Sunday, April 01, 2012

Chapter four - Let Us Not Forget You Are A Prisoner

Let Us Not Forget You Are a Prisoner is the fifth chapter of Alistair Avery Vogan's novel How To Lose Your Voice Without Screaming.

To say that Kingsley was skipping as he approached the Laundry-Land Laundromat would be an overstatement. He hadn’t skipped in forty years… 

But, it felt like it to him. In fact, it felt like his legs had a life of their own, but that his torso and other limbs, for the first time in his life were awake, working in concert. Like a team, committed to action. He kicked a can and it rolled noisily up the sidewalk in the shade of an old tree. He didn’t shrink. He considered the sequence of tasks ahead of him, it all was so simple: unlock the door, move out the old machines so that they continue the perfect line starting at the new washing machine, sweep up, and take control of his life. 

Indeed, he was taller.

Kingsley looked up reflexively, remembering that flash he’d seen. What a woman. And what a name! Martha… Miss Martha. How was it that such a beautiful, glamorous woman would be talking to him, in this part of town, his building, in the hallway? It’s unlikely probability seemed to have its origin in something that had occurred that day. A whole new reality had been unleashed by the cracking open of his routine. What else was out there, waiting to enter his life, waiting to transform it? He thought about this. 

“Same for me, but double?” he said horrified, and stopped. Why would he say something like that? Why had he? It was simply incomprehensible. The kind of thing that… Had he kept this kind of foolishness out of the conversation he might have been able to walk away without leaving her something to pick up and say Aaaah. Boy isn’t he an idiot

No, he realized, Miss Martha wasn’t that kind of woman. She would have picked up on his pathetic attempt at… At what? He didn’t even know what he’d been trying to do! It was as if he’d lost control of the speech centers of his own brain. Yes. But she wouldn’t mention it to anyone. She simply had too much class. She’s the kind of woman who’d let you talk on even though you had a noodle on your shirt for fear of you losing face. She wouldn’t draw attention to it. She was classy, wouldn’t humble you that way. It was beyond ridiculous to even say that she was too good for him. …He said it out loud again, “Same for me, but double...” It still sounded completely idiotic. There was no way around it. He knew with absolute certainty that at that moment she was calling all her friends and colleagues and they were all having a terrific laugh about it. He looked up at the windows of the apartment and thought he saw someone hide behind a curtain…. He shook his head smiling. “Wow!” He said. “What a god damn, fabulous woman!”

A xylophone chimed somewhere above him. It resonated in hubcaps, traffic signs and a woman’s earrings as she passed. A sense of dread filled his being, as if he only had to look up to see the falling piano, a grand, descending at an angle and at an increasing speed. Just feet away from a collection of rusted garbage cans and still moving, Kingsley was overwhelmed with the decisions required of him to navigate around these towards his destination. He crashed through the cans and sent the lids rolling in various directions. 

When it rained Nick could be found... she announced.

Anxiously, Kingsley began to run.  A taxi-driver slowed down and pulled up beside him. He didn’t seem to be startled by Kingsley’s pace or attitude. He called Kingsley’ name in a friendly fashion, asking him how things were, then yelled his name as if to wake him from a trance. “Kingsley!”
“Oh. Mr. Yaworsky.” Kingsley mumbled, not looking at him. “I am just great… Yourself?!!
Yaworsky waxed philosophical, seemingly relieved to just be near Kingsley, “Well, hey… you know? It takes some getting used to.”

Kingsley looked at Yaworsky for some clarification. Yaworsky shrugged and shook his head like he had a real story to share. Behind him the passenger leaned forward and tapped him on the shoulder, “Really? Do you mind?”

Yaworsky gave Kingsley a knowing look and shook his head. He drove off. The passenger glared at Kingsley through the back window as the taxi disappeared around the corner. 

Kingsley looked into the air and unknowingly walked passed Laundry-Land. Mrs. Filmon, the name he gave her later, droned on, striking the xylophone at intervals and causing cats to fall off windowsills, windowpanes to rattle, eyebrows to quiver. 

“Mom, I met him!” Martha’s voice boomed.
It was a small, one-bedroom apartment, a mess. Clothing, glamour magazines, unwashed dishes, discarded clothing and a dance foot chart were scattered over the floor, a loveseat, a couch, side tables, windowsills... Martha stood in the middle of it all. She was alone. She squinted out the window as if she could see for miles and miles. She held the telephone receiver to her ear and with her free hand ran her fingers through the cord.

“Just now in the hallway,” She responded matter-of-factly. “I know it's him. …Well, I just know. I-I can just feel it. His name? Ted. Gosh, what a powerful name!” Martha listened, then interrupted. “No. I guess it's,” she paused, “Kingsley. That's it. Kingsley… But what a guy!!” Suddenly Martha’s voice took on a sweet, girlish quality, “I tell yah, he's everything a girl could want. He's smart and thoughtful. He's kind and gentle. He's not a real looker…but” But what? There was something. “He's got a really big heart...” she said.

