Most of the time I’d sit and stare.

That’s how it started I think.

Her eyes were the open doorway between this place and the next, not that I knew that back then. Though, somewhere in the back of my consciousness I knew that if I spent too long in that place I’d just keep walking and eventually be lost – endlessly searching for…

I don’t think she minded; she’d sometimes do it right back too, but not for the same reason.

She knew me.

Everything about me, actually.

She collected porcelain dolls, among other things. She had hundreds of them, beautifully dressed in early Victorian clothes and polished black buckle shoes. Whenever I turned my back, an uneasy feeling consumed me, like a million pairs of eyes had suddenly sprung to life – watching and waiting.

I remember the first time I visited: There was no television set, just a wall of shelves upon which they all sat, too many to count – with a big blank space in the middle and it was there that she’d look, incoherently whispering the same foreign phrase over and over. I’d ignore it and put it down to dementia, carrying on with my duties.

She was too old to move in and out of the bath so I’d gently jostle her this way and that, doing the job as she sat in her chair. The only chair in the room. Her focus always on that empty space. Her trance like state even continued when she placed her hand on my shoulder and spoke:

“What’s your name dear?”

“Janet” I’d say.

“Have you been a good girl, Janet?”

I always smiled at this. “Most of the time.” I’d answer.

She’d just sigh and nod. “I know.” She’d say. “I know.”

It was when I’d feed her, that the conversation really got going: Each of her words, perfectly pronounced, her speech was slow and deliberate. She was German I think but her diction – impeccable.

She became overly interested in my life after the first visit. If I didn’t know better I’d say she was an undercover author, breaking me down, chapter by chapter. I just put it down to the inquisitive mind of a lonely old woman. In a few short weeks she knew all about my childhood, my failed marriage, my dead parents and why at 39 I had not borne any children.

Every day her invasive and enquiring mind would wander to something different, then in mid-sentence she’d stop talking and repeat that phrase over and over, whilst looking into the empty space on the shelf, filling it with her mumbles.

I’d often use the opportunity to silently spoon the porridge like baby food mixture into her mouth. She had no teeth, so solid food was out of the question. It was then that I’d fall into her vacant stare.  I swear that sometimes I’d even feel myself dropping off, woken only when she placed her hand on my shoulder again, slowly speaking:

“Time you were going Janet dear. You do believe, don’t you?”

I’d smile, never quite sure how to answer that question, bending down to collect my belongings and walking from the house, silently closing the front door behind me.

Six months and five days ago she actually remembered my name, greeting me the moment I walked into the room:

“Hello Janet dear. You are a good girl.”

“Am I?”

“I’ve made you a beautiful princess dress. Would you like to try it on?”

I nodded politely, following her eyeline which was firmly fixed on a beautiful white Victorian dress that had been placed on the shelf in the previously vacant space. The dolls dress was just like one I’d imagined wearing as a child.

“It’s a little small.” I joked.

She said nothing for a long while after that. I silently washed her, hoping that my comment hadn’t offended. As I placed the final spoonful in her mouth she stopped looking at the dress and tilted her head forward and toward me so that she was practically nose to nose. There was something different in her eyes that time, a disturbing intensity that I hadn’t seen before. It made me a little dizzy and nervous, but I couldn’t look away.

“You do believe, don’t you Janet dear?” she whispered.

I nodded, hoping she would look away.

“Yes,” I said “I believe.”

She smiled.

“You are a good girl.”

I tried to answer, to bid her farewell, but could not speak.  I couldn’t move either, paralysis rapidly consuming everything but my eyes, which frantically searched left and right, as though they were trying to make their own desperate escape.

The old lady seemed to grow too. Her wrinkled old face towering above me as she sat, motionless in the chair. It felt as if I was falling.

I looked down to find that I was wearing the same dolls dress that had been placed on the shelf earlier then I looked up to see her reach down with her bony hand, her giant bony hand and pick me up as though I was a …

I was a…

I couldn’t be?

She placed me on the shelf, looking deep into my eyes.

“I’m pleased you believe, Janet dear. You can only join the family when you believe.”

I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move. I had to watch, in horror as she hobbled back to her chair.

“You are a good girl,” she said “You are a good girl.”

The Curse Of 2016

The Year of The Scythe

 

I died last year.

Dangerous time to be a musician, or a celebrity of any kind really!

I remember thinking:

If I can just last a little longer – see 2017 in then I’ll be fine; the curse will be lifted, I’ll be immune.

Fat chance!

If you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking “I wonder which one he or she is.”

Bit heartless and unsympathetic but probably true.

I’ll give you a clue – I’m not Carrie Fisher, or her mom.

Oh good, you might say. That only leaves One hundred and seventy-two, that’s if you are only counting the ‘A’ listers.

I loved Carrie Fisher, she really was the anti-Darth. Came through so much in her life, only to be swallowed up by the curse of 2016.

The traditional depiction of the Grim Reaper, long black cloak and scythe is all wrong; it’s four numbers, 2016 – An all-encompassing death cloud!

Does that make anyone who survived it immortal?

Safe to say I hate that year.

You know, David Bowie released an album, all new songs before he bit the bullet. Shows he wanted to go on tour and enjoy the fruits of his labour. Shows he wasn’t prepared for… or was he?

His last two songs were called ‘Killing A Little Time’ and ‘No Plan.’

It’s a brave man who will write that sort of stuff in the ‘Year of the Scythe’ (My not so affectionate name for it).

He was tempting fate somewhat I think, but I still miss him.

I recon 2016 is the year that the Death Eaters actually came out on top. If you don’t believe me then ask my old friend Severus Snape, or as his other family members knew him, Alan Rickman.

Bruce Willis (Kudos for surviving) was good in that Die Hard movie but for me, Alan Rickman made it.

And what about me?

I know it’s a little self-involved but I died that year too!

The Death Eaters came here too.

Where do they find the time?

I miss me.

It wasn’t even my time, was it?

Harper Lee – you know, the guy who wrote ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ he died then too. He was 89 though.

Again, and I’m seeing a bit of a pattern here, the word ‘kill’ kinda stands out in his most famous work. Maybe the Year of The Scythe only rained down on those who had written about or been in movies where death plays a title role.

Maybe death was pissed off, not being in the credits.

I started to think of 2016 as the year real talent died. Justin Bieber is still alive.

I mean, let’s compare here! Sir George Martin also died in 2016. George martin!

What do you mean, who’s he?

The Beatles producer, the fifth Beatle, the…

Cut me up when he departed. Ok, he was quite old too but the Beatles were the greatest rock band in history, and he ups and drifts off leaving Paul and Ringo to carry the torch.

Maybe me being dead is not such a bad thing; If you’re hosting a house party and all your friends leave the room to have a smoke, do you stay and make the most of your desolate domicile or do you walk out and join them?

Well, we all know what I did.

No offence to the non-existent people left in the room – as that famous comedian once said:

I never speak behind other people’s backs. If I’ve anything nasty to say, I pop it on a postcard.

This is my postcard.

Who said that?

Victoria Wood… wait a minute, did she?

… Yes, she did. 2016 engulfed and spat out her comic genius too!

How old is the Queen?

No idea, but she’s still kicking. I have nothing against the Queen, in fact I quite like her, but it just shows Royalty have a free pass at this life lark. Look how long the Queens mother lasted!

Nope I’m wrong.

Royalty is not safe.

Prince is no more.

Not Prince Phillip (he’s still here), but Purple Rain Prince!

Multi-talented and brilliant but it didn’t stop life handing him his p45 either.

His demise was so unexpected that the cash grabbing capitalists in the record stores didn’t have a chance to put a compilation album together to serve to his grieving fans with their pre-prepared tear soup.

Even Muhammad Ali couldn’t fight his way out of 2016.

I cried when he died, George Michael too.

As for my own death, I didn’t shed a … all that is left is a feeling of numbness.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – my heart still beats of a fashion. More out of habit from than any great desire to go on sampling the delicacies of the here and now.

But all my friends are gone. The ones I grew up with, the ones with whom I shared the beauty of life, my constant companions throughout the years.

