Anybody Remember This…?

It’s not stalking… not really.

I love you, I’m just scared that you’ll leave me and I know you know how much that would hurt me. When I stand in the shadows or sit in my car watching you, it’s just that I want to know you are safe, that no-one is bothering you, no-one is tainting you. I couldn’t take it if you weren’t in my life, I would have no reason to live. I need you to be there, in my eyes, in my mind.

Yesterday, when you bought that new underwear I knew you were buying it with me in mind. I watched you look at all the different things on display in the store, I saw you touch the ones you liked and I followed you, looking at the things you’d looked at. I knew which bra you were going to pick, it’s my favourite colour and I know it will look good against your skin.

On your way home I sat three seats behind you on the bus but you didn’t notice me, I was very discreet. I saw you speaking to that student type and I knew he was making your skin creep. I knew that laugh you gave him was hiding what you really felt… disgust. I wanted to come up behind him and hit him, I almost did and I knew you would have thanked me but we reached our stop just before I moved.

I love your house, no our house… I know it so well. I have been in every room, looked in every drawer. I have smelt your pillow, your clothes. I know what medication you take, how much your electricity bill is and what’s in your bank account. I know your friends, I know you so well my love, and I know you know I do. I know that you feel me watching when you are alone at night. Why else would you look so inviting, why else would you do all the things that you do to make me feel this hunger? The preparations you take to make yourself soft and beautiful, just for me.

I think you liked the present I left you? The rose? I know you kept it and put it in a book. I was excited by the way you looked about you when you found it on your doorstep, as if you wanted me to see you looking for me… I saw you and I want you.

A Boy’s Tale

I was on my knees on the back seat of the black cab. Framed in the back window, the iron gates of the castle disappeared behind dense rhododendron bushes as we rounded a bend in the drive. Then the other car followed.

I ached inside. I felt as though part of my eight year old self was being wrenched from somewhere deep within me, and for the first time in my life, but not for the last, I dreaded tomorrow. Turning, at my mother’s insistence, my legs barely reached the floor of the cab. I leaned my head against the cushioning of the door, closed my eyes, and tried to forget.

…………

Caroline, Howard and I were the children of staff members at Snedden Castle, a youth hostel in northern Scotland. For the entire summer we had run free and pushed the limits of all the wildness two ten year olds and an eight year old could reach. We rarely saw our parents or, to be honest, any other adult who may have had a level of authority over us. Whenever we did espy the shadow of grown-up law, we ran like ferrets into the trees or under the rhododendrons.

That was one of the best places. The rhododendron bushes were almost 80 years old and in below the thick, twisting limbs were little tunnels, made by other animals. Rabbits, foxes, perhaps badgers, wildcats, even other children. When the sun was beating down, the shade of the rhododendrons was cool, scented and alive. Often I would escape there myself, into my own secret world of scents and sounds, crawling between the thick, gnarled stems. When I was there alone there was no one else in the universe except me, and those imaginary friends and foes I brought with me.

During those times I explored my thoughts and feelings, often going over adult discussions I had overheard. Once, attempting to make childish sense of the Castle warden referring to my mother as stupid, I  took out my anger on a patch of brambles. Kicking and punching, leaving my arms and legs threaded with lacerations, beads of blood seeping from the deeper scratches. The stinging pain of the cuts became the manifestation of my feelings, yet I was unable to fully grasp the reasoning or the remedy.

The grounds around the castle had been tamed at one time but now were tremendously overgrown. Bracken and ferns grew abundantly under pines, old oak, and birch and where there was space brambles grew and hung heavy with fruit. Colouring the landscape were millions of foxgloves, and sewn liberally among all that were sticky willies, dandelions, daisies, thistles, ground elder, nettles and an abundance of other strange plants.

I liked to pop foxglove flowers on the back of my hand.

“Don’t lick your hand,” said Howard. “Those are poisonous.” He looked solemn and knowledgable. “They use those plants to make poisoned darts.”

“Who does?” I looked warily at the skin on my hand.

“Natives” he said. Then he turned and ran off through a clump of fern, whooping like a red indian. Or, I suppose, how he imagined red indians would whoop if they inhabited Sutherland. I rubbed the back of my hand on my shorts, licked the skin tentatively and, when I didn’t immediately foam at the mouth, ran after him, “Howard, hang on, what natives?”

