:: Article

The Drums

By Christopher Kennerley.

This morning he woke up at 7.40am. He reset his alarm and woke up at 7.50am. He reset his alarm and woke up at 8.00am. He lay awake in the gloom, trying to keep his eyes open. He fell asleep again, briefly, and woke up at 8.05am. He stayed still and waited until he felt hungry. Then he got out of bed, pulled on some old socks, a pair of unclean trousers draped over his dresser and the same shirt he had been wearing for the last three days.

He found a bowl from the cupboard and poured cereal and milk in, and ate in silence, occasionally turning the page of a magazine. He turned the pages quite slowly. When he had finished he went upstairs and took a piss, came downstairs and took a few swigs of orange juice. ‘1 of your 5 a day’ the juice carton said. Then he left the house.

He wandered down the streets, quite empty, and quite damp. The winter sun was weak and low, but it glinted off the wet pavements and illuminated the houses on the left side of the street in a way that pleased him. He came to the park, steam rising off the dewy grass, and walked through. The sky above was blue and clear, the trees leafless, the ground either the very dark brown of rotted and swept leaves of last autumn, or the green of the grass. Everything felt like it was from a single photo; the pallet of the world’s colours felt too restrained to him. The sky seemed to be just one shade of blue, the grass looked like it had been spray-painted on and the browns and greys of the tarmac and mud all looked the same. The low sun shone down on it all.

He used the children’s play area as a shortcut. He swung the yellow gate and noticed the perimeter railings once he was someway inside: yellow-blue-red-yellow-blue-red-yellow-blue-red, all the way around. For some reason this fact scared him a little, and he hurried on, came to the blue gate on the other side, swung that too, and was out of the park a few moments later.

His hands were cold and he dug them in his pockets. His face was buffeted by the chill wind and a few strands of hair that had escaped from underneath his hat danced in the breeze. He moved his fingers up and tucked them away, because he did not feel much like dancing. He tensed his stomach muscles almost involuntarily. He accidently scuffed his shoe on a stone. He saw someone he vaguely recognised and they both found interest in the uneven pavement as they passed. His nose ran and he sniffed. He came by the main road and the cars were too loud for him. The passing lorries became boisterous sticky children in a waiting room. The trucks were crying out for sweets, and the cars were smashed milk bottles on a Sunday morning. They all annoyed him. The aeroplane above him sounded very far away.

As he reached his destination he smoothed down his shirt, scratched some dried mud off the front of his jeans and tucked his hat in his back pocket. His fingers were a comb, his saliva a moisturiser for the dry patches of his face. He slowed his pace the closer he came. There were a row of Victorian houses to his right. He knocked on a door. He waited some time, taking the opportunity to admire the faded facade of the house, once so grand. He saw Christmas through the window, and birthdays and holidays and death. He knocked again. The door opened immediately after his second knock and he went inside.

This house was totally bare inside, almost to a disturbing degree. The walls neither had stains nor pictures, scratches nor posters. He dragged a hand along one wall as he walked. The texture felt smooth and forgettable. He felt not dust or dirt or residue. He came to the end of a corridor and pushed on a door that had been left ajar. It did not creak as it moved as he expected it to. There was a drum kit in the centre of the room, and two cheese plants, opposite from each other in the corners. He sighed a little, not an exasperated sigh, and sat down at the stool behind the drum kit. He picked up a pair of sticks. He paused for a second, adjusted his position on the seat while his feet found the pedals. He felt the cold metal rim of the snare with his thumb. He scratched his neck, and the back of his head. Then he began to play. He started off slowly and played a steady undulating beat for over thirty minutes. Then he began to pick up the pace.

He became very angry and very calm because he let the anger flow through him into the music of the drums. The drums said what he felt. The snare told of the sick and poor. The cymbals crashed for the rising seas. The steady bass drum pounded like the feet of a million refugees. The toms beat for him, for his desires and dreams. The ice melted and the seas rose. The hot sun beat down on some parts of the earth while it rained constantly on others. In the south the harsh heat made the crops wilt, and so did the people. They were starving. They all headed north. In the north the people were drowning. Fields were under ten feet of water, stalks of corn and hay floated along in the current. The people fled to the south in ramshackle boats, or over higher ground. The people met in the middle and fought and died and still the sun beat down and the rain fell. But it wasn’t apocalyptic. The winds blew the corpses away, the currents dragged them into the deep; the sun melted their bones into dust. The earth reclaimed them. The drums said all these things better than any man could say them. Eventually his feelings passed. The drums just played the rhythms of his body, his breathing, his heart. This calmed him. Then he reluctantly stopped. And then he started home.

On the way home he passed many pretty girls. They all looked away as he passed them, and he stopped trying to catch their eye after a time. He did not go through the park, but skirted round it this time, although this made his walk longer. It was a little after two in the afternoon. There was no place he needed to be. He had the time.


It was another month until he played again. In that time the days had grown a little longer, a little lighter. But it was still not spring. The sun was still low, the air still cold and the ground was still damp. At night he could hear the whole city open up to him. He felt like he could feel everyone’s breathing. He writhed with the emotions of their dreams. He heard the late night rows, smelt the perfumed bodies between clean sheets, the dirty bodies on the mattresses and all that came in between. He heard the early morning revellers return from the clubs in the centre, he smelt the booze and the chips. They all pervaded in his nostrils and ears, a million different sounds and smells, a million different people. He sensed all this because he had nothing of his own. He was empty. The smells and sounds gave him life, for a while.

He spoke not a single word for all of February. He didn’t even cough or sneeze. The only sounds that came from him at all were inorganic: his boots in the halls, a fork scratching a plate when he ate. Otherwise he could have been a Jew hiding in Nazi Germany, he was so quiet. One morning he awoke and knew it was time again. His alarm said it was 8.33am. He felt the old hunger in his stomach and he ate his breakfast and he dressed and washed and left the house before nine. The juice box said ‘not from concentrate’ in pale letters covered in the condensation the fridge had gifted them. He moved aimlessly and purposefully down the roads towards the park. The park was gloomy this morning, for no sun was shining this morning, and it was windier than it had been in the last few days. There were few people about, and he did not come near anybody.

When he got to the house, he found the door was unlocked and he did not need to knock. He retraced his footsteps down the hall, entered the room, sat at the stool, picked up the sticks, and rubbed his knees. His hands were numb and he cupped them and breathed on them as if he had the makings of a small fire cradled inside them. He felt uneasy for a few moments but the feeling passed. Dogs barked outside the window, and then stopped, and started again, more of them, only they were fainter this time. He slowly tapped out a beat with just the bass pedal for a while, and then used the sticks to sound the other instruments. The noise that came from the drums became more and more intricate, as new rhythms were blended with the old. But the noise was different this time and perhaps it was just that: noise. He felt the same unease grow around him. He tried to forget, and let his mind float off somewhere else. He began to speak to the world again.

At least, for a few minutes he did. But then he cried “the drums, the drums, where is my voice-”.

His vocal chords cracked with the exertion after a month of lying dormant. He snapped the sticks over his good leg. He took the jagged ends and plunged them into the tight skins of the snare and the bass drum and ripped them open like a lion would a gazelle’s abdomen. He knocked the cymbals over because he could not damage them much, and the resounding crash pleased him. He went over to the window and threw his broken sticks out.

“The drums”, he said again, “they say nothing at all.”


Christopher Kennerley is a final year undergraduate at the University of Leeds, reading Environmental Management. He will have a poem published in the second edition of the Velvet Label literary magazine later this year.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, May 11th, 2012.