Short Stories

The day I lost my mind

One day I lost my mind.  I looked for it everywhere but I could not find it.  I searched the house, underneath the bed, in the fridge, down the back of the sofa.  I checked that I had not left it outside the front door or inadvertently put it in the recycling bin.  I retraced my steps, asking myself where I had been since I last remembered having it, but the memory of when and where I had last ‘had it’ was slipping from my grasp as a dream does upon awakening.  I got scared, then I got angry.  It struck me that it was extremely careless to lose such a precious thing as one’s mind.  Why had I not taken more care of it?  I emptied out the dustbins and searched through the rubbish but it was not there.  I began to panic.  What if I had flushed it down the toilet?  I would never get it back.  It would be floating in the sewers somewhere.  I sat down with my head in my hands and noticed that my head felt very light, almost empty. I wondered if my brain had shrunk now my mind had gone.  I stayed away from people, worried that they might notice that my brain had shrunk.  Eventually someone knocked on the door but I did not answer it.  The person kept coming back and shouting through the door to ask if I was okay.  Eventually I shouted that I had lost my mind and the best thing would be to leave me alone.  This individual then asked me what it looked like and I tried to describe it as best I could but found it a struggle.  He then asked me if I had a photograph of it but i could not remember having ever taken one.  Never mind, he said.  I know where all the lost minds hang out up there beyond the stars.  I’m going there tomorrow, I’ll have a look for you.  Wait a minute, I said, why don’t you take me with you to be sure we find the right mind.  Ok he said, but I have to warn you it’s a long journey and there’s no guarantee we’ll ever find our way back.  That’s ok, I said, I never really liked it much on Earth anyway.

 

The following story is a memoir, true up until the point where I am in New York.  At that point it becomes an extension of my imagination.

THE BRACELET

Synchronicity. Could be seen as coincidence but I don’t believe in accidents. If something randomly happens at the perfect time, it does so for a reason. But if you miss the boat, you are meant to miss it. Looking back, bad timing has been a feature throughout my life. Send in the Clowns. Stephen Sondheim did. He wrote that song for me. But lately the timely occurrence of everyday events has begun to disturb me.

In March just gone, when it started, the first thing that I noticed was that I had all the time in the world. Unusual for me. My days usually emerge from the barrel of the night like a bullet. But now the resistance in the air seemed to have gone to infinite proportions giving them less of a projectile and more of an adynamic quality. They kind of lingered, not in a boring way, in a dog like welcome way, in which everything embarked upon had ample time to play itself out. There was no chance of being late for anything and the more relaxed I became the more I could stretch and squeeze the hours at will. All it took was belief. The belief that I had all the time in the world. Every little action I took panned out in perfect timing. If I was due to be somewhere at six o’clock I would be there on the dot without making any special effort. If I went to catch a bus I would get to the stop precisely as the correct bus came. If I was trying to remember the words to a song, it would be the next one I heard on the radio. Synchronicity. The important thing was to never hurry, in any circumstances. Within this every conversation, every interruption, every advertisement on telly, every meeting with any person, known or unknown, on or off the street was endowed with special meaning. Everything I read, saw, heard, felt, smelt, sensed, spoke of me. As each of these highly significant events occurred, they did so in perfect timing. In that way the next scenario could unfold exactly as it was meant to. All these references intended for me would be pointers. I never knew where the signs would lead but I had to follow them. In that bloody place to begin with. Close encounters of the fruitcake kind.

