An excerpt from a new story by Michael Conley, published in the first Splice anthology
The website sells clothes for big lads. The best-selling item on the site is the button-down plaid shirt, which comes in a variety of colours and makes the big lads look and feel like lumberjacks, even though in this economy it’s a statistical improbability that any of them are lumberjacks. Other popular items include the brown work boots and the brown fur-collared aviator jacket.
Big lads, according to market research, enjoy rugby, action movies, and barbecues. The statistically probable likes and dislikes of big lads have been reflected in previous online and print advertising. For this, the first televised campaign, some real-life big lads have been chosen to sit together on burgundy Chesterfield sofas and will be filmed engaging in light-hearted small talk about big lad interests, while modelling the newest ranges. It’s been decided that four is the optimal number, two big lads per Chesterfield.
All four are white, even though the casting call did emphasise the company’s commitment to diversity. All four also have beards. Aside from this, each big lad is big in his own way. Big Lad #1, for example, is easily the biggest: both tall and wide. Too big, really, but only slightly, and in a pleasing way, like when you walk into a room and there’s a Great Dane in there unexpectedly, and, confused for a second, you mutter to yourself: what’s that little horse doing in here? Big Lad #2 is not tall, and his arms are actually quite short, but he’s large around the chest and walks like a hardback dictionary. His head is shaved and he has three visible folds in the back of his neck. Big Lad #3 looks older than the others: he could play a latter-day Henry VIII; not in a proper film, but maybe in a reconstruction for a low-budget BBC4 history programme, laughing heartily at the head of a table and eating a normal-sized turkey leg that looks, in his hand, like a much smaller turkey leg. Big Lad #4 is the youngest, his shoulder-length brown hair tucked behind his huge ears. He’s the only one in shorts, and his almost bare legs are unexpectedly shiny and hairless. He looks as though he could peel a grapefruit with one hand.
The objective is to capture four or five different conversations of around fifteen seconds each, which will then be broadcast on a rotating basis. The conversations will be triggered through prompt questions which include “Which sportsman would you like to be, if you could be a sportsman?”, “What superpower do you most wish you could have?” and “What are your top three barbecue seasonings?” The topics of conversation have been selected specifically to ensure the big lads don’t seem like weirdos.
There are a couple of false starts. In response to the first question, “Do you like cliffhangers in movies?”, Big Lad #1, perched on the arm of the Chesterfield on the left, says, Well, the cliffhanger has to be a good one. If it’s a good one, then yeah, I love them, but if it’s just a boring one, no, not for me. He folds his arms and leans back slightly, looking directly into camera. His smile, which starts off as genuine, freezes after a couple of seconds. The other three big lads nod in agreement, and there is a pause before they all turn to look off-camera at the director.
“Okay, cut,” the director says. “That’s grand, lads, cheers.” She gives them the thumbs up, then carefully tightens her ponytail and maintains a neutral expression. “For the next one, could we try and keep the conversation going a bit?” The big lads nod again. “And just, like, while we’re rolling, could you try not to look at me or into the camera? Just look at each other, like you’re just at a party or round each other’s house or something? That okay?”
Big Lad #3 stands up from the Chesterfield on the right and stretches, yawns, cracks his knuckles. Then he sits back down. All right, he says. Ready.
The second question is the superpower one. Big Lad #2 leans forward and steeples his fingers under his chin.
Super strength, he offers.
You already look pretty strong, says Big Lad #1.
Big Lad #2 blushes. Thanks, man, he says.You know what mine would be? says Big Lad #4, who hasn’t spoken much at all yet, even in the Green Room. The other three look at him expectantly. Thus far, there has been none of the kind of alpha-male jostling that one might have expected from this situation. Nobody has mentioned, for example, Big Lad #4’s shiny legs. The big lads are quiet and respectful: in one another, each one seems to see himself, and all other big lads, reflected gloriously.
Read ‘Big Lads’ in full in the first Splice anthology, which is available to order now.