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Moira Gillen

A little bit of darkness to brighten your day

Masterpiece

His pièce de résistance. His magnum opus. It was there, magnificent, waiting to burst out of him. He could feel it.

If only the sodding shits would let him concentrate.

--------------------

        Interrupted mid-thought, Chuck fought the urge to bash his forehead on the table as the jarring peals of laughter rang out again. He bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, using the pain to distract him from the noise as he tried to calculate how many hours he’d gone without sleep now. His new neighbors (a man and a woman? he had counted at least two distinct voices) had awoken him around dawn two mornings ago, and by his reckoning, he hadn't managed to grab more than a few minutes of shut-eye at a time since.

        Their raucous howling and laughter at all hours of the night and day were not only keeping him from sleep, but from his work as well. He needed quiet to concentrate, to coax out the details of the story he knew was buried in his head, his magnum opus, but every time he got close, that horrid woman's voice echoed out yet again.

        Fat. He hadn't even gotten a look at her yet, but he could picture her: fat and stupid, jowls quivering with each guffaw. A big, red, blemished face split by a gaping maw that issued forth caws and cackles worthy of any crow. A braying ass would be both proud and jealous.

        The man, though quieter, made up for his lack of volume in sheer quantity of speech. Chuck could hear his low, constant drone outside the window, occasionally punctuated by the woman's inane giggling.

        Did the two  never shut up? Did they never sleep? Logically, if they stayed up partying or fucking or whatever it was they did all night, wouldn't they at least have to sleep during the day? Chuck couldn't figure it out. Energy drinks? Drugs? Whatever they were on, he was near the point of asking them to share -- he couldn't take much more.

        He paused in the obsessive drumming of his fingers on the table's surface to listen. Nothing. Silence. Had they finally shut up? Passed out maybe? He hesitated -- it was too good to be true. But everything seemed quiet.

        He sighed in relief. He knew he should take this time to rest, stretch out on the bed and attempt a nap, but now that they had finally ceased their incessant racket, he found himself alert and eager to get some work done.

        Leaning back in his chair, he closed his eyes. Where had he been? Ah yes, still trying to get the wording right on that pesky opening line. He knew once he'd worked that part out, the rest would come together. Was it "sneaked" or "snuck"? he wondered idly, chewing his lip.

        He sat up straight. He had it! It was perfect! He had just hunched forward over the table, ready to birth his masterpiece, when that infernal laughter sounded again, so loud this time that it reverberated around the walls of his room, clanging inside his skull.

        Fury washed over him. His pulse thundering in his ears, he stood with a howl and, turning, lifted his rickety chair and smashed it against the wall in a rage. It held together at the first blow, but he continued pounding it against the wall until it splintered in his hands, the green paint peeling from the fractured wood.

        Grasping what remained of one of the chair legs in his tightly clenched fist, he stormed across the room, yelling incoherently. He couldn't take this anymore. Two days without sleep, two days, and still the noise hadn't stopped. Peace and quiet -- that's all he'd wanted. No man, no sane person, could be expected to put up with this kind of disrespect, this... abuse. That's what it was. An attack on his personal rights.

        "SHUT UP," he shrieked. "Shut the hell up! What bloody fuck is WRONG with you people?! ANIMALS!"

        He stomped toward the door, ready to confront them, to have it out once and for all, but as he reached it, his rage turned to fear at the sound of a key sliding into the lock. Were they coming in? Were they coming for him?! Had they heard his screams of indignation and come to attack him? Goosebumps rose on his arms as he broke out in a cold sweat. Who knew what these maniacs were capable of?

        Clenching the chair leg now as an instrument of protection rather than a physical manifestation of his wrath, he scrambled backwards, his shoeless feet slipping on the linoleum in his haste to get away.

        The door swung open. He gripped his makeshift club so tightly his knuckles turned white, then relaxed when he saw it was only Nurse Molly, albeit a stern Nurse Molly.

        "Now Charles, we can't have you storming about like tha--" she interrupted herself with a gasp. "Whatever have you done to your chair?!"

        Clucking disapprovingly, she bustled over and removed the chair leg from his now limp fingers.

        "Charles," she said again, and he could hear the disappointment in her voice as she fussed over him. "You know the rules. Now we'll have to take your table and chair away for your own safety -- these things are a privilege, not a right. And you were so close to earning some paper and crayons in a few weeks, too."

        "But Nurse Molly, the noise," he began, desperate to explain. "Please, don't take away my table. And I need the paper and crayons to work on my masterpiece. It's just the noise, the damn noise, is all! And I haven't slept. Those infernal new neighbors --"

        She cut him off. "I'm sorry, Charles, I know the new residents are having a bit of trouble settling in, but rules is rules."

        Her voice changed from commiserative to brisk. "Now, look. I've brought you some nice medicine to help you sleep --" at this, she produced a paper cup with two oblong white pills, large as maggots, from the skirt pocket of her uniform, "-- and if you take them like a nice lad, we won't have to call Big Jim to come hold you down for a shot. You didn't like that last time, did you?" she wheedled in a soothing voice, proffering the cup as though it contained a treat.

        Chuck pouted resentfully at the memory. He hadn't liked that nasty jacket last time, either; he needed his hands free so he could write. Sullenly, he held out his hand in resignation. She tipped the cup into his palm and watched as he defiantly swallowed them down dry. Out of pure spite, he fought down the urge to grimace as their bitter chalkiness scraped over the back of his tongue.

        "There now, there's a good lad," Nurse Molly cooed as she helped him back onto his cot. "You have a bit of a lie down and I'll get Frankie in here to clean up this mess. Those pills will help you sleep and you won't hear him or the neighbors."

        "But Nurse Molly," he started again, but the words were slurred, and drowned out by her shushing.

        "You haven't been taking your regulars, have you, Charles? Or else you wouldn't have gotten so worked up in the first place."

        Guilt mixed with indignation as he tried to shake his head, but the medication was already starting to take effect; the most he could manage was a weak, one-shouldered shrug. The coarse, over-bleached fabric of the pillowcase felt stiff but cool against his cheek. As he drifted off, he heard Nurse Molly's voice, distant now.

        "That's it. There's always tomorrow. Your 'masterpiece' will still be there in the morning."

        He would dream about it tonight, his masterpiece. If only he could remember how that first line went...

Image: 2017-03/typewriter.jpg

Written by Moira Gillen

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