keith waddington ©1994


The Island

When I woke up there was a terrible hollow ache in my chest, as if, during the night, someone had dug a grave there. My eyes I kept shut, squeezed them shut, trying to think away the hollowness. There was a chill. There was a chill. I knew, even as I moved under the blankets, that there was a chill inside me. It was all inside me and there was no shoving it out. I moved from one side to another to another, as if there were some way to find comfort and fill the hollow. As if there were only some way.

I climbed from the bed and made my way to the bathroom. The hollowness came with me. The chill came too. I brushed my teeth and noticed that the mint toothpaste had no mint. It had nothing. It was just a white paste with nothing. I showered. The water had no effect.

Two slices of toast popped up. I was sitting at the kitchen table, gazing out of the window, my feet on the sill, watching the blank snowy world do nothing. I stared at the toast for a moment, and then turned back to the window. I had no appetite. I had no hunger either.

I stumbled to the front door. There was no newspaper.

In the living room, I turned on the stereo, pushed play on the CD, heard the disc spin and no sound come out. Half heartedly—no heartedly—I checked the buttons and knobs. The disk was playing but there was no more music. I walked back to the hallway. On my way out, I noticed all my books stacked neatly on the shelves. I knew there was something wrong with the books too, but I avoided what it was. I walked back towards the kitchen, but the sight of the books had sneaked inside my like an unwelcome ghost. I stared. The covers of all the books were white. All except one. I went back into the living room. It was true. They were all white. Except one. There were no words in the books. The pages were blank. Except one. I pulled it out. It was Robinson Crusoe, the island man. He was the only one left.

Back in the kitchen, I noticed something else. I noticed how calm I was. No hair pulling. No screaming. No bawling. Even when I tripped and fell through the wall, my calmness remained intact. The wall seemed to be made of air. It was like painted air. I pulled myself out of it. I tried to touched it. My hand passed straight through. It was a wall no more. It was a ghost of a wall. It was a phantom of a wall. I suppose I had seen it before, but I had avoided what it was: there was a strange look to it. There was a strange look to everything. I pushed my hand through a door; a window; a table. Everything was not anymore. Everything was like painted air.

I went outside. I had decided to go buy some food, even though I had neither appetite nor hunger. Everything outside had the same look as everything inside. I walked along the street. I heard words.

I don’t feel the same anymore. I don’t feel the same anymore. I don’t feel the same anymore.

There were no people and I was calm.

But what happened to the feelings? There used to be so many feelings. Where did they go?

And then, when I reached the high street, there were people. They all had the same look as everything outside and everything inside. They looked like painted air.

There was an old man, staring down at the snowy ground, searching.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. He never even looked up.

“I lost a button,” he said to a woman who happened to come along. “Can you see it?”

The woman looked down. I looked down.

“What was it like?” she asked.

“It was a shiny button,” he said. Two tears dripped down his cheeks. His voice broke: “It was a special shiny button. It was like . . . it was special.”

The woman and I continued to scour the snowy ground. The man looked helplessly from the ground to the woman, shedding more tears. “There’s no other button like that button,” he said.

I knew if there ever had been a shiny button like no other shiny button, it was gone now. It was lost now. It was gone for ever now. I mumbled a hollow sorry and patted his back. My hand passed through his body. He was a ghost too. He was a phantom too. He was like everything inside and outside.

I turned back the way I had come.

I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you.

Then don’t.

But I don’t feel the same anymore.

I can’t understand it. What happened to the feelings? When we met, and then after. What happened to all the love? Where did it go?

It went to somebody else. I love somebody else.

I can’t stand it. It hurts too much.

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to hurt you.

I feel like I’m on a ghost island. Nothing’s real anymore.

It was like being on a ghost island. I had woken up on a ghost island. I was the only thing left not like painted air. The chill inside me growled like a howling wind. When I arrived home and closed the door behind me, it felt like I was entering a prison. When I looked outside, it was like a prison too.

I tried to punch the wall, but my fist went straight through. I cried. I took off my boots and looked on the hallway floor for the old man’s shiny button. I cried again. I walked through the wall into the living room. Half way through the chill inside me howled again. The chill was everywhere inside me.

And then I realised. It was not everything that was not: it was me. I was the ghost. During the night, a wonderful woman stood on my chest, dug a grave into my heart, and tossed me inside.