Friday, August 25, 2006

Starts and Stops; or, Notes towards an Autobiography

The time has now come for me to hear a step in the passage, said N. to himself as he raised his head and listened. But there was nothing, or rather there was the swift high-pitched silence that swept through the house and swirled around his head when he paused his breathing, even now in the middle of the afternoon, when the city outside--streets and law-courts and concerts and schools--was rumbling and groaning towards the climax of its daily business. N. had stripped off his coat, but he was stifling. The windows were closed, since they let in nothing but heat. His forehead was streaming. He left damp thumbmarks on the letter he held in his hand, blue smudges.

The clock struck four. He had just set it to the right time.

There would be no one in the house until six. Now, for once, N. wished to be interrupted, surprised, to have the trajectory of his thoughts confounded, to be forced to thrust the letter hurriedly back into its packet, to cram the packet back into the drawer, heart pounding, ears and cheeks prickling, to pretend to be nonchalant. But there was no voice, no step; the silence mercilessly flowed from room to room to the corner where he knelt, washing round the house, till the glass of the windows strained and seemed it would shatter from the press of silence within and heat without.

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