NO ONE KNEW what happened to Charlie Bolt. He had a wife, somewhere. She left to find ‘happiness’, believing it was elsewhere. Instead of looking for her, fifty-two-year-old Charlie Bolt went the other way. He’d never experienced an epiphany on his lonely road. Charlie Bolt lost his job and stroked out on the floor in the bedsit of a rooming house. While the ambulance officers scurried around and humped Charlie Bolt onto a stretcher, he found a world of cockroaches and lost coins under the fridge in his room.
Charlie Bolt met strangers in the hospital who had sudden opinions about him. Cold sterility. He was Aboriginal and no longer had a next of kin. Charlie Bolt’s left arm hung, a flailing limb. Charlie Bolt had hours to ponder where everything went finally. Where was the feeling in his arm? The doctors brought his blood pressure down to 120 over eighty-five. Phantom limb syndrome would still haunt. Half of his body had been assigned to the elsewhere of elsewhere. Maybe it would reconcile with his wife?
He limped home after discharge. Nerve pain. Milligrams of little red and white capsules. Cigarettes were banned. Charlie Bolt sipped white wine. The other men in the house stayed in their other rooms. Everyone lived in opposing dimensions, it seemed. Elsewhere. Charlie Bolt’s room often carried the waft of toilet water. The landlord lived far away and only turned up to collect the rent; a landlord who never asked how anyone was. The landlord would not want to take his tenants’ ghosts back to his own private elsewhere.
Charlie Bolt spent a lot of his time staring into his right hand. The clutch of the palm. He thought of his grandmother’s wilted hands. She was buried on country: elsewhere. The lines in her hands. A spectre of toil and soap lived in her palms. The tortured lines in her hands and face. Songs of strength and maybe despair? The only songlines Charlie Bolt knew were in the curdling of crow gargles on the street. Gentrification. Dirty ibis flaring white feathers around the garbage bins, dirty beaks pecking. And the crows nested elsewhere, only swooping in this degenerative place. Coffee fumes from the city cafés; so close but far.
When Charlie Bolt slumped into the tangles of his bedding he knew the song in his legs. Charlie Bolt popped milligram after milligram of prescription nodes. Acquired brain injury. Years working with asbestos in a town where he had never felt welcome. Poor linen. A roughness.
But Charlie Bolt kept the little fingers of uncertainty away. Charlie Bolt never thought about what was making consumers get lost in those places where Charlie Bolt was not welcome.
CHARLIE BOLT WAS almost fifty-three. He looked into the palm of his right hand. He thought of eagle claws. He remembered walking one day with his pop, now dead forty years. He walked happily with the old man, noticing the limp of the old bloke, countless apologies for his shaky gait. A hardness the tender old man carried throughout his life and finally into the elsewhere…
Tablets for nerve pain and blood pressure regulation regimented Charlie Bolt’s life. He slept in more. Limped long painful walks to withdraw his rent, to pick up milk. Conceived his own spectral elements in cheap coffee.
Little ghosts tickled his crippled feet in the dark hours. Charlie Bolt saw only the back of a slender woman gently moving through his room. Her long white hair danced breezily. Did he leave the door open? Another roomer was listening to the wireless. A bat snarled in the night.
Charlie Bolt spoke the first words that had moved through his lips in days. He whispered: ‘Who are you?’ and was never served an answer. She walked into the only window pane of his room; dusted flakes of little cobwebs danced in the subtle motion of her sweep. Ghostly wind. It’s probably the medication…
Charlie Bolt hadn’t been to church in years. He considered the vanguard of a crucifix to protect his sanity. But she was gone and probably not coming back.
The air in Charlie Bolt’s room went from compression to depression. Charlie Bolt and his trim dark hair, soon probably to be messy anyway. Cuts from blunt razors. A thin alkaloid wraith of blood. Charlie Bolt looked into a disappointed mirror quite often.
And now there was the stacking of failure in a ghost losing interest in him; a bored apparition who had drawn away. He began to enter into a hiding place in that room of his. He lived a succession of stormy Mondays. Mauve clouds made knuckles above the black man. Rain-down a lasting quagmire of still-air. Clouds of broken glass threatening to cut.
Dark nights. Missing figments of imagination. Absent ghosts. Charlie Bolt looked forward to any impression of a shadow. He would snap his head sideways if his mind’s eye sensed even a trigger of movement. But what was he really looking for or forward to? Charlie Bolt’s days and nights lingered. Charlie Bolt was now characterless. Charlie Bolt was gaunt like an old tombstone.
The panelling of the rooming house croaked neglect, a residue of damp lifelessness. A roomer’s wireless echoed mundane dial tones. Forgotten men boxed in a gentrified area. Sometimes the wind didn’t even blow past Charlie Bolt’s window.
Mildew and rubbish clouds one night. The landlord had dragged the bins out onto the street. Enslaved refuse. Charlie Bolt lay in the flabby files of linen he kept to stay insulated. For whatever reasons the days dragged. Empty futures of calendar days in his midst. A left eye half-cocked into the night. A mind wondering out in the poor gaze.
