Saturday, November 26, 2005

"A CRUMPLED UP NAPKIN IN SERVICE OF THE FATHERLAND" is today's short-short story which, like an unexpected sparrow in your pants, will tickle, surprise and delight you to childlike laughter. The story has been inspired by the following piece by Christian Northeast, a Canadian commercial artist whose list of clients is a veritable who's who and what's what of cool in all its wondrous guises.
And just a quick little literary aside: I would be remise not to mention the amazing collection of talent found on the long-list for the Impac Dublin Literary Award, the biggest cash prize for fancy words in the world. Reading the list is tantamount to reading a short story. Or better yet, imagine it as a cross between a poem and a lottery ticket. Yes, let's be happy for their talents.

But for now sit back in your bathtub of Saturday morning coffee and enjoy...


On September the 3rd, 2004, none of this really happened on a flight from New York to Denver.

The fasten your seat-belts lights had just gone out and the captain was welcoming everyone on board flight 312 in a such a casual laid-back voice that it suggested a birthday party speech at a pool side. Almost all the passengers liberated themselves with a simple click and several stood up to rummage through their belongings in overhead compartments for no apparent reason. Smiles were exchanged as people squeezed past one another and appetites were wetted in Pavlovian style as trays were opened in anticipation of salted snacks.

None of these changes in the progress of the flight registered within the double-walled fortress of Henry Siemens' body and mind. His resolution to stand on guard (or sit on guard in this case) remained steadfast. He was on a possible vehicle for terrorists not a guest at a party at 40 thousand feet.

"Peanuts ?" a fastidious looking steward asked. Henry Siemens nodded an emotionless yes which was followed up with an even drier: "and two waters." After opening the little packet of peanuts, he inserted them into his mouth one at time ensuring that the previous peanut had been sufficiently masticated and swallowed. Every third peanut was washed down with a conservative sip of water. This regime had been learned by rote and had been practiced countless times on solid earth so that Henry's concentration could be freed up for safety surveillance.

And thank god for his vigilance for a child, two rows up from Henry on the other side of the aisle, was putting the finishing touches on a lego gun which had been assembled without anyone noticing. But Henry noticed. He put his waters and remaining peanuts on his neighbour's tray, undid his seat-belt, stood up with the full force of the law and walked over to the child while wiping the salt from his fingertips with a napkin.

"This is an inappropriate toy for a plane. Guns have their place in our God-fearing country but not here, not now," he said firmly.

The child, surprised by the unwelcomed attention, started to cry and that was when Henry stuffed the napkin in his mouth.

None of this could have happened without the love of the fatherland.

None of this true story ever took place on flight 312 or anywhere else.


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