(Slight Return)

When I met her, it was Monday. We went out for a few drinks on the Tuesday. Hang on, no, that’s the wrong song. Just as well – she was getting on my fucking nerves by Wednesday. I went round to her house and she stood in the middle of the living room striking these weird poses to a Christina Aguilera track.

‘This is my song. Because I’m a fighter.’

The thing is, she really wasn’t. If I’ve realised anything in my thirty something years here, it’s that if someone has to tell you something over and over, the person they’re really trying to convince is themself. I broke it off on Thursday. She took it quite well.

‘You just have a problem with women.’

If that got me off the hook, then that was fine by me. There are seven billion opinions out there, every one of them self-serving. Worrying about what you can’t influence is a huge waste of whatever resources you have. Besides, who was I to say she was wrong? She was just as entitled to the truth as I am.

‘This is my song.’

Another time, another era, but the same old bullshit that never seems to go away. My mother is playing Stand by your Man by Tammy Wynette. My stepfather is having another affair, and as usual she’s the last one to find out about it. Not that she’ll ever confront him. Me and my half-sister will have to drag his guilt around for him, as always. We’ll be the ones watching her walk about the garden in her nightdress, crying uncontrollably, at four in the morning. We’ll be the ones sat there, eight and six, when she walks into the room with a handful of pills and a bunch of threats that we’re too young to know are directed at us and not at herself. For fifteen years she was going to kill herself, and it took me almost that long to realise she never was.

‘I’ll do it. I swear I’ll do it.’

What she actually wanted was for someone else to sort things out for her. Quite how she thought a couple of kids could do that is beyond me, but there it is. We were a constant disappointment to her, and that wasn’t on – she had enough shit to deal with, how dare we make things worse.

‘I’ve had a terrible time.’

Haven’t we all?

‘There is such a thing as sympathy you know?’

Of course there is, it’s just a bit hard to keep up when the record keeps changing. Tammy Wynette gave way to Gloria Gaynor and thank God for that. It lasted two months. Then he was back, and despite all the bile she’d drowned us in, we had to like him again because now she did. Full circle didn’t just describe her world view, the one that started and ended with herself: it also described our lives as he moved back in and began almost immediately coming home at six in the morning with, in her words, perfume on his shirt and lipstick around his cock.

He liked Sinatra – no surprises there. Like every idiot I ever met, he thought the lyrics of My Way gave him an excuse to do whatever he wanted and justify it.

As for me, well, I have a song too. It’s called Go Fuck Yourself and I wrote it myself. There isn’t much of a melody and it doesn’t go verse, verse, chorus. But it is quite catchy, if you like that sort of thing. Every now and again I brush up on the chords and roll it out for an encore performance. It never would have made it onto Top of the Pops but I like to think John Peel might have given it the nod. The one thing it really has going for it is just how inconvenient it is for everyone involved.

Search and Destroy

I’m awake. It is literally that sudden. My eyes open to a thin, watery light. A moment ago I was somewhere else: a dank, in utero world that pulsed and contracted to the warm foetal stupor of my brain. I was dreaming about myself. It’s all I ever dream about. What else is there? A man who wasn’t really a man told me a lie and I believed him. A child died because of it and a whole crowd of people turned and saw me for the worthless piece of shit I am.

It seemed so real, ultra-real, which is not really real at all. All the time it was happening I knew that somehow, but it still made the panic and disgust rise at the back of my throat. An elysian sun cast no shadows on the antique buildings; there was no breeze floating on the sterile air. It was the set of a cheap movie, or a block print in a mouldering book of adventure tales. So fake, so obviously artificial, and yet it jolted me upright in bed and quickened my heartbeat nonetheless.

I’m disorientated for a moment, but ultimately I know where I am. Of course I do. My clothes are folded clumsily over the back of the standard issue hotel chair, exactly where I left them a short time ago. The faint clack and groan of the lift comes to me from the end of the corridor outside, out there, beyond my bed and my room and the anonymous space these walls enclose. It’s four am. In a few hours I need to be up, I need to be showered and dressed in a suit that hopefully doesn’t look too creased. There’s the midweek rain, there’s the faint vulcanised smell that clings to the grimy metro tiles of the underground, and there’s a room of executives that are waiting for me to trip over my words so they can lean back in their chairs and smirk.

‘It’ll be ok. What you’ve done once, you can do again.’

My voice echoes back from the bare grey walls. It sounds muted and dull. And unconvincing. It’s not the same this time, I can’t get a grasp of it like I did before. I raised the bar for myself and now it’s too fucking high. I have nothing to show them, a big yawning void of progress that I’ve tried to cover with handfuls of words. It won’t take a genius to spot the sinkhole through the straw. I’m fucked and there’s not a lot I can do about it now.

‘You seem a bit distracted.’

My wife is telling me about a parent’s evening she went to for our youngest boy. He’s doing alright, which is something, at least, that I don’t have to worry about. I’m obviously not paying enough attention though.

‘Yeah, it’s just work. I’m tired.’

