Sunday, April 17, 2005

Short story - I, Beastie

I went to the store. I needed some things and so I made the big decision to leave the house. I was wearing, you know, clothes, a full set of clothes. I'd never leave the house without clothes... unless... fire, earthquake, nuclear war... it'd take a disaster. The day was a disaster, already, I'm not kidding, but I didn't make it any worse by walking around naked. Let other people walk around naked and get arrested and have disasters, not me.

I get to thinking this way, as I walk past the bookshop. The books sit in the window of the second hand bookshop gathering dust. They were doing work in here, refitting the bookshop, and they put the books on the shelves first. Then they did a heap of work, chopping, sawing, stuff that required ladders and men to stand at the top of the ladders doing stuff. And the result, well, one result was that the bookshop got itself a makeover. But the other thing, and I don't know if it was deliberate or not, the books all received a thick coating of dust, sawdust. And there they are, in the window, looking out at me, covered in sawdust. And I wonder if this was some weird scheme, to make the books look aged. “Hey, look! This book is dusty! Hmmm, could be old, could be valuable...” that sort of thing.

The books have stopped me to look at them. The people on the covers, beneath fresh dust, they look bored, stopped in their tracks. This is all happening in Dublin, and I should maybe have mentioned that, for the sake of what I am about to say. That's not very clever, the way I've just mentioned that, it's like when you tell a joke and halfway through you remember that it's important to say that one of the people in the joke is dressed in a gorilla suit or has wooden legs. You're a minute in and about to deliver the punchline, and then you think, “Oh god! I never mentioned that X was wearing a gorilla suit.” So you add this fact and apologise. And then the person says, “I've heard it! I just thought it was a different joke. Because you never mentioned X was wearing a gorilla suit.” That's what I've just done. I am going to press on anyway, and say that I am in Dublin, and in the window is a book about the marriage of Charles and Diana. And I think it must be there as a joke, because who in Ireland would ever want to read about those two? It'd have made more sense if the Irish version of that book had featured the Prince and Princess in gorilla suits on the dustjacket, and inside, well, the text, I don't want to think about the text right now. I am supposedly on my way to the store.

The store I go to is called Dunnes, it's right here, right here in Rathmines, and Rathmines is a part of the city of Dublin. And I live here. And Dunnes is close by and sells what I need. What I need! Ha! As if there is any store selling what I need right now. I picture all the children of the world, stood in a huge field, singing a song to me that goes like this,
“What do you need, Jason / tell us now, WHAT do you need? Jason...”
At the end, the children all join hands and sing, “Is there anything we can do?”
The colour drains away, the picture fades, and I'm seen, strapped to a gurney, being pushed down an endless gray corridor. I'm released and asked to stand next to 4 plastic dummies that all look just like me, but with different expressions; Happy, Angry, Astonished, Grief-Stricken. I go and stand on the end. I hear a voice through loudspeakers, “Why are there two grief-stricken dummies?”
Another voice says, “That's the real one, on the end. He looks grief-stricken, too.”
“Well, we can't start until we have five different expressions, ask him to snap out of it. Or wheel on a substitute.”
The helper looks at me and thinks better of it, he heads off to get a substitute, I suppose. I feel bemused. A few minutes later, the helper wheels in a dummy that looks Bemused. He sees my expression has changed.
The voice says, “Well, that wasn't very clever.”
This goes on for a long time. Eventually, the helper loses their patience and I'm pushed out of a side door.

