leer pressure

Her hesitation flew in the face of the bold wide eyes which slammed from across the dark bar.  Wide eyes which said ‘HEY! Look at me looking at you.  Are you going to do something?’

And I wasn’t all that fussed about doing anything.  She wasn’t unattractive but it was an unorthodox tactic, if it was a tactic, if it was something she was controlling.  Her eyes sort of freaked me out.  Perhaps that was just her way, that gaping, unknowable whiteness in her eyes; that spacey vacancy.

Still, I wasn’t drawn.

I should go and talk to her, my friends told me, make an effort, go over and buy her a drink.  Go on, the two men a handful of years older than me goaded.  I felt like a vicarious medium for them, both domesticated husbands and fathers, like I was their reality show.  Go on, they gurgled excitedly, like their infants, she keeps looking over.

Fucksake.  Partly because I was tired of them, I submitted and headed towards the bar, where Wide Eyes was.   As I did so an unmissable space at the bar opened up further along the bar and I gravitated in that direction instead, quickly ordering an unnecessary extra round of drinks.  I glanced in her direction and we connected eyes again, over a few heads.  Big, spacey, empty eyes.  There was no way out.  Don’t be harsh.  Don’t pre-judge.

I smiled, politely, obviously.  Was I doing whatever I was doing out of politeness?  Or out of a misguided obligation to be the spectacle?  Because she was looking over and saying I should, and because my friends were looking over and saying I should?

It was all excruciatingly loaded now.

But hell, she was female and not unattractive.  I was drunk and ever-single.  It was late Friday night in a bar where this sort of thing happens.  There was no shame.

Or was there?  Was feeling nothing (not even phwoar lust as with the German) yet still buckling limply under other people’s expectations, was that not just a tiny bit shameful?

Hrm.  Best not think too hard.

She weaved down the bar and we began to chat.  Our dialogue didn’t exactly fizz with anything, flirty banter or pace, but it was amiable enough.  She was here, quite drunk, I was quite drunk, also here.  Our friends were looking over; things were obvious.  It felt harrowingly like a school disco.  I was still just a little too sober, too aware.  Wish I’d been like this with the German.  Then I might have remembered at least one single detail.  Other than her being German, which wasn’t that much to go on.

Name, job, EYES, part of town, details, EYES, age (the same, although I’m not sure she believed me – weirdo), details, blah blah.  Vapid, impenetrable, uninteresting.   Or pissed?  Or a little simple?  Or all of the above?  How much did I care?  Anyway, yes, I’m here now, I supposed, my conversation on autopilot, her head bobbing uncertainly close to mine like it was detached from the rest of her body, a fisherman’s float.

There was that faltering hesitance about everything in her style.  Was she just teasing me?  Playing power games like she did with her confident wide eye contact?  I can do anything I want, me.  You’re just Some Bloke.

(Later though, I wondered if the hesitance was anything to do with the huge garlic-laden steak and garlic bread I’d had a couple of hours earlier.  A mate and I had eaten in a fabulous dark and dingey old steakhouse, served by an improbably old head waiter.  I hadn’t addressed the garlic with gum but surely that had been blanketed by booze?)

We re-joined our friends and came back together again.    Would she remember any of this?

A child.  She said she had a child?  Oh ok, right.. um, cool?  What’s his name?  Look at me all sensitive and interested.

The dark bar suddenly became less dark.  Lights!  Her ferocious looking girlfriend ordered that they leave.  Diminutive, a little older and violently Welsh, her friend looked like the kind of person who takes preposterous levels of pride in telling it like it is.

On the street outside my friends, who were near neighbours on the opposite side of town from me, hailed a taxi.  They tipped me a nod and a wink as they left, doubtless feeling like they’d done a good job.  My mobile vibrated with a text I’d read later.  ‘Smash it like Andy Gray.’  Nice boys.

Another cab quickly pulled up for Wide Eyes, Violent Welsh and her party (one other nondescript guy).   I gave her my card, all self-effacingly saying I know you won’t wanna.. but just take it..  The obligation to do that was all my own making, but seasoned with half-hearted Why Not? rather than anything stronger.  She accepted it and kissed me on the cheek – aw, I was just playing with you (?) – then got in the cab.

