Friday, April 29, 2011
Gavin looked grave. He clamped his soft facial features into a single pucker, making his face seem as if it was momentarily drenched in heavy, filthy water. Something was bothering him. I could tell by the facial ticks that he habitually exhibited when agitated: his lower lip drooped on the right side. His top lip disappeared behind his pronounced incisors as he retracted them, as if he needed a small nosh, and half a lip would do.
A small star shaped dimple appeared and disappeared at the creases in the corner of his eyes. Taken all in all, once could trace the stars in the facial constellation, and, with the aid of this simple arithmetic, calculate the sum: an agitated Gavin Budge was unable to mutter simple truths because of his intractable Britishness, a disease that manifested itself by the translation of every unpleasant piece of life’s data below a varnish of obsolete manners and false courtesies.
I did not know why this particular cultural relic clung so tenaciously to this singularly dreary piece of English soil in the North Atlantic. Perhaps bald truthfulness about life would send too many English men and women screaming inconsolably into that black, drizzling night. A façade of gentle manners kept the dark outside intractably out.
“What’s wrong, Gavin?” I did, after all, have some American traits, no amount of cross breeding could alter that. What can be so bad that it can’t be discussed? Why can’t we just dump our disagreements on the conference room table and hash it out, sleeves rolled up, elbow grease applied?
Gavin twitched some more after my question, and then as if in the last throes of some spasm, completely relaxed and assumed a nominally soft, albeit somewhat concerned expression.
“Well, I’m a little worried about you, I must say. Its nothing extreme, mind you, you’ve been working hard lately. Well, by goodness, we’ve all had our noses to the old millstone of late, and its no wonder we’re getting a little daffy…” he looked at me with a curiously blank expression, as if he expected me to continue his chain of thought.
I was being unconscionably callous with poor Gavey. I just sat there like an impassive stone, dull and sullen, playing with the wide array of stamps lined up just beyond the perimeter of my olive green blotter. The rubber ends were each a pleasing nub, with a different geometric shape, perfect circles, tight equilateral triangles, and blocky rectangles.
Just to the right of this array was an impressive assortment of multi-colored ink stamps, sky blue, Valentine’s Day red, lily pad green, all arranged like colorful stepping stones along the central axis of one particularly impressive stamp, its bulbous business end laying face-ward, the embossed rubber head clearly displaying an inverse: DISAPPROVED. At this stage of the bureaucratic struggle, this stamp was working overtime, as already scarce resources were being stretched ever thinner, progressively tauter, across the forever expanding neck of the supply chain of being.
“Well, thanks for your patience, Gavin. I do appreciate it. I’ll try my best to not let my temper get the best of me,” I smiled broadly, what an old fraud I am! All pose and sleight of hand! I had manipulated reality so successfully that I had lost respect for my old adversary, the world.
And, for what seemed at this point to be eons (a geological and not human time span) we had both been engaged in such a pitched, clever battle of wills that we approached each other with the profound deferential respect that only enemies can truly possess. Every friend I have ever had had ultimately bankrupted themselves, both morally and physically, against the rocky shoals of my bewilderingly complex shadow obstacles. Anyone approaching me with the express intention of penetrating the elaborate sturdy screens I construct (to prevent that murky core from being breached, and my suffering irreparable harm thereby) will ultimately lose my respect. I have seen this pattern replicated repeatedly.
Gavin was fast approaching this churned up, over worked ground, and despite my better judgment I felt sorry for him. I liked Gavin, but notions of preference or personal affinity with one’s fellows was really irrelevant, not at all what was at stake in this little Punch and Judy show... no, what it was really about was martial values. What could be gained without suffering catastrophic losses? How to win the battle without having the victory cost the effort of the war?
Ultimately, one could not remain in a defensive posture indefinitely. One’s ear drums may be bleeding from our adversary’s constant, concussive bombardment, but eventually even the broadest, well planned and coordinated offensive sputters out and trails off. Eventually, one must raise one’s head from the trench line and once again peer over the parapet at our enemy, his eyes, gleaming, perhaps demonically in the inky black night.
Somewhere down the hall there was a perceptible shift in the wind currents. Papers on my desk blew in the new, prevailing direction of the breeze shift. The small hairs on the broad back of my neck stood up, giving the impression of a multitude of dull pin-pricks piercing my tough hide.
I could feel it displace air as it moved; this time it was less a shadow and more a slick, gelatinous, oily glacier in this avatar (for it shape shifts to suit the purpose of the day, black for a funeral and white for a wedding) it dripped and oozed down the tiled underground passage. No doubt it was hold up in some unused cul-de-sac, some blind alley way, where it was lurking, biding its time, plotting in its maniacal, idiosyncratic fashion (for it has time on its side, that is one thing it has, while I am en-fleshed, time-bounded!); it is always there, fashioning its infernal machines, attempting to impale me on its new, deceitful machinations.
I felt it was imperative to leave the room. A fresh geyser of water hit the overhead tarp, making a splattering nose that sounded suspiciously like hot steam spewing from a ruptured pipe. I smiled my broad, fraudulent smile at Gavin.
“Hey Gav, how about some of the Madagascar coffee you’ve been tempting me with these last few days?”
“A splendid idea, that. I could use a real break. Let me pop up to the office first and nail down a few things. You can shadow along, of course.”
We rose from our chairs, Gavin leisurely, me with some sense of dire urgency. The displacement of air was so severe that my eardrums were popping and clicking sporadically, spasmodically, as if some mischievous gremlin where tinkering with those ingeniously designed bones in my middle ear, or that taut, stretched, sensitive tympani that is the ear drum.
I could imagine, in my refracted mind’s eye, the entity that could create such an Aeolian disturbance, so I was in no less than a great hurry to exit the room. But Gavin, forever Gavin in his fussy, indomitable way, was busy adjusting the creases on his uniform slacks, pressing the tight royal blue jacket that snugged against his bird sized rib cage. I was forced to rudely seize him by his arms, my hand comfortably wrapping around the thickest span of his bicep. He was even lighter than I imagined. I hoisted him from the ground, his arms and legs stiff and immobile as if he were a small mannequin with a constricted range of motion.
“Langley! What on earth are you doing!” he then exhaled a substantial sigh, as if all the wind had been squeezed from his meager frame, and he gasped, machine like, sputtering, as I twisted him off the ground. I man handled him toward the stairs, and then bear hugged him about his waist to manipulate him to mount the step more quickly, with greater haste. I think I muttered something like, “For God’s sake man, stop struggling!” saying it through a clamped jaw as he tossed around in my arms like the insubstantial rag doll the he was.
“Langley!” he squeeked, as the darkness rumbled down the long hall, and attempted to mount the stairs in a rapid succession of waves just behind us. Just when I thought we were gonners it inexplicably stalled; its momentum strangely halted. Gavin and I stood panting and disheveled, face-to-face.
“What,” he said heavily, “what was all THAT about?” he seemed more concerned and perplexed than angry. He slipped his bird hands into his pants, trying to tuck in all of the folds of shirt that had leaked out . He pushed down his flaxen hair, which was standing up in two ridged columns, while my brain swam in small concentric circles for several interminable seconds groping for a plausible lie.
“I thought the air raid alarm sounded,” I was speaking with a pronounced lisp, it seemed I had bitten down on my thick tongue during our tussle.
“If it was an air raid alarm sounding, why, for pity’s sake, would we be going above ground?” he sputtered, now genuinely perturbed.