Digital Ischemia

08/07/2018

Chronic Creepiness and Complicity

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 17:00

“I didn’t think you’d remember little old me!”
This is how I imagine that affected vulnerable voice, out of that great dough-ball head, atop the massive balloon that just didn’t work as effeminate, let alone endearing.

This is not my #metoo moment. I wouldn’t elevate chronic creepiness to that level of trauma. But how do I make sense of socially inept people misreading one another, or simply drawing a blank in their repertoire of professional behaviour? Remember? How could I forget all those insinuations, false assumptions, unreciprocated intimacies?

How could I forget you saying ‘I just changed your password because I knew you wouldn’t mind’ and because you could, with your super-user privileges. I lay on my sickbed, mind whirling through personal files I had legitimately kept on there, alongside work files. Financial details, personal photos, things I should never have had to consider passwording individually as they were in my allocated private space. You could have looked at any of them. You could have copied the whole lot to some offline drive for your later investigation. I felt sick. I didn’t think you were malicious, just somehow you kept acting like we were close. We weren’t. No one thought so. I wasn’t giving mixed messages. Other colleagues volunteered that they found you weird. You were like a naïve stalker: constantly pushing boundaries under the misapprehension that I shared your ‘more than colleagues’ feeling.

I was happier in those old times, fifteen years ago, when the boss saying “I’m not here to make friends” was a sign of good management. Now the vogue is to appear to be super friendly with every colleague. Otherwise they won’t be motivated to do anything for you. Even if that’s their job. What price professionalism?

I let you visit my house four times, because it seemed that I ought too – I felt some bizarre workplace pressure to ‘bond’ with team-mates, especially ones based in other offices at the other end of the country. The first time I thought you might genuinely be interesting, someone I could get along with outside the workplace. At the door you greeted me with a kiss on the lips and a packet of melted chocolate as my partner sat in the living room. Neither was pleasant. I was stunned. You said you’d left it in the car not imagining the sun would be so warm. You’d already cut the corner and begun drinking it. I declined by making a joke of it. Did you think we were going to share it? I put it down to social clumsiness.

When I visited your office you invited me to your house for tea with your family. Again, not my choice as I like to recharge in the evening, especially after a long journey away from home. But it seemed antisocial to decline. It was awkward. Your family was friendly but slightly baffled why I was there; your wife seemed tired. You were peculiar, pouring me special local brews then pulling them out of my hand when I seemed to get too open about work. Insisting I see your personal library closet which you had created by partitioning one of your children’s already small rooms. Insisting I saw the full extent of your garden and the various engineering projects therein. I returned to my hotel feeling utterly unenriched. I didn’t repeat the experience.

After my partner and I had moved to a larger house, you appeared to have trouble getting overnight accommodation to attend a meeting at my office. I again felt workplace pressure to plug the gap. I had a spare room now. My boyfriend had no problem with you; he knew you slightly and was so wrapped up in his own workplace troubles he barely engaged. After tea, I tried to be sociable before washing and sleeping. As I sat on the sofa, trying to find an interesting conversation topic, you took the opportunity to kneel in the floor beside me and read poetry to me. You needed the brighter lamp, you said. I didn’t want a bright light on; I didn’t want poetry or your enthusings. I don’t read poetry, much less appreciate it. You seemed to expect me to relish your science fantasy word world. I just wanted to escape but already I felt too uncomfortable to leave you roaming my personal space unattended.

When one of your parents died, you took your family to the other end of the country for the funeral and the sad business of tidying up a person’s effects. The journey was long so a third time I felt some workplace pressure to oil the wheels between colleagues. I offered you a pitstop on your route home as you were travelling at the weekend. I made some snacks and hung about. Your family all trooped in, tired and awkward, some of whom I’d met once at your house. They weren’t hungry; they’d been eating crap from every service station. They didn’t want a seat; they’d been sitting tightly packed for hours. They didn’t want to speak to someone they had no connection with right after a funeral. I wasn’t surprised my lame jokey attitude fell flat. I didn’t know how else to behave.

