Excerpt from Robert Shearman’s story “It Flows From the Mouth,” forthcoming in Shadows & Tall Trees.
The curtains were still open, but there was no light spilling into the room, it was just black and bleak out there. And from my position I couldn’t crane my head to see whether there was any light coming through the pane on the bottom left.
I didn’t want to wake Lisa. I got out of bed very gently. It was cold. My pyjama trousers had got lost somewhere. I’d have had to turn on the bedside lamp to find them. I wasn’t going to turn on the bedside lamp.
I went straight to the pane. I looked out.
As before, the pathway to the centre was lit by sparkling pebbles. But this time the snow was falling in droves, big clumps of it, and every flake seemed to catch the moon, and each one of them was like a little lamp lighting up the whole garden. The flowers were in bloom. It was ridiculous, but the flowers were in bloom – the blanket of red and white roses was thick and warm, and the snow fell upon it, and the roses didn’t care, the roses knew they could melt that snow, they had nothing to fear from it. I looked out at where Lisa had planted the hyacinths and the tulips – it was, as she’d said, like a wave of blue breaking upon a brightly coloured shore.
And at the fountain itself. Ian was throwing up all the water he had inside him, and he had so much water, he was never going to run out, was he? But I would have thought his face would have been distressed—it was not distressed. The worst you could say about the expression he wore was that it was resigned. Ian Wheeler had a job to do, and he was going to do it. It wasn’t a pleasant job, but he wasn’t one to complain, he’d just do the very best he could. And the flowers were growing around him too, and vines were twisting up his body and tightening around his neck.
Over the sound of the fountain I heard another noise now. Less regular. The sound of something dragging over loose stone. Something heavy, but determined – it seemed that every lurch across the stone was done with great weariness, but it wasn’t going to stop, it might be slow, but it wasn’t going to stop. And I can’t tell you why, but I suddenly felt a cold terror icing down my body, so cold that it froze my body still and I could do nothing but watch.
And into view at last shuffled Max. He was naked. And the snow was falling all around him, and I could see that it was falling fast and drenching him when it melted against his skin, but he didn’t notice, he was like the roses, he didn’t care, he didn’t stop. Forcing himself forward, but calmly, so deliberately, each step an effort but an effort he was equal to. Further up the path, following the trail of sparkling pebbles to the fountain. Following the yellow brick road.
I tried looking through the other panes. Nothing but darkness, and the snow falling so much more gently. I only wanted to look at that garden, at that reality. But I could hear the sound from the other garden so much more clearly, I couldn’t not hear it, the agonized heave of Max’s body up the path. The flow of running water, the way it gushed and spilled, all that noise, all of it, it was pulling him along. I had to look. I did.
Once in a while the bends of the path would turn Max around so that he was facing me. And I could see that dead face—no, not dead, not vacant even, it was filled with purpose, but it wasn’t a purpose I understood and it had nothing to do with the Max I had loved for so many years. I could see his skin turning blue with the cold. I could see his penis had shrunk away almost to nothing.
And now, too soon—he had reached the statue of his dead son. At last he stopped, as if to contemplate it. As if to study the workmanship!—his head tilted to one side. And maybe his son contemplated him in return, but if he did, he still never stopped spewing forth all that water, all the water there was in the world. Then—Max was moving again, he was using his last reserves of energy, he was stepping into the freezing pond, he was wading over to the stone angel, raising an arm, then both arms, he was reaching out to it. And I thought I could hear him howling. He was, he was howling.