CHAPTER SIX

 

'That's a relief!' thought Michael, as he shut the door to his room and flung himself down upon the bed.  'I've just closed the chapter on five-and-a-half years' service to a firm specializing in classical music examinations.  I'm free at last!  A brisk handshake with the manager, last thing this afternoon, settled the matter for good.  From now on I'll have to condition myself to another life, another world, and bury the past.  I'll have to work hard at my writings over the next few months, do something creative for once, utilize my time constructively.  By Christ, I should have enough to write about!  A dream become reality.  I wanted to dream about being a writer, so I dreamt about it.  The time was ripe for dreaming because I was so far removed from the possibility of actually becoming one, so deeply enslaved by the conditions under which I was then living, that the dream served as the basis of an intention I subsequently proposed to enact.  For a while the dream was more important to me than its possible future realization.  I was immersed in it, in the natural flow of events, the genesis of my intentions until, with the passing of time, those events and intentions began to fade away, to lose their legitimacy, their potency, and the dream accordingly ceased to function as a guideline to future actions but became, instead, an encumbrance, leading me inexorably towards a situation I hadn't in the least bargained for - namely, a painful neurosis!

     'My dream had ceased to maintain the balance with reality, to function as a legitimate reaction to my being unable, at that time, to do anything else.  I no longer dreamt of being a writer, I was a fish-out-of-water, a piece of psychological flotsam on the road to paranoia, a creature in desperate need of recentring, reintegrating.  I had read in Camus, somewhere, about the hero being irremovably centred, though I didn't quite understand exactly what he meant by it.  There seemed to be so much hidden meaning there that I automatically undervalued it at first, even though the phrase stuck in my mind and was to haunt me for several weeks.  But those days are now dead and buried!  One learns from one's mistakes.  I've since come to view that notion in a rosier light, to perceive it as a beacon on the road to moral enlightenment.'

     Getting up from his bed, he ambled across to the alarm clock, which was still resting face-down on the top shelf of his bookcase, picked it up and read the time.  As it was now 5.35pm, he had almost half-an-hour to kill before setting out for his mother's flat, some twenty minutes' walk away.  He wished to himself that he didn't have to visit her flat two or three evenings a week just because doing so afforded him a change of scenery, a little variety, a chance to talk to someone, and the possibility of being able to read and/or write relatively undisturbed by neighbour noises.  Although one did have to contend with a busy road there, which wasn't particularly conducive to sustained concentration or deep thinking!  Frankly, he would much sooner have avoided the dingy old tenement in which her flat was housed, if he could possibly have done so.  But when, from time to time, he had endeavoured to break free of her place, he had found it well-nigh impossible to concentrate on anything intellectual in his single room on account of the various radio, television, stereo, telephone, voice, footstep, front-door, and next-door noises either simultaneously or successively imposing upon his sensibility throughout the rest of the house and its immediate vicinity.  A somewhat lamentable situation which usually discouraged him from making further attempts to go his own way.  Besides, it was too disheartening, being left alone in the evenings after a hard day's uncongenial work.  One had to see someone, even if only a relative.

     'My goodness, I am in a sombre mood this evening,' he thought, turning away from his alarm clock.  'I suppose it's a kind of significant turning-point in my life, leaving the firm today.  It makes me want to break out in more than one direction; for instance, leave London, which has always been something of an embarrassment and even humiliation to me.  Maybe also something to do with that conversation I had with Gerald Matthews at lunch time, his spilling the beans about having a gay man after him, and all the rest of it!  Though, in all honesty, I wouldn't be surprised if he was a bit that way himself, what with his effeminate airs.  Even smokes his cigarettes in a cigarette holder, doubtless afraid that his delicate pianist's fingers may get stained with nicotine, to the detriment of such professional standing as he may have in his pupils' eyes.  Then touches his hair up every now and then, as though to make sure it hasn't got out of place or is still there or something.  Always makes me feel self-conscious, walking along the street with a bloke like that.  False representation.  You imagine people are staring at you, weighing you up, seeing if you really look all that different from other people, people who aren't gay, that is.  Still, you feel much better afterwards, once you've ditched him somewhere and gone your own way.  A great relief in fact!  Better than being pushed around from hand to hand, made to feel sorry for yourself because you haven't the guts to disappoint anyone.  If I couldn't get the woman I wanted, I'd rather stay solitary any day.  At least you're still in with a chance then, provided you aren't solitary for too long of course.  Anyway, I probably won't ever see him again, so what matter?  I'll mail him that short story tomorrow, the one about a music teacher's illicit relationship with his favourite pupil, and then keep my fingers crossed that he won't get in touch with me about it.  If he doesn't want to read the damn thing he can always throw it away.  That would be the simplest course.'