Six of us in the hospital garden, early evening, winter. There’s Kye, the skinny, pale, spotty girl who talks about her epilepsy all the time but never seems to have any fits. She’s desperate to stay in hospital but the staff don’t want her there. They keep sending her on leave or discharging her, only to take her back a few days later. She just stands there gawking with her mouth open. I don’t mean she’s doing it rudely, I just mean she can’t take it in. Me and her have a good laugh at the staff’s expense. We wind up hysterical sometimes unable to contain ourselves long after most people would have buttoned up. They don’t like that but they ask for it. There’s something about Kye which sets me off. I think it’s coz she’s barely out of her teens and is seeing for the first time how crazy the system is. You could argue a system has to be crazy to deal with crazy people. But for one, we’re not all crazy and for two, it’s a matter of degree. The system goes way beyond the people it’s supposed to be caring for. Then there’s Baby Doll, big girl, the emotionally unstable one who’s convinced she’s seriously depressed and agoraphobic. She disses other people. Jealous when they’re getting the attention. She’s unlucky though. Because her shrink has the kind of personality which mirrors its faults in others, she’s stuffed into a sound proof box. Then there’s Jaco, typical paranoid schizophrenic, boring as hell with all that CIA after him crap. Then Riccy, o.c.d./anxiety spends his time picking up fag butts in the garden. Sometimes he bursts out crying while he’s doing it. And don’t let me forget Mimi. Outside most of the time, all night too. Uses rhyming slang quite a bit. She’s getting on, say about sixty five. No doubt labelled as psychotic or thought disordered because of the word associations. But if you listen to her, she’s extremely wise and often makes perfect sense. Finally, me. I’m just, well, me.

Jaco’s rabbiting on about MK ultra and stuff and how he’s gonna infiltrate it (not sure why he wants to if CIA are already after him, moot point). I’m about to interrupt but I don’t because there’s no hurry and the way Kye is raising her chin and turning her head away, I am convinced she’s about to die laughing. She does. I laugh too. So does Mimi. I watch splashes of cold coffee leave her polystyrene cup as it misses the sand filled ash tray. One of the ones made in the woodwork classes.

‘They create them, the martyr types.’ Jaco makes a gross snorting noise and yet again a vile looking pool of sputum marks his territory. It creates the right kind of space too. I know this because I have been watching the conversation unfold extremely carefully. I have to. Every little chin rub, every little nose tweak, every little fag drag of mine, every time I look down, around or hesitate rather than speaking is highly significant. I stare at the sputum. From being churned with disgust, the caterpillars in my stomach are evolving. My heart has noticed. If I don’t react in the way I’m meant to, I will be exposed, inadequate, my universe will fail. I use the space.

‘Yeh, we’ve all seen The Killing Room’. Riccy looks up from where he is crouching in the keyhole of a raised, planted area. There is a mandala style layout in the garden.

‘I haven’t’ he says quietly. Everyone faces Riccy, that’s because he usually doesn’t speak, especially when there’s more than one person present. He does that hostage by silence thing. Jaco’s back in there. It seems like we’re all gonna have to listen. We do. Something about space zombies. Mimi cuts in.

‘It’s a waste of the space isn’t it Drey?’ She taps my arm wanting my attention. She always wants my attention.

‘Yeh there’s too much waste.’

‘Too much waste in the world.’

‘That’s the way of the world.’ Jaco is still talking over us. His voice is deepening and slowing down. I glance at him. His whole lower jaw is beginning to move independently and appears disconcertingly out of proportion with the rest of his face. My heart begins to pound. I divert my eyes quickly to the ground.

‘It is, Drey, it is, the way of the world.’ I’m attempting to reign my heart in. All the time in the world, I’ve got all the time in the world . Someone calls to Jaco through the fence of the other ward’s garden. He turns his head. I take this as my cue, my heart beating fast now. I say something, can’t remember what, someone answers, after which Baby Doll starts. She takes a deep drag on her fag.

‘This is the first time I’ve been out in days, it’s making me too anxious.’ I’m thinking, bit strange for an agoraphobic, I mean, to be out at all. I hear myself speaking those words, immediately wishing I hadn’t. I know fuck all about agoraphobia and this garden is not part of the outside world. Everyone is making little movements, but exaggerated. Jaco has disappeared to the fence for a moment, Kye is tapping her foot back and forth, Mimi is trying to over light an over- sucked dog end. I can see it dripping, her nose engulfed. Baby doll is eating her hair, Riccy is extricating a cigarette butt from some weeds. I can see the weeds growing. Somehow it all fits together perfectly and speedily inside the slow motion of what is happening to me. What is happening to me? Baby Doll begins her explanation while Mimi asks me a question. For a split second I am indecisive about who to respond to. My heart begins to run away. I grab it and opt for Baby Doll but Mimi is in need of my attention. She taps my arm again. I am trying to concentrate on Baby Doll. I owe her that, at least, after having punctured her raison d’etre. I’m sure someone’s gonna notice that I can’t keep up with the conversation but they don’t. I have this feeling that everyone thinks I should be able to. If I don’t, I’ll appear ill and I don’t want to appear ill.

