Silence: That which is defined as the complete absence of sound. Silence is a misnomer. Because there never is a complete absence of sound. Not on this earth at least. There is always something to be heard. If you’ve ever sat down somewhere quiet and apparently free from noise and listened, I mean really listened, you’ll know what I mean. Even the quiet places have some noise; the trills of passing birds, the hum of far distant machinery, the sound of your own breathing or the surging sound of blood pounding in your ears. The apparent absence of sound, the undertone of life, is in of itself, a sound. There is always something in the background. And as it is with sound, so it is with people. There is always someone in the background, loitering just out of sight and ensuring that no place is ever left empty. One such person is Wet Geoff.
A name like “Wet Geoff” conjures a certain image. One of a person who perennially looks slightly greasy, like they’ve just come in from the rain. But otherwise a persona of slightly unassuming appearance: slouched shoulders, bad posture; a furrowed brow that spoke of them solemn; hollow eyes that spoke of the forlorn; a quivering of the lip that spoke of the timid. Someone who you know, just from looking at them, will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid kicking up any sort of fuss. Wet basically. What the name does not conjure however, is the fact that Wet Geoff is actually a woman and that, despite her aforementioned appearance and its associated inferences, she is none of these things. Her appearance is an expected constant, an armour, a thing wise folk know to be a glamour. For wise folk know that Wet Geoff and her Newspaper Men are not to be taken lightly.
The evening found Wet Geoff standing alone in the reception hall of an abandoned tenement block. Clad in her perennially damp suit of carbon grey poly-cotton. She sucked noisily at an ancient boiled sweet, rolling it around the inside of here mouth. Back and forth, back and forth. Calcified sugar clicking as it struck the weather enamel of her teeth. This was her thinking time, in her thinking place. Everyone needs to have a thinking place. It’s a basic human need. Some people just have the luck of it being somewhere a little bit more salubrious than a mould infested stairwell.
Ms. Geoff was certainly thinking right now. In between the slurps and clacks of candy brutalisation her mouth and brow were creased into a frown. Matching the slight vacant and middle distant glaze that strolled about her eyes. For Geoff had recently a decision, and like many of us were we to be placed into a similar situation, was now wondering whether it was entirely the right decision that she had made; doubt gets its grubby little fingers into everything.
The mastication of her boiled delight abruptly ceased. It was if anything the only sign that Geoff had made a decision upon her decision. With a great hawking sound she propelled the sweet from her mouth and straight through a pane of glass, leaving a neat, round hole and a spiderweb of cracks. Geoff buried her hands into the threadbare pockets of her jacket and set off to parts unknown with a hunched and tramping gait. Out in the street sheets of yellow newspaper rustled and danced in an unseen wind.
By a convoluted and circuitous route which would make little sense to any rational observer, Wet Geoff came to the mouth of The Grand Station. A station which by means of its unique and imposing architecture was more than deserving of its particular capitalisation. Now stations, if you’re speaking in generalities, are cold places; being all open and airy does that. They also have a certain smell to them. Usually it’s something a bit old, mayhaps with a hint of dust or crumbling brick. Some of the more upmarket and refined stations occasionally spice things up with a sly waft of engine oil and that thick yellowy grease that used to get smeared onto pistons. All in all, the sort of smells that you image would give a Victorian engineer a massive boner. But The Grand was a very different place. It existed in neither the foreground or the background of life, but existed in that nebulous no-man’s land that squatted between the two. Existing in neither and both of the traditional pigeon holes that a building should find itself in, it had developed a particularly unique smell as befitted its unique status in reality. It was a smell as peculiar as it was unique. The smell itself was the kind of smell which seemed to push everything else out-of-the-way, up to and including the air itself, working its way into the depths of your lungs and making you cough and feel a little sick. It was beyond sweet and into realms of cloying and obsequious. But despite this it possessed a delicate floral body that made you almost want to forgive its own brand of in-your nose exuberance. Perhaps the most bizarre of this smells properties was the fact that the minute you left The Grand you utterly and completely forgot exactly what it smelt like. So every time to wandered into the dizzying glass-roofed atrium you were completely unaware as to what was just about to brutally violate your nostrils.
The redoubtable Wet Geoff remained unfazed by this nasal assault, it was not the first time she had been to The Grand. She did however always enjoy trying to pin down exactly what it was the smell of. For it was a shifty bugger and though the essence and parts remained the same, the whole never smelt the same twice.
Turkish Delight. Geoff mused. Well, Turkish Delight’s big, burly, but surprisingly effeminate brother. She drew biro from the inside, it’s plastic cylinder opaque and white with age. In a precise hand, she made a note in a water damaged moleskin. Returning these to the pockets from whence they came she set off into the heart of the station, fluttering sheets of newspaper trailing in her wake.