     Shortly before 6.20pm young Michael Savage was sitting in the company of his mother and stepfather, tersely discussing the day's events.  He had brought his mother a one-scene playlet to read, a dialogue between two strangers who happened to be seated together on a park bench, but had declined at the last moment to hand it to her partly from private misgivings and partly on account of the need he now felt for certain rudimentary adjustments to the text.  He would re-read it himself later, to see exactly what was required.  In the meantime, he was anxious to discover whether she had read the playlet he'd submitted to her a few nights previously, another one-scene affair concerning the artificial termination of unrequited love through the systematic application, by qualified persons, of a specially deep hypnosis to the victim's psyche, and, if so, what she thought of it?

     "Yes, it was pretty good," replied Mary Evidence automatically, not really remembering to which playlet he was alluding.  "But I'm afraid I didn't grasp it all."

     'No, I didn't think you bloody would,' thought Michael, taking the typescript of the playlet in question from the mantelpiece where, unbeknown to himself, it had lain ever since he first parted with it.  'It's just one of those things!'  For it certainly embittered him to think that he only showed her his literary efforts because there was nobody else, apart from his stepfather (who, in any case, took absolutely no interest in his affairs, literary or otherwise), to whom he could have shown them.  If he only had a dog for company he would probably have felt compelled, by force of circumstances, to show examples of his work to the dog instead.  It was like that with creative endeavour.  You wrote something that you believed had value, and then you wanted someone to read it in order to corroborate your belief, to verify that you weren't wasting your time, to confirm that you could commit your thoughts and experiences to paper in a passably accomplished manner, and to establish that someone, even someone intellectually insignificant, could acquire a degree of enjoyment and worthwhile preoccupation from it.  Whether or not his mother read the works he regularly entrusted to her keeping, she almost invariably said something encouraging about them, if only to keep the peace or get the subject out of the way as quickly as possible.  But such encouragement, being superficial, had ceased to mean anything to Michael.  He had seen through it, sensing that anything he wrote would only serve to remind her of his late-father's influence, of the fact that Patrick Savage had more brains than her and didn't really belong to the same social class.  What was the use, he had so often wondered, in saying or thinking things which your actions subsequently contradicted?

     For example, he had on more than one occasion decided not to visit his mother again, to stay in his bedsitter all evening and keep his literary efforts to himself.  But the very next day, when his mood had changed and bed-sitter life was becoming (under renewed pressure of neighbour noises) somewhat distressing, he would change his mind, only to return to her place, hand her another typescript, and marvel at the unpredictability of his intentions.  And yet his mother was a woman who, in his judgement, had never read a worthwhile book in her life.  A woman moreover who, at the behest of her TV-addicted husband, could send him scurrying for shelter from some sordid serial or raucous comedy into their spare front room, where he would immediately seek out spiritual companionship from the works of the handful of authors whom he could still aspire to read.  Well, life was certainly no joyride as far as that was concerned!  His mental isolation was virtually complete.

     "So how's the cricket going today, Gus?" he at length asked his stepfather, in an attempt to change the subject to what was currently taking place on the screen in front of them.

     "Oh, not too bad," replied the latter, after due deliberation.  "The West Indies stand a fair chance of winning this Test if the weather stays fine over the weekend.  They've certainly put England in the hot spot."

     "Have they indeed?" responded Michael, as a multitude of black arms shot into the televised air to the resounding encore of 'Howzzat!', and another belaboured England batsman, mindful of the lateness of the hour, awaited mortal judgement from an umpire whose hands, surprisingly, remained imperturbably confined to his coat pockets.

     Not having any real interest in cricket herself, Mary Evidence turned to her son and said: "So today was your last day at work, then."

     "That's right," he confirmed.  "I got free of the firm at precisely four-twenty this afternoon."

     "Then you may have to do some extra writing next week," stated his mother while simultaneously picking up the evening paper. "I'll let you know when it's nine o'clock," she added, making sure that he was reminded of the time he was customarily expected to leave for his lodgings.

