Discover more from Fathom
An extract from 'Fathom'; the story of a mother and her twin sons, struggling to fathom their new life, their new selves, following the disappearance of the boys' father.
[In this extract, the three are asleep; a rare depth of sleep and are dreaming.]
Cadfan : He looks across the rocky outcrop and the hanging valley before him. His eyes send a laboured telegram to his brain and finally the two connect; he realises where he is. In the distance, the incisor of Pen yr Ole Wen’s summit bites into the brooding low cloud above it and the toothless gums of its flanks create hinges between sky and land. An ugly mountain. Stubborn. Widowed. Aloof. He is suddenly aware of the cold tips of rock pushing against the soft backs of his knees, the bones of his forearms and just below his shoulder blades. He sees himself now from the eye of a drifting crow. He is sitting on the throne of Castell y Gwynt, dressed in an orange anorak and red woollen hat; the lunar landscape of his kingdom all around him. The crow drifts closer, bringing him into sharper, closer focus. As he presses down his hands to raise himself from the stone, he feels the imprint of a shape in his right palm. The peeling away of his hand reveals a child’s walkie talkie; its composite parts made of different primary colours and a crop of punched holes that form a circle. The crow now sits on a pillar of rock beside him and he looks to it as if for guidance, an explanation of why he has this. They lock eyes but they only see each other reflected in them. There are no answers there. He raises the walkie talkie to his mouth, presses an immovable button on its side and contorts his mouth to sound a click as if commanding a horse.
“Ti yna?*” he whispers, holding it at arms length as if it has a screen he can view. There is no sound other than the wind trying to find its way in between the crow’s dark feathers.
He asks again, louder this time ‘Ti yna?’. There is nothing, other than a dense, inquisitive fog that nears, eager to witness his growing distress. The crow senses that the deep intake of breath from the boy will bring with it a noise it does not want to hear and curls away into the wind. Its colour fades as it glides deeper into the fog.
With every beat, the space becomes gradually lighter until he can make out that he is standing on a stage. The floor is made up of polished but creaking planks of wood and at first glance it looks like he’s on the wet deck of an ageing pirate ship. His socks are dry but they seem to have slid down his ankles, causing his feet to look twice as long as they are. It’s impossible to tell if there’s an audience beyond the edge of the stage or where its wings end. The light seems too afraid to go any further out. Different sounds compete and overlap each other like children eager to be the first to share a break-time drama with a teacher. It’s as if they all have something to tell him at the same time. He closes his eyes and begins trying to separate them; his fingers unpicking these invisible knots of speech and pulling threads of thought away from each other that only he can see and feel. There is no panic in the partition, it is slow and deft and comes to a sudden halt.
As soon as he separates them, the sounds stop but he senses that they came from above and behind him. Using the balls of his feet, he mechanically rotates his body, inching his way to face them. Two gigantic lungs made of Chinese paper and bamboo cane skeletons sway gently from ropes. As soon as his eyes meet them, they begin to fill with air, the paper cracking like thunder as it expands and then deflates. The paper is thin, ashen, but illuminated with a meagre light hiding within its structure. His gaze turns to the right lung and as it inflates, he sees the shadows of a walking pair of footprints darken the surface from within. He feels their weight push against his own lung and the vibrations of the echo they cause inside it. The paper lungs part, swaying gently on their wires as they disappear into the darkness of stage left and right. Suddenly there is nothing; nothing but him on the stage and the sound of the paper and the air have gone. The squeak of a noisy pulley makes him jolt and from above an enormous paper heart is lowered down and halts just above his head. He stares at this, his beating heart, and for the first time, confusion pours into him. It is the colour; a pallid, pebble grey; mottled like a winter hand. His toes and the arches of his feet stiffen, raising him until his ear is pressed against its thin skin. The beat is there but there is something else in the space between it and the next. Another sound. He presses his ear further into the paper and stares into the darkness beyond the end of the stage. Looking at nothing should help him find the something. The sound is there, recognisable, but the distance too vast between them for him to decipher it.
It is the same. The same again. The foot that hovers above the pedal. The pressure that will not drive it down. The hands, conjoined by the tips of thumbs as if forming bird shapes for shadows that will not close around the turning clay. The clay that stays faithful to its shape for as long as it can but begins to warp as it turns ever quicker. The might within the wings of her shoulders that will not fold inward to help her save the clay; to preserve it; to keep it safe from spilling away.
Ti yna?* - Welsh for ‘Are you there?’