First published in Suma Lima Issue 2
I’ve always had quite bad posture. I think it stems from growing up in a house with angles ceilings, causing me to stoop on my way to and from bed, to avoid bashing my head. I saw a silver lining for this as I got older though, as I the stoop often caused me to discover money that had been dropped on the streets, totalling hundreds of pounds of the course of a few years. I felt pretty blessed with good fortune.
But it dried, as luck tends to. I found myself kicking receipts, food wrappers, shopping lists, but no cash was forthcoming. I began to imagine that I’d done something to displease lady luck and so started searching for clues as to what this may be.
It wasn’t until I scuffed a piece of paper that had the shape and colour of a fiver that I really felt like I was getting to the bottom of my luck lack, as it was embossed with the logo “Paperchase.”
I took the rumpled sheet back to my flat and smoothed it out on my kitchen table, and let the neurons fire and brain electricity synchronise, and it settling into the following thought:
“What I do, is chase paper. From my dull office job where I sent trees-worth of reports to the printer, wholly in order to receive a monthly slip informing me of the crediting of cash to my account, to the rapid removal of such credit notes in a small range of denominations, spent largely on books, posters and magazines, then a scavenge of the streets for extra credit promissory slips, ad infinitum, or at least until my inevitable dismissal, by way of being handed my P45 code-embossed piece of paper that said it was to be so.
And even then, after receiving my redundancy letter, the paper chase would have to continue, seeking out the forms required for seeking allowance credit from the state, seeking employment through paper advertisements, leaving 3 sheet CVs across town, in order to return to their place of abandonment a week or so later, receiving written rejections, continuing my secondary cycle of pursuing papyrus.
But the paper on the ground, well there was a certain kind of purity there. I didn’t need to feel that I had simply fallen into a system against my will, of either seeking or keeping, but it was one which I could influence, take control of. I could choose which items to collect or discard, and have my own umwelt paper chase, especially for me.
The posters of my football team, maps, comics and pouting nudes that adorned my walls gradually became covered with the messages from the street. On one side of my bedsit were stuck the most common finds, they were of course the humble list for the shops. On the other side went other types, directions, doodles, escaped scraps of student’s scrawled study notes, phone numbers. And in the centre, the wall that faced my sofa bed, I stuck the incidentals: odd messages; poems and rhymes; fragments of diaries; love letters.
I started to feel as if there was some connection between all of these, but what it was, I had no idea. There had to be some connection though, they couldn’t simply be random. Nothing is truly random, as far as I can see. There’s always some type of link, something that draws the lines close enough to touch. You just need to know in which way to look.
So I began to eat only what I had found written on the shopping lists, in an attempt to immerse myself properly in the hidden world that I had found. I found some rich material near to the university – notes from a first year psychology lecture on personality and some people called Myers and Briggs, a cover sheet for an essay that drew together Invisible Man, Notes from the Underground, The Trial, L’Estranger and Waiting for Godot. Scrawled mentions of things called Durkheim and things called Anomie. Things I knew nothing of, but things I could read and learn about. I hadn’t worked out what the technical drawings or musical notation that I had gathered could mean, but I was certain that they would fit in somewhere.
I was still not closer to understanding what was meant from the incidentals though. I returned to the directions and doodles, but neither could they provide me with any light. I felt that the directions must be consecutive, and tried to take them to the best of my understanding, but they didn’t quite fit together.
The first of the giving direction-type scraps simply said “from the hotel head towards the old town, go under two bridges and take a right when you see the costume store, and it’s on your left.” I think I knew where the costume store in the old town was, judging by where I had found the note, I guessed which bridges, assuming the note had been dropped before fulfilling its original purpose, but what was on the left? An alleyway, a cheesemonger, a second hand bookstore. I needed clarification, but none was to be found. Anyway, I’m getting there. I know I’m taking a winding road explaining this, but I’m getting there.
I left this avenue to explore a new line, try to figure out what just one of the incidental scraps of paper could mean. There was a burnt ending of a poem, perhaps set on fire by the hand of a spurning object of afflicted affection. It simply read “a crisp winter’s night has nothing on you, a moon shining bright has nothing on you.” We were months from winter though, this meaning surely would have to wait before revealing itself.
A second scrap seemed to be part of a diary. It proclaimed “H is so secretive! I wish he’d tell me what goes on when he disappears for days.” Who could H have been? Well, I’m getting there.
I returned to the end point of my first set of directions, taking the left down the alleyway. I found a clue down there, one of the doodle I had picked up was replicated via sprayed paint on the walls of this alley. A stencil of a cat that had three eyes. I took this to mean that directions could lead me to the attachment to my emails from the street. The cat’s third eye was clearly a reference to perception beyond ordinary sight, perception that I had to encourage, to nurture.
