Sunday, 26 February 2012

Waiting For The Man


(Velvet Underground - Waiting For The Man)

He stepped into a room that reminded him of a thousand others. The walls were painted off-white, the carpet was oatmeal. Polite landscapes hung in unobtrusive frames. There was a second door on the far wall. A small, neat man sat behind a large and highly polished mahogany table, his fingers steepled. 

“Hello,” the man said, and smiled.

Anthony didn’t reply. He wasn’t sure where he was, or how he had got here. He seemed to be expected. Maybe this was some kind of appointment? The man sat very still behind the table, smiled encouragingly, but did not speak again. 

“I’m sorry,” Anthony said, “I think I’m not well. I’ve forgotten…“ he tailed off, trying to find the words.  “I’ve no idea what I’m doing here – I don’t even know how I got here.”

The man looked concerned, tutted, went back to smiling. Memories slid around each other like colours in a toy kaleidoscope. Anthony remembered a meeting in a hotel, an expensive dinner, too much wine, some cigars, sitting on the bathroom floor, the smell of expensive soap, crushing blackness.

“Look, what’s going on? Is this some kind of practical joke?”

“In a sense.” The man looked amused.

Anthony decided that enough was enough. He turned and pulled angrily at the handle of the door, but it wouldn’t open.

“You can’t go back out,” the man said quietly.

“Who the hell are you to tell me where I can and can’t go?” Anthony remembered the advice of his doctor. He stopped, put the palms of his hands together, then pushed them away towards the floor and was calm again.

"You’re just a little late for that," the man said. "No offence.”

“ I’m fine. I just want to know what’s going on.”

“Of course. You’re a dead man.”

“If you’re threatening me I’ll--"

"I’m not threatening you. Just answering your question.”

“I’ve had enough of this.” Anthony walked forward, fists balled.

"Can you feel your heart beating?”

Anthony stopped. Normally when his temper was up, he could feel his heart bouncing in his chest, the thud of blood in his ears. Now he could not feel any of it. He pulled the expensive fabric of his shirt open, and slid a hand onto his chest. Nothing. No thump, thump, no rise and fall of the breath. He felt very strange, and took a step backwards on the soft, silent carpet.

The man smiled encouragingly. 

At first no words would come. Then suddenly hope flooded in. “It’s just a dream isn’t it? In a minute you’ll vanish and I’ll walk out and the sky will be custard yellow and I’ll see someone from my old primary school riding a bicycle and talking to a fish and then I’ll wake with a slight hangover...”

The man smiled again, drummed his fingers on the table. Shook his head.

Anthony snorted. "So this is heaven, is it? Looks like a dentist's waiting room."

The man raised an eyebrow, said nothing.

“Ah. Not heaven then. You don’t look like I expected.” 

“Well, that is the general idea.”

“So where are the eternal fires of damnation then?”

The man frowned as if he had tasted something unpleasant. “Metaphor and fantasy. The unpleasant work of narrow minds. None of that here.”

“So what is there?” 

The man shrugged. “What you see.”

“I’m not impressed. Not much in the way of torment.”

The man laughed. Anthony looked at him for a long time. The man sat back in his chair, sighed, examined his fingernails. "There’s nothing stopping you from leaving at any time.”

“Leaving?” Anthony said. “How?”

The man looked at Anthony with rather a pained expression. “Through the other door, obviously.”

“I can just go?”

“Mm-hmm.” The man was back to considering his fingernails.

“Right. Purgatory, then. A salutary lesson.” Anthony moved towards the other door on the far side. The man did not look up but took the time to wave a hand vaguely in Anthony’s direction.

“Goodbye now.”

Anthony reached out a hand, and tested the door handle. It was unlocked. Without a backwards glance, he opened the door and walked through.

He stepped into a room that reminded him of a thousand others. The walls were painted off-white, the carpet was oatmeal. Polite landscapes hung in unobtrusive frames. There was a second door on the far wall. A small, neat man sat behind a large and highly polished mahogany table, his fingers steepled.

“Hello,” the man said, and smiled.

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