Denton could tie sixteen different types of knot and write five different alphabets. He knew the names of every country in the world and how to get from any tube station to any other, even though he had never been to London. He found this knowledge reassuring and periodically checked that he still knew it all. However, none of this helped him understand people. No matter that he could name each part of the brain; people were still a mess of unknowable, indefinable things. He suspected that other people had been given some kind of manual that explained everything – why sofas were important, when to speak, what facial expressions to wear – and because he didn’t have it, he was stumped, permanently. When he was with other people he always wore bewildered expression, hoping this would explain his situation. He wasn’t sure this worked though, because people were often angry with him.
Then, six months ago, Denton decided he’d had enough. He decided to take control. He was very fond of control, it was one of the reasons he was studying for a programming degree. After deciding fourteen separate times to take control, he had finally figured out how.
First, he worked to recreate the secret manual that he was sure everybody but him had access to. This required extensive research. With subtle questions to tutors and fellow students, with googling and searches to the dark web, the information had mounted up. He collated, cross referenced and edited each document, file and super-file. Now for phase two: only using one thousand words.
During his research into normal people and the curious stuff they do, he had read that most people only use a thousand words when speaking. They might know many more words, but normal conversation didn’t require them. As an experiment, Denton had spent a day with a Dictaphone keeping track of exactly how many words he used, and found it to be well over three thousand. He suspected that this excessive use of vocabulary might be why people thought he was strange, it was, at least a clue as to his oddness. So he had devised a list of an essential thousand words, and today would be the day when he restricted himself to using only those words. He had meticulously planned his wardrobe and behaviour to keep conversations on cue.
He heard a scuffling from outside his door and then,
“Denton!” he recognised the voice of his friend Steve. Denton knew that Steve would be standing with his feet flat on the floor and a shoulder’s width apart, that way he would be less likely to fall over when someone pushed him. Steve had been pushed a lot in his life.
“Denton, I’ve found a frog!”
The problem with a thousand-word limit, as far as Denton could see, was that you couldn’t know which situations would occur in any given day. He believed that for one day he could avoid describing the implosion of nebulae, or the function of a radio transmitter. He could avoid all references to the mouth parts of insects and the names of stones in archways. It would make conversation a little mundane, but he liked the challenge of repeating the same ideas over and over, like normal people.
When he had written out his thousand words, he had allowed for each basic everyday situation that he could think of – cancelled lectures, cold winds and earache, that the janitor was really a zombie; all very simple topics requiring just basic verbs and nouns. But he hadn’t thought to include the word frog. Still, Steve was a sensitive soul and Denton didn’t want to let him down. He shuffled from his bed and opened the door.
“Nice watch,” he said when he opened the door, then panicked. Steve stood holding the frog with two hands, two fingers spread slightly to let its head poke through.
“Frog,” he explained proudly, but Denton wasn’t listening, he was still panicking. He had spent several days outlining the plans for his thousand words. For example, he had decided that different verb endings didn’t fundamentally change the word – so he could count ‘speak’ and ‘speaks’ as one word. He had shaved a number of words out of his vocabulary, by choosing only one adjective, where normally several would be used – such as ‘red’ instead of ‘vermillion’, ‘pink’, ‘burgundy’. After all, many people couldn’t seem to tell the difference between those colours anyway. However, he had totally forgotten about Homonyms, words like ‘watch’, for example. He had actually included that word so that he could say “Can you watch my bag?” or “Did you watch telly last night?” but in his desperation to avoid conversations about a frog, he had used it in a different context. Was that ok? Or had he failed already? Not for the first time, he wished that social studies were published in the paper with proper methodology.
“I’m going to keep it,” said Steve, holding up the frog.
“Cool,” replied Denton.
“As a pet,” said Steve.
“Cool,” said Denton.
Maybe he could pass the whole day saying ‘cool’, other people managed it.
They walked to the canteen, across the paving, all the while Steve chatted to his frog and Denton tried to stay quiet.
They had reached the canteen doors where two girls from his year stood sharing a cigarette.
“Hi Denton,” said Su, who had dark eyes and a bright smile.
“Why are you wearing your dressing gown?” she asked.
“Eccentricity,” replied Denton, glad the conversation was going to plan.
“Oooh, a frog,” said Katie who had red hair and a matching birthmark across her neck.
“Yes, I found it in the field. I’m going to keep it in the sink,” said Steve.
“Do you like frogs, Denton?” asked Su.
“What type of frog is it?” asked Su, with great effort of will, Denton kept his knowledge inside, and said,
“You’re very monosyllabic today,” Su narrowed her dark eyes and folded her arms.
“I said ‘eccentricity’,” said Denton puzzled, wondering if people would think him stranger now that he was saying less.
“Eccentricity,” said Katie, rolling the word around her mouth like a boiled sweet.
“That’s a very good word, I don’t use it enough.” Su added brightly,
“You know, I read in the paper today that the average person speaks only three thousand different words in a day.”
“What?” exclaimed Denton.
“Yeh, apparently we all just keep repeating the same three thousand over and over. Except for Shakespeare.”
“Shakespeare was an odious buffoon!” said Denton happily, as Su laughed. Denton decided today was going to be delightful.
