After all that excitement I felt the need for a little quiet, for things more traditional.
I took to strolling in my local area and was surprised to discover a little publisher located in a nearby residential street. It was so odd to find an office situated among these ordinary houses. I had to look about me to see that this was indeed a normal street. It was. But everything was so quiet, not a soul about, even though it was mid-afternoon on a lovely sun-filled day. I looked back at the publisher: it was so neat and compact, its bricks were the same colour and type as the houses, it seemed to fit right in, and yet there was its bottom half in a different façade and its signs announcing its trade —
This seemed somehow significant, and then I remembered (strange that I had forgotten about it) my idea to try to turn my adventures in Ireland, and in other places, into a published book. I found my legs moving towards the building. I opened its little gate, which creaked and squeaked loudly. A sign said not to enter this way but to take a side door two doors down.
I followed this instruction, and knocked on what appeared to be the door of an ordinary house. I felt at this time rather self-conscious and imagined I was being surveyed.
After a while a man answered. He was in his forties and portly, and shorter than me.
Without my being able to get a word out, he said, “Come in, come in,” and motioned me in, looking at the floor as he did so.
I was very polite even though I noticed he was very jowly and ruddy, which I found off-putting. His hair was thick and wavy, and done in an old style, as if pulled and brushed back hard.
He did not smile at all. He led me through two interconnecting hallways and into an office with hardly a thing in it: a desk, some low shelves, an old-style telephone on the floor in the corner. I could not tell where I was in relation to the building as I’d seen it from outside.
The man directed me to a chair at the desk and he sat down on the other side. This act of sitting together made me uncomfortable; I’d imagined a more breezy encounter, an ideas exchange, men on the go, that kind of thing. But this man was so stocky and stolid and serious. He sat on the very edge of his seat; it was a hard chair, like the one I was on, and I pictured how the chair must have been biting into the backs of his legs. There was something of the bulldog about him. He gestured for me to speak, and then he clasped his hands together and leant on his elbows on the desk.
Did I mention his lips were thick and purple? And his expression was innately cross, or rather it was the expression of one who stands above and surveys and stands in judgement on everything and everyone below him.
I was thinking about that expression. About where this demeanour came from, how he justified this demeanour. Why is that puffy, ruddy, lip-smacking face judging the world? On whose authority could it judge? Why should everything have to satisfy his opinion of what is what?!
He gestured again with his pudginess, for me to continue, and I obeyed.
I began: “You sir, are a publisher, and I have a modest proposal for you.”
He made a grunting, rumbling sound in the back of his throat.
“I shall be swift about it,” I reassured him. “It would be a wee little book. It would be all about my travels in strange lands, including this one.”
“I see,” he said in his swallowing, rumbling voice. “And on these travels you have adventures, meet strange people and the like?”
“That is the nature of it, yes.”
“And you make interesting observations about their persons and customs and so on?”
“Yes,” I said, “that is exactly it. For instance, one thing I’ve noticed is that people with unkempt hair appear smaller than they are, and those with well-kept hair appear larger, so on the whole the population of Ireland appear undersized. My hair being quite neat.”
“I see,” he said. “Big people, small people, hair…”
The way he went on nodding, with that imperious lip protruding, all censorious like a sergeant major whom no one could please. The way he would not look at you when you were talking but kept his eye fixed on the desktop, as if he were the great listener and judger! The superiority of the man! I had a mind to cease on the spot, or to lean over and dash him about the head.
“Hm. A question,” he said, raising a finger. “Is your time important to you?”
“Well, yes, yes, of course. Time and tide wait for no man.”
“Time and tide, hm?”
“Yes,” I said. Those lips of his, their empurplement, on some occasion could be construed as attractive to some people, the thought occurred to me.
“See that?” he said.
I turned. I hadn’t seen it on coming in but behind the office door was a large, high-backed rocking chair. It had a wide seat and looked very quaint and comfortable if out of place in this austere room. “That,” he said, “is for our budding authors.”
He stood up and went over to it, and taking it by the ends of the armrests pulled it into the centre of the room.
