Opening eyes. Been here before. When? Before. No. Yes. When? Silence gap. Before. The green-and-grey stripes on the woollen cover lying on the chest and tickling the chin. The dark ceiling beams pockmarked by wood moths – with the right-angled edges milled off by the strings of the hanging crib! Mom’s crib of old. The whitewashed walls unflat with sinews and blood vessels popping up here and there. Plain, abraded by the passage of time and dust and air, dark frames of ancient photos of now long dead people running in the lineage ages ago, undistinguishable in the dulled dark-light interplay captured by the photographer of a different century. Sunrays falling oblong, playfully, on the wedge of the walls down to the floor boards, shivering with the tiny shadows of the leaves in the wind outside. The apple tree before the window!
Stirring in the sheets twisting the head to look outside. Branches fretting behind the glass pane, the same old swing in the breeze, blue spots in between, the sign of a good day starting. Smiling and turning back, eyes closed in the snug lull of the early morning rise. Restfulness.
Feet pressing the floor boards with a muffled weight. Tante Elsa coming to wake him up and send him to the chilly rank-smelling bathroom. Her milk-and-raisin-dough rolls sending out the scent of baking slowly in the oven. The oven in the stove, glowing red, incinerating the crackling evergreen wood. The feet stopping by his bed, but no touch on his forehead.
Eyes blinking open.
A man bending over him. Swarthy and thin with dark eyes and raven-black hair. Tante Elsa’s cousin?
“Good morning” the man whispering gently. “Breakfast’s ready, thought you might want to get up.”
The name dropping flat from the ceiling.
The man smiling, as if having heard the exclamation.
“Is last night so far away?” the man saying with a kind smile.
Peter pressed his eyes shut for a few seconds to draw a line past which he could come back. Andrew and Tante Elsa – nothing more out of this world, but he just had to carry on now.
“Thanks a lot”, he murmured. “Just need a minute and I’ll be with you.”
He opened his eyes again to reassure Andrew, but Andrew was already gone.
The milky early-morning sunlight. The newly-made heat of the just-lit-up-fire in the stove putting a mild veil on the chilling overnight air. Morning scents of coffee and pastry, plum jam around in the larder too if not waiting on the breakfast table already.
No more of this glissando.
He looked round for his clothes with a curious feeling that they should be lying somewhere in the well-known spots but just couldn’t seem to remember where he’d dropped them last night. As if the bedroom was his all right, just the night before had vanished into a black hole. Then it crossed his mind where the clothes must be and put his head down and peeped under the bed. Of course! He would drive Tante Elsa to exasperation with this habit. ‘No things under the bed, Peter! That’s where the underworld is – you want it to suck you in, too?’
He unrolled one sock and drew it on his foot. Maybe that’s where he’d just got back from. Maybe that’s why he had a blackout about last night!
He smiled to himself. O, good old Tante Elsa!
He’d forgotten the sound of her name down the halls of his mind.
The other sock picked up, unrolled and pulled up the foot. Maybe that’s where everyone lives their whole life, in the underworld!, he reflected in a mock philosophical stance.
No. It wasn’t so much the underworld as the Outerworld, he thought grimly. The Outerworld is the underworld of grownups. Out of this room. Out of everyman’s room like this, for whoever had grown up must have left a room like this somewhere behind. The room where they’d got up in the chilly morning air with the smell of whatever was being made ready for them to have. The room where they knew where to look for their socks and pulleys.
So. That will be it for now. Andrew’s coffee must be getting cold and that would be a shame.
He got up with the momentum of a grownup ready to take on the world. Now’s the time to get some things done. Coffee first and then on to the real work.