One-Trick Chevalier

June 30, 2010

“Au fond, dit-elle rêveusement, je me demande si ce n’est pas toi que j’ai le plus haï.

Elle fait un effort sur elle-même, se reprend et sourit, les joues encore enflammées. Elle est très belle.”[1]

From La Nausée by Jean-Paul Sartre 


[1] “Deep down,” she says as though in a dream, “I ask myself whether it isn’t you I hate most of all.”

She makes an effort to master herself and smiles, her cheeks still enflamed. She is very beautiful.

***

After twenty-three and a half years in school across three continents, and nearly five further years in invaluable learning-experiences for which he was not paid, and the equivalent of two mortgages on his parents’ house in student loans, Robert Julius George Geoffreys-Carmichael carried himself, and a square-metre’s mortgage in business-casual, over the threshold of a house that had no furniture in it, on a quiet street in Outer North-By-Northeastern New Plimpton/Kuanangaltinga Downs, Greater Extra-Municipalital Designation. With the combined excitement of finally being a real, paid professional in a respected field in the community, and an authentic human being with a home, indirectly, of his very own, and with the ever-present need to start paying at least some of the interest of the aforementioned loans for himself always loitering on the shadowy edges of neurosis, Robert said the words he had longed all that time to say to himself, Now I am an adult.

And tonight, he thought, And tonight a man.

He was, however, an adult with responsibilities, over and above even those he thought of as having a purely definitional function for anyone he could respect as an adult, and so he stepped right back over that threshold, no time even to turn, and walked, no strode, right on over to his professionally black and responsibly shaped car, that is to say a slightly larger than average but not ostentatiously so sedan, and left two truckloads of removalists to attend to their business. He could not afford to be late, nor indeed could the employer who was relying on him afford him to be late, to his first day at work, since he was, in point of fact, the best, and the only, counter-child-marketing specialist operating in Outer North-By-Northeastern New Plimpton/Kuanangaltinga Downs, Greater Extra-Municipalital Designation.

After twenty-eight and a half years of the finest training money can stand, Robert was indeed the consummate professional. He consummated this professionalism by mentally reviewing the case-notes of his first clients’ child as he drove down the aimless, suddenly silent with emptiness streets of a quarter-to-nine suburb. She had just turned four, just the age at which it was recommended by all reputable medical authorities for parents to begin precautionary measures for their child’s acclimatation and securitisation to the media environment of the twenty-first century. Angela was blessed with responsible parents, responsible not to let their child drift into the onrushing torrent of a dangerously fast-paced consumer world before she was ready, and with the more than respectable means to implement that responsibility.

In his mind he reviewed her psychiatric history. She had been born with a genetic predisposition, he noted, to the intuitive-type characteristics typical of her gender, which would put her at an acute risk of marketing strategies K, L, and Z3. To K and L he gave only the briefest of thoughts, the first series marketing strategies, which relied on the direct in-feed of informational content by audio-visual media, were easily vaccinated against by a full-program of lithio-polymer pharmaceuticals he would prescribe as a matter of course.

The lithio-polymers were the cornerstone of his profession, the foundation on which the professional car, the waiting job and the house with no furniture in it were built. This cornerstone unfortunately belonged to a class of proscribed narcotics under the Second Extension to the United Nations Charter of Citizens’ Rights, which was why their use was illegal even for quote-unquote consenting adults, though they were nevertheless controversially permitted for the protection of minors, and which was also why the last ninety seconds of Robert’s drive to work was a tense, five-kilometre per hour, rolling trepidation through five hundred police agents provocateurs, who were keeping a solitary authentic protester company, left over as he was from the previous century and by now too senile to realise he was totally alone.

But what to do about about Z3, was the rhetorical question Robert had been taught to begin his analyses with during the first semester of the second year of his masters-by-coursework program in counter-psycholigical methodologies.

Robert passed beyond the gates of the Happy Fun Child Safety Ltd. compound, and parked his car in a company garage that had been cleverly disguised as a military bunker. He breathed deeply as he took the elevator up to his third-floor office, the feeling of, Now I am an adult, again settling flatteringly on his lungs, and appeared serenely prepared as he stepped out into the waiting gaze of his receptionist. Your nine o’Clock is already in your office Dr. Geoffreys-Carmichael, she informed him, to which he checked his watch and smiled back at her with radiant eight-fifty-seven confidence, Thank you Miss White.

He stepped into his office and made himself look pleasantly surprised to see two customers and a commidity. Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Harvington-Groen, he said before squatting down onto the low-level where he continued, And this must be young Ms. Harvington-Groen, to which the response was a giggle and a slightly shrieked, Hello. Robert got back up and fixed his attention, as it rightly belonged, right back onto the responsible parties, and strode into his Swedish, high-backed office chair as gracefully as if he had done so every morning since Outer North-By-Northeastern New Plimpton/Kuanangaltinga Downs, Greater Extra-Municipalital Designation woke slowly into existence.

