I wonder what he does up there. All day long I hear him shuffling. Shuffling from one

corner to another. And it sounds as if he's wearing socks woven from steel wool.

Perhaps he's breaking into my apartment, very deviously; sanding down his

floorboards until one day, (or most probably one night) he'll plummet through the

ceiling like a spider from a broken web. 

 

Then he'll move in, all his furniture - everything, on top of mine. And with me being

such an obliging person, we'll come to some arrangement whereby I have my own

furniture removed, except for the bed and bedside cabinet, and he'll take charge of the

entire domestic routine, clearing out all his own furniture so he can sand down my

floorboards until we both fall through on to the people downstairs.

 

From there he'll continue his descent, floor by floor, until he's assumed control of the

entire building and all the inhabitants are crammed into the ground floor apartment,

where we'll live like rats, subservient to his megalomania.

 

Nevertheless, despite this barely credible explanation I can't help but wonder where he

puts the furniture while he's sanding the floorboards. In thehallway, perhaps? And what if

he's already descended a few floors? There may well be other people up there with him,

sitting unobtrusively in the corners of the room, steeling themselves for the next drop.

 

 

*

 

 

At my office we are always devising rackets. Our purpose is to swindle the company out of

as much money as possible. I'm a memory stick and stationary man myself. I have boxes

and boxes of USB drives and items of stationary in the closets in my apartment. Miss Klar

is far more enterprising. She dismantles office furniture, desktop terminals and lighting

fixtures with her nail file, which she reassembles in the privacy of her home. She only

removes a single item at a time, so as to avoid detection. A tiny square of veneer one

day, a CPU Drive the next.

 

In its turn the company tries to extort from us as much work as possible, without resorting

to physical intimidation, presumably - although from time to time a member of staff

whose work is unsatisfactory will disappear, never to be seen again. (Which does indeed

give rise to morbid speculation amongst the more timid of my co-workers.) At lunchtime

we read newspapers and discuss current events, if there are any. I eat the

food from the dispenser in the lobby, although it's rumoured to be tampered with.

 

 

*

 

 

When I woke up this morning I was covered in spots. That is to say my hand was covered

in spots but my entire body felt sullied and violated. At the foot of the bed a spider

sat languidly. We eyed each other like legendary adversaries. St George and the Spider. I

had the distinct impression my antagonist was curious about me but perhaps it was

only my imagination. I ran him through with an icepick I keep handy for such

emergencies.

 

For the rest of the day I wondered how a spider could have entered the philosopher's egg

of my apartment. The building is virtually airtight. The windows are sealed, the walls and

ceiling coated with rubber or polyurethene, I think. Could it have come up through the

drain into my bathtub? My landlord had assured me that the drains are regulalrly

patrolled. A mystery. I can't understand it.

 

 
*

 

 

I've been thinking of investing in a cat. I prefer cats to dogs as does my landlord, who

prefers cats to people. Cats are more than equipped to deal with the odd passing

arachnid, and besides, having a cat would make things more cosy. Cats are independent

animals, unlike dogs who are unbearably servile. We could live our own lives, see our

own friends, cohabit in harmonious independence. I would provide the milk and my cat

would supply the kinesis in my otherwise immobile surroundings. Cats are always calm,

not  frenetic or neurotic like dogs, or parrots, or hamsters, who are also insomniacs. Also,

a cat  is an excellent judge of character. A cat is very intuitive and astute. I

have occasionally been mistaken in my judgements of other people but ownership of a

cat would reduce the margin of error I'm sure. If a cat greets a stranger with unseemly

affection you can be sure your visitor is almost certainly a bad lot.

 

*

 

As I dressed, I looked at the photograph of my wfe on the bedside cabinet. She hasn't

changed at all, I thought. And I felt a twinge of my old melancholia.Those were the days, I

thought. I wonder where she is now, I thought. She was such an ethusiastic woman,

always  occupied with some project. Unfortunately, since she left a terrible air of inertia

has settled about the place. Nothing happens. Should I drop a glass while I'm washing

the dishes the noise seems to reverberate for an hour afterwards, in every corner of every

room, as if to establish incontrovertibly that there was a noise, not someone else's noise,

nor an imaginary noise such as one hears sometimes during the night.


 

And then there will follow a silence that lasts for days. These modern apartments are

completely immune to alterations in humidity or atmospheric pressure, or the gradual

subsidence of the ground below; so there are none of the personal sounds to disturb

you, the kind of sounds one associates with old houses. My apartment and I have

succumbed to the melancholy state of irreversible decline.

