Curiosity by Chris Green
I am reading Curiosity Killed the Cat by Phillip C Dark which I bought at the PDSA charity shop. In the novel, people become human mood rings. They have implants that make them change colour according to their mood. Advertisements appear randomly in the air in front of them. Getting media without this advertising is prohibitively expensive. The confusing narrative is perhaps typical of Dark’s brand of speculative fiction. It is not an easy read.
The plot of Curiosity Killed the Cat is neither here nor there in terms of this story. However, curiosity does play a part. I find there are three phone numbers scribbled in the blank back pages of the book. Each time I take out the book to read, no matter where I have placed my bookmark, it somehow opens out on one or other of these pages. I assume they are personal numbers that the previous owner jotted down in a hurry. An odd place to write them, even so, none of my business.
Eventually, curiosity gets the better of me and I call one of the numbers, 079 423 15951. It rings for a while, but it doesn’t seem as if anyone will pick up. Just as I am about to give up, a man’s voice comes on the line.
‘What do you want?’ he says.
I am not sure how to respond to such an abrupt greeting. But it does not seem as if he is eager to engage in a conversation, so I say; sorry wrong number.
‘Leave me alone, will you!’ he says.
Discouraged by such negativity from a stranger, I hang up. I am puzzled why anyone would choose to make a note of this antisocial fellow’s number in the back of a paperback book.
I assume that this is the end of the matter, but seconds later, my phone rings. It is him.
‘I’m sorry I was so rude,’ he says in a lugubrious voice. ‘I thought you were someone else.’
‘That’s alright,’ I say. ‘I’m Chet, by the way.’ I briefly explain how I came to call the number.
‘I see,’ he says. ‘So that’s why you called. You won’t know this then, Chet, but my name is Dale Loveless, and I keep getting calls from this author who has based a character on me. He calls him Wet Blanket Ron, and he has written a series of short stories featuring him. He phones me from time to time and asks me how I’m getting on, but he is not interested in my welfare. He is not looking out for me. He is hoping I will have some new misfortune to relate. And as things have been pretty bad for a while now, this is likely to be the case. I can’t tell you how bad things have been.’
I am hoping that he doesn’t. If he starts to, I might try telling him how busy I am.
‘What was the book, by the way?’ he asks.
‘It was a novel by Phillip C Dark called Curiosity Killed the Cat,’ I say.
‘Oh, him. That makes sense. He’s a friend of my author, I believe.’
I casually try to get Dale to tell me the name of the author, but he doesn’t seem to want to tell me, and he doesn’t do casual conversation. He talks instead of how his misadventures are exaggerated and fictionalised in The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron.
‘You’re probably imagining it,’ I say.
‘I don’t think so,’ he says. ‘Let me read you a passage from his latest story.’
‘Wet Blanket Ron finds the Toker’s End Community Foodbank is closed until further notice. No reason is given. He returns home in the rain only to discover the door to his apartment has been kicked in. Who would want to burgle a dismal bedsit on a run-down estate like this? But someone has, and they have taken not only his supply of tinned sweetcorn and his tin opener but his bedding and his spare pair of jeans. They have taken his Leonard Cohen CD too and his paperback copy of Jude the Obscure. Even his Merle Haggard poster has gone. What kind of person steals a Merle Haggard poster?‘
‘Bit rough,’ I say.
‘And all this because I innocently told him over the phone that my rent was going up. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s much worse than that. There’s no end to his malice. He’s had me knocked down in the street by a hit-and-run driver, had me hospitalised with multiple fractures, he’s had my wife run off with the colleague that gives her a lift to work, had me beaten up, made me into a criminal, put me in prison. And the worst thing is, he puts it all across in a humorous way. It’s all a joke to him.’
‘It may seem to be a silly question,’ I say. ‘But what makes you think he’s based this Wet Blanket Ron on you?’
‘Oh, I know he has.’
‘I get a mention in several of the stories for a start. He’s written me into the narrative. He introduces me as the inspiration for his character. Then it’s Dale Loveless this, Dale Loveless that. This is what is so galling. This is why I will no longer talk to him.’
‘Perhaps you shouldn’t have let him get away with it for so long,’ I say. ‘You need to stand up to him.’
‘I know I should,’ he says. ‘But you don’t understand how it is. At times, it’s just nice to have someone to talk to. I haven’t got many friends, you see.’
‘I’m sure that’s not true,’ I say, instead of the more obvious, I wonder why that is.
‘You’ve no idea how hurtful it is to read these woeful things about yourself and know that others are reading about them, too. I’ve become afraid to step outside the front door in case someone recognises me as Wet Blanket Ron.’
‘I’m sure it can’t be as bad as all that,’ I say, looking now for a way to politely end the conversation.
Over the next week, I get half a dozen phone calls from Dale, but as I am able to recognise the number, I let these go to voicemail. Each time, he leaves a long doleful message, more downbeat than the previous one. If I were contemplating writing a novel about a Wet Blanket character, for instance, Wet Blanket Rod, I could get it off to a flying start from these messages alone. Dale is singularly depressing and, furthermore, a walking disaster area. Proof perhaps that negativity breeds negativity. How many people have ever got the sack from coming to work too early? How often does a gear stick come away in your hand, even on a Fiat? How could anyone get their trousers caught up in their bicycle chain and end up in a drainage ditch? How could someone not realise their neighbour’s cat was in the tumble drier? What bad luck too should said neighbour be a seasoned pub brawler. These are legendary examples of misfortune. If these episodes were typical, Ron’s author was clearly on to a winner.
I could of course block the number and stop getting the messages, but the perverse streak in me argues that I should keep them coming. I justify it with the argument that it is somehow cathartic to Dale to unload, even if this might be met with an equal amount of disappointment that I do not answer his calls. In my experience, people who endlessly complain about their lot are not usually candidates for the permanent vacation. He’s going to be around for a while yet.
I don’t know why I didn’t think of googling Wet Blanket Ron to find out the author’s name earlier, rather than wasting time and energy waiting to get Dale to tell me. There are pages and pages of results leading to Wet Blanket Ron stories. Dozens of them. Written by Chris Green. A new one on me, I have to admit. And Wet Blanket Ron books by Chris Green, available on Amazon. It appears that Wet Blanket Ron has something of a cult following. He even has his own website. By contrast, Wet Blanket Rod is yet to appear on Google.
I can see at a glance that Ron’s character is a thinly disguised portrayal of Dale. There is no denying it. Even without the mentions of him in the stories, anyone who encountered Dale Loveless would be inclined to put two and two together and see him as the inspiration for Wet Blanket Ron.
In a moment of idle speculation, I wonder what the other two numbers scribbled in the back of Phillip C Dark’s book might reveal, and decide it might be entertaining to give one of them a try. Sadly, it turns out to be a dead number. Disappointed, I call the other one. This too goes straight to the number no longer in use tone. It occurs to me that if Dale changed his number, then he too would be uncontactable. In all likelihood, there would be no more Wet Blanket Ron stories. The only conclusion to draw from this is that Dale must secretly enjoy being vicariously in print.
Why the phone numbers, including Dale’s, are in the back of my copy of Curiosity Killed the Cat, however, remains a mystery.
Copyright © Chris Green, 2021: All rights reserved