Ikearotica

I’m going to be 40 this weekend. Which is depressing enough on its own I expect, but even more depressing when you’re completely alone.

And I am completely alone

And have been for as long as I can remember, really.

(I last had a girlfriend in the summer of 1998, 20 years ago, when I was 19, over half my life ago)

And strangely enough I’m a bit bored of being alone, and being filled constantly with a sort of hopeless despair, and anxious feelings of having wasted my life, by spending it all with myself, inside my own monstrous skull, peering out occasionally, at the mysterious planet beyond.

So yesterday I decided to join a dating website.

I tried joining the guardian’s one, but it’s so London biased it said there was only four women from Essex on there, and when I looked it turned out 3 of them were actually in Ipswich, and the fourth said NO BEARDS under her preferences.

But luckily I found another one, a specialist Essex one, for Essex men, and Essex women, and all the genders in between, and beyond, which was called lovessex.com (the v in the logo is some sort of strange inverted loveheart, I think).

It was incredibly easy to use. You enter your name (David) and your location (Essex), then enter some personal information on your profile. I particularly liked the little radar/spider chart thing they used for your political alignment, where you enter how strongly you identify with the three main strands of political thought (conservatism, monarchism, nationalism). Also as I’d already chosen West Ham on the Are you West Ham or Spurs? question this whole section was autofilled out to the maximum on each axis, which was a nice little time saver.

Then I just had to attach a photograph and once I’d done that it automatically showed me a list of all the girls who lovessex(.com) in my area (Essex). I clicked on the first woman on the list (essexyemma), sent her one of the little pre-prepared introductory messages (Hi, would you like to meet up and ‘discuss the royal wedding’? Regards, David, Essex) and within minutes she replied back (Hi David, I’d love to ‘go shopping at Ikea’ with you. Just tell me when and where. Emma, E).

So I said how about tonight, at Ikea, at Lakeside, and she said “won’t that be a bit busy?” which confused me a bit as she said she wanted to go there but I told her it’d be fine because it’s a Monday and no-one goes to Ikea on Monday and eventually she agreed.

I met her in the lobby, just beyond the rotating doors. She was, I don’t know, about 5 foot 6 or something, with hair, and a face, and all that sort of stuff.

“Are you Emma,” I said.

“Yes,” she said.

“Excellent,” I said. “I’m David.”

I moved closer and stuck out my hand so she could shake my hand but then I noticed I was sort of looming over her and I worried she might not like me looming over her so I stepped back again and put my hand in my pocket and said, “Did you have to come far?” and hoped she hadn’t noticed my looming or been put off by it at all.

“Yes,” she sighed. “Romford.”

I didn’t know what to say to that or to say next at all really and so we stood there for about five minutes. We were by the entrance to the creche/children’s playground and I wondered if they had a ball pool in there or if they didn’t have ball pools now because they’re probably considered unhygienic these days, aren’t they? Now you probably just get a padded floor mat and a padded miniature pouffe and maybe a box with dress up clothes in them like fairy wings for the children who might want to dress up as a fairy and also who were brave enough to dress up as a fairy even though your brothers might laugh at you and also your sister and probably your mum.

Also presumably now I’d be too big for the fairy wings anyway.

Or the ball pool.

“Shall we get some food, then,” Emma said, and I quickly agreed.

“If you’ve got an Ikea card you can get a free cup of coffee.”.

“I don’t have an Ikea card,” she said.

“Or tea,” I added, but by then she was already halfway up the stairs.

I got the lift and she met me at the top, and we walked to the cafe side by side, as if we knew each other and were friends.

I asked Emma what she wanted.

“You should get the Meatballs (10 meatballs, £4.25; 15 meatballs, £5.25),” she said.

“I’ve never had meatballs before,” I said.

What! They’re incredible,” she purred. “A total aphrodisiac!” she leered.

I was slightly trepidatious but I didn’t want to appear too staid on a first date so I got us a plate each, along with a glass of Sugar Free Cola Drink (80p, with unlimited refills) for Emma and a cup of tea for me. The woman on the till charged me for the tea and when I queried this she said it was only free with an Ikea card until 5 and it was past 5 now so it cost 70p and I was going to say well I don’t want it then but I didn’t I just paid for everything (£12 exactly) and huffed a bit inside.

I don’t even like tea.

We found ourselves a nice table by the window and admired the view of the car park spread out evocatively below us.

I didn’t know what to say again so I pointed at a car in the distance and said, “Look at that. I’d drive the shit out of that.”

I think it was a car.

