Everything was called into question.
Everything was now up for grabs.
He was up for grabs actually.
In fact he was in a state of shock, like in the after math of an accident where you sit in the passenger seat of a car or lean against a wall not thinking or feeling anything accept a vacancy. Or a bit like when you wake up and for a split second can’t remember who you are, were or ever will be.
Except for him this was not a joyous experience, no it was an ugly awakening to a self he had not only been at pains to repress but had also in the process, convinced himself did not exist. And he was brought down so suddenly that when he finally had to face himself he found nothing but a deep voiceless formless endless void looking back at himself.
It was so ugly! Ugly ugly ugly!
To have been exposed like this.
The occasion had driven him into a pub and he sat alone in the bay window over looking St Martin’s Lane. Even this was a sign that things were slipping. He couldn’t believe he found himself seeking solace in the dregs of a seedy bar- the likes of which two years ago he promised he would never enter again- and here he was. He imagined that the bar man and the bar were laughing at him. They’d always known he’d return. The edge of the bar knew it, the stools knew it; everyone knew that life the universe would conspire to bring him back here. Was it what he really wanted then? he thought. What was implanted in his heart if he ended up back here? What use were his so called virtues, morals, those things he so carefully guarded and cultivated when in the end they led to here, the beer house? At least he would have liked to have found he despised the place once he was in it. But no his hand was comforted clasping his pint and he was happy in the knowledge there was more, much more to be had from the bar behind him.
It was coming again he thought. It was surprising how he could so easily flit between these two personalities- on the one hand a bum running to a pub and sitting in the window trying to find life and on the other, a normal human being trying to behave well, trying to navigate that treacherous path between one’s needs and the needs of others and working out who’s if anyone’s, fitted in with one’s own and how to tell the difference.
But the way that it had happened! Horrible! Horrible!
He shirked from the memory- the spittle flying through the air for example and sticking to someone’s cheek.
The shocked silence.
Himself standing there, legs apart and steadying himself as if for a big fight and breathing heavily and all that was going through his mind was
Have I just done this? And who is this I now?
He remembered little, selective memory was kicking in. No the only thing he could remember was the awful pause and the way Kane had looked at him. As if deflowered of some innocence, some innocence concerning himself.
No he was no longer in charge of himself. It was the smallest of incidents though wasn’t it? He had reacted properly hadn’t he? He had at least reacted spontaneously.
He couldn’t get over the betrayal though. From himself and from Kane.
What had happened was at work he had spoken- no not spoken- spoken roughly- no not spoken roughly even- he had shouted at Kane.
Kane who he, in his egoism; considered more vulnerable than the rest. And for this reason he pitied him, a fact which did not lie altogether comfortably with himself- for who was he to pity? Didn’t it mean he was judging him and worse using him as a vehicle upon which he could practise his own virtues of kindness, patience and tolerance?
But he also had treated Kane with a certain amount of deference too which bordered on some sort of fear, although Abel was unable to express it in this way. He just knew there was something, a glimmer of something in Kane which could raise some fury in himself and for that reason he was afraid of him too.
Still as his supervisor he had to protect him from the others and as it turned out, from himself. Kane was young, just out of teenage years and had come to London on his own todd and appeared to be lonely and very depressed. And there was a sensitivity about his mouth which captivated Abel, made him more compassionate towards him than the others and made him want to care. Many times Abel found him slumped at his desk, or in the toilets or canteen, his face buried deep into his arms. He would stay like that for a long time, not doing any work to the contempt of his colleagues but Abel instead of reprimanding him, tried to understand.
At first he tried to acknowledge Kane when he was in one those moods and would just say hello when the boy hid his face in the nook of his elbow. And when this had no effect he took, when he had time; to sitting down with him and just sharing the space and saying little. Trying to engage. And after a while he began to feel some animal rapport was established, over the first few weeks Kane would raise his head from the pile of CDs he was resting on and would gaze appealingly into Abel’s eyes as he questioned him about how he was feeling- had he a hangover? was he on drugs? (it was fine, the company could help him) had he a problem with his sexuality may be? etc. But the boy would only smile and fling himself back down into the comfort of his arms again.
