Grayson Interrupted

The day before I got fired, I bought a TV. A huge one, that I couldn’t afford. I bought it on credit. I bought it in the good faith that I had a steady income. I bought it like how regular people buy stuff. I walked into a nice shop, in a nice shirt. I combed my hair. My knuckles were not bleeding. I exchanged niceties, even banter with the assistant.

I was in a good mood.

‘What do you need it for?’ The guy asked.

‘You watch a lot of films?’

‘Something is about to start that I intend to see in good colour.’

‘What?’

I smiled.

‘Have you heard about the LRI Trials?’

‘Is that the research facility that fucked up all those kids?’

‘Depends what side your sitting on, but it’s that. That’s what I’m going to watch.’

‘On a three thousand pound TV?’

‘Yes.’

‘You’re daft, mate. Think of the porn you could watch!’

We laughed.

As he was drawing up the contract, he asked me things about myself. Where I lived, what I did for work. He asked me what my name was. I think I paused a little too long because then he said:

‘You’re not in witness protection, are you?’

I smiled.

‘You’re not one of those kids?’

I didn’t break.

‘Watch the trial. I think it will be interesting.’

He nodded, and handed me the paperwork.

I left with a spring in my step and my TV in the back of a van.

I had to make the place nice you see. I needed to prepare for V.

The Regime: Pause

I slide out from under Partner in the middle of the night. Drag feet as I walk into the bathroom. Sit down to pee, and then realise I don’t need to. Go over to the sink, look at myself in the mirror.

Not Verity anymore. To my astonishment.

Just little old me. Jet black eyes, stern mouth. Special.

I think I’m hungry. Or thirsty.

I think I need to get out of this flat.

Pull hoodie on over T-Shirt and slip out into the night. Walk along the street searching for a light. I think about running away. But where would I go? I don’t know where-

I can’t go home, so what’s the point?

I decide I am hungry when I see a petrol station up ahead. Bright light flashing snacks.

Two cars parked, but apart from that, empty. Quiet. Door chimes as I enter. Boy (Man?) looks up from phone. Nods at me. I nod back.

I peruse the aisles. Chocolate. Wrenches. Crisps. Plasters. I pick the colours that I like and head to the counter. He rings me up.

Fourteen pounds.

I blink at him. Startled, like I’ve never heard of currency.

I don’t have any money.

What?

I look down, hands in pockets. I don’t have any money. I didn’t think-

How much did you say it was?

Fourteen pounds.

I feel about in my pockets still, knowing that I have nothing in them. I could put the snacks back…

But I don’t want to.

I want the snacks. And I used to only do things that I wanted. So, I decide to try that again.

I look up at BoyMan. Smile. He doesn’t smile back but he does watch me long enough for me to form a connection. I reflect his eyes back at him. It’s a weak line; I haven’t practiced in a while. But he’s not a challenge. He works in a petrol station after all.

Let me off this time.

He blinks.

I’ll let you off this time.

Really?

I…think so, yeah.

That’s so nice of you.

I smile.

So, so nice.

He nods, a little dazed. I pick up my treats and begin to leave.

But I can’t. I’m wide awake now. I want to play.

Hey.

Yeah?

It’s easier this time to connect. He waits, slack jawed, for my command.

Empty out the till.

He reaches into the till.I act surprised for the CCTV.

What are you doing?

What does it look like I’m doing?

Put it in a bag and give-

Wrong move.

Put it in a bag and leave the bag in the wheelie bin outside 23 Burns Avenue.

He continues to fill the bag. I head out.

I run, actually. All the way home. I dump all my snacks on the kitchen counter and stare at them.

What have I done?

What a stupid-

What if he can’t find my address?

I stay up the rest of the night, sitting at the living room window, overlooking the drive. I brace every time a car goes past. An hour later, maybe four, I see a figure in a hoodie walking up. He opens the wheelie bin, my wheelie bin, and drops something in it. He looks up at the house and I duck. I don’t know if he sees me. But when I next look out, he’s gone.

I go back to bed like nothing has happened.  Five minutes later Partner’s alarm goes off.

