In the Buried Mansion Short Fiction by Oz Hardwick

In our grand chambers we carry candles, leather-bound books, charts to calculate the phases of the Moon, and our young who grow more and more with each passing day, or what we assume to be day. 

We carry cloths to clear the dust from the faces of clocks which always read ten to two, and oil to silence hinges as we sweep from room to room. 

In our ballrooms we dance beneath teardrop chandeliers, pressing our bodies to passing strangers with powdered curls, each bearing armfuls of children – some of flesh and some of wax – and reading maps over each other’s shoulders, assaying directions and dreaming of doors. 

But, in our gilded corridors, we lose ourselves in a rabble of advisers – for we’re all advisers – with recommendations for timekeeping, and expert tips for moulding children. Our wigs are singed by dripping candles, but we smile like clocks as we knead strangers’ children into the shape of tiny moons. 

On what we once called Mondays, we gather in the gallery to listen to our heartbeats, to listen to each other reading from those old, old books we always carry, declaiming our gospels of clocks and compasses, of sturdy boots available in all sizes, of quack cures for colic and COVID-19, and of railway timetables and motorway services. 

Younglings laugh and elders weep to hear such speech in the public sphere; for everyone’s here, muttering antiphons of once ordinary phrases in faith or disbelief. 

Fast together in our fine attire, our faces soften into the features of a bright white child, who walks alone and carries nothing from room to room. She knows there are rumours of an outside door, but all she can see are a million windows, each blocked with black earth.

Oz Hardwick is a European poet, photographer, and occasional musician, whose chapbook Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI/Recent Work, 2018) won a 2019 Rubery International Book Award. His most recent publication is Wolf Planet (Clevedon: Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020). Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University (UK)

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