A Little Fiction – Ancient Greeks (The Meaning of Life #3)

The man in the lovat Cavalry Tweed suit drained the last of his pint, loudly belched a beery fug laced with peanuts and bumptious pontification, and turned expectantly towards the man in the moleskin waistcoat who had barley sucked the froth from his own drink.  “Your round, squire, I think,” he said.
“Bloody hell,” said Moleskin.  “You got a shift on didn’t you?”
“Yes, well, as Archimedes pointed out, a man is only as heavy as the amount he can drink.  You, my friend, are bordering upon reedy.”
“Eureka!” said the man in the Meerkat T-shirt as he painstakingly attempted to remove shards of Cavalry Tweed’s eructation from the head of his stout.
“What does?” said CT, tapping his glass impatiently.
“Eureka.  It’s what Archimedes said after he sloshed his bath water all over the bath rug.”
“No, you my friend are mixing him up with Aristotle when he discovered logic: my glass is empty, therefore it needs filling.  ‘I think, therefore I am.’”
“Descartes,” muttered moleskin, gathering up the glasses and heading, reluctantly to the bar.  “It was Descartes who said that – ‘cogito, ergo sum’- not Aristotle.”
CT chuckled loudly.  “Cogito, ergo sum,” he said, means ‘like clockwork’.  It is actually the motto of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club.  Didn’t they teach you nothing up that posh boys school of yours?”
Moleskin bridled.  The hairs on the back of his neck rose in a villus concert.  “I did not go to a posh boys school.  I went to a state grammar school.”
“Of course,” said CT.  “I forgot.  So,” he continued, “how many girls were there?”
Moleskin passed a twenty pound note over to the barman.  “My point,” he said, quietly contained, “is that it was not a posh boys school.  It was simply a boys school.”  He placed the three glasses onto the table a little more heavily than was strictly necessary.  “You did not need to be posh to go there, you simply needed to be able to demonstrate a certain level of education…”
“…Attainable only to those who did not have to be up at sparrow’s fart to do their paper round and thus supplement the family income,” sneered CT.
“You never had a paper round!”
“Not for the want of trying, sunbeam.  They were all taken up by you posh boys whose dad’s took them round in the family Volvo.  My battered old hand-me-down bike did not conform to the corporate image.”
“Corporate image?  It was a local paper shop.  Mr and Mrs Singh would not have cared if you went round on a pogo stick as long as you got the papers delivered.  You never got a round because you were bolshie even then.”
“Didn’t he have a principle of some kind?” asked Meerkat.
“Mr Singh?  What kind of principle?”
“No, Archimedes.  Didn’t he have a principal?  Something about a solid object displacing its own weight in water…”
“Common mistake,” said CT.  “Firstly, what Archimedes invented was the screw – everything was nailed before he came along – and secondly, when you put something in water, what it actually displaces is its own volume in water e.g. drop an elephant in your average bath and you’re going to wind up with suds on the downstairs carpet.”
“Unless the object was absorbent, I suppose.”
“Not many absorbent elephants around though,” chuckled Moleskin.
“That,” said CT, “is where you are mistaken.  All elephants are absorbent due to where they live in the desert.  It’s why they have humps…”
The man in the moleskin waistcoat opened his mouth to object, but his attention was taken by the man in the Meerkat T-shirt who was taking peanuts from the packet and dropping them into his pint, where they floated on the, as yet, untroubled head.  “How come,” he said, as he tried to get the last few peanut shards from the packet “those huge boats don’t push all the water out of the sea?”
“Well, they do, in a manner of speaking,” said CT.  “They cause the tides, don’t they.”
“No they don’t,” said Moleskin.  “That’s the moon.”
“The moon?” laughed CT.  “The moon?  Have you gone mad?  Might cause a bit of sloshing around, I’ll give you that, as the Earth goes around it every day, but not the tides.  Have you ever been stood there when a big boat goes by?  That’s where your waves come from sunshine.  That’s the tides.”
Meerkat looked on solemnly as the salt slowly flattened his beer and the disappearing head lost its grip on the nuts which sank to the bottom of the glass.  “I don’t think I fancy a cruise,” he said.
“I must admit,” said Moleskin, “I never quite understand why they don’t turn over, those big liners.  There’s so much more above the water than below it.”
“Kaleidoscopes,” said CT.
“Kaleidoscopes?”
“You must have seen them.  Set ‘em spinning and they’ll balance on anything.  Send them scuttling along a piece of string or whatever.  They never fall off.”
“Do you mean a gyroscope?” asked Moleskin.
“Or a cat,” suggested Meerkat.
“A cat?”
“They don’t fall off things, do they?  And…” continued Meerkat, his face suffused with triumph, “…and they always land on their feet.”
“Are you suggesting that ships have feet?”
“No.  Don’t be stupid.  What I’m suggesting is that if you filled ships with cats, they’d never fall over.  Man’s best friend and all that…”
“That’s a dog, surely.”
“Dog’s don’t always land on their feet,” said Meerkat after a short pause for thought.  “Also, only one life.  Cats are nine times more cost-effective.  You don’t have to keep replacing cats.”
Cavalry Twill and Moleskin lifted their glasses in unison and drank in quiet contemplation as Meerkat tried to retrieve the peanuts from the base of his glass with a knife.
“Where would you put the passengers?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if you filled the ship with cats, where would you put the passengers?”
“They would have to share.”
“Except for those who are scared of them, of course” sneered CT, staring directly at Moleskin.
“I am not scared of cats,” he replied.  “I am allergic to them.  They affect my breathing.”
“Yes, it’s always difficult to control your breathing when you’re terrified.”
Moleskin drained the beer from his glass and thumped it down on the table in front of CT.  “Like when it’s your round,” he said.
The man in the Cavalry Twill glanced casually at his watch, drained his own glass and rose to his feet.  “Good Lord,” he said.  “Is that the time?  Must get on.  Carpe Diem, and all that” he said.  “God is a fish…”

The Meaning of Life #1 can be found here.

The Meaning of Life #2 is here.
 