All gone.

They died in 2016 and took me with them.

 

Coffee Shop Girl

 

 

I’m going to die.

Wish I could say I’d made peace with it, but I’m terrified.

Just a waiting game now.

Waiting.

The bell at the top of the shop door tinkles every time a customer comes in.

Tinkles?

A repetitive clanging, a chime of doom a…

Chinese water torture, that’s what it is.

Trouble is, I don’t know who it will be, could be anyone. If the next guy comes in wearing a big black cloak and holding a scythe, then that’ll be a clue I suppose.

See how I make jokes? Must mean I’m okay with it now. I’m really not.

“Hi Kay. Can I get another coffee please?”

A coffee? A coffee? Does this drooling moron not realise that I won’t see the end of the day? And she wants coffee. Bloody coffee! Where the hell does she think she is?

… A coffee shop I suppose.

“Yea course, Sandra. Same again?”

“Yes, Oh and one of those tiramisu slices, they look like heaven.”

I’ll be able to compare and let you know for sure soon.

“Yes, they do look good.”

Always liked the name Sandra. My first-grade English teacher was called Sandra. She was so, so pretty.

She’s dead now.

“You look a little tired if you don’t mind my saying.”

“Yes. I haven’t had much…” any “Sleep.”

“Oh, why. Are you okay?”

“It’s nothing. I’ll be alright (in the afterlife).”

Well, that’s her off to chuff her desert, after my typically British response to a very British question. Dunno why people even bother asking if someone is okay. Everyone lies. As long as we all share the same lie I suppose.

Oh God, look who’s come in. Please say you’ve lost your voice.

“Hello dear. It’s so wonderful to see you. How long has it been?”

Not long enough! Miss Talks Forever, making me want to tear off my own ears, just to have something to throw at you.

“I’m simply fantastic, thank you for asking.” I’m really not. “I hope you’re doing well.” Couldn’t give a shit.

“Oh, I am, yes. My Johnathan has graduated from university; got the third highest in his class, and that was at Oxford. Suzie has decided what she’s going to take for her options… I’m thinking all the sciences, maths and English of course…”

Is she aware I stopped listening ten minutes ago?

“So, what can I get for you?”

“Just a tea please dear.”

“Sit down won’t you, I’ll bring it over.”

See, my potential last act will be one of kindness.

“Oh, thank you dear. You are a good girl.”

Though I’m doing it to shut her up mainly. And what does she mean girl? I’m twenty-five not twelve; though I suppose compared to her, every female is a younger version.

How is it that she gets to live so long?

Thinking about it; her saying ‘you are a good woman’ sounds kinda sexist, or sexual. Girl is fine.

“That’s fine…”

I’ve forgotten her name.

“Mrs…”

I don’t care. Just put the tea down on her table and…

Who’s he?

That man is just staring at me. He’s not even trying to cover it up. You know the way you do. Pretend to be looking at something else once the person being stared at notices,  or give a quick smile then stuff your head in a newspaper or something. Not him, though. Wide eyes, expressionless face. Just sitting there right in front of me. Should I say something?

“Can I help you?”

“Yes”

Okay, stop looking at me now! He’s weird. It’s a struggle staying polite. I want to take Cynthia’s tea – Cynthia, that’s her name! – and splash it over his face.

“What time do you finish here?”

Could this guy be any more monotone?

“We close at six tonight.”

“Is that when you leave?”

Yes normally, but you’re creeping me out big time dude, so I might pull the tables together and make a mattress from the napkins, rather than walk home.

“No, plenty to do after we close.”

“Would you like me to wait with you. Walk you home?”

“No, thank you.”

Is it him?

Can’t be.

Okay Kay, just turn around and walk back behind the counter. Customers are not allowed behind there so I’d be safe from any vicious attack.

He’s watching me as I walk back. I can feel his eyes burning, boring a hole in my head. One more step and I’m home and dry, the sanctum of the staff only area. Just one more…

Triiinng

The door.

“Hello, Kay.”

Shit, I recognise that voice. I don’t want to turn around.

Why is this scaring me so much? I thought I was prepared.

“It’s been a long time.”

“Thought I’d lost you for a while.”

“You certainly tried.”

“I haven’t slept.”

“You must have slept a little. I wouldn’t have found you otherwise.”

“Yes, you would.”

“Yea, I would. Though it has been fun watching you try to stay awake just in case I can only see you when you’re in the realm of the dream. You’re nearly right; except that’s the only time you can see me not the other way around. I’ve always been with you.”

“Always?”

“At work, at home, in bed… in the shower.”

“You’re a pervert.”

“I’m a certainty. What’s the saying?”

“Yes, taxes and well, you.”

“Don’t you want to look around?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to see you.”

“I get that a lot. Have you said your goodbyes?”

“I have a son.”

“Yes”

“What about him?”

“Not my problem.”

“He is mine.”

“Not for much longer.”

“I need help.”

“Do I look like a childminder?”

“To stay alive. Please. I thought I was ready, but I’m not.”

“I’m like a bailiff for the soul. I don’t make the decisions, I just have to carry them out. You making peace with it just makes my job easier, but it happens regardless. Look out, you have a customer.”

“Two Americanos made with soya, one hot chocolate, no cream and a green tea.”

This guy must be thirsty. I’d best get behind the counter and turn around, keeping my eye from wandering over toward the door. I can do this.

Fuck!!

That’s no customer.

“You can’t avoid facing me indefinitely.”

It’s him!

Long overcoat, check.

1920’s Trilby hat, check

And a dark creepy shadow where his face should be. Ch.. ch… shit.

Just like in my dream.

“Okay, so I can see you.”

“Look at me properly.”

“I don’t want to.”

I’m now taking a sudden interest in everything, except the haunting image in front of me:

Cynthia, sipping at her tea as though it were her last drink. The fucking irony! The lovely Greek couple, sitting staring lovingly into one another’s eyes; Sandra, practically licking the tiramisu plate clean and the bad-tempered biddy, who parks herself in the corner day after day, desperately looking for something to complain about. I’ll swap with you luv!

And that other guy. He’s still staring at me. What the… Where do I know him from?”

“I can’t take you if you don’t face me.”

“Well, there’s a little loophole you almost didn’t mention.”

I’m now staring right back at the creepy guy. Well, he was doing it first after all, but at least I’m not looking death in the face. Ohh shit, he’s getting up and coming over.

This is it, that’s how it’s going to happen. I thought it would be my heart giving out, that’s the most natural choice given my medical condition, but no, this guy is going to come over and… my brother?

“Jimmy?”

“Took you a while to recognise me.”

“But… you died in childbirth. It can’t be.”

“Means you’re close now, else you couldn’t see me.”

“What are you…?”

“Come to get you.”

“With him?”

I tilt my head, without actually looking at Mr. Reaper.

“Jimmy I’m too young.”

“I wasn’t exactly a pensioner.”

“I have a son.”

“And he’ll grow to be a fine man.”

Reaper coughs and Jimmy corrects himself.

“…I would imagine. You can’t cheat death.”

Jimmy sighs, and I just wanna throw my arms around him. This is so strange, I love him so much. He didn’t live to be more than ten minutes old, but I know him as well as I know myself. I have to keep my distance, though. I’m not going to die. They can’t make me, they won’t.

“Mum and Dad are here.”

“Give them my best when you go back won’t you?”

“Kay.”

Oh, Reaper is joining in now.

“You can keep out of this as well. This is between family. One question, though. Why is everyone carrying on as though everything is normal?”

“Look at Cynthia.”

“Cynthia, why?”

Cynthia has finished her tea and is standing to put her coat and scarf on whilst her table is cleared by… me?

“But how?”

“That’s your body.” Reaper said.

“And this is your soul.” Continued Jimmy. “You started separation after you first noticed me sitting there. I’ve been here for hours waiting. I’ve really missed you.”

“Can’t I go back in?”

“No, sorry, not once you’ve split from the body.”

“How long does she… I have?”

“Minutes,” Said Reaper.

“I don’t want to go.”

“I know. There’s nothing I can…”

“Jimmy, surely you can?”

