…why do such things happen to such people
Once again co-opted by Smith, but less dragged along, more of a willing participant, in one of Smith’s apparently ridiculous, probably ridiculous, highly ridiculous schemes, Oscar’s life took on the semblance of a meaningful life, in that he was doing something, anything, he was hiding, hiding with meaning, hiding vigorously, with feeling, feeling fear, with a sense of something, fearing something, there’s some meaning, something larger than himself, beyond himself, above him, more than him, more than the sum of his parts, something greater, something not of this table and chair and traffic light world, something of significance.
“What are we going to do?” Oscar asked Smith, whispering owing to his fear, he assumed it was fear he should be feeling, an intense and almost crippling fear of being discovered by the rather irate free newspaper woman who was walking down each aisle of cars, intent on discovering the whereabouts of our two heroes.
“We’re living,” Smith said, but a little too loudly such that they had to break from cover and once again run for their lives down aisles of parked cars, jumping over railings and weaving through pedestrians, bins, signs and saplings, all the time being chased by the irate, voluble and unshakeable free newspaper woman.
Even though they were running for their lives, their lives could not be said to be in any danger. Though they might get knocked down by a car, if they stopped running the chances of this happening were significantly less. If they did stop running and if the free newspaper woman did catch up with them, it is unlikely that she was capable of putting their lives in danger, of compromising their liberty or of doing any more than berating them and idly threatening them. But even still, they were running for their lives. Oscar was certainly running for his life – he didn’t need any direction from Smith.
The scene of the crime from which they were fleeing and because of which they were being chased was a chaotic blue flame shooting out of a cardboard free newspaper dispenser. Cheap perfume was indeed highly flammable, just as it said in small writing on the bottle. But Smith distrusted small writing, and this instance of small writing proving to be trustworthy and an accurate representation of the world would not be sufficient to overturn his life long held distrust. The motivation for such a crime is less easily put into words. Though Smith did try:
“It’s free. Don’t you get it? Free!”
Oscar was giving his life meaning. Need there be any more said of his motivation?
By the time they ran back past the cardboard dispenser of free newspapers, all the time running for their lives, all the time being chased by the irate free newspaper woman, who was all the time getting redder and redder in the face, the blue flame had become a yellow flame licking the brick wall, and there was black smoke being sent up into the higher stories of buildings. People walking past, every one of them, apparently oblivious to the fire, the smoke and the smell of burning paper, walked directly ahead, looked straight forward, didn’t even slow their step, were just getting back to work or window shopping or renewing their car tax or walking out on their wives. It was as if the central event of this entry, this chapter in Smith’s life, in Oscar’s life, in their story, just didn’t happen, didn’t start, wasn’t happening right now, wasn’t pumping out thick black smoke as the cardboard dispenser, coated in plastic, melted down on top of the burning heap of free newspapers, wasn’t pumping out, shouting out significance, meaning, the yellow flames of consequence.
This obliviousness stopped Smith in his tracks, consequently stopping Oscar who was running directly behind him, blithely unaware of the obliviousness of the rest of the world, consequently stopping the very red faced free newspaper woman, whose stopping could have been a consequence of the trauma to her lungs and the build up of lactic acid in her plump little body, of which her red face was also a consequence.
But this obliviousness was not to be overturned by the scene which followed, once the free newspaper woman had regained her breath and started bellowing out “Criminals! Criminals!” and “Help police!”
Oscar could only smile on hearing these cries for help, at first thinking them a little over dramatic, but then thinking them sensational and earth shattering and other such things.
And for Smith, this drama was the very stuff of life. This was a drama – his life, this incident, every incident, from his birth falling dramatically to this point, from which he would dramatically fall or rise, or dramatically run for his life, or dramatically stand his ground, or dramatically walk off with his head held high, or dramatically raise his voice in his defence, which is what he decided to do, returning each cry of “Criminal!” and “Help, police!” with his own dramatic cry of “Criminal!” and “Scandal!” and “Conspiracy!”
Oscar the only effective observer of this unfolding, exploding final act, as the masses went about their various cashing of checks, picking up of dry cleaning and purchasing of egg mayonnaise sandwiches before returning to the office, still ardently oblivious to it all, was momentarily struck by the magnificent scale of these two figures – Smith, who was standing his ground, saying no, drawing a line in the sand, or doing some such thing, and the free newspaper woman, who was also a heroic figure after a fashion, a heroic figure with a red face, wheezing chest and scrunched up face who was no longer afraid, who would not back down, who would not cease in her demand for a rigorous justice, a fierce reckoning.
But Oscar was also playing a part in this great drama and was now suffering from the anxiety of an actor who is teetering on the edge of the stage, playing what turns out to be a minor part, the third villager or the forth soldier, and who has forgotten his only line, and could so easily disappear off stage left and rejoin the audience proper, sit in the dark of the auditorium, and scoff and point and raise his eyebrows at the unfolding, by now exploding, drama of the collision of two such heroic figures in this titanic struggle.
Oscar couldn’t make the decision to be wholly actor or spectator and so muffled his line, something about getting the hell out of there before the world exploded, which was muffled further still by the entrance from the opposite wing of a police man who uttered the immortal line “What’s going on here?”
Which started a heated debate. However, the free newspaper woman’s version of events won out, seeming, in the policeman’s mind, to have more to do with the normal fluctuations of reality, with what was most likely in the every day world of every day happenings. The likelihood of Smith setting fire to a free newspaper dispenser with a bottle of cheap perfume and the stub of a cheap cigar was far more likely than what Smith was proposing – that free newspapers were trying to undermine our perception of the world and to brainwash the masses into believing in an alternate view of reality in order to advance their plot…
But Smith’s version of events was cut short by the policeman, who took him firmly by the arm and walked him off stage left.
“This is not what it seems!” Smith called out.
Oscar was about to offer clarification to the oblivious pedestrians and two cyclists, but remembered the paralysing ambiguity of his position.