She didn’t respond anyway which was probably just as well in case she asked me anything at all about cars so I picked up one of my meatballs and popped it in my mouth and bit into it and chewed and it was mostly gristle and I chewed and I chewed and it seemed to expand in my mouth with every bit and it was awful and oh god I was going to have to spit it out I was going to throw up oh god what was she going to think of me christ what would I think of me so I chewed again and chewed and I chewed and I swallowed and it was gone except for the taste and all the bits trapped up between my gums and my cheeks and the bits between my teeth and the residue of it still coating my tongue.

Emma laughed

not unkindly

well maybe a bit unkindly

but she laughed

and said, “You don’t chew them! You have to swallow it all down in one go. Look!”

She rolled a meatball neatly onto a soup spoon and then brought the spoon to her mouth and then opened her mouth and rolled the meatball in and tilted her head back and swallowed it all in one smooth motion and it was beautiful, like seeing a magician at work, the elegance and ease of it.

“Now you try,” she said, and handed me the spoon.

The first one was quite difficult and I almost gagged and brought it up again but I kept it down somehow and then the second one was easier and by the 28th I’d got it all down to a fine if slightly inelegant art.

The sun was just going down now and the haziness of the light over the car park gave it all an evocative nostalgic air. I smiled at Emma and she smiled at me and while she smiled at me she traced a happy face into the uneaten mash on her plate with her finger. I downed my tea all in one go and she left her cola drink untouched and neither of us had thought to get a tray earlier so we just left our plates and glasses on the table for someone else to clean up.

We walked together into the labyrinth of the store, past the sofas and the beds and the cupboards and the kitchens.

“It’s so spacious,” she said, as we wandered through the 25m² show home, and I remembered then that technically, of course, she wasn’t Essex at all, she was London, and had been since 1965.

But it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter at all.

Nothing mattered and everything was okay.

We looked at the desks in the office equipment section. Emma sat on a chair and I spun her round, her legs splayed out in a V, her arms thrust up towards the ceiling, spun her around and around forever, nobody there to tell us to stop but we wouldn’t have stopped even if there was and even if they did.

“Malm,” I said, pointing at the name tag on the desk (MALM, £95). “MALM. MMAAALLLLMMM.”

“Malm?” Emma said.

“Malm,” I said. “Malm. Go on, say it.”

We both said “malm” together.

It feels so beautiful to say,” I said. “The sound of it. The feel of it, on your tongue, on your lips. MMMMMMMMMMMMMAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLMMMMMMMM.”

She spun round again on her chair and squealed “MALM” in the way you’d say “Wheeeeee!” if you were coming down a slide in a children’s book, and then she leapt off the chair right at me and leant up towards my ear and I bowed my head a little and she whispered “Malm” in to my ear and then ran off, coquettishly, past the the beds and the wardrobes and the chests of drawers, deeper into the maze.

I caught up with her in children’s section, all out of breath from trying to keep up with her, found her looking at a bedroom lamp that was just an unshaded light bulb attached to what looked like the sort of cable they shoved into you during a colonoscopy (BLÅVIK, £8). She was idly moving the cable up and down, undulating its stem in mesmeric waves with her deft, commanding fingers.

We didn’t say another word for several minutes, just stared at the thick responsive shaft of the lamp gripped in her hand.

“I wonder if the price includes the bulb,” I said at last.

She shrugged her shoulders as if to say it doesn’t really matter and it didn’t really matter did it and then we strolled out of the showroom section and into the marketplace bit where you could actually start buying things instead of just looking at them.

The meatballs were definitely kicking in now. Everything throbbed and pulsed in time with our hearts.

I got us a trolley and we started filling it with all manner of shit – little octopoid peg hanger things for putting your socks on the washing line; a vase shaped like a bulb; light bulbs in packs of three that almost certainly didn’t fit any light socket known in my house; several small cartons of lingonberry juice; a vase shaped like a demijohn; a plastic segmented box, each segment containing a handful of slightly different screws; a vase shaped like a cube; some wine glasses shaped like a vase – both of us overcome with pure orgiastic consumerist lust, every product’s curve, every bulge, every smooth white plastic surface suggestive of

of

I don’t know what

but suggestive

and irresistible.

I stroked my hand up and down the vacuum sealed quilts (GRUSBLAD, £22) and tried to articulate my thoughts.

“There’s something so… so… I don’t know exactly… suggestive? about quilts all packed up like this,” I said. “The softness and the solidity, the feel of it beneath your fingers but also the knowledge – the anticipation – that inside, waiting, is something so much bigger, something that’s ready – aching – to burst out as soon as you rip away the flimsy covering that’s holding it back.”

“Are you thinking about tits or cocks?” she asked with a lascivious giggle, laying bear the tawdriness of my mind.

“Tits!” I said, too quickly, too loudly. “Always tits. Tits.” Thinking about cocks would be awful. Huge, massive, haunting cocks. “It was tits I was thinking about.”