     Reluctantly, he opened the thin laminated door that separated 'their' room from 'his' room on such occasions and, gently closing it behind him, ambled over to the front window.  As usual he was thoroughly depressed by the way his life was spent in the evenings, by the absence of compatible communication between his mother and himself, by the absence of congenial companionship with people his own age, by the absence of regular or, indeed, irregular sex with a young woman of his choosing, and by his consequent inclination to withdraw into what he not altogether uncontemptuously regarded as 'enforced intellectuality' in the spare room.  If there had ever been an occasion when he had exchanged more than ten minutes' inconsequential chatter with his mother and stepfather, he had long since forgotten all about it!  His mother only succeeded in exasperating him.  He would never, so long as he lived, be able to hold an interesting conversation with her.  She was an incorrigible philistine who cared absolutely nothing about the arts, took no interest in classical productions, and, frankly, didn't give a damn about his literary aspirations.  It was more than likely that his visits to her flat only succeeded in arousing self-hatred in him by reminding him of his past, by placing him in direct contact with her stupidity, ignorance, poverty, lethargy, etc., to the lasting detriment of his self-esteem.  If only he could get away from her for good, get far away from this constant reminder of all the things he was in rebellion against and which he now perceived as the root cause of his parent's incompatibility and the demise of their all-too-brief marriage, his life would take on new horizons, find happiness, become reintegrated.  He would never be content with it so long as he lived under her influence.  Not in a hundred years!

     Gradually his reflections ceased to run along these rather depressing lines and returned, at length, to his art, his writings, the various attempts which he made to express truthfully, unashamedly, even boldly, the soul and situation of Michael James Savage, a young man who might one day be permitted to present his work to the English-speaking world, assuming he could find a publisher who, sympathetic to subjectively-oriented  literary productions, would be prepared to embrace those aspects or areas of life with which he was becoming increasingly familiar!

     Turning away from the window, from where the steady rumbling of heavy traffic was as obnoxious as the physical and even metaphysical evidence of it passing up and down the Stroud Green Road, he took the typescript of his one-scene playlet from his jacket pocket and, sitting down in his favourite of the room's two identical armchairs - the one farthest from the window - proceeded with difficulty to read it.  This particular playlet, half-fanciful and half-realistic, concerned the chance meeting of two young people in his local park and, despite the banality of the context, had been quite absorbing to work on, the previous week.  Maybe it wouldn't require all that much adjustment, after all.  Though it would certainly require a title, as, for that matter, would the one concerning the hypnotic termination of unrequited love.

 

A small suburban park in North London.  A summer's afternoon.  A young man and young woman are seated at opposite ends of a plain wooden bench, the young man having taken the seat some minutes after the young woman.  They are complete strangers to each other.  However, feeling subtly attracted towards the young woman, who is reading a book, the young man decides to say something to her.

 

YOUNG MAN: (Turns towards her) Is that an interesting book you're reading?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Slightly startled) What...?  Oh, yes!  Quite interesting.

YOUNG MAN: You wouldn't be interested in some conversation, by any chance?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Blushes slightly) No, not really.

YOUNG MAN: I just thought you might like to talk to someone.  To put it bluntly, you appeal to me.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Thinks to herself, "God, he's forward, isn't he?  Fancy telling me that!  He might as well have asked me to make it with him.  I'd better be careful.") Sorry, I'm waiting for someone.

YOUNG MAN: (Coolly impertinent) You’re not wearing red panties under that skirt, are you?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Somewhat startled) Pardon?

YOUNG MAN: (Smiles) I bet you're wearing red knickers.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Starts to get up from the bench) Sorry, but I don't want to answer that!

YOUNG MAN: (Catches her by the arm) Just a minute!  I'm not intending to rape you, if that's what you're thinking.  I'm essentially very civilized: in fact, too damn civilized!  Sit down a moment, let's talk together.  Are you really waiting for someone?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Reluctantly sits down again) Why should I lie?

YOUNG MAN: To keep me at a distance, of course.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Laughs nervously) I needn't lie to do that!  Besides, even if I were, what business would it be of yours?  (She closes her book and is about to get up again when he puts a restraining hand on her arm.  She begins to look frightened.)

YOUNG MAN: You're very beautiful.  That's the main reason why I must speak to you.  A man like me could spend years looking for someone like you, someone who corresponds to his tastes.  In a sense, you're very fortunate to be so beautiful.  Probably more than 90% of the young women I encounter in this area make either no impression on me at all or only a rather unfavourable one.  Very few of them actually appeal to me, the loner of loners.  But I won't go into details.  Normally I'm quite incapable of getting worked-up about strangers.  I have to get to know people first, to find out more about the person I happen to be taking a physical interest in, just to be on the safe side.  But you pleased me from the moment I set eyes on you, and that's very unusual.  Look, I don't really know why I'm telling you all this, spilling the beans to a complete stranger ... but, well, I haven't spoken to anyone like you for ages and, since you look intelligent, I'm making a fool of myself for your benefit.  You see, I need someone who'll listen to me with a sympathetic ear because, whatever you may think, I'm no monster but a human being in need of a little love and understanding once in a while, just like a lot of other poor buggers who are daily coerced into maintaining a false, pernicious, and self-defeating persona without necessarily realizing it!  Believe me, I'm not homosexual or stupid or poxed or mad or dangerous or commonplace or ... believe me, I'm a damned sight more caring and considerate than most of the men in this world!  Maybe you wouldn't understand ...

