How Not to Survive

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6

Believe me I know – it’s like it never ends, and the tidal wave of crap still to come is gonna make this seem like hardly anything at all. Anyway, now for another FLASHBACK. This is me and Andrew and the first time we met...

So Jerk Jackson’s given us this deeply weird but for once kind of cool exercise that basically consists of stalking a random stranger. You have to follow them around town and try to get as much information you can get about them just from the way they like, behave in shops and on the street. The idea is that we’re supposed to then write down notes about what we’ve discovered and present them in class while Jackson interrogates us and tries to sniff out the stuff we’ve missed.

It’s pissing it down outside and I’m standing in the HMV in the Trocadero off Piccadilly trying to figure out whether or not to follow this punk who’s got so piercings in his face it’s hard to locate a nose and eyes. He’s checking out a Sex And The City box set, and I’m kind of walking around the aisle and wondering what would happen if you waved a magnet in front of his face when I turn face-splat into this nerd wearing what appears to be a genuine anorak. The impact produces this like, eruption of DVDs that he’s holding, and the guy is instantly like, Oh I’m sorry! in this terrified posh voice as if he just accidentally trampled down someone’s toddler.

I’m like, My bad.

The Trainspotter lets out a giggle that sounds a lot like a whinny. I go to pick up the DVDs at our feet only to slam my head with his as he bends to do the same thing. It’s like, a proper whammy.

Sorry! goes the guy again.

But it’s pretty funny and we’re both kind of smiling through the pain, and I’m kind of suddenly noticing that even though he’s a lot older than me he’s also a bit handsomish, even if in a cagoule I’m pretty sure isn’t meant to be ironic.

The guy’s like, I’m so clumsy!

I like, bend over again and pick up his DVDs, all slow and holding his eyes so we don’t have a repeat scenario and like, end up in A&E with one of the stupidest stories ever of how we got there.

I’m like, Here ya go.

It’s only as I hand them to him I have a peak at what they are – Eating Out 2 – Sloppy Seconds, director’s edition Uncut, Dante’s Cove The bits they didn’t want you to see!, Boys On Film 2: In Too Deep etc. I’m pretty impressed but when I look up at the guy to give him a wink I discover he’s on his way out of the store, hightailing it off like I’m gonna arrest him for soliciting or something. That’s all it takes to make my mind up, and I stick the DVDs on the nearest shelf (getting this dirty look from an old woman as it’s the Disney section) and head off in hot pursuit.

I’m pretty good at hurrying, the net result of being late all the time, but this guy is like, an artist. He ducks and dodges through all the tourists like he’s a spy in some majorly important operation, racing against time to prevent a disaster or something. On top of this it’s still raining and there’s about a million umbrellas pocking out of the crowd like spear traps for eyes. I’m like, seriously challenged here. But at the same time I don’t want to give up – I’m already imagining reading out my notes to the class on Monday and Jerk Jackson being forced to give his grudging respect for my amazing find.

The guy stops finally hurrying at the top of Regent’s Street and I’m able to catch up and walk along behind him a few metres away. I’m kind of pissed off with him at this point, since I’m soaking wet and have been like, punctured by multiple umbrella spokes, and I’m basically determined to follow for as long as I can and like, learn all there is to know about him. The guy heads down into Oxford Circus underground and like, goes through the gates. Here I have a like, moment of doubt, since Jackon’s been pretty clear to us that we’re not really supposed to be stalking people, and that we shouldn’t like, follow them home or anything or get ourselves into trouble (more likely get him into trouble). But I figure the guy’s so interesting I should probably bend this rule, and besides, I’m totally into the whole private dick shtick by this point. So I let him lead me down the escalator and then I jump on the Victoria line behind him.

It’s pretty busy on the tube and I kind of have to elbow a couple of grannies out the way in order to get on with my target, which is pretty unfortunate and gets me plenty of pursed lips from the other punters. But the good thing is that it means my quarry can’t see me, even though I’m only a few feet away. Or at least that’s what I think.

He gets out at Highbury & Islington and heads up Holloway Road, and at this point I’m really starting to think maybe I have been taking the whole exercise a little too religiously, and that perhaps I ought to turn around after all. But then I figure just a few more minutes won’t hurt, so I follow him across the road and up a side street into this posh neighbourhood where he pauses in front of one of the huge houses and fumbles for his keys. I’m figuring that’s the end of it when the guy suddenly turns round and looks at me. It’s pretty freaky stuff, and probably ought to have been my first clue to get the hell out of there. But instead I hear myself say, Hi, in this normal voice like it’s not completely frightening that I’ve just tailed him all the way back from town.

The guy doesn’t look surprised to see me or anything. Instead he just holds my eyes for a few seconds. He looks pretty intense to be honest, but it’s a look that suits the whole nerd thing he’s got going on.

He’s like, Do you want to come in?

I’m like, OK.

He unlocks the door and holds it open, and I walk through into the house. It does cross my mind at this point that maybe he could be like, Hannibal Lector’s younger brother and be intending to make me into a playsuit. But the truth is that I’m pretty turned on. Also, if I’m gonna be totally one hundred per cent truthful about it maybe I’m realising here that this whole following him home thing wasn’t just because I’m such a dedicated student either.

