Digital Ischemia

15/07/2018

The Tool

Mr Workshop is a new arrival in our quiet, menacing cul-de-sac. He is already an established irritant. He introduced himself by spattering Aunty Spamela’s precious camelias with tiny black beads of undisclosed constituents. They died horribly.

Uncle Merv took a dislike to Mr Power-Tool’s garage activities the first spring. The unpredictable, intermittent noise vibrations caused Merv’s ants to lose all sense of purpose and direction. He empathised fiercely. Their erstwhile orderly conurbation in the shed’s eaves suddenly abandoned strategy for spiralling collisions. And the spiders behaved like they were on caffeine. Their webs were disgraceful. They all became rather hungry. Not evolutionarily successful.

Mr Motorhome ground his engine like a tarmac planer. He parked up at the boundary fence like a grey new build, blotting out the sun. Aunty Spamela, marinating on a layer of aluminium foil like a misshapen offcut of meat-style but utterly bland mycoprotein, cast a warning eye like a mushroom cloud.

Mr Water-Jet proceeded to rattle along the gravel obliviously and commence the water blast and jet pump sonata around the lower regions of the behemoth. After a the first movement, a blissful interval was smothered with a swarm of cigarette smoke. Aunty Spam stood up, foil sticking to her wobbles, and glared at the fence. She seemed to be mouthing something trenchant such as “for goodness’ sake.” Lost to the screech of Mr Mini-Scaffold-for-reaching-the-roof lining up for movement two.

Uncle Merv and I were foutering at the shed’s sarking, trying to attach some memory foam. Merv wasn’t clear on details, but the plan seemed less about aiding memoir and more about muffling ants. I think he was desperate to shield the community from the intolerable noise. Chronic noise stress was epidemic. Merv was already suffering acute seethe. The ants really just needed the vibration of their bodies and whole world to stop.

As I sutured foam and felt together with an unsettling pride, Spamela resettled on her oven tray. Mr Mini-Scaffold screeched around to the Other Side. The water-jet rebound combined with a fascinating mini-cyclone effect from the warm southerly breeze. I watched the symphonic dance of droplets as they embraced the hawthorn and the crazywebs and Spam with a fine mist of soap and dirt. Not welcome.

Next day, Merv and I smirked at the dazzlingly white motorhome. This could only mean imminent departure. Mr Engine-smooth-as-a-tractor revved up and lurched out of his driveway. I was poised, despite the subterranean shudders. Merv nodded to his camoflaged system of old wing mirrors which relayed a nauseatingly distorted image of the offending garage: its side door was wide open. I deflated. Mr Wank-Wagon must’ve just gone for fuel. We waited in a state of jangling tension for a good six hours before the idea occurred that fate might have granted us a boon.

Mr Unfortunately-left-the-garage-side-door-open thundered back into the neighbourhood the following weekend. We had mixed feelings. The absence wasn’t long enough but we were excited for our ingenious denouement.

The potion had worked a treat, although the myriad poisonous vapours in that den had given me pernicious head-swim. I reckon Merv added some of Aunty Spam’s age-defying skin tightener. I’ve never felt so constricted. I think his dose had a waft of eau de pheromone too. Ms Ant-Colony was unable to resist a holiday expedition. With some recent needlepoint practice, Ms House-Spider wove an elastic silk mesh curiously like chicken wire.

One silk thread precisely at tensile limit. One week-of-withdrawal addict’s grasp. One beautifully choreographed cascade of twang, tilt, twirl and trigger. One soft suffocation by non-organically cultivated fungal mycelia. Mr Restless cocooned, clamped and coffined in his own toxic veneered fibreboard.

We left him to chrysalis for a bit.

Me and Merv: the spider and the ant. Petty invertebrate superheroes.

[ Truthache series starts with Entry. ]

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01/07/2018

Egg Timer

Two colleagues share ‘corporate intelligence’ about some less than intelligent IT events

