Digital Ischemia

16/10/2018

BBC Bureaucracy

Another vaguely anticipated episode in my Truthache series of surreal petty vengeance: Merv is piqued by non-contact forms

Merv recently got himself jammed in the most beautiful cul-de-sac of e-pistles, most of the pistle being in the wind. Being an attentive sort, back in April he noticed that BBC Radio programmes suddenly lost their track timing flags. A heinous state of affairs. How can he browse through his HypeLayer and land neatly in the tee-up to a nice reliable bit of Chopin or Placebo without any indication of when in the three-hour timeline this is?

Unpleasant incidents resulted, such as him plunging into some contemporary experimental effort and becoming transfixed by the phased percussion like a chicken rendered catatonic by a vertical line. A virtuoso organist peddling away with unnecessary vigour caused such a thrum in the bass speakers that Merv’s tank-top unravelled and Aunty Spamela’s begonias wilted.

Once recalibrated, Merv’s fluids began to circulate again. He found his Wi-Fi web wireless has little letterboxes with messages encouraging you to punch in your thoughts. He summoned his best letter-writing etiquette.

April 20
Merv: Why?
Devoid O’Smairts, BBC HypeLayer support team: We are aware of similar reports of this and we are currently investigating. We appreciate you bringing this to our attention and we hope to have it sorted soon.

Some time passed, much of it spent extracting Merv from unintended-track-induced infinite mental loops. But the sizzling at the very base of his primitive brain had not dissipated.

May 08
Merv: Please could you let me have an update on this case, or any indication of the expected timeframe?

Merv’s inbox remained populated only by an animated gif of tumbleweed. He resorted to polite threats.

June 09
Merv: If I get no response this third time of asking I feel I should escalate this query to a complaint.
Devoid O’Smairts: “Thanks so much for contacting us again. Since our last response, we’ve removed the timings for radio programmes due to rights agreements with record companies. We do apologise for any inconvenience caused by this, and the delay in getting word back on the issue. We hope this offers you clarification about the timings. We do take on board that you are unhappy about their removal and we will be sure to take on board your comments. Your comments will be included into our dedicated HypeLayer feedback reports which will be sent to BBC HypeLayer Management and other relevant teams to help with any future decisions and developments of BBC HypeLayer Services. Hearing from our audiences is greatly important and your comments can be used to improve our services. So, your feedback can make a real difference and we appreciate you taking the time to contact us. Thanks again for getting in touch.

That’s a lot of taking on board. Merv felt quite water-logged. We wondered if they had run aground and their hull had been breached. He appreciated all their lots of appreciation for helping them deteriorate their service. And clarification? Not by Merv’s dictionary. His blood fizzed for three weeks.

June 29
Merv: I am astonished at how difficult you make it for me to get an answer to a simple, reasonable question. The obfuscatory nature of the eventual answer leaves me disappointed and suspicious. Please can you answer my query?

July 05
Devoid O’Smairts: We were not longer able to continue have timings that linked up with commercial tracks in order to avoid any breaching any restrictions we had with record companies. Although it was only commercial tracks that were affected by these timings issues, we had to disable the feature altogether as it could not only be enabled for our tracks and disabled for commercial tracks.

This is plainly not plain English. Record companies reckon they’ll sell more ‘down-low-discs’ if listeners have to hear random tracks, rather than those they’re interested in? Interesting strategy. Sounds like the death grasp of a dying industry, built on building up fledgling performers to giddy heights of instant popularity in order to legally fleece those same performers on their built-in obsolescent decline, but which had not foreseen the digital age.

July 13
Merv: This still doesn’t explain why this would be in the commercial interest of record companies. What ‘restrictions’ in your agreement with them require this?

More than three months into this farce, Merv received a message from a market research company seeking more of his thoughts. He let rip. This triggered a cascade of phone interview, videocall with lab-rat tests (to confirm that he, like 87% of the audience, is harmlessly entangled and rendered inert by trying to navigate the website) and finally an invitation to an actual BBC location (secret).

We retired to the shed. Merv was in tatters, and not just from loss of tank-top integrity. He has a fear of institutions ever since being locked in his school on four occasions due to spending too long in the lavatory after home economics. One by one the lights went out while he was having arse collapse. He remains understandably traumatised and always carries a candle and matches when he’s away for a session. I daren’t, er, stoke the flames by raising the issue of what might happen should he actually strike a match in such circumstances.

Not to put too much gloss on the mission, I had to be David to BBC Goliath.

In the holding area—given some nauseating label such as welcome boutique—I lined up alongside my fellow victims. As I tried to tune out Droopy Dorothy and stop screwing up my eyes at Alpha-female Anna, I plunged my fidgeting palm into my pocket. It closed on Merv’s phial. The unknown quantity in the statistic. Had to be.

An utterly bland guy called my name from the doorway. He looked as interested in my input and the whole process generally as a cat. But without any of the cool. As I lurched through the rack of my fellow subjects’ knees, he introduced himself as—would you believe?—Devoid O’Smairts.

