Sunday, 1 December 2013


At the start of the day the data entry software would reward Masha when she completed 25 lines of information. A little bronze star would appear, a glittery sound would chime, and the star would drift into a little box called 'Achievements'. After about an hour, it would be for every 50 lines of information, then 100, 200, and so on with the colour of the star changing from bronze, to silver, gold, ruby, emerald with diamond as the ultimate - almost unattainable - crowning accomplishment if someone, somehow managed 12,800 lines of information in one working day. She'd known colleagues to arrive early and stay late in an effort to attain diamond star status.
    Nobody had, and nobody knew what happened if you did.
    That day she'd reached Blue Garnet (3,200) and didn't think Serendibite was within her reach. Colette, in stall 89, looked sleepless yet determined, when Masha glanced her way Colette yelled; "9,000!" A small crowd, Henry, Barnes, Petra, had gathered around her, cheering her on.
    Masha rolled her eyes, smiling, and left the office.
    On the way home she stopped into Cafe Zeno for a latte, she didn't really feel like a coffee, but she only had to get one more stamp on her card and she could have a free drink. She smiled as the clerk, whose nametag read 'Mikey: Caramel Latte with Chocolate & Two Sugars', under this he had two gold stars.
    "What are the stars for?" Masha asked, as Mikey took her charge card.
    "Customer service," Mikey smiled. "Could I take your name?"
    And Mikey wrote Marsha on the paper cup, sliding it down to his colleague hidden behind the gargantuan hissing coffee machine. Masha smiled and followed her cup, reminding herself that - as far as her coffee was concerned - she was called Marsha.

At home, with her dinner on her lap, she opened up her TV Planner on the digibox and checked her completion levels on the shows she was watching. She was a little disgruntled to find that no new episodes had been uploaded, so she'd either have to find something new or just watch something again.
    Then she thought about Alex, maybe she should send a text or call, they'd had three dates, kissed a little, it wasn't out of place to do such a thing. But she wasn't sure exactly what she'd say, I mean, she hadn't really done anything all day and couldn't exactly tell her about the stars at work or the coffee card. Maybe she should ask for a recommendation of something to watch? It'd make Alex feel good.
    The text delivered, with a little notification saying 'Text sent 19:37', which Masha kept eyeballing until it changed to 'Text read 19:39'.
    With a growing ire Masha - at 19:57 - began to wonder what exactly could be causing Alex to dither for so long. Was this a hint, a sign that perhaps she had been getting her hopes up and Alex didn't feel as strongly about her? Maybe Alex was busy compiling an exhaustive list of great television shows to really impress her? Maybe she'd just forgotten that Masha had sent her the text, insipid as it was.
    Perhaps, Masha thought if she sent something better, something more enticing that would prompt Alex to respond. She began reminiscing about their dates, trying to happen upon some detail, some anecdote, that Masha could belatedly respond to. What music did Alex say she liked? Maybe one of her favourite bands has a gig coming up and she could suggest they go? Or a screening of a classic film?
    Or is that too desperate?
    Suddenly her phone buzzed, juddering excitedly upon her thigh, but it was a text from Barnes reading: 'Colette did it!'
    Strangely this gave Masha a sense of optimism, that anything is possible, and she immediately composed a text for Alex that read: 'If you're stuck for something good to watch too, maybe we should put our heads together?' Masha enjoyed the innuendo, and hoped that Alex would pick up on it.
    Afterward she replied to Barnes, 'What happened?'
    'Big diamond star. Longer tune. Now all future stars are +1 level.'
    'That it?'
    'Think boss got a msg, so maybe more? Don't know, finished pretty l8.'
    It was disappointing for Masha just to read, she can't really imagine how Colette must have felt at the end of all that anticipation just to get more of the same. Still, there's a strong chance that if the boss has heard of the achievement then she'll give Colette some sort of bonus or extra day off, some kind of recognition.
    Masha's phone buzzed again, it was Alex: 'Sounds fun. Your place?'

Feeling good about herself Masha claimed her free coffee that morning, striding quite proudly up to the counter and holding out the completed card.
    "Hi Mikey," she beamed.
    "Morning, free coffee today, good for you!" he stapled the card to the receipt and slipped it into the till, handing her a new, empty card for her to continue on with. "What's your name?"

Walking into the office, holding a cup with the word 'Martha' scribbled on the side, she craned her neck to try and see if Colette was in. She wasn't, but there was a balloon tied to her desk. Curious, Masha approached and written on the stretched peach rubber were the words: 'Congratulations on your diamond day. Everyone at DataPro.'
    "Hey," Masha called to Petra who was walking towards the break room, "did you get this for Col?"
    "No, the boss did."
    "That's it?"
    "That's it."
    Petra carried on her way leaving Masha to stare, quite judgmentally, at the hovering helium balloon jigging slightly in the air con's breeze.
    Colette had, according to Barnes who texted from his stall, come in before Masha got there, she'd seen the balloon and immediately gone home, calling in to say she'd had a migraine come on suddenly. Barnes wasn't convinced, neither was Masha, and both didn't feel so enamoured by the star targets any more.
    That afternoon though Ms. Radchec made an announcement, letting the team know that the rewards system was changing from stars to a leaderboard, with each employee's four weekly totals being totted up and averaged to see who was the most productive each month. The winner, Ms. Radchec said, would be rewarded. Barnes, under his breath, made a joke about her being full of gas, much like the reward would be, but it went largely unnoticed.

She'd felt a bit down all day, so had sent Alex a text seeing if she could come over after work, but Alex hadn't replied and, in an effort to stave off depression, Masha had picked up some ice-cream on the way home.
    She was sat, with her dinner on her lap, pleased to see that one of her favourite series had two new episodes now - a double-bill had been on - so she could watch those tonight.
    Her phone thrummed eagerly on the cushion beside her, she could see it was Alex calling, but she didn't answer, she didn't want to give Alex the satisfaction after she hadn't replied earlier. She kind of enjoyed this moment of being in control of the dispensation of happiness, besides she had her tv show and her dinner and her ice-cream.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Short Story

Just over 10 years ago I started studying Creative Writing and English Literature at Aberystwyth University. The place and people were wonderful, the course was pretty disappointing. Here's the story I submitted for my first marked assignment on 10th November 2003.

The Short Story

Abbott put his arm around me, he kissed me on the forehead and kept his hand on my shoulder looking out at the road ahead.  We'd been traveling for about five days now, I didn't know where we were going really, but Abbott seemed to.  I looked at him as he drove, all around us was deserted and the sun sat right behind.  I leant over and nestled my head on his side.
    At that moment I felt my father's hand on my shoulder, prodding me.  Daddy didn't like it when we got cosy together in the car, I just liked having time with Abbott and sometimes forgot that my Daddy was even there, he always made sure he reminded me about it though.

My father had raised me by himself for about nine years now, since I was six.  He was very protective of me, always lecturing me about being a good girl, coming home on time and he wasn't fond of Abbott to tell you all the truth.
    I met Abbott after school, he used to be sitting on the fence by the field with the long grass with his friends.  I'd smile at him as I walked by, and soon he was smiling back.  One day he jumped down off the fence and asked if he could walk with me.
    “I'm not sure if my Daddy would like that.”  I grinned.
    “Fine,” Abbott nodded respectfully, and then he winked and said, “I won't walk with ya' all the way then.”  He walked alongside me, and I could barely speak, couldn't do nothing but smile.  “What's your name then?”  He asked looking down at me with his blue eyes, I remember how blue they were so well.
    “Tess.” I said.
    “My name's Abbott.” He stopped and held his hand out to me, I'd never had a boy offer to shake hands with me before and I couldn't help but laugh.  “Well, are you gonna shake my hand or aren't ya'?”

The car pulled up to the side of the road, the dirty ground crunching under the wheels.  Abbott leant on the door and looked up and down the long empty strip.  Then off we went again, this time the car began out over the ground leaving the road behind us.  I looked at Abbott like he'd gone and lost his mind, but soon we came to this little secluded place with trees and large dusty rocks.
    “We're stopping here tonight.”  He said getting out of the car and pulling his leather jacket off the back seat, “You wanna help me?”
    “Do what?”  I asked.
    “Get a fire going or something.” He exclaimed as if it was perfectly obvious to everyone but me.  “I'm going for a piss, try and see if you can find some firewood or something.”
    I went over to one of the trees and began shaking at its trunk, but it barely made a move, though I'll be honest with you I'm not exactly the toughest person in the world.  I leant back on the bonnet of the car and looked up at the tree, a wind blew through the leaves and my hair, it span dust up as if it were alive.
    “You look pretty with your hair down.” My father said from the backseat of the car, “Your mother always said you'd grow up beautiful.  You're starting to look a lot more like her, everyday it seems.”

Daddy didn't like Abbott, and he made no bones about keeping it under his hat.  First time he met him was about a week after he started walking me home, Daddy was sat on the front porch smoking his pipe and he saw me talking down by the road.  Abbott was practically begging me to go to the old barn down by the lake that night, some friends of his were having some kinda party, said they were starting a band.
    “I'll think about it.” I grinned tugging my bag back up onto my shoulder, I started to walk up towards the house with Abbott nodding and smiling.
    “I'll think about you!” He laughed pointing playfully at me, and winking.
    I could tell my Daddy was mad the second I could see his face clearly, but to be honest with you I didn't know why.  He had his hands on his hips and the pipe drooping sadly from his mouth, I looked up at him and plain as day he swore,  “God damn you Tess, what are you playing at?  Get inside the house.”
    Our house was one of the nicest one's around for miles, I always loved that place despite whatever happened inside those four walls.  Though I would've changed a few things about it, that's for sure.  My father and his father were proud hunters, and they had heads of all kinds of animals up over the fireplace and the like, deers and boars, they went traveling for weeks finding stuff to kill.
    Daddy sat me down at the dinner table, he turned a lamp on as it was getting pretty dark early now in the Autumn.  Daddy told me to put my hands on the table, about shoulder width apart and he struck the backs of them hard with his hand, it hurt but I didn't say nothing.
    “What are you playing at?”  He asked again sitting so upright I thought he'd locked his back again, I didn't say anything because I had nothing to say.  He rolled his eyes and looked round the house, “If your mother could see you now?  Holy Jesus, I don't know what she'd say.  She'd set you straight, that's what she'd do.  Tell you how blind you're being, how foolish!”  He took my hands in his and stared me straight in the eyes, “Now you listen to me, cause I'm telling you now not to see that fella...”
    “But, Daddy...” I began.
    “Lord have mercy!”  My father interrupted, “Aren't you listening?  Don't you hear me?  I'm commanding you my girl, my daughter.  I didn't raise no commandment breaker now did I?  You love your Daddy now don't you?  Now, say your prayers and I'll start dinner tonight, but it's to bed early today, you hear?”  He paused, “Tell me now, do you hear?”
    “Yes Daddy.” I answered.

