The chasm of silence that followed my ill-thought-out response had convinced me the voices were hatching as brutal an end for me as they could possibly conceive of. Again, I reflected: if I recall key stage two Science correctly, the Big Bang refers to a large ‘explosion’ that constituted the birth of the universe. Conversely, Creation indicates an act of God and the proffered 7 days it took to ‘build’ the Earth and inhabit it. I would have to clarify which they were referring to, exclusively, to avoid any future confusion and/or miscommunication. It would not make for a very happy workplace and we all know what conflicting dogmas tend to result in.
“Our new employers will be arriving soon,”; the first voice again, “we’ve been briefed-“
“Thanks to you”; Gambon.
Number One resumed his monotonous tones: “Even we have certain business courtesies to observe; due diligence if you will. It isn’t good practice to move in on investment before the previous administration has relinquished full control.”
Quite what ‘business’ they were talking about I had no idea, nor did I have any idea how I figured in their corporate structure. Heeding my lessons in waiting for cues, I bit my tongue and retained my silence. I can only imagine how constipated I looked.
“We couldn’t have done it without you – you see, it’s your memory which holds us; binds us and bound us,” chirped Helena, beginning to sound decidedly uppity. Gambon stepped in like a pace car on a wet Formula One track,
“And all this time… all you needed to do,” beat “was forget.” Another lengthy silence ensued, as beads of agitated sweat gathered on my brow like a growing flash-mob. I took a chance:
“What am I supposed to have for/gotten?”
“/How many hours we spent,” interrupted Sir Consonant, “trying to progress – help you move beyond that world, change it, shape it and reinvent it-“
“-Through a phenomenological education,” confirmed McMelancholy. Helena thus concluded: “When all you needed to do was forget.”
With that a deep and distance rumble redirected my attention, as it approached from (seemingly) all angles. If a white room with no waypoints could spin, that is exactly what it would have done. Black dots appeared at various points in the distance; below, and surrounding, the dots dilated and took shape, melting from spherical blemishes into polygons depicting all manner of shapes. They grew to reveal further dimensions, and hurried towards me as the rumble grew to a deafening quake. Taking formation like ranks of platoons, the objects – to which the blemishes had now graduated – skirted my immediate left and right, with unending space stretching in front and behind me; the shapes and their depth in dimension began secreting characteristics noticeable in any modern High Street – windows sunk into the polygon’s faces; doors cut holes in metamorphosing surfaces, as the familiar complexion of brick work and concrete surfacing fizzed and burned into being. Colours refracted and danced to form sprites of people, darting and meandering up and down the newly laid pavements. I literally had to dive to my left as a moulding globule of metal screamed past me, blearing its horn and emanating a shriek of Get out of the road you fucking looney!.
I took in the scene. The sun beat down on the busy parade as the cacophony of noise reached midday rush hour. My weight supported by a concrete pavement that had materialised underfoot – my attention was elsewhere – I took a step forward, half expecting to sink beneath its skin as though stepping into the deep end of a swimming pool. The hard surface jolted my ankle, as my other leg swiftly followed in a walking motion. I repeated. And repeated. If ever a tourist were obvious…
A hundred yards or so down the parade, I stopped in my tracks, my gaze transfixed by an anomaly in the foreground. The wandering shoppers I’d been scrutinizing for signs of fabrication once again blurred into sprites of colour, as my attention transcended the parade and fixed on a motionless figure, surrounded by five others; a gaggle of black clothed ‘corporate looking’ types.
It was like being in Back to the Future, minus a crazy doctor and Biff the hapless tyrant – so far as I could see. The figure whom I’d singled out, stationary and staring at a large ministerial building towering above him – that same figure who’d managed to siphon my attention and turn all those around me into the passing landscape one might see when on a train, bleary eyed and bleary minded – that silhouette in the foreground and yet at such a distance…was me.
The lightning enters the flux capacitor. 1955 Marty gets sent back to 1985. Doc dances with delight because the experiment was successful.
Doc: Yoo! It works! Ha, ha, ha!
And then he turns to the Courthouse. After looking at it, he turns to his car – and 1985 Marty (the one we’ve been following through this film) comes running up to him.
Marty: Doc! Doc! Doc!
Doc turns and sees Marty.
Doc: Argh! A ghost!
Marty: OK, relax Doc, it’s me, it’s me, it’s Marty!
Doc: No it can’t be you…I just sent you back to the future!
Marty: I know, you did send me back to the future, but I’m back, I’m back from the future!
Doc: Great Scott!
He faints, and Marty bends down to tend to him.
(Back to the Future II, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, 1985)
Obviously I had to follow; that’s a given. Using all the subtlety I could muster – recalling the various Robert Ludlum novels I’d consumed in filling particularly tedious travelling itineraries – I circumnavigated the blindside of ‘my’ gaze, transfixed as it was on the Whitehall-esque structure. Directly across the street I stopped and, leaning (in)conspicuously against a litter bin, I bore a hole in the back of ‘my’ head. Sheer bewilderment had thus far ensured I had no ‘next step’ planned; curiosity was King at this moment in time. Future-me (I’m going with the Back to the Future theme; familiarity in absurdity may offer some vestige of psychotic solace) broke his stillness, his neck twisting first to the right and then to the left, as though checking the coast was clear. I hardly concerned myself with the mere fact that, mouth agape, I could be discovered at any time.