I shuffled away in the direction of my flat, a confused and drunken string puppet.

Mother and herself

She bemoans my lack of sharing, a distance and independence, yet when you try she’s one of those people who immediately seeks to impart her own frame of reference and glide the conversation back to her.  This makes for an irritating conversational tic in anyone, but for your mother it’s particularly tricky.  You can almost hear her brain scurrying around as you speak: what can I say next about me and however I relate to that.  Where’s my angle?  WHERE!? What tiny irrelevant detail can I use?

No, Mum: here’s something I’m saying and what I feel about it.  It might not be anything of any massive importance, but come on, try out that empathy, no?  Go a little further.  Don’t hijack it and tell me how you experienced something similar, before diving off down a tangential tunnel which will see us in the frozen foods section of Tesco, because you needed peas, and you’d bumped into Maureen Wilmott, you remember Maureen Wilmott?  (Shrug).  Yes you do.  Anyway, she was saying that her son Shane, you remember Shane…

It’s not intentional or as if she’s aware of it and its effect.  I’m sure she’d be mortified if I explained it to her in such terms.  But even then, she still wouldn’t be able to stop it.  It’s an ingrained habit, just what she does, how she interacts with everyone.  I don’t expect change now, it just disappoints and frustrates.

I still find it unfathomable that she was a Samaritan for so long.  Did she employ similar methods when speaking to genuinely suicidal people?  You know, she might have said on the phone to a caller, I felt a bit glum last Thursday when my husband wouldn’t do the washing up because he had a bad back so I always have to pick up after him and…   Oh, they hung up again.

a distressingly disappearing iPod

I returned to the car after a brief survey of my immediate environment, a mere hundred yards or so.  Yes, it’d do, I had surmised.  Plenty of walking potential.  I’d grab the iPod, pay for parking and set off on an improvised wander.  Where was my iPod then?  I’d just clicked it off after putting my boots on.  It’d been playing one of the Guardian Weekly Film Review podcasts, fairly entertaining.  It’d been playing while I laced my boots from the driver’s seat.

Where was it then?  Under the map?  Under my scarf?  Down in the passenger footwell?  Can’t have gone far.  Under the seat, wedged in by the handbrake?  Where the.. f-?  Dropped in the bag, slipped down the side?  On the ground just outside?  I didn’t have it on me when I went for my preliminary mooch and it dropped out somehow?  Doubt it, but..  I retraced my steps and returned to the vehicle, getting nervous and angry and whiney.  Just like my father throwing a frightening temper tantrum.  Where the fuck was the fucking thing?  Under here?  No I checked there already.  Under the seats?  An undignified wiggle along the back seat footwells.  On all fours for a scour under the whole vehicle?  Nothing.  Please not again.  After drowning my first iPod 4G a couple of months ago, this was an insurance one.  Perhaps God didn’t want me to have an iPod 4G.  Or to be happy in any way whatsoever.

Still I squinted and pushed and pulled and tore the contents of my car upside down, even looking in a plastic bag of muddy football boots which lived in the boot, although I knew I’d taken the device nowhere near the boot.  No!  It was JUST HERE!  I was just playing it a few seconds ago!  How could it have possibly gone?  Where?  I was distressed and angry and upset.  iPods are like my children; I really loved this one because it could do so much.  I invested serious time educating it with content: podcasts, music, pictures and videos, audio files and notes and games and books and weird miscellaneous apps.  It contained everything I used to while away my existence, day-to-day.  I was weirdly proud of it and always paranoid about it getting nicked so it barely ever left my side.

Now: poof!  Disappeared in a puff of fucking smoke.  Gone.  Fuck you.

Ok cheers, thanks for that.  The only possible explanation you can think of is that it did drop when you left first time.  And someone from another group parked there, on their way to or from their vehicle, pocketed it.  The cunt.

Being you, when something like this happens you inflate it so it becomes symbolic of how life seems to fuck you over when you’re not expecting it, when you’ve dared to cultivate a delicate optimism.  How it reaches over and back-hands you across the face, pissing itself laughing.  You think perhaps you should never try to do anything like this, though you didn’t think this was all that ambitious or optimistic really.  You think you should just stay home on grey Sunday afternoons and not risk doing anything because it’s safer.  Gremlins can’t get at you.