I went quiet for a bit and we wandered over to the candles.

“You know,” I said “I went to the zoo recently, and there was a tapir there, and it was standing there, walking around, its snout rooting around in the dirt, and it’s cock just suddenly started distending, down from between its back legs, down, down, longer and longer, huge, this never ending inexorable growth, until it was about two foot long, longer than its legs, and the tapir carried on walking around, even though by now the last six inches of its cock were being dragged along the ground. It was… It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It wasn’t even aroused, as far as I could tell. Just eating.”

She looked at me with blank confused eyes for a second, then diverted her gaze back to some candles that came in a little drinking glass for some reason (SINNLIG, £0.85).

“Its bellend looked like a fucking hoof. It was incredible. Imagine if you could extrude a huge cock like that.”

“I don’t have a cock,” she said.

“I know. But imagine.”

I looked back at the quilts section, at all that potential stored up tightly inside those sheaths.

“I might buy this, I think,” she said, running her fingers nimbly up and down the side of a candle that looked exactly like all the other candles (FENOMEN, 15cm, £1.50). “You don’t think it’s a bit small do you?”

I didn’t answer, just threw a bunch of them into the trolley and carried on marching on. Our trolley was so full now I could barely push it and then, when we were on the escalator down towards the end, I could barely it hold it back as gravity threatened to pull it away from me and down the ramp and into the a display of cactuses that I never saw the prices of.

But I held on it was okay everything was okay.

In the warehouse, she pushed me down onto a stack of flatpacks (BILLY bookcases, £55 Aisle 10, Loc 4) and we fucked with the urgency and suddenness of electric shocks, our legs kicking out, cramps in my calfs, a stray foot kicking our trolley over, the contents spilling out and flowing down the aisle like the wave after a dam has burst.

We lay there for a bit, me trying not to scream as the muscles spasmed in my leg, while next to me she wiggled her pants back up and straightened out her skirt.

We walked past the tills and I stopped to buy us a hot dog each (HOTDOG, 60p).

“I’ll see you outside,” she said.

But by the time I got outside she was nowhere to be seen.

Beneath the orange haze of the streetlights I ate the hot dogs, threw up on my shoes, and limped back to my car.

This customer testimony has been provided by the author free of charge without any inducements and/or incitements by lovessex.com or its employees, nor any of its associated websites, shell companies, car parks or vending machines. Furthermore, neither can they be held liable for the cost of any damages caused by the opinions provided.

__________

Notes:

1. Written between May, 2017 and June, 2018
2. I’m not sure why it took a year to write but it did
3. All the extensive product research, I suppose
4. Which was 100% accurate at time of initial publication
5. Just like all the other information contained within
6. I don’t like to mislead

__________

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The Essex Executioner

David N. Guy is a gentle man, or so his admirers say. And yet he kills for a living. Simone Piss investigates.

The moment stretches out forever.

It’s Monday. A lazy summer afternoon in the small Essex village of Woodham Walter. The sun shines over the village green. There’s a small queue at the tombola table, and a slightly larger one at the cake stall. Children jump endlessly on the bouncy castles. A couple of grandmothers slumped half asleep in deck-chairs. Morris dancers jig in time with the rhythmic futtering of a sprinkler watering a nearby lawn.

And up on the makeshift stage at the centre of it all David N. Guy raises his axe towards the sun and prepares to swing it back down onto the neck of the man tied to the butcher’s block.

Onto, and through.

_______

The first time I came across the name David N. Guy, I was amazed I hadn’t heard of him.

It was a small report hidden in the mass of political wailing in the aftermath of the EU Referendum, a piece of end-of-programme fluff designed to let you leave the 6 o’clock news feeling vaguely uplifted rather than suicidally despondent, announcing cheerfully that David had become the first Essex executioner for 600 years to notch up 5000 county-sanctioned killings. (I got the feeling that the county-sanctioned modifier was probably quite important for the saliency of this fact.) And with the report a grainy reproduction of a picture of an unremarkable man in a stained and grubby t-shirt, his arms crossed over his voluminous slab-like breasts, his expression blank beneath his beard.

How could someone have managed to kill 5000 people without me (or, indeed, any of my friends or colleagues) having heard of them? How could a county apparently so close to civilisation (Essex being, surprisingly, less than 30 miles from London) still have its own executioner? And how could its people not only tolerate him but venerate him?

I became, it must be said, quietly obsessed with the man over the next few weeks, and I set out to find out as much about him and his work as I could.

“Most of us are only familiar with the popular image of Essex presented to us in the media,” says Professor Hugh Crabb over the phone from his office in the Department of Essex at Waltham Forest College in Walthamstow, London. “Lust-crazed vanity, bellowing bald-headed thuggery, right-wing nationalism, endless self-destructive automobile-based eroticism not even JG Ballard could have envisaged, West Ham fanaticism, that sort of thing. But there’s a dark side to Essex too.”