My facial expression was a study in passive blankitude. I managed the entire conversation through various degrees of pensive frown. He barely tried to draw me out, other than deciding to tick beside my forename and surname on the assumption that since I had answered to them I must be them. Each time he seemed to be about to wind up proceedings, I shifted and cranked my jaw tantalisingly. He watched me with palpable disappointment. He could have saved himself all this torture if only he’d made up some corporate wank about ‘removing the service provision due to resource streamlining’. We took our leave at a delicious impasse.

In Merv’s honour, I lurked in the toilets a dodgily long time until other members of the interrogation squad ‘passed’ through and loosed their tongues. Nope, sorry, definitely not that sort of diversion. Please concentrate.

Seemingly, after refreshing themselves plentifully with hot drinks concocted from the rolodex of stale sachets combined skilfully with hot water from the urns, the other participants became just as unresponsive as myself. There’s a puzzle.

Merv had not wasted his time either. Using QuackQuackBong (I understand this is a research engine you can hire, which operates rather like an animated Ronald Searle), he ‘harvested’ a code from some knowledgable students in the magic online letterbox. Then, without realising its power, er, penetrated the market people and arranged for all reports on the research to be sent to his own personal dead letter drop. I barely comprehend what he’s up to these days, but surely you can’t do much damage with a radio.

The outcome was spectacularly underwhelming: Devoid O’Smairts had failed to get any response from anyone. Combined with his Service Level Absences, this caused his manager to suspect that he didn’t exist at all and consequently terminate his employment. His redundancy made no difference whatsoever to the non-performance of the website comments process.

Merv finally iced the cake by reweaving the ‘routings’ (he’s gotten right into this ‘coding’ lark; much more fun than listening to the radio, he says) so that commenters receive in reply other commenters’ comments, thereby creating a social broadcasting network. People are being entertained by one another instead of the amorphous bureaucratic behemoth, and a national licence fee boycott is planned for next Saturday.

Advertisements

29/09/2018

Take and Give part 3/3

A surreal adventure through loose-wire interpretations of retinal blobs
continues from part 2

I have stumbled upon the Machiavelli behind the machinery, the stage manager, the master bungler. The Wizard of Oats. I have even challenged him. He wanted to be found.
“They were like spoor through the kitchen.”
“You had a lot.”
“Staple. Long life.”
“Yours or the oats’?” Smart. I like him. He puzzles me.

What to ask first? The exhumed prima donna? Obviously a mother metaphor. Father and the buns; enough said. The cancerous housing situation? Hackneyed satire on humanity’s avarice? Lost interest in that habitat. The illusion of reality? Who cares? Ah, but all my valued possessions are still unaccounted for.

While I’ve been metaphorically mulling, my host has brought us to another, much smaller, footbridge. He breaks into my thought maelstrom.
“I’ve decluttered you.”
“You’ve de…materialised me.”
“You still want them?”
“Yes!?” Is he going to try to buy me off with Turkish delight now?
“No.” He can read my thought maelstrom.
“You gave me a new phone, then you ate it.”
“A small lapse.”
“The giving or the guzzling?”
He moves on, ignoring my apparently amateur question. How about something more fundamental: what’s the point?

Tucked in beneath the footbridge, beside a pallet of firewood, Mr Oats wrestles a tarpaulin. I expect an indignant troll or other claimant to emerge at any moment. He triumphantly reveals the smallest vehicle I’ve seen. It could technically fit a person, rather like a kayak, but it won’t carry your groceries, let alone your lifetime’s hech. Of course: we’re living lightly now. Except. Smugly I point out its obvious flaw.
“They’ll spot that in about five satellite refreshes.” ‘They’ being the long overdue archetypal baddies. The small, mildly menacing ones, clad helpfully in black. The Marketeers of the Materialistic.

Mr Oats is disappointed—no, hurt at my distrust. At my not buying wholesale into his illusion. I don’t feel obligated to loyalty since he still hasn’t explained any of his tremendous liberties taken. I push on.
“You know how they scan the country: massive scale blocks then recursively finer resolution until they’re examining your tile grouting.” Hyperbolae always wins.
“They don’t know what they’re looking for.”
“No, but as soon as it moves they’ll lock on to it like any predator.” I’m right into my case now, regardless of destination. However, there’s one feature I haven’t given due attention, probably because he’s only just manifested it: he lovingly polishes its shiny red nose cone. How drearily phallic. But a point of sorts.
“Not if we’re above the satellite.”
Clever. Notwithstanding the directional ambiguity of such domains.

The pod—boarding feels rather like squirming into a broad bean pod—has a comfortingly stretch-to-fit interior as well as a furry lining. Take-off has the standard discomforting sudden loss of stability and, well, ground. We birl up into the air and take a final impression of terra firma, including the once again diminishing aspect of my house. The rapidly receding landscape features pass through aboriginal dot art stage in an instant then coalesce into smudge.

