I closed the lounge door and Greg, my social worker, breathes in as he takes in his surroundings, no doubt noticing the emptiness. He opens his notepad, and as if cued on what to say next asks, “Have you thought any more about socialising?”
“I socialise enough.”
“I see,” He plays with his ID badge that dangles from a ribbon around his neck, “when?”
“At work,” I reply directly
“Is there anyone in particular at work that you get on with?”
I shrug my shoulders, “I guess so.”
“And what would you say to meeting up outside of work, or even to go to see a film once you’ve both finished a shift?”
“I don’t know.”
We sit with an awkward silence between us; he shifts his eyes around the lounge taking it all in again, “So are you refurnishing? Or,” he shrugs holding the palm of his hands out openly in question, “are you taking on a rigorous minimalist lifestyle?” He smiles.
I take a look around my lounge as if the aesthetic is new to me too, “I’m not sure yet.”
“I see.” He fingers his ID badge again.
He looks at me seriously, places his notepad on his knee, “I see,” He repeats and scribbles something quickly, “How do you feel,” He takes a pause and looks at his notepad for a moment as if carefully reading some detail that is new to him. “How would you feel,” He starts again, “If we brought your appointment with Dr Aaron forwards?”
My knee-jerk reaction is to spit out my question, I stop myself and pause for a moment to make it sound and look as casual as possible, “Why?”
“I just think,” He places his pen above his lip and holds it there like a moustache while he thinks, “I just think,” He repeats as he starts again, “That we should review you earlier than previously discussed.”
“It’s up to you,” I reply under the pretence of not being bothered
There is a big bulky tattooed skinhead type pacing up and down from the entrance and back to the receptionist’s desk. The receptionists sit behind a transparent protective barrier. A brown haired woman has sat in a chair three seats away from me to my right, wearing a puffy jacket and is watching the skinhead intensely. A woman with her ID dangling around her neck arrives, and the big guy stops pacing, and they face one another. “David.” She starts sternly.
“They’re five minutes late,” David complains, frowning.
You can tell he’s the type of person that gives his social worker trouble and that she has to be able and willing to dish stern words out if needed. With her ‘no excuse’ voice switched on, “Just sit down, David.”
“They’re five minutes late.” He repeats like a petulant child, stamping his feet on the spot.
“David, we’ve had this discussion before. Haven’t we?” His social worker asks.David’s nostrils flare, and he looks down at his trainers, his shoelaces have come undone.
“Come on, sit down, David.” His social worker repeats, glancing over at the nervous woman in her puffy coat and then at me with a smile that is meant to reassure us.
The skinhead turns around and screens us, looking us all up and down before turning back to his social worker, “No.” He starts pacing again.
His social worker sits down one seat away from mine and acts like she’s had enough with him now, that she’s ignoring him until he finishes his childish tantrum.
David stops and looks at her sitting down quite comfortably, his social worker raises her wrist and looks at her watch then looks through the glass window at the receptionist, smiles and nods. The receptionist presses a button at the desk, and her voice comes out clear from behind the glass, “The doctor won’t be long now.” She pushes the switch back, and the waiting room falls to silence. David shuffles up and down till he lets out a big sigh, “I’m leaving.” He says with a dismissive wave of his hand.
His social worker is in no rush to chase after him; she looks back at the receptionist, they each give a knowing smile that appears to be code for, ‘Well, we expected this. That’s David for you.’
I feel a surge of anger towards this stranger David; I want to punch him right bang in his eye and kick him in the nuts. But it’s only because I wish I had the guts to just storm out of here too. His social worker casually strolls out of the waiting room nodding goodbye to the receptionist.
“Jacob Gilbert.” An Asian man’s voice calls out.
I start to get up from my seat slowly, and as if he sees the question on my face he tells me, “Greg is already here.”
I follow the doctor to his room. Greg is sat waiting with one leg over the other, his notepad resting on his thigh. “Hey, J.J.”
“Hello.” I sit down next to my social worker and the doctor sits in front of us, his legs apart his bulge all too clear to see. It’s not that I spend time looking purposely in that direction; he’s just dressed in such a way it’s hard to miss or else he’s fucking massive. But that’s not anything I want to consider for very long.
“So how are you, Jacob?” He looks at my notes then back at me, “Or would you prefer I call you J.J?”
I shrug my shoulders. I’m not bothered.
He looks across at Greg and smiles. “I’ll just follow Greg’s lead and call you J.J, then.”
We sit in awkward silence for a moment.
The doctor writes something then looks back at me, “how are you doing since we last met?”
The doctor smiles again, “It appears Greg may be disagreeing with that.” He puts a fist under his chin as if posing like The Thinker statue.
Greg scans his notepad and then says, “he’s sold or gotten rid of most of his possessions.”
“Have you?” The doctor turns to me, wanting me to confirm.
“Yes,” I admit sheepishly.
“And why is that?” He asks, his interest in me suddenly intensified.
“I have plans.”
The doctor leans forwards in his chair, his legs now less far apart sparing us the bulge. “What kind of plans?”
I think it over a minute, trying not to think it over for too long, “You know,” I look to a stain on the carpet, “Just saving up for better things.”
“You sold your possessions to save money?”
“Yes.” I try not to let my inner scowl show on my face. What is so hard to believe about that?
“For anything in particular?” He leans back in his chair again, “Surely you’ve still got your guitar, though?”
Greg shakes his head, “He’s got rid of that too.”
The doctor leans forward again, “Really?” He looks at Greg as he asks this, then looks back towards me, “What do you want to buy with all this money?”
