A Life of Man

“Alternatively, a Man Who Fills Ledgers”

He gets his head out of a bag while the orange-haired kid on the TV flips some Yank coin and says: “I’m thinkin’ Lincoln.” He never saw a bag of crisps so big in all his life and now here he is, gorging himself. A woman’s voice says: “Jesus, you good for nothing, you watching that fucking show again? And stop eating so many crisps, fuck sake.” He puts the bag down now and turns the TV over to some stupid show his mother likes, Trisha or some shit, and leaves the room. Five minutes later his shoes are tap tap tap on cracked patchwork tarmac, same all through this suburb and all the other suburbs and also in town. He doesn’t like it, no good for skateboards and besides batty old bitches are always at you like “Jesus Mary and Joseph!” The fuck are they going to do you daft old cunt? Bollocks to the lot of them, they don’t get it. But when he reaches the corner with the heavy shade from all the trees, he sees blood. Suddenly he’s not so tough. The man with the gun gets into a plateless Jag, all business like, says: “Awight kidda, awight, you tellem fakkin koppaz itz rowlow bawzaggee wot dunnit awight?” He goes to wherever it is people like him go in their plateless Jags, and the Kid is left with the far from immaculate corpse. Rollo Borzaghe, who the fuck? Fuck it, get the police. The police are got. Fuck it. Yeah yeah itz rowlow fakkin bawzaggee innit ya fakkin fiwf nah fakkawf ya fakkin koppa fakk! So the policeman says: “Yoo souwim wot dunnit?” The Kid says: “No, just the wun wot sezzee dunnit.” And the policeman says: “Oo wozzee?” Kid says: “Ee sezzee woz rowlow fakkin bawzaggee.” Policeman says: “Rowlow fakkin bawzaggee?! Fakkin ehw!” And he’s off, a couple of official sounding things in his radio, some reciprocal click click buzz buzz; the car gathers friction and wails off in the direction of the car purportedly driven by Rollo Borzaghe. The Kid returns home, duty for the day done, feels pretty good. And now the news on TV says some policeman was shot and it was Rollo Borzaghe that had done the shooting. That was the second, or third, fourth, fifth, tenth, fuck it, hundredth for all he knew. Borzaghe must keep shooting, it seems to the Kid, why else would he be so vocal, so adamant about claiming the kills for himself? Borzaghe is a compulsive shooter and an exhibitionist, he concludes. But now it’s some music video shit so he goes upstairs and fuck music videos they’re all fucking shit. The Kid sits on his bed and there is nothing to do. “Are you back already, fuck sake!” Yeah yeah fuck sake fuck off. The door was open, now it is closed. He is alone, but he can still hear that fucking music video show, so he puts on his headphones and then he’s away. He’s in two places now, still in one, moving or being moved in the other, a passive, insignificant mote, but then he gets fucking hiccups or hiccough he sometimes hears them say but it isn’t painful, it’s just annoying. He thinks about Rollo Borzaghe and for a minute, under the influence of the environment made unreal by the artifice of music, he can make a connection, a feeling of connectedness between the hiccups and the gunshots, but as soon as he takes the cans off it just seems like something a fucking idiot would come up with. So he plays a video game for all of five minutes because video games are fucking shit. “You gonna sit in there all day, fuck sake!” Door is closed, from behind it the voice gets louder but it peaks fast and gets quieter again like something from classical music but he doesn’t listen to that music just music with a beat a solid beat a rhythm straight square even and absolute no ornament no extras just the beat and the way it consumes everything the way it consumes reality almost and makes the day more than a sequence of events an experience of a different world beyond the physical. Fuck it. He doesn’t philosophise, he’s the Kid, so fuck it. But still music has something, a mystery that refuses be solved, can’t be solved because all it is is sounds right? But he doesn’t really care about music, he never has, it’s the beat, always the beat, but really it needs the other stuff because it’s a process you have to go though, filtering it all out to get to get to the purity of the beat. He doesn’t philosophise. Fuck it. It comes naturally, it’s the kind of thing you find your way into, involuntarily you find yourself doing it because it is somehow relevant to who you are, a process that is singularly linked, or so you think when you’re in that bubble, to you. The Kid goes out for another walk fuck sake. He does not go the way he went to find the body, he doesn’t want to get involved with that. He