My Note to You

I wish you’d left me a note.

I don’t blame you for going, for leaving me. If you can read this, wherever you are, please know this most of all: I don’t blame you.

How could I, right? You were always my best friend, the guy I could go for a midnight McDonalds with; the guy that was always up for going to the cinema, for doing anything that made us both feel alive. Do you remember that night, say maybe eight years ago, when we ordered Chinese from the Garden Palace or whatever it was called? The power went out right after we phoned it in. We sat in the dark, a single candle between us, and talked and talked until the sun came up. It was only when the power flicked back on, the fridge began to whir again, that we realized the Chinese hadn’t arrived. You phoned them the next day and complained and they said – you’ve got to remember this? – that the food did arrive, but because there was no electricity, the buzzer downstairs didn’t work and the delivery guy was too scared to attempt to clamber up the stairs. You remember?

Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Either’s okay.

I can’t stand to think of you somewhere cold. Isn’t that weird? You’re dead but that’s what keeps me awake at night. I’d hate for you to be cold and alone wherever you are. It makes my stomach hurt. I took a few weeks off work, y’know, for the pain. Every time I try and sleep I see you in a stone room, lost somewhere, and you’re so cold. So, so cold. I sleep with the window open, no blanket over my body. I know it won’t bring you back, but if you’re cold then I will be too. You jump, I jump, right?

I don’t think you’re selfish. A lot of people do. Forgive them, yeah? They didn’t know you like I did. They won’t ever know you like I did. They tell me not to let it get to me. That you couldn’t have really been my friend because what friend would do something like that? What friend would cause the people that love them so much such pain?

A sad one.

A friend that spent too long – far, far, far too long – just trying to be okay. Just trying to be normal. You fought. I know you did. I saw it, day in, day out. You fought with every single piece of who you are. You pushed back against the feelings, the sadness and bitterness, I saw you do it. You just had nothing left.

You know that episode of Buffy where she’s injured and Willow gives her some of her strength to heal herself? That’s what I wish I could have done for you. Even if it only lasted an hour, a minute, I’d have given you every ounce of strength I had so that you could have felt happy for those precious few seconds. But I couldn’t, I can’t now, I let you down and I’m sorry for that. You’ve got to believe how sorry I am that you’re not here anymore.

I just wish…

I wish you’d left me a note.

Something I could hold in my hands when I miss you most. Something that looks like you, your handwriting, your words. A piece of you in my hands. Even a shopping list would do. Because I never need you to tell me how much you love me, nor how sorry you are. You have nothing to be sorry for. You tried. You didn’t fail. You tried.

It was me that failed you.

I’m sorry.

 

Your friend,

Forever and always.

Her Aria

The newspaper sat uselessly in his hands. The paper rustled as the mid-morning breeze bustled in through the open kitchen window, gracing the table he sat at – his home-cooked breakfast all but untouched – for just a moment. His eyes were thick with tears. His lips trembled and he coughed once, twice, three times. The tickle remained. His dressing gown was matted with raw egg, patches of congealed yellow looking like snot or worse. His glasses slid down his nose, the tears now leaking freely from his eyes, but he didn’t move to catch them.

Music played from outside. Whether outside his house or just outside his kitchen, he didn’t know. His ears had begun to ring. The music was a low, sleepy aria that hummed with the force of a bagpipes low drone – though far sweeter to the ear. It sounded like an angel’s song, her last call into the mortal world before she vanished forever. He thought of Moira, his wife, and how she’d adore the music. She never played it in the house, not anymore. She had grown protective over her precious arias.

He tapped the back of his neck, the muscles there tightening and squeezing on his throat. It ached unnaturally, like a spectre of long gone guilt was there in the bright yellow kitchen with him, choking him from behind. He coughed again, once, twice, three times. He smiled on the last cough, bringing his hands to the rough patch of beard he’d managed to grow along the flabby gizzard of his neck. As if a ghost would stand next to the bananas in the middle of the day. But still the feeling in his neck grew tighter, more constricted. The newspaper fell from his hands, the wind scattering the pages free of the checkered table cloth his wife had hand sown two summers before. A section stuck to the table, mired in a trench of egg and tomato sauce.

His lips were dry. When he flicked his tongue free of his mouth he winced, it was just as dry, just as horribly, horribly dehydrated as his lips. The feel of dry flesh on dry flesh sent spasms of pain down the length of his neck. He reached for the mug of coffee on the table and glugged a luke-warm mouthful. His lips stayed moist for a second, his tongue even less. He moved his mouth, trying to call out, but his words deserted him, betrayed him, and left him silent in the kitchen haunted by the aria from outside.

Panic became a strange bedfellow then. He’d never in his life met the ghoul that inhabited his body now. His breaths were short. His heart thump, thump, thumped like a hare caught in a hunter’s trap against his chest. He heard the feeling laugh in his ear, just a soft moan by his left lobe and he knew in that second – that clarifying second – that Karma in all its Hindu glory was real. He felt the weight of an overweight man on his front, the pressure in his neck the kerb of a dimly lit street. He struggled with his belt buckle, his entire body feeling too full, too full, too full. And then, like the Angel singing the aria, she walked into the kitchen.

