The inside of my head is a wondrous place, a magical world where everything is as I want it. There are unlimited possibilities in the realms of position, wealth, love and ambition. There are corners that would frighten even the most hardened of souls and places where unrivalled waves of pleasure are waiting to whisk me off to unbounded happiness. Every experience I’ve ever had is in there, all neatly compartmentalised and categorised in their varying degrees of loathing or ecstasy.
The difficulty arises when I want to access these memories. I don’t always get it right and one set of circumstances invariably encroaches on the other, overlapping and changing the whole meaning of what I’m trying to think about. I can retreat into the most pleasurable of places only to find that some aspect closer to reality is lurking there, hidden, waiting to seep into my utopia, contaminating it with its misery and practicality. I’ve never been able to stop this violation of my inner sanctum, this encroachment on my personal haven. Never have I been able to fully close the door on the outside world, locking myself within myself.
Other than enhancing the good thoughts with mind distorting drugs, which would probably contaminate the thought further and force me to relinquish control over the whole process, I haven’t yet found a way to concentrate such thoughts without the need for hard work on my part. This is a chore I do not relish. But, when all is said and done, it is necessary to keep the outside world and its obscene reality, out.
It is only then, on the few occasions I succeed that I can lose myself in the maze of my inner self. I may be a wealthy philanthropist bringing hope to millions or the most gifted musician performing before kings. Sometimes I am walking on a lush green hillside with the breeze in my face and the earth and all its imperfections far beneath me. I can see the despondency there but I am untouched by it and I relish my solitude away from the rigours of life.
This is a recurring thought that usually quietly slips into my mind in the dusk of consciousness, just before sleep. Often it will continue to form and change, becoming the most wonderful dream and I drift into it knowing that I am protected from a world I have had my fill of. This, to me, is heaven. A tranquil place of great beauty and peace where every moment is to be cherished and enjoyed for the pure sense of freedom it confers on me. Inevitably though, the scene changes and the world creeps in.
The hillside becomes rocky and steep with raging waters crashing on the boulders far below. I become afraid that I might slip, fall into the waters and disappear as the torrent washes me back to the existence outwith myself that I so desperately want to avoid. I fight to return to the beginning of the dream but I have never managed to do so. I can recall
something of the feelings of contentment but they are always tinged with the ire of necessity. The necessity to return to earth where my life can bear down on me with the weight of the responsibilities I have chosen for myself.
Then, half- awake, I prepare to rise. I can feel the pain in my back like tiny demons dragging themselves along my spine. I see the drab greyness of the morning through the rain-spattered window and once again reality has won, clasping me to its breast as if to assure me that this is really where I want to be.
I’m a dutiful man and I accept what has been given to me, another day of subservience to the shallow demands of others. I conform to their expectations and receive my criticisms without protest. I do what is required of me until I can allow myself to slip, thankfully, back within the forgiving warmth of my mind.
Sometimes I fantasise that I am invisible. That I can walk unhindered and unnoticed through the lives of those who seem to have such a dependence on controlling my life. I can see their weaknesses, the inconsequential roads over which their own lives travel. I see their need for power and their desire to better their reality through the subducation of others and I pity them their lack of imagination.
Perhaps it’s the harsh reality of my work that makes the whole process of existence so easy to relinquish to others. I wander in the shadows of the misfortune of others, trying to find solutions to the problems they have created for themselves. Suggesting what I know to be the common-sense approach, the pragmatism of twenty one years mending the fabric of other people’s lives, stitching the reasons for their existence together in the hope that their lives will hold, at least long enough for me to exit their reality and so move on to the next victim of self generated misery.
I wake with that thick, metallic taste of morning in my mouth. Stretching, I drag myself from the bed and lumber unsteadily to the bathroom. I quietly close the door of the bathroom behind me. The mirror confronts me with the usual unpleasant sight. There’s nothing kind in reality, especially when it becomes personal; the despondency of my reflected image acutely insulting in its mockery of who I am and who I once was. I throw cool water over my face as if to wash away the years but they stay with me. I turn away from myself and automatically begin the ritual of washing, shaving and dressing.
