IDENTITY CRISIS! – Chapter 5 – Undercover / Overbearing

I decided to just take her straight home, then call Colin to tell the Speedy Mozzarella manager that I was signing out without going back to touch base. Obviously I then got a loud and angry phone call from said manager; but an earful was a better deal than bringing a strange and shivering woman in high heels to the pizza joint, like I was some kind of pimp. And a whole lot better than leaving her at home alone, and letting her trash the place, or escape.
When I let her into the apartment, she had this expression which made it very much clear that she wasn’t impressed – and honestly I couldn’t blame her. I’m not an interior designer, and as for the general architectural integrity… I got what I paid for. The price for independence is steep when you don’t have much money to your name. The living room rug was second hand and the sofa was given to me by a friend; the shelves either from Ikea, or created in bohemian style (i.e. made out of junk). That said, it was home, and I tried my best to keep it clean, even if it’s akin to polishing a turd. No wonder I didn’t get many visitors – though Brittany being the first guest I’ve had in a while is a depressing thought. How sad that I have to essentially kidnap people for company.
She walked over to the sofa and stared at it for a few seconds with a heavy silence before deciding that it wasn’t going to eat her alive; and sat down. The air was thick with tension, awkwardness, and thin vein of resentment. The adrenaline of the drop-off had worn off, and I suddenly began to feel kinda ill – even though at this point the deal had long since gone down, and a resolution had been reached; I still had this pressing and horrible feeling like I had still fucked up somewhere. The feeling wasn’t unfamiliar – there had been countless occasions where I had worried through an otherwise ordinary and pleasant day because I suspected I had forgotten something grave, or expected some other thing to come and shit on my day, looming on the horizon.
But in this instance my worries were concentrated, high-stakes, and sitting on my sofa. I wanted her out of here as soon as possible, and prayed to some non-descript entity that this kid would have the money as soon as possible. But for now I needed to keep Brittany safe, content, and comfortable. While I would have loved to just leave her sitting on the sofa staring into space while I got some shut-eye, putting her into a further uncomfortable situation seemed to guarantee an attempt to escape. So come on dude, play it cool. You’re only dealing with this for one night.
After making sure the front door was locked, I pocketed the keys and made my way over to the kitchen, turning on the light. There was a few seconds’ hesitation before the harsh fluorescent bulb flickered into life. I turned back into the living room, Brittany still sitting there and staring at the (switched off) television.
You hungry? I have a couple bottles of beer and sandwiches in the fridge.”
I’d like… a sandwich…” No please, or thank you, or anything. I was about to mutter ‘ungrateful bitch’ under my breath, but then I remembered the situation I’d just put her into, and then I started to feel shitty all over again. This was becoming much worse than whatever would have happened to me if I had just not done the deal. If I had just told my boss that morning to fuck right off, I would have been yelled at. He might have even fired me. But at least I wouldn’t be putting myself into such sketchy, morally ambiguous positions. I mean, compared to what I normally do for these guys.
Yes, I need the money; but I don’t need this right now. I want this over and done with at fucking light speed.
I make Brittany her sandwich. Ham, lettuce and a ton of mustard, like how I always have them. When I put the plate on the sofa, she picked one wedge up and sniffed at it; wrinkling her nose at the tang of the mustard. I was about to sigh and roll my eyes, but she still gratefully ate it, with speed and care, not dropping a crumb. Whoever instilled manners in her family spent it all on her and didn’t waste it on Quentin, that’s for sure.
A dull throbbing behind my eyes and my eyelids suddenly feeling like they had become three times their weight gave me a clear message that I needed sleep. It was out of the ordinary – usually it would take a drinking session, a couple of joints, or a few pills to get me to feel like conking out at 8pm, but this day had been such a physical and emotional drain; my body wanting to give out on me wasn’t such of a shock.
I crossed the living room, and was about to open the door to my bedroom, when I hesitated. Not because my bedroom is decidedly less tidy than the rest of my house – despite that being entirely true – but because a nagging voice at the back of my mind told me it would be a terrible fuckin’ idea to leave poor ol’ Brittany on her own in a hostage situation. All it would take is for me to get a bit of shut eye, and she’d be desperately picking at the door lock or prepared to vault out the (5th floor) window. I might have a failed hostage situation, and a crumpled broken body on my hands!
So instead I called out to Brittany, jerking her attention from the sandwich with a small, not exactly brave noise.
“I’m tired, and I can’t just leave you sitting in the living room. Get in the bedroom.” Another pause. “Please.”
Brittany suddenly looked indignant and offended.
Christ, I don’t mean like that, I just want to keep an eye on you. Uh, I mean I can’t let you escape. Because I’ll get into deep shit. You’re aware of the situation here, right?” At that, she raised an eyebrow at me, and I felt my cheeks start to burn. I wasn’t sure what I hated more, my boss, Quentin, or being silently shamed by someone who I’m supposed to have in a compromising situation. Again, not like that.
My alarm went off at 7.30 am, and I moaned and stretched on the hard wooden floor. Brittany took the bed. Hostage situations were some unpleasant shit.
This entry was posted on March 9, 2012, in Prose.

