Nick Norton

The Alpha Recital

Nick Norton

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In our window we are all classed as alpha male. This is a mere technicality, if not an out and out paradox. Even amongst showroom dummies there is a pecking order, and Alpha is without doubt the best amongst us. One day he will simply fasten up his raincoat, unhitch himself and leave. I miss him already.

Words are a lubricant. He speaks, and each syllable changes us. His oratory melts and recasts the crude forms of our birth.

This month we are discerning gentlemen. I am draped in cricket whites. Alpha wears a Gabardine, smart brogues, and stands holding a rolled brolly horizontally across his thighs.

Dawn is edging up the boulevard, warming over our faces. Faces fixed, stilled for the day, Alpha adjusts his wig. There are measured paces in the corridor behind us. A security guard making his final round of the night. Nothing can ruffle Alpha's smooth hydraulic calm. In his own time, he too becomes a dummy.

Through just this one night Alpha has provided me with feeling in spaces I never knew I had. And now, for the full day, I must ignore these new depths.

Street cleaners are sluicing down the pavement, sun peeking through the branches of the plane trees. In here it will soon be unbearably hot. You think showroom dummies do not perspire? You do, I know. Your ignorance is surpassed only by a list of cruelties that might go on forever, way beyond these demeaning poses, the out of date couture, and badly fitted hair pieces. We object to the day to day brutalities of the stockroom. We object for having been bred to be vain whilst having shame thrust upon us. We object that from the start we know our destiny. A destiny we must rage against in whispers.

The night staff are homeward bound. I have to be still. We have not yet learnt to sleep but stillness is a knowledge born unto us. Do not imagine it restful. In our cranked arms we carry the refraction of your dreams. We are beaten if we drop them. In the stock room legs are smashed, fingers severed, heads kicked off and, we watch. We remain silent. We remain silent when you are around.

It is evening now and you take a second or so to linger over our display. You are rearranging purchases that all at once feel awkward in your tired arms, flicking a troublesome strand of hair from before your eyes, you suddenly find yourself studying the reflection before you rather more intently than usual. A dark lattice work of tree, street sign, and the homeward bound. This cuts you off, huddles you into this one hushed moment. We do not flinch, studying you, or perhaps you blame your exhausted eyes for playing tricks because of course show room dummies do not look back at you.

Pull up a collar in deference to the night and start home. The mass of bodies in the Metro retreat. You are dreaming of pleasures, the train shudders, lights dim. Pleasures which may be enticed from out your new outfit; the admiration of friends, the approval of lovers. It shall be worn first for that one, a special dinner date. And you do not see the spilt food nor anticipate the indifference, you cannot yet wonder at that one stain and the missed dates which are already waiting, as if woven into the cloth.

Late night, the last revellers stalked by the bored gendarmerie. Rain beads on glass, a splash of amber picked at by the night's purple, blue, and neon red. Discarded wrappings are blown by, melancholy, bemused. An occasional sheet of newsprint lifts from some dry corner to float like a phantom before sinking into the gutter sludge. Alpha begins to speak. It so inflames me I fear my nylon hairpiece might melt and fall as sizzling tears across my whites.

‘As it is rumoured how we came here through rumour, so it is rumoured that a rumour shall set us free...’

I remember all too well how I came to be, how I arrived here. Sentient before leaving the factory, even before the end of the conveyor belt, my expression fixed in a banal look of satisfaction. It seems I was born screaming and, as I travelled to the warehouse, I hoped this scream might expand, grow, and swell to eventually rip open my entire being. A noise without breath is a howl never begun and never snuffed out, and in this silence there was only the trap of awareness.

Some convey on their poorly practised lips the zephyrs of an earlier Eden. Some talk of a true state; a pre-nature from whose grace we have been torn. Except I know, as does Alpha, as really every showroom dummy realises, deep beneath their fibreglass epidermis, we come from you. We know we come from you. We know you, our tormentors and parents both. This notwithstanding, always the rumour itself is the thing. A hairline fracture, a whisper becoming fissure.

The story might have been different in the beginning. It might have been a sketch, an outline of how someone had heard that in the beginning it was heard of how we may be alive. This perhaps was thought a worthy thing to pass on. As the rumour grew, so the depth and breadth of that gulf increased and, as the words continue, our hollows become full, our lips supple, our fingers twitch.