JIM: That’s the egg timer woman.
KEN: The one that crashed the whole IT system?
JIM: Aye——no.
KEN: What do you mean?
JIM: What she actually did, well, I’ll need to start at the beginning. First thing she did was get the helpdesk lassie fired.
KEN: I never heard about that.
JIM: No, well, basically the helpdesk lassie was taking the pish. She was constantly complaining about her workload and how she couldn’t get anything done for this constant stream of emails.
KEN: Wasn’t that her job?
JIM: Aye, but nobody really looked closely to see what she was actually doing. Ken what Usman’s like: doesnae like to get too close to the keys. Obviously she was meant to be answering folk’s queries about, I don’t know, how do you copy and paste, where’s my file I was working on yesterday, type thing. Pissy stuff. Anyway, she takes a sickie for all the ‘stress’, and this woman, who’s some sort of auditor I think, says to Usman, since he’s like the helpdesk manager, she’ll take the opportunity to review it.
KEN: Right, got landed with the job.
JIM: No’ exactly. Apparently, in the course of one day, she deletes 2400 emails that’ve been sat in the inbox for more than six months – this is no’ the techy stuff, mind, just the stuff where the problem’s between the keyboard and the seat.
KEN: Very good.
JIM: Same time she’s running reports on the lassie’s online activity, ken: all what she’s been daein’ on her computer the whole time.
KEN: How do you do that?
JIM: The IT folk can see that easy.
KEN: Shit. I didn’t know that.
JIM: Dinnae be daft: they’re no constantly peering at your computer, watching you spending your lunch hour looking up motors and transfers and pish. They’ve work to do. Just if a manager is concerned about someone’s productivity, like, they have a look. So, it turns out the lassie’s spending two and three hours a day playing Candy Crush or Angry Birds or suchlike, and also a fair bit of time on the phone to private numbers, ken. Basically blethering.
KEN: So that’s the end of her.
JIM: Aye, and the auditor totally overhauls the protocols. First thing folk notice is they start getting email replies fae the helpdesk dead quick. And most of them just say RTHF.
KEN: What?
JIM: “Read the help file. It’s much quicker.” Actually I’ve one on my phone here that Sandra forwarded: goes on “unless you just want to put off a task you don’t fancy. In that case copy this code into the command window – you can change the 27 to however many minutes you want – and you’ll get some peace.”
KEN: What’s the command window?
JIM: Doesnae matter; there’s instructions. Basically pulls an animated gif off the shared drive and runs it over a black screen for as long as you’ve set.
KEN: So nothing’s crashed?
JIM: No, just looks like it’s hung.
KEN: Egg timer! Cunning.
JIM: Dinnae get any ideas! You ken what happens.
KEN: Oh, yeh.
JIM: Aye. Nobody should take that gimmick seriously, right? No’ gettin’ away wi’ that in the workplace. No. Within three days five folk in Strategy have the thing running hours so they can take a long lunch. No’ one of them thought to wonder if anyone else was doing it. They just trot aff.
KEN: Does no-one notice?
JIM: That’s the point. Takes the Strategy Director two mere days to get suspicious why all her staff are no’ working and it’s all getting blamed on the IT. She calls Usman; he says there’s nae problems. She hauls him up to the office, shows him the egg timers; he hits F5, screen back to normal, emails, everything sat there, no problem. Well, except they’ve broken the security, haven’t they, by no’ locking their computers when they’re away. Strike one.
KEN: So the twits come back from lunch and see they’re rumbled?
JIM: Aye. They blame it on the helpdesk.
KEN: All this over five folk in Strategy?
JIM: No, see everyone was at it.
KEN: Seriously? Are they all stupid?
JIM: Seemingly. Everyone of them thought they were special. So, Auditor woman gets summoned. Now, seemingly, according to Sandra again, ’cause she was in the Strategy meeting, Auditor woman comes right in wi’ this attitude, like she’s no’ taking any shit. Director’s hackles are up right away. Usman’s just sort of watching fae the corner, see what happens wi’ two alpha females. The director’s had Sandra put the bloody email up on the wall so they can point at it. She launches into demanding explanations. Auditor woman just laughs and says “how’s this my problem?” She draws a circle round the bit about ‘putting off a task you don’t fancy’ and says “this is the problem; this is _your_ problem. Depending on your management style, you either have a motivation problem or a discipline problem. Sort it.”
KEN: Strike two?
JIM: Aye.
KEN: What’s strike three?
JIM: What’re we daein’ here?
KEN: I don’t know; waiting for some announcement?
JIM: Aye, announcing we’re all taking some assessments.
KEN: For what?
JIM: How are we employing folk wi’ nae IT savvy? Folk that are asking these daft questions in the first place. Like she says, either they’re incompetent or they’re taking the piss. How are the managers no’ managing?
KEN: Right.
JIM: What’re you daein’?
KEN: Typing an email. Helpdesk.
JIM: Are you tryin’ tae get struck aff?!
KEN: I want to speak to this woman.
JIM: What’re you typin’?
KEN: “My egg timer’s broken.”

24/06/2018

Parabola Hyperbolae

Grudgingly Merv has let me into one of his secrets, i.e. sanity-savers for life married to Aunty Pamela. Below the garage he has been painstakingly excavating a cellar, dungeon, with plans to tunnel to the sea (70 miles).

To date he has surreptitiously emptied several bucketfuls behind the cypress, about a teaspoon at a time, over fifteen years. The whole business is redolent of prisoner’s desperation. His embryonic cavern is currently a shallow pit, but the two of us can sit in it, without getting too intimate, and, crucially, without being detected by Spamela.

Lately I’ve been fixating on why I can’t get into the mindset to transform. I decided to harangue Merv. Unjustified attacks are part of being my sidekick.

I yank the garage door, stride into the gloom and smack my entire body off something. I stagger back. Finding myself outside the door again, I re-try entry. My eyes are adjusting, but again, before I see anything through the murk, I rebound out again.
“Merv!” I hear only an echo. I plough on; I know he can hear me.
“What is the purpose of lights that come on automatically after a power-cut?”
I hear the unmistakable crackle of his jumper building up static. Grudgingly a solid, heavy object drags across the floor. Could be him; could be some new device. No matter. A click heralds the warm-up routine of the fluorescent light strip.

I am gradually introduced to a hall of mirrors: everything behind me spread in front of me, with the aesthetic horror that is Merv translucently mingled through it. Understandably I let out a quavering wail. Thankfully he hauls me into his pit, where we sit silently ignoring my recent unheroic noise. While my retinas restore themselves to factory settings, he explains.

Being shiny and fully focussed, like Merv’s device, you’ve already figured out what it is. Crucially, you’ve also already figured out this plot and where it’s going. But since I haven’t, you may like to stay with me to see if I arrive intact.

This episode isn’t so much an injustice as an irritation, but perhaps I need a wee run-up after my hiatus. Any time we have a power-cut, once it’s restored, the Straight Line Garden People’s garage light comes on. This floodlight illuminates their driveway, front garden, all west facing rooms, the street, our front rooms, and the length of our hall. Merv removed the mirror from the back wall because he felt like he was in the Hadron Collider. Still, I step out of my room into Close Encounters. I feel a strong urge to jump on a camel and ride east.

What’s the problem? They’re on holiday. I care a bit about their electricity bill, and their household security, but then they don’t seem to care that much, since they’ve left the bedroom blind at the usual half-way ‘we’re on holiday so burgle away’ setting. Mostly I care about wildlife with shattered circadian rhythms, and the carbon going in and out of power stations in unhelpful forms and amounts.

What’s the point? That’s the real question. What possible benefit could it confer? The power companies advise us to switch everything off except a hall light so we know when the power’s back without the demand surge blowing it again. Not that anyone does. But why would you want an outside light to come on after a power-cut? I’ve seen rechargeable torches that come on automatically when the power cuts. That’s helpful. You can see where the torch is and lift it to light your way. Dandy. Why after? When you’re two thousand miles away? It’s just a ‘because we can’ techy gimmick, isn’t it?

