Down With the Sickness

I’ve wondered why zombie movies and shows are so popular. They certainly are popular so there has to be a reason.

I wondered before what is the subtext to these movies and shows – or to zombies themselves? Why do we like them?

I thought that, perhaps, the popularity was in the childhood game of cops and robbers: basically (but with zombies) we get to ride about killing bad guys: we get to act like heroes, saviours and soldiers all in one go. It’s an ego trip, in other words.

I now think the truth might be much darker than that.

I watched the final scene of episode five of Fear the Walking Dead, where Ruben Blades is looking at the chained double-doors, and immediately the image of John Hurt, lying on the table in Alien (1979) came to mind.

It was the way the doors were bulging and looked like they were stretching which made me think of that famous scene.

Then my thoughts were of how a woman’s belly can look when a baby is stretching.

It was pretty obvious that behind those doors, something was trying to get out, and I’m sure that during the season finale, all those walkers will escape (be born) into the action of the episode – and that’s what we’re all now waiting for.

Back in the 1960s, Stanley Milgram conducted his famous experiments into obedience to authority and discovered something depressing about the nature of the human: we will easily harm, torture or even kill another person if instructed to do so by ‘authority’ figures. These findings were unwelcome by many; for instance because Milgram showed the ‘Nuremberg Defence’ might actually be a defence – or a solid reason, at any rate – for the facilitating of mass murder by who in many cases were civil servants, not ideological Nazis.

It’s easier (and more agreeable) to conclude the ‘I was only following orders’ defence is a weak excuse used by evil people than it is to accept that humans might have something savage in their natures, or, more bluntly, that a tendency to cruelty and sadism is the default position. It doesn’t suit our geocentric idea of ourselves as the ultra-evolved master-species to be told how fucking base we actually are.

What we desire, on unconscious levels of awareness, can manifest itself in our dreams and sometimes our waking fantasies; so it makes sense that we might be attracted to some external stimulant – be it a song, movie or television show – which reminds us of those instinctive desires in some way. As Huxley states in Heaven and Hell:

Most dreams are concerned with the dreamer’s private wishes and instinctive urges, and with the conflicts which arise when these wishes and urges are thwarted by a disapproving conscience or a fear of public opinion.

Could it be that zombies are not so different from what the human is once you take away the controlling elements of language and society? And shows such as The Walking Dead are popular because they allow a psychic vibration to flow back to our savage selves?

More bluntly:

Zombies are popular because an unconscious recognition happens between what we see and our animalistic true natures.

More bluntly still:

Zombies remind us of ourselves: of the part of our evolved natures that’s waiting to break out from behind our civilised masks just as soon as society falls.

Got a problem with that?

Read your Stanley Milgram.

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Fear The Walking Dead….5

So there’s one episode left in season one and none of this show has been written as if the producers ever thought they’d only get commissioned for one season. Season one is here to tee-up season two where we’ll get sixteen episodes and whatever they’ve got planned can start properly.

Can we say that season one has started properly? Do we want another Walking Dead where there’s a lot of walking through the woods and lots of walking along long roads, or do we want the characters to be based in one place, which is reasonably safe, and create the drama from the interactions between survivors? But if that’s what we get, are the zombies going to be a secondary consideration?

There’s a lot to tie-up in the season finale: are the two kids going to get in on? (One minute she’s giving Travis’s kid a broken nose, the next they’re playing dress up.) Who the hell is the charismatic salesman-preacher type guy in the holding pen in the ‘hospital’ – and what is the ‘move’ he’s planning? Some sort of break out is my guess, but why? What’s going on in the place the soldiers take the so-called patients, and why does the place they’re in resemble one of those holding cages in the police precincts from the cop shows? Where is the veil dropped with the military? Once they get you out of the public eye or somewhere within the facility? The sudden shift between episode three to four – where the military turned from the good guys to a sinister enemy was a bit sudden and left things feeling a bit too predictable.

Perhaps it was necessary to set them up as bad guys because, thanks to a little torture by Sweeney Todd, we know the military is planning to get the hell outta Dodge and, no doubt, leave the residents to the walkers. But what are they going to do – leave and knock the fences down out of spite? (And that’s after knocking off the ‘patients’ in the facility?)

I’m expecting revolts to happen – in the facility and back in suburbia – with both parties from each meeting up towards the end with huge sighs of relief as the screams start…

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A Snail on the Moon

Time-loop paradox stories are the worst type of science-fiction, and that’s because the best type of science fiction is hard science fiction – and you can’t get softer than a time-loop paradox.

Actually, Triangle (2009) is not awful, but it is only redeemed at the end when we realise Melissa George’s character has died. This makes her predicament quite unpleasant to think about, and Stephen King said his own idea of Hell is repetition – and it’s easy to see his point.

Predestination (2014) is a film which deserves to be tied to a post and shot. (Or blown out the nearest airlock.)

What could be the motivation of the Spierig brothers to adapt such a stupid story?

The point of good science fiction is to open the minds of the readers and viewers to our insignificance in the universe: only when we have a grasp of our smallness can we begin to appreciate the cosmos. This means more than just being told we’re small and accepting it’s true, it means feeling small. The only thing of mine which opened when I watched Predestination was my mouth when I yawned.

The start-point for fiction is the what-if question. That’s a good place to start, but the what if should be something possible, if only theoretically.  Which is going to lead to a better story: a what if which might happen, or a what if which could never happen?

That’s Predestination’s problem.

Acknowledging the original short story from the 50s, it’s a sort of The Adjustment Bureau meets The Man Who Folded Himself meets Coherence type movie.

So, yes, if a person could travel back in time they could fuck about with themselves when they were younger, and end up becoming their own parents and children and lord knows who else. It’s all really interesting…but it’s impossible. And ‘impossible’ is the first thing decent science fiction needs to avoid.

Would anyone care about a story about Sammy the snail, who, after overcoming significant personal problems, realised his dream of becoming an astronaut and visiting the moon?

Thought not.

I think sometimes fiction is pointless. I never thought I’d say that: I always thought I would grant to the fiction writer any amount of licence, but impossible science fiction seems to me to be a crime against fiction. Calling it fantasy sci-fi won’t wash because you make the word science absurd.

Yes – I’m being harsh.

A Sword in the Hand

…satisfy your blood lust, and tell yourself you were good to the victim because blood atonement remitted the sin. You gave the fellow a chance to get to the hereafter, after all. This business of living for eternity certainly contributed to capital punishment, brutality and war.

– Norman Mailer

The Executioner’s Song

It is easy to make arguments from emotion, that should be remembered; but to begin, a person should decide which side they are on, and this is the question they should answer to decide their side.

Do you think it is better to have societal norms, rules and laws based on reason, logic and utility, with all three anchored to the assumption that excessive power over the citizen by the state is axiomatically bad, or do you think what a just society needs to function, and function at its best, are laws and practices which are based on the human animal’s base nature, and which in turn, therefore, allow the state to have the ultimate power over the citizen?

Or, to put the same point another way, do you prefer liberty or security?

To condense the two positions on capital punishment down to a choice between two words is not to attempt a simplification of the topic; it’s just to state that such a reduction can be done. When an argument is followed right to its bedrock, there’s usually not much more than a word or short phrase at the bottom. The entire Christian position can be reduced to Idealist, for instance, and that is what is waiting for the supporter of capital punishment; or, to give the death penalty its real name: Religious Human Sacrifice.

Liberty and Security are like the two ends of the playground see-saw, when one is up, the other is always down. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. To say your preference is for equal weights of both is to reveal you don’t care much, or know much, about human nature – or the nature of the human.

There are examples from history and literature which suggest that humans, when in possession of power, position and authority over other humans, sometimes use it in a way which doesn’t always benefit the majority. There are many examples from history and literature of the State making and passing laws which benefit and protect it, not the citizen.

(That the State is made up of humans makes this a fascinating thing to consider. Why would a single person, or a small group of persons, make decisions which benefit the whole state, even while they know that under certain circumstances, they could suffer under the very rules or legislation they are proposing? Perhaps these drops of lubricant in the machine are truly selfless, or perhaps bureaucracy has a way of bringing out the inner sadist from a person?)

This might not worry the person who values security over liberty, because such a person’s mind has not enough live wires to be worried to begin with. I have no compunction in smearing or insulting the supporter of capital punishment. I actually enjoy doing so because their position is a contemptible one.

The supporter of capital punishment is the enemy of liberty.

There’s a scene I want you to create in your mind and it will be mentioned later. I want you to imagine you are walking back to your car, and you take a shortcut through an alley. In that alley you find the body of a child. The child has, obviously, met a violent end: the head is bashed and smashed; there are bits of blood, skull and brain splattered on the walls. Lying next to the body is a hammer with bloody fingerprints on the handle, and you see bloody footprints leading away from the scene.

Let’s say the child is a ten year old girl.

Do you think any wrong has been done to the little girl? You think yes? I’d guess most people would.

Now here’s the thing: anyone who thinks that the little girl has had wrong done to her should not support capital punishment.

Now I know that might sound odd. It seems obvious that the person who bashed her head in deserves to swing, but I’m afraid things are not as simple as they seem, and the arguments for and against capital punishment are not as simple as the simple feel they are.

Leave that scenario in the back of your mind while we flash-forward in hypothetical time and create another scenario.

You’re watching the evening news and the story comes on about the person accused of killing that child. It’s the story that’s been all over the news recently. The cameras have captured the following: the convicted is making his way to court for sentencing, and a crowd has gathered, waiting just for this moment. They cannot put hands the guilty, and lucky for him, because he is locked safely in the armoured police-van which drives slowly through that crowd.

The persons gathered shout and scream at the van, some throw things, some spit at it and some rock it in an attempt to tip it over, before the officers pull the mob from the vehicle and it drives through.

