Login   Sign Up 


The Apes of Harmony [Prologue]

by Tim Darwin 

Posted: 24 November 2003
Word Count: 2014
Summary: Prologue to a new (and annoyingly amorphous) work in progress. The precision of chaos and its fastidious trajectories of random events; every molecule must eventually be accounted--but I'll be jiggered if I know how I can bring all the separate narrative lines together!

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced


A man awoke seven and a quarter minutes before his alarm clock was due to go off and reached over to disarm it, pleased through his drowsiness to have beaten the machine. He slid out of bed without awakening his wife and threw a greasy bathrobe over his shoulders to stride like a prize-fighter toward the kitchen, manhood flapping and the walls of the mobile home shuddering with each step. He needed to pee but overrode that urge with the discipline of an ex-Marine, priority mission was to set the coffee brewing. Semper fi.

But the percolator had not been emptied the night before and now sloshed cold coffee over his arm as he jerked it toward the sink. He scooped the spent grounds into the Dispos-All, rinsed his oily hand under the faucet, but resisted drying it on his loose-hanging sleeve. Only when the unit was charged and the amber pilot light shining in the gloom did he answer the call of duty in the bathroom.

With paint-stripping morning breath, he squeezed out a smear of toothpaste with hard deliberation. It was an ancient irritant that the tubes dispensed far more than was needed, wastefully leaving an aftertaste to spoil the first third of a cup of coffee. He had spent years mastering a deft stroke that fixed an even patina on the bristles; the sixteen strokes briskly applied to each dental quadrant were a legacy of Boot Camp.

He slipped his arms into the bathrobe and cinched it at the waist before throwing open the curtain in the living room. Beyond the squat homes huddled in the La Paloma Trailer Court a thick bedroll of haze on the horizon was burning gold. Mt. San Gorgonio was almost visible, though no one who did not already know it was there could have distinguished the faint stippling in the smog. Look for it straight on and it vanished, but turn the gaze toward the silhouetted factories and it pulsed vaguely in the periphery, a brooding form more felt than seen. On the roof of the Cucamonga Egg-Packing Plant perched a 40-foot tall fibreglass rooster, a stupendous Chanticleer preparing to rend the morning with the awesome, gathering crow of Armageddon, Cocka-Doodle-Doom! But the monster was mute, had never been known to rouse his harem of battery hens.

The Paper Boy on humming spokes glided by, tossing a rolled copy of the Los Angeles Times to strike the Jockey Boy hitching post squarely on the head and drop at its feet. The Marine hesitated: should he slip on shoes to fetch it? The green gravel of his artificial lawn could be endured with bare feet, but against that was his ingrained, soldier's understanding of footwear. This was an instinct he had despaired of driving home to his ARVN charges during his time with them, village kids who had only known sandals. But feet are part of your arsenal as much as your M-16, a pebble in your boot is as dangerous in combat as a fouled firing pin.

So live and lead by example, except his own shoes were in the closet where he had routinely stowed them the night before, and the sliding door had started squeaking just when he had run out of 3-In-1 Oil. Still not wishing to awaken his wife, he instead borrowed her fluffy pink slippers. It was early and he would be quick, no one would see.

Even from the doorway, he could recognise the Soviet premier on the front-page, and in three strides could read the visible portion of the headline, JFK BLOCKADES--. But as he bent over, his head suddenly exploded, transformed in an instant to a bucketful of crimson soup, sloshing over the green gravel like some hideous minestrone brimming with chunks of watermelon rind. His body dropped flat beside the Jockey Boy, the moon-face of Nikita Khrushchev scowling defiance where his head should have been.

