Do you have any idea how excited I was when my agent called three weeks ago?
“I’ve got you a gig,” he said, “you’ll love it. It pays well and you don’t have to do anything. Just stand there.”
“What,” I said,” like one of those pretend statues? No way do I want to be standing in the middle of a town square being gawped at by all and sundry. And when they suss you’re a real person made up to look like a statue, they do things… they say things… trying to make you laugh or even just move. Last time I had a gig like that, I was supposed to be a Roman centurion, when some young women came up to me and started showing me things they should never show in the streets. Course, I reacted; what normal man wouldn’t? Then one of them says to her mates, ‘Look, we’ve just erected a statue,’ and they all run off giggling, leaving me feeling like a complete fool.”
You know what my agent said to that? I’ll tell you. He said, “and a horny one, too. Think of it as one of the perks of the job.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t want a booking like that again.”
“I promise you,” he says, “it’s nothing to do with statues. Now do you want the job or not?”
I’d been between jobs, as we call it in the business, for a couple of months and funds were getting a bit scarce, so I said I’d take it.
“Great,” he says, “report to Kennedy Space Centre tomorrow at ten, ask for a Commodore Lewanowski.”
Well, I turns up at ten, like he said, and this Lewanowski bloke takes me to a back room where he makes me put on an orange suit. When I saw it hanging there, I thought it was a prison outfit. It was only the badges and decals all over it that convinced me I wasn’t going to be parading about in ‘the new black’. That and the helmet, of course. I’ve seen loads of movies set inside a prison, even had small parts in a few, but I’ve never seen anyone wearing a helmet. Unless you count the riot gear the guards wear sometimes. No, this was a flipping space helmet. Then I worked out where I was and what I was expected to be doing. I was the astronaut on the old shuttle that’s parked up in Kennedy Space Centre as an exhibit.
“How come you can’t just dress a manikin in the suit for this?” I asked him.
“We tried,” he said, “but attendance was low. Seems the great unwashed like to look into the visor and see real eyes.”
“Surely you can make ‘em look real,” I suggested.
“Tried that too, till a little kid starts asking why the spaceman doesn’t blink. His dad tells him it’s not a real man, and the kid starts screaming, accusing us of cheating.”
“But that’s just one kid. You telling me you change your policy and add to your cost for one snotty-nosed spoiled brat?”
“Would that it were just one. Where one starts, others continue. Especially since this damned social media stuff. My geeks tell me that his winge and a photo of the suit went viral – whatever that means – and the higher-ups ordered that we put a real person in the suit. So here you are.”
So here I am. Standing stock-still all day, every day. That’s right, seven days a week. Apparently, the budget won’t stretch to stand-ins.
How do I do my business? I wondered that, too. My shift is ten hours long, and I can’t leave the deck. I can move around a little, in fact, they encourage it, but I have to remain visible at all times. There’s a special gizmo in the suit that sucks up anything that comes out of either end and pushes it int a removable bag in the trouser legs, the one on the left for liquid waste and the one on the right for solids. I get fresh bags every morning. It’s not so bad when you get used to it.
That’s not the worse part though. The worse part is people – and not only kids – pointing at you, saying things you can’t hear on account of the helmet and the cabin’s plexiglass window. You have an idea, though, by the faces they pull. And you just know what they ask most. That’s right. How does he go to the toilet in there? I’m gonna ask Lewanowski to have a sign made to explain it. As well as that, I want him to give me a list of things I can do to make it look like I’m a real astronaut, not just a statue!
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 170, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.
A brief series of tales from the land of Oh!
The important message
“Husband!” the queen’s scream from her judging chamber could be heard clearly from the great hall, even through two closed, solid oak doors. “Come in here. There’s something important I want to tell you.”
“Velcro,” King Kannot said to his trusty retainer, “would you mind awfully going to my sweet bride and pointing out to her how castle etiquette works?”
“And how would that be Sire?” Velcro asked even though, as one of the king’s confidants, he was fully aware of all aspects of royal protocol and had even been the author of some.
“I am the king. I summon people to me. The queen does not summon the king. Tell her that if she has something to say, she should seek me out and request a moment or two of my precious royal time.”
“I’d rather not, Sire. You know how the queen scares me.”
“Delegate, then. Whom does she not scare?”
“No-one that’s met her, Sire. Not that I’m aware of, anyway.”
“Well, whom do you not mind being scared by her?”
“Let me think. Hmm. Jack, the stable boy, was caught nicking jam tarts last week—”
“Is that a euphemism?”
“I don’t hear anything, Sire.”
“You asked if I heard a euphemism, Sire. I know there is one in the palace orchestra, or is it the palace band? I can never tell the difference.”
“Velcro, your brain is wearing out. I said euphemism – a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. I did not say euphonium.”
“Apologies, Sire. Is what a euphemism?”
“Nicking jam tarts.”
“No, Sire, that’s theft – petty larceny, really or even pilfering or defalcation.”
“Defalcation? That’s nothing like stealing. That’s a posh word for sh—”
“Ha ha ha. Oh, Sire. I do so enjoy these word-games. Sire is such a wit. But, no. Nicking jam tarts is precisely what Jack did.”