“A better guitar.” I lie.
“I see.” The doctor writes more notes. “Do you know what type of guitar?
“A Les Paul Gibson probably.” I shrug.
The doctor sucks in some air through his teeth, writes some more notes down.
“Seems a bit much to sell all your other possessions for a guitar,” he pauses and writes something quickly, “even if it is a Gibson guitar.”
“I don’t make that much working at the cinemas.”
“Have you ever considered making it a goal to get a better-paid job?”
“I don’t want a better-paid job.”
“But you want enough money to buy a Gibson.”
“Yes, but why work for so many stupid hours to get paid more to buy a Gibson guitar you’ll never have time to play anyway?”
Dr Aaron clicks his pen and looks between Greg and I, rolls his tongue over his teeth, “So sell all your possessions instead?”
“It’s not like I have sold everything.”
“Yes, he still has a laptop.” Greg butts in.
“A laptop and?” Dr Aaron asks
“Nothing else that I could see.”
“What about the necessities?”
“I have a fridge. I still buy food.”
The doctor sits back and opens his legs wide again, his hands closed together as if praying under his chin, “I see. Very minimalist of you.”
“Yes,” I agree.
“I just worry about the reasons for your new minimalist lifestyle.”
I don’t know where the voice inside my head comes from but I find myself talking about minimalism in more detail than I’d realised I’d even thought of, “I decided that I want quality things not a quantity of useless tat. That I’d rather have a shitty paid job that allows me my own time, and have to sell previous items of interest to afford something of quality.”
The doctor nods his head and seems to be buying it.
“That is a rather profound thing to realise in your life.”
“Profound thing to realise.” His voice repeats in my head over and over.
“Gilly,” Samantha asks me at the ticket checkout, “do you still play the guitar?” I’ve known Sam since primary school,
“no,” I reply numbly.
Sam sighs as if feeling defeated, her cleavage resting on the edge of the countertop, “Aww,” she moans, “I was hoping…” She stops short and looks at me; her eyebrows raised, “Wait, why did you stop playing the guitar?”
I shrug my shoulders
She tilts her head, “But why?” She’s nothing if not insistent.
“Because…” I let the word roll on my tongue as I move the mouse tiredly on the mat and click another cell in a spreadsheet, “reasons.”
“Should I be worried?” She bites her bottom lip.
“Are you okay Gilly?”
I yawn from boredom at the spreadsheet glaring at me, “Yea.”
“Tired?” she giggles.
Some customers make their way over to the confectionary counter, and Sam runs across to be of assistance.
The Beatles were right you know. We’re all living in a yellow submarine, well the majority of people are. I look over to Sam and imagine us swimming away from the submarine holding hands. I’m already out of the submarine; I fell out. Sometimes I look through the little round windows, and sometimes you look back at us from inside and some of you sneer some of you smile that sympathetic, pity smile, but most people just look through us. Sometimes I think maybe you’re all sad too, confined and claustrophobic in there. It seems everyone drowns in the end. After the customers have got their chocolate, popcorn and fizzy drinks they saunter on over to me, the tickets guy. I’m the guy that changes their life with a ticket to a new perspective for a couple of hours. The fact we’ve only had these five customers is why I take the evening shift.
A ribbon of steam curls under his nose, the froth from his cappuccino staining his upper lip. Plates and cups clatter behind us with the gush of the coffee machines. The lights above our heads have a monotonous hum, and one strip of fluorescence light near the entrance keeps flickering. My social worker pours another sugar into his cappuccino. “How are you doing?”
I shrug my shoulders, my staple response. I watch as a woman walks in with an empty pram, pushing it with one hand while holding the baby in the other, the baby’s head is on her shoulder, and he or she flails her arms about and wails loudly.
“How is it going at the cinemas?”
“I’m changing lives evening by evening!”
“Sorry, I can’t hear you?” He leans over the table to hear me better.
”I’m changing lives evening by evening,” I repeat trying to raise my voice over all the noise.
”Oh,” I’m unsure if he’s heard me. His NHS Identification badge that tells you he’s a social worker with ‘Shademore NHS services’ with his name ‘Gregory Davies’ dangles down a ribbon around his neck, with a picture of him looking a bit young with a bit more hair.
“How’s the guitar going?”
“I dunno,” I gulp down some of my orange juice.
“Are you keeping to your practising schedule?”
I shake my head
“Is there any particular reason why?”
“Don’t have my guitar anymore.”
He looks at me questioningly, “Sorry,” he winces a little at the sound of the baby crying right behind him now.
”I don’t have my guitar anymore,” I repeat.
“why? what did you do with it?”
He takes a sip of his cappuccino, “Why did you sell it?” He asks, his voice rising with surprise.
“Just felt like it.”
He puts the cup down gently on the saucer, “I’ve known you long enough to know you don’t do things on a whim.” He looks at me sceptically, “you usually have reasons, a plan.”
“My plan was to make money from it.”
“I see. For anything in particular? A new guitar perhaps?”
“Hmm,” He wipes the froth from his upper lip, “It seems odd if you ask me.”
“What can I say, I’m a weird guy.”
We sit in silence amongst all the noise; the baby has since stopped crying.
“Any negative thoughts and feelings?”
“Since I last saw you?” I ask, as a way to be evasive. “Isn’t that like asking if I’ve taken a breath since?”
A little smile creeps his face, “Any I should know about?”
“Not any out of the ordinary, for me anyway.”
“So yes you’ve had the usual negative thoughts, but anything more serious?” He looks at me, expecting an answer like the previous one he quickly utters, “You know what type of thoughts I’m speaking of.” He gives me a pointed look.