The ride smooths and my giddiness subsides. Satisfyingly we jump by the trumped satellite, mentally giving it two rods. Like the beans, we’re travelling in tandem: my benefactor’s legs are hugging my hips. I just begin to enjoy the sensation of animal warmth within the vegetable habitat before he begins a series of interstellar leaps and bounds, like the pronking of gazelles.

I feel oddly unconcerned by the loss of everything familiar to me. My wonder at the unfamiliar settles; analysis resumes.
“You’re showing me how small and insignificant my world is?”
“I’m showing you what you can do.”
If not limited by attachment to the familiar? Silence. That exquisite potential on the cusp of supreme wisdom. That moment of joyous expectation. That vacuum of answers which always precedes…

I wake reluctantly and disappointingly back in this mundane bed. With the nagging idea that spilled oats is some sort of ghastly smut.

END

Confession: three dreams bodged together like a cut-and-shut. Excellent image creativity—nice to see my porridge supper penetrating—but narratively utter nonsense. If I don’t get these scenes out of my head, and stretched into some loosely cohesive narrative shape, I fear descending into a tedious parody of Lewis Carroll.

28/09/2018

Take and Give part 2/3

A surreal adventure through loose-wire interpretations of retinal blobs
continues from part 1

A bigger problem looms: what is the number for non-emergency type police? I mean it’s definitely not an emergency. Even if there is stuff going on as I speak. Nefarious stuff. But no life is under threat. Actually, it all seems very amateur, but I need my documents, all the helpful notes I’ve made in the past for exactly this sort of… Well, not exactly; I didn’t foresee anything like this sort of half-baked theatre.

Just do something. I tap hopefully at the pristine screen and hear a solicitous voice, a not very distant voice. I launch in.
“Hello. I need the number for non-emergencies. A burglary. I can’t remember if it’s 111 or 101 or… All I know is it’s not 999, which isn’t 999 anymore either, because now it’s 911 or 211 or… No, apparently I don’t know that either.” I had all this stuff carefully noted, as I have already whinged. In my mobile, now missing, and beside the house phone, now severed.

But my rambling serves a dual purpose. I let the cheery chap fake away at his helpfulness as I prowl through my no-longer-my-own house. Who are all these extras? Where are they coming from? Where is the swelling space coming from? Seemingly the bungled burglary comes with gratis gratuitous extension into TV chat show set. In the greatly enlarged living room I round a freakishly smooth, new plasterboard curvature and literally bump into a rather short guy chattering into a black phone – an obvious sign that he’s one of the baddies. Actually having the very helpful unhelpful conversation I’ve been having.

With a frisson of delight I loom over him. He senses the shadow, looks up and squeaks. To his credit, he abandons the failed deception and stammers about there being no time to explain as ‘she’ is due on set. The set: that explains the giant toilet bowls that facilitated my slumber in the hall. Actually two enamelled hemispherical seating efforts – part of a nineteen-sixties white plastic delusion to facilitate the ‘star’ feeling less of a relic. Are we to be graced with the towering narcissistic ego of a wicked witch, clumsily ensorcelling all these drones?

Here indeed she is: descending an ostentatious and ego-flattering shiny white staircase from what used to be my neighbours’ conservatory. I wonder if they’ve noticed. I recognise the actor but don’t show it. She looks ravenous for recognition as she grasps at her ebbing celebrity. I’m allergic to obsequiousness. My eyes are intolerant to the shimmering albedo. I reverse out of the snow palace and skid through the kitchen. That floor really needs swept. The back door is the first available exit for fresh air to quell my nausea.

The modest garden as was, now immodest grounds, has been somewhat remodelled. I head along a broad stone bridge’s parapet, which also seems to be a busy public walkway linking distant parts of the vast estate. A bench made from springy wood calls to me. I settle down to close my dazzled eyes, foutering with my fancy phone for an exact music track. Of course all my favourites are pre-loaded. I get the right track, but the wrong volume. As the sound quietens and my frazzled ears relax, I become aware of a nearby phone conversation.

A guy behind me is speaking to the ambulance service about some healthy eating campaign. I suppose ambulances like to be pre-empted, and I applaud the apparent promotion of oats, although I cynically doubt the usual ‘wonder panacea’ label.

He seems to be aiming for: “I always have sixty grams of porridge oats to start the day.” He tries to be brisk and businesslike in supplying his quote, but keeps being interrupted by the other party. I wonder what distinguishes him to contribute. I open my eyes hoping to identify him but focusing is hard work and I’m distracted by someone further away. Still so easily misdirected.

I believe I recognise a girl standing by a chemist about fifty metres away. That used to be my patio. Such amenities in my locale. She beckons me. As I approach she flattens to a cardboard cut-out, swaying in the light breeze. Another mere extra. Drat. My legs are already propelling me back to my perch.

