ASHES OF INNOCENCE
© Crocodile Productions
"I'm going to sign you off school for another few weeks. It's
very important though that you don't get to far behind in your
work. I'll ask for some exercises to be set and sent through to
Dr O'Reilly was sitting behind his large oppressive desk. Grey
hair gathering in curls around his gills. Pale pasty face and
saggy sad eyes looking out at the world through a soft face and
temperament that had seen every extreme of human excess. Child
Psychologist. Fiftyish. Overweight. Tall. Grey suited. Kind and
quiet. Gentle Irish lilt to his voice.
"What is actually wrong with me Doctor."
The white walled room, windowed with Georgian sashes that framed
the south facing window, light filling the room with hope. The
incongruous Venetian blind, a mechanical turquoise colour.
Probably left over from another office somewhere else in the
health service. Worn out grey cord carpet, lots of little
troubled feet no doubt pacing before the Doctor's perceptive
glare. Listening intently to the good man's questions before
venturing a thoughtful pause followed by an attempted answer,
followed by another patient quiet question. Each time angled more
acutely at the source of any observed trouble.
"Nothing serious. What do you think is wrong with you?"
Every question I asked he answered with another question. Never
said anything or made any comment. Never answered anything. Just
another question. Grey pinstripe suit. Probably thirty six inch
waist. Looked like Marks and Spencer. Shirt was ordinary white
cotton, with button cuffs. Tie was a bit different though.
Probably a present. Probably Y fronts and a vest. Even in June.
I came here once expecting to find Dr O'Reilly and have our usual
one hour session of not very much at all. There instead was a
young Woman. Probably twenty five but it's hard to say. I was
only thirteen. She asked me all sorts of questions about women
and what effect they had on me. I got an instant little stiff
thing to worry about and had to sit there answering every dream
`How often do you play with yourself?'
What kind of question was that from a decent young lady?
`What do you think about most when you play with yourself?
Does your winkle get hard spontaneously in the morning?
In the evening?
All the time?
How many girls have you kissed?
Do you find me pretty?
Would you like to see my body?'
The occasions after that encounter when I played with myself
there was only one series of images in my mind. All the wicked
things I would do to her rippling writhing body and the little
sighs and sounds and whisperings as I left in her the (I hoped)
indelible impression of me. That madness that would engulf her
as she realised the desperate nature of her predicament. Me
thirteen. Her nearly twice my age. Her heart lost to an enfant
terrible. An uncaring sex devil who used her only for the
contents of her body. In fact she just made me more aware that
there was something wrong with me.
"I don't know. Maybe I'm ill."
Always he hesitated. The silence that he left always allowed the
possibility of some further comment to be made. I never did make
one but I always thought of one. Most of them were about Belinda.
Long gone. And no doubt settled in her existence where ever it
was that she was existing.
"I think most of the people I have met have some disorder or
other. Whether it be physical or otherwise."
He always looked so sincere. He was sincere but there was
something about him that made me think that he was madder than
the rest of us.
"Do you ever think about your Father?"
I was sailing along thinking about Miss bonkable. Her of the
wicked questions and winkle stirring wiggly form. My own mast
heading skyward in a blood pumped attempt to pierce the sun. Then
this bloody question. Launched at me like a force ten gale on an
afternoon in august. Spinnaker dragged under the surface and
pulled forever downward by the turmoil of the sea that tugged at
halliards and shrouds. One tangled around my foot pulling my
waving arms under the engulfing surface. All the memories of his
demise. Of the form that pinned me down, concrete beneath and
warm puke above. The madness of the months that followed. The
arguments with Mother.
"But I heard what you said to him."
The very words had been in every part of my mind every day since
"I heard every word. I know it was your fault."
I shouldn't have been surprised that our relationship crumbled.
She and I just as distant as two people could become and because
we had been so close. Now if I could only tell this man may be he
could unravel all the secrets of death, tell me that it wasn't my
fault and make me believe it just like no one else could. Maybe
he could fly me to the bottom of a grave and introduce me to the
worms that part the soul from the body that holds on to life as
the last thread of reason. Could show me the splinters of the box
that gave way beneath the hunger of the white maggots in a black
I will tell you.
Let you know just how it feels to be dragged through hell with
your balls on display and every devil that ever was laughing at
you from the side lines. Tell you how the insecurity etches into
the landscape of your life and leaves the world illuminated by
fear and loathing.
"It may be that it doesn't trouble you at all."
Where's the bloody silence?
The one time I need a break in endless twaddle to think about the
answer I need to give him and he meanders on like a goldfish in a
new pond. And for almost the first time ever a statement that
doesn't have a have question mark at the end of it. Why do we
break new ground today?
"I think that's all we've got time for."
My mind screams but my lips stay frozen to each other.
"Open lips, open when I tell you."
Nothing. Nothing. Absolutely bloody nothing.
I'm left sitting while he's already standing waiting for me to go
and I have so many things I want to say.
To whisper confidentially to an understanding ear.
To have the smile remain as I tell of the varieties of death I
have constructed for my Mother.
He's standing waiting for me to go.
My silence in his hand with my coat.
"I'll see you in two weeks."
"Yes." All I can manage.
I leave my tail and my intestines between my legs. My memories
surfacing again like the dreams that live in my mind every night.
