New Short Story – Auguste
OK, so I realise I’ve been slack with you guys and not posted any stories for a while. Here’s fresh ‘un, not published in the new collection, not published in anything, just for me, myself and I. Enjoy!
“It seems plausible that folly and fools, like religion and magic, meet some deeply rooted needs in human society”
Sometimes he would wake to find that dreams had soaked his pillow, and regret lay beside him, a gloss black splatter, glistening in half-formed daylight. He would thrust the pillow away with one hand, paw sharp motes of sleep from his eyes, roll and face the wall, yawn and bury himself deep. The blanket was rough against his skin but he didn’t mind, he liked it that way, and though it gave him a rash he always went to bed happy. The nights were windy, and many were outside in the cold. He was grateful to find shelter in a place where a roof over your head was a rarity.
Breakfast was at the same time every day, whatever he wanted; salted bacon, warm, creamy porridge in a wooden bowl, muesli that looked like the wood chips beneath children’s climbing frames; save the raisins of course. He would rise and stretch, cross the cold stone floor and retrieve his food, his newspaper, sit at the table and eat. There was a small transistor radio, he imagined they all had them, though he had no evidence for or against the theory. Sometimes he would switch it on and listen to the music, swingtime or classical, the oldies, although every so often there was music from far away places he had never been. He would close his eyes and savour the taste of his breakfast, tap his toe and lean back. He would let it wash over him and know it was good.
In a corner of the room, there was the shower. A thin, silver neck, the head eternally bowed like a subject before their master, a thin curtain. He would ignore the glossy splatter on his pillow, cross the room and draw the curtain. The shower was always warm, apart from that time last winter when it was chilled as ice water, and he didn’t even have to say anything, he went to sleep that night and when he woke the next morning it had been fixed. Things worked like that around there. He only had to think it, and it was done. He only had to dream and it became real. It was everything he imagined heaven to be, and yet sometimes, annoyingly, he would wake to find his pillow saturated and cold, that splatter of oozed substance laying beside him like an unrequited lover and he would do his best to ignore both.
When he drew the shower curtain back the splatter was gone, the bed made, his tray and breakfast removed. He never saw who did those things, didn’t care to know. It was done, that was all. The transistor was playing ‘Rule Britannia’. He liked that song. It was rousing and had a great chorus. He dried himself with a thick towel, went to the wardrobe and removed his clothes. They were simple enough. Shiny blue trousers with a red rope belt, baggy for an easier fit. He dragged them on and pulled the rope tight around his growing belly, dug for the matching top. He liked the feel of material as he snaked inside, the sibilance, as though his clothing was whispering vague secrets. Sweet nothings, perhaps. He smiled as he wrestled his arms into the sleeves. Growing tighter. It was the food. Three square meals a day, lots of carbs he guessed. He’d put on a few stones since he arrived.
The top was frilled around the neck, red and white stripes. The shoes were blue as well, red pom-poms on the toes and tiny bells on the ankles. He did a little shuffle. No, wait. Save yourself. He looked out of the window, saluted. Stiff. Proud. Not yet, he told himself and relaxed. Over eager. He sat at his dressing table and began to put on make-up. This was the part he loved. Looking into the mirror, dabbing and dusting, dabbing and dusting, until the dark of his face was obliterated by the white of the powder, papered over, plastered, masked, overshadowed. He applied the base quickly, with little thought, mindless grunt work really, anyone could do it, until he realized he was almost slapping his cheeks and forehead with the pad, and the dressing table was sprinkled with castor sugar powder. He stopped. Studied his work. Marvelous dah-ling. The next part was more intricate, more the artist than the labourer. Thin red lines drawn with anorexic pen around the mouth, filled in. A racetrack duo running from the right nostril, around the cheeks and under the chin, ending by his left nostril. Ovoid hoops circling each eyebrow, the eyes. A balding wig over his afro, carrot coloured tufts around his ears as though his temples had caught fire. The final addition, the round, red nose, pinched a bit, but was well worth it for the effect. He stood and looked into the full-length mirror.
Perfect. The show could go on.
He walked to the door, one of two. The first, the blue, was where they left his food, outside on the doorstep with his milk, choice of juice and daily paper. The other, the red, led to the stage. Both were made of warped wood, rusting metal and handles of thick, iron hoops that were fully turned clockwise. Neither door was ever locked. He could leave if he wanted to, but red was the only door that mattered; he’d never considered the other.
Red made him human, as he was in his dreams, as he remembered.
He stepped onto the stage. This too was simple. A wooden platform of plain, unvarnished slats bearing the ghosts of former performances, dark smudges against vivid yellow. The hollow steel of scaffolding, the wind crooning like an unseen audience. …Oooh… Ahhh… He never looked down. He was nervous enough. Head straight, chin raised, lips stiffened. Eyes focused on what lay ahead. In front of him and from his periphery vision he could see the other towers, witch’s hat turrets, red doors opening and clowns stepping onto platforms with that focused, stiff-limbed walk, like clockwork toys. And as far as his eyes could see, there were towers. About two hundred meters between each, littering the patchwork green and beige landscape, nothing but towers and turrets and stiffened clowns on platforms. Once, even as he had performed, he tried to see how many but he’d lost count when the music ended, somewhere around the forties. By those estimations he guessed the towers, the clowns, numbered in thousands. He’d asked, but no one told him the answer.
The music began. That blast of trumpets, the sudden clash of a closed hi hat, repeated thrice. Swingtime. His favourite songs. He shuffled his feet. The bells at his ankles jingled. He stopped. Waited for the intro. And when the music blasted over the cold, green land, he moved his legs and arms as though there was nothing else but rhythm and song, song and rhythm, a wide red-rimmed smile on his face, limbs going in all directions as though they had a life of their own, and they danced, oh they danced, how they danced.