Chunter, chunter – on it goes, all through the oily night.  Chunter, chunter – churning out leaflets while the yellow cat yawns beside the press like a rich banker after dinner.  The naked bulb casts more shadow than light on the piles of paper which tell the truth about papist conspiracies and Jewish plots and improper voting at the horticultural society.

The wedding ring plays loose on the bony finger of the hand that feeds the paper in, one mint-green sheet at a time, the hand that strokes the banker-cat that could plausibly smoke a cigar after its pilchards.

On the window ledge, a row of miniature cacti gaze out into the winter darkness and long to be home.  From the garden below, a fox screams its own diatribe against injustice before sending a bin lid clattering through the thickly broken silence.

Stories emerge from the little press of scandals and cover-ups and downright disgraces, while the hand flits across the desk like a shuttle through a loom, fixing and straightening and tidying.  Returning to the cat if summoned by a miao.

On the table sits a framed photograph of a child of three or so, eyes smiling and eager,  his love for the face behind the camera still the brightest thing in this room, so many decades later.

M. L. Stedman lives in London and has had stories published in various print anthologies, including Tales of the Decongested Volume 1, Desperate Remedies and The Mechanics' Institute Review.  She has just finished her first novel.

This story came from nowhere, as mine usually do.  The opening line evoked a scene, the scene evoked a character and the character evoked a question for me: how does a baby grow up to be a crank?  The journey to adult imperfection is fascinating and poignant. Perhaps just asking the question helps us find compassion for the distorted heart.



Copyright 2009