Indelible

Back in July of 2015, I had a brief argument with a London Taxi whilst trying to cross the road. I’d been having a stressful day (and stewing over it), and in my rush to get across town I’d not paid enough attention to crossing the street and ended up hip-checking a taxi.

In the immediate aftermath, I’d got onto my feet, looked over to the taxi driver and apologised, then tried to continue on with my journey, only being stopped by passers-by who insisted I had to sit down and wait for an ambulance. After a trip in an ambulance, and a few X-Rays, I got the news that I’d suffered a tibial plateau fracture and would require some surgery to fix it (metal plate, pins, the works). With that done, I headed to North Wales to recover.

The surgery had happened at a weirdly transitional point in my life. Only a few days earlier I’d performed improv on stage for the first time (see “Yes And” and “Memory Lane“), I’d changed jobs and was contemplating another move. The scar from the surgery seemed to be part of that too, and I had an idle thought to have a tattoo done on the scar as a permanent reminder to myself not to let work swallow my life up again.

Smash cut to 2019, and at something of a low ebb, I decided to compile a list of things I’d been thinking about and avoiding over the past year or two. One of those was the tattoo on the scar. One of my improv teachers (the amazing Katy Shutte had told me about the place she’d had hers done (The Family Business), and I got in touch with them.

Coming back from the US after a brief trip to New York, I went over to see them and ended up getting something scheduled that day. I’m actually glad it happened that way, since it meant I didn’t have an opportunity to spend ages thinking about it again and back out.

We sat down, Chris (the artist doing the deed) warned me that it was either going to hurt a lot, or not at all. He ran a razor over the length of it, and he seemed more optimistic after I told him I hadn’t felt him doing that at all. Twenty or so minutes later, I walked out with this:

There was something incredibly satisfying about seeing this done after such a long time. A reminder to me to embrace what I’ve learned about myself over the past four years, and to reanalyse and reassess old assumptions about what I do or don’t like, or what I can or can’t do.

There’s a few more things on the list, but for now I’m enjoying the fact that this happened.

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[Monologue] Envy

Another monologue… this time from the suggestion of “Envy”.

Envy

I envy you. I envy your sense of certainty. That you see the world as one or the other. Black or White. The same or different. I just can’t see the world that way. I tried for the longest time, but it never happened.

When I was younger, Looking at the world was painful. Being told there was only two boxes, and no one could explain why. Why it was one or the other. I kept not fitting. I liked things that “weren’t meant for me”, and didn’t care for the things were. I started thinking I was broken somehow. My parents kept telling me I was being difficult, that everyone else was being normal, and I should try harder to fit in. Yeah, my parents. That no one wanted to be with the freak who stood out.

I buried it. I buried that feeling deep. It didn’t go well. I started getting worried my friends would find out. I worked hard at it. I got so good at adopting other people’s voices, that I lost mine in the process. All the while, that feeling simmered. I started feeling resentful that people liked that version of me, and they were trapping me in this world.

So the inevitable happened. I cracked. Through floods of tears I confessed to a close friend how I’d been hiding this part of me. All of it came out. After what felt like years, my friend just looked at me, hugged me and said “me too”. I cried again. A new feeling washed over me. Something I’d never felt before. Joy. Actual, tangible, unimaginable joy.

We’d found each other, and we went on to find others. All the people who didn’t fit in boxes. I saw myself in their eyes. The kid I’d been, and told them what I’d wish I’d heard back then. To say to them that it’s no bad thing to stand out. That you get to set your own terms. That you’re the only one that gets to pick your path.

Which brings us to me envying your certainty. I think I’d want to find that certainty… In the meantime though, you don’t get to use your certainty to deny me a chance to find mine.

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[Monologue] Pool

A Detective gets more than he bargained for… Based on the suggestion of “Pool”.

Of all the ways to go. Face down, floating in a pool.

You get into more than your share of scrapes as a detective. My problem is I’ve always been greedy. Pushed my luck a few too many times. You spend your time chasing spouses down dark alleys, odds are that one of them is going to take it personally. That’s how I ended up with a few more holes than I wanted and taking my final swim.

