Saturday, September 22, 2012

Psychopolis - Ian McEwan

Here is a couple of paragraphs about a comedian from this short story that I really loved. Now I've typed them up they don't seem as impressive as when I read the story and it's hard to separate them from the story because it's quite an important scene even though it doesn't have anything to do with any of the central characters. I wish I could find the story online and link it but I can't. I might scan it tomorrow if anyone is interested.

   A man with stooped shoulders and wild curly hair shuffled onto the stage. He took the microphone out of its rest, held it close to his lips and said nothing. He seemed to be stuck for words. He wore a torn, muddied denim jacket over bare skin, his eyes were swollen almost to the point of closing and under the right there ran a long scratch which ended at the corner of his mouth and gave him the look of a partly made-up clown. His lower lip trembled and I thought he was going to weep. The hand that was not holding the microphone worried a coin and looking at that I noticed the stains down his jeans, yes, wet fresh vomit clung there. His lips parted but no sounds came out. The audience waited patiently. Somewhere at the back of the room a wine bottle was opened. When he spoke finally it was to his fingernails a low cracked murmur.
   'I'm such a goddam mess'
   The audience broke out into fallabout laughter and cheering, which after a minute gave way to footstamping and rhythmic clapping. George and I, perhaps constrained by each others company, smiled. The man reappeared by the microphone the moment the last clapping died away. Now he spoke rapidly, his eyes still fixed on his fingers. Sometimes he glanced worriedly to the back of the room and we caught the flash of the whites of his eyes. He told us that he had just broken up with his girl-friend, and how, as he was driving away from her house, he had started to weep, so much so that he could not see to drive and had to stop his car. He thought that he might kill himself but first he wanted to say goodbye to her. He drove to a call box but it was out of order and this made him cry again. Here the audience, silent till now, started to laugh a little. He reached his girl-friend from a drug store. As soon as she picked up the telephone and heard his voice she began to cry too. But she didn't want to see him. She told him, 'It's useless, there's nothing we can do.' He put the phone down and howled with grief. An assistant in the drug store told him to leave because he was upsetting the other customers. He walked along the street thinking about life and death, it started to rain, he popped some amyl nitrate, he tried to sell his watch. The audience was growing restless, a lot of people had stopped listening. He bummed fifty cents off a bum. Through his tears he thought he saw a woman aborting a foetus in the gutter and when he got closer he saw it was cardboard boxes and a lot of old rags. By now the man was talking over a steady drone of conversation. Waitresses with silver trays circulated the tables. Suddenly the speaker raised his hand and said, 'Well, see you,' and he was gone. A few people clapped but most did notice him leave.

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