I recently was handed a box of my papers I have not seen for 30 years, forgotten other than those I thought were lost. The thought process behind writing the partial first draft of this piece came back to me clearly. I was pitching to write out of character. attempting a psychodrama cross horror story with elements of crafted confusion, the surreal and provocation to laugh.
My former position of employment would soon be made redundant by the introduction of technology about to revolutionise the workplace. As an active member of the union and elected to speak for the staff to management, I would never have voiced ‘revolutionise’. I reflected later on the disappearance of a form of employment few would know of and its conduct in a room with a building view overlooking other buildings, from a chair in the room a view that was the colour grey and bleak or of rain or blue and bright at height the length of the external wall, the weather through an industrial warehouse-style window.
The waiter rolled down the stairs.
“Come back here,” I screamed, distraught at the evasive tactics. I don’t suppose you would understand the difficulties involved in having a loose grip on reality. You might seeing in others the potential of their losing theirs.
We are by definition so much better at watching others than ourselves.
My duty is to not assume, but warn. You could even be sitting next to me on a bus.
I warned Noag. He laughed. You can’t afford laughter any more than Noag could. You never met him, did you? No, of course not. I had buried Noag even then in the deepest recesses of recall for so long, my imagination gave him shape and appearance.
You will never find him.
What you will meet with is with yourself saddled with my neuroses as well as your own. You began to read thinking, didn’t you, that you could forget your own for a while your hands clutched around this publication, your fingernails almost sunk in. You sank, instead, into its grateful embrace. You probably started feet up. You sent the kids to Coventry. If you do not have any, you wanted to forget worrying about the ones you didn’t have. Opportunity eluded, time deluded you.
I have never had any children. I never will. I hate children. Children clutter buses at peak-times. They toddle along in harnesson pavements, meander, alarm running red and sweating in gym clothing. So many knees and elbows in school groups and pushing and shoving and teachers blowing whistles.
I thought the driver was never going to stop the bus when it started to scream. I was trapped in a beast, a classic outcome of mythology, its soul emergent as an unnerving high-pitched whine from within, the single note and its harmonics like a buzz saw, a monotone of unremitting frenzy-cross-rational logic attuned to the sorest point that is unknown.
What’s wrong with this bus, I thought.
I didn’t see anybody else thinking the same thing. The aisle was blank with suspense. I did see a round ball of slimed and white chewing gum land on the point of focus of my meditation. A passenger near involuntarily I supposed discarded the material. I imagined the ball projecting through a mouth rounded to permit that habitual exit. I could step on it. What best purpose might I attach to that. I order everything, you see, into good and bad and why.
Would I get to work on time? Stupid question. Buses never get anybody to work on time unless the journey is begun in the hours before sun-up by striking a match. Yes, my subjective analysis. They, the antagonists in all legends, cut off my electricity just as I was about to pay the bill. At least some of it in the hope I would be standing as anticipated in the illumination of the porch light when the landlord came by for the rent. It seems reasonable to assume that where there’s power, there’s hope. A landlord cannot feel confidence in a porch lit in a deepening twilight by a tenant shielding a spluttering match.
I will bruise my brain one day taking public transport instead of the Mini stuck in the garage. The jolting and the shudder of the bus was terrible.
I have high standards. I have high expectations of myself. I am my own standard and hyperbola. I studied Math that did not work out so well. I took on Political Studies. I was busy. Elsewhere. I flunked so I did not get the job of Secretary to my local Member or of anywhere. Instead I am in this business. Publishing and I read. Everything that is put in front of me. Not on my own. We read together, you see. My workplace is a room of babble. No matter the noise pollution. I’ve developed an evasion tactic that, to date, has kept me my job. Just as I am about to deliver a neurosis as finely tuned as a pitch fork, I go to the gents.
Well, one of us reads out loud and the other listens, the pairs rostered to minimise the blood shed, close on 40 people at desks, four supervisors and a Head Reader seated at a side-on desk out front left. The content of the daily newspaper and other publications is read thus every day, all day and more from the time you leave your work and go home into the dark of night that is the night of our despair.
Readers do. Have a loose grip on reality.
The bus slowed. Not ‘slowed’ as if coming to a stop. The bus slowed yet progressed forward as if the driver had formed no intention to stop. The passengers might have to jump the driver, take control. We were not in a democratic accident inclining to equity, but hapless dependants. We can only imagine ourselves on a level playing field where there is hope, not haphazard luck and its opposition, mishap. The screaming bus sounded as if it was climbing a hill where there was no hill. The floor of the bus shuddered.
A reader would begin reading the text of a paragraph such as I have written above thus: new para cap T definite article space bus space and so on. What is on the page and is otherwise not, designated ‘space’, is vocalised as having entity, place, status or subservience. Everything becomes ascribed purpose and dimension. Commercial ads, lonely hearts pleas, even syndicated crosswords are read. One period down river. Two period across bright. Check the solution. Does the solution match and fit.
Funeral and In Memoriam notices circulate three times which engages the scrutiny of six staffers.
What carminative could I find in reflection we care more for the dead than the living. My bowels gripped in the pain of retention of flatulence. I held my guilty secret forever more against my better judgement weighting good, better and best.
You know, few faux paux and mistaken attributions find their way into print. Each partner holds a copy of the proof. The reader may offer the copyholder they read and the reader listens in the assumed role of copyholder.
What can possibly go wrong.
Imagine the way reflected images in shop windows are seen to change viewed from the window of an inner city bus. Flick flick flick. Readers and copyholders do not stop reading when they walk out onto the street after between 8 and 12 hours a day reading everything given to them including poetry and space. They continue to read. Their eye identifies out of a world of viewpoint anything that can be read, a word, a punctuation mark or more and tests the strength of meaning. Their habitual task in their workplace is an entity of powerful will.
Gathered school children at a stop followed the sight of their scheduled bus passing them without deviating from its forward path. Their faces aghast, they waggled and waved school bags, blazers, outstretched arms. Suddenly the bus clanked and came to screaming rest. Its engine cut out. The screaming stopped. I leaped out of my seat in fear of mayhem and doom, explosion. My suit and shirt collar were sodden in a drench of fear of a colleague literally reading a report of my untimely death to a copy holder: cap c charles spell that out (pause and listen to copyholder) space cap s smith spell that out (pause and listen to copyholder) punctuation comma lower case f formerly indefinite article an employee of…
The fellow next to me who waited tables at The Metropole Hotel dining room and I were first at the exit. I merely pushed him out of my way. He pushed me out of his. As I stepped forward in haste to flee the bus, he pushed me aside again and in retaliation as I grabbed for him and he turned back, I turned and directed the heel of my smart shoe backwards. I felt the impact on his shin bone as the heel connected. My blood up, I was spoiling for a fight as I turned back to land him a blow. He was flailing his hands in the air. His legs were tottering his body helplessly forward as I struck out at him with my readied fist.
After I screamed at him to come back (when he rolled down the stairs), I was pinioned in a citizens arrest and secured to a bus seat with luggage strapping.
…top right column photograph of a man caption under (reader, pause) cap c charles spell that out (reader, pause and listen to copyholder) space cap s smith spell that out (reader, pause and listen to copyholder) punctuation comma lower case indefinite article an employee of…