is already involved but he doesn’t want to become involved personally, he just saw a bloke shooting another bloke and driving away. Actually he only saw the last part, and the man shouting eez rowlow fakkin bawzaggee wot dunnit awight. He found the body, he found the man who put the body where it was, or rather the man who needed to tell someone he was the man who had put it where it was, or that man had found him, and then the police, and that was it. He sent the policeman to his death. No, just gave him some information and he left of his own accord. The policeman had bolted as soon as he’d heard the name Rollo Borzaghe, and it didn’t turn out so well for him. This is not the Kid’s problem. It’s out of his hands. He’s thirty-five and it’s out of his hands. He’s at the office. Secretary says: “One day I’ll be out of here.” He says: “But you’ll be somewhere else just like it, that or you’ll be too old to really enjoy it.” Last night he thought of her, this brightly painted woman, younger than him, and he got an erection. Now, thinking about her age and her inevitable ageing, hip replacements and all, he just wants to take care of her, fuck fucking, just take care of her and provide for her and be there, wherever that is, together in their sunset years. She makes more than he does. She is the secretary of the boss, the boss’s aide and confidant, a woman of scruple and of prudent cogitation upon matters that are practical and which exist physically. She contents herself with the actual in the main, the probable at a stretch, but she will not risk venturing the possible. For this she gets paid, and it’s more than he does. That isn’t something that matters so much, I mean. Fuck it, he’s not a kid any more, no more cheesy fantasies, you work now, you make your money that’s not as much as she does and you get on. Bills. You pay bills and you work to do it. Five days out of every seven are consumed with work. He doesn’t have a choice in this, no one does. He thinks this is a deep thought. He doesn’t know what all else is out there but this for him is a deep thought and even if he could know he was just one in an infinite line, or rather an infinite web stretching out forever… Not forever. But the point is that for him it would not matter, because this is a deep thought as far as he’s concerned. But work is over now. It’s time to go. He exits the building and enters his car, a Ford Escort, old, removed from the digital modcon conspiracy — he thinks of it like that, and that too is a deep thought for him. This is stupid, talk to your friends. He remembers them from school, somehow it all comes back to school, not because they were the best days of his life. Whoever first said your school years are the best days of your life should be strung up and set on fire, or at least shot. No, he remembers them because they are baggage, the accumulated regret and wastefulness, all those things you could have done if you hadn’t been stuck in maths with Mr fucking Flavell. Maths, rigid and boring, or maybe not, it occurs to him as he skims through a doctoral dissertation. And his job now is to fill out ledgers, and there’s nothing more rigid and boring than a ledger. They have two-hundred pages and there are thirty-two lines on each page and each line is divided into six fields of equal width. But they are official, he has that safety net of officiality, even perhaps the appearance, earned only through his studious and diligent work as a filler of ledgers, of officialdom, he may go so far as to one day become an officialism, whatever that means. “I’m on official business!” he says. No one gives a fuck. You’re full of shit and no one gives a fuck. If you were smart neither would you, ledger filling fuck. But he is here filling ledgers every day and always. The physical world and its conspiratorial geographies cannot contain his hereness, he transcends them entirely so that he might fill himself with work like a good Castalian, and how he knows what is meant by that is anybody’s guess, for there is no means by which he might forestall the ledgerial problems that assail him on a daily basis that he might have time for a book other than the ledger, and did he fuck care for literature when he was younger. You don’t even own that book, lucky fucking guess is all that was. Maybe a girl he liked back in the day read it and told him about it. Yeah, maybe it was Big Tit Trisha who used to sit with him in the woods after dark and share the White Lightning she’d flirted some older bloke into getting for her. Never even got a squeeze. Anyway, yeah, real fucking literati there. And who are you to judge, you fucking Nobel laureate fuck. Not that they aren’t