Two People, Both Talking: Volume Four

Are our heroes finally going to escape? Read on


Both of them sat there, more profoundly motionless than sarcophagi. After what seemed like an endless expanse of dead, wasted time, one of them began to spasm restlessly. ‘Alex?’

‘My name’s not Alex.’

‘Alexa?’

‘My name doesn’t even share a letter with Alexa.’

‘What about with Alex?’

‘I hate talking to you.’

The first speaker attempted to kick the second one awake.

‘Stop kicking me awake. I’m not asleep.’

‘Sorry, Your Highness. I needed to get your attention because, unlike you, I have an announcement to make.’

‘Why are you automatically better than me because you have an announcement to make? It might be a stupid announcement.’

The second speaker kept uttering nonsense syllables until the first speaker had finished, then, sensing the conversational window had opened, announced with a flourish: ‘It’s time for us to initiate Escape Plan X.’

‘Seriously? This again? Don’t you remember how the last hundred and twelve plans went?’

‘You’re exaggerating, but only just.’

‘Whatever.’

‘This time it’s different. Every night of the last seven silent years, while you’ve been expanding your vocabulary five pages at a time — I know how fast you read because you turn the pages very loudly — I’ve been lying awake — partly because of your page turning and partly because of my own mental activity — formulating a plan that will put all our previous plots to shame. Especially yours.’

‘Seven years of planning, eh? Why only at night? We’re no more active by day than we are at night.’

‘Maybe you aren’t. I do my inner yoga during the day.’

‘Inner yoga?’

‘Yoga without the outer element.’

‘Like actually moving your limbs?’

‘Yes.’

‘So, in other words, meditation.’

‘Without the concentration or discipline.’

‘So basically, sitting there thinking about stuff.’

‘Yes.’

‘Unless it can help us escape.’

‘Yes.’

‘Gotcha.’

A pause. For the next couple of hours the two of them sat scratching each other’s itches, less out of a sense of fellow feeling than because decades of shared confinement had utterly abolished their concept of personal space.

‘So your plan would be?’

‘I was hoping you’d ask.’

‘I know you were. That’s why I asked. I reckoned you were so childish that you wouldn’t tell me unless I said something first, so finally I decided to be the bigger person.’

‘Your feeling the need to tell me all that cancels out your “bigger person” status. Welcome back to my level.’

‘This is why I hate talking to you.’

A smug smile, a licking of the lips, a licking of the fingers, a chewing of the forearms and, presently, the beginning of a new sentence. ‘The plan has multiple stages. The first step involves getting in shape. We’ve been sitting motionless for decades and that’s the kind of thing that medical specialists generally condemn.’

‘Or at least they would if anyone in the history of the world had ever been this lazy.’

‘Indeed. So the first step of the plan involves simply this: getting up.’

The other spasmed. ‘No. Anything but that.’

‘And just how were you proposing to escape without getting up first?’

A slight pause. ‘This is why I hate talking to you.’

‘Don’t be such a baby. It’s unbecoming in one so hideously old.’

The last speaker then rose in a multi-stage process that took twenty-seven minutes and involved a lot of gibbering and screaming. Joints cracked, limbs creaked and previously docile parts of the body let out unearthly moans. ‘This — is — by far — the worst — thing — I’ve ever — gone through,’ came the whisper-through-clenched-teeth that was somehow also a bellow.

At last the process was complete and the standing one let out a mighty roar that lasted a full day. This would have seemed to the uninitiated like a triumphant cry but in fact signified nothing but intense physical pain.

Silence. The sitting companion removed fingers from ears, slowly. ‘So all good, yeah?’

‘Absolutely great,’ croaked the stander. ‘Never better. Who’s bothered anyway? Who even cares?’

‘Sure.’

‘Why not join me up here in my happiness?’

‘This is coming off a little insincere.’

‘I’ve never been more sincere.’

‘Well, good. Good for you.’

‘Absolutely. On to the next challenge: taking my first step.’

‘I believe in you.’

The stander smiled, put one leg out in front of the other, thrashed it about in the air and fell onto a pile of jagged rubbish. More ragged howls.

The sitter turned to look. ‘Was that the sound of a large bone breaking?’

‘Probably.’

‘Do you need any help turning over?’

‘Be nice, yeah.’

The sitter helped the lier back into a sitting position, a process that took two days and did nothing to endear either to the other. Eventually they regained their breath and unleashed a steady stream of curses at each other. That helped calm them down.

‘Well, there you are.’

‘Here I am.’

‘Just out of interest, what would the other steps in the escape plan have involved?’

‘There weren’t any.’

‘Really? Standing up and walking was as far as you got?’

‘Yeah. Thought it’d be so motivational that I’d come up with the rest as I went along. Or at the very least get some damn exercise.’

‘Well, you’ve broken a sweat anyway.’

‘That’s just the agonising pain.’

‘Hey, whatever takes off the pounds.’

‘Shut up and read your Merriam-Webster.’

The two of them, having decided that sitting was the way forward — metaphorically of course — proceeded to keep doing it for a long, long time. Their dedication would have earned them a place in the Guinness Book of Records if such tomes had any relevance in that dark, lonely place. As it was the sitters occasionally let a perverse feeling of accomplishment punctuate their familiar self-loathing and mutual resentment. After all, there’s something to be said for consistency.