An Elephant

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Chapter 16: Kate

Chapter 16: Kate

“I used to live in a room full of mirrors, all I could see was me.

And I took my spirit, and I smashed my mirrors,

Now the whole world is here for me to see.”

- Jimi Hendrix



“What does mescaline really… feel like?” she wondered aloud.

After a thoughtful pause, he said:

“It’s difficult to explain but I feel full of energy, and somehow more tuned-in to reality… there’s more… depth to it. It’s like I’m more aware of what’s there all the time. I see the same colours, but they’re so much brighter… It’s like reality’s been turned up to eleven, but only for me, and only for the duration of my trip.”

Her emotions were running high, too. When she concentrated on the outside world – Place St George directly in front of her as she sat on the small terrain de petanque with her back touching the South East corner. Acclimatised as she was to the heat of southern France, today was particularly oppressive, and as the temperature rose in the square, so did the energy of the people within it, just like Brownian motion.

Shiva’s dance. Let’s hope it’s creation rather than destruction on this afternoon’s to-do list.

“So from what you were saying earlier, you think that reality is entirely subjective, and truth is different for everyone?”

Jay had been explaining his philosophy, that the universe was fractured from every single person’s point of view. Despite this novel standpoint, and the fact that he had eaten hallucinogenic cactus, she still found he was coming across as fairly lucid. He talked over her at times, and there was a sense of urgency in his voice not present the night before, but this was no doubt a result of the artificial stimulant, and his world view sounded coherent.

Freak she thought, with some fondness. She was learning to find his energy and quirky humour quite infectious.

“‘The truth is a pathless land’” according to Krishnamurti. “I can’t remember the full quote but he says you can’t find it with dogma, priests or rituals or even psychological technique…. You basically have to find your own truth.”

Kate leaned towards him slightly as she readjusted one of her cotton bracelets.

He knows more than me about almost everything.

“…But with all my scientific knowledge, I’m still useless on a building site, or in a courtroom, or on a farm, or just about anywhere in France ’cos I can’t speak the language. I’d need you.”

He looked directly into her eyes as he said this, and it lifted her spirits. Previously an authority on absolutely everything, Kate found the idea of him needing her for anything was a welcome change. After a few deep breaths, he put his knowledge in yet another fresh perspective:

“And anyway, as physicists try and tear the face off nature, does the vanguard of scientific achievement necessarily make the world function more efficiently for everyone? It took us until twenty years after we landed on the moon before it dawned on someone that putting wheels on a suitcase was a good idea.”

She snorted a short laugh.

He knows his limitations, then.

“…And science is actively trying to understand and communicate what we know. What about secret knowledge? If we never hear about events, they’re not real for us. Some things are kept from us, and you never know about them: the kind of stuff that you don’t see getting explained when you watch Horizon. What about facts that are actively kept secret? Spy stuff, matters of national security: attacks on governments and how they react… that kind of thing? There are ‘truths’ that we have actively hidden from us all the time. Does that make them any less true or real? You might read a story appearing to be complete fiction that then turns out to hold a secret of truth: to explain the background of something that really happened. Your reality has to be malleable and transient.”

The excitement of the occasional cheering nearby was beginning to rub off on Kate. Normally any adrenalin would drive her inward and make her feel more insecure, but today she felt fine. In Jay’s company she felt slightly different. He was certainly off-beat, but highly cultured, incisive, and knew what he wanted. He was nothing like her ex she concluded; despite being a little arrogant at times he had paid her quite a few compliments, and he hadn’t mentioned rugby all day.

She watched him scratch his nose, awkwardly. She thought his innate intelligence was almost implied by his gawky physical mannerisms, although it seemed to somehow work for him.

She had always found something reassuring about intelligence; her mother had been a lecturer, and highly academic. Kate was taking a Masters degree in Pelagic Morphological Adaptation largely through a great deal of hard graft, whereas Jay was breezing through it and seemed to be seriously academic, in addition to being a natural philosopher. She had always been drawn to psychology as a framework to understand reality, rather than to philosophy.

