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Misadventures in the Fifth Dementia

A Psychic's Road Trip of a Lifetime

No Monkey in the Sky

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Chapter 4.

Look – there!’  Angelic Angela’s darkly-defined eyes, ghostly white face and smoky breath were even more intimidating at close quarters, as she leaned into him, her index finger pointing at a particular cluster of stars.

SImon leaned fractionally away from her.

No, I don’t see any monkey in the sky,’ he repeated for the second time.

Ah well, shame.  It’s pretty cool.

Angela dropped her finger and relit her joint for another drag.

As the pale herb-scented smoke wafted skyward, she resumed their previous conversation.

So, she left you?  Just like that?  Just because you quit a dead-end job to pursue your gift?’

I guess that was why.  She never said she was unhappy until she realised I had ditched my job.’

Simon shrugged his shoulders, and picked purposefully at a piece of rough wood on the balcony railing.  Somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to destroy Angela’s image of him by telling her that he had, in fact, been sacked from his job. He was beginning to like the version of himself that was forming in her mind.  It was an image that positioned him alongside other gifted souls struggling to earn a crust from their talents – a much more flattering version than the one Eve had of him as a liar and an incompetent.

But a small confession on his part, Simon felt, might further secure his position in Angela’s mind.

To be honest,’ he said, turning back to face Angela and away from his task of stripping splinters off the railing, ‘until this new guide came along, I wasn’t all that wonderful as a psychic reader.

Angela put a comforting hand on his arm.

Don’t worry about that, Simon – we all start out the same way.  If everyone around us doubts our gift, how can we take it seriously enough ourselves?  But that’s one great guide you’ve got now.   It’s been a long time since I have seen anyone give a reading like the one you gave tonight.’

Simon’s first Psychics Anonymous meeting had been such a success that he was still riding high on the back of it several hours later.  Agador Spartacus, relishing the attention, had brought through, with lisping eloquence, a string of appropriate messages from beyond the grave for almost everyone in the room.  Grandmothers, grandfathers, old friends and a motley crew of the undead had all taken their invisible places in the echoing hall at the top of the stairway.  And one by one, Agador had translated their messages to Simon, who had done his best to translate them into intelligible English.

I know!’ Angela’s excited voice lifted an octave from her normal deep tone.  ‘Why don’t you go and tell your girlfriend about your new guide?  Stand in your power and tell her what has happened! I’m sure she’d give you guys another chance if she knew how things are changing for you.’

Tell her about Agador?’  Simon wasn’t convinced that telling Eve he had a new spirit guide would encourage his ex to reconsider her decision to leave him.

Well, maybe not by name,’ Angela conceded.

What is wrong with my name?’ Agador’s lisp cut into Simon’s thoughts, attracting his attention to a detail he hadn’t registered.

Why not by name?’ he asked Angela.

Well, you know – he wasn’t exactly the wisest of characters, was he?’ she smiled.

In the moment of silence that followed, as Simon racked his brains searching for anything that would explain Angela’s comment and prevent him from showing his ignorance, Agador’s indignation could be felt bristling in the ether.

But Angela didn’t consider herself a psychic for nothing.

The Birdcage?’ she prompted, correctly interpreting Simon’s silence.

I am not the same Agador!’ Simon’s spirit guide hissed in his ear.

Ask him if he can wear shoes,’ she further prompted with a grin, seeing Simon was still struggling to make connections.

‘That is not fair,’ Agador protested to Simon.  ‘Only humans wear shoes. I will not answer that question. She is mocking me!

Simon was beginning to feel like the third wheel, his only purpose to serve as a translator for Agador to Angela in a conversation he didn’t understand.

He says only humans wear shoes,’ he nevertheless repeated to her.

Angela laughed, a big belly laugh that echoed out into the night.

So he is the same Agador then?  I hope he has wised up a bit since he passed on to the next life!’

No, I am not the same Agador!’ came the reply from the other side.  ‘I died long before him.’

Then, ‘He was named after me,’ the spirit guide conceded.

Simon frowned.

