God’s Hand For Sleepers

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My father’s house has many rooms he once had said. Is there one for lovers I would have asked. It is the closing of a door. Scrawls of her body upon the bed and outside fields tracked neat like circuit boards. The flux of cars, discrete and perfect as electrons. By night their rapid trace [he there out now you go stop rapid stop stop go] and the windows of buildings lit like dice. In one a man draws evenly on his cigarette. The whole intricate mechanism of creation spinning with God’s hand resting upon the sky, sentient perhaps only of the hum. Is there a room for lovers, I would have asked — four blanched walls and the door closed, filament still trembling within the bulb. Afternoons arched like a spine and the fume of her limbs. Is there a room — ? I am closing this door.

She is at the window, looking down and to the left. Almost everything behind is still in darkness. There are six panes in two columns of three, hinged on either side and parted slightly. It opens inwards, slightly. In this third bare column her face appears …. To either side weak squares of reflected light are soft-sheared by the angle and warbled with imperfections in the glass, which is thin. Branches cast from a nearby tree fling dark and threading lines across the upper two. They fork and angle. Her right eyebrow is raised at the corner but otherwise flat. She has leant her head and is sinking, though her eyes are not quite closed. She is looking down and to the left. Grapeblue lips. Because of the darkness of her hair and clothing it is only her face that is visible: a mask suspended between white bars of window, and the hand beneath, touched to the clasp. And just outside a horizontal rail for leaning away. He is either asleep in bed or has left already. If asleep he is like a child, curled over on his left with his hands together, near to the mouth. Or if he has left it was some time ago. They do not rise together. She may not even be aware. Her hand is touched to the window — two fingers and the thumb up along the frame. She has put the kettle on before coming to this place. The kettle boils. She does not move. She finds that she has not moved. She moves.

And even on occasions when I did leave I had no sensation of leaving her it was rather like — a spider jumping from balcony, with thread flying out the back, me tight as a ball, never unconnected, sure that it could not be for long. Because I was at that time no doubt greatly in love. I am great with you, I would say. Extraordinary the way it can open the senses. There is much beyond the visual I noted, intoned only through the influence of a certain form of faith. And I believed I had been saved. I believed that I was safe, wrapped in her limbs, clutched like the stone a crab takes to its underside when lifted from a pool. A sense of being held not from charity or individual love, but from a deep need, as though intimately connected with some imminent hurt. Wrapped in her limbs and rocking we would lie, rocking, lifted out, between fingers of the lagging day.

He came down the stairs — out the door — and locked it all in one movement; then glanced up at the third and top floor window, checked the door again, and looked up. A hand rail and six panes behind, with the thrashing of reflected branches still discernable across the bottom two. Like arms of the wailing damned, he smiled to himself, with the day closing over them. He had been in something of a hurry but felt much less so now. The door gave directly onto the street, and with the odd evening stroller and dustbin men shunting down the housefronts, he felt gathered again into a more syncretized frame of life. At one end of the street children were playing with a batten of wood from a nearby skip and an old bald tennis ball. Set back a little a younger boy hung from one hand off a lamppost, watching them, while a woman with large forearms and a floury apron called for him to come in. The sound of the ball pucking lagged slightly behind the sight of its contact with road or stick. In the other direction on a corner swung the sign for The Two Bells. Beneath, its large soft windows came up rum-coloured into the spreading evening. Glancing once more up to the window he tried the door and then set off down the street, trailing a finger along the red-brick wall, as though to leave between himself and the third floor room one continuous touch.

And even on occasions when I did leave I had no sensation of leaving her and at any rate it could not be for long. Three days at most I would say — there is little enough food left, and nothing for her to read or listen to, barely more than the walls to hold on. Usen’t it be lonely there? Days spinning round like the groove on a silenced record. And when at times still out I remembered these things, the feeling for her would be sudden and acute, like a little cut inside me which opened to form a mewling mouth; the sound like the blind weeping of infant mammals, or the strange high singing of pipes when someone in a next-door apartment turns the taps. A frequency just within resolution of the human ear. It was small abstract things that would set this off: a lone glove on the street; the sight late in the afternoon of two pints of milk still standing out upon the step. And then the fine mewling inside me opened and I would start and say, Two days are ample and three excessive, and with this resolution made everything inside me would explode softly, would softly explode. Such a relief, to have fixed a feeling. It comes so suddenly, filing an emptiness you were not even conscious of, and I could almost be perfectly happy, just standing still for that moment and knowing. Such a relief to have love again.

