Issue #62

Spring 2017

If Ever Something Happens

by Sharon Mertins

In this house, there is always music coming from the chimney, syrup dripping where there should be coffee, spider webs decanting where there should be wine.

There's a relatively short giraffe that collects words in the living room. He arranges and disassembles them obsessively, starting every day at midnight. He lets them sit quietly from three to eight, whilst drinking tea and twirling his thoughts inside his mouth like noodles.

In this house there are miniature athletes that train for everything backwards. They run down the corridor and up and down the staircase, not knowing where they're going, each following the rhythmic panting of the one behind him as they all count from eight hundred to one, and then start all over again.

The lady in the kitchen says they wear their little shorts on backwards. But you'd have to pick one of them up to confirm it, interrupt that backward balance they've accomplished. It could take them thousands of mini backward thoughts to mend it.

The lady says this as she rocks on her rocking chair and smokes her flowers. She rolls daisies in rose petals and blows out circles of tulips that twirl for seconds and disintegrate into gentle laughter.

I like to sit on the table and watch her. I like to drink brandy in a coffee cup and munch on sweet and sour biscuits. When I get the urge to pee, I run up the stairs tiptoeing, lest I step on a tiny leg or disrupt a mini backward training.

Every time we flush the toilet we cause a massive storm in the bathroom. If you don't hold on to the rope tied around the sink, you may be spun around by the shower tornado, end up stranded somewhere between that old shampoo bottle and the broken hairdryer. It may not sound that bad to you but it's miles away. Last time it happened, it took me three days and two hours to get back.

If you're lucky enough to avoid this you will see fishnets stream out of the faucets, yellow motorboats cutting water in the bathtub, riding wild waves like playful dolphins in futile attempts to capture Hector.

Hector looks like an elephant but is the size of a baby koala. I've never seen him in person, unfortunately. But I know he has a long, thick tail and webbed feet, the ones he waddles on and marks the walls with whenever he sneaks back into his paintings. The paintings are hanging on the walls of the guest room, oils and water colours with Hector lying on a beach, or Hector swimming, abstract blobs of blue (Hector's colour), cubist drawings and impressionist-like landscapes, where he swims and wanders freely, eating ice cream and jumping from lily pad to lily pad.

The master bedroom is infested with mice. They drink wine and chat till sunrise, when they finally pass out in drunken stupor. That's the best time to take a peek in there, when their boozy snores fill the room with cloudy secrets, stories they wouldn't share with any other mouse, were they conscious enough to avoid it.

It was in there that I found out about clandestine duels with possums, exclusive mousy orgies in the attic and an inner circle of cherry blossom powder trafficking. But it's their collective concern for the giraffe that surprised me, their secret obsessive desire to hear him speak the words he plays with.

The den is hidden. But you can get to it if you manage to weave your way through the opera-singing garments. They prance around like fairies in the laundry room and will most certainly bite if you happen to step on them. But they'll happily open the door to the den for you, if you compliment them on their freshly scented voices.

There's an audience in the den. They sit there smoking their pipes and sipping brandy while they wait for a disembodied hand to pick a name out of a bowler hat. When a name is called, the mice lower down a wooden platform with a writer on it. Whenever the giraffe hears a writer read, he paces around his living room, glancing at a tiny flowerpot he keeps in the corner, the one he waters everyday, where he plants his worries.

Out in the garden lives a boy, who strolls along the cherry blossoms with his parents. There's a bumper car out there. And anyone can ride it for the bargain price of fifteen euros. Every day the boy asks his parents if he himself can ride it. But they tell him they don't have fifteen euros. It's not true, of course. They're filthy rich. But they'll never admit it. They don't like the thing, you see. The sound it makes, the speeds it reaches. And the boy accepts their answer and goes on about his days, doing the things that a boy who lives in a cherry blossom garden does. Keeping the rhythm of the house moving, the cycle of activity fluid. Because if ever something happens, well, then it happens.

Which is what happened yesterday, when the mice didn't wake up after their evening frenzy and the wooden platform wasn't lowered when the disembodied hand pulled the name out of the hat. As a result, the audience sat there for hours, frozen, yawning, patiently waiting to take their next sip of brandy.

No one drank and no one smoked. No one flushed the toilet bowl. Without the nets and motorboats, Hector flooded the bathroom with his backward strokes. Water dripped from the kitchen ceiling, drenching a cloud of smoky lilacs, at which point the flower lady stopped rocking in her rocking chair, walked through the kitchen door and disintegrated a curtain of pansies. That's when the giraffe looked up, with the words noodled up around his mouth, and babbled out a wave of O's and Y's.

The O's reverberated up the stairs and threw the mini athletes out of order, their tiny backward strokes and coordinated marching. They ran into the living room in panic, prompting the giraffe to lift up his thin legs and fall on his back, breaking the little worry flowerpot behind him. In all that commotion, the little men hoisted the giraffe off the floor and paraded him into the den. Now counting, not from eight hundred to one, but from one to eight hundred, they plopped him in front of the audience, where, after sweating out his confusion, the giraffe finally threw his words around like confetti.

Awoken by the cheering of the audience, the mice swarmed into the den in order to see what had happened. But the shrill operatic scream from one of the garments sent everyone shrieking with terror out into the garden.

Baffled by the hustle and bustle the giraffe hopped into the bumper car and rode around in frantic circles, howling a howl that sounded halfway between joy and confusion, tilting his head back as a cloud of smoky carnations trailed behind him.

I was held back, stuck in spring breezy fondling with the laundry garments. When I finally freed myself from tumble-dried hypnosis, I ran outside, carefully avoiding stepping on the mini athletes, who were now twirling, flipping and cartwheeling, anxiously trying to turn their whole existence backwards again. I missed Hector again. But I saw the giraffe riding around in the bumper car, the audience with their brandy glasses running behind him and the cherry blossom boy run over to the middle of the garden, gaping, pointing at the giraffe and screaming, "Woooooow! He's got fifteen euros!"

Author Bio

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Sharon Mertins's work has been published in Leopardskin and Limes, Literally Stories, The Wild Word, Jersey Devil Press, and in 2016 she received an honorary mention for the Glimmer Train Short Story award for New Writers. She lives in Berlin, where she spends her time knitting threads of thoughts and weird little tidbits together, making them into stories.