All entries for Wednesday 17 September 2008
September 17, 2008
seems to be the function of the crowded man
with a blanket covering his legs -which aren’t
there- and that warning (Vaults Below), crying
aloud, like the expression
of the Ghanaian woman
at Oxford Circus, her Bible held
just past her megaphone’s length,
stuttering, repeating herself,
agreeing, “yes; the odds are against you. Tonight
this maze will catch you, and you will not know
how to run.
It’s the same day that things stop happening that an old woman, arms braceleted with the handles of over-stuffed carrier bags, kicks me in the shins.
It’s not a hard blow, but enough to make my twelve-year-old eyes dazzle with tears. She smiles with satisfaction and limps off through the mall. One or two of the nearby mothers applaud. I rub my shins and cry for a bit. When nobody comes, I pull myself together and wander back through the suburbs. In the hope that God’s watching all of this and taking notes, I limp all the way through the torrential rain.
“Dad,” I say when I get home. “Dad. Dad.”
My father glances down from the Times and replies,
“The same news for eight days now. Things have stopped happening, James. I told you, didn’t I? Things have got so bad that they can’t even report them anymore.”
And he tears off the front page of the newspaper and sticks it up next to the seven identical front pages across the kitchen wall. This begins to annoy me. I’ve been injured, I want to tell him, viciously injured. How can typhoons in America and bombings in Afghanistan compare?
I settle for,
“Dad. Dad, an old lady kicked me in the shins today.”
My father says, vaguely, gazing over his collection of repeated news stories.
“Well, I imagine she thought you were going to steal her purse or stab her to death or something, didn’t she?”
“I only said she’d dropped her avocadoes.”
My father reads aloud,
INVESTMENT BANKS FALL INTO BANKRUPTCY
He steps to his left and reads from the adjacent front page,
INVESTMENT BANKS FALL INTO BANKRUPTCY
I give up on him as a lost cause and wander into the living room.
“Mum,” I say. “Mum. Mum.”
My mother continues to read from the armchair in silence.
“Mum, Dad says the world’s coming to an end because there’s no news any more and an old lady kicked me in the shins because I said she dropped her avocadoes and people clapped.”
“Philip,” she calls, “are you frightening Jamie?”
My father replies through the partition,
INVESTMENT BANKS FALL INTO BANKRUPTCY
“If you miss the news so much, Jamie,” she says, yawning, “then just read a book or put on one of your DVDs, and then pretend it’s the news.”
I put on Jurassic Park.
The next day, I wake up late; my morning routine of piddle and poo follows, and I wander downstairs in my pyjamas and into the kitchen.
I notice straight away that something's wrong. Dad’s newspaper articles hang to one side; the table has been upended and the fridge door hangs ajar. A couple of strange older kids are standing all around me. I’ve seen them hanging around at the mall.
“Did an old lady kick you too?” I ask.
“Shurrthellup,” one of them says, and takes a swig of one of my father’s beers.
“Oi, oi,” one of the others replies, elbowing him in the ribs. “Gimme a hit of that, yeah?”
They pass the beer around. The oldest kid, who stands a foot taller than all the rest, finishes it off and throws it through the open window. It shatters on the grass.
“Dad,” I call. “Dad.”
“Your old man can’t hear you now,” the oldest kid says, and chuckles. He glares at the others until they laugh as well.
“Where is he?” I ask.
“Norwich,” the kid says. “All the adults have gone to Norwich. ‘Cause the world’s ended.”
I shuffle through them to the breadbin and make myself a peanut butter sandwich.
“We should kill ‘im,” one of the kids says. “And take ‘is sandwich.”
I chew on the sandwich.
The oldest kid punches him in the stomach.
“Let him go,” he says, and then, with a flourish, “He can tell the others. We rule this town now.”
He leans down to me. I stop chewing.
“This is our house now,” he says. “How’s that make you feel?”
“Thug rule,” one of the others adds, vaguely.
They wave their dented kitchen knives in the air.
I walk out through the empty suburbs to Billy’s house. This place has already been looted. Someone’s sprayed graffiti around all of the walls.
I wander in and up the stairs to Billy’s room. He’s sitting at the Playstation, playing Deathmonger. The game lights shine off his huge round glasses.
“What’re you doing?” I ask him. He’s too busy to reply, so I sit on the bed beside him and watch Deathmonger for a bit.
“I think society’s broken down,” I tell him. It was one of my dad’s favourite phrases. “The...economic, social, cultural, environmental...things...have all exploded.”