The place where I picture myself emerging is close to where I am now. It's near O'Briens, a sandwich bar I pass on the way to Dunnes, where I am going, provided nothing intervenes. Possible interventions include; being hit by a bus, being kidnapped, being shot, having a heart attack, going insane and not knowing where I am, being stopped and invited to a party by 1) someone I know, or 2) someone I don't know, but who seems trustworthy enough, being recruited by secret agents to complete a mission. These are some of the ways of being waylaid.
I am also assuming that Dunnes is still there. The last time I went there was yesterday, so it's a safe assumption, as far as any assumption is safe. I suppose I could've phoned before I set out, checked that the store is still there. But then, if you go down that route, what else do you have to do? Do you have to phone the council and ask if the road is still there? That no impenetrable walls have been erected in Rathmines (where I live), since the last time I called. “Hello, could you put me through to the Overnight Construction of Impenetrable Walls Department, please...” A man comes on the line.
“Hi there. I'm in Rathmines and thinking of going to Dunnes.”
“What for?”
“For a bit of food.”
“What for?”
“Well, I'm hungry.”
“So hungry it can't wait? Is that your game?”
“It could wait. But what I'm interested...”
“Then wait. You see, this office has now been split. Not only am I responsible for the Overnight Construction of Impenetrable Walls, but I'm also running a new scheme called Encouraging People to Stay Inside. It's in this capacity that I recommend you tough it out, my friend. Now, goodbye.”
The conversation runs like that. Then I remember. There are many other departments, none of them capable of recognising one another, that handle variations on the basic theme of Overnight Construction of Walls. There's the Overnight Construction of Walls, that while not strictly speaking, Impenetrable, would require a Hell of a Lot of Effort to Scale, for example. I phone them up.
“Hi there.”
“Hello, you're through to OCOWTWNSSIWRAHOALOETS. There's no-one here right now to take your call. Here is some general information on the current siting of OCOWTWNSSIWRAHOALOETS for tonight. There will be an OCOWTWNSSIWRAHOALOETS completely encircling the 567 Student Travel Agency on Duke Street. This OCOWTWNSSIWRAHOALOETS will remain for a period of three days. We thank you for calling. Goodbye.”

This is the road you would walk down if you tried to take everything into account. The planning stage would overwhelm you, and with the situation always being fluid, you'd be back to the start, going over the original information you were supplied with. To deal with this, you need a HQ, a nerve center, a bank of phones and people sat there, all acquiring the information simultaneously. And myself, or someone with my interests at heart. And I don't think this person really exists. I don't even think I am this person. Okay, then, it would be myself. I'm the best of a bad bunch, I guess. And I'd look over the data and make a decision. But then, if I could afford all these resources, why not just give some of these people a list of things to find and then send them out into Dublin and see who comes back. Then I think, why should they ever come back? I'll go old and grey, waiting for some bread and cheese to arrive. I'll keep phoning them up.
“Hi! It's Jason. Have you got the bread?”
“Yes, certainly, I have. I'm just starting back now, be five minutes or so.”
Ten minutes pass.
“Hi! Jason again, you're not back yet... just wondering...”
I can hear the sounds of glasses clinking, people laughing.
“Are you in a pub?”
“No.”
The line goes dead.

Finally, when I've outlined some of the scenarios here, you should understand more clearly why I am clothed and completing this trip to the store myself. Because, finally, no-one else can be trusted with this task. And it's surely one of the most simple tasks anyone was ever tasked with. Waiting to cross the road, I ponder what this means for civilization. It can't be good. Buses pass by, people on bicycles, there are people in line, waiting to use cash machines, people walking along, people coming out of shops, people going into shops. There's all those kinds of things going on as I cross the road. I'm closing in on where Dunnes is, and then I have another feeling as I come closer. I worry about this, and I know it will sound stupid. Well, first, something else, I look at myself in the window of a shop, checking that my clothes haven't disintegrated or my head changed colour. All seems fine. What I worry about is that I have become a strange magnet, and that all the things in the store will fly off the shelves and stick to me. I will walk past the fruit and vegetables, and they will be flying off the shelves and attaching themselves. In just a few seconds, I'll be this agglomeration of apples, oranges, potatoes, and cabbages. I will look like some mad beastie, perhaps radioactive, that's escaped from a sewer or a laboratory. I try shouting to the terrified staff and customers. But all that comes out is a huge roar of primal unpleasantness. An old lady slumps to the floor in a dead faint. Alarms are sounding. I start running for the exit and am tackled by a security guard. The oranges on my legs are exploding, juice squirts in his eyes and he falls away, screaming.
“My god!” shouts a cashier, “He's only gone and poked out Ian's eyes...”
I try to say, “No, it's just orange juice that squirted out,” but once again, all that comes out is a terrible roar.
The doors are closing now and people have scattered, seeking places to hide. I can hear the rumble of tanks in the distance... My time's up.

Well, this is the fantasy to end all my hopes of buying anything from Dunnes today. It doesn't afflict me every time I come out, but it certainly complicates my shopping habits. I take it as a sign, to think of doing something else with what little energy I have. I spin gently in the street, almost dislodging a Chinaman from his bicylce. I think, “You shouldn't ride on the pavement,” but then I think, well, maybe in China they do, and I'm the one at fault. The Chinese guy has turned his shoulder and shouted something incomprehensible, but plainly insulting.
It's time to walk away from this, back to that room with the cupboards and the wardrobe. I think it over and pick a route that may lead home.

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