 

 

My apartment is furnished in the ancient Japanese tradition, with the notable exception of

the kitchen which is fitted with the customary occidental appliances. This dichotomy in my

environment is necessitated by the scarcity of Oriental food in my neighbourhood. As I am

obliged to subsist on Western fare it would be inappropriate to have a kitchen suitable for

the highly refined cuisine favoured in the East.

 


My living room, however, has a more Spartan décor, inspired, as I say by the Oriental

modes. I have dispensed with furniture completely, and have placed pieces of wood and

lumps of stone in a random formation on the floor of the living room. These items convey

the impression of furniture, without inhibiting my freedom of movement within the room.

 

*

 

I am too, very much a creature of habit, and perhaps this contributes to the inertia to which

I've referred. I have established what I believe to be the most efficient and convenient

regimen for living in this apartment. I have also developed a rather habituated taste in

food and other household necessities,with the result that all the packages in the kitchen

cupboards, and the food in the refrigerator, are usually of the same brand. When the

manufacturers change or modernise their product packaging, it has quite an effect on my

environment.

 

*

 

For anyone who wishes to visit me I make certain concessions of course. My mother, for

instance, brings a chair with her, or on more lethargic days, a settee, which she is at

liberty to place wherever she likes - providing of course she doesn't disturb the

arrangements of wood and stone.

 

Unfortunately she sometimes appears contemptuous of my furnishings and will

attempt to leave a chair with me despite my protestations. I suspect however that her

apparent concern for my welfare is tinged somewhat by expediency and she would prefer

to avoid the fatiguing business of carrying the chair or settee with her from her home to

my apartment each time she wishes to visit me.

 

 

*

 

 

As the years went by my wife and I found fewer and fewer things to talk about. I was never

particularly interested in anything. I had no hobbies, or extramural activities about which I

could converse with her. Talking had always been a mere habit with me, and

conversation an activity which I generally restricted to my working hours. I had virtually no

curiosity about the world, and had always assumed that society functioned quite capably

aside from any comments or speculations of mine. Initially my wife and I found each

other's company quite stimulating. She seemed to have a voracious appetite for

experience, and I suppose she was fascinated by my ennui. I'm sure that if I had been as

fascinated by her curiosity, we might still be together. As it is, my dispassion prevailed

and we exhausted all avenues of communication.

 

*


My mother paid me a visit me yesterday. Once again she castigated me for the barren

atmosphere of my living quarters. She was also irritated by the necessity of sharing a

teacup with me. As I live alone I have only the one teacup, and I consider the sharing of

the teacup with guests an hospitable and intimate gesture. My mother seems to regard

the paucity of china as evidence of stinginess or miserliness. She was always something

of a bonne vivante, however. As I recall, she has many more teacups than she needs. Her

extravagance was always a contentious issue with me.

 

*

 

Unfortunately, after so many months of silence, I find conversation a disturbing intrusion

on the integrity of my apartment. I'm always inclined to dissuade visitors from indulging in

conversation. My apartment and I are very much in sympathy and I am always painfully

aware that unfamiliar noises, such as the sound of a human voice, have a disorienting

effect. My apartment has become accustomed to the shuffling sounds and the echo of the

occasional breaking glass but any new and persistent noise upsets the monastic

equilibrium which I've established over the years. Since my mother's visit both my

apartment and I have been experiencing vague feelings of discontent. For one thing I

have found myself engaging in introspection, an activity quite foreign to my nature. It

seems that any contact with individuals or episodes from the past is liable to set various

trains of thought in motion which I find unsettling and irritating.

 

*

 

I noted this morning, with some alarm, that the street adjacent to the one in which my

apartment building is located has been appropriated by the Department of Benches and

that demolition has already begun. I understand from a brief conversation with a

passenger on the bus to work, that the government has approved the construction of the

multi-unit bench project that has recently caused so much controversy. Apparently the

proposed thirty-tier project will be completed some time within the new year.There are

fears in the neighbourhood that the complex will extend for several miles in each direction

and I have been warned that our tenancy at the apartment building may be terminated

soon, in order that the building can be demolished and more benches erected on the

site.

 


*

 

I remember now once having a hobby. When I was a child I used to bury dead animals in

glass jars in the garden and then disinter them from time to time, in order to observe the

process of decomposition. This was considered a rather morbid pursuit for a young

person and I was persuaded to take up philately as a healthy alternative. I enjoyed

collecting stamps immensely, but abandoned the practice at the earliest opportunity.