He shakes his head and looks at Reaper

On instinct, I follow his eyeline and end up staring Reaper right in the non-existent face. There’s a crash as the tray behind him falls to the floor, alongside my material self and a collection of dirty cups plates and glasses, which shatter as soon as they hit the ground.

The screams from the customers seem to fade into a kind of surreal ambiance as I stare deeper into Reapers face. What was once so frightening now seems almost comforting.

“My boy will be fine.” I eventually say, softly, and I know that he will.

Jimmy holds my hand.

“Yes.”

“I’ll still miss him but…”

“You’ll always be with him.”

“Yes”

“He’ll feel you when he most needs to.”

“And I him.”

The coffee shop dissolves from my mind and I am happily lost in the emptiness of Reapers face.

His shadows suddenly become defined and facial features begin to form. The rapid transformation into a fully functioning face is quite unnerving.

The eyes open and the lips move but no sound comes out.

“I can’t hear you,” I say.

He mouths a phrase; the same phrase over and over.

“Can’t hear you.”

I move in closer, till I’m almost at kissing distance with the Grim Reaper.

“WAKE UP!”

My eyes shoot open.

A crowd of … Sandra, Cynthia everyone. I’m not dead, but how? I turn my head and Jimmy is here, right by my side.

“Jimmy?”

“That’s right.” He smiles.

“You fell, fainted I think.” said Sandra “Lucky for you there was a doctor in the house.”

“I thought I was dead.”

“You were.” Said Cynthia

“Turns out it’s not your time after all.” Said Jimmy.

“Thought you said I couldn’t cheat death.”

“You can’t. Me on the other hand…”

“Thank you.”

“Well, I’ve done what I came to do. Now you have a little boy to be looking after.”

I have no words, but he understands perfectly. Jimmy rises to his feet and opens the door. The brightest sunlight floods the room from the outside. He turns once and smiles before walking out.

“I’ll be seeing ya. Though not for a while hopefully. You take care of yourself.”

The Room

 

“Leave the door open.”

Mary half smiled as she slid further into the middle of the bed, her exhausted body relishing the comfort of the pink cotton duvet; her tired eyes slowly looking around the bedroom.

A soft glow from the candles in the landing leaked through the open doorway providing her with just enough light to see faint outlines from the familiar objects which surrounded her.

Content, she closed her eyes.

She was safe.

Why wouldn’t she be? I was here.

I used to whisper her name, always when she was alone.

Seems she was always surprised to see me, which made me smile. We were creatures of solitude her and me.

I’d often leave notes, send flowers, and even call when I could, never needing to speak, just so she’d know I was there, thinking, always about her.

This is the room she grew up in as a child, untouched by time and carefully maintained by her mother, as a kind of shrine I suppose.

I’ve waited so patiently for her to return to this place, watching as her mother cleaned, dusted, vacuumed; she washed the bedclothes almost on a daily basis, rather curious as the bed hadn’t been slept in since she was here last with me and yet, well how clean can bedclothes get?

I’ve missed seeing her, not just in the bedroom – a gentleman shouldn’t kiss and tell – but at work too.

She always wore that same perfume, smelled of spring time, brightened up the place whenever she walked by.

Her smile was so radiant, so hypnotic. That smile was to die for.

Of course, some people took the smile and perfume combination as a personal invitation. John Matthews; he thought just because he was her boss he could monopolize her time, inviting her into his office every afternoon, doing who knows what behind that closed door.

Once she was in there for sixty-eight minutes!

I followed him to his car that night.

I tried to tell him, to explain, you see I didn’t want to hurt him. I said ‘sexual harassment is a crime.’ I tried to explain but he just didn’t listen, then he shouted at me, told me to leave him alone.

I didn’t want to hurt him.

I had to…for Mary.

Look at her sleeping, so tranquil, a silent symphony in motion. Her lace nightgown effortlessly moving in harmony with her heartbeat, following the perfect rhythm as her chest moves gently up and down, the gentle breeze from the open window blowing across her hair and face.

It will almost be a shame to wake her.

The door slammed shut, jolting Mary wide awake. She sat up and looked nervously around the room, her eyes finally resting on the open window.

Logic told her that a gust of wind from the open window probably forced the door to close. She paused a moment to consider, thinking back.

That window, that open window was closed when she went to bed, she was sure of it.

She carefully scanned the room again.

Apart from the light in the corridor which passed through the space at the foot of the door, the room was pitch black. It was hard enough to distinguish between the different objects that surrounded her let alone recognize a potential intruder that may be lurking in the shadows.

She hid beneath the duvet, pulse rate increased, and closed her eyes trying to convince herself that all was well.

A faint whisper.

‘Mary.’

She poked her head out and looked around, her eyes gradually accustoming themselves to the limited light.

‘Mary.’

‘Hello?’ she cried, nervously looking around.

Her arms wrapped around her legs assuming a foetal position on the bed.

‘Is anyone there?’

There was a slight pause before she heard the final whisper. It was louder and more menacing than the previous two times and so close it seemed that the voice was right above her head.

 

‘Mary, I’m right here.’

 

The light in the landing was blown out, but the breathing above her head continued, slowly and steadily.

Mary clamped her eyes shut, not daring to look or move. She could feel the cold breath on her neck. Goose bumps began to form on her skin as she forced her arms tighter around her knees and buried her head inward.

A river of tears fought to escape the deadlock that her eyelids had created.

She began to shiver.

The duvet was gently removed from the bed and placed on the floor.

She felt an icy cold finger gently caress the back of her neck and slowly make its way down her spine, stopping at every vertebra as if each of her bones were a Braille question, and a brief pause was needed to contemplate the gravity of the answer.

With her eyes closed she could still feel the burning intensity of his stare.

The icy hand was no longer touching her skin, it was now stroking her hair from root to tip, gently massaging her scalp as it did.

Mary slowly opened her eyes and turned her head to see her captor.

The nervous, inquisitive look quickly transformed to a petrified stare when she saw his face.

He smiled; the gaping hole where his front two teeth should be, the cut below his left eye, the indentation on his upper lip.

It was him, but how?

Her heart rate rapidly increased and her tears were now free flowing.

His hand, instead of caressing her scalp now firmly clenched her hair, his grasp gradually becoming tighter and tighter, till he had positioned his body so he was straddling her mid-section.

She tried to pull free but her body wouldn’t move, it was literally frozen.

Her paralysis seemed to be only from the neck down. Turning her head, she looked toward the closed door and tried to shout for her father to help. The first two times, rather pathetic weedy sounds were all that would leave her lips.

An increased yank of her hair from her aggressor seemed to give her improved vigour and she let out a piercing cry, which shocked even her captor and he released his grip.

Pleadingly her eyes searched the door handle for some sign of movement, for the hope her father would hear and come crashing into the room to rescue his daughter from this evil.

Nothing, silence.

‘Father’ she shouted.

‘Faaather’ she repeated, still louder.

The door did not budge, the handle did not flicker, there was no rescue. This made her tormentor laugh.

‘Your father won’t be coming Mary’.

She stared at him disbelievingly.

‘Your father is… sleeping downstairs’.

‘Daddy’ she cried softly, now not caring what happened to her.

‘Is he…?’

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘He is. He didn’t understand about our love.’

He smiled again.

And now you’re mine.

The tears continued, but something began to change, an anger, like an eager volcano, stirred from within. Fear very quickly turned to hate and her breathing resembled a bull, readying itself for the charge.

Her captor, the red flag.

With increased vigor, she lunged forward with all her might digging the nails of one hand into his eye whilst the other grasped at his throat.

He squealed in pain and jumped back from the bed and onto the floor, blood pouring from his eye socket, one hand covering his wound.

She saw her opportunity, jumped from the bed and dove at the door reaching for the handle. She had barely touched it when a sudden blow to the head sent her crashing violently to the ground.

Determined, she struggled to her hands and feet, but that was as far as she got. The two massive bloody hands of her captor were now round her throat, squeezing from behind, unrelenting, constant, harder, tighter…

Mary felt the life slowly leave her body.

