Tú skalt rita inn fyri at skriva viðmerking

Pre-reading: The Shed

Find all the adjectives in the first part of the short story.

Tú skalt rita inn fyri at skriva viðmerking

Prefixes

The prefixes un-, il-, im-, in- ir- and dis- are used to give words a negative meaning.

Match the words with the correct prefix (opens in new window).

Tú skalt rita inn fyri at skriva viðmerking

Chris Womersley: The Shed

Tú skalt rita inn fyri at skriva viðmerking

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I still can’t believe how quickly he took over, or how he did it. Incredible how the inevitable is hardly ever obvious. I found him one afternoon in the shed at the bottom of the garden. It was midwinter, June or July. It was cold and wet. I remember the thick smell of damp earth. The clouds hovered low and it was dark by 4 pm. I don’t know how long he had been there – it might have been years. I wasn’t really afraid of him, although I probably should have been.

3

The wife was gone by this time, of course. Packed up some weeks before and wandered into the sunset. Told me I’d had my chances. Told me she was unhappy. Told me it was the end. Just the usual things women will tell you.

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I confess I was drinking at this stage and the house was falling to pieces bit by bit. The kitchen was in ruins, cluttered with pans and plates and takeaway containers. The lounge room was vanishing beneath mountains of unread newspapers and biscuit wrappers. The brackish air in the bathroom had begun to take on a life of its own. There was a pile of dry shit in the hallway, which was odd because I had never owned a dog and couldn’t even remember one being in the house. Some windows were broken and somebody – perhaps even me – had covered the spaces with cardboard that fluttered when it was windy. It was a large two-storey house but it smelled suddenly small, like some mangy cupboard.

6

The only place to be at times like these was in bed. I retreated from the rubbish and mayhem, room by room, until the bedroom that overlooked the backyard was the only vaguely habitable space. I climbed aboard the large, soft bed and hung on like it was a raft of some sort, floating above the swell of bottles and butts and broken things.

7

And you can pretty much do everything you need to in bed: eat, sleep, dream, stare at the ceiling and jerk off to your heart's content. The television sat on a milk crate at the foot of the bed and at my right hand was a chair on which was scattered an assortment of reading material and odds and ends. And, of course, in bed one can drink.

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And drinking – and I mean real drinking – is pretty much a full-time occupation. It’s not just a glass of wine here and there, the odd longneck after lunch. It’s true that drinkers are disorganized and irresponsible and unreliable, but that’s only concerning things other than drinking. A drinker might forget his daughter’s birthday or be incapable of managing laundry, but his mind is crystalline when it comes to locating drink. When he needs to call in a three-year-old debt of twenty dollars, or remember the Monday night opening hours of a bottleshop on the far side of town.

9

When drinking, there is planning to be done, things to be considered, decisions to be made. Total destruction takes precision and concentration. It’s not as haphazard as it looks. You can’t buy take-away alcohol easily at 4 am, for example, so you need to be careful of running out at an inconvenient time such as this. Far better to run dry early in the morning – but not so early as to be caught empty-handed too long before business hours – so all that’s required is a short trip to the pub down the road for your morning cask of wine. Drinking is not a social event, it’s an interior monologue. God forbid you should ever have to sit with others to get it done. Doing it is only half the work. There’s thinking about doing it as well. It all takes time.

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I can’t even remember why I went down to the shed in the first place. Probably looking for something to pawn or scrounging for empty bottles to sell. The only light was that of the late afternoon coming through the open door. Everything looked grey and furry. One wall bore the drawn shapes of garden tools, like the crime-scene outlines of murder victims. Grass was growing through the floor and vines curled between gaps in the walls. A light rain drizzled on the tin roof like an endless army of tiny feet. The shed smelled like all garden sheds, of dirt and oil and the bitter tang of fertilizer.

12

But there was something else. I was surprised to detect my own sharp smell, perhaps drawn out by the rain I’d staggered through to reach the shed. It was the machinery of my body, working vainly to expel the toxins I was pouring into it. I sniffed my armpits and yanked a handful of wet hair in front of my nose, but I was inured to myself. The smell was of something different, something muddy and fecund.

13

I stepped further into the gloom. An ancient handmower rested against a wheelbarrow, small packets of seeds were arranged on a wooden rack designed for the purpose. The desiccated remains of failed gardening enterprises. A battered paper kite hung in one corner.

14

I trailed some fingers across a dusty cardboard box of papers and books and reached out idly to caress a thick, squat roll of brown carpet standing on its end in the middle of the floor. To my surprise it was not just wet, but warm as well. It moaned and turned around heavily. I found myself staring into a pair of dark, apelike eyes, framed by dank hair.

15

By now the rain had stopped. There were just the sounds and smells of our breathing.

