Nothin’ But the Hits Vol. 2

An excerpt from a story about a discontented rock star who becomes a hitman.

—————————————————————

 

It’s 2010. I’m adored. I’m surrounded by women. I’m the lead singer in a hugely successful rock band. I’m a Sagittarius. I’m the savior of rock ‘n’ roll, according to Rolling Stone. I’m the self-proclaimed Devourer of Pussy. I’m a vagrant. I’m bored. I’m writing songs. I’m playing Madison Square Garden. I’m the recipient of four Grammy awards. I’m in recording studios. I’m partial to drugs. I’m jaded. I’ve been singing in a band since I was fourteen. I’ve been touring with that band since I was twenty. Seven years up on stage. Seven years travelling, sweating, drinking, puking, fucking. Seven years having a good time. Seven years. I’m bored. Did I mention I’m bored? I met Pauly recently. Pauly. Yeah, Pauly. Me ‘n’ Pauly. All right. Seven years. Now Pauly.

   I’m gonna kill.

 

The merciless present

                                _

I’d grown a beard, and to my surprise it worked as a deterrent; people didn’t seem to recognize me. It added at least ten years. Two weeks earlier I’d been approached by a chubby sonuva bitch who introduced himself as Pauly. Pauly, who spoke with a New York accent and sounded like he was suffering from indefinite indigestion, told me that he worked for important people, whatever the hell that meant. He wouldn’t disclose who his employers were. He said they weren’t bad guys, but they weren’t necessarily good, neither. But I didn’t care. He asked me to kill. I told him I’d been killing all my life. He told me to cut the shit, that he meant really kill. I asked him who he wanted dead, and he told me it didn’t matter, and whether or not I was interested. I told him I’d sleep on it. That night, before sleeping on it, I drank, like most nights. The beard resulted in the absence of attention. I liked it. Maybe I’d keep the facial hair. One of my songs played in the bar. I sang along.

   I watched the drunks. I smoked a cigarette. I’d considered quitting because, while I loved it, my lungs were hurting. Constantly. I felt like I was on the verge of death. But the doc checked me out, said I was good. Told me I was healthy as a beautiful butterfly fluttering around in the sunshine. Another doctor once told me that if there were something really wrong, my body would tell me. The problem was my body had been telling me for so long that I could no longer believe it. My body was a god damn liar.

   The next morning I phoned Pauly and told him I’d kill, but that it would have to wait a couple of weeks while the band finished working our latest record. He told me he was proud of me. I told him to cut the shit and that I’d speak to him in two weeks.

   Did I agree to this because I was bored? Was I out of my mind? When wasn’t I out of my mind? I’d always been out of my mind. What harm was there in disposing of a few fuckheads, anyway?

 

♠♠♠♠

 

   It was to be more intricate than I had anticipated. Pauly caught up with me and informed me that the person I was to kill was, like me, in the public eye somewhat. I had never heard of him. He was a politician. Politics never really interested me – politics gets in the way of progress.

   We were sat in a bar near the Garden. It was daytime, and the bar was gloomy and stank of something stale. There were only about a dozen people there, and Pauly sat by a window with a drink in front of him.

   Pauly was tired. Not only on that day; he was simply tired. His defeated brown eyes offered no hope or expectations. They were done, disinterested. Why he kept going I did not know, but, then again, what’s the alternative, heaven? He was in his fifties and had a mass of untidy, flaxen hair. His belly always cried for food, it seemed. Every time I saw him his shirt was unbuttoned in some place. He always wore stubble. I couldn’t understand why he played the role of arranging for people to be murdered; it all seemed too macabre for him. He looked like someone who had let things get to him, a thinker, and surely that meant he was in the wrong business. Maybe he’d be murdered himself if he didn’t cooperate. I didn’t really wanna know, anyway.

   I just wanted something else.

   Something new.

   ‘You’ve sold a lot of records,’ said Pauly, sipping his scotch.

   ‘I know,’ I replied.

   ‘You wanna know why it was you who I approached, not some ordinary, everyday lowlife. Some schmuck?’

   ‘No.’

   ‘You looked tired, fed up.’

   ‘So do you.’

   ‘That’s why I got in the game.’

   ‘You were so fed up that you decided to get involved in executions?’

   ‘Isn’t that why you’re here right now?’

   ‘I’m a little bored, sure.’

   Pauly turned and faced the bar that was to my right, then sighed and looked at me.

   ‘There’s no reason to most things. Even though the people I work for see a reason in doing what we do, it’s all bullshit at the end of the day. It’s just something to keep me ticking over, I guess. Something to keep me from . . well, it’s something.’

   ‘You have a family?’ I asked.

   ‘I did. I don’t see ‘em no more. Couldn’t stand being a family man, to be honest. Too much noise. I like a quiet house.’

   Just then, as Pauly’s tired eyes looked down at his pathetic, bulbous belly, a brilliant ray of sunshine invaded the bar, shedding light on us all, and for that brief moment I felt a sense of elation. A reminder that space was still there.

   And space made sense.

♠♠♠♠

 

   Over the next few days (in between recording) I made some lists. The first list I made was apt: ‘Reasons for Killing’. Another list I made was a ‘Favorite Drinks’ list, one a ’Top Five Live Concerts’ list, and the last list was ‘Women Whose Pussies I’ve Devoured’.

   I ran out of paper.

Nothin’ But the Hits

 

An excerpt from a story about a discontented rock star who becomes a hitman.

—————————————————————

 

Preamble
                                _

Most of you who pick up this—what is this?—this ramble, will know me as the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world—This Week’s New Release. You’ll know me as the guy on stage who shouts and swaggers and swears and sings, who has written rock songs that topped charts in countries all over the world, who’s played the biggest venues, who’s been voted Sexiest Man In Rock ‘n’ Roll on two separate occasions. You’ll know me as the man who was labeled the savior of the music industry: the Second Coming.

   What you don’t know is what I’ve been involved in behind the veil of rock stardom. This is something I’ve wrestled with for a long time, and only now do I feel I’m ready to share this side of my story that has been known about by only a handful of individuals, most of whom are no longer with us—many of whom chocked on their own puke, or drowned in a swimming pool alone at 4am high on Valium and cocaine.

   I don’t crave attention; I’ve had enough of that over the years. What I crave is clarity—it’s what I’ve always craved, but it had always seemed elusive. At the end of this confession you will understand that I’ve found something which I hope is close to clarity.

   This does not change who I am. The words written here are probably true to what you think you know about me: The Dylan Reed onstage is the Dylan Reed offstage.

   This is merely an addition to the story.

   An encore, so to speak.

                                                                        —Dylan Reed, Berlin – May 1st, 2018

♠♠♠♠

 

I grew up in a sunny, blue-collar neighborhood. A quiet American town the likes of which seem like they’ve been lost to the past, but which still exist—you just have to look for them. My neighborhood was near a bunch of lakes and housed residents who smiled and cared about each other and who were just regular, nice people. Sure they had their secrets, but didn’t everyone?

   I’d spent days in school bored outta my mind and days after school down by the lake listening to music on my battery-powered radio: Nothin’ But The Hits was the name of the show I’d listen to day after day. The disc-jockey’s name was “Madman” Maurice McGonagall and his show would start at 3pm every day and run for two hours. On most days I’d catch the last hour but on Wednesdays and Fridays school finished early and I’d listen to it all the way through. The Stones, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The Clash, The Band, The Smiths, The Jam, The Fall, The Beatles—all the legendary “THEs”, and then there was Dylan and Hendrix and Bowie and Iggy and all these hits would play, one after another, with some brief intervals from Maurice talking in his smooth voice like he was an MC at a dark, smoke-filled jazz club, painting a picture of himself in the studio—legs up, sunglasses on, cigarette in mouth, maybe one hand down his pants. Maybe he’d jerk off while he listened to the music along with the rest of us—climaxing during the epic guitar solo.

   I did.

   Sometimes.

   Down by the lake.

   It was my own place, surrounded by a wall of trees, the sun glistening on the dead-still water. I’d breathe in the air through my nose and it was like life invading me, telling me everything was good; everything was as it should be. And because I was alone and because I was a teenage boy I’d get hard-ons and sometimes I’d stand there among the trees, by the lake, in the quiet, and I’d work myself until I jolted and a part of me became a part of the earth. Yeah, I was one with nature and the sonic waves that surrounded me.

   Sometimes I’d bring literature to the lake. I didn’t read all that much but my old man had a few books on the chipped wooden shelf in the living room, and every now and then I’d snatch one, drop it into my backpack and take it out once school was done and I was down by the lake. One of those books was a short story collection by a guy called Ford, and I enjoyed dropping in and out of these people’s lives, just catching a glimpse of what was going on with them, learning about their struggles and their flaws and their dramas in a few thousand words or less. I liked that. It made me more empathetic. It helped me understand the long-ass wrestling match that life is for some people; and some of em don’t even have a tag-team partner.

   That’s around the time I started writing. Some would call it poetry, but I didn’t because I didn’t know poetry apart from what we had to read at school. And I hated that shit. All I really knew was my family, my street, my school, the lake, my body and my songs, because though they played through the radio and were written by all those different people, they were my songs. I reached out and grabbed them as they made their waves from the speakers and I made them mine. And so I wrote about all those things I knew and I put them on paper like songs. I was writing songs without the music. Words with rhythm but without a beat, a hook.

