The Unguarded House

The Unguarded House

The Unguarded House

The Unguarded House

Excerpt

When his mother left the electric fan running at night, it kept him awake, although the rubber blades made only a very slight noise: a flapping whirr and sometimes a click when the curtains got caught in the blades. Then Mother got up, swearing softly to herself, pulled the curtains out of the fan and pinned them between the doors of the bookcase. Mother's bedside lamp had a green silk shade -- a watery green, flecked with yellow -- and the glass of red wine standing on the night-table looked as though it were ink, a dark slow poison which Mother drank in small sips. She read and smoked and occasionally took a sip of wine.

Lying as still as a mouse, so that she would pay no attention to him, he watched her through half-closed lids and followed the cigarette smoke as it rose to the fan: white and grey layers of smoke which were sucked up, absorbed and spewed out by the soft green rubber blades. The fan was nearly as large as those in the warehouses; it had a peaceful drone and cleansed the air in the room within a few minutes. Then Mother pressed the button on the wall near her bed, not far from where hung the picture of Father -- a young, smiling man with a pipe in his mouth, far too young to be the father of an eleven-year-old boy. Father was as young as Luigi in the ice-cream parlour; as young as the nervous little new school-teacher; far younger than Mother, who was as old as the other boys' mothers. Yes, Father was a smiling youth who for the past few weeks had also appeared in his dreams, looking quite different from the picture -- a tragic, huddled figure sitting on inky black blots, as on a cloud, without a face, and yet weeping as one who had already been waiting a million years in a uniform without badges of rank or medals, a stranger who had suddenly broken into his dreams, completely different from what he would have liked him to be.

The main thing was to keep still, hardly to breathe, not to . . .

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