Gasping for a hit, Carl made himself a fresh cup of coffee. But big-nosed and bat-eared, when he tried to slam it, the steaming brown liquid dribbled down his chin to piddle over his pink tie and white shirt. His accountant’s uniform.
‘Fuck!’ He’d forgotten the stitch-up already. His lips weren’t even that sore. His doctor had done a fine job. No gaps. Nothing could get into his mouth now. Not the normal way. Ingenious. Time was at a premium, that is if he didn’t want to be scalded. So with a tea towel, Carl did his best to sop up all the coffee off his face and clothes. Behind him, the door swung open. And from where, with a crash, the handle had hit the wall, some flaking paint fell to the floor. Looking down, before she stepped over it, in came his wife.
‘We have to get that door fixed.’
She saw it. The gold thread razzle-dazzling his mouth. Extra strength.
‘So after I specifically told you not to, you went and got your mouth stitched up, didn’t you? Isn’t that right? You disgust me Carl.’
Taking off his coffee-stained jacket and tie, he looked directly at Nicola, who mimicked a quite convincing fit of dry retching, and then said,
‘You’ll be sick now and have to swallow your own vomit. You’ve gone and done it, haven’t you? You’ve only gone and done it.’
‘Yes. I have gone and done it. I’m not getting the sack. No way.’
At which, she jumped back from him.
‘What the hell sort of a sound was that?’
‘It’s my new voice. Rather thought you’d like it, Nicola. You were always a Columbo fan, weren’t you? Still are, far as I know. It’s the voice of Peter Falk, isn’t it?’
‘Trying to be funny Carl? Because I’ve a left foot here that’ll soon sort that out, when swiftly raised to your anatomy’s pendant parts.’ She said this, moving in towards him.
‘Hold on. See this pimple on my chin? Right in the middle? Come closer for a look, because it’s been fitted quite snugly.’
‘Yeah, I can see it alright. Wasn’t there this morning, when you left for the office.’
‘I know it wasn’t. Because it’s not a pimple. It’s the Chin-Box 3.2. Now that they’ve stitched my lips together, henceforward I’ll talk out of it. Oh, and I can tune it to any voice in the world.’
Akimbo, Nicola stared into his talking Chin-Box 3.2, as she picked up his coffee cup. The hankie he handed her was for the dregs that dribbled down her chin, as in one gulp, she drained what was left.
‘You mean to say, out of all the voices in the entire world, you picked Peter fucking Falk from Columbo? Is that what you’re telling me through your Chin-Box 3.2, Carl? Well, is it?’
To this, Carl said nothing, now unbuttoning his white shirt. He took it off, and Nicola watched his hairy chest throw the shirt, along with the pink tie, into the washing machine. His hairy spine then walked past her to the far side of their small apartment. Where, from the bedroom wardrobe, he took out a fresh white t-shirt which, in small print on the front read, ‘With Millions of Invisible Advertisements.’
Returning to the kitchen, he answered, ‘Yes, Nicola. It is. That’s what I’m telling you. Through my Chin-Box 3.2. And as I said, I won’t be getting sacked any time soon. Now, the next time I sneeze, there’s no danger that my nose will fall off of my face. We’re ok for rent. Well, for the next while, at least. And for the foreseeable future, I’ll be talking out of my Chin-Box 3.2, so get used to it.’
‘Was that the actor, Leonardo Di Caprio just then?’
‘No. It was a mixture of 50% Donald Duck and 50% Bono. I think. I’m only getting used to the controls. Messing around a bit.’
‘Who knew that combination would sound like Leo Di Caprio. I must have a look at how you did that. But you’re trying to play on my love of hip-hop. You’ll not get around me that easily. Did I not say to you, “Don’t get your mouth stitched up, Carl?” That it’s unproven in the fight against the Gordian Worm Virus? Didn’t I?’
‘Yes, you did. And your bat-eared boy didn’t listen. Because you’re wrong.’
Stomping over to the other side of the kitchen table, Nicola fished around in her handbag for a small box which, in front of Carl’s big nose, she placed on the table.
‘Is that what I think it is, Nicola?’
She pulled up a chair to sit at the table, and crossing her arms, looked him straight in the eye.
‘It is, Carl. In my view, the Eat-Babies theory is correct. The Stitch-Your-Lips-Up theory is pure gastroenteritis. Inconsistent and dribbly, indeed. This here is a small box of baby G worms that I’ll eat, and in so doing, become immune to their poison. It’s like that old Turkish delight of a king, Mithridates of Pontus taking small amounts of poison. So many people wanted to kill him, but he developed an immunity. Quite ingenious really. Millions of years BC this was. And people were quite thick back then, relatively speaking. So that’s what I’m going to do, Carl.’
‘Won’t they just lay eggs in your body? And therefore those eggs will travel to your brain, hatch and lay more eggs. Hatch, and eventually, when you sneeze, your nose falls off. They’ll burst out of your head, leaving you completely sacked, forthwith.’
‘No Carl. They’re dead baby worms. Dead.’
‘Oh well. Dead babies. That makes it all right doesn’t it? Do you have any sort of conscience?’
