In Serein


99 Ways To Fall Out Of Love

99 Ways To Fall Out Of Love

By Nick Starfields

The Prologue ...

I woke up by the side of the railway track with slugs on my face.

That's when I realised that enough was enough.

Something had to be done about this.

I decided it was time I fell out of love.

Love Sucks ...

Love sucks.

It's a fact.

Tell me one thing that's good about it.

Do you like the stomach churning? The sleepless nights? The obsessing? The traumatic flash backs?

How about the tightening pressure in your chest that burns and then you can't breathe anymore?

And how about the panic attacks if you think you might not see her again, and the panic attacks when you think you're about to?

Are you particularly fond of losing your power of speech, your power of thought, your power of cohesive actions or even just the basic ability to walk in a straight line?

Do you like feeling like a total idiot?

Well I bloody well don't.

I am sick to death of it.

I am sick to death of HER.

I am sick to death of me obsessing over her.

I seriously need to find a way to fall out of love or I'm going to become a monk and live in a cave for the rest of my life, and that would be a shame.

There are many fine women out there, young ones, old ones, juicy ones. So many textures, flavours, tastes, experiences - and I'm getting none of it, because all I do is to obsess about Julia.

Julia.

Julia Julia Julia Julia.

Julia by a fountain, the sun is sparkling off the water, she seems to be embraced by a cloak of diamonds.

Julia standing by a tree and it is snowing. The snow is falling on her, settling on her brown hair, not melting, nesting on her eyebrows.

Julia leaning against me, laying her head against my shoulder, the lights are soft and golden, the music muted and we are lovers in the Renaissance, we are being painted and immortalised as the lovers.

Julia first thing in the morning, wide open and diffuse, pink, warm, radiant and fragrant; her eyes are green in this light and she purrs like a great cat when I touch her ...

God damn it.

God DAMN it.

It has to stop.

It has to stop, before I ruin any more of my life, or of my liver.

What Hasn't Worked So Far ...

Exercise.

Exercise just doesn't work.

I run myself ragged and all I think about with every footfall, every rhythm and no matter how fast or slow it might be, is:

JU-LI-A.

Do you think I'm crazy? Pathetic? Sad?

You're right!

I agree!

It's appalling.

Hideous.

But I can't stop.

I see her all the time and everywhere. Every woman in the street could be her. Every woman at every bus stop. I'm looking for her and I keep thinking it's her, and then my heart misses a beat.

Then it isn't her, and the disappointment is stomach churning, gut wrenching.

Do you feel sorry for me?

I hope you don't, because that's worse than anything at all.

I can just about take the insanity and the constant adrenaline shocks, just about, but what I really can't stand is when I start feeling sorry for myself.

I crumble and I cry.

I HATE that.

I hate myself.

I hate her.

I've said that, right?

What's needed is positive focus, and the idea of this chapter is to go over what hasn't worked, so I can stop doing that at least, and find something else instead.

Exercise doesn't work.

Sleeping doesn't.

Guess what, I dream of her.

I wake up and think the quilt is her, the pillow is her.

And then I freak out again when I remember she's not here any longer.

What did she used to say to me?

"You're a fucking lunatic, Nick. Get away from me."

Ah, and that's something else that just doesn't work.

I've tried remembering the bad times, focus on the bad times, the things she did to me, the things she said.

But all that happens is that somewhere, the sound drops off and I am just there, looking at her in rapture, for she is so beautiful when she is angry.

I said that to her once.

She tried to hit me with a vase.

She was so gorgeous, alive, flushed all over, her eyes were flashing, all of her in movement, her clothes flying like banners, her hair, her lips half parted ...

There I go again.

Write it down, Nick.

No. 3 on the list what doesn't work - to think of the bad times.

The bad times weren't bad, because she was there, and when she was there, of course that would have been the good times by default.

Let's move on.

No. 4 - take your mind off it. Off her.

I can't.

It's as simple as that.

I try, fuck, do I try, and it's not happening.

It's like everything and anything, all and every little damned thing reminds me of her.

When I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING.

Of course, there's the flat. The front door where I carried her over the threshold once. The hallway where I tried to stop her from leaving. The kitchen where she used to stand by the cooker with a wooden spoon and taste from a pot with red brown sauce in it. But it is much worse than that.

The wind feels like her touch and that reminds me.

A rainy day will remind me of being in bed with her on a rainy day, and a sunny day reminds me of a sunny day with her.

The water reminds me of her smooth skin, coffee reminds me of the coffees she made for me.

She is everywhere, and in everything.

At work, it isn't much better. I stare down on the keyboard and want to write a letter to her.

I can't focus on anything, and everything reminds me of her - every song, every movie, every book, somehow it all comes back to her.

What else doesn't work?

Talking to friends.

Well, truth?

I don't have any friends anymore.

They got fed up with me, they took her side, they didn't want to hear me go on about her any more. At work, no-one will talk to me because they're afraid I'm going to go off on yet another Julia rant again, or I start to cry or something. Everyone is laughing in the cafeteria, I walk in, everything stops and everyone slides out without looking me in the eye.

I understand that.

If I was there and there was some guy behaving like I am, I would do exactly the same.

My best friend James, he used to be my best friend, until I punched his lights out when he tried to tell me some home truths, get through to me, take my bottle of whisky away.

That's the last time I saw him, and he hasn't called.

Which brings us neatly to something that actually does work.

Getting so drunk that I don't remember my own name anymore.

I Don't Understand Love ...

Here is something I don't understand.

When you love someone as much as I love Julia, why don't they love you back?

How is it possible they can remain unmoved by the power of those feelings I have inside of me?

Why doesn't what I feel leap across the barriers of skin and flesh and set the other alight, create a resonance, make them see you, make them feel you?

How can it be that I am standing, engulfed in flames, my heart radiant like the sun and I am giving all of this to her, laying it at her feet, that she should look at me as though I was - nothing?

No better than a lamp post, less than a tree. She would admire a tree, she would stop and look up at its branches and smile, perhaps put her head to the side, trace its trunk and branches, the weaving leaves, and she would start to sway a little, entranced, and in her eyes, there would be love.

How is that possible?

What is wrong with this picture, with this way of being?

I don't understand.

It Is Time To Act

I could be sitting here and sinking into a total madness of love induced insanity - I've done that enough times, and it doesn't help. You should see some of the absurd poetry I've written, and it is just as well that you can't know the absurd thoughts that I've had.

But my first true blue alcohol induced blackout was a wake up call.

When I got home, I phoned in sick at work, made myself a coffee and sat on the sofa.

I considered my options.

I had tried to get this thing under control with all that I knew; this hadn't worked, so it was painfully clear that I needed outside help before this became any worse. I'm pretty sure I'm not an alcoholic yet, it hasn't been long enough for that, but unless I do something radically different from now on, it's on the cards.

I won't let that happen.

As I sit and think, a memory floats into my mind about a TV show featuring a stage hypnotist.

I've often thought that I was hypnotized, bewitched in some way, to obsess about Julia the way I do; perhaps this is the answer.

Perhaps a hypnotist can help me.

I've got the whole day ahead and money is not a problem. I can feel myself getting excited and a little scared at the idea, but it makes sense and it is something new for me to be doing. That in and of itself is a massive relief.

I get the Yellow Pages.

It's quite amazing to see just how many hypnotherapists there are listed here, there must be three pages of advertisements all told.

How should I choose?

I sit and drink coffee and read the entries. Smoking and weightloss. Smoking and weightloss. Damn is that all anyone wants out of life these days? There are a few more esoteric entries - past life regression, spirit possession.

The latter draws me. I am possessed by her, that feels about right. I check the time. It is just coming up to 11am. I light a cigarette before I dial the number.

The phone rings only about twice before a man's voice answers, "Dr Hallet here, how can I help?"

It takes me a while to get my head together enough for a coherent inquiry, but Dr Hallet is patient, hoping for a new patient, and he tells me very positively that he is sure he can help me with my love sickness.

Not only that, but he has an opening in his otherwise busy calendar this very afternoon - how fortunate!

I shake my head, unseen to him, as I confirm the appointment and give a false name, receive the directions to his house which doubles as his practice.

Still, there is a part of me that is waking up and rising in hope. I feel fluttery, excited, scared, sad, nervous.

Will Dr Hallet be able to hypnotize me out of love?

Hypnosis VS Love Pain

I found the guy's house, in the middle of nowhere. Weeds in the drive. That's always an indication that not too many feet have been trampling here, right?

I'm kinda grinning to myself, and kinda grimacing.

To be honest, I'm scared.

I'm scared that I'm making a complete fool of myself again, and that this is all a load of bullshit and nothing else.

The other option, namely that it isn't, and that Hallet can actually do something and then I won't care about Julia any longer, now that is a nasty thought. A nasty sensation, like someone was about to cut off my balls or something.

