The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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Eventually, when it was clear that things could not go on as they were, and it was obvious to everyone that matters were now completely out of hand, that something had to be done, we had a meeting in the town hall, all of us crowded in, we sat on the floor or stood at the edges of the room or in the corners, we found chairs for the elderly, we told the children to be quiet, we explained to them that if they weren’t quiet there wouldn’t be any supper, we said this very forcefully so they would know we were being serious, then we began to discuss the situation.
Everyone agreed that the situation was bad, but no one could agree on what should be done, there were many conflicting viewpoints, unhelpful rumors went round, there were arguments, the mayor and the chief of police had to be separated, we examined the situation from every possible angle, the men all had beards and the women were unrecognizable, finally we held a vote. The verdict was not unanimous but the majority was considerable, we cheered, we drank champagne, we felt lightheaded, we shook hands, we danced, then we all went back to our houses, singing.
The next day we woke up early, we gathered our televisions, speakers, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, bracelets, earrings, alarm clocks, electric drills, action figures, lava lamps, blow-up sex dolls, board games, hedge trimmers, we piled them in wheelbarrows, in the boots of cars, on the backs of trucks, on sledges, we took them to the fields at the edge of town, the fields were covered with a light mist, they looked mysterious, we felt lucid and peaceful as we stared at the dark hedges and the pale grass, we had lumps in our throats, we looked at each other with shining eyes, then we dumped everything into the fields and went back to our houses and started to dismantle our furniture.
We took apart our chairs and sofas, we pulled up our carpets, we tore down our wallpaper and curtains, my father objected, he did not seem to understand what was happening, we explained it to him, we spoke loudly, his hearing seemed to be getting worse every day, we told him we were getting rid of our possessions, we said they were making us miserable, we could no longer think surrounded by so much useless stuff, we were tired of needing things, we felt restless and unsatisfied, so we had decided to take it all to the fields to pile it up and burn it, then we were going to live in the hills behind the fields, we were going to lead different and better lives. We were going to play lutes and discuss philosophy we explained to him, we grew misty-eyed at the thought, we were going to make advances in mathematics, we were going to watch the sun rise every morning, we were going to grow our hair long, we were going to grow our own food, we were going to try to remember how to be happy, it was going to be a new dawn we said, then we told him to get out of the way so we could carry on pulling up the carpet.
We took the pieces of our furniture, the fabric, the cushions, the metal frames, the springs from the mattresses, the tassels from the lampshades, we took it all down to the fields, we stood in the fields and looked at the mountain we had created, the sloping valleys, the elaborate dunes of discarded plastic, we saw our neighbors throwing their crockery onto the pile, we saw the sun gleaming on buckets, cutlery, saucepans, door handles, vacuum cleaners, my father started taking off his clothes, we said hold your horses, we said put your trousers back on chum, we said we’re leaving our clothes till last Dad, especially yours we said, and I lifted him over my shoulder and carried him back to the house.
We collected our diaries, our photo albums, our books, our medicines, our prosthetic legs, our hearing aids, there was some discussion about the tampons, things became heated, we tried to be patient with each other, we straightened it out, we gathered the items we most wanted to keep and put them in bags and carried the plastic bags down to the fields and threw them away, we drove our cars deep into the deepest clefts and gullies of the rubbish heap and abandoned them, the Ferraris, the Fords, the Vauxhalls, the Chevrolets, we noticed their logos for the last time, their bumpers, headlights, bonnets, wing mirrors, tires, then we blew up our houses and took off our clothes. I looked at my wife, she was standing in the sunlight, her body was as smooth and pale as marble, it had been a long time since I’d seen her like that, I took her hand, I said I’ve never loved you as much as I do today.
We gathered at the edge of the mountain of rubbish and looked at each other shyly, we were full of a delicate hope that no one would openly admit to feeling, the mayor approached the mountain, he had a burning torch, he plunged the torch into the mound of rubbish, we cheered, it was intoxicating, we stood in a line, held hands, chanted, and waited for the mountain of rubbish to catch fire.
