I’d been mulling about various…
Oh, why give details? I’d just been mulling, as one does at my age. Except that I’ve tended to do it at all ages. You too?
It was the usual mulling. What-if mulling. Best-is-behind mulling. Nothing-secure-beyond these-four-walls mulling. (And nothing secure within those walls, but easier to pretend things are secure here.)
Am I making sense?
It’s a kind of self-shrinking, isn’t it? Like when you tighten a strap around something it leaves a gap or loose spot someplace else, so you tighten there also…You lose by trying to retain.
A knock at the door. Not a rap of apology or uncertainty. Not a demanding or urgent knock.
Just a knock like you might get from a busy delivery person who does not know or care if he is expected.
I opened the door. A young fellow there. Looked a bit like a real estate agent or company rep. Sharply dressed and confident. Someone who handles people all day long, usually friendly and familiar, but needing to get to a point or purpose.
“Can I help you?”
When my visitor said this he grinned. Unexpected, needless to say. It occurred to me that he was someone I must know, a friend’s son now grown up, something of that sort.
“Er, am I supposed to know you?”
“Nope. Definitely not.”
“Then how can I help you?”
“You can’t.” Still that smug grin.
“Right. Well, if you’ll excuse me…”
I went to shut the door but the young stranger pushed against it, thrust me back inside with the flat of his hand, and strode in. He forced the door shut, turned the key, which had been left in the door, to apply the deadlock, then pocketed the key.
“Look, I’m going to have to phone the police if you don’t…”
He walked over to my phone, picked up the headset and smacked it against the edge of a table. It broke.
“L…Look, if this is some kind of robbery or shakedown…”
The stranger sprawled on my lounge and looked about with an amused expression.
“Doubt there’s much here I’d want…Hey, maybe this.”
He picked up my mobile phone from a side table.
“Sony Xperia? Mmm, I like these…Then again…”
And he slapped the phone hard against the edge of the side table. It broke.
I decided the best reaction was to stay cool, since he obviously wanted the opposite.
“Look, if there’s nothing you want here…”
“Actually, you can bring me a beer…Go on, don’t just stare. Bring me a bloody beer.”
“If this is some sort of prank, I can assure you it’s gone far…”
“A beer, I said! You look kind of old and, as you can see, I’m pretty young and fit. So who commands here in this little locked world with no phones? Well?”
I went to the kitchen and came back with a can of VB.
The stranger accepted it, then shook the can hard. When he opened it, he directed the fizz all over the lounge and rug.
I knew I had problems, but there was no point in reacting the way this person wanted me to. I stared and waited for him to speak.
“Oh, so it’s Mr. Cool? You want me to talk first, show my hand?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, I have the ultimate hand, if you’d like a hint. But have you checked your car? Look out the window.”
I did as he suggested and looked out to where I always parked my car. It was gone.
“Okay. Enough. Who are you? You don’t look like someone who does things for no reason, especially illegal things. Whatever your reason, don’t be too smug. You’ve probably been seen arriving by neighbours and you’ve been leaving prints all over the place. So tell me who you are and what you want. Okay?”
“Well…since you ask…I’ll give you a hint or two.”
“I’ve actually been around a long time. Dress code has changed for me. I used to get about in a funny old getup, but now I’m expected to dress for the times. Just as well, because I was starting to look like something from a cheap carnival. I’ve been told I have to go for a neo-surrealist pitch, whatever that is. Hence the crazy, bullying real estate agent thing. Not that I mind the change overall. I mean, if you want to be taken seriously these days…”
“I’m not getting your point, or your hint, if there is one.”
He stared into the beer can a while, running a finger round the rim.
“That’s the problem for me. I’m supposed to be decisive and scary but I always come across as too theatrical now, whether I dress the old way or this new way. There was a time when my appearance worked for me out of the box. No explanations. I’d just walk in and people would know. It was true drama, not just theatre. People would stare, sometimes shrieking, retreating, sometimes frozen. A few would even welcome me by smiling a little, but they were the odd ones.”
“Just tell me who you are, will you?”
“Okay, big hint: I used to walk around in a dark hooded robe and carry an agricultural implement. Does that help?”
“A scythe, okay? I carried a bloody scythe!”
“Robe and…a scythe…”
“Right, like in that Bergman movie where they had me playing chess with some long faced Swede. Or those ridiculous AIDS ads back in the 1980s…”
“You mean you…you’re it? You’re…”
“That’s right. I’m it. I’m that.”
“And…you’ve come for me?”
“Who else? I haven’t come for chopped liver.”
“But there must be some misunderstanding. I’m in pretty good shape. I’ve actually been very careful…probably too careful lately…”
“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve heard that palaver? This is 13a, The Mews, Ridge Street. You are Philip Rogers. It’s your time. Time to go.”
“Oh…now I see!”
“Good. Let’s go.”
“No…I mean I see where the mix-up is. I’m Phillip Rodgers – there’s an extra l and d in all that, and I’m at 13, not 13a, which should be 14. They don’t use 4 for numbering in this building because of some Feng Shui thing the architect was into back in the 90s. Or maybe it was to make it easier to sell the places to Chinese. We’re not exactly sure why they did it.”
“You mean…but how…?”
“Don’t be embarrassed. Happens constantly. And get this! There actually is a Philip Rogers next door at 13a, by sheer coincidence. Our mail gets mixed up all the time. And, yes, he’s been terribly sick lately.”
The intruder slapped his forehead, blushed as he shook his head.
“I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am. This hasn’t happened in ages. And when I say ages, I mean ages…I’m so sorry about the mess and the breakages…There may be a way we can compensate you…I just don’t know for sure…So embarrassing…You know, the reason I damage things is to point you away from possessions and the material, emphasise that none of it matters any more. It’s to do with theology, philosophy, all that sort of thing…”
He rose from the lounge, placing the beer can almost daintily on the side table. As he moved to the door, still blushing, his shoulders were sunken and rounded, his pace a shuffle. I had to feel sorry for him.
“Please don’t kick yourself for an understandable mistake just about everybody makes. Of course, I’ll be wanting compensation if that’s possible. The car’s insured, but I don’t know about the furniture and the phones…”
His voice was a whimper as he opened the door after fumbling for my keys in his pocket.
“I’ll see what can be done about compensation. Sometimes just a new screen for the Sonys…they’re quite robust compared to iPhones. I’m just so terribly sorry for this mix-up…I feel like such a goose…
“The, er, Mr. Rogers without a d, he’s around to the left, is he not?”
“Yes, immediately to the left.”
Of course, I woke and nothing had happened. My phones, my car, my furniture etc were all intact. Mr. Rogers is presently in hospital, but he’s not is such bad shape.
It had been a dream, could only have been a dream, and yet…
Here’s the thing.
In the ensuing days I found myself mulling less, and even inclined to action.
Soon I could catch myself mulling and stop the mulling.
Action has now re-entered my life. Now my life is re-entering the external, where life needs to go, right? I’m re-expanding. There’s proportion again. Objects are again for using, not for owning, not for fretting.
If you know what I mean.
So, I’ve been thinking. If it wasn’t a visit from that eminent person or personification who used to get about in a dark hooded robe and carry an agricultural implement…and if it wasn’t a dream – far too sequential and vivid for that – but rather something dream-based…
The Guardians again?