I manage appropriate responses and nobody seems to think I am being weird or whatever so it’s still fine. Or is it? Kye is giving me the look but it’s not funny any more. Whilst trying to read it, I lose a hold on my heart and watch it race away. I look at my hands. They are shaking. I hold my breath. But the end does not come. The little group naturally breaks up. Baby Doll has rushed inside claiming fresh air suffocation and Kye has gone to light her fag on the wall lighter. She fails as it has started to rain. I remember the illegal lighter in my pocket and light it for her which leaves me by the door so I go in. I climb the steps and bang on the door. One of those one way doors that is locked from the inside. You can’t get out for a bastard fag without staff swiping their fob. I can’t get in from the outside either because although there is a push button mechanism, I am convinced it randomly electrocutes people. Lately phenomena seems to be occurring in threes and I have noticed that if I knock exactly three times, someone will come within three minutes. It only seems to work like that if I knock on the left door panel. I knock three times. I check my watch to the second. It’s been happening for a while, all this perfect timing, all the time in the world stuff. The attention to detail. I am acutely aware of every little move I make, every jerk, head turn, sideways glance because I am convinced that each tiny move crucially reorganizes my destiny. Often this means I hesitate in suspended animation, knowing that if I do not decide to scratch my nose at some precise moment, my destiny will alter.

Two minutes and twenty three seconds have passed and someone comes. I’m scared now, really scared. I rush to the nursing station, passing Wayne the Preacher Man on route. He doesn’t preach now. Maybe he did once, but all he does now is scream at God, calling him a bastard. I get it, I really do. I do that myself sometimes. I ask to speak to someone. She escorts me into a side room and asks me what is wrong but when I open my mouth, there doesn’t seem to be any control over my words.

‘Everything’.

‘In what way?’

‘That way, the way if fucking is!’

She doesn’t get it.

I gave up that day trying to explain it. The nurse said I’d been in there too long, it was making me worse. I already knew that. I stopped checking my watch. Too scary. Shut up about the signs. Made the right noises. Until the door was open. And I could follow a whole host of leads. Those clues that had led me to sleeping rough on the streets of London in mid winter on an AWOL episode. It was then I had lost the gold bracelet my recently deceased partner, Blesseda, had given me. It was meant to be. Another damned curse of destiny. Not her dead. Not her suicide. But the loss of that bracelet. The heart attached to it. The engraved words. ‘You came into my life and left an imprint on my heart.’ That token of her love for me would stay on my wrist till the end of my days. But it was gone. I should be dead.

I had to die, or find that bracelet. Look for the signs which would lead me to it. Whilst in the hospital Mimi and I had often sang the song ‘Nelly The Elephant’ and one day when we got to the ‘trumpety trump’ bit, Donald Trump came up. At that very moment I was thinking about the bracelet, where it could be. My partner had died the morning Trump was voted into power. It was obvious. The universe was telling me that the bracelet had somehow crossed the Atlantic. And it continued to remind me I had all the time in the world.