Well, go on then,’ Angela said, seeing his expression.  ‘He’s saying something else, isn’t he?’

He says the character was named after him,’  Simon repeated, hoping the response would make sense to Angela in a way that it didn’t to him.  From her reaction, it clearly did.

And how is that reassuring?’ she chuckled. ‘Either way, I’m not sure I would be openly sharing his name.’

Again, the ether bristled with Agador’s silent huff.

Look,’ she said gently, ‘We all saw tonight what a great pair you two make – the partnership obviously works.  But the name might just get in the way of people being open to what you have to say, so maybe just keep it a secret for the time being, eh?  Or find a nickname for him.  And for heaven’s sake, go and watch the Birdcage so you know what I’m talking about!

She pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders and turned back indoors.

Simon stood for a moment, gazing at the streetlights of Pee Pee down below, mulling over his options.

Agador…Ag…Aggie…Aunt Aggie…

A variety of potential nicknames presented themselves.

Are you kidding me?’ came the ethereal protest.  ‘I will not work with you if you call me any of those.’

If you don’t work with me, you’ll be stuck as a trainee spirit guide,’ Simon countered.  That was another detail he’d conveniently chosen not to share with Angela.

And if you don’t work with me, you’ll never get your girl back!’ Agador almost spat in his ear.

Sparty…

No, that didn’t really work either.

And was he really negotiating with a spirit guide?  Could you do that?  You could negotiate with a human, so Simon couldn’t see why it wasn’t possible to negotiate with a dead one.  It just wasn’t something he’d ever heard anyone doing before.  But, yes, Agador was right – he needed to find a way of working with him if he was going to get Eve back.  And, yes, he had decided earlier that evening that making amends with his girl was his next priority.

What about using plain Spartacus as a name?  That had a certain authoritative Grecian ring to it, didn’t it?

‘Eve, before you make any final decision, I need to tell you about Spartacus,’ he said out loud, toying with the name.

Yeth,’ Agador interrupted, the lisp exaggerated by his enthusiasm.  ‘Thpartacuth is good.’

Simon turned away from the nightscape, joining Angela indoors.

Spartacus, Angela – that will work as a name, he said decisively.  ‘And yes – you’re right.  I will go and talk to Eve.  We had something good going and I don’t want to lose her.  Like Number 9 in the Twelve Step programme says, I have to make amends to those I have hurt through my behaviour.  And we wouldn’t be apart now if I had taken my gift seriously in the first place.

(Image source: psychedelicmonkey.tumblr.com)

Psychics Anonymous

 

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Chapter Three.

 

‘It’s obvious, man!  The aliens are messing with us by bombarding the planet with ultra-sonic waves.  Look at the graph.’  Ned passed the sheet to Simon, who scanned the wavy lines on the page with feigned understanding.

‘Mmm, interesting,’ he mumbled.

‘Yeah.  Can’t you see it makes perfect sense?’ Ned’s excited voice rose above the rest of the chatter in the room.  ‘I’ve been tracking these waves for a few years.  Look at this,’ he jabbed a few square inches of the graph with his index finger. ‘This is the period leading up to Brexit – see how the waves peak during those weeks?  And this one,’ he added, jabbing a section further along the graph, ‘is the period leading up to Trump’s nomination as Presidential Candidate.  See – there’s another peak?’

Right… yeah,’ Simon mumbled again.

No, buddy, I don’t think you’re really getting the magnitude of it,’ Ned said. ‘The aliens have been bombarding our planet with a particular vibration of sound that is just outside our hearing and that’s why so many people  have been making these dumb-ass decisions! Just wait and see, as the next few months pass and the sound waves dissipate, they’ll all wake up again and wonder what the hell got into them.’

Ah, right,’ Simon said, finally getting what this intense new acquaintance was getting at.  But it didn’t explain why he – and thousands of others – had neither voted for Brexit nor for Trump, and no doubt Ned would have an explanation for that too, if Simon had the inclination to pursue the conversation further.  Which he didn’t.

Unfortunately, Ned did.

Can you imagine what other stupid moves folks have made under the influence of these malificent extra-terrestrial forces?  You’ve got to insulate, man, insulate!  I never make a decision without going into my back room. I’ve lined it with a special metal that reflects a range of vibration so at least I know there’s one place I can go where my decisions are not being affected by alien forces.

He rolled his graph up again and tucked it with the utmost care into a long cardboard tube.

Not that I have anything against aliens,’ he continued.  ‘In fact,’ he nudged Simon, ‘to be honest, I’m pretty sure I’m part Arcturian.  That’s why the guys call me Ned the Nerdy Alien.  But the Arcturians are good guys.  Kinda like the Sirians.  They’re not the ones trying to mess us up.’

He stopped and eyed Simon curiously.

I wonder what alien gene you have?’ he said, half to himself. ‘We all have them.

But the conversation came to an abrupt halt as a tall elderly man clapped his hands loudly for attention and everyone found a seat in the circle.  Simon chose one next to a large woman, dressed entirely in black, who seemed a safer bet than Nerdy Ned.

Hi, I’m Angelic Angela,’ she whispered as he sat down, leaning her large frame in to kiss him on the cheek.

Simon,’ he said.  ‘Just Simon’.

He was beginning to wonder if the inspired moment  that had led him to act on the small ad for this evening’s meeting had, in fact, been a moment of madness brought on by an over-dose of Agador Spartacus’ advice from the spirit realm.  Speaking of whom, where was Agador?  This should have been the perfect gathering for him, full of folk who were overly-fond of incense, crystals and feathers, judging by the overwhelming aroma, sparkle and flutter in the room.  He felt inordinately ordinary, with his jeans, t-shirt and short hair.

Welcome all to our regular Psychics Anonymous,’ the tall man announced loudly, silencing the last few murmurs. ‘And a special welcome to Simon this evening, who is joining us for the first time.’

Simon lifted his bum off the seat a few inches, nodded at the small group and sat again.   There was a general round of applause, which he took to be for his having joined the gathering as opposed to being for his rather lame bum-lifting.  He wasn’t fond of public appearances and having to stand fully in front of a group was too much on this occasion.

As it’s your first meeting, Simon, we thought it might be useful to have one of our longer-standing members talk us through their experience of PA – how they came to us and what it has done for them.  Angela, would you mind?’

Angela straightened up, obviously comfortable in the limelight, and leaned forward, arms on her knees, looking around the circle.  Her black hair hung in curtains over her face, hiding most of her pale cheeks and blackened eyes until, with a heavily-adorned hand, she pushed it back over her shoulder.

Well, I think you all know the story by now.  It’s been pretty much the same for all of us, one way or another.  But I’ll keep it short – y’all know how much I like an audience!

She grinned at the group.

So…when I first showed up here – it must be over seven years ago – I was just Angela.  In the same way that Simon has introduced himself to me this evening as just Simon.  Remember those days, my friends – when you were ‘just’ who everyone else thought you were?’

There was an outbreak of nodding heads and Angela joined in, nodding earnestly along with them.

That about sums up why I came here.  I thought I was weird.  I thought there was something wrong with me for thinking there was more to me than ‘just’ Angela.  I was in a very lonely, very scary place – talking to things I couldn’t see, seeing things I couldn’t explain.  I was hovering on the brink between sanity and lunacy.  At least, that’s how it felt.’

More nodding of heads, supplemented with general murmuring of agreement and one ‘You said it, sister‘ from a particularly enthusiastic head-nodder sitting opposite.

Then I heard about Psychics Anonymous and their twelve step programme.’

The elegant, elderly man walked over and put a hand on Angela’s shoulder.

Perhaps, Angela, now is a good time to remind ourselves of what the twelve step programme is?  Simon, perhaps you’d like to read it for us?’

Simon, feeling most definitely like he perhaps wouldn’t like to read it, nevertheless took the velum sheet he was handed and cleared his throat.

I’ll do my best,’ he said, his voice croaking with nerves.

Another clearing of the throat and he was ready.

Number 1.  We admit that we are powerless over our Gift – that our lives are unmanageable if we don’t yield to it.