My throat is dry as hell and I ring the door bell.

Big Ben chimes.

Dr Hallet comes to the door in carpet slippers, cardigan, and brown corduroy trousers. He's short, a bit squat and balding, wears glasses. His eyes are fishy pale and I must admit, I had always thought hypnotists to be a bit more - well, Swengali-like.

I drop my head to hide a smile at the thought of some skinny greenish pale bloke in a black suit with a cloak opening this door, and step inside.

I'm in my mother's house.

Carpets with swirls from the 70s, green wall paper and a border of ivy. Gee. It's all pretty green with all sorts of plants hanging and standing and leaning, and we make our way through and into the second door on the right, that would be his office then.

It's a bog standard dining room with a fire place, a window to the back garden, only there's a huge, and I mean HUGE! brown leather recliner smack in the middle, facing the fire place over which there's a picture of a fish, made from metallic paint, with the scales opalescent.

I suppress a snort and wait to be told to sit in the massive recliner.

It near enough swallows me whole and it is cold, leather clammy and sticky, scary.

I wriggle around in it, trying to get comfortable whilst the little man in his beige cardigan shuffles over to a much lesser arm chair by the fire place, picks up a clipboard from a low wooden table which it had shared with a mug and another assortment of potted green plants, sits down and turns to me.

"Well, Mr Santiago," he says, "So tell me, what's the problem?"

The recliner is reclining under my weight and I can't sit up. I can't really lie here and have a conversation either and now the chair is warming up around me and this is completely ridiculous.

If I wasn't so stuck in the chair, I might have walked out.

I give up.

I let myself be taken by the monster chair, close my eyes and say, "I can't stop thinking about my ex-girlfriend."

The sentence floats for a while in the room.

I can hear him shuffle the paper on his clipboard, then he says, "Alright. You don't have to tell me any more. You just relax now, let me do the work, ok?"

I nod, still with my eyes closed.

He says, "Look at the fish, please. Just look at the scales, at the colours. Try and count the colours you see."

His voice was different this time and I am mildly surprised. But the fish scales are colourful, and I like colours, and they are iridescent and I try and trace the shifting colours as they go by, just as he said.

So he talks, and I don't hear what he says, but at one point, there's Julia right in front of me, and I try to get up and go to her, but then she becomes encased in a bubble, like a soap bubble, and she begins to float away, and I am so distraught, I am so desperate, she is going further and further away and then I know I'm crying, I can feel tears just slide out of my eyes and down my face, a river of tears, and I cry and cry and cry because I can't see her anymore, she and the bubble both are quite gone.

I open my eyes and my shirt is wet from the crying. There are even black stains on the leather chair. I feel totally displaced, totally lost, so sad I can hardly breathe.

From far away I see myself getting the checkbook out and writing the man a cheque. He is talking but I don't know what he is saying. I don't know if or what I'm saying back to him.

He walks me to the door and sends me out into a violent brightness, grey bright, and I can't face it. It's too bright and I don't know what is happening to me.

I find my car and can't remember how to drive it, and then the sadness comes back and I sit in the car and cry and cry and I don't even know why.

How I made it home, I don't know. I don't remember.

I went home, went straight to bed and cried myself to sleep.

Love Sick

I woke up the next day and nothing had changed.

I kept crying and couldn't stop. I couldn't get up.

I lay in bed and cried until I fell asleep again, woke up again and it started all over. After three days of this or it may have been 300, I honestly don't know, I didn't cry anymore but just lay there.

For a long time, I don't think I thought anything or if I did, I can't remember.

I've no idea how long that went on for but then at some time, it was late in the afternoon, that time when the sun has made its way around and through the houses and for a moment, shines into the room, that I had a thought.

The thought was that this must be what they call love sick.

Or perhaps that I'm dying of a broken heart.

I can't say that it scared me to think that. It seemed appropriate somehow and a relief - so that's what this is, at least now I know. I lay in my sweaty bed with my arm over my eyes and still I could see the bright red light through my closed lids, burning into my brain and I thought, so it is real, all that stuff I've heard about, how dogs lie down on their owners grave and just die, and I never knew there was a reality behind any of that.

But these thoughts rescued me.

They reminded me of my mission - I had decided to fall out of love. Perhaps this was just the withdrawal pains, like a heroin addict, perhaps it'll get better. Perhaps it is better already because I can lie here and think, and I can feel my mouth so dry as though I'd stuffed handfuls of fine volcanic ash into it and then bit down and ground it in, my chest feels as though a huge weight is pressing the air out of my lungs and my head is hollow, hot, grating.

It took me another hour to finally get it together enough so I could roll out of bed and crawl into the bathroom. Literally. I crawled on my hands and knees into the bathroom and clawed my way up the sink to get some water.

Pathetic?

Fuck it. Fuck you.

You weren't there.

It was real enough and I don't care what anyone thinks.

You weren't me.

Pavement Cracks & Body Bags

Another morning. Or dawn, or noon, I don't know what time it is.

I've got nowhere to be, nowhere to go. No reason to get out of bed.

I try and remember the quest but I'm just feeling dull and empty, my head is hollow, that's a cliche but it feels as though there are no thoughts, just a dense misty emptiness. I feel slow.

There is no-one going to come and knock on the door. No-one is going to come, let themselves in with their own set of keys, I won't hear them rattling in the door and then their cheerful voice, "Hey Nick! I'm home!"

It's not going to happen because no-one has keys for this flat, only I do. I am locked in and - I really don't want to think this, but factually, alright.

I am alone.

I can feel a far away old anger rustling amidst the leaves of depression there somewhere.

I'll be damned if I now start feeling sorry for myself.

I'll be damned.

I am damned.

Oh God!

I get up.

I am going to get dressed and out of this place and if I have to hit myself with coat hangers to make it happen.

A bit of fresh air ... and nice cuppa ... alright then, if you don't have an old aunt, you can be your own. Why not? A multiple personality with some uses.

I need some cigarettes.

I haven't smoked in five years but it seems to me that now would be the perfect time to start again.

I've got to stay away from alcohol, so I guess that cigarettes and coffee are a good alternative. You've got to have some thing, don't you. Especially when you have nothing else.

"Here you go again, Nick. There won't be any readers left if you go on like this, you know? They'll drift away and get fed up with you like everyone else always does. Shut the fuck up. Get your arse out the door. Start walking. One step at a time. And for the love of God, think something interesting so you can write something interesting when it comes to it!"

Alright then.

My flat is on the second story of an old conversion, probably a Victorian factory or something, who knows.

The stairwell is disproportionately huge and at some point, someone thought it was a good idea to replace an entire wall with glass bricks, so now I'm permanently emerging from the 1980s and living in a time warp.

The woman downstairs always puts a bunch of ugly, spikey, twisting dried up flower arrangement weirdnesses which I guess are supposed to be decorative, artistic but simply work as a metaphor to describe her life and states of being quite perfectly on the first floor landing.

I've always wanted to kick the shit out of those bloody things.

It's spring, for God's sake. Who wants to see the mummified remnants of last year's weeds every time they come down the stairs?

As always, I suppress the desire but there is a different strand today; I think as things get more and more out of kilter, the day might come when I take one of those goddamned dried monstrosities, knock on her door, and then beat her with it until my point has been made and understood, irretrievably so.

I'm a little surprised at just how clear and steady that vision stood there for a moment as I paused outside her door. Decorated with yet another dried flower arrangement, this time the shape of a funeral wreath.

I take a deep breath and wish I had a cigarette.

It is freezing in the hallway, it always is. Outside it might well be warmer.

And indeed, it is.

I step outside and onto the street, well, the pavement to be precise and today is grey, windy, rainy but immediately there is a sense of aliveness, of movement and motion.

The wind carries raindrops, little ones, that lay like a cooling net across my face and I find that pleasant.

I put my hands in the pocket of my coat and start walking towards the town center.

Look down, you see the pavement. If you don't watch out, your step gets out of rhythm and out of sync, as you're playing hopscotch with the pavement cracks.

There's a song, it has the line it, "the pavement cracks and body bags ..."

Stop at the curb.

Don't get run over.

Look ahead.

I look ahead and the road stretches out in front of me, crazy distance distortion, impossible journey, and I feel faint, vertigo, I must stop and lean against the wall of a house, close my eyes and try and control my breathing.

I formulate the plan to try and make it to the newsagent's, just two more intersections down. I can buy cigarettes there and that will control my breathing, it will alter my state, clear my head.

Something to hold on to.

Having a target, having a goal, that really works. I keep my eyes fixed on the red and green corner shop all the way, stumble inside it, mumble my way through the ordering process, have to turn back to get a lighter, I always used to have one in my pockets, two, three sometimes, get the lighter, get out, get the packet open, take one out, old instincts take over, no five years have passed, not five minutes since I last cemented my place in reality with this helpful device, for shaman's use only - I take a deep drag and the relief is insane, inordinate, out of all proportions to the action or the substance.

