Everything was happening hyperfast. Hiro was pointing the gun at the woman behind the cash register and demanding on the one hand that she should not move, because if anyone touched a phone then he would not hesitate to shoot, and on the other hand she should move, but very slowly, in order to open the cash register and deliver all its money. I suppose these things just happen because you’ve seen them happen, I mean in the usual miniseries. But what I was not expecting was how slow it was, this hyperfast activity, even this five minutes, or how outside the window I could see people softly walking their dog or doing other small things – there was a man having a conversation with a very beautiful woman, and I could tell that he wanted to impress her because he had taken out a cigarette, and also taken out a lighter, but each time he was about to light the cigarette he let it pause there, while he kept on talking, then slowly lowered it again, and it was really lovely to see, that attention to another person. Then I noticed that at one of the mirrors there was one woman and she was crying very much, not violently or loudly but tears were on her face and there were smudges of mascara on her cheeks, like she was smearing her face with ashes in the manner of an ancient mourner. I wanted to comfort her very much and also I was not sure if Hiro would approve. So I called over to Hiro something like:
— Hiro, I said.
— The fuck, he said.
I think he was annoyed that I used his name but I wasn’t sure that really mattered, I mean outside the movies – but still, he was annoyed so I wanted to apologise.
— Sorry, I said.
— It’s OK, he said.
I knew that he was angry but I guessed this was not the moment for apologies, and I did appreciate at least that he acknowledged my mistake.
— It’s just, I said, this girl is crying.
Hiro looked over at me.
— We’re going to be done so fast, he said to her, and he said it softly so that she might calm.
She was not so calm but I had done at least what I could. And I was sad for her because, after all, so little was really happening, just two hoodlums with their gun, and we were not even hoodlums really, just as the gun was not even a true gun, not some .45 Magnum ready to be fingerfucked by the coked-up assassin, but then I realized that the girl at the counter was seeming agitated too.
— I said don’t move, I said.
— I didn’t move, she said.
— OK, I said.
I wasn’t sure. It was very possible, I thought, that I was more scared than she was, and I wanted to make some kind of conversation. It’s what I do when I’m nervous, like when I’m talking to our cleaner or to children. On the counter was a small wood carving of a saint or holy woman, and suddenly this was all I wanted to think about – it was one of those oubliettes of slowness like when you’re on amphetamine and it suddenly becomes very very important to be refolding the clothes in your wardrobe in a particular order, or copying out the to-do notes in one notebook which are now a bit scratched out and tatty into a new notebook with the scratched-out notes no longer there, even though really you should be going to a funeral, or your lawyer for a divorce hearing. They are ways in which your attention is suddenly diverted, but whether or not it truly is diverted, it’s difficult to say – for in my case what I was also considering was a moment when I was very young and had come to this very same parade and my mother bought me a book about the greatest football tournament in the world, and I was thinking how happy the book had made me and also thinking that that smaller version of me could never have imagined that one day he would still be here, with friends with guns.
— That’s nice, I said.
— She protects me, she said.
— OK, I said.
— You believe in horoscopes? she said.
— So-so, I said.
— She protects me, she said.
— Can I look? I said.
The woman in the carving had a halo that was multi-coloured
and her clothes were multicoloured too. It was carved on a piece of wood that looked like some chess piece or intricate element of a fantastical building, by which I mean it had these arabesques and curlicues.
— Can I keep it? I said.
— You’re asking? she said.