too political to matter. Like you’d fucking know. You’re full of shit and no one gives a fuck. But I do, I do. He really does: he demands to be taken seriously. But he doesn’t even command that kind of respect from himself. He is wasting away. It’s a cruel existence but he’s the one you’re the one being cruel to yourself you fucking idiot. “I am cruel to myself.” It’s a hard thing to admit. “This is how it should be.” That’s comforting. His neck cricks and cracks as he tosses his head, pondering the purpose of carrying on with everything the way he is right now. He needs changes, more than that: he needs to make changes. The only possibility right now being clothes. He owns four pairs of socks and one more with holes all over. He goes on sockless through the house he kept after his mother died. At the funeral he had met with a man called Jimmy Jack O’Benny-Benny-Benny, the world’s first test-tube baby, created using an engineered tripartite spermatozoon made up of the best, most desirable genes from three unrelated Benjamins. His mother had been Jimmy Jack’s surrogate, now she was in the ground. See that my grave is kept clean. He thinks of everything in terms of easy touchstones, icons he picked up from places along the path his life happened to take, all readily understood and digested by anyone he might have to use them to communicate with. He is a man for whom associations never transcended the cliché, not even when he had to contend with the death of a loved one. After his mother he carried on with his job, taking overtime when he could, and focused on maintaining the house as if nothing changed or could change. He ate little, coming to resemble an artists’ doll, sometimes even feeling as if he were made of wood. Sundays he would pretend he had become totally inanimate. Over the course of a year he practised the art of avoiding or otherwise denying his own will, trying to turn all of Sunday into a waking dream in which he could unconsciously come under the control of something else, some enlightened being that would make him appear to the world a better man, even if he would never know the secret ways of good men himself. He had no aspirations towards greatness, just to be good would be enough. It didn’t work. It hasn’t worked. He is still here filling out his stupid fucking ledgers. Nothing ever changes but the deepening multiplying wrinkles and the proportionate subtraction of hair from his scalp over time. He feels his destiny is a supreme averageness. He tries to work against it, but most days he thinks to himself I will be a work horse until I die and that’s all he has to keep him going, the antagonist he can rail against in the hidden life of his own mind, separated from reality by the glory of a tragic heroic fiction. He used to have a friend he told about things like this, she never listened, too busy with her own problems, but it was better than being totally alone you fucking idiot. Then she got married to someone who was not him and you know how it is. Meredith, the bitch. Not her fault, she had to go like everyone. People move. He didn’t move. He doesn’t move. He should move, but where. He thought about Rome once, only once and not too long or too deeply, that way it could remain a happy fantasy without the negativity that gets spawned by realism in the shadows of an idea. The house reeks of static. He meets himself halfway on this: everything can change but the house stays as it is. The house remains, it is a constant, an anchorage unbroken by time, situated upon the pole opposite his happy fantasy of Rome. Balance is the key. Nights he sleeps, he is not ascetic when it comes to sleep. He is in a bar with his laptop to do work. His friend from college who is an internet celebrity living in New York now and doesn’t look at all like he remembers is online. This is Ash. Ash types is any1 else here but no response from him or anyone. He can’t type he has been accosted by his grandfather who says kummon al geeyer alliftohm. So they go, he goes, his grandfather goes to his grandfather’s car and he puts his bag and stuff there but he remembers the laptop now is still in the bar so he has to go back and now there are stairs a complicated array of stairs he goes up and down the stairs five times to get into the bar but he gets there and his friend Harry and Harry’s brother Jeremy are there and Jeremy says yuhsteyin fer poowul? Harry says nohmaatuh bakkeh am goowinohm. Jeremy says oraat then seeyuh and Harry goes. There is a woman sitting next to a cardboard cut-out which depicts her in the nude and she is being interviewed by his cousin who does not have a picture of herself by her side. He calls her aside, says