Leave Means Leave Episode 3

She showed the bruises to a WPC, the WPC called social services and Anna was referred to a shelter. The woman looked at the bag she was carrying. ‘Do you want to go back for your things? An officer can go with you.’

‘No.’ There was no going back: Leave Means Leave. So she went in the police car to the shelter where she was welcomed by a brisk, hard-faced woman called Eve who showed her up to her room.

By the time I get to Phoenix… the song had run on in her mind all day, altering the words to suit the case. By the time I get to the police station, he’ll be in a meeting. By the time I get to my room he’ll be having lunch, by the time I have dinner he’ll be coming home. He’ll be swinging his car into the street and spotting the car blocking the driveway. He’ll be cursing and yelling and threatening to call the police, resentfully parking on the road next to the offending vehicle (Leave Means Leave) resisting the temptation to smash in the windscreen, storming into the house ready to have a go at me. By the time I’ve finished dinner he’ll be running round the house calling out my name, demanding to know why the car was parked there… by the time I’m watching TV he’ll have found the note and – what? Would he laugh at it or howl in rage? Would he smash things? Or would he confidently sit down, open a beer, feet up and TV remote in hand, expecting her to walk in the door? How long before he realised she wasn’t going to? By the time I go to bed… It occurred to her that according to Einstein there was no such thing as simultaneity. She’d been meaning to pursue that idea before they got married.

Already her brain was sharper, coming back to life. All the time she’d had to hide it because he didn’t like clever women. Any female politician or pundit always got him yelling at the TV. Smart bitch, clever clogs, snotty cow, grammar-school gargoyle. She’d go and busy herself in the kitchen, staving off the inevitable.

No more now. No more covering up, no more hiding away, no more fending off his irrational rages. Vast vistas opened up all around her. She could go back to college, finish the course he’d interrupted. An interruption, that’s all he was, a hiatus. All her words were coming back; they settled on her shoulders like birds coming home to roost.

But next minute the ground was falling away and she had to clutch at a railing to stop herself overbalancing. What was she doing, how would she cope? She’d never been away this long. What would she do about work? That’d be the first place he’d go. She’d take a few days off, say she was sick. Yes, that was it. Then think about what to do next. A panic engulfed her, the earth seemed to break away from under her feet and she was falling, feet and arms flailing, grabbing onto the nearest thing… she clutched the railing, breathing hard and trying not to draw attention to herself, pulling out her phone and pretending to check for messages. People mostly looked through her anyway; it happened so much that she’d come to feel like a ghost. She straightened up, feeling nauseous – like that time he’d turned on the gas. What was she thinking? Of course she’d never make it without him. Who was she? Without him, she was nothing and no-one; she needed him and he needed her. Sometimes when she threatened to leave he’d beg so pathetically her heart would break. Then the next day he’d be worse again.

He could be so tender… when she thought of his tenderness her bones ached. But they remembered their brokenness too. She set her face to the horizon and walked on. She could go to London! He’d never find her there, she’d have a new name, do her hair differently, even learn to walk differently! Just a slight catch of the knee from the coffee table…

He’d find a replacement soon. By the time I get to London… because that’s what he did, once he lost something he looked around for something to replace it and like a great swollen spider in the middle of a web he reached out and grabbed it. Some poor girl on the rebound, some sad neglected kid who’d come running soon as he showed her a bit of attention…

Going to the shops, her feet dragging, dark glasses on, timing herself in case she took too long (Who did you meet? Don’t lie to me! Who did you talk to?) and if she said ‘one of the neighbours’ he’d say ‘which one?’ and then he’d check up on her the next day, go up to them all nice and friendly, Anna said you had a chat yesterday! like he was just passing the time of day. None of them had a clue, they all said how great he was, every last one of them. He’s such a lovely man, your fella! And Anna would nod and smile, all covered up like some incognito celebrity to hide the bruises.

