The Guardian Angel

Sometime later, after the wedding and the honeymoon, when we were settled into our new home and I was about to suggest we bought a dog, she started talking about herself. I know you are going to say, “Shouldn’t you have that conversation before the wedding?” but we didn’t. “Silly” isn’t really the right word, but it will do for now.

Our courtship was built on a meeting in Hawaii where we where both on holiday, and we discovered we both lived in the same city. “Is this fate?” she asked, and I just nodded my head and leant to kiss her: our first kiss. I called her my ‘Guardian Angel,’ sent to save me from myself, as a joke, and she sort of laughed in that indulgent way people do when they think you get them.

Sunsets, starlight, euphoria: those things have got a lot to answer for, because that is not where marriages find out if they will work, but none the less that is where we decided we were made for each other and we got married, just at the end of our vacation and a day before we were due to fly back to London.

She was the answer to my prayers I told myself. A beautiful girl, but homely and able to laugh at herself, but with just that edge of magic which keeps you guessing and lets you swallow the hook so deep that when she tugs the rod you feel the pull from the centre of your being and the miracle is, she doesn’t even know she’s fishing. I found out later that she does it anyway, to any man she meets, but perhaps the extra magic of the Island made her think this was the real deal. It was for me and I have the certificate to prove it. A fact I reflected on when she began to talk about herself.

“As a young girl” she said, “I learnt about terror. I mean really learnt. The knowledge you are at the mercy of something pitiless and dark for whom your cries are the icing on the cake. My uncle would threaten me but never touch me, so there was nothing to see if anyone asked, but his look alone could burn me.” It seemed a bit indistinct, but her tears were real enough and of course I went and put my arms round her and she looked up at me and said, “You make me feel safe” and what man wouldn’t melt under that statement; except later on I learnt she had a way with creating dramas and didn’t actually have an uncle: three aunts and a vivid imagination but no uncle.

Those people who can be anyone you want are the most dangerous people you can meet because they don’t know who they are themselves, but just that you are a stage on which they might play a part. She could do lots of things well, but not for themselves but just because they made the current “Her” more convincing.

I kept her this side of sane by taking everything she told me to be real and the truth, and thus I never threatened her, and in protecting her found I must love her because without someone like me she really would be lost. She was, in more ways than I can ever describe, my own creation, and protecting her fragile entity became my whole life’s work. I’m not saying she was faithful, but she was loyal in her way and always seemed well-meaning. None of us are entirely real are we? We are all partly a figment of someone’s imagination and sometimes of our own. I think my darling just took that to extremes and I rescued her. I think that’s what it was.


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An Unrequested Departure

“I’m not very good at dying. You get very little training in it and, as far as I know, you only get the one chance so if you muck it up, you don’t make the proud exit of your dreams but  shuffle off in an awkward clumsy way which does little for your reputation, once you are no longer there to safeguard it.

None of that would have mattered if I hadn’t been “tipped the wink” by some severe pains across my chest, and a weird conspiratorial glance from some guy across the room who clearly thought he knew me in some way. As I leant or almost fell against the wall, he walked over to me, and said, in a semi-discreet aside, “Not long now old chap” in the manner of one who wished he had a more exalted station in life or death. I say “Death” because that was his name. He handed me a visiting card which was miraculous in the non-inspiring way because it glowed briefly in my hand, and for long enough for me to see his name and address and then vanished.

His name, according to the card, was “Dr Death” and underneath his name was the boast, “Qualified Grief Counsellor” and an address which was given as “Everywhere”. “What’s going on. What are you doing?” I asked him and he told me.

“People die all the time, you know, and I would be rushed off my feet if I couldn’t make use of the ‘Split-Personality App” to be in more than one place at the same time.”  The pain was spreading now and I was almost crouching over as nausea and faintness overcame me. People round me were starting to turn and look at me, and a voice associated with one of my more irritating nieces, nearly as difficult in character as her mother, my sister, was asking me if I was alright.

In better circumstances I would have been tempted to say, “Never felt better” because who would ask such a question of man bent double with pain and about to fall over, but there you go. “Dr Death,” who I could see quite clearly was grinning and wiping tears of laughter from his eyes was finding the whole thing highly amusing.

In that alternative “Time-Facility,” people often experience in those last moments, when many wished they’d taken out funeral insurance, I asked the proud Doctor why he was wasting his attentions on me when people of fame, fortune and noble character where keeling over in droves in every corner of the planet.

