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The Man Opposite Was Pulling Monkey Faces

The Writers' Block #19 - Theme: a story conscious of the use of 'it' (or not?)

The man opposite was pulling monkey faces, all grotesque and ugly. His tongue slithered from the unsmiling mouth like a worm wriggling for freedom, writhing for release from its enamel cage. His fingers raised and wiped the meaty beast, retrieving the unseen but unsettling hair.

The woman next to the hairy primate appeared to be afraid of the room, of the noise, of the huge silverback seemingly licking its lips. She was small in comparison to his bulky frame and would probably need both hands to encircle one of his arms. Her beady blue eyes flashed from point to point as they sought some kind of understanding from her surroundings.

In front of her, calm and assured, sat a man making notes into a small pad. Glancing surreptitiously to check no one was watching him, yet keeping a cool eye on everyone, he slid his pencil into his jacket pocket and, in the same smooth move, inserted his little finger deep into his nostril. His wrist swung one hundred and eighty degrees before pushing further and writhing.

John looked away from this horror, preferring to stare at the spinning motion of the fans’ blades dangling precariously on long rods from the ceiling. He had watched the people as though it were some kind of sports action replay – slow, intense and precise, all for his personal titillation. At this speed, the world seemed magnified and clearer. The crowd sneered, smiled or simply stared. Whatever they were doing they were all keeping a close eye on him, anticipating his next move.

John was unused to this kind of attention. He had spent his life meekly avoiding eye contact, whispering instead of talking and always saying Yes whether he meant it or not. He was the kind of man who no one notices until he has gone.

Only moments earlier, John had had a mild panic attack. There was a sudden urge to run, to leave these needy people in their airless cocoon entrapped in triple glazed windows, but instead to breathe fresh air, to feel the sunlight on his skin, to smell the flowers, to hear the birds cooing with desire. But duty overpowered him and he stayed, shuffling his scuffed brown shoes tied with short and broken laces.

They noticed him now, didn’t they? They were all paying attention to him, weren’t they? The gorilla, the tiny lady and the bogeyman were waiting. Looking at him, intensely scrutinising him, like the old men in the pub scanning the horse pages in their desperate search for the correct prediction.

He let his head drop slightly and circled his neck to relieve some tension, feeling three disconcerting little cracks. He combed nervous fingers through thinning greyish hair and nudged his glasses further up his nose.

The scene was separate from him now – he felt alone as though he were watching them all on a screen. He assumed that if he spoke no sound would come out, they would not understand him.

He had never wanted this. Any of it. Wrong place, wrong time. So to hell with it. To hell with them. He wanted to be seen, to be visible for once. To make a difference.

John closed his eyes and asked himself whether this was fear or excitement he was feeling. A heartbeat later, he knew. He stood straight, opened his eyes and cleared his throat. He was in command and all would hear his words, his speech, his proclamation.

He shouted, ‘Not guilty.’

And his moment was over. He was invisible once more.

He left in silence, with the other jurors, being led away to his peaceful, harmless life. Behind him, everyone had resorted to type. A final glimpse over his shoulder showed the apeman thumping his chest in victory; and the tiny woman, now very afraid, trying in vain to leave; and the bogeyman shouting at the top of his voice towards the judge, the veins in his neck threatening to leap free from his body and join the fray.

John smiled, happy in his obscurity once more.


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