Wednesday, 14 May 2014

ANN AND DAN (A reflection on a tragic contemporary relationship)

‘You spent a paltry amount on poultry,’ said Ann.

  Feeling hen pecked, Dan justified himself, ‘They only had some poxy chickens…’

  Ann looked at his pock-marked face—the vestigial visage of chickenpox, which he had had as a child. She detected no intentional sarcasm in his demeanour, but nevertheless his fowl play, fouling the nest like he always did, put her in a foul mood.

  ‘Never mind,’ he said, his shoulders slumped in contrition. ‘We’re going on holiday next week.’

  Oh yes, Ann remembered, they were flying off to Turkey the following Friday. His weak smile made him look all the more a subservient cretin. Waves of resentment towards him welled within her—she could have done so much better. Choking on accumulated bitterness, she bit her lower lip until it hurt. She had to be away from his air of sheepishness, the apologetic aura that emanated from him failed to inspire even a morsel of pity in her. He was pathetic and she loathed his sorry, servile shape.

  ‘I need to go upstairs and lie down,’ she said. Her head tilted backwards as she rose from her chair with her nose pointing the way as she made her disdainful exit from the room.

  Still stood hunched in shame like a reproached child, Dan shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. One, one thousand, two, two thousand—he counted to himself feeling prickly heat on the back of his neck and across his forehead. He heard the hum of her vibrator from the floor above and impulsively switched on the kettle.

  A cup of tea will be nice, he thought while making it. There’s nothing like a cup of tea, he thought while drinking it and after he’d finished. The humming sound from upstairs continued as he rinsed out his cup and wondered what to do next.

  Perhaps a short walk was called for. He hesitated at the foot of the stairs, about to tell Ann he was just popping out. What if she came down and found he’d gone out? Should he leave her a note on the kitchen table? He wondered how long the batteries in her vibrator would last.

  Five uncertain minutes later, he opened the front door and sneaked out closing the door quietly behind him.

In the street it was chilly.

  ‘Bit parky, innit, Dan?’ said his neighbour, Boris, leaving his house with a similarly furtive air.

  ‘Yes, it is,’ said Dan. His weak smile in feeble acknowledgement of his neighbour’s civility concealing the irrational rage he suddenly felt seizing him at the banality of their exchange. Was life reduced to this repetitive swapping of statements of the obvious? He scowled as he turned his collar up, protecting his freckled neck from the cold air engulfing him. Oh no, was it starting to rain now too? He heard rather than felt a splash on his shoulder.

  ‘Ha-ha-ha, lucky old you!’ Boris said chuckling.

  ‘Oh, shit.’ Dan’s eyes swerved to the gooey white mess on his jacket, confirming the bird dropping that Boris had readily noticed. He instinctively wiped at the mess with his palm, then groaned at the smelly condition it left his hand in. Of course he hadn’t any tissues on him he realised stuffing both hands in his jacket pockets. He strode out with a forced smile aimed at Boris, who was now frozen like a mirthful statue gawking at him.

  Ignore him, he told himself looking around at nearby roofs for signs of the flying culprit. He took five or six decisive steps before he trod in a runny pile of dog shit.

  ‘Bollocks!’ he gasped.

  Wrenching his ill-placed foot from the disgusting mound of faeces dislodged a number of feasting flies. A nauseous sensation assailed him as he heard Boris chortling away behind him. He visualised his hands—tightly clenched in his jacket pockets—wrapped around his neighbours throat applying a murderous tight squeeze. He stamped and dragged his fouled sole along the cracked pavement as, in his mind’s eye, Boris’s face turned purple and his eyes bulged with the last stages of asphyxiation upon him. He had walked far beyond the crescent where they lived before his fury somewhat abated.

  Ten minutes’ walking at a brisk pace had brought him to the busy main road where, due to his absentmindedness, a speeding car beeped its horn startling him. That’ll teach me to keep my wits about me, he thought stepping back from the road he’d so recklessly begun crossing—as though he was sleepwalking.

  ‘What a wanker,’ someone behind him said. Turning his bright red face in their direction, he was alarmed by the sight of a gang of five or six aggressive looking youths huddled around a vandalised phone box.

