Antlers (Jack’s Story)
The following is an extract from an interview with a recent employee of the controversial Bureau for Genetic and Biological Concerns. This department has recently been the object both of praise and condemnation within the media for its tactics when dealing with potential claimants. The opinions expressed below do not represent those of anyone other than interviewee. Some names have been changed.
I remember what it was like when I had antlers. They were the first thing anyone ever noticed. People used to shout stuff at me or just stand and stare. I mean, not everyone. Some of them were kind. Some of them were too kind.
Anyway, you were asking about my job. I love my job. Every morning I wake up and I’m glad to be coming in.Some of the e-mails I get though. You’ve got to laugh. Like this one:
Dear Mr Mayberry. I’ve been told that I can no longer get support from your office. I don’t think this is fair. Both my daughters have sprouted feathers and I have a face full of scales that means I can’t see to get to the bus stop. Please tell me how I can get this overturned.
Overturned! Well, that’s not going to be happening love! Some people get a few feathers and some fish scale and they think it’s the end of the world. I had antlers. Fucking antlers!
I just woke up one morning and there they were. Not full size obviously. That took a few weeks. But they were big enough to mess up my headboard. And give my girlfriend the shock of her life. She stuck it out for a while but I dumped her in the end. I couldn’t stand her trying to sound sympathetic all the time. I knew she was embarrassed really. She hated being seen out with me, especially when kids came up and asked if they could use me as a hat rack
I ended up losing my old job. I was planning on going anyway, but later, when I’d saved up some money. I hated it there. They were all so boring. I was just sticking it out until I could a foot on the property ladder. They thought I’d had antlers fitted as some kind of fashion statement. I kept on saying that I’d woken up and they were just there but they wouldn’t believe me. According to them, it was gross misconduct. What a set of tossers.
I tried to get work but no-one wanted to take me on. I got benefits for a while but then they stopped them because I didn’t show up to interviews. If they’d bother to check, they’d have found out they kept sending me to places that had low ceilings and that never ended well. I even went to the church for help but they weren’t too happy round a guy with horns.
I lost my home. Which I wasn’t bothered about because it was a shit hole but the bastard landlord took a load of my stuff as well. And then I was on the street for a few weeks. I begged a bit. It wasn’t too bad. I think people used to give me money just in case I tried to gore them.
You know, there was this guy e-mailed this morning. Says he’s turning into some kind of rodent and the only work he can get is down the sewers. Like I’m supposed to feel sorry for him and let him have more money. Do you know where I ended up? A freak show. Oh they didn’t call it that that, obviously. They wouldn’t be allowed. It was a travelling fun fair with live acts. Except people only real showed up to look at us. Me with antlers. Josie the Snake Neck. Little Darren…he wasn’t a dwarf but he wasn’t that proud. And Isobel. She was lovely. She didn’t look too strange. If you saw her, you’d just think she was a bit of a hippie. Long hair, beads, stars on her face, the lot. But she had a glass eye. Not an artificial one. When she was born, one of her eyes was a lump of glass. It was really pretty though. You couldn’t help looking at it. She used to sing all the time. All kinds of songs. She was absolutely terrible but no-one had the heart to tell her.
But we worked hard. We really did. Mostly taking the money and operating the machines. Chasing off the teens who got too rowdy or wanted to pick a fight. We used to party as well. Me, Punchbowl and the Pus Boy. Oh I know they don’t sound it, but they were a good gang of lads. Punchbowl should have been a star, he could take off anyone. Even me.
I remember one town we played and some of the local lads tried to get nasty with Isobel after the show.We scared the crap out of them! I jumped out on them chased them down the high street like I was a bull. Punchbowl was making these amazing animal noises like there was a whole herd of us. They left her alone after that.She was so sweet about it. Really grateful. I don’t think her parents used to look out for her much. Some people.
Anyway, back to my job. I really love my job. I would never have got it if my Aunt Jean hadn’t died. I didn’t even know I had an Aunt Jean. But turns out I did and she’d died and for some reason she’d left all of her money to me.It wasn’t much. But it was enough. I found a private doctor and got the antlers taken off.
It hurt. It hurt a lot. But that was me sorted. I was out of the freak show. I could get back out in the world. I started working here two weeks ago. Turns out that there are lots of people going through changes like I did. Their bodies taking on all sorts of shapes. Something to do with the environment the experts think. And all these people want support. So I go through the claims. Turn away the wasters. The more I turn away, the more I get paid. There’s a league table and if you don’t turn enough away, you go to the bottom and then you’re out. I’m not going to be out. I’m going to get to the top of that table and I’m going stay there.
This morning I got an e-mail from Isobel. She didn’t know it was me, of course. I haven’t seen her in ages. She started it ‘Dear Mr Mayberry’ If she’d known it was me, it would have been Dear Jack. Her other eye is starting to turn to glass. Eventually she might go blind.
The pay’s not that great here, even with the bonus, but eventually I’ll get a foot on the property ladder.
Sometimes I wonder if they’ll grow back.
Interview conducted by Damian Mark Whittle