Later in the canteen the girls in the Lingerie department told him he was a saint. He smiled at them gently and told them he just wanted to help people. But when they suggested he was too soft and should be sterner- he wasn’t really helping him was he, merely indulging?- he gently demurred, inwardly balking at the idea. And he knew it was because he feared this something that was in the boy which mirrored something in himself. In fact he did wonder if his niceness was an attempt at containment. Containing the boy so he did not initiate anything in himself. But all the time everyone just saw him as kind and long suffering.
And when Kane was insufferably and inexplicably rude to another assistant he did speak to him.
Kane, he said. Can we have a chat?
And the boy had come into his office and had listened to what he had to say.
I was only saying, he said.
Yes but there are different ways of saying things, answered Abel.
Why do I have to bother? he muttered.
To make others feel better, he said. Surely that’s good?
The boy had looked at him incredulously but he said
Alright then. But I was only pointing out to her what she had done wrong. I wasn’t being intentionally nasty.
And Abel felt like he hadn’t tried out life yet despite his 35 years because he knew he believed him.
Come on, he said suddenly. Let me take you for a drink?
Nah you’re alright, the boy closed down.
Mouth drawn to a pout, sulking; his voice stiff and authoritarian and cold so that it hurt Abel.
But he knew where Kane hung out. He followed him one day off Oxford High Street, down many twists and turns until he, Abel; was quite lost although he’d lived in London for ten years. He followed the boy down one last alley and saw him turn a corner and enter a small door which let into a brightly red lit hallway. He was met by a girl clad in a thong and wearing high heels and she kissed him as she shut the door, so they were obviously acquainted thought Abel. Abel moved away from the little scene head pounding. He knew it was a strip club, a little Biro sign on lined paper next to the door announced in a childish scrawl that is was fetish night. Abel had never ventured near any of these places, like alcohol he kept away. He had never even been to the more crude strip clubs in Hackney where even women spent their evenings viewing bobbing breasts and vaginas of various shapes and sizes.
The revelation was initially a shock for Abel. Like someone throwing cold water in his face. Kane wasn’t a fallen angel whose innocence was corrupted by the city, no he was already corrupt he thought. And had perhaps come to the city looking for more corruption. Looking at the boy in the day time he could hardly believe the corruption he must expose himself to at night.
He looked so angelic! Soft brown hair tufting onto his forehead and reaching his shoulders in little curls, a square face and deep brown eyes. It seemed to Abel he belonged to another era. He certainly didn’t belong in the department store, he looked like one of those people who should not be made to work for fear they would break and shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. Yes he was vulnerable. But he was slippery too Abel thought. If he didn’t want to do something and wanted to go against you he’d answer you in the broadest of dialects as if an Essex Chav. But if he wanted to ingratiate he would become affected and posh.
The boy was staring crossly at him now- a hard cold stare bordering on insolence.
Have you done the customer orders yet? he asked suddenly.
No I’ll do it, all in good time.
I told you they have to be done.. he began and then stopped when he saw Kane’s face crease with what seemed like fear.
Ah well, I suppose there’s time, don’t worry; he said.
And Kane exited his office, a little smile on his lips. This should have warned Abel. But all he could think about was why Kane seemed afraid, why did he go to fear suddenly at a slightly raised voice?
That evening Abel set off back home to Elephant and Castle. Sometimes if the mood fit him he’d walk and did that tonight, making his way through the throngs at Leicester Square. He felt strangely miserable, hardly daring to admit to himself that his disappointment of not going for a drink with Kane was raising some excitement in him, some tension. He did not realise he had built his day around it. Then out of the corner of his eye he saw a familiar figure in his long black actors coat loping along. And then he couldn’t believe his eyes- Kane disappeared through the artists entrance of the Hippodrome. He looked at a board which read- open mic poetry night. Now Abel hesitated. The strip club he would in time have forced himself into but this place was a different matter. It was out of his social possibilities. Its client ale dressed in glittering jewels and held sequined hand bags as if starring in some Bond film. They inhabited a world totally unknown to him but one which bordered on wanting stardom, to be seen; to be Royal or a Royal hanger on, to be the chosen select few. But nevertheless he found his hand on the door and himself walking inside.
