Stone The Crows

Synopsis


Tom Bishop knows something is happening. But when The Horror begins, it will be too late for everyone else.

The crows outside Bishop’s flat have destroyed the morning birdsong. A vicious, aggressive black cloud of razor-sharp beaks and talons begin to taunt then attack him, a stark warning that the delicate fabric of daily life in the commonsense world is about to be altered forever.

The woman, the Japanese assassin, is pursuing him through the snaking dark streets of London. No matter how hard he tries to shake her off, she is always there waiting for him like a spectre. Is she some kind of shape-shifter morphing into familiar surroundings, lulling him into some false sense of security before she attacks him again? What does she want? Why him? But she is only a small fragment of this apocalyptic puzzle.

He knew they existed. The Inorganics. Flickering around him, as if on the extreme border of his consciousness, corporeally invisible, Bishop felt their presence as strongly as any worldly creature. It was as if energy had seeped into his existence and acquired a predatory soul. He knew some Inorganics could be harmful, but through his training he could defend himself  so far.

Roulla Mavromati, the enigmatic woman he meets one day on the train, craves his knowledge. But these will not be the lessons found in any university surrounded by the leafy comfort of academia. She will be pushed to the very edge of pleasure and pain to discover they spring from the same source. As her thirst for Heaven and Hell intensifies, Bishop has to find new extremes where the boundaries of flesh and consciousness dissolve. Roulla possesses a power Bishop has never encountered in any woman he has known. Unleashed, the potential could be devastating. As Roulla excels in her studies, Tom Bishop realises this is the woman he was always destined to meet and that these are not merely games of master and slave but a frightening prelude of what is to come.

Then it begins

It is during one of the many conversations with another resident of the house, his philosophical sparring partner, the Red Yank, an out-of-work actor with a passion for classical music, pipes and women. His flat is cluttered with chaotic displays of his theatre and film work, and he shares it with the love of his life, a politically incorrect parrot called Louie.

At first it seems like a simple car accident in the street outside with the two drivers in an angry stand off  maybe an exchange of blame, then insurance details? An axe swings, bullets spray from a gun and a man lies dying on the floor. A hate-fuelled mob floods the neighbourhood charged with insanity and chaos as Bishop and the Red Yank unbelievingly crane their heads out of the window to watch as the police, outnumbered and helpless, disappear beneath a tidal wave of blood and anarchy. It could be the beginnings of a long overdue revolution. But this is what Bishop has always known. The Horror had begun.

The landscape has dramatically changed overnight. Dismembered corpses hang from trees, the dead litter the streets as the crows and rats feast on the banquet. At first it seems that the only living creatures are the crows. Patrolled by armed guards, huge razor wire pens have been constructed. Inside, a new breed of animal is being broken in and conditioned to obey their new masters. Naked and dehumanised, the filthy rich, the ex-rulers of the people and the upper echelon, have become the primary fuel as they pull the new order around in makeshift chariots. Whipped into a pulverising subservience, these scarred and tattered people scream out for a system that has crumbled into the bloody filth and human detritus of stinking London streets.

Animals with reborn primal savagery hunt in packs, tearing apart anything in their path and adding to the growing carnage. The Horror is engulfing everything, not just people. The earth is in revolt.

Tom Bishop and the Red Yank find to their amazement they can walk around without drawing attention to themselves while watching the blasphemy of deconstructed humanity at their leisure. But the crows see them. The crows always see them, and the crows haven’t forgotten.

Then Bishop hears The Voice and learns why things are the way they are. Why they always will be. Why The Horror has to exist.







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8. Chapter Eight

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Most of the grotesques in Ptolemy Terrace acquired their names naturally.  In a language, naming is an obsessively compelling thing.

 

Two crows sat on the roof of the house opposite his kitchen window.  They were watching him as he watched Mr Too Many Noise unload his estate car.  The Vietnamese was small but compact and had clean, carefully combed black hair.  Normally he minded his own business and quietly looked after his family.  Bishop assumed Too Many Noise worked in the Oriental catering trade.  A takeaway or maybe a chef in one of the restaurants in Chinatown on Gerrard Street.  He well remembered the evening Too Many Noise acquired his name.

