Thursday, July 28, 2011

Shame Demons, A Short Story

The shame demons came last week.

The time moved in snatches once the shame demons arrived.

I went to a hen party, in a house near the supermarket where we bought cheap and luminous ice creams as children. The icecreams then were more fun than the hen party was now. At the hen party, which had spilled out on the street, I overheard a conversation between a childhood friend and another person where she spoke blankly of her parents selling their house.

Without knowing why, something rang untrue to me - how could she have no feelings about the imminent loss of her family home? As I walked home from the party, I saw a llama walking out the road to my house. I had never seen a llama, and the road was very busy, which should have frightened the animal. I went to the animal, to ensure it got off the road safely, and guided it as far as my house. The llama stood outside the cattle-grid, and would not come inside.

I realised it was crying. Such a beautiful animal, its neck long and high, with a coat that fashion designers could not even fathom. And, tears streamed from its eyes. Its face was lined and sore, it looked as though the llama could not stop crying. I could only surmise that the exhaust fumes from the cars were bothering it. And yet, I could not convince myself that this was why the llama cried. I have never seen any creature so sad. It felt.

I stayed a while with the animal, trying to calm and soothe it, so that it would stay at the gate long enough for me to get my parents out to hold it while I called someone to pick it up. It settled itself, slowly.

When I walked up the drive, I could see my parents were talking to a visitor. A woman, dressed like a City accountant, suited and booted, and slick, and sharply beautiful. Hair was groomed and glossy; creases straight and hard. She looked somehow unreal or hyper-real, as though etched more deeply into existence than any normal person. 

She was friendly, in that pitching, bitching, over-the-top kind of friendly. She was accompanied by an alarmingly attractive man, wearing cool glasses, with sallow eyes. Wordless, I found myself reserved, and oddly afraid to mention the crying llama.

I found an excuse to leave, pretending to check the post-box. When I got to the cattle-grid, the llama was gone, and the grid was missing all but one of its poles. My fear intensified, and, after using the fence to scrabble around the side of the grid, I looked up the road and saw the llama. It was standing in the direct line of the traffic, just below the crest of the hill, as though it knew the cars would not see it as they came over the hill.

It got distressed as I came towards it, tossing its head, scraping the tarmac with its left front hoof. It cried all the while. 

I tried and tried to drag the animal down the road. I had fistfuls of its hair in my hands, I pulled at its legs. I hugged its neck to me. Then a wind swept up, and the leaves were rustling, and dusk had happened. In a moment, things were eerily calm again, and I turned to find the woman, all charcoal grey pinstripe patent, standing directly behind me.

The llama was cowed now, on its knees, meeker than I thought an animal could be who was not a pet, meeker than I could imagine from an animal I had just seen so obstinate.

"Come", she said to it; not a word to me. Both utterances spoke of disdain and power. It followed her, head down, even its coat seemed flattened, somehow.

Down the road she walked, followed by a shamed animal. I watched, then walked towards my house. When I got back to the driveway, the cattle-grid was as it always had been, intact, a mixture of rust, shine and solidity. I could not bring myself to walk on it, my imagination red-raw and throbbing.

When I got the house, a deal had somehow been done. My parents had noticed nothing odd about the visitors, but they had been bargaining over their family home, including every photograph and valued item we owned, every memory too. It seemed not to phase them, they were blankly happy to start again. As part of the bargain, they had sworn to contact no friends or family for a year, allowing the visitors their privacy. It seemed to me that my parents had agreed to allow the demons to settle into our lives.

The man was not there to make the deal today, they said. He would come back later. But it was all settled. They had shook on it. I found myself filled with fury and frustration; all my arguments ignored, unanswered even, as though my parents had obdurately chosen to manage a toddler's tantrum.

Friends, neighbours, family, they all seemed off-kilter too. Stagnant silence and outbreaks of hostile resentfulness should have proved odd and worthy of comment. But nobody cared enough to comment.

Our house was gradually being etched in that too-real way.

I could see all the disturbance and feel it all. I spoke to a friend on the telephone, shouting with anger and barking with fear about the buyers. My hand gripped the telephone receiver as though I could squeeze all this away.  Neither emotion nor logic registered with my parents; my objections were conducted away in the beat of a hand accustomed to managing a long symphony of obstruction. I have never felt so alone.

I relayed that odd property deals had begun to be reported in the town and they told me I was no longer welcome.

I stood at the front door, my back to our yard, one hand on the door handle. Feeling an odd sensation, I turned to find the woman, again immediately behind me.

"I know you and your thoughts," she said. "Come with me."

She walked down the drive to the cattle grid, she walked over it. I climbed around it. "You think you are too clever, but they have agreed you will pay part of the price," she shook her head. When I was at the other side, I looked down, it was once again a gaping hole, a toothless mouth.

I stood there, looking at my home. I felt so full of shame that I could not speak. My parents had sold all we owned, our lives, for mere money. They were determined to be oblivious to their loss. Worms of fear crawled in me.

The woman stood beside me; smugness was her scarf.

I even longed for the llama to come back. At least her sadness was a better feeling. 

I turned to walk up the road, away from my town, my home, my family and I saw the llama ahead. She saw me, and cried once more. I cried too, my coat flattened to me, my hooves unused to the hard road.

I walked to meet her and we walked together, side by side, behind the shame demons, until they found another life they wanted.

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