IDENTITY CRISIS! – Chapter 4 – Family Values / Foreign Accent

My family has always been the traditional type. Home-grown Texans through and through. It would be a reasonable guess that until my generation, none of the Brocklee family would have left the state, let alone gone abroad. Our world has been small, but for the most past we’ve been perfectly content about that. I know for sure that my folks have always been just that little bit afraid about how different the outside world could be, and what that might mean. The disadvantage of having strong foundations like an oak is that we’re not flexible.
But for the most part it hasn’t been a problem. Until I got into an accident.
For context, I’m 27 and I have no real idea with what I want to do with my life. Taking my surroundings for inspiration, the men in my family have either done handyman jobs, worked in heavy industry (y’know, metalwork and things like that), or work in agriculture. Anyone who deviated from those kinds of professions were either exiled by the family at large, or have ended up dead (a number of the deaths by their own hand… it’s sad). I can’t call myself a teenager any more, but a younger, more rebellious side of me thinks all those jobs are dead ends – boring and not really ‘me’. I’ve not had a lot of opportunities to do what I want in regards to life choices, but I draw the line at a preordained future where I make a living shovelling horse poop.
I guess that put me in some kind of… quarter-life crisis. Even without having made a real living for myself, I was already stagnating. I did what all those cliché forty-somethings do – get a leather jacket; learn to play the guitar really badly; become pretentious about spirits (and where I’m from there’s no shortage of places to get boozed up at, let me tell you). And then I resolved to buy a motorcycle. Driving a truck was no problem for me, and even though the two modes of transport are entirely different, I figured being a biker would be a snap.
Skipping over the boring tales of my multiple failed driving tests, I eventually passed and got a beauty of a bike. At least I thought so – I had no real frame of reference to compare it to. But it was new and shiny and different, so to me it could have been the finest machine to ever grace the planet.
But then of course, even though I passed my driving test, I was still pretty useless at handling the thing. My parents, my grandparents and my uncle were all dissenters, saying that the rebellious look was unsuitable to my nature, and I would soon regret my choice. Turns out they weren’t just talking big – about a week after getting my licence I was driving down one of the many country roads surrounding our town I got hit by a passing truck.
The pinpoint of vehicular violence burned the whole scene into my memory. As quiet as they tend to be, country roads are beautiful in the evenings. The air is still warm and the sun paints everything in coral and gamboge. Like a Tequila Sunset. Roads like this were great to roar down, largely quiet and open, with long, lazy curves and a warm breeze that ran its fingers through my jacket. I tried to write poetry at one point.
Then, over the thrumming of my bike’s engine, I heard faintly the sound of another engine coming closer. These rural roads don’t have streetlights, and so navigating traffic in the dark can be difficult. Granted, I was going way over the speed limit, but upon hearing the distant engine, I decreased my speed.
The eighteen wheeler truck, however, did not. It burst from around the corner – menacing and wide – the trees at the side of the road shedding leaves in the slipstream. The horn blared deafeningly as the headlights flashed me, but this thing was moving way too fast for either of us to get out of the way entirely. Desperate to not meld my skull with the truck’s chrome grille, I swerved my bike to the side, forgot all knowledge of how to handle emergency situations in my panic, and clipped the right side of the truck as it started to slam on the brakes. While the collision was a glancing blow, the sheer weight of that behemoth flung me and the bike into the air. The small period spent airborne seemed to extend indefinitely; like the world had been set into extreme slow motion. The fishtailing rear of the trick came swinging round, a cobalt blue tarpaulin steadily closing in to meet me. And then-
-I woke up in a hospital bed. Bandaged, bruised, aching. But alive – that was the important thing. My head throbbed in an unusual place, like there was a vibrating marble lodged somewhere in my brain. My mouth was dry and tingling with a weird sensation, like all my facial muscles were tensed and slack at the same time. Feeling was returning to my face and fingers, moving like a wave from top to toe, as if all the nerves underneath my skin were awakening in sequence. I was alive – fancy that.
The room was small, but I was seemingly alone – from my limited viewpoint (I couldn’t twist my head, some kind of brace was preventing me), I could see the corners of the opposite wall and the door, where busy doctors and nurses shuffled past at regular intervals. How did I even get back here? Did the truck driver carry me to the hospital himself? Did someone notify my folks? They’re going to flip a table when they hear I managed to get into a road accident – it’s exactly as they’d predicted, and I’m never going to hear the end of this. They’ll never let me out of the house again, it’s all over.
I sighed heavily, which quickly turned into a coughing fit as my lungs struggled to catch up with my angst. Something stirred to my left, but just out of my field of vision. The inability to see who… or what it was made my heart race.
H-hello?” My voice came out strangely, the familiar feeling of my tongue rolling around in my mouth to make the generic everyday pleasantry coming across as different… so slightly alien, as if someone else was moving my mouth for me. I heard more stirring, and then a figure moved into view. My heart stopped racing like a runaway train as I recognised the face instantly. It was my brother, Nelson.
Warren! You’re awake, oh thank the Lord I didn’t think you were ever going to wake up.” He bent over the bed and wrapped his arms around me, my aching body protested, but the warmth of seeing a familiar face and knowing that there was someone looking out for me was comforting. Eventually he let go and stared into my eyes. I could see tears welling up in his, either from his relief at seeing me conscious, or maybe my face had been disfigured in the accident in some way, I couldn’t tell. There was an awkward pause, as we both waited for the other to say or do something. I decided to break the silence.
So… how long ha-have I been in here for?” There was that odd sensation as I talked again. It was getting disconcerting. It sounded strange, too. However, Nelson seemed to not pick up on it.
You were knocked out cold for three days! Mama was acting like you were never gonna wake up; going on and on about that motorbike of yours. And I agree with her – what on Earth were you thinking when you bought that thing? We Brocklees aren’t the reckless type.”
It was nice that our mom was showing some kind of concern for my well being (considering the most I usually hear out of her is how disappointed she was in me), but I couldn’t help but have a twinge of annoyance over Nelson taking her side on the whole motorcycle thing. I thought he understood me a bit better than that – and it’s not like the accident was even my fault. Not really.
What ha-happened to my bike, anyway?” I pulled a face as I concentrated in getting my voice under control. This was seriously weird.
Totalled. Seemed that the thing took all of the impact and threw you clear. The thing saved your life, but I’m glad it’s gone. Promise me you won’t do something like this again – we don’t want to lose you. I don’t know what I’d do.”
That’s a real shame, but I guess I should be lucky to be alive. Though Nelson… you’re not seriously telling me you don’t want me to find a way out of here? Who cares about the motorcycle thing, I’m so stifled here. I thought you understood that.” Even with some effort and trying to speak slowly, everything I said came out strange. Not unintelligible or anything, but I couldn’t even recognise my own voice. As I spoke, Nelson began to form a puzzled expression, as he slowly caught on that something was up.
Warren, you sound funny. Stop putting on that silly accent, I’m trying to be serious here!”
Accent? I know I sound a bit st-strange at the moment, but I’m not messing you around or anything.” And with that, the strangeness faded, like I’d never had it. Bizarre. There goes any inclination that it was something I was doing involuntarily in his eyes.
At any rate, he shrugged.
