Digital Ischemia


The Santa Hat

As the sky reluctantly lightens to murky blue, a two centimetre tall shiny red cone bobs along outside the window. Could it be elves or some other mythical creatures associated with the season? The jaunty angle fascinates me. I hear tapping and scratching, and the faint thumps of small feet.

I lean in to the shadowy wall, craning to see past the frame. A bluetit lands, unfazed by the festive mystery. He ignores the seeds I sprinkled in favour of jabbing the frame edges for insects trapped in spider web. The red cone wobbles and pulls my focus. Other than the seeds, I see no trail of magic or any clues. Can I get closer without being seen?

The bluetit twitches his head one final time, satisfied he has exhausted all visible sources of ready caught insect. I brace to move, hoping to use his departure as cover. I have to take a chance, as the red cone could also vanish at any moment. Wings flutter and I lean right in to the glass.

The red Santa hat tops a less than festive sparrow. She has a shiny plastic lid stuck to her head. It looks like the cap off a bottle; unmarked so I can only guess if it was packaging for some food product or cosmetic. Sticky either way. It’s poorly designed, even for its intended purpose: difficult to grip to twist it. Impossible for a clawed creature. Harsh penance for seeking food.

The sparrow dips clumsily to peck a seed. She flaps and falls into the adjoining shrub. Apparently she can hop up to the window and back to the bush but not fly. She’s too unbalanced, weighed down. Perhaps a sparrowhawk can get the lid off.



Three Boxes

Harris drives himself around the mezzanine’s south-east corner. Two more laps around the atrium, maybe three. He won’t have time for four. Walking is good for creative thought. Being away from the office is good for any kind of thought. He can’t think in that fairground of hollered conversations, phone rings, keyboard clatters, printer whirs… Nor in the fog of alpha-female pheromones.

Never mind the hurdles; he has a conundrum to solve. He focuses on the brick red railings passing at his left. The regular vertical stripes of shiny red soothe him. Until they refract into nauseating undulating shimmers.

Half way along the east side, Harris momentarily achieves a meditative state. Ironically this is vaporised by a numinous shaft of light from a southwestern skylight. Reflexively he halts, tilts his face perpendicular to it, to maximise the radiation, imagining he feels the warmth of divine inspiration. He registers a faint sigh. Sighing would probably be a key theme in the office soundtrack if it weren’t smothered by the fairground effects. The fairground conundrum. A seat in the sun would be good.

Harris wheels about and steps over to the nearest bench. This is mostly an act of spatial memory as his eyes are still readjusting to not staring at a nuclear explosion. Lucky chance has him alight not on top of someone else. As his eyes return to usual levels of exposure, he finds he is not at the epicentre of the beam. That position is occupied by a woman with a tilted face, closed eyes and beatific smile. He aborts his inner mocking reflex with the evidence for his own recent practice.

Harris launches in, “it’s like an alien tractor beam, isn’t it?”
The woman replies without turning her head, “I wasn’t sighing out of pique—it’s not my sunlight—I was exhaling in sort of appreciation.”
“Maybe you’ve had enough? I mean, maybe you’re cooked enough? Sorry, I keep sounding disrespectful.”
“No effect. Too good a day.”
“Depends where you’re sitting. Argh, sorry, sorry; I don’t mean literally; I mean my day’s pretty shite, as usual.”
“I was just wondering who to share my good fortune with first. Who might be most in need. And here you are.”

The woman flicks her head to face Harris and opens her eyes. He feels them rake through his motivations. The sensation is curiously paralysing.

“I’m Iona.”
“Harris. What fortune?”
“I got a commission.”
“From here?”
“To fill that space.” She indicates the massive cuboid of air within the mezzanine’s confines, capped by the shallow tetrahedral roof.
“With what? Why would you?! What are you?”
“Styrofoam; to blot out everything pleasant; a sadist.”
Harris tips his head back and manages half a chuckle. “Knee-jerked again, didn’t I?”
Iona turns back to the project space. “Serious answers: I don’t know yet; to make people think, to achieve your company’s objective and hopefully to get paid; and, I suppose, a sort of installation artist.”
“But however good your intentions, anything’s going to blot out that magnificent light!”
“OK, give me an example! Please don’t say some ghastly perspex construction.”
“Just one? The sound of brass cogs and shafts, pistons and capstans, in an enormously convoluted contraption.”
“Yeh, I see how that’s not going to obliterate anything at all. And how are you going to hang it? Sky hooks?”
“A speaker?”
“Ah, I see: ‘the sound of…’; cunning.”

Iona turns to feel the sunlight fade, replaced by her smugness. Not to totally take advantage of her troubled companion, though. Supposed to be sharing fortune here.