  ‘What you staring at, you tosser?’ one of the youths shouted at him before he could look away.
  He felt a hard, heavy object bouncing off his back, hearing disturbing noises as a barrage of aluminium drinks cans were successively hurled at him.

  ‘Tosser, toss-pot, wanker,’ yelled the various youths. A disharmonious chorus of abuse soon issued from their hostile throats. His heart pounded frighteningly in his chest as he looked around for either the possibility of help or escape. Cars continued speeding past his uncertain figure, the blaring radios of some momentarily drowning out the hurled insults from the gang. He walked rapidly away from the malevolent mob keeping close to the kerb, still mindful of the hazardous traffic, fear making him intake air through his opened mouth in short sharp gasps. Pounding along with his eyes fixed straight ahead, he didn’t know how long he’d been hurrying until eventually he realised he could no longer hear the youths.

  Slowing down, relieved, he noticed a fish and chip shop on his left—the start of a parade of commercial premises. A couple of old ladies, walking arm in arm, returned his smile and then, when he’d passed, asked each other who he was and if they knew him. Dan couldn’t care less. He was just glad to be in one piece. He’d felt certain he was about to be violently attacked on top of everything else. No amount of misfortune would have surprised him, adversity in the form of mishaps of varying degrees of severity was all that he’d come to expect. He accepted it with the resignation of a broken spirit; surviving emotionally on the bursts of self-pity that went with the mind-set of a professional victim. Not that he made any money out of his long-suffering lifestyle, he reflected ruefully with a fresh burst of feeling sorry for himself. It wasn’t his fault, he repeated to himself like a mantra. Ann didn’t love him however hard he tried to make their marriage work.

  Unconsciously, he had come to a halt outside a mini-market called Patel’s from which the pungent smell of samosas exuded. A tied up Alsatian dog was whining straining on its lead attached to a steel bike rail. Ruminating over his unhappy marriage, he failed to see the trio of turbaned gentlemen who left the store prattling in Urdu. Or the young, miniskirted mother revealing her plump, sausage-like legs covered in varicose veins and tattoos around her fat ankles, pushing a buggy into the shop, her three toddlers following her like waddling ducklings, as he remembered the attractive youth Ann had once been.

  They’d been twenty-two when they got married. She was six months pregnant with their first child and he was working in his father’s pharmacy in the high street. A lucrative business he was set to inherit until the mystery illness that killed his mother cost his father’s sanity and he’d disappeared without trace. Not before he’d set fire to the business premises razing them to the ground, robbing Dan of the future he’d lovingly described to Ann throughout their courtship. In the circumstances, the insurance company had refused to pay out and newly-wed Dan found himself unemployed. By the time their daughter, Amy was born he’d found a lowly job in grocery replenishment—a fancy name for shelf-stacking in a supermarket.

  Perhaps it was understandable Ann had lost esteem for him. Particularly after her second miscarriage, when Amy was two, that had put her off trying to have any more children. By then, he’d risen to supervisor in the supermarket for a pittance extra pay. He was bullied at work by his colleagues, the boss and even some of the customers. This was a source of shame that he kept a secret from her, choosing to work the quieter night-shifts to avoid contact with customers and the rest of the staff. The strain made him develop a nervous twitch and his skin broke out in a violently itchy rash. Ann suspected him of having an affair at around this time and their heated arguments deprived him of sleep and caused friction with their neighbours. He lost his appetite and became thin, looking gaunt. Dark circles under his bloodshot eyes lent credibility to the malicious (false) rumours about his drug taking spread by his vindictive workmates, resulting in his dismissal. He was too scared to tell Ann who, he imagined would have insisted that he take a drugs test and vindicate himself. She would not only expect him to get reinstated, he knew, but also handsomely compensated for the injustice he’d suffered. And, if he would not fight his corner—which he lacked the will to do—she would assume he was guilty as charged. Depressed, scared and in poor shape, Dan resorted to petty crime including shoplifting and, extremely clumsily, pickpocketing to make ends meet. Meanwhile, to maintain the pretence of having his job he stayed out all night and slept on park benches. Within a fortnight, he was arrested for attempting to steal an old lady’s handbag. When the case went to court it appeared in the local paper and he was exposed. The shame nearly killed him. Ann threatened him with divorce and embarked on a series of humiliating affairs with various men who compounded his feelings of inadequacy. At one point, he seriously contemplated suicide.

