Martin Amis. Other People

Martin Amis. Other People

Martin Amis. Other People


Part One

1 Special Damage

2 Everybody’s Queer

3 Inside Out

4 Bad Language

Part Two

5 Gaining Ground

6 Law’s Eyes

7 Don’t Break

8 Stopped Dead

9 Force Field

10 Good Elf

11 Whose Baby?

12 Poor Ghost

13 Live Action

14 Sadly Waiting

15 By Heart

16 Second Chances

17 Absent Links

18 No Need

19 Opposite Number

20 Deeper Water

Part Three

21 Without Fear

22 Old Flame

23 Last Things

24 Time


• • •


This is a confession, but a brief one.

I didn’t want to have to do it to her. I would have infinitely preferred some other solution. Still, there we are. It makes sense, really, given the rules of life on earth; and she asked for it. I just wish there was another way, something more self-contained, economical, and shapely. But there isn’t. That’s life, as I say, and my most sacred duty is to make it lifelike. Oh, hell. Let’s get it over with.

• • •

Part One


• • •

Special Damage

Her first feeling, as she smelled the air, was one of intense and helpless gratitude. I’m all right, she thought with a gasp. Time—it’s starting again. She tried to blink away all the water in her eyes, but there was too much to deal with and she soon shut them tight.

Someone leaned over her and said with a voice so close that it might have come from within her own head, ‘Are you all right now?’

She nodded. ‘Yes,’ she said.

‘I’ll leave you then. You’re on your own now. Take care. Be good.’

‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry.’

She opened her eyes and sat up. Whoever had spoken was no longer there, but other people were moving about near by, people who for some reason were all there just to help her through. How kind they must be, she thought, how kind they are, to do all this for me.

She was in a white room, lying on a spindly white trolley. She thought about this for a while. It seemed quite an appropriate place to be. She would be all right here, she thought.

Outside, a man in white walked quickly past. He hesitated, then poked his head round the door. His posture suddenly relaxed. ‘Come on, get up,’ he said wearily, his eyes closed.


”Get up. It’s time. You’re all right, come on.’ He walked forward, glancing sideways at a low table on which various items were scattered. ‘These all your things?’ he said.

She looked: a black bag, some scraps of green paper, a small golden cylinder. ‘Yes,’ she said secretively, ‘these all my things.’

‘You better be off then.’

‘Yes all right,’ she said. She swung herself over the trolley’s side. She stared down at her legs and moaned. The poor flesh was all churned and torn. Reflexively she reached down to touch. Her flesh was whole. The shreds were part of some wispy material laid over her skin. She was all right.

The man snorted. ‘Where you been,’ he said, his voice moistening.

‘Can’t tell,’ she muttered.

He came closer. ‘The toilet?’ he said loudly. ‘You want to go to the toilet?’

‘Yes please,’ she said, without much hope.

He turned, walked towards the door, and turned again. She stood up and tried to follow him. She found that heavy curved extensions had been attached to her feet. The idea was obviously to make movement very difficult, if not actually impossible. With one leg wobbling she came towards him at an angle along the slipped floor.

‘Get your things then.’ He shook his head several times. ‘You people…”

He led her into the passage. Walking ahead of him now, and feeling his eyes on her back, she looked hastily this way and that. There seemed to be two kinds of people out there. Most of them were the ones in white. The other kind were smaller and bound in variegated robes; they were being carried or led about with expressions of defence-lessness and apology. I must be one of them, she thought, as the man urged her down the passage and pointed to a door.

The first hours were the strangest. Where was her sense of things?

In the trickling narrow room, whose porcelain statuary she could not connect with herself, she placed her cheek against the cold wall and looked for clues inside her head. What was in there? Her mind went on for ever but contained nothing, like a dead sky. She was pretty sure this wasn’t the case with other people—a thought that produced a sudden spurt of foul-tasting liquid in the back of her throat. She steadied herself and turned to face the room, catching the eye of a shiny square of steel on the wall; through this bright window she briefly glimpsed a startled figure with thick black hair who looked at her and ducked quickly away. Is everyone frightened, she wondered, or is it just me?

