Further Decorations Of The Captain

Anybody who had seen him on this travels to and from the ship – and the captain was a frequent user of the buses – would have assumed that this was a man who had lost all interest in life, a man who had been overwhelmed.  Like the lawn mower which sat abandoned halfway through his garden, the enemy grass grown up all around it and long ago victorious.

But the crew knew that the captain had stained glass dreams in his brain, pop songs in his stomach and they set about ensuring that this illumination was reflected about his person.  One day that wasn’t his birthday but must still have been an anniversary of some event in the captain’s life, they stole his clothes and set about encrusting his jacket with fractured shards of gleaming things.  They dangled shiny penny sculpture things from the cuffs of his sleeves, embellished the blank slate of his shirt with felt-tip pictures of things they dreamt up on the spot, planted spinning little windmill things in his hat and painted gleaming little planet things on to his shoes.

On the bus, the captain stared back at anyone who dared look again at this overwhelmed man.  A tether at the end of its tether.  What did they do to you, he could see people want to ask.  And he wanted the chance to tell them that it was none of their business – it had been done to him, not to them.

Dream w/ story (incl. story about story), Feb. 2017

There are two doppelgangers of my acquaintance.  It has been suggested (by me) that, since they look so similar, they could save money and merge to become one person.  They both tell me they would not want to give up their autonomy.  They have so much in common!

The two doppelgangers live in different countries and have never met, but have agreed to having lunch together, if I go to the trouble of arranging the whole thing.  I will also be allowed to take a picture.  It’s going to be pretty fantastic.

In order to arrange the meet-up, I have to make travel arrangements for them both and apply for various visas and permits.  In filling out these seemingly endless forms, I am not able to state the true reason for their visit as it seems… ridiculous, frivolous… and so I am forced to construct elaborate, serious-minded lies for which I draw up dry business plans to add an air of authentication to my claims.  The whole process is laborious and interminably boring and throughout the whole thing I keep in mind the end goal – how fantastic it will be to see my two acquaintances standing next to one another looking exactly the same.

Just when I have finally finished filling out the forms, I wake up.

*

I thought the rule was that you should not end a story with, “and then he woke up and it was all a dream,” but my tutor says it is more than that, she says, “don’t write about dreams, people get bored of hearing about other people’s dreams.”

But what if what you’re writing about is not the dream itself, but how you feel after the dream?  What if it’s about the effect the dream has on you?

She frowns.  Another rule is, “don’t write about writing.  Your readers don’t care how you wrote it, they just want a story.”

*

I went to the visa office to try and salvage some of my hard work.  I thought maybe the hours I had spent filling in their forms might come in use to someone, somewhere, somehow.  Maybe they could scoop up all that spent effort, pull it in to this reality and donate it to someone who needed to complete a boring task.

Maybe someone in the real world knew some doppelgangers.  As it turned out, I didn’t.  I was not acquainted with two people who looked exactly the same as one another, just lots of people who looked only like themselves.  When they stood next to one another, they looked entirely different to one another.

The visa office was located in the dead space underneath one of the cantilevered stands of the local football ground.  A long queue stretched towards the desk and when I looked at the faces of the people in the line they were all the same, or at least there only seemed to be four or five different models for faces from which their faces had been forged, and in my feverish paranoia the notion occurred to me that they were plants, placed in that queue to do nothing more than dissuade anyone from ever even thinking of bothering to make a visa application, a job which the dark, forboding environment was already doing rather well.

But in the gaps in the concrete there were these little fractal cacti growing, improbable bursts of bright colour and these quickly became a high point of this whole episode, though I could only see them – I was not able to verify their existence in reality.

Roses In The Snow

Time will pass in no time at all.  We kept those flowers, the late winter hotel breakfast flowers… we kept them well past late winter time, well past breakfast time, kept them as a reminder of the breakfast in that hotel we stayed at in late winter.  The flowers start to prickle and sweat, a soft fuzz of sweet-looking mould spawns across them and back in late winter we saw roses in the snow, but these are not those nor nothing so neat.  These are flowers that start out as a haiku then become a messy paragraph which evolves with scribblings out until we give in and submit.  The late winter hotel breakfast flowers flop, decomposed and decomposing, become late late winter hotel breakfast flowers.