She’d walked into my office about a week ago. She’d put on the innocent act. Was worried her husband had gotten mixed up in some nasty business. Gambling she thought. Hadn’t been home in days. I ought to have trusted my instincts. There was something in her eyes. I’d never seen eyes that blue before. What I’d thought was sorrow turned out to be something far worse. The tears she wiped away were all part of the show… with me front-row centre.

The man she’d said was her husband was a sap by the name of O’Neil. Worked at the bank. The guard had helped him lock up the vault on the Friday before, he’d seemed on edge. He’d been talking about how he was planning to take his wife up to their cabin for the weekend. Monday came and his car was still in the parking lot. Cops had already searched the cabin, no sign anywhere.

I asked around. Seems O’Neil was a regular at the craps games down on 3rd. It’s the sort of place you go for a cheap thrill, then end up owing the wrong guy a favour. Something felt off about it all. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched. Seems obvious now, but hindsight isn’t much use when you’re looking at St Peter.

A few days later I’d caught up with a buddy of mine. A cop by the name of Flynn. He’d drawn the short straw getting to look into the whole sorry mess. The beancounters had crunched the numbers at the bank and found a cool 100k had vanished. Flynn said something that threw me into a spin. He’d gone to confront the wife. He had it figured he’d skimmed off some cash ready for them both to make a break for it. She’d denied it and broke down in tears. He’d offered her a smoke, but she told him she never touched the stuff. That didn’t tally with when she’d been with me… she’d happily taken cigarettes from me in-between tears. I made my excuses and left. She’d been playing me. I didn’t know what for, but I thought I could start calling the tune.

I went over to the address she’d given me. A cottage out in the ‘burbs. I didn’t know it, but this would be my last drive.

I took in the view. Two of them. They’d been running the con all over the country. They’d get their hooks into a guy, bleed him for cash, then move on. They’d been spotted by a crook named Mitchell, who’d threatened to turn them over to the cops. They’d offered up O’Neil as downpayment on their escape… but one of them had fallen for him. The one I’d met had goaded him into going to the games, which got him into debt. It wasn’t hard then to convince him to skim some cash from the bank. Hell, I’d only known them a few days and I was ready to do the same for them.

I couldn’t figure out why they’d hired me. It turns out they’d wanted me to find out how much the cops knew. They figured I could shake down a few contacts, find out what they were thinking. Now they knew the cops were wise to their scam, they were getting ready to run. The one I’d met locked eyes with me and drew a pistol. The good sister screamed to just let it go and make good their escape before the cops showed up. I swear, she didn’t even blink as she shot her, twice. She pointed the pistol at me as the sounds of sirens and the smell of gunpowder filled the air.

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[Monologue] Wet

In another monologue, a parent comforts a child whilst the wind & rain lashes down outside:

I know you’re scared… but you shouldn’t be. The storm sounds scary, but I want to tell you about another one, a lot like this one… without it, you probably wouldn’t even be here. It’s the storm that brought you Mum into my life…

We were both trying to catch the same bus. I could barely see anything through the rain. My umbrella was ruined, and I saw her running. She slipped and fell. She just lay there for a minute being drenched. She got up and saw me stood there with my broken umbrella under a drip from the shelter and we laughed.

We both blew off work that day. We sat over a radiator at a Costa Coffee, trying to dry ourselves off. I think we both probably looked a bit like loonies, but it was the best day I’d had in ages. I’d never sat and spoken to a complete stranger like that before. Hell, that’s not even the bus I normally go for – nor was it hers. We’d both been running late that day and everythging was going wrong. My laptop broke, she’d had a power cut, I’d had to deal with the cat again, she’d left her lunch at home.

We spent the whole day there. Huddled over the radiator. We’d wander off occasionally for refils. The staff there got to be quite friendly towards the end of the day. They even brought us a little bakewell as a “dessert for our date”. It hadn’t felt like a date. It hadn’t even crossed my mind until they’d said it. Just calling it a date feels wrong. I mean, it felt deep, it felt like it had weight. Not like some of the terrible experiences I’d had dating until that point.

I asked to see her again sometime. She said yes. We went for drinks down by the river. It rained again. We went to the British Museum on another rainy day, and dinner a week or two later… another rainy day. I started to enjoy rainy days. I felt like Gene Kelly prancing around the street.