And nothing illustrates that better than the figure of David N. Guy himself.

_________

Arkesden, Tuesday. A farmer’s field. An audience of crows.

He lifts the heavy stone, holds it above the man on the altar’s chest, slowly lowers it down. We hold our breathe while the stone holds his.

Eventually, we breathe out. From the altar only silence.

________

The washed-out photo on the news coverage didn’t do him justice.

We had arranged to meet an hour before the first of his killings I’m lucky enough to witness, the beheading at Woodham Walter.

He looked taller in the flesh than his officially-stated 6 foot 2, heavier than his admitted 20 stone. His beard was a dense knotted mass, deep enough and wide enough to give the impression that his head was wider than his shoulders and larger than his belly.

He wore a red t-shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of brown shoes. His glasses were too small for his eyes.

His hands were a few pounds of meat. His neck was unseen.

“You’re a woman,” he says.

I nod. I’m impressed he noticed.

“I always thought Simone was a boy’s name.”

I shake his hand and it is more moist than I would like.
_______

On Wednesday in Helions Bumpstead, David peels a woman like a fruit and then dresses her in a silken shroud and together they go to the tombs like a macabre bride with her morbid groom.

_________

David has very strict rules in place to ensure the quality of his service is never negatively impacted by the demands of county’s magistrates. He will only carry out one execution a day. He needs to be fed both before and after the killing. There must be at least chair of a suitable sturdiness available for him to sit on pre- and post-slaying. And he absolutely has to be informed about the prescribed method of justice he is to administer to his “patient” at least 24 hours before he arrives in the town.

On this last point of order he reluctantly elaborates.

“I don’t want to sound critical of the various district authorities, but…,” David explains. “It’s okay here in the centre. You always know what to expect. It’s always some mundane method of death, an axe to the neck or a noose or a good old fashioned throttling. The sort of thing I could do in my sleep. But the further out you get the more esoteric their desires, and the more exacting the demands upon my skills. It’s important you know what to expect. You don’t want to get there and find out you’ve got to do something beyond your knowledge.”

He speaks in a bland Essex wail of dropped consonants and monotonous vowels which betrays no hint of excitement or disgust at what he’s describing. And in many ways I find this resigned matter-of-factness more disturbing than if he’d been a cackling gleeful mess of erotic violent desires.

What sort of thing do some of these places require?

“In Dovercourt they like you to use a spoon. In Mundon they expect ice. In Langenhoe fire. And in Bradwell once I had to cut the tip off a man’s toe and suck the blood from his body.”

He pauses and looks at me with his mesmeric bovine eyes.

“All the blood.”

Is there any methods he doesn’t like having to do. Any places he dreads to go.

“Crix,” he says eventually. “There’s many machines in Crix. I don’t like machines.”

_________

The people of Herongate require him only to watch as the victim is lowered into the churning heron pit. To watch and to witness and to confirm.

_______

How does someone go about becoming an executioner, I ask.

“Ah, they picked me out at primary school,” David says. “Said I showed great aptitude for it. Although as far as I could tell the extent of my aptitude was that I was taller than everyone else, and fatter.”

There must have been more to it than that, I say. Some inherent violence, perhaps. Or a particular dexterity in handling weapons.

He shakes his head. “Well, there was also my necklessness. The priest said it was a sign.”

A sign of what?

David shrugs his shoulders. “The beard probably helped make up their minds, too.”

_______

At Layer-de-la-Haye on Friday, I witness a sight of such staggering depravity I know not how to describe it, nor even, having witnessed it, if I can believe it to have been truly possible.
_________

For someone doing such an unglamorous job, David seems to have developed a small but dedicated following. On twitter there are two accounts dedicated to his deeds: @essecutioner, which is a somewhat prosaic list of his upcoming appearances and matter-of-fact descriptions of the method employed for each and every death; and @sexycuteoner (pronounced sexy-cute-shoner), which is somewhat less serious-minded and also inextricably erotic. There is also a related tumblr, but we cannot link to it here. His reviews on yelp are unanimously positive.

I ask him how he feels about all this attention.

“I don’t really follow all that stuff. I don’t really understand it. Mobile phones and things, it’s all just… I’m from a different generation to all that.”

He is 38 years old.

________

At Maldon he takes the child out into the mud on Saturday morning and when he comes back at the turning of the tide he is hauntingly alone.

_________

Only once in the week I spend with David do I wonder if he ever thinks about what his victims have done, about whether they deserve to receive his undoubtedly professional ministrations.