A figure stood near the bed. A street lamp gave a poor chalk outline of a man, his back. Charlie Bolt jerked in bed and thought: maybe a refraction of flare from a passing car. But no.
The bed passed the noise of his waking through its frame. Charlie Bolt’s broken body couldn’t rise perfectly, erect. He rolled into a ball, bearing his weight on his right arm, and pulling his core strength. Without flop or flail. Onto his knees in the poor bed. Charlie Bolt felt his own wind and called a gruff, ‘Hey?!’
The back was that of a clothed man. Tall and really plain. Short hair and a strong spine, neck. A stance that Charlie Bolt was no longer capable of holding himself. The man’s hands and face were lost, but a slight translucent sparkle rose off the calm intruder. A toilet flushed somewhere in the building. A groan and the choke of tired plumbing. The man’s back subsided into a roll of the night, where he had suddenly never existed. The black of the trousers was the final outline to fade.
It hadn’t been a sleepwalking roomer.
Charlie Bolt remembered old nights when he may have dreamed of his wife coming, returning from elsewhere. Imagining the teeth of keys in the lock, clicking over. Nights in his silent mouth of sorrow. These entities, if real, now had their own elsewhere that they did not, could not, reveal after their exit from Charlie Bolt.
He was going to wear out the palm of his right hand. Charlie Bolt and his thousand-yard stare. No answers to put anything right. He couldn’t speak of this to his neighbours, his hollow brethren. Closed doors on worthless private property. This came to him in an afternoon, so bleak, at the close of a jar of cheap coffee. A weak spinning wisp of steam. Lame left hand drooped. Charlie Bolt closed his right palm; decisive. No more pondering into a shallow palm for Charlie Bolt.
HE BEGAN TO sleep with his eyes open. They burned the old oil of the past. He yearned for contact with a realm that seemed more interactive than the men he shared the building with. If Charlie Bolt was accepting of the idea of insanity then now was a better time for it than ever. His fifty-third birthday passed uneventfully under his door. The ends of real finances passed. A social worker rattled his dust: she smelt of an exclusive elsewhere, spoke in tones like those his vacant wife had used. Blues eyes and light features. A generous smile. The social worker more than noticed Charlie Bolt’s limp, floundering frame. An offering of food parcels. He was now a ward of the state. Incapacitated and ever lonely. He heard rumour of an internet that he couldn’t comprehend. Social services would send letters that as a consumer he must immediately respond to within fourteen days: haunts of a dystopian nuance.
He began long sessions of blank observation of the wall opposite his bed – where a man may have appeared; where a woman walked away on worn carpet with dead feet. The wall gave up nothing. Poor carpentry that might have once been quality. Nothing emerged, conjured by Charlie Bolt, even from the nail holes in the panel of where a clock or calendar kept dates and times that no longer mattered.
Charlie Bolt lay in his bed, fetal always, as much as his nerve pain would allow. A left leg that cramped in the morning. A left arm with dormant feeling then awakening like gravel rash. White-wine dawns. Little red and white nodes, 150 milligrams.
For the longest of nights no ghosts came haunting. A doctor with a small phone glued to his ear told Charlie Bolt about imminent glaucoma. Pill therapy. An itchy reckoning of more problems. Had Charlie Bolt self-medicated the entities away? His joints began to sound like the crunch of jam tins: metal grind on slippery glass. Charlie Bolt’s reality of health. Charlie Bolt’s dawning or dawning and afterlight. Next: The final frontier?
Maybe the visitations had been waking dreams? The kind of neural medium that could cause individuals to be committed?
Charlie Bolt may have seen in his faulting mind the blinding of a set of identically dressed men. The pair suggested twin brothers with their undeveloped frames. Ghostly twins hovering outside that dirty window of his. Their temporary glow rivalled a moonlight so brilliant it could be equalled only in lunacy. It was a madness so cruel that Charlie Bolt’s intimidating charges were ever unwilling to identify themselves.
‘Don’t even think it…’
He hung a stale towel over his one window; kept the light away. Light in his life failing anyway. A folder marked CHARLES H BOLT accompanied the visit of a home nurse. For Charlie, that ‘H’ stood for whoever. Antidepressants prescribed on prescription pads. Numbness on Charlie Bolt’s numbness.
Sunshine became Charlie Bolt’s new friend – and a black walking cane. He scraped the footpath. He limped lightly on hard streets, but not far. Not far away from any escape. With enough vitamin D from solar energy Charlie Bolt could have a happy ending. Leave a broken corpse a little morose but in the hues of a brighter life.
There was a short journey one afternoon that came with tiring pain in his entire body. The remains of a bird, life erased and wiped into the bitumen, caught his pondering. Its feathers weren’t even enough to recognise which avian frame it could once have been. Where had the poor creature’s soul gone? Surely the dreams, the disrupted dreams of any living entity had a resting place… A graveyard of unfinished dreams perhaps? Some cultures believed in such things, especially people of the soil, their early cultures.
