In the midst of the chaos my father and his friends decided to set up a roadblock at the entrance to the estate.
After a quarter of an hour the police came along but they were fired at and they retreated in no time.
They came back an hour later with many reinforcements but my father’s ranks had also swelled and a deal was made. The police were not allowed to approach the estate and my father’s militia would not fire upon them unless they did so. Nor would my father attempt to extend his power beyond the estate. My father has no intention of abiding by this last clause, but he knew he had to buy himself some time by appearing to sincerely agree to it. My father understood that for conquering one needs not only numbers but also the loyalty which gives ranked numbers cohesion and purpose. Loyalty could not be forced. It had to be nurtured, and time and care this would take.
Within hours the roadblock had become the hub of a carousel of spontaneous neighbourliness. Generators and spotless, well-stocked portaloos appeared as if they had been coaxed into being by the inspirational presence of the roadblock. Up to now most of the inhabitants of our humdrum, pebble-dashed exurb had been as alien and uncommunicative to each other as to lamp-eyed creatures of the ocean deep. My father’s ingeniously decisive act transformed us. Despite the estate being nearly ten years old, it was the first time many of the residents had ever properly met each other. Many people were complimenting my father for finally being the one to take some initiative, bringing everyone on the estate together in the natural way. The general sentiment was ‘why haven’t we done this before?’ and ‘I hope this roadblock is the first of many’.
Several marquees were set up offering warm shelter, interesting home-cooked food, relaxing non-alcoholic drinks, comfortable seating and entertainment of various kinds. A children’s space scheduled storytelling, face-paints and a kite-making workshop. Mrs Tealy, the wiccan, set up her own palmreading tent, which my father grudgingly allowed. Permission for an ecumenical prayer service was sought and granted. A temporary tennis court and chess tournament were set up. An attempt was made to open a brothel but my father got wind and had it immediately shut. The instigator was brought before the supreme court of the roadblock, whereby my father heard the case and passed a sentence of death-by-everyone.
Everyone was surprised at the weapons everybody else was holding in reserve just in case something like this ever happened. There was a wide range of hand-guns and shotguns, machetes and daggers, bows and arrows. Several people had those irritating laser-pointers and indiscriminately waved them around, until my father ordered a halt. One man brought his paintball kit, still boxed since a Christmas some years ago. He was good-naturedly derided by all. As well as this my father ordered that a stockpile of broken bricks, slate, and stone be brought up to the roadblock from the builder’s mess at the back of the estate- the one never cleared up despite thousands of promises.
My father was extremely pleased when the stockpile posse returned with a digger and steamrolling machine, but he immediately began to fret about diesel supplies. As he was pacing back and forth trying to figure this out, one of the men with the laser pointers placed a red dot in the middle of his ribcage. My father strolled over to the man, who was brazenly smirking, and beat him into the ground until he was unconscious and sounded as if he was choking. My father then hopped up into the steamrolling machine and began rolling back and forth over the man until he had been utterly flattened into the road. When my father first started doing this people cheered, then after a while they only looked on in awe, and when he finally stopped and dismounted from the steamrolling machine they gave him a standing ovation which lasted for nearly a quarter of an hour. There was nothing of the man left now but a faint image, like a watermark and my father ordered it covered over with lime.
By this time the television channels showed nothing but large crowds holding up posters and placards in support of whoever owned the particular channel. This could get confusing because television channels often changed hands during the chaos. But when you thought about it, it wasn’t really all that confusing. I used to watch the demonstrations to see how many people I could spot holding up placards in support of now-ascendant politicians whom hours or days previously the crowds had been screeching mortal threats against; there were plenty. It dawned on me that the crowds were in fact TV channel employees; when you took over the channel, you got them into the bargain.
Actual news came intermittently over foreign frequencies on the radio, from places in whose interests it was to issue a factual (I do not say ‘truthful’) report of the meanderings in our chaotic land. Since morning the national government had twice fallen and twice been replaced. This was nothing special in those days.
At around 4 o clock in the evening a man on a bicycle with a white flag attached to the right handlebar approached the roadblock. Strangely, he appeared to us all to be gliding along about a fifth of a metre above the bicycle path. He was honking his horn at regular intervals, which sounded like a kind of code or message. Everyone recognised him as once having served in a national government as minister for bicycles. According to news reports he had been assassinated months before, but he could easily have paid the news to put out the assassination report for his own reasons. My country was full of zombie politicians who died and came back from the dead; revenance was both a profile and a vote booster. It was suggested that he was coming to negotiate with us and may even have been sent by the mischievous local chief of police to persuade us to dismantle the roadblock. When he had come within twenty metres of the front prow of the roadblock and was showing no sign of getting ready to halt, my father shot him. His head exploded and he tumbled from the bicycle, which miraculously kept careering towards the roadblock and even seemed to speed up, like an accidentally dismounted racehorse, until it crashed into the roadblock and disintegrated into its constituent pieces. My father ordered the pieces collected so that they might be used for currency.