One of the coolest things about giving up smoking is just how hard it hits you when you start up again.

The first few drags and the ground spins under your feet, the light gets brighter, everything expands - it's a total trip, a real drug trip.

I laugh to myself as I take another deep and greedy drag. It'll soon be over again and that won't happen anymore, so I'm going to enjoy the sensations whilst they last.

I stand and smoke outside the newsagents and I see the notices affixed in a cascading plastic holder. Cleaners wanted, lost cat, pram for sale.

And one right down at the bottom which catches my eye and my interest.

Gypsy Rose
Psychic Counselling Services
Romance & Love A Speciality

I lovingly let the cigarette butt slide through my fingertips and take a moment to grind it into the pavement, smiling to myself.

The next step has just revealed itself to me.

In Therapy

I called Gypsy Rose right there and then, with the welcome support of a second cigarette which made my head buzz.

The phone rang for quite a while before finally, a woman's voice, dark and exotic answered.

I was relieved and also excited, not a little scared. And then I was completely shocked when she told me that she did not have any appointments open for at least two weeks. I was speechless. I had been absolutely certain that I would be given an address and make my way there right away, now, today, from here - I couldn't handle the thought of going home again and sitting there again, I really couldn't.

Perhaps she really was psychic, but she picked up on my distress and asked, "You need to speak with someone right away?"

I nodded but you can't see that on the phone; the woman however went on to say, "Yes, I know what that is like. Tell you what, I have a good friend who is a counsellor and a therapist. She is kind and a good listener, doesn't charge too much. Would you like her phone number in the meantime?"

It took some doing to program the number into my mobile whilst she patiently repeated it over and over, and I was curiously grateful to Gypsy Rose, or whatever her name might be.

I said, "I want to make an appointment with you please."

There was a smile in her voice as she replied, "Come next Wednesday. 9pm."

I double checked that she really meant 9 in the evening, took down her address and it must be said that I was reluctant to press the end call button.

I would have liked to have seen her right now, there was something about that woman, I had sense that she might be able to help.

But perhaps she had helped me already.

I started to walk away from the newsagents and towards the town again, dialed the other number she had given me.

The therapist must have been sitting right on top of her phone because it was answered near enough on the first ring.

"Sandy Hayward. How can I help you?"

I stuttered through an introduction and fought the name of Gypsy Rose over my lips, said that she had told me to ring her.

The woman Sandy laughed. She had a young voice, very ordinary.

"Oh, you mean Anne. Anne Herzog. Gypsy Rose is the name of her business."

"So she's not a gypsy, then?" I said reflexively and then felt stupid for letting that slip out. The therapist woman laughed again. "Oh, yes, she is. But her name is Anne Herzog. And if she says I should see you right away, then we'd better make an appointment. I have one session left today, 5pm. Can you make that?"

I glanced down at the phone. It was 1.14. Four hours to wait. But that was alright. I had to get some money, something to eat. I made the appointment.

Sandy Hayward's office was actually in the town, so I walked there just to check it out and kill some time.

I smoked as I walked and felt much better than I had in a long time. I should have thought of that earlier. Everything is easier when you have a cigarette in your hand, and that's a fact. So I'll die of lung cancer when I'm 60. Without them, I dive off a motorway bridge at 35, so what's the gain?

I found Sandy's office easily. It was in a building where lots of alternative therapists had taken up residence, a veritable nest of acupuncturists, herbalists and massage therapists. As I looked down at the list of brass and plastic plaques, I thought I might make my way through them all. By the time I was through, I'm sure I would have made some progress on my mission.

Which was to not think about Julia again.

Oh goddamn it!

In thinking it, there it was all over again and now I want a drink.

And there's a pub on the corner, just across the road.

It's cold, I'm cold, I hadn't noticed. It would be warm in there, it would be like an oasis as you step out of the grey bright noisy world and into a dim, reddish darkness, smokey, intimate, quiet and safe.

I am staring at the pub and I'm breathing harder.

I know myself. If I go in there, it won't be just one drink. It is one to start with, and then a second. By the time I've had the third, I feel a release, a relaxation and even a beginning of something like being alive, animated, cheerful, even.

Then I invite others to drink with me, I talk and I laugh. And I drink, and drink, and drink.

I'll miss the appointment.

I'll get chucked out of the place.

I find another, get some more cash.

And so it goes until everything gets disjointed, and I don't remember anymore, and then there's nothing, blank blackness, until I wake up somewhere, somehow, and that is exactly what is going to happen if I walk across the road and go inside there.

I am breathing too fast, I think I am going to have a panic attack. I force myself to get the mobile out, open it, look at the time. 1.33. Four hours and twenty two minutes before I can go into the therapist's house and ring Sandy Hayward's bell. Four hours and twenty two minutes where I must stay outside and can't enter into sanctuary. I look around for something and there is a small, miserable tree planted into the pavement, struggling it is, skinny. I go to it and put my hand on it. I can feel it vibrating, moving fractionally with the wind that gusts around these streets. But it is there. It is alive and it's solid, real. I stand and hold on to that miserable little tree for what seems an eternity and until I can think again, start to breathe more slowly, get it together enough to let go to light another cigarette.

Hypnotists.

Psychics.

Therapists.

A tree.

This isn't a joke anymore.

I thought it was a game, a hobby, but it isn't.

I need help.

I can't do this by myself.

Thoughts On The Magic Of Transformation

How long is an hour and a half?

In my head, in my life, it can be thousands of years. An eternity. I am so fast, and everything else is in slow motion, and I’m outside of it all.

I can observe, and change my point of view a dozen times in a second, argue, investigate, make notes, compare to past events and past notes I’ve made. I guess it’s an advantage of sorts.

But it is lonely.

Outside, always outside.

I don’t know but it always felt that Julia was a portal, that she punched a hole in the barrier of the dimension in which I was trapped and dragged me into reality, and I wasn’t alone anymore, there was someone else, and I can see them, feel them, hear them.

Her. Not them.

Only her.

Sometimes, after a while, I would be able to take my eyes off her and then there would be other things, and they would be real too. Skies and flowers. Weeds in a verge. Snow. It was amazing, the whole world was amazing and she was my portal to all of it, my key to all of it.

I have lost my key to reality.

Can I explain this to therapist Sandy in such a way that she will understand?

Will she listen?

Does she possess any secret knowledge, found in her many years of study in the dark towers they call universities, paid with blood and time that she will impart upon me, so I can be freed from this damnation?

Here’s the deal.

Before Julia, I was just fine. I didn’t know there was another world, outside of what I knew. I was in mine, and that was how it was. I thought it was like that for everyone, and to be honest, I couldn’t understand what insanity would befall people who wrote love songs, love stories. I thought they were all mad and I actually prided myself on being so much more logical, reasonable and rational.

I wasn’t lonely then.

I wasn’t unhappy. I thought fast, I lived fast and always got what I wanted.

I always got who I wanted, too. It was so easy. I would smile in the right places, look deeply into their eyes. I would move around them, through them, and read their times, their days and nights, and I would know what to say with the accuracy of a brain surgeon who holds a tiny laser and stimulates the relevant regions in the exposed brain – there, that is your pleasure center, and look, if we put a little electrical discharge right there, you will remember a time when you were a small girl and got a wonderful Christmas present.

They were toys to me, experiments. Sometimes, I would grow fond of them in a sentimental way, much like I would smile upon seeing an old T-Shirt in my wardrobe I bought at a rock concert, which holds some memories of good times had in different places.

But all of that was before the cataclysm that was Julia.

I am sitting on a low wall by a bus stop in the town. I have been sitting here for over an hour now, and I am cold. Even though it isn’t raining, there is enough moisture in the air to have softened me and my clothes, softened me up for the wind to reach right through and touch me, make me shiver.

By the side of my right foot lies a circular nest of flattened cigarette butts. I’ve got to get some more. I haven’t eaten anything and I am feeling nauseous, raw. I think of therapist Sandy and wonder if she can cure me of everything. That thought gives me a small smile.

Poor Sandy. Do you get this a lot, people like me walking in off the cold streets, wanting you to magically make it all better, make it all disappear, in essence, transform me into another altogether?

And how do you deal with the disappointment of your people when they get it after a while that you can’t do it for them, that they have to do it themselves? Do they get angry with you? Resent the money spent, the time spent, resent you and themselves for their childlike expectations of a magic that just doesn’t exist in this world?

Yet the fact remains that Julia did transform me in an instant. When she left me, she transformed me again, into the shivering wreck we can observe today.

The magic of transformation exists.

It lies in the hands of people.

