That old life. Short fiction by Rosalind Goldsmith

I got up and saw my whole damn life. It wasn’t what you’d think – it wasn’t like a series of events flashing before my eyes, moment by livid moment. No. it wasn’t even in front of me. It was behind me. Following me.

I went through the regular and indeterminate motions of the day – motions I have long since lost touch with. These routines are meaningless now, but I still go through them because you know. You know – you do know, right? I have to. What else can I do?

But there it was, whatever I did. Following me. I took a shower and it was peering at me over the edge of the tub around the back of the shower curtain. I am nothing to look at, that’s for certain, but it looked horrified peering at me like that. Horrified. I was insulted and got dressed – fast – because all this was shameful, shameful – the gall – and then it was hanging upside down outside my window, like a jerk – just clownishly showing off, trying to impress me. Waggling its fingers in its ears.

When I had breakfast – which is always the same – one soft-boiled egg on two pieces of toast and corn flakes, it had the nerve to smash the shell on my egg into tiny fragments so I had to peel the pieces off, one by one. Which I did. And then it fisted my egg into the plate! The outrage!

On my way to work it walked behind me, humming the Marseillaise, (the Marseillaise!), like some teenage goof, in flat shoes, sweats and a go-find-me floppy hat. Waddling, waddling behind me, dropping back, then bounding freakishly ahead to keep up, or nosing ahead of me only to look back at me and wink!

I can’t say exactly what it looked like – it was just my old life after all. Indeterminate, vague. At first glance, full of direction and verve, but then in the harsh light of the sun, showing its true self and turning out to be puffed up, bloated and full of nothing too much, turning this way and then that. Lost. Until it started following me. The bastard.

It kept getting closer. I walked and it jogged up behind me, or waddled, puffing and wheezing. It was, I have to say it – grievously overweight, saggy and floppy, but still capable of a bound here and there at odd moments. A freakish bound as if to say “Ha!”, like those obese people who are surprisingly light on their feet when they dance. And then people say, “Who would have believed they could do that??”

This went on for some time. It got right up close to me, that old life, that old bounder, that old gas heap of a life. And I could see out of the corner of my eye – it had dreadlocks down to its feet and trailing on the ground. Dreads! First thing I would do if I could catch the pig is cut all those off.

That old life, it crept right up behind me when I wasn’t ready for it. A plague and an insult, it wouldn’t go away. It hooked its arm in mine. And then it started to whisper in my ear. A lot of questions. It said, “Huh? Huh? Huh? How are you doing? What are you now? Well? What’s going on? What’s up? Having done what you have and haven’t done, what do you believe about it all? What are you now? What do you think of me, eh? Happy to see me? Eh? Happy? Eh?”

And it just kept whispering that in my right ear as I was walking to work. Over and over again. Little puffs of wind in my ear. It was making me crazy. I tried to disengage my arm, but it would have none of it. It clung on to me for dear life. For its dear self. The gall! Good God! The nerve! At this time in the morning, too.

“Shut up!” I said and turned to slap it in its pasty insolent face. “Shut up and go away.”

“You go first.”

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to work.”

And then it grinned at me, with mouldy teeth and a bloated, air-filled face, and glassy black eyes. Obsidian glare. Eyes that could neither see out nor see in. The belly bloat was stunning. You could tell it was all air. Which would explain its ability to bound like that – freakishly – and to hang upside down outside my window. Defying gravity – absenting gravity, you could say – that damn old life, bounding listless and aimless and rot-filled, brittle like glass and wind-blown every which way, full of harm and full of guile. 

And now following me, following me every waking hour until at night it lies down beside me and invents a whole catastrophe of dreams and drummed-up chaos. Child. Joker. Trickster. Dream-stuffed and hopped up on hope. Good God! The gall!

If it’s still here tomorrow when I wake up, I’ll let it know what I think of it. I’ll wring its neck.

                                                               ***

About the contributor

Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written plays for CBC Radio Drama and for the Blyth Theatre Festival and has also translated and adapted short stories by the Uruguayan writer, Felisberto Hernandez, for CBC Radio. Her stories appear in journals in the UK, the USA and Canada. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories.

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