Young Penrose had reached his bottom. He was trying to write a book, but it wasn’t going well. When he looked at the growing piles of notes he had amassed, he felt like crying, and he was crying now. The book was going to be called The Mythology of Keys. It was an attempt to reconstruct the underlying story common to all stories, to excavate the skeleton common to them all, to find the shared meaning that would make sense of all narratives from science to fantasy to homeopathy.
Having run out of cry tissues, he left his desk and went for another of his long walks to clear his head. On this occasion Penrose happened to take a wrong turning in between his garret study and the off licence, and he entered a street he had never seen before. The buildings seemed preternaturally outsized against Penrose’s small frame. He pushed up his spectacles.
He noticed with gothic curiosity that none of the buildings seemed to have doors. There seemed to be the pillars and steps of doorways but no means of entry within. He continued up the dimly lit street and at length found one building that did have a door. There was a brass plaque. He peered at the symbol of an acorn, beneath which were some words written in an unfamiliar alphabet, beneath which he read “THE LIBRARY OF EVERYTHING.”
Penrose started. He knew he had exhausted his own writerly resources in his garret with his smudged Routledge paperbacks and broken lipsticked coffee cups, and he wondered excitedly whether The Library of Everything could hold the key to his Mythology of Keys, which was, if nothing else, a book about everything.
He knocked on the door.
No two words are likely to have a more counterproductive effect in such a situation of rich curiosity than these, especially at the start of a story with the plot barely in motion. Penrose examined the huge wooden door for a viewing hole to indicate whether whoever was inside had even seen him coming. There wasn’t one, nor did the door have an apparent handle.
‘Hello,’ said Penrose to the door, ‘Sorry. I noticed your plaque. The Library of Everything. I’m a bit of a writer,’ adding ‘Trying to be.’
‘We’ve got enough books, thank you! Go away!’
Penrose, pushing up his spectacles, turned to go, ‘I could use some help is all. If this is a Library.’
A panel snapped open in the door, and an elderly face peeped through.
‘What do you mean, if this is a library? Course it’s a library, the plaque says so.’
‘I didn’t mean to be rude. It could be a library that’s closed down and become something else, like a bank or a shoe shop.’
‘A bank or a shoe shop? Does it look like a bank or a shoe shop?’
‘I don’t know what it looks like. It might have been resold.’
‘It’s not a bank, I’ll tell you that. Far from it. Oh the irony.’
‘I’ll be.. getting off then I suppose.’
The face in the door scrutinised Penrose.
‘It wasn’t you that wanted the Necronomicon was it?’
Penrose had never heard of it.
‘I’ve heard of it of course,’ he said, ‘But I’ve never read it, personally.’
‘Of course not. Why would you want to borrow it if you’d read it?’
‘I don’t know,’ Penrose reflected, ‘I might want to refer to it.’
‘Refer to it?’ The face groaned. ‘Writer are you?’
‘Trying to be.’
‘A lot of writers show up here. I always say to them they’d be better off getting some life experience. Then they come in and immediately look it up under ‘L’. Deplorable. So you write do you? What do you write?’
‘I’m writing a book. It’s called The Mythology of Keys. I saw your plaque that said The Library of Everything, and I thought that you might be able to help me out. See, that’s what my book’s about.’
‘Yes, it’s not going very well.’
‘Look, I can’t —’ The face in the door frowned, thought for a second, then said, ‘The Mythology of Keys, you say?’ He sighed, ‘You’d better come in.’
The face clearly belonged to an elderly librarian. The half moon glasses, worn hands, the apron, the shambling gait, and the face itself with its canyon lines that might have needed periodic dusting along with the books, all clearly belonged to the librarians of fiction. Penrose, being a reader, recognised them instantly. Also, this being a library meant that it was in any case more than likely that whoever it was would naturally be a librarian. Penrose also had a gift for logical reasoning.
‘I’m Penrose,’ said Penrose.
The Librarian sniffed, and indicated for Penrose to follow him. He tramped down among the bookless shelves of this corridor whose lighting seemed to have gone out. In pursuit of the Librarian through the dark Penrose tripped and splayed across the wooden floor with a resounding crash.
‘Shhhhhh. Do come along. The Library is this way.’
The Library of Everything is so called because it contains every book that has ever been written and that ever will be written. In the Library of Everything, everything that has ever happened or that ever will happen or even that ever could happen, every tiny possibility is documented among its theoretically infinite volumes and stacks of shelves.
Library historians have marvelled that the reference system used to interrogate and navigate the Library is significantly advanced from the humble old Dewey indexing of the libraries of the past. Unfortunately for scholars the complexity of there being every possible history of everything means that the referencing system is as long as the actual volumes it references. It is in effect a 1:1 map and therefore of no use as a map at all because it is simply a life size replica of a reality. To previous generations of librarians this was the only way to chart the tiny differences between all the different documented realities, but librarianship has moved on.
Scholars have noted that a single ‘reality’ can in all respects be the same as another except that at some point, for example, a deuterium atom undergoes a radioactive decay slightly earlier than its counterpart in another reality. It has been noted in more recent discussions of modern librarianship that the most effective and simplest method of referencing would be an internal relative system – so for example the reference would be ‘the same basic universe as that other universe except that a deuterium atom deteriorates slightly earlier in this one’.
This saves having to replicate the entire universe in order to create a 1:1 reference for that universe. Another argument counters that this system of ‘relative referencing’ would set the reader off on an endless wild goose chase in pursuit of original references that the closer references are referring to, and that by the time you got to the reference you’d have forgotten what you were looking for anyway.
In 1941 the Argentinian fabulist Jorge Luis Borges published a short semi-fictional account of the Library of Everything, renaming it ‘The Library of Babel’ and generally misrepresenting the fundamental workings of the Library, presenting a fanciful history quite obviously intended to draw attention away from the machinations of the Hermetic Orders, the shady groups who preside over the running of the Library. Since its publication Borges’s piece has tended to be viewed as definitive, a scandalous act of history being rewritten.
‘A scandalous act of history being rewritten,’ said the Librarian to Penrose. ‘As I already told you, it is quite impossible that an Infinite Library of Everything should be so shoddily constructed as Mr Borges makes out. Hexagonal rooms, he says! He even conflates the Library with the Universe, which is balderdash – the library is many times bigger than the universe.’
Penrose was puzzled.
‘How can the library be bigger than the universe? Surely the universe is all there is?’
‘Technically. But really what you’re thinking of is called the multiverse. All of the possible universes.’
‘Wouldnt it be simpler to just call the multiverse the universe?’
‘I hadn’t thought of that. Let me raise it as an Agenda item at the next Learning Technologies Committee meeting.’
The Librarian made a note. Penrose noticed that the Librarian also gave the note a reference, which he then made another note of, before stamping it with a stamp that printed the outline of an acorn.
The Librarian grew expansive.
‘The fact that the Library includes every possible book that could ever possibly be written would be fine, but there is a growing problem. The universe itself only includes some of the possibilities.’
‘Is the universe not just one possibility?’
‘No, you see you’re up against have the Uncertainty Principle. Some parts of a universe comprise several possibilities all at once, you see. According to the Uncertainty Principle it’s not until you measure it, look at it, that the decision is made. At that point the universe branches off from all the others, but for a while it’s like several universes share the same space and matter, like a great cosmic timeshare.’
‘So what’s the problem?’
‘The problem is that because the Library documents every possible reality in all possible universes it is exponentially larger than the universe. Compared to the vast size of the Library the universe itself looks like a speck of dust, an atom, the amount of a goodness in a politician.’
‘Can anything be done?’
The Librarian looked tired. ‘The main problem is that we can’t afford to house the main library any more on site.’
