UM is so beautiful. UM wears the heart on a sleeve and is thus chastised. UM is tall and slender and will be done and forgotten in no time. A sparkler in the night of the world. UM has one flaw, one weak spot: periodically UM enters a darkness, a sink of black humour, because UM has no child of her own. This one-week bleak bitter halt in four is hapless. UM is content to be the Tin God three weeks out of four. For the fourth week she turns off her telephone and reads. For this period of time she lives in a bathrobe. Would that be truism? What does she eat? What does she think? What does she copy, plan, plot in the sanctity of this fourth in which she knows she knows instinctively she has a right to be left alone? No sneers protrude from the wallpaper, no ‘touch me please’. Nothing but a distant buzzing in her ears indicating the world out there is waiting for her, but she is not waiting for it.
There are a group of them round in a circle. Two stand, others sit. They are outwardly silent. In their heads a tumble-rumble of will I, won’t I. They know, they wait. They want to will. But they know only she will. ‘I will bide my time’, they say to themselves while they know they will not. She is too fast for them, she leaves no gaps with which to scatter. She is a quick, determined will o’ the wisp.
They greet her, they listen, she goes through the door.
Only her god knows where. Her tin god.
There has been no time for questions. No moments from which to choose.
Every morning she draws the attention of these nine or ten women to their disappointments in themselves. There is always at least one absent, sick, but she never is. She is a statute of health and hard work. She leaves them in a state of relief, they are content, they know what to do, they do not need to think for themselves. There is no resentment, only thanks. They can get on with it, mix it with coffee breaks, inattention, dreams and biscuits. There’s the constant presence of their man in his pigeonhole and the inevitable concern about how to extract him from it. The ways and means, the wiles and guiles. They are their own tin gods at home, they rule the roost. During their work shifts they can relax, take it easy – as easy as possible. The real work to be done each day is between their own four walls – work is a holiday.
They too, every once in a while, disappear into themselves for several days, as do other animals. As do plants and minerals in their own concepts of time. It is a process that leaves no one and nothing out. Tin God wonders and concludes. Everyone and everything must pass through the identical routine, define and look at themselves in the situation. Otherwise life would be unfair.
She has a minor revelation that she will evolve and dissolve constantly. There is no life and no death. Only evolving and dissolving, a constant process. She gives thanks, rises, stretches and prepares to leave the room.
It is the beginning of a new era. But it cannot be left like that:
Full sail ahead today, weaves a sweet smile. It won’t last.
At the first whirlpool of questions the frown will surf her waves. Puts up with it. The smile falters, rebuilds, cramps, recovers. She polishes her teeth with her forefinger as if they itch.
‘No. I am not annoyed. My teeth need attention. The situation is under control. Just- Excuse me for just a minute, I need to fix myself up.’
‘She doesn’t need to fix herself up.’
‘It’s us who need to fix ourselves up.’
‘She’s perfect already. What does she mean?’
‘O, it could be you know…’
‘That’s too easy an excuse.’
‘Why does she need an excuse? She can leave the room if she wants to.’
‘Yes. Exactly! We do not need an explanation. We are not children!’
‘No. We’re not. Far from it. We can look after ourselves. Who does she think she is!?’
‘She could fix herself up here. With us. In front of us. She doesn’t need to be afraid or embarrassed.’
‘Stuck up bitch.’
‘She’s just protecting the status quo. That’s all.’
‘It’s a matter of protocol.’
‘It can’t be easy. Being in her position.’
‘No, it can’t. I don’t envy her one bit.’
And so it goes on – the ball tossed hither and thither – until, having fixed herself up, she returns.
‘Are you alright now dear?’
‘O, it was nothing much, just something silly. But it was necessary to fix it.’
‘All fixed now then?’
‘Yes. All fixed now. Let’s get back to where we were, otherwise we’ll be running late, and I would really like to avoid that if possible.’
They skitter and zither, scurry and burry. All day long. The birds sing anyway and anyhow. The birds are constantly amazed by all this activity and sonorously comment upon it in depth. The boats sail into harbour and leave again, their crews invisible.
People, a mound of people, slither and slide. In a different world of different principles, they die. ‘That’s alright’, no one admits, it keeps the population culled.
If it was us, ‘o dear me’. When it is them, it is also ‘o dear me’ – but the terror and haplessness is absent. The terror and the haplessness created by a crackling of women (they could just as easily be a lugubrium of men) in a conference room is real, but they don’t have it.
It was created there, in the conference room. And once complete, the door of the cage of the conference room was opened and the horror and the misfortune were set free to do their will. Its creators know full well what they are capable of, they know what can happen – they have seen it all before – but they cannot survive unless they expand, unless bodies, somewhere else, are eliminated.
They hope – a shallow but genuine emotion – they will not suffer, these fellow bodies that is. That it will be painless, formal, well conducted, quick and merciful.
But in their bosoms, they know this will not be the case. Holding their bouffants high, they strut on their heels of hell and they don’t give a damn. They are damned, they will be damned and they don’t give a toss.
Taught by their professors of economics, they know with a dreadful untouchable certainty, that to expand, to expound and to influence is to survive and that, according to the bible of the TIN GOD (of marketing and commerce) there is no other way.
The wave of greed rolls on, on its way to gathering larger and better trinkets, on its way to destroy yet another generation somewhere, someplace, and the well-meaning suckers are left to clean up the mess.
‘We need to help people,’ she declaims, ‘we will not, shall not demand anything in return. We will, we shall spread the seeds of home. The mothers will and shall not see their babes and children maimed. We will understand their beliefs and we shall respect their traditions and way of life and we shall’, here she smacks both palms of her hands flat down on the immaculate surface of the conference table, bending over from her position of stern attention to do so, achieving a considerable percussion ‘not, absolutely not, undermine their thousands of years of civilisation.’
The well coffered heads around the table, filled with the emotion of righteousness, tremble and shake and bob in agreement. A highly polished fingernail snags an errant lock and flicks it back into place.
She lifts her chin and gazes at the ceiling, then down and around the table at the ring of sympathetic expressions.
‘We shall stay the rise of errant monopolies, we shall contrive to alter the courses of trade into something far more humane and suited to the individual. We shall remove and annihilate the requirements of corruption and I scratch your back you scratch mine praxis…’
…and so it goes on until she sees that some eyes, earlier shining with enthusiasm, have begun to glaze and that this indicates it is time for her to cease.
‘Thank you, ladies. I hope you have found this meeting and discussion to be both helpful and meaningful.’
TIN GOD laughs, guffaws, shakes rattles of merriment, eyes stream with mirth, quivers, calms, mutters, rests. Tomorrow it will rise again. Some other place. Some other time. Some other epoch. It is a merciless, self-made god. It works in the guise of the human being. Its name is Samuel. Amen.
Nigel Ford is English and works as a writer and visual artist. His stories have appeared in the Penniless Press anthology, Howling Brits, (designed the cover) and a collection entitled One Dog Barking, (designed the cover) published by Worldscribe Press. He has been featured in a number of literary magazines, most recently The New Ulster.
He is now producing and directing one of his plays in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Edited by Maria Omena