Adverse Camber 5: Who Can Smell The Telephone Ringing?

(Previously: Adverse Camber I/III, Adverse Camber II/III and Adverse Camber III/III.  That was meant to be the end but I brought him back for Adverse Camber IV, thinking that would be it.  But here he is again, turning up like a bad penny).

Part 1: Be All

Just when you though he was dead and gone and everyone had forgotten he ever existed, even forgotten they had forgotten he had existed, it turns out he was still out there, famous in his own mind, living out his own small ‘c’ super-czardom, lord of a small flat in an undercover town, working in a call centre.

One week after he started, Adverse Camber phoned in and told them he was going to work from home and though they said it was not that kind of job, he did it anyway – he had a phone at home and had stolen a list of names and numbers.

For every call he made, Adverse Camber prepared a new alias, embellishing each one with their own specific headspace  and various personal effects.  Switching personas constantly, Adverse Camber began to feel more typically Adverse Camber than he had for some time.

Soon the small flat was strewn with stuff started and then stopped – the paperback that he had picked up when he was playing the part of the call centre operative Bernard Rind-Worcester lay, face-down and broken-spined, abandoned at the moment in which he switched to assume the identify of call centre operative Trudy Spatchcock, with her taste in opulent jewellery, with her voracious appetite for fresh flowers.  So many flowers left to wilt and die with the arrival of call centre operative Ted Panther… and on and on etcetera amen.

Adverse wasn’t washing during this time, a time which turned in to a week-long spree of cold-calling.  He wore each persona for such a short time that it barely felt worth it.  He ate only when it fit with his current persona – on occasion this lead him to eat vast quantities, or to consume foods he didn’t usually like, like bloody lemons.

He worked until the universe took steps to intervene – not by curtailing his list of people to call, or by starving him of inspiration for new characters.  Instead it intervened by slowly but surely filling up all the space in the immediate vicinity around Adverse, filling it with the random multicoloured 3D pipes of the 1990s Windows screensaver.

When the network of pipes had expanded across his vision and Adverse was cut off from the outside world, he gave in and agreed to give up, to go offline, for a while at least.

Part 2: End All

Have you heard of Dirk Slimmens?

I hadn’t either, but then the name popped in to my head one morning.  Dirk Slimmens.  Could there be someone called that?  I checked in a search engine and could find no information about anyone called Dirk Slimmens, so I assumed it was ok to use the name.

Dirk Slimmens greeted Adverse Camber one morning when Adverse was strolling back from the shops, carrying milk and sketching out rough drafts for possible identities at a rate of 20 per minute.  This was soon after Adverse got back in to the independent call centre game, treading carefully for fear of reprisals from the universe and their multicoloured 3D pipes.

“I’m Dirk Slimmens,” Dirk told him.

“That’s great.”  Adverse kept walking, carrying, inventing.

“I’m on your list,” Slimmens said next.

Now Adverse stopped walking, carrying (the milk crashed to the pavement), inventing (identity production ground to a halt).

“What did you say?”

“I don’t know your name,” said the man named Dirk Slimmens, “but I know I’m on your list.”

Slimmens flared his nostrils, as if to demonstrate how.  But who can smell the telephone ringing?

Adverse could feel the multicoloured 3D pipes coming for him again, but this time they were only an obstruction in his mind.  He beat them back to retain his grip on reality.  He considered picking up the milk and socking Dirk with it, but then he thought about thinking his way around the problem instead.  It was certainly true that this man was on the list – he should be expecting a call from Adverse, only he had no right to be expecting a call from Adverse.  And of course, it wouldn’t be Adverse who called.  No… it would be someone else.

Adverse ground out a grin beneath his supercilious moustache.

“I look forward to speaking to you soon,” he told Slimmens, and hurried home with his milk.

Back at the flat he set about prolifically creating persona after persona and working through the list.  Tens of call centre operative lives passed by in a blur as he worked towards the name which now stood out halfway down the page.

