Spring 2008, Volume 4

Fiction by Kasey Jakien

The Noose

I cannot tell you where the noose came from. For ten years I have stuck to the same routine before beginning a poem: I leave my apartment (a small, one-roomed place suitable for a bachelor) and make two loops around the local duck pond. Afterwards I return home, smoke a cigarette, and write one poem. I write at least one poem every day, even if I don’t feel inspired-- you see, I never know how a stanza will turn out—on mornings in which the muse seems to sing I might find myself with a few stilted lines, a crumpled wad of paper. But sometimes when I wake with a foggy brain I sit and stare at the page and play with a few words, and then a work of literature is born.

When the noose appeared I was struggling with writer’s block, and looked forward to my familiar walk around the pond. Upon finishing the second loop I had come up with a poem title and even an opening line. I mulled the line over in my mouth, speaking it out loud as I clomped up the stairs of my apartment. My heart, I was pleased to note, hardly trembled at the exercise. I looked up to see if the mail had arrived. It had not. I raised my eyes higher, and then the noose come into view, first by its thin, gaping loop, and then by its ominous stem.

Any man would be startled to see such an omen, such a wicked thing above his door. I started. I hunched. I glanced down the street. My neighbors’ curtains were closed. Closed! As if in anticipation of the event.

I turned, afraid that my watcher had noticed my reaction. My gut twanged with some deep panic—the sort of one who takes pleasure in anonymity, who fears the odd occurrence. Slowly, I approached the noose. I stood below it and examined it. It was of thick brown rope, perhaps an inch and a half in width. It did not look like a prop. It hung from a hook initially meant for plants. I had never had a plant there. I had never had anything there—in fact, I had not noticed the hook until the noose dangled from it.

My heart sank at the thought that someone—even a stranger—detested me.

It occurred to me to look for a note. Perhaps, I thought, there might be a little bit of paper under the door, or even someone in the house…. my heart! I swallowed dryly. I debated calling the police but quickly dismissed the notion. I do not like big ordeals, or speaking with authorities or standing on porches with strangers. I do not like appearing as a feeble old man, unable to open his door because a prank—yes! that must have been it!—was pulled by a lunatic (or worse, a sane man, a person with a purpose…) my heart! I reached in my pocket for my door key. Whoever was watching me, whoever was crouched behind a tree or shrub—whoever, even, was on a roof with binoculars—that person would get no more satisfaction from my reaction to his prank.

You might wonder how I kept my composure. I laughed. Yes-- a big, hearty laugh! I chuckled, though my legs wobbled beneath me. I shrugged like an actor pretending to be amused. I slapped my knee as if I knew my culprit.

Had any of my neighbor’s curtains opened and someone looked out, he might have been thrilled to see me acting in such a manner with a noose above my door—I must have seemed mad! But, in truth, I was acting in a most logical way. I swung the front door open, entered the apartment, then quickly turned the lock.

I decided to wait a bit to prove that the noose did not bother me. I would delay for one hour, than take the thing down and throw it away.

I smoked my first cigarette with a shaking hand. Usually I sit outside to partake, but now I did not want to leave my apartment. I opened a back window and sat at the kitchen table. I took long, hard drags from my cigarette. I pulled out my typewriter and tried to remember the poem I had thought up earlier, but I could focus on nothing but the noose. The dismay in my gut, the sickening loneliness—yes, that was what it was, a lonely sort of feeling—had not abated. I lit a second cigarette.

The hour passed slowly. I pretended to read. I wondered who would leave a noose above my door. I had lived in the apartment for twenty long years. I had not spoken to any of the other tenants at length. The apartment was at the dead end of a lane. I trembled. I glanced at my watch. Twenty minutes to go.

A sudden jolt of anger rattled my body. How dare someone who didn’t know me frighten me? How dare they leave a noose on my front porch, ruining my routine, the poem that would have been written? I hunched over the typewriter and began pounding:

Only the noose
With its evil eye
Knows the cruel hand
That placed it
At my door.

Aha! The pen was mightier than the noose! I rocked forward and back, typing rapidly. I breathed through my teeth—I even smoked as I typed!

Faceless hooligan or
You think you know death
But not like the noose.

I finished the poem and ripped the sheet from the roller. A strange desire overtook me; I found a safety pin and went outside. I pinned the poem in the noose’s crook. I cocked my head and retreated back indoors.

That would show the sane man or the lunatic, I thought. After that I continued with my day. I took lunch at noon, TV after, reading, laundry, another cigarette, then dinner and a bath and more reading and bed.

This was the routine I had followed for ten years. But still, as I bathed, I shook. I dressed quickly. The television hummed. I could not sleep. And all the while the noose was in my mind, that drooping evil eye--like the old man’s of that garish Poe tale……..

Could you blame me for gasping a bit in my nighttime sheets?