That rob me of the sleep I used to end in their arms. In amongst
that smell. In between the covers they warmed with their
contented laughter. In the laughter of the bed cover monster that
lived in my Father's mind and that surfaced every morning in his
bed to wring the giggles from me and get me to that sighing point
of too many tickles. The songs he roared around the house.
Memories of a boy to frightened to remember.
To scared to think.
I left and made my way down the familliar path away from the man
who nearly forced the hope into me with an extra thirty second
pause. To the bus stop.
Four miles was no real distance then. I could walk that without
noticing. It's greatest effect was to make me aware of the
country around me. The whispering trees and the laughing sheep.
The soft grass verges, the empty open sky. I may well have had
my only untroubled moments whilst walking. Often there were
no cars for hours. Just a country lane and my feet.
Two weeks later.
The same chair. The same pair.
He and Me.
My past and his future all locked in mortal combat. I wished that
his future would win. Let him make his reputation saving me. I'll
allow that. Even thank him for his part. Just, only, please,
whatever it is you forget make sure that it isn't the silence
that follows the question he has to start with.
"How are you?"
Oh my god Why all this mundane rubbish?
Just ask the real question you've deliberately left me stewing
over for two weeks. The one that has made me invent new words
that describe what I want to do to my Mother. How loudly I'd like
her to scream as I metered out the justice that God and his
creation would be to weak and mealy mouthed to allow me. How long
it would hurt. How cold my stare would remain. How quickly she
would regret what she did.
"Have you been feeling any better?"
Ask. Go on ask. I'll answer quickly. Won't keep you waiting a
second. You'll just trip over the answer almost before you've
finished asking the question.
"Oh dear. Now today I'd like to ask you all about your brothers.
Now how many have you got?"
What the hell is this? I'm dying on the couch just waiting for
this expert to give me artificial respiration. Bring me back to
life. Unburden my soul. Give me the gift of light and sunshine
and warmth and he wants to talk about a collection of dropouts
known as my brothers. I could be telling him about the real part
that counts and that useless shit wants to know all about the
games we played.
"Cowboys and Indians?"
Missed the bus again. Started the walk. Four miles. Nice day. Who
cares? Ideal opportunity to perfect the ground glass in the
grouse idea. Need two bottles to prevent detection. No point in
being messy. Taking any risks.
Then holy of holies. On my own and walking.
Tatty jeans T shirt and concentration wrapped around me.
I saw her.
Walking in front of me. Blonde. Long legs. Staggering legs.
Where on earth could they go?
Page boy lemon fresh blond hair.
A bounce in the walk that had my thirst buds tickling.
My jaw falling.
My pace increasing. The wall rushing by me as I walked as fast as
Overtaking. Words in my brain.
Half formed and witless. But there and dangerous.
I would never dare.
Surely. How could I ever dare?
What on earth could overcome the shyness that stopped me from
getting up at my bus stop and ringing the bell being the only one
that day getting off there. That made me sit there until the bus
got eight miles beyond my destination to it's turn around point.
That stopped me saying anything as the driver threw me off
demanding the last few pence I had in my pocket which I gave and
he put in his. Why couldn't I bring myself to ask him for a
receipt. The bastard put it in his pocket and drove off. What
could now overcome the force of barbed wore manacles that had tied
my hands and tongue?
Five feet five.
Legs and bouncing jiggling buttocks.
Excuse me. Would you go out with me?
I can say it. I will say it.
I did say it.
She said no.
But so nicely. Already going out with someone. Couldn't we walk
I nearly told her of the imminent danger she was in of me losing
my virginity all over her any minute without her even knowing. We
walked and the little thing inside me that pumps the blood and
beats and stopped in my throat when she appeared made it's own
way over to her and was lost.
The questions poured out of me. The answers slow and steady. Like
the sunshine. Even and lovely and everywhere and generously.
I buried the name inside me within the storehouse of meaningfull
words that so far contained. Father, Mother, hatred, death,
desolation, betrayal, Belinda.
I'll stare at you and remember every detail about you.
I'll count the hairs upon your head and write a different song to
every one. Record every word you say and listen to them again and
again until the sleep that I haven't found in so many years would
finally become mine.
We passed your house and you went in and I walked on, my head
still spinning and my life in turmoil again. I'll see you
tomorrow. I had said. Fine. She had said. Fantastic I had
thought. Now I wondered if I had been imagining things.
The next day there she was. There I was. There we were. and
walking again and slowly this time to her house. My unerring
confession upon my sleeve. My lumpy swallowing loud and the sweat
between my buttocks nerve racking.
Again we reached the house.
Again we said goodbye.
Again I danced home this time singing a song I had heard
somewhere before. In my youth? I couldn't remember.
"You only sing that to hurt me." Mother.
Guilt in my upper mind.
Love in my lower mind.
Lust in between my legs and Sarah in my mind's eye.
The next day and then the next and then the next and then I was
waiting in the usual place and she came strolling around the
corner with him on her arm.
I was gone.
Disappeared from the field of their veiw like a cat before a car.
I couldn't complain. She had said. Made it quite plain that there
was someone in her life more important than me. But to show me.
point out so cruelly that I was deluding myself if I thought I
could shake their relationship. They were a couple. That much
even I could see.
My Father had always been mean about pocket money. He once put it
up but said a few moments after telling me the good news about
the increase that from now on it would have to cover bus fares. I
became worse off but walked so perhaps he was right. Perhaps I
should thank him now for forcing me to enjoy the walking. However
much I got I started saving it. Putting the pennies in a greedy
golden pig. Earning extra by doing odd jobs around the house for
Mother. Frantically gaining as much as possible.