  Dan was momentarily distracted from his reminiscences by the young mother and her troupe of toddlers. Leaving the store with stuffed carrier bags draped off the buggy’s handles, the woman pushed her buggy into the back of Dan’s legs making him lose balance. Her baby immediately started bawling in reaction to the collision. He heard the woman swearing and the collective whining of her toddlers behind him.

  ‘Oh, er… I’m sorry,’ he said, staggering.

  ‘Tommy, come ‘ere!’ The woman shouted at one of her kids, completely ignoring him. Taken aback, inaudibly stammering, he took a step backwards to avoid the oncoming matriarch and trod in a thick lump of congealed chewing gum.

  ‘Oh, my God,’ he said.

  ‘What did you say?’ the woman rounded on him, her eyes narrowing suspiciously as she continued to move forwards impelling the buggy before her.

  ‘Oh, nothing… I…’ He felt sweat trickling down his hot, itching forehead. ‘I just said I was sorry… I’m sorry.’

  ‘TOMMY, COME ON, NOW!’ she shouted barging past him with a disdainful look that, he thought, Ann would have been proud of.

  Dan took a couple of moments to compose himself as the woman trundled off with her infantile posse. What a day it had been! He decided to go in the shop he’d been standing outside, buy some mints or something to help him freshen up a little. His left foot resisted as he lifted it—of course, he’d got stuck in some bloody chewing gum, hadn’t he? Stooping down he unlaced his shoe and removed it from his sore foot, noticing his big toe sticking through a hole in his smelly sock. Then, he took the gummed up shoe to the kerb and scraped it repeatedly across the edge, shifting as much of the tacky gum as he could. He put his shoe back on and marched purposefully towards the shop. As he entered, an obese, middle-aged man was leaving and trod on his toes.


  The man’s full weight had born down upon the scuffed, soft leather of his left shoe’s toecap for an agonising second, bringing water to Dan’s weary eyes.

  ‘Why don’t you watch where you’re going, mate?’ the fat man said before scuttling off like a gruff crab.

  It was unbelievable. But Dan, swearing inside, carried on into the shop where he stood blinking at the crammed shelves. A dark-skinned, swarthy looking man was positioned behind the counter to his left. He was reading an opened newspaper next to the till Dan noticed several plastic charity bottles were chained to. Softly playing through crackling speakers that were out of sight, he thought he heard Indian music. He was alone in the shop.

  ‘Can I help you, sir?’ the man by the till casually looked up from his paper. His manner, felt Dan, was brisk and slightly suspicious, rather than polite. As if the cameras pointing from every corner and the security mirrors weren’t enough. Dan saw himself—a downcast looking character, he had to acknowledge—on the screen of the colour monitor behind and above the man’s shoulder.

  ‘Er, do you sell mints?’

  ‘Certainly, sir. Any particular type of mints?  We have peppermints, spearmints, Polo mints, Fox’s glacier mints, Mint Imperials, assorted mints, Everton mints, humbugs and After Eight mint chocolate wafers…’ The man had rattled them off like a machine gun. ‘We also sell mint flavoured chocolate bars: Aero…’

  ‘Goodness,’ Dan said, not sorry to interrupt the man. ‘I’m really spoiled for choice.’

  And now, overwhelmed by the list recital, he feared he would be unable to decide what type of mints he should buy. The man’s eyes, dark and angry, held his with a penetrating stare. Dan felt extremely uncomfortable. Have I angered him? He wondered, feeling fresh sweat dampen his once again hot face. The suspicious look in the man’s hypnotic eyes was unmistakeable but still he could not look away. With his paranoia mounting in the silence that followed, Dan fidgeted in discomfort, embarrassed by his involuntary flushing exaggerating his guilty-looking features, supplying such dodgy body language that the shopkeeper’s suspicions increased and intensified. His mouth gaped open in a silent pout, his lips quivering to shape words he failed to utter.

  ‘What’s your game, sir?’