I consider how to answer this one because If I appear too confident, he’d know I’m lying, but I can’t tell him the whole truth either. “I’ve had, you know, thoughts.”
He knows what I mean. “And have you wanted to act on them?”
“I’ve wanted to..”
“Do you have any plans?”
“No. It’s just a passing thought and feeling.” I lie.
“So no plans?” He asks again as if not quite hearing me.
“No, no plans. Just thoughts and feelings.” I lie again.
“What stops you acting on those thoughts and feelings?”
“Fear.” There is some truth to that, “The idea of those it’d hurt.” I lie.
I don’t believe in the long run the particular actions in question would hurt anyone. To the contrary, it would bring relief to a lot of people. But I learnt that this is the response they want. “You know what people like me lack?” I ask him.
“What?” he peers over his cup curiously.
“We lack a fundamental part of the functioning human’s psyche,”
“And what is that?”
“Delusion. Illusion. Whatever you wanna call it.”
“How so?” he puts his empty cup down with a little clink.
“See to function a human needs delusion. It’s like what that writer Albert Camus said about suicide being the most rational answer.”
“I see.” He tilts his head, the light flickering behind him at the entrance.
“If you go too high on the scale with delusion you get the mental illness label, if you never even get on the scale you also get diagnosed with mental illness! My problem is, I see that life is meaningless and I have no illusions to put a veil over it. It’s just there, bleak as it is staring at me.”
“What if your delusion is thinking you’re not deluded?” He chuckles, “A common delusion,” he winks, “I find.”
“But objectively speaking there is no purpose. I’m rational in an irrational world. It’s perfectly rational to be depressed in this world, to see that life is meaningless.”
“But if life itself is so irrational, then why bother spending time being so rational?”
“Rationality or lack of it isn’t a choice.” I gulp down the last drops of my orange juice, “Plus, without any rationality, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
My social worker tilts his head to one side, “But according to your theory rationality is, in fact, an illness.”
“No. Too much rationality without delusion is an illness. You need an illusion to drive the rationality you do have into something that can be used to thrive. You take away a delusion that propels that rationality then you have no wheels to spin the thriving.”
“So delusion is like the wind to a windmill?” He picks up his empty cup and looks down at the emptiness then puts it down again.
“Yes. Or water to a watermill.” I squish the bottle in my fist.
“Interesting.” He rests his chin on his hand.
“And that’s the problem with trying to treat people like me.”
“I gather you’re feeling hopeless.”
“I guess,” I shrug my shoulders, “I mean I suppose I feel that way but I also know that feeling is bullshit because hopelessness necessitates that hope exists somewhere or did exist at some point.”
“You’re a very deep thinker, I think to your own detriment.”
“Detriment to what?”
“Objectively to your survival, to your own thriving.”
“What happens once a person has seen how an illusion works? You can no longer see past the fact it’s an illusion! So any treatment is simply about installing illusions and some mild delusions of worthiness, meaningfulness. But what if you can’t unsee the truth that it’s all just lies we have built into our psyche purely for survival?”
Read part 1 of this chapter
The neon sign glares through the bus stop and reflects on the night washed pavements; it’s raining that summer rain, and it’s humid as hell.
“Gilly,” A voice beckons to me, loud and boisterous, “My man! How are you doin’?”
I turn to see who it is; it’s a guy I used to know from school, I nod in acknowledgement of his presence, hoping he doesn’t wish for any more conversation.
“How’re ya doing?” I know this is just that thing people call small talk, and he doesn’t give two shits about me, I turn to look at the bus routes.
“Have you heard the news?” He continues on
I nod and I look down at the shiny pavement, closing one eye then closing the other watching how the reflection of lights appear to change their position.
“What do you think?”
I look at my shoelaces that I’ve just noticed have come undone, I find his topic of conversation to be too vague, I shrug my shoulders.
“Ah man, you’re still as awkward as ever.” he smiles, and fist bumps my shoulder.
He used to do that to me at school ironically to take the piss out of my supposed social incompetence.
“But yeah,” he leans against the glass, “Shademore high is closing down.”
“Oh” I manage
“Yeah.” He shrugs his shoulders, “It’s a real piss take because my auntie was gonna put my little cousin in Shadmore.”
He runs a hand through his hair, “She’s ranting at us all the time now, man!” he leans his head back against the glass, “We can’t move again.” He says, trying to mimic his aunties voice.
I nod to show I’m listening as I watch rain drops on a reflection of a green neon light. “Ofsted closed them down, said they’re not up to scratch,” he laughed, “They’d been threatening that all the time when we were there,” he looks at me, “do you remember?”
I can only nod, I remember it well because every time rumours got around about Shadmorehigh closing I was fucking buzzing! But then I’d consider the fact my mother wasn’t just going to keep me out of school if it closed down, she’d just take me to a new one. And then I’d get angsty about Shadmore high closing.
“I mean,” he continues with himself, “It’s not like we turned out bad is it?” He laughs, though it’s clearly fake, “I mean we’re still alive, right?”
He asks as if needing reassurance.
I take quick glances at him as I take in all the changes that have happened to him since school, never crossing that threshold of looking at his eyes. He’s filled out since his school days, we both have. He has a goatee and is wearing long shorts and sandals with white socks.
I never thought he’d be one to dress like that, sandals and stuff. He’d have pulled a mooney through the bus window at the guy he’s dressed as now. “It’s gonna start lightning soon,” he lifts his bag from the bench, and points to the sky “got all my camera gear in here.” He grins.
