Category Archives: Long

Fisica – Part 1


Mike’s head turned to his computer. He had spent the last nine months hoping that he would have dealt with this issue before it came to this. He hadn’t, he had left it for Simon to raise.

To: Mike

From: Simon

Date: 29/10/15 22:03

Subject: Fisica’s next product


After our last conversation, I have been wondering if perhaps you aren’t as finished with my services as you implied. If, for example, Fisica’s next product is actually based on my encryption technology rather than it being a side feature, as originally described, perhaps we should discuss next steps?



To: Simon

From: Mike

Date: 29/10/15 22:14

Subject: RE: Fisica’s next product

Unfortunately I can’t discuss future product direction for Fisica with those outside the company.


He stood up as he pressed send. Simon had worked for Fisica. He had written the encryption tech when he was a contractor. He had been too expensive to keep on, but Fisica’s new product relied on his work. But he can’t know that. He simply can’t.

Mike knew that the right thing was to ask him to be an employee. That was the best thing to do, but the problem was that Simon was just as much of a nightmare as one would imagine. Once he was an employee there was a good chance he’d just want to screw everything up for Mike. Mike knew that this whole thing was a nightmare, but maybe, he hoped, there would be a way to get this product launched without having to deal with Simon. Poor Simon, Mike thought, could a company basically decide that you were annoying, albeit super smart, and therefore decide to use your best ideas, but not deal with you anymore?

Legally he was in the clear, Simon had signed away what he had done. But would the board want the smart guy who invented the tech outside the company and available for hire or inside working for them?

Mike knew that it was time to talk to Jerry. Jerry was Mike’s therapist, and Mike had been avoiding seeing Jerry almost as much as he’d been avoiding talking to Simon.

He went back to the computer and to Jerry’s website, booked the first appointment for tomorrow morning, then he sent an email asking for an emergency meeting with his investors. After that he popped a sedative, drank a glass of red and went to bed. This meant he had a really confused four hours during which his brain was fighting sleep, but then he fell asleep so completely and soundly that when his alarm went off, he couldn’t remember for a clear three minutes who he was or why he was awake at six thirty.

He had a cool shower. (Who actually wants a cold shower? Cold showers are ridiculous.) He dressed carefully. He wanted to be able to maintain the sartorial high ground. Jerry was a poor dresser. He had a thrown together look, one day Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts, another day a ripped blue denim shirt and jeans. The problem was that in between these crazy combinations, Jerry’s throwaway style could end up looking like very carefully put together non-style. Mike didn’t know why he cared. He certainly wasn’t fashionable himself in the conventional sense. But he liked to feel the best dressed. Working with developers meant he could win most of the time.

Mike pushed open the door of Jerry’s office. On the ground floor was a toilet and a staircase down to the consulting rooms. A sign had been hanging on the door to the toilets ever since Mike had been coming here saying “Beware of the vom”.

Mike walked down the stairs and into the waiting room. The receptionist was mixing a Bloody Mary.

“Is Jerry in?” asked Mike.

“Not until 8am, never before that. Just getting things ready.”

“I’m his first appointment.”

“What you having?”

“Just a water please.”

“Suit yourself.”

Mike sat with his water and waited. At 8am the door swung open, Jerry walked up to the bar, gave an evil look to the receptionist, walked around behind the bar and looked back to Mike. He gestured Mike to come over to the bar. Jerry went into the fridge and pulled out two bottles of beer. He passed one to Mike.

Mike said, “I’m fine thanks”.

“It’s not for you,” said Jerry, “I don’t have enough hands to carry everything”.


“I mean,” said Jerry, “if you are on some kind of health kick have some celery, we always have celery”.

“I’m fine,” said Mike.

“Ok let’s go.”

Jerry carried a beer and the Bloody Mary through to his office and Mike followed with the other beer.

Jerry quickly arranged himself on his bean bag in the middle of the room. He had placed the drinks on a small mat and he gestured to Mike that he should approach and put the other beer by the side.

“Careful,” said Jerry, “the raffia is sitting on carpet so it can all go over at any minute.”

Mike went and picked up another bean bag from the pile in the corner of the room and placed it in front of Jerry.

“So what’s up?” asked Jerry.

“I have a problem.”

“Tell me about it,” said Jerry, “you are seeing your drunk of a therapist at short notice after a gap of six months. You don’t need to tell me you have a problem.”


“So tell me.”

“I have a meeting in two hours with my investors.”


“They think I am the reason my company is successful, but actually the technology behind the flagship new product was written by somebody else. This software is the reason most of the investors came in. And I sacked the person who wrote it because… Well I told him it was because we didn’t have enough money, but actually it was because I was threatened by him.”

“And now he’s upset?”

“No, yes, I mean he’s obviously upset, but I think… I think he may have realised that nobody else knows that he’s the one that invented code Fisica relies on.”

“But surely that happens all the time? People invent things when they work places and they pass the rights over to people,” said Jerry.

“Yes they do, and he did. But I work in an ideas business, and my investors think I was the man with the ideas, when actually it was him, I sacked the guy they actually wanted.”

“Is that really true, or do you just think it’s true?”

“How would I know the difference?”

“Good question,” said Jerry, “that’s supposed to be my job, I’m not so sure I like you asking the interesting questions.”

Jerry finished his first beer. Then held his nose and drained the second half of his Bloody Mary.

“This is tough this morning,” Jerry said.

“Some people would say it’s a bad idea to seek advice from a drunk shrink”.

“At least I’ll give you advice,” Jerry said, “most of these guys will ask ‘how does that make you feel?’ and tell you nothing”.