He smiled and said, “Oh what a good question” and almost licked his lips at the thought of replying. “In my game” he said, “We see all manner of people doing the “Oblivion Shuffle” as I call it, but not many of them are as spineless, ungifted, vain and self-serving as you, and I thought it would be a real refresher, a shot in the arm or however you would describe it to see a man of registered delusion and mediocrity lurch over to “The Other Side” and get his debriefing from whatever grade of Angel has been allocated to his passing.

What do you mean “Grade of Angel” and he explained that when one of the “Heavy-Hitters,” a statesman of note, a poet who would be world-famous in two generations, or a mass murderer with a decent number of killings under his belt died, an angel with peerless experience and wisdom would conduct the de-briefing before assigning them to an Infinity of suitable colour.

“With accredited mediocrities like you,” he continued, “Who had no idea what was going on, and were like an irritating fly in every room they entered, any matter of substance in their life is understood in a microsecond and they are just sent to a holding bay for bores before being assigned to their ultimate destination.”

My last thought before I felt myself lift out of my now redundant body was , “Things can not get worse” but I was wrong, because my designated Angel told me, You are going to the “Knitting Room” where you will pearl stitch for an eternity. “But I hate knitting or even the thought of knitting” I said, and our revered Doctor smirked and said, as he turned to leave. “That is the idea. In death you learn to love what you hated in life. Welcome to my world.”

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A Career Worthy Of Note At “Flatters” Nightclub.

Simon Plumpleton, whose surname  was the result of an ancestor’s misguided social ambitions, pulled his stomach in and admired his Botox-enhanced face in the mirror. He grinned, and smiled at the memory of his frequent chats with the lovely Araminta Brankowitz during his visits to “Flatters,” a club for apprentice millionaires, where a wide range of affectations were catered for. “Image is everything” the knowing Manager always said to his team of bonus-chasing workers. “Most people have no idea what is going on but are loath to admit it. Charge them without mercy”  and the staff did just that. Wallets were drained, cups emptied and bottles uncorked as brave social climbers gorged their vanities at an establishment where waiters and waitresses were trained in the skills of stroking limited abilities.

“You are so dignified” said Araminta as she looked on at Lord Montecule, ( a purchased title ) climbing outside a bottle or two of a freshly harvested Pinot Grigio.  “Anyone worth his salt,” he realised, “Would not buy vintage wine in this establishment but, at £ 30 a bottle, the price of recent vintages were still inflated enough to make him feel he had ‘Arrived,’ and what better feeling is there?”

Leaning over the bar the fair maiden, revealing a generous amount of cleavage  owing to her carefully chosen wardrobe, asked, “Will his Lordship be gracing our tables today” and we all know the answer don’t we?  Her new manner and vocabulary were acquired during the “Client Filleting Module” on her “Continuous Improvement Programme,” reserved for the more attractive and astute among the waitresses. Male waiters were a rare breed in this exclusive club, where an air of bravado mixed with sexual malnutrition was common among the majority ageing male clientele.

“I Love lettuce. Its so green isn’t it. So very green. That gentle green” said one member to his half-full glass while standing by the bar.  He had forgotten what love was and the nimble Araminta, straining her modesty to breaking point,  leaned over toward him and asked, “What is it you want?” and he raised his eyes to hers as they filled with unrequited sadness and he told her, “I just want to understand the point of life. Just understand one thing.”

“You are my favourite client Marky.” she replied. ” You are a Poet, No, Yes, No,Really” which has a bard-like nuance to it don’t you think ? Her admiring phrases nearly drew his attention away from her angelic figure and, inspired by her attention, he heard himself saying. “A bottle of your best vintage and damn the cost.” He looked at her as if he had found a friend.

With skilful movements, she was already un-corking a Puligny Montrachet 2010  at   £435 a “pop” while extending a tactful hand for his credit card. “Damn it all” he thought. “No one cares anymore and perhaps Araminta really understands me.”

So skilful did she become at handling clients, and those she wished to influence that, without really understanding what was happening, the Owner of the club, Gus Forthright by name, was  found waiting at the alter of a nearby church some months later wondering how he had handed over half the shares in his business to a women half his age and more, whose parents he had never met. “You are my soul-mate” said the angelic Araminta when she joined him at the alter, in a tone touchingly reminiscent of the genuine. As long as he could pay her bills and offer a life of soft-furnishings and compliments, her smiles would be for him alone, because, now she had arrived, her word would always be her bond. Yes,No, Yes ?

