Via RTÉ Radio 1, listen to another entry from the shortlist of this year's Francis MacManus Short Story Competition - WonderHouse (Some Assembly Required) by Stephen Walsh, read by Peter Hanly.
A story about one man's difficult relationship -- with a flatpack. Like all his relationships, it has instructions he should probably follow. But he has other ideas on which parts belong where...
Listen to WonderHouse (Some Assembly Required) above, and read it below.
Thank you on purchase of TinyMinds WonderHouse™! We hope it will bring you and your little explorers many hours of fun and wonder in the years to come. Please follow these instructions carefully to ensure safe and pleasant use.
Step 1: Check you have all parts listed below.
Parts missing? Please call helpline number shown on page 28.
28 pages. Check to see if some are in say German or Chinese and can be skipped. Are not. Skip to page 28 to spoil also imagine ending. Pic of wondrously assembled structure with stick figure man, stick hand on hip, stick arm extended over creation, ready to commence many hours of fun and wonder replete with squeals of gratitude from daughter or similar loved one (not pictured).
Turn from glorious ending to step 1 reality. All parts checked and present. Separate into ordered piles on carpet. Create adequate space along with surely adequate two hours in Saturday afternoon. Now 4 assembled by 6 delivered for 7 fun/wonder commences 7.15.
Step 2: Have you all necessary tools? For also you will need:
1 Phillips head screwdriver
2 people to support weight (NOTE: It is to assemble alone unsafe)
Check. Check. Not check. Just one person. Surely multitudes optional. One person well able to drag box in here on own. Can't be heavier coming out. Have basic grasp of physics thanks and know that mass cannot be created or destroyed only converted into Wonder. Though is that equation for energy/force not mass? So easily pulled in wrong distracting direction. Focus now.
Consider "For" in step 2 and weird word order re unsafe. Awkward translation from original? Feel mildly disquieted at the ominous/poetic tone.
Also note step has defined people (well, one present) as tools. Somewhat demeaning? If time call helpline and provide feedback. Picture nice conversation: thank you sir we for this feedback appreciate. You not tool after all.
Tools also present/necessary:
1 Playlist of meditative music to put mind in calm receptive place during assembly.
1 Beer for similar reasons. 1 only as timely delivery top priority and assembly transport presentation arduous enough without additional snags. Note 26 minutes gone and so far have just arranged various screws and planks in pleasing but passive manner on carpet.
Step 3: Locate planks A. Insert short head screws J into planks A at intervals (see Fig 2). Be sure to insert screws into upper side.
Planks A located and upsided. Very compliant. Screws more inscrutable. Piles of unmarked screws of various dimensions. J please step forward. Does short head mean shortest screw. Or smallest head. Or only screws that will fit holes in planks A. Or all of these. Try a few. Most fit quite nicely into A. Cinderella moment this is not. Do not force as know from experience that complexities arise if incorrect parts rammed into wrong place. Realise J was marked on one of many small plastic packages. In haste to comply with step 1 removed all screws from packages and now no way to say which sprang from J-pack. This is what happens when instructions not followed. Pleasant-looking piles now swirling screwniverse of chaos. Commence slide into despair 4:46 pm. Open beer (1).
Unsurrender. Count holes in planks A. 24. Count number of screws in each pile. Only one of 24 identicals. Pride self on deductive abilities. J, meet A. Kneel to urge ranks of J into planks of A. Some J's do not insert very neatly. Some gone in at quite an angle. Attempt to quash rebellion but screwdriver is scratching and tearing at J heads. Partial misalignment equals End of world? Surely few loose connections won’t cause WonderHouse to collapse trapping maybe severely injuring occupants. Think of engineers whose similar nonchalant approach caused derailments infernos years of inquests. Reget grip. Future joy will not be structurally compromised. J and A will hold it together.
Note steps 1 to 3 have consumed 58 minutes. Maybe disproportionately onerous? 4 to 27 possibly accelerated path to glory? Regard again page 28. Note how simple stick face smile line imparts pride relief excellent parenting. Aspire towards. Open beer (2). Restart playlist as was not in calm receptive mood previously and milky piano plus floaty voices did not have intended effect.
Step 4: Simply Place Planks A onto base B as shown, taking care to align screws with holes in base. Do not Force.
Not simply. B rejects any suggestion of alignment with A. Bear mild-to-medium resentment towards breezy nature in which step is described belying feat of human endeavour within. Simply Place moon shuttle into earth's atmosphere, taking care to align with landing site. Do not explode. Simply Place Flag onto Omaha Beach, taking care to overwhelm enemy forces. Do not get massacred.
Some force clearly necessary. Insert Planks A inelegantly quite violently onto B. Cracking noise but no sign of exterior damage.
Stand up slowly, allowing flow of O Positive to return to compromised legs of part Y, You. Push against teetering base B with beer empty (2). Go to kitchen find remedy for unsteadiness. Assemble auxiliary screwdriver, carefully aligning Smirnoff, orange juice and ice. Liberally apply thoughts of other parts Y, You have forced into position but came unstuck. Specifically:
C: Clara, in Y's life and house until I am sorry but we cannot be any more.
D: Deana, Clara’s daughter and your wonder but not your daughter is not yours understand this please
E: Elek, unknown to Y, except that his daughter she is his understand this and still my husband under Polish law.