I admit I’m curious about Mr Oats. Gratifyingly he hails me.
“Do you have a magnifying glass?”
Not the personal recognition I hoped for. Still, unperturbed by this unusual request, I expect my new swank multi-application phone device has one on the back. As I unfold what is actually a sheet of silver plastic foil with hexagonal wires through it, I quip about the overheard conversation.
“Will there be any more hilarious oat-related stories?”
He chuckles momentarily, takes my phone and its flapping foil strip, and puts the lot in his mouth.
I complain. “Hey! My phone does not contain any oats!” I know I can wear him down with persistent escalating wacky. “You could at least sort the kitchen cabinets. They’re disgraceful. I mean they were before, but this business has mangled them beautifully.”
He continues silently masticating my shiny new technology.

With a heroic gulp he swallows the device and peripherals and sheepishly admits. “It was the oats, wasn’t it?” The fluke-filled freight truck of figuring-out runs into my forehead.

…concludes at part 3

27/09/2018

Take and Give part 1/3

A surreal adventure through loose-wire interpretations of retinal blobs

I wake reluctantly and unusually close to the carpet. After the standard three seconds of empty innocence, my memory throws in a disturbance: I was awoken during the night by a noise, but I suppressed my irrational fears of gremlins. I’d come back late, but early: supposed to be away at a conference, which had been underwhelming so I’d left, so I’d arrived, tired. Apparently so tired that I fell asleep on the hall carpet between two giant’s fish farm wellies, or enormous toilet bowls, or plant pots. Unlikely.

I sense a movement beyond the window. Someone is darting around the house. I lurch up to investigate, peering through successive windows, and catch sight of a colleague emerging from a rose bush. Shaken not scarred. Has he been changing his clothes? Unlikely.

I stagger into the living room. Something not right. Everything not right. Empty. All my furniture, clutter, cables, all gone. Carpet and dust and disoriented woodlice still present. More of them than I usually see.

I step back in shock and into the hall. Father heaves into view, in familiar piqued-by-puzzlement mode.
“Why is my room empty?”
“Probably because you don’t live here anymore.” But that’s the wrong question and answer.

My next concern is the kitchen: similarly stripped of all moveables. Counters that have not been clear for fifteen years seem pitted with archaeological depressions. Cupboards suddenly unburdened have distorted horribly in trying to return to neutral shape and position.

Father is unusually astute: he draws my attention to the tiles behind one strip of counter. Some of it isn’t tiles: it’s vinyl printed as tiles, poorly stuck on and peeling off. He also points out the new horizontal, being ten degrees adrift from the old conventional. Its cause is below in the floorboards: also decidedly off course and diverging from their neighbours. The floor is strewn with sawdust or wood chips. Or breakfast cereal. He pronounces with deductive relish.
“Somebody’s had this whole thing out and put it back badly.”

With a delayed but inevitable anxiety spike, I realise that the absence of furniture and everything on it or in it means all my personal stuff too: my phone, my documents, my collection of toothbrushes designed for the dentally anxious. I reach into my pocket and in bafflement pull out a brand new mobile phone. Seriously future new. Advanced beyond shop new. Not mine. I turn back to Father with curious relief.
“This is not just a bungled burglary; someone is trying to give us something.”

A rustle emanates from the bathroom. Yes, what about the bathroom? En route, a hubbub in the living room attracts my eyes. An auditorium of chairs is arranged and an audience of strangers files in. All actors or strays off the street I’m sure. Two-dimensional figures.

The bathroom no longer has a ceiling. Murky figures scrabble in the rafters, pulling cables and curious twinkling electronicary into the gloom. All part of the deception, the ‘behind-the-scenes’ machinery. I manage momentary eye-contact with one goblin who acknowledges a shared conspiracy: we all know it; the veil is pretty tattered. We’re playing along just for… What?

With a jolt I realise that was merely a diversion. There are still people scurrying past the windows. I must investigate that as well, in due course. The living room is the key: the audience has swelled considerably, probably due to the gargantuan gluttony of pink-iced buns heaped upon a fairy table at one side. Father enquires after the flavour, slavering over the promise of cinnamon or vanilla.
I reply firmly, “pink,” declining to be drawn into complicity in this sideshow. But he is lost to my cause, weaving hypoglycaemically toward the bait.

Enough. I go to the phone on the kitchen wall. No longer on the kitchen wall. Still present, surprisingly, but no longer attached to anything. I bet I know where the cable is now: trailed along the loft for some mischievous purpose. Perhaps I can use my ultra-new mobile phone, assuming it has phone functions, if I can work them out. But it will be monitored by whoever gave me it, won’t it? Who did put it in my pocket? Have I been violated?!

…continues at part 2

21/08/2018

Wratislaw part 10 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

While Wratislaw scrabbles for a way to triumph, he must survive the obligatory probing by Kamila.
“Seven, eight years ago, in your interviews, you were…funny. Lately you are awfully serious. Are you overwhelmed by the complexity or the challenge of your many projects? The responsibility of your various roles?” She’s been listening. Inspiration strikes. A question lures. Can he steer toward it?
“Going by this evening’s performance being underwhelming? What could possibly be missing from my life?”
“Time to yourself?”
“Nope. Too much time with myself.”
She ponders. Or perhaps she leaves space to draw him out. Obligingly he fills it.
“Not all interviewers are as intelligent and insightful as you. You always made me think and feel.”
“Often I am told I interrogate people.”
“No, there’s no judgment. You seem genuinely interested. Your questions… Do you remember your ultimate question?”