Could the two could be compatible? she wondered. He’s clever. Maybe he could figure out a way to understand how I experience the world.

She struggled with consistency at the best of times, but even on drugs, she found him to be totally cogent.

He’s coherent, but he still looks a bit shaken up by whatever happened when I went for water. Imagine being scared, and then seeing things on top of that?

“I don’t like the sound of hallucinations” she said. “I don’t think I’d like them at all.”

“Chances are you’ve had them. Pretty much everyone gets hypnagogic hallucinations. They’re the ones you get as you zone out, just as you’re nodding off at night, prior to real dreams in REM. Rumour has it that Einstein sometimes went to bed with an orange in his hand, so just as he dropped off he dropped the orange over the side, which would revive him and he could make a note of any breakthrough made in the special, dreamy state.”

He re-opened the bottle of water and greedily gulped some more down. She found the way he slurped and guzzled strangely appealing. He passed it to her to finish.

“Just as your brain chemistry changes as you’re dropping off, when your brainwaves drift from theta to delta, your perception shifts, and the ideas you get are almost like a hint… from beyond reality… whatever ‘reality’ is. It depends on who you are.”

“I still like my head to be straight.”

“There’s no such thing as a straight head. I’ve got a drug factory inside here” he said pointing to the side of his forehead. “Our brains are a drug-addled miasma at all times, helping us decide what to have for dinner, how to put one foot in front of the other, all the while revealing - and maybe creating - the universe for us.

“Place St George and all these people are all here though, aren’t they? You can’t argue with that.”

“I read somewhere once that you don’t see the world as it is, but as you are. It makes a lot of sense to me. Your knowledge of the world is an expression of your neurochemical pathways. Reality, and how you react to it, is built from your brain chemistry on an ongoing basis…. Everything’s slightly different for everyone, as we all have different chemistry and memories and experiences, the universe is dissected from everyone’s point of view, maybe every atom’s. You could say we hallucinate almost everything, because we’re all 99% empty space, just like the air around us… Appearances can be deceiving.”

This, I know…

“So you think chemistry is such an important part of who we are?” she asked him. She was considering her own delicate balance, the status quo smoothed by therapy and the 5-HTP she had prescribed.

“Massively so… and even the world around us. Just like our surroundings, we are all just made up of a loose mesh of atoms jiggling about but inside you and I, they bundle together to make up a skeleton and organs and flesh, but more importantly the interacting neurotransmitters in our brains. When the chemicals, the hormones - basically drugs - act together in union, they make up our perceived selves and our awareness of our surroundings. Together they create the world for us… the interacting drugs sloshing around inside our brains fire neurons and create the truth. I’m rambling again, aren’t I?”

“That’s interesting… I’m with you, carry on.”

“In terms of levels and the layers of reality, to me, the ‘self’ doesn’t have skin as a barrier.”

“It doesn’t?” This was truly a revelation for Kate. Nobody could quite appreciate how broken she felt on the inside, within the prison of her damaged shell.

“Your skin doesn’t separate you from your surroundings any more than it connects you to it. What makes the person is the mind - the production and maintenance of all those chemicals is different for every person, or is it the universe that is different for each person?” He scratched his head. “In my universe, asparagus tastes horrible.”

She laughed loudly. The night before, she had talked of her love for the spears, especially in cheese sauce. He continued:

“Is it chicken or egg? ’A physicist is just an atom’s way of looking at an atom’ according to Niels Bohr.

“But there is the macro physical world,” she reminded him “the things around us that we can touch: the ground, my bag here, even the air is …there. Solid objects have boundaries. We’re not imagining these things.”

She ran her fingers down the white stone in the wall to her left, then down onto the gravel on the ground beneath them to demonstrate. Jay was apparently unconvinced:

“Among physicists, the Physicalists say that there may be no mental influence on the world, and that it’s all just matter, and aggregates of bits of matter. Some wonder if there is there can be an influence on the system by the mind. I’m wondering whether there is possibly zero influence from the physical world, there is only the mind, and the atomic connectivity of all the compounds in my brain… constantly inventing my senses, my body and the world around me.”

