Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bertie Ross

Brian awoke with a start. For a brief moment he imagined everyone was staring at him, but the feeling passed as he blinked the sleep away. After the clatter and white noise rush of his dreams the train was noticeably quiet, just the sound of moving air and rumble of wheels from somewhere distant outside. It was busy though, enough that people stood swaying like synchronised drunks in the aisle.

They were leaving the city now, through a derelict looking industrial park. Worn down looking metal sheds, sad machinery and baleful silos slid indifferently past. It was the middle of the day but Brain couldn’t spot a single human being. A hundred miles of scenery scrolled by. Urban housing fading to industrial sprawl fading to open countryside and then back again as the train approached Leamington.

Bertie Ross’ house was pretty much as he had expected: Ramshackle. The organic chaos of shrubs and vines in the small front yard seemed to continue inside the front hallway. Overlapping leaves and twisted branches where replaced by stacked ephemera on row after row of mismatched shelves. Hundreds of books. Small ceramic statuettes lying on their sides, scraps of papers, pens. Dust. Old things and dead skin, a warm-but-not-in-a-pleasant-way human smell. The voice in the intercom guided Brian toward the rear of the house, past half open doors onto half lit rooms filled with more shelves and boxes piled so deep and high that it became impossible to judge the true volume of the building.

The crumpled old man Brian found seemed apt. Once the collecting gravity it seemed now Bertie Ross was being crushed under the weight of the things around him, squeezed into this one last room and pushed into the sagging brown chair. Brain was surprised by just how ancient the man looked. There was no make-up let alone surgery. His clothes didn’t fit. His clothes were so out of style Brian couldn’t even tell how out of style they were. Three plastic dwarves shuffled around the room laying out tea and biscuits on a low coffee table. The jerky movement made him nervous, his distrust of the robots heightened further by their designed-in subservient stooped posture and downcast blank faces.

“Sit down, sit down, son”. Brian looked up, the man’s sing song accented voice seemed lifted straight from an old movie. Bertie Ross was smiling a curious half-smile, looking straight at him while vaguely gesturing at the only empty chair in the room.