marietta senses the rumble of traffic and the smell of rain; the enervating rain of a winter’s evening in London. She opens her eyes, wincing in pain as the air is punch-driven from her lungs. She’s lying on the glistening pavement, staring up at millions of raindrops. Backwards in time they hurtle toward the heavens as if fleeing from the rigid laws of Newton.
Sparked into life, her body convulses; neurons firing, breath returning, capillaries lit up like Los Angeles seen from the Griffith Observatory. Now pulled to her feet like a marionette, she flings her arms skyward. Her feet leave the ground and she’s propelled eight stories high to the balcony of the Coq D’Argent restaurant. She stares out across the rooftops; the familiar London landmarks, then up into the retreating raindrops. For a second she stands like the figurehead of some futuristic battleship, framed in memory, written against the stars, then plucking a glass of wine from the ledge, she enters the restaurant.
The diners appear apathetic to her entry. Most continue extracting food from their mouths and forking it onto their plates. She gets some mildly interested looks, wondering which circles of influences she might occupy. She backs cautiously past the tables until able to slip, virtually unnoticed, through the double doors that lead to the elevators.
With his index finger, Peter Strauss traces the grain of his wooden desk. He finds it helps him locate the next cut; the next scene. He’s deeply absorbed, oblivious to his apartment and its stale odour of unwashed clothes and adhesive. The large desk is cluttered with scale-models made for movies; most are disintegrated works-in-progress. In his right hand he holds what appears to be a tiny home-made doll, no bigger than a matchbox. He frowns, peering in concentration as he attempts to position it on the balcony of a tall building made from balsa-wood. He studies the scene from various angles, rubbing his temples in frustration at the sub-atomic splitting of possible outcomes.
Marietta exits the ground floor lobby of the restaurant and retreats into the warm leather cocoon of a waiting Mercedes. She glances at her watch, a Rolex she bought on a whim and notices that its mechanism has become damaged so that the second hand sweeps anti-clockwise against the immutable laws of physics.
As her driver backs out of the parking-bay and joins the flow of evening traffic, there is little sense of motion save for the scene she observes, rendered almost opaque by the car’s tinted glass. She’s reminded of the interior car shots in old black and white movies. She tries to remember any of the movies’ names, but flashes instead on the note, already written or maybe waiting to be written. What does it matter? What is writing, but an unsatisfactory postcard attempting to describe a sensorium of feeling and being? Nevertheless the note is everything.
As the car glides into Butler’s Wharf and she sees the familiar lights of her apartment block, Marietta is pensive. She reflects on the streams and tributaries that have carried her to live beside London’s great arterial river, leaving behind her child and his father in Zurich. She scans the apartments, searching for life in the amber-lit windows.
“Our illusions are the house in which we live,” she reflects bitterly. She catches sight of a child framed in an apartment window – Mylo? His name strikes a hollow bell deep in her chest, but barely penetrates the numbness which has lately enveloped her soul.
Peter Strauss observes her arrival from his apartment window. As she enters the building, he cranes his head to prolong his view of her. ‘What is her story?’ he berates himself, beating his fist on the desk, creating a miniature scale-model earthquake.
Time is moving quickly now. The elevators doors close and Marietta feels its gentle acceleration in the pit of her stomach. Soon she’s outside her apartment. She backs through the open doorway and locks it. In the hallway there a note is taped to the mirror, as potent as any grenade.
She studies the note, checking that her handwriting is legible; she’s made an effort to write neatly, being far more used to tapping out emails. As a result the words appear familiar and yet not hers.
“My dearest Mylo,” the note begins. “Know that I love you…”
She stops reading. The note is everything and yet it fails to convey what she really means. How can you explain to a child how the tiny paper-cuts of fortune have become deep wounds; a fountainhead of regret and misplaced faith; trading-floor risks taken with bravado, spiraling into sickening acts of panic; billions lost in casino-banking gambles; praying for redemption through a pharmaceutical fog of anti-depressants; wearing a mask of relaxed confidence to fool the bank’s directors; forever fearful of huge losses hidden inside folders within folders and behind believable obfuscation. And so the note simply ends, “Forgive me, goodbye.”
In his mind’s eye, Peter Strauss sees Marietta exit his apartment block. She climbs into the waiting Mercedes bound for the Coq D’Argent. For now he has restored the laws of physics and time flows forward again like an endless river. He breathes deeply and replays the sequence of moments from which Marietta’s story is made. He will replay them countless times, searching for connection, explanation, revelation. When his concentration finally breaks, he checks his emails, killing time, waiting for Hollywood to return his call.
Dan earns his main living as a digital content director for entertainment brands. He’s also been a journalist, written a book about The Cure and spent 10 years at MTV, despite which he’s still a big fan of music! His literary influences are modernist in style, but wide ranging in genre. His favourite stories shake apart his atoms then subtly rearrange them. He was published in the MTP 2017 Winter Anthology and has written two previous stories for Storgy. He lives in South West London with his wife, teenage daughter, two cats and a dog.
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