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Authors: Ben Elton

Tags: #Modern fiction, #Fiction, #General

Stark (7 page)

BOOK: Stark
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uring the meal at Slampackers, such as it was, CD told Rachel about the film he had thought they might go and see. As a preliminary to establishing his character as an active peace campaigner, he had chosen a movie he’d read about recently in a groovy-ish mag. At the time he had marked it down as the sort of film which he would rather be forced to eat than watch, but in the present circumstances it suited his purpose…

‘It’s about the parallels between the way men run countries and the way they run their personal lives. I mean, the parallel between pricks and missiles is a bit laboured these days but I suppose maybe that’s because it’s true.’ CD was desperately hoping that Rachel had not read the review he’d read. She hadn’t, and he would have been gratified to know that she was thinking that he seemed an interesting sort of bloke, a bit intense maybe, but a cut above the usual dag.

In this respect at least, CD’s plan was working. Rachel had always been a bit of a closet radical — she liked the feeling of talking about something that mattered. And so they finished their delicious Slampackers, except for the horrible bit of gherkin which they had both fished out, and went to the movie. As they had both suspected, it was well meaning but bloody awful. Its principles were presented with such horrible monolithic certainty that it would have turned Ghandi pro nuke. Afterwards the director gave a short speech. He did this after every performance of the two-week run at the little arts cinema. ‘Some people,’ the director said with what he believed to be a knowing smile, ‘can’t see that missiles are penis extensions. Oh yeah? Well I don’t know what’s going to come flying towards us when some man pushes the button but it certainly won’t be a fifty-foot flying cunt.’ This, the director considered, was not only a brilliant and conclusive point but also a hilarious joke and his personal favourite. Although, in fact, he would not have known a joke if he had found one hanging off his earring.

‘I think he was being cynical. You know, talking like an idiot in order to make an astute point,’ said CD putting on a brave face. He would have put pink icing and a cherry on it if he had thought it would get him any closer to Rachel’s affections.

‘I think he was talking like an idiot because he is an idiot,’ replied Rachel. And CD, who agreed with her entirely, had to think about cold porridge and vinegar for five minutes to stop his monumental desire becoming too obvious.


n the weeks that followed they went to a benefit concert together, and a discussion group, and looked around the community bookshop and generally became a recognized feature of alternative haunts. All the time with CD anxiously impressing on Rachel what a committed, worthwhile individual he was. He need not have tried so hard. She liked him, it was his mates that annoyed her. Limpish, tired individuals, endlessly discussing how screwed up the world is, without apparently having very much intention of doing anything about it.

‘They’re dull, Colin,’ CD could not get her to call him CD. ‘Your friends are dull. They’re not going to save the world.’

CD could only shrug, beginning to wonder whether in constructing the fiction that the people from the community bookshop and local theatre collective were his soul mates, he might not have made a mistake. Right from the beginning he had pretended that he knew them all much better than he did.

‘Hi, Todd,’ he had said, casually to the bloke at the peace bookshop the first time he had taken Rachel down there. CD had checked out the name beforehand, he knew that if you address someone with sufficient familiarity the chances are very good that they will presume that they know you, especially if the person is a hippy. The plan had worked perfectly, except for the fact that Todd had turned out to be a bit of a boring wanker and CD now had to live with the fact that Rachel thought he was Todd’s mate. CD, sensing his tactical error, had decided to try and distance himself from the wet types he had pretended to be so close to. There would be no more ‘Hi Todds’. He intended to remodel himself as a hard, practical man, looking for hard, practical solutions. He was even considering buying a pen-knife. That was his plan anyway, unfortunately the whole thing was ruined by the return of the dreadful Karen.


D had been innocently sitting in a cafe with Rachel when suddenly and without warning he and his cappuccino were enveloped by a mass of frizzy hair.

‘Hi-i-i-i,’ Karen cooed, and then demanded, ‘Hug please.’

