Parents work mainly in simplifications. Ask a question and you’ll receive precisely enough information to shut you up. As you get older, the questions become more complex as do the answers. A system of gradual revelation. Television took gradual out of the equation. Somewhere in Gloucester a three-year-old watches Titanic and asks, “Daddy, what are they doing in the back of that car?” In Austin, Texas, a seven-year-old watches an episode of CSI, “Mommy, what’s auto-erotic asphyxiation?” In Brighton a ten-year-old – me – watches an episode of Quantum Leap and then asks the question, “Mum, what does rape mean?”
The accepted parental answers are: You see, when a boy loves a girl… When a boy has no one else to love… When a boy hurts a girl…
Simplifications are all parents think we can handle. Simplifications lead to me seeing Richard West hitting Stacy Nichols on the arm in a deserted stairwell; to me running into my first year class of middle-school and yelling out, “Mr. Lockley! Mr. Lockley! Richard’s raping Stacy on the staircase.”
Maybe parents do it for their own benefit too. One day I asked my mother, “Why doesn’t Dad live with us anymore?” The whole truth flashed through her eyes, her pain was synthesised into tears: one part heartbreak to two parts oblivion. I can’t imagine how she could have put that into words. My bite-sized truth for the day:
“Because he decided he didn’t love me anymore. But he still loves you boys very very much.”
For a time, that was enough.
[Case number: HMPS-PET-07673201
Name: Ragnell, K.
Evidence code: 9201/F/09012019
Evidence type: Moneta – verbal stream-of-consciousness log,
interpreted by Joseph, K from raw data file – 0007h]
My name is Kaylee Yvonne Ragnell. I am twenty-six years old. The date is July 23, 2004. The prime minister is Edward Miliband.
As the two of us slam the doors of the panther black Ford Focus – almost in sync – I pull the balaclava down over my face. I’ve had three day pub crawls where I’ve felt better than I feel right now. My head feels like it’s inside a centrifuge. I can focus on a thought and it seems to be pulled out from under me. I can’t recall any of the little things before now. Did I eat breakfast? What did we talk about on the way here? What the hell is that in my pocket stabbing at my thigh? Who on earth is Edward Miliband? The prime minister is Tony Blair. If I was at work now, someone would be recommending me to the padded room, I’m sure.
A wall of video monitors stood in front of Marshall Ledbury, he leaned forward in his chair as he surveyed them all. “Standby. We are live in thirty-five seconds. Des, roll credits,” he said into his headset. He watched on a monitor as the credits ran through, making sure that all five of the cameras were in place. “Okay Kate, lights up and cue the applause.”
The house-band started to play a clean yet furious riff with intricate beats while a small crane swung a camera over the audience as they clapped and cheered, standing. Hundreds of eyes watched the intermittent glow of the applause sign, converting it to enthusiasm en masse.
“Camera one, standby,” he said, watching as a woman in her early thirties stood at the front of the studio stage. Her wavy brown hair curled under her chin, settling gently on her shoulders and neck. She quickly checked that her microphone was still clipped on to the top of her elegant white maxi-dress. She scanned the audience in front of her, her arms resting on her hips with her face projecting an impressed smile which mirrored a similar expression worn at this point on at least fifty-percent of the previous shows. She nodded her head slightly as the applause died down. The glowing sign had ceased.
Turning her attention to the camera in front of her, the woman began her routine upon Marshall’s cue. “Good evening, and welcome to Saturday Night with me, Ashley Chapman. The mayoral elections this week saw Jason Paddock take control of the capitol, after promising to cut rising fuel costs, bring in harsher punishments for criminals and reduce hospital waiting lists. He’s solved all three by personally overseeing development of the new Prius Soylent. It offers an impressive 98 MPG. That’s miles per grandmother.”
Applause and laughter. Ashley smiled back at the audience, clasping her hands together.
What do you expect when you open the door in the morning? To see a familiar street, to see children racing up the pathways, dressed in school uniform. Sometimes you open it at the exact moment the postman is about to deliver your mail. In that instance it is common to regret wearing your baggiest tracksuit bottoms and a completely unflattering top. That is what I expected as I pulled the door towards me that morning. I did not expect this.
A mirror. Someone held up a mirror to scare me. Somehow they painted the slabs leading down the lawn on it. They found a way to superimpose the hedgerows which surround my garden on it, the large iron gate which keeps the world at bay. But its movements were not my own. It had my same chestnut-coloured hair, it curled in the same places just below the ears. It had my brown eyes, my annoyingly oversized upper-lip. It’s me. A better-dressed version of me.
“Don’t freak out,” it said, raising its hands. “I’m here to tell you something which you need to hear.”
Ryan flicked his wrist in front of his eyes. He glanced quickly at the display of his watch, which was in countdown mode. Seventeen-minutes and forty-two seconds, it read. Just as swiftly, he pulled his arm away and continued running. The people around him blurred as he propelled himself through the crowds of the high street. Hundreds of people just living their lives as if nothing was wrong. They were nothing but obstacles to him now. The burn in his legs rose to the upper-thighs, every step felt like emptying a kettle of boiling water over them. Ryan didn’t slow down. He couldn’t. He had gained nearly a second on his previous time. Maybe it was enough.
It was all like a well-choreographed dance to him now. Man in grey suit with blue pinstripes exits the newsagents, rushes straight into the street, his briefcase swinging in front of him. Ryan propelled himself to the left of the pavement, weaving between two old ladies pushing their shopping trolleys and dodging the suited man. He crossed the road which was jammed with traffic. There was a lorry parked farther up the street outside the hardware store. The tail-lift had malfunctioned, grounding the lorry, forcing the busy rush hour congestion to use a single lane between them. He slipped between a white van and a red estate car whose occupant was pushing his horn repeatedly, as if one more blast of sound was going to make the problem go away, to make it all disappear, to get him home to his wife.