The Curmudgeon


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Before Your Very Eyes

When you turn on a light, as everyone knows, the darkness is collected by a small black creature, about one-tenth the size of your pupil at its smallest, who instead of eyes has a pair of trumpet-shaped suckers protruding from his face, through which he can inhale every bit of darkness in the room before your own sluggish human eyes can possibly see where it is going. When he has taken in as much as he can hold without bursting, he stops and spits it into a sack he holds open before him. When not working he keeps the sack within easy reach, neatly folded into the niche between your eyeball and your eyelid. This is why you must never rub your eyes too much, for fear of rupturing the sack.

The creature, your Exactor Tenebrarum or Personal Tenebriphage, may sometimes squeeze in beside his sack while not on the job, so as to relax but be on hand if required. Sometimes, if you look straight at the light and then close your eyes, you will catch him unawares and see him as a bright, jumping blob, or even several, as he leaps about frantically at incredible speed, trying to escape, for his pay will be docked if he ever lets himself be seen. According to the terms of his contract, he is not supposed to sit behind your eyelid with his sack, but should spend all his time outside, clinging to one of your eyelashes, usually the third or fourth counting outward from your nose, eternally vigilant and on the lookout for darkness to collect.

Regrettably, almost no Exactors adhere to the strict official conditions of their employment; as far back as anyone can remember there has been an ancient and honourable tradition of skiving and corner-cutting. For example, your Exactor is supposed to collect all the darkness in the room the moment the light is switched on; but very few can be bothered to do this properly, and some have even taken up the filthy habit of rolling up flakes of dead skin and smoking them through their suckers, and consequently lack the requisite lung capacity to take all the darkness in at once without promptly coughing it up again. The usual dodge is to leave as much darkness in the room as possible, though most Exactors still retain enough professional pride to leave this residue behind wardrobes or under beds, where it is less likely to be noticed.

Even the best Exactors are not faultless, and even those who do not smoke will occasionally become a little careless and lose their grip on your eyelid. When this happens they fall into your eye, which to them resembles a warm, shallow pool of salt water with an improbably shaped glass bottom. They find dips in this pool very refreshing, and have been known to drop in on purpose, despite the fact that they tend to have considerable difficulty getting out again; some even drown, which means that their counterparts, the Exactors Lucis, have to do double duty until a replacement can be found. For this reason, and because of the irritation their splashing about can cause the customer (what you refer to as "something in the eye" is nearly always an Exactor of one kind or another), the practice of eye-diving is strictly forbidden.

The only worse crime is consistent failure to maintain the upkeep of the sack, but sadly this too is widespread, and means that when you switch the light on, and the Exactor sucks up the darkness and spits it into his sack, the sack immediately bursts and lets it all out again. When this happens, the Exactor has no other choice but to let go your eyelash, leap up to the ceiling or wherever the light happens to be, and break the bulb, usually by biting through the filament. The time it takes you to replace the bulb will give him ample time to do some impromptu patching of his sack, though if the sack is in a really bad way he may have to resort to sabotaging the fuse-box.

The Exactor Tenebrarum has a partner, the Exactor Lucis, who is of similar size and shape but completely transparent, and who normally lives on the left eyelid, while his colleague inhabits the right. The Exactor Lucis also has a pair of trumpetlike suckers and a sack to spit into; his job is to collect the light when you turn the lamp off, and he is generally not on speaking terms with the Exactor Tenebrarum, whom he regards as an idle slob. It is only fair to say that this is not altogether a bad thing, since whenever the two types of Exactor do start talking to each other, they can dream up some truly lunatic schemes. These usually involve tricks such as job-swapping, or one of them stopping work altogether so that light or darkness piles up in a room and begins to upset the crockery; or alternatively both Exactors may start emptying their sacks in the same place, so that the contents become hopelessly mixed. It is thought that a prank of this nature, when an Exactor Tenebrarum emptied his sack into the customer's left ear while the Exactor Lucis emptied his into the right ear, was the beginning of human consciousness as we know it today.


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