His job is neither pleasant nor interesting and yet he has been at it for centuries. It requires of him no legwork, no brainpower, is not backbreaking. His job is to hold two parallel lines in place.
He holds his own well. And in this climate, in this time, that is something to be proud of. He has strong hands with a firm grip, and rarely a day goes by that somebody doesn’t comment on the condition of his knuckles. He stands in position, between two straight lines, projecting them into space.
His hands are tied, bound to the tall tubular cylinders. His hands are bringing bread into his life. They are earning the crust. They are holding on to the handlebars of life.
He has been at this job for centuries and he is neither interesting nor pleasant. He has no need to grasp the intricacies of social engagement; he is never tagged at the end of questions. He simply stands between two tall poles and keeps them apart by the required distance, while ignoring the flinches and protests of his muscles. He does not think about anything other than retaining the complete parallelism of the two poles. While on duty, he does not once think about his personal life. He likes to separate things.
He stands in the middle of these two pillars of purpose, never once reflecting on the years that are passing him by or the youth he looks set to waste. Centuries have flown already and the skin around his fingers seems to incline toward the ground rather than the sky. His arms extend at ninety-degree angles to the bulk of his person. His hands are closed into patient fists.
The two straight lines on either side of him do grant him a sense of perspective. He sees where the earth ends and what a long way it is until the sky begins.
He has not taken a sick day since he started here, way back before time had any memory, and he has never taken annual leave. The weekends fall into a grey rust of unproductivity, his knuckles ache. His hands are not used to these more primitive forms; to the pointing, grabbing, the lying open at ‘rest’. To him, after so many years of employment, these are not natural shapes. His empty hands close into tight fists, and he feels that hole in the middle where the pole should be.
He feels nothing more intensely than this space.
The two straight lines are very important. They keep the foundations of the world in place by providing the public with a visual reminder of order. They obey strict mathematical law and function directly in compliance with the rules and restrictions sent down from the offices of Physics. Their design has been greatly improved over the years and different ways of presenting them have been piloted and scrapped.
A move to more adventurous depictions of reality, such as sine, cosine and tangent, were given a trial run in several states but have since been deemed inefficient. Rain would collect in the troughs, and the peaks became scratched and dirtied by the wheels of rebellious skateboarders. Two lines that converged to a point but never met was very popular a few millenia ago until, with the budget cuts in the Representations of Truth department, it became impossible to continue sending someone up there to check on the validity of the asymptote.
Several other innovative displays came and went until it was finally decided that two parallel lines was the best direction for this venture. It was simple. It was effective. It was less is more. It had a simple formula. And best of all, it was cheap! It required just one dedicated employee.
This is how the middleman came into being, hoisted up from the depths of parental squalor into a career with one sure-fire (and straightforward) path to the top.
The chosen middleman needed training from an early age, in what promised to be a rigorous and intensive regime. Due to the prestige of the role, interest was enormous. Parents offered their strongest babies. Fathers hacked away at the dates of birth certificates, trying to make their stupid boor of a premature son a little more eligible, a little too late. Young lovers stopped using protection in the hope that conception would be immediate, and with the ridiculous illusion that in nine months time the position would still be vacant.
Children were taken away from their progenitors, snapped right out of a hereditary string. The skyline of the city became filled with lines, the tops of which could be seen over estates of childless chimneys, reminding parents of the sacrifices necessary for a successful and meaningful career. Lines of two metres in height and not more than five centimetres in diameter trailed off into the distance like the remains of lonely wind-farms. They would sway with all the uncertainty of young arms and volatile careers.
One by one, the children were broken in. Shaped and caressed into a form of the company’s choosing. Until an arm gave way, until a more urgent desire settled in. The spoiled children would be sent back home, weeping like little stolen babies. Poles between their legs, arm muscles pounding. Most went on to work in the security sector. A few dealt in haulage and removals. This became a city of strong-armed offspring, yet all but two of those arms harboured a biting sense of failure that served to haunt their carriers for the rest of their days.
