THE ANXIOUS

Here’s a draft of a complete story. After that, I’m going to offer a redraft of part of the piece. I wonder what you think of it. I’d like to know. Send me your constructive comments.

THE ANXIOUS 

Carl had just got into bed when it started. The noise. Rhythmic and only just audible. Loud enough though to keep him awake. He rolled out of bed, went to the window and covered himself with the curtains as he looked outside. Although he was not wearing his glasses, he could, when he half closed his eyes, make out someone standing in the darkened street. He had something raised above his head. Carl squinted as the man hurled the object into the road then jumped on it, picked it up and threw it again. It looked to be a twelve inch record.  

“I’ve had enough of this.” He pulled on his jeans and sweater and saw the top of Anna’s head on the pillow. He heard her murmur as he reached for his glasses and stepped into shoes.  

“You OK?” she murmured.  

“Can’t you hear it?” Carl said. “Thin Man’s up to his tricks again.” 

She made a wordless, comfortable sound. 

He closed the bedroom door and she heard his footsteps on the stairs. 

Once outside, Carl could hear the thump thump thump of rhythmic music and Thin Man lurked on the kerb. He held a disc in his two hands, showing it to the heavens, his lips quivered though no sound came forth. Then he brought the disc quickly to his forehead. It didn’t break. He repeated the procedure a few times. Carl winced every time.  

“Stop it,” he shouted as he dashed towards the man. “Stop.”  

Thin Man held his arms above his head and turned his eyes on Carl. There was only a caplike portion of black hair on the front of Thin Man’s scalp. The sides and back of his head were shaved. In his hands, above his head, was a disc, a 12 inch vinyl record. Slowly, as though worried about what he might see, Thin Man turned, held the disc towards Carl offering it like a tray of drinks. His eyes were wide open, unseeing.   

“Stop doing that.” Carl touched Thin Man’s elbow. “You’ll do some damage.” 

Thin Man looked at Carl, his eyes dark, his mouth pursed, concentrating on his slow motion ritual.  

“Can you hear me?” 

A grin skulked onto Thin Man’s face. He shrugged. Carl grabbed the front of his shirt.  

“Enjoy the darkness.”  

“Enjoy the what? The darkness?” Carl moved closer and scrutinised the dark pupils. “Enjoy?” 

 “Enjoy it, man,” Thin Man said. “This darkness.”  

Thin Man’s eyes were almost shut now, his head swayed from side to side, his arms fluttered like a puppet’s.  

“This fucking noise.” His knuckles tightened. “We’re trying to get to sleep.” Thin Man grinned again and Carl punched him on the arm. Swaying from blow, Thin Man collapsed to the pavement like a toddler learning to walk and he sat there, his mouth a soft line in his placid face. Carl grabbed Thin Man’s shirt and pulled. The shirt ripped.  

“Listen.” Thin Man was kneeling now and looking up at the sky. “It’s beautiful,” he whispered. Carl heard nothing except the thump thump thump from inside the house. “Beautiful.” As Carl stood, Thin Man’s head wobbled on his neck. 

Carl kicked him.  

Upstairs, Anna banged on the window pane and yelled a warning. She rested her forehead, her breath clouding the glass. She wiped the moisture with her sleeve and saw Carl raise his arm. She hit the window again, this time with the soft side of her fist. Carl turned. Anna shook her head, waved a finger and mouthed at him. He turned back to Thin Man. Anna scurried downstairs and made for the open front door, lifting a coat as she passed the hooks in the hall.  

Thin Man’s unfocused eyes turned straight at Carl. He spoke in a faint voice. “Too dark, man,” he said. “You’re too dark. Enjoy it.”  

Carl kicked Thin Man again. “Will you turn that fucking music off.” 

Thin Man rolled to all fours, stood and tottered towards the open front door. Carl stood and watched for a moment. “Oh no,” he groaned, putting his hands on his head and cringing. “What have I done?”  He followed Thin Man into the house. 

There was no sign of Carl or Thin Man as Anna opened the garden gate. She could see straight down the narrow passage to the stairs going upwards.