My original plan was to arc my drive home back via another valley, but fuck that now.  My sense of calm and peace and zen-like cultural absorption was shattered and reduced to a cancerous rubble.   Instead I drove home the way I’d come, as quickly as possible and in stony silence, angry and bitter and careless.  Halfway back I chanced the radio, something soothing, Classic FM.  Because, come on really: it’s just a bloody iPod.  Not the end of the world.   Calm down to some nice..  the presenter’s smug voice piped out: Alex James of Blur.  God he’s an unbearable prick.  I clicked it off immediately and accelerated past a dozy Citroen.


I bitterly sulked like a child for most of the following evening, discomforted too by an increasingly painful lower back, jarred playing football the day before.

On waking the next day I resolved to find the telephone number for the country park and ask if anything had been handed in.  Why hadn’t I gone straight to the park reception when I was there?  It would have been open.  Raking the contents of my car and the ground immediately outside, stress had dwarfed the rational pocket of my brain.  Panic, anger and bitterness had reigned.  “Just go and ask at reception, you idiot!” I needed someone to say.   In the same way someone could have said: “look, there’s no telling how high those waves crossing the causeway actually are.  I’m not getting wet.  How about we just wait here on the island and use a mobile phone to call the sea rescue services?”

When I used to attend job interviews, the “how do you handle pressure?” question always made me smile inside.  I swear and panic don’t think at all clearly and go quite red.  That would be the truthful answer I never gave.

Under duress of a certain kind my brain apparently flips out, allowing the strength of impulsive emotion to dominate.  It concerns me how like my father this is, when I see and feel his worrisome genes so clearly in mine: it’s just one of the reasons why my father scares me, as discussed here before.  At least my tantrums affect only me and I inflict them on nobody else.

But it mightn’t be all too rare amongst men generally.  We need a calm, rational, usually female counterpoint to tell us when we’re being complete idiots.  It’s part of any good, strong partnership.   Probably.

I reported my iPod missing and received a call back half an hour later.  Yes, an amiable sounding Welshman said, an iPod matching my description was found and handed in yesterday afternoon.


stupid blanker

Mmm, she’s crazy hot, purred my sleazy drunken brain.  Across the table, Friend’s droopy eyes looked over at me, disapproving, telling me not to be quite so obvious in my admiration.  We were sitting down on the bar’s comfy seats, her bottom and legs were cutting and thrusting and swooping around at my eye-line.  I couldn’t help admiring and didn’t care.

From there the evening became blurry, and remains so now.  Virtually no words remain; only faint outlines.  Trying to remember is like visiting a gallery where the paintings become gradually soiled and obscured to the point that all you see are the frames, the parts around the edges.  Memory is like that of a silent film I half dozed through.

We’d had a good night up until then across a number of different central venues.  Friend had done his usual painfully tortured ‘oh I really shouldn’t..’ – although we both knew what was on the cards when he unexpectedly called in on my flat at 6pm.  It was Saturday night, his fiancée had gone out with a friend who was visiting.  He was free and notoriously weak where alcohol was concerned.  Opportunities to go out like this are rare for me now, chances to behave like a drunken idiot who’s perhaps a little younger than I am.  I fed Friend a couple of tantalising beers at the flat before suggesting we go the pub.  We hadn’t played any Xbox at all, which must have meant we were growing up.

After attending the birthday party of another friend’s friend in an upstairs function room – a place populated almost exclusively by well dressed, enviably good looking, shiny-faced homosexual men – we made our way back across town into the mainstream district.  We stopped in two pubs before coming to our final destination: a highly swanky looking late-night bar.

We’ve intermittently enjoyed nights like this, here in this city for over ten years; impromptu, long, fuelled to the point of memory blackouts.  While I knew they wouldn’t happen as often as in our early twenties, the chance of them, even if only now and again, incentivised my decision to move back here.

“Five quid entry,” a doorman said as we walked enquiringly towards him.

“Or is it four?” his female colleague asked.