“So tell me something,” Mike said.

“Well if this guy is so important to you, hire him back.”

“But that won’t work, he’s a complete disaster to work with and… Then he’ll know…”

“Surely he already knows that he invented this thing?” asked Jerry.

“Yeah, of course! He knows that, but… but… he doesn’t know that… He doesn’t know that what he invented is what the whole company is focusing on, although he will soon when we put out a press release, and he doesn’t know that the investors don’t know that he was the one who invented it. They think it was me, he thinks they sacked him even though they knew it was him.”

“And if you hired him back?”

“Hey! I thought you didn’t do self-reflective questions.”

“Fine,” said Jerry, “I’m telling you to hire him back, tell me why you aren’t going to?”

“Because he’ll ruin everything. He’ll twist everything around to him.”

“Ok,” said Jerry, “I say you ruined anything that was going to be ruined when you sacked him and tried to get the glory for something you didn’t do. If you aren’t the inventor the only reason you could conceivably be valuable is as a leader not a scaredy cat who won’t face up to the world he actually finds himself in.”

“You’re wrong,” said Mike, “Simon is toxic and it was only my leadership that got that wart out of the firm.”

“Ok, if you’re sure. Time’s up.”

“That’s nowhere near time.”

“I have to take a crap, you can follow me in or not. But that’s where the rest of this session is taking place, I promise you that.”

Mike stood up.

“Thanks for your time, Jerry.”

“Come and see me next week Mike, book it on your way out, you’re going to want to see me next week.”

“Ok, I will.”

“Hey Mike, what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to tell the investors to press ahead without Simon.”

“Ok,” said Jerry, “I’ll see you next week.”

Nice things happening to nice people

I was once asked, “so what do you write about”?
I thought about it for a while, and decided that I generally write about nice things happening to nice people. There are certainly variations, people change in stories, things hurt them, people have baggage, but generally I like triumph over adversity.

I’m going to pick a story that I wrote after my book was sent to the printers, but before it had been printed as an archetypal story of mine. It’s “nice”. I was told as a kid not to use the word “nice”. It was too common. But I like “nice”. I’m sorry.

So while I’m on this nostalgia kick, here’s my story written 5 years ago originally here in 4 parts (as so many of my stories are), but now collected together…

It’s called “Preparation”…

Last night I dreamt of mandarins again. I know I’m worrying about the meal. Why do I put myself through it? Twenty people for Christmas lunch. I used to think it was for the kids so they would grow up seeing their family. And lately I’ve convinced myself that I’m doing it for Bob. He always used to love Christmas. I wonder how many times I’ll have to say it before I can forget him making the kids put all of the presents back under the tree because they were being too noisy.

No, I might as well admit that I do it for me. We never had fun at Christmas when I was a girl and I suppose I’m making up for it. Sometimes I do wonder when this fun is supposed to happen. I mean before you’ve served up, you’re cooking like crazy. During the meal you’re worrying about pudding. During pudding you’re trying to stop Malcolm setting fire to the napkins or Uncle Paul from getting too carried away with the brandy butter. And afterwards there’s the washing up.

Paul isn’t my uncle he’s my brother. I wonder when I started calling him that as though it was his name or his title? I guess it was around the time I started talking to the kids more than I spoke to adults. Just when I thought I was about clear, I now seem to spend quite a bit of my time in the company of the grandchildren.

I do know the part of Christmas I love most. It’s not watching the kids unwrap the presents. There is too often disappointment in some of their faces. I knew we were spoiling them when they were little but I didn’t see what harm it would do. Now I know they expected bigger and better presents every year, so now probably anything less than the
keys to an actual rocket ship is a bit of a let down. So no it isn’t that. It’s sneaking about the night before helping Santa fill the stockings. See there I go again, I’ve clearly been spending too much time with the grandchildren.

Now. It’s time to get out of bed. I’ve got a busy day today. I’m having lunch with a man. God, that sounds more exciting than it probably will be.

I had Simon on the phone last night giving me dating tips. As if he knows anything about it. He’s never even had a girlfriend. Well I suppose he still dates even though he thinks he can’t tell me about it. Right, must get up.


I pull into the last car parking space and turn the engine off. The radio stops talking at me and suddenly everything is peaceful. Or at least everything outside my head. I try to collect my thoughts but it’s hard to focus. This was a stupid week to have a date. All of the time I’m thinking of all of the things I should be getting ready for Christmas. Simon was right, I do need to spend more time thinking about myself for a change, but I’m just not sure that this week was the best week to do it.

I tilt the rear view mirror towards me and take a look at my make up. I think about re-applying but out loud I say “it’ll have to do.” He’s picked the nice little bistro that opened recently. It’s a good choice to go somewhere new, there is less baggage – less chance that I had a previous date here. I walk in and can already tell that I’m going to like this place. There is a certain feel when you walk in, a certain light that feels warm and welcoming. I can see Brian over at a corner table. He looks up at me and smiles and I instantly remember why I’m here. That smile is a big part of it. He looks at me like he actually wants to see me. I’ve started to be able to tell the difference between that look and the one my children give me, the one where they want something from me.

As I get close to the table Brian stands to greet me. A single peck on the cheek, a slight waft of his aftershave. I give my coat to the waitress and sit. I can look at him now properly and I do. Then after a second I realise I’m almost staring and so I look down for the menu.

“Drink?” he asks.

“Yes, but I’m driving so it’ll just be the one.”

“You look lovely today.”

I’m never sure exactly what a comment like this is supposed to mean. I haven’t got time now – I’ll over-analyze it later.

“Thank you. And you’ve had your hair cut.”

