Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Head

A child's world is often peopled with monsters. When I was three, I lived with my parents above the grocery store they owned in North Sydney. We had a large backyard with an old swing and, although we lived in the city, there was an outdoor toilet. It was housed in a small shed standing near the back fence. I don't know why, but I was convinced that it was packed with all sorts of terrifying animals.

They slept in there during the day, I thought, and at night they would come out to re-take the yard. I could hear them from my bedroom window as I lay in bed: scratching, meowing, scampering up the drain-pipe, rustling through the bushes, squeaking the swing. Mortified, I pulled the cover over my head and curled up into a ball, trying to make myself smaller until I fell asleep.

During the day, I was thankful that the sleeping animals tolerated my visits to the toilet because either one of my parents always accompanied me when I had to go, making it quite crowded in the small shed. It was cool and quiet in there except for the diminutive hiss of the flush tank continually refilling. Amazingly, the animals didn't rise up in a bestial insurgency from these regular human invasions, as you would expect. In fact, they were not visible at all. I believed they must have hunkered down like I did at night, scared of the strange sounds.

Except of course for the head.

The head appeared one day on the floor of the shed. I was looking down, automatically searching for potentially threatening creatures, knowing that there wouldn't be any, when suddenly a placid stare quietly returned my gaze. I got a start and I ran into my mother's legs (I was still pretty small). The next day, I tentatively entered the toilet, and there it was again. The peaceful beaming face seemed happy to see me. This time I didn't scare so much, and I began to smile back and relax. Eventually, I looked forward to going to the toilet to meet my new friend.

In fact, I started to ask my parents to take me to the toilet more and more often. And when I got there, I would spend more time than usual. Of course, my parents became concerned, and took me to the doctor for a check-up. Naturally, he found nothing wrong with me, but still recommended a good purgative for good measure.

I can’t remember what happened after that, but I eventually grew out of the fear of the nocturnal toilet animals, and the even forgot my friend, the head. We moved out of the shop into a suburban home (with indoor bathroom), and I left the memory of my childhood apparition behind.

A few months ago, when I had to go to an outhouse on a farm-stay weekend in the Netherlands, the head came back to me, figuratively I mean. When I told my wife about it in bed that night, she suggested that what I had encountered was my own reflection in the toilet bowl. A young impressionable mind, in need of re-assurance, could easily have concocted an alter ego from such a simple phenomenon. So that was it. Duly explained.

But perhaps not. I dimly remember that, after my meetings with the head, I began hearing another nocturnal sound when I lay in bed; a sound different from the usual chorus. Through the scratching, the meowing, the scampering up the drain-pipe, the rustling through the bushes, and the squeaking of the swing, I thought I heard a distant gargling sound, coming from somewhere, out there, in the night.

nice. Very nice. You understand the pacing of narrative very well. And your voice reads smooth and easy.

My only criticism is - and I voice it only because I have the utmost respect for your skills and therefore assume you want to hear criticism - the ending feels a little contrived. just think about it anyways,

mr strauss
pop goes lethal
Thanks, Mr Strauss. I appreciate your comments. I agree with you about the ending - that's a failing of mine. I wrote this for another reason that required this type of 'rounding up'.
I like this, George. Maybe the gargling was unnecessary --- remember the Ballad of the Dunny Gasper in one of the Enderby books? --- but no matter. What was the reason for you wanting to round it off this way?

PS, Do you like this poem?

I do, very much. I came across today after reading that Szirtes had won the T.S. Eliot prize.
Oh, dash it. Look what you made mr strauss do ...
There was a word limit and there had to be a slight twist at the end.
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