After some timid greetings and a declined cup of coffee, twenty-eight and a half years of education gave its well-rehearsed analysis of the Harvington-Groen’s daughter and put it on a standard course of lithio-polymers. A little show of trepidation passed across the Harvington-Groens’ faces, but they accepted the prescription without protest. They had known when they booked the consultation what Robert’s services were, and any second thoughts were by then old memories.

Then came the more difficult stage, What, after all, Robert asked himself yet again, was to be done with Z3.

Z3 is a marketing strategy that relies on the use of finely-targeted socio-olfactory trigerring stimuli to manipulate consumer behaviour, he explained to two blank and trusting stares, and to a smaller one that was waiting for him to do a trick. One approach would obviously be to scorch Angela’s sense of smell entirely, Robert continued as he layed out a series of Byzantine flow-charts of some tenuous relation to the subject, and an even more tenuous relation to the English language, But the procedure is an expensive one, and due to its complexity, combined with high-levels of government-regulation, waiting lists are long, and the most effective treatments often may not be performed.

Now that he had softened them up with this openning gambit came the sales-pitch, I know that it may seem a drastic step to take, but there is an alternative, he reached for another form, just a single form culminating in the refreshing clarity of a single blank space for a customer signature, Z3 can be as much as ninety-five percent neutralised by a careful process of immersive-conditioning. A voice, bewildered and befuddled and bowdlerised, stuttered back the word immersive-conditioning in the form of a question. It’s a very costly process, but I feel it’s the most appropriate one. Over the course of one full-media cycle, approximately a year, perhaps more, a trained practitioner, I myself, or I can call someone from the central agency, will follow your daughter to help her correctly interpret her environment and to filter out the negative influences that have been woven into it by the unscrupulous. Little Angela is entering a critical period in her development, he told them, Between the ages of four and six is when many children learn fundamental consumer behaviours, and if these are not conditioned correctly the consequences can be, and then a trail of silence as Robert glanced momentarily, for a fraction of a second, subliminally, out of the window that not accidentally overlooked Outer South-By-Southwestern New Plimpton/Kuanangaltinga Downs, Greater Extra-Municipalital Designation, where his business had a notable zero clients. From the way that the Harvington-Groens were at once transfixed by and refused to look at what was out that window Robert knew that he had sealed his first major contract, and from that moment to the trembled scrawling of a Groen signature across the bottom of the form, the interview took on a purely formal character.

And in that same instant, throughout the entirety of that instant, that long, quiet, eternal instant that stretched out for hours from the morning in the empty house, the first drop fell into a well of rage out beneath that window.

***

You can do this, he told himself, because he always became two people when he was nervous, and it was the incompetent one who would inevitably be doing the work, You’re an adult now, you’re supposed to be here.

She sat with her almost gaunt shoulders hunched over in the darkest corner of the restaurant. Robert never understood how or why, but whenever he went to meet her anywhere that’s where she always was, even if she was outside on a well-lit street. For a moment his heart warmed with love, before falling ten-stories through his melting lungs. He sat down across from her unable to still his shaking hand.

Hi, came the almost silent whisper, which was indeed not a whisper, no matter how much Robert willed his mind to think of it as such and refused to consider any alternative, but it was in point of fact a grunt, a feeble grunt, but a grunt no less, of real, true, physical exhaustion. No words followed, and slowly the silence dragged Robert’s attention from the catastrophic structural damage in his chest cavity and onto the task of thinking of something to say. His mind rifled through the assorted detritus of its idle thoughts and found in it so many fragments of the feeling of triumph from earlier that day that it could not resist expelling the words, How was your day.

My day, the words this time coming like the tired wind on a desert mountain.

She had in her life amassed twenty-six years of high-quality education, in what proportions she no longer cared to recall, likewise in counter-child psychology. The two had in fact met during a seminar on the counterveiling epistemic foundations of post-industrial inhibitory statistical analysis in the latter days of their training, and grew to know one another quite well, as all their old friends left to pursue apparently meaningful careers, and they remained literally the only people enrolled in that absurd program. She, however, of all absurdities, had landed herself, almost as though wilfully, perish the thought, in work little better, and in the long-run even perhaps more damaging, than an unpaid internship. Community Programs. To think of her in that place, in Outer South-By-Southwestern New Plimpton/Kuanangaltinga Downs, Greater Extra-Municipalital Designation, actually there, actually, physically there, was almost too much bear, and as Robert thought of it the bile from his stomach shot up like a geyser through the column of air where his heart had fallen. And that, he realised, is where the life in her voice went, battered and broken in a stampede of sheep, and there it stayed, not here with him.