Then we cut to a shot from on high, where the handcuffed child-killer is lead from the rear of the van into the building. Next we’ll be shown an artist’s colour-pencil sketch of the beast in the dock, and we’ll be told he spoke only to confirm his name, and some other details, and we’ll be told what the judge had to say as he passed sentence. Usually at this point we cut to the reporter whose voice has been heard over the pictures: she will be standing outside the court, microphone in hand, having a chat with the news presenter in the studio.

Whatever is said the by reporter or the presenter, the behaviour of the crowd won’t be condemned. If it’s mentioned at all it will be to offer the banal observation that feelings were ‘running high.’

I wonder what number of us, watching such a thing in our homes, secretly wishes the mob could gain access to the vehicle, and get at the killer? And I wonder what might happen if such a thing occurred?

Perhaps one of the mob would drive the vehicle to waste ground, where the guilty could be taken to task, and some collective need in the mob could be satisfied while the helicopter cameras captured the celebration in high definition?

What is that need or urge which drives the mob to picket the court, waiting for the guilty? What motivates the van rocking mob? What do they want?

Their behaviour could be described as odd, possibly stupid, because they know their missiles – their eggs and rocks – won’t penetrate the armoured vehicle, they will never get at the man inside. One can’t help but wonder why they bother.

The explanation needs to be that the spitting and throwing things, and trying to tip the van over, are not considered actions but a spontaneous expression of rage. That would make some sense. But consider the behaviour of the crowd before the police van shows up. The crowd is still a crowd at this point, not yet a mob, and we’re meant to believe they turned feral at the site of a vehicle they could never gain access to? What next, try to tip the building over because the guilty is in there?

No, the mob’s behaviour upon the arrival of the police van is a considered action, certainly not ‘spontaneous’ and the reporter is right in a sense, feelings are running high. Years ago, there might be some point in forming a mob and going after a suspect, flaming torches in one hand, bible in the other, while others in the mob ran with dogs straining at the lead. That made some sense because there was a chance they could catch the suspect and lynch him. The mob around the police van can’t do that – they know they can’t, therefore their behaviour is posturing and an expression of vanity.

The mob believe that they are safe to show this side of human nature, not only to each other but to the cameras, because the crime, the murder of the child, is vile enough that the normal standards of conduct don’t apply, and they have numbers on their side if you disagree. The options with such a running mob are to join in or step aside; trying to reason with them is a waste of time, trying to stop them is dangerous.

That humans can be violent when emotional is not interesting, but it is interesting to consider the lynch-mob mentality, and to conclude that it takes not so much to bring that part of the character of the human animal to the surface.

The argument about capital punishment usually begins with the supporter arguing for deterrence and the opposer claiming execution of the innocent is the unanswerable position. Both are the first arguments either side deploys. When my side of the house – the side which believes in liberty over security – mentions the innocent it’s common for the supporter to play the ‘accident’ card.

‘Yes,’ they say, ‘an innocent person executed is a terrible thing, but terrible things happen all the time, should we reject or abolish everything which causes accidental deaths? We’d have to abolish cars and planes and all sorts of things.’

But of course such a person is being slippery. They are suggesting an accidental death is equivalent to a deliberate death, which it isn’t and they’re missing the point into the bargain.

No person sacrificed by the State is killed by accident. No prisoner ever walked along their landing, tripped, fell into a noose and got hanged.

Every execution is a deliberate act.

The argument about an innocent person executed is airtight; it cannot be met by anything from the other side. In addition there is no answer to the charge that, by executing the innocent, you have by default freed the guilty – so it’s a double outrage.

But arguments from ‘body-count’ miss the point, too. The enlightened side of the house reject the idea of capital punishment; reject the idea that the state can have this power over the citizen; and contend that, when the capital punishment option is retained, the state has too much power over the citizen by definition, and the relationship between the two is ultimately totalitarian in practice and religious in theory (which just means totalitarian in theory, too.)

Often the supporter will cling to the idea of deterrence and not be swayed by logic. In a debate, formal discussion or even just a conversation, there are some things a person should not do. They should not claim something is true when they don’t know it is, and they should not claim something is true if they can’t know. This is the problem with deterrence. The only thing which can be known is that capital punishment is not 100% effective as a deterrent. There’s no way to calculate what number of persons have been deterred from doing something. It is not known if capital punishment is a deterrent: its supporters just claim it is because they think it’s a safe claim. But how can a claim for something be safe when those supporters can’t know if it’s true?

If state-backed religious human sacrifice was an effective deterrent then this suggest that there wouldn’t be murders within jurisdictions which had human sacrifice as the punishment for a qualifying crime. But there are plenty of murders within jurisdictions such as these and always have been. This suggests human sacrifice is not a deterrent, and it’s probably not because most murders are not carried out in ice-man assassins. The majority of murders are emotional acts driven by money and sex and jealousy and other base drivers.

There are many positions taken by those who support religious human sacrifice. They talk about justice for the victim without considering that the victim can’t receive justice because the victim is dead and can’t receive anything. They then change their minds and claim and they want justice for the family of the victim. Bereavement requires justice, but not when the killer’s family are bereaved. For some reason they don’t count.

They argue that the cost of keeping murderers locked up is too high and executing them saves the tax-payer money. This argument is one of my favourites. It is simultaneously the stupidest and most dishonest argument:

Imagine two cells next to each other. In one is a murderer, serving twenty years, in the other is a non-murderer serving twenty years. Now consider the argument is supposed to be about the saving the tax payer money. Do I need to explain further?

Another stupid argument, one which leads to hilarious (and unintended) consequences for the death penalty supporter, is the argument from mercy. This argument claims that because decades in prison are a cruel, sadistic and barbaric punishment, the death penalty is justified because it is kinder to the murderer.

This is an absurd argument just on the surface of it. It leaves the supporter of human sacrifice arguing for punishment and mercy at the same time. But things get worse. There is a way to check if the person who makes this ‘argument’ actually means it. They should be asked if they would extend this ‘mercy’ to the terminally ill. Many Christians and Conservatives reject the idea of ‘mercy killing.’

Death is either a mercy or a punishment to be inflicted: if the former, then why don’t the terminally ill qualify? If the latter, then how can it be merciful to begin with?

If the supporter claims that, yes, the terminally do qualify, are they not punishing the terminally ill if death is a punishment?

This nonsense argument is taken by supporters of human sacrifice because they are attempting to hide their real views under the veneer of intellectual compassion. They make themselves look extraordinarily stupid when they do this. This is what happens when paw-licking vanity and self-denial is valued more than intellectual honesty.

For most, the real motivation for their support of human sacrifice is no more than an emotional jerk of the knee. They imagine how they would feel if a person killed a member of their family. Then, feeling these unpleasant feelings, argue that human sacrifice is acceptable.

There are some, however, who support religious human sacrifice and who actually understand what they are talking about. I’ll mention these persons later.

For the moment I’ll just put the basic argument against the death penalty which seems to me to be quite hard to refute.

The argument goes like this:

Capital punishment is always wrong because we can never know if the victim’s life was of sufficient value to justify executing the killer.

It cannot be denied that value judgements underpin the crime / punishment question. If a person is convicted of stealing a packet of biscuits from a shop they would not be given the death penalty for this. (Not in our European culture, that is.)

That punishment wouldn’t ‘fit’ the crime. The value judgements we make about fitting punishments are mysterious in their origin, but we certainly make them.

(It doesn’t matter that Islamic State will execute you for being homosexual. A lack of proportion doesn’t mean a value judgement hasn’t been made.)

But staying within our enlightened culture, we tend only to hear arguments for capital punishment for the crime of murder. I’ve never heard even the most reactionary, the most crusty and dusty conservative, argue for capital punishment for anything other than murder. And, curiously, that is a problem for their argument. (Islamic State doesn’t have the following problem because they’d kill you for pretty much anything.)

When a person argues the death penalty should be imposed only for the crime of murder, they instantly grant that human life has a unique value or worth. Human life, on their account, has a special status and the only way justice ‘can be done’ is to take from the killer what they took from their victim.

(The meme ‘a life for a life’ is popular, but the memes, ‘a rape for a rape,’ and ‘a punch in the face for a punch in the face’ haven’t caught on quite as well.)

Smarter supporters of human sacrifice will try to claim that value judgements have nothing to do with the calibration between crime and punishment, and how we decide that x deserves y or it doesn’t. I understand why the smarter supporters will try to avoid the concession that value judgements are what we use, because immediately they know that value judgements are subjective: there’s no over-arching objective standard we can all agree on. And it’s that fact which underpins my argument: how do we know the victim lost anything of sufficient worth to justify executing their killer?

Who says?

This is where the dead little girl in the alley comes in.

If you think value judgements have nothing to do with deciding what’s right or wrong, you are left with the conclusion that nothing ‘wrong’ has been done to the little girl in the alley. Until a trial has happened and evidence has been heard; until a jury has reached a verdict and ‘justice has been done’ the girl in the alley, to you, is no more than rearranged organic material.

So value judgments can’t be denied (or avoided) and it’s that underpinning subjectivity which makes capital punishment wrong because – and allow me to repeat it – who says the killer lost anything of sufficient worth to justify executing their killer?

Who says?

There’s more to the opposition to religious human sacrifice than the inescapable impossibility of justifying it.

Which supporter of human sacrifice doesn’t want to punish murderers?

Those who argue in favour of capital punishment want murderers to be punished (except the ‘mercy merchants,’ that is.) It is odd, then, that they argue for the thing which makes punishment impossible: death.

A dead person cannot receive punishment for the same reason a dead person cannot receive justice. They are dead. They cannot receive anything.

The supporter, without realising it, is arguing for the incarcerated murderer’s punishment to come to an end. Why they do this I don’t know.

There is no escape for the supporter of human sacrifice by saying that, they know the dead person can’t receive punishment, that’s not the point, (and who ever said it was!) they want the murderer to feel the fear and stress as their execution date approaches, and then the fear and stress on the day itself and so on. This makes some sense – but not much. If that’s the case then the murderer need only be subjected to mock-execution – but would the supporter of capital punishment want that?

