The Argument

by Peter Charles


‘You should be careful what you say,’ my wife told me often. ‘You’ll push things too far.’

I ignored her, as I ignored her in so many matters.

But she was right.

I woke up this morning to find the world mostly gone.

I looked out not at the roof of our car-port but at bright greyness like a fog on a summer’s day, except this fog had no grainy vapour or billowy depth. It was slab-like. And the silence — if I may use a common expression — was deafening: I felt as though my head were in a vacuum.

I shouted to my wife who lay asleep in our bed, but I heard no sound. Nor did I feel vibration in my throat. I tried to scream. Nothing. I noticed that the dent in the bed ordinarily left by my body was not there, and that The Mechanical Engineer’s Almanac with which I’d been passing the November evenings no longer sat on the bedside table. I frowned. I looked down and noticed with surprise that I had no legs. No torso either. I slewed my vision sharply to see if I might catch a blurred sight of my nose. Nothing.

My corporeal self, it seemed, was absent.

At the moment of this revelation my wife made a great sigh and turned over and allowed her hands to reach into my half of the bed, and when she pulled her empty embrace back onto herself tears appeared at the corners of her eyes. I began to cry too.

I crossed the room and sat on the bed and rested a hand on my wife’s shoulder (please understand that though I felt I was doing these things, my actions had no impact). Her sleeping face displayed a grimace of unhappiness: her nostrils flared, her mouth fitfully inhaling. She said ‘Why did you say that? You ought to know better. I’ve told you,’ and similar phrases, mixed up and broken. I tried to think what she meant. The last time we’d spoken we’d argued, but what was it I’d said?

I noticed that certain parts of the room had become indistinct, and that the rich pink of our bedroom carpet appeared to be turning to pastel. Feeling a certain urgency in the situation, I pulled at my wife’s shoulder. ‘What is it?’ I said. But my hand swept through her body.

On the floor where my feet should have been lay her favourite book: Life, Death and the Places In Between. ‘You’ll tempt Fate,’ she would say when I disparaged her interest in such matters. ‘Fate?’ I would say, ‘What’s fate got to do with anything?’ and she would look frightened. ‘Please stop,’ she’d say. ‘All the little things you say, all the tiny blasphemies, they add up, you know. They do. They’re being counted. You only get so many chances.’

I would laugh, and when I felt in a contrary mood or if I’d had a beer (as I’d had last night) I’d say ‘Come on then, Fate, you can take me now. Bring it on!’ And my wife would gasp and hold my hand and weep.

‘It’s a matter of belief,’ I’d said (the conversation was coming back to me). ‘That’s all. If you believe in something hard enough, it’ll be true. But that’s not the same as real truth.’

‘It is the real truth,’ my wife had quietly said.

‘No it bloody isn’t!’ I’d shouted.

Yes, I shouted.

I had — some weeks earlier — promised my wife not to shout any more, and if I were being frank I’d say that I found that very difficult. I had tried instead to deal with her superstitions by using affectionate mockery, and I can only say that something outside myself seemed to press me on last night, as though I were being goaded. It makes no sense, but there you have it. I shouted.

I must point out that the flat, bright greyness which I observed outside has absorbed much of our bedroom now, and that because this room is my only connection to life, I’m feeling rather anxious.

Furthermore, much of my wife’s body has become blurred and I no longer seem able to make out her face. I have the strange notion that she’s trying to elude me. And I feel like crying. Because I don’t think I’m ever going to see her again.

So I’d shouted, that’s what I’d done. I’d shouted ‘No it bloody isn’t!’ and then I’d said, ‘Otherwise where’s the bloody logic?’ And then I’d said the thing. I remember feeling driven to it, egged on, because I knew it would upset her. In fact, it felt as though it was pulled from me, thrust out, ejected, grabbed, wrenched, pushed, all of those things, all at once. And the words, when they came, came out as loud and clear and as certain as ever I’ve managed to make myself sound.

‘You know what?’ I’d said, ‘I’ll bet my life on it!’


Copyright © 2010 by Peter Charles

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