  At last the awful silence was broken. Dan gasped with relief, partially registering the slight pause before the man had added the word sir. He might be suspicious, thought Dan, but at least he’s still being deferential. Quite right too—after all, he was a paying customer on the premises totally legitimately for an honest transaction. He was suddenly filled with confidence, assuming the role of a wronged innocent. There’s nothing like s bit of righteous indignation to fire one up, he thought, his chest swelling in proportion to the haughtiness affecting his bearing.

  ‘As a matter of fact, my good man,’ said Dan, his voice steady while his cut glass accent was put on. ‘I wish to purchase a packet of your finest extra strong mints.’

  In the brief silence that followed, Dan suppressed a wave of panic as he realised that the man had not mentioned extra strong mints. Not that he could recall anyway, so perhaps he did not stock them. Well, so what? He quickly reassured himself, reluctant to crumple again so soon, it hardly mattered. Why: if the shop didn’t sell them he could simply shrug his shoulders, act disgruntled and march out with his dignity intact. If anything the man would feel he’d been wasting his, Dan’s, time. It was perfect.

  ‘Certainly, sir.’ The man had recovered himself and deftly reached for a packet from a display unit on the counter. ‘Here you are, sir. That’ll be seventy-five pence, please.’

  Dan reached for some change, which he expected to find alongside his house keys in his trousers pocket but he drew a blank.

  ‘Oh,’ he said, startled by his discovery. ‘Just a minute.’

  The man behind the counter stood perfectly still, his face was expressionless; his brown fingers lightly squeezing the tube of mints as Dan searched his other pockets. His face turned red as the search proved fruitless. Damn! He could have sworn he had a couple of pound coins and some silver on him. Yet the speeded up repetition of his previous actions elicited a sarcastic, tight-lipped smile from the shopkeeper but no money.

  ‘Er, look here I… I, er, I’m really sorry but…’ Beetroot red, Dan’s face began twitching uncontrollably.

  ‘Is there a problem, sir?’

  The man gloated behind his counter, enjoying the humiliating spectacle Dan had become. His tone was openly patronising.  Feeling triumphant, now that his earlier suspicions had been confirmed, the man allowed himself to grin at Dan while deliberately putting back the packet of mints. He’d known from the instant he’d laid eyes on him that the bloke was up to no good. Not necessarily a shoplifter—he had an instinct for those—but he was definitely a weirdo nutcase of some kind, certainly he was a timewaster and not a genuine shopper.

  Just then, a couple of people came into the shop. Dan seized the opportunity to make a bolt for it. He broke wind loudly as he left and banged into a busty woman in a low-cut top on the pavement outside.

  ‘I know,’ he said as the startled woman exhaled with the breath he’d knocked out of her. ‘Why don’t I watch where I’m going?’

Vin Diesel sent the last of the brawling sailors flying with a deftly deployed rising elbow strike. The sailor crash-landed on top of his five sea mates groaning loudly, as did they. Scarcely out of breath, but with a light film of sweat making his brow and exposed upper body glisten, Vin approached Ann with an unmistakeable expression of urgent carnal desire. She panted frantically as he fumbled with his belt and flies, pushing down his tight denim jeans and lunging at her prone form on the soft double mattress. The drunken sailors had lusted after her, attempted to rape her until Vin—alerted by her cries—had intervened. But now, he too was overcome with an uncontrollable need for her; as evidenced by the throbbing tumescence of his member. She caught sight of its pulsating form, running her tongue across her lips matching the moistening she felt below, before he plunged it inside her readily gaping vagina. The weight of his muscular body on top of hers made her momentarily breathless, disturbing the rhythm of her self-indulgent groaning. In her imagination, her hands enfolded around the back of his shaved head drawing his face to hers for an intimate, tongue-tickling kiss while, in reality, her fingers stuffed the humming vibrator further up herself. Engorged, quivering, her inner thighs tingling with sensation, she was on the point of orgasm when the battery operated masturbatory tool abruptly stopped working.

  ‘Shit, shit, SHIT!’ she exclaimed, throwing the device savagely across the room. It shattered on the bedroom wall and fell in pieces on the carpeted floor.

  Swinging her previously parted legs over the edge of the bed, swearing repeatedly to herself with frustration and disappointment, she quickly got to her feet. Grabbing her dressing gown, which she draped round her bulky form and harshly tied in her foul mood, she padded barefoot downstairs to the kitchen.