A woman about the same age as us; in her late 20’s comes and sits where his bag was. She’s chewing gum and smoking a cigarette.
“What you doing nowadays, anyway?” Nick asks, his eyes subtly glancing over at the woman.
I shrug again, close my eyes tight and try to unleash the leash around my throat, “Work.”
“Ah.” He nods his head, “Yeah, life got old quick after school and all that shit, eh?”
“I…I guess.” It’s like he read my mind, then again life got old way before leaving school if you ask me!
His bus arrives, and he rummages in his big pockets on his khaki shorts, “Nice seeing ya, Gilly.” he steps on the bus and shows his pass, the driver nods his approval and Nick walks on and is still walking to a seat as the bus starts moving.
“What kinda name is ‘Gilly?'” She chews loudly in between her words.
I feel my body go more rigid, wooden. I freeze up inside. A stranger is talking to me; I don’t like the intrusion.
She scoffs, “Cat got your tongue?”
My taxi arrives just in the nick of time, my saving grace. I go to open the car door when her voice, shrill behind me, “Eh, are you ignoring me?”
I quickly get into the back of the car, tell the driver my address and the car jerks forward.
I find myself looking out the rear window at the woman chewing gum.
The neon sign from the cinemas glares through the glass panels of the bus stop, my taxi arrives and a bus pulls up behind it.
“You have nice night?” The driver asks me in a strong Asian accent
“Yea,” my eyes dart around the interior of the car, I take a deep breath.
There is that summer hum of distant mopeds, and for a moment I reminisce of holidays as a child in Spain.
But to serve as a stark reminder, there are stickers all over the cab advertising ‘Shademore taxis at the lowest price for all local destinations an more.’
“Nice summer,” The driver intones as the car jerks forward and the air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror swings rhythmically to the motion.
“Yea,” I try a smile and think about a line I read in a book the other night where the protagonist pays a cab driver more money not to talk. I consider for a fleeting moment that I do should do the same.
“You been out with nice girl?” The driver asks in his broken English.
I focus down on my shoelaces, “No.”
“Shame,” I don’t look to greet his eyes in the rearview mirror, but I know he’s staring at me through it and that he’s grinning with white pearly teeth.
“Right turn at traffic light?”
“Yes,” I confirm the direction.
I feel a sense of relief sinks into my flesh as we edge closer to my flat, and I let my breath settle into the moment as the car pulls up outside the building.
I show the driver my Shademore disability pass to get a lower price.
He clicks his tongue on the roof of his mouth and shakes his head as he looks at his counter on the dashboard, “Should show pass when begin!”
I always forget, “Sorry.”
He smiles and I try to mimic the action of a normal smile back to him but it just feels like the friction of lips behind forced off their hinges.
“Never mind,” He waves away my apology but with a huff at the end of his sentence ejaculating his frustration.
I give him the money and close the door, running my finger down the edge four times to double-check it’s really closed.
The driver is eyeing me through his window, his face the epitome of a living question mark. I watch him pull away and drive off.
The lobby of the building is lit up, I pause and gaze through the gaps in the blind through the window and see a man checking his post. I wait for the figure to go and for the light to go off before putting my key in the door and turning. The light beams back on as I enter and then darkens once I’ve left the lobby and the other corridors light up to my presence till I arrive at my door.
My flat greets me with a calm emptiness. Security lights beam a little glow through the windows from the garden. I close the blinds, just another day over in a life not long for this earth.
The laptop whitewashes my face against the vast blackness of my empty flat. I’m picturing myself with a lightbulb head on a regular human body; I imagine my lightbulb head in different scenarios like walking down a dark unlit alley and lighting up the path as I walk. Drunks and druggies are stood against the wall, their faces reflecting orange from my head. Yes, I’d wear a suit with a tie and draw an ironic happy face on the glass. Come to think of it the bulb would be a dud; it would keep flickering on and off with a fizzing sound in between each flick. I’d go off into the town of Shademore at night with a smiley face drawn on my head and stand outside someone’s window, “police,” his or her voice will say shakily down the line, “there is a lightbulb stalking me.”
It was chilly out, and snow had started to swirl in a heavy breeze. I’d sat down to eat my dinner when my golden retriever, Darwin, raced to the windowsill, standing on his hind legs with his front paws on the sill. I slurped soup off my spoon and some if it dripped back into the bowl on the table, “What’s going on?” I asked Darwin.
Darwin turned his head to look at me, his paws still on the sill, his ears twitching. Then there was a knock at the door.
I dropped my spoon into the bowl with a clatter and headed towards the door.
Snow softly fell and clung to the fabric of his peacoat, his hands deep in his pockets for warmth.
I stared at him blankly for what in hindsight feels like too long. His blue eyes stared back at me, and a strand of hair hung above the rim of his glasses, his forehead creasing with tension.
“Mr Ashworth?” He leaned in.
I licked my lips, “Yes, whose asking?”
Darwin sat next to me, his head tilted with curiosity.
“I’m Jerry, Jerry North.”
He told me his name with a look on his face that suggested I should know who he was. I shook my head, “I don’t know any Jerry North!”
“I know your son,” He turned back to me, “Well, I know him very well actually,” He bounced on the balls of his feet and looked down at his shoes with a meek smile curling the corners of his lips.
“How,” I frowned, “He…” I faltered. It had been a long time since I’d talked to anyone about my son.
He held up his hands placatingly, “I know what you’re thinking,”
I gave him a scornful glare, “You have no bloody idea what I’m thinking!” I hissed and started to close the door on him.
