Friday, 19 June 2020

Dark Psychological Fiction

Excerpt from My Grandfather's Eyes:


Lizzy gets married at a registry office, in the summer before my own wedding, and I am invited to attend, as I knew I would be. She is stronger than me, or else she does not feel the pain I feel. 
“You have to come, Al.  Promise you will!”  She knows I will do whatever she asks.

It is the final day of our camping trip to Thetford forest.  The holiday has been my last chance to be with Lizzy before she is taken from me.  The weather has been warm and sunny and we have been on long walks together, looking at birds with the cheap binoculars she has brought, arguing about names and making up new, ridiculous species, according to where we spot them.
“That’s a tangle-bramble sparrow,” Lizzy announces,  “and that’s a muddy-arsed thrush.”
We collect insects in a jar for her to draw – she has always been good at drawing. I hold the magnifying glass, and she uses a soft pencil to sketch them, going over the outline with a darker one afterwards.  I tell her she has a real talent and that she should send some sketches to a publisher.  She says I am a stupid bint.  She says I would make a good mother.  She tells me to shut the fuck up.  She draws a stick insect with my head on it.
As she sketches I think about the absurdity of the unstoppable wedding day.  Here in the forest, there is no excuse for the banal future she has planned for herself, and my frustration simmers dangerously near the surface.  
“I don’t want to come Liz,” I say, so quietly that I do not know whether I have spoken the words at all.  “I hate weddings, especially yours.” 
Her pencil hovers for an instant and then resumes.  “But you will.  For me?” 
I say, for her, I would do anything.
We brood for the rest of the afternoon, and make the short hours together last as long as we can.  Lizzy has hardly spoken about the wedding, which is to take place on the following Saturday.  Nevertheless, as we pack away the tent and the rest of our gear, the fact of it hangs in the air, a palpable force, drawing us reluctantly towards it.  I am desperate that my friend should not marry this man I have never met, but I know no way of preventing it.  She has, it seems, resigned herself to her fate, like some tragic nineteenth century literary heroine.  She will not be swayed by reason or logic, and I fiddle with blades of grass and pick up pebbles, turning them, letting them fall through my fingers, not knowing what to do, or what to say. She watches me, willing me not to voice my feelings.
“There’s no point, Al.  It’s going to happen,” she says, when I beg her not to go through with it.
“But you don’t love him.”  I smash my fist into the soft ground, and feel the sting of tears boiling up in the corners of my eyes.  Lizzy sighs, but stays where she is, cross-legged, her knees muddied.
“Love is not important in a marriage.  My mum told me it was over-rated, and that money and kindness were what mattered.”
Her words sound hollow, and I say so. “Utter crap, and you know it.”
“No, I think she’s right.  Anyway, I don’t need to love him, I have you.”  And she jumps up for me to chase her, laughing and taunting me.
I am not in the mood to be teased, and she comes back, coaxing.  “Don’t be sad, Al.  We can still have lots of time together.  I’ll have plenty of dosh, too.  We can go travelling, like we said we would.  To Europe, or America if you like.” 
Her enthusiasm is childlike, its irony crushing.  I want to make her stop. It is pointless to persist, and I force myself to stand.  I can bear the intensity of her closeness no more.
“Come on you fat cow, we’d better shove this stuff in the car.”  Carelessly, I grab the stove and a couple of noisy pans.
“Look, Al!”  She points into the forest, her voice hushed, her body tensing.
The deer emerge just in front of us, a mother and her fawn, twitching in the dappled low light, alert to our presence.  Hardly daring to breathe, I observe the delicate sinews moving under the sleek skin of the magical creatures, their eyes a rich, earthy brown, born of the forest.  I feel the bond between them, and, looking back at Lizzy, who has a single tear running down her face, I am startled by the realisation that what I hold most dear is to be lost to me forever. 
I cannot say that Lizzy knew what was in my heart; perhaps she has never known such anguish as I held inside myself during those brief seconds, when I knew, with certainty, the transitory nature of my bliss.  My unutterable, impracticable love.


