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An Allegory
by Keith Murray



Mr. Chapman wasn’t  happy at his place of work. 

It wasn’t that he didn’t like the job itself - he did, although it was beneath him.  Didn’t it stand to reason that a man who’d once commanded whole fleets of salespeople stretched across the developed world, should feel affronted to find himself now a mere member of a team?  And what a team!   Most of them only spoke a version of the language Mr. Chapman had spoken fluently all his life.  Where had they learnt to speak English like that?, he wondered; though one of the few pleasures left to him lay in correcting their pronunciation, pointing out to them, with a  friendly smile, precisely where they’d gone wrong.  .  . 

Although selling up and joining the conglomerate had been the right thing to do, there were times when he bitterly regretted it had been necessary.  Still, if for the most part, he could tolerate his colleagues, there was one member of the conglomerate whom Mr. Chapman genuinely disliked: Herr Thielemann.  Whenever Herr Thielemann came into a room, Mr. Chapman’s hands and jaw would tense in a rictus of antipathy.  Herr Thielemann  spoke absolutely perfect English - slightly accented, but impeccably pronounced, and he had a formidably wide English vocabulary.. To Mr. Chapman, this seemed deeply wrong.  It was a transgression, an offence against the natural order of things.  

  Herr Thielemann drove a fast and fuel-efficient car.  He let it be known that he exercised regularly - twenty miles on the bike at weekends.  In his free time - yes, he actually had free time - he admitted listening to opera, reading a range of books with high-falutin’ titles by authors Mr Chapman didn’t know but had a needling sense he should at least have heard of.  Plus, the bloody man always looked so bloody pleased with himself: hardly any wonder when he seemed, somehow, always to get his way in discussions.  How he managed this was a mystery, as he never raised his voice, never banged the table, never threatened to walk out, or folded his arms across his chest to signpost his stubbornness.

Mr. Chapman just didn’t understand it. 

Fortunately, there were things to brighten his life and he lived for the days when Mr. Terhune arrived, supervising his fleet of delivery trucks.  Mr. Terhune was everything Herr Thielemann was not - fat, brash, coarse, and friendly.  He had a refreshing insensitivity to mood and nuance and would greet each of the associates with an emphatic slap on the back and a cry of “HOWYADOIN?” Like Mr. Chapman, Mr. Terhune also spoke no language except English; but it was an English blurred with strange grammar and odd locutions.  Mr. Terhune wasn’t subtle.  He liked to describe himself as a ‘straight-shooting guy’ and viewed the other members of the conglomerate with befuddled exasperation.  ‘What is it with these guys?’ he’d fume to Mr. Chapman.  ‘I can never understand ‘em.  Why’s they so fussed about ‘things’? Ya don’t need all a that regulatory crap. As long as you’re makin’ the bread, them things takes care o’themselves!  Don’t they know that it all trickles down?’  And Mr. Chapman would smile and nod and muse on how comfortable he felt in the company of this man.   When Mr. Terhune invited him to ‘take a sweet ride’ in his vast and powerful motor car, he felt a burst of exhilaration that he’d not experienced since early youth, a sense of life’s limitless possibilities opening up before him, and all the things that could be grasped if, as Mr. Terhune put it, ‘you’ve just got the balls to grab ‘em!’ 

He got a similar feeling when they arrived at Mr. Terhune’s estate - a labyrinthine baronial complex which Mr. Terhune had bought and had done up to match his own taste.  He’d chopped down the ranges of trees and replaced them with a basketball court - though Mr. Chapman had never seen basketball being played there and couldn’t imagine Mr. Terhune playing it.   There was an enormous ‘hot tub’ in what Mr. Terhune referred to as ‘the yard’ and the Terhune family flag had been placed on every turret of every building.  Mr. Chapman had to admit it looked awful, though he would never dream of sharing this thought with Mr. Terhune .  For, if he was honest -a luxury he sparingly allowed himself - he had to admit, he felt superior to Mr. Terhune and this was the thing he cherished most  about their relationship.  Mr. Terhune was stupid; Mr. Terhune had no class; Mr. Terhune was a lumbering water buffalo in comparison to whom Mr. Chapman felt venerable and sophisticated and just generally better

He would never get that feeling from Herr Thielemann. 

Over the years, Mr. Terhune and Mr. Chapman had talked about a different future for themselves.  Mr. Terhune would pour a martini and as he brought the glass over, he’d bring his face close so that it filled Mr. Chapman’s  line of vision.  Mr. Terhune’s features were large and coarse and animated by a crude vitality when he spoke:

‘Why don’t you n’ me set up together? We’d make a great team.  Cut out the middle guys, them folks with their crazy languages and crazier customs.  We could do it!  You had the stuff in you once, pal, n’ I reckon you still got it.  You think about it, ol’ son, you jest think about it ....’

Mr. Chapman did think about it.  He also dreamed about it - beautiful dreams in which he led Mr. Terhune through vivid but treacherous landscapes: pulling him clear of unsuspected landslips, guiding him through fogs and steadying him when they sailed across choppy waters.  Mr. Terhune was a large and unwieldy man and he appreciated the guidance Mr. Chapman was able to offer him.  ‘Think I woulda been a goner but fer you, buddy’, he’d say, slapping Mr. Chapman resoundingly on the back before stomping off ahead of him again.  Yes: it felt good to be needed, and appreciated, and listened to.  It made all the difference .....

