|August 30th, 2013|
The first play I wrote was a comedy. I called it ‘Smut’, and put it on in 2000 at Melbourne University. Writing a play was a challenge but writing a comedy particularly challenging. I felt the pressure to have a joke every three or four lines. The play sold-out and got lots of laughs, but the experience had been nerve-wracking. I formed the opinion that one of the hardest things to do is make people laugh. So, the next play I wrote (‘Looks Like Rain’), I steered away from the comedy genre, writing what I thought was a straight drama instead. The funny thing was, though, that ‘Look’s Like Rain’ ended up being fairly humorous in parts itself. Immediately, I realised that it was easier writing comedy if you didn’t tell yourself you were. The comedy comes into the story naturally, that way, rather than being a toilsome imperative. I also realised that it was probably not a good idea to tell other people you’ve written a comedy, either. That way, if they don’t laugh, you can say, ‘Well, of course not! It was drama.’
So, I’ve never set out to write a comedy since but most of the stuff I’ve written does contain some humour. I think that resulting mix is closer to life, anyway. Even at the bleakest times, people still find things to laugh at, even if that’s more a sanity-saving recourse than anything else.
But just recently I’ve embarked on a novel that is the first work of mine since ‘Smut’ that I’d call an out-and-out comedy. There, I’ve set myself up to fail! Below is the first chapter, which I believe works as a stand-alone story. Hopefully it garners a smile.
Firstly, figure our hero a youth, somewhat sensitive and impressionable to the way others regard her. She is a little stout (in truth, a little person), with straw-coloured hair, rather too prominent ears, a proboscis of a nose and eyes of a grey, watery kind. I perhaps do her a disservice here for these features somehow combined to create a pleasing effect. They gave to her an air of geniality but also, it must be admitted, of vulnerability. Those moist eyes made her seem as if she had just been crying, and she practiced every variety of subterfuge to missal such an interpretation. She was four-foot-six.
Daisy approached the office, with hands thrust deep inside her pockets. She was fumbling about with her keys until she realised how annoying the jangling might sound. Finding that Mr Henson was busy writing something down on notepaper, Daisy paused at the door, glanced nowhere in particular, and waited till her boss was finished. It seemed to take a while before Mr Henson raised his head and, when he did, he regarded Daisy as if our heroine had only just arrived.
‘Come in, come in. You’re just in time,’ he said, at the same instant laying aside his pen and filing his report.
The great big man rolled off his seat and ushered Daisy out of the door before him. A pace or two beyond the threshold and a flabby arm arrested Daisy’s progress thither. Mr Henson had caught Daisy in a manly hold, so that the two were now abreast of each other like a couple posing for photographs. (Although they made an awkward pair.) With no more parting of air by motion, an odour of coffee soon gathered around the portly employer, causing Daisy no little discomfit in the process.
‘Space,’ said Mr Henson.
Evidently our heroine was to ponder this word a minute while now in the best position to survey the endless rows of desks.
‘The most efficient utilisation of space is what we’ve got here,’ he continued.
With that came a squeeze, emphasising his words. Daisy detected a need to show her agreement at this point, a duty which she performed in a squeak corresponding nicely with the compression of her ribcage.
The lecture ensued. ‘It used to be the case that everyone was lined up along the windows. For air, that is. But that meant a lot of wasted space in the centre of the building, of course. Know what solved that problem … er, young man?’
‘No, sir,’ said Daisy, not even flinching at being mistaken for a man.
‘Air-conditioning. Now we can have miles of office workers, all together. So we don’t need windows, of course. They only distract people.’
Indeed the vista of typists did seem to extend in every direction into haziness. Buzzing about a honeycombing of desks and low partitions, was the humble clerk, type of an insect caste. She made up part of a swarm of bees attracted to the sweetness of money that was dripping through the computer systems. Daisy managed to locate her own desk among this sea of sickly sameness. On the wall of her partition was a poster of a vineyard somewhere in France that she had picked up cheaply.
‘Of course there’s a problem with this closeness,’ resumed Mr Henson. ‘Know what that problem might be?’
As he said this, Mr Henson gave Daisy such a funny look, comprised of two parts embarrassment and one part pleasure, that our heroine didn’t wish to know.
The word had been gurgled. A brown coffee gurgle.
‘The office workers don’t always look at their screens, you know,’ Mr Henson whispered, giving Daisy at the same time a knowing look. He then laughed at a joke before the telling. ‘Though I put a little bit of bromide in the water, ha!’
In saying this Mr Henson had leant forward conspiratorially but now he straightened to laugh the better.
