Wall of Days: Extracts
We present two extracts from Alastair Bruce’s debut novel, Wall of Days.
Read the review here.
It has been raining here for ten years. I keep an accurate record of time and can state this with no fear of contradiction. There have been whole days when it hasn’t rained and most days it stops for a few hours. But these are pauses in a relentless fall that promises to one day submerge this island. It is already saturated in places. The marshes have doubled in size since I arrived and the cliffs to the north are falling into the bay, their mud walls no match for the rain. It is a place, this island, that is neither water nor land, an in-between world, a world in transition. When I walk through the grasslands and the marshes to the peat fields in the south I can feel the ground give way beneath my feet as if it were afloat. sooner or later all that will be left will be the rocky hill on which I have made my home. The cave in the hill is the only place on the island that remains dry, and it is warm. I keep a fire lit and have fashioned a door, using the raft that brought me to this island.
The rain is sometimes so light it is like mist. I can see the mist creeping into the cave from below the door. It rolls in off the ocean and settles over the marshes. It swirls, eddies, faces begin to form.
At the end of each day I make a small mark with a stone on the wall of the cave. The seventh line I draw crosses the previous six. at the end of fifty-two of these plus one extra mark or two extra every fourth year I start a new row. last night I reached the end of the tenth. Tonight I will start another. Every year with the last of the marks I remember being told why we measure time in this way - with one or two extra days in a year - but every year I realise I have forgotten the reason. I imagine it is something to do with the moon, the moon I have not seen for a decade. so much of what I do, of what we used to do, is for reasons that I cannot remember, that I dare say no one can remember.
Marks on a wall. The second time in my life I have made marks on a wall. They mean more than days. I do not forget that.
I have been sitting in the cave for a long time and it is afternoon by the time I set out. after just over an hour of walking the cliffs come into view. They would be close enough to see from much further off but you have to round a bluff. It is an impressive sight, at least by the standards of this island. They stand vast, grey and crumbling, like a derelict monument to a forgotten leader. Though their decay represents the erosion of my time here, I feel awe, not trepidation, when I’m near them. The sea around the cliffs is tainted with the mud and is always rough. I sometimes think it looks like blood.
The tide is out today. The sea has retreated leaving a long strip of grey beach. The tides are extreme here. In a few hours the waves will be beating against the cliffs from below, the rain more gently from above. out along the strand I see a much paler object, so pale it is almost white. a rock perhaps. But it is different to any I have seen on the island before.
I begin the climb down to the beach.
a few minutes later and I am closer, my eyes fixed on the object.
I slow down, stop walking. I know what it is now. Now I can hear only the wind. The wind and the waves. Everything has slowed down. stopped. I breathe in, which seems to take minutes. I pick up a rock and I am moving again. I run towards the mound. stop again. Run. I veer off towards some boulders and crouch behind them, my eyes still fixed on it. My breathing is quicker now. It comes in rasps like it does when I have been chopping wood. It does not move.
I watch for minutes. The rain falls in swathes along the beach. I feel it run into my eyes and down the back of my neck. The rain is heavy and sometimes he disappears behind curtains of water. I have to wipe the rain from my eyes to see him properly.
It is the first person I have seen for a decade. He is large, bulging with fat. Not a working man. His face is turned away from me. He is lying on his stomach, feet turned in towards each other, his palms upwards. He has no hair. a white whale, and possibly a dead white whale.
The coat must belong to him.
In the last ten years I have seen only shadows. This is different, so solid, so unlike a mirage. I blink, holding my eyes closed for seconds. Each time I open them he is still there.
I walk out slowly from behind the rocks. I open my mouth to speak. No words come. It is as if I have forgotten how. I try again. This time it is a breath, just louder than the wind. I swallow and try once more. finally the word comes out.‘Hello.‘It is a whisper,a croak.again.The word is no more than a grunt. It still does not sound like the word I know it is. He does not move. I am now three metres away from him. I walk in a circle around him, keeping the same distance, my hand still clutching the rock. a dog with its prey. I can see only part of his face.
He is clean-shaven with heavy jowls and a double-chin. His eyes are closed. from his face I know he is not dead.
I crouch down on my haunches and watch his face closely. He is breathing. His bulk rises every few seconds and his lips part when he exhales. He seems peaceful. a man dozing on a beach.
His fat fingers rest on the sand. White worms in black mud. He is covered in drops of water, the rain or the sea. They glisten in the last of the light.
I raise myself, walk up to him and prod him in the ribs with my foot. He does not move. I lean down and shake him roughly by the shoulder. He is as cold as stone. His eyelids open. The eyes are red, the irises dark, almost black. for a few seconds he does not move. suddenly he takes fright, tries to shuffle away from me, using his arms to shift his bulk. He cannot lift himself. His breathing quickens. I hold up my hands to show I mean no harm and take a step back. I do not speak. Instead I crouch down again so I don’t tower over him. This seems to relax him slightly and his breathing becomes more regular. We look at each other. I can still only see half his face.