Today I am very happy to be able to share with my readers a story by Rebecca Lloyd from her marvelous new collection of short stories, The View From Endless Street. I find this story very intriguing and have had the great pleasure of reading it several times.
In this collection of short stories set in the south of England and beyond, Rebecca Lloyd explores relationships and the brave or foolish things they can make people do. These stories about murder and ghosts, delusion and desperation, obsession and arson, show readers a sometimes sweet, sometimes macabre vision of humanity. Rebecca Lloyd channels Roald Dahl’s wit and flair for the unexpected in this collection that will appeal to the quirky side of the literary reader. (From publisher's webpage)
"THE EGYPTIAN BOAT"
By Rebecca Lloyd
Abbie blew the dust off his table, laid out the rusty tins of lacquer and carefully stacked up the good pieces of obeche he’d found at the back of Zimmerman’s Craft Shop. He was calmed by the simplicity of his tiny bed-sit and the silence in the lane outside. His heavy coat looked good against the yellow door and he could glance up anytime and see it there like another person.
Even though Forbes had warned him many things would be unrecognisable, Abbie was shocked that streets he’d once roamed through as easily as slipping his fingers into a glove, now menaced him, pulsing with gross noises and shapes. The supermarket he’d wandered into had frightened him most. Flickering lights drained the colour out of people’s faces, making them waxy and dream-like as they shuffled onwards. Shelves bulged with bloated, shiny bags and scores of different types of bread stretched down endless isles like sandbags banked up against a flood. ‘Half a pound of butter and come straight back,’ his mother used to say, ‘take a penny for yourself, son.’
A penny had never been enough for Abbie, and at the age of seven he had already started looking through people’s windows. Two years later, he’d learnt the art of silent entry and after his first break-in boys in his neighbourhood no longer laughed at him. But they lookedupon him strangely again years later at his trial. In summing up, the cone-faced judge stated that Abbie’s tendency to fearfulness was a pathetic justification for the act of atrocity he had committed against a mere woman;on a night when God’s eyes must have been elsewhere, he added as an afterthought.
On the wall of his cell, Abbie had a picture torn out of an old National Geographic, an Egyptian pharaoh’s royal funeral barge with ornate gilded pillars and goats’ heads at either end with elegant collar pieces. When his privileges increased, he queued up with other men on Fridays for a small bag of wood strips and some thin white glue for model making. His efforts filled him with rage;and he remembered the Viking long ship with overlapping planks he struggled with in his mother’s raggedy kitchen, coming close to tears as the shape of the swelling hull eluded him repeatedly.
‘Like a beautiful eye on the ocean as seen by a bird, isn’t it, big boy?’ his mother had murmured. By the time he was fifteen he’d made his first good copy of the Mayflower, perfectly formed and breath-taking in its intricacy.
Before his release, his boats had been given a special shelf in the governor’s room and his modelling tools returned to him, carefully wrapped in brown paper by Forbes.
‘Even time will be different out there. It’ll move quickly, slowly, sideways, sometimes furious, sometimesfrivolous like girls and women,’ Forbes told him. ‘You’ll be all right if you keep yourself to yourself.’
As autumn winds slithered through the city trees, Abbie finished ‘The Forbes,’ a single-mast cog with straight keel, bow and sternposts. He’d found a route down to the canal through back alleys that stank of fish and glittered with broken glass, but silent and un-peopled.He chose a wet, muffled afternoon when the water was grey and high with recent rain, and lowering the boat carefully, nudged it outwards with a stick. It turned once before the sail rippled, and then it was away, leaving no trace in its wake.
‘How about that!’ he said aloud to his coat.
‘How’ll you get it back?’
Abbie stiffened, and looked up. ‘I never keep them.’
‘Don’t people pinch them, then?’
‘They’re for whoever wants them.’
‘I love the canal; in the spring it’s rusty red. Now, it’s a funny grey colour.’
Abbie smiled at her simplicity. ‘The colour of normal water. What’s your name?’
Diamond became a cushion against the city through that winter. But Abbie’s feelings for her lurched constantly between a faint revulsion and the kind of pity he might have had for a neglected mutt.