have you seen my laptop she says it was on the hood of a car this is unidiomatic but he understands nonetheless where is it now he says she says i dont know and he says god fucking damn it god fucking damn it god fucking damn it and he grabs her and shakes her and says all my work all my work but you dont give a fuck do you no one fucking does fuck you fucking idiot fuck you and she is crying she looks like miley cyrus when she cries and his family is there it doesnt look like them but he knows who they are and the woman who must be his aunt or maybe his cousins older sister his other cousin she says you know what she does you should be ashamed and similar and infers accurately from the tone how he knows he doesnt know but he holds his crying cousin now and he says its okay, its okay, im not mad at you its just im upset about the laptop youre not to blame youre just but she says im just a waste of time im just a waste of time. And she is not crying, she does not look like Miley Cyrus any more. She turns and he sees that she is balding, but when she brushes her hair the baldness goes away. When he gets outside again his grandfather is gone but he does not care. When he wakes up in the morning everything will be fine. When he wakes up in the morning it’s a school day. He goes to school. School is shit. At morning break Jason who is a shithead says: “Yewanner seeyuh majjik trik?” The Kid says: “No.” Jason says: “Dohnt yulaak majjik trikz?” The Kid says: “I like magic tricks but you’re just going to punch me or something.” He is not wrong. He is at a restaurant his friends are there he doesn’t recognise any of them. A peculiar situation he can’t bear to spend too much time thinking about. There is a man whose ebullient exclamations reveal him to be the Evangelist uncle who amazed him when he was younger with his enthusiasm for everything. The man says: “Hello, I am a Christian man!” He asks what everyone wants but he doesn’t appear to be a waiter. The restaurant is allegedly Mexican but all they serve is pizza, what kind of a joke, and the Christian whose name is Christian says: “Oh yeah! You like music don’t you! What music do you like!” There is Groove Armada on the PA, fucking Groove Armada, really? Well, Groove Armada is okay so he says: “I like Groove Armada.” And that’s that because Christians listens only to contemporary Christian rock, he doesn’t even like that fire and brimstone old Christian music they played on organs and shouted at you. Christian’s wife is there, she is Christina, she smiles and says nothing but he knows she wants to tell him all about growing up on a farm in the Midwestern United States. “I’m a farm girl and I do farm girl things” she abrupts into the conversation he wasn’t aware was taking place until now. Meanwhile Christian has joined another table at which sit five Middle Eastern looking men who are receiving a lecture on cigars from a fat Austrian man in a tweed suit and they have a cake. Christian is inspecting the cake, he says: “This cake looks so good!” He proceeds to touch the cake, the men at the table do not seem to care, if even they have noticed his presence at the table. He massages the icing which is thick and looks like a dark chocolate cream with his fingertips and digs his fingers into the cake and as his fingers pierce the upper crust and hit the spongy middle he begins to make whinnying sounds through clenched teeth. His lips are turned out almost to the point of folding back over his nose and chin. He picks up handfuls of cake and scrunges it through his fingers. He smothers his face in the rough paste of cake bits he has created with his hands. “Where did you get this! Where did you get this! Who made this!” He whinnies again. “Who made this!” And then everyone is gone and the Kid has a bag which is full of rancid dairy products. A man in a baseball cap and a t-shirt with slogans that change all the time like a highly sophisticated holograph walks by, says “Oh, cream!” and helps himself to a thing of gloopy, acidic double cream. The Kid looks over at the table where Christian had had his way with the cake to find policemen inspecting the remains, he feels like he blinks and then one of them has a key, but the sun is up and it’s time for work. On the street he hears “we’ll be friends forever you cunt” emanating from somewhere he can’t see. The car won’t start, it’s not cold so what the fuck. Generally speaking, this bothers him. But specifically, it’s been half a decade since he missed a day of work, and his perfect record is now to be marred because of a car, and someday a machine is going to be doing his job instead of him. What a fucking. Just take the bus you