Once, when Spencer was telling me about his burgeoning fear of flying, he said “the plane could flip upside down.”
“Yes,” I said, still chewing, “it could flip upside down a lot.”
Spencer went pale. It had never occurred to the sweet summer child that the plane might actually corkscrew should the pilots lose control. I had not tried to appall him with this vision. I’d imagined it by accident.
Imagining strange and often-horrific scenarios is my gift. I don’t particularly want to cook up these things but I do. It’s a direct line from the unconscious and there’s not much I can do about it. It’s like being Walter Mitty but fucked up.
Forget the airplane thing for now. What I want to tell you about today is a funny (if horrifically violent) fantasy that took me by surprise on a bridge.
Yes, on a bridge, though that is not the important thing about the story.
One of my regular walks takes me over and around a network of footbridges. It’s quite an impressive thing, actually, a sort of Spaghetti Junction for pedestrians.
One particular bridge has a tight, blind corner where you have to be a little bit careful in case a jogger or a cyclist should come zipping around it.
I’ve never actually experienced such a collision, but there has been the occasional “Whoops, I’ll step aside,” / “no, I’ll step aside” jitterbug dance between two walkers. (The thing to say in such circumstances, incidentally, is “Once more and then I really have to go.”)
This sort of thing — expecting a sudden cyclist — I’m assured, is a natural “crisis management” function of the brain. It might even be what the imagination evolved for. It helps you to predict possible threats or opportunities and to rehearse for them in a sort of ambient, back-of-the-mind kind of way so that you’ll be ready in case they should happen.
The other day, when rounding the blind corner, my internal crisis manager kicked in and told me that the person who comes around the corner this time might not be a jogger or a cyclist but a big man who takes it upon himself to crush one of my nuts.
Yes, one of my nuts, not both of them. The vision was that specific.
He’d just roll around the corner — a big, barrel-chested fellow with a chinstrap beard and a nautical-style sweater — and would suddenly, irrationally, grab my balderdash in the palm of his hand and brutally destroy one of my love eggs in a single, practiced finger-click motion.
I’d fall to the ground, shivering, and the man would continue on his way without so much as tucking his insurance details beneath my windscreen wiper.
Now what was the point of that little vision, brain? How is that frankly extraordinary level of crisis management supposed to help me? A collision with a fast-moving bicycle is at least somewhat likely but what are the chances of this nihilistic assault by a nut-crushing stevedore supposed to prepare me for anything? Pesky brain. Back in the freezer.
What would you do in such circumstances? What could you do? Absolutely nothing. You’d just be there, nursing your broken Infinity Stones, the back of your mind scanning desperately for sense in what just happened. It’s hardly a case of “forewarned is forearmed” is it now?
Later on — and this truly all came to me in the same information blast — I’d be in the hospital, explaining the event to the nurses.
“What happened?” they would ask.
“A man crushed my bollock on a bridge.”
“On a bridge?” they would say.
“Yes,” I’d say, “on a bridge, but that’s not important.”
They’d ask who the man was and where he was now and I’d have to say that I had no idea who the man was and that he just continued on his way after crushing one of my palm pets.
“What sort of bridge?” they’d ask.
“Forget about the bridge,” I would say, “that’s not important. What’s important is my broken ‘nad.”
And so on. Years later, I’d be getting interviewed on YouTube about a book or something and the incident would come up as a curious biographical fact.
“Is it right that you had one of your nuts crushed on a bridge,” the interviewer would say.
“Yes it is, Kent,” I’d say, “it all happened very quickly and it was very painful and confusing.”
“On a bridge though?” the interviewer would say.
“That’s not really important,” I’d say.
“Was it a suspension bridge or a nice old viaduct? Did it take you over a river or perhaps a railway track?”
“It was a 1960s footbridge,” I’d explain, “and it went over a dual carriageway. But as I say, it’s not really relevant to the story.”
And on it would go, forever and ever, people asking me about the bridge and not the assault on my Koh-i-Noor.
This all happened in my brain in less than a second. Should I have it scooped out and replaced with something nicer?