Rupert Merkin
It starts with a snap.
No, more than that— a SNAP!
Daniel Maller walks back to his desk from the coffee machine. He's a normal office man, fifty-two this May, with a normal cup of coffee. The day's a normal day, except for his thoughts. He can't seem to control his thoughts.
What if I elbowed Trev in the back of the head? What if I kicked the back of Ron's chair? What if I threw my coffee over Esme...?
Esme shrieks. She's covered in hot steaming coffee. Ron's out of his chair. He's rolling his shoulders (he used to box, you know) and there's an excited vigour in his shuffle-step, shuffle-step towards Daniel, our hero, who backs away, hands up, saying "sorry, sorry" as if repeating the word will make the world spin backwards and suck the coffee back into the cup.
Ron and the others, they could rough him up, punch him down, but Daniel doesn't try to defend what he did. He cowers, meek, apologetic, and runs out of the office. He stands outside the building, palms pressed to the side of his head, mouthing through a clenched jaw, "What have I done?""
He walks for a while, listening extra hard to the voice in his head, the one making constant, messed-up suggestions: do this, do that, what would happen if...if...if... And it's hard to stop himself from doing them all— What if I rip my clothes off and tango naked with the lamppost?. So what does he do? He goes for a drink, the path of least resistance.
Our hero sits at a barstool and orders a pint of beer, and he thinks about all the beers he's bought in his life. He thinks about the first time he supped a pint and how he hated the taste, but gradually over time he grew to love it like men are supposed to. And he thinks, life, it's all about what you're supposed to do.
There are a couple of builders beside him, dust covering their shoulders, trousers slung low to reveal a bulge of buttock (of course). One of them declares, "I'll tell you something..."
What could it be? Football? Tits? Beer?
"All these tutti fruities on a Saturday night, mincing around," the builder says as he crooks his arm, flops his hand and minces. "Poofs."
Daniel isn't gay— in fact he's been married for twenty-blah years, and, typically, it's comfortable but sexless now.
What if I pinched his arse? What if I kissed his neck? What if I grind my crotch against his thigh?
Except it's less of a 'SNAP!' now and more of a 'snap'.
Our hero reaches around, cups the builder's balls, and says, "My, aren't those lovely?"
The reaction, again, is predictable. The builder turns, glares, mouth open but rigid (to show the sharp carnivore teeth), and he says some trite, angry words— it's not the words that are important but the way he says them— and more, just like with Ron, there's joy in the possibility of validated violence, of letting the animal take over.
I thought I recognised you from last week. You had a feather boa and stood out from the forest of tiaras at GAS!
Daniel fights back the urge to say that, and it feels like holding down vomit. Instead he looks suitably scared, suitably like a spaniel, damp-eyed, head-cocked, again with the turn-back-time mantra ('sorry, sorry, sorry'), and the builder uncurls his fists, makes do with a shove.
"Poofs," says the builder, differently now, the word laced with self-congratulation. Poofs, they're all the same. He was right all along.
Our hero pushes his pint away. He can't stomach it. He leaves the pub. He walks the street and everywhere he sees people as machines, everyone a cog rolling off each other; this ancient, outdated way of living; everyone living their role.
He stumbles along, head filling with madness. What if I picked up that cat and wore it as a toupee?. He remembers the conversations he's had at every dinner party he's ever been to. Really, your car? My mortgage? The caterers look lovely today! He staggers, the crowd opening up and swallowing him like a succession of hungry mouths. What if I grabbed her boobs?.
He faces the busy rush of cars.
What if I stood on one leg and pleaded with people to punch me? What if I smashed my face repeatedly on the pavement? What if I closed my eyes and walked into the road?
It's almost a whisper now...
After leaving the States a lifetime ago, Rupert settled in London with a quill, two dogs, and a monkey. But sadly no ink.