‘In the universe?’
‘Just so. We’ve had to put together a business case for housing most of the library’s volumes elsewhere.’
Penrose balked, ‘Outside of the universe?’
‘Indeed.’ The Librarian waved his hands indicatively and mumbled, ‘There’s some very competitive non-Euclidean spacetime out beyond the northeastern arc of the universe that we’ve been discussing relocating part or all of the library’s contents to.’ More waving, ‘Several tenders are currently being prepared that look very promising indeed, and by promising I’m afraid I mean cheap.’
Penrose was having trouble following all this but nodded. The Librarian continued.
‘But I’m afraid we’re going to have to face facts at some point. The library is it was originally conceived was a Utopian project. It belongs to another world, I mean, another universe. In this day and age we simply can’t sustain that kind of data management, even with the great advances that have been made in bureaucratization. The Fines Service itself is now three times the size of the universe and the Digitization Project is simply unsustainable.’
‘What’s the Digitization Project?’
‘The complete scanning and digitization of all of the books in the library to make them into an accessible electronic format.’
‘All of it?’
‘The whole library is to be completely electronically searchable.’
‘And how long will that take?’
‘At current estimates and with the current deployment of resources and assuming there isn’t a major funding cut coming up, which,’ he sniffed ‘there most certainly will be, the whole library should be scanned, digitized and electronically searchable in approximately 10^100-1 times the total age of the universe from its beginning to its end.
‘That soon, huh?’
‘Are there any lavatories in this infinite library?’
‘This is a library, Penrose. It’s not Star Trek.’
Over several months, having been installed at his own desk in the Library of Everything, Penrose looked again at The Mythology of Keys. He had been working on the Semiotic Interoperability of Vs and Ws but he’d got stuck at V and his head was aching. He was beyond crying even. He stared wearily down at the figures on the page but the Vs would not resolve themselves into Ws. His mind vandered. Not to vorry, thought Penrose.
Penrose sat down for the thousandth time to resume work but the words wouldn’t come out. Here he was in the Library of Everything, bereft of words. Dictionary swallowing tends to constipate the flow of writing, which is annoying (troublesome, vexatious).
Penrose decided to work on the structure instead. The referencing was spiralling out of control. Footnotes of footnotes with endnotes, hyperlinks and nested references. At one point he realized he had misquoted himself, and he silently indexed it under “Errata”.
‘And how are we today young master Penrose?’
‘I’ve got a referencing problem. I rehearse a thought and then judiciously reference it, but then when I go back to check the reference, the reference has changed.’
‘You’ve changed the reference?’
‘No, the source of the reference has itself changed. It’s been rewritten. Every time, when I check in the Library, it says almost exactly the opposite of what I had it referenced for. It’s like every time I look away all of the texts I am using make a reversal, a shift from black to white or white to black. The sources keep changing and I have to keep finding new ones to replace the ones that have changed but then they change as well.’
‘You’re doing it all wrong,’ advised the Librarian, “Never write notes. Write full paragraphs, with repetitions and lacunae and whatever you need just to empty your brain onto the page. It doesn’t take much longer to develop the thought on the spot, but if you leave it you’ll spend eternities trying to remember what your thought was. Maybe you should just write what you feel. What you think.’
‘Noone is interested in what I feel or think. I need these references or noone will believe I have anything to say.’
‘But all you’re saying is what they say, boy.’
‘Admittedly I’m only saying what they say but I’m saying it in my own way.’ His face darkened. ‘Or trying to.’
‘Referencing is a canard, that’s for sure,” said the Librarian, “But don’t quote me on that.’
He paused to consider his wit. ‘Too clever by half’ said the Librarian.
‘What does that idiom actually mean, etymologically?’ asked the ever-curious Penrose.
‘It means,’ the Librarian sighed, ‘Llareggub.’
One of the quirks of infinity and infinite numerically irrational probability is that you can never find anything you’re looking for. It’s like a handbag. Every arrangement of letters and numbers, all language and literature and everything should in theory be there somewhere. Pi should contain every book every written — only it doesn’t. When you toss a coin, in theory you could get thirty or thirty thousand consecutive heads, but it never happens. There’s some kind of Law of Probabilistic Gravity whereby just because something can happen in theory it doesn’t mean it will. Except in the case of a miracle, but the universe isn’t that keen on miracles, and they almost never happen.
‘Phew. Hot in here.’
‘Air conditioning’s broken again.’
Penrose was about to ask, but the Librarian was pointing with some agitation at the desk.
‘What? What’s wrong?’ asked Penrose.
‘What’s printed on that rock?’
‘Thats a paperweight.’
‘What’s printed on it?’
‘Nothing. It’s a paperweight.’
‘It’s got lettering on it. Underneath it. What does it say?’
‘It says I Love Gibraltar.’
‘Is there a reference?’
‘A catalogue reference! Why isn’t it catalogued? My God, we’re going to have to start again. Back to aardvarks and aeronautics, re-catalogue everything through to syzygy and zephyr. Start again! I Love Gibraltar! My God…’
Over the coming months the re-cataloguing of the library began to visit a heavy toll on the Librarian. He began to dribble while he chattered, always chattering and rubbing his hands, dabbing at the corner of his mouth with an ink stained handkerchief while holding a pen and pencil in each hand to scrawl notes simultaneously with the left and the right, notes that then had to be catalogued requiring the creation and documentation of a higher level cataloging system, which brought with it its own notes.
It wasn’t just the referencing that was taking a toll on the Librarian. For some months he had been going from gallery to gallery of the Library inspecting the shelves with a specific purpose and a growing realisation that, in the Library of Everything, the books were dying. The people in the books were starving and noone expected them to survive.
The Librarian was grimly explaining to Penrose ‘It’s not just that the people in the books are dying, or that the pages are filling up with silence, it’s….’
‘What? What is it?’
‘I’m a Librarian. It’s not just my job to know where the books are, or at least who to point to to find out where the books are if I don’t know, it’s also my job to know what’s in the books.’
‘So what’s the problem?’
‘I’m starting to forget. Look.’
He plucked a volume from the top of his desk at random. ‘This is On Memory And Forgetting. A first edition. Now, I know that I have read this, but I don’t know what it contains. And it’s not just this one, there are whole shelves I know I must have read but… Perhaps I’ve been working too hard. Perhaps I need some time off. I look at this book and stare at its binding and the little flecks in the lettering and I recognize it intimately as if I’d bound it myself, but I can’t remember what it says inside.’
‘Everyone forgets things!’ protested Penrose.
‘I suppose so. But I’m… but it’s my job to remember, and I’ve started to forget.’
It had become noticeable to Penrose too that the texts in the books he consulted were corrupted. This was why his and the Librarian’s referencing and indexing were breaking down. He feared the worst. As the words vanished in the Library whole swathes of history would be lost and it would be as if they had never happened. Without the Library the events would never have happened. If noone intervened, then soon nothing would ever have happened. Cause and effect would become untied and so the cause of the universe, whatever it is, would cease to lead to the effect, the universe itself. There would just be cause without effect, forever waiting for nothing. It would be like trying to catch a waiter’s eye in a French restaurant.
‘You can’t save the Library, I’m afraid, Penrose. It’s doomed.’ His face hollowed. ‘Just doomed.’
‘But someone has to. The Library needs protecting.’
‘What for? Noone is interested in libraries any more I’m afraid. Penrose, when did you last see an actual reader in the Library?’
‘And the cleaners?’
‘The cleaners were laid off. We’re expected to do our own cleaning now.’
Penrose counted his fingers, and opened his mouth, but didn’t speak, still thinking.
‘And reshelvers, do they count?”