“Not since you last saw me – I don’t think.”

“Ah, it must be the candlelight. You look very smart.”

“Thank you. Now how about that drink?”

I look at Brian. What do I think about him? How can I judge? He’s not quite the man I imagine when I close my eyes. But on the other hand I’m not sure that man exists. In fact I know that man doesn’t exist.

The man I see when I close my eyes is my dead husband without the inconvenient bits. Not just that he’s dead, actually him dying was one of the most self-improving things he could have done. God that sounds harsh, I don’t mean that the way you think I do. All I mean is that when he was alive I always had this lovely perfect vision of him, the feeling, the idea of him was perfect. And I have that again now. But then, when he was alive, he’d go and open his mouth or do something that would be so… so… disappointing that actually now he’s gone it’s a bit easier to preserve his perfection. The only problem for poor Brian is that now he has to live up to a completely impossible version of Bob. It seems weird because I know, and you know I know because I just wrote it, that Bob wasn’t actually like that in real life. But this is being written in the cold light of day (well I’m in bed, it’s warm and it’s night-time but that’s neither here nor there). But when I’m meeting with Brian it’s not about cold-light-of-day decisions. Somehow I’m measuring him against dead Bob and that’s not really fair. He’s all right, he’s lovely, but…

No. He’s fine. That sounds terrible. I want to say… He’s what I want, he’s what I need. That’s true actually. I need somebody who isn’t part of my family. I need somebody like that because I want to be thought of as special. I want to know that they are interested in me. I wonder how really rich people cope. I know that the only people who want me for something other than pure desire are my family who want me to provide. But if you were loaded you’d have to worry that any man would be after you just for your money. Brian’s richer than me though so I don’t have to worry about that. Why am I even thinking about it? I do find myself just whittering on sometimes.

We’ve been eating in silence. Brian decides to break it.

“So,” he asks, “what have you been thinking about?”

“You,” I say.

“What have you got to think about me?”

“Well, I’ve been evaluating you. Sort of deciding.”

“I hope…” he pauses, “I hope you don’t decide to decide too early. I’ve got a lot of interesting things to try… to show you if you’d be interested.”

“Don’t worry Brian. I was… I was just having some difficulty. I mean, I’m not used to this kind of thing.”

“What kind of thing?”

“Well a date?”



“Sorry,” says Brain smirking, “it’s just that… God this is going to sound stupid. But I’ve been out with some women recen…. In the past… and none of them… not a one… has realised that they’ve been on a date. They think they are on some kind of bridge meeting. They compliment me on the choice of food, on the choice of wine, but some of them even bring a friend. They have no idea. At least you know that you’re on a date.”

“How many women?”


The question, “how many women?” I’d asked was hanging over the proceedings like a bad stink. Brian had frozen, he’d been freed for a second into saying something that he clearly truly felt. Something actually fucking interesting. Sorry about my language – but that’s what I feel. My contemporaries act as though it’s proper decorum to pretend you died about five years ago.

“Sorry Brian, I didn’t mean that question the way that you’re thinking that I did.”
“What does that mean?”
“I just meant…” I pause, I’m trying to decide how to phrase it. “I just meant, huh.”
“I’m sorry if I offended you.”
“Oh no, God no… I just was just thinking that I wanted to pause the date, because… While I realise I’m on a date and I’m therefore supposed to disapprove of you going out with others, I’m old enough and wise enough to realise that you must be, and that I’m not the only one. I’m not moronic. There are a lot more single women of my age than men. But what you were saying just made me feel like one of the blokes down the pub for a second. I imagined all of the twittery women I know who are so totally clueless. And for a second I just wanted to laugh at them with you. That’s all.”
“Well that’s okay then.”

Brian, I could tell, was looking at me differently. I wonder what that meant. And then suddenly I didn’t know what to do. Could I go on eating, or did I need to talk? I knew I was really waiting for him to talk again but I didn’t know where to look or what to do while I was waiting. I decided to plump for a overly large glug of my wine so I could keep looking him in the eye. He looked flustered, I was flustered too I could feel the tops of my ears starting to go red. And then I decided to help him.

“You know what Bri, lets order us up some more wine – I’ll get a taxi home.”

“Good,” he smiled that smile again. And he actually exhaled. It was so sweet. I wanted to hug him right there and then.

I smiled back at him and suddenly we were a team. We were on the same side against the rest, whoever they might be.


As the taxi pulled away from the bistro I thought about how I sometimes can really surprise myself. I used to think about how I was too eager to please others. It used to worry me. Over time I realised that pleasing others pleased me, and that in many ways that’s all there was to life.

Today I realised, finally, that all encounters, all conversations, are a two way street. You wouldn’t drink neat gin, you wouldn’t drink neat tonic but together they make something beautiful. They come together to create something better than either of them can be by themselves. I wanted to be nice to Brian, I suddenly realised, not because it wouldn’t help me but because it would. That’s what we’re all doing.

It’s only a problem when you stop taking part yourself. When it stops making you feel better to take part in the exchange – that’s the only time it’s a problem God! Stop thinking! And you think this sounds like crazy over-analysis? You should hear my brain in an hour.

I’m in this taxi, it’s going to my house. My house with my family in it. My family who are there for Christmas. Who are there to enjoy themselves.


And I’m bringing Brian to have dinner with me. How’s that for making myself feel happy?