The Vietnamese family occupied the basement of the house.  Two adults and three children squeezed into a space that used to be two bedrooms, kitchen, sitting room and a bath.  London was like that now.  Living accommodation was becoming smaller and smaller as the planet’s owners searched for more ways to increase the stress.  Bishop could remember when the house was only two dwellings.  Each was on two floors and was meant to be occupied by two families with children.  Since then the building had been converted to four flats.  Above Two Many Noise was The Somali.  Above The Somali was the Ayerab and his wife.  On the top floor lived two shadowy Oriental women too private and obscure to have acquired names yet.

 

The Somali was having a party that evening.  It was a whooping, boom-boom type of party with windows thrown open and curtains blowing in the wind to reveal the robes and head-dresses worn by Somali women as they danced and drank and smoked dope.  The men wore brightly-coloured wraps around their hips, like sarongs.  It wasn’t really a wild party in the sense young Europeans or Americans might understand it.  But it was fucking loud, and it went on well past midnight.  Bishop usually went to bed with the sunrise in the morning, so he was still awake - but he had to retreat to his back room because of the noise.

At some point past one in the morning, Bishop realised there was a row going on across the street, so he opened his front window and watched.  Ptolemy Terrace could be such good entertainment.  He saw Too Many Noise banging with his fist on the front door leading to the top three flats.  He banged in sets of three.  Bang-bang-bang.  Bang-bang-bang.  It sounded like one of the big drums used in Kodo.  The Somali’s front windows were right next to the door, but no one paid the slightest bit of attention to the bang of this big drum.  Bishop watched as Too Many Noise made a decision.  He stepped back a couple of lengths on the landing, paused and collected himself.  Then he exploded into violence.  He skipped towards the door, and he leaned away from it.  One bare foot lashed out like the flickering tongue of a serpent.  Boom!  The door sprung open as the lock shattered.  Too Many Noise did not wait.  He entered the darkness of the hallway and immediately attacked the door to The Somali’s flat in the same way.  Skip, step, lean, kick.  Bang!

Bishop looked back at the flat window.  Now The Somali was hanging out of it shouting in a language he didn’t understand.  The top of his body was bare,  showing a well-built man in his 30s waving his hands and elbows.  Meanwhile his flat door was taking a battering, and Bishop wondered whether or not the lock had a London Bar – steel rods which held the two sides of the lock in place and made it much more difficult to break in.  However, he estimated the door was going to give way soon.  He could now see growing wedges of light at the top and sides.

That’s when the Ayerab came down the stairs in his shower shoes.  Bishop reckoned he was Iranian, since he spoke a little Farsi himself.  They hated to be called Arabs, but the Red Yank named him out of his redneck vocabulary.  He owned a gleaming BMW convertible which was kept in a lockup garage.  Only on dry weekends was the BMW brought out to be lovingly cleaned – washed, waxed, vacuumed and every little detail attended to with the greatest care.  The Ayerab stood back and gazed at the car with more lust than when he looked at his exotically beautiful wife.  After cleaning it, he would stop two or three times on the steps to look back longingly.  Bishop often wondered if he returned to his flat just to masturbate with smoky dreams of the naked BMW ragtop undulating in his consciousness like a metallic mermaid in the Arabian Gulf.

 

The Ayerab seemed to be talking quietly and sanely to his overheated Vietnamese neighbour.  That’s when The Somali hung out his front window again.

“What the fuck you do to my door?” The Somali screamed over the howling music in the background.

 

The Vietnamese pulled away from Ayerab and dashed back to the front door.  “TOO MANY NOISE!”

Standing on the doorstep now he repeated the phrase over and over again, shaking his fist at the half-naked Somali in the window.  “TOO MANY NOISE!  TOO MANY NOISE!  TOO MANY NOISE!”

Everything he did was in threes.

The Somali bobbed his head.  “I play my music!  I play my music, stupid Chinese fucker!”

 

The Vietnamese shook with rage.  “No Chinese!  Come fight!  Come fight outside, black man.  Stupid coward.  Turn down music!  TOO MANY NOISE!!!  Kick in door, kick in stupid black head!  TOO MANY NOISE.”

“I’ve got back-up!  You understand English, you little yellow bastard?”  The Somali was dialling on his mobile telephone.  “I’m calling back-up, so get you yellow arse out of here!”

 

Too Many Noise pulled a mobile from his back pocket.  “Me, too!  I call back-up!  TOO MANY NOISE!”