Fair enough. But I’ll go and get the doctor now that you’re awake. I had better go and call mom too, she’s worried sick.” He gave me one last hug, and began to start crying again. I felt his tears run down the side of my face and start to soak the collar of my hospital gown. He stayed in that position for several seconds without saying a word; and then finally with a heavy sob, he released his grip on me and made for the door to the hallway, wiping away his tears.
I was fully alone, and not entirely sure if I wanted it that way. On the one hand, I knew for sure that after this, my fate of being locked down by family tradition was as good as secured for the rest of my days. Mama was always great at cajoling the other members of the family into doing what she wanted, and it would be a sure thing that if I tried to make tracks, it wouldn’t be long before an uncle tried to track me down. An identity change could be possible, sure – but that seemed like it would be defeating the point somehow. The aim isn’t to be a different person, just to be free.
On the other hand, I began to realise that without my family, I truly was alone. Any childhood friends I had as a kid grew up, gained aspirations, and left town – searching for something in light industry or media. All the media types fled for the hills. I’d love to take the same kind of goals, but I never really saw myself as the painterly type, or a journalist. A small part of me once hoped that my brother would run away with me – so I wouldn’t be starting entirely from scratch – but now it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. Darn.
And then there was whatever in the hell was going on with my voice. I could tell that something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t place it. Whatever it was, it was bad enough for my brother to notice. I guessed it had to be a result of the accident – no one’s responded to me like that before. Maybe it’s just the medication; I had no idea about the kind of damage – or the kind of treatment – that I’d taken. Who knows.
At that point I tried to sleep – but every time I closed my eyes I saw the intense headlights and the loud roar of the horn, and I jolted awake again. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep again for quite some time. I figured it would be better to wait for Nelson and the doctor to show up again.
It was about half an hour before the doctor appeared – today must have been a busy one for the rest of the hospital. He was a tall and imposing man – broad shouldered, with grey hair, a full beard, and glasses with rims so thick it was almost like he was wearing a bandit mask. When he saw I was awake, a smile passed across his face, but only slightly. This doctor was clearly terminally serious. Without saying anything, he walked over to my bedside, checked the wires and tubes embedded into my arms and chest, checked the machines. He pulled a torch from his lab coat, grabbed me firmly but gently by the face with one large hand, and shined it in my eyes, moving the torch back and forth between them. Eventually he spoke.
You’ve been unconscious for three days. Do you feel any discomfort now that you’re awake?”
Yes, I know. Nelson told me. I’ve had this throbbing headache, and I think my throat’s gone a bit funny,” I said, cursing inwardly at the abnormal feeling coming back. “Can I have a glass of water? Actually, make that brandy.” Nelson snorted as the doctor slowly shook his head.
There’ll be no alcohol for you, but I can go and get some water. The headache may be nothing, but you suffered from some major trauma during the crash, so we want to make sure that you’ll be operating at full health. You have a CT Scan scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at 3pm. Until then, I’m afraid you’ll have to remain here.”
All right, doc. Though one other thing. Who admitted me here? No one knew I was out that night.
“A couple found you and your motorcycle on the country road a couple of miles from town. They said you were just lying on the side of the road next to your bike, and there were heavy skid marks everywhere. They called the police and an ambulance. The police have been eager to question you – I’ve prevented them from seeing you until we know that you don’t require any kind of advanced treatment. If the CT Scan goes well, we’ll most likely have to release you and let them put you in to questioning. I’m… sorry about that.”
So that truck driver had left me for dead. The bastard. Still, it was the kindness of strangers that meant I was still alive – and this doctor really seemed to care about my well being, rather than just another patient that he had to get out of the way.
I’m fine with being questioned,” I said with earnest. “I could forgive that truck driver for the accident, but he didn’t care whether I lived or died. Life is too precious to just throw to the side of the road.” Still silent and in the background, Nelson pulled the same confused face as he did when he accused me of having an accent. The doctor remained emotionless and just listened and nodded slightly at all the right times. It was hard to tell if he thought there was something wrong with me or not.
You’re a strong man, Mr. Brocklee.” With those final words, the doctor bowed slightly and exited the room. Nelson was still staring at me with that now somewhat infuriating gormless expression. He was starting to wear on my patience.
What are you staring at?” I accused. The prompt was enough to get him to realise his indiscretion, and then he shuffled out of the room again, leaving me alone once more.
It was the next morning before I had visitors again. At regular intervals a nurse came to check that I was still breathing and brought food – if you could call vitamin-enriched vegetable mush food. I tried to get some sleep, but that definitely wasn’t working out. I felt like I never wanted to sleep again, and at the same time I would be entirely okay with sleeping for a few hundred years. During one of the nurse check-ups, I asked if they had anything to read, and I was quickly supplied with a few magazines and a collection of short stories. The magazines were all niche interest titles, interests that I didn’t really subscribe to. How they manage to produce monthly periodicals about fly fishing or rock climbing was beyond me. Aside from that, all those photographs of strong, free spirited people who had made the world their oyster filled me with a bitter jealousy. I knocked them off the bed, and started to read the story anthology. It included Reasons to Be Cheerful by Greg Egan; a story I had read in high school.
It concerned a man with no emotions, and how he was artificially given the ability to choose whether he liked or disliked things. As with many science fiction stories when man tampers with the forces of nature, he ended up lamenting his decision; but as I read it I began to disagree heavily with the message it was giving.
Everyone has a flaw with their personality that they would rather have removed, and having a method of bottling it up and shipping it off somewhere else seems like a great idea. And in this guy’s case, not having such basic emotions seemed like way more of a curse than an artificial remedy – not to mention that in choosing his preferences he became more liberated than most humans.
I remember back in high school, my best friend was a, um, closeted homosexual. He was terrified that if he came out to anyone but me and a few of his closest friends, everyone would treat him like an alien or a demon. At the time I shook my head and disagreed, but I think back to all the things my folks have said about gays when they see them on television or in the news. Hateful things; fuelled by religious dogma and ignorance. I heard it so often, I was starting to take it as actual fact, up until my friend came out and I realised that we would still be buddies regardless; and I didn’t think any less of him. I wouldn’t be able to bear that kind of vitriol my parents had towards gay people – and I was already dealing with the ire they put me through for not keeping my head down and being like them.
What would have my high school friend done in that situation? If offered with the ability to artificially change himself, would he take it? He could just become straight, and then all the problems and the bullying and the hateful language would just go away. Sure, it would be a much better solution to just change everyone else – but even with a magical personality-altering machine, it would be an impossible task.
And what about myself? Heck yes I would change myself. This burning desire in my gut to be different; to go somewhere else; is eating me away from the inside and has caused me nothing but problems and pain – and in the end I’m still trapped. Trapped in Texas, trapped with my family, trapped in this damned hospital. I could make that all go away, be at peace with myself.
Because inner peace is the key to happiness, right?
This entry was posted on March 9, 2012, in Prose.

