Francis Aznaran Dan Burkitt Haig Didizian Michael Godson Thomas Hammond William Hitt Marco Iovino Alexander Joe Thomas Langley Samuel Lucas Terrance Obeng Henry Page Dominic Povall Will Reid William Spence George Stanbury Will Thomas
dulwich college writing volume 5 summer 2014
The fifth volume of 17 is dedicated to the memory of the 508 Old Alleynians killed in the First World War. k There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old, But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold. from ‘The Dead’ by Rupert Brooke
The Final Note Francis Aznaran Careers Inspiration Day Dan Burkitt Talking In Secret Haig Didizian
11 15 19 23 27 31 43 47 51 55 59 69 73 77 81 85 89
The Stare Michael Godson
The Ballad of Joe Gillis Thomas Hammond
The Postman Who Always Comes Twice William Hitt
In You We Trust Marco Iovino
The Arrogance of Mr. Fisher Alexander Joe
Forever Thomas Langley
The Invisible One Samuel Lucas Rigor Mortis Terrance Obeng
Ampersand Henry Page [Click] Dominic Povall
Rain On The Velux Will Reid Floating Midair William Spence Going To The Park George Stanbury
The Ring Will Thomas
v v v
A Reflection on 1914 Dr. Nicholas Black
“In the brief tale, the author is enabled to carry out the fullness of his intention, be it what it may. During the hour of perusal the soul of the reader is at the writer’s control.There are no external or extrinsic influences resulting from weariness or interruption.” Edgar Allan Poe
17 volume 5 summer 2014
Dulwich College is a selective independent boys’ school in South London. Founder’s Day is celebrated at the end of the Summer Term to commemorate the signing of the letters patent by James I on 21 June 1619 authorising Edward Alleyn to establish a college in Dulwich to be called the ‘College of God’s Gift’.
17 is published for Founder’s Day by the English Department. Dulwich College, Dulwich Common, London SE21 7LD. Tel: 020 8693 3601 | Fax: 020 8693 6319 | www.dulwich.org.uk Registered Charity Number: 312755 ISSN 2041-2770 Editing: Richard Sutton | firstname.lastname@example.org Design: Westrow Cooper Photography: Will Reid | www.willreidvisuals.com
The editor offers grateful thanks to Calista Lucy, the College Archivist, Nicholas Black, Head of the Middle School, and Rory Bryant in the English Department, all of whom gave advice. Westrow Cooper for his assistance and work on the design. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. A catalogue record for this periodical is available from the British Library.
Copyright © Dulwich College, 2014 Printed in Great Britain by Cambrian Printers
new stories inspired by
John Cheever Jennifer Egan Janet Frame Charlotte Gilman Graham Greene James Joyce Ian McEwan Haruki Murakami Vladimir Nabokov Sean O’Faolain J D Salinger
the crooner’s billowing dirge inspires a death no rest or relaxa- tion for an efficient traffic warden a good little girl loses her furry pink cushions while a bad boy discovers the mirror never lies an awkward outsider brings an end to the party on a darkening hill we encounter a hopeless romantic a teacher fails to illuminate his scientific topic an evening at the theatre ends in unscripted tragedy a vision of unstained beauty at the fairground leaves an indelible mark doors slam in the darkness and sandwiches are forgotten is it her clever daughter you see on the swing drowning in happiness on that intense autumn of sage and lavender and a woman sits in darkness with mouth wide open a metropoli- tan nocturne leads to a body on a mattress the disappearance of wild geese brings a discomfiting epiphany spiders and rosebushes and rotten fruit public transport provides the collector with his heart’s desire
“The final note will be a D natural.”
I found it fascinating that the much-loved Sinatra song, ‘My Way’, commonly used at funerals, has by association developed a highly dubious reputation as a soundtrack to self-murder. Victims’ preferences for it perhaps derive from the understandable desire to, with their final act, assert that they have ‘lived a life that’s full [and] travelled each and every highway’, despite what they are about to do; this may assuage internal anxieties concerning the value of their experience of life.The song’s largely optimistic tone may also reflect the belief, delusional or not, that suicide is the best possible option for the individual – preferable, perhaps, to living perpetually in disappointment or pain.
THE FINAL NOTE
As soon as I have finished writing this, I will tuck the scrap of paper into the left inside breast pocket of my jacket. There, I trust, you will have no trouble in finding it. * If you can be bothered to look for them, there are some very picturesque views in this city. I am basking in the delights of a bird’s-eye view of the vast urban expanse; it is a modern-day jungle, of skyscraper canopies, of brightly-winged steel birds, of apartment-block pine trees, of beetle traffic wardens and spider Buicks. The architectural vomit of the industrial revolution spreads over the delicate landscape as if waiting to be cleaned up. Scenic though it may be, one can’t but feel a sense of pity for its inhabitants. Belowme, a modest building with an immodest spire lies furtively between its towering neighbours. Due to vandalism – or perhaps just fate – its once inviting blue neon sign now reads ‘THE CHURCH OF LATTER-DAY S IN S’. It had attempted to fit in with its mercantile surroundings, but alas: the jungle giveth, and the jungle taketh away. ‘... I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain ...’ Sinatra sings from the battered phone beside me. His crooning voice glides across the rooftops at this time of night. The heartthrob’s swinging dirge has as an audience the benign city skyline; his tiny, lit-up face has as an audience only me. In that glowing screen do I feel the weight of history. The quaint orchestral backing, now an anachronism, lends him an air of ineffable melancholy.