The man’s stomach, which was in truth not much more than a coffee percolator, sent through the air spumes of odour which were near to liquefying. At this point our heroine made an excellent imitation of a rabbit twitching its nose. So accomplished was this performance that I fear that the stage was where she belonged. However, acting requires actions on cue rather than by reflex. And besides, there are only so many circus-midgets a little person can stand playing.
Daisy sat down next to an impossibly structured creature. He was a giant. Perhaps eight foot, with a black pelt of a beard that didn’t seem to know the usual bounds. It extended down his neck to more hair. It crept up his cheeks almost to his eyes. The only place it would not trespass was his crown. On that pate, he was practically bald. He rudely stared at her before snorting. His chair was a massive, cockpit-type contraption, different from all the other seats. She’d seen a work-experience kid sitting in it earlier. A woman had warned the kid, her voice a hushed awe: ‘He’ll tip you out of it. He’ll simply lift it up and tip you out.’
The silence was becoming so awkward Daisy felt she had to speak. She leant towards him.
‘Don’t drink the water. There’s bromide in it.’
‘It … well,’ said Daisy, more hesitant now, ‘it reduces your libido.’
The creature squinted at her. ‘Libido! Have I displayed a rampant libido to you?’
At the end of the week, Daisy asked for her pay.
Mr Henson was of that species of men who like to sexualize business talk, much to the disgust of some and boredom of others. ‘You can lap-dance around me all you like, I’m not gonna touch this scheme.’ ‘Lube up all you want, I’m not bending over on this deal.’ ‘If that’s your best price, then you can stop slurping my dick.’ He had narrowly avoided sexual harassment charges on three occasions.
‘You’re screwing me,’ he said to Daisy.
‘I didn’t take you for a jackhammer, my man. I thought you’d screw lazy style.’
‘Lazy style, sir?’
‘You know: fucking while spooning!’
Mr Henson shook his head. ‘In fact, I didn’t even consider you the active partner. I assumed you were a total starfish.’
‘Um, well, my pay?’
‘You think I’m a bit of a dildo, don’t you, young man?’ asked Mr Henson.
‘A bit of a dill?’ clarified Daisy.
‘A dildo,’ insisted Mr Henson. ‘This is work experience. Did you think I was going to treat you any differently just because you’re retarded?’
Daisy left work.
Gustav watched her go.
She stopped off at a Macduffins
Gustav walked in. He shouted at the cash register: ‘Two MacDuffin Burger Meals! No meat! Meat is murder. Or, if you happen to be one of our New Zealand cousins stealing Australian jobs, meat is moida.’
Nothing. He shouted again. ‘Two MacDuffin Meals unsullied by meat!’
A pimply boy appeared.
‘Can I help you, Sir?’ the boy squeaked.
Gustav blinked at him. ‘Do you mean to say these beastly establishments still aren’t fully automated?’
Gustav ordered his meal with such tireless zeal and tiresome detail that Daisy was sure the boy was on the point of malfunctioning, which would have confirmed Gustav’s initial suspicion that the place was run by robots. To Daisy’s surprise, Gustav sat down next to her, resting precariously like an elephant on a stool. When she looked around, she saw there wasn’t another seat available.
He ate his burger quickly and in a spiral fashion till he got to the centre whereupon he seemed to swallow the last bit whole. Daisy recalled a boy at her school. At camp, the kids had eaten spaghetti one night. When the boy threw up later after binge drinking, she stared in wonder at the long, unbroken strands of spaghetti. Gustav wiped his mouth meticulously then turned to her.
‘I smell urine.’
Our heroine spluttered on her post-mix coke. ‘I beg your pardon?’ she asked.
Gustav surveyed her more intently. ‘I have a rather formidable nose.’
Our heroine agreed; it was formidable.
‘Did you wash your hands after using the lavatory?’ he asked.
Daisy mumbled yes, offended.
Gustav continued. ‘I personally wash my hands before I touch my second amendment. Who knows who I may have just shaken hands with. Don’t ever try to shake my hand, by the way.’
Daisy said nothing for a moment. Then: ‘I don’t have a “second amendment”. My name is Daisy. I’m a woman.’
Gustav regarded her more minutely. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ he said a last. ‘I’m immune to the charms of either sex.’
He got up and dispensed his food in a smiling bin which thanked him.
Daisy sobbed. Gustav looked at her more closely. Tears ran down her cheeks. I’m small, she thought, a midget. He leaned closer and for a moment Daisy had the unpleasant hallucination that he was a wall falling on her. But he held while the fancy faded.
‘My mistake,’ he said. ‘I view the world through a squint. It gives it a widescreen format and I can believe I’m watching some abominable film I’m not trapped in. You’re obviously a woman.’