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The Wedding Dance

Our first dance together was at ages five and six. The picture is in an album at my mother’s. We, Clara and I, met at junior school and shared the same senior school.Through planning we managed to go to the same university. She was the sensible one, the careful one: the girl who chided me on my excesses.  Even when we were very young, I behaved as I wanted to, but moderated always by her caring stability and common sense.

She was unadventurous, and crippled by social caution and the opinions of others, and I was always telling her to breath the air and live a little, and on some level we irritated each other or stimulated each other: it was  hard to decide which, but we certainly trusted each other.  She would scold me, always, and keep my behaviour somewhere near the acceptable and I would listen to her, if no one else.

She had a couple of boyfriends of the boring kind and I, of course, was drinking from the trough of experience. In our early mid-teen years she might smile at me in a goofy way and I got the unsettling impression she sought more from me than friendship, but I was hooked on adventure and not ready to be harnessed: the moment passed. She had too much common sense to chase a lost cause and that is what I gradually became.

Over time at university I found myself behaving ever more recklessly in the hope of getting a reaction  but somehow she had let go the reins. She was always warm, and personal, but in some subtle way she no longer spoke our private language, and then there was Nigel.

Somewhere in our second year his name appeared in her conversation, and then  he was present at our meetings. Nothing was said but I was no longer her first concern. Her loyalties had shifted.  Had I missed the point?  Love had waved at me but I did not feel it’s warmth.  “If you are not willing to open yourself up, be prepared to live a life of self reliance,”  I told myself.

At her wedding to the calm and collected Nigel, with whom a house had already been purchased, I sat half way down the church and somewhere near the aisle. I was gripped by a sense of loss and sadness which was never given voice: pride saw to that, because I had always taken the role of the man with nothing to lose, and I was a prisoner of that image.

Time moved on and I saw her less and less frequently. There is a suspicion in my mind that Nigel viewed me with caution, who can say, but in time, as an antidote to drifting and lost opportunities, I became engaged to a girl named Sarah, whose needs were easy to read. I credited her with keeping me just this side of madness, until a wedding seemed the inescapable conclusion to our courtship.

At the reception, where I smiled for the camera’s, and danced with my new bride to John Lennon’s “Woman,” those who knew me looked on at the wild man brought to safety with some relief. By accident, I met with Clara in a passage by the hallway. It was our first moment alone in some years, and she reached up and touched my arm and told me, “It’s so lovely to see you happy.”  Emotion came from somewhere in the shadows  and I lost myself ” But she isn’t you Clara” I said and bowed my head. There was a sense of wrenching and she moved away. When I looked back, her eyes told me I had betrayed her way back then, and I knew I had.

Later that night, in our sumptuous wedding suite, paid for by her well to do father,  my new bride looked up and said, “You make me so happy” and I smiled back at her as a happy man might do , because, for a directionless adventurer, acting is the only sure way of surviving.

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Life Outside The Boundry

I’d entered the winner’s circle: wealth, travel and: ( check,check,check. ) women:  mine and any one else’s I could charm. I could walk into any restaurant and they would say, “On us sir” and I would nod, because modesty is part of the package. I was a known speaker, whose financial visions had been aired on television. I had children by more than two women, all of them cherished and nurtured because that’s what civilised people do. My money was my own to spend in my lifetime, but my children could inherit my insights to light their future, and trust in their own abilities.

All, well and good. Pat on the back for the big man, and mine’s a large one. Oh yes, I could  ” Hang out”  with the crowd and sniff a line of something: drink without regard to safety and spread the word that life’s a party once you find the invitation. Sometimes I might go “missing after action” and wander the streets recalling fragments of my childhood.

I am the product of Manchester parents, a cleaner and a decorator, later divorced. My childhood was scrapped together in those fleeting moments when my father was sober enough to remember he had a home, and my mother was not accepting her compensations from passing strangers. Me and my older sister used to sit up in the attic pretending we had parents, and that somewhere just out of sight, there really was a field of green.

My sister is my only friend: my constancy. She lives a quiet life married  to a man of routine and then there is me. I have been that watchful, wild man, who knows more than he should and takes more than is his, because we are all bandits are we not: some braver than others?  I walk through a landscape of my own making and leave others to talk of world peace and comfort themselves with new furnishings, until now that is.

