47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


HE KNEW he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep.

He knew he had to do it again, despite the risk. Otherwise he’d go mad.

He carefully manoeuvred his way out of the bed so as not to disturb Helen.

Then he crept as silently as his creaking old limbs would take him, out onto the landing and round to what they both still referred to as Robbie’s room.

His stuff was long gone now, after all those self-deceiving years of pretending to believe that “missing in action” didn’t really mean “blown into tiny pieces of mincemeat” and that one day he might triumphantly disembark off the slow boat from China and reclaim his territory and belongings.

Only one reminder of his existence remained in the room, a faded and curled poster of that Molena chap, the footballer Robbie had liked so much when he was little.

Molena himself had signed the poster at some charity appearance - but the pen Robbie had passed him hadn’t worked properly and the autograph was an inkless impression that Robbie alone had seemed able to identify and appreciate for many years afterwards - right up, in fact, until he’d...

The thought was banished before it overwhelmed him and he focused harder on what he was doing, which was lifting the corner of the Molena poster and removing a small lump of adhesive putty that held it on the wall.

He rolled it between his fingers as he moved over to the window.

This was the difficult part. You had to place the putty over the sensor at the same time as you opened the window.

Otherwise it’d all go off and before you knew it the house would be surrounded.

As he began to open the window, his fingers slipped and for a moment it seemed he would drop the putty completely. But he recovered, held the window in a safe position and completed the operation successfully.

The moment the window was ajar, a flood of sweet fresh air filled his nose and mouth and spread deliciously through every vein in his body.

He took an even deeper breath, still standing by the window. And another.

It was hard to argue against the laws on window opening. There obviously was a huge security risk attached, with the cost to the community of any resulting call-out.

And, as they said, with today’s controlled domestic environment, there should be no need for open windows.

Plus, of course, it did adversely affect the operation and efficiency of the air conditioning, wasting his money and public resources, as well as contributing to environmental degradation.

But still...

He stood with his eyes shut, bathing in the concentrated freshness flowing straight into his face from the night outside, straight off the hills, just a dozen miles from the sea.

In a minute he’d go back to bed, leaving the window partly open behind him. By the time he reached his bedroom, the airflow would have got there too and he would be soothed and rippled into the floating sleep he so craved.

In the morning he would simply slip round here again, while Helen was in the bathroom, and seal it all up, as he had already done a dozen times before.

He turned to go and there was Helen in the doorway, eyebrows distorted into a frown of comic-book proportions.

“What are you doing?” she half-mouthed, half-whispered with such ferocity that it was clear she would have loved to have screamed the words at him at the top of her voice, were it not for the microphones and the inevitability of setting off the very alarm she wished to avoid.

He shrugged. She could see full well what he was doing.

She stepped closer and pointed furiously, indicating without ambiguity that she expected him to seal up the window he’d only just opened.

What could he do? There was no way round this. Helen would sooner report him to the authorities than risk finding herself associated with unauthorised activity.

He closed the window and, clasping the little soft ball of putty secretively in his hand, followed Helen back to the bedroom and between the sheets.

She turned her back to him in her fury and he had no idea if she was sleeping or not.

He certainly wasn’t.

The fresh air was soon exhaled from his lungs and that unbearable feeling returned.

Thoughts crept into his head that he could no longer banish.

Images of Robbie as a young lad, calling out for him, arms outstretched, but slipping ever out of reach into a black void.

Muttering voices, electric pangs of never-buried guilt, heavy traumas of despair and futility piled up on top of him as he lay there, suffocated and humiliated him.

He squeezed harder on the putty.

He couldn’t breathe.