The Flute Player (After Rousseau)

Give To Me Your Firstborn

A pale moon still shone in the late morning sky, so high above the gothic church, so pale against the featureless sky that it was practically invisible.

Behind the wheel of his pale blue car, the smartly-dressed sales representative skillfully negotiated the rough sweep of gravel that led into the corporate parking spaces behind the monolithic office block, manoeuvring carefully around the remains of what was once a mobile fastfood stall, now left abandoned to rust.

It had been a smooth, if uneventful, ride down from London to the coast; now he was tired, needed a hotel room, a shower, and a chance to lay out his various documents & spreadsheets and establish a gameplan for the conference.

His vehicle slowly eased itself to a standstill in parking space 17 - he climbed out into the hum of the day and was immediately conscious of a fading presence, what seemed like an awkward silence hanging in the air. Slamming the pale blue door behind him, there was a sense of the day having lost interest in itself momentarily, isolating incidents in a vacuum—too still—and so near to the mainline railway station too.

Then he was aware of an unkempt shifty figure, approaching him with dark visage & unsteady gait - dishevelled, preoccupied, unsmiling. Seemed to be muttering to himself.

He was about to dismiss him (after all, Brighton was full of vagrants of one sort or another) as they began to pass each other in the empty carpark, were it not for the sudden and unexpected lunge forward from the other & the viciously spat “don’t you fuckin’ smile at ME, mate” which came at him like a bolt out of blue hell. In a flash of light the stranger punched him full in the face with an unrestrained rage. The bony knuckles made raw contact, once, twice, it felt like one of the fingers in the clenched fist carried a metal ring of some sort; the force of the impact threw the sales rep down onto the gravel, his vision instantly blurred, and he started to feel the warm blood dripping like a faucet from his bruised nostrils and mouth.

Just as quickly the silence resumed. When he climbed to his feet his assailant was nowhere to be seen. A quick, if shaky, bodysearch confirmed he still had his mobile phone, wallet, even his executive case (even though it was spotted with dark blood & specks of mucus now, as was his suit) - a swarm of muddled reactions to his assault flew to him wasn’t some kind of spontaneous robbery? Nothing had been taken. Whatever the motive was it eluded him (being a man who came from a world where actions were accountable, where crimes had motives. It was what he had been led to believe was “the real world”).

Still clutching his handkerchief to his face in an attempt to stem the flow of blood, he made his way with some difficulty into the sleepy reception area at the front of the monolithic building.

The two receptionists, idly forwarding on chain e-mails in the hope of salvation, abruptly woke from their crossword slumber, shocked into dispensing first aid & sympathy, sounding the fire alarm and despatching a couple of burly security guards into the car park out back to search for the assailant.

The two burly men walked carefully up & down the rows of bright shiny company cars. Men who had been around the block, men big enough to look after themselves; nevertheless they found themselves distracted, on edge, by the feel & heat of the day. A scraggy cat shot out from behind a transit van and clambered up & over a makeshift wooden fence with an insolent wail. Sounding like a mimic of a dead baby.

That was when they found the child’s body face down in the dust. Initially hidden from view between two shiny company cars and under a rail, the lifeless body of a 9-year old boy, hours dead. No blood, but dead alright - probably asphyxiation. Sexual assault? The police would have to sort that out.

They eventually arrived, sirenless, sealed off the area with yellow & black tape, and draped a coat over the small body at the far end of the enclosure.

Back at HQ computers began randomly checking through lists of missing children.

But of the killer there was no sign.

The afternoon sun blazed on regardless, indifferent to incidents in a vacuum.

A couple of women began to cry, became hysterical when the news filtered through the office building. Me, I sat silently in an anonymous pub down a back street.

A tangible aura of suspicion rose from the supine child’s body, a hanging cloud, accusatory. It drifted across the carpark towards the office block, seeping into the modern air-conditioned building through glass doors, closed windows and regulation air vents.

And this body of guilt, corporate guilt, rose up as the day darkened into night & manifested itself as a dark flower of greed & self-interest—rotten to the stem—vapourising—permeating—rolling up and down these broken corridors of power like a fine mist - infecting everything, every known life form, in its path.

Annual leave charts, filing cabinets, sales ledgers, team briefings, exit interviews.

Every man and woman with their small dusty secrets, their lies, their petty resentments writ large, the shadow of their jealousy, the whole fucking enterprise.

The constant lie of their daily lives.

None of them were innocent.

The Flute Player (After Rousseau)

The Flute Player (After Rousseau)