A Little Fiction – Frankie & Benny

“…So, you know what it’s like, you’re well into discussing the state of your underwear when you realise that the person you are talking to is not the person you thought you were talking to, but you can’t stop now, can you, without drawing attention to it?  Without, as it were, looking an even bigger pranny than you already do.”
“Perhaps it would be wiser to keep the on-going condition of your undercrackers out of the conversation until you had a little more time in which to ensure clarity, viz a viz the ‘who am I talking to’ conundrum, in future.”
“What?”
“You do tend to introduce your grundies into the chat rather more early than is altogether seemly, if you want my opinion Benny.”
“I don’t!”
“Fine, that’s fine then…  So, who were you chatting to in the end, anyway?”
“Turns out she was from the council.  She’d come to discuss the complaint I’d put in about the smell.”
“And you thought it was the ideal time to introduce your trolleys into the conflab?”
“I thought it was a long-lost aunty or somesuch.  I’d even offered her a Yo-Yo.”
“Mint or toffee?”
“Mint.”
“Classy.”
“Well, I thought she might have turned up out of the blue to tell me that I’d inherited some money or something.  You can’t go offering Rich Tea in those circumstances, can you?  That’s a Penguin conversation at least.”
“I have Viscount myself.  Superior quality of tin-foil on a Viscount I find: stay fresh for week’s they do.”
“Yes, well, we’re not all superannuated you know.”
“Right, well, I can see why you got the Yo-Yo’s out Benny, need to make the right impression in such a circumstance, but what drew your shitty pants into the discourse?”
“She mentioned the smell.”
“From the yard?”
“Of course, that’s why I’d rung the council in the first place – not, of course, that I realised that she was from the council at that stage – but I thought that, if she was indeed a solicitor or somesuch, planning to make me the sort of offer that could see me as the proud owner of an automatic washing machine or an induction hob et cetera, then I needed to make her au fait with the fact that, whilst the money to make my laundry days a little less time consuming than my current trip to the laundrette in Morrison’s carpark would be most welcome, those same arrangements were not the cause of the unpleasant odour at that time permeating my whole flat and, to that effect, I thought it legitimate to mention that my pants were clean on last Thursday.”
“That being?”
“Monday.  So a good few days left in them at that point.”
“And how did she react?”
“Well, that’s when I began to suspect that all might not be as it seemed, Frankie, that things were, indeed, somewhat at odds with my expectations.”
“Go on.”
“‘The Council is not in the habit of handing out loans to those who are – for whatever reason – unable to stop themselves from being the source of unpleasant odours,’ she said.  ‘We do not, in short, expect to be called out to the properties of unsavoury old men in order to experience for ourselves the smell that they give off due to not being able to keep themselves clean.  I bid you good day,’ she said, and made to leave.  ‘Now just you wait on,’ I said, but she was ready for me.  ‘If you think,’ she said, ‘that you can threaten me, Mr Anderson, you’d better think again,’ and she scooped up her Yo-Yo and left without a by-your-leave.”
“Oh dear.  So what will you do now?”
“Well, we need to get out there and find out where the smell is actually coming from.”
“We?”
“I’m an old man, Frankie, you wouldn’t have me out there on my own would you?  ‘Now, what’s causing that smell?  Oh my God, look at that!  It’s a…’  Exit Benny, gripping chest in agony.  Alone and friendless in a smelly backyard.”
“Alright, point made.  You are certain of your underwear situation, aren’t you?”
“Would you like to take alook for yourself?”
“No, no, definitely no.  Ok, I’ll accompany you onto the patio.  I’m not touching anything, mind.”
“Right, let’s go to it then: strike while the iron’s hot.  I want to find out what’s causing the stink and rub that old luxury biscuit thief’s nose in it.”
“Ok.  How do we get in there?”
“Where?”
“The backyard.  How do we get in there?  The door’s always locked, but I’ve never seen a key for it.  Who’s got the key?”
“Ah, I’d never thought of that.  I bet it’s that bloody TFW on the ground floor.  I’m not knocking on his door to ask for it.”
“I’m not sure he’s even in.  There’s an old lavvy outside his front door and about three week’s milk.”
“He took the lavvy out himself – with his head.  It was annoying him, apparently, but the milk… You don’t suppose he’s dead do you?  It would explain the smell.”
“I’m not sure that he could smell any worse dead than he did alive, my old chum.  He had what I believe the BBC would term an ‘uneasy relationship’ with soap.  Ten years I’ve been coming to your flat Benny, and other than the day of the gravy incident, I’ve never seen him change his clothes.  I hear that David Attenborough is preparing to do a whole series on the life contained within his jogging bottoms…  You want to get rid of the smell, you need to get out of this flat my friend.”
“But what if he’s dead?”
“Does he have any cats?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Nobody to eat him then.  He could lay there decomposing for months.  They say that you can never remove the smell of a dead body.”
“Particularly one that is welded to his clothes.  I’ll phone the council again.  I’ll say I can’t manage the stairs…  Have you still got that spare room, Frankie?  Just as a stopgap I mean.  Just short term.  Until they sort me out with a new flat.  There are some empty near you aren’t there?”
“There are, yes.  They are constantly becoming vacant, in fact there is a permanent hearse on standby at the end of the block.  We used to run a sweepstake on who would be next, but there’s not enough of us left now.  There’s more chipboard around me now than a kebab shop.  Come on, let’s not bother phoning, we’ll just wander round and see them.  Get your stick.  Put a marble in your shoe, that’ll help.”
“Ok, I will…  Shall we just have a cup of tea before we go?”
“Ay, why not.  Don’t suppose you’ve got any of those Yo-Yos left, have you?””
“No.”

I decided to revisit some old ‘Little Fiction’ friends and whilst I was doing so, I met these new ones…  N.B. my thanks to Billy Connolly for ‘TFW’ – Tattooed Fuck-Wit.

A Little Fiction – An Item (Dinah & Shaw part 10)

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Although, unofficially at least, an item, Dinah and Shaw had kept their own separate homes.  The fact that Shaw slept in the office, was his reason for keeping Dinah’s name off the door – it would lead to confusion within the organisation of the Royal Mail he insisted – an inaccuracy she countered by sticking a large Post-it across the glass during office hours when she was, for the most part, alone with the phone and a laptop that was, for reasons known to Shaw alone, permanently connected to a Scandinavian server which had a default ‘wallpaper’ that left her feeling giddy and not a little nauseous.  She considered herself a woman of the world, but not necessarily that part of it.  Each Google search had to be translated into something that vaguely resembled English before she was able to make use of it.  All attempts to use Google Maps to plot a route stalled at the earliest possible stage as the software refused to let her begin her journey from anywhere other than Copenhagen.  She had not been able to afford data for her phone since meeting Shaw – a relationship with Shaw came along with few certainties other than poverty – and utilising the only local source of free internet access she could find ensured that she constantly smelled of kebab.

Most of her ‘work’ hours were spent fretting over the payment of bills.  Shaw’s tendency to insist that his investigative methods only really functioned in full effect when he stumbled into cases rather than being employed to solve them meant that she was often left bereft of anyone to invoice.  Dinah, for her part, contributed all that she was able; taking what money she could for locating lost cats, flyaway budgies, errant husbands etc, paying bills only as failure to do so became increasingly critical.  Shaw painstakingly kept for himself all of what he considered to be the ‘big cases’ – although he seldom gave Dinah any indication of what, exactly, they might be and they rarely added anything other than expenses to the company accounts.  On the few occasions Shaw called on her to help him, he did so by furnishing her with the very minimum of information possible.  Often she had to adhere to Shaw’s own methods, taking the first bus she encountered and getting off somewhere that, for reasons unknown, seemed the right place.  Sitting in a café with the dregs of a cup of coffee hoping that something might take her attention: that somebody might, in some indefinable way, strike her as suspicious.  Hoping that she might find somebody to follow before the café owner (again) remarked on the fact that she had spent two hours over her latte and that he had placemats that were more profitable than her.

