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Edward G Preston – The Recurring Knock

From Bohemian Bouquet, published 1980 by The Bohemians.

 

The Recurring Knock

“Mum, do I have to go to bed yet?”

“Of course, it’s late already!”

“But, Mum, I’ll hear that dreadful knocking again. Can’t I stay up till you go to bed?”

“No, go upstairs and control yourself. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a boy of your age.”

“But Mu-um.”

“Get to bed this instant!”

 

From the bedroom, five minutes later . . .

“Mum, can I come down and get a drink of water, please?”

“Get to sleep!”

“But, Mum, it’s hot and I Can’t get to sleep!”

“For heavens’s sake, get the water, and then get to sleep!”

 

Edwin slowly descends the stairs; slowly runs the water; and even more slowly drinks it. The lavatory is outside the house, so he doesn’t risk asking to go there to prolong things further.

“Now get back to bed, will you.”

“Mum, do I have to?”

The resolute look from his mother leaves young Edwin with no alternative.

 

“Can I read a book in bed, please?”

“Oh, I suppose so – if you must!”

The book was a discarded copy of the Sunbeam Annual – discarded by an elder brother. After reading the chestnuts, a new ploy entered the boy’s mind.

“Mum.”

“Aren’t you asleep yet?”

“Mum, will you come up, please?”

“What is it now?”

“Please will you come up?”

“Mum . . . little Jimmy said to his mother, do raspberries have legs . . . no, of course not . . . in that case, young Bobby’s eaten a caterplillar.”

“Did you get me trailing up those stairs just to tell me that rubbish?”

“Not rubbish! Mum, here’s another joke on this page. What kind of vegetable would you think of if a man were cutting his son’s hair?”

“Well then, what?”

“Parsnips!”

“Good night, Edwin, I shan’t warn you again!”

 

Half under the blankets, Edwin decides to read an adventure story from the Sunbeam Annual – not exactly conducive to sleep. In fact, it sets his heart pounding when he sees the picture of the Red Indian chief; and that . . . that pounding reminds him of the knocking.

He sits bolt upright in bed, convinced that he can hear that noise again. Knock, knock, knock. It’s not imagination – no, it really has started – every evening it starts at this time: knock, knock, knock. His eyes travel involuntarily upwards. He’s sure those cracks near the top of the wall weren’t there a few days ago. They must have been caused by that knocking – but there’s another house between, so surely the sound couldn’t travel that far?

 

“Mum, it’s started.”

“What’s started?”

“That knocking sound.”

“Lie down and try to forget it. It’s your imagination; I Can’t hear anything.”

“But Mu-um (in more raucous tones) – the wall is starting to crack – Mum – she’s going to break through soon!!!”

“Lie down, and pull the blankets over your ears; you’ll soon settle down.”

But lying down did not help; for within minutes, Edwin, trying to be brave, felt his face and neck getting red as he became anxious again. Now the veins in his head were standing out, and his whole head seemed to be perspiring. Once more he became conscious of his heart beating; and the heartbeats reminded him of the knocking. But now, he wasn’t sure whether the knocking was actual or imaginary. He couldn’t risk calling his mother unless he was sure. So for a while the heartbeats became the centre of concentration. Was his heart beating regularly? Was it a steady beat? N-o! It was, or seemed to be, somewhat erratic, and certainly faster than normal. Did that mean that he was going to die? No, not yet; surely not yet! He sat upright again, and out came the Sunbeam Annual again. He could no longer hear the knocking , and in any case it was no good calling. If he were to call her now, his mother would most likely stop him reading. Better to try to get involved in another story. Ah! What about a different book . . . Warne’s Book of Stories for Boys. Not that he was interested in that type of story; but it might pass the time till he felt tired enough to get to sleep.

 

Not long – only about two pages read, and just beginning to doze, still sitting up, when suddenly . . . . . . knock, knock, knock. That was real enough. That was not imaginary, and not just remembered from last night, or the night before. There it was – knocking on the wall again – sometimes steady; sometimes quite fast and furious.

“Mum – it’s started again – Mu-um . . . Mu-um . . . . . . Mu-u-u-u-um!”

“Whatever is it now, get to sleep – “

“Mu-u-um, she’s started knocking again. Can you come and listen, please?”