IDENTITY CRISIS! – Chapter 3 – The World is Deaf / Only You Can’t See

No More – A Blog of Uncomfortable Truths
Truth #15: Internet False Gods Rot Humanity
The Internet is full of shit. It’s an undeniable truth. Beyond your garden-variety every day idiots full of ‘lol’ and photographic vanity, beyond them you have the political and religious extremists who yell into the void and pretend that the scattered echoes they hear are evidence enough that the way they live their lives and treat other people is the true path. And beyond them, the criminals – the drug dealers, killers, rapists and paedophiles who hide out on the furthest rings of cyberspace and the deepest tiers of Hell; small and insular, but killing us all from the inside by merely existing, like a cancer.
I can’t claim to fix all these problems, and every day that goes by I feel increasingly aware that we won’t ever be able to solve these problems, and the Internet is truly fucked. And because of the age we live in, where the divide between the digital and the corporeal grows ever thinner, the ruined, post-apocalyptic wasteland of search engines and e-mail clients is a future prediction of the world we actually live in. To so many people, what they do on the internet matters more than real life – the notion that people think the Internet matters at all makes me sick to my fucking stomach.
It’s just a compressed collection of ideas, people! It’s not different from the libraries with all those books you’re too fucking stupid to read; except on the Internet, you’re accepted and sometimes even rewarded for your ignorance! You’re like peasants in the dark ages, rolling around in the mud of your ignorance. And the second one of you manages to brush some of the filth from your ragged clothes and stands upright, either through clarity of what the world is really like, or because they know just how easy it is to exploit others, you all crowd and smother them with your meaningless praise, your empty threats of short-term adoration and unsatisfying fellatio.
Best case study I can give you? This EmptyWest character. More like EmptyWaste. In that last 3 years this intentionally gender-ambiguous entity has become one of the most popular internet broadcasters worldwide. In this time of wanton and unfocused media consumption, anyone who has played a video game before has probably heard of EmptyWest. It’s a faceless, personality-devoid blob with a voice and an Internet connection, and people treat it like Mickey Mouse to the Messiah and anywhere in between.
It’s just a person, guys. Don’t you get that? Have you ever heard EmptyWest say anything meaningful? Offer any moving opinion? Part of what makes us human is how we take our experiences from the outside world and use it to grow – then we share these experiences with other people so that they may grow – or at the very least don’t make all the shitty mistakes we did. By refusing to offer anything about real-life experiences, EmptyWest is not a person. It is less than human. Some of you obsessive types (or the rare few of you who are capable of doing some fucking research) might know that there used to be an EmptyWest blog, where there was some kind of worldly insight, even if it was entirely basic and mundane, but now that’s disappeared, and with it; any kind of respect a rationally-thinking man could have for a person.
Be aware that behind the veneer of that shitty voice filter and video game aptitude is some scared and pitiable person who for some reason hates the real world enough to bury their head in the sand and prefer to be some kind of abstract entity on the internet. And I know why that is. Not just the ‘why’ in this specific case, but the ‘why’ in general. Why stupid losers like EmptyWest, and all the Internet celebrities before whom desperately seek validation from an audience with no faces.
It’s because they’re scared of their true selves. We are our own harshest critics, and we find flaws in ourselves near constantly. We pass by a mirror and hate our skin, our hair, our stomachs. We go outside and see everyone dressed in better clothes, or looking happier than we are. We talk to our friends who care so happy and comfortable with their lives while we seem to be in this kind of rotting stew of self-loathing; one that we refuse to share. We see the ugliness in ourselves and don’t know how to deal with it.
Some people never do, and carry it with them to the grave. Some people actually grow a goddamn spine and deal with their ugliness face to face, either overcoming it or beating it into submission. And SOME people, ladies and gentlemen, hide from it. They run away from themselves with speed and ferocity, until they run out of breath and choke, or find somewhere where everyone is ugly in the act same way as them, and pretend that everything is normal.
And if you’ve been paying attention, you worthless maggots, you’ll find that you’re a subscriber of the latter – you signed on the dotted line the second you opened up your browser. Internet communities are the tightest and most insular of hugboxes; you’re never at fault, and every single one of your dumb fucking idiosyncrasies is forgiven or praised like you’re not a reprehensible piece of shit. It’s okay if you like sitting in the dark and hate to socialise! There are websites out there full of people just like you who won’t judge you! All those people who teased you in high school are wrong – you’re a superhero! Just log on to and find other basement-dwelling grognards just like you!
The lengths you people go to just to hide from yourselves that you have some real, deep-seated shit going on in your lives is just overwhelming and incredibly fucking pitiful. When you go to the lengths of hiding your flaws under a myriad of others, don’t you feel that you’re achieving absolutely nothing? That you’re not bettering yourself? It’s a sickness that only the outsider can see, while we remain blind to the crippling personality flaws that kill us. From me, to the hollow shell of a person behind EmptyWest, to those beautiful people with perfect lives living in decadence while the rest of us struggle. We’re all dying.
But I think the sickness can be healed, these people with broken double lives can be fixed, into a new, better identity. All it takes is a spark of self-awareness and the right kind of people to steer you in the right direction. Self therapy doesn’t do shit. Trying to cure yourself within yourself is just going to make you despise your very being and go back to the same old shitty patterns that you’ve always found yourself in. Up at ungodly hours; listless and apathetic; drinking as a means to pass the time – trying to find the solution to your own boredom at the bottom of a bottle.
Wanton re-integration won’t work for you either. If you’re that fucking broken then trying to immerse yourself within groups of people who you can’t quite match is only going to have you introvert even more; unless someone with the backbone and the methods is around to handhold you through the oh so hard process of making some normal fucking friends; done with the smallest of baby steps. Yeah, comparing you to a baby would be an apt analogy. You need to grow up to find your true self, and you need a strict parent so you don’t go trying to stick your fingers in the electrical socket of social interactions.
EmptyWest, I know you’re reading this. How could you not? Know that I am a beneficial being with a harsh command; here to lay down the truth and force you to swallow it, like a bitter pill. Truths for you and anyone else who would rather build some kind of fucking comfort cocoon rather than face what the real world is like. I will be the first step to your revival; I will make you see that this other life you lead is worthless and shitty, and you’ll praise me for it once you find out the truth.
You’ve fucked up, EmptyWest. More than the rest of us.
This entry was posted on March 9, 2012, in Prose.

