Authors: Hamish Macdonald
Tags: #21st Century, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Amazon.com, #Retail, #Fabulism
Idea in Stone
Idea in Stone
MacDonald, Alistair Hamish
British Cataloguing in Publication Data:
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
© 2010 Hamish MacDonald
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 UK: Scotland
“No, no—’tis no laughing matter; little by little, whatever your wishes may be, you will destroy and undermine, until nothing of what makes Scotland Scotland shall remain.”
- John Gibson Lockhard,
Memoirs of Sir Walter Scott
Stefan approached the counter and placed his book face-down, sliding it toward the checkout clerk like a ransom note. The young clerk in a Book Block apron waved a beige gun over the book’s barcode. The till emitted a bleep and showed the price in blue. “How will you be paying for this?”
Stefan handed his debit card to the clerk, his thumb over his name until he had to let go. The clerk swiped the card and handed it back. With a sigh, Stefan reached for it.
“Hey,” said the clerk, taking a second look at the card, “you’ve got the same last name as that cow who’s always on TV. God, I hate her. The CBC rolls her ass out on stage every chance they get. Did you see that show on Sunday night? What was it? ‘Down on the Reservation with Delonia Mackechnie for Remembrance Day’? I’ve heard she’s not really even Indian. She’s like this weird ugly dyke giraffe. I can’t wait till she’s dead so I can stop seeing those stupid shows.”
Stefan took back his card. The clerk picked up the book to put it in a Book Block bag. He glanced at the title:
Selfness: A Workbook for Adult Children of Famous People.
“Oh,” said the clerk, “sorry.”
Stefan left the shop, pausing briefly at the door to stuff the book into a waste-bin.
Stefan shut the door behind him and put his house-key into the pocket of his heavy jacket. He raised his nose to the air:
. The scent of ylang-ylang gave away Delonia’s presence. Perhaps, he thought, he could make it to his room.
Halfway through the dining room he paused. His mother stood there in one of the trademark outfits custom-made to suit not just her predilection for wild colours but her unusual height, too. The dress matched the bright blues and yellows of the tropical fish in the aquarium behind her. But someone else was with her, a young man with one arm sunk up to the shoulder in the tank. Delonia heard Stefan and turned around.
“Stefan! I’m glad you’re home,” she said with a big smile. Her top teeth protruded like the cow-catcher of an old train. His mother had a weight of presence, a charisma, but she was not pretty, and it hurt him every time he noticed. As a public figure, she was often projected and stretched and illuminated, adding to the effect. Other people liked her well enough, at least those who admitted to buying her records and watching her specials, so why should her looks matter? This particular smile, though, he knew this one, the up-to-no-good smile.
“Stefan, this is Tyler,” she said, gesturing to the young man, who turned and extended his hand to shake Stefan’s, then laughed and took it back when he noticed it was wet with dirty fish tank water. His smile flattened Stefan: wide, with teeth so white they verged on blue. His hair and eyes were dark, his wet arm thicker and more developed than Stefan could ever hope his might be, as if this mesomorph were a whole other species.
“I met Tyler when he was cleaning the Jacksons’ aquarium down the street, and you know what a state ours is in.” She turned to Tyler. “Stefan won’t even touch it when it gets like this. Oh, look, your shirt’s all wet with that filthy water. Stefan, take him downstairs, give him one of your shirts, and put his in the dryer.”
“What? You’re both boys. You look like you’re about the same age, too. Stefan is thirty-tw—”
“Excuse us, Tyler,” said Stefan, pulling his mother by the arm toward the kitchen. He closed the door behind him and spoke in a strained whisper: “Mom, stop it. I know what you’re trying to do, and I want you to stop it.”
“But Stefan, did you get a look at him? He stepped off the pages of one of those magazines.”
“Yeah, but I don’t buy
magazines, do I? Besides, people like him aren’t interested in people like me.”
“How do you know that?”
“Look, Mom, people just don’t like me that way.”
She put a hand softly against his face. “Stefan, I just want you to be happy.” She moved her hand to his stomach as if examining for something. “You’ve got so much vexation inside you. If you met someone nice then maybe all that would settle down. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
He smiled at her. “It’s okay, I don’t mind. He probably doesn’t like men anyway.”
“Oh, no, he does. Sue Jackson asked him.”
“Ugh. That doesn’t help. Okay, I’m going to get him a shirt,” said Stefan, heading for the basement.
A minute later, Stefan heard unfamiliar steps on the stairs, and the aquarium cleaner poked his head through the door, his arms on the door-frame. “Hi,” he said, “it’s okay, I don’t need a shirt. I’m going straight home after this, so I can change there.”
Stefan nodded, then laughed nervously. “I’m sorry about that,” he said. “Every once in a while Mom does this romantic hunter-gatherer thing. Sorry if it made you uncomfortable.” Despite himself, he noticed he was trying to do his favourite attractive-guy look from the mirror.
“It’s okay,” said Tyler, “you’d be surprised how often it comes up with this job. You know that Mrs. Jackson? Well, all I’ll say is that she’s got big tits.” They laughed, then Tyler tapped the doorframe, smiled, and left.
Stefan sat down on his bed and sighed. This was familiar, this thing he called The Pain of “Never”.
does beauty hurt to look at?
The feeling wasn’t loneliness; more like a cousin to it. But sometimes loneliness came along for the ride, and together they ran him down.
