Friday, August 14, 2009

The Bloody Sock and Other Tales




I had decided to commit suicide. I had decided that some times before, but always something had come in my way: a telephone call, the chance encounter of a friend. It was so hard to find the peace to do anything. This time, I decided to gas myself in my car. I had seen an actor do it on television: it didn't look that hard. I remember the day well, balmy, a speckle of rain touched the windscreen as I sat in the car, ready to drive off.

Then I was on the highway, then I was at the filling station. I felt hungry so I bought myself a star bar. Normally these give me flatulence so I don't eat them, but I figured that I wouldn't be around to suffer. Let the coroner hold his nose!

I found a b-road off the highway. The road dipped and I could make out a stone farmhouse. I thought for a moment of using the drive, but it seemed too close to the farm. I didn't want the farmer to disturb me. I felt that would be very embarrassing.

So I drove on. I saw a lay by. The road was quiet and I felt at ease, so I stopped there. I got the hose from the boot and drew it through the back window from the exhaust. Then I sat back in the driver's seat. I unwrapped the star bar and began to munch it, thinking of nothing in particular, just enjoying the chocolate cocoa powder substitute and treacle flavourings. I wanted to have that pleasure before turning the ignition.

But, as my luck would have it, another car drove up to halt behind mine, a red Ford Fiesta. In it was an elderly couple. I could see them in my mirror begin to eat sandwiches from a plastic box. How long would they be? They seemed to chew very slowly. They did not talk much however. I calculated perhaps ten minutes. Boredom.

Then I saw the man nod towards my car, and the woman adjust her glasses to see better. Oh no! They had spotted the hose. With doddering steps the man came towards my car. He rapped on my window. I felt myself turning crimson with embarrassment.

I tried to ignore him, gazing straight ahead intently, but I could sense his face peering through the glass at the side of the door at my profile, and hear his rapping again. His wife came up too. I could hear her voice.

-Is he all right? Open the door. See if he's all right.

The man opened the door. What a fool I was, I should have locked it!

-All you all right, said the man.

-Oh yes, yes, I am fine, I said

-There's a hose going from the exhaust into your car, said the man

-That's dangerous, said the woman

-You could kill yourself like that, said the man

I stared ahead, trying to ignore them. Then I felt a sudden burst of flatulence come on from the star bar, I could not, to my embarrassment, contain it, and with a fearsome raspberry I had to release myself- the car filled with a repulsive gust of Cadbury's.

After my flatulent outburst, the couple concluded that I was beyond reason. They called the police- I must say I resented that, after all, I was harming no-one other than myself: I loathe busy-bodies- and I spent the best part of the following six months discussing the human condition with a gentle Pakistani Doctor and an earnest PhD student. I liked the doctor and I liked the student, and I sincerely hope that the stories I told him about my childhood experiences of bestiality helped him write an amusing thesis.

A few months later I found myself with a little money in my pocket and an abnormally cheerful mood: the day full of sunshine, standing on the rise of Upper Street looking down to London wondering quite what to do.

Then it occurred to me: I should buy myself a parrot. If I had a parrot, then I would not want for company: why, the bird would be kept in a cage, it could not escape me if it wished to. And it would be sure to talk nothing but sense, for I would teach him aphorisms by la Rochefoucauld and it might even learn one or two of my own sage pronouncements!

At the pet shop. I asked the girl for a parrot.

-There is this one, she said.

-I see, I said. The parrot was huge, its iridescent plumage dazzling, an aristocrat of the parrot world.

-How much is it? I asked

-It is 780 pounds.

-That seems dear, I said

-He speaks French as well as English, she said.

-I see, I said.

The conversation went on like that, quite conventionally, but I found myself falling into a daze, and I wandered out the shop without the parrot.

The day had turned sallow. Thoughts began to trouble my mind. Such thoughts! That the world was inside out: you might encounter a couple who had for years wished to have children, then had given birth to a handicapped child. You might have thought to pity that child with its slow mind and clumsy gait facing exclusion from childhood games, which so often required rapid co-ordination. Or in the trials of adolescence, how the sexual favours that came with grace and beauty would be held back from her, and copulation would remain a weird, purely theoretical possibility. But that girl might then develop a skill to compensate for her handicaps, becoming a fine player of winsome melodies on a golden harp, or cultivating yellow roses, investing patience and love in study, nurturing talents to glorify herself and the experience of others.

Then you yourself might become the victim of a misfortune, or a depression, or your own pusillanimity, and that self-same girl whom you had pitied, and, in her youth, regarded so woefully, now offered her music to give you consolation or her yellow roses to bring you cheer.

Oh yes, indeed, the world was full of strange events like that.

Why, I had even encountered a couple living in my block and who had arrived home to find a sock, bloody in the middle of their living room floor. What purpose was there in that discovery? And inside the sock five severed digits! Why, it quite consternated them, they talked about it for days afterwards, they even mentioned it to the neighbors. And the cleaning that had to be done to remove the blood from the Persian carpet, it was so unfair! All that trouble because of a bloody sock!

I met them on the stairs: they stood close together; the trauma had served to unite them in horror. They stood there in a dim silence -their earlier loquaciousness overtaken by a sullen mood- resenting a world that could so dishonour their living room floor. I asked them if they had reported the incident to the concierge but they did not, I think, want to talk about it. "Ah well!" I sighed, in what I thought was a sympathetic manner.

In truth, however, I felt ill at ease with my neighbours from then on and I am sure that the atmosphere that prevailed in our block became taut, uneasy, a callow silence in the stairwell, as if we were all guilty, but unsure quite of what. The ladies who lived on the first floor landing were forever gossiping in mumbles over their mops and brooms and watching the, now notorious, front door.

And after an event like that your life might end, you might simply explode at a street corner while waiting for the green man, or expire quietly in the middle of a dream about geraniums or chocolate éclairs or a childhood game such as hopscotch. There were some took their lives in despair: that seemed romantic but normally the lives of the suicides were merely bedeviled by petty wickednesses; debts, chronic illnesses, the abuse of schoolchildren, the malign effects of drugs. Truly, there was no glamour to their wretchedness.

I awoke from my thought to the rustling of leaves, of birdsong. An angel with a broken cross gazed plaintively; from some evergreens a cherub peeped.

I had wondered into a cemetery. I was seated on a bench.

What about the parrot? I walked back and got it.


This story was published in Tales of the Decongested, and anthology of short fiction from London (Apis Books, 2006)

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