‘Number 2.  We believe that a Power greater than ourselves is behind our Gift.

‘Number 3.  We accept that we are sane although much of society may deem us otherwise.

‘Number 4. We make a decision to turn our lives over to that Greater Power, however we choose to describe or understand it.

‘Number 5.  We accept that the Gift is not just ours but is a Gift to all and must be respected as such.

‘Number 6. We make a searching and fearless inventory of how the Gift manifests in us.

‘Number 7. We humbly ask the Greater Power to remove all obstacles that prevent us from expressing the Gift fully.

‘Number 8. We make a list of all persons harmed by our previous withholding of our Gift and become willing to make amends.

‘Number 9. We make direct amends to such people where possible, except when it would injure them or others to do so.

‘Number 10.  We will continue to take personal inventory and to promptly make amends if we are ever tempted to withhold the Gift again.

‘Number 11.  We will seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with that Greater Power, praying only for an understanding of how we can express the Gift.

‘Number 12. Having gained the spiritual understanding that the Gift is a divine one and to be respected as such, we will try to carry this message to others who may benefit from it and to practice these principles in all our affairs.’

As he came to the end of the twelve steps, Simon’s throat constricted once more but this time from emotion born of understanding.  His was a gift and what had he done with it?  Doubted it, sold it, tried to dismiss it when it didn’t pay him as he thought it should?  It had taken Agador Spartacus months to even communicate with him, so resistant had he been to allowing the divine into his life.  And what about Eva, his family, his former colleagues and all the others who had suffered because he had dishonoured the Gift?

He swallowed hard.  The room fell silent, sharing his moment of breakthrough.

He looked up from the list and his wet eyes met Angelic Angela’s.

Well, ‘just’ Simon,’ she smiled, ‘Are you ready to step into your power?  Ready to be Psychic Simon, the man with the Gift?’

 

 

(Image: By mr_t_77 from WV, USA (ADSCN3692) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Great Hangover of Life

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Chapter Two.

When Simon surfaced Sunday morning in his lounge in Pee Pee, Ohio, the great hangover that is life hit him full square in the chest.

Sundays were usually about he and Eva lounging in bed, mock fighting over whose turn it was to drag themselves to the kitchen and back to get morning coffee.  This Sunday, though, was all about hangovers.

Firstly, there was the beer hangover that throbbed behind his eyes and made his stomach heave at the slightest thought.

Then there was the separation hangover.  The hollow, achy, feeling that crunched into his reality as soon as he awoke.

And of course, there was the no-job-no-money hangover, which was continuing from the preceding days and weeks – that dark awareness of dwindling supplies in the cupboards  and of expiring resources with which to buy more.

Finally, there was the string cheese hangover…

The what?

Ugh, no wonder he had such a weird taste in his mouth.

Simon groaned and delicately rolled himself off the sofa, trying not to see the six empty jumbo packets of string cheese that lay on the floor.  Nevertheless, his mind helpfully did the maths for him.  Twelve portions in each jumbo packet. Twelve by six makes seventy two.  His stomach revolted, propelling him to the bathroom, where he managed to get his head over the sink just in time.

……………………………………….

Afterwards, he gulped great mouthfuls of cold water straight from the tap, relieved at least that the fermented curd in his digestive system had come back up rather than blocking the other end for days to come.

Straightening up, he caught sight of himself in the small mirror, noticing a smear of orange-coloured trickle on his chin.  He reached into his pocket for a tissue, bringing it to his face in the hope of restoring some sense of dignity.  It was only the rough texture that alerted him to the reality that he was, in fact, dabbing at his face with lace panties.  The same lace panties he had shoved into his pocket the day before in anticipation of a hot, solitary, evening in front of the television.

Simon sat down heavily on the side of the bath, the panties falling to the floor, and stared at his feet.  Toes.  Crooked toes, with a fungal infection that had turned the nails black.  Big feet with black toes on a fluffy white bath mat.  How could anyone have loved toes like that, he wondered.  He didn’t even like them himself.  No wonder Eva had left him.

Tho, Thimon, can we talk now?’