YOUNG WOMAN: (Shows signs of interest, in spite of her misgivings) Go on.

YOUNG MAN: Well, for a time I thought I was homosexual, not having a woman and not particularly going out of my way to get one.  But slowly, gradually, it dawned on me that I wasn't really homosexual at all but simply choosy.  I mean (He sighs, as from a realization of the complexity of what he is trying to convey and the odds against his conveying even a fraction of it convincingly), I had to have someone whom I felt it would be possible for me to admire, to talk to, to love, even to worship - yes, don't laugh!  I mean it!  But poor and solitary as I was, I never encountered anyone who sufficiently inspired such noble intentions in me.  In fact, I rarely encountered anyone at all, even casually.  So things just drifted: weeks, months, years, a face here and there, the occasional disappointments, blunt refusals, hypocritical excuses, etc.  I didn't go to university and I left all my school friends behind in Surrey.  I loathe church institutions, pubs, discos, bingo halls, snooker clubs: you know, all the usual social conveniences that are basically intended to cater for average people.  I loathe them all!

YOUNG WOMAN: (Begins to show concern) But haven't you tried computer dating?

YOUNG MAN: (Faintly smiles and nods) Yes, I was desperate enough to give it a go.  And d'you know what happened? (He hesitates to choke back rage and resentment) I wasted my money!  Most of the bitches the firms informed me about didn't even have the courtesy to reply to my letters, quite apart from the fact that those who did took ages doing so.  Even some of the firms had to be reminded about my application virtually every-other-month!  And when they eventually got round to replying, it seemed as though they'd taken a lucky dip and, to pass muster, sent me whatever came up, irrespective of my preferences.  Anyway, the few women I eventually got around to meeting were plain, to say the least!  They'd have humiliated me on the street and exasperated me in the bedroom.   As far as the likelihood of my being able to kindle any genuine desire for them was concerned, it would have been tantamount to flogging a dead horse!  In fact, they might as well have been cows or sheep, for all the passion I felt towards them!  No, I regret to say that computer dating didn't work for me.  You never know exactly what you're getting and, besides, I found the whole idea too degrading.  I had to take one girl back to the station after barely an hour of her company, because she was so damned incompatible.  She hadn't even read one of the several hundred books in my possession at the time.  Not one!  And that was after I'd categorically stipulated a preference for someone literate.  But if that was bad enough, I thought it even worse that she hadn't even heard of, let alone heard, any of the albums in my record collection.  And they call that compatibility?  Well, I soon got rid of her, as well as most of the others they inflicted upon me, too!  Of course, a majority of people always end-up doing what they imagine everyone else is doing at the time.  Climb on the bandwagon, let others think for you, and wait for the lucky number!  For if, by any chance, a man with an ounce of self-determination approaches an attractive female in the park, on the street, or in any other public context with the intention of acquiring her, the spirit of technological progress will declare him to be either an anachronistic idiot or a potentially dangerous maniac who should learn to live with the times instead of wilfully following his personal inclinations, obeying the voice of his desire in his own sweet fashion, and taking the law into his own hands irrespective of the consequences.  As though men were still capable of self-determination in an age like this, when the sheep-like collectivity counts for everything and the lone individual, especially the self-willed creative individual, next to nothing!  Thus speaks the spirit of technological progress!

YOUNG WOMAN: (Raises her brows in apparent concern) I see!  But what makes you so sure that I may be able to assist you?

YOUNG MAN: Simply the fact that you appeal to me.  I mean, I wouldn't mind being seen in your company.  You're very beautiful and, from what I can gather, intelligent as well.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles) Flattery will get you nowhere.  Anyway, I'm waiting for my boyfriend, as I think I told you.

YOUNG MAN: (Frowns) So what's he like: strong, tall, handsome?

YOUNG WOMAN: Oh, good-looking, hard-working, intelligent, loyal, generous, considerate, able.  A good all-round sort really.

YOUNG MAN: And how long have you known him?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Obliged to scan her memory a moment) Just over a year actually.

YOUNG MAN: And you had other boyfriends before him?

YOUNG WOMAN: Yes, a few. (She becomes puzzled) Why d'you have to ask so many questions?

YOUNG MAN: (Unable to restrain himself from shouting) Because I haven't given so much as one kiss to a woman in nearly ten years!

YOUNG WOMAN: (Becomes indignant) Is that my fault?  I'm sorry, we all have our problems, you know.

YOUNG MAN: Yes, and some of us more than others! (In desperation) Can't you drop him?

