Julie Goyder

Overload #30

The Happyness Shop

I am reading the newspaper…

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… and suddenly I find myself in an enormous shop full of colour and sound and energy. Throngs of people shout, leap, sparkle. Everybody appears metallic.

‘Where am I?’ I ask one of the gleaming shop attendants and she says that I am in the Happiness Shop.

‘Here,’ she says ‘you can buy any sort of happiness you like.’ She pauses, smiling, then adds, ‘As long as you have the money!’ with a wink of her coppery eye.

‘Oh I don’t think I have any money,’ I say rummaging around in my pockets. I look down because the pockets feel unfamiliar and see that I am wearing a pair of jeans that I have never seen before. They are fluorescent, multicoloured and the pockets are bulging with money. I realise that this is probably not really me but I am so preoccupied by my sudden wealth that I don’t care. The shop attendant is chatting to someone else now, so I look around.

 

In one corner there is an ice-cream parlour. I go over and order a banana ice-cream cone.

‘Oh,’ says the girl serving, ‘We don’t have banana. You choose according to colour. It isn’t real ice-cream – you do realise that don’t you?’

I nod because she is looking at me in an ironic way and I am beginning to feel a bit of an ignoramus.

‘This,’ she says knowledgeably, ‘is the first step of happiness – you buy it in a cone. Perhaps you haven’t read your brochure. Not to worry. Just tell me what colour happiness you prefer and that will be $100.’

‘$100!’ I exclaim, shocked.

‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ she says, ‘It gives you a whole 24 hours of happiness guaranteed or your money back. You will even be happy while you are sleeping so don’t feel that those hours are wasted. In fact there’s a stall here that sells dreams. You can choose comedies or fantasies; some even choose horror. Whatever makes you happy! Oh, but I’m rambling. The simplest and cheapest happiness package we have here is coloured ice-cream. What you get is the feeling of happiness. You’ll find that after you’ve eaten it – lick it slowly it’s more effective – your face will curve into a beautiful smile like mine, see?’

I have already noticed that the girl has such a wide smile that it is difficult for her to speak clearly. But I buy a cone and wander around licking and, yes, immediately I am smiling. It is a little painful at first, but by the time I have finished the cone the smile is beginning to feel marvellous. It is obvious that most of the people in the shop have eaten their cones; I have never seen so many teeth. The whole place is bubbling and buzzing with laughter and movement. I cannot help giving a great leaping shout at being so utterly filled with joy and I wonder if the cones are addictive.

 

The next counter is spilling over with enormous brightly wrapped boxes and I see a sign –

The Happiness Spousetry one, you will not be disappointed. I nearly bypass this and then decide, why not?

‘What colour?’ the guy behind the counter asks. I say that I quite like the look of a particularly large red box. ‘$2000,’ he says and I pay him without hesitating now because I have such a lot of money in the pockets of my bright jeans. He shows me how to press the button and out springs a very red but rather gorgeous man.

‘Oh thank God!’ the red man says. ‘They forgot to feed me this morning and if they forget, they forget and that’s that until the next day. I saw you coming through my spyhole and sent you some of my happy hope. How wonderful! There is a happiness celebrant here so we can get married straight away if you like!’

I am smiling so much that it is preventing me from feeling shocked. The man is far too talkative and I feel I have wasted $2000. The salesman is giving me my receipt now, and says, ‘Feel free to take your purchase to the Happiness Trade Centre if you are happy with it but feel you could be happier.’

Meanwhile my red man is still babbling. I say very kindly through my thick smile that I think he is lovely but as blue and yellow are more my colours it might be better to trade him in.

‘Absolutely wonderful!’ he says and his smile is even broader than mine. I see that he has somehow acquired a red cone and is licking it in a frenzied way.

 

The Happiness Trade Centre is very exciting, with coloured lights, shooting stars and a band called Euphoria playing. I see that there are hundreds of people doing trades and I very quickly find a blue man in a box and make the swap with a charming woman who grins at me then says conspiratorially, ‘It’s fantastic isn’t it! And did you know that there is even a Used Happiness Spouse stall? That means you can use them for awhile and then bring them back and either swap them or get most of your money back. I have some shopping to do so I’ll just pop this red gentleman back into his box for awhile and come back. Nice doing business with you, lovey.’

I smile happily at her because I can no longer help it, but don’t reply as I am too struck with wonder at the ecstatic feelings that have sprung up between my blue man and me. I help him disengage himself from his box and we begin to make our way through the crowds to the happiness celebrant at the back of the shop. I notice that my skin is turning a pale yellow, a little like the tan I once developed after drinking too much carrot juice. My blue man chuckles as I tell him this and he cannot help stroking my skin as we hum and giggle and breathe our beautiful colours into each other. On the way we pass counter after counter selling every imaginable type of happiness. There is a stall for confidence, one for wealth, one for orgasm, one for quality friendship and so on. My darling says that he has been in his box for so long that he has forgotten who his friends were so we buy him a couple of friendship packages on the way. I ask him how he came to be in his box.