“What’s your bother?”
“That’s what I was doing circuits to solve.”
“Before you stopped to interfere with my sunlight.”
“Can’t get anything right.”
“So let me spread my irrepressible joy over your problem and make you feel even worse.”
“I can’t really tell you. I mean, I’m not being mysterious, it just wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“How about … a metaphor?”
“Er, OK, I have— No, there are two boxes. I can pick one or the other.”
“What do they look like?”
“These boxes.”
“Does it matter?”
“It would help me visualise the … options.”
“They’re solid, ebony cubes, with lids. Thick sides.”
“How big?”
“Pfff, about twenty centimetres each way. Happy?”
“Ecstatic. Thank you.”

Harris realises he’s going to be late back to the office. Suddenly he doesn’t care. It was a mostly self-imposed target anyway. The world has changed.

He volunteers more imaginary detail to delay the inevitable. “There’s a regular dashed pattern in a strip near the top of each side. You want to know if there are any chips or other blemishes?”
“I’d like to predict the inside.”
“Piss off.”
“OK, I’m going to write it down … then we can check later if I’m right.”

Iona fishes a scrap of paper and pencil out a pocket and scribbles. She scrumples the paper and lays it on the bench between them. Harris is unimpressed.
“Absolutely. On you go.”

Harris settles back to describe professional contents that have leaked in different ways into his personal life. One tends to froth angrily and foam stickily over the edge of its container. The other seems under control until you spot the poison leaching from the bottom corner. Under questioning, he admits the boxes are there as much to segregate the contents from each other as from his personal life.

“I can’t cope with both; I don’t even know if I can manage one, but I’ll have to try.”
Iona cocks her head, mildly amused. “Will you?”
“What other choice is there?”
“There’s always a third way.”
“Go back a bit.”
“In time? Are you going to tell me the two boxes were once parts of the same original box?!”
“That would be ridiculous.”
“Step back.”
“Bloody metaphors. Oh, surprise, there’s a third box, sneaking into view.”
“And what’s in this one?”
“No idea.”
“Can you look?”
“Nope. Mystery.”
“Hm, well, I’m sorry. I see I’ve just massively wasted your time on this entertaining but fruitless diversion.”

Harris caresses the scrumpled paper prediction. After tantalising himself for a couple of seconds, he snatches it and pulls it open. He frowns, reorients the writing.

Iona watches him sidelong, curious but trying not to be too attached. After a few seconds of his neutral expression, she nudges, “well?”

Harris jumps up. “Come on.”
“Where? Why?”
“I’m going to need your help with these boxes. Well, with the other two.”
Iona hesitates. “They’re not going to like it.”
“Absolutely not. I see my metaphor wasn’t as veiled as I imagined.”
“You chose the third box?”
“Of course I did. I may be afraid of the unknown but I’m not a masochist for known poisons.”

Harris strides north. Iona grabs her bag and tries to keep up.
Harris calls back, “how’d you know then? Is red silk some standard default male mental image?”
“Railings, Harris. How many circuits?”
“What? Because they’re red and shiny?”
“What does this building look like outside?”
“I hate architects. And artists. What’s your name again?”
“No, it’s Box Three.”


