Art and Gerry
Gerry was a sort of mechanic, and he could fix anything. At least his neighbours thought so, judging by the continuous stream of requests to fix this, or that, or for his advice. If it didn’t work, as long as it had nuts and bolts, screws or wires, metal or wood, he could fix it; even if it did work, he could make it work better. He was always busy.
Even on his days off he could be found pottering about ‘fixing stuff’. He could take a pile of seemingly unconnected parts, or materials, and make something useful too – a bit like an inventor. It seemed as if the parts lived somehow in his hands, talked to him, insisted that he use them for a purpose (sometimes a purpose that he hadn’t thought of before that moment) rather than lie in a box, or on the shelves of his workshop.
One day, after a long week’s work fixing ploughs, washing machines and DVDs, Gerry went into his workshop to…..well, actually he didn’t have a particular reason, just a feeling that he was supposed to do something. You know, that kind of feeling you get when, finally, you have time to get round to that ‘something’ you’ve been putting off for a long time, something you go past every day that nags at you, but so familiar that now you can’t quite remember what it was? Gerry had a lot of moments like that, setting off to do something important and, on arrival, thinking to himself that he’d forgotten what it was he was supposed to do. You know, that feeling.
Anyway there he was, in his workshop, having one of those moments, and scanning the shelves in the hope that he would remember what it was he was supposed to be doing, when he accidentally kicked a small, discarded, something. The clatter made him look down and there, in between a bag marked “might come in useful sometime” and a box marked “SAVE FOR LATER” his eyes lighted on something not of metal, plastic or wood: it was a mouse. In the blink of a gnats eye Gerry said to himself, in a kind of benign inventorly way, “Hello, what are you doing here; there’s nothing to eat, do you live in my workshop?” and fully expected the mouse to disappear. But it didn’t, it just sat there looking at him, right in the eye. And it spoke back.
“What am I doing in here? Hey, man, what are you doing in here is more the question, don’t you think? Well, if you’ve come to tidy up, this place is cool as it is thank you very much, and, as for food, I do ok. You dig? And now, if you’ll excuse me, some of us have work to do.” At that it turned and, muttering a sarcastic imitation “Hello, what are you doing here”, pattered off between the half empty paint tins and a box marked “FUTURE PROJECTS – PARTS”, and out of sight.
Gerry was, understandably, taken aback; after all it was his workshop. He was used to talking to himself, and to his tools if it came to that, but not having a lippy, Hippy, mouse to deal with. What did it mean “Tidy up?” It might be a bit jumbled, but everything had its place and he, at least, understood the theory of the system. Gerry was almost offended, and the unexpected confrontation had put his mind right off whatever it was he couldn’t remember in the first place, so he locked up the workshop again and didn’t come back until the next day when he was, very definitely, going to fix something.
The morning was planned to be busy: there was a chair to mend, two lawn mowers (one to sharpen and another whose engine just wouldn’t run sweetly), and a teddy bear to patch for his grand-daughter. Gradually the parts and the tools were gathered on the bench and Gerry set to work. It was while the ¼ inch open-ended spanner was saying, “I think the 6 millimetre ring spanner would be better on this, Gerry” that he noticed the mouse again – sitting on the edge of the bench watching him. “What gives, man?” it said rather dismissively. The spanner slipped on the nut and Gerry skinned his knuckles; “Told you”, said the spanner. “I’m fixing this lawnmower,” said Gerry and, nursing his hand, “would you mind not distracting me?”
The mouse laughed. “Me, distracting you? Ha! That’s rich coming from a man who has conversations with spanners. What d’ya want to be fixing it for anyway. Don’t you dig, man, that machine is murderous out there in the grass? Why do you think I live in here? Certainly not for the view!”
“Hey, just wait a minute,” said the spanner as it clattered back into the toolbox, “what’s wrong with talking to spanners – it’s not listening to them that’s your problem, Gerry.” The lawnmower joined in, “Not so much of the “murderous”, fur face, or I’ll shave your tail. I’m needed out there, and if it wasn’t for me you spanners would never see the outside of the toolbox.” “Oh yeah? Well if it wasn’t for us you’d never get off this bench, much less make your pretty little stripes on the grass. Buzz brain.” “Quiet”, said Gerry. There was a discontented murmuring from the screwdrivers, “That’s right, you tell him” before Gerry slammed the toolbox lid shut, with a firmer “ QUIET. Q.U.I.E.T, QUIET – all of you.” And at that Gerry scooped up the mouse, gently but firmly, and said “And you, outside, NOW”.