Later that evening, it was about eight o'clock I reckon, I could hear this sound at my window and when I looked up there was Abbott stood outside, I didn't realise who it was at first and almost jumped out of my own skin.  Quietly I crept over to the window, slid open the pane and stuck my head outside.
    “What do you want?”  I asked in a whisper.
    “Come on, I came to take you to the barn, I figured that a lady shouldn't walk alone.”  Abbott said starting off into the dark almost immediately.
    “Well hold up!”  I called with bated breath, “I'm wearing my nightgown, I gotta get changed!”
    Abbott threw his hands up and stamped a foot, “I told you we was going to the barn!”
    “I'm sorry, b-but my Daddy, he - he said...” I could hardly speak now, and Abbott could see that he'd been a little rash so he came up and put a hand on my cheek.
    “Hey there, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap at ya'.  I didn't realise.  Don't be upset now.”  Abbott's hand was so warm despite the cold Autumn air at night, and I practically nuzzled against it.  “Come on now,” he continued, “Get some clothes and shoes, stick a pillow under the bedsheets, you can wear my jacket if you want, it's real leather.”

“What are you thinking?”  My father asked me as I pulled a blanket up over me in the front seat of the car.
    “I was wondering why you used to hit me so much?”  I said bitterly trying to find some warmth, it was winter even in the desert!
    “You can be stubborn sometimes, you get that too from you mother.”
    I began to feel tears in my eyes on my skin thinking about her, “Why did she die, Daddy?”
    “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” My Daddy reasoned, but it never made any sense to me.

I was a little angry when nobody else showed up in the barn that night, later Abbott told me that they'd all gone out drinking and forgotten to tell him!  He didn't mind though he said, he told me that he was happy enough sitting here with me, and I was with him.  There wasn't anywhere to sit as such in the barn, barely anybody used it then, which is a pity because it was so beautiful there in the moonlight.  Abbott made us a bed of hay to lie on, it was all bailed up but Abbott tore through the cord holding it with his bare hands!  I'd never noticed how strong he was in all the time we'd known each other, and then how carefully he set the hay down on the ground, he was like an artist at work.
    That's the night I knew I was in love with Abbott.  It was getting late, we could see the sun rising up out in the distance across the lake.  My head was on Abbott's chest and I could hear his heart beating, and I felt so calm there with his arms wrapped around me.  I wriggled out of his embrace and looked him in the eyes, he looked down at me.
    “What?”  He smiled.  I quickly kissed him on the lips.  “What was that?” He asked.
    “A kiss.” I replied holding his gaze.
    “I know that, but why'd you do that?”
    “'Cause I wanted to kiss you, that's why.”
    Abbott raised his eyebrows and grinned, he looked around the barn as if he were surrounded by a thousand eyes and didn't care.  “Do you still want to kiss me now?”
    “I'm not so sure.” I teased.
    Abbott chuckled and put an arm round the back of my neck pulling me closer to him and he kissed me, his hands ran down my back and opening his hands his fingers practically wrapped round me.

When I left the barn the next day I pretty much floated all the way home I was so happy, Abbott didn't walk with me he had to be in town, to check on his friends.  I remember that the world had never seemed so beautiful before, the barn was a luminous glowing grey sat against the Autumn sky.  The grass around it was browning and captured in sunlight, and it didn't matter about all the moss, lichen and rust, because somehow on that day it was all perfect.  And I'd seen sunrises before, me and Daddy would stay up and watch them sometimes, we'd eat lamb stew with crusty bread, but this one was special.

Abbott came back looking white as a sheet, he stumbled over a rock in the dim dusk light and cursed quietly to himself looking up at me.  “Where's the Goddamn fire?”
    “There's no stick or nothing, and I couldn't reach up into the tree there.”  I pointed.
    “Jesus fucking Christ.”  Abbott muttered, it shocked me when he swore, he didn't used to swear so much, but you get to know people more and more as time goes on, that's what love's all about I guess.  He proceeded to swipe at the tree, but he kept swinging too wide and missing the branches, and eventually he just began kicking at the trunk, bark splintering and denting.
    “Are you allright Abbott?  Look like you've seen a ghost.”  I said getting out of the car and going over to help him.
    “I'm fine!” He snapped.
    “Are you sure?  Do you want some water or something?” I raised a hand to his side and touched him.
    Next thing a fist came into my face, it knocked me to the ground and I scratched the underside of my hand as I fell onto the rough desert floor.
    “I'M FINE!” He yelled, and then turned placing his hands on the tree, “Jesus fucking Christ.”
    My face felt numb and the bridge of my nose buzzed and hummed, it stung like when you crack your elbow on the table.  My face felt wet, like I was crying, but I wasn't and when I drew my hand back it had red streaks across it, I dabbed the tears with my finger and saw that it was blood.
    Abbott had slumped himself against a rock and was lighting up a cigarette, he seemed to be talking to himself but I didn't care neither way.  I got back in the car and found a handkerchief and held it to my nose, the white cloth was quickly blackening red with blood, I looked back to my father but he had got out the car.  Looking round I saw that he'd gone over and was stood next to Abbott, smoking his pipe.  He looked over to me and nodded, mouthing the words 'Go to sleep', and so I did.

When I got back home in the morning my father wasn't in, so I busied myself by tidying up the kitchen and washing the dishes from dinner last night, then I hanged the clothes out on the line and made the beds.  My father's bed though looked like he'd had a rough night, the covers were flung over the floor and I was growing concerned due to his absence.  Nevertheless, Daddy often goes out for walks and stuff, and anyways, he didn't know that I was missing school today and I was glad he didn't otherwise he'd probably strangle me!  In some ways I began to think that if Daddy didn't come home then Abbott could move in, and he could tend to the fields and the cows, and I could cook for him and he'd stay up late reading to me at bedtime.  To some extent I began to dream that Daddy wouldn't come home, and it's practically at that moment when he did.
    I never heard a door open and close so loudly before in my life!  I looked up at the clock and it was about lunchtime, so I thought that Daddy had come back in for something to eat, but he came straight up to me with a horrific look on his face, beads of sweat dripping off his brow.  Suddenly he struck me with the back of his hand across the face, and when I fell to the floor he pulled me back up by my collar and shook me.
    “I told you!” My father barked into my face, “I told you again and again.  What do you want?  Huh!?  You want me to hurt you?  Is that what you want?  'Cause I'll do it, don't doubt that I will!  Heaven above, don't you understand that I love you Tess?  Don't you see that I don't want you to be hurt?”
    I couldn't stop crying, tears burning my eyes I cried till I could hardly cry no more, I tried to wipe them away but he held my arms down and rattled me, I thought that he'd break my neck he shook me so much.  When I could finally see again I noticed that his knuckles were a mucky brown red colour, I looked up at my father and I could see it in his eyes that he'd gone after Abbott before he came to me.
    “Daddy what did you do?”  I sobbed.
    My father looked down at his hands and withdrew them, trying to wipe the stains off onto his shirt, and the moment he did I tore out the side door with all my speed, practically screaming for air as I went.
    I could hear my father yelling behind me, but he didn't bother to follow.  I ran so fast, I ran past the old barn, down the road and past the fence by the field with the long grass, and then towards Abbott's house on the other side of town.  I could tell that something was wrong because the door was hanging off its hinges, and glass from a window was scattered on the floor, it cut into my feet as I walked over it, I'd forgotten to put any shoes on or nothing, but I didn't notice 'til later.
    Inside the gloomy, sparse house was Abbott, slumped in a corner a hand to his face and as I stepped towards the shadows where he sat I could hear him sniffing, holding back the tears too.  I reached out for him and took his hand from his face, he moved his head forward into the light and I saw what my father had done. 
    Abbott's eyes were swollen, dark purple and puffy, with blood trickling out of the eyebrow and he'd split an eye lid open, Abbott could barely blink the poor soul.  His lip too was gashed and red with blood ran over it, he was scuffed with all kinds of dirt and splinters, but that wasn't the worst of it.  I tried to help Abbott to his feet but taking his arm in my hands made him holler in pain, I tried to help him again but he protested so badly.  Carefully I looked at his arm and realised the elbow was all awash with blood, it was damp and sticky, so carefully I rolled up the sleeve and saw that the arm looked odd, and then realised that the bone jutted out through the skin where it'd been broken.  I clasped my hand over my mouth, I could barely comprehend how my father did this.
    “Abbott,” I said running my hand across his cheek, but he winced away in pain, “Abbott?  Are you going to be okay?  Abbott come on, talk to me now.”
    “I-It was y-your father.”  Abbott managed to utter, his words wet and gargled, he spat onto the floor and I could see that he was coughing up blood.  “He came in raging, like a man possessed he was, I could barely speak, he just didn't let me...”
    “That's alright Abbott, you don't have to say anything.  You want I should get a doctor?”
    “No.” Abbott started, “You go home, I don't want you to get into any more trouble than you are already.  I think...” He caught his breath, “I think you shouldn't see me no more, Tess.”
    I bit my lip as I let his words fall upon me, but I could tell that he was just trying to be generous to me, “Abbott, I'm not going to leave you, I love you, and I will do anything for you...” I thought about what I was saying, the first time I really paid any attention to what I said or how I said it, but I did so because I meant it and I remembered something my mother used to read to me, “'You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.'”

My father walked back to the car and got in the driver's side, sitting on the front seat, he looked at me and blew jovially into my hair, it roused me from my sleep and I looked round, it was morning.  I turned my head all around and we were still in the desert, usually Abbott would drive off in the middle of the night and I'd wake up someplace else, but it was still that little secluded spot.  Clouds hung over us in patches, dark grey underneath but glowing fluffy white above, the sky was a baby blue and peeked through like pools in the air.
    “Morning.”  My Daddy beamed when I wearily blinked at him.