Telephone – Directors Commentary

What is this? Well I rather enjoyed the discussion around the short story I posted the other month here called Airborne. After the story was published there was some conversation about how the story ended and I realised that perhaps it was uncomfortable for people to directly comment on the story posts on the blog and that perhaps it would be easier if there was a post that described the writing process and that would help attract comment.I wrote the first part of Telephone about a year and a half ago when something similar to the opening scene happened to me. Katherine and I were out at an exhibition and at the end of the exhibition Katherine was looking around the gift shop and I found a bench to rest on. It was actually really cold rather than hot and a woman sat down next to me and was desperately looking through her pockets for a phone. I suggested that she try calling her phone and she said she must have left it at the estate agents she’d been at. That was it. As she walked away I thought about how if I had offered to call her she would have got hold of my number and so some kind of kernel of a story was born.

So I had some vague notes about the story and then at some point around July 2010 I worked it into the first part of Part 1. Up until this line – “There is no ringing from her jacket. I put the phone to my ear it is ringing… Somewhere.”

I had always envisioned this as something of a four part story but I wrote that first half of part one in a night when I had written a lot of other articles and I ran out of time. I think I was trying to give myself an excuse to end it as a little bit of an ultrashort. But luckily I wasn’t really satisfied with that so I saved it in my drafts folder.

In January this year the story popped back into my head and I pulled it up while in Goring-on-sea train station. There is something nice and bleak about seaside towns in winter and that informed my writing I’m sure. I seem to remember that when I first considered the story it was going to be a scary action based thriller type story. The sort of thing where the woman turned out to be a spy or something and where our hero ended up being dragged into an adventure against his will. And I’m pretty sure, but I can’t remember the details, but I think the woman with the phone was going to be supernatural in some way. Maybe you would have preferred that story. But as chance would have it I had just written Airborne and so I was on the supernatural rebound.

There was something of the realism of description in Airborne that I’d enjoyed writing and so I kind of kept that bit. I briefly considered turning the story back to the incidents original cold but I decided that I was happy with hot oppression rather than cold isolation. And considering how cold it was I was quite happy to go on a hot holiday in my head.

I wrote the rest of part 1 and half of part 2 on the train. A rewrite of everything so far and the second half of part two happened in a pub. A pub which overlooks a coffee shop. You can, it seems, look out of the window and stare straight into the coffee shop and they don’t seem to see you – very handy for a writer. I was waiting for a friend to join me and so the waiting elements got added throughout.

And then…. Airborne was published and we started talking about it. I’m quite used to editing, I know it can cause blocks for some writers, some writers start second guessing everything. I’m one of them, I know. But in this case the pieces were unrelated and so it didn’t really affect things… But…

I had written that last bit of Part 2 just before Airborne was published:

“I’m glad you could make it.”
“I thought Sarah would never leave.”
“So did I.”

And this is what stopped me. I wondered then about what happened next. I had originally had quite a keen idea of the plot when it was going to be a mysterious adventure. But now it had turned out to be quite different. But then this last line presented a tricky question.

It invited some kind of suggestion of complicity. That had been the only thing in my mind at the time. But now I worried that this might also suggest that this was going to move into some kind of spy story or something like that. Having just published an article where we were talking about the lingering impact of last lines I thought it would be interesting to see what you thought. I wondered if this might mean that you thought they were in on something together and that that something was external to the story so far. Or if you thought it might be that, as intended, it was supposed to make you think that perhaps Sarah was right and these two were having an affair.

At this point I seem to have decided that I didn’t know what was coming next. Suddenly I was reading it as a reader. Where they complicit? Had the meeting in the shoe shop been a trick on Sarah and the reader? I didn’t know. Was that a good direction to go?

I thought about writing this article – and then realised that I would probably mention the other style of story and then started thinking about if it might have been better to make this more actiony. I had written a story with a lot of pauses in it – I thought. I reread part one and two again and decided that I liked the air in the story. The space that had been left between things. I decided I wanted to keep that and preserve it.

A question inevitably arises at this juncture – what is the point of this story? Why should the reader be interested? I try and convince myself sometimes that it is interesting enough to just live inside the characters head. Maybe I was putting too much pressure on the story? Should I just stop the story after part two?

Several people had said Airborne had gone on too long, maybe I didn’t need to add the weight of a point on the story?

I decided to just start writing part three about these two in the bar. I had liked the interplay in part one so I figured that could nicely come back. But I wanted to add our main characters detachment from part two.

This pulled things forward and I decided to avoid describing anything of a sordid nature. Which I think has to be the right way to go. Anything you say about any specifics is going to be so cringeworthy that it isn’t worth reading. Personally I included kissing in this. But I wanted that to happen while we were there, rather than between parts, so we knew something was happening while we were waiting for part four. I didn’t want you to leave having to wonder how the steps had been taken, or importantly who had led who up the steps.

But maybe you’d have rather had explicit detail, or even just more detail? I worried about cliche more than anything else, but maybe that leaves us without enough meat on the story?

I am trying to remember where the idea for the ending of the story came from but i’m not sure. I can remember finding myself struggling with how to start part three, but knowing how part four ended. I was sorely tempted to write the end of part four at one point and then somehow work backwards. This isn’t something that’s ever worked particularly well for me so I decided that I wouldn’t do that.

So I’m not sure where the idea came from exactly but suddenly there it was. I am pretty certain that I didn’t have the ending in place when I started. But I think it was there before I got to the end of part 2.

So. What did you think? How did it hang together for you? Do you feel it was satisfying? Should I have left it at the end of part 2? Or would you have rather the promise of the opening had led to an action adventure story?

Please don’t hold back.

Telephone – Part 4

She was already gone. Before I had fallen asleep I had wondered if she would wake me. I guessed she wouldn’t and she hadn’t. I think I liked that.I got up and padded into the kitchen. It was already too hot. I opened the window and stepped onto the balcony. It was cooler but you could sense the heat coming. I remembered something about not opening the windows in the day. But I knew I always felt stifled without fresh air.