I hated Howard a little. He was slightly more than a year and a half older than me; bigger, faster, stronger, smarter, and not the most generous hearted of boys. He would often trick me into doing things, such as stealing chocolate biscuits from the unattended backpack of a hosteller, which regularly ended up with me being caught and him watching judgmentally from the sidelines as I received another dressing down; he would tease me about my name, call me ‘Wodewick’; and he would ‘lose’ my toy cars. I’m not sure whether I hated him more because he ‘lost’ my Man From U.N.C.L.E. ThrushBuster, or because my sister, Caroline, loved him.

Day after day, rain or shine, we explored our kingdom. We hunted, fished, fought great battles, built wartime field hospitals to tend for the wounded, and soared noisily and colourfully within the loose confines of the universe we had been given. We wandered as far afield as the nearest post-town, which was six miles away, crossed tall railway bridges, crawled through drain tunnels under roads, swam naked in isolated lochans and sun dried ourselves on the heather. It was a magical time. As my skin tanned over the summer, I felt that everything was becoming more golden and luminous. There was a freedom and a substance to this place that I had never felt before. This was my place I had found home.

One day the three of us discovered a secret garden in the castle grounds. We had come across a tall old wall right in the middle of a particularly dense area of bramble growth, fairly near, but hidden from, the main castle. We couldn’t get over it, so we followed it into the woods and, scrambling through the undergrowth, had kept beside it as it stumbled downhill. At one point we had to part from the wall because the undergrowth was so thick and there was a fallen tree blocking our path. When we got back to it we found a wooden door covered in flaky, green paint.

It wouldn’t easily open and it took the two boys using a fallen branch as a lever to crack it, and open it wide enough for us to scramble through. Within was another world.

What had clearly been a walled, kitchen garden had become an intense herbaceous jumble. Nature had taken back the garden but elements remained, so we could smell onion, rosemary, thyme and we could see a huge misshapen rhubarb patch, while everywhere was an abundance of rich green vegetation. It was difficult to tell whether nature had encroached like some pernicious, murderous disease or whether the garden itself had been the tumour on the wildness of the gentle slope and had been won back in some immense battle, leaving scars of tamed vegetation gone wild.

Along one wall was a greenhouse. Most of the glass was still in place, only a few panes damaged by the elements or by some plant breaking free. We entered via an opening that had been made by the collapse of some sort of wooden archway that had stood over the barely visible path. Inside the smell of growth, of vegetable life, was overpowering, and the atmosphere was hot and humid. We could see cobwebs bigger than any we had seen before, and a rampage of green and yellow, brown and grey.

It would’ve made a fine headquarters for us. We had been evicted from the dungeon at the castle, in reality an old ice store where the cook, who didn’t want us “little bastards” getting under his feet when he was fetching provisions, kept tinned food. I thought this place was magnificent: a crystal palace within a jungle. But Howard felt that we could be seen too easily through the glass. The fact that it was obvious that no man had been anywhere near this spot for a very long time was lost on him, so the HQ idea was out. Caroline,  in her infatuation, agreed. We did, however, decide that this was something to be kept to ourselves. Our place.

For the rest of that summer we used the secret garden as a base. Somewhere to store things we had found or purloined or made. It wasn’t our ‘headquarters’ as such, Howard had decided that was to be in a little clearing under the rhododendrons next to the courtyard gate, but it was our fortress, our fastness against the adult world, and no adult ever came through the undergrowth to the garden. It was the place we always came back to.

Caroline and I had only met Howard that summer. We were from suburban Glasgow and he was from somewhere in the English midlands. He had arrived with his family a few days before we did, so he assumed the role of guide, historian, botanist and fount of knowledge regarding the estate and the surrounding area. In my mind he had assumed the role of self important, mildly bullying, big cousin.

The only part of the castle we were forbidden to explore without an adult, other than the hostellers’ dormitories, was the clock tower. This had been included when the castle was built as a show of ostentation, a finger to the Duchess’s snooty in-laws, and so that passengers on the trains passing below could adjust their watches to the correct time before their arrival at destinations further north.