The mountain of rubbish did not catch fire, a few flames burned here and there but that was all, we looked at each other, we shrugged and whispered, we scratched our heads, it started to rain, we tried not to lose faith, we held various conferences, the mayor and the chief of police had to be separated again, we spread out and inspected the mountain of rubbish, certain flaws became apparent to us, we saw we had gone about this the wrong way, we had put the cart in front of the horse, we had forgotten that some things are more flammable than others, the rubbish would have to be rearranged, it would have to be shuffled and redistributed, people would have to be chosen to study the rubbish pile and perform experiments, they would shape it into a structure that would easily catch fire and enable us to burn everything, we were adamant that everything must burn, we said things would be impossible otherwise, the future depended on it, so the mayor called for volunteers.
We looked at each other doubtfully, we discussed it amongst ourselves, a few people stepped forward, they stood in a group and rubbed the backs of their necks bashfully as we applauded, my father tried to volunteer, I said don’t even think about it buckaroo, I said you’re staying here, I said that’s all there is to it my friend, my father complained, he said it’s a free country, he kicked the rubbish and began to sulk, we shook hands with the volunteers, we patted them on the back and wished them the best of luck, goodbye we said, see you soon we said, good luck we said, we left them standing by the mountain, and we made our way into the hills.
We built campfires, we put up tents, we wore togas made from salvaged bedsheets, some had elasticized edges and were difficult to wear but we made do, we arranged rocks around the campfires, we sat on the rocks, we began to feel peckish, we had tins of food but no one had remembered to bring a tin opener, my father offered to go back to the mountain, he said he could find a tin opener there, he said there would be hundreds of them, possibly thousands, some of us hadn’t had any breakfast, we decided he was right, but make sure you come straight back we said, I will he said, what do you take me for he said, and he went to the mountain and never came back.
We waited until nightfall, we cursed ourselves for letting him go, we opened the tins by bashing them with rocks, we cut our fingers, we cursed my father, we damned his eyes, we bandaged our hands and slept in hammocks under the stars, we watched the sunrise, it was stealthy and creamy and grandiose, then we tilled the fields, we planted seeds, we wiped our brows and anticipated tremendous harvests, we fished, we dozed on the riverbanks, we sat on rocks and discussed complex numbers, the nature of the soul, the constellations, we made enormous political strides, we outlawed alcoholic beverages, beauty products, footwear, gadgets, cigarettes, we agreed that these things were bad for society, we lounged on the hillside and watched the volunteers working on the mountain, they looked like ants, they moved the rubbish back and forth, sometimes my father came into view, he seemed to be dancing, I shook my fist at him but he didn’t notice, we wondered how things were going down there, weeks had gone by, it seemed like they ought to have finished by now, so we put together a small delegation and they went to the mountain to talk to the volunteers.
They came back that evening, the delegates did, their togas were torn and they had bruises on their faces, some had split lips, some had bloody knuckles, one or two were missing handfuls of hair, they had been to the mountain and spoken to the volunteers, the volunteers hadn’t been happy to see them, if anything they had been resentful, the delegates had tried to be polite, eventually the volunteers had seemed to relax, they’d said they had a confession to make, they were living in the mountain now and not just pitching their tents nearby, they said this was for reasons of convenience, they’d built passageways that branched out in all directions, some actually went underground, and there were rooms, enormous rooms, the volunteers lived in the rooms with their families, they were building more passageways, shoring them up with door frames, fence posts, tabletops, piles of boxes, they were somehow generating electricity, they were using buttons from clothes for currency, the rooms all had televisions, ovens, kettles, radios, computers, my father’s room was one of the biggest, he had an industrial dehumidifier, no one knew why, apparently he had painted it yellow and seemed to be proud of it, it was obvious the volunteers had no intention of burning anything.
The delegates grew angry, so did the volunteers, someone threw a punch, it was unclear who started it but there was a brawl, the volunteers won, they came out and hurled rubbish after the delegates, the delegates ran, they barely escaped with their lives, two of them were missing, obviously they had been taken hostage, we decided to mount a rescue mission.
We painted our faces, we constructed impromptu clubs out of branches, we girded our loins, whatever that means, we went down the hillside ready for battle, we were rowdy and dangerous, we approached the mountain and demanded the hostages’ freedom, the volunteers came out, they were wearing trainers, denim jackets, jeans, leather vests, trilby hats, miniskirts, pinstripe trousers, they looked like scarecrows, they said what hostages, then we saw the hostages, they were both dressed exactly like the others, they had deliberately stayed behind, they were living in the mountain, you ingrates we said, we shook our fists and told them there would be consequences. We spoke to the rest of the volunteers, we asked if they had burned anything yet, we reminded them of the reason they were there, their jaws began to jut, they said they didn’t want to, they said they preferred it there, we realized we had created a slum made of rubbish, it was the antithesis of everything we stood for, we shook our heads and decided to evict the volunteers by force.