One night in the shelter they were all smoking (Anna didn’t smoke but it helped her fit in) she was shocked by the casual way they all accepted violence, then heard herself joining in. Broke my arm in three places. Had to keep going to different hospitals. Shoved me down the stairs, held my hand over the gas, put my face in the oven, held my head under water… the endless, banal litany of domestic violence. The women were all on a short fuse and fights would break out over nothing, over a pair of tights, a hairbrush – then there’d be a sudden tenderness, everyone huddled in the kitchen listening to each other’s stories, nodding sadly.

I thought if I took it, if I never fought back…

I thought once I’d been to hospital…

I thought once I’d called an ambulance…

I said I’d never go back but I done it…

I thought, I thought…

Some days the universe seemed to speak to her, leave little messages in graffiti or slogans written on walls and coffee-cups. Be your best self. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Always be yourself unless you can be a unicorn. Then be a unicorn.

Leave means leave.

Kirk out

Crabbiness, Crabbiness, the Greatest Gift that I Possess

Comedians by and large used to be terribly happy people. Tony Hancock excepted, they usually presented as cheery, cheeky chappies whose life was one long laugh. Ken Dodd even went so far as to sing about it; Happiness was one of his favourites. Of course underneath the smile there was often a life of depression, as Robin Williams sadly demonstrated. Nowadays comedians are generally more real, more cynical, even dystopian – and now I can’t remember where I was going with this, except to mention how exceptionally crabby I was yesterday. There’s only so much sleep deprivation a body can take and like Popeye I went around muttering that’s all I can stands, I cain’t stands no more! Sadly spinach did not do the trick so if anyone came near I’d growl at them – and were they rash enough to attempt conversation I’d snap: ‘Back off! I’m feeling really crabby!’ Thankfully crabbiness doesn’t last all day and by the afternoon with a sizable nap under my belt I was merely feeling exhausted. I’m happy to report that last night was better.

While we’re talking about happy songs, though I can’t stand the Ken Dodd one I do like this:

I didn’t get much work done yesterday as the brain simply refused to function so in the afternoon I turned instead to knitting. My latest project is a jumper in twiddly wool, by which I mean it has lots of colours woven into the thread and comes out a sort of variegated autumnal mix. I’m liking it very much, though you have to pay attention when you’re knitting otherwise the fibres tend to separate. I’ll post some pics when it’s done.

It has often occurred to me that wool and knitting are potent metaphors, both to use in poetry and as metaphors for the poetic process itself. I’ve written poems about the yarn-bombing (though we didn’t call it that then) at Greenham Common, and using knitting as a metaphor for life – and it’s like poetry in that you’re creating a pattern: poetry has lines, knitting has rows; they both have different stitches, they both add up. Besides, there’s something meditative about the process: in-round-through-and-off, in-round-through-and-off, knit one, purl one, drop one… and you can do it while watching TV.

Speaking of which, we tuned in for the first episode of the much-trailed Doctor Foster spin-off, Life, starring Alison Steadman. So far it looks highly intriguing.

Good God, it Looks Bad

I’m glad I generally ration my news intake: Richard Rohr, a (very liberal) Catholic monk whose daily readings hit my inbox in the morning, says that it’s good to restrict one’s news intake to no more than an hour a day. I think I’m doing quite well on that score; I look at the headlines two or three times a day and maybe check out one or two stories; I get a Guardian on Saturday, and that’s about it. Generally when the news comes on the radio I switch it off – either because it’s too darned depressing or because I can’t stand to hear Johnson or Trump’s voices. As for TV news, I’m nowhere near it, haven’t been for a long while, though I occasionally listen to a slice of PM on Radio 4.

The point of the news is supposedly to keep us informed of what’s going on in the world. But does it? Disregarding political bias, of which there is not a little, there’s an overwhelmingly negative slant to everything that’s reported. Even when you get the odd good news story there’s generally a ‘but’ at the end of it, as if they can’t resist warning you that life isn’t all roses, there’s plenty of guns out there as well.

Right now aside from having some kind of global nuclear war, the news could hardly be worse. We’ve got Covid deaths exceeding one million worldwide (though C19 has a way to go before catching up with the Spanish flu in 1918), we’ve got appalling leaders in countries like Britain, the US, India and Brazil, and behind and above and beyond all of that we’ve got climate change which we’re doing not nearly enough to halt, never mind reverse. When faced with all this, despair seems the only option.