‘We’re expected to do our own reshelving now.’
Penrose clicked his fingers, ‘I think I saw someone browsing the Necromonicon, as it happens. A few weeks ago. Certain of it.’
‘Goth festival. Local thing. Obviously someone browsing the Necromonicon. Anyone else?’
‘But that counts. That validates the Library.’
‘How does it validate the Library, this incredibly unlikely occurrence of a good-natured goth wishing to peruse the Unholy Book for a few minutes in that book’s otherwise undisturbed life?’
‘Is that important? The popularity?’
‘To the Hermetic Holy Orders that pay for it all, it is, yes.’
‘I thought the Library was publicly funded.’
The Librarian snorted.
Penrose waxed, ‘But then what’s a library for? If the Necromonicon was being sold on stands at train stations and being given away with the tabloid papers, that good-natured goth wouldn’t have been here.’
‘Young Penrose, what you need to realize about libraries is that the Powers That Be have decreed in their infinite wisdom — and I’m not knocking it — that the only titles available for perusal should be those which have a proven cachet with the General Public, that will be read and enjoyed. It’s important that the Library reflects these proclivities, and only stocks books that are freely available elsewhere — because general availability is a surefire indicator of their popularity. It’s not the business of libraries to stock books that noone wants to read.’
‘But it’s the Library of Everything.’
‘Not any more.’
For his continuing work on The Mythology of Keys, Penrose needed to consult the Fables and Allegory section of the library. This, he discovered, had been shifted to an under-basement of the Library in order to make space for more trashy novels and economics textbooks.
Penrose, squinting into the poor light of the basement’s cold stone, failed to notice the shadow that fell behind him. A hand fell on Penrose’s shoulder, and stayed there.
‘All right sunshine. What’s your business here?’
His shoulder had gone cold. His body froze, he couldn’t turn to see his undoubtedly hefty interlocutor. He fumbled for a response.
‘I’m writing a book.’
No no no, terrible, terrible. Never tell anyone you’re writing a book. If you tell them then you have to finish the book. And noone ever finished a book, he thought, remembering the heaving shelves of the Library.
‘I don’t care what you’re writing, sunshine. Why are you here?’
‘It’s a Library.’
‘Library’s for reading, not writing. Plenty of books here already, don’t need more.’
‘But I just —’ He paused. ‘Reasonable point. You’re right. I mean, I was just looking for Fable and Allegory.’
The cold hand remained on his shoulder and a laugh he not unreasonably assumed was in some way attached to it rang out in the hollows of the dripping catacombs.
‘You’re having a laugh,’ said the voice, with a laugh.
Penrose felt cry-y. ‘Heh,’ he ventured.
‘Now,’ the voice boomed, ‘Why are you here?’
An obvious pause, succeeded by ‘And don’t even think about answering why are any of us here, or any of that philosophical Camusian crap about the only purpose of life being death, I’ll bloody lamp you I will. I’m allowed to, it’s in me job description. Part of the job, see. I’m paid for this. I have to stand here and stop writers getting in to look at the books.’
‘But it’s a Library.’
‘Not any more. Now, if you’re not buying anything, clear off.’
Penrose was, it must be admitted, making some kind of progress. The way a woodpecker repeatedly headbutting a tree will eventually invent paracetamol, or millions of years of genetic variation will eventually give birth to the appendix. The main obstacle to his work on The Mythology of Keys was no longer himself, but whether there would still be a Library in which to write it.
I’m going to write this book, he thought. I’m really going to. I must have been brought here, not by accident, but for a reason. To write The Mythology of Keys. I have to save the Library.
‘There must be something we can do!’
The Librarian eyed Penrose for several moments, making a show of weighing up options.
‘Penrose,’ he said, ‘Don’t tell anyone about this.’
The Librarian reached under the desk and clicked a switch. One of the bookcases (Section A23071^279-1 HER on Hermetic Architecture) retracted into the wall and slid aside revealing an opening.
‘Follow me,’ said the Librarian.
Like the Universe itself, the Library is thought to be almost infinite. Scholars have not yet successfully proven the that these two entities the Library and the Universe are not the same thing (in spite of what the charlatan historian Borges suggests), so perhaps establishing whether one is so will prove the case for the other. Philosophy really. In any case, like the Universe itself, most of the Library is completely invisible not only to the naked eye but to measurement and calculation, guess-work, wish-fulfilment and spellcasting. Most of the Universe is thought to exist as ‘dark matter’. Similarly, most of the structure of the library exists as secret passageways, catacombs and tunnels, none of which are accessible to anyone except those involved with the Secret Orders that preside over the infrastructural and budgetary workings of the Library.
As they passed through the secret guts of the Library, Penrose asked ‘Are these the Hermetic Order’s tunnels? Are you a member of the Secret Societies? The Acorn Order? Or the Secret Order of the Members of Secret Societies That Are Not Members Of Themselves? Are you?’
‘How would I know? It’s secret.’
‘You must know.’
‘Logically I might be, but I haven’t been told. If I knew, then it wouldn’t be a secret.’
‘You must be if you know how to get into the tunnels.’
‘Yes, I suppose I must be. I wonder when I joined.’
‘So,’ said Penrose excitedly, ‘Finally we can confront the Hermetic Orders and give them a piece of our mind about what they’re doing to the Library, how they’re killing the Library of Everything.’
‘Yes,’ said the Librarian, with a slight queasiness. ‘As you say.’
‘These are the Poets,’ said the Librarian. They were in one of the Secret Libraries in which they kept the writers. This room of the Library was devoted to the Poets.
‘But they’re all blind.’
‘All the Great poets are blind. Homer, Milton, Borges…’
‘But how do they write poetry if they’re blind?’
‘Obviously they dictate it.’
‘I mean how do they see all the poetic things – daffodils and such – You can’t dictate daffodils from touch alone, can you?’
‘I’m a Librarian not a literary historian. I don’t know how poets write. They probably just listen to radio documentaries and steal the most salient lines.’
There has been a great deal of speculation about the precise meaning of the Acorn symbolism of the Acorn Order, and a great deal more about the imprecise vague notional and conspiratorial meanings of the Acorn symbolism. Scholars don’t know, and are not convinced that anyone really knows, least of all anyone in the Acorn Order itself. To the members of the Acorn Order, the Acorn is as far away as Christ is to Christian Fundamentalists. All that remains is a symbol emptied of meaning, a totem stretching off into nothing. A tattoo of a pictogram that you think means “love forever” but really means “stupid tourist”.
These ruminations on the meaning of the Acorn symbolism of the Acorn Order are in some way relevant at this point because Penrose and the Librarian have just arrived at an intimidating pair of solid oak doors that bear the largest iteration or permutation we have so far found in the Library of Everything of the frequent Acorn symbol.
‘What’s the precise meaning of the Acorn symbolism of the Acorn order?’ asked Penrose.
‘How on earth would I know?’ replied the Librarian.
‘Penrose, I’m afraid I haven’t been completely honest with you.’
‘You think you discovered the Library by accident one dark and misty night. That’s what everyone thinks. That’s what the Orders want everyone to think, because it gives each individual some sense of ‘agency’. Well that’s the theory — and I’m not knocking it. It’s supposed to make you more productive. And you, Penrose, have been so very productive. In this case the Orders might have been quite right about you.’
‘How could they know? I mean, I don’t even know. Know what?’ Penrose was extremely confused.
‘The Library contains everything that could ever happen. It has all been foreseen. Your book is already housed in a faraway annexe of the Library. It always has been. The Orders have read it, and I understand they don’t like it one bit.’
‘I haven’t written it yet!’
‘You have, Penrose. That’s the problem, you see.’
‘Because the Library is infinite?’