`I'll show them' was the thought that kept the money falling
freely In the slotted backbone of my avaricious animal.
I had chosen the thinnest steel long before my saving had
got to a serious point. Had picked the sharpest shapeliest
shiniest stiletto I could find.
`I'll show them the toughest true love. How it tares and troubles
at you like a vulture tugging at the tightest leg muscle.
Gradually neck bending the elastic flesh into ripping free.'
Four pounds of months of saving and waiting and dying every time
I saw them. The anger bubbling in the cauldron in me. Black and
evil and craving blood.
It was March.
People were coming home from school in the dark.
I was waiting.
Behind a hedge just before her house. Just at the point where the
hedge and her garden wall met.
The first night I couldn't do it. Nor the second.
But the third.
Inside me the cauldron was boiling. The lust for pain and the
teeth gripping lip flaring anger breathing through my teeth. The
corners of my mouth savage and straight.
There they were.
Arm in arm.
Side by side.
Love beside love.
They'd never know how my anger made the ground beneath me tremble
and slip. They'd never have feelings enough to pick up the mental
earthquake that was rumbling through my sanity.
Anger boiling bubbling rumbling up and out. Now Now.
Do it now.
I gripped the handle of the knife in one hand and the blade in
It was cold.
The tension greatest and making me grip hard.
The handle gripped in one hand. The silver slither blade in the
other. Between the palm and the first joint of the fingers.
Gripped tight and tightening.
As they got passed me, my body shaking I slowly withdrew the
knife, blade slicing cleanly through the flesh on my hand.
Tightening the grip as I drew out the knife.
In the cold the pain was not as great as I had hoped.
Somehow It hadn't made me feel physically my mental madness at
their luck and love and laughter.
Just wetness. And lots of blood.
I turned the knife around.
The lust for my own blood uppermost in my mind. The shaking of
the angry blood-red head.
I raised the knife a foot above my own chest.
Her figure disappearing under the streetlight at the corner and
the knife following the line of shadow of my arm and into my
When they found me just inside their garden wall. I was barely
conscious. The loss of blood and the cold.
They asked: "What?
I answered. Too embarrassed to tell the truth. The police came.
Six stitches in hand.
Three stitches in chest.
Police hunting the savage brutes who did this.
My terror growing.
A dream of bars from the inside of a police cell. A policeman
standing over me saying people were being murdered while we
wasted our time.
Children were dying.
There have been few mornings that have felt like that one.
O'Reilly. In front of me later in the day. Soft sincere voice.
"This is terribly serious. I'm not sure quite what to do to
prevent a prosecution. It may not be possible. I've tried getting
in touch with your Mother but she seems a little uninterested.
Now it may be necessary for you to go away for a while."
"What do you mean?"
He was looking at me down his eyes. The knotty nobbles and
wrinkles around his face a tribute to the seriousness with which
he tackled every child. His greyness greyer than ever I had seen
him. His sadness seemed to reflect out of the central vortex that
stood as a column in the heart of him. I could picture him
with his wife an a Sunday afternoon. The papers spread across
a large mahogany table in an old farmhouse dining room.
Everything chintz. Solid woods. Old sideboards. Ancient family
leather sofas. Leaded windows. Gardener twice a week. Lawn
clipped along with the hedge. Everything carefully placed in his
well ordered world. Sad little world bounded by the troubles of a
troubled younger generation that turned to him and never allowed
him the benefit of full knowledge.
There was a week in between. A grim grizzly week of
recriminations and tears and frustrations. The anger in my Mother
was quite uncharacteristic. So had been the anger in me.
Dr O'Reilly. "I'm afraid that there is no way out. They'll
prosecute for wasting police time. I don't think we want you to
have a criminal record. It would not be a good start. Not if it
can be avoided."
What would Father have said? What would he have done? What would
he have made of my dilemma? Would he have approved of the passion
that I felt or would he have washed his hands of me as Mother had
So I packed a small suitcase. A bag of me. My life. The things,
whittled down to the barest essentials by the size of the case. A
shirt or two. A pad of paper. A pen. Pyjamas. Trousers. Two pairs
of socks. Two underpants. Some handkerchiefs. A bible. A book of
Elliot's poetry. The Koran. A bit of a book- Spike Milligan. I
didn't weep or cry or wail. By the time my Mother and my older
brother took me in to the Hospital I was prepared. Ready for
whatever awaited me.
"Nuthouse." They'd told and teased me.
"If you go in sane you'll come out balmy- just look at the
Doctors. There's no way out it's all padded cells and handcuffs.
They took the piss. Wound me up. I was fourteen and terrified.
There was no way out but by box. That was my information.
My Mother drove.
It was dark.
She said nothing.
I said nothing.
My brother spoke of this and that.
We stayed silent. If Father had been alive he would never have
come here. Would have found this too near the truth of what he
Fully conversant with the anomalies of a sanity that is based on
The drive was long. Bounded by big black trees. Darkness and
shadows around the car followed slowly along the tarmac road.