YOUNG WOMAN: Are you out of your mind?

YOUNG MAN: (Frowns and sighs in exasperation) Why should that bastard take all my share of loving?  Haven't I as much right to love as him, as you, as anyone?  Or is that merely presumptuous of me, a gross delusion, a mode of self-deception engendered by the sight and sound of so much commercial propaganda pertaining to sex?

YOUNG WOMAN: (On the verge of tears) But it's not his fault. He's as entitled to choose a woman as anyone else, isn't he?  It's not his fault if he happened to be in the right place at the right time and you, through no particular fault of your own, weren't.

YOUNG MAN: No, it's life's fault!  Life is always to blame.  That's why some people get everything whilst others get next to nothing.  Fate!

YOUNG WOMAN: (Unable to hold back her tears) Oh, don't make such a damned fuss!  There are plenty of people worse off than you.  Look, if everyone went about spilling their problems over people the way you do, we'd have a civil war on our hands.  At least you're still young.

YOUNG MAN: Yes, and that's precisely what riles me!  Young and bitter!  My God, it sickens me to see so many blatant half-wits, so many ugly, uncouth, depraved men with good-looking women just because they happened to be in the right place at the right time.  I might as well have been born crippled, considering what use I make of the advantages I possess!

YOUNG WOMAN: (Dries her eyes) Haven't you ever had sex with a prostitute?

YOUNG MAN: No, I haven't!  For one thing, I can't afford to.  And, for another, I distrust them.   Besides, they're not the kind of women who appeal to me, as a rule.  So for anything approaching sexual satisfaction, I'm mostly dependent on the occasional wet dream.  Actually, I used to be a bit of a wanker at one time.  However, these days masturbation would only arouse my self-contempt, so I tend to avoid it.

YOUNG WOMAN: Masturbation's puerile.

YOUNG MAN: Fortunately I didn't succumb to it all that often, just once or twice a month in order to clean the works out, as it were, and reassure myself that I hadn't become impotent.  After a while I loathed the self-degradation involved with the use of sex magazines, the models of which I rarely found stimulating.  So I'd resort to my imagination instead, fantasize myself into a climax and hope that I wouldn't become irredeemably perverted or the victim of a cerebral haemorrhage.  Nowadays I don't fantasize as persistently or regularly as I used to; I stop myself going beyond a certain low-key point and limit myself to one or two a day.... Frankly, I believe the fact that I was born in Southern Ireland has something to do with my situation, since I'm the end-product of several generations of Catholic Irish breeding and don't feel particularly attracted towards Englishwomen.  Now I don't mean to sound unduly endogamous, but the fact remains that, when it comes to the crunch, I prefer women of my own race and nationality and ethnicity to those of any other.  I mean, there's nothing particularly unusual about that, is there? (The young woman smiles guardedly but says nothing, so he continues) Look, I'm sorry to keep going on like this, and I didn't mean to upset you just now, but there aren't that many other people around here who would listen to me and, besides, it isn't every day that I get a chance to talk to someone, least of all to someone like you.  The majority of people would probably think me mad and scuttle away in panic.  They'd crucify me if they could.  For most people are frightfully suspicious of what they either can't or won't understand.  They only see what they want to, and are more inclined to consider anything that transcends their imaginative or intellectual limitations to be a form of madness rather than simply something which lies beyond them.  They'd strive, with all their limited powers of argumentation, to make me feel in the wrong, to humiliate and ostracize me, and not simply on ethnic grounds.  If I suddenly went up to that fellow over there, the one in the open-necked red shirt, and asked him what he knew about manic-depressive psychoses or the psychological effects of long-term celibacy, he'd either take fright or, assuming he's as stupid as he looks, become abusively violent.  Indeed, he might even point to the nearest female and say "Why not ask her, mate?"

YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles through her nose) I wouldn't particularly blame him.  After all, one doesn't normally ask strangers those sorts of questions.  In fact, one doesn't normally approach strangers at all, at least not in London.

YOUNG MAN: I suppose I was being a bit silly then but, well, one sometimes feels the urge to do or say something unusual, if only to prove to oneself that one is still capable of self-determination and isn't utterly predictable.

YOUNG WOMAN: But having it off with a prostitute, or just about anyone, presumably isn't one of those urges in your case?

YOUNG MAN: No, I guess not, since the thought doesn't hold any great attraction for me.  With a man of my sort it has to be all or nothing.  I'd willingly continue to remain celibate until death, if only to keep away from half-measures, or anything which only served to compromise and humiliate me.  I've seen too many half-measures in life to be particularly impressed by them.  God knows what would become of me if I had to settle for someone I secretly despised!  I'd probably become bad-tempered, jealous, cruel, cynical: any number of disreputable things!