Like a bad penny, the voice had turned up again.  The same lisping, latino voice that had so unnerved him the night before.  Simon slumped further down onto the bathmat and leaned his head on his knees.  It seemed that madness had finally caught up with him, as his family had foreseen.

‘You’re the only company I’ve got, dude, so I guess we may as well have a chat, even if I’m just talking to myself.’  Simon said wearily.

I am not you!’  the voice answered indignantly. ‘I am me.  I am Agador Thpartacuth.’

‘Aga..who?!’

‘A-ga-dor Thpar-ta-cuth,’ the lisping interloper repeated slowly.

‘Agador Spartacus?  Seriously?’ Simon laughed.  Even his befuddled brain couldn’t have come up with that one.  Clearly, the voice wasn’t his.  That was a relief at least.  And the name had a certain familiar ring to it that he couldn’t quite place.

I am your thpiwit guide.’

‘My what guide?’

‘Thpiwit,’ Agador repeated.

‘Thpiwit?…Oh, spirit!  My spirit guide. So where have you been hiding for the last few weeks when I could have done with your help?’  Simon was not in the mood for tolerance.

‘You were dehydrated – I couldn’t get through,’ the voice answered without hesitation.  ‘But the beer helped.  Simon. you need to drink more water.  Beer is only a temporary fix.’

Oh come on.  Was he having a laugh?  Eva had always said he didn’t drink enough water.

But I am new so my fault too,’  Agador continued.  ‘I am trainee guide.’

‘A trainee spirit guide?  Do they even exist?’  

Typical, Simon thought, I get the cheap version and he can’t even speak English properly.

‘No, not cheep!  I am good…but not very well in English,’ Agador responded heatedly, perfectly reading Simon’s thoughts.  ‘It is not my language. I am from Watamala.’

‘From where?!’

‘Watamala.  You know – in Thentwal Amewica.’

Ah, Guatemala.

Agador continued, ’When you are no longer trainee psychic, I will not be trainee guide.  We both graduate together.’

Although Simon could feel Agador’s happy anticipation of promotion through his words, he himself was anything but happy at being called a trainee psychic.   Surely five years as a tarot reader had earned him some stripes – even if he’d only ever had a handful of clients?

We will help each other graduate, yes?’  came Agador’s enthusiastic voice once more.

‘You help me get my girlfriend back and I’ll help you graduate.’  Simon snapped back, his hangover fading into the background behind the weirdness of the conversation.  ‘Deal?’

No…we help eachother graduate and MAYBE girlfriend come back.’  Agador was obviously no sap, despite his trainee status and lack of fluency.  ‘Maybe girlfriend no good.’

‘Okay, I can buy that.’  Simon smiled, sitting up a little straighter, optimism rekindling.  ‘So, where do we start?’

The doorbell startled them both into unexpected action.

Outside, on the step, stood a dark haired woman, nervously shifting from one foot to the other.

Terence?  As in Terence’s Tarot?’ She asked, indicating the sign by the fence.

Um, yes?’  Simon ran the back of his hand over his mouth, belatedly remembering the earlier vomit.

‘I didn’t make a reservation or anything, but I need a reading kind of urgently?  Can you do it?’  There was no sign of a smile or anything that could be mistaken for warmth on the visitor’s face.

‘Yeth!’  Agador Spartacus’ enthusiasm washed through Simon.

Simon repeated, ‘Yeth,’  with a lilting, lisping, lift to the word.

The woman looked at him strangely.

Yes, of course,’  he said in a  normal voice, brushing aside the embarrassment of having slipped into Agador’s accent.  ‘Come in. It’ll just take me a few moments to get ready.’

Almost frog-marching his new client into the bathroom to buy time, he made for the lounge and manically man-handled the bottles and wrappers into the DVD cupboard, tossing the cushions back onto the sofa.  Drawn curtains, the quick flick of a lighter to an incense stick, and a deck of tarot cards on the table transformed the room from the Slough of Despond to the Enchanted Ground. And by the time Maryam had taken the armchair opposite, Simon had managed two or three deep breaths and appeared a vision of tranquility.