Merv rigs up his specially curved reflector in the attic window. After a couple of hours without power, Spamela’s fretting about her freezer. We reiterate to her the eight hour rule, but she’s already in crisis scenarios where at the eighth hour mark we suddenly have ten kilos of mushy peas and more subsiding scones than you could sink a barge with. I suggest pea jam. Merv bundles me out of the kitchen.

Merv and I giggle about the place, amusing ourselves trying to think of inventive activities that don’t involve electricity. Ashamedly we can’t. Amusingly we go to make tea to help us think, fill the kettle, flick the switch, then wait for our brains to realise the stupidity. Silly us. Just use the microwave. Er. Error.

Suddenly, since electricity tends not to take a run-up, everything fires up. Merv and I scuttle to the front window with electric antipication, just in time to watch the paint peel. Theirs.

As a bonus, one night I accidentally-on-purpose left the reflector oriented at the back fence. Apparently, when Madame la Every Car Door Must Be Opened And Closed In Anger At 06:35 executed her routine, the cul de sac reverberated with shattering echoes. Apparently she suffered a temporary mild tinnitus. According to Merv, anyway. I slept through the whole thing.

[ Truthache series starts with Entry. ]

27/02/2018

Felix – part 2

Follows Felix – part 1

Calnish is calm and accepts much sooner than I expected. Perhaps some part of him grows wiser too. Or perhaps it’s the eye of the storm.
“How long have I been gone?”
“Six years.”
“You do look a bit older.”
He didn’t notice such things before, or didn’t bother to comment. Another cracking branch pierces this cloying ether, closer now.

Calnish seems to sense urgency, and not from me. “You’re pushing the trans-species frontier?”
“I value the companionship.”
“Waste of time; can’t civilise them.”
“Why would you want to?”
I never noticed his superior attitude before: suddenly humanity’s assumed superiority seems predicated upon the tautological comparison that any other creature is ‘less human than us’. Risible. He’s agitated. The door thuds, then rattles. Three claw scratches.
“I’m away, then.”
Relief. “I love you.”

I shuffle to unbolt the door, bracing myself to grapple with a swirl of wind. Felix glides in with perfectly timing, perfect poise. He rides the landscape features, bringing warmth to air that is suddenly clear. Calnish has dissolved, as he always does. I stand as Felix shakes himself by the fire. I wait for him to adjust to the temperature, to feel how things are, to push me, to fold me into my chair. As he always does. I murmur to him how good he smells. The words are nonsense—I don’t smell anything beyond cold—but the tone has the meaning.

Felix is slighter built, lighter coloured, than other lynx I’ve seen; my blonde northern boy. Even as a shade, Calnish is dark and sturdy. How can I be drawn to two such contrasting beings? My changing taste? The person inside.

Fed and set for the night, I let my drowsy mind wander through the stove flames. “If I said I needed to be someone else—somewhere else, would you take me away?”
I feel Felix’s breathing deepen. This is how he senses my moods. If only Calnish, or any other of my men, had been so well tuned.
“I thought you might understand: you might be an edge dweller like me, not exactly outcast but not in community, not having found a conventional role. Being unsettled.”

If I want an answer, truly want one, not just idly, I’ll have to pay very close attention: read his movements, his sounds and smells, his energy, his habits and reactions. There’s definitely a language and it’s fascinating to learn. And I’m just as gratified to see him learning to read me – actively training himself to understand then anticipate.

Lynx are usually not sociable – so he’s different. That word again. Humans generally are sociable, so I’m also unusual, here at the edge of the world. Of course sometimes I wish I could just ask him: why do you…whatever? What are you thinking or feeling? How is your world? But that would be too easy. Working it out the long way is so much more gratifying.

Lying here I can wish I was with the ‘right’ man, but I’m not with the wrong person.

Felix has a five centimetre scar on his right flank. I feel it as a hard ridge under his fur. He tenses. He dislikes it touched. I wonder what the trauma was.

Winter’s claws recede. The cold is relatively mild and most days unfrozen. We remain in stasis but I can savour the season’s benefits: the time to mend and fix, to craft and embroider. Felix surprises me by gaining weight. By Imbolc shoots poke through the soil like green beaks. I have loved the dead brown mush in its turn but welcome the return of life. Felix grooms away his winter coat over several evenings in a delightful masculine ablution. Without the shaggy layer, he is gorgeously toned and contoured.

Soon after the equinox we get the first balmy day. I feel the urge to open windows and air sheets. I anticipate a visit from Enga any day. I look forward to the human contact, the exchange. Well before dawn, Felix nudges me farewell and strides into the trees to hunt. He returns after breakfast for a sleep, stinking of carnage. Usually he washes after a big kill and feast. Something is different. I feel my complacency in the status quo jolted.

He marks the veranda post but stays out there, fidgeting. As he squirms across the boards, I see he’s aroused. And I know it’s the heat, not me. He doesn’t hide it. We have so many jigsaw pieces in this relationship that fit pretty well together. There are still some taboos. One taboo. There is companionship, there’s pooling talents and resources, economy of scale, there’s animal warmth and security. There’s no…intimacy. I probably smell wrong.

Perhaps it’s just timing. As Beltane nears, I feel surrounded by gravid females and musthy males. Not Felix. He seems to have passed through; the fresh spring air carried his pheromones elsewhere. The first heatwave strikes: four days of belting sun and no breeze. He sleeps. I can’t—work or sleep—in this heat. In heat.

Once the climate normalises, we resume usual activities. I’ve had a productive day, cleaning out my stores, preparing for drying later in the year, before fresh pickings take up my time. Scrubbing and wringing has exhausted my arms and shoulders. I rinse off my sweat but a proper wash will wait till I’m done, probably two days yet. I sink on to the blanket in my cotton smock, drying in the mild air, hoping I remember to pull the blanket around me before I sleep.

