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Nicholas Hancock
The Poet of Despair

Published by The British Hancock Society
with the permission of the author.

    ALL OUR AGENTS
ARE BUSY

       

ALL OUR AGENTS ARE BUSY

 

‘All our agents are busy at the moment – Your call will be answered shortly.’

Brian moves the phone to his other ear and prepares to wait.  His eyes appear to be fixed over the computer monitor on the flat roofs of the school, but he’s not really looking.

What am I going to say when I get through? he thinks.   I mean, Alice surely can’t be that bad.  Or can she?

People do have the odd knack of being bad, you see.  But then maybe I get on her wick as much as she does on mine. That’s certainly worth considering.

But how could I be so irritating?  She’s that skilful at making a person feel less than a person, in a word genuine crud.  How does she do it?  Must be her eyes.  She has a way of looking that impales you – that’s the only way I can put it – yes, impales you on the laser of her eye-beam, which says quite clearly, ‘You’re pathetic.’ 

Oh, at the start, how he’d loved the gimlet grey of her eyes.  In those days they didn’t question his masculinity or even his IQ.  For the first time in his life he’d found himself in true contact, as he thought, with the Other.  With Alice Other.

And then their daughters Kathy and Cheryl.  Hadn’t she succeeded in turning them against him too?  He didn’t imagine she ever explicitly criticised him to them: they just had to see those grey eyes boring into him.  I must be holed through and through like an Emmental cheese by now, he reflects.  She 

‘All our agents are busy at the moment – Your call will be answered shortly.’

She must have started hating me when I failed to be short-listed for that executive post at the bank.  I well remember the corrosive scorn of her voice as she said, ‘So we’re condemned forever to holidays in Benidorm, Brian!’  And she’d clapped her hands to her head as if I’d given her an instant migraine. A cross between Jeremiah and la Rochefoucauld, her maxims and lamentations scalded my ears.  Each night she syringed them with prussic acid; it was such stinging pillow talk that long after she turned her back on me my ego smarted and burned.

The phone returns to his left ear.

Vivaldi’s Winter seems to be on a loop.  He used to like this music, but now it simply gets on his nerves.

The other day he’d suggested they go for marriage counselling.  She shook her head slowly, squeezing maximum contempt out of each unhurried turn.  ‘You honestly think anyone could counsel us?  I mean, us!’  Again two or three times her head swayed from side to side, emphasising her derision.

So now –

‘All our agents are busy at the moment – Your call will be answered shortly.  Our lines are particularly busy right now, so may we suggest that you try our website on www.problemssolved.co.uk/contracts?’

So now – is the worm veritably turning?  I do hope so because I can’t go on living like this.  I’m becoming quite sick.  No, not mentally – physically.  And I just can’t hack this excruciating life.

Unexpectedly the Vivaldi has been replaced by a dialling tone.

‘Sorry to have kept you waiting.  I’m Virginia.  How may I help you?

‘Hi, Virginia.  Good afternoon.  I’m Brian Thurgood.  Have a job for you.’

‘Before we start, Brian, I have to tell you our terms and conditions.  A successful hit costs the customer £35,000, of which a deposit of five thousand’s payable by credit card up front. Now we don’t guarantee a successful termination though an attempt is always made.  And in the case of failure we don’t refund your deposit.  Otherwise we call back to you for the balance.  That being said, our success rate this calendar year has been 97.3% - which you can check from the relevant police dossiers.  And when I say successful, I mean, not only is the contract completed, but the purchaser of the contract is free from investigation.  So – so who do you want taken care of?’

‘My wife, Virginia.  Alice Thurgood.’

‘That’s t-h-u-r-g-o-o-d?’

‘It is.  Of 4 Primrose Way, Wingham, SR6 2AJ.’

‘S for Sierra, R for Romeo, A for Alpha and J for Juliet?’

‘Exactly.’

‘And her movements?’

‘Works at Mothercare on Lord Street, Liverpool.  Arrives Central Station Monday to Friday – usually about 7.55 a.m. – and walks from there to her place of work.  Likes to keep in shape, you know.’

‘Okay.  Now you must send us five good photographs of your wife, uploading them on our website.  Your account will be DR7845T0043.  Got that?’

‘Indeed.’

‘Now your credit card details.’

At this point he finds himself focusing on one roof in particular.  A man’s taking a bicycle pump out of an old bag.  As Virginia asks again for his MasterCard number, Brian watches fascinated at the sight of the man slotting other parts onto the pump with incredible speed.

‘Your credit card –’

But Brian doesn’t hear because a light erupts from one end of the distant pipe together with a .221 Fireball round travelling at two thousand six hundred and fifty feet per second and puncturing a neat little hole in his forehead.