Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Andrea III – Black Sheep and Scapegoats

‘Andy wants us to carry on – says it’ll be good for us’ says Andrea, scowling slightly.
Can’t run off that easily then, I think. Good. Serves you right. Supercilious cow!
‘Shall we move on then?’ she says stiffly. I nod, smiling smugly.
‘Ok. So why do you think you were such a total failure?’ she says, coolly.
And I’m stunned, I want to hit her. Then I want to run away so she doesn’t see me cry... But I don’t do anything because the goblin in my brain is telling me she’s right and I deserve this. I sit silently. I look at the chair, the window, my drink, my legs, try to look calm. I fidget but silence descends anyway. Dust motes drift in a beam of light. The sky is blue.
‘I wasn’t a “total failure” as you put it’ I say quietly, eventually – not looking at her, trying to look like I mean it. ‘I think I did pretty well – making a life in your cut-throat pitiless game of a world.’ I look straight at her. My jaw feels locked. ‘I think I did ok considering. Ok, it doesn’t look like much but I didn’t fill the world with crap. I didn’t feel the need to own all the junk most people seem to think they need to make them happy. I didn’t have to have everything matching. I didn’t need to be fashionable. I didn’t need to get everywhere yesterday. That’s not nothing, and I know you think I was like that because I didn’t have a choice and I envied them or something, and I guess I did a bit, at first, but then I realized it was ok to be the way I was, and the envy was just about seeing myself the way everyone else saw me – as a failure. But I wasn’t. In the end – that was how I wanted to live, more-or-less.’ I think about the loneliness for a moment. ‘And actually I think some people would have done well to look at that, and look at all the stuff they own and the damage it does to the world, and how jolly it makes them feel, and think... not that I’m the great, you know, example of environmentalism or whatever, but I did my bit.’ I pause again. ‘And people liked my pictures.’ (I knew I’d made a couple of friends really happy by giving them pictures I’d done.) ‘I know I wasn’t exactly Mr. Sociability... I found people... difficult, you know? But I was ok. I wasn’t evil. I tried. It just didn’t work out, but that doesn’t make me a monster. Just small doses, you know? Better off in my own space, but it was ok. I tried, and I did ok. I wasn’t a total failure...’ and I feel the tears come, again. Why do I always have to cry?
‘Actually I didn’t say you were’ she says quietly. ‘I asked why you thought you were a total failure...’
And I breath deep again and slump backwards. ‘Cow’ I think. Got me again.