I’ve always hated mirrors; the way you never fully believe that the face looking back from them is your own. It has always been the face of a stranger, someone who looks like they might be me but in whom there is some fundamental and elusive quality missing. There
is something disconcerting about looking yourself directly in the eye. It’s almost as if there are some things within that you know of but which should be kept locked away. Can others see what is there as well or is it simply personal paranoia that makes me look away? Is it just that I don’t like me or what I know myself to be?
I scrutinise the face reflected in that hateful glass and see the usual long, sharp features of a balding, middle aged man with too much face and not enough hair. Too much open space with too few hiding places. I break eye contact, pick up the razor and begin to shave, trying to bestow some respectability to an otherwise disrespectful countenance, as if that would make the image more pleasant to look at. The blade slides smoothly over my skin, slicing away the evidence of the last twenty-four hours and carving a neat little nick just below my lower lip. My brow furrows as a drop of scarlet beads over the cut before beginning its slow trickle down the cleft of my chin and dripping into the soapy water.
I glower at myself accusingly and quietly curse myself for being so careless. I look at the crisp white shirt hanging over the bathroom chair, then turn and rinse the blood from my face. I dress quickly, throw on my worn leather jacket and, glancing back briefly, I see her, still and serene in the bed.
Still she sleeps, stretching out on the double bed as if there were no invisible division down the centre. An imperceptible but nevertheless real barrier between her and me. How that separation came to be is now lost in the mists of our separate lives; the past of responsibility and children that drove this impenetrable wedge between us. Now we can’t even talk and she has closed all avenues of reconciliation to me. She has become like the sun...without the warmth, forever turning her back to me as if I’m some distasteful and annoying lackey to be controlled and kept in my place while her life continues apace. Neither of us fully understands why we perpetuate this fragile partnership based as it is on resentment and false hope for the future, but still we go through the motions of outward satisfaction and inward despair.
Her hair is tousled, eyelids flitting as if in some dream of things known only to her. Her resting form looking as desirable as she ever was in those past days when I tasted her sweetness; no trace of the bitterness of rejection and lost hope, not like it has now become. I reach out to touch her sleeping head but draw back for fear she’ll awake with another rebuke on her lips, quickly drawing away from my touch, the cold look of ire in her eyes.
This is my reality, unrequited love on a grand scale. Sharing a home, a bed, a life with the one I once loved and now unwilling even to hold her; to speak to her of my desire to mend our lives. Often in the night as I lay beside her I gingerly fold my arm around her, resting my hand on the soft, warm skin of her belly while she for her part, rests her feet on my thigh, not knowing to whom she is responding. I drink in the feeling of closeness, of mutual need to be wanted and held before some subconscious realisation filters into her mind and again she pulls away, opening up that cold, invisible divide that is a constant feature of our lives. The passing years since we met have flown past in a haze of unresolved loathing, of missed opportunities and wasted time; a sexless, unfeeling existence where intimacy has become a vitriolic parody of real life. Questions that cannot be answered race through my mind and I feel a momentary panic at the thought of being alone, yet, some small part of me welcomes the coming day when both her and I will be free of the shackles of our empty ministrations. The dirge will some day be over and the manic, desperate dance can end but will it be a symphony of freedom or a lament for what should have been?
The outside world beckons me like the unforgiving face of forgetfulness and I turn and quietly close the door on the hiatus of my existence. The cold air stings my face like a slap of hysteria, knocking me, unwillingly, into the present - my reality. I begin to walk, stiffly at first, until some feeling returns to my tingling legs, down the driveway and into the car. Mechanically I drive through the early winter morning, that half formed time where night is still deciding to relinquish its hold on the world and let the day begin. The moon has set and the darkness seems compounded by the ever falling black rain, the wet tarmac reflecting the street lamps in surreal patterns, swirling shapes, as though looking at life through tear filled eyes.
Subconsciously, I drive the short distance to work and enter the building through the back door, trying to ration my contact with my fellow realists. The empty locker room light flickers to life and I realise that I’ve surrendered my life to my paymasters for another day. I hang my overcoat in my bare, vacant locker, lock the door and make for the CID briefing room.
