“Hugocentric,” by M.J. Nicholls

Jun 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Prose

It’s never too late to believe in hope.

It was a little late for me on Tuesday 13th. I had attempted to kill myself with my tie by suspending a noose from the bathroom light. Hope had arrived fashionably late to the party.

It was a mistake to believe that a Bart Simpson tie had any hanging capabilities. It was also a mistake to assume the light bulb would remain attached to the socket so I could see what I was doing and go out in a daze of blinding wattage.

Dr. Catherine Gullie, my psychiatrist, had been spoon-feeding me hope for weeks. Our sessions were torture. See, she wore these silky black skirts with transparent ankle-length stockings and smoky black tights, mythologising the pale hum of her legs. She nibbled on her pen-tip like a schoolgirl eager to learn and not have sex with me.

I had to sit there, in a steam-ironed shirt, legs crossed, detailing my problems while she triggered a blood clot in my crotch that sent me hobbling to a doctor. A doctor who, by the way, was having an affair with my wife and who was doping me on so much Prozac I was in a stupor whenever he crawled in the bedroom window to poke around in Carol’s vagina.

Keeping up?

The reason for the attempted hanging had nothing to do with these concerns. It was more to do with the heroin-dealing I conducted on weekends in schoolyards to support Carol’s expensive lifestyle. I suppose I had one of those “pangs of conscience” or something. Carol was a demanding spouse. On top of her insatiable appetite for well-choreographed adultery and expensive meals with her ersatz me, she insisted on the smoothest detergent, the sexiest peaches and the tastiest chocolates.

I was a man of modest means. To me, any day I could scrape through in £1.75 I considered a good day. I married Carol for her smile. To have seen those pursed cheeks, with their tiny boomerang grins, and those chapped lips, tilted in ebullience at my presence, was a rarity.

The hanging might have failed, but Bart Simpson did cause severe damage to my left lung. Watching the snow fall in elegant daggers outside the hospital window, I poked my neck brace twice, eliciting two loud ‘ouch’ sounds from my nostrils. The calm was welcome, but I knew in a few hours, minutes or seconds, would come the inevitable invasion of crazed adolescents looking for vein-based merriment. First to break the silence was Hazel, a 13-year-old habitual user who exchanged her college allowance with me for Grade-Z chronic. Her egg-white pupils, with their craggy black rims of death, leered at me from behind the curtain.

I could feel my heart rate surging as she placed an arbitrarily plucked daisy beside me.

“For you,” she said. Zombie giggle.

“Thanks, Hazel. Um… what can I do for you?”

“Came to see you. Heard you were in here.”

“Who told you I was in here?”

“Dunno. Hey, my history teacher has been bugging me for homework. Can you hook me up with something?”

“Hazel, it’s time to give up the drugs.”

The appearance of this statement was unusual, since a few weeks prior to this, finding her alone in the playground, I had used the expression heroin is your bestest friend in the world. So this statement shuttlecocked around the logical trajectories of my cranium for a while, coming to rest beside the time I confused oregano with dope and smoked it anyway, and the time I praised the solo albums of Ringo Starr.

As I pondered on this, Hazel rested her head on the bed, falling into a stupor and babbling in syllables closer to Aramaic than gibberish. I closed my eyes and came to a sensible conclusion. I am a bastard. There are times in a man’s life when having a clueless teenage loner, whose future you have pissed away and replaced with a nagging drug habit, drooling at the foot of your bed, can really move you.

As she sleep-sobbed into convulsions, a sinister gentleman in a hideous Pringle sweater entered the room, accompanied by a second sinister gentleman in the same hideous Pringle sweater. The first man had a compelling kink on his retroussa nose, aglow with a reddish light, as did the second man, and a briefcase in his left hand. Plopping his case on the sheets, he clicked the dullbrown straps and retrieved a document.

“You are a Hugo, correct?” he asked.

“I am Hugo, yes. What can I do for you two gentlemen?”

“I’m afraid you haven’t been behaving in the manner that best befits a Hugo, have you? Please come with us,” the bespectacled stranger said, swooshing back the sheets.

“Woah! Hold on there! I’m an invalid. Who are you?”

“We are from the Hugo Consistency Council. It has come to our attention you have been drugging teenage girls, attempting suicide and displaying quite egregious sexual stamina. Hugos aren’t like this. They are debonair, stylish and witty. You are required to reshape your life.”