“Why does she keep knocking every night?”

“It’s the knocking in her brain that starts her off.”

. . . ‘But how can I hear what’s happening in her brain?’ thought Edwin.

“But you can hear it, can’t you, Mum?”

“Yes, I can hear it . . . but you just settle down. I’ll stay till you go to sleep.”

And so it continued, seemingly endlessly, night after night, week after week.

 

When you met her out in the street, she seemed a little strange; but only a little; and she still produced the customary threepenny bit for Edwin. Some weeks later, however, the insanity became more obvious in the daytime. She would be seen in the street, waving one arm about and suddenly thrusting it up in the air, almost like a Nazi salute; but not with the same purpose, as became apparent later. The next development was that she started shouting out; ‘I’ll kill her, I’ll kill that Dorothy!’

 

Now Dorothy occupied the house between Edwin’s and Ruby’s; so when Edwin heard Ruby at night, the knocking sound was penetrating two walls and all the space between. It must have been a powerful knock.

 

The climax came one morning when Edwin was ready for school. He had just said goodbye to his mother who was going to the local shops. Just as he was about to cross the road, Dorothy called him; only to say a word or two. However, at that precise time, Ruby came out of her house shouting: “I’m going to get her; I’ll kill that Dorothy!”

 

It seemed but a flash as Dorothy dragged Edwin into her house and locked the door. Next moment, Ruby was knocking on the street door. Now she was hammering with her fist, and hammering so violently, all the while shouting:

“I’m going to murder Dorothy Purkiss. Let me get at her – I’ll murder her.”

Both Dorothy and Edwin were in quite a state; in fact Edwin at least was terrified; especially when the door began to split with the force of Ruby’s knocking.

Fortunately, Edwin’s mother returned within a short while, and having a much stronger personality than Dorothy, she had the presence of mind to try to humour Ruby. This enabled Dorothy to open her door fractionally to allow Edwin to slip out and get off to school.

 

That was a strange morning at school. Everything seemed strange because Edwin felt so tense. He wasn’t normally tense in the daytime. He enjoyed school . . . well he enjoyed the lessons. He didn’t much care for the silly games which most of the other boys seemed to engage in. He was relieved when dinner time came; and at home once more, he was told the sequel to the morning’s events.

 

His mother had telephoned for the police to come. They in turn had called Ruby’s doctor and the mental welfare officer. Ruby was certified insane, and sent to Springfield asylum. This came as welcome news to Edwin initially, though he did wonder about the asylum; and the very mention of the word Springfield sent shudders down his spine for years to come. However, the afternoon at school was almost normal for him.

 

The sense of relief when he got to bed that night was marvelous to begin with . . . no knocking . . . or . . . was there? What if Ruby had escaped from the ambulance . . . perhaps she was back home now . . . perhaps she would be even more violent now, after they had tried to take her away . . . perhaps she would break down the wall into Dorothy’s, and then break down hiswall to murder him for his part in siding and abetting Dorothy Purkiss in her purpose of getting her put away! But . . . no, there was no real knocking tonight – only imagined and remembered knocking from previous nights. But many nights had elapsed before the imaginary knocking ceased. When, if ever, would the remembered knocking die out?

 

Some years’ later, Edwin, now a grown man with a wife and child of his own became tense when his elderly neighbour grew frail. The neighbour’s wife called upon Edwin and his wife to give a helping hand any time when the old man was not feeling too grand. The tension arose out of the elderly neighbour’s elderly wife knocking on the wall when they needed attention. Edwin tried to overcome this. After all, he was a man now! But he was not quick enough on this occasion. His wife suddenly noticed his face and neck becoming red; the veins in his head stood out; and his whole head seemed to be perspiring.

“What’s wrong, Edwin?” she said.

“Who said anything was wrong!” responded Edwin tersely, annoyed that his secret dread was going to be discovered.

“Nobody. It’s just that you look rather tense.”

“Oh, just that knocking on the wall – so unexpected – it rather gave me a surprise. I’m alright now thanks.”

 

Perhaps it’s not so strange that Edwin still shudders when he hears knocking on a wall – any wall – when he cannot see who’s doing the knocking!!!!!

 

Edward G. Preston

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