Originally posted on Typing with my left hand:

I always like to imagine I’m great in a crisis. I keep a calm head, remain objective, find solutions. The problem tonight was that the crisis passed me by before I really had time to acknowledge it.

And here I’ll stop. Why is this about me? It shouldn’t be. I don’t quite know how to feel about what just happened and so in my head I keep relating it to myself. I’ll tell the story first:

I’m on my way home from football and the auto stops at a red light. Next to me there’s a street girl sleeping on the curb, she must be five or six years old, torn clothes, hair in knots. The usual. I’d given my loose change to one just like her a couple of hours before.

In India anything that lives outside is tagged with a street prefix. I quite like it, it feels much less…

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Long ago I drank from the fountain of eternal youth. As this cold dark rock finally spins from the dying Sun’s orbit, all I can think of is how much eternity there is still to come.

.

My wife died during childbirth last night, along with the doctor, midwife and three nurses. I spot a grubby umbilical cord snagged on the garden fence; the bedroom door creaks open behind me.

.

It began as a faint tingling sensation in the feet but grew in intensity as it rose up the spine. By the time it reached the skull she instinctively knew it was her soul being peeled away from her flesh.

.

The door to my flat could only take so much battering, as it finally caved in under the repeated blows I felt an indescribable sense of relief. I never noted the smell, it was only seeing the maggots as they carried my body away that I realised they were too late.

“I love you, you know I love you,” he ignored her scoff, “I know I fucked up, but this honestly wasn’t about you.”

She clicked her teeth together a few times before deciding to move the conversation forwards. “Tell me one thing.”

“Of course.” His voice was just earnest enough to cover up the awkwardness of not knowing what he was required to divulge.

“What was going through your head?”

He waited, hoping that wasn’t the end of the question but it was apparent that it was his turn to speak now.

“At what point?”

“Oh fuck you!”

“No, no, no, I didn’t mean that.” He looked away and scratched his head. The peace was a fragile one, it had taken three days to reach this point. Sat quietly on opposite sides of the kitchen table. No shouting, nothing at hand to throw and so far not even any tears. As soon as he’d decided truth was the way to go he knew he couldn’t hold anything back, but that didn’t make it easier to tell.

“Nothing was going through my head. If I’d thought it through it wouldn’t have happened.”

His turn to speak didn’t seem to be over yet.

“I guess… I guess I wanted the thrill.”

There was eight years between them, Sarah had been an undergrad while James was finishing his PhD. He’d managed to sweep her off her feet before she had a chance to discover the alternative forms of education that come with student life.

“It’s been a long time since I kissed anyone but you” he tried to explain. “Years,” he quickly added. “I wasn’t looking for anyone else, I mean, I don’t want anyone else, but…”

The most difficult thing he was finding was not actually opening up but navigating the potential minefield of misspoken words. It seemed to James that everything would be OK if he could just explain his position correctly, but that every sentence had hundreds of ways of coming out wrong and only one way of coming out right.

“There’s an excitement, a thrill, when you kiss someone for the first time. It feels like an accomplishment, even if it’s one you never set out to achieve.”

He was of course mistaken but at this point in time the path to forgiveness seemed more treacherous to James than the indiscretions that led him here had been.

“It just took me back to my single days suddenly. I didn’t realise how much I missed that sensation.”

“Stop talking.” Sarah needed time to grind her teeth some more, she raised her hand to demand it.

It occurred to her that arguing about the kiss was somewhat dancing around the elephant in the room but there were too many avenues of interrogation in her head, it seemed easiest to stay on topic.

“You’re saying you miss being single?”

“No. No, hell no, that is not what I said.”

“You miss kissing other people”

“I don’t. I didn’t. It just kind of happened and it was exciting. I got carried away with it.”

“You enjoyed it though”

“At the time, I guess. Not because it was her though, I had no interest in her, I have no interest in her…”

“So you’re saying it could have been anyone?” Sarah interrupted.

“Yes!”

“Except me?”

“Well no. I mean, it” He stopped, realising he’d lost control of the conversation.

“We’ve been together seven years now.” James tried to take her hands before continuing but had to make do with laying his palms face up between them.

“Have you never once, even for just a moment, felt like something different?”

The mines had to be detonated, the precipice jumped off. He had decided honesty was the best policy but he was only just realising he had not been honest with himself.

As the years draw on your memory gets less reliable. I’ve found the issue isn’t so much one of retention but more one of trust. Those details that stay in mind forever, the episodes you can never forget (no matter how much you may wish to), seem to be too real to be true.

In my youth there were certain circumstances that most would term unbelievable. By questioning small points in my narrative, tweaking the chronology, attributing a pertinent observation to error, it helps rationalise my experience. With the passage of time this becomes ever easier. My memory is questioned by those I love and trust, and the word senility lingers on the horizon. It is a gruesome fate to be dismissed in such a way but by no means the meanest spectre I’ve had loom over me.

Evidence of my sanity, were I to need it, is the reassurance that I know what I’m about to disclose is unlikely, the jeers of my audience drove me to silence for more than half my life, and the repeated doubts that greet me now naturally make me question my own powers of recollection.

But I am sure. It would be convenient to dismiss it now as folly, to live my last few years in peace. I understand others choosing this option. My mind is however still as sharp as it was all those years ago and these events in particular are as clear to me now as they ever were. I write this down therefore for my own sake mostly, so that when the grey cloud of age does envelope me I can be sure that this story isn’t a deluded novelty. So that I can assure myself, if no one else, that the telling of one event hasn’t been warped by the occurrence of a later one and so that I can remember, and keep myself ready.

Most people will never experience anything to prove me right and any warning I deliver to you now will fade from your mind over the years, as insignificant memories are want to fade. Should you ever be unfortunate enough to be reminded however, let me give you one piece of advice, from experience that has notion to do with age: should anything paranormal ever effect your life, brace yourself and do so early, because there is no spirit as frightening as that first realisation that spirits exist.

I wrote this story while I was in Iran in late 2010. It was inspired partly by a small news item I came across there but primarily by the people I met and the stories they told me. Reading it back once I left the country my liberal sensitivities kicked in, I worried that as an outsider it was inappropriate to say some of this, or that the ending played too much to stereotype, and I left it alone, unread until now.

With hindsight however, this was written about three months before the start of the Arab Spring and the impressions I got from within Iran were clearly being mirrored in the Arab world. Putting it online now I hope some of the friends I made there can read it without filters blocking it out, and if you do I hope you don’t think it an inaccurate representation of your country at that time.

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He awoke to the resonant drumming of blood through his head. His scalp felt like a balloon, stretched tight across his skull and crushing all within. He needed water, but first he needed to remember something.

The crick in his neck and the veined luminescence of his back-lit eyelids forced him to come wearily to his senses. He was curled on his front door step. Quickly taking stock he realised he was missing his jacket, his keys, his wallet and his phone. He’d been using a trainer as a makeshift pillow, there was vomit on the step below.

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As promised, this is the second (and final) page of what was to be my India story. I wanted to set the scene, contrasting modern Delhi with the chintz of stereotype, and had formative plans for tying together the tales of the ill-fated fortune-teller and the struggling writer/narrator of my last post. For all of that though, I was completely lacking any ideas for an actual plot, so as soon as the scene was set the story ended…
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