Crumbled Cookies and Typewriter Ribbons
Rattled by the near-collision, she missed her brother's response: “The collective noun for a group of priests is... umm, a scandal!”
“Whuh,?” was all she could manage, as her attention was caught by a strange-looking man fumbling with the lock on a gate. The gate was metal, rusted and inexpertly repaired here and there. There was a sign haphazardly screwed to it, with what she presumed was “No Trespassing” in various languages. The man shuffled awkwardly, as if he had difficulty keeping his shoes on. The gate opened rustily and he slipped quickly inside, leaving one of the shoes on the ground behind him. For a second, she caught a glimpse of his foot – it looked for all the world like a hoof. Shaking her head at the thought, she hurried over to call the man back and give him his shoe.
The man had left the gate unlocked in his haste. It was tall and overhung with old, twisted growths of some foetid vine. She pushed against it and was greeted with the sight of a large house, set in a tangled, unkempt garden. The smell of what had to be a long series of unhappy animal digestive systems washed over her.
Against the side of the house, a short stone staircase rose to an open door. At the top of the step sat... A monkey... smoking a cigarette. Her amazement at this was interrupted by the sight of the strange man rounding the corner of the house, his improbably hairy left leg clearly ending in a cloven hoof. Waving the shoe, she called after him, 'Hello, I have your shoe, umm, hello!' She hurried after him, and was just about to round the corner of the house when she was stopped by a gruff shout of "Oi, you can't go 'rahnd there!".
She whirled around and looked up at the top of the staircase. There was no-one there. No-one, except the monkey… a monkey who appeared to be doing his best to look nonchalant. What made it worse was that he was attempting to whistle while still puffing on his cigarette…
“Umm, hello?” she said, her brows knitted in utter confusion “Did you just speak to me?”
“No”, replied the monkey, “this is just you ‘avin’ a breakdown. You should go ‘ave a lie down. It’ll all seem much better in the morning”.
“You can speak!” she exclaimed, dropping the shoe in astonishment
“Ah, bugger, not again, I’ve been bloody Wendied!”
“Yeh, Wendy, y’know, Peter Pan’s missus, broke into ‘is world, changed it all up.” the monkey, explained, making little tumbling motions with his tarry fingers.
“But that’s just a story!” She replied, acutely aware that she was saying this to a talking monkey. A talking monkey with ink and nicotine-stained fingers… wearing an old-fashioned editor’s visor…
“Well, it was at first, but once enough people read it, once enough kids, and quite a few adults, believed in it and wished for it to be true, well *poof*! There he was, real as any of us!” continued the monkey, pausing only to protect his cigarette from a gust of herby wind.
“Umm, uh, umm!” was all she could manage.
“Sorry, where are me manners? Name’s IM no. 1987324, but you can call me Thelonious. Thelonious Monkey? No? Fair enough.” He reached down to shake her hand. She took it automatically. He certainly felt real enough… furry, inky and not a little smelly…
She continued “Umm… uh… umm…!”
“Listen, love, I really think you might need that lie down.” Thelonious advised, his tiny brow creased in apparent concern.
Recovering herself and fuelled with an increasing sense of indignation at being lectured by what she presumed was an hallucination brought on by the heat, she exclaimed "look, Thelonious, number whatever you said, what the hell is going on?"
"Welcome to the Department of Actuated Potentials, love, or as it is known to its occupants, the Cliché Coop, the Bastille of Bollocks, whatever!" he said with an infuriating cheerfulness.
"The what?!?" she retorted.
"This is the place where all the knackered-out sayings, proverbs, clichés and fictional characters end up, once you lot have gotten bored of quoting 'em. It's like a Rest Home for the Terminally Over-Referenced.
Me, I’m an Infinite Monkey, tasked with eventually reproducin' classic literature by randomly bashing at a typewriter."
“But how does that work? I mean you're just a saying, a cliché!?" she countered, her grip on reality shakier than a Minister’s alibi.