‘Oh, it’s one of the most exciting happiness deals you can get,’ he replies. ‘You buy the happiness of fate package and then wait. Inside the box you develop your colour and learn various things like how to blend hope with happiness.’

‘After we are married I’d like to have some children. Is that okay with you?’ I ask him, tentatively, with a seductive little smile.

‘Aaah,’ he replies in his lovely deep growling voice. ‘Yes, I used to have some of those and it didn’t work out, but,’ seeing the frown trying to crease my smooth brow, ‘I am willing to do it again and if that’s what you really want, then we must go to the Happy Offspring stall which is on the way. The celebrant is bound to suggest this anyway so we may as well have a look.’

He is so wise, I think, with my heart bursting and, as we pass a bar selling Amenability cocktails, I realise, with a sense of engulfing joy that we will soon be sharing a drink together.

 

At the Happy Offspring stall the choice is enormous and it takes us some time to understand what is on offer. It is possible, for instance, to choose offspring of various ages so I choose a four-year-old boy with blonde hair and a cute face. He, like all the other offspring, is smiling and giggling at the Happy Happy show playing on a huge television. He’s a greenish colour which seems a perfect mix of my yellow and my fiancee’s blue so we don’t hesitate despite the expense. My blue man wants a girl so we look through the catalogue before roaming around amongst the children. A beautiful girl of about fifteen approaches us with a shy smile. She has a light olive green body, almost mermaidish, and my fiancee is immediately taken with her. He says to me that as she seems past adolescence she will be less troublesome and I immediately see the sense in this. We pay a deposit and tell the children we’ll be back soon.

 

‘Would you like a pre-nuptual drink?’ my fiancee asks and I say ‘Yes!’ We go back to the bar and order cocktails. I have a Slim body and he has an Virility and, like the ice-cream cones, the drinks seem to work almost immediately. I feel my tummy flatten and my collar-bones protrude becomingly. My rather round face narrows slightly and my fiancee immediately notices my beautiful cheekbones (previously hidden). At the same time it is difficult not to notice how my fiancee’s lower parts bulge with desire for me. We smile and sip and chatter about our happy future together and I confide in him that I used to be a worrier. He takes his cue and confides in me that he used to be shy. We both laugh happily at our quirky little pasts and decide, just for fun, to go to the Happiness Cinema around the corner.

 

The movie we choose is one called Nicole and Tom, a beautiful film about a couple’s love for each other. I am moved to happy tears at the way Nicole, being too tall, goes all the way to China to have her legs shortened while Tom simultaneously has his own lengthened. There is an intense scene where Nicole actually donates parts of her tibias to Tom. I whisper to my fiancee who I’ve noticed is quite short that I don’t mind a bit and I see his white teeth flash a reassuring grin in the darkness of the theatre. A moment later he takes my hand and places it warmly between his legs and I let my fingers play happily. The movie leaves us both exhausted and hungry so we go to the nearest restaurant and pay an enormous amount of money for two steaks and a bottle of sparkling wine. The steak comes out, rare and quivering and we both laugh and hoe in, ravenously.

 

On our way to the Happy Marriage stall we notice one called Illicit Happiness and the temptation is too great — we buy some tickets and go into a dark room. It’s a bit of a shock to begin with but my fiancee doesn’t seem fazed at all. He says he’s been here before so I simply follow him. Once my eyes have adjusted to the darkness I see that hundreds of people fill the room. Most are dancing but some are actually making love. I watch one couple engage then disengage and then, almost immediately, engage with other people. I am in the midst of an orgy of sighs and giggles that is irresistible once my sense of surprise subsides. My fiancee and I begin to dance and then he flings me into the arms of a large man who quickly encompasses me in an embrace that leaves me swooning, then flings me back to my fiancee. My laughter rises as I am thrown into yet another man’s arms who whispers ‘Isn’t the anonymity great!’ and, once again I am ravished expertly. I realise, with a sense of elation, that my fiancee is also having a good time and I see his silhouette in the distance, naked and charming, his mouth joined to someone else’s. As I return to him again, he rips my clothes off and I begin to tango. It strikes me that I didn’t know how to tango before and that I am doing it extremely well, so well, in fact, that I am being watched by the crowd. Everyone is screaming with delight at my antics and as I begin to change my steps to a splendid gyration, men and women flock around my thighs and I experience an unspeakable series of pleasures that widen my smile even further.

 

Eventually my fiancee scoops me up into his arms and we collect our clothes at the exit door, get dressed, and re-enter the bright lights of the Happiness Shop. I mention to him that my sister would never approve and for a moment he looks at me with the tiniest bit of concern behind his big smile.

‘There is a special stall for those who need it and it’s right beside the Happy Marriage stall,’ he reassures me. ‘The Dissolving Unhappiness stall is a must, I feel. Yes, I’ve done it myself – several times actually,’ he adds, seeing my confusion. ‘One token will get you five sessions and all you do is simply hook up to a big computer and then list your five most pressing, previous unhappinesses and the doctor presses a few buttons and gets rid of them. Now what’s this about your sister?’