fucking. Fuck. The bus bothers him, not so much the feeling of excessive proximity to other people and their diseases and other problems but the idea that he is not in control of his own conveyance. The bus driver operates the bus at the behest of the bus company in accordance with the schedule which they determine and the woman next to him is an unapologetic sneezer. Not the driver, but him. The bus is slow and it takes roads he would have avoided. He second guesses the route all the way to his destination. When he gets off he tries to place his mind squarely on work but all he can think about is that he will have to take the bus home. If the only winning move is not to play, fuck it. Yeah fuck it. You begin to see where people like Rollo Borzaghe come from. That’s a real. Fuck it, he’s not the Kid any more, he can’t be fucking around? He wonders why. But now here’s the thing, the office, the ledgers, and for what. A house. Mum’s house, smooth and easy with a microwave for that rare three o’clock awake with no takeaways to speak of and he’d still be at work come eight. That is his life and it is accepted generally, occasional pangs of selfish regret but fuck it, he’s not a kid any more, what’s practical is what’s. But even so, do you not sometimes. He does not. So he’s there now walking past the boss’s secretary and the erections and the hip replacements and the sunset years. We’ll be there, wherever that is. Sometimes he goes online to see if he can self-diagnose autism but he gets sidetracked by complexes and disorders and comes out the other end maybe bipolar maybe schizoid, histrionic, and narcissistic for at least as long as he can remember what those are. O! madam secretary, I adore you. And in his office there is a second desk which is actually the first desk because it isn’t his office, it is Arnie’s. And there sits his good mate Arnie, who is forever nearing retirement and smells of peaches. Arnie makes him nostalgic for the peach pastries they used to sell at the baker’s down the street which is no longer there, and he thinks about wheeling him around when he can no longer walk and just generally being there for the delightful oldster. And it would be nice to sit and read to him in the summer house in June with the birds singing and the trees swaying and fetch him a pipe and brandy and later tuck him in and kiss his liver spotted scalp goodnight. The ledger has its own scent, an array of scents in fact and unlocked over its lifetime as the pages age a little and the ink settles permanently into the leaf, but you have to devote yourself to the ledger to develop the aptitude for scenting it, just being an avid reader of books won’t do, the ledger has its own set of rules. “I am not a moron. I can see how you’d think I was, though, so it’s okay.” When Arnie greets him that is what Arnie says. “No, Arnie, you’re a good bloke.” Arnie says: “Fuck off.” Once Arnie called him a jackaninny and they have maintained that patter ever since. It was the first thing Arnie ever said to him, he’d got the new ledger and an old one mixed up and Arnie said to him: “You fucking plonker, you absolute tit, you bloody jackaninny.” And he said: “I’m sorry Arnie” and Arnie said: “Fucking christ almighty shut up.” Now Arnie reels him in with self-deprecation but he doesn’t mind because he has always been polite to old people quasi-compulsively. And besides, Arnie has been here forever from his perspective. Arnie is ancient and unfathomable like the desert except he also helps you out because he has a way of framing things in words that you don’t really hear very often, like: “Get your fucking oh fuck off.” Arnie knows the ledgers and he fills them quickly. He often takes a while, two or three weeks, but Arnie, a few days and he’s pulling the shrinkwrap off the next one. He never asks about what Arnie puts down, out of respect. Sometimes he thinks he won’t make it, but he believes he will eventually reach Arnie’s level of skill and become the grand old man of ledger filling and he says to Arnie, he says: “Arnie, one day I’m going to be where you are now, carrying on your work and training someone like you train me to fill my shoes when I’m gone.” Arnie says: “I would be very surprised if someone hadn’t done the humane thing and smothered you in your sleep by then.” He says: “Arnie, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask”, but he’s forty-five and Arnie is no longer there. The boss’s secretary also left and someone else is there now but he never bothered to find out who, and his days are spent alone with the ledgers and that’s okay. He gave up the Sunday meditations or invocations and now he watches films all day. Any kind of film