The Cilvil Partnership

The Civil Partnership

The photos of their big day showed them smiling and happy. Overjoyed, it seemed, to be underway as an item. The weather was good and the flowers looked great. The happy couple were surrounded by well-wishers. Like many young couples they moved in with each other to save money. Just like so many others they also have found the transition difficult. It being their first shared abode it has been an on-going struggle to separate their individual roles – neither being willing to be portrayed as subservient to the other. In that respect it was a very modern love story. A love story perhaps only made possible by changes that the previous Labour Government had wrought. After all, did they not introduce the law to make Civil Partnerships legal?

They separately and together drew up plans, just as all the marriage guidance books told them to. The plans included their aspirations for the future and how these could be achieved. It is not easy to put someones dreams ahead of your own. Particular attention was paid to where those aspirations crossed each other and therefore could easily be agreed on. However many areas, where no agreement could be reached, were quietly swept under the carpet to another, as yet undetermined, time.

Within months friends began to notice the cracks developing. It started, they say, with the vows, which were substantially altered. One objected to the word obey being used whilst the other insisted that mutual respect was a given and did not need to be said out loud. There were many, many other objections – too numerous to mention here – and the days seemed to go on forever without resolution. Many objections seemed petty and made for delays in getting things done.  In the end a kind of pre-nup was agreed so that no misunderstandings could take place. A lot of their friends became disillusioned at this stage and have never been able to forgive them for getting involved with each other in the first place.

There are many relationships that flounder due to their respective backgrounds being very different, however this was not the case here. Both were from wealthy families and had very privileged upbringings. Both attended first class schools, colleges and universities. Indeed, in certain respects, the similarities were striking. Their families were involved in banking and medicine at the highest levels, making them, if not exactly upper-crust aristocracy, then certainly top-tier middle class with some very prominent figures in their familial histories.

For a while the couple could fool each other and the general public but soon it became apparent that each saw things quite differently. Their meetings became less frequent; often this was characterised by friends, family and colleagues as being just part of their respective jobs – roles which sometimes saw each of them in different hemispheres. Indeed the friends, family and colleagues are themselves taking sides.

In time there were a number of public discussions that have led to disagreements and a bending of the wording of the pre-nup that allowed each to disagree but somehow make it seem that they didn’t. At present, it seems, they don’t even speak to each other any more. In public, where once they could talk the same talk and walk the same walk, their paths are diverging.

How long will this marriage last? Perhaps only Dave and Nick have the answer.

prose © copyright Brian Shirra 2012 / Image Link: Guardian Newspaper 2nd October 2010 article by Simon Head (Reuters 2010)

Chandleresque – excerpt

Chandleresque – excerpt

This is the opening of an as-yet untitled short novel that I have been writing on and off for the last year – it is Chandleresque as I just loved that style of storytelling and the movies that were made of those novels..

Please let me know what you think of the opening and the overall idea.

The Office Party (An excerpt from Chapter 1)

I knew it was going to be one of those days as soon as I stepped out of the cab. I stood on gum that some joker had spat onto the sidewalk. No amount of jolly good mornings from Joe the driver made up for me having to hop the last few steps over to the brownstone that had been my office for the last few years. I occasionally would look up at the six-storey to admire the architectural niceties that adorned the roof. Not today. The only gargoyle that I had on my mind was the lowlife that had messed up my shoe. I scraped off what I could of Mr Wrigley on the first cracked stone step that I came to. Unnoticed by me some dame was coming down the opposite side and loudly tutted at me. She loitered just long enough for me to get a good look at her. Her face was shrouded by a large green hat that may once have looked good on her when she was half the age that she was now. I could see just enough of her face to know that she was high maintenance, powdered with enough make-up to sink a battleship. Maybe that was it, she was going to war and I laughed to myself at the thought. Her hips were spread out to take the full weight of her green pleated dress. I’d say she was on the wrong side of forty, maybe even pushing fifty. In her time she’d probably given a few men a helping hand into poverty by agreeing a divorce at any cost. Not wishing to miss an opportunity for some fun I let out a low wolf whistle whilst staring at her, still rather shapely, legs. She didn’t disappoint and this time tutted even louder. I watched as she climbed into her cab. Settling into her seat she turned for the briefest of seconds and looked me right in the eye and there it was, a girlish smile: the payoff. We had both got something out of our little encounter. She went away happy with the thought that she still had that certain something that attracted men – and me? Well I was happy to get my first lie of the day out of the way. To me lying is an art form. Nobody ever got far telling the truth.