We went back to the same Costa a year later. Over another bakewell, I asked her to marry me and she said yes. I swear to you, the second she said yes, it started to rain. I actually started to cry.

It didn’t rain at our wedding. It did though when you were born. I remember being worried we’d crash on the way to the hospital, or that there’d be a snarlup, and all sorts of nasty things would end up happening. She was such a rock that day, she was in labor, and telling me to brethe.

So, you don’t need to be afraid of the storm, little one. You’re a child of the storm. Your Mum is the storm. We’re the storm. You’re going to take that and change the world, like Mum changed mine.

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[Story] Screaming

This one was deep in the drafts archive. I thought I’d published it a while back, but having been back through the whole thing, I couldn’t see it anywhere, so it gives me a chance to clean out what’s in the cupboard, whilst working on some new bits.

Screaming

Relentless screaming. Eyes burning, throat dry and a head full of screams.

His eyes open, shapes drifted in and out of focus. Looking around, blurred shapes became familiar objects. The alarm clock screaming “09:00” and a voice taunting him…

“Shouldn’t you be at work by now?”

Looking around, clothes, beer bottles and take-away cartons carpet the room.

“This place is disgusting…”

Getting to his feet, the voice continues.

“What’s this, the 10th time? 15th? People might be starting to think you have a problem…”

The voice comes from a smartly-dressed man in the corner, his gazed fixed, and a wolfish smile. A young man with short neat hair and dressed impeccably. He sticks out amongst the detritus, but is somehow familiar…

“You best make yourself presentable” he says.

“Why?”

The Stranger points over to the door, where a young woman stands. Slim, dark hair, she stands in the doorway wearing one of his shirts. She hands him a glass of water, and opens the curtains, flooding the room with light. He winces…

“Jeez Tom” she sighs “You really need to fix this fucking mess…”

Tom looks over, through the pain he can see her, haloed by the light. He nods sheepishly. The Stranger scrutinizes her, following her around as she hunts for her clothes.

“I don’t know why you let her boss you around Tommy…”

“What?” says Tom.

“I didn’t say anything” she replies, puzzled.

The Stranger gives Tom a playful shrug as he watches her getting dressed.

“Can you even say her name?” he asks

Tom racks his brain, the word forms in his brain, but he just can’t get it out.

“Sorry, hearing things… I should get dressed” he mumbles.

Rushing to the bathroom, he closes the door and slumps down against it. Trying to figure out what’s going on. His eyes close for a second and the voice returns.

“You never did answer my question… how many times does today make it?”

The Stranger looks on from the bathtub, playing with the rubber ducks.

“What the fuck are you doing in here?” exclaims Tom.

The Stranger feigns disgust

“No need for language… I’m just making conversation”

“She didn’t say anything when you asked about her bossing me…”

The stranger smiles and shrugs as Tom staggered to the shower. Switching it on, he looks back to the bathtub, and the Stranger has vanished. Stepping in, everything fades away as the warm water cascades over his face. He sees flashes of her face, her smile, and her eyes. He drifts off further. Flashes of the park. Her next to him. On top of him. Kissing him.

Suddenly, Panic. Running. He can’t see her anymore. Where did she go? Why can’t he find her?

Banging. Screaming. More running. Unfamiliar streets and dark alleys. Where is she? A figure… her? No… The Stranger. He’s pointing. More screaming. He doesn’t want to look where he’s pointing.

Banging.

“Tom!” he hears a shout “Tom!”

Something grabs him. He struggles, they fall to the floor.

“Tom! snap out of it! Tom!”

It’s her. He’s in his bathroom. He’s naked and on top of her. She looks terrified. The Stranger is standing in the doorway.

“I wish I had my phone…” he chuckles.

She wriggles and pushes to get free. Tom slumps to the ground, dazed.

“What’s…? Why?”

She throws a towel around him. She looks scared and tries to console him as The Stranger looks on, disgusted.

“Oh for fuck’s sake… You’re going to cry now? What the fuck’s wrong with you?”

“Just focus on my voice, Tom” she says, whispering in his hear.

