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CHEMICAL UNITS
BY CHARLES WHEELER
I look out over the nondescript skyline, and a shiver passes through me. I glance down at the strip-lit open-plan cemetery of souls on the sixth floor, and decide where Id rather be. Numb fingers over numb brain. Not always, but definitely right now. I kick my heels on the wall of the building and wonder why Im not more worried about falling off. Zen Master Tim Ream, my colleague and namesake of a semi-notable footballer, sits beside me. Tim is heavyset, with short hair somewhere between mousey brown and strawberry blonde. Tim wore nerd gasses before nerd glasses appeared in Primark. Tim is on the same level as me within the company, except for the minor detail of his getting paid. A virtue of timing he beat me to it by a few crucial years. You shouldnt worry, he says. Its peaks and valleys. Youre getting screwed at the start, but youll recover in the middle, when things change. Youre smart enough. Could do with a better platform, though. Be nice to have a decent position to move up from. Tim puffs through his nose. No doubt. But youre the underdogs, your lot. Itll be hard, but its not the worst role to play. You kind of always have the implicit backing of the British spirit. Arbitrary nationalism on my side. Whodve thought? Heheh. He sucks down some more tar from his fag. I close my mouth as he breathes out, hold my breath til the smoke dissipates. Its funny, he carries on, you kind of knew it would go this way, this sort of way, but you couldnt have predicted exactly how. Its a lottery to see wholl get fucked over the worst. Or maybe its like bingo, and theyre checking them off as they go. Heh. Disabled babies with unemployed graduate parents who live near the Olympic stadium full house! That last ones not really their fault, though. Its kind of Boris fault. Touch. The wheels were moving before most of us realised. Well spotted. I lean back and breathe out. The wheels are always moving big, evil, spiky wheels Heheh. on a cart with flaming torches at each corner Hahaha! with the grim reaper driving Heh. In a blue tie!

A blue tie, billowing up from underneath his robe in the breeze. Slicing the heads off pedestrians while explaining that this is a hard choice he had to make to sort out an inherited mess. Were all in this together! SNIK, thump thump thump. Heheheheh. Drag, puff. Hold breath, wait, breathe. No better options, though. Oh, Daryl, Daryl, Daryl. Ever the pessimist. Well, cmon, what choice is there? Take a stand with the 23 other people pissed off enough to vote for the socialist candidate that you probably wont even have? Sure. Or go red or yellow in vain hope. Or scribble all over the damned thing. As long as you can have some small conviction in it afterwards. The finest art humanity has developed is convincing yourself that you did the right thing at an election. Billy Braggs especially good at it. Tim blows smoke through his nose. Quite. Is he wrong, though? Fair point. Drag, puff. I breathe out with him this time. I watch the smoke billow up around me and drift away on the midnight breeze. It sucks, sometimes, I surmise. I feel like its just me and a few fringe union members, and I dont even have a sign to hold up. You think the Bullingdons never thought it was just them and a few toffs, and they didnt even have foxhunting trumpets? Oh as if they dont have foxhunting trumpets. Heh, fine. Disregard that example. But you get the idea. Everybodys been convinced that theyre a wingnut with no friends at some point. Tim puts a finger on his nose and points his at me with his fag hand. Some ash falls six floors to an epic, grisly death on the street below. I shift my frozen cheeks back a couple of inches. Thats definitely not something that should bother you, though. Everybodys in a never-ending disagreement with the rest of the world. Its life, its how were defined as individuals, rather than a tribe hunting for a boar, or a hive mind operating as a machine towards a programmed goal. The unhappy medium? Between Neanderthals and Neanderthals with touchscreens. Are touchscreens the problem, though? I guess not. Just an easy symbol. Youre losing your touch. Heh, or youre getting better at spotting it. Pun intended, by the way? Always. Good lad. Another drag, another puff. A tap on the end sends more ash plummeting down. I wonder whether Tim knows that I feel like Im catching up to his wit. Maybe that was the whole point of taking me under his wing. Any number of clichs pop into my mind he saw something of himself in me, he pitied my vulnerable position, hes