I think not.

Once this point has been made then the supporter should see what they really are arguing for is a form of torture where the victim suffers not the ‘death penalty’ but the ‘punishment penalty’ where the victim is punished to death.

You can make a person dead by punishing them, but you cannot punish them after making them dead.

As I said, there are persons who understand what they are arguing for: they understand that the arguments in favour of religious human sacrifice require a belief in the afterlife to make even the slightest sense – and they really require a belief in God. As someone once said, this business of living for eternity contributes to capital punishment.

What’s odd is that, on atheism, a belief in God is required for the arguments in favour of religious human sacrifice to make sense, but that means, to make sense to an atheist.

There’s a dizzying, circular paradox at the heart of the human sacrifice question.

If the person making the case for human sacrifice believes in God then it’s them who should be the first to argue against capital punishment.

Assuming a Christian worldview for the sake of argument: what happens to the soul of the murder victim? Where does it go?

Let’s say the victim is the little girl in the alley.

Someone as innocent as a little ten year old girl is, on the Christian worldview, going to spend eternity with God in heaven.

Let’s put it another way: on that Christian worldview, by murdering her, the killer has delivered his victim to the greatest possible bliss imaginable.

And for this he should be punished?

It’s too easy to support capital punishment. When something is so easy to support a person should become immediately suspicious and begin questioning their motives, and asking questions about the motivations of others.

It’s only when we begin to question our beliefs, and the motivations we have for them, does the conversation become interesting.

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Lessons for Jessica

Lessons for Jessica

Three Scenes

Penny

Mikey

Male Nurse

Female Nurse

A private room in what might be a hospital.

Far right is a bed with a patient: the patient’s face is obscured.

Next to the bed is a window, slightly open.

There is a table, centre, with chairs.

Far left is the door into the room. The corridor behind the door is lit in pale-pink.

SCENE 1

 

MIKEY is sat at one of the chairs, tapping and swiping his mobile phone screen.

The FEMALE NURSE fusses about the bed.

Then she turns to leave.

MIKEY: All okay?

The nurse ignores him and walks out.

Moments later, PENNY enters carrying a shopping bag and hand bag.

PENNY: (surprised) How did you get here?

MIKEY: Alright. Got here quite early.

She sits down. Pulls out apples and bananas and magazines from the shopping bag.

PENNY: How’s everything?

MIKEY: The nurse wouldn’t speak to me.

PENNY: (amused) Really? Why’s that?

MIKEY: (puts phone away) No idea.

PENNY: He’s not the best talker. You’ve probably upset him somehow.

MIKEY: I was just sat here, minding my own business. I never said a word.

PENNY: Well…you probably said something to annoy him.

She takes the fruit and magazines and places them on the bed at the patient’s feet.

I’ll sort these in a bit.

She leans in to look at the patient, putting her hand on the forehead.

MIKEY: There’s no change. There never is.

PENNY: You never know. I’ll ask the nurse when he comes back.

MIKEY: Good luck with that.

PENNY: He’ll talk to me.

She sits back down.

MIKEY: She. The nurse is a woman.

She glares at him.

PENNY: You know what I meant. You seen the doctor?

MIKEY: No. Not a peep.

PENNY: You’re not much use. You’ve got to communicate. Ask questions. That’s your problem.

MIKEY: He hasn’t been in yet. Not since I’ve been up. When he comes in, I’ll communicate.

Smiles at her.

I promise.

PENNY: (smiles back) Have you been out in the corridor and asked?

MIKEY: I told you, I haven’t seen him.

PENNY: So you’ve failed to find him?

MIKEY: No. I haven’t failed to find him because I haven’t tried to find him. He’ll be here when he’s here. What’s the hurry?

PENNY: I’m not in a hurry. Did I say that? Why do you do that? I didn’t say that. It might have been an idea for you to ask a few questions while you were here, that’s all.

Mikey rubs his face, scratches his head, and gets up and wanders over to the bed. Looks at the patient.

MIKEY: (turns to Penny) I told you there’s no change. There never is. Nothing’s happening. If there’s some change we’ll see the doctor. I’m sure he’ll get to one of us.

Penny takes her phone from her bag and starts swiping / tapping the screen.

You got his mobile number?

PENNY: Whose?

MIKEY: The doctor’s

PENNY: No I haven’t.

MIKEY: Oh. I thought you were going to ring him.

PENNY: How could I do that when I don’t have his number?

Pause

And why would I ring him anyway? We’re where we are. I could just go and ask him.

MIKEY: I don’t know. I just assumed you had his number. It’d make sense. Easy contact.

PENNY: Easy contact?

MIKEY: (innocently) What?

There’s SILENCE as Mikey looks again at the patient and Penny taps away at her phone. Mikey sits back down.

PENNY: Is your mother coming?

MIKEY: Is what?

PENNY: Is your mother coming?

MIKEY: I’ve no idea. Why?

PENNY: No reason. I assumed she’d be coming by now.

MIKEY: She’s come plenty of times.

PENNY: She’s come? I’ve not seen her.

MIKEY: Plenty of times. I’ve seen her.

PENNY: I’m just saying I haven’t seen her. You think she’s coming?

MIKEY: I don’t know. Maybe. Why?

PENNY: I told you. No reason.

MIKEY: She has been in plenty of times. I told you I’ve seen her.

Mikey shakes his head and smirks – annoyed.

Okay, what? I’ll play along.

Penny: (shrugs) What? What? I haven’t seen her for a while, that’s all.

MIKEY: She’ll text me if she’s coming.

PENNY: If she’s coming?

MIKEY: When she’s coming in.

PENNY: It’s been a while, that’s all. I’ve missed Joan. The nights out and all that. You seen her lately?

MIKEY: I told you I’ve seen her here.

PENNY: No, I mean have you seen her properly? Has she got a new bloke on the go?

MIKEY: Not that I know of, no.

PENNY: She probably has, you just haven’t met him.

Pause.

I’m not being funny, but come on. You have to admit it: since they got divorced she doesn’t let the grass grow. Keeps everything nice and trim. I thought she’d still be with that Gerald.

MIKEY: Gerald’s been off the scene for a few weeks. I’m sure she meant to tell you. Her letter probably got lost in the post.

Penny closes her phone, takes a huge breath – sighs heavily.

PENNY: I saw your mate the other day, the driving instructor. I was trying to sort out some lessons for Jessica. He’s left his wife, he said. Said she found text messages from a girl he’s been teaching and confronted him. He admitted it. Right there and then. Right out in the open. Told her straight to her face what he’d been up to. Couldn’t believe it. Men must have got away with murder years ago. No there’s so many ways to get caught out.

MIKEY: Listen to yourself. Sorting out lessons for Jessica? You don’t even know the girl. It’s not even five weeks. A perfect little family already? Don’t tell me you tried to get a discount? You must have done. Why go there otherwise.

PENNY: He said he was all booked up and couldn’t accommodate. He gave me the number of a mate of his, some bloke.

MIKEY: Stephen.

PENNY: That’s the one. I’ll ring him later. He’ll be easy to contact.

MIKEY: Why doesn’t he ring him, it’s his daughter. And why are you asking favours from my friends? We have to respect boundries, apparently. That speech about having to knock now? It’s different now and all that?

Pause.

PENNY: You’re still a child, then?

MIKEY: There you go. You’re so interested in having a dig you don’t even know how insulting what you just said is. That takes some doing. I’m not having a go. No, no, I’m not having a pop. All you wanted to do with that comment was have a dig. What was the insulting word?

PENNY: (irritated) What?

MIKEY: Which bit was the insult?

PENNY: None of it. It’s a fact. You are a bloody child.

MIKEY: See? Child. You think that was the dig. That might be how you meant it but that’s not the insulting bit.

PENNY: Go on then. I’ll play along.

MIKEY: Still.

PENNY: Still. Still a child?

MIKEY: Yeah, still. Still a child.

Pause.

Where have I been? Have I just spent two years on Jupiter? Now I’m back and you realise I’m still a child?

PENNY: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

MIKEY: I’m still a child? Still. Still? Christ, it’s talking to a stillborn child. You really don’t get it. You actually don’t understand. You’re still a…whatever? You’re still a…whatever it happens to be? The word still implies time, dear. Time. So tell me, how much time has there actually been?

PENNY: Right, and?

MIKEY: Good. See, that’s how I know you, because you tell me things by accident. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but in your head it was knocked down and rebuilt in one bloody afternoon. In comes the new, and it’s perfectly formed already. All that time’s past, and you’ve realised I’m still a child. How romantic. No, no, don’t look like that, I’m serious. Think about it from his point of view. What is he, deaf? Lessons for Jessica. You should listen to yourself.

Silence.

PENNY: More romantic than you.

MIKEY: You know what the opposite to a romantic is?

PENNY: I’m sure you’re going to tell me.

MIKEY: A realist.

PENNY: Really? What’s the opposite to romantic?

MIKEY: The word you’re looking for is romanticism. Versus realism.

PENNY: Whatever.

Penny gets up and walks toward the door.

MIKEY: Where you going?

PENNY: Getting a coffee.

MIKEY: Oh, right. Would you –

Penny slams the door behind her.

Get me one, too?

Mikey deflates, sags.

Brilliant.

A MALE NURSE enters and goes to the patient and starts fussing about, taking temperature, fluffing pillows.

All okay?

NURSE: Everything’s stable. That’s always the main thing. I’m sure things’ll be looking up soon.

MIKEY: That’s the main thing.

NURSE: Has the doctor been in?

MIKEY: Not seen him.

NURSE: I’ll ask the doctor to pop in and have a word.

MIKEY: Okay.

NURSE: The doctor’ll need to have a quick word anyway. About blood.

MIKEY: The blood?

NURSE: The blood.

MIKEY: The blood. Okay.

NURSE: The blood. I’ll let the doctor talk to you. There’s a blood question.

MIKEY: Right. There’s a blood question.