Once in he was motioned towards some swing doors and they were opened for him as if by magic and he found himself in the Matcham Rooms which echoed to the quiet sounds of clicking dice, the swish of the spinning wheels and the little oohs and aahs which every now and then uttered from the punters mouths. A french man in a pink shirt and with a bald head wearing expensive perfume quietly ushered him to the Cabaret space at the back which is where Abel guessed Kane was appearing.
Taking his seat in a dark corner a man sat at the piano singing sorrowful blues whilst women, perk and alert in their front row seats, threw their knickers- yes really- at the applause Abel was sure a pair sailed over his head. And then the lights dimmed and Kane swanned onto the stage, walking pointedly as if a ballerina, grabbed the microphone and began reciting.
He recited poems vaguely in the style of Ginsberg and all about London and sex clubs and girls and the gutter. Abel had studied English and knew they weren’t very good. So did the audience. They didn’t boo but sat in a polite hostile silence waiting for the pianist to come back on.
Afterwards out in the street Abel saw Kane hurrying away, a girl on each arm. He recognised them as being the only two to enthusiastically clap in the audience. When he caught up with him he found Kane in jovial mood.
It went well didn’t it? asked Kane anxiously.
Abel was flummoxed for a reply but Kane looked at him and said
I’ll have that drink now if that’s OK?
and when Abel looked uncertainly at the two women he actually patted their bums and said
Oh don’t worry, they’re not coming. See you later girls!
He led Abel to the Hospital Club.
My treat, said Kane waving Abel away. I’m celebrating. I might be having a book published, there was an agent there tonight who’s interested.
Abel had never seen Kane like this before. He was high on his own success, he laughed at nothing, he laughed at the waiter; laughed at two women engaged in an intense creative meeting and who threw him furious looks and laughed at an old man near them who was obviously hoping for a quiet night out with his paper. But Kane appeared not to notice or care.
They’re just jealous, he said; because I’ve had a review at the Hippodrome.
And leaned back, eyes half closed, imagining a great future.
But it’s so hard, he said suddenly. Do you know how hard my life is? You may think I have a lot of fun right? Going out with all these girls. going to pubs and coming here. But most of the time I hardly ever do it. Most of the time my life is nowhere, I’m all blank. After the shop I go home and there’s nothing. I try and write and may be there’s something and if not I go out for inspiration and then I come home and I write and I write and then sleep if there’s time and then come to the shop and then it starts all over again.
I don’t want to go home, he said suddenly grabbing Abel’s arm feverishly. Stay with me, don’t go! We can stay here and drink wine! Let’s drink!
I don’t drink, said Abel.
Just don’t make me go home, said Kane as if he hadn’t heard him. I live in a terrible place, don’t make me go home yet.
And suddenly Kane became a babbling five year old, the success of the night forgotten he clasped Abel’s arm even tighter,
Why don’t you want to go home? Abel asked.
Loneliness, Kane answered through gritted teeth, Loneliness. Still, he uttered. Time to go! and stood up, pushing the table away with his feet.
But you just said we’d stay, Abel protested.
But it’s boring, declared Kane.
As Kane stood there towering over Abel he suddenly saw him in a different light. The poor boy’s mad he thought. Not just lonely but almost psychotic. A sorry soppy look came into Abel’s eye as he gazed at Kane with real sorrow and tenderness.
Where are your parents? he asked.
To hell with my parents, he responded.
Out in the street the cold winter air sobered Kane, he became pensive and walked with his shoulders hunched and bent into the wind, hands clasped behind his back weaving in and out of the crowds on Charing Cross Road.
Perhaps I should ring those girls, he said stopping suddenly.
Which girls? asked Abel.
Those ones I was with, Kane said crossly. Shall I show you? he cried suddenly. My busking spot? Come on, come with me; I should be there now anyway.
He set of a pace through the back streets of Soho to a corner of Leicester Square. He eyed up a group of girls standing near where a mic was already being set up.
They’re my little audience, he said. Can you do me a favour and guard my spot? I need to buy beer.
Abel hesitated. It was cold and dark but he saw Kane’s pleading look.
You’re an alcoholic, he said with dismay.
But Kane didn’t even hear, he was already running off into the darkness with the girls.
