Short Story: Each of Us by Ben Moor

Ben Moor

This is an extract from Each of Us by comedian and writer Ben Moor. Ben also produced a stage version of the book.

PROLOGUE: THIS IS MY TREASURE

After it’s over, when you know it for a fact, there’s that period where the world always seems to be about to break.

Time is more fragile, days are thinner.

I would sit at home like milk on a step, slowly souring in the sunlight. Friends would arrive at the flat in hazmat suits eager to hear my take on the break-up, but hoping not to have any toxic doubt spill onto them and into their relationships.

I’d see experts. One analyst would invite me on walks with him and his angsthound, a dog specifically bred to sense existential crises and react with the correct levels of affection, or disinterest, whichever was appropriate.

A hypnotherapist put herself into a trance to give me her advice.

But otherwise I’d put all my energies into lethargy. I felt paralysed from the heart forward. When I left the house I imagined the people I passed on the street were marchers in a vast chaotic parade of the lonely, unaware they were even participating in a lifelong performance art piece celebrating and justifying the fundamental non-connectedness of society.

But then I thought, cheer up!

A month after Radium had left, but a week before I visited the Pyre of Moving On, I went out to a party.

It’s winter, a not-as-cold Sunday after a snow Friday. After Jack Frost comes John Thaw. The streets are slush gullies; the trees are rocking back and forth to keep warm in the gusts. I pass a row of bikes outside a college, fallen into an accidental orgy, wheels uncomfortably intimate with the next frame; then down a road where the paving slabs jag at critical angles and barely touch – a street of cold marriages.

The hosts are a couple of writers. He has a Saturday supplement column with a photo byline of arrogance and threat – you won’t like what he has to say, and if you do he has no respect for you. She recently got back from the Caucasus and filed a story exposing the Soviet Union’s Precarious Orphanages, often placed in areas notable for landslides, floods and ravenous bears and wolves. The point being that the land is cheaper there, and, well, orphans. They are both nice and welcoming to me, but they’re the sort of people whose aim it is to ignite debate on subjects no one else would think debatable. Nothing one can say will finalise a point, everything bounces. Talkers.

I go to social sleep (a red standby light probably goes on in my eyes) twist away, and head upstairs. They’ve installed reclaimed Edwardian creaks on their stairs to make them sound more authentic. The first door was where I once stayed for a week between places – it’s their unwelcome guest room, decorated in low drab, sneertones, as if it can’t wait to be rid of you.

Further along there’s a boy’s room – he nods me in and I sit on the bed while he plays with Ruinos, the pre-damaged building bricks for dystopian landscapes. He’s got a clear face, every feature seems positive, delighted to cooperate, the precise opposite of Mangold. On the corkboard is a flyer from the Large Toddler Collider, the inflatable infant accelerator at the cutting edge of high energy play. But this kid is less energetic, more considerate than you find there. Inside is always a thought, thinking its way out. We talk about his cousin downstairs, Mallory, who enters child economics pageants, declaiming Chicago School monetary theory with cuteness – “Dumb” he says.

His friend Joe who collects ‘Heroes of Peacekeeping’ inaction figures. “Weird” he says.
He’s writing a version of the Three Little Pigs from the wolf’s point of view for school; everyone is a writer in this house, it seems.

But he’s also got a talent for redacting – his storybooks are blasted by black lines, barcoded to sell frustration, obscuring details too dull or too sad to know.

Unlike his parents, he asks about my wife and my work, and I explain how losing both has brought me down.

And then this seven year old kid improves my life.

“What about your treasure?” he asks, “that keeps you going, right?”

“What do you mean?”

He goes under his bed, flicks out a few toys – a Despair Bear, the colouring-in-book adaptations of Gravity’s Rainbow and The Atrocity Exhibition – and returns with an ex-box – not the console, just the remains of what once was a box held together with caramelised sellotape, luck and care.

“It used to belong to my dad.”

On the top was written, in drop shadowed letters, ‘THIS IS MY TREASURE’ and, as he put it on the bed with religious hands, I guess it was. He lifted the lid and there were two things: a feather and a piece of pottery.

“Your treasure is two items – or, what, is this your dad’s treasure?”

A dismissive shake of the head. “My treasure is four things – that’s all you need, you can burn everything else – but I’m not going to keep it all in one place, I’m not dumb.”

The feather was from a flummox, the very confused bird, native to southern Africa, which spends its entire lifespan migrating from one coast to another for no apparent reason. His uncle had brought that back for him. The pottery was from a Grecian jazz urn – did I know what that was? I did – they were the items of top-shelf ceramics from ancient Greece, portraying certain of the more physical displays of affection that that civilization gifted the world – I’d seen a few, behind pixelating glass, at the British Museum – how did he get that? He wouldn’t say.

Nor would he tell me about the other two items of his treasure, or where they were. He did say his uncle wasn’t at the party, as he was spending a year behind bars as pre-punishment for any crime he may commit in the future. Sensible, he thought, considering the life he lived.

Did his uncle write too? Of course. And directed. His masterpiece was a film called Sequence – a feature-length montage of montages from other movies – had I heard of it? I hadn’t.

He shrugged, and gave me a copy of the in-house magazine of this house, where family members interview and write in-depth profiles of one another for themselves to read. The letters page was particularly self-involved. Then he returned to blacklining a copy of Julian Assange’s autobiography, you know, for irony and giggles.

Four things. Four things a kid had, of which he kept two in a box; a box his Dad had previously used for his own treasure.

What might have his been?

I came back downstairs, creak, creak. I saw him in the kitchen debating the exact bottom limit of sickness where a handshake or kiss is acceptable, and decided that whatever the treasure was, like most of us adults, he’d lost it long ago and not gone looking for it since. I cheeriohed out and pushed back into the weather.

I read the magazine on the bus home and remembered a plastic astronaut’s helmet I used to wear when I was the kid’s age, and how safe and happy it made me feel.

But something else he’d said made me begin to think about Radium, and how I had to set some things on fire.

ENDS

BEN MOOR is an award-winning writer and actor. His TV and film appearances include The IT Crowd, Knowing Me, Knowing You and Casanova. As well as writing numerous works for the stage, he is the creator of the radio series Elastic Planet and Undone, and his journalism has appeared in publications such as The Guardian and The Idler.

The book of Each of Us (and Other Things) is available from The Idler Academy and from Ben Moor’s website. More Trees to Climb collects three other solo stage pieces as short stories, and features an introduction by Stewart Lee.

REVIEWS FROM EACH OF US LIVE SHOW:

“Ingenious. . . A moving satire on the arbitrariness of the everyday, rivaling the best of Douglas Adams,” THE GUARDIAN

“In an hour of some of the most stylish writing I’ve seen so far this year, he mixes merciless humour and madcap ideas with moments of heart-warming pathos. . . What is remarkable is the way that, in the midst of so much cleverness, he can toss in a line of such succinct beauty, or wisdom, or sadness that it captures a truth which some plays never attain, however many words they throw at it”, THE SCOTSMAN

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