It made him ill to do it but CD was obliged to provide a weak little squeeze. Uninvited Karen plonked herself down, bags and hair everywhere. She liked to effect the attitude of always being in a slightly scatty rush, as if a great many people depended on her.

‘Can’t stop,’ she said, stopping. ‘Christ CD haven’t seen you since we got busted painting the road, what a night, man!’

‘Since I got busted,’ replied CD, his heart sinking. He desperately hoped that Rachel had forgotten that he had slightly exaggerated his crime when they had first met, claiming that he had been arrested for trying to break into a US naval installation to prove that any terrorist could steal an atom bomb. ‘Was that the same night you tried to break into the naval installation?’ asked Rachel. ‘Is this your new lady?’ said Karen, giving Rachel what was intended to be a smile of radiant sisterly love.

If there was one thing that Rachel hated it was the term ‘lady’. ‘Why don’t you bring your lady?: May I introduce my lady. Rachel would almost have preferred anything; girlfriend, bird, she would rather have been someone’s casual fuck than their ‘lady’. May I introduce my casual fuck…

‘No,’ answered CD, ‘this is Rachel, a friend of mine.’

‘I see,’ said Karen with a touch of girlish innuendo, as if to suggest that CD was concealing all sorts of delicious secrets but that she wouldn’t pry. ‘CD and I were nearly an item ourselves, weren’t we?’ she confided in a nauseating frank manner which was designed to suggest a modern woman who combined independence and vulnerability in equal measures. Karen stared at people when she spoke to them, at least they thought she was staring at them. She thought she had a disarmingly frank and open countenance.

CD wished that the floor would open up and swallow him, even if it had been eating garlic and hadn’t brushed its teeth for three days.

‘You look a bit uptight, love. You need a hug,’ Karen said. Then she delivered her knockout punch. ‘I know, I’ll give you a massage.’ It was a vicious blow and she delivered it below the belt. CD was down, the umpire was counting him out. He dragged himself back from the brink and hit back.

‘Uhm, listen uhm…Oh yeah, Karen isn’t it? We really have to go, maybe catch you, whenever, OK?’ It was good, but not good enough. As he rose the waiter brought the food they had ordered.

‘Now, you’re really untogether, CD, are you sure you’re OK…Oh wow, no you’re not, I mean are these shoulders tense or what?…‘ The claws descended on his shoulders and began to knead away like he was tomorrow’s croissant.

At that moment CD discovered what Rachel and most women learn young, that if someone forceful decides they want to touch you, and they present it as an act of friendship, it is almost impossible to stop them. CD and Rachel had been enjoying Sunday brunch at a cafe, it was a lovely jolly morning despite the heat. CD had been contented, basking in the light of Rachel’s radiant sauciness and now the dark shadow of a wet hippy had fallen upon his happy idyll.

His food sneered up at him — it’s extremely difficult to tackle waffles and maple syrup when someone is trying to wring your neck. CD did not know it but the solution to his problem was very close. Not the problem of Karen, of course, she was insoluble, like the hairs she had left in his coffee. Nor indeed the problem of how to persuade Rachel to let him have a go at her, that was a toughie too. Just the problem of how to deal with maple syrup. Because thousands of miles away, a highly-trained team of specialists were working to make problems with maple syrup a thing of the past. Working, in fact to make maple syrup a thing of the past.


he crack unit was headed up by Wayne Strongman, a tough, two-fisted career diplomat who carried a personal phone like it was a side arm, and wore a laminated ID on his pyjamas.

His job at present was stone-walling the Canadians on the problem of US acid rain destroying the Canadian maple trees. Negative diplomacy it was called — a job he knew well. He had been a top trouble-shooter in the Republican Party Damage Control Group for the last two elections. What Wayne Strongman didn’t know about twisting a statistic could be written on the back of a stockbroker’s tax return.

‘The point is,’ he said with the quiet assurance that had made him such a feared prosecuting attorney and such a deeply loathed dinner party guest, ‘that your people have not been able to establish a direct and proven correlation.’

