Art Pact 274 - Early Morning

I woke up this morning to the sound of lorries reversing. The beeping had made its way into my dreams as the ringing of a phone I couldn't get to, then transformed itself into the sound of my/an alarm (I say that because in the half-dream it felt like the alarm was for me, but it's actually nothing like my real alarm: I have the Dies irae from Verdi's Requiem). Finally I heard the recorded words "This vehicle is reversing." and I twigged that it wasn't yet time to get up. My eyes were still covered with a film of that gunk that gets there while you sleep, and I blinked it off awkwardly. The right eye cleared faster than the left one, making me feel slightly nauseous. It was 6:15, still another half an hour until I had to get up, and probably the earliest I had been awake in seven or eight months. I lay down again and tried to squeeze in the rest of my sleep, but the lorries were relentless. Either there were ten of them and more coming as each one left, or there were just two lorries circled up like wild-west wagons and constantly reversing in an endless circle. I tried putting a pillow over my head, then two pillows, then just holding one pillow tight over each ear like I was in a cartoon. Those beeps and recorded voices, though, designed to be piercing enough to be heard on busy building sites or through the closed windows of cars, were certainly more than up to the task of getting through two pillows and worming their way into my ears. After five minutes of pointlessly struggling to get back into the land of nod I threw off my bedclothes and rolled myself out onto the carpet.

"It's the day," said Beaton. He hadn't spoken in several weeks, just hanging there on the wall in his improbable chrysalis. I crawled along the floor inchworm-style, drawing my legs up and then pushing them out so that my chest and face scraped over the carpet's rough synthetic curls. I could feel a good charge of static building up. When I reached the wall I pushed against it to slowly bring myself to my feet. The air at the top of the room seemed fresher than the stuff I'd been breathing in bed (obviously much fresher than the stuff by the ground, but that was hardly a surprise).

"You're coming out today, are you?" I asked. I tried my legs out, and they seemed broadly cooperative so I walked over to Beaton and tapped on the thick shell that was covering him. It had hardened during the night into the consistency of boiled leather, and my knocking elicited a sonorous wooden tone, as if I were rapping on a mahogany door. "You've done all your transforming, is that right?"

"Not my day," he said. "THE day. The day you've been waiting for."

"Oh," I said. "That."

"That," said Beaton. He shifted inside the chrysalis, and for a moment I thought I could see the outline of an arm pressing against the shell. It was a perfectly normal-looking arm, which surprised me. Perhaps I had secretly been expecting a more radical transformation.

"Well, we'll see," I said. I bit my lip. "Do you think it's got anything to do with the noises outside?"

"I think that's highly likely," said Beaton. "Don't you?"

"Hmm. Do you want anything? Water? A biscuit?"

"Don't be an idiot. Although that was very thoughtful idiocy," he added. "Go on, go outside and see what you can do."

I clambered down the ladder and through the hatch that led down to ground level. I could feel the vibrations of the lorries working even before I put my feet on the ground - the ladder ends about a foot shy of the pavement to prevent ground-creepers from climbing up it, but even without physical contact I could feel the metal rails buzzing with the noise from next door. There were several lorries, plus a crane that seemed to have sprung up overnight, and they were all moving. The lorries were manoeuvring around each other like wary male rhinos competing to mate with the house, and the crane seemed to be pulling the lid off the heavy garage that sat at the end of the lot. The crane was at least twice as tall as the main building, and I wondered if it was going to be pulling the roof off that too.

A little fellow in a hard-hat rushed up to me, brandishing a clipboard in one of his four arms.

"Are you the home owner?" he asked. He rushed through the words so that each one blended into the next: Rue domona?, which took me several seconds of thinking through to decipher. After that short silence I nodded.

"Well, I mean - this one"--I pointed to my house--"not that one you're demolishing."

"Demolishing? Oh my goodness no!" (Mishin? omineso! - you get the idea). "We're just taking the top off to extract the contents. The big contents."

I knew what he meant. Dahlia. This was truly it, then, as Beaton had said. The day. Did he have inside knowledge, or had he somehow been able to detect through his chrysalis shell the immanence of her leaving? I wanted to rush into her house. I wanted to rush into my house. I wanted to rush into my house and then her house. But I did none of those things. Instead I nodded to show that I understood, and waited to see what the creature in the hard-hat wanted. I didn't have to wait long.

"So you're the owner of this house?" He pointed up my ladder.


"We just have a little bit of paperwork for you," he said, handing me the clipboard. "It's for your protection, to make sure that you're safe. If you could just sign at the bottom, I won't keep you more than a moment. It's just that there are paperwork checkboxes that have to be ticked."

He kept up his barely-comprehensible monologue while I looked at the contents of the clipboard. As I guess immediately from the words "your protection", it was for his protection - or his company's, at least, absolving them from all liability in the event of a hideous disaster that caused damage to my house as well as to Dahlia's. I had to admire his commitment to obfuscation - the waiver was extremely dense legalese, and I noticed that he started talking again whenever my eyes dropped down to the paper, blathering away until I felt the urge to make eye contact with him and nod politely. As long as I wasn't looking at the paper he seemed to be happy. Obviously, when I got to the bottom I simple wrote NO and handed it back to him - assuming (correctly) that he would not bother to check the signature.

"Is it safe to go in there?" I asked.

"Oh yes, perfectly safe!" he assured me, tapping at the clipboard. Perfectly safe for him, is what he meant, ignorant of the fact that I had not signed away my rights to sue. I smiled politely and began to march towards the main house, stopping only to let two of the ceaselessly-reversing lorries pass me before jogging across the wide gravel driveway and up to the front door. It was open, although I had to press past two workmen who were taking the doors off their hinges. A back-up plan, I supposed, in case Dahlia could not be persuaded to leave via the roof.


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