Back in the kitchen I got the cold pleasure of reaching in the freezer for the can of coffee. I poured the cold water in the machine, put the coffee in the filter and put the coffee back. The smell hits you pretty quick. You almost start waking up when you hear the liquid fall in the warm jug. You wake up in anticipation of the coffee.

I walked back to the balcony with a cup and started smoking. This is the time, I tell myself, every day, that I do my best thinking. I actually just watch traffic. I hope it isn’t my best thinking.

I drain my cup and think about going in for some more. I stop myself. I want to hold on to this, before whatever is coming comes. Even now as I remember this, I feel I knew at this moment. This was the moment when I began to realise, to guess, that I had been betrayed.

It wasn’t when Sarah’s lawyer showed me the photos. It was when I stood there on the balcony and that’s my problem.

I apologise too much, I over think everything, so I say sorry before I ever did anything. I never give myself any damn credit. And so I knew, as I thought about what had happened, that I couldn’t have got somebody like that to come back with me. There must have been an angle for her. I knew it. So that’s when I knew. Or that’s when I convinced myself I knew.

And I’m not sure I’m happy about that. Even if I was right, that lack of self confidence, meant I probably created the circumstances that made it possible. When I’d stepped out on to the balcony I hadn’t realised, but I knew that when I walked back inside I would be admitting that I knew. So I wanted to stay outside more than I wanted that next cup of coffee. That next cup of coffee meant admitting I knew everything was about to change. Maybe I did do my best thinking out on that balcony?

Telephone – Part 3

How did she know Sarah had been in? How did she know who Sarah was? How did she know I had wanted Sarah to leave?”I didn’t used to?”
“Of course you did.”
“What do you mean?”
“Of course you used to want her to go out. That’s what happens in a healthy relationship. You want to be together so much sometimes you crave the other person going out. Maybe just so you can have a break, maybe just so you have a chance to miss them.”When had the change come? I had wanted more space at one point. I remembered feeling suffocated by love. She started talking again, and I realised I didn’t know her name.

“I gave you back that feeling. I gave you back the feeling of wanting her to leave.”
“What’s your name?”
“What’s yours?” she said.

Neither of us answered. I drank my shot and took a pull on my beer.

There was a pinball machine in the corner of the bar near where I was sitting. This was not coincidental. Somebody had just started playing and the noise of the play rattled over the music. I looked at the guy playing – he looked like he was having a good time. But I guessed he was like me when I played. I was trying to remember how things were when I had played as a kid, then it had been pure adventure and joy and now it was mindless brain-numbing reaction.

I found myself speaking, “I am so sorry for myself. I don’t know how to…”
“I think you probably need to shut up. I don’t just mean out loud I mean… If your brain is saying the things your face is expressing then I certainly don’t want to hear them and neither should you.”
“Should I just pretend life’s not happening to me? Am I supposed to just check out and not experience anything?”
“Idiot. That’s what you’ve been doing. You’re fully checked out. Teach me how to play pinball.”
“That guy’s playing.”
“He hasn’t got any quarters on the glass.”
“You don’t sound like you need lessons.”

Her forced jollity was annoying me. I was happy being sad.

I mean that, I… What Sarah had done to me had meant I had got a chance to earn the right to wallow. People were supposed to feel sorry for me. I was happy with this arrangement.

“I know how games work, not this, teach me pinball.”

I looked up at her, she seemed serious and I’m a pushover.

“You really don’t know how to play?” I asked.

She turned to the bartender, “Two more beers here”.

“No,” she said, looking at me, but checking for her beers, “I don’t think I ever have.”

I showed her the flippers, and I thought, ‘maybe’. But when she pulled the spring, the way she slammed it back, gave away that this wasn’t her first time.

I felt better for that somehow. She’d lied, but she’d lied to make me feel better.

The evening was just starting too cool off. The doors at the front of Eldon’s were propped open with fire extinguishers and the cooler air was mixing with the heat inside. I felt that cooler air on my face as I watched the lights of the back board jangle and blink.

“I thought you were supposed to be teaching me?”

I looked back down at the table and for a moment I found it hard to focus.

“Stop apologising.”

The ball she was playing dropped down the gutter. I’d missed the whole thing.

I looked at her in the strange coloured light. There was certainly something striking about her. The breeze gently moved a strand of hair that was caught on the corner of her lip.

“Sorry,” I said, ignoring her insistence, “I”m not really with it tonight. Maybe another time.”
“There isn’t going to be another time.”
“No. This is a moment to seize.”
“I’m not really sure that I’m very good at that kind of thing.”
“You just need a little shove, I’m sure.”

She was standing very close to me. She slipped one hand around my neck and placed the other on my chest, and suddenly I remembered what I was supposed to do.

Afterwards we walked back to the bar. I had thought I would smile uncontrollably but that wasn’t how I felt. What was this feeling? I felt like I do sometimes at a wonderful restaurant, you look at the menu and everything looks great, so many interesting things to choose from so you don’t want to choose anything for fear of making a mistake.

“You think too much,” she said.
“Two more beers, two more shots.”

[This is part three of a four part story. A new part will be published each day this week, and will be followed by a directors commentary.]

Telephone – Part 2

I feel like I’m stuck to the mattress. Sarah’s not here, neither is the sheet. I’m holding the telephone in my hand – it hasn’t rung. I get up and think about showering. I open the refrigerator catch a smell, realise it’s me, and I head to the shower.

