Owen Hyrick – The Grooves of the Blade of the Key

When I informed my father of my decision to cut down from full- to part-time employment, he was indignant: ‘If you aren’t going to bring home a proper wage, you’d damn well better start doing more around the house!’ At first, this arrangement didn’t seem too disagreeable. It soon became apparent, however, that the old man expected me to do a great many more domestic chores than I had anticipated. So in order to meet his expectations, or at the very least approach them, I decided to withdraw from employment altogether.

[private]My sister was kind enough to let me stay with her and her fiancé. ‘Temporarily’, she later added, diluting her kindness somewhat.

I strum an open chord on my guitar. The guitar is in standard tuning—or rather it would be, if the B string were not missing. I put the instrument on my bed and walk away as the chord continues imperfectly to resonate.

The remote control isn’t working. I take out the batteries and then reinsert them. Despite the fact that the batteries have been functioning inconsistently for the past week, neither my sister nor her fiancé has seen fit to replace them. I switch on the television.

The phone rings. Invariably, I find telephone conversations to be extremely awkward. Unfortunately, I am at the same time pathologically incapable of leaving ringing phones unanswered.

I empty the clothes pegs into the basket and take the basket upstairs into the spare room. I open the window. The object of the game is to defenestrate the pegs so that they land in the bucket on the patio below. I have codified the rules thus: for each peg that lands in the bucket, the participant will score one point; for each peg that ricochets off the wall and into the bucket, the participant will score three points; for each peg that lands in the bucket only to then bounce out again, the participant will score zero points; for each peg that bounces from the ground and into the bucket, the participant will lose a point; should the participant manage successfully to score ten points, the world will be saved; should the participant score fewer than ten points, the world will be destroyed. I am hoping that today, after many hours and much hard work, I will finally score at least ten points.

‘Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that you’ve quit the dole?’

‘Um hm.’

‘But why?’

‘It was too much work.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘There were too many bureaucratic hoops to jump through.’

‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this.’

‘Apparently there were some problems with my claim. I probably ended up doing three times the amount of paperwork that the average jobseeker does.’


‘It’s outrageous. These people can’t even do their jobs properly.’

‘This is a joke, right?’

‘Why would I be joking?’

‘But your claim was successful.’

‘Eventually, yes. But even then there was a lot of paperwork. It’s as though they don’t trust you; they want you to record all the ways in which you have been seeking employment, right down to the last detail.’

‘I still don’t see what the problem was.’

‘The problem was that I was unwilling to lie to them about jobs that I hadn’t applied for.’

‘Why should you have needed to lie to them?’

‘And because I was unwilling to lie to them, my only recourse was to write down, in incredibly tortuous prose, in tiny handwriting that bordered judiciously on the illegible, with various pens that I would alternate carefully according to the dates of each ostensible job search, the truth of the matter: that I hadn’t been seeking work of any description.’

‘Please don’t talk like that. You know I hate it when you talk like that.’

‘As you might imagine, doing this the night before each appointment took a lot out of me. It worked, though—at least it did on the first few occasions. But then they started asking me to explain to them exactly what I had written.’


‘And I’m sure you can appreciate just how onerous it was to conjure satisfactory circumlocutions on the spot. So, yeah, I quit the dole.

‘Hey bruv. Would you mind putting in a wash and hanging the clothes up on the line. Ta XXX’

The game isn’t as easy as it sounds, for the window doesn’t open far enough to enable a full flexion of the arm when throwing the pegs. Because of this, the world has ended several times in the past week. This is a shame, for my intentions when I invented the game were nothing but heroic. In order to offset the damage that I have caused, I will now need to save the world several times. The worry is that I may soon have to save the world innumerable times.

Eager as I was to remain on speaking terms with my father, I decided, a couple of days ago, to visit the family home. When I tried to open the front door, I found that my key was no longer working. After some perplexity, I concluded that my father had had the locks changed. I found this especially irritating—not because the old man had taken the necessary steps to deny me entry to the house (I was compassionate enough to take into account his impending dotage, and the impairment of reason that may have been foreshadowing this), but because it forced me to question the essence of the key. On the moment that I had taken the key out of my pocket, it was – at least to my mind – the key to the house. But as soon as I tried to apply the necessary torque to the bow, the key’s being was placed under threat. I took it out of the door and inspected it. There seemed to be nothing wrong with it; formally speaking, it was the same key that it had always been. But although the blade still adhered faithfully to its design, the secret of access was no longer immanent in its grooves. Thus, it could no longer be described as the key to the house; it had ceased to fulfill its function in this capacity. This struck me as unfair, since it was the lock that had undergone the transformation, and not the key (although admittedly, it would have been absurd to say that the lock no longer met the requirements of the key). It occurred to me that before the locksmith had set to work, the key had still been the key to the house; only at some point after he had started working on the lock had the key fallen away from its purpose, and so changed without actually having changed at all. But how was this possible? Could the key really have altered in my coat pocket, suddenly, and without my having had any means of realizing that it had done so? Was it not instead the case that the key would have legitimately remained the key to the house for as long as I didn’t try to use it?