“Oh,” Billy says. The message doesn’t seem to have got across. I scramble across the floor and unplug the Playstation.
“Oh,” Billy says.
I turn on the news instead.
The news desk is empty. Every so often, lines of writing cross up the screen, like in Star Wars.
-FINAL EVACUATION HAS BEEN TAKEN AS A RESULT OF THE VARIOUS CATASTROPHES AS LISTED IN OUR PAGES AND NEWSROOMS OVER THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS- NAMELY CLIMATE CHANGE FREQUENT TERRORISM CULTURAL UPHEAVAL VIOLENCE ON OUR STREETS ECONOMIC COLLAPSE SOCIAL CHAOS THE WIDENING BARRIER BETWEEN OLD AND YOUNG- THAT PROVISION SHOULD BE MADE FOR THE DECENT HONEST PEOPLE OF THE WORLD TO BE EVACUATED TO FORTIFIED LOCATIONS AGAINST THE THREATS OF THE BESTIAL AND MONSTROUS: THERE THEY SHALL BUILD VARIOUS SHUTTLE DEVICES POSSIBLY FOR THE INHABITATION OF OTHER WORLDS, IN THE SPIRIT OF A DISASTROUS PROJECT SPEEDILY ABANDONED THIS OPERATION SHALL BE KNOWN AS ‘DUNKIRK’-
Billy sneaks a hand under his bed and retrieves a chocolate bar. He unwraps it, slowly, and begins to chomp.
“So all the adults are gone?” he asks.
“So we can do whatever we want? Anything we want to do, we can do?”
He keeps his eyes on the screen.
“I think I’ll lie in,” he says. “I think I’ll just play Deathmonger.”
“You can’t just play Deathmonger. The world is ours.”
He finishes the chocolate bar and throws away the wrapper.
“Nobody else is doing anything,” he says sulkily. I look out of the window. Nothing, it’s true, is moving. The streets are empty.
“No,” I said, “some people are looting. Your house got looted.”
It takes a moment for this to sink in.
“What did they take?” he asks. I shrug.
“Your food, your TV, everything that’s not in here.” He considers this for a second. His face goes an odd kind of purple and his eyes turn in on themselves. Billy does this quite a lot; once, when we were playing on his video console, the screen froze and he froze as well. It wasn’t until I’d unplugged it and plugged it in again that he started moving.
“I’ll loot a new house,” he says suddenly, brightening. “One for me.” He hesitates for a second before adding, “You can come too. Sometimes.”
“Come on,” I tell him. “I’m hungry.”
McDonalds is empty. Stray paper wrappings flit over the floor; someone’s already got in and eaten all of the prepared burgers.
“Where are the people?” Billy asks, his eyes wide. He’s always been in awe of the people at McDonalds since he first figured out that you could get a toy and food at the same time.
“Gone to Norwich,” I reply. For some reason I hadn’t thought that DECENT HONEST PEOPLE OF THE WORLD would include them.
“Come on,” I tell Billy. “We can make our own meals. I’ve seen them do it.” Billy stares at me. Outside, four older kids chase a younger kid, screaming, across the roundabout.
“My mum makes chips,” Billy says.
“Come on. We can make chips.”
“I want my mum,” Billy says.
I walk around the other side of the till. A basketful of unfried chips sit on the side. I try one of them. It tastes of old newspaper. I begin to choke it down, then remember myself and spit it out onto the tiled floor.
Billy hovers, anxiously, as if he’s queueing for a meal.
The burger meat is uncooked; the prospect of eating the salad by itself doesn’t appeal. Mostly to make the point, I pour myself an Extra Large bucket of Coke and drink it down.
“Shall we go into town?” I ask Billy. I feel a bit giggly.
“No,” he says. “Not town.” His big round eyes look tearful. He shuffles his trainers. One of the red lights on the back has broken.
“Fine,” I snap. “Where do you want to go?”
Halfway up the country road, I start to get annoyed. And, I realised, I need the toilet.
“I need to pee,” I shout to Billy. He keeps walking, his gaze set on the ground.
“I need to pee. Wait for me, yeah?” He keeps walking.
I do the business across the hedge, staining myself in my hurry, and run after him.
“Where are you going?” I ask him.
“Mum and Dad said they were going to the camping store today,” he says. “So that’s where they’ll be.”
“How do you know this is the way to the camping store?”
He keeps walking.