In the midst of this awkwardness, you suddenly, clandestinely, asked if you could speak to me in private. I reeled in the wave of creepiness all over again. I had thought I was safe from that inappropriacy in the vicinity if your family. You clutched my upper arm, brought your face too close and whispered that you had noticed an absence of shoes in the porch – my partner’s were gone. I suppose you were trying to be tactful by not raising a painful subject in public. I fumbled that we had separated and I had imagined you had learned by some workplace osmosis. My subtle implication being: I didn’t want to specifically tell you for fear you would think it a personal intimation and my ‘availability’ applied to you somehow. Nor were you one of my trusted confidantes.

When I was off sick for a few weeks, you took it upon yourself to be my official team visitor, to bring me a thoughtful card from everyone else, a couple of genuine queries, and an extra long cable so I could use my laptop in bed. I found out later this wasn’t sanctioned by our manager; she wasn’t even aware. My housemate was puzzled by your behaviour: the way you just entered my bedroom, plonked everything on the bed, slumped on the carpet alongside me, and waffled on about the office and your home life. I was so fatigued I couldn’t even work out if my discomfort was reasonable, let alone form a coherent sentence to eject you. Your wittering seemed merely harmless, thoughtless, self-absorbed, right up until you suddenly noticed I wasn’t wearing my glasses. “I never noticed how big your eyes are,” you mused. My whole body clenched with energy I could ill afford.

After the chat waned, you began setting up the laptop for me, seemingly generously. I wasn’t interested; I didn’t want to use it at that moment; I didn’t need help in any case. You then casually notified me that I’d need to change my password. My exhausted, over-blathered-at, hypoglycaemic brain registered anxiety at this development but couldn’t simultaneously process implications. I just weakly acknowledged. You knelt expectantly beside my bed, as if for a pat on the head, but probably for reinforcement of your trusted status. I stared into space, willing you to go.

My housemate became agitated after an hour and a half; I hadn’t had any breakfast and the doctor was due. That thoughtful concern gave me a welcome chance to twist your overstay into overkindness and engineer your leaving. Yet you stood in the hall rambling on in your over-intimate fashion for another twenty minutes.

Over the following days, my panicked mind raced through what you had given yourself access to, for the spurious reason of copying over a work file you wanted access to. I pushed myself to log in before I felt up to it, just to see for myself if there was anything to see in my personal drive, any spoor of your presence. I checked last modified dates but didn’t see any since I’d been absent. If only there had been a last accessed date field. But even that wouldn’t be conclusive as, as I’ve said, you could’ve simply copied out the files.

During that convalescence I spent much time and energy contemplating whether to make a formal complaint about your abuse of privilege. I fought against upsetting the ‘team dynamic’, against giving more issues to our overburdened manager, against damaging your career disproportionately, against over-formalising an issue that had probably arisen from my own social ineptitude. I should have been more blunt with you. I didn’t have the energy for difficult conversations.

With increasing hindsight I recognise your social awkwardness, but yours seems paired with under-sensitivity to others’ reactions. My version has over-sensitivity; I blame myself and try to change my algorithm every time, when often it’s just someone having a bad day.

I resisted further hints about accommodation and visits, and kept emails and text messages strictly professional. I became frighteningly twisted in my wording, learning avidly from the business speak fashion of each month: I didn’t want to ‘mask your genuine need for business accommodation’ by putting you up.

The workplace got more stressful, a new manager exerted more pressure on all of us, my illness recurred. I felt my position too precarious to make any more waves. After an extended absence I had to resign my job and trust my colleagues to sort out my desk cabinet. I told my favourite desk buddy what was my personal stuff and what was for the company to retain. Unfortunately, inevitably, you involved yourself and several important items went astray. Some were delayed in reaching me by a few weeks, some disappeared altogether, some were delivered out of the blue three years later.

In the middle of a summer heatwave I found at the porch a company bag containing some of the missing items from my desk and some random financial documents which should never have left the office. Apparently you had also left the organisation and in the sorting out these had turned up. When I enquired of ex-colleagues, tact and unconcern covered any embarrassment and left the circumstances uncomfortably unexplained. The wave of anxiety rose again.

There were plenty of other little abuses of the working relationship, exacerbated by my failure to establish boundaries. I understand the desire to know more about someone, and the easy temptation to abuse professional privileges to gain that information, or just the frightening ease of internet research, in order to seem insightful and attractive. The boundary is no doubt different for different people. And we’re all inconsistent. And complicity creeps up on you.

