so dido’s muffin then

Late Thursday. ‘I will put a cherry on Dido’s muffin… I will put a cherry on Dido’s muffin…’ Alan Peacock, Head of Hale and Hearty for Team Bojack, mid private frenzy, leaning back eyes a little wide shut in his special edition Ikea swivel power chair, hit suddenly a deflating awareness that he had forgotten to tell the north they needed to close again. ‘Shit.’ He slid the photo of Dido back into a draw in his faux surfaced artificially aged agoraphobic desk, and reached out to a smartphone. Smart, because it gave him instant glib access to polar minds. ‘It is with heavy enlarged pathos that I tell you no more garden sausage street parties. Put those three for twenty pounds boxes of Fisters back in the cellar and mothball the gazebo. Yes you will need to suspend local living room meetings of the Jimmy Olive Recipe Appreciation reading club until further notice, I’m very much afraid.’

It would have to be in the tracing. Whose bubbles have you burst this week, and do you have their numbers? Those contactless paper coffee cups you’re once again sending to landfill, are scored for the team, heard in the appreciation of expertly mixed recorded crowd noise. Fade it down, and feel the silence. Silence as Alan looked from his booked cordoned table past the other unoccupied tables and the one way arrows and inkjet no entry signs to the four pale spots in the sticky floor left by the removal of his favourite barstool in the urban tavern he’d stopped at for post-responsibility wind-down beer on his way home for the past ten years. His customary lightly hopped Armageddon Rhubarb Session Pale still tasted the same. Perhaps better, as the lines were cleaned more often. Soon it would be time to move past the five percent barrier, ordered via smartphone app of course, and venture a quip in the direction of the serving person. Except that of late the quips had to penetrate several layers of porous paper and probably at least one of clear plastic before lodging in cognition with only the paralanguage of eye contact to help them along. Eye contact it would have to be. The app offered a scroll of artisan beers. Flicking up, Alan spotted in blur effect hyper-scroll the primary colours and logo of his favourite New Jersey IPA. Blur flattened stock still with deft descending thumb, beer ordered, money tendered, he waited. Several passed in the street, in proximity alarming but for the interposing presence of plate glass. Bluetooth is no respecter of glass however. Smartphones in pockets of pedestrians spoke silently through the glass to Alan’s. ‘How the fuck should I know what an API is?’ an exasperated Alan had snapped in a meeting earlier that week. ‘Just call them and speak to them.’ The beer arrived, a cloudy treat in a contrived glass. ‘Do I need a spoon?’ The quip failed. Eyes above layered paper showed empathetic strained acknowledgement.

Alan and Dido had known each other since school. Adolescent gazing through Bunsen burner haze on stifled July Thursdays had been as far as either dared take it then. Now their relationship was more professional, if necessarily distant. He had considered asking her out, but that he decided would only complicate: too many touched surfaces, physical and psychological, to account for, electronically or otherwise. ‘We’d be eating out to help out, I suppose.’ But no. Fumbling through those early relationship manifestations of desperation to validate was something for which he no longer had energy. He had anyway been somewhat put off eating out after seeing a fast food worker spontaneously puke at high velocity onto the inside of their visor, early in the easing. Whether from too much handling circles of compacted entrails on greased hot griddles, or from violent pathogen onset, he never discovered. Suffice it to say his Distance Burger with curly fries and supersizing cola were left purchased but unconsumed on the counter.

Pretend you’re in a film. That’s the way through it, the way commuters and runners have been living their internal lives for the past several decades anyway. Now all we have to do is stay in that internal world, chosen back catalogue sound track rendering one third of a penny to its creator, until we think it’s safe to come out. Can’t be so hard. What’s there when we come out though? Jocular street vendors welcoming back casual office-bound mask-free coffee and sandwich buyers, livelihoods restored? Consume and commodify to help out. Choose a soundtrack for that scene, somewhere in the lull between the dummy villain vanquishing and the redemptive colour-washed HDR marriage montage. Leave room for an alternative timeline in the sequel.

Draft penultimate scene. Interior. Night. Alan’s central London flat. The latch turns on the inside of the front door. Alan’s face, expression paralysed by drink, peers in. He fumbles to place the keys in their accustomed spot by the phone, and makes uneasily towards the living room, fighting to dismiss an unaccountable nonverbal awareness that the matrix has been reconfigured. Diegetic sound fades to silence. His old friend Greta is waiting for him in his chair at the agoraphobic desk, smiling wryly as she surveys his collection of Dido photographs. Soundtrack silence persists. Greta looks up from the desk and directs Alan to a newspaper draped over the back of his TV chair, headline reading ‘Heathrow To Close – Minister Implicated’. Audiences, discomfited by the continued silence, reboot their routers, blow on their HDMI cables, check the terms of the force-purchased extended warranties on their Currys soundbars, access memories of their parents thumping the top of a CRT set when it glitched out, as though violence could somehow engender an electronic fix. Eighties style page curl transition to exterior local park, night. Grainy black and white. Still persisting silence. Alan and Greta emerge slowly from distant trees and progress to camera, happy, sharing a takeout flagon, Greta carrying the newspaper. As their figures begin to fill the frame, she glances down at the headline and punches the air. At the edge of audience tolerance, millions of fingers poised over subscription cancellation buttons, non-diegetic sound creeps up hyper-slowly, opening notes of The Boy With The Arab Strap just perceptible. By the time the song is fully audible, Alan and Greta are dancing arms linked ceilidh fashion in heavy rain. Run closing titles for the duration of the song. Optional happy blooper inserts.