 And one day, Mr. Chapman decided he’d had enough.  He awoke one sunny June morning with a restored sense of himself.  He looked in the mirror and saw reflected back at him a capable man - an elderly man, of course, but a man still endowed with guts and vigour and with every reason to suppose that his best days still lay ahead of him.  Damn it, he didn’t need to be part of the conglomerate: it was only a loss of confidence that had driven him to it in the first place.  Now he’d recovered that confidence, it made no sense to stay. 

And so, later that morning, he delivered his resignation to the associates.  They wished him well and asked him when he planned to clear his office.  ‘Oh, soon’, he replied, casually. ‘But, you know, I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the years I’ve been here.’ 

‘Ach, so’, nodded Her Thiielemann, ‘There is no rush.’ 

‘I’d prefer not to hang around. I’m keen to move on ….’and he curled his lip at Herr Thielemann as he added, ‘to better things.’ 

Mr. Terhune was delighted when he received the news.  ‘Oh, man, that’s great stuff!’he bellowed down the phone, ‘We gotta sort somethin’ out soon as we can.’  But when Mr. Chapman suggested a date, he was told that wouldn’t be possible. ‘I gotta lotta other stuff I’m dealin’ with right now. But, don’t you worry, pal, soon as I’m through with it, then we’ll sit down an’ talk turkey!’ 

It wasn’t the response Mr. Chapman had been expecting and, he had to admit, he was sorely disappointed. 

But he couldn’t waste time feeling sorry for himself.  He had things to do.  Now he was out on his own, he had to become entrepreneurial.  He spent the next few fevered weeks on the phone, trying to sell himself and his services.  It wasn’t easy: most of his calls were to companies in distant lands, where they didn’t speak very good English and he spent most of his time trying to explain who he was and what he was calling about.  What made things worse was that when he belatedly did his research - something he ought by rights to have done before he gave his resignation - he was mortified to discover the the companies he’d been calling were small and under-capitalised.  He would need to trade with many hundreds, if not thousands of them, to make up for his withdrawal from the conglomerate. 

All the time he waited for Mr. Terhune to call back, When he tried to call Mr. Terhune, he was diverted to voicemail. All the while, his former associates eyed him with the first  stirrings of suspicion. 

Finally, one autumn afternoon. Mr. Terhune called.  Mr. Chapman’s  heart leapt into his throat when he heard the familiar voice drawl: ‘Yo, Chapman!  How ya doin’?’ 

He was doing just fine, he said, and tried to sound like he was.   ‘Great’, said Mr. Terhune  and something in the way he said it told Mr. Chapman that he didn’t care what he’d been told, and that the enquiry after his own well-being had been no more than a wheel-greasing formality.  ‘OK: you got out. Great Now: here’s my ideas.  You listen an’ then you tell me what you think....’. Mr. Terhune proceeded to articulate his ideas at great length and with great rapidity.  It seemed there was no stopping the endless stream of words, horrible words.  Not horrible in themselves, but in their implication: because the arrangement that Mr. Terhune was suggesting was not just unfair and exploitative, it was also unethical; and dangerous.  So when Mr. Terhune finally finished his monologue, Mr. Chapman had nothing to say in reply.  “Whaddaya think?’barked Mr. Terhune.  ‘I think,’ began Mr. Chapman. ‘I think, I’ll have to think about it.’ 

‘You do that, pal and you call me back once you’ve thought.’  Mr. Terhune put the phone down, not bothering with a valediction.  There was silence. 

Mr. Chapman stared out of the window, which echoed his reflection.  He was the same vigorous gent in the prime of  life: but his expression was troubled and the corners of his mouth tapered downwards.

The weeks passed, then the months passed, then the years.  Mr. Chapman continued to insist that he’d be leaving ‘any moment now’.  It was important to his own sense of pride to re-state his intentions, to remind himself, as much as to remind them, that he was resolute and that once he’d resolved to do something, he carried it through.  But he was secretly grateful that they allowed him to remain in the building, even though he no longer had a say in decisions that were made or any role within the organisation.  ‘But tell me’, Herr Thielmann would occasionally say, ‘when are you going?  It is only reasonable that we should know.’  And Mr. Chapman would purse his lips and look combatively at his opponent before repyling, in a tight voice: ‘Soon’.   Mr. Terhune’s offer remained - it hung in the air around him like a pervasive stench.  He’d thought about calling him back - he’d always been good at negotiation - but something in the way Mr. Terhune had spoken to him that last time suggested it would be a wasted effort. 

It was a  bad spring, a time of rain, storms and disease. Crops rotted in the fields, winds tore down fences and blew the latches from gateposts; but Mr Chapman was  becalmed.  He  spent his time staring out of the window, at the bedraggled landscape beneath thunderous skies, at the dark and forbidding roads picked out by the tiny needles of moving  headlights.  And he tried to steady his breathing, all the time dreading the knock on the door and the moment when a rough hand would seize him by the shoulder and hurl him out into that  cold, damp, unprotected world. 




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