An unpublished novel (approx 150 pages)


In an isolated house that is being gradually invaded by the desert sand, a young woman tends her dying husband, a musician.

After his death she stays with the body alone in the house and is distracted by grief and assailed by memories and imaginings. She is incapable of leaving the house, nor of burying her husband and returning to the world. She becomes preoccupied with the idea that there is something else that can be done, some action that will require an as yet undiscovered strength and yet also a submission.


its flaming branches lashing what remains of the house

inside I do not turn on the light it makes no difference to him and during the past weeks I have grown accustomed to the darkness no longer bothering to turn switches removing the bulb from the fridge occasionally watching a candle burn itself out

day after day more of the fine grey desert sand invades the house finding its way through closed windows and doors sand in the bed sand in the pans sand under the feet everywhere the garden on the south side is now a vast soulless sea-less beach rippled by the wind very soon the house will disappear beneath the dunes

dark house cold even now in the depth of this blinding summer the air is rarefied which is why my eyes move stiffly from object to object and settling cannot see all objects have become screens on which I project all kinds of other objects and through these objects and on them further projections useless watching this tail end of life becoming useless to myself

hunger fatigue cold

no movement in the corner of my eye has he ceased to breathe

no the body breathes

quiet and still yet I can detect the movement of the ribs there are wide landscapes great tracts of nothingness between each feeble intake of breath like sighs or pauses while my own breath is held so that I may listen

five minutes of this is a lifetime during which my own thought gives up the ghost brain is numbed yet painful will someone come to sit with him while I bathe my eyes for two minutes and wash my feet for five

I have learnt some new games these weeks some multi-handed conversations some deviousness some fine complex adjustments some disciplines that have damn near drowned me some perversions strictures rules habits dirt uncleanness

she should stop


and bottle up

a sensible part of me prescribes a long artificially prolonged scream but I am afraid to scream afraid that even though he will not hear they have assured me nothing penetrates either this they have assured me or else that there is nothing there to hear no ear do they mean afraid because I love him that somewhere deep inside he would be disturbed given further pain afraid that no scream is lost completely disappears without meaning meaning manifestation effect

so I love him then

I reach out a hand and touch the white sheet that almost entirely covers the bed only a sheet in this heat beneath which he lies small and curled and very still the lovely body curled and still

today he is on his left side and is surely returning to a womb

until recently the semblance of movement a hand groping out as if to lift a glass or clutch at a pill and until recently there were brilliant flashes of life his eyes wide open and some vestige of humour mumbled quietly as if planned days before and now suddenly expressed upon the coincidence of my presence and attention and his accumulation of energy but now no more not a flicker

now you don't do anything nothing in nothing out nothing my love

 you are a corpse yet something strange still stirs within how long I wonder will you remain undignified beneath my gaze holding onto something that does not even promise a few shreds of pleasure

a few days I can bear

a week ten days I may have to leave you breath of air cannot be blamed young anyone understandable

of course of course there there

yes I’m comfortable which is the way out anyway

damn the shutter banging and another lamp matches a storm tonight that I must describe tonight blow by blow taking it into myself gust by gust hour after hour  drawn in carefully slowly to fill the emptiness all occurrences are catalogued passing indubitably through the process to be classified not of especial worth or interest of this I can be sure because I miss nothing the equality of events their non-specific gravity gives an appearance of calm and harmlessness yet I lay it all down as gelignite brown paper tubes stacked neatly to the roof of my skull

fighting through the rising wind I go about the outside of this lonely house pushing shutters closed and fastening back others that will not close they have warped cracked become rotten or else their movement is obstructed by creepers and old toughened vines and I am pleased that the wind sucks and presses at the flesh of my face distorting it I imagine into an expression of anguish because I am anguished and there are tears in my eyes because of the wind and because of my battle with the wind and with lamp shutters flapping shirt other objects that intense frustration and mounting panic that I remember from childhood

inside my back to the door breathing deeply I touch my face though the wind dries the beneficial effect of its massage is unparalleled my skin is young I remember

as usual I open his door very quietly and it takes a moment before my ears are attuned to his breathing the body has not moved there is no change no dribbling tight closed lids and perhaps for days there have been no dreams yet if you watch very carefully you can see that air still passes over the parted lips

in any case would I tend a corpse

tired awake I know I know what is happening by the bed this side that side day after day watching and waiting days in which the hope embodied in the idea of recovery has become the hope embodied in the idea of death stifled dreams

I know what happens everything is too clear

  © Richard Penna 2022