Still with Trudy and her container of Small People… cont.
For the second day running Bland Neighbour had tipped out of the container with a biro in one hand and a notebook in the other. Trudy had let it pass the first day. She was caught up with Older Chap’s Silver Surfer session at the local library. Amusingly, that had ended in an uncomfortable situation involving what turned out to be his daughter’s online avatar.
Trudy was always drawn to a combination of dark and comic. The neatness of this common paradox was somehow digestable. After all, she had been brought up on a diet of stories which ended: “and the moral of the story is: never X when you Y a Z.”
On this day Trudy watched Bland Neighbour writing what looked like a letter – she could see it was a letter by the shape of the words on the page. The letter was the size of half a stamp – or less. (My, but these people were small.) His pencil was thinner than a pin. Although she could not make out the words, she could see them trace a shape – heavier on the left and bulkier lower down the page.
She could also see that Neighbour was writing with unmistakeable intent.
Trudy was unsure how to read her own feelings about this mysterious absorption. She thought she might disturb him a little to see what happened. She tickled him with her pencil. The pencil passed right through his body.
She started. That was odd. She licked the pencil and tried again with the eraser end: prodding and pushing, carefully at first, until she was finally stirring the space where he sat with a whizzing motion.
He was air.
Her pencil was useless. Her Man a tiny illusion: solid until she touched him, oblivious to his mastery of his own existence, his attention and whole world a tiny dirtying, square.
She stopped. It occurred to her that she might have a problem getting him to leave.
Perhaps she ought to have the breakfast she had missed this morning. (Tuesday was PE Day for two children and Show and Tell for one, so the day had had a febrile start.)
Now Trudy noticed a woman perched on a phone book above him, tear open an envelope and pull out a page. Behind her, a boy turned away to read from a similar piece of paper, holding it with two hands as though it weighed a stone. Over on a sunglasses’ case others were also frozen, reading from single pages.
There on a mousemat edge and there astride a paperclip, still more. Objects dropped from hands, envelopes were scrunched and thrown aside, fingers ran through hair and drew strands between open lips as the people read.
In the stillness, the Neighbour stabbed emphatically at the bottom of the page and looked at it for a second before folding it in three and slipping it nicely into an envelope. He stood up, placed it into his back pocket and walked over to the edge of the desk.
Then he vanished.
And Trudy noticed the silence he left behind, how the people re-read their pages, how they did and undid and did again their shirt buttons, how they pulled at ears, hair and chins – lost in tiny, tiny unreadable words. They stood like this for a long time.
No-one seemed to know he’d gone. And neither had he thought to let them know.