“Oh my god,” she said and trod towards the neighbour’s open door. She paused as she peered into the hall. She smelled incense and saw a light blazing in a room at the back of the house. The music throbbed upstairs though. She felt a prickly mat under her feet as she stepped through the doorway and the fragrant aroma intensified. She stepped on something sharp. The music stopped as she put her hand on the wall for balance and lifted her foot. She had stood on a shard of black vinyl. 

“Carl.” His name came out as a croak. 

Carl had followed Thin Man upstairs. He was on the landing when the music stopped. In the sudden quiet he thought he heard someone say his name. The aroma intensified and he stood still as though trying to work out what the scent and silence meant. A big man heaved from the front room. Carl saw that he had a mighty ginger beard and he wore nothing but a pair of black football shorts. He glared at this infiltrator, loomed over him. He was a powerful looking man.

“Who are you?” he said. 

“I’m your neighbour and I wanted …..” He got no further. Big Man slapped Carl and he staggered sideways. He put out his hand for balance and swatted a light switch.  

“Get the fuck out,” Big Man snarled as the light flickered on. Carl took a swing at the man who dodged sideways and grabbed his neck, shoved him against the wall. “I said fuck off.”  

Carl skipped downstairs. As the upstairs light went off he heard Big Man growl.

“And don’t come back.”  

So Thin Man had gone. Vanished. But Anna stood in the open doorway. 

“Your nose is bleeding,” she said. Carl looked at his fingers before he pulled the door shut behind him. He cantered away from Thin Man’s house but noticed Anna wince as they went into their own garden, her bare feet white against the dimly lit path.

“You OK?” 

“Fine.” 

“At least it’s gone quiet.”

Carl stood still for a few seconds, glanced over his shoulder then bent to pick up the broken black disc Thin Man had thrown.

“What you got there?” Anna stood next to him so close he could feel her shivering. Carl peered at the disc in his hand. 

“He was hitting himself with this record.”  

She read the label. “Enjoy The Darkness,” she said. “The Anxious mix. New to me.” 

“And me.”  

They went inside and Anna turned on the light, took her coat off and hung it on the rack.

“I was really worried just now.” She turned and rested her forehead on his shoulder. 

“Why?”

“I thought you might lose control.” She looked up at him. “Or something worse might happen.”

Carl shook his head. He breathed a deep sigh and closed his eyes.

“My feet are freezing cold,” she said.

He stroked her hair and she snorted a laugh. Carl followed her gaze downwards and saw that he was wearing odd shoes, one brown brogue and a running shoe.

“Perhaps I’m the mad one,” he said. “But at least I put shoes on.” 

“You got so angry,” she said. “You could have done some damage.” 

Carl shook his head. “No,” he said. “Never.” 

She began to go upstairs. “Where are your specs?” she asked and he shrugged. He went into the front room and sagged into a chair. He put the record on the coffee table and stared at it for a moment. A segment had splintered off.

 “Pointless rage,” he thought. “What the hell is going on in your head? You need to focus on what really matters. Get a grip. A threat to the serenity of life. That’s you. Or the appearance of serenity. The calm of life. Equilibrium. The regularity. The Anxious is me. Deserve all you got.” 

He leaned back in the armchair and looked at the faint glow behind the curtains. He touched his face. As he scanned the dark room he realised again that he did not have his glasses. They must still be where Big Man had knocked them off. He closed his eyes then and must have dozed off because he was startled when he turned and saw Anna backlit. 

“I wondered where you were,” she said. “Are you OK?” 

“I think so,” he said, “but I’m not sure any more.” 

She came and sat with him, held him. “It’s me that’s worried. You’ll be OK. It’s just your nose.”

 “No,” he said. Then, after a moment, “Thin Man is probably in a dark place and trying to sort himself out in his own way.” 

“Could be,” Anna whispered.  

“But you see he was disrupting my life. And I wanted to hurt him. But now I can see The Anxious is me.” 

There were other things he wanted to say but he felt tears prickle his eyes. He felt Anna’s steady breath on his neck and was comforted with her body and heat against him. He wanted to talk to her for longer, wanted her tender words. He wanted to disclose his disquiet but sat looking at the dark behind his eyelids and listening to the pulse in his head.

REDRAFTED BIT

There was no sign of Carl or Thin Man as Anna opened the gate. She could see straight down the narrow passage to the stairs leading upwards.