“Moira,” he gasped, his hands so slick with sweat that they slipped from the table and threw him to the floor. But it didn’t sound like her name. It was the final moans of a dying animal, the vowels the same but the consonants were cut up and drawn out, their blood and entrails staining the kitchen floor. She didn’t stop. She walked to the window and shut it tight against the wind. He tried to say her name again, like it was all a dream and he just needed her to hear him. He tried to say her name again but the pressure in his neck grew so tight that he heard the faintest, softest click in his neck and his lips froze, mid-part, in a horrid ‘o’.

Moira picked up the newspaper and sat by the kitchen table she’d loving decorated. The aria grew in tempo, in emotion, in volume, filling the house again with its haunting melody.

No longer scared sing.

Selfie

There’s a man who takes pictures of me.

I’m assuming he’s a man, I don’t really know – I haven’t ever seen him. But it sounds like a thing a man would do, right? He left the first picture he took of me – or the first he wanted to share with me anyway – in my locker at work. It was just slipped in the side; you know that part of the door that doesn’t quite touch the frame? I thought it was a joke. I laughed. I looked good. And then another one came. And another. It was weird. I was always smiling. Every photo, I was smiling.

Until the one he posted through my front door.

In that one, I was crying.

It was my mother’s wake. She died of ovarian cancer. Short, definitely not sweet, but we had time to say goodbye and she was in no pain. She’d seen the signs but hadn’t went to the doctor. What you going to do? It was hard, sure, but I got to say goodbye and how many people get to do that? I was standing hearing condolences from my Psychology lecturer when a bright pink envelope caught my eye. I excused myself and went to it.

There was no stamp on the front. No address. Just my name in thick, bold capitals.

“Oh hey, I found that on your welcome matt when I was letting in the neighbours. Hope you don’t mind,” my best friend said before dashing off to shout at someone for not using a coaster on some cheap wood coffee table my mum had bought from IKEA thirty years ago.

I opened the back of the envelope, careful not to rip what was inside. I’d spent all day seeing nothing but black dresses, white shirts and somber faces – the pink caught my eye like the red balloon in Schindler’s List. Was there a balloon in that film? Seems a weird thing to have in a concentration camp but, hey, Nazis, right?

I knew what was inside before I saw it. As soon as the envelope was open I knew that this wasn’t a bereavement card. I slid the photo free and looked at it. It was me. Crying. My head pressed against my car window. But that didn’t make any sense. I’d only cried once in the past few months and that was when…

And then it clicked.

I brushed it off. What else was I supposed to do? My mother had just died. No brothers. No sisters. A dad – if you wanted to call him that, which I did not – somewhere down south. I couldn’t deal with this. Not then, not ever. So I ignored it. And the guy stopped. Gave me a break from his creepiness. He may have went to Bali for the summer, who knows? Not me. All I know is that they came through my front door now – not posted into my locker.

I know people say they’re scared to look through their mail, but I think most people are anaesthetized to it now. Bills, sure. Credit card statements, heck yeah brother. Some people even get nice things in the mail that make them laugh because of how nervous they were. Like big fat tax rebates from HMRC. I woke up for eighteen mornings in a row – I thought I was pregnant, so I counted, because that was all I needed: a dead mother, a creepy stalker and a baby out of wed lock – not quite sure why I felt so ill. And then there it was. A pink envelope lying on my welcome matt. This time I was buying bananas.

I’ve never seen my face look so stern. So angry. My lips are pouted into a petulant rose on my face and the strip lighting above does nothing but wonders for the deep black shadows under my eyes. I’m so angry at that goddamned banana that I laugh as I clutch the photo. It’s only when the hysteria begins to dampen that the chill runs up my spine and I twist the key in the lock.

I hadn’t locked the door last night.

“Welcome to Police Scotland, how can I help you this morning?”

“Hi, someone keeps taking pictures of me.”

“Oh are you famous?” the woman asked, laughing. “Or is it one of these new internet challenges?”

“No, it’s, I dunno. Someone keeps taking pictures of me and posting them through my letter box.”

“Are these photos accompanied by any threatening messages?” the woman asks, taking me more seriously now. Like she can hear the fear in my voice.

“No, they’re just, um, on their own. Oh, apart from the pink envelopes.”

“Pink envelopes?”

“Yeah, he sends them in pink envelopes.”

“He? Do you know who this person is?” the woman says, happy now. Like Miss Marple had sussed the case. “Is it an old boyfriend?”
“I’m a lesbian,” I said. I’m not. And I shouldn’t pretend. It’s not right. But she sounds so patronizing that I want to throw her off.

“Well I’m sorry, miss,” she hisses the last word. “But until a crime has been committed, there’s nothing we can do.”

“Oh. OK. Er, bye then.”

And I hung up.

