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Little Wrigglers and the Momentum of the Wall

It was 6.30am on Tuesday the 1st of April. Mr. Ellephanie sat opposite a beautiful Oriental woman, who was looking at him with dark brown eyes which bristled; she was speaking English at him with a 'Chinese accent'.

“If you don't do homework, what is point in my coming here? Why come? Huh? You say you are busy man. That no excuse. I am busy woman and I have to fly for 6.30 Wednesday. I'm not having it anymore. You spend lesson time learning what you should have learnt from last time and I will test you next week. You say you are serious about Mandarin. You want Chinese market. Well I am the first person in your market and I not impressed. And will not teach Korean if you don't take Mandarin serious.

Next week is last chance. Learn or I not come back. Simple. Goodbye Mr. Ellephanie."

She sat up from her chair, gathered up her things, spun round and walked out of the door all in one deft movement.

Chuck loved Mrs. Chang and her peremptory approach. They played this game; she knew that she was one of the only people who were likely to get busy business people to do anything. She was famous for scaring the shit out of MD's across the US. Chuck was pretty sure he had reached the limit now, that's what good teachers did, you knew where the limit was and there was no flexibility beyond it. Boom, limit reached.

Apart from his wife, Mrs. Chang was the only woman in the world who spoke to him like that. He enjoyed it; in fact it was almost worth not doing his homework so he could get into trouble again. It made him feel young again, carefree, like he had been at school. Free to get up to mischief like he always used to in Chemistry.

One day, he remembered quite vividly, Mr. Baven the Chemistry teacher had walked in. He was like Mrs. Chang; you knew the limits, an old fashioned disciplinarian who didn't take any shit. He was from some English public school originally but had come over to the US when the public school system had been dismantled or something; he couldn't remember the exact details.

He was a burly eccentric man with greasy ginger hair and a massive pot belly. He insisted on wearing the most vulgar, loud and tasteless shirts he could lay his hands on with bright polyester ties, often of a lime green hue.

As a result the upper half of his body looked like the contents of very, very tomato-y lasagna, were you to vomit it up on the floor. One day they were doing something about acids and salts. He could not remember exactly what it was but the experiment involved sulphuric acid.

‘Now I remember, I swapped the dilute sulphuric acid for the cone stuff and put sugar in it. Great, clouds of steam as the carbon in the sugar came up looking like some massive black carbon phallus and the rest of the sugar went up in clouds of gas.’

Susie now Sally entered the room and saw Chuck staring inanely out of the window with a massive smile on his face. ‘Must be thinking about sex,' she mused.

“Will you want Mrs. Chang back next week?" Chuck didn't turn around.

“Yes and tell her I'll do her homework. Tell her I promise. Thanks Susie."

‘Sally's settled in well. She's better than my last PA, although I miss her sense of humour a lot.'

Chuck spread his hands along the long wooden sill, which surrounded the edge of his corner office and stared out of the window. The smile gradually vacated his face and was replaced by a somber expression.

‘Wednesday and they're still at it. I thought they'd have given up this shit with the wall by now. It's getting worse not better,' Chuck shook his head 'Arseholes from all over Iowa. It's higher. Two hours to clear this morning, with the largest caterpillars in Hertferd. Give 'em their due, they're being very organised about it.’

‘Havoc with the shifts and we're starting to lose money. Doesn't look good, like I'm not in control. Well I'm not right now, I feel like a prisoner in my own business.

Kelly said be careful. Okay, so I'll be careful, but goddam it, people have got to get to work and I don't like how it looks for me, makes me look bad. But if I'm heavy handed, that will look bad too. The whole thing could flare up.'

Chuck heaved a long sigh.

“Chemistry was more fun!” he said aloud.

He could see the dozens of farmers holding placards and shouting from his office. There were more than yesterday.

“Get me Martin Shaw" he said.

His screen popped up on his otherwise clear desk and dialled some digits.

Martin's face popped up on the screen. "Martin. How are you doing?"

“Could be better."

“When are you going to get this litter off my lawn?" he said turning around to face the screen.

“Chuck, it's not that simple you know. They're allowed to demonstrate."

“Goddam it what do you take me for? I know they can demonstrate but they're costing me money, lots of money the factory has half ground to a halt with them stopping people getting to work, there's a goddam law against that. Why didn't you stop them heightening the barricade at night? Do I have to do everything? Isn't there a law against this?"

“Yes there is Chuck but we're concerned about the situation flaring up and getting out of control."

“Well it's your job to get it under control isn't it? This isn't looking too good for us Martin; it doesn't look good at all. It's a criminal offence to block a public highway."

“I know all that Chuck. You know I do. We just don't want it to flare up that would look worse."

“Can't you put some people around at night, stop them bringing more stuff in?"

“I don't want to call in other cops it doesn't look good for us."

“And I suppose this," Chuck gesticulated out of the window "does make you look good does it? Law and order in Hertferd courtesy of Martin Shaw everybody. Come and live in Hertferd where it's okay to block public highways and stop people getting to work. Hertferd the modern dynamic town that we are trying to persuade people to invest in. Hertferd the future growing town of Iowa. Don't you get it Martin? This makes it look like it's their town, especially if we don't do anything about it. It makes it look like Anderton has the case down here. Makes it look like it's the farmer’s town. Doesn't do me any favours in Washington or Seoul. If you don't get some more folks down here at night, I'll be onto the Governor."

“Chuck I'll see what I can do."

“And for God's sake don't annoy them anymore than they are already. Diffuse them. That's police tactics, right? "

“Okay, I'll see you later."


The screen closed down.

He wandered across his office. He had five minutes before his next meeting. His schedule hung in the air like a free-floating neon advertisement.

He looked at his cactus on the window sill. It was wilting. Not enough water. He went back to his desk and gave it a little water from his own glass and compressed the soil around the base of the cactus to give it more support.

He went back to his desk and asked for Kandie. He told it to stop. Damn she was out this morning talking to someone about her art gallery, he didn't want to call her portable viewcom.

Text message, he told the screen, he dictated the following and watched the words appearing as he spoke.

"I've come round. It will cost a lot. I'll have to learn to live with it - take me a while. I'll love the child just like it was totally ours, so let's buy some wrigglers. Let's go later today, I need to sort this place out but there's not a lot happening around here with the bloody farmers, so I might as well make the most.

I love you, yours as ever, infertilely. Chuck."

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