But! as Krishna says to Arjuna in the Gita, strong men know not despair. Let’s imagine he meant women as well – which he probably did, and consider this. I don’t think Krishna was advocating toughness or bravado, nor was he suggesting we bury our heads in the sand. I think he meant that the world, the universe, God – call it what you will – is always so much vaster than we can imagine. My own take on it is that Gaia will take do whatever it takes to heal the earth; rather than us destroying the world, it will destroy us. If we don’t learn our lesson. But I take heart from what happened during the early days of lockdown; the clearness of the skies, the dolphins coming back to Venice, the air pollution practically zero. I’m convinced – and I mean no disrespect at all to those who’ve lost people in this pandemic – that Covid is here to teach us, the human race, a lesson. We must do better – and soon.

Of course our glorious leaders show no sign of getting with the programme – but Johnson and Trump will soon be gone. The earth will continue.

Kirk out

Short Story Serial: Leave Means Leave Episode 2

The second part of a Brexit-themed story…

It was the pregnancy that woke her up; for the first time in her life she felt a terror for someone other than herself and a determination to keep the baby safe. So, miscarriage or not (and that was a proper accident, nothing to do with him) the decision was made. She was gone.

And yet she delayed. What if she’d brought about the miscarriage by her own actions? What if it was God’s punishment for deciding to leave? What if there was worse to come? She made up her mind and unmade it a thousand times a day. And then suddenly one summer’s day by some alchemy the decision was made. Only by a small margin but there it was; she was going. Simple as packing a bag, writing a note and walking out the door.

She remembered that note with a stab of guilt; that one tiny, inadequate word, Goodbye. That summed up their whole marriage; she’d never been enough for him, had always fallen short, was always making him angry. Then as she left the house she saw the car again with its message. LEAVE MEANS LEAVE. It was back, in the same place, and that could only mean one thing: it was the universe telling her – don’t go back. Don’t even look back. And this time she took the message to heart.

She had barely mourned for the baby. Before the bleeding there were tiny white blobs on the scan that were the baby’s bones; remembering the fractures in her arms she fiercely promised the baby that no-one would ever harm a single one of those tiny bones. The baby would never be his, ever. No. The no sounded in the bone, hollow and resonant; it was a decision taken at the cellular level. No going back. Leave Means Leave.

In any case, she said to herself as though rationalising the decision – as though bruises and broken bones weren’t reason enough – there was hardly room for her in that place, let alone a baby. His stuff was strewn everywhere and he didn’t like her tidying. Knew where everything was, he said. Got cross if she moved anything. It was his flat after all, he paid the rent, didn’t he? Didn’t he have any rights? And so on. She was sick with the weariness of it.

So with the baby they’d have had to move anyway and he’d have made a huge fuss about it. Would he even have been glad? Probably, yes, because it would have been another tie, keeping them together, stopping her from running off. He was always ranting about her running off, wouldn’t even have let her go to work if they hadn’t needed the money. When the bleeding came she didn’t even go to the doctor, just mopped it up and carried on. Force of habit. The the next day she packed a bag, put on her coat and instead of going to work went to the police station. Leave Means Leave.

New Short Story Serial: Leave Means Leave Episode 1

A while ago I wrote a few stories with titles based on Brexit: ‘Take Back Control’ was one, about a young malcontent who joins an incel movement; ‘No Hard Border’ was another. This is the third of those stories.

She’d first noticed it when opening the curtains: a black Ford sitting at a stubborn angle as though it had screeched to a halt, no driver in sight – and more puzzlingly, facing the wrong way. You couldn’t miss the No Entry signs at the top, but it wasn’t only the signs: it was deliberately difficult to enter the street from this end. You’d have to go right across the verge and bump up the kerb – and why would anyone bother to do that? A car chase, perhaps? Her imagination ran on.

At lunchtime the car was still there. Problem was, it was blocking their drive and that would mean trouble. A lot of trouble, most likely for her.

