THE ANGEL OF FUGUE
BY ANDRES KAHAR
Noun 1. Fugue – dissociative disorder in which a person forgets who they are and leaves home to creates a new life; during the fugue there is no memory of the former life; after recovering there is no memory of events during the dissociative state
Underemployment was a nasty, yet increasingly familiar, state of being for his generation of university-educated talent. Well, that’s what Guy Burgess kept telling himself.
Guy, you see, was trained as a journalist. Guy even worked as a journalist. But, one barely remembered chain of events later, Guy ended up on the fringes, working in a call centre.
DATE: Dead of winter
PLACE: DeMens Market Research call centre (Toronto)
Guy Burgess really hated his job. He really hated talking to angry North Americans about credit card debt. But he didn’t know how to break the cycle of never-ending, evening call centre shifts — it was as if he’d been there forever, and always would be.
He was suffering from some weird kind of middle-range memory loss, so the events leading up to his employment at DeMens call centre were fuzzy, shadowy outlines.
One day, he considered seeking medical or psychiatric help for his self-diagnosed condition, but that idea was nixed pronto: Guy was certain that if any professional documented the details of his life, there’d be a forensic trail leading straight to his Internet porn cache. He’d seen enough Internet pop-ups warning of likely job loss should any authority figure find out he was a regular visitor to www.sloppysausage.org.
Guy Burgess hated the thought of losing his job.
Bong-Bong: “Guys ride around in BMWs and pick up women. They pay her money to do it with them. Always end with the money shot. They call themself â€˜Bimmer Bangers.'”
That was Bong-Bong making conversation one shift. Bong-Bong was an amiable colleague of Guy’s at DeMens.
But whenever Bong-Bong got to talking like that at work, Guy got nervous. Guy’s eyes began to dart, and he’d sweat profusely, watching out for supervisors.
Guy: [voice slightly raised] “Look, Bong-Bong, I don’t know about norms in Manila, but sex for me is a straight-up enterprise. One man, one woman. No bells, whistles or Bimmers.”
Bong-Bong looked injured, and Guy returned to dialing numbers for the current credit card survey.
Guy must have scrolled through that survey on the computer screen at least 100 times. So, 35 minutes later, when Guy got a live respondent willing to do the survey, he was basically on auto-pilot, almost reciting the script from memory.
Only this time — possibly the 101st — was different. The script on the screen was being rewritten before his eyes. The DeMens preamble about confidentiality was being overwritten by the following sentence, in big block letters:
â€˜YOU ARE AN AGENT, GUY BURGESS. AWAKEN TO YOUR DESTINY.’
Guy: “Uh, Bong-Bong, look at this. Something messed-up is happening with my computer.”
But Bong-Bong’s feelings were still hurt over the â€˜Bimmer Bangers’ exchange. He wiped a tear from his cheek, and he stared ahead at his own screen, frosty and silent.
Guy turned back to his computer screen: everything was back to normal: there it was: the DeMens confidentiality preamble he knew by heart, and nothing about him being an â€˜agent’ or his â€˜destiny.’
Some 24 hours later, Guy found himself staring at the same screen and the same script, with a phone receiver sweating against his ear. At least he assumed it was 24 hours later. He didn’t remember going home or doing anything else since his last shift. All he had to measure time by was the DeMens clock on the DeMens wall in the DeMens phone room.
A few hours into the shift, just as Guy was starting into a survey, the script on the computer screen began overwriting itself again:
â€˜WE CAN HELP YOU CHANGE YOUR FATE, GUY BURGESS. THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES.’
Guy: “Hey, Bong-Bong, something’s gone wrong here. My computer’s talking to me.”
Bong-Bong: [hostile, sarcastic tone] “No thank you, Neo. I see that movie too. Bong-Bong is not talking to you.”
So Guy left his cubicle to look for a shift supervisor.
Guy: “My computer’s messed up.”
Supervisor: “No, you’re messed up. How many times have we said no web surfing. Especially porn. Hit the bricks, Guy. You’re fired.”
