Hydra stark

Bats, cats and kittens and smoke in lines of sullen purple. They cross the sun setting sky. It’s getting darker now and the bounce of the waves and the noise of the wind are slowly quietening. The bats keep the mosquitos at bay and the cats hang around, less afraid and keener to settle. The kittens sing their mewling harmonies, the Fledermouse choir in full squeal and squeak. And Fledermouse’s little body is catching up with his enormous ears, and they appear diminished. Together, bats, cats and kittens and we watch the carbon creased sea at dusk and see it soft and buttery at dawn. In between, it’s fine crosshatching shifts and twists the stream and stirs the shadowed blues, indigos and blacks. Turquoised and bleached white under a sea taxi’s urgent churn.

The last two days have been days of low cloud and mist, the torpid air sliding steaming hot beneath it. It’s a concoction of rain, for rain. Rain on the water, water in the air. The sky lies heavy, overcast, lethargic and lazy. Damp and soft the air resting on indolent bodies draped on the rocks by an idling sea. We step carefully along the rocks, some nimble, some slow, careful and cautious not to fall. Even someone Paul said is agile as a bank safe makes it to the water. Big splash. We swim crazy far or float toes up or stare down into the deep, snorkelled and goggled to watch the many fish.

Above water the wind is shouty and jazzed, keen. On the shore we see the waves shatter and fray and we hear the sea’s many voices, cacaphonous as they slap at the rocks in some secret dance or unrecognised ritual. Wave shaped whispers or sudden splashy shouts on a rising wind. No sign yet of the goose feathers floating on rising crests. But they are coming soon as the air begins to chill and the winds grow resolute. The summer is drawing to its close and the sea’s changing shapes tells us this. It is time to go.

Hydra stasis

The sea is back to being full of serious boogywoogy. Under winds intent on taking us all some place else, we strive to stay in place. No change. The crashing music of the breezes and currents. The waves’ white topped feathers run in too many directions for rhythm. Indigo and agitation contrasts with the bone white and milk of the sea a few days ago. On one of those days we powerboated across the blue churned waves to small coves for swimming and around empty islands for peering into caves, timid to get too close and risk the rocks. The excitement of it, unceasing adrenalin all day long, left us hung over and swaying. In the evening after our long climb up the many slopes, steps and ragged paths, I had to hold onto the kitchen counter to keep my balance. The lilt and drift was still there in the morning after wild water dreams and exhaustion only slightly less taut.

Hydra is known for its many cats and a programme of neutering keeps the numbers in the port down. But here in Kamini there appears to be no such plan and we have frequent and regular visits from a small family: mother (not much more than a kitten herself), aunty (we reckon) and four tiny elastic kittens. They arrive whenever there’s a whisper of food scents, plaintive voices and tiny little pink mouths opening to show off white teeth like needles, lining their little pink jaws. One, Fledermouse (yes, mouse not maus), has ears larger than his mother’s and a coat of hillside shades, except the hillsides are the greys and drear of a cold climated place rather than the ambers and terracottas of this island. They’re all in similar garb, some stripey like tabbies and some grey and black blends, and all with spotty tummies and striped stockings on their dainty legs. The kittens steal food from each others’ mouths and their mother washes them violently to compensate for rejecting them when they try to feed. Sometimes they play fight, sometimes she brings them a mouse to share. They play writhing twisting games and fall to rest without realising it. Like us.

From atop the final steps we watch the sunsets, always so sudden here. There is no lingering, just a solid martial descent below scar strewn clouds towards shimmering distance. The sea melts into coppers and aubergine stripes soft and dragging. They melt across the sky slowly expanding into night. The sea we still hear now hushes to the land, bringing us all slowly to sleep.

Once And Only Upon a Time

Life began on a sunny day at an open air concert in a west London park. She was there with her best friend and it was the first time they’d been allowed to go to London on their own. They had taken the train up from Kent, clutching bags with squash and sweets, spam sandwiches, cheap eye pencils, lipsticks, small mirrors. Such traumas, checking make-up and hair without the other passengers noticing. The journey was long and slow, steam powered and loud. A flurry of hurried squeaks and whispers, and tangled groans beneath hunched and restless shoulders. Flashes of colour passing by, the warmth of the sun on the windows, noise and smoke. And being serious and grown-up in their carriage, not looking up and staring when the compartment door slammed shut and strangers with their curious scents sat down.

Not yet fifteen they were still, barely, the sort of girls who hadn’t yet forgotten that being a grown-up looked like a lot of trouble, like something best avoided. They had no need to hurry yet, no need yet for passion or anger, nor resentment, argument. They didn’t yet hate their mums or dads, nor yet seek conflict. Still just young enough to hold instead the threads of childhood, they knew not yet furies, nor nameless fears, or anger. Soon enough they would take this turn but not now, not today.

Arriving at Victoria station all grime and black specked, shuffling their way out of the train and stopping midspill on the platform, staring amazed, unaware of an unwritten story. Young and pretty and bewildered, floating on an ocean of hurried strangers. A young man turned and stared and the two didn’t notice him look away embarrassed for his thoughts and their youth. The girls saw him working through the crowd, narrow shoulders in a black leather jacket and darkish hair too dirty to be black or brown. He was in his early twenties and he disappeared.

The pair went slowly forwards, floating out of the station with the crowd. They had written details of what to do next. If they got too anxious for the tube the instructions said to wait under the clock for Evelyn’s dad coming up on the next train. Jostled in the crowd the paper clutched in a white gloved hand that was already grubby, no way would they wait. A sea of shapes and colours, unnavigable as they were moved along anxious, excited with frequent glances at the note. They found the District Line.

The tube monstrous big and openjawed and begging, as they hurried down the wooden escalator and scrambled into a carriage with the smoke and loud like the train, and hot and grimey. Watching as the darkness slides by, sudden halts and unravelling strangers’ tales, the chaotic mess of colours, shapes, alien forms and gazing into other peoples’ pictures. A world unfolding around them and it could never look like this again. The spell of the first time of seeing, first awareness of life passing along on the other side of a window. Strangers stinking and rumpled, the men watchful, the women with their eyes away. Shunted about for six stops, getting out and then following the hand drawn map to the little park. It took only half an hour from when the train arrived at Victoria for them to reach their stop at Parsons Green, triumphant, timeless and surprised to be there at all.

The concert was some sort of charity benefit for an aging musician friend of a friend of Ella’s dad. When he’d asked her if they’d like to go, Ella couldn’t believe he was serious. Up to London almost alone? It hadn’t much mattered what charity it was, the details were ragged remnants, crumpled and buried.