Tú skalt rita inn fyri at skriva viðmerking
© Joe Potato Photo/iStockphoto.com
© Joe Potato Photo/iStockphoto.com
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He sat in the kitchen, naked and wet. A grey puddle formed on the floor beneath his chair. The long hair covering his entire body was flat and black against his shiny, pink skin. He didn’t seem afraid, and made no sound apart from the occasional low groan, which may have been of distress or satisfaction, it was hard to tell.

18

He sat with his round shoulders hunched and hands clasped loosely upon his lean and hairy knees. Although his bearing changed very little, those large, sooty eyes circled ceaselessly and took in the entire room. It was difficult to know what he knew. He took no interest in the tin of baked beans open on the table in front of him, although his nostrils flared slightly when it was first set down. By now it was night. There was just the two of us. The back door and kitchen windows were all open wide to rid the house of his stench, a thick stench I could feel on my skin.

19

I was drinking from a bottle of sherry and eating chips from the local fish-and-chip shop, popping them into my mouth one by one. They were barely warm, like the small, narrow corpses of recently murdered things. I sat watching him on the opposite side of the table. Despite his hairy, unwieldy torso and barnyard eyes, he looked like a man. He breathed like a machine, deep and even.

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He was still there two days later, but no drier. His wetness was apparently something that seeped from his pink skin. The puddle on the floor expanded and trickled away beneath the kitchen door. As far as I could tell, he had barely moved. I waved a hand in front of his eyes, I held up a piece of toast to his dark lips. When I tried to scare him by clapping my hands or banging two old cooking pots together, he just angled his head away and screwed up his round face a little. His body made a sticky sound when he moved.

22

‘What are you, then?’ I asked. His unresponsiveness was getting to me. ‘What are you? Are you human? You stink like a fucking animal. You know that? You really stink.’

23

He sort of looked at me with his watery brown eyes and let out a rumbling groan, not of anger or frustration, but something darker and far more terrible. The sound vibrated in the air. I lit a cigarette and watched him. Smoke filled the small space between us. I drank.

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Some time later, the following day or week, he was gone from the kitchen. I wondered if I had imagined the entire thing, but on the floor was a shallow puddle, and closer inspection revealed several clods of long, black hair. I looked through a grimy window into the garden. It was still raining. The shed door was still open. I imagined him snuffling around in there with his long, articulate fingers and liquid eyes. I would wait until the rain stopped and the place had dried out and then I would close the shed door and set fire to it, with him inside. I could wait. What else was I going to do?

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It was only late morning and I was already in ruins. I checked my alcohol supplies and was relieved to discover an unopened cask of wine and half a bottle of port that I had forgotten buying. I made a quick calculation. If today was Friday, then tomorrow was Saturday, which meant I could still buy something locally until late if I needed to. Perfect.

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I cut the mouldy corners from some bread to make toast and even managed to find some coffee on the laminated bench under the window. The wife must have bought it before she left. I was suddenly, inexplicably, in good spirits. I ate my breakfast, shaved off several weeks’ worth of thick beard and stood in the kitchen doorway to smoke a cigarette. Rainwater fell from the gutters and eaves like a trembling curtain. God knows why, but the world seemed suddenly full of possibility.

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There comes a brief moment in every bender when you’re able to see things for what they are – not just what you construct in order to be able to keep drinking – and this was that moment. It is always frightening. I saw the tatty garden dotted with empty bottles and cans, the sink full of broken, mouldy dishes. I saw the stains on the walls and the wreckage of furniture, the cold skulking in the sharpest corners of the house. I held a hand in front of my face. It was like a foreign object, the nails ragged and worn, like something you’d use to dig in the dirt.

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I flicked my cigarette butt into the garden and went back inside. It was time to clean the place up, to try and get things together again. I walked into the lounge room. It was dim and musty. I opened the curtains and window and there he was, sitting on the low couch with those hands, as always, clasped gently between his knees. He looked up at me with a look of something like embarrassment and it was like the first time, just the sounds of our breathing in that small, enclosed space. We looked at each other. ‘What are you doing?’ I yelled. ‘What are you doing?’

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He didn’t answer, of course. Made no sign he’d even understood. And then slowly, very deliberately, I picked up the telephone. I was going to call the police, call someone, the local loony bin or something and get them to come and take this thing away, this thing that had taken up residence in my house. In my house. He watched me with those begging eyes as I did it, as I raised the plastic receiver to my ear. And I watched him watching me, just so he knew exactly what was happening, but when I put the receiver to my ear, there was no tone, no sound of any sort, just the humming silence of an unpaid bill.

31

The moment, it seemed, had passed.

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I woke up at some point in the day and waited. The bed smelled grey. Even from behind closed eyes, I could sense something was different but I was reluctant to find out what it could be. Whatever it was could wait. Things had moved beyond the point where I could reasonably expect them to actually get better. I could hear birds outside and the sighing of wind through trees.

