Stephen O'Toole

I'm Mark Whalberg, What's the Problem?

He says to me, Come in here and I'll scramble you an omelette.

        Which means I'm in the duvet of a dude with VD. He's riddled with contagious Verby Dumbness, and so, if I'm not careful, pretty soon I will be too, and I won't even know which transitive verb to use to describe why I'm dying.

        I go and stand beside him in the kitchen. I watch him crack a snow globe open, pour into a frying pan, and start to singe the tinsel.

        Your omelette, he says, easing it into a cup and looking pleased with himself. If you eat it, it predicts your future.

        You know that's not a crystal ball, though, right? For a start it's made of, I think, glass, and what are all these rancid grey chunks?

        I think they used to be parts of an Alaska house.

        You mean an igloo?


        Of course I feel sorry for him. It's hard for men to let you know they're interesting. Especially since they're all doing beards now. There are men on TV telling other men about voting reform and there are men alone in Subways mayonaising wads of ham, and they've all got full-on homeless person face-fur—which I guess must mean that honest, tax-fearing people aren't afraid of hair any more, that they accept it like they would their doctor not wearing a tie. So sorry, boys, but you can't be cool when a man with nesting sparrows under his chin is performing keyhole surgery on the nation's cherished grandmothers. Also—as far as I'm concerned—the Pope. I saw him in a photo with a cool red beanie on, and I bet he has a crucifixed-gear bike.

        But anyway, the upshot is: I've lost another limp noodle from my spaghetti bowl. Maybe one day, with someone, I'll Lady and the Tramp it to the end, but for right now, for snow globe guy, it's dirt parmesan for sure.

        Mr. Thomas Hobbes (philosopher, bad bladder problems, musketeer moustache) said that life is poor, nasty, brutish and short—which is weird because how could he know that that's also the name of my neighbour's unsecured wi-fi network? Not that I agree with him. Hobbes I mean. My neighbour I've never met. Because life seems really long while you're living it, right? It only seems short when you're not in it, which is the opposite of every shirt I've ever bought, but then, there's no way I'm wasting days trying things on in warm charity shops—life's too short for that shit.

        Hey!, people say to me. Why not try internet dating if you love human flesh so much! You know it's only warm because of blood and old food inside, though, right?

        Hi, I am a person. My about me is the Wikipedia synopsis for the events that take place during Warren G's Regulate. I spend a lot of time thinking why and how the beanie baby bubble burst. My favourite colour is paint. Sometimes I think the outdoors smells like the inside of my ear—what is up with that? Could it be a stroke? I'm very careful with money e.g. I never get it wet or light it off birthday candles, and then you say something about sunlight or outdoor sports, because the Twlight fad is over now and the Hunger Games or something.

        Honestly though, I only have one hobby, which is to go to spoken word nights and pretend I've broken my arm.

        Here's why, I guess. When I was small, I would stand on top of the school's wooden log and make priest arms. The log plus me was just high enough so that no-one could touch my palms and therefore be blessed unless they jumped, so jump they did. And I'd say, Careful, child, you'll break a bone. Don't you know that bones is where soul lives? If you crack them open, the soul escapes! And this is why no one cares a damn about slugs, those rotten devil's tonsils. I, of course, was the holiest-highest of all the smalls, because I had gotten to be that small with my bones perfectly fused as if from birth. Even now, when I've outgrown the smallness, I'm still as smooth on the bone front as I ever was—but I don't think that this explains anything.

        I kneel alone on towels on the floor. My arm is wrapped in sheets and sheets of newspaper, to which I am applying, with care, a layer of gluey toilet roll. I am slowly building up my fake cast. I think about the last time that I'd worked this hard with sellotape and glue—wrapping all the gifts to take to my boyfriend's parent's house at Christmas, a house so English that the roof was made from thatch, and the walls had been built by persecuted Catholics.

        His brothers were arranged youngest to oldest around the staircase, eating fruit the way I'd always hoped that I might one day: without even wincing once.






        And each of them ruffled my hair as I walked past.

         In the room that I was sharing with my boyfriend, he hadn't bothered to push the beds together. He sat on one, with his head in his hands, and I unspooled an anecdote, about a man who'd sat beside me on the train as far as Preston.