Henri Le Conte, Strongman’s opposite number, lost his rag. ‘I beg your bugger-up pardon!!’ he said.

Got him, thought Strongman…An angry man at a conference table is a wide open target, he is a man saying, ‘here is my ass, kick it’. Le Conte rose to the bait, shouting:

‘And when every fuck maple tree in Quebec is bastard dead! Then you won’t need damn all bugger correlation! Is that it!’ (It is a strange thing about second languages, no matter how well the foreigner learns them, perhaps to the point where technically they speak better than a native, no one is ever capable of swearing properly in any language other than their own. Le Conte was a French-Canadian and, as he himself often lamented in his strong French accent…‘I never know when I need a bugger, or where to put my bollocks.’)

Now Strongman was staring at him passively. It enraged Le Conte…

‘How much proof is required hell bloody! Do the owners of your factories and power stations have to come to Canada and chop down the fuck trees themselves!!’

There was an embarrassed silence which Strongman allowed to linger one beat into being seriously uncomfortable. His team knew well enough not to break an embarrassed silence. ‘Sometimes it’s what you don’t say,’ he often told them. Strongman had sent innocent men to the electric chair with a well-timed theatrical pause.

‘Henri,’ he said dispassionately to the red-faced French- Canadian. ‘I can understand you being upset. Clearly it’s not just a matter of lost revenue, to you guys the maple tree is your national symbol.’ That was the way, play it soft for a moment…but just a moment, just long enough for them to register that you’re being conciliatory — then hit them. ‘But frankly, I find the implications of your outburst deeply offensive. I can only presume you feel that we on the U S team are a bunch of dumb and unprincipled ecological vandals.’ He continued quickly, before Le Conte could agree with this. ‘Well, let me tell you Mister, you’re barking up the wrong damn maple tree! Do you think we don’t have maples in Ontario? New England? US kids got a sweet-tooth too! If we can verify for certain what’s killing the damn things, well you may rest assured, Sir, that the United States government will pursue it to hell and beyond and nail it to the wall, by crikey! But before I start closing factories; before I start putting men out of work and forcing their families onto welfare, by Heaven, I’m going to be as sure of my ground as an old pig and that’s hog sure!!’

He had just made up the ‘old pig’ metaphor. Strongman liked inventing pretend colloquialisms, it confused foreigners.

‘Mr Strongman,’ said Le Conte, badly wanting to kill him. ‘82 per cent of the trees in the Beauce-Megantic region are showing signs of pollution. It’s sulphur dioxide from your factories. Ten years from now we will have no trees left. This is a world emergency…Quebec produces over two-thirds of the world’s maple syrup. We’ve cut our acid rain, you’ve got to cut yours.’

‘We can’t be sure. The connection isn’t proven,’ said Strongman, reasonable again. ‘Believe me, our top men, the best, are on this thing. We’re chasing it Henri, oh yeah, we’re chasing it like a pan-fried Tennessee whore with the clap, and that’s finger licking chasing.’ That was a good one, thought Strongman, they’d laugh about that tonight. He couldn’t help but notice the secretary’s admiring glance. Who knows, maybe…Anyway he’d certainly waffled that dumb French kayak’s maple syrup right up his sweet backside, you bet he had.

Le Conte, a native of Quebec, wanted to cry. With great sadness he called upon his science officer to present the Canadian argument yet again.

The negotiation machine would continue to produce bullshit at a comparable rate to the industrial production of acid rain. The U S/Canadian dialogue had been going on for so long it would certainly outlive the trees. It takes a maple tree about five years to perish from a phenomenon known as ‘die back’. They die from the top down. Like a balding man, their branches recede. The syrup farmer taps his trees each year and watches them die by inches, becoming poor, sad, shabby shadows of their once mighty selves. This disaster is, of course, not confined to maple trees but is beginning to affect the majority of all the trees in the world.


he waffles had gone cold and CD’s shoulders were numb. Finally, Karen released him.