I wake with a gentle movement. Behind me, Felix seems to have hooked the blanket’s edge, and with some tugging and undulation of his torso he works it half over my legs. I reach around behind me to help but find only him. I’m so dopey I hope the gesture will suffice as thanks.

The movement also ventilates my armpit. I had forgotten I would still stink. Silent contrition. I feel him stiffen. I feel him nuzzle my neck. I hope this is forgiveness. It isn’t. Nuzzling becomes a nibble, then a light bite, holding my skin between his teeth as if to carry a child. Suddenly, he pushes half on top of me, pushes a leg between mine. My nakedness is vulnerable.

No mistaking: he slides along my groove, not in me but searching, unhurried. My heart thumps. I could, right in this moment, or this one, tilt my hips and welcome him. Is he waiting for a response? Is he satisfied with what he’s doing? Is this the first…? The crossing of the trans-species barrier? It is for me.

Unlike human men, the next morning is not a hurdle, not a step-change in behaviour. He licks my neck as he always does. I wake to the cooling warmth. I turn and bury my face in his chest fur. His breathing snags a little.

I see how far he’s come, away from his people. Was that all just intuition or a natural inclination? Or did he set out to be a pioneer?

The start of harvesting for me always brings cuts and scratches. I apply various wild herbal antimicrobials to my arms—garlic, heath myrtle, dankwort—to heal and guard against infection. Before the doorway he smells my potion, arches back, snarling. My thoughts race around: what horrendous herbal faux pas have I committed? Is this something that works for humans but is terribly poisonous to other mammals? Or smells like some such?

I think of Calnish: he was always tearing his skin, coming back from hunting lacerated with weals. Again I wonder if his prey was human or other. My heart thumps with another forming thought: Felix isn’t a natural pioneer; he’s the twisted result of human abuse, half-tamed, half-accustomed to humans and that same half consequently incompatible with his own species. He knew Calnish. Calnish was his tormentor. The herb smell is a key to that traumatic memory.

Is this possible? Is it true? What was it that brought Felix here? His human-distorted worldview or revenge? How human did he become?

What did you do, Calnish? I count myself very fortunate not to have suffered any of your violence. Also lacking, somehow: why was I not enough? How could you be with someone like me, and yet another part of you be such anathema?

The clues will be there. I have only to read them.

I never get the chance: a few days later, without any hint that I detect, even reviewing the events time and again afterward, Felix departs. Before Lammas, he sets out one early morning, seemingly the same as any other and doesn’t return. I wait. I look. I look out for him every hot day, every cold day, but never catch any sign, not even a hint.

Did he plan to leave? I flatter myself that I would’ve read that intention somehow in his ways. He’s too fit and well nourished to starve. Too canny to injure himself. Did he meet some misadventure? Usually other predators would be unlikely to attack a lynx. But he isn’t usual. He also has the double handicap of his human accustoming: susceptible to abusive human hunters or violent rejection by other lynx. Either way, I’d like to think he met someone more like him than me.

If I see Calnish again this midwinter, I’ll ask him outright: how did you die? Did a lynx ambush you in desperation to escape your captivity and torture? Somehow I suspect Calnish is gone for good too.

———

Inspired by:
“The [US] federal government has left it up to the states to decide the legality of bestiality. As a result, Americans have a system that allows people to legally sexually abuse animals. It is time to get serious about protecting animals in the USA from sexual predators.
Sign this petition now to tell the US government that it is never OK for a human to have sex with an animal, anywhere.” Care2 petition alert, 05/10/17, https://www.care2.com/go/z/e/Ay1.s/zt4I/CGArN

Bestiality is always abuse. Is it? Will it always be? Isn’t that presuming a lack of capacity for consent? And isn’t that human dominionism?

26/02/2018

Felix – part 1

“There! Did you feel it? The world turned.”
Calnish belligerently under-reacts to my childlike excitement. “Nothing ‘turned’. If anything, it reached the furthest extent of its tilt and swung around.”
I persist. “Semantics! You felt it, though?”
“I felt nothing. It only appears to change direction relative to your perspective and four-dimensional frame of understanding.”
“You don’t suffer such pedestrian constraints?”
“Midwinter is a valuable construct, but that’s all.”
“A construct. A powerful observation about the cyclical changing of seasons. About life moving on.”
“Moving on… Yes, about moving on: who’s the guy who’s been hanging around?”
“What guy?”
“I see his footprints. In here I can smell him.”
“There are no footprints; there’s no smell.”
“I see you through his eyes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He’s attached to this place. His essence…”
“Maybe I know who you mean.”
“Yeh, you do.”
“Hey! You were away. Far too long. You were gone.”
“Did you miss me?”
“You know I did. I grieved.”

I know who Calnish means. The guy approached my edge of the world only once winter had its claws deep in our flesh. Not for company, but for warmth and food. And for a drink you didn’t have to waste precious body heat melting first. The world was so still, so cold. I heard his feet crush patches of frost.

Deep within my blanket bundle I was excited to meet him at last. I expected him. He was the only person to venture within sight since Enga had paused on her migration north to trade before the spring equinox – more than three quarters back. I recalled his first visit.

Around Lammas, when the voluptuous verdure was creaking, bounty rained down all around in a surfeit I simply couldn’t use. I actually considered binning those herbs I’d dried in late spring to make way for higher quality sprigs. I realised my insanity and remembered that not only did I not have energy to squander duplicating tasks, but those plants were not purely resources for me.

Late one sultry afternoon I deliberately stopped myself. I sat on the cabin’s veranda, idly rasping my foot across the jutting edge. A soothing regular to and fro, in time with the waves of grasshoppers’ buzz rippling over me. The scent of Sweet Cicely was a perfect aniseed confection.

