The Little Grey Monkey
Published in Knight’s Move: issue 00 Manifesto 2006
When I think of him, I think of his feet. The black leather shoes: highly-polished, plain but painfully perfect, and the way that the hems of his trousers lightly brushed the surface of each as he moved across room. From beneath the bed my eyes followed the feet as they rhythmically patted out patterns upon the Persian rug. At times they seemed to disappear completely as if levitating high above the edge of the duvet, the limit of my field of vision, and then reappearing again as if by magic on a distant part of rug. All of this activity was accompanied by Ravel's Bolero which came from his record player situated to my left under the window. He had an extensive collection of records but this was his favourite, especially in the mornings, you could hear it coming from his room - echoing down the hall. Although the music was loud, the sound of his nifty footwork could be heard above the record player. Despite my fear of discovery I found the sound compelling and strangely comforting. It put me in mind of an earlier encounter with dancing feet: the time my mother took me to a performance of Swan Lake, we had good seats in the front row and I was astonished to hear the sound of the dancer's feet as they hit the stage. The thuds, grunts and groans of the ballerinas were clearly audible above the sound of the orchestra. Perspiration covered their bodies and with each movement tiny beads of moisture were sent sprinkling across the wooden boards becoming smudged and smeared with the powder from their soft leather shoes. At first I thought this to be a distraction but as the performance progressed I accepted it - in fact it became my focus throughout the evening. I thought how amazing it would be to take the sound of the orchestra away so that the audience could only hear the dance - maybe each dancer could wear a pair of wireless headphones and receive a transmitted recording. I opened my notebook and wrote down the words Ballerina, Headphones and Transmission. The music stopped and he sat down on the bed. The frame shook and the mattress sank under his weight disturbing years of dust which irritated my eyes and nose. He sat facing the record player, his feet neatly together just inches from my face. I tried to imagine him from the ankles up, sitting there, shoulders back – chest forward, very smart and formal. He liked to dance but he could never relax. I wondered if his hands were in his lap or at his sides, I wondered if he kept them clean. I looked at my hands and the way I held my pencil. He was wearing red socks. I looked in my notebook and found that on that day ‘Tuesday’ he should have been wearing green ones. The record continued to spin, the turntable’s stylus caught in the play-out grove. He sat motionless for several minutes listening to the crackling rhythm. I must admit, I found the repetition very pleasurable myself. Quite a fitting bi-product of a recording that consists of just two tunes repeated over and over again above the rat-atat-tat of a snare drum that seems to go on for ever. Actually, it lasts for just over fifteen minutes. On the floor to the left of the wardrobe sat two other pairs of shoes, identical in everyway to the ones he was wearing. As specified, they were lined up in tight formation with laces tied and toes to the skirting board. He regularly alternated the use of each pair which made them last longer, but the drawback was that when they finally succumbed to wear and tare it would usually happen to all three pairs within the space of a week which was inconvenient as well as very expensive. My mother used to say that you can tell a lot about a person from their shoes, and I think she was right. But then again you can tell a lot about a person from a handshake. This is a great concern of mine. I see a handshake as a document, a declaration – an insight into ones character. A handshake should always be firm but not over firm: a full engagement of the whole hand with a short but concise shake should be employed. Retaining eye contact throughout the procedure is essential, and for extra warmth and sincerity one can cup the left palm over the top of the clasped hands and extend the shake for a second or two longer than usual. But I must point out, that one should never normally exceed the three to four second time limit when giving a shake. I knew a man once who insisted on crushing my hand each time that we met. The circumstances were always informal and relaxed and although I felt indifferent towards him, he was pleasant enough. I assumed he was either emotionally insecure and was trying to convey a sense of authority, or he simply wasn’t aware of his own strength. This experience left me doubting my own technique - particularly when I met someone whose response was far weaker than my own. I quietly turned back a couple of pages in my notebook to the floor plan of his room. I wondered what he was thinking about. Maybe he was thinking about his socks. A limp handshake can be very disturbing, especially when it comes from a person you need to trust. It’s a strange contradiction, but normally it’s someone who is in a position of power and authority who tends to give the weakest greeting. On such occasions I do my best to overlook this but I would be lying if I said that it didn’t taint my impression of the person. The temperature of a hand is also very important: a comfortable and reassuring shake should be in the region of 37 Celsius. Nether cold and clammy, or hot and sweaty palms are acceptable. It never cesses to astonish me just how many people have not mastered the simple art of a basic handshake, all to often I have reached out to take a someone’s hand and in turn received three or four moist digits and a feeble wiggle. On the floor to my left, at the head of the bed, lay a book. It was titled The Case of the Little Grey Monkey and Other Apparitions by Edgar T. Carson. It looked very interesting but it shouldn’t have been there. This was one of several things wrong that morning. I referred to my drawing which clearly showed that all books should be kept on the bookshelf to the right of the door. He had also left a teacup on the floor. This was unacceptable. It was clearly noted that no cups, plates, or any form of crockery should ever be left on the floor. I could also see that his wardrobe door was ajar. The longest recorded finger in the world belonged to a Russian man and measured 19.03 centimetres. Now that would be a difficult hand to shake. His right foot began to move in time to the clicks and crackles coming from the record player. I could sense his enthusiasm build as the tapping became more pronounced and then, in a sudden surge of energy he sprang to his feet and began to moonwalk backwards across the rug towards the door. I was impressed. I’ve never tried to do this my self, although I have been told that it looks much harder than it actually is, but across an old rug with out a single slip-up – that took some skill. When he reached the door he spun around on his right heel to face the bed. With both feet on the rug he rose to his toes, rocking from the left to the right just like Elvis in Jailhouse Rock. Then there was a knock at the door.