“You make your own reality with your brain chemistry?” She tried hard to hide the dismay she immediately felt.

“Maybe. You’re certainly in charge of it. Then again, I have an education, enough to eat, freedom of speech and I’m not in fear of my life. I’m free and don’t need an escape from my physical environment… but I feel like I am building the world with my thoughts and my choices, not the other way around. My thoughts are made with the neuro-chemicals, compounds, or even smaller than that - each sub-atomic particle up here, and how they interact.”

He tapped the side of his head with a finger.

“Given that atoms are almost completely empty space, my physical connection with you is so subtle as to dissolve if you looked at it hard enough, as the details merge with each other.”

She thought about asking him what held it all together, but decided against it. A chorus of ‘England’ from nearby was drowned out by a siren.

No strong connection between us, then. She tried not to frown, but wasn’t sure if she succeeded.

“How real is anything? Mood, perception, personality, it’s all about blood chemistry. Whatever you’re experiencing, even something like the written word; you read the words in a book, the reflected light hits your retina and the optic nerve sends a signal to the visual cortex, and somehow the message gets wound up and incorporated into the ball of electricity and chemical interaction that you experience. The hormones, the proteins, the delicate balance of drugs you’re creating up here make it ‘real’ in your head. It’s real enough so that you can remember it later, and it all makes up what we are and how we feel.”

He raised his eyebrows and rubbed the back of his neck.

“You’re on a roll aren’t you?” Somehow, she felt inspired. She had a new way of looking at the self, not merely a physical entity, bounded by carved skin. They shared another smile.

“Even our memories are locked into chemical pathways, a thread that needs to be accessed with chemistry, and the sum total of it all is you and…. the truth.”

“I’ve never thought of it like that before.”

“A mother produces huge amounts of oxytocin, the ‘love chemical’, when in the presence of her new born child: The most important relationship in the world is largely governed by the presence of it. So even love isn’t arbitrary, it’s controlled directly by your chemistry, and it all starts on a subatomic level, as stuff sticks to other stuff. The sub atomic stuff affects the larger stuff and the attraction builds up and up until two humans are in love with each other- oh no. You lost your mum really young, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I was three” she fiddled with her bangles again. “It was 1977 and my parents had driven to the North West to stay with my uncle’s family in Cheshire. We went on a trip to Chester Zoo to see the newly born elephant, Jubilee, named in honour of the queen.”

She would normally struggle to tell this story but felt at ease with Jay.

“The next day my Mum was crossing the road outside my uncle’s house to buy bread, and she was hit by a drunk driver.”

“Oh no.”

“Then he crashed into a tree, which killed him instantly.

The noise of the nearby siren was drowned out by a small group of England fans singing in the square.

I spent most of the next two days in the hospital waiting room. Apparently I kept asking when Mum would get better. Dad was almost-inconsolable, and the rest of the family all just waited. After a week, the life support machine was finally turned off, but it took another week before Dad was able to explain to me that Mum would never be coming back home.”

“You were so young. Can you remember her?”

“Yeah, I remember quite a few things, but since that day the world’s been a bit broken, and I’ve never seen an elephant since without a terrible feeling of… yearning.” Today her emotions were very different, although powerful nonetheless.

“My dad took it very badly. It was five years before he went on a date, and when he finally did it wasn’t easy – five years of loneliness had left him emotionally scarred and fairly inept at dealing with the opposite sex. He went through a few short relationships that petered out until he was spurned by a woman called Christina who he was starting to fall for. He recently told me that she had hinted at physical appearance being the reason to end it.”

“How romantic” said Jay, shaking his head.

“He was already a bit vain and he overcompensated and became obsessed with appearance and perfection. Everything had to look ‘right’. He dyed his hair, joined a gym, had an all-year-round tan and spent lots of money on clothes. He even took an interest in how I dressed and sometimes called me his beautiful little doll. He tried to improve how his little blond accessory looked.”

