Tread Lightly

posted Sunday, 13 January 2008

The office building at night was one where computer screens continued to flicker at every desk. Global warming was never considered. The cleaning staff on shift-work was told not to switch them off because the work-stations were left active for a purpose. Premature unbooting might have created all manner of viral shutdowns in the network, they were told, if not in so many words.

It stood tall and lonely at the outskirts of the city, facing the more stunted growths of suburban housing, looming like an ogre fit to startle the drunkards scuttling via the maze of side-alleys from the low-slung pubs towards the back-to-backs where they lived.

Arthur was one such drunkard, although, on the night in question, he had been prevented from too much imbibing by the worrisome turn of conversation from those around him concerning the darts team. He had stopped in his mental tracks, glass halted at his lips, when he heard these words spoken by a sudden new-arrival whom he half-recognised: “You know, Jonty died last night – alcoholic poisoning I’ve heard”.

There was a chain of Chinese phews and fuckmes around the bar in an interlocking series of sibilant whispers. Jonty had been the key-man in the darts team and an all round regular to boot.

Arthur, crestfallen, his night-out severely discombulated, decided to leave the pub prematurely and return to her-indoors. She would be pleased to see him home early and relatively sober. A positive note to strike in face of the night’s sad laddish bereavement.

Arthur was a lad. But an old one, if old lads, at Arthur’s grizzled stage of life, weren’t already early versions of their own tottering corpses more likely to be called bladdered than laddered. He started to talk to himself about this misfiring of thoughts, then chuckling in wrinkly croaks on his further way home, but for no particular conscious reason than to keep the buggaroos at bay.

Even grief had to play second fiddle to fear. Normally, drunkenness was enough. Now the fear in almost tangible form found it easy to penetrate the thin veneer of tonight’s mere couple of single shorts via the pub’s even shorter-measured optics. On other nights, a whole skinful of spirits usually protected both his body and mind from the collywobbles on his long trek homeward … passing the shimmering where the office building loomed towards the harder plodding that he would endure upon the pebbly ginnels near his marital terraced two-up-two-down.

But tonight he soon became cold stone sober and susceptible to any stray sounds of night.

He never noticed the office building, at the best of times. During the day it was “simply there and not there”, as he once tried to explain to her-indoors, when she told him that, in the news there was talk of its firm having gone bust with thousands of keyboard-pushers out of work; but later it had been taken over by another company and was soon to be back on an even keel, it seemed, with 24 hour PCs still flickering in every open-plan bay … yet, now, tonight, the building was not only “simply there and not there” but also potentially “not there at all”. It was somehow about to go missing. Not even the ghostly shimmer of its autonomous software working would be visible. The sky was darker where there seemed to be its pillar of darkness out-skying the rest of the sky, but slightly askew, tilting, as it were, in some silent form of half-baked terrorism, leaning ever more dangerously towards the houses where, among many other hers-indoors, Arthur’s own her-indoors was probably at this moment watching a soap. He shrugged. He put it down to drunkenness.

And indeed that was what it was. The building had intoxicated itself on vast short-circuits from outgrown optics.

Soon there was nothing to see, except nothing. That part of town flattened by the tottered tower was man-shaped. Evidently gone for a treble, but doubled-up instead.

Arthur was secretly pleased that his own house was missed, if not missing. He loved his own her-indoors with all his heart. Jonty’s widow, too

(written today)

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