The others are already there and after the cursory greetings I settle in my chair and look around at the assembled company. Each of them have their own agenda; see themselves in their rightful place in the world. The younger cops, full of enthusiasm, responsibility and
relishing their grasp on reality, sit in their perfect uniforms waiting for their detail, like ravenous dogs waiting to be tossed a bone. The older guys just sit in the departure lounge of work, waiting for the day when their transport out of here will arrive. And then there’s me, right in the middle, too cynical for the exuberance of youth and too despondent at the prospect of this part of my punishment coming to an end. It’s too soon for me yet and the intellectual stimulation of filling my days and nights with something tangible is too precious to let go of despite my need to be free of it. Away from home, this is my other reality, the part I have to subjugate myself to, my servitude to society.
The detective sergeant, a swarthy, squat man not much older than me, mechanically reads through the previous night’s events, tells us to be on the lookout for this person or that car and finally ends the briefing with the detail for the day. As usual I’m on my own, endlessly patrolling a town that doesn’t know I exist. After a hurried cup of bitter coffee, I make my way to the yard, climb into the drivers’ seat of my chariot and set off on my journey.
The rain has changed to a light, misty drizzle as if only the dregs remain in the dark, grey clouds. There is no sunshine, no silver lining, only the monochromatic pallor of despair everywhere. Subconsciously I guide the patrol car through deserted streets, my mind wandering, flitting between the past and present, solutions that I don’t have the courage to put in place. The streets are pretty much deserted at this time of the morning as I drift slowly along the quiet roads with no destination in mind, just an endless journey towards who knows what...
Self-realisation is a strange bedmate; lying dormant within the psyche until awakened by a flash of reasoning, a pernicious dictum which, if not acted upon, consumes and destroys one’s very being. But when that flash of realisation comes, it strikes at the very soul and forces a confrontation from which there is no retreat. You know the battle is looming, that it must be fought, but still certain in the knowledge that you will leave it, bruised and beaten but with a new fervour for life, a burning desire to live. My reality was unacceptable to me; I knew that the means to change it lay with me and I saw, with startling clarity the battlefield ahead and it was then, with this realisation buzzing in my head, that I steeled myself for what was to come, for my new life, good or bad, it didn’t matter, as long as this old way of existence was eradicated for ever.
Suddenly, I’m jerked back to reality by the crackling of the radio; “control to DC Craig, can you attend a code two six at 48 Langhome Street, forensics are en route”. I let out a deep sigh of resignation. This was my reality crashing into me like a sledgehammer, forcing me to confront all that I found abhorrent but with no choice but to comply. I acknowledged the instruction and began my journey to confront who knows what. Why was there no respite? Why could life not be easier, not have some oasis of tranquillity?
I drove mechanically to the address stopping next to the kerb outside a dilapidated, bleak tenement and with another sigh, I stepped from the car onto the damp pavement then slowly walked to the door.
It was always the same, every single time; standing outside the closed door, trepidation building, heart thudding, blood cascading through my veins like water crashing over rocks in a swollen, rushing stream. I knew what was beyond the door, what awaited me. I could sense the emptiness filled with pain and tragedy, the faint but unmistakable stench of what had been but was no more, hanging in the air, seeping beneath the door.
My senses raised almost imperceptibly, to a surreal otherworldly place somewhere between real life and no life. The heavy wooden door was adorned with cracked and peeling blue paint, the timber showing through in patches here and there almost as if it was trying to create a window on the scene beyond. The hallway lit by a single bulb hanging forlornly from the dank ceiling gave the place an ominous, tense ambience that only served to add to the nervous despair which permeated the space. I knew that there was only one way forward and that turning back wasn’t an option, even if I had perceived retreat as a possibility. Taking a deep breath I raised my hand and gently pushed against the door.
Slowly the door folded inwards opening on a scene that although belonging to this place seemed in some way to be separate from the by now familiar confines of the hall. The small, bare and windowless room was dim, lit only by a single lamp on a small, rickety table in the left corner, its red crooked shade casting an eerie glow around the peeling walls. The only other piece of furniture in the room was a wooden chair lying on its side on the threadbare carpet. The stench was now unmistakeable, hanging like a pall of vile despair no longer confined but free and obscenely unhindered as it permeated the confines of the filthy walls. In the midst of this dismal scene was the source of the malodorous atmosphere. There in front of me were two limp, stationary denim-clad legs suspended about three feet from the floor.