NURSE: There is a blood question. I’ll let the doctor talk to you.

The nurse turns back to the bed and picks up the fruit Penny put there.

I’ll get rid of these for you. Everything’s almost rotten.

The nurse exits, closing the door quietly behind him.

Lights fade slowly to black.

SCENE 2. MINUTES LATER.

Mikey sits flicking through a magazine.

Penny enters carrying coffee.

MIKEY: Nurse came in while you were out.

Penny ignores him.

We had a quick chat.

Penny walks over to the bed, looks at the patient, then moves to the window.

So now you’re not interested. I’m trying to communicate.

PENNY: And she said what?

MIKEY: Seemed quite pleased. All’s fine, no problems. Everything’s as it should be.

Penny motions to the bed.

PENNY: How can everything be as it should? Where are we?

MIKEY: Under the circumstances everything’s fine.

PENNY: (smiles) It’s the circumstances which suggest things are not fine. The circumstances are how we know things are far from fine.

She takes a sip of her coffee and grimaces.

Euugh!!

She spits the coffee out and wipes her mouth with her hand, then taps the corners of her mouth with a finger tip.

Gross!

Mikey chuckles.

Penny turns to him quickly, catching him chuckling.

Mikey: (shrugs) What?

She leaves the coffee on the window sill and sits down near Mikey.

Pause.

Penny: How did you get here?

MIKEY: What?

PENNY: How did you get here? I asked you earlier but you didn’t say. How did you get here?

MIKEY (uncomfortable) Well we both know I didn’t drive here, so what’s the point in asking?

PENNY: No reason. I’m just asking.

Pause.

Did you get the bus?

MIKEY: (shifts in his seat) Yeah, everything’s a joke to you.

PENNY: (shrugs) What? I’m just asking. Did you get the bus?

MIKEY: I walked.

PENNY: Okay, you walked. I was only asking.

Pause.

So you didn’t get the bus?

MIKEY: You know what, you’re an idiot.

PENNY: (laughing) What? I was only asking.

MIKEY: Whatever.

PENNY: Let me get this straight..

MIKEY: For god’s sake!

PENNY: (amused) No, listen, I just want to get it right. You tell me if I get anything wrong, right?

Mikey shifts in his seat.

Okay. So it’s early and you’re going to work. It’s early because you’re on an early, and you get to the bus stop and that bitch with the fat arse isn’t there. Can’t get her fat fucking arse out of bed. So you get there and the bus comes, and everything’s normal. Okay, fine. So you get on the bus and go to the rear. You always go straight for the rear, and you never mess about upstairs, you always stay downstairs. You’ve got a thing for the exhaust fumes or something. So you’re in your little hole and the heat from the engine makes you feel sleepy after a while. To be fair you are tired because you got up early because you’re on an early, so as you go, you start to feel tired. So you carry on along for a bit and other people get on, but you’re not really paying attention. It’s the rhythm of the whole – sorry, it’s the whole rhythm, that’s it – which puts you out and at some point you fall asleep. Fine. So you’re asleep. Then something happens. What was it? Oh, that’s it. You hit a bump in the road, or there’s a rough patch or something, and it wakes you up. You open your eyes and see all the passengers on the bus are all old people, or most of them are. Skin like wet tissue paper, you said. They can’t drive anymore. Too frail or whatever. But the thing is every passenger on the bus has turned and is staring at you. All of them, they’re staring at you. Expressionless. Just staring. But as soon as you open your eyes, they all quickly turn away and go back to normal, like they weren’t doing it. Is that right? Is that still the size of it? No, hang on – I’ve forgot something. The hand holds hanging from the ceiling were made of rope. You’d never noticed before. They were made of rope and they looked like mini nooses. Little ropey nooses. And it’s all too much so you have to get off in the middle of nowhere. Something like that?

MIKEY: You’re still a bitch then?

PENNY: (huge smile) Still?

MIKEY: Drink your coffee.

PENNY: I don’t like the taste.

MIKEY: Oh I know you don’t. And I didn’t get off in the middle of nowhere, I knew where I was.

PENNY: So that’s not exactly what you said?

MIKEY: That’s pretty much what I told you.

PENNY: Right then. There you go.

MIKEY: That’s what I’ve told you. Where’s I gone? And why she a bitch anyway? Suddenly you’ve got a problem.

PENNY: No, no; not at all. Absolutely not. No problem whatsoever.

MIKEY: It’s nice she’s still on your mind.

PENNY: Your mother text you yet?

MIKEY: Nope.

PENNY: I always thought your mother should have been in the police as well. She would have made a good inspector.

MIKEY: What are you going on about?

PENNY: What was he? He was an inspector. You said. How much of him rubbed off on you?

Mikey ignores her.

You know, I think you were asleep that day. You stayed asleep, I mean. I think you had what they call a false awakening. There’s those dreams when you think they’re real for a few moments, which is why people get scared, then there’s the ones where you dream you’ve woken up, but you haven’t. You actually dream you’re awake. It’s supposed to be quite rare. That’s what they say.

MIKEY: I wasn’t dreaming.

PENNY: Come on, you must have been. Think about it. No, listen, I’m being serious. Why would everyone be staring at you? I mean, why would they?

MIKEY: How should I know?

PENNY: And then turn back when you open your eyes and see them? It’s too weird.

MIKEY: Why don’t you think about it for a second? I didn’t wake up again, did I? I didn’t have two awakenings, one fake.

PENNY: False.

MIKEY: Fake, false, either way, once I opened my eyes, they stayed open. And anyway, I didn’t sleep-walk to the bus stop. There’s a whole whatever it’s called…a whole unbroken memory.

PENNY: I think there’s a hole in your memory. Some rhythm got lost in this hole…this whole thing. What explanation do you have for all these old farts staring at you while you were asleep? If it actually happened, that is.

Penny smiles.

Imagine waking up and seeing their faces just inches from yours…

MIKEY: I have no idea at all, I’m just saying what I saw.

PENNY: (stern) Don’t tell lies, Mikey. You know it’s wrong. Don’t make me shout. Now, come along and let’s have the truth. Like I do, I want you to spit it out..

MIKEY: I’ve told you the –

PENNY: Why were the old people staring at you? What did you do? Were they smiling at you, all knowingly? Were they laughing?

MIKEY: Didn’t do anything, I promise I didn’t do anything.

The MALE NURSE enters. Mikey and Penny both look his way.

NURSE: (to Mikey) The doctor’s in his office if you want a quick word.

MIKEY: (relieved) Yes, I will. I mean I do. I do.

PENNY: I’ve got a few questions of my own.

Mikey and the nurse enter the pink corridor, closing the door behind them.

PENNY: Charming.

Moments later the FEMALE NURSE enters and goes to the bed, to check the patient and fuss about with pillows etc.

Penny watches her for a moment.

All okay?

NURSE: (without turning round) Everything’s fine.

PENNY: What are you doing exactly?

NURSE: Just making them comfortable. The easy part of the job.

The nurse turns to face Penny.

He’s in with the doctor, I take it?

PENNY: Yeah, just now.

NURSE: Thought so. I saw him coming in. He’ll be getting to everyone.

PENNY: Where’s the fruit? I brought some fruit when I came.

NURSE: I removed the fruit earlier. It was rotten.

PENNY: Rotten? How can it be…

NURSE: It’s nil by mouth, anyway.

PENNY: Nil by mouth?

NURSE: Nil by mouth.

PENNY: So you’re doing an operation?

NURSE: That’s up to the doctor.

PENNY: But we still can’t have anything?

NURSE: Well…nil by mouth.

The nurse exits.

PENNY: Bitch.

Lights fade slowly to black.

Scene 3. Minutes later.

Mikey enters carrying two take-away cups.

Penny is reading a magazine. She looks up when Mikey enters.

Mikey looks all about the room, at the ceiling, the walls. He’s confused, vacant.

MIKEY: Got you a…decent one.

PENNY: Can’t stand that coffee. It almost made me sick.

MIKEY: Yeah. I saw.

PENNY: So you thought I’d like another one?

Mikey is still looking about the room.

MIKEY: What? No, that’s tea.

PENNY: Thanks.

She takes a sip.

So what did the doctor say? Did you ask questions?

MIKEY: I communicated, yes.

PENNY: So you didn’t ask anything. Brilliant.

MIKEY: I saw him. I even spoke to him.

PENNY: And what did he say?

MIKEY: (vague) He wanted to know…

PENNY: Out with it, boy.

MIKEY: He wanted to know why you said my mother should have been in the police. How did you recognise this?

PENNY: I’m sorry?

MIKEY: Why was that?

PENNY: What did he say?

MIKEY: He wasn’t that type of doctor.

PENNY: (scared) What are you going on about?

MIKEY: (looking around the room) Have you any idea where we…

PENNY: What did the bloody doctor say!

MIKE: He said there’s to be nil by mouth and there’s some transfusions problem. It’s a blood question.

PENNY: Transfusion confusion – right. What did he actually say?

MIKEY: I told you.

PENNY: No, what did he actually say? What actual words did he actually speak?

MIKEY: I think it’ll be a while, he said.

Penny stands up, collects her bag, ready to leave.

PENNY: (nervous) You’re infuriating. I didn’t get my arse out of bed for this rubbish. I’m getting a lift. If they want me they can ring me.

Penny takes her phone and starts texting.

MIKEY: Has the doctor got your number? He just took mine.

PENNY: Yes, he took my number ages…

Stops texting, closes phone.

Ages ago.

Penny sits back down.

MIKEY: Drink your tea. We might be here some time.

Blackout.

Image result for relationship psychology

Like a Satin Gown

I hate the Moor,
And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets
He’s done my office. I know not if’t be true
Yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety

– Othello

I think I wanted to sleep with my neighbour for a decade before I actually did. By the time it happened I had been apart from my wife for four years, and my neighbour had been apart from her husband for three months. I appreciate there’s not much controversy in all that, but the situation is made a little complicated because her husband is my best mate. And there’s a little history to deal with, too.

