The Window: A short story
Gavin Barber can see into the future. Well, as far as this evening anyway. And this is what he sees…
Like so much else about that night, I had no idea how I got there. Mind and memory were a hectic blur of flashing lights and rapid movement. All reassurance was gone – familiar faces and comforting surroundings were now distant, way way back in that place called sanity that I could just about recall having once known.
All around me: shiny surfaces, busy people, white teeth, shouting, shouting, SHOUTING, numbers, names, men bought, men sold, an Old Testament-like litany of names: “the Crouch deal begat the Tevez deal begat the Robben deal begat the Torres deal…”, lists, more shouting, bursts of pounding music, the clock! oh, the clock, its bleak digital features unfeelingly counting downwards towards terror unspoken, phone calls, hurried glances, worried glances, Billysharp, Billysharp, Billysharp…
Dazed and confused, I lifted my eyes upwards, blinking my terrified panic at the strange, all-consuming forces which had me in their grip. Reading my mind, a voice came from the sky. “SLAM SHUT!” it boomed, then again for effect, “SLAM SHUT!”.
“W-what”, I stammered in the way that people never actually do in real life, “w-what will s-s-s-slam shut?”.
“THE WINDOW!” bellowed the voice, even louder this time. “THE WINDOW WILL SLAM SHUT!”.
There was no time for contemplation: more sensory overload soon followed. A man, a Scottish man, beaming the rictus grin of the terminally self-important, his shiny face too close to mine. “ALL THE BREAKING NEWS!” he yelled, “ALL THE BREAKING NEWS RIGHT HERE ON THIS AMAZING DAY!”. The phrase troubled me. What could be broken by news? I inwardly searched for my courage and spirit, and soon found the answer: my search was in vain. These robot masters had me in their grip and like them I was powerless to resist the lure of THE WINDOW. The one that was, apparently, about to SLAM SHUT.
Held, in equal measures, by rapture and terror, I turned to the sky again, my lips this time forming a single question: “why?”.
“THE WINDOW”, repeated the voice, “SLAM SHUT. THE WINDOW IS SET TO SLAM SHUT. WHO WILL BE THE MOVERS AND SHAKERS. THE WINDOW. SLAM SHUT”.
“But why?”, I repeated. “Since I awoke in this dystopian world of self-serving conjecture, all I’ve seen exercising people is the prospect of what other people might do. Or, in some instances, haven’t done. Andy Carroll, for example, hasn’t gone to Manchester City. Chris Samba hasn’t gone to QPR. Why are you creating some kind of entity, some kind of shared consciousness, around non-events?”.
”NEWS”, replied the voice. “IT IS THE NEWS OF SPORT. THE SPORTS NEWS. ALL THE BREAKING NEWS”.
There was a pause.
“By the way”, said the voice, more quietly this time, “you do get the bit about this voice coming from the Sky, don’t you? You do get the juxtaposition of “Sky” and “Sports News”?”
“Yes”, I replied, “I do now understand that my subconscious mind has led me inexorably into some kind of laboured allegorical dreamscape, however…. OH! OH! THE HORROR! THE HORROR!”.
I had been distracted from dismantling the fourth wall of literary satire by the most terrifying vision yet. Everywhere around me, screens. On the screens, men. Big-faced men. Men leaning towards the screens in a way that distorted their features like fairground mirrors, leering, grinning, belching some form of incantation. One amongst them spoke. “And as you can see, some fans have already gathered here at the training ground…”, only for his voice to be drowned out by the guttural cries of those around him. “WOOOOOAH! YEAH! COME ON CITY!”
“Now look”, I said, returning my attention to the ethereal plot device in the heavens, “I get the bit about people being hungry for news. I think. Even when that news is actually the fact that there isn’t any news. However”, I went on, “you are not seriously telling me, even in a dream, that there are people who are so taken in by this as to regard the SLAMMING SHUT of the window as a live participation event? Even when there are actual football matches going on at this exact time? That they would make a special journey to a freezing outpost just so that they could say they were there when Franny Jeffers was unveiled as their club’s big new signing? That they would prioritise this over watching the sport itself?
And that you, in your role as the all-purpose sinister being in this story, actively encourage this by prominently placing your reporters outside and getting them to point excitedly into the background whenever a car goes past, in case it’s got Harry Redknapp in it?”
“TRANSFER CLOCKWATCH”, replied the voice mechanistically, “THOSE VITAL LAST FEW HOURS. TRANSFER CLOCKWATCH. SEND US YOUR TEXTS. WINDOW. SLAM SHUT. WINDOW. SLAM SHUT”.
As I awoke, it was Des Lynam himself who was mopping my brow. “You’ve been having a bad dream there, old chap”, he said as he brought me over a plate of custard creams and a cup of raspberry & echinacea tea.
“I know”, I replied, hauling myself upright, “it was vivid. Listen, Des, that couldn’t really happen, could it? That football could disappear so far up its own fundament that something which is basically an administrative & regulatory convention becomes feted as though it were the World Cup Final or something, as though the movement of cash between clubs was a more vital aspect of the sport than the game itself?”.
Des chuckled in that rueful way that he used to have when reporting that Brighton had conceded a last-minute equaliser. “Of course not”, he replied. “Of course not”.
“Good”, I replied, “because I’m not sure that would really be football any more, at least not the sport I recognise”. But Des was gone, perhaps having identified a less heavy-handed spoof in which to make an appearance. I was left alone. The silence was only broken by the noise of the curtains rippling in the breeze. I went to close the window. Instinctively, I slammed it shut.