This is when I find him weeping two hours before the seventh (and last) execution I am to see, an old lady in Goldhangar who, I find out later, has been convicted of eating mulberries.

“I don’t like it when they’re old,” he says. “They remind me of my grandparents.”

Does he ever consider whether there crimes are great enough to justify the severity of his punishments, I ask. He says he never knows what they have done, and that it wouldn’t matter even if he did.

“It’s not for me to decide. It wouldn’t be justice if I could just arbitrarily decide whether to carry it out or not. It’d be tyranny. And besides I’m just carrying out a job, same as anyone else. It’s the magistrates who make the choice. If I didn’t do it, no doubt someone else would.”

Does he ever think about quitting and doing something else?

“No,” he says. “I’d not be very good at something else.”

But you might be left with no choice, I say. What will he do if, for example, Essex adopts the European Convention on Human Rights?

He laughs and laughs and laughs and then, when he stops, he gets up out of his chair and goes off to do his day’s work.

__________

On Sunday he carries the woman over his shoulder as he climbs up the tight spiral of the stairs in the Goldhangar church tower, and then, at the top he throws her off, much to the delight of the crowd below. Then he trudges back down the stairs (not easy for a man of his size), picks up her whimpering body, and puts her over his shoulder and carries her up again, throws her down again.

This continues for quite some time, until there’s nothing much left for him to hold anymore, nothing much left for him to carry, to throw.

____________

We have one final conversation before I go, in the pretty little garden of a quaint Essex teashop. Looking back on it, I realise I can recall nothing of what we spoke about. Instead, I have a clear image of watching him eating the trayful of cakes the heavily tattooed waitress placed reverently in front of him, “with the full compliments of the village” she said.

The first cake he eats is a slice of Victoria sponge. He separates the two halfs of it, and then scrapes away the cream and jam from the middle with a teaspoon, eating each mouthful with a shudder of pleasure. Then he carves the top half into quarters, the bottom half into fifths, and finally he rolls the pieces one at a time onto the teaspoon and from there into his mouth.

The Swiss roll he unrolls and then slices neatly into one centimetre wide strips, which he dangles down into his mouth from above like a schoolboy eating liquorice shoelaces.

A full-sized kitkat (not technically a cake) he unwraps and eats in two great big bites, not even bothering to snap the thing into fingers.

He eats a strawberry cheesecake through a straw, which unless you’ve seen such a thing done directly in front of your eyes, you’ll never believe to be possible.

With a slice of Battenburg in one hand and a slice of Madeira in the other, he pushes his hands together until the cakes have merged together into a strange paste across his palms, which he then licks at like a cat until they are clean, his tongue working at the webbing between his fingers with a peculiar ferocity.

He dips a scone into a pot of nutella, eats the chocolated scone, and then, with a knife, the rest of the nutella.

He finishes with an entire box of Tunnock’s teacakes. He unwraps each one neatly from the foil, which he flattens down into a square with the back of his hand, taking his time until almost every crease is gone and you’d never know it had once been crumpled up in a ball around the cake. On the foil he places the teacake, each one perfectly centred, until all ten are lined up before him. Then he quickly takes one cake in his right hand and pops it in his mouth, whole, crushes it down with a single chomp of his jaw, and then with his left hand he pops in another, working his way down the line from each end until, a mere matter of seconds later, all the squares of foil are empty and his mouth is full.

Oh is his mouth full.

The tattooed waitress eventually comes back and takes the empty tray away. Something in her demeanour towards David – not to mention the stylised weaponry that adorns her arms, the erotic curves of the Essex seaxes visible beneath the teasingly opened buttons at the neck of her shirt – makes me wonder if she runs the sexycuteoner tumblr, or at least enjoys it as much as I’ve come to. I follow her inside to pay for my coffee, and when we come back out together at the end of her shift David has long gone on his way.

___________

Notes:

1. Written in August 2016
2. I wrote this after reading an article in the New Yorker about some eccentric restaurant owner
3. And really liking the first line of the story
4. Which I stole
5. And used here
6. Please forgive me
7. I was suffering from post-referendum despair
8. And knew not what I was doing
9. Also this would have been an Essex Terror article
10. But Essex Terror was already dead

__________

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Dolerotica

David entered the job centre building and looked around, trying to get his bearings. It had been five years since he’d last been here and everything had subtly changed. Amidst the crowds of people it was hard to see where he was supposed to go for his appointment.

Having located what appeared to be the reception desk a single lectern with a well dressed woman standing beside it, her hand resting on what appeared to be a glossy travel brochure, he made his way through the milling throngs toward it.

“Hi, I’m Margaret, how can I help you?”

