A story about the small world of the individual.
Italics, in addition to its usual functions, denotes Yossarian’s stream of consciousness.
Microcosmographia Academia was better than he expected. Yossarian laughed as he dashed through the facsimiled pages of old-fashioned wit. The humour was impressive, it crossed the breadth of time from 1908 to 2019 with ease. Most people wouldn’t get it, a fault which could only be attributed to their lack of good taste. It was clear to him that stuffy men (and now women) in institutions all over the world were still adhering to the same egotistical nonsense, hence the robustness of the humour. He tossed the book down after the last page and checked his watch — time to get moving. Wash. Shave neck, just below the imaginary line above the adam’s apple. Dress, something simple. If I’m quick, I’ll have time to pick a book to take on the train.
The train was due out in nine minutes. Yossarian grabbed his wallet and keys and pocketed them, then automatically reached for his iPhone. He hesitated, and the wasted seconds went by. He decided to leave it, so he messaged Charlie to suggest that she ring the dentist and leave a message in case of a calamity. Like the old days. He rushed out the door and ran up the street with his hat jammed down hard on his head. The feeling of freedom induced by the absence of a back-lit screen had already set in, and he experienced a level of anonymity that had become foreign to him. As he boarded the train, he couldn’t remember the last time he had gone out without a phone since owning one. Maybe never. The familiar ride and the familiar strangers were not made new, but more interesting. He was now different from them by one extra degree, and he watched the other passengers from a further distance than usual. It was comfortable to disappear into the suburbs. He was just another man on another train in a city. He could be anyone now there was nothing that tied the position he occupied in spacetime to himself but his being, and that didn’t count because according to Apple he was still at home, missing his dentist appointment.
People think they’re the star of their own movie. Try to loosen your grip on the narrative and bleed into the puddle of the city. Imagine a drop of ink in water spreading like cigarette smoke into clean air. You’re not the centre, you’re fighting around the periphery and going nowhere most of the time. And when you go somewhere, it’s often the wrong ‘where’ — or it doesn’t matter.
He skipped his stop and got off at the next one, deciding to take a detour as he had caught an earlier connecting train when he changed. The station was cold to him, he expected it to be more familiar, but there was a distinct lack of nostalgia. He exited the concourse glancing around at what used to be one of his favourite places — the restaurant where we drank wine from latté glasses, looks different, probably a different owner. Best bruschetta pizza. He turned right and walked down the hill amongst the few remaining brick houses and the ubiquitous mid-century double story developments. The apartment he was looking for had the same blinds shut across the living room window that he remembered, but the bedroom hadn’t had blinds. They used to hang a blanket over the window. There were blinds on it now, but they matched the living room ones, he was suspicious of his memory, maybe the living room and the bedroom blinds are new, or perhaps the bedroom always had them? No, it couldn’t be, there was definitely a blanket hanging over the window in the bedroom. That was years ago now, everyone has moved on.
Ok… We turned right here last time, I followed this street. Yes, there’s those columns and that place with the overgrown veranda — cleaned it up a little though. Maybe they’re Greek. Either that or Italian, my bet is Greek. Probably owned the place for years. What’s that German word for a scene that provokes forlorn memories? Can’t remember that either… Where did I hear it? Youtube maybe. I can’t wait for a drink. Sitting on that wall outside that apartment, smoking and drinking then going back inside. It was good, but it was crazy. Crazy and good. Too much. The leafy road rolled up and down the curved sweep of the earth. He walked quickly, enjoying the feel of the broken and patched concrete path under his feet, there was a gentle left-hand camber in the course of the road. He used to think this place felt like home and it still did, once he had adjusted to the small changes. The land was familiar, and there were beautiful old trees. The leafy quasi-planned streets were the right kind of quiet, which imbued a surprising tranquillity in a busy, expensive city.
The apartment block that stuck out of the top of the hill had been repainted. Excalibur! It looked like a challenge left by a housing developer, built with the knowledge that someone would knock it down before it was due and put up a bigger one, as long as they had the right politician to cross the f’s and dot the lower case j’s. More people, always more people. Build, and you can’t lose because wanting less people is regressive — no one can stop you. Omnipotent, omnipresent, lord of all beasts of the earth, birds of the sky and fishes of the sea — the property developer. It rose out of the hill like a millennial businessman’s sword in the stone. Ready to be removed by a ‘successful’ youngster from the current generation. He had once enquired about an inspection for the top floor single-bed apartment — $300 a week at the time, not bad. City views. He had been fired that week, so nothing came of it. Worked out better anyway. He was lucky, if he hadn’t been fired, he would have missed so many good (and maybe bad) things, but what would’ve happened instead? I’d be on more money, probably stuck with the job for a while before moving on to a better one with a decent reference. Got fat and weak, wouldn’t have had time for boxing. Perhaps an unoriginal suicide from the balcony with the view that’s worth a fortune.
