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Kes

I first saw this film in 1973, watched it as a shaky U-matic recording in a sociology class at school. I was twelve years old. There’s an emotional ending that some members of the class weren’t able to deal with, resulting in infantile laughter from the back row when you might otherwise have expected to hear a pin drop. Thus was the climax lost in an explosive telling off by our teacher, a Brian Glover look-a-like, who, by coincidence, was one of the characters in the movie. It was surreal, like art imitating life.

I’ve only recently caught up with the film again in full and was struck by the quality of the photography, and the power of the story. It’s certainly better in HD than it was on U-matic. And, like the death of U-matic, some things have changed in England since 1969, the year the film came out, while others remain the same, namely that among a certain persuasion of society, the poor are despised for being poor, and there’s a belief that if you’re poor, it’s your fault for not doing something about it, that you’re lazy, you drink too much, you smoke too much, that you should have worked harder at school.

Kes is the story of Billy Casper, a lad born to a broken family in a poor area of Barnsley. He’s of my generation but the kind of character I would have avoided at school because of his position on the periphery of a bad crowd. Poorly dressed, dirty, always in trouble, always being picked on by the bigger toughs, Billy finds pleasure in exploring the woods and farmland near his home.

Though town-bred, he is country-wise, has raised wild creatures inspired by a wonder at the natural world and it’s in this we see the depths of Billy, and his hopes of any kind of escape. Billy will never be a king, most of us won’t, but we all have it in us to be poets, thinkers, sensitive lovers, musicians, to develop inwardly as the spirit in us evolves, as it moves us towards discovering the meaning of our lives, and in Billy the spirit is strong. But given the life he was born into, will that be enough? If at the end of this film you have not found in yourself any compassion for Billy, then indeed you have a hard heart.

He’s not the kind of lad we’re supposed to care much about. He’s a no hoper, an under achiever and a petty thief. Billy’s family is supported in part by the wages of the older brother, Judd, a mineworker at a time when the South Yorkshire pits paid the poorest wages of any developed country. Nearing fifteen, Billy will not be staying on at school. Most likely he’ll be joining his brother down the pit. He doesn’t want to, but beyond that he hasn’t thought about it much. The family are struggling. The father is gone. Billy’s mother is hardly a nurturing, caring, motherly type seeminly permanently at war with Judd’s cock sure ego. Both lads have been dragged up, and are entirely reliant on their own wits to make the transition into manhood. God knows what will happen to them.

The titular Kes is a Kestrel Billy robs from a nest and rears himself, learning the art of falconry – supposedly the sport of kings – which he practices in the fields beyond the terraced backs of his Barnsley home. Working men have traditionally found great dignity in their care and understanding of birds, though usually of the pigeon variety. Denied a voice most of the time, Billy becomes unexpectedly and quite stunningly eloquent when picked upon to tell the class of his adventures with Kes.

The school I went to was not as bad as Billy’s, not set down in quite as poor an area, but the scenes still send a chill, and the football match with Brian Glover’s daft, pompous bully of a games master would be funny were it not also eerily familiar from my own past. It’s clear Billy would do well not to trust authority for his salvation, for in 1969 it clearly has not the competence to do so – indeed it appears crass, insensitive and stupid. Would things go any better for him now?

Of all the teachers at Billy’s school, only Colin Welland’s English master is portrayed as showing any empathy and provides at least a tentative connection with that part of the human race capable of valuing and nurturing whatever is latent in others, rather than merely commanding conformance to a set of arbitrary rules that are of no practical use whatsoever to an individual like Billy.

In ’69, Billy is nearing fifteen years old, and can leave school to become so called factory or mine fodder. If we transplant the story to the present day, Billy would be stuck in education until he was sixteen, or even eighteen, which is just as well because there are no factories or mines any more that can use his hands. But the Key Stages and Assessment Scores of the latter day tell us only what is already blindingly obvious, that Billy Casper will never get the obligatory degree, nor wear a tie to work, and no matter what the strength of his spirit, if he is fifteen or eighteen, he is still consigned to the default condition of the poor. This is not, as is the pernicious myth perpetuated by certain classes of the non-poor, scrounging on benefits for the rest of his life, but more one of enduring the tyranical trap of zero hours contracts, and minimum wage slavery.