1933 written all over the building. What a year that must have
been. The car came closer to the car park. Mother slowing. I
didn't see much that night. It was dark. All I could see were the
faces that haunted me in the dreams I inhabited every night. The
leering laughing faces that looked at me with a painful
disdainful eye. That caught the weakness of my confusion in an
instant. The car park was small and in front of the long two
story building. A foyer in the middle flanked by long lines of
windows stretching in each direction. There were no bars that I
could see. Mother and I walked in through the door. No word
between us, no sound other than the silent slipping of our lives
into different worlds. Both full of tears and troubles and
touched by the hand that thrusts us all one day into nothing. I
carried my bag and my brother stayed in the car.
Sign in front
we followed it to the door on the left.
We waited as he spoke with someone else in a white coat, then as
he left we entered and stood in front of his desk.
"Don't tell me, you're Christian." He said proffering his hand
as he slowly stood up. But the tallness of the man made it seem
like ages before he stopped. That great white sheet, tall and
billowing. Stretching up in front of us and topped by wavy black
hair and brilliant, shocking, white teeth.
"Frank is my name. I'm the duty nurse and I'll look after you
tonight. Now you must be mother. Please don't worry your son is
in the safest hands. Dr O'Reilly will be in to see him every day
and keep us all on our toes. Is there anything you want to ask
"No. I don't think so."
"Well you'll need to know about the visiting hours. You're
allowed in to visit between six and seven in the evenings. Only
two visitors maximum per patient, and please check any gifts you
bring in with the duty nurse. Just to be sure you understand."
She didn't ask one question. Our distance had grown at both ends
and the only person in the whole world that knew me and all of me
and all the rotten bits and all the nearly rotten bits and all
the good bits and wonderful bits and fantastic bits and
embarrassing bits and still had a chance of loving me turned
round and walked without a backward glance.
Not a look.
Not a touch.
Not a glance.
Nothing, just the coldest click of the heels of the warmest
person I had ever met clipping, clopping down the polished hall
till the gravel rubbed her soles and lifted her into the car and
took her out of the troubles that were me and off to the home she
Frank took me round. The long hall that ran right through the
centre of the building at right angles to the entrance and off it
the dormitory. Each bed beneath a window, next to a hanging
cupboard and by a radiator. A name and a clip board at the end of
each one. The curtains thin and pink flowered. The floor hardwood
and highly polished, the walls white. I unpacked my things into
my cupboard and followed him out and into the next room. Roughly
the same size but lined with sitting chairs, a television in the
corner, a coffee table in the centre and magazines on it.
"This is where everyone on the ward relaxes."
The faces around the walls were anything but relaxed. Fear crept
out of every drugged, weary eye. Greyness everywhere.
Out and into the hall pointing further down.
"Those rooms are consultation rooms. They're not for the use of
patients unless with a member of staff."
Then back through the rooms along the other side. The dining
room, then the kitchen, then the loo block and bathrooms, and
then back to the foyer. Around the entrance six black easy
chairs, plastic and veneered wood. Then back to his office.
"Now Christian. It's very important to us that you make a speedy
recovery but we must all appreciate that you are ill and you do
need to be safeguarded and to do that I will need to take your
shoe laces and belt."
I removed them, handed them over.
"You'll get them back when you leave. This ward is for people who
are depressed and who have made an attempt at taking their own
lives. It is an experimental ward in that we are trying
pioneering new techniques involving drugs and electro therapy.
These are proving very successful but you may find that some of
the sounds that you hear during the night, and daytime as well
for that matter may be a bit alarming. Don't worry."
His introductory talk went on and on. I drifted off into a cloud
of my own imagination in between Sarah and Belinda my own
dumbstruck desperation rubbed between their warm kind bodies.
Their whispering in my ear and their hands in my hair. My face a
serious grimaced line of pain rubbed by the wonderful women I
worshipped. The boiling water inside me cooling to a stillness I
welcomed and wanted.
"............stay up in the sitting room or go to bed?"
"I'm very tired I think I'll go to bed if you don't mind."
"Fine I'll take you down there."
Peeled and then pyjama'd, pee'd and popped into bed I watched the
window frame above my head glow white in the half darkness. God
was suddenly real. Prayer was relevant. I prayed, knowing that
the son of scripture would never help me, his neediest victim, I
who had read the whole thing cover to cover had found the length
of truth to be to short to reach my agony. The certain ceiling
surrounding the hanging lights with chords cut short, my eyes
fixed and penetrating trying to pull the plaster from the joists
to show me the magic of the almighty above.
Father held my hand and led me without words to the staircase in
the middle of the building and stopped as I walked on alone again
up the stairs. Unknown corridors and dark rooms leading to an
open door and a room full of white coats and spectacles. Dr
O'Reilly sitting in the corner Sgt Ryder on his left and my
mother on his right. They were talking and took no notice of me.
I was led to the white plastic covered operating table in the
middle of the room and as I lay down I saw that same ceiling
swirling above. Someone took my pulse, another my blood pressure.
I lay terrified as Dr O'Reilly approached still talking to my
mother and the sergeant. I could hear no words just saw his lips
moving and his face laughing around those big decayed teeth as
his head came closer to mine while he attached electrodes to my
head looking occasionally at me but mostly at the pair in the
corner. More electrodes then straps around my chest, arms, legs.
Tight straps that bent the bones towards the bed. Another around
my forehead. Field of vision set by the movement of my eyes.