She went outside to take a closer look. The car was an Escort, one of the newer models with a dark interior, tinted windows at the back. There were no signs of life. Surreptitously, looking up and down the street, she tried a handle; the car was definitely locked. She walked all the way round as if looking for clues but found nothing. Only, at the back it had a bumper-sticker: in bold black letters on a Union Jack background it said LEAVE MEANS LEAVE. Anna felt suddenly faint; she rushed indoors and locked the door.

It wasn’t as if no-one had warned her – and she had tried but it was so hard. It was like coming off heroin. The bruises fade but the craving continues, the knowledge in the bone. He does this because he loves you. He loves you so much – that’s why it hurts so much. Love hurts.

How many excuses had she made? Walked into a door, fell down the stairs, hit my head on the cooker – so many excuses to explain away the bruises. Then once folk had started to guess, she made excuses for him instead. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s always so sorry, he always makes it up to me, he doesn’t mean it, not really. She hated herself for going back every single time. How could she be so weak? But she knew fine well (sometimes her mother’s Scots surfaced) that decisions were made in the bone. The head said one thing but the bones spoke a different language.

More tomorrow. Comments welcome as always.

Kirk out

Is That a Pointless Answer?

I’ve never really watched Pointless apart from a few stray minutes at the end while waiting for Casualty to finally make an appearance. but unlike with Strictly we leave the volume on so I’ve got an idea of what it’s all about. It’s kind of the reverse of Blankety-Blank (if you remember that horror) where you were rewarded for thinking in cliches; as I understand it, Pointless encourages you to think outside the herd mentality and come up with a correct answer which few people would get. So that’s at least a worthwhile element, and Alexander Armstrong is a personable presenter (I think of him as this generation’s Graeme Garden – both lanky, both comedians, both ex-doctors.) But! it is not Pointless per se to which I invite you to turn your minds today but Points of View, the BBC’s right-to-reply programme which may be the longest-running on TV apart from The Sky at Night*. Now here’s a genuinely pointless programme: I gave it a go yesterday just wondering if it would’ve changed from the old Barry Took days; alas, it had not. One particularly silly comment complained about the plastic dividers in Only Connect separating the contestants, saying she didn’t want to be reminded of C19 when she watched TV. Perhaps she’d prefer the contestants to come down with the virus instead. The programme is basically a series of boos and hurrahs: I could use words like bland and moronic but instead I’ll point you (ahem!) in the direction of this Not the Nine o’clock News parody:

Not the Nine o’clock News Points of View

Compare and contrast with Radio 4’s Feedback, a thoughtful, incisive and intelligent programme.

* it isn’t: it started in 1961.

Now, when you were at school, did you ever do this when playing a game: cross your fingers and shout something like vainlits? It could be vainlights or fainlights, but it turns out both OH and I, who grew up in different parts of the country, were familiar with this expression. It means you can’t be ‘got’, so if you’re playing tig or something you’re immune from being touched. I’ll have to find out where it comes from. Coincidentally, crossing your fingers and shouting vainlits! is also President Trump’s latest advice on how to avoid the coronavirus.

This wikipedia article cites The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren where the term is listed as fainites. I think OH has the book somewhere… I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Monday.

Kirk out

Telly, Telly, Telly

There will be a new short story serial coming soon so make like an astronomer and watch this space (ho ho). I’ve had a bit of a sending-things-off frenzy this week and a clutch of poems and a slew of stories are now waiting outside the headmistress’s door to make their presentation.

Last night OH and I finished watching Us, the dramedy or comma I mentioned yesterday – and I have to say I found it a tad disappointing. It seemed to be ramping up for an interesting climax but in the end I found the denouement unsatisfying and a little didactic. Things did not seem to get resolved so much as to drift apart; the husband learned his lesson but they split up anyway, and his getting together with the woman he’d met in Italy seemed not so much the ending-that-was-meant-to-be as a stand-in for it; as though someone had told the writer they couldn’t have a happy ending so must make do with the next best thing. The writer was David Nicholls who also did Patrick Melrose – but there the plot was already laid out for him. He did Far From the Madding Crowd as well, so maybe he’s better at adaptations than original work? Anyway…

We are becoming addicted – in the absence of Casualty but also in its presence – to real-life emergency programmes, and our latest discovery has the added advantage of being set in Scotland. Paramedics on Scene has not only the usual delights of watching real-life emergencies but also of seeing the differences between the ambulance services in England and Scotland; chiefly the pleasure of noting that the ambulances have merely the words ‘Ambulance Scotland’ as opposed to the mass of logos that appear on ours, presumably to soften us up to the privatisation of the NHS. This is already happening, by the way – but don’t get me started.

