First Prize

First Prize Story Winner
2018 Cooney Insurance Short Story Competition

Euclid and Paisley

By Desmond Ford

There was a knock at the door a door at the knock I should answer the door should I answer the door? I should get up I’m standing up it’s a small room a very small room I used to live in much larger rooms I had it all, I’m answering the door there was a knock at the door I’m walking across to it I can get there from my chair in exactly five paces that’s how small this room is I used to have much larger rooms with all sorts of gear, I used to have it all now I can get there in exactly five paces, I should count the paces, should I count the paces? I shouldn’t count the paces start that again, cheap linoleum printed with the design of pseudo ceramic tile squares exactly five-hundred-and-twenty-three squares counting those in the toilet and bathroom tiles to count all day walking from one side to the other in five paces. I wonder who is at the door? It’s probably her it won’t be her it will be her I’m expecting her today, what day is it anyway?

I understand very well how unfair it was for this to happen to me while I’m still young and should have my whole life ahead of me. Now everything just starts crashing in like a tsunami or more like a raging fire in a tinder dry brain and thoughts and emotions are brittle tree trunks that fanning winds are whipping the flames through, just fanning winds that I can’t order, not any of it, I once thought that if I could just write it all down maybe I could make sense of it so I did that one time and was so appalled by it that I vowed never to put myself through that again better to just focus on trying to be calm and let all these thoughts wash in and out like the ocean tide not that I remember much about that I’ve been months without leaving this apartment although I have seen the shimmer of phosphorescence and moonlight on the water at night at the bow of a yacht with dolphins riding through that glowing wave of phosphorescence right there at the bow unless I just imagined all that, it seems almost too fantastical to be real but sometimes I check my stories with my brother and ask him if those things really were true or did I invent them and I’m amazed when he says that they really were true and he mentions some detail like it was actually his yacht so I know that it must have been so.

I think it is appalling to objectify her – I mean, she’s a health professional doing her job and I should respect that. She comes once a week, Thursdays, 2:00 pm, pretty much on the dot as far as I know and looks in the fridge and checks my medication and fills in some stuff in her book, asking questions and chatting kind of along with the questions and last week she noticed that I had painted the bottom corner of my guitar that was leaning against the wall and she seemed really interested in that and went right up to it and looked at it so I have to admit I’ve been concentrating since she left on doing more of this sort of painting pretty much because it seemed to impress her and it’s not like I have a lot else to do then she gave me the injection and left.

The thing is that people do get better from this and that is definitely something to keep hold of although it doesn’t seem that Jennifer was able to keep hold of it and as everything else drifted away with that tide going out leaving the mudded dank stink of slimy silted sand of the estuary that oozes through your toes as your feet sink into it with everything slipping and washing away with Jennifer drifting away with all the rest of it houses and cars and motorcycle and guitars and recording gear all moving and slipping away from me like the sucking tide going out around the mudflats at the estuary taking all that stuff along with it before the tsunami crashes back in and over me again.

I always lean my guitar against the wall in the same corner of the room on the squared geometry of the pseudo-tile linoleum although it’s not that I couldn’t put it somewhere else if I wanted to because I definitely could but there aren’t that many suitable places in this small space and I don’t really see the point. I go back to the small table with two chairs against the wall where the window is and sit down then no sooner sat down and hear the knock at the door again which I’m fairly certain is her, then she calls out, so I’m totally certain it is her now although I was already pretty sure it was anyway.

It’s not the first time that she has commented on the guitar and at first she asked me if I played it which all-things-considered wasn’t as dumb a question as you might think so when I said yes she asked me to play something so I played something for her and she asked what it was and I said just a tune and she asked who wrote it and I said me, or other-me, and she just said, “Wow… that’s really beautiful,” but I can’t actually figure out any way to play the guitar for her every time she comes or I could be just casually playing it when she comes in except that would be phoney and ridiculous, she calls out again, “Jeremy..?”

Me, Jeremy, Other-me, we’re traversing the tiles toward the door I’m counting the tiles toward the door don’t count the tiles for goodness sake don’t get caught up in that, people do get better from this she always tells me. So in the end I just decided to do more of that painting that she had admired on the lower corner of the guitar, I used to be the art director and designed album covers and promotional material for a music label, some really big names anyway I forget just now, I don’t know if I want to think about it all washed away with the car the motorcycle the house the art gear and Jennifer all receding away from me with the outgoing tide just leaving the brown muddy silt of the estuary that my bach amongst the toetoe is on the shore of.

I think I still own the bach my brother has his yacht moored in the estuary and he looks after it for me and actually I love the stinky mudflats where we used to go floundering at night with a lantern I think I still have the bach and should go back there I’ll ask her about it maybe I can go live there again it would be a lot better for me although it would be a long way for her to come and check on how I’m doing so they probably won’t let me although maybe they will, people do get better from this. I have six pots of paint and a small paintbrush and I’ve been pretty busy working on it, trying to perfect the style constantly since she was here last time mostly right through the night.

I’ve had to consciously resist a lazy default to the cliché swirl of the paisley pattern of old Led Zeppelin posters that I used to paint with black-light paint when I was about ten or twelve. Now I want to subvert and humanise but also respect the underlying rectilinear geometry even when the brush keeps yearning for the beautiful free-form koru swirl of ferns unfurling and I allow it in in places but I do not succumb completely to its allure but the struggle and the dialectic is about allowing the curve to humanise Euclid’s straight-line. The effect with the six colours is fantastic.

I open the door and she just stands there for a moment and looks around, “Wow…” she says. She seems unsure, but she’s smiling so I smile too and this is the first time I’ve smiled for a while and I’m shy to admit it but I think I’m beaming from ear to ear. She moves slowly through the doorway and steps carefully onto the tiles where the painted patterns continue seamlessly from the lower corner of the guitar that she had admired last week and have now proliferated in a tsunami of iterated fractal patterns that rise up the walls and most of the ceiling. She looks around, a slow smile on her face and says again, “Wow…”