The telephone is ringing and I run dripping to it. I’m disappointed to see that it’s Sarah. Her picture is showing on the phone. Really, she looks the same now but the picture was from before, so I still like to see it. I like to see it more than I’d like to hear her excuse about last night.

I’ve stopped even making dinner for her now. I leave it to go to voicemail, she lies better on the voicemail, and go back to get a towel.

I’m eating toast with caramelised sugar on it when the telephone rings again. I started doing this recently, I don’t know why. I don’t think I even really like it. It’s her ringing, not Sarah, the other woman.

I look at it for a few rings more, but fewer than the number that it would take to go to voicemail, and I pretend that I am thinking about why I am going to answer it. But all of the time I know I am going to answer.

“Hi, are you there?”
“Hello, can you hear me?”
“Yes. I can hear you.”
“Who is this?” she asks.
“You rang me.”
“You rang me first. I had a missed call from you yesterday.”
“You asked me to…”
“I had lost my phone, but when I found my phone you had rang…”
“Yes – I was the man in the shop.”
“…but you didn’t leave a message so I didn’t know who you were.”

She seemed to have stopped talking so I tried again.

“Yes, I was the man in the shop, in the shoe shop, I mean the shoe department, on the bench, you sat next to me and…”
“Oh, the cute guy.”
“The cute guy who never did anything wrong in his life, but spent his whole life apologising for it.”
“I don’t know how many people you sat down next to in the shoe shop, I mean department, yesterday.”
“Yeah, it was definitely you.”
“Well, that clears that up then.”
“So are you going to meet me for a drink?”
“Um… I’m not sure that’s such a good…”
“I need to say thank you, and, anyway… Do you know this place… Eldon’s. I like to have a drink around seven o’clock.”
“That place is at the end of my…”
“I know…”

And suddenly I was talking to a disconnected telephone.

I munch some cereal and pour some coffee. I sit there trying to decide if I should start thinking about what just happened. I decide not to. I consider going for a run, but I know that that would mean that I was preparing for a date and I wasn’t sure I was ready to start thinking like that.

I picked up an apple and my book and sat at the window not reading or eating.

Long drawn out spaces in time are my speciality. I sit and zone out, I’m just staring into space. I’m not even sure I’m thinking. I realise that I haven’t moved for hours when my legs fall asleep before the rest of my body. I get up and stretch. I realise that I have been holding the telephone. I don’t remember picking it up.

There’s a noise at the door. It will be Sarah and I remember that I haven’t even got around to listening to her voicemail message. The door opens with the key and she is standing at the door. It hurts to look at her. Why am I so attracted to the pain she brings? I turn away.

She looks across the room of half-eaten breakfast things to me half-dressed and asks, “Busy morning?”

“Busy evening?”

She used to ask if I’d heard her excuse, now she doesn’t bother. She has the best of both worlds. Freedom and a place to stay. And what do I want? To get revenge with this telephone woman? For Sarah to finally leave and make things easier? For Sarah to leave David or whoever and come back to me? No, I wanted things back as they were, but really back. Not a fake, ‘let’s pretend the last six months didn’t happen’.

I’d like especially not to have started thinking that perhaps the thing I found most attractive in Sarah was exactly the same character trait that had driven her away from our, in my words, ‘contented’ relationship. She called it ‘boring’. Doomed to only want to screw women who wanted to screw me over.

I try and think, if that were the case, would that mean that I would love her more or less now that she had done this to me? That way madness lies. I walked to the fridge, opened it, I didn’t open a beer, and closed the door again.

“How’s the work going?” she asked.
“About as good as usual, maybe better.”
“That’s good news Mark, that’s really good news.”

She decided the conversation was finished and walked into the bedroom with her overnight bag. She spent some time in there unpacking and repacking it. It must be a Wednesday, the maid would be coming later. With my left hand, I wrote myself a note to say, ‘get dressed, maid coming’ on the dry erase board on the freezer door, while I grabbed a beer from the refrigerator with my right hand.

I looked down at my watch, but it wasn’t there. I was just a skinny man in boxer shorts, a cuckold who hadn’t even got married yet. Was it too early to drink this beer? Without the watch I thought it might be hard to tell, but then I wondered if there might be a rule about getting dressed before you have a beer. How many hours had I been looking out of the window?

There was a noise behind me and I realised it was Sarah calling from the other room. “You might want to get dressed, Marta will be here soon.” So it was afternoon. I opened the beer and started drinking. She continued, “I’m going to take a bath, do you have any questions for me before I go in? I don’t need you to come in to try and take a look at me naked… So ask your questions now.” We have been in a relationship for seven years. I think about this and this new restriction, and to the early days when it felt like we could have gone in the bath together but we never did.

“Mark?” she’s suddenly right by me.
“Did you hear me? I don’t want you coming in.”
“There’s a lock.”
“I don’t want to feel I have to use it.”
“Neither do I. Sorry, I won’t come in, I’ll get dressed. Sorry. Marta’s coming, I’ll get dressed. The work’s going great by the way, did I say?”
“Yeah you did, that’s great.”
“Yeah it is.”

Four hours later Marta’s been and gone, so has Sarah, Marta has got her a clean set of clothes. I check I have my keys in my jacket, lock the door and walk to Eldon’s.

The noise in Eldon’s seems to pound in my ears more than it should. I find myself feeling tense as I walk to the bar. I suddenly realise that I forgot my telephone, but I haven’t – it’s in my jacket pocket. I remember that I’ve been checking a lot and feel stupid, then I remember I’ve forgotten it and check again. I’m doing this subtly, just touching the outside of my jacket where the phone is.