Martha listened for a while then cleared her throat loudly. “I can just tell!” She got up and seemed to be looking for something to throw at the opposite wall. She saw the dance foot chart beneath her feet and began, in her own way, to dance. Her breathing increased rapidly. “Uh-huh” she said slowly while nodding, an emotional distance growing between them. She stopped, wiped her forehead and opened a can of soda, an expression of weariness growing over her. “No!” she yelled into the phone. “He's not like that! No! No, you listen! No YOU listen… Uh-huh. Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay. …Okay, already! Well, he's not like Louis...” She listened closely and smiled condescendingly… “Oh, Mother are you even listening? The big city is a cold place, that’s a fact, but here he is! I just walked right into him! …‘Who?’” she asked, then paused and her voice dropped noticeably. “My man, in shining armor.” 

She opened her dresser drawer, pulled out a roll of scotch tape. On her knees, with the phone held between her ear and shoulder, she reached for the corner of the foot chart. She yanked it taut, pressed a strip of tape over it and the floor. If her mother had been abducted by aliens that afternoon and they had requested permission to perform futuristic-yet-medieval experiments upon her, Martha would have gladly consented. She’d have signed the form, then celebrated. Her mother knew nothing about real, romantic love.

Martha glanced at the tape roll, and shook her head dismissively. “Yes I'm getting auditions. Yes they really think I have talent.” Her back straightened, “No! He did not just get out of prison!!!” she said. “Well I, I don't know,’ she mumbled. “How many times do I have to tell you?... He's not like the others.” She sat down on the edge of the couch, a distance from the phone, took a deep breath and began to speak, as if to a retarded adult, “Listen. Please? He owns his own Laundromat. He's kind and healthy. He's just a normal guy.” She thought about this, then added angrily“... except he's perfect.”

...With a whistle and a wink Nick, the fluffy blue-jay, ordered everyone to, "Please remain calm, and lie down on the floor,” said Mrs. Filmon with affection. 
Somewhere within a labyrinth of streets, avenues and boulevards, with skyscrapers towering above like giants, dwarfing him, with the sun peaking around the tops of buildings and a jet airplane gliding through a white cloud indifferently, Kingsley spotted the construction up ahead on the road and rushed towards it. A sturdily-built man held a diamond-tip saw and squeezed the handle. Kingsley arrived just as it began to screech, drowning out Mrs Filmon. The man watched Kingsley relax noticeably as he tore into the asphalt. Kingsley noticed the man and waved half-heartedly. 

Kingsley thought to himself, but she’s a dancer... 
He looked up at the street signs above him. He shivered. The signs were a different colour, or was it the shape? He tried to figure out what was wrong. They were, he thought, the same streets, but different signs and realized, in fact, that the streets were different too. It seemed impossible. As if waking, he glanced around and took in the details. He felt anxious. The intersection was nearly unrecognizable! Was this really St. Nicholas Street? He’d walked here a million times, before. But now, the trees were small again, two story buildings now shot up into the clouds. The parking lot on the far corner was now an office tower. If he closed his eyes he could see the way it had been right before him. He swayed, and it felt like the cars were rushing by quickly, and inches from his nose. He watched them pass in a blur of shiny blues, reds, whites... The same cars that he’d seen pass in front of his own Laundromat were here too. All the cars that had driven down these streets so many years ago, it seemed, had just kept going, had not returned. 
But where had they gone? And who were these people around him now? 
When the workman, directing the saw along a line drawn in white, reached the end, he turned it off and squinted in Kingsley’s direction. He was half Kingsley’s age.
Kingsley moved on. 

