I saw this thing on TV, right. It was a science programme and it was ’bout light and all the colours we see and the colours we don’t see. Light’s a spectrum is what the presenter said and our eyes only able to see a part of the spectrum.
This woman held a prism up to a beam of white light and it broke into a rainbow of colours, if a rainbow can be pressed straight as a trouser crease. But then she said there was a whole other light we didn’t see, bands at either side of the rainbow colours. Invisible light or dark light she called it.
It’s like there’s a whole other fucking world that just ain’t visible to us. And there was shit said about invisible light passing through us and passing through everything and spaces between atoms so that it was like we wasn’t made of nothing much at all. Jesus, that freaked me out and I don’t mind telling you.
And then it got me to thinking.
Take our front room when there’s no one in it. An empty room, right? ‘Cept if there’s colours we don’t see, then there just might be a whole lot else that’s invisible, too. There, in our front room.
My mam, she gave birth to me in that room, see. They’d set up a bed there so she didn’t have to climb the breathless stairs each night. The midwife came when it was mam’s time and my time, and the midwife’s name was Barbara. She kept sending my da off to boil water for no other reason than he was a goodness-to-sake bloody nuisance with his fretting and his asking if we was there yet. And if I close my eyes I can see it all, the yellow-lit room, so bright it was like the sun had crept in there, and Barbara with her sleeves rolled up to her elbows and gently reminding my mam to breathe, a watch pinned upside down on her breast bib, and it was seven minutes after midnight.
Mam told the story often enough I can see it right down to the smallest detail, and I can hear my da knock-knocking soft and hard as a heartbeat at the room door, like it wasn’t his house no more. And Mam pushing, I can see that, too, and the midwife holding her hands and counting down, and Mam sweating like a pig and sucking in air, till the next time to push, and then straining again with every sinew of her being even though it hurt like buggery – that’s how Mam said it. And at last Mam pushing me out of the slippy dark and into this bright visible world. And Mam said I was briefly blue as a bruise and the midwife holding me limp like a landed fish and looking serious for just a moment.
And there was a girl once, in the same room, and her name was Jenny and she had the bluest eyes – so blue I miss ‘em even now – and we was sitting together on the settee in the firelit dark and all Jenny’s words was breath and whisper and she said I wasn’t to tell no one, cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.
She had one hand down the front of my jeans and she was holding my hard cock in her hand and not holding it still. And she seemed to know what she was doing. And we was kissing and licking, and she kept looking into my eyes and I was looking into hers; and they say, don’t they, that the eyes is the windows to the soul and I swear I could see heaven in Jenny’s eyes.
It was my first time and she kept telling me to breathe, like it was something I’d forgotten how to do. And don’t stop, I kept saying through my teeth, don’t stop; and she laughed when I came, there in our front room, in the firelit dark and the crackling quiet, and it was like we was invisible to the whole world.
And my da – big as a door once and he filled the room and then some when he was in it, that’s how it seemed. And it was like he didn’t fit, not nowhere, his arms and his legs too big, and you could crawl under his legs when he was sitting down and he’d never know. And he passed away, my da, slumped in the chair by the fire – his chair and forever his. If I look, my eyes narrowed a little, I think it still holds the shape of him pressed into the cushions, like he only just got up to go to his work or his bed.
I remember the night, the last he had on this visible earth. He was sitting in his chair and he just looked like he was sleeping, same as he always was by that time, which was somewhere between supper and the late Big-Ben-chiming news. ‘Cept this time he wasn’t breathing and I didn’t notice at first.
I brought him through a cup of tea, the way he liked it – milk and two sugars, and you have to pour the milk in first, top of the milk’s best, and the teaspoons of sugar heaped. And a plate of digestive biscuits, I brought too. And I said ‘There you go, Da,’ and I said it soft at first and then loud enough to call him out of sleep, and I shook him a little, but it wasn’t sleep.
And it’s just an empty room, right? Only maybe empty is all we see, like the rainbow colours but they ain’t the only colours there is. And all of life might be in that room, held there or swirling ‘bout, all the little pieces and spaces between them, the memories and the gaps in memory, smaller than dust, and light passing through everything – dark light, and we just don’t see it.
And it ain’t easy thinking ’bout it, thinking ‘bout what is and isn’t there; and maybe it hurts too much to really think ‘bout it – hurts like buggery, or heaven when it’s lost – and maybe the wonder of it stops heartbeats and takes your breath away.
About the author:
Douglas Bruton won The Neil Gunn Memorial prize 2015, the William Soutar Prize in 2014 and HISSAC in 2008. Recently he has been published by Aesthetica and Fiction Attic Press and Brittle Star Magazine, as well as in The Eildon Tree, Transmission, The Delinquent, Grasslimb Journal, The Blood Orange Review, The Vestal Review, Storyglossia, Ranfurly Review, The Smoking Poet, Interpreter’s House, Flash Magazine, The Irish Literary Review and Northwords Now.