The middleman has since grown into his posture. He has been carefully manipulated like young vines. There was never any doubt. There was never any sense of dissatisfaction. The middleman grew up tall and straight with his arms outstretched, never needing to trouble himself with what most of life means.
There are a number of words (a vast number, an uncountable number, a number for which no sheet of paper or program file is large enough, a number that only exists in the deepest chambers of scientists’ brains to be discussed infrequently in hushed tones as they near the end of their careers when they have nothing else to lose and everything to gain), there are a number of words which the middleman has found no use for, which he has never reiterated nor had explained. For example, the middleman cannot define one single word ending in -’ness’, having never had need, during his perpetual pole holding, for the subtleties of abstract nouns.
The man has grown into his lines, has grown strong and long and parallel. Lines have grown into the man’s skin, into his hands, into palms not fit for reading. Grass grows around the man’s feet.
The earth sunk to make way for the middleman’s comfort. The man grew into a small valley and from there he shoots his two perfectly balanced achievements, out and up past the unimpressive heights of buildings; and two straight lines, taller than the world itself, longer than the material expressly shipped in to make them, rise past the whines and grinds of ordinary folk, and on past the imperceptible size of the ether.
There are a number of words the man has never had use for. There are a number of times townsfolk have been and gone, trying to find common ground, trying to get a little closer. The man is admired: it isn’t every day one gets the opportunity to hold two parallel lines in the correct position on behalf of society for several millennia. It isn’t every day one is born at the right time, in the right place, with the right set of hands to really take one places. It isn’t every day one gets the opportunity to give birth to a proud set of parents. Or to watch them fall away and still maintain the rigidity of mind, of the kind that only comes with purpose, to keep one’s arms on the job at hand and continue holding two straight lines in place.
The man doesn’t mind that these townsfolk come and go and that he doesn’t really understand a word they are saying. He doesn’t mind that their faces change and their skirts fall down and the cut of their lapels alters. It doesn’t seem to worry him that they perform their madness and their praying and their carnal escapades before him. He doesn’t understand the words they shout with their heads held high nor the ones they whisper breathily to one another. He doesn’t understand this kneeling on the ground or that lying two by two and undulating. He doesn’t understand the small ambition of using one’s arms just to hold another body, a body that is already holding your body with its arms. Or that even smaller ambition of using one’s hand to hold nothing more than one’s other hand; a motion that immediately negates itself.
The man feels the two tall poles between his palms and fingers. He feels the perfect curve of their two lengths so aptly filling up all the necessary space in each closed fist. He may not know words or understand superfluous movement, but he feels solid. He knows what an angle is. He knows he was built for this.
His veins are pumping simple blood up and down his pipelines. He is built of lines and angles. He is the sum of vertices and breadth and axes. In his perpendicular and completely equilateral existence, the space between his body and arms and the lines and the earth creates an undeniable quadrilateral.
He doesn’t notice that the average annual rainfall is gradually decreasing. He doesn’t notice that the words he has never had use for are becoming out of date.
The man doesn’t notice the alarm clock go off to signal the start of his lunch break at the end of each new decade.
This man is a fine example—unshiftable, unmoving—a fine example of dedication, of prowess. He ideally represents to us the promise of our efforts, the harvest that can be born of a century of sowing seeds.
This fine young man continues to brace the weather, continues to be strong and ageless. He continues to remind us all how we have failed ever so slightly, how we are all getting drunk on life and amounting to little more than nothing. Even when multiplied together.
He continues to remind us that we do not hold ourselves tall and proud, that we have bad posture, that we cannot think straight.
He stands long and hard between two parallel lines, kept at arm’s length from two important momentous occasions. He stands firm and lifeless between two unforgettable points in history, two milestones imprinted into the hearts of the nation.
The man stands between two tall poles stretching to infinity: three parallel lines that will never meet.