7.37: Apartment blocks in mist; golden streetlights glowing; trees reshaped; blurred stop sign in shark-grey, foggy matter; familiar objects misted; distances shortened by gathered-up atmosphere.
7.38: A woman emerges from the mist: wool, fur, denim; everything covered except her alert eyes – those allusions to wildness in the metronomic organisation of existence.
7.39: Her perfect shape disappears into vaporous obscurity as he goes in the opposite direction. The Muslim, he thought: Beautiful and reliable.
Engines were rushing, serious faces on mist-shortened footpaths. The Industrial Revolution has wrecked Monday mornings. We now have to concentrate on mundaneness after the weekend’s distractions: Having to adapt to sharp, unwanted mental changes is the gift we receive for existing.
7.40: Usual woman sweeping the road. She does this at the same time and place each morning. Her follicles shake: smooth, olive skin. The Sexy Street Sweeper, sweeping as usual, in her green and yellow uniform.
7.43: Metro platform: The same bright-eyed man, as usual, is standing at the same place; his hair, as usual, is wet from the morning shower. As usual, his hands are in the pockets of his tracksuit bottoms, and, as always, he is sprightly, curious, looking around, his enthusiasm misplaced in the turgidity of the station; happily philosophical, he looks unperturbed by repeated customs: The Sprightly One.
7.45: Train arrives; people group themselves around opening doors. Women charged, so ruthless, he thinks, in matters of comfort, their eyes in fanged pursuit of spare seats, a pity that they’re not so desperate to pursue other forms of pleasure with such relish. All part of crushing the vital.
7.56: Destination: The same face is on the escalator – the shortest adult who could not be described as having had abnormal growth. Standing up “face-to-face” with a six-foot man, her mouth would have been at the penis level: Astonishing practicality: Reddish hair; triangular face: Shorty McGowan.
7.58: Air cold, treetops in grey heavens. The apartment blocks, on a rise above the station, have also had their appearances altered by mist.
8.00: She of gait frenetic is, as usual, coming towards him, her hair bouncing, her tight skirt imposing upon her the need to take short, rapid steps; the desire to wear this apparel clashes with her desire for punctuality; the result: restricted movements with stress.
This woman is always late, preparations not permitting punctuality; she struggles down this street in high heels, in the worst possible attire for speed, five days a week, covered in jewellery, looking worried!: The Fractious Beauty Queen: FBQ.
8.05: The same black dog, wearing its usual red scarf, is waddling towards him with owner, its body like a misshapen log, its legs inflexible stumps, its gracelessness suggesting it is being operated by remote control. It sways straight-legged, the clip-clopping of its paws growing louder, its eyes not visible because of tufts of fur: The Giant Dog Spider. The only difference, he contemplates, between it, and a spider, is that it’s got four legs and not eight.
8.07: That girl, he thought, with the black tracksuit bottoms will cross that road ahead just before I reached it in five minutes, she, too, a part of this clock that responsibility’s fog hangs over.
8.12: The girl emerges from the mist, fresh-faced, hair tied back; as usual, her shapely hips are encased in the same tight pants. As usual, she walks by him oblivious. Had she seen a picture of him, she wouldn’t have been able to identify him, so lost was she in self: The Oblivious Curvy One.
8.13: Jean Claude: frizzy, silky-wire, reddish hair; intense eyes, pale skin, round chin; a humourless, brooding disillusionment always colours his face. JC, as usual, looks away from him, as if his cold curiosity couldn’t tolerate the scum he is looking at. No doubt if Jean Claude and I met at a party he’d know who I was. He’d think: There’s that tosser I see at 8.13 every Monday to Friday at the same place with the same stupid expression on his dumb face – every, single time – the same thick look – wearing the same bland clothes on the same days of the week – what an arsehole!
8.16: Fluffy Radar Ears is at the gate of the park next to the office: Enormous, pointy ears, long snout, eager, green eyes, always looking to the right from where his best friend, a German shepherd, comes with its owner who is always wearing the same lurid clothing that matches her curly, purple-white hair. The foreboding disenchantment induced by ruminating about impending, undesirable tasks, always distorts our perspective: each morning, on seeing an enthusiastic FRE, he concludes that spoilt dogs have the best lives: they are sufficiently unintelligent to be unaffected by the distractions of imagination; and they are sufficiently emotionally complex to receive an emotional fulfilment way out of proportion to their limited intellects. And they don’t have to work! Our intellects are just sufficiently developed to ensure that we experience consistent, subliminal misery – a rational response to pointlessness – a fact embodied by Jean Claude, the being who experiences ridiculousness with the same intensity that a religious fanatic believes that paradise exists. JC’s muffled, screaming, yelling, dissatisfaction streams from his French demeanour, like a polluted stream.