Looking at every corner in my field. Eyes wide. Sweat meeting the
strap around my forehead and trickling down. O'Reilly back in the
corner and another white coat counting, his hand on a switch,
then moving then the savage pulse that unzipped my nerves and
coursed through every blood vessel inside me and made the
greatest of my strength strain against the straps that held me
rigid and still. The silence in the room was shattered by my
scream, the blood emerging around my gums as the pressure for
death built up inside me till I wanted to burst. O'Reilly looked
over at me then shrugged his shoulders and carried on with his
conversation. The switch flicked again and the strap around my
left arm drew blood. The muscles in my neck tightened and
straining as the current searched me for a home and my voice
searched the room for a fellow human who would care enough to
turn it off. Above me the face of my father appeared. White and
deathly shaking from side to side. No sound from his lips. Just
the silence of his death. I screamed to him to help me. Help me
father. For god's sake help me. Switch me off. My voice as loud
as the lunch gong at home. That great crashing meal announcer
that we took turns to swing at telling the whole street what we
were about to do. But as he carried on shaking his head my world
turned yellow and the straps to hands and my father's face to
that of Frank and the figures around me to the figures of my
fellow inmates and my chest rose from the bed in panic for the
last time as realisation of my dream hit home hard. Through the
tears that filled my eyes I am still sure that I saw the same in
Frank's eyes. I am sure that he knew how little boy frightened I
was. Grey shorts and school cap, goose bumps on cold legs and
bullied frightened. The yellow edges to my world faded and the
nightmare started all over again but in silence as they all
drifted off. Panic over and relief in their eyes. Frank brought
Imprisoned in a silent loveless world.
I woke around midday. There was lemon coloured sunlight streaming
in through the open window and spring freshness and the smell of
lifting dew. I lay for ten or fifteen minutes unmoving in my
bedlike spider's web. Waiting to be preyed. Then a white coat.
"You're awake," Not Frank.
"I'm Greg, Frank's gone off duty so I'm looking after you today.I
hear you caused a bit of a fuss last night. Well I'll have none
of that. None do you hear?"
Come back Frank.
"Now you've missed breakfast but lunch will be in about an hour.
Dr O'Reilly came in earlier. He'll come back tomorrow. Now if you
don't mind I think you should get dressed."
I got dressed. Down the hall into the dining room. everyone
there. Silence as I enter. One table left. Tray, plate with
silver tin ring round it, plastic fork the only cutlery. Mushy
peas insipid green and running in water, shepherds pie, yellow
potato and dry mincemeat. Glass of water. Sit alone and eat.
Feeling full of the staring looks that were around me and
detached by the wearing off sleeping tablets. Cold lonely. `Next
time' I thought, `I wouldn't miss. '
Tinned peaches later I left and walked along the corridor to the
main door and stood in the freshness looking out. In front of me
was the drive that last night in darkness we had dutifully driven
down. Black tarmac to the privet hedges at each side. Not so
long as darkness had stretched. A grassy green in squares on
either side of the drive. four park benches around each square
and in the centre a wooden four sided bench with a small roof.
Painted pure white. In front at the end of the drive a road that
went right through the grounds of the hospital. Off to the left
to the main building and to the right through a gate house to the
main gate. Seventy acres of grassy beech treed retreat. On the
other side of the road the main field. On the field and to the
left of the entrance to the drive I was in was the Shipton
building. A large hut with lots of glass, staffed to serve
subsidised tea to nurses and inmates by charitable ladies. A few
hundred yards beyond was the main block. A large redbrick
building bearing `1933' everywhere. Wards and outbuildings and
bike sheds and maintenance sections and boiler rooms and staff
rooms and paths and corridors. A mass created to deal with
something in mankind that was beyond mankind and his kindness.
All along the path and in the grassy squares and on the playing
field and sitting on the benches and in the Shipton building and
in every corridor, in every ward, in every room stood or wandered
or sat and smoked and talked or chewed alone, together and still
alone the weary of the world. The mind gone into retreat. The few
who saw reality, who touched it, who felt its evil rub and wore
too thin at the seams and like my little blue letter from Belinda
faded into small selotaped squares of tear stains and grey coats
and long beards marked by spit and nicotine and tinged by grey
worry. Ill fitting trousers held up by hands constantly tugging
at them. Some talking to their own heads, some inside their own
heads, some just old and weary and worn. Not a smile of joy just
the odd grimace that echoed the shape of something I remembered
from my childhood, a fat broad grin on the face of the whole
family as father chased us round the garden, his arms pumping
like a windmill and his lungs ripping into the air with the power
of the monster that grabbed the giggles as we left them on the
grass and in the air. These though were only the shapes on faces
muttering to themselves about nothing and as often as smiling
they would be weeping and then laughing or shouting then
whispering state secrets to a non existent listener. Electricity
racing through the centres of their brains pushing their faces
into this shape and that shape, twisting and contorting and
twitching the muscles in a disordered order as they muttered on
in silence and to no-one. Old and young men. Old women and young
women. Men and women in between. Some were husbands and some were
wives. All were broken in some place and some way by something
that crept up too quietly to be heard and had been made to think
too closely about the part that twists into the itching lunacy of
wringing hands and constant frowns.
Now I was standing on the edge of their world, a voyeur, envying
their knowledge of this secluded place. Their "I give up" head
nodding statement that marked them as inside out. I was watching
their comfort in their knowledge. They were, I thought far better
off than those left to wonder about it's sanity. They knew.
They'd been there and found it to be the truth. We who were left
apparently on this side of the line could look over and see them.
But we remained this side of the line and in permanent agony.
Never really knowing anything more thoroughly than the questions
we were given when young to beat ourselves with.
