Grock in the Metro
by Yves Jaques
Grock is a Neanderthal. Pierre is a junky. Soon they will meet. It will be the first recorded meeting between Neanderthal Man and a French junky. It will be recorded by a hidden security camera. Television viewers will be surprised. The prevailing opinion will be that Grock is a man in a cleverly designed rubber suit.
Grock and Pierre have three things in common: they are both male, mammals, and seventeen years old. Pierre, if he didn't have AIDS, and wasn't in daily danger of heroin overdose, might be said to be in `the full bloom of youth'. Grock at seventeen is middle-aged.
Our caveman is walking along the left wall of the third line in the Paris Metro. It's just another cave to him. He is used to caves; he lives in one. Grock has been sent out by the chief of his tribe to do some hunting. He has passed through one of those stitches in time and location.
Grock is a little surprised. He's never seen this cave before. He's wondering if he took a left where he should have gone right. Grock is excited by his new discovery and he keeps walking. The cave walls are made of the smoothest stone that he has ever seen. There are several glistening rails of steel running along the cave. They are subway rails. Grock finds them fascinating but is unable to take a sample. He is a little angry at having chipped the sharpened end of his stone ax in the attempt.
The cables running along the walls don't interest Grock. He's bitten into one and found them to be inedible and structurally weak vines. He is fortunate that he didn't bite into one of the high-voltage lines running the length of the tunnel. It is however, unfortunate that they do not interest him, as the removal of a sample would temporarily paralyze the subway train which will later kill him.
As Grock walks along Metro Line Three he occasionally passes a wire-caged electric lantern. Three in a row are white, and the fourth blue. The torches and their pattern suggest to him the possibility of inhabitants. He is surprised that his tribe doesn't know of this other tribe living in a branch of their cave. He decides to leave the torches alone and move with stealth. Grock has grown wary.
It's a good thing for Grock that he's grown wary. It's a good thing too that he's long passed a curve in the tunnel and is slipping quietly along a straight-away. Otherwise he would have been killed before his meeting with Pierre the junky, and would never have gotten his Warholian fifteen minutes of fame.
When Grock sees the headlights of the subway car coming toward him he flattens himself against the wall. Grock has seen many large animals in his short life and knows that when you're alone, and they're running, it's best to stay out of the way. The subway skates along; Grock is surprised at the partial transparency of its belly. He is surprised by the fair quantity of brightly colored animals stretched along its digestive tract. It has apparently swallowed them whole, for most are still sluggishly stirring. It's a fast animal and our Neanderthal is glad of its passing.
Grock is in awe. He is not wrong in taking the subway to be the inhabitant of this cave. He is wrong in taking it for some sort of god. In Grock's head a new mythology is being born. As we say in our time, `I didn't learn about this in school'. Pierre too will soon be saying, `I didn't learn about this in school'.
Pierre is dangerously close to being junk-sick. His body requires three daily doses of heroin in order to function. He wasn't born that way; he had to work at it. In fact, the routine of keeping his body adequately fed with heroin is remarkably similar to that of holding down a nine-to-five job, with no weekends and no vacation. It's a very tiring job, requiring a lot of movement on little food. With the help of the virus living in his body, he has in fact become a bone-thin junky.
Pierre's job consists namely of stealing money or things from friends or strangers and exchanging the money or things for heroin. Money is better, more liquid, and he tries to steal that first whenever possible.
Strangers used to give Pierre their money in exchange for sexual intercourse of various kinds. He used to make a lot of money that way. But now he is too dirty, and too skinny, and too pale.
Coincidentally, junky Pierre verging on junk-sick Pierre is walking almost directly above Grock. Pierre is moving down the left side of the street in the direction of the closest entrance to Metro Line Three; Grock is walking along the left wall of Metro Line Three in the direction of the closest exit. Pierre knows that near this entrance to Metro Line Three is a little dried-fruits store, run by a small desiccated Marseillaise named Madame Choufleur. Choufleur in French means `cauliflower', and is a reference to her gnarled ears which were once boxed too hard by her alcoholic father. Pierre knows that Madame Choufleur loans small sums of money at usurious rates. All Pierre needs is a small sum of money, and like the Muslims, Pierre doesn't believe in interest rates. No, he's going to take the money by force.