Now, I am there: in that ‘60s Vegas hotel showroom, the incense of piped tobacco smoke filling privileged lungs. The audience chatters, and a hundred champagne glasses glitter in the stage- lights. A power-suit adjusts his bowtie, and beside him his scantily-clad mistress fingers her loose-fitting jewellery. Nearby, a man of fewer years checks again his trouser pocket for the engagement-ring case. Drooping ever gradually, the dull-red rose in the vase on his table looks back at him. A black waiter almost trips on the felt floor, his suede shoes squeaking in time with the trumpets. A teenager hides her giggles, while her piercing eyes survey the crowded room for her parents’ friends. Bouncers at the periphery and at every entrance exchange unreadable glances. Exotic cars speed by outside, and the evening rain is momentarily illuminated by their discerning headlights. Beads of sweat from the bassist’s forehead drip onto his rented tuxedo. Frank himself grins right at a young girl in the front row of tables, and her sisters grimace with envy.The orchestra conductor glances at his wristwatch and the bespectacled drummer notices him beat time just that bit faster. I am waiting for the final note. ‘... and saw it through, without exemption ...’ As a child, I would always take care to listen to the very last note of any piece of music.The final note provides what no other musical note can: the sense of an ending. Unless, of course, the cadence is imperfect, interrupted or otherwise incomplete – I do hope Sinatra will not disappoint. In this particular case, I believe, the final note will be a D natural. As I sit, the billowing breezes caress my vacant cheeks. My breath whitens and rises in the night air before me. Floating nonchalantly, it wanders off, never to return. Blackness engulfs my huddled body, but I welcome its advances. It has entranced my gaze; I peer deep in, looking for nothing at all. I observe far below me the egregious honking of a perturbed motorist. From up here, all of humanity appears to be little toy soldiers. The
matchbox of an SUV has squeaked at a Private, whose maternal Sergeant beckons him back to the side of the thin black strip. Above them, lights, lights switch and fade, their colours changing like the halos of divine sentinels. ‘... now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing ...’ My hands are beginning to shake as I write, the unevenness of my handwriting surpassed only by that of the crackling sound emanating from the phone. I find myself smiling maniacally. I start to write much faster – I want to say it all before the song is knelled to a close. Excitedly, my hurried scrawl edges ever closer to the bottom of the page. A cursory glance over the edge reveals I’m not really leaving behind much of which to speak, but only because I never had much to give. I will go out with a bang and a book – The Colossus and Other Poems. My body will be found on the pavement in front of the pound shop. Perhaps the Latter- Day Sinners will be the first to respond? ‘ ... Yes; it was my way. ’ a local vendor of the cheapest joys. ‘... if not himself, then he has naught ...’
“My job is my life.”
“Masculinity is the central theme in my story: the fragility and vulnerability of the male psyche in a competitive society which thrusts its expectations upon men. I explore this through satire and by initially withholding information in order to build suspense, for example the use of ambiguous terminology such as ‘that uniform’, before the delayed revelation relating to the narrator’s profession, transforming our perception of him from, possibly, a genuinely powerful figure to a man with a mundane job and a distorted view of reality. I leave the ending of my story open so the reader can interpret whether this is a momentary lapse in his façade or perhaps a moment of epiphany.
CAREERS INSPIRATION DAY
My job is my life. It’s what keeps me going: the adrenaline rush, the power, the respect you get donning that uniform. I try not to let the power go to my head but I’m only human. Knowing I could make or break lives if I chose thrills me to my core. One particular morning I get dressed, put on my hat, take my weapon and head out into the effervescent, pulsating core of London. I patrol my beat, seeing if anyone needs the strong arm of the law to crash down upon them.Here he is, the serial offender I see terrifyingly often. This criminal, this latent sociopath, this anarchical maniac has once again parked in an unloading only space. He certainly isn’t loading anything into that boot, I snort to myself. I write the ticket gleefully, licking my lips as I place it under his windscreen wiper. Order is maintained. My career has cost me many things in life. I had to leave my wife as a result of my dedication to the force. I hardly see my kids these days so today was something special for them; I was taking them to a football match. My son is eleven and my daughter eight; I think they understand that sometimes sacrifices must be made in the name of duty, and march on with stiff upper lips just as their father would. I bought them each a burger, ‘... presumably mostly horsemeat,’ I quipped, and we sat behind the goal. A great performance from the lads; a gutsy 4-0 loss. I drop the children at my wife’s dreary, post-war monstrosity of a house. She informs me that my son has a ‘Careers Inspiration Day’ at school and I should go in her stead. I suppose he was too bashful to ask me in person; my wife, a shop assistant,would not inspire the same admiration amongst his peers.