just a nice guy and Im thinking about this like its a grand narrative just like I do for every innocuous thing that ever happens to me. You make your own fun. I decide to venture a new problem. Give the Master a test. Still, you never quite feel comfortable. You know that theyre out there, disagreeing with you on a fundamental level, moving around, affecting things. Who? Probing for more detail. Maybe Im not catching him up, maybe hes slowing down. Maybe Im a crazy little man with issues in how I express competitiveness. Everyone. The powers that be. The mobs underneath them that hold them up. The general public. School bullies. School bullies! Dear me, youve got a lot of getting the fuck over it to do. Slapped down a level. Hes still the Master. Might as well carry on. Nah, its not even that, its just those people are adults now. Adults, with opinions, and responsibilities, and privileges. Thats almost as scary as as you being an adult with opinions, responsibilities and privileges? We both laugh. Good. I decide thats much better than me trying to catch him out as an imposter philosopher. Probably more fun, too. Tim continues. I have a method for that, as it happens. Youll have to go with this ready? Uh, sure? Good. Now pick a bully, any bully. Er, alright Ill go with the sexist homophobic BNP supporter who wanted to become a Michelin-starred chef. Heh, excellent! Now, hold the image of him in your mind Okay Now, imagine this: hes dead. Um. How so? No, no, no how, or why, or when. Hes dead. Thats it. But how ca Nope. Just dead. But he isnt, though. I keep getting him as a suggested Facebook friend. Tim sighs, takes a last drag, and flicks the butt into the gutter. Youre not getting it. Hes dead. Discrimination chef is dead. For all intents and purposes, he doesnt exist any more. But what if I run into him tomorrow? Then hes alive when you can see him. The rest of the time, hes essentially dead. A non-entity. You cant know hes dead, but he might as well be for all it means to you. Think of it as a theoretical experiment in not giving a fuck about dickheads. Schroedingers Twat. Youve rehearsed this, havent you? Well, what do you expect, I was bullied at school. No laughter. Doesnt need to be. This is a sitcom scene and we are the characters. The laughter is implied. To be edited in later. Tim leans back on his elbows and gazes up. Youll come to terms with it eventually. Just stay calm. Not like those fucking posters that are on cushions and tshirts and a million Tumblrs, not 70-year-old war propaganda that some cynical fuck

has taken and started selling to everybody. Just normal calm. Keep calm and keep thinking. Much more effective than just carrying on. But theyre all still there. Yep. And they always will be. Out there, disagreeing with you, opposing you, existing as your antithesis. Just chill out, accept where you are with your beliefs. Theyll affect the world, yeah, and that will knock on and effect you so just affect it back. You already believe youre in the right, so make sure youre an equal force. Everybody wins. Maybe not all at the same time, but eventually. Bit-by-bit. I scramble for a wry interjection. Nothing comes. Tim keeps going. Were chemical units; organisms that learned how to learn, then learned how to talk about it way too much. If all else fails and were prone to the whim of our opponents, we can always just fuck them off by continuing to exist. Short of words, I attempt to crack a knowing smile. It seems to work. Right, Tim says, shifting to get up, back to it. Mm, I concur, shuffling to my feet. Whatever the hell Im supposed to be doing wont hypothetically finish itself. Oh, youre terrible. Cherish this opportunity to be a source of free labour! Hah. It could be worse. It could be Tesco. It almost was. Crikey. You got off lucky. Relatively speaking. Do you ever speak any other way? Youre getting cheeky, Tim says as he walks back towards the fire door. I might have to get a raise. Or make you start paying to work here. I laugh. He laughs. All is well. I look down at the street. The perpetual lights and signs take on a peacefulness when nobody else is there to look at them. The traffic, all taxis in sparse ones and twos, makes calm swooshing sounds on almostempty concrete. The street lights glow placidly, as they always do after a certain hour. Its a relaxed glow. Almost romantic. I give the pavement a glance. The ash has probably blown away. A temporary blight. Arent they all? I turn to face the gaping stairway. I resolve to chill out and stay happy. Just exist. Back down the stairs. Back into an existence that alternates between heaven, hell, and workmanlike getting-on-with-things. Fulfilment. Of something. Keep calm and carry on, I whisper to myself, just make sure you keep thinking.