Future-me’s head slowly dropped until his gaze – I presumed – fell onto the pavement. By this point I’d been staring for three or four minutes straight and I could feel my eyes shrinking like prunes as they dehydrated. I allowed myself to blink – a fraction of a second; if a blink could be measured, I’m sure I’d have set some sort of Olympic record. Newly hydrated, my eyes focussed again on the back of Future-me’s head, as it had begun to rise. I followed attentively not noticing my gaze had been fixated on the tree in whose wood I had totally disregarded, so to speak: the towering white-granite ministry, with its ‘caryatids, columns, balustrades, plinths, brackets, metropes’ (Calvino, I. If on a winter’s night a traveller, 1998: 244) had disappeared. Vanished into thin air; a void of milk white, rolling into blue sky, now in its place.
Passersby strolled past utterly unnerved; ignorant? My jaw had dropped another foot. I allowed my eyes another blink, convinced that this was naturally a side effect of dehydration. But the void remained. I returned my glance to Future-me who, true to form, no longer stood where I had momentarily left him.
Breaking with any attempt at clandestine operation, I jolted left and right, searching over the heads of the painted mannequins for myself. After a minute or two of ducking and weaving through consumer traffic, I settled once more on the figure ahead of me, strolling absent-mindedly down the middle of the road. I hadn’t consciously appraised yet what my subconscious had since registered: a number of other voids had opened up on either side of the road, presumably the erstwhile resting place of several other ministry buildings. Keeping to the blind spot of Future-me’s field of view, I continued to flank the left pavement, negotiating the traffic with one eye and awaiting the next impossibility with the other.
I would not have to wait long. As though taking it in his stride, Future-me exercised a series of elongated blinks, with accompanying slight nods of his head. What would disintegrate next? Which part of the Prospect was to feel the wrath of Future-me’s unmitigated scenic cleansing?
I searched the buildings and shops and street-littering structures for things that no longer stood; only now do I realise the foolishness in my searching for a void that was no longer missed on account of, apparently, its never having existed. At least to the Parade’s populous’ mind. Would I even notice the disappearances? True, I had witnessed the ministries vacation, but who’s to say that wasn’t merely a blip in an otherwise perfect system of erasure?
As these erratic thoughts tumbled like autumn leaves from a bearing tree; as my eyes bobbed and weaved to retain Future-me in my sights; as my body autonomously navigated the bustling parade…my subconscious pricked at my attention, willing me to notice that which I had not. As the realisation dawned, the listing of absences came forth:
First those people, whom I attributed a certain – perhaps inherent – superiority to myself, popped and vanished like bubbles on the carpet. Second, those whom I had barely noticed were it not for the fact that I disliked not noticing anything, where it inferred on me some false sense of ‘superiority’: namely my ‘inferiors’. They fizzed and melted into the ground, eaten up by the apparently porous boulevard.
Next to vanish were those I’d had no chance to mark with familiarity; strangers towards whom I had no points of reference and feelings neither positive nor negative. By this point I had stopped outside on old red telephone box, splaying my attention in every which direction, awaiting the next victim with something approaching exasperated fear.
Soon to follow, a rather oddly particular group: those women whose wavy and rich brunette hair and penchant for summer dresses – whatever the season – I may mistake for Mel – increasing the chances, one would assume, that I may identify her at distance and affect a fortuitous meeting.
For such meetings I often crave, as our familiarity teeters on the edges of something significant, or altogether irrelevant – though pleasant enough. Our relationship (if it could be termed as such) seemed to me a perfectly balanced see-saw, in which no motion towards a gravitational meeting – one sliding to the other – is physically possible.
While musing the convenience of this last disappearance, I hardly noticed, though half expected, the following extinctions:
Young men whom I otherwise may have had to lock horns with for Mel’s affections exploded in shrieks of giddy excitement; the ministries’ ‘division chiefs, their director-generals, their vice-inspectors, their acting heads, their permanent and temporary staff’ went next, because their existence seemed ‘damaging or superfluous to the harmony of the whole’ (ibid: 246) on account of their function no longer existing, I presume; ‘droves of employees’, exiting their grey offices, buttoning up grey overcoats and exacting their grey walk below a grey frown vanish – even those who have managed to board buses and other such public transport cannot escape; the sparse ‘wasteland’ that now stretches in front of me is curiously without transport now, as cars, vans, buses and trams bite the dust; barracks, guard houses, police stations, all manner of public services, fires, garbage, mail, postmen, street cleaners, hospitals, clinics, rest homes, doctors, nurses, patients, courts, magistrates, lawyers, defendants, injured parties, prisons, prisoners, guards, universities, faculty, academy of sciences, letters, arts, museums, libraries, monuments, curators, theatres, movies, televisions, newspapers, culture, economic structures, shops with their display windows of goods, counters, shelves, salesgirls, cashiers, floorwalkers, shopping carts, customers, industry (light and heavy), raw materials, sources of energy, agriculture, hunting and fishing, Nature…(ibid: 246-247)
Mesmerised, I behold the sight – a lack there of – that expands in all directions: ‘A layer of the earth’s crust is all that…remains, solid enough underfoot, and everywhere else, nothingness.’ (ibid: 246-247)
Calvino, I. (1998) If on a winter’s night a traveller, Vintage, London