YOUNG WOMAN: But aren't you most of those things already?

YOUNG MAN: (Sighs dejectedly) Well, at least I'm suffering on my own terms at present, which is some consolation.  There's always the possibility of my meeting someone who'll really matter to me.  I wasn't born for charity, that's all.  I've seen too much of the negative side of it, its detrimental consequences.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles gently and edges closer to him) So you think I may be able to provide you with the companionship you lack at present?

YOUNG MAN: (Visibly surprised) Eh?  But aren't you waiting for someone?

YOUNG WOMAN: No, not any longer.

YOUNG MAN: You mean someone else is going to suffer on account of me, then?

YOUNG WOMAN: Not necessarily.  Anyway, you've been alone long enough already, haven't you?

YOUNG MAN: Yes, I suppose you're right.  But I may take some getting used to.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles encouragingly) Don't worry!  I'm a fairly patient person.

YOUNG MAN: Yes, you are, aren't you? (He squeezes her hand thankfully) By the way, my name's Stephen Kelly.  What's yours?

YOUNG WOMAN: Susan Connors.  And I'm not wearing red knickers.

YOUNG MAN: You're not? (Blushes profusely) Oh damn!  I was just teasing you.  Please accept my sincere apology. (They embrace each other and, following a tentative exchange of kisses, the scene ends with the young couple slowly walking away from the bench hand-in-hand.)

 

     'So much for that!' thought Michael, throwing the typescript to one side as soon as he had finished with it.  'I must have been out of my mind to have written such a thing!  Why, I could spend the rest of my life writing about sexually-frustrated solitaries if I'm not careful!  Imagine I'm enjoying myself, what with all those lewd images monopolizing my imagination to the point of surfeit, the inevitable consequence of the gratuitous existence I lead.  Maybe I ought to write a thesis on the pros and cons of celibacy.... No shortage of sexually frustrated people about these days though, and not all of them are ugly or stupid either!  Most of them probably don't know what to make of themselves.  They wind-up blaming their celibacy on the times or, failing that, the sort of people around them, the environment in which they live, or are obliged to live, etc.  Well, I wouldn't get unduly worried about it.  Either you've got access to regular sex or you haven't.  Solitude and frustration are quite enough to bear, without the need to drag an overwrought imagination into the problem as well!  Too many people become the victims of that tendency, quaking beneath some Lawrentian or Reichian sex propaganda.  Indeed, you might as well keep an eye on your potency by jerking off every so often, as quake beneath that!  Admittedly, a somewhat disreputable kind of self-indulgence, and quite inadequate as things go.  But far safer than the pox, and financially attractive in these economically hard-pressed times.

     'Depends what sort of imagination or moral sense you've got, though.  No use degrading yourself beyond a certain point.  Bad enough with conventional sex.  Remember what happened to Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Flaubert, Maupassant, and Nietzsche, to name but a few of the nineteenth-century's most famous victims of syphilis.  It didn't matter who you were, the pox was rife in those days.  At least they were fortunate not to have got mugged on the job.  Did happen sometimes.  Even happened in Villon's day.  Coquillards!  Some callous brutes hiding in the background with the express intention of robbing the client of his money and/or valuables as soon as he was in a sufficiently compromising position.  Better safe than sorry!  Too many risky situations in life as it is, and not merely in relation to mugging and prostitution!  Risky situations in virtually every context.  For example, computer dating.  Find oneself dating a woman who embarrasses one by not matching-up to one's aesthetic requirements.  I'd feel somewhat self-conscious in public, what with people evaluating her, comparing us, identifying me with her and vice versa.  I'd have to get rid of her as soon as possible and, if I couldn't find someone else, return to my solitude again.  At least that's preferable to indulging in an ungainly compromise with anyone.  No altruistic hypocrisy here, thank you!  Haven't the charity for it anyway.  Risky in other ways, too.  Might lead to an "accident" some day.  Find myself partly responsible for putting another cynical brat into the world, the unfortunate consequence of an ill-matched liaison.'

     He halted in his mental tracks a moment, tired of the one he had just gone down and anxious to change to one not having any particular connection with his playlet.

     'World population on the rise and hope on the wane,' he went on thinking.  'Imminent spiritual recession prophesied by eminent spiritual authorities.  Detrimental materialistic consequences virtually inevitable.... I must watch out for the Devil's disguises since, according to what I was reading on a religious pamphlet someone had the audacity to put through the front-door letter flap the other week, it appears that His current disguise takes the form of powerful psychic emanations which, penetrating the brain cells of the unwary, goad people into perpetrating all manner of despicable crimes.  Of the crimes listed for what appears to be the benefit of the general public, we find activities such as mugging, rape, murder, theft, and arson, but don't find activities like fraud, perjury, blackmail, and embezzlement, presumably on account of the Devil's preference for coarse minds in matters of brutality and for subtle minds in matters of deceit, the environment I inhabit evidently having more of the former than the latter in it!