He stared at the ceiling, hearing his mother walk Tyler to the door, then creak about, on to some other task. He had things under control and was happy being single—why did she have to stir it all up again? He closed his eyes and imagined the house upside-down, with him pinned to the ceiling in his bed, and her walking upside down on the other side of his floor. With one mental shake she fell loose. He kept shaking the house until she dropped out the chimney.
Stefan woke up an hour later, stuck in the stupefaction of a mid-afternoon nap. He gradually recalled who and where he was, but lay in bed a while longer to avoid the responsibility of deciding what to do with the rest of his day. He remembered a new CD that was supposed to be released that week and made it his mission to find it. He looked to his right, where thousands of plastic jewel-case spines covered the entire wall. He’d have to shuffle them all around to make space for this addition.
He bounced himself out of bed, grabbed a CD, and bounded up the stairs. He passed the living room, where Delonia sat at the piano with her bifocals, a pen, and sheets of music paper. “Where are you going?” she called as he flashed past the room’s archway.
“Out,” he replied, poking his head back around the corner. “I remembered something I need.”
“Need or want?” she chided. Stefan rolled his eyes. “Alright, but Cerise is going to be by this afternoon to move her things in, and I think it would be nice if you were here.”
“Okay, I’ll try to make it back,” he said, heading out the door. As he walked, his mind filled in variations on the rest of what he wanted to say.
Because I wouldn’t want to miss seeing my mother’s girlfriend move into my parents’ house. Because I’d hate for something heavy to drop on one of her cats. Because if I’m really lucky you’ll crack some innuendo-laced joke to her that’ll make me picture you two naked together.
Leaves clung to the trees overhead, strangely green for a November day. Stefan pulled the headphones from his jacket pocket and listened to the CD he brought, the previous album by Microchimps. He loved them, though there was something unfulfilling about listening to it when he knew there was a newer album out there. His lips moved slightly with the music, and he unconsciously adjusted the inner workings of his throat to mimic the singer’s style. He looked around, saw that there was no one within earshot of him, and sang quietly to himself.
He stopped singing by the time he reached Yonge Street, which was busy with Saturday shoppers. The store-front windows promised coolness and bargains. Billboards towered above on every free surface, featuring tanned, thin, scantily-clad people. There was something sexy in the atmosphere up there that was missing at the street level, where sweaters, coats, dark colours, and plain faces prevailed.
Stefan had a pattern for browsing the music stores based on selection, price, and what the staff were like to look at. He had favourite staff members who were friendly, cute, or both, though downtown interactions were limited in nature by a band of high-pressure air surrounding each person, preserving anonymity and professionalism, and also preventing any real contact.
Stefan decided to head straight for his favourite store. It didn’t look as nice as the others, with its scruffy off-white interior, a necessary paint job infinitely delayed by the rock star signatures scribbled on its walls. He flipped through the M category of the Indie/Alternative section. The most recent Microchimp album was the one he had in his CD player. The new album wasn’t in the stacks or in the displays above. He could ask the staff, but he knew they’d say that if it wasn’t in the stacks, it wasn’t in. And if this store didn’t have it, no one in town would.
His mission was thwarted. He briefly considered buying another album, but knew that was silly: he’d hate it when he got it home because it wasn’t That One. When he was struck with thing-lust, it was specific and could not be fooled. He’d assumed that this search would not only work, it would fill his whole afternoon, too. Now his day was without purpose. But he couldn’t go home. Not yet. Not knowing what he’d face there.
He walked up the shop’s stairs to the Folk/Adult Contemporary section. He knew better, but found his fingers moving through the M section there until they reached ‘Mackechnie’. With each subsequent flip he moved back in time. Last year’s album showed his mother just as she looked today at home. Moving to the previous, from a few years before, he saw his mother with grey hair—a period when she briefly stopped dyeing her hair black.
—the late Eighties, with pastel skirt-suits and a cloud of bullet-proof hair.
His father was alive again.
Robert Mackechnie held the neck of an upright guitar with one hand while the other rested around his wife’s shoulder, and a big, contented smile parted his soft reddish-brown beard. The couple’s matching leisure suits carbon-dated the album to somewhere in the late Seventies.
Where was I that day?
“Urf!” he heard someone moan. He turned around to see a staff member struggling with a large cardboard cut-out on the stairs. The figure wasn’t going to fit in this small space, but the staff member was either determined or under orders to make it fit. As the employee bumped it around the railing, Stefan saw the printed side:
Delonia Mackechnie: Verses Versus Verses
. The employee forced the figure upright, and the head bent forward at a right angle to the body. “Damn.” He tried to fold her hair, which didn’t work, so he devised a way to accordion-fold her neck so her face rested in her cleavage.
Noticing Stefan, the staff member apologised as if practising for his manager: “I can’t make her fit in here. She’s just too big.”
“I know how you feel,” said Stefan.
Stefan moved from store to store, but nothing appealed to him. He searched for something—a book, a new product of some sort—that would give him some new-found ability or sense of direction. The searching looks he gave the fresh-faced clerks in the store came from the same instinct. There was a luminous promise in everything, but he knew the promise was an empty one.
Here’s everything I could hope to have
, he thought, looking at a toaster with shapely Deco lines,
but it’s all meaningless
What about romance?
Romance is not salvation
. For all he knew, love wasn’t real but just another thing people distracted themselves with. It was all just marketing and acquisition in the vain hope of filling the void.