“Three!” I interjected, charged by several large whiskies.   “Two fifty, one pound ten?!  Let’s barter!”  Friend glared disgusted, what-the-fuck-are-you-doing? daggers at me.

But something incredible happened.  They laughed, relented and simply waved us through.  “Go on., before I change my mind,” she said.  We walked in, giggling incredulously.

Memory holds reasonably firmly for an hour or so, before the dancing girl with the body.  Then she’s sitting next to me and we’re chatting.

How did you do that, you genius?

Not a clue.  And I have absolutely no recollection of our conversation.  She’s German and has a German accent.  That’s it.  No memory of her face either.  A loose recollection of her outline and basic, impressive dancing shape, dark wavy hair, but my memory stubbornly refuses to colour in a face of any kind.  There’s only fuzziness around the edges.

Friend is around, maybe chatting to her friends, or sitting on his own in a drunken stupor.  Both are plausible.  She stands up to dance again and there’s a time lapse before she prepares to leave.  Her handful of friends (could have been three, could have been seven), male and female, look all set and mingle around the top of the stairs.  I’m sad she’s leaving.  She approaches me again to say goodbye and I stand, smile, possibly leer, disappointed.  Words must be exchanged but I have no idea what they are.  (I’d guess “nice to meet you”).  I kiss one cheek and pause, then decide to go continental and kiss the other, and pause.  Something must happen in this pause: a raise of her chin, a smile or a look in her eye.  Or maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe I’m just drunk and fearless.  Either way, we’re suddenly kissing properly.

Me!  Dowdy loner bloke!  In a hip late night bar on a Saturday night, drunk, snogging a German female who I’m positive is really quite attractive!  She’s kissing me back!  Quick, someone take a picture to show to my Grandchil.. um, well: Great Niece or Nephew!  (See, I wasn’t always like this).  This might never happen again!

We must break off and smile coyly, no numbers or details exchanged.  Why the hell not?  Did she say she had a boyfriend?  Was she just visiting friends here?  So what?   What was her name?

ANYTHING, brain?  Anything at all?  One slender grain of detail?

Nada, zilch, a big long flatline bastard.

She follows her friends down the stairs and presumably out of the bar.  I make no attempt to follow. (Again, WHY?  Prick.)  I sit back down with Friend, who’s talking to new people.  My intoxication means I’m now riding the crest of legal chemicals and temporary confidence; I’m surprisingly not dumbstruck.  I enter this new conversation with a cocksure gusto, like nothing just happened and I’d forgotten it already.

From here even the edges of memory start to blur.


Knowing that I don’t have a clue what she looks like annoys the hell out of me.  I privately pride myself on being good at remembering faces, being able to quickly identify people even if I only see them for a second.  Earlier that evening a Swashbuckled follower sat behind me in a pub and, not having too many followers, I felt curiously smug.  Then strange and uncomfortable.  I tried explaining this to Friend, who I don’t believe has ever visited a Twitter page.  I couldn’t argue with his deduction, “..fucking weird mate.”

Point is I enjoy my ability to tell immediately who someone is with a half second glance at their mug.  And I’m a decent listener, attentive, and will remember the key details of a conversation and usually more besides – especially if the interlocutor happens to be an attractive female.  I don’t forget.  And I imagine I came across as attentive and interested and not a complete moron, or she wouldn’t have come over to say goodbye.

But it’s academic.  Despite plaintively scrolling through my phone numbers more than once (why are you doing this, you wanker) the upshot is that I have nothing at all.  We must have spoken for a while and were attached at the face for several seconds.  Yet she could plausibly pass me in the street and I wouldn’t have a clue.

This irks me.

whatever that means

“I wanted to fuck you the moment I saw you,” she murmured into my ear.  Shit, really? Nobody’s ever said that before.  And this city’s been slicing my face into scabby pieces lately. Not wanting to alter the atmosphere in any way, I kept quiet and kissed her.

Conversely, I hadn’t wanted to fuck her straight away.  It was the Alice Band: an immediate issue which made me annoyed by my own fussiness with jewellery and accessories.  Back home Alice Bands were exclusively the staple of 12 year old girls or girly-haired European footballers.  Not women.