Deep breaths…

Of course the biggest news is the return of the series that never went away, namely C19. Yes, like Casualty this dire drama never really takes a break and now it’s back for a second, blockbuster series which promises to be far more devastating than the first. Unfortunately the government have taken the free licences away from the most vulnerable so they’ll have to go round and watch it on someone else’s set – which they’re not allowed to do, so they’ll just have to set up their armchair by the window and hope the neighbours put the subtitles on. The rest of us’ll be staying indoors and closing the curtains..

I have to make jokes about all this because otherwise there’ll be wailing and gnashing of teeth. A lot of it.

That’s enough rambling for one day. Happy Friday and stay safe.

Kirk out

Is It a Comma?

I’m swirly today. I woke around six feeling totally rested and got going at the unfeasible hour of – well, earlier than usual. So here we are.

Lately OH and I have been intrigued by the new Sunday night series, Us. We’re great fans of Rev so when we saw that this starred Tom Hollander we decided to give it a go; it also got a good write-up in the Guardian, which always helps.

It’s a little confusing to categorise Us; it’s in the Sunday night drama slot – which will I hope soon be filled by The Handmaid’s Tale – yet it’s more comedy than drama. But it’s not exactly a sitcom either; episodes are an hour long and the laughs are intermittent. So I guess we should call it a dramedy. Or is it a comma? Either way it’s well worth a watch. All episodes are streaming now, as they say, but we’re rationing ourselves to one a day otherwise you get through these things too quickly.

By the way, do any of you take up my TV recommendations? I’ve heard from some people who are watching the same stuff anyway, but have you ever watched something on my say-so? If you have, let me know what it was and what you thought. Sometimes it seems that when you write a post it goes out into the void; unless people tell you what they think, you just don’t know.

I’ve also been watching a tribute on Netflix to a woman known as RBG, aka Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I’d heard of her of course, but didn’t really know that much about the woman who served on the Supreme Court (only the second woman to do so) and became a major figure in US constitutional history. It’s interesting to note the differences in US and UK law (not that we have any intention of abiding by our international commitments – don’t get me started on that) in that the Supreme Court is a key factor in lawmaking over there, and its balance is therefore crucial. In losing Ruth Ginsberg the US has lost a major figure, not only a champion of liberal politics (properly liberal, not neo-liberal) but a dignified person who was able to be friends with her fiercest political opponents. That’s some trick to pull off: as Clinton said, ‘She did something I could never have done.’ I admire women with gravitas and dignity; my role models have been, much more than women like Germaine Greer (though her work influenced me greatly) people like Helen Mirren and Joan Bakewell, women who are able to be who they are without slagging others off; in short, women with dignity.

I’m kinda riffing today cos this brings me on to thoughts of Dignitas. I’m very wary of assisted suicide but sometimes when I look at the efforts we make to preserve life at all costs, I think there might be a place for it. One of my relatives has a DNR, a decision which I entirely support (though it’s hers to make, not mine) and I’ve had experience of nurses trying to keep alive someone who was on the point of death and clearly needed to go. I don’t blame the nurses; they were just fulfilling their legal obligations, but I think when I get a bit older I, too, shall have a DNR. Not just yet though, I definitely want to be R if I conk out…

A propos of which we are glued to every series of Ambulance, the fly-on-the-wall series following different ambulance services as they respond to calls. If you’re at all interested in the NHS it’s well worth a look.

Now, I shall be checking up on you next week so make sure you watch at least some of my recommendations. OK?

Kirk out

Short Story Serial: Two Looks Like Murder, The Whole Story

Here, in case you missed it, is the whole story. Comments welcome as always.

