It turned out that the lads had an insulting nickname for every manager apart from me and, according to the gurus, this is a sign of enormous affection, so I had to get one too.
I tried everything. An elaborate corkscrewing limp, a breathy ee-aw sound when I spoke, but nothing happened.
'I'm at a crossroads.' I explained to Gary. 'One way I get a nickname, the other way, oblivion. Could you arrange for me to be called a funny name?'
'That's not a crossroads,' Gary said. 'That's a T-Junction.'
After he'd gone I thought about how logical he was. I rang Keith.
'Keith, I've been talking to Doctor Logic.'
'Who the fuck is Doctor Logic?'
'Gary. You know how he's always logical.'
Soon everyone would be saying Doctor Logic and when Gary discovered the favour I'd done him, I was sure he would devise a suitable name for me.
Through the medium of modern dance
The bin-men laid out the recycling boxes and pressed play. Latin beats spluttered out, and from a wheelie-bin sprang a woman in floaty clothes. She danced as she demonstrated how to recycle. A bin-man battered hell out of a bongo.
Within every bottle are pieces of all the bottles you've ever used, they sang.
The dancer had long ochre hair. Freckles. She hated newsnight, and laminate-flooring. She liked celeriac. And ferris wheels.
She was my ex-girlfriend.
My insides churned with recalled desire and when she'd finished I gripped her arm. But she pointed at the label on a tin. DO NOT REHEAT.
When we lived together I dealt with the rubbish; a monstrous heap of unloved packaging and decayed food. We threw away more than we ever had. It was better when everything got burnt. Ash-men came with an ash-cart and grey flecks wheeled in the air, getting in our eyes.
The funny way I feel inside
I rested my forehead against the cold chromium rail in front so I could hear what the cute pixie girl was saying.
'I could never go out with a boy who didn't love, love, love the sound of rain.'
She told her mate. 'That's a real deal-breaker for me.'
Later that week it was really hammering down so I followed her into a bus-shelter. I threw my head back and closed my eyes. I stretched my fingers like a pianist. I hummed and rolled my head from side to side.
But when I opened my eyes she'd gone.
I stayed there listening to the pulsing of the drops. If there was ever an overrated sound, it's the sound of rain. It's not even actually the sound of rain. Rain itself doesn't make a sound. What you hear is a much more complex phenomenon, more intricate than she could ever imagine.
The heartless chain
Someone sucked the soul out of Paloukis bar. We'd gone back there to rekindle the love in our marriage, but Helen wasn't impressed, believing the place had been gobbled up by some heartless chain. I deduced that old Palouki had passed it on to his son. I knew I was right, as was usually the case, but I didn't push it; the job was to rekindle.
When our food arrived a photographer appeared and asked if he could take some pictures for outside the restaurant. Helen laughed girlishly, threw her arms about me, and waited for the flash.
But the photographer was focusing on our plate of metze.
'The pictures fade fast,' he explained. 'Since the old man retired, his son wants everything so-so.'
I winked at Helen, but she began to cry. 'Just imagine it. Our special dinner, outside for all to see. How many people can say that?'
I was off sick from the buses with my back when I saw the ad for a park-keeper and I thought what the hell? I'm stuck here, drowning in afternoon telly pap, why shouldn't I do something useful? So I got a start with parks and after a week of trowelling rang in sick on that job too. That 's when it struck me; there's no limit to the jobs you can be off sick from. I bought an Evening News, got four more jobs, and after a few weeks, called in sick to all of them.
Keeping it up was a full time occupation. There were six Christmas dos. Yet I was addicted. I conjured with multiple homes, multiple wives, a thousand parallel existences, each nourishing the other. Because somewhere in the universe I was already gone; a star that burns in our sky but died a million years ago.
The man whose head expanded
Imagine your mind has left your body and is hovering in front of you. Can you see it? A clump of steam, straining on the end of a silver thread? Feels OK, doesn't it? But soon the thread will snap and it will float away. Hopefully, you'll have thought ahead, and closed the window tight, but it will bat against the walls like a trapped bluebottle, trying to escape. Ask it what it wants.
It will say, 'To be free. To go where the other minds live.'
Open the window and follow it.
That's how I got here. It's a bit dull, actually. Sometimes I'm allowed to float outside on a silver string, but usually I just keep things tidy, and maintain the diary of appointments. Practical stuff really, grunt work, whilst my mind thinks long clear unbroken thoughts that go on forever, something it longed to do for years.
A personal message
It boiled down to a fear of novelty ceramic objects, that's all, but this doctor fellah took it very seriously.
He clasped his hands together. 'Your, er, system. Is it closed or open?'
'System?' I thought for a bit. 'I'm very open.'
He glanced down at his papers. 'Then you need a key. To release the pressure.'
'But where is the key?'
'You have the key. It comes with the system.'
The central heating droned and hiccupped and he looked at the radiator.
'Sometimes,' he added, 'there's a build-up of thick sludge.' He sighed. 'Complete draining is required.'
I snatched the papers from his hand. It was the instruction manual for the boiler. I looked at it and smiled. Tomorrow I would collect all the instruction manuals from around my house. It was as I suspected. Every piece of printed material ever produced contained a personal message for me.
Using the facilities
We came home to find a fat bloke sat on the toilet, his trousers round his ankles, reading a paper and chortling.
'It says here,' he said, 'that some bloke swallowed a live snake and it lived inside him for years.'
'What are you doing in my house?'
He rested the newspaper on his bare thighs and said, 'Day out?'
'Who are you, exactly?'
'Keswick again I bet. You've been to Keswick five times this year. Chips from Fryups?'
'What do you want?'
