Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Last Whale

Chapter 2

After only two pints and a bit of banter at the local that evening, he’d made his way home a little early.  Jane was still out when he got there. She stayed away these days as much as he did, following the executive tradition of working late followed by a couple of drinks before returning home to bed to sleep.

A small smile of irony surfaces as thoughts about how unsatisfactory life had been pass through his mind.  It was just like the smile that used to come back then, in the quiet or alone moments. It’s funny, when you look back, those thoughts, the unsatisfactory ones you had at the time, never stayed around for long. They threw themselves up like a little package of doubt and were gone in an instant. He had always known what was in that package really, but had chosen not to inspect it too closely. Were they really right together? Was he doing the right thing? Why was he so useless in bed these days? Why didn’t they do it so often any more?

It went on and on and had been deliberated over so many times before without any feasible solution presenting itself, that he had condensed them all into a fleeting passage of well known frustrations that came and went within the space of that involuntary smile.

It made a change to be home early.  He mooched around the flat and threw a cushion here or a magazine there and convinced himself that he was tidying up.

Before he’d thrown off his newly decorated jacket, he’d glanced at himself in the bedroom mirror. There he stood, beard, ruffled mop of auburn hair, tie at half mast and work suit bedecked with a new motif incongruously and awkwardly placed on his lapel.

The short pile of the jacket material was proving too flimsy for the sticky back badge and it was already coming loose from its’ moorings. Spurred on by the enormity of his good deed and the haunting possibility of change that hung in his mind like a tempting carrot, he’d dared to imagine the muted colours and home knit pattern of the no-sleeve v’neck sweater and had his jacket off and other things on his mind in seconds.

The ship rolls again and with it takes a tide of memories covering the eventful two weeks that had followed.

Frank turns on the bunk and huddles down to sleep against the metal wall.  The memories are still there and he delves deeper into his past with the interest of a man restoring his life lovingly on film, and, like films, drama can wait around the corner like shark at the beach.

Almost involuntarily now he remembers the days before she happened. He’d been working as normal for a few weeks, becoming more and more interested in some definite aspects of his articles. There was the one about the self styled Guru of Breath who believed that the air is the carrier of the true self, and that as we breathe we can experience our lives with each turn from in to out as fully as possible.

He’d been quite charismatic and talked of unblocking past emotional traumas with such a casual and everyday air that Markham had found him quite interesting. Digging up the past wasn’t his idea of fun, but actually the prospect of improving ones lot in life was proving awfully tempting.

Increasingly the idea of becoming whole, happier, began to pound at his mind like the sea at the cliffs. Some of these people being interviewed certainly looked happier than the guys at the office, and spoke with a sincerity that, on the face it, started to make the normal moanings and groanings of life seem less important.

After talking to someone about divining and sitting in a corn circle in Wiltshire, Markham found the clogged ashtray of his car and the re-entry into London’s’ choked and stinking streets a poor comparison of lifestyles, even when you considered that these people might be nuts.

Where did they find the time, and the energy? Most of them weren’t rich, and yet they didn’t seem to complain but rather enthuse about new ways of doing things.

It reminded Markham of those old country programmes that used to be on T.V. when he was a kid.  Jack Hawkins or Higgins or whatever his name was, ambling along country lanes and detailing the magnificent specimen of fly used to catch a really good trout. ‘Out of Town’ that was it!

He’d also had to admit that the issues coming out of the normal channels where environmental disaster loomed over pond and planet alike, were beginning to make him more upset. Oh the regular culprits were to blame; the government and councils that, with typical sixties unawareness, secured their decisions by robbing Peter to pay Paul. For example, building over local beauty spots to create a much needed flyover, or allowing foreign trawlers to fish nursery banks near the shoreline. Where did they think next years fish would bloody well come from?

Just when it all began to look like mess and disaster, he’d come across some loony idea and zoom off to a homeopath or healer and afterwards come back with a little more well being or humour than when he’d left.

Of course it wasn’t all that way. He’d drunk some bloody awful teas, sniffed rose oil and essence of bark and listened to some mindless lectures on what seemed like contortionist self agony, and hadn’t enjoyed or believed in any of it.

Not only that but there was usually some inexperienced salesperson around who tried to convince him that he could lose weight through a series of expensive concoctions and a multi level marketing plan. Less beer would probably do the same job and he’d save money.

