The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, February 15, 2011


An extract

For quite a long time, though not for quite so long as he imagines, Anderson is unable to sleep. Partly this is due to the physical discomfort of his position; his body is slightly longer than the space between the arm-rests, so either his ankles must be placed upon one of them or else he must bend his knees and lie in a hunched semi-foetal position which is alien to his habit and body mass index and which he knows will cause his back to complain later on. But the alternative of sleeping with his feet raised and protruding over the arm-rest is even less congenial and would probably also result in pins and needles or varicose veins or some such thing, because the corner of the arm-rest would interfere with the blood circulation.

Then there are the worries about his job, which have been nagging at him for some considerable time; in fact, Anderson would be hard put to remember a time when worries about his job did not nag at him, although he has never actually attempted such a remembrance and, if forced under threat of torture to express an opinion on the matter, would probably say that such worries are part and parcel of the job itself and perhaps of any job, an unavoidable feature of the labour experience with which one must live just as one must live with the necessity of commuting and the lack of adequate intellectual stimulation and all the other little inconveniences that go along with the business of avoiding the slightly larger inconveniences associated with being consigned to the scrap heap. The precise tone and tenor of Anderson’s worries depend upon his circumstances at the time: when Anderson feels relatively secure in his position, he worries that his confidence is misplaced, and when Anderson does not feel secure in his position, he worries that his anxiety is justified. Not that he considers himself lacking in the skills necessary for professional success; on the contrary, he attained his present post with no great effort and without even having thought seriously of applying for it until advised to do so by his manager and several colleagues. They all seemed to think of the new post as a promotion; it was within the same company, though the company’s name was different then, and certainly the new post was better paid than the old one; at the time Anderson worried that he would be forced into a managerial position, a fate for which he has never felt remotely suited; the idea of spending five or six days a week giving pep talks and yelling for results is nightmarish in itself, and the idea of Anderson as a leader and motivator of human resources would be a source of delicious and unparalleled mirth to anyone who knows him, particularly his wife and daughter. Anderson works to far greater advantage when he can deal with people as equals, or at least where the relationship is clear and the responsibility is distributed on an explicit and comfortable basis. This was the case before his promotion, when he served as a kind of health inspector, ensuring that sites and procedures conformed to relevant criteria: a glorified stock-taker, some might say, a box-ticker, a clipboard pilot; and indeed Anderson’s work since his promotion, which is to say the work he does at present, is in its day-to-day procedures not so very different from his previous work, although considerably more voluminous and, he supposes, a bit more important in the general scheme of things. He has met others in the same position as himself, fellow trainees at company training courses and fellow refreshmen at company refresher courses and fellow herd animals at the company health checks, some of whom seem to regard their common profession as the supreme end and justification of the company’s very existence, rather than merely the facilitation of a few of its policies. There is, thinks Anderson, the soles of his feet chafing against the arm-rest as his legs itch to straighten, there is a certain unpleasantness about such people, an unholy mix of ambition and evangelism: their work is the greatest, the finest, the most important work there is, a responsibility, a vocation, virtually a holy trust, and they all want to be promoted somewhere else as soon as possible. They live in a permanent job interview, where one’s zealously demonstrated all-consuming lust for the position being offered must be outweighed only by one’s madly thrusting urge to move beyond it; nor is this attitude by any means confined to the young. Anderson has met men his own age, and even a decade older, practically on the verge of forced retirement, who are simply ulcerated with get-go. Anderson himself has never been afflicted in this fashion and he supposes, toes flexing irritably, that his worries are part of the price one must pay for such a chronic lack of dynamism.

A noise outside, or somewhere, jumps his eyelids open. The ghost of the window hovers amid the dark hulks of furniture. Perhaps he has slept; he thinks vaguely of looking at his wrist watch which he habitually wears in bed, but since there were only three or four hours left of the night when he first lay down, any news from that quarter is certain to be bad. He tries to recall the sound that woke him; he listens in case it is repeated, but hears only the small unidentifiable murmurings and chunterings of the house asleep: the cistern or the boiler or the pipes or the electrics, that sort of thing, he presumes. There is a muffled creaking thump from above, which may or may not be somebody entering or leaving their bed, but Anderson suspects, rather fuzzily it is true, that the noise which disturbed him was a noise of a different order: something sharp and sudden even if not particularly loud. He does not explicitly visualise doors being forced, or window-panes being suckered and scalpelled and quietly removed, or bombs going off, since he is perfectly well aware that if anything like that had happened in the house he would almost certainly know more about the happening than he knows about this mysterious noise; nevertheless, those are the kind of disturbances one reads about in the news every day, and it is famously fatal to believe that such things will never happen to oneself.

The noise does not recur. Anderson turns over onto his other side, facing the backrest of the sofa, and the lower part of his spine gives a complaining twinge: not an ache or a spasm, merely a querulous warning that aches or spasms might well be on the way unless matters improve. Anderson closes his eyes.

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  • At 11:10 p.m. , Blogger Buck Theorem said...

    This is a quietly masterful and chilling novella; "Security" is polemical without beating the reader round the head with didacticism: it presents an all too plausible vision of our possible future, and one that society seems hungry for in the name of self-defence.

  • At 12:08 p.m. , Blogger Philip said...

    Very kind of you to say so; thanks.


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