‘How high will it be today?’ I say as I make my way home from work.
‘It’s going to be more than I can handle; I know it is.’ I mummble and start tapping the steering wheel.
‘And stop answering your own questions… and stop telling yourself what to do… just shut up… shut up… shut it.’
I look at the traffic and it’s as thick as flies on a cadaver. I feel the same loathing for the pile of mail waiting for me at home as I do for the flies.
‘Black flies crawling… crawling on me… on my problem… OK… bloody well say it on my arse itch… forget that, stop thinking about it or it will come back. The itch will come back if you don’t stop thinking about it... … Ok Ok Yesterday the mail was 2 feet 5 inches high stacked up against the wall. That’s the best way to keep control of it, by stacking it against the wall but if it’s as high as that again today I’m going to set fire to it, that’s what I’ll do and sod the money.’
In my mind I see the flames leaping but I know that I will not carry out my threat. I didn’t yesterday and I won’t tomorrow because I might miss the big day… jackpot day. Last time I got £50 and you never know when the next one will be.
‘Dam the competition and dam the prizes I get and dam the whole bloody internet and everything to do with it and damn, damn, damn junk mail.’
My tic starts up in my left eye and I clamp my hand on it.
‘But if I don’t open it, I won’t know if I’ve won. I will only know if I keep on opening the goddam letters, circulars, junk mail, free post and whatever other shit comes through the door.’
The mail keeps piling in; 2 feet 5 inches yesterday, 3 feet 1 inch the day before. Wednesday is always the worst. It often gets near to four feet high and takes over three hours to open it all. Then I have to get rid of all the paper. I can’t keep burning it in my garden, not since the neighbours complained, so I take it to the re-cycling tip and fill up a skip, single handed.
My neighbours get their mail delivered by a normal postie; not me. I have a special delivery; a Post Office van visits every day and the postie hammers on the front door.
“Do you know how long it takes to sort this lot out and bring it up to you?” he said to me one day.
“No” I said.
“Two bleedin hours, that’s how long. If it was up to me I’d put a surcharge on to you. Just think what would happen if everyone was like you, you great frizzled walley”
“What did you call me?”
“A great pink, frizzled faced walley who keeps scratching his arse and winking all the time. What are you going to do about it?”
The postie cocked his head and started to wink like a maniac.
I was shocked; I couldn’t think what to do, so I slammed the door shut.
Now the postie dumps the bags of mail at the front door and gives me two fingers or if he is feeling like it one finger pointed in what I can only describe as an obscene fashion.
'I’ve tried to hold back, I really have but I can’t help myself. I answer all the free competitions, fill in all the reply circulars and tick all the boxes. I just have to respond. The offer of a free squeegee pack or a box of sticky labels sets my heart pounding.'
When asked “Would you like to know more about our products?” I always answer “Yes.”
‘But at what cost. It isn’t just the time I take opening the letters; I can’t help thinking about all the trees that have been cut down to make the junk mail. And I wonder about all the animals and insects that no longer have a home. I think about the photosynthesis that isn’t happening and the carbon absorption that isn’t taking place. To put it plainly I feel guilty. A sort of free-floating guilt that makes my stomach upset. It’s like a thousand tiny fingers are stirring me up. I’m worried. I think that what I’m doing is wrong or at least not ethical… a word I’ve been thinking about often. It makes me confused.
Amanda Thornton at work says that I’m a weirdo and that I keep winking at
her. But I can’t help it any more than I can help the way the world is; a world that thrives on junk mail. And now I’ve won this crazy competition and someone is sending me money and I don’t know who and my head aches and I’ve got my itch. I’m not going to think about it. No I’m not going to, I’m not, I’m not.'
At work today Amanda Thornton said “You know what they call you in here don’t you?”
“No” I said.
“Scratch, that’s what they call you. Here comes old Scratch Card they say, or just Scratch for short. You should go for counselling, they might be able to help you with a problem like that.”
“I’m in a support group.” I said before I realised what I was saying.
"Oh really” she said, her fat, smarmy face starting to go hazy as I tried to control my tic and stop myself from doing the thing that I’m not going to mention.