   I met Daniel that summer. Daniel was a scrawny thirteen-year-old, like me. He had the beginnings of a pubescent moustache, and he said he was never gonna shave it. Daniel moved into the neighborhood with his family; his mom, dad, and older sister, Maggie, and we met while I was cycling my bike, and he was cycling his, and I noticed his Clash t-shirt and without a word I nodded and he followed me and we rode together to the lake and listened to Nothin’ But The Hits together, and so we were best friends in the space of a few hours.

   Daniel and me asked for music instruments that Christmas. We both wanted electric guitars, but we argued because someone would have to either play drums or pick up the bass. Neither one of us was willing to concede the guitar so we settled it with a fight by the lake late one autumn afternoon. The sun was hanging low but the air was crisp and it was still warm. The argument reared its head again as Maurice spazzed out about a new band that was making its mark on the industry, right before he signed off for the day and ended the show with their new single. Daniel said if we ever wanted Maurice talking about us like that we’d need to hurry up and get a band started. But still we couldn’t agree on who would get the guitar, so it began with a push, and then we were rolling around on the soft grass, staining our music t-shirts, wrestling for the upper-hand, holding each other’s shoulders when one got on top, punching each other’s gut when we were balled in a brawl. After about ten minutes we both fell to the grass, exhausted; blood on our faces, aching bones and limbs. I’d tapped out after Daniel had worked my arm behind my back and threatened to break it. He had me by the wrist and elbow and pushed my arm further and further towards my neck, and as the bone threatened to snap like a twig I screamed and said OKAY! OKAY! FINE, YOU FUCK!

   So it was decided—Daniel would get the guitar that Christmas. And after he did and he practiced and I used a half-empty cardboard box to provide beats, and as spring arrived and we’d spend our days down by the lake again, I found the courage to mention my songs. Daniel asked me to sing them to him . . . I’d had some trouble with girls at school and I had gotten in trouble with the principle and with my parents for different reasons, but Daniel asking me to sing for him was the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to me. But we’d bonded and I trusted him and we loved each other in a way, and so I sang one of my music-free songs, only my voice was the instrument and Daniel listened and looked at me and I think in a way kinda fell in love with me. He didn’t say anything for a minute or two, just looked at me and at the towering trees that surrounded the lake, and he looked at flies hovering above the water—who were oblivious to how close to death they were, like some of us—and he just stared. Eventually he asked me to sing the song again, and so I did, this time with more confidence, and he began playing something on his guitar and before we knew it we’d written our first song together. Little did we realize we’d write a thousand more.

   We looked at the rest of my lyrics and we worked on more songs and we wrestled and we jerked off and we listened to Nothin’ But The Hits by the lake and we were happy.

   And that’s how I spent my teenage years.

Expressionism #1 — Liquid Pills

Anyone familiar with Jack Kerouac will know of his ‘spontaneous prose’. His method was well developed and it had its rules laid out in his “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”. For his ‘set-up’ he compares it to an artist before they put pencil to paper, or a brush to canvas: “The object is set before the mind, either in reality, as in sketching (before a landscape or teacup or old face)  or is set in the memory wherein it becomes the sketching from memory of a definite image-object. . . .”

I took that idea of a blank canvas and the brush, but without a clear object or idea. I opened a word doc and jotted down whatever arrived in an attempt at writing a very short, somewhat coherent story. I suppose you could call that ‘spontaneous prose’, or ‘subconscious prose’. 

This is how many writers approach the first draft of their works, with nothing really in mind. Then they take that first draft (or ‘vomit draft’ as some writers call it), and refine it from there. But here I wanted the vomit to remain; there’d be no clean up on aisle five. So I’ve called it Expressionism, and this is my first effort. No edits, no path — just words that flowed out onto the page.

 

Liquid Pills

Liquid pills.

Take them, slowly.

Take them in a few mouthfuls.

Down them like there’s no tomorrow.

They’ll dampen the thoughts but liven the spirit.

I pass through the narrow, rain-speckled, rouge-lighted laneway with a stumble and a fumble. I curse — cunt — who? Anyone. Whomever. And I fix my long cashmere coat and I will an argument with someone, but no one’s here.

5am.

Who’s around then?

Some taxi tarts. Some residual rodents of the night before. Some of those without a home to go to. Some of the heroin heroes and the wannabe di Neros waiting for the moment to pounce.

I’m classless — that’s lacking class, not a class. Gauche. Inelegant. Ungainly. Graceless. I do have a class. A working one. But I’m not stateless. Of which I’m not a devoted fan — not a centralized, expansive, militarized Europe. Who decides on the situation when Theresa, Jacob, and co. set sail? Us? No, the Junk, that’s with a ‘yuh’ —  Here, you! Piss off!

I don’t want to get into that, though. Who wants to? We’re all tired of it. All we want to do is to be left alone. Let us be. Let us do a bit of work and live life to a decent standard. Let us work and play. Let us live and love and let us not be drowned by the greedy and the corrupt.

We’re drowning. A stretched arm from the icy wall of water. A gasp, an open-mouthed cry — a raw caw, caw, caw. Can’t… breathe… Help… No help. No, we don’t need help, we need release. Release from your cold, stifling, suffocating grasp.

You. Corrupt. The Corruptors. The parasites. But enough of that… Because I’m loaded. I’m loaded on liquid pills and I’m looking for some new thrills. Some cheap thrills. Something that will let me forget… something… someone…

I approach The Beast. I don’t notice him at first. He’s the man with the plan.

   ‘All right, Beastie,’ I slur.

   ‘Sebastian,’ he purrs. ‘Sebastian, you’ve looked better.’ His voice. That voice. The Beast, a paradox. He’s a gentleman — a cock-hungry gent who speaks the Queen’s English as well as Hitchens the Polemicist did.

He chuckles, does The Beast. He laughs giddily like a schoolgirl.

He’s big — boisterous belly; nosey navel peeking through his partially unbuttoned shirt.

   ‘Sebastian, be a darling and give me your lighter. Mine… lost its way somewhere earlier in the night. I can hardly be held responsible for everyone and everything.’

I fumble around in my pocket and find the lighter. I rev the engine — the flame greets the ciggie.

   ‘I’ve got work in the morning,’ I tell The Beast.

   ‘You mean in a few hours?’

   ‘Yessssss.’ I stumble. ‘I’ve got work and it’s for the devil.’

   ‘The big C…’ he nods his head.

   ‘Tell me, Beasty boy,’ I say, attempting to stand up straight, with dignity — whatever that is. ‘Do you think we’re headed for the big bang of the nuke? Europe… Balkanization… China… The T Man… Where are we headed?’

   ‘Oh,’ The Beast says. ‘Oh, my sweet little Sebastian. That’s not for me to say… I’ve got a date with Mister Junk and The Elephant’s Whiskers — they’ll decide your fate… they’ll make the call on the Big Bang…’

   ‘What’s the way to go? I don’t want the big C…’ I say, half moaning… ‘I gave myself to It…’

   ‘It doesn’t matter,’ says The Beast, dropping the fag and twisting his foot on the concrete. ‘It’ll all be over soon.’

   ‘Soon,’ I say. ‘Soon I’m in work… It won’t be over by then…’

   ‘I’ve got to go,’ says The Beast. ‘I’ve got a lot to devour.’

   ‘So…’ I hiccup. ‘So, does the big C,’ I say.

   ‘We’re not so different, then,’ he says as he paces down the street — giant, meaningful steps.

I lean against the wall. The Beast left a half-empty pint behind.

I reach for the liquid pills.

I drink it.

We all drink it, in some way.

                                                                                    – 20th September 2018 — 8:19pm

American. Porn Star. President.

The first two chapters from a work-in-progress satirical novel.

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us flag 1

American. Porn Star. President.

 

“Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.”

                                                – Calvin Coolidge

 

 

“. . . The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”

                                                – George Bernard Shaw

 

 

“You can’t talk about fucking in America; people say you’re dirty. But if you talk about killing somebody, that’s cool.”

                                                – Richard Pryor

 

 

“Having sex with beautiful women for money? My God. I want to shoot myself every night when I get home.”

                                                – Porn Star

 

 