I arrive at the registry office ahead of time.  The previous, now married, couple and attendant assembly have spewed out onto the car park, in a frenzy of cheap frills, outrageous hats, and garish make up.  They screech and cavort in extravagant vulgarity, and I am transfixed, in spite of myself, by this parody of a ceremony. The bride is a hefty girl of no more than eighteen or nineteen, clad in layers of traditional taffeta that barely contain her enormous, fleshy breasts.  The groom is a skinny-faced buffoon in hired attire, winking and joking uneasily with his circle of leering cronies.  There are sweaty uncles, with slicked back hair and smart suits, and aunts in various ill-fitting outfits, puffing and strutting like the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, and mean-faced children, spiteful and wheedling in their fancy dress.
I sit on a bench under a willow tree, and wait for them to squeeze into expensive cars with the windows wound down, eventually driving off, presumably to some lavish hotel or other, where they will be overcharged for everything, and have the dubious privilege of being free to make an exhibition of themselves. 
The last of the party hoots its way down Castle Hill, and there is a momentary vacuum, in which I can almost sense a settling of the fabric of the universe around me.  The afternoon is still again. And, in the stillness, there is time for yet more regret and hopeless longing.
I seek a new distraction. In front of me, the registry office building affronts me.  It is an annexe, and looks like an after-thought.  I imagine what lies beyond the disabled ramp and the conspicuous fire doors. 
A uniformed parking attendant uninstalls himself from his glazed lookout, and marshals what must be some of the guests for Lizzy’s wedding towards their allocated parking space.  I do not know any of them, although I am relieved they seem more demure than the previous crowd.  As more cars arrive, I begin to sort out who is who, and think I recognise a couple of people from school.  This makes me feel uncomfortable – I have come out of a duty to my friend, I do not wish to reminisce. I am approached however, and find myself hugging and kissing, making predictable remarks.  We are jolly.  We are full of good will.
“There’s Justin.  There, look.  There he is!”  One of them says.
“He’s bloody gorgeous, don’t you think, Alex?  What a catch!”  says another.
“I should say so!” replies a third.  “And his parents are loaded.  Lucky bitch!”
I see a tall, staggeringly handsome man, immaculately groomed, step elegantly out of a silver Rolls Royce.  He wanders casually round to the front passenger door and holds out a hand to a small, beautifully dressed woman with fine features and obvious breeding.  His father stands beside him, and shows us what his son will look like in twenty-five years’ time. 
“Well?” Susan persists.  “What do you think?”  She elbows me, and I remember her in her school uniform, chewing gum and goading boys who weren’t interested in her.
“Not bad, I suppose.  Better than I had expected, anyway,” I answer, truthfully.
“She told me he was nothing special.  Typical Lizzy, she’s always been a bit of a dark horse.” Caroline twirls a strand of hair as I contemplate this assessment of my closest friend.
We all decide that Lizzy has played down her fiancĂ©, and, privately, I wonder whether she has lied about anything else.  Does she love him?  Was she too afraid to tell me that she did?  The thought makes me feel angry and sick at the same time.
“Come on, Alex.  Let’s grab a seat.  We don’t want to be stuck at the back.” 
They link arms with me and more or less drag me inside the building.  I am puzzled as to why, if Justin comes from such a wealthy family, they have chosen such an uninspiring venue. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the bride being pregnant.  Poor Lizzy.
When the classical music fades and the first triumphant blasts of the wedding march sound, I am afraid to look round.  I am not sure I want to meet her eyes and find out that I mean so little to her, so I keep myself rigid, while my school mates nudge each other and stifle their gasps.  Lizzy will, of course, be a beautiful bride. I have no doubt of that.
As she draws level, she turns, smiling, towards us, and I feel a warmth rising from my toes, rushing upwards, making me feel that distant, echoing dizziness that can overwhelm you during those moments when your only desire is to somehow be transported away from where you find yourself.  As her gaze settles on me for an instant, I feel, for the first time, a sense of betrayal.  

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