She didn’t know how long she was expected to stay where she was. Any minute now the man could come and get her again; alternatively, she might be allowed to hang around in here for as long as she liked, perhaps indefinitely. Then it occurred to her that the world was her idea. But in that case it couldn’t be a very good idea, could it, if she sensed such unanimity of threat, such immanence of harm?

The door was a puzzle she speedily solved. The man had gone when the narrow room let her out. Without pausing she moved in the general direction of the white-clad keepers and their slower charges, towards the light which raced in playful eddies along the colourless walls. Abruptly the passage widened into a place where movement ceased and new kinds of people stood about in furtiveness and grief, or lay sweating warily on white-decked tables, or yelled out as the trotting keepers smuggled them away. Someone covered in blood stood hollering spectacularly in the centre of the floor, his hands raised to his eyes. Beyond him open double-doors admitted a cool wash of air and light. She moved forward, careful to skirt the thrashing pockets of confusion and distress. No one had time to prevent her.

She hurried from the indoors. When she tried to accelerate down the glass passage the devices on her feet abruptly checked her with their pain. She bent down to examine them and found, to her pleased surprise, that she could remove them without much difficulty. Two passing men carrying an empty hammock shouted at her and frowned meaningly at the discarded machines on the floor. But she could smell the living air now, and she hurried from the indoors.

At first, outside seemed no more than a change of scale. Everyone was still required to keep on the move, loose herds in the tall spanned passages. Quite a few seemed damaged, but there weren’t many to guide or carry them. Those in pressing need of velocity and noise used the trolleys, numberless and variegated, queueing and charging along the wide central lanes in vaporous, indocile packs. The streets were full of display, of symbols whose meaning was coolly denied to her. Through an absence of power or will—or perhaps simply of time—no one bothered to stop her joining the edgy human traffic, though many looked as though they would like to. They stared; they stared at her feet; they had all grown used to their own devices—and where were hers supposed to be? It was her first mistake, she knew: no one was intended to be without them, and she was sorry. But she moved, and kept on moving, because that’s what everyone else was required to do.

There were six kinds of people outside. People of the first kind were men. Of all the six kinds they were the most fully represented and also the most varied within their kind. Some went where they had to go in an effaced and gingery shuffle, hoping no one would pick them out: not many of them looked at her, and then only with diffidence and haste. But others moved with a rangy challenge, an almost criminal freedom, their jaws held up to front the air: they certainly looked her way, and with enmity, several of them making sounds of cawing censure with their mouths. People of the second kind were less worrying; they were shrunken, compacted—mysteriously lessened in some vital respect. They limped in pairs, with such awkward caution that they hardly made any progress at all, or else whirled about with a fluttery, burst, directionless verve. Some were so bad now that they had to be wheeled round in covered boxes, protesting piteously to their guides, who were people of the third kind. The third kind resembled the first kind quite closely except at the top and the bottom; their legs were often unprotected, and they skilfully tiptoed on the arched curves of their elaborate devices (I must be one of them, she thought, remembering the narrow room and lifting a hand to her hair). They looked at her for just a moment, then at her numb feet, then turned away in pain. People of the fourth kind were men who couldn’t get their hair right, some using hardly any at all, others smothering themselves with the stuff, and still others who actually wore theirs upside down— the matted face climbing towards a great globed chin of naked scalp. They seemed to think that this was all right. People of the fifth kind stood apart on corners or edged their way sideways through the guiltily parting crowds; they didn’t talk like other people talked; they either muttered darkly to themselves or spun away at an angle to wring their hands and admonish the air. She thought they must be mad. The people of the fifth kind included people of most other kinds. And they were never seen in pairs. People of the sixth kind, of course, were sorrily shod with tangled stockings, and weren’t sure who they were supposed to be or where they were going. She thought she saw one or two of these, but on closer inspection they always turned out to be people of some other kind.

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Categories: Amis, Martin
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