“Promenaders, they get on my friggin’ nerves! Pull over, Jacko.”
The sleek black police car pulled up, just ahead of a man, tall, leaning forward as he walked, as if forward motion were the only thing preventing him from toppling over. He had a distinguished face, probably handsome when young, thinning grey hair, silver steel-rimmed glasses, and a long nose. He looked up with surprise.
Joshua got out of the police car. “Hi, Buddy, what are you doin’?”
“Who, me? Just walking.”
“Why? Don’t you know what’s on tonight? The final of The World’s Got Talent!”
The man’s face looked blank. “I don’t watch TV.”
“Don’t watch TV, you cannot be serious! Come on, man, everyone’s glued to the screen right now!”
“Well, not me. I just wanted some … fresh air, exercise, you know.”
“Actually, I don’t know, buddy. Think about Little Thelma, right now probably singing her heart out with The Nation’s Favourite Song. And you say you don’t wanna watch her!”
“Who’s Little Thelma?”
“What?!” Joshua looked shell-shocked. “What?! You don’t know Little Thelma? You must do, buddy! C’mon, you’re kiddin’ me!”
The man remained silent.
“Hey, Jacko, c’mon out here. We’ve got us a live one!”
Jacko got out of the car and the two black-clothed cops stood up close, their sweaty bodies invading the man’s space by design. Jacko took out a notebook and pen. “OK, buddy, name and address?”
“What, why, I mean, er ….”
“Look, buddy, either you cooperate or you’ll be spending the night in the cooler.”
“It’s Matthew. Er, Matthew Morris.” Stammering, his thin lips revealed his street and house number.
“Why, that’s over two miles away!” said Jacko.
“Yes, I’ve been walking for forty-five minutes.”
“Forty-five minutes! Well, you’ll have missed Suzy Chang and her dancing poodles, not to mention Jigsaw, the world’s greatest contortionist! Come on man, tell me you’re kiddin’ us!”
Mathew Morris looked up and down the empty street, nervously. It was growing dark and he could see flickering coloured light coming from unlit houses along both sides of the road. Suddenly he felt emboldened. “Look, I’m simply going for a walk. When I get home, I’m going to work on an essay I’m writing – on Totalitarianism – and then I shall sit by the fire, drink a bottle of beer and read some poetry before supper!”
Jacko raised his eyebrows. “Meanwhile, everyone else in the world has a TV or can get near one and is cheering on their country’s top star! But not Mr Mathew Morris, no, an essay is more important than Luther Steel’s ventriloquism, Totalit … whassname, more important than Silvia de Fuego’s amazing juggling, and goddamn poetry, if you puhleeze, more important than Fanny de la Mare, the world’s greatest compère!”
“I’ve had enough of this joker.” Joshua took out a radio and pressed a button. “Never heard of Little Thelma. Pah! Hello, Control, we need an ECT squad down here, now. Gotta guy who needs some serious rewiring!”
A raised voice came from the radio.
“Oh, my sweet Jesus!” Joshua turned, ashen faced. “The show’s been taken off air! Jigsaw got his elbow stuck up his arse, Little Thelma forgot her words and is having a nervous breakdown and Suzy Chang’s going crazy with Silvia de Fuego for juggling her poodles!”
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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