4. WalkingLook up. Upside down. See the room. It's dark and warm, cosy. Deep red walls and the smell of burning logs in the grate. You should go. Where are you going? See the other side of the room. That's where you're going. The other side of the room. Look down. Tip. Roll. Lie on your front. Lift you head. One hand down. The other. Look up. Where are you going? See the other side of the room. That's where you're going. Look at your hands. Hands on the floor. Push. Push your hands. Push the floor. Look at your legs, your knees, your feet. Look at your hands and your knees. Look up. Where? The other side of the room. There, that's where you're going so you start to go. Lift one hand and move it forwards and down and onto the floor. Then a leg comes forwards, sliding to meet the other hand which goes up and down and onto the floor. Look down at your hands and legs going forwards and forwards. Look up. The room is moving as you go. Now you're crawling. Stop a second. Push with your hands. Breath hard and push. Push hard and you go up and up. Then you go over and back. Soft bump. Again. Hands and feet then push hard. You've seen it before. Push and up and up and over and back. Soft bump. This time. Hands and feet then push. Not so hard. Up and a little more up and you can see the other side of the room. Step. Soft bump. But a step. If you can step then you can step again. Hands and feet. Push. Up. Stand. Arms out to balance. Step. No bump. Step. You've seen it before. Step after step. Breath hard. Stop. Another step. Look up. Breath hard. Another step. Another. Find the rhythm. Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe. Look up. Step. Breathe. Now you're walking. Look up. Where? The other side of the room. You're there. Soft bump. The wall. Reach out and touch it. Place your flat hand on it. You got here, to the other side of the room. Turn around. Look around. See the other side of the room. That's where you were, the other side of the room. Hands and feet. Push. Up. Stand. Step and step to the middle of the room. Standing, in the middle of the room. Turn around and look up. The door. Long handle. Step to the door and reach up. Reach up and put your fingers round the long handle. Soft bump. Look down at your hand. No handle. Look up. Handle. Stand. Reach up and put your fingers round the long handle. Hold on tight. Lift up and pull down. Feel the handle tip down. Click. Fingers around the edge of the door which swings open. Soft rustle over the floor. Go on. Don't look back. The next room. Bright white light blinds from everywhere. Let go of the door and stand with eyes covered and burning in the flare. As they adjust you see a white floor, white plastic walls with white edges, a white ceiling with four white corners. The long, low lights are bright white and you think white thoughts with a white sigh and a white smell, the white feel of white cotton. The white door opens and a figure in white appears holding white paper, scribbling with a white pen. White ink flows and makes white notes, that are read with white eyes behind white glasses. A white flash snaps from a white camera held by another white figure who grins broad and white. The smile stretches across the white flush of their white cheeks and up, scrunched into the two gleaming bright green eyes. The next room. Pale blue walls. pale green ceiling. There are others like you here. They walk up and put their flat hands on your arms, your head. Look around. There's a big yellow flower and you walk over to it. All around you there a soft bumps. Little pushes. Sniffs and coughs. The flower gets bigger and bigger as you get closer. It's the whole wall. A big yellow flower. The biggest you've ever seen. It reminds you of a song and you blurt out some sounds. The sounds ping and pop and blib and dripdropdrup over the flower that spings sunny on the wall. Flat hand on the flower. Flat flop fleshy fumb touches the simsom sunflower. Both hands on the flower. Biggest ever seen on the wall. The burr big blue wall. The yellow hello flower. Others around you are are are with their small, their thingthom hands and pokes and peep prod they go around the room knocking and soft bumps and hard bumps and now there's a cry. Whip wiping against the flower and the blue, the cry sings spouting and cha ow red tongue around the room. Look around the sound and see pee where there where are you going now? Door. Dack. H T ca oh g g Step. g ow so Step. lap am sal pam Step and step. ooooooor or o o ord Step. ord or do door Door. Handle. Lift up and pull down. Door. Feet carry you from the room and out into the hallway. Look up at the pictures that hang there. You're there, dumb and smiling. Walk down the hall, fingers touching, tracing a line in the paper that waves up and down. Pass another door. The sound of one voice but muffled. Stand listening to the whispers. Look at the door. Place your flat hand on it. Pull away. Look around. Look back. Hand on the