‘The Library isn’t really infinite, Penrose. It isn’t even unknowably vast. It isn’t even as big as the universe. The Library is dying.’
‘The Library is dying?’
‘Because the people in the books are dying?’
‘We can save them. Can’t we?’
‘I’m sorry about this, Penrose. You see…’
A central spotlight switched on, theatrically. It was dazzling. Penrose’s eyes adjusted to fix on a large machine in the centre of the room. Along the walls he could discern a circle of hooded figures. Their faces were invisible and on their long cloaks each one bore the symbol of the Acorn.
‘It’s just that you can’t be allowed to finish your book. The Orders say so. They’ve read it in the Library of Everything, and they say it’s very bad news. It could cause no end of problems for the Orders. And, please understand, Penrose,’ admitted the Librarian, ‘If I let you finish your book then I’m going to lose my job. There aren’t any librarians any more, you see. They’ve promised I can keep the Library if I submit to their demands. Which are really not unreasonable.’
‘But you helped me. We were so near!’
‘It’s impossible, Penrose. I’m sorry. You must see that. It’s the only way to save the Library. It’s really the only way. You can’t write that book. There can be no Mythology of Keys any more.’
As the Librarian carefully strapped Penrose into the machine, the hooded figures of the Hermetic Orders chanted, but unlike any chant. Arrhythmical, a babble, all languages and none. Cacophany. A chaos of sounds and sound from the hooded faceless figures.
‘Really, Penrose. A Mythology of Keys, did you really think so?’
As Penrose’s body was drawn round and round and round on the slowly turning wooden wheel of the machine, as his sinews were stretched and his bones cracked and his body was shaken apart, Penrose realized he knew how to finish the book, that he had found the key to his Mythology of Keys. It was simple after all.
A fiction inspired by Eva Rothschild’s film “Boys and Sculpture” (2012) shown as part of Week 23 of fig-2
All the way there the eleven boys sang and threw crisps at each other over the seats on the coach. The stuffing had long ago been ripped out by the older lads from the big school, and the seats were hard as church pews. As the coach came into the town the boys sang Bun’ Dem Batty Man, a catchy homophobic dancehall number Bene’s older brother had taught them over a shared cigarette round the back of the school.
“What’s a batty man?” asked one of the younger boys.
As the coach neared the art gallery, Mr Beuchar tore his attention away from his colleague Miss Eldon for long enough to give the boys a pep talk before the Big Event.
“Now boys, boys! Lads, this is a really important day. Don’t forget you’ve been personally selected for this. It’s a great privilege for both you and for the school. What I mean is: don’t screw up.”
The boys booed.
“When we get to the gallery I want you all on your best behaviour. On no account are you to be yourselves. Be absolutely anyone other than yourself. If I can tell who you are while we’re in there and I don’t see a complete transformation into a perfect ambassador for the school, you will have double detention every week until you are grandparents.”
The boys booed and blew raspberries.
“And I can’t believe I have to say this but we will not have any and there will be no, I repeat there will be no turdboxing. Right?”
The boys erupted into unbridled mirth.
“Any turdboxing today and you will all go to jail. I mean it. Jail!”
The bus bucked on its 1970s axels, throwing everyone into the air like a fairground spectacular.
“I feel sick. I’m gonna chun.”
“Sir, Bene says he’s gonna chun!”
“Nobody is going to chun. Bene, what’s wrong?”
“He accidentally ate some poop!”
“I didn’t know it was poop!”
“I bet he did. His brother drank a pint of piss for a bet. I saw it! I had to give him a quid for it.”
“My life! Twenty years for murder and I get you lot.”
There was a pause while Mr Beuchar’s life sentence settled in the bus.
“Sir, Mister Chocksy says you’re a bender, are you a bender?”
Callum was a tough one. Good as gold, but a bloody nightmare. He’d been expelled because he had cut a chicken’s head off and put it in another boy’s lunchbox. When the kid opened the box and saw the chicken’s head in there on top of his sandwich bag eyes open he screamed and the older boy had filmed the whole thing on his phone. It was pretty funny.
He had a face that only a mother could love, except she didn’t. Not really. Not like lifting-up-a-car love, not even Heinz Spaghetti Hoops love really. He fended for himself and to be honest he was better off.
“I’ll swap you.”
“What have you got?”
“Cheese sanwich. What have you got?”
“Ham. I don’t like cheese.”
“You’ve got salmon and phil!”
“You can have my ham.”
“I don’t want your ham, Ty wants your ham, I like salmon and phil.”
“Charlie give the cheese to the Callum and then Ty can have the ham.”
“No! I won’t!”
Sandwich diplomacy usually ended like this.
“Mister Bewker, how do you spell cup?”
“Well you shouldn’t be looking!”
The boys who get the boy’s funny joke laugh, both of them.
“Very droll, Callum.”
The teacher thinks Pretty clever really. He makes a mental note to think about whether they could build on the boy’s apparent comic lexical facility for academic purposes. Maybe get him to do an Ofsted report or something.
“This is boring.”
“Boys, did you ever consider that it is you who might in fact sometimes be boring?”
There was no answer.
Callum sucked at his straw and cola fizzed down his throat. He looked round at the other boys and released a commanding burp.
Noone seemed that bothered, and Mr Beuchar had interested himself in some big small talk with Miss Eldon. Mr Beuchar was keen to push his opportunity, having heard a certain rumourette about her relationship status. She was probably crazy, that could work in his favour definitely.
“Sir, Bene ate all my caramel cups.”
Mr Beuchar gave a distracted response, his hand still next to but not quite on Miss Eldon’s thigh, “Is that true? Bene, did you eat all of Callum’s caramel cups?”
Miss Eldon caught his eye and both teachers blushed slightly.
“Mister Bewker, have you ever been in love?”
Mr Beuchar remembered when he was about their age or slightly younger and he had tripped over the back step going out of the kitchen and broken his nose. He remembered being in hospital and seeing himself in the hospital bed with his nose strapped up. Except it had been his brother in the bed who had tripped over the back step and broken his nose and gone to hospital. He remembered it as if it had happened to him but it hadn’t. He felt like most of the things that happened to him in his life actually happened to someone else. Here he was taking eleven six to twelve year old boys to participate in a glorified corporate presentation in an art gallery, probably contributing to the destruction of the public education system.
“Don’t touch anything.”
“This is boring. I’m bored.”
“Can I touch the dolphin?”
“Don’t touch the dolphin! What if it breaks?”
“It won’t break. It’s a dolphin.”
“It doesn’t look like one.”
“Yeah it does.”
They looked at the dolphin sculpture. It didn’t look either like or unlike a dolphin. But you couldn’t really describe it as anything other than a dolphin. So maybe it did look like a dolphin. The lads had seen dolphins on telly, presumably.
Ty hadn’t been to an art gallery before. He gawped around at the huge brightly lit clean space, the gallery, gleaming and clean and expensive. So much space! He kind of needed to go to the toilet but he felt it would be better to wait until later. He couldn’t go here.
The white gallery reminded him of the morgue in Police Copter, when the one in the metal suit wakes up because he isn’t really dead, and he cuts off the hand of the dead guy so he can use the fingerprints to open the master vault. Except in the morgue there was more silvery metal and dead corpses.
The boys gawped up at the sparkling dustless vallances and gleaming white fixtures of the gallery. Outside the chimneys’ black smoke drew the city into its darkness.
“Where’s Ty gone?”
“He’s talking to a woman with hair in her mouth.”
The eleven boys dawdled around glancing at the sculptures in the main space of the gallery. The pieces varied in size and approach, some solid and squat, some spidery and long, some delicate and frail, some chunkily robust. A mixture of plastics and metals and plaster painted in all colours, the varied work had garnered reasonable reviews. The boys regarded the work, without engagement.