The next morning I opened my curtains slowly. The noose was just as it had been.

Strangely, I felt relief that it hadn’t disappeared. You see, an interesting thought came into my mind during the early yellow hours.

On my walk around the pond I saw the thick brown rope hanging from every tree. I envisioned it lolling on the neck of a jogging man. I saw it in the air above my head. I saw it on my neck as I paused to feed the ducks. It was a strange comfort, that make-believe noose. I don’t often give in to fancy, but yes—it was a comfort.

By now I had gone through half a cigarette pack. I had not asked for the noose to appear, so what else could I do but smoke if I wanted? I had spent the last ten years counting cigarettes. That was ages, years, centuries ago before the noose came, when I would walk and sit and stare and my porch was bland and there was no reason to gasp and shake.

When I returned home the noose was just as before. I marveled at how still the tired rope was, despite my movements below. My breath caused not even the slightest sway or tremble of the thing. The noose, built for death, cared not that I walked freely below its sagging mouth. If I asked, “do you prefer life or death?” the noose would still loll limp and silent, too dumb to share its wisdom.

I gazed up. My shoulder tapped the wall. I had been creeping slowly backwards. With both feet in the corner, perhaps because I was safely out of reach I spoke: “You stupid thing, you don’t understand life or death. You care not whether I am warm and flush-fleshed and equipped for your strangling. No—you are not temped by my pulse. You are not malicious. You can’t be. If you were, you would call me with that lopsided grin. Maybe grab me as I tromped down the stairs!” I clutched at the air. “But you are just a rope and knot, dumb as a buried rock!”

To prove my sentiments I stomped quickly indoors. Heart pounding, hands shaking, I scraped a chair across the wooden floor, then lifted it with a grunt and triumphant laugh. With a clank I set the chair below the noose, then grabbed a book from off the kitchen counter. Carefully, I licked my fingers. I coughed into my sleeve and slowly yawned. But as I read a chill rolled up my spine and halted at my neck. I hunched and coughed once more into my sleeve. I tried—yes, very hard—to focus on my book, and even began to read the words out loud. I began to pound my feet and click my tongue. I loudly gasped the words into the air. I popped every knuckle on my hands. I shivered--a third time—and glared up at the noose.

“Enough!” I seethed. How long it had been since my voice reflected such loathing! I kicked the chair aside, then again placed the chair below the rope, but slowly, sneering upward, licking my lips with tightness in my gut. My breath came hard and shallow as I raced back into my home. I shuffled for the scissors in my desk. No…. I thought of the garden shears in the tool shed. O gruesome weapons! A most pleasurable deviation. I strode through the grass with my hands clenched to fists. I threw open the shed door and inhaled the scent of dust. Rotted leaves. The aroma of decay. Was I mad? No, for my thinking was quite rational

and Poe says, madmen know nothing.

I thought of the noose unwinding thread by thread. I thought of my tensed fingers, the powerful snip. I imagined how I would take the rope and shake it in my hand, suddenly just a scrap, no noose, no silent ghost but merely a severed rope. Yes, I would reduce the sluggish sloth-weighted oracle of death to what it really was: a mockery, a spectacle of inaction. The damned thing leered at me in its obvious misplacement. No one was to use it--

I halted.

A weight, a calmness, a leadening and blanching came over my soul. I thought:

The noose was a hanged man by its own misuse, with only air in its loop--the lolling lynched.

I saw, once again, that brief and succulent thought, that rope around my neck.

I saw, in a deeper thought, the slow ark of feet in a listless whirl.

I saw, in my deepest thought, a blacknessnothingnessroutinelesstimelessness. I paced. I bit my nails. I stomped my feet. I gazed upward at the noose. I placed my hands around my throat. My knees rattled. I was very aware of my life-signs, my blinking, my shaking, my breath, and oh--my heart! My heart! Now a lustful pounding like I had not experienced in years! I stood on the chair—just to try the loop, and the sinister possibility of what I could do with my own little life. My teeth chattered, my arms flushed with heat. My knees wobbled at the thought of what I could do, what I had the power to do, what an unexpected turn my tale could take! Why, I could……I could……..I could hear my heart: joyous, sobbing, in my ears, alive in the face of death! My legs wobbled as I placed the noose around my neck.

The chair slipped—or did I lean? My hands clutched the rope. The noose in all its silence snagged me like a disease. My throat closed, my feet whirled. All was silent but my heart. My heart! Too often unused and too soon silenced. He who lives a plodding life seeks death! He who hangs in the snare cries out for life! Oh, my heart. My heart! My heart!

BIO:  Kasey Jakien is a preschool teacher and church sexton in Portland, Oregon. She has a degree in English and Classical Studies from Willamette University and has been writing ever since she taught herself how to hold a pencil. She also dabbles in entomology.