He slammed down the book and relished the ripples of shock and irritation as they echoed around the library.
“Sorry, so sorry,” he said, meekly, his head held low and so that his floppy fringe hid his small grin. The room was fusty, with dust collecting on every surface, weighing people down. They’d be slow to react, he’d get to enjoy every frown and tut as it unfolded around him. He lifted the book high a second time.
Once again, he was the master of chaos.
Every morning Cat would wake in a panic and rush to the bathroom where her make up was gathered around her sink like a jury. She’d work through the routine, layer by layer she would remake her face into something acceptable. Concealer, foundation, foundation powder, blush, neutral eyeliner, defining eyeshadow, eyeliner. She saw her face as a collection of flaws to be patched up and buried. Each year the slap had grown thicker and thicker as new wrinkles and blemishes popped to the surface and her true face was lost.
Some days she’d try to imagine how it would be to be loved for all her flaws, to show herself to the world, could she really be so disgusting to look at? She’d make a deal with herself that tomorrow she’d walk down the street with her face naked, just to see what would happen. Would people shout? Laugh? Would strangers video this hideous creature to stick up on Youtube? She knew she’d never do it. Sometimes she’d dare herself to just step outside her flat and take the lift to the ground floor, say hello to Mrs Robey who liked to stand in the hall smoking a fag, maybe pop her head out the door to where Salman would be playing with his kids on the grass. The dare would quickly evaporate as she imagined their horrified reactions.
And then the fire happened. At three in the morning, the fire alarm rattled through the block with such a raucous demand for attention, she found herself standing on the grass outside before she remembered her face was empty of disguise. As the street filled up with scared occupants in dressing gowns and duvets, she tried to keep under trees in the shadows. She saw Mrs Robey, already lighting up a fag to calm her nerves, even in the panic she had thought to bring them with her. She saw Salman huddling his children to him, trying to keep them warm. As people from neighbouring blocks joined them, it became increasingly difficult to hide, all spaces were filled with people, both dazed and bustling, slowly filling up the spaces and edging her out into the light. And then she was in the middle of the noise and fuss, being offered cups of tea and wrapped up in blankets. And no one was recoiling from her ugliness, it was as if they didn’t notice any difference, as if they didn’t care. She slurped her tea and chuckled with her neighbours about how silly they all looked, about how scared they’d all been; and for once she didn’t need to think about her make up slipping or lipstick on her teeth. And it was quite nice.
Nobody was paying attention when the sky cracked open, but we all heard the yawn that rolled in from the beginning of time.
The very lovely Chizurue. nominated me for the Leibster Award, which was most kind. I’m something of a crazy rebel, so I’m not going to nominate anyone for questions, but I like promoting other blogs, so I’m going to link to a few that I would give an award to if I was giving out awards. I’m going to pick mostly bloggers I’m new to to try and shake up my attention span a bit.
Jeyran Main – Jeyran writes thoughtful, useful reviews of books and poems. She writes about a diverse range of writing, and the blog looks just beautiful.
The Story Hive -I’m just getting to know this collection of curious and intriguing stories, but it’s always exciting to discover a mind that takes odd twists and turns.
Fictionspawn Monsters – beautifully painted pictures, and bizarre, delightful short stories.
Living in God’s Pocket with ABI – Not a new follow this one, but I think it’s important that this information is spread. Jasper’s writing about his experience of living with a brain injury, it’s well-written and wise.
Dominique the writer – Poems and thoughts and some unusual posts, well worth checking out.
Today’s Echos – An entertaining reviewer who’s not afraid to criticise, making for entertaining reviews.
Be Your Own Light: A Mental Health Recovery Blog – a thoughtful and intelligent blog about living with bipolar disorder. Honest and practical well worth a read.
These are the questions Chizurue asked me to answer, anyone else is also free to answer if they fancy.
What is your crazy dream (may be the literal dream or something you want to be)? The craziest one yet or you could list ’em!
I’m terrible at answering this question. Since getting PTSD many years ago, my dreams have been haywire, they wrecked my sleep for three years. Part of learning to sleep again was being able to ignore my dreams. I’m dimly aware they’re still pretty intense (last night I dreamt I was locked in a bare room while the years passed, with people being hung outside my tiny window) but I try to ignore them.
A character you would like to meet in real life and be fast friends with (or maybe more than friends)? Why? (Anything from anime, manga, k-drama, books, tv series)
Dirk Gently would be good. Mostly life doesn’t seem interconnected, it just looks like a bunch of random, inexplicable events that haphazardly cause a bunch of other events. When something happens that seems like it was right to happen, that’s a great feeling, so I’d like that to happen more. I think Dirk Gently would achieve this for me.
To follow up that previous one: Which fictional character would be the most boring to meet in real life?
That’s tricky, because if they’re boring they’re forgettable, so I honestly don’t know. Many female characters from the past were quite dull, so maybe one of them They were so well-behaved and weak, but that’s changing (a bit) now.
Favourite music or album you could listen to all day? And why? Is it the lyrics, the melody or the vocals?