But by the time she breathed those words into my ear, the next morning, naked in my hotel bed, I did want to fuck her, very much. And I even liked her too.

She’d entered the bar and sat down next to me, wearing that Alice Band – worn to hold curly red hair.  She seemed nice, chatty, human and smart; neither of us perturbed by the unorthodox meeting, the loose online acquaintance but not actually knowing the first thing about each other.

We drank pints and ate burgers, drank more, conversation flowing easily.  She spoke amusingly and with the manner of a charismatic, obviously homosexual man: lots of back and forth shoulder tilting, flappy hand gestures and much use of air quotation marks, which I teased her about.  I was enjoying having company, conversing.  She was fun, the bar was cool and low key, the music good.  Although I wasn’t sure if this was just a pleasant couple of hours and we should be getting back: me to my hotel a few blocks east, her to her small flat a short train ride north.  It was more of a date than I’d anticipated when I suggested meeting up.  But that was fine, and became better than fine.

“Well.. I’m having a fun time,” she said, leadingly, so we moved on elsewhere.  In the next dark sports bar we had tequila and further strong liquors, discussing drinking, local politics, religion and family.  An hour later we tired of that bar and headed out, considering a next venue but not knowing where.  On the street it was bitterly cold.  She shivered and I put an arm around her.

Despite being the local, she was unsure where to go next. “Nothing.. funny, but we could just go back to mine, or..” she trailed away.  I suggested we go back to my hotel, a shorter distance away, just a few blocks.  Nothing.. funny either, I added, chuckling in my head.  She agreed.  In the room I generously poured from the bottle of Sour Mash bourbon bought from Moe’s Liquor Store in Sheboygan Falls earlier that week.

She flopped down onto the near-side of the bed.  I made to leap over and rest the other side of her, louche and athletic: a poor idea made worse by a misjudged leap and bounce off the far side of the bed and onto the floor.  It was clearly unintended and less than smooth.  She laughed.  We were both drunk and fuzzy.  I clambered back on the bed
and lay next to her, embarrassed and flustered, any cool I had extinguished in that moment.

We breathed and sipped at the bourbon.  What now?

“We could get naked and get in bed?” she nonchalantly suggested.

“But what would my wife say?” I whispered straightfaced.

A nervous giggle, a pregnant pause for thought.

My turn to laugh.  I assured her, agreed to her suggestion and hoped she’d take off the Alice Band.


Around midmorning, that stupendously filthy murmur suggested her headache had eased.  These were times of therapy for a man of fragile ego.

Midday saw glaring Chicago sunlight punish the curtains.  She rested warmly against me, now freshly showered and slowly preparing to leave. No great urgency.  I played with her hair.  The night before had been made easier by the transience of the situation: the time-sensitive One Night Only Offer.  Nothing had mattered all that much, nothing had any real consequence.  In two days’ time I’d be gone, a long way away, unlikely to ever return.

That’s unless feeling develops, if there’s any sense of mutual feeling, if raw courage is acted upon.  This is less likely with sober, pragmatic characters already encroached on their thirties.  Those who know they should stop playing games and start being serious, whatever that means.

Let it go.  Frivolously skim back across the ocean and remember it fondly.  Accept it for what it was: a night with someone you found you liked, albeit for a brief period, someone you had a good time with.  Be content to smile at the memory: that spectacular death of your cool; that you were both naked in bed before you’d even kissed; the quirky unorthodoxy of it all.  Be grateful for her unknowing illumination of your ridiculously unsuitable previous female hope.

Use the knowledge to go forward and hope that these type of meetings – for this isn’t entirely without precedent – isn’t as good as you can ever hope for.  Hope that you stop being so pathetically grateful for attention from any female with a combination of looks and intelligence.  Learn to stop excitedly sledgehammering square shapes into round holes like an overzealous recruitment consultant.  It’ll be fine, it can work, IT WILL WORK!

Move on now.

Let it go when you kiss her for the last time and smile and say something meaningless and she leaves the room and the heavy hotel door clunks shut behind her.  Let it slide and blur and fade.  Just like that.  Easy.