When he came to that name, the name ‘Dirk Slimmens’ written so prosaically on the sheet, as if it were nothing special, Adverse was ready with a special persona.  It was one he had been thinking of all morning, such that it had been designed by committee, with ideas chipped in by each of the morning’s call centre workers.  The finished article was exactly right – strange as a whistle, anonymous as a search engine.

The telephone rang, the telephone was picked up.

“Good morning, this is just a cold call about your cold call needs,” said Adverse quickly, “my name is Dirk Slimmens.  Would you have a moment to speak?”

“That’s great,” said the voice at the other end of the phone, and this was definitely recognisable as the voice of the man Adverse had met in the street earlier, though now it seemed the voice was trying out a different pose, a new stance.

It did not sound so unsure, or quite as gazumped as Adverse would have liked.

“Yes,” continued Adverse-as-Dirk, not quite as confidently.  “Can I ask to whom I am speaking?”

There was a pause, as if for effect.

“Sure, this is Mr. Adverse Camber.”

[Next time:  Arg!  What now?  Can there really be two Adverse Cambers like Adverse Camber?  Find out… sometime… soon?]

Writing About Something

They warn you pretty early on against ending stories with the sentence, “and then he woke up and it was all a dream,” but sometimes that’s what happens and there is no escaping it.  And sometimes what you want to write about is the feeling you have on waking, a feeling that might be intangible like a conspiracy theory, but important like a house falling down.  The kind of thing that follows you around all day, but on which there is no narrative structure you can hang this feeling, the way you can hang a coat on a chair to dry.

I Don’t Want To Worry You

You looked worried but I worried that if I asked you about it, you might be more worried – sometimes when you are worried you don’t like to think about your worrying worrying me, but this means I worry that you are worrying about something and not telling me about it, because you worry so much about my worrying about you.  I want to tell you this, because I’ve been worrying about it, but I don’t want to worry you.  I do not want to worry you.

Awry [sketch]

Halfway through, what it becomes is a block of rough grey on a pale yellow background, but then it swirls away to get made – through some invisible process – in to a neat new suit.  “It needs taking in, just a little.”  “How long will that take?”  “Only a few days, call in at the end of the week.”  Adverts for running shoes and running kit and running and running and the joys of running.  A little plastic figurine popped out of a packet, played with, lost in the sand, eaten by the sea, bon voyage, bon apetit.  The pleasure of writing things down, tippy tappy tippy tappy, getting somewhere.  A block of rough grey on a pale yellow background.  A neat new suit.  “No, I would say that fits you perfectly.”  “Perfect.”  The calm rolling in of the year like a ball in to the pocket of a snooker table.  No ending where there’s supposed to be an ending.  An elbow jigged, a drink spilled, a stain slapped across a sleeve.  “Oh, I’m-“  “It’s nobody’s fault.”  Still.  Feet pounding, running, running, the joys of running.  A rough little shape, hard and difficult, lodged, impossible to get to go anywhere.

Collective Failure

“I love my hair in the winter,” she says, when it’s daylight outside, flinging it about.  It’s so cold.  “I can’t get the taste of soap out of my mouth,” he says, and he doesn’t even know where it came from.

Two in the afternoon and it was uncommonly dark with big grey clouds filling the sky and when people talked about it, making dulled observations to one another (“it’s so dark, you wouldn’t think it was two in the afternoon would you?”  “no, it’s like the middle of the night!”) , there was something in the tone of their voices to suggest culpability – as if to acknowledge their own part in chipping away at the world.

And when the rain fell there was hardly anything hard for it to fall on, so it fell softly on everyone and everywhere that was bundled up, covered in the protective layers that seemed necessary.

Time Spent In A Certain Café

Busy times are breakfast and lunch, that is when the café is full.  Then people start to notice and they aim instead for mid-morning and the point halfway between breakfast and lunch becomes a busy time.

This same couple always come to the cafe in either the gap between breakfast and the breakfast-lunch midpoint, or the gap between the breakfast-lunch midpoint and lunch.  They have a favourite table and, coming to the café when they do, they get to sit there nine times out of ten.  They always sit at a table for four, occupying just two of the seats – the two next to the window, so they are facing each other, and they always sit the same way round – he occupying the position facing the counter, she with her back to us.  They have a distinctive look – he is tall and pale, with fair hair and clothes that are tight against his body, she is short with long black hair and usually wears loose-fitting, flowing dresses.

There is one more thing.  When they come to our café, they always argue.

The kind of café we run is not one where we make friends with our regular customers, so we do not automatically start making their drinks when we see them come through the door, not that they always order the same thing anyway.  We might give them a quick smile of recognition as we take their order, but we don’t make small talk with them or ask how their day is going.

They always argue in the same way – quietly, tersely, their heads close together, as if their disagreements are about the fine details of their arrangements, negotiations, not big thematic decisions.

You have a theory.  “Maybe they only argue when they come here.  What if this is their one place where they can argue, it’s like a rule they have.  Maybe it stops them arguing anywhere else.”  You seem convinced.  I’m not so sure.  We have a rule – we never argue in the café, in front of the customers.  There is a little store cupboard just behind the counter, which is the perfect size for two people.

If everything is set up properly and run well, this is a steady business to be in.  It’s a good profession if you like things to go on for a long time.  There is no coffee season or tea close-season, there is no time of year when people stop talking to one another and sharing cake.

After a while, the young couple stop visiting the café.  There is no explanation for it, but then, why would there be, we cannot expect a letter of resignation whenever regular customers cease to visit.  We just don’t see them anymore.  You worry for a while that we might have done something – it is as though they are children for whom we should feel somehow responsible.

When the tall young man with the fair hair enters the room, the short, dark-haired young woman closes her notebook and places her pen on top of it.  He asks what she has been writing about and she tells him nothing much really.

He says he fancies a nice cup of coffee, tells her they should go out somewhere, how about that nice little café they used to go to but haven’t been in such a long time?  She scrunches up her face, then unscrunches it as she suggests a different place.

He doesn’t understand why recently she hasn’t wanted to go to the place they used to frequent regularly, a very nice little place where they had a favourite table and a quietly friendly relationship with the owners.  But he agrees to her counter-suggestion, it’s not a problem.

The short, dark haired young woman tells the tall young man with fair hair to give her a few minutes, she just needs to finish what she was doing.  He leaves the room.

But soon after that couple quit our café, this other young couple started coming.  They were more precise in their timing – they always came in the gap between the breakfast-lunch midpoint and lunch, in fact they were always in the gap between the breakfast-lunch midpoint and the breakfast-lunch to lunch midpoint.  

They too consist of a tall young man with fair hair and a short young woman with dark hair, but to us they appear inferior copies, like actors who have replaced the original actors in a favourite televison program.  And they don’t play the roles right, they chat in a relaxed manner and gaze lovingly at one another.  There doesn’t seem to be anything to them.  We start to resent their presence in our establishment, but there is no way we can ban them or fire them from their roles as café attendees, and no way we can write to the previous couple to invite them back.

Double A Side: Then And Only Then / Collage Of Facts

THEN AND ONLY THEN

Big raindrops.  The rain stops and you can see now how big the sky is.  Your heart reboots like an old computer left to gather dust, but which is, it turns out, miraculously still alive, though breathing unsteadily now.  Joyous, you think words to yourself, processing.  There is always so much to do – the clock wheels away in delight.  The winter sky is big and you are getting up late, going to bed early, turning in smaller and smaller circles.  And all those three-in-the-mornings when you’re awake, you are super-determined to do your absolute best the next day.

COLLAGE OF FACTS

The sad beauty of failures,
the quiet injustices in success.
This is fantastic, this is reality.

“Just how many leaves do the trees
actually have in them?”
we wondered.
“How many times will we sweep them in to a pile?”
“What can we do with them afterwards?”

Were they legal tender
we might afford to
embrace madness,
like
the local legend
we do not know
whether to believe
or not.