You are on page 1of 5

Once upon a time there was a man who could not stop being on fire.

That man was Walter Gable. Walter is just about to attend a university lecture on T.S. Eliots The Waste land. Walters sporadic outbursts of flame seem to mimic the action of the poem, although this could be mere coincidence. A pair of eyes rushed back and forth, side to side in a lecture theatre. The eyes belonged to Walter Gable and the lecture was on T.S. Eliot. His eyes scanned a book while his ears listened to a regal voice. He was in perfect sync with both of his senses, successfully comprehending both the written word and the spoken word. Im in heaven, he thought, objectively observing his experience and basking in his stupendous privilege that he had been one of the chosen few to study English literature at university. He felt a slight pang in the depths of his gut. And drowned the sense...burned green and orange-and the use of fire can be attributed to Dantes Inferno, the professors speech flowed over the space and into his private world, fusing together two thoughts which pronounced this unusual feeling in Walters stomach. A hellish existence... Walters pen gyrated furiously at an alarming rate-a burning immediacy; sweat had begun to escape from Walters forehead, trying earnestly to maintain a record of the professors words of unalienable wisdom. Which culminates in- the professors revered voice was interrupted by an incredulous peeping from a girl sitting behind Walter y-youre on fire! Walter saw that several people shifted their view to him, so assumed the girl must be talking to him. He twisted his neck around and said sheepishly to the pointed hand of the girl actually, Im still reading A Game of Chess. A student then proceeded to douse the contents of half a bottle of water over Walters back, culminating in a rasping hiss. Looking around, Walter gazed self-consciously at the wide eyes and open mouths, before his sight was momentarily obscured by a breath of black smoke. He gazed dumbfounded at the disappearing smoke and then turned his head back to the girl, saying listlessly oh...its hard to take things literally when youre reading poetry. The professor cleared his throat and announced to Walters direction of the class if therell be no more interruptions, Id like to continue with the lecture. He gave a disapproving look at Walter and resumed his grand speech. Pens and laptops began to click and rattle as the King once again began instructed his subjects.

* The shower back at Walters dorm sputtered and rattled with a decrepit groan before it roared into life. The icy water (the only kind which was available on a low-budget dorm) left him feeling calm and relaxed after such a physically and intellectually stimulating lecture. He thought that the clear water would burn his back from where he had been ablaze, but surprisingly he felt no pain. Clambering into the solid wooden bed, he stolidly pulled the bed sheet over his body and graciously accepted a deep sleep. * Walter greeted the morning with a violent coughing fit and a dull, thudding pain in his lower back. A mist of smoke had settled around his eyes, drifting airily around his diminishing field of vision. The swaying of the smoke captivated him and attempted to lull him back to sleep, yet the pain in his back would not allow it. He fanned away the haze with his hand outstretched in front of his face and searched for his remaining senses. His taste was the first thing he found. Stuck to his face and the inside of his mouth were the remnants of his wooden bed, now reduced to a crumbling charcoal. He could taste the smoke which emanated from the ash. Realising he had overslept, he wiped away the embers that were his bed frame from his face and headed to class, promising himself that he would clean up the mess later. The 9am seminar class would prove to be unsatisfactory to Walter as he once again burst into flames. Word of Walters unfortunate disposition had spread rapidly throughout the campus, so thankfully there was only a minimal amount of attention paid to his outburst. This indifferent reaction to Walters situation was welcomed by him, who had just burned the clothes right off his body. With a professor adamant not to squander any more precious time away from Eliot, Walter casually slipped out of the classroom door, a copy of The Waste Land covering his naked behind. * With a new pair of flame retardant boxers and a mind thirsting for knowledge, Walter returned promptly to his seminar class. Rounding the corner which led to his classroom, he felt a gust of force against his shoulder and was knocked to the ground. Three fireman sprinted by him, carrying buckets of sand and a

