Tale #52: The Silk Gloves

There was an old lady who lived in the woods, in a cottage by the river where the wild roses grow, their stems as white as bone.

Inside she would sit at her wheel and spin strands of her hair into silk. And with this silk she would weave gloves, each as thin as a veil and as soft as skin.

From the towns, on the nights before their weddings, young women would come. They made their way, as quiet as they could, by the light of the moon, through the woods and down, down, down, to the cottage by the river where the wild roses grow, their stems as white as bone, their thorns as thick as fingernails.

A knock on the door, and the old lady would say “Come in”. Held out hands offered payment, and the old lady would take her cut.

The gloves the women wore as they made their way back home, and for the rest of their married lives. Their thumbs the old lady planted in her garden by the river where the wild roses grow, the stems as white as bone, the thorns as pale as fingernails, the roses as red as a scream.

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Notes:

1. Written on September 7th, 2017
2. The line “where the wild roses grow” is from Where The Wild Roses Grow, by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue (obviously)

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The Boat

My brother had this boat. It was quite a nice boat, as far as boats go. I’m not sure where he got it from. A boat seller, I suppose.

He had no idea how to sail, or even, as far as I could tell, how to row.

Every weekend he would wheel it out of his garage and onto the drive and wash it, or repaint it, or varnish it, or any number of other entirely pointless jobs designed mostly, if not entirely, to delay the moment when he would have to commit the thing to water and demonstrate, in public, the extent of his own incompetence.

His house burnt down one autumn, struck by lightning in a late and lonely thunderstorm. He lost everything, even his cat.

The cat wasn’t hurt, but he never forgave him, and ran away across the street and moved in with a neighbour, hissing in horror whenever my brother tried, forlornly, to claim him back. The sadness in his eyes on these occasions was heartbreaking. In my brother’s eyes, I mean. In the cat’s there was nothing but the fury of betrayal.

Everything else was covered by the insurance.

He moved in with me for a while, while his house was being rebuilt, and it was tolerable at first. But slowly he started filling up my house as the insurance slowly coughed up replacements for all his possessions, and to be honest by the time he moved out it was a bit of a relief. There’s only so many times you can sit in a living room filled to the brim with new TVs, bikes, computers, sofas, cupboards, plates and clothes, before the claustrophobia starts to seep into you and you dream, each night, of being crushed alive under an avalanche of pots and pans.

He never reclaimed the boat.

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Notes:

1. Written on September 27th, 2017

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Faceist

I didn’t really think much about it when I saw one of them for the first time. A face drawn in marker pen on the back of a road sign, roughly life-sized, picassoishly distorted, a cubic smile and implied eyes. Just another piece of graffiti, seen and then unseen, like the competing names on the park benches or the tessellating geometric shapes painted all over the abandoned bus station’s walls.

The next time I saw it, weeks later, it was 8 foot high and four feet wide, painted in the middle of an advertising hoarding looming over the roundabout as I took the bus to the shops, the advert it had apparently been hiding beneath hanging limply down onto the pavement below, the rains in the night presumably strong enough to wash away the glue.

The next day I saw it twice: first, painted on the boarded up windows of a nearby corner shop, which, despite its usefulness and continuing economic viability, had been closed down and was now marked for demolition to make way for flats; second, drawn tinily on the tattered remains of an old hand written note stapled to a telephone pole that had, at some point, before the old ink had run and the photo had faded to monochrome, pleaded for information about a lost, loved, cat.

After that I began to see it everywhere: public toilets (both inside and out); on the slats of a picnic table in the churchyard; hand drawn on a schoolkid’s satchel as I caught the bus home; drawn on sheets of a3 paper and flyposted up on walls alongside the gig posters, circus advertisements, wrestling promotions, vote leave signs, etc; on underpass walls and overpass handrails; etched into the dirt on the back of a van; scratched into a tabletop at the pub; scribbled in the margins of a book I’d taken out from the library.

In the bus shelter at the end of my road there were thirteen in a row, one per wooden slat, long narrow bodies stretching down to the bench below, and then down even below that to the pavement, resembling together a family of hattifatteners taken up residence here instead of a dead and hollow tree somewhere far away from town.

I walked to the next stop and waited there instead.

From there, an acceleration: t-shirts; tattoos; on postcards in the racks outside the ice cream kiosks along the riverside; on cards and books in the window displays in the shops on the high street; the new logo of a kebab shop. I went into HMV one day and the entire display of new releases were sheathed in cardboard sleeves bearing this face, colourless, titleless, priced at £9.99 (or £12.99 on blu-ray).

In the pub on friday night, half glimpsed across the bar, someone with this face as their own. Heart pounding, I searched the place, increasingly frantic, but found no trace of them again.

But on my way home there was confirmation: leaning against a lamppost, smoking a cigarette, the orange cone of light from the street light wrapped around him like a teleportation beam or a forcefield.

It took a week, and by the end everyone’s face was the same. Strangers, neighbours, family, friends, a mangled uniformity into which everyone fell.

And it felt inevitable when they came to the door this morning. I barely even struggled. They held me down in the hallway, my head by the bottom stair, their faces leering in from all sides.

My mother knelt down beside me, pulled a sharpie from her handbag, held it up like a knife in front of my face.

She pulled off the top and went to work. Smiled as she redrew me.

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Notes:

1. Written on September 7th, 2017
2. A true story
3. in so much as someone had been drawing faces all like this all round town at the time
4. absolutely everywhere for some reason
5. Most of them have gone now

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The hole

I was digging a hole. I was about five. I’d gotten bored of digging a hole in the sandpit, and wanted more of a challenge.

