Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Speaker

The speaker clenched his hands together and summed up, “...It's all the time. I feel like I should be doing something else, even when I first wake up I'm conscious of the fact (?) that I'm not optimising myself, not making the most of all of my energy. That sparks a crazy guilt, not squeezing enough out of the lemon, holding back, failing to multi task. It manifests itself in funny little ways; making coffee and a snack but supping the coffee and biting into the biscuit before sitting down (to read a book), worst case the biscuit is swallowed before I leave one room and get into another. It's like I've lost sight of everything and at the same time I can see everything and I'm deliberately trying to consume it, there on that spot. A simple target achieved is not enough, I question it's difficultly and it's validity. If there is spare time left then I've miscalculated something, not taken enough on board, not really tried. I don't want any of you to ever feel that same way.”

The speaker then stepped back from the microphone, got some distance between himself and the podium and open up his palms to the audience and slowly raised his arms. A ruffle of applause began and grew and built as his arms lifted. In the auditorium some folks were on their feet, some shouting now, flashes popped like silent machine guns, whistles blew off like stray grenades, more applause, more shouting. The speaker stepped a little further and began to turn away, ready to leave the stage. By now the audience were generating a huge sound that was reverberating around the hall. The evening appeared to have been a success.

The speaker gave a final wave and acknowledgement of the wall of praise and wheeled away to the left ready to depart the stage. In the flash of a strobe a single shot rang out, the sound cut across the din of the crowd as if a bullet had hit each individual, there was a stunned moment. People looked around and then gasped as they caught the big screen image and then translated that with the action of the stage. There was a whirl of blurting activity. People running and reacting, lights turning from stage lights to search lights, buzzing and gnawing into the confusion.

The speaker had been hit. A steady head shot. There was no miss or mistake, no time for reaction or recoil. The man fell where he had stood seconds before, falling like a felled tree and now spread across the stage floor. The big screen suddenly blanked as the security people began their reaction. The audience cried and surged forward. A stock message was broadcast but in the fountain of noise no one heard or reacted, limp and impotent advice that fell into a great chasm of enforced grim silence that was roaring in from the exits. A life was over, the night was over, some other dream was over.

The speaker lay where he fell. A crowd of officials were now around. Police and security personnel were swarming in the aisles, slowly building on their reactive template. The crowd were overcome by the first act were now coming to terms with the presence of a gunman in the theatre. A gunman who could be anywhere, anyone. There was a panic as they laid siege to the exits. The police tried to hold, aware of the haemorrhaging of witnesses, evidence and suspects but it was all happening too fast. And there may be more shooting. The commander quickly chose to evacuate and they threw the doors wide, each body tense against the unseen bullet, the shove, the finger on the shoulder. Heroes and villains blurred into a surge of moving panic like hungry locusts crossing and consuming a field.

The speaker was dead. His assistant was lying across the warm body screaming, she saw his face as he fell, she had been ready with the towel and the water. Another assistant was talking loudly into her ear, she was oblivious in her fresh pain. Now everything had changed. A hi-viz man who appeared to be a doctor was holding the dead head, shaking and shouting but the speaker was gone. Outside the limo engines were still running, the doors unlocked, he was only a few steps away from the safety of the wide open spaces of the outside world. A flurry of microphones cracked the stage cordon, there were fist fights. Questions and anger. The gunman was invisibly gone, nothing, it was too late for a lockdown now. There never had been a plan for this. Frustrated police combed what areas they could, reinforcements arrived, heavy duty detectives and more from the press contingent. A few arrests were made, petty crimes and silly violence, all on the fringes. About forty minutes after the incident, the hall clear, the body photographed and moved a statement was made.

“The Speaker was assassinated here tonight at 2205, it is my sad and unfortunate duty to tell you this. He was killed instantly by a single gunshot. It is believed that the gunman is still somewhere in the area and our officers are actively looking for that person or persons as I speak. I'm sure I speak for all who were here tonight and all devotees of the Speaker when I say that our search for his assailant will be vigorously pursued, a simple target achieved is not enough, I question it's difficultly and it's validity. If there is spare time left then I've miscalculated something, not taken enough on board, not really tried. I don't want any of you to ever feel that same way.” In the flash of a strobe a single shot rang out.

