“Here, passerby, lieth the last person worth being born to end up as”
By Jack Pedder
– I have the last life in human history that is worth living. My father sang, after silently frying a leek for seemingly months. Ye witnesseth – he stopped singing, in a fit of belching and farting – Ye witnesseth the final firework in the great fireworks display that is Man’s Value. After I am dead, Man entereth a night of endless accelerating distress and rubbish. I am the only person worth being born to end up as, he sings. Put that on my gravestone son. Put ‘Here, passerby-‘ Address them as passerby for form’s sake.
– I will Father.
– ‘Here, passerby, lieth the last person worth being born to end up as’.
– I will do that father.
– I wound hang myself on the umbilical cord if I knew your life was mine Christopher, if I knew this (he gestured at me) was coming.
– I believe you, father.
– You’re probably going to have a horrible life Christopher, like everyone who isn’t me.
– Yes father.
– Ask your mother.
– It’s true, said my mother, sitting at the laptop reading about Gdansk.
– I’d kill myself if I were anyone but me, said my father. Especially you Christopher. I’d kill myself with that fork.
I dropped the fork I was holding.
– You’re probably going to hell after you die Christopher. God hates unhappy people.
– Where is your sister Christopher, said my mother.
– She’s upstairs, webcamming for old Japenese men… probably.
– Can you get up and call her down.
– I’ll call her down, I said, getting up.
– Tell her we’re having leeks! screamed my father, in extreme panic.
– Mae! I yelled from the bottom of the stairs, chewing some mysterious leaves I found in my trouser pocket.
– I am eating your laptop. Better come and stop me digesting the hard drive of your laptop, with all your crucial files.
– I am also eating your tampons.
– How inconvenient.
– I am eating them at a hearty rate. Yum yum. You may run of tampons out at the rate at which I am devouring them.
– Expect a mouth full of blood in a few nights if you do.
– Please. I want that.
– I will collect all the grossest period blood from my friends and-
– I am disgustingly soiling your beloved possessions, I squealed.
– I am glad!
– I am rubbing myself on your underwear, joyfully.
– How good.
– Mum and Dad are taking part. Dad is lathering his balls in cheese and-
– Are we having leeks for tea?
– What about the stench of leeks led you to that hypothesis?
– Stench!? My father bawled, from the next room.
– I meant stink father, I said.
– May the peace of God, my sister said, which passeth all understanding dwell in your heart and mind and remain with you always.
– Is that how you sign off all your sex shows?
– I’m praying for you Christopher.
My father appeared in the doorway with bloodshot eyes, spatula in hand.
– No son of mine insults the stink of leeks.
He pursued me round the house, the garden, and the entire neighbourhood with the spatula, and my mother wept ironically on the doorstep. The leeks burned horribly. The house would’ve burned too if my sister hadn’t been prepared for exactly this situation.
My sister kept all sorts of disaster-avoidance tech in a closet at the bottom of the stairs. The calling her to dinner routine was a way of alerting her to any pots that were ready to boil over. In this case she used a fire-blanket with the words ‘I is me’ written on it.
We ended up going out to Engineer’s, our go-to Indian restaurant. We were considered heroes at Engineer’s because we rescued the owner – Mr. Engineer – from certain death on a Mediterranean boating holiday. His boat capsized on the calmest day of the century and we took them onto ours. It was the blandest feat of heroism I have ever seen or read about.
My sister blew cigar smoke into my face the whole car journey, saying things like ‘how’d you like these yams big boy’ and ‘wanna ride, rough stuff’. My father veered wildly into the oncoming lane now and again, threatening to kill us whenever my mum disagreed over some minor point of trivia, like the birthday of John Bunyan. He turned on radio 3 occasionally, to a Russian jazz mystery play or whatever, then insulted it for a few minutes and threatened to drive us back home drunk if we couldn’t make him forget it existed by the end of the evening (He usually drove us back drunk anyway).