  Where was that bottle of whiskey? She opened the top cupboards, slamming their doors and swearing when the bottle she sought eluded her. Surely her spineless lump of a husband wouldn’t have drunk it? He wouldn’t dare, she was sure of it. Nevertheless, her anger towards him freshly surged within her, fuelled with indignation at the very idea of it. Ah, here it was, she registered with relief finding the half-full bottle behind the door below the sink. She unscrewed the cap and raised the bottle to her lips, taking a generous swig. Closing her eyes after swallowing, she placed her free hand on her chest as the warm aftertaste filled her throat, slightly burning her heaving breast. Automatically her fingers caressed her semi-erect nipple. She squeezed gently opening her eyes, which she rolled upwards away from the filthy kitchen sink filled with unwashed crockery. Christ, he was a lazy, good for nothing bum! That was a point, she thought, he must have gone out. She imagined him shuffling off sneakily, making sure he didn’t slam the door on his way out. She took another pull on the whiskey then set the bottle down on the kitchen table next to a pile of magazines. Her tired eyes scanned their glossy covers disinterestedly, and then she padded into the lounge.

  She flopped on the faux black leather settee, which creaked beneath her, and fidgeted at some length trying to get comfortable. The settee was at least fifteen-years-old and the springs had gone, like every tacky thing they owned it was way past its best. And so was she, she thought, and so was he and so was their boring, stale farce of a marriage. How she’d come to be ensnared in this loveless trap of failed domesticity mystified and repelled her. In vain, she sought for an image of him in a better light; some fond recollection that might remind her of the attraction for him that surely she once felt.

  ‘Jesus, typical…’ She groaned, reaching for the bottle she realised she’d left on the table next door. She returned to her sulk on the settee with it after a brief, short-tempered journey, knocking the pile of magazines onto the dirty floor in the process.

  Lying back crossing her swollen ankles with the bottle to her lips, she closed her weary eyes to shut out the damp patch on the ceiling overhead. She tried visualising Vin Diesel again in a variation on a familiar fantasy theme of herself as an irresistibly sexy temptress of all men. Men who she’d drive wild with uncontrollable desire, making them violently lecherous towards her until—as usual—Vin Diesel, who also lusted after her, came to her rescue. Her fingers brushed against her clitoris clumsily as her repeated swigs from the bottle rapidly diminished the whiskey contents. She belched involuntarily and grimaced with the heartburn that immediately followed. Vin, Vin, Vin, she thought hard, struggling to concentrate although already losing the impetus. It was too late now, she realised violently burping once more.

  ‘Bloody hell!’

  In the foulest mood, she flung the empty bottle to the floor unsure if the greyish blur she saw retreating from it was a rat. I wouldn’t be surprised, she mused bitterly breaking wind sonorously as she tramped back to the kitchen. A slice of toast would be nice and perhaps a couple of cakes. She fumbled with the sliced loaf dropping crumbs and loose crusts to the sticky floor before successfully loading the slots of the toaster. Why was her life so boring, such a relentless stream of the mundane and banal? Had she done something in one of her previous lives to deserve her shitty karma? Unconscious of her own inverted arrogance—ascribing self-importance to her previous incarnations—she felt confident she was right.

  Hadn’t her friend, Zoe, from the chakra realignment sessions she’d attended last year told her enough about her past-life regressions to convince her she was far from alone? Zoe—at the time a recent divorcee—had lived in a women’s shelter for battered women after the collapse of her fourth marriage before stumbling into New Age teachings and workshops. She lived in a Volkswagen Dormobile she shared with her gay partner, Chloe-Jane. One night, after a mysterious drive through miles of unfamiliar countryside, with Zoe and her partner, Ann had drunk a flask of tea impregnated with magic mushrooms. Parked on a sheltered track winding round a small forest, she’d listened enthralled to Zoe’s accounts of her previous existences.