And so it is that the following Tuesday I find myself in my son’s classroom presenting about my line of work. I hand round the ticket machine and my digital camera. The children are unable to contain their excitement. I even hear one young chap say, ‘this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’ My son seems asphyxiated by pride, not saying a word to me all morning. I speak to the other parents and see their presentations: a lawyer, an electrician and a pharmacist. Nothing has the rousing reception of my address. The teacher, an enthusiastic young woman, thanks us all profusely. She has stared at me lustfully throughout the morning and has now asked me stay behind so we can talk one-on-one. I know what she wants; her raw animalism has sought out the alpha male. I often find women hopelessly and passionately attracted to me. It’s part of the reason my wife and I had to separate: her jealousy drove her into the arms of other men. She thought of nothing but me the whole time. The teacher tells me my son is underachieving and I ought to speak to him. So I pick him up from school that afternoon, as it is one of my few days of Rest & Relaxation. I notice several of the children recognize me from my talk and shoot me looks of admiration. My son is puzzled at first but he runs over to meet me and I tussle his hair. We enter my brand new Ford Fiesta. ‘Is everything all right at school, pal?’ ‘Fine, Dad.’ ‘You realise if you want to be successful like Dad you have to work hard. Remember the Danish proverb I told you? “He who jumps far must take a long run up.”’ ‘I remember.’ I drop him off at his mother’s house. Lesson learnt. I decide to go to a bar as I have some rare free time and it gives
me a chance to do further re-con on the local civvies. I check my phone: no messages. I order a beer and sit in the corner, observing the patrons. After a few hours I go out into the cold, baleful street, the winter wind biting my stubble. My discovery upon returning to my perfectly parked Fiesta horrifies me. I see a pair of gutless, hooded vandals run away from my car; crudely scrawled insults cover the imperial-blue-pearl paintwork. I give chase, attempting to remain composed, as they scuttle, laughing, out of my sight. I run harder than when I came fourth in the cross-country race during sixth form. My lungs burn as I try to
catch a glimpse of them again. But it’s hopeless.They’re gone.
“It’s not your fault.”
With reference to ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, my piece presents a young girl with a mental illness, and portrays the dramatic consequences of her condition by focusing upon one very memorable day. A technical decision I made was to have an unreliable narrator and so the young girl, who acts as the central consciousness, does not understand the full significance of her behaviour. Her limited perspective is implied from the start. Charlotte Gilman establishes a contrast between the cold rationalism of the husband and the woman’s wild imagination in her story, however, I made my narrator an actual girl, rather than an infantilised woman, fully exploiting the stereotypes of both age and gender.
TALKING IN SECRET
Another day, waking up to the disturbing noises outside my bedroom. It always happens like this, every day. But whenever I go outside to see who is there, the noises stop. Everyone vanishes. Mummy has been telling me I am going to see a new doctor today or, at least, I think that’s what she said. During breakfast, my brothers start fighting again. They never stop, but Mummy and Daddy never do anything; I always have to step in. It’s a daily routine. Every day, after I’ve calmed them down, Mummy reminds me that I have to take my vitamin pills, so I do, and we go somewhere new. Last week we went to the zoo to see the bears, which I didn’t like, but then holding Mummy’s hand tightly I liked their furry cubs. I can never stay in one place too long though. Daddy says it’s the explorer in me, and I think he is right. My brothers, they influence me. I don’t always like them being around and yet they never seem to leave me alone. It is down to me to set them straight.They sometimes tell me to do bad, nasty things; I try to remind myself that my brothers are young so they don’t know any better.They kick and hit and scratch me a lot, but I am their older sister. I have to get over it. Sometimes it really hurts, but still Mummy and Daddy never do anything about it. They say that I am making stuff up, but I’m not, I know I’m not. I still talk to my brothers a lot, in secret. I talk to them too much; I know this is naughty. My parents don’t understand. Sometimes, I see the look on their faces.They look so worried and just – well – tired. I hope maybe
one day – in the future, sometime –they will be happy again because I don’t remember them ever being happy, really happy. Maybe that’s because of how they were raised, with no siblings or fun stuff to do all day, unlike me. I need to make my bed; perhaps Mummy and Daddy are angry with me for not making it this morning. I know this would cheer them up, but I am not sure why – it is such a small thing. Is it because I promised I would try to do it all by myself ? I put my furry pink cushions at the head of my bed and stop to take a rest. I feel tired. I get so little time to myself, normally. I hear the voices of my brothers as they encourage me to play their game instead. I try to carry on – I need to finish making my bed – but they won’t leave me alone. I stay on my bed, not joining in. I need to be good; I need to do what I promised Mummy. Slowly, I try to think. Surely I can still be good and play with my brothers? I think I might play with them, but only for a bit. Surely Mummy won’t mind? Just this once? I listen to their voices – in secret – and their game. Daddy enters the room. His arms reach out; he tries to grab me… to hold me… to stop me…. I think of the bears, not the furry ones, but the big ones at the zoo. * As I wake up, something feels very wrong. I look around and realise that this isn’t my bed; this isn’t my bedroom.There are no furry pink cushions here. I am quickly hugged with the words, ‘It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.’ Mummy then kisses me on the cheek before leaving the room. My head feels strange and jumbled up and a strange man – not Daddy – promises that I will feel better so I just listen and wait and try to be quiet. I always try to be good. I want Mummy –
and Daddy and my brothers – to be proud of me. As the needle magically gets smaller, I try to read the letters on his name badge: Dr. Cla-ri-ty. As I slowly close my eyes, I do not feel alone. My brothers – and now my Daddy – will always be with me, the ones I can talk to in secret.
“Is aesthetic the right word?”
