16 Jul. 2007

What's That Smell?

At first she thought it was the old block of cheddar at the back of the fridge. Then she thought it might be the cat's bowl, which hadn't been washed for a few days. Or maybe it was the mould growing under the rim of the laundry tub? Gladys tried everything she could think of, but the smell was still there. She just couldn't locate the source of it. What could she do? Eventually she just learned to live with it.

Over the next few months, however, it got worse and worse. Visitors started to notice. It was terribly embarrassing.

One Tuesday morning, Madge Gladstone-Smyth came over for a cup of tea before lawn bowls. She was just about to poke a silverware fork into her blueberry cheesecake when she leaned forward, adjusted her prescription glasses, and pointed to the floor.

"What on earth is that?" she asked.

And there it was - the blood of a million Iraqis, seeping out from under the architraves.

"Oh dear," said Gladys.

The blood had started to form a pool in front of the television. Madge suggested turning it off.

"It could be all that TV news," she said. "It's dreadful, isn't it? Why can't they show any happy stories for once?"

Gladys disconnected the power plug and pulled the TV antenna out of the wall. But the next day there was even more blood, soaking into the Persian carpet and lapping at the feet of the leather sofa.

What to do? What to do? Gladys reached for the Yellow Pages. She found three companies listed under "Exterminators, Cleaners and Exorcists". The largest advertisement was for a company called "G.W. Windsor & Sons". She phoned them first.

"Where do you live, honey?" asked a gruff voice with a twangy accent.

"14 National Drive."

"OK, that's one of our zones."

"I just wanted a quote. I'm not sure - "

"Sit tight, baby. We're on our way."

The tank arrived within minutes, with a helicopter gunship in support ("just in case," explained the man with the twangy accent). A team of men in camouflage rapidly spread out across Gladys' lawn. Voices cackled urgently on walkie-talkies. Then the turret of the great tank swung around, with a long mechanical groan, to aim straight at the door of Glady's neighbour's house.

"That's your problem, right there," said Mr Twangy Accent.

"Doctor Hajeeb?"

"Damn straight. Just give the order, ma'am, and we take the whole damn structure out."

"But - well, are you sure that's necessary?"

"We've taken a sample of the blood on your floor, ma'am. The DNA tests are positive: this is ethnic blood. Middle Eastern, know what I mean? We've also found traces of such blood in Doctor Hajeeb's gargbage. The evidence is conclusive. We can take out the source of your problem with just one projectile, at a cost of $124,500 plus GST. Your call."

"It sounds a little drastic."

"There could be some collateral damage to surrounding structures and/or civilians, which we regret in advance."

"I might just have a little think about it, if you don't mind."

Twangy Accent snapped some orders into his hands-free mike. His men jumped back aboard the tank, which clamboured noisily away down the street. Gladys went back inside for a cup of tea.

What to do? What to do? The blood was now an inch deep, and covering the whole house. Gladys thought she could hear moaning sounds coming from inside the walls. She phoned the next company in the phone book, "J.J. Johnson Inc, International, Pty Ltd."

"Thank you for calling J.J. Johnson," said an automated voice. "If you are a shareholder, a director, or a government official, please press 1.

"For employment opportunities, tenders, or market-share capitalisation details, press 2.

"To enquire about our bonus scheme, flexible awards program, or other offers, press 3. For all other enquiries, please press 4."

Gladys pressed 4.

"For pest extermination, press 1. For religious exorcisms, press 2. For cleaning operations, press 3."

Gladys hesitated, then pressed 3.

"All our operators are busy right now. Thank you for holding. Your call is important to us."

A recorded message started extolling the history, virtues, values and investment opportunities of J.J. Johnson Inc.

"Thank you for holding. An operator will be with you soon. For share purchasing details, please press the star key."

Gladys waited until the blood was up around her ankles. By now she could hear shrieks of agony coming from the walls. There were also shrill metallic sqeals, howls of despair, and loud, ominous thumping noises. In sheer frustration, Gladys hung up the phone and dialled the third number in the book, "Reginald Reginald (reg.)"

A cheerful young man turned up 5 minutes later on a bicycle, with a small dog lapping at his heels.

"Oh, yes," he said as he stepped through the front door, "I've been seeing quite a bit of this lately. You voted Liberal in the last election, didn't you?"

"Why, actually I did," said Gladys. "But what on earth does that have to do with it?"

"Well," said the young man, "You might be surprised. Where's your Prime Minister?"

"My Prime Minister?"

"Yes, your Prime Minister."

"Well, he's on top of the television, where I always leave him. He comments on all the stories as they come through. He helps me understand -"

"OK. Stand back, please..."

Gladys moved towards the door The young man seized the Prime Minister by the neck and began to prise him from his prized position atop the television. The Prime Minister yowled with pain, hurling threats and abusive expletives. But soon the young man had stuffed him into a canvas bag and tied it closed with a thick rope.

"What will you do with him?" asked Gladys.

"There's a place in Iraq where we send them," said the young man. "They have a re-education program. Don't worry. It's all very humane."

"But how will I be able to understand the TV news now?"

"Try this."

The young man took a small plastic box out of his pocket and plugged it into the back of Gladys' television.

"This will connect you to the blogsphere," he said. "If you don't know what to make of the news, it will give you a wide variety of analyses to choose from. Better yet, it will allow you to start your own blog, post your own opinions, and start to actively get involved with the news rather than just passively absorbing it."

Gladys looked at the floor.

"But what about the blood?" she asked.

"I can only remove the source of the problem," said the young man. "The blood will cease flowing now, but it's up to you to clean up and make amends. You need to listen to the voices, gently mop up the blood, tend to the cracks in the walls, and apologize repeatedly for voting Liberal."

"Oh dear. What a terrible, terrible mess," said Gladys. "I was worried about the interest rates, you see."

"Sure, lady, sure." said the young man. "Weren't we all?"

"But the Prime Minister said -"

"Will that be all?" said the young man. "Sorry, but I do have quite a few other customers waiting."