This is where I put anything that isn’t genre fiction. I hope to come up with a more positive description than that as I go along
Will she? I doubt it. She will see my case history, my test results and my short, painful future but she will not see me. I no longer permit myself to be seen.
“Mr Doyle, please take a seat.”
She waits for me to ask but I’ve already seen the answer in her eyes. To her credit, she does not look away and she does not smile.
“No surprises then?” I say, automatically keeping the tone light, as if we were discussing this week’s football results.
“No. The latest tests confirm the earlier prognosis.”
I know I should be asking questions: is she sure the results are accurate? Is there anything else that can be done? How long do I have left?
I stay silent. I am not being petulant. I’m not in denial. I researched these questions weeks ago. Now the data is in and there is nothing left to ask.
“Would you like to discuss your palliative care options?”
Palliative from the Latin palliare, to cloak. I image the opiates in my bloodstream folding themselves around my consciousness like a cloak against the wind, keeping the pain away, offering me sleep as a benign segue into no longer needing to wake.
“Thank you, Doctor.” I force a smile. “I’m familiar with the drill.”
“Yeh. I told you he was hot. Wait ’til you hear the Brit accent. He could read my grocery list aloud and make it sound sexy. When he reads from his erotica stuff I turn into a puddle.”
I’d let Molly drag me along to her Creative Writing class to see her latest lust object, partly so I could get her to shut up about him and partly because the title of the lecture intrigued me: “To Boldly Cliché – going where other writers fear to tread.” I’d heard a lot of clichéd lectures in my time, but I’d never known a lecturer who advertised that they were doing it on purpose.
“So,” Molly said, almost fizzing with excitement. “Waddaya think of him?”
She was right of course, he was hot. But I wasn’t going to give that to her straight away. Besides, there was something off about the guy; something that wasn’t what it seemed; something that was maddeningly familiar but which I couldn’t name.
“Well, he certainly looks like a cliché. I’d say he’s playing tall dark handsome stranger, pretending to be an academic.”
“You think the geek-glasses are fake?”
“Well, even if they’re real, the tweed jacket with patches on the elbows is way too ‘central casting’ to be authentic, even for a Brit.”
Molly didn’t look pleased at my description, so I threw in a rider: “The jacket does fit him rather well though doesn’t it?”
Molly smiled, leaned towards me conspiratorially and said, “A body like that would look good in anything. Personally, I’m imagining a thong and a tan. ”
She is smaller and older and more impressive than I had expected. I can see why Nick liked her. Her body could be made of water-sculpted stone, as if life, in brushing against her has reduced her only to beauty.
When she is directly in front of us, she stands still. It is an energetic stillness that speaks of movement constrained by her will. There is no serenity here, just the sense that something is about to happen.
Everyone focuses on her. She looks beyond us as if she can see things that we are blind to. We wait. The silence presses down upon us until it is almost unbearable. Then she speaks.
“Fuck the mind games.”
Her voice is harsh, almost raw, as if it is something she uses only reluctantly.
“Fuck the mind”.
All the stations are playing Jonathan’s songs today. MTV play his three best videos once an hour back-to-back and then flip between a rockumentary of the “Lubed and Loaded” tour and a making-of-the-video for his single, “Now I know why Viagra is blue”.
I’m at the can’t stage: can’t sleep, can’t cry any more, can’t stop thinking about him, can’t forgive him for dying.
Then the song comes on. The only one we ever wrote together. The one everyone thinks is about how we met, but is really about how we would have liked to have met.
I told Jonathan that he’d never sell the song unless he changed the title and half of the lyrics. “You can’t expect MTV to play a song called, ‘She dresses pure country, but she fucks like rock n roll‘” I said.
He just raised an eyebrow and said, in his best British officer-class voice, “Who could possibly object to a song with the word ‘Pure’ in the title?”
I’ve been asked so many times, usually by fat men with cameras in their pudgy hands, “What does it mean, Carol – to fuck like rock n roll?” It used to annoy me. It never bothered Jonathan, he’d just smile at the guy, lean over close as if about to share a secret, and say quietly, “Ask your wife to explain it to you.”
No one ever had to explain it to us. When we were together, sex was the backbeat of our lives, constantly present in every glance, every fleeting touch. When we were alone together, the guitar riffs would start and my blood would sing, clothes would be flung off, limbs would tangle and then he’d be in me or I’d be on him and it was like jamming: picking up a song you knew and seeing where the two of you could take it that it hadn’t been before. You both play and you both listen and you both look in each others eyes and you need to smile so bad that you can’t help but pump up the volume.
I’m heading for hearth and home after a week away. I should be eager to see him. Normally I look forward to that moment when he first sees me and his face lights up and he sweeps me into his arms with boyish enthusiasm, claiming me as his and letting the whole world see that I am loved. Now all I can think about is whether he’ll know.
How the fuck did I let this happen?
I pull the sleep-mask over my eyes, push the little yellow earplugs in and try to be nowhere at all, but my mind will not cooperate and soon my memory is playing the movie of my week-long fall from grace with the great Temple Hunt.
It flashes past the audition where he’d snared me and the party where I’d offered myself to him on a plate, dragging me back to the limo ride through Manhattan, during which he’d made me give him my panties, as if such a thing was entirely his right
It seems madness to me now, in the isolation of this pressurised cabin but in the limo with the world-famous Temple Hunt beside me, I felt exhilarated, no, honoured to have the same fingers that had produced some of the finest music in the world sliding my panties down my legs.
Knowledge makes you choose.
Knowledge is the source of all guilt.
In my family, we chose not to know; we refused to name the things that were most important to us.
We were masters of inference, innuendo and unnoticed silences. If those failed us we fell back upon evasion, deflection and denial.
By this means we remained a happy family.
The first thing most men see is the leg that isn’t there. Some scan the rest of me as if trying to solve an unexpected puzzle. Few make it as far as my face. Almost none make eye contact and those that do are quick to look away.
I was never a crowd-stopping beauty, but I was young enough and pretty enough for men to give me at least a smile.
I took it for granted before the accident. I’m surprised at how much I miss it now.
Tonight I’m sitting on a bar stool, wearing my sexiest frock and I’m still mostly invisible.
Even after all these years of marriage, Saul still had a moments anxiety that there would be no answer, that Gina would finally have had enough, that the house would be empty, and he would be alone.
“I’m in the kitchen. Careful where you step, there’s glass everywhere.”
He released the breathe he did not realise he’d been holding, put down his suitcase and laptop bag in the hall and dropped his keys and his phone into the square leather tray that Gina had taught him to use. She had bought the tray out of frustration at his endless ability to mislay the things that were most important to him.
Saul had spent the past week adrift amongst strangers in unfamiliar places. He had reached that point where he barely felt connected to the world. He moved through it invisible, weightless, unnoticed. It pleased him to have a designated place to leave his keys and phone. He felt tethered to something strong and real. He was home. Well, almost home. Home waited for him in the kitchen.