The Stare’ is an insight into the mind of a troubled teen, a pep talk a boy has with himself in a mirror to win the affections of a girl. It is primarily concerned with themes of illusion and commercialism - themes explored in James Joyce’s ‘Araby’ and Murakami’s ‘The Second Bakery Attack’.The narrator in ‘The Second Bakery Attack’ explains his insatiable lust for material consumption; here, the empty cologne bottle is used to represent the consumerist ideals of the boy.This is an example of objective correlative used in my piece inspired by John Cheever’s use of the technique in ‘The Enormous Radio’, describing the ‘empty street’ outside Irene’s apartment to highlight her isolation.
I am going to get the girl. You’re staring right back at me, destroying my confidence. Stop it. What do you want? How much is too much cologne? You can’t even offer me some of the most trivial aesthetic advice? Is aesthetic the right word? No. How much cologne? Fuck it! Tonight is the night. What if I over-do the cologne? You’re still staring at me. Are you disappointed? I thought we were friends. I don’t think so. I don’t know. I check my phone. No messages. Maybe she doesn’t like me? Phone vibrates. It’s her. I knew she liked me. Of course she does. She loves me. Not you. It’s not her. I throw my phone on the floor. You’re still staring at me. Stop. You come closer. You pull away. You stare. You don’t speak. What do you want from me? The heat of the spring sun made me warm. Inside. It wasn’t oppressive like the summer sun. Her name reaches out at me through the screen of my phone – cliché? Too much? But seriously. She digs me, laughs at everything I say – Adidas hadn’t lied – use their shower gel and you get the girl; rescue your damsel in distress from the beast downstairs – Impossible is Nothing , so to speak. It is quite simple really. I’m hungry though. I’m in love without question. What is love? All I want to do is kiss her and hold her tight. Again, with the cringe-worthy clichés… I can’t be comfortable because every time I look at you, you’re staring right back at me. Shit. My t-shirt fits perfectly. I look great. My biceps are looking vascular. Countless hours in the gym and consuming bland, grey protein- enriched shakes has paid off. Patches of perspiration are building up around my armpit and just under the collar. The moisture hangs in the air. It’s suffocating me. You aren’t affected. Your stare
ever constant. You haven’t spoken of any discomfort even though I can see you feel it. You haven’t spoken at all. I walked down the garden path to the oak under which I spent my childhood summers. As I approached it, I picked up that familiar scent: my grandmother’s Alyssums in bloom. I take up my Carlsberg. Beer is the answer to all of my problems. It makes me charming, confident and fearless. Dutch courage keeps you on your toes with the ladies. All the TV shows make that abundantly clear. Your stare defeats the beer. I sit back, on the floor now. You can’t see me here. I breathe a sigh of relief.The shirt clings to me. Damp. Warm. Sticky. It’s suffocating. I keep it on – it’s Ralph Lauren. I wipe the perspiration from my brow. I have plenty of Lynx on so I probably ain’t sweating that much. I’m just nervous. Lynx Sport. It was designed for people like me. By men in labs with rats.They were scientists.The better the product they made, the more they would sell and the more money they would make.The more money they make, the more prostitutes and Diet Pepsis they’ll be able to afford; it was in their best interest that I wouldn’t sweat. I am not sweating. I can’t sweat. Does Tom Cruise sweat? No. As I got closer to the oak, something dawned on me. Slate cracks began to appear in the golden Tipperary sky. I peer back at you. Staring. I wish you would go away. I need to be beautiful for the beautiful girl downstairs. Have you never seen Top Gun? Danny DeVito doesn’t get Kelly McGillis.TomCruise does. Danny DeVito wasn’t even in the film. He doesn’t have the physique. People like that sicken me. Life is two-dimensional; you don’t need depth. You need a pretty smile and a nice chest. The Sony speaker system probably sounds great down there. Upstairs it hurts. I smell like shit. I grab the cologne. The bottle is empty. I still ‘splash’ it over my shoulders. I smell much better.
Thank you Johnsons. I amgoing to stare back at you.You lookworse than me. How can you stare at me with that disappointment? You are in no position to judge me. She is mine. I am going to go downstairs and score while you sit up here wasting away. I stare back at you one last time. I want to go home really. I pull away from the mirror and head downstairs. The tree wasn’t in my grandmother’s garden. It was her neighbour’s, separated by a wire fence. No summers were spent under it. I lied. Maybe I should jump over the fence? Make it a reality. No. It was starting to rain. I turned around and headed back to the house. By now the garden was devoid of life. I’m always alone.
“Chaos grows like a fungus.”
‘The Ballad of Joe Gillis’, which tells the story of an adolescent who commits suicide at a party, is a partial re-telling of The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger, where a similarly isolated teenager is expelled from school and travels to New York where he has several bizarre experiences. Adopting the postmodern technique of intertextuality found in the Ian McEwan short stories ‘Solid Geometry’ and ‘Butterflies’, my primary aim was to display how a character such as Holden Caulfield would be perceived by others. By only revealing Joe’s suicide at the end of the story, I attempted to convey how the narrator’s passive yet selfish attitude was a major factor in the protagonist’s suicide.
