It was dawn when I came to. The heat of the day had passed, and I awoke with a chill. I tugged my dressing robe out from under me, and neither got nor looked up. I was too afraid.
I listened to the milk float whir past my house – milk bottles clinking as it clambered over a sleeping policeman and came to a halt. I smiled.
I dream of the milkman sometimes.
Else, I daydream that he will come to visit.
Often I am the only person in the neighbourhood awake when he does his rounds, and after a while I got into the habit of greeting him at the door. This developed into pleasant conversation, though in hushed tones so as not to disturb the neighbours. Eventually, he would end his rounds at my house, so that he could join me for a cup of tea.
I tied my robe together, and hurried to the door. He smiled as he came through my gate; once again forgetting to close it behind him. I thought better than to chastise him that morning; I was relieved to have company.
His smile faded. ‘What’s the matter?’
I feigned a laugh. ‘Whatever do you mean?’
Morris gave me a funny look, and walked past me into my house.
‘I thought perhaps we could have tea in the study this morning,’ I called after him, closing the front door.
‘As you like it,’ he replied, flicking the switch to the kettle.
As my friend brewed the tea, I set about placing a couple of chairs at the bureau, placed just so – so that I could sit with my back to the wall, and Morris directly in front of me.
When he brought the tea in, I gestured for him to sit down. He furrowed his brow at this. ‘A bit cramped, isn’t it?’
I blushed, embarrassed by the disarray on the bureau. I gathered my papers into a heap, and gestured for him to lay the tray down. ‘There. Now, there’s something I want you to see.’ I poured the tea automatically, and watched him as he watched my my movements. After a few moments, he sat down and folded his arms. His legs, usually spread wide when he sat at my kitchen table, were now clasped together, as though desperate not to come into contact with mine. ‘Your hands are shaking,’ he said, matter-of-factly.
‘It’s turned rather cold in here, don’t you think?’
‘No,’ he said, taking off his cap and mopping his brow with a handkerchief. ‘I had to use one of my own bottles to cool me down before I finished tonight.’ He took his teacup from me and sipped.
I stared at him intently.
‘Are you all right?’ he said.
‘Look at the wall behind me. Do you notice anything?’
‘Looks like that wallpaper’s faded.’
‘I don’t mean aesthetically.’
He put down his cup in his roughshod way; spilling some of the liquid onto his saucer. Again, I let this pass without comment. ‘What, then?’
‘Do you notice anything–. Unusual?’
‘Well, I wouldn’t have picked the wallpaper for my own place, if that’s what you m–’
‘Never mind that,’ I snapped, and reached for my cup. I bit down on the rim, my hands still shaking. I steadied myself to speak. ‘Can you see anything on the wall that, well that – that shouldn’t be there?’
Morris inhaled deeply, eyes quizzical. Then he focused; squinted and stared at the wall behind me. I remembered then how poor his eyesight was. How often he had given me apple juice instead of orange. How he often misjudged his speed, as though he couldn’t see the sleeping policemen before him.
‘Is there a – slight pattern on the wall?’
I put down my cup with force. ‘Yes, yes.’
‘Yes. But, look, it’s not a pattern.’
‘It makes my eyes go funny. I can’t focus on it. Why did you pick that pattern?’
I rapped on the desk, rattling the china. ‘It isn’t a ruddy pattern.’
‘I would have said it was more black than red.’
‘Oh, bloody hell, Morris. You can’t focus on it because–. Because it’s moving.’
‘Yes.’ I glanced over my shoulder, faced the shadow, and winced. I tilted my head away. ‘Yes, they’re moving. Just – keep watching for me. It’ll change in a moment.’ I gazed at Morris – his eyes pinched in concentration, at first.
And then his eyes began to grow wider.
And then I noticed the hand.
The hand had moved from the wall.
It was no longer expressionless.
There was intent in the hand.
It approached Morris’s neck and began to clasp its fingers around it. I watched, paralysed.
As the colour rose in Morris’s face.
As he gasped.
As he choked.
As the colour went back out of his face.
I dared not turn, or move, until finally Morris slumped in his chair, and the hand disappeared.
I jumped out of my seat and shook him.
I called his name.
I fell at his feet.
I tugged at the leg of his trousers.
But not once did I dare look back at that wall.
At last, my head pounding with fright, I went to the bathroom for another aspirin.