When I returned home my father was in the bathroom shaving, all was quiet in the house, strangely so, except for the sound of water being slapped around by his razor as he cleaned it off.  I crept quietly into my room and gathered up my clothes, placing them neatly into my schoolbag and throwing it over my shoulder.  I thought briefly about writing him a note, but thought that it'd be better for him to gradually understand as opposed to me trying to explain it myself, and where would I begin?
    As I moved through the front room, under the watchful gaze of the deers and boars, bears and other beasts I felt a sense of sadness for all the things I'd be leaving behind, but then again what were they but memories?  And now each happy memory lead to a sad one.
    I reached the door and then remembered that I wanted to take a book for Abbott to read to me, so crept back over towards the fireplace where my favourite books rested on the mantle.  As I dropped my bag to the ground I heard my father's voice behind me.
    “What are you doing?” He asked, yet he sounded different, sombre and remote.  “Where are you going?”
I turned and saw my father stood in the doorway opposite, his face hidden in shaving foam and the razor in his hand, he rested on the door frame and looked sorrowfully at me, his eyes large, blue, staring.
    “I'm going away Daddy.” I said, but then he began to shake his head slowly back and forth.
    My father looked up to the ceiling and sighed, smiling to himself and speaking up to the Heavens, “I tried, I'm sorry.”  He then looked at me and began walking over, and for some reason I was shaking uncontrollably I felt like my legs were going to give way I was so terrified, I just remember his hands, bloodied and dirty, I just remember Abbott's face as he cowered in the corner, and then I just remember the sound of gunfire.
    When I looked round again my father was lying on the floor back by the opposite door, his hand had dropped the razor and the other one was slumped across his chest.  He lay with his lungs breathing slowly in and out, getting further seperated by the second and as he breathed more blood pumped out of him, from a hole in his chest and a pool haloing his head.

I looked at my father sat in the driver's seat of the car, as I turned round I saw that Abbott had gone again, when I looked back my father had gone too and I saw the wind blow through the trees, it released some leaves that clung to the branches, and spun dust up into the air as if it were alive.

Friday, 4 October 2013


 Not quite from the archives, but I wrote this back in June 2013 and completely forgot about it...


Wearily I rub my eyes, my colleague is sat on the seat opposite me, our train heading towards the office.
    "Feels like Thursday," she pines, it's only Tuesday.
    I nod in agreement.

At work I head upstairs immediately, flick the kettle on, grab my preferred mug and am about to spoon in a miniature mountain of coffee, when I realise the jar is empty.
    I try to cast my mind back to yesterday, remember that last cup of coffee I had, and I'm certain - adamant - that there was definitely enough coffee in the jar for at least three more cups.  I can't imagine who else might have had a coffee, it's a small office, my boss is away on business, and everybody else prefers tea.  Could I have been wrong?
    I pop to the corner shop to buy some more coffee, hesitating at the display comprised almost exclusively of Nescafe brands and one cheap alternative that, experience suggests, will taste distractingly acrid.  I could walk further down the road to a supermarket, but I feel bad for not being at work, I want to conserve my free-time for more important opportunities, so I nab the smallest jar of Nescafe - reasoning that I can get a more ethical alternative quite quickly - and head back to the office.

I text my girlfriend, just something inconsequential, but, after half an hour, I still haven't received a reply.  I try to imagine all the things she might be doing that would prevent her from checking her phone, wonder why she doesn't realise that I just want a little bit of validation, just something to remind me that she still cares about me.  I guess that's pretty desperate.
    Perhaps I was being too optimistic, I reason, even going so far as to call her my girlfriend is a bold gesture.  I mean, we've been seeing each other for a while, but I guess I'm more emotionally invested than she is.  She says it's all quite new to her, I think she's treating it as a bit of fun, a little bit of experimentation, but for me it's serious, I mean, for her it's a choice, but for me it's not a choice, I was born this way, it's who I am.
    Maybe I'm being naive to think that I can get her to change her mind, see me the way I see her, I guess?  But, at the same time, I don't want to force someone's hand, we've always been very honest with one another, but I can't help how I feel, or, at least, how I think I'm going to feel and when it comes down to it; to that decision between seeing her and not seeing her, I'm always going to go for the former.  I guess I'm selfish like that.
    Because that's what it will be ultimately, me forcing someone, who has told me from the start that this is just a bit of fun for them, to sit there whilst I parade my emotions in front of them, a little song and dance, tell them how much they mean to me, but, at the very same time, feel overwhelmingly cruel and guilty that I'm essentially trying to blackmail them into one of two things.
    Either they go back on themselves, cave in, try and take things seriously - against their wishes.  Or, they're the executioner, and they tell me in plain terms that it'll never happen and we probably shouldn't see one another anymore.  I know these are the only two conclusions, but I'm too cowardly to accept that.
    It's hypocritical of me, the amount of times I've told people that my lifestyle is not a choice.  It's one of those questions you wind up tolerating; "Oh, so, when did you choose to be..." You try not to let the eye-roll show.

I struggle to sleep tonight, I wake up, feeling like I've been in bed for hours, though the clock says it's only 2am, yet the sky is a blue-black, like the sun's feeling impatient this morning.  I nod off again, molding the pillow into a makeshift body for me to hold, and then, in what feels like seconds, I wake up again to a  blazing, bright day and the clock tells me it's 7am.
    However, there's something unnatural about the morning, the feel of the streets, the manner of my fellow commuters, it's calm and orderly, like it would be after the rush hour.  But each clock I check just reiterates the time, it's ok, I'm not running late.

At noon I stand in the supermarket staring at the range of microwave meals that often comprises my lunch.  There's a nice looking mushroom risotto for £4, but another in the cheap section.  Out of both boredom and curiosity, I inspect the labels of each.
    Whilst the list of ingriedients blurs into insignificance it's the place of manufacturer that ultimately grabs my attention, with both risottos having been produced and packaged in the very same factory in Chertsey.  Ultimately, I realise, the only thing different about these two items is the packaging, one designed to look decadent and delicious, the other functional and basic.
    But I still buy the more expensive one.

I sent a text to Iwona again, even though she hasn't replied to me since yesterday.  It's been a few days since I saw her and I miss her, though I'm loath to mention this as it might seem a bit too clingy.
    Are we the unstoppable force and the immovable object?  Should one of us bow out gracefully before somebody gets hurt?  I can't help but daydream that there must be some reason, some unconscious something, that is why we haven't done this yet.  Though I suspect that we're both too selfish, we both want to get all we can from the other and only relinquish our hold when we absolutely have to.  In that respect, how is this unlike any other relationship?
    She told me she thought I was open minded, I think that's another stereotype people assume, that because they think it's a choice they imagine that all people are hard-wired to want the same relationships as everyone else, so anyone who chooses otherwise can flip-flop between the two.  If you're a guy who likes guys then there's nothing stopping you from liking girls, if you're a girl who likes girls then there's nothing stopping you from liking guys, but if you're a girl or guy who likes the opposite sex then getting with someone of the same sex just isn't the done thing.

My mum re-married shortly after my father died.  I wasn't shocked, I'd known for years that they weren't happy together, in fact, she'd been sleeping on a sofa in the lounge for the last year or so of their relationship.  I think, if he hadn't had that heart attack, they would have got divorced around about the same time.  At least I hope they would have.
    They didn't want to be married, that was obvious to me and my sister, but they stayed together until we both left home.  I was there last, saw the strained conversations most clearly, in that final Summer, after I'd finished University, earning some money before I moved up to the city.
    I know that they only stayed together because of us, to make sure that we came from what they considered to be a stable family.  It wasn't a stable family, whatever mask of domestic happiness they thought they had created barely covered their lies, eyes the most telltale feature, and stern mouths held fast as inappropriate comments passed idly over awkward dinnertimes.  The farce of my mother carrying duvets and pillows downstairs every night, making her little nest, and then waking up first - or so she often believed - and re-creating the illusion of their normality.
    My sister doesn't trust marriage now, but it once felt like the only way for people to move forward in life.  These ceremonies, she argued, represented the illusion of progression.  We had, as a society, created a series of events designed to act as milestones, deceiving us into thinking that we had achieved something, that we had accomplished a goal as a person, distracted us from the fact that we were, in actuality, unchanging, still fraught with the despair of our youth.
    Nobody chooses to be born.
    My mother once said, though she was half-asleep when she told me this, that I was an unwanted pregnancy.  That her and my father had been fighting, she'd gone out and had some drinks, came home to find him crying, and she took pity on him.  She didn't even think about the fact that she might have gotten pregnant, I guess she had deluded herself to think a child could only be conceived in love.  When she started showing, when the doctor could confirm that she was going to have a daughter, she thought it was too late to abort me, though she wanted to, she wanted to say to the doctor there and then, Please, make it go away.  But, the look in the doctor's eyes had frightened her, made her feel guilty, she couldn't bring herself to do what was in her heart and months later, I was born.
    Both my parents remained quite distant from me, I was raised more by my sister, only a handful of years my elder, but still, as an eager five year old, she'd help change my nappies as best she could.
    I was an anchor though, holding my mother to that relationship.  If I had never been born she could have been free.

It's the end of the month, payday, and for a few fleeting hours my bank account will bob up to the surface, out of debt, draw a deep breath and then sink back under the waves.  I have never really understood it, I try and budget, I don't go out as much as I used to, I home cook as much as possible, don't drink as regularly.  But still, the money goes.
    I scour through my statements trying to find the anomaly, the leak, an unknown standing order perhaps.  But there's nothing out of the ordinary, and when I add it all up, it's exactly right, somehow - despite my best efforts, despite getting a raise again recently - that money still goes and I'm left pawing at the dappled sunshine seen through water, caught in the undertow.
    I want to move out, move on, get a place to myself, start to make what little effigy of happiness I can, but I don't think I can do this on my own.
    That's when I think I'm putting too many of my hopes and dreams in Iwona, too much responsibility unknowingly hoisted upon her shoulders.  But surely, she wants these things too?  And I'll wait, I don't want them now.  But is it naive to keep scratching at the door, like some optimistic puppy, hoping to be taken in?
    I feel guilty for feeling the way I do, as if I've allowed Pandora's Box to be opened.  But I don't feel like I was complicit in the decision, this emotion was lumbered upon me as much as I am lumbering it upon Iwona.  I feel like my mother, pregnant with something unwanted, desperate to get rid of it, but incapable - perhaps afraid - of doing so.  For me, it's because I never want to be alone.  What did my mother want?  Once I was born the slow wait for me to leave began, was it so she could move on with her life, regain what was long lost?  It wasn't her fault that she and my father fell out of love?  I have to wonder if they were ever really in love to begin with?  But, how do we know?
    Love is subjective, which is maybe why it's easy for some and difficult for others.  I wish I could care less, I wish spending time with Iwona wasn't so wonderful.  I feel like a slave to unconscious decisions, but at the same time I am the only one who has the power to do anything about them, but it's only really the power to stubbornly battle on or to walk away.  What kind of choice is that?  There is no fork in the road, just one path, and we can either continue or turn around and retreat.  Perhaps cowardice is just a derogatory term for wisdom?  I know that I'm going to get hurt, but I keep moving forwards.