‘It’s true… I looked up support groups on MSN and found three that had the words ‘junk mail’ in their titles. People who belonged to them have names like FreeB and Money4-0ing. I call myself re-cycled? I like the name because it makes sure my green credentials are known, but with a little mystery added. The whole thing turned into a disaster. We swapped information about where the best web sites are for ‘stuff’ and we started a weekly competition to find out who gets the most junk mail in a single day. That’s how the idea of stacking our mail against the wall came up. It was Trashy’s idea. To enter you have to post a photo on the site proving how high your pile is and showing today’s date on a newspaper. I’ve won fifteen times, that’s a record. Now I’m being accused of cheating, which I do not do, but I’m sure that others do including FreeB.'
Once in a while… yes once in a while it’s worth it; an envelope containing monga, sweet green or blue bills with the Queens head on them comes through the post. My last big hit was when £250 in cash landed on my mat and all the effort, all the brain numbing, mind scrambling tedium was worth it.
Let it be, let it be-e, let it be, oh let it be’ I sing out loud in my car.
‘I always feel better when I think about the £250. A good looking man in the next lane of the traffic jam winks at me and he’s smiling. I can’t think why he’s doing that until I realise that I’ve been giving him a display of tic like winks.’
My text alarm goes off sending my stomach into a Mach 4 dive and tightening it so hard that it feels like a fully stretched elastic band.
The texts are getting more frequent and longer. They’re more predictable than the junk mail, but in the wrong way; the number just keeps on rising steadily and the text messages are getting longer. The last one offered me a holiday in the Maldives if I signed up with MNB.
'The texts have started to interfere with my work. Mr. Bacon told me to turn my mobile off.'
“OK Saviour” I say under my breath.
I have a secret name for my boss… Saviour’
‘You know Saviour Bacon… save your bacon’ I explained to Amanda Thornton but she didn’t think it was funny.'
'Saviour has been giving me a hard time. He’s been nagging me to get the report I’m working on finished and pronto.'
“I want you to have the report ready at the required time, in the appropriate format, otherwise I can’t see you taking Friday off, is that clear?” he said and my day quickly became even greyer.
'Another bloody report and just as useless and obscure as the last one, what’s the point? I’ve tried really hard to understand what Saviour wants, I really have. When I ask a question I concentrate as hard as I can on the answer, but I’ve never understood what Saviour is talking about. Even Amanda Thornton doesn’t understand him, no one does. But I have to ask him otherwise I won’t be able to write the shitty report.'
"Mr. Bacon, the report you asked me to write on the outcomes for natural heritage in our action plan to upgrade the quality of life co-efficient for all pertinent stakeholders of the strategic development"
"I don’t seem to have been sent a guide on the outcomes we are seeking to achieve here, can you point me in the right direction please?"
I look at the Saviour hopefully.
"There are two parts to the outcome measures. The first asks you to compare the strategy to the policy direction we are taking and determine a cost – benefit analysis that gives us a clear steer on the direction of play.”
I feel a tight band develop around my chest and my will to live starts seeping away.
"The second part breaks down into simple listing, comparing and rationalising the inputs and outputs in terms of the outcomes that the Cabinet are looking for. You should ensure that you include all options so that we cover our backs."
I stare at Saviour and his eyes seem to be spinning around like the cylinders of old fashioned one arm bandit.
‘Don’t ask a follow up question… don’t do it, don’t.’ I think but I can’t help it and I’ll have to scratch that thing I can’t mention… don’t do it… don’t…
"Er… are they… I mean the Cabinet going to read this one?" I ask.
"Let’s hope not, we don’t want them meddling with the strategy now do we!"
'If I go to counselling, maybe they’ll be able to help me understand what Saviour is on about. Better still, I could start up a support group ‘How to understand your Boss…’ but I bet there are already a few like that on MSN. I think back to the time when job satisfaction meant something to me… it was a long time ago. Maybe… just maybe the next junk pile will include the big one. The one that will let me leave Shortofcash County Council and its unfathomable politics.’