By the time the girls were going through the park gates, the first couple of acts had already been and gone. The crowd was buzzy, up for a good time, drinking and smoking, some dancing. The girls moved nervous, blushing by turns, weaving to get close to the stage, giggling when their bottoms were pinched and never seeing who did it. It wasn’t much of a stage because it wasn’t much of a gig. Meagre trappings with just a few banners, and tents with warm beer and cheese and ham rolls. A small London park and a small tribute concert to someone mostly long forgotten. Evelyn’s dad’s friend was already smiling out from the stage, watching as the girls inched their way forward. He was drumming to some slow jazz, musing on their prettiness, their youth and sweetness, wondering how he got to be so old.

The girls hadn’t even noticed there was jazz playing. They had had no idea about the music, pulling faces and rolling their eyes when it started up. But a steady beat, everyone bopping along, jigjiggily, cheerily, gentle afternoon contentment warming through the crowd. Mostly the people seemed to Evelyn and Ella to be ancient, but there were some teenagers there. Not many, and mostly girls just enough older than them to be in another, far more vigorous league. The song bumped along, and all around them even the teenagers were having a good time. The song ended and a young man ambled on stage. He glanced reluctant at the crowd, waving, smiling, leaning into the microphone to sing.

Years later the young man was famous, an international star, renowned, respected, rich, unreachable, but that day his fame glimmered only slightly. That day he looked everywhere else but at the audience, at the ground, at his feet, off to the side of the stage, everywhere else. But there was a sense of voice, of look that together would have much more to say. It shone from him. Like the girls the young man was on the edge of what comes next.

Ella didn’t remember whose son it was and nor did Evelyn, but they both remembered him for the rest of their lives. An edgy sharp memory tangled up with how the squashy warm sandwiches tasted and the sound and rhythm of the train, the roll and rumble of a dirty tube carriage. He sang a lazy, drawly song, dragging out the notes from phrase to phrase, idling along never out of touch, bar to bar. He was why so many young people were there. A bright young thing, a soon to be rising star, still playing with his dad’s friends, still waiting to pounce on a world he would own.

He asked for requests from the audience. Bold and brave Ella blurted out her’s in a sudden rush of brash unexpected excitement. She always remembered the moment and how Evelyn had taken up the shout more clearly and loudly. He refused unless she agreed to come up on stage and ask out loud into the microphone. She blushed and said no, but never forgot the echo of the repeated request, not just his but of the band all teasing, tempting her reluctant, growing courage. When she made her way towards the stage, her heart was pounding, knees shaking and suddenly willing to talk a strange man. To hear him teasing, laughing, flirtatious, in front of all those people she was suddenly willing. Such wicked delight, such power. Evelyn turned and faced the crowd and saw her dad waving at the back. Bold and loud “please sing Seven Golden Daffodils” and he smiled, heard the murmurs of approval from the band and cleared his throat, watching as she walked to the edge of the stage, climbed down and disappeared.

And much, much later he was much, much older, dying on some distant shore, career and seven marriages long since gone. Memories of countless children, grandchildren, and a life that was altogether too complicated, he still remembered that day, that moment. He remembered her long pale blonde hair, her grey eyes, the sullen scowl that turned suddenly into light. And he remembered the wondrous beauty of her youth, her luminous unguarded smile and the polite thanks. He could still see her relief, the wave of sudden trust and confidence as she thanked him for bringing her this moment in this wonderful day. She had turned and walked away, burning hot amidst shouting applause and raucous cheers, he smiling as she went and wondering how old she was. Too young he knew, and yet. She was gone before he could find her, but he too never forgot that day, that moment.

And for all the boys and men she would meet, for all the friends and lovers she would have and for all the worlds she was to pass through that he would not share, he knew they would all happen and they would all be to him as theft. Smiling as she went, he saw passing this theft he could not counter, could not prevent or undo. A moment history stole away, a moment fragile, glittering, shimmering forever on the edge of his powerless, endless sight. She stayed there always on the edge of his reality, waiting not for him, watching not for him, toying forever with only the promise of her own world. That theft and its memory remained with him always and could never be forgiven. The theft of promise untold, of love unknown.


When Angus met Audrey

It’s always the same types, these people who mill about. And it’s always the same slightly stuffy private room for the milling Angus mused. And it’s invariably in London. These types work hard to look earnest and purposeful, like they really do mean it. Perhaps they do. He stood alone watching them chat and smile, waving the occasional hand, an offhand nod here and there. Angus lit another cigarette. A passing waiter brought him another whiskey. Angus perused lines of conversation they’d likely follow and calculated pecking orders, his favourite sport. They would say nothing to him until David arrived, because not only did he not wear their uniform, but his distance was clear and his invisible shields were slightly up. Just enough. They would come down for David, the star of the show and then Angus could exist for these people and they would recognise him as part of the unit. He was only here as a favour to David, his closest friend, and with this book the story of Angus was part of the story of David. At least in theory.

They all look so ancient Angus pondered at the same time conceding that he, even without the uniform, did perhaps look the part. He tried to dress for his age, but had never made it past the cords and waistcoats he’d first donned as a teenager wanting to be taken more seriously. And he still looked old, older than his years, even though he and David were nudging forty instead of sixty. Apart from the waiters Angus had noticed only one other guest too young to be in this gathering, and she was barely there, lurking in the corner rather than joining the throng. And then David swept into the room arms aloft, conscious of the need to look and behave in some sort of authorial manner. It wasn’t hard. “Angus, by god you’ve arrived! You must only just have landed! So marvellous that you are here! Where did the heicopter drop you dear man?” This last was a nonsense of course but its effect was immediate and suddenly the wrinkly throng was all about them. Angus noted the young woman as she made the smallest of steps forward, almost unwilling. He had to admit she’s a bit of a looker, a substantial woman early thirties he guessed clothes not too tight, low or short but very stylish looking. Colours he couldn’t name and lots of them, fashionable for the time but not excessive. The skirts looked full enough to sweep engagingly when she walked. And her shoulders were broad but unenhanced with that ridiculous padding. Yves Saint Laurent had a lot to answer for, Angus observed taking another swig. This woman had her own slightly eccentric uniform and clearly a mind of her own.

David in full flow, talking about his book and caught up in inspirations and some guff about where he got his ideas from. His little audience was lapping it up. Cigarette waving, old people nodding, names falling like rain as the little group made their contributions to the conversation. What’s the word for a group of oldies Angus wondered, musing that he would need to include himself in whatever it was. A wrinkle of them? An incontinence?

