He waited a while longer, but he saw no return. He got out from under and he went upstairs. He laid in the bath and rolled another cigarette from an ashtray collection. The mirror steamed and rain drummed the thin glass in the skylight. When the water lost its heat, he climbed out, dried himself and dressed.
In the old room he rummaged the wardrobe and selected a pair of shoes. They were almost his size. They had been painted green, a long time ago, but he could still smell the emulsion. They had not been worn for some time and the paint had flaked and fallen away in places. He knotted them and walked around the room until they felt something like his. The shadow in the mirror.
He decided that he couldn’t go to a party in flaking shoes, so he took the tin of emulsion and the brush from under the sink. He prised its lip with a small coin. The brush was stiff with paint and held the shape of a flame or a cornet or a wave. He sat quiet at the table and daubed the shoes here and there with his fingers sheathed in one of his socks. He thought about things.
The clock read 5:13, as it had done for some time, though the second still hand turned its circuit. A series of fireworks started exploding beyond the curtain. They were accompanied by distant excited and disappointed sounds. The ghost was curled beneath the table whispering words, but he didn’t hear them and didn’t look and so, didn’t see to believe.
He called a cab, left the cold house and headed to the new year party.
The walls of the house were orange and arted with childlike faces. The rooms were warm and alive. The clock turned on time. He removed the shoes and danced barefoot. And, when everyone cheered and it was another year, he kissed her or she kissed him. They kissed and she whispered some words to him and he curled up beneath the kitchen table and fell asleep as fireworks destroyed the past. Reds and yellows beyond the glass and the light expanded.
He put the shoes back in the wardrobe and left the cold house one day in Lent. He borrowed a tent and a sleeping bag and spent his wages on a ticket to the far end of the county. He pitched in the middle of nowhere. The stars slid through the night. He traced the airliners and satellites among them. Rain followed sun and the water drummed the thin canopy. He laid in the tent and watched the mountains, or clouds, through the gauzed opening, in the offing. It was difficult to distinguish exactly one from the other. He let the sensation wash warm over him.
One day a fox appeared at the gauze and held its snout to the air and sniffed. He took this as a sign that he was human again, so he packed the tent and caught a train east.
By nightfall he was at the orange house. And though he never looked, there was no one under the table.