Hello once again, my dear readers. I present you with Part Three of Sophie’s Backwards with Bert and Nathaniel – the epic conclusion! … Or at least some kind of conclusion. Call it what you will.
Need to read the last part? Click here. Want to start from the beginning? Here.
We left Bert and Nathaniel as they contemplated the toaster’s origins. And so we continue…
Backwards with Bert and Nathaniel
Nathaniel kept his unblinking gaze locked onto the mystery, every now and again murmuring, “Maybe … No wait, that’s utterly stupid.”
The two men continued to stare, both as still as stone, but for the small movements of their head when they tilted it to a new angle. Finally, Bert heaved a sigh. “Well, I could be wrong, but don’t some countries use white goods in their military? As weaponry, you know?” His old friend quirked a single eyebrow, and Bert continued, somewhat defensively, “I’m sure they do! And if they don’t they should. White goods have proven to be quite dangerous in the wrong circumstances. Remember that time my uncle Michael went to Canada? There he was, enjoying a quiet holiday, and then BAM! Crushed by a two hundred pound refrigerator.”
The blonde-haired man pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly. “Is this theory going anywhere, Bert?”
“Well, what I’m saying is …” He looked around conspiratorially, then whispered, “It could have been a trained foreign militant, couldn’t it?”
Nathaniel sighed. “I suppose so. But they have no motive.”
“It could have been that Mrs Smith down the street!” Nathaniel cried triumphantly. “You’ve told me how there have been some tensions between her and the other neighbours. And you—she hates you. Motive!”
Bert shook his head, seemingly unbothered by the declaration of Mrs Smith’s loathing for him. “Nah, the Smiths are in Guam.”
“… I won’t ask how you know that.” The older man suddenly clicked his fingers. “I’ve got it! It’s not really a toaster at all! … It’s a metaphor! The toaster is symbolic of your pent-up aggression, as well as your guilt complex and unsatisfactory sex life. It was you, expressing yourself in a non-verbal, metaphorical sense! It’s brilliant—brilliant, I tell you!” He jovially slapped Bert on the shoulder. “Nice one.”
Bert reached around and smoothly removed Nathaniel’s hand. “That’s ridiculous. I was on the other side of the room; how could I possibly have thrown the bloody thing? And anyway, why would I use a toaster of all things to express my aggression and guilt and such?”
“It’s all representative,” Nathaniel explained, enunciating clearly as though he were speaking to a child. “You’re like a toaster, you see. Your feelings are cooking inside you until POP—they are released. That’s why a toaster. But why are you asking me? It was you who did it.”
They looked at each other, pondering the concept, with Nathaniel’s eyes darkened by deep contemplation, and Bert’s depthless in naïve thought.
Together, they flailed their hands in overt denial. “Naaah.”
“Ridiculous,” Bert said.
“Preposterous,” Nathaniel agreed.
“Unimaginable,” Bert enthused.
“But … ” Nathaniel hummed.
“But?” Bert cried. “What but?”
Nathaniel massaged the back of his neck in increasing discomfort. “It’s just that …” he sighed deeply. “Well, Bert, it’s not like this is the first time you’ve created an extensive metaphor to compensate for gaps in your psyche, now is it?”
Bert blinked, all blue-eyed innocence and confusion. “It’s not?”
“No, it’s not,” Nathaniel confirmed, looking suddenly weary. “Bert, hypothetically, and all toasters aside, do you think you could go on alone if the situation called for it?”
Bert smiled tentatively. “Come now, Nathaniel. Why do you say that?”
“Well, I just think we should be prepared, should the situation arise.”
“Oh, I’m sure it won’t.”
“I actually don’t thing you quite get my meaning, Bert.”
“Nonsense, ’course I do!”
“Hey Nathaniel, do you think I could—”
“BERT! Listen to me!” Nathaniel tugged at his hair like a man gone mad. “For the love of good gravy, just listen.”