He jutted his foot in the door, “I know he died when he was five,”
I swung the door wide open again, “What?”
“He died when he was five but,”
“But?” I asked him, bug-eyed, “But what? He died when he was 5, and that was that. What do you want?”
“Have you ever heard about the Soul retrieval facility, Mr Ashworth?”
I scoffed, and my face reddened in anger, “You,” I pointed accusingly, “Stop with this sick prank!”
“Have you heard of it?” He asked sternly, his hand on the door.
“I’ve heard the conspiracy theories!” I spat, “It’s nonsense!”
“What if I said that it’s true?” He leaned further into the doorway, “And,” He held up a hand to ward off any protest, “And that your son was retrieved there not long after his death.”
“I’d tell you what I’m telling you now; you’re sick! Playing a sick joke on an old man who still…” I could feel it in my throat. The hot swell of tears.
The blue-eyed man placed a hand on my shoulder gently, “Listen,” He looked me straight in the eyes. His stare was intense, and despite myself, I found something trustworthy about his eyes.
“Your son is 35 now,”
“Would be,” I hissed still not giving entirely into that trust.
“I’m his husband.”
My jaw dropped, and I scanned his face for answers.
“Listen, he was retrieved along with a lot of other children in the facility and,” He took a long breath and looked down at the ground sadly, “They were experimenting with this new technology. Downloading souls into clones.”
I baulked at the absurdness of what he was saying with a wry smile tinged with sadness, “Downloading souls? Clones?” I shook my head with a sigh, “I don’t know who you are but leave me alone!”
“I swear,” He shivered, and his lips tinged purple, “I swear it’s the truth!”
I would have slammed the door on him, but his foot remained on the step, and he held the door open with a strong looking hand. “Listen,” I started dejected, “Maybe you did know my son, maybe you knew him from the nursery,” I looked at him sadly, “But you’re clearly ill or,” I raised a brow at him, “On drugs?”
He shook his head, “If you’d just let me in!”
“No,” I held up a hand, “Next you’ll be telling me Elvis isn’t dead!”
“He isn’t,” He replied earnestly.
“What? See! You’re just like those usual crackpot conspiracy theorists!”
“Bowie isn’t dead either!”
I snorted, “You’re kidding me! Surely if either of them were still alive, they’d have been seen!”
“No! Their bodies are dead; they got cloned into different bodies to help them blend in unnoticed!”
“So those crackpots that reckon they’ve seen Elvis?”
“They’re just that, crackpots. He’s still alive, but he looks nothing like Elvis anymore!”
I didn’t know what to do. What was I supposed to believe? It was snowing, and we were both getting cold, “I don’t want to speak with you anymore,” I told him waving my walking stick at him, “Don’t ever return, do you hear?” I stepped forward and got in his face, “Do you hear?” I enunciated the question carefully.
And that was that. He held up his hands as if surrendering and stepped back. But there was sorrow in his eyes, and for a moment I nearly cracked and opened the door again. But in the end, I locked it up, put the chain on the latch turned the lights out and went to bed.
“You two going to a dressing up party?” Alex asked his two acquaintances who he only really knew by name from college, Drew & Drake.
Drew & Drake were a great duo because of their names. Unfortunately for them and you dear reader, they weren’t Drew & Drake the calm, collected suave detectives two names like that would make just ultra cool! Nah. Drew & Drake were just two best mates who were unemployed who wore sweatpants because they’re comfortable. Neither were they a brand of whiskey though they often smelt like they were.
“Well?” Alex gestured with his palms open in question.
Drew spun around in his pink flamingo costume, “What?” He looked at Alex blankly.
Alex pointed to Drew which didn’t help Drew because Drew knew he was Drew.
Alex rolled his eyes, “The fucking costume!”
realisation crossed Drew’s face, “Oh, you could say that.” He nudged Drake.
Drake turned around in his penguin costume, “It’s sort of a party, yes.”
“Can I come?” Alex beamed.
Drew & Drake exchanged glances, Drews flamingo beak collided with Drake’s round penguin costume. “Don’t think it’ll be your scene,” Drake explained.
“Why not?” Alex crossed his arms and looked across the road with a petulant expression on his face.
“Because…” Drake’s face screwed up hard in concentration.
Drew nudged Drakes penguin costume.
“What?” Drake flapped.
Drew pointed down the road at the hearse, “Here he comes.”
Drake followed Drew’s finger and sighed.
“I guess it’s time to say goodbye,” Drew swallowed down a knot in his throat.
More people emerged, and Alex’s eyes had widened, “I wish I’d never asked. I’ll guess I’ll be going about my business!”
Drake shot him a glance, “Yea, mind your own business next time, we don’t even know you that well!”
“God put me here to ask you these questions, so I did, my question has been answered, but I only have…” He watched as the place swelled with yet more people dressed as parrots and penguins and a few budgies but mostly a sea of pink flamingos. “More questions,” His eyes narrowed as he crossed the road to get away from them.
The bells rang out like a weapon of soul destruction; humans having been primed to know it meant goodbye.
Alex watched the procession of pink and a few other colours here and there with a brow raised and a chuckle rising in his throat despite himself.
Cars rolled by and the passengers stared out the window wondering what on earth was going on, one driver who saw his wife’s perturbed face chortled and joked, “It’s global warming. All these birds are emigrating to strange places.”
As the pallbearer’s carried the coffin through a path, the sea of people created it looked even more surreal. The pallbearers were dressed in smart suits but had owl masks covering their faces.
