SBR 1.15 Endlessness

We are but space dust, and to space dust shall we return in the eventual and inevitable heat-death of the universe. Welcome back to Spirit Box Radio.

(INTRO MUSIC)

Hello, faithful listeners and welcome to another edition of the Spirit Box Radio Advice and Community segment with me, your host, Sam Enfield!

There has been a bit of a ruckus on the forums this week that I’d like to address before we talk about anything else. It seems like someone has gone and compiled a list of all the instances where Madame Marie mentioned the P.O. Box Boy before she disappeared, and some of you have noticed that on occasion Madame Marie did, in fact, express concern about the letters I was handing over to her. One user pointed out that Madame Marie said she was keeping these letters in her office, but of course, as I have pointed out several times, she does not have an office, so I’m not sure what she might have been indicating.

Now it is possible that Madame Marie was trying to keep something from me but I’m not really sure what that could have been. The evidence that has been presented on the forums is pretty patchy. Her saying things like ‘his involvement in the radio show has to be avoided at all costs’ and ‘whatever it takes I need to prevent him from participating for as long as possible’ are vague and unclear and I do not think are indicative of any clear intentions on her part, aside from keeping me off the show for as long as she could.

Whilst I’m bad at computers I’ve always enjoyed playing with analogue technology, stuff like old radios and those karaoke machines that were popular in the noughties. When I was really little I used to pretend I had a radio show and would talk to people who would contact me on my karaoke machine about whatever struck their fancy. It was really fun! But Madame Marie put a stop to it at some point. I’m afraid what precisely happened is in the foggier part of my memory so I can’t really say anything beyond that I was expressly forbidden from playing with anything with a microphone from that point forwards.

I would ask Kitty and Anna about this but they always seem extremely reluctant to talk about our past, which is really frustrating for me who would mostly just like to, you know, remember it.

Anyway, it seems all of your attention has been focused on that rather than getting in contact with me about anything else, so I don’t have any emails this week that weren’t requests for tarot draws, which I must sadly remind you I am unable to fulfil until such a time as the old deck is returned to me, or I get some kind of new understanding of the deck which I found in my continued clean-up of the Spirit Box Radio studio.

On that front, I have an interesting update to report to you all, faithful listeners! The Crystal Ball is back. I didn’t find it, exactly, but it’s… here. I remember overhearing Astrid arguing with Madame Marie about it once. Said it had strange powers. Wasn’t an ordinary crystal ball. I believe it is from Greece, this particular one. I don’t… really know what I…

{SAM’S VOICE BECOMES DAZED AND DISTANT)

The wind howls hungrily and whispers underneath the doors of the house, rattling the utensils pinned to the kitchen wall. It stirs the straw Betty walked in that afternoon after she’d gone out to feed the chickens, but not Betty herself. She sleeps halfway up the stairs wrapped in her best shawl, the only thing she could find without going back in the bedroom. The sound of the wind drowns out the soft cries from upstairs. She can’t tell if they are Peter or the baby any more. She doesn’t hear them.

The window panes rattle. Betty sleeps. The warmth of the day stills seems to seep from the walls of the cottage. Betty loves that about the house, how it holds the sunshine and keeps it until the night. She has always felt this place was more a person than a building. Even when Peter was away and there was nobody there but her, when she spoke in the house she didn’t feel alone. She was always answered by the soft creaks of floorboards, or the smell of familiar dust, or the ticking of the old clock that has been on the mantel-piece as long as she can remember.

She saw him again. The man in the flat cap and shell suit and

(SAM’S VOICE BECOMES LESS DAZED)

Wait… man in a shell suit and a flat cap, hang on.

(clattering, coin drop, glass clinking, books thud)

Mr Prakash, Mumbai, my beloved, wandering the streets and… there it is! Man in a shell suit and a flat cap, what was I… what was I saying?

Um.

Recording machine?

RECORDING MACHINE: Hello Sam Enfield.

SAM: Did you record what I just said.

RECORDING MACHINE: I think you may have misunderstood what a recording machine does. If you want something that listens in on all of your conversations you could always get an Alexa.

