Silver Cane

by Chris Castle

It wasn’t that Rose couldn’t talk; it’s just that she chose her words carefully. Her father always said she would watch and learn and smile but also wait. Her father learned to live with Rose’s ways and the two of them smiled inside the silence. But Rose had a secret too and figured fewer words meant less chance of a mistake. So she went on, until the man with the walking cane began to spoil everything and then Rose knew she had to speak up.

She worked in an office on the outskirts of town, close enough to the desert that sand blew in from the car park. Rose knew she only got the job because her father knew the owner but she worked hard all the same. She filed the paperwork, made sure things were up to date. She enjoyed the peace of it; workings with paper, hearing it rustle under her fingers. At lunch she sat on the stone steps of the building and ate her food. In her breaks she sipped coffee from her window and watched the sand kick up. Sometimes the boss, Mr. Meacher, would ask her for a file and he would smile his thanks without speaking, as if hypnotised by Rose’s silence.

On Fridays, her father would drive down and they would have lunch. It was her favourite part of the week; each time they would drive to a different place and order different things. Rose’s late mother was a cook and Rose liked to think she took something of her in the way she enjoyed her food. And each time they ate, her father, as promised, would reveal something else about Rose’s mother, a small secret, which would fill in another piece of the puzzle.

Rose filed some paperwork and waited for her father to arrive. There were a few cars in the lot and one she didn’t recognise. A large red car that gleamed in the heat. There was someone sitting inside, though he was just a shadow set against the sunlight. Rose thought that he did not move, was as still as the vehicle. She was just impatient for her father and anxious. She was just about to fill her cup when his pick up truck pulled into the lot. She watched him pull himself out, adjust his belt and pull on his sleeves like he always did. He was just about to look up and wave when suddenly the man from the red car stepped out. Somehow he still stayed like a shadow, a long oily streak that simply spilled from the car to her father’s feet. All that stood out from the darkness of him was the silver cane he held in his hand. It shone and glimmered and seemed more like a weapon than an aid in the way he held it.

The man stood directly in front of her father, blocking his way. They stood frozen in place for a little while. She saw that her father did not speak once, did not gesture to the man to stand to one side. And it was the strangest thing, too; even though the other man stood still, it was almost like he was…spreading. As if he was leaking darkness where he stood, like a spillage of waste.

Rose began to move from the window. She was ready to walk outside, call out to her father, and push away the stranger. But as soon as she moved the two of them reacted. First, the man shifted to one side, returning to his car. The cane spun by the side of him, a silver burst. Then her father looked up to her immediately and lifted his hand. But the wave seemed almost like a warning and she stopped immediately. The red car spun away in the dust and for a moment she watched her father, looking as if he was ready to fall to the ground there and then. But instead he brought down his hand and walked towards the building. The moment passed and as he got closer he smiled, though she saw his walk was a little unsteady, his face a little too pale in the sunlight.

They went to a fish restaurant at the far side of town. They ordered and her father immediately asked about her day, her plan for the weekend. Her father, who used to be a policeman, was good at this; removing what had been ugly or uncomfortable and seizing on something that was beautiful. He talked about the flowers on the table, the presentation of the menu. He was smiling so widely, she almost hated bringing it up. But then she remembered how uncertain he was on his feet, how close he was to falling and she cleared her throat.

“Who was the man in the red car?” She said. Rose spoke how other people whispered. Most people after a while gave up on listening or simply didn’t follow what she said and carried on with their own conversations. But not her father. He listened to every word she had ever spoken.

“He was someone me and your mother used to know. One of her father’s friends.” She saw how much it hurt him to say the words, but saw too how he held her eye as he did.

“He used to tap on our front door with that cane of his, rather than get himself dirty.” He shook his head and went back to his food.

Rose knew that was all he had to say on the matter, even though there were a thousand other things in his eyes in the moment before he looked down. She knew too, that those few words took the place of one of her mother’s secrets. Rose looked down to her plate. Her throat burned from speaking and she sipped from her glass. The food was nice, some of the best they had eaten in a long while, but she knew they’d never come back here. And she returned to her plate, feeling her eyes burning, trying not to cry.

Over the next few weeks, things began to change for Rose and her father. The following week he broke their Friday meeting, claiming heavy workloads. Because she rarely spoke, Rose could hear a lie the way other people would listen to music; the shift in the voice, the break in the pattern of speech. The summer ended abruptly, too, the sun simply falling away one day to be replaced by grey skies and swirling, heavy winds. But most importantly, when she went to sit on the stone steps on the Monday, the red car was sitting in the car park waiting for her.

It wasn’t the car itself that stood out. It wasn’t spectacular or expensive. It was the colour. When the sun was shining, the red was almost alive, like syrup or a sauce, like it could, at any moment, start to trickle off and pool on the concrete. Now the sky was grey and bleak, the colour almost sensed the shift, the red switching, becoming the colour of blood, or dead petals. And in amongst it sat the man; never moving, never shifting in his seat. He too mirrored the car; in the sun he was shadows and in the bleak wind he was grey like cloud, still unreadable, still shapeless.

The first day she tried to not take notice. She sat and ate her food, though she found she could not taste each bite, took longer gulps of her drink to wash it down. She did not mention anything to Mr. Meacher. At her break times she found herself drinking coffee at her desk, not looking out of the window, but instead following more paperwork, more filing. It was only as she readied to leave did she notice the car was gone, a small drip of oil on the concrete left behind. She walked over to the patch and knelt beside it; even though it was oil, the black seemed to hold a trace of red somewhere in the centre.

