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.