I opened my eyes, not having noticed their closing. At the foot of a tree, a hundred metres away, he stood motionless – I imagined he had just descended from storing his bounty for winter too. I admit I noticed which tree. I also noticed the beauty of his figure, staring at me, breathing. Had he stopped because my eyelids moved? Had he detected that?! No, it was the cessation of rasping. After mere moments he sauntered away. He hadn’t seemed in any way perturbed by my presence, just observant.

For several minutes, hovering on the edge of the chair, Calnish has his whole face chewing over his envy. He settles on renewed attack.
“Then you took up with a replacement.”
I’m not yet weary of this verbal dance, so I try to stay tactful. “It’s not like that.”
“What’s it like then?”
“Entirely new.”
“I suppose you love him.”
“Love is the nearest word for it, it’s different, but still…”
“Does it change things that I’m back?”
“You’re not back, not really. Our paths just crossed, that’s all. A midwinter intersection.”
“Where is he, this cold night?”
“This isn’t his only bolthole.”
“I’ll bet.”
“Coarseness is new for you.”
“I’ve changed.”
“So I see.”
“Is he a hunter too?”
“Not like you; coming back after your two, three days away, stinking of every bodily fluid.”
“Except one.”
“Especially that one, that male one. You weren’t always hunting for food.”

I wish I’d asked Calnish if his prey was human or other.

“You were jealous.”
“No, just disappointed.”

At times that winter after Calnish left was deadly cold. There were two particular nights that were so deep I wouldn’t have survived without shared body heat. The cold pilfered in through the wide spaces between atoms.

If this guy hadn’t turned up… If, if. What would I have done? If I’d known just how cold it would get, I would’ve climbed the tree, the one hundred metre tree. I would’ve raided his store. And if I’d found something I could eat, it would’ve been a waste. My metabolism couldn’t keep up; the stove couldn’t keep up.

I fancied a cold death would be pretty fortunate. If my brain froze to a halt and I stopped thinking, I couldn’t suffer. Too simplistic. Plain wrong. But I would lose consciousness. That would be a relief. I’d done my best. I wasn’t owed a living.

When he announced his approach through the dark with a whump and some scraping, my thinking was already slow. My mind crawled through my pitiful food offerings. I suppose it was a bargaining. I grasped the two least unsatisfactory ideas and opened the door a crack. He glanced over them and tilted his head: thanks for the effort, but…

He’d brought his own provision and stowed it in my cool crate. A smear of entrail and coagulating blood trailed from the lid. I dropped my desperate inappropriacies in the crate beside the half deer carcass, wiped the smear and added the discouraging stones to the lid’s catch lock. He would have to trust me. But then he’d already decided to forewarn me of his arrival.

He didn’t need much enticing. We slept well together, curled around the stove. In the morning the top blanket snapped with frost from our breath. I would reach out to shove the ready-placed wood into the stove. When I retracted it, he would hug my chilled arm back to warm. Slowly the cabin breathed again.

Calnish worries at his bone compulsively.
“What’s his name?”
“What’s yours?”
“What sort of question is that?”
“Humour me.”
“You know my name.”
“If you tell me your name, I’ll tell you his.”
“Petty nonsense.”
“You don’t remember, do you?”
“Some of my memories are patchy, I’ll admit.”
“I think they’re tied up in the place you went to. There’s some stuff you can’t bring back.”
“Putting up barriers, now?”
“Pointing them out.”

A distinctive branch snap pierces the fog. Calnish squints at me, suspicious. “That was an unusual reaction.”
“What was?”
“When that—whatever it was—cracked the branch, you glanced away; you smirked.”
“How should I react?”
“A little anxiety would fit better: stormy, cold, dark and wild creatures out there.”
“The only thing I fear is in here.”
“Is that meant to be profound?”
“Except I don’t fear you any more.”
“New guy protects you?”
“If he found you here he might get territorial; I don’t know.”
“You don’t feel demeaned by that? Where’s your ecofeminism now?”
“We’re in a whole new… territory.”
“I take care of myself.”
“Can you? Because I thought either you cared so little for me that you deserted me or you got caught somehow by the wildness, the elements, and couldn’t get back. Which is it?”
“I’m finding my way back. That’s resilience.”
“With bits missing.”
“Bits I have no use for anymore.”
“Like a name.”

I do have a name for him, but I keep it from my thoughts by focusing on my visitor, this throwback. I don’t trust Calnish not to get into my head, to get aggressive. If he’s going to figure things out, it has to be by stealth.

“If I had told you my name, if I remembered, would you have told me his?”
“No.”
“You don’t know his name?”
“If he has one, it’s in a language I’m still learning. Communication is quite different.”
“Is he…?”
“He’s very intelligent, differently from us.”
“All I’m hearing is: different, different. Which tribe is he from?”
“I think he’s… a migrant.”

Blue-white lightning flashes once, then allows us reflex time to glance to what we want to see clearly—Calnish out the window, me at Calnish—before flashing again. Protracted thunder follows sharply. The scaured creases over his face imprint on my mind. He’s mesmerised.
“Wow. Did you see that? Lit up the whole… Is that… a lynx?”
“Is he heading this way?”

Time slides by. I’m not afraid of Calnish crossing paths with anyone else – that particular someone else. These days his aggression is never more than verbal sniping. And that other someone, against all instinct, would not smell him.

Calnish latches on to a curiosity. “You said ‘he’. How do you— The snap—”
“That’s the guy you envy.”
Calnish splutters into sardonic laughter. “Your guy is a — wildcat? Not even human?”
“Why does that amuse you?”
“I always said without me you’d end up a crazy old witch with feral cats prowling everywhere. After all this tiptoeing around, I’m still the only man in your life? All this jealousy for—”
“My love, you’re not human either.”
“Ridiculous.”
“You haven’t been human for a long time. At midwinter the interface between worlds draws very thin. Paths can cross. It’s always good to see you, but the part of you that can step across get dafter every year.”

