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Short story

I had that feeling of dislocation that you get when you realize that you have forgotten something somewhere.

Where did I leave it? As luck has it you always forget things on days when you have been to the largest number of places: shops, buses, the houses of friends who are always away: you rummage through all the places in your mind.

I came home, I had that feeling. It was my folio, I had left it somewhere. It couldn't have been on the bus, I would have had to put it between my legs to get my wallet, I couldn't recall that motion. It was dark out, I didn't want to go out and find it.

I sat down - the last place I remembered it was at Fratelli's, an Italian restaurant. It is my habit to stop there on my way home. It is a neighborhood restaurant of the first class. The food is traditional Italian, unpretentious, made of fresh ingredients. It is family run but large enough not to become claustrophobic and the staff are not over-familiar

I stop and eat there because I live alone and long ago discovered that that meant that I wasted a lot of food, because I bought ingredients and would be unable to use them up; they rotted quietly in the fridge. Moreover, I disliked eating alone. That was something for prisoners waiting to be hanged.

So I had been to Fratelli's many times and liked it there.

I went back there and the waitress came up to me and said "This is it!" and smiled at me a very deep smile, looking at me very directly with her dark velvety eyes. I took the folio and left.

I thought, the hell about the money, I work, and got into a cab home. It was quite late by then. I could have just phoned them and picked up the folio the next day but there was something in it that I am sentimental about, which is a photograph of my grandmother with whom I had an unusually close relationship . I had picked up the photo from a restorer the day before, he had made a copy.

So I got home with some relief. I took off my coat and put the folio on the console table by the door. I checked the phone for messages, there were none, I poured myself a glass of whisky: the golden liquid splashed about the glass and the air was filled with that faintly medicinal smell.

I got the folio and sat down in the easy chair and opened I; the photo was there. Everything was there. But what also was there was this: a note written with care and deliberation as uneducated people write, "THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING!", it said.

I was tired and nothing made sense. I went to bed.

The next day I again returned from Fratelli's. I sat down in the easy chair, and felt that I wanted a cigarette, so I went to my overcoat and into the pocket where they were: Inside the box I found another piece of paper, folded. It was another note. It said, "THE SAILOR SHALL DROWN". Was I the drowning man, that I could not connect to the surface of the sea…? Poetry, tosh, it's all the same! I again retired.

I found another note, in my inside pocket this time, it said "LOVE ME LIKE A CANDLE FLAME". What nonsense, I thought!

Yet though I might dismiss the notes so contemptuously, in truth they bothered me. It seemed obvious to me that one of the staff of Fratelli's was enjoying themselves at my expense. Yet I was in no mood for pranks, I was a busy man. My position at VEM Electronics was important, others depended on me: that was known and recognized. I determined to put a stop to the notes the next day.

I approached the under-manager and mentioned the notes and he sat down with an unctuous smile, "O no Sir, you must be mistaken…." He then babbled on about the "highest professional standards", and how Fratellis had been ranked so highly in Zagats, and "fifty years in the same location, never such a complaint before…" . I could see the dark-eyed waitress smirking from behind the bar- that made me suddenly furious, so I banged my hand on the table, upsetting the glasses - one even toppled over wetting the tablecloth - I cried, "I will not have this, it is quite outrageous, let me speak to the girl." The under-manager said "O sir, of course, why indeed, you must, why I will call her over immediately sir, it will be done this instant…." So the waitress was brought over.

She stood before me with her large dark eyes and her hands folded demurely in front of the white apron she had to wear. I noticed then for the first time that she had suffered a series of burns on her arms- the scarred flesh there was quite pink and puckered, and I felt a twinge of pity for her, what with the stern way the under-manager looked at her and so severely addressed her: "do you know anything about some notes left for Senor Cavelli here, and the pitiful way she shook her head most shyly. I resolved to leave her be and to give her a tip besides.

"Well sir, I hope that answers your enquiries" said the under-manager, whom I could see now was genuinely trying to help me. "Now may I get you something, a cup of coffee, on the house, of course!"