Even following this wild display of frustration, Bert seemed vaguely oblivious to his friend’s distress. He turned his back and, upon finding a long forgotten tea cup on the table, proceeded to the kitchen to fix himself a fresh brew. He returned to the dining room, where Nathaniel’s teeth, grinding against one another, emitted a gritty sound that was strangely loud in the empty room.
Bert’s eyes remained caught in a hazy blue hue. Upon reaching the table, he lowered himself to sit, though no chair was beneath him. Startled, Nathaniel rushed forward and crouched on all fours beneath the man. Bert sat, and Nathaniel winced beneath his weight. Only now did that depthlessness of Bert’s eyes fade away; looking down, he finally acknowledged his friend’s presence with a jolly, “Hello Nathaniel! Fancy seeing you here! What are you doing down there? I seem to recall you being taller.”
Nathaniel gasped out a reply, arms trembling from strain. “I’ve been here for the past three hours, Bert. We’ve been discussing the investigation.”
“Really?” Bert said, slurping pleasantly from his tea cup. “Huh. I plum forgot! It’s going well, though, don’t you think?”
“Quite,” Nathaniel sighed. “But I’m afraid I have some rather upsetting news …”
“Yes?” Bert questioned. He crossed his legs contently, appearing to have no intention of rising from his seated position on his friend’s trembling frame. “Well, best be out with it, before the tea wears off and I become grumpy. That will happen in about …”—he checked his watch—“half an hour, give or take a minute. As you know, I tend to take thing better after I’ve had a spot of tea.”
“Well, I don’t think it will take that long,” Nathaniel muttered, shuffling from the increasing pain in his shoulders and knees.
Bert smiled. “Excellent, excellent. Why, upsetting news of that magnitude would be quite horrid. And when combined with the effects of the tea wearing off, well …”
“Please, Bert. This is hard enough already.”
“Yes, well, get on with it then. It’s growing dark—night is approaching.”
Nathaniel shuddered beneath Bert as his muscles screamed for relief. “It’s two in the bloody afternoon, Bert.”
Bert nodded sagely. “Exactly.”
“Okay,” the older man consented, hoping to urge the conversation on. “There is no easy way to say what I’ve got to say, so I’ll just come out with it, shall I?”
“I think that would be best. Should I sit down?”
Nathaniel hung his head, hiding behind the cloak of his blonde hair as he took three steady breaths. “You’re already sitting on me, Bert. But perhaps a chair?”
The young man immediately rose, much to Nathaniel’s relief, and moved to a chair without a word of protest. Gently stretching his tired arms, the fair-haired man remained standing as he confessed, “I haven’t been completely honest with you, Bert.”
Bert’s eyes widened with the wondrous appearance of a little boy. “Why, whatever are you talking about?”
“Bert …” Nathaniel paused, squared his shoulders, and continued with a firm, unyielding voice. “I am not real. I am a figment of your imagination. Well, more accurately, I am a manifestation of all your more assertive qualities.” His announcement finally concluded, Nathaniel fell into the nearest chair, holding his head. “There, I said it.”
Bert, meanwhile, was gaping like a dying fish. Nathaniel waited patiently until the furious splutterings formed actual words. “I beg your pardon?!”
“Try to understand,” his old friend pleaded, but Bert continued to stammer quiet protests. “I’m sorry, Bert, but now that that’s been said, I can’t really stay, can I?”
“But this can’t be …” Bert denied desperately. Those youthful pools of blue met Nathaniel’s gaze once again, but the Imaginary Man would not, and could not, bow to their pleadings. Not anymore.
“Come now, Bert,” he said softly. “I think you knew it all along.”
And then he was gone.
Bert, looking lost and forlorn, spun frantically on the spot. His chest heaved with hysterical gasps of air. “Nathaniel?” Silence. “Nathaniel!”
Bert ran through the house, calling his friend’s name, but found not a trace.
“He’s gone,” Bert realised. “Gone … Gonskies.”
In the suffocating silence that followed, Bert began to sob quite hopelessly, and desperately, fearfully clutched the battered white toaster to his chest. Alone.
- Love The Bad Guy
(Thanks again, Sophie!)