I walked slowly up the drive passed the Shipton building trying
to become accustomed to my new world. At the main building a fat
lady came up to me. My first contact.
"You're my child." She said.
"I have seventeen children. You're one of them. How are you
seventeenth? Your father was God and I your mother was made an
I fixed my thirteen year old determined gaze ahead and walked,
the palest panic in my mind into the main building and passed
reception slowly down the long hall. Resolutely demonstrating
that I was different. I was not one of them.
I was me.
Right round the main building then across to the social therapy
workshops, then through the nursery grounds, old men and women
everywhere, then to the chapel. Flint, cement and stained glass
God just couldn't keep away, had to watch the agonies of his
people and his creation. Had to sit and maybe smile knowing that
the side of society that had got the sums right were no longer on
the outside but were crouched in the grounds crapping or
muttering or pissing or talking. The barriers were to keep the
world out and away from this idyllic spot. I walked on through
the occupational therapy buildings and back to my own block.
In the foyer four or five were sitting in the easy chairs
talking. They stopped as I walked in and started as I left at the
other end of the foyer. I went to the sitting room. Empty cups
with tea dregs in. People silent. Sitting watching the screen in
front. I sat down and picked up a magazine and pretended to read.
They all looked ordinary enough. Not bonkers or mad or staring or
doolally or even stupid just sad. All of them as sad as I had
felt so often. The adverts kept time with the afternoon and the
six o-clock news gave a view of `sanity'.
All the while no-one said much. A few made comments to the people
sitting next to them but there was no discussion. I walked the
grounds again, saw more of my fellows and with frightening
unfailing regularity they were each similar. Like the common cold
sickness in the brain seemed to have recognisable symptoms. Then I
was back in my building for supper, then a short unsatisfactory
relationship with the television, then a walk around the building
then the drug trolley trundling round. A cup of cocoa and then
half a dozen words after I'd got up I was going back to the
dream world I had inhabited and back to the cackling laughter of
Breakfast the following day. Silent and going sulky then O'Reilly
and a half hour chat.
Things were fine.
Yes making friends.
No no problems.
Yes sleeping okay.
Carry on with the valium, triptizol, no more sleeping tablets
unless no other choice.
You will see other doctors.
Two, three months.
No visitors yet?
Try and relax.
No, no word from your Mother.
See you tomorrow.
Then out I came and sat in the foyer. Contemplating the glass and
the rain beyond.
I turned. There was a man of about forty. Very thin. Dressed in
old trousers and a check shirt and over that a green cardigan.
Kind eyes and skinny neck too thin for his head and shock of
"Ian's my name." His right hand extended down to me, wrist
wrapped tightly in bandages.
"Christian." I shook his hand.
"Yes I know. I looked you up on the register. How are you getting
"Well fine I suppose. It's a bit difficult to say really."
"You mean fucking awful. Go on be brave. Tell the truth. I'm a
regular here I know just how I felt first time I came in . How
old are you.
"Bloody mad sending you here. Want a fag?" Baccy tin
"Thank you." No kindness refused. No idea how to roll a fag. Not
even how to start or even how to smoke it.
"Here let me." He took the apparatus back and created a perfectly
"Thank you." Smoke clouded around us with his friendship hanging
"What brought you in here then? So young? Try and do yourself in?
Don't worry, that's what most of them are in here for. Some are
just too old to be anywhere else but most took a pot shot at
themselves and some bastard stopped them. There are a few that
are fucking lunatics and should be locked up. Most though just
want to resign their commission. Opt out."
As we talked others came over and joined us and the conversation
grew. I even laughed a few times. Ian was blessed with a
wonderful wit and just sitting next to him made me feel like I
had some reason to be alive. Frank came on duty later that day
and joined us in the foyer seats, laughing and joking like Greg
could never do.
"Greg's a mean bastard." Ian told me. "Likes winding patients up,
see if they'll snap and how loud the noise will be when they do.
Bloody sadistic shit."
The days began to drift, people arrived, people went. The world
stayed outside. My visitors stayed at home and I thanked them for
it. I made several friends. Ian. David a mechanic, married with
two young children. Richard, a fairground worker with a small wiry
body and toughness in every tight muscle in it. In under a
voluntary order for threatening violence. Paul a huge soft farm
worker from Petworth with greasy black hair and a white face
left pock marked by youthful acne, in for letting the pigs out.
"More intelligent than most of the farmers, the average pig." He
would say. "How dare they lock them up?"
He'd break down walls, tear up fences, smash down doors, do
anything he had to to let them out. Their squealing on the other
side as they made off into the dim dark distance and he stood
there in the moonlight, up to his ankles in shit and laughing.
He was caught and threatened violence. He volunteered to come in
for tests. Now the man he had threatened had asked for a
compulsory order. If it were granted he would be put in a secure
ward. The thought terrified him. Greg loved that and tormented
him with it as he did all of us with something. Us more than
the others. Ian was right Greg belonged in the hospital as a
After about two weeks a visit from my Mother.
"How are you dear?"
"Fine thank you."
"Do you need anything?"
"Just some money."
"Yes of course how much do you want?"
It was a short conversation accompanied by our own footsteps as
we made our way around the grounds.
"Have you made any friends?"
"Would you like me to visit you again?"
"If you'd like to."
"Would you like me to?"
"If you enjoy it."
She didn't come, just sent money through O'Reilly.