A fortnight before the currency had been brown breadcrumbs. Ten days before that it was mobile phone skins, with pink ones holding the highest values and black ones the least. Then there had been a brief period when shoelaces ruled. I collected lettuce leaves with slugs on them, hoping that one day their turn would come and I would be rich. But I had forgotten to mention this to my father, which was a stupid mistake. My father now decreed that bicycle parts were the new currency of the estate and issued two further related decrees:
- Establishing a five person currency committee to assign relative values to the different parts of bicycles.
- Establishing a twenty-person provisions committee to sequester all bicycles and bicycle parts on the estate. This committee was also instructed to take food and hygiene supplies and anything else thought useful from all households on the estate which had not yet sent an able-bodied volunteer to take part in the roadblock and refused to send one now. This sub-decree was loudly and lengthily applauded.
After the currency committee had retired to their marquee and the provisions committee, suitably geared up, had headed off on their rounds, my father issued one further sub-decree:
- Establishing himself as Governor of the Bicycle bank, and our next-door neighbour Mr Fixit in charge of the practical oversight of financial policy and affairs.
My father then announced, rather coyly, after clearing his throat, and rubbing his belly a little I have composed an original air about the roadblock. A folksong for our times. An anthem for our cause. Perhaps. Immediately the shout went up all around to hear it sung. My father said I would be glad to oblige, very very glad, but I still have a little tweaking to do on the scansion and also wouldn’t it better to wait until the provisions committee return? All agreed it would be discourteous not to. Let us set 18.30 hours for the performance, which we can put back if needs be to await the provisions committee. I promise a good show that all will enjoy. A damn good show. It was my father’s intention, obviously, to be be the poet-emperor of the roadblock, of our estate, and far beyond. Every tribe must have its songs to march along to.
However, at 18.00 an incredibly thick sea-mist rolled in, completely enshrouding the roadblock, reducing visibility to centimetres. No-one could see anything but shadows wandering round and looming through the mist. Occasionally their own dense images stared back at them out of the mist. It was so thick and indeed overwhelming that the shout of ‘gas attack’ went up. But that was not the case. Everyone could at least breathe, if damply, and the coughing we were hearing from the children’s marquee was asthma surely. My father shouted for the arrest of the ‘gas-attack provocateur’ but no-one could see anyone else and no-one could tell who had shouted. In the mist my father had lost his surgical understanding of tactics. Like so many fathers before him, his great nemesis was the sea.
The sea, which is less than a mile from our estate, and can always be scented, and even viewed from certain vantage points, is a constant threat, sending sporing mists and blighting rains and shades and nightmares of the deep among us in our slumber hours. I have always felt that our estate – our entire continent in fact – is trespassing on the territory of the sea and that the sea’s attitude towards us all is one of hateful lying-in-wait. Research tells that in our part of the coast, where we all walk about our airy little spaces, Anomalocaris of the metre-long teeth and the blazing eye-extensions ruled predatorily for millions of Cambrian years. In cosmic terms, we’re barely dried out around here; we still smell of salt and seagrass. And in the human era, how many shipwrecks and individual drownings within a few miles of us? So much death and terror floating around, (perhaps we are the Cambrian having a nightmare?) Is this what keeps us from reaching out to each other and from from mutual striving – the inner knowledge that we are but plankton in the churning sea of time? And the big whale called disaster casually drifting through our swarm, swallowing each one of us separately.
I often looked at my neighbours and tried to feel us all clamped together in a geological layer as we are bound to be, along with our houses and our cars and all of our machines and possessions. Everything of the last 16,000 years, since the dawn of agriculture and of urban man, will be a quarter centimetre of compacted muck turning to rock, or oil perhaps, miles down beneath the floor of future ocean. This ocean will likely teem with the ferocious descendants of whatever cunning, martial monster manages to outwit and outlast the asteroid-strike-equivalent known as humanity. That greater consciousness will know better than to ever again let life emerge from the sea into the demented theatre of the open air. It will flood the world entirely and freeze it over pole to pole with one hundred miles of ice. Clouds will drift eternally across the mirror of the world and all signals from the void will bounce.
Someone running in a panic to get away from the mist knocked me to the ground. Minutes later I was trampled, or kicked. I don’t know which. A great clattering, a great round of aches, and then silence, numbness for a while.
When I came to my senses it was raining drearily but the mist had gone. My neighbours had all deserted the roadblock. The fair that had grown up around it had entirely emptied out. It was desolate, forlorn as only dead festivity can be. The generators still buzzed and hummed, machines of mockery. The whole belonged now to insects and to other scavengers, the ones who tidy up the world and recycle it. I shivered.
Metres away my father lay like an Elgin marble, broken and mutilated, his hacked limbs in disarray around him, his eyes gouged out. On his head there was a mustard-coloured paper crown, something from a lucky bag. On his naked chest someone had scrawled in lipstick or in his own blood perhaps the message THE KING IS DEAD LONG LIVE THE KING.
I sat down beside him and held out my hands, which looked like somebody else’s, but they had looked like that for a long time.