1. THE JAM

­SITTING IN TRAFFIC—is there a better metaphor for life?
   Coldcut City has the worst traffic congestion in North America. This isn’t statistically true, but it’s what I was thinking as I sat next to my wife of three years, Karen, in the back of a cab which crawled along 99th Street at a pace more appropriate for an escalator.
   We were flanked by skyscrapers, and I watched as people passed by on the pavement, moseying, hurrying, trudging to their respective destinations; handbags strewn over shoulders, heads bowed consuming information from their cell phone Gods; rucksacks straddling backs. A few of them would glance in the direction of the cab, one or two catching my stare.
   I checked my watch: 6:45pm.
   I turned to Karen, who was looking out the window.
   “I read somewhere that we spend at least three months of our lives stuck in traffic,” I said, to no response. “Approximately thirty-eight hours a year.”
   “Fascinating,” she eventually returned tenuously.
   ‘But think of what you could do with that time,” I said aloud, which was greeted with silence.
   I looked out the window again: Autumn had set in. The sidewalk was littered with crinkled bronzed leaves, and the evening sky in the distance looked as if it were a canvas on which a frustrated painter had lashed out with aggressive streaks of blues, pinks, reds.
   “We’re going to be late,” Karen said, checking her pallid reflection in her pocket mirror. Sometimes when she spoke she would close her eyes and her eyeballs would engage in some kind of scanning activity, reducing her appearance to that of the woman possessed. This is how she looked as she clamped the pocket mirror shut in the palm of her hand.
   I sat up and leaned forward to address the cab driver. “Why don’t you get off 99th at the next turn? We’ll be here all night.”
   The turban-wearing, bearded driver looked at me in the rear-view mirror.
   “That is what I plan on doing. You know there’s bin a crash, yis? You know traffic is more congested now going north ‘cause of the crash, yis? Do you think I like sitting here like a slug?”
   “Hey, padre, I’m just asking—”
   Karen wrapped her fingers around my arm. “Please don’t get into a fight with the cab driver.”
   “I’m not trying to get into a fight, I—” but I wasn’t interested in explaining myself, so I sat back in my seat and looked out the window once again.
   More people: man, woman, child. American, Chinese, Zimbabwean, Irish, Polish, Afghan, Canadian, Scottish, Japanese, Mexican, Russian, English, Indian. Multiculturalism — love it or hate it — at its finest. All of these passers-by were possibly mocking the two idiots sitting in a cab that moved a few yards every couple of minutes.
   I was tempted to get out and walk, but then I’d just be another person on the pavement.
   “That meter works on distance covered, right?” I asked.
   “Yis, yis. Don’t worry; the foreign man isn’t trying to rob you,” the driver replied with a jerk of the head and a roll of the eyes.
   I turned to Karen, raised my eyebrows: What’s with this guy?
   “I wasn’t implying that you were trying to rip us off, hombre” I said. “Not everyone who gets into your cab is racist, OK?”
   “Just leave it,” said Karen.
   The driver made some kind of frustrated noise — a wide-open-mouthed yahh! — and waved a dismissive hand before muttering something in his mother tongue. I rested myself against the backseat, fingered my phone from my trouser pocket and opened the browser. I’d forgotten to clear the browsing history, and I was greeted by a thumbnail featuring a supine couple nude and engaged in a not-so-subtle sexual exercise. ‘Alfie B. Lee/Raspberry Rose in The 2nd Annual Fuckathon’ was the title of the video. I experienced a momentary snippet of recollection: me furiously masturbating as I watched the video earlier that day, in the en suite bathroom before I took a shower — one hand gripping the sink as I looked at the video, the other hand wrapped around my chafing stiffy — while Karen did her make-up in the bedroom.
  I quickly swiped the window closed, not before checking to see if Karen had noticed, but she was busy staring out the window people-watching as the cab picked up the pace — finally — only for the driver to brake a few seconds later resulting in deeply felt desolation for the two passengers.
   I tapped my way to the settings menu on the phone and selected Clear History and Website Data.
   I thought to myself: Who knows about my internet history? Who was aware that I was watching two porn stars fuck like bunnies only a couple of hours earlier? Who’s monitoring me? When will I be exposed?
   “Will you text Steph and tell her that we’re going to be a little late?”
   I looked at Karen as if she’d asked me to undress for the driver.
   “It would be good for you if you tried to engage with her,” Karen elucidated.
   “That’s what I’ll be doing at dinner, sweetie. Dinner is one thing. Texting, that’s a whole other level of interaction. That could almost be misconstrued as amiability.”
   “Could you just try? For once?”
   “She’s the one who holds grudges, Karen. She’s the nutcase.”
   Karen shook her head and sighed as she leaned forward and fished her bag for her cell phone. I watched her as she typed; her manicured fingernails glossed with a deep red polish ferociously tapped against the screen.
   I took in her facial features, because there had been times recently when I had closed my eyes and ordered my brain to present to me an image of my wife, but the result wouldn’t be entirely accurate; the visage presented to me in my mind’s eye was mostly made up of Karen, but some of her — minute details like a fleck of color in her eye, or a slight variation in the angulations of her eyebrows, or a more obvious structural misrepresentation — would be made up of previous lovers. Lately in my mind Karen was an amalgamation of almost every individual I had met underneath the cover of bed sheets.
   There, in the cab, I registered her firm, confident expression, an expression that rarely changed and which communicated determination. I observed her bold blue eyes which were garlanded by unnaturally long eyelashes. Her blonde hair, which she had recently trimmed, fell obediently around her boney shoulders. Her exterior was both sexy and cold, and her interior could be both frosty and warm, depending on her mood.
   “Just try, please,” she looked at me with those blue eyes. “Just make an effort.”
   I nodded: Sure.
   “Don’t forget your appointment with Dr. Lillard tomorrow.”
   “Great, let’s talk about our personal problems in front of our cab-driver friend here.”
   Unexpectedly, the driver looked at me in the rear-view: “I don’t give a shit about your personal life, yis?” he said before turning his attention back to the road.
   I raised my eyebrows: Fair.
   I looked at Karen, who ignored the driver’s comment.
   “Maybe you should consider talking to him about Evan.”
   “What good would that do?”
   “Because it’s an important issue, Lukas.”
   “It has nothing to do with why I see Dr. Lillard.”
   “It’s important.”
   “I know it’s important. But we’re his parents. We’ll deal with it.”
   “It’s un-parentable.”
   “Is that a word?”
   Karen, not amused, sighed.
   I reached for her hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
   “It’s something every parent has to deal with, I’m sure. Maybe we should talk to Stephanie and William about it.”
   Karen withdrew her hand.
   “God, no. I don’t want Stephanie knowing about this.”
   “Well, how about Janice and Elliot?”
   Karen considered this proposal.
   “Maybe Jan and El.”
   I didn’t respond; I was in no mood to further discuss the recent revelation about our only son; a disclosure he didn’t know his parents were aware of.
   The cab fell into silence yet again, the traffic surrounding us — the impatient honks and frustrated engine revs being the only source of conversation.
   Eventually Karen said, “Maybe we should see Dr. Lillard together.”
   “No,” I said immediately. “No way.”
   “My father recommended him to you — I’d seen him before you began your sessions. It could be good for us. To talk about Evan . . . and us.”
   “Karen, no.”
   “We need to address these things.”
   “And we will,” I said. “And now I’d prefer if we stopped discussing all of this in front of a stranger.”
   This time the driver didn’t look at me. Karen pulled on her seatbelt absently as she stared out the window again. There was a deep sadness about her that I hadn’t observed in a while.
   “That poor kid,” she whispered.
   “Who?” I asked. “Evan?”
   But she didn’t respond.
   Then, a hint of success: The car moved a little faster, picked up the pace. The asphalt below us became the running belt of a treadmill, and eventually the driver accelerated hard as he turned off 99th, and now I could enjoy looking out the window at the pavement walkers who drifted behind and out of my life, like a memory unworthy of preservation.

2. THE DINNER

AS I EXITED the taxi, having paid the driver and providing him with an obscenely generous tip — an ironic fuck you of sorts for his unwarranted hostility — I breathed in the crisp autumn evening air which was diluted with exhaust gas from vehicles passing through the busy street, a vague odor of sewerage (the result of nearby construction work — there was always something being built in this city), and the jarring cigarette smoke which came from the direction of a group of suit-wearing gentlemen puffing away as they stood by the front entrance of The McDonald Hotel. The natural grace and splendor of autumn could be spectacular in this city if you kept your distance from downtown.
   I thumbed the waistband of my flat front trousers, ensured my shirt was neatly tucked in, and fixed my suit jacket with a single, synchronous tug from both hands. Following chivalrous tradition, I took Karen’s hand and guided her out of the cab. She took the lead while I slammed the cab door shut, maintaining my pose for a moment as if I’d just launched a bowling ball down the slick, lustrous wooden lane.
   After I turned and scratched the two-day-old stubble on my face, I took in the spot-lit visage of the hotel where I’d be conducting my next interview — possibly my final exposé — in a little over a months’ time: The seven-storey hotel’s distinctive, elegant châteauesque style belonged to a European vision of old; that of the 16th-century French castles.
   I pocketed my hands as the taxi pulled away. Looking up at the Salem limestone-covered exterior I regarded each window with squinted eyes as I considered the innumerable potential scenarios taking place behind the expensive, luxury curtains that hung from the equally expensive rails which were mounted above each expensively glassed window.
   I thought to myself: Plenty of fucking.
   I, too, would be in one of the executive suites in less than six weeks’ time at the expense of my employer. And while the thought of the upcoming interview excited me, it also sent my stomach into an anxious knot.
   “Lukas!” Karen’s widened eyes reprimanded me. I slowly withdrew my hands from my pockets and approached the entrance, before waving cigarette smoke out of my way as Karen and I entered the hotel.