Grock, ten meters below Pierre doesn't know much of anything. What he does know is that a short distance ahead there is more light. He hopes that this is the exit to the cave. He's correct in this hope. Grock is fortunate that at ten o'clock at night the Metro doesn't run as often. And he's fortunate that the exit is only a short distance away; Grock is again walking down the middle of the left set of tracks. He isn't worried of the animal making a second pass. His reasoning is that any animal with its belly so full will go and take a digestive nap.
When Grock clears the side wall to stand on the platform he is surprised at the bright, white, even light given off by the torches far overhead. He's sorry that he cannot reach them. Grock knows that his chief would appreciate the offering. The only other person on the platform is a two-meter tall black lesbian of Cameroonian extraction. Her name is Mireille. Mireille's head is shaven, and she wears the white kimono of her Judo class. She has just come from a lesson. The meltonian black of her skin is radiant against the wrinkled white of her sweaty outfit.
Mireille's very glad that only one minute remains before the arrival of the next subway train. She's learned from her instructors that it's always better to avoid a fight if you can. Mireille is a two-hundred-and-three-centimeter tall black lesbian of Cameroonian extraction with a brown-belt in Judo. She's very good at hurting people. Mireille doesn't want to have to kick Grock's ass.
Fortunately for Grock, he doesn't have exotic tastes. His penis remains limp in his fur. From a purely scientific standpoint it's a shame that Grock will not impregnate Mireille. We don't even know if it's possible, in light of the differences in their genetic makeup, for conception to take place; but if it did a most unusual animal would be born. That is, provided Mireille didn't look upon pregnancy as abhorrent, as well a lesbian might; Mireille could easily have an abortion. Also, provided that she didn't kick Grock's ass, as well she might. Let's not think about what the venerable Parisian newspaper Le Monde would have to say about all this. This is not a lurid story.
Looked at as a meal, Mireille seems lean, stringy, and carries no warm fur. Not worth a kill. Grock detests waste. You might say that hes an environmentalist. Grock scrutinizes Mireille. He's searching for a sign of aggression. Mireille is likewise watching Grock. She is also searching for a sign of aggression, but is mostly thinking that Paris is getting a little too big for its grand britches.
Pierre, directly above Grock and Mireille isn't thinking of much else but his next shot of heroin. He's fingering the overused syringe in his pocket. He's not fingering it in anticipation of the flood of relief it will bring to his thin frame; He's fingering it in the manner you do a weapon. Pierre's read about a neat new way to commit a crime. He's very glad he read about it, since his dwindling body holding a knife in front of it has begun to be less threatening of late. The idea is simple: He holds out his used syringe, half full of his own freely donated blood and states calmly that he has Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome. "Give me all your money," Pierre will say. "Or I'll stick you with this syringe." Madame Choufleur, faced by Pierre's skinny, unkempt self will have no trouble in believing his declarative statements. She's going to give Pierre all of her money. It worked in New York it will work in Paris, is Pierre's succinct reasoning.
Grock, finding no sign of aggression in Mireille, and spurred on by the sound of an approaching subway train, concludes that it is safe to exit the cave. Mireille is glad that she didn't have to kick Grock's ass. She will be surprised to see him on the cover of tomorrow's Le Monde, the venerable Parisian newspaper. The headline will read, `Man or Monkey? Where are you Charles Darwin?'. Mireille's girlfriend Christine, who doesn't really hate men, but has always thought it would be fun to watch Mireille beat one up, will ask Mireille why she didn't clobber that murderer in a rubber suit. The newspaper will ask where Grock is. The answer will be that Grock is dead, though his body will never be found.
Le Monde won't waste much type on Pierre and Madame Choufleur. People die every day in Paris. Lots of them. It's no big deal.
Grock is in a hurry. It's dark and the large animal has been moving again in its cave. As he mounts the steps of the exit he hears it stop, perhaps to sniff at him. He's glad when he hears it rumble away. Mireille, now aboard Metro Line Three is glad too.
