The Tao of Odds and Ends

Excerrpt: The Ministerr of the Waves (conclluding parrt)

© Barrry Kavanagh 2003

Tao    Butterrflly

"A few hours ago a man came along, with a suit cut just right for him, probably a doctor, or a barrister, a pillar of society, as they say. He asked me my name and I wouldn't give my name 'cause I'm sick of giving my name and then he was asking could I do all sorts of sexual stuff for him, could I suck this, or that, and so on. I said no, no, and, furthermore, no.

"But he kept on and on for ages and ages, until I just called him an ugly bitch, ha ha. That's when he gave me the sharp kicks. I never saw them coming. I collapsed to the ground and covered my head as he put the boot in, or the fashionable shoe in, anyway. And then he strolled off down the street, happy as Larry, as they say.

"Y'know, in the night, people really show themselves. All the private stuff they hide during the day takes form at night. Their vicious or venal vices. Everyone loves to indulge their vices. Drinking, smoking, snorting, gorging, screwing, sucking, puking, pissing, opinionating, pontificating, fighting… They're all bloody proud of themselves. They all want medals. Especially that one kicked me like a dog. Y'see, the most violent kind of pornography would be on national TV twenty-four hours a day if there wasn't a handful of puritans to object to it. People like that guy, the pillars of society, they pretend to agree with the prudes 'cause it makes them look good and wholesome and all the rest of it. At night they don't even try, no, not at all. No illusions…"

How much more of this can I stand? I got a kick, no, kicks plural, in the stomach tonight. And for what? For what? I've got a sore throat. I'm cold. Even though I know it's a warm night, my bones are cold. There was some voice talking to me, wasn't there? Or is that something I remember from my dream? Or is it someone here, just out of sight, talking? I should get up and run down the dark street, run past all the features of the night, the alcoholists and child prostitutes, the old men dying alone in bare concrete flats, the sick dream of this failed republic… I could run and and make it to the river. And then I should try to find the redbrick building, the barred windows, the families huddling in that burning hot room… But that was day, it was the daytime when they were there. Now it's night.

Where's that fish? "Minister of the Waves! Sir!"

There he is, ha ha. Where he's always been. In the gutter, right in front of me. Bobbing up and down in the water.

"Hrrr," he says, with his fishy eye on me. "Yourr storry. You've expllained it all? Why you're herre? What you arre doing? Every llittlle detaill? It's overr at llast?"

"No! I've to tell you that I have to be here! I can't go back! When I was at home, in my parents' house, I was… it was… I was only waiting, waiting for the sword to drop, for the axe to fall, as they say. You see I knew, I knew they were both going insane. Oh so slowly, but the powder keg was about to blow, as they say.

"I sat at the dinner table with them, night after night, and I watched them very, very, carefully. The indifferent and self-disregarding way my father slurps his soup; the haphazard way he lifts forkfuls of food up to his mouth, never regular, all chaotic; the quietly aggressive way he breathes through his nose… Pure insanity! And as for my mother! The way she goes about things. The carefully warlike way she scoops vegetables out of a pot; the zealous way she turns on the hot tap, leaving it run for ages and ages, watching the water, running it over the back of her hand, waiting for it to heat up… every look and gesture, subtly insane! And I'd say, under my breath, 'You're insane. You're both insane,' and I was just waiting for something really bad to happen. Sometimes I wanted to erupt, to toss my dinner in the air, and watch it smash all over the floor. Then get my chair and hit the double glazed window as hard as I could, smash all that glass into the side alleyway. And if that didn't wake them up, open all the cupboards and smash every single plate and bowl and cup and saucer and glass and just… explode, rampage, tear through the house and out the front door and into the street and up, up, up into the sky! That's what I wanted, and I'd catch myself, and I'd have to stop myself, and sit there, shaking, my hands, legs, shoulders, all shaking. My parents are going insane and there's nothing I can do about it. Nothing. I am nothing."

So say I to the fish.

- but I must be asleep again now, dreaming again now, because I'm in a theatre and I don't remember getting here - I'm in the upper circle - a swell of red cushioned seats - every seat is occupied - a giant crystal chandelier is suspended above us, like the sun over a red sea - on the stage, a courtroom scene is being played out - the accused, a man, standing on top of a round, shiny, metal pedestal - the judge, a man, at his bench - the stenographer, a woman, tap-tap-tapping into her machine - something has happened to my eyes, everything is a red haze - what should I do? - what am I doing? - the judge speaks, in his language, to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury - we, the audience, are the jury - not twelve of us - twelve hundred - the judge asks, in his language, for the verdict - the crowd roars guilty - it's unanimous - the stenographer taps it in - tap-tap-tap - the judge asks, in his language, what sentence it should be - the cry is for death - the cry from every man, woman and child, myself included, all together in human solidarity - the stenographer taps it in - tappity-tap - a red haze - night after night, the citizens of this city gather to unanimously vote that this one man be dipped into a vat of boiling oil -

"Hey! Wake up, therre!"

A high-pitched, whispery, trilling voice.

Opening my eyes… Strong sunlight. Agh.

The rain has stopped. I'm damp. But the ground is dry.

Noise. Cars going past.

"Hey! Arre you stilll allive?"

Oh, it's that fish, isn't it. The Minister of the Waves!

I crawl across the pavement, infuriating a woman in high heels who is rushing off to work. Clack clack, she goes, and she's gone. Off to work, like a good little hamster, ha ha. A hamster running on its treadmill, inside its cage. Tomorrow morning, exactly the same.

I reach the kerb and peer into the gutter. The Minister of the Waves is there! In the morning light, his blue scales have a really pretty shine to them. He is flopping up and down, though, and doesn't seem too pleased.

"Therre you arre!" he says. His whispery voice is a rasp; it's less squelchy than before.

"Coulld you get me some waterr?" he asks.

I notice there is not much water left in the gutter. What's left is thick and muddy. His tail flaps against the roadside dirt. The morning traffic blows its fumes.

I have a headache. I rub my forehead. I am nothing. Where am I going to get some water?

"I … I'm going down to the Civic Offices. While I'm there, I can go to the Department of Inland Waterways, and get them to redirect the course of the river, so it'll flow up here to you."

"I am out of my elllement!" shouts the Minister of the Waves, sounding more enraged than he was at any time last night. "I have nowherre to go. Give me merrelly a llittlle waterr and I can surrvive. But by the time yourr Goverrnment prrovides its sollution, I willl have drried up!"

(Based on a storry from China in the 4th Centurry BCE)

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