It couldn’t have been more than 15 or 20 minutes later that the Somali and Vietnamese back-up arrived.  A saloon car with four Somalis came from the bottom of Ptolemy Terrace, and a white Transit van with Chinese lettering on the side turned slowly into the top of the road.  As four large black men climbed from the car, the back doors of the van burst open, and Oriental bodies rolled out like grapefruit.  There must have been a dozen shouting Vietnamese, and all of them seemed to have meat cleavers.  The street lights caught the gleaming blades.

 

Without even conferring with the Somali in the window, the four big blacks scampered back into their car and reversed swiftly down the Terrace.

Too Many Noise turned at the top of the steps like a victorious Viet Cong colonel at the ruined gates of the American Embassy in Saigon.  Behind him stood several rows of menacing and snarling Oriental faces, and held beside each face was a flat, gleaming blade.

 

“TOO MANY NOISE!”  This time he only shouted it once.

The Somali caved in as gracefully as he could.  His shoulders sagged, and he lowered his head for a few brief moments before retreating into his sitting room.  The loud music suddenly stopped.  The Somali returned to the window.

“Satisfied?”

Again the Vietnamese’s right arm shot in the air victoriously.  “TOO MANY NOISE!”

 

“Go fuck yourself, Chinese bastards,” The Somali muttered before slamming the window closed.

As if by magic the meat cleavers disappeared, and the Vietnamese clambered noiselessly back into their white van.  The doors were closed.  The engine started.  It drove off, and Too Many Noise strutted down the stairs to the basement.  Neither his wife nor his children had been curious enough about the outcome of the confrontation to watch.  Too Many Noise was that kind of man.  He was not an eloquent talker.  He was a doer.

 

It was a fine early morning entertainment for Tom Bishop.  The breeze was fresh and wholesome, and Ptolemy Terrace was now more or less quiet.  It was never really quiet.  In the early evening, often until past midnight, the teenage boys would huddle on street corners and talk loudly in their recently acquired deeper voices.  There were teenage girls as well, but the two groups seldom seemed to link up.  The girls originated from the bottom of the Terrace near the bus garage where the Breeders lived.  The Breeders bred breeders.  As soon as the teenage boys and girls finally came together, the cycle would continue seamlessly.  The children became breeders in ignorant ecstasy, as the girls bent over a garden wall, some of them still with baby dummies in their mouths.  Others would conceive in knee-tremblers against smelly toilet walls of local pubs and clubs with short skirts pulled up to their waists, penetrated by hair-trigger dicks poking just deep enough to ejaculate.  It was usually all over in seconds.  Nine months later the teenager was pushing a spanking new pram up the Terrace, and the fat was already accumulating round her belly and the tops of her thighs.

Then there were the car alarms, and the Ayerab was one of the worst offenders.  His sexy BMW was always kept at a garage, but he drove a Volkswagen for everyday use.  Regularly the alarm went off, day and night.  Occasionally the Ayerab would saunter out in his shower shoes, unlock the car and turn off the alarm.  But most often whatever he was watching on TV was too interesting.  So the alarm went on and off irregularly.  Bishop was impatiently waiting now for the car to be parked in just the right spot for him to place a ball bearing through the bonnet with his catapult.

The thought made him chuckle.  He recalled the incident with Rubber Lips and his mate who used to talk after they drove up in the early hours of the morning.  Rubber Lips lived next door to the corner house where Too Many Noise, The Somali, and Ayerab lived.  Rubber Lips was on the first floor, above the Woodentops and their giant Rhodesian ridgeback, but he shared the Woodentops’ preference for double parking their cars to block in residents stupid enough to go to the trouble of parking properly.  The Woodentops had two cars, and Rubber Lips had one.  When they were all at home, up to eight cars could be blocked.  Horns would go off as people found their vehicles trapped in a barrier of steel.  Neither the Woodentops nor Rubber Lips paid the slightest bit of attention until finally the frustrated and occasionally tearful drivers pushed angrily on every bell on that end of the Terrace.  The Somali would hang half naked from his window, the Ayerab would open the door in his shower shoes.  The Vietnamese family never answered their doorbell, but all fingers would point at the first or ground floor flats next door.