It was to her undisguised chagrin that whenever she did encounter somebody she felt there might be some point in following, she invariably found that Shaw was following them too, although he always claimed to have been ‘on to them’ first.  Shaw always complained about this duplication of efforts but Dinah was always quick to point out that a) there was no discernible effort put into such ‘tailings’ by Shaw, who, as far as Dinah could tell from his crumpled ‘expenses’ at the end of the week, seldom left the pub and b) as nobody was paying for either of them, what difference could it possibly make?  “When we find out whatever it is that we’re looking for,” was Shaw’s stock reply, “then whoever wants to know it will pay us.”  To be fair, they often did, but almost always after it had cost Dinah Lunch and a bottle of wine.  From that point on, although working together, they always worked apart.  Their methods of tailing a suspect could not have been more different: Dinah employed stealth – ducking into doorways, hiding behind newspapers, carefully observing her suspect in shop window reflections, taking mobile phone photographs whilst pretending to be absorbed in a protracted phone call – whilst Shaw wandered around aimlessly, hoping that, in the fullness of time, his path would somehow cross with that of his prey again.

It never ceased to amaze her that she, Shaw and suspect would almost always find themselves together at some point, along with the client who was invariably blithely unaware of the very existence of the investigative duo.  Dinah knew only that Shaw would wander away at some point whilst she dutifully stood in the pouring rain outside an office, or a bookies, or a lover’s flat for hours on end.  When they were reunited some time later, a usually slightly flushed Shaw would drown her in beer breath and inform her that he had found the client who by some fluke of chance, wanted to know exactly what Dinah had found out in the previous few hours.  It was seldom anything that Shaw himself did not already know – or at least so he claimed.  The biggest annoyance was usually that he had already informed the client of whatever-it-was she had only just learned, without ever needing to discuss it with her and without ever leaving the warmth of whatever bar he happened to be in.  How he did it, she had no idea, nor how he always managed to smell of beer when he never had a penny in his pockets.
“You know I couldn’t do it without you,” he always said.
“Yes, I know,” she replied, but it didn’t help.

…And so it was, her mind whirring over every detail of their relationship, their work, the mystery of how they ever paid for anything, of why nobody ever threatened to break their legs when they did not, that she entered the office expecting, as usual, to find Shaw absent and a scribbled note in his place.  But there was no note.  There was a real-life Shaw, a grinning Shaw who, had she not known better, she would have taken for excited, pointing at the glass panel on the door which now read ‘Shaw & Parnter.  Investigators.’  “What do you think?” he asked.
“Well, I’m not sure what to think,” said Dinah.  “What’s a Parnter?”
Shaw peered at the door.  “Damn!  I thought he was cheap.  Do you think we can afford to get it changed?”
“No, parnter, it’s fine,” said Dinah.  She hugged Shaw.  “It’s fine.”  She looked around the office, confused, and opened the door to the back room.  “Where’s your bed?” she asked.
“I paid the signwriter with it,” he said.  “I thought that if we were going to be… ‘parnters’ and this was going to be a proper office then I ought to find somewhere else to live.”
“Oh right,” said Dinah.  “And have you?”
“Well, not quite yet,” he answered.  “I wondered, well, what are you like for space in your flat?…”

4 Revisions

It’s been quite a while since our last visit to Dinah and Shaw, which I managed to work into the ‘Writer’s Circle’ strand, so in case you want to catch up, episode 1 is here, and the last episode (Slight Return) is here.

Superpowers

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Frankie squatted down with his back against the redbrick wall, his knees pulled up to his chest, his fingers entwined and white at the knuckle behind his neck, his eyes screwed tightly shut.  The noise around him was deafening even through the barrier of toilet paper he had managed to cram into his ears before playtime, but he wasn’t actually as aware of that as the voice inside his head yelling at the children to quieten down, even though he knew they never would.  He didn’t really need them to.  He didn’t even want them to.  He just needed to step back from it.  If he faded far enough away into the background, then the noise would no longer exist.  Frankie could make that happen.  That was Frankie’s superpower.

With the noise turned down, Frankie was able to think much more clearly.  With his eyes and ears shut tight and his back to the wall, he could join in all of the playground games: the push and the shove, the running, the climbing, the tag and the chase – he was the virtual schoolboy.  When played behind his silent wall, he loved football, he was good at it.  He was Messi.  It was as if the threadbare old tennis ball was tied to his boot and none of the other kids could push him away from it.  Except for Maureen Jackson who was bigger than him – much bigger – and super-keen on inveigling him into a game of kiss chase that was both diminutive in the size of its teams and liberal in its interpretation of the rules.  Once engulfed in Maureen’s over-zealous embrace it was entirely possible that they would never make it into school dinners again.

Not that that was a great concern.  Even on his ‘quiet table’, tucked away in the corner of the hall, down by the wallbars, surrounded by the smell of socks and baked beans, he was engulfed by a discordant riot of sights and sounds that he found it impossible to process.  Not even the foreknowledge of Spam fitter, lumpy mashed potato and tinned tomato, chocolate sponge and pink custard could calm his mind.  Not even his superpowers could shield him on a pilchard day.  That was the day of the headteacher’s study, a glass of weak orange squash and a biscuit that looked like a sheet of cardboard filled with flies.  He didn’t mind flies.  At least they didn’t try to kiss him.

Frankie enjoyed lessons at school, even if they often meant sitting alone.  He was really good at spelling, and at maths he was second-to-none, but he wasn’t quite so good at sitting round the table and building with straws.  He wasn’t good with scissors.

Mrs Cook, his teacher, often sat with him whilst Mrs Cass spoke with the rest of the class.  She smiled a lot, Mrs Cook, and Frankie loved her.  She helped him to understand the words he did not know and when he didn’t want to drink the warm, playtime milk, she didn’t force him, but she always left it there in case he changed his mind.  He never changed his mind.  Superheroes don’t drink milk.  They drink acid or something like that.  They eat girders.  They can turn down the noise with the blink of an eye.

If he’d had the choice, he would have been Spider Man.  Spiders can hear through their legs.  If he was a spider, he would wear thick trousers.  Jimmy told him about the spiders.  He said they also have loads of eyes.  Dozens, he said.  A thousand, he said, like the night.  Frankie didn’t understand that.  The night doesn’t have eyes at all.  The night is pitch-black, isn’t it?  If it had eyes, it still wouldn’t be able to see.  In the dark.  Frankie liked the night.  It was like the world was wrapped in cotton-wool; soft and mute like a swan, but without the capacity to break your arm with a flap of its wings.  Sometimes Jimmy told Frankie that the two of them were put together because they were the same, but sometimes he said it was because they were different.  Frankie wasn’t always sure that Jimmy really meant everything he said.  Sometimes he made him mad and sometimes he made him laugh.  He told jokes that Frankie didn’t understand – his favourite was ‘What’s the difference between a frog?  One leg’s the same.’ – but it never really mattered because Jimmy didn’t understand them either.  His jokes were their little secret.  Nobody else got them.  Nobody else even heared them.  He never said them out aloud: that was Jimmy’s superpower.