I hope you don’t remember me.

Advertisements

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

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.”

17/12/2017

In The Dark: Cupboard

SOUND: DOOR BURSTS OPEN, RAPID SLIDING STEPS, DOOR BANGS SHUT
VIOLET: (EXHALE) Aaaaaaah! Nauseating little goblin! All goblins are little, Violet. Try to avoid pleonasms.
SOUND: PACING
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)
SOUND: WHUMP-CLACK
VIOLET (CONT’D): Ow.
SOUND: DOOR CLICKS OPEN
ARNOLD: Ms Bogscrattle?
VIOLET: (PAUSE) What?
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.
SOUND: SHUFFLE, CLICK
VIOLET (CONT’D): You’re still here.
ARNOLD: This … intrigues me.
VIOLET: It’s a cupboard.
SOUND: SWITCH CLICKS RAPIDLY
VIOLET (CONT’D): Not working. I like it dark. Sanctuary. Usually.
SOUND: FINGER TIP SQUEAKS ON TILE
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?
SOUND: WHUMP-CLACK, FABRIC RUSTLE
VIOLET: Mr Shipworm.
ARNOLD: (CLOSE) Yes?
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—
VIOLET: Joke.
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.
ARNOLD: (WHISTLES NERVOUSLY)
VIOLET: Why is no-one allowed to listen to your practice?
ARNOLD: (SPLUTTER OF DISBELIEF)
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: Ah.
VIOLET: Ah?
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?
SOUND: CLOTHES SWISH, SNIFF
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!
SOUND: STANDS, DOOR CLICKS
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?

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.

01/08/2017

Cold Call: Day 19

The last in a series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1

SOUND: PHONE RINGS, REPEAT, REPEAT
LACRIMOSA: You know I know how to escalate nuisance calls.
SìMON: (D) I wasnae a nuisance till you found out I wasnae a total stranger. That’s no’ even rational.
LACRIMOSA: You were a nuisance, even when you were funny.
SìMON: The end justifies the means. Just like it did for you.
LACRIMOSA: You kept calling me! I was lying in self-defence!
SìMON: You could’ve hung up. You did, even.
LACRIMOSA: And yet here we still are! You’ve created this whole idea of me in your head that’s not real!
SìMON: Aye, no’ like you’ve any experience of making up fantasies.
LACRIMOSA: Why did you call me?
SìMON: It really was because of the whale thing.
LACRIMOSA: No, I mean why did you call me after I left Dalry’s? – if you weren’t after a job.
SìMON: (PAUSE) I like speaking to you. You speak about interesting stuff, no’ boring shit like soap operas and celebrity gossip. You’re funny. Why did you no’ call me?
LACRIMOSA: You scared me. I don’t know why. Probably my subconscious alarms bells going off: here’s a guy that thinks you’re someone else!
SìMON: You cannae imagine someone just liking speaking to you? OK, listen: I’m sorry for the way the conversation went yesterday – and this conversation seems to be going.
LACRIMOSA: It’s not your fault I’m like this: shit-abled.
SìMON: What I was gonnae say was: it turns out it doesnae matter.
LACRIMOSA: It really does.
SìMON: No’ to me.
LACRIMOSA: You have no id—
SOUND: DOORBELL
LACRIMOSA (CONT’D): How can there be someone at the door?! I used to live a peaceful life then I started getting these nuisance calls.
SìMON: And those were just the ones fae me.
LACRIMOSA: They were all from—
SOUND: DOORBELL
SìMON: You should answer it. Could be important.
LACRIMOSA: No, it won’t be; it’ll be some chancer with a flat-bed wanting to mess up my path or mutilate my trees or ruin the roof or something.
SìMON: Could be Gordon, checking on you.
LACRIMOSA: He just walks in.
SìMON: Still, you should maybe just check.
LACRIMOSA: OK, but it might take me a while.
SìMON: I’ll wait.
LACRIMOSA: No, hang up! I don’t care. I want my life back.
SOUND: DOOR OPENS
LACRIMOSA: (OFF) But you’re on the phone!
SìMON: (OFF) I ken you willnae have much experience of these devices, since you’re no’ ‘mobile’, but—
LACRIMOSA: (OFF) Are those your aunty’s dead daffodils?