Rubber Lips had another annoying habit, but Bishop finally sorted that one out himself.  Once or twice a week – usually on a weekend – Rubber Lips would get a lift back home with a Caribbean friend whose dreadlocks were held in a big yellow string hat.  They would double park – naturally – and continue their conversation while listening to Yardie rap music on the tape deck.  They would talk, smoke a couple of joints and eat takeaways, throwing the remains of buns, chicken legs, crusts and soggy chips out of their windows onto the tarmac.  This was often at two o’clock in the morning, and it rasped on Bishop’s nerves.  That was usually the time when he was up on his roof under the stars with his mind expanding into the distant universe beyond the speed of light.  Then the car would pull up, and the CD would already be on the deck, throbbing up into the atmosphere, teasing him back from his metaphysical journeys to the edge of being.  The music would get louder when the car windows opened for the bird or burger remains to be dropped out.

Tom Bishop’s sense of smell was acute.  With the wind in the right quarter he would be swamped by a rolling wave from Junction Road, a mixture of sweet and sour, fat, compressed lamb and rancid oil.  With Rubber Lips and his friend the accent was on the watery white flesh and brittle bones of battery hens coated with Kentucky Fried genetically modified breadcrumbs, boiled and saturated in cheap, filthy, molten lard.  The smell wafting up from the car made him gag.

So he started bringing up two or three eggs nestled in an egg box.  On the night of his revenge it was a very warm evening, so Bishop was lying nude on a blanket.  He loved the soft breath of a summer evening on the fine hairs of his naked body.  It made him feel closer to the stars.

 

He was light years away when the car slowed to a stop in front of Rubber Lips’ house.  Throb-booma-throb-booma-throb-throb-boom.  The cloying smell of rotting chicken.  His trance was broken, but he didn’t allow anger to erupt into his relaxed evening mood.  He didn’t even open his eyes as he reached across to the egg box, teased it open with his fingers and extracted the oval coolness of the egg.  Still with his eyes closed he felt the weight in the palm of his hand.  A finger of consciousness reached out and drew an imaginary parabola between the egg and the throbbing vehicle on the street below.  When the right moment arrived Bishop cast the egg up into the sky like a mortar round.  His inner eye watched as the egg perfectly followed his imaginary parabola.

Thuk!  He could just hear it above the music as the egg struck the car crisply.  He knew the egg hit the car without looking.  His aim was true.  It wasn’t necessary to lean over the edge of the roof for proof, but Bishop couldn’t resist.  And, yes, it was perfect!  The egg and the remains of the shell were running slowly down the centre of the windscreen.  One beat, two beats.  Then the windscreen wipers started and created a kind of omelette as the yolk was smeared back and forth over the glass by the rubber blades.  Bishop chuckled quietly to himself as the car window opened and Rubber Lips looked up in the direction of his flat.  The egg must have seemed to have come from nowhere, but Rubber Lips knew who must have thrown it.

 

Nevertheless that was the last night they parked outside his window for an early morning serenade before moving off and leaving a deposit of soft, gluey bones stuck on the tarmac in a bed of cold, lard-fried potatoes.  Rubber Lips was no intellectual, but he got the message as clearly as if it had been written in bold print on a piece of paper, wrapped in a half brick and bounced off his head.  Bishop made a gambit to which there was no answer.  Rubber Lips knew, and Bishop knew he knew.  But nothing more would be said of the matter because nothing could be said without disturbing the delicate quantum balance in the social equilibrium.

*

Tom Bishop sat cross-legged on the carpet in his back room.  It was after three o’clock in the morning and relatively quiet.  Not even a car alarm disturbed the tranquillity.  He wasn’t doing yoga, though it could have been a yoga position.  His explorations were eclectic by now.  Some yoga was useful.  So was autohypnosis and Zen.  He wished to pick his own way through the spiritual and mystical cobwebs of existence.  In front of him, laid out on a soft piece of Japanese leather were a squadron of crystals he acquired many years ago.  They were small but good pieces.  He had been sitting in this position for almost two hours, but he was not aware of the amount of time that had passed.

Indeed, time was ambiguous and misleading.  It was a concept created and adapted to the ragged spur of existence carved off and donated as “reality” by those who then altered that reality to a series of mazes and treadmills set in halls of crazy mirrors.  All of humanity then battered themselves to pieces and called it a lifetime.  Time of a life.