Three years later I was sitting on a subway train in Brooklyn, planning to hook up with the LIRR and get a connection to Shoreham in Long Island. I was reading an article in a magazine about Nikola Tesla’s attempt to build the Wardenclyffe Tower to create lightening like effects to induce rain. I had found the magazine left on a table in a cafe, opened it at a random page and found this piece. Obviously, I was meant to visit this tower which had been erected at Shoreham. It wasn’t until I was on the train that I got to the part which informed me that the Wardenclyffe tower had never been completed. It had been dismantled during the First World War. I looked up from the magazine for a moment wondering what this latest discovery meant and a woman caught my eye. Long, blond hair, I couldn’t decide if silky or greasy. Smooth, long sloping forehead, no wrinkles. Bridged nose, looked too low on her face somehow as if it had been put there as an after thought. Must have been late twenties. Her lips protruded slightly, or was it the orange lipstick? One of those big featured people, horse faced, redeemed, though, by half moon shaped eyes. The thick eyebrows were plucked in a way which gave the impression of horns atop the goat face nose. She was standing up holding onto a grab rail and as the train approached a station the guy sitting next to me stood up. As he walked towards the train door she took his seat and began fiddling in her handbag. I watched her absently then something registered. A gold bracelet on her wrist with a gold pendant dangling from it. I couldn’t be sure but it looked heart shaped. That kind of ridiculous false hope arose in my chest, the sort I’ve got now, like thinking someone might actually publish this story in some famous magazine and I’ll be ‘discovered’. I checked myself. Don’t be stupid there must be thousands of bracelets like that out there. I needed to check, however, if it really was a heart, whether there was an engraving. She must have found what she was looking for and zipped up the bag, placing her hands on top of it. Now her right wrist was still I could see it was definitely a gold heart but the side visible was blank. I swallowed the imaginary lump in my throat.

‘Nice bracelet’. She turned and looked at me like I was mad in a way that made me think she must be English.

‘Thanks.’ She looked away. More confirmation she might be English.

‘Where did you get it? She looked at me again, a slight flicker of annoyance evidenced itself in her eyes.

‘It was a present.’ English accent for sure. The train pulled into Broadway Junction station.

‘It’s just I’m … I’m sorry I just wondered if you could …’

‘This is my stop’. She got up and headed for the door. Shit. The doors opened, she was gone. I got up and followed her off the train. I let her get some headway but kept her in sight. It wasn’t easy. The platform was fairly crowded and she kept coming in and out of my vision. Again it struck me that I was being ridiculous. I didn’t even know if there was an inscription on the bracelet and even if there was, what it said. At the top of the escalator she walked towards an exit. I followed her out. She didn’t walk far, just to a cab rank. I considered my next move. Which leg forward, which word first. Destiny. Maybe this was one of those life changing moments. I had to get her in check, at least, but I had no strategy. I knew I had to move fast or she would have me in checkmate and the game would be over. A cab pulled up and was opening its door. She got in.

‘Wait!’ I ran up to her. As I bent down to stick my head into the back of the cab, she looked startled. My hand was strategically gripping the edge of the open door. ‘Can I just have a look at your bracelet?’

‘You what? Have you just followed me?’

‘No, well yes, I just need to see your bracelet.’

‘Are you crazy, get out.’ She crossed her arms tightly, hugging her handbag. That was it, she thought I was a thief. The driver turned round.

‘Hey pal, what’s your beef?’

‘Nothin man I just … she’s my girlfriend.’ I jumped in the cab beside her slamming the door. She screamed. The cabbie casually vacated his seat and opened it again. There was no allowance for reservation. I grabbed her right wrist, wrestling it from its hiding place under her armpit. She clutched her bag even tighter with the other arm and tried to pull away from me. The cabbie was shouting something at me. I managed to slip the gold heart between my thumb and forefinger and saw engraved writing on it but struggled to read it. Fuck, fuck, fuck, I haven’t got my glasses. The driver was by now pulling me from behind by the scruff of my neck and yanked me out of the cab. Since I still had hold of the woman’s wrist she was dragged forward almost out of the seat.

‘Let go of her!’

‘I can’t, I told you she’s my girlfriend.’

‘He’s not’ she screamed.

‘I don’t care if she’s your motherfucking dummy.’ The woman had now wrestled herself from my grasp and the cabbie twisted my chin round towards him. He took a couple of steps back, then placed a fist in my nose. Blood spurted out and I fell backwards, my head cracking on the metal edge of the cab roof. I slumped down onto the footwell. It struck my mind that blood might find its way inside the cab and being used to British cab drivers, I suspected that might not help my situation. He looked Mexican but there was no trace of any Spanish in his drawl. There was something vaguely familiar about his face. He hoisted me up, I staggered but kept my balance.

‘That’s to show you how to treat a lady you little schmuck. I sensed the woman was going to close the car door so I turned round and cried out to her.

‘I just want to know what it says on your bracelet!’ She rolled her eyes. The cab driver interjected.

