Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Evening News

Blown by the wind, the newspaper skids along the pavement, lands on his shoes. Its sudden arrival startles him. He starts back as if attacked, sags with relief to see it is only a scrap of paper. Then annoyance takes over. All this trash lying around on the streets! He kicks the paper away, dismisses it. Assumes the air of one who would never stoop to notice such trifles.

But the newspaper is not to be so easily denied. Persistent as a bird that has been shooed away from its kill, it circles back, spirals in the gusts of the passing traffic to land on his feet again. This time he is prepared for it (air of nonchalance notwithstanding, he has been watching its progress out of the corner of his eye). Seeing it close in on him, he shuffles back discreetly, tries to get out of its way. The newspaper is not put off by this. It follows him shamelessly, clinging to his feet like some importunate disciple.

By now he is starting to grow irritated. He looks around to see if anyone else is watching. No one seems to nave noticed this little by-play of his. Good. He kicks the newspaper harder this time, and in the opposite direction, hoping that the force of the blow and the draught of the passing cars will carry it away.

But again the newspaper proves more resilient. This time it's the wind that brings it back, spreading it out in its flight and wrapping it around his leg. The familiarity of this makes him shudder. He shakes his leg free violently, contemplates his enemy as it lies there before him.

He is beginning to feel harassed. He is beginning to feel as if he is the victim of some obscure prank, as though the malign intelligence of the city is laughing at him. He tries to be rational. He tells himself that it's just a fluke, just bad luck. But there is a strange guilt in his heart now. What would someone watching him say? Would they not think that he had done something to encourage the paper? That he had a special bond with it (perhaps he was the one who had thrown it away, and it was coming back to haunt him, like a newsprint ghost)? That he must somehow deserve what was happening to him?

He looks around again. No, no one is watching. But is it really possible that they have noticed nothing. Or are they just being polite? Looking away to spare him his embarassment? Will no one show even the slightest sympathy for him? Looking around at the grey, tired faces waiting at the bus stop, he feels an overwhelming urge for human contact. Just a quick glance from a stranger, a rueful acknowledgement of his predicament, a sign that the other understands, is willing to laugh about it together.

Gathering up all the dignity he can muster, he walks slowly to the other end of the bus stop, pretending to strain forward to look for an approaching bus, but really trying to put as much distance between himself and the newspaper, which seems (mercifully) to be staying where it is, as if dismayed by his last rebuttal.

It doesn't take long to recover though. Watching it out of the corner of his eye, he sees it starting to move again, advancing in sudden spurts at first, then settling into a slow crawl. There can be no doubt about it now. It is making straight for him. Squirming forward on its belly, trying to creep up on him silently, take him by surprise. Snaking its way effortlessly through the feet of the other people waiting, swerving a little when one or two try to kick it, but undettered from its eventual purpose.

Why? Why is it picking on him this way? Why this obsession, as though the world were trying to take revenge on him by wrapping its news around his feet? Can't anyone else see what is happening here, won't anyone else help?

As he watches the scrap draw nearer and nearer, he feels himself suffocating with expectation, with the fascination of the hunted. The strain is getting too much for him. He has to break out of this, has to escape. Abruptly he turns and starts to walk away. He steps off the sidewalk, runs across the street. Never mind what people will think. It's only three blocks to the next bus stop. He will catch the bus from there. He will be safe.

Behind him, the newspaper, caught by a sudden gust, swirls about in a triumphant spiral. Cackles softly to itself.



dazedandconfused said...

hey falstaff, the cigarette story, the phone call, and now this. All seem to have the same what, (plot idea, structure, style?) can't put my finger on it.

Just seems a bit self indulgent when you read the third one and can identify patterns.

Or what do I know, as someone here said, I may be REALLY dazed and confused.

Cheshire Cat said...

Ah, but what about the sequel? A room with the windows closed. The man seated at a table, with the newspaper before him. Also on the table: a cigarette lighter, a jug of water, a pair of scissors.

But does the newspaper flap? It is still. It lies there crisp with all the folds intact, and the eyes of the man are fixed upon it...

There is no love like newspaper love.

Falstaff said...

d&c: I'm not sure that I see the pattern. A similar tone of voice, perhaps. At any rate, the question is not whether you see patterns but whether you like them. Just working to the same pattern isn't exactly a criticism. By that argument, Shakespeare and Austen were the worst hacks around. And Ishiguro should be practically unreadable.

cat: oooh! nice. :-).

dazedandconfused said...

You'r right of course, but I guess what I saw in all these stories were actors dealing with their internal struggles as the main theme.

Anonymous said...

Cute one there.... We all have newspapers of our own... :-)

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