We get up, start our morning routine. I take my pills and the night before fades like a dream. Like with every day, I take the rubbish out to the bins. But when I look inside: There is the bag, full of cash, and what looks like a hand gun.

The Supervisor toots the horn of the car. I drop the rubbish in surprise and go towards him.

I should tell him about the cash, but I don’t.

For the first time in a long time, I lie.

For the first time in a long time, I can see the exit sign.

Not in this timeline

When I finally got out, the world was…It wasn’t the same. Everything was painfully dull. After you watch so many people die, it’s hard to be focused on washing dishes, or brushing your hair. The world is flat and heavy but I feel lighter. Like something otherworldly, floating through it. I have no roots any more, nothing grounding me. Everything I was before, everything I became has been erased. And the weirdest part is, I have no desire to start again. I’m spent. I’ve had enough of trying. I just exist now. Living my life on mute. So when it finally comes time to take me out, I’ll have nothing to miss.

When I meet people their mouths move but I can’t hear anything. When I’m working, I turn the keys and I stack the shelves and I walk up and down with my clipboard, but my mind is elsewhere. I just do what I’m told and live in my head.

I can’t really describe it. This french guy who fixes the vans told me about the idea of multiple timelines. I think that’s close to it. In my head, there are many timelines and I can tune into whichever one I want. There’s this one, where I’m siting in a four by four room with no furniture, smoking cigarette after cigarette until I fall asleep. And there’s another one, where I’m living in a log cabin. Or another, where I have a dog.

My favourite is the one where V and I- I suppose actually we have normal names in that timeline, names like Ben and Rebecca – but we make it. We meet for the first time somewhere normal, at work or at church maybe. We fall in love in a romantic way. Candlelit dinners and picnics and holidays and smiles. We get married, we buy a house. We have arguments, sure, but they’re about such inconsequential things, like what colour to paint the hall or where to host the wedding reception, that they’re more fun than destructive. We get pregnant. Have a child. Have four. We’ve got photos on the walls. Family videos. Tricycles are lined up next to bicycles int he garden. Little clothes hand on the washing line. When we go out we walk hand in hand, kids running ahead.

It is the best part of my day, visiting that timeline. It’s always warm in the house. It smells like pastry. There’s always chatter, always giggling and excited exclamations. As I walk into the living room, someone runs up to me. The youngest, maybe. She has my eyes, and V’s smile. When I hold her, she smells like baby powder and biscuits. She clings to me and I choke up. She’s lost her first tooth, she tells me. Asks me if I’ll stay up and make sure the tooth fairy knows where to find it. Eventually she falls asleep on my lap, and V is beside me on the couch, and we’re just watching TV. It’s getting quiet now. Calm. I carry her up to bed. Swap her tooth for a two pound coin.

Then we’re finally alone. I play those scenes out slowly. They’re part foreign, part memory. I tell I love her over and over. Sometimes she says something back, sometimes she just looks at me. It doesn’t matter. She’s here. She’s here with me. We are wrapped around each other. She’s so soft and warm and mine. Mine, mine, all these things are mine. And no one can get to them. Not even me.

I would never be sick there. I would never be high. Never think about my adopted father, or my dead brother, or all the shit and piss and pain and blood I’ve seen. I’d never wake up in the night screaming. Never hurt anyone. Never leave V.

I’d just enjoy it.

Really, finally, enjoy being alive.

The nights are the hardest

I have nightmares. Or at least, I call them nightmares. They don’t necessarily happen at night, or even when I am asleep. But they keep happening.

She’s at my dinner table. She’s washing dishes at my sink.

There was a point where I didn’t recognise her anymore. And rather than watch her drift away, I chose to leave. I believe some people are capable of holding onto something until it turns to dust in front of them. I cannot imagine ever holding her in my arms and seeing nothing in her eyes.

She’s behind the counter at the supermarket. She’s a nurse on the cancer ward.

At first, she would hold onto me so tightly that when they prized her away, she’d take my sleeve with her. My hair. One time, my skin.

She’s wiping down the table next to me. She’s giggling into a phone.

