The Tragedy of Perception

The mating season for pigs

In which Roland Wise tries to remember an Agatha Christie novel where the murder victim was a car.

Outside, Roland Wise, the chief constable, was standing with his back to the Softlies’ front door. His chin and cheeks were adorned with a scraggly, black beard, which never seemed to fully grow and was more like body hair, as if his very hair were uncertain about how to properly fulfil its role. He also wore his full chief constable’s uniform and stood with his hands clasped behind his back as he watched Peter’s car, which was parked at a curious angle just inside the entrance to the driveway. Every now and then Roland bobbed slowly up and down above his flexing ankles while his brow knitted in an athletic manner—perhaps to provide every possible assistance to his mind as his mind attempted the gruelling task of considering the car.

On approaching the house and first seeing the car, he stopped in his tracks, suspecting it the victim of criminal activity. He gasped at the prospect of the find. But then he quickly got a grip on himself, reminding himself that this was Perception, and crimes just did not happen in Perception—not unless you count mass murder.

This idea hung around in the thick swirling mist of his mind for several long, tortuous moments, then lit up in neon: MASS MURDER, causing him to reflect (—By Gad, I’ve done it!).

Roland recently underwent part of that rigorous three‑week training course along with his entire police force. Initially, he sent all his men on the course and remained in Bright Spark House alone, in sole charge of the constabulary. During the following three days he made various inspired command‑decisions (which we shall have the pleasure of being fully informed about later), but then found he had nothing else left to do but sit in his office and slowly drum his fingers on the terrifying expanse of his totally empty desktop. After several hours of this, he got bored and joined his men on the remainder of the training course—which involved them reading every one of Agatha Christie’s crime novels.

And while still stopped in his tracks along the pavement from Peter’s car, and having just received that neon‑lit message, MASS MURDER, he then hurriedly applied this recent training—recalling every Agatha Christie novel and struggling to draft each of their plots in turn onto the situation before him. But after several long, tortuous moments he gave up, reflecting that there must—sadly—be a perfectly legal explanation for the car’s state.

He resumed his stride along the pavement, reached the car, but then decided to give it a quick once‑over as he passed it—just to make absolutely certain there was no telltale sign of mass murder lurking inside it.

He sat in the driver’s seat and checked under the dashboard. He looked under the front seats, then lifted the carpet and poked around under it, tapping the floor in every spot at least twice, but sometimes even three times. He climbed over to the back seat, shook the headrests, then lifted the back carpet and again tapped the floor. He sat up and looked through the window, wound it down, wound it back up, then wound it down again (marvelling at how smoothly the mechanism worked—Will you look at that; well, I’m blessed!). He poked his head out of the window, looked behind the car, looked to the front, then up to the sky (reflecting on the weather—Doesn’t it seem like a nice day! and look at those few wisps of clouds! how delightful). He opened the door, hung out, peered under the car, then noticed the tread of the tyre and tapped it several times (reflecting that there was certainly nothing wrong with the tread—Will you look at that! what a fine bit of tread). He swung himself upwards, peered on top of the car, peered behind it, then sighed and scratched his head—for he had upturned not even a hint of mass murder.

He then stepped over to the house’s front door, where he was now standing—with his back to the door and his brow knitting in an athletic manner while he continued puzzling over the car. The door opened behind him and he turned round and abandoned with great relief the gruelling intellectual struggle.

Sally watched Roland Wise’s face beaming at her. She thought of Peter sitting at the kitchen table and of what he was about to get for constantly trying to trick her into thinking she was ugly. At the thought of this, she smiled at Roland.

Roland opened his mouth to speak but she turned away and walked back into the living room. He gaped at the empty doorway while slowly bobbing up and down above his flexing ankles and clasping his hands behind his back. Then he closed his gaping mouth and stepped over the threshold. He peered closely at the doorframe, decided he ought to perhaps tap it several times and in several different places—just to make absolutely sure there was not any criminal activity anywhere to be found. He did this (reflecting on how nice the paintwork looked—Will you look at the shine on that! how impressive), then shook his head in a doleful fashion, sighed and followed on into the living room, where Sally lay along the sofa with her head turned away from him. He sat in the easy chair beside the sofa and fidgeted about for a moment while trying to work out what words to use to handle this difficult situation—the problem of how to initiate that day’s session of sex with her. Then he was miraculously struck by the perfect solution and began fluently conversing with himself about the plot of an Agatha Christie novel.

Sally’s affair with Roland began two months ago, when she deduced that Peter was trying to trick her into thinking she was ugly. This caused her to start that rigorous campaign of physical exercise, but then she realized he was not trying to trick her but did find her ugly. She decided to test this new suspicion by adding some exercise of a purely intellectual nature, and (just out of curiosity, you understand) she began an experimental flirtation with Roland, just to find out if other men found her as ugly as Peter appeared to.

When Roland seemed to want her, it was obvious to her (because she could see it in Roland’s face) that she was not ugly and that Peter was therefore merely trying to trick her. She then increased her affair with Roland, just to demonstrate to Peter that he had not managed to trick her. But a few moments ago, the devious devil was sat there in the kitchen trying to pretend all his tricks had worked, so to get him back for this, she decided to increase her affair with Roland even further.

As she lay on the sofa now, she imagined herself with Roland—but this time going through three different positions. But her smirk then stopped in its tracks as she realized an even better way to get Peter back (—Why, yes, of course—I’ll start all this while he’s still in the kitchen). She imagined him walking into the living room while Roland was on top of her, and Peter still tried to pretend he had not noticed her affair (—Ha! he’ll make such a fool of himself).

She made eyes at Roland while caressing herself suggestively (—Come on piggy, my gullible chief pig, climb on top; it’s mating time), but Roland made no moves. She smiled suggestively at him but he still seemed to have not noticed; he was talking leisurely to himself about something or other and showing no interest in her. She closed her eyes (while still glancing in his direction) and this time pouted her lips suggestively while continuing to caress herself but Roland just talked on and on.

She heard the back door closing as Peter left and her blood began to boil (—He’s doing this on purpose; he’s going out deliberately, the devious devil. Well, he’s not getting the better of me like this; I’ll just tell him; see if he can pretend he hasn’t noticed then).

Roland moved from his chair. The palm of his hand scurried along her thigh and he climbed on top of her on the sofa.

Sally then heard him snorting and reflected that he sounded just like a pig too. She recalled Peter’s smiling face and the way he kept pretending to have not even noticed her, then Roland snorted again. On the sound of this, she imagined Peter’s distant laugh, and an alarming realisation occurred to her—she would not have to tell Peter about her affair because the chief pig probably already told him. She imagined them on the golf course, laughing about her—Roland saying she was so ugly he kept his eyes closed. From this, she deduced that Roland was not in fact attracted to her, and therefore Peter was not (after all) pretending to find her ugly but really did find her ugly. To confirm her new suspicion she opened her eyes to look at Roland, and—Yes, there it is!—his eyes were closed, therefore he did find her ugly, therefore he did joke about her on the golf course with Peter.

She looked away, thinking what a fool she was to let herself be taken in so easily by Roland (—The malicious devil; he thinks he can laugh about me like this, does he? Right, I’ll get him back for this).

She again imagined herself going through those three different positions with him, but this time they did all three in different rooms and the entire performance took less than ten minutes; and in her mind Roland’s face was distorted with agony and shame as he struggled to keep up the pace. Her smirk returned.

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