An Ongoing Process Of Development And Rejuvenation
When Jonni Sood splashes down into the bar, he is full of spunky vinegar. He orders drinks – one for him, one on faith for his companion – and when the drinks are ready, he boulders over to their table with them, Harris Pax already in residence.
Jonni Sood has walked through a downpour – the same which even now is in danger of flooding the floor in this subterranean bar – but rain is one of the things he is good with. He doesn’t look like more than a smattering of rain has fallen on him.
He sits, and says “hello”, and then:
“Looks like the old Gillingham building is almost down.”
Harris Pax grunts in response. If you forced me to write it, I’d do it like this: “Hmph.”
“About time. They’ve been pulling that place down for, what, a couple of years, now?”
Harris makes the noise again. You know the one.
“Mind, not like it makes a difference. Seems like half the city is being thrown up or torn down at any given time, these last few years.”
Harris doesn’t even respond to his younger companion this time.
Jonni drinks a few mouthfuls in silence, but after a few minutes his friend’s surliness starts to sink down through even his super-thick skin.
“Bloody hell,” he says, “what’s crawled inside your colon and come a cropper?”
This gets a wry smile from Harris.
“Ah, sorry, mate,” he finally acknowledges, “just had a few of those days, you know what I mean?”
“It’s funny you should say that, though.” He says. “About the building work.”
“Funny ha-ha?” Says Jonni.
“Funny peculiar.” Comes the reply. “You’re right, that there’s a lot of work being done all over Southerton, or rather, being half-started and never finished, but I know this bloke who thinks there’s a lot more.”
“Thinks?” Says Jonni Sood, then: “…More?”
“Yeh, even more.
You know the short, hairy, twitchery guy who’s normally propping up one end or other of the bar at the Bowler’s Arms?”
“Ebola’s? Jimbo, you mean?”
“Yeah, Jim, that’s him. You ever talked to him?”
“Nah. I’ve tried, but he isn’t really the socialising kind, is he?” Says Jonni, between swigs. “Every time I’ve said hello to him, he’s flinched.”
“Definitely the right Jim, then.” Harris scratches absently at the stubble on his cheek as he speaks. “He wasn’t always like that. Back when, he was a good mate to have, Jimbo. Gorgeous wife, great job, smart bloke.
The only thing he had working against him was a vicious snore, that just defied treatment or diagnosis. His gorgeous wife Deb, she didn’t like to complain about it, but she didn’t let not liking it stop her. And he felt guilty about it n’all, so he kept on at the doctors and eventually they agreed to do a routine endoscopic sleep observation on him.
He hadn’t really realised that they’d be putting him under, but he was an easy-going guy, and not much fussed about the process, so he didn’t kick or scream or shove as they rolled him into the room and administered the anaesthetic. He went under. And a while later, he came back.
And for a bit, it didn’t seem like anything was different. The doctors didn’t tell him that anything untoward had happened while he was under, and the whole observation had taken exactly as long as it was supposed to have done, and he felt a bit groggy, but then, that was why they made you have someone pick you up, rather than you make your own way home.
He noticed the first workmen on the road as Deb drove him home from the hospital, but didn’t think anything over it – The Lanes quite often have surface work done to them, and they normally do it in the late evening or early morning, to avoid disruption during times of heavy traffic.
There were a couple of buildings covered in scaffolding, that hadn’t been when he’d gone to the hospital the evening before, too, but like you said, it’s not that unusual to see building work these days.
So Jimbo, he’s got a couple of days leave due anyway, and he’d decided to have them as a sort of mini-break after the hospital, so he doesn’t leave the house for a couple of days.
Then, when he does, as he’s walking to work on the third day after going under, he notices that there’s quite a few more places being pulled down, or put up, or with builders and other workers just finishing work on them, or just turning up. The road immediately outside the office where he works is torn up, men with pneumatic drills making porridge of the tarmac.”
“So nothing all that unusual, then?” Says Jonni, his fashionably short attention span starting to play against his long experience of Harris and his stories, and their eventual pay-off.
“Well, no, it doesn’t seem so. He has a normal working day, though he’s a bit shocked that his colleagues, who normally turn the most mundane stuff into gossip, don’t seem remotely put-out, or even to have noticed the roadworks that are blocking access to their workplace.
