Take My Pulse
My job is to overcome your reaction to these things. Your aversion. Your repulsion. Your indifference. To contradict what you know. To take that initial facial grimace and twist it into slack-mouthed fascination. It’s a different way of seeing things. Blinkers to the truth, because “Everything is sexy”. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the marvellous world of advertising. Only sex sells.
Do you know something else that isn’t sexy?
Since qualifying I’ve scored my first brief, courtesy of the International Legume Society. The package they’ve put together is titled “Take my pulse” and gives me a mandate to raise the profile and consumption of pulses across Britain. There’s a commercial and agricultural industry eager to grow, and government health initiatives backing them. I’ve got to make my preliminary presentation to them in about an hour. I should know that it’s fine already, because I spent my last week putting every waking hour into it. Research, storyboards, concepts and fact-checks. Vid-reels and sales-spiels. Heart and soul. After this much investment, one last check is irresistible. You have to see your work in action; one last press of play on the laptop.
The advert begins with a single pulse; the second half of a heartbeat. “Dum” throbs once while you stare at a black screen. Then “d-dum”, “d-dum”, getting louder, quicker; shorter gaps between beats mimicking a raise in heart-rate.
Then visuals come in as single white words, spoken in rhythym to the soundtrack. One word for each heartbeat, vocals coming in alongside them…
The drums and bass drop in after, FX squealing in the background. Images flash onscreen now; legumes made exciting.
A rapper narrates the images, appearing in tandem with his words.
“Kid -(uh)- ney; have you bean kidding me?
Where you bean all my life? Get it into me…
Pin-to. ‘s What I’m in-to.
Butterbean on the scene – Get it in me.
Lentils. Going Mentals.
And m’ chick she’s with me – Chickpea.”
Then the music stops for a slowed explosion to go off. “Buh – koooosh”
And another voice poses “Oi-Oiiiiii?” (Question?)
“Puy- Puyyyyy!” (Response)
The advert finishes with the campaign slogan “What you bean missin’?” across the screen and the work is done. Which only leaves them to respond to it…
“Well Jason, that’s quite something you’ve put together for us there.” Suit one says.
“Thanks” I give back, cautious in response.
“Did you get the initial brief?”
“Take my pulse, yeah.”
“But you used ‘check’ my pulse in the video?” emphasis on the word.
“Yeah,” I say slightly stumbling, “it’s more urban-street isn’t it? ‘Check it’” Adding my own emphasis to the words. I’ve inadvertently made pistols with both hands in accompaniment, as though aiming to shoot my groin off. “Check it ouuut” I add.
“The brief was ‘take my pulse’ though wasn’t it?”
“Errm, yeah. Do you not think it’s suitable?”
Suit two weighs in. “Sorry Jason, we thought it was clear to everyone. We used ‘take’ quite intentionally.”
“Yeah, and the pulse.”
“Oh, okay.” I wasn’t sure what else to say. Large silence filled the small room. I swallowed. Hoped the floor would do the same for me.
“We shouldn’t have done this for your first brief, I hope you’ll forgive us.”
“Taking the pea.”
Featured Entry by JC
‘Take my pulse. Please! Here’s my wrist. Why won’t you take it? I’m alive – as alive as you. Don’t take my word for it. Take my pulse.’
The woman’s face twisted in anguish as the white-coated interns backed towards the door. It swung inward, pushed by a big man carrying a hammer. He took in the scene at a glance and raised his weapon.
‘Stay where you are.’
His command, directed at the woman, barely seemed to register with her. She was covered in blood.
‘My daughter. I need to pick up my daughter. Please, there’s been a terrible mistake. I’m not dead. I can prove it. Just take my pulse.’
She moved towards him, stretching out an arm. She wasn’t old – perhaps early thirties, yet her dark hair held streaks of white. Still, streaks like that had been fashionable until recently.
He glanced at the three cowering interns. ‘Where did she come from?’
‘The morgue,’ said the female. ‘I saw her climb off the slab! I ran and got Eric and we followed her bloody trail. She’s…’
‘A mistake,’ cried the woman piteously, still edging forward. ‘I was working in the diner when they attacked but I hid under the counter. They never found me. Then the army arrived. They threw in knockout grenades and I woke up in the morgue. Someone must have put me there but I wasn’t dead. Look.’ She stopped and spread her thin arms wide. ‘This blood is someone else’s. I don’t have a mark on me. I’m alive. Take my pulse.’