He hoped he did not look as ill and pale as most of these people looked, and that his fag intake was not so high. He stared at the columns and looked into the shadows to where the interesting looking woman was still standing. Odd he pondered, because mostly women interested him no more or less than men did. There was no room in his life for relationships beyond the wheelings and dealings that filled his head and heart. Still, sometimes he thought it might be nice to talk to someone with a different perspective, a different experience from property and law and money. Well, maybe not the last part, and into this fog came an echo of his name and Angus realised that he was being introduced to the admirers. But as he heard the tagline Angus could not help but let loose a massive guffaw. The very idea that Angus had in any way been the focus of Journeys into the Undergrowth of Commerce and How to Cut Through to the Heart of Success still amused him enormously. The contribution was mostly out of David’s head, based on a few random facts that had only the most fragile connection to real life Angus business deals. David saw the outcomes not the process but together they had put together a credible journey for the Angus case study. Angus was quietly proud that his contribution to the book was easily the most entertaining. 

As David continued to explain Angus’ journey of unmitigated success to his audience, Angus remembered that he was there to play a part, a part that the publisher expected him to fulfil. And it wasn’t entirely ficticious this role. It was indeed true that Angus had managed to accrue considerable wealth at a relatively young age. It had been a few lucky bets one Derby Day weekend and mentoring from a friend of his dad’s who’d felt sorry for Angus. An alcoholic father is hardly an asset to a bright young lad. When Angus was knee deep in A Levels the pair were snapping up private garages in North London and rental income was building up nicely.

By the time Angus got to Magdalen, he was already investing in dull but reliably lucrative businesses: a garage here, an off-license there, and soon he had enough leverage available to move on to flats and commercial developments. His aptitude and intuition were indeed uncanny and money begat more money and more money begat more options. There was no need to fictionlise the case study content for David, but it had seemed better than the inconvenient scrutiny too much attention might attract. David and Angus had been friends since their Magdalen days. They shared an affinity for cautious omission when it came to factual inclusiveness. Subsequent training in law at Stanford in California had brought them closer though not more intimate. They shared the belief that any sense of being in any way accountable to anyone, should be buried very deep. The conviction never weakened.

When his mentor died and left Angus his interests in the garages Angus was well on his way to understanding when to twist and when to stick. Studying History at Oxford and then law at Stanford together, with David Angus had replaced the mentor with the friend and came to understand that friendship should be for life. Watching David smiling and holding forth Angus reminded himself how fleeting it all is, how dearly he missed the many people he had lost. Surveying the room as he tried to gather himself together and engage with the nice people, Angus noticed that the interesting woman in the excess of colours was smiling at him. Or rather she might be, because her gaze seemed to slide off somewhere above his head. Or was it a stare? Got it he thought. The laugh. It’s been remarked upon before. Angus put up his hand, as if he was making sure his hair was still draped down the back of his head. He stared back at her and returned the smile, tipping his glass as he did before moving over to one of the small tables to stub out his cigarette and peruse a sample copy of the book. “Well, Angus, so lovely that you could make it.” This is the editor woman thought Angus, the woman who’s always standing a bit too close and laughing a bit too loud. She’s another one with the ridiculous shoulders. “Yes, of course, couldn’t let David down now could I.” And Angus beamed bluely at her, right in the eye and enjoyed her blush before stepping back a pace and returning to David to hear him say “Well you see Angus was one of my best options for the case studies, since he’s never put a foot wrong in business. At least as far as I can see.” And the man is shameless with that silly little laugh and his fingers over his mouth. The little group were clearly impressed, and the elegant woman on the edge of the circle was still smiling.

Unbidden the thought that he wished he had worn something a little smarter, a little less boisterous and that he had changed his hanky before coming out. He wished for a moment that his hairline was not quite so high and that he was aging less rapidly. As she moved towards one of the little tables Angus was tempted to join her and make some sort of idiotic chat about the cleverness of the book’s title, or how pleased he was that his friend was published. There didn’t seem to be anywhere for such a conversation to go, so Angus stayed put and just watched as she scanned David’s bio on the flyleaf. But it was too much, something pulled him in closer and soon he could see that the conversation would indeed go somewhere, maybe not far before the publisher woman started talking about David and David started talking about Angus, but for at least a furlong or so. Angus pulled his waistcoat down as far as it could go and ran a hand across the back of his head. As he approached the smile grew wider and the eyes brighter and whatever else made their connection endure, its first link was being forged. And the link was true.

When Audrey met Angus

People milling around the slightly stuffy private room of a high-end London restaurant, working hard to look earnest and purposeful. Audrey stood alone, slightly removed and observing rather than joining in. She was wondering what she could possible have to say to these middle-aged old fogeys. Something about the nursery, about working in the rag trade or penning articles for fashion mags that would get completely rewritten. As long as the money came in. But none of that would be meaningful to these bookish London types.

Audrey was too young to be in this gathering. She was there as a favour, bullied into attending the launch by her cousin who had penned the book. “I need warm bodies, I need youth, excitement. Please do say you’ll come, I really do need you. And it’s just this once. Come on, say you will” David was imploring, batting his eyes and sweeping one hand through impossibly shiney hair. An untipped cigarette clamped between his stained fingers, he stared at Audrey holding his wild lashes upright. The cigarette was carefully positioned between first and second fingers at the third knuckle, nestling close to his palm like a weapon. They were in her flat and David had been babysitting for his goddaughter, sound asleep in the next room. “Please do say yes, please.” David was almost begging now.

Given the circumstances, Audrey really had no choice unless she wanted to say goodbye to the babysitting. Smiling at her foppish cousin she had agreed, and now there she was bored, slightly irritated and overhearing pretentious bookish conversations. A cliquéy bunch of well-worn people were diligently name-dropping. Many were smokers and all, rather like David, looked pale and slightly unwell. It was 1983, and within a few years many of the men in the group, David included, would be over. But those sorry years were yet to come.

The venue was annoying Audrey as much as the name-dropping, but she conceded that the space suited the people around her. An excess of gold leafed curlicues on very tall Corinthian columns adorned with more layers of curly bits than was strictly necessary. The walls were a slightly too bright blue, yellowing in far corners, ancient tar and nicotine layered amber and grubby onto hard white details. Enormous glass vases full of blowsy bright flowers hinted funereal. Swagged floral hangings with deep pelmets and curtains held back with yet more swaggery gave this posh venue an certain air. The intention was exclusivity and elegance, but there was also something Audrey couldn’t quite place. She had a feeling that overpriced Americans would like it. She watched smoke curls meander towards the ceiling. Like the clothes, so the décor she noted. Vulgarity. Excessively padded shoulders and draped jackets in loud patterns echoed the pelmets and swags. Heads of permed curls on random men and women wrote curving lines, their shapes mimicing the gawdy flowers. She stayed in her corner  excluded but unaccosted.

