I did a reading today at the launch of the Chester Writers’ Anthology 2017 in which is a surreal short of mine called View From… Our chairperson, Stanley, called my story Kafka-esque, which is a huge compliment. The launch was at Storyhouse, a new theatre / cinema / library / restaurant cultural hub in Chester. I was nervous to read my story until I realise that it was being relayed to speakers in the washrooms! I kept thinking as I read, how bizarre that folk will be in the bogs listening to me reading live!
Anyhow I reproduce it here.
I refuse to open my eyes.The six-thirty alarm bleats. My arm flails in the air, but misses. My eyes refuse to open so I close my ears to the alarm.
The sound comes from the wrong direction. Perhaps it isn’t my wake-up, but Alan’s in the apartment above.
As long as I don’t open my eyes I won’t worry. I shuffle in preparation to roll onto my right side. Whoa, I can’t. My back muscles won’t cooperate.
At last I open my eyes… and I discover that I am on the ceiling.
I laugh. Nerves. Then my stomach knots. I am on the ceiling, looking down. Has Alan re-arranged my room during sleeptime in order to make it appear inverted?
I squeeze my eyelids shut then slowly re-open them. Below, covered with an untidy red quilt, is my bed. The bedside cabinet is next to it, supporting the alarm clock, which periodically bursts into indignation at being ignored.
I send my impending terror into an unused lump of brain, a trick learnt when teaching difficult classes.
Has a trickster stuck my furniture down? My right arm that had swung into action has returned up to the ceiling. Turning my head, I see the white plaster ceiling-rose. I’ve not seen my Georgian ceiling this close up. Cracks in the paintwork and plaster missing near the rose tell me that I should get workmen in. Banality subjugates fear.
I seek evidence of gravity and allow a drop of spittle to go where it will. It accelerates away to the quilt below. A dark red splodge grows like a bloodstain.
I turn my head to the left. As I thought from its soft undulations, the pillow remains behind my head. Good loyal pillow.
This is absurd. I must be in a nightmare. Nevertheless, perhaps I should exercise caution in any effort to break free from the ceiling’s suction force. What if normality returns? I’d fall at an acceleration of ten metres per second each second. Well, it’s no more than three metres so a quick calculation tells me I’d land at seventeen miles an hour. Is that fast enough to hurt? My blob of spit must have landed at that speed too. Look what happened to it.
Hopefully, the bed will be kind to my eventual return. The mattress is one of those with memory. It’s probably wondering where I am.
I wriggle again.
It couldn’t be Velcro holding me up. My arms are free but kind of floating. It’s like when I go snorkelling: face-down looking at the seabed. It’s a strange but pleasant experience in the water, but weird and worrying now. Perhaps my room is full of water.
I look for contrary evidence. On the green carpet, there’s a bedtime book, Orbital Geometry. It isn’t floating: too heavy. If I’m in water my spittle shouldn’t have fallen – unless it isn’t normal water.
A worry headache is brewing.
I scan for objects that should float. What is there in a bedroom that should float, besides a person? I assume I’m breathing, aren’t I?
“Am I dead?” I yell realizing instantly that I’d breathed to make the shout.
“No!” A female voice far down the corridor.
“In here, Suzy, but keep hold of the door frame.”
She replies, “What did you say?” Her voice becomes louder as she walks down the corridor. As I watch the mock-crystal handle rotate I wouldn’t be surprised to find her walking on the ceiling. But no, there’s her mass of hazelnut brown hair, far below. She hasn’t removed her beige raincoat. Her naked foot steps into the room.
“John, where are you?”
Why hadn’t she seen this ceiling person and scream? How to mention my predicament without freaking her out? I absently cough. Her face is a picture. The Scream by Edvard Munch comes to mind.
“What the heck are you doing up there?”
I struggle to answer.
Suzy wags a finger at me. “Get down, you goon.”
“Nothing I’d like better.”
She stands hands on hips, her raincoat unbuttoned at the neck with no visible clothing beneath, the thought wheedles into my head that she might have planned an interesting morning. Damn.
“Why did you go up there?”
“I woke up like this.” It sounds stupid but then it only confirms the perception she possesses of my propensity for finding myself in odd situations.
“Maybe I can lure you down.” She undoes a couple of buttons revealing her cleavage, which translates to part of my anatomy that finally points towards the floor.
“I am lured, but… hey, Suzy, don’t climb on the bed. This isn’t like the leaping-off-the-wardrobe scenario.”
“Idiot, I was seeing if I could reach you.”
“You know these old buildings have really high ceilings. And what if you could reach? You could have been seriously injured.”
“John, stop all this now.”
“It’s not much fun for me. Go tell Alan to turn off whatever he’s done upstairs.”
“What, you think Einstein has invented a man attractor in his apartment and it’s sucked you up? I’ll give Alan a call.”
Only when she leaves the room does my nose detect the heady aroma of Freesia. She only wore it for our romantic interludes. In spite of my increasing concern I smile ruefully then frown. It is Monday mid-morning. I should be at work, so why is Suzette here and dressed for action? Who was she expecting, and in my room. Alan?
I wriggle, but it is as if my lungs are made of iron and a powerful electro-magnet is above the ceiling. Even with both hands pushing, my back presses firmly upwards. In frustration I bang the ceiling. Mistake. White flakes of plaster wander down messing up my bed. My nose pinches with the musty aroma.
I try to think if I’ve annoyed Alan recently. Perhaps someone else.
Then there’s Suzy. The teasing raincoat and perfume for someone else.
The front door slams. Suzy must have gone outside to make that call to Alan, but she has a mobile. She must have left it in her car.
Footsteps in the corridor.
“Is that you Suzy? … Alan?”
The door handle moves, and the door cracks open, but then a scuffling noise followed by Suzy’s scream.
“What’s happened, Suzy?”
I strain harder, trying to arch my back even though it’s agony now.
A feeble voice reaches me from the corridor. “John, whatever it is holding you up on the ceiling…?”
+ + +
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