Dropping one arm she swung the other towards him.
‘Back up,’ said the man, raising the hammer. ‘Or you’ll soon have plenty of marks on you.’
The woman stopped. Behind him the female intern and her boyfriend clasped hands and ran out. The third yelled, ‘Cowards!’ but he craned his neck to look longingly around the big man who’d stepped to block any more exits through the swinging door.
‘Is she really what they think?’ the man growled at him.
The intern shrugged. ‘They were all in this room when I arrived. The two who just ran were terrified…’
‘I was looking for help,’ cried the woman, tears welling in her eyes. ‘I got lost in the corridors. Please! I _have_ to clean up and get to my daughter. She’s only four and I’m so late to pick her up from childcare. She’ll be crying for me.’
The man lowered his hammer a little but held it ready all the same. His eyes never left her as he addressed the intern. ‘What made the others so sure?’
‘You heard Sarah saying she walked out of the morgue. Look at the blood on her, and her hair!’
‘All of which can be explained. Is there any other evidence?’
‘I don’t know!’ The intern’s voice cracked. ‘But why take chances?’
‘Please.’ The woman’s tears washed tracks down her cheeks. ‘My little girl.’
The man let the hammer rest on his shoulder. ‘Sorry Ma’am. We can’t let you go till we’re sure.’
‘Then _be_ sure.’ Again she extended her arm. ‘All you have to do is take my pulse.’
The man glanced at the intern. ‘Do it. I’m ready with the hammer if she tries anything.’
‘Are you out of your mind?’ The intern’s voice was a squeak. ‘You know how strong those things are? Don’t let her feeble appearance fool you!’
‘You’re young,’ the man growled. ‘I don’t suppose you have little ones yet. You can’t imagine how distressed her daughter will be.’
The intern’s tone became resentful. ‘I _can_. I may not have kids but I’ll never forget how I felt the day my dad forgot to collect me from kindergarten when I was around four.’
‘Then give the lady a break.’
The woman stood unmoving, her arm outstretched. The intern took a reluctant step forward and then turned towards the man.
‘_You_ do it. I’ll take the hammer and stand by.’
The big guy gave a derisive laugh. ‘I’m maintenance crew not medical staff.’
The intern twisted back to the woman, his face pale. ‘All right. Stay where you are. I’ll get a stethoscope.’
She appealed to the hammer guy. ‘Why does he need a stethoscope? All he has to do is take my pulse. We’re wasting time!’
The big man glanced at the other. ‘She has a point.’
The intern straightened. ‘You want to be sure or not? Besides, this way I won’t have to touch her directly.’
The maintenance guy nodded and the intern slipped to the other side of the room, putting the examination table between them. He turned and pulled open one of the drawers under the wall bench. There was a moment of silence as he peered inside. Then he slammed it and pulled out another.
The woman moved towards the hammer man standing between her and the exit. She looked up at him. ‘I _have_ to go. My daughter!’
On the other side of the room the intern was opening and closing drawers and muttering, ‘Where the hell is the stethoscope?’ He reached the corner and turned. ‘Oh. There it is.’
The stethoscope lay on the floor under the end of the table… in a pool of blood… beside a head separated from its body. The throat had been torn open and brain matter pulled through the bottom of the skull. The intern looked up, his sobbing cry drowned out by a sickening crunch.
The room appeared empty but the cracking thumps continued. He dropped to his haunches beside the corpse and stared under the table to the other side. There squatted the woman, also beside a body, grinning at him. She yanked the hammer out of the maintenance man’s skull and licked it.
So much quicker getting dressed these days
one pair of trousers, one set of shoes
you wear them all the time.
If you look at your clothes
too hard you see the cracking,
your soles pinched by pavements walked
to no end.
You mustn’t think about
what happens when they need replacing
perhaps someone will look down
from the kind of life you wanted.
Give you their boots, suit or coat,
still one slip away from joining you,
one hand away from helping you out
of mindfulness in dark moments.
Until the blue flares slice the air
behind the bins, an alley at the back
the paramedic takes your pulse,
your missing heartbeats, your emptied life.