I wrote The Face in The Wall as a sketch a few years ago on the Tusitala blog, under the category Writing Demeter. This category has a whole series of fragments or ‘snippets’ about George and Demeter and even Katherine Mansfield. I wanted to sketch out as sort of last story for Katherine Mansfield. A meeting that somehow gifted her with some hope and change away from the tuberculosis and her insipid and largely absent husband, John Middleton Murray.
I notice too that there is a new biography out about Mansfield, ( a preview at the forthcoming Manchester Literature Festival) and this will add hopefully to the superb Tomalin biography that rescued her from a certain kind of dangerous male biographical chivalry ( see Alpers) where her past relationships were sanitised and rewritten.
The Phoenix Writers Group in Horwich, Bolton are currently assembling a collection of Writings from the group around the theme of TIME and as I used to attend before my back started impinging on my activities of a seated nature, I have just been reading through my blog trying to rediscover ‘timely’ pieces. Oddly enough I think all my writing seems preoccupied with time. But then perhaps all writing is as it is time bound itself and written by mortal very time bound creatures anyway? !!
So I post this again with another piece. Everything connects in odd ways. I also detect a recurring tone. My writing sounds like it was written by me. Pleasing in itself!
The face in the wall watched all that went on and did not approve. The disapproval was expressed subtly at first, a mere flicker of admonition through a slight smudging of outlines as the face hardened about the forehead spreading downwards to that mouth.
Then as they carried on without care, without conscience, the face released the hardness and let one colour run into another, darkening the red, deepening the black, spreading a stain that George noticed because he was so alone these days. All days in fact, now that his Aunt was gone. Indeed if George hadn’t had the face to look at now, he doubted very much if anyone would have noticed him at all. Looking at some one else was a skill, it really was. It took time and care, and all these things seemed of the past nowadays, for with his Aunt’s death, the world’s eyes had fallen away. In this sightless place , he wandered through her house each day, listening to the faint, hoarse whispering of dark suited men with snapping brief cases, and the click clack of women with narrow eyes devouring papers which promised so much they believed, yet so far had delivered so very, very little.
George’s father stood at the front door of his late sister’s house, carelessly smoking as he had always done, watching them all, smiling at their hopes which grew like grey tentacles about the house, choking at the heart of George’s Aunt who now stood in turn powerless, watching them back, praying the face in the wall could heal that which her soul could not.
George smelt the scent of greed along the corridors of his Aunt’s old home. Each carpet held a pattern which seemed to tell him more about these figures which lay littering the tables in the kitchen pored over by eyes which would never return a look. Greed had a humming sound, a chorus insinuated itself upwards to the attics, to this gallery where George would sit reading, where he felt comfortable enough to remember his Aunt, a memory he knew, beyond doubt, this face in the wall knew as well as he.
George’s favourite memory was of soap. She had loved yellow tar soap and they had washed her last dog together under the yard tap whilst she told him about Carmen and the colours around his head, and why he must never ever forget Demeter. Cluedo had shook herself all over him, splashing the tar all over his bare arms and then just when they had been talking about her, Demeter had arrived back from somewhere and had pulled his hair and he knew he was alive.
George did not know how to talk to Demeter. She walked across the lawn towards him like a miracle. The late afternoon sunshine on her red hair whiplashed his face and he felt the tips of his fingers burn with the energy of her. He was dazed by her mouth. He wanted to cross himself at the power of her, he wanted to lift her hair away from her long neck and kiss her madly so she would never forget his name.
But he was just a boy. A boy who had a soft voice that made kind people lean towards him as he tried to speak of his Aunt. He felt his voice was borrowed today. It was on hire somehow and could be recalled at any moment. And as he spoke it was as if he was waiting for his words to be snatched away; so he released them slowly, each word a sharply shaped pebble for listeners to turn around in their hands. There were corners to each word.
Hello then Demeter.
What an uneven boy she thought. Uneven and suddenly tender. And there she saw him again holding his aunt’s hand, purely and only for her.
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