Grock is again surprised at the smoothness of all these rocks, and grateful at the easy passage which they afford. Perhaps the large animal has worn them this way with its ceaseless tramping. He stops a moment at the opening to the street. Grock is admiring the black iron Art Nouveau sign which reads `METROPOLITAIN'. Its of no importance that Grock isn't aware that he's staring at a group of letters that together form the word `METROPOLITAIN'. It's of no importance that Grock doesn't know much about art. He knows what he likes.
Grock too is an artist. He paints on cave walls. You might call it `Naive Art' or `Folk Art', or as the French call it, Art Brut. You may have even seen reproductions of Grock's work in books covering Neanderthal paintings in the caves of Lascaux. Grock's tribe don't call themselves the `Lascauxians`, or the `Autonomous People's Tribe of Lascaux', or any of the long names we go by these days. Grock's tribe has a name between a grunt and a whistle which I'm unable to reproduce on the printed page. In any case, Grock is known amongst his people as a damn good painter, especially when it comes to his sensitive and masterful reproductions of four legged game. It's too bad that Grock has never signed his name, and has never sold a piece of his work. In fact, when Grock dies in the Paris Metro he will be in the same sad position as most artists in our day; Grock will be a nobody. He will be penniless, his skill unaccredited, his name hopelessly lost to obscurity.
Grock has absorbed the fresh artistic ideas within the Art Nouveau sign and remembers what he's here for: He's hunting for food. Thus far he's seen one animal far too large to even dream of clobbering, and one animal too long, stringy, and naked to be appetizing. Our caveman notices that, indeed, this worthless animal is running all over the place. He wonders where they have come from. He hopes that they will not eat all the plentiful game. He doesn't want to be confined solely to drawing animals.
Grock isn't terribly surprised by his odd surroundings. The Neanderthal is used to surprises. The world is a strange place. He does take careful note of the large animals rumbling about in long lines on the smooth black stone in front of him. Grock intends to insert them in some of his renditions of pastoral life. They look like dangerous game; they share similarities with the beast down in the cave. They are smaller and have pelts of many different colors, but their bellies are also transparent like water; like the beast in the cave. Grock notes that they all have a bellyful of the worthless game. This makes Grock happy. Perhaps they will eat all of the worthless game and then go away.
For lack of any clear sense of direction, no good kill immediately presenting itself, Grock decides to investigate some of the small caves in the area. We refer to these as retail outlets. Grock sees the herd stop in an orderly fashion and decides it is a safe time to pass in front of them. It's difficult to say what the outcome would have been had Grock been run over in the street by a passing motorist. Perhaps the guilty motorist would have stopped and given Grock cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Le Monde would have printed, `Man Kisses Neanderthal', or `Woman In Neanderthal Tangle'. Maybe it would have been a hit-and-run. Le Monde would have printed, `Mutilated Ape-man Found In Paris Street'. Newspapers always have something to say. But as we know Grock waited for the traffic to stop and crossed the four lanes safely.
As Grock is crossing the street at a steady clip, and the stopped motorists are wondering who the promotion is for, Pierre is waiting to make his move. Madame Choufleur's next to last customer is just leaving the store. She is anxious to close the store and watch closed-circuit television in the back room. She has just had a security camera installed in her shop. The camera is the fruit of a debtor who didn't believe in Madame Choufleur's usurious rates. Now he believes. Madame Choufleur wants to see the day pass in fast-forward beneath the hidden camera's eyes. She wants to make people walk backwards and forwards, in and out of her store. She wishes Pierre would buy something or leave.
Pierre has been skulking in the back aisles pretending to be very interested in a large sack of prunes. So far he has prodded, sniffed, poked, and even chewed the package in his desire to make done and go get his heroin. His poor body is begging for it. Pierre's body is so desperate that it has been whispering crazy things to him like, "Hey Pierre, get on with it. Just stab everyone in the store and make off with their money." Pierre's body doesn't realize that the stabbed won't fall and die on the spot from a needle wound. Even so, Pierre's still functioning brain was about to lose the argument. He's lucky that everyone else has left the store now.
