Learning

BY D CEDER

He feels the ringing in his head before it can make any sense to his ears. The light beyond the classroom window is orange, yellow and a crisp autumn brown, and when he places his dream-hand to the dream-window, the girl on the other side smiles. She reaches out her own trembling hand to match his, finger-to-finger; but somehow their hands fall askew, never quite matching exactly. When he tries to meet her hollow eyes they gaze by him, or through him, but never managing to meet his own.

He shouts at her through the glass, but all that comes out is his breath, cold and foggy, covering the image of her face: smoking outward in a huge nebulous shroud, so that it obscures the whole window. Rubbing away the mist, he can’t see the girl anymore, and now the autumn outside the window becomes a foggy winter’s day, and the playing fields are sleeping white and breathing silence. He tries shouting for the girl; but all that comes out is his foggy breath. The phone rings on the little wooden school desk. He picks it up to his small ear and listens.

He wakes with the ringing and checks his bedside clock, wondering who can have died at this hour. The hallway is cold and he huddles into himself going down the stairs. Picking up the receiver, he hears the shouting: of one voice; then many voices; then one again.

Strangely disoriented, wondering if he is still dreaming, he asks who it is, but can’t make out their words. Now there are many voices again, all of them out of sync with each other, covered with a syrup of hissing and whispering cold static that makes them sound desperately like tears. They waver, coming into one again, and fade, as if down a long tunnel. The more they fade, the more it seems they are trying to shout, as if fighting against the lengthening distance. Soon it seems as if they have faded altogether, but he can still feel them, their crying frustration down the line.

Replacing the receiver, he blinks away the dark and feels the balance of night and morning straining around him. He gulps something back in his throat, not quite understanding why. When he returns to bed, he leans over the curled form of his wife, and reaches out to touch her sleeping face. It is a tenderness he has not expressed for longer than he can remember, and he hesitates above her, his hand barely an inch from her cheek, where it trembles like a small bird. He pulls back at the last second, and goes back to sleep, waiting for morning to come.


The bus is late. People huff and puff like little hissing trains; he sees their breath, and thinks of the girl in his dream. He draws his collar tighter round him and glances at his newspaper, then quickly up again. He thinks he sees the bus approaching and steps forward. Everyone else follows him automatically but it is just a big red Post Office van; the crowd subsides disconsolately with him as he draws back into the queue.

The sun is cold and bright, and the pavement and roads are wet mirrors, appearing like a contradiction. A young girl springs out of a car, a red Fiesta. He sees her turn and strain into the interior, one foot on the ground, the other angled playfully in the air behind her. She is kissing a young man sitting behind the wheel. He watches wistfully as she straightens herself, blows a kiss to the driver, and strides languidly down the street.

The bus soon arrives reluctantly, and he sits at the back and looks out onto the bright street. As the bus lumbers off, he makes a small breathing sound as he sees the girl in his dream, standing very still, on the other side of the street. She stands stiffly, and only her face moves with his as the bus speeds off. She is dressed in a long black pencil skirt and a black tight- necked blouse. Her hair is flat and straight-fringed, eyes blank black charcoal. Her mouth hangs slackly, half-appealing for him. There is something faintly medieval – even ecclesiastical – about her bearing that brings to mind visits to cemeteries on cloudy winter days, and a phrase in Latin about smiling and tears.

He rushes out at the next stop, almost tripping over a mother’s toddler who is half-sliding down her knee and peeping his legs into the aisle.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, and hears her tut him as he springs from the breathing bus door.

The girl walks with that same careful - almost brittle - stealth, lending her a stately, yet simultaneously vulnerable exterior, and he is taken out of himself by her, by what she may yet represent. He feels compelled to follow her progress: past a newsagents', a butcher's shop, a London Electricity Board shop, its clean, modern interior stained with dirty prams and tired people.

She approaches an antique mirror in the middle of the street being manhandled into the confines of an antiques shop by two labourers, and the clarity of the glass seems to have sprouted from the wet mirrors of the previous rain lakes, still pooled beneath the dazzling sun. He sees her reflection in the glass as she approaches and notices she is crying, doing something with a curl of her finger as she pads at the tears.

She passes the men and he soon finds himself drawing up ever closer. As she swipes away one tear her hand closes once, forming objects, followed by another wiping movement, all the time moving ever-swiftly on. In her palm he glimpses glitters of wetness that seem to slither eel-like within her grasp.

And then she opens her hand, releasing the contents onto the pavement as she disappears into the dazzling morning. Picking up the object, he sees a necklace made of tear-shaped beads, and they leave wet trails inside of his palms, slick with the feel of her tears.

He is late for work, thinking about the girl. He deals absently with the correspondence on his desk and thinks about those hollow black eyes. He brings out the necklace made of tears and clutches it like a rosary. When it is lunchtime, he goes down to the second floor where the fax messages are collected. He picks up his own sheaf and notices one fax sitting idly in the tray, uncollected. He grasps it gently and strains to look at the indistinct image. No contact number at the top. The paper is wet and if he moves it around, shapes swirl as if in a developing photograph. He doesn’t know what to think when the eye swims into view, followed by the falling jewel of a single reflective tear. He just folds it into a quarter and slides it into his pocket as he leaves the office for lunch.


That night, when the phone rings, he pads like a child at Christmas down the stairs. He holds the phone like a shell to his ear and hears the ocean sounds of hissing static, and behind that a wailing angry commotion that rises and falls like waves.

“What do I do?” he whispers. “Please tell me. I don’t understand you. Who are you? Please tell me what I have to do.” He wipes away the tears running from his eyes. The voices are fading with the gentle subsidence of the static. “I need to know. Oh God, how I need to know.” He hears the silence, but knows the voices are still there. Will always be there.

Regretfully, he lowers the receiver.

Feels the answers slipping away like a rainbow’s end. 

And like the night before, he returns to bed, leaning over to touch his sleeping wife. This time, he lets his hand fall to her cheek, stroking softly - a perfect honeymoon groom - then clumsily squeezes her shoulder. The slumbering shape stirs and turns away from him.

Sliding beneath the covers, he coils like a child on his side, his tear-stained cheek nestling into the pillow, waiting for the morning to come. 

And in sleep, he never notices his wife smiling warmly, turning toward him - a bride reborn in radiant sunflower glory; her own newly-found necklace of tears melting softly inside the folds of her neck while she sleeps.


illa per lacrimas adridet.


D CEDER IS AN ENGLISH WRITER WITH AN ANTHOLOGY AVAILABLE from AMAZON ENTITLED ONE IN A HUNDRED AND OTHER STORIES. HIS RECENT CREDITS INCLUDE THE JOURNEY IN DEADHEAD MILES, REMOTELY VIEWED PUBLISHED IN EDGE OF OBLIVION, STARLIGHT, STARFRIGHT PUBLISHED IN AMOK! SHORT SHARP SHOCKS, SOMETHING FORGOTTEN PUBLISHED IN THE SIREN'S CALL #14, THE TENTACLED PUBLISHED IN THE SIREN'S CALL #15 AND THE RETURN OF FORTUNATA (POEM) PUBLISHED IN THE SIREN'S CALL #18. He can be contacted on dceder906@gmail.com


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