Having glanced up once to check the window, the man set off down the street, trailing a finger from his left hand along the wall, while turning over keys in his pocket with the right. There were two for the front door, and a larger older castellated one for a room on the third floor, which he liked to press against his thumb. On the ring was a small image of Christ on the cross in metal, the face of which had been rubbed smooth over long usage. A low peak still marked the nose with a rift for the mouth, but the eyes had gone completely, and it was for this reason that he had bought it. He held it low in his palm with the key teeth pressed deep to the thumb. He went towards a pub and paused, and then on past it.

Even when I visited other women there was only her. With prostitutes as much as with infidelities, perhaps even more so. There is such sudden loneliness in the arms of strangers. I remember one time — it was in the railway station café — I saw through the window one of the Tuesday night girls with her coffee and her bruised wrists and her elbow propped on the formica. In her fingers was a cigarette which had long gone out, a long stick of ash. I went in initially just to touch the back of her head and she turned, with a look in her eyes — pupils huge and lurching for focus, and pleading, out of the lateness of the night and from her own inconsolable terror of an empty room, pleading that anyone take her back. She curled her face down into my palm breathing for a moment before taking the third finger in her mouth, sexless as a thermometer. The ash dropped from her cigarette at that point but I do not think she released the extinguished butt, all through the taxi ride back and the fumbling for keys and the groggy urination, until she tried to draw on it once before getting into bed. And then that night — already of my absence the fifth — I thought of her continually and at intervals, as though revolving at a distance. Like a lighthouse beam stroking across me and drawing off steadily all night. I was so cold, even with the blankets and the woman’s body and the gas boiler gasping like a bronchitic lung, and the bed still hot from sex, and I lay there waiting for her image to wheel round again. I was cold as the stars outside.

“So I said to her I said, ‘There no good waiting now is there now?’ ‘Ooh!’ she said, ‘Ooh, you make it all sound so simple!’ Well, people get what they’re looking for, if you ask me. They seek it out — a part of them does, and really that’s the important part. It’s all deliberate. I mean take me for instance,” and here she looked across to ensure that he was indeed taking her for instance, which he was, and then turned back to the window to continue. “Married for forty years, but I must have wanted it or I would have left. I could have done —.” And she sighed at the sight of the landscape pulling away from her. “Not long now,” she said. She was seated by the window, facing backwards from the direction in which the train was travelling so she could see things for longer as they went by. It was her preferred way. Opposite was a man in a black raincoat, which he wore belted tightly about the waist in a fashion she thought rather feminine. As he had no briefcase or any other baggage, she found him all in all a somewhat curious figure. Beneath the coat were the bottoms of his striped trousers. Rather natty she thought, but his eyes are pleasant. Mrs. Lucarne’s eyes were weakening, though in truth the matter was not great with her. In general it was enough just to note that things were there, judgement on them having already been passed by the simple fact of their existence.
“And do you think it’s fate?” the man asked, bending in somewhat and smiling.
“Life is fate, that’s what I say.”
“But do you think there is someone watching over all of it, with a shaping hand?”
“Where’s the difference? No, I’m sure if I had it all again I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t think I have it in me.” She leaned forward to look more closely out the window, and then said again, “Not long now.” His stop was several before hers and so he couldn’t be sure that this comment wasn’t in some way directed at him. Still, he had nothing to gather or prepare before getting off and so he let it pass. “What is long now?” he was almost tempted to say. She was wearing a wide brimmed hat which crimped on the headrest behind her and pansied out into large wobbling shapes. These objected each time she turned her head, and made it made it cumbersome to look out the window, which must have irritated her. It irritated the man too.

WOMAN’S VOICE: take me anyone someone I am so take me now take me home I am terrified of being alone tonight I am terrified of my empty room I do not care if you are filthy or fat or see only with your hands I need a sleeping back beside me in the things turn over when I am by myself / you can beat me all you want or hold me under or cover my face I do not ask and dawn is so late now you do not need to shift your life. Just your body just your body in the darkness your shoulder rising when you breathe if there is something moving I can hold on and the night keeps measure — things turn over when I am by myself. The air twitches and walks away there is an unstuck hour when all the minutes spin like coins on fishing line I am still attractive my skin touch me has not come away take me look someone anyone shh take me I can you are so late take empty rooms and turn me over / my father used to keep horses. I have left a scarf high on the branch of a leafless tree. I do not want to be alone tonight take me anyone someone I am so