“This is the pitch chair,” he said, and pushed down on its high back and set it gently rocking. “Do you know why we call it the pitch chair?”
“Ah, no. Because it’s comfortable…?” I said knowing my words made no sense.
He smiled for the first time, albeit to himself. “No,” he said. Then, I didn’t know what was going on, he gestured for me to come over and sit in it.
I thought to indulge him, so I went over and sat in it and naturally began to rock back and forth. “I could stay here all day!” I said.
This appeared to please him. He stepped away and went over to a low cabinet and pulled out a pile of black straps and brought them over and let them fall onto the floor in front of me, save one, which he proceeded to place around my right wrist.
“Interesting!” I said. “Kinky!” But I was taken aback a little, for he pulled the strap tight, make no mistake about it, and quickly secured my arm in place by means of the Velcro fastener at the end of the strap.
He now went to do the same to my left wrist but at this I stood up. With my free hand I indicated it was time to stop. We were standing very close to each other, looking into each other’s eyes.
“Are you serious or not?” he said at last.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you want us to publish your book?”
“Well, yes, I do.”
“Then sit down.”
I laughed. It was a game! OK then! I wanted to show him I could be up for it as much as anyone. Well! I sat back down, saying, “Bring it on!”
He strapped my left wrist to the chair. And it was tight too. I would not be able to get my hands free for sure. But then I laughed and said, “I’ve got it! To stop me being pitched out!”
He gave no response at all to that; he crouched down and firmly strapped my right foot to the rocker.
“Okay,” I said. “No response to the brilliant pitch answer. Strange man continues to strap other man down — whoa!”
He had moved to do my left leg, but that was too much, and it had shot out in reflexive protest. To this the man spread his palms wide and looked up at me as if it were no skin off his nose, he didn’t care one way or the other what I did.
“Do you want to be a published author or not?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “But, not, ah, not — but I don’t want to be tied to a contract! Ha! ha!”
He grabbed my left leg and lashed it to the chair.
“OK, very funny,” I said, “you’ve got me. ”
“Not quite.” He moved behind me and I could see the loop of strap coming around my chest; he pulled it hard and got me tight up against the uprights of the backrest.
Now he appeared in front of me again. He walked over to his chair and pulled it over so that it was very close and he sat down facing me. His face had blossomed red from the effort of getting me into the straps.
“Like I said,” he said, “this is the pitch chair. It’s where our prospective authors get to pitch their ideas to us.”
Ah! It all made sense! I felt myself relax.
“So,” he said. “My time is valuable, as yours is, is it not?”
“OK. So you have thirty seconds to convince me. What’s your book about?”
But I’d already told him what it was about. What did he mean?
He read my confusion. “You’ve done your homework,” he went on. “Haven’t you? Yes? You have to pitch your idea, don’t you?”
“Yes, well, yes.”
“So, what’s your book about? This is your chance. You only get one shot at this kind of thing. You’ve got twenty-five seconds — and I’m being generous.”
“Well, well, well…”
“Tick tick tick tick.”
“All right,” I said. “All right. Fair enough. Well, let me begin. All right. The traveller to Ireland soon finds that Ireland is as every bit as interesting as people say it —”
The slap across my face was so brutal and sudden that I simply blinked back at him with my mouth hanging wide open. Then he leapt at me, grabbed me by my shirtfront.
“So you think you can just walk in here with your jokes, eh?” he said, shaking me furiously. “You think we haven’t heard it all before, eh? Little independent press, sure go in and stomp all over them. Very funny. Yeah, well, things are pretty serious now, aren’t they?!”
“What? What? I don’t —”
Suddenly he let me go, sat back down, calmed himself. “Now,” he went on, “your story. You have twenty seconds left.”
“I don’t —”
“Tick tick tick tick.”
I stopped squirming. I became resolved. I now repeated what I’d said about the book when I first came in, leaving out all mention of Irish hair, and I furnished him with a few examples of my experiences in this city, including going to visit the big attraction of the Leprechaun Museum.