 

True, it was not unnatural to measure the length of a day or a month or a year.  All of these things were directly related to phenomena in the world.  But to talk of a dozen years or a hundred or a million was meaningless.  It was also bleakly linear, and nothing in all of nature was linear.  All movements, all events were cycles, circles and waves.  Birth and death were intimately related, and any “lifetime” was a circle or spiral that would never lose its magic, no matter how stretched and flattened out by the modern mechanics of time.  Those mechanics wanted time to measure portions of the day for the purposes of work and pay and profit.  Land was measured for the same reasons.  The native Americans should have known they were absolutely fucked when the settlers showed up with tape measures and surveying equipment.

Bishop’s eyes were closed, but he lifted his head imperceptibly.  His consciousness roved and touched on spirits he seemed to recognise.  They cast long shadows on the curve of his vision.  But it was completely clear.  The American Indians were overwhelmed by a cruder and less civilised force.  And it was alien force.  It was a counting, measuring, tracking force, a mechanical force – not a human one.  If the Indians had been truly wise, they would have united to kill every man, woman and child with a white face who intruded into their beautiful wilderness.  Never negotiate with the devil.  Never trade with him, either.  Because every treaty will be a bed of hot coals for the duration of life.  The great Indian leader, Tecumseh, was right.  The white man was the devil himself, and their only chance was to kill all the whites and push their bones back into the sea.

 

Did the great warrior die as they said he died – on a battlefield in the late 18th century fighting white soldiers?  Or did he still move in the shadows of consciousness beyond the horizon of reason?  A spirit?

How could the Men of Reason call these concepts “spirits” – or even “ghosts”?  At this very moment the science of the business world was breaking its tools on the elusive doors of consciousness.  What was consciousness, if not something of spirit?  But then the question needed to be rephrased.  Because the “story” of consciousness had been altered by years and years of relentless hammering and tethering.  The great eagle had been shaved and clipped and yoked and enslaved.  The great eagle was no more than a battery chicken now.  Business science said it could soar no more and must now work for a living.  Eat, shit, work – that’s a life.  No more dreaming or gazing into the orange skies of other worlds.  Hell is here.  This is hell.  Every free soul screams from the blows of the nine-tailed cat with glowing embers knotted into the rhinoceros hide of every tail.

 

“Work, slaves!  Work!”  It is the voice of Satan, and now he must be obeyed.

The free man or woman is an outlaw, little more than a rat – and hunted like one.  They live down black holes and scurry over the garbage heaps of humanity, most of all hoping to avoid the cold fish eye of the cameras tracking them constantly.  The truly free must be destroyed!

 

That is in order for Freemocracy to prevail in all the world.  Freemocracy.  It was the cry.  All the slaves repeated it – some of them over and over again hypnotically.  Freemocracy, Freemocracy, Freemocracy…we’re free and live in a ’mocracy…

And everyone knew what it meant.  Or did they?  They worked from morning until dusk and after dusk.  They worked nights, too, and weekends and holidays.  For all the work they were allowed to shop, to buy tons of things – none of which was as beautiful as a single petal from a simple daffodil.  But the new rules required them all to work now, all the time.  There was no play any more.  Play was a “waste” of time (as if it could be used like a tube of toothpaste).

Bishop opened his eyes and saw it.  A grey blur flicked from one corner of his room to the other.  It dropped to the floor suddenly, like a big dust-ball spider.  Were there three crimson eyes that glowed in the middle of the thing?

Then it was gone again, but he knew it was not gone.  It remained “where” it was but located itself in an adjoining universe where it believed Bishop could not follow.  But his energy body urged him to try.  Go for it.  Immediately he perceived a series of slats, like a picket fence – slats of green light.  The wall and window of his room were fragmented between the slats.  And “there” was the inorganic being.  It was bigger.  Enormous.  And Tom Bishop was relatively much smaller.  He was like a mouse watching it move about through colours and forms.  What were they?  What was it doing?  Then there was sudden danger and a flood of red, like a dumped bucket of blood.  Bishop-the-mouse moved, darted, ran like hell.