SAM: Oh, right. Sorry I didn’t mean to insult you.

RECORDING MACHINE: I’m not insulted, I am just amused. Ha ha ha.

SAM: Oh, I’m glad.

RECORDING MACHINE: I confess I was also listening to what you were saying but I did not record it.

SAM: You were? What did I say?

RECORDING MACHINE: You saw the crystal ball and became distracted, then you started to talk about a woman named Betty who saw a man in a shell suit and flat cap.

SAM: And the crystal ball, Astrid said there was something wrong with it. It didn’t show her the future. It showed the past. Shell suits… so it has to be from the eighties at the earliest, whatever I was seeing?

RECORDING MACHINE: Shell suits were standard gym wear in the 1960s so it could be as early as that.

SAM: Right, thanks recording machine.

RECORDING MACHINE: No problem, Sam Enfield.

SAM: Right, so maybe it has… something to do with… the…

‘Betty?’ Peter’s voice warms her like the sun shining red through her eyelids and she finally stirs. She sits straight, her back sore from her awkward sleeping position, and turns to see him. She’s always hopeful that when she turns Peter will be Peter again, and not the ghost that sleeps beside her now. In the sunlight pouring through the window set halfway between them, he looks almost like himself. He’s holding the baby in his arms. This makes her smile at first but then she jolts upright and reaches out to take her from him.

‘Shh.’ She soothes, rocking her gently.

‘Are you alright?’ Peter asks, coming towards her. She backs down the stairs involuntarily, but makes like she was only moving out of his way.

‘I just thought I’d sit a while on the stairs.’ She tells him.

‘Lucy woke me.’ He tells her.

‘I’m sorry, I was distracted.’ She lies. He frowns and reaches out, strokes the dome of Lucy’s tiny warm head, not yet properly hardened. Her little pink brow furrows and creases beneath her curls, the exact shade of her father’s hair and the texture of her mother’s. She shakes red little fists in anger and Betty grimaces at her.

‘I will make breakfast.’ Peter announces. He pulls a chair out for Betty. She hesitates, but sits. He kisses her on the forehead, then stoops awkwardly to kiss Lucy, too. ‘My girls.’ He says, over Lucy’s hungry squawks. Peter sets about gathering things for breakfast, counting yesterday’s eggs then grabbing a pan, as Betty proceeds to give Lucy her breakfast, her breast hidden under her carefully positioned shawl. ‘Perhaps we could go into to town today.’

‘Peter…’ Betty says quietly. He slams the pan onto the Aga and Betty jumps, careful to hold Lucy’s suckling head in place.

‘Alright.’ He snaps. ‘I need to get out of the house.’ He hisses. Betty looks pointedly away from him, her gaze fixed on the top of the archway that leads to the living room. He was out all day yesterday, walking. He came back covered in mud and silent, like always.

At first she had been forgiving of the silent days and the distant looks. He had come back with scars and bandages and won’t talk of being gone. She watched him from their bedroom window on the third night he was back, burning his uniform way out in the back fields. She never told him that she’d seen. How could she? She didn’t understand, and couldn’t, and at that time those things were fine, but it’s not as though her war hadn’t been just as hard as his. He had brought her out here, miles from everything and everyone she knew. There were horses and chickens and ducks to care for, she couldn’t go back to stay with her mother in Surrey and leave the poor creatures to fend for themselves.

She wouldn’t have been the most forgiving, anyway. Her mother never had approved of Peter. Not flashy enough, she supposed. Her mother dressed in beads and wigs and rose Betty alone, resenting the farm she grew up on and all things associated. Still, on some lonely nights she could empathise with her mother’s disdain for country life. Days and days where nothing would happen. Scenes that were idyllic became nothing. She would forget to eat, spend days without sleep, walking restlessly about the empty house. On Sundays she would go to town for groceries and to go to church, not that she was religious anymore. For of their vagueness, Peter’s letters had given her the conviction at least that if there was a God he did not deserve to be worshipped.

He places a plate of eggs and toast in front of her on the table, then drops a knife and fork beside it.