Out late at night, and slightly drunk, I met a lady sitting on a step, and of similar mind to mine, staring up at what London street lights allow us to enjoy of the night sky. She looked at me and her face filled with recognition.  “Your that famous fucker” she said and I nodded as modestly as drunks  can do. Just as I was about to accept her admiration she followed up with “You’re full of shit, and the sad thing is you know it.”

Truth is seldom comfortable  and often arrives unexpectedly so I was silent and then I asked her “What her grief was?” and she introduced me to her life. She had been a photographer in Afghanistan, recording the pain and trauma of a besieged population. She had travelled across the Arctic, and sat in deserts in India swapping languages. ” And as for you, ” she said, ” You made money and used it to avoid criticism: the cowards victory. Do something better with yourself.”   I offered to help her, of course, because that’s what patrons do, but she just laughed it off and walked into the night. Brave and independent. she was a women who travelled through life without the aid of maps.

The light does not shine on every diamond. Some jewels are wrapped in modesty and never worn for display, but in her anger, born of weariness and contempt, she brought me to a life of context. In her I found another sister.

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Where Knowledge Grows

I’ve read the words of men, or listened to their thoughts expressed as music. The men who walked where knowledge grows. Who’ve passed beneath the tree of wisdom and had it’s shadow grant them peace: briefly it might be. Look in their eyes and  you will find an element of eternity. You may discover in their company that the present is infinite, and events the actors which provide a change of scenery. In life there are many theories but few real explanations. With time I understood that we will know more than we can say, and understand beyond our powers of expression.

Sometimes on a crowded street or in a café, half hid from view, I might a man or women see, and tell myself, “They’ve been there, at the borders between eternity and the commonplace. Compassion is their constancy, wrapped in the scarf of hard experience. Hopeless though the venture is, they watch the pageant of our passing lives and see it stained by human greed,  recognising, all the while, that knowledge of the timeless kind is often touched by melancholy.”

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A Matter Of Identity

At work I was one of the team, I got involved and leant my enthusiasm to any project regardless of its merit. You could always count me in, but I didn’t drink. Not at work at least, because a sense of discipline is essential at work is it not, or at least a reputation for it?  I had no strategy as such, but just borrowed mine from the crowd. A house would be nice, and a girlfriend of course, and then a wife, but I can say that without passion to you at least, because, in truth I didn’t care. I couldn’t say that out loud, because not caring is the worst sin of all in a complex society busy cooking a stew of dreams from a thousand fractured cultures. They must have picked up the “not caring” bit because I got made redundant, which is a metaphor of sorts don’t we think ?

We are all in it for the journey aren’t we. I mean we don’t have any choice. You sort of wake up and on the train of life, and then some guy comes up to you and out of nowhere says, “Ticket please” which on this journey means ” What’s Your Purpose”  and you are meant to have an answer. Something crisp and concise, but really I don’t have an answer. At home I play my music, and drink vodka from the bottle and shout out things like “Screw you” at the wall, which maintains its indifference to my tortured angsts. At home I’m free to be lost because no one is watching.

Don’t you love that word “Angst.” it gives the mundane a sense of drama don’t you think, so that was my third identity, out at evening college learning to paint, and mouthing phrases like “Social torture” because to be outside the norm here put you in the middle of the circle. A bit like work, but in a different context if you get me. That’s where I met Angela, who was shy enough to make me feel protective, if you can feel protective but still want something from someone. I mean I wanted to kiss her, because that’s natural isn’t it, and she was pretty enough, but not so much as to make her scary. Nice eyes of course, because you have to say that don’t you. I’ve never heard anyone say a girl was really pretty but had eyes were like flat tyres, unless she was planning to jump of a cliff, in which case it wouldn’t matter.

Mind you Angela really did have nice eyes so I can saying that without lying, which is a first for me. I mean I tell the truth about facts, but most of them are boring aren’t they, but the heart of it, the breathing purpose: I have no sense of that.

Someday perhaps, some mystic giant will walk out of the corner shop  late at night, as I am passing by for no real reason, and say “Phillip Walker. You are born to rescue blind cats” or something like, but till then I’ll keep my purposes short and near at hand. Kissing Angela’s a start don’t you think.

Perhaps I’ll ask her for a drink after class on Wednesday. She doesn’t look as if she knows what is going on either.

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