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When I opened my eyes, it was no surprise really. Just his dark eyes staring down at me. His body was still wet, and dripped slightly, although the terrible smell was gone. Either that, or I had become accustomed to it. We stared at each other for a long time, me lying on my back under a thin duvet, while he stood slack-shouldered at the end of the bed. I’m sure we could have stayed like that forever, trading blinks, waiting for something to happen.

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After some time I pushed the duvet aside and swung around to put my feet on the cold, rough carpet. He stayed utterly still while I moved around the dim room and pulled on some clothes, although I knew in the time I staggered down the hall and through the front door on to the street, he had lumbered into my bed and eased himself beneath my covers.

Tú skalt rita inn fyri at skriva viðmerking

Task 3.6.1

Study questions

  • Give a short description of the setting.
  • Account for the composition of the short story.
  • Characterise the narrator.
  • How does the narrator describe being a drinker? In your opinion is he an alcoholic or a binge drinker? Give reasons for your point of view
  • At one point in the story, the narrator feels the world is full of possibilities. What does he plan to do, and why does he not achieve it?
  • Characterise “the being”.
  • What does “the being” in the shed represent?
  • Describe the food the narrator eats. Why has the author chosen this way of describing his food?
  • Account for the role that “smells” play in this short story.
  • Account for the point of view. Can the narrator be trusted?
  • Explain the significance of the ending.
  • What are the main themes of the short story?
  • Consider why the author has chosen the title “The Shed”.
Tú skalt rita inn fyri at skriva viðmerking

Talk about it

  • The narrator describes life as an alcoholic as something that takes up all of his time and requires careful planning. Does that correspond with your impression of alcoholics?
  • Contrast Jeremy Clarkson’s view on alcohol consumption with the description given in “The Shed”.
Tú skalt rita inn fyri at skriva viðmerking

Glossary

obvious

l eyðsýndur

damp

l ráligur

the clouds hovered low

tjúkt var í luftini

takeaway containers

n eskja til skundveðrar

lounge room

n stova

brackish

ringur, beiskur

cardboard

n papp

flutter

s flákra

mangy

l lurvutur, skitin

mayhem

n ruðuleiki

vaguely

l so dánt

habitable

l búgvandi í

raft

flaki

butt

n (sigarett)stubbi

jerk off

s fleyga sær

your heart's content

sum tær lystir

crate

n rimakassi

scatter

s spjaða

assortment

[as’sortment] n úrval

odds and ends

n smálutir, ymiskt hissini

occupation

[occu’pation] n arbeiði

longneck

[long’neck] n fløska

concerning

[con’cerning] fyris. viðvíkjandi

crystalline

l krystalklárur

haphazard

[hap’hazard] l tilvildarligur

cask

n pakkavín

interior monologue

[in’terior monologue] n innnara einarøða

pawn

s seta í veð

scrounge

s nassa, nápa

vine

n víntræ

tang

n ramur luktur

fertilizer

n kunsttøð

stagger

s vingla

vainly

h til onga nyttu

expel

[ex’pel] dríva út

toxin

n eitur

fecund

l fruktbarur

handmower

n handsláimaskina

desiccated

l turkaður

enterprise

n ætlan

battered

l illa farin

kite

n dreki

idly

h dovinsligur

squat

l stuttur og tjúkkur

dank

l slavin

puddle

n hylur

occasional

[oc’casional] l hissini, sum kemur fyri av og á

groan

n stynjan

distress

[dis’tress] n neyð

hunched

l lútandi

lean

l rak, klænur

sooty

l sótutur

ceaselessly

h uttan íhald

flare

s liva, røra seg

corpse

n lík

recently

h nýliga

unwieldy

[un’wieldy] l tungur

barnyard

l grovur

seep

s seyra

expand

s vaksa

trickle

s leka, renna

angle

s seta á skák

unresponsiveness

n manglandi aftursvar

clod

n klumpur

grimy

l skitin

articulate

[ar’ticulate] l liðaður

liquid

l flótandi

calculation

[calcu’lation] n útrokning

mouldy

l moðin

laminated

l lamineraður

inexplicably

h av onkrari orsøk

in good spirits

í góðum lag

gutter

n takrenna

eaves

n takskegg

bender

n (drykkju)tørn

tatty

l vesaligur

stain

n blettur

wreckage

n oyðilegging

skulk

s lúra

dim

l skýmligur

musty

l hýggiskotin

loony bin

n sinnissjúkrahús

residence

n búseta seg

receiver

[re’ceiver] n (telefon)horn

reluctant

[re’luctant] l trekur

duvet

n dýna

slack-shouldered

l sligin í herðunum

lumber

s hólka, flyta seg tungliga

ragged

l ótrivaligur, trevsutur

ISBN: 9788761657954. © Rithøvundarnir, Systime A/S og Nám 2011