She wondered if the topic was inappropriate for someone in Jay’s delicate state, but he seemed far from upset and genuinely interested.

“He cultivated a very brash, confident persona, I think to cover his deep-seated insecurities, but even as a ten-year old I wasn’t fooled. I knew he was covering up the truth, just as I covered up my bulimic tendencies, but the more I vomited, the better he said she looked.”

“That would really mess with your world view.”

“Too right. Dad and his so-called friends teased me about becoming slightly chubby and I gradually began to alter my perception of myself. Putting fingers down my throat so regularly led to the scarring on my knuckles and I just disconnected from the world. Self-hate led to more self-mutilation, and I put shallow cuts in my wrists regularly, just to feel alive and part of the world around me.”

“So the cutting helped?”

“Short term, it certainly felt like it. The release of cutting myself helped with the loss of my mum. I always felt alone, even when in company, and the numbness went away with the cutting so it became my way of gaining control of the world.

“A way of increasing production of happy chemicals in your brain.”

“Yeah. I developed quite a habit: it got to the stage where I needed cutting implements nearby, and I hid them around my bedroom. The signs were obvious, and eventually, thanks to the input of my Aunt and Uncle, I finally went for treatment. In the beginning, I was so frustrated that my scars couldn’t be fixed with surgery in the same way that someone could have their nose ‘fixed’ or their tummy ‘tucked’.”

“Must have been so hard.”

“At first my therapist talked about the cutting and how it induced high endorphin production. That’s when I learned that without the blood’s chemical reward system we might forget to sleep or eat or drink. The bigger thing for me though was that it also soothed the pain of the outside world. I used to lie awake at night and imagine the scars on my wrists erupting into hideous disfigurement, then threaded back to visions of open wounds, festering and infected. I thought I was repulsive from head to toe.”

“How wrong can you be!” She was able to smile at the compliment but couldn’t help but slide the dangling bracelets up and down her wrists so the marks weren’t all visible at once.

“I was diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder and it was decided my perception needed adjusting. My therapist started cognitive restructuring so I could develop more accurate, helpful beliefs about appearance. We worked on stopping compulsive behaviours like constant mirror checking and looking at the scars on my knuckles and wrists. Then I had to repeatedly look at photographs of my scars and the detachment from my physical self allowed a bit of objectivity; after a while I learned to appreciate that the defects weren’t that noticeable to others. After exposure to the photos, he made me focus on my real wrists and knuckles and try and mentally bring the two images together.

“Cool idea.”

“Fine-tuning my visual perception took years and it wasn’t an easy process, but it helped me to feel less disconnected from the world and I felt better about my appearance eventually. My therapist told me later on that the whole condition could have been due to something as simple as the disruption of the neurotransmitter pathways. Now I take regular tablets of 5-HTP which is a precursor to serotonin in the brain. I think at the beginning it acted as a crutch for some of my cognitive activity, but it really brought the physical world back into focus.

“So you take a drug that stops the world from being warped.”

“I suppose so.” She could appreciate that the marks on her hands were fairly minor, that she wasn’t incredibly ugly, and that Jay may not be entirely repulsed by her. She hoped not. She thought about the following day, and how it may go in the laboratory. She would probably need to take off her bracelets, revealing all the physical traces of those teenage years at once. She was far from happy about the prospect, but thinking about revealing her scars in front of him didn’t make her feel particularly nauseous. This was great progress indeed.

He hadn’t even been looking at her hands as she had explained the scars, and this lack of focus was the best possible response. After a few moments she found herself smiling as he meticulously inspected his right foot while flexing his toes. He seemed filled with a sense of wonder, and she considered what he had been talking about, and her own experience with the delicate balance of brain chemistry. It was an amazing idea for her that someone could be defined, not by their skin, but by the ephemeral association of their ever-changing brain chemistry. She wondered if he had previously heard of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, but said nothing.

He started to prod the instep of his shoe, apparently just to see it slowly unfurl again.