Sipping at the unidentifiable pink punch someone had handed her, Audrey decided that this whole thing really wasn’t for her. The publisher was already warming up with the microphone and Audrey didn’t much like the look of her. Audrey moved towards her cousin to make her excuses and duck out before the presentations began.

David was in the midst of a small group most of whom were staring at him with intense concentration. After all, he is the author, and all due deference must be shown. That he wasn’t Martin Amis or Salman Rushdie really didn’t matter to them. This young man with his pale skin and long eyelashes is an author, and might someday become a somebody author. They listened as he explained the book (long), his writing journey (rapid) and his intentions for his readers (no need to read it, just buy it). David in full swing was amusing although his listeners were too intent to notice. All but one.

Audrey noticed a fellow who was not playing the game. He was red faced and aiming an unfortunate array of badly cared for teeth at the smokey ceiling. His head was thrown back and his mouth about as wide open as it would go. He was totally abandoned, his unrestrained guffaw a sharp loud Hah!. He was a young man dressed as an old one, a young man already a little worn and tired with broken blood vessels in his nose and a wicked twinkle in his extremely bright blue eyes. So that’s what cornflower blue eyes look like, thought Audrey. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five always had friends with cornflower blue eyes and now she knew what Enid had been on about. And she could not help but stare.

Audrey smiled unawares at the man’s unfettered delight at what David was saying. “Well you see Angus was one of my best options for the case studies, since he’s never put a foot wrong in business. At least as far as I can see.” A deferential giggle, fingertips over lips, engaging dimples as David smiled naughty and conspiratorial at his friend. Angus got himself under control and dabbed at his eyes with a very crumpled paisley handkerchief. The rest of the men and women nodded, murmuring a range of inaudible and probably meaningless sentences. Property tycoon. Entrepreneur. Money. They were loving it. Angus bemused, noticed an elegant woman on the edge of the circle.

Audrey, still smiling, found herself caught in a wash of cornflower blue. The mumbling and name-dropping faded and she saw only this man with his loud trousers and silk waistcoat, his patterned brogues and that ridiculous handkerchief. Angus stood very still smiling back at her, drink in one hand, cigarette in the other. He was patting the back of his head, an unconscious gesture of hesitation that she would very soon come to find endearing. The thick irongrey mane reached just a little too far down his neck, trimmed to sit a bit below the line of his collar. The shape of his receding hairline with its longish peak and deep valleys added symetry and strength to the face. Audrey saw that this man could never be quite what he seemed. He’s somehow quite attractive she noted and sipped some more at the pink stuff. She guessed his age to be about ten years older than her, but calculated that the fags and booze and what sounded like a lot of excitement in his life may have aged him. In this Audrey was spot on.

She turned to a nearby table, one of several sporting ashtrays, mixed nuts and copies of David’s book. There were little cardboard signs too, telling people that David would be happy to autograph purchased copies. His publisher, one of the larger commercial imprints had high hopes for Journeys into the Undergrowth of Commerce and How to Cut Through to the Heart of Success. The editor had told David that adding “How to” to a title was likely to increase sales in the book’s target market. It was also her idea that David should include case studies of known success stories, particularly in property, “because everyone’s got a chance to make it in property”. David’s close friend Angus was the obvious choice having had some spectacular successes at a surprisingly young age. And they knew one another so well. 

By the time Angus got to Magdalen, he was already investing in dull but reliably lucrative businesses: a garage here, an off-license there, and soon he had enough leverage available to move on to flats and commercial developments. His aptitude and intuition were indeed uncanny and money begat more money and more money begat more options. There was no need to fictionalise the case study content for David, but it had seemed better than the inconvenient scrutiny too much attention might attract. David and Angus had been friends since Magdalen. They shared an affinity for cautious omission when it came to factual inclusiveness. Subsequent training in law at Stanford had brought them closer though not more intimate. They shared the belief that any sense of being in any way accountable to anyone, should be buried very deep. The conviction never weakened.

But Audrey was aware of none of this. She saw only her extremely vain cousin in Cripps loafers and a linen suit crumpled just-so and a loud jolly man in bright red corduroys and a floral waistcoat squeezing just a little too tightly over his belly. The strain was only slightly less extreme with his head thrown back to laugh she mused. When the creator of the perfect case study for a business self-help title became aware of her smile, he had beamed back. Tipping his head slightly to one side, he raised his glass and Audrey couldn’t shut down her smile although she tried. As Angus sidled towards her, a sense of kinship and empathy that started with a loud laugh at a not very funny joke embraced her, and she found herself drifting not unwillingly into another’s orbit. She knew only that those ridiculous clothes, the laughter, the shrewdness she could see glittering behind the eyes, were hers alone, whatever else may also be true.

Midnight, Memory and the Greyhounds

Thank you to the motorway people who closed the M25 the other night at around midnight at Heathrow Airport. In both directions. Under a Blood Moon, which was lovely but of no help. Grubby yellow signs pointed occasionally to an alternative route for diverted motorists. Not at all diverting. After we were mostly almost in Maidenhead, we decided to turn back and try to get on to the M25 motorway via the M4. This is a lovely road that takes you straight into London instead of Maidenhead. The M4’s charm is only enhanced by the reductions of four lanes to one, and more of the helpful Diverted Traffic signs. Their reappearance was familiar but not particularly useful. You have to be pretty eagle eyed to spot the signs lurking in the bushes, but we soon understood it’s just part of the game. The signs don’t really point you in any handy direction nor are they diverting. They are nonspecific, so could be for all sorts of other long-way-round routes. You could very easily end up back in Maidenhead without realising it. Another even more exciting level in the game.

In the end we stuck with the M4 and decided to give up trying to get onto the M25 at all. It was by this time very late and scope for serious error huge; the spectre of Maidenhead loomed large. Whatever Maidenhead’s charms, the prospect of ending up there instead of at home was enough to keep us focused as we trundled along, heading southeast as the blood moon rose and slowly yellowed behind unseen clouds.