'The Crown does chips.' He smacked his leg with the rolled newspaper. 'Plate of, two pounds. But you never bother. However, you use The Crown's facilities all the time. Waltz in, straight to the bogs, never mind you haven't bought anything, or contributed to the upkeep of the lavatories.
Well I'm the landlord.' He stood and pulled his trousers up. 'And now you know how it feels.'
The lost language of hairgrips
The tiny things she had. The tweezers, the eyelash curlers, the cuticle pushers, all of them so small, so brittle. That's what I miss most about Joanna. The little things. Not the little things she did, or the little things she said; the actual little physical things she owned.
Without Joanna's little things littering the place, everything looked giant. Overstuffed chairs, hulking shampoo bottles, breezeblock soap. I possessed nothing small enough to be mislaid, and this thought disturbed me, made me feel feline and uneasy.
One night I was rubbing one of Joanna's plastic hairgrips against the cheese grater, sending orange plastic slivers spinning into my soup when I realised this obsession was completely wrong. What I needed were some little things of my own.
I discovered the answer in the aisles of the DIY store. Here were a billion little things for men to own and cherish; curious devices like the discarded tools of a lost civilisation. I filled my trolley and wheeled it to the checkout but before I'd even paid I met Pat. Pat had just one item in her trolley - a giant architectural plant - and, following my eyes, she told me that there was nothing she hated more than little things. When her last fellah brought home a pathetic little plastic man to wave at his toy locomotives it was the final straw.
'There's something sinister,' Pat explained to me in the car, 'about little things. I worry that they will divide and multiply in the night, creep inside me, and possess me. You know where you are with a big thing. A big thing would never do that.'
I fell in love with Pat. Everything about her was big. Her house had huge bay windows like a comforting bosom into which I sank each night. I forgot completely about the little things. Think big, Pat said, and I did.
Shaky Ron versus the chewing gum robots
A pack of cockney stag-night wankers had just woken me up by chucking kebab sauce over my blanket when I first saw the little things. Hundreds of them, like wee shiny beetles, skittering along the pavement, their little metal legs tip-tapping on the floor, their pointy teeth gnashing away at the gum. My first thought was, it's the Mega-lager goggles, 'cos you often see crawly things when you've taken on a pile. But it was real. Every night they streamed out from under their lamppost and went to work getting rid of the gum. Only the acid from their slender nozzle noses remained, fizzing on the pavement.
It took a few days, but soon I had trained them, and the next pissed-up dickhead who messed with me got a surprise. That night while he was sleeping my wee metallic chums climbed out of his pocket and in the morning he found that he had no face.
Phillip read the note again.
Bang bang you're dead
The building was eerily silent. The other tenants never seemed to make any sounds. If they were seabirds and their tiny rooms cliff ledges they would shriek out to let each other know they were there. Even confined prisoners communicated - by beating tattoos on the walls and pipes. In films, anyway. He imagined the outer wall stripped away, its miserable inhabitants exposed, crouched alone in the same positions, like waxworks.
He lit a fag, sucked it in, and looked out of the window, down into a dark yard. Then he folded the note and went out into the hall. The doorknob, letterbox and spyhole on his neighbour's door formed an inscrutable face. He pushed the note inside. In a few moments the door would be flung open - it usually was - and when that happened Phillip would be ready.
The sorting hall
The sorting hall was said to be a special dept where people with no useful function were sent. No-one knew if it really existed. One lunchtime he scoured industry house, from the rooftop to the basement, looking for it. He saw suited executives nibbling biscuits, girls tapping at computers, men at drawing boards, and, in a room marked training, a group building a structure with toilet-roll holders. But there was no trace of the sorting hall.
Back at his desk they had already brought the afternoon's bins. He looked forward to examining the contents as there was always something exciting. He began to classify, measure and catalogue. A tissue, which he placed in a twizzle bag and labeled. A crumpled A4 sheet to be smoothed out and placed in a file. A crisp packet.
He enjoyed his job. He would leave industry house altogether if anything ever changed.
On this very special day
My mother lives in Cornwall and I always forget her birthday. So I bought a whole batch of cards, scribbled messages on them, and gave them to my sister who would drop one off each year. Average female life expectancy is seventy-nine, so I bought twenty-nine cards. It didn't seem a lot, but there it is.
Ten years later my sister said she wouldn't do it anymore. Watching the pile of cards getting smaller was depressing. Why couldn't I have bought like a hundred cards?
I hate waste so I tried my dad. 'There's not enough here,' he said. 'A woman in Japan lived to 126. I'll do it if you buy another fifty.'
I looked at him in disbelief.
'Those are my terms,' he said.
So I gave them to my mother who said it was fine and I believed her. After all, she brought me into the world.
My GP was skeptical, but I insisted, you have to nowadays, and a week later the consultant was inserting a tube with a camera on the end into my bowel. Pink folds of glistening skin moved past like rippling sand. 'That's normal tissue,' he said. 'But I'll explore further.' The screen went dark then there she was, Sheila, my dead wife, pressing a panel of buttons on a small control box, a faint smile on her face. She knew we could see her, knew that the snaking black tube was capturing her image.
'I see,' the consultant said.
'She's been there for months.' I told him. 'She controls me. She makes me eat Battenburg cake.'
There's no treatment apparently. But they gave me a print-out of the screen. That's it on the fridge-door. She's making me tell you this, I wasn't going to bother.
About the author:
David Gaffney's stories have been published in Ambit, Opium, the Illustrated Ape, Ephemera, Modart, and many other places, and his new collection, Sawn-off Tales, is out in Autumn 2006 on Salt Press - see www.saltpublishing.com.
© 2011 Word Riot