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Old 02-02-2018, 06:12 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Default "Ahem" (from the Basement Series)

"Ahem"

I wake up with a warm, wet face. Someone has cracked open the curtains and sunlight is licking away at me like a dog.

‘Ahem’, says a voice from the armchair at the foot of my bed. A man in a business suit is sitting there with a clipboard on his knee. ‘Ahem’ he says again, ‘it means "good morning" in the language of my people.’

He explains that he is engaged in a scientific survey of basements; he comes from a small island in the South Pacific where there have none, the island being entirely formed of impenetrable volcanic rock.

I ask his name. ‘Ahem’, he replies, adding: ‘ours is an impoverished language, albeit supplemented with a sophisticated repertoire of gestural augmentation’. He winks, as if to demonstrate his gestural fluency. Ahem looks remarkably pale-skinned for a Pacific Islander. ‘It’s been a long survey’, he says, as if reading my mind, ‘and basements are very dark places’.

‘I will inscribe your answers into a piece of tree bark with this porcupine quill, as is the custom of my people’. He holds up his clipboard and a plastic biro.

Taking a small cardboard cube from his pocket, Ahem proceeds to unfold it and reassemble it into a large box, which he places on the floor, asking: ‘Can you pick up and move a large, light object like an empty cardboard box?’ He makes a gesture with his hand that I take to be in his native language and presumably untranslatable. ‘No, yes, or it varies?’.

I get out of bed and wipe the sun’s spittle from my face with my dressing gown. If there are to be questions, I will need coffee. Ahem follows me into the kitchen.

‘Aha’ he says as I add milk. ‘That answers my next question: Can you pick up and move a half-litre (one pint) carton full of liquid?’

‘Unless it varies’, I reply, suddenly cautious.

‘Quite so’. He smiles and inscribes a strange symbol deep into the bark of his clipboard.

Back in my room, Ahem surveys the debris on my carpet and asks, ‘Can you manage to plan, start and finish daily tasks?’ I tell him his questions sound remarkably like those I answered on my disability benefits form last month.

‘Synchronicity,’ he says. ‘Did you know that Jung’s concept of synchronicity was discovered simultaneously and quite independently by hundreds of people across the world? My grandfather was one. It was he who bestowed the name ‘Ahem’ on me, which is the word we use for this concept. Or perhaps he was just saying good morning. It's hard to be certain’.

Reassured, I answer the remaining questions with comment.

When he has finished he takes a tri-fold hat from his inside jacket pocket, and places it solemnly on his head. It has a picture of a volcano on the front. ‘Now that I do not have my scientist’s hat on', he says, 'I would like to tell you this: our people have no basements, and we are never unhappy’. He takes the hat off again. ‘Now I will add up your scores’.

Eventually he looks up from his clipboard. 'Ahem', he says, clearing his throat, ‘Wrong address.’

‘Not me’, he clarifies, ‘you’.



-------
This is part of a series of poems I wrote about a basement and its inhabitant; except this one isn't really a poem, which is why I posted it here.
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Old 02-02-2018, 06:41 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I have nothing useful to say. Just that I enjoyed this very much.
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Old 02-03-2018, 11:26 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Thanks Julie! And knowing that you enjoyed this is useful.

Matt
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Old 02-03-2018, 05:15 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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This has a cool feel, Matt, but I think I like the poems in the series more. Nothing wrong necessarily. I think I like the suggestiveness of the poems. Too much of the mystery is telegraphed here.

It's funny, though. The revelations of the visitor appear at the right time. The wrong address is a stretch. How many men are hiding in their basement? But it's a good series whether in poetry or prose.

John
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Old 02-03-2018, 05:54 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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John,

Many thanks for reading and commenting.

Would you mind elaborating on how you understand the wrong address part, and why you think it's a stretch? I was concerned that I hadn't got that bit right -- made it clear enough. I'm not sure if you're saying there are lots of men hiding in basements, or very few, and in either case how that affects the line/joke?

Also, is there any part in particular that you thought telegraphed what could have been more mysterious? I had wondered about the bit where Ahem offers advice about basements and happiness. I'd also wondered about "I tell him his questions sound remarkably like those I answered on my disability benefits form last month." I'd have preferred not to spell that out so straightforwardly, but at the same time I doubted that readers would have recognised the nature of the questions (they are actual questions from said form). But maybe they would have, just from the form of the questions.

Thanks again,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 02-03-2018 at 08:14 PM.
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Old 02-03-2018, 07:11 PM
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Nice one, Matt! Very amusing. Sell it as a flash fiction? Run it all together and it’s a prose poem? (I’m amused that American style of using quotation marks around the quoted material and within it is the reverse of British practice.)
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Old 02-04-2018, 03:17 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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Matt,

I was trying to offer some help but hope I didn't leave the impression I thought this was bad. I didn't mean that at all. I write a fair amount of prose myself and know how it differs from poetry.

My reaction was if "Ahem" is looking for a man who lives in a basement he shouldn't have trouble separating them. I don't think there would be very many and because of that the wrong address seemed far-fetched. Truthfully, it is the end of many jokes. If not the address, some other piece of information has been mistaken. It's a device and I sort of don't buy it here. As I always say, that may be my problem or isolated to me. I don't want this to be a joke. The story walks this line between despair and humor. The basement man's reaction indicates his life and that isn't always desirable, I don't think. Then you have Ahem. I think a wrong address ending may be too much.

I hope that's clear.

Best,
John

P.S. I just thought of this. To me, the ending turns it from a pretty good Beckett-style piece of fiction to a vaudeville act. For me, that is.
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Old 02-04-2018, 03:31 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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John,

Thanks for coming back.

So you're reading this that Ahem has come to the wrong address? That's not what I intended.

Ahem says "wrong address", which is meant to set the reader up to think that he's come to the wrong address. But then he clarifies "not me, you".

This is intended to make it clear that it's not Ahem who has the wrong address, but the N. The basement is the wrong address -- the wrong place -- for the N to be living.

I had wondered if this was too obscure when I posted it. Hmm, I wonder how I can make this clearer.

Ralph,

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I did write it thinking it would be a prose poem, but then thought it was maybe more prose than prose poem, and formatted the dialogue accordingly.

I'm wondering if the "wrong address" ending worked for you? I've explained how I intended above in my reply to John.

Thanks again both,

Matt
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Old 02-04-2018, 04:04 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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For what it's worth, I loved the "Wrong address...Not me...You" bit.

The building that houses this literarily-significant basement might have had a blue plaque mounted on it someday, but it's not in London.
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Old 02-04-2018, 04:31 PM
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Felicity Teague Felicity Teague is offline
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Hi Matt,

Just picking up on Ralph's comment, are you following a punctuation guide?

So, here's B.G. in Fiction. That's interesting. The characterisation of B.G.'s visitor is strong and his (visitor's) vocabulary in conversation forms a good contrast with the questions he reads from the form.

The experience B.G. (as N) describes seems to be a bizarre dream due to anxiety about the results of his assessment. I interpret it this way because I've helped people with DLA (now mostly PIP) applications and I've seen the worry these can cause. It can certainly manifest itself in bizarre dreams and nightmares.

I don't want to whinge about my own health problems, but I think they might've helped me in understanding the final line. In 2004 I had to leave my office job due to illness. In the early days of setting up my home business I could only afford to rent a mouldy basement flat and I often felt out of place there. I'm very lucky I was able to work my way out.

Best wishes,
Fliss
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