"I think she found the circumstances and your fellow patients a
little too much to cope with." O'Reilly said.
One morning I met another suicide attemptee, Barbara. Slim but
with big bosoms and about twenty two she and I built a sort of
shaky friendship that was more like a rope bridge in across a
canyon in Ceylon. Like the ones we saw in the films, always the
hero going last with the ropes going ping all around him but
always staying up just long enough. On Thursday afternoons those
near enough to sanity were allowed out. Barbara and I always
walked up into the hills behind the hospital. Hardly saying a
word. Just every now and then a `thank you' as I helped her over
a stile or gate. Then at the top we'd settle down to lie back and
watch the clouds. After two or three weeks I fell foul of the
temptation between my legs and started to try my luck. I watched
her stand at the other side of the canyon and cut the last few
cords and then watched the rope of hope fall below me, the boards
bashing the side of the cliff face beneath.
My only other contact with a woman up to that point of being in
there was Richard's girlfriend. Somehow or another she managed to
see him every day. met him somewhere in the grounds and regular
as the little carriage clock we had at home they'd spend their
time in each other's arms nibbling at each other's ears. Trying
to climb down each other's throats. On the few occasions we
prised them apart they told us about themselves. She came one
day when Richard was undergoing some treatment. She and I sat
together in the Shipton building.
"What do you think of Richard?" She asked.
"I like him, I like him a lot."
"Are you as innocent as you look?" I must have frowned. because
she added quickly.
"Don't believe appearances. he's got the fastest temper I know.
Flares up when anyone else would walk away. Wouldn't hurt a fly
though, just a lot of noise and bluster. Like most men. All willy
and no prick."
"Am I really innocent?"
"At you're age if you weren't it would be tragic. Come to that I
don't know what the hell they've put you in a place like this
for. You're as sane as anyone or at least you were, now I can't
tell. Everyone's the same now. All bloody mad. Why are you here?"
Her eyes were looking into mine as if she owned me. Big and blue
they burrowed into my head in just the way O'Reilly would have
liked to. Getting right down to part that masturbates at night
without moving the covers. That hides the little gasp that the
little thirteen year old plonker would have pulled from my lips.
Looking right inside me.
"Wasting police time. I tried to kill myself I think.
Then I told the police I had been attacked and they insisted I
"How long will you be here?"
"I don't know. They won't say. I don't think they know."
"What do you think of it?"
"You get used to it."
The routine was beginning to become hypnotic. You could think but
you didn't have to. Nothing was compulsory. The grounds were
large enough to lose yourself in. The world was small enough to
always find you.
Richard was due to leave the following Monday night. It was
Thursday evening we were in the foyer the five of us talking.
Greg came along.
"Going back to that little tart then Richard?" Ian was seated
opposite me, Richard on his left next to the window and Paul
opposite him, next to me. Ian's eyebrows raised.
"What?" asked Richard.
"I asked if you were going to go back to that little tart of
yours? After all now that every one else on the fair ground's had
her I thought you mightn't feel so strongly for her."
"Her name is Mandy." His voice surprisingly calm.
"Yes well I know that, so do half the hospital porters. She stays
on after visiting and gives them a good time. You know relieves
the pressures of the working day."
Richard sat quietly. Trying to take no notice.
"Where did you go today Christian?" Ian asked me.
"Don't be so fucking rude interrupting us when we're having a
conversation. She's quite a good fuck I believe. I don't know
personally. Never been there, after all you never know what you
might catch. Not in the likes of her."
Richard sat saying nothing. Jaw still and set. Wiry body tense
"What's the matter, cat got your tongue? That'd be a real shame,
you'll need it with her. I hear she likes a lot of that."
"Likes sucking cock though. So I hear. That's a good sign."
Eyes shut Richard silent. Greg drifting away.
We went in to supper. Sat in silence thinking about everything
that Greg had said.
He came towards our table.
"Next time you shove your tongue down her throat just think about
what was in there before you. Probably not much before you
We finished our supper quickly. My heart was thumping like it
used to when we would scrump apples from the old lady next
door. Richard was sweating. Four or five days to go everything to
lose. We resumed our places in the foyer Ian telling jokes about
the people he'd seen that day. Time passed but Richard sat with
his elbow hard on the window ledge and his face hard against his
clenched fist. No laughter from him, not a sound just the bubble
of the anger inside. I felt he wouldn't take much more before
he boiled and lost all control. Greg appeared.
"Have you met the occupational therapist Richard? He seems to
know your young lady rather well. Most of the intimate parts. His
description of her upper inner thighs was very exciting. We all
tossed off a few times to that one." Richard was getting up.
"Going to go for me are you? You'll be here a while longer then."
Ian's calming hand brushed away by Richard's own.
"Leave it mate." Ian said. No reply from Richard. Just turned to
"I don't think she's worth it. A little slut like that. You'd
never keep her satisfied."
Froth at the corner of Richard's mouth.
"She bangs like a wombat. There's no stopping her."
The anger boiling over. The stove getting hotter. Greg turning
up the gas.
"Riddled with pox though. It's a shame."
The moan from Richard's lips beginning. Long and low and getting
louder. Facing Greg full square. Madness in the eye of sanity.
Fists clenching and unclenching. Eyes still tightly shut.
"Must be getting to her brain by now"
The moan turned into a roar as Richard grew physically, the
lunatic power in full swing and the tattooed forearms behind those
rock hard fists. Sheer terror in the eye of the nurse as Richard
swung turning his body full circle and landing the fist against
one of the six by eight inch plate glass windows. The fist went
through and then through the next and then the next. Six in all.
