J Bov Explodes Rhetorically


A Conversation

Stephen awkwardly shifted the green beans around on his plate as his wife’s friend Susan continued to speak.

“It’s just awful, the stuff that goes on down there. Drugs, murder, prostitutes.” She was saying.

Stephen made a suitably disgusted noise in response.

“I heard,” Marjorie, Stephen’s wife, began, “that you can get hold of anything off the Ban-List down there if you know where to look.”

“Ordering crimes a la carte.” Bob, Susan’s husband, chuckled at his own joke through a mouthful of fish. “See, ‘cos the Ban-List is like a menu for them.” He went on to explain. Susan giggled.

Stephen stopped moving the tasteless, grey beans around and looked up.

“I know I shouldn’t say it, but I wouldn’t mind trying some of the stuff on the Ban-List.” He intoned.

“Stephen!” Marjorie’s voice cut the air like a knife.

“Nothing extreme!” He quickly added. “But I bet those ‘crisps’ things were pretty good. They sound good.”

His wife and their guests stared at him for a moment, their plates forgotten, until Susan, tentatively, as though disarming a bomb, asked a question.

“Where have you heard about them? Other than the name on the List, I mean.” She said, quietly.

“A bloke at work.” Stephen’s reply was instant. “A bloke at work was saying they were like very thin strips of potato…”

“Potato julienne?” Marjorie cut in.

“No, more like… leaves. But fried, and covered in salt. Sometimes flavoured, too. He said you could get ‘crisps’es that taste like cheese, and onions.”

“Disgusting.” Bob snorted into his wine.

“And how did he know about them?” Susan prompted.

Stephen considered his next words carefully.

“I think he’s had them. I think he’s gone into the Ciphers and got some and eaten them. I told the Overwatch my theory during the inspection at the end of work. They said they’d ‘keep an eye on him’.”

“Bloody good job Lord Oliver added them to the Ban-List, if you ask me. They sound awful.” Bob postulated.

For a long time everybody ate in silence, staring at their plates intensely until;

“They want to put them all in jail. Every one of those Cipher scumbags.” Bob huffed.

“Don’t be silly, Robert.” Susan smiled at him.

“Well, they want to put soddin’ great gates on the front of it and keep them locked, then. Just use it as a prison itself.”

“Now, Bob, they aren’t all bad. There’re innocent people in there who are just unlucky.” Susan looked patient. Almost as if she’d had this conversation before.

“Well, they can get out and then we’ll lock it up and forget about it.”

“You can’t just ‘get out’ of the Ciphers. It’s where you end up when nowhere else in the world wants to put up with you.” Stephen told his now empty plate.

“Stephen, please…” Marjorie placed a hand on his arm, for comfort or restraint. Probably both.

“No, it’s ok.” He sighed. “My parents spent the last years of their poor, miserable lives down there. They put me up for adoption, so I never saw it myself, thank God. But they did.”

“Sorry mate, I didn’t know.” Bob apologised sincerely.

“No, it’s ok.” Was all he said.

Bob and Susan left quite quickly after that and, after shoving the plates into the dishwasher, Marjorie went to bed. Stephen poured himself a whiskey and told her he’d be up soon.

After making sure his wife was fast asleep, he went into the kitchen and grabbed a potato from the bag on the vegetable rack.

Then he opened the fridge and, in the dim light from within, filled a pan with oil, turned on the hob, grabbed the sharpest knife he could find and began to slice.

“No, no; thinner.” He told himself, quietly, before grabbing the salt from the cupboard.