Now, how can I help you today?’ he asked smiling.  He felt oddly confident.

‘Well, to be honest, I don’t usually do this…kind of stuff,’ she said crisply, dismissing his life’s passion in one word. ‘And I don’t really want to tell you what’s going on.  So just do whatever it is you do and we’ll see how it goes.’

Unflinching in the face of such skepticism, Simon drew three cards and laid them out on the table.  The King, the Hangman and the Seven of Swords.

He looked at the cards and hesitated.  Was Agador going to be able to offer anything?  Or should he try to interpret by himself?  He cleared his throat and leaned forward, peering more closely at the cards and hoping for inspiration from the beyond.

He ith no right for her, thith man.’ Agador’s adamant voice sounded clearly in his head.  ‘Tell her!  He ith no right!’

Simon had no idea what he, or the cards, meant at that moment so there was nothing for it but to trust.

‘This man is not right,’ he muttered, altering the words slightly and continuing to stare hard at the cards.  He had no wish to see Maryam’s response.

He ith no king!’ Agador persisted.

‘He’s not a king,’ Simon repeated, arranging his face to appear lost in deep divination.

There was a moment’s silence, while Simon squirmed inwardly, eyes still lowered to the cards.  Then a loud strangled sob was heard, followed by soft crying.  Simon lifted his eyes to see the woman burying her face in a tissue.

Oh, thank you,’ she eventually gushed.  ‘That makes so much sense!  I thought I was losing my mind but I wasn’t.  He IS a fraud!’

Simon was stunned.  It had worked.

‘I know what I must do.  I must confront him and make sure this never happens again!’  I have to take a stand!’  She continued, her eyes and nose still streaming from the unexpected emotional release.

Getting to her feet, she pulled her purse out and slipped five twenty-dollar bills onto the small table.

‘I have no idea what you charge but I hope this is more than enough.  You got straight to the point with no bullshit – and so quickly too!  Thank you so, so much.  It was more than I could have hoped for.  And thank you for restoring my faith.’  

With a final honk in her paper hanky, she was gone, a trail of unfamiliar perfume wafting out the door behind her.

‘We are good together, yeth?’  Agador lisped in his ear.

‘Yes, maybe we are,’ Simon agreed.

It’s a Sign!

The Sign

Chapter One.

It was much more than a lovers’ tiff.  From the almost-supersonic pitch of her voice and the delirious sparkle in her eyes, he could tell the end was nigh.

‘You lying b****rd!  Five weeks you’ve been hiding it from me?  And all that time you’ve been using our savings?’

Her hand reached for the nearest weapon – a mug of cold tea – which came sailing across the room at him.  He ducked.

‘F**ker!’ she screamed, her raging face an unflattering puce.

She glared at the dark splatters dripping down the pale wall.  ‘I suppose I’ll have to clean up after you as usual!’

It was highly unfair of her, he thought, given that he did most of the housework.  But she didn’t seem to care.

Her hand reached again.

‘Not that, Eva, please!’ he begged.

‘What?’ Her eyes narrowed and her mouth twisted into a smirk. ‘You mean this?’

He should have known not to say anything.

The beautiful black Jesus statue from their trip to Guatemala came sailing towards him.  With unusual grace, he lifted his hand and caught it.  It was his turn to smirk.

A sound somewhere between a gargle and a grunt escaped her and she turned on her heels, yanking the living room door behind her as she left.  It caught on the carpet and Simon’s smirk broadened into a grin.  A victory!

But the grin disappeared as he remembered the reality.  He was unemployed.  Unemployed and a failure, it seemed, at the one thing he really loved.

He walked to the window and gazed out.  The sign, with its missing ‘a’, swung by a single hook.  It was facing away from him, intended to lure passersby, but he still knew what it said.

At one time it had been shiny and new – just like his assumed name and his dream of being a Tarot reader.  Now it creaked in the wind, refusing to blow away for once and for all, just hangin’ on in there by one rusty piece of metal.  And to make matters worse, some delinquent had recently added an ’s’ to the end so that it now read ‘Terence’s Trots’.  Yes, perhaps that was eloquently fitting, given the verbal diarrhoea that had emerged from his mouth during the few Tarot readings he had done, on the sidelines of his real job in software support.  He didn’t stop to wonder why he considered the latter his ‘real’ job, given that it had been of even shorter duration than his struggling career as a psychic.

He shrugged, dismissing the sign once more, and wandered into the kitchen, opening the fridge in the hope of distraction. Ah, string cheese – that would do.  There was much comfort to be had, at times like these, from the simplest of things.

He opened the packet and with slow, careful, movements, teased the tiniest strip off the side of the cheese, peeling it all the way to the bottom and lowering it into his mouth, before starting the process all over again.  There was something addictive about string cheese.  It wasn’t the flavour.  He wasn’t sure that it even had a flavour. And it wasn’t the texture either.  It was more the search for the perfect peel – the one that was neither too thick nor too thin, the one with no dangling scraggly bits.

Fifteen peels later, he’d almost forgotten his predicament when she appeared at the kitchen door, and stood in the threshold, arms folded, two cases by her side.  How had she packed so quickly?

‘I’m leaving.’  

Well, that much was obvious.

She glared at him, irritated by his silence.

‘Go on then – say something!’ 

Say what, he wondered.  He’d never been able to find words to counter her clever comments and loaded questions, and certainly none were occurring to him now that he was under pressure.  She always had such a way with words, while he always struggled for them, especially under the harsh scrutiny of those pale blue eyes.

‘Well?!’ She demanded, her irritation increasing.

‘I don’t know what to say, Evangeline.’  

He didn’t often use her full name.  It seemed a bit of a mouthful, to be honest.  But right then he was glad of the mouthful.  It made him sound at least moderately in control.

‘I mean, what is there to say, Evangeline?’ he added, hanging onto this meagre toehold on the slippery slope of self-respect.

Then, ’Maybe you’re going too far?’ he tentatively suggested.

‘How about sorry?’ she flung back at him, ignoring his suggestion that she might be over-reacting.  ‘Or, how about, ‘I wish I hadn’t kept it secret from you’?

Like a deer caught in headlights, he remained stunned by her fury.

‘All these years, all those times I stood by you and you can’t find a single word to say?  I’ve just had it with you!’

How had unemployment suddenly turned into the end of a relationship?  No wonder he’d delayed telling her.  Not that she’d consider looking for work herself at any stage.  She had been going back to college since her acting career had failed to take off, with no sign of anything more than a few application forms that always ended up in the magazine stack.

A horn bipped outside.  As usual, Evangeline was moving fast – as she always did when her mind was set on something.  He could still remember the speed with which she’d originally invited herself into his house.  It had left his head spinning.  And it hadn’t stopped spinning since.

‘Would it be too much for you to help me with these?’ she asked, indicating the cases, sarcasm and exasperation vying for supremacy in her voice.

‘Mmm?  Oh, yeah, sure honey…’

The term of endearment rolled unconsciously off his tongue.  Oops.

Pathetic. She didn’t have to say it.  It was written all over her face as she shook her head one last time at him, then turned her back and started lugging the two cases down the porch steps on her own.

‘You’d never speak up, even if your life depended on it!’  He could hear her unspoken words in his head more clearly than any of his own.

‘How the hell did I end up here, in this godforsaken part of town with a man who manages to lose the only real job he’s ever had – and during a boom time, too.’

She was right, of course.  He was no good for her.  She deserved better.  What had he ever done for her?

Well, there was the bed.  The bed was one thing he had managed to get for her  – a big sleigh bed, just as she’d wanted.  And now she was leaving it – and him – behind.

He stepped out onto the porch.  Carol was parked at the kerb looking up at him, her cold face clearly saying, ‘you dipstick’.  As Eva bumped her luggage down the last step, she got out and between them they heaved the cases into the boot, then drove off without a backward glance.

And that, it seemed, was that.

Simon turned back indoors, knowing that Eva was unlikely to return now that she had gone.  A latent rebellious streak encouraged him to grab a second string cheese and a bottle of beer from the fridge, before flicking the television on – daytime surfing being the ultimate indication of a wasted life.  He flicked through the channels.  The Shopping Channel, of course, and plenty of wildlife documentaries.  Something on car mechanics, too, that looked vaguely intriguing though entirely alien.  Then there was the Reverend Balls with his daily dose of ‘God’s Wisdom’.

‘Of the blessings set before you make your choice and be content.’

Hmm.  Not much in the way of blessings from where Simon was sitting, never mind choices.  And he had never been able to figure out the attraction of television evangelists.  All the same, the Reverend St.John-Balls had been recently attaining such minor superstar status that even Simon found himself watching for a few minutes, vaguely fascinated by the performance.  Sure, the Rev was a confident, striking, man, fully committed to his showmanship.  And a man of God too, apparently. A powerfully intoxicating mix, no doubt, to a susceptible mind.

Simon shrugged and continued with his channel-hopping, eventually opting for the light porn channel in order to maximise the meagre power that came from his solitary rebellion. Then he noticed that he needed a pee.

As he relieved himself at the toilet, a pair of lace panties caught his attention, staring provocatively at him from where they’d been abandoned on the radiator.  He shook off the last drops of urine and tucked himself away, struggling between the two equally strong desires of setting light to the panties and burying his face in their femininity.  Impatiently he grabbed their delicate laciness, dumping them in the metal pedal bin.  Then he changed his mind and plucked them out again, shoving them into his pocket.  They might be useful later, he decided, as he wandered back into the living room to the soulless entanglements on the television screen and the rapidly warming beer.

By early evening, and after countless beers, his view of the world had improved radically.  Maybe it wasn’t the worst situation in the world after all, he thought, sprawling out on the sofa, wet beer bottle in hand and tasty company on the screen. There was a lot to be said for the single life.  And he was starting to warm up a little in the nether regions too.  Georgina sprang to mind.  Pretty, flirty, eyelash-extension-and-sculpted-eyebrow-wearing Georgina.

Awkwardly, he twisted round, fumbling under the sofa for his phone, his uncoordinated drunken fingers scrolling through the list of contacts for her number.  She had always been sweet to him.  Of course she’d be happy to hear from him.  And why shouldn’t he ring her, now that he was free again?  The fact that she bored the pants off him didn’t really enter into it right now.  All he wanted was a stab at rebuilding his confidence.

He dialled, and waited.  The phone rang.  And kept ringing.

‘Hi, this is Georgina.  I’m so sorry I can’t speak to you in person right now…’

Simon hung up and chucked the phone at the armchair, his mood plummeting once more, the descent fuelled by alcohol.  With a vicious jab, he turned the television off and reality intruded on him again.  Disgusted at himself, he stared out the dark window in silence.

And who could Simon blame for his misery?  When he’d first lost his job and his few Tarot clients had all but dried up, he’d tried blaming God, but that had come to nothing.  Then he’d tried blaming his family, who had doubted his sanity after his announcement that he was doing psychic readings and now wanted nothing more to do with him.  Finally, he’d blamed Eva, which obviously hadn’t worked either.  He only had himself left.  Simon from Pee Pee, Ohio, was finally on his own.

But then two things happened.

The phone rang and, simultaneously, Simon, rebounding from misery to hope and lunging for the phone, fell over his feet as a voice echoed in his head.  It was a faint but distinctive voice – lisping, latino, male.

‘’ello, ‘ello?  Ith thith Thimon?’ the voice said.

The phone continued to ring, confusingly, on the armchair.

‘ello, can you hear me?  Thimon?’  the voice asked.

‘What?’ Simon shouted, grabbing the phone.  Had he already, in his drunkeness, answered it but failed to register as much?

‘Thith ith Maureeth.  I’ve been trying to reach you for weekth!’ 

The phone clicked through to voicemail as Simon finally raised it to his ear, forgetting to press the reply button.

‘What?’ he repeated, sinking back on the armchair and holding the small lump of technology out in front of him.  Clearly, the voice hadn’t come from there.

‘ello?  ‘ello?’

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