prose © copyright Brian Shirra 2011

The Psychiatrist’s Chair

Mr Picklethwaite put his hands together so that each of his slender fingers touched at their tips and, slowly and deliberately, his thin lips parted to release the obligatory, “mmm”. For as long as I can remember Mr Picklethwaite had done this on every occasion that I had seen him; you see he’s my analyst. Apparently, and I have this on good authority as a drunk psychiatrist once told me in a bar one evening, it is part of their basic training. They use the finger technique to show thoughtfulness about whatever their client is wittering on about and the hums are a way of amplifying this interest.

I have been having therapy for so long now I have even forgotten what I originally had it for. As each new session brings with it some new deep-seated psychological disturbance it is difficult to recall what I was like before I started. I suppose I might be what psychiatrists and psychologists call, “the nugget”. The expression means that my money has helped put their kids through college so that they, in turn, can screw up the next generation.

Mr Picklethwaite is tall and slim – or perhaps that should be, pushing six and a half feet and borderline anorexic. He wears a dishevelled, though at one time smart, business suit that reflects his personality in that it displays a faded elegance as if he once cared about fitting in and now no longer feels the need to do so. Perhaps by regularly conversing with loonies one becomes one. He wears little round, metal rimmed, glasses which he balances on the very end of his nose as if performing some trick at a party.

Anyway the point of my story is this; I believed that my psychiatrist needed a psychiatrist. That’s right you read it correctly. You see, that Friday’s session started just like any other. He welcomed me into his plush offices up town and, without waiting to be asked, I lay down on the black leather sofa. I knew the routine by heart and it wasn’t long before Mr Picklethwaite sat on the chair beside the sofa. He took no notes during our sessions. He once confided in me that I was such a special client that he preferred to memorise our discussions and complete the notes later. I suppose it also left his hands free to do psycho origami.

Each session lasts approximately ninety minutes. This is usually enough time for me to unburden myself of the weeks’ problems. Mr Picklethwaite listens attentively and rarely, if ever, utters a word. Today was different. I glanced at my watch and noticed that it was almost one hour since I had laid down there and, unusually for me, I was running out of things to say – perhaps I was getting better or, more likely, losing my memory. I sat up and said, “Well, that’s it, I’m afraid”.

The comment obviously threw him for a moment – sessions were not supposed to be drawn to a close by the client. This went against all of his experience, garnered over twenty-five years. Vainly trying to recall his training he swung his chair around to face me. I was now sitting bolt upright on the sofa.

“George”, he said. My name was William but he preferred to call me by my middle name; something about William being shortened to Bill and there then being an association with money (something that he always refused to talk about – his secretary taking care of all such enquiries).

“I don’t have many friends and, rather strangely, I do feel as though I can talk to you about this.”

Although flabbergasted I managed to stammer out the words, “Why yes, no problem”.

He insisted that we swap places. I stood up and manoeuvred my way to his still swivelling chair. As he lay on the sofa, his legs dangling over the far edge of it, I wondered what he was going to say.

“You don’t have to say or do anything George, just listen, that’s all I really need right now. Is that okay?”

“Mmm”

“I am having what one might call marital relations problems, George. Things have always been difficult with Darlene – sorry, she’s my wife George. She is fit, sexy and smart and, crucially, ten years younger than me.”

“Mmm”

“In short she wants much more sex than I do, George, and that’s one of the problems. You see I can do it – and I’ll spare you the details – but the effort has been affecting me in a rather strange way”.

I was feeling glad that he was going to spare me the details but I was also afraid that some other details were going to be made very public shortly.

“Go on”, I said, my fingers now automatically moving to form an arc.

“In short then, and I don’t expect that you will understand this, I keep shouting out various patients names at particularly critical moments – well critical for my wife that is”, he corrected. “It is as if I cannot get them out of my head and, needless to say, my wife is not amused”.

“Mmm”

“At first it was just the occasional name that I whispered to myself and, even then, at least it was female. Then one night I shouted out your name, George, and it just snowballed from there. My wife thinks that I am either going mad or having multiple affairs with nearly all of my patients – seemingly, regardless of their gender”.