Lying there together in those final minutes, absently twirling one of her curls around a forefinger, perhaps it was because nothing mattered all that much, because nothing had any consequence: perhaps that made it sadder.

unfinished books and a nice excerpt

I’ve been starting too many books lately with only a faint commitment to finishing, or even reading much of them.  This has been born from completing but only enjoying two thirds of my book before last (Emma Donoghue’s rightly acclaimed ‘Room’ – doesn’t it essentially end two-thirds of the way through? Isn’t the rest filler?)  And only around a third of my last book (Catherine O’Flynn’s ‘The News Where You Are’ – quite saggy, scant momentum).  Both of these were Christmas gifts bought for me at my request, so there was an obligation to finish them.  Another request, Paul Auster’s latest, ‘Sunset Park,’ is now waiting.  I’m nervous after hearing mixed reviews.

Wanting a short break from feeling obliged to finish everything, I frivolously binged from the library – albeit not successfully.  A Costa shortlisted book of poetry, a serious looking Emile Zola novel I’m unlikely to get too far into but felt like a worthy idea at the time, a Graham Swift novel I’d never heard of, and an Alan Sillitoe book of short stories entitled and containing “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner” – partly selected after loving the film, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which Sillitoe wrote.

Our excellent new library sits squarely on the quickest route from my flat into the city centre, so I often fail to resist a quick scan of their New Books or Quick Picks sections.

Today, neither needing nor wanting new material, yet knowing I wasn’t being grabbed by anything I had, my feet wandered in there again.  My hand selected a book called “Travel Writing – A Story,” by Peter Ferry.  My brain was attracted by the simplicity of the title and cover, and was won by a cover quote from Dave Eggers and a compelling inside sleeve.

I spent an hour or so with the book and a coffee, and a band called Pepper Rabbit playing in my headphones, occasionally glancing out onto a high street bulging with Saturday afternoon shoppers.  I grew more committed to this book than I had to anything else I’d read in a while.  I particularly enjoyed the following.

“…I became interested in what we do and where we go to give our lives meaning when we don’t or can’t find it at home, when life there becomes too staid and certain and we have to create challenges – even dilemmas – for ourselves because problems are interesting and important and life without them is neither.  It is the reason that people join the circus, I think, drink too much, drive too fast, jump off things, jump into things, climb things, run away from home, and paddle into the wilderness.  It is also the reason they tell stories.”

Peter Ferry – Travel Writing: Chatto & Winduss 2008

I thought this was quite neat.  Of course, there’s no guarantee I’ll finish it.

127 Hours and gruelling ordeals

Half fearing another effort like Sunshine, I sat down in front of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, my second cinema film of a powerfully uninspiring wet January afternoon. Where Sunshine failed to grip and entertain through limited setting, 127 Hours achieved much more.  Creatively shot, it also vividly painted the mental landscape of the main / practically only real-life character Aron Ralston: a buccaneering twenty-something played by James Franco who falls whilst canyoneering and gets his arm stuck under a rock, before finally cutting his arm off to free himself.  It’s not too much of a spoiler to say as much, given it’s a true story and has been well trailed.  There are warnings of gore – which I didn’t think was all that bad  – at the ticket sales and leading into the theatre.

Boyle frames the Ralston’s story with images of “Life”: humanity, civilisation, energy, friends and family.  It’s a gruelling watch but one which makes you feel distinctly better, and possibly more grateful for life afterwards.

Forgive my slinking into morbid introspection.

The film unavoidably summoned my own not too distant memories of nearly drowning little over a month ago.  Terrifying ignorance of the very near future: not knowing if it could be death.  Clearly I demonstrated nothing close to the stamina, mental strength and sheer guts of Ralston.  I just swam.  But there were parallels.

I was reminded of the sense that there are other factors at play; everything is up for grabs now, I can only do as much as I can and it might not be enough, how this ends isn’t all down to me.  Like you’re already giving yourself up to whatever comes next.  Fear and shock convinces you of this, even though it’s a fallacy.  Every decision you make has taken you to that point.  While other factors may have influence, it is mainly down to you how, or if, you get out of that point.  There may be other factors but it’s mainly you.

