Sunday, 20 March 2022

Derivation

Okay. Enough. I've sent out submissions to I don't know how many literary agents, crafted the letters, honed the synopsises, synopi? described my publishing history; been endlessly encouraged by friends and family but it seems what I wish to write doesn't appeal to agents; satirical glances at where we are now and what could happen in the, to my mind at least, tumultuous and dark future are not wanted. At least by unknown writers; fine if you are madame Atwood . . . absolutely no jealously here. ;0)

I'm putting aside the four manuscripts of this genre for now and temporarily ceasing Outcrier - another bleak but humorous slice of a possible future world, and doing something I said I wouldn't do - writing a novel to attempt to fit into a genre that could be more acceptable. But already it's escaped the genre I had started out with so, I'll keep going and see where it ends up. No mention of a rumbling, dark future, keeping it fairly light with a black humour edge. 

Post-apocalyptic London is where my writing heart beats strongest (see novel link to the right) and I still have hope that the follow up to Londonia will get an airing, but for a while I'll try something else. Why not? It's an interesting experiment to step outside the box ones mind has constructed.

Extract from current book with working title: I first became aware of my intermittent unusualness after Dad drove the Cortina into chip shop window.



Eva, a fifty-something year old, self invented psychoanalyst sits in her garret flat somewhere in North London. 

                                                                            ***   

I sit at the kitchen table, hands wrapped around a mug of herbal tea, radio 4 nattering in the background and the shadows of late summer leaves dappling the 1950s wallpaper I have somehow got used to. 


When I first shown the garret by the fifteen-year old estate agent who pointed out its merit of convenient proximity to the tube but was stuck for much else to say I felt my life falling away, that it had come to this. But actually, what do we need above shelter, warmth, food, a few treasured possessions? A few more friends would be nice. I think I may be turning into a hermit-ess. Or a bloke to re-discover sex with? Or, a woman? My thoughts of what it would be like to caress someone else’s breasts are interrupted as the intercom rasps reminding me that I haven’t prepared for Geoff Brenton’s visit at all. I was probably avoiding it anyway.

I lift the handset, say hello, and his clipped voice answers. “Geoff here.”

Out on the landing I listen to his footsteps clumping on the bare wood stairs. He nods as he arrives, a slight beading of sweat on his forehead under a lock of hair that has escaped its greased companions.

“Good afternoon, Geoff.” I stand back, avoiding a handshake. “Did you find a parking space okay?”

He jerks his head towards the little window at the end of the landing. “Eventually, in Clark street. It’s getting worse, isn’t it.”

I don’t possess a car so take little notice of parking issues other than people’s complaining about it.

“Bus?”

He looks at me as if I have suggested crawling on hands and knees the distance from wherever he lives in Holloway. “The seats are disgusting on buses.”

We enter my lodgings and I wonder if he mentally disinfects everything as he steps over the threshold. Quite encouraging really; whatever I am doing must be of overwhelming use for him to put up with my surroundings. 

“Would you like to sit on the sofa, or you can lie down if you prefer.”

I am not an actual psychoanalyst and I think many of them concur that the lying down thing is rather outdated but I offer it anyway.

“Can we sit at the table again?”

“Of course.”

We sit. I offer a drink. He declines. His eyes roam around the room for a while. “You know, my parents had the same wallpaper. I’m sure of it.”

“Oh?”

“In the spare room.” He drags out the last two words as if he fears them. 

I decide this is interesting. “Was it an overflow room for possessions, or a guest room?”

“. . . They called it the naughty room. Me or Gill would be put in there if we’d been bad.”

“For a short while – just to make you reflect for a few minutes?”

“Hours. Sometimes a day, or a night. I’d have to pee out of the window. Once I crapped in a mug as I didn’t know what else to do, and I wiped my arse on a sock.”

The bus seats and other phobias begin to take shape a little. In the first and second sessions Geoff had only skirted around what I had suspected were deeper issues. We’re well away from topsoil this time.

“Did that result in more punishment?”

He drums three fingers on the table top before inspecting them and wiping away on a neatly folded square of kitchen roll whatever microbes he fears will be present.

“I thought Father was going to kill me. Gill and Mother were both screaming at him to stop.” He smiles suddenly as if a switch has been flipped somewhere within him. “I took flowers to the woman I was telling you about.”

Startled by this sudden change of direction I dredge back last week; Geoff sitting opposite me, his face slightly flushed as he described somebody in the accounting department.

“Did she appreciate the gesture?” I ask.

“She was a bit shocked, I think. In a good way – it must have been as she agreed to dinner on Friday evening.”

“Were you surprised?”

“I was. Very. Usually when I have done this before they say no.”

“Usually? On our last meeting, you said you’ve rarely attempted to ask anyone out.”

“Did I? He pauses as if rummaging through a mental filing cabinet. No . . . I’ve asked many people.”

“Tens, twenties?”

“Hundreds, possibly.”

“And she’s the first who’s agreed.”

“Correct.”

“How are you feeling about Friday?”

He sits back in the chair and reveals his horsey teeth in a rather maniacal grin. “Bloody terrified. That’s why I asked if you could fit me in rather than next week.”

“Would you like to tell me what it is you are mostly worried about.”

“What to say to her, mainly. And about what might happen . . . later on.”

“You mean after the restaurant.”

“Yes.”

“There might not necessarily be a later on.”

His expression droops a little into disappointment. “There always is in the films.”

I search for a film with which I can illustrate my point but James Bond keeps bobbing to the surface of my thoughts: cocktails, swooning women, tumbling hair. Shit. There must be hundreds of intelligent examples.