The boy who never spoke and the boy who didn’t want to hear, two wise monkeys, faced playtime together, squatted down with their backs against the redbrick wall, their knees pulled up to their chests, their fingers entwined and white at the knuckle behind their necks, their eyes screwed tightly shut.  The school bell rang and the two boys rose as one, for once welcoming the clanging cacophony.  Side by side they joined the ragged ‘snake’ of children meandering its way back into class.  It was afternoon, and ‘quiet play’.  The two superheroes took their places at the big table in the centre of the class, alongside all of the other children.  The voice inside of Frankie’s head was unusually still.  With a wink, Jimmy told him a silent joke and together they laughed.  Frankie smiled at Maureen and, hesitantly, together they began to build a house of bricks, whilst Jimmy, clearly happy, faded slowly away…

The Writer’s Circle #32 – Sex, Greed and Revenge

“Sex,” said Frankie, to the consternation of some of those around the circle, many of whom had not yet had time to let their dinner’s settle.  “Sex, greed and revenge are the only true motives for murder.”
“And love,” suggested Deidre.  “Surely love is the strongest motive of all.”
“Love, sex, what’s the difference?” said Billy.
“Surely love is a deeper, more passionate emotion,” said Deidre who, by her own admission, wouldn’t know.  “Who would consider killing for sex?”
“There are plenty of men right throughout history who’ve killed for sex,” said Vanessa.  “Surely sex is the biggest motive of all.”
“I don’t think that’s quite the case,” said Tom.  “Sex is just the weapon.  Power is the motive.  Men don’t kill for sex, they kill for the power over women…”
“Or other men,” said Jeff.
“…Or other men,” said Tom with a nod of acknowledgement.  “Whatever, power is the real motive.”
“And jealousy,” suggested Elizabeth.  “Surely jealousy has to be in there somewhere.  Unrequited love.”
“Jealousy always sounds rather more like uninvited love to me,” said Vanessa.  “More like unrequited lust than love.”
“Well, a little lust can go a long way,” said Louise.
“And there’s infatuation,” added Penny.  “Unrequited love becomes infatuation, and infatuation is certainly a motive for murder.”
“She’s right,” said Elizabeth.  “I remember being infatuated with a boy at school.  Followed him around like a little dog I did.  Held his books while he played football, gave him half my meat balls at school lunches.  I’d have done anything for him.”
“And what about lust?” asked Louise.
“Hardly.  I was seven and he was eight so I’m taking about anything within reason.  Anyway, he broke my heart when he paid a penny to see Wendy Patterson’s knickers.  I could have killed him!”
“There!” said Frankie.  “Right there; sex as a motive for murder.”
“Not really.  I was most annoyed because it was my penny.  I’d been saving it for a Bazouka Joe and he blew it on Patterson’s scabby knickers.  He could have seen mine for free if he’d wanted – or anybody’s really – we all did PE in the bloody things.  Navy blue serge.  They were like the Mary Whitehouse of sex appeal.  We changed them once a week, less if the weather was wet and they didn’t smell too bad of wee…”
“Why if the weather was wet?”
“They weighed half a ton when they were washed, they took forever to dry, even on a sunny day.”
“Perhaps,” suggested Phil, “we just need to open out our definition of sex to encompass lust, love, infatuation, jealousy… all the affairs of the heart.”
“Is lust really an affair of the heart?” asked Elizabeth.  “I think, perhaps, you are setting your sights a little too high.”
“Always been my problem,” grinned Phil.  “Too high and generally just wide of the mark.”
“Yes well, putting Philips slight paucity of aim to one side for now,” said Elizabeth with a barely concealed, theatrical wink, “surely lust is the last thing you would kill for.”
“Unless it was unfulfilled,” suggested Jane.  “Or if it was for someone else.”
“Someone else?”
“Someone it wasn’t wise to lust over.”
“Ah, I get it,” said Phil.  “A woman scorned.”
“Or man,” said Jeff.
“Or man…” said Phil.

“Sex it is,” said Frankie.  “Lust, infatuation, jealousy, even love; they’re all sex at the end of the day.”
“Only the end of the day darling?” drawled Louise.  “How terribly Puritan.”
Frankie grinned.  “Point is,” he continued, “you can call it what you like, but it’s still the same thing.”
“Oh dear,” she said.  “What a quiet life you must have led.”
“I mean,” he persisted, “it all boils down to the same thing, doesn’t it.  Boys and girls…”  He looked at Jeff.  “…and boys.”
Jeff smiled broadly.  “Love has no boundaries does it?” he said.  “Nobody chooses who to love.  Nobody chooses to have their heart broken, but people do choose how to respond to it.  Some go under, some bounce back up and some… some fulfil Frankie’s criteria and look for somebody to pay the price, but the thing is, if you’re going to write it, can you put yourself in their shoes?  Can you understand their rage?”
“Rage.  That’s the thing, isn’t it?  Rage is about sex, lust, infatuation, jealousy even, but not love; there’s no rage in love.  That’s all hearts and flowers, birds and bees, and ‘I will if you will’, not at all the kind of thing to kill over.”
“Surely in war,” suggested Deidre, “all those young men sent out to kill, they died for love: love of their country.”
“Love of not getting shot as a traitor, most of them,” muttered Frankie.  “How many of them would ever have shot another man, except in abject fear.  Fear never leads to a neat murder, does it?  Too messy, too easy to solve.  Besides, that’s quite a different kind of love, isn’t it?”
“Different from the kind that leads to murder?”
“Different to the kind that leads to sex.”
“What about the love of one’s family; one’s children, one’s parents.  Surely a man (and let’s face facts here, murder is almost exclusively a male failing) could be driven to kill for the love of those towards whom he has no sexual desire.”
“Well, as you put it like that, Deidre…”  Frankie mimicked rising from his seat and approaching Deidre with his arms outstretched and his hands clawed.
“Frankie!” whispered Louise.  “Be careful.”  They were all pleased to have Deidre back in the fold and while she was clearly more than happy to join in the cut and thrust of the standard inconsequential argument, it was generally acknowledged that she was not yet quite ready to accept humorous affronts.
“Right,” said Elizabeth, with a certain finality in her voice, “so I think by now that we’ve probably established that love – in all of its manifold forms – is the very worst of human emotions.  So what do we think about greed and revenge?…”



The Writer’s Circle #31 – Dinah and Shaw (part 9 – Slight Return)

“I’ve been toying with these two characters for months,” said Phil.  “I would like to give them a story of their own, a book perhaps, but I still don’t quite know where they’re going…”  The gathered members of the Circle, including the prodigal Deidre, shuffled themselves comfortable on the hard, moulded plastic chairs, and Phil retrieved a sheaf of papers from his pocket…

