Inverted Spectrum


Raindrops shoot down the window like a meteor shower, their brief streaks of individualism dying as they plunge into the windows edge to recombine into a reassuring whole.

The train is stationary, the harsh strip-lighting from inside the carriages flooding out into the inky black countryside. Anything could be out there in that cold gloom. Anything could be peering in at us as we sit in this hot and stuffy cage, facing each other but not talking, knees and feet brushing together but feeling nothing but annoyance. The fat man sitting opposite me is reading A Short History of Anglo-Saxon England. There is a picture of Bede the….the…oh what was it again? The obscure? the impenetrable? Oh I don’t know. Didn’t he say something about a sparrow?

An announcement rasps out. There has been a fatality on the line up ahead. The fat man tuts:

“Why do they do it?” he says to no-one.

The woman sitting next to him shifts with embarrassment and reads her magazine with an increased intensity. The man in the seats adjacent to us glances at the speaker over the rim of his glasses but his eyes returns to his crossword. The fat man shakes his head and gets ready to return to his book. Suddenly, unexpectedly;

“I don’t know, with the way the world is today……” contributes the man sitting next to me. The question sways in the air like a noose.

The fat man likes this;

“Yeah you can say that again. Who knows anything anymore”.

‘Anymore?’ I want to say, ‘Anymore! Whoever did know!’ I want to shout into his shiny red face. But I don’t, I just clench my buttocks and dig my nails into my palms. The harsh light reflects from the fat mans engorged cheeks as he settles back into his chair with a satisfied sigh.

The carriage returns to a slow death by incandescent lighting. The raindrop meteors continue to sign their brief existence across the window pane with a flourish of futile fluidity. The outside blackness bores into me.

Sometimes it feels as if I am within touching distance of some real meaning, of the questions and answers that really matter! But then they float out of reach like a speckled butterfly in a darkening twilight, not because something has come between them and me but because I have just lost interest.

The carriages shudder, wheels protest, and the train judders into motion. Quickly we are moving again, an acceleration of frustration pulsing through that cold darkness, cutting an unhappy line of light from dusk to dawn. Now I remember! Bede said that a person’s life is like a sparrow flying briefly into a warm, bright feasting hall and then out again, back into the cold, dark unknown. And that, written in the so-called ‘Dark Ages’! I’ll say something to that Bede if I ever meet him in that cold dark.


© 2012 Thomas Halvë


2 comments on “Inverted Spectrum

  1. Nice — I especially enjoyed the last paragraph of how Bede describes life in a metaphor.

  2. thomaswrites says:

    Thanks, that sparrow imagery is one that has stuck with me for ages! The quote can be found here:

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