Shaky

Dada always went to bed at eight o’ clock. He would say “God night,” and walk down to the basement. They’d tried to get him to move upstairs to the spare bedroom, but he said that he preferred downstairs where he was “closer to the earth.”

Asha and Adda said to him one night, joking, “Every night you say God night, but you go down to the devil.”

Dada stopped dead in his tracks. He couldn’t speak for a moment and then said, “Children, that is a terrible thing to say,” and continued down to his room as usual. Papa sent Asha and Adda after him to apologize, but his door was locked and he wouldn’t open it.

“What does he do down there?” Asha said to Adda. “He stays up for hours.”

“Who knows?” said Adda. “We should spy on him and find out.”

Dada’s room was generally quiet at night but they sometimes heard strange sounds. Little bumps and bangs. There were no windows, but through door cracks and ventilation grilles they saw lights and flashing colours.

“Does he watch pornos down there?” said Asha. “I guess he’s on his own.”

Adda said, “He wouldn’t watch them at his age, silly. You only watch those before you’re married. Then you do those things with your wife.”

“But Dada’s wife is dead,” said Asha. “Maybe he’s started watching them again?”

“What would he watch them on, his radio?”

They’d sometimes sneak into his room and poke around. He had the things you’d expect an old man to have – books, newspapers, pipes, and slippers. There was no TV set or computer, just his radio. Asha and Adda’s curiosity was unbearable and Asha said that she would ask him that night. However after dinner she said, “Dada, Adda would like to ask you something,” and swung her sister forward.

He said, “Child, what do you wish to ask?”

Adda was on the spot now, and said, “Dada, what do you do at night in your room?”

Dada looked saddened and said, “I write, child. I write.”

Asha said, “But what about the bumps and bangs?”

Adda added, “And the lights and flashes?”

Dada looked even sadder and said, “There’s nothing like that children. They must be echoes and reflections of other things. I just write.” Asha and Adda looked at each other and then at Dada. He did his best to smile at them but failed.

The next day Asha said, “He’s gone to the park. He’ll be an hour, so let’s take a look in his room.” Their parents were out so there was no danger.

Adda said, “But we’ve done that so many times before. We never find anything interesting.”

Adda said, “But now we know what he does. He writes! Let’s see what he writes.” They crawled down the steps to the basement. They couldn’t see any papers around so presumed that he must write in notebooks. It was hard to spot notebooks among hundreds of other books, but eventually they found a whole shelf full.

The hardbound black books were completely filled with spidery scrawl. It was shaky and diagonal, looking more like Himalayan contours than intelligible writing. They couldn’t make out the words – if they were words. Is this what Dada did every night? Write these crazy, slanting lines? Just looking at them made your head spin.

“Put them back quickly,” said Asha. “I can tell he’s coming.” They could somehow both sense things. They often knew when someone was coming, what they were feeling, and what they would say. They were back upstairs playing Ancient Warfare 6 before Dada returned. They laid on their sweetest voices and smiles for him. He may have been suspicious, but said nothing.

Adda had a photographic memory and retained images of the pages. They decided to research Dada’s writing online. The diagonal script made things easy as only a handful of scripts were anything other than horizontal or vertical. They found that it was an ancient script called Aramaeli that died out 2,000 years ago, whose translation was unknown. “How old is Dada anyway?” said Asha.

They tried to copy the script but couldn’t. It was so shaky and crazy that it was impossible to get anywhere close. They tried using their wrong hands but that just looked like bad writing. They put foam beneath their notebook, but it wobbled too much and sent the pen off the page. Then Asha wrote while Adda shook the table, but the table fell over. Asha threw peas for Adda to dodge as she wrote, but one hit her in the eye which led to a fight. Then they tried writing while playing catch, but this also didn’t work – creating a strange kind of word tennis.

Adda tied a helium balloon to her wrist, which proved the best method yet, though still not quite there. It gave Asha an idea though. She said, “Let’s tie our hands together and I’ll pull your hands about as you write.” Their spidery, scrawly, diagonal writing improved rapidly. Soon a page of Asha and Adda’s script was almost as good as Dada’s. They showed him the page and said, “Look Dada, we can write like you.”

Dada had needed a hobby to amuse himself after his wife’s death, and had studied alchemy. Twelve years ago when Asha and Adda were born, his alchemical writings had tapped powerful forces, but he was unable to handle their power. That’s why the Nigredo and Albedo, Red Queen and White King, Base Metal and Philosopher’s Stone had become confused. That’s why his beloved granddaughters Asha and Adda had two feet and two legs, but also two joined bodies and two heads, and four arms and four hands that could be tied together to copy his magical writing.

Dada cried and cried.

 

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