Seen and Not Seen

Illustration by Lena Klyukina (detail)
Illustration by Lena Klyukina (detail)

Naked on the sheetless mattress, legs apart, arms stretched wide, he watched the clouds move outside his window. There was a knock at the door. Loud. Knuckles on wood, once, twice, three times. He didn’t move. He didn’t speak. A woman’s voice broke in.

“Can I…”


“I’ve made sandwiches.”

“Did I ask for them?”

Silence. She thought about this. She thought about the next part of their routine.

“You’ve got to eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“But Mr. Henry…”

“I said I’m not hungry.”

Silence returned. A breeze came through the window caressing the limp cock hung sadly between his thighs. He turned on his side. She knocked at the door again.

“Mr Henry.”

On the embossed wallpaper of the half-decorated room he made out tortured sex acts in the obscure twisted lines and bubbles. He made out faces scarred with horror, grotesque in the shadows of a large floor lamp. Poorly put together. Rarely switched on. He reached with trembling hands towards the face he once thought of as his own.

“Mr. Henry.”

“Go away.”

“I’ll leave the sandwiches outside your door Mr Henry.”

He watched a spider crawl along the wall above the skirting board yet to be painted. He had never liked this room. Its angles too harsh and sudden. Ceiling low. It would forever remain unfinished. Forgotten. Lost to the past. He heard the phone ring.

“Tell them I’m asleep. Marta, do you hear me? Tell them I’m asleep. Marta.”

He coughed. Lungs flooded with air. He could hear the high and low points of exclamation in her tone, but try as he might he was unable to make out words. If he had been in his own room then, well, life would be different, life would be as it was meant to have been.

Floorboards creaked under the disturbance of footsteps. He could feel her pressed up against the door.

“Mr. Henry.”

“What is it Marta?”

It was her turn to offer silence. She took a deep breath. If only she could see his face. If only she could make a connection.

“Marta what is it?”

“That was Mr Bodill.”

He turned to face the door. His limp cock fell from against his right leg like a tree. Slapped against his left. This amused him. This childlike awakening of what was there. I am a man. Ugly. Sick. This brought forth a wry smile. This brought pain. Shooting. Burning. Through the deep, permanent creases of his face it throbbed. He closed his eyes.

“What did he want?”

“He say he have to see you Mr Henry.”

He turned back away from the door. Stared up at the ceiling. The spider was now crawling above him. In a book he had once read, a man had awoken to find he had turned into a giant bug while sleeping. Why couldn’t he fall asleep and wake as something new? A bird perhaps, so he might fly away. A dog, so he could be loved for doing nothing but being there. He tried to imagine himself as a spider. Hanging upside down. He smiled. Once again the pain came in waves. His fists clenched. He slammed them into the bed. He didn’t want to wake up as something new. He wanted to wake as he once was.

“Mr Henry he say…”

“Out of the question Marta.”


“You did tell him no didn’t you Marta.”

He heard the faint squeal of rubber soles burning in the compression between weighty anxiety and the twisting of foot into floor. He could feel his heart racing. He could feel the beginning of a migraine working its way up from behind his eyes towards its resting place above. She had yet to speak. She had yet to end his waiting.


“Yes Mr Henry.”

“You did tell him I couldn’t see him.”

Another silence. He thought he could hear her sobs. He watched a plane disappear into white clouds yellowing. He tried to imagine the faces of those on board. Beautiful. Then ripped at the seams. It had been so long though since he had seen a face, his imagination failed to produce anything new. Any sense of pleasure he was hoping to derive was replaced by an overwhelming sense of loss. He sat up slowly. His unkempt hair, longer than it had ever been, fell loosely over his face. It tickled scar tissue.


His voice was low. Soft.

“Yes Mr Henry.”

“What did you tell Mr Bodill?”

“I… oh Mr Henry…”

Her words cut out and she broke into loud sobs. He waited for her to finish. That was all he could do. No consoling. No there there. No it will be ok. I am in here. She is out there.

“Oh Mr Henry, Mr Bodill say Mrs Jaar is sick, really, really sick.”

He fell back down onto the bed. He put his arms up in the air. Spread his fingers. He closed his good eye. Through the blurred vision that remained he could make out a moving black blob by the loosely hanging ceiling rose.

“Mr Henry.”

“Yes Marta.”

“Are you ok?”

“You can go now Marta.”

“But Mr Henry I…”

“Go home Marta. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.”

Silence. He felt her move away from the door, the creak in the floorboards. Mrs Jaar was sick. Anna was sick. He reached for lips she had kissed. He could hear a child’s laughter. Tears welled in his eyes. She’s sick. I’m sick. He tried to remember the shape of her figure. He had reached out to her in the darkness. She wasn’t there. She pulled away. He tried to speak. She wouldn’t listen. He heard the front door close. He breathed a sigh of relief.




He got out of bed. Twilight rays shone on the tiny handprints made in different shades of blue that neither he nor Anna could bring themselves to wash away. He heard child’s laughter. He whispered a name. Took off the dressing gown hanging on the back of the door. It smelled of alcohol and stale sweat. He opened the door slightly.