We lived opposite and our kitchen windows faced each other. If I saw my mate Barry across the way I could make the ‘fancy a brew’ motion and a text message would follow agreeing or not. Barry knew my wife when they were kids; they both grew up on the same estate and went to the same youth club and that was enough for me and Barry to become mates. We’d visit the local pub – just a two minute walk from where we lived – and do the other matey stuff like play Fifa on the old PS3 in each other’s houses and play Call of Duty online. There’s not much to this, really. It was the usual goings on anyone would expect.

Occasionally we would visit each other’s house as couples, have a few drinks and some food and watch a film or just chat getting slowly sloshed. It was during one of these visits to mine that Sharon, Barry’s beloved, complained of an on-going backache and stood up to get comfortable while Barry sat on my sofa, Playstation controller in hand, watching the screen.
‘Can you just put some hard pressure on here,’ she said, turning around and bending ever-so-slightly over. Her shirt drew up a little, revealing some flesh. ‘I can’t do it hard enough myself.’
Barry was now paying some attention, and looked a little miffed at her behaviour. I just played it dumb.

‘What do you want me to do?’ I said, setting my drink down. ‘Put pressure on where?’
‘Just here,’ she said, pointing to the fleshy part of the back, just above the hip and the butt-cheek. ‘Make a fist and push really hard, as hard as you can.’

I made a fist and buried my knuckles into her flesh, rolled my fist and pushed into her as hard as I could. Barry sat on my sofa, paying no attention again to such an obvious degree he must have been significantly pissed off.

I know Sharon much better now, know her very well, and I can’t help but smirk when I think of this incident because it chimes perfectly with what I came to realise was one of her main traits: her extraordinarily dry sense of humour. I should ask her if she did this just to annoy Barry because she herself was annoyed, or bored, more likely, with him paying the Playstation more attention than her, or if she did it for another reason.

She offered a grunt of relief, dropped her head and sighed as she leant on the arm of the sofa for balance, and I felt her pushback with some force. I had to change my stance to retain balance.
‘Yeah, right there,’ she said, beginning to breathe heavily, ‘right there.’

This went on for not more than a minute before she stood up, turned back around and thanked me because that was much better now, and sat down again next to Barry. He was engrossed in something on the screen, paying her no attention at all. He didn’t even ask if she was alright.

‘Anyone want another drink?’ I asked, changing the subject from silence to something.
‘Fine, mate,’ Barry said without looking my way.
‘I’ll have one, please,’ Sharon said brightly, holding her empty glass up and smiling. ‘Cheers.’
I took her glass and went into the kitchen, out of sight of both of them. I was a little sloshed myself and a little confused.

Hang on, I thought, what the fuck just happened? Did I just read that right or is she taking the piss? I decided to find out.

From where Sharon was sat I could stand in the kitchen doorway and be seen by her but not Barry. I decide to run the oldest test in the book. I stood in the doorway and stared at her. She turned my way and stared back.

This is where I’m going to stay until she looks away, I told myself. I’m not sure how long it took her to smirk and look down, maybe about eight seconds or so, but when she did look down I knew all I needed to know about the little back-ache minx on my sofa. That’s how it started: not with the bending over and grunting, not really, but with that little ‘look away’ move in which I was very interested.

My wife, Barbara – not actually my wife in the paper-work sense, but my wife in every way which mattered – wasn’t there that night. She was out on the town with her girly mates and didn’t really have much time for Barry and Sharon by then; not that she disliked them as such, but – as I found out some years later – there were plenty of chaps out in town she’d rather be speaking to. Had she have been there it’s unlikely I would have been able to play the stare-game with Sharon for long enough for her to notice properly, let alone for me to win it.

Barb had a social life which was separate from us as a couple. She liked the nights out ‘with the girls’ and all that business – she still does. Most weekends when our children stay with me, and maybe some when they don’t, she will get dolled-up for a night-out with the middle-aged women to dance and jig and offer themselves to the God of eternal youth. This God behaves exactly as all the other gods do and the returns from these sweaty and drunken religious occasions must be quickly diminishing by now.

Barry and Sharon weren’t into that ‘out in town’ stuff because they did it all years ago and preferred their local pub or a few drinks with friends at home. There were a few occasions when I hosted them in mine without Barb because she was injecting her psyche with attention from men out and about in town. I didn’t mind that she went out as much as she did. By the time the working week was over, and by the time her taxi would show up on a Friday night to whisk her away to the dancefloor, I couldn’t wait to get rid of her for a few hours. The latest she ever came home was around nine AM on one morning. She didn’t say much just went straight in the bath.
Having Barry and Sharon over for a drink was a change of company which I looked forward to. I’m not surprised we split a few years later. I’m just surprised, for reasons we are slowly getting into, that Barry and Sharon took so long to get round to it themselves.

Barb wasn’t out on the town every time Barry and Sharon came over, though. There were the weekends when the girls couldn’t arrange an outing and sometimes she stayed in and we would have them over, all sat round the kitchen table, smoking (as all four of us did then) and drinking ourselves into that jolly mood alcohol has for you, the one where absolutely everything about life seems wonderful. Booze is the liquid magician. After I’d won the stare-game, every time they came over was more interesting than the times they came over before. I remember the four of us sat around, talking about whatever it was, while me and Sharon, literally, played ‘footsie’ under the table; or dropped a lighter or something onto the floor as an excuse to give the other’s leg a little rub, all of which went on under the radars of Barry and Barb. On the occasions when Barb wasn’t there, and Barry used the toilet, we’d have a super-quick bit of French-kissing in the moments he was gone, then be sat back down again, all business-like, when he got back in the room. I can’t help but find it all funny now, but I suppose it wasn’t the best way to carry-on. Can you imagine if we had been caught by one of them? Just thinking about the drama gives me a headache.

We started texting and some of these became quite to the point, but nothing like that really happened. Not really. We didn’t sleep together, though. There were a couple of amusing incidents I recall.

There was the morning Sharon had some workmen round her house and wanted to make them some tea. Barb was not home so I was by myself. Sharon knocked at the back door explaining she had these guys round and wanted to make them a drink. She was stood just inside the doorway.

‘So just make them one, then,’ I said, a little confused.
‘I will. I was just wondering if I could borrow a cup of sugar?’ I could see her trying to supress a smirk.
‘A cup of sugar?’
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘What? I’ve run out.’

We started kissing on my back door step and I remember trying to put my hands down the back of her jeans and being surprised how tight her belt was. I changed territory and pulled her t-shirt up and one side of her bra down. A few moments later she pulled my head up by my hair and told me that was quite enough of that, thank you. I have no idea if she left with any sugar or not. I suppose that Barb and Barry were not around makes this little incident less dangerous than the footsie under the table and the quickie-kisses, but one time we surpassed even that danger.

All four of us were drinkers but Barb was never fond of drinking at home. On one night when she was out doing her thing Barry and Sharon came over for a few and we put a film on. I can’t remember what it was for sure but I’m thinking it was Hostel 2. Barry had himself too much to drink and was lolling to the side a little, asleep and oblivious. Sharon was lying across the sofa, her legs across Barry’s lap, and I was sat on the floor, back against the sofa wondering just how asleep Barry really was. I have no idea why this started but there I was sucking her toes while keeping an eye on Barry in case he stirred awake and caught me with a mouthful of his beloved’s foot. He never did.

Obviously I heard his version of the state of their union, not hers. At the pub, in my capacity as best mate – and if they’d had a row – I’d listen to his stories of moods and tales of how difficult she could be and all the rest. I couldn’t see it in her, but what did I know, I didn’t live with her. There were times when he’d claim he’d had enough and was ready to jack-it-in, but he never did, and a few days later everything would be okay again. Or he’d be complaining about the amount of wine she’d drink at home. A bottle a night and sometimes more, he said.

‘And mate’, he’d say, shaking his head in either disbelief or an attempt to convince me he really meant it, ‘you should hear what comes out of her mouth when she’s pissed. Jesus! She can be vile.’

I know enough to not take a one-sided version of the truth as the whole story but I did think there might be at least something to his tales about her moods. If on a Saturday morning he’d pop over for a brew, he’d always stand by the open back door, checking his phone and looking towards their bedroom window which was above their kitchen. When the curtains were open it meant Sharon was ready and he would always have to leave at that point. So I could see he didn’t want to keep madam waiting a second too long. This might have been the tip of the iceberg showing, I thought. Who knows?

About six years later, and about a month after they split, Sharon sat on my sofa complaining that Barry had been suffocating her.

‘He’d bring me a cup of tea in bed and then shout back up the stairs “let me know if you want another one” or whatever. It used to really bug me, and he was like that all the time. Always asking permission to do this or go there or whatever. I mean, just act like a man for fuck’s sake. Leave me alone, I’m fine.’

She went on like this for a while, explaining how her first husband was brilliant and she’d really loved him. He’d do whatever he wanted: go out with his mates when he wanted, or go off for the day and do whatever. She had no problem with this, she said. But Barry was the complete opposite and used to mither her and run every little thing past her for approval.

‘He can’t even row properly,’ she told me. ‘One time – and this wasn’t long before we split up – I moved into the spare room. Any bloke would think “there’s a problem” and ask what the matter was. Not Barry. He’d come into the room with a cup of tea, kiss me on the head, and just fuck off to work like it was normal. I mean, what the fuck? Why do men do that?’

What was I meant to do, say “oh men do that for this and that reason”? I told her that was odd, and if the missus moves into the spare room most men would at least ask why.

‘Of course they bloody would! It’s the first thing you’d ask!’

I was letting her talk, just letting her vent because when a person just listens, and you really can unburden your stresses, it can be beneficial to the speaker, almost therapeutic. It can also benefit the listener. But as with Barry’s tales of moods and difficulty, I didn’t decide who was right or wrong – didn’t care, to be perfectly honest – I just weighed it that the objective truth was probably a mixture of the two versions. Though there’s no way to be able to tell in such a situation who is more right than the other, to listen to versions of one story from both sides, when both sides know the other won’t hear their version, is significantly interesting.