 

He was back in his room.  He checked.  The inorganic was no longer “there” – at the moment.  His energy body told him he had narrowly escaped death.  He would have to be more careful in his moves to and through other universes.  It was difficult to recognise anything, and that was surely reasonable.  Whatever he saw and experienced had no meaning structure for him and his consciousness.  It was impossible to name anything.  Even the inorganic being.  It was fuzzy.  It’s shape changed.  Bishop suspected it must be because he was not seeing it properly.  For a start, the human eye could detect neither infrared nor ultraviolet – nor numerous other radiations even in this universe.  The inorganic, however, was operating in its own “normality”.  Obviously it was not fuzzy “where” it was and observed by eyes which had been trained to see those shapes in those colours.  This thing obviously had some form of locomotion.  Feet?  Wings?  From his point of view the inorganic just darted.  It seemed to go in or through things.  And no doubt the creature treated him as a species possessing a much lower grade of intelligence.

Hence Bishop may just appear something like a stray sheep to a shepherd.  Or a rodent or pest to something which is trying to harvest a crop, do a job, make a profit.  He doubted very much whether the inorganic took him seriously – otherwise he would be dead.  Maybe.  That was the big weakness of reason.  It was necessary.  You had to use it.  But other times and spaces seemed to have other co-ordinates besides reason.  Another “reason” things couldn’t be seen properly in other universes. 

 

Bishop was left with the awesome problem of trying to learn how to get safely in and out of these universes while plotting some kind of route.  And then he would have to find some abbreviated way of knowing these new, alien places.  Because he would be much worse off than a new born human child.  More like an earthworm.  Or a bacterium, really.  On the other hand, there must be some way simply because these inorganics were themselves capable of doing it.  Naturally they could possibly have access to forms of technology beyond his imagination.  He could not altogether reject that theory, though he thought the most likely answer was the creature’s mental abilities.  Mental?  His lips curled into a smile at his world’s childish attempts to create a two-part world, mental and physical.  It was so simple to see how they were intimately interactive.  You didn’t need quantum mechanics to tell you that “reality” is a hell of a lot weirder than propaganda had led you to believe. 

Bishop had wondered for some time whether or not the inorganics were directly involved in this propaganda, this interference with the basic software of humanity.  If so, what had mankind been like before?  It was a staggering question, and there was an inner compulsion for him to continue his investigations, to push forward, push harder.

He stretched both arms out parallel with the floor and opened his eyes.  Time for a strong coffee and a spliff.  He dropped his hands to the carpet and pushed himself erect with a single smooth movement.

+“When I was a little girl, I remember my mother had this tremendous sneer.  I would look up – I was maybe six, seven – and her upper lip would actually quiver with emotion.  I was fascinated by it.  Her eyes sparked blue fire.  Everybody laughs when I tell them that.

 

“‘You embarrassed me,’ she hissed.  Her voice was coated with scorn.  ‘Right in front of all the mothers, too.  They know me, you know – all looking at me!  The other children in the ballet class are looking at you.  And there you stand.  Peeing yourself in the middle of the floor.  Laughing.  Laughing!!!  Making a fool of me.  And laughing!  You should have seen the teacher’s face.  You destroyed the whole show, Linda!  All that work!  The building society manager’s wife was there, the dentist, your head teacher.  And all my friends.  They’ll never speak to me again….’

I tried to explain to her that I laughed because I was scared.  I was scared of causing all that embarrassment.  I laughed at a funeral, too, same reason.  Everyone turned and stared back at me.  My auntie had died…”

 

Linda Burrows stopped and sipped her tea.  She was sitting on the sofa with her feet up looking towards the window.  Light was refracting on the slowly spinning crystals pinned at the top of the window frame.  Outside she could see the green motion of the lime trees as they rustled in warm sunshine.  Bishop had urged her to walk up to the park with him, talk to him there.  But she felt uncomfortable talking about herself out of doors.  Her voice was loud and sharp.  She couldn’t help that.  And people always looked at her.  The judging eyes, always the judging eyes.  The disapproval.

“My laugh was always loud,” she continued.  “A real gut laugh…”

 

“I know.  I’ve heard it.”  Bishop was sitting in an old armchair facing the sofa.  He wore jeans, trainers and a white T-shirt.  His skin was very pale, which helped to darken the grey of his eyes.

“I didn’t discover reading until a lot later,” Burrows said after a sip of tea, glancing nervously in his direction.  She was rather attracted to him, and this was agitating her.  She was sure he saw straight through her.  “But that’s when I started finding my little portholes.  That’s what I called them then, portholes.  I think I read a book about ships or something, all these strange portholes.  So, while my mother was talking to me, I was so bad I couldn’t stand it.  Everything I did was wrong.  I can’t explain it, Tom.  I couldn’t breathe sometimes.  The tone of her voice, I can hear it still.  An edge like fingernails scoring slate.”