There she was

There she was again, sitting in that horrid mirror place, looking back and smirking over the top of a pair of tortoiseshell reading glasses. She didn't say a word, she never did. Apparently her style today was like some bubbly oyster coloured flapper of a lost thing, the dress was almost inappropriate with it's details and flounces, the cardigan shapeless and loose, the tights were dark and glossy and the shoes were...all wrong really. She'd been left behind after the party, shoulders exposed to a spotlight and fingers still tapping to an internal jazz heartbeat. There was this mish mash of jewellery, picked out in the dark and applied like blind make up, by necessity without design but it created some chunky special stay away effect. Maybe that buried smirk was really some kind of a knowing smile, disguised, either way it was hard to hold the ambiguous gaze for too long. Like putting your finger into a candle flame or touching your forearm against the edge of a hot oven, that inevitable sharp pain would come and then the scarring. It could last for weeks. That was the effect she had; if you were weak enough to acknowledge the coming of the pain. A lazy blond Medusa machine.

She was sitting back in the chair now, maybe ready to suck a pen, touch a typewriter key or light some illicit cigarette, perhaps she'd swig English gin and shake the noisy ice cubes in your face, you never knew. Was that not the kind of thing that modern writers did these days? Somehow her elbows seemed extra important, as if grappling as alien metaphors for harvesting machines or just pointing things that signed and threatened the casual observer to stay out of the way. Some respectful space was needed here or you'll get yourself poked. Her eyes still followed and there was no easy escape. The drama stained and sticky pupils were dark and beady with a muted centre, in behind those glasses, unflattering but practical. At some point everything gets distilled down to the unflattering and practical, it you let yourself go or get that far down the road. Her hair was piled up and held against it's will by two dark clips, like some forgotten hedge that had been teased and tousled into temporary submission, she'd get round to taming it some time, in some chrome and plastic parlour, maybe best done with somebody else's hands. She was that ex-Southern Belle type, spoiled, whatever that had come to mean. Her heart was anchored down home on the dreary plantation, perhaps just down in the plantation but if she was sweating for it in there you couldn't tell. She knew how to hold in her own heat.

An informed observer might have said that inside her, there was something stirring, a hungry itch, a big dirty sensation, a struggling, writhing thing that wanted and waited for the release factor of a public exposition. For a moment it wanted to live and catapult a strange alter-author out across this dumb universe into a sky full of fizzy fireworks and sparklers and squeezed up and compressed feeling. Then when those feelings grew too hot and out of control they could be pissed out back into a bucket of ice cold water. That guilty freeze and the vivid torture held up in a submissive cocktail of remorse and displayed in a polite state of less than fully conscious and less than stone dead. That was the ultimate goal, to meet up with those informed eyes, see through them into a golden and unattainable life beyond, hold it all in the mouth, swirl and then spit it all back out in a mess across the world. Not pleasant or civilised really but then we are such complex, depraved and forever suckling animals...and it just may be that she is the queen.


For the first half of his life James had collected screws and fasteners, from wherever they landed, half used, pulled from some wall or fixing, James picked them up. Sometimes they were the new, extra screws that came with products but were superfluous and unnecessary. The screws were stored away in the work boxes, sometimes roughly categorised, sometimes just thrown on top of other materials and so left to find their own level in the hotch potch of tools and redundant items. From time to time James would search for one or two to fix a shelf or a door hinge or carry out some other repair. More screws went into those boxes than ever came out.

Then came the day that James had a thought, in fact he had series of thoughts, one after the other. They tumbled into his mind, crashing into each other, splintering like glass or broken bottles. It wasn't painful nor shocking, just unusual, an unusual event and it made James stop. James had come across a screw, there, on the pavement outside of his house, he'd picked it up and was about to put it into his pocket and then it would be tossed into the tool boxes until, some day it was required.