I had an important meeting this morning, but my train was delayed due to signalling problems and I missed my connecting service.  I wound up getting into work 90 minutes late, having missed the meeting.  A colleague had stepped into my absent place and done, so my boss told me, a brilliant job filling in.  I began to feel my tenuous grasp on my job slipping a little from my fingers, and all I could do was say I'm sorry, it wasn't my fault the train was delayed.  Feebly adding, It won't happen again, but it's not like I can control that.
    For the rest of the day I'm shaking, my emotions are heightened, I'm perhaps a little too curt on the telephone to clients.  I don't know why I feel this way, this is a job I've never enjoyed, yet I've stuck it out, never really looking for another role somewhere else, because I can get by doing this, I'm making a decent wage, I don't want to set myself back.  But I'm not making any progress either.  Sure, they up my salary every now and then, but where does it go from here?  What am I trying to achieve?
    Two weeks later they give me my notice, I have a month left at the office and I should start seriously hunting for a new career, but I give in to procrastination just as I have done for these past three years.  Expecting someone else to pick up the pieces when it all falls apart.

I've been standing still, too afraid to walk forwards, too proud to walk back.  I've let others find me, try and urge me to walk on, or at the very least, go back, see what it was I was heading towards, and try again.  But we don't know, the path began without our permission, it just appeared, one day nothing and the next day expectation.  Except, you can't see the end of the path, you don't get to dictate that either, and maybe you'll walk for a hundred years or maybe you'll walk for a day.  Me, I shrink into myself, someone will come along soon, someone will put their arm in mine, they'll want to walk side by side, keeping me company, making sure I'm smiling, and they'll give me hope that there is something to look forward to.  All paths have to lead somewhere.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

All Your Birthdays

"Is someone going to address the elephant in the room?"
    My housemate couldn't resist saying it, though the reaction was muted due to the hyper-ventilating and panicked thoughts racing through our minds. But, regardless of its humour, it was the right thing to say, because thus far, none of us had addressed the elephant in the room.
    To be precise, in case it's unclear, the elephant in the room was an elephant in the room.
    Nobody knew where the elephant came from or how it had gained entry to our lounge, but, we all knew that one moment there wasn't an elephant in the room and the next second there was.
    As we huddled outside in the hallway, a tentative hand keeping the door closed - as if that would stop an elephant - we were all rather thankful that the elephant, for the most part, seemed to be pretty placid.
    "Should we call the RSPCA?" Molly wondered.
    "I guess so," Supraj nodded retrieving his mobile.
    "It's funny," Evie smiled, "On my ninth birthday, when I blew out the candles, I wished that I had a pet elephant."
    "Do you want to go and befriend it?!" Molly exclaimed.
    Supraj spluttered a laugh, then asked; "What was your pet elephant's name?"
    "Bobo," Evie sheepishly grinned, and suddenly the elephant trumpeted.

Earlier that day, in the Birthdays department, on the 17th floor of WishCorp, the office manager lazily clicked the final card into place on a round of Spider Solitaire. He smiled contentedly at the pixelated fireworks display congratulating him on his achievement, even though he'd already witnessed the same ceremony seventeen times that morning.
    A notification appeared, informing him that he had received an approved Birthday Wish from Steph in Approvals.
    Clicking on the link another window popped up, the wish had been wished by Leigh aged 5, she'd blown out the candles on her chocolate ladybug cake and had wished, with all her little heart, for her teddys to come to life and play with her. He forwarded it to Boris in Granting.
    He cosied back into his chair and started up his nineteenth game of Spider Solitaire.
    Moments later the telephone rang, it took him a while to realise this is what was happening because the telephone had never rung before. Cautiously, as if it were a trick, he picked up the receiver.
    "Is that Colin?"
    "Colin, this is Jeanie Esteban, I'm the -"
    "The President of WishCorp, yes."
    Colin shifted his posture, straightening his back and adjusting his tie, hair and tone.
    "Colin, we've been looking at our qualitative and quantative reports from the last decade and noticed some troubling consistencies."
    "Whilst the other departments, Stars, Wells, Bones have a reasonably consistent wish to actualisation ratio, it seems Birthdays are, well, you're good at processing people's wishes, phenomenally efficient, you just haven't granted any in the last... well... forever..."
    Colin was speechless.
    "I'm speechless," said Colin.
    "I was too, we all were," she was referring to the board and Colin hoped they weren't listening in. "What we want to know," she changed her tone as well, from stern/casual to stern/stern, "is what you're going to do about this?"
    "What I'm...?"
    "We want solutions, not problems. End of play today, Colin."
    And with that she hung up.

Jimmy Pickle's face lit up, and not just because of the sudden arrival of seven candles illuminating the darkened room. His giddy smile grew even bigger once the glowing object was lowered and the cake, made by his mum, was revealed in all its wonder. In fact, Mark Gretton audibly gasped in amazement at the design. It was Sir Wildtooth, everyone's favourite Medieval Skateboarding Battlecat, and his claws had slashed three rich, red streaks down the cake.
    Beaming, Jimmy leant forward and blew out the candles.

Filing a police report, a clearly shocked Mrs. Pickles tried to explain that a gigantic animal, perhaps a lynx or panther, had suddenly burst into the party riding - what she was nervous to describe as - a skateboard, shouted, in booming R.P., "To the Battlements!" and then taken her son, and his friends, upon its back before galloping out into the high street.

Her parents ran round in a panic, unsure of how to maintain control, the birthday party had been chaotic when it was just Leigh and all her friends, but now 37 teddy bears were romping around the garden, playfully at least, but causing twice as much mess as the assembled children. They'd all begun by skipping about, the boys and girls singing teddy bear's picnic, whilst the teddys made muffled noises due to having no actual mouths, and rapidly things had descended into screaming giggles as the picnic became a food fight.

Gary can't remember the last time he'd been this stoned, but it quickly transpired that the fire-breathing unicorn standing in his kitchen was generating flames of an all-too-real quality, and he had to run - bleary eyed - out into the street, trying, through his drug addled mind, to remember the number for the emergency services; he knew it had a 9 in it.

Stuart Dandridge was horrified to step into his garden to find himself plummeting into a swimming pool that hadn't been there the night before.

Harriet Lipsy was trying to recover from a hangover whilst her former favourite boyband Hi-Five performed their greatest hits in her bedsit.

Gita Virk was trying to find her car keys but kept pulling an infinite amount of cupcakes from her pockets instead.

At 5.30pm Colin carried a dull beige box down from the 17th floor to the parking level, where he loaded the salvaged Newton's Cradle and a five-fingered pack of highlighters into the boot of his car.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


There's an unsatisfying lack of rhythm to the clatter of my fingers on the keys, it sounds like the tap-dancing equivalent of an orchestra tuning up. I look towards the blinds and try to angle my view in order to eek out a slither of obscured sunlight. I contemplate another amble over to the coffee pot, but I can see Gerry lurking nearby, he works in processing, he always talks down my top.
    Still, my knees ache, I want to give them some respite from the swivel chair they've been hunched under for the last four hours, the occasional starfish-shaped stretch notwithstanding.
    Making a deliberate zigzag past other cubicles, in order to avoid the break room, I decide to stroll, listlessly down an unfamiliar corridor; though all corridors look the same here, it's like a haunted house in a Scooby Doo cartoon.
    As I track dully along the thinning beige carpet I hear a mechanical and repeating clunk, followed by a whirr, followed by a slithering, slide of automation. It's pleasingly rhythmic, and it's coming from behind a door marked 'Copying'.
    Tentatively I press my fingers to the wood and the door, with eager ease, gives.
    Inside is a dark little room, metal shelving on two walls burdened with boxes of A4 paper and card of various colours and gsms, whilst against the other wall stand two busy photocopiers, each one regurgitating anonymous pages of data. Curious I have a peek at one of the still warm pages; nothing but gibberish, actual nonsense, in fact it's the boilerplate placeholder text - Lorem Ipsum - that we use to fill areas of documents that we're still awaiting copy for.
    Checking the second printer I can see it's the same.
    For some reason I feel compelled to take a sheet of this filler text and place it under the third dormant printer, I key in '100' and hit the big green button to start copying.
    Suddenly a peculiar rush hits me, like the crash of a wave over ones head, followed by the hollow sound and tinnitus whine of percussive ear damage. My vision feels tremulous, as if looking through a magic pool in a fairytale story. Nervously, remembering the paracetemol in my desk drawer, I hurry out of the copying room.
    As I approach my desk an uncomfortable confusion overcomes me, somebody has planted themself in my seat, hunched their legs up under my swivel chair, and started fiddling with my PowerPoint presentation for the I.R. meeting tomorrow. I can feel my expression souring, that officious little voice that I despise myself for having starts climbing up from my chest towards my mouth as I prepare to give them a curt dressing down. Then, it gets worse, Gerry comes gallumphing over for a chat, but he drifts right past me and heads to this seat-thief. She turns to look at him and, of all the possibilities, she looks exactly like me!
    He hands her a coffee, she accepts, thanks him, and they briefly talk about some report that just got emailed around the office, then Gerry waddles off.
    For a minute I'm still, speechless, barely blinking, oblivious to everything but this doppelganger sat in my place. I approach her but she does not notice me, I wave my hands around her face, try yawping in her ear, but even the slightest reaction. So, I watch her work, and she makes every choice that I would have made, replies to a few emails in a fashion exactly alike to my own, even answers the phone with the same chirpy "Hi hi!" that I employ.
    Then, all of a sudden, I'm standing back in the copying room.
    I rush back into the office, keen to catch this imposter now that my senses have returned to complete normality, but all I find is an empty desk. However the work, the work I watched myself perform, remains done.
    Keenly, curiously, I walk - as nonchalantly as I can - back to the copying room, the third printer is sat dormant once more, I key in '100' and push the button once more.
    Sure enough, the same sounds, the same sights, and, when I get back to my desk, there is my double doing my work.
    Wishing to test the boundaries of this peculiar occurence I head towards the elevator, out-stretch my hand - concerned that I may be a ghost - and press the button for the ground floor; it illuminates, the doors close, the lift descends.
    I step outside, it's a crisp, cool day with bright, flat sunshine glinting off the towering office windows that surround me. I dash over the road to the Coffee Stop, grab a latte and a blueberry muffin, sit on a nearby bench beside a scrub of greenery, sigh deepy and contentedly and -
    - find myself back in the copying room, empty-handed.
    But, more work has been done, in fact, there's an email from my supervisor praising the changes to the PowerPoint that I'd just emailed over. Good work me!
    I hurry back to the copying room, not wishing to disturb my twin's run of good work, this time though I key in '10,000' and hit the green button.

Dabbing my lips with the napkin and resting a hand on my stuffed belly, I surveyed the near-licked-clean plates scattered across the restaurant table before me. I guzzled the last glug of wine in the glass and let out a long, pleasurable sigh.
    Over the four years I'd worked in that office I'd always thought about coming to this restaurant on my lunch break, but there was never enough time. Afterwards I decided I would go to the park, another local attraction that I'd not yet taken a moment to appreciate, and then I'd amble around a few of the independent shops that I usually dash past on my way to and from the underground station.
    I asked the waiter for the bill and -
    - collapse onto the floor of the copying room, the chair suddenly having vanished from beneath me.
    My first thought is concern that the furious restaurant manager will find where I work and come storming in, but I reason that I'll stop in and pay the bill on my way home, make some flimsy excuse about a family emergency.
    My second thought is confusion, surely 10,000 pages would have given me more time than that, but the problem is obvious when I pick myself up and see the printer flashing a little red LED and a message indicating that I need to load more paper into the tray.
    I open up a box of paper and fill the two empty trays inside the hulking machine, as soon as the drawers are closed it hungrily stops to gobble up and spit out the clean white sheets, and I plunge back into my diaphanous worldview.

Figuring I can return to the restaurant and settle the bill at any time I decide to stroll around the park, it's wonderfully peaceful during the early afternoon, lacking the clamour of the weekend it boasts a serenity that I experience all too fleetingly in this city. I take my time, appreciating nature in a way I don't think I have for many years, stopping to watch a squirrel frolic about for about twenty minutes.
    Afterwards I go shopping, make a few purchases, and concerned that I might - at any moment - be transported back to the copying room decide the safest thing to do would be to head home.
    My commute is pleasingly free of jostle and frotteurism, no papers unfurled across my back, armpits thrust into my face, heavy bags deposited onto my feet, no coughs, yawns, sneezes left uncovered by hands to particulate into my sinuses.
    I get in, enjoying the feel of playing truant, my flat seems to have a certain luminous quality that is perhaps diluted by my own malaise when I trudge in after a long day at the office. I revel in today's discovery, this incredible freedom stretching before me, a chance to shrink from toil and pain and enjoy the charms of a pleasure of the moment, rather than the usual desperate rush for "fun" that I try to cram in of an evening or weekend. This, I think to myself, is how life should be.
    I reach to set the bags down on the floor. I reach to set the bags down on the floor. I reach to set the bags down on the floor... I... reach to... set the...? My arm won't move... My limbs, my entire being seems caught, frozen in place, and I begin to feel seperate and suspended from my body, though I am undoubtedly housed within it. I struggle and shake, I kick and flail, but it's like being encased within a sculpture of oneself, I cannot move.
    I remain here gradually watching the sun sink, seeing my flat return to the state I am used to experiencing it in and then - with a sombre clunk - hear the key in the lock, sense the door open behind me and watch as I - the other I - comes in, weary and downtrodden, from a long day at the office.
    She walks past me, ignorant as ever of my presence, automatically - almost hypnotically - heading into the kitchen and switching on the kettle for a post-work cup of tea, kicking off her shoes, slumping her coat over a chair, snatching up the remote control and switching the television on.
    I hang there, watching her entire evening pass by, she cooks a quick meal, switches from tea to wine, nods off in front of a dull movie, and slumps into the bedroom to sleep. I try to sleep, but I can't, there's a discomfort to my disanimation, and all I can do is be still as the night passes me by, gradually gradiating into morning and the irritatingly vibrant ditty of an alarm clock sounds from the bedroom.
    I hear myself snooze the alarm a further three times before a hurried, dishevelled me comes racing out of the bedroom, dives into the bathroom, hops out half brushing her teeth and half getting changed from pajamas to work-wear, before finally cramming a slice of toast between her teeth and speeding out the door.
    And there I am, still locked in motion, the shopping bags out-stretched toward the floor, waiting to be returned to life.

In the copy room are three printers, upon the third a little red LED light blinks and a message, as yet unanswered, hopes that somebody will come and fix the paper jam.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Born Again

His shoes were a stark contrast to the enforced, monastic silence of the ward. With the mother off on the bed in the corner, panting, heavy with relief, he loomed large over the incubator and examined the child. His jowls folded like the concertina of an accordian, reflected his approval, a smoky murmur rose from his gullet.

After eleven months, having thoroughly monitored the growing child's health, having screened its mother and her relatives for any history of severe illness, the baby found itself back in hospital.
    Laying in a bed nearby was its genetic benefactor, his bulk challenging the gurney below him. A body full of rich food, fine wines, expensive cigars and ravaged organs that, at great cost, had been tended and mended until they could stand it no longer. Which, as far as he was concerned, was of minimal concern.
    "A body is a temple," he would say over dinner, "and when one temple burns down you move to another."
    Less enlightened - read; financially inferior - friends would dismiss this remark as non-sequitus, a side effected of too much pinot that evening. Those whom this gentleman might consider his good friends, though the statement in such company has little meaning, would nod sagely, conspiratorially and with their own investment in their future equally secured.
    So, they cut open the baby's head, at the anterior fontanelle - where the bone is still weak and inviting and began to carefully push into the young mind various long, thin electrodes. It was an experience that the now dormant Mr. Martin, prostrate and bloated, had already been through himself, albeit voluntarily. Of course, technically speaking, the Mr. Martin that lay on the table was just the temple, the thoughts of Mr. Martin currently sat on a computer in the middle of the operating theatre.
    Essentially the human mind is merely a series of commands, that we confuse for thoughts, feelings, instincts, patterns of behavior, but, ultimately there is a basic formula to them, one that can be mapped and re-created. Once the human mind has been mapped it can then be uploaded onto a new, barely formed brain, provided there is a strong enough genetic similarity between the host brain and the mapped matter.
    Fortunately, and unfortunately, the extraction of the data required to emulate a person's brain was a traumatic process for the original brain, leaving the patient in a vegetative state. Since the procedure has become more prevalent it is common practice to immediately euthanise the patient following the extraction, this is why Mr. Martin's body is dead.
    "Ah, the life of the mind," he would sigh hungrily, reaching for his drink, the fat of his back jutting in humps out of the wooden recliner he had deposited himself upon after waddling through the shallows near his beach property.
    The nameless baby, eyes twitching in the last of its individual dreams before its own unformed thoughts are purged and the thoughts of Mr. Martin make their entrance, shifts uncomfortably - though anaesthetised.
    Upload complete the doctor braces her hand upon it carefully and slides each prong out, much like the skewers from a Sunday joint. The exposed brain is treated with a chemical compound, the opening sutured, the skin re-joined.
    The 11 month old will gradually come back into consciousness, will ease into its, now fervent awareness, and remember 157 years of living, of being Mr. Martin. With the rigour and enthusiasm of a crash victim being taught to walk again he shall be accompanied by doctors, physicians, personal trainers, who will build up this baby's capacities as if it were getting ready to run a triathalon. It will field calls through an assistant who shall listen to its toothless, sloppy burbled words, under it has the capacity to articulate itself better.
    But everything, Mr. Martin's accounts, his business interests, his investments, his privileges, his personal records, his fingerprints, have all been signed over to this newborn, who, in the eyes of the law, is no longer a newborn, is a fully grown man, is Mr. Martin.

As his assistant carries him from the hospital toward the awaiting car, Mr. Martin passes the maternity ward, the new father's goggling at their children through the glass, those doe-eyes and wobbly limbs clutch at nothing, and, for a moment one little girl, hardly half a day old looks at the baby being carried by, and Mr. Martin sneers in return.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Under Contract

Summer never seems to last as long as it did when you were a kid. I remember those endless sunny months, so full of formative experiences, miniature adventures, wonderment, sometimes heartbreak, but always a golden, glorious highlight of the year.
    Now I'm older there's no Summer break. I guess I'm envious of my friend, Helen, she's a school teacher and she still has mid-July to early September off, along with all those other term breaks. Sure, she complains about not being able to "choose" her holidays, but, I'd gladly swap my paltry 25 days a year for that.
    Still, she also seems to share my halcyon memory of those long - almost to the point of dragging - Summer months. I think it's because I didn't use to carry around all the concerns that now plague me, even if I have time off in Summer, my mind still harrangues me with thoughts of rent, bills, outstanding projects, the things I keep putting off, chores and admin, friends I haven't seen or spoken to, the constant gnawing worry that I'm going to die alone. That consumes a lot of time, and these were neurotic issues I did not have as a child.
    Why can't I switch off? I drink, I smoke the occasional joint, I spend long lazy days just lying in bed, procrastinating, yet time - zoom - just - zip - passes - whoosh - me by.
    On one such tangential day I was exploring some old boxes I found in the attic, there were some old camcorder tapes and I figured I'd give them a watch, see what was on them.
    Wobbly, time-ravaged images of Welsh holidays; my sister's 8th birthday party; and one video where someone - probably my Dad, he had a habit for it - had left the camera running in the bag, in fact, the entire tape, all 45 minutes, was just this constant shot of the bag. I know, because I watched it all from beginning to end, straining to hear what was going on around it, curious as to what I might discover, but, I heard nothing of note.
    What was strange though was when I finished watching the tape it was dark outside.
    Time has a habit of doing this to me, those evenings after work where I plan to get things done, I'll open my laptop and then look at the time, it'll be 10pm. It's why I end up just cramming microwave meals into my maw, I don't have the time I used to have to cook.
    But this, this was particularly odd, the longest the tape could be was 45 minutes, and I'd started watching it at ten past seven, it didn't begin to get dark until around half eight or nine. Miffed, I rewound the tape and hit play again, this time holding my watch up alongside the date-stamp that my Dad - as he was prone to do - had left imprinted in the corner.
    The video read: 05-04-88 - 15:42.
    My watch read: 21-08-18 - 21:11.
    By the time the video's time changed to 15:43 my watch was reading 21:13, and once the forty five minutes had unspooled, just over ninety minutes had passed.
    Concerned that my watch was broken I took down a wall clock from the kitchen, set an alarm on my mobile and called the talking clock from the landline. Starting the video over, watching it through, with volume at the maximum in case I could hear it being played back at half speed or something, and then checking the time once it was done; it was the same story.
    Forty five 1988 minutes were now the equivalent of ninety 2018 minutes.
    "Surely," Helen said when I called her up immediately after this revelation, "there's something wrong with the video player, I mean, how old is that thing anyway?"
    "Ten years or so, but I checked and double-checked, it doesn't seem like a coincidence. I mean, once the universe has finished expanding it must start contracting again, and what if time - the speed of time - changes as a result of that?"
    "That time is going to get faster and faster, if it's halved in thirty years, then, another thirty and it'll be half again, until..."
    "Until time ends."
    Helen spluttered a laugh, "Oh, Rory, you're being a tad melodramatic. If you turn up at my front door with a Police telephone box parked on my lawn, hmm, maybe I'll believe you."
    My silence prompted the sound of the phone being shifted from one ear to another before she sighed a warm, reassuring sigh.
    "If," she reasoned, "if time is contracting then what can you do about it? What difference does it make? A day to us is still a day, the sunrises and sets when it always has, just the space between those gestures, compared to how it was in our childhood, is smaller, but the rate at which we move through space, that's the same, it's not like time is getting faster and we're getting slower."
    "Not for another forty years I'd say, although mobility scooters can do some pretty brutal speeds these days. Once almost mowed me down in the park last weekend."
    "See," Helen chuckled, "everything's getter faster."
    I could see Helen's point, there is no need in getting in a bother because time is running out, then you'd only fixate on that and ignore the fact there is still time left for you to enjoy. If you think constantly about tomorrow you'll forget about today. But, by the same stroke, why should I not ponder these gigantic concerns? When I was a kid I was terrified of asteroids colliding with the Earth, as I became a teenager I began to stress over exams, then getting a job, now my monthly outgoings, and as I grow older still my worries will further narrow until it's simple things like getting out of my chair that cause me apprehension.   
    Still, if you're thinking all the time about being struck by lightning and pay no heed to other problems then you're probably more likely the type to step in front of a bus by mistake.
    I bought myself a dictaphone with a 72 hour recording lifespan and I recorded myself for one whole day, and every hour I would shout the time: "One o'clock!", etc. The following day, at the stroke of midnight, I pushed play on the recording, and as the day wore on I noticed the shouts getting ever so gradually out of sync, until the cry of "Eleven o'clock!" landed at 22:59.
    Carefully I put the dictaphone away, buried deep in the random bits and bobs of my bedside drawer, and I made a little promise to myself not to think about it again, and tomorrow I'd try and find some room for all those things I'd been putting off. I'd try and make time.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Morning Show

