They hadn’t come for him yet. He was safe, for the time being anyway, at least that’s what Jack said. Few people trust Jack but then what do they know? They hadn’t anticipated the outbreak of madness that was beginning to grip the city, but Jack had. Neither had they anticipated the day they would confiscate the paintings and writings that came to symbolize the underground movement, the only form of communication to the outside world that kept many of us sane, but Jack had. We had heard unconfirmed reports from Green Room number 77 that Marshall had blown his brains out with a pistol he had apparently purchased from a market trader on the day before his suicide.
Jack claimed that he had seen Marshall in Sector Two south east of the city just before dusk fell on the 23rd, but nobody listened. Nobody wanted to hear was probably closer to the truth. It was easy to understand why many of the people in the Ministry of Information distrusted Jack, that’s if you can call these sharp-suited men and women who mechanically undertake their duties with all the devoted rigour of false consciousness patriots, people. I prefer to call them subservients. Technically they are people in as much as the blood that pumps through their veins and arteries is red, but as far as Jack is concerned, they are not people at all. Amongst this group the feeling was mutual.
I trust Jack for the same reasons that those who stalk the corridors of the Ministry of Information do not. Jack is as passionate and considerate as they are cold, calculating and manipulative. He is a person of integrity and strength of character that I think is very rare. I like Jack precisely because of these qualities but many others dislike him for the same reason. They only appear to like him on a superficial level during the odd occasion when the jovial side of his personality emerges. It is the dual nature of his character that so unnerve the plastic people of the Ministry of Information. They cannot understand how somebody could possibly burst into spontaneous laughter after recounting a scene from a Laurel and Hardy movie in one breath, and then talk passionately about the lyrical depth and beauty of a mid-1970s Joni Mitchell or the sheer joy of living in times past, in virtually the next. Such beauty, laughter and passion elude them completely and give rise to their distrust.
On the Wednesday morning following Marshall’s untimely and tragic death, the city was uncharacteristically covered in a blanket of grey-slated cloud and the vibrancy and colour of the cities main square, usually a hub of activity, was strangely quiet. It was almost as though the people of the city and God himself had somehow anticipated Marshall’s suicide. According to the news reports, the blood stained sucide note was short and there appeared to be no indications of foul play. Marshall used to be a well-respected employee of the Ministry of Interior, and the shock waves that spread throughout the corridors of power were palpable. His blood splattered body was discovered on Tuesday morning by office cleaners who naturally reported the discovery to their supervisor who then informed the police.
The entire city appeared to be in a state of shock as the news of the death slowly crept out. But this shock soon turned into anger. On a freezing Wednesday afternoon a handful of people had spontaneously gathered by the ornate fountain in the centre of the main city square holding crude home-made placards with the words ‘State Cover Up: We Want Answers’ emblazoned across them. Jack had maintained a close and long-standing friendship with Marshall, and the news of his death hit him particularly hard.
Jack is a man of 38 years who lives a reasonably comfortable life, meaning that he spends most of his cash on home comforts. He earns his money playing trumpet in a jazz band mainly at the weekend at a local bar called Cafe Paris which happens to be regularly frequented by the dullards of the Ministry of Information. He plays a good trumpet, well that’s what the dullards of the Ministry of Information keep telling him which to his mind meant that they were just saying this to please him rather than for any reason that they happened to be think that his playing was genuinelly good. The truth is that Jack was an accomplished player but lacked the range which could of propelled him to the top, not that he was particularly interested in striving for those grandiose heights anyway. Jack’s real passion is for painting. His art resembles a kind of detached style of an Edward Hopper and the freshness and vibrancy of the Joni Mitchell album covers he loves so much.
Jack lives in the centre of the city in an old style crumbling apartment block pretty close to the main square where the demonstration had taken place on the Wednesday. It’s a three storey building with a shared communal doorway and stairwell that has an old ornate art deco open style elevator than runs through the buildings spine. The floor is made of marble and Jack’s murals line the walls of the twisting stairway that lead to the hallway of the first floor where a brightly painted red door and a huge number three emblazoned on it, await the visitor. To the right on entering the apartment is a small kitchen and to the left is the sitting room which ajoins a bedroom that Jack converted into a studio. It was here at precisely 2.28pm on Tuesday of the 24th of the 3rd month that Jack heard the news of his best friends untimely death.
Marshall’s body was discovered slumped over his desk in the early hours of that morning and the tragic news was subsequently relayed to Jack by telephone. The policeman who called him on that fateful afternoon broke the news to him in the only way that police officers can do. On hearing the news, he staggered back in shock and then crouched onto the varnished wooden floor of his studio with his head clasped tightly in his hands. The phone that he had held crashed to the floor. After a few seconds he stood up, and glanced over at the clock on the far wall beside the bay window which opened up to a small balcony. 24th of March, 2.28pm will be forever etched in the memory of this humble yet intelligent artist and musician by the name of Jack T Burnham.
Charlotte, Jack’s neighbour, had just returned from taking her dog for a walk and the sound of the animal scuttling frantically up the marble stairway awoke Jack from a deep sleep. This was the first decent nights sleep he had had in a few weeks and he had slept for a full 12 hours. A dark shadow of stubble had grown on his face and his general appearance was unkempt and dishevelled. He glanced over at the clock by the bay window and was surprised to see the time was close to 1.30 in the afternoon. This was the time Charlotte, just like clockwork, returned from walking her dog. But somehow, on this particular ocassion and on this particular afternoon, Charlotte’s movements had not registered with Jack. His entire body-clock was out of synch and that made him feel uncomfortable and uneasy.
Jack is the kind of person who likes a certain amount of order and structure to his life which is mirrored in his apartment. This is not say that he is meticulous to the enth degree that is anyway unhealthy or anything, but he knows what is important to him and insists on avoiding what he considers to be bad habits. For Jack, his apartment represents a sense of order and structure in an otherwise chaotic world in which for him, human beings have no or very little control over. His apartment in other words, is a kind of ordered oasis – a space where he is able to find comfort in relaxtion which order implies. This explains why Jack spent a relatively high amount of his earnings on his apartment. The world outside was chaotic and disorderly but his apartment represented the anthesis of this chaos and disorder. For Jack it is a space for refuge and retreat from the madness of the vast space outside. This also explains why Jack doesn’t feel at home in a big metropolis like New York or London but is more of a provincial person. That’s not to say he dislikes the hussle and bussle of urban life and all of the cultural baggage that comes with it, but just that he appreciates an overiding sense of proportionality which for him impacts directly on his state of well-being. The fact that he slept in until the afternoon on this particular Sunday morning upset this equilibrium and thus unsettled him.
His usual routine involves waking at 7am, taking a shower, eating a light breakfast of toasted muffins with jam followed by a swift cup of filtered Colombian coffee. Then, after scanning what passes for news from the paper that is delivered to him every morning, he takes to the bathroom to brush his teeth……..
(To be continued)
Copyright: Daniel Margrain.