  One of them, in particular, struck her with its vivid strangeness: the story of how Zoe had lived as a suffragette called Annabella Scowlings at the turn of the twentieth century. She had sold matches and repaired men’s shirt collars for a meagre living and been an eyewitness to Emily Pankhurst’s shocking suicide. This traumatic event had driven Zoe/Annabella into a total breakdown and she’d been incarcerated in a brutal asylum for criminally insane women. Here she’d been raped and beaten by sadistic warders until she escaped fifteen years later. Only to be run over and killed by a drunken man in reckless charge of a steamroller. Chloe-Jane and Ann had cried and hugged Zoe after hearing her harrowing tale. Afterwards, they had matching tattoos on their left breasts of the silhouette of a suffragette.

  Eating her toast, smeared thickly with butter, hairs and marmalade, Ann recalled her friendship with the hapless though strong Zoe. There was something about her indomitable spirit that attracted Ann, leading her to experiment in a lesbian ménage a trois with her and Chloe-Jane. It was something of a drunken mistake that she only repeated a few times before Zoe had suddenly announced that she and Chloe-Jane were moving to Canada to join a post-feminist kibbutz organised by Chloe-Jane’s great-aunt. She wondered what had become of her as she swallowed the last of her toast and still felt hungry.

  She grabbed the bakewell tart she’d taken from the fridge; smiling to herself with Zoe’s small pretty face blinking at her in her mind. She took a huge bite from the tart not minding the sticky mess round her face or the crumbs adding to the existing pile on the floor. Food offered a respite when your life was such a bore. She was glad he, Dan, was out but God, it was quiet! She put the radio on.

  ‘… And that was the sensational sound of Safety Razors,’ shouted the inane voice of a frenetic DJ. ‘From their ground-breaking new album, Croydon: No Entry. It’s sure to reach the top. Breaking news about the Razors’ lead singer, Asperger’s Tentacles… He’s rumoured to be collaborating on a duet with Sofia Warp from the Chelsea Mind Tunnelers for a bonus track on their forthcoming album. More details as we get them. Now, stay tuned, here’s Candy Floss Guns with their brand new release, The Wombles’ Brain Transplant…’

  The cacophony that followed created the background noise that Ann customarily relaxed to. As she polished off the bakewell tart and rooted through previously uninvestigated cupboards in search of more alcohol, she found herself calming down and her dark mood lightening. Why should she let her nincompoop of a failed husband bring her down? She, like all women, was too good for that. He wasn’t even there—good riddance—so she was damned if the mere thought of his obnoxious existence was going to oppress her. That was exactly what he, and every other weak cretin who’d attached themselves to a woman stronger than themselves, would have wanted. Not that he was bright enough to realise it consciously, she reflected fleetingly with dismissiveness untinged by even a trace of pity. He was a risible worm; blind to the million ways in which she outshone him, existing in a permanent fog of blissful ignorance of the multiple layers to her lifelong misery. Misery he was the primary cause of, with his blinkered idiocy, absurd affability and nebulous outlook. He was both ridiculous and pathetic; a shallow, parasitic wimp who deserved none of her conscious thought, she thought swallowing the last of the tart and burping.

  During a pause between tracks playing on the radio and the frantic DJ’s patter, Ann thought she heard the letterbox flapping in the hallway followed by the dull thump of mail landing on the doormat.

  ‘Ouch!’ she exclaimed, treading on a hard, sharp object underfoot. Padding, limping to the hall confirmed her suspicion the post had been delivered. Stooping to collect the pile of brown and white envelopes from behind the front door, her curiosity was tempered with a familiar feeling of resignation—inevitably there would be bills. Bills and advertising, she ruefully thought. God, she hated junk mail! Flipping through the half-dozen envelopes quickly scanning who they were addressed to, she dismissed the first few. Phone bill, the first one, she recognised the phone company’s logo on the front and put it to the back. The second one, in a plain white envelope, was addressed to The Proprietor, was obvious advertising. For double glazing or some such shite, she surmised. She similarly disregarded the next two in their identical manila envelopes marked: URGENT and addressed to Mr and Mrs Hiatus—the previous tenants, who had moved over twenty years ago. God, why did they still keep getting their mail? But towards the bottom of the pile in a small blue envelope covered in small, feminine handwriting, she came across a letter addressed to him! She was surprised, he never got mail. Daniel Foister it clearly read in the delicate lettering that had also drawn her attention. What? Who was this from and what was it about? She felt savagely curious. I’ll soon find out, she told herself ripping open the back of the envelope. Were those a series of Xs, representing kisses, she’d seen before she damaged the paper with her impatient tearing? Her palms moistened with a delicate layer of sweat as she fumbled bringing the letter from its sleeve and raising it to her wide open eyes.

