Banana Petroleum by Chris Green
‘Banana petroleum,’ the caller says and then hangs up. Banana petroleum? It sounds like a cryptic crossword clue, or something. With the dull flat disconnected tone ringing in my ear, I continue to grip the receiver as if by registering my puzzlement, an explanation might be forthcoming.
I record all the calls we get on our landline, even the ones I answer. In these days of scams and hoaxes, you can’t be too careful. Thus I am able to play the message back. The man’s voice has no trace of an accent. Neither does it have that echoey sound you get from a robot voice. Predictably, the number has been withheld.
I decide that it’s best not to worry about it. Perhaps it is part of some leftfield promotional campaign to launch a new product. Perhaps this will become apparent in due course. I get back to my painting of the Aurora Borealis. Sarah will be home soon and I want to make it look like I’ve been productive while she’s been out. I haven’t actually finished a painting for weeks, let alone sold one.
Turban sophistry. It’s a text on my mobile this time. Once again, an apparently meaningless pairing of random words. Number withheld again. Troll? Prankster? But ….. why me? Why would a prankster be targeting me? Someone bearing a grudge? I can’t think of anything I’ve done to upset anyone. I’ve led a very low profile life since I’ve been here.
Bewildering they may be, but the messages are hardly life-threatening. Determined not to allow a trivial matter to halt my artistic undertaking, I get back to the Aurora Borealis. I dab some bold green swirls onto the canvas. When working in oils, I find it is best to be decisive. The more layers of paint you can get into the painting, the better the result. That’s the beauty of oils. You can really put some depth into the work. I am just mixing up some purple when I hear two emails ping on my laptop, one after the other. At first, I ignore them but curiosity gets the better of me. The sender for both of them I discover is firstname.lastname@example.org Neither of them has any subject so there’s not a lot to go on. The messages too are becoming weirder. Shrapnel perpendicular says the one and yarrow nucleon the other.
Strange is never good. I learnt that a long time ago. My mind is racing. Surely, it couldn’t be …….. No, the idea is absurd. But, there again….. To distract myself, I slip a Wagner CD into the Bose. Götterdämmerung, Twilight of the Gods. I turn the volume up so that I won’t be disturbed again and continue with my painting. I apply some viridian green straight from the tube and shape it with a palette knife, hacking at the canvas. I mix some with a little titanium white and cut that in. I step back to take a look. I do not hear Sarah come in.
‘I found this on the mat.’ she says. She is holding a postcard with the words, gazpacho termination written on it. ‘What is that all about?’
I mutter something about being as puzzled as she is. And I am. But, I am beginning to get a bad feeling that the message might relate to my past. I have not told Sarah about my past. I cannot.
‘I can’t hear you,’ she says. ‘Can’t you turn that awful racket down?’
For some time, I’ve been getting the impression that Sarah does not appreciate Wagner as much as I do. There again, I do not like Alanis Morisette. Or Laura Marling. Relationships, though, like other covenants are all about compromise. So, with Valhalla in flames and the Rhine overflowing its banks, I pause the opera. I give her a brief summary of the previous messages. As I do so, fresh emails ping on the laptop. email@example.com No subject. Sedation complaisance. Leotard provincialism.
I try to shrug them off but Sarah is having none of it. Perhaps she detects that beneath it all I know something is wrong.
‘What about that chap you met a couple of weeks ago in the market?’ she says. ‘The geeky one with the snake called Gary who started talking to you about that number that’s too big to tell you how big it is?’
‘Graham’s number. It’s called Graham’s number.’
‘Yes. That’s the one. Might it be him?’
‘What, Norman? No, I think Norman is just an ageing trainspotter.’
‘How about the bloke who wrote The Early Worm Catches the Bird? The one who was telling us about Philip C. Dark, when we were sat outside the cathedral. He was a bit creepy.’
‘Just a lonely old author, I think. I can’t imagine many people read his books. Pretty harmless though. Anyway, whoever it is knows my number, my mobile number, our house number and my email.’
‘You mean, it might be someone we know well?’
‘There is that possibility,’ I say. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, though. There’s bound to be a reasonable explanation.’
The room goes quiet. I can sense Sarah weighing up who she might be suspicious of. Our friend, Hoagy Platt possibly? He’s a bit of a joker. Might he do something like this, she might be wondering? Freda Mann, the poet or Dean Runner perhaps? As long as it’s someone like that and it’s innocent fun, then it will be all right.
‘Let me have a look at the emails,’ Sarah says, finally. ‘Perhaps there’s something about these communications you haven’t spotted.’
I open up my Googlemail account for her.
‘Where are they?’ she says, scrolling up and down the page. ‘Where are these messages?’
I take a look. To my alarm, there is no longer any sign of them. They are not even in Trash. They seem to have somehow been completely deleted. I take out my phone. The text message too is gone. The message on the phone too is missing. Is this good or is this bad? I’m hoping it’s good but I need time to weigh up the situation.
If you have been in a relationship for any length of time, you will be familiar with that look you get when your partner feels that you have been trying to deceive her. You will be familiar too with the cold silence that follows this, in most cases for the rest of the day. Sometimes the following day too. But it’s an ill wind and all that. Without any of her interruptions and with no further unsolicited messages, I am able to make significant progress on my painting. Could this be the secret of great artists? Might Mrs Monet too have thought that Claude was keeping things from her and given him the silent treatment?
Late the following day, Sarah’s son, Jack calls in. We are not sure if Jack is living with us or not. He appears from time to time to raid the fridge and then is gone again. He is off to a festival, this time, apparently.
‘Mum gone to bed, has she?’ he says, as he munches his way through a slice of pizza. ‘She not speaking to you again?’
Having no children of my own, I get on pretty well with Jack. I give him a summary of what has happened.
‘Probably some sort of password generator,’ he says. ‘Good idea! You and Mum are always forgetting passwords.’
I give Jack’s interesting explanation some thought but reject it. After all, the people that had offered you the password would also know it which would immediately compromise its security.
To my relief, there are no more unexplained messages over the next few days. Sarah now thinks that I may have imagined the earlier ones. I begin to entertain the idea that she may be right. She suggests that I ought to see someone to help me over my confusion, Dr Gauguin perhaps. But, as time passes she backs down and things around the house return to normal. I even manage to finish my Aurora Borealis painting and decide to take it along to my local gallery.
You get used to the interior of a car. Its features become so familiar that as you drive it around from day to day you hardly even notice them. But as I start the Nissan up, it slowly dawns on me that something is different. At first, I don’t seem to be able to put my finger on what it is. Then it hits me. A great big blow to the solar plexus. Alongside the various readouts for fuel, temperature and mileage on the instrument panel are the words Supernova tarpaulin in orange Helvetica script. It is difficult to see what this might have to do with the functioning of the car. Genocide presbyopia, it reads now. These might be just words but there is no rational explanation for these muddled phrases appearing on the dashboard display. Someone is messing with my head. Someone with a shedload of technology and guile at their fingertips. Could it really be my comrades returning to spirit me away? Surely, after all this time, they would have forgotten about me. But, who else could be behind it? It’s not going to be anyone from around these parts. They still think communication through the internet is a pretty smart idea. They can’t communicate person to person through random everyday materials. It must be my people coming to take me back home. After all, wasn’t it a glitch in the Earth translation widget on the landing craft that left me stranded here in the first place?
© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved