Monday 24 July 2017

Excerpts from Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

Excerpts from Satin Island by Tom McCarthy: 

Around me and my screen, more screens: of other laptops, mobiles, televisions. These last screens had tickers scrolling across them, text whose subjects included the air delay in which I was caught up. Behind the tickers, news footage was running. One screen showed highlights of a football game. Another showed the aftermath of a marketplace truck bombing somewhere in the Middle East, the type of scene you always see in this kind of report: hysterical, blood-spattered people running about screaming. One of these people, a man who looked straight at the camera as he ran towards it, wore a T-shirt that showed Snoopy lounging on his kennel’s roof, the word Perfection hovering in the air above him. Then the scene gave over to an oil spill that had happened somewhere in the world that morning, or the night before: aerial shots of a stricken offshore platform around which a large, dark water-flower was blooming; white-feathered sea birds, filmed from both air and ground, milling around on pristine, snowy shorelines, unaware of the black tide inching its way towards them; and, villain of the piece, shot by an underwater robot, a broken pipe gushing its endless load into the ocean.

My phone beeped and vibrated in my jacket. I took it out and read the message I’d received. It came from Peyman. Peyman was my boss. It said: We won. That was it. Two boys ran past me; one fell down; his brother jolted to a halt, backtracked a few paces and roughly pulled him to his feet; they ran on. I looked up again at the television monitor on which the football game was showing. The goal I’d seen a moment earlier was replaying in slow motion. The ball’s trajectory, the arc it followed as it cleared defenders’ heads and keeper’s hands, the backspin of its hexagons and stars, the sudden buckle and eruption of the net’s neat grid as the ball hit it — this sequence now aligned itself with these words sent to me by Peyman: We won. I looked at the screen’s upper corner, where the scoreline was displayed, to see which teams were playing. Barcelona and Bayern Munich. I texted him back: Who won what? Company won Project contract, he responded half a minute later. This I understood. The Company was our company, Peyman’s company, the company I worked for. The Project was the Koob-Sassen Project; we’d been going after the contract for some time. Good, I texted. The answer came more quickly this time: Good? That’s it? I deliberated for a few seconds, then sent back a new message: Very good. His next text crossed with mine: You still stuck in transit? I confirmed this. Me too, Peyman eventually informed me; in Vienna. Come see me tomorrow a.m. Then a message came from Tapio. Tapio was Peyman’s right-hand man. Company won KSP contract, it said. Two more, from other colleagues, followed in quick succession, both conveying the same news. The effects of my chance exposure to this football game lingered after I’d read these; so it seemed to me that Bayern Munich’s striker, roaring with delight towards the stands, was rejoicing not for his own team and fans but rather for us; and it even seemed that the victim with the Snoopy shirt on, as he ran screaming towards the camera, was celebrating the news too: from his ruined market with its standard twisted metal and its blood, for us.

Now my laptop started ringing: someone was Skyping me. JoanofArc, the caller-ident box read. I recognised the handle: it belonged to a woman named Madison, whom I’d met two months previously in Budapest. I clicked to accept. Can you hear me? Madison’s voice asked. I said that I could. Activate your camera, the voice instructed me. I did this. Madison appeared to me at the same time. She asked me where I was. I told her. She told me that she’d been in Torino-Caselle Airport too, in 2001. What brought you here? I asked her, but my question seemed to get lost in the relay; she didn’t answer it, at any rate. Instead, she asked when I’d be back in London. Her face, on my screen, jumped in small cascades of motion from one pool of stillness to another. I don’t know, I said. I popped the news page open as I talked to her. The airspace lock-up was announced halfway down, adjacent to and in the same font-size as the marketplace truck bombing. Above it, slightly larger, the oil spill, with a sequence of photos showing tugs, oil-covered men wrestling with grips and winches, those black-ringed outlying islands, the giant oil-flower and so forth. The editor had chosen a “fade” effect to link the shots together, rather than the more abrupt type of succession that recalls old slideshow carousels. It struck me as the right effect to use, aesthetically speaking.


The same two boys ran past me. Once more the small one’s feet slipped out from under him: it must have been the angle as the floor rounded the row of seats — that, and the fact that the floor was polished. Once more his brother (if it was his brother) picked him up and they ran on. Madison asked once more when I’d be back. She said she needed ethnological attention. How so? I asked, sliding her screen back above the news page. I’m lacking, she began to tell me — but just then the audio dropped. Her face froze in mid-sentence too. Its mouth was open in an asymmetric, drooly kind of way, as though she’d lost control of its muscles following a stroke; her eyes had rolled upwards, so the pupils were half-hidden by the lids. A little circle span in front of her, to denote buffering. My screen stayed that way for a long, long time, while I gazed at it, waiting for the buffering to pass. It didn’t: instead, a Call Ended message eventually replaced both face and circle.

(Source: The Punch Magazine)

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