Cranthorpe isn’t looking at me, so very slowly and quietly, I stick my tongue out at him. Once it’s about as far out of my mouth as it can go, I wiggle it around a little. Then I let it loll, like a dog. Or a wolf…”
by jason jackson
‘I make lists,’ I say to Cranthorpe.
‘Lists,’ he says. ‘Good.’ Then he chews his pencil. ‘What’s on the lists, Michael?’ This is, I think, what he says, but it is difficult to hear, as the pencil is still in between his teeth, cracking and splintering minutely.
It’s strange, a man in Cranthorpe’s position chewing a pencil.
The paint must be flaking off it.
It can’t taste very nice.
He must have strong teeth, Cranthorpe.
I never chew pencils.
I chewed a pen, once, when I was younger, but the ink got in my mouth.
It made my tongue black.
It tasted foul.
There was plastic under my tongue, between my teeth.
‘Michael,’ says Cranthorpe. ‘What’s on the lists?’
‘Names. Things. It depends on the title of the list, obviously.’
‘The lists have titles.’ He writes this down. ‘Good. Could you give me an example?’ He is doodling now, as he looks at me over his glasses, but I can’t see what he’s doodling.
I used to know a girl who doodled her name, over and over again, whenever she was on the phone.
She filled pads and pads with it.
Sometimes she’d spell it wrongly.
Sometimes she’d try out other names.
Sometimes she’d try to change her handwriting, do capitals, write it backwards, upside down.
All while she was speaking on the phone.
‘Michael,’ says Cranthorpe. ‘The lists? The titles?’
‘The last one I wrote was called Julies.’
‘Julies?’ says Cranthorpe. He isn’t doodling now. ‘Why Julies?’
‘Because that was the name of all the people on the list.’ I say.
‘Of course,’ says Cranthorpe. ‘Of course.’ He doesn’t say anything for a couple of seconds, so neither do I. Then he says, ‘My wife is called Julie.’
‘I’ll add her to the list,’ I say.
Once, I coughed and something, some mucus or something like that, accidentally flew out of my mouth.
It hit a woman on her neck.
We were on a bus.
She turned around, wiping the mucus with her hand at the same time.
She didn’t say anything.
I didn’t say anything either, but I wanted to say sorry.
I wish I had, now.
Sometimes, at night, I dream about her.
‘What other lists have you made, Michael, apart from a list of people called Julie?’
Because I am remembering the woman and the mucus on the bus, I tell Cranthorpe about my list called People Who I Dream About.
‘I have a list called People Who I Dream About,’ I say to Cranthorpe.
‘Ah, dreams,’ says Cranthorpe. ‘Excellent. Who’s on the list Michael?’
‘Jennifer Stilman, Gary Hopsfielfd, Larry, Jake Peterson, The woman on the bus who I coughed on, Rachael Harris, you, my mum, David, the girl with the black eyeliner from the newsagents, Hilary, Bruce Willis, the dog that bit my arse when I was in the playground at school. Oh. No. Wait,’ I say.
‘What is it, Michael?’ says Cranthorpe.
‘The dog. It’s not on the list.’
‘Because the list is called People Who I Dream About.’
‘And?’ says Cranthorpe.
‘The dog isn’t a person. It’s a dog.’
‘Oh,’ says Cranthorpe.
‘It’s an animal.’
‘Yes,’ says Cranthorpe.
‘It’s on another list.’
‘Wait,’ says Cranthorpe, ‘Let me guess. The list with the dog on it, it’s called Animals That I Dream About.’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ I say.
Cranthorpe smiles. ‘Sorry. What’s it called?’
‘Animals I’ve Killed.’
‘Ah,’ says Cranthorpe. He starts to write again.
The pen is making little scratching noises.
‘It’s not a very long list,’ I say.
‘That’s good, Michael. Good.’ Cranthorpe isn’t looking at me, so very slowly and quietly, I stick my tongue out at him. Once it’s about as far out of my mouth as it can go, I wiggle it around a little. Then I let it loll, like a dog. Or a wolf.
I start to pant, my tongue hanging out.
Some saliva drips from the end of my tongue.
It lands on the crotch of my trousers, making a damp little mark.
Cranthorpe looks at me.
‘Michael, are you feeling all right?’
I put my tongue back in, slowly. ‘Yes, thank you.’
‘I think we’re nearly done for today, Michael.’
I look at the clock,
It’s four in the afternoon.
I’m meeting Jenny at six at Calypso’s, then we’re going to Forge’s for dinner.
‘Any plans this evening, Michael?’ asks Cranthorpe. He’s putting his notepad away. He’s straightening his tie. He’s standing up.
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I’m meeting Jenny at six at Calypso’s, then we’re going to Forge’s for dinner.’
‘Ah!’ says Cranthorpe. ‘Forge’s! Excellent steak!’
‘I’m vegetarian,’ I say.
‘Oh,’ says Cranthorpe. ‘Right.’
‘Perhaps we can talk about that next week?’ I say
‘What? That you’re a vegetarian?’
‘Why not?’ I say
Cranthorpe looks at me.
He smiles at me.
His eyes are blue.
I can smell his sweet, foul, heavy, putrid, fetid, stinking breath.
It nearly chokes me.
‘Why not indeed,’ he says, and he nods at me, then looks at the door.
‘See you next week,’ I say.
‘Absolutely,’ he says. ‘Absolutely’
I walk towards the door. Cranthorpe goes back to chewing his pencil – crack, splinter, crack, and I start another list, right there, in my head: People Who Are Just Too Fucking Weird.
(collages: john richen)
Jason Jackson lives in Bristol, England, with his wife. He is a member of Alex Keegan’s Bootcamp writing community.