‘No. They’re worms, Carl. Just worms. I can’t afford a conscience and by the way, neither can you. If it were otherwise, we’d all be sacked. Now, it’s your turn to get used to it. So please do. I’m eating worms. Dead baby G worms. And I’m making sure to chew each one at least twenty times before swallowing, as the very nice chap in the shop told me to do.’
Around the wooden kitchen table, the two of them sat in silence, staring at the box before them. Inside the box, dead baby worms were floating in some kind of fluid.
‘You know Kevin, from downstairs on the second floor?
Of course I do. You know I do, Carl. Nice man. He works for the Post Office or whatever it’s called now.’
‘Not any more, he doesn’t. His nose fell off last week. Got sacked before his two nostrils hit the ground. Seems they’re evicting him from the building tomorrow. If it hasn’t happened already. In the middle of the night. With baseball bats.’
Nicola pushed back from the table. Her chair scraped noisily across the wooden floor.
‘What sort of a voice was that?’
Carl was fiddling about furiously with the Chin-Box 3.2 controller on his phone.
‘70% Margaret Thatcher and 30% Ronald Reagan, I think. Might’ve been a bit of George Dubya in there as well. Thinking of using that as my new work voice. What do you think? It’d be great for any promotions coming up.’
‘I think if you’re talking like that, getting your lips sewn together with golden thread has done far worse things to your mind than ever having Gordian worms running wild about it. Like, how will you sleep in your condition?’
I’ll sleep fine, Nicola. Don’t worry about that.’
‘No you won’t. I sleep beside you every night, and I know. You haven’t thought this through. Budgeting being your forte, you’re supposed to be an accountant for god’s sake. Even before you got your lips sewn together, every second night, religiously, at 3 am, you saw giant insects coming in through the bedroom windows. With less air getting in to your bunged-up mind, God only knows what you’ll see. With less and less circulating your head, by the end of the month, I’ll be married to a person whose brain is the size of an amoeba. Can’t believe those adverts finally convinced you to stitch yourself up. This isn’t on, Carl. You’re a fucker, and you know it. How will you eat?’
Standing, he went to his light blue holdall. The one with the two gold stripes, which now matched the thread in his lips. His hands rummaged inside for a considerable length of time until, onto the kitchen table, he slapped something long and snakelike.
‘Via my Cheek-Tube, Nicola. That’s how I’m going to eat. Through my Cheek-Tube 400.’
Backing away from him, she nearly collided with the door, shaking her head from side to side to side to side and foaming at the mouth.
‘So from now on, you’re gonna eat through a tube?’
‘A tube? Really?’
‘Yes. It’s the Cheek-Tube 400. Top of the range. I just insert one end of the tube into my cheek like so, where they’ve cut a small tube-hole insertion point, if you can see it, and then put the other end of the tube into my food, and press this button on the side, and hey presto Nicola, HEY PRESTO!’
Selecting a breakfast bowl with rainbow butterflies on the outside, into it he put three Weetabix. And after an unstinting splash of cold milk, he pushed the appropriate end of the tube into the bowl. With no noise or effort whatsoever, up his Cheek-Tube 400, the Weetabix disappeared, travelling in a more mashed and condensed form, to the inside of his mouth. Then through theatrical ums, and ahs, while he was chewing, gulping, swallowing, and speaking in different voices, he said through his Chin-Box 3.2, ‘Watch this!’
‘I can chew, swallow and talk all at the same time. Look Ma! No hands! From now on, at work, my productivity will sky rocket. It’s a win-win for everybody. I won’t be able to sneeze anymore, because my lips are stitched together, Nicola. The World Health Organisation has stated quite categorically that before anyone sneezes they open their mouth and then a-tish-hoo a-tish-hoo a-tish-hoo. If you can’t open your mouth then no a-tish-hoo a-tish-hoo a-tish-hoo can happen, and therefore no sneezing ever again. This means my nose won’t fall off. If, at any point, I’m infected with the G Worm virus, and forced by my boss, into a Pass-the-Hankie scenario, I’ll be able to blow at my own pace. Nice and slow. Or fast and furious! But my nose won’t fall off my face, because I can’t open my mouth. I’m back in complete control again! Cool Carl, your bat-earred boy wonder. Nicola, even if I do manage to catch the virus my nose won’t fall off. I won’t be sacked. Don’t you get it?’
‘I get it. It won’t work. But I do get it. The WHO are wrong. You will sneeze again. But if you believe in all that gastroenteritis hokey-cokey, well then that’s fair enough. I’m not arguing with you any more, Carl. Life’s too short. I’m tired. It’s a bollocks theory but go ahead, it’s your own life to live out how you please. I’m only your wife. Sure why would you even consult me? Eh? Why? I’m only a poor little know-nothing solicitor.’
‘Nicola, Eileen McCruddy’s nose fell off this morning. And so too did her husband’s. Do you know Sarah Mince?’
‘Well, her nose fell off as well. Do you know Tom Tiddle?’