When Guy turned back to the screen, his jaw sank. His monitor displayed a looped Reel-Video clip of a man humping a woman in the backseat of a car, while the cameraman’s member bobs in and out of the bottom of the screen, poking the overzealous woman in the cheek. Then, up came the logo: â€˜BIMMER BANGERS.’
As Guy was escorted out of the phone room, he glared over his shoulder at Bong-Bong, who looked just as surprised as Guy.
Guy: “Et tu, Bong-Bong!”
The allusion may have fallen flat, but Guy’s accusation was understood. Bong-Bong shook his head in confused denial.
Guy sat on the cold steps in front of the DeMens building, oblivious to the growing snow storm. What the hell just happened in there? he asked himself, aloud.
Then he noticed a weird car thumping down the midtown street, gurgling to the curbside at DeMens HQ: it looked like one of those Russian cars Soviet spies drive in espionage movies. And this car looked Soviet alright: there were red stars, hammers and sickles spray-painted all over the rusted vehicle, and words emblazoned across the passenger’s side, in blood red: â€˜FROM BAKU WITH LOVE.’
The passenger’s door opened, and out stepped an old man, about 80-years-old by Guy’s guess. He wore a gray chesterfield overcoat and a snap-brim hat. He was tall, cadaverous, almost spectral. He spoke to Guy in what sounded like a British accent, with traces of something else Guy couldn’t place.
Old man: “Hullo, Mister Burgess. Smashing to see you again.”
Guy: “Do I know you?”
Old man: “Oh, tosh! Do you know me?!”
The old man turned to the Soviet car for a moment, as if to cue a studio audience. Tobacco-shaded laughter emanated from inside the car.
Old man: “Yes, you know me. I might be your dearest and only friend. And I’m here to rescue you. Change your fate. Awaken you.”
Guy: “That was you! On the computer screen! How did you do that? Did Bong-Bong put you up to it?”
Old man: “You’ll find I can do many things for you, Mister Burgess. And, no, Bong-Bong had nothing to do with it.”
Guy: “Who are you, man?”
Old man: “Oh, I have so many names. But you can call me Peter.”
With those words, Peter gestured to the backseat of the Soviet car. And Guy, not having much to lose that evening, got up and stepped in.
Once inside, Guy was introduced to the driver, a massive bear of a man who seemed only to speak Russian. The driver really did resemble a bear in appearance, size and temperament.
Guy nodded hello, cautiously.
Peter: “This is Alesker. Alesker the Azeri. My bodyguard, among other things.”
Guy: “Oh, so you guys–?”
Guy winked and made an inappropriate clacking sound.
Alesker roared with fury.
Peter: “Heavens no, old boy! Our relationship is purely business. Moreover, we fancy birds as much as the next chap. All meat eaters here–eta ny pravda, da?!”
Alesker, still looking disgruntled, growled affirmative: “Da!”
Guy: “Where are we going?”
Peter: “To a place and time far from here, my boy!”
Alesker ignited the engine, and with that, seemed to ignite the entire sky. As the Soviet car shot off in the direction of downtown Toronto, the buildings and lights of the city were smeared with red, orange, yellow and finally white light, and the car seemed to lift off the road into midair.
Guy couldn’t see anything outside of the car — only white hot light.
Guy: “What the hell’s happening?”
Peter: “It’s called time travel, Mister Burgess. Don’t soil your trousers yet–we’re here!”
In an eye-blink, Guy found himself sitting at a dirty bar, between Peter and Alesker, drinking vodka. Guy spun his stool around to take in a room full of sinister-looking mafia types, all of them sporting shaved heads and leather jackets. Everyone seemed to be speaking Russian.
Several of the mafia types nodded obeisant greetings to Peter, the old man in the gray coat. Peter responded in fluent Russian. He then demanded something (in Russian) from the bartender — a TV transmitter.
Guy: “You took me here to watch TV?”
Peter: “Oh, you really are witless in this reality, aren’t you?”