“I don’t like school much,” he says, “so I don’t suppose I’ll like work much either. But at least I’ll be paid for not liking it.”

Billy will be nearing sixty now and I wonder how his life turned out – if his latent passions finally found room to flourish. Certainly the ending of Kes downplayed this possibility, suggesting rather the contrary, that dignity, however he sought it, was not for the likes of him, in which case Billy’s had a very hard life indeed. There were flashes of genius in him, impossible to label; they were not recognised then, nor do I believe they would be recognised now. Billy Casper flicks two fingers at the world, and I don’t blame him.

It’s nineteen eighty five, October, a Tuesday evening, and I’m in the Library of the Bolton Institute of Technology, as was. It’s been a long day; ten hours of lectures so far, and another two to go. It’s pitch black outside and raining, and I’m reading something up on the mathematics pertaining to electrochemical erosion. My diary tells me this much. It also tells me that across from me there’s a bunch of girl students in their teens, and at twenty four, I’m already feeling like an old man.

It’s hard to say what attracts a man to a woman other than, like I’ve said elsewhere it’s the reflection of something ad yet unknown within himself, though I understand this makes little sense when you play it back. But there’s this one girl in particular and I don’t know why she stands out but she does. She has long, dark hair, wears a denim jump suit with a small enamel teddy bear in her lapel. She speaks to her friends with a soft, Scottish accent, never looks my way, never notices me at all.

Twenty years later she becomes a character in a short story I’ve hawked about pointlessly before sticking it up on Feedbooks – The Man Who Could Not Forget. And, like the man who could not forget, and with a little help from my diary, I have not forgotten her, but it’s not her I want to talk about tonight.

There’s this other girl in the library that night, a psychology student. She’s gorgeous, as all girls seemed to be back then, or maybe, like sunny days, I only remember the pretty ones. I’m up at the book shelves now seeking out another reference, and she comes up to me with a piece of card.

“I want you look at this,” she says. “It’s a picture of two people arguing.”

Thus primed, she flashes this card at me. It shows a cartoon of a black man and a white man. Their arms are out, as if gesticulating. Right. So, these guys are arguing.

She covers the card and asks me: “Which one had the knife?”

There’s something of a challenge in her tone, like she already knows the answer I’m going to give.

I’m confused for a moment, and want to see the picture again, because for the life of me I don’t remember either of the guys having a knife, but I understand this will defeat the point of the exercise. Yet, if there’s no knife, she’s forcing an answer to a false choice. Why would she be doing that? There must have been a knife. I must have missed it. By the way, did I tell you I’m basically this young white guy, and she’s this beautiful Asian girl, with long shiny hair and glittery eyes?

Then it clicks. There was no knife, and yes, she is forcing a false choice on me. I can read her mind, and I’m a bit upset by it. I’m supposed to say it was the black guy who had the knife, because I’m a white guy, and all white guys are supposed to have these prejudices about black guys, or any other guys not the same colour as myself, so even if I’m not sure there was a knife, if I’m forced to admit there was, because she’s saying there was, then I reveal my racism by saying it’s the black guy who had it.

At the end of her survey she expects to count up all the ticks and show a graph that most white guys like me are basically racist. But even in Bolton, in 1985, if racism was an issue, I was unaware of it, but then I had my head in things like Electrochemical Erosion, so maybe it was. I don’t know.

Perhaps I should reverse it, I’m thinking, say it was the white guy who had the knife. Then maybe the girl will think I’m not a racist and might be more inclined to like me, because the goddess is strong in this one and I really want her to like me. But this is too deep, and a pointless application of reverse psychology anyway, one than can only screw up her experiment. The inside of my head is strange sometimes. People think they are sealed up, secret from others, when by the slightest thing they render themselves nakedly transparent.

“I didn’t see a knife. Sorry.”

Her expression gives nothing away. She does not thank me for my participation. I think she’s beautiful and I wish we could talk some more. I manage a smile. It is not returned. I think the experiment was flawed anyway – a definite experimenter effect. I do not ask her if she fancies a coffee sometime. And not because it would be a crass and desperate thing to do in that situation, nor yet because she’s the daughter of another culture and I’m a white guy, because really I’m too naive to take such things into consideration. It’s more that she’s beautiful, and I’m afraid she will reject me.