As we approached Chiswick I remembered that I learned to drive on the smokey streets of south London. Surely finding our way on the South Circular Road, aka the A205 was a matter of finding the correct patches of memory and piecing them together. The A205 runs from east London, somewhere around Beckton all the way to the Chiswick Flyover which is where the M4 peters out. If you head west from the Woolwich Ferry you pass through Clapham Common and Wandsworth, Putney and Barnes, and eventually you get to Kew Bridge. Yay! Thank you little grey cells, not so decrepit after all. Must be all that fish oil. We crossed the bridge under the paling half moon and over the Thames, sliding lazy and velvety towards the estuary.

In Gothenburg visiting our children and grandchildren we had been watching back to back episodes of Ted Lasso and his eventually successful Greyhounds, a ficticious football team, AFC Richmond. It was ironic that we found ourselves trawling the streets of Richmond, following its meandering one-way system bereft of useful signs but lined with small shops in irregular shapes and sizes. I had either forgotten that there was a one-way system or it is a new thing. We passed the Rose Theatre where I saw Equus for the first time and Teddington Lock where the fish slapping scene in a 1971 Monty Python episode was filmed. The night was still, warm and the road super slow, thanks to 20 mph speed restrictions and humps in the road. Being so tired it was easy to feel relaxed, especially as there was virtually no traffic. Memory once awake flooded my mind with pictures of so many excursions in and around southwest London, its suburbs and endless Surrey countryside. Our route, flawless we later discovered when we looked at the map, took us past Epsom and skirted the Downs where I used to ride out for various racehorse trainers. Memories of the people I knew and the people I had forgotten about seeped across the images of old places and added new dimensions to the stories sliding around in my sleepy brain.

Someone recently told me that I don’t think like an old person, which might be true. But I can definitely remember like an old person, and being an old person there is a massive stock of stories locked up in all those dozing grey cells. Decades worth. It just took a closed motorway and a desperate desire to get home to have a reason to wake up those old patterns. And I have been thinking about them ever since and wondering where I will find the next story, sunk deep in the past but jumping unexpectedly into the here and now. Now is all that matters, but it sits between then and what’s to come. That’s what makes it so very exciting.



Parallel lines and a slender fragile bridge. H is for horror, H is for harmony. H is for hurt. H is for hospital. H is for horror. H is for horror. Lying there Harriet was still here, still alive, human salvage scraped off the sidewalk. Her world was still a screaming seamless chaos, polluted with mnemonic fragments, shards of faces, family remnants, idle hours, dreams and desires, silent noise, splintered absences. And it’s all still here, still shooting those poisoned barbs into her fragile mind. All faith that there could be an end was gone. She is here and everywhere. H is for hospital. H is for horror. H. Parallel lines and a slender fragile bridge. She has a sudden terrible awareness of the space around her, feels it closing in and she’s getting smaller sometimes shadowed, sometimes curving. The bilious incomprehensible distortion that was the life she wanted to end is still churning. H. H is for how. H is for helpless. H is for haze.

And now she’s back again, duped by the glory of her wonderful flight, the flight that should have ended in silence, in an abrupt and pure reality. She knows she’s still there. Surrounded. Unfamiliar wirey webs, pathways leading to unseen routes and strange destinations. H should be for hope but it is for hopelessness. And then slowly something comes. She knows.

Lamps are glowing, flicking off-on, silent sentinels standing guard. Blue. She lies still and baffled, motionless and wondering why it happened this way. H is not for blue. H is for help. “Harriet can you hear me. Honey, do you know your name?” Is H for honey? The voice is low and anxious, breathy with emotion and through her own half-closed lids Harriet can see tears on a face twisted with anxiety. A voice in Harriet’s head whispers that sure I know my name. And I know your name. Grace. I know I do not want to be here and you, with you talking in that gentle voice, your voice full of love and caring, you do not understand. And I know where we live, how we live, in shabby isolation, terrified in the night when the gunshots start, terrified in the day when you go to work and I have to stay home and wait all alone, wait for you to come back with the groceries in a paper sack and the stories of your day on the bus, at the warehouse. The picture’s clear for you but you must know that every detail of your day is a savage stiletto point, a wound to my soul. What do I do with all those details, all that information, so much meaningless data that I must process and file? I can make you dinner, if it’s simple. I can clean the apartment again and again and still it’s not clean. I can get the mail from the mailbox, pick up trash on the stairs, run from the kids in the afternoons. “Hey Harriet” they say, “hey Harriet, we just wanna talk to you”. H is for home. I know that you love and that you believe you are loved, but I don’t know how or why love works. He left us. He’s gone and you cannot find him. He’s over. You’re over. I was over and now I’m not. H is for him. H is for hate deep in there somewhere, somewhere and coming closer. H again. H for help. H again. H is for hospital. H.

I can hear them tell you I need sleep, I need to rest and I want you to take your deceitful eyes away. Stop them seeing stuff to tell me about. Take your ears and your mouth too. Stop them hearing stuff and stop you telling me more. The data and lies are building back up again, flying fast and frightening into my disrupted and liquid mind. Go. My eyes are drooping away from the blue lights, my ears are full of ringing and muffled humming.

Harriet hovers in the glittering dark behind her eyelids in the depths of the distant buzzing that’s getting louder. H. Is there more, must there be more of this? Strange shapes and a resolving rhythm of sound is coming through the dark. A shapeless swell. H is for helpless. And the tears drool slowly down unseen towards her ears.

Three weeks later when the money for the hospital had run out Grace and Harriet stepped onto a sun blistered sidewalk. Grace holds Harriet’s hand and they squint together in the hostile light, brittle and hard and alien. On the way home they stopped at Denny’s and had waffles. Harriet likes waffles her step-mom explained to the disinterested waiter. He scribbled the order and poured the coffee and hurried away. Harriet smiled slowly showing her teeth, but her eyes slid sideways. “He don’t care if I like waffles or not” she mumbled, looking down and picking at the napkin still folded in her lap. After so many weeks in the hospital Harriet is thin and gaunt, her skin the texture and shade of a fallen autumn leaf. Her hair stands up straight from her head and her clothes drape her body, unconvinced that they really should be there at all. A shoulder here, too much cleavage there, a stray leg draped awkward on the seat of the booth. Grace is watching her, encouraged by the smile, by what Harriet said about the waffles. “Honey have some coffee while it’s hot.” Harriet took the cup in both hands, sipping the brown water slowly. She looked over the rim at Grace who’s smiling and reaching out to touch her shoulder.