“Miss, are you having your period?”
“That is not a question you ask a lady. If there’s any more of that…”
The boys sniggered. Callum whispered “I bet she is.”
“How d’you know?”
“I can smell it. It smells like the ribs at chicken cottage.”
Miss Eldon hadn’t always wanted to be a teacher. She used to write, and now she barely had time to do the quick crossword in the Metro. Performance targets, monitoring, appraisals, reporting, Tier 4 engagement, league tables, frameworks. Why is it that on the incredibly rare occasion that teachers (or anyone) went on strike they stopped services of benefit to the kids rather than refusing to do the bullshit admin foisted on them by Management? Even the mistargeted action of striking was seemingly set up to benefit Management rather than the teachers or God help us the kids. It really angered her and she was still outspoken about it, at a palpable cost to her career. She could feel the fire burning less brightly, her sharp corners being worn down. She looked on as the kid Ty tried to slide up the banister from the toilets. She didn’t feel like telling him not to.
Charlie bitch-slapped Ty. It was pretty funny. Not hard. Ty protested, “What’s your damage spack-monkey?”
Callum gazed into space. It didn’t seem to matter, art. Even at his age Callum was already unsure of whether it meant anything. Whether it was important, but in a different way to the other boys, who might have found it boring or incomprehensible. It just lacked reality. He couldn’t put it into words, but felt it. You know. That little baby in the pram. It felt like years ago. He had watched while the two women talked and watched as the pram started to roll, unnoticed by the two women, slowly at first then picking up speed on the incline toward the main road. The traffic was roaring and busy with the rush hour. Trucks and lorries used this route, and the air was grey with their smoke. The pram raced toward the open road and at no time while the two women talked heedless of what was happening did the boy open his mouth to alert them, if he could have alerted them, if there was anything he could have said, if there had been time.
“Look at that one” said Mr Beuchar, the teacher pointing at the hamburger sculpture. “What do you think of that?”
“What’s it supposed to be?”
“It doesn’t look like anything.”
“Boys, it’s abstract. It’s not supposed to look like anything except itself.”
The boys weren’t having it. “It doesn’t look like that either.”
“Lads, come on. Look at the artwork please. Concentrate.”
“How long do we have to do this, sir?”
“Yeah, when do we get to do the thing?”
“After the art.”
“Art’s boring though! It’s like watching dry paint.”
Mr Beuchar paused, and smiled. “Yes, I suppose it is. Callum, what do you think people did before they had video games?”
“I don’t know.”
“They made things.”
“They made them though.”
“They must have been really bored.”
“Maybe. Do you think they would have been bored while they were making them?”
“But maybe they wanted to make the things because there was something they wanted to say, and making the things allowed them to say it.”
Time passed in the gallery. The boys dawdled. The boys got bored.
Following on from a remarkable conversation Mr Beuchar and Miss Eldon had just exchanged, Mr Beuchar directed an eyebrow from Miss Eldon towards the exit sign, and slinked toward the door. She followed in such a way as to look like she wasn’t following. He exited, and a moment later she joined him. The oldest person in the main space of the gallery was now twelve years old.
Charlie gives the stacked heads an exploratory nudge. They wobble against each other and straighten out again. He punches the stack experimentally. They bend to the side and wobble and straighten. He looks round to see who is looking, and then smacks the stack while looking in the opposite direction. The stack bends off to the side then smarts back and knocks his head. This angers Charlie and he punches the stack again, this time intently. It stretches back and returns across itself, only missing Charlie’s head because he ducks to the side in time. The stack wobbles back and straightens again.
He wondered what it felt like, whether the metal was cool or warm, and wanted to touch it to find out. He noticed that Charlie was already caressing the football shaped bit of sculpture.
“Don’t touch it! What if Mr Buchar comes back?”
“He’ll be ages. Anyway, it’s already broken so what does it matter.”
“You broke it!”
“I didn’t break it!”
“Jack! Gimme my chewy you twat.”
Jack threw the last pad of chewing gum at the younger boy’s forehead. The gum was idly thrown but it hit its mark because in trying to duck out of the way the lad ducked into the way of it. Jack didn’t see this but Charlie did and sprayed cola out of his mouth.
On the other side of the space an argument started.
“Yeah but your neighbours are chavs.”
“They are not chavs. You can’t afford to be a chav.”
“They threw dogshit over the fence during the barbecue.”
“That was cos the outside pipe burst all over their kitchen extension. It wasn’t the barbecue.”
“They’re still chavs.”
Forgetting it was part of an exhibit, Ty picked up the length of metal by his feet and raised it before him like a sword, or a rather a fencing iron.
Jimmy had taken to spinning round and smashed into the older boy’s back and, while Ty was whirling round to whack Jimmy, Bene picked up another sword and thwacked him across the arse.
“Hey! That’s not fair! You have to hit the sword.”
“Cos that’s what they do.”
“How do you kill anyone?”
“Oi fatboy, kick it to me, to me!!”
“Not like that you butt-wonder.”
Bene fell backwards onto his bum and the fibreglass cheese string carried on into the air, then shattered against the wall.
“It’s okay, they’re not real!”
“I didn’t touch them, I only pushed the ball cos otherwise it would have broke.”
The balls scatter in all directions, bouncing with hefty thwacks. The boy hits the cheese sculpture and skittles it.
“Haha! He’s wet himself. Oof, I think he’s followed through.”
The boys are in stitches, crying with laughter. So much crying. I should have gone earlier, he thinks. Now it was too late. He runs full speed into the remains of the Indian and it crashes to the ground, flattening under his feet, reforming into a misshapen jumble of metal. There is no paper.
Charlie is wearing the red spaghetti. Three of the boys are constructing new pieces from the pieces of the pieces. The others are still chucking things around. Bene comes over to Charlie.
“I’m making a new one. If you stick this to that, then, you see? It looks like a helicopter.”
Bene pulls at part of the spaghetti sculpture. Charlie cries out.
The space echoes with the crack of bone and the kid’s head splits just above the temple. His body crumples flat into the floor.
“Hey Charlie, look!” says Ty, pinching the air so from the right angle it would look like the banana sculpture was in his hand. Like a nob. Charlie didn’t respond.
“Charlie, catch the ball!” The ball sailed past him unregarded and bounced off one wall then another before coming to rest underneath the green triangle.
Ty remembers when his dad took him to see the chalk pits. They’d gone under the ground in a metal wagon, he had to sit on his knees to see out properly, and looking down at the line into the gorge he had been afraid. How would the wagon get back out again? He felt like that now, rolling faster into a gorge and how would he get back out again?
Bene kicked. He kicked, and kicked again. It felt good. He kept kicking, and it felt better, each kick felt better than the previous one, and so did he. The meat sculpture didn’t want to break. His trainies scuffed and discoloured with the black acrylic paint, but kicking wouldn’t break anything. He knew it wasn’t bad. Just fun.
The meat sculpture had cracked. Along the concealed rivets on its upsided underside a line cracked open and then the two parts split and fell apart.
“I dont want to do this. I dont want to.”
As he said it his fingers drew themselves closer to the metal frames.
“Go oN!” urged the older boy, “Throw it! Lob it!”
“I don’t want to.”
“Throw it you pussy.”
The boy sat on the floor and held the two pieces in his hands and examined them. They were largely intact but he noticed that if he turned them through ninety degrees they could fit together and make a new shape, a new sculpture. It was like magic! Things that without themselves even changing could become something new just by putting them together a bit differently. It seemed amazing.
“What’s that, gaywad?”
He scooped it out of the boy’s hands and carried it above his head, weaving between the boys.
