[Being the latest in a series of excerpts from my novel, Man Bites Dog, which is currently on sale at Tomely for only 99c until 23 June 2014]
A week after the comma conversation Gina had turned up on my doorstep at around ten-thirty at night.
‘Hey,’ I said. ‘I was just getting ready for bed.’
She was dressed in a black Bonds long-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of black jeans.
‘I’ve got a plan.’
I stood in the doorway, waiting for an elaboration.
‘You have to get changed,’ she said. ‘Into black clothes. We’re on a mission.’ Gina followed me up to my room. She had her hands tucked behind her back, and she was grinning.
‘What?’ I asked.
She thrust a stack of A4 sheets at me.
‘Your mission, should you choose to accept it.’
I flipped through the stack. They were all the same.
‘You must have some black clothes in here somewhere,’ she said, rummaging around in my wardrobe.
‘There’s a pair of jeans in the bottom cupboard, and I think my black jumper’s in the lounge.’
‘I’ll go grab it,’ she said. I took a closer look at the pages Gina had handed me.
We represent Citizens for Correct Grammar In Public Spaces (CCGIPS). Your place of business is in contravention of the prime directive of our organisation. The signage that you currently display incorrectly utilises apostrophes. We request that you amend your signage to bring it in line with the standards set and observed by the Australian Government Printing Service (AGPS), the recognised authority in matters of grammar usage and style in Australia.
You have two weeks to comply. If you have not complied by the end of this two-week period, further steps will be taken.
6.162 The principal use of the apostrophe, normally followed or preceded by s, is to indicate possession (also indicated by using the preposition of):
- the horse’s mouth (= the mouth of the horse)
- the horses’ mouths (= the mouths of the horses)
6.163 The apostrophe is needed to indicate possession with nouns only; the pronouns hers, its, theirs and yours are already possessive and do not need the apostrophe. It’s means ‘it is’, while its means ‘belonging to it’.
(For further information on the use of apostrophes, please refer to the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers, published by the Australian Government Printing Service.)
Gina came back with my black jumper tucked under her arm.
‘What’s this?’ I asked.
‘But I was just going to bed.’
‘And now you’re not. We’ve got work to do.’
‘Don’t you have a date tonight?’
I grabbed the jumper and pulled it over my head, then stared at her for a moment.
‘I need to get changed.’
‘I’ve seen my brothers naked, you know. It’s not like you’ve got anything I haven’t seen before.’
‘You haven’t got any brothers.’
‘Oh. Well, I’m sure they were somebody’s brothers . . .’
‘Get out, dickhead.’
‘Are you this coy around other girls?’
I stared Gina down and she left the room. I slid out of my blue jeans and into the black. ‘Want to clue me in?’ I called.
Gina came back to watch me dig out my old black Converse boots. ‘I got to thinking about the whole comma thing, and I felt sorry for you, Steven. It must be hard to live in a world that so frequently abuses punctuation.’
‘Well, I came up with a plan. We can’t do anything about Jessica’s comma now, but we can take action on a local level. We’re going out onto the streets and we’re going to paste these notices on the windows of any shops that have the temerity to blatantly and publicly contradict the rules of good grammar.’
‘We’re going to what?’
‘Yeah, but I thought I mightn’t’ve.’
‘Vandalism? Aren’t we a little bit old to embark on a life of petty crime?’
‘It’s never too late. Besides, this is vandalism for a higher cause.’
The back seat of Gina’s car was covered with what looked like the standard beginner’s postering kit: papers, brushes and a bucket half-filled with grey gluggy stuff.
‘What’s in the bucket?’ I asked.
‘Rice flour and water. The best postering glue there is. Cooked it up an hour ago.’
I stuck a finger into the gunk. It was still warm. ‘Thought of everything, haven’t we?’
‘Let’s start out on High Street. Bound to be a couple of likely candidates for a pasting up that way.’
‘I know just the one,’ I said. I’d caught a tram past the second-hand furniture store just the other week and had stared aghast at its blatant grammatical infringement. Painted in fluorescent pink capital letters outlined in bright yellow was the phrase ‘1000’s of BARGAINS INSIDE!!’. At the time I had contemplated tossing a rock through the window on my way back, but now I had a much more educational and constructive alternative.
‘Totally inappropriate,’ mumbled Gina as she stepped out of the car. I stood silently on the kerb, clutching the stack of leaflets. Gina came upbeside me, bucket in hand, and we stood in front of the offending window to consider our approach.
‘I’ll glue if you keep a lookout,’ she said. ‘We can swap later.’
I nodded and passed her a pamphlet. She slapped it on top of the offending number, and painted a liberal amount of paste over it. I leaned against the car, glancing around. Only a few other cars were parked on the street. A block or so towards Separation Street, people were hanging around outside the pool hall. The Number 86 tram whispered past on its way into the city. A quiet weeknight in Northcote.
Gina stepped back to admire her handiwork. ‘That oughta learn ’em.’
The paste had covered the entire pamphlet in a greyish white sludge, obscuring the text.
‘That stuff dries clear, right?’ I asked.
‘You bet. Clear and immovable. Let’s find another one.’
We didn’t have to look far. Two blocks south, the front window of Northcote Whitegoods King announced: ‘Fridge’s, Washer’s & Dryer’s DRASTICALLY REDUCED’. I clucked my tongue in disapproval and set to work.
Stay tuned for further excerpts from Man Bites Dog, or buy a copy from Tomely for only 99c and read the whole thing for yourself.