Someone stopped by Alex to watch, his dog pulling on the lead. “What the…”
Alex turned to the stranger, “It’s certainly….” Alex scratched at the stubbed on his face with a perplexed look, “Something…”
The little dog barked at the crowd of people dressed strangely.
The stranger looked horrified, “I better go,” He started his face pale.
“I don’t think they’ll mind a dog barking….”Alex started to say but the man had swiftly shuffled away pulling his dog along as it kept turning around to yap at the procession outside the church doors.
The vicar stood at the front of a statue of Jesus on a cross, light came shimmering in through the coloured glass behind him.
“Frank was a…” The vicar rubbed a finger on his collar, “an eccentric,” He said as he looked out at the sea of faces and beaks. “Frank lived life to the full, and though he has gone now, he will forever be remembered as a humorous, genuine, kind man.” The vicar scanned the faces and beaks around his church, “There is a lesson that can be taught by this kind man and that is not to take life too seriously. He’s known for a few sayings like, “Your arse…ahem pardon my french, is at the bottom of you for a reason, it’s the last thing you put down!””
The mourners mumbled and nodded their heads.
“And, “Window cleaners are the spies you should be most afraid of.””
The mourners chuckled.
“And one of my favourites,” He peered over his glasses, “I must forewarn there is bad language here, but for the sake of respect I shall quote him exactly as he says it, “A fork in the road gives 3 choices. Either you choose one of the prongs, you go back, or you don’t use the fucking road.””
The crowd laughed once more, and Drake turned to Drew, “That’s our Frank.”
“That’s the Vicar!”
Drake shook his head and rolled his eyes, “No I meant…” He sighed, “nevermind!”
As they swarmed out of the churches gaping mouth and onto the pavement outside, ‘I like birds’ by the Eels played.
Shortie and lanky stood across the road from their target. The rain spat at the collars of their topcoats. Shortie puffed on his cigar, his hands dug deep into his coat pockets.
“How’re we gonna do this?” Lanky asked as he lit a cigarette.
Shortie bit down on his cigar and shifted it between his lips, “The usual.”
Lanky smirked taking the cigarette from his lips between two fingers, “There is no usual with you.”
Shortie turned to look over his shoulder at him, “Wipe that smirk off your face!” He turned back to their target.
The women inside the building were none the wiser of their future assailants standing across from them. They chatted over the sounds of music and hair dryers with the women sat in front of them as they cut their hair.
“You can’t go in there,” Lanky pointed with the cigarette between his fingers.
“You’ll stand out! You’re a local, and you’re a short fucker!”
Shortie turned to his accomplice, “You don’t talk to me like that, Mucker.”
His hand raised so fast Lanky didn’t have time to respond before the slap hit him sharp on the cheek, “You hear me?” Shortie said with his cigar clenched between his teeth.
“There was no need for that!” Lanky cried rubbing his face.
The slap was hard enough to little a temporary red mark which Lanky felt no qualms to moan about.
“Shut it, mucker!” Shortie said as he stared across at the hairdressers. “What do you propose we do then, smart arse?”
“You’re so full of ideas you,” Shortie whistled full of sarcasm.
“I don’t see you coming up with any!” Lanky hissed through a haze of smoke. “Anyway,” Lanky dropped the end of the cigarette on the ground and twisted the bottom of his shoe on it, “I thought we didn’t hurt women?”
Shorties mouth dropped open as if to say something before turning into a scowl, “We don’t!” He dug his hands even deeper into his pockets. “I don’t want to hurt them, I won’t hurt them. But you know who their boss is!”
Lanky’s face twitched in anger, “Yea,” He looked across at the hairdressers now with hate in his eyes, “Yea I know.”
“I know what we could do,” Shortie started.
Lanky stared the building across from them down not so discreetly. Shortie turned on his heels and walloped him.
“Jesus!” Lanky rubbed his face again staggering a little, “What was that for?”
“Being a little bitch,” Shortie shook his head, “You know what for!” He rolled his eyes, “Take Lanky, he’s discreet as they come!” He shook his head again, “Discreet as they come, my arse!”
Shortie raised his hand, “Are you asking for another slap?”
Lanky stepped back a little and shook his head, holding his hands up in appeasement.
“Anyway,” Shortie began, “I’ve got an idea.” He rubbed his hands excitedly and ushered Lanky back up the street to their car.
“What is this plan of yours then?” Lanky asked impatiently in the passenger seat.
“Well,” Shortie gripped the steering wheel and listened to the ticking of his indicator. “We’ll find other men the same height as me!”
Lanky bit back a chortle, “And where are going to find these short fuckers?”
“Never you mind that!”
“I will mind!” Lanky frowned, “It’s my ass on the line as much as yours!”
They sat in silence as the car jerked forward and out of the space at the side of the road. Lanky turned the radio on to fill the silence.
Shortie concentrated on the road with his cigar still clenched between his lips.
Lanky fidgeted in his seat with huffs and puffs of breath in boredom.
“Jesus Christ, Lanks!” Shortie spat.
“Can you sit still for a second in your life?”
Lanky shook his head, “Nope.”
“Anyway,” Shortie turned the radio off, “Want to hear my plan?”
Lanky was eager to hear it, ready to lap it up like a lapdog.
“We’re gonna find some shortie muckers like me,”
Lanky couldn’t help himself, “From the Short Gangsta Society.”
Shortie turned his neck to face Lanky so fast he could’ve given himself whiplash, “How did you know?”
Lanky’s mouth dropped, “Wh…What?” He shook his head in disbelief.
“How did you know about the Short Gangsta Society?”
“You’re looking at the fucking founder of it!”
Lanky laughed, “Oh I see you’re pulling my leg!”
