The letters on the walls of the room on the top floor of the West End tenement building join together, to create one sentence:
Lest we forget the power in words
It is scrawled deep into the plaster, the same sentence, over and over again, filling every possible space, etching itself into your mind as you take it in.
Lest we forget the power in words
Once it’s there, it’s never going to leave you. Like a leech that’ll never let go, draining a little space of your memory which you won’t ever get back. The spidery etchings swallow you, carve you out and then leave you hollow and colder than stone, shivering and unable to think of anything but that one sentence.
Lest we forget the power in words
There is no escape. Don’t think you can just run, because you can’t; the words clutch you, stapling you painfully to the ground. And you can’t look away from it, at the floor, because it’s also there, engraved on the concrete. Or up, at the ceiling, because it’s somehow been written up there, too. Closing your eyes won’t help at all, because the image is still present, right at the front of your mind. Over and over,
Lest we forget the power in words
All that can be done is to take it in, reading the same seven words until somebody realises you’re missing and eventually finds you, by which time you could be half starved. Or worse.
The weirdest part, though, is that, although it throws its whole self at you, all at once, you still don’t know what it is. It’s like half of the sentence is missing; it doesn’t mean anything. There is no sense behind it. It has been there for longer than anyone has known. Contact had even been made with the original builders and decorators of the building, demanding to know why the top floor was flooded with words. Of course, they knew as little about it as the owners of the place did.
There have been attempts to remove it, cover it, hide it, but no such thing is possible if one cannot move from the spot in which he is stood. Therefore, the writing remains on the walls of the room, and even though it is now forbidden to enter, people are still stumbling inside on a relatively regular basis.
I, myself, am not excluded.
Seven times, now, I have found my way into that room. One visit for each word, as many individuals have begun to state. How exactly I ended up there each time, even I still struggle to completely understand. Twice, I was accompanying a group of friends, too busy daydreaming to realise where I was going; Once, I was told that it couldn’t have an effect on me again; Another time I was carried there by a group of peers while I slept, and upon waking up, was suddenly hit by a solid wave of words. Once I was drowsy from an anaesthetic, and managed to forget the way to the correct apartment, which was, above all, rather embarrassing. On another occasion, I went to rescue another person, but ended up stuck there with him, instead. And the last time I entered, I was lonely. The most familiar thing I could be with at the time was the sentence which had lived inside my mind for so many years already, so I went up and let it wash over me, let the ocean of words swallow me whole. And though it hurt, as it always does, it was almost sort of enjoyable to feel so close to something, as I never have before. Or since.
Of course, it is dangerous. Of course, I could have died, had I not been found and saved, each time. I had plenty of people to remind me of that, each of the seven times I had been up there, and many more reminders aside.
But there is a danger in everything; we must just learn to live around it. And that is exactly what the people have done. We put up with the buzz of words at the back of our heads, do the best we can to ignore it, and to prevent others from having to suffer from it. The world continues to turn, people continue to work, to talk, to rest, the plants continue to grow, and the top floor remains a mystery which everybody tries their very best to avoid.
I turn the last corner of the fourth staircase and duck into the left corridor. I say corridor, but since there are only two doors, it’s really not worthy of such a title. I unclip a key from the belt loop of my jeans, slot it into the gold-coloured lock on the right door, twist my wrist and push forwards with my shoulder. With a little effort, the door swings open and I yank the key free before stepping inside and slamming it shut behind me.
“It’s force like that which makes it difficult to open in the first place, Andi.” An exasperated voice comes from across the room. I look, to see my mother sat at the table, not looking up from the A4 notebook in front of her.
“Sorry,” I sigh, slinging my bag into a corner and setting all navigation targets for the fridge. I pull the electronic plugs from my ears and hit the off switch on the device in my pocket, before swinging open the fridge door and peering at the contents. I frown at the lack of food, and pull an orange juice carton from a shelf in the lower door, setting it aside on the worktop. I turn around, letting the door swing shut of its own accord, and, taking a glass from the rack by the sink, I turn back, just in time to see the orange carton tip over the edge of the worktop, and hit the ground with an unsatisfactory thud. Hurriedly, I whip a cloth from the surface and replace it with the glass, which spins uncontrollably and almost tips, too. Cursing under my breath, I catch the glass and steady it on the worktop, before lowering myself to the ground, lifting the upset carton and mopping up the orange mess on the floor. Behind me, the tap drips slowly, and I stand up, dropping the cloth beside the sink and pushing the tap to halt, wondering how long it had been like that.