“Give it back!”
He chased Charlie and tried to wrestle the piece from him. The two boys lost grip and it fell to the ground, splitting again.
He didn’t know why but when it hit the floor he burst into tears. Nothing ever happened. Just things, things breaking. The plant pot in the fireplace, the spaghetti and the kitchen wall. He didn’t want to be seen crying, so he pulled off the big red pepper sculpture off its long spindly legs and placed it over his head like a mask.
Immediately one of the other boys started tapping on the boy’s red pepper head with a long spindly metal stick, producing a pleasing clang. Another boy grabbed one and joined them. Inside the red pepper his ears were ringing but he didn’t want to take the thing off so they’d see him crying. He flailed his arms about blindly trying to stop his abusers.
Why are you doing this?
He saw his father’s face in the ball. He screamed and raised it above his head. Time slowed as he first crouched slightly before stretching up, mounting on the balls of his feet, extending his torso and stretching out of his arms so his hands were as high as they could possibly be. Clasping the ball tightly between his hands he then brought his hands down with all of his strength to smash the ball into the ground with furious force. As he brought it down a vehement syllable escaped his mouth, primal and unknowable. The ball smashed apart into countless pieces. He saw his father’s face again and then he clutched at his eyes, blinded by the cloud of tiny pieces. Clutching he sank to his knees, and rolled over.
Why did you push the spider sculpture over? He could hear the voice in his head. What did you do to the hamburger sculpture? You’re going to pay for this. We’re going to send you to the oil rigs. The oil men will chop your head off like they did your older brother. And all the blood will spray up into the sky.
Callum was chasing Ty with a snake made of one of the long metal juts from the coil sculpture on which he had put one of the balls like a head. He shouted for Mr Beuchar but the kids were alone in the space and noone was coming, whether they could hear the rising racket or not. There should have been a guard but there wasn’t one, whether it was short-staffing or something more pressing than the wholesale wanton destruction of a bunch of expensive art objects. It’s all insured.
He fell on top of the boy and now the two were wrestling, the younger boy biting and pulling the hair of the older boy pummelling his chest with his fists. He managed to get some purchase with his feet and sprang on top of the other boy, reaching out and finding something like a plant pot, black and hollow and metal, and he grabbed at it, then raised it above his head, above the other boy’s head, ready to bring it down with some force as the boy pushed to unbalance him. In the air, it took on extra weight, different possibilities, good and bad futures. In that split second this was clear intuitively. He sees the pram rolling toward the road and he doesn’t know if anyone will stop it.
Mr Beauchar burst through the fire escape, shirt-tails flapping over his open belt. He stands there open-mouthed, stops, beholding the carnage, the wreckage of every single sculpture in the room, and the boys chasing around after each other and fighting.
“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.”
The boys freeze. Each boy looked around at each of the other boys, each boy suddenly sprung dazed as if wrenched out of a dream, each boy looks at each of the other boys, frozen in the white space of the ruined gallery. For a long time noone speaks.
SIX LOVELY PEOPLE
In the Silent Disco Diner, someone is murdering the six individuals from the Match.com adverts, one by one. Who has the means, motive, and opportunity? And can Labby, the amateur labrador detective, solve the mystery in time?
My God, it’s full of twats.
The Silent Disco Diner was heaving with bodies. On the mezzanine hipsters bopped silently, while in the annexe the diners conversed uncomfortably. Annie, returning to her seat, hooked her bag under the table, and loud-whispered to her dinner date, “The toilets here, they’re not very clean.”
Lou smirked, and in a loudly ironic voice quipped, “You should try the food.” They lol’d together. “No it’s excellent. I love how they do the prices: 9.5, or 13.5. No pound signs, it’s so digi-modern.”
The 5-minute notification flashed up on their iPhones, and they put down their cutlery. Time to dance.
The silent disco is the worst fucking most unimaginably fucking dreadful and awful cuntnosed place in the entire cunting universe. Impossible to imagine a more solipsistic form of socializing. The cunts who come here pay a fucking fortune and look so smug in their mutual loathing they’re constantly coming in their pants. Twats, they’re twats. Someone should petrol-bomb their silent disco and block the fire exits then set off a silent fucking fire alarm.
As she stood up, Annie gasped, and steadied herself, “It’s so busy I can’t breathe!”
Lou smirked knowingly, “Yes, that’s how you know it’s good. The more unpleasant and packed it is, the better it is.”
The Silent Disco Diner is the hottest and best new joint in the hipsterhood. How it works is like chess-boxing. In chess-boxing, which is a great new sport that mixes the visceral combat of boxing with the intellectual sparring of chess, the combatants alternate a round of boxing with five minutes of chess. In the Silent Disco Diner the diners alternate five minutes of dining with five minutes of silent disco.
This has proven tremendously popular because it gives the diners plenty of time to think of something to say to each other. Conversational longeurs need no longer be attributed to angels passing or the terrible service (and the service is terrible). They are built into the dining experience. It is no wonder that the Silent Disco Diner is the go-to place for match dot com couples, as well as those who have married badly or have just been going out too long to be able to stand talking to each other for longer than 300 seconds. It’s more expensive than having a TV or children, but the food is excellent, and the disco music is bad enough to enhance the dining experience immeasurably either because after 300 seconds of the music you’re desperate to return to your kangaroo flatbread or because it gives both of you something to mutually loathe that isn’t each other.
Meeting people is a piece of piss. You go on the internet, swipe some cunt’s jpeg and tell them to meet you in a pig’s arse tuesday week to have a fucking smug off about who’s the bigger liver-faced cunt. There’s one now on the mezzanine, fucking dancing.
— You dance like a cunt, love!
— Sorry, what? I can’t hear you: silent disco!
— I said: you dance like a cunt!
— You’re welcome!
She didn’t bite. That was a fucking waste of time. Probably a fucking shit-farmer. I’ll keep working the room.
It’s hard to meet people. Thirtysomethings, haunted by the time before the internet, find online dating impossibly contrived, and only approach it out of total desperation, having admitted defeat at life. Whereas to the yoof it’s completely normal. Their experience is noticeably healthier and more successful, unwracked by the thirtysomething’s sense that they might have regressed to a new period of arranged marriages and paying for sex.
The management team behind the Silent Disco Diner know this, and in the Silent Disco Diner, dating couples are encouraged to be completely frank and honest. All of the subtexts of ordinary straitened dating conversations rise to the surface. Sexual, behavioural, and mental problems that usually have to be inferred from a visual interpretation of body language, these are all strenuously in your face.
The encouragement of frankness and honesty is gamely facilitated by one of the more popular cocktails, the Autistic Spectrum. It’s especially popular because it is free, and it is a condition of entry that every diner and dancer has to drink enough of them to make them practically tourette’s. This is great for those diners who lack any imagination or charm and have nothing to say, because it gives them access to all the thoughts that would never arise in banal smalltalk. In the silent disco diner everyone explains every detail of their mind with a pure sense of complete happiness and entitlement. It’s like being Kanye West.
I’m closing in. Those are the six cunts, in three pairs. You’ve seen them in the adverts for match dinner. Six arseholes in search of a fucking enema. I hate them more than it’s possible to hate anything in the universe, yet still they deserve more. Their little mooncups of cuntishness runneth over perpetually until the last albino fart of the cosmos is sodomized with the last spectral ballet shoe made of human cum.
— I love cooking!
— Oh fuck off.
While Annie and Lou were dancing silently on the mezzanine, over on the annexe, Tralee and Angharad had just run out of things to say. Angharad had all evening referred to match dot com as match doh com. She was from Barnet, which is a desirable French-speaking borough in Londres Nords.