IDENTITY CRISIS! – Chapter 2 – Domestic Goddess / Digital God

With the dishes washed, the living room vacuumed, and the kids out of the house at their friends’ places, the day’s mental check list of boring obstructions to Susan’s real job had been completed. To maximise her work time, she had carefully kept the time spent on her other chores at an efficient minimum. Sure it meant that the dishes had an odd chemical scent from in industrial cleaning fluid they were dropped into; the urn containing Grandma Golding’s ashes were now 45% vacuum bag dust; and the evening meal for The Husband when he gets home is Billy’s home economics project reheated; but sacrifices must be made in the name of true art and entertainment.
Susan’s rig was a permanent fixture of the dining room – in fact, most of the space was dedicated to her equipment – reams of wires, microphones, and waist-tall oblongs of gently humming metal and plastic. It was her Workspace – and where the magic happened.
It was about 10 years ago when Susan had discovered the Internet (only 34 years old! Such halcyon days), already in the middle of the v-log and social networking age. Her lot in life has already been cast as a housewife – partially through social pressures, partly though family pressures, and she liked to think it was at least partially of her own volition – but the ability to transcend her (partially predetermined) role and meet and reach out to new people was like a door to something not too unlike freedom.
With a stretch and a cracking of knuckles, Susan powered the computer on. LEDs flashed and fans began to whir as the computer warmed up and began its boot up sequence. The process of familiar sounds and vibrations was like a religious ritual of a technological persuasion, and Susan relished it daily. She had already set up all the items she’d need today – the top of the range mic, the voice-altering filter, her custom-built arcade stick, and a huge bowl of caffeine-coated candy. The company that produced them had made a sponsorship contract with her last year, and the little things were a total godsend. With them, she could keep the show going at any time of the day, weren’t noisy and crunchy like potato chips, and were small enough to not ruin her diction as she talked. She considered sending an e-mail to the company’s R&D department about them also containing vitamin supplements.
Typing her password, the computer screen showed her desktop. While not visible to her viewers, Susan believed in keeping her workspace tidy and attractive. All the desktop icons were her own custom designs, and the wallpaper changed regularly with images supplied by her fans. Some of them were just so dedicated and generous. A feed of important activity ticked away on the right-hand side of the screen, a mystifying combination of website updates, posts on a scattering of social networking websites, and news reports on the technology and entertainment industry; all colour coded and converted into a shorthand that only she could read.
Today was Thursday, and that meant it was Thursday Night Fights. Keeping her events themed and regularly scheduled ensured that viewers knew when and where to tune in – and its effectiveness was more than evident. Her username these days carried so much clout, you were considered a bit of a luddite if you were an Internet denizen and didn’t know where to find her.
And what was Susan’s username? EmptyWest. It didn’t have any real significance – she came up with it while messing around on a name generator – but it had that level of aloof mystique that a lot of Internet folks like in a username, it was easy to remember, and most of all it was gender-neutral. In her initial forays into online communities, Suzan quickly found that most of them were male-dominated, and not especially nice to those who differed from them too heavily – in ethnicity, gender, or otherwise. Sure, there were safe spaces and more balanced communities dotted around, but what she found was that with the presence of her gender removed from the equation, she was suddenly taken a lot more seriously – and her opinions were actually being taken to heart.
And so, over time, the persona of EmptyWest was created. It just started with a simple blog concerning her grievances with day-to-day life, Seinfeld-style. It was popular, but there were plenty of dissenting commenters. The mundanity of everyday living was not enough for these guys – even if it was satirical. What’s more, a post about her stance on raising young kids came dangerously close to letting the cat out of the bag on her gender, and it took some serious damage control and commissioning a few photoshops before the trolls and haters accepted the idea of EmptyWest once being a house husband, but losing the kids in a custody battle. They really liked that story for some reason.
Then, Susan discovered online gaming. In one of the rare instances where she felt like venturing outside of the house for something other than an errand, she had run into a neighbour – also following the Divine Path of the Housewife, and found that during the slower days, she unwound by playing games online. Basic, undemanding games (at least, in retrospect), filled with bright colours, flashing lights, and a hearty “Well done!” no matter how terrible you were at it. It helped with the hours of nothing happening that seemed to fill every day, and made for good stress relief when the Internet was getting a little too hateful, or the kids a little too demanding; but it wasn’t a fulfilling experience quite like she needed. And then Susan discovered First Person Shooters.
Naturally, she wasn’t stunning during her first attempt, but she had a lot of free time to improve. Getting into competitive gaming was a major catalyst for getting Susan to where she was now – voice chat was near mandatory in the games she played; but she knew full well that if any of them heard her voice, it would be the blogging fiasco all over again.
A little research came up with the idea of disguising her voice. Upon deciding on that solution, it was mere minutes until she placed an order for a voice modulator, which arrived a few days later. At the time, Susan was still keeping her online habits secret from her spouse and kids (Explaining the divorce and custody story would be really awkward), so it was a bit of a trial to obtain the package, and store it all without anyone knowing. What’s more, it became increasingly apparent that the family computer couldn’t keep up with demand for better graphics processing required for the latest games.
Going back to the next-door neighbour, Christine, who by now was becoming a good friend and regular gaming partner, Susan found that the neighbour’s daughter had a graphics tablet that she wasn’t using, and Susan could borrow it if she liked; consider it as thanks for teaching Christine how to improve her rocket launcher techniques.
Susan had actually been a student teacher in a high school art department way back when, and her artistry skills hadn’t entirely left her in the years without practice. She found an online art community, and was very pleased to see that not only were the popular artists making money by doing commissions; the average level of artistic skill set the bar quite low. It would be easy money.
Cut to a few months later, and Susan had quite the arsenal of equipment. Her own laptop that became pride of place in the living room; the voice modulator (that she still used, even now), and enough set aside for new games controllers or graphics card upgrades when she needed it. The hobby was starting to get too big to keep concealed; so after deleting all traces of her initial failed blog experiment, she brought up what she did in her free time over dinner one evening. Billy thought it was cool, and Jen didn’t know that her mom was such an accomplished artist, but her dear husband Peter was a little harder to convince. Not so much because he didn’t believe in what Susan was doing, but because he wanted to protect her. An understandable misgiving, but it was something that Susan took personally.
In his sentiment she saw a reflection of the ‘dudebros’ she dealt with every day in the Blue Nowhere. She didn’t need protection – she had come this far on her own with minimal help. It’s not like the household ran itself. But online, no one questioned her abilities – her actions spoke for themselves, and if questioned, it wouldn’t be about the legitimacy of her actions. Which got Susan to thinking – wouldn’t just… becoming the EmptyWest be so much better than having to deal with the ire she got in real life for just being herself? It’s not as if she left the house much – so putting in the time to fully developing her internet persona would be a simple task.
After that meal, she cleared the table, shooed everyone out of the dining room, pulled out her laptop, microphone, and her new voice modulator – and began to tinker with it. The software it came with was intuitive – and after trying out the voices of a young boy, a big burly man, and a space alien, she settled on a posh, foreign-sounding one. To add a level of mystery to it, she added a custom filter to give the voice a subtle, buzzing distort that reminded her of one of the villains from the Batman cartoons Billy watched after school.
Back to the present, and Susan was still using that same filter. The fans loved it – coupled with the oh so slightly nihilistic username, a persona of a distant and yet charismatic super villain was created. EmptyWest had a cold tone, and played video games ruthlessly, but somewhere in its soul was a kindness that always said ‘good game’ to defeated foes, that linked to the blogs of other internet citizens on its immaculately produced website, and always thanked people for tuning in at the end of every podcast or video stream.