It was two days later when I threw up in the kitchen sink. Another pink envelope was on my matt and I shook a little as I picked this one up. Call it woman’s intuition, call it psychic ability, call me Mystic Fucking Meg, but I knew this one was different. I slid open the envelope and pulled out a picture of myself the night before, pulling out the big black bins for collection this morning. The bin men were outside now. A big burly man with a piss poor moustache smattered with grey was singing as he slammed his meaty paw down on the button that pulled the bins from the street and emptied them into the churning guts of the bin lorry. He turned and saw me at my kitchen window. He smiled and waved as if I was just a woman pulling a sickie from work, coming through for a second bowl of cornflakes while Homes Under the Hammer did that boring auction segment.

The photo was in my right hand. I turned the tap on with my left to wash away the chunks from last night’s pizza. I was wearing my Mr Men pyjamas and talking on the phone. I could see the light from my mobile – that blueish light from the screen – illuminating the right side of my face. My stomach convulsed again. It was like, you know when you almost step out in front of a car, but something stops you from stepping off the kerb and the car whizzes past, horn blaring if they’re a dick head, and your heart swells in gratitude? You’re so grateful that you weren’t such a nincompoop that you stepped out in front of a car, but it’s more than that. You’re so grateful because you know fine well that a hundred people a day – all smarter and less nincompoopy than you – do step out in front of that car and they do die. But you, well your heart swells because the universe protected you. Your heart swells because you realise how lucky you were. Then you feel sick. You feel sick because you realise just how close to danger you were in that split second. That’s how I felt looking at this photo. Sick at how close to danger I was.

My face is lit up by my mobile phone screen. I’m wearing my Mr Men pyjamas and I know that it was Rachel I was talking to and not Stephanie – though I switched between both all night – because the picture shows it clearly. Rachel and I standing in front of a big elephant at the zoo. The camera was that close to me when it took the picture that I can read the digits of her phone number on my screen. And then I see it. The little lump of wall that we never tore up when we replaced it with hedge because I said Miss Maisie – my imaginary pet mouse – lived there. We couldn’t tear it up. Where would she live? And so my mum had left it for Miss Maisie and, unless she had taken up a recent interest in photography – and the Ghost school of learning how to touch things despite being incorporeal – someone had been hiding behind that lump of wall and taken a picture of me.

And I’d walked right past him.

I couldn’t sleep for three days. Or nights. Just sun up, sun down. Not leaving the house, not eating, barely breathing (inoutinoutinoutinoutinout) and staring at the photo of myself on the phone. The man barely a few yards away. I checked the doors were locked constantly.

“You need to sleep,” Rachel said as if I were overreacting. “It will be some idiot playing a joke. Remember next door kept putting glue in my locks? If it was more serious, the police would have been involved, right? I hear you nodding. Mhmm. You need to sleep. How about you go to sleep and we will go CCTV shopping tomorrow? Didn’t Dr Ryzin give you some sleeping tablets after your mum died? Take some. You’re exhausted. And stressed. Take the pills, go to sleep and I’ll be over tomorrow.”
“You’re sure you can’t come now?” I say as I check the door is locked for the eighty fifth time this phone call.

“I would if I could. Tomorrow. Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

And then I’m alone.

The pills are in a neat little tray, weirdly spread out in a jagged diagonal line. Maybe the factory worker responsible got bored. Maybe the person they employed to decide how the pills should sit in their packaging was in a wacky mood. Regardless. I pop one from the silver foil and reach for the glass of water I brought from downstairs. Then I think better of it and pop another. I swirl them off my tongue with a big gulp of cool water and swallow them both down. I’m asleep before I even remember crawling into bed.

I wake up to the sound of buzzing. In my dreamy state I think it’s a bee and try and jolt myself awake. I hate bees. Honey or no, I hate them. The bee gets louder and louder, or bigger and bigger until I realise that I’m just growing more and more coherent. My head is swampy. My tongue thick and heavy in my mouth. I feel like I’m recovering from the worst hangover and the best nap at the same time. Dr Ryzin packs a punch. And hey, since I’m probably fired for not going to work anyway, I might even get a good price for them down at the corner shop. That’s where drug dealers sell there stuff, ri…

There’s a pink envelope on my bed sheets.

Prettily, like a blond little girl with high pig tails and a lollipop in her mouth, its sits there. Sweetly, almost. Unassuming. I rub my eyes and hope I’m dreaming but it’s still there. Maybe a little close in fact. As if it slithered forward when I wasn’t looking. The little girl edging forward. But she’s no little girl. I know she’s not. She’s a demon. A demon with a big fucking knife and a poor attitude to match.

“How did you get there?” I ask it like I’m Mary Fucking Poppins and it’s going to answer me. It would sing, no doubt. Sing a song of a wizarding school, a lotto win or a letter from my dead mother telling me she loves me still. If it wasn’t for the pink colour, I might have even been able to convince myself of that for long enough to reach over and grab my now silent phone. But the pink was a taunt. A firm, bullying taunt that I just couldn’t resist.

I opened the envelope and ignored the instinct in my gut that was tearing its hair out screaming, “you stupid white girl, get out of the fucking house.”

I pulled the photo free and turned it over in my hand.

It was a picture of me. Not smiling. Not angry. Not crying. But sleeping. It was a picture of me sleeping and a giant grin spread out gloriously right beside my face.