In the beginning, which was the factory, it was never apparent who spoke. We heard nonetheless. In the beginning; yet where began the factory? In you, I have said as much, then where are you from? Are you peeled from out the muffled bondage of bubble-wrap? Are you hidden in a stockroom until the season changes? Do you know the stockroom where security guards practice their baton charge on fiberglass limbs, where frantic clerks fuck around one’s feet and think that we can keep a secret? If you know such things then you may have heard of how it was when Alpha first spoke out.

‘One day...’ 

As if lightning struck we tumbled to the floor, delirious, disconnected, and found ourselves resembling a stubbornly immobile orgy.

‘One night,’ says Alpha, ‘the barriers between all things became fluid. It was because of a plague, some said, or it was because of a solar flare, or it was due to a weakened economy and the attendant moral unease which allowed all things and cared for none; there were many reasons and none. Even so, all things became fluid. The formerly lifeless now lived. No one is sure where life begins. No one is sure where death begins. All things become possible.’

Alpha laughed quietly to himself, rocking back and forth on his stand, and my heart is sent into palpitations. (I have a heart!)

A tongue is loosened, an eye moistened, this pulse is set racing; there a mouth is gaping and, here within, within each of us, words slip in and out of flushed, nascent organs.

‘Before I go,’ said Alpha, buttoning up his jacket, ‘I hope you do not mind if I take a little time to wonder out loud upon the nature of this maelstrom we are about step into.’ He hitched up his pants and, for the first time in his life, sat, resting elegantly upon one corner of the podium that had been for so long his prison. Bristle was growing on his chin and he devoted half a minute or so to rubbing this. Without thinking I stretched out my right arm, and it responded! The thrill of it almost blinded me. But it was in the hope of caressing Alpha's cheek that I had sought to move and in this I failed. My lower half remained solid.

Alpha glanced around the crudely animated scene. This was now our display; cranky half passes and repetitive jigging, the faint yearnings of a geriatric keep fit class. Sighing, Alpha turned to gaze into the empty city.

‘Maybe there is no plague. What if the sun is not to blame? Perhaps society’s aim is to enrich and protect all people as if each and every citizen were an intimate of the royal house. We may be coming to life for the sake of life alone.’

Alpha stood, flicked some stray fluff from a trouser leg, and looked me straight in the eye. Then a brief jig and with a yelp he leapt at the glass. It shattered completely and in a swish of coat tails he disappeared into the squally, diamond studded night.

I always knew he would go. Knowing just made it hurt all the more. Why had I not asked him to wait? Did I believe my love could hold him solely by the magnificence of its silence?

And what about us? What about our squandered motivation? What about our hope; was it to be left here in the night air to freeze, clog up, wither, and would we become once more showroom dummies? In my gut, and I had a gut, I felt this was so, and yet my mind spoke of him as a liberator. Therefore I spoke: Is it Alpha who sets us free, must we wait for him, or could there another way?

It hardly mattered. The one I adored was gone.

The alarm wailed so that I am almost certain no one could hear me, and yet I spoke.

‘Alpha has left. He is travelling upon a pathway called freedom.’

All night long, and pitched against the mechanical howling, I descried the tantalising nature of adoration and translated this into motivational tropes. Flash and nonsense, the first stuff to come into my head, I began blathering on in the hope that these words might work directly on my lower limbs, willing a thaw for my extremities so that I might skip into the dawn and hunt for my mentor.

A little before sun-up a glazier's van was driven onto the kerb. Workmen secured a large wooden board across the full width of our frontage. We were in darkness.

Somebody said; ‘Tell us a story Alpha.’ I said Alpha has left us. They said; ‘You are Alpha, tell us a story.’

In this window we are all classed as alpha male, it is a mere technicality, if not an out and out paradox. Even so, words will slip out.

Nick Norton

His book AKA: A Genealogy of the Saddle, commissioned by Book Works, is described by the filmmaker Patrick Keiller:  A joy to read, Nick Norton's wonderful book brings a headlong, associative sensibility to the literature of landscape. I wish there were more books like it

He has prose just published in Fictive Dream; previous prose published in The Honest Ulsterman, Brittle Star, Vignette Review, The Periodical, Coil, Inventory, em, Glossy. His poems are found in Ink, Sweat, & Tears, Anima, Octavius Magazine, Obsessed with Pipework, The Interpreters House, Iota, Other Poetry, Envoi, and elsewhere. 

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