“In that case, Velcro, it is most appropriate that his punishment includes having to face the wrath of the queen.”
The lady in question chose that instant to repeat her call to the king, three-quarters of an octave higher in pitch and a good twenty decibels higher in volume.
“Should Sire respond?” Velcro asked.
“No, Sire should not. Get hold of Jack, and have him give her a piece of my mind.”
“Perhaps the prince might?”
“What about the Prince Mite?”
“Not the Prince Mite, Sire: the prince might, that is to say, his royal sonship may.”
“What may he do?”
“Confront the queen, Sire.”
“Are you joking?”
“Word is, Sire, the prince has his mother exactly where he wants her.”
“Find out who started that filthy rumour and have him flogged. I will not have that sort of thing going on in my castle. Now, off you go, Velcro; see to it and make haste.”
“What sort of thing is Sire objecting to?”
“That sort of thing you mentioned. My gosh, you’ll be saying next that I have an inappropriate physical relationship with the princess.”
“But there is no princess, Sire.”
“Don’t you think I know that? How senile do you think I am?”
“I… I wouldn’t presume to entertain such conjecture, Sire,” Velcro replied, his confusion reaching levels that would guarantee silver, perhaps even gold, at the next inter-governmental games.
“So why are you suggesting that I don’t even know how many children I have?”
“I’ll go and fetch Jack, Sire.”
“Hmmph. Do that.”
Velcro trotted off as fast as his seriously aged legs could carry him.
Minutes later, the queen entered the great hall, where her husband was waiting for his retainer to return – although by then he’d probably forgotten what he needed him for.
“You didn’t answer when I called you,” she said in a shrill, ear-splitting and accusing tone.
“No, dear. You’re right. I didn’t.”
“And why not, may I ask?”
“You may, but you’ll need to wait for Velcro to return with Jack.”
“What, Jack the stable boy?”
“The very same.”
“Jack, the stable boy who stole a whole batch of my very best jam tarts?”
“Were they yours?”
“No, they were yours. I made them for you.”
“For me? For me? I’ll have him strung up. I’ll have him flogged. I’ll—”
“You’ll do nothing with him until he, or someone, has told me what I want to know.”
“And what would that be, dearest?”
“I want to know why you didn’t answer when I called you.”
Fortuitously, Velcro chose that moment to return with Jack, the stable boy.
“Now then, young Jack,” the queen bellowed.
“I’m s-s-sorry, ma’am,” Jack stuttered in reply, “I thought the tarts were for the staff.”
“When have you ever known me to make confections for the working classes?”
“I didn’t know you’d made them, ma’am. I thought they were from the kitchen.”
“From the kitchen? From the kitchen? They were in my private chamber. Come to that, what were you doing in my private chamber in the first place?”
Kannot looked at Velcro and winked. This was going so much better than he could have hoped. Diversionary tactics were always his trump card.
“Word in the staff quarters was that you were looking for some, erm, entertainment, ma’am, and I drew the short straw.”
“Entertainment? Why would I want entertainment? And what sort of entertainment could you provide? You’re just a stable hand.”
“They say I’m good with the fillies, though, ma’am,” Jack said with a wink and, truth be told, just a hint of a leer.
Kannot and Velcro looked at each other and sniggered; interestingly, in exactly the way that the queen didn’t.
“Never mind that,” the queen said, “I’ll deal with that impertinence later – in my judging chamber.”
Jack blanched. The queen continued, “Meanwhile, what have you to tell me? Why did the king not answer when I called him?”
“With respect, ma’am,” he started, “His Majesty is the king, the ruler of Oh!”
“Yes, I know that. And I am the queen.”
“You, ma’am, are queen consort. You have authority only as granted to you by His Majesty.”
“What has that to do with his not answering me?”
“With the greatest respect, ma’am,” he said with appropriately downcast eyes (although if you could see where his gaze landed, appropriately would not be your adverb of choice), “it is not for the queen consort to summon the king. It should be the other way around.”
“But he didn’t want to speak to me, I wanted to speak to him.”
“Yes, ma’am. Nonetheless—”
“So? How am I to achieve that, except by summoning him?”
“Perhaps ma’am could request—”
“Request an audience? I’m not some commoner to bow and scrape to the crown.”
Velcro decided the boy had done enough and stepped into the breach. “Perhaps the queen could ask for a moment of His Majesty’s time,” he suggested.
“Maybe. Perhaps. But while we’re at it, why does no one ever call me by my name?”
“Ma’am,” Velcro responded with great respect and solemnity, “the queen doesn’t need a name. She is the queen. Isn’t that name enough?”
“It probably would be, if I had a capital Q. I don’t even have that. I want to be Queen with a big Q, not queen with a little one.”
“The king himself only has a capital letter when the word is used as a title, ma’am; as a proper noun. He is either the king, with a little K or King Kannot with a big one.”
The king grinned. One can only surmise at what.
“Then I can be Queen… drat! Now even I don’t know what my given name is.”
The queen turned and stormed off into her judging chamber. King Kannot ran after her.
“My precious,” he called.
“What is it?”
