Days O’ Bootpolish

This piece first appeared in August 2006.

It was in the Days o’ Bootpolish that I was banished from the palace. I had done nothing wrong, but one Thursday morning they came for me in my cubicle and tore the paperwork from my elegant hands and told me that I was to be banished. I was led to a cupboard where I was told to deposit my pencils and my hats, and then to another cupboard where there were many, many shelves stacked oh so high with packets of nuts. They told me I could take six packets, two each of peanuts and hazelnuts, one of pine nuts and one of brazil nuts. I was to cram them into my pockets and pat the flaps down. It was made very clear to me that my pockets would be rummaged through as I stepped outside the palace to begin my banishment, and that if I had more than six packets of nuts about my person, banishment from the palace would be the least of my worries. It was not entirely clear to me what this meant, but it was not meant to be clear to me, it was intended that I be stricken with terror and have my imagination run riot at the prospect of some gruesome fate. In truth, I did not get myself into a little flap, for I have always been law-abiding, and I had no intention of taking more than my allotment of nuts. I have twice mentioned flaps, material flaps and emotional flaps, and before I am through I may refer to other flaps. We shall see.

Once I had packed my pockets with my six packets of nuts and patted down the flaps, they told me to come out of the cupboard, and as soon as I was in the corridor they slammed the cupboard door shut with such unnecessary violence that I jumped into the air for a second. The ceiling was high enough that I did not crack my head on it. I understood why they had instructed me to pat down my pocket flaps, because had I not done so, one or more of the packets of nuts may have fallen from my pockets during my inadvertent little jump. I got the impression, waiting for their next move, that they had expected me to jump.

Around the corner of the corridor one of them now appeared, wheeling a gurney. They told me to clamber on to it and to lie down on my back, and then they strapped me to it with a series of buckled woolen belts. It was explained to me that this was all part of the standard banishment procedure and that I should read nothing sinister into it, so I didn’t. I felt quite relaxed, staring at the grimy yellow ceiling of the corridor as I was wheeled along. I mused about the Days o’ Bootpolish, and wondered if they were coming to an end. It was hard to tell.

We arrived at a junction and turned into another corridor. This one had a ceiling that was also yellow, but much less grimy. After a while my gurney juddered to a stop, I was unbuckled, and they told me to get off it and stand up. I did as I was told, and saw that I was in a part of the palace that I had never seen before, but this did not surprise me, for I always knew that I was kept to only certain areas of what must have been a tremendously large building. Now I was going to be thrown out of it altogether, with six packets of nuts to see me on my way. I did find this all very curious, but they showed no sign of giving me any explanation, so I kept my mouth shut.

There was a cold rush of air to my left, and I looked around and saw that a sliding door had swooshed open, and beyond it was open air, a field, some shrivelled vegetation, distant cows, and a magnificent blue sky. I had not seen the like since before the Days o’ Bootpolish, and for the first time since they ejected me from my cubicle I spoke.

“Gosh,” I said.

One of them whacked me on the windpipe with a tally stick, and I crumpled to the floor. My patted-down pocket flaps kept my six packets of nuts safe from spillage. It took me some while to get my breath back, and then they lifted me to my feet. I heard an ungodly beeping noise. This was coming from a wall-panel which formed part of the stupendously complicated palace communication system, installed at the very beginnings of the Days o’ Bootpolish, when inventions were still welcomed. I knew it ran on electricity and pneumatics, but beyond that its workings were a mystery to me. The beeping turned out to be a signal confirming my banishment. They turned out my pockets, and as soon as they were satisfied that I was carrying no more than six packets of nuts, I was shoved in the small of the back, out into the field, and the sliding door swooshed shut behind me.

I walked away from the palace, in more or less a straight line, for about an hour. Then the sky was filled suddenly with dozens of Swordfish jet planes with military markings, dozens of planes, skitting and swooping, making a terrible din. I clapped my elegant hands over my equally elegant ears to stifle the racket, without much success. While I was standing there being a bit weedy, one of the planes came into land about fifty cements away and disgorged a troop of howler monkeys, who immediately came charging towards me, howling and howling. They grabbed my arms and legs, lifted me off my feet, bundled me into a tarpaulin, and carried me off towards the plane. I noticed a solitary starling in the blue sky.

Once inside the plane, which took off again as soon as I had been ferried aboard, I was tossed from the tarpaulin onto a surprisingly comfortable bunk and injected with a serum. This gave me a splitting headache but also caused me to begin babbling in urgent and breathless gulping sobs everything I knew about the palace and the Days o’ Bootpolish. I couldn’t stop myself, even when one of the howler monkeys passed me a tumbler of refreshing milkshake. I ended up spitting most of it onto the floor, so desperate was I to tell everything I could dredge up from the deepest nooks of my brain. It was all quite involuntary. None of the howler monkeys was taking notes, in fact they did not seem particularly interested in what I had to tell. I prattled on for at least a day, if not more, before falling back on the bunk completely spent. They gave me some more milkshake, and this time I drained my tumbler with lip-smacking relish. Then I fell asleep.

That was last week. This week, the howler monkeys have asked me to help them to make a scale model of the palace out of corrugated cardboard. I will give them what help I can. I have already given them the six packets of nuts that were the tokens of my banishment. The Days o’ Bootpolish are over now, at long last, and I for one will not miss them. I have enough on my plate, ushering in the Days o’ Cellophane to a colony of a hundred thousand howler monkeys, learning to howl just like them, but perhaps with a touch more elegance.

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