will do, he eschews taste, he doesn’t think about the film he just watched only queues up the next one. It occurs to him that. What. Fuck it. He doesn’t even like films. He didn’t use to like films. He stopped taking Saturday overtime because he started eating less than he was eating already. That’s all and he doesn’t ask why not nor even ask why would I. Questions are too limiting but he doesn’t think about it or question why he doesn’t and he occupies his senses with what’s on the screen. You may imagine him in dirty underwear, unshaven for days, he won’t mind. He is not on a path that will lead him to be like Arnie but he is content with the notion that he will be something and he will fill the ledgers and when it comes time to stop filling ledgers. He doesn’t think about that. And how might my life have been different if something really cool and exciting had happened when I was a kid? is something he thinks about. But not enough to cause him any pain. Back then he would converse with a Frenchman in a café in London, and the Frenchman told him that exposed male nipples are inherently funny. Back then hard work got you where you needed to go. That never happened and he wasn’t there but he was nostalgic for fantasies of that sort and especially things on TV. For example, he used to envy Timmy Turner. At the moment he thinks it might have been something about spies in the French Resistance or Vichy France or even the French Revolution but whatever. What the fuck ever. He loved that phrase, it was so much better than hate him wouldn’t wanna date him. That was a thing only girls got to say (out loud) and maybe he was a little envious. And it wasn’t the one with the satanic school board. Sure is lonely around here. And now in the blue afternoon stretching out with an Ovaltine saying “this is the life.” He has become the kind of person who says “this is the life” while stretching out on the sofa in the afternoon, Ovaltine in hand. He also makes those easing into the chair sounds almost out of a desire to look the part, but to whom is unknown, since no one is watching. Since the incident with his job he has become more relaxed and more paranoid at the same time. What happened was he’d picked out a new ledger and for the first time in his life it was a new ledger, factory fresh and sealed in branded plastic wrapping, and he peeled it off and opened the first page and mother of god it was dog-eared. This was inexcusable. Absolutely inexcusable and more to the point the ledger was now ruined. Either it went to the scissors and lost a page or the fold was smoothed; either it was amputated or it would sit there, as it was now, visibly blemished even to the eye of a casual observer. In any case it would forever bear a symbol of freakishness that was beyond his power to ever truly correct. It was no good, yet one-hundred-and-ninety-nine other good pages were too good to waste. So he took the scissors to it, guided by a magnifying glass, and the deed was done and so finely that no one else would realise. But he would carry the secret disgrace for the rest of his career as a professional ledger filler, and possibly even beyond it. It struck him then that he had been feeling uneasy lately, as if someone had been watching him, peering into his life, snooping around his personal details on as fine a level perhaps as that on which he had performed the secret operation. Maybe this person, this spy, maybe they knew. Maybe. But if they didn’t — if there was no spy! All of this would be so much wasted time and energy, in fact just like the easing into the chair sounds, which he begins to feel were kind of stupid now that he thinks about it, but back to the story: There he was with his little secret safely disposed of in a waste paper basket but lingering still in his mind like a clandestine sex act performed when he was eighteen. He’d given no thought to it back then, but now it seemed to have a weight, a mass he had never before perceived. This outweighed the sheet of paper, which he realised, now that the excitement had died down, counted for two pages, but this realisation just now had rebalanced the scales. Who gave a fuck who he’d fucked back in those days? And why would they — the spy! Oh, you bastard! Yes, that was how it had been: the spy was everywhere, and he she they it was everywhere a-rummaging, looking for the dirt on this innocent filler of ledgers. That absolute. But no matter, mustn’t let personal issues impact the work and all that. Yet he could not quite distance his mind from thoughts of espionage and sabotage: some cunt had fucked up the fucking ledger and fucking hell if he was going to stand for it. No fucking way. So