The missing phial

by Sharifa Petersen

‘Sixty-seven… sixty-eight… sixty-nine… no…no…NO!’ Arthur tugged at the remaining tufts of his hair, pulling his eyes out of their sockets. Shadowy fingers ran quickly over the glass phials that lined the shelves in their thousands, each one labelled chronologically and thematically.‘…Nineteen sixty-nine. March tenth. Martha. No! Oh, Martha.’ His hair drooped back into place and old, grey eyes peered out at the familiar surroundings. ‘…Got to be here… Must be here…’ With a sigh, he sat down and thought nothing at all. You see, without the phials he was unable to dredge up a single memory and today he desperately wanted to remember something he and Martha had done when they were students in Paris long ago. He always remembered the time and place and theme but in order to really remember, to feel how it felt and then smile – or cry – he needed to consult the phial.

‘Well then old girl, very well then old girl, you’ve done it again haven’t you? Escaped me again!’ He leapt up, his hair now rigid, and weaved his way with surprising agility over, under and around tables, piles of books, empty phials, and many other fascinating objects that had accumulated over the thirty years he had lived in the flat. Unbolting and unlocking the numerous bolts and locks on the door, he flew out onto the street, his dressing gown (which, due to its secondary use as a dish cloth, was now quite filthy) billowing madly in the wind.

*

Elizabeth had made the decision to leave the house. As she walked down the high street, an inn sign swung eerily whilst a man and woman shook hands eternally – smiling maniacally – making Elizabeth feel as though she had walked onto a set that had gone on for many years and would continue to do so long after she had gone. Although movement was important to her, her potential to shift had become increasingly small. Finding a home in pain, she would build it herself – mounds of it – out of the drizzle and, like a creature nestled among the fruit, bring more and more from the outside inside, ready for winter. But now she found herself in a park, shaking because she had neglected her body and left the house in a very thin dress. Hurrying over to the nearest bench she began thinking about everything ever, the seat swelling with her confusion and boredom.

A sudden (human) squeak pulled her atoms back together and down to earth. Swinging around, she found a pair of ankles sticking out from beneath a bush, which was shaking and grunting.

‘M-Mister? Have you lost something?’

Arthur emerged from the bush, covered in crispy leaves.

‘Yes of course I have, what does it look like?’

‘Yes of course. So sorry.’ She made to leave. Arthur’s heart softened a little. Like so much of her generation, her eyes and mouth were unusually predisposed to gravity. They tried to hide some sadness that her strong, constantly rubbing hands betrayed.

‘Okay, are you going to help me or what?’

‘C-certainly.’ She hurried back. ‘S-so what is it you’ve lost?’

‘One of my stools.’

‘But how does one lose a stool? They’re rather cumbersome. Were you sitting on it?

‘No, no! Stool – you know…’ He went a little pink and mumbled, ‘one of my poos…’

‘Sorry, I must have misheard, did you say-’

‘I’ve lost my shit!’

‘Oh, lord…you mean…you collect your p… your stools?’

‘Do you have a problem with that, young lady?’

Elizabeth thought about it and realised she didn’t.

‘No, I suppose I don’t. When did you last have it?’

Arthur paused, looking frustrated.

‘I don’t know,’ he said at last. ‘I don’t remember anything without the phials. Without the stools.’ His hair drooped a little.

‘Oh, I see. Well, not to worry, it can’t have gone far.’

She got up and assumed a searching face and Arthur beamed, his hair twitching in the afternoon sun.

*

They searched every inch of the park until it was dark and all the children and dogs and mums and lovers and park rangers had gone home. Elizabeth looked at Arthur, at his droopy hair and woody fingers, and said, ‘I assume it’s a very important memory…?’

‘Yes, it is but it’s no use asking, I don’t remember.’ Arthur snapped. ‘Life is just eating and shitting and anything else is rumination.’

They sat in silence for a long time. Neither of them thought about anything. They inhaled the air, which smelt of chewing gum and cold grass and let the breeze lift the hairs on the backs of their necks. They felt the ancient trees breathing with them and looked up at the blanket of space, almost funny in its two-dimensionality.

Finally, eyes still fixed on the stars above them, Elizabeth said gently, ‘What was she like?’

Sharifa Petersen is a freelance writer who is also studying an MA in Creative Writing and working in a pub in London.

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  1. #1 by fiona richardson on March 23, 2015 - 8:23 am

    Beautiful, write it into a book :-)

  2. #2 by Linda on March 24, 2015 - 6:32 pm

    Really enjoyed this. Thank you!

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