Porkpie Hat – Ex Machina

Whether he met his end through mischief or dementia is anybody’s guess. I suppose we shouldn’t really have been surprised. After all, he spent so much of the time off in his own little world, anyway. It was as though he was, at any moment, on the verge of disappearing. Always staring out the window, he was, always muttering to himself, reciting what might have been scraps of doggerel or bits and pieces of old lectures he’d given in that broken English of his, always distracted by some vague fancy or other. Still, we thought it was quite inconsiderate of him to just up and vanish the way he did, and under such weird circumstances. I’ll explain it to you the same way I told it to the papers and the police.

In the morning Merle and I came to fetch him, just as we always do. It was his day for the shops and the barber, and then off to the food fair for apple pie and soft ice cream. When we walked in his front door, though, we sensed right away something was not quite right. Somehow, even as we were calling for him, throwing our voices up the stairs and down into the basement, we knew he was gone.

Strangely, the coffee was still hot in the cup. The eggs in the frying pan were on low heat, and still slightly runny. His morning cigarette was only half burnt, and balanced on the ashtray’s lip. I remember thinking that this must be how it was for the first ones who boarded that ghost ship out in the middle of the ocean.

Without a word, we set about searching the house for clues, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Of course, our anxiety became worse when we discovered his outdoor shoes still in the closet, and his wallet still on the sideboard. I suppose at that point we were looking for signs of suicide or struggle?blood on the walls, a tooth stuck in the floorboards, that sort of thing. Every time I opened a door, I half expected to find him hanging from the ceiling, or else see his feet jutting out from beneath a piece of furniture, or his limp hand hanging over the edge of a bathtub filled with bloody water. He always did have a morbid streak.

The only thing remotely out of the ordinary, though, was a small black notebook lying on the covers of his freshly made bed. Blocking it from Merle’s sight (she has a habit of ?over the shoulder snooping?) I flipped through the pages in search of . . . well, I’m not sure what I expected to find.

There was little of interest, though. There was a hand-drawn map with what appeared to be odd-sounding place names none of us recognized. Loose between the pages were a lock of light blond hair, and a very old, blurred photograph of a woman turning away from the camera. Most of the pages seemed to be filled with weird, nonsensical drawings. Merle said the scratchings looked like hieroglyphs, or sketches of things you might see under a microscope. I thought they looked more like mechanical bits and pieces, like technical drawings, like plans for some impossibly complicated and impractical machine.

I expect he will turn up, one day, in a shallow grave, or the waiting room of some inner-city hospital. The likeliest explanation, I suppose, is that he simply wandered off to find himself a quiet place to die, content to have his passing as uneventful and unremarkable as his long and quiet life.

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