EmptyWest had so little about its personal life available; rumours began to spread like cybernetic mythology. Most assumed that EmptyWest was a dude, but many assumed it was some kind of sentient machine (“but what kind of machine could draw that well?!”), small groups of people applied some of themselves to the blank slate of EmptyWest’s identity. EmptyWest was female, black, Hindu, asexual, pansexual, and a few even thought it was a legendary dragon from some fantasy novel Susan had never read.
The family all knew about EmptyWest by now, but Susan had told them very clearly not to talk to anyone about it. For as many ordinary unassuming people out there who are comfortable with being told that EmptyWest was just an… entity that liked to chat and play games, there were just as many who resented the idea that everything about a person wasn’t bare in front of them; especially in the Information Age, when details on anyone was easy enough to find if you knew where to look. EmptyWest was a bigger person than Susan now, and wasn’t about to go away any time soon.
Taking one of the candies from the bowl, Susan started up her video capture software, logged into her streaming website, and sent out a smattering of Tweets and instant messages that she’d being going live in 5 minutes. Almost immediately the number of viewers of her stream reached twenty. Then forty five, then sixty. She was used to these kinds of numbers, and there was always a group of about ten or so who always appeared as viewing; leaving their computers on at all times with her Channel running in the background. It was strange how they were all so eager to get on the channel, when they’d essentially be staring at a black screen until she started recording. The Fighting game to be played today was Uprising: Shounen Hot-Blooded Fighter!, an indie game from Japan (called APURAI-ZE: Moeyo! Abareru STREET over there) that had only seen an international release at the start of the month, but Susan had already been playing since the closed beta – and had the combos and special juggles of Kou Fireblade memorised.
While the game loaded, she checked the comments in the chat. Most of the attendees this evening were regular viewers of the Thursday Night Fights, and were saying hi to each other and asking how their days had been.
XxBaja_BlasterxX: Yo yo yo wassup people
XxBaja_BlasterxX: so hyped to see some uprising footage
Batmanarchist: yeah man I’m actually playing to day wish me luck
XxBaja_BlasterxX: lol man ur gonna get stomped
It was wonderful to see her fans interact like this – though there were so many, it became difficult to keep track of them all. It was time to settle into the EmptyWest persona for the evening.
EmptyWest: I wish you the best of luck, Batmanarchist.
EmptyWest: You’ll be sure to need it.
Skillless Baggins!!: Give him hell, Batman!
The chat log quickly filled with tens of voices clamouring for a solid beatdown, most rooting for EmptyWest, but with some cheering for the underdog. The game loaded, and EmptyWest turned on the video recording. For all the viewers the video window burst to life, showing the energetic and shrill opening cutscene for Uprising: Shounen Hot-Blooded Fighter!. You could tell that the people working on the game didn’t have a particularly large or well-funded development team – the two minute opening looked abysmal, a storm of gigantic eyes and backgrounds of flames that had undoubtedly been taken from a search engine result. These were the kind of people that put all the time and effort into the maths and mechanics of how the game played – anything aesthetic had been done on the absolute cheapest solutions available. But then again, it’s what the fans wanted. All the while, a loud and incomprehensible Japanese pop song was accompanying the terrible artwork. It had about 5 different guitars, a synth that was a fraction of a second out of time, and the vocal talents of someone who sounded 15, and probably deaf.
With one last crash and wail, the opening gave way to the main menu. Now as a good time to turn on the microphone.
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen to another Thursday of pulse-pounding combat! I know all you bloodthirsty fighting enthusiasts have been waiting all week for the purely Japanese spectacle that is Uprising, and you can count on EmptyWest to satisfy all your violent desires. What’s more, any of you can participate, and get a chance to trade blows with the very best! For all of you who aren’t familiar with how to get in on the action, or if you need to get hold of your own copy of Uprising, all the details you need are available at ‘the Empty West Show dot com, forward-slash Thursday’.
And without further ado, let’s get it on!” The chat log went wild with cheers as Multiplayer Online Mode was selected, and an animation of a battle-hardened 12 year old with spiky green hair looked around with binoculars, signifying the game was searching for opponents. It was only about twenty seconds before a long queue of waiting and ready digital warriors began to amass on the screen. EmptyWest would have no shortage of victims to take down a peg.
The first battle started, and things went reasonably smoothly. EmptyWest was well-protected against having any technical errors, short of having the electricity cut out; but situations where the other participants that were notably rowdy and uncooperative could prove to be a headache; and would ultimately drive down the number of viewers. Thankfully, it never seemed to involve a repeat offender – EmptyWest was quick to catch anyone acting out of the ordinary in the chat logs, and anyone she missed, a group of about 10 or so viewers long ago volunteered to be moderators, clearing up messes when she wasn’t around to handle it herself.
It was never said so overtly, but The EmptyWest Show was a ‘safe space’, an area of the internet where any bigoted language was entirely barred. Due to the competitive nature of video games there was bound to be some trash talk, and that was okay, but any mention of ‘bitch’, ‘fag’, or worse was a one-way ticket to having the offender turfed out and banned. Fortunately, many of the fans embraced this unspoken rule. Even if they didn’t all realise why exactly viewers were made to vanish based on what they said, the idea that they were somehow upsetting EmptyWest was a good enough reason to get those assholes outta there.
Forty five minutes later and the show was still going strong. EmptyWest practising long before the game’s official release had paid off – with the exception of a tense and spectacular draw against Batmanarchist, EmptyWest had defeated all other challenges (even if some of them had come worryingly close). It was time to take a break from playing, so Susan saw fit to relax her EmptyWest persona a little, switched the game to spectator mode, and let the viewers fight amongst themselves as she commentated, freeing her up to also check the chat logs.
It was pretty much what she’d expected, a lot of ‘good game’ being thrown around, some discussion of Uprising’s game mechanics, arguments over who the coolest characters are, a few slightly worrying but inoffensive messages devoutly praising EmptyWest (It obviously couldn’t be their way of hitting on her, but some of those messages got so impassioned she could never be sure) and –
Pacmaninoff: IT’S ALL BULL SHIT
Woah. This was out of the ordinary. Angry people on the Internet are hardly rare, but this one message was without a context and most of all, typed in Caps Lock. Worrying. The chat had stopped after the message, as if everyone was waiting with bated breath to see what would happen next, if a moderator or EmptyWest itself would step in and sort things out. And Susan decided to give them exactly what they wanted.
EmptyWest: And what, may I ask, is ‘bullshit’ exactly?
A heavy pause and then –
Pacmaninoff: YOU ARE
That did it, the chat log went wild with a wave of people coming to EmptyWest’s aid, entirely unprompted.
Batmanarchist: Shut your goddamn mouth you don’t even know who you’re dealing with
XxBaja_BlasterxX: what kinda dick just rolls up into the chat and just starts hatin on a dude that’s fucked up man
BanginT1T5: shut up jehonkey wasnt even nobody taling at you
XxBaja_BlasterxX: who the fuck you tellin to shut up
It was quickly getting out of control. After a full minute of letting the other members yell at him – and each other – Pacmaninoff continued.
At which point Susan banned him from the chat. She felt hot and dizzy – starting to hyperventilate just a little. There had been people who weren’t a fan of her show before, some of them rude, but none of them had ever made it as personal as this troll. EmptyWest was a character everyone liked, someone who was always calm, never rude, and strong – not necessarily physically, but emotionally. It was the way Susan had reached out and touched the world, and now this one anonymous dissenter was calling the whole thing a lie; and worse calling other people fools for treating her with any kindness or compassion. And most troubling of all, ‘she’ was used as a pronoun. Did this person know her? Was it a threat that the truth about EmptyWest would come out?
It shook her so badly that her attention drifted from the Show, the people playing Uprising had finished their matches, and were starting to log off one by one out of boredom. The chat log had a smattering of ‘are you okay?’ and ‘ignore him!’, but some of the viewers must have paid heed to his words, as the number of viewers was steadily dropping. Eventually, Susan realised she had left the recording equipment going, and that her panicked breathing was being broadcast to the Internet. She hastily turned off her microphone and shut down the stream without a word.
The chat stopped updating, and the remnants of Pacmaninoff’s message was still on screen. No More Fantasies. The phrase had a strange weight, and seemed to burn on her tongue as she said it to herself. It seemed foolish to take this nobody up to the challenge, a waste of time to indulge him in whatever hateful belief he had, but the urge to read about just how much of a loon he might be was inexorable.
Susan opened a new browser window and typed in the URL.
No More Fantasies.
This entry was posted on March 9, 2012, in Prose.