I can’t taste the gloves. Mmmmm… What a beautiful neck. She should go easy on the bloody makeup. We’re probably the same age. I fucked it up, she didn’t. Wouldn’t trade places, though. She’s pretty good at this, can barely feel a thing. Bbbuuuzzz, slurp, suck, BRIGHT LIGHT. Where do they get these shitty glasses? It’s like there’s a section devoted to shit sunglasses in the dental supplier’s inventory. If I were a dentist, I’d have Ray Bans for the customer. Not like they’re short on cash. Might as well make it cool. Pass the cost on, everyone that can afford this place has a health fund anyway. That would be hilarious. Fucking squares — have some fun! Bet she’s got a mortgage. This dentist practice is the only thing that I’ve kept through all the shifts in my life. No ring though, but would you wear it under the glove? When she asks about flossing, I’ll lie, can’t be bothered. Might get some beer to take home — hopefully I can find an English bitter. Avoid the old bookshop though, already got three today in the mail. I wonder if I could get away with this stoned. Need to piss. She’s good at this, not like that big ape with the robo-arms that worked on my mouth last time. Nice bloke though. I wonder if she’s as dull as her job? Very careful, probably makes prudent decisions. Leave them to it, these people keep society together. Salt of the earth and what not.
The fluoride taste was almost gone, although the recommended thirty minutes before any food or drink had not elapsed. Uncivilised. Yossarian wished fluoride had never existed in the first place as the Frenchman behind the deli counter handed him a piece of cured sausage flavoured with pepper and wine for him to try. Ruins it! He hadn’t expected or needed him to offer a bit to taste, but he was glad. The salty, red, fatted meat dissolved in his saliva while his teeth contributed very little to the effort. Red or white wine? He nodded to give his discerning assent and confirmed he would like one hundred grams. The man worked slowly. Yossarian admired the impenetrable dignity of this slight, neat, bespectacled man in the natural elegance of his business. The air had the gentle stink of moulds, rinds, salt and fat. Jesus, I’d buy the whole shop if I could, I’d eat here every day for the rest of my damn life. No wonder they’re Catholic, this stuff would make me believe in god too.
There was an ad taped to the counter for a jazz quartet performing in the shop that Sunday. He tried to think of a way this place could be any better. Maybe if they gave him whatever he wanted free of charge? No, he’d rather pay so that Monsieur could continue god’s work. No, it is impossible. This is the perfect deli. The ultimate, where men find meaning. The Frenchman wrapped a large chunk of pork terrine, sausage and a significant wedge of cheese (from a blend of yew’s and cow’s milk) in butcher’s paper illustrated with a colourful caricature of a Frenchman and deposited it all in a neatly folded brown paper bag. Yossarian paid with his debit card. He thanked him, radiating gratitude and admiration. The Frenchman nodded his affirmation of the obvious. Yossarian left the cradle of civilisation and walked down the street with a six-pack of dark ale under his arm, contemplating the incredible gastronomic achievements of the French and the soft grey of the approaching dusk.
I’m going to have a lush night tonight. Start on the beer, wine when Charlies gets in.
The train home was so full there was hardly room to get on. Yossarian had grown to hate peak hour trains despite a conscious effort to regard metropolitan mismanagement and civic incompetence as trivial. Get in — standby mode. Don’t watch them all scrolling their lives away. He sweated through the journey in the sticky steel carriage through an effort of will akin to what he imagined is endured by a defence lawyer representing a murderer. He kept his hat on despite his disdain for doing so indoors, and he found some relief in that the glare of the overhead lights was abated by the dipped brim of fur felt. He occupied himself by playing a game with the four-digit carriage number, as it was too difficult to hold his book and his belongings. The object was to make twenty out of the four digits, using each number only once and with simple operations. Exercise the mind instead of the thumb.
The dogs barked and scraped at the door when he arrived home. There was one message on his phone that he didn’t need to acknowledge, and he sent one to Charlie. Damn phone, can’t help it.
Load fridge. Yes dogs, pat pat pat. Feed them.
Done. Stack Dishwasher. Damn the rest.
Eat, beer. Thank god for leftovers. Don’t forget to take the deli stuff out of the fridge at around 1900.
Shortly afterwards he set up his desk and watched the flame that wasn’t touching the foot of his cigar, toast it into combustion. Think of the countless millions that will never have a day out like this. He drew on the sharp, good smoke and had a hit of his beer, then his whisky. The tension of the journey home and the rush he always felt to get everything done and begin leisure time uncoiled. He looked out into the darkening evening, he imagined the stars were fighting to emerge against the pollution. The air was cold but still stuffy from the day, the rosy cleanliness of dawn’s ancient fingers was still a long way off, and the thickness of the city air was palpable because of his memory of so many early mornings.
The day had been a success, it had begun with Microcosmographia Academia and ended with all the possibilities of an evening alone. It was good because it had gone by steadily, uninterrupted by the rest of the world. He uncapped his pen and began to write.