Margaret (36-24-36, with bountiful DD breasts) stood approximately 5 foot nine (two inches of which were her heels) and wore a smart pale blue blouse and a navy blue brushed nylon skirt. Her hair was a lustrous red and tumbled down over her shoulders in waves.

“I’m here to, er.. I’m supposed to sign on, at, er…” David looked at his appointment letter. “…at 9:30.”

Margaret stared at him.

“You’re late,” she hissed.

“But it’s only 9:15,” David said.

“The appointment is at 9:30,” she said, carefully intoning the word appointment so that is sounded almost lewd. “But you have to be here at 9. So as to make sure there’s no delay.”

“Oh, sorry. I, I didn’t realise. It’s my first time,” he said. “Today,” he added, uselessly, into the terror of her silence.

“This was all clearly laid out in your ‘Welcome’ package, along with all the other rules and regulations. It’s part of your agreement with us that you will have read these before arriving for your session.” Margaret looked down at his shoes (a fraying pair of red dunlop tennis shoes that he had bought from Sports Direct for £12.99 the week before, and which gave his overlong feet a strange resemblance to those of a circus clown’s). “And, well, I can see, quite clearly, you didn’t even get to the dress code section.”

“These are the only shoes I’ve got,” David said.

“Indeed.”

Margaret drummed her well-manicured fingers on the top of the lectern, her nails clacking against the lacquer. The book that rested there, David could see clearly now, was entitled “Job Centre Plus: For You, From Us” and on the cover there was a number of well dressed people, all of them beautiful. All of them smiling. David looked away, vaguely embarrassed. He was, he thought, probably frightened of smiles.

When he looked back at Margaret she was holding two red cards out for him to take.

“Your appointment is at lectern #7,” Margaret said, in her clipped, precise tones. “Hand these tokens to your overseer when your name is called, along with your letter of introduction, two forms of photo ID, and a reference from a professional associate, such as your doctor, solicitor, or pastor, or a member of the House of Lords.”

David took the cards from her hand, his finger momentarily grazing hers. It felt smooth, clean, and he jerked his hand away, embarrassed at how his calloused claws must feel to her.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, but she had already turned her attention to another, and his apology went unacknowledged.

At lectern #7, at precisely 7 minutes past ten, David’s name was called and he stepped forward.

“Hi, I’m Margaret, how can I help you today?”

Margaret, 27 years old, 5 foot 4 inches tall, (26-46-86), cupsize: HH, wore an off-brown cotton shirt above on-brown cullottes that hung just below the knee. He could not see her shoes. Her hair was brown in a style the name of which he did not know, but that he had definitely seen before somewhere.

David handed her his letter, his identification documentation and the two red tokens.

Margaret looked at the red tokens sadly, shaking her head and tutting and sighing simultaneously, somehow.

“Now that’s not a very good start to your claim, is it?”

“What’s wrong?” David asked.

“Two negative actions against your account already. Very disappointing.” She shook her head again, her hair swaying as if in slow motion. “Very disappointing for you.”

“But I haven’t even…” David trailed off as Margaret put her finger to her lips and shushed him.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m here for you.”

She patted him on the arm.

“Now, just tell me your details. Name?”

“David N. Guy.”

“Date of birth?”

“The 16th of June, 1978.”

“Height?”

“153 Conduit Ro-”

Height!

“What?”

“Height.”

“Oh. 6 foot 2.”

“Very good. Weight.”

“I… What does this have to do with… Do I have to tell you this?”

“Yes. It all needs to be filled in. Look!”

She turned her ipad round so he could see the screen. On it there was a picture of him in his underwear. Well a picture of someone in their underwear. It was a sort of indistinct blob mostly. A number of text fields down the side were still waiting to be filled with information.

“I’m about 20 stone.”

“About?”

“20 stone 7.”

“Very good.”

“Bust, hips, waist?”

“I, don’t know. I wear a 44 inch per of trousers usually.”

“I’ll just put, 44, 44, 44 for now, is that okay?”

“I suppose.”

“Cup size.”

“I don’t wear a bra.”

“But if you did?”

David looked down at his shoes and mumbled, “A B cup.”

“See that wasn’t so hard now, was it?”

“No,” David said. “I still don’t really understand why it’s necessary, though.”

“All information is necessary,” Margaret said. “For our records.”

There was a moments silence. David wished he was dead at least three times.

“So it says here,” Margaret said. “That you wish to sign on because you’re a failure of business.”

“My business was a failure,” David said. “The letter says my business was a failure.”

“Do you have the necessary documentation to prove this?”

“Only that letter,” he replied. “I didn’t consider my business a failure.”

“Was it a small business?” Margaret said. “A very small business.”

She held her finger and thumb an inch apart and tittered slightly.

“Anyway,” she continued. “You know the rules.”

“What rules?”