On a typical night, when the pet store was locked up and the lights in the other mom and pop shops along his street were turned off, when the hipsters and drug addicts and prostitutes wandered the street, and university kids and dropouts were falling out of Volkswagen vans, or debating loudly about things he didn’t try to follow, or the odd, more modestly-dressed young couples – their whole lives ahead of them - walked hand-in-hand silently with their hard-soled shoes tapping along the sidewalk, Kingsley would clean the lint collectors in the dryers, sweep and mop the floor, and wash out the large deep sinks, alone. And, at this point, at the end of the day, he would simply have given up. He could no longer fight it. Too tired to hum, whistle, or make chitchat with customers or endure the racket from the street crashing in through the open door, Kingsley would close it and finish up while Mrs. Filmon would tell and retell her story about the blue-jay without seeming to tire. And oddly, when he stopped resisting, he felt less alone. 
But, today was different.  He’d called that number Yaworsky had given him. He’d met this professor, this gifted, knowledgeable man, this wise man. And Kingsley had told him his secret. 
Now it was out. 
He’d left his neighborhood for the first time, in twenty years. 
He’d met that woman, and somehow he felt, uncharacteristically optimistic, about life, its possibilities. 
Laundry-Land had given him a living. It had provided him security, financial and emotional. With it he had had something to occupy him, a routine, a distraction, a place to hide. Today, however, a crack had appeared in his cell wall, and he’d looked out. For a moment, he’d been able to glimpse another life out there. 
And now, Kingsley wanted more.
Tonight, he decided, he couldn’t step into the Laundromat. Without entering, he closed the door, locked it. He imagined he was trapping Mrs. Filmon inside. He continued up the street, away from his apartment, and he could almost hear her banging against the glass. Let me out! You can’t do this! 
He walked for blocks and again the streets became less and less familiar. He saw strange faces and noticed that people were dressed differently than in his neighborhood. Although just a few blocks away, Kingsley felt as though he were in a different country. He recognized some of the postures and styles from the television sets in his bedroom and kitchen. He smiled a couple times to people whose eyes caught his but they seemed to look through him, as if he were invisible. The world was different. He felt like Rumpelstiltskin. How long had he been asleep? 
Down a darkened street, Kingsley sensed he was being watched. “Kingsley?” he thought he’d heard a man’s voice say. His mouth grew dry. His tongue seemed too large. He glanced up to the main street, could hear the cars and people and music fading. He didn’t know how this city operated anymore. Suddenly he thought he could hear Mrs. Filmon breathing near him, panting, as if she’d run the entire way without stopping. He turned around and rushed back to the bright street and tried to disappear into the crowd. 
He noticed a line of tungsten light bulbs traveling around a large marquee. He read the title of the movie, The Agony and the Ecstasy. It made him feel uneasy. It sounded pornographic. He’d never seen that kind of film before. He looked around as he took out his wallet to see if anyone was watching. And everyone seemed to be. 
Inside the theatre, Kingsley had an awakening. He learned about the world of art and the great Michelangelo, except not the gay parts. For example, he learned that though Michelangelo had the same name as his neighbour down the hall, he didn’t suffer from agoraphobia. He was also not partial to long bouts of drunkenness. In fact, he was an architect, painter, poet and sculptor - and "a major influence of the High Renaissance movement," he’d heard someone say as he left the building.
It was sort of startling what he didn’t know, Kingsley decided. 
But, what he took with him that night was an idea that would transform his life. It was simple: Michelangelo was a gifted guy. And, this guy’s gift came from God. He finished his popcorn and looked at the promotional photos behind the glass outside the theatre. This kind of thing was possible?

The thought impressed him greatly and it consumed him all the way home. Later that night, he got into bed both exhilarated and exhausted. As he fell asleep, his mind was filled with the implications of this idea, and the other events of the day. His life seemed filled with new possibilities. 
He slept better than he had in years. 

If you enjoyed this, share the link!: 
Chapter Five - Let Us Not Forget You Are A Prisoner

To read the next chapter, click the link below: 
Chapter Six - Pumpkins, Only Pumpkins

For more information, please contact:

We would like to gratefully acknowledge assistance provided by 
Safia Adam, Sport68, Robert Bodrog, Bob Studholme, Brian Borgford, Craig Lauzon, Patreshia Tkach,  Chi Diep, Anum Siddiqui, Sara Ryan, Hannah Taha, Shaikha Alain, Ayesha Sayed, Leanne Wherret, Bruce McCullouch, Susan Cavan, Tanya Nguyen, Margaret Lambert, Peggy Vogan, Mahmood Farra, Barbara Vogan, ZeBeDee, Paul Marlow, Alison Belsham, Brian L, Melyat, Jagermeister8 and Sir William Newman, editors and story consultants at The Ivan Von Noshrilgram Foundation, Sohar, Oman.)    

Copyright 2000 (Alistair Avery Vogan / the Von  Noshrilgram Foundation)


akisdad said...

It was beyond ridiculous too even say that she was too good for him – the first ‘too’ should be a ‘to’.
eyebrows to quiver.

“Mom, I met him!” Martha’s voice boomed. - I think this needs something to separate the two scenes. A quick *** might do it, just so that I don’t have to read the line before realizing that the speaker has changed.
Her breathing increased rapidly. “Uh-huh” she said slowly while nodding, an emotional distance growing between the two.- is this between her and her mother, or between her breathing and her nodding?
She’d have signed the form, and the celebrated. – and then celebrated?
The man saw Kingsley relax noticeably as he tore into the asphalt. – it seems odd. The idea of a connection is there, but it isn’t explained, so hangs as an unanswered question, ‘Why did Kingsley relax?
debating loudly about things he didn’t try to follow or the odd, - I think this needs a comma after follow.
In fact, he was an architect, painter, poet and sculptor and a major influence of the High Renaissance movement he’d heard someone say as he left the building. – lost me here. I think it’s a fact or it’s something he heard someone say, but not both.

Alistair Vogan said...

Great! All of this is very helpful. Thanks!