Tralee asked “How did you get into match doh com?”
Angharad sipped her cocktail. “Looking for something to get my ex out of my head. I get so depressed. Dating is less depressing. When I think of her I get sad, and when I get sad I think of her.”
Tralee put her glass down. “Maybe what you need isn’t dating but counselling.”
“I’ve tried that. But I just couldn’t get laid. There was one counsellor who I thought I was definitely in with, but she said something about ‘professional standards’ and ‘duty of care’ – complete bullshit.”
Tralee nodded with diligent sympathy. ““Just not that into you” I guess. I hate that phrase. Everyone said that when I was telling them about this person I was dating. He’s just not that into you. I left him voicemails and sent text messages like all the time, and I know he was reading them cos it tells you. He was just too busy to reply, and a bastard. We had such an intense thing, really it was too intense for him.” She paused, then added, “Noone ever has a second pint of strawberry beer.”
Angharad, emboldened by Tralee’s frankness, continued “Sometimes, on week nights and some weekends, I sit outside my ex’s flat. I know they can see me. She’s watching TV but I know she’s glancing outside. They don’t close the curtains until it gets really dark, which is how I know she wants me to see her.”
“We’re buying a house together. Then everything will be fine. Everything will be brilliant.”
“I’m just going to the bathroom,” said Angharad.
“It’s not very clean.” said Tralee.
The first couple is fucking laughing, the cunts. It’s all so fucking hilarious, except while their faces are bent in half with shit-straining at amusement, their eyes are dead and cold, with nothing within their empty holes except sheer desperation. Life has destroyed these people. They have nothing to laugh about. They’re death, just sheer death.
Thelma and Girolamo were absorbed in their conversation, having found a good stretch of solipsism to mine. Thelma drained another cocktail, and exhaled lengthily. “I’m so depressed. I just don’t have the time or resources to run my own campaign. I need expert marketing help such as is offered by constantbumtact.com.”
Girolamo nodded. “Well, you’ve got marketing needs, and they’ve got marketing experts, after all.”
“Yes, they can connect me with a marketing expert in my area!”
“You sure seem like you’ve got the head screwed on. Oh, Thelma, you are a dream!” He narrowed his eyes. “There is some family history of diabetes, dementia, Huntingdon’s Chorea, or schizophrenia?”
“No, just folk dancing!”
They lol’d. Girolamo realized she wasn’t joking. Thelma sat up in her chair. “My parents were hippies before they became investment bankers. They were interested in free love and self-determination for all peoples, but then they had me because when they were having tantric sex during the Thatcher election they forgot to close the door and all the excitement about the creation of the nascent neo-liberal economic project made them pregnant, as well as extremely averse to taxation and human feeling. I plopped out and they decided to form a hedge fund.”
Girolamo felt the sharp slap of recognition. “Si! That happen a lot! My parents were given our Hampstead Mansion and Manors just for having a child during the early days of the Thatcher administration. They become hippies later, but by time I’m a teenager everyone else in the Prep College is enthralled with our “Mummies and Daddies”” — he laughed — “It fitted right into my, what you say, counter-cultural cachet: I make them my BFFs. They’re still very close but they live inside a volcano in an island off the coast of Croatia. They spend most of their time writing letters about what cunts the Serbians are, even though most of their friends are Serbian.”
Thelma felt rhapsodic. “That’s so amazing! They sound great. I love my parents so much but when because when I was born they started a hedge fund it means all I have to my name is six thousand miles of boundary-separating hedges in rural Hertfordshire while loads of my friends in squats have got their blonde dreadlocks to fall back on. They’re literally all on thirty K a year.”
“Oh,” Girolamo’s face fell. “So… you… you don’t have… money?”
“Just six hundred thousand miles of boundary-separating hedges in Hertfordshire.”
He pushed the last remnants of his Irn-Bru squash salad across his plate, so that, with the icing-sugar spinach, it seemed to form a sadface. His own face too had gone sadface. That was because he had turned his head sideways, in an attempt to address whether the bosoms of his dinner companion warranted the pursuance of this date in the light of the lack of family money. The realization dawned on him, like a winky smiley after a lacerating comment on a YouTube comments thread. Gazing into the dimness of the annexe, he noticed a leather bag. Squinting at it, he realized it had Brian Cox’s face.
Annie is a ginger twat and Lou is a nobhead douche. They’re somehow managing to out-cunt each other right now. Even the way they hold their forks is abysmal. They hold them the way Charlie Watts holds his drumsticks, and he’s a cunt too. Fuck, they’ve made the simple act of holding a fork pretentious. Twats.
— I fucking love food.
— I fucking love food too.
— Oh my god we have so fucking much in common.
— What food do you like?
— Just all fucking food.
— Me too!
— I like shit fucking food in a fucking brioche that smells of cuntjuice and dickcheese.
— I like really fucking gross fucking shit food made of death and farts.
— Oh, I love that too.
— You should go to Cunt-hole, they do a fucking horrible fucking pulled chicken.
— I’ve heard of that. Is that where they pull the chicken at your table?
— Yeah they pull its head through its cunt and whack it against its arsehole until it tastes like acne and measles, and then they fucking slather it in applesauce and charge you twenty quid to lick it.
— I’m so glad they pull everything. If they didn’t I would literally die.
— This wine’s piss isn’t it?
— Yeah, it was seven quid a glass.
— We are so awesome.
— Imagine our kids.
Fifteen minutes passed, and Angharad had not returned from the Silent Disco Diner’s edgily not-very-clean lavatories. The 5-minute notifications had come and gone, and Tralee had waited. Had Angharad ducked out on the bill? She looked round at the dancers dancing silently in the Silent Disco Diner. She noticed that the leather bag at the next table looked like someone, but she couldn’t remember who.
— Didn’t you love the Olympics?
— To be honest, I spent the whole time masturbating quite heavily.
— Omygod I do that all the time!
— Me too! Do you think about Tony Soprano?
“Have you ever tried to kill yourself?” asked Lou.
Annie froze. “Three times since September. Four times.”
“What stopped you?”
“The thought I might fuck it up.”
“You’re still here.”
“Yes, I fucked it up.”
Lou looked pensive. “I never thought I’d get to this age. I never thought I’d pay off my student loan. I’ll never pay off my student loan, but you know what I mean. I thought that someone would smuggle a bottle of Evian through customs and then throw it in my eyes on the plane, and I’d literally die.”
Annie resumed, “First time I tried to kill myself by… I didn’t wash my hands after going to the toilet.”
“Fucking hell. And you lived?”
“I scraped through. I was in hospital for weeks. My heart stopped and when they found me passed out on the manky tiles they could only restart it by pouring a whole bottle of hand sanitiser down my throat. It was the toilet attendant that found me. I’d tried to duck out without buying any perfume or lollipops. I was crazy. It was a cry for help really.”
Lou chugged his cocktail, and spluttered, “And the second time?”
“I left facebook. Within hours I was clinically dead. I literally died. I only lived cos my twitter feed was still active, and the push notifications started coming asking me why I’d left facebook. There were hundreds of them. I’d just forgotten to switch them off, and I guess it saved my life.”
“Shit. What was the third time?”
“I ate some pork.”
“It hadn’t been pulled,” Annie gulped.
“Holy shit, if I had pork that hadn’t been pulled I would literally die.” Lou’s fork clattered onto his plate. “Wait. Oh my God. Don’t move.”
“Where are you going?”
“Stay right there.” Lou was on his feet. “Help! Someone, help! Porknotpulled! PorknotPULLED! Her pork – it hasn’t been pulled!”
