A group of writers in Chichester coming together once a month for inspiration, collaboration and sensation
THIS ONE TIME
Well if I get anything out of tonight it’ll be a free Indian. I’m not sure why I had to leave the table, was it nervousness? I was nervous but it’s not that bad now. I’m enjoying myself I must admit. Maybe it’s just the alcohol. He’s a bit geeky but he’s making me laugh. He’s going bald a bit, could be the light however. I checked myself in the mirror whilst I had this mini crisis of confidence. Okay that’s enough, better get back, he must be feeling lonely. I like the fact that Brian suggested coming to the Indian on a weekday. At least it isn’t full of screaming children. Wait…do children even like Indian food?
“You avoiding me or something?” Brian inquired.
Oh good he’s paranoid like me. I sat down and noted we were still light of curry.
“Just powdering my nose. Any sign of the curry yet?”
“Nope. Oops… spoke too soon.”
As the waiter laid out the feast I realised I didn’t want to get this curry all over this top, so I unfolded the napkin and shoved it down my top like a child. Brian laughed at me.
“Are you laughing at me?” I asked him.
“Of course not.”
“Liar. You’re laughing at my bib.”
So there I was probably gorging myself on a lamb bhuna looking like an idiot. After we finished the meal we had the usual set of awkward dating questions.
“So you’re not a local then? Did the job bring you here?” Brian started the questioning.
“Yeah it did, not that I didn’t love living with my parents. I tried the City but there were hardly any decent jobs. I did have a couple of internships…one didn’t go… that well.”
He’s looking at me funny. Admittedly I must have spaced out. It could have been the wine. But it got worse…
“There was a period of my life where I just went travelling.” Brian said. “I enjoyed my gap year so much that I thought that the only thing stopping me from travelling was myself. So I thought what the hell, I quit my job and left. I spent a good deal island hopping all over South East Asia, Australia and those kinds of places. Bali was really nice. I was a bit of an environmentalist back then so I avoided planes and just used boats. I just loved sailing the ocean. I’m sorry I’m talking too much, Have you gone travelling?”
“Not really. I’ve have done but just Europe. I mean sailing…sailing…sailing sounds good.”
I could tell I was losing it. Have I still got Doctor Weiss’s number? I felt giddy at that point. I hadn’t felt this bad since that time a couple of years ago. And then the waiter came…
“Can we have another bottle of the house white? Oh sorry. Amber do you want another one? Amber?” Brian was still keen but then the waiter asked…
“Arrrggghhhh wouldn’t you prefer a bottle of rum capt’n.” The waiter was a pirate, rum soaked, red-faced, limping, eye-patched, rotting black teeth, a pirate.
MANY YEARS LATER.
Well the kids are enjoying the bouncy castle. That should keep them busy thought Amber who sipped at her glass of wine. She was just glad that she was on her own and with someone else’s wine, which was a bonus. A small girl dressed as fairy galloped towards Amber. The girl had blonde hair and blue eyes like her mother.
“Mummy mummy, have you still got my wand?”
“Of course Charlotte darling.” Amber picked up the wand by her side and gave it a swish. “Zimb zam a la bim. Shame, my wine glass hasn’t filled up. Here you go.” She handed over the wand to her unimpressed daughter who returned to the bouncy castle.
The party was going along nicely in the background; the kids were jumping on the bouncy castle whilst the adults drank from a healthily stocked supply of alcohol. Amber wasn’t sure whether the other adults were unaware of her or were simply ignoring her. She thought about it for a couple of seconds. She took another sip of wine. I’m falling asleep thought Amber maybe I should ease off the wine. Ease… off…
What? Amber came around.
“Mummy? Wake up!”
I’m up, I’m up. How long was I asleep? Amber woke up to find her daughter in front of her with her friend. Her friend, Amber realised, was dressed as a pirate.
“Look mum I found Natalie. Isn’t her costume cool?” inquired an excited Charlotte.
“Yaaaaar!” Roared Natalie as she waved her sword in the air.
“That’s very nice dear,” said Amber.
Natalie slid the plastic sword under Charlotte’s armpit.
“Look mummy Natalie’s killing me aaaahhhh!” Natalie wiggled the sword. “Look she’s impaled me on her sword aaaahhhhh!”
A concerned husband, late thirties, bald, ran over. “Charlotte sweetie maybe you should go and play on the Bouncy Castle?” He asked.
“Charlotte please? Your mum’s very tired.”
“Fine. Come on Natalie.”
“Yaaaaarrr!” Natalie chased Charlotte off with her sword.
Brian surveyed his wife who sat with a glazed expression. He noticed the half drunk glass of wine on the table.
“Amber are you all right?”
Amber took some time. “You know what? I am actually. I really am.”
Brian leaned forward and kissed his wife on the forehead.
“Nice to know you’re normal like the rest of us.”
SOME YEARS BEFORE THAT
Brian’s fiancé spilled her guts. The conversation started off innocuously with Amber asking Brian to sit next to her on the settee in their flat. She was clearly upset, she covered her face with her hands, she inhaled deeply, she started the sorry tale.