Harriet understands this cue and responds through a new personna. “It’s ok, really it’s ok. You don’t need to worry. I’m gonna be fine. Really.” The waffles arrive. They eat in silence. Grace knew that it wasn’t that simple, not for Harriet, not for her. But no one in the hospital wanted to talk about it. No one saw more than the dollars and cents of it. So Grace told herself that she guessed it was fine. And she gets it. The doctors and nurses in the hospital have no time to care, no reasons, not for Harriet, not for Grace. No one looked. No one saw. What’s another broken young woman to them? Grace doesn‘t question this because it’s always been this way. Nothing changes and women like Harriet and Grace are invisible. But Harriet’s saying what Grace wants to hear. Harriet’s giving Grace reassurance. Harriet’s giving Grace a first-class ticket to carry on. She can keep going to the warehouse, keep reaching out for Harriet’s dad, keep trying to understand how he could leave them, and why it was this way. Harriet’s words give Grace license and maybe one less thing to worry about.

When they got back to the apartment Harriet went straight to the tv and switched it on. She dropped down onto the lumpy couch and stroked the faded brown upholstery, like it was a much loved pet. “Are you sure you want this honey?” Grace was at her side, getting in as close as she could. She gently went to take the remote from Harriet’s hand. Harriet held onto it tight and in a voice that was slightly too loud said, “I told you I’m fine, I’m really ok and I can take it. I made a mistake before, letting all that stuff get to me. I know that now. Now that I’ve rested for a piece.”

They sat there, with a ranting tv, waiting for some connection with what happened when the stuff had gotten too much, and with Grace starting to believe that maybe it could be that simple. The air in the room lay heavy like a shroud. Outside the horns and sirens, the shouts and street hum rose up. Harriet saw the city’s leftover dust come into the room to build microscopic towers and tunnels and complicated structures that she would have to remove as soon as Grace was gone. Grace again touched her shoulder with a loving hand. So much love this woman has, Harriet told herself. I can take some of it, I can take it and toss it away, I can help Grace make space for some other  love, someone else’s love for I have none to give, none to share. I cannot keep the love she gives me. She understands that Grace deserves love, Grace needs love, so Grace needs Harriet to take some of what she has to make space for her to get more, more from someone who isn’t Harriet. “Okay honey, if you’re sure the tv won’t upset you” Grace says. And the dust motes drift and hover.

Harriet was right. Grace could see that the tv and all the other noise and intrusions didn’t upset Harriet any more. Not any more. And Harriet stayed inside her terrors unseen, watching tv, her hands clutching her head, her mouth wide open and screaming silence into the noise. Harriet was once again cleaning the apartment, the mailbox and the stairs and making dinner for the two of them with whatever groceries Grace brought home the day before. But Harriet is hovering in that same glittering dark. Broken shards and barbs pierce and tear at, but in the depths of darkness pain is rising slowly and is soon loud and insistent.

Then Harriet started counting, and she tells Grace that the counting was helping her make sense of all the signals speared into her fragile mind. She counted the steps from the apartment to the street (four sets of seven), the steps to the mailbox on the corner (twenty-seven) and the steps to the decaying Federal Building (over seven hundred – Harriet lost count after that). This was as far as she could go at first and then as Harriet got bolder she walked up a floor at a time, counting the steps (two sets of seven), counting the floors (seven). She even counted the height of each floor (10) but this number was no good. She told Grace about the counting and the trips, just so as Grace would know that Harriet was getting better and that the tv was helping and that it didn’t matter if her daddy ever came back because Harriet didn’t want to see him anymore. She understood that he didn’t care. And Harriet told Grace that she was sorry that daddy didn’t care about her either.

At the Federal Building Harriet looked up at the sky and saw freedom there. She saw the flickering blue, the safety of steel and concrete canyons, the safety of the birds soaring between the towers and she stood by the revolving door, smiling at the people passing through, at the people inside with suitcases and small children, smiling at the people she saw with special badges and smiling at the meatloaf she’s left in the oven on low. Soon it would be done. As soon as Harriet entered the building, she headed to the seventh floor.

Fourth of July

“I don’t want to argue with you again”. Her mother sitting at the dressing table fiddling with false eyelashes that were really too large for her face, both in length and width. “It’s just a barbeque, just down there in the clubhouse. It’s all been redone and it’s all the people you know” her daughter whined. “Used to know. Used to know honey, before, and now I don’t know them. We don’t hang with those people anymore.” A false eyelash on the tip of an impeccable fingernail. When she’d made her pick at Forever Nailed they had explained that this shape of dip nails is called stiletto. Stiletto. It’s how something far off in her memory felt, something sharp and painful; almost lost. In a distant part of her booze-riddled recollections, the something was keen and deadly but like the eyelashes, sticky and false. The eyelashes may be a mistake, she pondered. But she had read that today’s European women wear falsh lashes. Ever on trend, it was worth a try to look cool, young and hip. The stiletto nails weren’t helping but finally there they were, false eyelashes mostly in place. A distraction from the wrinkles.

Standing behind watching her mom as she fiddled with the rest of her makeup, Jessica flipped her hair and sighed deep, breathy and long. “Mom you know it’s ok, why are you being such a bitch about this?” Pencil sharp the lipline almost wavering, she answers low “used to know honey, used to know. It means I don’t trust them, don’t want to see them again. Especially with so many strangers hanging out in the complex for the Fourth. I just don’t trust those people to not be weird with us. You need to come with me to Chris and Elaine’s and enjoy the fireworks from the city. It’s better there than the view from the shore.”

Fourteen years old and calling her Mom a bitch. And getting away with it, duly noted for future reference. Fourteen years old and spoilt and selfish and shaping up to be quite the piece of work. She flounced out and missed the swig her Mom takes in between touching up the eyelashes and reapplying lip liner. It steadies her hand she tells herself.

Dibbling at her ’phone Jessica is seething. “Bitch” she hisses, a rehearsal of sorts so’s she’s ready for the next time. Checking out her Instagram stats isn’t helping and she’s bored with the dumb TikTok videos. In a brief moment of sense, she ponders that there’s only so many pratfalls and bottox gone-wrongs that she can be bothered to watch. Instead she checks out Twitch but the gaming stuff is too boring. Her mind slips back to the 4th of July barbecue down by the pool later today. All the people she knows in this dump will be there. It’s the old ones her mom is so bothered about but Jessica doesn’t know why. What it was that happened here when she was staying with dad in Laguna.

