By Will Self
All rights reserved.
I'm an ape man, I'm an ape-ape man ... Along comes Zachary, along from the porter's lodge, where there's a trannie by the kettle and the window is cracked open so that Muswell Hill calypso warms the cold Friern Barnet morning, staying with him, wreathing his head with rapidly condensing pop breath. I'm an ape man, I'm an ape-ape man, oh I'm an ape man ... The lawns and verges are soft with dew, his arms and his legs are stiff – a rigor he associates with last night's tense posture, when I aborted the fumbled beginnings of a noncommittal congress. While Miriam fed the baby in their bed hawsers and pipelines coiled away into milky, fartysteam – the enormous projectile retracted into the cradle of my belly and thighs ... I'm an ape man, I'm an ape-ape man ... the Austin's steering wheel plastic vertebrae bent double, kyphotic ... had pulled at his shoulders as he wrestled the car down from Highgate, then yanked it through East Finchley – knees jammed uncomfortably under the dashboard – then across the North Circular and past the blocks of flats screening the Memorial Hospital before turning right along Woodhouse Road. Under the bonnet the pistons hammered at his coccyx, the crankshaft turned his pelvis round and around, while each stop and start, each twist and turn – the very swivel of his eyeballs in their sockets – didn't ease this stress but screwed it still further into his frame: bitindrill, chuckinlathe, poweron ... In his already heightened state he had looked upon the city as an inversion, seeing the parallelograms of dark woodland and dormant grass as man-made artefacts surrounded by growing brick, tarmac and concrete that ripples away to the horizon along the furrows of suburban streets ... While his domestic situation is by no means quiescent, nor is it settled, and the day ahead – Ach! A beige worm of antiseptic cream wriggles into the festering crack of a bed sore ... Bitterly he had considered: Is my dip' psych even relevant when it comes to this first-aiding, the sick parade of a shambling citizen militia? ... I'm an ape man, I'm an ape-ape man ... The drive into work is already automatic. — Still, it's a shock that his destination is this folly with a Friends' Shop. Along comes Zachary ... Hush Puppies snaffling the gravel path that leads from the staff car park – where cooling steel ticks beside floral clocks – towards the long repetition of arched windows and arched doorways, of raised porticoes and hip-roofed turrets. Along comes Zachary ... creeping noisily up on the high central dome with its flanking campaniles in which no bells have ever rung, as they are only disguised ventilation shafts designed to suck the rotten fetor from the asylum ... Along comes Zachary ... avoiding the unseeing eyes of the tarnished bronze statue that hides behind some forsythia – a young man clearly hebephrenic ... his face immobile forever in its suffering, the folds of his clothing plausibly heavy ... for he looks altogether weighed down by existence itself. Along comes Zachary ... chomping beside the arched windows now, and the arched doorways, and then the arched windows again. He admits himself into this monumental piece of trompe l'œil not by the grand main doors – which are permanently bolted – but by an inconspicuous side one – and this is only right, as it begins the end of the delusion that he will encounter some Foscari or Pisani, whereas the reality is: a low banquette covered with dried-egg vinyl, and slumped upon this a malefactor, his face – like those of so many of the mentally ill – a paradoxical neoplasm, the aged features just this second formed to quail behind a defensively raised shoulder. A hectoring voice says, You will be confined to your ward and receive no allowance this week, DO YOU UN-DER-STAND? Oh, yes, I understand well enough ... which is why he continues apace, not wishing to see any more of this routine meanness ... Along comes Zachary – and along a short corridor panelled with damp chipboard, then down some stairs into the lower corridor. Along comes Zachary – and along – he has clutched his briefcase to his chest, unfastened it, and now pulls his white coat out in stiff little billows. You'll be needing one, Busner, Whitcomb had said – a jolly arsehole, his long face a fraction: eyes divided by moustache into mouth – else the patients'll think ... Think what? Think what?! But the consultant's attention span was so short he had lost interest in his own phrase and fallen to reaming the charred socket of his briar with the end of a teaspoon, the fiddly task performed inefficiently on the knobbly tops of his knock-knees. – Why were the staffroom chairs all too low or too high? Along comes Zachary – and along ... I'm an ape man, I'm an ape-ape-man, oh I'm an ape man, his splayed shoes crêping along the floor, sliding across patches of lino, slapping on stone-flagged sections, their toes scraping on the ancient bitumen – wherever that was exposed. Scrrr-aping. He wonders: Who would dream of such a thing – to floor the corridors, even the wards, of a hospital with a road surface?
Excerpted from Umbrella by Will Self. Copyright © 2012 Will Self. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press.
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