His fingers pinch the chalk, guiding it across the wall in discrete, measured strokes.
His wife says, “I don’t know why you do this to yourself.”
Ignoring her, he allows his hand to trace the London skyline: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Eye . . . Detail builds upon detail. The city rises from the ground-up like a time-lapse . . . A sky busy with clouds follows, reflected in the murky waters of the Thames (evinced in this instance through the use of negative space, with chalk depicting the highlights, and the wall behind replacing the darker tones) . . . He crafts his memories upon the crumbling plaster, adding shading and depth.
“You’re torturing yourself needlessly.” She stoops to light the fire. “This will get us nowhere, John. You need to help me here.”
“I am helping,” he says. “This is important.”
Scrit . . .
His hand hovers above the sky, hesitating, then begins to etch the bulky outlines of an immense vessel. Towering above London, it looks like an inverted battleship, bristling with weapons emplacements, conning-towers, glass and steel.
“You know what I mean.” Orange light floods her face as the flames catch. Taking a tin from the meagre pile beside the fire she stabs the lid with her knife.
“Let me finish,” he says softly, but there’s an undercurrent of menace. He retreats a little way, squinting, adding a few finishing touches to the craft floating above London. Then he draws an enormous mushroom-cloud explosion rising above the skyline. He’s forced to make appropriate changes to the lighting, checking with a step back every few seconds. Satisfied, he moves to one side and starts work on a long column of people. His focus is on the foremost figure, a young man in jeans and t-shirt. He labours to portray the terrified expression then binds the man’s hands in front of him with a glowing circlet of light. The man’s clothes are fashioned after his own, grimy, frayed. The other prisoners wear similar expressions of shock and weariness, but they’re mere sketches. Fear emanates from the foremost figure with a verisimilitude that’s almost photographic. He stares into the man’s eyes.
Hears the screaming in the camps.
“I’m sick of this,” his wife says, and he glances up. She’s spooling beans into a saucepan. Her make-up is smudged, tracked with tears. “How long can we live like this, John?”
Now it’s a battalion of tanks in the desert . . . They’re squaring-off against a vast, spidery, mechanical device that emits beams of powerful light from tubes mounted on its metal carapace. White rosettes of explosions curl across the wall as the tanks fall one by one – scrit-scrit – he’s almost out of space.
“You even listening to me?” Hooking the saucepan above the fire she turns, hurls the spoon at him with a scream. It clangs against the wall, spattering his work with orange droplets. He reaches out and rubs it off with the tattered hem of his Armani shirt, smudging the chalk here and there.
“I’m listening,” he says. “What do you want me to do about it?”
Turning back to the wall he sketches a rough oval. Next, he divides the oval into lines. The chalk drifts upwards – scrit-scrit – building a mouth full of jagged teeth, a flattened, catarrhine nose, and a single staring pupil.
“Don’t draw them,” she says, and shudders. She walks up behind him and places a trembling palm upon his shoulder. “Please, John, just listen to me. It happened, but it’s over now, and we need to move on. Also, the sound of that chalk is driving me crazy!”