he sat there for an hour or maybe two in contemplation of revenge, he was about to give up, but then, then it hit him. He likes that phrase, he hears it often on TV. Yes, he knew what his course of action would be. He took up his pen and turned his attention to the new ledger’s third, now first page, and on the first line with its six evenly spaced fields he wrote I KNOW WHO YOU ARE just like that in big block capitals so that there was no chance of their remaining unacknowledged. He thought that would be enough, to let him know that he knew and that he knew more than he might expect. He decided on he because he believed that only a man would be boring and petty enough to take this kind of an interest in him or in his, let’s face it, absolutely tedious work with the ledgers. No one else would or could give a fuck, not really, not on a level that encouraged that kind of behaviour. But who knows (or gives a shit)? But was it enough, this I KNOW WHO YOU ARE, was it enough and was it all of what he could say? He was sure that, given enough time to properly consider it all, he could think of plenty more to say and that was worth saying. Over the course of the following month he filled two ledgers at two-hundred pages each with a long stream of anti-He invective broken up only by the physical limitations of the medium in which he worked. He is a sissy boy. He dreams of fondling small children but is too much of a pussy to actually do it. He eats shit out of homeless men’s bumholes and sometimes it isn’t even theirs. He enjoys watching professional wrestling because he wants to be thrown around and dominated by big sweaty men. He masturbates to clips of Dora the Explorer. When he watches porn he likes to imagine he is the woman and he says “oh yeah daddy that is so big” under his breath while his mother is in the other room. He loves to fantasise about being a woman and he would crossdress if he wasn’t so fat and disgusting and ashamed of his hideous freak body. He can’t handle real life so he invents fantasy lives for himself in which he is popular and famous and well liked by everyone and has kinky sex adventures everywhere he goes but this will never happen because he is a complete fuck up and a born loser whose every day is spent either fighting back tears or letting them flow and pretending they are actually from deepthroating medium-sized groups of men in the backs of sleazy clubs he’s never had the balls to actually go to even when his friends are going but actually he doesn’t even have friends the miserable puling cunt and his entire life is one big attempt to avoid everything like the stupid pussy faggot bitch he is. He mixes the colours in his Neapolitan ice cream which he still eats because he is a baby. And so on. Eventually he started to become redundant in his accusations, for example calling him some variation on paedophile (pederast, nonce, kiddy fiddler, child molester, cradle robber, Ginsberg etc.) around forty times over the course of this colourful diatribe, yet it was the spirit of vehemence not the breadth depth or even veracity of slander that was crucial in this endeavour, it was the belief and the strength of the belief that made it worthwhile as an undertaking. And until the ledgers were filed he was perfectly safe. But then they were filed. Then they were filed and then he was fired. He was probably on the verge of being replaced by a computer anyway, so what the fuck. Almost everyone in the office was at a loss for words when he stormed out with a small box of personal belongings singing “bud bud ding ding two-ninety-nine, I saw a paki on a washing line,” a rhyme remembered with a fondness which is derived more from nostalgia, and a real nostalgia replete with all the bittersweet crap that comes with it, than from any fondness for the lyrics, because he’d first heard it from a friend of his who had died young, and those were the days and that kind of miserable shit. A man said, stiffly chinned and just quick enough for him to still be in proximity to hear it: “Awfully chipper for a man who just got the sack,” this man not at a loss for words despite the storming and the rhyming and their reception indicating that they were alarmingly inappropriate for an administrative environment. He shouted back: “All together that comes to seven, boom boom boom, all together that comes to seven, that little paki flew off to heaven!” That wasn’t even how the song went. And now here he is reclining on the sofa, his Ovaltine as yet untouched and rapidly approaching the point on the scale of tepidity beyond which it will irrevocably become unfit to drink. It seems he has been a compulsive improviser of tableaux vivants