  Her heart beating hard and fast, Ann read the contents of the letter with growing disbelief. It read:

  ‘My sexy darling, Dan,
                                       I must write to you now in the torture of the silence and loneliness I feel every second of every day that I spend in your absence. My only comfort in these agonising periods of time, which are seemingly endless, is the memory of your touch; the feel of your gentle hands on my bare skin; the heavenly injection of your fluids in our intimate union, making my head spin until it feels like I will swallow all the stars in the Milky Way or have an out of the body experience after you have (typically) reduced me to a quivering submissive vessel for your good heart’s every whim. What would I not grant you in the state of bliss I’m left in by the exquisitely prolonged deployment of your passionate skills? I am a powerless heap in awe of the enfeebled subservience you inspire within me after our tantric lovemaking sessions. My heart expands and fills with joy as I bask in the rapture provided by merely remembering a fraction of a fraction of one of our intimate exchanges. The image of your handsome head; your intensely glowing, sexy eyes twinkling in support of your seductive smile as you caress my nipple or wrist or touch me anywhere is sufficient to make me spontaneously come, which I regret—because it is a selfish reaction to the overpowering intoxicant that you ARE, and it is something that, although it feels glorious, I would rather share WITH you in person. You are my God, you are my reason for living, in fact, you are my very purpose in life.

  I hope this letter reaches you well, my love. I cannot bear the idea of you being even marginally less than blissfully happy at all times. The very thought of the possibility of you existing in less than perfect, total bliss fills me with a sense of dread and a profound nauseous aversion that makes me physically shake. I go pale, feeling faint and quivering all over. Sweat pours from my pores, the marks of stigmata afflict my palms and I have to scream as loud as my lungs will enable me to partially relieve myself from the horrible sensations bombarding me at the prospect of your—even imaginary—unhappiness. If I had to slice myself into tiny cubes (no more than a couple of square centimetres in size) with rusty razor blades to prevent you ever feeling sad or having even a mild headache, I would without the slightest hesitation. In fact, my joy at performing any action preventing you from experiencing something even slightly unpleasant would transport me to regions of self-sacrificial fulfilment that words cannot ever describe. Nor can all the beautiful symphonies of all the greatest composers in the entire world combined be as beautiful as the simple tune I’d whistle while I’d whittle away at myself with the blades. My heart would outshine the light that poured from Jesus as I would neatly work my way up my body, starting with my toes and making sure I kept the cut-off bits all neat and tidy. The unbearable agony would be comparable to a feather’s tickling as I would focus on my love for you—my God, you, you personification of everything I have ever wanted and needed or even liked momentarily, you… You, oh, I don’t know how to put what I WANT to say, my only true, undying love being, you!!!

  Hurry back to my side, my dearest, sweetest Daniel, before my heart breaks into a billion miserable particles that will forever swirl in dissipation in the eternal, dark cosmos that being without you has come to mean. I cannot wait to see you again; to hold you in my arms; feel you inside. I want you in me, near me, with me, next to me, close, now, in the future and always forever. Please come soon, I beg you for I will surely die if another day (an aeon, it feels like to me) separates us. Although I’d rather die than suffer the agony of being apart from you as long as I can die instantly and not bear the torture, the gruesome, ghastly pain the distance between us inflicts on my helpless soul.

  All my love as always and forever and ever, my precious, dear, sweet, polite, gentle, God-like, amorous being, called Daniel. My sweet, sweet, Daniel.


  Your eternally, unconditionally and totally enslaved worshipper and mistress,


  When Ann had finished reading the letter, her head was reeling. It was the most incredible thing she’d ever come across, absolutely incredible. She really couldn’t believe it. And she’d thought Dan was incapable of surprising her! Well she had to admit he’d gone and done it now with this bizarre love letter from a seeming madwoman he’d somehow captivated. Who on earth this deranged Thelma woman was she had no idea. She must be insane, Ann repeated to herself re-reading the elaborately over the top letter. But how and when had she, this Thelma woman, and Dan met? What could have drawn them together? Despite Thelma’s psychosis, Ann struggled to reconcile the image she retained of her husband with the man described in the letter. The whole thing was just too bizarre.