Perhaps Sandy has some of it.

I hope she does.

Revelations

Therapist Sandy is a small woman, neat to the point of anally retentive.

She seems scrubbed and brushed to the degree that I get a sense of being bruised and raw from her; she wears a severe navy blue suit that makes her look like an airline stewardess. She probably tried to go for a professional look, just got the wrong profession when she chose the crisp white starched shirt and blue red striped scarf combination.

Her eyes are blue and she is about 45, 50. Which makes it somewhat strange that she wears her hair long, held back with an Alice band. A little girl, dressed as a stewardess, who tries to be a psychologist.

It makes me smile. We all have our own problems I guess.

Her office is likewise attempting to give a professional air but only succeeds in looking spartan and clinical, a hint of hospital in the air.

White walls, beige sofa, off white carpet, chrome lights. What is most disconcerting is that on the wall opposite to the window which is completely covered with vertical blinds she has chosen to hang a print of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

On that white wall, in this white office, it becomes a portal to a demon dimension. You get the feeling that if you started to scrape the wallpaper, you’d find it extending everywhere beneath it, scream all the way, ceiling, walls and floor.

She is talking at me but the state I’m in, all I hear is bird sounds, high pitched vibrations that float around the room. I’m so disembodied that I knock my leg against a nearly invisible glass coffee table which I didn’t notice even being there, and that serves to land me back into this unreality, at least to a degree.

I sit down on the hard, pale leather sofa and she sits down behind her desk, a chrome and glass affair somewhere between shop display and Ikea. I have to turn sideways and look across and slightly up to see her; there is a great and uncomfortable distance between us and I’m wishing for some of the plants from the hypnotherapist’s office, a cheery fish with many colours and even the enveloping monster chair.

She is looking through a drawer on her side of the desk and I try to be more comfortable in my wet clothes, in my cold skin.

I rub my hands together then stop because this may be interpreted as me being nervous, rather than just cold. I try to breathe steadily and drop my shoulders. This causes the sharp angles in the room to change slightly and I’m having another alternate reality experience that restricts my breathing.

She has finally found what she was looking for; it is a piece of paper, maybe two. She puts it on a blue clipboard, produces a pen and says, “First, we’ll have to take some details.”

I drop my head in my hands. I don’t want to give you any details. I want you to ask what’s wrong with me, how you can help me. I want you to come out from behind your fucking desk and sit next to me, tell me to take my coat off, take my hand.

I shake my head and try and fight through that, that disappointment. Wasn’t that just what I’d already recognised, there at the bus stop? What did I think she was going to do for me?

So, she asks me questions, and I lie to all of them.

I give the same false name, Nick Santiago. Nick is right, Santiago is a character in a play I once saw, a private detective who was the serial killer he was looking for, only he didn’t know it. I give a random address in a good part of town, the name of Julia’s GP, my ex-friend James’ birthday.

My voice sounds rough but throughout this ritual of her asking me these questions and me making up lies to be the perfect answers, I work with it and by the time the second form has been filled out, it is nicely modulated and resonates well in this cold and clinical room that smells of starch and pain, remembered.

Finally, she gets round to the part of her questionnaire where it comes to why I’m here.

“What brings you here today, Nick … may I call you Nick?” she inquires in exactly the same tone of voice as she had used for asking about my home and work phone numbers. She is looking down and across to me, the pen poised over the document.

I lean back in the hard sofa and cross my legs. I’m wondering if I should hate her and then decide to make that decision later. For now, just play the game.

“By all means,” I answer her with what I hope is coming across as direct and honest.

She smiles briefly, on and off switch, twiddles the pen.

I resist the temptation to clear my throat or to take a deeper breath than is necessary to verbalise the statement I have decided on.

“My girlfriend left me, and I am finding it very difficult to deal with that,” I say.

She scribbles as soon as the first words have travelled across to her and continues to scribble for quite some time after I have finished and the resonance of my words have long faded in the room.

I make a decision.

“Sandy,” I say carefully, “I would prefer it if you would not take notes while we are here.”

She looks up at me, surprised, wide eyed. I have the feeling that she has just only seen me for the first time in this very moment.

Flustered, she looks down at her notes, back to me, then she shuffles the papers together, places the pen across the top and pushes herself back a little from the desk.

“Of course,” she says, “Absolutely. No problem. Ahm … so … your girlfriend left you. When was that?”

I have to stop myself from smiling as I say, “Three months ago, give or take.”

I can tell that she is dying to get her pen and write it down, “Girlfriend left 3 months ago.” She glances at her notes but forces herself to look at me instead and says, “And what has been happening since then?”

I turn my head away from her and look straight ahead, at the blind window instead. If you drew the blinds, perhaps it would reveal a screen. A screen on which I could view the past, my memories.

“I can’t stop thinking about her.”

“Tell me more,” says a voice that could be any voice, far away, and I answer as shadows begin to move on the screen, flashes, outlines, vague colours.

“I can’t concentrate on anything. I sleep badly. I can’t … do … anything …”

There is a silence and I appreciate that because I can nearly make out something on the screen, I screw up my eyes and try and reach through the mist and the fog, but it’s just out of reach.

“Why did she leave you?”

The pictures before me whirl and I feel nauseous. I close my eyes but the whirling is there as well. I feel a pressure rising in my stomach, closing off my throat.

“She said I raped her.”

The words fly around the room, and the pressure in my stomach has become sharp, stabbing pains. Sharp, flashing shards before my eyes. I curl up and try and hold myself together, try to breathe, try to hold my head …

“Nick. Nick, look at me.”

It takes me an eternity to orient to the voice and open my eyes, and I can’t make sense for a moment of the situation, the desk, that woman …

“Nick,” she says again, more urgently, “Take a deep breath. It’s alright. You’re safe here.”

I try to breathe, shuddering, ragged. I’m safe here. Am I?

The girl-woman-therapist creature is leaning forward, her elbows on the desk. I’m here, drowning and she’s on the beach, behind a fence. She can’t reach me from there, and I can’t reach her. But she is all there is right now apart from the white all around and the flashing pains, the flashing pictures, she is all there is.

I try to focus on her. “I’m sorry …” I say.

“It’s alright,” she says, “Just remember to breathe. Just tell me what happened. That’s why we’re here. That’s how we start and then it gets better.”

Against my will, I whisper, “Do you promise?”

There is an uncomfortable silence, then she says carefully, “Tell me what happened. In your own words.”

This is the problem. I really don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I don’t understand it. Not any of it. I can’t tell you …

“I don’t know …” I say and have to swallow rapidly, hard, repeatedly. “I don’t understand …”

“Don’t worry about understanding right now. That comes later. What happened with … what is her name?”

“Julia,” I say like a sigh. It makes me feel better, it does. I say it again, “Julia.”

“Julia,” the woman echoes me and that makes me shiver. I’m not sure I like her knowing Julia’s name, or speaking it. It belongs to me. Julia – belongs to me.

“Nick,” the woman says slowly and carefully, “If this is too difficult, we can talk about something else. You don’t have to tell me about that now, we can talk about something else.”

I shake my head. “No. I want to talk about it. That’s why I’m here, right. That’s why we are here. So I can talk about it and understand it and get better, get over it. Right?”

“Would you like a glass of water?”

I throw my head back hard and collide with wall behind me. Goddamn that hurts. But the shock of it makes me calmer, clearer.

“No, I don’t want a glass of water, Sandy. I want to tell you about it. I want to tell you about that day, that time, what happened, that which I don’t understand at all. She said I raped her but I didn’t. It wasn’t like that. I just couldn’t stop …”

And there it was – there it was.

Clear as glass.

I am there and it is all as real as anything, I am there and I know it’s in the past but it is also right here, I am - right here.

I am standing in the hallway of my flat, and Julia is coming out of the bathroom. She is wrapped in a towel, my towel, my beach towel, the biggest towel we have, blue and green swirls, dark, it makes her skin so pale and luxurious, glowing in comparison.

Her skin, her shoulders, her neck.

Her hair is wet and she has another towel wrapped around her head, she is rubbing it with one arm, elegantly outstretched, like a goddess carrying a vase, the goddess of the stars.

The hallway expands, recedes, stretches away from me.

The walls fall away either side and there is nothing left, just her, only her in all the universe, she is all I can see, all I can feel.

I can hear nothing but my own heartbeat.

I move up towards her, seem to glide towards her and I take her in my arms.

She is fantastic, radiant, hot, alive, electric – she is moving, weaving. I am so excited by her that I nearly lose consciousness, I take her in my arms, draw her to me, want to take all of her inside of me, somehow make her mine, absolutely and completely.

She is moving, all of her is moving and it is so fantastic, so powerful; the tighter I hold her, the harder she moves in return and the more excited I become; I am so totally in love with her, so totally possessed by her. So I sweep her up and carry her to the bedroom, and she is writhing, fighting so hard, her mouth is wide open, her eyes are wide open and I can see stars flying from her mouth, from her throat, and I must worship her, make love to her like I’ve never made love before, such incredible power, such incredible excitement as she pitches everything she is against me and in so doing, becomes more exciting to me than she has ever been and I take her, overwhelm her, give her everything I am and more and there is a starburst of glory to unconsciousness.

When it is over, we are both crying. Crying with joy at this extraordinary experience, the ultimate experience of love, at least for me it was, but she, she scrambles away, runs away, runs from the flat naked, and later, two policemen arrive and I don’t understand any of it, none of it, I don’t understand anything any more.

I only saw her one more time after that.

I saw her from afar through a glass partition window in the police station.

I saw her and I started screaming for her – Julia, Julia.

She looked up and then she jumped up and a policewoman took her away by the elbow. I saw her looking back at me once before the policemen wrestled me to the ground.

After that, I didn’t see her again.

She was gone from her flat, from her work. She was just gone.

But she dropped the charges. Was she playing a game?

I don’t know.

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand any of this, and all I can remember is how much I love her, and how perfect it was, that last time, how it blew me apart.

So, Sandy, can you help me?

The white therapy room lies silent.

The walls have absorbed my words, my emotions.

They are eaten up, gone, not here now.

I am tired.

I try to find Sandy’s eyes but she won’t look at me. She is looking at The Scream above my head instead. Then she starts pulling out drawers in her desk, digs around, finally retrieves a business card.

She places it cautiously at the far end of her desk, then pushes herself way back towards the wall.

She tells me that she isn’t qualified to deal with me; that I should go and see a specialist. There is no charge for the session. I can leave now. And I should call the number on the card as soon as possible.

I get up. I feel drained, light headed. I pick up the card and it takes some time before I can focus enough to read it. Dr R. W. Wilson, Ph. D.

Psychiatrist.

I look up from the card and for a fleeting moment, I catch her eye.

She is afraid of me.

A curious sensation sweeps through me, from the back of my neck right down my shoulders, into my legs.

I become aware that we are alone in this room, and that all that stands between me and her is a couple of feet of desk, chrome and glass, nothing, really.

For a fleeting moment, I wonder if I could …

Her blues eyes are wide, innocent.

She is a child in a woman’s body, and whatever is wrong with me, she has not the crucifix, nor the trust in God to conduct the exorcism necessary.

I feel moved to reach across the desk, lean across, all the way, and touch her cheek, lightly, with the back of my hand.

It is an electric sensation and one that stops her breath short, fascinating.

And that’s when I understood that Sandy had done something for me, even if she didn’t know it herself.

That was the first time I had found that level of fascination I had with Julia - with another.

As I realise that, and as I realise that if I was to touch Sandy’s hair, it would be an extraordinary sensation, riveting in every way, it is as though something is breaking wide open inside of me and a flood of possibilities, of incredible expansion pours into me in an instance.

Julia was not the only one.

She was – the first one.

Teenage Girls

It was raining hard outside, sheeting water, driven by the wind in gusts, like being slapped in the face.

I adored it.

I stood outside Sandy’s office building and turned my face into the weather to get the full treatment, raised my arms high and wide in acceptance and invitation too.

Wonderful.

The world is wonderful.

It is good for a time, then it gets too cold and wet to continue being romantic. The moment has passed. I wipe some water from my nose and with sticky hands, search in my coat pockets until I find the business card Sandy gave me. It is too small and too stiff to be folded into a boat I might set afloat on the torrents of the gutters, so I just bend it in the middle and let the wind and rain take it. The little white triangle twists madly, then plummets and gets stuck to the pavement. People rush by, trample over it, with umbrellas and briefcases held over their heads.

I head for the railway station.

I walk slowly, deliberately, upright like a soldier and in defiance of the weather. It gives me a sense of superiority over those who scramble and skit like frightened cockroaches by the side of the buildings. It’s only rain, for God’s sake. What are you going to do when it rains fire, brimstone and ashes?

Inside the railway station, it is strangely quiet, even though the wind scrapes and rustles over the Victorian cast iron and glass roof, and the rain beats against the structures. It is cold and drafty, and I have to use quite a bit of willpower not to walk any faster towards the pub come café at the far end. I’ll be able to get a cup of coffee there, perhaps something to eat. Sit down and get a cigarette. And damn it, I might even have a brandy with it, medicinal, you know.

It’s not every day you have a mystical revelation.

I’m not the only one who had the idea of sitting out some of this weather in the café. Three other people are pushing for the door ahead of me, and the place is packed. Not an empty table in sight. Damn it.

I hear a high pitched voice to my right and turn to see that there is a waitress, a fat woman in her forties accosting a pair of teenage girls, one of mixed race, the other goth vampire white with bright red hair, who are sitting at a table in the far right corner, by the window out into the station.

I move closer.

“Either you order something, or you will have to leave,” the fat waitress says aggressively. “There are paying customers waiting for these tables.”

Two extremely empty coffee mugs and an ashtray overflowing with match thin, tiny ends of self rolled cigarettes tell the rest of the story.

I don’t even think, it just happens as though it was a scene in a movie, perfectly pre-scripted, pre-ordained.

I push past the waitress and address the girls, brightly.

“Hi guys, sorry I’m so late. Have you had dinner without me yet?”

They look up at me with an identical movement of their heads, an identical expression in their faces, a ballet that is the more poignant for one is so dark and curly, and the other so pale and straight. There is a flashing eye contact with the dark one, beautiful eyes, light, green perhaps or hazel, and she says loudly, “No, we’ve been sitting here for ages and they were just about to throw us out, can you believe it.”

The fat woman in the tight yellowish coverall squints at me. She is suspicious, doesn’t like the girls, doesn’t like me, wants us all to be gone. I can see her starting to take a breath.

I intercept.

“Three mugs of coffee and the menu please. Oh, and do you sell cigarettes?”

The waitress crumbles. She shakes her head, takes out an order pad and a pencil from her pocket and writes on it, mumbles, “There’s a machine in the back,” shakes her head again and leaves, defeated.

I take my seat at the table. I’m dripping wet. I get up again and take off my coat, drape it over the back of the seat, sit down again. The two girls are watching me with intense interest, cautious interest. They look exotic, strange, as though they had been put together from many different things. Interesting. Their clothes too appear to be an eclectic selection of items not usually found on the high street – artistic with jumble sales and thrift shops? And between them, only enough money to buy two mugs of coffee. I smile to myself as I fish backwards for my cigarettes and lighter in the drenched coat.

There’s only two cigarettes left.

I show them this and say, “I’d offer you one but there’s only one after this one, and I need this one right now.”

The two exchange a fast glance but both smile.

“Hand it over,” says the pale one and holds out a very long, very slim hand with many silver rings on the slender fingers, even one on her thumb.

I give her the packet and light up.

“I’m Nick,” I say.

The dark one nods and answers, “I’m Kenyah. And Sage.”

I smile and draw on my cigarette. It is delightful, breathing deeply, feeling the shift sideways that tells you you are safe, you are alright. You’ve made it this far, you’ve made it through again.

Fair Sage with the long straight red dyed hair has produced a battered tobacco packet which is clearly empty apart from a few stray grains trapped in the corners and is expertly disemboweling my last cigarette. It is fascinating to watch her long bejewelled fingers at work as she divides the tobacco into two equal portions on two cigarette papers and makes my one last smoke into two.

The café around us is noisy, milling, loud. Loud voices, loud clanking of dishes and cutlery from the serving area, loud orders being called, chairs being scraped. Yet where we are, here in this corner by the window, there is a sense of oasis, of calm, of not being a part of this madness at all.

Sage has handed her friend the first roll up but her friend doesn’t light up; she waits until Sage has made her own, then she produces a pink lighter and both girls take their light from a single flame which puts their heads together, a fascinating picture in the soft grey light from the window, enchanting, exotic.

They look up at me and I just smile back at them. They are wonderful, an absolute find on this unusual day, on this extraordinary day. I’m a very lucky man.

We say nothing at all and eventually, the waitress arrives with the coffees, and I can’t wait to get into mine. For some reason, all my senses seem heightened, and the hot coffee with all three miserly sugar portions provided here becomes a revelation of delight. I can feel the aroma on my tongue, feel the rim of the cup sensuously against my lips, and as I swallow carefully, feel it radiating down and through every part of my body, making me tingle, making me feel wonderfully relaxed and alive at the same time.

I am a very lucky man. This would never have worked if I was deformed, or ugly. But I am not. I’m good looking, so I’m told. I have a straight nose, eyebrows that don’t need plucking, good skin. I’m not too tall and not too short, not too dark and not too fair, not too skinny and not too fat – I’m Goldilock’s choice, for I’m just right. It really helps in so many ways. From getting jobs to picking up women, you even get better service in restaurants, in shops. The world is totally and utterly prejudiced towards beauty, towards regularity.