"Dunno, I just figure in an infinite universe, everything, no matter how improbable, including the spontaneous incorporation of over-used rhetorical constructs, 'as a finite, if tiny probability. So, y'know... You get mentioned often enough, then *poof*... And there you are, sat in front of a typewriter, typing 'too bee or not too bee, that is the quern stone' for a living."
Grasping for some solid conversational ground, she retorted "but the universe isn't infinite!"
"Yeah, but it's ambitious...” he pointed out with a flick of his cigarette. “And that makes up for a lot."
"Wait, you mentioned Peter Pan, does he live here?”
"Nah, ‘e lives in the South of France. Goes fishing on the weekends with Captain ‘Ook. Well, with part of him…”
“I'm sorry, but this is all far too silly! Who was that man I followed in here?”
"That's Pan, the patron saint of tootly pipes, absinthe and the expression 'randy as a goat'.”
She popped her head around the corner, to see where the man, Pan, whatever, had gone. To her surprise, there was a vast pile of sacks of peanuts stacked up against the back of the house.
"Yeh, I know: 'Pay peanuts, get monkeys', even the catering’s a cliché, knowottimean? At least the bloody chimps get a cup of tea."
"Don’t you get bananas? In every story I ever read as a child, they were all monkeys could think of."
“Well, we used to, but what with the rise of Global Capitalism, sayings about compensation-based incentives gets bandied around a lot more than them kid’s stories with the bananas and balloons and lads in yellow ‘ats.”
"So, it’s kind of a popularity contest, you embody the most-often uttered cliché?" she asked.
“Yeh, well, we tried being the personifications of a couple of notions at once, but it gets very confusing. Plus, the balloons kept frightening the gnomes…”
He broke off at the sound not unlike a cat being tumbled dried inside an opera singer.
“'Ere, keep it dahn in there, wudja, I’m on me break! And keep the unicorns away from the curtains; we only stitched them back up last week!”
“Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, actuated potentials, well, the world is full of 'em, y'see? Even the big lads in physics know that.” Putting on a sniffy tone, he leant forward and pretended to adjust invisible glasses “’It's not an actual particle, per se, the electron, more a probability density function!’
Poor lad, all ‘e wanted to down was spin 'round atoms an’ now these know-it-alls are saying he may not even exist as a tangible mass.”
“I’m sorry to hear that” she said, a little hesitantly, not sure whether it was entirely appropriate to express sympathy for a fundamental particle.
“Ah, no worries, the lad gets 'is own back on 'em all the time” He chuckled “Next week, ‘e's dressing up as an 'iggs boson and poppin' up to CERN to mess with their results. He’s a git, that one"
Anyway, can't stay talkin' all day, gotta get back to me magnum opus: The Complete 'Istory of Ice-Cream. Magnum opus? Ice-cream? Eh? Fair enough, suit y'self”
He picked himself up, dusted off a small mountain of cigarette ash, paused to pry an interesting flea from his stomach, then stopped and regarded her with an inquiring glance. ‘‘Ere, any chance you could do something for me? Any chance you could go ‘round sayin’, oh, I dunno, ‘An infinite set of monkeys with an infinite set of ergonomic keyboards, dictation software and two weeks off in June could write the complete works of Shakepeare? Only, by now, I’ve got carpal tunnels you could drive a train through.”
“I don't think it would take off as a cliché” she replied, apologetically, “but I’ll see what I can do”.
“Fair enough, love, watch your step on the way out, them tigers can give you a real nasty paper cut.”
With that, he turned on his heels and went in through the door, bellowing “‘Ere, I saw that, you start flingin' that again and we'll be weeks cleaning it out of the gearing!'
She turned towards the gate, her mind racing with the possibilities and the strange sensation of empathy for a small, furry and disturbingly solid cliché...
Two years, later, his belly groaning, IMN 1987324 (but you can call him Thelonious) leant back, let out a huge fruity burp and read, with evident satisfaction, the title of the new book in his hands 'You pay Banana Pancakes with Syrup & Crème Fraiche and You Get Monkeys - Updated Clichés for a New Century’. “You beauty” he mumbled and drifted off to sleep. Not even the sound of infinite monkeys wrestling with the new Print function in Word 2010 could disturb his satisfied slumber…