There is a lot of talk about division lately. One of the new clichés of journalism this last year is that “the country has never been more divided.” But really, who can say? Maybe we just never really talked about ourselves this much before. Now that it’s all out in the open anyway we can wear our identities with pride.
Because it always used to be rude to ask. It was one of those two things one never talked about at the dinner table. Now it’s all anyone ever talks about.
And there’s no right answer.
Actually that’s not true at all; there are plenty of right answers and it’s easy to find people willing to listen to your right answers, who won’t object or put up any sort of fuss, and they’ll helpfully parrot your correct answers back for you, on command, and reassure you that you’re right on. That it’s the rest of them who are stupid and blind and whatnot.
It’s nice to be part of a group. I never really belonged anywhere before.
Cellars and attics all across the country are dimly lit and packed to the walls with people who agree with each other; newspapers continue to be sneered at, comments continue to be made as to the grade of the paper itself, and the comfort it might provide to the anus of the speaker, after defecating. There are noises of agreement. Noises of dissent, to state that no, I wouldn’t even – MY anus deserves better. Tablet and phone screens are pointed at – small crowds gathered around a YouTube video of The Independent’s Mark Steel or Another Angry Voice. The nodding is vigorous. Nobody wants to leave this attic, so nobody does.
We all talk a lot. We all like each other and respect each other’s opinions, and it’s good to feel that way for once. We make each other feel intelligent and warm. It’s not our problem, the things that are happening out there. We made the right decision. We’ll somehow be alright, somehow.
After all it was just last week that George came back beaten and bloodied, his shoes missing and his t-shirt ripped. He said the Things had got him and of course we believed him. They’re everywhere out there. Laura made him a tea and sat him down on a cushion and while he got his strength back he told us how he’d only been minding his own business when they set upon him, calling him names and pushing him around and telling him to go back to where he’d come from.
“What, Whitstable?” he’d said.
Laura stroked his hair and said “Ssh it’s alright drink your tea” and he did, whimpering, and we all looked at each other.
“Savages,” said one of us.
It was hard at first but we got used to it quickly. Since it turned out anyone could be a Thing – a friend, a neighbour, a family member – it actually became easier to let go. It wasn’t a surprise to learn that some people we’d known for years turned out to be Things. There are just some things one suspects, deep down, even though it’s never stated explicitly. Some Things wear their Thingdom with pride, which I personally find distasteful because to be honest why be proud of that kind of thing? There are too many impressionable children who might come to think that being a Thing is perfectly acceptable, and then where will we be? A hundred years of progress just gone, just like that.
I don’t mind Things. I honestly don’t. It’s just … when they get together.
They’ll be the death of this country. Just wait.
“My dad is a Thing.”
There are hands on others’ knees, understanding squeezes of shoulders. Little smiles of “it’s okay, go on.” There’s coffee boiling in metal espresso makers on portable stovetops, and a bottle of the hard stuff in Jack’s coat pocket, which nobody touches.
“I tried to stop him. He said he had to be a Thing.”
“God, mine too. You can’t reason with them.”
“How I begged.”
“Me and my sister, we both begged our dad. Our mum begged him too.”
“My mum is a Thing, too.”
“Oh god you poor thing.”
More understanding. There’s so much understanding in this room, so many expressions of concern. One wouldn’t think there were anyone left in the world who didn’t understand.
“She kept talking about taking the country back.”
“I said to her, taking it back from who? And what are you going to do with it when you’ve taken it back?”
“ My dad said that too – that taking the country back thing.”
“Neither of my parents are Things,” I say. “But I think they know a lot of people who are secretly Things. Actually I know they know a few people who are openly Things. This woman who lived across from us, she used to come over and gossip about the other people on the estate and ask my mum to put Emmerdale on while she drank all our tea. She’s definitely a Thing. I’ll bet any money.”
It’s easy to spot some Things. There are the hallmarks of a Classic Thing that everybody knows – and actually it’s these Classic Things getting on the news that enrages some of the more modest, moderate Things. Classic Things are the ones with the pure black, wet-looking eyes, like polished stones. They have artificially pale skin and flag tattoos. Some of them have shaved their heads completely but others have a grade one or two, even the women. Their tongues are bifurcated like a snake, or a lizard. The moderate Things hate the Classic Things because, even though they agree with 90 percent of the things the Classic Things believe, they think that the violence and the drunkenness and the poor grammar are discrediting the purity of their cause. Classic Things will admit to, take pride in, their discrimination. Moderate, law-abiding, tax-paying occasional-theatre-going Things will not. They say things like “talking about locking up all non-Things is not discrimination” or “they make a good curry but I wouldn’t want to shake hands with them” or “Conservatism is the real radicalism these days.” They don’t look like Classic Things, but they’re still easy to spot. Because unlike the Classic Thing – which will have either no neck at all, or a neck wider than its head – the moderate Thing has a longer and more flexible neck, a hardened skull and gills on its upper torso. Under ordinary circumstances these biological curiosities are unnoticeable. But when confronted – for example, when given a statistic related to the rapid increase of Thing-related violence within the last year, in which small animals and the occasional schoolchild have been found in the street with missing limbs and bite marks across the remains – the moderate Thing can be ready to bury its head in the solid earth at a moment’s notice.
[written in one sitting on a Saturday night in summer, with the help of whiskey – if you’re looking for nuance, look elsewhere]