8.18: The lift. At the third floor, the same three guys as always get in. As usual, they say: “Hello.” And, as usual, they stand in the same positions and display the same body language; and, as usual, they say the same thing on leaving: “Bye.” They always enter the lift in the same order. The Opera Singer, the biggest, goes first: OS’s stomach rises up in a curve from his ankles and finishes just under his chin. He always backs up against the lift’s buttons and folds his arms; his two associates always occupy positions at right angles, and, as always, football, accompanied by schoolboy cackling, is the topic of conversation.
8.19: The office: the same people in the same partitioned compartments are staring into the same computer screens with the same deadpan expressions; it’s difficult deciding who has more imagination – the computers or the people.
8.20: He sits down, impossible to remain at his desk for long. Insanity induced by mental torture prevents this, his job consisting of repeating the same actions – over and over – in ten-minute periods. At the end of the day, his relief is only matched by his de-motivation, the world hazed and denuded of inspiration.
On the metro, he observes the usual wistful yawns, the usual subdued responses to the same, old stimuli – the usual repression caused by mesmerising banality. The train whistles in a high-pitched escape, as if it was drilling through the earth, the occasional interesting glance getting crushed by the heaving weight of reality.
A philosophical acceptance of the likelihood of disappointment and failure forms a stopgap between mood and despair; the result: a dry appreciation of the monotonous, but eccentric, nature of life.
Time for another failure; he had been out once with a woman who had described him as too didactic and too serious. He decided to ring her to see what excuse she would produce to avoid seeing him. He was told that her sister was arriving in town and “a lot of time” would have “to be spent with her.” An arrangement was therefore impossible “at the moment.”
After listening to distracting music, he sets the alarm clock and goes to bed. Fortunately, interior worlds are different each day, for they possess refined unpredictability; they represent a religion of sorts: The worship of multi-faceted compulsion without restricting judiciaries.
The alarm clock violently impedes. His eyes get fired open by a hideous intrusion. Morose disbelief’s ether fills the air; it was dangerous to reach conclusions at this time of the day. Be mechanical.
The Muslim is as beautiful as usual. The Sexy Street Cleaner’s bottom fills out her overalls with salacious ease. A withering glance from Jean Claude increases his respect for a man whose dissatisfaction is inspirational, the “Frenchman’s” big nose slanting down with disdain. I might, he thought, have to change his name to Jean de Belligerent Bergerac.
The Sprightly One’s eyes are glinting with mysterious contentment – again.
FBQ’s mouth is in keeping with her character: a puffed-up triangle of pouting flesh.
The Giant Dog Spider lumbers as if the footpath is a single cord in a concrete web. This mutt is the only dog, he thinks, that doesn’t move his head; he thinks he’s a spider. I’m going to call his owner Lurid Spiderwoman.
He feels a shock when he perceives a change – The Oblivious Curvy One isn’t wearing her usual black tracksuit bottoms, but a tight pair of blue jeans! A little frond is also falling out over her forehead – for the first time! Is she in love? And is she therefore even more oblivious?
Fluffy Radar Ears’s coat shines in the gorgeous morning light; a thin bar of electric lustre encases his black fluffiness. He is, as usual, a picture of expectant eagerness. His pink tongue shoots out when he sees the German shepherd.
The Opera Singer is unshaven. His tie is half undone. He backs up against the buttons and folds his arms. He makes jokes about the incompetence of a footballer who had ounce played for a team that one of his workmates supported. Then comes the usual schoolboy, bonding cackles.
Then the office: The way in: “Bill, Stan, Reg, Norma, Karen, Tony, Julia, Fred.” Then, ten hours later, on the way out: “Fred, Julia, Tony, Karen, Norma, Reg, Stan, Bill.”
