The Wilderness of the Screen

The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights ‘gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea’s landlessness again; for refuge’s sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe.

The call centre is by design a lonely place. Here we sit in our rows, in this glass-walled galley, measuring our lives by the length of our phone-cords, devoting ourselves passionately – heroically – to the wilderness of the screen.

This is the last mystery.

The sun sets according to my calculations. I am not afraid of the dark. I can bundle light up and make it speak; I have downloaded the future and deleted it; I have four hundred and fifty-two friends and I know what they were doing last Wednesday. Surely, we have spread our pixels wide. Death, poor technophobe, has no dominion.

There are people who busy themselves with the known world, with partners, children, groceries, and bus routes. We envy them their symmetrical lives, and the rigour with which they achieve their goals; we envy their regular subscriptions, their many directories, their maps.

But we lost boys have another purpose.

I sit for hours at a time immersing myself in the screen. I have opened the small black door in each of my eyes and let the pale light wash in. There is in fact no stopping it.

I have watched until the world made itself an unremarkable, distant thing, a stray hair, a feather in the wind, the tune water plays when it is disturbed by a single fallen pine needle, and it was lost to me, and I could not hear it. The moon turned in some other sky. The stars glistened like sweat. And in the wilderness of the screen, in the mirage-coolness of it, I watched some other explorer beat a trail inwards away from the known world, and I saluted him, and though I knew he must fail, I knew I would follow.

Calling Ishmael: a short play

[A phone ringing. Call centre operative #MSC11519 answers.]

J: Good morning, you’re through to John, how can I help you today?

I: I am through at last.

J: Yes. And how may I help you, Mr… ?

I: Call me Ishmael.

J: Ishmael. Right. Is there anything in particular I can help you with today, Ishmael?

I: Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and –

[A pause.]

J: Sir? You’re through to John. Do you have a –

I: I have broken through.

[Silence.]

Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever the rush-hour tedium catches my heart mid-beat and turns the roaring red traffic of my blood to a turgid mass; whenever the sky looms whale-white in a thousand mirrored windows, lower and lower; and especially when all in the squat city starve midst a flood of excess information, and every tenacious wire is screaming light, light, and infinite data – then I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

This is my substitute for pistol and ball.

[John hangs up.]