- Vol. 03
- Chapter 01
Skin and bone, the boy thinks, as he carries the stool over to the cabinet. The stool has wooden legs and a cracked leather seat, but the cabinet is a tower of plain glass. He gazes up through the tiered shelves at the undersides of objects. The odd fish is still there, drifting beneath the ceiling, illuminated.
In the adjoining office, behind a closed door, his mother goes on talking in a low voice. Mr Jerome will be leaning in to catch the words that fall from her lips. Every week, when Mr Jerome flings open the office door so that his mother may enter, the boy expects him to speak, but he never does. This morning he looked around the waiting room as if he were making an inventory.
The boy climbs up on the stool. The fish is right under his nose now, no more than a fingerling, a sliver of sea-stone with a bead of red coral for an eye, resting on small trestles like a boat in a dry dock.
The room has eyes too. Twelve of them in the curtain drawn across the window, two on long stalks sticking out of the walls, another in the blood-red pool of the carpet, lidless and glazed.
He pinches the fish’s tail between thumb and forefinger and drops it head first into his pocket. Then he climbs down and takes the stool back to its place beside the door. His mother’s voice grows louder: he can almost make out the words.
He sits cross-legged on the carpet. Shoals of sea creatures flow around him. He thinks of taking the odd fish from his pocket and releasing it into the current, but the door to the office could open at any moment, so he contents himself with tracing a path between the darting flecks with his finger. His mother’s voice continues to rise, while Mr Jerome’s thrums below it like an engine. It makes him drowsy. He sinks down and stretches out his limbs.
He floats like a dead branch in the tide until his mother takes his arm and jerks him into the daylight. Although there are black smudges under her eyes, he knows she’s pleased with herself. That bitter little dimple in the corner of her mouth signals a change of mood. Anything can happen now. Perhaps she’ll take him to the races again? They might never go home.
Usually Mr Jerome shuts the door without a glance, but today he watches them leave.
On the stairs down to the street, she takes his hand. In the other, which is clenched inside his pocket, the fish flexes its tail against his palm.