‘Aren’t you eating?’ She asks, then the door slams shut. She watches him leave behind the silhouette of the tap over the sink. She glances at the fireplace and frowns in confusion. She hurries to the door, still nursing the baby. ‘Peter!’ she shouts. He’s almost at the field now. The chickens crowd expectantly around the door, so she unlatches the bottom half from the top and pulls it close to save her shins from their pecking. ‘Peter!’ she calls again, louder this time. He stops and turns.

‘Yes?’ he answers, as though they were talking in the living room, his voice betraying no further hint of whatever rage he left in.

‘You haven’t got any shoes!’ Betty replies.

‘Oh yes.’ He says. He looks down at his bare feet in the grass and curls his toes. ‘I suppose I haven’t.’ He says. There is a long silence. The smell of straw and the bubbling sound of the hungry chickens separates them.

‘Ought you not to come back?’ She asks him. He looks up from his feet, which had occupied him the whole time. He’s a sight, all tall and lanky and sticking half-naked from his pyjamas, which are embarrassingly frayed at the bottom to the extent that they have become a little too short for him. She always wanted him to throw them out but he has this weird sentimentality to the dreadful things that no matter how threadbare they become he insists on wearing them. He hasn’t cut his hair nor shaven for a long while, perhaps not since he came home. She wonders if he’s scared of the barbers in the way he’s scared of her when she cuts the food for dinner sometimes. At any rate, she’s not opposed to the way his lack of grooming has affected his looks.

‘I suppose I should, shouldn’t I?’ Peter finally replies. Betty smiles at him, hoping to encourage him in some small way to come back. To her surprise, his face cracks wide with a dazzling grin and he laughs. The sound makes Betty’s chest flutter. Today, it seemed, would be a good day, like the day they made Lucy, sprawled beneath the willow trees far on the other side of the woods, by the edge of the quiet stream they used to sit by the summer after they married, the summer before Peter left.

He would write about the stream in most of the letters he sent her. He could feel parts of himself becoming lost, and as months stretched into years and the time she spent alone doubled the time they had spent together, he worried that writing about anything other than that one place that so often frequented his dreams, he’d expose how much of him was missing.

That was where he had been yesterday, although he’d not had the heart to tell her. He takes her in his arms, smoothes her cropped red hair, almost back down to shoulder length now. On those long ago summer days she’d lie with her hair in an orange rose fan around her head, or under her shoulders. It was a thing in itself in those days, her hair. So silky. In the photo of her he’d kept in his pocket she was wearing it over her shoulder, in that silky ruffled dress she’d been wearing when they met. She always rouged her lips. Now they are lined red with cracks and teeth marks where she chews them, and when he presses his mouth to hers he doesn’t feel her soul like he used to. If it’s his fault, then he shouldn’t be here anymore. He’d stood with his head through the rope on the tree, the rope that used to hold the swing he’d played on as a child, that he’d swung Betty on until it had snapped that day and he’d caught her in his arms and held her like a breath and kissed her like she needs to be kissed.

‘You’re beautiful.’ He tells her, his thumb brushing the copper freckles dotted beneath the purple shadows under her eyes. She smiles, and he kisses the tip of her nose and closes her eyes.

‘Perhaps we might go to town.’ She says. Peter sighs with relief and her eyes open again, their chocolate depths shimmering with concern. ‘Lucy has never been.’ She explains. Having finished feeding now, the baby lies sleeping in her arms. Peter takes her in his hands, large enough that his fingers lock over her tiny shoulder blades and his thumbs still overlap across her chest. He swirls as he brings her close to him, her long nightgown fanning out behind her as he does so.

‘Of course! Lucy has to see town, of course, of course!’ He chimes in a sing song voice, stepping around the chickens in a clumsy bare foot dance upon the stony ground. ‘But daddy will need some shoes to go to town, of course, of course!’ He continues. Betty throws grain over the stable door as far from herself as possible. The chickens hungrily crowd it and she opens the door. Peter dances towards her.

