ACME — Chapter Ten
Redemption or Condemnation
(certainly no kind of conclusion)
Wallace’s trowel turned over the mud in whirlwind motions, mesmerising him. Sebastian, his dignified, auburn cat, sat behind with pricked ears and darting eyes, also fascinated by the grinding movement. He loosely contemplated whether those churnings breathed or bled. Perhaps, Sebastian thought in feline purr, there was a heart and life in the dirt. It certainly looked like it was breathing. Therefore, it seemed natural to conclude that the blunt, diamond-shaped tool, which Wallace continued to brandish, was an instrument of the hunt.
This reminded him he was hungry and, with a soft, intuitive mew, he signalled such to his companion. By that point, Sebastian had no doubt or scepticism in his line of thinking. The mud was alive in some way, and would probably end up in his stomach soon — most things did. With his mind easily distracted, the thought soothed his digestive protests for a minute, before he noticed Wallace had not acknowledged his quiet cry. He tried again, slightly louder, hoping.
‘Soon!’ Wallace called with a jolly-bounced boom that seemed genuinely content. It was only two years previous to this moment that Wallace could barely stand up from the mire of misery. Since, he was too satisfied with his garden and Sebastian to notice a change in his outlook. Although he had finally grown the clarity to avoid stubbing a toe on the cat’s litter tray (having replaced his now deceased dog’s cracked bowl), he didn’t perceive his newfound grace — for fulfilment does not make its presence known so painfully as confusion or emptiness.
As he twirled his entrenched trowel deep in the muck-bed, he noticed not its synchronisation with a coffee’s repetitive stirring. He had quit caffeine, and cold turkey had worked surprisingly well. Despite continuing the same motions day after day regardless, stencilled across his years like a mosaic, he seemed to have learnt his lesson. Maybe it was because he no longer bombarded his mind with a heady cocktail of drugs and nostalgia; he hadn’t thought of his old writing career or characters for longer than he could remember. Thus, he was left, in the smallest of terms, happy.
For Sebastian, Wallace’s familiar shout — although promising eventual attendance — wasn’t enough. Silently, he hopped down from his brick-perch throne; feeling hard done by. He was hungry, and he had announced this. Twice. Still, nothing had been done. Sebastian expected better than that, and Wallace could have easily mistaken the cat’s head rubbing against his thigh as affection. Instead, he knew what Sebastian wanted and appreciated the simplicity of his demand.
Simplicity. Wallace had started to relish the phonetics of the word as much as he liked its implications. If he looked back on the life he had led, which he sparsely did, he would have found it such a chaos of passion. Was the time he had spent with former friends and foes even worth the endurance?
‘Alright,’ he began, tickling the lobe of his diminutive escort, ‘give these old knees a minute.’ In reply, and with the same tonal resonance as before, Sebastian meowed back a humble thank you. As Wallace rose, smelling the sweet air at its fullest and smiling, he felt a hammer of understanding that made him lightheaded — his ever-faithful cat watching on. Recalling again a note he had received from Emil Douglas only a few years ago, he began to realise some shadow of an elusive meaning to life.
The words fell onto the page as his memory reconstructed the letter. It said something about how the studio had liquidised all the show’s hard copies; apparently considered apocryphal and too unpopular with a burgeoning generation. Douglas had seemed genuinely tactful, breaking it as “bad news”. Wallace remembered this clearly. It was more striking to him that his old, conniving colleague would speak with care than anything else. For a while before receiving the note, Wallace had himself predicted the show’s downfall to be inevitable. After all, he beat the studio to it when he mercilessly deleted his own script copies from his — now inoperable — home computer.
The literal destruction of his toils came as a great relief. He could forget his cast of characters, and maybe even work on his garden again. Upon reading Douglas’ note, he decided he could definitely commit to that cat he had wanted.
The note, he thought as his mind slipped lethargically back on track. There was that one other thing about the note… He had read the main bulk of the information three times over before noticing it. Douglas had deliberately scrawled the words smaller than the rest in an ashamed effort to keep them hidden. To him, they were, most likely, incredibly hard and painful to write. Wallace found reading them, however, an act of profound catharsis.
P.S. — I re-read some of our scripts. I am sorry.
Douglas’ vague apology represented a final chaotic complexity before impending waves of self-imposed simplicity. Within months, Wallace had adopted Sebastian, and his garden was the best in the neighbourhood. A new tome had opened for him, and he was far too embroiled in it to muse on anything that came before.
Choosing to abandon his thoughts of the past, he started his practised slow-gait shuffle towards the kitchen. He looked down, himself easily diverted, and still found it surprising how Sebastian would match his pace politely — the little, ginger cat could run like a bullet if he had to. This made Wallace feel a thick ooze of giddy gratification rise up in his chest, and he couldn’t help manifesting it in a laugh. He had felt this often since Douglas’ note.
He reached for the entrance ahead with shaking, brittle fingers. As Wallace struggled with the awkward handle, Sebastian pushed his head against the door. He genuinely believed this assisted in some way, and he was just as mistaken as when he assumed the mud could breathe. But it prepared him for when Wallace could finally click open the strange barrier, which he was ever-ready to leap through as it crept slowly ajar. This, like most of Sebastian’s modest movements, made Wallace smile again his soft, simple smile.
Perhaps it’s true that he no longer felt any tingling, grand excitement. Indeed, what need would he have for it in his rolling old age? The elation that had taken him when he slapped his knees with pride, striking the concluding keystroke of an early script so long ago, didn’t seem as important when placed alongside the chasms of gloaming gloom he embraced in sacrifice.
So, with his slippers shifting to shuffle audible scuffles on the tile of his kitchen floor, he had a new routine. Gardening tools, tinned meat and vintage movie marathons lazily stole the relay from word processors, coffee and smoke; and Wallace felt the warm, indefinite benefit. With a real, physical death hiding somewhere close ahead, this routine would be permanent. A regular cycle of light, almost crisp, banging from cupboards like punctuation marks, Sebastian’s swishing tail in his peripherals and that sandy, wretched stench of cat food was all he could expect, until he himself would meet his makers.
All that was left for Wallace was to determine whether an afterlife could hold its own Immortality. He had decided it was up to fatality to answer that question, and was gladly content with the remaining days, weeks and months of his life.
Douglas, on the other hand, lived the rest of his odd, sodden being in despair smattered awareness. He too seemed to have learnt a lesson, only his wasn’t so comforting. For him, realising mistakes seemed to hold the certain loom of an unbearable conscience. In the end, he spent his time propped up by vices and fuelled by a debilitating desolation, reflecting Wallace’s worst youthful decadence.
And what of poor Petey and his friends at Manimal Farm? Officially, they no longer existed — but The Ghost, in his Immortal subterfuge, had shown that strange things can happen. ACME itself, along with its ancient incarnations, helped demonstrate that the possibilities of life are somewhat unlimited. Perhaps a home-recorded tape of Petey’s antics would make its way through as a familial hand-me-down? There may always be hope, or a chance, in any spiritual plane, be it physical, conceptual or imagined.
While we may never know the true fate of our opening subject, it’s important to pose questions that could affect his outcome. What will you take or learn from ACME’s tale of woe and waste?
Will you remember Petey Porksworth?