The next day, amusement flickers over The Muslim’s eyes, an acknowledgement of the silliness of two people crossing each other’s paths at the same time and place each workday with no one else around, and acting as if they are unconscious of this absurdity.
The Sexy Street Cleaner is sweeping the pavement around the stairwell leading into the station. Her curves fill out her overalls like a hand slipping into a glove, a further cause for frustration.
Jean Claude looks characteristically wistful; his pained glance is that of a tormented poet overburdened by the featureless landscape of ordinary life. His shoulders hunch. His face accuses the rest of us of being part of some horrific scheme insensitive to his delicate considerations.
The Sprightly One’s sprightliness possesses a certain ruggedness – a bit unshaven, hair a little longer than it needs to be, something that indicates his positive indifference to fashion; his gaze is never fixed on any one object. He is happy to be in an uninteresting environment, the very predicament that enrages Jean Claude.
Shorty McGowan is on the escalators, smiling, unconcerned by her midget status; he thinks it must be a little uncomfortable having your feet off the floor when you’re sitting on the toilet, but he doubts that this would have bothered the redoubtable Shorty. Maybe she has a special, normal-person-but-midget toilet that got installed after a build-up of Jean Claude-like frustration?
FBQ is hurrying down the street – as usual; and as usual she gives a quick look at her watch. There isn’t any philosophical distance between her consciousness and the physical reality of the world: very non-Jean Claude. Physical reality, for her, is reality. She would describe me as crazy and Jean Claude as boring; she drips with the accoutrements of the Material Age; she gives the impression that all her holidays – all her deliberate displacements – are planned to avoid the Horror of the Unexpected.
Observation, he surmises, adds layers to the layering of impressions that help to distract me from the idea that we are only living in a world of terrible pragmatism.
Fluffy Radar Ears’s fluffy bottom is on its usual spot. If only, he thinks, the majority of us were as eager to experience each day as he is.
The Opera Singer looks better; he has bothered to straighten his tie. Our protagonist thinks: If Shorty McGowan was confronted by The Giant Dog Spider, she’d think: My God! It’s a baby mammoth!
The office: “Bill, Stan, Reg, Norma, Tony, Julia, Fred.” Then ten forgettable hours later: “Fred, Julia, Tony, Karen, Norma, Reg, Stan, Bill.”
The Muslim avoids eye contact. The Sexy Street Cleaner is working with her usual frenetic gusto. Jean Claude grimaces as if he has been stabbed by a glass shard of metaphysical anguish. The Sprightly One examines everyone with pleasant, idle curiosity; Shorty McGowan chortles happily. The Fractious Beauty Queen stomps, glancing at her watch. The Giant Dog Spider plods with robotic disinterest. Spiderwoman stares, like a zombie. The Oblivious Curvy One looks into the distance at that place where the footpath becomes a single point. She is a self-obsessed zombie. The eyes of Fluffy Radar Ears gleam with laser intensity above a floppy, pink tongue. The Opera Singer sidles into the lift, with casual contentment, and says: “Hello.” Then: “Bill, Stan, Reg, Norma, Karen, Tony, Julia, Fred.” Then: “Fred, Julia, Tony, Karen, Norma, Reg, Stan, Bill.”
On the metro, people stare as if all they’d experienced for years is unchanging dullness. They unleash jaw-wrenching yawns. At each stop, the battle for seats rages with polite greed. These battles are a pleasing glimpse of the sincere wildness from the past that underpins this staid neutrality whose purpose is to eliminate all unforeseen mishaps.
The Muslim comes down the street. Something big is across her shoulders: it’s a man – The Opera Singer. She hurls him onto the footpath. He sprawls on the ground. The mound of his stomach is like a small hill rising out of the pavement. She stands above him, screaming: “You should be ashamed of your dissolution!”
Shorty McGowan jumps up and down on a bench, heaving with hilarity: “Imagine the headlines: Floored Fatty Flipped on Footpath by Flipping Fundamentalist.”
Jean Claude cackles, with joyless explosions, in a dark doorway, and says: “Sweet move, baby, real sweet.”
The smoke from a cigarette in the corner of his mouth curls into invisibility. He plucks the cigarette from his lips and adds: “Principles, baby, you’ve got ‘em, character before wealth and fame, unusual these days; yar boyfriend must be a hell of a guy.”
