~~INSIDE JOE PANIC
My name is Joe Panic. Not my real name or biological name or whatever but less fanciful, I think, than Vincent Oblivion, my other identity. In the past, I have been known as Mark Dark (too porno), Kirk Black (too Star Trek) and Vernon Death whose identity I think stole from a guy running a seafood concession in Frinton-on-Sea. Actually, to say I have been "known as" is stretching it a bit as I have informed no-one of these name changes except my sister Lucy who refuses to acknowledge any pseudonyms.
Still, I am Joe Panic. It is a cool name, a classy name. More importantly, it is a name that has an edge to it. It’s good to have an edge, not to be too well-rounded. Lucy has observed that if I want a name with an edge to it I should call myself Cliff. Of course, such miserable attempts to provoke me are futile.
Being Joe Panic will be a magnificent adventure. I may even take “adventure” as a middle name. Joe Adventure Panic! No. Sounds too much like a Theme Park ride. This must be an exercise in cool. A flair production. It will be putting on a Rolling Stones T-Shirt over too-tight jeans. Drinking J D and Coke (Diet) and wearing sunglasses at night. Owning more than one motorcycle yet being unafraid of the vagaries of Public Transport and it is definitely having a girlfriend who doesn't always wear a uniform.
Don't misunderstand me. I am not so shallow as to be image conscious. I really don't get out enough for that. A fashion victim, maybe. A casualty of culture, Lucy calls me, but true adventure is not dependent upon appearance, it is all about style which comes from within. My thrills aren't spills and I seriously detest overkill. If there's one thing I am not, it’s reckless.
Not rash, not careless or thoughtless or impetuous or devil-may-care (he won't). Neither irresponsible nor foolhardy works for me. A little bit daredevil, yes, and slightly madcap, ok. Always audacious, never impulsive. That's me. That is my sort of adventure. You know, James Dean with a seatbelt. Errol Flynn but with a condom. Elvis without the 70's. I know enough about high-speeds to realise I don't want them. I've had sufficient experience with drugs to be sure that I want no more and I understand too much about life or death decisions not to be aware that most of them aren't our own.
Nevertheless, I am Joe Panic and I want that adventure but first I have a mission. Lucy says that should read omission so I'm ignoring her. Younger sisters should be seen and not heard which may be a little confusing for her. Being dead and all. Got hit by a car, she did. Big, long, shiny, red thing. Nine hundred miles an hour. Twenty feet in the air she went but I just couldn't catch her. I was right there but I couldn't reach her. She's been a cynic ever since.
So. The mission.
It's a one way, one shot, one chance, do-or-die mission. As far as missions go this is The Alamo. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. All of that stuff. So, quite simply, the mission is to wake up.
What! I hear you cry. Wake up! That's not a mission. People do it every day of their lives (except one, I suppose). It is not dangerous or even difficult. In fact, it’s easy.
Well, it’s not so easy if you can't move a muscle. Not a finger. Not a toe. Not a twitch. It is not easy at all if your eyes are locked shut and your tongue doesn't work. Really tough if you can't feel anything except your mind. Indeed, it is the single hardest thing that I can think of but I do have one thing going for me. I can still hear everything.
By some miraculous, evil, ironic, useless chance, I can hear the machines that keep me breathing. Electronic beeps that speak for me. The people who tend to me, talking to me for a while and then not. The sobs and cries from people through the night. I guess it must be night as they snore as well. I can hear the swish of my girlfriend's uniform, the clang of bedpans, the tinkle of far-away laughter even the hiss of Lucy's impatience. A symphony of other people's bright lives played in the distance. In the blackness, I can imagine the colours. (I have dreams in colour but I am never quite sure when they end.)
I think I enjoy the noise. Sometimes I hang on to it like a lifeline. Of course, I couldn't shut it out even if I wanted to but sound is movement, movement is people and people are life. What a thing it is to be surrounded by life. I hope Lucy is not listening too closely, she thinks the whole thing is overrated.
And so the sounds of recent events have moved the mission status up to active. All systems go (except I only have one). Conversations around me, ignorant of my cognisance, have alerted me to my peril. Hopeless. Irreversible. Lost. Words like hammers.
Between tears and prayers, apologies and moans I listen to the voices. I concentrate on their comments and examine their meaning. If I could tremble, I would. If I were able to cry, I should scream. I try to fulfil my mission. I am Joe Panic. Wake up!
Then the eulogies are over and the lamentations begin. A kiss I can’t feel. A wave that I cannot see. The sound of a ventilator dying like Lucy’s last sigh. The click of a flick of a switch. Mission Control, over and out. Now I hear nothing but I think that I feel the silence.
I was Joe Panic but I failed my mission.
Time for Vincent Oblivion.
Time for a new adventure.