Grock has headed for the nearest small cave. Like many living things, Grock is attracted to shiny objects. He has smashed in the plate glass door of a jeweler's shop. Grock is angry because he walked straight into the clean glass and bumped his nose very hard. He makes off with some large silver, pearl, platinum, and gold necklaces but leaves the diamonds behind. They remind him of the glass door that he just smashed into.
Leaving the diamonds behind was a wise decision. The owner of the jewelers shop is a crooked man named Gorion. His diamonds are imitation diamonds. Gorion will be very angry when he sees his shop in the morning. Some young punks will have come by in the wake of Grock's forced entry and completely looted the place. The young punks will also be very angry when their fence tells them that Gorion's diamonds are not genuine, but made in a factory in Leon.
Grock again remembers what he's here for: Hes looking for food. He decides to try the next shop down. It's the only one on the street with its lights on. It's Madame Choufleur's dried-fruits store. Pierre the junky has just made his move. Everything is working perfectly. Madame Choufleur is having no trouble in believing that Pierre will stab her with his bloody syringe. It's even easier for her to believe that the needle is loaded with a multitude of viruses and bacteria. It's good that she's cooperating with Pierre; he's having a hard time holding his body back as it is.
Madame Choufleur isn't stupid and mean. She's a member of the mean and clever. She keeps a fair amount of money in her till but the lion's share is in a hidden safe in the back room. Madame Choufleur has disguised the safe as a turn-of-the-century sewing-machine. She hopes that Pierre will be satisfied with the fair amount of money in her till. He is. As we know, Pierre only needs a small amount of money.
Madame Choufleur has just unnecessarily removed the entire cash drawer to prove to Pierre that she has given him all of her money. Pierre is ready to leave. He is just turning to go and unlock the door which moments ago, after dropping the sack of dried prunes, he had so cleverly bolted, when Grock's nose again encounters the transparent viscosity of clean glass. Pierre, his syringe clenched between his teeth, stares at Grock through the glass door and puts his hands together, as if a monk preparing to pray. Pierre is using hand gestures to convey to Grock the message that the store is closed.
Grock is angry at having again smashed his nose into this clear rock. He bashes the plate glass with the blunt end of his ax. Madame Choufleur cringes behind the counter, glad that the security camera is recording the destruction. It will greatly simplify the insurance-claims process. Grock steps through the now open door. Pierre takes several steps backwards and holds his syringe in front of him with both hands, as if he were hefting a tremendous broadsword. "I have AIDS!" he yells. "AIDS! I'll stick you with this needle if you don't get the hell out of here!"
Pierre is afraid. He thinks that Grock is a thief in a cleverly designed rubber suit. Pierre doesn't want to have to hand over his freshly stolen money. Madame Choufleur, though not religious, is praying fervently that Grock and Pierre will kill one another. She too thinks that Grock is a thief in disguise. She is afraid that this second thief will want more money, and that she will be forced to disgorge the contents of her sewing-machine safe. Grock for his part is momentarily absorbed by the complex aromatic smells that pervade Madame Choufleur's shop. His sense of smell is highly developed. The rhinencephalon of Homo Sapiens is but a clumsy approximation of Grocks powerful olfactory organ. He stands transfixed, bowled over by the powerful dry tartness of this small cave. Grock has yet to register Pierre's and Madame Choufleur's presence as anything but two more of those useless game which seem to running wild.
Pierre is rooted in junk-sickness. His mind has ceased to work. His body has taken over the program; it will take Pierre to the heroin. Pierre's body notices that Grock is sniffing and staring about the store in a somnolescent trance. Pierre's body, no longer fettered by his mind, takes the opportunity to stab Grock with the syringe.
Grock is surprised at the sting. He forgets about the delicious smell of the shop. He hadn't realized that these animals could be dangerous. It's the first time that one of them has shown a sign of aggression. Grock has been stung by bees, spiders, ants, and wasps. Grock hates being stung. His nose hurts. Grock caves in Pierre's skull with the blunt end of his ax. He likes using the blunt end of his ax.