“…Shaw laid his knife and fork down neatly on his plate.  It was clean, except for a small, tidy pile of sweetcorn kernels and two slowly leaching slices of crinkle-cut pickled beetroot which were actively turning the corn a florid hue of gentian violet as he looked on.  ‘Serves them right,’ he thought.  ‘Who puts sweetcorn in a pork pie salad anyway?’  A motorway service centre was the answer and, if he’d bothered to ask the hair-netted man behind the counter, he would have also discovered that it wasn’t actually pork pie in the first place, it was Gala Pie: hadn’t he even noticed the boiled egg in it?  To which Shaw would have answered, ‘No, I bloody well did not.  The pastry was like a rock.  As soon as I tried to cut it with the cheap plastic utensils you gave me, the inside shot out like a bullet and landed under the table near the ‘gents’.  It could have had a golden snitch in it for all I knew.  I wasn’t crawling around under the tables to find out.’  He contemplated the beetroot with a shudder, it reminded him of school dinners.  No sweetcorn for it to leach into when he was at school of course – far too decadent – just a lukewarm mound of half-mashed potato, half a dozen shrivelled-up peas that always brought to mind a leprechaun’s testicles, and something that may once have been some manner of dead fish.  He shuddered again at the memory.  It was at school that he had first developed the habit of eating only when he felt that he really had to.  Dinah was just the latest in a long line of women who tried to impress upon him the need to put a little meat on his bones and he had to admit that, on the rare occasions he considered his reflection in the mirror, he did look rather like a skeleton wrapped in Clingfilm – only by and large, he was forced to concede, less healthy.

Mind you, Dinah was, he was happy to admit, rather different to the other women in his life.  She wasn’t a blood relative for a start.  Shaw’s whole life had been shaped by female relatives.  His mother, his ‘real’ aunties, his ‘assumed’ aunties and, it always seemed to him, any ancient woman who happened to sit next to him on the bus.  They all had a view on what he should be doing.  They all knew that he didn’t eat enough.  Dinah, to be fair, never actually pestered him to eat.  She just let him know that he was not comfortable to be around.  ‘Angular and pointy,’ she said.  ‘Devoid of all padding.’  And, if he was honest, that was why he’d ordered the apple crumble and custard that was now congealing on the plate in front of him.  He wanted to eat it, but it would have taken far more strength than he could ever have mustered to drag the skin off it.  So, instead, he just stared at it, hoping that he could absorb some calories by osmosis.

He was, he knew, in the process of being thoroughly beaten down by his current ‘case’.  He was growing tired of looking for someone for whom he had no name and no photograph.  He was growing evermore weary of the constant trudge of trying to find somewhere to search.  He stared hard at the scrap of paper on which he had written down the details of the case and the client’s name but, as on each of the previous occasions on which he had attempted to make head or tails of it, he could not.  He had started off confident enough, he hung around the places where enlightenment usually found him, believing that, sooner or later, he would discover what he was meant to be doing.  But he hadn’t.  And he was running out of places.  Why, in God’s name, had he sent Dinah off to find somebody’s cat again: she’d have known his client’s name, who he was searching for, why…  And she hated the cat cases.

He must never let her know that he was out of his depth, of course, that his usual methods were not getting results.  He was getting distracted.  He needed to focus.  Perhaps if he just stared at the paper for a little while longer… 

Dinah regarded herself critically in the mirror.  She wanted to see a detective looking back at her.  She wanted to sense a steely intellect and a clear understanding shining through from her reflection.  What she actually saw was a mad woman who couldn’t find a bloody lost cat.  She had done the normal stuff: schlepped around the neighbourhood with a fuzzy, out of focus photograph; called in at all the police stations, vets and strange spinster’s bungalows she could find; stood on a thousand street corners shouting the bloody thing’s name.  Who calls a cat Pickles anyway?  Perhaps what she really needed to do was to reappraise her current situation.  She had a job that wasn’t a job and which, by and large, involved the search for ‘lost’ felines, most of whom she sensed really did not want to go back from whence they came.  She sensed that she was becoming a little closer to Shaw than was healthy for either of them, but exactly which of them was most reliant upon the other, she had no idea.  It was like a symbiosis: she was the apple tree, Shaw was the mistletoe – even if the most unromantic parasite she had ever encountered.  She was tied to him because he relied on her.  Sometimes, she thought, he would struggle to get dressed without her.  (Actually, when she stopped to give that a little thought, she knew that he would struggle to get dressed without her.)  But he had gentle – albeit perennially confused – eyes, and he made her laugh, although seldom when he meant to…

Dinah left the ‘ladies’ with one last glance in the mirror – ‘It’s not much, but it’ll do’ she thought – and returned to her seat at the table.  She smiled at the man sitting beside her.  ‘You’re not leaving that beetroot are you?’ she asked.  ‘I’ll have it…’”

I’d quite forgotten how much I like writing these two.  At first I thought that it must tell me something about myself that I had chosen to give them to Phil, but of course it doesn’t.  I could have given them to any other member of the Circle: they are all me, they all wish that they were not…

Dinah and Shaw have appeared in this blog a number of times before – although this is their first outing as part of The Writer’s Circle.  If you should wish to find out more about them, you will find their previous appearances listed below:
Episode 1 – Excerpt from Another Unfinished Novel
Episode 2 – Return to Another Unfinished Novel
Episode 3 – Another Return
Episode 4 – Morning is Broken
Episode 5 – Train of Thought
Episode 6 – The Morning After
Episode 7 – Green Ink on the Back of a Pizza Delivery Receipt
Episode 8 – Searching for the Spirit of Christmas

The Writer’s Circle # – Lingua In Maxillam

An open letter from the absent Deidre to the members of The Writer’s Circle.