Peter switched on the TV. The first images on the screen were of another looped Reel-Video clip from â€˜Bimmer Bangers’ — picking up where the cameraman’s schlong prods its way to centre-screen, toward the woman’s moaning mouth.
The mafia types pricked to attention, and stormed the bar, clearly enthused by the old man’s program selection. But Peter switched the channel immediately.
The mafia types grumbled and groaned in protest.
Peter: “Malchiki! Zatk`nis!”
Obediently, the mafia types fell silent. They returned to drinking at their respective tables.
Guy turned back to the TV screen, and he was astonished to see his own image on the screen — albeit thinner, healthier, younger. It was as if the old man was playing a home video of Guy several years earlier, circa his undergraduate years — except these were images of Guy in a life that never happened.
Guy: “Hey, man, that’s me! Don’t remember that, though.”
Peter: “Take mental notes. Retain as much as you can. Prepare to be overwhelmed–you big girl’s shirt.”
As the old man spoke those words, Guy felt as if he were sucked into the TV screen, becoming a real-life observer of the video images.
The images appeared before Guy like real life, but not real-time — all images rushed past him like a river, everything in fast-forward. Like dreaming, on Benzedrine.
Here’s what Guy saw, or at least what he remembered:
Guy is walking through what looks like an old European city, along cobblestone streets â€¦
Then he is in a room full of shouting people in suits and ties â€¦ Guy’s taking notes â€¦
It’s an important news conference â€¦
Then Guy’s embracing a beautiful, young woman, who calls him by the wrong name, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern of his at the moment â€¦ they have sex in what appears to be an office, on a poorly constructed table â€¦ Guy performs badly â€¦ she rolls her eyes and gets dressed â€¦ he apologizes, offering up explanations neither of them believe â€¦
A gunshot rings out, shattering glass â€¦ Guy runs for cover with a burly middle-aged man, a friend â€¦ they catch a glimpse of a dark figure atop a roof wearing a mask â€¦ the gunman, the shooter â€¦ an assassin â€¦
There are alarming international headlines on the front pages of international papers â€¦ an international crisis â€¦ terrorism â€¦ bombs â€¦ sex scandals â€¦
Guy is at the centre of the crisis, and it’s all up to him â€¦ there’s a book deal â€¦ a big book deal â€¦
Another shot rings out â€¦
Guy’s vision goes black, in a filthy men’s room â€¦
And, in an eye-blink, Guy is returned to the backseat of the Soviet car, which is idling outside of DeMens HQ in midtown Toronto.
Guy: “What the hell just happened?”
Peter: “I gave you a glimpse of an alternative.”
Guy: “I was a journalist. A writer. That was a pretty cool life.”
Peter: “Um, yes, and the fetching bird on the table–er–it happens to many blokes. Don’t be too hard on yourself, Mister Burgess.”
Guy: “There was another gunshot. Did I die?”
Peter: “Of that I am not certain–old boy.”
Guy: “So, when you say alternatives, are you saying I have a choice about what life I can have?”
Peter: “Let’s not jump the gun, Mister Burgess. I’m not a magician. And you are bounded by your reality, after all.”
Guy: “So what was the point of showing me all of this?”
Peter: “Oh, to make you think about things, I suppose. Tease you a little.”
Guy was no longer sure what to think about anything. At that moment, he couldn’t remember much from his real life. He couldn’t remember much from the old man’s video feed of his alternative life.
Guy only remembered the beautiful young woman. And the book deal.
Guy cleared his throat, and he stared hard at the old man.
Guy: “So, what now?”
Peter: “You go back to work. And you think about things. Think hard.”
Guy: “But I was fired from my job. I don’t have a job to go back to.”
Peter: “Oh, right. Hmm. Well, then, old boy, think of this as an opportunity.”
Andres Kahar is a Toronto-based writer. He’s worked as a journalist in Europe & the ex-USSR. He’s worked in a Toronto call centre. Sometimes, his thoughts have wandered to themes of women and book deals.
Â© Andres Kahar 2004