“Tell me about it,” I ventured, drolly.

“We are telling you about it.”

What the first man, Hugo Tawt, told me – and the second man, Hugo Trap echoed – was that there was in fact an onus attached to being a Hugo that I had failed to live up to for most of my life. The Hugo had a responsibility to be suave, professional, hilarious and good at sex. All things alien to the current Hugo. The invading Hugos lifted Hazel to one side, placing her into a plastic bag for the time being.

“We will keep these follies safe for you in the House of Hugo, where you can visit them once or twice a week,” he said, issuing me with a summons. Laminated and written in an expensive Buro Destruct typeface, used on Radiohead’s “Kid A” sleeve, it read:

You have two weeks to behave like a Hugo, or your name will be reduced to a name that best befits your personality – Cuthbert or Johann. This means no more suicide attempts, whingeing to psychiatrists or dealing heroin to teenage girls. Help is available at the House of Hugo. Your advisor is Hugo Norom. Please see him in Block R, Sector II on Fri 2nd.

As soon as I convalesced, which took a week (wasting crucial time), I went straight to the House of Hugo. A self-important white structure – flat and clinical, like a pancaked Pentagon – with perpendicular blue windows, an inconsiderate revolving door sweeping up entrants like Fantasia’s broom, and a computerized reception desk. I twitched towards the entrance, summons and painkillers in hand.

Hell-O there. I am Hu-GO 23J. Your re-CEP-tion com-pew-ter. Please STATE your name AND biz-ness,” the robo-Hugo greeted, frighteningly pleased to see me.

“Um, Hugo Egareva. I have an appointment to see Hugo Norom?”

That IS cor-rect. Please pro-CEED to Block R Sec-tor two. Have a NICE day.”

“Yes, you too.”

I do not un-der-STAND. Please leave the BUIL-ding.”

Stepping into Block R, an open-plan office with three desks a kilometre apart, behind which stretched three never-ending queues of fidgety Hugos, I approached a pimpled student, his neck engorged with hickeys. He informed me, after an ‘ouch,’ that the second queue over there – pointing far into the distance – was Sector 2. I made the trek.

Each Hugo was subjected to a thirty-second interrogation. When their time was up, the presiding Hugo would offer the inferior Hugo a solution to his personal problems and issue him with a Hugo Correction Pack to assist Hugo transformation: a Pringle sweater, golf clubs, the Little Book of Smarm ‘n’ Charm and a respectable mobile.

It took an hour to get to me. As soon as Hugo Norom, a frog-chinned Swedish git, clad in blue-orange chequered overalls, dinged his bell and shouted “Next Hugo!” I was tongued-tied.

“Um… dealing drugs to teenagers, letting my wife um, I mean, she’s having an affair and I let her get on with it, um… I want to sleep with my psychiatrist, um… I’m sexually inadequate, um…”

“Time up. Solutions: see our sexpert. You are weak because you are impotent. Please take a Hugo Correction Pack and move on. Next Hugo!” the laconic Nordic twit commanded.

Before I could say ‘Hugo,’ I was on a conveyor belt leading me to a lift, where three floors up, in a red-walled open-plan office, sat my allotted ‘sexpert’ (a woman named Hugo), who would help me be more assertive as a sexual being (named Hugo). This floor of the building was darker, with partitions dividing a series of inspection booths, wherein new Hugos were assessed on their sexual prowess through a series of humiliating tests. Before I could escape, an onyx-necked woman informed me in refractory tones that Dr. Hugo Esaet was awaiting my penis.

Entering my booth – the walls afright with pliers, lotions, pokers and probes -the dainty emasculated doctor manoeuvred a remote-controlled clamp-on-wheels towards my testicles. The size, density and sperm count of my testes was analysed and the results were passed to the doctor via the clamp-hands of her battery-powered nurse.

“Hmm,” she began, scratching her ankle, “it appears you are only 43% Hugo. No, no. This is no good at all. Please go to the Hugo Clarification Board to confirm you are in fact a Hugo.”

I spent the entire afternoon in that odious structure, with its inbuilt musk of Lemsip and talc. I met men who introduced themselves as simply Hugo (as if I couldn’t have guessed), had my DNA tested for pure Hugo blood, my urine swabbed for traces of Hugo and my stool criticised for not being enough like Hugo stool. Eventually, after an enquiry, it was decided that I was enough of a Hugo to proceed becoming a proper Hugo.

When I returned home, Carol and my former doctor were busy having intercourse upstairs. I decided to read up on how a Hugo was supposed to act until they finished. There were two thousand rules of etiquette I would have to memorise. Among them:

4. Hugos have doors held open for them. Never open a door for non-Hugos or Hugo deniers.

6. Hugos take control in a po-faced manner when someone interferes with their private life. Stern words are used, as are strong facial expressions (exuding wrath and pride) and confident hand gestures (i.e. table-slamming and pointing).

The sixth rule struck a chord with me. If I wanted Carol and her smile back, I had to condemn her liaison with the venerable Dr. Norman and his venerable penis. Later on, she stumbled downstairs in her dressing gown, flashing her inverted smile at me – the one I didn’t love – for a post-coital libation.

“Oh, you’re back, Hugo!” she said, chortling. (Dr. Norman pulled his pants up). “I was watching a rather humorous documentary about rice. Are you coming to bed soon?” (Dr. Norman clambered out the window).

With a little courage from a leftover bottle of cognac, I rose steadily to my feet, recalibrating the rust-rimmed implements of my Hugoness. If I wanted to remain a Hugo, I would have to take control in a po-faced manner right now. With some preternatural force thrumming through me, as though transferred from the Lemsip air of the Hugo House into my blood cells, I walked over to Carol, thrust out a hand for her to hold, then slapped her with the other. Nonplussed, my former undying love corkscrewed back onto the sofa in soundless denial. Hugo is home, honey.

“You’ve been a bad wife, Carol,” I said, using the baritone growl I had read about on page 7, “and from now on, you’re going to be loyal to me, do you understand?”

She rejected the hand on her leg and the arm hurled like a hula-hoop around her waist, but took the vampire bite of nuptial reclamation I sank into her neck. Then, with the feeblest mewl, she back-tripped onto the sofa, bathrobe de-knotted, revealing the waxen candelabra of her nakedness – less refulgent, less vestal than the sylph-vixen I had bedded as a teenager. Ignoring the ‘please’ popping upon her lips, I used that moment to dominate her, to reprogram her back into a proper Hugo wife.

With automatic lust, I cast off my trousers, recalling myriad fumbles and moments spent wrestling with belts and buttons in Ford Fiestas, and let Carol bask in the majesty of my stiffness. Referring to the utilitarian method of Hugo lovemaking outlined on page 67, I installed within her the colossus of my arousal, again and again, until the lights of my renewed Hugoness blinded us from the irate Dr. Norman, peering in through the window like a brainless skull.

Cupping my reclaimed wife’s head, I slipped from her embrace, planted a territorial kiss upon her brow and opened the door to the scuppered unHugo interloper. A welcome silence frosted his lips. Half-formed words bumbled under his tongue, wilting under the tall imperialism of my quite remarkable Hugoness.

“Never come here again,” I said, authoritatively.

“Oh, right. Sorry,” the doc replied, his bubble burst.

The manuals and potions worked a charm. The transformation seemed to take place overnight. After reclaiming Carol with my iron-rod love, the next day I paid a visit to my psychiatrist. In her cream-curled office, awash in palsy shades of New Age mauve, befouled by the incense odours of cut-price hippification, she sat waiting for me in her thigh-length black skirt, the fibres sizzling above the curdling enticer of her vagina.

Of course, to assume that my transformation into a proper Hugo would assist me in having this affair was foolish. At first, it took gentle coercion. Proving to her that the proper Hugo within me was truly unearthed, and dropping reminders that the libidinous cobwebs of my former self had been swept clean – replaced with a miraculous new dazzle – I could feel sub-skirt sensations rising in happy waves.

Within four days, I had her humming with interest. Hints that beneath my waist, there lurked worlds of supersonic transcendence – the last existing Concorde of unfettered sexual abandon, heading for the destination of unparalleled bliss. It was only a matter of time before the excitement would translate into inappropriate carnal demonstrations before brunch.

My final correction was trickier. I had hooked four teenage boys and three teenage girls on heroin. The Little Book of Smarm ‘n’ Charm was useless to me now. How would a Hugo go about assisting seven teenagers in their journey from twitching addict zombies into just plain zombies? I required assistance from that intoxicating sandwich bag – the House of Hugo. After we picked up Hazel, who had been left in their care for two weeks while I underwent my transformation, I would take the kids to the Deed Poll offices to have their names changed to Hugo.

The afternoon was an embarrassment to my Hugoness, but necessary to complete the process. Keeping seven unstable teenagers – whose minds I had packed with cheap Dutch imports – aware of their surroundings for more than ten seconds at a time was more onerous than I had anticipated. In the end, I had to tell them we were going to the Heroin Council to pick up our annual supply. The last Hugo lie.

We arrived at the House of Hugo to pick up Hazel. Keeping the six junkies locked in my van, I went to retrieve her from a foam-padded room, where the partners of broken-down Hugos were free to mix and mingle. To my surprise, in this hectare of Hugo-abused humanity, I found her talking with some eloquence to the wife of a battered Hugo.

This woman, with her origami cheeks and muskrat eyes, squared me up as I approached.

“Here cometh a Hugo,” she sneered, viewing me with the well-worn contempt of a long-suffering Hugo wife.

“Hazel,” I began, ignoring the artless creature, “it’s time to go.”

“Oh, Hugo… not yet. You are a fussy pimple, aren’t you? Listen, this is Eliza, she’s chairwoman of the Council For Abused Hugos. She’s been telling me that I ought to sue you for the damage you’ve done to me!” Hazel chirped, in gossamer spirits.

Hazel’s appearance took me aback. Gone was the heroin pallor in her cheeks – replaced with a pale rustic sheen – and few of the nervous tics and starts remained in her movements. She was as graceful as a woman in high-heeled shoes, squaring up to the world. A sparkling rebirth shone in her beautiful blue eyes. Precisely what the House of Hugo had done to her, I don’t know, but it was remarkable.

I scrutinised the nimble patter of her feet, eager to sashay down life’s myriad paths, the delicate stasis of her arms, hanging in teenage abeyance beside her sundial dress, compassing the north, south, east and west of her irresistible innocence, her nubile naivete. Something feral was building inside me, some extreme Hugo inversion. Was it possible my sudden reformation had pulled me from the lowest depths of Hugoness into the most dangerous, darkest heights?

“Hazel, could I speak to you for a minute?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Listen, something unusual is happening here. I can’t be around you, or anyone sentient right now. I think I need some time to adjust to being a proper Hugo. Look, there’s six junkies in a van outside, could you take them in here and give them the same recovery treatment you had, or whatever it was? Thanks, you’re a star.”

Before Hazel had time to argue, I slipped the van key into her palm, caressing briefly the elegant intersection of her handlines. Since the transformation, I had become ravenous with desire for most women (I even had pangs for the shrewish Elisa). I felt so in control, I was out of control. This level of control, hitherto unimaginable to me, came from some unidentified stimulus (although probably from the potent gases being pumped into the Hugo House), and was rather worrying.

This being the case, I retired to a hotel for a week. While there, I masturbated forty times a day (over Hazel, Carol and the receptionists) and devised various methods of becoming wealthier, more successful, more attractive and haughtier than other Hugos. It was impossible to sit still. So overwhelming was this desire to become the finest Hugo, it distracted me from the eccentricities of my old self.

What was I losing becoming a proper Hugo? What elements of the old Hugo were at stake? No longer would I make those sarcastic remarks when watching implausible dramas, criticising both the calibre of acting and the absence of talent inherent in the writing. No longer would I assume nose-picking was even remotely amusing or entertaining.

Never again would I inflate condoms and wear them as hats, relish in a long belch after dinner or spend hours downloading Swedish nudes from dirtysluts.net. Instead, a world of success, smarm and pleasure was at my fingertips. I would conjure riches from thin air, chase underage nymphs around a series of hotel rooms, sweep male flotsam from my doorstep and wield the shiniest five wood on the golf course.

For Hugoness is a state of being that exists above and beyond the paltriest of human endeavour. It is the apex of achievement most men aspire to but never deliver. Hugos are a special breed, the creme de la creme of male civilisation, free to roam the earth as sex-crazed titans of culture, business and wit. We are vantage coins of all human endeavour- men unbound to disappointment, failure and doubt.

And we are the dullest cliches imaginable. But we’re more successful than you. And here we are.

It’s never to late to believe in Hugo.


M.J. Nicholls is novelist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Currently creating the mythology around his new novel, “A Postmodern Belch.” Previous work has been published in Edinburgh/Bremen University literary supplements, The Drabbler, and in a short story collection for Cantaraville.

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