Barry and Sharon made some new friends in the local pub with a couple called Ian and Lyn, and so the visits over to my house stopped. I can’t say I blame them, really, because the couple they became friendly with at least were a proper couple. They went out to the local together and were happy to do so, so it was a better social balance than coming round to mine where Barb was usually out with her mates. They used to get home by using the path along the side of our house, going through the gate from front to back, and many times I heard them stumbling back from the pub about midnight, completely under the surface. Barry would (I assumed) take himself to bed, while Sharon would sit-up on her kitchen work-top, smoking and having another wine for the road. I’d stand at my back-door, pint of cold cider in hand, and we’d raise silent toasts to each other across the darkness. It was either that or we were both reassuring the other we had some booze in hand and so the other needn’t worry.

One night I decided to scare the pair of them. I’d seen both Barry and Sharon in the kitchen, boozed-up to the correct level, and thought I creep over and rap on the window or something, making them jump out of their skins. I thought if one of them dropped their glass then that would be a result. I crept out my gate and darted across to the front of their house. It was a summer night and their bedroom window was open. Sharon was sat on her kitchen work-top at the corner in a night shirt which had ridden a little up her legs, and was drinking wine as was the ritual. I couldn’t see Barry, but then heard him snoring from the open window above. The kitchen light was on, so anyone could see my shadow against her window, and also see her quite clearly. I don’t know if anyone was watching, but I had the best seats in the house.

She spread her legs and pulled across the crotch of her knickers. She then mouthed the words “you want that?” and sat there for a few moments while I wondered how to get in without making a sound. She pointed between her legs and then pointed up towards the bedroom and mouthed “he wants that” before putting her knickers back in place, slipping off the work-top and coming toward the window. She took hold of her night-shirt by the neck, stretched it out as far as it would go, bent over and showed me her breasts before turning the light off and disappearing upstairs.

What a total fucking bitch.

It wasn’t mentioned for weeks. I did bring it up one night in the pub and it was brushed off as a drunken thing and might I not mention it to Barry? I didn’t mention it to him.

Our little affair was nothing at all to shout about. Not once did we meet in secret because, I guessed, Sharon was too scared to. I did ring her once from my car during a lunch hour and she was out shopping with her sister. I asked her to come up to my work – I was but ten minutes up the motorway – and meet me but she wouldn’t. The only times we would see each other would be in company at our local or if I popped over to see Barry in the afternoon or evening for a brew or a beer. In time the whole thing dried up to nothing and the messages stopped. I suppose we both realised it wasn’t going anywhere we were probably lucky we hadn’t been caught. That sort of situation, where the women lived opposite each other and the men were best mates, would never be one to flicker then die before it got going. Thinking about what might have happened if the other two had found out always makes me smirk, though I accept I would not have been smirking at the time.

Barry started his relationship with Sharon in secret, while he was still with his daughter’s mother, Tanya. Whatever caused the breakup of that relationship I don’t know, but I do know Barry made sure he had Sharon to go to before it ended. I was surprised they got together at all when I learned how close they had been as friends. Years earlier they would go out on the town together drinking and ‘on the pull.’ Whoever ‘pulled first’ had to make sure the other got home safely. They became friends in their late teens or early twenties when Barry had a girlfriend called Wendy, Sharon’s sister. After Wendy told him she had drunkenly kissed some man in a pub one night, he ended what was a three year relationship but remained friends with Sharon. I think that was probably a little precious of him, but when I heard that I was glad all over again that we weren’t caught out.

It was two years after out little bit of fun that me and Barb split up for our own reasons – nothing to do with her over the road. It was after living by myself for a couple of months I thought about Sharon again. It was difficult to just start texting again because it wouldn’t look like much of a compliment to her, would it? I’m newly single and try to start up proceedings again. Perhaps she might have thought my interest was motivated more by what I wanted than what she needed?
Once or twice I broached the subject while in the local and was shocked to discover her version of past events was not quite in tune with mine. I could only get little snatches of conversation in the pub: there’s be too many people around, including Barry – who might overhear, and she was usually drunk when we had these snatched moments.

‘Four years ago I would have thrown it all away for you,’ she’d say, glassy eyed with a little slurring on the words, ‘but I wasn’t good enough; you didn’t want it. I was prepared to chuck it all in for and run away.’

That was a conversation I didn’t remember. ‘What? You wouldn’t even meet me from work.’ I hoped a little poke might trigger an attack of lucidity.

‘I remember, alright,’ she said. One word would sometimes blur into another. ‘When I wanted to pack it all in; would have thrown it all away for you four years ago.’ She took a slug of wine and slurred. ‘And you know it.’

It was never something we could get into properly because some other drunk would come over and start a conversation about something. It was a little frustrating because, allowing for the addiction to wine, I thought she was quite nice. I certainly liked the look of her tight little butt and pert breasts – I really did fancy getting hold of that package of flesh and having a proper session with it.

At some point I did begin to wonder if my desire to get the woman into bed came from the anorexic chance of it actually happening. We are supposed to want the things we can’t have, and then find them disappointing once we get them – like the movie which doesn’t live up to its hype, or the trailer that’s better than the film, and I began to think that like that in respect to Sharon.

One Sunday Barry showed up at mine and asked if I’d seen Sharon. I told him I hadn’t – which was true.
‘We’ve split up, mate,’ he said.
‘When did that happen?’
‘Bout a week ago. She asked to me to leave and I did.’

I got the basics of the details: she asked him to move out so he did. What he didn’t tell me right then was that he had another woman ready and waiting in the wings to go to – which was why he left so easily to begin with. Sharon didn’t know this, obviously, and that he left without much fight caused her to have huge upset because she decided she obviously wasn’t worth fighting for. You can imagine how a woman might feel about this. She would send him lots of text messages asking things like ‘where did we go wrong?’ and ‘can we give it another go?’ and different things like that. Barry showed me some of the messages and I think he was right, actually, she was texting him a great deal.

This suited him. He was enjoying the sudden freedom and the younger woman he was involved with (and lying to his mates down the pub by telling them he was round mine while he was actually with his new woman) while Sharon was fuelling his ego by constantly asking him to come back and give things another go. With this sort of security it was easy to be a grown up and say that he’ll be responding to her messages in due course: all in good time and all that.
Sharon no doubt wondered why he could be so nonchalant about things, so easy going, and I suspected she might be having quite an unpleasant time of it, even though it was her who had asked him to leave. I thought the only decent thing to do was text her, asking if she was okay.
So I did. I asked how she was doing and did she remember when I parted company with Barb, because I went through a bit of a ‘rough patch’ myself, and if she ever felt like she needed to talk, or wanted a little company, she knew I was only at the end of the phone and she could ring me anytime, day or night. She thanked me for being a friend and for being there. This might even have been genuine gratitude because, after Barry had moved out, Lyn and Ian – the great friends they’d both been socialising with for the previous five years – stopped all contact with Sharon. I found this not in the least bit surprising and told her I thought she and Lyn actually hated each other – and Sharon agreed immediately. The friendship between her and Lyn was an act kept up because the two boys were mates. Such a scenario is probably very common with couples everywhere.

She did take me up on my offer several times for a phone call and once even called while in tears because Barry had been ‘messing with her head.’ I tried to offer some simple words of wisdom, explain that it didn’t matter how she felt right now because this was all temporary, and if she could just keep in mind that, in a few weeks or a few months, she would look back at the initial break up period and laugh. I think I made her laugh a little, just enough perhaps, and told her if she ever wanted to come round for a drink and have a proper chat she was very welcome, and after lots of chats and hundreds of texts, she did.

I think I was a distraction for Sharon. When she was chatting to me or texting she wasn’t thinking about Barry and so stopped texting him like she was doing before. That she stopped chasing him had an odd effect on him. Suddenly, he was obsessed with what she was doing and who she was seeing, where she was going and all the rest of it. She told me she had said she was seeing a guy from her work, just to get him off her back and stop him bothering her, and the messages he left for her were quite abusive. He called her a tramp, a slut and other things; he also left (for reasons only he could answer) voicemail messages saying the same thing. I suppose Barry was lucky to be sufficiently flexible in his thinking that his own dishonesty (he was sleeping with his new woman within a week of moving out and lying to people about it) didn’t bother him sufficiently to restrain his criticism of Sharon’s behaviour. It must make life much easier if you are unburdened by principles and can deal with hypocrisy by ignoring it.

Quite early in the new friendship between myself and Sharon I was talking to Barb about something or another, in her living room, and she asked me if I knew if Barry and Sharon were getting back together. I said I had no idea (I had no reason to think so) and hadn’t spoken to Barry about it. She then told me that she’d seen Barry walking past the front of the house on the previous Wednesday. There’s was nowhere he would have been staying other than Sharon’s house (trust me on this, I know the area) so I thought I’d ask her about it when I could find a good moment.

Fortunately that moment was a few minutes later when we went to her sister’s house to carry her sun-bed back to put in her spare room. As we walked the short distance, I threw out the feeler:
‘You’ll never guess what,’ I said.
‘What?’
‘Barb saw Barry walking past the front of the house one morning last week. Where you think he was staying?’
To give credit where it’s due she was pretty quick:
‘Ian and Lyn’s, maybe?’

That was not a bad answer, but that particular house was too far away for Barry to have walked past Barb’s house given the geography of the area and the places he was likely to be going. It was more likely he’d stayed at Sharon’s. I noted her reaction. I didn’t truly believe her but wasn’t sure, either. This is a failing with me. At forty years old I should trust what my reason tells me, but my reaction to her explanation was a typical burst of confirmation bias.

It was the sunbed which first started Barb’s suspicions, and ultimately, lead to a huge, nasty argument between Barb and me which isn’t yet over.