XXX

   “Immigration,” drawled William, pointing his fork which proffered a piece of medium rare steak; the bloody juice dripping into the small pool on his plate next to the cut of meat and assortment of in-season vegetables. He was a rotund man who perspired almost incessantly, and when he spoke he regularly elongated syllables, and would sometimes jitter like a car attempting to start as he emphasized a point or a vowel. His grey hair was neatly combed back (as always) and the elasticity of his face had waned in recent years, causing the skin to sag under the cheekbones and below his chin and jaw.
   I thought to myself: Gravity and Time always win.
 He was beginning to look every bit of his sixty-four years, and then some. Originally from the United Kingdom, and still possessing a sonorous, haughty accent, he had been living in the United States for more than thirty years, and considered himself an Anglo-American. “This country was built by immigrants. We’re all immigrants. Every last one of us. Immigration. That’s your next piece.”
   “Immigration?”
   “Yes, yes. Immigration,” he said impatiently. “I want you to interview the everyday man who came to this country, or whose parents or grandparents came to this land. I want you to tell a linear story through a dozen or so immigrants. I know what this country stands for.”
   “It’s quite a shift from the Alfie B. Lee article—”
   “It’s important, Lukas, boy,’ he interrupted, jittering. “It’s relevant, with the current administration . . . And, well . . .” William paused, as if something had struck him there and then, his expression melancholy for a beat, but he shook it away before repeating softly, sadly: “It’s important, Lukas.”
   “With the greatest respect, Bill,” I began. “Immigration. It’s a little stale. I know with everything that’s going on in Syria and Europe and even here with the wall it’s been talked about, but right now . . . I don’t know. It feels like it isn’t the right move. People are getting tired of it . . . And, again with the greatest respect, you don’t assign me my jobs.”
   “That I don’t, but I do pay your salary, along with that of your editor-in-chief.” He leaned forward and pointed his fork at me again, smiling wryly. “And if I tell Melissa that I want you to write a story on immigration, you’ll write a damn story on immigration.”
   “Are you boys discussing work at dinner?” Karen asked cheekily and cheerfully (always the perfect actress when in the presence of family and friends) as she checked her cell phone; I noticed her “like” a picture posted by a friend on Instagram. She kept touching her nose, and for a moment I wondered if she was using again, and whether that was the source of her sadness that was so palpable in the cab.
   “Your wife has spoken,” smiled William.
   “What took you two so long, anyway?” asked Stephanie. She was wearing an outfit that I would call sexy if I could bring myself to compliment her. It was an Alexander McQueen sheer stripe dress that Karen had first noticed while watching Milan Fashion Week, after which she had called Stephanie to inform her of its existence: These days she used her sister to vicariously live out her sartorial fantasies having made a vow to herself that she would no longer frivolously indulge in her penchant for expensive fashion. The final straw was the January 1st 2016 purchase of a Dior dress along with a pair of Prada ankle boots, topped off with a Karl Lagerfeld suede bucket bag. That night she had dressed in each item she’d purchased and sobbed openly and uncontrollably on our king-sized bed.
   “Racist cab driver,” Karen said.
   “There was a crash, traffic was terrible,” I explained. “And yes, the driver appeared to be racist towards anyone he considered to be potentially racist, i.e. the white male.”
   “Ah, the white man: the oppressor. The privileged,” said William before he released a brattling cough, after which he patted his mouth with his napkin.
   I thought to myself: He’ll be dead in a few years, if not sooner.
   “Maybe he just didn’t like you,” Stephanie offered.
   “He wouldn’t be the first,” I replied with a sardonic smile.
   “Well,” said Stephanie, ignoring my retort with well-rehearsed apathy. “Karen, guess what I’m having shipped in next week.”
   At this William rolled his eyes and jerked his head in a single upward motion.
   “What?” asked Karen.
   Stephanie sat forward and placed both hands on the table, each side of her dinner plate which housed a half-eaten Cajun chicken salad.
   “A miniature camel.”
   “A what?!” replied Karen.
   “A what?” I repeated.
   William shook his head, remaining silent.
   “A miniature camel,” Stephanie beamed. “All the celebrities are getting them; they’re the latest trend.”
   “Jesus Christ,” I said involuntarily, another response that was ignored by Stephanie.
   “Caitlyn Jenner is rumored to have two, although People had no pictures to accompany the article, so I’m a little skeptical. But I’ve seen them. They’re genetically engineered, or something. Or inbred — like the micro dogs. They. Are. The. Cutest little fuckers. You have got to get one.”
   “A miniature camel?” asked Karen incredulously, mouth agape, as she swirled the cocktail pick in her dry martini.
   “They are so adorable!” said Stephanie as she unlocked her phone and presented a picture to Karen of what to me looked like a retarded monkey.
   “But . . . they’re camels,” Karen reasoned, or attempted to.
   “Miniature, Karen,” replied Stephanie. “Miniature camels. They’re teeny. They’re so cute with their two little humps and their dopey expressions. And they’d be great in the event of a drought; you know how dry it can get here in the summer.”
   William looked at me; his face had turned a deeper shade of red.
   “Camel’s humps are mounds of fat, Stephanie,” he said, exasperated. “They’re not filled with bloody water.”
    He turned to me once again and took a deep breath.
   “Anyway, I was thinking about something else for you to sink your teeth into. You know, Venezuela,” he said, and I felt a flurry of butterflies in my stomach as soon as he mentioned the state which had recently descended into chaos. This was followed by a flood of intense heat permeating my body and draping my skin.
   I quickly rose from my chair and excused myself.
   “Sorry, Bill. I’ve to . . . run to the little boy’s room.”
   William looked surprised, but as he did the math — considering that I had just eaten and my sense of urgency — his expression morphed into one of concession, followed by a look of empathy which was solidified with successive, approving nods of his head and raised hands.
   I exited the restaurant hurriedly and in the lobby I leaned against the wall, loosened my tie and released a long exhale as I attempted to banish the thoughts of the socialist state from my mind. Sweating, I removed my phone from my pocket, looking around the foyer to check if anyone had noticed my rather obvious mental disintegration, but thankfully nobody was staring at me.
   I immediately dialed the Friedman Hotline.
   As usual it clicked after a single ring, and I held my breath as I was greeted by a sage voice which said:
   “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else’s resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property.”
   When the voice ceased a prolonged beeeep followed, and I ended the call with an unintentionally loud exhale framed by circled lips as I reached into my trouser pocket and fished out two loose Ativan I’d stuffed in there earlier, before our taxi arrived. I placed them in my mouth, fixed my tie, re-entered the busy restaurant, and as I returned to the table I raised my eyebrows and smiled apologetically, before reaching for my glass of Nebbiolo and washing down both pills.
   “All okay?” asked William, concerned probably not for me but for the mere idea of a fellow diner shitting his pants and returning to a table afterwards.
   I smiled, still a little choked. I managed to force out a couple of labored words: “Okay. Good,” I nodded, mildly red-faced. “Great.”
   “Now,” William resumed. “Where was I?”
   “We were talking about immigration,” I said as, surprisingly, I found myself returning to a calm state almost immediately after ingesting the pills.
   “Well,” began William, before hesitating. “No, I wanted to talk about something else, uh, Venu—”
   “I think an article on immigration is a great idea, actually,” I said as quickly as possible.
   “You do?” asked William, surprised by my calculated U-turn.
   “Yes, yes,’ I nodded enthusiastically.
   “But I don’t want an opinion piece,” William replied. “I’m fed up with the unholy bombardment of opinion pieces adding to the nonsensical Sturm und Drang we’re constantly experiencing these days. It’s all identity politics, self-obsession, political correctness, lazy journalism. And it’s not only blogs on the internet; the heavyweights, they all resort to it now. They’re using emojis on the BBC. Emojis, Lukas.  I don’t know what’s happened to journalism. It’s dead, in the reportage of Western issues. Foreign Correspondents, more of them are — they’re still well-versed in the art of old-fashioned reportage. But pick up any paper, click on any US newspaper’s website covering national news, click on a link on Facebook and you’re guaranteed to find overwrought and melodramatic, often factually scant articles laced with ‘I, ME, ME, I, ME, WE.’ It’s a shambolic state of affairs.”
   I shuffled in my chair uncomfortably as I took another sip of my wine.
   “You do know that my next interview—”
   “With the porn star,” interjected William curtly.
   “Yes, with Alfie B. Lee . . . it is something of an opinion piece.”
   “Well,” said William, shrugging his shoulders and looking down at his dinner plate. “It’s a popcorn article, isn’t it?”
   “Is it?”
   “Yes,” he nodded firmly before looking me in the eye. “It’s a popcorn article, Lukas. It’ll entertain — it’ll help boost sales. It’ll please the shareholders. He’s a big name. He’ll grace the cover of The Cutter. But we’ll have you back to real journalism once it’s wrapped up.”
   I thought to myself: Ouch.
   And then I thought to myself: Miniature fucking camels.