The jet of blood from his severed main artery hit the ceiling and
the walls and was struck in the first pane. By the sixth he had
several rips in it. Greg gone into nowhere. Then Richard running
out through the open front doors. Blood following him but nothing
else. I ran out after him Ian calling after me not to it was
I found Richard on one of the benches. I took my shirt off and
used one of the sleeves to bind the upper part of his arm and
stop the flow of blood. I sat next to him his head on my shoulder
tears falling as fast as the drops of blood. My arm around his
heaving frame. We were cold and warm all at the same time.
I could see the blue lights flashing from a long way off. Heading
towards us and stopping on the grass in front flooding us with
their winking flashes. White coated warders heading our way
bearing a white jacket with straps.
"It's for his own good." One of them said to me handing me my
shirt. Function fulfilled by a rubber tourniquet. Richard now
just meat, live but restrained and in the power of those proved
to be corrupt.
I walked back slowly to the ward. The stirrup pump that had
blasted the blood of Richard all over the ceiling had left it's
red stain over the innocence laughed at by his girlfriend earlier
in the day. The stains were still upon the floor the ceiling, the
walls. The holes in the shattered glass like the holes in the
feelings of those who watched the door shutting upon the night
The next few weeks were difficult. A letter came from Mother.
I hope that all is well with you. We are all fine and
Thinking of you a lot.
I enclose a cheque. I'm sad to hear that you now smoke.
Why? It's such a silly habit. You'll only have to give
it up one day and then you won't thank me at all.
Any way I won't deliver any lectures now I know that
you're beyond my influence.
I know that we haven't been getting on as we used to.
Your Father's death was the start of that. The tension
though has got to stop it's spoiling my health and very
clearly is not good for you. Perhaps when you do come out
you should go to stay with your uncle George. He would
welcome you I know and the male company might be welcome
from your viewpoint as well.
Let me know your thoughts. All of mine are with you.
I showed it to Ian.
"I suppose she does love me. " I said.
"Don't be daft. She wants rid of you mate. Wants you out. She's
got some fancy man in. Mark my words. Given up on you. I reckon
you should get out."
She visited me every night in my dreams. Came strolling up the
drive with love in her arms and happiness in her hair smiling and
laughing like the world was the wonderful place it once seemed. I
was right in that she had the love in her arms and the happiness
in her hair but maybe that's why she never came. Always stayed at
home and did whatever it was she did. Kept them both safe
Then the order that was filed against Paul was granted and they
came one afternoon to take him away. Two or three days later I
It was a small room with about seven people in it.
"I'm used to being outside." He said.
" I can't stand this. It's going to drive me bonkers They're
going to drive me mad.
They strap me up every night.
I used to walk at night. Stroll around the downs. Get to know the
real world. Now they strap me down like a wild animal.
No-one hears my squeals."
The windows were locked shut. The unit was secure. There was no
way out. They had covered every possibility of escape. I tried to
calm him down. Only short term. Behave, you'll be out with the
rest of us soon. I didn't believe it. Neither did he.
O'Reilly the next day.
"Your friendship with Paul. How close was that?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"Look it's really no good both of us asking questions. I am here
as the interviewer and you as the interviewee. Now please I did
Always his calmness intervening and working around me.
"We are very close, now please tell me why you want to know."
"Did you go and see him last night claiming to be his brother?"
"You know that patients are not allowed to visit other patients
in the secure wing don't you?"
"That's why I said that I was his brother."
"Please don't do anything like that again. He broke out last
night. Opened a window that was bolted shut and padlocked. Just
ripped them off as though they didn't exist and then jumped.
Three floors. He survived. Only a fractured collar bone where he
bent the bars and a broken leg when he landed."
"What will happen to him?"
"He'll be put in a place where he can't harm himself."
"You mean a padded cell?"
In all I saw five or six attempts at suicide.
They all failed.
Each one saved by the system.
They each served to point to the agony of sanity. To be
condemned to it would be worse than the padded cell. With each
one, as well a little more of the mystique fell away into the
coal dust of last night's fire. No longer could the shocking
turns of being a teenager be anything other than boring and
something of a let down. After life and death had passed before
me so frequently the odd tiff and upset were bound to seem
I had been in there for three months and my progress was
described as good. June was beginning to tell the world about
what she and her later friends had in store for us and the
temptations to leave were tinged with an addiction to the
A card from Sarah.
"What are you doing in there?
When are you coming out?"
Mother came to fetch me.
"You're sure about going to stay with Uncle George?"
"Well I've moved all your stuff over there but I'd like you to
come home before we go over there. I've got someone I'd like you
to meet, his name's Humphrey. He's been keeping me company, he's a
Ian's ironic eyes were in front of me. Fancy Man. Keep her
amused. How could he have known?
The last three months flashed passed me. All that had happened.
The deaths, the marriages, the attempts at both. My occasional
crisis. One in particular stood out.
Alone and in the grounds and in the early days, waiting for the
emotions to subside. To sink into calmness. I looked again at
that chapel. I overcame my hatred for it, need was stronger than
even my hatred.
Seeking the comfort within I tried the door. It was locked.
Even the church had locked me out.
Out and down and out.
The whole sky above me, a need in my heart and not a God in
Only my overcoat.