MEETING MR MILLAR by Robert Aickman
“What about the tennis this summer? Good to have it back, don’t you think?”
“Good to have a lot of things back.”
“But there’s a lot that won’t come back so soon.”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s true.”
I have long thought this was Aickman’s most significant story, but not till today — with 13 years of gestalt real-time reviewing under my belt — had I realised quite how significant it is. A prophecy for our times – from the above to a later exchange…
We paused a moment, lapping coffee.
“Are you clairvoyant?” he asked.
“Not that I know of. I’m probably too young.” He was perhaps six or seven years older, despite all those children. “Why? Do you think I’ve imagined it all?” I put it quite amiably.
“It just struck me for one moment that you might have seen into the future. All these people slavishly doing nothing. It’ll be exactly like that one day, you know, if we go on as we are. For a moment it all sounded to me like a vision of 40 years on — if as much.”
And indeed I had to take a moment to consider.
“But they’re doing it all the time,” I objected. “Now. Well, not this moment. I think not this moment. But you can go up and look tomorrow. See for yourself.”
“It’s not something I particularly want to see. Forty years on.”
It just took a bit longer than 40 years?
Roy is an interesting character, candidate for becoming the classic character in all literature, I would claim, a budding writer tutored in writing pornography by a military man, a budding writer with a mother who wore short skirts, a fashion trend of the era wherein strangely this story mentions both Lloyd George and R.A. Butler in almost one breath. The Brandenburg Square block of floors, where chartered accountants arrive in their middle floors (Roy being in the attic), a strange company of so-called accountants led by the ultimately tragic Millar (Roy says Millar is not ‘absurd’ but somehow he is ‘ludicrous’!), his Millar name with an a not an e, with thugs and other peculiar coves and giggly girls in short skirts, and Roy is having an affair with Maureen a woman on a lower floor who is married with children. So much more that only choice quotes will tell you…if the text’s osmosis doesn’t otherwise work….your own emptiness of will foregone…your thoughts ever elsewhere…
Conceivably it was my first clear apprehension of the truth that is the foundation of wisdom: the truth that change of its nature is for the worse, the little finger (or thick gripping thumb) of mortality’s cold paw.
The men never seemed to be fully dressed. Their clothes were always formal, the garments of the properly dressed professional man, but never (when I observed them) did the men seem to have them all on. It was always as if they were frightfully busy, or much too hot: even in winter, though, there, it is true that the offices were remarkably well heated. I would hardly have gazed in at the gas stoves or whatever they were, but from every open door, it might be in December or January, would come a positive and noticeable wave of hot air as one passed.
His glass eyes and wandering hands spoke truth of a kind, where his lips spoke only cotton wool.
I noticed that the sexes were seldom mixed among Mr Millar’s callers, though once I did encounter a very pregnant girl, horribly white, being dragged upstairs by a man with gashes all over his face.
As we acquire weight in the world, we lose it within ourselves. Maturity is always in part a matter of emptying and contracting. By that standard, Mr Millar, almost weightless, almost adrift, almost without habits (where a baby has nothing else), had passed beyond mere maturity; but contact with him amounted to a compressed and simplified course in growing up. Mine was similar to the real reason why a schoolboy does not run away from the school he hates.
And many more!
A happy ending, though? A Pinteresque playing out of Dirk Bogarde relieved of his role in The Servant? What struck me, meanwhile, is the fact this is the second story in this book that mentions Frinton! Scary.
Seriously, this work is a monument to Weird Fiction, absurdist as well as ludicrous. Movingly emotional, creepy, character-rich and fertile with ever-evolving interpretations from any newcomers travelling between its floors. Between times, too.