The empty house


True to its word, the book has disappeared. There isn’t a trace of it in the house, not even a scrap of paper.

I go downstairs to make myself a third cup of coffee, but the book is not there either. The tumble dryer is beeping its alarm; there are clothes to put away. I climb up to the bedrooms of my children, my arms swathed in warm towels. I notice their ornaments, pictures and pencil pots, in exactly the same position as on the day that they left the house. The rooms look good, I think. They needed that lick of paint. In one a small family of guitars has appeared. How did I not notice that before?

Back at the desk, there is just me and a thickening, slightly ominous silence. I think I may have tinnitus.

I open my laptop and take a cursory look at Twitter. There is nothing there that I want. A writer is boasting about how humbled they are about something. Elsewhere, more outrage: the US election; Brexit; hate crime. I can take my pick.

I look at eBay for a moment. A very fetching antique fountain pen I don’t need has come on at only £5, and a notebook to go with it at only £13.95, less than the usual asking price. I could treat myself, I think. When was the last time I did that, treat myself? I try to persuade myself I deserve them.

I open the Wallace Stevens I have been reading, but nothing stays, nothing happens, it is useless. Outside the wind has picked up again, the tree at the end of the road looking older, yellower than it did this morning. A jet. Two men talking on the street outside. I cannot make out what they are saying.

Whatever it was I said to the book, I wish I could take it back, long to have it back in my mouth and alter my stupid syllables. Maybe it will come back to me later when I sleep, or when I am teaching next week, or daydreaming. Maybe never. ‘Sorry,’ I say to the empty room. ‘I’m sorry.’ The silence seems to take pleasure in mocking me.



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