He’s been quiet for a while.

“What are you seeing now?” she wondered.

“Everything is still really bright,” said Jay, looking up. “That’s the bluest sky I’ve ever seen.”

She looked up and found it quite smoky but she was glad he was enjoying it. “I feel really alert as long as I concentrate… despite the fact that everything’s jiggling a bit… I can make a coherent image from the chaos. If I put my mind to it, I can see you really clearly.”

She almost flinched. Until quite recently the concentrated gaze of even a stranger would make her squirm inside. For her, the cutting scars on her wrists and teeth-scars at the base of her fingers spread out even when they were covered with costume jewellery or cotton bangles. No amount of ‘You’ve got perfect skin’ would ever persuade her as much, never mind insistences that she was beautiful, or anything like attractive.

“You really know your neurochemistry, don’t you?” she suggested.

“Not in depth. I’ve pretty much just said most of what I know. Not too long ago I considered combining my marine biology with neuroscience and studying dolphin intelligence, which is fascinating, but I’ve always tended towards the environmental sciences and ecology: the ‘macro’ side of things. I’ve done a bit of behavioural stuff, but the dolphin research would require a real neuroscience knowledge base, which I don’t have. Shame.”

“There’s a lot of interesting work going on trying to decipher their language.”

“Yeah. We have one set of vocal chords and can only emit one sound at a time, but they can emit whistles and clicks so can have parallel conversations with two other dolphins, which is interesting… and they sleep half of their brain at a time, so they don’t drown.”

“Weird” she said, after a thoughtful pause.

“And, within only a fortnight of living in a Florida sea park, dolphins can train Americans to throw them fish.”

Hahaa. She beamed at him for a moment.

There was another brief lull in the conversation which was filled with the sound of shattering glass, but she ignored it as she relaxed and sighed, leaning back into the rounded stone corner of the square. She asked:

“So you think that what people believe, the physical world: objects, people, sensations like hunger, pain and love are… are all purely a function of interacting brain chemistry and nothing more?”

“Reality can vary, even if you’re in the same place, depending on who you are, and just the kind of day you are having. What’s going on in this square has so many layers. Sub atomic particles, atoms, solids, liquids, gases-”

“But there are the physical bodies… of the people, walking around,” she patted her own shoulder as she said this, to affirm she was really there, “and solid objects, too,” she pointed at her bag “surely that’s the most significant?”

“It’s just another level. How you define them is arbitrary. You can go passed that layer and you could classify the people by anything: Some people in this square might judge at the level of nationality, or by what football team they support; some by who’s rich or poor, male or female, whether someone is big or small. What’s of significance, the frame of reference, is the choice of the observer.

“So, what’s real for you, then?”

“I am up here,” he tapped the side of his head again, “more than here” he pinched the skin on his forearm. That’s where I decide what layer I want to focus on.”

Kate prized that Jay found visual factors to be a fairly minor consideration. He seemed to have a somehow deeper understanding of things to simply focus on cosmetic factors and he didn’t see the skin as a barrier. What was barely tangible for him, had been the most significant thing in the world for much of her life.

“That’s how it seems at the moment, but I am on mescaline.”

They laughed again. Kate spontaneously turned her right hand and looked at her bracelet, and imagined the scars beneath. She looked at the scarring on the knuckle, and it really didn’t appear as hideous as it had done in her teenage years. At boarding school with no real friends, bored, she thought she’d always be separated from society and everyone in it. Only a couple of years ago, a moment looking at her image in the mirror and she started to magnify the tiniest marks on her body and disconnect from the world.

She watched as he was still completely absorbed, engrossed in touching his foot with utter fascination. She nearly laughed out loud as she compared his interest in cracked shoe leather to how she used to view her scars. She thought about what was real for her and how it had changed. She used to be certain that she was incredibly ugly, now she wasn’t so sure. The combination of cognitive therapy, the 5-HTP and her present company seemed to be working out very well. She thought about how a simple prescription, plus seeing a few images of herself, had shifted the whole world.