I’m Andrew, goes this guy.

Hi, I go, I’m Jaz.

He’s like, So Jaz, would you like something to drink?

I’m like, OK.

He heads off to get me something and I stand there in his living room checking the place out. It’s pretty massive and full of expensive arty things, like giant glass bowls that you could fit into, wacky-shaped mirrors and twisted knobs of oak, the sort of crap you only get at designer shops where you have to like, put down a piece of your life as a deposit before they even let you walk through the door. I’m kind of impressed, figuring he must be super successful at whatever he does. I’m just inspecting a paperweight the size of my fist that looks like a lump of gold when he comes back in behind me. I turn around to ask him what he does and find he’s lost offensive anorak along with all the rest of his clothes and is standing there in these comically oversized boxers that puff out above his legs like parachutes, holding two glasses of whisky.

I’m like, Uh thanks.

He clinks his glass against mine and we both have a sip. He’s looking at me all expectantly and I’m kind of unsure what the protocol is here.

I’m like, So... you do this a lot?

And Andrew’s like, Do what?

He looks down at himself and lets out another one of his super suave whinnies.

Oh no, he goes, Not at all. Never in fact!

And then suddenly he’s looking all uber-uncomfortable like maybe this was a really bad idea and he doesn’t know what he’s let himself in for, and it’s what I’m thinking a bit myself since it’s kind of weird to be standing here in broad daylight with this guy I don’t even know wearing what looks like his great grandmother’s underwear. I’m thinking of giving some excuse, or maybe even just tossing him the lump of gold, shouting Catch! and bolting, when he drains his glass and suddenly pulls down his bloomers to reveal a hard on that’d make King Kong weep. It’s like, Woah – hello! I drain my glass too and then he gives me this long look and I’m like, thoroughly switched on, and the next thing I know we’re going at it right there on the polished mahogany coffee table.

Listen, he goes afterwards, while we panting away and like, squeezed into this human sandwich of limbs on a carpet which is softer and bouncier than my bed – no kidding, I really like you.

I’m like, I really like you too, and I’m kind of thinking how this was like, the best homework assignment ever and finally Jerk Jackson’s classes are starting to pay off when Andrew’s like, But I need to ask you to leave.

I’m like, OK, meaning, Whatever.

I pull myself apart from him and start hunting for my clothes. Andrew looks all concerned and gets up and lays his hand on my arm, then snatches it away again like he’s suddenly just remembered about my chronic eczema.

He’s like, Look I’m sorry. You see – the thing is...

I’m like, I get it.

He’s like, Kate’ll be home soon. My wife.

And I’m like, Your you what?


So flip back to the present and I’m in a taxi which Kate’s agreed to reimburse me for, riding across town towards Highbury in order to like, talk her husband out of making himself into a rug outside the front door. It’s pretty fucking surreal. I’ve brought Eli along for moral support, and in case Kate turns out to be even more psychotic than her hubby and it’s all just a ploy to lure me close so she can get a good shot at me or something. The whole journey there Eli goes on about how it’s just like an episode of Gray’s Anatomy, all excited because there’s a human life at stake, but I’m feeling strangely detached and wondering like, How do I get myself into these situations?

You could be on the news! goes Eli.

I’m like, Joy.

When we pull up outside the house it’s all dark, and we both instantly look up in case it’s like, raining Andrew. But there’s no sign of anyone sitting on the roof threatening to throw himself off, and no sign of like, pulverised human being on the doorstep either.

Eli is like, Maybe he came down of his own accord, obviously disappointed at the idea.

Kate answers immediately. She’s just the sort of woman you’d expect to live in a house like this, thin with choppy hair and designer clothes and this die hard Zen demeanour like she’s beyond being shocked.

I’m like, Hi. I’m Jaz.

She takes in the sight of me and Eli with this wry grin like she’s calculating something to herself, then goes, You’re a lot younger than I was expecting – do come in. He’s still up there I’m afraid, but he agreed to hold on until you got here.

We follow her up all these endless flights of stairs. As we go I quickly introduce Eli and she looks behind her and goes, Very pleased to meet you Eli, with a polite smile as if the potential death of one’s other half is no excuse for letting standards slip.

I just wanted to say I really very sorry about this, she goes in her glass-cutting voice as we climb the last set of stairs, Andrew’s very confused and... well, you seemed the logical person to call, given how much he talks about you.

It’s like, No pressure then.

At the top of the house is this large attic which is obviously being used as storage space, and is full of rejected furniture covered in white sheets, kind of eerie and like the perfect set for a ghost story. There’s a ladder at the centre leading up to a square-shaped hole with this disembodied arse and pair of legs sticking out of it. Eli sees this and has to stifle a burst of laughter, which gets him dirty looks from both me and Kate.

His therapist is up there with him at the moment, explains Kate, He’s not had much luck which is why I called you. I’ll get him down now.

She shouts up to the guy on the ladder who straight away starts climbing down. As he does Kate takes in my face, which is like the definition of nervous, and smiles reassuringly at me.

