I took the route I’d made out on the map, going by car most of the way, then on foot for the last bit. There was no hitch. It all went well. When I got there I took up my place a short way back from the house, at the other side of the road; I stood there with my feet just down off the curb. Now; then. Then; now. Is it so odd? I could have been on the verge, for sure, but there were tire marks all over the grass and at least one pile of dog shit, and, to tell the truth, I didn’t want to get my shoes dirty—not that they were new, but they were shoes I liked, liked a lot. Well, quite a lot. Also, I didn’t want to harm—this was the word that came into my mind, "harm"—didn’t want to harm the grass any more than it had been, if that makes any sense. I felt kind of sorry for it. Give it a break. So I stood there in the road, my feet on an iron drain, out of the dust and the fag ends. It had been dry for ages. I could see the house well from here, at an angle. I felt that this gave me cover, the angle, made it less clear what I was doing. Was that it? Now I’m not so sure—not so sure, I mean, about the angle giving me cover, and also not so sure about this being the logic of it. At the time I knew why I did what I did. At least, I think I did. Now, who knows? It could be just that I came to a halt when I first saw the house, when I knew for sure this was the one, no doubt in my mind. Worse is to be here now, this is worse. She sees it. That might have been all it was. Then after a while, as it began to grow dark, and as the road lamps came on, not quite all at once, I took out my phone to check on the time. It was five past six; this was early March. I didn’t mind how long I’d have to wait. It might have to be all night for all I knew—all night and into the next day. I had a flask of tea in my back pack, and some ham rolls and an apple tart—that would keep me going if I felt the need. I could see the door: green it was. It was quiet here, apart from a dull roar from the major road I’d come along—the car was back there, for I chose to park, get out and walk when I saw the turn into this close. Under the tree, in her white dress, she shone: the bride, so soon to be the widow. Nice area. There was no-one about. I guess you would tend not to walk along a road like this; you’d drive. Hence the lack of a paved path. From time to time I’d look to the right or the left, to where I’d come from or to where I’d not yet gone and maybe never would go. The past and the . . . what? The never. The not yet. What was known and what was still in the shade, both much the same on a night like this, when all you have to do is wait. The pace of time seems to slow down when you’re not busy in some way, when ideas can just float in and out of your idle brain, and you don’t know where they come from or where you’re going—when you have no aim or event to mark the hours out for you in some way, to make it so that each "now" isn’t the same as all the rest, in a long line that may go on for ever, with no end in sight. We were out in the sun, we three. We both stood there to see her, he to one side. Her shoes were white, too; she undid those when we did the shot under the tree. Who wins, to brood on this? Let’s say I had time on my hands, that time hung heavy. All I had to do was stay there, which didn’t give me too much to think about. Yes, all I had to do was keep my eyes on the house, and most of all on the door—not that I felt I had to stick all the time in the exact same spot. Now and then I might walk seven or eight steps on down the road and turn back, to keep my legs from going stiff and my mind as alert as I could. Also, it gets cold when you just stand still at this time of year, and I didn’t want to catch a chill. "White wine with stew? Is this the new trend?" His thin tone. I might hum a bit of a tune as I went, but if so I’d feel I had to stop soon, let the peace wrap back round me like a soft cloud, cool. A few notes, maybe, and after that only the rough grate of my feet on the road as I trod back to where I’d been from the first, back to watch and wait. Five past six: I’d not been there more than half an hour yet. The night is young. The robin that sang in the hedge when I first got there had shut up shop now. Soon it would be fully dark, and then no worry that I could be seen from the house, as I’d made sure to stand away from any of the lamps. I’d just fold into the night. We went down to the shore. There were our tides; we were in, then. The sheet we’d set out, dried now, rises in the wind. Still no-one had come by on foot, and no-one was to do so, all the time I was there. I was alone. Only four cars drove by—so few I could count them. They’d take it I was there in the road while the wife got the car, or that I was just about to cross to the other side when they’d come up. This is not the worst; this is not the end. If they saw me at all. If it arose in their minds. Can’t stop to think what’s up all the time with every