by Dave Early
‘No, no, I know… well, I’ve done that myself… (sigh) it was quite awful really, but… I handled the situation comfortably… (rehearsed hesitation)… naturally the lads gave me a… er… bit of a ribbing.’
The ensuing jollity rippled through the chest… not quite a belly laugh, more a collective courtesy chortle, so practised that even those contributing to the noise no longer recognised the falsehood behind it. In the dying echoes of the embellished hilarity, however, one voice disrupted the otherwise uniform beat… a faint and disparate voice straining to project… each high-pitched ‘ha’ pre-empted by an audible wince.
This presence provided a mark of embarrassment and irritation for the other ribs. And try as they might, as is the civilised manner, together they were unable to drown out the sound completely and were therefore incapable of ignoring the unwanted humiliation, and opting, quite courteously, for the bolder approach of indirect snideness.
‘Of course, everything is so much tougher for us now. The workload has increased, and yet the appreciation remains the same…’ the opening wit continued, in as haughty a tone as one could stereotype.
‘Urgh. I know. Who do these types think they are? Letting everybody else down… demeaning our status…?’ agreed another, in as close an imitation of his contemporary that the two voices were indistinguishable to the point that should any of the other bones have been eavesdropping, they could have been excused for presuming a rib was holding a discussion with himself.
‘Ghastly, isn’t it? Simply vile. Why can’t they just…’ but the first rib (though in terms of anatomy he happened to be positioned fifth) was cut short by a wheezing objection from across the divide.
‘It’s not my fault…’ came the pained remonstration. It was a true enough statement. And a brave one to boot, not simply in regard to the accompanying discomfort each vocalised syllable carried.
The little voice belonged to a prominently positioned rib on the left hand side of the cavity. This once fully-functioning member of the company now stood out among the rest… a victim of circumstance and duty, now and forever tarnished with the brush of peculiarity…
Before the accident the rib in qustion had played his part in the community… Together they were so proud… proud of their curvature, their smoothness, their strength and perfect form, but above all they were proudest of their purpose… hand picked, as they saw it, to protect their sovereign… they held the highest office among the body’s bones… their existence was understood and therefore appreciated. They stuck ruthlessly to the guidelines and accepted nothing but homogeny… and then here was one of their number (which was the hardest thing to swallow, that there was, or indeed had ever been, any comparison between them and this fracture), an imperfect interloper, displaying his flawed form, his smooth surface interrupted by an unsightly exhibition of misalignment, bearing his inner self, vulnerable, sickly and all in all quite revolting, crass and generally unseemly. They were ashamed of the individual rib… ashamed and afraid of what it might spell for the safe haven of their long-held beliefs of import and immortality.
It was a particularly tough time for the spare rib… punished for suffering in the way that he had. Whenever he tried to keep up, moving with the others as the chest expanded, his pained groaning could be heard by the others, resulting in a series of disgusted tuts and unscreened rebukes. It took some time but over the weeks the poorly rib appeared to right himself. The ossification process had been a visual success, and the other ribs equally appeared to welcome their once fallen brethren back into the fold. They included him in their conversations, shared their whimsy, spread their pride but there was always an underlying mistrust… whenever tempers flared they were typically directed toward the destabilized rib… followed immediately by an insincere succession of composed apologies voiced with stilted grace. For the memory lingered… the past could not be re-written, and both the individual rib and the colony were unable to put aside the matter that he was not, and would never be, exactly the same as the rest, ever again.
Dave Early cannot be summed up in one sentence; one word perhaps, but not one sentence.