Just A Note
There was a joke doing the rounds back when I was a kid. I was sturdy and tall with the right tags on my sports bag and my compulsory school tie recklessly over-tightened, because that’s how we identified as being trend-setters not yet beaten into conformity. There were always jokes and laughter, but after a while the jokes ceased to be funny. Instead, they became nothing more than a call and response pattern of words, like a password to popularity that you made sure to remember so you didn’t get a flushy. The mob wouldn’t have given me a flushy; I had too much physical presence for that, even back then. What they would have done was jeer, and lose their ‘spect. That was what we lived in fear of then, all of us wannabe popularizos. Losing the ‘spect would have meant slipping down the rungs of the mob hierarchy, and the further down the ladder you were the closer you got to the unwashed cretins, the speccies and the fatties and the slags and the swats. The ones who risked flushies on a weekly or daily basis. Spend too much time with them and you got germs by association.
“Why have elephants got Big Ears?” was the call.
“Because Noddy won’t pay the ransom,” the response. This became distorted and corrupted through familiarity over time, as many jokes and passwords did, until the call was almost unrecognisable. It was another subtle test, to assess intelligence in addition to cred. “Why do pachyderms have over-sized auditory equipment?”
“’Cause dat Noddy ain’t got no bread.” Or words to that effect.
For those of you who require further explanation — those of you too young to party when it was 1999 — Big Ears was the spitefully accurate name of an elf in a Enid Blyton’s book for kids, Noddy his companion. Ms Blyton also wrote cheerfully about Golliwogs, presumably never having ventured out of white suburbia. That’s just reminded me of another charming childhood tradition, played upon the out of favour or the fallen popularizos: being pushed down into the mud until it smeared across your face was known as being ‘Gollied’, no matter what colour you were to start with. Aren’t kids sweet?
I realise the above paragraphs may seem disjointed and even irrelephant, but I make no apology for this. I write as I think, after 74 hours and 37 minutes with no sleep. In just ten minutes’ time those numbers will reflect each other and this will be a more symmetrical story. 74 reflecting 47. Put them together and you have a palindrome. Add them together and you have 22, another palindrome and, coincidentally, the age of my daughter. My youngest daughter, my only daughter, my little girl. Coincidental? Ha. There’s no such thing.
Call: “I don’t believe in coincidence.”
Response: “There’s a coincidence!- Neither do I!”
School was a regular laugh riot. None of it’s funny anymore.
Anyway, palindrome number two, number twenty-two, cock-a-doodle-do. My master’s lost his diddling stick and knows not what to do. Two little ducks went swimming one day, over the hills and far away. How the fuck did they get over the hills? Do rivers flow upstream now? (Mental note: the flow of the river might be important.)
The police divers are swimming now, but not over hills and not far away. Or are they? Perhaps they’re just walking on the riverbed, weighted down by equipment or lead shoes or something. It must be strange to walk underwater, moon-like. The reflection of the moon is on the water, but it is no longer full like it was before. My fried mind is firing songs at me now, free associating. Walking on the moon. And — prepare to ROFL — that was a song by The Police. Just another reflection, art imitating life, the sincerest form of flattery. Just another co-inky-dink. Inky like the water at 2 a.m. in the silence, until the silky splash.
Those divers are wasting their time, of course. No need to look under there. They’d be better off indoors, where it’s warm and dry and a man has a chance at sleeping instead of pacing, retracing, about-facing. They’d be better off waiting for the ransom note. Do they still arrive by Royal Mail, I wonder? First or Second Class picture of the Queen? Do they know how long the post takes these days, these people who put others’ lives on hold while they are keeping loved ones in lock-up garages, remote barns or secret attic rooms; heavy, metal padlocks sealing heavy, wooden doors? My daughter likes heavy metal music, definitely not The Doors.
Wow! That was scary. I almost wrote ‘liked’ then, but it can’t be the past tense, mustn’t be. No Sleep till the Brooklyn Bridge Over Troubled Water, an easy mistake-ah to make-ah. I can forgive myself a few mistakes after this long with no sleep, right? Right. So long as I didn’t already.
What was I saying? Oh yes, snail mail. Do ransomers use email? They could change the font of each letter, it would save a lot of time and destroy a lot less magazines. Fewer, I should say. Fewer magazines, because physical magazines are countable and quantifyable. Perhaps that means the same thing. I’m getting confused by my own grammar, tripping myself up with my own words, and that really won’t do. I’m an editor, a craftsman, and it’s ridiculous that I should be struggling over these trivialities. Put it down to lack of sleep. Less sleep, fewer magazines. That’s right. I started losing sleep last year, when my girl was in the magazines. That was the first time I saw her the way other men must see her. I was revolted. I kept every copy I could find in a large, leather trunk, and locked it at the bottom of my bed. After eight months, it was full. (Mental note: I must get rid of the rest of the magazines. Don’t trust the bin men.)
The apple of my eye became the thorn in my side, and I should avoid cliches like the plague. Three biblical references for the price of one. I edited the magazines you started to appear in. You were everywhere. Your beautiful smile was there for everyone to see for the price of a pack of cigarettes. I remember the first time you smiled just for me, when you were a baby rather than a babe. Your innocent face, corrupted and distorted and made ugly by availability. There was no escaping you.
Who would write my story, if not me? Who shaves the barber? Emails are traceable. I.P. addresses and all sorts. Liquorice Allsorts. I can taste liquorice. Envelopes are also traceable now though, with modern tech. Traces of D.N.A. can be removed from the saliva behind the stamp. When we were kids, we said we’d spat on the Queen. If challenged, we’d show them the letter or postcard. Losers. Perhaps that is why we are still waiting for a note. Maybe the kidnappers are scared of being caught because they don’t know how to communicate their wishes. They should have thought it through before taking my girl. I have told the police these reasons. Yet still, they swim.
There must be a way to communicate with these policemen anonymously. There must be a way to avoid being traced. I just can’t think of it right now. I’m distracted by the thought of them searching the river. In The Rivers of Babylon. Another biblical reference, another song she hated. By The River, not In. My mistake. She’s not in the river, I’m certain of it. I don’t know why they’re insisting on looking. They’ll keep me informed of any developments.
I’m scared. I saw my father’s face in my bathroom mirror this morning. On reflection, I look like him. How did he get here, inside my body? He has moulded my face like a careless sculptor, leaving tool marks around my eyes and mouth. My chin has darkened with stubble and my hair, which was once a glossy black, now looks like a costumer’s wig resting on a high shelf that nobody dusts. I’m older than I thought. Contrast this with what my daughter stood for: youth, beauty, freedom. Innocent, deadly naivety. My poor girl. She reminded me of what it was to be young, to dance to her music and be affected by it. I was touched, actually, that she would go out with her old man.
My father’s face in the mirror looked pale except for the eyes. It reminded me of my face in the water three nights ago, and the face of the moon, and that silky splash. I suppose I can’t escape being my father’s son in the same way my daughter couldn’t escape me. Blood is thicker, of course. Perhaps I should avoid reflections from now on, to avoid being distracted. I need to concentrate on writing that note, and how to send it without being traced. Perhaps a message in a bottle, bobbing along the surface of the water, floating downstream. Floating away.
I need to get them away from the river, before they find the trunk.
“What do elephants do before they go on holiday?”
“They pack their trunks.”
Don’t ask me what is in my trunk.
I’m trying not to think about it.