Her Day in School

 

“Do you know the saying, ‘a mother becomes a mum the day she finds out she’s pregnant; a father the day he holds his child’, doctor?”

“I’ve heard it, yes,” the doctor said as she busied her eyes with the numbers and figures on the chart before her. That was Lucile’s life, the only parts, at least, that meant anything to the doctor, scribbled on a chart.

“Does that piece of paper tell you the choice I had to make when I found out I was pregnant?”

“No,” the doctor replied as she turned towards a nurse and muttered a few, low words of instruction.

“It was me or the baby. I had cancer. Breast cancer,” she added as if that would make her doctor look at her and actually see her, a living, breathing woman and not just a patient on a clipboard. “They said that I could ‘evacuate the fetus’ – as if it was that easy – and take chemo. Or I could have my baby but I’d die before she went to school. That was my choice, doctor, did you know that?”

Something in the woman’s voice, desperation maybe, made Doctor Leren look at Lucille McConlai. Her old instinct wasn’t so easily bested by a cheap trick, however.

“I do now, Mrs McConlai,” she smiled a porcelain smile.

“Miss. He left me,” the words were brutal. Gun shots cracking down the bustling hallways of the hospital. “Not when I had cancer, oh lord know,” she laughed for the first time in a lifetime. “No, my husband was an honourable man. He just couldn’t take the strain, I guess, in the end. Left for Ireland. Still lives there, I think.”

“Another woman?”

“You really don’t listen do you? Not at all. Not to a word I say. He’s an honourable man is Jack. Too honourable to leave me for some silly girl in a low cut top. No. He just grew tired and in the end it was better for us both. He used to still see Lara, of course, he just can’t look at me.”

“I’ll have you sent down for an MRI in the morning, Mrs…Miss McConlai,” Doctor Leren smiled like a school boy that thought he’d just been caught cheating on his math test.

“He couldn’t forgive me. Not for what I did. You see, he couldn’t understand, could he?” Lucille reached out and grabbed the doctor’s wrist as if it were her last thread to the real world and not the horrorscape inside her head. “I chose her, Lara, over him. Over us. Me. I chose her.”

“You’re hurting me, Miss McConlai.”

“Am I? Perhaps I am. But I hurt us more that night than I could ever hurt you now. I broke our union. He couldn’t understand. To him she was just a pile of cells, no soul added, not yet anyway. He couldn’t see why I’d choose that over him. Over myself. He just couldn’t see that, to me, she was already a person. But, ha,” Lucille laughed again, “what did I know, right? Nothing,” she was as morose as she had been manic, instantly switching between one and the other. “Are you religious, Doctor Leren?”

“No,” she careful extricated herself from her patient’s grasp. She rubbed the skin on her wrist, the patient’s sweat still clinging to her like it could infect her. Infect her with the disease of empathy.

“Neither was I. But I felt then, as I was choosing between my life and hers, that God had forsaken me. That he wanted me to choose for…well, I still don’t know the answer to that question.”

“If you excuse me, I have other patients to attend.”

“I spoke to the Devil,” Lucille admitted. Her eyes were round and innocent, shocked as if it was the first time they’d ever heard that sentence before. It probably was. It wasn’t a sentence often said aloud. Her lips covered into a shocked little ‘o’ and tears fell down her cheeks. “That night. When the doctor, like you are now, asked me to make a choice. I spoke to the devil and begged him to let my little girl live. He answered. He’s always listening. Always available. Unlike God. He granted my wish. She was born and she was happy and fat and healthy. And then, like some kind miracle, I survived too. My cancer shrunk away against the chemo and I’ve been in remission for seven years. Seven whole years. They told me I wouldn’t see my daughter go to school. And I did. It was the best day. The best day of my life. I watched her climb those steps, her yellow backpack bouncing like a buttercup amongst the throng of greys and blues. She went to school and came back and told me her teacher’s name was Miss Rose. Isn’t that a fabulous name for a primary teacher? Miss Rose? Like something from a story book.”

Doctor Leren didn’t know why this woman was telling her all this. Her pager was buzzing wildly at her side, its shrill calls for attention muted to violent vibrations on her hip bone. She knew she had to leave, she wanted too as well. But instead she was stuck here, bound to the floor as a desperate woman told her story.

“I cried all day. All day until I had her back. Then I cried when she’d gone to bed. I’d done it. I was out the danger zone. I’d beaten the odds. But that’s just it, isn’t it? The house always wins. I spoke to the devil that night, and the devil doesn’t deal in miracles. He deals in tricks. And pain. And abject, all engulfing, heart destroying misery,” Lucille wept openly as her hands began to shake, vibrating almost as fast as Leren’s pager. “She died two days later. Hit by a car. A car, indeed. A car. That was all it took. Some silly girl, too silly to really blame, playing with Snapchat or whatever on her phone. And Lara was gone. And do you know how I know it was the devil that night, Dr Leren? Because when that car swerved just a fraction to the right and hooked itself around my daughter’s backpack, it wasn’t just evacuating a fetus, killing a ball of cells. It was taking away my Lara. A girl who loved buttercups. She loved them so god-damned much that she couldn’t pass one without picking it from the dirt and resting it beneath my chin as she laughed wildly and said, ‘Mummy, you like butter!’. A girl whose favourite book was Green Eggs and Ham. A girl who made me read the speaking parts in a funny voice – even one week when I had the flu – or she’d pout her adorable little pout and not talk to me as I finished the story. That car took, not the potential of a human, but a little girl, my little girl, that wanted to be an archaeologist, like Indie, and discover a tomb beneath the sand.

