"And the dad says, 'Son, you gotta stop this wankin', it'll ruin your eyesight' and the son says 'Dad, I'm over here'..."
Bred of northern pigs, mind embedded firmly in sewage, the victim of a cunt conspiracy, a stitch up-
this is the shape of my rage, this is me
"Bill says to Ben, 'Swallow it you marred bastard.'"
The fiery rumbling in his stomach and the attendant cramp, a peeved duodenal ulcer or cancer of the colon, the colour and form of his stool would decree. Black and tarry, the result of hiding for years his true malevolence by playing the servile buffoon, so as not to offend the resolute mediocrities surrounding him. Look dumb and laugh at the correct intervals, that was the best cover story of all. Suit and tie shit preferable?
"Jolts the stiffs pissed in the vault, that does..."
One morning, after all your vows that life will change, you discover your body has yielded to the subliminal prompting. You awake and shave and wash and notice a livid red mark on your hairless chest, an image suggestive of a cigarette stubbed out on the flesh.
All that needed to be done, left so.
All to be said, missaid.
"Chedgzoy found a lump," said Lesser.
"So that's why you're so engrossed and all. Being a gent I didn't want to draw attention to your indifference, you a dizzy fuck as well," said Gross, tossing his crumpled chip packet into the pigeon shit adorned bin.
"It's benign. The kind of thing you find on old ladies' cheeks ."
"How do you know," asked Lesser, his wounded voice annoying Gross. Exhaling with studied weariness, Gross rolled his eyeballs theatrically and said to Lesser in a vaguely patronising tone, "His wife phoned me. She fucking phoned everyone. It was fuck all, just that neurotic bitch kicking off again."
"How is Sam?"
"How is Samuel? Suffocated and full of hate as usual. I think the poor bastard wishes it had been malignant."
Lesser felt enervated by the disclosure and it showed.
"Fucking hell. Here we go again."
"What?" said Lesser.
"You. Mister sunshine," spat Gross, rocking from one monolithic buttock to the other, his chubby fingers scuttling through his greasy dark hair as he lasciviously coveted the barely touched sausage and chips resting on Lesser's knee.
Irked yet feeling compelled to justify himself in the countenance of Gross' sneering disdain, Lesser droned, "Well, no matter, it's just that I thought, you know, you find a tumour and-"
"I thought so," said Gross, "I've not seen you like this since that old salt got cut in half on the pedestrian crossing near you."
"You're a nice man, Gross."
"Fuck's sake, trade some of that overweening compassion in. You're just a recipe for multiple neuroses. Flesh corrupts, gratis, death is dished out to the undeserving, and all the stuff of life goes on, all this wonderment." He waved his arm with a flourish.
"Alright, I concede," said Lesser, archly crumpling his posture to exaggerate his resignation.
"Good lad. Bright and breezy, that's how the Area Manager likes them."
"My weakness is persistent."
Gross shrugged his shoulders insouciantly to signify his disdain.
"What time you in tomorrow morning?"
"I'll be there. It's the monthly chitty."
"I'm asking for a move," whispered Lesser, "to another selling zone," he finished croakily. His blanched pallor and manifest timidity embarrassed Gross. In a cheap suit of funereal cut, excremental shade and coarse texture, tall, fleshless and stooped. Reeling under the burden of those who stare longingly through net curtains, Lesser's presentation was redolent of an arthritic dog in search of carrion.
Better let him sleep?
"The Great Wall of China," laughed Gross with a touch too much bonhomie.
"What?" said Lesser, slack jawed and knees juggling the cooling polystyrene tray.
"There should be no problem. Caul gave up Area C ages ago. Now you eating that?"
His nose wrinkled and rodent like, Lesser demurred with a camp waft of the hand. Spearing the ketchup choked sausage, Gross raised the plastic fork to his lips.
"My guts have been off lately. I know I'm skinny but normally I have a reasonable appetite."
The crown of what resembled a circumcised prick filling his mouth, Gross pointed the fork at Lesser and said, "You one of those skinny cunts who can tuck it away and not put anything on. Me I only look at the Chinese across the road and I spring another love handle."
Gross quickly devoured the contents of the tray while Lesser, revolted by the former's loud consumption and uninhibited relish, watched the pigeons eat pie crusts on the circle of sun bleached grass, a bedraggled cluster of rose bushes at its centre. The park was slowly becoming swelled with people taking advantage of their lunch hour to soak up the sun and eat al fresco, and Lesser felt claustrophobic and self conscious. The stench of hot-dogs and onion drifting from the white van at the top of the grass verge nauseated him, and the insect chatter of those gathered in front of it heightened his sense of discomfiture.
"Gross, I'll have to go soon."
Licking the polystyrene tray, his tongue soaking up acetic acid and sodium chloride, Gross gargled, "Wait, I need a shit."