Steeling myself I looked up and into his face. His wide eyes bulged in a grotesque stare, glazed and lifeless with a look I could only describe as surprise as if at the final moment he had changed his mind, reconsidering what he had done. A purple and engorged tongue protruded from between blue lips with his face, almost black, atop an impossibly thin neck constricted as it was by the orange nylon rope which cut deeply into the flesh. The ligature extended up above the back of his head disappearing into the blackness of the loft hatch above his motionless corpse. The deed was done, his objective achieved, his life extinguished.
As I stood there I thought of what had brought him to this ultimate self-induced finality. I knew this man. I knew of his petty criminality, his squalid existence and his hatred of everything that was socially acceptable to me. He was a maverick on the outskirts of what the rest of society had imposed on him and tried to turn him into but he was never a man who would allow himself to be absorbed and confined by strictures or rules that he perceived as being as constrained as a prison. His glazed, lifeless eyes offered no answers, only implored that the question of why should be answered on his behalf. He had a family, people who loved him, neighbours who knew him. All that remained was, why?
Strength of character was no guarantee of constraint when it came to the impossible decisions that need to be taken. Every possibility would have been explored, analysed and ultimately discounted as he crept towards the only solution he could sanction. Time may have been on his side but circumstance was not. He could have chosen to wait it out until the storm passed and the light returned but when it seems that the suns permanence is obscured behind the gathering clouds then the options narrow and the road ahead travels in only one, tragic direction.
Gingerly I scanned the room looking for what had given him the impetus to take his life in such a brutal and undignified way. What pain had turned him into someone who could do this to himself with no thought of the anguish it would cause to those closest to him. The silence in the room was heavy and complete, made all the more tangible by the soft thumping of my heart. I thought how strange, absurd even; two men in a room with only one heartbeat between them, one near the precipice and one who had stepped off. The void he had entered was the space which held a place for me along with every other soul and the thought sent a shudder of fear down my spine bringing my own mortality into sharp focus. There was no
escape and no reprieve for good behaviour, just the cold certainty and inevitability of what was to come.
Why was his life so despondent and intolerable? What choices had he made to lead him to this? Why did he see this as his only way out? Only he could provide the answers and it was too late now, he had answered in the only way he thought he could.
I turned away looking for a distraction and it was then that I saw the single sheet of paper tucked beneath the lamp on the rickety table. Careful not to touch him, I slipped past and looked down on a hastily scribbled note. The paper was crumpled and the scrawl was uneven and looked hastily written with scant care given to grammar or construct. Feeling almost voyeuristic, I read the man’s last thoughts, his explanation to the world he had decided to leave in such a hurried and chaotic way. Here was the reason which to him, was enough to take the final step of self-justification for his actions.
The note contained three short but poignant statements; the apology, the reason and the affirmation. It simply said, “I’m sorry but I can’t go on like this anymore. They won’t let me see my boy. I love you” with an almost illegible signature scratched at the bottom. Slowly I turned to look at him, his dead eyes now seeming to regard me with something akin to justification and I understood his grief, not at the loss of his own life but at being denied his place in his child’s’ life.
I thought of the fragility of life, of how dodging the bullets that are fired continually by others who are in a better place, is a futile exercise. Eventually, the bullet will find it’s target and an unhealable wound will be opened allowing the infections of society to enter and corrupt.
I held his gaze and he held mine. My mind filled with the vision of my own child and I understood his pain and despair, how he had felt that what he did had needed to be done for there was just no other way to escape the cage he had found himself trapped in. His choice had been made for him and he was left with no option but to play out his final act and take the last bow. I was aware of single tear coursing down my cheek and I had to turn away, my head bowing in reverence to him and his courage.
I wondered what the tipping point was between loving and loathing and an old native American question came to mind that seemed to go some way towards explaining life in the simplest way. Everyone has two wolves within them and both are in constant conflict, fighting each other in an eternal struggle for control. One wolf is love, compassion and
empathy, the other is hatred, fear and cruelty. The question is, which wolf wins? And the answer?...The one you feed. Did he feed the wrong wolf or did those around him feed their own wrong wolf. The answer would never be known now.