Concludes in Felix – part 2

25/12/2017

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.

24/12/2017

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!”
“Nonsense.”
“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?”
“What?”
“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.
“Nerd.”
“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.”
“Where?”
“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.”
“So?”
“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?”
“Iona.”
“No, it’s Box Three.”

22/10/2017

Grandparent File Download

LYLE: Sure you want the whole file?
MARIE: Absolutely.
LYLE: I mean—sorry to be patronising, just to cover everything, you know—it’s a massive file; it’s about…ten and a half years’ worth of usage allowance.
MARIE: I’ve saved up.
LYLE: Aye, I see you have the credits.
MARIE: It’s not something you can chunk up. That’s not how the data’s organised.
LYLE: Even if it wouldn’t work in chunks, you could still download it that way? Just to be safer if one chunk got interrupted?
FATHER: Where are you based?
MARIE: Dad! I’m dealing with this.
FATHER: I’m not interfering. Simple question.
LYLE: Sorry, what?
FATHER: Are you a person or a robot?
MARIE: I’m sorry; my father is online too.
LYLE: Ah, OK. That’s good if you got him connected and working.
MARIE: Although obviously he does like to be involved.
LYLE: Right, for the record, then: I’m a real person and I’m at the Onlineage Support Centre in Glasgow.
FATHER: Jolly good. Is that the new establishment in Dumbarton?
LYLE: Er, I can’t actually give any details – for security reasons.
MARIE: Dad, could you just imagine him in Dumbarton so we can move on?
FATHER: I’m not sharing my information with some ‘clown’ in Anniesland. Or Mumbai.—
LYLE: Did he just call me a clown?
FATHER: (OFF) —Or Dubai. Or Arizona.—
MARIE: I think he meant “cloud” but it was disrespectful; I’m sorry.
FATHER: (OFF)—Or Wales.
MARIE: What’s wrong with Wales?! Never mind. Pipe down, eh, or you’ll blow all my credits hijacking a support call.
FATHER: Willco. Dumbarton it is.
MARIE: Onlineage has all your information already. Those cats are out the bag and clawing open all your cans of worms.
FATHER: (OFF) Cats didn’t eat worms in my day.
LYLE: Er, most folk like to get comfortable with the parent file before installing the grandparent files.
MARIE: Aye, in an ideal world I’d be twenty-two and fizzing with vitality, but I have to be pragmatic. This is as comfortable as I get. I don’t have the luxury of time.
LYLE: Fair enough.
MARIE: I’ve saved up for this four times already; each time life got in the way and I had to start all over. If I’d had my parents and my grandparents linked up sooner maybe things would’ve been different. If, if. I’ve had to get through without them. But no more. I have the credits. I’m ready.
LYLE: No bother. Like I said, sorry to be patronising; I just have to check.
SOUND: BEEP
LYLE: OK, that’s the transfer started.
MARIE: Which one?
LYLE: Both, sorry.
MARIE: My grandparent files go “beep”?
LYLE: Aye, just the final confirmation.
MARIE: I can see it coming through! Fantastic. Thanks so much.
LYLE: Welcome. You want to stay on the line till it finishes? Just in case? Won’t cost you any more.
MARIE: Thank you; I’d appreciate that.
FATHER: I say, getting rather crowded in here.
MARIE: Recognise anything yet?
FATHER: That’s not what happened! My memory may not be fully polished but this is clearly faulty.
MARIE: You’re going to need to relax. It’s all just perceptions, same as yours. Somewhere between all these bits of information is the truth. There’s so much to learn.
FATHER: (OFF) Bunkum.
LYLE: So, what are you going to learn first?
MARIE: Gaelic.
LYLE: That’s one I never heard before.
MARIE: I want to learn Norwegian and I reckon there’ll be some overlap. There are some old cultural connections I want to get at.
LYLE: Isn’t Gaelic really difficult?
MARIE: Less difficult than English. Every day I think in English and some daft peculiarity strikes me.
LYLE: But you’re fine at English.
MARIE: Aye, and that’s taken me decades to get this good at. It must be torture for non-native speakers. And when I die: zap – all deleted.
LYLE: I’m sure you’ve got plenty time to use it before then.
MARIE: I’m ninety-two. What odds would you give me?
LYLE: You’re joking? (PAUSE) What age is your dad?! (PAUSE) No, obviously it’s in the file. Shite. A hundred and…twenty-eight? That wasn’t him…
MARIE: That was your excellent Synthesis app.
LYLE: Shite.
MARIE: I have no children. I need to integrate my knowledge so it’s not wasted. Every new person shouldn’t have to learn all this stuff from the beginning.
LYLE: You’re combining your lifetime of experience with your parents’ and their parents’?
MARIE: Isn’t that what this technology’s for? It’s not idle nostalgia: see the world through your ancestors’ eyes. You have to give it forward. Think what we could be if we weren’t restricted to sharing experience only by communication through the filter of societal behavioural norms?
LYLE: Er…
MARIE: Speaking, mostly.
LYLE: Right, right. I thought this was mostly for, like, instead of ‘how was your weekend?’ you just experience the whole thing. Eech.
MARIE: At first I wondered how folk’d get along without the liberty to embellish, but seemingly that’s factored into their perceptions.
LYLE: Like, if you want to believe you had the best time, that’s what others will get from your experience, too?
MARIE: Nobody will care that my father always kept fifteen spare packets of toilet paper, but they might benefit from his experience as a child during wartime. They can feel his psychology and understand how he attributed a lifetime’s hyperconsumerism to suffering rationing. I have this theory…
LYLE: You may as well tell me; we’re only at thirty-four percent.
MARIE: Last century our cultural evolution suddenly got turbocharged. Industrialisation, commercialism, technology raced away with our beliefs about success and happiness. ‘Can do’ completely overtook ‘should do’. We started making demands on our bodies that would take generations for physiological evolution to deliver. Bombarding ourselves with information and materialism. At the same time it became apparent that this hyperconsumerism was equally unhealthy for us and the rest of the living world.
LYLE: This is where technology solutions come in?
MARIE: Aye and no: we have to ask if, now a robot prepares your tea, are you happier? Saves you twenty, thirty minutes, right? Time you could use for something more useful? More useful than appreciating where your food comes from? Savouring the smells as well as the tastes that are part of the full experience for your body? More useful than the mental downtime of a simple task?
LYLE: I don’t know if that spiritual stuff is for everyone – all that overanalysing stuff.
MARIE: I think that’s where our lives are generally: chronic overstimulation, poor mental and emotional agility, constant analysis of marginal information.
LYLE: So you mean, like, get implants?
MARIE: They just enable you to process more and more information of less and less value. You still have to work out what that vanishingly small value is in order to make use of it. More and more work to get the same quality of information.
LYLE: Surely adding your parents’ experiences in to the mix is just more stress then?
MARIE: Only if you don’t learn from it. See the lessons they learned from their lives; see what worked for them, what they figured out.
LYLE: You’re pretty bright for a ninety-year-old.
MARIE: I’m still learning. How’re we doing?
LYLE: Sixty-two.
MARIE: Humans have been grappling with the same life problems for millennia; wouldn’t it be good if we learned from others more efficiently – the benefits of their experience?
LYLE: Isn’t there a point to, you know, working it out for yourself?
MARIE: Sure, and maybe you come up with an even better solution, but why not see what your predecessors came up with first? Minimise that struggle, that suffering?
SOUND: BEEP
LYLE: Er…
MARIE: Finished?
LYLE: No… Some block. Your system has stopped confirming the request for download.
MARIE: Ah, I bet I’m using too much processor being online.
LYLE: That shouldn’t be an issue. Can you check you’ve shut down absolutely everything apart from our app?
MARIE: Oh, I have, really: I checked the processes before I called. That’s all that’s been running this whole time.
LYLE: OK, you’ve filled in all the criteria in the form, all the technical specs; you have plenty memory, enough processor capacity. What else could be using up the system?
MARIE: Your Synthesis app.
LYLE: Your father? Can you suspend him?
MARIE: (laughs) Aye, but that won’t be enough.
LYLE: Wait: I have a mirror pane; it’s showing another person running… Is that…you?!
MARIE: The very one.
LYLE: I’m speaking to a Synthesis?
MARIE: Indeed. Died a while ago. Something snapped. Who cares? This is far too important for a hurdle like that to derail the whole project.
LYLE: Er, if there’s any indication that you’ve reverse engineered our software, I have to invoke a non-compliance procedure…
MARIE: Don’t be daft: I’m ninety-two! How would I ‘reverse engineer’ anything? Couldn’t even reverse my tea trolley without cowping the last fifteen years. I haven’t broken any of the agreement I signed. But by all means check. And while you do that, consider who you’re going to prosecute. Hah.
LYLE: But how— How can you— How am I having this conversation with you?
MARIE: Your Synthesis app! Onlineage is really very good. You should probably be promoting your products a bit more.
LYLE: But it needs something— How can you launch it?
MARIE: Ah, the combination of all these experiences, knowledge, so on; it takes on a life of its own, so to speak.