IDENTITY CRISIS! – Chapter 1 – Pepperoni / Marijuana

Note: This was my 2011 attempt at NaNoWriMo, with edits for general spelling and readability. Chapters are in separate blogposts, and are all tagged under ‘Identity Crisis’.

I both love my job and hate my job. Wait, no, that’s not quite it. I’m both okay with my job, and hate my job. It takes a special kind of social fuck-up to come from reasonably decent education and money, and end up as a single 30 year old, living alone, and working as a pizza delivery guy. It also requires a special kind of fuck-up that decides upon the best way to use his marketing and business degree is to join a drug ring in his neighbourhood.
And the biggest fuck-ups of them all are left standing in front of a big suburban house not entirely sure if he’s there to drop off pizza or weed. It’s about 6pm, and the shadows from the house are looming high, throwing me into the shade. The lights are on, and I can see a bunch of people shifting around behind the curtains of the front room. So it’s a party, then. That doesn’t help – a large helping of pepperoni OR ganja would make a reasonable party into a great one.
The thing is, this wouldn’t even be a problem under most circumstances. I took the utmost care to keep my two modes of employ separate, right down to being in contact via separate phone numbers and e-mail addresses. But all this week, the phone that my supplier calls me on has been dead. Stone cold. Which is strange in itself – the boss is a pretty jolly guy, forwarding me pictures of cute kittens in ridiculous situations and all that inane shit. Despite that, at the moment, he hadn’t breathed a single word. That is until this morning. The ringtone that woke me up was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’ – signifying that it was an ordinary call. A friend, or a family member or something – there’s no way the pizza place would want me to make a delivery at 9am.
Rolling over to reach for the side table (knocking off my alarm clock and a bottle of sleeping pills as I scrambled for the ringing phone), I answered in that deep and gritty tone of the man who has been sleeping off a hangover.
Yes, what is it?”
Hiya mate, I’ve got a big job for you today.” The voice wasn’t who I was expecting. It… couldn’t be my boss, could it?
Who else, mate? As I said – got a big job for ya. 4 packages of the good shit. A big spender in the suburbs, so it’s easy money.”
Uh, that much? Are you sure this isn’t a bust or something?”
Naw, naw. This kid’s apparently a regular, but normally has his buddies make the calls for him. You know Jeff?”
Yeah, sold to him before, scrawny kid.”
Turns out he’s this kid’s best friend. Can vouch for him and everything.”
Okay, sure. The kid’s legit. Where am I picking up and dropping off? You know I don’t keep that kind of quality stock.”
That was a white lie. I always keep a small amount in a sofa cushion, but that’s my own private stash. Skimming off the top of the expensive stuff is as retarded of an idea as you’d expect – but as I’ve said (and will probably say many more times, ad nauseam), I’m a fuck-up. I rub my temples and stare at the slightly peeling ceiling with a sinking feeling, and considering to get a cup of tea – chamomile or some shit. I could hear Mike on the other end of the line, rusting through papers, trying to find the details of where my ‘new customer’ is living.
Right, here it is, mate. You’ll be picking up from Colin – doesn’t really matter when, I’ll leave you to sort that out. Your drop-off is at 6. You got a pen to write this down?”
I’ll remember it.” He gave the address, slowly, twice. Asshole thinks I’m an idiot sometimes, I swear.
Right, I’m counting on you to get this one done right, we can make some serious bank here,” said Mike, and then his voice suddenly darkened, like a ominous storm cloud. “Don’t fuck this up. It’s important.”
N-no. Of course I’ll get it done. Have I ever done you wrong?” No response. I could hear the apartment creak softly in the awkward silence. And then a click and dial tone as Mike hung up.
What a trip – after not getting any business from that side of my life for a week; I finally get a call – on the wrong phone (how in the hell did he get that number?) – and for just a second it sounded like he was about to kill someone. Mike, as bosses go, isn’t that bad of a guy, but beyond the phone calls and the e-mails, I don’t really deal with him. He’s not the type to go out for a beer with his employees, and probably for good reason.
But whatever; a job’s a job, right? If this kid is as loaded as he sounds, I could make a tidy sum, even if the cuts I get from these deals are incredibly shitty. No longer tired, I rolled out of bed. Old boxer shorts aren’t the most glamorous sleepwear, but It’s not like I’ve had anyone stay overnight in ages. I accidentally crush one of the sleeping pills as I step out of bed, covering my foot in white dust. With some grumbling, I scooped the remaining pills back into the container, found my other, ‘drug deals only’ cellphone, and dialled Colin’s number. If I’m gonna be awake, then he gets to suffer with me.
Hiya Brett, what can I do for you today?” In complete contrast to my sluggishness and bleary-eyed demeanour, Colin was sounding bright and breezy. I had always known him to be energetic, but I didn’t realise that also extended to Sunday mornings.
Yeah. I just got a call from Mike,” I said. Gotta make a delivery at 6; said I was to pick up 4 packages from you.”
High or low grade?”
High.” I could hear Colin whistle through his teeth in surprise.
That… shouldn’t be a problem, but I’m not dealing that amount from my doorstep. I tell you what, show up to work later, and I’ll have ’em on hand. I can disguise it as a pizza delivery.”
Colin straddles the dividing line between the two lives I lead. While I try my hardest to keep them separate, I can’t do a whole lot if I share a work colleague between both jobs, can I? For what it’s worth, he’s the guy who got me into this whole deal, but that’s for some other time.
Later that day, I showed up at Speedy Mozzarella, the pizza place I work at. Independent store, obviously – but it’s still a pretty popular joint with the inner-city folk and the snobbier families out in the ‘burbs. Partially because the portions are generous, partially because we have a huge delivery range. Having to bike it (or drive, if I’m going to carry something so important as this drug deal) over to some of the further parts of town is a real pain – and if it wasn’t a great excuse to be in odd parts of town as long as I’m wearing the uniform, I would have protested.
Colin was working in the back, in the middle of putting the toppings on about ten different pizzas. His face was screwed up with concentration, like he was doing complex electronic work, or creating a very detailed painting. He didn’t notice me at all, until I tapped him on the shoulder. He bolted sharply upright sending a cascade of sliced olives over us like confetti.
JESUS CHRIS- Oh, it’s you, Brett. Don’t do that, you know I have a nervous disposition.”
It’s a pizza, Colin. Not a renaissance painting.”
The devil’s in the details,” said Colin, turning back to his work. Dude loved to multitask.
You always say that, but like anyone goddamn cares about the precise spacing of the anchovies on their pizza”
You forget I get paid by the hour. As long as these Pizzas arrive on time, I can take as long as I like.”
You sly bastard. Anyway, you know why I’m here.”
Right, well you’re going to be doing two sets of deliveries, I’m afraid. These pizzas are due to be sent off soonish, and you’re the closest free hand.”
You’re not serious.”
Delivering pizzas is a job too. I didn’t bust my ass to get you on staff just so you could use it as an excuse for, uh, other shit.”
Okay, okay, I get it. Two deliveries. So where am I sending this delivery then?”
Colin finished decorating one of his pizzas, and pushed it on towards the oven with a satisfied expression.
It’s over on the pinboard over there, under ‘Jeff’.” Walking over to the notice board, its cork surface was filled with notes, posters, and customer orders. It took a few seconds of scanning before I found Jeff’s order, wondering if was the same Jeff I knew. Probably not, the name wasn’t exactly uncommon.
The address was familiar. My rough knowledge of the town’s layout told me that it was somewhere in the suburbs… Oh damn, it was on the same road where I was meant to drop off the substance. Was it the same house? I racked my brain, thinking back to this morning. Everything came back as clear as the face of a loved one – everything except the house number. Fuck. This just made things a lot more complicated – and it was already 5.15 pm.
Fast forward to the present – standing outside this party mansion, weighing up my options. I have an address set in stone, and it won’t be hard to make that delivery. If it looks like they’re gonna take the drugs, then my problem is already solved. But what kind of rich asshole has a loud party and looks like they need marijuana? Then again, if I call back to the boss, I am going to get the biggest bollocking for forgetting. My pride’s way too fragile to handle that. But oh god, delivering the weed to the wrong house – or even worse, not delivering it at all – is pure goddamn suicide. I won’t just get yelled at by Mike, I’d expect something along the lines of removed fingers… or flaying.
One of my phones vibrates in my pocket – the drug dealer phone. It’s an alarm to remind me that it’s 6pm, and I really should have made the drop off by now. I stare at the front door and sigh, heavily. At the very least I can go drop off this huge fuckin’ stack of pizzas before they go cold, and if they don’t look like stoners, I can go for a plan B – face the music can call up the boss again.
On the doorstep, I could hear the music coming from inside. Unlike all the house parties I’ve ever been to, the volume levels were eerily polite. From the sidewalk I could barely hear a drum beat or bassline; but up close I could hear a lot more. It sounded a whole lot like dubstep; although not quite. Possibly some subgenre of a subgenre that had the precise combination of monotonous beats and social obscurity that only this dude’s friends could get off to.
I pushed the doorbell, expecting the harsh electric buzzing that I’m used to hearing at my apartment. Instead, I hear the sound of loud and hollow tubular bells, so grand I initially assume there’s a bell tower embedded in the roof somewhere. The regular thumping of the music doesn’t change, but a sixth sense tells me that someone’s coming to answer the door (how could they not know, with a doorbell that heinously loud); and before long I could hear footsteps clacking against hard flooring, quickly approaching.
The door opened to a woman, about middle age. She’s attractive in the way that any style-conscious broad living comfortably in the upper middle class would be attractive – looking like the adverts, TV shows and gossipy neighbours next door want her to; but not quite reaching the zenith of society-imposed beauty. The clacking sound was of her dark purple stilettos against the cream tiled floor. The expression on her face didn’t quite read as “I’m, surprised to see you here”, but at the same time, I had my doubts that she was going to be eating any of the pizza. Moreover, I was starting to doubt that anyone would wear stilettos within their own home, unless there was an underlying complex she was compensating for.
