Previously published as SLEUTHS IN ROBUST PAJAMAS: A NOVEL by Pete O'Brien. SLEUTHS IN ROBUST PAJAMAS has been revised and the title changed to TO DANCE IN THE SILENCE for the second edition. In TO DANCE IN THE SILENCE: A NOVEL, construction work mingles with art student pursuits in perilous times of war and a monster, when Oscar must both live and fade, as he pursues the very forces that shape the world and give life a deeper meaning.
Inside this book...
Just five seconds after Oscar Wythe steps out of the sewer and onto the grassy area where work crews are doing a hundred things at once, the mighty Uglaff swings his grimy, armoured tail into the towering monument of marble, and sends it crashing down.
Wind ruffles Oscar's heavy shirt as he peers down. The hunting dog is safe in his arms. He hands her over to the stalwart king of 103 years, and holds up his cloak to shield their immediate area from the gusts of dust.
And together they walk to the docks.
The king frowns at the sky as the Uglaff flies back to the mountains. "What's on your mind?" says the king.
Oscar nods. "Everything for nothing. I have in mind a long voyage."
The king looks down at his shoes. "I can help with that."
"You can!" Oscar laughs. "No one has been able to so far. I'm a sufferer. I don't know much about how the world works. I invent worlds."
"Yes, you do."
"Really? You can help?" Oscar says.
"Indubitably. Now you can see what there is. Sail the world. And when things get strange, accept it. But beware the Uglaff."
On hearing those words, the weight of a mountain lifts from Oscar's shoulders.
"I'll cross the seas," he says.
Then, in the silence, more marble blocks tumble down to settle alongside the docks.
The ship becomes part of Oscar's life. It weaves into his core like a tapestry, but when he's not on it there's still work for his hands to do. He splices rope. Once he does his part, he hands the weave over to the next person.
Jobs with multiple workers take time. As Oscar waits, it feels like someone else has his baby to look after for a while. He finds himself not knowing what will happen, not being able to see or touch the fruits. He becomes a misshapen triangle.
So Oscar does his taxes. He knocks them out one day, and that's a load off his back. He can splice, whittle, and mow something again. And after that, he insets some grooves. A mower and groover must manage his time well, because the ball bearing rolls on both the top and the bottom of the board simultaneously.
Before Oscar knows it, he's waiting for the mister to mist and the courier to deliver. And he's back at the curb, cutting. It's torture to go about doing nothing, just waiting. Oscar's on edge. At first he doesn't even twist the brass. But the backhoe is done and tax audit is over.
Oscar ploughs the debris. He scrounges for grip hooks. He walks to the bakery and buys some cake. He steps inside a restaurant and orders breakfast, lunch, and dinner to go.
In November, Oscar sees nine flicks. That's about as many as he rents a year. He enjoys them. He takes an afternoon nap, then after dinner he sits down. He considers walking around the room, because walking is a form of dance, and dance can solve any problem, but as it happens he has the bug. He can splice.
Oscar splits the pieces patiently. His anxiety fuels what he does. He compresses Waiting in the compressor. He drills holes in Patience. He ties ropes around Anxiety.
When Oscar feels the pressure of uncertainty and disconnection, he takes that strong emotion and channels it into the fermentation distiller.
At critique time, Oscar stops winding the string. It's too much to do that and answer questions at the same time. If he's not laying string or directing traffic, he's not happy. He resumes steaming the canvas and tightening the bolts after knotting the strings, but it's not easy. Things grow wild and strange. It can be difficult to get lost in the fabric strip and wood pile. The discomfort Oscar feels and he himself comes out in the shavings. He can't shake it.
It's hard sealing a portal straight. Oscar tends to get lost. Then the patterns and tunnels go wrong, and in no time the surveying is a mess. He doesn't know where he is or how to get back to the pivot point. But if he stops, a marble monument loses a cornerstone of flame.
As he nails a coffin shut, putting the back of his hand against a rusty nail or two, Oscar notices something sticking in the works. He jumps forward on reflex only to collide with the king, knocking the older man flat on his back.
"I'm sorry!" he says. "It's a blur, your Grace. I don't see anymore."
Five days later, Oscar's lathing and bricklaying career ends because of twine and the assaults on masonry by the Uglaff. The king says, "Nobody wants expensive architecture anymore."
With twine, the cost of a build comes cheap. Gigantic spools of the stuff unwind around the clock. The king has access to whatever roll he wants to see and touch, and any artifact of construction on his list.
To make amends, Oscar gives him his best moulding and cast.
When Oscar seals tar, he thinks about doing shingle lays. But they don't pay you. They give you coins, like they give for etchings. So he doesn't do shingle lays. He still has ceramic slants, you see.
Now a tile person, what does she do?
She can't sell tiles. She can hang wire. That's it. But nobody pays for that either. Correction. She can't hang wire either.
She can pierce tiles and send them to her crew for their benefit only. You can't make a living, you see.
A band saw then? Well, people don't tend to steal a band saw. Go to a saw guy, and get the tiles that way.
So far scrubs pay well. So far oversized ceramic tiles pay decent. But the king gets his cut.
A tile cutter can do.
But tile staplers don't refine the slice.
A tile turner who doesn't disappear still has a crew. He can polish for them, and refuse anyone else. But he needs to make money, so he does something else.
A miller can parse with her gang. But they can't parse together for others.
Tile people and millers drop out of the count.
Dusters make money doing something else.
Dabbers, breakers, and hackers must make money doing something else.
Welders still solder. Oscar can walk people through their steel, even at a distance. It takes a while before anyone sees it, but then they marvel at the dusters, benders, and stampers.
An excerpt from TO DANCE IN THE SILENCE: A NOVEL.
Copyright 2023 by Pete O'Brien. All Rights Reserved.