“May I express an opinion?”

“Of course”, said Mr Picklethwaite.

“I think that you need to see a psychiatrist.”

I know that my advice was not too insightful but, as I glanced at my watch, I could see that I had been in the office 3 hours now.

“Mmm,” said Mr Picklethwaite.

It is three months since I last felt the need to attend my analyst. I feel much better about myself and I put that down to the fact that I have rather belatedly realised that we all have our faults – even psychiatrists. I didn’t even mind being charged extra for my last session as it had gone over my allocated time.

I recently found out that Mr Picklethwaite did eventually get divorced and also disbarred from practising psychiatry. He is currently waiting for word on funding for his sex change operation so that he can begin a new life with his trans-gender friend Bill.

Notes on World Domination

I remember a few years ago that I was watching a programme on UK television called Dangerman. For those of you who have never seen it because

(a) you aren’t old enough,

or

(b) you had better taste in the first place.

This was an old espionage agent type show where the clever spy (ie, our guy) always won (surprise, surprise).

Anyway the point of my story is that in this particular episode our hero was plotting how to stop some whizkid mastermind type from taking over the whole world and holding everyone to ransom. The dastardly foe was just on the point of putting his mega plan into action when, you guessed it, our hero intervenes.

To destroy a computer back then was not the easiest thing in the world. No, far from it. You see, one computer could occupy the whole building and bits of it were stored in several different rooms. Ah if only I could reach the fuse box our hero thought. Then I could just take the main one out. Drat! All that would happen is that they would replace it. How about starting a fire then? Nope, no good a fire alarm would sound well before any major damage could be done.

What then, could be done? Somehow he had to disable it and confuse it in such a way that it could not recover. Ah ah he thought, I have it! The director then proceeded to give the viewers a chance to see just how this was to be achieved.

Dangerman broke into the department where the main – and it seemed only – computer terminal was kept. He was careful to be as quiet as possible. He wore dark clothes. He wore dark gloves. He probably work dark underwear. He wore fancy blue spectacles (in case the computer would recognise him in future identity parades perhaps!). Stealthily he approached the primitive keyboard. Slowly he typed something. The viewer was not allowed to see just what he had typed until after the computer started billowing smoke and our hero had fallen onto his knees to crawl out of the room. The cameraman moved closer and closer so that we could see what it was. The screen was grey all over except for a glowing green text, spelling out just one word:

“Why?”

The cameraman moved out to show the lingering death of the computer amid smoke, chaos, people running everywhere and several rather tame explosions. We could rest in our beds now that the world was a safer place.

All children who came after this would learn this lesson. If you wanted to break a computer and stop a bad guy from taking over the whole world all you had to do was to type the question why? into the keyboard.

But there is always going to be one child who doesn’t conform to the rules. One that will grow up and decide that this rule would never apply to him. One day he’d invent a new way to stop a bad buy getting to the point of world domination. He would do it his way. He would invent an easier way to break a computer. He would invent Vista.

(please note that any resemblance to people or products, either living or dead, is entirely  coincidental).

The Good Boy

It was draughty where they were sitting. The hallway was cavernous. When the staff opened and closed doors or walked along the corridors the noise was deafening. The left hand side of her face was so cold she pulled her black shawl up close to her ears in an effort to keep warm. How could it possibly have come to this?

Her husband, Mike, sat opposite; his newspaper gripped so tightly that she could see that his fingers had turned white. She doubted that he was even reading it. Seth sat next to her reading a little book that he had picked up when they arrived. It was intended for younger children as there was only sporadic violence in it and just one or two death scenes, but at least he was reading something decent.

In spite of the embarrassment she was glad that they had come. She had been pushing for this visit for some time. Ever since the unsavoury incident at the school when Seth had decided that he ought not to kill the guinea pig but instead to set it free she had known that there was something wrong with him. Every other child had killed their pets without any bother. Thankfully the offending guinea pig had been caught by the other children in the playground and had been kicked to death. There followed an awful lot of gossip from the other mothers as to why Mrs Snyder’s son had thrown such a tantrum.