Shorty McGowan grows wings and flies over The Giant Dog Spider who shows no reaction.
“It’s a fairy-tale,” Shorty says, landing on the dog’s back. “Look everyone, the fairy princess is riding her noble mammoth; life, life, life, what a fantastic joke.”
The Oblivious Curvy One walks past without registering that she has just gone by a tiny, happy-go-lucky woman who is riding a blind dog whose legs resemble fluffy tree stumps.
“Hey, kid,” Jean Claude says, “get your old man to look up the word “eyesight” in the dictionary.”
The Muslim now has her foot on The Opera Singer’s chest.
“You try to get up,” she says, “and I’ll use your fat carcass to turn this pavement into gravel.”
Jean Claude slaps the wall with an expression of thrilled fascination.
“World class, Baby,” he says. “With a babe like you in town, who needs to go to a war zone?”
Fluffy Radar Ears begins licking The Muslim’s face, eagerly demanding orders.
“Give me orders, give me orders, give me orders,” he says; “now! Why should Caruso have all the fun? Why? Why? Why?”
“Hey, mutt,” Jean Claude says, “back off. What d’ya think she is? A German shepherd?”
Then The Fractious Beauty Queen spears “Caruso’s” voluminous stomach with her high heels. She doesn’t even notice that she has stepped on a prostrate man. She is too overcome with besieging concern to see where she was going, her broken eyes gazing at hell, her mouth twisted.
“My God!” she screams, “my mascara’s running! It’s a disaster!”
“Hey, baby,” Jean Claude says, “see what happens when a mortar round cleans up a school yard – if you think that’s a disaster.”
Then The Sexy Street Cleaner tries to remove “Caruso’s” carcass off the street.
“Shift your arse!” she says.
“I can’t move,” “Caruso” says. “I’ve been told if I get up my body’ll be used to turn this pavement into gravel.”
“Oh,” The Sexy Street Cleaner sighs, “you opera singers! Always thinking that life’s so dramatic. Get up. I’m a woman in uniform, and now you’re taking orders from me.”
“The Council,” Jean Claude smiles, “has spoken.”
Then that sound: like a mallet striking the subconscious.
Skies in the real world are bluer than their internal counterparts, a hard, indifferent, impenetrable, impartial azure that creates metallic-sapphire windows.
He hammers the top of the alarm clock. Physical objects throb. Hard edges slowly appear. All this trouble, he thinks, for what?
It isn’t quite so bad outside – only repressed, uninspiring and predictable. There are no Shorty McGowan’s bouncing up and down on benches. There are no athletic women flattening obese men. There are no amused cynics commenting on exotic contingencies. There are no winged creatures riding docile dogs. There are no fractious women screaming at the injustices of poor make-up. There are no surreal re-enactments of scenes from movies. There isn’t any real life, only commonality – and tons of it.
He stands on an escalator, its metallic, military rhythm mixing with the clomping of marching people – a mechanical stomping of heels against metal in time with escalators pulsating out their metal-insect tunes, expressionless people marching in still columns, like a well-dressed, heavily-organised army, plodding its way towards another struggle with tedium, stomping in time with the music of organised ritual.
In the office, people are staring at computers. Humanity stares at inanimate objects, like auxiliary units to lifeless entities.
He laughs at this idea. People look up, bemused by his mirthful oblivion. He goes into the kitchen to escape and to laugh. His work colleagues have become disconnected from their machines. They look at each other and smirk, his laughter full of joyous hilarity. They are “lost without machine connection. Accepting their station makes them proud.” They are “station lovers.”
They go back to their machines, thinking: He’s mad. They regret this view after he wins the lottery. On TV, he says: “I doubt whether I would appreciate winning this as much as I do if life was actually exciting. I’m now delighted it isn’t.”
Having a taste for the exotic, Whiskey Island, Southerly, Island, Mudjob, Write From Wrong, Sleet, Negative Suck, The Red Fez, Red Ochre Lit, Haggard & Halloo, Down in the Dirt, The Camel Saloon, Feathertale, Descant, The Houston Literary Review, The Sand Journal, Full of Crow and Unlikely Stories.
has worked for aid agencies in three conflicts: Kosovo, Iraq and Palestine. He takes risks to get the experience required for writing. His stories have appeared, or are forthcoming, in