Crab Apple had the best box in the whole of the Underground. It was six metres squared in volume and had perspex walls, a quilted blanket, a small sink, and access to no less than three other boxes across the corridor.
Crab apple was elated because his working hours had recently been reduced to nineteen and a half hours a day, meaning that now he had nearly five hours of leisure time to sleep and to see his friends across the tunnels to play knuckleheads with them, with the bones of dead creatures. Crab apple was hard working and good natured but above all he was almost completely content. He hated working because the practices he was required to do were absolutely insufferable, but he needed to persevere if he wanted to enjoy the fiery thrills of knucklehead combat as regularly as he was doing.
Everyone envied Crab apple because his box was the best. Crab apple prided himself on that smooth perspex finish. He would rub the glass every night before bed with his face, and he would be thankful that he had somehow ended up with such a remarkable gift. He always slept well, then he would wake up, have a few sips water then prepare for a day’s intensive labour, alone. His job was simply to dig, he didn’t know why. He was a good digger, and he dug like no other. He knew that if he carried on working at the same rate, the rewards would come and before he knew it, Crab apple would be awarded a mattress all to himself.
Norman would never have six metres squared or perspex or a quilted blanket or a small sink or a mattress all to himself. Norman was on twenty two hours of work per day. He lived in what was known as a shoe box. He was different to Crab apple in that he was always angry and depressed. This led to him having an awful problem with swearing and not many could tolerate his incessant pessimistic outlook. The sight of the perspex box across the corridor made him want to kill himself.
Norman liked Crab apple because he was a friend to him. But to Norman Crab apple was intolerably stupid and trivial. Crab apple couldn’t hold any kind of conversation that didn’t concern either digging or knucklehead warfare. Crab apple was good natured but brain dead to everything, everything including the one thing that excited Norman; the concept of freedom. That there was something else other than the dusty, hot, narrow channels of the underground. Norman could never convince himself that a mattress represented freedom, to him this was simply not the case, but a sordid mendacity implanted into the minds of the diggers from a dark, dark superior being who was operating from above. But this was just ‘audacious conjecture’ or ‘blasphemous conspiracy’ and he could not announce these opinions to others because they would simply not understand and render him insane.
After an infuriating day of blistering and bone-crushing labour Norman climbed back up to the corridor covered in a layer of dusty rock carpeted to his skin by sweat. He went back to his shoebox and briefly washed his face and hands. He then knocked on Crab apple’s door, hell-bent on suicide.
Crab apple was lying on his back, fiddling with his knuckleheads when his friend Norman called. He leapt with enthusiasm and opened the door to greet his friend.
“Hello Norman. My good friend! Are you all right?”
“No” Norman replied. His posture was flaccid and his voice sounded like over used sand paper.
“Ahh my good friend, that is a shame. Perhaps a good game of knuckleheads might make you feel better? “
“I don’t want to play fucking knuckle heads”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh okay fine, maybe later then my good friend?”
“I don’t want to play knuckle heads ever again”
Crab apple did not know how to respond to this, and looked well and truly perplexed by this objection.
There was a hideous pause.
“Well what do you want to do then?”
“I want to cease.”
“You mean you want to…”
“I WANT TO BLOODY DIE CRAB APPLE!”
Again, Crab apple had never experienced such a queer and flummoxing admission. And again Crab apple was perplexed.
There was a hideous pause.
This one carried on a while longer.
” But if you die Norman, then who will do your share of the digging? Above all else, the digging must be done, my good friend” Crab apple assured, rubbing a horrible rotten knuckle bone against his chin pensively.
“I don’t care. I don’t fucking care in the slightest”
“Norman, my good friend! You are so young! There is a solid thirty years solid and intensive labour in you yet. So keep your labour as solid and intensive as possible! Keep working as hard as you are doing and then before you know it you will be perspex, just like me! I mean it Norman I really do. I built what I’ve got now on good, hard labour. You can do the same. You just have to believe in your ability to dig. We are diggers, that’s why we are here. Dig Norman. Dig everything– that’s what my father taught me, and his father before him and his father before him and his father before and his father before him. Dig everything, my good friend, dig everything! That is the best advice you’ll ever hear. And I, my good friend Norman, am living proof of this” Crab apple smiled to himself, a smile of immense pride.
Norman sighed and was becoming extremely frustrated.
“Is this all you want Crab apple? Do you think this is enough?” Norman pointed towards the quilted blanket which was covered in filth, and the ladybird-sized sink, that sat pathetically by the door. Crab apple was offended and confused. There was another pause. “How can you convince yourself that such a preposterous life is ever worth living?”
” Norman, my good friend… I do not follow you. Is this not the finest box in the whole of the known Underground? It is surely not preposterous. Surely it is not that. And is life worth living? Of course it is. “
“Except it isn’t though. Life is absolutely unbearable “
Crab apple flicked a knucklehead across the room and then smiled at it as it hit the floor then went to retrieve it.
“My good friend. Everything is fine. Everything is fine!” He flicked the same knucklehead at exactly the same place and reacted to it in exactly the same way again, smiling as he did it as if Normal was not present.
Norman was growing frustrated. “Crab apple. How simply can I put this…Has it ever occurred to you that we are being hideously mistreated? “
“What do you mean?”
Norman did not know how to respond to this, whether to tell Crab apple his true thoughts or not. He was growing too tired to think and for a second he thought he might be going insane.
“Oh for fuck’s sake. I don’t even know any more ” he said.
“My friend you know your language is terrible! “
“I’m sorry” Norman said ironically.
“Look Norman. I don’t know what strange diggers you’ve been talking to down the tunnels. Or what dreaded underground gasses you’ve been inhaling, but you are speaking like a madman, my good friend! You need to relax. Relax, you must. You only have just under two hours before your next big dig”
Norman looked down, and convulsed for a moment to himself. Crab apple stared at him as if he was expecting him to do something, but when he didn’t he continued to stare at the unthinkable spectacle on his door step. He said nothing.
“Oh go on then Crab apple you simple minded, narrow bundle of knuckle-shagging fuck dust. Prepare the knucklehead battlefield. We shall have our game”.
Norman walked into the box. Crab apple rushed to prepare the pieces.
“That’s good to hear Norman, my good friend. That’s good to hear”.