"Your marriage contract may be swiss cheese, but your TV commitments are air tight." He placed the two documents down, side by side, on the glass table, Steve and Sandra reflected across from him. Steve chewing the end of a biro, Sandra staring at the stains in an empty coffee cup, neither one having heard the words they wished to hear.
    "Six months," Hilary added, making an attempt to emphasize it as a short, fleeting expanse of time.
    The show always gave them a Summer break, starting in July, two new presenters - unmarried, younger, insipid - would step in until September. The contract had been for five years, ending at the start of the next break. This Friday lunchtime meeting was, they had both hoped, supposed to set them free from this commitment.
    "Bloody Hell, we could annul our vows in an hour or two, this has dragged on all sodding month, and you're saying there's nothing?" Steve flicked the pen with his thumb and the plastic lid sailed like a champagne cork across the desk and over the shoulder of Marcus Davitt. Davitt took a long, slow sip of water, thinking to himself how much it was costing his client.

The lights dipped down, the countdown to titles went quiet, in the distance the theme music played, in her peripheral vision Sandra saw the second hand nimbly pass over the hour, and as cameras tracked towards them the lights came back up, pulling the corners of their mouths with them.
    "Good morning," the two of them chimed into the round monocular machine that lunged forth.
    "On today's show..." Sandra beamed, she always took Monday, and so on, alternating Fridays.
    She curled her fingers back and forth, it was the first link, VT jumping hastily over them to deliver a - rare - pre-recorded menu of the day's programme. She pursed and pouted her lips, swilling salivia across her teeth and gums, nothing but bad taste.
    "Did it show?" he asked, craning his neck towards a floor-runner, the behind of their ears as wet as the post-Uni flu twinkling around their nostrils.
    "Did - did what show?"
    "My contempt."

The show continued without incident, as they discussed the best holiday destinations for a warm winter break, the plots of last night's soaps, a sombre yet uplifting story about a woman's double masectomy, Sandra and Steve began to reflect the calendar in their head that slowly peeled back time, edging them on tip toes closer and closer to the release from their contractual obligations.
    Steve had an in with a radio station, he wondered whether he'd get the driving to or driving from work slot, weighed up the pros and cons of each.
    Sandra knew that Bonnie Hodder was going to be giving up her chair on Chit Chat in May, she hoped that being stuck on The Morning Show until July wouldn't put the producers off of considering her to fill the void.
    So lost in their respective thoughts were they that they'd completely forgotten to sign off from Ethel's conclusion that had neatly, sweetly summarised her perspective coming out of surgery and how women shouldn't be afraid to see their doctor with any concerns. Instead, Ethel just sat there, her eyes drifting gradually, reluctantly, to look into the lens, a relationship only ordinarily broached by the two hosts.
    "Wake up!" barked the producer, lips kissing the microphone and relayed, distorted, into their ear-pieces.
    "Fuc-th-th-thank you, Ethel, inspiring stuff," Steve's limbs patted down his own body, checking his was all there, slowly returning to the studio, to this version of reality, and adopting the thoughtful, yet still cheerful, voice he always used following these 'life affirming' segments.
    "Very," was all Sandra could offer in response, before facing the camera, "Stay tuned, after the break we'll be making a five minute cheesecake and Cat's Eyes will be playing their new single."
    Simultaneously they plucked ear-pieces out and Ethel caught a fleeting snatch of expletives being bellowed from the gallery.
    "Where were you?" Sandra turned on her ex-husband.
    "Me? Did you read the script? That was my link to commercial, you're supposed to have wrapped up that natter."
    "Ah yes, always reassigning blame," Sandra flattened her skirt as she stood and walked over to the kitchen set.
    Steve, realising she'd somehow managed to re-reassign blame back to him leapt, propelled by impotent rage, from his chair in pursuit, leaving Ethel to look awkwardly around in search of a runner that wasn't either entranced by this erupting tiff or hiding their head in embarrassment.
    A few calls had already come in querying the exact nature of Steve's earlier stutter, but there was only 15 minutes of the show left to get through, a speedy, activity filled cookery segment and a pop band miming along to their single, cutting away to a few noddies.
    Harry's eyes grew wide and then quickly fixed themselves on his chopping board as the pair bounded over. Sandra's lips pursed, whilst Steve gracelessly flung himself from one end of the studio to another, managing to take the lead and blockade himself ahead of her.
    "Don't you think," his teeth were clenched, his finger wagging, "not for one second, that you can make me look bad by deliberately fluffing your own lines and pretending it was me. You may have got the house, but you'll see which one of us gets the career."
    "You think that's what this is?"
    "Has it ever been anything else?"
    "Grow up you fucking child."
    Lights up, cameras moving in, the tableau of an argument still lingering, a palm clapped to forehead can be heard without amplifcation from the gallery booth.
    "Welcome back," Harry, nervously, takes the helm, "now we join Harry Compton in the kitchen for some exciting, fast-paced dessert ideas. Harry, how are you?"
    "This isn't over," Steve snarls, turning towards the glistening, terrified chef standing a little too close behind him. "Christ!"
    "Harry," Sandra snatches the reins, "how are you?"
    "Fine," it's gulped not spoken, "Yourselves?"
    "You're going to make us a five minute cheesecake today, yes?" Steve grins, pronouncing forced enthusiasm from some long-since-scraped-dry reserve.
    "Yes," Harry leans across for a pre-prepared bowl of mascarpone, Steve, startled, steps back and his sudden elbow connects.
    "Ow! My boob!" screams Sandra, slapping Steve firmly across the back of the head in response, like a reprimanded Dickensian urchin.
    "Cunt!" howls Steve.

There were costs involved, fees and fines to various departments responsible for keeping pre-watershed television clean and safe, but they weren't paid too begrudgingly.
    At first the producers had wallowed in their own hypothesised demises, until their social media intern showed them the morning's trending topics, the gifs posted to tumblr, the 'Ow! My boob!' memes that had already been re-applied to numerous pop culture stills, the shakily filmed on a mobile phone from Tivo playback clips uploaded to Youtube of awkward pauses, curled lips and the sweary deneoument in all its glory, with a muffled commentary of giggles and a wealth of thumbs up button hits.

Fingers drummed on her dressing table, she flinched at every footstep passing her door, waiting for the summons up to the conference room for the inevitable reprimand.
    But it never came, and she tentatively picked up her bag, play-acted walking to the door a few times before committing and, when she found that she wasn't stopped, continued walking to the exit, got in her car and drove home for the afternoon.

He watched the cold latte he had been handed swirl down the plughole, his half-asleep eyes drifited over to the pink pages on his dressing table, late additions to the show. It was getting near nine, he had to go to make-up.
    As they brightened his face and calmed down the dark circles he'd fostered in the hotel bar last night he heard Sandra stomping through the corridors, she was berating someone somewhere via her mobile phone, so he grabbed the nearest possible distraction - a copy of Hiya! magazine - and buried his face in it, feigning interest.

    "And at half ten," he found himself reading from the teleprompter, "we'll be talking to Adrian and Charley Simmons, who went to a marriage rehabilitation centre, about their experiences..." His features scrunched up into a question and his gaze stared beyond the camera.
    "You seem puzzled," she relished the acknowledgment. "Did you not read your notes this morning?"
    "No, I, just... just something in my, er, nose..." he hastily lied and scratched at the aforementioned proboscis to illustrate.
    She shared her eye-roll with the viewers at home. "Now, here's Carol with today's weather. Carol..."
    "Maggie!" Steve yelled, not remembering that his cry could be heard on the weather set in the corner of the studio.
    "Keep it down," came Maggie's voice in his ear.
    "What's this marriage rehab bollocks?" he whispered, "We're not having on-air counselling."
    "It's not for you two, it's human interest, their experiences, the usual fluff."
    "Good, because don't try and turn this into something it isn't."
    "Wouldn't dream of it, dear."

Sandra nodded sympathetically along with Charley as she told her story, with a bittersweet smile, about how her and her husband had begun drifting apart shortly after their second child.
    "I mean, I was never a glamour model," she smiled and Adrian gave her a theatrical leg squeeze, "but after our second my figure wasn't what it was, an' I think that Adrian just lost interest in, y'know, bedroom things."
    "Right, right," Steve nodded, hunched forward, his index fingers propping up his chin.
    "I think," Adrian added, "all couples go through things like that. But it caused a rift between us, the rehab centre, well, that put things in perspective."
    "How do you mean?"
    "What 'perspective' did you get?"
    "About your marriage, I mean, what were the magic words? People change, they fall out of love, you can't expect to stay besotted with someone as they reveal themselves to be a crooked, distortion of that person you believed they once were."
    Sandra shuffled.
    "But if you loved someone, then there must be something there, something that never goes away."
    "Nah," Steve arched back, "that's boll-a load of rubbish."
    "I think we're getting away from the point," Sandra interjected.
    "Are we?" Steve wheeled his attention back to the wide eyes of Adrian and Charley, "Tell me guys, what do you think the most important thing in a relationship is?"
    With almost rehearsed precision they looked at one another and responded in sync; "Trust."
    Snapping his fingers and then pointing towards his ex Steve grinned, "She said stability."
    "That's important," Sandra protested.
    Leaning further forwards, censoring her from the conversation, "Roughly translated: money."
    With a huff of indignation Sandra aimed to kick Steve in the shin, but missed and instead inched his chair back, causing his already flimsy perch to shift away and Steve toppled face first into the small, round glass coffee table in front of himself, remarkably, instantaneously, re-decorating it with a sudden red wash of blood from his nose.