My father’s most common threats have passed so deeply into my psyche that it takes an act of will to recognise them. Locking us in the basement and forcing us to breed, selling us to the Mormons to do with ‘what they wilt’, gradually amputating us and feeding our limbs to ‘hogs’. I can’t really hear them, they’re so obvious to me.
When we arrived at Engineer’s my father had his usual 5 or 10 minutes of joking about us with the waiters in Bengali. The waiters laughed and pointed at us. They made gargling noises, and performed elaborate gestures to indicate gushing from the groin area. Uproarious laughter continued for minutes. My father had used this same joke on these same waiters at least twice a week for the best part of a decade. We never knew – or cared to know – what it was. Mr. Engineer, a sort of Sikh Father Christmas, and the nicest man in the world, came out, arms apart, and hugged each of us when he knew we’d arrived. He said a few things to my father in Bengali, asked my sister how her philosophical treatise was coming along, asked me how my indie band was coming along, and asked my mother how her travel blog was coming along. They were all coming along swimmingly. He smiled like Santa and wished us a pleasant meal.
My sister told me about her friend’s film while my dad insulted my mum’s taste in necklaces.
– It’s about mental asylums, my sister said, but every shot has minted new potatoes in it.
My friend from school sent me a picture of a naked woman hula hooping with the caption ‘I wud jizz on diss’
– …like every shot. It’s a film about mental asylums but she somehow squeezed potatoes, specifically minted new potatoes, into every shot. Why is there porn on your phone?
– There’s not porn on your phone is there Christopher, asked my mother. Not at dinner!
– One of my friends sent me a picture of this naked hula hooping woman with the caption ‘I wud jizz on diss’, I said, showing my mother the picture.
– No, don’t show me!
– ‘Wud’ is spelt incorrectly, and ‘diss’ has two esses.
-Oh my gosh! my mother whispered, pointing at Tony Blair.
Tony Blair was sitting three tables down from us with a man none of us recognised. We spent the rest of the meal in absolute silence, listening to Tony Blair’s conversation with the other man.
– If we continue to pollute the sea- said the other man.
– I’ll stop you right there Chuck, said Tony Blair. I think that’s the wrong way to go about this issue which, let’s be clear, is perhaps the most serious issue of our times. Now, Chuck, I am a family man-
– Those poor fish! cried Chuck.
– Now Chuck I know the fish need saving, but as a family man-
– Ready to order, Mr. war criminal? the waiter said, winking.
– I don’t know. Are we ready? Are you ready Chuck?
– Yes. I’ll have Crab bhuna, Chuck said. Extra crab please.
– I’ll have the Mogo balls, said Tony Blair, handing the waiter the menus. Thank you waiter.
The waiter went away and everyone on our table ordered a crab bhuna, extra crab with Mogo Balls.
– Mogo balls, mumbled Tony Blair.
– The briny waves Tony! Chuck cried, spitting out a bit of his tooth. You can’t go on polluting the briny waves.
– Well there’s only one thing I can say to that Chuck, and that’s this… Tony Blair held up a fork. -I’ll say this Chuck. There’s only one response to that, and I am going to respond with it…
Chuck made a manatee sound.
– The British people, Tony Blair said, have had enough of broken promises about their precious salty depths. Do you read “the Bible” Chuck? (Tony Blair did quatation marks with his fingers for “The Bible”)
– Well Chuck, if you don’t mind me quoting the “Book of Books”.
– No Mr. Prime Minister. Although I personally believe in Buddhist Philosophies and Theories.
– In Genesis, the first book of “the Bible” (very exaggerated fingers). God says: ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters… and let it divide the waters from the waters. Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.’ So you see Chuck-
– That was beautiful Tony.
– Thank you Chuck.
– Iconic poetry.
– Yes, and you see Chuck, if you managed to catch the meanings of it-
– Don’t think I failed to comprehend the many important and complicated meanings Mr. Prime-minister.
– Call me Tony.