Her heart rate once so strong and innocent, now gradually slowing, her body limp, her eyes closing. Now accepting the finality of her fate.

Her mouth opened; one last whimper for help.

‘Daddy.’

Her final word, her final breath, she was dead.

He released his grip and lay next to her on the floor, blood still pouring from his eye socket, he lovingly stroked her hair.

The door opened.

Two elderly ladies walked into the room. Bright light from the afternoon sun shone through the closed window.

The room was perfectly kept, clean and tidy, nothing out of place. Mary and her captor were nowhere to be seen.

‘And this is the third bedroom’ said the lady with the black dress and a tear in her eye.

She sat on the bed and pinched in between her eyes a futile effort to stop the tear escaping and falling to her lap.

‘Are you alright?’ the other enquired with one helping hand on her shoulder.

‘Yes’ she replied, feigning a smile.

‘This was my daughters’ room. She died twenty years ago today, my husband too. I can sometimes feel her here, always so sad, so helpless. I swear I can still hear her calling sometimes.’ She paused and sighed.

‘You must think I’m crazy?’ She sighed and turned her head away.

The other lady, momentarily speechless, sat beside her on the bed.

‘I’m sorry’ she eventually offered. ‘I didn’t realize. Are you sure you want to sell the place, so many memories?’

she nodded.

‘Oh yes, enough memories, time this house belonged to a family again.’

She rose to her feet and walked through the door, followed by the other lady.

The door closed, the room was quiet once again. The lights dimmed as the window opened. On the bed, Mary yawned, her tired eyes struggling to stay awake.

‘Good night daddy’ she called, ‘leave the door open’.

 

My Name – Melek.

I am a creation of author P.J. Greystoke and will star in my own novel, but until that day, P.J. Greystoke will be asking me various questions, asking for my views and opinions on various topics, and placing me in short situations to help him understand who I am.

You (the reader) can comment and ask me questions too and I will answer them honestly and fully.

Together we can build my personality and life history.

I believe that I am great. It led to my author asking me – What is greatness?

This is my answer:

 

Do the great people in society think of themselves as great, or is that left for the rest of us to decide once they are dead?

I mean take Gandhi, at what point did he stop what he was doing, eating probably, and think… You know what, I’m fucking awesome. People are going to remember me forever?

Don’t get me wrong. He’d have no argument from me. He is without a shadow of a doubt one of the greatest men that ever walked this planet.

Then again that’s only my opinion. I’m sure the British general who massacred all those women in India around the same time wasn’t a fan.

Horses for courses.

Maybe greatness is a measure of how much you inspire others?

If that’s true, was Adolf Hitler a great man?

Some people may think so, depends on where you live, but one man’s hero can be another’s nightmare. To the English, he was the stuff of nightmares, but I guess German children thought the same of Churchill (The former Prime Minster, not the insurance dog, though he scares me).

What about Children, our future professors, teachers, inventors, scientists, architects, authors, musicians, world leaders?

Children are great in the eyes of those who brought them into the world, so what happens over time to make them lose that sense that they can be anything they want to be?

Who’s to blame?

Parents?

Teachers?

Peers?

Media?

Or is it a natural progression where they face the harsh reality of what life is and let go of their dreams and aspirations?

And are those great people I spoke of earlier, just the ones who slipped through the net?

 

 

Supply Teacher

By P.J. Greystoke

 

Extract from the Highfield School prospectus January 2016 and used in evidence in November of the same year:

 

 

“… Celebrating its third successive ‘Good’ from Ofsted and a 48% GCSE average A – C grade increase; Highfield High is so much more than a school. Our dedicated staff stimulate and encourage personal development as well as academic growth. Every child matters, and as the assistant head I see to it that their every need is catered for.”   

Prof John Gorman – Assistant Head Teacher.

Dave

 

“You gonna help me put up the displays in the back office then?”

Carolyn sat in the open dining area, playfully spinning on her little round seat, till she was facing the new supply teacher.

Dave shrugged. “Yea if you want me to; but aren’t I supposed to be teaching year 11 science now?”

Carolyn laughed. “You are new aren’t you?”

To Dave’s utter astonishment she reached out and touched his knee, caressing it slowly in small concentric circles. For a moment, he was transfixed by her hand, almost as though it had some sort of hypnotic power over him.

“Guess I’m kinda new myself.” She giggled.

He didn’t remove the hand, instead slowly looked up till their eyes met. A wry smile had already formed on her face; her bright red lipstick reflected perfectly the dumbfounded expression on his own face.

“We help each other out here, y’ know?” She whispered, then raised an eyebrow, stood up and sauntered slowly and seductively into the back office, leaving the door open behind her.

A queue of ill-tempered teenagers had already begun to line up outside his science room. His gaze darted back and forth frantically, from the office door to the classroom.

How much do I need this job? He thought, and what of his wife?

He was a married man, had been for fourteen years, but for all the sex he got, he may as well have taken a vow of celibacy alongside his wedding vows. He stood up, briefly checked to make sure his apparent arousal was not evident then marched directly to the office entrance, confidently taking a deep breath and walking inside.

Sheila Lonsdale a 65-year-old battle axe of a secretary stopped typing and glared at him. Her stare was unnerving, almost like she was looking right through him. Shocked, he took a sudden step back, knocking a pile of unopened exam papers to the floor.

“I’m sorry” he stammered “I was looking for…”

He glanced around the small room. Carolyn was not there. Aside from the entrance he’d just used there was only one other door and that was directly behind the ogre he had unintentionally disturbed. Her chair was practically pressed up against it.

“Did you see anyone…? I’m sorry, I have a class. I’ll just go.”

The secretary said nothing; instead, she turned her attention to the fallen papers. Dave apologized once more then slowly backed out of the room, leaving the door open behind him.

 

Period 1

 

Year eleven science, though only timetabled to last an hour seemed to go on forever. His meandering thoughts of his encounter with the teaching assistant seemed to block out the usual Neanderthalic comments from his budding students:

“Do we have to work?”

“Can’t we just watch a movie instead?”

And

“Don’t see the point in science I’m gonna be a drug dealer when I leave school.”

“Have you never seen Breaking Bad, stupid!?”

The bell sounded and the students didn’t wait for his permission to leave before walking out of the classroom.

Dave simply shrugged it off. He was only there until the end of the week and certainly wasn’t going to burst a blood vessel trying to keep kids in line that he was unlikely to ever see again.

He sat down and read the notes that had been left sellotaped to the desk for his next lesson, year 10 GSCE revision group. Should be quiet at least he thought.

“I missed you in the office. Thought you were going to come.”

His head shot up almost as fast as his heart rate.

The sweet voice came from the open entrance to his classroom. Carolyn propped herself up on the frame.

“I did come,” he said, resisting the temptation to make a pun on the double meaning of the word; he didn’t know her that well just yet. “But you weren’t Instead,I was greeted by the wicked witch of the west.”

She smiled, then walked away and down the hall.

Almost as soon as she was out of sight Dave dove out of his seat, banged his knee on the desk and ran to the entrance, looking up and down the corridor for Carolyn, whilst rubbing his sore knee. Gonna be a bruise there later, he thought.

Yet again she was nowhere to be seen. He felt sure that even if she were running at top speed he would surely have noticed her dart off and down the corridor. It is conceivable, he thought that she could have walked into one of the nearby rooms, but he wasn’t about to walk in and announce that he was looking for a sexy teaching assistant, and had anyone seen her.

There wasn’t time anyway, a pimple faced year 10 boy pushed past him and into the classroom, picking his nose and wiping the contents onto his blazer, which looked more like an open cloth casket for disregarded nasal mucus than the smart jacket that students were expended to proudly brandish.

 

Period 2

 

Dave took his seat and the class quietly got on with their work. Ten minutes into the lesson John Gorman, the assistant head popped his head around the corner.

Michelle Henderson, an attractive year ten student noticed him at once and stood up, brushing her hair seductively to one side of her face. There were plenty of boys her own age, who would have dated her given the chance -which may not be saying much, a few of them would also go out with the aging secretary if they thought she’d go for it- but Michelle’s desires were firmly fixed on John Gorman.