It’s unlikely anyone could answer Ralston’s ‘can you do it?’ question without being in the situation.  Presumably you’d very directly have to equate hopefully adrenalin diluted-pain with certain death and hope the force of your mental strength is enough.  But you can’t know.

Another point of identification was that Ralston told nobody where he was going, so couldn’t be reported missing for a long time.  I occasionally take these trips, albeit not quite as adventurous as Ralston, so found it heartening to see a reasonably well adjusted character who enjoys exploring remote places with only his own music for company, given this exposure.  Granted, I only meant to go for a short drive, walk along a beach and take a few snaps that Sunday afternoon in early December.  Not exactly canyoneering.  Nonetheless, you can’t always predict what’s round the corner.  And equally I could have had a remote smash in a car in Wisconsin, or slipped when shimmying amateurishly across a Madeiran mountain rock face in October.  There never feels like a need to tell anyone.

At Christmas when I told my mother about my incident she was all afluster for a good half hour and I wished I hadn’t said anything.  “We might never have never known, or not for a long time,” she said.  That was true enough.  Living and working alone there’s a constant, if usually only faint jeopardy which comes with the liberty of nobody ever missing you – not even work colleagues you don’t like.

That idea connected with what I found to be a sweet first film of the afternoon, Love & Other Drugs.  At the end where the two impossibly beautiful characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are predictably reunited, Jake’s character mentions that “everyone does.”  I can’t qualify what he was responding to without feeling like an utter tosser, but his character was right enough.

Now stwoke my forlorn lickle head.  Or kick me in the face.


Don found himself in the low-ceilinged check-in area, shuffling forwards towards a desk with other blank-faced people.

”Can I see your documents, Sir?”

Don puts some papers which were in his hand onto the desk in front of him,

“Do have any further emotional baggage to check-in, Sir?  Or is it just the one bag?”

“Just this,” Don hears himself say.

“Did you pack it yourself, Sir?  Do you know what’s in it?  No sharp regrets or painful confessions to anyone?”

Don pauses for a moment before shaking his head unconvincingly.

“Very good, Sir.”  She efficiently labels the package and places it on a conveyor belt.  “Is it just that with you as hand luggage today?”

In his right hand Don sees a plastic yellow bath duck.  He nods, dumbly.  She smiles at him, endeared by the object.

“Well you take care now, won’t you?  Enjoy your flight.”

Don mumbles his thanks before moving aside, following arrows to the security gateway.

“Everything on the trays here please,” a faceless person in a white all-in-one outfit says.

Don places his yellow bath duck on the tray, finds a tube of female lip gloss in his pocket and puts that on there too.  He goes to take off his shoes before realising that he isn’t wearing any.  The conveyor belt accepts the tray and pulls it through a scanning box.  He walks through a narrow doorway.  Two faceless men nod their assenting and he passes on to collect the duck out the other side.

A seemingly endless white corridor greets him, stores selling with mostly indistinct and non-utilitarian items lining the sides: memory sticks and adaptors are two items Don can make out, so he buys one of each.  A faceless person’s eyes crinkle towards him as he takes them to the counter.

Don flushes with panic, fearing that he might have to give up the duck as payment.  The faceless person holds out their arm and swishes the memory stick in front of Don’s left nipple.  A bleeping sound echoes from the vicinity of the fingers and the person nods, then repeats the process with the adaptor.  Don feels violated and confused and amused.  It finishes by saying “Thank you Sir, enjoy your flight.”

Between the stores are instructional screens with banks of numbers and destinations.  Hell, Heaven and Limbo occur the most frequently.  Don was told his destination was Heaven.  The screen says the next departure is in 47 minutes from Gate F.

He walks aimlessly up and down the white corridor, past departure gates where faceless people crowd, clamour and squeal against an invisible screen.  He sits down near Gate F to inspect his adaptor and memory card: small items which don’t look capable of much.

The 47 minutes tick down and a small flurry of faceless people join Don.  He shyly nods and smiles in their direction, wondering if he too is faceless.  They don’t return his gesture and sit down.  Two faceless people stand behind a desk, waiting, the doorway behind them sealed shut.