With that, he leant back, his massive shadow slipping off her. He turned away from her, placing his check-hat on his head. He made a step when Daisy let out a sob. He turned back, adjusting the side straps on his hat.
‘I’m going to meet a friend. Come.’
Daisy blinked at him. In that long moment, all the world opened before her like some promise finally given. She hopped off her stool. They left; she barely came above his knee.
As they were walking along the street, him a giant, she a squirt: ‘Freaks.’
‘Never mind them, never mind them,’ he mumbled. ‘They fear our power.’
That night, her mum asked if she’d met anyone interesting at her new work. Interesting was her mum’s euphemism for ‘potential life partner’. But Daisy’s life was a third over.
She shook her head and went to her room. She took a box she’d glued coloured paper on and held it over her head.
‘I’ve found him,’ she whispered into its cardboard smelling darkness. ‘I’ve found him.’
They reached a pedestrian crossing to a busy street. Strangely, despite Gustav not pressing the button, he did not evince any motivation to jaywalk. He looked at her several times. Eventually he looked in his many pockets. Evidently not finding what he was after, he pulled a voluminous sleeve over his hand and gave the button a quick tap. It started up its clicking like a disapproving teacher clucking.
They walked into a bar. Gustav ordered them triple whiskeys on the rocks before he noticed Daisy’s predicament: she would never scale one of the bar stools made for a model’s ass. Without further ado, he grabbed a high table from beneath the resting elbows of two punters who only just managed to retrieve their beers before they were launched across the room, and hoisted Daisy to the top of it.
She stared at him as she took in the shock of being manhandled.
‘Just so you know, you can’t tempt me,’ he said.
‘I’m a virgin and proud of it. Of course this makes me infinitely desirable.’
Daisy beheld this corpulent creature.
‘So naturally I keep mum about it. I’d appreciate it if you did the same.’
Daisy nodded in a way that she hoped conveyed her sense that the topic was closed. Despite this, Gustav felt a need to expand.
‘Because I’m a giant, people naturally fear that my proboscis is in proportion. My virginity is a gift that won’t be taken. It’s mine to give, mine alone. I form a club, or coven if you like, of famous and respected votaries, the Virgin Mother pre-eminent among them.’
‘Okay,’ said Daisy.
‘My virginity is my power. You need to discover yours. Shush.’
Daisy couldn’t tell why Gustav was shushing her. The only thing playing was the radio.
‘I’ve found him,’ she whispered again into the box.
The radio announcer came on, giving the name of the track and artist. The announcer had a deep, velvety voice; part real, part affected.
‘On the line we have Jeanette,’ said the announcer. ‘Jeanette, tell us who you want to dedicate your song to.’
‘I want to dedicate this song to my husband,’ said Jeanette in a nasally, slightly hysterical voice. ‘I couldn’t live without him.’
The announcer made a noise to indicate he was touched. ‘Then let’s hope you never have to live without him.’
‘Thank you, thank you,’ effused Jeanette.
‘Let’s hope you die first,’ he said.
Another pause, this one from Jeanette: ‘Oh … thanks.’
‘Does he sometimes hope that, Jeanette? That you die first?’
With silence as the response, the announcer asked Jeanette to name the song and artist of her dedication, which she supplied in a stammering fashion.
Immediately the music began, Gustav resumed. ‘My virginity at my age in the modern western world is a great prize and source of amazement. Remember when Britney Spears avowed she was still a virgin at twenty-five? Everyone wanted to deflower her.’
Daisy wondered why couldn’t she have some of Gustav’s size and him some of her smallness? Because then we’d all be alike and the world would be boring, her mother would say to her. It was still boring, being different, she wanted to say back.
Gustav continued to talk in a distracted way through the song that was sung by some guy saying how ‘far above me’ some lady was.
‘If she’s so far above you, leave her alone, you snivelling parasite,’ said Gustav, seeming to read Daisy’s thoughts.
The song ended.
Again, Daisy hadn’t been making any noise. She took her eyes off Gustav, decided to focus on a coaster, and concentrate on the announcer and his next caller.
‘So, Dave, you’ve promised that your love song dedication is one we won’t have heard before.’
‘That’s right,’ said Dave smugly, ‘because I’m dedicating my love song to Jesus.’
For the first time, the announcer paused. But only for the briefest moment. ‘Oh, well, Dave, you’re right. We haven’t had that before.’ Then, with his wit back: ‘ But my favourite dedications are from one man to the next.’
‘So, Dave,’ said the announcer without pausing this time, ‘who do you want to touch with this song tonight, apart from Jesus?’
‘Yeah, well, to all those people whose lives I’ve touched through spreading his word, I just wanna say to them, keep the faith.’