– I will.
– You see, the sea means a lot to land dwellers like us, Tony said.
– I’d prefer it if you didn’t blashpheme Chuck.
– Sorry Tony, I am on edge.
– I just happen to be a Christian.
– Of course.
– Without the sea, there would be nothing to compare land to.
– Well, if you don’t mind me quoting Buddhist theories Tony-
– Not at all.
– The Buddhist theories propounded by Jonathan Beagle-
– Very interesting.
– state that the sea is actually consciousness.
– Interesting stuff.
– Oneness is sea-being.
– Wow. Yes.
– Powerful stuff isn’t it?
– Yes, yes. But with all due respect Chuck, I think you’ll have a hard time getting the British public to wrap their brains round this sort of extremely complicated philosophical system-building.
– Yes. That’s the tragedy Tony.
– Yes, yes. But respect where respect is due Chuck, there is a certain stoical grit to the British brain Chuck, which makes this nation a storehouse of great earthy shopkeeper-wisdom. The average Briton, Chuck, is so imbued with a sharp, earthy version of intelligence – so evident in humour, and rock music – that I believe they have the right to understand what their representatives say. That’s democracy Chuck.
– Now Chuck. Let’s not knock democracy.
– I’m a Buddhist Tone, and pent up.
– I can’t let these small-minded materialists destroy our great Buddhist nation, and its iconic waters.
– But we have to Chuck.
Their conversation went on like this for forty minutes and my father transcribed every word. When they left my father ushered us prematurely out of the restaurant to follow them, leaving a massive check on the table before the bill came.
Both Chuck and Tony got into a black 4×4, which we tailed through the city.
– I have to say, my father said, tailing Tony Blair, apart from his choice of Mogo Balls, which were quite average, he is one of the greatest statesman of our time.
– Is tailing Tony Blair legal? I asked.
– Yes, my father said.
– This feels extremely illegal, my sister said.
– Any man who plunges his nation into a grotesque and devastating illegal war can be tailed. It’s constitutional.
– You were entirely in favour of invading Iraq, my mother said. You called Charles Kennedy a ‘rodent of the swamps’.
– That was before I knew the whole thing was a terrible idea.
Suddenly Tony Blair’s car stopped. A man got out of the front passenger seat and pointed a gun at us.
– I’ll take care of this, my father said.
– Put your hands above your head! the man with the gun said.
We all complied except my father, who dived out of the driver door shouting ‘Babylon prevaileth!’ The man shot wildly at the bumper and we all ducked for our lives.
-Stop!’ my mother screamed. ‘There are children!
– What’s the hullabaloo Spike? Tony Blair said, sticking his head out the back seat window at the sound of gunshots.
– They’re Babylonians sir.
– Now, now Spike. That’s no reason to open fire on them.
– Fish are truth, a voice said from the car.
– They’ve been tailing us, and they didn’t put their hands up when I told them to sir.
– How many times have I told you Spike; call me Tony.
– I’m sorry Tony.
– Now, now Spike. What have these people actually done.
– Bass is Dao.
– A man screamed ‘Babylon prevaileth’ sir.
– Tony Spike!
– A man screamed ‘Babylon prevaileth’ Tony.
– Which man?
– Mr. Blair. My father said, from the shadows.
– Freeze! The man shot randomly into the dark.
– It is an honour, my father said, emerging into the light.
– Lower your weapon Spike, said Tony Blair. It is clear this man means no harm. He is a humble Briton out on his evening drive.
– Mr. Blair I am truly a humble labouring Briton. This man has caused great stress to me and my family by firing bullets at our vehicle, with little or no provocation.
– Heavens Spike, is this true?
– I made a judgement Tony.
– I am frankly shocked, Mr. Blair, at how much time the British secret service devotes to grievously murdering honest men and their families.
– Oh noble plucky Brit! Tony Blair cried. I am so sorry that this has happened.
– You will be, said my father. When I bring my case to the United Federal Courts of Citizenry Justice.