It was approached by climbing the grand staircase from the great hall, another stairway to the third floor and then up a narrow wooden stair and through a locked door leading to the clock room. A ladder led from the clock room to a door that opened onto a small, square, battlemented roof. Every stage of the route to the clock tower was narrower, less showy, smaller, more confined, somehow less secure, until the sky opened above you and the landscape lay around you for miles on every side.

Every few days hostel staff gave tours of the tower for residents as part of the whole ‘Snedden experience’. These tours were laced with fascinating, and not entirely true, stories about the building of the castle, the animosity between the owner and her  husband’s family and several, specially concocted, ghost stories, the best of which involved a spectral white lady who haunted the tower, the main staircase, and the great hall of the castle, and who pointed her bony finger only at those doomed to die.

We were desperate to have the roof of the tower to ourselves for a while, the better to map out our territory. So we hatched a plan to join a tour group and, when they went up the last bit to the roof, we would hide in the clock room and wait till they’d been up, looked around, and gone back down into the castle. The subterfuge was carried off very easily and we found ourselves, one sunny day, on the highest point of a fairly high building. Without supervision.

I remember it distinctly and specifically. The air was hot, heavy and humid and the views from the tower were vaguely indistinct, as though the landscape had been painted with diluted watercolour. We laughed and jumped up and down when we made it to the roof but then Caroline said, “Sshhh, if anyone hears us they’ll make us come down and we’ll end up having to peel potatoes or something.”

Often, when we were caught out in misdemeanours we were given chores to do around the castle. There were a lot of chores.

We each went to a different quarter and looked out.

“Howard, there’s the railway bridge!” called Caroline

“I can see the golden lochan.” I said.

“Oh, this is amazing!” Howard shouted in a loud whisper. “We could parachute from here, or drop water bombs on people. Look, the Hall door is right down there…” He leaned out through a gap in the crenellations and pointed straight down. I came up beside him and looked. I felt the height in my base of my spine.

“Look, there’s the cook.” He was in the courtyard of the castle, leaning against a wall, having a smoke. As we watched, we saw him reach around and scratch his behind and crotch quite vigorously, then he threw his butt over the wall and began walking back to the main door. We ducked down and giggled like hyenas, even though we knew he’d never look up.

The tower roof was not quite the tallest part of the castle. At each corner of the battlement was a smaller, rounded turret. One of them was taller than the rest, about ten feet tall and not quite big enough to go inside. The rust eaten remains of an old metal ladder led to the top of this and to a flagpole from which, on occasion, the Scottish Saltire would wave grandly and could be seen for miles around.

“I want to go up there,” said Howard.

“Don’t be silly, the ladder’s broken.” Caroline was ever the pragmatist.

“But there are handholds in the stonework, and you can hang onto this metal thing.” He leaned out and pulled at what I had been told was the lightning rod.

“No,” said Caroline, “it’s too dangerous Howard.”

I think Howard was just showing off, and had no intention of actually climbing, but he jumped and grabbed a protruding stone and began to pull himself upwards. “I’m going to touch the flag!”

“Me too!” said I, full of eight year old bravado and jealousy, and began to climb up onto the battlemented wall. I climbed out and on to a ledge, about three inches wide, that circled the turret.

“Roddie!!” Cried Caroline and leapt to grab me but I was on the outer wall and reaching for the next stone.

Caroline was clearly terrified. Scared to scream at us in case it drew the attention of adults, yet scared not to, in case we fell to our deaths. I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing.

My left foot slipped as I looked for a foothold and I found myself hanging by my fingertips from the turret, over the main tower wall, nothing between me and the car park.

“CAROLINE!”

I couldn’t move, I was frozen to the wall and there was nowhere I could go, except down.

“Howard, help Roddie, he’s stuck.” Howard hadn’t gone any higher than when he jumped and grabbed his first handhold and, when he heard the real fear in Caroline’s voice, he dropped to the roof and came round to where I was hanging.

“We can’t get him this way, we’ll have to go round the other side and hold him while he gets back on here.”

“Please!!” Caroline’s voice was high pitched and unnatural.

“I’ll go grab his shirt and then you can pull him over here.” I could tell he was about to become heroic and cement his position in Caroline’s heart.

I don’t really know what happened next, just that I could feel Caroline beside me, then Howard’s hand at the back of my shirt and  my feet found the ledge. I was edged back down and round towards the inner wall. Howard let me go and went back to the roof and, just as I was reaching the wall to jump down, Caroline edged herself slightly out of the way to let me past.

