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The Billboard Men

by Paul Malone

At the train station two men in white overalls briskly sponge watery glue over an election campaign billboard. The face of the beaming politician with the solarium-bronzed complexion and the dramatic carbamide peroxide grin, as if conceding the election result, darkens beneath the paste.

     One of the men props an aluminium ladder against the billboard and climbs up.  The other man passes him up the first sheet of the new advertisement. With a practiced slap and a few deliberate brushstrokes, the sheet is applied.  A woman’s leg is revealed, naked except for a glossy-black and dangerous-looking stiletto shoe upon her foot, and candy-apple-red varnish upon her toenails.  With commendable efficiency the two men paste up the second and third sheet.

     It is only when the billboard is complete and the men start to walk to the next billboard, do they notice their work. One man, his eyes transfixed upon the billboard, slowly lowers the ladder and then urgently scratches his left ear with his right hand.  The other man faces the billboard momentarily before abruptly twirling about as if to check if anyone else has noticed.

     In explicit detail down to the buttocks pimples, and larger than life, a fornicating couple fill the billboard.  The woman straddles the man; her eyes are closed and her tongue licks her moist upper lip.  The man’s face, with heavy eyelids as if in a drugged stupor, appears behind the woman’s glistening right breast.  He grasps the woman’s hip in one hand; with the other, he guides himself within.  

     From down the platform the stationmaster, his cap pulled low over his furrowed brow, and his bushy moustache accentuating his stern demeanour, strides up to the two men.  He gestures angrily at the billboard and then repeatedly prods one of the men in the chest with his stumpy forefinger.  The man stumbles backwards waving his hands before him and bowing apologetically. The other man pulls a white notebook from his top overall pocket and, as if entreating surrender, waves it before the station master. 

     The station master snatches the notebook from the man, and then glares into it.  The man stands alongside the station master and explains the text. The station master’s brows knot together and he puffs out his jowls, giving him a bulldog-like appearance.  He glances back up at the billboard, back down at the notebook, and then at the billboard again, where, with the same stumpy forefinger, he carefully counts the sheets.  He then turns and thrusts the open notebook up to the man’s startled face, and then angrily taps one of the pages. In haste and reading below his breath, the man studies the text again. After a pause he looks back up at the billboard and then slaps his forehead.

     From the bucket the missing sheet is pulled out and pasted below the woman’s feet.  The text reads: ‘Coca Cola-–life’s other great pleasure’.  The two men stand beside the billboard and nervously await the station master’s reaction.  The station master straightens himself up, crosses his arms over his barrel chest and frowns at the billboard.  Slowly he nods his head and his eyes begin to sparkle. 

     Later, when the station master has strolled back along the platform, the two men pick up their equipment and as if aware of lost time, quickly move to the next billboard.

 

Return to Issue 34