I arrive home and walk to my front door, tape measure in hand. The pile is 2 feet 9 inches today, above average. I open all the mail and comes up with two £5 notes. Then I read all the texts on my mobile; I’ve won four luxury car seat covers. Next I turn on my computer and sift through the hundreds of emails that have arrived since yesterday. When I’m on good form I can do the texts and the computer at the same time.
The phone rings and a voice at the other end of a crackly line wants to know if I would like to upgrade my broadband connection and have a chance of winning £20,000 or a brand new BMW convertible?
‘As I listen to the man talk I look over to my computer sitting on top of a pile of junk mail. One of them will be a big winner; I can feel it in my water.’
The next day I’m not feeling too well and I keep thinking that two men are following me. I’m sure that my ex has got someone to check up on me. She thinks that I’ve won the lottery… ha!
It takes me a while to notice that something at work is different. Eventually I look around and see that most of the people I work with are missing, there’s only Saviour, Amanda Thornton and me in the office.
"Where is everyone?" I ask Saviour.
"The Council’s HR policy on leave allows everyone to take one unpaid day’s leave a year to take part in the national day of gambling. Ten per cent of all the takings are donated to charity. The Council has given this initiative Corporate backing by including it’s goals in the Community Plan. We should support such a noble policy. Of course it’s discretionary, so that’s why you are here and not joining in the national effort. I decided that your lack of progress with the Heritage Report requires that you stay here and focus on finalising your conclusions."
"Mr. Bacon please let me be involved in the national initiative, please let me. I promise that I will finish the report by tomorrow lunch time even if I have to stay up all night."
For once Saviour relents so long as I promise to finish the report. I give him a forty second winking session in thanks.
'This could be the answer to all my dreams. The National on-line gambling day has a top prize of £10.5 million. I could win it, I could... I could.'
When I get home there are two and a half sacks of mail at the door, it’s Wednesday. They’ll have to wait. Today, I’ve got more important things to do! There are a lot of black flies around my door, they look a bit mean.
It takes ages to get on-line, the server has been blocked by the number of emails waiting to get through to me. I put the e-mail’s in a folder which I can come back to later.
I type gambleinheaven.com into my address bar and there is the beautiful gambling site just waiting for me. It’s so friendly and welcoming, all I have to do is put my debit card details in the appropriate box and I can start gambling straight away and to start with there is a free £20 bet available.'
A kind voice says “Don’t bet beyond your means.”
Another voice says “You have to speculate to accumulate. Place your bets please.”
I place a bet on black and it wins…..
I place the next bet on red and it wins…..
The front door bell rings and I run to the door, but I trip over the sacks in the hall, bashing my head, but I get up and open the door.
There’s a woman and a child standing there. They look earnest and have fixed smiles on their faces.
"We are collecting for charity. Will you make a donation to ‘Save our addicted nation?’ For your kindness we will give you a flag.’
I look above their heads and there are black flies everywhere. They fly into the house and make for the front room where the TV is.
“Sir” the woman says.
‘She’s holding a blue collecting box. There’s a noise coming from it. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that it was the sound of waves. I look at the collection box more closely and see the sea and a beach inside it. There are two li-los on the beach, the sun is shining and a beautiful woman is waving at me, shouting… she’s telling me to come in. I’m smiling; I can feel the sun on my face. The beautiful woman is massaging my back.
"You alright Mr.?" the boy asks.
"No…Yes… oh shit the game."
I run back just in time to hear that all bets have been taken. There are black flies all over the wall paper.
The ball rolls around the roulette table. It lands on my number and the amount I would have won flashes up at the top section of the TV screen.
JACKPOT… JACKPOT… JACKPOT… JACKPOT…. £10.5 MILLION… £10.5 MILLION… £10.5 MILLION £10.5 MILLION.
It’s like ticker tape and it keeps on rolling across the screen. Suddenly the flies take off and they’re everywhere. They are crawling on me; on my problem.
I run back to the hall swatting the flies and I grab the mail bags. The woman and child are still standing at the door but I ignore them. I dump the mail in the corner of the living room and pile it high into a heap making a shelter. I crawl under it and I’m completely covered. The flies can’t get me. No-one and nothing can see me under here… I’m safe… safe…