‘Daddy will need more than shoes, of course, of course. He’ll need clothes and a wash if he’s going to town. And little Lucy needs to nap.’ She says, reaching out to take her from him. Peter looks down at his daughters face and for a moment he can’t let go of her. Her tiny eyelashes brush her chubby cheeks, her tiny ‘m’ shaped mouth still a little open as though she dreams she is still suckling like she was when she fell asleep. Then Betty’s hands slot around her and he releases her tiny form. Betty coos over her, and carries her up the stairs. Peter watches Betty’s until she turns and disappears onto the landing, at which point he crumples and cries into his palms, slumped in Betty’s chair at the table, his right elbow in the cold scrambled eggs he’d made for her that she never even touched.

The sun streamed through the kitchen window, and the window in the baby Lucy’s room, directly above it, as Betty lay Lucy down. She looks out across the fields to the forest and covered her mouth with her hand. Betty wished Peter really would come back. She missed the man she married. She crossed the landing and wondered for a moment about going back to the kitchen and taking him in her arms and muffling the sound of his tears with her chest, smoothing his hair and rocking him as she does with Lucy, to lull him into sleep too. But she doesn’t. She goes into the bathroom and starts to run a bath. The sound of the water on the enamel drowns out the sound of her husband, and she sighs with relief. She sits in the water right away, and waits for the tub to fill around her, the water slightly too cold, making no noise and barely even breathing.

The air turned still and cold, the water in the bath still. A single drop fell from the tap. Betty reached forward and turned the tap. It squeaked. Nothing came up. She looked up. The curtains were suspended as though caught on the wind, but didn’t quiver in it. Goosebumps raised on Betty’s arms. She grabbed her robe and walked down the stairs. There at the table sat a man in a strange suit and a flat cap.

‘Good day, Betty,’ he said. ‘I’ve been expecting you.’

There was a small dog in his lap, half hidden by the table. It lifted its head. At first she thought its eyes were closed but then she realised it had none. No scars where eyes might have been, no ragged slits, just short, dense black fur like the rest of its skinny, rat-like body.

Betty sat down. ‘Would you like tea?’ she said.

The man laughed. ‘Ah, Betty, this isn’t about what I, is it? It’s about what you want.’

(WARP SOUND)

(SAM GASPS AS THOUGH COMING UP FOR AIR)

SAM: It was so clear and then it just, dissolved, it was gone, just vanished. Gone. I – I don’t understand it, I can’t, I.

(DEEP BREATH)

Who is this man? What is this man? I saw him… but I didn’t see him. He was there but it was like, like soap in damp fingers.

(RATTLE)

RECORDING MACHINE: If you look for him, you will not find him. If you seek him, they said, but do not search, then you will find him.

SAM: I’ve heard that before. In the letter, from Mr Prakash, about the man in the shell suit and the flat cap!

What I saw in the crystal ball was historical, it made sense, but that man. I couldn’t see his face. When I tried to look at him directly it was like my eyes slid right off it. But his clothes were all wrong. Definitely a shell suit and a flat cap. It was like whatever I was seeing was altered somehow, but what would that mean? How could you even do something like that?

I know from reading LBBM that crystal balls usually work by showing an impression of the future but this one is more like, I don’t know, a glimpse into the past. I think that’s what I remember Astrid saying to Madame Marie. It’s not a proper crystal ball, it’s like… like a Spirit Box. But instead of ordinary communications, it shows glimpses into the human pasts of nearby arcana, or something like that. I can’t remember clearly. I don’t know.

Faithful listeners, do any of you have any experience with something like this? Do you know anyone who has a crystal ball like the one we have here with us? Please let me know if this is ringing any bells for you. Those of you who seem to have archived versions of the episodes of the Advice and Community Segment when Madame Marie was host, please look to see if you can find any mention from her or Astrid of the Crystal Ball. I’d be extremely grateful.

In the meantime, faithful listeners, I’m going to try and get some rest. That…. Whatever it was that just happened, it’s really taken it out of me. Thank you for tuning in, faithful listeners. I’ll speak to you next week. Goodnight!