Suddenly Jay made perfect sense.

She worried about how things could get awkward as they were to be working closely together for twelve months. He was quite young, a bit too talky, but mature and cultured. She had surprised herself by feeling sufficiently at ease to discuss her BDD and even her cutting history, but she would definitely leave it a while before bringing the subject up again.

“If you are all inside there” she pointed at his head, “and making all that you have around you with your own brain chemistry, then two people can ever really be in the same ‘real’ world.”

That’s such a shame.

She would have loved it if he believed they could appreciate the same things; if they could be truly alike. She was so sick of separation, she longed for someone who saw the world in similar way to her, but even though he was making sense, she knew it was impossible.

She understood on some level that she held a skewed impression of herself, which was bad enough, but she longed to find someone that could enjoy spending time with her and have compatible perceptions: someone who got the Human League and OMD, who got Rothko, Clive Barker, and who loved manta rays like she did. He thought that absolutely no one could ever see the world quite as she did, because no two people were alike in their brain chemistry.

“So I suppose we are all forced to look at the world from a unique vantage point” she said.

“Yeah. All the people in this square are close to each other, but having very different experiences” he twisted to see the square behind him “those Scousers over there are basically in the same place as me, but I bet theirs is a different Place St George to mine. Everyone here will have a different story, and we’re all right here. Imagine what it’s like for those watching that woman describe it all on TV?” He pointed at the camera a few metres away. “They’re focussing on Place St George from afar. Do they really know what’s happening, or how hot it is, or who that girl in the corner is? Do we know all that’s happening? What appears to be the truth for everyone here must be so different as to be practically unconnected, on so many levels. What if you took a photo? How real would the image be to whoever saw it?”

Given her own history of reconciling photographic images with her own expectation of the physical world, she knew full well how different the two could be. She thought that in a way he must be as extricated from his surroundings as her.

Thought as much. She felt deflated.

“But so what?” he continued, “It’s more about what we share: the interaction, and the honeycomb of agreement and consensus created by all of us…” He held his hands up, penetrating the space with clawed fingers.

Oh.

“It doesn’t matter so much about the outside world, because it’s how we connect that’s more important.”

Oh!

Stunned by this revelation, she suddenly dared believe it could work. Even aware that her face was reddening, she beamed an excited smile of satisfaction, fighting off any self-consciousness she would normally have felt.

Connection!

He was great, and she felt great. She thought about her chemistry: her brain’s reward system - norepinephrine stimulating the production of adrenalin; dopamine leading to oxytocin production, plus a dozen other hormones that must be coursing through her brain and body. She imagined the blood, pulsing throughout her capillaries. She didn’t have to be defined by her skin, she could be made of an ever-changing cloud of narcotics. She fancied she could feel the blood racing through her, literally fizzing. Back in the world outside, she felt aware of her surroundings suddenly, as her attention was snatched by the raised voices in the hotel bar across the square. People’s attention was aimed from there, down the paved hill and out of sight.

He mentioned taking a photo. There might be something worth seeing over there.

“You OK if I nip off for a minute?” she asked him.

“As long as you’re OK.”

Ahhh. Sweet.

She could hear shouting in the distance, emotional and fierce, and listened for a direction. It was down the road, ahead of her, and downhill from the hotel, although she could not quite see it from where she was. A small crowd had formed near the hotel terrace to watch whatever was happening. She reached for her bag, stood up and walked diagonally across the square, while adjusting the settings of her new Kodak DC120 camera. An enthusiast of birds as well as fish, she planned on taking some seabird photos on the Med.

Dominating the hotel terrace was a big English guy with blonde hair who she recognised from earlier. He was obviously very drunk and had been rowdy all afternoon. He picked up a bottle of beer and walked to the corner, then broke into a run while shouting ‘England’ as he headed downhill from the small group.

Liverpudlian she thought, walking past the journalists in the centre of the square toward him. She thought how her camera had looked large in the shop, but it seemed miniscule compared to the huge video camera the journalist held, as she walked past.

