Here is the first part of a story called ‘Crack’ which born out of an automatic writing exercise in my creative writing class. I posted a rough first draft of the opening paragraph a few weeks ago. I hope you enjoy it.
I asked her what she was thinking.
“The crack in the ceiling scares me. I don’t know what it will bring.”
Such an obscure statement demanded an answer but I had nothing. I could only reflect.
“Aren’t you going to say something?”
“I don’t know what to say. It’s a crack. I’ll call a plasterer.”
“That’s what Ginsberg would say.”
I flashed her a smile, she failed to reciprocate. Crossing the room and reaching high up into the white bookcase, she produced a leather bound version of a book I knew would be familiar.
“If you’re going to quote Ginsberg to me, you better tell me which poem it’s from.”
I sat down in the chair next to her and she handed the book down to me. I took it and, without opening it, placed it on the table.
“It’s from ‘America’. ‘Burroughs is in the Tangiers. I don’t know if he’ll come back. It’s sinister’. The whole poem is sinister. Didn’t you know?”
“I don’t care, that crack is sinister. It’s evil.”
She glanced at the crack in the corner of the ceiling. It extended out toward the centre of the room like a morbid vein, white paint flaking away around the edges, revealing flecks of blue, yellow, gray and green, telling stories from the past, hinting at the lives that were here before us, quietly suggesting that we compare ourselves. Are we better? Worse? More or less dysfunctional? One kid? Two kids, four? None at all.
I agreed with her.
“Alright. It’s sinister. I agree.”
She looked at me and smiled. I had no idea why.
“Are you sure you’re not just saying that to appease me?”
She crossed the room and sat in my lap. I took the cigarettes that were hanging out of her back pocket like always, opened the carton and sparked one.
“No. It’s sinister. Ginsberg would have a field day.”
We sat in silence for a half a cigarette with her looking the other way, analysing the room, doing everything she could to avoid looking at the crack while I stared at her in a haze of smoke. She took the rest of the cigarette off me and helped herself. Like she always does.
“You should call the plasterer tomorrow. Then things might be better.” She said, exhaling a plume of smoke.
“Things are fine. You worry too much.”
Again she was looking at the crack, lost in its crevasse. I kissed her on the cheek and she jumped.
“Mm. What did you say?”
She stubbed the cigarette out and yawned.
“Things are fine. I’ll call a plasterer tomorrow.”
It was time for bed so she led me upstairs.
I tossed and turned for most of the night, awaking numerous times to find myself bothered by thoughts of the crack in the ceiling, as though giving it thought had caused it to extend into my psyche. The crack questioned our existence as a family. Occasionally we got a hint about the family that lived here before in the form of letters or bills in their name. The landlord had given us no forwarding address for them, explaining that they just stopped paying rent one day. When he came round to check on them they had vanished leaving a great deal of their belongings behind. Interviewing the neighbours yielded little information except that they used to fight a lot, the culmination of which was a large scale screaming match that one day ended in complete silence. They had left the following day. It’s probably coincidence that our marriage had taken a turn into rocky territory once Iris noticed the crack in the ceiling. Don’t get me wrong, I’d noticed it from time to time but I never really questioned it. New build houses settle over time and small cracks in the plaster start to appear. Often when we argued, we argued about children. She wanted children, I didn’t. She would seethe and throw insults, questioning my manhood and her maternal instinct at the same time. She never held a grudge, she said, but things felt different. Occasionally I’d catch her looking at me in a way she had never looked at me before, as if she had a thousand questions, worryingly. Was it the crack or it was just my wife’s preoccupation with the crack that really got to me? My refusal to have kids was purely philosophical; no one asked me to be born, why inflict similar angst on another person without their permission? I wouldn’t want to put another human through that. I wondered about the family that lived here before us. What were they like? Did they have these issues? Did they have kids? Did they also have arguments about children?