Don’t worry, she goes, You don’t have to actually climb out onto the roof, you can stay on the ladder and talk to him. I certainly don’t want you to put yourself at risk.

The therapist steps off the ladder shaking his head like it’s all a crying shame, or maybe because he’s pissed off at being called out for this slice of emergency therapy when he could be happy at home watching the latest episode of Dirty Little Liars. He stands to the side and puts his head between his legs, making gasping sounds.

Vertigo, explains Kate.

He actually looks kind of familiar. As I go to take a closer look in case he’s one of those celebrity shrinks who like, cures your neuroses in front of studio audiences, he straightens back up and lets out a look whoosh of breath like he’s about to give birth and meets my eyes.

Higgs is like, Good heavens – Jarold Jones, is that you?

Eli’s like, You know each other?

It’s like, What is this? Carry On Committing Suicide?

My old shrink starts nodding away to himself like it’s all falling into place, as if I would be the one causing all the problems around here, what with me being this infamous marriage wrecker or something. There’s no time for us to catch up though, since Kate is tugging me over to the ladder, assuring me that it’s perfectly safe and just to say calming things and whatever it takes to get Andrew down, and then remembering her manners and asking me if I’d like her to fetch me something to drink while I’m up there. I’m like, Yeah – a pint of whisky.

Good luck, goes Eli as I climb towards the square of night above me.

It feels like I’m going up into another world or something. But it’s a bit late to turn back now that I’m halfway up the ladder, so I grip the sides of the skylight and hoist my torso through it.

As I do Higgs shouts out from below, Don’t lie to him Jarold! He’s not stupid! Just say – But then this like roaring wind totally cuts off whatever he was going to say. I figure I’m better off not listening to him anyway, since he’s a crap counsellor and he totally failed to keep my parents together.

I like, peer around me into the night. At first I can’t see Andrew and I think maybe he’s gone and jumped already. But then I hear this whimpering sound and I turn round to see him straddling this chimneypot like he’s trying to have sex with it. It’s a pretty powerful image.

I’m like, What’s up?

Andrew turns to look at me, and I see that his face is all creased up with tears and confusion. It’s almost a bit heartbreaking really, because he looks a bit like a little boy, only a little boy who’s also in his forties. He blinks a few times at me like he can’t believe what he’s seeing.

Jaz? he goes slowly, Is that you?

I’m like, It sure is! How’s it going?

I sound all retardedly positive, like a sports coach or something, and I kind of hate myself for it. If someone spoke to me like that and I was considering throwing myself off a building I’d go ahead and do it just to spite them. But it’s weird how when you’re faced with these situations your first reaction is to behave like you’re conducting a promo interview for T4.

Andrew’s like, Not great.

I’m like, Really? How come?

Andrew’s like, I don’t know who I am and I can’t bear it anymore!

It’s like, OK then... I wrack my brains for something positive to say. The awkward thing is that despite sleeping together several times I don’t really know Andrew that well. All I really have to go on is that he’s an obsessive fruitcake who’s fixated on me, which isn’t that much. Of course it’s possible he’s told me a lot more in his messages, but the trouble is I haven’t listened to any of them, which makes me feel like a real shit, but it’s a bit late to call Voicemail now.

I’m like, Look, I’m sure it’s not that bad.

Andrew’s like, Screw you! You’re only here because Kate called you. You don’t really care. Why don’t you just leave me alone?!

Despite the whole situation he sounds a lot like he’s throwing a tantrum. I figure it’s time to drop the Hannah Montana cheerfulness and try a more hard-nosed approach.

I’m like, You need to get a fucking grip OK?

Andrew looks back at me like he can’t believe I’ve just said this to him.

He’s like, Do you want me to jump?

I’m like, Go right ahead.

OK so this is a bit of a gamble, and turns out to be not a very bright one since Andrew twists his head away and starts rotating his body away around the chimney away from me and towards the sloping end of the roof.

I’m like, Fuck – OK – wait!

Some bit of gravel or something gives way and goes scuttling down the slates and flying off the edge. Andrew lets out this little scream and clings to the chimney like it’s the mother he never had.

I’m like, Look, Andrew, I really care about you. Please come back. I definitely don’t want you to die.

I stretch out my hand for good measure, even though I’m miles away from him by this point, and hold it out like I’m pleading with him to take it. It’s like one of those scenes you want to fast forward over because they’re so clichéd they make you to commit crimes with a chainsaw. But all of a sudden Andrew’s in fountains, boohooing away and sending like, rivulets of tears down the roof. He looks back at me and slowly smiles.

He’s like, If only it was true.

Then he opens his arms wide like he’s Jesus on the cross and falls backwards over the edge of the roof. He doesn’t scream or anything, and there’s this great angry roaring of wind as he disappears, like his soul’s being sucked away by a demon or something. I’m like, stunned to speechlessness.

Shaking all over, I start to climb down the ladder. At the bottom I turn to find everyone looking at me expectantly and Kate holding my drink with this polite hopeful smile.

Any luck? she goes.

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