One day they found him under the bed curled tight, pressed against the wall. For as long as they could remember he had been in the habit of hiding objects in boxes, in drawers, in holes he dug in the garden. Sometimes, when they sat down to a meal after calling for him in vain, he would suddenly appear from under the table. But when they found him that day under the bed it was different. He wouldn’t come out and they had to pull the bed aside and haul him to his feet. His pockets were stuffed with objects: pebbles, a rusty spoon, two pen-nibs, a half-sucked sweet. When they asked him what he was up to he wouldn’t reply. They pleaded, threatened, cajoled. When they finally gave up he went back to his place under the bed.
He was no trouble at school, did his homework, bothered nobody. But he began to spend more and more time in cupboards, sitting in the dark, or crouched in a corner of the pantry, behind the potatoes. In the attic they found an inlaid mother-of-pearl box with a cricket ball nestling inside. When they tackled him about it he only shook his head, so they desisted and hoped the fad would pass.
No one ever complained of him but he was not interested in his work at school and left as soon as he could. He was never a burden to them, was never out of work, though he rarely held down any job for very long. One day he disappeared, and when he turned up again he told them he had found a room nearer his work.
In his new room he fitted out a workbench and began to make little boxes for himself out of bits of wood he found lying on dumps, and then more elaborate things: cupboards, boats, mysterious contraptions with shelves and holes and little passages and conduits, linking one part of the interior to another. Inside these spaces and holes stood little wooden men, sometimes with trays in their hands, staring straight ahead of them, birds with beady eyes, giraffes. The door into the dark spaces was always half-open, so that the figure was both concealed and revealed. Look, he said to his mother. Look, look inside. And closed the little door.
The objects proliferated, grew more complex. He gave up his job and concentrated on his craft. He spent hours walking the streets, looking for likely pieces of wood. Sometimes he took trips to the seaside and collected hard grainy driftwood. Back in his room he sawed and chiselled and sandpapered. He used no nails, only wooden pins he made himself. The objects, looking like a cross between old butter-churns and complicated toys, stood in rows against the walls of his room. There is nothing inside them, he said to his father. And held the little doors closed. Nothing inside.
The room is empty now. He has gone, taking his possessions with him. In an empty, derelict house, not far from the station, the police have found a number of strange objects: little cabinets with multiple divisions and, here and there, behind half-open doors, tiny wooden figures, round-eyed, staring straight ahead in the dark. The house is crumbling, deserted. The police take away the objects and then, when no one claims them, smash them up and throw them away.
There are no objects any more. There were never any objects. Now you know. Don’t look for me. By the time you read this I will be far away. You will never find me.
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