‘Anyway, I really have got to get my act together,’ said Karen, turning down a non-existent invitation to hang around. ‘Boogaloo and Rhumtitty are probably coming round for supper tonight or some other time. It’s so difficult to cook for Yanyaroos.’ Karen had a habit common to many people who pride themselves on possessing approachable and open personalities. She referred to people that she knew as if everyone knew them. Ostensibly this was because Karen believed that the world is actually full of love and that there are quite enough artificial barriers created between people without constructing extra ones.

‘Karen, I don’t know any of the people you’re talking about,’ CD had remarked on their one night together.

‘Just because you don’t know someone,’ Karen replied, ‘doesn’t mean you can’t be a friend of theirs.’ She spoke with the same tone of happy confidence that Einstein must have used the first time he said E = MC2. In actual fact, her habit of trumpeting the names of her acquaintances was her way of reassuring herself that she had friends. Unfortunately the effect of this habit, on someone who did not know better, would clearly be to presume that CD and Karen were not only mates, but that they shared much the same circle of friends.

Obviously this was distastrous for CD. After all he had only just made his decision that he must quickly disassociate himself from Karen’s type and suddenly, up pops Karen, blithely speaking as if she and CD balanced at the hub of the same social wheel. Worse still, it was a wheel which appeared to include Yanyaroos. CD was right to feel concern on this last point. There are a lot of Yanyaroos in WA and Rachel, like many, found it extremely difficult to understand the fascination. She could not, for the life of her, see how wearing a picture of a bearded, multimillionaire guru around your neck and dressing only in blue clothes could lead to spiritual enlightenment.

Strangely, another person who found Yanyarooism a pretty surprising phenomenon was Yoga Fhagwash, Chief Guru of the Yanyaroo cult, whose picture it was that hung on Karen’s friends’, Boogaloo’s and Rhumtitty’s, chests.

‘I just don’t understand it,’ he would say to his aides and girlfriends, ‘I tell all these middle-class white people to wear blue clothes and send me half their money…and they do!!!’

At first, the Yoga Fhagwash, unable to believe his luck, had tried to keep up appearances. Playing it all very spiritual, issuing poems and thoughts and mantras about enlightenment through denial. After a while, though, his confidence began to grow. He began to experiment with the credulity of his followers, suggesting for instance, that possessing twenty-five Rolls Royces was an intensely religious statement and what’s more, not letting anyone else have a go in them maintained their purity and integrity.

To Fhagwash’s relief and astonishment, there was no reaction. ‘They don’t seem to care,’ he remarked in astonishment, while writhing in warm cocoa-butter on a water-bed full of champagne.

Rachel was convinced that originally the popularity of the cult had been based on its advocacy of free love. Fhagwash was a monumental root-rat himself and encouraged his disciples to go for it like a pack of rabbits on a weekend in Amsterdam. Yanyaroos were practically ordered to have it off willy nilly. This was what annoyed Rachel.

‘I mean, it’s like a never-ending adolescent fantasy with God saying how great you are for snogging. Well yuk!’

CD wasn’t sure. He couldn’t help thinking that if scripture lessons at his school had been one long feel-up session there would have been a lot more converts to the Bible.

Since the advent of AIDS, of course, everything had changed. The Yoga Fhagwash had swung to the other extreme and gone completely ape mega-moral. The arch wick- dipper had become the arch party-pooper — possibly because he didn’t want his source of income dying off. Fhagwash went rubber-glove mad. He had people putting a dustbin-liner over their heads before they washed their own faces. It wasn’t long before his disciples were having to wrap themselves in cling film before making a telephone call. Soon, if they wanted to go out, they’d probably have to have themselves laminated.

The future of Yanyarooism lies in the balance. It is questionable whether people will want to give money to someone who says they can’t have it off. Rachel was entirely indifferent to the future of the cult but one thing was for sure. If CD was thinking of going to dinner at Karen’s, with Boogaloo and Rhumtitty, then he was going on his own.

BOOK: Stark
2.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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