Kamila’s eyes glint and widen. “My meta-question?” Jackpot.
“How did it go again?” Wratislaw asks even though he’s utterly sure. He needs to hear her say it.
“‘What is the question you would most like me to ask you, and how would you answer?'”
As her voice sounds through his skull he closes his eyes. She muses.
“I remember you cheated; well, you deferred.”
“I couldn’t say it out loud! It was inappropriate. It would’ve changed things…us.”
“So I let you off the hook.”
“You asked if there would be a time in the future when it might be…appropriate.”
“And you said you hoped so. That was exquisitely intriguing.”
“Do you still have it?”
“Of course.”
“Did you ever open it?”
“No! We agreed: not until we both agreed it was appropriate.” She wrings him out with that blasted virtuous integrity.
“How about now?”
They commit, like teenagers goading each other to escalating dares.

Kamila picks and rips at the tightly sealed, worn folds of paper. Eventually the grumpy origami acquiesces and gives up its secret. She jerkily scans his wished-for question. Something is awry. This paragon of calm control is overcome with convulsions of emotion. She pushes it at Wratislaw to read out. He recognises his writing, his wishing, as if he needed any confirmation of consistency.
“‘Would you like to dance with me…for the next fifty years or so?'” The answer is unnecessary. He chuckles cathartically. The image of the unattended piano in the foyer thuds into his mind. “I think I’ll have a bash at that Janáček now. Will you listen?”
Her maelstrom mind will manage only one word. “Always.”

Epilogue

Kamila leans on the sturdy chapel door, closing it with a reassuring squeaky clunk. The sudden, silent, dark dankness is refreshing. She glides between the pews, gratified by the decent turnout and stimulating discussion. Nothing is awry.

“What does ‘Wratislaw’ mean to you?” The question curls out from behind a pillar. She was asked during the event, and she gave answers about place, character, then let the participants add their own responses about marketing stunts and student pranks. This is different. This is the questioner she hoped for. She approaches and peers into the gloom.

Wratislaw’s shoulders fill the pew; his talented hands are clasped, resting contemplatively on the next pew’s back. He flicks those blue eyes sideways to her approach. She has his answer ready. But not just yet.
“You got my message.”
“Most of Edinburgh and quite a portion of the world got your message.”
“They see the word but not the message.”
He exhales a laugh. She waits for him to respond.
“‘Love Wratislaw’? It’s a social media meme now.”
Disappointing. He’s prevaricating.

Kamila returns a petulant truism. “They can circulate it and interpret it all they like.”
“You could’ve just called to say you would be here.”
“Not interesting.”
“Unlike walking from the hotel to the venue seeing my secret nickname chalked on every other lamppost? On thirty-eight random paving slabs? On railings and bins and benches and bus shelters?”
“It took me only two hours. I woke early.”
“You didn’t answer my first question.”
He’s learning. She alights on the bench beside him, just pressing the side of his body, and tilts her gaze. He pulls her on to his lap, and touches her face. She leans into the next fifty years.

END

Incidentally… it all started with a minor character described by John Buchan:

Wratislaw “was to the first glance a remarkable figure. About the middle height, with a square head and magnificent shoulders, he looked from the back not unlike some professional strong man. But his face betrayed him, for it was clearly the face of the intellectual worker, the man of character and mind. His jaw was massive and broad, saved from hardness only by a quaintly humorous mouth; he had, too, a pair of very sharp blue eyes looking from under shaggy eyebrows. His age was scarcely beyond thirty, but one would have put it ten years later, for there were lines on his brow and threads of grey in his hair.” John Buchan, The Half-Hearted

…which led me to research the name (and its pronunciation!):

Wrocław [Vrotswahf] (or Wratislaw [Vratislav] in Czech) is the largest city in western Poland. It lies on the banks of the River Oder in the Silesian Lowlands. The city is believed to be named after Wrocisław or Vratislav, Duke Vratislaus I of Bohemia.
Wrocław is the historical capital of Silesia and Lower Silesia. Today, it is the capital of the Lower Silesian Voivodeship. The history of the city dates back over a thousand years, and its extensive heritage combines almost all religions and cultures of Europe. At various times, it has been part of the Kingdom of Poland, Kingdom of Bohemia, Kingdom of Hungary, Habsburg Monarchy, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire, Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. Wrocław became part of Poland again in 1945, as a result of the border changes after the Second World War, which included a nearly complete exchange of population.