“I buried her with her backpack. The yellow one I told you about. A new one, of course, there was too much…” she steeled herself, her eyes closed and desperate, to say the word, “…blood on her old one. And I gave her her favourite book. I recorded my voice saying the silly words and put it on a little microphone, you know those old ones that they use in the movies? Private investigators and the like? I had to record it eight times because I kept crying. And that’s how I knew it was the devil. He didn’t save my girl, he gave me her just long enough for me to know that I was losing the most talented, clever and beautiful little girl in the world. All so I could live. Can live.”

Leren said nothing. She was too shocked. She raised her hand to her face and recoiled at the glittering shine on her fingertips. She hadn’t cried since Christmas, and even that was because of the litre bottle of vodka she’d drunk by herself. It had been Dr Macie’s turn to work Christmas last year.

“I became a mother when I found out I was pregnant, he became a father when he held her and all was forgiven between us. He felt then what I’d felt for months before. She was glorious, she was precious and she was ours. Ours to protect from all the world would throw at her. We were supposed to protect her.  But what am I now?” she turned those primal eyes on Leren again, the sheer agony and desperation within them was too much for her to bare. “Now that she’s gone? What am I now?”

Doctor Leren had no answer for her patient. So she did all she knew how to do and walked away, leaving Miss McConlai to await her MRI in the morning.

“It wasn’t the saying goodbye part, you know,” Lucille called after her doctor. Nurses, interns and patients alike flocked away from the charging woman, whose face was so blinded by tears that one orderly thought that she must be very sick indeed to let her mask slip like that. “I’d said goodbye a hundred times. It was…it was knowing,” she felt as she had when she’d recorded one last story for her little girl, the Lord’s new angel, “…it was knowing I’d never get to say hello to her again after her day in school.”

Anxiety and Fiction

I’m a dealer of Fiction. My life, my work and my (future) career are all based around my capability to invent and fascinate. To tell a story so convincingly that my reader asks, “But what happens next?”. I feel like I do a semi decent job at this. My stories all have beginnings, middles and ends. My characters change and develop. My intention comes across. These are all good things, right? Yeah, they are, but when you suffer from anxiety like I do, it can become a living hell.

My name is Conner and I tell myself stories that make me wish I wasn’t here anymore.

I’ve always been anxious. I was brought up in a house where the rent might not get paid that month, where weekly shops meant that, come Sunday, there may or may not be food in the cupboards. Once, when I was in first year at high school, my little brother and I went around collecting money for some school Bingo nonsense and that was the money used for dinner that night. It was replaced, of course, the very next day. My mother is a lot of things but, to my knowledge, she is not a thief. I was also heavily bullied. Kids I didn’t even know hated me and one or two of them would take that unfounded aggression out on me physically. I couldn’t just be worried about the kids I knew, I had to be worried about them all. Every one of them was a potential humiliating trip to the bathroom to wash the blood and dirt off my face.

I was terrified all my friends were plotting against me. And, as they were thirteen-year-old girls, they probably were. I’d spend nights desperately worrying who I would sit with at lunch if all my friends decided that they just didn’t want to talk to me anymore. I didn’t come up with a great solution so when it happened, and it DID happen, I made the best of it. But it taught me something I now take too far – sometimes the bad thoughts in your head do come true. Sometimes your anxiety is a warning of what’s to come.

Fast forward to today. I’m a twenty-four-year-old man, I have an honours degree in History and I am about to go back to uni to get an MLitt in Writing practice and study. I have written two novels and dream of the day I can earn money simply by writing books. I am number one in my area for sales and, hopefully, Employee of the Month this month. I smile, I laugh, I survived depression and a few suicide attempts. I speak what’s on my mind and I have no problem – anymore – with walking into a room of people that I know don’t like me. Screw them, I say, they don’t know me anyway. I’m overweight, true, but all-in-all, if you were to ask someone, they’d probably say I was doing alright for myself. What they don’t know, and what they will now that I’ve decided to talk about it (after accosting the girl serving me in Starbucks with a rushed tirade of gibberish that probably made her question whether she ever wants to ask “how are you?” to anyone ever again), is that I am terrified, utterly, disgustingly and very palpably, terrified that the Police are going to knock on my door and take me away.

Let me preface this by saying that I do not, in any way, ever break the law. So extreme am I about this that I don’t speed – not EVER – I never stream or download movies I haven’t paid for and I couldn’t tell you the last time I ate a grape in Tesco without paying for it. Not that any of these things are that bad (speeding’s not great, but 75mph on the motorway isn’t exactly the worst thing that ever was or will be), I just can’t do them. I think it will sow Karmic retribution that treble-folds and leads to my incarceration. In fact, so deep rooted is my fear of the Police, I never watch porn online as I’ve read several articles that talk about the UK’s draconian laws on the matter that are so loose, you could, technically, be breaking the law by watching a spanking video. My tastes have always been vanilla, but when I read that my heart stopped in my chest, my throat seized up and I almost passed out.