Sprawled on her bed, ’phone in hand she’s chewing her lip, defiant and unrepentent. She’s got nothing in common with Chris and Elaine. They’re her mom’s friends. Realtors, and Jessica is convinced they’re only interested in her mom’s money. To be fair there’s a lot of it and her mom’s drinking is turning her into a great target for sleazeballs like Chris and Elaine. The conversations always start with how much some dude made when Chris and Elaine helped flip a unit or property. And they go on all the time at her mom about the condo’s value. They so miss the point. And though they fuss over mom, they ignore Jessica or offer her junk snacks in the way of people with no kids. They’ve no clue that kids are the same as them. Kids haven’t done as much, but they can be just as dangerous. At least Jessica can. She remembers the patronising tone, the way creepy Chris watches her and how they both want her to just stay in front of the tv while they get her mom even more drunk. As if. They usually stay over with them because mom can’t drive if she’s blind drink. In the mornings though mom always wants to get home, get back to the shore and out of the city. Back to her space.

Jessica didn’t do Tinder very often but she figured there might be something interesting. A few swipes and it was clear that it was mostly dweeby creeps flicking right. Saddos. But whoa, here was something, a boy with curly black hair and a weird smile. Hard looking eyes and he was her age. And here, here in the same complex. And at the pool going crazy like her. His profile looked ok. Santa Monica High School. Swimmer. Samohi honours. And he’s already swiped right. Why not. Swipe right. And there it is, a match.

The eyelashes sort of in place, her mom came out of the bedroom, slightly too made up and in distress. Jessica noted crooked eyelashes, overly smudged red lips and vodka magic. Then she saw that her mother had tears in her eyes. She shows Jessica the phone message: Have to bail. Covid. Bummer. Next time. “I called. They’re cancelling. Elaine’s tested positive for Covid so they’re staying home, so we’re staying home too I guess.” As she turned away, Jessica didn’t really get that it was such a big deal, but she reached out to her mother and held her tight. “Mom that’s ok. It’s cool. We can just, you know, hang out here,” adding “Mom are you listening, we’ll hang out here, we’ll just hang out at the pool. It’ll be cool.” Jessica heard her mom’s answer: “I guess so. We can just keep out of their way. We can take the food we were going to take to Chris and Elaine.” The vodka was definitely doing its job. Her mom sniffed and picked a stray eyelash from her daughter’s hair. “I guess I don’t need these by the pool.” “No mom, you don’t”.

Jessica watched her mother bump into the couch as she headed back to her room. A few minutes later she came back minus the eyelashes and with her streaked face tidied up. They went down in the elevator together holding salads and snacks, Jessica picturing the young boy and her mother picturing the older men and women she wanted to avoid. She sniffed and squared her shoulders. She gave the fortified marguerita mix she was carrying a reassuring shake and they headed over to the pool complex.

It was already busy with a gaggle of heavy, red-faced men playing chef on the dozen barbeques. Lighter fluid, smoke and testosterone. The barbeques are a permanent feature of this secure clubhouse and pool area. They sit safe behind high walls and a security guard or two who follow tight rules for cross-checked passes and id’s. Jessica and her Mom are part of an ooze of money and ego, where fear hides in the spaces where neither fits. Money’s stink mingles uncomfortably with the stink of burning meat and slow drying tanning oils. Jessica’s mom has on massive sunglasses and turns her head from side to side slow and cool to check out the space. She’s looking for a little clique of people, the ones she dreads seeing and, glancing across the pool along the rows of sunbeds, she sees none of them and sighs in relief. Someone offers her a glass of wine and she smiles, “actually a glass is all I need,” as she gives the bottle in her hand another little shake. Care to join me?” “Sure,” a tall grey haired man in a cowboy hat replies. “I’m a functioning alcoholic, I’ll bet we have lots to talk about.” And she’s off.

Later amidst the stench of expired fireworks and carbonising fat, her mother was nowhere to be seen. Jessica had found Miguel by the jacuzzi and spent most of the afternoon there, either in the bubbles or just nearby. They’d walked over to the barbeque and agreed that they were both vegans, even though neither was. The talk about Samohi had been ok, sort of, but the line on his parents’ cars, their other place in Pacific Palisades and some new dog they’d bought only went so far. Jessica was more than bored now, so much so that she was worrying about her mom.

Miguel in tow still on about his dog, she found the sunbed where they’d left their red, white and blue wraps and their red, white and blue towels. Only one wrap. She saw the empty marguerita mix bottle on its side underneath the lounger, but no sign of her mom or of the weirdos she had been so keen to avoid. “Whaddya wanna do?” Jessica turned and Miguel hastily added “you know, your mom. Do you want to go find her? She was with that guy in the hat, talking ya know and drinking. My dad’s over there. D’ya wanna ask him?” Jessica had already heard enough about Mr Bigshot Perez and his import export business and had no interest in talking to him. “No, it’s fine, I wanna go look for her.”

Moving from the pool area to the basement of the garage where they could hear raised voices, the sound of wretching interrupted whatever argument was going on. A slightly high pitched male voice was cursing. Jessica just knew that the short fat man ahead of her was one of the men her mom had wanted to avoid. As he leant against a purple Rolls Royce Ghost, Jessica sees that he has a livid red mark on the side of his face and that he’s definitely not happy. She got it. Barrel bellied and irritated he’s looking about for someone to take over, someone he doesn’t know and who definitely doesn’t know his wife or his friends.

He saw the youngsters approaching, a cute girl anxious, a boy on the fading edge of adolescence, reluctant. Miguel also noted the red mark and the scowl. Slightly uneasy he caught hold of Jessica’s arm as they saw vomit from a woman in a red, white and blue wrap splash up against the purple. “Aw, c’mon now, not the car” whined fatso. He tried to reach for her, to move her closer to the structure’s wall and its opening onto the bushes. She shoved him away, swayed a little and picked at remnants of semidigested cornchips lingering in the lime green sequins of her halterneck top. There was vomit in her hair too which had partially fallen from its topknot. The man is trying to engage her, his voice wheedling, “Jessica, Jessica isn’t it?” he says, his breath beery and his face sweaty. Miguel backs off and Jessica alarmed, wipes at her face and catches her breath. She holds her ground and stares him out. With a disdainful glance at the drooling wreck leaning against his almost immaculate car, he curtly says “Ok. You want it like that. Take care of your mother. And get my car cleaned up” before waddling back to the party, cursing under his breath.