soft wood. Walk to the end of the hall and there's another door. Reach up and turn the handle, open the door. Next room. Green grass stretches on forever. You take a step, then another. Then, before the last had landed you take another. For a second you leave the ground completely. Then one foot lands but has taken off again in an instant, reaching out as far as it can across the luscious earth. Now you are running. Each pounding step takes you racing through the big green room. A bird flies overhead. You catch up and throw your arms into the air and grab hold but the bird is gone. You look down at your feet and they're the birds. That can't be right. Two birds for feet, that's got to be a mistake. So you look a different way and they're not birds anymore they're other animals, like a duck or rabbit or neither or both. Two animals for feet and two animals for legs. Two bodies in your one body, that makes six. And another two for each arm that still goes pumping back and beside and forth and beside and back again. Each animal, each one of eight is running and that's many legs, too many to count. Too many, so you throw them each away or gather them each up into your animal arms and at the next big hill in this long green room you let them scamper down and away off further round until you can't watch because they're gone too far or maybe a bend in the sloping downward flush. Coming across the hill towards you are animals all stacked up and racing together and it's very odd to see them all piled together and running. Next there's another jumbled pile some of them are birds. Another pile next to them, hopping and jumping it's mostly frogs there and toads that belch. Now a huge pile that is all animals that stand tall, horses and elephants and hulking buffalo with their shaggy manes and their snorting. All these piles run and jump and slip on up and down the hill and round and round they go until they get shaken off and there, standing in the grass which tickles up the backs of your legs with fidgeting stems are the people who's legs and arms and bodies were those safari affairs. Now your arms are arms again and with a quick look down to check you can your legs are legs again and you pat your body all over with little patting taps just to check and it feels like it's your body so you're you again but now you know there's something different about what you were and what they might have been. Next room. A hundred metres long and twenty wide, stretching up with huge walls on either side. Spaced along each are doors with different colours and numbers. Above each door, two windows, then further up, two more. Walk the room, stopping to look through the windows of each house. Inside there are people. They sit and stand and talk and cook and sing and wash and laugh and kiss and clean and read and look out of the window but they don't see you walking by. The street stretches out, turning gently underfoot. The sound of a car turns you, standing by the road you watch the taxi slide by. Then another, the other way. Another and another. Some stack up at the lights. They peel off one by one. One comes faster and then another slower. Keep walking. A lorry stops by the supermarket and the staff file out to unload. An ambulance wails from far away but turns down a different street to yours. Keep walking. A pack of motorbikes like a roaring heard of jaguars rip past, drivers laid-back and grim. The sound of a helicopter way overhead, but still below the vapour trails where small paper planes drift across the massive sky. A car stops close by and three black-clad figures tumble out. They run up to a house and go in without closing the door. You pass the house and behind you they come running out with shouts and the car screeches away. The next door opens as you walk by and you glimpse rows and rows of tables and chairs. The sound of squeaking ink and droning books. Another door and more rows, with bigger tables and bigger chairs. The same squeak and a duller drone. At the next house a girl you recognise from somewhere cries on the step. Someone comes out and gently puts an arm round and they cry and cry and cry. Then there's a party and two teenagers smoke outside. They smile too much and realise that they're getting on. One nods inside and the other laughs, shaking their head. Then they lean across and lips brush against lips. The taste of smoke lingers as you walk away from the giggling sound. From behind a park the granite obelisk of an office block towers over you. Coffee pours into countless cups. Fingers tap away at countless keys. Clicks and ticks and the hum of a fan. The sliding doors open automatically as you pass, a wave of air-conditioning sends shivers down your spine. The corners of the building crumble as you walk away and the building catches then crashes down. Another shoots up in its place. More tapping and clicking, and the sound of a scratching pen. More and more blocks, all the same, line up along