Bipolar Man Mark Cornell Fiction

Mark Cornell

Brian Ronson came into work every day lugging a large black back pack over his shoulders. Apart from his lunch, nobody knew what was inside of it. His sandwiches always consisted of tin spaghetti, dripping, or sauce and butter. Brian drank a lot of what people thought was red cordial in a plastic cup. His job included wheeling a trolley around the office to pick up and deliver files to his work colleagues. But; most clerks considered themselves above him. As a result, Brian had no friends. If this ostracizing annoyed the clerical assistant he never showed it, he always had a cheerful demeanour and prided himself on his efficiency.

 Brian’s skinny office was wall to wall filing shelves; he could tell you straight away where a file was. Nobody knew how long he’d been working there. The office had a few veteran clerks who reckon he’d been there for at least twenty five years, and hadn’t changed a wink. The clerical assistant liked to dress in grey windcheaters, grey track suit pants and old runners. Some of the less sympathetic in the office used to complain about Brian’s personal hygiene to Management. Management tried to ignore the bickering, but had no choice when it kept building. They discussed the matter with one of the Union veterans of work, Doug Jones. Doug said he thought the matter trivial and bloody ridiculous, but agreed to assist, because he had a high regard for Brian.

 The way the clerical assistant could produce a file at the click of his finger was sheer magic. Unlike the others clerks, Doug had a rich life; he’d gone from being a hippy travelling all around the world, to a published poet, then a policeman. He was one of the last of the dying breed of Australians in that he had nothing but scorn for management, “they couldn’t manage their own bowel movements,” a fair go was his prime motivation. Doug suffered from a nasty heart attack while he was a copper, when he recovered they placed him in an office where nobody worked except for Brian and Doug. The floors were full of people with journals on their desks which had figures added to them now and then.

 While the clerical assistant was on another floor, Doug Jones cautiously stepped into Brian’s cave like office. At first he smelt nothing. But then came, a distinctive, pongy odour of something burning. After sniffing a while Doug made out the smell of burning wood. That’s it ! Doug thought to himself, it’s the smell of an open fire. Doug shook his grey head, silly stupid bloody pompous clerks! All living in houses with the latest electric mod cons, none of them had any idea of the trance like joy of an open fire. Doug’s favourite author, Thomas Keneally, once called the family hearth, “White man’s Dreaming.”

 Doug went to leave, but noticed some drawings on Brian desk. He picked up a writing pad; there were multiple pictures of the Earth. One sketch had the giant ball of iron of the Earth’s core surrounded by an outer layer of molten metal. The rest were of sketches of our blue planet’s magnetic fields, with notes on the side of these sketches stressing migrating birds used these fields to navigate by. Other sketches charted the movement of the magnetic poles; the North was moving towards Siberia, the South was travelling across North West Antarctica. Frenetic notes on one page warned that Earth’s magnetic field was weakening, perhaps because they’re getting ready to flip. It’s not just the earth’s poles that will flip but the crust as well, so Australia could end up in the northern hemisphere; and Greenland in the southern hemisphere. The ex- hippie/poet/ copper shook his head, but shrugged his shoulders, he’d read worse.

 Brian’s trolley bumped through the door. As the clerical assistant came in with a wide grin, Doug noticed he was as bald as a badger with no signs of hair anywhere on his body. His eyes were a different colour to each other, his skin translucent, his cheek bones high. But it was the smile that gave Brian away, Doug had seen it may times as he escorted people with psychological problems into the local institution.

 ‘Ah! You’ve been looking at my research eh?’ Brian didn’t seem to mind, ‘I was a bit worried that my work would upset the earth’s magnetic field or god forbid I’d disrupt the migration of birds and whales but nothing’s happened yet.’

 ‘So what are you working on?’ Doug pointed his grey pony tailed head to Brian’s backpack.

 ‘I’d rather not say yet Doug, It’s early days. But once it’s finished you’ll be the first to know ’

 ‘Fair enough mate, none of my beeswax anyway. I was looking for the Hamley case, where do you reckon it is?’Doug asked. Brian climbed up to the top of a ladder, flew all the way across the office, plucked the file, then gently handed it down to a Doug, shaking his head with respect, who then stepped out to tell the boss there was nothing to worry about. Brian’s smell was due to an open fire.

 * * * 

 Years passed. Most of the Managers in the office who had fought in World War 2 died of liver or lung cancer. Most of the clerks “earned” a nice little package and retired. Slowly the office filled with another generation of corporate people who developed an aversion to Brian. They were different to the previous generation, in that they were more prone to look down their nose or sneer at the clerical assistant. None of them wanted to join the Union. Doug 5. Jones was horrified. ‘It’s every man for himself from now on,’ the ex-hippy/ poet/copper, muttered to himself.

 Then the inevitable happened. The new bottle blond Manager, Melinda Robinson, announced at a general staff meeting that there was to be a no paper policy, from now on everything would be stored electronically. Doug turned to Brian and concluded that due to his beaming face, the clerical assistant had no idea what was going on. Brian spent a week archiving his files with a young space cadet and was then escorted to the lift by a couple of security guerrillas.

 Doug shuffled as fast as he could to Melinda Robison’s office; who was applying makeup to her face with a hand mirror.

‘Aren’t you going to give a farewell speech? Brian’s been working for the department for at least fifty years, has never been ill, he’s always chirpy and loyal, he’s a treasure.’ Brian’s heart banged like a drum.

 ‘That’s your job Jones, besides he’s a loony, now leave my office,’ (ordered the woman who’s “door was always open.”)

 Doug caught the lift down to the ground floor; the young security guerrillas escorted Brian to the revolving doors. Pretty soon there were four 6. young security guerrillas, some of them darkly stared Doug’s way and fondled their pistols.

 ‘Please guys have a heart, I just want to say goodbye to a mate and give him his farewell present. (Doug purchased a $100 Gift Voucher from Office Works. None of the other staff kicked in for the present.) The silent guards gave the two elderly men foul looks. There so different to the security people I used to work with the ex-hippy/poet/copper thought to himself. They don’t talk and they’re so flaming trigger happy. More people flooded the ground floor then a woman screamed at the sight of four heavenly armed young men obviously contemplating using their weapons in a civilian place. Doug collapsed.

 Brian ran to him with his black back pack.

 ‘Drop the bag! Drop the bag!’ shouted the four young men in unison as they dropped into combat position with their guns. A warning shot whizzed over Brian head. The clerical assistant fell onto his knees, rummaged through his pack and produced a large metallic rod.

 ‘Drop the weapon, drop the weapon! Shouted the foursome.

 ‘For god’s sake can you just shut-up? Can’t you see he’s had a heart attack?’ Brian brandished his rod, suddenly every weapon the awesome foursome possessed flew away to stick like glue on the old man’s rod.

 ‘Doug, my one and truly friend on this ridiculous planet I demand you come back. Return from the traveller’s bourn,’ Brian pressed the rod onto Doug’s chest. The Union man convulsed, then shouted, ‘Where the hell am I?’ 

‘You’re back in the land of the living my good mate.’ Brian hugged the prostate man then gently placed his head back on the floor. ‘Thank you for all your care and the voucher, now it’s time for me to go.’ Brian Ronson stabbed his stomach with the rod then disappeared. The guard’s guns and various other killing implements fell to the floor. Brian had left his backpack behind; it was full of drawings and calculations. Doug approached a few scientific institutions but none were interested, which was a pity because some of Mother Earth’s innermost secrets were waiting to be discovered and old Doug’s not going to be around for much longer.