‘You work too much. You need to relax, it’ll all take care of itself.’

If you ever need to define the difference between men and women, it’s there in those six words: it’ll take care of itself. It’s easy to have faith when there’s nothing chiselling away at it. Our mortgage gets paid, there’s wine in the kitchen. Everything’s fine isn’t it? Except it probably isn’t. We might be thirty minutes away from the bubble being burst, and then what? Women are optimists. Men are just pricks. When it comes down to it, if they see someone struggling they’ll do what they can to help them stay under. I’ve seen it. I’ve fucking done it.

‘In this business, it’s sink or swim.’

That’s what passes as an induction – the grim reality behind all that Human Resources bullshit. Plough your own furrow. Dig your own hole. We’re four or five hundred millennia in and not a lot has changed. Natural selection is natural selection: the details transmute but their execution never wavers. Suzanne doesn’t understand. She tells me it isn’t fair. Fairness has nothing to do with it. Right and wrong is a yarn we spin for the kids. If you build upon that as a foundation, you’re pretty much fucked from the start. It’s all about living on your wits. Be better than the next bloke, and if you can’t do that, then at least seem like you’re better than him. When they cut the weakest loose just keep moving, don’t look back, and don’t let them know you’re relieved it wasn’t you.

‘They’re waiting for you in the boardroom.’

I bet they are. I sign the visitor’s book and get in the lift. The doors close, slowly, and I turn and check my tie in the dark corporate mirror. For a second I think it’s going to be alright, but I can’t quite bring myself to believe it. My face looks jaundiced in the incandescent light.

Harmonic Generator

I can’t believe it’s really been so long since I last posted. That’s what getting a new job does to you. Story on jobs to follow shortly when I finish it (tentatively called ‘Search and Destroy’ that one, borrowing from a Stooges song title). Anyway, this is something I did in response to a writing group prompt on Tarot Cards. Not sure what I think of it, but there you go. Been writing so little lately I probably can’t afford to be choosey…

Harmonic Generator

There are people in Stockholm that can trace their families back for thirty generations or more. I don’t know how they do it. I can’t even trace myself back beyond a couple of years. It gets too complicated: there are so many strands, so many different decisions I took that changed who I was, and changed who I am; tiny increments, infinitesimal shifts and mutations. The only thing I’m sure of is that the older I get, and the more I know, the less certain things become. If you look too closely you’ll wish you hadn’t. The truth, any truth, is composed of elementary particles, every one of them a conflicting truth in its own right. Where does it end? It can drive you insane.

Everyone has an answer. Of course they do. In the face of the incomprehensible, what choice do you have? Without meaning we’re fucked. If there’s no meaning to be had, you’d better make some, and fast.

‘Man created God. Marx will tell you that. We just felt the need to personify Fate.’

She was a bit of a self-styled mystic this girl. She had it all figured out.

‘If I hadn’t gone to that party, we would never have met. It’s like it was supposed to happen.’

I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s called cause and effect. We covered it in second year physics. In a closed system it’s possible to predict the outcome of any event. The past is a closed system. Or to put it another way: in hindsight, you can draw any fucking conclusion you want. Like how we were meant to be together. Or how we were both lonely and at the time we thought that was worse than being with someone you have nothing in common with.

‘My psychic predicted I was going to meet someone like you.’

A man, most likely. What were the chances?

According to my palm, according to her, I’m going to live for a long time. But I’ll always be searching for happiness. The tarot cards are even better.

‘The Queen of Cups. There’s a woman in your life who is nurturing, caring and sensitive. A beacon of light.’

I don’t say anything.

‘Someone who can draw out your suffering with her sensitivity.’

She’s positively preening. The cards are telling her what she already knew – how she can heal me and fix me and chase out of my aura all these demons she thinks I have. Except from where I’m sat, opposite her, the card is inverted. I know what that means too – I looked all this shit up after the last time. The queen is an emotional wreck: manipulative, vindictive, fighting a losing battle with her self-esteem. If she convinces me I’m damaged, I’ll never leave her. I’ll listen to everything she says and do everything she says because without her I have no answers and no cure. The cards are telling me what I already know as well: that it all depends on how you look at it. That opposing things can both be true at precisely the same time. Nothing is mutually exclusive. And nothing is ever that simple.

‘I’m working on your star chart.’

Jesus Christ, I’m tied to a defining moment as well now. Is nothing my own?

‘It’ll help you understand yourself better.’

Such a shame I understand myself so well already. I did it the old fashioned way: by fucking up and working out what I needed to put right as I went along. Forget destiny, forget everyone else who was born on the fourth of May 1967 – the hard truth is you need to take responsibility for yourself. If you’re an arsehole, get over it. Or deal with it. Or change it. You’ve got nothing to blame but yourself.

‘Did you know you’re an Earth sign?’

I find it hard to care. And I wonder when I stop returning her calls if she’ll figure it all happened for a reason.

And here’s the song, which didn’t inspire this at all – just the title did. But I like it, so here it is anyway…