        So then he takes his phone out, right, and looks at it, lets it ring. For six or seven rings. And then he sighs and rubs his face, and gives me a sort of cagey look and answers. Of course I'm eavesdropping. And at first the chat's the usual, Hi, oh how are you? But then, after a minute or so, he starts to stammer and stops and says, Uh, no, I'm not, I'm at Danny's flat. Yeah, Danny. You know? And I guess whoever he's talking to twigs that something's wrong and I mean, by now, the guy is sweating hard, and he says, The noise? What noise? Oh, that noise! That's because I'm standing on a balcony. Outside--yeah, Danny's got this balcony. On the, uh, third floor? Yeah. So I guess I've never mentioned it to you, so what? We watched a film. No, off his laptop. I don't know. No, I don't know. Mark Whalberg. Mark Whalberg. MARK WHALBERG. Then a guy across the aisle stands up, and says, I'm Mark Whalberg, what's the problem?

        Quietly, with a crack in the middle, my boyfriend said my name. This scared me, really scared me, because I knew that couples only said their names when they got separated, at a theme park, say, or by the Nazis, or else when one discovered that the other had broken something, or moved it out of sight.

        He said it again and touched my knee, then cried and said he was sorry.

        Relax, it's only my knee, I said.

        You always had such a great sense of humour.

        What do you mean had?, I said, in a Groucho Marx-y voice. If anybody's been had in this house, it's your parents for taking the mortgage.

        But no.

        No, that's not true.

        What I really said was, Oh.

        I'm sorry I made you come all this way. I really am—and at Christmas. Fuck. I'm such. . .but maybe if we ask my Dad, he'll pay you back for the tickets.

        It's fine. It is. What else would I be doing?
        His mother had stapled a rug on top of the living room carpet, because she knew we'd all be sitting on it, and she didn't want the corners curling up. As we lounged around refusing port and playing rounds of Who Am I, I removed as many staples as I could. His mother—Haile Selassie—took me aside and said, Oh darling, I know what's happened, but please don't punish the furniture.

        When it's my turn to speak into the microphone, I make a big deal about my arm being broken. I struggle with getting my stories out of my pocket, and then with turning the pages when I do. Thirty, forty seconds or so of silence, then I say, Look, the last thing I want is for this to be awkward.

        Laughter here and there around the room.

        I explain that the me in the story is a man, but that everything that happens to him is true, which might be a lie. I pretend as though there's an itch inside my cast. Instead, turns out it's a handkerchief, which is knotted onto another, and then another, and then another, and another and another. I hand an end to a man with a beard and an end to a man with a beard. They pull it until it's taut and then I cut it with some scissors, like I'm opening this new supermarket chain, where I'm not just the beauty queen who's been wheeled out to give it a bit of sequinned cachet, but also I'm the supermarket itself, and every product they sell—I'm an air-bed pump and fondue tongs, a fish that sings Don't Worry, Be Happy when you provoke it , and a half a pound of lean turkey mince—though really if I'd had, somehow, more and less self-respect simultaneously, I probably would have compared myself to a Whole Foods or a local craft brewery.

        Seven minutes later, when it's over, and I've read it all from the wrong verb to the worst Christmas, I pull out some laminated cards I've made, and ask the thirty people in the crowd to pick a souvenir, to help them remember this moment we've just shared.

        They say, the cards, like:

        I want to fake an alien abduction with you.


        Whenever I am sweaty on a bus, it will make one of your wishes come true.

        That sort of thing. I'm very cute.

        The dream's that maybe a guy with a card will Google me, then write me a lower case email that says, God, you are far too good for me—that thing about the beards you said? And the way your boyfriend left you? It was so so funny I couldn't breathe. I mean, you're the greatest woman I've ever seen, and so, if it's okay with you, I'm going to send you witty, flirty, non-threatening Snapchats, with Simpsons quotes and 2 Chainz lyrics, and maybe some photos of goats being chill, but only while you're bored at work, and never when you're trying to have a nap.

        But nothing happens. Nothing even remotely like that.
        I open up my laptop and connect to Poor_Nasty_Brutish_and_Short. I log onto my OkCupid and say, On Friday nights I like sit in my kitchen, bidding on Sex and the City memorabilia. Or, Sometimes when I pee I pretend to be more into it than I really am. I wonder why, when I was nineteen, I decided that I'd never wear denim again, and how, almost ten years later, a daily devotion to corduroy is the closest I've ever come to having any sort of moral, political or spiritual belief system. I walk to work and stare at the ceiling. The city pays me to sit here, in an otherwise empty building, just in case the ceiling caves in. I guess this must cheaper for them than ever fixing the crack, but only if I don't outlive the roof, right?, which means I must getting crushed real soon, so there's that to look forward to, at least. And also an Alaska house. And glass.


Stephen O'Toole is Scottish writer, born in 1985. He has texts published in "For Every Year", "Up Literature", "The Beat" and "Metazen". Stephen O'Toole lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland.