April 25, 2007 at 3:32 pm (short story)

I was lucky to get my old job back. He was hesitant at first, Arthur, who owns the shop, afraid that the media pack would be tailing me, disturbing the peace of his bookshop, which for thirty years he’s managed to keep. I got a job with Arthur after university. It was only meant to last for a month or two, fifteen years ago. What happened? I’ll be blown if I know. Time moves on even if you don’t.

TV was never going to bring back those years. I wear a beard now but still get the odd “You’re Clive Goodson aren’t you?” That’s right – from Remote Control, the show where viewers vote to decide whether you can eat with your housemates, whether dinner would be roast lamb or cashew nuts and whether you are allowed to use the swimming pool. Every nook and cranny of our personalities, every orifice of our anatomy was there for every crook and granny in the nation to gawp at.

And what years they have been. Years of lost opportunity, of dreaming, of promising myself that I’ll achieve, that I’ll find myself, years of opening boxes, filling shelves, ordering books, setting up a website, observing idlers, reading – well there’s one thing, I’ve read a few books in here, no one can deny me that, not enough to prevent me from being a contestant, but enough to make me a half-decent person to talk to.

She was a very good actor, Kate. The whole nation laughed when we got into bed. By that point everyone in the house knew as well – that I’d been voted to fall for a honey-trap – everyone except me. When I finally got to kiss her, I thought of everyone who had ever known me as a dull person watching the show thinking: “I wish I was Clive Goodson.” I rolled on top of Kathryn, we were about to make love. Then she said: “Have you got a rubber”. That was their cue – they all jumped out from behind this door. “Remote Control!” they yelled.

Dad could have died any time, he just happened to die when they charged in. It wasn’t my humiliation that killed him. He could have died at any time and I hold no resentment towards the producers. No. Only the chief executive of the company, Greg Snipe, he killed my dad not me. Imagine a son being sexually humiliated in front of the nation. No father wants that, no father. Then it was the tabloids’ turn to take a stab at me. I was on my own crying in bed when the others were toasting Kate in the living room floor and dad was in the ambulance.

I had no idea what had happened to dad – I was dying my own death and even now I don’t know if I’m alive. They’ll miss me at work if I don’t turn up, Arthur will phone me up and be angry if I miss a day without telling him, this keeps me ticking. Two days later I was put up for eviction. The morning papers all carried the news of dad’s death. A debate raged about whether the channel should let me know what happened. But a clause in the contract meant they didn’t have to. I had, apparently, agreed that it would be okay for my dad to die and me be alone in bed and in the toilet crying after falling for Kate and being mocked by my housemates.

I don’t blame Kate, she probably needed the money, the exposure, and really, why should she make love to me on camera, it’s something I’m glad we didn’t do although I’d be up for it now, only I don’t want her now. She reminds me of my humiliation. Yes, you can see why I’m glad to have got my job at the bookshop back. Arthur saw early on that I’d be forgotten, that nothing long-term could come of my eviction – oh, did I tell you? I was evicted because the viewers pitied me: it was unethical for me to be there unawares, they decided.

When I came out of the house, the crowd was oddly silent. Then, Rebecca Hyde, the beautiful Becky, interviewed me. She started off playing clips of my humiliation. Then clips of my post-humiliation, which were now humiliating me more.

“How did you feel?” she asked me. I didn’t answer for a few moments; then I managed one word. “Shit.”

“I can understand that,” she said. “Did you feel angry at the other housemates?”

The studio lights were bright and by now I was aware that everything and anything I did could only add to my humiliation.

Rebecca decided to help me out.

“I have some bad news for you Clive.” I could not at that point have imagined my life getting worse if I had been told I have six months to live. In fact, if she had told me that I think it would have made me more focused, at least for the duration of those months.

“That night, while you were cavorting with Kate, your father died.” A smack around the face with a baseball bat would have been less numbing.

“How do you feel toward Kate now?” Rebecca now ceased to be the presenter I knew and loved from telly, she was a monster, out to pummel me into the ground. This whole show was a set-up to punish the Goodson family. But I had a sense of humour, I played along, in case they were joking, and I was sure this was a joke.
“Very funny Becky, my dad’s already had three attacks, I’d hate to think he’s had another.” Then they brought on mum. Her eyes were red with tears. She hugged me. It was true. I was truly in another place. The cameras wouldn’t stop shooting us. I dug my face in mum’s shoulder and cried. The picture of Clive Goodson’s reaction to news of his father’s death made the front page of every newspaper, tabloid, oblong, triangle.

