Short Story – “Bang crash splat”
Features, Short Stories - Posted on Saturday, August 7, 2010 12:16 - 1 Comment
By Dave Prescott
Alan the one-man-band was in trouble. He was used to being heckled, that wasn’t the problem. No indeed, several times in the past, people had come up to him and offered twenty quid if he would pack up and leave. He could handle that. That wasn’t it. The issue was that right now a man, offputtingly wearing a bowler hat, was standing in front of him making it personal.
It wasn’t even clear what ‘it’ was, though Alan wondered briefly if ‘it’ might be his, Alan’s, decision to make a living as a one-man-band, though he was too panicked to formulate the thought clearly.
The man with the hat leaned with flared nostrils into Alan’s face, holding a hairy hand flat across Alan’s guitar strings lest he try to continue his tune.
“But what ARE you?”
Alan tried again to calm the man, and he looked around at the crowd for a friendly face, but all the faces had turned menacing and eager at the prospect of a fight or a humiliation. Alan thought, but he couldn’t be sure, that a book was being passed around on the outcome of the probable fight. Alan thought, but he couldn’t be sure, that the odds were against him in a straight head-to-head.
“What exactly are you?” repeated the man with the hat, the nostrils and the hand. “I mean, a trumpeter, a guitar player, a singer, what?”
“I do it all equally. Equally bad at everything.”
“Don’t try the false modesty on me, mister. Just answer the question.”
The hat-nostrils-hand man looked around at the spectators, nodding a little bit at the sheer robustness of his comeback.
“It’s true. I’m not anything in particular,” said Alan. “I tried all the instruments separately but it wasn’t working, so I put it all together. The whole being greater than the sum of the parts and all that jazz.”
Alan was reduced to a state of cliché.
“But you can’t play the cymbals,” said the behatted questioner. “I’ve been watching your knees. They are all out of time. You shouldn’t have cymbals.”
“It’s true that my cymbal-playing is one of the weaker parts of my repertoire. But there are not many instruments that you can play using your knees. I tried the accordion for a while but it was only good for one chord because my hands weren’t free to operate the buttons.”
The crowd hissed, booed, sighed and cheered.
“How long have you been doing this?”
“A couple of months.”
“You should have practised in private. Unleashing this stuff on an unsuspecting public.”
This continued. Alan, for that was his name, continued his explanations for a while, and they were really watertight explanations, but his words were heard by no one because the crowd surged forward, acting of one mind, demanding a letting of blood, only without expressly saying so.
The nostrilly man seemed bigger than ever. Alan appealed to him via his most pleading eyes but no succour came. A small word, said Alan’s eyes, just two letters would be enough, that was all the man had to emit in order to keep the crowd back. But it was too late for all that. People kept pressing forwards and of course someone tripped and Alan had time to look on with horror as the domino effect yielded a mass of bodies horizontally towards him and towards the wall of the local branch of a multinational bank against which he was leaning.
It was clear that the man-in-search-of-answers didn’t care that he was toppling into Alan as well. As far as the man was concerned, he had made his point, and the matter had reached a conclusion: the right conclusion, in his view. There was a small crash from the cymbals between Alan’s knees as he was pressed into the pavement by the weight of the crowd, and he noted the splintering of his guitar, and the disappearance of his drum-hat, and the destruction of the small piano he wore on his back, and this all took place in a few short moments, until Alan’s head was cracked against the pavement and blackness ascended.
Some time later Alan awoke, still on the pavement, and brokenly surveyed the damage to himself and to his band. A woman who by the look on her face must surely have witnessed the whole episode through the lens of her mobile phone video camera stopped a moment to pause the movie and then came towards Alan with a friendly hand. Perhaps it was the memory of the nostril man’s hairy hand before, perhaps it was the grogginess, perhaps it was a new anti-hand psychological thing in Alan’s head, it was not clear, perhaps it does not matter, but in any case he pushed the hand away, refusing the help now it was offered, and instead stood wobblingly up and surveyed the broken elements of his livelihood. At least he was not too badly damaged.
Then the previous questions questions questions man reappeared.
“So why don’t you get a proper job?”
“Leave me alone,” said Alan.
“No, I’ve got a right to know. You’re on a public thoroughfare, I am paying for you to stand there with your band. I’m entitled to some answers.”
“None of that is true. If you are paying for me to stand here, indirectly through your taxes I suppose you’re referring to, then I am paying for myself to stand here as well, yes I do pay taxes even though I am a self-employed one-man-band relying on cash donations, and our payments cancel each other out and I don’t owe you an explanation about anything. In fact you are in my debt. You owe me for a new band.”
The man scratched a nostril. “I mean did you just wake up one day and decide to do it? Did you join the circus as a child? Do you think you’re the first one-man-band ever? Did you evolve your approach or did it all present itself at once? Are you a sole trader or have you set up a limited company?”
“If you don’t stop talking to me right away,” said Alan, “I’ll be forced to call the police and maybe they will kill you.”
“The police don’t kill people in this country.”
“Don’t force me to make a political or even a logical point.”
A crowd had gathered once again around the two men. This time Alan didn’t even notice when the surge came, and the sparring interlocutors both fell down together, and they were face-to-face on the pavement with people grinding their cheeks into the concrete, and the man looked at Alan and winked, and shouted through the furore for him not to worry about the drum, he would buy Alan a new drum, but he didn’t think Alan should bother getting any more cymbals.
Some time later Alan awoke with his clothes irreparably torn, the damaged remains of his instruments now unidentifiably destroyed, and he found that it was impossible to stand up because of the lightning bolt of pain in his left leg. Just then the man, now without a hat, limped past, stopped, looked down at Alan, and held out a hand.
“I can’t get up. I think I’ve broken a leg,” said Alan. “Can you call an ambulance?”
“I can indeed. My first question, though, is this. After all this-” his gesture seemed to encompass not only the pavement, Alan’s broken form, and the wall of the bank but also Alan’s past hopes, and his tiny little bits of plans for the future, somehow, the non-musical future in which he, Alan, would probably be forced to cover himself with cymbals just to earn enough money to make it through to breakfast time “-after all this, are you still going to go back to your job, or do you think finally it’s time to see sense and do something useful for a change?”
“Please, could you just get some help?” The blackness came up again to cover him.
Some time later Alan awoke in a hospital bed unable to move his head, surrounded by a well-wisher with a big box of chocolates, a huge bunch of flowers, a gigantic bag of grapes, and a massive greeting card that thankfully blocked out the sunlight in the hot and unfanned ward. It was, Alan realised, the exact same woman that had recorded his misfortune on the pavement. Alan felt a confused emotion beginning to grow somewhere behind his ribs, and then he noticed a man wearing a familiar if battered hat coming towards him on tip-toe.
Dave Prescott is a writer and consultant. He lives in the countryside.
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