As with all stations there is a problem when it comes to tracks, more specifically how to traverse them. The Grand having neither the luxury of being a terminus or point of origin (it was a place between places after all) could not make do with the simple solution employed by such venerable as Paddington or King’s Cross and just let people walk round the ends. The Grand resorted to a series of great arcing bridges of wrought iron that traversed the lofty heights of near the vaulted roofs, spanning the gaps between arcades and the lesser, middling facades that mirror them. It was to one such bridge that Geoff was making her way.
Faint strains of an unwell accordion drifted through the empty, sticky air of The Grand. As she began to cross the bridge Geoff made a face. A sour face, like her mouth had suddenly and inexplicably filled with lemon juice. It was a fleeting thing and was gone almost as soon as it had appeared. With every further step she took across the bridge the more “things” began to happen. In increments and by inches the newspaper which had trailed in her wake began to clump and jump, sheets rose in spiralling eddies from the station floor and were drawn to the storm of paper that followed her; like iron fillings being drawn towards a magnet. Slowly the clumps and heaps of papers began to grow and expand, aggregating around the thought and command of Wet Geoff. These lumps folded and shifted, distorting their way out of lumpitude and into the crude shapes of arms and legs, looking for all the world like a string of paper dolls cut with rusty scissors. Folds sharpened, doubled and multiplied, large flat expanses of newsheet billowed like wind catching a sail. By the time she had reached the end of the bridge the figures had coalesced into perfect origami simulacra of men. Complete with paper trilbies made from the sports sections, jeans made from letters columns and shoes made from the style guide. Of these Newspaper men there were five, for five was a good and solid number. A number symmetrical in its asymmetry. One of these five was obviously the leader. While the others were made of clean whites or drab greys and looked reminiscent of a modern man-about-town, there was one who was obviously different. Made of paper gone yellow with age and shaped in a double breasted suit with razor sharp creases and atop his head sat a little paper bowler hat. He even had an elaborately sculpted paper moustache.
Wet Geoff stopped at the end of the bridge, hands in pockets and wearing her most nonchalant of nonchalant faces. Which had the look more of a sad and hungry puppy left out in the rain than nonchalance. The newspaper men fanned out to either side of the bridge, but the one in yellow took up a position looming just behind Geoff’s shoulder.
The music which had been drifting though the air first faltered and then stopped with a tortured abruptness as its producer locked eyes with those of Geoff.
“Leave Charlatan.” Said Geoff in stern and strident tones. A voice which was rich, mellow and forbidding all at once. The man with the accordion simply gazed in slack-jawed awe at the damp woman before him.
“Observer?” Geoff asked. The yellowed newspaper man at her shoulder rustled. “Cut him.”
The accordionist was running before Geoff had finished forming the shape of the “m.” Before her, pressed up against the walls of the sandstone arcade, stood a tiny news stand made from battered and weathered blue plywood boards. A myriad of strange and bizarre magazines festooned the front of the little stand held in place with elastic bands and wire racking. They ranged from Heat and Hello, to unrecognisable magazines which did not seem entirely of this earth, in languages that didn’t seem entirely human. The proprietor of the little stall was hidden behind a large pink broadsheet, utterly oblivious to what was going on around him. Geoff slowly approached him and with an outstretched finger pulled the centre of the paper down to reveal the beady-eyed and bespeckled man who lay behind it.
“Merchant.” Said Geoff abruptly.
“Ms. Geoffrey!” began the Merchant, casting aside the broadsheet. “It is as ever a pleasure to play host to your august and luminary presence. You do my infinitesimally insignificant emporium habitual honour here today. Your ephemeral radiance is a balm to my withered soul and does leaves me hale and hearty.”
Geoff viewed the verbose and slightly obsequious greeting with eyes so cold and dead that they would not have looked out-of-place in a fishmongers. This look alone was enough to arrest any further oration on the part of the merchant.
“Do you have it?” asked Geoff.
“The very concept and notion of failing in facilitating my furnishing you with your fantastical fineries is fallacious at best my dear Lady Geoff. Your words wound me.” Replied the Merchant
“Is that a yes?”
“It is very much indeed an all-encompassing affirmative on that point”
“Well?” asked Geoff impatiently. The Merchant paused nervously as the tone and meaning worked its way through his head.
“Yes, yes, your pretty little package. Just let me produce it for you from my plethora of pigeon holes and hiding places.” From somewhere below the counter he produced a battered red leather briefcase and gently laid it on the little shelf at the front of the stall. “All, as ordered, specified, requested, demanded and otherwise implied your Wetship.”
Carefully Geoff popped the clasps open and pushed back the lid. From the depths of the case came a gentle and wholesome glow of light, like the summer sun or fine, clarified butter. It enveloped and caressed Wet Geoff’s face, and for the first time in a very, very long time, her face looked dry.
“Yes.” Geoff whispered “This will do nicely.”