small hose. Whats going on? asked Walter, a little frustrated by the brute force of the men. Theres a fire in room J106, the doorframe is burning and nobody can get out, replied one fireman. Oh my God... Walter exclaimed, elongating the O sound in God. I know, the fireman said poignantly, those poor kids are gonna miss their next class, and with finals only a month away. I just thank God that I finished my English degree when I did. Back in my day, kids never unintentionally burnt down classrooms. And so the thread was spun... . With that, the fireman let out a solemn sigh and sprinted onwards, bucket of sand in one hand and an Oxford English dictionary in the other. With no classes left for today, Walter returned to his dorm to clean up the mess from earlier. * Later that evening, he received a most displeasing e-mail. It was from his English professor, Dr. Saynayer, who had to regretfully inform him that he is unable to allow Walter entry into further class seminars, due to health and safety reasons. He closed the e-mail by applauding Walters impeccable and inextinguishable thirst for knowledge, and wished him well in securing his future English degree. Walter shouldered this burden with formidable Greek stoicism, yet as subsequent professors refused to accept his entry into their classes, this fortitude quivered and splintered. With only one class needed to graduate and no classes available to him, he collected a remarkable amount of self-control and launched a court case against the university, claiming that he was being denied an education due to discrimination. This court case failed, despite appealing the case. The first trial ended prematurely, due to the building burning down. During the second trial, although the jury and judge sympathised with Walters plight, they felt that his was an inadmissible claim. Under State law, the issue of a fire was always to be resolved by immediate evacuation. Technically, the university had been correct to refuse Walter entry. While he heard the shuffling of feet and papers around him exiting the courtroom (an attempt to vacate the building which had now been set ablaze), Walter remained transfixed, gazing into the possibility of a future, or lack thereof, of a life without an English degree. Robbed of his only assurance of a life, a crestfallen dropout fell to the courthouse floor and shouted at the top of his smoky lungs I have no way, and therefore have no eyes...who is it that can

tell me who I am? Ignored, forgotten, bastardised, Walters sobs were drowned by the flapping of dictionaries earnestly trying to fan the rising flames away. * As the summer heat signalled the completion of final exams, so too did it complete the evaporation of Walters joie de vivre, committed now, hopelessly, to wander the streets and look for meaning under a rock, or in a bush, or in a cave. He initially tried to survive by offering his wares of sonnetwriting at one penny a line, but soon found out that the supreme question about a work of art is what degree you have to back it up with. Dejected, he took to a life of alcoholism. This foray into degeneracy lasted but one hour, however, as he quickly realised that any drop of alcohol that would touch his lips would be quickly evaporated in the flames before it could be absorbed into his bloodstream. He began to seriously contemplate extinguishing himself permanently by tying weights to his feet and sinking to the bottom of a river. Walter was teetering on the edge of the River Liffey, the weights unobtrusively lined all along his inner thighs, when a postman approached him. Without removing his earphones, the postman patted Walter on the back with a stick to get his attention and handed him a brown paper package. The postman nodded curtly to Walter and sauntered away, whistling to the music in his head. Walter held the package with indifference, assuming it was just another rejection letter from yet another university. He decided to just hold on to the package and let it burn, rather than laboriously waiting for a bystander to open the package for him. The paper melted away and its remains surprised Walter, by exposing a metallic tablet underneath. He flipped it over and saw an engraved message, which read: Dear Mr. Gable, word has reached the National Geographic of your rather unusual situation. We sympathise with your inability to complete your education in the finest discipline known to man. If you should happen to be interested in performing in a far less prodigious endeavour, we would like to extend to you an invitation to participate in a 5 year expedition to the North Pole. Recent research has suggested a tribe of polar bears have discovered how to read English literature, and there are rumours that some are even writing it and enacting plays. Our team is attempting to lecture the bears in elocution, to ensure that the highest

level of proficiency is achieved in the enacting of these plays. As I am sure you aware, the North Pole tends to be a bit nippy. If this humble request interests you, we would very much like to hire you as a mobile campfire. Please find enclosed my contact details. I look forward to hearing from you. Yours sincerely, G. O. Graphic. Instantaneously, Walter tore the weights from his now unexposed legs and took the first bus to the North Pole. * He returned 5 years later, rich from being a part of the most successful expedition/documentary/elocutionary institution in the history of the North Pole. Soon, offers from all over the world for every job imaginable came in: professional oven, portable life-sized lighter, objects for famous stuntmen to jump over. When he was interviewed by a national news station (outdoors, of course) and was asked about his thoughts on life and hopes for the future, he said I just want to be a beacon of light for the young people of today. I hope that I can warm the hearts of all the troubled souls in this uncertain economic climate. If you ever lose hope, just look at me, and remember that even if you are destined for a life where an English literature degree is unattainable, hope remains. Although a bachelor of arts English degree is the highest and most noble title man can hope to attain, there have been some who have maliciously revelled in excluding some from reaching this elevated state of being, and this is why I have decided to open the T.S. Eliot university of English for people who are on fire and also if you arent on fire thats okay, too! A resounding cheer. Thus ends the story of the man who could not stop being on fire.