The Life Raft
A brisk and formal presence stepped in. What was I to make of this haste? This attention? The stammering out of military minutiae?
The room was indeed cream. There is no doubt. Certainly less than surgical. And this drilled automaton accosted me, yet.
“When you receive the order, you are to immediately embark upon the safety raft located to my left, and access it through the white door”, the man announced while touching the white door, that was, to his left hand side. The door, that had the very second before, been uniquely an entrance to a cupboard; filled with pressed linen.
“Upon your evacuation the chute will deploy, cross your arms and extend your feet parallel and downwards. Do not jump.”
The corporal, for this is the rank he must have been if you know these things, flipped over a laminated card. “Life craft kit list! ‘SHUN”
I will never forget the anguish those utterances cleaved in me. The severity of his conviction, shriveled my senses entirely. I knew, from that moment, with each word I heard, I would not– could not–believe with surety forthwith, anything more. The surer he was, chopping hands, rattling off emergency acronythms the more a dread babbled deeply in my heart.
Is it a time for portmanteaus? I berated myself, to twist such purpose. He knew his stuff. Oh yes. The strung cords of nerve stretched the sinews and he drummed.
“One times Occam’s razor, one times wolf spider, one times Olanzapine capsule.” At this breath-juncture the Corporal looked at me in the eyes. “One times; Guy de Maupassant short story collection.”
I admit to a brisk intake of oxygen. For right there on the corner table, next to the milk and water, was the very collection he spoke of. That this was my life raft could not be in any doubt now.
“It is essential for your survival that this list is observed. The spider is integral, Sir.”
“I will not take a known cut-throat upon my vessel! God damn these hyphens!” I blurted out, smashing milk, water and glass across the wall with a flailing arm. He looked at me then, frozen features melting with disgust upon duty.
“When? When?” To the closed pearl-white door I cried.
A piece, you see, had fragmented before. I had vied, like a magpie, the pearl hided door. He was just doing his duty, after all. For there, looking up at me was the sparkle of sea.
The institution’s heating juddered into life. As I lurked amongst the jolting pipes they grated through me. Footfalls, the soft pads of cats patted rhythms upon hairy legs. My webbed lair was crafted in the nook as soft and precise as the concave of downy feathers around an owl’s eyes. The floors of the building meshed to my bones. Far, over the pearl capped sea, the night’s lid lifted and dawn flooded the room.
An arc, the long curve of a ripple oozed under the door, ripe with friction. And the floor was an immediate opaque red mess sloshing the skirting boards. The warm tide rose up to the part of me that remained on the bed still, and a man’s firm hand gripped my mouth, a moustache like a horse brush into my neck. A monochrome hand brandished a razor; eight times in my eyes. Maupassant! I dived into the ghastly pool for the exit and wrenched the handle down four legs braced against the casing. Heavy blood soaked limbs scuttled and dragged behind me around the door, eight times I witnesed the razor shear my leg before I flung myself, pedipalps first, down the orange fabric chute.
The spider turned out to be a merry enough fellow, and a superlative water boatman. While I sat astride his carapace, with his hind legs splayed out behind, we made great passage by the brisk churning of his two sets of medial limbs. His fore legs flailed in time with my own strenuous exertions as we measured the beat of our rowing song. Upon embarkation he had immediately bound my cut so my leg resembled a beautiful silver spindle; but it’s grimace mocked me still through the twine. I had though, at that moment, no time for the red sneer, as we belted out as one;
“They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon"
On every second beat the spider rolled his slender hairy legs into the pool below and propelled our craft along the then, disturbing, serene body of water. Indeed, were it not for his exquisite and delicate hairs, which he told me not only fulfilled an olfactory function, but which furthermore acted like the fur of an otter, we should surely have plunged downwards.
The clearer the sea became, the lighter we seemed to glide, and once I noticed this fact we suddenly lifted, becoming a floating dirigible, soaring to his limb beats through the starred sky towards a silver dish marbled with pearl. While I slashed through the clouds and night with the razor we chanted on--
They danced by the light of the moon!”
The cream tub was as hot as blood, and he cast a spindly leg about my person. We savoured the delicate and beautiful moment of dream we had spun, marveling in the blackness the petulant giant’s hand that had slung a thousand gems in an arc away from us. Twin nebulae waltzed behind. I had been shaving, for each of us was now accommodated to the other species’ peculiarities. On beginning this action I had noticed his mandibles winced in a contraction and those eyes, blobs of jet black oil, had a new, sad sheen.
“Is it time?” my friend asked.
Eight beautiful galaxies seared into my heart through the hot-tub steam. I must have been in some heaven.
As his large fangs bundled a pill further down his mouth parts, I taking the razor, hard, wrapped my left hand over the right like a steel hinge. Fool, I dully thought, I had never known his name! I held my cruel purpose, looked at him, and replied; “qui sait?”
Slicing, I watched eight dark necklaces begin to cry, in his wonderful starfilled eyes.
they cried - wonderful starlit eyes.