Adventures in Bookland: The Unsettled Dust by Robert Aickman

The blood came from his nose and would not be staunched. He had gone through all the handkerchiefs in his drawer, using them first as plugs and then as clamps, but still he could feel, and taste, the iron warmth. He sat at the window of his apartment, the handkerchief clutched to his face slowly staining red, and looked out at the setting sun staining the cloud in its passing.

It was always so, when the sun set in splendour. The night would bring darkness and cease. His nose would stop bleeding and he could finish his work, the tedious reports that were the cross of his career as a reasonably important servant of civil society. The newspaper lay on the desk in front of the table. The weather report, with its promise of heavy cloud, was circled. He would write to the editor tomorrow, pointing out the inaccuracy of the report. Perhaps the television stations had carried a more up-to-date report, but he did not take television: a radio was the limit of his engagement with modern media.

That, and a telephone. He had had to telephone her to put her off. He had indicated that she might visit after he had finished his report; the Berliner Philharmoniker was playing Mahler 6 and he would want company after hearing that. But the nose bleed made an evening listening to music, even music as enveloping as Mahler, impossible. He would be waiting, feeling for the warm trickle in his nose and upper lip. But if he opened his window, he should be able to hear some of the performance; that which the city pulled away he could fill in, for he knew the music in his head.

The entryphone buzzed.

“Robert, are you in?”

She had come, despite his message that she should not.

“Robert, I’m sure you’re there. Will you let me in?”

He watched the small screen until, in the end, she went away. It was as well that no one else had tried to come in to the flats while she was waiting at the main door; then she would have been knocking on his door.

Opening the window, he felt the wash of city air. But it carried the strains of Mahler 6, soaring above traffic and radios and scurrying movement. He listened, for the moment forgetting the blood, and the sun setting, but becoming only a creature of hearing and imagination and memory, for often he had to fill in lacunae with the music of his mind. The Philharmoniker played the Scherzo before the Andante, as he preferred. The Finale drained into the darkness that spread over the city. He listened to the silence and did not move, even when the blood began to flow once more.

(A review in the style of one of Aickman’s stories.)


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