  What on earth was she going to do? Confront him? Demand an explanation? Order him to end the affair? To be honest, she didn’t really care. It wasn’t like she still loved him or even found him attractive. She was surprised to find herself feeling so dispassionate about what still amounted to deception and cheating on his part. But, Ann had the grace to admit to herself, she was no innocent. In fact, her extra-marital affairs had been blatant, repetitive, cold and frequent acts conducted with open contempt for the consequences or his feelings. Perhaps Dan did deserve a secret fling with someone. Trust him to choose a nutcase, Ann couldn’t help thinking as she took a match to the letter and burned it over the kitchen sink. There, she told herself, it’s like it never even arrived. I never even saw it, let alone read it. I’ll totally forget all about it, that’s the best way.

  It was getting on for six o’clock when Dan returned home from his misadventures in the town.

  ‘Hello.’ He called out removing his coat in the hallway.

  Greeted with silence, he wondered why he had bothered adopting a cheerful tone that belied his depressive mood. Of course Ann might be having a nap upstairs or be in the bath and not have heard him. He could usually sense whether she was in or not, irrespective of how quiet it was.
  In or out, right now I couldn’t care less, thought Dan entering the kitchen for the English panacea—a cup of tea. Waiting for the kettle to boil, he reflected self-pityingly on the afternoon’s incidents. A hard lump appeared in his throat—like a psychosomatic manifestation of everything he now found hard to swallow—as he blinked through the moisture suddenly coating his eyes.

  Why was life such a depressing sequence of boring clichés? He wondered, in a depressive, clichéd fashion. When had his youthful vigour vanished? He had failed to notice, but he now knew that the man he beheld in the mirror on a daily basis was far removed from the contented, confident being he’d once been. The inevitable passage of time eroded all beauty, he sighed; it tarnished the most vibrant vessels of energy with complete indifference. The planet had revolved around the sun less than fifty-five times since he’d existed—he wondered, then worked out how many times the earth had orbited the sun prior to his banal existence: perhaps as many as four billion times!—and, now, found himself reduced to a pitiable shadow of his former self. His self-pitying lack of self-esteem made him doubt the contrast between his current and younger self—perhaps he’d always been a miserable inadequate; his destiny being to fail as all things mundane swallowed him, sapping his zest for life until he crawled through shadows, frightened of his wife; eventually frightened of everything, unable to visualise the potential light at the end of the tunnel that, unconsciously, symbolised his life. I’m pathetic, he admitted with a twinge of masochistic pleasure. Long-suppressed fantasies of an alternative lifestyle, in which he was a self-flagellating monk who embarked on charitable missions of total debasement; his hair shorn, crawling on broken glass, on his hands and knees, strewn in his path by macho-looking women sneering at him contemptuously, filled his unhealthy, sad mind. While his penis swelled and filled the stained underpants he was wearing, and had not changed for the last three days.

  He flopped in a tatty chair in the empty living room. His eyes drank the familiar surroundings with vapid disinterest as rotten vegetables were thrown at his bruised back by the howling women in his perverse imagination.

  ‘What am I to do with myself?’ He said aloud.

  And then it occurred to him—a mean half-smile forming on his thin lips—he would write another letter to himself! Adjusting his underwear to accommodate his now uncomfortable erection, he went to the bureau to fetch a pen and a sheet of paper. He grabbed a hardback book on which to rest the paper and sat back down with a straighter back than he’d had before, when he’d made his slumped entrance, and he began to write:

  ‘My eternal darling, Dan,

                                         How my heart aches as I endure the agony of our continued separation. If four or five, knife-wielding, psychotic dwarves (with halitosis that would kill houseplants) strapped me to a urine-drenched mattress and forced me to watch series of Little House on the Prairie in an endless loop while force-feeding me their faeces and farting in my face it would be more than a thousand times more bearable than even one percent of how bad I am now feeling—deprived of your presence…’

Julian Cloran, April-May 2014.