Benjamin Hewitt’s New Short Story – Stuck in Traffic

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You’re alone in a small, dark exhibition room at the Tate Modern, and on the wall opposite is a three minute film projected on loop.

INT. RANDALF’S HOUSE – DAY

An impoverished but tidy house in Victorian England. RANDALF paces back and forth in front of his wife MELISSA, who is seated.

RANDALF:

Our fifteen year old daughter is being knocked around by some guy twice her fucking age!

Melissa looks at the ground, fiddling with a silver necklace and looking troubled.

MELISSA:

We can’t…it’s hard…isn’t it?

RANDALF:

Hard! Bullshit! We go over and we sort it!

MELISSA:

We’ve told her…she’ll just do the opposite of what we say, and-,

RANDALF:

Bullshit! Bull. Shit!

You wonder if somebody else will want to sit where your bag is, as the exhibition room where the film is being shown is quite small and there is only one bench.

Randalf lifts Melissa from her chair and shakes her.

MELISSA:

Please….no!

RANDALF:

You’re not going to make me lose another child!

Melissa sobs.

RANDALF:

Stop snivelling! That’s your answer to everything!

Randalf strikes Melissa hard with the back of one hand.

The camera zooms out to reveal that this horrible encounter was not real, but was actually taking place on a stage in a modern theatre.

The next shot is of a large twenty-first century audience, watching what you now know is a play. You feel cheated that none of it was real.

The camera zooms onto two twenty-something men watching from the third row. The first is handsome and fashionably dressed. He wears a pair of thick-rimmed glasses with no lenses in them. The second wears an old tracksuit and has a poorly-kept moustache.

MAN 2:

It’s kind of…I dunno, it’s a bit obviously…

MAN 1:

(smugly)

Ironic? Yes, it is. Unfortunately.

MAN 2:

Maybe it’s like, it’s saying that in their generation it’s more accepted to hit your wife…so like, Randalf doesn’t think it’s the same thing as his daughter getting beaten up.

MAN 1:

I think it’s just a bad play.

The film cuts back to a medium shot of Randalf, smoking a cigarette on his front porch.

Some people walk into the dark exhibition room, some guy and his daughter. They stand in the doorway, bathed in the light from the hallway outside. There’s not much space left on the small bench where you’re sat, so they don’t sit down.

‘That’s like mummy,’ says the guy’s daughter.

The guys laughs, more amused than awkward. ‘Not anymore,’ he says.

The guy’s daughter doesn’t reply.

‘She’s quit smoking now, hasn’t she honey?’ says the guy.

The guy and his daughter leave the exhibition room, and you’re left feeling annoyed that they didn’t stay to appreciate the film. The film cuts to a slow-motion extreme close-up of Randalf blowing smoke from between cracked lips, then cuts back to the two men in the audience. Man 1, the fashionably dressed one, leans in toward Man 2, without taking his eyes off the film.

MAN 1:

It seems kinda shit that they present smoking as like, this tough guy’s thing to do, this age-old real-man lost age of masculinity…thing.

MAN 2:

Isn’t it that like, everyone used to smoke then?

MAN 1:

I doubt it.

The film cuts back to Melissa anxiously cleaning the house and sobbing.

(Voiceover) MAN 2:

You think he’s meant to be like a tough guy? I hadn’t thought that.

(Voiceover) MAN 1:

Tough guys beat their wives.

(Voiceover) MAN 2:

Are you being ironic?

(Voiceover) MAN 1:

(sighing)

Of course I am. I don’t think that.

You can hear the guy and his daughter talking outside the exhibition room.

In the film, the stage set has changed.

Randalf is banging on the door of his daughter’s house. The young daughter is hustling her older lover out of the back window.

Randalf starts to walk around to the back of the house.

RANDALF:

I’m coming, motherfucker!

The daughter opens the front door and chases her father.

DAUGHTER:

Daddy, no! Please! Oh god!

‘Daddy, can I put my drawings on the walls?’ you hear the guy’s daughter say outside.

The guy laughs and some people around them, maybe people they know, all go ‘aww!’ and laugh too.

‘Some day, yes, honey,’ says the guy to his daughter.

This back-and-forth between the guy and the daughter seems a bit farfetched or stereotypical, but this doesn’t surprise you, as nowadays things play out more and more like life imitating film imitating life. It’s like every guy you see is Colin Firth and every woman is Bridget Jones, and they’re all about to do something sensational that you won’t be there to witness.

MAN 2:

This is pretty tense.

 

MAN 1:

Yeah, it is.

It’s like you’re the only one left living inside of a Social Realist movie, and everyone else has moved onto Romantic Comedies.

Randalf sees his daughter’s lover, and sprints toward him. The lover runs away.

POV Randalf gaining on his target. Randalf pulls out a knife.

(Voiceover) RANDALF and (Voiceover) MAN 1:

Take that, cocksucker.

The guy and his daughter have gone somewhere else now, and you can only hear the hum of the projector and the violent commotion of Randalf’s attack. The conversation between the men in the audience is now just a voiceover. Their voices are comforting. It restores some of the ethereal feeling you had when you first sat down in this dark little space.

POV Randalf stabs his daughter’s lover repeatedly in the face. Blood and flesh flies everywhere.

(Voiceover) MAN 2:

Nice.

You think that it’d be nice to genuinely believe nothing is real, like if you were a reptilian conspiracy theorist or a postmodernist academic or something, or if you were someone like this, like an amateur art critic in a small dark exhibition room.

 

(Voiceover) MAN 2:

I need to take a shit.

(Voiceover) MAN 1:

Now?

(Voiceover) MAN 2:

It hurts, man. Stand up so I can get past.

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