Letting out another sigh, I pour the remaining orange juice into the glass, leave the empty carton on the counter and walk over to the table where my mother is still sat, gazing down at the notebook. As I approach her, I look at the notebook to see that it is blank, without so much as a dot of ink on it.
“Not going too well?” I ask, taking a swig from the glass in my hand, and walking towards some cupboards at the far end of the room.
“No,” She sighs, in reply, “Not too well at all, Andi...”
I open the doors of one of the cupboards and retrieve a large, leather-bound book, cringing slightly as the other volumes on the shelf topple sideways into the gap I’d left.
My mother sighs to herself, tapping her pen against the paper, and I return to the table, sliding the book across the oak surface towards her.
At this, she looks up and frowns for a second, before her furrowed eyebrows rise and the skin beside her eyes crinkle with the smile her lips curl into.
It’s an old story, the dictionary. Once, way back when Matthaios was no taller than this table, I only a little taller than that, my mother was sitting in a chair, watching the fire burn away, and sighing every so often, until eventually Thaios quietly asked her what was the matter. Our mother had sighed quietly and gave him a weak smile, before replying,
"I've run out of words, Math." She'd said, "It's like there's not another one left in me." And she looked back to the fire again, shaking her head sadly.
The days following this, Matthaios fell as quiet as mother had, and I'd begun to worry about both of them, when Matt came to me with a request.
He asked me to take him out to the town, the next day, and I'd asked him why, because it's not easy to get to town, and would any of the smaller shops closer to the flat do, instead? But he insisted that the shops nearby didn't have what he needed.
"Well, what is it that you need?" I'd replied, but he wouldn't say a thing but that 'it's for mother'.
Eventually, that weekend, I took him out on the hour-long walk into the town, and asked him where it was he wanted to go. He led me into a bookshop, and spent a long time at the back of the shop, while I looked through art supplies and gift cards and pens and pencils and notebooks.
Eventually, he emerged from the back, walking slowly and obviously struggling to hold up a huge, black, leather-bound book.
I frowned at him but he just frowned back. "It's for mother," he said, and I gave a little sigh, but the expression on his face swept that away, and I shot him a grin. "Oh, alright, then.” I said, taking the book from his arms. It was heavy. "And I suppose you'll be wanting me to carry this all the way back, for you too, eh?" The grin spread on my face, teasingly, but he just shook his head, eyes wide.
I frowned again, but said nothing, carried the book to the till, and paid for it with the money I'd earned from my first week of tending the tenement library. As soon as we'd left the shop, Thaios had taken the book from me, and struggled with it the whole walk back, refusing to let me take it when I offered. By the time we arrived home, evening had set and mother was working slowly and silently in the kitchen.
Matthaios disappeared into his own room with the book, and didn't come out until the midway through the next day, except to eat. When he finally emerged, mother was sat on a chair, with a pencil and a notebook untouched on the low table in front of her. Thaios approached her, slowly, and held out the book with both hands. She looked down at him, lips slightly parted, brow furrowed a little, and eyes moist.
"It's a dictionary," He'd said, "To help you find more words."
And she smiled, then, a real smile, for the first time in days. She took the book from him, turned it over in her hands, opened it up and flicked through the pages, taking it in, before setting it down on her lap, and pulling her arms around Thaios, embracing him in a hug.
And then, she picked the notebook and the pencil from the table, put one to the other, and began to write in slow, graceful loops and folds, each letter flowing into the next, in the elegant fashion of beauty and the flat filled slowly with the heart-warming sensation that can only be felt by watching her write, watching those letters join to words which flow into sentences, separated by paragraphs and eventually all joining together to become a story.
And that's just what she does now, taking her pen and spilling the ink out of it in beautiful patterns and perfectly executed letters, the words suddenly coming straight back to her, and as she finds her flow of writing again, I turn and walk into the next room, sipping my orange juice contentedly.