XXX

Later, the four of us sat at the hotel bar. The elegant glass bar countertop underlit by neon-blue light gave the place a false vibrancy, because this was countered by the lazy jazz playing low, emitted from multiple wall-mounted speakers, and with the bar being only half full the atmosphere was unquestionably relaxed.
   Right before Stephanie brought up the recent murder which had happened not far from our house on Rutherford Drive, and which I’d learned was connected to the most famous porn star on the planet — the man I was scheduled to interview in December — Alfie B. Lee . . .
   I had immediately thought to myself: Will he still make porno videos?
   After that, I’d thought to myself: Will this affect our interview?
   I flashed back to earlier that day in the bathroom, and the momentary reminder of the pornographic video I watched gave rise to a mild erection, and I hunched slightly so as to ensure it wouldn’t be noticeable; my elbow rested clumsily, but not ostentatiously, across my thigh, as Stephanie opened with:
   “It’s scary as hell. To think that it happened not far from where you guys live. Seriously. It’s, like, how many blocks from your place?”
   “It’s five or six blocks away,” Karen said with what I thought was an affectation of concern. But she followed this with “They’re saying he was just a kid,” with sadness in her voice, which led me to believe that her worry was genuine. And which also led me to believe that this is who she was referring to in the cab on the way over.
   To be precise, they were saying he was Leighton Le Ché, an up-and-coming pornographic actor who was hot property within the industry, having only starred in a handful of videos which had quickly become some of the most popular on major porn sites. He’d been found in his downtown Coldcut apartment which overlooked the Dalloway River — which was seen as the divider between the north and south sides of the city — with multiple stab wounds to his cherubic face. His well-toned torso was gashed and sliced, and on his left wrist (which bore the tattoo Forever Young — how prescient he was) were what appeared to be two puncture wounds; deep bite marks, although this last detail was mere conjecture. A quick Google search would lead you to graphic images which had been taken by the cleaner who’d found the teenager’s blood-spattered and eviscerated body. The revelation that he was in fact seventeen — ergo underage — was causing a stir, as expected.
   As tempted as I was to share the Alfie B. Lee revelation — which had been passed on to me by a producer contact at PleasureVille Studios, Jay Jay Bonch, during a post-dinner bathroom trip — I felt it was best to keep it to myself for now; I couldn’t be sure that Bill wouldn’t pull the plug on the entire piece, and it had taken me months to persuade Maggie — the editor-in-chief of The Cutter magazine, the periodical for which I wrote, and which Bill owned — to give the article the green light, and I wasn’t going to lose it now.
   “It’s the viciousness that I don’t understand,” said Karen as she rested her elbows on the countertop and sipped her fifth martini of the night. “The poor kid suffered a terrible death.”
   “Rent boys are always at risk of meeting such an end,” said William as he sipped his scotch.
   “He wasn’t a rent boy,” I corrected. “He was an adult performer.”
   “And the difference is?” asked William rhetorically.
   “Don’t be so heartless,” said Stephanie, who was the only one of the party of four who wasn’t drinking alcohol. “He was some mother’s son.”
   “She’s right,” said Karen, her face still draped with concern, sadness.
   “And what was with those bite marks?”
   “Bite marks?” asked William.
   Stephanie rested her elbow on her husband’s shoulder.
   “There were two holes on his wrist.”
   “Bullshit,” I said.
   “Oh yeah? Why so, detective?”
   “Those photographs are blurry as hell, and even if there were puncture holes on his wrist, I doubt they’re the result of a bite.”
   “Well we live in fucked up times. Who’s to know?” replied Stephanie. “Karen, you’ve read about the elite and all that Satanism — the sacrifices, the pedophilia, right? I sent you articles, lots of them.”
   “I never got around to those,” said Karen.
   “There’s some fucked up people out there. Powerful people.”
   Stephanie removed her cell from her handbag and proceeded to show us all what she referred to as a ‘video on the occult,’ but which in fact was a mix of scenes from the movies Eyes Wide Shut, The Hunger and The Brotherhood of Satan. Afterwards she moved on to a video called Dogs Do Funny Things, and as Karen and Stephanie made thrilled noises like puppies whimpering as they watched the cute canines, and while William sat in solemn thought, I sipped my whiskey silently and willed the end of the evening.
   I thought to myself: Bill’s a powerful person.
   And then I thought to myself: This is your life, Lukas Lazaruk.

¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯

You know how I was gonna self-publish my novel?

Well, if ever I felt like a liar . . .

Earlier this year I excitedly announced that I would be self-publishing my debut novel, Leaving Sadie, in June. Then, as the month approached like a freight train bombing along the tracks towards our tied-up hero in an action movie, I realised that I needed more time to free myself from those restrictive ropes; i.e. I needed to make additional changes to the story, let alone finalise the book-cover design (wonderfully executed by Chloë Keogan), get an ISBN, and prepare the final manuscript for digital and physical publication.

To be crude about it all: I’d blown my load.

So I said I’d aim for an autumn publication date, with October being the definite deadline. I’d even contacted Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin over at writing.ie about promoting the work on the site, as I had promoted my old blog Sounds From a Dublin Cafe. And Vanessa — wonderfully supportive of emerging writers as she is — was happy to offer me a slot on the site. That was that: I was certain I’d self-publish the novel by October at the latest.

But.

I had some thinking to do: Had I truly exhausted the traditional road to getting a novel published? Definitely not: Off the top of my head I would guess I’ve approached around six or seven literary agents — 10 max. Now, most people interested in literature know the famous J.K Rowling story, and how her Harry Potter manuscript was rejected time after time: The road to publication or landing an agent is a long one, and for that you need patience — like waiting at a railroad crossing for that freight train to pass by.

Now, I’m someone who has plenty of patience when it comes to writing a novel; I know it takes a lot of time and isn’t something that should be rushed. I know that landing a publishing deal is incredibly difficult and that these things take luck and time; and the world of literature can be kind to the aging process.

Despite my patience for the writing and publishing process, I had decided that Sadie was what it was: my first effort writing a novel. Completing the first novel is the real achievement, I’ve read umpteen times; it means you’ve got what it takes . . . when it comes to the next novels. Many authors don’t see their first completed novel published, and many of those who do wince and shudder when asked about that usually inexpert-though-rich-with-potential first novel (think Haruki Murakami and Hear The Wind Sing).

Sadie was sitting on my computer; a learning process that instilled in me the confidence to go and write my next novel. There it would stay, in the dark, left untouched, without a reader to heap praise upon it or tear it to shreds. And that to me felt . . . wrong. I’d poured a lot of energy into that work. And more importantly I loved my characters, for their talents and their flaws, for their courage and their cowardice, for their demand to be brought to life on paper — to be heard by someone.

It was the characters screaming from the laptop or the cold, dark desk drawer, who prompted me to decide to self-publish. If the work wasn’t up to scratch — if it was clearly the work of a novice; a writer experienced in film and advertising but not experienced enough in long-form fiction writing — then I’d learn that through the feedback of readers, the most honest critics. Why not put it out there? It would be a valuable learning experience.

And as explained above, I made that decision and had planned on publishing the work by next month, following that premature release date.

But then something else happened.

An early draft of Sadie was given the editing treatment by a young, recently graduated editor in the U.S. back in 2016. The feedback was mostly helpful and informed the future rewrites of the manuscript. But the story had changed so much since that first edit that I had to consider whether or not to have another editor take the story apart and find the flaws and inconsistencies.

Originally I’d said, ‘No, no, this is what it is. I’ve rewritten and rewritten and it will go out in its current state.’ That was a tad naive of me, but I knew that: I knew it would be a risk to self-publish without the final draft getting the editor’s touch. But then I was contacted by a fellow writer and copywriter, who informed me that their published-author sibling was now editing as well, and would possibly be interested in looking at Sadie before I put it out there, at a very reasonable fee.

At first I said it was okay; I had made the bed, tucked in my plot and characters and kissed them on their way into the unknown. I could no longer protect them, they were ready to be unleashed and whatever was to come their way would come; I could only hope that I’d equipped them well enough to deal with it. Then panic sat in: what if the work is awful? I mean, I knew the work wasn’t awful: I’d had plenty of feedback (no, not just from the mother and girlfriend!), and when I compared my work to other emerging writers on workshop sites I knew there was real strength in my writing. But the structure, the character growth, the conclusion — these aspects of the story could benefit greatly from the eye of a published author and editor.

I had to pause the self-publishing plan and send it over to that editor.

And now?

Now I have the editor’s invaluable notes.

Now I see where the story needs work: it needs more work.

And now I have the belief that Leaving Sadie could very well find itself a home by going down the traditional publishing road; the feedback definitely suggests that.

So now I have to get back to work.

The novel wasn’t ready for self-publication, I have to accept that.

But it could be ready for a traditional publisher very soon.

I’m going to go down the road of finding an agent, because while there was great appeal in self-publishing the work, and while I spent money and time on preparing for self-publication (cover design, ISBN, etc,), and while I know I had input from people on WordPress and Facebook on the book cover (for which I’m forever grateful), I shouldn’t self-publish until I’ve fully exhausted every option available to me when it comes to finding an agent and a publisher.

And if I fail to find one after all this?

Well, I guess I’ll self-publish; only this time I’ll be driving the freight train knowing the cargo is in the best possible condition.

Gallery

A short story . . .

 

 

Gallery

 

It was Raymond’s suggestion. I understood art about as much as I understood Chinese, so I was never inclined to visit art galleries. I like the colours, I appreciate the skill; the talent involved. I understand that there’s talent. Well, most of the time—as Bob Dylan said. Other times . . . Well, I just don’t know.

Like I said, it was Raymond’s idea, and it sounded like it would be a nice thing to do; I don’t see my brother often enough and if I’m to be completely honest I don’t get out often enough myself. Not since John became ill. And when I do get out it’s usually to visit him at the nursing home. Once a month at the home there’s a support group for the spouses of the residents of the home. One of the women there—Julia—she calls it the “Sad Bastard Get-Together” (SBGT). I laugh at that, even though I shouldn’t. I like Julia; she sees the humour in the sad side of life. She said there’s always a sad side (and don’t I know it), so why not try paint over it with humour?

Like an artist painting on a canvas, I guess.

At the support group they encourage you to be more active; become involved in different activities; join clubs; be more sociable. Now that’s all well and good, but I don’t drive, and with the miserable weather we get here most of the year I don’t want to go out half the time. And as for being more sociable; well, that’s all well and good, but any time I go out it’s always with couples, because almost all of my friends are married and have been for over thirty years. And I know that’s the way it is, because that’s the way it is. But it can be a little hard. It’s hard being around couples all the time when you remember what you had; when you instinctively reach for that hand.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. That’s not important. At the SBGT they encourage us to avoid indulging in negative thoughts; not to spend too much time swimming around in the past. So, I shouldn’t do that, I guess. And in any case I’m not a very strong swimmer—never have been. But sometimes I forget that I shouldn’t linger on those thoughts. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older.

But the trip to the gallery . . .

It was a Saturday and as usual it was raining. I had taken the bus from the shopping centre to town, which left me only a few minutes’ walk from the gallery. Once I’d rambled up the cobblestone street I found Raymond standing at the entrance in his rain jacket. He’d always wear the same rain jacket, even if it was a sunny day. He has a gloomy disposition; always has, always will. John used to call him “Smile Awhile”. John always liked to joke and tease, but not in a mean way.

