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A little cheese and a little whine

Repetitive Complications

Credit due to Jim St. Ruth for developing the original gag

Phil stopped staring at his beer when he saw another glass placed on the table. Looking up he saw his two friends, David and Ian.

“Christ, Phil, you look terrible,” said David, ever the optimist.

“Yeah, mate,” said Ian, taking a seat, “what’s up?”

“I’ve just been to the doctor,” Phil replied, shifting slightly so that David could sit down. “He says I’ve got a bad case of expositionosis.”

“Expositionosis?” said David. “What’s that?”

“I’m glad you asked, David. It’s a condition which affects actors who have had too many parts of a certain kind in plays and television shows, specifically, the minor characters with lots of lines who have the job of explaining what’s going on to the audience.”

“It sounds terrible.”

“It is. The afflicted person starts to speak in a long-winded but emotionless manner, favouring long, multi-clause sentences over the patterns of natural speech, often using multiple conjunctions and quite unnatural constructions, combining unrelated details, as my friend Basildon Bond once remarked, in order to provide the main characters with the information they need without alerting the audience to the significance of what is being said.”

“Is there a cure?”

“There are some experimental treatments, but they’re extremely costly. For a jobbing actor like myself, barely scraping a living doing rep in this fine city of Birmingham, it would take some kind of miracle before I could afford anything. You’re both in the same position; you know how tight money is.”

“Well,” said David, suddenly animated, “you can count on us to do everything we can to help. If a miracle is what we need, then that’s what we’ll have to find!”

Phil paused. “That’s the other interesting thing about expositionosis. It’s mildly contagious. The first sign is that people around the infected person suddenly become filled with resolve to do something about whatever they talk about, promising to take action and signposting some future adventure and conflict.”

“Oh,” said David, suddenly deflated, and a little alarmed. “So am I – “

“Don’t worry,” said Phil. “Those symptoms are almost always temporary. It’s actually quite difficult to contract the disease. Even so, if I recall correctly, there are now five people in our company who have contracted it over the last year. In two cases, it was an even worse condition – expositionosis with repetitive complications.”

“Repetitive complications?”

“Repetitive complications. These seem to occur when the actor has been in too many plays written for audiences with a limited attention span. A limited attention span – meaning the writer has to say everything more than once. Repeat things, reiterate them, state them in several different ways.”

“Different ways?”

“Usually, but sufferers often find themselves just repeating things.”

“Repeating things?”

“Repeating things. It’s enormously debilitating. And, of course, mildly contagious.”

“And you say five people have come down with this in our company?”

“That’s right, five of us. It’s almost as if someone had it in for us.”

“But who could that be?” asked David. He paused. “Asking open questions is another temporary symptom, isn’t it?”

Phil nodded. “Everything seems to have started just after Karen died in that terrible accident.”

“Yes, I remember”

“It was when we had that freak tornado, a weather phenomenon almost completely unknown in this temperate climate.”

“Yes, I remember”

“She was caught right in its path and her car was thrown from the road.”

“Yes, I remember that happening. We all went to the funeral together".

“She was killed instantly. You must remember. We all went to the funeral together.”

“For fu –“

“Sorry. It gets the better of me sometimes. The puzzling thing is that you can really only contract the disease through an exchange of bodily fluids with an asymptomatic carrier. Someone who has the disease but doesn’t show the symptoms, something which is often the result of it being combined with some other related condition. Karen might have been such a carrier – I think she had cryptophrenia.”

“What’s that? God, you’re right, this is irritating.”

“It’s a pathological reluctance to share information which it is perfectly natural, if not positively advantageous for you to share. It comes from playing too many lead roles in detective dramas. When in possession of crucial information about, for example, the identity of a psychopath who has already tortured and killed a dozen people in order to cover their tracks, the rational person tells as many people as possible in order to decrease the chances of their own demise and indeed in the hope that said psychopath might, for example, get arrested. The cryptophrenia sufferer, however, keeps this information to themselves until they are able to reveal it in the most dramatic manner possible, making only vague allusions and promises to explain themselves later. The condition is sometimes fatal, although that often depends on the number of psychopaths living in the area.”

“My God,” said David, “I think you’re right – it would certainly explain what Karen said to me before she died.”

“What was that?” asked Ian.

“Pretty much nothing.” David paused. “You’re sure these symptoms are temporary, right?”

“I’m sure.”

“Even the repetitive complications?”

“Even the rep – oh, for goodness’ sake –“

“You remember she said she had a son she’d given up for adoption years ago? She said she thought he was here. But she wouldn’t say who it was, she just promised to tell me when she was sure.”

“Classic cryptophrenia,” said Phil. “That must have been just before the accident?”

“About half an hour. But if everyone has contracted expositionosis after that, she can’t have given it to them, can she?”

“No. There must be someone else involved.”

“So who’s infected?”

“Myself, James Taylor, Alison Warner, Patricia Holt and Sarah Dinkley.”

