Redemption or Condemnation
(certainly no kind of conclusion)
Wallace’s trowel turned over the mud in whirlwind motions, mesmerising him. Sebastian, his dignified, auburn cat, sat behind with pricked ears and darting eyes, also fascinated by the grinding movement. He loosely contemplated whether those churnings breathed or bled. Perhaps, Sebastian thought in feline purr, there was a heart and life in the dirt. It certainly looked like it was breathing. Therefore, it seemed natural to conclude that the blunt, diamond-shaped tool, which Wallace continued to brandish, was an instrument of the hunt.
This reminded him he was hungry and, with a soft, intuitive mew, he signalled such to his companion. By that point, Sebastian had no doubt or scepticism in his line of thinking. The mud was alive in some way, and would probably end up in his stomach soon – most things did. With his mind easily distracted, the thought soothed his digestive protests for a moment before he noticed Wallace had not acknowledged his quiet cry. He tried again, slightly louder, hoping.
‘Soon!’ Wallace called with a jolly-bounced boom that seemed genuinely content. It was only two years previous to this moment that Wallace could barely stand up from the mire of misery. Since, he was too satisfied with his garden and Sebastian to even notice the change in his own outlook. Although he finally grew the clarity to avoid stubbing a toe on the cat’s litter tray (having replaced his now deceased dog’s cracked bowl), he simply didn’t perceive his newfound grace – for fulfilment does not make its presence known so painfully as confusion or emptiness.
As he twirled his entrenched trowel deep in the muck-bed, he noticed not its synchronisation with a coffee’s repetitive stirring. He had quit caffeine, and cold turkey had worked surprisingly well. Despite continuing on the same motions day after day regardless, stencilled across his years like a mosaic, he seemed to have learnt his lesson. Perhaps it was because he no longer bombarded his mind with a heady cocktail of drugs and nostalgia; he hadn’t thought of his old writing career or characters in longer than he could note. Thus he was left, in the smallest of terms, happy.
But for Sebastian, Wallace’s familiar shout – although promising eventual attendance – wasn’t enough. Hopping down from his brick-perch throne silently, he couldn’t help feeling hard done by. He was hungry, and he had announced this. Twice. Still, nothing had been done. Sebastian expected better than that, and Wallace could have easily mistaken the cat’s head rubbing against his thigh as affection. Instead, he knew what Sebastian wanted and appreciated the simplicity of his demand.
Simplicity. Wallace had started to like the phonetics of the word as much as he liked its implications. If he looked back on the life he had led, which he sparsely did, he would have found it such a chaos of passion. Was the time he had spent with former friends and foes even worth the endurance? Had Petey or Sally taught him like he had hoped they would children?
‘Alright,’ he began, tickling the lobe of his diminutive friend, ‘give these old knees a minute.’ In reply, and with the same tonal resonance as before, Sebastian meowed back a humble thank-you. As Wallace rose, smelling the sweet air at its fullest and smiling, he felt a hammer of understanding while his knees creaked – his ever-faithful cat watching on. Recalling again the note he had received from Emil Douglas only short years ago, he finally began to realise some shadow of an elusive meaning to life.
The words fell onto the page as his memory reconstructed the letter. It said something about how the studio had liquidised all the show’s hard copies; apparently considered clutter and too unpopular with a burgeoning generation. Douglas had seemed genuinely tactful, breaking it as “bad news” and appearing to assume the revelation would upset him. Wallace remembered this clearly. It was more striking to him that his old, conniving colleague would speak with care than anything else. For a while before receiving the note, he had himself considered that the show’s downfall seemed inevitable. After all, he had beaten the studio to it when he deleted his own script copies.
After too long of feeling that bilious bellyache synonymous with being reminded of Douglas’ creative rape, the literal destruction of his toils was both a reversed catharsis and a great relief. He could forget his cast of characters, maybe even work on his garden like he always dreamed of. Instantly thinking upon reading Douglas’ words, he decided he could definitely commit to that cat he had wanted.
