The froth of the times had spilled over your staff like draught beer. They bubbled out into the streets. With little patience for hard copy, their sentences went awry too. So much the worse for wear, you and your two Peters, both workhorses of sorts. Peter Pan was all frizzy hair, fuzzy logic – a computer wizard with bad breath. Witty, well-read, dynamic, making no secret of eyeing other job prospects (an obvious ploy for more power here, you thought), but still a bit wet behind the ears. You had been grooming him since day one to take over in time a good chunk of the magazine. The tiredness in your bones told you that that time had better be soon. Meanwhile, he worked under you, and dated the girls as he had at Berkeley. As for Peter the Greek, he was by far the best brain of your team, as everyone acknowledged, his enormous capacity for synthesis only marred by his inability to write a straight sentence. Born complete with necktie and creased pants and a penchant for gobbledegook, he compensated his divergent squint with chuckly smiles that sent his lips right into his left cheek. He covered them with a cupped hand, like a traffic cop signalling a snarl ahead. You relied heavily on him to shape up articles, which you then rewrote for style. You felt that, so long as the two Peters were around, you could plod your way through, with or without the rest of the staff, including Long John, the sub-ed, who had a genius for ferreting out obscure peccadilloes and missing glaring errors, and never worked well under pressure.
Today they had left you at it, but you were too exhausted to resent that Peter Pan was not here to help format the last batch of pages – especially the graphs page, which required, issue after issue, a dogged attention to detail and was a drag to all concerned, coming as it did as a snow-capped mountain climb after a fortnight of dumb hill hikes. Peter Pan showed up anyway in late afternoon, together with his favourite art worker in pigtail, and a covey of anecdotes on the fit of dementia coursing through the town. Half-reclining on his armchair, his hands distractedly doing their thing on the keyboard, he bantered away and would suddenly lurch to screen for a sensitive adjustment of lines, then resume his desultory pause and babble. And so the hours dragged on, pizzas were brought in somehow, and all was quiet darkness outside. And as the hours dragged on, the conversation lapsed. There was the constant drone of air-con, computer engines and neon tubes, not unlike the hiss of air sliced on long-haul flights. You felt such a burning round your eyes that you had to take a break
press the knuckles of your hands one by one
walk a while.
The art room in a pool of light. Distant noises in the lanes around, like celebrations, or taunts and whoopee over a boxing match. And flares, red flares, yellow flares, here and there. What the hell’s goin’ on?
You went back in, helped yourself to coffee, sat in front of the screen and went on with the work. In your mind, between typefaces, you were thinking you hadn’t even kissed your women this morning. You saw them for a few hours every other weekend, in between issues. You were failing them, one growing Thai and tall without you, the other edging further apart on a tangent of whims. When was the last time you paid dues to love together? But you had to get on with the mag. Against all odds. A man walked and in a beeline walked and made a line of deadly dinky toys come to a complete stop. “Lie low, you fool! Don’t you know these are fuckin’ live bullets?” Boots went into action and neat gun buts pummelled hairy heads. They pissed on the half-dead and set fire to them.
“Er – oh, yes, sure.” Shaking your head hard. “I wonder when it’ll end.”