Raymond and I have similar faces. We both share a petit, stubby nose and a big mouth, as if one was compensating for the other. But while Raymond has always had cheeks decorated with freckles, my skin has always been clear and soft, thank you very much. That’s one thing I’ll hold on to, please. Raymond’s black hair—like mine—is greying in places. He has these narrow eyes which have become narrower with time. You see, his eyelids droop, like curtains, and so there’s not much of an opening for his vision, but he never looks like he’s squinting—just gloomy, like I said. Me, I’ve got my mother’s eyes: big and blue and full of surprise. Although there isn’t much that surprises me anymore.

We kissed each other on the cheek and Raymond smiled in his usual way: as if it took a tremendous amount of effort. He paid the admission, and I thanked him, and we began to wander around the gallery. See, Raymond’s the cultured one in our family; he’s the smart one — the educated one. The one who went to college. Of course, I couldn’t go to college because I was running the family home from the age of fifteen; my mother needed all the help she could get because she was ill, and my father was out working most days. We were a poor family: Me, Raymond, and our sisters Debbie and Cassandra, all shared the same room growing up just outside Dublin’s city centre. The three of us sisters would pile ourselves into the same bed—which was good for keeping warm during the night, and for those moments when we’d hear a noise and become scared—and Raymond had his bed to himself. Considering our financial constraints, the fact that Raymond got to go to college is a miracle in my book. But he did, and he’s reaped the benefits of an education. And I don’t begrudge him that one bit. He teaches now, at a college out by Crumlin.

The gallery was quiet for a Saturday, or so I guessed; I don’t know what’s busy for that place. Raymond would comment on paintings every now and then; saying things like “isn’t the use of vibrant colours here marvellous,” and “the despair’s in the work; isn’t it obvious? This captures a moment in the artist’s life—a moment of despair. It all over it, isn’t it?”. He would look at the works in different ways; every now and then he’d place an elbow on a wrist and a hand under his chin, and would tap his lips with his index finger as he studied a painting. He’d seemed displeased in many instances. I just looked at them and liked the ones I liked and didn’t think much about the ones I disliked. When we came to a painting, “A convent garden, Brittany”, by a man I’d never heard of named William John Leech, I asked Raymond what he thought of it. In it a very pretty woman holding a book is looking up at something, maybe the tree, maybe the heavens—I don’t know. Behind her there are a number of women looking away so you can’t see their faces. There are branches and leaves and flowers in the foreground.

“You like it?” he asked.

“Do you?” I replied.

“I do. I’m a great admirer of Leech: I share his love of sunlight.”

“Then why do you still live in Dublin?”

Raymond smiled and placed a finger over his lips as he looked at the painting.

“Do you like it?” he asked again.

“I do,” I said as my eyes lingered on it. “It’s like life, in a way, isn’t it?” I said tentatively.

Raymond turned his head to me; I wasn’t used to talking about art.

“How do you mean?”

“Well,” I began, and hesitated before continuing. “We can see her face. She’s very beautiful. You want to look at her. It’s like we’re the ones looking at her through the leaves and flowers there at the front, isn’t it? But the other women; they’re just there. We can’t see their faces.”

“Go on.”

“I don’t know. I think it’s like life; only a few will be seen and the rest will live in the shadows of others.”

Raymond nodded. I don’t know if that’s what the painting meant. I don’t think it did: I don’t know very much about art.

“It’s his wife, actually.”

“Oh.”

“It’s oil on canvas. Beautiful execution.”

I nodded as once again Raymond tapped his finger against his lips.

It wasn’t long afterwards that we came across the tank. It wasn’t a very pleasant sight—not to my eyes. There were a number of people around it. It was hanging from the ceiling and was a few feet above the floor. There was a big fish in it, surrounded by blue liquid. The big fish’s mouth was open and its razor-like teeth were on display. It must have been around 6 ft long. It was a horrible-looking thing. We got closer and a few of the patrons moved along. There was a sign in front of it that told us the name of the piece:

                        In the Eyes of the Beholder—Death or Life

Raymond nodded.

“This is the piece everyone’s talking about,” he said excitedly.

“It’s a fish,” I said.

Raymond nodded again.

“It’s a lancetfish,” he said. “That liquid is a formaldehyde solution. It slows the decomposition process.”

I took a step back, walked around the tank, and inspected it. The fish was skinny, and its fin was tall. It’s dead, I kept saying to myself.

“It’s like it’s alive, but it’s not,” I said to Raymond.

“So it seems.”

“Why put a dead fish in a tank?”

“Why not?” he said.

“Is it art?” I asked Raymond.

“It’s in the gallery,” he replied.

We stood in silence for a few minutes, staring into the eyes, the mouth, the soul of this dead lancetfish. I felt sorry for the thing; it shouldn’t be there on display like this, I thought.

While we were standing, looking at the fish and the tank, my phone rang.

Raymond looked at me with disapproval. I hunched my shoulders apologetically. It was the nursing home calling. I couldn’t let it ring out; I’d missed the last SBGT, maybe there was something they wanted to update me on. I walked away into a corner where there was no one else and quietly answered the call.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Callaghan?” came the voice of a young woman.

“Yes—Mary. Mrs. Callaghan makes me feel ancient—call me Mary. Is everything all right?”

“It’s fine, yes, nothing to worry about, Mary. John’s just been worried and has been asking us to contact you.”

“What’s wrong? There’s nothing wrong, is there?”

“No, no. Not at all. John just wanted to tell you to remember to bring his cigarettes when you’re coming up next.”

In the background I could hear John.

“I’ve only five left,” he was saying.

“Yes, I have some there for him. I’ll be up later today.”

“Okay,” said the young woman. “John just wanted us to call to make sure.”

“Okay,” I said. “That’s okay.”

 

The rain had stopped when we left the gallery. Raymond waited with me until my bus arrived. I hugged him and we said we’d do it again soon. He trundled off in his raincoat as I waited in line to get on the bus.

On the way to visit John, as the bus travelled along the river, as the traffic crawled tediously, I thought about that poor fish. Then I thought about the beautiful woman in the oil painting. I imagined her there on that day, in the heat of the sunshine, surrounded by the leaves and flowers, and all that beauty. Then, after all the hours her husband had spent on the work, he would reveal it to her.

When I got to John’s room I opened the door slightly before stopping. I imagined the artist’s wife as she approached the door to the room where she would see the painting for the first time. She’d see herself on that canvas; she’d be the focus of attention for years to come. I imagined the excitement, or the apprehension, as she prepared to enter the room and see the work her husband had made for her. Still I stood outside the door. Then I closed my eyes and entered the room.

 

 

Raison d’être (Or, The Ramblings of an Unsound Mind)

The following letters are to be sent in the unlikely event of my passing before the person to whom they are addressed.

They are to be sent as they are, and under no circumstances are they do be redacted, abridged or amended.

I would also like the following declaration, as well as my previous directions, to be affixed to the aforementioned letters:

I am of sound body and mind. I am of sound judgement. I am the ruler of no one but myself.

I am Alexander Klein.

I am sane.

May 9

On this day twenty-nine years ago we met for the first time. That’s all I have been thinking about. They said, after I had told them of my intention to write you, that there was a strong possibility my efforts would prove fruitless, that my wishes would likely be dismissed, but I write nonetheless. They stated that our “altercation” meant that I would be forbidden from having any contact with you, yet I will write.

   You probably remember our first encounter better than I ever possibly could, given the circumstances surrounding it. I’m sure you were filled with joy just as I am as I write, thinking about how it was. I’ve discussed with them how my mind becomes distorted,; memories can become quite vague. But those which consist of us remain vivid. Most of them.

   Do you remember the house in which we stayed all those years ago? I recall how I would sit in the kitchen some nights, nights when you would be reading, and I would think about you. I would play out scenarios in my mind in which I would enter the room and take your book. I would take your hands and sit next to you. But that was your time, you would say, to spend alone; the only time you ever had to yourself. You deserved it and I would not disturb it. In the house itself (in fact I’m not sure if you were ever aware of this) there was a copper box filled with old coins. I had found it in the cupboard to the left of the kitchen sink. Some of the coins dated back as far as the war I had read about at school and watched documentaries about on the television. I thought, for some reason, that they would be worth a vast sum of money. I kept them to myself in the case that they were valuable and that I could become quite wealthy. I don’t know why I never told you because I could never leave you. If it had turned out that they were worth something substantial I simply would have spent the money on the two of us, showering you with gifts of course. But they weren’t. I’m telling you this because I always felt terribly guilty at not having shared this information with you. Maybe you had known that they were there, but I still should have said something. For that I apologise.

   When I think about our time in that house I remember you as an effervescent soul. After the hardships you had overcome, one could accept if you were skeptical of the world and those who inhabited it, but you were quite the opposite. You were always quick with a smile, even to strangers, something that, in my opinion, people take for granted. That made me proud. When we would walk hand-in-hand and pass people by, I would watch you smile at them, and I would watch their reactions. I wasn’t being rude myself; I had an indelible smile fixed on my face as a result of merely looking at you.

   They were mostly happy times until Albert returned to live with us. If there is one thing which I am wholly against, something which irks me far greater than any prison cell ever could, it is a person who doesn’t value the gifts offered with life; the gift of independence and responsibility for oneself; the gift of the freedom to pursue greatness. Every individual is born with the freedom to pursue brilliance, regardless of the circumstances into which they are born. Everyone is born with an inherent greatness waiting to be unleashed, to be embraced. Those who choose to ignore it are the burden of mankind. Alas, my brother Albert was one of those who simply couldn’t see past his nose which sniffed only for quick fixes and terminable conveniences.