Shortie frowned, “No.”
Lankie stopped laughing abruptly and looked at Shortie sheepishly, “You’re…You’re serious?”
“Of course I’m fucking serious!”
“Shut it, Mucker!” Shortie pulled into the drive of a big mansion.
Their footsteps on the hallway floor echoed.
“Shoes off!” Shortie told him as he undid his own laces and carefully placed his to one side.
Shortie led Lanky to his living room.
In the middle was a grand fireplace with a sheepskin rug laid in front of it.
Lanky sat down on an L shaped leather sofa and Shortie across from him on an old brown leather chair. “So I’m going to get a team of men the same height as me,”
Lanky nodded in agreement as he listened.
Shortie cut and lit another cigar, “and then we’re going to,” Shortie knew this bit was sure to get a laugh so he readied himself for it, finding it a little amusing himself, “We’re gonna dress up as women.”
Lanky’s mouth gawped open, “you…”
“I’m not kidding,” Shortie said with a chuckle.
Lanky frowned and looked at him, his face contorting with question.
“Oh I’m for real, but it don’t mean it aint funny!” Shortie slapped an arm of the chair and laughed.
Lanky forced a laugh while he gauged his companion’s reaction, when his fake laugh only catered to further Shorties own laughing he started to laugh for real till tears ran down his face, “You’re gonna…” He couldn’t speak for laughing, “Dress up as women?”
“Yes,” Shortie smiled a short, sharp smile then a foreboding looking crossed his face.
Lanky stopped laughing abruptly and looked Shortie in the eyes.
“We’d all be a good height for that.”
Lanky had to bite back more amusement, “But for the other differences like your voices, muscles, fat, built…” He continued on.
“Are you saying there is only one type of build for women?” Shortie shook his head, “You’ve read too many Nuts magazines!”
“Just because you’re wife…”
Shortie scolded him midsentence with a look.
“Sorry,” Lanky grimaced. “So,” Lanky nodded his head toward Shortie, “You’re all going to dress up as women then?”
“Then go in there and ransack the place!”
“And if someone catches you? As soon as you speak, you’ll give yourselves away!”
“I’ll put on my best woman’s voice!” Shortie smiled.
“Go on then.”
Shortie cleared his throat, “Okay,” He cleared his throat again and jutted his neck out from his collar like a chicken, “Okay,” He cleared his throat once more.
“Oh for fuck sake stop stalling!”
“I’ll have you know I’m not that kind of lady!” Shortie said in a voice that sounded more like a teenage boy whose voice hadn’t fully cracked. He tried again, this time trying to go higher, “I’ll have you know…” His throat hurt from the effort, “I can’t go any higher than that!”
“Well, this plan already looks good!”
“Fuck you, Lanks!”
“Mrs Ashton,” a small male voice queried.
Mrs Ashton looked around looking rather weary, “who speaks?”
She asked nervously
“Dr Perez.” He answered
“Where are you asking from?” She asked with a frown
“I’m here, just look down.”
Mrs Ashton lowered her chin, did a double take
To see Dr Perez standing at her toe with a grin.
“You’re….” she stifled a scream, “you’re Dr Perez?”
“Yes, follow me.”
She considered turning round and walking straight out
But she followed anyway despite her doubt
“Okay, just lie down over there.” He pointed to a bed.
She lay down and placed her ankles on the stirrups
“I must admit, I’ve never been more nervous,” she tried a little laugh
But the little man had already gone under her gown
And with a little giggle he was acting the clown
“I love this job.” He beamed, “gigantic vaginas,” he guffawed
“Excuse me!” Mrs Ashton exclaimed.
“It’s okay, just a little humour, no need to be be ashamed!”
Holding her vagina open with a speculum
He shone his torch down and shouted, “hello,” and then repeated the word, “hello, hello, hello,” His voice getting quieter with each hello to resemble an echo. He laughed and slapped his thighs, “I’ve always wanted to do that!”
Mrs Ashton began to get a bit fidgety, “stop that! Take your job seriously!” She hissed.
“I’m sorry love,” The little man said, “if you don’t mind me saying,” he began, trying to get into her good books again, “you’ve a lovely vagina.”
Mrs Ashton wasn’t sure how to respond, “um…” she suddenly smiled “thanks!”
“All looking very good down here,” he reported, “hello?” He began again with a little snigger, “hello, is anyone in there?” He shone his torch down once more and to his surprise a voice called back, Dr Perez stepped back, “Jesus, I didn’t fucking expect that!”
With illusions to nowhere
everyone thinks they’re somewhere
Arthur sat on his log with a frown upon his pale freckled face, “We need to get back to nature.” He pondered out loud after hearing such phrases from many adults.
“Is that so?” His father replied, brushed his hand over his beard, “Why where have we been?”
With that Arthur looked to his father with a puzzled expression and the fire crackled between them, reflecting on their faces. “Nowhere.”
His father too was now considering the phrase his son had just said, in deep thought he looked to the flames as if the answer would be in them. “Exactly.” He said, finally.
“What?” Arthur asked, still perplexed.
His father flicked his knife over the wood he had been whittling into a teddy bear for most of the afternoon, “It’s as you say, we’ve been nowhere, son.”
“Nope,” Arthur shook his head, “I still don’t get ya!”
“Well,” his father closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, “How can we go back to something we never even left?”
The boy considered this for a moment and rested his chin on both of his hands, “But,” He started, “You’ve said it yourself.”
His father frowned, “I was foolish.”
“How so, dad?”