Yeah, psycho right?

I used to go to counselling. I told my counsellor then all about this and she suggested that, because I grew up in a house without any semblance of strict authority (I never really had a bed time, or was grounded, or even asked where I was if I stayed out past dark) when I was a child, I crave it now. I crave the strong arm of the law because it represents everything I never had. Yes, I was an intelligent boy that never really got up to too much mischief and so never had to have iron clad boundaries set around me, but nor was there anyone to really care what I got up to, but that’s a story for a different time.

Back to my dealings in fiction.

I work hard on my abilities as a writer and a story teller. I craft words and concepts like a potter may do a lump of clay, or a painter an easel full of paint. My imagination has always been vivid, raw but powerful, and that’s great for when I’m writing. But when my body floods itself with whatever chemical causes anxiety to nibble away at the reality in my head, my imagination turns on itself and constructs scenarios to justify the anxiety. I think back to what I’ve done that day and convince myself that something, anything, must have been illegal and therefore the police are on their way. Every cop car I see on my way to work is an omen of what’s to come. Every night out, rare but they do happen, any segment of it I can’t remember becomes the time when I must have committed murder, rape or worse. It simply must. Why else would I feel this way?

I can’t talk about it, the logic of how unlikely my story is to be true just doesn’t work. Remember, just because your friend smiles at you doesn’t mean they haven’t just been calling you a poofter behind your back. Just because they come with you to report the bully doesn’t mean they won’t condemn you for getting him into trouble and not just ‘taking it as a laugh’. Those were the lessons I learned as a child. These are the results now.

Logic doesn’t work because my imagination is stronger. More crafty. Infinitely more flexible.

Take a scenario that happened the other day. I left for work, saw a puddle of hard, plastic looking glass on the pavement. A car window was clearly smashed. No doubt the owner of the car phoned the police. A day later my boyfriend tells me the police were in our building. My body is flooded with fear. Utterly swamped by it. But we’re already late for the cinema and I need to try and not let these feelings take over my life. I convince myself in the darkness, as the man behind me kicks my chair like he’s tapping out the Star Spangled Banner, that the police couldn’t have been at my door. Why would they be? Unless to take me away. I haven’t connected the dots about the car window yet. That’s too convenient. Almost laughable. It must be something more.

I get home. I have CCTV (some yahoo kept putting glue in my locks, the swine!) and say to myself, “they didn’t come to my door, they didn’t come to my door.” They did. Now, despite the fact that the officer rang next door’s bell first I am now convinced that my time is up. They’re here to get me. I’ll never see my cat again. And I can’t just sit complacent. I can’t wait around for them to come back. So I phone 101 and ask them why the police officer was at my door. I wait as she places my call on hold and no doubt types my address into the computer. I know how this sounds. I know how fucking psychotic this must sound to you. But this is my life.

She comes back on the call and says there is nothing on her system. No warrant for my arrest. No big red banner saying “DANGEROUS! APPREHEND NOW!”. She assures me, she was very polite, that it must have been general enquiries. The broken window flashes before my mind. I thank her and hang up. Relief takes hold for a second. And then doubt creeps across my mind.

What if she only said that to keep me in the house? What if the police are on their way right now? The next hour or so is hellish as I wait for my imminent arrest.

And you get the picture.

It’s exhausting. I clearly need help. But that’s the clincher. I’ve already had help. I got over the depression, so why do I need more? And what if, horror of horrors, I need to be medicated? I can’t do that. I won’t. Not ever.

One of my earliest memories is of standing in a doctor’s office, looking for my mum to get some lunch money and her being hunched over, on her knees, begging a woman behind reception to let her see the doctor now. She needed a prescription or something. Her pills had run out. And I thought to myself, as I stood there and saw the other women also waiting eye her with pity, is that how I’m going to end up? Begging for drugs, no thought for how I look to anyone else?

My step-father’s mum once said to my brother and I, “No wonder your mum needs so many pills with the way you two argue.” I was crushed. I didn’t even know she needed pills then. And now I was standing in front of her, tears streaming from her eyes, seeing just how far she’d go to get them. And so, as I type with anxiety ripping at my insides, I have to wonder if that’s what would be best for me – medication. Or should I just admit defeat and return to counselling when I left it so triumphantly before? Can I ever really be helped? Or am I condemned to live like a nervous cat, jumping at every noise and praying I get another day of freedom? A darker thought crawls across my brain, like the monster pulling itself from beneath the bed, what if this is the price I need to pay for surviving all I have? I prayed to feel something, anything again and so maybe God listened. Maybe he even has a sense of humour. Dark as it may be.  Now I feel too much, too often.

