:: Article

6 Down

By Charlie Gilbraith.

A class of nautical vessel, seven letters. I could feel the waves hammering the inside of my skull and the salt spray burning my brain. I saw the silhouette of the ship stark in my mind’s eye, and winced as it ran aground on the tip of my tongue. My right hand hovered in the air, a trembling claw grasping a shuddering pen. I sat like that for some time – quivering like a rubber band stretched almost to breaking point – until a steady drone, lazy and carefree, drifted all around me. I thought, common domestic pest, three letters, and I snapped into action. I rolled up the newspaper with a single, determined movement, thinking that one squashed carcass will cover those squares as well as any seven letters could, nautical vessels be damned.

I first saw it coasting by some carbonised toast, a fossil of some ancient breakfast. It zoomed though the air like a half-pissed airborne raisin, swaying doggedly about the place. I felt a pang of envy watching this thing, ignorant of any notion of trespassing, or a man’s right to privacy, almost majestic in its audacity. It was like a child found playing in a neighbour’s prize rose-garden, a cocksure crab scuttling carefree across a line in the sand. But of course, whether the crab knows it or not, a line in the sand has been crossed. Although this thing seemed to roam the earth with no greater concern than finding the next pile of faeces to settle on, and in many ways that’s all any of us are really searching for, it had to die by my hand and die quickly. I had a crossword to finish.

It was a cunning little thing; it flew low, keeping close to the skirting board, which made it hard to detect. Nevertheless, I managed to tail it with deft prowling movements that I thought had long since deserted me. It called to mind my university days when, for a short time, I had rehearsed with an experimental dance troupe. I was a master of the pointed toe and the dramatic sweeping forearm. I was renowned for my strapping ankles and they did not abandon me as I jabbed and jousted with my minute foe.

But soon I began to breathe laboriously; my movements sagged and my clothes became sodden and heavy. Unfortunately, excessive application inevitably begets excessive perspiration, particularly in an acolyte of slothful and sedentary pursuits such as myself. The pest landed on an old copy of the Sunday Times magazine with Robert Duval’s grizzled face on the cover, along with promises of an intriguing interview inside. I struck out with a sloppy pawing motion and almost heard a peal of disdainful laughter as it flew off towards the bookshelves, whilst I was left alone with the smacking sound of The Sun colliding with Robert Duval’s crumpled chin.

I looked down, cowed and apologetic, and was moved by the sombre dignity of the man’s expression. I longed to sit down, in comfort and seclusion, and peruse the article thoroughly, respectfully, and in my own time. I wished so much to tarry and read, to take it in and savour it carefully, thoughtfully, like a sherbet lemon sucked with puritan restraint. But I put it to you that no man can read when surrounded by such a noise, unless he is reading the word buzzzz ad infinitum, which I wasn’t and would never wish to.

So, feeling taunted to distraction, put in my place, and yet hoping desperately to haul myself out of it, I clenched the newspaper in my fist. Seeing the darting form just above me, I leapt onto the table and realised almost immediately that I had made a potentially fatal error. My feet slipped on the patchwork tiling of glossy magazines that covered the table’s surface, like an eager kitten’s paws over polished hard wood flooring. I was launched into the air in a blizzard of unpaid bills, scratch cards, and TV guides. I hovered for a brief but profoundly self-reflective second, before being dragged back to earth by my backside, which punched through the coffee table and bounced painfully off the floor. I sat shocked and dejected wearing a tutu of splintered wood.

Looking up, enraged, I saw the cause of my troubles banging its head repeatedly on the window. I felt a momentary kinship with the thing before slipping back into my lust for violence like I’d trodden on the soap and fallen with a sanguinary splash into a bath of frothing crimson. With a jerk of knotted muscle I grabbed hold of my late mother’s old weather beaten briefcase and hurled it from me, catching the little bugger right between the compound eyes, and sending both through the shattering, splintering window and out into the wide world. I stood staring for a second, before searching next to my armchair for the pen I’d discarded some minutes earlier when, in a fit of uncharacteristic pique, I’d abandoned my crossword to chase down an errant fly of a daring and precocious disposition.

Charlie Galbraith recently graduated from Glasgow University. Since then he has moved back in with his parents and now divides his time between writing fiction, waiting in line at the job centre, and scratching himself. He is currently feeling disillusioned and rudderless, which seems like an appropriate response to the circumstances.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, August 30th, 2012.