No reply. He was alone. He pulled the door open. All the lights were on. She had not wanted him to step out into darkness. Too much darkness, she had said. Not enough light. On the floor just behind the threshold a tray of sandwiches, bland, lay under a clear glass lid on top of an expensive plate. He shook his head. Picked up the tray. He could only admire her perseverance. He could only curse her stupid naivety. He stepped out into the hall. He caught her face wrapped in laughter. He had asked Marta to remove all photographs. All mirrors. She hadn’t been able to put this one away. The three of them together on what would have been a forgettable summer’s day. Anna. A kiss rested on her face. Tommy. Held by his side. Tiny hand pulled apart the style of his slicked back hair. He stared into the eyes. He couldn’t bear to put this one away.

He tried to remember the sound of their voices. Silence.

He made his way into the living room. Placed the tray down on the coffee table she had bought one Sunday. Hot. Rancid smells burnt his lungs. Alcohol. Gasoline. Tommy was teething. They had to rub a gel, sweet tasting, over his gums. She said she had to have it. They argued over the price. Price didn’t matter. He owed her this. She knew it. He knew it. It was left unsaid. It didn’t matter now though. Those principles, that feeling of paying too much, of giving too much, it was all gone. He turned the television on. It was loud. He didn’t care. The neighbours wouldn’t hear. Not with reinforced walls and floors. Not with social lives. He turned it up louder. It would not drown out the ringing in his ears. It would not drown out the thoughts of her. She was sick. He turned towards the telephone. I am sick. He sat down. Perhaps he should phone Bodill. Tell him not to come. Perhaps he wanted to see him, someone, her. On the television screen mothers gathered outside a church, weeping, crossing themselves, pulling on the uniforms of soldiers, asking them,


“Why my girl?”

They would be told there was nothing to be done. This was meant to be. His will. He picked up the phone. The dial tone seemed to speak to him in its repetition. You deserve this. She doesn’t. She is sick. He put the phone down. On the television screen a reporter stood by an accident scene. Grass blew in the breeze behind him. The red and white tape in the distance wrapped around a tree.

“What happened here today locals say was an accident waiting to happen.”

From an overhead shot the twisted, crushed, reorganised car lay still at the end of a black trail. He reached for his face. Police were walking in and around the area in organised steps. He pulled away. When they carried him out he was unconscious. Figures in white overalls and facemasks, walked away from the day’s carnage with tiny, clear plastic bags. The loud beeps of the heart monitor filled the lonely room where he had slept his dreamless sleep. She sat at his bedside without emotion, keeping her grieving for a place that knew them, where she wouldn’t hate herself for those unspoken but known of moments when she wished it had been different. When he woke, to the white walls, to the repetition, she would not be there. It was better that way. On the television screen a beautiful woman in figure hugging dress pointed to different parts of the country.

“Tomorrow’s weather is looking quite promising.”

So they could predict the future. They could tell you what was in store. No one told him what was to come when she said,

“I’m pregnant.”

It was unspoken but known that he didn’t want it. Boy. Girl. It didn’t matter. He valued freedom above all else. Children were responsibility. Chains. He wanted freedom. To know there was an exit. The decision had been made. It wasn’t, had never been, his to take.

“Can’t you see Henry, this was meant to be.”

And the weather woman said,

“In the north there is a band of rain that will…”

So they could predict the future. There was no God. There was no reason. This was all just an accident waiting to happen. She was sick. Anna was sick. It was all just meant to be.

“So most of the north will be touched by rain. Moving down to the Midlands the weather will be mild and breezy. And for those in the south temperatures will rise steadily leaving some of you to enjoy a beautiful day.”

She was sick. I’m sick. She knew this. She knew this the last time. Rain falling, light sneaking through the cracks in the doorframe, when the knock on the door came. Knuckles on wood, once, twice, three times.


He watched a plane disappear into the clouds. He imagined the faces of the passengers. He reached towards his own.


He had nothing left to say. No more to offer. In her eyes he saw all that was unspoken. Tommy, his broken face, their broken hearts, what was and what could have been.

“Henry don’t you at least want to say goodbye.”

He could predict the future now too. A knock at the door, loud, unsympathetic. Bodill stood without affection, a bridge too far between them. You haven’t been there for her. He would tell him the past is past. There was nothing he could do now. Locking yourself away won’t change things. She was sick. She needed him. What good was all this doing? It wasn’t your fault. It was his fault though, for he had always been able to predict the future. When she said,

“I’m pregnant.”

He knew instantly it was not going to end well. Life would change forever. He would be responsible for another. A God. Unforgiving. Judgemental. He was set up to fail. He knew this because he knew that each life was an accumulation of those lived before it. God was dead now. There was no reason to it. The buzzer rang. He let it ring. Outside streetlights were coming on. Cars were beginning to fill the roads. The buzzer rang. He let it ring. She was sick. I am sick. Tommy was gone. Tomorrow was going to come again. He could predict the future now. He would not wake how he once was. There would be no God. There would be no reason. For some it would be a beautiful day. For him it would be another without them.

Reece Choules

About Reece Choules

Reece Choules is a regular contributor to both Litro and The Culture Trip. He lives and works in South London.

Reece Choules is a regular contributor to both Litro and The Culture Trip. He lives and works in South London.

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