‘This nutter needs certifying.’ He pulled me out the way and swung the door shut but she must have been curious now because she opened the window slightly and called out.

‘What the hell do you want to know that for?’

‘I … I’m really into bracelets.’ She snorted.

‘Oh my God is that some fetish you’ve got or something? If you must know it says you came into my life and left an imprint on my heart.’ My actual real boyfriend gave it to me. I froze for a moment.

‘Where did he get it?’

‘Seriously? You are sick aren’t you.’ She called to the driver. ‘Let’s just get out of here.’ A crowd had developed now and the cabbie jumped in the driving seat and pulled away. The whole world was looking at me. Stupid. Why didn’t I just tell her the truth. My head felt fuzzy and was throbbing. Somewhere in a distant corner of my awareness a voice asked me if I was okay. I just stood there staring in the direction the cab had gone. Couldn’t move. Moving would have meant carrying on with my life. Not feasible. I may have just missed my chance to retrieve that one little link with her? The rest of my life? The sign I should live? I didn’t have to move. I must have passed out. The next thing I remember is being sat on a bench. No memory of getting there. No sign of a guardian angel. I watched cabs pull up, people get in, cabs pulling away. Thirsty by now, I spotted a drinks machine but just as I was about to get up, I spotted him. The same driver. He had just got out of his cab, maybe to take a break. Formulating a quick plan in my head, I approached him.

‘Look mate, I’m really sorry I hassled that girl but I thought her bracelet might be one I had lost. One that was really important to me.’ He laughed out loud. I noticed how white his teeth were and that his short tidy beard was joined to his moustache forming a ring. I know now who he reminded me of, that dog whisperer guy on telly. He had those kind of happy eyes that give the impression he’d never let anything faze him.

‘Went missing from your crumbie bracelet collection did it?’

‘No mate. My girlfriend passed away, not long ago. Look, I know I’m a bloke but she gave me a bracelet just like that one with the same inscription.’

‘So hold up a minute, why the hell not just explain that to the lady ‘stead a jumpin in my cab and scaring the crap outta her? And anyhow man, she told you, her squeeze gave it to her.’

‘I know, I know, I’m sorry. But he might have found it somewhere.’ He softened then. I could see he was beginning to find me genuine by his relaxed shoulders and the way he had lowered his head slightly. From this moment he ceased to look me in the eye, preferring the ground or one or another passer by.

‘Look pal, there must be goddamn thousands of bracelets like that with those same sweet little words. All she told me is that her guy got it for her while he was in London and she figured it was strange at the time. Said he was no romantic. Reckoned he would be hell more likely to say you came into my life and pissed me off. London, London, London.

‘Did she say when he was in London?’

‘No man, say hang on pal, she did say he went to London during the Trump election, said he had to stay out of the shit man, wound up holing up there lookin on four months. You know pal you gotta let …’ His voice was already fading into the background.

Blesseda had died on the morning of Trump coming to power. The AWOL episode had happened three months later. I had to find her.

‘Where did you take her?’

‘Look if you’re after that bracelet pal, it’s a gonner You shouldn’t have grabbed it man. It snapped. She said she never goddamn liked it anyway. Reckoned some motherfucking psychic in one of them wacko churches tried to freak her with it, saying some witch had been doing spells on her since she’d been wearing it. Got out of my cab and threw it down the drain.

My knees buckled, then gave way and my head and shoulders sank into the sidewalk. Blesseda had been Wiccan.