In The Dark: Cupboard

VIOLET: (EXHALE) Aaaaaaah! Nauseating little goblin! All goblins are little, Violet. Try to avoid pleonasms.
VIOLET (CONT’D): Poisonous vat of slime! I think you mean vat of poisonous slime, Violet. No matter. Myopic warmonger! Inelegant. Sulphuric harpy! Alright, that’ll do. (EXHALE)
ARNOLD: Ms Bogscrattle?
ARNOLD: It is you?
VIOLET: Well done; you rumbled me.
ARNOLD: Are you … well?
VIOLET: Very not.
ARNOLD: I’m sorry.
VIOLET: Not your fault, Mr Shipworm.
ARNOLD: I wasn’t apologising; I was expressing regret.
VIOLET: Could you close the door? You’ll attract attention.
ARNOLD: From the outside?
VIOLET: Whatever.
VIOLET (CONT’D): You’re still here.
ARNOLD: This … intrigues me.
VIOLET: It’s a cupboard.
VIOLET (CONT’D): Not working. I like it dark. Sanctuary. Usually.
ARNOLD: I think it may be a toilet. It feels tiled.
VIOLET: Or a shower. Whatever I’m sitting on seems to have slats.
ARNOLD: Doesn’t sound comfortable.
VIOLET: I’m being very slowly filleted.
ARNOLD: Er, then time is of the essence. I did want to speak to you.
VIOLET: Speak away.
ARNOLD: I mean with you, not at you.
VIOLET: And yet there I was, in the appointed place, at the appointed time, almost with the appointed person. The music was divine. And yet… And yet…
ARNOLD: I thought you were someone else.
VIOLET: Again.
ARNOLD: You liked the music?
VIOLET: That’s not going to salvage this. I deliberately misled you; you punished me. Can we call it even? I’ve had a rather trying day. Even before your sulphuric harpy.
ARNOLD: How wonderful.
VIOLET: Thank you for support. Can I be alone now?
ARNOLD: (WISTFULLY) Sulphuric harpy. Wonderful. Vicious. But why would you say such a thing?
VIOLET: Mr Shipworm.
VIOLET: Why are you holding my arm?
ARNOLD: Oh, sorry, sorry; really shouldn’t touch you there … here … anywhere.
VIOLET: Molested by an attractive man in a dark cupboard. It could go either way, couldn’t it?
ARNOLD: Toilet.
VIOLET: Shower.
ARNOLD: Attractive?
VIOLET: You noticed that too.
ARNOLD: (CHUCKLES SADLY) Only in the dark could I be considered attractive.
VIOLET: You’re disappointingly visually discriminatory for someone who works with noise.
ARNOLD: I only sound attractive?
VIOLET: You sound narcissistic.
ARNOLD: It comes of being a performer.
VIOLET: You certainly made a performance of it.
ARNOLD: I didn’t know you were you! Twice!
VIOLET: And I exploited the loophole between my name and location.
ARNOLD: I got confused by your, er … reversing out from under the apron – you were muttering about irony and how many people it takes to change a light bulb.
VIOLET: I didn’t mean for anyone to deeply contemplate it. (PAUSE) Or my pithy muttering.
ARNOLD: Of course not. I mean: I wasn’t; my eyes just rested—
ARNOLD: Ha! Well, I thought you must be one of the electrical people.
VIOLET: I can wire a plug. Apparently that equates to special skills in stage lighting.
ARNOLD: I like the air of mystery about … electronics.
VIOLET: It’s just tech. Let’s not imbue it with magical powers.
ARNOLD: You could fix the light in here.
VIOLET: I doubt it.
ARNOLD: Too dangerous?
VIOLET: Too demotivated.
VIOLET: Why is no-one allowed to listen to your practice?
VIOLET: Splutter all you like, but I genuinely don’t know.
ARNOLD: No, no, sorry, I mean that’s ridiculously pompous. Where did you get that from?
VIOLET: The lackey. The sulphurous harpy-esque one. Right before she unceremoniously removed me.
ARNOLD: Nonsense. What exactly did she say?
VIOLET: That I had to leave because you were not to be overheard.
ARNOLD: My conversation was not to be overheard. My conversation with you. Which I was expecting to have any moment. But I thought I was waiting for someone who looked not like you.
VIOLET: To speak to or with about your still clandestine purposes.
ARNOLD: Oh, yes, I’ve drifted away again, haven’t I?
VIOLET: Is it because you’re nervous?
ARNOLD: Oh, god, can you smell…?!
VIOLET: No, you smell quite attractive.
ARNOLD: Oh. Ah. Er, what, then, my voice, whistling?
VIOLET: Your finger. It squeaked on the tile.
ARNOLD: Damn it. Too late to deny the rest now, I suppose?
VIOLET: I’d go on the offensive.
ARNOLD: Right. Er, why did you pretend to be someone else?
VIOLET: I’m sorry. I mean: I apologise.
ARNOLD: I’m not after an apology. I’m curious.
VIOLET: I think I was more passive; lying by omission.
ARNOLD: I’m not parsing what you said either. I just wonder why you didn’t, you know, like normal people, realise I was asking you for you because I didn’t know your face.
VIOLET: I did.
ARNOLD: Yes, of course you did, but I mean why, having realised, didn’t you just volunteer who you were and painlessly clear up my ignorance?
VIOLET: Have I caused you pain?
ARNOLD: Only a mild psychosocial wound.
VIOLET: I was flummoxed.
ARNOLD: By the electricity?
VIOLET: You could say that.
ARNOLD: Had you shocked yourself? What?
VIOLET: No, that was you.
ARNOLD: How did I shock you?
VIOLET: You were a whole lot more … than I expected.
ARNOLD: Oh. Right. Oh!
VIOLET: So, you see, it takes ten minutes in a cupboard in the dark to get to that.
ARNOLD: Toilet.
VIOLET: It’s a shower!
ARNOLD: Are you going to tell Facilities?
VIOLET: About your interference in my bolthole?
ARNOLD: Ahem. About the light not working.
VIOLET: I doubt it. I like it.
ARNOLD: Me too. Would you mind if we did this again sometime?

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