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But I know I have to get help. And I write this and share it with the hope that for every ten people that laugh as they read it, one person knows they’re not alone. That their fears don’t make them stupid or moronic. That their anxiety is painful and real and deserves to be tackled. If you’re reading this and see yourself in me (I am not so arrogant as to think these experiences are mine and mine alone) then reach out of the darkness in your head and do your damndest to find the light. I can’t promise salvation. I can’t even promise that it will get better. All I can do is tell you what it’s taken me years to finally admit to myself.

It’s not going to get any better on its own.

Now, something has just moved outside my door and so I have to get up and press my eye against the peephole just to make sure an angry looking officer, clad in lime green, isn’t standing there with handcuffs in one hand and a warrant in the other, ready to take me away.

Cage the Beast?

The air in the hospital was cold, but his heart was colder.

A woman lay on a bed beyond a glass window, the door it sat within bolted and secured tight. She was wriggling and writhing; her great mass straining against the rough leather binds that held her so forcefully to a bed she hadn’t chose to lay down in. Her anger was palpable. It filled the tiny room she was in, so completely, that it spilled out onto the hall a man and a doctor stood side by side in silently.

“Will she always be like this?” the man asked.

The doctor looked at him as if he were about to accuse the man of something but he thought better of it and sighed in that way only doctors can.

“It’s hard to say. Our analysis has been conclusive, a homely environ-“

“No,” was all the man said, interrupting what would have been a o doubt rational, if slightly visceral, argument. “She stays here.”

The doctor bit his tongue.

Another man and a red haired woman walked along the hallway. Their feet were three sizes apart, one covered in faux leather and the other in trainers that squeaked like the rickety wheel of a passing gurney; yet both their steps, the left and the right, were perfectly in sync. It made the man by the window taste copper.

“Ciaran,” the man with the red haired girl said curtly.

“David,” Ciaran replied.

“How can you stand there,” their sister was on the verge of tears. “Just stand there and watch her after what you’ve done…what you’re putting her through. Have you no shame? No soul?”

Ciaran said nothing.

“How is she, doctor?” David asked.

“Worse, if anything. The confines of the room seem to be exacerbating the underlying illness. She’s…” the doctor looked at Ciaran warily as if he were about to turn on his heel and smack him for saying anything that belied his resolute stance that she was better off here. “Deteriorating.”

The doctor had the good sense to briskly walk away from the family reunion just as the red haired girl began to weep openly.

“You’re killing her,” she said. “If you keep her here, you’re killing her.”

Ciaran said nothing still.

“We’ve hired a lawyer, you know,” David’s chest puffed like a kookaburra standing down a mate, at the proclamation.

“I knew you would,” Ciaran said passively, as if his brother had just told him he’d got them both tickets to another football game down south. Not that he would anymore, not now. Those days were long gone.

“We will fight you. Just ‘cos you’re the eldest doesn’t mean you get final say,” his face blustered red as his he realized the futility of his threats.

“Yes it does,” Ciaran said simply.

“Please, Ciaran. Please don’t do this. You won’t ever have to see her again. Just let her out, stop this folly and be the bigger person,” the red haired girl wailed.

“I don’t want to be the bigger person,” Ciaran said.

“You’re a monster,” she wept.

“What do you want then?” David demanded, his voice so loud that the nurse stuck her head over the ledge of her station to peer at the noise.

Ciaran stayed silent.

“She doesn’t need to be here,” David insisted.

“She tried to kill herself,” Ciaran shut his eyes tight, the memory vibrant in his mind. It was the first chink in his armour he’d shown since he’d commited her here three days before.

David nearly said it then, the words gripped and tore at his lips, begging to be set free, let loose so that he could inflict the same hurt on Ciaran as he was on their family. Were he a younger man he may have, his impulse could have overpowered his reason but he wasn’t that man anymore and, as much as it pained him, the quickest way to resolve this wasn’t in the courts but by getting Ciaran to change his mind.

“She needs us.”

“She needs love.”

Ciaran said nothing.

“You’ll kill her leaving her here,” one of them said, Ciaran was passed caring enough to listen. He felt the soft fleshy ridges on his arm, self-inflicted, of course, but no less poignant for it. He’d suffered too – yet they all seemed to forget that. Everyone did with her.

He turned away, not bothering to say goodbye, and strode off down the hospital corridor without a second glance at the woman writhing on the bed beyond the glass window.

“She’s your mother, Ciaran, nothing will ever change that,” David shouted after him.

“I know,” Ciaran whispered to himself as the nurse poked her head over the ledge of her station so she could peer at the freak show family the hospital couldn’t stop gossiping about. “I know.”

Woman before First Lady

“Privyet.”

“Ahh, you learned Russian since we last spoke?” his voice was as familiar to her as if she heard it everyday. Cream and earth combined in ways that sent shivers down her spine and made her feel safe all at once.

“A few words,” she grinned coyly, her smile touching her eyes for the first time that evening despite being plastered across her face since she’d stepped from the car.

“A few words uttered in your tongue are a tome shouted in another’s. Tell me, how does an all American girl like you decide to bother with such a dirty,” the way he said the word implied more than it meant. This was dangerous. Too many powerful people could easily overhear but she found it hard to care. The continual tinkle of glasses and polite laughs were just the rustle of the wind, winding their way between the trees of the lonely grove that only she and him were standing in. She could practically feel his skin stinging her through the soft satin of her designer gown. “Sorry, I forgot what I was saying, I got lost in your eyes for a moment. Dirty language?”