The loud blond lad was still shouting at nobody in particular, brandishing a green bottle of beer in one hand, as she joined the group looking downhill. At the bottom of the slope was a small café called Le Petit Voisin, and in front of it there appeared to be some kind of gang fight going on. A few people were running up the slope towards her, away from the mêlée at the bottom of the hill.

Her view was slightly restricted, but she could see the dark blue figures of the CRS riot police, signalling behind them for reinforcements. A pitched battle was taking place between English fans and Marseille locals outside le Petit Voisin.

I bet they’re Tunisia supporters.

A window of the café had been smashed by a projectile of some sort, making everyone freeze momentarily, only to continue seconds later as people started to spew out of the café, amongst the smoke and debris, into the chaos outside.

Kate looked through her viewfinder for a moment, only to see the café door flung open again, as she took her one and only shot of the scene. It was of a tall, athletic man with his face distorted with rage, scarlet and fuming, his red jacket in his hands and the veins in his neck and arms bursting with adrenalin.

[Click]

Conscious of the value of her new toy and the danger nearby, she swiftly walked back toward Jay in the far corner of the square.

Returning thoughtfully across the hot cobbles, she mulled Jay’s idea that every situation can be dissected by the experience of all the people involved. Similarly she could also appraise her immediate situation via drugs and violence; she was heading away from the violent scenes behind her, and heading back to Jay and his pharmaceutical view of reality. Between the themes of drugs and violence, she found herself feeling strangely centred.

As she returned to Jay, already feeling buoyant and positive, she gasped as she recognised one of her favourite pieces of music playing on the Hotel’s sound system. She often used to play it at home in Bangor and turn it up loud, even though it occasionally made her unpopular with her housemates. They used to tell her it was boring, bland and monotonous, but for her it was nine minutes and fifty five seconds of pure, blissful depth. It was ‘Rez’ by Underworld.

As she sat down in front of Jay and settled into a super-relaxed, cotton wool state, she looked over the square at the internet café.

That’s handy.

“I can send the photo I just took to my brother, later. It came out really well.”

She got the photo on-screen and passed it to Jay. As he took the camera from her, his index finger softly brushed against hers. It was the faintest, most delicate of touches, but it was the most powerful thing she had felt for a long time. She was sure he felt it too.

He clumsily nodded his appreciation of the photo of a man angrily bursting out of the café.

“He was obviously looking for trouble. What a total head case he must be.”

Putting the camera back in its case, she placed it in her bag. Then, almost without thinking, she untied the bunched cotton bracelets from her scarred hands and put them in the bag, allowing the sunlight to reach the pale, marked wrist. She shivered, thinking about the exposed scars, and took some deep breaths. She looked into Jay’s wide eyes and felt a great warmth within them, and she felt warmed within herself. Even in light of today’s patronising intensity, he made her feel so much better about herself than anyone else seemed to.

He’s warped but brilliant she thought. She had fallen for him. ‘Smitten’ as her housemates used to say, back in Bangor.

Like dopamine, but without the cutting she thought, darkly but cheerfully. I could get used to this.

“So I take it your brother Richard is a serious journalist then, reporting from war zones and natural disasters, waiting for his Pulitzer Prize?” Jay asked.

She laughed and shook her head.

“No, no, no. Not at all. He works for the Sports Desk at The Sun. The photo I just took of that nutty football hooligan could be of some use though. I’ll send it to him a bit later, from that internet café over there.”

First I want to spend some more time with you.

She looked into Jay’s eyes again and slowly stretched her arms out, languishing in the exhilaration of the moment, her thoughts switching from the instrumental Rez to a seemingly unconnected lyric from Roxy Music that struck a chord: ‘Love is the drug for me.’

She flinched at an unusual popping sound nearby, and looked beyond Jay to see a grenade spewing smoke in the centre of the square, as a thumping chorus of police batons on riot shields began at the edge of the square.

“My God there’s police everywhere. Look at all the smoke!”

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