One afternoon he’d been invited to strip down to his underwear and lay in a tank of salt water where he’d be deprived of sight or sound for an indefinite period of time.  It sounded to him like the sort of thing they did to captured spies!

He declined on this occasion, but it wasn’t easy, something was eroding away part of his resistance to new ideas and it seemed to persist with its own growing hunger. He began to feel like a man that has just finished a well known high street burger. He was still hungry for food!

Whatever it was, he decided that for now he should keep it at arms length and not get too involved. No one he really knew thought that any of this was of interest. The boys at the pub certainly found a lot of fun in his exploits and the odd social occasion proved that the majority of the world had enough scepticism to help keep a realistic grasp on things.

So it was that after a few months he’d decided that reporting like this may be light interest, but it didn’t make up for the rush of an exclusive or the fight for facts that he’d been used to before.

What he really wanted was to get into some muck and spread it around a bit. To this end he’d decided to spend a few days looking into the hippie or groupie therapies that were lurking at the back of peoples conversations during his interviews.  These seemed to be the more extreme examples of ‘inner exploration’ and although the people that he’d talked to about it would tell him how great they were, Frank had done some reading up on such meetings and found that they were usually reported to involve group sex or drug running related stories.

The common ones linked in this way were mostly three day seminars, usually concerning a minor deity or guru holding meditation weekends.

He'd found one that the old expenses might cover nicely. A weekend in the country with a not so well known group of enlightenment specialists, “A Weekend With Dieter!” The spec read as follows:

‘One of the most beautiful experiences in life is to share with each other. This weekend is an exploration into how we relate to others and ourselves. Dieter is one of the worlds most experienced and renowned therapists in the art of self discovery and the path to self knowledge. This weekend will hold a host of possibilities to allow us to discover the true love and depth of awareness available to us all.’
Fee:  ,500.00 inc board

It came accompanied by a picture of a beautifully smiling and happy, pretty girl. It was dated for the weekend after next, and, following some intense negotiation, which included re-establishing his job spec, the expenses were granted and the arrangements made.

When booking his place on the group Markham hadn’t told them that he was a reporter.  If muck spreading was to be assured, then the less anyone knew of his true purpose the better.

The next two weeks passed along the same lines as before and Markham rested a little in anticipation of the possible scoop to come. The day before he was due to drive out into the wild green yonder, he’d decided to call it a day early and drive home to pack.

He spent the afternoon sorting out woollies and the loose clothing he’d been advised to bring, had a bath and truly put his feet up. He cleaned around the flat and lazed in the armchair reading for a while.

At about six, he realised that Jane would probably be home for eight and decided not to call her at the office, but make her a special meal as a treat.

At eight he was all done. The table was laid and the fruits of his labour ready and simmering. At eight thirty he pondered on the wisdom of not calling her and phoned in to see if she was on her way.  The answer-machine gave no joy and by nine he had eaten on his own and was just clearing up when Jane arrived.

He heard the front door and the slump of her shoulder bag being dumped into the nearest chair.
“Hi I’m home”
“Hi, where have you been?”
A customary peck.
“Only the usual, couple of drinks, bit of a chat, you know. How was your day?”
“I cooked you a special meal, I thought you’d be home earlier.”
Jane slumped in the doorway to the bathroom, her lithe form contorted by the tired slack of her hips to one side.

“Oh, thanks, don’t talk to me now darling, I’m just too tired and I need a bath.”
She’d always been a good figured woman even though she was really quite ordinary to look at.  Frank remembered how she could sparkle for him and how long ago that really seemed. Glancing at her slim legs and curved hips aroused a frustrated memory of when she used to come to him. He stopped himself from thinking about it and turned away, defeated, back to the kitchen. Thoughts like those would do him no good when she was this tired.

“I’ll heat it up. It’ll only take a minute and then you can have a bath and really relax.”
She appeared at the door jamb and leant against it.
“How was your day?”
Frank talked above the scraping of dishes and the door of the fridge as he tidied up and made ready a portion of lasagna for the microwave.
“Oh the usual, I took the afternoon off to get ready for tomorrow. I thought  I’d cook a romantic meal and get us in a nice mood. Maybe we could still go out and have a drink before bed?”
Jane eased herself off the doorpost and slumped to the tap for a drink. He could hear the bath running in the background.
“Not tonight, I’m too tired.”