To listen all day, it would need to be something mellow like Yann Tierson. It’s the piano, I find it soothing and melodic. I don’t think I could listen to people singing all day if I could understand what they were singing, but incomprehensible chanting would be ok, something monk-like.
What book / anime would you recommend to someone who has never read / watched anything from that medium?
I don’t know anything about anime. If I had to recommend a book to someone who’s never read, then it would be The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Not because it’s really good (it’s entertaining but quite badly written) but when I was working in a bookshop a number of customers came in saying they’d never managed to read a book until they read that one, so it’s clearly a good starting point.
What are you deathly afraid of?
Serious, chronic illness, either me getting sick or people I care about getting sick.
What is the funniest word to you? (Mine is apparently ‘pengwings’) Or anything that makes you laugh when you hear it?
Biscuits! A colleague of mine often substitutes this word unexpectedly for swear words, and it’s always funny (especially since he’ll eff and jeff most of the time without pause). A sudden ‘Son of a biscuit!’ makes me laugh.
What mythical creature would you like as a pet?
Mythical creatures are often quite scary, aren’t they? I can’t imagine a Minotaur or a Gorgon being too domesticated or easy to toilet train. So I’d go for Pyrausta an insect sized dragon, it has filmy wings, four legs and dragon’s head. It needs to be in fire though, so it’d be tricky to look after, but dragons and insects are both great, so a combination would be awesome.
What’s the most useless talent you have?
I can write backwards, upside-down and backwards and upside at the same time. I recently (after 30 years of having the ‘talent’) found a use for the writing backwards, but it’s not exactly an everyday skill to use.
If you could level up humans as a species, what stat or ability would you increase? And why?
Stamina – it would be very useful in my job.
Would you rather live your entire life in a virtual reality where all your wishes are granted or in the real world? Explain your choice.
It depends. If everyone I cared about, plus lots of other real people, were in the VR world then I’d live there. I’m not that fussed about all my wishes being granted, but I’d like to have constant good health, no pain and to go on adventures to the ends of the Earth, and to the depths of the sea and so on. I don’t dislike real life, but I don’t think it has an automatic greater value than virtual reality. The brain makes our current reality real, so as long as I can fully experience the senses and connect with people in VR, I’ll be happy there.
Great questions! So if anyone fancies answering them too, that would be ace.
She lost everything in the fire, old photographs, her wedding dress, pictures the children had drawn. Each thread that tied her to her life had snapped and there was nothing left. Feeling lighter than air she wandered to the station and planned who she was going to be from this day forth.
Some interesting thoughts from David Swan here about the difference between living and existing. I could especially relate to the idea of it being better to try and fail, than not try at all, it’s not something that works for everyone, but for me, it’s what I need to do.
I’ve been musing on these two terms existing and living and with my recent forays into the world of the low paid, I get to understand more about existing. To exist is to just get by. It means holding down a job that you don’t really care that much for and then entertaining yourself with monotonous distractions at the weekend. If you are just existing then no doubt you will want to lose yourself in endless television, junk food, and pointless conversation with friends in similar circumstances.
The importance of these two terms is important to understand so that you can recognise that you are just existing and want to push yourself into the realm of the living. The living take long walks anywhere, and great gulps of air. They relax so much more into the now and take their time with living. They pursue their dreams and don’t let…
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This flat is too big without her in it, the wind seems to rush right through me, the floor echoes my footsteps instead of her laughter. We never even argued. She snapped sometimes, I just assumed she was tired, and I’d give her a hug to cheer her up. Maybe if we’d had a proper screaming row, I could understand the pattern that led us to here, retrace my steps. There must have been steps, there must have been signs.
I walk past where she kept her coat, folded over the sofa. She always wanted a hook on the wall, but I explained I had just the right number of hooks for my coats, and I didn’t want to spoil the paintwork. We’d laugh about it of course, I’d say give it another year and you can have your own hook, and we’d laugh. Laughing is the backbone of a relationship, I always think.
She was here three years. They were beautiful years, but I had to rearrange my life around her, I don’t think she saw how difficult that was. I’d find her hair in the plug hole, or she’d want to watch the Apprentice; it was tough, but I kept altering my world to fit her in. She wanted somewhere to put her stuff, so I cleared a shelf in the cupboard under the stairs. She kept her shower gel there, a change of clothes.
When the lack of her gets too much, I open the cupboard and stare at the empty shelf. I thought she’d be pleased with it, I had to clear away my motoring magazines to make space and I thought she’d fling her arms around me joyfully and be so happy, but she just nodded. Nobody else in my life ever had a shelf, she was special. I wanted her to know that, but it was like she couldn’t feel it, like she blocked all my efforts.
When she left it only took five minutes to up and out of my life. She cleared the shelf, picked up her coat and was gone, as if she’d never been here. Apart from the mug ring on the coffee table, she erased herself from my home. She hasn’t called. Why hasn’t she called? She must be regretting her decision by now.
We were happy, weren’t we? I was happy. She was special.
As she folded and smoothed the bedsheets over and over, minutes edged into hours. As she perfected one corner, another would rumple, but she kept on trying.
“If I can just get this one thing right, it will be the start of a perfect life,” she thought.