There was a time when I saw the goddess in all women. She has many aspects, sometimes alluring, sometimes scornful, sometimes challenging. She is the thing that animates a man, but projecting her into the material world renders him vulnerable to the fallacy that women are something other than human. It’s a fallacy that fades with age and experience. A fallacy also that in trying to understand the goddess within ourselves, a man should expect women to know anything about it at all, like expecting the canvas to understand the painting. More likely she will look at him blank, or suggest he goes to see the doctor.

I muddled through my final exams that coming summer – mostly an average student on that course, having reached the limit of my mathematical and technical ability by then. But over the years I’ve found little use for mathematics anyway, that intuition is a surer guide when it comes to the oftimes shady byways of the daemon haunted world I live in now. I rest assured neither aspect of the goddess in the library that night remembers me, and it’s puzzling I should remember them, when there are other human beings I have more reason to remember but do not.

I’m not sure what else I’m trying to say here, except I swear I did not see a knife.

drybonesA woodland walk in May, on a pleasantly sunny Sunday afternoon. I know the route, have walked it since I was a boy. It was quieter in those days of course. You could lose yourself in the woods, see not soul all day. Now, Sundays, the paths are sluggish with  people, and dogs. And they make a noise – the people and the dogs. And the groups of people do not talk to one another.

As I’m setting out this time I see an old guy. He carries a shopping bag, wears a tatty, old fashioned button up Mackintosh. He’s engaging a group of walkers in conversation, but it’s as if he’s a street beggar and they want to shake him off. They close ranks, gather pace, leave him standing there. He makes a similar attempt on a couple with a dog. The dog thinks better of him than the couple but is yanked away from the guy’s petting hand. They too hurry on.

Then he sees me, engages me with an upward tug of his chin. Like the others I am also reluctant to engage, feel my heart sink, victim of the western paranoid malaise, that anyone who is not me is likely a looney or a drunkard, or an axe wielding religious maniac. But then I tell myself it’s just a little old guy and I could probably handle him if I had to.

“Ow do?” he says.

I return a cautious greeting, smile.

He slings his gaze up the path to the fast receding couple. “Queer,” he says. “Some folk don’t even want to pass the time of day these days.”

He has the broad Lancashire – an old villager then, born of a time when conversation with passing strangers was not considered weird, or threatening. No one wants to talk to him. Interesting. He’s upset about it, scathing of the modern way. I agree it is a sad trend of our times, this increasingly mutual isolation.

“So, where you going?” he asks.

“Just walking through,” I tell him, vaguely, still reluctant to engage. But he’s expectant, looking for more by way of conversation, so I offer him my planned circuit. He nods, knows the names of the meadows, the farms, the bends in the river. “I’ll walk with you,” he says, then, sensing my reserve, he adds: “If you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” I tell him, though I don’t know if I mind or not, suspect I do, actually. Certainly I had intended a quiet meditative walk, and will not now get one, but the deal is done. My new found friend and I set off.

He has a good pace, this old timer, possesses a fierce energy. It animates his limbs, his expression, drives his diction to a boiling frenzy, glows red like embers in the lines of his weather tanned face. In a few minutes we have established that he is Arthur, formerly a ten pound Pom, formerly an old pit man, and merchant mariner, now nursing a bed-bound invalid wife. He gets out Sundays. I am Michael, son of the village, moved away, return now and then because I like the woods.

He goes on to vent much spleen on topics wide ranging, is clearly strongly opinionated, but unfocussed – deriding both the right and left of politics, also those in the middle. He disagrees with everyone. He is well travelled: a long time in Oz, a long time at sea, has worked all his life at hard doing jobs.

We touch upon the usual headlines: the economy, the health service, the middle eastern wars, on immigration. On the latter I am braced, expecting him to be the usual tiresome racist, as are many of his generation, but he is not. Having once been a youthful migrant himself, he finds nothing to criticise in others doing the same. He is an anomaly, endlessly contrary, angry at everything and nothing. And I like him.