 

She laughed.  It was loud.  She noticed the toes of both feet were tapping in spasm.  So were her forefingers.  She hadn’t even been aware of it.  How could he ever be attracted to someone like her?  And she was fat.

“I’ve got her voice.  I carry it around to remind me.  You should hear us together, the two of us out shopping, screaming at each other.  It’s horrible.”

 

“Why do you still see her?” Tom asked patiently.

Burrows shrugged.  “Try to keep the family together.  My sister hates me.  Louise and Mum always sided against me.”

“And Ted?”

“Yeah, ’course, Teddy, apple of Mum’s eye, could do no wrong.  He always thought I was shit.  Shit on his boot.  Black sheep situation, I’m afraid, unwanted middle child.  Ted was six years older, and Louise was the youngest. “

“Can you tell me why you wanted to keep the family together?”

She sighed heavily.  “Louise will win, if I don’t.”

 

“Does it matter?”

A great sadness was upon her like a tropical storm.  Hot rain poured from the heavens.  She started crying.  “I don’t have anything else, Tom.  Of an emotional nature.  It’s shit, my family.  But it’s my family.  What else have I got?  I’m a loser.  A crazy woman.  A schizo.”

 

“A victim.”

“That’s right.  With a great big red ‘V’ scored in the middle of my forehead.  Why not?  Would YOU have sex with me?  Eh?”

 

It was Bishop’s turn to sigh.  “We didn’t meet in a lonely hearts column, Linda.  We’re not here for a relationship…”

“Go on.”  Her voice was demanding now.  Her eyes flashed.  “Tell me.  If I took my knickers off right now, would I be attractive to you?”

 

Bishop held up the open palms of his hands.  “Let me try and explain something to you, Linda.  You’re looking for rejection right now.  You’re prepared to damn me to get it.  I’m neither attracted nor repelled by you.  You are here in trust, and the service I provide professionally doesn’t include sex.”

“I thought you were going to be honest with me.”

 

“It would be unprofessional of me to make a judgement on your looks.  Or anything else, for that matter.  I’m not here to make judgements.  I’m not a judge.  I’m a professional psychologist.  If you want a judge, go to a court.  If you want sexual therapy, put a card up in the phone booths.”

She laughed.  “Phone booths.  That’s silly.”

 

“Well, you’re being silly.  Do you realise that every time you start to tell me about these portholes, you change the subject?  You tell me everything about them except what happens when you pass through.”

She sucked in her breath and pursed her lips.  “Well, I invented them to get away from her.  And Teddy.  Obviously.  I was a bad little girl.  It doesn’t feel nice being a devil all the time.  The portholes helped keep me from this kind of hell.  I mean, I never really went loopy until I was, you know, maybe 16.  Out of my head.  First time in hospital.  Told me I was a schizophrenic.  No, they didn’t tell me.  I looked it up in a book and read about it.  I had to ask, later. …”

 

Bishop smiled and raised an eyebrow.  “Portholes?”

“Oh, yeah, OK, portholes.  Well, they kept me, you know, when I was a kid…I’d crawl through this little round window a bit like Alice.  On the other side would be a whole new world….”

 

She stopped, swung her legs off the sofa and stared at him.  “Sometimes.  Only sometimes.  A lot of times it wouldn’t work, and I’d slip into the darkness…”

She stopped again.  Bishop cleared his throat.

 

“I hate talking about the things I see because everybody makes fun of me.  EVERY TIME!  So I’m ready for it.  You’re going to laugh.  It’s going to be so funny, and you’re going to be full of scorn, curl your lip, look down on me, think I’m shit, give me ECT….”

“I’m not going to do any of those things.”

 

Her feet were tapping the carpet, and she looked down, watching them as if they were someone else’s feet.  “Oh, it’s hard to tell you, Tom.  Words don’t really do it.  It’s like a different time and place, different suns – sometimes two suns in the sky, low on the horizon.  And I keep running into these little fuzzy things that sometimes follow me back through the porthole.  They get small, really small.  Or big and frightening.  But I talk to them.  I…sort of…feel like they might be lost souls, too….”+

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