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Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Grief Cannon - another story of the Boy from the Year 2000

“Good grief!  Good grief!”
Jimmy sat on the bottom step of the stairs sobbing as if he was about to burst with the effort.
“Jimmy!  Jimmy Darling! What is the matter?”  His Mother sat awkwardly beside him.   Jimmy tried to speak but all he could manage was great gulps of air.  The tears continued to roll down his cheeks.
“I’m so sad.”
“What’s all this?”  Jimmy’s Father breezed through the front door and stopped in shock.  “Crying!  You shouldn’t be crying, Jimmy, you’re nearly a grown man.  You’re thirteen years old.”
But Jimmy still could not manage to control the enormous emotion that was ripping through him.
“For goodness sakes, stop the boy blubbing.  You can hear him all down the street.”  Said Jimmy’s father,  ignoring the fact that he had not heard anything but birdsong as he made his way up the path.
“I can’t stop him.” said his Mother, a worried expression on her face.
“This is what comes of spending too much time with his Mother. “Jimmy’s Father’s voice was rising in pitch.  “Now listen, son.  You stop that.  Control yourself, do you hear?”
“I caaaaaan’t” wailed Jimmy. 
“Yes, you can.  Men don’t cry.”  Jimmy’s Father glowered at Jimmy’s Mother.
“All right,” she said.  “I’ll try another way.  Jimmy....   Jimmy... Can you hear me?”
Jimmy nodded between his wracking sobs.
“What has happened?   What were you doing?”
“We...  we... we were playing in the Smith’s garden”.  Jimmy fought hard to get the words out.
“Yes.  Who with?”
“Tommy Smith.”
“Good, go on...  Did he do something to you? Did he call you names?  You know names cannot hurt you.”
“Did he hit you, son?”  Interjected Jimmy’s Father.  “If he did you should’ve hit him back.  Hard.  Right on the end of his snitch.”
“No.  No.  No.”  Wailed Jimmy.
“You should’ve kicked him on the shins, given him a Chinese burn.  I knew that lad was no good.   I worry about his parents.  I’m not sure they’re the right type for this neighbourhood.”
Jimmy’s Mother snorted.   Tommy Smith’s father was some sort of government scientist and was always driving about in some new fangled hover car or other.  Jimmy’s father had always appeared to be in awe of him and he hung over the fence on summer evenings listening to his descriptions of the great inventions the other man was working on.   New holographic viewscreens, faster space transporters, personal rocket belts and so on.
But neither of them could get anything more out of Jimmy who just continued to wail uncontrollably.
“Right.”  Said Jimmy’s father.  “This has gone on long enough.  I’m going to get to the bottom of this.  Come along Jimmy”  and father and son were gone out of the front door before you could say “Impulsedrive scooter”.
“Just be careful.”  Called Jimmy’s Mother but what it was that Jimmy’s Father was meant to be careful of, he didn’t pause to ask.
The Smith’s door was opened by Mrs. Smith.  Jimmy’s father had always found the presence of Mrs. Smith deeply troubling.   Although everybody had been issued with the same silver suits at New Year 2000, there was something about the way Mrs Smith fitted into hers that was different from most of the other women in the street.  Mrs. Smith’s suit went in and came out where other women’s went straight down or bulged like large Christmas turkeys wrapped in foil.  And what’s more, Mrs. Smith’s silver suit seemed to cling to her so tightly that you could actually see parts of her breathing.
After several minutes of standing there examing Mrs Smith’s suit, Jimmy’s father managed to stutter “Is Tommy’s Father in?” 
“Of course,” breathed Tommyy’s Mother with a big smile that showed two rows of perfect pearly teeth.  “He’s just come in from the shed where he’s been tinkering with some invention or other.  He spends so much time in the shed that I feel quite lonely sometimes.”
Jimmy’s father could feel beads of perspiration forming on his upper lip.  He pushed past almost rudely.
“He’s in the front room.  Why don’t you come in?”
But Jimmy’s father was already in and confronting Mr. Smith.
Tommy’s father was lounging in a deep armchair.  His silver suit was unbuttoned at the neck and hung on him casually almost as it were the type of cardigan with leather arm patches that scientists wore before the year 2000.  “Ah, my dear chap,” he said pipe clenched between his teeth,  “Come in, come in..  Here sit down on the sofa.”    Jimmy’s father was about to say that he would rather stand over here in the doorway when he sensed Mrs. Smith’s sweet smelling breath on his neck.  He seized Jimmy’s hand and sat on the sofa opposite Mr. Smith.  “Now what’s it all about?” continued the other man, “You don’t often drop in for a chat.”