for some time now, but he had never particularly considered it before, since their purpose was essentially to allow him a state, a condition of being in which he could consider things. But now, catching himself in this for what he reckons to be the first time, he is struck with a sudden fascination for automatic processes performed by living creatures, and, naturally, breathing. He considers the possibility of the induction of euphoric states by the temporary but prolonged cessation of respiration, and before leaving the hospital he asks the doctor: “How’d it go?” This pattern of bizarre interests continues down through tarot, and specifically the potential for creating erotic fiction featuring personifications of the major arcana, the Hanged Man and the Empress, III and XII, thus also the Emperor, figuring prominently in grand celestial orgies, for astrology was also on the list and he conflates disciplines freely, through cryptozoology and kaballah to the fortune-telling potential of pop-up toaster disassembly, in which the circuitry is analysed according to rules that seem to change without any recourse to any system of logic save that pernicious one that sits in the back of his head insisting that no matter what he must be believe himself to be correct. These obsessions, in truth more passing fancies, yield no work but bear him safely to the age of seventy-three, by which time they have given way to more lecherous, yet almost completely inactive pursuits. He can no longer achieve an erection, so the blood his penis refuses is sent upward to the mouth and his mouth forms an H that is the catalyst, like a key in the ignition of a car it sets everything else going and he says “Hell’s bells!” Whenever he is confronted with photography, static or in motion, of a comely lass, as he has taken to calling them these days, he says “Hell’s bells!” He has become the kind of man who unironically exclaims “Hell’s bells!” upon seeing the perky brown nipples sitting agog at the end of those tan round mounds of fat on the chest of a Japanese woman who, hell’s bells, is thirty years of age but could scarce be reckoned by aught but a connoisseur to be a day beyond a ripe sixteen. “Bloody marvellous, those Japs!” Ah, but the shame of it, I have the will yet my John Thomas will not be moved! Such is age, but Hell’s bells if she isn’t something! Over time he comes to add a laugh, possibly unconsciously, which sounds like an asthmatic donkey attempting an impression of heavy drilling machinery: “Eheheheheh!” This of varying duration and oomph depending on the determined comeliness of the lass in question. So it comes to pass that one day, out on the town, stick in hand and betweeded in a change-jingler’s get-up of a suit, he swaggers his way across the square that dominates the upper end of Fargate, up past Charnel House and on towards Devonshire Quarter, and spies, between the fountains before the steps of City Hall, a lass of considerable comeliness. She is wearing what he identifies as a club dress, bearing cleavage and midriff through an interstice of lucid mesh, the former of which looks fit to burst at any moment. He sucks at his teeth and says to himself “Hell’s bells!” He wanders over to the fountains, pleased to find her without party in this space between two suggestive jets of water, all the while making quiet little oho oohoo chuckles to himself, and says: “Hell’s bells, what a treat you are.” And she says: “You what you dodgy fucker.” And he says: “Let’s you and I find a bench where I can bend you over for a bit of spank and twank.” And she says: “What the fuck mate.” And he says: “Ooh, yes, look at those. I see you’re a bit pokey in the mams, my dear. Nothing to be embarrassed about!” And she says: “Jesus you senile old cunt, fuck off.” But he is advancing now, left eyebrow slightly higher than the right and with his tongue hooked up around the uppermost side of the right corner of his mouth, eyes moving in tiny shifts from one breast to the other to the cleavage and then reversing this sequence, repeating and getting faster each time, and he is hunching his way towards the centre of that space which begins to seem more secluded to him with each funereal step. “Hell’s bells! Ehehehehehhehehhh!” As of yet the focus of his raging flaccidity is unsure as to whether she should laugh, cry, scream, get up and run, or what. “Hell’s bells! Ehhhheehehehehhgh!” He is upon her all ungainly and she is recoiling and between the fountains the only sound that can be heard is the defunctive wheezy gasping of hell’s bells eheheheheh, eheh, heh, ehechehellzzubelghllhhehehechheheghegehhhch

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