Sharon asked me if I wanted to try her sunbed and I said I did because I have really white skin which burns easily and I’d never been on one. So I thought I’d have a go for the experience.
I was laid there, on her spare bed, just wearing the old boxers with her laid next to me feeding me crisps, chatting about the sun and sunburn and whatever else, and was rather enjoying the experience, but didn’t realise that my daughter and her mother had noticed my car was still in the area and was timing the duration of my stay in Sharon’s house. It turns out it was two hours.
This was enough for Barb to accuse me of screwing her, and I denied I was screwing her because my car was outside her house. I actually told her the truth: I was using her sunbed, believe it or not, and it had nothing to do with what she thought had been going on. That shut her up for a while, but the next time she asked me I told her the whole truth and her reaction, given we’d been apart for four years, amazed me.

To say she expressed her displeasure would be an understatement. Goodness only knows why she cared, but she did, and the argument we had didn’t end until hours later that night, when after telephoning me to continue it, and one of us cut the other off, I’d sent reams of text-based bile to her phone pointing out her short-comings.

It was roughly two months before we spoke again and she called me because Barry had just been on the phone to her, and she wanted me to know what had been said. She told him everything I told, and (unfortunately for me) a few years previously, when it was safe to do so, I’d told bar about the kitchen incident.
She told me he cried down the phone.

I received some strange text messages from Barry after everything ‘kicked off.’

He told me I had ‘ripped his world apart’ and that both Sharon and me were ‘a pair of selfish cunts’ and ‘how could I do that to him?’

I was irritated by the tone so replied that nothing had been done to him, which was true, it hadn’t. All that had happened was Barry now knew some information and disliked the information, but his babyish attitude made him see everything as an attack on him personally – the classic ‘it’s all about me’ attitude.

He also made an amusing misjudgement. He told me in one of his bitter texts: ‘Everyone’s going to know what sort of bloke you are. Some already know and are not surprised.’

I didn’t have the heart to text back, asking: ‘who’s everyone?’

The Goldfish thinks the bowl’s the universe.

In blabbing to people about what Sharon and me had been up to, he would have made himself look like an imbecile without realising it.

I tried to explain this to my mother by mentioning a brief Smiley quote from Le Carre: George Smiley tells Guillam (I think) that a chap should never try to make the enemy look foolish because it takes away the justification for taking them on in the first place.

I had a terrible vision of Barry, gleefully telling people at the pub what had been going on, while those he told said things like ‘that’s bang out of order, Baz,’ and ‘that fuckin’ takes the piss, mate’ while they tried not to smirk and prentended to care. The rules of the game, the bloke’s game called ‘Down the Pub,’ require this sort of fakery because it allows the ‘one of us’ pretence to be kept up.

No doubt these pub-goers would have spotted the slightly fickle attitude coming from Barry and this might have damaged his credibility in a way that never gets mentioned between blokes in that sort of situation.

I saw his car outside Sharon’s the other day and assumed he and her were trying to ‘make a go of it’ despite everything which had happened. That left me impressed and depressed at the same time.

I shouldn’t need to explain why.

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

– Dorothy Parker

Image result for drama faces

The Cat in Lovecraft’s Hat

The Babadook is a complicatedly simple movie. Behind the fourth wall (or inside the fictional action) is a kind of ‘third wall’ which stands between symbolism and realism within that fictional world, and it’s this third wall which the movie breaks – and that might be the movie’s problem.

Consider Goldberg and Mccann in (because this is a movie blog) Friedkin’s (1968) version of Pinter’s The Birthday Party. They are symbols: of religious authority and state power, but also symbolise two repressed people, in this case Jews and Irish, while still representing actual individual characters – real people – in the play. The Babadook is written in a comparable way in that the monster (initially) represents the mother’s grief over the death of her husband, but the grief is intense enough to actually break the internal wall between symbolism and in-context realism and manifest itself into the movie’s reality. Her grief becomes an actual character in the movie.

Had the behaviour of the mother been just symbolic of the grief she’s feeling and its negative power on and over her, then her son wouldn’t have been afraid of Mister Babadook because he wouldn’t have existed in his reality; in his reality he would have just had an ever more insane mother to worry about.

It’s a rather stark situation we’re given to watch: a worn out mother – who hasn’t slept properly for years – is shown reassuring her son there’s nothing in the wardrobe – a classic childhood fear. But there’s no cuddle for warmth or encouragement: she appears almost bored with the routine and pays not much attention to her son clinging to her, and it’s the shot of them lying in bed – where the mother moves as far away as she can from her son while remaining comfortable – which illustrates the emotional distance she wants to have between them. Some critics have suggested the monster represents her grief, and this is true, but what’s more dramatic is what she does with that grief. She uses it to blame her son for her husband’s death.

(Her tiredness is what finally tears her sanity. Tiredness can cause significant problems, and one thinks of Peter Mullan in Session 9 (2001) as an example of the problems caused by fatigue.)

The mother is in a constant state of mourning for her husband, but also for the emotional attention a man would give her. This is understandable, and realistic. Though it might seem strange that she rejects the kindly romantic advances from a co-worker, given what’s missing in her life, this demonstrates the extent to which her mind is locked in the past, and that is demonstrated by her checking the door to the basement is safely locked tight. The basement is her memory.

So the basics are that she feels intense grief over the husband’s death, blames the son for his death because the crash happened while the husband drove her (in labour) to the hospital, and the emotional distance she subsequently feels is the cause of the son’s ‘behavioural problems.’ In other words he doesn’t feel loved so is fighting for attention.

This is standard drama; that’s not to say it’s bad drama – it isn’t – but it’s standard drama in the sense there’s some element of circular tragedy to the relationships shown: there’s a reason for almost everything.

What works – and is mighty impressive given the movie is the director’s first feature film – is the lack of cheap and easy ‘sudden bang’ shocks which are popular because they’re easy. The Babadook slowly builds its tension, drawing the viewer in to the action by creating trust because the viewer is not waiting for the next ‘jump’ so relaxes into the action. This is done so well that when the mother has really lost it and is trying to kick the door in, we’re in the room with the kid, hiding…

Fear the Walking Dead….4

It’s about time there was some tension between the two women – and there’s some murderous tension now.

Multiple tension-seeds were planted. First there’s the question of who is in the ‘house on the hill’ flashing light down onto the safe area – and which character is going to find out. I thought Madison’s little excursion beyond the fence was her attempt to do that, but that wasn’t the reason because we saw no effort by her to get there. Are we supposed to think her attempt was side-tracked by the military patrol passing by? If so, it wasn’t clear.

Notice how – now the characters are in a safe zone – as the commanding officer pointed out to begin with – there needs to be some tension from somewhere so immediately the military is now suspect. The commanding officer is a kick-ass asshole who should be wearing shades, and the arrival of the doctor is interesting because immediately the ‘hospital’ the military are taking people to is suspect. Is it a real hospital? Will the patients be treated or tested?

I’d bet the military – or the hospital, at least – is probably going to be okay in the end, but they butted the junkie in the face when he tried to escape and that’s odd – but there’s now major split ups going on: the mexican chick with the foot; the Ex wife and the son AND Madison and the junkie son.

Here was an episode in which not one zombie was shown and the Uncle Sam was allowed to start the conspiracy theories.

I’m wondering if AMC actually want this show to become it’s main show – and actually demote – or cancel The Walking Dead so the writers are not constrained by the comic-book plots which they seem obliged to follow.

With Fear the Walking Dead they can do whatever they want.

Creepy Shadows

I think the part of the video below I’m going to suggest you watch is creepy in a subtle way. This might just be me and my over active imagination, but it might not. The video is of a talk given by Matt Parker, a Mathmetician, to a group of children at the Royal Institution. The talk is about Geometry and is light hearted and fun. I don’t know if this talk is one of the RI’s Christmas lectures, but Parker is stood at Farady’s desk.

At about forty minutes in, the talk becomes sinister.

Parker shows an animation of the shadow of a cube unfolding into its net. Think of the lid of a square box flipping up, the back-side dropping down, and the sides collapsing, and you’ll get the idea. Then, he shows an animation of a 3D cube unfolding under a light to explain the first animation of the shadow. All good so far.

Then, keeping to exactly the same principles as used for a 3D cube folding/unfolding, he plays an animation of the shadow of a 4D net folding itself up to become a four-dimensional cube. This is where the creepy thing happens.

Scroll the video to about 40 minutes in.

As the shadow of the 3D cube’s “lid” flips over, you’ll see the sides “stretch” as it flips. This is okay because we know, instinctively, why this happens because we know about shadows and how they seem to stretch depending on the angle of the light source, and the angle changes because the lid is moving. We understand, and can imagine the movement required to create this “stretch” effect.

But watch the video of the 4D cube, folding and unfolding, and look at how the lid of that shape stretches. It stretches in a way whick looks impossible in 3D – just as the shadow of the lid of the 3D cube looks like it stretches impossibly when the 2D shadow moves. What on earth is that 4D cubing doing to cast a shadow like that?

What is that 4D cube doing?

That’s the creepy thing. We don’t know, and can’t imagine it. The unknown is scary.

And if, like me, you have read The Dreams in the Witch House by H P Lovecraft, you’ll know that even a bit of geometry can be creepy.

Winging It

1

My name is Nathaniel and I don’t suppose any of this will make much sense to you, but this is what happened. I was quite happily minding my own business, driving home while munching on the cheeseburgers I’d just got from a drive-through, when I saw the flashing blue light in my mirror. It would be a cliché to say ‘my heart sank’ but it would be true. It did and I knew why.

I’m not usually so stupid and there’re one or two things I could say in my defence. First, I wasn’t ‘drunk’ – I would never have got in my car if I had been – but I wasn’t sober, either. I suppose everyone says ‘I wasn’t drunk’ and some of them might be telling the truth, but, as you might come to realise, I don’t care if you think I was out of my mind on drink. I’m not an alcoholic: that actually is true. I’ve never had that kind of problem.

