The noises woke me again last night.
It’s become a kind of etiquette thing, we all pretend not to be able to hear the sounds of people having sex, and so we all act as if we’re still asleep. Perhaps pull the blanket up a little higher, turn over in the bed or make some indistinct sound as if sleeptalking. Anything to make it look as if you’re not half-awake or listening.
We need babies, we’ll need future generations, and there’s only one way to guarantee that. I know this is true, but I wish they’d do it somewhere else, maybe in one of the galleries or corridors where nobody goes. Not at night, when we’re all trying to ignore the soggy drumming and get some sleep.
I really need my sleep, don’t want to have to listen to their stifled noises and rhythmic bedcreaks, I need to get some good solid kip, for one very simple reason: it takes me all of my concentration to hide the fact that I’m losing my mind.
The next morning, Derek and I were standing by the main doors, watching out for any newcomers.
“Lovely day today,” he said, looking out into the endless drizzle, and grinning.
I like Derek. If I was going to tell anyone about what’s happening inside my head, it’d probably be him. I like to think he’d listen, and understand.
“Nice weather for the ducks,” I say, and immediately regret it and feel my stomach tighten. We haven’t seen ducks or any other wildlife for months. The last duck we saw floated past, dead, on one of the floodwaters, and it took five men to retrieve it. We ate well that night, but I don’t want Derek to think I know where ducks can be found, and that I’m keeping the information from everyone else.
“Be nice to see a duck, that’s for sure,” Derek said, and nodded slowly. The knot in my stomach loosened.
“I’d like to –“ I started, but Derek raised a hand to silence me, and pointed out into the forever rain.
“Someone coming,” he whispered.
I frowned and squinted out into the grey downpour, and then saw what he meant. A small red boat was bobbing towards us. As it drew closer, I could make out two people sitting in it.
“Threat?” I said, and could feel the tension again.
“Maybe,” Derek said, and then, after a moment, “Go and get Harris.”
I did as I was told. Harris looked after security. He hadn’t been elected to the position or anything, he was just so big that no-one was going to argue with him when he said he wanted the job.
Harris was talking to some of the women when I told him about the red boat. He stopped mid-sentence and came back with me to the doors.
“There,” Derek said, and pointed. The boat was less than fifty feet from the building now, rocking gently back and forth on the raintide. “It came from the south – Southwark way.”
Harris nodded, and went to get more of his security detail. I peered out into the rain. One of the two people in the boat seemed to be hunched over something, and it made me think of the day Carol and I had washed ashore, and splashed our way frantically to the building.
Thinking of Carol made me want to laugh, in a cold and uncontrollable way, and I bit the inside of my cheek to keep the laughter at bay.
Later that day, I sat under the spider statue in the hall, looking at the film playing on the wall.
Harris and the other security men had taken the people out of the red boat, up to one of the abstract galleries, for ‘a debriefing’. There had been three of them, a married couple and a baby, who the mother refused to let anyone else touch. There were already rumours that the baby was dead, and had been for some time. Stories like this didn’t shock anyone any more.
I sat and stared at the images on the wall, and wondered who’d created this film. We hadn’t completely lost touch with the past, and we knew it was a sewn-together series of sequences from other films, but we didn’t know who’d made it or why. By stringing together bits of film, were they trying to impose some order on things which didn’t make sense? What story were they trying to tell?
On one of the yellow bunkbeds near me, a young woman was trying to sleep, but kept twitching and turning, perhaps kept awake by the constant dripping and drumming of the rain. Reflected light from the images on the wall played over her face.
There was a booming noise, and a deep creaking vibrated through the hall. The woman sat up in bed, and looked at me as if for explanation.
“The sculptures are moving,” I said, trying to make it sound like the most normal thing in the world. “They make that noise when the humidity reaches a certain point, and they’ve absorbed some moisture.”
She nodded quickly, and settled back down again. She rolled over, nudging a book off the edge of the bed and onto the floor. Even with the curled covers and wrinkled corners, I recognised it as a book I’d been looking at the other week, trying to keep myself occupied so I didn’t have to talk to the others. The first chapter was about people walking in London at night, and it might as well have been talking about the surface of the moon.
I sighed and stood up, glancing quickly at the spider sculpture above me. I couldn’t tell if it had moved, but that was the thing; if it wasn’t for the noise, we wouldn’t know that the statues were moving at all. Gradual, glacial movements, until one day last year the grey clouds parted for a moment and we saw that Nelson’s Column, on the other side of the river, was now as tall as a radio mast. The clouds had closed in again within minutes, and sometimes I wondered how high up Nelson might be now.
The spider sculpture didn’t look as if it had moved, but I walked away quickly anyway.
I heard a noise from upstairs, what sounded like a woman’s high-pitched scream, and tried to ignore it even as part of my mind guessed where it was coming from. Near the Lichtenstein, or perhaps the blue Klein. I hated the Klein: its pure blue reminded me too much of the view outside.
The woman kept screaming. I was seized with the urge to start screaming myself, but it occurred to me that if I started I might not stop.
The rain started to pound with renewed ferocity, and it became hard to hear anything.
My concentration goes on maintaining the appearance of sanity, and doing my chores – patrolling, mainly, and helping prepare food– and trying not to attract the attention of Harris or anyone in security. Cleaning the food preparation area this afternoon, my hands became so sodden with the water they started to wrinkle like prunes. Divers Hands, Carol used to say, and then smile to herself.
I don’t know what she meant. I miss her. I try to think about something else.
Wasn’t the dripping of water a form of torture in the past? Is that why I feel so brittle, close to losing it?
Another sleepless night. I dreamed I was walking along a beach with my father, but there was sand where there should have been sea, and my father’s face wasn’t right. The man in my dream looked like the man in the film on the wall.
Can I truly have forgotten my father’s face? What’s happened to me?
The next morning, I’m feeling the urge to talk to someone, and again I’m paired with Derek on lookout. I’m gathering my courage when Derek says he needs to go to the Gents.
I feel the moment’s passed, and stare hopelessly out into the deluge. My thoughts churn, and I remember a story about a king who tried to hold back the tide. He failed, and I realise it’s just as futile to try to stave off the day they realise what’s going on behind my eyes.
The madness is growing inside me, building like a wave, and they’ll come for me like they did for Carol. Strangely, this feels almost comforting.
“Anything?” Derek asks on his return.
“Nothing.” I shake my head.
There’s a creaking sound from the horizon.
“Nelson?” I suggest.
“Could be,” Derek replies. “Or Churchill.”
I nod, and look outside again, feeling almost calm for the first time in months.
The water won’t stop, and the statues are moving. It’s just a matter of time.
Carol, I think. It’s just a matter of time.
I turn away, so Derek can’t see the smile beginning to spread across my face.