“What was it you wanted to discuss with me?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “I’ve clean forgotten. Too much upset for one day. I’ll see if there’s someone to judge. If not, send Jack in; I’ll judge him.”
The king walked back to Velcro and shook him by the hand. “Another crisis averted,” he said. Then, turning to Jack, he said, “Punishment served, lad. Let that be a lesson to you. Run off, now, before the queen decides to exercise her judge mental skills on you.”
Jack the stable lad bowed and walked out of the hall backwards as quickly as he could, dipping his head frequently as he did so, all in accordance with the very best of royal protocol.
Just then, the queen poked her head around the door to her judging chamber. “Oh, yes,” she said, “I’ve invited the other queens and their husbands for a curry night next weekend.”
“What’s a curry night?” the king asked.
“No idea,” she replied, “I was quite happy being a waitress in a cocktail bar until you came along. You’re supposed to be the smart one. Get Velcro to find out what one is, then he can organise it.”
Luke Tarpals and his brother Hand were standing in the ancient woodland that forms part of their late father’s estate. It is now held in trust for the two of them, as their mother wanted no part of the financial and other responsibilities of owning and managing a two-thousand-hectare patch of countryside. Her firstborn, Cool, was with her husband when their quad-bike tumbled down the ravine that forms the eastern boundary of the Tarpals estate, an event that neither of them survived. Rightly or not, she blamed the estate for their deaths, and could no longer bear to have anything to do with it.
Traipsing together through the undergrowth, the boys came across a man they had never seen before. Dressed in blue-grey and carrying binoculars, his presence rang alarm bells in the boys’ minds.
Approaching the stranger, Luke asked, “What’re you doing here, Mister?”
“Hush,” Hand whispered to his sibling, “let’s go.”
“No,” Luke replied in a hushed tone, “this is our land. We get to say who can walk on it.”
“What’s it to you?” the man asked finally.
“This is private land,” Luke replied confidently, “and unless you have a good reason for being here, you are trespassing.”
“It’s a free country. Right to roam and all. Besides, what’s it to you? You’re probably trespassing, too.”
With an unaccustomed display of bravado, Hand said, “I hardly think one can trespass on one’s own property.”
“Ooh, get her,” the man mocked, “one cannot trespass on one’s own property. How do I know it’s yours? You got papers to prove it? If not, bugger off and leave me alone. I got work to do.”
“What kind of work?” Luke asked, “and why don’t we know about it? No work is undertaken on the Tarpals estate without our knowledge.”
“Well, maybe what I’m doing is above your pay grade to know about.”
“Nonsense. Our land, pay grade doesn’t come into it.”
“It does if it’s a matter of national security.”
“Is it?” Hand asked.
“Is it what?”
“Is it a matter of national security?”
“No, but it might be, for all you know.”
“Just tell us why you’re here, then we can let you carry on,” Hand said.
“Unless it’s something illegal,” Luke added.
The man sat on the ground, his back to a tree. “Come here, lads;” he said. The boys approached. He tapped the ground beside himself, at which the boys also seated themselves on the leaf-litter. “You wanna know why I’m here?”
“Yes,” the boys chorused.
“And why I’ve got these binoculars?”
“Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve been coming here every day since your dad and brother met with their accident—”
“Why?” Luke asked.
“Let me finish. You see, although the accident was nothing to do with me, I feel kind of responsible for it. I been coming here, keeping an eye on her every day since. Just to make sure she’s okay, you know?”
“But how can you be responsible, if it was nothing to do with you?” Hand asked.
“I suppose you’re old enough and strong enough to know the truth. You’re certainly inquisitive enough! Here goes. Prepare for a bit of a shock, perhaps.”
“Go on, then,” Luke said, impatiently, “tell us.”
“Okay. Your mother and I go back a long way, lads. She and I were sweethearts even before she met your dad. We both thought that we were meant for each other and that we’d end up married and having kids. Then along comes Mister Landed-gentry Tarpals, your father, and sweeps her off her feet.”
“That must have been horrible for you,” Luke suggested.
“It was, lad, it was. Fair knocked me off my feet for a while. I left the area, lived all over, doing whatever job I could find, as long as it paid enough for food and a roof over my head. Anything to be away from the source of my pain. Then, after a while, I thought no, why should I let that man ruin my life? So, ten years ago, I came back. As it happens, your father was away for a couple of weeks—”
“Was that when Dad was at the big conference?” Hand asked.
“I think I remember someone visiting. Was that you?”
“It certainly was, Hand. I stayed for four days. Got to know your mother again after all those years.”
“I don’t remember it,” Luke said.
“It was before you were born, Luke.”
“But you never came again,” Hand said.
“We both thought it best. Your mum was happy with your dad; I didn’t think it right for me to spoil that for her. Her happiness meant more to me than my own.”
The boys looked at each other. The physical differences between them had never mattered to them before, but now they were wondering. Cool and Hand both took their looks from their father, while Luke looked more like Mum, and yet…
“Is there something you want to tell us?” Luke asked.
The man chuckled. “I think you’ve just realised what your father worked out. Now do you get why I feel responsible for his accident?”
“Do you mean…”
“Yes. I’m your father, Luke.”
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 169, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.