THE BALLAD OF JOE GILLIS
Chaos grows like a fungus. So goes the last line of a novel my good friend Tommy lent me over the summer as part of his languishing efforts to make me more cultured.The novel, Slowly Going Nowhere , I forget who wrote it, was a peculiar little book, the tone of which constantly shifted from Salinger to Kafka in the space of a paragraph. Anyway, it took me a mere day to read it, enjoying the simplicity of the narrative and the generously short length. Then I read the last line, and I was reminded of a bizarre hallucination I experienced all those nights ago at Jack’s party. It’s an evening that will forever be embedded in my memory. Everyone was there, all conforming to their own stereotypes; the jocks were inanely shouting, the girls dancing and pouting, the nerds uncomfortably sipping at their drinks and I was succumbing to the charms of a sublime all-rounder named Jane. Every cliché of every high-school movie was playing out at Jack’s monstrous house that night, until, at about nine thirty, when the party was really hitting its stride and the alcohol had eradicated any unwanted awkwardness lingering in the air, the outsider meandered in. Feigning nonchalance, Joe Gillis entered the living room, but all his confidence seemed to drain from his body and he barely even managed a ‘hello’. Clad in a long brown coat with his hands in his pocket, he was indisputably handsome, but a tarnished handsome: his slanted nose was out of proportion with the rest of his face and he had a pale, miserable complexion. He reclined into an armchair and lit a cigarette. Jane and I were becoming more and more, how should I put this, intimate as the evening went on, if you get my drift. I was in a spectacularly jovial mood. I would relentlessly quiz her, searching
for some flaw, some issue that would dampen her perfection in my eyes, but I only found myself liking her more. I was drinking heavily and my memory of that time is rather hazy, yet I can recall that behind my joyful exterior I was uneasy. It was Joe; he had fixed his intense war veteran stare on me. He was angry, clearly judging me, and I didn’t know why. Time passed in a drunken swirl of movement. There was Joe, always isolated, muttering ‘phoneys’ under his breath and barely concealing his contempt for us all. Then there was Jane introducing me to all her friends, none of whom seemed to like me, perhaps because my opening gambit to them was ‘you girls all look the same,’ which in my intoxicated state seemed like a humorous remark. He eventually found solace in a drunken girl called Beatrice, who I called Sunny for reasons I can no longer remember.The pair spent around half an hour conversing in hushed excited tones, sporadically throwing in a clumsy innuendo, before fervently dashing upstairs. Little did Joe know that Sunny’s boyfriend, a leering carbuncle of a man named Maurice, had slimed his way into an invitation, and was lurching through the house looking for blood. I would have rushed to Joe’s aid, had it not been that Jane had tasked me with her friends, but I heard the fight that ensued, the shouts and the screams, and the tears that fell in the aftermath. Joe disappeared, as did a bottle of wine. I found, in my drunken stupor, ceasing to care about Gillis and his shenanigans, the gorgeous Jane wanted a dance and I could have sworn that I was a little bit in love with her, though it may have just been the alcohol playing with my mind. Substances were being passed round, nothing harmful, just stuff to further heighten our mood. I was a bright young thing with a girl whom I adored; I couldn’t refuse. I kept on dancing as the effects took hold.Things became more colourful, and I saw myself on a raised plinth above the rest of humanity with Jane by my side,manically cackling, intoxicated
and devilishly happy. Me, and my friends, the untouchable elite, the capitalist children of tomorrow whom the rest of the world despised,foolishly dancing away,relishinghavingno responsibility at all. I dreamt that we all drifted out into some meadow; it was a vast emerald meadow that I’d visited in my younger years. And Jane, you should have seen her. She was radiating sensuality and I found myself completely enraptured by her extraordinary beauty, and so, fuelled by a sudden burst of passion, I grabbed her arm and kissed her. But then I noticed, in the corner of my eye, Joe’s bruised body lying out in this meadow, bathing in its exuberance. People started screaming, then mushrooms were sprouting everywhere, and I awoke from the haze confused and terrified. While we were all dancing, Joe had jumped. And he didn’t even have the decency to leave a note, the conceited, hypocritical bastard. He took the coward’s way out, immortalising himself rather than living out his life as a man destined to always loiter, barely tolerated in this world. But I still miss the poor bastard; I miss his cynicism and his sarcastic jibes. Maybe I should stop telling people about him.When I do, I start missing him.
“A screaming came across the sky.”
My story, in which the unnamed postman’s failure to preserve his victim’s beauty leads to his regretful assault, is concerned with obsession and escapism, themes explored in James Joyce’s ‘Araby’ and Ian McEwan’s ‘Solid Geometry’ respectively.The boy in ‘Araby’ is initially unable to see Mangan’s sister as a genuine, flawed character, instead only perceiving her as the celestial object of his obsessive fantasy. In ‘Solid Geometry’, the narrator uses his great-grandfather’s diary to escape his failed marriage and associative torment. Here, my narrator uses his avocation to escape the tedium of quotidian society and its imposed bounds, soon becoming obsessed with the image of perfection that he identifies in the woman.