“Hello sir” she whispered in a mock Marylyn Monroe voice, “Are you looking for me?”

John smiled, and his obvious show of embarrassment was met with taunting cheers from the rest of the class.

“No Michelle I’m not. Do Sit down, and don’t forget your detention tonight.”

“Yes sir.”

He tried not to, but did glance at Michelle’s legs as she slowly returned to her seat.

Dave caught the direction of Johns gaze and shook his head.

The assistant head’s a perv!

“I’m actually looking for Carolyn, the new teaching assistant, anyone seen her?”

You and me both, Dave thought. Though judging by your apparent interest in that year 10 student, probably not for the same reason.

Dave did a quick circle of the room – may as well make it look like I’m working, and impress the pervy boss –  John didn’t even notice him, just took a quick glance around at the students chatting, made some comment about it being cold and walked off.

Michelle watched, starry eyed, as the teacher disappeared from sight.

“Detention again?” scolded Carly, one of Michelle’s closest friends, who was a little deflated at the prospect of walking home alone.

“What for this time?”

Michelle smiled. “Not wearing uniform.” She answered.

“Or much of anything else” laughed one of her classmates.

“Immature”, she said and tugged at the hem of her skirt till it was level with her knee.

 

Lunch

 

“Guessing you’re not hungry?”

Dave looked up from his book. He’d had a copy of Stephen Kings Gunslingers tucked in his jacket pocket for the past few days; there’s a time in everybody’s life when they have to do the dark tower series, and this was his. Besides it was a good way of remaining solitary.

Carolyn was perched on his desk. He didn’t see her jump up there, but he did see the way she sat was making her skirt slowly ride up her smooth legs.  It was near impossible to hide his feelings of arousal and furthermore, his desire to have the skirt removed altogether.

“Where did you go before?” He half choked trying to retain a little composure.  “I chased after you, knocked my knee on the desk. Gonna be a bruise there later.”

“It’s all in the mind you know, physical pain, internal desires… me.”

She pushed her skirt up an inch further with her index finger.

“Can be hard to distinguish between what is real, and what you really want.”

Her signals to him were as clear as though they had been etched in big neon letters across her body.

Come and get it baby!

Putting the book down on the desk, he chanced a bold move with his hand toward her bare thigh. She took his hand in hers before it could make contact and slid down from the desk.

“Come with me.”

She led him to the dimly lit walk in book closet which was attached to the classroom and pulled the door so that it was nearly closed, leaving a tiny crack where the door met the frame so they could keep watch for unwelcome intruders.

This is it, he thought, all my birthdays and Christmas’s coming at once, soon to be quite literally.

Carolyn wasted no time; pushing him up against the wall and moving in so close so that their lips were barely touching. He reached down and grasped at her top, wanting to rip the thin blouse from her body, wanting to tear every scrap of clothes from…

“Hello.”

They froze.

Carolyn smiled and signaled for Dave to peer in through the crack, which he dutifully did and recognized the girl at once.

“Yes I’m alone. Ok hang on.”

Michelle Henderson, the scantily dressed student from period one closed the classroom door, then pushed a chair up against it, preventing unwelcome entry. She paused and carefully scanned the empty classroom. Satisfied she was alone she sat, virtually facing the closet.

Dave was afraid to move a muscle, though he found the role reversal rather exciting; two teachers hiding from the discovery of a student.

Carolyn simply sat on a pile of books, unhooked a button from her blouse and started pretending to read the first book her searching hands could find. Dave smiled and shook his head.

“Ok I’m back. Are we still meeting later baby, and maybe a little extra ‘detention’ on Saturday too?”

Detention? Dave thought.

Michelle laughed.

“Ooh John. Sorry Mr. Gorman.” She repeated in the same Marilyn Monroe mock voice that he liked so much.

Dave glared, dumfounded at Carolyn, who simply nodded as though it was old news. He returned his spying eye to Michelle.

“What did you tell your wife this time?

Carolyn? But I haven’t seen her.

The police?

How does she know?

Big deal. She’s just jealous. Besides all the kids know she’s got a thing with that supply teacher who was here yesterday; she probably ran off with him.”

Dave shot another look at Carolyn, who placed the book down on the floor, fixed the top button of her blouse and moved closer to the door. He didn’t know what to react to first; the fact that A student was having an intimate relationship with a senior member of staff, or that Carolyn seemingly knew all about it already.

He made to run out from the closet and confront her but was stopped by Carolyn, who grasped his arm and reverently shook her head. Michelle continued:

“I love you. Do you love me?

Well say it then.”

She laughed, hung up the phone and walked out of the class.

Barely a second later Dave burst out from the closet, silent rage building within.

“Ok” he shouted. “What the hell’s going on?”

“You still don’t remember?” Came the sorrowful voice from within the closet.

“Remember what?”

“You will. Meet me 6 o clock tonight in Mr. Gorman’s office.” she answered, then started to cry. “And I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

There was no response.

“Come on Carolyn, you can’t hide in there forever!”

He stormed over to the closet, swung the door open and…

Carolyn was gone.

What the hell??

The classroom door was open. Michelle had left it that way, but Carolyn hadn’t used it, he would have seen. Surely?

He sat at the desk and buried his head in his hands, convinced that he must be going mad.

That is the only explanation. He thought.

He was a scientist after all –  He needed an explanation; to logically work out what the…

He was going mad.

The only logical explanation.

 

Period 5?

 

The bell sounded and more students poured into the room, followed by Miss Pervis the biology teacher who settled the class rather quickly. She stood at the front and glanced down to the notes sellotaped to Dave’s desk.

“Right you lot. Open your books to page forty-three, plant and animal cells. Read the chapter, answer the questions and don’t talk. These walls are paper thin, my class is next door, so if you make any noise I will know. I have a nice bunch of detention slips which I’m dying to use, that includes you Sonia. Your parents have already asked me to call at the end of the day to give them an update on your behavior!”

“Yes miss”

Dave shrugged. Was his presence even more superfluous than normal?

“Thank you Miss Pervis.” He added “But I think I can handle this.”

“Any questions?” Miss Pervis asked, looking around the bored faces staring blankly back at her.

Sonia raised her hand.

“What happened to that supply teacher miss? If our normal teacher isn’t here and when the hired help doesn’t turn up… well that’s not good for our education is it?”

The rest of the class laughed.

“And we all want a good education” another student added before joining in with the laughter of the room.

“Quiet!” Miss Pervis yelled “Shall I just hand out those detentions now?”

That seemed to kill any feelings of levity that the students might be experiencing.

“Mr Jenkins…”

“He said we could call him Dave.”

“Well you can’t. Mr. Jenkins called in sick this morning, left a message with Mr. Gorman, so if any of you want to go discuss it with him, please be my guest.”

She extended her arm toward the open door as an invitation.

No one moved.

“I thought not. Right on with your work.”

Miss Purvis walked from the room, closing the door behind her.

The ignorance of some teachers, Dave thought. And I never called in sick. I’m right here!

“Miss Purvis.”  He called after her.

She didn’t respond and none of the kids so much as glanced in his direction.

Disgruntled, he walked to the door and made to turn the handle, but his hand just floated right through. He stepped back in astonishment before slowly reaching his hand out and trying again. The result was the same. He clasped his hands together. They both felt solid to him. But the door…

Nervously, he turned to face the class.

“This door, has anyone been tampering with it?”

No one answered.

The ridiculousness of the question was apparent to him. What could they have possibly done?

Maybe he was going mad.

First Carolyn, he thought, then Miss Purvis; maybe she wasn’t ignoring, maybe she couldn’t hear, or see me?

Can anyone?

Am I… dead?

I can’t be!

“Right everyone in the class.” He shouted at the top of his voice. “I need you to listen to me. I am a monkey.”

No laughter. Nothing.

“Free money for the first person to put their hand up.”

The students continued with their quiet chatter whilst being blissfully unaware of both his presence, and of course, the chapter they were meant to be reading.

“Please, somebody talk to me!”