The mouse was still sitting on one of the big stones that Gerry used to prop open the workshop door when he came back from cleaning up his hand. “Still here eh, mouse?” “Where else would I be?” said the mouse, “I’m waiting for you to put me back in there. There was no need to be so rough you know, I’m just doing my job. And the name’s Arthur, not mouse; you can call me Art.”
Gerry sat down on the other doorstop and looked at the mouse with something that slipped through the crack between bemusement and tenderness. He started to roll himself a cigarette. “I’m sorry, Art, you’re right of course. I lost it in there for a while – sassy spanners. You’ve no idea what it’s like having everyone expecting you to fix stuff all the time, and no time to remember what I’m supposed to be doing for myself. You know: me, me, me, me me Anyway, what do you mean, ‘just doing your job”?
“What makes you think you’re the only one with a job to be done, Ger?”, said the mouse, which had, by now, clambered up onto the toe of Gerry’s work boot. “For example, take those spanners of yours. Sometimes they ‘hide’ don’t they? – I’ve seen you searching through the box for a special tool that ‘mysteriously’ can’t be found, only to reappear, just as mysteriously, after you’ve stopped looking. Well, their main job is not to turn nuts and bolts – it’s to remind you that, sometimes, the thing you most desperately seek is right under your nose. And that crazy lawnmower, the one that runs perfectly well except in the workshop? That’s there to remind you that there are things that work quite well without your interference. You dig, yet? And blow some of that over here.”
Gerry, though not completely comfortable with the idea that a mouse was, apparently, a casual smoker, nevertheless blew a smoke ring that curled gently across the space and settled elegantly over the mouse’s shoulders. “But I asked you about your job” he said.
“My job, Ger? My main job is to create chaos, so that you have to think harder about what the heck it is you are supposed to be doing. I move stuff around, so it isn’t where you last left it; I watch what you’re doing and, if I get the chance, I hide the next thing you’re going to need. Oh, and I turn the mixture screw on that lawnmower’s carburettor. Generally, I mess up. My other job is to eat your lunch. By the way, I prefer wholewheat bread, not those ditsy crackers that get stuck in my teeth – and don’t believe what they say about mice and cheese – it ain’t true – I prefer fruit. Could we have avocado once in a while?”
Gerry sat quietly for a while before asking the, unavoidable, next question. “And who, Art, dishes out all these jobs in my workshop?” Art was close to exasperation and scrambled up Gerry’s leg, onto his wrist where he could see his eyes and, it must be said, closer to the smouldering end of the cigarette. “Oh Man, you really don’t get it yet, do you? It’s you, you dipstick. You create exactly, and only, what you need around you. None of this is real. Your reality is not the same as mine, is not the same as the spanners’, is not the same as the lawnmower’s, is not the same as anything or anyone else’s. What happens in your workshop, is what you want, or need, to happen. And only that.”
“I see,” said Gerry, “so what you’re saying is that you don’t really exist unless I need you to exist.
Gerry went on “And….my job is….?”
“And your job…is….?”
“And… my job is…. to work out why I need to create these things, sorry, create this particular version of reality?”
“BINGO again! And…?”
“I’m sorry, Art… I don’t know; and what?”
Art stamped his feet with frustration and pointed over his shoulder with a thumb, “Oh man, don’t give up now, you’re so close. Think! Nothing happens in there without your say so. The accidents, the machines that won’t run just right, the tools that go missing, the forgotten ….come on man, the forgotten……”
Gerry searched round his head, swatting at ideas like a butterfly collector with a net. The penny finally dropped and he said, rather tentatively, “The forgotten…… reason for me being in there in the first place?”
“Yay! BINGO! BINGO! BINGO! Give the man a prize from the top shelf! The whole point of this reality is to remind you of your reason for existence, why you get up in the morning, why you breathe. It’s all about focus.”
“So, when I’ve worked out the why, and I remember it, what then? But Art had vanished.
Over the coming weeks and months a subtle change came over the workshop. Things stayed where they were put, tools didn’t hide so much, the lawnmower got out more and Gerry remembered, most days, why he opened the workshop door. Some of his lunch still disappeared though, especially when there was avocado.
© Andrew Gold