I took the next set of directions, a line drawing of a road interspersed with city blocks, and an arrow show the way. Two lefts followed by a right and an x to mark the spot. It took me to that tourist attraction in the centre of town, I forget its name, no, not that…yes, that’s it. The Camera Obscura. I walked into the gift shop, imagining that whatever it was looking for would present itself, which sure enough it did.
I was approached by a young man in the gift shop, who asked me if I needed any help. I was ready to tell him that I was just looking, when I noticed his name. Henry. The secretive, elusive H. It had to be he. I said to him “It’s a secret. You’d know all about them.” And he gave me the oddest look. I know that it had to be him as I walked out, my mind was whirring, and I needed to figure out my next move.
It seemed obvious that the emails from the street were telling me that I should discover where H goes. I couldn’t simply ask him though, he surely wouldn’t understand the mission that I was on. I decided I would have to follow him in secret, find out what he got up to that was so important. I wasn’t intending to harm him, of course not!
So I sat reading L’Etranger as I waited for Henry to finish his work so I could see where he would go. That book is stupid, the guy Meursault particularly so. No one cares so little about the world, it’s preposterous! Maybe it’s meant to be a joke, that Meursault is a fool for thinking that the universe doesn’t care when it so clearly does. Ok, sorry, I’m getting side-tracked, I'll get there.
I had been so caught up in the stupid tale that I almost missed Henry walking down the road. But fortune meant that I would glance up in time, and I followed him as he walked towards the docks, to a flat not too far from my own. I assumed that it was his home, and realised that there were going to be no secretive disappearances today.
After a second and third day of the same non-events, I walked home thinking of Henry and also thinking of Josef K, the star of The Trial, another very stupid book but for other reasons. This Josef K needed to look beyond his situation and not simply go with the flow. And I realised that for the last few days I had been having the same problem, simply letting nature take its course rather than making interventions and insights and interactions.
So it was back to the notes, by now the shopping lists completely covered one of my walls, and there were increasing numbers of incidentals. One kept drawing my attention, it simply stated “Act Your Shoe Size, 66/1, 2pm”. I thought that was an odd statement, I tried to make it fit together. My shoe size was 9, perhaps 66/1 meant 66/1hundred, or two thirds. 2/3rds of 9 was 6, so I solved the equation to mean Act 6, 2pm.
So I scoured the city guides for plays happening at 2pm. Hamlet only had 5 acts, as did MacBeth. In fact, as did King Lear, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and the Tempest. It was a puzzle indeed, what must come after the denouement? Well, just wait, ok? I’m getting to that.
I couldn’t find a play with a 6th Act, certainly not one that was starting at 2pm anywhere in town. I asked all of the local theatres to keep me updated with all the plays taking place at 2pm, but despite my clear instructions they all simply told me about every play that was on each week. I tried to let them know I was only interested in the ones at 2pm, but they didn’t care, or understand, the idiots.
I followed Henry a couple more times, each time he returned to his flat. I started to picture him like The Underground Man, another damn fool in yet another book about a fool. Why this student chose these books to study made me baffled. Baffled and annoyed. But for the Underground Man, how could anyone be as indecisive as he, unable to ever consider how to make the right choice? Didn’t he realise that the right choice is the one you make, as long as you aren’t a bad person. The fact that you make the choice makes it right, it’s as clear as the nose on your face. You do it, therefore, it was meant to happen.
And so with no plays of 6 acts and no acts of vanishing or other magic from Henry, I knew that a new direction would need to be taken. I had found a crumpled up sheet with a list of rhymes ending in –ate: instigate, don’t hesitate, don’t desecrate but conglomerate. Elaborate, don’t denigrate, don’t bifurcate, but flocculate. But that told me nothing that I didn’t already know, take action, take things further, join up the strands and make a new whole. Please just listen though, I’m almost done.
It left me frustrated, as if the notes were not intended to me, but had reached the wrong recipient. Does that mean that some thief had taken the note intended for me? It must have, I could find no other answer that made sense.
I tore down the shopping lists from my wall, and emptied my cupboards full of rotting fruit and mouldy bread. I went to Hamlet at 2pm, stood up and shouted at the players to perform a 6th Act, before being forcibly removed. I stormed up to Henry’s work and confronted him, demanding to know why he did nothing mysterious or unusual, and he just said that I was scaring him, he’d seen me a couple of times since I first spoke to him, and enough was enough, he was calling the police.
I went home and burned everything, all the remaining notes except for the only ones that I thought might save me, the phone numbers. The fire got out of hand, I didn’t mean to get so angry, but it’s just that someone intercepted the email from the street that was meant for me, and so it’s stopped me from taking the correct path and doing what I needed to do, as you can see.
So I have been phoning the numbers I found, and you are the first one who has waited to me to finish my story, even though you rudely interrupted a few times. I know that dialling code, it’s in the east end of town, isn’t it? Can I come and find you? Will you tell me what I need to do now?
You must tell me. I need to know.