In his bag he carries an ancient pair of Boots-branded binoculars, has a passing interest in ornithology. In the bag is also an ancient Kodak film camera. Oh yes, he assures me, you can still get 35mm film, though it is not as common as it was. He makes a momentary pass at deriding all things digital. I keep my camera in my pocket. He ventures a few shots as we walk.

In short, Arthur is eighty and lonely. Surrounded by the ailing and the dying in his world, he is a little clumsy and unskilled in his attempts to engage with those of us on the outside of it. As for his own eventual infirmity, I see no shadow of it yet, suspect it might even be afraid of him. He tries to winkle out my opinions, but I am all things to all people. I appreciate there is much to be gained from constructive and respectful disagreement, but I am what I am and mine is not to change the world, just observe it. He is unperturbed by such evasiveness, takes it as permission to dominate our conversation, to educate me as if he were wisest man in the world.

The circuit takes an hour. I think if I had lived in the village still, he would have followed me home for a cup of tea, but our route leads back to my car which puts a neat full stop to our encounter. He seems awkward at our imminent parting now, his conversation suddenly dried up. He looks at his feet.

“So, Arthur, I’m sure I’ll see you around the woods again. I come by most Sundays.”

This is not exactly true, but I come through often enough that an encounter is not unlikely, and I really would not mind speaking with him again.

We shake hands, he heads for home.

That was years ago. I have not seen him in the woods since that day, but I did see him once, in town. He was in the supermarket, filling that same old bag with bits of modest shopping, same scruffy old Mackintosh. He looked up at me as we passed. My eyes were raised in invitation of his instant recognition, but he did not speak. He looked askance, walked on by as if I were a stranger, or worse, some weirdo about to engage him in unwanted conversation.

Clearly our encounter had been more meaningful to me, than it had to him.

 

persephoneSo, I see this tall girl in the coffee shop. Actually, she’s the waitress, about to  pour my coffee.  She wears  a short black  skirt, black waitressy blouse, nipped at the waist. She has dark hair, shiny, only partly contained by a voluminous Edwardianesque bun. And suddenly I am held spellbound. I dispute biology as an explanation for this moment. This is spiritual.

She is the most striking of beauties, this young Lancashire girl. No make-up, yet  easily the better of any movie star. She has dark brows, thick, expressive in their tilt, green-blue eyes, a wide mouth, full Pre Raphaelite lips held tight for now as she pours. She will be quick to smile, I suspect, but for now restrained. She is the hired help, new I think, a minimum wage slaver, old enough to kill for Queen and country, but not old enough to earn a so called living wage.

It is no longer the most salubrious of establishments, this cafe. The table next to mine is awash with spilled tea and the sloppings of careless diners, now flown. The puddled tea drips onto the floor, onto the chairs pushed carelessly back as if in an emergency. This same beauty of a girl approaches resignedly with mop, dishcloth, squirt bottle of disinfectant, pulls back her hair, secures it, goes to work.

Her hands are beautiful. She has long fingers, lightly tanned, delicate. They should be adorned with gold, silver, diamonds – perhaps one day, but for now no man has claimed her.

I notice how she holds herself at a distance from the slop, little fingers aloft, some part of her resisting the plunge into this squalid  defecation. She is ‘S’ shaped in her stance, tummy out, chest drawn in  to a boyish flatness, her full height reeled back as if self conscious of her  commanding stature. She was born to better things than this. I know I am romanticising, but there is something in this moment that touches me.

I am just a tired old salary-man, and a writer, of sorts. My gaze I hope is discrete, analytical and searching for traces of Zen in the person of this girl. There is nothing prurient about it. I am admiring, yes,  a little awe-struck, too, but am entirely without expectation of that certain sort. Girls of this age long ago became my daughters, no longer imagined lovers. I’m not sure when this transition took place, but I am grateful for the clarity it adds to one’s vision.

She catches my eye, smiles that full mouthed smile as she spreads a dishcloth over the mess. She is without artifice, graceful as a princess.