Fortunately it had been a slow news day, exotic conflicts relegated to inside page column inches, so the bloody nose incident was all over the front of the red tops; Morning Gory was the pick of the headlines.
    Steve, not wishing to concede any sort of hypothetical 'victory' was sat on the sofa, running through the script, a large, square bandage taped across his face, a dull reddish brown stain from yesterday's gush. His sip of coffee was soundtracked by a wince as the plastic lid, ever so gingerly, tapped the end of his nose.
    "He's got that martyr's air," Sandra griped quietly to a runner who stood awkwardly holding a clip mic, uncertain as to whether she was supposed to put it up Sandra's top or not. "If he makes one light-hearted reference about it, one pun, I'll..." Sandra calmed herself down, realising the futility of her own threat.

Moving onto a makeshift cocktail bar set the two of them shook the hand of the highly groomed mixologist who would be showing them a few recipes and tricks.
    "Cocktails this early," Steve smiled, "I'll hand you over to Sandra on that one."
    She heard a cameraman snort a laugh.
    "Well," Jim blinked the comment away and grabbed his shaker, "let me show you some simple and colourful cocktail recipes, that'll be sure to go down a storm at parties."
    Jim shuffled down the bar towards the prepared fruits, Steve flipped up the counter-flap and scurried after him, staying with the camera. Sandra, naively expecting courtesy, found herself under a descending counter-flap which, though it managed to dodge most of her, took a strong liking to the little finger of her left hand, clamping it tenaciously in its hinged section causing, the now off-camera Sandra, to let forth with an unexpected cry of:
    "The absolute fuckery!"

They, once again, cut to an impromptu episode of Shed Loads Of Cash, despite Steve's protestations that he could finish the show alone whilst Sandra was hurried to hospital, her finger carried by an intern now struggling to contain their breakfast.
    And so it continued, some days were quiet, the rage bubbled under the surface, yet tensions were all too perceptible whether the faces showed scars or not. A cross word here, a snide remark there, a jibe about how they looked, what they wore, a turn of phrase.
    Papers continued to reproduce pixelated, blurred stills of the couple's on-screen friction, and the internet gathered together, in an ever growing huddle, for each new episode, hands poised over keys, ready to live-tweet their hysterical shock, outrage and hilarity. You could do an online test to find out if you were a Steve or a Sandra, it became a popular costume choice for couples attending fancy dress parties, they could jokingly dismantle their own relationship through the playful pretence that they hated one another, it was a coping tool that put their foibles in perspective in many ways.
    And it brought in so much revenue, fearing the end the channel nudged up the price of advertising slots, first in tentative increments, but soon doubling, tripling airtime, for which companies were all too eager to stump up the cash to capitalise on that daytime, disposable-income demographic.
    It became, for the hosts, par for the course, a succession of fluff until the first one would crack. It was inevitable one of them would, and they barely flinched now at the elbowed rib, the tripped foot, the palm to the skull, the jab in the arm, the kicked shin, the slapped face.

Under ethereal Christmas tree lights sat presents that Steve and Sandra handed out to the guests of that Friday's episode, and come the end of the gift giving the only empty hands were their own. As a pop band joined them all to sing a carol, fingers curled, lacking a brightly wrapped package, they became balled fists and, with nothing holding them back, the two quietly, sadly, pummelled one another in the back of shot.
    And the camera pushed in.
    And the ratings kept climbing.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


The problem with being psychic is you get nostalgic for things that haven't happened yet.
    I was watching a squirrel move erratically around the base of a tree, I couldn't tell if it was looking for food or had already found some but forgotten where it had buried it, and I began thinking about Lea.
    We wouldn't meet for another four years, which was a shame, because I already have so much love for her, I'm impatient with it, it's like buying someone a present you know they're going to adore, but you've found it months before their birthday and you just can't wait to give it to them, to see them smile.
    My colleague, Amy, roused me from my daydreaming, handed me a wad of papers, told me that they needed to be signed off by the close of business. I drew the blinds so that the squirrel, and the future memories, wouldn't distract me.
    I've never been able to shake the thought though, the horrible sense of waiting that comes from its inevitability. January 17th, that's when I'll meet her, I don't need to make a note of the date, ever since I first knew the future it's been etched into my thoughts.
    But I've always been impatient, I could never wait for anything as a kid, I would bawl and scream for my lunch as soon as I'd finished my breakfast, and then dinner straight after that, it was as if the world were too slow for me. I think that's what caused me to become psychic, this impatience, this desire to have tomorrow today, and over time my reach got hungrier, stretching our beyond tomorrow's tomorrow until I saw all my tomorrows, and now I'm no longer thirsty for that knowledge, instead I crave the experiences of what I know is due me.
    That's why I chose to find her, I remembered a conversation we are going to have about the past, about what she was doing now, where she was studying, and I decided to take a week off of work and hang around in the city where she would be, where her present life is, before the chain of events that would lead us to meeting, and I walked the city's streets, I went to the bars she may have mentioned in off-handed remarks in reminisces that she's now initially experiencing.
    Irregardless of chronology we shared a moment, perhaps spurred on by my own search, so when my eyes finally found hers there will filled with a strange kind of optimism, and she felt it too. She didn't know how much like destiny it felt, though she said it seemed so predetermined that very evening, as if there were something magical about it all, it fuelled the romance of that night.
    We drank, we laughed, she was the first to make contact, to run fingertips across my bare forearm and we fell silent, our eyes looking up from the touch to one another, to lips in need of moisture, a sure sign, and we walked along the late night street away from the bar, into the square, dizzy hands, draped playfully around lamp-posts in a parody of theatricality, emphasizing the moment, the muchness of it all, and we kissed.
    I had beaten time and fate, I had taken my future and kicked my feet eager against the sides, spurring it on.
    But it was not to last, the next day she was full of regret, shame and sadness, she had a boyfriend, they'd been together for two years, I'd forgotten about him, and she was a mess of tears for what she'd done. I sneaked out, gave her my number, told her to call me.
    She said that she felt something, something special for me, and she didn't want to sound crazy, but it was like she knew she would meet me one day, but, knuckles paw hastily, pre-emptively against a damp eye, it wasn't supposed to be yesterday. She sighed, jokingly cursed about having a boyfriend, but didn't take kindly to my suggestion that if she felt that way about me then maybe she should end things with him, that maybe she should just follow her heart, and she smiled sweetly but seriously and told me life isn't like that. It should be, I spat back, a little too petulant.
    We kissed goodbye, I told her that if she ever needed to she could call me, no matter how much time had passed, no matter where she imagined I might be. Her smile was sad. I caught the train home.

Four years later on January 17th I was waiting for her, but she wasn't there. I had written the date down in my diary as well, as it was becoming harder to keep it in my head, the future was harder to see in general, I know I'd changed things, but I wasn't prepared for this lack of foreknowledge, this foggy lack of clarity, because as hard as I try all I can see now in my future is nothingness.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Stories For Homes

Hello there,

I'm not the best at advertising or promoting myself, but I contributed a short story to an anthology of writing called Stories For Homes, it’s available now on the Kindle, and all proceeds go to Shelter, a housing and homelessness charity:

There should be a hard copy version coming out in due course, but if you’re one of those e-reader types (I won’t judge you) then you can get your mittens on the virtual version now. It’s a great book for a great cause.

My story is called Leaving Home and was written specifically for the anthology, and I shall (probably) never post it on here, so if you want to read it - and many other pieces by a range of writers - then you'll have to buy the book, and help those facing homelessness in the process!

Many thankingyous,


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Opposite Of Omniscience

On the day he was born he arrived into the world screaming.  Everyone in the delivery room clutched their hands to their ears to try to dull the shrieking noise, as did everyone in the hall, as did everyone in the hospital, as did everyone in the town and the county and the country and on the planet.
                It took a while for everyone to adjust, and a little longer for everyone to realise precisely what was going on.  However it quickly became clear that absolutely everyone on the planet had an innate awareness of what little Gary was doing.  When he took those first steps everyone knew, when he said his first word everyone knew.
                But the shared consciousness wasn't invasive, more like something you could dip in and out of at will, but major events in Gary's life had a greater prominence than average occurrences.  For instance, the first time Gary cut himself by accident the howling wall of upset caused a number of traffic accidents and for Spain to miss an all important penalty in the world cup final.
                It was, for the population of Earth, primarily up to them how much they knew about Gary.  To begin with this mass telepathy was a startling new intrusion upon their thoughts, but it quickly became background noise.  Finally, most people were able to filter things, a casual thought would give you a quick update such as Gary's brushing his teeth, but prolonged concentration would allow you to get right into Gary's immediate internal thoughts.
                People quickly allowed Gary to become part of their daily lives, to begin with there was a certain degree of celebrity afforded to him, but his mother wasn't so keen on the idea and, with the support of some government officials and a handful of psychologists, convinced the world to just let Gary be.  Indeed, growing up knowing that everyone knows what you're doing might make you a little paranoid.
                It couldn't be helped though, the first time Gary tried to masturbate he could hear all manner of laddish woops and cheers coming from the street outside, which put him right off.  He found he was never chosen to answer questions in class, instead his teachers would just dismiss his hand and say "No Gary, that's wrong."  Or in P.E. he'd never get passed the ball because, as one team-mate told him; "Everyone knows who you'll pass it to."
                Gary, who had managed to remain largely oblivious to his unique predicament, just thought that people didn't like him.
                To some extent this was true, a lot of people - often those more susceptible, and ultimately who struggled to block Gary out - very strongly felt that Gary was a terrible burden on their lives, his meaningless thoughts constantly clogging up their precious brainwaves twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  Gary's mother would always open his post and carefully dispose of any hate mail, whilst the local police had a specific unit tasked with watching Gary - without Gary noticing - in case somebody tried to assassinate him.
                This had peculiar advantages, because the first time someone tried to bully Gary they found themselves at the mercy of five armed police officers.
                But then there were people who loved Gary, who if he thought about something he wanted it would suddenly arrive in the mail the next day, and then, strangely, everyone at school would be extra nice to him in the hopes of coming around to play on the brand new games console he hadn't told anyone he'd just received.