Honestly, who uses a cut-throat razor nowadays? They’re museum pieces, Sweeney-Todd relics; deadly silver scissors that can slit the life with one flick of a careless wrist. Even if you don’t sever an artery there’s still a risk of infection and I hardly think swishing the blades under a cold tap whilst humming I Got You Babe counts as a proper cleansing routine.

But Dave loves his cut-throat. I can hear him singing to it as he shaves, then as soon as I open the door he clamps a hand to his jugular and starts making choking noises.

‘That’s not funny!’ I snap.

He looks contrite for a millisecond before his face splits in a big grin. ‘TGIF!’ he chortles, as if the day grants him some kind of clown-like immunity. It’s April Fools Day on Monday. Worst day of the year.

I push past him, shrugging off my dressing gown. ‘Why’d you still use that thing? Most people don’t even wet-shave, let alone with one of those.

‘Most people?’ No-one else would have noticed the darker tone in that voice.

‘Most men then,’ I say sulkily.

‘Can’t shave your armpits with an electric.’

I knew we’d get on to this. ‘They’d still never use one of them.’

‘Wouldn’t they,’ he says softly, darkly.

Every morning he makes some comment. But I don’t see why I should shave my body when he’s as hairy as a gorilla; a fact I pointed out one Friday night and so caused the collapse of a whole weekend. But I won’t give in. ‘An electric takes about ten seconds instead of all this palaver with foam and towels,’ I say. (He leaves the towels on the floor all wet and sticky, another bone of contention.)

‘If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’ He chants the words like a chorister singing a psalm.

‘One of these days you’ll do it so well you’ll slice your head off,’ I retort, and get in the shower quick. I hear him shut the blades with a flick of the wrist and I pull the curtain tight, thinking of Psycho.

Every morning it’s the same routine, shave – shower – argue – breakfast. As he leans in to inspect the coffee I notice his chin’s bleeding but I don’t say anything. Breakfast is a time of truce and without these truces we’d have split up long ago, he knows that as well as I do. I hate having the TV on but as usual Dave gets his way and I wonder if it damages our brains, ingesting all this gloomy news along with our coffee. I look at the vein pulsing in his neck. What if he really did slice it open? I imagine the gasp of shock, the bright-red liquid spurting out, the hand clamped to the neck, the blood splashing in a Jackson-Pollock all up the shower curtain… then I remember it’s not that easy to sever an artery. You have to slice really hard. You have to mean it.

I think about that later as I chop the tomatoes. They’re cheap ones, the skins so thick that you have to poke the knife right in. Like Dave’s skin… some days he annoys me so much I could – I stab again and the juice spurts all up my shirt. On the way to the sink, I catch my expression in the mirror. Sometimes I scare myself.

I put the radio on and hit the news; top story is the woman who murdered her husband. She suffered years of coercive control and in light of that was given manslaughter. Twelve years; out in ten… as I grab hold of the lettuce I wonder about that coercive control. What did he make her do? I cleave the iceberg in two with a satisfying crunch; inside it’s wrinkled like a cold green brain. I wonder what Dave’s brain would look like; I wonder if there’s a part that governs sadistic humour and whether it’d be engorged. I shred the leaves with a boning knife and sluice them under the cold tap. As I spin the salad drier I’m humming I Got You Babe and I realise I don’t know where my mind has got to, nor my life either.

The weekend is calm, almost too calm. I have a sense of foreboding but I put it down to climate change; you shouldn’t be able to sit outside at the end of March. When I wake on the Monday my first thought is that it’s cold again. I can feel a draught round my head and I wonder if the window’s open. Dave’s not in bed – have I overslept? What time is it? Why does my head feel so strange? I run a hand over my scalp: it’s like a field of stubble with ridges and clumps. What the hell? I check the clock. Shit, I’ve overslept, I’ll have to call work. But first I have to see, I have to know – what the hell has happened? Where has all my hair gone? Have I got some form of rapidly-advancing cancer? I wrench myself out of bed and into the bathroom. I turn on the light and let out a yell – the figure in the mirror looks like a Holocaust victim. She’s been shorn, her scalp brutally butchered. Between patches of bare skin clots of blood stick to clumps of hair. Who could have done this?