I focus in on Kenyah. She is a stunning beauty with her exotic long dark curls that partially hide her face and features, but not enough to not give you a glimpse of her face – it is unique, cat like, with those startling light coloured eyes, her big, sensuous lips and that smooth, creamy golden complexion. She is wearing beads of many colours around her throat, and a purple and pink silk scarf that has seen better days, frayed at the ends with some of the tassels missing, a tight short black leather jacket which is likewise battered and bruised, as though it once belonged to a fighter pilot and it went through the wars with him. He may have died but his jacket survived, and here it is today, in this café, embracing this extraordinary girl.

“So where did you come from, Nick?” Kenyah inquires and her friend Sage giggles, for there is an undertone in her silky voice. These two are no strangers to strangers making a play for them, I wager; and they’re not bought so easily, because either one would have no trouble earning themselves a couple of hundred quid right here in this railway station within the hour, if not within minutes. Yet they’re completely broke and that is just fascinating.

“I’ve just come from a session with my psychotherapist,” I tell her and play with the handle of my mug. “What about you?”

Both girls laugh at that and seem to wake up, seem to manifest more tightly on the other side of the table. I’ve caught their interest. Excellent.

“Oh,” says Kenyah with a giggle still in her voice, “We’re just hanging around. How was – the psychotherapist?”

I note with interest that she doesn’t struggle with the word, pronounces it easily. She’s not stupid, not dead wood and not afraid of long words. Kenyah rises in my estimation.

“She was very short, incredibly uptight and looked like an air hostess,” I say and that produces another snigger from the girls. I decide to keep it going. “I think I won’t be going back there. I shall have to find another way of solving my problem.”

The girls exchange a look and move slightly closer together – it is just a fractional leaning in that would probably have gone quite unnoticed by most people, but then, I’m not most people. I watch. I listen. And I learn.

The unspoken communication between the two girls has produced a result. Sage is authorised by the group mind that is both of them to go forward into the breach, dear friend.

Carefully, she says, “So what’s your problem?”

I smile brightly. I can’t help myself. This had been the turning point, and the dice had fallen in my favour. Boy, oh boy. When I’m good, I’m very, very good.

“I’m trying to find a way to fall out of love.”

Two pairs of eyes widen at this intelligence and Sage actually says, “Wow,” in an awed tone of voice. They are riveted on me again, searching me. They want to know more.

I pick up the empty cigarette packet from the table and shake it. “Before we can get into that, I really need some more cigarettes. Could you get us some more cigarettes?” I ask Sage directly and she nods unconsciously, outside of her own awareness, even before she asks, “Do you have any money?”

“Yeah, sure.” I dig for my wallet, take out a twenty and hand it to her. “The waitress said the machine’s at the back somewhere. You’ll have to get change.”

Sage takes the money with her slim white fingers and smiles at me, pushes the chair back and leaves on her task.

She is very tall, very elongated, but has large breasts and a rounded behind that waves invitingly to me in her tight, faded jeans as she weaves her way through the tables and chairs with their immaterial inhabitants.

Kenyah breaks me out of my revelry by moving around in her seat, stretching her arms up, yawning. The movements cause her jacket to split open and she is showing me her breasts, bra free, nicely outlined under a tight black T-shirt that is cut into a deep V at the front.

I smile to myself. The competition for my favors has thus begun. Before long, those two best friends will be rolling around on the floor, scratching each others eyes out or sneaking around behind each others back to make their way to my bedroom. A hundred thousand years of so called evolution, but some things just never change.

Kenyah yawns, stretches some more, rubs her hair. She has succeeded in taking my attention away from her friend and I’m quite fascinated by her – a cat goddess in Salvation Army finery, very Leonard Cohen, worthy of a song. I look forward to touching her golden skin, scenting it, creating sensations upon her as though I was playing a finely tuned instrument …

I blow out a breath through pursed lips and need to stabilise myself by holding on to the table briefly. And then it strikes me with force that I’m here, chatting up these two girls, as though nothing was wrong at all, as though Julia never happened. That thought is just – astonishing, extraordinary. Frightening, even. In a kind of panic, I try for something familiar – a familiar scene involving Julia, one that always would bring it all back to me, that would possess me, absorb me, that time when we were standing at the side of the road and it started to snow …

The memory is there, but it isn’t as overwhelming as I remember it. It isn’t as holy as I remember it and, man, I don’t believe this! I would rather look at Kenyah again, right here and now, and I want to push the memory aside, like you would want to draw a curtain that stands in the way of seeing what’s outside the window..

I have to lean back in the chair and close my eyes. I’m in vertigo. It is really true, it really has happened – I’ve fallen out of love with Julia.

My God. Oh my God. It can be done, it was done – but how?

How did that happen? When did it happen? What made it happen? It can’t have been Sandy, she didn’t do a damned thing. Or did she?

I’m really confused now and my heart is beating fast. Kenyah is saying something but I don’t hear what she’s saying. I feel myself starting to sweat and there’s a deep trembling inside of me that seems to grow, seems to want to encompass me completely.

Then Sage pushes through to our table and cheerfully and loudly drops a cigarette packet in front of me, rains down coins and change, and I look up at her, try to find a focus in her, a haven in her soft brown eyes and I hear myself saying weakly, “I think I’m having a panic attack.”

Gypsy Rose

It is Wednesday, 9pm, twentyonehundred hours sharp.

I am standing outside an ordinary looking house in a residential part of town – not too poor and not too rich, just right for Goldilocks.

It is misty; the night is dense and I am so displaced, so dislocated, I feel like a ghost or as though I was just dreaming.

The front door is painted blood red, or perhaps that’s just the way it seems in this light, streetlights are yellow, they distort the hue. I can’t fix the colour of the front door in my mind so I concentrate on the number, 23, big brass numerals and a door knocker, no bell.

I stand there, listen to the sound of the taxi disappearing in the mist and merging with the rushing background streams of sound, muffled sirens far away, sounds like New York when it’s supposed to be a quiet little English town …

The door makes a noise, then it opens.

A woman of perhaps fifty years of age, stout and dressed in black slacks and t-shirt, bare feet and brown hair dusted with silver looks at me. She must have heard the taxi.

She looks strange in this light or perhaps it’s just me, most likely it’s just me.

I woke up at some point this afternoon and I couldn’t remember where I’d been or what had been happening, couldn’t remember the day before or the night before that, like you don’t remember a dream when you wake up from it, but I did know that I had an appointment at twentyonehundred hours, at twentythree Saylon Place, with Gypsy Rose, relationships a specialty.

I put my hands in the pockets of my jacket and shiver as I breathe the night mist. I take a hesitant step closer to where red light is escaping from the door, around her head and rounded shoulders, under her arms.

She says calmly, “So. Have you come to kill me too?”

Everything is hard.

Everything hurts.

Everything is wrong.

I am scared, alone.

There is a voice.

“Hey,” it says softly.

I won’t open my eyes, I don’t want to see anything.

I am starting to cry, I can feel it but I don’t know how that is happening or why.

There is a touch on my hair, a woman’s touch, loving.

I cry more.

“Come,” says the voice, “Come inside. It is dark and soon, it will rain.”

The hand slides under my neck and encourages me more than it lifts or pushes; I try to get up, turn around, find my feet and still I can’t open my eyes.

“Watch the step,” the soft voice says and guiding hands and arms help me up the stair and across the threshold. Warmer. Smoky.

Sanctuary.

I am half sitting, half lying on a leather sofa and the soft voice has given me a long stemmed glass filled with red wine to drink.

I won’t open my eyes still and I like the soft voice and the soft touches it gives; I like the sofa warming to me; I like the wine, harsh and round at the same time.

I like the scent of the room, sandalwood and something else, mysterious and soothing or just different to the places where I don’t want to be and here, I don’t need to see or remember anything.

I can hear the soft voice moving around, even when she doesn’t speak; a little while later, music drifts into the room, simple music with a simple beat, quiet, background music, a sound track for a movie, a movie for the visually impaired or those who cannot bear to raise their lids.

The soft voice speaks.

“Tell me your name,” it says. It says that, there is no question mark, this is a statement and I find this confusing. The wine glass is in my hand so I drink a little more. My stomach is cramped and deadly cold, I wish it would accept this offering, this blessing.

“My name is Nick,” I tell the voice. That was a good move; my stomach uncurls a little and I have a sense that the wine is now allowed to enter, medicine received.

But this is no cure for as soon as I try to take a breath, and although my eyes are still closed, or perhaps even because of it, flashes of images, of scenes explode in my vision – flashes of chaos, flashes of blood.

I cry out and drop the wine, hold my hands in front of my eyes and try to claw the visions away, these images …

“Nick,” says the voice and it isn’t soft now but commanding; rings in my ears but it spins the visions too, “Nick, open your eyes. Do it now.”

I can’t help it, I do as I’m told, and I open my eyes and see the face of the woman before me, Gypsy Rose, and she said, have you come to kill me too, and I know, I know even though I don’t know how, that I have killed someone, I am a murderer and I can’t believe that, it’s not possible, but it’s true.

“Help me,” I say to her, “Please, help me.”

Her eyes are dark in this light, low light, red light; her eyes are dark and enormous and she says, “I don’t know if I can, Nick. It’s possible that it’s all too late, now.”

I look away from her and tears are coming again to my eyes; I wish she hadn’t said that, I wish she’d said something else, and still I am glad she was truthful, she told the truth as she saw it and that was something, something important, an island in an ocean of uncertainty.

“Who – whom … have I killed?” I ask her and my voice is broken, breathless.

She keeps her gaze steady at me; there is no fear there, no anger, no reproach, just a sadness or a compassion as she answers in her gentle voice, “Sandy, you killed Sandy, didn’t you. And there are others, were others, weren’t there?”

Sandy. The airline stewardess. I see her sitting behind her desk in the office, tucked back against the wall, and she is terrified of me. Her hand is sneaking away, reaching for something – a mobile phone, there is a pink mobile phone tucked by the side of the printer, I can just see the edge of the number pad sticking out.

I blink away, awake and I am back in the red room with Gypsy Rose. We are both on the floor, on a deep carpet before the sofa; she is kneeling by my side, facing me.

I see the glass on the carpet, a way to my left.

“I’m sorry I spilled wine on your carpet,” I say to her.

She gives the smallest shake of her head, gets up in flowing motion that belies her size and her age and retrieves the glass; she takes the bottle from a side table and refills it for me, holds it out to me.

Then she pours the rest of the bottle into her own glass and turns to me, says, “To staying alive,” and raises her glass in a toast.

I have to smile just a little and likewise raise my glass to her. “To staying alive, indeed,” I say. I can’t think at the moment so I might as well drink.

We both drink deeply from our glasses, keep drinking and until they are both empty at the same time. Perhaps I should tell her that I have a problem with alcohol. Perhaps she knows that already, being a psychic and everything …

“Are you really a gypsy?” I ask her.

She smiles at me and says, “Half. On my mother’s side. My father was a policeman.”

I have to smile as well and say, “Did he arrest her on their first meeting?”

Her smile deepens as she responds, “That would have been romantic – a little too romantic for the kinds of people they both were.”

I am flirting with this woman. I am a serial killer and I am flirting with a half gypsy who says she’s psychic and who sent me directly to her friend, the stewardess psychologist, God rest her soul.

What am I to do with that?

What am I to do with this information, with this situation?

“Why did you let me in?”

The question stands in the room for a while.

Then she says, “My real name is Anne, you know.”

“Are you psychic, Anne?”

She looks me straight in the eye and says, “I am. But that doesn’t mean I know everything.” She raises an eyebrow, looks down at her empty glass. “I need some more wine for this – conversation.”

She gets up and swiftly flows from the room; she moves so fast, and extremely quietly on her bare feet.

I can hear cupboard doors clanging, then a drawer behind the music which is still playing softly; and I’m glad she’s coming right back with a new bottle of red wine and the corkscrew.

“Do the honours,” she says and holds out both to me. I put down my glass and take the bottle, trap it between my legs and set to taking to top of, slicing through the metal with the sharp point of the corkscrew.

I have so many questions. So many questions. And there are only some to which Anne might know the answer. Let me focus on those alone for now.

“So your friend Sandy, she is dead?”

She sighs deeply and pulls her feet up on the sofa she is sitting on; it is at right angles to the one in front of which I’m still sitting on the carpet.

“She was murdered two days ago, on Monday. Beaten to death with her own laptop. A bloodbath, I was told.”

For a single second, there are those flashes again, silver, red and white but I shake my head and concentrate on the cork screw and the wine bottle.

“And you think it was me who did it?” I ask, slowly and in time with the turning of the cork screw.

She gives a little sound that may have been a laugh or a snort and replies, “I know it was you. And so does the police. They just don’t know your name yet, or where to find you.”

I pull and the cork pops out with soft thud. I take my time to extract it from the metal spiral, then I ask her the crucial question.

“Did you not tell them you referred me to her?” I called Anne on my cell phone. They surely could have traced me home from there by now.

“I didn’t tell them anything at all about you.”

I find that strange, incomprehensible. “You said she was your friend. You say you are psychic. Did you not know that I was dangerous, that I might dangerous? Did you miss that?”

Anne sighs deeply, picks up her glass and holds it towards me. I have to get up on my knees and crawl a way towards her to be able to fill the glass. She is smiling as she looks down at me in this very servile position and there is a flash of something between us, something sensual, something sexual which catches the breath in the back of my throat and makes my hand a little unsteady. I have to concentrate to finish the filling of her glass and retreat to safety but stay on the floor, don’t get back onto the sofa.

She is smiling a little as she is watching me; she felt it too and there is a something about her that tells me that she is not unused to such situations, that she is quite aware of her power to seduce, to hypnotise, to take things just wherever she chooses to take them, for the better, for the worse.

“I had a feeling about you, I felt that you needed help, and needed it badly. Well, I guess you did. I guess where I was wrong was who was going to be able to help you.” Anne sighs and drinks from the glass by dipping her head down towards it rather than raising it. “I always thought of Sandy as very capable and safe, what with her professional training, referral networks and that great big table between her and her clients.”

I have to laugh a little at that, but also I am struck absolutely by her utter lack of remorse, or guilt at having taken part in this matter. It was her fault that I went to see Sandy. That I went to see Sandy, and that I killed Sandy.

I can’t believe that I can kill anyone. But I think I did. I think I did pick up her laptop and beat her to death with it. I remember that I thought how useful it was that the laptop was both a weapon and a shield which protected me from the blood splatter, that all I had to do was wash my hands and I’d be fine.

"I don't remember," I say out aloud to keep my train of thought, "I - sort of know things about that, but I don't remember doing it." I briefly glance over to her and find that she is looking at me, calmly and steadily. Should she not be afraid of me?

I am afraid of me.

In fact, I am terrified and becoming more so. I must drink. I refill my glass right to the top and suck the wine into myself with desperation.

Anne sighs and draws me out of myself. I see her sliding off the sofa, onto the floor, a python movement that brings her closer to me, in many different levels. She pulls her feet in, leans her head on her knees.

"Do you believe?" she asks me.

Do I believe?

Believe what?

I don't know what she means by that. The wine is swirling around in my stomach, I think I'm holding it there, don't want it to pass any further, fill a hole there, make me feel better. I am in no state for a conversation, for philosophy over a glass of red wine. I am tired and I am a murderer and any moment now, that thing might happen again and I'll be somewhere else altogether but in this house, and on this carpet, there lies another dead woman and it was me who did it.

I place the wine glass up onto the low table, very carefully, keep it from falling, keep it from harm, then I let myself fall sideways, curl up, hold my hands over my eyes and wish myself away.

Ocean Shores

I wake up with a brutal shaft of sunlight directly into my eyes.

Where the hell am I?

What is this?

My eyes are watering in the brightness but I make out some things - red, black, gold. I am still in that room, that woman's room who calls herself Gypsy Rose, on the floor on that thick carpet, and there is a pillow, and a blanket.

I need a piss.

It is a blessing to get away from this light, in truth a single ray of sunshine that has broken in through a small gap in the thick curtains, and found my face. The rest of the room and the hallway are less painful and I find the downstairs toilet, relieve myself, yes, that's a relief, that's something good, I can still feel something other than this dull ache of displacement and the tiredness that doesn't seem to ever really go away.

Where is Rose?

I think it's early.

I creep out into the hallway again, and listen. From upstairs, I can hear something - was is that? Someone snoring. Rose. I bet its her. And I bet there isn't anyone else in this house, well, perhaps a cat or something.

I'm not sure if that's a grin I feel on my face or what as I'm creeping up the stairs, slowly, on bare feet - where are my shoes? Did she take them off? - stepping carefully on the wall side of the threads so it doesn't squeak too much. Wooden stairs. I've forgotten how much I missed them.

Her snoring makes me smile and reminds of something, I'm not sure what, perhaps a feeling of familiarity or home, I don't know. It makes it easy to find her. I open the door to her bedroom carefully and quietly.

The brightness outside doesn't penetrate here; this room is really dark, allowing its occupant to sleep through the day if required. I had a feeling she would often do that, commune with the spirits in the night and then sleep the whole day long, to emerge yet again when dusk softens everything, soothes everything, even the lines of age in her face.