Starting the story Amber explained that awful day which had changed her life. The internship she had in the City where she attacked a colleague. Well to be specific the time she attacked her colleague with a cutlass while dressed as a pirate but that was beyond the point. Amber evaded the details and carried on.
Afterwards came rehabilitation. The rehabilitation started with institutionalisation in Elm Ward, which consisted of a full course of cognitive behavioural treatment with Doctor Weiss and enough anti-psychotic drugs to alter anyone’s brain chemistry. There was a period of art therapy that proved successful. Sure the first couple of sessions were cautious when Amber drew pictures of pirates; pirates pillaging, pirates finding treasure, pirates killing sailors whose guts spilled liberally over the canvas. But the paintings got calmer with further portraits of sea battles, tropical islands, sea landscapes. It was found that Amber was good at abstracts, big canvases of complimentary blues that shimmered on the canvas. When leaving she was offered the portraits but she politely declined. It was a painful reminder.
Then that awful day. The other awful day, the day she had to meet Judy again, the colleague she attacked. She had to meet Judy again to put things right, to get some sort of closure that might, in some way, help her rehabilitation. The meeting took place in Elm Ward and was watched by Dr Weiss. Amber had a hard time gauging Judy’s mood. She swore that Judy shuddered when she entered the room. Details of the meeting were hazy for Amber but she remembered some of it. At one point Judy lifted up her jumper and showed her the scar. The white scar on Judy’s stomach that stared back at Amber. The bile burned in Amber’s throat.
“I could of died.” Judy said, calm, focused.
She was probably mulling this day over for a long time thought Amber. Most of the meeting between Amber and Judy was long forgotten. In hindsight, Amber explained, she repressed the memory of the meeting alongside the memory of the day she attacked Judy. The meeting did take some of the weight off her shoulders but those memories were always in the back of Amber’s mind, they never went away.
After leaving Elm Ward. She had to get away, several counties away away, as far from the City that’s for sure. That’s how she landed here in the middle of the Styx she joked. It was a lonely couple of months but she managed to drag herself out more. Eventually she dragged herself along to a couple a dates. A couple of toads, she admits but then she found Brian her Prince. But then she relapsed, she had to get fixed. It had led her to back to Doctor Weiss and the final straw, electro shock therapy. Brian finally found out why he had seen so little Amber at the beginning of their relationship. He just sat and listened.
And here we are now she said, ending her story. She asked whether Brian still loved her. Of course, was his immediate answer. They embraced each other. They embraced each other for a long while. Brian could feel Amber’s heart beating fast. Amber was just glad Brian was here with her.
“Well I could use a glass of wine after that.” Amber said. “Do you want one?”
Amber set off towards the kitchen. Brian turned his attention to the Dilophosaurus that was standing in the corner.
“Fucking hell. Are you sure you want to marry this mad cow?” Snarled Dave the Dilophosaurus.
“Of course Dave. I love her very much,” replied Brian.
“Should we tell her about us? Don’t you think Brian?”
“No not today Dave, not today.”
Amber called from the kitchen. “Did you say something?”
MANY MANY YEARS BEFORE THAT ONE TIME
Brian was on the way home from school. He had slung his blazer over his shoulder and taken his tie off. His shirt was untucked but it was like that since he put it on this morning. Dave skulked alongside him. Dave was a Dilophosaurus; six meters long and as tall as Brian who stood at six foot. Dave had two short arms with two distinctive round crests on his head, which were green like his scaly skin. If Brian had to describe Dave to others (he never would) he would say Dave was a dinosaur just like the one in Jurassic Park that spits ink with a retractable neck fin who killed that fat guy. But that wasn’t true, Dave did not have a retractable neck fin. Neither did he spit ink. Dave was not happy. Dave said it was defamation. Dave said he would chew Steven Spielberg’s stupid bullshitting face off if he had the chance.
“Shouldn’t you be mad at Michael Crichton? He did write the original book you know?” Brian asked him one time.
“And you wonder why you’re still a virgin you pussy,” replied Dave.
The rain was now spitting down as they neared home. Distracted, Brian was thinking out loud.
“I really don’t get Sue. She was snogging me at the disco and now she doesn’t want to know me. She didn’t even notice me in English today.”
“She’s a prick tease if you ask me,” suggested Dave. “I mean everyone was watching you. Maybe she was showing off. Maybe she was using you.”
“I don’t know. I just want a nice girl you know.” Brian thought about it. “A nice girl who’s pretty, smart and a laugh.”
“With an epic set of tits,” added Dave.
Brian walked silently on. Dave could tell that this was really getting his friend down. This was just the latest number of setbacks in Brian’s love life. The very first girl Brian liked had to move several counties away. Sure he was only sixteen but he hardly had luck with the girls in his year. Brian was not as bad as some of the others in his year, he had been out with two girls but they ended the relationship the day after, often without giving an explanation at all.
Dave laid his head low before raising it as high as possible whilst emitting a loud high-pitched screech. With his jaw wide open and teeth exposed he faced Brian, staring him down. He looked fierce.
“Well you do know how to cheer me up,” sighed Brian.
“Don’t worry Brian. Bitches are crazy.”
“Yeah Dave, girls are mad aren’t they?”