Suddenly and without warning, a very slow heartbeat sounded in his ears. Quiet at first but gradually getting louder with every strike. The eventual noise was so deafening that he had to press his hands against his ears, a futile effort to keep the noise out, as the sound seemed to be coming from within.

He clamped his eyes shut, his head still pounding and stumbled forward wincing in pain, gasping helplessly for breath.

With great effort he opened his eyes. Five or six students were sitting around him having a conversation, but none were paying him any attention.

He looked down to see that he was standing in the middle of a perfectly solid table. Students either side, with him as the petrified centerpiece. Sonia flung a text book at another student across the table and it passed right through him.

This is impossible. He thought.

His mind, as well as enduring the most dreadful pain, was lost, swimming, drowning in a sea of unanswered questions. He tried to focus, to swim. Praying for a brief moment of clarity:

“Carolyn!” he said aloud.

“She can see me, hear me She can even touch me. I must find her!”

Almost as if it had a mind of its own, and was waiting for the science teacher to reach this realization, the door opened on its own.

A couple of students looked toward it.

“Oooh we have ghosts.”

“Just the wind stupid.”

“The ghost of a penguin, it’s freezing in here.”

Dave walked through the table, right through a couple of students, and straight through the open door, which slammed shut behind him, nearly shattering the glass and making the students in the classroom jump.

“I can’t be dead.” he tried to convince himself. “I mean I live the most boring life, never take any risks. But that doesn’t mean I don’t… I still have dreams, ambitions.”

He thought of his wife, strangely without remorse. He always assumed that he must love her, I mean they shared a house, a mortgage. Went on one holiday a year and slept in separate beds. He’d even forgiven her infidelity on more than two occasions. If that wasn’t love, then…

“Hello!” He called out, half afraid and half hoping to attract the attention of whatever entity caused the door to open.

There was no answer.

 

Period 6

 

The end of period bell sounded for lesson changeover. Students left the classes and filled the corridors, almost doddering, in no apparent hurry to continue with their valued education. Pensioners, Zombies and secondary school students all share a common walk, Dave thought.

He glanced up at the clock on the wall.

Ten past two and fifteen seconds, sixteen seconds, seventeen. Back to fifteen and repeat.

Wait, what?

The clock is broken?

No. He looked around.

Everyone in the hall was doing the same, caught in a perpetual loop – walking a few steps, asking half a question, taking half a bite of a sandwich, tripping over and falling halfway to the ground, surrounding student’s half preparing for the explosion of laughter that was to follow. – then rewind and back again, over and over.

Dave walked and passed freely through objects and people alike, and if it weren’t for the ever present heartbeat pounding like a persistent drum in his head, or for the fact that he was inexplicably ethereal, he could have almost enjoyed this.

He found that the closer he moved toward the school office the more painful and intense the drumming was. Something told him that the answer to this mystery lay behind that door, but every fibre of his being, or whatever was left of it, wanted to move as far away from that place as possible.

He quickly resolved that knowledge was power and that the unbearable head pain was but a necessary evil, so took several strides closer till he stood outside the office door.

If I am a ghost, he thought, then it will be pointless trying the handle. I should just walk through the door the same way I have been with everyone and everything else.

He walked, full force, with absolute certainty, slap bang into, but sadly for him not through the door. He hit his nose so hard that he thought it may be pushed into the other side of his face. It put him in mind of a previous student remarking a few years ago, how Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series probably walked into the wrong train platform and lost his nose.

Dazed and confused, he turned around to hear a mechanical whirring. The clock on the wall was moving forward again, this time faster. The minutes were moving as fast as seconds and with it, the movement in the hall continued too, only at super speed.

In next to no time, all the children and teachers raced by and left. The cleaners came in too; did the briefest day’s work they had ever done then departed leaving him finally alone and in complete darkness, save for that one clock which shone brightly.

 

6 pm.

 

Carolyn was in the assistant heads office. In a land of uncertainty, this was one thing he was sure of; perhaps the only thing he was sure of.

He ascended the stairs that led to the carpeted area leading to the offices of the senior management team, never once doubting that he was doing the right thing. A flickering light at the end of the corridor told him that this was probably Mr. Gorman’s office.

If he had been in any doubt however, then that was soon to be alleviated when the spirit of Carolyn floated through the open door and turned to face him.

“Come with me”, she said and extended her hand for him to hold, which he did.

They both walked through the locked door and into John Gorman’s plush, executive office.

John was sitting at his desk, fists clenched, a face like stone; the stereotypical image of complete power and dominance. He was staring at the year 10 student who was drowning in floods of tears on the couch opposite.

“Are you with me or not?”

She shook her head.

“I can’t.”

“Ok. Have you told anyone else? Well, aside from Carolyn, but she won’t be saying anything now.”

She shook her head again.

Carolyn squeezed Dave’s hand.

“In fifteen minutes John Gorman is going to come to the inescapable conclusion that it’s far too risky to have Michelle’s mouth roaming free. He’s going to sit over there on the couch, pretend to comfort her, tell her everything is going to be alright, then fix his murderous hands round her throat and squeeze every last breath from her body.”

“What? But she didn’t… She’s just a kid.”

“Yes, being done for rape is a pretty big incentive.”

Dave nodded.

“And since he already has one murder to his name.”

“Murder? But he hasn’t killed her yet. Surely we could…”

“Come with me to the closet.”

Dave was confused but followed.

Once through yet another locked door, Carolyn pointed at the bloody corpse sprawled on the floor. Dave tried not to look; the battered body of the former teaching assistant was barely recognizable as the lady he’d been lusting after, been fantasizing about ever since they first met. He almost cried.

“Oh Carolyn, I’m so sorry.”

A single teardrop dripped from her ethereal eye.

“He can’t get away with this. You have to stop him.”

“How did he? I mean why you?”

“Take both my hands and close your eyes.” She said softly, closing her own eyes.

He moved in close, interlocked his fingers with hers and closed his eyes, breathing slow and steady.

He could hear a clock ticking, shortly followed by the morning school bell and the rush of bodies as teachers and staff milled around the front entrance to the school. Through the darkness, he saw himself walking up to the front entrance.

An image, a memory from the past.

“This is when I first arrived at the school earlier this week”, he said.

He watched as his former self rang the bell on the desk and straightened his name badge

Dave Jenkins, Education Network UK.

“Hi I’m Dave from the agency. Filling in for science this week.”

“Well, hello Dave from the agency.” The smiling and, he couldn’t help but notice, attractive receptionist answered.

“I’m Carolyn. I’m a TA, not normally on reception. But I’d be happy to show you around and get you your timetable. Do you have your DBS forms?”

The image froze and was quickly displaced by another.

Dave and Carolyn were standing in the staffroom alone, laughing and joking as he poured her a coffee.

“…A boyfriend?” she said “No, why? Are you asking?”

He slipped off his wedding band and placed it deep in his pocket.

“Yes, well a drink at least. Tonight after work?”

“Well I have to put some notices up in the back room.” She signaled over to the adjoining room.

“It’s been closed and locked up because of the water damage a few weeks ago. But now that it’s all sorted, the head is going to open it up as a sixth form common area. They even get their own phone. Posh eh? Here take this key, wait for me there after school. If you help me with the posters and stuff, we can go out after if you like?”

The image froze again as another memory took its place, this time not his, but Carolyn’s.

She was yelling at John Gorman, in his office.

“The poor girl came to me. She is so confused, claiming that you and she have been having a sexual relationship for the past few months. Please John tell me this isn’t true!”

John was the picture of calm and tranquility.

“I didn’t realize we were on first name terms Miss Stephenson. That’s a serious allegation.”

He sat on the corner or the desk and started fiddling with a paper weight that had been lying there.

“Tell me, why did she come to you?”

“I’m a friend of the family, that and she said she’s missed a period. She hasn’t done a pregnancy test. She’s too afraid of what it might say, of what you might say!”

He grasped the paperweight in his right hand

“Please tell me it’s not true John.”

First names again, he thought, tut tut.

“Of course it’s not true. Have you mentioned this to anybody?”