THE POSTMANWHOALWAYS COMES TWICE
I killed a woman for the first time yesterday; she hardly made a sound. Silence fell upon the darkening hill-top and the silence remained, lasting. A car drove tentatively into view and settled a few feet from where the hill descended into the town.The lights from the town flickered relentlessly as ripples danced on a distorted lake. Silence fell on the hill top once more. A bush rustled and a figure moved with effortless caution towards the car; a shadow loomed and drifted into nothingness. A screaming came across the sky. It occurs to me that I have an unusual hobby, if you can call it that; few do. Obviously it has occurred to me but, for the sake of this story, imagine I have recently undergone some sort of spontaneous realisation. Now, many would presume the deep-rooted reason for my actions is a Freudian nightmare of a childhood plagued by an abusive, hate-ridden father and an over-affectionate mother, or any other combination of clichéd parental issues, but when my mind wanders back to my childhood, as it does on occasion, it is hard to remember beyond the monotony of the mundane, underwhelming nature of my adolescence. The figure overshadowed the car now, breathing heavily, fogging the window as he did so. He stood, waiting, watching, transfixed. A light glimmered inside the car illuminating the outline of a woman’s face, innocent, genuine. Silence fell upon the car. There seems to be a constant struggle raging in my head between my, I suppose, moral conscience and my ideas of romanticism, and more often than not I shun my morality. I suppose it’s a coping mechanism. I therefore vindicate my actions on the basis of said romanticism, a unique style I’ll admit, but genuine nonetheless, for I see the human form on a truly pure level: nothing hidden, totally vulnerable, that
only a few can ever experience. I pride myself on being one of the lucky few. The figure grips the door handle, sweat collecting on his fingertips as he gently pulls. The woman’s desperate screams are muffled by cloth, her flailing body gently restrained. The light inside oscillates and is no more. Although, if I am being perfectly honest, I would say that I use this… avocation as a way to escape the tedium of society. For it may surprise you to know but a postman is not quite the profession I had dreamt of. My marriage, suffice it to say, has lost a certain spark. However, every so often, I can simply fade away into my own world, a world exposed. What can I say, I’m a hopeless romantic. The figure exits delicately, looks back with a soft contempt and evaporates into the shadows. The car leaks a fragile, pathetic whimper, enshrouded in darkness. A faint trickle of blood rolls down the leather seat and a tear hangs precariously on her jaw line. An exquisite rain falls and dances on top of the roof. The little evening breeze howls over the hill and the leaves rustle as the car screams.Trees line the hillside and throw shadows on the ground beneath which remains elegantly bare. In the town below, a woman sits in her house in solitude; a gentle shiver runs down her spine and the bedside light flickers. I suppose I had time to kill. It was then that I strayed from the norm of my own given routine, that is, to disappear completely and return to reality, at least the reality beyond my own endeavours. However it appeared that on this particular occasion I was incapable of doing so. For it is rare in one’s life to witness what one would ascertain to be pure perfection, yet this is what I perceived when my vision cast back to the woman, her face angelically lit by the instruments on the dashboard. Her perfection, my love, was to be indefinitely preserved.
The figure advanced in the direction of the car. Once again the cloth was brought towards her mouth, her slender neck cupped until the moans ceased. The figure hovered over the woman breathlessly, piteously assaulting her body, tears embracing her as he did so, until no facet of beauty remained in her once angelic features. And so it was that I situated her body in the upper rafters of the house beside a dim light and gently caressed the contours of her face.However, over time it came to me that her once palpable beauty started to fade and I realised that it had been me who had caused this to happen. I had nullified the very thing I had come to love, the light of my life, the fire of my loins. I burned with anger and sorrow. I was left with little alternative: having destroyed the beauty I once tried to preserve, I exited the room and cast the woman into perpetual darkness, leaving her in the shadowed rafters where she belonged. Alas, death is the only immortality she and I may share.
“What is the speed of light?”
My choice of title was politically based: ‘In You We Trust’ is a variation of the phrase found on American dollar bills, In God We Trust. This demonstrates the central character’s prioritisation of an academic future above all else and ties in with his disdain towards the iconic campaign of American President Barack Obama.Throughout the story, there is the sustained metaphor of Mr Hirsch climbing a mountain as he views himself a ‘pioneer’ rising to the ‘highest peak’. This elevates his struggle to higher proportions and is symbolic of the resistance he meets. Mr Hirsch associates his enlightenment with a visual source of light as he is a ‘beacon’ of hope shining from a mountain-top.
