by Dave Early
There is the head of a king hanging from my curtain rail. He appears there every night, when the curtains are closed and I am lying in bed trying to empty my mind. His crown in tall, his beard slight, his eyes are soft and his lips are tight. Right near the top, the biggest bulbous fold in the material, the fallen monarch bows, dejected, ashamed to meet my gaze. A humble head, mounted high for the peasants to spray him with spittle and lash him with beer as they cheer and jeer and drink themselves into oblivion beneath.
My parents would not have been able to see him. They used to smile and nod and squeak their agreement in genuine belief that I was fooled by their subterfuge. They claimed not to be able to see any of the faces around my room. I explained that some only showed themselves in the narrow glare of the nightlight, or could only be seen from a specific angle like my father’s drawing of a vintage car. I think he called it a jaguar followed by a series of left over individual letters. It hung on the wall high above my pillow and from my supine position, straining my eyes to hold vigil, I could not resist its long drawn face and the way it glowered at me once my mother has said her good nights and closed the bedroom door behind her. Sleep, for me, did not come so easily.
That room was bursting with uninvited guests. Gnomes grinning from behind the flowers on the wallpaper, beasts exposing their claws in the shades of ceiling light, angular-faced witches lurching in the shadows; not to mention their unseen counterparts – the monster breathing in the wardrobe, virtually in perfect sync with my own unsteady breaths, and of course the devil under the bed, quick to throw out a grasping claw should a stray foot fall over the side. But none were as frightening as the translucent face poking out from between the teddy bears on the top shelf of the bookcase. A withered face of ghoulish green, staring fiercely at me with his empty eye sockets, intimidating me with his wide inauspicious smile… Each night represented a turbulent affair, an inexhaustible passage through the darkness. A lonesome which apparently had to be travelled.
As time progressed and I moved on, leaving that room in that house in that town for the next and then the next and so on, the hidden faces did not flag in their endless pursuit of my torment. They followed me across the country into flatshares where they thrust their tongues out from the kettle in the moonlight and winked dauntingly from the creases in the clothes crumpled on the floor; into studios where they peaked out from patches of mould on the wall and hid in vignettes adorning pointless throw-rugs… They tracked me through every relationship, poking their aquiline noses into everything I did, fixing their attention upon my every move. I was surrounded.
As people came and went, as women flitted in and out of my life, the secret faces remained, growing bolder, presenting themselves in the daylight from a distance, appearing outside in the open skies, featuring in fetid animal remains on the roads. They were ubiquitous. And while the world persisted in its casual spin, I found myself no longer running from them but seeking them out. They had evolved from being my tormentors to becoming my companions, in an infinite game of hide and seek. No idle ramble through either urban streets or rural fields was ever lonesome. Particularly in the city where I would often find myself casting a glance about me on the busy pavements and stifling a giggle as I watched them all at play, crawling across the backs and bellies of passers-by, mocking them with their mischievous mouldings. Then when it was time to go home, to whichever building was the latest base of retirement, I would discover them waiting for me. In one place I out-stared the nostril flaring bull’s head eyeballing me from the tangle of the taps and faucet at the top of the bathtub. In another there was the seven feet high human skull haunting the garden wall beyond my window, which only appeared when the neighbours were in and the moon was out, its right socket an infinite abyss, its teeth bared in a flashing grimace, and I would sit for hours by the window, the lights off inside the flat, tracing the impression lazily in the air, feeling comforted in the knowledge I would never be deserted.
Unbeknown to most adults these impish devils from your childhood never abandon you. Listen carefully in the dark, search the shadows, observe from the corner of your eye, and you might find them. I am thirty-nine years old and I share my room with the disembodied head of a king hanging from the curtain rail.
Dave Early cannot be summed up in one sentence; one word perhaps, but not one sentence.