 

*

 

My mother sent me a card today, thanking me for my hospitality and wishing me a speedy

recovery from the indisposition that had so drastically altered my behaviour. I'm beginning

to wonder if the lady who purports to be my mother is who she claims. I rarely recognise

her, or can never be certain that I recognise her because she visits me or becauseshe is

my mother. It's a ticklish situation but I must confess that if I am to be visited by my

mother, it's irrelevant who precisely materialises at the door, as long as they answer to

the general description. I prefer to think that my visitor is an impostor despatched by a

government agency which specialises in the wholesale supply of relatives to those of us

who long ago lost contact with the original members of our families.

 

*

 

Miss Klar has finally dismantled her desk and has been eyeing mine in recent days with

an almost imperialistic longing. I have suggested that she requisition a new desk from

thestores department, but she feels she might be required to answer some

embarrassing questions regarding the mysterious disappearance of her old one. I

believe her anxiety iswell-founded,and in case of a lightning purge within the organisation

I have temporarilysuspended my memory stick and stationary operation.

 

*

 

When I was younger I began to gather around me a coterie of imaginary friends. There

were women among them with whom I could make love, or converse intimately, or

abandon -- depending on my mood. There were subordinate workers within my

organisation and superiors whom I would impress with my intelligence and sound

judgement. I would also number among my friends some whose names were familiar to

the general public by virtueof a remarkable accomplishment. I would introduce my

imaginary women friends to these luminaries at the fashionable parties we would attend

in my imagination. Occasionally they would run off together and the women would later

return in great contrition to ask my forgiveness. In my imagination, at least, I rarely

condoned their indiscretions.

 

I did this initially as a provision against those times in my life when companionship was

not forthcoming. However I soon grew more attached to my imaginary acquaintances

than to those from the real world and eventually I severed connection with all but the most

unavoidable members of my social circle. After all, few could compare favourably

with the assortment of illustrious companions with whom I passed my leisure time. The

bonds and affections between my imaginary friends and myself were unbreakable, and

dependent solely on my own moods and predispositions. They were available at all

times to entertain me, or love me, or as an attentive audience to my thoughts and insights

concerning themselves and the world at large. My new friends were always very

appreciative of my advice or attention, whereas previously I had been treated with a

certain levity or disdain.Unfortunately, I finally grew bored with my imaginary friends. They

seemed unable to exceed my expectations. I tried to introduce a greater variety of person

into my mental society but each new individual bore such a strong resemblance to his or

her predecessor, that I found their company too predictable to be enjoyable. I began to

resent their constant  toadying to my egomania and their hopeless lack of autonomy or

originality. Even though, as time went by, their qualities and achievements became more

impressive, it was obvious that my imaginary friends suffered from a profound atrophy of

the spirit for which at the time I could find no explanation.

 

*

 

I find I am now in a position to benefit from the Equable Tax Initiative recently introduced

by the Government. This initiative provides for the repayment of welfare benefits by the

working poor to those of higher incomes. The principle behind this excellent innovation is

that by releasing the impecunious from the burden of indebtedness all citizens will enjoy

a sense of moral equality - conducive, it has been asserted, to a harmonious economy

and social order. I have always abhorred the high-handed paternalism of members of the

tax-paying social groups in their dealings with the less prosperous members of our

community and am greatly relieved that the cause of this long-standing inequity is at last

to be addressed.

 

 

*

 

Unfortunately, I've had to abandon my plan to buy a cat. Somehow my landlord was

informed of my intentions, and this morning I found a note had been pushed under my

door, informing me that cats were personae non gratae in the apartment building, and

that unauthorised possession of a cat could invite unpleasant consequences. For some

reason I was under the impression that the landlord liked cats. However, since his

communication this morning I recalled that both he and I share a mutual distaste for cats,

and that I was confusing us with someone else who likes cats, or confusing cats with

some other animal.

 

 

*

 


I have been advised that my services at the office are no longer required. In fact my

departure from work was expedited with what I can only describe as unseemly haste. No

sooner had I walked through the door this morning, glanced up briefly and noted that

Miss Klar was nowhere to be seen, than I found myself once more outside, on the street

in fact, staring about me in some confusion.

 

I returned home and passed the morning contemplating the views from the windows of

my apartment. Before me a panorama of benches stretched to the horizon, some already

inhabited, others still in the process of construction. Perhaps Miss Klar is there, I thought,

already occupied in dismantling her bench.

 

I wondered how I could have failed to notice before the intensification of activity around

me. Cranes rise into the sky like a forest of steel ash trees. The screeching of drills

resounds in the air, penetrating even the womb-like silence of my rooms. It seems as if

some terrible invasion force is mobilising in the streets below.