‘Dave,’ said the announcer, suddenly serious. ‘I bet you’ve touched a lot of people.’
Dave, in a tone of false modesty: ‘Yeah, well, a few.’
The announcer paused, but this time for effect, not because he was caught off-guard. ‘Who’s the youngest person you’ve touched?’
‘My little niece,’ said Dave. ‘She’s five.’
‘Five?’ crooned the announcer. ‘Oh my,’ he sighed. ‘How did that make you feel, Dave, to touch your niece like that?’
Dave’s voice rose. ‘Yeah, well, I like to think I’m on a mission. Spreading the word.’
‘And have you spread anything else, Dave?’
‘Let’s play your request.’
At the end of the song, the announcer wrapped up his show and handed it over to the next announcer. Gustav looked to a door in the corner of the room. As if through telekinesis, it opened. A guy stepped out in a purple velvet jacket, grey, pinstriped trouser, a tall hat with a carnation in it, pointed shoes with spurs, and swinging a glass cane with a red-back spider set in the plastic bubble at the top. His skin was dark brown, his hair jet black, with manicured tapered sideburns, and facial hair manifested in the shape of a goatee. He sat down next to them. Daisy was obscured by Gustav. Gustav leant back.
‘This is Daisy,’ he said, and then began to introduce the man. ‘This is the guy you’ve just been listening to. His name is – ’
The man cut him off. ‘We don’t need to use that name now, do we, Gustav? Daisy looks like the sort of person I can use my superhero name with.’
Superhero? wondered Daisy.
The man extended his hand. ‘Barbitchua.’ He’d pronounced it Barbitchuaaa.
Daisy shook it. ‘What’s your special power?’ he asked.
Daisy looked for words.
‘I don’t think she knows yet,’ said Gustav to Barbitchua then turned to her. ‘But she will. She will.’ And then, deciding a third time would round out the effect, ‘She WILL.’
On the train home, Gustav put his foot on Daisy’s. For such a massive foot, his pressure was exceptionally gentle. Thinking it a mistake, Daisy moved her foot. Gustav did it a moment later. This time, she waited for him to move his foot because she didn’t want to offend him by moving hers again. He left it there.
‘I’ve found him.’
He bailed her up at work the next day in the smelly cafeteria.
‘What was that about? Yesterday? On the train?’
‘What do you mean? What do you mean?’ Poor Daisy was confused.
‘Look, it’s not your fault. You haven’t believed me. I am simply not interested in sex.’
‘You’re asexual?’ she asked.
They took their trays of second-rate food to the third-rate plastic table.
‘Asexual, yes. All the time?’ he asked, pre-empting her next question. ‘I’m not denying that sometimes if I’ve been lying in one position too long, the blood won’t pool in that particular conundrum, swelling it to a state of seeming excitement. But I generally possess excellent circulation.’
‘What’s your superhero name?’ she asked.
This question seemed to irritate Gustav immensely. He was quite vehement with her, strange, but then he seemed all right.
‘The m-word is as offensive to the little person as the n-word to the black person. Little Person being the neologism of choice. I imagine you hate dwarf as much as I hate giant. It makes out we are fantasy creatures. And we are very much – incontrovertibly – real.’
Daisy had bristled on Gustav bringing up her height, but when he extended it to his own unusual status, she relaxed.
After work, he took her to that same pub. It appeared to have the same clientele too, since, as they approached the bar, people cleared out of the way and a couple near the bar quickly retrieved their beers from their high table before Gustav snatched it up quite as if it were made of balsa wood. Again, without asking, he hoisted Daisy on top of it. This time she was ready and hoped the calm expression she had prepared was enough to rescue her dignity. Gustav shouted the word ‘Jonquils’ to the barman. The barman disappeared out the back before returning promptly with a swirling green glass jar overflowing with the most wonderfully open-faced and warmly smiling bright, yellow and orange Narcissus.
Daisy drew on her very last reserve of strength not to cry. In all her thirty-five years, no man had never given her flowers before.
‘He’s found me,’ she whispered into their heady scent.
Gustav downed his triple whiskey in one go, before telling her he felt he was ready to reveal his superhero costume and name in one.
‘So soon, you ask? Yes, sometimes it can happen this quickly.’
He disappeared behind a Japanese screen that was shutting off access to the stage area. He didn’t emerge from the screen a moment later like superman in his costume but took the best part of five minutes, with a lot of panting and wheezing into the bargain.
‘Ta-ta,’ she said when he stepped out.
He was dressed all in white. She suddenly knew his superhero name.
She uttered it with breathless reverence. ‘Virgin Man.’
Gustav nodded like she’d passed a test.
‘I’ve found him.’