And I think it was at that moment that I really did understand that what we were doing was so much more violent than the usual world that she was absolutely correct to find this frightening. Because however much this crime might have seemed just very fun to us its perpetrators, totally I could see that to other people, I mean the people forced to act as bystanders or spectators or unwilling participants, like they are in the most upsetting piece of performance art and also against their will, it was something frightening and unusual. In movies there is so much violence that maybe it then doesn’t occur to people how violent just the smallest alteration to reality really is, in fact it’s very fearful just to see another person raise their voice, like if some holy man outside a pub is shouting at you and then decides to follow you as you walk towards a bus, it’s hard not to feel just very threatened and alone. So that to introduce a gun, even if it was only fake or invented, was to introduce a much more unstable element than I had ever considered. This heist was swarming with sad particulars that I found difficult to react to in the appropriately violent way, or anticipate when they occurred at all. Instead I did just feel very gentle and bemused, so that softly I put the saint or holy person back.
— I’m sorry, I said.
— It’s OK, she said.
with doubts of the inner life
I wonder if maybe in the end this is all about the whole pop concept of nice. The nice thing is the major problem. Because I totally do look nice. I wear teeshirts and jeans and sneakers like everyone else in the history of the multiverse. My hair is gently spiky. That’s what I look like on the street or in the canteen. Also my eyes are manga large and my voice is soft. I pay attention to the way I speak which I hope is audible. And yet also for example I get way up high watching very bright pornography, where a girl’s choking on a penis and her saliva’s hanging down in strands like spaghetti or maybe more precisely spaghettini. I suppose eventually it does make me sad or ashamed or disgusted so I look away, but for at least a few hours, totally not. So looks, I’m just saying, are no guide to the inner life: it’s nojoke, to use a favoured phrase of my mother, as if only my mother understands the full seriousness of the world. Everyone I have ever met, their looks were nice – that’s all I mean. If the looks were everything, then no evil could ever happen. But it obviously definitely does.
and large financial results
For slowly the girl at the counter was offering me all the soft notes from the cash register. And it was very light, the way this felt – like I had maybe imagined that money in such quantities was going to weigh me down like the swag sacks of the illustrated burglars in my children’s stories, but no, it was about as heavy as a very light handbag, or not even. I marvel now at this ability the world has to sometimes arrange itself into scenes, to just pause there and coalesce the way a sorbet might, or crystal. That’s the difference between things happening and not happening, and since so much of our time is spent arguing that nothing happens, that an event is basically impossible, I still think it’s possible to see some lives as like the lives of the saints, where everything that happens, all the missed appointments and back problems and small mood swings, are really all fine details that form a wider pattern. For instance, just the weight of some old banknotes in your hand – that can mark a giant moment. Although at the time I did not think so. At the time I was not so sure that anything had really happened, as we ran outside, and I don’t think this reluctance to believe in events is indefensible or even unusual at all – for in general people do tend to believe that life is just this overall foliage, like as dense and thickly populated as the tree canopy out in the Amazon, or one of those collages with a crazy sense of offness, where everything is just minutely unrelated. That’s the general matte surface people think they live inside, like how the parties of this world keep on going, on and on they go, the fiestas, and it’s the same people with the same drinks or with minute variations, Campari one day, Aperol the next, and you just think that this horizontal vibe will continue for ever – with no dramatics or splits or fissurings, yes you think that the whole concept of the dramatic scene, I guess I mean, is overplayed. I definitely tended to think so. I more believed that what was happening always was just the ongoing process of my thinking, and its difficult moods. But then something vertical does happen, after all. I can’t deny it. We ran out into the quiet rain – back down into the noise of the normal life, and it was difficult, like the way it must be difficult for an astronaut when suddenly he’s no longer in zero gravity, and oh the tortures it must be just to keep your neck supporting your head, or lifting your fork when you eat your longed-for messy plate of carbonara.
ADAM THIRLWELL was born in London in 1978. He is the author of the novels Politics and The Escape; the novella Kapow!; and a project about international novels, The Delighted States, which won a Somerset Maugham Award. He edited a compendium of translations for McSweeney’s. He has twice been selected as one of Granta’s Best Young Novelists. His work has been translated into thirty languages. He lives in London.
Excerpted from LURID & CUTE by Adam Thirlwell, published in April 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Adam Thirlwell. All rights reserved.