One minute she was there and the next…

There was no sound, no scream, just a sudden, huge, empty hole where she, seconds before, had been. Then a thump. Howard’s face was ghostlike. The world was still hazy, golden, hot, sticky, but it felt chilled.

Suddenly my bowels moved and I began to wail a sharp loud, keening wail that continued through the next hours as adults appeared from nowhere, people running back and forth, shouts, screams, me being passed from hand to hand down the stairs. I remember the haunted, questioning look on my mother’s face as she grabbed me and held me close, and I remember the atmosphere of blame, of singular responsibility.  My doing.

An eventual ambulance siren cut the afternoon, punctuating the drama. A hellish full stop.

…………

Howard was sent south to live with his grandparents until his parents had finished work for the season.

My mother and I left the castle in a taxi, my sister followed us alone. We never returned to Snedden, though in my heart, my memory, it remains the central pillar of a greater magic than I have experienced since.

We turned the corner, out of the castle drive, and the long road south opened up before us.

History

There is a certain resonant quality about the building in which I live. The stone and mortar vibrate with an historical irresistibility. My close friend, Alexander, says that history is a living thing; that the past cannot cease to exist. I am not always able to understand the things that Alexander tells me but in this instance I feel he is, perhaps, correct.

I live alone, but not alone. My life is made complete by my thoughts and imaginings.

I have another friend, Rebecca, who feels deeply. Some nights when we are together we hold each other tightly, frightened for each other. We make love and experience a strange relationship with the people who have lived and died in my rooms. Rebecca likes to watch me and imagine that I am an illusion created by the past. I do not mind this because I am dying, I am becoming the past.

Yesterday I went out for a while, but I could not stay away for long. The structure of the building in which I live has become the structure of my existence. I am part of its history and it has become part of my own body.

Alexander came to visit me. We sat in my small living room drinking tea with vodka. The curtains on the windows were closed. I like the quality of light that is created when the curtains are closed. Alexander told me that there are many things in the world.

“There are many things in the world, old friend”, his eyes looked at me with sadness, It is a shame that you will not see them all.”

“Tell me about them, Alexander.” I said.

“The world is full. The world cannot take much more upon itself Peter, so perhaps it is a good thing that you are dying. By leaving us you will achieve immortality, an immortality that will not be given to people like me, people who are not chosen to become part of the past.”

 

We sat in that beautiful, textured dimness, Alexander and I, drinking and sharing our lives. I wanted us to become part of each other, the way the building and I were, but Alexander said that it could not be.

“In the world there are many things Peter, but this thing is impossible. I am not like you my friend. I am not history. I would like to tell you why we are different but I cannot, that is not for me to teach you. Life is a strange and fleeting thing. We all must be different so that we may exist, each in our own time. You have a quality that is not given to many Peter, you understand life.”

I do not understand life; I understand only my relationship with myself.

Alexander told me many more things as we sat together. He filled me with joy and wonderment, and then he went away.

“I will not see you again Peter, you will be leaving us soon and I cannot be here.”

We wept on each other’s shoulders and we held each other close. Then he was gone.

Downstairs in my building lives a woman. She is not old but she lives a life from many years ago. Like a gipsy who has become trapped in one place, in one time. Sometimes she gets very drunk and cries for a lost love. I do not believe she knows love, I believe she is trapped within herself and can never understand what deep joy love is. A man lives with her and sometimes I can hear them having sex. Slapping flesh against flesh and crying out in their hunger, like two sea lions barking for fish. She is an ugly woman; he is an ugly man.

When I look out of my window I can see many other windows, like a courtyard of eyes looking inwards on many lives. There is a pain which comes from knowing you can never be a part of the substance of those lives. An ineluctable sadness which comes from a realisation of sameness. I watch the children playing in the street, laughing and fighting, perhaps having some real knowledge of truth but with no true understanding.

My own childhood sees so distant from me now, though I am not an old person. I am young but I seem to have lived a thousand lifetimes. My eyes are worn out from seeing things that none should see and my heart rejects this life which is my right.