     'Well, he's certainly a versatile old devil who always has an iron in the fire, kindling crime.  Uses the unfortunate to further his infamy.  Instigates all manner of callous deeds, from the theft of a young bride's wedding presents by the best man to the murder of an old woman's husband by one of her long-standing girlfriends.  Won't stop at anything.  It seems that even the Almighty can't manage without him.  He wouldn't have Quakers quaking if it wasn't for the Devil's influence in the world.  They might become too complacent.  Even forget to pray sometimes.

     'But I dare say that a majority of religious maniacs don't realize they're crazy.  I mean crazy in a particular way.  They've been indoctrinated so persistently and scrupulously, by the clerical powers-that-be, that they actually wind-up believing all the superstitious nonsense they hear.  I mean, what real choice do they have?  It's like that POW who, in order to get himself discharged on medical grounds, feigned madness to such a convincing extent that he eventually went mad.  Or like a fellow who hears so much talk of reincarnation that he ultimately comes to believe in it and, in order to appease his spiritual vanity, conceives of himself as a reincarnation of some famous historical person, like Caesar or Napoleon.  Indeed, our capacity for self-delusion is one of our mainstays in life, provided, however, that we recognize it for what it is and keep a regular check on things, in order not to get ourselves locked away, exploited, or overly abused in consequence of allowing it to develop beyond a certain socially acceptable point, and thereby get completely out-of-hand.  We might still be climbing trees or grovelling in underground caves if it wasn't for our capacity to evolve both logical and illogical tendencies in a fairly harmonious if exceedingly complex manner.  Darwin ought to have added a chapter to The Evolution of Species entitled "Competitive Man - a Guide to Future Developments", as a sort of thesis on the human rat-race.  Every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost!  What choice does one have?  Anyway, at least I have the consolation of knowing that I'm not a religious maniac, since  whatever madness or capacity for self-delusion I incline towards I've at least taken the precaution of channelling it into a fairly inoffensive belief.

     'How shall I explain?  Well, I occasionally abandon myself to the delusion of believing certain people to be endowed with an ability and/or device which enables them to penetrate my mind and listen-in, as it were, to what I'm thinking at the time, just as a Christian might believe that God was listening-in to his thoughts on account of His divine omniscience.  I say "occasionally" because I wouldn't dream of allowing my thoughts to be highlighted in such a delusive fashion on a regular basis, especially with regard to those changing moods and circumstances which make yesterday's self-esteem tomorrow's self-contempt.  Indeed, I might as well endeavour to believe in God's omniscience ... as allow the recollection of a few past friends, acquaintances, or potential girlfriends to usurp my mental freedom to such an extent that the ensuing delusion claps me in psychic fetters.  After all, what's state-organized religion if not a means society has gradually evolved for channelling the psyche's illogical tendencies into a given theological context, thereby providing significant numbers of people with a common vent for tendencies which might otherwise impose themselves upon society in any number of unexpected and possibly detrimental ways?

     'Naturally, any free thinker can tear established religion to logical shreds in the cut-and-thrust of his rational arguments.  But that won't prevent him from being illogical in his own fashion, nor ensure that his illogicality won't cause the world more trouble than the institutionalized illogicality of the Faithful.  I guess that was something I overlooked at lunch time when talking with Gerald Matthews about religion, criticizing Christianity for its irrationality and praising the spirit of rationalism.  But the fact that I have certain beliefs of a more private and secular nature makes it virtually impossible for me to cherish various religious and occult beliefs, since, by their very existence, they exclude the possibility of others.  So I don't consider myself a reincarnation of either Caesar or Napoleon.  I don't go about with thoughts of some transcendent Afterlife on my mind, and neither do I literally believe in Christ's Ascension into Heaven or His miraculous ability to change water into wine.  I don't pay much attention to astrological revelations in the papers, and neither do I put much faith in the I Ching, or Book of Changes.  I make no effort to take spiritualism seriously, since I disbelieve in ghosts, and neither do I seek to have my palm read.  In fact, I could draw up quite a long list of beliefs, hypotheses, superstitions, allegiances, practices, neuroses, etc., which mean scarcely anything to me, if I really wanted to distinguish my illogical predilections or irrational manias from more prevalent ones in the world at large.  At least I have the consolation of accepting the situation in my head for what it is, whereas a good many religious maniacs, class maniacs, nymphomaniacs, demonomaniacs, megalomaniacs, dipsomaniacs, erotomaniacs, melomaniacs, and other types of maniac will probably spend the greater part of their lives in virtually total ignorance of their mental situation.  Yet they're often among the first to accuse others of being mad, the self-righteous shallow pates!  Still, when one begins to consider the large numbers of overt maniacs around, it's understandable that the more subtle, refined, or introverted manias should sometimes get overlooked.