So anyway, Jimbo has a lot of catching up to do, and stays late to the office. He doesn’t leave till gone seven, and it’s Autumn so it’s dark as hell by then. He’s only half conscious of the streets as he walks home, though he’s vaguely aware that they’re busier than he’d expect, but he’s not really paying attention until he sees what looks like a huge construction effort going on, on the bit of The Lanes that crosses the top of his own road. He stands and watches it for a few minutes, it’s so impressive. A couple of dozen workmen, at least three steamrollers, reversing then rolling forward across a road surface that is steaming with the effort. As each vehicle reverses through a patch that they’ve just rolled, the orange lights and hard yellow shapes of them is hazy and ethereal in the steam.
It’s dramatic, is the way he always describes it.
None of the workers notice him, from the drivers to the foreman stood closer to him, bellowing orders. Cars still zip by along the lane of the road where the work isn’t happening.
And when he eventually snaps his attention away from the din, he notices that half the houses on his street have scaffolding skitching across them, and there are the odd, unlit figures of builders working at the walls.
Jimbo is understandably a little freaked out by this, but Deb seems to think he’s exaggerating. Then, when it’s worse again the next morning, and his workmates don’t know what the hell he’s talking about, Jimbo starts to think that something has gone a bit awry. He’s not daft, Jimbo, and his first thought is that something is wrong with him.
He goes back to the hospital, and blusters his way into an appointment with the Doctor who ran his observation, and asks him what the hell happened to him.”
“And what does the doc say?” Asks Jonni Sood, now a little more invested in the story.
“The doc says that there’s nothing wrong with Jimbo. He runs a few tests, basic reflex stuff and checks on his eyes and ears and that, but can’t find anything.
When Jimbo asks whether anything could have happened to his brain when he went under, the doc says that nothing odd happened, though there were a few moments – just seconds really – when the monitors on his heart rate and brain activity just glitched out – about thirty seconds where there was no signal at all. But because it presented as obviously a technical issue, that had righted itself before they’d even rushed into the room, it wasn’t cause for concern.
So Jim, he leaves the hospital, and still sees the workmen. Everywhere. He tries to engage with them, but it’s like they’re too busy to notice him. He tries to grab at one, and he’s shrugged off, but the guy doesn’t even look at him. He tries to point them out to people, and every time he does – at one point even dragging Deb outside the house to see the ones in the street outside – those people do see them, but this just confuses him more, because nobody seems as concerned, or convinced that it’s a widespread thing, as he is.”
“Blimey. Poor bastard. That explains why he’s so twitchy.” Says Jonni Sood. “So what’s up? Has he gone mental, or is something else going on?”
“Well, it’s hard to say. When you talk to him, he doesn’t seem all that crazy. Though he’s a sharp guy, like I said – sharp enough to be a bit paranoid about talking about it. Get talking to him long enough, though, and he’ll tell you his theories.
The one he comes up with most is that when he was under, something happened to shift him out of synch with the rest of us – like, maybe he died, but only for a few seconds, or something like that.
And he thinks that maybe it means he can see stuff that the rest of us can’t see, because he’s that bit out of time.”
“What, like building work?” Says Jonni Sood, the wrinkled brow a dead giveaway of his incredulity. “Why roadworks?”
“… Well, yeah, remember I did say he seems sane enough. But what he reckons is that while we experience the world as a constant thing, with each second flowing into the next, he thinks that each moment the world is being built fresh around us, a flicker before we get there, and that’s what he’s seeing – his brain interpreting it in a way that almost makes sense to him. The very last finishing touches to each instant, that he’s walking onto before the stage-hands have quite left the stage.
(His metaphor, that one.)”
“Wow, indeed. Sometimes he even reckons he’s lucky, that he’s slipped a little ahead of us, and not a little behind. He imagines it’s better to walk in on everything being built than on it being demolished.”
Jonni Sood sits in silence, not really knowing how to respond to that. Harris Pax finishes off his drink.
“I don’t know. It seems a bit far-fetched to me, though.” He says, before standing up, picking up his and Jonni’s empties, and heading for the bar.
Jonni Sood just keeps on sitting in the same spot, making a point of experiencing the sensation as one, smooth, ongoing passage of time. But if he’s honest, it’s harder to do it when you’re thinking about it.
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