He lays down nailed to the bed. His brown jacket is skewered through the shoulders with shards of silver and iron, hammered hard and deep through the mattress and six inches into the wood beneath. His trousers are torn at the bottom- the legacy of a hundred mile cobbling – but they still have enough material about them to be pinned down and not tear. The pillows of normal sleep are gone and he lifts his head up with flagging neck muscles for several seconds to look at the television in the corner of the room. He closes his eyes for a second, wracks his face with the scowl of liberal anger and then lets his head fall back upon the mattress.
He hums a tune, the first three bars of the Marseillaise; then he stops and reconsiders; – when he resumes it is the rousing bit of Jerusalem – “Nor will my sword rest in my hand”; he whistles it a semitone flat but the melody is recognisable all the same. He stops before ‘these satanic mills’ and concluded with the refrain to My Old Man’s A Dustman. He wears a dustman’s hat.
His wrists, too, are pinned down with spikes through the cuffholes; – but the wrists are still granted the freedom of an inch, and so he takes the liberty of a drumroll, flapping each hand down hard onto the mattress. The mattress has a pleasing resonance; he turns his head and places one ear into the sheets, content to listen in on the wake of his drumming. He vocalises three taps to the high hat by way of a finale. He lives in a council flat.
In the quiet that followed I made out the sounds of I-know-not-what through the glass and the shutters and the curtains.
I look down from the ceiling.
“Why are you nailed to the bed,” I ask.
Around his left wrist is a watch, which he tries to raise from time to time out of compulsion; – but of course his arm is pinned and he can’t see. I make it something like four in the afternoon, but decide he doesn’t want to know. His hand reaches instead to the remote control two inches to the left of his right hand, and he flips from one channel to another. He settles on yesterday’s news on repeat and mimes along to the home affairs correspondent.
“Why are you glued to the ceiling,” he asks after some while.
“No choice of my own,” I reply. “Why are you nailed to the bed.”
“I have this dystopian vision,” he says. “Yesterday Afternoon I sat outside, back turned to the tennis, watching people meander past as if they had somewhere to be all of a sudden. I was still and calm, thoroughly engrossed with an automatic pencil and my notebook. – And then I just want to run after them. Across the street there was a motley gang with t-shirts and a banner that read Jews For Jesus; and I wanted to follow them too, and consult deeply and ask what in the world they meant by it all. And then to round it all off I found myself in front of the tennis watching a set or two.
“As I said, I have this dystopian vision. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be free to act it all out in one go.”
He lays back again and whistles another tune, God Save The Queen, infernal majesty, but angular and jauntily, this time sharp and piercing and deeply irritating.
“Dystopian vision? – those are words you got from a book,” I said.
“Yes they are but that’s even more the sharp end of the matter.”