“No, hell no. I wanted to talk to you first. But there are channels. We have to tell someone. And if she is pregnant…”

“Yes that does complicate things rather.” He calmly replied as he crashed the paperweight down on Carolyn’s head the moment she turned away from him.

She slumped down to the floor and after a moment of silent shock, screamed repeatedly, trying desperately to crawl over to the exit and down the corridor. Johns massive body weight prevented her escape, and the constant blows to her head that followed rendered her unconscious.

The school was quite empty, John made sure it would be when Carolyn telephoned him after lunch following her conversation with Michelle and requesting a meeting.

Just to be on the safe side though, he decided to take a look around. He stepped outside his office and saw Dave running up the corridor toward him, obviously alerted by Carolyn’s screams for help.

“What’s going on? I heard yelling!”

“It’s Carolyn.” John replied defensively “Some sort of attack or fit or something. She’s in my office.”

Dave pushed past the assistant head and into the office.

He stood, stunned and looking at the lifeless body at his feet. He knelt down to feel for a pulse.

There was none.

Before he had time to react, or challenge John Gorman, he felt a sharp pain at the back of his head and was sent crashing to the floor next to her. The last image he saw before he blacked out was the shocked and helpless eyes of Carolyn, wide open and forever locked in a perpetual cry for help.

The image froze again then slowly faded away. John was once again standing in the closet with Carolyn’s spirit.

“That’s when I came to you”, Carolyn said.

“I have the only key for that sixth form room, the one I gave to you. You weren’t dead, merely unconscious. I caused a distraction, made a noise elsewhere in the school, far enough for John to hear yet close enough for him to go and investigate. I then helped you to the common room and had you lock the door; from there you were supposed to call for the police, but you blacked out. And that’s where you are still, unconscious in the common room.

All the images you’ve seen today; most have been real and others, the ones with me, the sexual ones have been mixed up, made up from your thoughts and feelings of me; confused and dizzy, mixing for the most part, fact and desire.  I tried to lead you to the common room this morning, to make you discover your body and wake up, but you didn’t make it.

Michelle’s life is in danger Dave. You have to wake up now, please before it’s too late.”

 

6.10pm

 

The repeating heartbeat sounded once again in his mind, stronger than ever and that familiar pain caused him to once again close his eyes.

The drumbeat instantly stopped when he opened his eyes. He stumbled across the floor, onto a chair and picked up the telephone.

 

From the Highfield Gazette June 21st 2016:

John Gorman, the former assistant head of Highfield High school was today charged with the statutory rape and attempted murder of Michelle Henderson, the brutal murder of Carolyn Stephenson and attempted murder of science teacher Dave Jenkins. He has been ordered to serve three consecutive life sentences.

Judge George Wiseman commented: “John is a selfish, evil and vicious, man without conscience or a single shred of regret for his victims. It is disturbing that he was ever placed in a position of trust among the vulnerable in our society.”

Dave smiled, folded the paper and placed it on the last of his packing boxes. He picked it up and put it in the passenger seat of his car.

Before driving off he took one last look at the house he had shared with his wife these past seventeen years.

Today was a new day.

A new life.

In The Moment

By P.J. Greystoke

 

 

“Do you believe in ghosts?”

I shuffled, uneasy in my seat, switching the phone to loudspeaker and placing it on the table; A little more distant and less intimate. That’s the way forward with this type of conversation.

“You know, spirits and stuff?”

“You know I do.” I answered nervously. “I know that they exist, just as surely as I know that my phone is sitting on a table right now, arm’s length from this conversation.”

Rachel laughed.

“Do they ever scare you?”

“Phones?” I quipped, trying to lighten my own mood. “Only when you call. Good job it’s not that often.”

Does every night count as not that often? I thought.

“I’ve never believed in that sort of stuff.” She mumbled, more thoughtfully. “Science has always done it for me.”

“Science is nothing but a bunch of Vulcans trying to make logical sense of an illogical world.”

“You’re such a geek.” She laughed again, this time with a hint of melancholy.

There was a pause.

“Pete”

“What?”

“I wish we’d known each other better. I mean, I’m gonna miss you.”

I rolled my eyes.

Not this again.

During our last chat over the phone – at 2.30am, even though I had to be up for work at five – She told me of her rather brilliant plan of killing herself when her children go away over Christmas to Dubai to be with their father.

She’d take a few pills and slip silently away into oblivion.

“I can’t have this conversation again, Rachel.”

She sounded hurt, indignant almost. Which is weird, because she didn’t actually say anything. Perhaps I imagined her response.

I continued.

“Let’s suppose, for a second that you don’t give a fuck about your own life and what happens to you. And like you said last time, that you have been planning this ever since you entered adulthood and discovered what this damn cruel world is all about. What kind of…”

Heartless Bitch!

“… Responsible mother, would do that to her own children?”

She started to cry, but I had no words of comfort.

Somehow, ‘There there, everything is going to be alright, seemed wildly inappropriate; almost like – making her feel better would implicate me in this heinous and incredibly selfish crime.

Well she wasn’t going to get my seal of approval. If she’s going to do it then it’s going to be with the knowledge that I tried to talk her out of it. My conscience is clear!

Still, she was crying.

“Look I don’t mean to come over all harsh, but this stuff really gets to me. Life is the greatest gift we have been given, and to throw it away like that… Besides, I’d miss you.”

“Can we talk about something else?”

I love it when people do that. They only say it to avoid the difficult conversation, which means any other topic is gonna fail miserably. And like a struggling nightclub comic, the onus to change the mood of the room falls entirely on my shoulders.

“I wish we’d had sex.”

Ok, I wasn’t expecting that. Though it lost much of its allure being delivered over the phone, covered in imagined tears and snot, but still…

“I know we slept together once.”

We did a lot more than that I thought.

But she’s right. We didn’t actually have sex.

An image of her, laid bare, upstairs on my bed flashed in my mind and I felt that familiar tingle and pushing against the inside of my trousers, which I snapped away almost as soon as it entered my mind. I should be ashamed of myself. Here is this girl, obviously upset, calling her friend for comfort and all he can do is imagine kissing every part of … I’m doing it again!

“That’s alright” she said “I’m thinking the same.”

Next topic: Cold Showers!

“So, how’s Uni?”

That seemed to kill the mood.

She sighed.

“Doesn’t matter anymore. I tried, I really did, maybe not hard enough. It’s so fucking difficult being a single mom. All I ever wanted was thirty minutes. That’s it, thirty short minutes to read a chapter or make a start on an assignment and all I ever got was ‘Mom Jack is hitting me, Mom I really don’t have any homework, I don’t need to check my bag, mom I’m hungry, mom, mom, Mom!’”

“No one ever said it was going to be easy.”

“Like you’d fucking know!”

“I’m a single parent too.”

“Part time.”

That was cruel.

I’m every bit as much a parent as her. I may only have my kids half the week but at least she doesn’t have to put up with the constant barrage of shit from her ex that I have to; severe anger issues and a constant craving for cash. I pay half for everything that the kids need, have them half the week, do well over half of the parenting and emotional support, and she still wants more money for maintenance. It’s like she wants a wage for looking after her own children!

I wouldn’t mind she even gets the child benefit and working tax credits for them. But who the hell wants to hear that? It’s been my experience that the dad puts up with the shit from the ex and the male adult in me shuts up and gets on with it without crying.

Sometimes I’d like to, cry I mean. Maybe it would help, but probably not. I think the fear is, if I did that I’d become a woman, I’d become… Rachel.

She was being unusually quiet.

Probably waiting for a response.

“I’m a good dad and I work bloody hard.” I blurt out. “It sounds like you’re so consumed by your own problems, by what’s happening in your own little bubble, that you won’t see the world around you. There are millions of people in the world that would kill to be where you are right now, couples that would love to have a child and a home.”

“Well they’re welcome to mine. I’d be happier on the streets. Not a care in the world, no one to care for.”

She starts to cry again.

“sorry”

“It’s ok”

“I don’t feel so good.”

I glance at the watch, hanging loosely on my wrist like a weary soldier.

2.30 am.