man, woman or child you see out at night. A man at the side of the road: what’s that? What does it have to do with us? Light from these cars would swoop by and be gone, more light than sound, so it would seem. And more light each time, more of a glare, as night came on and, as much as my eyes got used to the dark, still each end of the road fell into the gloom, and the green went from the door, and even the shape of the house was lost in the trees. No light came on over there. No-one went up to the door, key in hand, or drove up the drive. It was a big house. They all were, in this road. You could bring up three or four kids in a house like this, with room for them to kick a ball about a bit on the lawn, or build a den in the rough patch over by the fence at the back. You could have a party: fizz on the patio, nuts in small bowls of cut glass, jokes, the men who smile at each other all the time—one of them has a cigar, which he taps with his thumb to get rid of the ash, and the talk stops among the three who are with him as they look at what he’s doing, while their wives, for these must be their wives, are round the fish pond, and one looks back at the men as the other three laugh. Unite, then untie: how short it is, one word to the other. What if I did go over now and ring the bell? Or not that—see that the door has been left ajar, so that I can push it open with one hand, and find, to my left, a girl bare as the day she was born, but with a mask over most of her face? The door shut; the door wide. She has one for me, too. It’s like in that film, Eyes Wide Shut. And she has a box for me to lay my togs in. I take them all off, put on my mask, and go into a room at the back that has four or five guys in it and a lady, all of them in the nude, like me, only the lady has a blue hat on as well as her mask. A meal is laid out at the side: a pale mint soup; tuna—for sure the chef must have been the one to pare it open so as to show off how it’s done rare—with rice and peas; rum cake; a jug of soda. The us we were then. But none of us goes over to pick up a bowl or even to peek at the food; we all just chat away as we sip our wine (yes, the girl at the door gave that out as well, from a tray she had: "Red or rosé?"). We went in. A chap with grey hair asks me how I got the scar on my arm, and I look at it as if I had not seen it up to now. I don’t know what to say, and in a bit he just nods and goes off to talk to the lady in the blue hat, who has the look of one who owns the room. This is ours. This is our due. I go back out into the hall to ask the girl for the loo, and as I take a long piss I mull over what to do. I deem it best to go, and so I do—hand back my mask, put on just my coat so that I can get out fast. This is not to undo. I’ve had as much as I can take. Room for six or seven cars in the drive, which does a large swing from the front door to the gate. A place to grow old in. A place to pass on. Still no light had come on, as far as I could see. Next door, yes. Next door on both sides. And I think I could hear a radio from one of them: a man’s voice, with more than a touch of anger or fear in it, taped for a news item, it might be, which would have made sense, but I could not make out a word of what he said. It was just a fine spray of metal dust in the air. "Edit the truth?" Whose words were those? The roses were wet with dew. Most of them round here would be home by now, back from the sleek desk or the smart shop. But not over there. Not yet. Never mind, I could wait. If not, I could leave and come again. Any time.
This piece—written at the invitation of Philip Terry for the issue he was editing of Ekleksographia, a web magazine no longer online—obeys the following rules:
1. Choose a title from a work by a living artist in another domain, in this case Heiner Goebbels (from whom I learned only later that the original source was Maurice Blanchot as translated by Lydia Davis: The Madness of the Day).
2. Derive other rules from this title, in this case:
(a) the first-person narrator,
(b) the narrative situation,
(c) the absence of words having more than five letters,
(d) the further reduction to a four-letter limit for a portion of the text, and
(e) the limit to the letters contained in the title (b, d, e, h, i, n, o, r, s, t, u, w) for a different, intersecting portion of the text, which must also obey rule 2(c) or 2(d) as applicable.
3. Have sentences governed by rule 2(e) triggered by the appearance in the main text of a particular letter, in this case "j".
Paul Griffiths is a novelist, librettist, and renowned music critic. The author of more than twenty books on modern classical music, Griffiths was for many years the chief music critic for The Times and has written regularly for The New Yorker and The New York Times. His novel let me tell you was the basis for an award-winning song cycle by the same name composed by Hans Abrahamsen for soprano Barbara Hannigan and the Berlin Philharmonic.