BY FRANCES CROT
Friday. Julian was on his nominal lunch hour. It was nearly four – he simply hadn’t had time yet today – and the sandwich shelves were desolate. He prowled from Pret to Pret in search of egg mayo. As he so did, he quietly sang himself certain songs, each to the tune of the best-known bars of “O Tanenbaum” (“Oh Christmas Tree”). “Oh Elizabeth Peake, oh Elizabeth Peake, you’re te-eh-emping while Jackie’s off,” he sang. “Oh Fiona MacBeth, oh Fiona MacBeth, you wor-or-ork in HR,” he sang. These were his songs. “Oh Simon Charvy, oh Simon Charvy, you’re from the Leeds office.”
He leaned to peek into the back room. Did they really make their sandwiches with as much passion as they claimed? He couldn’t see. Somehow he found himself in a stationer’s. Like most people, Julian sometimes suspected that life was a kind of flicker playing over the surface of something altogether deeper and larger. How to explain these feelings or impressions of unreality, even the innate validity of that word – “unreal”? Reality is only existence, everything is real in its category – a real animal “aloft in the firmament,” or a real hallucination, or a real fiction or fragment of misremembered nightmare. Yet – this pervasive, this persistent thinness. W. H. Smith’s, of course, a monopoly, or very nearly. The closest source of what he craved more than egg.
“Can I interest you in a half-price MacGuffin?” a monkey at a counter asked a monkey in front of Julian.
“A McMuffin? Sorry, a what? No thank you. It’s Coke I want.”
“I can see that sir and I’m down for whatever.”
Soon it was Julian’s turn. “What is one?”
The clerk monkey shrugged. Monkey shoulders move like throws of molten dice. “We’re offer them with every purchase over ten pounds. Here you can look at them.”
“What is it, a sort of toy.”
“No I don’t think so. It’s like a marketing . . . slash . . . media . . . slash trend thing.”
And he paid for his Coke and as he was leaving he was thinking about how he would soon be drinking it. Masked balls in kebab shops, Trend Spotting are saying now, and I’m inclined to believe them.