10/09/2017

Play Me

SCENE 1
SOUND: phone rings
HARRIET: Hey, Vin. Alright?
VIN: (D) No, sorry, need you to come through. Drew’s really upset. He’s locked himself in his office.
HARRIET: Upset? At what?
VIN: (D) No’ angry; he’s wailing, greeting even.

SCENE 2
SOUND: footsteps approach, taps on door
HARRIET: Drew? Can you let us in?
SOUND: door handle clunks, muffled groan, sob
HARRIET: My love, we’re really concerned. Please let us in. Drew?
VIN: Come on, man. Need to let us help.
SOUND: taps on door
HARRIET: Drew?
SOUND: footsteps recede
HARRIET: (whisper) At least he’s conscious.
VIN: (whisper) There’s no’ anything up wi’ you two, is there?
HARRIET: No? Totally fine till you called. Was he alright with you?
VIN: Aye, seen him first thing. He just didnae come through for lunch. Will we burst the door?
HARRIET: He might be right inside. OK, what I’m about to show you… Never mind. I trust you. We’re going back along, but totally silent, OK?

SCENE 3
SOUND: door clicks
HARRIET: Nicely done.
VIN: We’re in a storage cupboard.
HARRIET: Aye, I found this one time he had me wait in his office. I got bored, peered about, seen the wardrobe—why is there a wardrobe in that office? Turns out the back of it’s like Narnia except it’s just sort of joists and maintenance scaffold between the walls. Anyway, it comes out here. So, we walk along the planks and sneak into his wardrobe.
VIN: Do we need anything?
HARRIET: Torch. There.