I finished. He pursed his lips, looking down at the floor in thought, then rose to his feet. “I think you need something more stimulating,” he said and walked out of the room.
From the way the chair was positioned I couldn’t see where he’d gone, though I could hear his footfalls down the hallway, followed by a door opening. I examined the straps, flexed my legs and arms, twisted my wrists. There was no getting out, and each time I tried the chair would start gently rocking, which put me right off the attempt. It was absurd! It was a joke! Ha! The only thing to do was submit and put him at ease.
A moment later a sound came down the hall: the sound of … rummaging through a kitchen utensils draw.
“Ho there!” I cried out. “Hello! I think my time is up here. Not funny anymore … Hello?”
I heard the drawer slamming shut and the utensils, if that’s what they were, rattling. Presently his footsteps approached.
“All right,” I said. “The book idea has gone quite out of my head. I won’t bother you again. You win. I’m sorry to have wasted your — ”
He swooped in at my side, grabbing my face in one hand. “Oh, it’s too late for that, my dear! Oh, yes! You’ve bothered me now and I am a little interested. You must have had some good reason to think that the man in the street would be interested in you enough to spend more than sixty seconds of his valuable time on your words. Hm? That presumption must stem from some laudable or otherwise compelling motivation, must it not?”
“Yes, yes, yes!” I said but I wasn’t thinking anymore: I could see that he was hiding something in his other hand, something from that kitchen drawer. Mother of God! He saw me looking, saw what I was thinking, and leering like a monster raised into view not a knife but a massive medical syringe with a big needle sticking out of it.
I bucked in the chair, which served only to send it — and me — madly rocking.
“This sorts them right out,” he said, looking at the syringe. “Doesn’t it, my sweetheart?”
The needle was a good five inches long, and the syringe was filled with a transparent liquid and was about eight inches long.
I was panting. He grabbed me by the hair and wrenched me towards him. His eyes were on fire. “Do you know what this is for?” he said, holding the syringe inches from my eyes. “No? Well, this is filled with 150 cc of saline solution. You inject it just under the skin to create a bulge that’s temporary but very dramatic. Everyone’s doing it. An elephant man or walking dead effect, you can be deformed for a day or so. The Japs love it! They make a bagel shape in the middle of the forehead. After you inject the solution, you press down in the centre of the lump to create the hole. They call it a bagel-head. Beguruheddo-desu!”
He thrust my head back against the top of the backrest. I had no way to fight him. He needle zoomed towards my forehead like an arrow.
“No!” I cried.
He stopped at the last second. “So what’s your pitch, eh? You’re in the pitch chair now, aren’t you? You’ve got ten seconds left. What’s it gonna be?”
“Don’t!” I said. He brought the needle closer; then I felt it prick my skin. “Oh God, don’t!”
“No?” he said. “Still no story?”
“Please stop! Stop!”
He did stop. I opened my eyes. The needle was a foot away but he wasn’t finished: his eyes narrowed and he bared his teeth and said, “Or how about an injection right into the ball bag, eh boy?” He let go of my head and held his free hand in front of me, palm up, and began to make lurid motions as if squeezing a big water balloon. “Give yourself a bit of volume, eh?”
He lowered the needle to my groin.
“Help! Help! Help!”
“Oh, don’t bother with that! No one can hear you, no one will come. Now, what’s your book about?”
“It’s … It’s … It’s …”
“It’s about … It’s about…”
“It’s about a man who tries to express affection but it all goes horribly horribly wrong!”
“I don’t know! I don’t know! I swear it’s all I have! I swear!”
He stood upright and allowed the syringe to drop to his side.
“Hmm,” he said, nodding. “Actually that’s not bad. OK, come back again when you’ve fleshed it out a bit more.”
He put the needle on the desk then undid the straps, the Velcro-tearing sound ripping into my very brain. What he did after that I don’t know: I ran down the hallway, and kept running. I must have taken a wrong turn for when I burst out into the sunlight I didn’t know where I was. It certainly wasn’t the door I came in by. Not that I cared. I collapsed onto the road and gulped in the air: