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Zero Interest

by Dawn Marshallsay

Jerry wakes up and wishes he hadn’t. He could wait for Simon to come and lift him out of bed at ten, or he could avoid another therapy session examining the joys of surviving a motorbike crash.

Stretching his arms for a few seconds turns into a few minutes. He finally tenses his biceps to shift his legless torso over the edge of the bed into the wheelchair. He’s seriously considering a 200-gram bar of chocolate for breakfast and hiding the wrapper.

Switching on the TV for the news leaves Jerry face-to-face with a cat and mouse. Either, the news was extra short, or nothing’s happened since he went to sleep while watching last night’s news. One thing’s for certain, this ex-Harley Davidson biker doesn’t do kids’ TV, especially when it involves severing limbs for laughs.

He wheels over to the window to check if the apocalypse has started without him. They said he’d have problems living on the fifth storey: the elevator might break down. He hasn’t left the flat since the crash; problem solved. From this height he can watch the world at a safe distance.

Sir City Slick punctually exits the house opposite for another day at the office, while the paper boy makes his way steadily up the street. Both are acting as though nothing has happened. Maybe it hasn’t. Jerry should have guessed the meaning of life would be floating around in virtual reality:

Sparkfinger, 9:20 a.m.: “My mate just went to the bank to pay in a check and returned with his life savings in a holdall! Apparently all the banks are closing at midnight, permanently. Interest rates have dropped to zero! The whole country’s queuing for their money, including newsreaders. Why else haven’t they reported it?”

Flatfoot, 9:47 a.m.: “You’re expecting a reaction? Nothing surprises me these days. If I see any holdalls lying around without owners, don’t blame me for my actions.”

Blackink, 10:15 a.m.: “It’s a hoax. Someone’s hacked into a bank chief’s Twitter account to spread lies.”

Sparkfinger, 10:23 a.m.: “This is Sparkfinger reporting from the frontline, where this round-the-block queue is definitely not a hoax. I’ve just witnessed a murder: a girl was stabbed by a man trying to steal her savings. Two passers-by stopped his getaway, only to divide the cash between them. I advise anyone who makes it home safe with their cash to barricade themselves in their house. Let’s hope they don’t steal my phone, or you’ll be left with Blackink’s version of the news!”

Jerry doesn’t have to do a thing: he’s always enjoyed stashing his cash under the mattress. It’s one of his few remaining powers over the world, hoarding something others could be doing great things with.

Bed sounds tempting, especially as Simon has failed to show. But this could be the day Jerry’s been waiting for: who’s going to notice a legless burn victim in all this chaos? Introduce a greater evil, and strangers start uniting in the fact they’re human. They won’t even care he’s still in his pajamas.

A gush of cold air slaps Jerry in the face as the automatic door opens onto the street; he’d forgotten how that felt. Everything is more thrilling at ground level. Looters running out of a supermarket with bouncing trolleys nearly send Jerry flying. He reaches down to a chocolate bar near his wheel but misjudges the distance, toppling the steel contraption onto its side. He hits the tarmac with a thud.

If anyone’s laughing at him, he’s beaten them to it: ever heard of a thief fleeing the scene in a getaway wheelchair? What’s not so amusing is how the chair keeps rolling away from him every time he tries pulling himself up into it.

“Oi!” he shouts at a girl pushing a toy car down the center of the road, oblivious to her surroundings. “Want to earn some chocolate?”

The girl’s blissful forehead crumples with disdain. “I don’t accept sweets from strangers.”

“I’ll tell Santa you’ve been naughty if you don’t help me back into my wheelchair.”

“Santa doesn’t exist,” she huffs.

“Do you know how to cross the road?”

“Of course I do! Don’t you know how?”

“You need to show me, now, before that tank crushes us.”

One glance at the approaching hunk of metal is enough to spark the girl into action. She helps Jerry into the wheelchair and pushes him to safety. As her teeth sink into her sweet prize, Jerry hastily wheels off in the direction of town before she notices her toy car being flattened.

Jerry joins a queue, as a kind of social experiment. Any awakening hunger for human interaction, however, is swiftly destroyed by the sight of a young couple consuming each other’s faces. You can’t really tell them to ‘get a room’ when it’ll take them another decade to get on the housing ladder.

Luckily there’s a tank approaching, forcing the lovers to disentangle their tongues to listen to the megaphone message: “Return to your homes! We will deliver your money to your door.”

How can soldiers withdraw money on behalf of the people? Portable ATM’s? Not that it concerns Jerry, except the fact the queue is dispersing, leaving him alone and exposed. He starts spinning his wheels, just to blend in, totally aware the computer game of life is telling him he’s going the wrong way. This town’s for the taking.

Trails of scattered goods lead to shop doors flung open for Jerry to peer through at his leisure, but he’d lost the consumer buzz long before his crash. Now free from observers, Jerry could easily scream and throw things around without offending anyone.

Instead he makes a shocking discovery: a fragment of restraint residing in his brain. Perhaps he’s not as bitter as he thought, or as greedy as the looters, muggers and murderers. If he’s tempted to imitate, ever so slightly, his private playground still awaits: it’s called home.

All four of Jerry’s neighbors are standing in the lobby on his return. He cringes as Single Mum Sue cries out his name, and then adds: “We’re waiting to collect our money; you’re welcome to join us.”

“I’m going up to my flat to take drugs,” Jerry replies as the elevator doors close in their faces, “you’re all welcome to join me.” It’s true; he could probably concoct a mean kick from the painkillers and anti-depressants littering his coffee table.

Once he’s locked himself in his flat, he wonders how the same four walls amused him for seven months straight without driving him up one of them. That’s the beauty of insanity: you don’t know when you’ve got it.

He wheels over to the window. Another tank is groaning its way up the street, flanked by soldiers knocking on doors. They’re all carrying holdalls.

Madam City Slick opens her door and waves her arms horizontally, as if to say she’s already collected her savings. In reply, the soldier pulls a semi-automatic rifle from his bag and propels her into the darkness of the hallway. He enters after her, emerging a minute later carrying another holdall.

A braver Jerry would sew his life savings into the wheelchair cushion right now and go camp in the waste ground. Who’d bother mugging a tramp? But this could be the day he’s been waiting for: shout a couple of insults out the window and BAM! Assisted suicide!

He starts rummaging through the drawers for a sheet of paper, then stops. What’s he doing? No-one will miss him enough to break down the door, discover his corpse and read his last will and testament. Even his killers won’t be aware of the conscious decision he made beforehand. Why give them the pleasure of murder?

Jerry needs witnesses. He’s also heard about this feeling churning up his guts: deathbed guilt. His neighbors have run around for him all these months, buying him shopping when Simon was on holiday and pushing unrequited Christmas cards under his door.

Remembering how Sue’s face lit up with the word ‘money’, Jerry pulls the bulging carrier bag from under the mattress and enters the elevator.

The bag swings from the wheelchair handle as Jerry pushes himself into the foyer, but suddenly thumps against his arm as the wheels skid in a stream of liquid traversing the marble floor.

Jerry feels like doing something he thought he’d never do again in this lifetime: running. Of course, his phantom limbs can’t carry his weight, dropping him to the same level as his neighbors’ corpses so he can join their red swim. They should have joined his drug rave; they might have survived.

Everything is a bit too late now, like feeling grateful or sad. Instead, Jerry rams the wheelchair against a plant pot so he can pull his body into the seat, hides the soggy satchel under his buttocks and wheels off towards the waste ground to check he’s not the last civilian left alive.

Copyright © 2010 by Dawn Marshallsay

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