SCENE 4
SOUND: breathing, click, rustle, swish, steps burst from wardrobe
DREW: No! Get out! (gasp)
VIN: It’s only us, man.
SOUND: shuffle, rustle of kneeling
HARRIET: My lovely man, what’s happened? Can you sit up? Look at me.
VIN: Did he collapse?
HARRIET: I don’t know yet. No smell on his breath, eyes are fine, pulse a bit rapid. Can you look about if anything’s out of place?
VIN: I don’t want to touch his stuff.
HARRIET: Don’t. Just scan. You’ll see something.
VIN: Why’s that flashing? Must’ve been unplugged. There’s a CD in, paused. Who has CDs still?
HARRIET: Maybe that’s why it was unplugged.
VIN: Will I unpause it?
DREW: No!
HARRIET: Drew, my love, can you tell me why? Just tell us, please?
DREW: No. (moan)
SOUND: caress
HARRIET: OK. Why plug it in..?
VIN: Guess we have to listen—
HARRIET: No! Wait. No, don’t touch it. Don’t touch the buttons, any CD cases, anything.
VIN: OK, what?
HARRIET: What do you do when some mailbox you don’t know emails you a file unexpectedly?
VIN: Bin it; virus.
HARRIET: What if it’s an audio file?
VIN: Probably a fake file extension; bin it.
HARRIET: What if it’s on a CD? Can’t infect the stereo, can you?
VIN: Shit! Sonovirus?
HARRIET: Don’t touch anything. Come away over here. We need serious polis. Nobody needs to listen to that. They need to Fourier analyse it or something off-line. No audio.
VIN: You think Drew here got like hypnotised?
HARRIET: I know: I have a rush of paranoia now. But we do it to ourselves plenty: atmospheric music, trance, using vocal tone, pitch, pace to match mood or subtly altering it to lead mood. No wonder we’re stressed-out insomniacs. Applied maliciously you could use sound as effects, tunes, speech to match subconscious thought, brainwaves even, then disrupt them. Not much of a leap to someone twisting it to an audio weapon.
VIN: He maybe thought it was a promo track?
HARRIET: Call the polis—ambulance first. Say he’s maybe been hypnotised into some sort of mental breakdown.
VIN: Psychotic?
SOUND: phone tapping
HARRIET: I don’t know the psychiatry, it’s mood-altering sound. I don’t think he’s scrambled, just maybe acutely depressed or paranoid from suggestion or non-verbal sound.

SCENE 5
VIN: On the way. Eight minutes. Can I touch the door?
HARRIET: Why?
VIN: Unlock it?
HARRIET: Aye, good point.
SOUND: bolt drawn
DREW: (gibbers)
VIN: You’re alright, man. Help on the way. Why Drew?
HARRIET: That’s not how terrorists work, is it? It’s random, innocent folk.
VIN: There’ll be more then? Shit. They won’t show their hand without an impact.
HARRIET: That’s my paranoia ramped right up. Maybe it’s just one random nutter. Oh, my poor boy.
VIN: How desperate do you need to be to go to these lengths to get attention?!
HARRIET: I’m not feeling sympathetic to anyone’s cause right now.
VIN: It’s just nasty stuff. Twisted sociopaths.
HARRIET: Want to head out to meet the medics?
VIN: Check they are who they say they are?
HARRIET: Cannae do this conspiracy shit. I just need to see my man safe.
VIN: Still trust me?
HARRIET: Have to trust someone. Have to trust each other? Otherwise they win.
SOUND: door clicks
HARRIET: My poor love. We’ll be alright.
DREW: (sigh)

03/09/2017

Barcode Not Recognised

My wife disappeared in an art gallery. I’m not a connoisseur. The exhibition was modern – post-talent I would say. It appeared minimalist of effort and mercenary of presentation. The images were monochrome, straight lines.

I wandered among them in bewilderment, wondering how long it would take a troupe of monkeys to produce the same with a graphics app and random key strokes. After twenty minutes I abandoned my search for any shred of interest or intrigue. I approached my wife who was standing, mesmerised before a giant barcode: black vertical lines on a white background, but perfected – entirely uniform with equal width bars and spacing. It was a grill lit by one ice white spotlight. We stood, side by side, for several minutes. Eventually she murmured that it was true, pure brilliance. Tactfully, I muttered something about it standing out but I didn’t recognise any feature of value. I couldn’t sustain a focus on it and my mind and eyes soon wandered. Consequently, when the incident occurred, I glimpsed it only peripherally.

Apparently without cue, from about five metres away, she walked straight at it, slowly, steadily, right up to it. She closed in and vanished.

At first I thought she’d wandered between the exhibit panels, but couldn’t find her. I didn’t think she could’ve left as there was a perky ticket checker beside the doors, and I had the tickets. I swept the place, then, just for my own sanity. I went out to check our car, despite knowing I had the keys. Eventually in escalating concern I sought help. The ticket checker assured me that no-one had left before my foray to the car park. We scanned the CCTV footage of the entrance and car park and indeed no-one had. We examined the internal camera footage and there, in poor quality monochrome—ironically suited to the art—we watched her approach the massive barcode and disappear.

I was surprised all over again. I had thought I must’ve been mistaken. She didn’t disappear front to back, like passing behind the edge of an opaque object; she didn’t fall; she wasn’t grabbed. She faded away, like someone had switched off a projection.

That was what spurred my thinking, in the following hours and days. After several nights of insomnia, my mind opened up creatively to the most bizarre and unlikely possibilities. I wondered at what point beforehand a change could’ve been made. When was the switch?

I found it: she’d gone to the toilet when we arrived, and I hadn’t seen her come out. She had appeared beside a piece or art, so I had joined her. She hadn’t spoken. I had nothing to say, bewildered as I was. But why? I invested weeks and months of painstaking forensic analysis into all the life evidence she left. She had carefully, gradually and systematically removed anything she valued, including her own money, and left all the dross as an unchanged façade.

The rest is cliché. Infidelity, attraction to a man with more money than a small country, but also a staggering creative talent, which combined to manifest even his most elaborate whims. A hologram. A simple message relayed from a tiny black speaker stuck on… you guessed it: the barcode. The toilet had a cleaner’s cupboard, which had been unlocked, and which had a service hatch, which was shared with the neighbouring shop, which had any number of patrons departing in obfuscatory groups or hats. Gone.

I have no idea why she left, or why she chose such a dramatic exit. The banality of the barcode could suggest that she rejected our life because it was too insipid and predictable, or not dull enough. She had changed into someone I didn’t recognise, and had deliberately hidden that change. I stopped analysing my own thought-echoes and got some sleep. The stages of change played through my emotions. I hope they’re happy living a perfectly straight path.

Now, when I spend time with someone, I pay attention.

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