That was where the old man lived by Hannah Wilkin

Elias Winston Dodder-Smith stretched out of his nest with a raspy breath, his scrawny arms brushing against the surfaces of his many beloved treasures. It was as if his hoard was an extension of his own body. The articles and artefacts collected by a lifetime of searching, were extra limbs and organs. All needed. All vital. He lay back against the punctured chest of his favourite grand piano and took in his surroundings. He was absolutely at peace with the darkness. Pulling his hand up in front of his face, he examined it carefully. Gnarled bones and bulging veins writhed under the skin as he forced it to form a fist. The yellowed nails could barely scrunch into his palm. He was older than he’d realised.

Letting his head loll back, he collapsed into a space of tangled bed sheets and mismatched curtains. He knew exactly where each item was. Nothing took him by surprise. If he had had to explain the specific order or the logic behind the placing of his objects, he would have found it impossible. It was something he just knew how to do. The same as walking or breathing. He was never in any danger of having to explain to anyone however; Elias lived alone.

He stared up towards a beam where he had balanced a number of particularly pleasant green bottles.

That was a nursery rhyme. A song. He was certain of it. The thought of one of the bottles slipping off the ledge and breaking its neck on the fall down, shattering into shards of green glass that would rain down on him, flickered across his mind, and then left. What would happen? Who would know? Such scenes flitted through Elias’ mind daily. The thought of the cabinet propped up against the empty fireplace overbalancing and falling on him, knocking him dead. Or of wading through the bundles of fabric only to be sucked down into the dusty recess and choked and strangled and smothered by the cloth he loved. It didn’t scare him. It didn’t make him feel morbid. It just occurred to him, now and again. The thought of what would happen if.

That was how he spent his days in his hideout. Thinking and imagining. Imagining things with his Things. All day, and possibly through the night, (who knew what time of day it really was down there in the dark), he would sit, or lie and look at his things. He would move to different spots and examine in the deepest detail every nook, corner and crevice in the same way he examined his own hand. Taking in each detail. Wondering and pondering. Imagining the objects interacting with one another. Recounting their lives before they came down here. Holding and touching and stroking them. They were his world.

The glorious mahogany grandfather clock chimed the hours. He embraced the sound, letting it sing through his head, forgetting its purpose. He crawled forwards on his knees, the bone breaking cold of the floor occasionally submerged by patches of rug. His fingers danced across the edge of a splitting cardboard box, like a spider dodging its way around a bathtub. He dived in. Inside the box, rolls of crisp film crackled, whispering their stories to him one by one. As his hand dug deeper he touched photographs. Big black and white ones. Smaller colourful shots. Polaroid’s and sepia all intermingling, all revealing a better, more real world. He pulled out a selection of his favourites and let his eyes feast on better days. Then he moved on to the next box. It was packed with jars. He polished their glass before removing their lids one by one. The first jar he lifted to his nose contained the smell of shoe polish and new bootlaces. His mind filled up with memories of his first job, in the storeroom of a shoe shop. He remembered the boxes filled with tissue paper, all the shoes lined up in satisfying pairs, each partner mirroring the other perfectly. The laughter and swearing of the other store assistants. The perfume of the girl behind the counter. He inhaled a lung full. Next was the gritty scent of a childhood holiday at Scarborough beach. Salt and something indescribable worked their way up into his head and poured over him in a crashing wave. Last of all came the smell of his mother’s homemade potato pie. Elias breathed in a great steaming slice of it.

A sound outside stopped him mid breath. There was someone trying to get in.

Elias snapped to his feet. He sprinted around the room, tearing things from the walls, scooping objects into his arms and up on this back, filling his pockets. Sheet music of the songs he loved. The wheels of his best ever bike. Paper bags filled with conkers and sweets you couldn’t buy anymore. A pocket watch. The Christmas tree from his grandparents house. Shells. Toy cars. He sobbed as he struggled to cling to them all. What if someone was coming to take them away? What if they wanted him to look away from his things, into the world outside? He tried to push the thought away- groaning as he attempted to lift the table from the café he had always met a certain young girl at. He scrambled to the dresser, thrusting plates and cups on to the table in a hap hazard pile, praying that none of them would topple down and smash. Then he stopped. His ears strained, searching for the sound of a voice or footsteps. They’d gone. Elias gasped with relief and hugged his things closer, tears building up behind his closed eyelids.

“And he’s been like this for how long now?”

“Years. It’s built up gradually. At first I thought he was just reminiscing. But now…”

Worry spreads across the Old Woman’s cheeks as she stares out of the window. The Doctor looks away; it’s easier than asking how she feels.

“Does he talk about anything other than the past?”

She shakes her head and a tear trickles down a wrinkle like a rivulet. She brushes it away.

“That’s where he lives now. All the time. In the past. He just sits in his chair all day, sucking away at his memories.”

“Chronic Nostalgia. He’s living in the past and his body is fading away in the present. I’m afraid there’s no cure.”

The man in the chair is shriveled and grey. His skin hangs on his body like old dishcloth on a washing line. He stares up at the Old Woman and the Doctor from pinholes eyes that are consumed by the past.

He cannot see them.