She was so offhand that it niggled him. He’d gone out of his way to prepare a nice nest for her to come into and his hopes had been fermenting for hours. He looked at her sideways as she tipped back her head to drink. All his ambitions and excitement were downed, and as if on a counterbalance, his fears and frustrations began to rise to the fore.

It seemed ages since they last got it together and she was always there to buffer him whenever he did try an approach.
“Well when do you think we will be able to get together then?”
She had obviously been waiting for this moment, and dreading it. She stopped drinking and leant heavily with both hands on the sink.
“Please, don’t start,”  her jaw was instantly tight and her determination not to have a conversation or argument clear as crystal.
Frank however couldn’t resist. Now he felt guilty for mentioning it at all, his blood was up and compulsion took the reins.

“You spend more time on your job than I do on mine. I thought I was supposed to come home to a willing wife once in a while, not wait for a bi-monthly permit from the agency in order to commence normal relations.”

This was always the way it started. A worn out record that both of them had tired of. She ignored him, spilled out the rest of the glass into the sink and turned on her stockinged heels for the bathroom.

Frank continued to fuss around the kitchen. He could feel his temperature rising and didn’t know exactly why. She’d turned her back that way before, many times. Whenever he wanted to talk or share she just didn’t seem to be there. He was tiring of the game, and the hurt, he felt out of control and his badly battered pride was like a dented tin can. He swallowed, scraped his plate into the flip top bin and then froze. His lip tightened, he was bloody well not going to stand for it any more!

His slippers clung to the lino as he strode heavily from the kitchen and across the hall to the bathroom, plate and knife still in his hand.

He held his voice in check as he reached the door.
“So what’s happening Jane? We always have this argument and we never talk about it.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“What do you mean nothing to talk about. We don’t fuck, we don’t talk, what the fuck do you think we do do?”
She was cleaning her teeth. He could remember it so clearly now. He was always the first to lose his temper and she always responded with silence. This time it WAS going to be different.

With the onset of his outburst he could see the emotional floodgates opening before him, a tidal wave of emotion building for a flood. He wasn’t sure if he was going to go all the way this time, (whatever that meant), but then at the beginning of an argument, he never was.

“What do you think normal people do?” He stepped into the steam standing two feet behind her and felt it cling to him like a chilling shroud. “I’ll tell you what they do, they talk and they relate, and they FUCK for Christ’s sake. What’s the matter with you, don’t you have a sex drive anymore...
At that point he’d caught her eyes flashing up into the mirror staring directly into his and he knew.

His world imploded. All his outgoing temper collapsed in on himself to be replaced by the absolute and undeniable truth radiating through every pore. His mind reeled in the uncertainty that his stomach knew as truth. His breath seemed to stop and the world stood still as if an hour had been captured in a second. Looking back on it, it seemed that it was the fact of being so blind, so conned, that brought his temper flooding up and spewing forth, finding no resistance at all.

The pain, like an electric boulder in the pit of his stomach seemed to be driving his brain as he dropped the knife from his right hand and in one movement threw his palm straight for the back of her head.  She’d ducked, (she was waiting for this day, how long had this been going on?) turned, pushed past him while he was off balance and made for the bedroom and the safety of a locked door.

Frank had re-balanced and followed on her heels, blind and intent on catching her. What he would have done had he caught her he had no idea, it just seemed that he wanted to catch her, to kill her, to stamp out the last few moments as if they had never existed. Perhaps it was lucky that he had only found the hard and unyielding gloss work of the door and that his pain and temper had been vented in his banging and yelling rather than on her own person.

Whatever it was, he was glad now that she had come to no harm.

After he had broken most of the memorable items of their life together that could be found around the lounge, he’d sat on the sofa and shaken with contained rage and suffocated pain.

It was two cigarettes and a large whiskey later that Jane had emerged from the bedroom, run for the front door carrying a small suitcase, and bolted from the flat. By the time that Frank had heard her open the front door it was too late to stop her. He sat and stared at the gaping hole that let his world flood, irretrievably lost, into the outside chaos, and then he doubled over, and cried.

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