An essay by Claire Lev, as provided by Judith Field
Art by Luke Spooner
When they let me out of hospital, I decided to rent somewhere with space to write. Jo, the social worker, helped me find a terraced house in the old part of town, the only one in the row not converted into flats. Gentrification had leapfrogged the area. There were no skips outside the tumbledown houses, no four-by-fours blocking the narrow streets. The shades of my immigrant ancestors spoke to me in the place they’d once made a crowded, warm world of their own.
“Bit big for a youngster like you, on your own,” the landlord said, “Miss … er …”
“Claire Lev,” Jo said.
“Claire … Lev. Millwall … two!” I chanted, using the rising and falling cadence of a football commentator. Okay name for a house, Millwall. Bucolic. Strong.
Jo pursed her lips and shook her head at my display of what the shrink dubbed “knight’s move thinking.”
“Miss Lev.” The landlord leaned away from me, as though I was contagious. He told me a rabbi had lived in the house, which meant that he’d labeled me as Jewish. Once people slot you in like that, the label is like a flashing light in their heads, steering everything they say. I waited for him to ask “if I knew the Cohens.”
“It was about 80 years ago. There were a lot of you people ’round here then.” You people.
“I’ll take it,” I said.
No one since the rabbi had smartened the house up. The faded, peeling wallpaper looked as if it had been there since the thirties. It was patterned with overblown tea roses that I saw faces in. The bathroom looked even older, with its rust-streaked basin. The bathtub stood on little bunched feet, poised to run.
The attic became my writing room. I scattered rag rugs and beanbags over the floorboards. The light poured in through two huge skylights and blasted the frozen shadows off my brain. Sometimes I’d be writing a poem and in mid-sentence I’d have to stop, as though someone had plucked the thoughts right out of my head.
It didn’t help that the house was full of noise–pipes clanging, stairs squeaking, floors groaning. The cat flap in the back door banged, even on windless days. I rang the landlord and asked him to get rid of it. I heard soldiers marching in one of the bedrooms, but when I went in, there was nothing to see, even though I could still hear them. And always the smell of wet mud, the sound of water dripping.
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2020 collection.
Claire Lev also lives in London, UK. She’s a ceramicist, and she and Judith met at Claire’s art installation “Living Clay”, consisting entirely of golems of different sizes. Blink, and they seemed to have moved. But that can’t be so…can it?
Judith Field lives in London, UK. She writes because it’s in her DNA. She’s the daughter of writers and learned how to agonise over fiction submissions at her mother’s (and father’s) knee. She speaks 5 languages and can say “please publish this story” in all of them. Her short stories, mainly speculative, have appeared in a variety of publications in the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
This story first appeared in Stupefying Stories, August 2012.
“The Prototype” is © 2012 Judith Field
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Luke Spooner