I'm too busy editing to do a proper blog post this week. Furious typing has led to a pall of smoke separating me from my screen. My fingers are burning, man! Let me just dip them in this glass of water... [Hissss.] Excellent, cooled down now. Talking of hisses, I'll post an extract from the novel I'm working on. With some luck and lots of water it should be available in December, and I'll hopefully give some talks once it is launched, details will appear here. On with the show. Alex is the novel's protagonist and has just split up with his girlfriend. Then he stayed in the pub, drank a lot of beer and decided it could only be a good idea to try and win her back the same day. What could go wrong with any plan that you come up with when inebriated? Nothing, I say to you sir; absolutely nothing at all.
Alex decided the stakes were high enough to justify one of his advanced psychological theories. He knew all women liked cats. People liked things that resembled themselves. Therefore applying some of the rules for interacting with cats to the reality of interacting with women could only help.
Most rules were straightforward:
· Admire their grace.
· Don’t interrupt them when they’re grooming.
· Back off if they hiss.
· Don’t approach cats, let them come to you.
This needed to look natural.
He turned a corner in the college, deftly avoiding a group of Access Ed students who weren’t looking where they were going and snatched some handouts from the cluttered office he shared with the other part-time lecturers. They really did need photocopying for a science group. He rushed back to the small staff photocopier room.
Anne wasn’t there yet.
“We meet again, my adversary,” he muttered in an awful eastern European accent.
The multi-function, high-performance dry electronic photocopier did not reply. It waited for Alex to make the first move, its huge sorting rack looming over him.
It had once been a pristine machine of extraordinary power, capable of sorting, stapling, enlarging and reducing. It could do full double-sided copying by combining the Reversible Automatic Document Feeder and the Automatic Duplexing Unit. Its copying speed was once as high as 60 copies per minute without jamming.
That was once. It was now one of only a few quirky relics left in action in the whole country, since almost every business apart from his college had leased more modern machines. It frequently broke down but stubbornly refusing to die, staying around to torture generation after generation of lecturers like a tenacious and malicious old soldier, gobbing splats of ink.
“I need to copy. You will make it so.” He started the job running. It boded well. The machine was tamed.
The door opened. Anne was frowning at him with an armful of paper.
“Going to be long?” she asked curtly.
“No. Nearly done.”
He grabbed his copies and moved aside.
“You’re hair’s nice.”
She hadn’t hissed yet.
“Sorry about before, Anne.”
“You’re still not happy, are you?”
“Do you have any idea of how angry I am?”
The machine started to make grinding noises. He spared it a glance then looked back at Anne. “Pretty angry?”
“Pretty damn fucking angry.” She turned on him. “It’s been brewing in my mind: where’d this come from? I knew it couldn’t be another woman. That would require some sign of life from you. Then I realised – you never loved me. You just strung me along, wasting my time. I’ve never been anything to you apart from a habit.” She glared a challenge at him.
“That’s not true. More than a habit.”
“That good, eh?”
“I was being sarcastic.”
“Oh.” Thankfully the grinding eased down to a wheeze. Paper still flowed.
“It makes sense now. Like you living at home. I fucking hated that. There was no privacy if I visited you, like being a teenager. That’s you all over.”
“You’re angry. Now’s obviously not a good time to talk. I was thinking, maybe we could meet up later, talk then, clear the air. When you’re calmer. Do you want to suggest a time?”
She looked shocked. “How about never? Is never good for you?”
Clunking from the copier, then more grinding, it was difficult to ignore it.
“But remember the good times we had?”
“No. Funnily enough, I don’t.”
“Well I do. I thought you would want to patch this up?”
“Don’t believe everything you think. That applies to lots of people, but particularly you. Grow up, Alex, it’s over. You’re an emotionally immature teenager trapped in a man’s body. I bet you’ve still got Homer Simpson socks in your drawer.”
“Right. Fuck off, Alex.”
She stormed off without collecting her photocopying.
Alex stared at the door after she’d banged it.
“What the fuck?” he murmured. Then, louder. “What the fucking fuck? I was being nice!”
The photocopier had jammed. He tried to remove the paper and it tore, brittle with heat. He kicked the machine, opened its guts, and somehow got toner on his shirt cuffs.
Cogs had ground to a halt all right. Not just in the machine. Everywhere he looked things were shitty and smudged.
He punctuated the repairs with growled fucks until the pathway was clear.
“Maybe she’s right,” he muttered.
He didn’t carry on with the handout copying. Instead he put the back of his hand on the glass and did one more copy. It came out beautifully – a scan of his hand with two fingers extended in a V.
He stuck it in Anne’s pigeonhole just before leaving the college.
It was almost 3pm. The afternoon was wasted.