She smiled and almost laughed at the transparent way in which his eyes glazed over and reflected his gaze back into his own mind as she stayed silent, practically begging, she could tell, to answer his question himself. Did you get a Z3 contract with the Harvington-Groens, she asked.

All thoughts dashed from the path of the triumphant detritus. He began to tell the story in the most casual and off-hand manner he could summon, which, she thought, must have been how he told his parents what he wanted for his birthday when he was little. It had been going a full quarter of an hour before it got to the K and L prescriptions, when she asked, So you just put her on the lithio-polymers, to which the answer came, What other course is there. And to that a laugh and the words, Not everyone can afford nanotech drugs, you know, at which with indignity and taken-abackishness the words, Well, I’m not interested in everyone now am I, No that’s not what I meant, I mean the most important thing is, I mean the most important thing to me, I mean I have to focus on doing my job and in that the most important thing is the customer and their circumstances, and, and, and, and this could have gone on for a while had not a slow calm interjection, too quiet to be an interjection at all, had it not stopped the freight-train of terms, It’s not the words that I get angry about.

Not this again, the thought rushed around in Robert’s head before the force compelled him to lower it into the wearied support of his hand, I’ve grown out of this argument, we’ve grown out of it.

We shouldn’t argue about this, he announced maturely, a declaration that was met with a raised eyebrow and a bemused, Um, okay, what else are we going to do then. Silence. I mean we don’t really do anything other than arguing, but if you want to suggest something new you’re more than welcome. I just meant, yes, I just, never mind, a pause, and then with an amused smile she ended on, okay.

Jesus fucking Christ, Robert thought as everything his day had been building up to stood over the bile soaked chasm in his chest and took a deathdive. And in that moment of total frustration he was ready to hate her, to fight her, to scream at her, to leave, but at bottom he could not be angry with her, he loved her too much.

He closed his eyes and let the world spin. He fell through that cavity along with all his heart and bile and let the vertigo clear everything out of his mind. It became silly, everything became silly, and then all the checks and frustrations cleared out and the world became an empty house on a street in Outer North-By-Northeastern New Plimpton/Kuanangaltinga Downs, Greater Extra-Municipalital Designation. He stepped over the threshold and walked slowly down the corridor leading into the stylish open-living area at the centre of his home, where a flat-screen television took up a single square-metre of the floor in the very middle of the room, and an agent provocateur boomed, Try new Ideology™, guaranteed safe and non-addictive, it will fill up every available space of your life with childish pipe-dreams instead of actual property, and make you and your whole family see ghosts and monsters in the random and inevitable of shape of the way things are.

Enough is enough, said Robert, with those words punctuating his entire life. This has gone too far.

Robert could not see the silent rage he was talking directly at.

We have to be realistic, everyone has to be realistic. You have to stop beating your head against those bleating sheep, Those what, Those useless, lazy, and here a gesture of indignity in place of a word he did not know, Look what it’s doing to you, Look what it’s doing to us, at this point the word us echoing back unnoticed in the form of a question, We can’t keep on like this, we can’t, you’re exhausted, you’ve barely started working there and you’re already wasting away. And for what, do you think you’ll save any of them, you, where so many great psychologists have failed. Even if, and you know as well as I that it’s an extreme if, you can find mass-therapeutic counter-measures for the first series marketing strategies, you still won’t have freed any of them, not a single one, even in that one little hell-hole of a suburb you insist on wasting yourself in. The marketers have a half a dozen counter-measures and subtler layers of influence even in the most isolated paddock you can find. And that’s just the ones you know of. You’ll never win, Listen to me, You can’t win.

As Robert finished he realised he had risen half way out of his chair, he could even see where a tiny bit of spittle had landed on her cheek, the closest, he realised crushingly, that he had ever come to a kiss. After all that he slumped back into his chair wasted and afraid and mumbling, I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. In contrast, she had started out impassive like a gargoyle, and finished, without visibly so much as twitching the slightest muscle, as indifferent as a hurricane.

And as though she had been hatefully certain of the effect that it would have, she rose with only the words, Goodbye Robert, and the entirety of him imploded into his internal chasm.

He sat staring at the place where she had been, going sour like rotting milk, the taste of bitter almonds rising in his mouth, he sat like that for a minute, an hour, a year, and the clocks rotted and fell apart, and everywhere it was a quarter-to-nine in Outer North-By-Northeastern New Plimpton/Kuanangaltinga Downs, Greater Extra-Municipalital Designation.

And later, he could no longer understand when, but much, much later, he said to himself, I should have left too.

One Response to “One-Trick Chevalier”

  1. Dear Internet,

    In memory of José Saramago, of whose existence I became tragi-fortuitously aware because his death was reported on the Wikipedia front-page last week, this week’s entry has been written in my attempt to imitate his style of prose.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Saramago

    PAK

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