The afternoon is hot, blue skied, sunshiny. It is a Friday, after the long ache of a miserable working week. I feel the relief of it washing through me with each sip of the coffee she has poured. Her brief smile, aimed at me, tops it all, and I am honoured to return it, this quiet moment of intimacy. It’s as well she cannot intuit the depth of my compassion, or she would think me strange. Strange too the sense of my appreciation for her presence at this moment. It is as if I have invented her.

I shall write of her, I think – indeed am already sketching out an opening draft in my head. I must tap it into my Droid quickly or it will go. Then I’ll smooth it out on the blog tonight. And when I read back on this in years to come I will wonder if life has faded her, for life teaches us such perfection as this  is ephemeral, like the cherry blossom, sudden come and breathtaking  awhile, only to be lost in the first storms of life.

girl meditatingIt’s with a mixture of surprise and confusion I note the term Mindfulness cropping up in the Corporate literature these days. This is rather like coming across Mary Poppins in a brothel. Originally an ancient meditative technique for releasing the mind from self destructive thinking, Mindfulness saw eventual escape into the so called new age, then a growing acceptance among mental health professionals as a way of easing stress and anxiety. But more latterly, the scientific management gurus have been hyping it as a way of rendering employees more efficient – though I’m not sure how this is supposed to work. Indeed the term Corporate Mindfulness is something of an oxymoron, each term neatly cancelling out the other.

Mindfulness, it seems, has become a highly marketable brand to the extent that even I am becoming sick of the word. Now, after your fourteen hour day of spreadsheet gazing, video-conferencing, and boardroom jousting, you can drive your showy, rented, BMW to the gym, display your expensively honed, Lycra clad body to your fellow narcissists, then drive to your mindfulness class and show off your expensively reconstructed mind. Then, come work-a-day morn, refreshed, pecks and abs hard as iron beneath your clean white shirt, mind simmering, cat-like in its predatory stillness, you become the master of all you survey, a steely eyed corporate warrior!

I wonder if we’re in danger of losing our way here. Perhaps we need to call it something else? Or perhaps it’s just that I feel myself slipping out of the world, no longer enamoured of its constructs, nor trusting of its players, that when I see Mindfulness advertised in corporate magazines, I am instinctively uneasy.

The dilemma for the corporate world is that the practice of Mindfulness will inevitably reveal the corporate world itself to be insane, indeed so sick it infects us all, has us eating each other, like a mad dog chewing at its own paws. So the idea of practising mindfulness, all the better to rape the earth and further dispossess the poor of their already meagre incomes seems the ultimate irony.

Do we even know what mindfulness is?

It’s mediation, right?

When I began to meditate it was because I had difficulty fitting in with the world. Meditation was an attempt to stop thinking, to plug the channel from which there issued an endless stream of debilitating and largely self critical thought. But you cannot stop thinking by thinking about it, nor less by hiding from one’s thoughts, nor combating them by the force of other thoughts. You need to give the mind something else to do.

Hanging it on the breath is a better approach. Listening to the breath, feeling the breath, experiencing the breath with every fibre of one’s being eventually renders thought as an observable phenomenon and from here it is but a small step to the realisation we are not our thoughts, that there is an awareness beyond our thoughts, a silent watcher that is not in itself a thought, and finally the realisation this silent watcher is actually who we really are. Carrying an awareness of this awareness, as we go about our lives, living with sufficient space in our heads for this awareness to be, is the essence of mindful living.

This is where the way becomes strange. We imagine that without our thoughts, our memories, our hopes, our dreams, we could not be said to exist at all, that without them we would have no personality, no sense of self. But this is the illusion of thinking. It is why we are vulnerable to our thoughts and so often fall into the trap of trying to think our way out of our worries, into a better, happier, more peaceful way of living. We can’t. The self constructed sense of self is an illusion, and actually the source of all our problems. The more we try to build this illusion up, the flimsier and more troublesome it becomes.

Similarly the corporate world is something we have merely thought up. It is not how the world really is. Mindfulness therefore does not prepare us for lives as a corporate raiders. Indeed quite the opposite. It should make us wish there was another way to live, another way to earn money and provide for our families, even if there isn’t. Beware then – mindfulness will seriously hamper your prospects for promotion, because it makes you all the more mindful of what it is you are doing. This is the point of departure then, where the meditative tradition reveals the unsuspected nature of the world.