“The rules on the size of a business,” she winked. “Your business was too small.”

“Well, I don’t agree, obviously.” David was shocked by his momentary moment of assertiveness. “But anyway that’s why I’m here. Because my business was too small-”

Margaret interrupted with a giggle.

“-my business was too small to qualify for working tax credits,” David concluded. “And also the new rules state that any business too small for working tax credits is too small to register as a business at all. So they sent me here.”

We.”

“What?”

We sent you here. The Conservatives,” said Margaret. “You’re not a Conservative. So here you are.”

“How do you know I’m not a Conservative?”

“Are you?” she asked.

“No.”

“See. I knew it. Our detection system is foolproof.” She paused a moment and then said in a singsong voice, “We’re the party of workers, not shirkers.” She pointed her crimson-nailed finger directly at David’s heart. “You are a shirker.”

“But I was a worker!”

“A very small worker,” Margaret said. “Barely even profitable.”

She scraped her nails down the screen of her ipad.

“Now, let’s find you a job!”

She clacked at the screen as if she was typing on it, an elaborate and pointless charade on its capacitive screen.

“Well, there’s only one job. You’ll have to have sex with everyone.”

“What?”

“It’s the only job available.”

Everyone?

“Everyone here. It’s the only role available.”

“But… Well, isn’t there anything else?”

“No.”

“Surely there’s a-”

“There’s nothing else.”

“Well, I’m not going to take it.”

Margaret gave him a long hard look and then slowly pushed a red token across the lectern towards him.

“That’s three now. You know what that means.”

“I don’t.”

“It wasn’t a question.”

“I still don’t know what it means.”

“Your account has been suspended, and sanctions placed upon it. You will have to contact your local job centre every Friday to see if they have been lifted. Sanctions usually last from between 4 weeks to 26 weeks. Failure to enquire as to whether your sanction has been lifted is a sanctionable offence. Once the sanctions have been lifted, you may re-apply to the job centre within 28 days to receive an application to apply form, which may take up to six weeks to arrive.”

“But…”

“No ifs, no buts,” Margaret said. “But…” She winked at him, in a sort of sexy way.

“I’m not taking that job,” David said. “It’s against my beliefs.”

We’re the party of florals, not morals,” she sang.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” David said. “It doesn’t even rhyme.”

“It does.”

“It doesn’t.”

“It looks like it does.”

“Well it doesn’t,” David said. “Just listen to yourself saying it.”

Margaret soundlessly pushed another red token across the desk.

“Four,” she mouthed.

“I suppose that means you’ll have me killed now?” David sarcasmed.

“No,” Margaret replied. “It means I’ll have to call my supervisor on you.”

Margaret pressed a button on her desk and a klaxon started blaring and all the light sin the room went red and smoke rose up from the floor and suddenly a supervisor apparitioned out of the murk.

“Hi, I’m Margaret, how can I help you?” said the supervisor, who was 4 foot 8 tall, with KKK breasts and a cloak made out of ermine. Under that she might well have been naked, or possibly she was wearing a smart black trouser suit from Debenhams.

“Four,” Margaret mouthed at her, and shook her head. The supervisor looked at David, a ferocious fury blazing in her eyes.

“It’s people like you who ruining it for the rest of us,” she said, picking up David’s passport, his driver’s licence, and his signed letter of acknowledgement and approval from Lord Puttnam and ripping them slowly and deliberately into thin strips, each one exactly 0.25 centimetres wide. “We’re the party of citizens, not clucking hens.”

She threw the strips of his identity up into the air and David watched, mesmerised as they fluttered off like paper butterflies across the room, caught oddly in the unpredictable eddies of the air conditioned atmosphere.

“If you want an identity, you’ll have to take this job,” the supervisor said. “Then, you’ll be one of us, a worker not a shirker, and we can assign you a new one. Otherwise, you’re no-one, nameless. Nothing.

A strip of David’s passport fluttered down and landed in the supervisor’s hand. She looked at it and read the name written there. “And you had such a nice name, a Conservative name. A pity.”

She shook her head and vanished back into the smoke.

“Now, you saw that Margaret there wasn’t very happy,” said Margaret. “And you’d like to please her, wouldn’t you? Please her very much. She would… make it worth your while.”

(The salary met precisely all National Living Wage requirements.)

“How come you’re all called Margaret?” David asked, in an attempt to change the subject.

“It is government policy,” Margaret said. “The only women’s name on the list.”

“What list?”

“The list of approved names.”

“So, every woman here is called Margaret?”

“Yes.”

“So she’s called Margaret, is she?” David asked, pointing at the woman working at lectern #64.

“Yes.”

“And her?” he asked, pointing at the woman at lectern #1.

