CuiousPages - fiction and nonfiction
CuriousPages - fiction and nonfiction
When I got home, I placed it on the coffee table in my living room, sat down and looked at it. “If it was going to explode,” I thought, “it would have done it by now, so at least I’m spared that ordeal.” I felt relieved to still have all my limbs intact. I made a cup of tea. And strangely, while I was making it, it did not occur to me that I would at least have something new to tell Paul. It did not occur to me to start thinking up the sentences I would use to describe to him the boy, the box, and this great burden of duty that had been presented to me. It did not occur to me I would be telling Paul about this, because, I suppose, I knew full well that Paul, being imaginary, only existed here inside my own head and would therefore already know about this box. He existed in my own mind, so, he would already know my every thought. This, of course, did not prevent me from discussing my day with him, from planning the trips we would take together, from recalling how we had nudged each other in the street and shared a joke about some girl whose clothes could hardly contain her—from recalling how this had happened, or would happen; it was much the same, really.
I sat down with my tea, watched the box for a few minutes, then picked up a car maintenance manual to read. I bought it a few weeks before and was methodically working my way through it. I did not have a car, and never have had one. The book was cheap. I bought it in a charity shop. What impressed me was that on one page, there were four oily finger prints. This somehow brought the book to life. I could imagine the car, its bonnet yawning, its owner bent into the abyss, clutching some oily, metallic part, scratching his head and turning the pages.
It was now ten-forty-five and Paul had still not phoned. I closed the book and put it aside. “He will not phone now,” I told myself; “he has forgotten.” I felt a lump in my throat. I was now all alone with that box. The box, it seemed, was all I had in life. And it seemed like an inadequate distraction. You should have a greater distraction, to distract you from “this”, the emptiness that was left when all you had to do was to count the minutes and hours of each day. I looked at my watch. It was now ten minutes past eleven. Soon, I would go to bed. I still had the distraction of sleep. Sleep was perhaps my only comfort in life. But I would not be able to leave that box there on my coffee table. If it was left unattended, it might do anything; anything could happen. I would never be able to sleep. I would lie there, thinking about the box and what it might be doing. I might imagine its lid lifting and some tentacled creature emerging from it, or some swarm of insects expanding from within it and displacing the lid as they spilled out into my living room in the manner of a curious gas picking and poking at every surface and object, testing them, acknowledging them.
I leant forward and began slowly lifting the lid. Again, I was sweating, and my hand seemed to be trembling. I expected some terrible thing to be released, some calamity to befall the whole street, the whole town; I was opening the box and I was not supposed to. This, for the moment, perhaps, was my distraction. I moved the lid aside, placed it down on the table, peered into the box and found it was empty.
On the publication of Cogitation’s scholarly (and impressively thick) paper forty years ago, the local government passed a bylaw, making it illegal for any household to not possess a goldfish, and ordered Cogitation to test her findings in Perception and the surrounding county. But they required her to do this single‑handedly, because they found her paper so impressively thick that they did not want to waste any money on her ridiculous project.
She conducted her research for the past forty years, and now, at the age of seventy‑one, was nearing the completion of her trial. Near the beginning, she noticed that because Grumble Factor was slowly being converted into Comprehension Factor in the goldfish bowls, an imbalance was caused between these Factors in the community. To bring the system into balance, the residents started to produce a new type of Factor. This Factor only existed for a short while in a person and she called it Trivial Grumble Factor—because it produced in the person a Grumble concerned with an apparently trivial topic.
Over the past forty years, the residents needed to produce so much of this Trivial Grumble Factor that they had no time to spare for committing crimes. This gradually caused the police force to become incompetent in all matters except the entertaining activity of thinking up stimulating things to now use their truncheons for.
Then, one month ago, the residents awoke to find a second murderer loose amongst them. Cries of alarm and of panic‑stricken terror were rife. But the loudest of these came from the county’s police stations. This went on for a whole week, by which time the death toll had reached six people. That afternoon—amid glorious sunshine, the tweeting of birds and much wafting about of warm air—the mayor of Perception (one Ivor Medallion, whose middle name was rumoured to be Silver) finally stormed into 121 Misapprehension Lane (the police force’s headquarters—otherwise known as Bright Spark House) he stormed in—he’d had enough; by golly, he’d had enough!—and he stamped his foot several times—and rather firmly, too—and shouted that it was their job to apprehend the murderer.
In the face of this shocking outrage, half the force resigned. The numbed residue were sent on a rigorous three‑week training course and then two days’ recuperation at Clacton‑on‑Sea. On their return to duty the death toll in Perception (perhaps not surprisingly, since the entire constabulary had been absent for three weeks) had reached twenty‑one people.
This brings us to the present day in July of 1986. The mass murderer was still loose and many of the citizens had by now become somewhat hysterical.

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