 

*

 

Later in the afternoon, the landlord appeared at my d oor. His expression was one of

friendly concern and at first I suspected he had brought me glad tidings, perhaps news of

my reinstatement at work. In fact he instructed me to vacate my apartment at the earliest

opportunity. I explained that I could imagine no such opportunity arising for the

foreseeable future but he reassured me that if no such opportunity arose spontaneously,

he would provide one.

 

*

 

The shuffling noises have ceased and I must confess a certain nostalgia for the

distraction they afforded me from my thoughts. At present I seem to be unduly

preoccupied with the disposition of my personal effects and other trivial details of this

kind. Needless to say, with so much time on my hands, I am free to concentrate all my

attention on whatever anxieties I might have concerning my future. I wish my mother was

here. I wish my wife was here. I even wish the shuffling noises would begin again, only

with redoubled vigour.

 

*

 

I woke this morning to discover myself the beneficiary of an extraordinary stroke of good

fortune. It seems that my mother has passed away unexpectedly and has provided for me

in her will with a bench allocation. Judging by the rumours which have come to my

attention an unpleasant fate awaits those unfortunates who are convicted of vagrancy,

and alternative accommodation - even on the benches - is hard to find.

 


This experience has taught me a valuable lesson. We are often tempted to regard fate as

something malign and intractable, and yet on this occasion any despondency I might

have suffered as a result of recent events, has been utterly redressed by the intervention

of that mysterious force.


*


Today, a number of workers arrived to remove my furniture and belongings. They were

cheerful, whistling men, who performed their tasks with wonderful efficiency. I was

informed that a simple solution had been devised to address the problem of my effects.

As there would be no room on a bench for personal items, I need no longer concern

myself about them.

 

*


I am sitting on the floor of what was once my living room. Construction at the Bench

Project seems to have stopped for the night and a pristine silence has fallen on the

neighbourhood. How empty the apartment seems now. Even the atmosphere has

undergone a subtle change. It is as if my apartment and I are no longer in sympathy.

Perhaps it senses in some peculiar way its own impending demolition. The rooms are

clammy and nervous and thereis an air of accusation in the silence. It is as if my

apartment believes that I might have endeavoured in some way to preserve each of the

infinite number of moments we have shared over the years, the shuffling feet, the

breaking glass, the closing of doors, the sporadic murmur of human voices, and made of

them something permanent, a continuum in which our association might have endured

forever.

 

*

 

 

The benches are everywhere. Above me I can barely perceive any light, except for the dim

yellow glare of the arc lamps on the upper tier. The giant screen television has been

switched off for the night. The constant murmuring of indistinguishable voices hangs on

the air like the beating of wings in a swarm of insects. Below me, and on all sides, I am

surrounded by benches, almost all of which are occupied.

 

I am on the sixth tier, which is known, almost jokingly, as 'the suffocation line.' Apparently

a high incidence of respiratory disease prevails among inhabitants of benches below the

sixth tier. The air beneath me is damp and stagnant, due apparently to the condensation

of breath on the benches at night and the inadequate ventilation. I have myself contracted

a nasty cough during my brief sojourn in the Bench Project.

 

I have resumed employment with the company. They have issued me with a laptop

computer and at eight o'clock each morning the postman brings me a file of documents

to process, which he collects the following day and returns to head office. At the end of the

week, providing my work is satisfactory, I receive a number of vouchers which are

negotiable with the Project officials for items of clothing, and so forth. At twelve

o'clock a young man delivers parcels of food and those of us who have accumulated a

sufficient number of vouchers avail ourselves of this service. I am not disposed to sharing

my food with less fortunate neighbours. In my new environment altruism is rarely

appreciated and can even prove dangerous, particularly as many of the residents have

gone without food for days. Soon after my arrival I experienced an attempt at coercion

from the lady who occupied the seat to the left of me, On several occasions I was obliged

to physically restrain her attempts to deprive me of my vouchers. I believey her

desperation arose out of concern for her three young children. The lady in question,

however, threw herself from the bench one evening and disappeared into the crowd

below. As she never returned to her place, which was in fact occupied the following

morning by an elderly gentleman, I can only presume her attempt at suicide met with

success.

 

Meanwhile, I am managing to maintain cordial relations within my immediate

neighbourhood. The family who occupy the seats to my right, are very pleasant people in

fact, although the father is inclined to a rather wearisome bonhomie, 'making the best of

things,' as he puts it, which during my occasional moods of dejection I find a little

exasperating. However, they are onsiderably more equable companions than the lady

who lived at one time in the seat to the left.



(c) Graeme Williamson 1973/2010 (subject to further editng)

 

 

 

 

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