The first that the Snyder’s had known about the incident was a brief letter sent by post saying simply that they should call the school to discuss a problem with Seth’s work. The meeting consisted of brief details of what had happened and the resultant punishment meted out by the school. Their initial meeting was with Seth’s Teacher, Mr Thom. Apparently there had been a few other occasions where Seth was reluctant to join in, notably during the school’s annual bee kill in the local park.

“I am afraid that it is just not normal for a boy of eleven to – how shall I put this, without wishing to offend – show such a nice nature; especially towards a dumb animal. They are, are they not, simply here for our amusement? We may use them how we please. It deeply upset all of the other children. You must understand our position!”

Both Mike and Sarah winced at the mere mention of the word nice being used in connection with their son but they had little appetite for a fight with the school. There was nothing that either Mike or Sarah could say on his behalf. Each knew that Seth displayed some worrying characteristics. Just look at the amount of television and computer game violence he misses out on by insisting on colouring in.  They were asked to make an immediate appointment with Doctor Vogel at The Institute for Bad Behaviour.

“Seth is a very normal boy you know”, said Doctor Vogel. “He really is quite a charming lad and, whilst you may have concerns at present, I can assure you that he will grow out of this phase. It is all perfectly normal. He does have some rather unorthodox views about violence but these will change as his life experience grows. You wait and see.”

Saint Lucifer’s didn’t quite share the optimism shown by Doctor Vogel.

“We shall of course take him back, Mrs Snyder, but it will be on the understanding that Seth does not have a repeat of such nonsense”, said Miss Regina Valerie, the Headmistress. “We have our reputation and our standards to consider after all.”

The meeting with Miss Valerie was the last straw. Sarah convinced Mike that they must seek further medical help for Seth. They both wanted what was best for him after all.

Within a few weeks she received a letter inviting the whole family to, “come along for a fun weekend of socialising to The Institute for Bad Behaviour”. They had to arrive on a Friday so that their induction could take place. Here they would meet and greet the other participants. To Sarah it sounded just dreadful, to Mike it sounded like suicide.

“Why do they need all three of us?” He protested.

“Because they do and we are a family after all”, she said, raising her voice to make the point.

Mike had known Sarah long enough to know that it was not worth his while arguing further. After all it might not be that bad. It was a weekend in the country and it had been such a long time since he’d shot fish in a barrel.

The Artists House

Chi longed to be alone. He sat surrounded by the others and they didn’t speak. Chi breathed in a small and shallow breath for he had learned that to take deep breaths of the air in this room was not good. He looked up and saw the cigarette smoke spirals as they too tried to escape. The sweat dripped from the end of Chi’s nose and he wiped his face with the rag that he was holding. His forehead now looked like he had washed in oil.

The others were busy. They were always busy. He should be too. Chi glanced around the room. There were twelve of them; some standing, some kneeling. All were young men in their early twenties. At each of their feet was a little metal cup. There was little noise in the room, only the sound of hard-bristled brushes and pallet knives being scraped across cheap canvasses. Each canvass was ablaze with colour: sunshine brighter than the real sun, moons shining onto crystal clear water, flowers dancing in the wind, sailing ships speeding over rising ocean spray, people dressed in all of in their finery and all manner of exotic creatures that could be found in the remotest regions of the planet.

In the middle of the room there was a single light bulb hanging from a threadbare cord in the ceiling. Below this there were two buckets of water, one of which had a ladle in it. A small cooker sat in the corner at the far end. A large pot of over cooked rice sat on top with a large wooden spoon sticking up in the middle of it. All of his fellow artists were barefoot. The room was no more than a basic corridor in the factory, five foot wide and perhaps twenty feet long. The windows were wide open at both ends. Chi could see the fire escape leading from the window nearest to him. This was how he and the others arrived this morning as their living quarters were located on the ground floor.

Chi did not know what time of day it was for he had no watch – none of the men had. Instead the lengthening shadows of the sun on the wall would tell them when they could stop to eat. They were allowed five minutes. Most brought their own small bowl with them. Some had drilled holes near the lip of them so that they could thread twine through it and fasten it to their easels. The most senior artist, Li, would blow a whistle to say when they could stop.

Chi had worked at the factory for just a few months but had already established a reputation for providing good quality craftsmanship. The senior artist said that he had done well. Chi’s paintings were selling and the customers were happy. Chi received a pay rise so that his daily pay now stood at 50 Yuan (around £5.00). To get this amount he needed to finish at least 25 paintings each day. He wondered what Monet would have thought if he had known that his art was, one day, going to be reproduced in this way.