The walls of my small domain are my comforters. I touch them and feel an affinity with their purpose. When men build houses or bridges or cathedrals they build them for practical reasons. They build these things without realising that they are building, creating, recorders of history. Without knowing that while forming these structures the structures themselves are being imbues with life, with history and with their true purpose.

Alexander once told me that everyone lives in the past because it is impossible to live in the present. A person’s reaction to stimuli, no matter how fast the reaction, is always after the event. For this reason, the past is the canvas upon which the present is painted. Being part of that canvas and thus being a part of history itself is a gift which is the privilege of few.

Rebecca also came to visit me. She wept when she saw me and said,

“Peter, I am afraid of what will happen.”

I told her that what will happen has already happened and anything we can do will only be an embellishment on what is already complete.

“You are a very wise man, Peter.”

I am not wise, I am merely a custodian of the past.

I had made some biscuits in my ktchen. We ate slowly and smiled at each other, communicating with silence.

As we consume thus we are consumed. We eat of the earth and the eart, in its own time, will have us back. An intricate contexture sould which could only be created by itself.

As we spoke with our eyes we became closer in our minds. Our thoughts merged, became one thought and, without realising it, we became a cliché, a pastiche of similar themes played out uncountable times. We touched. The flesh of her face felt hot , as if below the surface of her skin a fire burned fiercely, a conflagration within her soul.

“Peter, I am afraid of what will happen.”

And I held her, afraid also. Not for what was happening to myself but for Rebecca, whose isolation ensured that it would never be possible for her to synthesise this strange reality.

We removed our clothes so that no barriers would stand between us, so that our impurities would be visible and our desires in contact.

Rebecca stood and dance for me. Sensuality become flesh. She danced slowly, rhythmically, as if making love to the present. After a time we came together and she enveloped me, the fire within her body scorched me, hurt me. Our cries echoed in the darkness and we were absorbed by our surroundings, becoming part of the history that was ourselves.

As our desire subsided we held each other and cried for each other. We had performed a ritual of continuation, history was now within her.

“Peter, why is it necessary for you to die?”, Rebecca’s tears ran freely with my own.

“It is not death which is important but the sequence of existence. Although I die I am always existing, by virtue of my life and my relationship with the past. I am the past and I will always remain the past, even to those of you who continue to exist in the present. Therefore I cannot die, except in the basest sense.”

“But you will no longer be with me.”

“I shall always be with you Rebecca, you carry my life within you. Death is not a barrier, death is merely a transition from the present, which is the immediate past, to history, which is the everlasting past. If the very universe should die, I shall exist because I have existed.”

We ate some bread and cheese and slaked our thirst with strong red wine.

Not everyone is blessed, but many are blessed by association.

By candlelight we looked at each other once more and, with finality, loved again then parted for the last time.

Now I lie on my bed, alone but for my connections with the present, my memories and the memories of other lives lived. My thoughts are many and quick. I lie alone and watch the yellow moon which hangs outside my window. I look out on eternity and await the metamorphosis which must come soon. I think of Alexander, wise old Alexander who taught me chess and the essence of abstract. Alexander who cannot survive.

“There are many things in the world Peter, let us speak of them.”

And of Rebecca, who shared my love, shared my body, shared my existence and is part of my own history. Rebecca, who carries my life within her womb.

“Peter, I am afraid of what will happen. Please stay with me.”

I am with you.

Are You Listening?

It’s not stalking… not really.

I love you, I’m just scared that you’ll leave me and I know you know how much that would hurt me. When I stand in the shadows or sit in my car watching you, it’s just that I want to know you are safe, that no-one is bothering you, no-one is tainting you. I couldn’t take it if you weren’t in my life, I would have no reason to live. I need you to be there, in my eyes, in my mind.

Yesterday, when you bought that new top I knew you were buying it with me in mind. I watched you look at all the different things on display in the store I saw you touch the ones you liked and I followed you, looking at the things you’d looked at. I knew which one you were going to pick, it’s my favourite colour and I know it will look good against your skin.

On your way home I sat three seats behind you on the bus but you didn’t notice me, I was very discreet. I saw you speaking to that student type and I knew he was making your skin creep. I knew that laugh you gave him was hiding what you really felt… disgust. I wanted to come up behind him and hit him, I almost did and I knew you would have thanked me but we reached our stop just before I moved.