I believe it was April of that year when he returned 
having spent months living as a vagrant. He carried with him an odour; a stench of parasitic dependency. I always knew he would arrive on our doorstep with outstretched hands — I just didn’t think it would be so soon. The shift in the atmosphere was almost instantaneous. I knew you were always going to be ingratiating towards him. It was in your nature — it is your essence. Although I could never accept it. Nor could I accept him. I wasn’t happy until he left again to roam another city in search of whatever could benefit him in the short term.

   The duration of his stay, short as it may have been, was — as you sure recall — tumultuous. I rarely come to exchange physical blows with people: I am a true believer in  the non-aggression principle, and in the power of words. But on Albert words were lost; in his direction they would travel, only for him to dodge or ward them off. He wasn’t interested in the reason words offered, so a physical exchange was inevitable. One instance which is firmly lodged in my mind is the time (occurring on the seventeenth day of that month, I believe) when Albert had requested money to purchase a car. It was a beat up, hideous jalopy, but he had said it would serve him well, to help him on his way, he’d said. My anger was not in his wanting to leave of course — it was the fact that he had asked you for the requisite money. When I confronted him about his leeching ways we quarrelled. Afterwards I gave him the money myself and told him to purchase the car and to leave us in peace, never to return. This, I am sure, pained you. You didn’t deserve to witness our tempestuous relationship, and for that I also apologise.

I prefer to forget Albert and the period of his lodging 
with us. Dwelling on it has no good to offer either of us. I would assume you feel the same way. Our time spent together was far too precious to place in the same memory vault as the one which stores Albert, or anything else for that matter. The vault is solely for you and I.

It pains me to write with the main purpose of 
apologising for certain things, but in cleansing myself of the guilt which accompanies those memories of you (even if Albert does feature in some), I can recall them with a greater fondness. I hope, too, that this will help you look back on them with a heightened appreciation.

It is my intention to keep my exchanges with you short, 
as I feel it would be inappropriate for me to flood you with the incessant thoughts I have on a daily basis. I have been meticulous in my deciding what to write you.

-Alexander



June 17

   Since I first wrote a letter I had intended to send to you, which they tell me is still pending approval, my thoughts have mostly been consumed by the developments which led to my current state of incarceration.

   I was, at the best of times, one who was extremely passionate in my beliefs and feelings. I can freely admit I was quite an intense person — something for which, in contrast with my previous letter of grovelling (to be critical of myself), I shall never offer apologies. One’s principles are something that can never be stolen or debased. They are mine to alter if I please — no one else has that privilege. It is clear I have never altered those principles or beliefs. In doing so I would be nothing more than a hypocrite.

   The day when our relationship reached a point from which there would be no return — our crossing of the Rubicon — fell on a Tuesday, during winter. I have trouble recalling the month, which is something that greatly irritates me. I remember the day but not the month. Strange as it is I believe my brain has chosen to forget it, in order, perhaps, to spare me the pain that that month may now bring. It is something I have not discussed with a single person. I’m sure you know. What distresses me is how it was simply a misunderstanding that got completely out of hand. I could never harbour any ill feeling toward you, but there is a hint of disappointment which I can never shake from my being. In doing what I did, I felt I was protecting you, even though you did — and always will — refuse to believe it. In my murdering him I was following the instinctive nature of the animal, which is, when one considers our ancestry, what we are essentially. Being protective is innate just like the gift of potential greatness life offers us. In my assaulting you (which I still maintain was a complete accident) I destroyed everything that was precious in my life. The crime I am interned for was hardly down to the display of the dominant male (which they will argue it is) — it is the acts I took against you. It is not the cell which punishes me, it is the knowledge that I squandered the relationship which was so very dear to me.

   I’ve also thought about the media coverage which surrounded the trial. It is without vanity and with the utmost honesty that I can say I am an attractive person, as are you, and as was he. Everyone loves an attractive victim. Don’t you think there is far more coverage from the press when a person who is murdered happens to be quite attractive? Especially when the victim is a woman. ‘So beautiful’ they say. ‘What a terrible loss’ . . . If the victim isn’t the most attractive, well, let us say the victim was horribly deformed. Do you think there would be such a public outcry of grief, as well as that from the press? I do feel, personally, that looks add more to the story. The same goes for the perpetrator; in this case me. In the past, when I have followed a murder trail, I have noticed far greater coverage when the accused is kind on the eyes. I recall an American girl who was accused of murder who practically became a celebrity. I am firmly of the belief that if she was not attractive (and she was indeed very attractive) she and the case would have garnered little attention.

   This is not important of course — merely an observation. What is important is that you know that my feelings toward you have never changed. They will never change. The disappointment may remain but it is more with those who surrounded and misguided you in the aftermath of that life-altering day. I hope — and I believe — that you still think of me and the days we spent together with nothing less than great affection.

-Alexander

 

October 22

Ma chère,

   In the past few hours I have received news that my brother, Albert, has died. Of course you know of this. I would be content if we could grieve together. Sitting alone (as I’m sure you are, too) at a time of desolation is a sentence more unbearable than the one which was handed down to me after our misunderstanding. It is common knowledge shared between the two of us that I had little time for Albert, but he was blood, and the blood of a sibling is greater than that of the blood of a sacrifice offered for the greater good. Is it the greatest paradox to abhor a sibling whom you truly love?

   I’m led to believe he was stabbed to death during an altercation at a bar near a Parisian suburb. I never imagined he would die in France. He had told me he disliked the people, so why he returned there I will never know. The catalyst for his own downfall . . . I expected nothing less.

   My previous attempts to write you were denied so I had refrained from putting ink to paper. It pained me, you see, to waste these words on nothing more than paper. I feel, though, in the event of my death, they may acquiesce and allow you to receive my letters. This would serve as my satisfying last meal. Albert’s passing has prompted me to write again, with my thoughts solely on the pain you must be experiencing at this time. Though he and I had our differences, I’m aware that you were quite fond of him. You were always blinded by your kind nature, something which you should never be ashamed of. It is what defines you.

In thinking about the suffering you may be experiencing 
I have been reminded of a time in my life which, perhaps, defined me. It was the day my father died, which we’ve discussed on numerous occasions. In thinking about my father, I am not reminded of grief, or any feelings of real anguish. These feelings never accompanied his death. We were together when he died of course, and I can still feel the grip of your hand entwined with mine at the funeral. That grip — which was as tight as you had ever held my hand — I was sure would remain the same from that day forward. In losing my father, I had gained a true companion in you. Someone who would be there for me as I would be for them. I remember how you were saddened much more than I was during the months that followed. I had assumed -—and to this day still do — that your pain was in relation to the pain you had imagined I was feeling. It never occurred to me to tell you that, far from feeling grief, I was elated at the
prospect of us being together. Thinking, with the squeeze of your hand on the day of his burial, that I truly had someone who was mine. Not someone to dominate, but to share
my life with.

   There’s a question which has resurfaced in my mind many times since I have been here: Why have our lives turned out this way? How could the predisposition to protect someone
in every way possible lead to a separation of immense tragedy? I have never been able to arrive at a fulfilling answer to the question. But I think of the greatest stories ever told, and they are all tragic. That offers a comfort which I’m sure we can both appreciate until we die.

As always, and forever — with love, mother.

-Alexander

At a Loss

Since she died I’ve noticed that my ability to speak with others is being slowly eradicated, gradually fading away like this emaciated pink bar of soap I use as I bathe.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

This water will soon be cold and I’ll step out, dripping. I will shiver. The bathroom will be unwelcoming and I’ll leave in a hurry; my scrawny, pathetic body with its limp flesh covered by a damp, frayed, yellow towel.

But for now I will bathe.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

This is not the first instance in which I’ve considered my verbal constipation. It’s been a number of years since this inadequacy began to rear its ugly head.

I stumble over my words, if I’m fortunate enough find them.

The water in the porcelain tub swashes as I sit forward and look out the bathroom window which is ajar. The cool air envelopes my face. The day is bright. I see the woman from one of the houses opposite mine (number forty-four, I believe) as she hangs her washing in her back garden. I consider masturbating, but my thoughts are too busy to construct a pleasing fantasy. Once again the water dances as I rest my back against the cool tub.

I wash my underarms.

There is a great void in my mind, it seems — I cannot express myself with the requisite words when prompted.

And what if I do not speak? What if I instead choose silence? Where will I be then? How will I live — in this highly connected, this garrulous world — when I find it such a challenge to assemble a satisfying sentence? How can I, for instance, charm a member of the opposite sex with my daft tongue? (It’s not just what lines the pockets that dictates a woman’s interest in the male of the species. The power of words, ah, yes. Powerful, indeed. Powerful, too, is a distinct lack of them.)

Drip. Drip. Drip.

But not my short supply. A silence that is chosen can be a cunning tactical move, but a silence that indiscriminately finds one during discourse is as debilitating as a thunderous kick to the groin.

Like, for instance, only a week ago when — against my better judgement — I agreed to meet with a number of work colleagues. Upon being asked a question about my education (Where was it you studied all those years ago in Germany, Felix?), I faltered. Of course I responded by stating the name of the exact place where I had studied, but that was it. No substantiating or elaborative information followed. Instead, a silence of immense discomfort. Only when the group had moved on to another topic had I conjured up the desired information I had wished to share with them, but by then it was too late.

I was forever missing trains; always knowing where I wanted to go but never reaching my destination in time.

I debated whether or not I was suffering from a crisis of confidence, that perhaps the youth of today was somehow intimidating me, but even when I spoke to those with whom I’ve been familiar for years I found myself lacking. There appears to have occurred some catastrophic incident within the cerebral cortex, an incident which I cannot comprehend. For when I write, it is fine. When I sing, it is perfect. When I dance, my steps find themselves effortlessly. My thought process isn’t fazed in solitude. The frontal lobe does not shut down when I’m alone. Is the frontal lobe really responsible for my social deficiency? Is it merely a result of some sort of social anxiety? Perhaps. Do I feel anxious? Not to my knowledge. I’m merely struck down with some sort of ‘dumb’ syndrome at the most inconvenient times.