Dear Everyone

Just a short note to apologise for my absence from this week’s meeting.  I had truly intended to return to the fold this evening if it were not for the receipt of a far better offer.  I am certain that you are all, by now, aware of the circumstances pertaining to my recent nonattendances – why I have not been there – as I swore Francis to secrecy and, after a week in his company, I know how untrustworthy he really is.  (On a side note, I would say to any of you, that if you are ever in trouble Francis is the man to call – a true rock, a steady head and an unwavering guardian – although you might find it wise to fill the biscuit barrel first.)  I am sure that you all have a certain vision of me: a lonely, ageing spinster – and I cannot deny that, the facts are there.  I have learned a great deal about myself over the past few weeks; most importantly that I do not need to be lonely – I just need to be less picky about the friends I choose.  I would be proud to call any of you ‘friend’ – although I would be grateful if you did not bandy that around in the kind of circles within which I tend to circulate.  (If we’re honest, that’s not entirely likely, is it?)  I must endeavour not to crave the friends that I deserve, but to accept the ones that I have.  Class strictures are not what they once were and I believe that mixing with those from a lower stratum is now probably viewed as a virtue.  (A special nod to Billy: I won’t tell if you don’t!)  I look forward to broadening my horizons in this effect within the next few weeks, although I will draw the line at tripe and cockles, and I refuse to wear any clothing that has not been starched and ironed to within an inch of its life – and yes, Phillip, that does include my underwear.
I know that Francis has given you all my new telephone number and it was a joy to hear from you all – especially since I now know how easy it will be to change the number again in the future.
As you will all be aware, I am not a great one for hiding my light under a bushel – my thanks to Vanessa for enlightening me on the nature of my bushel and for furnishing me with the phone number for Weight Watchers – but my darkest hour has, in fact, been accompanied by a gratifying degree of bushel-illumination, in that this week sees the release of my latest novel – I will allow myself the use of that word, and not the one that Terry suggested as I am sure that they are never released in hardback – and I have made the shortlist for Richard and Judy’s Book of the Month.  Consequently I am currently ensconced within a very swish London hotel awaiting the private car that will whisk me away to my interview at Television Centre and therefore unable to bother myself with you lot.  I have, of course, already loaded my handbag with shower gels, shampoos and conditioners – all, allegedly, smelling of hyacinth – as well as sachets of cheap instant coffee and bags of what PG claims to be tea, as nobody in their right mind ever uses a hotel kettle.  I have not packed the Rich Tea biscuits as not even Francis will eat those.  Nor have I put the complimentary shower cap in my ‘swag-bag’ as it is currently covering the TV remote, so that I don’t have to touch it.  I do not know whether I will be interviewed by Mr Madeley himself, but I have made it quite clear that I will not be examining him for lumps regardless of the circumstances.  I mention this, of course, not only by way of an explanation for my absence from this evening’s meeting, but also to remind you all of how successful I actually am.  Whilst I know that in the future, many of you will achieve similar success, I would like it noted that I was the first!
I would love to read you all a chapter or two of my new book at next week’s meeting, but I am sure that you will have all read it yourselves by then – especially since it is on Special Offer at W H Smiths.  (Although not – yet – in the bargain bin.)  I will return next week, when I will accept your praise and congratulations with my usual degree of grace and humility – as long as nobody overloads with empathy – and I will be happy to autograph anything that is not flesh.  Hopefully, thereafter, following a week of understandable adulation and fawning, we can return to the normal routine of petty squabbling and back-biting, of which we have all grown so fond.  Most importantly, we can once again agree that I am in charge.
I am, yours truly
Deidre
Lingua in maxillamdo what I did, look it up. 

P.S.  If I have learned just one thing from these past few weeks – and only time will tell just how much I have learned – it is that life in general, and I in particular (like the grammar in this sentence) is not to be taken too seriously…

***

N.B. Richard Madeley is a daytime TV ‘star’ in the UK who once famously chaired the first live ‘testicular cancer’ check on UK television – although I should point out that it was not in fact he himself who had his old danglers massaged by the rubber-gloved TV doctor.  Books chosen to appear on Richard and Judy’s (his wife and co-presenter – it was also not her old danglers that were massaged by the rubber-gloved TV doctor) Book Club traditionally benefit from a huge surge in sales and almost automatically become ‘best sellers’.

The Writer’s Circle began with ‘Penny’s Poem’ here.
The Writer’s Circle episode 29 ‘The Missing Deidre’ is here.

The Writer’s Circle #29 – The Missing Deidre

It was unusual for Deidre to be late and it was unheard of for her to be this late.  Gradually, as the evening wore on and the group attempted to conduct normal business without her, distraction set in and all talk within the Circle revolved around her absence.
“Maybe her bus was late,” said Penny.
“She drives in normally,” said Vanessa.  “She’s picked me up occasionally.”
“Well maybe the car has broken down.”
“She’d have rung.”
“Could she have lost her phone?”
Despite all appearances, everyone involved in the group was quietly fond of Deidre and starting to worry.  A number of attempts were made to call her, but her phone was turned off and, despite the determination of the group to carry on as normal, the meeting petered out after the mid-session break and Frankie agreed that, as he lived the closest, he would call round to her house on his way home and speak to her.  After much confusion – during which Phil ‘took charge’ of installing the App onto most of their phones – a WhatsApp group was created so that Frankie could contact them all with ‘the news’ as soon as he had it.  It was doubtful that some of them would know how to open it, but at least it was there.  Deidre, for one, would not approve, but she probably never needed to know.

In the event, Frankie’s message popped up on the group at eleven o’clock that evening.  It was short, only moderately assuring and, for the rest of the group, deeply intriguing: “She’s OK” it said.  “Back next week.”  But as it turned out, she was not, and it was Frankie who took control of the meeting.
“She’s been cuckolded,” he said.
“Cuckolded?” asked Terry.  “What’s that?”
“I think,” said Jane, “that a cuckold is a man whose wife has been unfaithful.”
“OK, not exactly cuckolded,” said Frankie.  “Although I’d argue that in the twenty-first century she could have been.  She’s been scammed, I’m afraid; conned by an online ‘boyfriend’.  She’s mortified.  She can’t face you yet even though, as far as she’s concerned, you don’t know what has happened.  It has really knocked the stuffing out of her – and, as most of you know, she was always choc-full of it.”
“Scammed how?” asked Billy.
“Part romance, part vanity.  She’s just ashamed of herself.”  Frankie dropped his head slightly.  “None of us, and I most certainly include myself in this, gives much thought to Deidre outside of Circle nights.  None of us ever contact her.  She’s lonely…  She was duped by a Romance Scammer who slowly managed to weedle enough information out of her to know how he could really hurt her.  He told her he was involved in a TV production company and he persuaded her that, with just a little capital to ‘grease the wheels’ he would be able to convince them that her first novel would be ideal material for a full-scale series.”
“How much?” asked Vanessa, who like everybody else was beginning to feel increasingly uncomfortable.
“Twenty grand,” said Frankie.
“Oh God, she didn’t…”
Frankie shook his head.  “She didn’t have it – at least not immediately to hand, which of course was what he wanted.”
An audible sigh of relief crossed the Circle.
“She did have five though…  She sent it to him by money transfer and then, almost immediately realised what she’d done, but she didn’t feel that she had anybody she could tell, so she just turned off her phone, ate cake and sat in the dark feeling stupid.”
“Well, it sounds to me that she’s five thousand pounds wiser now,” said Elizabeth.  “Is there any way that she can get it back?”
“I don’t think so,” said Frankie.  “But at least she hasn’t given him any bank accounts or anything.  I’ve spent the last few days helping her change all of her bank details, her phone number, her email, everything…  The cyber Deidre Desmond of last week no longer exists.”
“So, when is she coming back to the group?”
“Why don’t you ask her?” said Frankie.  “I’ve got her new number here, and I persuaded her to let me put WhatsApp on her new phone.  If you look, you’ll see that she’s been part of the group for a few days now…”
They all looked.  None of them had looked before.
“So, is she ok?”
“She’s still Deidre; your guess is as good as mine.  Her new book is published next week so, if we can manage to get her back, I’m sure she’ll be just as insufferable as ever.”
“Insufferable is a little harsh,” said Penny.  Frankie smiled at her and raised an eyebrow – a trick he had learned from Roger Moore in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ – and Penny blushed slightly.
“Alright,” she said to a general murmur of approval around the group.  “I’ll give you slightly insufferable, but I miss her.” 
“Well hopefully you’ll be all be able to persuade her to come back next week then.”
“How?”
“I don’t know.  Tell her you want her to.  Promise never to bother her on WhatsApp again and swear that you’ll never be late to the meetings… but don’t mention that you know about the scam.  She asked me not to tell you.  She’ll know that I have of course, but as long as we never mention it, I think we’ll all survive…”
Penny scanned the phone in her hand.  “Is WhatsApp the blue one, or the green one?” she said…

Episode 1 of The Writer’s Circle ‘Penny’s Poem’ is here.
Episode 28 ‘Jeff Reads to the Room’ is here.