I love your house, no our house… I know it so well. I have been in every room, looked in every drawer. I have smelt your pillow, your clothes. I know what medication you take, how much your electricity bill is and what’s in your bank account. I know your friends, I know you so well my love and I know you know I do. I know that you feel me watching when you are alone at night. Why else would you look so inviting, why else would you do all the things that you do to make me feel this hunger? The preparations you take to make yourself soft and beautiful, just for me.

I think you liked the present I left you? The rose? I know you kept it and put it in a book. I was excited by the way you looked about you when you found it on your doorstep, as if you wanted me to see you looking for me… I saw you and I want you.

Soon.

Firewall

Wednesdays are the worst for me, they always have been. This is something I have never understood. Sometimes in my more contemplative moments I feel that God, in his infinite wisdom, has chosen that joy shall never steal into my life.

Today is Wednesday.

Here, I stand alert and anxious at the side of a busy road, waiting for a gap in the almost incessant traffic. It is my intention to cross the road and make my solitary way to the park. For relief, for escape. A gap appears but I find I cannot move, I am solid with fear. My mind is captured by a vision and in my imagination I see my own frail body crushed raggedly under the wheels of a speeding truck. My bones splinter and the ruined flesh sprays the laughing onlookers with blood.

A man pushes against me, reality intrudes and I turn to look. He is a large man, a worker with rough hands and a rough dull face. His marbled lips open and his yeasty breath fills my nostrils.

“I’m going to kill you.”

There is a screech of sudden brakes and a car horn rages. Somehow I am on the other side of the road looking back to where I had been as the large man shambles off, cursing and brandishing meaty arms like clubs, lost in his own anger.

In the middle of the road a car has stopped and a woman, red faced with fright, is shouting at me. She has forgotten to roll down the window and her lips move, forming silent furious words. As I watch, small droplets of saliva escape her mouth and spatter the glass barrier between us. The car moves off and I notice a small child in the back seat. I smile apologetically. The child looks through me and I begin to walk slowly towards the park entrance.

The pavements are filled with colour, with flowers and people and sound. The day is warm and sunny and an aura of life leaks from the open space, my destination. Laughter and music gain intensity the closer the gates become, as if within these fragile boundaries beats the very heart of summer.

An unexpected chill affects the throng, spreading like frost. The sun shines but a visible shudder moves through the crowd. Back on the road I see the reason. A procession of black cars is passing slowly, led by a hearse displaying death like a carnival float. The cortege follows, resplendent in tears and melancholy. I want to rush to the cars, bang on the windows and scream at the mourners,

“What are you doing? Who is this performance for, how dare you inflict your misery on us? Keep it to yourselves. We have no wish to share in your grief, it is not our grief. Why do you glorify death?”

But instead I stand immobile and silent, watching until the last car has disappeared from sight. Tears fill my eyes but it is with sadness for the lonely living. Sadness for the many who will never be so honoured until death has them in its greedy maw.

A stray dog passes, sniffing the ground. Suddenly it squats and strains and deposits a liquid brown mess on the ground. Flies magically appear and begin to gorge themselves on this unexpected feast.

There is no death.

I turn once more towards the park, joined by many in my isolation. I fear every new minute but my fear must be overcome if I am to continue to live.

Now I am inside the park gates. The sun seems more intense here and my chilled emotions begin to thaw. A smile moves my face as I watch the children play, chasing one another in a playful choreography. They have a freshness I long for, a certainty in their security; a shameless, innocent delight in the ordinary.

A small girl trips and falls near me and, as I bend to help her, I see learned uncertainty in her face. She is not sure whether to laugh or cry. I understand. Now she is on her feet. She rubs her eyes, shyly thanks me then turns and runs to her anxious mother, embracing gaiety with every step.

Beauty, and I am filled with emotion and the sad knowledge that beauty, inevitably, is temporal.

Near the river, in the shade of old willows, several couples stand and sit and lie. Busy with nature and touched by love, hate, passion. In my past I have experienced these things, yet always they have brought emptiness and pain. Eventually.

I have often felt that to be able to fully understand happiness one must first understand sadness. Now I am not so sure, perhaps they are he same thing. For some sadness comes after joy making the sorrow more intense and the happiness more glorious and unreachable. For some the sadness and agony come first.