The divorcee in the Airstream across the way--he would have been mortified to know--had been watching him in his fluffy pink slippers but was now also flat on the ground, where she had instinctively fallen only seconds after he had dropped. In a moment, she crawled across and pulled the telephone from the table to clatter on the floor, flinching at the noise. She dialled the police, squeezing a whispered report through her tight throat, too terrified to voice the other thoughts pressing in--that It had started, just as the guest speaker at Monday night's meeting of the San Gabriel Chapter of the John Birch Society had said It could start: infiltration of the airwaves to dupe the public, fluoridation of the water to weaken the citizenry, and then would come--now had come--the first wave of assassinations, eliminating natural leaders of the resistance. It was all true, They could do such things. Had They not already installed a Catholic in the White House and loaded Cuba with missiles?

Two squad cars arrived in less than eight minutes, the patrolmen fanning out, holding to cover where possible and slightly stooping with caution, but also concerned not to show too much caution, that would be embarrassing if it all turned out a false alarm phoned in by, let's face it, an hysterical woman. But the body was indeed there, headless as reported.

No gunshot had been heard by any of the residents, who were now interviewed one by one. Nor had anyone seen an assassin or anyone else for that matter, though one elderly woman reported her suspicions a neighbour's child sometimes stole the Sears & Roebuck Catalogue from her mailbox—and secretly returned it later, but with the lingerie pages excised. A three-hour search of the grounds for a spent cartridge case or other sign found nothing. The police were particularly diligent examining the line of eucalyptus trees running along the north side, where a small patch of scrub land reached down from the hills, but again, nothing of interest was found, except an unopened bottle of beer half-concealed by weeds in a gopher-hole. But it appeared to have been there for some time.

It was only after the body had been taken away for examination that the small, misshapen metal bolt was found that had bored through the newspaper and pulverised the gravel underneath. And it took investigators a further four days to identify this as a component of a hydraulic-piston servo regulator housing that had somehow become detached inside the starboard wing of a Boeing 707—specifically, from TWA Flight 715 from Los Angeles to Dallas/Fort Worth, which daily passed on average some 8 nautical miles south-south-east of the La Paloma Trailer Court. Falling from 28,000 feet at standard acceleration of 32 feet per second per second, the bolt would have taken 14.58 minutes to reach the ground, but prevailing wind blowing north-north-west, along with uplifting thermals emanating from the base of the foothills, could have added perhaps an additional four to four and a half minutes to the time in descent. As near as anyone cared to calculate, the bolt had slipped out of the wing when the flap was engaged somewhere over Chino at 6:52 AM Pacific Standard Time, which was precisely the moment the ex-Marine had awakened and disabled the alarm clock a little under 19 minutes before he was struck down. The coroner stated in his report the victim had died instantly, but secretly he wondered if any death could really be so abrupt, if it did not require an interval, however fleeting, for death to register, as it were. Could there not have been, if only for a second, a throbbing residue of utter bewilderment amongst the smoking morsels of cerebrum?

His wife never forgave herself for having slept through it all, slowly out of the shock came a precipitate of guilt, hardening in time with even less rational accretions. If only she had risen and fetched the paper instead, he would still be here. If only she had got up to make the coffee. In fact, how many variables can there be in an equation where the outcome plus or minus a hundredth of a second is the difference between witnessing a hole suddenly burned into the morning paper and having your brains abruptly splashed over the front yard? If he had braved the gravel barefooted or taken less care with the toothpaste, if the percolator had been emptied the night before or the newspaper landed a foot further on, if his bladder had been a fraction fuller or mite more empty--and that is only the start. If the plane had taken off a moment sooner or later or had been buffeted a little more or less over Chino, if they had bought (how nearly they had!) the neighbouring trailer, or had already taken the mortgage (as they longed) on the little house in Alta Loma, if the sliding door had not reached the threshold of creaking or if he had had some oil on hand when it did—but above all, if he had not loved her and so let her sleep. Had it taken a lifetime only to reach such a precise point, years of hours carefully husbanded and minutes thoughtlessly squandered all netting off in a fixed vector of space-time, the interposition of his cranium in this last fatal trajectory?

