There is a theory that says you can’t really feel until you have had your heart broken into little pieces. I wish that wasn’t true. Life would be a whole shit-load easier if we could just live it simple. Get born, grow-up happy, have a few spots at 13, get over that fast, have a first beer, enjoy it not puke it, meet a girl, awkwardly fumble your way into her affections, fall easily in love, live happy, have kids, work your job and be financially secure, get promoted, maybe to manager, but not too much responsibility, live just right, have a house in Guildford, go on holiday somewhere nice, every five years make that Antigua but in between Italy is fine.
With a happy smile on your face.
We’ve lived for millions of years now. We should be able to do this.
But God, the bastard, gave us the cruellest gift of all: the ability to think. So we turn thought into concept, into ‘what if’, into ‘I wish’, into comparative analysis: ‘what could I have?’ What is the total available set of options in every single situation in which I find my idiot self?
We think too much.
And that makes us sleep with our girlfriend’s sisters.
We see a different set of outcomes for ourselves all the damn time and that, is because this cruel bastard of a god—the one who gets a kick out of knocking down houses with earthquakes and hurricanes—gave us the gift of free sentient thought. We can never be truly happy with what we’ve got if we know, all the time, that it could be better.
And that’s why I had to have Melanie. Because she was like what I already had but better in a clearly definable way: I’d never seen Melanie sat on the toilet, I’d never seen Melanie in tatty jogging-pants scratching herself. Melanie and I had never had a row about the washing up, or about who, exactly, is responsible for emptying the stupid kitchen bin. I’d never had to hold Melanie’s hand while doctors put tubes into her to investigate ovarian cysts. I’d never had to check Melanie for lumps or spots or help her put cream on hidden stuff.
In short – Melanie was still ‘intact’. She was still perfumed and soft-skinned. New and explorable. And she looked a lot like her sister, my Ann – so that made Melanie better: just like what I had but unordinary. That’s why I had to have Melanie. That and the fact that she is Ann’s sister. It’s that simple – my rationalising, thinking mind demanded that happiness be obtained by fucking Melanie so that my love for Ann could be both tested and completed: I could have the ordinary, everyday Ann and the unordinary, occasional perfect version of her. A full set if you like.
Doesn’t matter who you are though, everything in life, and I mean absolutely everything goes to shit at some point. And the measure of a person is their ability to turn that shittiness back into happiness. To learn from trouble, challenge and disappointment. To grow.
Well, I can’t do that. I never have and I’m not sure that I want to. I don’t want to be a better person – I want to explore the shadows because: a) it’s easier to move on without guilt when no one can see where you’ve been, and b) its more fun there – around the edges is where the best games are. That’s just fact.
But what it also means, and here’s where I might actually be learning that I’m not as strong and unfeeling as I like to convince myself that I am: sometimes, often in fact, you can get pitched out of the insulated bubble of soul-consumption and get made to stare at the weeds in the pavement.
So, yeah, Ann found out and she left. And I drove home that night, after being with Mel, to find Ann gone. Right from the moment I pulled up on the street outside I knew that our house had changed. I didn’t need to see that both her coats—the daily one and the good one—had gone, to know that Ann no longer lived here.
I noticed her electric toothbrush had gone too. Yep, that was it, I was left. Of course, I knew that us breaking up was something we really ought to have done anyway—we wanted such different things from life—but I kind of didn’t want to split up. I liked coming home knowing that, no matter how short-tempered or impatient I’d been, Ann would be there wanting me to curl-up in bed with her. There is an awful lot to be said for the power of a warm body in your bed. Any body.
Now that was gone.
Melanie’s scent, her heat and my own warm smells were still on my body. The seedy cocktail smelt strongest when I walked into our bathroom to take a piss. I’d brought my deceit into our home. I was pissing betrayal near to her perfume, her shampoo. Taunting the small pieces of her that were still here.
Except none of her was. She was gone and I knew she wouldn’t be back.
And you know what? I sat on the edge of the bath and I tried to make myself cry. And nothing came, so I went to bed instead. I thought maybe letting bad dreams take a crack at opening up my emotions might provide the guilt release I was looking for.
But nope. Nothing – just sleep.
I woke-up at eight am, it was just-light in that lazy way Autumn has. I dressed and decided that I needed a walk. Headphones on, a wander. No aim, no place to be – I’d do a loop maybe, so that I didn’t walk the same ground twice. Just walking for the sake of forward motion. You see, this is why we walk: to get small. To become just a tiny moving thing on the face of the earth. To forget ourselves: disconnected lower moving half and restless thinking upper half. We walk to think.
This is why we walk.
I chose my sad playlists so I could be miserable.
‘Walk on By’ burbled in courtesy of the random setting.