She is asleep but I know that she knows I am here; the snoring stops and she is moving, turning over, turning towards me.

Her bed seems vast but as my eyes widen with my other senses I become aware that it isn't a bed but a very large mattress with many layers of quilts and duvets - it is a platform nest, intensely inviting and soft, and it won't make any noise, no matter how hard one would throw oneself upon it.

I rub my hands over my hair, my face.

It sure looks comfortable.

I am still so tired.

And I am lonely.

I don't want to wake her; she is breathing deeply, rhythmically like an ocean shore, the waves coming and receding, so hypnotic, and I feel myself falling down inside myself, see the fish with the coloured scales but there are many now and they are playing in a dark ocean ...

Softly, I close the door behind me and the sheltering darkness becomes complete. Softly, I take the two steps to the bed and gently I settle myself down upon it, sinking into it deeply, finding a position next to her but without touching her; she is underneath the quilt and I am on top of it, so it's all proper and good.

I settle down and watch her face emerge from the darkness, vague and pale and so relaxed, and I close my eyes and lie by the ocean, lie in comfort at last, and fall asleep.

Memories

My memories are …

Even there, words fail me.

It is a very strange thing to not be sure what you remember, what you don't; to have to guess at what might be real and what might be a nightmare.

There are things going on in my mind that I don't understand.

There are processes taking place which are extraordinary, and some of them are very beautiful, very beautiful indeed.

They are mysterious and take me to a place I have never been before, not for all the drugs I took, the shamanic voyages that were just binges, really, get off your head, find yourself and come to your senses …

I should be more afraid I think, I should be more horrified. I should be more disturbed by it all but it's a beautiful show, what can I say?

It's strange and new and different, and in a way I welcome that, embrace it wholeheartedly, it is better than what there was before, whatever that was. I'm not sure I remember in detail just the fact that it bored me.

It bored me to death.

There was no joy in it, there were no colours, and the feelings were excuses for feelings, not the real deal.

I like the way my memories flash like comets in the night sky, like northern lights, illuminated curtains showing this or that, flowing light, mystical light, and I wonder if I might have a brain tumour and that's why I am going mad and killing people.

Killing women.

Julia.

Did I kill you, Julia?

Did I?

I am in bed with Gypsy Rose, and at some point as the day turned into dusk, we made love. It was exquisite, excruciating, it was like nothing I've ever done or felt or been before. I was … transformed, I was … inhuman, I believe that I became exactly what she wanted me to be, exactly what she needed me to be, what she had dreamed of all her life that one day might come to pass, that something like me would visit upon her once, just once before she died.

She lies very still, very, very still.

There is no resonance from her at all, just a fading sense of warmth, a scent of life, remembered.

She knew that I was going to kill her even as she let me into her house, her home.

She knew that. We both did. But there was a bargain to be struck, there was a reason, was a rhyme, she wanted to know happiness before she died, and happiness she found, and what a happiness that was.

I am astonished that I could give such gifts, I didn't know I had it in me to procure such blessings through my body as the gifts of joy and death, the ultimate healing, the end of all your sorrows and the start of something else entirely, gold and blue perhaps, who is to know?

Anne, I say to her in my mind, I wish you hadn't made me do this, I wish you hadn't taken such advantage of my youth so I would be your stairway to the stars.

How could you leave me here?

How could you leave me here with your body, and now you won't take my phone calls any more, you won't answer me if I try to gain your attention, you look right through me, straight ahead, as though I wasn't even here.

Even as I think it I sigh, shake my head. I'm feeling sorry for myself. Anne was smart. She took the opportunity, rode the lightning, used me up and now, she's gone.

Now I too must go.

And I must go in a new way, in a different way.

I can't return to my house, there is no safety for me on this level any longer.

She did not tell them who I was but soon enough, they'll know, and they will try to come for me.

I can't let that happen.

I can't be found.

I can't be stopped.

Because it is becoming clearer by the minute that there is still much work that I have left to do.

And So ...

99 ways to fall out of love.

I love it.

It was funny to think that there was a man once, a man who was transforming into someone else, and he mistook so many things for so many things.

Julia, well, that was the beginning, wasn't it.

The beginning and the end for who I used to be, no that's not right, for the shell, the egg I was, the caterpillar slowly creeping through life with little thought as what comes after eating all those leaves, just eat leaves, crawl, eat more leaves …

You know how it is.

That night when I killed Julia I unfolded my wings for the first time.

They were huge and iridescent, ultraviolet – they scared me, it scared me, it was probably too much for that little caterpillar that just wanted to eat leaves, and crawl, and eat more leaves …

It was so wonderful.

I went to see Julia.

She was terrified of me and yet, she let me in.

I talked to her with the voice of a priest, with the voice of an angel.

I stroked her with my light and she submitted, as in truth we both knew all along, for she herself was a caterpillar just the same, and she needed me to set her free.

It was my first attempt and I didn't know what I was doing then, I didn't take it all the way, she lived and her caterpillar self went to the police station and accused me of rape.

Her caterpillar self went back the next day to withdraw the charges, tell them she made it up, she was angry, I had cheated on her.

Then she came back to where I waited for her, and we finished what we started.

Yes, I killed Julia.

Of course I did.

I freed her, helped her transformation – that is my job of course, that is what I'm here for, that's my pleasure and my burden both.

Because inside the caterpillar people there are trapped these others, these others who have wings and who need to fly, but something bad has happened, they are stuck, they are stuck in these endless lives and can't get free, and desperation mounts, and they get born and yet reborn again but never can they rise; it grates on them, it brings them down, and they need me or one like me to come and finally catalyse the grand transformation, so they can rise into the night on wings of purest aluminium light, their faces now immortal mercury that shimmers in the radiance of all the stars, of all the singing.

They never turn around and wave farewell to me, their saviour and their salutation, they simply leave, and leave me here, but that's alright, to see them free is joy incarnate, excarnate, well beyond the joy of flesh, and yet, there is that too, there is a most delicious grand conjunction as I love them, and I set them free.

And so I move through time and space, I do my duty where I find it.

You might see me one day, sitting on a river bank, and if you are amongst those who simply cannot turn their gaze away, and have to walk across to me, make yourself known to me, you are a lucky one.

I am untouched now by the caterpillar's law.

They cannot see me, cannot know me; I am just slightly shifted so they walk right past me, and they never feel me there.

I am in many cities, many lands.

There are but few who need my help; it is a most specific thing, a resonance that calls me to the right one, just when time is right.

And now, I leave no trace of me; don't leave a puzzle or a trail behind; for now they go and there is nothing to suggest the actions of another which may cause their passing.

The older I get, the more I can see.

There are others like me here.

That was most amazing, not surprising yet to see a one like me, the first one I ever saw, that was a moment …

We stopped and knew each other, saw each other, angels of mercy on our separate paths, and yet our mission was the same.

We hesitated, but then we briefly joined with one another, and talked about the many questions that we have remaining, why it is that it is us and no-one else that does this work; how we have deserved such grace of service; and indeed and most of all, what happens next.

I know what happens next.

I can feel it now, I can know it.

Each one that I give wings, that I give the opportunity to unfold their wings and rise away from all of this for good, they give me something in return.

Yes, there is payment.

Yes, there is gratitude.

Yes, there is reward.

Each one gives me a something of themselves, a something I enfold with loving care and gently place it in a special place, and with every one, I become … more.

I am changing, shifting, and I see that this my kind has many levels yet to reach and grow into, to understand, and to traverse.

I need these new leaves for I am a caterpillar still, and I suspect, we all are, on our various stages and the lives are leaves, and so I fly from one to the next, and so in that way, nothing much has changed.

Or has it?

I am so beautiful, so very radiant.

I think of Anne and there is a regret that I was not what I am now for her; it is small comfort to accept that even then, I was her dreams come true, her true salvation and her knight in shining armour.

If only she could see me now!

A hundred years, a thousand years, a thousand lives and so much more, and I am growing still, and soon the day will come, I know it will, and I will meet the last one, the final one, the one who holds it in their soul to give to me what I did give to all of them – the freedom of the new unfoldment, the next level, what might it be?

Ah but we cannot know, it is unknowable and even though I know so many things and do suspect a great deal more, I am aware that this is just the start.

Each one now could be my last.

Each one now could be that grain of sand that makes the mountain fall, that changes everything, that takes me out and up upon my own amazing journey.

Each one is becoming ever more sharply defined, ever more exciting.

And even when it is the case once more that this was not the one, each one is getting better than the one before, an upward lifting spiral that is coiling tighter, tighter, getting ready to explode with such ferocity that the skies will shatter in my birth, in our birth, for I am now no longer one, I am me and all the others, all the other lives, and you could say, my name is legion.

--------------- Ends -----------------