the street. Pouring less, sipping more. Higher and higher the tap tap tap goes and peters out. The pen scratches on as the paper grows thicker and ink flows smoother. The next house is smaller than the rest and for sale. Then a block of flats where someone hangs out of a balcony with a cigarette. Then a house in a rough part of town. Then another town altogether and a cottage by the sea. Soon the greys of the city disappear and you pass the small, misshapen doors of thatched roofs. The heavy oak door of the church steeple stands warm and open. Opposite is a neat square house, painted white with a purple door that glows with red green yellow blue patterned glass. A brick-walled garden with a swing and a pond stretch alongside, a cat lying lazy and warm in the un-mown grass. Roses and raspberries grow up the walls around the outside. Tidy beds of vegetables sit between herbs that fill the air with lemon and mint. Birds nest in the beech tree and the silver birch, perching just now on the sun-bleached roof of the green-house where tomatoes and chilis dangle their ripe red fruit overhead. The cat lifts its head as you walk by the wall. Its fur is black and white and light brown, a blotchy painting or pebbles in the sea. It rolls back over itself and chases something small in the sun. This is the end of the street, the far wall on the other side of the long room. The last house. Door handle turns. A hallway. Another room, another hallway, another room. Look up. The other side of the room. Breath hard. Step. Another room. Breath hard. Another hallway. Step. Breathe. Another door. Reach up and turn the handle. Next room. Grey. Round and empty but for a wooden box. Long and deep, narrow at one end. Behind you the door swings softly closed with a click. Turn and see the door. Either side is another door. And either side another door again. Doorways circle the room with old wood, scratched and knotted by time, but not unkind. Place your hand flat against the door and smile. Then turn to the room. The box is gone. In the middle of the room, outlined by a shaft of pale gold light that cuts through the wisping dust from a high-up window, there's a desk, and a chair. The chair is simple wood with a rich purple cushion. The desk is broad and heavy, a waxed dark wood which shows wear at the corners. The top is inlaid with a deep green leather mat, outlined in dizzying golden spirals and the images of chalices and the face of an angel. The leather is worn too, the marks of decades of work scratched onto its robust skin. Pull back the chair and sit with both hands flat on the warm wood. Reach out and brush gently across the deep green, feeling its softness and its marks. Close you eyes. Tilt back your tired head. Let the warm afternoon light fill your cheeks and ears with the last rays of summer. Smell the sea. Hear its waves crashing mildly all around you. Stand and walk into the shallows flowing around the door. Another door. Different. Walk up to it. Halfway-up there's a hole. Tip-toes and look through the hole, reach in and push the flap and blink in the light that shines through. White. Reach out and turn the handle. Stand in the doorway with the light spilling in around you. Look out. Don't look back at the hallway, the corridor, the room, the hall, the room. Go on.*'The top of the mountain. That's where we're going.' She didn't answer, tears rolling and dropping onto the soft cotton bedding. He took her hand and sniffed in his eyes, 'That's where we're going.' He said again. The whisper fell on unhearing ears. He squeezed her hand tighter and reached up to brush away the streaks that flowed unchecked from her staring, red-rimmed eyes. 'We can still go. We can still climb and take those pictures from the top of the mountain.' She closed her eyes, listening. What was that sound? 'No-one and nothing above us, the world below.' He felt the tears break from his eyes now and he made no move to still them. A sound at the door. So quiet and soft. Had she imagined it? 'There are ways of climbing even when... There are special types of sledge. We'll get you to the top.' No, there it was again. A tap. No. A pat. Something small and soft that touched the door and was gone. 'I know there should have been three of us, but we'll still go.' There it was again. So light and yet... She listened and listened for the sound to come again. The pat of something small and soft. 'We can still go.' Why wouldn't he stop talking? Why wouldn't he just let her listen. He bent down and kissed her thin pale hand. With his head bowed, sobs shook his shoulders. Hadn't she been through enough. Could he not just let her listen. 'We can still go.' Listen for the small sound. The small soft sound of the flat hand on the door. The sleep of exhaustion was creeping over her and she let it come. She felt the hand in hers and pressed it weakly. 'No-one and nothing above us, the world below.'
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