Tenth Anniversary (IV)

It is day four of our tenth anniversary celebrations. Here is a piece entitled Far, Far Away, originally posted on Monday 4 September 2006. It is one of Mr Key’s own favourites.

Far, far away, there is a galaxy of shattered stars, stars crumpled and curdled and destitute, and there is a planet tucked in among these sorry stars, a tiny pink planet of gas and water and thick foliage, and tucked in among the fronds and creepers and enormous leaves of this foliage lie millions of unhatched eggs, and when they hatch they will hatch millions of magnetic mute blind love monkeys.

I am a crew member of the starship Corrugated Cardboard, heading implacably through deep space towards the galaxy of crumpled stars. Seven years into the voyage, only four of us remain from the original manifest of twenty. There is my captain, o my captain, Pilbrow, a hirsute, raving martinet. We have tied him with cords and confined him to a cupboard, for he has become impossibly dangerous. His spittle is sulphurous, it burns that which it touches, and as he raves, he spits, and he is never not raving, not any more. Ever since we passed through the belt of [illegible] Pilbrow seems no longer human. Being the science officer, I tried to study him, at first. Wearing big protective gloves I transferred flecks of his spittle into my alembic, and ignited my bunsen burners, and peered intently at Pilbrow’s burning spittle, hoping to learn something. I learned nothing. We have travelled far, far beyond the belt of [illegible], and still I have learned nothing. Thus the binding with cords, and thus the cupboard.

Also surviving is Pilbrow Two, a half-size version of my captain, o my captain, made of cardboard, wax and string and animated with life by sparks of something akin to, but not quite, electricity. Pilbrow Two is indubitably alive, a pulsating, rustling, thinking, breathing thing, but it has nothing in common with the raving martinet tied by cords in the cupboard. At the beginning of the voyage, we considered changing its name, we even spent a few days calling it Unpilbrow or Antipilbrow, but neither of these caught on, possibly because Pilbrow Two would boom “My name is Pilbrow Two!” in its deafening voice. Our cardboard, wax and string crewmate has been invaluable in keeping our spirits up. I do not think we would still be heading for the galaxy of crumpled and destitute stars, and for the tiny pink planet, if it were not for his – her? its? – determination. Lumpen would have had us turn back, I am sure of it.

Lumpen is the other survivor. He has been morose and sullen since we ran out of breakfast cereal two years ago, after missing the supply depot on the Planet of Grocery Provisions Epsilon Six where we were due to collect a consignment of Kellogg’s Fruit ‘n’ Fibre. He keeps to his bunk now, head buried in a metalback copy of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, his pipe clenched in his teeth, the fumes of his untreated Serbian tobacco hanging in the pseudo-air of the cabin. At least it kills the flies.

The bullet-riddled corpses of our dead crewmates, all sixteen of them, are coffined up and the coffins stacked as a makeshift ping pong table. We cleared a space in the cargo hold by jettisoning some crates of irrelevant rubbish we were meant to be delivering to one of the outlying mini-planets of Hubbardworld. There will be hell to pay if we ever get home, but home seems so far away now, so far, far away. Pilbrow Two is a superb ping pong player, never letting its bat get caught in its string, but I am better. We have played thousands of games over the years, and I have won nearly all of them, sometimes without losing a point. Because it has no heart, Pilbrow Two is not disheartened, and comes to every match with the same valiant perkiness that keeps us plunging ever further through space towards the galaxy of shattered stars.

One afternoon, after a particularly gruelling ping pong match, Pilbrow Two confessed to me that what kept it going, what kept it tweaking the boosters to increase our speed, even at the cost of sending the starship into judders which popped some of the bolts on the pseudo-air-seals, was that it was filled with a burning lust for the as yet unhatched magnetic mute blind love monkeys patiently awaiting birth on the tiny pink planet. This was the first I had heard of them. I became confused, and flung question after question at the half-size cardboard, wax and string simulacrum of my captain, o my captain, but it answered none of them. Instead, it showed me pages of twee love poetry it had been writing, and led me to a corner of the cargo hold where it had hidden a stash of love tokens – mostly things made out of some kind of tin, flowers and lockets and brooches, finicky bittybobs it was going to bestow upon the magnetic mute blind love monkeys once they were born. When I protested that there were, supposedly, millions of these monkeys, Pilbrow Two explained to me, with a winsome sigh, that its love knew no bounds, and nor did its lust, for when it had been programmed back in the lab that gave it life, a stray spark had imbued it with a superabundance of love, lust, and ping pong perkiness.

I wondered whether to share these revelations with Lumpen. But what would be the use? Patting Pilbrow Two on its cardboard head, I picked up my ping pong bat and challenged it to another game, and we played and played and played, as my captain, o my captain, Pilbrow, raved and spat and struggled with his binding cords in his cupboard, we played as Lumpen smoked his pipe and read Ayn Rand for the thousandth time, we played as the starship Corrugated Cardboard hurtled inexorably through space towards the galaxy of stars shattered and stars crumpled, stars curdled and stars destitute, wherein nestled the tiny pink planet of gas and water and thick foliage, wherein nestled millions of unhatched eggs, wherein nestled millions of unhatched magnetic mute blind love monkeys, awaiting their unlikely Romeo, a cardboard, wax and string simulacrum of my captain, o my captain, called Pilbrow Two, bearing poetry and love tokens, far, far away.

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