“Certainly, not always, Geoff. Let’s return to conversation you might have. Do you know much about her?”

“She drives a Ford Fiesta. It’s very clean.”

“. . . Good. You’ve spoken to her several times, I imagine.”

“Only twice. Once when her desk had been moved nearer the photocopier. Malcolm – my line manager had asked me to run off a copy of a contract. I asked her if the view was better from that side of the room, and she thought that was quite funny. And the second time was in the canteen when I spilt milk on her shoe – she was standing behind me and I lost control of my tray. Lucky I’d only picked up a milk jug and not a teapot at that point! Anyway, I quickly got a napkin crouched down and wiped away the milk from her shoe. It was while I was looking at her ankle that I thought I should ask her out.”

“Why then?”

“She has very nice ankles. And her shoes were extremely polished – high-heeled red shoes.”

“How do you find the rest of her?”

“Not bad. Not bad at all . . . good figure. It’s just her face . . .”

“Her face?”

“Rather rounder than I like, and she has very thick glasses.”

I regard the man before me and wonder what people are likely to say about his face which is unhealthy looking with a large flaccid nose and eyes that sit closely on either side of it.

“Can I ask you about your previous relationships, Geoff?”

In the first session Geoff had hardly talked until suddenly zipping into a monologue about his father’s new Mercedes; the second more about work issues and his worries over a bullish colleague.  

He loosens his tie a little. I wonder how old he is. Late thirties? Have I asked him? I’d lost the notes I’d taken after his last visit. Bad. I’ll go straight out afterwards and buy a proper book, or perhaps I should start using the laptop – however it seems to be on the way out . . . He’s still forming words, or not. It’s difficult to say. Some people reveal all within their expressions, and others, like Geoff, could be thinking about anything from dry cleaning to mass murder.

“. . . There have been three.”

“Relationships.”

“In a way.”

“Very short ones?”

“Yes. I think you might call the first one . . . seduction, by a friend of my mothers. The second was a date set up by a friend of mine in the light aircraft association that I belong to.”

“You fly?”

“No. Not really. I tried but I suffer from vertigo. The woman, Sammy, wanted to go on a hike rather than a dinner date. I think I’m more of a wanderer so she was striding ahead all the time then waiting for me to catch up. In fact, she left me at a stile and I had to catch a lift back to the carpark in a cow truck.”

“I see. And the third?”

“Internet date. But she lives in Alaska and she told me yesterday that she’s marrying another woman. It’s annoying as we’d been talking for months and I really thought she would move over here.”

“So, you’ve had one actual physical encounter with a woman.”

“Yes.” The yes is as dry as someone responding to a survey on traffic calming. I wonder whether to move back onto the subject of the woman with nice ankles, but perhaps it might be useful to find out what the seduction involved, mainly for her sake.

“When you say seduction . . . did you have full sex?”

“I think so, but it was all over so quickly and she kept shouting at me to slap her.”

“You didn’t really enjoy it, I imagine.”

“It was . . . sort of exciting. I wanted to do it again with her but she didn’t respond to my calls. And then I found out from Mother that she had moved out of London.” He looks down at the table and frowns at a circle left from a coffee cup. “You’ll have to sand that out, you know.”

I glance at the kitchen clock and realise most of his session has expired and we haven’t ventured far into the Friday night issue.

“Where are you taking her for dinner?”

“A new Italian place on the high street. I thought it might bring up the subject of travel.”

“You’ve been to Italy then.”

“No.”

“Where have you travelled?”

“I went to the Isle of Man once for a bike show. I didn’t like the ferry much though.”

“Well, it’s a good idea anyway. You can ask her where she’s been, where she might like to go . . .”

He nods slowly, eyes focusing on the wall behind me. “What do you think I should say after dessert?”

“Would you like a coffee?”

“And after that?”

“Well, by then you hopefully will have an idea as to whether you might wish to see each other again. You could talk about that – for example, I was wondering if you’ve seen that new film with Leonardo de Caprio in it . . .”

“Which film?”

“I was just using that as an illustration.”

“I don’t rate him as an actor.”

I risk a quick look at the clock again. Ten minutes to go. I’ll go out somewhere – walk amongst trees.

“If you are asking me about inviting her back to your place, I’d say be very careful not to suggest anything too sudden.”

“Do you think she might slap me?”

“Probably not but she might just feel things were moving too fast. On the other hand, she might also be interested in something more than just dinner out. Only you will be able to judge that at that point.”

“There’s another issue.”

“Oh?”

“My mother always was on at me to eat with my mouth shut.”

“Well, that certainly is very important on a date. Do you eat with your mouth open still?”

“I don’t know. That’s the problem. I forget, you see.”

“Maybe you could set up a system – such as, when you observe your fork rising towards your mouth, think shut.”

“But then I might do just that and the spaghetti would go everywhere else.”

The long hand has thankfully dragged itself to the top of the clock. I wind up the session.

“That’s true but maybe think of some other way for yourself. My brother shares the same problem and it’s difficult to share a meal without focusing on his mouth and its contents.” I gesture to the clock. “Okay. We’d better finish as I have someone else arriving shortly.”

He nods, reaches for his wallet and draws out the agreed notes. “Could I make another appointment?”

I reach for my diary and leaf through to the following week. “. . . I can do the same time if you like.”

“That works. Hopefully, I’ll have something to discuss about my date.”

He stands up and smooths the creases in his shiny grey jacket. His hands tremble very slightly. I walk to the door and hold it open for him. He holds out a hand and without thinking I take it. A second later I freeze waiting for some onslaught of images but nothing transpires. I’m just aware of his dry skin. Odd, I thought he might have had sweating palms. 

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