James held back on putting it into his pocket, he looked at the screw, he held it up between his thumb and index finger. It was a wood screw, an inch and quarter, soft with a cross countersunk head and made from some cheap almost but not quite brass alloy. James had seen this type of screw many times before and he knew he had many squirrelled away in his useful boxes. His confused thoughts began to clear, like a Blackpool beach at six o'clock. He looked at the screw and thought; “Along with all the other screws, nails, fasteners and bits and bops I have, how or when will I ever use you, you little inch and quarter screw?” The screw didn't answer. James just rotated it between his thumb and finger, looking at the thread and head and knowing, for the first time, that it was unlikely that this screw would be put to any useful use by him, ever.

Holding that thought James put the screw into his pocket and went back inside the house. He took off his shoes put on slippers and opened up the cupboard under the stair. There were his DIY boxes of odd bits, he pulled them out into the better daylight of the hall and looked at them. Their contents stared back as dumb as just the random sweepings of an ironmonger's floor, a life's flotsam and collected junk. Suddenly it seemed a sad and pointless collection; odd brackets, packets of raw-plugs, bits of wire, half used rolls of tape, misshaped pieces of doweling, washers, panel pins, picture and cup hooks, dirty and slightly bent nails, roofing bolts and nyloc nuts, torn strips of sandpaper and screws (all shapes and sizes). James regarded them all, a big iron, timber and plastic puddle of discarded and unused, never to be used useful things. All useless in this current, slowly revolving version of James' world.

James then had a pantomime script thought, “maybe if I can't use all this clutter and crap somebody else could.” He pondered the practicalities versus the impracticalities. Nobody would really want this and surely almost every household carried a similar amount of accumulated junk somewhere in it's soft underbelly languishing there as everywhere else. Mountains of screws, washers and panel pins, rising up in great suburban heaps, waiting on a day of user fulfilment that would never come. So there was that and then there was James' own life, running down and useless, like the boxes of screws. Running down and useless.

James put the boxes away and closed the cupboard door. It was early evening, the sunlight was a copper glowing thing that played and strayed across blinds and furniture. The room was warm and peaceful. James drew himself a large golden glass of whisky and sat in the big chair. The sun made him squint for a few seconds and then bathed him. He looked at the family photographs on the mantlepiece. The light was good, just had God had made it and thought and reflected on it, some time ago, they say. James supped the whisky and allowed it to work it's earthy and alcoholic magic, a soothing and a primal spirit, perhaps some distilled rival to God's warm and deadly sunshine, for surely he had not created alcohol; that was man's doing (or wrong doing). James floated away, his life was more than halfway over, passed the marked milestone towards some three score and ten. He was nearly sixty and in those boxes there were at least another fifty years worth of household repair materials. Time was being cruelly measured in the mundane, in the consumable, in the petty and the irrelevant. No big event, no bridge to build, no flood to recover from, no hurricane or earthquake to rebuild after, just tinkering stuff, just stuff that you tinker with, that's all that's left.

In the future everybody may be famous for fifteen minutes but nobody will care how that picture was hung, if that shelf was straight or how well the carpet edges were held down. Details don't last. There will be none of that, maybe only a great explosion or a meteor driven dust storm, then a long and fitful sleep. The end, however unlikely will come from and inhabit someone's imagination, it could even be James'. James thought that was unlikely.

When you were a child did you watch and remember all the people who'd pass by outside your house? The important looking gents and ladies, the workers and labourers, postmen, policemen or nearby neighbours, kids headed for school, dog walkers and once in a while a mysterious stranger. People you saw everyday but never knew. Today, through some wilful mist you can still picture their faces, see their clothes and style of walking, hear their voices, even though you never spoke. Where are they now? James though hard about this and how he couldn't quite recapture the view, it was a dull picture with muted sound, it was the past, measured out in those trivial and nondescript events. It had meant something then, now it was just a mental exercise in recalling a travelogue that went to nowhere. James took another sip of his whisky. “Getting old is just something that everybody does, it's not an illness or a weakness. It's just a collection of things, picked up, some used, some stored, some discarded and the judgements you make on the usefulness of these things are all pretty much meaningless – in the grand scheme of things.”