The roads weren’t made for Charlie Bolt. Yet his dreams would one day be erased like those of the bird. His celestial nights and neural activity were neither what they used to be. Charlie Bolt could easily become roadkill like the bird. He was still hundreds of metres from his address. Charlie Bolt still had footsteps to cover to being a fatality. The elsewhere of his dreams siphoned in one false move.
Through a vacant lot he spied the aged cement spires of the local cemetery. Ironic that Charlie Bolt was thinking of such things. With his limited sight he made out the sign: DUTTON PARK, one of this town’s vintage lots of rest. He paused for a moment and imagined a forest of phantoms. Standing next to their headstones, with their backs all shunning him.
Charlie Bolt faltered and caught himself. The cane steadied his weight – the mortal weight he felt with every day and sensed reduction. How many memories were buried over there? Broken dreams probably made by broken ghosts on hallowed ground where they ran out of room for fresh occupants.
‘Don’t even think it Charlie…don’t even.’ A short but relevant mantra.
CHARLIE BOLT RETURNED from the walk drained. The hallway of the rooming house smelled of detergent. A wireless rattled somewhere and the bad throat of plumbing coughed. Home. He scratched the key into the door. Dark, musty room. Time to open a window; dry flush.
Charlie Bolt tested the air and hobbled in, the light on his back soon to disappear. He would fold into his darkness. But the shape of someone stood in a corner. A glint of a leather shoe heel. A faceless back. A dress and blouse. Mid-drift hair. No other defining features. She wasn’t that tall.
He closed the door. Shut. Charlie Bolt’s bad leg gave way into a chair, taking the weight off. His eyes felt the rest of the room. Only splinters of natural light. A roughly cuffed window pane.
When Charlie Bolt spoke he kind of knew what the response would be. Twilight of this day. Twilight of life. Charlie Bolt looked at the motionless form.
‘Can I…can I get you something?’
He did feel stupid. Charlie Bolt was finally speaking to a realm that shared an element of his existence – and he could only offer small talk.
She was motionless. Staunch spine. Like the others…the others: staunch and blank.
Charlie Bolt looked again into his dark palms. He whiffed the poor air of soap from his paws, his skin moist, and tried to shuffle in his cold chair. Still the figure ignored him as if a blank nowhere was better than this somewhere. This stranger in Charlie Bolt’s room could spin around at any moment but wouldn’t, and couldn’t, or shouldn’t for some reason unearthly. The plains of heaven and hell maybe weren’t there in Charlie Bolt’s room to mesh. Communion, choke.
It was Sunday.
She remained standing. Her back, her blouse, perfectly straight, skirt to the knees. Charlie Bolt himself was in the drab saggy wear that only an ageing stroke survivor could slip into. That womanly shape and her arms at their still, constant side.
And nothing moved for some time.
Falling light. The handle of Charlie Bolt’s bent cane was in his hands, before him. Variable strengths of light shined in the dimness. Neither figure had moved and then Charlie Bolt slumped forward, his forehead butting into his cane. Charlie Bolt dropped a tear from his good eyes onto his hand. How dry he was. This continuum of deadness. Not even a meeting of minds. Charlie Bolt’s visitor and her back.
He choked a breath and cough; maybe another tear.
They made small, fast hours. Charlie Bolt had sat for a period that the circulation to his legs had gone cold; cold as the air. Darkness overtaking the fallen sanctum.
And the faceless figure too lost an edge of definition over time. Hours were probably minutes: time-wearing Charlie Bolt. Dead time. The figure faded to just a thin sleeve of her form. Charlie Bolt saw small dust storms of matter whisk: minute sprinkles of light.
She was about to go elsewhere too. Finally into an infinite blankness, as blank as her back had been to him.
Charlie Bolt, all fifty-three years old and just as tired, cranked his knees and moved towards his toilet. The mirror on the far wall caught him. He was pathetic in her presence, he thought: everything pathetic. Half of Charlie Bolt’s face began to spin like swooping sparrows. Circles of black silt built momentum. Charlie Bolt sighed. The woman with her perfect back: even spectral in cast, little grains of pepper were now falling down and away. And with her final limb, fleeting, she was beckoning Charlie Bolt.
His chest quietly fell into his stomach.
Charlie Bolt looked into a mirror hung on the bathroom wall and exhaled. Into that mirror was focused Charlie Bolt, a man who had had a life without trying to be anyone else. He faded, slightly, and the deforming figment of the woman’s back sparkled, little flares. Smaller flares. The loose page of a lift-out telling the gifts of retirement living moved up and down. Poltergeist waves, subtle, without nips but with tucks into the oblivion of which Charlie Bolt could not speak. He spiralled into a ball, all his years, black skin blacker so…
This is not an exemplary account of what could happen to the sum of us. Charlie Bolt fell into a destiny unseen. There was no nursing home for his limbs, nor a coffin for his bones and their ending. He had ceased living some time ago, it seemed, and ceased existence. It was time to turn his back on a place he could render no more. And so in the break of uncertain breath and an unseen woman’s gait, Charles Harry Bolt faded into another elsewhere.