“It’s Jimmy.”  He gestured to his son.  “He seems to be.... upset, rather.” And to demonstrate, Jimmy let out a series of loud sobs.  “Jimmy’s thirteen, he doesn’t cry any more.  This is not normal behaviour. It all started when he was playing with your Tommy in your garden.  Now, I’m not blaming Tommy....
“Aha” said Mr. Smith leaning forward to knock his pipe out in an ash-o-matic standing in the fire place.  “I don’t think you need to blame Tommy.  You see, Tommy was in much the same state himself when he came in for tea this afternoon.”
“Poor lamb.”  Breathed Mrs. Smith sweetly.  “He couldn’t swallow his pills.  Not even the purple ones that I’d got specially as a treat.”
“I hope you’re not implying that Jimmy here had anything to do with that?”
Mr. Smith held up his hand.  “Not at all, not at all.”  He began filling his pipe from a well used plasti-cloth pouch and stood up “Come with me into the garden.”
Jimmy and his father followed out through the kitchen.  Jimmy hardly noticed that his father had his arm round his shoulders. 
On thepocket handkerchief  lawn, Jimmy’s father observed enviously the brand new Auto-mow fitted with all the sort of advanced features like grass vapouriser that he could only dream about.  But he had no time to marvel as Mr. Smith was unlocking the padlock on the little wooden shed swathed in a strange orange passion-flower. 
“I think this is what you’ve come to see.”  He said and stood aside to let Jimmy and his father peer inside.  On the bench was a strange looking device made up of coils and valves and oddly coloured sheets of perspex.  At one end was a sort of coppery nozzle pointing out the window.
“I’m not sure..... what...”  stammered Jimmy’s father.
“Come, come.  I’m sure someone of your technical ability can recognise a ring-field-oscillation bridge.”
“Oh yes, of course... it’s just that...”
“Quite, quite.”  Tommy’s father was using the stem of his pipe to point to features of the machine.  “What you won’t recognise is the way I’ve configured this thermionic snapple  gate.  Or this condenser valve rack.”   He depressed a few switches and the machine began to whirr and hum.  Rows of light began to twinkle.
“Er. What exactly....?”
“The government has asked me to come up with some new devices to help us combat some dissident forces that are at work.”
“I didn’t think there were any dissident forces.  Not since 2000 and the universal peace and harmony treaty.”
“Well, no.  You’re right.  Not dissident forces, as such.  I’m using old language.  Can’t help it sometimes.  I meant of course, that there are one or two unhappy individuals...  Yes, unhappy, that’s the word...  Who could be helped... with a machine like this.”
“Helped?  In what way?”
“To become less unhappy.   Yes, to become happier altogether.”  Tommy’s father was trying to light his pipe from a bunsen burner.  “like the rest of us.”
“And how does this machine do that?”
“It affects the emotional centres of the brain.  I’ve had some spectacular results.  Of course we wouldn’t want to harm anybody. I was callibrating it this afternoon.  It uses rays.”
“What sort of rays?
“Green ones.”
“Ah yes, green rays.   I can see how that would work.”  And in a flash of inspiration: “And Jimmy and Tommy....”
“Were playing just outside the shed .”
“You were experimenting on our children?”
“Not at all.  Not at all.   I had the window open to let my pipesmoke out.  But you must admit that it works. I just had the field polarity reversed so that instead of making them happy, it made them terribly terrible sad.”
“More to the point, is there any way the effects can be reversed?”
“Of course.  If Jimmy just stands over here, I can give him a good dose of the green rays now that they are properly sequenced.  It’s quite safe now – I tested it on Tommy a little while ago.”
“He’s in bed recovering.”  Breathed Mrs Smith right into Jimmy’s father’s ear.
And in a little while they were all back in the house shaking hands.  Jimmy was beaming  broadly again.
“Of course, you’ll keep this all to yourself, won’t you, Old man?  Until the government announces the good news.”
“Yes of course.  I’m just glad to have Jimmy back to normal.”
“I’m hoping that the government will release it for general use.”  Mrs Smith was speaking in that breathless way of hers that so unnerved Jimmy’s father.  “There are still so many emotional hangups that could be cured.   Even after 2000.”
“Are there?  I doubt it.”  Said Jimmy’s father running his finger round his collar.  “At least, not in a street like ours.” as he sidled to the door.   And they all laughed for some reason.

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