And that, did it.
All hardness, all notion that I’d gained anything by pushing Melanie down onto her back dissolved like gritted snow on a dirty pavement. Heat built in the corners of my eyes and tears began to glub out. All I ever wanted was to love and to be loved and yet again I’d blown it. I began to shake with the rush of self-pitying guilt, blame and self-loathing.
But I forced my tears to stop, people were staring at me. Back of the hand only partially drying my embarrassment. So I looked for a quieter side-street and realised that I’d completed my loop, I was back at Vicarage Road. I wasn’t ready to face home again, so instead I decided to walk to the dead-end of my street, and go over onto the floodplains there, and stare at the puddles and try to decode in the wind-ripples some hidden meaning.
I’d need to cross the railway to get to the greenery and water. I wasn’t worried about the trains or electricity: I was worried about getting done again for trespass. That was a £1000 fine and to be honest self-pity can be wallowed in for far less – a bottle of Jack Daniels is what? £15?
I stood and stared at the hole in the fence beyond which the rails ran. I remembered that £1000 fine I’d got four years ago. Ann and I had been seeing each other for just two weeks and her flat was on the other side of the rails and over the floodplains. No one ever gets caught trespassing on railways lines, not outside of a public information film, so when I did – Ann and I both took this as some sort of mystical sign from above that we were supposed to be together: not even British Transport Police and a thousand quid I couldn’t afford could keep us apart.
It kind of seemed funny at the time. It probably was funny, to us at least. But now Ann had left me it seemed less so.
She caught me and Melanie by chance. She’d driven over to Mel’s house yesterday evening because she wanted company – I’d already told Ann that I’d be out with Chris and Mark, neither of whom have seen much of me for months because every time I’ve been-out-with-the-lads, I’ve actually been-in-with-the-sister.
And then Ann must have seen my car at Melanie’s. Our car actually – we shared it, we’d bought it together, pondered adverts and tramped around half of Oxfordshire, and some of Berkshire, together to look at car after car. The consideration we’d put into spending a shade under ten grand, now that I think about it, was touchingly middle class and laughably grown-up ‘Lets get an estate car so that we’ve got some room for when, well y’know – when there are more of us to think about.’
So now there was our car parked outside her sister’s house when it should have been parked outside Mark’s place.
Ann called Melanie’s house phone.
Inside, in the candle-light and above the music-to-have-an-affair-to-CD that I’d burned – we let the call ring onto the answerphone. I had Melanie bent kneeling over the sofa, I held her arms behind her back: small wrists that I was able to clutch tight together in just my left hand.
We heard the machine click ‘Hello, my little sister’ I knew this tone ‘I guess, you must be out enjoying yourself–I hope you’re not with somebody else’s boyfriend as usual.’ I was impressed by Ann’s controlled reserve – she knew her boyfriend and her sister were in the house fucking and instead of storming in she kept cool and calm. That took some strength. It was attractive.
The message seemed to tilt Melanie over into someplace more animal and she flicked her body so that I would be taken deeper inside. Thoughts of Ann dissolved and my total focus was on Melanie’s captive wrists, consciousness then went and instinct and programming took over. I wanted to fuck her, to take and hurt and to leave my marker – we both knew this was going to be our last meaningless muscle contraction together but we had class enough to want to enjoy the classic big finish – time for triumph and breathlessness, and soreness and bruising and tiaras and flashbulb bursts.
After we’d finished and dressed in silence there was a ten second-moment at the front door in which we established the rules for what would come next. Done, dusted, put away into memoryville – she would make-up, eventually, with Ann but I would never get that chance. Blood, water, etc.
And then I got home. Missing coats, missing electric toothbrush.
And back in the here and now: I stood and looked at the gap in the fence, and saw that the stupid co-incidence of the trespass fine had been nothing more than that: dumb stupid luck. It meant nothing. Nothing meant nothing. Ann and me had proved itself to be just paper and dust. Right then, and now with the noise of moving metal distant on the tracks, I realised that I loved Ann. Proper deep forever love. But I’d lost her, hurt her, destroyed the bit of her that was me and that was us. The quiet in my headphones ended and was filled with the mocking/soothing/sad opening of ‘If You Leave Me Now’, and that’s when I decided to step through the fence and that’s when I decided to stand in front of the train.
© Richard Koworld, 2008
This is why we walk by Richard Koworld was read by Stephen Butterton at the Liars' League "Feast & Famine" event on Tuesday 13 May 2008.
About Richard Koworld: Written a play, chuffed with it, hawking the bastard right now. Wrote a book about shops which keeps me in pies and Happy Shopper cola. I like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Also kung po chicken. Richard is old enough to be your Dad and probably is.