I sit down at the bar, my beer and a shot arrive and she turns to me.

“I’m glad you could make it.”
“I thought Sarah would never leave.”
“So did I.”

[This is part two of a four part story. A new part will be published each day this week, and will be followed by a directors commentary.]

Telephone – Part 1

It’s hot. A stifling oppressive heat that makes breathing a chore. A day for sitting on the balcony under shade drinking margaritas. Not this. Not out here consuming. Not more shopping. How much more crap does she need? None. A drip of sweat forms in my armpit and runs down the inside of my arm. Sarah keeps moving forward. Now into a shop – shoes. Maybe that’s how she moves so fast? Never wears the same pair of shoes twice – new leather.

Now it’s cold. The aircon on full. It’s too much. My head spins a little. Sarah is oblivious. I head for the row of chairs and sit. I close my eyes for a second. Head clearer, I open them again. There is a woman sitting next to me. I straighten myself in the chair. She turns to me.

“Excuse me,” she says.

Her hands keep moving around in her pockets. She takes her jacket off and is searching for something inside.

“I’ve… I think I’ve lost my phone. But the lining of my jacket is… There’s a hole in one of the pockets and…”

Was she about to ask me for money?

“Do you think you could… Could you call me? On my number. So I can tell if my telephone is in here somewhere?”

I type her number into the keypad on my phone… Press call… I am holding the phone in front of me, I realise I can’t tell if it’s connected. There is no ringing from her jacket. I put the phone to my ear. It is ringing… somewhere.

“Sorry,” I say.

“It’s ringing?”
“Oh, never mind, thank you.”

She looked away.
“Do you know where you last saw it?” I found myself asking.
She turned back to me. Looking right into me.
“If I knew that..”
“Yes, sorry.” Why was I apologising?
“They don’t move on their own you know.”
“Yes, of course, it was… Just something to say.”
“I didn’t expect you to say something banal.”
“Sorry.” Why was I so apologetic all the time? Why did I care what this woman thought?
“I’m renting a flat, I was just at the agents. I bet the phone is in the folds of their sofa.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
“Why wouldn’t it?”

The woman gets up to leave, I find my self getting ready to say sorry for not being more of a help but I decide against it.

I close my eyes again and when I open them a second later Sarah is standing in front of me.

“Who was that?”
“No one? You exchanged numbers with her.”
“Oh, I didn’t think you had seen.”
“Well here on the shoe changing bench in the shoe department of a store I am shopping in is hardly ‘in private’ is it?”
“No I didn’t mean it like that. She was just some woman, a total random, she had lost her phone and wanted me to ring it to see if it rang.”
“And did it?”
“Yes, just not here.”

She looked unconvinced. God! Like she had a right. At least my story sounded even vaguely plausible.

“Look, if you want revenge then there are better ways to hurt me. I mean she wasn’t even pretty.”

She hadn’t been pretty exactly, but there had been something about her. Maybe it was a lack of something, and I don’t mean her telephone. She had a lack of charm that I felt myself mistaking for her being guileless. She wouldn’t call a spade a digging apparatus. Maybe she had been beautiful?

I had felt something for her, I was sure. And I have to try and remember that… Because…

When she called that evening, I felt it. I was smoking out on the balcony, I heard the telephone ringing and I was annoyed. I was halfway through my coffee and a quarter of the way through my cigarette. I let the telephone go to the message. But the interruption ruined the rest of both. I looked down at a geranium in a terracotta pot. The flowers just couldn’t cope with this temperature and any water you gave it was gone before the plant had a chance to drink it. I sipped and puffed, and I knew this moment was withered. The sun setting on the hot day, with the smoke and burnt caffeine, had been a symphony. But the discordant telephone had broken it.

I ducked in through the sash and picked up the phone. I had been annoyed but as I looked at the number I was confused. Who was this? I clicked back through the recently contacts list and I realised where I knew it from. I suddenly understood. I joked in my head, remembering Sarah’s conclusion, “I thought I told you never to call me here.”

It wouldn’t matter, Sarah would never know anyway. She was never here any more. Always working late. Even after I’d caught the two of them she still called it “working late”, like it made it better.

I picked up my keys, closed the sash and walked out. For some reason I felt the urge to not even bother to close the front door.

Down on the street the heat had slacked off but it was making me thirsty. I walked down the block to Eldon’s and sat at the bar. A beer and a shot arrived. I drank them and smoked. I took my telephone out of my jacket pocket and placed it on the bar. I wanted it to ring again.

[This is part one of a four part story. A new part will be published each day this week, and will be followed by a directors commentary.]

The Empty Vessel – Part 2

This is the second of a four part continuing story on Gamboling. Click here to read part 1, check back next Friday for the next instalment, but only after you’ve read part 2 of “The Empty Vessel”.

Kurt is falling. Air rushing past him. Instinctively, he puts his arms out to protect himself and he wakes up. He can’t move his arms, they are lashed to his body.

“Good Morning, Kurt,” says a female voice. He can’t see who is talking to him.

All Kurt can see is a massive screen that is suspended from the ceiling above him. It starts playing images over and over. He closes his eyes, an electric shock shoots up from the base of his spine. His eyes open again and he remembers. He wonders why Director Smith sent him here. Kurt knows nothing about this place. Why was he sent here? He tries to remember why Director Smith sent him.

He hasn’t felt thirsty or hungry for days and Kurt has forgotten that he ever was hungry. The only basic function that hasn’t been taken from him is sleep.

The images play into his mind all day. He has to close his eyes just to stop them drying out. Just for a second each time but the electric shocks hurt so much.

The screen is turned off. He sleeps.