‘Well his nose fell off three times this year already. He’s lost three jobs as a result. In the current recrudescence of the virus, it’s getting more and more expensive to get someone to sew it back on again. Do you know Marty Smarty?’
‘Well, his nose fell off as well. Yesterday.’
‘If this goes on much longer, we’ll have no neighbours or friends left. I’m scared, Carl. Everything is shit. So very shit. Fuck it. I’m doing it now. I have to go to work on Monday. I’m eating dead worms right this minute.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘No, I’m not sure about anything anymore, but I’m doing it anyway. I can’t get my mouth stitched up. I’d suffocate, I would. I’m not built like you. I’ve no other choice.’
They sat back down, around the table.
‘Nicola, have you talked to Susan lately?’
‘Yes. We talk every day on the phone. Practically every three or four hours, these last few weeks, since I marooned myself temporarily into our apartment.’
‘I’m sorry, but I have to tell you. Her nose fell off at the weekend. She lost her job on Monday, and she’s being evicted tomorrow morning.’
‘What? Carl, she has to come and stay here with us. Most law firms don’t accept no-nosers, even for their first offence. Why didn’t she tell me herself? I was only talking to her earlier this morning on the phone.’
‘She was afraid how you’d take it, in your current dread fear of contracting the virus hyper-hysteria. Nicola, are you sure you’re okay with letting her stay here?’
‘Of fucking course I am. You’re disgraceful if you think I’d have a problem with letting one of my best friends move in with us for a while. We were at law school together. Disgraceful. Do you have a problem with it? Do you, Carl? You fucker!’
‘No, of course I don’t. In fact, I’ve already arranged everything with Susan. She’s all packed and down in the foyer of our building. Just waiting for the okay to come up. Knew I had to check with you first. We’re living in a mad world at the moment. Nothing is certain.’
Nicola rushed over to Carl and threw her arms around his shoulders. She started to cry.
‘I should’ve known you wouldn’t let me down. I love you, Carl. Thank you. Though she should have confided in me first. It’s dreadful she didn’t. Unbelievable really.’
Putting her lips on his, she kissed him hard. Or tried to. Forgetting his lips were stitched up.
‘However golden and shiny the thread, kissing stitched-up lips is absolutely dehumanising. Carl, this has no feeling or warmth whatsoever. How will we survive as a couple without the comfort of kissing?’
Plunging his left hand down his trouser pocket, he took out an apparatus.
‘These are my Loving Lips 4,000. They were included with my Stitch-Up bundle at the doctor’s. Seems I just attach them over my stitched-up lips and hey, presto! Kiss me and find out how good they are, Nicola. Come on. Kiss me! Kiss me! Kiss me! It has a robot tongue with AI. 4,000 wurps per second.’
‘You just made that up, didn’t you?’
‘Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know what the 4,000 stands for. Unfortunately, wurps don’t exist yet.’
Tears streamed down her face, and with the hankie, dabbing at her eyes, she moved towards him. When he too, moved towards her, she closed her eyes and again they kissed. But this time, Kerboom! Bang Boom! Boom! Boom! Like Sidney Opera House fireworks. On New Year’s Eve.
‘These don’t feel, in any way, like your old lips. Nice though. I’ll give you that, Carl. Nice indeed. Wurps, eh?’
They kissed again.
‘Can you kiss and talk at the same time?’
‘Do George Clooney.’
‘A bit old for you, isn’t he?’ said Carl, in a Donald Duck / Ricky Gervais melange.
‘Just do it, Carl. Do George Clooney. And stop trying to put me off my food with Ricky fucking Gervais.’
‘I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that. I’d feel a bit violated to be honest, Nicola.’
‘And mix it with Fred from the corner grocery store.’
‘He’s a bit young for you, Nicola. I’m shocked. Where has all this come from?’
‘Just do it Carl. Without telling me, you got your mouth stitched up. It’s gonna be for at least a year. You owe me big time. Just bloody do it!’
‘Ok. Ok. Ok.’
The banging on their apartment door was Susan. Unable to contain herself any longer, she turned the knob and walked into their living space. The nose she’d already had sewn back on, was running quite badly. By the look of it, probably a backstreet job. She was sweating too. Shaking Carl’s hand, she said, ‘Thanks Carl and Nicola. Thanks so very much for letting me stay with you for a while. I owe you one. Will pay you back when I get another job. Promise.’ And with this, she sneezed. Twice. Into his face. By accident. At least her nose didn’t fall off. Even so, she looked mortified. Depending on how many times you’d already had it re-sewn beforehand, most nose-jobs lasted 7-8 weeks. But with these backstreet jobs, who knew?
To reassure her, Carl put his right hand into the air to give her the thumbs-up. And in the Chin-Box 3.2 Tarantino voice, he said, ‘You see Nicola, I’ve still got my nose. As I speak, my stitch-up is already paying dividends. Just like the YouTube adverts said it would.’
Running to the kitchen table, Nicola ripped open her box of worms, and forthwith, put two dead babies into her mouth. As directed by the very nice chap in the shop, she chewed twenty times, and then swallowing hard, re-joined the others.
‘Welcome to our home, Susan. Welcome.’