The world as we have thought it is an illusion and it’s only by recognising our true nature do we perceive the world as it really is, how stunningly beautiful and alive. It is at the root of mindfulness we therefore find the ethics of life itself, at the root of mindfulness we discover peace, free from the imagined monsters of the past and the present.

Where mindfulness fits in to the structure of the man-constructed thought up world illusion I don’t know, since whichever power base we examine – be it political or corporate, I see no ethical dimension to it at all. It is a machine, not a mind, so there is a fundamental incompatibility of terminology here, and I conclude the corporate world has either changed the practice of mindfulness beyond all recognition into something faddish and useless, or nullified it by presenting it merely as a brand to be marketed and sold at a profit. Either way this is not the mindfulness I know.

Beware then where you buy your mindfulness from.

Mindfulness is free.

You don’t even have to think about it.

durleston wood cover smallThere are millions of free stories on the Internet now. Take a look at Feedbooks and Smashwords sometime. And yes, they’re really free. Their authors write them and give them away, happy to get a kick from the fact someone is reading them. Perhaps they’ve tried to get them paper-published the traditional way, but failed. No problem. Offering them online is a good alternative to leaving them hidden in a folder on a hard-drive, eventually to be deleted or lost when the machine breaks down. If you can’t get anyone to pay you for your work, really, it’s okay to give it away.

The problem is with so many free books out there, how does a writer get his stories noticed? Well, it’s a bit of a lottery and the system, such as it is, is hard to game, unless you’re going to spend money on a marketing campaign. But if we’re not making anything out of our writing, it makes no sense to pay to make nothing out of it either. I’m writing, and publishing – of a sort, and I’m happy with that.

But let’s be honest, my blogging motives aren’t as altruistic as they seem. I began the blog with the aim of advertising myself. Simple. I write articles on here, thinking to attract the blogging audience, and hopefully draw attention to my fiction that sits in the margin. I also have an Instagram account, the purpose of which is to attract other Instagrammers to this blog, and from there to my fiction. I hope the pictures I post on Instagram are interesting, that they say something about where I’m coming from, and I like to think the blog carries good and interesting content too, but my aim, my purpose, if you like, is always the “the work”. The Fiction. The Novels.

I get about a hundred visitors a day now, and the stats show I get a few clicks out to my novels most days too. It’s not much, but it’s working, and adds to the clicks from visitors who find my works directly on Feedbooks and Smashwords. It’ll do. Whether I get a few clicks or a hundred, I’m making the same amount of money anyway. Zero. It’s the readers that count.

So if you’re a writer of free stories, this is something to be thinking about. If you’re passing by and a potential reader of one of Michael Graeme’s novels, don’t let me distract you. Pick one from the margin because that’s why I’ve lured you here.

If you’re reading on a tablet or a phone of the Apple variety, it should be a seamless operation, from clicking the link, to the book opening up on your device. You may be given a choice of format – stick with the epub version and you’ll be fine.

With tablets and phones of the Android variety you’ll need to make sure you have an ebook reading app onboard first, so to be sure visit the app store – I use Aldiko and Moonreader. Both are superb. Aldiko is the most popular, and free. Again, when clicking the link you may be given a choice of format – pick the epub version.

Windows 8 and 10 devices come with ebook readers installed, so no worries there. With Kindles you need to click the mobi version. Sorry, Amazon, but I don’t get many readers with Kindles. It’s mostly readers with ‘Droids using Aldiko.

Reading on laptops isn’t a great experience, worse on desktops – these devices are really for content creation, not consumption. You can do it of course. Download as PDF and use the Adobe reader.

Fed up with my stuff? Go to Smashwords’ or Feedbooks’ websites and start browsing. Get reading. You may be surprised. Wish you’d read the classics in your youth? They’re all there – the whole of Victorian literature, famous and obscure, all free, plus a wide shimmering sea of contemporary amateur fiction from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the corny to the caustic.