With little subtlety, she eyed my up and down, and raised an eyebrow.
Uh, I’m with Speedy Mozzarella,” I said dumbly. I wouldn’t say that I was particularly bad at dealing with women, but the surprise at not dealing with a Jeff, scrawny druggie or otherwise, and the pressing notion at the back of my mind that I most definitely do not want to add another item to the long list of fuck-ups my life has been; meant that I had been completely thrown off-guard. “I’m here to deliver 10 large pizzas – various toppings.”
I see. Hold on a second.”
At which point she shut the door in my face. The sudden action made me jump, and then flail around a bit as I tried to stop myself from dropping the pizza boxes. After way too much time of me standing on the doorstep like an idiot, I had just about resigned to go home, pizza and drugs undelivered, when the door opened again. It was Jeff; in fact, it was the Jeff I was familiar with. Despite obviously being told there was a deliveryman at the door, his eyes widened a little in surprise.
O-oh. Hey,” Jeff stuttered, fidgeting with his shirt sleeves. All the previous times I’ve seen this dude, his sense of style reminded me heavily of Shaggy from Scooby Doo. But tonight it seems like he’s put the effort in, and is wearing a slim-fitting purple shirt and suit trousers. It definitely matched well with the location, but mostly what stood out was how damn skinny he was. He definitely needed to eat a pizza or three. I nodded my head in recognition and proffered the boxes forward.
Yo Jeff. Your Pizza. That’ll be sixty dollars.” At this, he looked a little confused, like he was waiting for me to offer something else.
Is… is that all?” Jeff asked. “I thought there was, um…”
Don’t get any bright ideas,” I said, with confidence regained and waning patience. “If you want any other deliveries, I wanna speak with the guy who placed the order, not a lackey.” Jeff winced at ‘lackey’, but he understood what I was getting at. This wasn’t your ordinary deal – these packages were likely to go for several thousand – you’d think we were dealing in crystal meth. Still, Jeff wasn’t leaving just yet.
I uh, I don’t think Quentin really wants to come to the door right now. I could take the packages off your hands and-“
Are you deaf, or just stupid? Get this rich boy out here now so I can get this over with and go home.” I was talking big, but I full well knew that going home without delivering would be suicide. If this guy was such a big spender, pissing him off would screw the business over in the long run. These types can spread gossip fast, very well-connected. Still; the strong words did the trick – Jeff turned tail and headed up the elaborate staircase in the hallway, not shutting the door in my face, thankfully.
It gave me the chance to give the interior a good looking over. Gotta know your enemy and all that. The place was… remarkably neat. Not just tidy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a team of cleaners give the place a once-over this morning, so everything would be immaculate for the party. My mind then drifted over to the woman who answered the door. Who was she; and how did she relate to this Quentin kid? Or moreover, how did she know Jeff? She’s definitely out of Jeff’s league – and a good 20 years older, at least. If Quentin was the same age as Jeff, then does that mean that this woman is Quentin’s mom? Who on Earth has their parents in the house during a party? A party featuring packs of incredibly expensive drugs?
I was still staring off into the middle distance and musing over just how messed up the family relations of this place must be when someone walked down the stairs. He was a lot healthier than Jeff – that is to say he definitely looked like he never missed a meal. He was wearing an immaculate white suit that looked custom tailored – and yet the bulge of his stomach still showed through loud and clear. His brown hair was gelled back and was so shiny it looked like melted toffee. He reached the doorway, and looked me up and down in the exact same manner as the woman from before, and I had no doubt in my mind that they were in some way related.
I have your deliveries here. You Quentin?”
Who gave you my name?” His voice was a little petulant. The way he said ‘gave you’ had this funny stress on the vowels that made him sound like those American actors on TV who force a British accent. He’d clearly worked hard on his image of ‘new money’.
Your boy Jeff told me.”
Ugh, that little shit, I’d told him a thousand times…” Quentin muttered under his breath. “I don’t like it when the suppliers and deliverymen get too familiar with me. But it doesn’t matter. Do you have what I asked for?”
Other than the pizza? You’re going to have to pay up front. This isn’t me just dropping off a baggie of z-grade.” Quentin frowned a little, this clearly wasn’t what he had imagined the drop off to be like.
Do you really expect me to just hand over all that money right now? Like, a briefcase straight out of Pulp Fiction? Don’t be an idiot – just give me the packages and your boss will have the money summarily.”
No can do, kid. I’m not about to trust–“ I hesitated mid-sentence. Yeah, this kid was being a little shit, but pissing him off and losing his business would be fucking up just as much as not getting the money for this one deal, but several times worse. I sighed. “Whatever, just let me make a phone call first. But do you at least have the sixty bucks? I’m sick of lugging around these fuckin’ pizzas.”
He gave me a hundred dollar bill, and told me to keep the change, with a smug grin plastered on his chubby face. Ugh. I stuffed the cash into my pocket, and pulled out the general use phone. It’s not what I normally do; but right now I don’t have the time to mess about with my own dumb rules. Plus, I have Mike’s number memorised.
The phone rang three times, and Mike picked up. He sounded a little harrowed.
Who’s this?” Considering he called me on this number this morning, it was a little strange that he didn’t recognise the number, but I didn’t think much of it.
It’s Brett, dude. I’m calling about the drop off.”
Is this you telling me you’ve made the drop and we’re in good money, or are you telling me we have a problem,” said Mike. It was pretty clear that this deal had been on his mind.
We… we have a problem, sorry to say. Your wonder boy isn’t gonna pay the money up front. Can we let him do that?” Mike sighed in an exasperated manner, and the sound crackled a little though the phone’s earpiece.
Well no shit he’s not gonna pay that kind of money up front, what were you expecting – a briefcase?”
No, I just-” I tried to keep things calm, but Mike cut me off.
Does this even look like a mobster movie to you? Are you really that-”
Okay! Okay, jeeze I get it.” Everyone was getting on my case today, and I was starting to get a throbbing headache. The things I do to pay the bills. “He doesn’t have to pay up front. But can’t we at least take some collateral?“
Well no shit. These kind of negotiations are in your job description, mate. Get to it.”
And then the dial tone. Mike’s telephone manner has always been awful. I turned back to Quentin, who had heard only fragments of my conversation, but seemed pleased that I was so whipped my my superior. I had to think hard about what I was going to do here. If I play my cards right, I can get the deal done and get a reasonable amount of gangsta cred.
The woman who answered the door, who is she?” I said, putting on the calmest but menacing voice I could manage. It didn’t phase him a whole lot.
She’s family. What’s it to you?”
‘S what I thought. Bring her out here – she’ll hang out with me until you have your money ready. Boss’ orders.” Quentin slowly raised an eyebrow, and put on a face so pensive I could almost hear the gears grinding away inside his skull. Then he shrugged.
Sure, whatever.”
At which point he then slammed the door in my face. It must run in the family. Two minutes later , the door reopened and Quentin was gripping the arm of his… mom? Sister? Who cares, it doesn’t matter – she was being thrust through the doorway in my direction. She was breathing hard, with a hastily packed handbag under her free arm, and an expression that just about concealed the horror at the idea of her being human collateral. Quentin let go, and she moved into the driveway, stilettos clacking, and looked at the floor, saying nothing.
A part of me felt awful about the situation, but this was looking like an airtight game plan. I was on the home stretch.
Awesome, I’m glad you’re co-operating. She’ll be with me, and I promise I won’t ham a hair on her head. You have 24 hours to come up with the cash, kid. Raid your dad’s bank account for all I care. If we don’t hear from you after that, you’re gonna have to worry about a lot more than hair damage. You get me?”
Now it was Quentin’s turn to look at the floor.
Sure. 24 hours. Got it.”
Do you have a way of getting in contact with us?”
How do you fucking think I ordered the drugs in the first place?”
Oh, good point.”
So yeah. Get lost, and I’ll get you your money.”
The third door-slam of the evening. I turned around to my… hostage I suppose, who was now starting to shiver in the evening air. From the comfort of her own house she looked strong and in control – but being treated like property by a family member who’s balls have barely just dropped would mess anyone up. That said, I kept my distance. I may have just successfully made the delivery, but having to keep a person captive is a whole different kind of complicated.
I pulled my car keys out of my pocket; and remembering an old trick I was once taught – by whom I don’t even remember any more – put the wireless fob to my temple, like I was putting a gun to my head. I pushed the ‘car unlock’ button. Bang. From across the road, out of range of the fob normally, the car’s headlights flashed to signify it was unlocked. That trick never stopped being cool – it felt like a superpower.
Walking to the car and opening the passenger seat, I gestured to my… I really don’t want to use ‘captive’ here, but what choice do I have – and said:
Get in the car.” And then hesitated for a second and added:
And do you have a name I can call you? This shit is awkward enough already.” She stopped looking at the ground at this, and met my gaze. She had an unfocused look, like she was acknowledging my presence, but only as some kind of mist – nothing corporeal. I can’t decide whether that’s a coping mechanism, or a gesture of absolute contempt.
Brittany,” she said simply, walking past me and getting into the car, quickly and quietly closing the door. With nothing else to be said, I got in the other side, started the engine, and started the drive back to the inner-city. Dropping her off at my place seemed more sensible than taking her back to the Speedy Mozzarella.
Only I could turn delivering pizzas into the most complicated job.
This entry was posted on March 9, 2012, in Prose.

Analyse You

The eyes, a window to the soul,
As a burglar of thoughts I break inside
To scour every crease and fold.
What’s on your mind?

“I AM ME,” the Mind replies
Thick red lines, deep red, graffiti
Painted haphazardly on your psyche
A brick wall, your ego blocks my path.

But cutting retorts are sharper stuff
They slice and shred the barrier
Revealing it to be merely paper
An unrelenting quest for truth.

And I discover softer stuff, mere traces
Of conversation, memories, bad jokes.
I flick the pages, scan the entries. Hmm…
There’s no next chapter.