I stumble back into the bedroom and step on a piece of paper. There’s a note beside the bed – I pick it up and read the words without understanding them. You wouldn’t shave so I did it for you. What the hell does it mean? I sit on the bed and read it again. You wouldn’t shave so I did. Gradually the full meaning sinks in and as I hurl the note into the bin I see an empty packet; not Dave’s pills, not my contraceptives. I take it out. Temazepam. I know the word but my brain refuses to make sense of it, going off on tangents of trapezes and trampolines. Finally the full picture comes into focus and a murderous rage possesses me. I want to kill him, really kill him. This is coercive control; I’d get manslaughter. Twelve years, out in ten? God, it’d be worth it. I pace to and fro, hardly noticing the cold.

I need to phone work. Carol answers and I say I’m sorry I can’t come in today and she says where have you been and I say, I can’t explain now but I’ve not been well, I’ll be in tomorrow (when they see my scalp they’ll think cancer) and she says sorry to tell you this but you’re fired, you haven’t been in since Friday. What? Friday? What?

What day is it today? I say in a small voice, feeling like an idiot.

She seems to be suppressing a laugh. It’s Thursday. I drop the phone and collapse onto the bed.

Three whole days lost!

Enough. I drag myself into the shower, wincing as the water hits my scalp, and when I’m dry I throw on some jeans and a t-shirt, put a scarf over my lumpen head and ransack the drawers flinging clothes, money and passport into a bag. I slink out the back door and hail a taxi. I’ve already called May, said I needed a break; she sounded a bit curt but she’ll understand. She told me to leave years ago. Well May, I’m leaving now.

I hit the platform, ignoring the sidelong stares at my wild appearance, hoping the train won’t be delayed. As I look anxiously down the platform I see the stubbly brown hair and unmistakable gait of my least-favourite person in the world; Barry, my office nemesis and Dave’s best mate. Can I hide? Too late – he’s seen me. He strides over like a minder come to pick up his charge. What’s going on?

Without preamble he takes my arm in an iron grip and starts to steer me away from the platform. ‘Time to go home,’ he says out of the corner of his mouth. I’m trying to speak, to say what the hell are you doing, you can’t do this; to call out this man’s taking me by force, help, call the police, but the words won’t come. Barry propels me to a quiet spot under the bridge. ‘Now,’ he says.

Now? What does he mean, now?

He leans in to pull off my scarf and I wince, more in embarrassment than pain – in spite of needing help I don’t want anyone to see the state I’m in. He surveys my sorry scalp, nods in approval and hands the scarf back, then seizing my arm once more (why can’t I scream?) propels me into the lift, up and out through a barrier where he puts my return ticket through, a cancelled journey. In the side-street a taxi idles. Barry opens the door and shoves me in giving the driver our address, Dave’s and mine. Another cancelled journey.

Finally I find my voice. ‘You can’t do this,’ I say. ‘It’s false imprisonment.‘ (I’m talking off the top of my head and the phrase doesn’t seem quite right.) Barry says nothing; the driver says nothing. ‘I’ll go to the police,’ I say. No response. In frustration I yell, ‘What the hell do you want?’

Barry rounds on me furiously. ‘What do I want? What do I want? A man doesn’t ask much of his wife, just that she shaves her disgusting hairy body and does she oblige him? She does not. She goes her own sweet way.’ I open my mouth and close it again. In the mirror the taxi driver winks; if I had a knife I’d stick it right in his eye.

Barry’s still talking and I let him; gives me time to think.

Outside our house Barry pays the driver with a twenty then locks my arm in that same iron grip. He propels me indoors (he has a key? where’d he get that?) and drives me upstairs ahead of him. He locks me in the bathroom, saying, ‘Now shave yourself before your husband gets home.’

Dear god.