Why waste your time with amateur fiction, spelling mistakes, bad grammar and all? Well honestly, it’s sometimes better than the stuff you’ve been paying for. Of course three quarters of anything is rubbish, and there’s no one online to tell you what’s good and what’s not. You have to decide for yourself, but that’s part of the fun.

A good writer treats his reader with respect, like a companion along the way, and you want to see them through to the end. I’m not sure to what extent I’ve been successful in this, but why not read one my novels and let me know? I may not change my ways, but I’m always interested in hearing what you have to say about it.

IMG_20160429_195817I did not think to find her here, not in this corner coffee shop. She frowned to be discovered, but not enough to frighten me away. She, stirred her coffee thoughtfully when I sat down and then she said:

“You do remember what we’re doing, don’t you?”

“That’s the trouble,” I replied. “I don’t know any more. Is that why you left?”

She shook her head, sipped the froth from her spoon then pointed it like a weapon. “I didn’t leave,”she said. “I hid. There’s a difference. If I’d left you, you would never have found me again.”

“You hid?”

“Yes. So you’d come looking. And you did, so I forgive you.”

“I wish I could believe I’d never lose you.”

She turned her gaze to the window, to the street, and watched the crowds passing for a while. “How can you?” she said. “Since we’re the same, you and I.”

People walked by on the other side of the glass, barely inches away from us, self absorbed, unconscious of our presence. They looked hunched and worn – old clothes, cheap clothes, crumpled and wet from the day’s storms.We had once been such a proud and tidy people, we northern Brits. But the shops across the way looked so terribly tired now. Some were empty, some for let, notices of closure, none offered any hope of redemption or renewal. We had become a self-fulfilling cliché of decline. Yes, the town was dying. I only hoped we were not dying with it, that our fate was to survive it, bloodied and bruised perhaps, but somehow to transcend it, to move on.

“I ask again,” she said. “What are we doing?”

“I don’t know. We were writing.”

“No, I was for writing, you were for blogging. And everyone knows blogs are mostly bullshit. We do not pedal in bullshit, Michael.”

“No. Yet you seemed happy to go along with it all those years. Indeed, I recall the ideas for that blog came from you anyway. All my ideas come from you. And we do not pedal bullshit. We are sincere,… at least.”

She smiled, nodded in faint admission of her guilt. “Mostly that’s true. And I was happy with the blog. I am happy. Sincerity is a respectable defence, Michael. And not without merit. I forgive you.”

I thought I felt her melting, and sought then to press my advantage: “And weren’t we getting somewhere?”

My mistake. She frowned.

“You mean with all that surfing the fourth dimensional waves of space-time? Like anybody cares about that kind of stuff. They’re happy for it to be woven into a story, for then at least they can deny its reality. But we’ll never convince anyone of its fact when neither of us understand it either.

“Listen, Michael, our mission is much simpler than you’re trying to make out. You do know there’s nothing we can ever do, or say or write that will add anything to what we already have. In your blogging you forgot that. You fell into the trap of your own self importance. I know you know this is true – your last piece reflects it.”

So, she’d read it. That much at least explained her presence here today.  “Okay, so I killed the blog. Happy now? Can we move on?”

“I didn’t want you to kill the blog, stupid! I only wanted you to remember what it’s there for.”

“I took it too seriously, I know.”

“No, it’s more than that. Worse than that. What’s the first lesson we learned, long ago, when we were children, when we first began to write?”

“I don’t know. Knowing has always been your department. You tell me.”

“Write like no one is listening, except for the the one person who matters, and is always listening, regardless of what you write. Me. You write for me. To me. Through me. And. We. Write. Fiction. We invent realities. We do not pretend to know the ultimate nature of this one, for that is to second guess the gods who made us. And anyone who goes down that road is simply courting madness. Believe me, I should know. I am much closer to them than you are.”

The waitress brought my coffee. A sudden shower of hail rattled the glass. She commented on how changeable this April weather was. Then came a cold rush of air as the door opened and a figure took to the street, melting quickly into the crowd. The chair opposite was empty.

Gone again.

For now.

I took out the ‘Droid and began to write, slowly, dabbing like an infant at the screen. And I wrote:

I. Write. Fiction.

Thank you for listening.

(Well,…. that didn’t last long did it?)

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