Regular as clockwork I think, then smile at the irony.

“It’s probably because you are tired. I’m guessing you haven’t eaten again?”

“Where do I get time for food? I don’t eat the same shit my kids do, and by the time I finish cooking that, I’m not hungry anymore.”

I almost suggest that if she doesn’t feed her kids shit, then maybe it would be more appealing to her and she’d get a square meal inside her. She’d think straight, be happier and not keep me up at night when I have to be up at five in the morning.

Instead I suggest she go and make herself a sandwich.

“Eugh, stop. I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Well you’ve got to eat something.”

“I really don’t.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“A little. Why?”

“You’re starting to slur your words. Maybe it’s time you slept.”

“Oh, it’s definitely time I slept.”

I sensed the double meaning even before she spoke and shook my head. I’d had this conversation a million times before, and expressed disapproval, support, anger even, the metaphorical shaking of the shoulders and slap across the face:

Wake up, welcome to life!

I don’t know if it was the lateness of the night, or the alcohol she’d consumed but she seemed different, almost resigned this time.

“Look, Rachel.”

I’ve gone full circle. Back to sympathy again.

“I do understand, it’s difficult for you.”

“Impossible.”

“Ok, impossible. But as much as I care, and I do, only you can make your life better. Do you think people haven’t suffered worse than you and still come out on top?”

“No.”

“Course they have, millions of them all across the world. It’s your state of mind, the way you think about stuff. Talk about glass is half empty. You’ve got to be strong. If not for you, then for your kids.”

“How dare you say that. Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Her words are still slurred, it’s like she’s talking in her sleep.

“Your friend. If you don’t like it, hang up!”

I half expect her to, but she stays on the line and doesn’t say a word. Perhaps she’s fallen asleep and knocked the dregs of her red wine over the table and onto her university work.

“Are you still there?”

“I’m here, just.”

I’m over tired and now entering the philosophical phase of my self-proclaimed therapy practice.

“You can have two people, both on the bones of their ass, not a penny to their name No family, no home, nothing.”

“What’s this got to do with?”

“Don’t interrupt, you’ll find out.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s ok, now where was I? Oh yea, one of these people, after a few years, manages to become a millionaire, marries the woman of his dreams and has two beautiful children. The other scums about, starving on the streets for a while before taking a drug overdose and dies, unwept and unhonoured with nothing to his name. He’s barely a statistic. To the poor sods that have to clear away his body, he’s same burden on society in death that he was in life.”

“I’m pleased I can call on you to cheer me up.”

“What’s the difference between those two people?”

“I don’t care.”

Talk about being shot down in flames. I was hoping that one would have hit it home.

“Neither did the man on the street, the one who died. Didn’t care about himself. Where’s he going to find the motivation to better his life if his self-esteem is at such a depressingly low point that…”

“Please stop.”

I do.

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Always being there for me.”

I shrug. Fat lot of good I’m doing now. It feels like I’m making things worse.

“You should talk to someone you know.”

“Too late for that. Besides, I have you.”

“I’m no therapist.”

“My dad was a therapist, and he beat me up. I prefer you.”

“You do know that professional therapy has moved away from kicking holy crap out of their patients nowadays?”

“That’s not funny.”

“Sorry.”

“It is a bit.” She stops to light a cigarette. “You’ve always been able to make me laugh. I’ll miss that.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

Sod it, it’s lunacy o clock in the morning and I’m not going to get any sleep. May as well pull an all-nighter.

“I wasn’t talking about you.”

I don’t reply. I don’t know what else to say.

“Do you have any regrets?”

“In life? Some, why?”

“I don’t have as many as I thought. I mean I do, but they are different to what I expected.”

“What are you talking about?”

Is it normal that I’m more worried than usual right now?

“Just, work and stuff. The things I stressed over. They don’t seem so important now.”

“Rachel, what did you do?”

She’s crying again, softly.

“Rachel” I repeat, louder more defined. “What did you do?”

“My head, it hurts. I’m so dizzy, so tired I…”

I start to cry too, jumping up from the sofa and pulling the phone close to my ear, suddenly wide awake.

She’s done it. She’s taken something, or cut her wrists and is bleeding out on the carpet whilst I’ve been preaching. I always thought it was just a cry for help or…

“Rachel! Listen to me, I’m going to call an ambulance or something, don’t…”

“No, please don’t. I want this. I’ve always wanted… If they save me, I’ll just do it again. You know I will.”

“Think about your children. How are they going to feel coming downstairs in the morning to find their mother lying dead on the living room floor?”

“They’re at my sisters. Besides, better off without me.”

“No they’re not!” I’m shouting down the phone now. “Please Rachel, I’ve got to call someone!”

“Promise me you won’t.”

“I can’t”

“Promise me.”

“I…”

“I have the right to decide how I want to die. Please don’t take it from me.”

Her voice is slower, more deliberate. It’s like she’s having to concentrate so hard, just to speak.

“Let me go call an ambulance. I’ll phone you right back, promise.”

“Don’t go. It’s too late for that anyway, trust me.”

I’m inclined to believe her. She’s done more research on this than anything else. I remember she once showed me a website designed to help people who are serious about suicide.

“Just don’t leave me alone right now.”

She stopped to take a drink.

“Or I’ll come back and haunt you.”

Through the pain and the tears, she managed a light chuckle.

I feel so useless.

So pointless.

“I’ll come over. I’ll be with you, hold your hand.”

“No time. You are with me. Just talk.”

I don’t think I’ve ever cried this much. And what the fuck do I talk about?

“Rachel I…”

She sniffs and I imagine her wiping the tears from her closing eyes as she lays down with the phone pressed against her ear.

“Pretend that I’ve fallen asleep whilst you are speaking. Say you’ll talk to me tomorrow. Take me to one of those comedy shows you always talked about.”

I shake my head. I can’t do it. I can’t, I can’t!

I take a deep breath.

“So, work tomorrow hun, gotta be up early. I’ll text to stop you getting bored, you know we can hightail it off to Montreal for the comedy festival.”

I listen for a response.

Nothing.

I’m breaking up inside and there’s not a damn thing I can do.

“Thing is Rach… I never did get to tell you that I loved you. Don’t even think I knew it till now.”

I look at the phone face to make sure it’s still connected.

It is.

“Are you asleep Rach?

Rach?

Ok, you sleep baby, don’t worry about a thing. I’m here, always.

Speak to you tomorrow.”

A friend and I have been experimenting a bit. He’s a musician and a jolly good one at that, and I thought wouldn’t it be interesting to try to have a conversation!!!

…. And they said it couldn’t be done!!

A conversation with a difference. A conversation where we communicate using only our respective art forms….

Soo he wrote a short piece of music – which if you use the magic power of… finger and press play above, you can hear – and I responded with the first thing that came to my mind…

It’s quite abstract, but what random thoughts aren’t?

Now he must read this and get composing…

I hope you enjoy. As always all comments and thoughts welcome

TTFN x

 

Breathe

 

“Grit” He looked at her and laughed

“Come on bitch you can do it.”

She snarled at him and took more air in her lungs than he thought was available in the room.

“Selfish cow, I paid for that” he joked. “Lucky for you you’re breathing for two.”

She sat on the dining table, brown beads of sweat falling from every pore and orifice, sticking what little nightgown she was wearing close to her body.

He leered at her, perverted, as her breathing deepened and became more laboured.

“You stink luv” he said “Open your legs then, I’ve got a buyer waiting if you can push this out in time”

Taking a hold of her knees he used what little strength the dissipating air in the room allowed him and prized her legs open.

Her scream was piercing, the loudest yet by his reckoning.

“Oh baby, do that again I might not be able to wait if you do.

She shook her head rapidly and took in a big consignment of air.

“Steady on luv, there’s not enough oxygen to…” He fell to his knees struggling to remain conscious.

His eyes turned a pretty beetroot red.

She wasn’t far behind, taking what remaining air there was in the room she pushed whilst outstretching her hand for him to hold.

He reached up and grabbed her arm, just one more push and it would be over.

That night a baby cried on the dinner table.

… Then it died.