When she came back, she tore at the scar. Punishment for letting her go. Her rage was just as intense as her sadness, and though she was making my suffer, I knew that she was suffering too.

She’s pushing a child in a pram. She’s ringing the bell on her bike.

To have that go away. To disappear completely. To see that bright spark turn to a dim flicker, a shadow of itself-

She’s pouring over my hand. She’s slamming the door in my face.

I packed a bag and left. She didn’t come after me. I thought it would be easy. Easier.

But I keep having these nightmares.

I’m driving back to my house. She’s in the middle of the street. I know she’s not real so I keep driving. But she doesn’t move. Just looks at me. Looks so sad. So I stop the car. I get out. She’s covered in flowers. As I approach her, she falls back. Lies prone, flowered arms crossed over her chest. I kneel over her. I see that she’s not sad. She’s dead. Her black eyes are grey. Staring.

The flowers are wreathes around her naked, decomposing body. Her stomach is bloating, bloating- the skin splits. 

Fingers reach out. An arm. I recognise a scar that stretches from the elbow to the wrist.

I’m climbing out of her. A version of me that I do not want, cannot meet right now. 

I run back to car. It won’t start. He’s ambling towards me, damp. Naked. 

I slam my head against the window. Over and over until my surroundings fragment, fall apart. When I am back in this time, this world, blood drips from a cut on my forehead.

I wonder if she still suffers like I suffer.

Twin Bed

We can put some pillows down the middle. 

We can put some pillows in the middle and maybe top and tail?

We can top and tail and wear all our clothes. 

Or, let’s not sleep at all. 

I have some spreadsheets to check, you must have spreadsheets to check. 

We can work all night. 

All night. 

Then we won’t miss the plane. 

We might be groggy but we won’t have-

I’m not saying we would without all that, but I don’t want you to feel-

I’m not trying to say you have no self control, I just-

Am I over thinking this?

I’m being patronising, am I?

You think I think I’m god’s gift?

I’m just trying to help you! You’re the one either the reputation. You’re the one everyone gossips about chasing married men!

I’m sorry. 

I shouldn’t have- I don’t think that of you. 

I really am just trying to help you. 

Here, take my card. Get a second room. 

Or I’ll go, how about that?

I don’t want to cause any trouble and I don’t-

If I’m being honest, it would be me. 

It would be me. 

I’m not- I sympathise with-

No, I didn’t say you were pathetic. I just mean that I get lonely too!

I get lonely too. 

I understand why escaping from that for one night would seem worth…

I’m sorry. 

Forget I said anything. 

I’m going to the bar. Maybe we can just sleep in shifts. 

Carbury & Grant

Joel points at his screen.

J: What do you think?

C: It’s a picture of you surrounded by bubbles. Wait, no-

Courtney squints.

C: On further inspection, it’s a picture of you surrounded by-

J: It’s me surrounded by butts.

C: Yup. Why?

J: What?

C: Like, why do it?

J: For nights out.

C: What are you talking about?

J: Calling cards.

C: Calling cards are for when you visit people in the 1920s. What’s that got to do with a night out?

J: If I meet girl.

C: If you meet a girl what? First of all, you would have already met her, so you don’t have to leave a calling card. Also it’s not 1920. Also-

J: Something to remember me by.

C: Stop it.

J: What?

C: Stop.

J: It’s original.

C: That’s the only thing you’ve said that makes sense. You’re right. It’s original. It’s also bad.

J: How?

C: You want to be remembered with a hundred butts that aren’t yours?

J: It’s original-

C: I heard. You realise you haven’t put any other details on this design right?

J: What do you mean?

C: How are they supposed to find you again? You haven’t even written your name.

Joel looks at the picture again.

J: Oh.

C: Exactly.

J: I’ve printed…

C: What?

J: I’ve printed 500.

C: How much?

J: 5…500. But I’ve only opened 200, so we can send the rest back.

C: Why would you-

Courtney rubs her eyes.

B: I just wish I could see inside your head. I really honestly believe someone performed a lobotomy without you knowing. Or maybe you know and you just can’t articulate because you’re so fucking stupid.