The board pen squeaked unpleasantly upon the whiteboard. Mr Hirsch was unsettled by the noise and would have much preferred to use a black board instead, as was more typical in prestigious college lecture halls. However,Mr Hirsch was used to settling for less as this was common with the under-appreciated intellectual. His hand faltered in the drawing of an otherwise flawless wave upon an x and y axis. Mr Hirsch closed his eyes in frustration. The source of his error was the ruckus which had erupted within the room. How could a set of pupils possibly be this disruptive during a lecture? He pressed his free hand up to his forehead where he held it in desperation for a few seconds, and then a couple of seconds further for good measure. Nobody took note of his blatant sign for calm. Enough was enough. Mr Hirsch shouted, ‘Listen up now. I am here to teach and you are here to learn. Everyone be quiet!’ A sudden silence pervaded the room. However, it was more out of shock than respect for the man.Mr Hirsch continued, ‘Alright. We’ll start at the very basics. Can anyone please identify what this wave is supposed to represent, given the properties stated?’ He looked around the individual faces of his pupils, the future of our society; there was nothing. Not even a single spark of intelligence in the room. Every face was blank. Mr Hirsch duly believed he could leave an impression upon these blank slates, an impression in his own image. He was effectively a modern- day explorer, a pioneer into the unknown. He had reached the pinnacle of academic knowledge and then climbed still further. One might have asked him what he was doing lecturing in that room and Mr Hirsch would have explained that he was no self-centred man; he would much rather have spread his
wealth of knowledge, if possible to those who struggled within the education system. Upon the highest peak of his discovery, a beacon of hope would be shone.This was genuine hope, not the empty hope marketed by politicians in advertising campaigns. This was real hope for the dying breed of the intellectual man. ‘It’s an electromagnetic wave,’ he stated in a cold voice after a long silence.This was the natural sciences at its most fundamental level and not a single flicker of recognition was to be seen across their faces. In fact, the very moment after he had spoken, the room descended again into noise and conversation. He would not have minded had they been discussing Physics but rather they were nattering away about both the most mundane and trivial of matters. One of them made his way out of the room.Mr Hirsch reckoned that it was his own loss; people should take their own responsibility for their learning.The fact that this dissenting pupil was in the minority encouraged him and he continued. ‘Let us move on with the topic then. Can anyone give me examples of some common forms of electromagnetic waves?’ Again there was no response. How could he possibly inspire them, or rather, how could he possibly not be inspiring them? Perhaps they were of a lower calibre than he had thought, but to be so devoid of interest for learning was a phenomenon which had previously gone unwitnessed by him. This was nothing but a setback upon his journey, which he realised was also one of self-discovery. He could learn from them, and they could learn from him (most likely to a larger extent).He had to persevere and resume his uphill struggle. ‘There is a very important one which we use every day. Anyone? You’re using it to see me now...’ ‘Light,’ burst out a voice.
Mr Hirsch looked excitedly to the source of the claim; progress was being made and there was a slither of a chance remaining within the room. ‘That is correct, visible light. Does anyone here know the speed of light?’ ‘Light is not a wave,’declared one to her friends.The room became filled with laughter. Is this what he had become, an entertainer for the vapid mind? He had finally come to realise there was nothing of worth in this room as there was nothing of importance in the minds of his audience. There was no aspiration and without a basis to build upon, hope could not thrive. Mr Hirsch concluded that they had no interest in learning and he mourned in silence. ‘What is the speed of light?’ asked someone. But Mr Hirsch had already given up; it was of no use now. Hope had left. The lights were gone, the mountain was shrouded in the darkness of an indefinite night. He looked up and said, ‘It depends on how many eyes you have open.’ He placed his belongings in his briefcase and made his way out of the class and out of the building. He took one last tentative glance at the place of his downfall. The sign read, ‘Marygreen Nursery’. He vowed never to visit again.
“Suspiciously good ratings.”
To suit the genre of the short story, I chose to begin my story ‘in medias res’ in order to create a sense of urgency to the narrative, also ensuring that the narrator would seem mysterious to the reader prohibiting easy empathy. In ‘I Spy’, Graham Greene employs the use of the objective correlative to suggest that Charlie’s father leads a secretive life: ‘the front of the house was irregular’. Similarly in my story, things are not as they seem: we learn of ‘the ruined wording illuminat(ing) the pock-marked façade’.The ‘façade’ itself, and the fact that it is illuminated by ‘ruined wording’, both build symbolically upon the idea that what the narrator is telling us may not be true.
THE ARROGANCE OF MR FISHER
At that time I had always believed myself to be an excellent judge of theatre, of actors and actresses, and of plays, both tragedy and comedy. My sound judgement had indeed been confirmed by many of my colleagues. I was, and still am, an avid theatre-goer, but as a matter of professionalism I found it hard not to judge each individual on stage, be they famous or obscure, although I always refrained from critiquing the play until the end. In fact, so renowned was my eye for talent in actors, or greatness in directors, that between the ages of thirty and forty I was approached by major newspapers who asked me to write articles on particular plays. I am now forty-two. I remember very clearly being asked by the editor of The Times to do a piece on a play being shown in a small community theatre in Brunswick. The play was named The Arrogance of Mr. Fisher. Quite why The Times would need a first-rate freelance critic such as myself to critique such an insignificant play in an equally insignificant theatre was beyond me, but after my last article for them, a misunderstood piece of writing that I need not go into, I was eager for a chance to vindicate myself. From the very first look at the dismal place I could see that the play would be a shambles. The building was old and might have pulled off the Edwardian look had it not been for the flashing neon blinking above the atrium.The letters should have read ‘Brunswick Community Theatre’ but due to vandalism or carelessness the letters, ‘B’, ‘u’, ‘C’, both ‘m’s, ‘h’ and ‘r’ were all missing. With each flash, the ruined wording illuminated the pock-marked façade; one could see holes where bricks used to be and the smashed windows on the side of the building. For a few seconds, at regular intervals, crude graffiti and overflowing
bins were briefly exposed. By the actors’ entrance stood several men smoking in the darkness, bellowing in drunken voices at passers-by, who, unused to being confronted in such a way, would quickly scuttle down the side of the theatre whispering between themselves about the low-life they had just encountered and casting back anxious glances. I can recall quite vividly the entrance hall of the theatre, the damp walls, the cobwebs in the corners of the atrium, the ruined banisters, and the electric chandelier hanging a little too low, missing five or six bulbs, the effect of this being that it cast a murky light about the place, and gave the furniture and people in the hall long shadows and vague faces. Behind the bar hung two or three posters of plays that had previously been produced there, and to my surprise each one had suspiciously good ratings. The play seemed to have attracted a varied crowd, larger than I would have imagined.Thin, affluent women in fashionable clothes stood in small packs and conspired against their husbands whilst the suited men in question sneered down their aquiline noses at the crowd.They discussed whatever was topical and were the type of people who would believe themselves experts in a particular subject after reading a newspaper article on it, and who expected those listening to utter no rebuttal to their arguments but instead to take their prophetic advice. No doubt they thought they had the answers to the geo-political issues or economic crises of the day. They struck me as very ignorant individuals. Aside from this group, there were a number of less well-heeled individuals standing in shadowy alcoves, or chatting discreetly. It seemed one or two appeared drunk, or on the verge of drunkenness, and were being hushed up or escorted out of the theatre by their wives or friends, and to the disgust of the chic women, who turned away to babble amongst themselves. I believe it was about ten minutes before the curtain rose that I left the theatre, the pompous men and their nervous wives. I
had decided that it was really not worth my while being there. The play was bound to be a shambles, the lead actor would forget his lines, and the whole thing would come crashing down; and anyway, missing one insignificant play wouldn’t cost me my job. As I drove home, listening to the seemingly endless number of adverts about job hunting agencies and money loans, I decided to base my review on an online synopsis of the play, and as I sat down to write under the dim lamp on my desk, the first of the winter snow began to fall.