     'You'd think, though, that these public exhibitionists would have more sense than to expose their misfortunes to the vulgar eye in such an open manner, arms waving in the air, head nodding vigorously up and down, tongue wagging incessantly, stupid grins transforming their ugly features into grotesque masks.  Evidently not, because they're more often extroverts.  Well, I certainly wouldn't want to invite reproachful comments from passing strangers if it could possibly be avoided!  Nor would I want to deliver myself into the hands of psychiatrists or social workers on account of my personal delusions, either.  I'd far sooner grapple with them on my own and in my own sweet time than deliver myself into their clutches.  They'd probably cure me of one thing only to expose me to something else, and probably to something worse at that - say, an institutional or otherwise external delusion!  I could wind-up becoming a pathological numerologist or obsessed astrologer instead!  Who knows the number of beliefs or manias to which one could alternatively succumb, given a push in the wrong direction.  You meet people and the chances are that, by degrees, they influence you in some way and even coerce you, eventually, into developing a different lifestyle.  I was a confirmed atheist until, God only knows how it happened, I met this young lady who was a devout believer and she pleased me to such an extent that I gradually turned renegade, so to speak, and went along to Sunday-morning worship with her until - wonder of wonders! - I duly discovered a new lease-of-life and became a ductile convert to the faith.  That sort of thing has probably happened to a fair number of desperately lonely and sex-starved people over the years, though I certainly wouldn't want it to happen to me, even if the woman I happened to fall in love with was very beautiful.

     'Imagine me standing in church while the vicar commences praying, and she is next to me with her worldly goods all wrapped up, some of the congregation privately admiring her black-stockinged calf muscles and perhaps even wondering what colour underclothes she's wearing, whilst others prefer to turn a blind eye to such things and shut out all ungodly thoughts until the final AMEN, when the doors are thrown open and the flock streams towards the fresh air outside amidst respectful whisperings and discreet rustlings of quality garments worn by chastened penitents who fear their psychological halo may fall from the tenuous support upon which it perches if they don't get out of the church quickly enough.  And me wondering what the hell it's all about, turning my nose up at other young women and pretending to be unimpressed by her shapely little buttocks trembling in front of me, as I wait my turn to shake the clergyman's hand and cause a smile to illuminate his sagacious countenance.  Though I needn't have worried, because he hadn't noticed anything and wouldn't, in any case, have said anything condemnatory, considering the nature of Nature and the coercive element therein which, however one chooses to address it, initially sanctioned the sexual bond between us.  But no matter, the sun's shining shamelessly outside the church and her skirt's flapping in the breeze, though she keeps everything in place as best she can in order not to give anyone a moral advantage over her, least of all those old women cluttering up the doorway in their eagerness to shake the vicar's hand, every one of them now moral vultures who would be only too grateful for the prospect of alighting on unchaste behaviour among the young people, the spectacle of someone whom they wouldn't have dreamed capable of wearing bright underclothes on such an occasion.

     'Good God, is that it?  The one who led me back to the fold?  No, I haven't fallen so low that I could abandon my atheistic principles on account of someone else!  If, by any chance, I encountered a woman like that, I'd twist her arm in my direction, make her see sense, convince her of the futility of her behaviour.  I'd tell her that she's a fool to other people's games, that it's high time she got her head together, instead of continuing to make a fool of herself, and that if she didn't mend her ways she'd have to find somebody else to slobber over in future.  I'd give it to her straight, make myself feel like a man again ...'

     "Nearly nine, Michael," declared Mary Evidence, popping her head out from behind the door she had just thrust open.  "Now don't tell me you've been day-dreaming all this time!" she added reproachfully.

     "No, just thinking," responded Michael, as he stretched out his hand for the angry little playlet which had lain neglected on the nearby table.

     Mrs Evidence smilingly sighed, before saying: "Well, we'll see you Monday, then.  Have a good weekend."

     "I'll try to," he said.

     "'Night, then," concluded his mother before returning to whence she had come, where the TV was still inanely droning-on largely for her husband's moronic benefit.

     'I think I'll call my playlet A Romantic Encounter,' thought Michael, as he swiftly made his way downstairs and out into the street.  'It may as well be called that as anything else.'

      

 

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