Abel didn’t know how long he sat there but it seemed to be for a long time. The wind blew his hair into his face, his hands were numb, passersby threw money at him thinking he was homeless. He rang Kane but he did not pick up. At first he got angry, thinking Kane selfish and self centred. But then rebuked himself. He’s obviously ill he thought. Oh God, what if he had got mugged or got lost somewhere? And instantly blamed himself for having uncharitable thoughts about him.
When Kane came back Abel was nearly asleep with the cold. Kane though had about him a warm glow which suggested he had come straight from the pub.
Where were you? Abel muttered thickly.
In truth I don’t know, Kane lowered his voice. I think I passed out. I was talking to those girls- they were really annoying me, you know English students from Kings and then I was suddenly alone. I think I blanked out.
Kane looked at Abel and as if he might cry. Abel took him by the arm and let him away. Kane smiled suddenly, his smile was brightly lit- he wanted someone to be in charge of him. But there was something in it that suggested he was like the cat that had got the cream. Abel didn’t see or he chose not to. Or he was just too innocent to see.
They went to Abel’s favourite coffee shop and he felt glad Kane was there and that he was walking by his side. And he was in control. He looked at all the other couples in the shop, some holding hands; others leaning breathlessly in towards each other and felt a sense of akiness. Now he was one of them too, taking part in this great humanitarian act of togetherness, sharing each other’s problems, confiding and trusting. His heart opened with joy.
But his joy was short lived. Kane threw himself down in a chair, his depression returning and Abel’s heart sank slightly. He had wanted to talk to Kane and tell him all about himself. He realised the impossibility of it and sat quietly waiting.
Are you alright Kane? he asked eventually.
Kane turned and looked at Abel with beseeching eyes which nevertheless had the slight ring of a laugh in them. Abel couldn’t help feeling irritated, humiliated even but he pushed the feelings away.
You mentioned my parents. That’s so strange, he said dreamily. For there really is something you know, there really is a problem.
I know there is a problem, said Abel, I can see it.
Abel leaned forward, his tongue slightly projecting out of his mouth; his posture lengthened like a puppet on a string.
Please talk, he cajoled.
Kane gazed at the ends of his fingers a smile hovering about his lips.
Well thanks, he said. Not many people listen to me you know.
Hey you can talk anytime, said Abel.
But Kane was standing up. He stood with an air of knowing he was being watched, as if he was on show; he knew he was making an impression.
Don’t go, pleaded Abel confused.
I need to be on my own. What do you want? he flung out.
And left, disappearing through the door.
Abel remained with his coffee thinking. He was excited into an almost religious frenzy. He felt he had been getting close to something with him. He’s got to stop running, he thought to himself. Just stop and face himself. Otherwise he’ll never sort himself out.
He was determined to tell him.
The next day Kane showed up late but Abel over looked it. It was true the way he flounced into the shop not even giving Abel eye contact never mind apologising, upset him and made him feel inconsequential all of a sudden. And a little provoked he saw Kane occasionally flick his eyes over to him to see. But all that morning whenever Abel tried to approach Kane he got up and walked away, he was sure on purpose. He doesn’t want to talk about his problems thought Abel, that’s understandable enough. And he felt more tender as he watched him serve an elderly lady, a smile lighting up his sculpted face and removing his creases suddenly. There’s so much good in him thought Abel and found himself wishing he would smile at him like that, would treat him as kindly and as tenderly as he did the old woman. Abel was still staring at him after the lady had gone and Kane turned and caught him, the smile instantly disappearing. Abel blushed and averted his gaze and Kane turned his back.
Never mind, I’ll catch him at lunch Abel thought.
But at lunch Kane was not in his usual corner. It was his half day Abel remembered. But he was disappointed all the same, half hoping Kane might have stayed around to have lunch with him. Instead Abel sat alone and sad. He was heavy with a love he felt he was being denied the ability to express. But it could not be with held he thought, I can’t keep it in otherwise I will surely die. And even though he likes all those women, shags them; he has no friends really, he is alone. And I am alone. I can help him. The proper time will come for me to give to him, thought Abel and he was excited. Convinced it would be so. Although he was longing to give now. But to give to a person he thought he knew because he saw what he did with himself at nights, saw how he suffered and made others suffer and was oblivious to his own mistakes- this is what Abel loved and wanted to ‘cure’ not knowing that love is blind, doesn’t care about how a person is or does and therefore has no time or knowledge of cures, because love is a psychic exchange between two people whose energies speak and interact without the need for words or even touch.
Nevertheless that evening, when the day was over; Abel found his feet leading him towards Leicester Square. He saw Kane on his spot hunched over and mumbling into the mic. He knew he was drunk.
No one’s listening to me, Kane screamed; and flung himself down onto the pavement.
Abel watched a group of beer soaked men jeer and then walked up to him, cupping his face in his hands.
Are you ever sober Kane? he asked.
But he didn’t reply and instead leaned back against the wall, chewing his lips.
You’ve got to stop drinking, he persisted. Otherwise you’ll never write anything good. Or face yourself.
I’m having my book published, Kane spat out. I was celebrating, I have a right to don’t I?
Abel looked at Kane.
What don’t you believe me? Kane shouted.
I just don’t think you’re publishing anything good. It’s not in your heart, I don’t see it. And you know what, all I ever hear is how bad your life is. How you are suffering. But every time I offer you help, you don’t want it. You run away. Even when I say you need help. So perhaps you want to stay in this, like a spoilt child. Perhaps you don’t want to get better.
Kane grabbed Abel’s hands so that he thrilled at the touch.
Please stop, please stop; he whispered.
But Abel shook him,
I just want to help you, I can see you’re suffering and you know, I really believe you have to have it out with your parents; you need to talk to them and until you do you’re poetry won’t be any good because you won’t be free.
Abel had flung himself down and was prostrating himself in front of Kane.
How dare you, shouted Kane. You don’t know what’s in me!
At that moment a blond haired woman walked up and kissed Kane on the lips. Then she pushed him down onto the floor so that Abel was nearly squashed and continued kissing him. Kane buried his head in her breasts and whispered,
I love you.
Abel got up and walked away. He passed through the crowds, pushing them aside. He walked and walked even in the rain. And then he went home.
That night in bed he tossed and turned. And woke up with his body slippery with sweat. He couldn’t stop visualising the kiss and the intimacy he was forced to observe and lastly the knowledge that she, this woman could heal and indeed was healing Kane in ways he could only dream of.
The next day when Kane turned up late Abel ignored him. Even when he swaggered up to his desk his body relaxed and glowing, obviously because of the night before; he remained reticent.
I’m late, he said.
Sure, answered Abel calmly.
Kane returned to his spot in the shop, let out a sigh and flung his head down on the desk. Abel let him. He set his heart against him. In his head he told himself Kane had set up the girl thing on purpose. He wanted to hurt him he told himself, wanted to make him feel bad. He told himself not to look at him. He musn’t otherwise he was done! He musn’t see any sadness or self pity. He must harden his heart. But he felt a spite too. Abel hated having thoughts of this kind. He believed in giving people chances. He wanted to try Kane again but no he musn’t. But he didn’t believe in giving up on people. He allowed himself to steal a glance at Kane. Was this depressive attitude put on? But he musn’t look. Suddenly he felt he hated him. The place where the roots of his hair sprouted he thought ugly in their banalness. The reality of the hair coming out of the scalp even frightened him and suddenly he thought of the smell the scalp would have and she the woman would have smelt it last night, like he had wished he might and now did not; instead he wanted to vomit and to smash that head away. He found Kane looking at him and he blushed thinking he knew his thoughts.
Have you done the customer emails yet? his voice harder than he meant.
You know I haven’t.
Well can you do them please. Now.
Yeah, said Kane. But he didn’t move. Suddenly he turned to an assistant,
Tosser, he said.
Will you do as I say, said Abel; his voice rising.
Alright, keep your hair on, said Kane. But he still sat there tapping his pen against the desk.
And a look passed between them then, there was mutual anger and aggression. But Abel didn’t want it, he tried to replace the anger with good thoughts and got up with the intention of walking out to cool off. That was the intention. But somehow he found himself standing over Kane and yanking him up by his lapels and slamming him against the wall.
Are you enjoying playing this game with me or what? he hissed.
What game? spluttered Kane.
Goading me, provoking me!
I’m not goading you! Kane laughed and pushed Abel away and holding his hands out palms upwards in a gesture of confusion and innocence to everyone else.
Shall I tell you what you are? Abel continued. You’re lazy, you’re manipulative, you’re a womaniser, you’re an alcoholic and you’re totally disrespectful towards your peers and you’re a snob and you play with me.
You’re the one stalking me, countered Kane. What do you expect old man? You won’t leave me alone.
I am not stalking you, said Abel giving a nervous laugh. I’ve just tried to help but I never ever want to see you again, you disgust me, you reject me continually I mean why why why don’t you like me? Why? Why can’t you like me? he finished and even he knew how he showed himself up now.
There was silence. Kane looked at Abel a small mocking grin about him.
You’re the one who needs help, not me.
Abel was trembling. He pointed a finger at Kane
You are a bad poet and you’ll never be any good. You’re too busy wanting to be famous. And I hope you are never ever successful.
And for an instant- but only for an instant- he Kane was destroyed. He gave him a look which accused him of betrayal. Abel realised this was the way he could hurt him most and exalted. But at the same time was himself smashed to smithereens. He had destroyed any possibility of their being any good feeling between them forever.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry! spluttered Abel and he was on his knees.
Oh boy! said Kane, Oh boy!
For Abel was crying. No one moved as the tears came down. Abel at last got up and stumbled out of the shop and he went straight to the pub and sat drinking, ending his two year abstinence.
Everything was now broken. How was it possible that Kane had come to mean so much to him? How could he have spoken to him like that? He felt terrible, as though he had committed a murder. And he had in a way, he’d murdered all the goodness in his heart and he’d shown everyone who he really was. People had gasped and pointed and when he went near they shrank away as if he were a leper.
And the resounding truth came to him.
He’d never been helping Kane really, only himself. He had opened his heart and out had come blackness. He had thought he was good but now he couldn’t even tell how bad he was.
What if I am evil? he thought.
Was there something he didn’t understand? Was there a way of life everyone else knew about and followed to which he was blind? He saw clearly now he should never have got involved with Kane, he should have let the company deal with his behaviour and lateness. The others saw this so why not him? But was that the right way to deal with him though? He had thought the others callous letting him alone when he was so obviously unhappy but perhaps their motto was to live and let live, trusting he’d revive, whereas his was to play God and interfere although at the time he just thought he was being kind.
He took his phone and scrolled down to Kane’s number. He’d hoped he might ring- absurd he knew but miracles sometimes happened- but he only had three missed calls from work and a voice mail. He wasn’t ready to listen just yet. He looked at Kane’s number. Should he ring him? He felt weighed down with guilt although he couldn’t deny a desire to speak to him.
Now images of Kane came to him thick and fast. His baby face creasing into a smile, his hand stroking his chin; his eyes raised to the heavens at the end of reciting some poetry waiting for the applause. Abel saw many faults but the boy was innocent of himself. Abel’s crime, he now saw; was to take that innocence away. He realised his mistake was to think that Kane was not successful when he was. To think his faults prevented it but he realised that Kane lived every millisecond, did not hold himself back and was loved, unlike Abel. Kane was living and beside him Abel was vacuous, repressed, passive and unspontaneous.
Until just now he realised. All the time the situation had been pushing towards this resolution and Abel’s spontaneity which had formed itself not through love and tenderness towards Kane as he had imagined, but through violence and cruelty. What was the rage he had felt? The rage of rejection. And now it was out and let loose and everyone knew. Abel saw his propensity, his real nature and the one he had been hiding, was one turning towards violence. Perhaps he subconsciously sought out people and situations which allowed these feelings to play out. Whilst others turned towards tender words he went beyond words with his violence. It was there, no doubt. He had not planned to grab Kane and get him up against the wall.
He was afraid. If this was what he was like when he was beyond words and no longer in control and spontaneous.
By now it was getting late. The bar man looked at him strangely. Abel had been so deep in thought he had been oblivious to a brawl breaking out around him and glass bottles flying around his head.
Abel knew he had to move and go home. He looked at two balloons bobbing around outside tied to the pub’s sign. They knew their own reality he thought. He seemed to understand their experience more than his own. He understood the way they danced in the breeze, played and rubbed up against each other, uncaring and nonchalant with it. It seemed strange to him he understood their non verbal existence more than his own. It was something he couldn’t and didn’t have to put into words.