Back out of his thoughts and remembrances, he had finally started his practised slow-gait shuffle towards the kitchen. He looked down, himself easily diverted, and still found it surprising how Sebastian would match his pace politely; he could run like a bullet if he had to. This made him feel that thick ooze of giddy gratification rise in his chest, and he couldn’t help manifesting it in a laugh. He had felt this often since Douglas’ note.
The note, he thought as his mind slipped lethargically back on track. There was that one other thing about the note… He had read the main bulk of the information three times over before even noticing it. Douglas had probably deliberately scrawled the words smaller than the rest in an ashamed effort to keep them hidden. To him the words were, most likely, incredibly hard and painful to write. Wallace had found reading them, however, an act of profound finale.
P.S. – I re-read some of our scripts. I am sorry.
It begged the question of how much he had truly accepted redemption, when you consider why he didn’t say what he was sorry for. In a way this added to Wallace’s perceived conclusion; Douglas’ vague apology representing a final chaotic complexity before impending waves of self-imposed simplicity. Nevertheless, through all the clouded jetsam of that life-period’s madness, he understood that Emil Douglas – a constant shackle around his creativity – repented his actions.
Along with the physical annihilation of his works, this seemed to stand as all too perfect of an ending to a chapter of life. Now he had the cat, and his garden was the best in the neighbourhood. A new tome had begun for Wallace, and he was far too embroiled in it to muse on anything previous.
He reached towards the entrance ahead with shaking, brittle fingers. As he struggled with the awkward handle-swivel, Sebastian pushed his head against the door. The little ginger cat genuinely believed this assisted in some way, and he was just as mistaken as when he assumed the mud could breathe. But it prepared him for when Wallace could finally click open the strange barrier, where he was ever-ready to leap through it as it crept slowly ajar. This, like most of Sebastian’s modest movements, made Wallace smile again his soft, simple smile.
Perhaps it’s true that there were no longer any tingling, grand excitements for him. Indeed, what need would he have for these now in his rolling old age? The feeling he had when he slapped his knees with pride, striking the final keystroke of an early script so long ago, didn’t seem as important when Wallace placed it alongside the chasms of gloaming gloom he embraced in sacrifice. And, like his fresh smiles, that had now seemed all too simple.
So, with his slippers shifting to shuffle audible scuffles on the tile of his kitchen, he had a new routine. Gardening tools, tinned meat and vintage movie marathons lazily stole the relay from word processors, coffee and smoke; and Wallace felt the warm, indefinite benefit. But, with a real physical death hiding somewhere close ahead, this routine would be permanent. A regular cycle of light, almost crisp, banging from cupboards like punctuation marks, Sebastian’s swishing-brush tail in his peripherals and that sandy, wretched stench of cat food was all he could expect until he himself would meet his makers.
All that was left for Wallace was to determine whether an afterlife could hold its own Immortality – but it could just as easily be true that his fate laid in a complete fade from human memory; a total lack of any form of existence. Wallace had decided it was up to fatality to answer that question, and was left gladly content with the remaining days, weeks and months of his life.
Douglas, on the other hand, lived whatever odd, sodden being he had left in despair smattered awareness. He too seemed to have learnt a lesson, only his wasn’t so comforting. For him, realising mistakes seemed to hold the inevitable loom of an unbearable conscience. The life he did have left, he spent in a mirror to Wallace’s worst years – propped up by vices and fuelled by a debilitating desolation.
And what of poor Petey and his friends at Manimal Farm? Officially, they no longer existed – but The Ghost, in his Immortal subterfuge, had long proved that strange things happen. After all, ACME’s existence itself (along with its ancient incarnations) helped show that the possibilities of life are somewhat unlimited. Perhaps a home-recorded tape of Petey’s antics would make its way through as familial hand-me-down? There may always be chance or hope in any spiritual plane. Be it physical, conceptual or imagined, life’s intricacies and understandings remain coldly closed and complex.
Yet, while we may never know the true fate of our opening subject, it is important to pose questions that could play part in a determination of his conclusion. What will you take or learn from ACME’s tale of woe and waste?
Will you remember Petey Porksworth?