“Well, you and James were both in ‘Gay’s the Lord’, Alison and Sarah were in ‘A Kiss Before Flying’ and Sarah was in ‘Smooch!’ so you’ve all been exchanging saliva. In fact, you’ve all kissed – “. He stopped. He and Phil both stared silently at Ian. There was a very awkward silence.

“Yes, you’ve all kissed me. Ian. The quiet, asymptomatic carrier of expositionosis. Why am I asymptomatic? Because for a long time, I’ve suffered from monologorrhea. And before you jump in to explain what that is, Phil, let me tell you.

“Do you know what it feels like to grow up as an orphan? To never know your real parents? Of course you don’t. You have no idea how it is to wake up every morning wondering what made you such a terrible person that the woman who gave birth to you couldn’t bear to keep you around.

“And in fact, neither do I. I had no idea I was adopted until I was twenty six. And my adoptive parents were fantastic, never criticised or punished me, bought me extravagant presents and still take me on holiday every year.

“But I contracted monologorrhea at a very early age. And that means I take everything, even good fortune, as a personal affront which has to be rectified by a diabolical plan. The plan doesn’t have to be effective, or even particularly sensible: just devious enough to require a long-winded explanation.

“You see, the main symptom of monologorrhea is an obsessive compulsion to speak in multiple paragraphs. It’s actually quite demanding, modulating the tone of one’s voice to give the impression of a line break. But I’ve had many years of practice, suffering under the burden of this terrible disease. The real challenge isn’t the delivery, though. Not by a long chalk. The problem is coming up with schemes sufficiently convoluted to be worth explaining in a roundabout, long-winded manner which leaves one’s listeners inexplicably silent but always on the verge of worrying about what they’re doing with their hands.”

Phil began to speak. “So what was the –“

“I don’t need your help!” snapped Ian. “I’ve given more monologues than you’ve had hot dinners.”

“Well,” said David, “as jobbing actors barely scraping a living doing rep in this fine city of Birmingham, we can’t afford all that many – “

“That’s enough from you too!” Ian shouted. “I’ve started this monologue and I’ve got to finish it before we all lose the will to live.

“No doubt you’ve realised that Karen was my birth mother, so I will spare you the details of that discovery. How she became suspicious when she found out I had been adopted, knowing where I came from and when I had been born. How she hired a private detective to trace me through the orphanage. How he managed to get a DNA sample by buying me a drink and stealing the glass. I won’t mention that I realised something was going on, followed him and broke into his office, so that I knew the truth before Karen did.

“All I will say is how overjoyed I was, and how wonderful it felt when Karen called to say she was coming to see me. At last, I was going to be reunited with my real mother.

“And then there was the accident, and I never saw her again. My chance at happiness snatched away.”

Phil went to speak but Ian continued forcefully. “Why take it out on you? you ask.” He reached into his bag and pulled out an iPad. A few swipes, and the screen was alive with graphs and equations. He placed it on the table for the others to see. “It all comes down to chaos.”

“My God,” said Phil. “The Butterfly Effect!”

“Yes,” said Ian bitterly, “The Butterfly Effect. That preposterous post-modern nonsense the five of you insisted on staging. A butterfly flaps its wings in Central Park, there’s a hurricane in Ecuador. An actor declaims Rupert Brook dressed as a shark dangling from a feather boa, and there’s a typhoon in Birmingham. Karen knew that production would end in disaster. She did everything she could to prevent it. But you had to go ahead. You had to have your moment of intellectual posturing. And she paid the price!

“So now it’s time for you to suffer. For all of you to feel helpless as your sentences become longer. As your conversation becomes more and more repetitive. More and more – God, you’re right, that is annoying – My torment will be your torment. And there’s nothing you can do.”

There was another uncomfortable silence.

“You may be right,” said David at last. “But you two are not the only ones with an unusual condition. You see, I suffer from – “

“No!” shouted Ian, suddenly alarmed.

“Yes! Deusexmachinitis.”

“Of course,” said Phil. “A propensity to hide one’s true identity and capabilities until the situation becomes desperate, and only then to make an intervention which it would have been better to make much earlier.”

“Yes,” David continued. “You see, I am not simply a jobbing actor barely scraping a living doing – oh, for God’s sake – I am Inspector David Warner of Scotland Yard’s Biological Crimes division. We’ve known about your activities, Ian, since you infected James Taylor.”

Phil interrupted, “Then why did you let him –“

Deusexmachinitis!” insisted David. He placed a bottle on the table. “Drink this. It’s a cure for your condition. It takes effect immediately.”

“Then why didn’t you – oh, right.”

“You, Phil, have your cure, and you, Ian are under arrest. The day has been saved thanks to my unexpected and basically inexplicable intervention. The good have ended happily and the bad unhappily. Now drink up: it’s time for you to come along to the station.”

“So just to be clear,” started Phil, “Karen and Ian both discovered that she was his birth mother, and then – “

“For God’s sake!” shouted the others. “Just take the medicine, Phil,” said David. “Just take the medicine.”

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Filed under: Humour, Writing

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The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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