“No wonder you’re such a fucking mess” shouts The Stranger.

“Let everything else fade away” she continues.

“You pathetic little shit” screams The Stranger as he lunges at them.

Curling into a ball, Tom screams, but nothing happens. Opening his eyes, it’s just her there. Crying and holding him.

“Tom, please come back to me” she pleads.

He looks around for The Stranger, nowhere to be seen. He grabs onto her.

“Please don’t leave me Annie…” he whimpers as he closes his eyes again.

“Shush. I’m always here”.

His eyes open. She’s gone. He’s alone, cold & wet on the bathroom floor.

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Story: Blink, Blink, Blink

Another story, this time on the suggestion of “Blink”

“I don’t know what to write. I don’t.
Blink, blink, blink.
I’ve been trying for months to come up with something. I sit down every day. Every day. I look up at the screen and all I can see is that cursor blinking at me. It just sits there, like it’s daring me to write something, just anything.
Blink, blink, blink.
You know, the other day I sat looking at that screen for 4 hours. I didn’t move. I sat there just staring at that cursor, hoping something would come. Nothing. Just that blinking cursor.
Blink, blink, blink.
Words used to just flow, y’know? I’d just sit there, my hands would cross the keyboard and entire pages would just appear. It was good too… I didn’t even have to… I remember that first book. The feeling when that was finished. Urgh. I’d give anything for that feeling again. I can’t though, can I?
Blink, blink, blink.
I tried writing longhand. I hadn’t picked up a pen like that in so long. It felt strange, that weight in the hand, the feel of the paper. Nothing came. Staring at it, all I could see was that cursor again. Blinking on the paper.
Blink, blink, blink.
I know. I swear though, it was there. Right there on the paper. I shrugged it off, that I was just tired. I see it everywhere now though.
Blink, blink, blink.
I look in the mirror in the morning, it’s there.
Blink, blink, blink.
I look through a window.
Blink, blink, blink.
My glasses.
Blink, blink, blink.
It sits there. It wants my words. It isn’t going to stop until it has them all.
Blink, blink, blink.
There isn’t anyway to satisfy it.
Blink, blink, blink.
I’m sorry.
Blink. Blink. Blink.

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Monologue: Distant

Another monologue… this time on a suggestion of “Distant”.

It’s over. Truth be told, I think we’ve both known that for some time. I mean, how long has it been since we’ve even been in the same room together? 

I’ve had a lot of time to think. I suppose that’s one of the benefits of time apart. I don’t think I’ve slept properly in a while because of it. I keep replaying everything over in my head. I blamed you for a long time. Did I tell you that? I hated that you made me feel this way, that I was growing resentful of myself. Then I realised that it wasn’t your fault. I was making me feel this way. I got so caught up in feeling angry and feeling sorry for myself that I hadn’t realised I was dragging you into it all.

You don’t need my permission to be angry with me, I know that. But you have it. I do still love you. I hope you know that too. It’s just that relationships can adn do end, y’know? Trying ot hold on to them when they’re not what you need at that point in time just makes things worse. I know if I try to keep you here, you’ll end up hating me, and I don’t want that.

I forgot that you have your shit do deal with. I forgot that it’s my job to help you with that. I forgot that we’re a team, and we have our shit to deal with. I made it all about me, when I should have been making it about us. That’s on me. I did this to us. Not you. I should have realised how insensitive I was being. I won’t try to explain why I did what I did. I had no business interfering with what you tell your family. That’s for you. I had no business trying to force the issue. I know you don’t have the same relationship with your family that I do with mine. That always sat oddly with me. That first Christmas we had at your parents’ place? Remember? For what it’s worth, I think your Mum already knew. They always seem to know.

There’s no point in dragging this out. I thought long and hard about it, and I’d really like us to part as friends. I think we had a really good time togther in between the shitshow. I’d like to keep remembering that part. You’ve been an incredible part of my life, and I can’t even begin to thank you for that. That’s the part I want to keep. I don’t want arguments & recriminations to taint that. That’s not up to me though, I guess. 

I do still love you. It’s not the love we started with, but it’s there, and it’s strong. I can only hope you’re able to forgive me someday, then maybe I can forgive myself for putting you in that position.

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