There is a clear incentive to get the pegs in the bucket (besides saving the world, of course). Put simply, the more pegs that I throw successfully into the bucket, the fewer I will need to pick up from the patio afterwards.

As it turned out, my father’s house had been burgled a few days before I went to visit him. He expressed some regret over the fact that the burglars hadn’t arrived a day later; for had they done so, their efforts would likely have been frustrated by the state-of-the-art locks that were due to be installed.

The game is easier when there are already some pegs in the bottom of the bucket. When the bucket is completely empty, the pegs are more likely to bounce out. Getting those first few pegs to stay in the bucket is the tricky part.

‘What are we even doing?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I’ve tried. God knows I’ve tried to make this relationship work.’

‘Um hm.’

‘Do you even care?’

‘Of course I care. I just think you’re overreacting a little bit.’

‘Do you not have any plans, ambitions?’

‘You know what my ambitions are.’

‘Yeah, but…’

‘But what?’

‘It’s just that you haven’t played a gig for three years.’

‘I’m working on it.’

‘How? How are you working on it?’

‘I’m writing new songs, building a repertoire.’

‘When was the last time you even played your guitar?’

‘I played it today, as a matter of fact. Just before you called.’



‘This is hard for me, because…because I still love you.’

‘Me too.’

‘But I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.’


‘Things have been one-sided for too long. Maybe we should break up?’

‘If that’s what you want.’

‘What I want? Can you never read between the lines? I don’t want that. How can I get it across to you that the situation isn’t beyond repair? We could still get back to normal.’


‘But if things stay as they are for much longer, we’re finished.’

‘The situation isn’t beyond repair?’

‘Exactly. I still love you.’

The pegs are strewn on the patio.

After pouring myself a generous glass of wine, I inspect the ullage. I place the bottle under the tap and add a little water to it.

If Lynne does decide to break up with me, I suppose I’ll just have to accept it. I find that it’s futile to try and second-guess people, or to change their minds, or to wonder at their actions.

I am unsure whether a single strum of a guitar constitutes playing it. I decide that it does.

It is ridiculous to say that a situation isn’t beyond repair. For in saying such, one implies that a situation can, in the first instance, become in some way impaired or damaged, and then that once impaired it can be brought back to a condition whereby it will once again adhere to its essential function or utility. But to talk in such terms is nonsensical; for a situation cannot be said to be analogous to a car, or to a phone (to give just a couple of examples). If a car is incapable of being driven, then it is clearly failing to adhere to its essential function as a car. Likewise, if a phone fails to connect one’s calls, or to transmit the voices either side of it, then it ceases to exist as a phone ought to exist. One might even talk in similar terms about a marriage; for if a husband and wife hate each other, sleep brazenly with other people, and eagerly await the papers that will ratify their severance, if – to put it more concisely – they are divortibund (cf. moribund), then clearly they are undermining what is essential to the idea of marriage. But when one speaks merely of a situation, the parameters of essential existence cannot be delimited in such a way, lest one fall into a baseless prescriptivism. This may become more apparent if one considers the fact that the kind of situation that might be described as being (or not being) beyond repair is often the kind that can more judiciously be called a predicament. Now, it is obvious that if the crucial factors in the configuration of a predicament have been overcome, or obviated, or ameliorated, it can no longer be called a predicament, since it has changed from a bad or a tricky situation into a more congenial one. Moreover, if some or all of these crucial factors are irretrievably removed, it makes no sense to say that the predicament is beyond repair; for this is tantamount to saying that the predicament in question is in some way impaired or damaged—that is, that it is a faulty predicament, a predicament that isn’t functioning as a predicament ought to function. Which is clearly absurd. Neither, therefore, should it be permissible to say that a situation is beyond repair; for if one looks behind the concealing generality of such a construction, they can see that it refers to two separate situations—the one manifest and the one desired. And if one is capable of acknowledging these two different situations, it should become clear that the merest gradations from the one towards the other would in themselves effect new situations. So when one says that ‘the situation has improved’ or ‘the predicament has just got worse’ (more permissible constructions because they are less obviously prescriptive) what they really mean is that they are confronted (agreeably) with a new situation, or (disagreeably) with a new predicament, however similar to or different from the previous situations or predicaments these may be. From which it follows that no situation can ever become impaired. Therefore, even if I wanted to repair the situation of which Lynne speaks it would be impossible to do so. What Lynne must realize is that until she starts being less vague, and stops using the word situation to refer to any number of concrete relationships, states, or arrangements, I am powerless to worry about or to act upon her words.

Drinking was always more pleasurable when I had a job. Work, it seems, improved the functionality of alcohol.

I regret to say that the effect was never reciprocal.[/private]

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