We stormed the mountain, that’s what we did, we chased the volunteers down the passageways, we didn’t stop to think about what we were doing, we stumbled headlong into an ambush, we got split up, I was chased and beaten by a man in a mask wielding plastic maracas as weapons, he seemed to have painted himself yellow, it was my father, he tied my hands to my feet with a washing line and started dancing around like a goblin, he was singing some kind of victory song, the words were nonsensical but the melody sounded familiar, he was singing the names of chocolate bars to the tune of an advertising jingle for car insurance, he shook his maracas, he had made himself a loincloth out of flannel, I briefly lost consciousness and woke up outside, we had given up our weapons and agreed to negotiate.
We conceded that the mountain of rubbish could remain, we didn’t like it but we didn’t have a choice, their army was much more cunning and determined than ours, so we went back up the hill, we tried to forget that the mountain was there, we wrote epic poetry, we broke exciting new ground in string theory, we discussed the various kinds of love, we had an orgy, the mayor and the chief of police got married, we built a little theater and staged clever plays, the fields we had planted brought forth many crops, but people went to the mountain of rubbish after dark, there was nothing we could do, they didn’t tell anyone, they went in secret, they hurried down the hill in search of cigarettes, whiskey, the Internet, television, on the whole it was mostly teenagers, they sat in the mountain all night and disparaged their parents, they wore lipstick, tracksuits, corduroy trousers, overcoats, they got very drunk and came back at dawn with terrible hangovers, they were contemptuous of our advances in logic and ethics, they laughed at our poems, they said the whole thing was a sham, I complained to my wife, I said is this what we gave it all up for, the contempt of our children, those horrible goblins, I said I’d like to give them a damn good thrashing, my wife didn’t answer, she seemed tired, I said wait a minute, I said is that makeup, I couldn’t believe it, she told me she had been to visit my father, she said he was lonely, I became temporarily unhinged and reminded her it hadn’t been long since he’d attacked me with a pair of maracas, she told me I was being immature, I decided to have it out with him in person.
I walked to the mountain, it didn’t take long, I went straight inside and asked to see my father, someone agreed to take me to his room, we walked along passageways lit with fluorescent strips, their blue light hurt my eyes, I could hear music, it was repetitive electronic noise, televisions were flickering in all the rooms, the children in the passageways were pale and dirty, they inspected me solemnly as I went by, I lifted the hem of my robe off the floor.
My father saw me come in and stood up, he was wearing a tank top, dungarees, cowboy boots, he was chewing gum, he looked pleased to see me, I said now look here you conniving old git, I said stop involving my wife in your schemes, he said it isn’t a scheme, I’m lonely he said, nobody talks to each other down here he said, the walls were constructed out of cardboard, magazines, wooden doors, trellises, shoe boxes, chicken wire, cocktail stirrers, there was a television glowing in the corner, an oven, a table, a chair, a telephone, who did he talk to on the telephone I wondered, my father saw me looking at the yellow dehumidifier, do you like my fan he said, I painted it myself he said, that’s not a fan I said, that’s a dehumidifier, it dries things out, I said why don’t you come back and live on the hill, I said we’re making strides in epistemology and metaphysics, we’re revolutionizing finite geometry, he said I can’t be bothered with all that rubbish, it’s silly he said, you’ve all gone completely crackers up there, I’m staying down here he said, that’s the end of it. I said have it your way, he said I will, I said well in that case I’d better head back, there was a silence, finally I said look after yourself, I’ll visit next week, we hugged, then I went out, I walked past some children playing cricket in the corridor, they were using a tennis ball and an acoustic guitar for a bat, they let me have a go, I picked up the bat, I said watch this, the bowler threw the ball, I swung the guitar and sent the ball bouncing down the passageway, they ran away after it, I stood there for a moment and listened to their footsteps, their shouting, their laughter, the televisions, the radios, the sonorous reverberation of the strings.