20/08/2018

Wratislaw part 9 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

Somehow Wratislaw has relaxed a little. Perhaps Kamila listening quietly alongside him has something to do with it. He is addicted. He tries not to sound petulant.
“What did you think of me?”
“I was disappointed.”
“OK, thanks. Well, that’s that then.”
“What happened to the Janáček project?”
“Shelved. Total loss of…everything.”
“That is disappointing.”
“Apparently that’s me.”

Kamila shifts position slightly. Perspective.
“You said you wanted to feel unrequited passion, like Janáček. Perhaps I flatter myself, but is this not why you call me Kamila?”
“Now you sound like you’re trying to argue that you left me for the sake of my professional—”
“Exactly.”
“So I could play Janáček with true unrequited passion?!”
“You were disappointing. For me and your other audience.”
“You keep saying that! I was depressed! You should’ve told me!”
“That would have defeated the experiment.”
“Experiment?!” Wratislaw no longer cares if he sounds hysterical. “And how did that work out?”
“Apparently your psyche is not the same as his.”
Wratislaw’s own disappointment and frustration are neck and neck.
“Well, this has been a tremendous waste of time, and actually a pretty cruel and unethical psychological game, just to prove two people aren’t the same.”

Kamila’s composure indicates there is a solid explanation in his near future. He hates that. She’s back to questioning, luring him toward her cursed superior understanding.
“Tell me this now, completely truthfully: are you not glad you had the experience? Felt those things?”
“The anticipation is better than the actual thing?!”
“The anticipation is better than nothing.”
“I can’t possibly know without reliving my life differently.”
“What do you want to happen?”
“I want you to behave normally—no, not ‘normally’; I don’t know what that means—authentically.”
“Are you sure? Be careful what you wish for, Wratislaw.”
He smirks as the heady rush pours through him again.

Wratislaw lays back on the cool, damp ground and finds, at last, a shred of confidence. A question.
“What do you want to happen?”
Kamila looks away and breathes.
“I want to feel the precision, the clarity, the quiet confidence of your playing again. I want to feel that you will take me on this dangerous journey through the dark, enchanted forest, but that you know the terrain, and you relish every landscape feature you navigate. You will wrestle and vanquish the wild beasts. You will take me on an exhilarating adventure and give me new understanding. You will bring me safely out the far side of the forest without falling over the precipice. The full, unsanitised, emotional journey with a wise guide. Most of all, I want to feel that I have somehow been part of the event, that my presence has affected you too, that I have been involved and have enhanced your experience.”
“Is that all?” He notices he’s clutching her hand. When did that happen? After six years it’s surreal.

Suddenly he understands what he was doing thrashing around in the undergrowth. Conniving harpy. He’s so pathetically susceptible. He was never in any danger. She’s just shown him, let him experience directly, exactly what she wants. All he has to do is deliver. Simple.

…concludes at part 10

19/08/2018

Wratislaw part 8 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

The closeness of Kamila’s voice is startlingly. “Still in the dark, Wrati?”
“Utterly.”
“Feel better for clawing at things?”
“No! How do you do that silent flitting and pouncing?!”
“I just walk carefully.”
“You pounced on me this afternoon in that…Schrödinger’s egg carton! And you’ve been teasing me all around this…”
“I promised you would see me.”
He curses himself for forgetting. He could have played a much cooler game. As cool as his sopping arse. Never too late.

Wratislaw switches topic. “Should I be concerned that you’re in Glasgow?”
“I’m not stalking you.”
“Evidently I’m stalking you. Badly.”
“You are not difficult to see: you look like a tattie-bogle!” Bless her, she speaks every blasted language better than him.
“Nature has not been kind to this suit. I just thought you might be fomenting revolution…type thing.”
“At the BBC?”
“Or through the BBC? Why are you doing whatever with the BBC?”
“It factors into a project.”
“That’s super-clear.”
“How is this your business?”
“I remember after Wrocław all sorts of citizen movements, democracy protests, suchlike, suddenly got turbo-charged.”
“You were not there.”
“I read newspapers! I was too scared to go back!”
“I thought there might be another reason, like you got your research.”
“You know I didn’t.”

Kamila wavers. Wratislaw feels a rush of desperation.
“Don’t vanish again!” He sounds panicked. His arse is soaking. Eels are probably on the verge of penetrating.
She continues softly. “Where did you get stuck?”
“You questioned my fundamental motivation for making music. ‘Because humans always have’ wasn’t enough. Neither was ‘because we need it’. Or ‘because it’s glorious’. You always came back with ‘why?'”
“I had odd ideas about our most profound learning being through relationship. Music somehow came into that – a way of engendering empathy…something like that. I could not get traction with it; you were no help.”
He can certainly empathise with mental free-wheeling.

Wratislaw refocuses on his stuckedness: the sheer tonnage of his inertia. “I probably shouldn’t say this, it being my livelihood, but sometimes music isn’t enough. Sometimes you need words as well. Even though music is raw emotion and travels straight to your heart and the primitive parts of your mind, still people interpret that emotion differently according to their individual biases.”
“We need song, opera?”
“Just sometimes we need to talk.”
“What do you want to say?”
He has run right into her trap. Again. Entangled in the cat’s cradle of his personal hydra. How to disempower it… What does he want to say?
“That I was enchanted…by you. That I thought you felt…something… And then you vanished, like a…dryad in the mist!” As ever, Janáček floats just beyond his grasp.
“I thought this was what you wanted.”
“To be abandoned?! In the midst of a rush of passion?!”
“Why would I want to attach myself to a comet?”