He was the only one to get out at that stop and having watched the train pull off and away and waited for the brambles to stop swinging in its wake, he enjoyed the dull tread of his footsteps down the empty platform. There was a light rain which itself was soundless but it qualified the passage of anything through it. He checked his watch against the station clock and passed out by the café. Two yards down the road he stopped and turned back to look through the window. Inside it was empty save a table at the back where a woman was sitting with a cigarette up in one hand and her head in the other, a coffee in front of her long gone cold, and beside it on the table a spoon resting on a dried stain. The skin of her bare wrists was cinched in grey and purple streaks about a bracelet of depressed flesh, such as might have been caused by the knotting of coarse rope. But above the high-necked black jumper her face was unmarked and entirely pale except for the lips, which were blueish, almost the colour of her veins. To her left a fly turned on the wall and crawled downwards. She looked up neither when he entered and crossed towards her, nor when she felt his left hand on the back of her head. Just waited, before taking it in her right and drawing it round to put her face in the gentle palm; listening for the sound of rain or the hum of strip lights, expecting them to surface now and finding still only the involutions of pressure inside her own skull. She breathed out through his fingers, and took the third one in her mouth, which she found to be rough, and dusty, carrying a faint red taste of brick.

MAN’S VOICE: Stay. No don’t move. Stop. Just hold me. Hold me. Move a little now. Stay close. Outside the fields track neat like circuit boards. We are hidden here. Hide us.

The walls of the railway station café were tiled white above the tables to a height of thirty-two inches, and had to be cleaned each night before closing. It was a task the owner had little relish for and dispatched usually with the floor-mop, and often without so much as changing the water. Consequently they spent days streaked with little dry runs of grey, while the filth gathered in between the tiles. Down one such line over a table in the back a fly puttered, alternately sucking and stopping to clean its labium. The coarse forelegs scrape, then rub together, while the head performs palpic movements from the thorax. The owner squinted as he watched the last two customers go out, and then turned to look at their table. He was a burly man with a thick moustache and features that had grown heavy from long exposure to kitchen heats and oil, and this weight seemed to bear upon his movements also. His eyes were narrow, and this was likewise attributed to the atmosphere in which he spent his days and a good part of the night. There was only a half-drunk cup of coffee and an ashtray to clear. The girl he knew well as one of the local desolates who often came to spend evenings before a spoon, and he recognised the man too, though he seldom entered the cafeteria. He caught the trains in regularly, perhaps every two or three days, and then back out again. The owner had noticed him passing through the station and checking his watch. Visits. He drew heavily on his cigarette and closed his left eye as an irritant swab of smoke moved up over his face. Then he exhaled, looking at the cigarette end, which was warm and soft between his fingers where the filter had started to give, beneath the parallel red lines, and the bromide discolouration of paper beside the coal. He drew on it again, closing his eyes, and dropped it into the mop-bucket before moving to close up. A single hiss and the end of the night.

She is standing some way inside the room now with her right hand on the back of her neck and the left arm by her side. Her shoulders are like heaped stones and her belly an empty leathern water-flask. You see her in profile — her nose is very fine and a dark rift for the mouth, torn like paper. Her skin drags over the ribs and then cuts away to the hipbone which is high and structured. Behind a dark scratch of hair is just visible, and above the hung arc of a crescent from her chin to the tip of her breast. You see in the mirror behind her that the bathroom door is open and you think you even catch drifts of steam. Within you imagine taps roaring over a bath almost intolerably hot. You see her stepping straight into it like a knife. The window is closed now and dun as the sky clouds over and everything inside is weak. She is standing in the righthand column of panes, motionless as the taps roar, with a hand on the back of her neck and the forearm out, perpendicular to her body, parallel to the window beams. She is cut twice: at the throat, and again at the tops of the hips. Her head is down, raising the architecture of bone about her neck, and her hair is pinned save for one slender wisp drifting down from before her ear to finish in a slim curlicue by her lips. Her eyes are closed. And she is naked, waiting for the drifts of steam.

And then there were times that I would take her out. We would go to the railway bridge and stand tight next to each other on the rise — far hands clamped to the rail and near ones clasped in each other, waiting for the rush. See the train, see it taking up the distance, and the sound smack and vibrations jilt us brittle like porcelain on the mantlepiece and can you feel the wind? I would say with the iron air ringing and the sky all bulked and time raw in front of us can you feel the wind? I would shout as it crashed up and blew — spinerigid, insides flaring, carriages shocking down — and you blink / clench life / there / knock it back as the train shoots through, square-nosed and yellow and blind as a worm. It was the sustain I loved best: eight, nine, maybe twelve carriages, our bodies riddled with noise. Then stand and let the blood back in, and the pencilled rain, and the rust bleed into the veins between the sleepers.