Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


He always found it strange how they took such good care of their fingernails. Given that their very recent ancestors didn't have any, there was probably some strange racial pride at work. The whalepeople were just the kind of synthetic species to indulge in a fetish like that. This particular whaleman, Kevin, lounged in the great harness set up for his kind and gently rubbed his fingertips with a small nail file.
'Can't you do that on your own time?'
'Break,' Kevin answered.
Denzel smoothed an eyebrow in an effort to keep his composure.
'Break ended twenty minutes ago. Come on, we have work here.'
Without breaking a frown on his smooth white forehead, Kevin rocked his seat back and forth to generate some momentum before sliding quietly on to the floor. It was far too graceful an accomplishment for such a graceless form, Denzel reflected.
'Wonderful! Try the Murphy load first. That's due back by six.'
'Sure,' rumbled Kevin and went into the back room to whale-iron the Murphy hotel linen.
Shaking his head, Denzel mumbled something about the genome project and what did it really ever do for us. Pays my salary, anyhow, he had to concede. He began to read his paper again.
When he stopped to think about it, it still mystified him how the whole whale-ironing craze had flared, caught and become part of daily life. At first it was simply a deprecating kind of way to give the burgeoning whalepeople population a job; they had become something of a drain on national resources, what with all that fish consumption and all. And then they did like to roll about anyway (must of reminded them of the sea or something, Denzel thought). When someone suggested they use their huge, smooth, warm, but non-perspiring, bodies to iron cloth, people laughed at first, but then gave it a shot. Initially a luxury for the very rich, there were enough whalepeople happy enough to lend their services for minimum wage to make it a service of mass appeal. Whale laundries were everywhere now.
'Sharkman exonerated of murder! What next!' Denzel read the article with something of a sinking heart. Apparently the defence had used the old nature argument; it was in the sharkman's nature to go into a feeding frenzy. He couldn't help himself. He'd bitten through the burgergirl's throat provoked by all those fish burgers on show. And after all hadn't humanity, pure humanity, made him that way?
From the ironing room Kevin's soft moan, his song, undulated in a doplar beat, louder, quieter, keeping time with his luxurious rolling.
The shop door opened. Denzel didn't bother to look up, but something about the silence worried him. Had someone come in afterall? He raised his head. The sharkwoman was right in front of him. He could see the vestigial gills, flapping, on either side of her neck, the huge, black eyes, the ill-fitting teeth stretched in a monstrous smile. Involuntarily he stepped back.
'Can I help you?'
For a moment longer, an impressive moment, she continued her unpleasant grin. You never could tell with the sharks when they were actually smiling, but Denzel felt this one was, evilly.
'Introductions,' she rasped (sharks, like the whalepeople, liked single words when they could help it). 'Ethel, my name's. You're Denzel?'
For a moment he thought that was a statement, but when her black eyes bored into him some more, he realised a question was intended.
'Yes, yes, I am. Denzel McDonald.'
'Thought so.' The corners of her mouth pushed wider still. 'The owner. Wanted to meet you.'
'Message. I'm from a school, nearby.'
'You teach?'
She did her best to mean her glare.
'No. My school, my family.'
Some of them liked that archaic form of self-reference; it gave them a feeling of solidarity, of unified difference. She continued.
'We like your business. We think it's good. We think we need some.'
'Well, we serve all. Just bring your clothes down, we'll give them a full wash and roll. The best whale-'
'No,' she interrupted; 'Some of your business. We want it. Money.'
There was no point in playing dumb any longer. Denzel had heard of the shark rings and their protection rackets. This was extortion.
'You lousy-'
'What?' she laughed, or rather barked.
'I could run you and your lousy shoal into the police!'
She barked again, then pushed her toothy face close to his.
'No, you couldn't. No right.'
'I have every right.'
'No right. We're protected. We offer you protection too.'
Ethel grabbed Denzel's collar and pulled his face still closer.
'I eat you, little man. We eat you. Genetic! What we do!'
Apparently she glanced down (he couldn't tell where those huge pupils were looking) and pushed a pointed nail on the newspaper. 'Nature.'
Denzel understood now that sinking feeling he had felt on reading the news story. The floodgates were open; the sharks were now circling for a feeding frenzy. No shop, no laundry would be safe. Any atrocity could be justified as shark instinct. Homo sapiens, the original ones, still guilty at what excesses they had wreaked on Nature, would accept this as the wrath of an outraged Destiny. Old humanity deserved it. If he were truthful though, Denzel knew there was something else beneath the false guilt. There was also that sneaking feeling that if we treated the sharks, the whalepeople, the pandafolk and all the other strange twists and sports of the genome as full humans in court, we would have to treat them as people, real people in every other way. And that was just too high a price to pay.
Ethel wasn't going to leave without his money and his commitment to keep paying. He stared into her monstrous black eyes. She would kill him if she had to. One wider smile, one quick snap and he would have a throat like that burger girl. She might do it now. He could see it in those eyes.
He could see something else in those eyes too. Something big. Something reflected.
With one lazy slap of his hand, Kevin knocked the shark halfway across the store. Nonchalantly he ambled around the counter. Ethel was shaking her head, moving her jaw up and down in a worried sawing motion. Kevin strode to her side and flipped her into the air. She smashed against the wall and slid down to the floor again.
'Stop!' Denzel cried. She couldn't take much more of that, surely. 'Stop, Kevin.'
Kevin did as Denzel asked and Ethel, apparently not as hurt as Denzel feared, pulled herself to her feet and ran for the door, still jawing at the air. She didn't even look back as she raced away from the laundry. She wouldn't be back.
Denzel looked at the huge, impassive figure of his employee, standing in the center of the shop. The whaleman lifted a hand and stared at his nails; perhaps one had been broken. The vision was too much for Denzel. He ran from behind the counter and grasped that hand. He shook it over and over.
'Thank you, Kevin. Thank you.' And for minimum wage and all the scorn Denzel usually heaped on the big man too!
The employee shrugged his massive shoulders and started to walk to the back room.
'I just don't get it,' thought Denzel. 'After all the shit I put this guy through!'
'Why did you do it, Kevin?' he couldn't help asking.
The whaleman kept walking.
'Nature,' he rumbled.
There might have been a smile in all that blubber, but Denzel couldn't see.



At 10:10 am, Anonymous nig said...

on trying to encourage my kids to leave the playground the other day, which is kinda like getting a an adult to leave a boozer in front of a open fire in the middle of winter having counsumed a skinful of pints, "I said lets go on a Nature Trail!!!!!" to which Lír replied "Nature is crap!"


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