The senior artist declared lunch. All of the men rushed to gather their bowls and their little metal cups. As each passed the bucket with the ladle they quickly lifted some water and splashed it into their cups. Large puddles developed all over the middle of the room. The men waited patiently in line at the small cooker to get their rice then each returned to a kneeling position in front of their masterpiece. Chi did the same. He looked at the men. Each took great gulps of their water and then stuck three fingers into the rice to lift as much as they could into their mouths. It took just two minutes for them to finish off their rice. Fingers and bowls were licked clean. Li put his whistle to his lips and blew really hard. One more sunset thought Chi.

The Confessor

It unnerved me when George started to tell me about killing his family. It wasn’t the detail that shook me. I’ve heard worse. It was his demeanor. His words came tumbling out. He lent towards me, oblivious to my discomfort, and his lips were held slightly apart like someone telling you his favourite dirty joke. His mouth was obviously struggling with all that excess saliva for some had escaped and was now drizzling down his chin. Anyone else would have wiped this up immediately, but not George. He let it slip down his stubble like a spittle in a playground.

I guessed he knew the effect that he was having as he proceeded to make matters worse by relaying some details of his crimes. He began to say how, exactly, he had done the deed. I listened for a few minutes but, to be honest, it got pretty boring and I found that I had switched off when he started to list his ingredients: a length of strong rope, some polythene sheets, a knife or two and, the inevitable, rotating saw. George could see that I was unimpressed.

Sometimes George would suddenly stop talking; it was as if he had somehow lost the plot. I waited patiently to see what he would do. He began again but this time speaking much slower than before, choosing each word carefully. He was trying to give the impression of a man in control. Although he’d confessed a couple of times before he could never quite remember what he said the first time around. For example, he could not recall which of his little daughters he had strangled and which he had smothered. No matter, I thought, it will all come flooding back to him one day. I mean it’s not the kind of thing you’d forget, is it?

However there were things that remained constant in George’s story – like how he’d killed his wife. Barbara had been hanging up washing on the line in the back garden when it had happened. George had crept up behind her and hit her with brute force on the back of the head with his favourite, blue-handled, spade. She fell immediately and died within seconds with the blood spurting at least three feet into the air from the gaping wound that he’d created. George said that it took a full five minutes for him to retrieve the spade from his wife’s grey matter.

There had been no attempt to hide the bodies. George had just calmly walked into his local police station and confessed. He was immediately taken in for questioning. The motive, George maintained, was just sheer boredom. He hated his job, hated being a Dad and, most of all hated his wife. There was an element of what lawyers call, “malice aforethought”, or pre-planning about the murders. Nothing had been written down but George had replayed these events over and over in his head to the extent that when he carried them out he was on automatic pilot.

The main problem with George is that he doesn’t have a family. He has never been married and has never had any kids with any woman he has known throughout his entire life. In fact he didn’t stay in a house at all but lived instead in a single room apartment in a block on the South Side. George was not even George. His real name was Steven Pike and, until recently, he had been a broker with a large insurance company in the city.

Nobody is quite sure what made Steven become George or why he had felt the need to confess to crimes that were entirely fictitious. He’d had a complete medical and there were no underlying reasons that might have sparked off this sudden change in behaviour, such as, say, a stroke or something. At a loss as to what to do with “George” the authorities had a hearing and decided that he should be kept in a place of confinement for an indeterminate period so that his mental state could be assessed. In short he was locked up.

That’s where I come in. I used to be a practising psychiatrist until they sacked me for malpractice. You see I slept with a patient. It wasn’t my fault. It takes two to tango doesn’t it? She was beautiful and she led me on. Anyway that wasn’t the worst of it. I took to drinking too much and one day when I was out of my mind on booze and jealousy I did a terrible thing. I killed her husband and her two kids so that there would be no obstacles in the way of us getting together. I thought that she’d be pleased but instead she turned me in.

I knew enough about the system to avoid prison by pressing all of the right psycho-babble buttons and here I am in the same nut house as George or Steven or whatever the hell his name is. If you are good they allow you some recreation time. Sometimes this means that I get a chance to go outside and exercise with the other prisoners. This is when I practise. It amazes me just how many perfectly sane people are locked up in here.