…continues at part 9

18/08/2018

Wratislaw part 7 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

In this dense web of stalks, cloud-reflected metropolitan light is inadequate. The ridiculousness of Wratislaw’s predicament, however, is plain to see. Pursuing an as yet unseen woman through some eccentric philanthropist’s forgotten wilderness. Easy to explain.

To continue his form, at this point, he wonders whether his unintelligent next move should be more blundering about in vicious thickets, or to hunker down. His stinging forearms and shins, and his throbbing arse, beg for respite. Hunker down and wait. How long should he wait to extinguish all doubt that Kamila has gotten utterly bored of his disappointing efforts and abandoned him to his mortifyingly un-man-of-the-woods-like fate? Mortified. Unmanned.

Wratislaw gazes about, trying to subdue his creeping anxiety. Is he more bothered by losing her or himself? Once again his brain loses visual traction on the shifting shades of dark. Frantically clawing in complete stillness. Instead he becomes highly sensitised to the tickling, the crawling, the scurrying, the rustling. A clear whistle pierces the fog, inside and out: a bird’s alarm or a guiding signal? Or just a rusted mental circuit venting dangerously high steam pressure.

Will anyone miss him? BBC Ben and his glowing orb would be a welcome lighthouse right now. Wratislaw would offer some professional enticement for… That sounds sordid. Plus his stock probably isn’t so high after that performance. So long ago. That other so civilised world. Not out here in the jungle.

Regardless of Wratislaw’s existential crisis, clouds drift along their journeys. Yet somewhere, something powerful grows impatient with his lack of progress and grants him a boon. A fortuitously timed shaft of moonlight spotlights a stone edge: a carved edge: a building. A purposeless ornament, which, as it turns out, finally has use.

Folly. How perfectly apposite. Wratislaw lunges for the stonework, pushing mercilessly through the knives and forks and razor wires, stumbling and slipping, arms scissoring across his face in a violent dance. He does not appreciate the overgrown path Janáček allusion. Emerging from the malicious vegetation, he hauls himself to a cool stone pillar and hugs it shamelessly. After tactfully clouding his trembles for an interval, a further moonbeam benevolently shimmers across the river and delicately lights the blindingly obvious path thither.

Wratislaw bravely departs his safe haven and careers jelly-legged to the water’s edge. He yanks at the infernal luring willow and swipes wildly at illusory clothes. The rippling water and the thrashing twigs have messed up the acoustics. He plonks on the first stone that seems big enough. Unfortunately it’s just another shadow so his landing is lower and wetter than he expects. His battered coccyx complains. He exhales forcefully.

After a few moments of bewildered and moist stillness, he imagines he feels warmth on his arm, a faint breath on his cheek. Probably some rebound sensory effect from the thrashing. Or, just possibly, hiding in plain blindness.

He conjures Kamila in his mind, slides his hand across and is shocked when he connects. Electricity crackles through his skin.

…continues at part 8

17/08/2018

Wratislaw part 6 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

The initiative must be seized else-how. Wratislaw calls out. “What is your fixation with forests?”
Kamila’s reply echoes from elsewhere. “Fourteen trees is a fixation?”
He swerves before refocusing. “The question there was ‘fourteen trees is a forest’ but let’s not get diverted. In Wrocław, when I asked where you wanted to go next, you pointed at that Białowieża forest.”
“It wasn’t Białowieża; that is the opposite part of the country. And considerably bigger.”
“Where were we then? I thought I was in a world-renowned forest.”
“Why would this matter?”
“It was magical.”
“Maybe the air was polluted with hallucinogens! Poland had a big problem with toxic smoke. People kept trying to get rid of illegal plastic waste imports by putting fire to waste dumps.”

Wratislaw’s whole body focuses on keeping her talking, to try to work out where her voice is. “Or maybe your picnic was spiked!”
“Maybe we were dehydrated or hypoglycaemic.”
“Maybe our bodies were just in shock from walking more than twenty metres at a time.” His had been.
“Maybe it was a midsummer daydream.”
“It was magical.” He’s already said that. Call it emphasis.
“You think it was the place and not…us?”

There it is: the tiny uncertainty. She isn’t one hundred percent. What is he certain of? Nothing, except she isn’t in the sneaky pine. Still just glimpses and shadows of nothing. And the small matter of his enduring infatuation. He lets the beleaguered birch swish back to upright…ish.

He has to explore her uncertainty. To explore the terrain. Instead he blunders. He launches impetuously down the ridge and finds himself accelerating beyond leg control. He chooses arse over head to lead the descent – meaning he sits and slides, rather than tumbles. Important to have that point clear. He can argue the relative wisdom with the physiotherapist who will have the enviable challenge of enabling him to sit comfortably again to earn his living.