There is a movement in a clump of bushes. A frightened bird cries out in panic and escapes through the leaves into the high blue sanctuary of the sky.

Some of the couples are startled by the bird and a man leaps out of the bushes running away. He is a young man, no older than I. A few of the men at the riverside leave their partners and begin to give chase, but the watcher is too fast. He wears a jogging suit and running shoes; he is soon lost in the crowd at the gates. Now the intimacy of the moment has gone. Their privacy tainted by the unwanted scrutiny of a stranger, the couples begin to drift away.

What drives a man to seek his pleasure in the lusts of others? But are we not all the same, do we not all collect vivid thrills watching others’ lives? I myself must endure his strange prison, this punishment of freedom. To watch but not participate, I myself am tainted by the intrusion of another.

I walk along the riverbank. Swans glide purposefully on the water like stately triremes, chasing morsels of food thrown by an old man. This old man seems incomplete to me, as if part of his essence is missing. He smiles and nods as I pass but inside the smile I see a longing, the frightening solitude of a human who is alone for the first time in his life. This man understands joy, perhaps too late.

The path leads away from the river now, towards the playing fields and I can make out the harmony of sport mixed with the excited cries of spectators. A game of football is in progress, a blue team and a red team. A child in red is running with the ball at his feet, two blue players are closing on him. A leg is thrust in his path but he skips nimbly over it. Three more yards and he kicks with his left foot. The ball flies away from him and soars past the outstretched fingers of the goalkeeper. A goal. The small crowd of parents and devotees roars as the team-mates of the boy in red descend on him, slapping his back and tousling his hair. In the eyes of some of the onlookers there is misplaced hatred. The blues are walking miserably back to their positions to begin again, another battle. A feeling of unrest radiates from the crowd and I hurry past, heading for a safer spot.

Crowds have always frightened me; they are not like anything else I know. A mass of humanity becomes inhuman in their collective loss of individuality.

I am approaching the pavilion and I hear music from a portable. It is happy, youthful music and I see a group of young people at the side of the building, the music is coming from here. Some of the group are dancing, some are just sitting. I notice that most of them appear to be drunk. There are empty cans and bottles strewn around the grass and some of the boys are drinking bravely, arrogantly. One of them is sitting on a low wall with his arm around a drunken girl. He is waving to his friends, calling them closer to watch as he pushes his hand up the girl’s skirt. His friends, male and female, whoop with glee and gather to join the invasion. The girl is oblivious as her boyfriend lifts her skirt to display her cotton knickers to his audience. Now he is pulling at her blouse, pushing up her bra, baring her adolescent breasts. Hands reach out to touch this rare pink fruit.

The girl suddenly coughs and vomits, spattering her maulers . The boys jump back and the girl slumps to the grass. She lies exposed in her mess and the boys return uncaring to their bottles and their music.

I look away ashamed, ashamed that I too am a necessary part of this petty episode, ashamed of my inaction, my incongruous reaction, ashamed of my life.

It is beginning to cloud over as I climb the small hill to leave the park. Others too are leaving.

An elderly lady is striding purposefully in my direction, her lips pursed in a permanent look of disapproval. She reminds me of someone.

Suddenly I am ten years old and I am looking through the drawers in my father’s dressing table. I am holding a picture that I have found. It is a picture of a girl; her hands are tied and are fastened to some sort of beam above her head. She is naked. There are welts across her ribcage and down her thighs as if she has been whipped. I feel strange looking at the picture, an unknown emotion is washing over me, making my heart pound and my face redden. There is a gasp behind me and my aunt bears down on me.

“You dirty boy”, she cries as she tears the photograph from my hands, “You dirty, filthy, disgusting little boy.”

She begins to beat me.

I know who the girl is.

She slaps my face, my legs, my buttocks. Her hands become fists and pummel. I am bleeding but she does not stop,

“How dare you, you little wretch?” the blows keep coming.

I curl on the floor but still she beats me. The strange feeling I had looking at the picture is still there, only stronger, more intense. The pain is intense too but somehow it makes me feel good, cleanses me.

I cry out. The elderly lady passes me, giving me a strange, angry look.

A woman asks if I am alright. She can see I am upset, embarrassed.

I turn from her and run. I run and run and run. Always.

Tomorrow is Thursday.