The Granny Miggins Butterfly Effect

Granny Miggins adored bananas.  In fact she ate nothing but bananas.  Bananas for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper and for a midnight snack.  It was not unusual for her to consume over twenty bananas a day, no mean feat for a frail little old lady.  She wasn’t fat because she regularly had sex with Grandpa Miggins and their acrobatics in the bedroom kept them both lean and fit.  She also did a ten mile trek there and back every day to the nearest Morrisons supermarket.   One day last Spring Granny Miggins was in the middle of making such a trek and had arrived at Morrisons.  She entered the store and headed for the fruit and vegetable aisles.  She made a beeline for the place she knew the bananas would be displayed but received the shock of her life when she could not find any.  They had obviously been sold out.  Marching to Customer Services she summonsed her best aggrieved, dissatisfied customer look and then collared the person on duty.  The young man looked no more than eighteen years old and had just been about to take his lunch break on which he was due to meet his girlfriend.
      ‘Can I help you madam?’  Granny Miggins tried to keep her cool.
      ‘Where are the bananas, they seem to have run out?’
      ‘Yes, I’m sorry madam but we’ve had a run on bananas today and we’re out of stock.’
      ‘OUT OF STOCK!  But you can’t be!
      ‘I’m afraid we are, I’m very sorry for your inconvenience.’
      ‘Inconvenience my giddy aunt, it’s downright criminal, you call this a supermarket.’
      ‘Well we’re …’
      ‘I’d like to see the manager please.’
      ‘That might be a little difficult, I think he’s on his break.’
      ‘Never mind his break, go and find him.’
      ‘I can’t it’s …’
      ‘I said go and find him!’  The young man sighed.
      ‘Okay madam if you don’t mind waiting here I’ll see what I can do.’
       Meanwhile the young shop assistant’s girlfriend was waiting for him in a cafe nearby.  Bored with waiting, she gobbled down three jam doughnuts, ruining her weekly dietary plan for Weight Watchers.  Unfortunately she choked on a piece of the last doughnut and though she coughed and coughed could not dislodge it.  A man sitting opposite her came to her rescue  First he slapped her on the back a few times but it did no good so after she had been choking a good two minutes he opted to perform the heimlich manoeuvre on her.  He wrapped his arms around her from behind and then thrust inwards and upwards underneath her ribcage.  At last the piece of doughnut shot up and out of her mouth.  She gasped for breath and her face flushed red as the oxygen filled her lungs once more.  When she had recovered her breath she thanked the man.
     ‘It was nothing love.  Glad to be of service.’  She looked him up and down .  He was smart, dressed in a three piece suit and had piercing blue eyes.  His hair was shiny, shoulder length, black and straight and he wore a pocket watch and a spider broach.  He was well-spoken and seemed to be cultured.  She (Mary) invited him to sit with her and have a coffee and he obliged.  Later that night Mary would be found dead, her body chopped in pieces in an alleyway near his home address.  She had had no way of knowing that the man had a mother complex.  His mother had adored jam doughnuts and fed him them constantly as a child.  As a result he hated all women, but in particular women who ate jam doughnuts and he had grown up to be a psycopath and serial killer.  Mary would have still been alive if her boyfriend (the assistant at Morrisons) had turned up to meet her for lunch, but he of course had been delayed.  Meanwhile Mary’s mother was alone in her house.  She had been waiting for Mary to turn up in the afternoon to take her and her dog, Spike, for a walk.  They always went to the same park but on this day Spike did not get his walk.  Now Mary and her mother, had they gone for their walk, would have bumped into Mrs. Silverton from Grange Avenue.  They would have chatted to Mrs. Silverton for a while and then gone on their way and Mrs. Silverton would have returned home safely.  However because Mrs. Silverton did not get delayed by Mary and her mother, she left the park earlier then she would have done and as a consequence was involved in an accident.  She was driving her husband’s brand new Rolls Royce but, tragically, a silver Skoda smashed into her at the crossroads.  Although she was unharmed, the Rolls Royce was a write-off and somehow Mrs. Silverton was going to have to explain this to her husband.  He did not take it sitting down.  He exploded with rage and wound up beating his wife to a pulp.  The result of this was the next day the two of them agreed to get a divorce.  While they were tied up in their rowing they missed their chance to vote at the polls in the General Election.  They both would have voted UKIP and had they done so it would have tipped the balance, increasing the split in the Tory vote and putting Labour back in their constituency.  But because they did not vote, the Conservatives took the constituency and as a result the Tories won the election.  Several years later the British Government would ally with the United States in an invasion of Iran.  Ultimately this would lead to the Third World War.
     Granny Miggins had of course had no idea that her inability to buy her bananas had resulted in one woman choking on a doughnut and then being brutally murdered, another woman being involved in a car crash and getting a divorce and to top it all eventually the start of World War Three.