“No, that’s Winston,” Margaret said. “Transgender women are considered men for the purposes of naming. And marriage. And most other rights. In line with government policy.”

“What about her,” David asked, pointing at the short-haired woman working at lectern #846476382. “I know her, and she’s definitely not called Margaret.”

“You’re right, that’s Harold.”

“But she’s not transgender. Her name’s Angela. We used to do some art shows and stuff together.”

“The arts.” Margaret rolled her eyes. “She doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore. Also, lesbians are now considered men. For the purposes of naming.”

“She’s not even a Conservative,” David insisted.

“She works, therefore she is,” Margaret said.

“What would you call a transgender man?”

“Margaret, obviously.” Margaret said. “Transgender men do not exist, according to government guidelines. And they are forbidden from trying to claim an official designation of lesbian, before you try and think you’ve found a loophole.”

David tried changing the subject again. “So, you’re working for the state. Surely that’s the least bloody Conservative thing you can do. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”

“We’re destroying the system from within,” said Margaret firmly. “So, about this… opening.”

“I don’t want it.”

“You can’t not have it. It’s the rules. Our rules,” Margaret told him. “You have to take a job. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

“But I don’t want it,” David said. “I don’t. I can’t. I don’t want to have to have sex!”

The entire job centre fell quiet at this outburst. Margaret looked disgusted.

A bare chested man at the lectern next to them turned round and said, “What the fuck, mate? What sort of fucking gay sort of thing is that? The fucking state of you.” The man turned back to his overseer and said, “This is Essex. We shouldn’t have to put up with that sort of shit round here. It’s disgusting. There’s kids round here.”

David crossed his arms and said, “I’m not taking it. I can’t. I have a phobia.”

“I don’t see any medical exemptions listed on your form.”

“Look, I have a letter, from my Doctor.” David removed it from his trouser pocket and passed it across the lectern to Margaret. “See. Ubbtophobia. A fear of breasts. I can’t possibly take this job. I’d be too scared.”

“I’m sorry, but Ubbtophobia isn’t on our list of medical exemptions,” Margaret said. “The current list of accepted phobias, in line with government policy is as follows: islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, pedophobia, arachnophobia, xenophobia, and taxophobia.”

Margaret put down her ipad and looked at David lasciviously.

“Is it true that, well, the things you’re scared of look bigger to you, when you see them? My sister’s scared of spiders and she’s always saying how huge they are.” She thrust her breasts forward and David drew back, nodding.

“How much bigger?”

David started stammering some fucking nonsense, and she cut him off by saying, “How big do you think my breasts are, David?”

“Don’t. Please, don’t.” David wept.

Margaret pushed her breasts closer to him, closer and closer, until they knocked all the red tokens off the lectern and came perilously close to touching David’s belly and he pushed out with his hands in a panic, as if he thought he could swat them away. But they were too hefty to be moved aside.

“You touched them!” Margaret said. “You touched my breasts.”

She put the ipad down on the lectern and said loudly, to the room, “He touched my breasts.”

The supervisor rematerialised and said, “You touched her breasts.”

“Ubbtophobia my fucking arse, “ said the Margaret from reception. “If you can touch them you can’t be that scared of them.”

The three Margaret’s stood round him in a circle, the Supervisor’s incredible breasts having already knocked the lectern onto the floor. Margaret’s ipad screen shattered as it crashed to the floor.

David tried to turn away but everywhere he looked breasts pushed in towards him. Closer and closer and closer and closer. He screamed.

“Join us,” said Margaret. “Take the job.”

“Become a worker,” said Margaret.

“Become a Conservative!” said the final Margaret. “And never worry about anything again.”

David felt a nipple brush against his beard, and then push further and further in, down into the tangle of it, deeper and deeper until it almost seemed to be inside of him. And then the pressure of it against his skin, the caress of it against his cheek.
_______________

David took the job, and was assigned the name John. He has recently set up a campaign group devoted to the abolishment of the European Convention Of Human Rights. He lives in Chelmsford.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in May 2016
2. Obviously, every word of his is completely true
3. And now, two years later, even more true
4. Although I suppose the list of acceptable female names has now doubled in size

__________

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The Interview

“Thank you for coming in to see us today.”

“No, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to interview me.”

“Of course, of course. Have a seat, Mr… Guy, is it?”

“Yes, thank you. And just call me David.”

“Well, okay then, David. So, you’d like this job, then?”

“Yes, it’s-”

“Well you can’t have it. Goodbye.”

“But-”

“Goodbye.”

INTERVIEW ENDS

__________

Notes:

1. Written on December 11th, 2016
2. A recollection of events occurring repeatedly between 2005 and 2018 and presumably beyond

__________

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If you like what you've read here please consider subscribing to our patreon. Cheers.