I had the usual upbringing, the father was in banking management and the mother was a housewife. There was a little spare money going around and we had the odd nice holiday. School wasn’t a fee-paying one but it was a decent enough state-school. Luckily or not for me my school was mixed and I got on well considering I was distracted most of the time. The experience of school failed to stimulate my mind, or anything else, but I did enough to get through without bringing unwanted attention on myself. In a way I learned a lot at school.

After I left I went to university so I wouldn’t have to work in the father’s office, or any other office, and I studied the Philosophy of Religion. There’s nothing quite like studying religion to make a person a non-believer; but not believing in eternal justice has some logical consequences.

The father was an alright sort; he was hardly ever around and the mother might have been happier with a man who was present a little more. I think the poor dear was stuck in a sort of unhappy marriage but happy-enough lifestyle. She liked the house and the spare money and the clothes and the nights out and the men friends and the cars and the attention and the visitors when the father was away and all the rest of things women dislike because they only want to be loved. I know women, trust me.

I’m divorced. I got divorced exactly three years to the day that I married the wife. Believe it or not it was me who started the proceedings – for adultery. I caught the wife in flagrant delicto as they say. I was pretty calm at the time. I remember just looking at them both and shaking my head while feeling a sort of disgust at the sight of them both. It was how she looked with her hair stuck to her sweaty forehead, her round belly and the whole neediness of the situation; the whole ’emotional requirement’ of it. I actually wanted to be sick when I saw them. I told my parents what had happened. The mother decided the wife was a non-person and was the lowest kind of pond-life imaginable. I thought it all amusing. It is funny watching people scrap and fight with each other for a little warmth. A bit like throwing a few crumbs for the seagulls and watching them peck each other and squawk about the place. There are rules these days about feeding them because seagulls are practically vermin.

I never re-married but I’ve had plenty of relationships with women; some went on for a while and some of them were short lived. Some very short lived, actually. Men tend not to frown on one night stands for some reason. I don’t mind that side of it, it’s all the other stuff I can’t be doing with. The domestic couple, that’s the real beast with two backs.

Anyway, the blue light is flashing and I pull over at the first safe place and just wait. I’m sat there with the engine running, thinking about flooring it and getting away but what’s the point? Once they’ve got your licence plate number it’s all over, just a question of when.

The police officer was a female: young – I’d bet in her twenties – with blonde hair all bound up tight behind her head. I could see the silhouette of the other one in my mirror: just sat there, watching.

Most of the time spent in the station was taken up with mundane procedures. There was the photograph I had to pose for, for which I couldn’t show my best side; the DNA swab was taken by the blonde who became the woman who got closest to my teeth without me giving her a love-bite, and another female officer came in to push my fingertips and palms onto a scanner to take my finger prints. I wondered how long it took their computer to find matches of prints and DNA. Not that it really mattered to me. I gave my details to the desk sergeant, a different woman again. I remember blowing into a big machine to get an accurate reading of the alcohol in my breath.

‘If it reads between forty-one and fifty-one we need to get a doctor,’ the officer said.

‘And why is that? I asked.

‘Up to fifty-one is inconclusive,’ she said, ‘so we’d need a sample of blood.’

‘I’ve got plenty of those to spare.’ She didn’t get the joke.

She fiddled with the machine and in a moment or two a long receipt-type thing spewed out: A paper tongue. The female officer snatched at it, ripped it clean off, read it then showed it to me. The reading came out at fifty-seven.

‘So you’re over,’ she said. ‘Not by much, but enough. We won’t need to take your blood. Do you want us to call the duty-solicitor?’

I could see she expected me to say no. What’s the point of a solicitor for a drink-driving charge? The whole thing is, as the cliché goes, an open and shut case. There’s nothing for a solicitor to do.

‘Yes, I think you’d better call the solicitor. That seems to be appropriate. How long will he be?’

‘She. All the duty solicitors are women.’

2

I’d been sat in the cell for about half an hour when the arresting officer came in carrying a blanket.

‘You might need this. It can get pretty cold.’ She dumped the blanket onto the plastic mattress. ‘Is the bed comfy?’

On paper that looks like a weird question for her to ask. Why should she care if the bed was comfy? In any case it wasn’t a proper bed. The question was asked naturally enough but I saw it on her face: a brief twitch of the nose, the flicker on the top lip; she tried her best but couldn’t hide the disgust she felt. The question was her attempt at sarcastic humour.

‘How long for the solicitor?’ I asked.

‘Don’t know. She’ll get here when she gets here.’

I needed confirmation, just for my own peace of mind, so I asked her:

‘What if I change my mind about the solicitor? Can’t we just get on with it without one?’

‘You want to proceed without a solicitor? Why would you want to do that?’ She was smiling and I knew it then for sure. It starts now, I thought.

Somebody told me that excessive drinking is a form of self-harming and a symptom of depression; though I don’t drink to excess I realised at some point I might be drinking heavily: more than is normal for a person in my position. The person who told me this was a woman called Natalie and we were quite close at times. She told me she used to self-harm and the inside of her thighs were covered in slash marks. I saw them eventually. She made plenty of slits. There are coping skills a person can learn to help them. We got into it quite deeply at one point but I don’t think my nihilistic outlook helped her much but I can’t do anything about it now. Self-harming is not the same expression of despair as suicide. How could I have guessed she’d do it?

We were about four-months into the relationship and she’d promoted me to key-holder so I could come and go as I pleased. She understood that some men need to be able to come and go. I walked into the living room and she was lying on the sofa under a duvet: all still and quiet, quite peaceful and ice-cold. It was strange because she was cold everywhere. She’d left no note, no letter, no explanation of any kind and nobody could make any sense of it. It was a total mystery.

I explained everything to her mother, told her everything I knew: how she’d been, her moods, whether we’d argued recently. I tried to make the woman understand that I’d tried to tell her daughter that life was always worth living, that life was a privilege. But for all I tried it was no use; she couldn’t shake the black moods and she was overwhelmed in the end. The woman thanked me for my kindness and said she was glad her daughter had known me. I was touched by that. Her words helped me cope with the situation and I made a point of visiting that woman several times to help her with the grieving process. We had many long chats and I went into more detail about Natalie’s mood before she killed herself. Her mother needed a shoulder to cry on but she suddenly asked me to stop coming round and I don’t know why that was. I thought she lacked gratitude.

They kept me in the cell for almost the maximum amount of time allowed before charging me. I think it was six AM when the female officer came in and said they wanted to breathalyse me again. When the alcohol in my breath had dropped enough that I could pass a breath test then they could let me go. What a laugh. The female desk sergeant processed the drink-driving and printed the paperwork with the date of my court appearance. That was usually the point at which people are let go. Then a detective appeared, lord knows where she came from, and told me they wanted a chat about other matters so I was re-arrested on the spot. Like I said, I knew it was coming.

I told them everything they wanted to know; didn’t quibble or try to hide anything. I think the whole interview took nine hours. I had all the details ready to go and didn’t see any point in messing about.

My mother decided I’d lost my mind in confessing, that I’d been tortured or something while in custody. It was almost funny that my position of complete disclosure had brought on the largest episode of denial her mind could manufacture.

I walked into my new home a famous man; it seemed everyone had heard of me. My psychiatrist was a woman. Dr Julia I called her. We got along superbly well; had never a crossed word. I was case-study to her, not much else I could be, really. My mother visited occasionally. At least I think she did.

3

She asked me what my earliest memory was; that was one of the first things she asked. I told her it was of my parents arguing. Then it was something to do with pain – a searing pain and being in total darkness with muffled shouting and the sound of glass smashing somewhere. I told her I heard the sound of a wet thud – like a sand-bag hitting concrete from a height, followed by quiet for what seemed like hours then forever.

All this sort of talk was progress, she said. I asked her: ‘Progress toward what?’

‘Toward acceptance. There’s anger, denial and acceptance. Anger was what you did out there; denial is where you still are. But we’re making progress.’

‘And what comes with this acceptance you’re talking about? A great wave of relief washes over me? What?’

She always seemed to know what I was getting at without me having to say it.

‘I know you know what happened; just at an intellectual level; I know you have a memory, but acceptance is a different thing entirely. It goes beyond knowing into something else.’

She knew what I was getting at but the things she said to me took a day or so to process, like my unconscious had to decode the meaning before letting me realise what she was going on about: apparently if the insight comes under its own steam, at its own pace, then it carries more weight. I think that’s what she said.

This is part of my beautiful journey to acceptance, I’m told – notes for my autobiography. Start with some extended memories, little snippets of essays or stories, and make sure you tell the truth. It can be fleshed out later. I told her I know how to flesh things out. I told Julia of course I’d tell the truth.

I saw the lovely Nicola today, with her friend, the one I don’t really like. Nicola works in the kitchen and collects plates and serves food. Sometimes she helps with the more difficult residents, those who are medicated. She’s a nice woman. I was leaving Julia’s office and they walked past and I just managed to hear Nicola tell the other one she’d lost four pounds that week. They’re told not to discuss personal details or relationships and so on around us. I have no idea why but that’s the rule. Where’s the harm?

Later on she’s clearing plates and comes over, smiling as usual, to take my finished bowl and cutlery.

‘All done, here?’

‘Beautiful as always,’ I said, ‘and the food wasn’t bad, either.’

She gave me that withering look some of them do; that “yeah, yeah – whatever” type look. But she was trying to hide a smirk.

‘Hang on,’ I said, ‘have you lost weight? Looks like you’ve lost a few pounds.’

She liked that one, I could see it. Liked it so much the smirk disappeared and she looked really serious: she buried that pride deeper than I’ve ever buried anything. That was the beginning of our friendship. A little later I asked her if she could bring me a pen; just a simple little Biro – nothing amazing. She knew it was against the rules but did it anyway and from there it was easy. Always start with the small stuff because it works every time. We kept things a secret from Julia because she would have had Nicola moved to another wing. We aren’t seen talking for long. I’ve got Nicola under my wing.

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