The Compassion Jackets arrived at Bernard Nally’s door the same way they arrived at the door of every other global citizen (unless the citizen in question did not have a door due to homelessness or some such thing, in which case the Compassion Jackets were air dropped). Bernard summoned his wife, Agatha, and his children, Kent and Susan, to the front room. ‘Now everyone,’ said Bernard, ‘put on your Compassion Jackets so that we may better understand the pain of the world’. Donning the irremovable, one size fits all garments for the first and last time was the ultimate commitment. An anxious chord resounded in the psychic ether of Bernard’s home, as it did a great many homes.
As the Nallys fastened the final fasteners of their new jackets, they fell to the ground, writhing and shuddering in unison. They felt the cramps of every starving belly, re-enacted the spasms of every tortured body and suffered the symptoms of every sickness known. The announcements on television warned about the ‘impromptu flailing of limbs’ due to the waves of pain that would be coursing through the species. ‘Take extra care when carrying hot liquids, sharp objects or valuable items such as infants’, said the announcements. ‘This will take some getting used to’, grunted Bernard through gritted teeth and his whole family agreed.
Bernard tried to remember what else they said about the Compassion Jacket on television. ‘We must fashion a brace to straighten the teeth of humanity’. Despite the agony, Bernard knew it was for the best. No crooked toothed child likes to wear braces but wear braces they must, he considered. Besides, the temptation to remove the jacket was negated by the knowledge that any attempt to do so would activate a fatal booby trap. That was the deal the human race had struck with itself. There was no other option.
Considered ingenious and necessary, the Compassion Jacket (or C.J.) united the world in pain. If one person wearing the jacket experienced physical distress the discomfort was transmitted by their jacket to every other jacket in the world and, therefore, to every other living human. One person’s pain was everyone’s pain. To punch someone in the face was to punch yourself in the face and to permit someone to punch someone in the face was to permit someone to punch you in the face. The intention being to provide human beings with greater motivation to treat each other well and work together against all causes of suffering. Humanity now had the one nervous system. ‘Enforced empathy’ they called it.
After several hours of wailing and convulsing upon the living room carpet, the Nallys finally found themselves adjusting to the sensation. One by one, they got to their feet and agreed to go out and do some good in the world. ‘I’m going to help as many people as possible today,’ said Kent, ‘because this fucking jacket is killing me’. Objecting to her son’s choice language, Agatha gave him a clip on the ear, which the whole family and world at large felt. ‘We’ll have to invent soft cars so crashes don’t hurt anymore,’ said young Susan, convinced that she had just experienced the pain of a collision with an oncoming vehicle. The whole family agreed. The whole world would have agreed also, if they could have heard her.
As time passed so did the pain. The Compassion Jacket’s success was noticeable. All man made suffering had ceased and all diseases and ailments cured, or at least treated with large amounts of morphine. Even the soft cars came to be and all homes and furnishings were now constructed from inflatable substances in case anyone fell. Everyone should have been happy but, much to his surprise, Bernard was not. He was the victim of an unforeseen side effect to the end of all suffering. He was laid off. Bernard worked for one of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers and, in response to first hand experience of exactly what their weapons could do, the company had decided to divert their resources into toy production. There was no need for a ballistics expert in toy manufacture and so Bernard found himself obsolete in a time without conflict.
Bernard was finding it hard to pay the bills and any thoughts of Kent attending college had to be put on the back-burner. Agatha thought their son might qualify for a scholarship but Bernard was not prepared to entertain such a fantasy. ‘He’s spoiled and he’s thick and we’re paupers,’ Bernard snapped at his wife, ‘now get real’. The Nallys’ new inflatable home came at great expense and foreclosure loomed. The anguish this caused the Nallys was unfelt by the world at large due to the fact that only physical suffering was transmitted by the C.J.s. Bernard resented this a great deal. He ruminated upon it even more so. And then, it struck him. He would hold the world to ransom. Oh yes, they would feel his pain alright.
Bernard went to his work-shed and, smiling to himself, drove a small tack into his finger with a hammer. Just as Bernard knew they would, the population of the world asked ‘what was that?’ so he contacted the media and told them. ‘Unless my financial woes are alleviated,’ announced Bernard, ‘I will embark on a prolonged campaign of self-mutilation that will be experienced by every man woman and child alive today.’
Later that day, Bernard sat planning just what he would do to himself, reading over torture techniques employed by sadistic regimes of times past. Then there was a knock at the door. Bernard sighed, got to his feet and went to see who was there. Opening the door, Bernard was confronted by a uniformed officer who held a gun that fired a dart that lodged in Bernard’s neck and knocked him unconscious. Bernard was then dragged from his home and gently placed in the back of a soft van.
Awaking, some hours later, Bernard found himself in an excessively padded room. He was wearing an oddly cosy straightjacket over his Compassion Jacket. ‘What a dirty trick’ he muttered, realising there was no way he could harm himself. He was to be left there to rot. To rot in perfect physical comfort. Oh, the torture of it.
Bernard began to sob but no one else felt the tears roll down his cheeks because his tears were the product of mental anguish as opposed to a tumour or a kick in the ribs or a fall onto concrete. As Bernard sobbed his mind darted to and fro, attempting to find a way out of his dire predicament. Then, like a bolt from the blue, the means of his liberation struck him and his weeping turned to laughter. He had one hand left to play and, oh, what a hand. He would bite his lip. He would bite hard into his lower lip and show the bastards. If a man wants to suffer he will suffer and no one can stop him. Bernard deeply inhaled and started to get stuck in. Then, nothing. Just a kind of sucking. A feeble slurping. They had removed his teeth. They had taken out Bernard’s teeth while he was unconscious. They had foreseen this act and removed the man’s teeth. Bernard croaked, shocked. Then he screamed. He sobbed and wailed and he banged his head against the lovely bouncy wall of his lovely bouncy cell. Boing! Boing! Boing!