The car returned for the next few days. Mr. Meacher was busy and failed to notice anything. Rose took to eating her lunch inside, only stealing glances out of the window from time to time. On Thursday she picked up the phone and told her father she could not make their Friday lunch because of work. It was the first time she had lied to him. She thought her throat was on fire, it hurt so much. And just as bad, she heard her father’s voice lower, recognising her lie and worse, accepting it. She put down the phone and sat at her desk with her head in her hands. Then she took a deep breath and knew what she had to do.

On Friday she walked out into the car-park towards the car. She noticed how the wind settled, the rain eased. Before she could reach the car, the door swung open and the silver cane ripped through the grey and out into the air. Just as suddenly, the man pulled himself out of the car, in one fluid movement, as if he was spraying out of the tip of the cane itself. He stood before her and she found herself unable to move, to speak, just as her father before her.

“I knew your mother,” he said. But even though she heard the words, she did not see his lips move, his mouth stir. Instead she just saw the set of sharp teeth in his mouth, almost glistening with each letter.

“She was like you. Just like you.” He winked and she found herself flinching. “I knew her when she lived with your grandfather, before your poppa took her away.” The way he spoke, he made her father sound like the criminal, though she knew that was a lie.

“You notice you can’t taste anything in your food, now, Rosita? You’re mother used to enjoy her food, same as you.” He felt closer, even though he stayed rooted to the spot. His eyes leered, the colour turning from green to something darker, dirtier.

“She got that taken away from her. Guess I’m taking it away from you, too.” Even though he stayed where he was, she began to feel him edge closer to her, almost at her throat, her ears. She felt his tongue on her collarbone and wished somehow she could move away from him.

“I know you don’t talk much, so I’m not going to wait for your questions, pup. Meet me tomorrow in the old park by the church at dawn. Say six, before the first ones arrive. Our little secret.” His voice managed to grow even lower as he said the last few words, so it was little more than a low, dripping sound. He stood away and there was a blur of darkness, the cut of the silver cane slashing through the air and then he was gone.

That night she sat in her room, on the old white wicker chair. Rose and her mother painted it when she was very young. It was the last thing she remembered about her mother. She sat and watched the night form; the stars gathered and spread, the moon tilted in and out of life behind the clouds. It was full tonight and burning as bright as the sun in its own way. Occasionally she played messages from her father back from the answering machine, closing her eyes and listening to his voice in the dark. She sat and she waited, trying not to remember snatches of silver or the touch of the bad man’s tongue.

She walked to the park as the sun broke. It was cold and clear and crisp. She looked at the old church, followed the cracks in the brickwork and wondered how that made it look more beautiful, more alive, rather than fragile and old. She saw the old bell, rusting now and in need of repair. She slipped through the hole in the bushes by the gates and walked the long stone path to the centre of the park.

He was already waiting. Without the car by his side he looked impossibly tall and thin; a spike of oil, jagged and slick. The cane rested in his hand, a little off the ground, so it looked as if it could be lifted high as well as brought down sharply. Even though the park was in the throes of changing from season to season, all the leaves on the trees surrounding him had shed to the floor. To the left and the right summer still clung on, but nowhere near to him. She walked on, trying not to weaken her step like her father had. Remembering to stay strong.

“Rosita.” He said and there was a shift in his skin, spreading the teeth wide along his face. She walked up close to him, as close as the day before, the cane tapping not far from her feet.

“Rosita.” He repeated, not so much with his voice now, as with his whole body as it slowly lunged toward her.

“So much like your mother.” He whispered. The words began to pour forward now, splashing on her shoulder, dribbling along her cheek. He said other things; her name, her mothers, but they began to tumble and ball together across her body as one. The inky movement crawled along her forearm, trickled up her thigh. It ran along her eyelids but she did not close them. She felt it move upwards and over and all along, until the darkness spilled over every inch of her and there was nothing left, no light, no shade but only the dark.

And then she screamed.

With all her voice, her body, she screamed. A voice so full of force, of strength and terror and pride it tore against the darkness. It ripped and pushed and reached until the darkness began to shrink, to rip, to shudder and plead. It coursed and pulsed so that the darkness recoiled. Rose stood back as the leaves around them whipped into a frenzy and collected the man up in their storm. The leaves circled and spun and seized him up and wrenched him into the air. She thought she saw him open his mouth up, saw the jagged teeth splay and break. But there was no noise coming from him now. There was nothing but the spin of a thousand leaves that blew high into the air as one and swirled for the longest time until she finally let her voice slip away.

She fell onto the path. She looked around the park, but it was empty still. Slowly, she got to her knees. She looked at all the leaves gathered around her, each one crisp and golden and marked with the slightest fleck of black ink. She looked over to the church and saw a fresh crack running down the far wall. She looked back and saw a mark on the stone path, a mix of oil and something like blood. She pulled herself to her feet. She pulled her scarf tight and wrapped it around her throat. She began to walk, though her feet were a little unsteady. So she leant down and scooped the silver cane off the path and steadied herself.

She met her father in a Mexican restaurant in the corner of the city. He was already seated when she walked in. She looked over and he smiled, waved his hand. He stood as she made her way over, took her coat. For a moment he froze as she put the cane onto the booth before she slid in. His face paled and they looked to each other. Then he smiled and the grey in his skin seemed to slip away. He looked through the menu and flagged the waitress. Today he would tell her another one of her mother’s secrets. Her mother, who held so many secrets in her short life, just as Rosita did now. Secrets her father understood then and understood now. Her father looked up. He ordered from the menu for the both of them, while Rosita sat, happy in silence. He spoke for them both. He always did.

© 2010 Chris Castle. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Chris Castle lives and works outside of London, England and has had 300 odd pieces published in various places; his main influences include Ray Carver and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.
Black Lantern Publishing © 2008. Design by Pocket