Gross dropped the tray in the bin. Ants drowning in a sticky plastic bottle.
"I'll walk down in a moment. Where you parked up?"
Lesser told him.
"Now I risk murder and sodomy," said Gross, gesturing in the direction of the steel bunker with the sheet metal door that, the sign next to the entrance assured was checked every two hours and locked at 5 p.m. winter time and 8 p.m. in the summer.
"So why the big move?"
"Dismal and dim. Just a sea of dentures, diabetes and death."
"Kill it, I sell piss for champagne too," said Gross.
"It's too easy. I think our firm's success...is that we cater for the lonely. The product is secondary, I could be flogging Zyklon B for what it's worth. I feel like a fucking rapist."
Gross winced at the aggressive insertion of the profanity, it reeked of artifice.
"The grass is greener," said Gross, haunted by knitting patterns.
"What are the other areas like?" asked Lesser, chewing the inside of his cheek.
"None of it is much. Your patch is easiest. Just accept the routine," said Gross.
"I may reconsider," said Lesser prissily.
Gross slapped a paternal hand on his subordinate's forearm and said, "You think about it."
He looked at his watch.
"Nearly a full day to stew on it. Dear, the tortoise's head is poking. Hope they don't have that wax toilet roll, last time I used that on a train I had a skidmark up me spine."
Gross stood up and loosed a bored fart. Pig eyes. Dark sockets. Complexion pock marked, like he'd been pelted with hot grit. A crumpet stamper, that's what his grandmother called the similarly afflicted florist. His superior's physiognomy fascinated Lesser. Pipe cleaner arms and legs, chainstore suit, the tightwad, Gross was propelled forward by an overhanging gut which seemed determined to drag him to the ground.
Tottering on the balls of his feet to the lavatory, short rapid strides, Gross' arms cleaved the air in a successful attempt to preserve his balance. He shot Lesser a look of trepidation before disappearing into the bunker. Alone, the old doubts returned.
My masses, my beloved decaying masses. What shall I do when you are all relegated to the shadows?
...the doctor writes...
Roll on, you dementia addled E heads. I never got mine.
I am not a salesman. I am not here for the soft soap, the hard sell. I merely demonstrate and speak from the heart. I am weak and feeble. I never look anyone in the eye. Nothing much, is all I am. The delusions are long gone, and that's the worst thing of all. So you see, someone as self lacerating as I would not readily endorse any old crap. Please excuse my language, I've had a bad week. Stress and stomach pains. The S-21 is a product I believe in, the finest suckomatic carpet shampooing dust busting anti-allergenic vacuum cleaner on the market. Believe me, I have a personal stake in this. I am an asthmatic and suffer from numerous allergies myself so I can honestly say this product changed my life. Look at all my paraphernalia. Ventolin and Becotide inhalers, Triludan Forte antihistamines. My capricious nostrils have blighted my life. As a child I went to Ormskirk clinic. They rolled up my sleeve and pricked my forearm. It came up in half a dozen lumps. Pollen, cats and dogs, feathers, house dust, freshly cut grass, pasteurised dairy products. All allergens, all waiting to ransack my mucus membranes. Thanks to this quietly humming beauty, the nagging torment of those formative years has been dispelled. Of course, outside I am still prey to these things, but I can truly say my home is my castle, safe from airborne substances. And this vacuum cleaner, this is no mere product placement, this is a lifetime's vocation. S-21. Remember. I am a salesman.
In his head an ephemeral image, spectral figures peering at him through a gap in the net curtains, waiting for the eternal darkness to cleanse them.
My arse, thought Lesser. A crack den equipped with the obligatory pitbull, surely that must be preferable to this death in life. Lesser looked at the demonstration request form, the address was barely legible, a disabled scrawl of black crayon. Rather than risk an hernia, he decided to confirm the demonstratees were in residence before he lugged out the S-21 test module. It was hot and clammy. He loosened his tie and left his jacket in the car. He stuffed a bundle of documents into his trouser pocket. Walking briskly down the U-shaped path that delineated the cul-de-sac, Lesser kept his head lowered, feeling the oppression of unseen eyes, hearing the murmur of unseen lips. A bunch of small boys kicked a ball around listlessly, watched by a sullen adolescent leant against the NO BALL GAMES signpost, on the quadrangle of overgrown grass flanked by dirty paving stones. A red brick council house, semi-detached, just like all the others. The curtains were closed. Lesser hoped he had not stumbled upon a mutual suicide pact or domestic apocalypse. He undid the short length of washing line tethering the wooden gate to the post and stumbled to the front door. It was coated in clumsy strokes of green paint and had a square of thick glass containing a latticework of wire mesh set centrally at shoulder height. He knocked. There was no answer. He knocked again, hard, grazing his knuckles. No answer. Muttering an expletive, Lesser turned on his heel and decided that was it for the day. He heard the key twist in the lock and a bolt undone. Twisting his neck he saw the door open slightly, a chain tauten. A rheumy eye regarded him.
