CuiousPages - fiction and nonfiction
CuriousPages - fiction and nonfiction
At the age of twenty-four I met an old man whose eyes were burdened with woe. I was walking along a winding lane which was bordered by a high hedge and he was stood beside a gateway in the hedge. Both the hedge and the man were of little interest to me until I heard his voice which seemed to connect with a point of unease deep within me, as when a forgotten nightmare is suddenly recalled.
He said, “Whatever you do, don’t go in there,” nodding towards the gateway.
I continued along the lane, only glancing back to check the man was now out of sight, when I pushed my way through the hedge and emerged into a peculiar garden where an employer was looking at me sternly. There was a desk beside him and the area around it was dark and indistinct. Yet I could make out every detail of the desk, the stack of pens, the anglepoise lamp, even the grain of its wooden surface, which seemed polished from years of use.
The employer told me to sit and do some work, which I attempted to do, but I could not see what was expected of me. He then placed a stack of forms in front of me and walked away. I began to sweat; I had not been so suddenly moist since my primary school teacher had unexpectedly placed an exam form on my desk and walked away with no explanation. I looked around and all the other children began feverishly writing. Had I missed something?—I wondered.
At the start of my first job in the garden I felt just as mystified. I wrestled with each form, making random entries before guiltily sliding them into my “out box” and hoping no-one would discover the part I had played in the company’s downfall. But five years later the company was not only still functioning but their apparent appetite for my random form-entries was only increasing. I could see no escape. I had even been promoted to a larger desk with a panoramic view of a puzzlingly shaped shrubbery, out of which, cardboard cut-outs of famous persons would periodically pop up like ducks in a shooting gallery. This spectacle, though, only momentarily distracted me from my main concern, which was the company’s imminent downfall. However, six months after my promotion I had forgotten all such concerns, by which time the pop-up celebrities had become an accepted part of my immediate landscape, as had the enticing maze that lay beyond the shrubbery, which people could often be seen entering but never returning from.
After a further six years of randomly completing mysterious forms under the occasional gaze of cardboard cut-out celebrities, I looked up and noticed that the woman who sat at an adjoining desk was winking at me. She was not unattractive, so I was tempted to bestow upon her wink the most optimistic interpretation, which involved us performing bedroom gymnastics but without having to first endure some lengthy and perplexing dating ritual.
 “Can I help you?” she said.
An answer sprang to my mind but instead I simply told her I was managing perfectly well.
“Are you sure?” she said and she winked again, but this time even more suggestively. At least, that was how it seemed to me. But it was my primary school exam all over again. What answer was I suppose to give?—everyone else seemed fluent in this ritual which I had never been coached in. Had I missed something?
Myself and the woman were soon sitting in a small rowboat in the middle of a dark lake when she asked, “Do you find me attractive?”

Back in the living room, Sally Softly still lay on the sofa beneath Roland Wise. Roland toiled away and she was thinking they still had another two positions to get through and wondered what was taking him so long, when the front doorbell rang.
Roland sighed, then quickly got up off her.
As Sally heard his sigh, it sounded to her like a sigh of relief. She looked up at Roland’s face to confirm this, and there it was—relief!
She got to her feet (Right—so he finds me so ugly, he can’t wait to get off me, does he?). She again imagined Roland and herself going through those three different positions in several rooms, but this time they did each position in two minutes, then moved on to the next. And in each room, there was a large stopwatch with two huge bells, and her one hand hovered over the watch, eager to re‑start it for the next position, while her other hand slapped Roland’s buttocks as a jockey’s whip tickles a horse’s behind—Faster, faster—and Roland was quivering as if about to collapse (—He wants to have a laugh on the golf course about me, does he?—well, let’s see him laugh about that).
With her smirk having triumphantly returned, she looked down, pulled her tracksuit this way and that, could not get it right, shrugged, left it as it was and went to answer the front door.
Roland stood beside the sofa, tugging at his chief‑constable’s uniform in a panic, attempting to push his shirt‑tails back into his trousers, zip up his flies, button his shirt and straighten his tie—all at the same time.
He noticed his uniform’s hat lying on the floor beside the sofa and realized Sally must have put her foot on it as she stood up, crushing its rim—almost as if in disrespect of the constabulary. He gasped in amazement, picked up the hat, and was about to straighten the rim when it popped back up of its own accord—as if the hat were inherently blind to any possible criticism of Roland’s superb constabulary.


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