Like New – A Short Story by Matt Comras

Published: 5th Dec, 2014

And some MORE words from the comedy impresario/writer of short stories…

birdcage

Condition? Like new.

I type ‘l-i-k-e n-e-w’. The truth is, it is very much like it was when it was new. I turn the book over using the light touch of a bone-dusting archaeologist. In comparing the book I hold in my hand to its past self I would say that they are most alike.

Behind me the kettle murmurs contentedly.

Yes, there were more pages in the former version but all the key points remain. The gist is clear, more than clear. And if absolutely necessary one could always refer to the blurb to keep oneself on track.

“One man’s struggle against the world.”

In this short sentence all the key players are highlighted: the ‘man’, and then the ‘world’. It even mentions something about his struggle. In fact I wouldn’t recommend reading the blurb in case it proved to be something of a spoiler.

The kettle rumbles noisily in the background.

The smell has certainly changed. That ‘new book’ smell: the fresh

print, the crisp pages, the glue. Now the smell is comparable to wet dog. And vomit. As though someone has been sick on a passing dog. A dog wet with human sick. Not too far from the truth in actual fact. My niece decided to be sick over several of my possessions about three Christmases ago. I didn’t hold it against her because not everyone has to share a love of literature. Or maybe she was being more specific and held a strong distaste for the modernist free speech of Virginia Woolf, expressing this in the clearest way possible considering a toddler’s level of communication is fairly restricted.

‘Like New’.

My ears throb as the kettle roars its last hurrah before falling into an exhausted, simmering stupor. I won’t have to worry about her complaints about old faithful anymore. Nought to boiling in an hour and fifteen minutes. A mouthful of flaky limescale with each sip to keep your calcium levels up.

As I cross to the kitchen I look at the pile of miscellanea she has given me over the years. Birthday, Christmas, birthday, Christmas, birthday, Christmas, good-bye. Good-bye was a self-help book entitled How to Turn Your life Around in Three Weeks by Max Winner, subtitled: An Eighteen Step Guide to Success. A better man would have made a flaming pyre of these painfully unwanted souvenirs but to me selling just seems to be more, well, profitable. It’s the age we live in.

The tea leaves spiral in their pyramidal prison and I watch as, scorched, they release their life blood for me to drink like some sort of depraved cannibal king.

After I spit the initial hit of limescale into the sink my fingers find the first page. “From sofaman to superman.” I wince at just about everything contained in those four words. “Max Winner will show you just how he made his millions using little more than hard work and a get-up-and-go attitude.” Awful. Turning to the back page I see his shining veneers and thank the publishers they kept the photo black and white. Now I understand why they say you should never stare directly into Max Winner’s teeth. His perfectly transplanted hair and tucked chin sandwich his greedy little eyes. Beneath he has written: “They asked me to write a 20 step guide to success, I managed to do it in 18”. Mutely I point out the fact that step 18 is an instruction to buy his next book entitled Keeping Yourself At Bay by Max Winner, subtitled: A Sixteen Step Guide to Keeping Your New Head Above Water. Step 18 of his first book reveals the true nature of success: exploit the miserable and feed off their desperation.

I take a step of my own and fling the book across the room where it crashes into a stud wall leaving an inch squared gash in the plasterboard. Say what you like about Max Winner, he writes a sturdy book.

On seeing a reflection of my bedraggled self in the mirror next to the hole caused by the flying Max Winner, back at the computer, I begin to type.

Title: M-i-c-h-a-e-l P-o-r-t-e-r

Condition: U-s-e-d.

I look for the ‘heart-stomped-on-by-a beautiful-she-devil’ option before scolding myself for being melodramatic.

A voice.

“Hello?”

My first instinct is to hide so I drop to the floor in the manner of a soldier under heavy gunfire. A cup of tea and the chair I was sitting on clearly share the same self preservation tactics as they come crashing to the floor around me.

“Hello. I’m so sorry. Over here.”

“How did you get in? What do you want?”

“No need to panic. Up here.”

My eyes follow the voice until they lock onto the recently punctured wall where one emerald, alien eye peers down on me. The eye is replaced by ruby lips.

“It’s just that there seems to be a hole in my living room wall. And I’m sure there wasn’t one this morning.”

Lips become eye.

Feeling abreast of the situation I rise to my feet with as much dignity as I can muster and in the process of dusting myself down I explain to the eye that I’m ever so sorry but it was Max Winner who put a hole in our walls. The lips explain that they are called Annie and it turns out Annie has other features as a finger pokes through the hole made by Max Winner. I take the finger firmly in one hand and shake graciously. Her finger is cool and dry, the nail short but not bitten and it sports a chipped burgundy polish. Looking at my own hot fingers I select the first, the king of the fingers, to poke through in return. Nothing for a few seconds and I suddenly worry I haven’t understood the ritual and have instead poked her in the eye. The worry is short lived as I feel a soft grasp around the end of my proffered digit and it is waggled accordingly.