Kurt is falling. Air rushing past him. Instinctively, he puts his arms out to protect himself and he wakes up. Something is different. His left arm. It’s up. Somehow it has come free.

The voice comes, “Keep still, Kurt, someone will be there to assist you shortly.”

Kurt feels with his free hand for the belt that’s holding down his right arm. With a hard yank it is free. More belts come flying off and his legs are free. He rips off his gag, the most satisfying of all.

“Kurt, please remain calm, there is no need to move. You will be attended to shortly.”

There is a siren going off in the background of the tannoy announcement. As she stops talking, everything falls silent. Everything is silent except for Kurt ripping the sheets off. He carefully detatches the surgical pipes. There seem to be short lengths of pipe that are going into him. He leaves them in, but disconnects the longer pipes they are attached to. He swings his legs down off the bed, they feel tired.

His white shirt and shorts look slighty discoloured from his sweat. He stands up.

“Please move no further, Kurt, and we will not have to correct you.”

Kurt ran for the door. His muscles screaming already. How long had they let him atrophy in that bed?

He opened the door to the room. A series of hospital corridors. He could hear something approaching in the distance. He ran in the oppostie direction. The cold floor felt good on his bare feet. It felt real.

Tune in next week for part three of four of “The Empty Vessel”.

The Empty Vessel – Part 1

This is the first of a four part continuing story on Gamboling. Check back next Friday for the next installment, but only after you’ve read part 1 of “The Empty Vessel”.

Kurt crouched down behind a low wall. There hadn’t been any shooting for a few seconds. Kurt needed to think. He only had 3 bullets left in his gun and no spare ammunition. Perhaps, he would remember this next time and try and pick up some of the guns from the people he had shot.

Kurt could hear the tell-tale sounds of a whispered order followed by the muffled footsteps that meant a trap was being laid. But what to do? What to do?

Kurt woke up.

He was in a military hospital. How long had he been there? What was the last thing he could remember? He remembered being close to running out of bullets. Of feeling that he was about to be caught in a trap but then nothing else. Had he been captured? A nurse walked up towards his bed. He tried to say something but realised that he’d been gagged.

“Don’t panic, sir,” the nurse said, “You are not trusted by our government. And so we are not allowed to hear what you say, unless you are observed by a member of the army police. Nod if you are in pain.”

Kurt shook his head. He felt no pain, in fact he felt nothing at all. He could have been just a head without a body for all he could feel. Almost as though he was without a head.

Kurt is crawling through a tunnel. A sewage tunnel. He has a torch between his teeth. One wall bright, the other black. Above him he sees a slight glint of metal. A wheel handle. He stops crawling and lies on his back and pushes himself with his legs into position. He starts turning the wheel from underneath. It’s jammed hard, but after giving it a forceful shove, he gets it moving slowly. Kurt realises that he doesn’t want to be under the hatch when he gets it open. He slides back, turns the handle. The door flies open, water gushing out into the tunnel. Kurt manages to hang on to the handle. The water is lifting him clean into the middle of the tunnel. His head is being hit from top to bottom.

The nurse is back, but with two other men. One looks like a doctor, all in white. The other looks to be a bodyguard, he is wearing a black suit.

The black suit walks over to Kurt and removes his gag.

Kurt knows they’ll be expecting him to blurt something out so he resists the temptation. Best to keep them wanting more from him.

“Kurt, we are ready to take you to the electroshock therapy room.”

Kurt wasn’t expecting this. The black suit puts a leather strip in his mouth where the gag was. Kurt can’t help but clamp down on it to stop himself from gagging.

No room to move, no movement at all, no escape. The nurse and the black suit are pushing Kurt’s cot down a corridor. Strip lights above him arrive and leave one after the other. Flashing like the strip in the middle of the road. The cot stops moving, Kurt can hear them putting the brakes on the cot. Through slits in his bedding he can see them inserting metal strips, and then he feels the cold on his skin. The first thing he has felt in his body since he has been awake. More and more metal strips are attached. Then they focus on his head. He wonders what happened to his hair. He remembered having hair before.

And then it’s happening, electricity coursing through his body, and he can remember nothing.

Tune in next week for part two of four of “The Empty Vessel”.

Across the bridge – Part 1

James dropped his cigarette butt to the floor, trod it carefully into the ground and looked around for somewhere to place it. As he picked up the butt he could feel the cold cobbles sucking heat out of his hands. His gloves didn’t seem to be helping at all, or rather they weren’t helping enough. There wasn’t a bin and so he flicked the butt into the river. James silently cursed himself for not thinking of this first, he could have done without bending over. And somehow he always liked the way a lit cigarette looked as it flew through the year, rather like a very cheap firework.

James walked up the path towards the bridge. From the darkness suddenly came a voice, “Who’s that?”

James heard the noise of a lamp being unhooded as he saw a wild tangle of hair and beard revealed. Somewhere from within a voice spoke again.

“You aren’t crossing the bridge tonight.”
“I am.”

“It ain’t a question. It would be murder to let you cross. From mid-point to far side it is completely iced over. There’s no way you can cross it.”
“But I must cross. I am already late for an appointment.”

“What kind of man holds appointments at this time of night?”

”I do not need to prove what kind of man I am to you.”

”That you don’t, I suppose.”

James made to move forward but the old man’s hand was upon his arm. In the low light his hand looked completely white as it tightly gripped his overcoat.

“You’ll have company in the grave tonight. An old man set off just 5 minutes ago.”
James realised who it might be and whispered, “Julius?”.
“Did you know him?”
“Not yet,” said James. He wrestled free of the old man’s arm and ran on to the bridge.