Pierre drops to the floor like a larger version of the sack of prunes that he so recently fondled. Grock notes with satisfaction the large quantities of fresh red blood pouring from every orifice of Pierre the junky's bashed-in skull. The bundle of French Francs in Pierre's hand are very intricate and colorful. They are aesthetically pleasing to Grock. He stuffs the Francs in his furs and rubs his chest, which is a bit sore from the three-centimeter deep needle wound.
Grock fills his primitive garb with bags of dried apricots, dried apples, and banana chips. It's then that he notices Madame Choufleur hiding behind the cash register. Grock goes over to the register and uses the blunt end of his ax to cave in her skull too.
Upon exiting, Grock grabs the sack of prunes that Pierre so carelessly dropped. Grock is pleased at having found so much food for his tribe. His chief will be very happy. Perhaps he will be given a few free days in which to paint some of what he has seen.
Grock decides to return home. Again he waits carefully for the herd on the black stone to settle itself before crossing to the mouth of the smooth cave.
The cavern is empty. Grock is glad that the tall black and white animal is gone. Grock is tired of caving in skulls. Mireille is also glad that she's long gone on the subway train. She didn't want to have to kick Grock's ass.
Grock starts down Metro Line Three in the direction in which he has come. It is unfortunate that Grock is walking down the same side of the tunnel as before. The approaching subway train will come up behind him. He will be dead before he knows what hit him.
Grock has been walking for some while. He's sure that just around the back of this turn he'll find the opening that leads to his tribe's cave. He's right in a sense. The quickly closing stitch in time and location does lay just around the turn of the tunnel. It's too bad for Grock that he doesn't recognize the warm breath of wind which blows from behind him. Just as Grock is about to walk through the closing stitch, he is broken and sent flying through it by the nose of the Metro.
Since a train on rails doesn't need to be steered, the conductor has his hands down his pants. He is lightly stroking his glans while staring at the latest issue of the French-edition Playboy. As his train strikes Grock he is aware of only a slight jolt, such as occasionally happens when the train is delivered a surge or a drop in electrical current.
Grock's tribe is surprised and saddened to discover him, cold on the cave floor. Their best painter lies dead, his bones so broken they are at a loss to explain the accident. The chief regrets having sent him out to hunt last night.
They are happy when they discover Grock's finds. The dried fruits are deliriously exotic and completely unknown to them. The bacteria resident in the fruit are also completely unknown to them; every member of the tribe ends up with a terrible case of the trots.
They have no idea how close they have come to possible extinction. It's hard to say whether or not the virus resident in Grock's body which causes Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome would have spread throughout the Neanderthal world and made this story a piece of the non-existent future. Such speculations are silly. Grock died and the virus died with him. This story exists.
The Parisian police have had some difficulty in their criminal investigation of the double homicide of Pierre the junky and Madame Choufleur. Mireille, the one witness who could be of some small assistance, hasn't come forward. Mireille doesn't like the police. She and her girlfriend were once surprised by a group of drunken off-duty police officers and beaten because they had their tongues in each others' mouths.
Anyway, all Mireille could tell the police is that she watched Grock climb out of Metro Line Three. It would only help the police clear up a mystery for the maintenance department of the Paris Metro. During a routine inspection of the subway rails they were happy to find a pile of silver, pearl, platinum, and gold necklaces. They promptly reported the sack of prunes which they found lying next to the booty.
As an aside, I would like to mention that Grock's skull can be seen on display. It may be worth the trip to see the skull of both a time and location traveler, as well as one of the most skillful and sensitive of the Neanderthal artists.
Grock's skull was discovered by a group of French boys playing soccer in a field near Lascaux. It's a miracle that his skull survived this second encounter with Homo Sapiens.
Through a common practice between museums of antiquities, Grock's skull was traded by a French museum to the Smithsonian Institution, in exchange for some rather dubious looking tatters of the Betsy Ross flag. Grock's skull was subsequently traded by the Smithsonian, to the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, in exchange for an Aztec sacrificial table.
You can go see Grock's skull there if you like. It's on the right as you walk into the first exhibit, wired to the wall in the `Introduction to Anthropology' section of one of the world's great museums. Considering Grock's stature as an artist, he is in my opinion, rather unceremoniously placed next to the skulls of several less evolved primates.
Yves Jaques can be reached at email@example.com