I returned to my flat more puzzled than ever. Could the notes have been placed on my return? But that was most unlikely, for I lived alone. And who would bother! Surely the girl was indeed responsible. Now the notes would cease however, for even though she had not admitted culpability she knew that my eyes were upon her, and that I would not tolerate her games.

Nonetheless my ordeal continued, with other signs of what seemed a growing psychosis:

I heard the voice of my mother from a boiling kettle, "Take Me! Have Some, I know you want it Big Boy," she urged in a lewd voice.

A tattoo of peonies appeared on my wrist after a drunken sleep.

I caught the smell of incense drifting through the flat on my return one evening.

I heard the sound of children giggling from the chimney flue in the living room.

I saw the image of a tiny hand, etched in intricate detail upon the glass of my window…

I had my dreams broken by a howling, more terrible than any death or by a crashing sound from the kitchen late at night.

Or I saw my clothes draped over the chair at night, became suddenly animated, the socks performing a sort of dance in the middle of the room, my jacket moving more slowly, my tie fluttering. I watched them wearily from under the warmth of my eiderdown - they were mocking me. It was cold in the room and I did not want to rise, but I knew I had to put a stop to that, my dignity was at stake - there was something demeaning about letting ones socks perform a jig, when everyone knew that it was long since bedtime and there were important things to be done the next day.

I pretended to be asleep again, but I was watching them through one eye as they danced a sort of reel. They were quite amused by themselves I can tell you, quite playing the fool - I leapt at them, they ran to the kitchen laughing and shouting, "you won't catch me, you won't catch me, o me o my, for I am prince of the socks am I!" That made me quite livid! I ran for them, they separated, of course, the cunning devils. I thought I had caught one for it tripped on a chair leg in the kitchen, but to no avail for I tripped myself up too on a bit of torn lino and bruised my leg on falling into the bargain.

So I went back to bed in a foul temper that night.

Then one day I returned to my flat to hear a pattering sound - mice, I thought, I must lay a trap. I looked for signs of runs: greasy stains along the walls, droppings - there were none so I put traps here and there under cupboards or tables, wherever they might surprise a mouse. I baited them with bacon and cheese. I went to bed feeling well pleased with my handiwork.

The next morning I found a tiny man caught under one of the traps. He was all dressed in green and no larger than your hand. A miniscule cap lay an inch away from his head He was breathing still.

The little man cried, "O you have hurt me Sir, you have hurt me most dreadfully."

"I am so sorry, so dreadfully sorry", I cried. "Whatever have I done!" I felt myself gasping for the shame of it.

I opened the trap. His back was broken. Any movement he made, no matter how small, pained him. I went though to the living room and brought a cushion. I lay him on it.

"It was not I, it was the others, they made me so…O O O dear I am done for, I am surely done for…" He expired his last breath, a tiny bubble of spittle formed on his lips.

I took a Bible down from the shelf and read the last rites and closed his eyes. I carried him to the garden. I knelt there shifting earth with a trowel to dig a tiny grave. I heard rustling sounds and circling me tiny figures alike in green holding feathered caps in their hands, heads bowed, paying their last respects to their fallen companion.

"O it is so sad", said one tiny fellow, "so awful sad!"

"O sir, we were just playing sir, we didn't mean to alarm you sir, we were only teasing," said a second. "It is so sad, so very sad," said another.

"O I confess Sir I did write the notes," came the voice of a fourth, similarly attired in green, "but I did not mean to make you so cross. O Sir it was only funning! O that it should have come to this!", he lamented.

"O Sir you are so harsh, so harsh!" said another, more plaintively still.

I had made a headstone from soapstone and carved an inscription on it with a chisel "A life by the Grace of God, in peril conducted, in tragedy departed". I carved the image of a feathered cap on it too. I polished it with oil.

Then I wept for the sinful injustice I had done.

July 7, 2015, 2:49 p.m. 0 Report Embed Follow story
The End

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