The divorcee in the Airstream never accepted it could have been mere chance, persisted in her belief that somehow, someone was responsible, though she never elaborated. But even her unbridled fancy did not begin to exhaust the possibilities. She never considered that perhaps sometime after it had been forged in a Connecticut factory the Jockey Boy hitching post may have been possessed by some wandering daimon, an African Ju-Ju perhaps, evicted from its sacred bush by a Rio-Tinto-Zinc strip mine, its venerators enslaved and its idols polluted beyond all hope of reverence in a dozen different museums—a chthonic entity rudely thrown out of its ancestral land by Titans of Empire and Captains of Industry--or at least, by Lieutenants of Administration. This spirit, let us suppose, slipped through the aether demanding down the years, Who hath stolen my people? until it happened upon a pallet of painted Jockey Boys in the San Bernardino K-Mart, and what were these brightly robed figures if not holy icons, acolytes holding out to the world with divine munificence the sacred symbol of renewal and life everlasting, the Great Circle of Creation? But witness ye how impudent mortals dare sell these emblems of immortality, just as the stolen people had been sold for chattels, so now the Ju-Ju avatar descends to partake the sufferings of its Chosen People, strikes up abode in the Jockey Boy, the Circle shall be unbroken. And lo, it came to pass, that the god was carried forth even unto a sacred precinct wherein was scattered all manner of precious green gem stones, and here were all things made pure and blesséd, righteous was the way of the path from the street, and the deity smiled forth and said that it was good--until THUNK, some clod bounced a rolled newspaper off his head, and mightily did the Ju-Ju wax wroth with errant mankind then, even unto pulling a bolt from a passing aeroplane and therewith smiting the first mortal skull that came to hand.

Or perhaps not. The local paper, the Clifton Progress-Chronicle, baldly if perhaps a touch tastelessly reported the incident under the headline, BOLT FROM BLUE FELLS FORMER MARINE, 47. His widow sold up before Thanksgiving and moved back east, and the next residents were still picking out rust-stained pieces of gravel months after the incident. And that was that.

Except, no one seemed concerned that the falling bolt had been secured by a nut which was still missing and wholly unaccounted. Who could say that, caught in freak eddies of air turbulence or else bouncing around the empyrean with exiled demigods, it wasn't still up there somewhere, waiting for its foreordained moment to hurl back earthwards, tumbling end over end like a dum-dum bullet?

Here endeth the only lesson.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Jubbly at 16:32 on 24 November 2003  Report this post
I loved the style and the details and the circular lesson of buts and ifs that you conveyed. I found it humourous, moving and essential reading. As it's the first chapter I'm very curious as to where it's all heading as it sits nicely as it is as a short story so whatever comes next should be very exciting indeed.


More please


Nell at 17:17 on 24 November 2003  Report this post
Hi Tim,

Extraordinary writing, amazing and thought provoking ideas - where will it all lead? Can't wait to find out!

Best, Nell.

Lessa at 17:37 on 24 November 2003  Report this post

This is excellent! Just when I think I know where you're going with something--BAM, left turn. There are places where I think it could be tightened, the tension lags a bit because of passive voice, but the plotting and the idea behind story just thrill me! To heck with the grammar, I want chapter 2!


Ellenna at 20:28 on 24 November 2003  Report this post
This is excellent from a readers point of view.. it has clarity and absolute control. And you take us where you want us..


Tim Darwin at 21:26 on 24 November 2003  Report this post
Many thanks to all for such encouraging feedback; you are being very generous to a newcomer! This is a departure for me; I have some experience (and even a little confidence) writing stage plays, but have been gnawed at for some years by material, of which this is the first part, which does not fit the medium. An earlier attempt, narrating in first person, was an utter disaster! So, I'm trying again here from a completely different angle: thanks for your time and effort to respond.

I think Lessa's point on the passive voice is spot on, will certainly bear in mind in the rewrites--but I want to see if I can thread my way through the whole narrative first, it's early days! Yikes!