An impromptu gush of embarrassment gets the better of me and withdrawing my finger I stuff a newly washed sock into the hole. Privacy resumes and calmly I sink down the wall. From the floor I look up to check the end of my pink and green striped sock, one of my favourites, still hangs from its new home. A load-bearing sock. Calm. A scratching sound prompts my eyes to revisit the sock and I watch, stricken in silent horror as it begins to disappear through the hole made by Max Winner. Slowly but inevitably consumed like a hapless fawn caught in the greedy jaws of a reticulated python.

“Hey that’s one of my favourites. I can’t just wear one.”

No answer.

“It’s a load-bearing sock.”

Finding it unacceptable for one of my favourite socks to be in the possession of another I realise I am going to have to take drastic action. I hit the reverse button and slide back up to a standing position and in the manner of a police officer about to make a raid flatten myself against the wall. 3… 2… 1. The impact of my forehead against the wall is much harder than intended and it causes me to bounce off in a heap, finishing up cross-legged on the floor. Approaching with more caution this time I raise my eye to the hole and peer through.

The flat is small. Very small. With no door to speak of the wooden floor and white-washed walls house only two features. A faded, dark leather sofa, so misshapen, cracked and peeling that it resembles an exhausted zebra. In contrast, this tired heap of leather faces a gleaming, Victorian-style birdcage, complete with miniature yellow bird swinging contentedly on its perch. A canary. Its head flicks about curiously but as soon as my eye rests upon it I am fixed by an avian stare. Lipseyefinger is nowhere to be seen.

I have never trusted dentists. As such I procured from a friend of mine, who deals in these peculiar things, one of those small, round mirrors on a stick which they shove into your mouth to have a look around. ‘Just open up for me. Aaahh’. You never know what they get up to in there, what they might be stashing away behind the second bicuspid. Only a good look around with my own mirror post appointment sets my mind to rest. Fetching this mirror from the bathroom again I sit below Max Winner’s hole. Tentatively the mirror pokes its reflective head into the neighbouring atmosphere, a snail-like antennae, my eye large in its silver face. Inspecting the other side of the wall and the remaining few square inches of the room, neither my sock nor Annie are anywhere to be seen.

Stealth has its benefits: spying, hunting, stalking, bombing, hide and seek. Sometimes however you have to face things head on. Standing outside the flat next to mine my clenched fist halts its progress towards the door and instead I decide to use the one-extended-knuckle style of knocking. Knock, knock. Pause.

“Hello?”

No answer.

“Hello?”

Not being brave enough to think of a better reason to let me in I shout:

“It’s stealing you know. That’s not your sock. It’s my sock. One of my favourites. Hello?”

The door gives way and an irritated, withered face appears behind the chain.

“What are you talking about? What sock?”

“My sock.”

“What do I care about your sock for? Don’t know why I’d be caring about some sock. Especially not yours.”

Standing on tiptoes and craning my neck I look around the bristly urchin’s hovel only to discover that it has the familiar layout of mine and all the other flats in the building. Very familiar, in fact. No zebra. No canary.

“What business have you got with my house, get out of here.”

Back in my own hovel I see that How to Turn Your life Around in Three Weeks by Max Winner, subtitled: An Eighteen Step Guide to Success, has fallen open at the back page leaving me to stare into those black, crab eyes. I look from Max Winner to my blinking computer screen and decide to write a blurb for my life.

“Born, loved, died. Michael Porter’s life began with her and fizzled out at her departure. The man who has everything but fails to realise is the man who ends up with nothing.”

It occurs to me that these three lines are not a blurb, they are my memoirs. Accurate and comprehensive.

I hold down ‘delete’. A fresh start.

Feeling a rush of infatuation I scream into the hole.

“ANNIE.”

Peering through I see the room is still empty. Except the shining cage is open and the canary has gone. Time to get out.

Injected with life I rush about the room, a house-proud hurricane. The place is tidy in minutes and I stand back to survey my proactivity. Then, a ruffling noise at Max Winner’s hole reveals the head of the canary. I stand astonished as it takes flight, landing gently on my finger. Astonishment bows to incredulity when I notice a strange garment on the leg of this creature. Four pointed toes poke through a miniature pink and green striped sock. One of my favourites. A load-bearing sock. Exercising a vague fantastical notion I lower my lips to the bird and kiss her gently on the head. Princess Charming fails to materialise but I do receive a gentle ‘meep’. I set the bird down beside my open window, giving her the choice. A fleeting tilt of the head and out she flies. Crossing the canary yellow sun she disappears.

I sit down at the computer and amend myself.

Condition? New.

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