Taking a last glance at his face I bid him a silent farewell. I slipped past and stepped out of the room into the dank hallway and without looking back I walked into the street. I stood for a moment and lit a cigarette and looking up, I saw the first rays of the morning sun begin to creep across the grey sky. There would be no more days for him but this sunrise, this was mine. I’d make sure of it; I’d make sure that there would be enough light to illuminate my decisions, brighten the edge of the precipice. Not like him. I’d see exactly where it was and avoid the drop.
I glanced at my watch. The medics, forensic team and my relief would be here soon and the machinery to clean him away from his temporary tomb would be put in motion. I finished my cigarette and watched as I crushed it into the damp pavement. “Is he dead?”. I looked up and saw Roberts walk towards me, his drawn, pale face intent and anxious, his eyes darting between me and the door behind me.
“Do you see me doing CPR on anybody?” I snapped, perhaps a little too sarcastically. It had been a long night and I was in no mood for stupid questions. It wasn’t Roberts’ fault. He was young and a new addition to the CID. He still had time to have his enthusiasm blunted, although I doubted that he’d ever reach the dizzying heights of cynicism that I’d reached.
“Sorry Danny”, I said, “It’s been a long shift and this was the last thing I needed”. He could probably see the tired, defeated look in my eyes but he didn’t say anything. Danny Roberts was a good cop and a genuinely nice guy and he didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of my exasperation.
“It’s fine, Jack, I’ll take over now, you get off home”. “Don’t you want to know who it is?” I asked trying to temper the sarcasm in my voice. “Oh..eh, aye. Who is it?” he stammered. “Georgie Nelson”, I replied. “You’re kidding, he was at the social work department yesterday. Caused a right rammy, kicking off about them not letting him see his boy”.
Well, that explained who he was referring to in his note. I knew he’d been in contact with social work for months but I hadn’t made the connection when I read the note. I sighed and slowly shook my head thinking of his frustration, anger and final desperation. He’d taken the only thing he had been left with, his own life.
I nodded towards the door. “He’s in there and he’s not a pretty sight”. “Right,” said Danny patting my shoulder, “I’ll get it from here. You get away and we’ll sit down and do the report this afternoon” and with that, he walked through the doorway and disappeared into the hall.
I jammed my hands in my pockets and slowly walked down the empty street towards the town leaving the car for the others who were on the way to the house. The silence was oppressive; cloaking me as if offering some kind of protection from the noise of my jumbled thoughts. I could feel Georgie’s dead eyes watch me as I walked away from him as if I’d discarded him just as everyone else had and I felt helpless in my guilt and betrayal. I shuffled along the deserted street, my mind awash with problems, solutions and concepts of how my reality could be tamed.
Was the finality of what I had just witnessed indeed the best closure? Was it the penultimate solution to all of lifes’ abhorrent ills? As I walked, almost in a daze, I thought of how, maybe, Georgie had found the only meaningful way of relegating the misery with a peaceful permanence that somehow made sense.
I looked up as I entered the rear yard of the police office and stopped, staring at the open door of the workshop area where the police cars were maintained. The area was deserted. Silent as the grave I thought ironically as I resumed my walk towards the workshop.
As I passed into the dim interior I could smell the heavy, oppressive engine oil that permeated the building and I knew what must be done, how my reality could be not just altered but eradicated. In one corner was a coiled length of tow rope. Picking it up I fashioned a crude noose at one end, throwing the other over one of the ceiling girders. I tied a slip knot and pulled, securely fastening the rope above the edge of the inspection pit in the concrete floor. The pit was about five feet deep and I could barely discern the oil-slicked bottom. I thought of my daughter as I slipped the noose over my head and around my neck. She would have a happier and more fulfilled life without me in it; hers would be a reality of her own creation, of dreams and a contentment that I’d never found in my own. The abyss and its peaceful comfort was only a step away, an end to the rigours, disappointments and pain. An end to everything. I hesitated for a moment then stepped off into the warm, welcoming darkness.
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