‘I like a man what’s quiet,’ she told him repeatedly, but stared at him flush-faced and dog-like as she blurted out everything about herself in the silences he left.
Although he could feel the want in her, Diamond never touched him physically, but it was as if they were playing Grandma’s Footsteps. When he didn’t watch her, she trespassed a step closer until finally she was moving with sloppy comfort amongst his few possessions and chattering about things she’d seen or wanted.
His fear of the streets was deepening, and the worse it got the more he depended on her. He told her bits about himself to keep her there, but disconnected like brokenpieces of a biscuit. He knew that everything he said about himself she took as proof that he was interested in her, and he could find no way of telling her otherwise. It reminded him of the evening his craft tools had been laid out in the police interview room.
‘Oh! A knife. Someone slipped that into your pocket, I suppose?’
‘Modelling knife, that’s all.’
‘For modelling women’s faces? Hate women, do you, you scum?’
‘Penny for them, Abbs.’
‘I said, ever got a ship in a bottle?’
‘What’s the point of trapping something just because you can?’
‘But it’s fascinating, bet you don’t know how.’
‘So how d’you do it then?’
‘It’s like a kid’s pop-up book ... You're not really interested, you’re just trying to make me talk, aren’t you?’
‘Well, what d’you expect? I could strangle you sometimes, I really could; you don’t never say anything.’
By the time Easter came round her buttery smell and cracked voice were fully repugnant to him. He decided to force her to wander away into someone else’s life.
‘I know you’re in there Abbie, open the door!’
He gnawed his fingernails and waited, curled up on his bed beneath his coat, but she kept coming.
‘Hey, big man, good horror movie on. Let’s go, I don’t like going alone and walking home afterwards.’ He could hear her fingernails drumming on the door. ‘Abbs, I thought we had something together.’ After a while her voice hardened. ‘You’re a bastard Abbie. I’m going, and I’m never coming back.’
But she did come back. Abbie became nervous of going out in the middle of the day. He shopped early in the corner shop that catered for night shift workers. Only when he was absorbed in his craft could he forget about her and everything else beyond his chipped yellow door.He’d finished the hull of the Egyptian boat and had painted the four pillars with electric blue and viridian green palm leaves without a tremor.
Forbes had been right about time; it smashed itself about and its ferocity had sucked away all his curiosity about being outside. He missed the rhythmic slamming ofthe door flaps at night, one after the other through the whole block, and the silence that hummed afterwards. He missed Forbes badly.
‘So this is where you’re hiding. I was just over at your place, popped in on the way home from the shops.What you up to then?’
‘Been busy with the Egyptian boat. You?’
‘Great. I got some new curtains, sugar pink, lined, tiebacks and all. There’s a pelmet as well, scalloped. Come over and I’ll show you. I’ll make dinner.’
Here she was again, uninvited and unknowing, standing innocently above him on the towpath. Abbie looked at her keenly. Although her body was chunky, it had no substance; she was like a rubber doll with stick arms. ‘Okay, Diamond, when I finish the boat.’
She beamed at him. ‘You said my name; you never have before.’
Abbie bought a tie to wear to Diamond’s house and a yellow shirt. The keys in his pocket moved against his thigh and sounded exactly like a train on a long journey.He stopped on the towpath opposite her house. A Kingfisher seared low across the canal, malachite green and iridescent blue, mimicking the colours of the boat’s carved pillars.
No such thing as coincidence, Forbes had once told him. Everything is meant to be, the trick is to see the connections and act on them, then everything falls into place.
A flock of starlings undulated in the air above the canal like a wave of dark stars. A solitary chinking blackbird fell silent as he lowered the Egyptian boat carefully onto the water. It sailed as he had imagined it, proud and magical, dipping slightly at the front with the weight of the carved goats’ heads, but moving cleanly through the red water. It was the best and most curious boat he had ever made. Abbie watched until it was out of sight, then plunged his clenched fists into his coat pockets and walked over to Diamond’s house.
This story is protected under international copyright law and cannot be published in any format without the approval of the author.