Or, perhaps, it’s delayed grief.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Even the tap which I cannot turn any further is more prolific than me.

I splash the ever-cooling water onto my chest and run my soapy hands over my well-fed stomach.

I am not an object of desire.

I place my hands each side of the tub and pull myself forward. The woman from number forty-four is still in her garden. I’ve watched her on many occasions. The female form is forever distracting, invariably alluring, occasionally tormenting. I cannot remember the last time I had sex. I do, however, remember the final time I had intercourse with her.

 

***

 

My current state of vocabularic impotence hadn’t found me at that time. Her name was Lucy. She was American (from Pittsburgh) and weighed approximately 15st, and what attracted me to her was her brown eyes which suggested an open, warm heart. We met when I was in my late-forties. Lucy was two years older.

Together we enjoyed simple pleasures in life. For hours each day we would sit indoors reading and listen to music. Her favourite authors were Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, and John Saul. Her favourite musicians were Billy Idol, INXS, and Blondie. Her favourite snack was a chocolate éclair; I would regularly find her in bed, wrapped in a duvet reading Night Shift while devouring the oblong pastry.

Lucy engendered in me a firm belief in being oneself: she wore what she pleased, however unflattering. She sang at the top of her voice, despite her inability to hit one correct note. She ate her éclairs whenever she felt the urge.

Now that I think about it, I recall an instance when my apparently latent inability to form an articulate sentence may have signalled its existence during that period.

In our apartment, which was situated above a Chinese restaurant (the smells from which would regularly slip under our door and greet us and our guests like irksome door-to-door salesmen), we were hosting a small gathering of friends — Lucy’s friends.

Lucy had spent the afternoon cooking. Beads of sweat on her forehead captured her russet fringe, so it stuck there until she would wipe her brow with the greasy tea towel. She would regularly swear when she cooked; becoming vexed by the slightest inconvenience.

“Fuckin’ macarone,” she’d say. “Boil, you basta’d kettle!”

Of course I found these outbursts rather odd. One may get angry and curse, sure, but to scold a kettle for not boiling fast enough?

I would make myself scarce as frequently as possible when Lucy prepared food, and afterwards I would scour the kitchen for any stains she may have missed when cleaning — a product of my OCD.

During the friendly gathering Lucy’s friend, Noel, a reticent, plaintive and socially awkward fellow, found the courage to ask me where I grew up.

“Speilenstanz,” I told him. Then, I rocked from heel to toe as we both stood waiting for the other to continue to speak, as the numerous conversations taking place in the room swirled around Noel and I as if to mock us. We both smiled. I rocked back and forth some more. This is when I should’ve known there was something on the horizon, that some sort of irreversible malfunction had occurred up there.

Noel, sensing my dishevelment bordering on despair, pushed himself to his conversational limit in a bid to sustain the pathetic attempt at a discussion.

“It’s charming, or so I’ve heard.”

“Yes!” I enthused, quite relieved. “Yes, it’s very quiet. It’s, um, a quiet place.” I gave him a sheepish smile and excused myself, entering the kitchen as Lucy was muttering swear words at a carrot she was chopping, and I quietly sank into a chair by the kitchen table.

I put my inability to converse down to fatigue; I had been feeling tired most of the week, after all. Work had indeed been long and arduous at the time.

While I sat in a daze, I looked over at my lovely Lucy as she prepared the carrot.

“I thought you’d cooked everything earlier today?”

“We’re out of pre-meal snacks. I’m chopping some carrots for dipping into the hummus.” She stood upright and flopped her wrist back so that the knife pointed away from me. “You look off colour. Did you have too much to drink? You know you can’t handle more than two gin and tonics.”

“I’ve barely indulged, my Lucy. And I can handle more than two G&Ts. I’m not a bloody child.”

“Sweetheart, get yourself a drink of water and get back outside. We’re the hosts, we can’t both be absent from the living room at the same time. So if you don’t mind…” She flipped her hand back the other way, so she was now pointing the knife at me. I’m still unsure as to whether or not this was a threat.

Eventually, after a couple of G&Ts, I found my voice once again and the words rolled off my tongue like marbles off a coffee table. I freely participated in conversation while poor Noel stood by nodding his head and sipping his drink uncomfortably.

Fatigue, yes! That’s all it was.

The night had proved a success, and Lucy and I had intercourse soon after everyone had left. The next morning, a Sunday, I had forgotten about Noel and those few embarrassing minutes, and Lucy and I took a morning stroll to the supermarket where she purchased three fresh chocolate éclairs.

Back at home we lay in bed together while Debbie Harry told how once she had a love and it was a gas. After finishing two éclairs Lucy turned on her side and, as I read Faulkner, I placed one hand on her massive hips as I held the book open in the other.

“Felix?” she asked me in between deep, laborious breaths.

“Yes, my dear?”

“Rub my back.”

I placed the book page-down on the duvet so I could resume reading where I had left off, as Lucy turned onto her stomach — her face becoming lost in the pillow.

Placing my knees either side of her and resting my bottom on her calves, I lifted up her carmine red T-shirt, revealing the pale white and acne-covered skin. With both thumbs I pressed deep into the muscles causing the skin to crease and Lucy to release a number of low moans.

“Don’t be afraid to be tough,” she said — her words muffled by the pillow in which her face was nestled.

Halfway through the massage I changed the CD from Blondie to INXS. Lucy had a thing for Michael Hutchence, and — fully aware that I offered little sex appeal to the female of the species — I would play his band’s music in a bid to conjure up a sexual fantasy in her mind: INXS were nothing more than an aphrodisiac, and quite an effective one.

After ‘Mystify‘ had finished, I moved my hands from her back to her enormous thighs. With much effort I parted her legs — it was like lifting two massive slabs of beef — and began to rub between her inner thighs and her buttocks.

By this stage I had developed an erection, and with one hand continuing the massage, I manoeuvred my penis from my underwear with the other and began to touch myself.

Soon thereafter I noticed that Lucy wasn’t being receptive to my massage; which by now had moved to her vagina. This wasn’t unusual, however, as she would prefer to lie static during intercourse more often than not. Highly aroused, I continued, and, positioning myself higher up the bed, I rested one hand on the pillow by her head and used the other to position my penis between her legs.

After no more than twenty thrusts I climaxed inside her.

Never Tear Us Apart‘ began to play through the speakers as I used the bed sheets to wipe my penis clean. I lay on my back looking at the ceiling, spent.

“A little quicker than usual,” I snickered, then turned to Lucy whose face was still buried in the pillow. “Were you thinking of him or me?” I asked.

Lucy didn’t respond.

“Lucy?” I called, but still she failed to acknowledge me. Had she grown tired of me? Of us. Did the latest round of lacklustre sex arouse in her a latent depression?

As Hutchence declared that we could live for a thousand years, I rested my hand on her shoulder nearest me and shook her gently. “Lucy,” I intoned, but still there was no reply.

 

***

 

When I called for the ambulance my voice trembled.

“Where is she now?” the woman on the other end of the phone asked.

“In bed,” I answered, my words laced with panic and shame. “We were… having sex.”

The paramedics arrived a short time later and pronounced Lucy dead at the scene. Before they left one of them noticed the case of the INXS record.

“Good, huh?” he said.

“They’re OK,” I opined quietly. “Do I go with you?”

“My colleague here is going to ask you a number of questions.”

I looked at Lucy, who by now was spread on the gurney with a white sheet covering her whole body. With her massive belly and pointed feet the sheet looked like a miniature model of a snow-covered mountain range. I imagined tiny people skiing down her stomach and over her breasts, towards her thorax.

Later that evening, having attended the mortuary, I returned to the apartment and sat myself down on the bed on which Lucy had been lying only hours earlier. I reached for the remote for the stereo system and pressed play; the system automatically choosing disc three.

Driving drums began and Billy Idol proceeded to sing ‘Mony Mony’.

I lay my head on the pillow next to Lucy’s; the indentation made by her head still remained, and Billy sang with great vitality. I had never cared much for that track, but somehow it was the perfect song to accompany me at that moment. I reached my hand over to the empty space next to me where usually I would find Lucy’s hefty presence. I ran my fingers over the now cold duvet cover.

Lucy was gone.

 

***

 

The bathwater is now quite cool. My skin is puckered and the room lacks condensation. I move forward, reaching for the tap, twisting the handle, but all the hot water is gone. I look out the window once again; the woman from forty-four has long left the garden. A chill envelopes my face and I settle back into the tub.

I picture Lucy and think about my worry over words, and a faint chuckle arrives. When I think about her and I together, and when I consider our exchanged words, my memory serves me monosyllabic ones like ‘love’, and ‘rub’, and ‘soap’. Words such as ‘back’, and ‘hug’, ‘kiss’, and ‘play’. These are the important ones. I wonder, for a moment, if I’ll experience another relationship before I die. I’m in my mid-fifties, hardly an old age pensioner. I can still muster an erection. Even the thoughts of that last sexual encounter with my lovely Lucy had me mildly aroused, despite the morbid nature of the recollection.

I cannot be sure if my struggle with words is a result of Lucy’s passing, or something that predates her departure from us. I cannot be sure if I’ll ever be able to attract another woman, given my current predicament. What I am sure of, however, is that I have a window in my bathroom.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

And that’s something.