ENDS

31/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 18

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1 and ends at Day 19

SOUND: PHONE RINGS, REPEAT, REPEAT
LACRIMOSA: Why did you suddenly decide to call me?
SìMON: (D) I always call about this time.
LACRIMOSA: The first time.
SìMON: Just a spur of the moment thing—well, a spur of twenty hours thing.
LACRIMOSA: Meaning?
SìMON: I was on a boat, aff the coast of Iceland—place called Olafsvik – brilliant, by the way—so I was watching for whales, and that conversation we had – what was it—four, five years ago?
LACRIMOSA: This whole obsession is over a conversation five years ago that I don’t even remember?
SìMON: Aye, you do.
LACRIMOSA: Reading my mind now?
SìMON: You told me the beached whale story then, too.
LACRIMOSA: Norway?
SìMON: No, the rotting carcass.
LACRIMOSA: OK, because Norway was after…
SìMON: Alright? So, anyway, it came into my mind and I wondered if you’d ever been there—Iceland—and seen a live whale. Like, how it’d be weird if you’d been in the same boat or at the same exact point in the ocean. After a while I thought, why am I tantalising myself with ‘what ifs’ and pish? Why don’t I just ask you? Maybe you’d want to come with me somewhere. Maybe see a non-beached whale.
LACRIMOSA: So you just lifted the phone.
SìMON: After the twenty hours on boats, buses, ferries getting back.
LACRIMOSA: You weren’t planning to come back?
SìMON: No’ at that point. I just suddenly felt like, what am I doing here myself?
LACRIMOSA: When you could be making nuisance calls to someone who it turns out can’t go anywhere.
SìMON: No, it—

30/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 17

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1 and ends at Day 19

SOUND: PHONE RINGS
LACRIMOSA: What?
SìMON: (D) Er, how are you?
LACRIMOSA: I’m sure you have a satellite oriented at my window so you can see for yourself.
SìMON: Oh, aye, that’s you gi’ing me the finger, right?
LACRIMOSA: Near enough. Why the Mrs McIver charade? Do you even have an aunty?
SìMON: To prove you could like me, without preconceptions.
LACRIMOSA: Whose? No, I mean: who to?
SìMON: To whom?
LACRIMOSA: Aye, try the grammatical high-ground, since the moral high-ground is crumbling under your feet.
SìMON: Both of us.
LACRIMOSA: How is that fair? You knowing who I was?
SìMON: No’ kenning who I was didnae stop you making up your ‘stories’.
LACRIMOSA: That was fun.
SìMON: That excuses lying.
LACRIMOSA: Congratulations: you’ve taken cold calling to a whole new level of insult. So I’m hanging up now.

29/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 16

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1 and ends at Day 19

SOUND: PHONE RINGS
LACRIMOSA: Right. How did you get my home number?
SìMON: (D) Private detective.
LACRIMOSA: What?
SìMON: Kidding. Council Tax records.
LACRIMOSA: I tick the box!
SìMON: It only takes one wee slip one year and yer cooncil’ll flog your details to anyone that pays. Once it’s on the internet, that’s it: name, full address, age bracket, co-habiters. I already kenned which toun you live in.
LACRIMOSA: Hang on, Council Tax record—electoral register—doesn’t have phone numbers.
SìMON: I got the area code and just started trying combinations. All very logical.
LACRIMOSA: You are a fucking cold caller!
SìMON: OK, seriously, it doesnae take much searching to find some local site with your name and number on, like a community cooncil report with planning applicants listed, or, in your case, a freecycle site trying to affload some classy knick-knacks.
LACRIMOSA: You’re a fucking cold calling stalker. I told Gordon about you, by the way.
SìMON: Are you no’ flattered I went to all that trouble to cyber-stalk you?
LACRIMOSA: I suddenly feel very exposed.
SìMON: Good.
LACRIMOSA: How is that good?
SìMON: All your information is out there already; better you ken about it.
LACRIMOSA: So I can be even less trusting of cold callers?
SìMON: Am I still digging myself in a bigger hole here?
LACRIMOSA: I’m sure you can get yourself a ladder off Gumtree.

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.