I consider my options. Shaving or not-shaving is one pair; escape or not-escape is another, as is escape-now or escape-later. I’ll go to the police, have them both arrested. Coercive control! That’s the phrase. I’ve been suffering coercive control. And I don’t just mean today – I’ve been suffering it for years. But what to do now? Maybe I could shave just this once? Pretend to go along with it, put them off the scent? Maybe. I open the cupboard and there at the back sits the cut-throat razor, still matted with hair and blood – my hair, my blood. That bastard, he couldn’t even be bothered to clean it. Immediately another pair of options springs into life, silver and sharp.

I spend an age washing and polishing the blades, running them under the tap crooning I Got You Babe. Eventually the front door opens; two low voices mutter in the hall, then footsteps thump up the stairs. I close the blades and tuck them up tight inside my sleeve. The lock clicks, the door opens and Barry says, ‘Downstairs. Now.’

‘Well?’ he says.

‘Well what?’

I follow him, my face hot, the silver blades cool on my arm; not having a clue when I’ll use them but knowing I will. Oh yes. Downstairs Dave’s standing in front of the mantelpiece like some Victorian patriarch.

‘Have you shaved?’

‘What’s it look like?’

‘In that case…’ Dave stops talking and holds his chest. What’s happening? Is he having a seizure? That’ll save time… but no, he looks up and I realise – he’s laughing! They both are – he and Barry are holding their sides and laughing fit to bust.

‘I can’t keep it up mate!’ Dave gasps.

‘Brilliant one mate!’ Barry punches him on the arm.

‘Couldn’t have done it without you.’

‘Or Genna at work.’

At this Dave erupts all over again. He laughs so hard he has to hold his stomach. He points at me, then at Barry, then at the calendar. ‘April Fool!’ they splutter in unison, then like a pair of clowns they collapse onto the sofa.

‘You – utter – total – bastard!’ Dave’s laughter turns to a gasp as with one flick of the wrist I flash the cut-throat razor in the air. I’m on him in two strides; he’s paralysed on the sofa as I attack. I cut through the jugular, remembering the tomatoes; you have to slice hard, you have to mean it.

‘I told you this thing was dangerous,’ I say, standing back to admire my handiwork. Dave doesn’t answer, just stares at me, glass-eyed. The blood’s splashed in just the way I imagined, only up the wall instead of the shower curtain. I turn around and see Barry’s scarpered. I won’t go after him though. One killing might be judged as diminished responsibility, but two? Two looks like murder…

Hope you enjoyed that. There’ll be another one starting in a few days.

Kirk out

Potty Dreams

OH always says that no-one can interpret a dream better than the dreamer, and I think it’s true; whatever theories psychologists may have, you know best what’s really going on. When I was so rudely awoken this morning I was bang in the middle of a very vivid dream, one of those where it takes you a moment to realise you’re not in a theatre about to do a performance, you’re in bed. In Loughborough. And it’s time to wake up. Ugh. I usually try to write down these dreams before I forget them, because they seem important – and if we no longer (since Freud anyway) interpret dreams as portents from the beyond, we do recognise that they have something to tell us, usually something our conscious mind has pushed to the background while it gets on with more important stuff. (Or so it would have us believe.)

Interpreting a dream is not so much about what happened – though that matters too – as how it felt. What was the atmosphere in the dream? What was I feeling? You can feel threatened even if good things are happening, or vice versa (incidentally I think one of the most brilliant bits of plotting in Harry Potter is in The Prisoner of Azkaban when, during a Divination class – a subject generally seen as worthless – Ron reads Harry’s tea leaves and concludes, ‘You’re going to suffer – but you’re going to be happy about it.’ At the time it just seems silly but in the end this is the essence of the plot: Harry suffers, but he’s happy about the outcome.)

Anyway. As we all know a dream can contain the most delightful elements and yet feel unaccountably threatening, like a film where the characters are walking happily along a beach but sinister music is building in the background. So. This dream from which I was so abruptly awoken was generally a positive one, though there were elements of doubt in it: I was giving a performance of poetry to a large audience; I’d waited a long time to get on stage (that figures) and when I arrived I realised I’d lost my set list. But the audience was very friendly and an enthusiastic fan knew all of my work off by heart and suggested poems for me to do.

So all in all I see that as a positive and hopeful dream, albeit with a bit of anxiety thrown in.

Kirk out