“I find it rather cathartic. I like the way it sounds… in my mouth.”

“Russian tastes better than most. Agree?”

“Hello, President Bedehnski,” her husband’s voice straightened her back and curbed her smile. The grove was gone in just a few syllables. They were once again in the stately palace in France. “Pleasure seeing you again.”

The two men locked hands and clenched tightly. The pale beauty of her husband’s fair skin was a marked contrast against the tanned roughness of the Russian President’s.

“Yes. Good to see you,” Bedehnski let go first.

“How is Moscow?” her husband’s dazzling smile was as fake as he was, as practiced as every move he’d made since he was eighteen.

“It is surprisingly warm. Perhaps you should visit more often?” President Bedehnski relished in his taunt. The soft stubble on his face spattered with only the faintest white, reminded Sophia of a winter she spent in Wyoming when she was just a girl.

“Maybe cut back the amount of oil you sell, less pollution,” her husband laughed.

“Maybe just encourage tree growth in Washington, filter out the shit your politician’s breathe,” Bedehnski didn’t laugh, his face grew serious, turning her husband’s smile into a hard line.

“Mr President,” a man with a clear cable trailing from his ear appeared from behind the leader of the free world and guided him away from his wife and main opponent on the international stage, leaving them alone once again.

“He’s always this pleasant?” Demetri smiled like a man with a secret. Sophia felt her legs weaken at the lust in his eyes; she clutched the pearls, a gift from her husband, around her neck as Demetri placed his hand on her elbow. “You’re feeling faint?”

“No, no. No, thank you,” Sophia didn’t care enough to give the room even a cursory glance to make sure they weren’t being watched. The fire in his touch was more potent than anything she’d ever felt before. She felt like a woman, not just a trophy. She felt alive. “How’ve you been?” she managed to choke out in between the quivers released from her… well, you know.

“A loaded question if ever there was one. I’ve been at a loss, Madame First Lady.”

“A loss?”

“Yes. I met a beautiful woman a year ago, almost to the day,” jealousy pulsed through her with hot, wanton abandon at his words. “But she is forbidden.”

“You think that is a safe thing to say to the First Lady of the United States?” realization dawned on her and relief had made her playful.

President Bedehnski’s features darkened with anger, his eyebrows furrowing like wild dogs as he stepped closer to the smell of her perfume.

“You think that is a safe thing to wear in front of the President of the Russian Federation?” she stepped back from him, his voice was guttural and raw, filled with passion and intent. It scared her. “I told you my favourite colour was lilac,” he nodded down the length of her purple gown, lingering for a just a second too long at her most intimate area, “and now you tease me so?”

“I was raised never to tease,” she caught him on the back foot and his eyebrows shot up at the implications. She was enjoying this far too much.

“And I was taught never to give myself to a woman that had already promised herself to another,” Demetri smiled sadly, all bravado swept away as Sophia realized she’d played too close to reality and shattered the mood. “Goodbye, First Lady of the United States.”

His shoes squeaked on the floor as his security detail flanked him on either side, his back disappearing into the maze of black suits and diamond earrings. Emptiness hollowed her out as he stole with him all the warmth in the room, leaving her shivering by herself.

An unassuming delegate from some country Sophia couldn’t remember began talking to her about trade rights along the Silk Road as frustration and regret settled into their usual places that had been usurped by flights of fanciful flirtation for only a moment. She had a job to do. And a husband to serve.

But she allowed herself one last indulgence. If she looked up from the Minister of the Interior or whatever stupid title this half-wit had attained and he was looking at her; she’d leave her husband right now and throw herself into his arms. She knew, didn’t she? That this wasn’t just sexual, it was something deeper. Woman’s intuition or divine intervention she didn’t know, all she was sure of was that she’d enevr felt this way before and she wouldn’t find this with anyone else, certainly not her husband. You couldn’t grow or buy or induce feelings like this. They were there or they weren’t. All she needed now was to know he felt the same. Superstition was all she had left to ask.

Steadying her breath, her old Texan father screaming bloody murder about what was proper and what was not in her ear, her eyes quickly found him. Despite the hundred or so other guests all dressed in their dazzling finery and suckling on the crystal glasses of power while mingling with other dickheads all raised to achieve the same goal – he was the first thing she saw. He stood a foot taller than anyone else, that was true, but that wasn’t why she found him so quickly. No. Her eyes were drawn to the irresistible look he was giving her.

She thrust her undrunk champagne into the hand of the woman before her and let her body do the rest. ‘This is going to be a fucking shit show,’ she thought calmly to herself. All thoughts of what was expected of her melting away under the onslaught of emotion that rumbled through her as Demetri stepped forward.

But a hand caught her elbow before she could reach out to him and turned it to ice where Demetri had set it ablaze. The furious face of her husband broke the façade he’d worn every time they’d been in public and let his hatred glare menacingly out at her as her dreams of finally being happy shattered in her heart.