After its premature start, Wratislaw’s slide takes longer than he expects. He puts this down to the time-expanding powers of adrenaline. When he finally halts he is at the disgorgage of a burn into the river. This small-scale estuary with picturesque miniature mud-flats is a welcome coolant for his friction-savaged arse.

He rises carefully, finds his limbs reassuringly responsive, and turns about. There are more than fourteen trees. Something new is awry. With river at his back, he has a panorama of perpendicular inclines, paved with leaf litter. With no idea whether he is up- or downstream from the original position, he crawls up the least precipitous wedge, grasping wildly for those beleaguered young birches.

Several branches slap wet leaves resentfully at Wratislaw so he closes his eyes for much of the ascent. When he reaches a level where he doesn’t immediately feel his feet sliding backward or other discouragement, he cautiously raises his lids. With his eyes mildly attuned to darkness, he focuses on a fleeting movement, slipping between trunks. Through his frantic, fruitless scramble he thought he heard a ripple of laughter. Or was it the river? She’s taunting him.

He leans his hand on the nearest trunk. He withdraws it instantly from something unexpectedly soft and slimy. He thinks of insects that mind-bogglingly disassemble their bodily integrity back to primeval goup, then rearrange themselves structurally into something quite different. Except for the unfortunate individual he just plunged his fingers into. No longer to emerge and reach its full potential. Now destined to mutate horribly into chimaera with himself. Rather like The Fly. The Wrattisfly. What a Frankenstein’s monster that would be: his shoulders giving it wings like a pterodactyl, a weak abdomen of no use but as a prop, and yet remarkably dextrous legs and antennae. Somewhere in this hallucination there must be a metaphor. All skilfully choreographed. She’s manipulating him.

Something warm brushes his cheek. The reverie dissolves. Glancing up he sees the flicker of things with wings the wrong way about. Bats. Not bothersome. But why no bird calls? Probably silenced by his threatening crashing about.

Wratislaw resumes his disoriented weaving between trees. The ground level helpfully lowers then rises. He lurches around a larch and snatches another just in time to prevent himself re-launching into Arse-luge Ravine. He pivots daintily upon the precipice and sags into an elastic coppiced hazel. Noting its rarity among a cluster of hawthorn, holly and dog-rose, his luck may be changing.

…continues part 7

16/08/2018

Wratislaw part 5 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

Why had Kamila been talking to Wratislaw, back then? Her answer had been brilliant. She gazed out across the cityscape. First, of course, she asked him what he saw. He stated the obvious. Then she explained it.
“Buildings, streets, green space, activity, movement, travel, glitter and shadow… Zoom in or out, pan across. This is a vast and deep fascination. I see infinite interest in finite space, a fractal psyche.”
It was him.
“You think of me as a Mandelbrot set?” He had been pleased with himself for dredging up that reference. Until she hit it out of the park.
“I think of you as Wratislaw.”
He was unable to resist grinning. As always, she took it further than he could have imagined. “So, I know who you are, obviously, and you know who I am, for what this is worth. Can we please not talk about professions and partners and parenting and all this cliché competitive life shit?”
“In favour of?”
“Interesting things!”
“And interesting names?”
“Yes; what will you call me?”
“Kamila, obviously.”

As Wratislaw crouches in the darkening jaggy shrubbery, tickled by leaves and probably things on legs, that memory still warms. He recalls taking several moments to regroup. He gestured the cityscape.
“Where would you like to go next?”
“In the real world or in your head?”
“It’s your metaphor.”
“There.”
She pointed decisively to a tree-clad eruption a few miles north-west. He had only one move.
“May I take you?”

Wratislaw decides that Kamila, for all her superiority, is probably tactically stuck at this point. Probably because he isn’t behaving as she expects, i.e. intelligently. He’s feeling tingles in intimate places, and not all of them can be attributed to invading insects. He’ll have to move. Any move will gain the initiative. For no reason other than his innate perversity, he sets out vigorously from the rhododendron in the opposite direction.

Too late he remembers how she ended her discussion at the fateful event. “Go out now, go away, go back to your lives. Don’t think any more about this. I don’t ask you to think about any of this stuff; I only ask you to think.” Drat.

Surrounding the ensemble of quaint river bank, shady willow, shadier pine with possible occupied perch, and bruised rhododendron, is a band of thicker mature trees. These turn out to be planted on a ridge. The ridge turns out to be ideally suited for pretending you’re in a tree when you’re not. Now they both are. Pretending.

One slender birch sapling suggests to Wratislaw a cunning wheeze. He manoeuvres around to its ‘safe’ side and triangulates his target. With careful force the birch curls over beautifully. A couple of thrashes sweep the perceived vantage point and several small pine cones hit the ground. Why no squeal or proclamation of acquiescence to his masterful offensive? He detests a silent audience.

…continues at part 6

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.