Annie looked down at her plate. Lou was right. There was the pork, gleaming and unadulterated in slender discs in a mild jus. Unpulled, not pulled or shredded in any way, nor drenched in a fruits-of-the-forest frisson. Tender, and, crucially, partially eaten.
“Oh my God.” Panic rose in her. “Someone hasn’t pulled this pork. I’m -”
Her head slammed down onto the plate.
Lou raved. “Somebody do something! Does anyone have any pork boustrophons?”
The other diners carried on dancing.
“Someone must have some pork boustrophons! Please, help her!”
Then he noticed. His avocado sorrell hadn’t been smashed, as an avocado sorrell in all civilisation should be. He knew at that moment that this was not just some random culinary accident. This was deliberate. Both of their artisanal dinners had been proletarianised. This—
Lou was dead before his body even hit the floor. The beads of light from the mirror ball swept across his prostrate form. In the silent disco, silence fell, the silence of the dead, and of not speaking.
The thing about match.com is that if it actually worked, the business would be fucked. If you actually meet anyone suitable it’s game over for your fucking subscription, so they build into their business model algorithms that most of the ‘matches’ are unsuitable cunts so you have to go back – not so unsuitable that you stop in disgust, but just enough. It knows what you really want but if it gave you that magic person with the fucking unicorn horn and the gold-plated vagina it wouldn’t be able to take the money off you.
The silence was immaculate. Angharad had still not returned, and Tralee was pretty sure her date had done one. As she contemplated making a dash for it herself, an ear-splitting scream split through the immaculate ear of the silent disco, followed by the crash of cutlery being dropped onto the square plates of the diners. A moment of incomprehension, then the door to the not-very-clean unisex toilets cracked off its hinges under the pressure of the distressed Toilet Guy. SHE’S DEAD, he said. DEAD. IT WAS THE TOILET SEAT. THE TOILET SEAT HAD AIDS.
A wave of ‘there but for the grace of god’ wept through the silent disco. Everyone has chanced it at some point or other, but you take the risk sometimes. She, though. A filthy AIDS-ridden toilet seat. In a corner, a silent dancer wept, silently. Only hours before she had… but… At such points the unfairness and contingency of life crystallises into clarity, and you realize just how close you are to an imminent, immanent, and undesired demise. Poor Angharad.
Everything is in place now. I think I’ll have a drink, if they serve anything here that isn’t piss that’s been through a human centipede. This cunt in front of me has got his spectacles on the wrong way round. Twat. The fuck’s he saying.
— Do you not have any real ales or craft beers? I can’t believe this.
— Sir, we have Privilege.
— Thank fuck. Give me four pints of Privilege, wait, do you have any of that… what is it…
— Eight pints of that.
“WAIT”, boomed the labrador. Having heard the sounds of commotion with his enhanced canine sense of hearing and having smelled fear and trembling at some distance thanks to his superior canine sense of smell, Labby the amateur labrador detective had bounced into the Silent Disco Diner, and, having been briskly appraised of the situation, was about to take charge of the proceedings. “WAIT”, he reiterated.
Sufficient waiting having been waited, he continued.
“Very murder! So death. Yes. Profounds, is mystery! Yes. Wow!”
— Hey! So, I just sent you the link!
— Oh great! Is it shit?
— It’s fucking shit mate.
— Fucking THE shit mate.
— Fucking right mate.
— Nice one.
While Labby, the crime-solving labrador, had been ruminating on the case, noone had noticed that on the back table of annexe below the mezzanine of the silent disco, Giralomo had gone silent. One might say, deadly silent.
“Everyone! There’s been another murder! Look!”
The shock of mortality resonated through the room like a massive bell. At length, Labby drew himself up, and moved over to the distended form under the back table. It was Girolamo, dead. “He’s dead,” observed Labby.
A gasp swept through the otherwise silent disco.
“Yes. Many smothered. All the while we were concerned with the tragic death of a beautiful girl from dirty toilet seat, someone fulfilling deathly compulsion. Don’t look! Very horror! Many smothered, smothered by a leather bag made of Brian Cox’s face!”
The dancers stopped dancing and held still, aghast. A leather bag made of Brian Cox’s face!?!?! There was protestation. Brian Cox is a beautiful eyebrow made of spacetime. Brian Cox is a delicious talking forehead. Brian Cox is a sea-cow. Is what they said.
“Look, doge,” said noone, “Who on earth would want to murder the delightful match dot com couples?
“Very mysteries,” said Labby. “So unknow. Listen to me! Thinks! Who is make bag with Brian Cox’s face. Very answer! So mystery! Wow!”
The silent disco diner resounded with the ineffable and profound silence that can only be born of not speaking, a not speaking born of not knowing. As per. Some of the diners tried to resume their dancing. Labby the amateur labrador detective rose on his hind paws. “Nobody must leave! Bar the doors. Many mystery, much solution!”
— What is it you do?
— I’m an artist.
— Oh really what kind of art do you practice?
— Recently I made yogurt from the bacteria in my vagina.
— That sounds interesting.
— It’s not.
— Kinda wish I’d washed my minge this morning.
— I wouldn’t have licked you out anyway.
— I can tell. Your beard would probably have lice babies with my bush anyway.
Another fifteen minutes passed, while Labby the amateur labrador detective continued his investigation. The management had asked the dancers to keep on dancing, to ‘be normal’, and the dancers were quite tired now. Their skin-tight jeans resembled baggy chav sportswear. The boys’ man-buns were unravelling into bad bed hair, and the girls’ bright lippy had spilled down their chins giving them the look of Siberian cannibals mid-feast.
Labby, the crime-solving labrador, brushed with a dry paw his immaculate fringe, and cried out “I have been very fool! Many stupid. Now I see! Such look.” Labby became expansive, “I notice from outset, so profound connection between the victims. Is my business — wow! — is aware of details others overlook. Central fact of the case is this: in the mind of the murderer, the three dead couples were the six — much forgive — six “cunts” from the match dot com adverts.”
The crowd protested. Who on earth would want to murder the six delightful individuals from the match dot com adverts?
Labby waved at the protesting dancers to be silent. “You see, you are missing the central piquant detail of the match dot com dinner advertising posters. The match dot com “cunts” have got to be the worst cunts because it is this that disinhibits you from dating. If it was your Beyoncé or your Puffy on the poster nobody sign up. Perhaps you are a spotty disaster case with all the appeal of the back end of Tracey Emin, or the front end of Tracey Emin. Very cunts on the match dot com posters must be worst examples of humanity, is make you think very hope getting laid.”
There was a long pause.
A really long pause.
A bit too long really.
The gathered fathoms of the silent disco entourage looked toward the forceful amateur labrador detective for some sign. The inscrutable canine was nonchalant as ever.
“But are we safe?” they cried, as it were.
Labby, the inestimable crime-solving labrador, rose to his full height, and, stretching his ears to their full erectitude, intoned “You need not worry now, you are quite safe. Murderer making one crucial, fatal, mistake. In his sanctimonious vitriol against the match dot com couples, so poison himself with hatred. Wow! So hatred! Within the hour, he will be quite dead.”
Labby took up his pipe, and smiled enigmatically with a mixture of pleasure and satisfaction. At that moment the final surviving one of the six individuals from the match dot com advert, Thelma, emerged from the establishedly not very clean unisex toilets.
“Wow! Very survive!” said Labby with joy, “I thought you had been murdered!”
Thelma shivered, and pointed to her legs. “I escaped! I got toxic shock from wearing my knickers for a second day running. I was unconscious for the past hour, then the noise must have… I tore off the pants, and…” Noticing the chaos, she squeaked “What the hell happened?”
Labby chuckled knowingly. “Yes,” he said, “Many yes. Is Doge.”
Love is dead. And you can all fuck off as well.