It was like that because it had to be like that.
As he explained to the assistant in the new department store.
“Sorry Ma’am, but I cannot divulge my name. That would go against orders.”
“Oh yes, of course. Certainly Sir, I understand.”
‘At the cosmetics counter the young assistant wore upon her face the most plastic of smiles.’
He wore a white naval uniform, which was pristine, yet frayed at its well-worn cuffs.
‘Unfortunately, the store itself had that sad and lifeless air of a newly-built hotel. This manifested itself in the strong smell of bleach and the disinterest on the faces of the figures passing through it. The only purchases in their hands being small and inexpensive ones, as if they had only bought them to justify the time they’d wasted inside its off-white walls…’
Lunch was taken at a cafe inside an old rusted bus out on the ring road. Dressed in a set of blue oil-stained overalls and a pair of black steel toe-capped boots, he sat and stared out of the window as he ate his plate of sausage, egg and chips.
The view was the sole reason why it was a regular part of R16 Route B.
There was something about its mildewed concrete islets, its graffiti-strewn flyovers, its mess of motorway intersections and the industrial parks on the horizon, with their chimneys belching thick plumes of brown smoke up into the city sky that he found ‘almost alien yet so very intriguing‘. Perhaps it was its ‘grotesque geometry’, or, perhaps it was the ‘asphalt-like absurdity of its enforced and unnatural poetry’.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
He took off his horn-rimmed spectacles, put them back into the top pocket of his shabby tweed jacket and returned the leather-bound book to the grey-haired owner of the antique bookshop.
“Not a problem Sir, not a problem at all. Perhaps though, you might like to take a look at these?”
‘…The service there was excellent and the owner very well informed. The four erotic Japanese woodblock prints on display were especially good, with the last one in the set worth mentioning in detail.
In the print, a balding man has just withdrawn and ejaculated over the plump stomach of a prone and naked geisha. He is looking down at his swollen flaccid penis, while she is smiling and looking up into his eyes.
It is not the beautiful simplicity of line that entices and reflects the instinctive yet base nature of the act depicted, nor is it the juxtaposition of clear, warm reds of the clothes with the pale pinks of the bodies that makes this particular print so enthralling.
No, what makes it so intensely gripping, are the detailed and grotesque expressions on the faces of the two figures. The horror in the man’s down-turned eyes as he realises that he cannot control this primal urge and the grimace spread across his face as he watches all of his imaginary mastery and virility wither away into nothing more than a flaccid piece of flesh. All of which is contrasted most painfully, yet beautifully, with the mockery that dances upon the geisha’s upturned lips and the coldness in her piercing stare, as she reveals to him with the fullest savagery and severity: the impotence of his desires and the treachery hidden behind a woman’s painted smile.’
He nodded and took off his long-haired wig and beard.
It had been a good day and much had been done.
Having placed them where they belonged, he took off his dirty puffa jacket and jeans and hung them up next to the tweed jacket, blue overalls, white naval uniform and the hundreds of other ‘identities’ which spread around the dark subterranean room on aluminium clothes rails.
Taking his notes, he then sat down behind his desk to write up his daily report. It had been a while since the powers-that-be had been in touch but he paid that fact no mind at all. It was like that because it had to be like that.
However, before he began, he afforded himself the luxury of gazing round the room at the routes, maps, plans and charts which covered every inch of wall. All of them meticulously planned out, drawn and coded.
Yes, there lies the true beauty behind this mortal boredom. That is where it can be found. The true meaning deep within the senseless void of man’s repeated thought and action. There, far, far beyond the inane mystery of his modern world laid out for all its primate slaves to understand in a most primitive and devolving tongue of multi-storey car parks, light bulbs, shaved pudenda and ever bigger screens displaying nothing more than the inattentive limitations of their moaning star-struck cerebellums…
He shook his head. He was getting carried away.
He began to write.
He had a lot of work to do.
The Man of Mystery first appeared in Black Heart Magazine.