Adverse Camber IV

Previously: Adverse Camber I/III, Adverse Camber II/III and Adverse Camber III/III (I know, I know, the last one kind of promised this was over but I felt like bringing him back).

Part One – A Bad Sort

They hanged the wrong man.

Mule Cud stood in his cabin and watched it on the television.  His name, that is, his old name, Adverse Camber, rolled across the bottom of the screen again and again, subtitling the scene.  Huge crowds of people had gathered in the square, hatted and gloved as though attending a bonfire, so many people interested to see the death of a famous criminal.  The executioner was readying the gallows.  Adverse Camber, or  at least some poor sod mistaken for Adverse Camber, some bedraggled ersatz Adverse Camber was hauled out by two guards who held him roughly under his arms and dragged him along.  The poor sod’s armpits would have been sore the next day, if only he had been alive to notice.

Mule stood in front of the television, feeling that it would be somehow wrong  to sit and watch a hanging, especially when the poor sod was being hanged for crimes Mule had committed. So he just stood and held his pestle and his mortar and was grinding finely the whole time.

“You got it wrong!” he shouted at the television as the executioner slipped the noose around the poor sod’s neck.  Mule spat at the television in a fury.

The commentator had progressed to reading out Adverse Camber’s charge sheet – the lies and deceit, the escapes from the law, the body count.

“This one’s on your hands,” he said, before aiming a kick to the frame of the television so that it wobbled on its stand.  “This one is on your hands.”

Mule watched as the poor sod’s face turned purple, the camera zooming in to catch every last twitch of his struggle.  He ground finely with his pestle and mortar the whole time as if it were a joystick and The Hanged Man was a game Mule was playing on his console.  The faster he ground, the more the man struggled, the purpler his face became, the closer to death, the louder the crowd chanted, the more furious Mule Cud felt about the whole thing.

When the man finally went limp on his rope, Mule landed another kick to the television set and this time it crashed to the floor and went off.  He never wanted to see anything like that ever again.

Part Two – Sort Of Bad

Mule wanted a PO box, that was all.

Once he had a PO box he would get all his post sent there, he would live out of it.  All he desired, all he needed was a PO box.  He also found the aesthetic of the thing appealing.  Several times he went out of his way to walk past the Post Office so he could look in through the window and see the smart blue banks of boxes, a wall of little doors with numbers on like some kind of miniature housing system.  He didn’t know whether getting a PO box was as simple as buying, say, an onion or whether there was an application process, whether it was like adopting a puppy or a child, whether ownership of the box remained with the post office.  He didn’t even know whether he would be allowed one.  He didn’t know how it worked.  But he wanted to prove that he was worthy of a PO box.  He would change his ways for that PO box.  He would look after it.  The chance to prove himself became more important than the fact of the PO box itself.  He intended to mend his ways and show the universe that he was not such a bad sort.

He started thinking about the number he would be assigned.  He did not have a lucky number but there were certain aspects he looked for in a number, certain things he found appealing.  He liked squares and cubes, fibonacci sequences.  He liked the idea of having a three digit number consisting of one odd number and two evens.  But he knew that his preferences were coloured by numbers he had previously lived amongst – telephone numbers, house numbers, bank accounts – and that as the most important number of his life, he would love his PO box no matter what and that it might even realign his attitudes.  He tried to picture a perfect future time in which he would feel a comfortable familiarity with his PO box number and the way it had re-shaped his view of the world to such an extent that he could not imagine being without it, could not imagine that number not being in his life.

His phone rang, which was, at this stage, a rare occurrence.

“They hanged the wrong man Adverse Camber, they hanged the wrong man.  Your face don’t fit,” Mule’s wife cackled down the line.  “Your face don’t fit Adverse!”

“Who is this?” he asked.

“It’s your wife Adverse Camber, as well you know.”

“How did you get this number?  My name is not Adverse Camber and I do not have a wife,” he said – quiet, calm.  Then he hung up.

Mule phoned directory enquiries and requested the number for the post office department that administered PO boxes, then asked to be put through.  Finding their line engaged, he resolved to phone back later.  In the meantime he sat on a rock and passed his phone from hand to hand as he dreamt about Hollywood finding his PO box address and writing to him so that they could remake of his film.

He decided to phone them, so he placed another call to directory enquries and asked for the number for Hollywood, but they were unable to give him a direct line.  Hollywood would have to wait, which was fine – it was their loss.

He tried the number for the PO box department again, a small part of him hoping they would still be engaged as he was beginning to wonder whether the reality of a PO box would live up to the prestige he had invested in the idea.  But it was only a small part of him, most of him knew that this was it, this was what he needed in order to begin the process of redeeming himself.

Day #10587

Adventures in Reading and Writing, Part 13

I am often left with the same feeling after reading a great short story.  It is not quite that I wish I had written that short story – it is more that I am immediately filled with ideas for stories of my own which will contain all the qualities I admire about the piece I have just consumed.  Just in time I realise that what I am planning is a complete re-hash and I bin those thoughts and try to get to work on something completely different.

This happened to me last week when I came across Steven Millhauser’s ‘In The Reign Of Harad IV’, first as a podcast and then as a text (both from The New Yorker – you can read it here for free and the podcast is also free to download, just search for The New Yorker Fiction Podcast in the iTunes store).  If I were you I’d read it now – you won’t be disappointed, plus you’ll be able to read the rest of this post without me having given away what happens.dangerous_laughter

It’s a kind of subatomic fairytale, the story of a craftsmen whose job it is to create miniature furniture for the king’s model palace.  As the story progresses we learn how he begins to experiment with producing smaller and smaller items, experimenting “beneath the surface of the visible.”  There is a simple joy to be had in marvelling at the impossible skill he displays in crafting a model of the king’s palace which can only be seen under a microscope, but the story really peaks when he goes even further and starts to construct from materials which are not even visible when magnified.

The maker of miniatures seems like a character it would be difficult to dislike – he is talented, conscientious, imaginitive and able to admit his faults – so the reader does not want to write him off as a fool when he begins to make miniatures which are basically invisible.  We do not know if he has lost his mind in pursuit of his escalating ideas, or whether the miniatures do actually exist.  But if they exist only in his imagination, does this detract from his achievements?  There is something beautiful about the purity of his dedication to this extreme art, but also sad when we see the sacrifices he has to make.  It ends as he realises that he will no longer be praised for his work and that he too has ventured beneath the surface of the visible.  The story slips into a silence which mirrors the fact of his disappearing miniatures and we are left to craft our own understanding of what might happen next.  And just as the miniatures are fascinating and inspirational items, so Millhauser’s story lodged in my brain.

Once I had finished reading, I had my customary moment of enthusiasm for writing a story about (in this instance) things that are miniature and/ or invisible, but I managed to stop myself before any damage was done.  So, what did I take from this story?  Firstly I read a great short story, which is always a good thing for someone who likes reading short stories as well as trying to write them.  And although I stopped myself producing my own rip-off, there were still things I learnt from it, more subtle things.

It also made me want to write a short story that is completely different but just as good, so that perhaps another writer of short stories might read it and be momentarily inspired to try and write a re-hash of my work.  It’s something to aim towards.