Place parts C (Clara) and D (Deana) on top of screwdriver and beer (3). Recall attempts to combine Y, C and D. All held together well enough at first but Y did not see other part coming. Temporarily withdrawn part E, Elek, was not referred to in initial assembly, an oversight which is sorry I am sorry wanted to tell you many times and could not but now he returns and we must please.
Part E is re-issued and available. E has now reconnected with C and D as designed, completing original unit. Temporary part Y no longer required. Y was briefly load bearing and thankful yes grateful but understand we are family belong together. CDE now freestanding unit functioning as intended do not call. Y can now be removed. If desired, or not, Y can be left in current position at right angle to WonderHouse, which at current rate seems unlikely to be successfully delivered to D, Deana, intended recipient. Delivery to D is very much at Y’s own risk. Deana is not original part or property of Y as was clearly documented. D’s wonder is not Your business any more. Manufacturer cannot be held responsible for consequences if WonderHouse used for unintended purposes.
Step 5: Now insert round head screws S into Base B in indicated holes (See Fig 3).
Prowl around B semi-menacingly with screwdriver (2). No holes indicated. Fall to knees, align eyes with plywood. Tilt base B upwards from carpet. Note that indicated holes are on underside. Fig 3 shows holes should be opposite of underside. Somewhat uncarefully turn everything upside down. In doing so, observe how planks A swiftly untether themselves from their at best temporary arrangement with B. Consider fading light and broken WonderParts in floorpile at 5.28pm. Help needed. Helpline closed Saturdays. Unhelpful.
Stand up. Take own steps.
Step 6: Rip page 28 from instructions and set aside.
Compress rest into ball and apply to wall with force. Prepare screwdriver (3), adjusting ratio of V to OJ as required, tilting head to required angle. Remove shirt to regulate internal temperature. Switch to Power Workout Playlist.
Step 7: Unleash hell on Wonder.
See WonderHouse in Stickman mind’s eye and work backwards. Let anger tools beers screws become one. Enter zone spoken of by top performing athletes and musicians. At 7.14pm step back and consider structure, supported by interior actual wall to which it is now affixed. WonderHouse now permanently inside your house not going anywhere. Has some sharp angles but through screwdriver/beer blur could pass for page 28. Assume stick man pose and cast arm over. Say look what you made to assembled mass and nobody.Parts missing. Parts that were holding Y up. Need to call.
Step 8: Call Helpline.
Call C, Clara. Explain to C that Y needs to connect with Deana, now, yes now. C refuses. Re-apply with a little more force, taking care not to break tenuous connection. Give me this. Today give me this.
Allow sufficient time for words to dry in air. Adding further words on top of first layer too quickly may cause cracking of C. Please, you cannot. I will let this just today because it is her birthday but then no more please understand you cannot.
When D is connected, tell her have a great surprise. Text picture of WonderHouse and say surprise happy birthday look what I made for you. You are welcome to come over and play any time like we did. Before. Why not today why not right now? No Y can’t bring it to D’s new house. Silly Y I built your Wonder inside mine and now it is stuck. D not speaking. Come over today? I would love to see you again, darling D. Y missing part D so called helpline.
Deana disconnects. Clara returns to call. Tone appears darker than in original. If Y persists, C advises that an application of E, Elek may be required to remove unwanted stain. E can be dispatched at very short notice. I warned you. Please stop. For I do not know. What he will do.
Step 9: Deal with Snag list
Work on WonderHouse from the inside into darkness. Open WonderDoor (unhinged, add to snag list) to open door to real house as now loud exterior knocking.
Open door to find part E, Elek. E has been dispatched. E free-standing powerfully built unit. Invite E in. Well, Elek, I wondered when we’d have this chat. Hold Beer (7) behind back. Now place extended arm around E ask what do you think of my WonderHouse? Want to help me fix it? When E moves head horizontally through 180 degrees, ask E you think you can just show up ruin everything and miss them still love them look at me when I’m talking to you though these loosely balanced and slipping off screwdriver beer base.
Step 10: When E turns to face Y, bring Beer Empty (7) into contact with E.
Fail, however, to align beer and E face. Make contact instead with unstable WonderHouse Roof causing cracking noise. Note limited effect on E except tightening of left fist (L).
Step 11: Apply final coating. Let dry for at least 12 hours.
A thin layer of O positive from Y is now adhering to WonderHouse floor. Y should gauge quality of morning light coming in through now open plan WonderRoof via real house window. Y should now recall the previous evening's final steps for future reconstruction:
E extends fist (L) towards Y, connecting with Y’s right jaw with force substantial.
Y folds inelegantly onto part-assembled WonderHouse, passing through roof joint into void space before connecting with base B and several exposed screws J.
E is positioned directly over Y to apply final warning to Y do not move.
E clarified that Y should never contact my wife or my daughter again. Y should remain firmly in place if he doesn't want to be fixed for good.
Step 12: Remain fixed in position.
Y can safely exit WonderHouse now that E is fixed to C and D for good. Y instead remains in void while joints resettle. Y could make call to helpline on page 28 on floor in O positive pool. Y should be aware, however, that warranty is voided. Return not possible. Y looks upon stickman, stick arm forever stretching, stick face grimace fixed in unending anticipation of many unwondrous years to come.
WonderHouse (Some Assembly Required) by Stephen Walsh is one of the ten shortlisted stories from this year's Short Story Competition in honour of Francis MacManus. The three judges of this year's awards were writer Liz Nugent, RTÉ’s arts and media correspondent Sinéad Crowley, and Declan Meade, publisher of The Stinging Fly. The programme was produced by Sarah Binchy.