After I had been digging for a while, my mother came out of the house to see what I was doing or at least to make sure I hadn’t drowned in the pond.

“What are you doing?” she said, even though she could see what I was doing.

“I’m digging,” I said, making a digging motion with my spade in the air and then following it up with a digging motion in the earth that wasn’t so much a digging motion as actual digging, so that she could see that I was digging and that I could see that she could see that I was digging.

“I can see that,” she said, which she could.

I did another little dig and she didn’t like it and said, “Can you stop that?!”

I looked up at her. She was about twenty feet away at the lip of the shaft I’d dug and she looked quite small up there, and because of the way she was silhouetted against the sky I couldn’t even really make out her face and certainly not the ferocity of her scowl.

Disobeying a tiny faceless mother who was twenty feet or more away was easier than disobeying a huge red-faced mother who was right next to you with her hand poised in the air to administer some sort of smack. So I pretended I couldn’t hear her and carried on digging and hoped soon I’d be deep enough that I really couldn’t hear her and therefore I wouldn’t be doing anything bad like pretending I couldn’t hear her when I could.

It turns out that, due to the acoustics of tunnels and shafts and wells and, presumably, all the other possible types of tubes, I would always be able to hear her. And I always have.

I’m 39 years old now and she’s as loud as ever, even though I’m seven miles down and can no longer see the sky, let alone her faceless face peering down at me, shouting out admonishments into the hole that I dug in her beautiful garden, never letting me forget that I’ve ruined her lawn forever.

She probably wishes I really had drowned in the fish pond by now.

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Notes:

1. Written on September 25th, 2017
2. This is at least the third story on here called “The Hole”
3. And probably the worst

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Eye, Ear, Key, Archway

1. Eye

There was an eyeball in the door where the lock should be, twitching around frantically, lidless and tearful, fearful, too, presumably, overcome with anxiety anticipating the inevitable moment soon when someone would approach and push the key in their hand through the eye’s exposed pupil and into the nerve clusters behind.

I didn’t have a key. I was uninvited. I knocked, but there was no answer. The eye looked up at me while I knocked and then down again when I looked at it looking at me.

I bent down then and pushed my own eye up to the door eye and let it stare into me. I’m not sure why. It just felt like the right thing to do. It was probably lonely, I thought. And shy. Staring directly into the eyes of a shy person is the best way to put them at ease so doing the same to the eye of a shy door would also be the best way to put the door at ease. Maybe it wouldn’t feel so vulnerable and alone if it knew we all had eyes, that it wasn’t alone in the world, that there was more eyes out there, more than it could ever meet, ever imagine.

Of course, that was what it wanted. That was how the disease spread. It wasn’t long before my body had begun to door, before the frantic search of an opening in which to wedge myself consumed every moment of thought.

The gap beneath the stairs where I stored my shoes looked promising, ripe for annexing. I manoeuvred myself into position, settled down and waited for my doorification to reach completion, for the cupboarding of the understair space to conclude.

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2. Ear

There was an ear in the door where the lock should be. It didn’t twitch or move or weep or do anything at all really, just went on being very clearly a human ear where the lock should be. I had my key in my hand but couldn’t bring myself to push it into the earhole. What if the human ear was connected to a human brain? What would it sound like, I thought, if someone forced a key into your ear, as the cold metal scraped its way down the ear canal, then the slow twist of of it, metal turning bone, until, with a click, the mechanism was sprung and your face swung slowly opened, the cogs inside revealed to the world, rusted, worn down, barely turning at all.

So I waited around, pretending to talk on my phone, until someone came out from inside and then quickly nipped in before the door closed behind them.

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3. Key

There was a lock in the door exactly where the lock should be, just like you’d expect. But instead of a key I had hundreds of tiny little fingers and toes hanging from my keyring and I had to try each of them in turn until I found the right finger or toe for the lock. It’s horrible, but that’s how keys are made so what can you do about it, really?

I mean, it’s okay for you out there in your fancy cities with your state of the art eye scanners and ear whisperators and the like, but out here in the marshes we’ve got to make do with more durable methods that can cope with the mould and the cold and the harsh salt air.

I felt like that too when i first moved out here but I’m sort of used to it now.

I made some sort of skeleton key joke at work last week when I had to lock up at the end of the day but nobody laughed and a couple of people cried. I’ve probably got a couple of their toes in my pocket, I thought, a little callously, but at least I didn’t say it out loud. I’m not a monster.

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4. Archway

There wasn’t a door and there wasn’t a lock and there wasn’t even any keys or anything, anywhere. They were illegal. And blasphemous, or was it heretical, I can never remember which is which. Maybe they were both.

In places where privacy was expected, like toilets, and changing rooms, and weeping chambers, a convoluted series of walls and archways at right angles to each other in varying patterns of complexity were employed, through which you’d have to twist and turn your way through before you reached whichever isolated sanctum resided within and beyond.

Lines of sight from one room to another were thus impossible. It was a very civilised system, and the envy of most other states.

The archways were made of rib bones. The walls from flayed skin. To keep the flies out, human hair hung down from the archways. Each hair was threaded carefully through the many discarded teeth of children, and the rattling these made as you parted them with your hands was strangely delightful in a way I could never adequately explain.

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Notes:

1. Written on September 27th, 2017
2. While I was in the park in Colchester, I think
3. Not that that really matters to anyone I expect

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