Hickere Dickere Dock Part 1.
“One, two three, four…”
The little boy had never been up so late before, but didn’t want to be behind in memorizing his sums. Father had already expressed his disappointment with him over dinner when the nanny was forced to break the news that he had not yet completed his studies for the day in mathematics. “When I was your age I knew my sums up to one thousand. I could multiply in my head!” Father had shouted. It was a shout, not quite a yell. He knew it was not a yell, because when Father yelled, spittle gathered at the corners of his mouth. When Father yelled there was a vein in his neck, and one on his forehead that pulsed. When Father yelled, his cheeks and chest boiled red hot with rage. When father yelled, he was truly angry. The little boy did not doubt that his father could count that high, that he could do multiplication in his head. But sons are not always like their fathers. While his father’s hands rested in clenched fists on the table, he tucked his trembling hands into his lap and stared down at his plate. The silence drenched the room, soaking the air, pooling around the table. The nanny’s eyes flitted too and fro around the room, taking everything in with short, shallow breaths.
Like Father, Mummy’s slender hands were also clenched: around her silverware as she stared ahead towards the vase full of her flowers with glassy eyes that looked past the withering petals that craved the sunlight. Her knuckles grew white as the silence settled around them like a heavy quilt. With a more relaxed tone, Father began again, “When I was your age I knew how to count to one thousand, and I knew my multiples of one thousand. It’s why I’m so successful now. Every smart boy should know his sums and multiplication before he turns six. By the time you’re six you should be able to tell if you’ll be as successful as me. I knew when I was six all that I wanted to be, successful. You should know these things at your age.” The vice like grip Mummy had on her silverware relaxed as Father’s fists softened and he picked up his fork and knife again. Her body shook ever so slightly, so slightly that he could almost imagine it was the slight breeze from underneath the door at the end of the room that led to the kitchen. But the glistening moisture in her eyes betrayed her as her delicate hand swept across her face. Father stood suddenly and the nanny rose to her feet in an instant to clear his plate away and run from the awful silence that filled the room.
“If that boy.” Father said with an edge of steel and malice, “does not know his sums by the week’s end.” He didn’t finish his sentence. He didn’t need to. He would not allow his last son to be a disappointment like his other children had been. Mummy nearly flinched as Father made his way around the table and rested his hand on her shoulder for a moment. But she only sat perfectly still, in complete silence, until his hand was snatched away and his footsteps echoed down the hall. From deep within the house a deafening crack echoed as the door to his study slammed shut. Only then did Mummy take a staggered breath, and the nanny’s skirt bustled as she returned from the kitchen. Flying around the table, collecting the plates of unfinished foodt she swished and flitted around like a thick brown moth. She returned only to take the little boy’s hand, guiding him away from the table where the statue of Mummy still sat, and herding him up the stairs into his room, where he was promptly locked in for the remainder of the evening.
“One, two, three, four, five...”
A small brown mouse skittered about the basement, he chirped twice upon crossing the threshold. The silence answered back with a forceful weight and the mouse lowered itself against the floor in fear and submission to the awful hush. This part of the house was cold stonework covered in dust, layers of it. The old soul of a home that was neglected and forgotten. The mouse had no concept of this, no inclination to understand the musty smells or films of dust that covered boxes of old memories and trinkets from past babes and better days. Instead, the mouse scampered too and fro, gnawing at the edge of boxes, sniffing at the legs of old chairs that had begun to splinter and crack.
A strong gust of wind swept through the room through the cracked window that overlooked the alleyway, sending clumps of dust flying into the air. The mouse shrunk back against a large box and watched skittishly, whiskers twitching. Dust and specks of dirt rained down from the ceiling to rest, creating a new layer to cover the memories already buried underneath time.
The streets outside were lit as best they could be during a February rain, but an air of darkness still shrouded the old cobbles. In the town square, not a mile down the avenue sat a large church that towered over the fountain in the square. Twelve pounding peals shook the night, sending the dark shroud that covered the streets racing back towards the edge of the town, marking the midnight hour. In terror the mouse quickly bounded towards his retreat, to an overturned box from which many dusty nursery toys had fallen. The glassy eyes of dolls and an old stuffed horse peered out into the darkness alongside the mouse’s beady eyes. The final notes of the bell faded into the sound of the wind and raindrops outside once again as the air inside the basement seemed to grow still. The mouse paused for a moment in the safety of the box, rubbing the dust and dirt from its whiskers before testing the air with it’s delicate nose.
“One, two, three, four, five, six…”
The little boy’s brow furrowed in frustration as he stared at his perfect, delicate fingers. The skin on his hands was smooth and soft, “Like Mummy’s” he thought to himself, temporarily distracted. His father’s hands were not the rough and cracked hands of a miner, or chimney sweep, but they were not soft either. Mummy had said she was glad he was not too much like his father. They were similar in almost every way, every way save for his hair, “The color of roasted chestnuts” Mummy used to say, “It’s why I fell in love with him. I knew my mouse would have perfect, chestnut hair.” He imagined her long fingers running through those locks and twisting the locks that fell gracefully upon Father’s neck, the same mousey brown locks that curls that fell around his own ears and framed his slender face. He shivered as a chill ran through his body, seeing once again the whiteness of Mummy’s terrified grip and the redness of Father’s face, that pulsing vein. The little boy’s doe-like eyes blinked slowly as he lost himself in his own mind, before the sound of rain drew him back to his bed, he yawned and stretched. He wriggled backwards into the comfort of the downy pillows that Mummy had fluffed and nestled against the headboard. The bed groaned along with the wind that began to whistle against the window outside, but then it relaxed as the little boy settled down and drew the covers up over his lap, raising his hands again, beginning to count.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…”
The mouse scampered back and forth feverishly across the floor. There was something there, in the darkness, a hint of nourishment, a seed or nut that had fallen through the cracks of the kitchen’s floorboards. There was something there, there had to be. The hunger gnawed at its belly, carving out a pit in the empty hole it had for a stomach. The wind and rain danced tempestuously along the stones that lined the street outside the tiny basement window. The sharp, excited plink of the occasional raindrop made the mouse flinch as its little pink nose swept back and forth across the floor curiously.
A strong gust of wind blew in from under the door, picking a sheet corner up and sending it flapping upwards. The mouse squealed in terror, unable to run back to the box that laid just past the edge of the flapping sheet. The walls surrounding the mouse looked ominous behind the stacks of boxes. Eyes staring out and searching around the room, looking for danger in every shadow, every clump of dust or dirt, every suspiciously still crate or trunk.
As the gust of wind subsided, the mouse crept forwards towards the sheet, there was something there, light reflecting off a surface that had before been covered by musty cloth, a new scent wafted through the air. A long wooden trunk with a delicately carved basket of flowers adorning the base. Elaborate twists of wood creeping up the sides, a shattered glass pane concealing two chimes and the long brass pendulum. Withered bent hands ticked no more along the face of the old grandfather clock. There was something strange and mysterious here, the mouse stared back into the old face, stared up at the twisted black hands. Even in the dim light of the basement it was possible to see the cracks in the wood the scuff marks around the base, the large crack in the pendulum, the hole in the base of the clock that led only to a deeper blackness than the basement itself.