His father once again stared into the flames, as if the flames were an oracle that could give him any answer he needed. “Well, I guess,” He frowned trying to find the words, “Well, look at it this way, have you seen a Beavers dam?”
“Yea.” Arthur sat hunched forwards, eager to his father.
“Do you remember them termite mounds?”
Arthur’s eyes lit up, “Yes! I remember them!”
“And you remember that documentary on the TV about the bower birds nest?”
“Yes! I remember all that, dad! I remember!”
“Well, that’s what humans are doing.”
Arthur’s face scowled into the flames, “I just don’t get ya!” He shook his head, “The termites made them mounds, the bower birds made them nests, and the Beavers made those Dams!”
“And we humans built our nests and all the other things we have created for better or worse.”
“But,” Arthur kicked “We have houses! Not nests!”
“Same thing.” His father remarked.
“But, like,” Arthur paused in thought, “TVs! They aren’t natural.”
“So if something is man made it’s, therefore, unnatural?” His father asked.
“So what are we humans then?”
Arthur frowned, “You just said what we are, we’re humans!” Arthur sighed and looked down at his shoelaces, “Anyway most of what people have made have been destructive.”
“It may well have been,” His father put down his knife and studied the teddy bear he’d whittled, “Doesn’t make it any less natural.”
“But nature is beautiful.” Arthur argued, “To be destructive is far from natural!”
“But destruction is part of nature.” His father reminded him.
“So what does this mean for us?” Arthur asked with a worried expression on his face.
“What do you think it means?”
“I think it means we can’t help ourselves.”
“We can,” He picked up his knife again and shaved a bit of the teddy bears ears that was sticking out too much, “we just need to stop perpetuating the illusions that having houses made from bricks and electronics in our home means we’re not part of nature, or beyond nature. Then, perhaps we’d be more conscious about our choices.” He studied the teddy bear again and smoothed his finger over the curves, “Do you think your little sister will like this?”
“Yea, dad,” Arthur replied but with a far away look that had glazed over his eyes.
“I’m just dreaming of saving the world.”
“Naturally.” His father uttered softly.
At the crack of dawn, he always wakes me up! “Look, Blake, I don’t want to wake up with Dawn’s arse crack in my face!” that’s how I sometimes respond, referring to the earliness of the hour. Bloody Dawn, she orchestrates a choir much too early for me come spring! But no, not for Blake. He’s up and ready, shaking me in the bed like, “Wakey, wakey! Rise and shine!” He opens the curtains revealing Dawn’s crack.
“It’s the best time to see all that life!” he beams and kisses me on the forehead. He’ll insist on going for a walk, he loves walking. But, let me make one thing clear about Blake, he walks like he’s floating. I don’t know what he does, but it’s like the land responds to his quiet step, and he tames it. The wildlife responds much the same way, for example, squirrels don’t chatter nervously and shake their bushy tails ready to pounce and run off up the trees. No, it’s like as Blake approaches the squirrel somehow knows, ‘he’s not threat to me, he’s a dear friend.’ The birds know it too, they don’t go off in a sudden flurry of flight. Sometimes he’s stopped walking, and I have continued on in my own world only to find him missing from my side when I turn around he’s stood there shaking his head and laughing at my ignorance.
“You had the chance to see so much life!” He’ll say walking or floating as he does towards me, “You’re what I call a bird plough,” He’ll put his hand on my shoulder and squeeze it reassuringly, “But so is so much of the human race!”
I always raise a brow at him like he’s insane. Initially, I meant it, now it’s just habit.
We’ll sit down at a bench, usually at his request. He’ll be sat there for ten minutes all calm and serene but by this time I’m usually ready to get up and walk some more, but he remains seated, and I ponder how he can sit still in the same spot for so long! Especially when he does it in the winter, or in early spring when it’s still cold as fuck, excuse my French.
“It’s a bit cold.” I’ll remark and start rummaging in my pocket for my gloves.
“Take note of the male Blackbird to the right of us, but be subtle about it.” He tells me eagerly.
I shift my eyes to the right, and there is Mr Blackbird perched precariously on a branch.
“Now take note of Mrs Blackbird ahead of us, a worm in its beak.”
I look ahead at the grassy verge, and Mrs Blackbird has a worm wriggling in its beak. I’d wonder to myself what relevance it had to anything. But, he’d just remain silent and just scanning the scene like he always does. I try to watch his gaze, but he can be very subtle about where he’s really looking. A woman with is pushing a pram with one hand while holding a phone to her ear with the other, and a kid running ahead of her. Occasionally she stops in her tracks, gesturing with her hands to some guy called Gary on the phone, who is, ‘pecking er ‘ead man!” Their obliviousness to those that surrounded them sent both Mrs and Mr Blackbird flying away, to which Blake turns to me and says, “Bird plough.”
I roll my eyes, “You can hardly blame her!” I shook my head, “A kid running lose, a baby and someone on the phone!”
He smiles, “So what’s your excuse?”
Bloody git he is! But he’s my git, and though I roll my eyes at him nearly every minute of every day. He can be mildly irritating, but isn’t everyone? Plus there is a side to him only I actually see, though it’s not a happy sight I’m afraid. See the thing about Blake is, he has the most intense bouts of depression I’ve ever seen. He deals with it by using humour and watching the birds.
I’m just saying all this because, well, I’m about to marry him and well, I guess I must really love him! Because I’m currently dressed as a flamingo. Yes, I didn’t take it seriously when he said to me, “Wouldn’t it be surreal to get married dressed as ostriches or flamingos?”
I said it would be surreal and laughed. But now here I am, and I’m still marrying the bleeding git!