On his eighteenth birthday his mother finally decided it was time to tell Gary about his gift.  Managing, and hiding, the out-pouring of love and hate, or even indifference, towards her son had become practically impossible and Gary himself was growing increasingly more anxious, yet remained unable to put the pieces of the puzzle together to form the complete picture.
                So it was that Gary found out that everybody knew, or at least could know, what he was doing or thinking at any given time.
                "Everybody?" Gary asked, his face scrunched up in bafflement, a large shiny '18 today!' badge pinned to his shirt glinting in the light.
                "Yes Gary, everybody."
                "Even people who don't speak English?"
                "Yes Gary."
                "But how do they know what I'm thinking?  I think in English."
                "Well, you see, this is the wonderful thing about your gift Gary, it showed us that human thoughts are merely translated into language by our brain, but they exist in a sort of non-descript electro-chemical form that anyone, of any language, could perhaps interpret."
                Gary was confused as to why his mother had become so excited by this, but little did he know that his mother found the scientist who had explained all this to her to be very attractive and they had discussed this recently after they had made love for the first time.
                "We've studied people's brains and animals brains and -"
                "Animals can hear me too?" Gary squeaked with alarm.
                "Yes.  We've studied their brains and scientists think we might be able to translate animal thoughts into human language and vice versa, wouldn't that be amazing?"
                "Wait, but, people know when I'm eating my tea or going for a walk or playing with mysel- with my toys."
                His mother looked sheepish, she explained everything to him as best she could, though despite sleeping with a scientist she wasn't much for science.
                "So people can watch my dreams?  They can read my mind?  They can hear my desires?" Gary wasn't waiting for answers, he was listing off every thought that popped into his head and then; "It's not even worth me asking is it -" I mean I can just think these questions and you'll hear them, right?
                "Yes Gary," his mother said, then clapped a hand to her lips, having never allowed herself to respond directly to his telepathy for eighteen years she was surprised at how quickly, now the confession had been made, that she had broken her own ruling.

Gary's life changed considerably, at first he was too scared to go outside, staying in his room, worrying.  But he soon came to realise that no matter where he was and no matter what he did people would still be able to know and that it was irrelevant if he spent his life wallowing in his own bed or running around make a fool of himself.
                However despite optimistically psyching himself up, the actual act of being out in the world knowing that everybody knows everything you are doing and thinking was intimidating, and suddenly things he had taken for granted began to make sense to him.
                For instance, Gary now realised why his caramel latte was always ready for him to take away the moment he stepped into the coffee shop.  He also realised why his bank refused to let him have a cash card and he had to always take out his money in person, and he realised why Judy Miller hadn't wanted to have a second date with him after he had thought about her quite vividly that one evening.
                He was confused, he was unsure if perhaps his own thoughts were more depraved than any one else's, he thought he might ask Mel, at which point his phone rang.
                "Trust me, you're not more depraved than anyone else," was the first thing Mel said when Gary answered.
                "Um, thanks."
                "I just think it's odd that people can be so judgmental, I mean, we all think weird shit."
                I guess people find it offensive because it's someone else's weird shit.
                "I was agreeing with you."
                "But I... oh, yes... Could you do me a favour Mel..."
                "Could I not respond to things you haven't said out loud?"
                "Don't worry, I just guessed that was what you were going to say that time."
                "Thank you."

Later that day Gary was wondering about the nature of his friendship with Mel, and ultimately reasoned that she respected his absolute honesty, whether intentional or otherwise.  Gary could never censor his thoughts, things just occurred and people would read them, and he was never a cruel or malicious person, the intent of everything that came to Gary's mind was founded in positivity.
                Naturally, there were sometimes the fleeting shrieks of lunacy that bore no genuine resemblance to his actual feelings and merely popped into his brain as a by-product of the world that surrounded him.  These thoughts would be dismissed by Gary as quickly as they arrived, therefore nobody eavesdropping on his mind could surely misconstrue them for his actual opinion.
                Prior to the present, despite whatever Gary may have said aloud, Mel would always know what Gary genuinely thought and Mel must have respected Gary's honest opinion more so than anything else.  This made Gary realise that perhaps the Gary he chose to present to the world wasn't perhaps the best Gary he could be?  Maybe his previously paranoid perception of a socially acceptable person was not entirely true to himself.
                Gary made a vow, from this day forward, to not amend or adjust his opinions to cater towards a self-imposed worry that someone might disagree a little, that those repressed desires to be a little sillier, to dance to the music, to climb the tree, to splash in the puddle and kick up the leaves, to share his honest perspective and not be afraid to debate and challenge his friends, or stand up for strangers. 

Beyond the positive experiments that Gary's ability had brought about, there was interest from the military as to how Gary could be weaponised.  Various organisations had been training agents in ignorance, conditioning them to be able to filter out all thought bar their objective, with the idea that Gary could be kidnapped and tortured, and the ensuing pain signal sent out to the entire world would cause enough of a distraction for an agent - if he were unable to sense Gary - to perform some covert task without hindrance.
                Unfortunately without actually kidnapping and torturing Gary their hypotheses could never be tested, and if Gary were to be kidnapped the entire world would know about it instantly.  (None of this had occurred to military until long after millions of pounds of research and development had already been conducted).
                To some extent, outside of those that despised him, this had granted Gary a level of invulnerability.  He was once stopped on a street late at night by a mugger who himself was so emotionally overwhelmed by Gary's sense of fear that he had a panic attack and Gary had to take him to the hospital. 

Over time Gary began to realise the true potential of his ability, it had, up until this point, always seemed like the cruellest and most pointless of gifts.  He had decided to go on holiday with his friend Mel, and having finally arrived in Almalfi they headed to a café in the square and were perusing the menu.
                The waiter had approached, and, as far as Mel was concerned, he had greeted Gary with warmth and familiarity, noting down his order and then turning, expectantly to Mel, who stumbled through some broken Italian, at which the waiter shrugged, turning expectantly to Gary who repeated Mel's order in the same pidgin language, but this time the waiter nodded and noted Mel's request.  The waiter said something, laughed and placed a friendly hand on Gary's shoulder, to which Gary grinned and nodded.
                Once the waiter had gone back inside the café, Mel turned to her friend and whispered; "What did  he say?"
                "I don't know," Gary confessed.
                "But, what was all of that?" Mel asked, gesturing a little back and forth with her finger.
                "He must have read my mind."
                "But you don't speak Italian."
                "I know, but I don't think our waiter realises that."
                "What do you mean?"
                Gary explained to Mel what he had understood from his mother, and her partner Karen - the scientist, about thoughts not having any language and instead being an abstract signal that is translated by our minds into thoughts as we perceive them.  At the purest level, a thought is the same in everyone's mind, but we all adapt our thoughts to suit however we communicate, be that into English, Italian, Dutch, Sign, Morse code, binary, hieroglyphics, meowing, whatever.  If all thought was expelled and received un-translated then every creature on the planet would be able to understand one another.
                Mel, despite knowing Gary - she hoped - better than anyone else, wasn't entirely convinced.  Despite the fact that Gary would never, perhaps could never, lie to her, she sometimes suspected that Gary could be misinformed.  In this instance she was doubtful and wanted to somehow test Gary's ability.
                Looking around she noticed a cat sat on a second floor window across the street.
                "Ok, see that cat over there, don't say anything out loud, but I want you to convince it to come over here and, um, jump up onto the table."
                Gary, enjoying a moment of showmanship, cracked his knuckles and turned towards the lazy cat licking its paws.
                Almost immediately the cat looked up from its wash and tried to follow the sound it heard as if a fly were buzzing around its head.  It then proceeded to hop back inside the room behind it and was gone from view.
                Mel and Gary waited, but the cat did not reappear.
                Their waiter did though, placing the coffees they had ordered down in front of them and saying something in Italian to Gary.
                Sorry, I don't speak Italian, Gary thought.
                The waiter was taken aback, looked suspiciously around and then, in a slower voice said; "But, er, we were speaking... the first time..."
                Yes, Gary thought, You're able to read my thoughts.
                The Italian waiter, as if trained in cliché, made the sign of the cross and returned to the kitchen muttering something incomprehensibly to himself.
                Mel laughed, shaking her head, when suddenly a cat leapt up onto their table and a elderly woman - who had hurried across the road after it - apologetically picked it up and carried it back to her flat, chastising it and wagging her finger.
                "Poor thing," Mel grinned.
                Gary smiled, "The waiter or the cat?" 

For the rest of their holiday Gary was able to use his projected telepathy to allow people to understand him, despite having no knowledge of the language.  Though Gary could not understand when others replied in Italian, he was able to communicate effectively enough, letting them know - with varying reactions - that he could not speak the language, but they could hear his thoughts.  Some of them, like the waiter, were alarmed by this, whilst others felt a surge of understanding, having heard about Gary before, but never expecting to actually meet him.
                Gary began to realise that, even though he was unable to always understand others, there was something comforting about being able to, at the very least, let people know what you're thinking regardless of any other barrier that may be attempting to hinder understanding.  He started to think that he should, having been able to let everyone know what's going on in his mind for his entire life, begin to take an interest in what's going inside other people's.
                Once he returned home he enrolled in various language classes, he didn't just limit himself to spoken language, but started learning Sign and Braille.  He was fortunate and found he had a natural aptitude for language, it helped that his teachers would listen to his thoughts and could, with great ease, see where Gary was struggling and help him overcome those hurdles.
                But conversely, Gary, as he began to work with those deprived of various senses, started to discover a new, and peculiar, side to his powers.  Gary was able to communicate the thought language of sound or sight to those who lacked either or both.  He was able to project a hitherto unknown concept towards them, as opposed to being like someone attempting to explain hearing or sight to a congenitally deaf or blind person, it was an entirely realised representation, in fact, through Gary a deaf or blind person could experience the world in a way that their condition denied them.
                And with this, Gary began to listen more, so often had he become consumed by his own thoughts, and ultimately burdened the world with a potentially constant stream of his paranoid, self-obsessed witterings that it was a new and surprising experience for him to really listen to others.  His own thoughts began to not consume himself so much, he started to realise how little he had previously looked outside of his own bubble, his little world that worried about the expectations of others, and he started, instead, to think about putting his thoughts to a better purpose, one that ultimately could help and unite people, as ultimately, Gary had realised, we do all speak the same language.
                Gary felt a weight lifted from him, as if unshackled from himself, and a responsibility to an audience of his own creation.  From those early neurotic and formative childhood years, through to his late-teenage angst about people's perception of his mind as more tawdry than those around him.  At long last his brain did not feel like something he should have to be ashamed of.
                He was thinking about this, smiling contentedly, sat in the park with his friend Mel.
                She looked at him, sitting there happily.
                Gary turned to Mel.
                "What are you thinking?" she smiled.
                Gary leaned forward and kissed her, and she kissed him back, and it wasn't just the kiss that made him happy, it was the fact that she wasn't anticipating it.