We were a family, publicly hanged. My life stopped in that week, I stopped breathing. In fact, I’ve certified myself as dead. I am a sleepwalker waiting to for the good lord to strike. Perhaps he already has, perhaps what I am experiencing is the sum of his intention for me; if he has cable, that is.

Here lies Clive Goodson. Humiliated on Remote Control. Caused father’s death.
My poor mother. She still consoles me, in her own, rather unwelcome way. “Don’t worry Clive,” she says. “You’re not a Goodson like your dad was and his dad was before him. But you’re a good son, and I love you.”

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The Late Potato

January 15, 2007 at 3:08 pm (short story)


Mr Potato was late. He was always late. Even when he tried his best to hurry he would end up late. Sometimes he would get his wife to wake him up at five-thirty in the morning but he would still be late. He worked in an office. Everyone else in the office was a potato too. They all looked like him. That was the good thing about the office. The bad thing was if he was really late all of the other potatoes would get the best jobs. The first to arrive would be boss and the last would be the cleaner. His colleagues recognised him by his mop — if anyone was mopping it was likely to be him. If nobody was mopping it was likely he would soon arrive to mop. But on this spring day Mr Potato was determined to be boss. His wife was having sleepless nights, despairing at his inability to arrive anywhere on time. She’d even threatened to leave him.

“Where would you go to?” he said.

“I’ll find myself another potato — or even an apple.”

Mr Potato knew he had to act. He knew that all Potatoland citizens looked the same, but he would stay bottom of the sack so long as he continued being last to work. So he bought an Alarm Zapper, a device that fixed onto the head with hydraulic clamps. The danger was that if he failed to get up, it would start to peel him. Peeled potatoes were looked down upon by all of the other potatoes in the land — even those who were never on time.

“I simply refuse to be late anymore,” he said to himself. “If I don’t wake up, let me be peeled. It’s what I deserve.”

On the night before he had to get up his wife asked: “What’s that thing on your head?”

He explained what it was and she laughed.

“That thing won’t get you up,” she said. “You have to want to get up yourself.”

“I do darling but I can’t,” he said.

“What are those blades on it for?” she said.

“If I don’t get up they’ll start to peel me.”

“Peel you?” said his wife. “I’m afraid to say you have gone quite potty.”

But Mr Potato was unfazed. He wanted to be first in and he wasn’t taking any chances. In fact he was risking both his marriage and career — no one would want to employ a peeled spud. They lived in a poor quarter of the town where you would rarely see the ones with jackets. They didn’t have much money and were taunted if they ever ventured out. And those who were convicted for a crime would be sliced and sold as French fries.

At five in the morning Mr Potato woke up in a sweat. He had set the alarm for 6.30. This would leave an hour to wash and have breakfast and plenty of time to reach the office by 8.30. No one would be there then. He was worried that the alarm would go and peeling would start. He didn’t want that. The process was irreversible. He looked at his wife, fast asleep wearing a light smile. She looked happy. He looked in the mirror and saw himself, a silhouette of the gadget on his head — it made him look unfortunate. He’d placed it there himself but still managed to be disturbed by it. The clock on the wall ticked. It was projected by the contraption on his head. When his head moved, so did the clock. This made him sweat all the more. Nothing about this device seemed right. Why could he not take it off now? Why was there that catch? But it was too late. He could not turn back the clock and had to wait. Deep down he knew that he would be okay. He knew that he would survive and be boss, but until the alarm sounded he would not allow himself to believe it. He would not allow himself to celebrate. “How could I?” he said to himself. “I’m about to be peeled if I’m not careful.”

It was now ten to six. Figures on the clock blurred as his eyes closed. He tried hard to keep awake. But soon he was asleep and now the clock would decide his fate.

Sure enough at six thirty AM it went off. The blades were poised to peel — he had one minute. The device, despite rattling violently, failed to wake up Mr Potato. But it did his wife — she punched it off the bed. Mr Potato fell with a big crash. He woke up, startled. The countdown had started but he got up in time. The clamps loosened and the razors disappeared.

Mrs Potato rushed to help her husband. She yanked the alarm off his head. She was proud of him. She hugged and kissed him and for the first time in a long time, they made love. Yes, this meant doing mop duty again at the office, but he didn’t care about that now.

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