Wonderman

Another excuse to use Hunt Emerson’s glorious cartoon from the long-ago radio comedy ‘The Globe-Trotting Adventures of Nigel Tritt’

PRESENTER                    The modern world is a dangerous place.  Enemies crowd in upon us from every angle and we are individually defenceless against them, so we entrust our safety to those of superior powers.  America has given the world ‘The Avengers’ and here, in the UK, we have Mr. Alfred Wonderman, the world’s first Welfare State Superhero, who has today – in our greatest hour of need – stunned the country by announcing his retirement from all… superdoings… and we are very fortunate to have him here in the studio with us today to discuss his reasons. 

(THE CAMERA FOCUSES ON THE BACK OF A SWIVEL CHAIR WHICH TURNS DRAMATICALLY TOWARDS IT.  IN IT SITS WONDERMAN.  THE CHAIR DOES NOT STOP, BUT SPINS ALL THE WAY AROUND, UNTIL IT STOPS ONCE AGAIN FACING AWAY FROM THE CAMERA.  AFTER A PAUSE THE PRESENTER STANDS AND TURNS THE CHAIR AROUND.  WONDERMAN LOOKS AROUND HIM, CONFUSED, BEFORE SHIELDING HIS EYES WITH HIS HAND AND STARING OUT INTO THE CAMERA LENS.) 

PRESENTER                    Erm, so Mr. Wonderman, why have you decided to call it a day?

(WONDERMAN STARES BLANKLY AT THE CAMERA.)

PRESENTER                    Mr. Wonderman?

(WONDERMAN IS UNMOVED.)

PRESENTER                    Mr. Wonderman!

(WONDERMAN REMAINS UNMOVED.)

PRESENTER                    (SHOUTS.)  Mr Wonderman!!!

(WONDERMAN CUPS AN EAR.)

WONDERMAN                Yes?

PRESENTER                    Would you like to tell our viewers why you have decided to quit?

(WONDERMAN IS CONVULSED BY A FIT OF COUGHING.  PRESENTER HANDS HIM A GLASS OF WATER, BUT HE IS SHAKING SO BADLY THAT HE SPILLS IT ALL.  EVENTUALLY THE COUGHING SUBSIDES AND HE STARES AT THE PRESENTER.)

WONDERMAN                Well?

PRESENTER                    You were about to explain to our audience why you have decided to quit.

WONDERMAN                Ah yes, of course, I was…  Was I?  Well, I wanted to quit whilst I was at the peak of my powers, Terry.  I feel that if I stay on much longer they may start to wane.

(HE PUTS HIS HANDS UP TO HIS MOUTH AS HE COUGHS AGAIN.  HE LOOKS BLANKLY AT THE DENTURES IN HIS HAND BEFORE, WITH SOME DIFFICULTY, PUTTING THEM BACK IN HIS MOUTH.)

PRESENTER                    But this is an increasingly dangerous world.  Don’t you feel that it will be a more dangerous place without you?

WONDERMAN                No David, and the reason for this is that I have carefully selected and trained my replacement – May I introduce my apprentice…..

(WONDERMAN SPINS HIS SWIVEL CHAIR TO THE LEFT, IT SPINS ALL THE WAY ROUND LEAVING HIM FACING THE CAMERA AGAIN.  HE SHRUGS AND LOOKS OVER HIS RIGHT SHOULDER.)

WONDERMAN                …Wonderyouth!

(WONDERYOUTH ENTERS FROM THE LEFT AND STANDS, UNNOTICED, BEHIND HIM, HANDS ON HIPS.  HE IS WEARING AN ILL-FITTING LEOTARD AND A HAND-KNITTED CARDIGAN.)

WONDERMAN                Come on.

WONDERYOUTH            Excuse me.

WONDERMAN                Come on, come on.

WONDERYOUTH            (LEANS OVER WONDERMAN’S SHOULDER AND SHOUTS.)  Excuse me!!

(STARTLED, WONDERMAN SPINS ROUND IN HIS CHAIR, KNOCKING WONDERYOUTH OVER.  HE STILL DOES NOT SEE HIM.)

WONDERMAN                Where are you?

WONDERYOUTH            (GETTING UP WITH SOME DIFFICULTY)  I’m here.

WONDERMAN                Oh, nice ploy.  You see, Trevor, he has already developed the skill of entering a room undetected.

PRESENTER                    Very impressive.  It can’t have been easy to choose a suitable replacement.  Where did you find him?

WONDERMAN                The Job Centre, Philip.

PRESENTER                    And he immediately struck you as the right person for this unique position?

WONDERMAN                No, he immediately struck me for trying to jump the queue.

PRESENTER                    I see, so how has his training progressed?

WONDERMAN                A little slowly, Mike.  We’re building up his strength opening tomato ketchup bottles; sharpening his reflexes by filling his leotard with itching powder and we’re improving his hearing with the regular application of cotton-buds.  His flying is still a little dodgy and when we persuade him to try out his x-ray vision, all he manages to see is the back of his own skull, but he is improving…  You will notice that he has been standing there, totally unaided, for several seconds now and has not yet fallen over.

PRESENTER                    That’s hardly exceptional, is it?

WONDERMAN                It’s not bad for a man with a wooden leg.

PRESENTER                    He’s got a wooden leg?

WONDERMAN                No, but I was just making the point; he does have potential.

PRESENTER                    I see, so can you tell us exactly where this potential is being realised?

WONDERMAN                Certainly.  He is beginning to master the art of levitation, Barry.

PRESENTER                    Can we see?

WONDERMAN                Of course.

(THEY BOTH TURN TO FACE WONDERYOUTH, WHO JUMPS CLUMSILY.)

WONDERMAN                Of course, there’s still room for improvement.

PRESENTER                    He jumped!

WONDERMAN                Pardon?

PRESENTER                    He jumped!

WONDERMAN                When?

PRESENTER                    Just then, he jumped.

WONDERMAN                Did he?

PRESENTER                    Yes, he did and you said he was going to levitate.