“But he knew it was too late.”
My short story explores the death of innocence and the purity of childhood, exposing the ever-present idea of mortality in the adult world. Similar to Janet Frame’s ‘Swans’, this story introduces the perception that once knowledge is learnt, one is unable to regain or recapture one’s innocence.The dead ‘wood pigeon’ symbolises the milestone of adulthood and the death of the child’s faith in his father; his childhood naivety is lost and he gains a new perception of the world of adulthood.The Chess piece the boy possesses is a leitmotif and acts as a symbol for the safety and innate protection a child believes he carries; ultimately, that protection bound to childhood is proved transparent.
The boy and his father traipsed across the wet, muddy plain.The ground was slippery and damp beneath their feet, laden with withered orange leaves.They were Maples, Father had told him. A ferocious icy wind engulfed and swallowed the boy’s small, vulnerable body. He gritted his teeth. Why was the cold so cruel to him? He despised it. He buried his numb hands deep within his pockets and felt the smooth, polished shape of his ebony chess piece. A castle.The boy looked up and witnessed the clarity of the immense celestial space above. The sky was an intense, boundless blue. The daunting image of a vast metal structure stood erect in the distance. It glared a dim yellow. The noise of shouts, cries and laughter echoed in the clean crisp air. A fairground. Vivid colours flashed, music blared and the saccharine scent of candy-floss and roasted chestnuts enticed the boy.The din of delight and activity flooded his mind. He wandered, filled with curiosity, exploring the grimy stalls, buzzing fair-rides and the deceiving fortune tellers. The arcades flashed and glared in unison with delusive hope and desire, devouring coins greedily.The boy fed the jeering machine and pulled the handle.Three red apples. Jackpot. The sun had fled now and oppressive black clouds gathered over the droning fairground. The icy wind screamed in his ears. The boy watched the chaotic masses with wonder, as they rushed and drifted through the fair, draining their pockets on malevolent games and lured in by sweet delicacies. Blurred faces carrying vacuous smiles glided past absorbed by the pulsating lights and euphonious noise. As the boy was drawn towards the beckoning, benevolent-looking stallholders, he felt intimidated by the bright whirring sounds and the bustling crowds; a sweet sickly smell
clouded his senses. The clinking pennies in the slot machines cried out. A figure stood in his line of vision, a dark silhouette which blocked out a colourful shard of light from a nearby fair-ride. A bearded, rugged man approached the boy and his father. A set of hungry, pained eyes darted in their direction, an intense flash of emerald. The figure was hunched over, wrapped in a tawny coat which was frayed and patched at the edges. His jaw was disjointed and his teeth were rotten and stained a foul yellow. He came closer with his palms wide open in search of money.The father held his child tightly by the hand, and his son could sense an unusual tension in his father’s quick movements as they weaved through the crowds between the ushering stalls. The crooked figure followed amidst the louring shadows. As the boy pushed his way through the dazzling world of activity, he thought how insignificant he was, entering the lives of anonymous people for a split second, a hazy glimpse of a face, and then leaving that moment behind forever. Forever was a long time. You could never reach the end. It just keeps ticking on and on. He shivered.The boy pressed forward. Always forward. The father led his son to shelter from the pursuing beggar, behind a humming fair-ride. Shouts and screams echoed in the cold, crisp air. Litter and plastic debris lay scattered and strewn across the ground. The bearded beggar began to approach once again. His eyes were now bloodshot, transfixed on a glinting aurous timepiece wrapped around the father’s wrist. A shock of danger and insecurity rang through the boy’s body. He gripped his father’s hand but it was clenched; his cadaverous knuckles were a pallid white.The boy looked into his father’s piercing cerulean eyes and his gelid expression revealed something unknown to him. Instinct told him to run.The boy stared blindly at his father, who stood trapped in a frozen state.The child ran. He escaped the enclosing crowds and the din began to die behind him. He wanted to run and carry on running, forever,
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