"Hello, my name is Michael Lesser."
The crack in the doorway widened as the chain was removed. An old man, stooped and wizened, his facial contours synthetic, hairless and pink, beckoned him weakly. Lesser offered a puzzled reaction shot. The old man seemed out of it, probably stoned on tranquillisers or painkillers.
"Is this (-) ? I got a little confused, the roads are a nightmare round here, I don't know it very well."
"It is," said the old man, his voice trailing off like his batteries had run out.
"So you'd be Mr Tenant-"
"Yes I am the tenant," shouted the old man.
"Er, yes," said Lesser, momentarily thrown by the old man's disconnected nature. He rallied, "Well, Mr Tenant," and shot out an hand. The old man sunk his head in his hands and moaned softly. He then violently straightened and stared at the proffered hand blankly. The cancer, what was it like, a golf ball tumour swilling in his guts? Bright and breezy, The Man chided.
"My name is Michael Lesser, I work for the personal retail branch of the cable Co. as a commercial demonstrator. I am not a salesman."
Lesser followed the old man into the living room.
Buried in an armchair, Lesser was seated opposite the elderly couple, firmly ensconced in a two seater couch, his heels nervously scraping the carpetless floorboards. Skin prickly and flesh roasted, Lesser stared into the blazing gas fire and thought of the ovens of Dachau. Located above his head was a palm crucifix, tacked onto the torn wallpaper. The curtains had been opened, flooding the room with sunlight. Lesser felt his eyeballs dissolving, his stomach undulating, the stench of atrophying meat and rising damp providing the perfect emetic odour. He swallowed bile. The old man was dressed in slippers, jogging bottoms and a tatty gold woollen jumper. His arms jutted out from the elbow joints obliquely. Lesser dry swallowed. The old woman had her hand in the old man's lap and was fast asleep, her catarrhal snort irritating Lesser. She was in a printed floral dress and her breasts were situated very low, even allowing for gravity's irrevocable erosion. The face was beyond chronological distinction, intimating that the glassy eyes gazing sightlessly out of it had witnessed too much agony. Spittle was collected in the corners of a lipless mouth surrounded by wisps of what resembled pubic hair and her withered feet with the long sharp toenails twitched at irregular points.
"We'll buy the hoover," said the old man.
"Wha-" Lesser's tongue clicked against the roof of his mouth as he attempted to reply.
"We'll sign for the hoover."
"Vacuum cleaner, demonstration," said Lesser, clicking into automatic gear.
"The product is satisfactory."
"Just an half hour of your time," said the old man, shoving his elbow into the old woman's ribcage. Lesser winced at the audible crack. The old woman roused groggily, crumpled with pain, her tongue, like a slice of raw liver, poking in and out of her toothless mouth.
What was this, a reflex action in the throes of imminent extinction, or a display of petulance engendered by the old man's casual brutality? Lesser didn't care much.
"Just thirty minutes..." croaked the woman.
"Tea and biscuits," said the man.
"PG Tips and Kit Kats," elucidated the woman.
"Well, this is highly irregular," said Lesser rallying, drawing sustenance from the fact he was spared the wretched demonstration.
"There are forms to be filled. Firstly, a code of conduct for me, tick a box and sign it."
Did you find the conduct of our representative
1. Very Good
Was his/her attitude
"I'm sorry I was dead to the world," said the woman.
"Sometimes I think I could stick a rat up her snatch and she wouldn't stir," said the old man. The hand in his lap began to pull and knead. Feeling detached from the scene, Lesser closed his eyes and intoned, fingertips rustling in his pockets for the appropriate forms.
"The other is an invoice containing details of the required cash transaction on receipt of your S-21, payable by credit card, cheque, postal order-"
"How are you built?" asked the woman sweetly.
"Hung like a donkey, I bet," slurred the man, lowering his jogging bottoms. Lesser glanced at his watch. Close this honey.
"It ticks so slowly," said the woman, looking away as she took the tiny malformed penis fully in her hand.
"Could you please sign this?" stammered Lesser. The woman was fingering herself while gently masturbating the flaccid cock with her other hand. Lesser was spared the revolting detail of the gynaecological investigation by the voluminous folds of her dress. She removed her lubricated finger and anointed the tip of the man's penis, a loose collection of foreskin between thumb and index finger, characteristic of a walnut, then anointed his thin red lips.
"Salt water," said the man, on the anointment of his penis.
"Sea breeze," said the man, on the anointment of his lips.