“Oh my god,” she said and trod towards the neighbour’s open door. She paused as she peered into the hall. She smelled incense and saw a light blazing in a room at the back of the house. The music throbbed upstairs though. She felt a prickly mat under her feet as she stepped through the doorway and the fragrant aroma intensified. She stepped on something sharp. The music stopped as she put her hand on the wall for balance and lifted her foot. She had stood on a shard of black vinyl. 

“Carl.” His name came out as a croak. 

Carl had followed Thin Man upstairs. He was on the landing when the music stopped. In the sudden quiet he thought he heard someone say his name. The aroma intensified and he stood still as though trying to work out what the scent and silence meant. A big man heaved from the front room. Carl saw that he had a mighty ginger beard and he wore nothing but a pair of black football shorts. He glared at this infiltrator, loomed over him. He was a powerful looking man.

“Who are you?” he said. 

“I’m your neighbour and I wanted …..” He got no further. Big Man slapped Carl and he staggered sideways. He put out his hand for balance and swatted a light switch.  

“Get the fuck out,” Big Man snarled as the light flickered on. Carl took a swing at the man who dodged sideways and grabbed his neck, shoved him against the wall. “I said fuck off.”  

Carl skipped downstairs. As the upstairs light went off he heard Big Man growl.

“And don’t come back.”  

So Thin Man had gone. Vanished. But Anna stood in the open doorway. 

“Your nose is bleeding,” she said. Carl looked at his fingers before he pulled the door shut behind him. He cantered away from Thin Man’s house but noticed Anna wince as they went into their own garden, her bare feet white against the dimly lit path.

“You OK?” 

“Fine.” 

“At least it’s gone quiet.”

Carl stood still for a few seconds, glanced over his shoulder then bent to pick up the broken black disc Thin Man had thrown.

“What you got there?” Anna stood next to him so close he could feel her shivering. Carl peered at the disc in his hand. 

“He was hitting himself with this record.”  

She read the label. “Enjoy The Darkness,” she said. “The Anxious mix. New to me.” 

“And me.”  

They went inside and Anna turned on the light, took her coat off and hung it on the rack.

“I was really worried just now.” She turned and rested her forehead on his shoulder. 

“Why?”

“I thought you might lose control.” She looked up at him. “Or something worse might happen.”

Carl shook his head. He breathed a deep sigh and closed his eyes.

“My feet are freezing cold,” she said.

He stroked her hair and she snorted a laugh. Carl followed her gaze downwards and saw that he was wearing odd shoes, one brown brogue and a running shoe.

“Perhaps I’m the mad one,” he said. “But at least I put shoes on.” 

“You got so angry,” she said. “You could have done some damage.” 

Carl shook his head. “No,” he said. “Never.” 

She began to go upstairs. “Where are your specs?” she asked and he shrugged. He went into the front room and sagged into a chair. He put the record on the coffee table and stared at it for a moment. A segment had splintered off.

 “Pointless rage,” he thought. “What the hell is going on in your head? You need to focus on what really matters. Get a grip. A threat to the serenity of life. That’s you. Or the appearance of serenity. The calm of life. Equilibrium. The regularity. The Anxious is me. Deserve all you got.” 

He leaned back in the armchair and looked at the faint glow behind the curtains. He touched his face. As he scanned the dark room he realised again that he did not have his glasses. They must still be where Big Man had knocked them off. He closed his eyes then and must have dozed off because he was startled when he turned and saw Anna backlit. 

“I wondered where you were,” she said. “Are you OK?” 

“I think so,” he said, “but I’m not sure any more.” 

She came and sat with him, held him. “It’s me that’s worried. You’ll be OK. It’s just your nose.”

 “No,” he said. Then, after a moment, “Thin Man is probably in a dark place and trying to sort himself out in his own way.” 

“Could be,” Anna whispered.  

“But you see he was disrupting my life. And I wanted to hurt him. But now I can see The Anxious is me.”  There were other things he wanted to say but he felt tears prickle his eyes. He felt Anna’s steady breath on his neck and was comforted with her body and heat against him. He wanted to talk to her for longer, wanted her tender words. He wanted to disclose his disquiet but sat looking at the dark behind his eyelids and listening to the pulse in his head.

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