My father proceeded to blackmail Tony Blair, a transaction that resulted in a distant but strong friendship between the two men. Tony Blair had dinner at our house a few times, mostly during the Cameron Clegg co-reign, which he called ‘utter plop’. On my sixteenth birthday he gave me exactly what he gave my sister on hers the day before: a beautifully bound copy of Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, a CD of King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King, and a pendant with the Archangel Michael on it.
I take the pendant out of my shirt and show it to the girl I’ve been talking to for the last fourteen minutes. We are sitting in 200 degrees by Nottingham canal. My heart is Max Roaching because she is beautiful, and because I have had four pints of coffee. She has short blue hair and a nose piercing and a tattoo of a blue flower.
– Tony Blair gave you this? she says, running the pendant through her fingers.
– Yes, I say, believably.
– I don’t believe you.
– You do.
– Why would Tony Blair hold meetings an obscure Indian restaurant?
– Fish, I say, with zero vagueness.
Her fingers are covered in sunlight. The pendant remains attached to my neck and I bend in an awkward hunch across the table. We probably look really weird, in this pose, bathed in idyllic sunlight. We probably look like freaks. It isn’t the kind of pose that gets such glorious treatment from the sun. This is the first time I have ever successfully asked a waitress for coffee.
– Michael, she murmurs, reading ‘MICHAEL’ on the archangel Michael pendant.
– He is the archangel of war, I say.
– Tony Blair is?
I fall madly in love.
– It’s lovely, she says, turning the pendant toward me with ‘it’s lovely’ eyes.
She doesn’t let go. I remain in my bizarre hunch. My tie is close to falling into my flat white.
– Do you believe in angels, she says, on top of Jesus and all that?
– Yes, I say, remembering an angel I promised to wash the chariot of.
– That’s really weird, she says, squinting, smiling.
– Mm, I say, thinking about how little I want to wash this angel’s chariot.
– That must be more or less impossible for you to believe, in the modern world, with no disrespect.
– It is.
– Do you feel weird about believing in angels? She says.
– Why do you believe in angels?
– There’s no other way to interact with them. I would feel weird whatever I believed. Everything is as likely as everything else.
My tie falls into my flat white.
– Wow, she says.
We finish our coffees, and I suck my tie, as we walk down the canal. There’s an unawkward silence, which we break to acknowledge the fact we are walking in unawkward silence. I fall wildly, cataclysmically in love. The sunlight is coming in one thick, fat ray. We stop on the bridge opposite the magistrate’s court, facing the BRITISH WATERWAYS building, and she says some things, and I say some things, and we smile and we kiss.
She works, Elise does, as a waitress at Broadway Cinema, where Benjamin Benjamin Benjmain, Laurie Liggs, Saint Augustine, and I habitually take advantage of the Monday to Wednesday 241 pizza deal – usually on aTuesday. Last Tuesday we were having a particularly loud, geometric discussion about motorboating, when she – visibly superior to the rest of the world – brought out our pizzas.
In ways mysterious and unknowable, I managed to sustain her presence at our table, and do something with with my words or my face or I don’t know what, and get her phone number and a date. Saint Augustine and Laurie said they got enormous pleasure watching my surreal exertions. ‘It’s not normal thinking of Christopher as a sexual being.’ they said.
Humankind pokes its finger into the weirdest nooks of creation, I think, kissing Elise for a very brief moment opposite the magistrate’s court on the bridge. This is a weird place for the species to end up, I think – with me,here, doing this.
We walk further down the canal and a demon, playing XTC from his houseboat, offers Elise a chocolate apple from a huge plate of chocolate apples. His boat in full of hellfire and his chimney is releasing enormous bursts of smoke.
– You probably shouldn’t take that apple, I say.
She takes it. The first bite kills her and I watch the demon strip her, eat her clothes (dungarees) and throw her into the flames. A great puff of blue smoke comes out the chimney.