After a brief period of silence and inaction the couple readjusted their dress. They stood up and left the room. Lesser heard them noisily ascend the stairs. He thought of running but was convinced his limbs would fail him. He walked to the rear window. A nice back garden, meandering cobblestone path bisecting it, spacious too, a cooking apple tree, nestled snugly at its base, a decapitated plastic doll in a frilly dress. The head, Lesser saw by pinning his cheek to the window pane, was resting in a bed of weeds next to the wooden fence, all blue eyes and tousled blonde hair. The couple were coming down the stairs. Lesser resumed his anxious posture on the armchair. They entered the room, arm in arm, wearing matching raincoats and slippers.
"We're going now," said the man, throwing a set of keys at Lesser. They struck his chest limply.
"Lock up son, will you."
"There's some tea for you in the kitchen," said the woman.
"They've been out a week. Should have defrosted."
They pulled the front door shut on their way out and the room shuddered. Lesser turned off the gas fire and drew the curtains. He tore off his shirt, removed his trousers, kicked off his shoes. In his socks and underpants he went into the poky kitchen and emptied a plate of rancid white meat, slithering off the bone, into a flip-top bin. It landed on top of a pile of faded newspapers and potato peelings. Under the hot water tap he cleaned the plate with a scouring pad and washing up liquid.
He dried his hands on the tea towel. Lying on the couch in the front room, in twilight, checking his testicles for lumps, Lesser thought of hipbones, not properly attached.
The Area Manager paced the confines of his office on the palms of his hands, bored and hoping Gross would show up soon. He had no legs. No one knew how he had lost them, whether disease, accident or absurd jurisdiction of birth and no one, considering his quick temper, felt much like asking him. Legless he looked tough. With the complete quota of limbs, he would have been terrifying. Long meaty arms, formidable torso and his hands, large plates of bone, flesh and gristle. Gross was the only one to mention the legs, but seeing as he was the AM's drinking companion that wasn't saying much. You could speak to Gross frankly and it never went any farther. Each time a different synopsis.
How did you lose the legs?
Terrorist blast, skeletal cancer, hit and run.
Gross didn't ask no more so no one else bothered to ask.
His face was simian and black hair exploded all over.
His eyes were lustreless and gave the impression of refusing to commit while the brain figured things out.
The intercom sounded.
"Mr Gross to see you."
The AM clambered onto his leather backed chair, bolted to the floor, and planted his elbows on the desk. He flipped the switch, "Send him in."
Gross walked in looking pale and hungover.
"Was it cold in the ground this morning," said the AM, baring his sharp teeth. Gross waved away the remark airily, "Vodka, as always."
He lowered himself in a chair opposite the AM.
"Jesus, it's hot in here," said Gross, slipping his jacket off and laying it on his knee.
"The air conditioning's packed in. This office is a pit at the best of times," said the AM, wondering whether to follow Lesser's example with the jacket.
The AM glanced at his notepad.
"Phoned in sick. First day off in his three years of the job."
"He's a good drone. It takes something special to work that patch," said Gross, dying a little, overwhelmed by the humidity, rivulets of sweat coursing down his face, blurring his vision. He dragged his sleeve across his forehead.
"Yes...it requires a certain ...a certain isolation of spirit. He mentioned he'd been mulling over asking for a move, that's what he wanted to see me about, but he's decided firmly against it. Better the devil you know was the cliché he used. Personally, I don't think he'd hack it elsewhere."
"The Great Wall of China," said Gross.
They both laughed. The AM rummaged in his top drawer for a bottle and a couple of glasses.
"How's the vulgar monied prole routine going?"
The AM poured them both a shot of Grouse. Regarding his measure suspiciously, Gross said, "They all still buy it. Except Lesser. That's why I like him. He acknowledges the deceit implicitly with a series of facial tics."
The AM rattled back his drink. "A salesman who finds it too easy to sell, unbelievable," said the AM, disgust evinced in his voice. The jacket came off as the scotch hit the spot. Gross was finally sipping his drink after not inconsiderable deliberation and he ruminated dreamily, "I saw this girl on the train before, legal type. Her face was locked in a cheek quivering rictus, totally mirthless. It's some kind of affliction, muscular paralysis, Paget's disease I think."
"Bell's Palsy. Paget's disease is deformation of the skull," said the AM.
"One day your chops are frozen, and all you've got is a big grin, a big dumb grin."
"Sounds about right for this job," said the AM, pouring himself a drink. Gross pushed the empty glass towards him.
My nose is running. There is an unpleasant taste at the back of my throat. It is not cocaine. Allergies, that much is all. Triludan Forte, though I may get the nasal spray.
I am not a salesman. My name is Michael Lesser.
Say it with me: I Am God.
I'm tired of it all, by Christ I am, buggered and dispossessed, sick to the soul. Remember me, please. I salesman.