Account Closed at 19:11 on 26 November 2003  Report this post
Fantastic! I love the concept of fate. I can see this as a series of short stories with that as the general theme?


steve at 09:34 on 27 November 2003  Report this post

I really enjoyed this, I don't know if it was meant to be funny but your words had me chuckling. I recommend the book 'Before and After', can't recal the author now, but he had me and my brother crying with laughter; it's so damn funny. The picture on the front is a sheep called Kevin, who explodes.

Speak soon


Tim Darwin at 11:59 on 27 November 2003  Report this post
Many thanks for your kind words, Steve, I'm glad you found the humour, it was indeed meant to be funny, though in a rather dark way (a careful, fastidious man who tries to live by military precision, but dies freakishly wearing his wife's pink slippers, etc.). I don't know Before and After, but I'll keep an eye out for it.

And thanks, Elspeth; you're right, the whole piece shares the theme of fate, and is made up of widely disparate narrative strands, though they do ultimately come together with complete inevitabilty.

The most useful feeling from all of this generous feedback is a sense this piece does OK 'stand alone'; but I can't see that, even if properly trimmed from its current 2,000 words, it would ever find an outlet as a short story. If anyone knows of a niche market for a piece like this--let me know!

Thanks again to all


Terry Edge at 17:12 on 27 November 2003  Report this post

I read the Fig Tree just now and, although I don't know much about plays, thought it was a brilliantly controlled piece of writing. And you've had success with plays.

You say somewhere that this piece is designed to incorporate lots of material you have to hand, and you cite 'Tristram Shandy' as a favourite book. There's certainly more than a flavour of TS here - the inventive digressions and musings on fate. I honestly don't know if it's the kind of writing that would be widely read these days. I tend to write children's fiction, which is generally tighter. But, personally, I really enjoyed it - it forces the reader to adjust to its pace and then rewards with a barrage of rich images and reflections.

The POV switches a little here and there, e.g. the para his wife feels guilty because she didn't wake up in time - this runs into musings about him sparing toothpaste, having a full bladder, but only he would know that, not her.

I guess there's also the problem that we don't yet know who's story this is. We thought it would be the marine's, because you started with him. But he's dead. If I recall (and it's a long time since I read it), Tristram Shandy does at least start with the main character (well, I think he narrates, doesn't he?), so we know that whatever digressions are ahead, we will return at some stage to him. Maybe you could do something similar here.

The main things I like about this is that it's of itself, and doesn't feel as if it's straining to be anything else.


Tim Darwin at 23:24 on 27 November 2003  Report this post
Terry, many thanks indeed for your notes here, which are both encouraging and guiding. I'm particularly grateful for picking up the POV wobble in the Marine's wife's musings; fortunately, it's easy to fix, and fortuitously, the fix gives an opportunity to instead introduce other elements, from her experience and perspective, that link to subsequent stories in the narrative.

I overwhelmingly suspect that Tristram Shandy (in which I do find great inspiration but not a model) is not "the kind of writing that would be widely read these days," and there are some good reasons for that. Yet it does have two qualities I'd give up an arm to be able to achieve in my own work. The first, I suppose, is the absolute depth of characterisation it achieves of the narrators father, Walter, his uncle Toby, and others--I think these are some of the best rounded portraits ever written. And the second is the 'companionability' (for want of a better word) of the book, arising from the relationship established between the writer and the reader. There are plenty of flaws in TS to be sure, and some very interesting sleight of hand: it's a first person narration, allegedly an autobiography, in which the subject only appears as an object. And there is intensely-detailed narration of events in the narrator's life (beginning with his own conception) of which he can have no memorable experience, etc. etc. I did try 1st person narration on the tale I'm working on here and felt it was pretty awful; I'm going to tinker some more and then float it in this wonderful forum in the hope it will show up the problems more clearly!

Thanks again for your comments, they really have helped enormously!

Best wishes


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .