I Am Not Gog

By Matthew James Hunt

General fiction, Literary fiction

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723
8 mins

Ripples

Whenever my father was angry and wanted to tell Mummy he thought she was unhinged, he used to say, ‘You’re bloody tappy!’ Sometimes, for the sake of variety, he would say, ‘You’re tapped in the bloody head!’ It’s a Midlands expression. Although, I may have heard northerners use it, too. And maybe the Welsh.
    I never understood what it precisely meant. He might have been saying that she must have received a blow to the head, or that she must have had a kitchen tap fitted to her skull for her brains to flow out, or something else, but I’ll never know. Sometimes, he’d tap his temple when he said it, so it’s possible he meant, You have caused me to tap my temple, therefore you are ‘tappy’. But that wouldn’t really have made sense, because then he’d have been better off saying, ‘I’m bloody tappy!’ instead, because he was doing the tapping, and that would have been silly. Mummy would have laughed at him and agreed.
    They had long since passed away when I was at my most unhinged, so I couldn’t ask them about it. They might not have had a clue what it meant, either. People often say things they don’t really understand. I say plenty.
    On the night before the day of doing, while I lay soaking in the bath, I didn’t make the connection between what Daddy used to say and the actual taps dripping in front of me. I was far too deranged to see the irony. I don’t believe my taps crisis was in any way what Daddy would have imagined. It was probably just a coincidence, like an accidental pun. If he wasn’t angry, he might have said I was ‘doolally’ instead, which is a bit nicer, I think, but even more inexplicable.
    When a tap drips into a bath full of water, the ripples are tinier than one would imagine. They can barely be seen, especially by candlelight. They are definitely there, though.
    The drip went plip, and the ripples came out across the gloomy surface and met the skin of my leg. They happened even though I couldn’t feel them, and I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t looked for them. I could see them, but they were hardly there at all. They couldn’t possibly have had an effect, one would think, and I didn’t expect them to, but as I watched them that night, they did have an effect. One ripple alone is nothing, but patterns show hidden forces.
    When they vanished and the water became still again as if they were never there, they existed only in my head, but they had been so slight it was hard to remember them clearly. Then there would be another drip, sending out another set of ripples, and I would try harder to memorize what they were like. The few suds that were left didn’t hamper them at all. They slipped across the water in ghostly, secret shades. Just a fleeting quiver of minuscule energy. Silent, relentless, hidden power.
    If the sides of the bath hadn’t been there, if the water had gone on to infinity, how far would the ripples have reached? How far would have been the last molecule of water to be moved by them? Where did their dirty energy go within the confines of that enamel bath? Into me? Were the ripples going into me? What were they doing to me? I really did not want to be invaded by ripples.
    I felt I shouldn’t move, as if they were demanding that I shouldn’t move because it was their bath and it was not for me to go making ripples. They were the only movement in the bathroom. Even the flames of the candles were still. The ripples had quiet control of reality and I saw it clearly, but I couldn’t move or even speak. Breathing too heavily was naughty. Only my soul could defy them. You’re not the boss of me, you sneaky blighters. They focussed the insanity and intensified it, making me dizzy and weak.
    All important doings begin with a bath. A woman may have already made endless preparation prior to that, as I had, and technically a bath is still part of preparation, but that is the moment when she truly commits to what she is going to do. Once she’s in the water, she really is in. It’s pivotal. If she happens to have another bath before the big doing, then that new one will be the true beginning. In a similar way, things end with a bath, even to the cleansing of one’s corpse. Our lives are punctuated by them.
    On top of all that, as I finished the bath I had that night, there was one of several possible moments when evil took possession of me for about eighteen hours. I could be wrong. It could have been another moment, or an accumulation of moments, but I became possessed. I just have a strong feeling it was then, so I see it as the beginning.
    I would have had a bath anyway, of course. I have one every evening and a good wash in the morning with a flannel. I’m a very clean lady. I’m not a sloven. I wouldn’t want to go around all smelly, for goodness sake. Heavens, no. Sometimes, if conveniences are less than convenient, I may spill a little morning tea in the afternoon, so to speak, and I’m given to easy perspiration, so I’m probably more diligent with hygiene than most.
    Not that it would make much difference to other people. They often behave as though I stink anyway, as if they expect me to. They look down their noses and keep their distance, that sort of thing. I don’t know what goes on in their heads, there’s no fathoming, but I know what it looks like. I’m not stupid. I’m long past caring about how people see me. I like to be clean for me, that’s all.
    That night, though, I had made an extra effort to make the bath as soothing an experience as possible to help settle my nerves. I had lit candles by the taps, turned off the light, put bubbles in the bathwater, and played music on the tape machine. When one is insane, that sort of thing can help, but when one is as far gone as I was, it can make things worse.
    I thought I was doing the sensible thing, but even though I knew stress was both a symptom and a cause of my madness, among other things, these efforts were not for healing purposes. Analysing insanity is like chasing one’s tail, where symptom and cause get all muddled up, and muddled up again with other symptoms and causes. Often, if a symptom is treated, it’s hoped that it might go some way to healing a cause, but the situation was quite beyond all that. I simply needed to be as calm as I could for the following day, and I thought a candlelit bath with bubbles would help. I’d stopped chasing my tail, at least. I had something I could actually do to get to the root of things, to grab the tail and pull the beggar right off. That would do the healing.
    Soldiers of hell were coming, and a drop of bubble-bath couldn’t really take the edge off that prospect. In a few days, they would finally arrive to drag me out of the flat and sell it — sell the home where I lived, where I was having a blinkin’ bath.
    Well, they were going to try. After months of their threats and years of harassment, I wasn’t at all well. Nobody realized how seriously mad I had become, because I had learned from experience not to make a display of it, but even I didn’t grasp the full extent of my illness. It’s a terrible thing, madness. It’s desperately sad. Shocking. Nobody ought to suffer it, not even the worst of us.
    True despair has an ache that crawls though the whole body, right in the core, from the head to the heart and the guts, and then everywhere. Through the back and the kidneys, the ribs and the tummy, the shoulders and deep in the hips. Through the arms and legs, through the grain of the bones, the hairs on the skin, and all the stuff in between. It’s person rot.
    Those infinitesimal ripples in the bathwater touched the cursed flesh of my leg and I didn’t feel them, as if they didn’t exist, or as if I didn’t exist. But I saw them. They were taunting me. The flippin’ things were poking fun.
    The tape machine was playing Leif Asterlay’s Greatest Hits. I love Leif. He reminds me of my youth in the early seventies before the first time I went mad. I had thought he might help to cheer me up a bit, but he wasn’t doing a very good job. Side B came to an end, and the snap of the play button flicking up broke the spell of the ripples and freed me to reach down and turn the cassette over.
    Normally, I wouldn’t touch electrical equipment with sopping wet hands — it was plugged into an extension lead running from the hall — but then, I wasn’t of a mind to care. It could have given me a dose of electroconvulsive therapy or, more likely, provided a permanent cure, but it didn’t, and I’m glad because I don’t believe in either of those things. I just wasn’t bothered about it. If it had killed me, some terrible things would never have happened, it’s true, but neither would some jolly nice things.
    The first song on side A was ridiculously upbeat and cheerful. Very catchy. One of his biggest hits. I gave the start of it a half-hearted go, with some ‘la-lah- lala’, but it was more effort than it was worth and the sound of my own pathetic voice was spoiling it, so I let Leif continue unaccompanied, all bright and happy, romantic, dreamy, and optimistic. I wiggled my feet under the water to keep the ripples at bay with my own waves.
    Such an upbeat tune ought to have lightened my mood, at least a little, but it didn’t. It rather made me mournful. Not about many real things, but the things I had hoped for and believed in back then that were bound up in the sounds and styles of that colourful era. The promises of those early years, of the songs, magazines, films, television, and all of it, were just meaningless drivel. Lies not promises. In the bath, listening to that song, it seemed to me that Leif had been partly complicit in the deceit, and I resented him for that. The handsome traitor.
    The next song could not have been more of a contrast. It was the rubbish one with the thumping like a heartbeat. It’s eerie, slow music with him warbling on gloomily and trying to be cool and sassy with his ruffian accent, but ending up just plain dull. I’ve always hated that one. I lost patience with it all. Most of the bubbles in the bath were gone by then, anyway, so I got ready to rinse myself off with the jug.
    There’s a way for me to get up that may be a little convoluted, but I’ve not slipped once because of it, so that’s the way for me. A roll to the side, then over onto to hands and knees, hands one-by-one to rim of the bath, one knee forward and foot down, then heave it all up onto two feet, straightening not too quickly in case it makes me giddy. Sometimes, I award myself points as if I were a gymnast, but I didn’t then.
    When I stood up that night, with the candles behind me by the taps, my shadow was a giant monster with its head up on the ceiling, leaning over me. It was a welcome distraction, like a surprise puppet show. I said, ‘Hello,’ to it and put my arms up with clawed hands, as monsters do, and went, ‘Rah.’ That’s how bonkers I was. Ridiculous. Off my bloomin’ trolley. That greeting, that sense of welcoming, that might have been the moment when evil took a proper hold. I had no such thought at the time.
    A draught chilled my back, from neck to bottom, so I got on with pulling the plug out and ran the taps for rinsing. The monster raised its own jug up onto the ceiling and held it close to mine, as if it were proposing a toast. Then I poured my jug over my head, so I had to close my eyes. When I opened them again, the monster was wagging its head to the throbbing beat of Leif’s dismal song, so I danced along even though I didn’t like it.
    We turned and bobbed down to refill our jugs, and then we rinsed our bodies, slow-jigging as we did. I wasn’t shy, because it was much bigger and bumpier than me, and it was only a shadow. Then it raised its arm to rinse underneath, swaying to the side with the music, and I saw its giant bosom slide round, across its middle and back again, which made me giggle. I made up my own words to the end of a verse and sang, ‘Am I you, or are you me? Silly bean. Silly bean. Put your frock on.’ Somewhat an improvement on the original.
    I dried myself off, got into my big robe, and went to the bedroom to brush my hair, leaving the shadow monster behind. I had long hair then, but it was thin and straggly and it would dry quickly, so I had to brush it straight away and use the dryer or it would have gotten knots.
    I had all the things for the next day neatly laid out on the bed. I was very thorough. It was going to be dangerous, so I had to be extremely sensible about it all, with lots of planning. Every doing, every item, every timing to the minute was accounted for. Meticulously. Once I had done my hair, I went through my big list of Things, ticking everything off, from the bag of sweets to the tin with Daddy’s old army-pistol and bullets.
    Then, according to what sort of things they were, I loaded it all into three bags. There was a large canvas shopping bag, my red handbag, and a white plastic carrier bag with just the sweets in. Sweets can’t be kept with other things in case they melt and spoil everything else, or spill and get sugar or stickiness everywhere. I felt a lot better doing things, rather than lying about in the bath.
    Once everything was packed, I took my flask into the kitchen and put it next to the kettle, ready to fill with tea in the morning. I made a cup of camomile to help me sleep, and I did sleep, surprisingly. There were some bad dreams and I woke up a few times, but I slept some. Even though I was so unwell, I was actually calmer than I’d been for months because I had myself a plan. I wasn’t quite so frantic now I was taking charge of my life. I was going to be in control for the first time ever. ‘How about that?’ I said as I switched off the lamp.
    The next day wasn’t going to be about stopping the flat being stolen, although I saw it somewhat as practise for that, it was about the past, which had cropped up recently and also needed sorting out. I know now that the past and the present problems were far from unconnected, but then, I thought they just had similar solutions, or rather a means to a solution, and that was the gun.
    It was only natural that once it presented itself as the means to solve the current problem, it would easily apply itself to the one from the past, too. Well, I thought it was a solution, and the only one left available, but I was mad. That’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact. Tappy.



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