Miguel followed him as Jessica tried to get her mom fully upright. “Bastard” she hissed through an acid laced cough. And Jessica asked “Mom what happened, how does that asshole know my name. I’ve never met the guy.” “I guess I talked about you a lot back then.” Her mother by now upright and leaning against the car, shook her head and took the towel Miguel had brought for mopping up. She handed the towel back to the boy who wiped the car down, awkward and focused on his task. He draped the grubby towel over the patch of vomit and mumbled a goodbye as he backed away. “Mom, what’s all this about? Who was that guy?” The two of them still and alone in the basement of the garage breathing the stench of vomit and engines. Her mom now sober and very pale stepped away from the car and the mess. She linked her arm into her daughter’s, wincing and feeling anew the intensity of the slap she’d given fatso. “Not this time” she remembered saying. Turning to Jessica, suddenly prim she said, “I told you, we don’t hang with them anymore. I told you we can’t trust them. And I told him, times have changed. Happy Fourth of July honey.”


She watched him silent as sipped his coffee, wondering how it started. With a pulse growing louder? With an idea of passion suddenly occurring in his head or heart? Not in his heart. The heart was surely irrelevant for this. Was it an idea of something lost or yearned for? A recurring image or focus of desire? And as she watched she saw him shift in his chair and thought of a steady heartbeat rising; she thought of more, much more.

She could picture him alone somewhere away from this busy café with its noise and coffee stink. He was somewhere else reading on a sofa, or waking up in his bed, lying on a beach all alone perhaps. Tall and lean against a faded towel hearing percussive waves, feeling the sun’s heat fade as the beach emptied of people and the sand began to chill.

As the waiter moved to take away the empties, she stared up and away at a different face, murmuring thank you. This face was also handsome in a harried, distracted sort of a way. Urgent, disinterested. She pictured a different mouth widening, a different head thrown back, a different sculpted throat stretched and exposed. She felt herself blushing and pretended to fiddle with her purse. Two images now and she thought she might want to see more in the private picture in her head, to know more. She saw the waiter move towards him as he rose from his seat to pay his bill.

From across the room she watched as he tapped his card. He didn’t notice the waiter and he didn’t notice that she was there. And then the waiter was moving fast and on to the next thing. In slow motion she was getting up to leave and neither man had seen that she was there, had seen her blush or the pictures in her head.

Later lying in her immaculate room on crisp clean sheets she had put on the bed that morning, she lay very still. Soft and cool perfection. Eyes closed she pictured the scene again, elaborating the image, drawing herself slow and deliberately onwards. The story that had begun in the café, the man sipping his coffee, the casual waiter, together they were moving her on deeper into an intense and unknown territory that was her own. Her eyes soon began to widen then close and open again gazing wild, open mouthed and breathing hard, then calming. The cracked and pockmarked ceiling the only witness to her trespass.


Brenda is not a vengeful woman. Nor is Audrey particularly, but Fiona has other ideas. “How many years have you been married to this tosser?” She spat, chopping an onion into miniscule pieces. Under the force of her blade they shot far into distant corners. Brenda looked at Fiona and wide eyed she mumbled “twenty years I think”. “And how long has he been knocking you about like this? You have to do something. We have to do something.” Tears. “Always. I’m not crying. It’s the onions,” Brenda said. “And there was always a reason. It was my fault. It got worse after the accident. He was … he …” Brenda hesitated. “It made him angry, that I could see him … er… um … that he was slouching on the job, as it were. Not that we’d been that way for years. He’d always taken care of it himself, and now he couldn’t. And I knew, I could see. That’s when I started sleeping in the other room. To get away from him. So that he could try on his own. See if it got better. Safer.” Brenda paused, hiding in her mug of tea as she pretended to sip and mumbled. “And anyway it was never so much as to break a bone or knock me out”. Brenda glanced a shy smile in Audrey’s direction.

Fiona heard all this in horror, knife suspended above the mascerated onions. The oil was burning in the pan, and as she scraped the bits into the oil they jumped and spat, and Audrey followed their irretrievable trajectories. “Fiona, it’s none of our business. It’s past and Brenda wants to put it behind her, don’t you Brenda?” she said. Brenda was hearing her own words echoing. They belonged to another world, a prison she was escaping. But she said feebly, “I don’t know. I just don’t know. It isn’t but things are different now. It’s too late for getting my own back. What’s the point?” “Well” Fiona said tossing mushrooms into the pan, setting too with her knife on some fresh rosemary, minced in moments and soon simmering with the mushrooms and a splash of manky pinot grigio. “Well what?” said Brenda watching the steam rise to fill the space with amazing aromas. Steam was tickling at the skylights. Exasperated, Fiona said,“What are you going to do? How are we going to get this arsehole?”

Brenda had never really thought of punishment per se. She hadn’t really thought of calling him an arsehole either. She’d never had an agenda. Maybe that was the problem from the start, she was just supine. Supine but a little sly because Brenda had been content to clean the toilet with his toothbrush and face flannel. She routinely squashed dead flies and laxative pills into his gravy. She’d quite enjoyed rubbing white pepper into his pants and wiping cut fresh chillis into the armpits of his teeshirts and socks. And urine in the steam iron when he wanted his sheets pressed, that was good. Even putting a dead battery in the remote had been a pleasure, although she knew she’d cop it.

Brenda hadn’t really thought beyond those small pleasures, but she was beginning to realise they were pretty unimaginative, at least from Fiona’s perspective. Fiona’s idea of vengeance was mammoth by comparison. Brenda didn’t know about what happened in Furnace Creek, or that whatever happened to Luke might just be a dress rehearsal. “We need a plan.” Fiona declared. “I’m coming with you when you go back. We can’t let him get off that easily”. Abandoning thoughts of how Mrs Snipcock would retrieve all those onion bits Audrey finally engaged. “What would punishing Luke gain? Fiona, this is really none of your business and besides, he’s been found out. He’s going to lose everything, and Brenda is divorcing him.” This last was news to Brenda, but thinking about it, it did seem like a good idea. “Isn’t that enough?” Audrey finished. Brenda stared at Audrey and then at the floor, picking at her nails suppressing the shock. Waiting.

Fiona stirred her pasta sauce thoughtfully, dropping in grated parmesan bit by bit and watching the sauce slowly thicken. “No. There should be more. He should know what it feels like to be in so much pain.” Brenda smiled and on solid ground could say with confidence, “Fiona, pain only matters to you and me, it doesn’t matter at all to a man like Luke, quite the opposite. It appeals to his sense of macho, especially with the slouching on the job problem.” Fiona gave her sauce a spiteful poke: “ok, ok but wouldn’t it be lovely to see the man really need a wheelchair?”