‘Oh, I don’t actually want to get rid of her!’ I laugh. ‘I just don’t want to feel so guilty.’

‘C’mon,’ he says, guffawing, ‘You definitely need some buttons pressed!’

 

I am fascinated by the Dissolving Unhappiness set-up; the computer is enormous and nearly fills the room. Its screen is divided into hundreds of screens and, as I watch, tiny clips of people arguing with — even hitting — each other are suddenly replaced by scenes of love and joyful reconciliations between those same people. Some of the tiny screens, however, simply flicker and then go blank.

‘What do the blank screens mean?’ I ask my beautiful blue fiancee.

‘Oh, that means the unhappiness has been totally eradicated, cancelled, gone and this includes the person who has made you unhappy. Isn’t it fantastic!’ he replies, then whispers, ‘I did it to my ex-wife.’

‘Can I choose, though? I mean my sister isn’t that bad. That’s the problem really; she’s not bad at all, she’s good. She’s such a good person it makes me feel bad. Could I put that on my list?’

‘Of course! Problem solved! Did you hear that, Doc?’ he says. I turn around and there is a moustached man behind me with one of those beatifying smiles you see in some paintings from the Renaissance. He takes my left hand and directs it to a “delete” key. ‘But what am I deleting?’ I ask, a bit alarmed but still with that warm and toasty, yellow ice-cream feeling.

‘You are deleting all previous unhappinesses. It’s as simple as that,’ he says, lovingly and presses my fingers to the key. The small screen with my sister’s anxious face on it disappears and I feel an enormous weight lift and the idea of a life of freedom insinuates itself into my psyche. And the happiness — well, the happiness is indescribable.

 

I give my fiancee a look of gratitude and we go to pick up our lovely, new children. They are clamouring happily for MacDonald’s Happy Meals and I smile at my fiancee who winks and whispers, ‘We can always trade them in later if they don’t work out.’

‘What about having one of our own?’ I ask, hesitantly, revealing a hidden wish, and he pats my hand reassuringly and says, ‘Of course, my darling, whatever you want. Beginning from scratch sometimes works quite well and to impregnate you would be an absolute pleasure.’ He says this with such feeling that I wonder if sarcasm is an allowable part of happiness or if, perhaps, I’m imagining it. But my longing to bear my own child surpasses my slight suspicions and I squeeze his hand with excitement. He returns the squeeze and says, ‘You know, my love, I feel that I am much older than you. Have you noticed?’

‘Oh, well, I suppose I have noticed but it doesn’t matter to me at all,’ I reply, smiling into his deep blue eyes.

‘I was wondering,’ he continues, ‘if, perhaps, in light of your desire to have our own child, I should visit the Youth Forever stall. I’ve heard that there’s a pill that regenerates youthfulness and apparently, if that doesn’t work, it is possible to freeze-dry whatever youth is left and incubate it for a later date. I’m not sure how this works exactly but it’s certainly tempting now that I’ve found you.’

‘Actually, I found you,’ I say, giggling, ‘but that does sound absolutely fascinating. What a good idea!’ His smile of relief touches me and I am reminded of Nicole and Tom.

‘Of course the pill would be available to you too, if you wanted,’ he says, stroking the little crease in my otherwise smooth forehead. I take his point.

‘Yes, of course,’ I say, smilingly, ‘Oh, I just love the way you think ahead.’

 

The Youth Forever stall has an extremely long queue and our tickets show that we are number 212 so we decide to do some shopping and come back. We buy each other a last little pre-nuptial gift. He buys me a small golden container of beauty and I buy him a twinkling packet of personality. We exchange our gifts tenderly and notice immediately the improvements. Then we return to pick up our Youth Forever tablets and, finally, our two, problem-free offspring who follow us, frolicking like happy little lambs. My heart swells with such a feeling of everything-being-exactly-right that, once again, I give a great leaping shout of joy.

 

Then, holding happy hands, my darling and I approach the back of the Happiness Shop. By now, the happiness celebrant is smiling and beckoning to us. He asks for the money – $50,000 — and I look at my fiancee expectantly. He shakes his head, grinning sheepishly and I dive into my fluorescent pockets, confidently, remembering the way I felt at the start — that this might not really be me. I dig deep, laughing at my own silliness, but there’s no money left. A flicker of alarm shows in the celebrant’s jolly face and I look around me at my happy family, my happy life, my happy future and, just as I’m about to doubt that any of this is real, a tall, dapper man in a beautiful, black Italian suit taps me on the shoulder.

‘Don’t worry,’ he says, laughing friendlily, ‘Come into my Happy Bank and I’ll give you an overdraft.’

… I emerge from my daydream and flick over to the next page of the newspaper, with the faint sound of laughter reverberating in my head.

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