WONDERMAN                Did I?

PRESENTER                    Yes, you did.

WONDERMAN                Well, there you are then.

PRESENTER                    What?

WONDERMAN                Well, it’s a start isn’t it?

PRESENTER                    A start?  The world is hardly going to be safe in his hands is it?  The only thing he’s got to recommend him is that he hasn’t got a wooden leg.

WONDERMAN                (AFTER A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT)  He has got a pushbike.

PRESENTER                    Oh fine, fine.  Well as long as the world’s master criminals all plan cycle-borne getaways we’ll know exactly who to call then, won’t we?

WONDERMAN                Yes, we will… We will?  Will we?

PRESENTER                    Oh yes, I’m sure we’ll all sleep soundly in our beds tonight…..

(BEHIND THEM, WONDERYOUTH FALLS OVER.  THE PRESENTER STARES DISTRACTEDLY AT THE PRONE YOUTH WHO MAKES NO ATTEMPT TO GET BACK UP.)

PRESENTER                    Yes, well, thank you very much for coming along today.  Mr Alfred Wonderman….

(HE TURNS HIS CHAIR TO ONCE AGAIN FACE WONDERMAN WHO, EYES CLOSED AND MOUTH OPENED, BEGINS TO SNORE LOUDLY.)

The Writer’s Circle #28 – Jeff Reads to the Room

“…You know the sensation, it’s a spark of light; barely perceptible, like a camera flash from behind you: sharp, sudden, no afterglow, just the sensation that for a split-second there has been a crack in the darkness and time has frozen just for you.  Nothing more than a nano-second, but you’re aware that something – you can never quite put your finger on what thing – but something is not exactly as you left it. And you find yourself wondering what could have happened?  Where you could have been?  What you could have done?  Still not entirely sure, really not at all certain, that anything has actually happened at all…  Well, that’s what happened.

As usual, I took a circuit of the house, checked the doors and windows, peered out into the street, that kind of thing.  I don’t need to turn on the lights; the vestigial glow of stand-by lamps is always enough to guide me.  My attention was caught by everything and by nothing.  The everyday contents of the house introduced itself to me piece-by-piece; imprinted itself onto my memory, slightly adrift of its normal position, but somehow unmoved.  My home was speaking to me, article by article, trinket by trinket, memory by memory, telling me “Take a good look around you.  Not one thing in here is yours.  You own it all, but none of it is yours.  You live here, but you don’t inhabit an inch of the fabric.  When you go, there’ll be no sign that you ever lived here.”

This revelation, of course, was not instant.  There was no thunder flash, no sudden awareness, no insight; my brain just doesn’t work like that.  It can just about cope with a slow, oozing seepage of relevant information and that is what it does; it just about copes.  Regardless of the pace at which facts are thrown at me, my head allows them to enter only at its own pace: when it has had enough, it shuts down.  Anything mid-process is disregarded until it wakes me up in the middle of the night, with the kind of nagging urgency that is associated only with the need for food, sex or urination.

I remembered a story I had read once, one of those comic-book things I think, about a man for whom time stood still whilst the world carried on, unaffected, around him.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually remember what had happened, why it had happened or how it had ended.  I was fairly certain that there was some sort of moral attached to it, but I had no idea what that might be.  I couldn’t focus.  My brain had decided to do the shutting-down thing.  It was telling me, in no uncertain terms, ‘Ok, I’ll hold everything together here, just long enough for you to get back to bed.  But don’t take long mind or you’ll wake up with a very sore neck again, pins and needles in your legs, the pattern of the cat-flap embossed upon your forehead…’

Keeping a person awake for long enough to get to their bed is, you would think, a relatively mundane task for a brain.  Linking forward motion to ocular input should be a piece of cake to the average lump of grey matter. Thirty billion neurons working as a team should surely be able to get a person to the bedroom without skinning the full length of their shin on a doorframe that hasn’t moved from the day that the house was built.  The knowledge that your own brain hates you, is willing to do you harm, does not sit easily in the darkness hours.  It can lead to worry.  It can lead to neurosis.  It can lead to just one small glass of whisky to help you sleep – if only any number of certain death traps did not lie between the fragile flesh and bone and the water of life.  I took my shattered limb back to my bachelor bed.

I had moved from the marital bed and into the single bed in the spare bedroom as soon as it became clear to me that my wife was never coming home.  I found it easier to sleep without space.  There is something cocoon-like about a single bed.  The early morning spaces that I stare into are not infinite in this tiny room.  The walls and ceilings are always visible; even with my eyes closed I can see them.  When I move, I can feel them.  They are solid and dependable the walls of my little womb.  Even when I dream, they do not move.  They hold my little world and cradle it securely within its box-room universe.

The final stretch of my journey to sleep was illuminated by the mega-watt output of my bedside alarm, which was set, as always, ten minutes fast.  The alarm itself set ten minutes early to allow for one cycle under the snooze button and a further ten minutes early just in case something went wrong with the snooze button and it decided to let me nap on for a full eighteen minutes.  It was pointing as always towards the wall so that I couldn’t see the flashing green figures that illuminated its front, which meant that it was useless for time-keeping purposes, but absolutely ideal for strobe lighting the whole room metronomically from midnight to mid-day.  I climbed between the sheets and looked over to the corner of the room with the small pile of books and cd’s which, outside of my clothes, and despite the three years that had elapsed since my wife’s departure, were the only things that were truly mine.  They pulsed with the light, seeming to move forward and backwards like flotsam on the ebb and flow of radiance – looming out at me before scuttling back into the shadows like a… like a… well, like a really sinister pile of books and CD’s… I made a mental note to move them in the morning.  I filed the mental note in the special compartment of my brain, along with all the other mental notes that were never acted upon; the reminders to cut my toe nails, trim my nasal hairs and pay the milkman.  I wondered for a moment why I had not removed any of the things that I so despised: the furniture that I loathed; the pictures that made me cringe; the wallpaper that made my head spin.  Was I hoping she would return?  I don’t think so.  The sexual pleasure that I had got from burning all of her underwear in the bath was far greater than any I remember whilst she was there. 

Laziness, that was the truth.  Inertia.  The inability to do anything that required an actual decision outside of whether to microwave my curry from the tin or from the freezer; whether to drink my beer at the pub or in front of the TV; whether I could stretch another day out of these socks.  I was surrounded by all these things I loathed simply because moving them would require me to take positive action of some kind – and the only thing I was positive about was that I was still not up to that.

I closed my eyes, decided what I wanted to dream about – a trick I perfected as a child – and allowed my body to become heavy, to sink into the mattress as my mind drifted away into… into…  Why do my legs always do that?  What makes them twitch like that?  Another night and yet again the trick I learned as an adult – lying awake, counting the ripples in the artex ceiling and worrying about my aching, twitching legs…”

The Writer’s Circle began with ‘Penny’s Poem’ here.
Episode 27 ‘The Games Night’ is here.