‘Better now?’ she says, at length, and I am. I feel much better. I take a few sips from my glass of water and sit quietly. I can hear music coming from somewhere.
‘I’m not here to judge you’ she says after a time. ‘There is no final judgement here, contrary to popular belief, except the one you impose on yourself, and you, darling, are harder on yourself than anyone else is ever likely to be. You do know that don’t you?’
‘It’s been mentioned, once or twice...’
‘I imagine you found it very difficult being alone so much of the time.’
I don’t know what to say. I’m not used to people being understanding, and I don’t trust it.
‘It wasn’t so bad’ I say. ‘You get used to it.’
‘Yeah, righty’ she says smirking. ‘You are a crap liar. You know that?’
I shrug. Got me again.
‘I just wanted to disappear. Slip off the radar. Submerge without trace.’
‘But it must have been weird, I mean, at the end, the neighbours must have known you were there, living in the garden. Didn’t they say anything?’
‘Not really. They didn’t know that I didn’t use the house...’
She looks at me doubtfully. ‘But still, looney old geezer mooching around?’
‘I got used to it. It was much worse when I lived on the street.’
She’s not convinced, and rightly. I’m not sure I want to go into this. She can see I’m hiding something. I can’t tell her. I didn’t do anything wrong but as soon as the word “paedophile” comes into the conversation you’re a suspect.
‘They tried to get me arrested once’ I say, and that’s it – I suppose I am going to tell her after all. ‘They tried to get me put away for child molesting.’
She looks at me. I look down. I know what she’s thinking. We sit in silence. It’s Holst’s Planets, I recognise it now. Saturn. My dad used to have this record.
‘Did you do it?’
‘What? No’ I say, too loudly, too quickly, and I bite my lip, looking at her face. ‘I don’t even like children’ I say, knowing it doesn’t help. She looks disturbed, but I don’t know who for – me, the children, or herself.
‘I didn’t do anything’ I say, more calmly.
‘So how did it happen?’
‘What? Nothing happened.’
‘I mean, how come you were even accused?’
I shrug again and shake my head, look away, hiding the tears. This really was the worst thing that ever happened to me, beatings and hypothermia and gastro-enteritis included.
‘They just didn’t like me. I never went near any kids. They just wanted rid of me.’
She sits and looks at me, appraising. ‘That must have been very hard for you’ she says at last, too blandly.
‘You don’t believe me do you?’ I say quietly. She doesn’t respond. ‘Look, I never went after their kids – they didn’t like me and I didn’t like them. That’s not how paedophiles are – read up on it. Paedophiles try to be charming, approachable – get to know the kids, buy them sweeties, invite them round to look at puppies, chat the mums up. I just wanted to keep myself to myself.’
She’s still watching me closely. ‘Please don’t take this wrongly...’ she begins, trying to be tactful or something, ‘but you do seem to have thought an awful lot about it.’
I know this one – the more I deny it the more suspect I look. I’ve been through all this “No smoke without fire” crap. What a stupid metaphor. I force myself to keep calm.
‘I had to think about it. What would you expect? For six months I couldn’t think about anything else. They were going to lock me up with criminals. I read everything there was about it. They had me down the nick three times.’
‘And they never found anything?’
‘There was never anything to find. They raided my place twice. I showed them my porn collection – actually got it out for them. I said “How do you account for the fact that every image is of a large-breasted woman? Hm?” I mean, did they think I’d put it together deliberately as some sort of elaborate decoy?’
She continues to observe my increasing agitation. I can’t tell what she’s thinking.
‘I wasn’t into children’ I say and I can hear that old note of pain and panic in my throat, at the top of my chest. What can I possibly say to convince her?
‘Did your sisters believe you?’
‘I never told them’ I say and she nods.
‘So... were you ever molested yourself, as a child?’
I have wondered about this. It would be a nice easy explanation for everything – maybe too easy. Uncle Len would have been the obvious suspect – there was always something about him, and granddad too – my mum’s dad. He was a dodgy old geezer if ever there was one. I barely remember him. He died when I was only about five. It’s an appealing thought – to be able to just pin the blame on him, on somebody nobody liked anyway – the family bogeyman. But I don’t really believe in it.
‘I don’t think so’ I say eventually. ‘I don’t remember anything.’ More nodding. ‘So, do you believe me?’
‘Yes’ she says simply. ‘I believe you. It’s very difficult to lie here anyway. This place seems to bring out the truth in people.’
I take a deep breath and look about the room. So she believes me. And why shouldn’t she? I did nothing wrong. It still feels wrong though. It might be impossible to lie here but it is possible, apparently, to be economical with the truth.

The girl just turned up one day and said could she see the chickens. How could I say no?
She must have been about twelve. Siobhan her name was – one of those clumsy embarrassed children the other kids will only play with if they’re forced to, and I could see why. She always seemed slightly ‘off’ – not quite ‘normal’ and children can be very judgemental can’t they. But she was very sweet natured and I could tell she was going to be a real beauty one day but those little squirts couldn’t see it, or if they did they’d never admit to it.
And it was good to have her around even though she prattled and got in the way. But I knew even then, before all the fuss, how it would look and I made her promise not to tell anyone where she’d been and it was our secret but I knew that you can’t do that and she knew it too. That’s my guilty secret. You can’t ask children not to tell their parents where they’ve been, even when it’s all perfectly innocent, and I knew, if she told them, what it would look like, but I didn’t have the heart to stop her. I suppose she was lonely.
Who am I kidding? I was lonely.
So I let her come and play with the dog and pick my runner beans and when it rained we sat inside and I listened to her read one of her stories. She was quite a good writer. I wonder what became of her.
Anyway she must have kept our secret because the police never asked about her – every other brat in the street but not her.
I never really wanted children of my own but if I could have been guaranteed of getting one like her I’d have been very tempted.

I know we’ve gone on longer than usual and it’s getting dark but Andrea and I sit for a while anyway.
‘It must have been terrible to live with that, all those years, all those people – your neighbours, talking about you.’
‘Well, it passed. There were never any actual abuses reported for them to pin on me. If there had been... well... But it was just the suspicion, the whispers, the curtain twitchers. There’s always a few aren’t there – don’t like anyone to be different.’
‘So you got used to it, being the outcaste, the loner, the scapegoat?’
‘They always say that don’t they – in the news reports – “He was a loner” they say, as if that proves it. But no, you never get used to it. But life goes on, hey-ho.’
We get up to leave and she says ‘I can’t believe you used a collection of dirty pictures as evidence of your innocence.’ She seems to think it’s very funny, and I suppose it is ironic but it didn’t seem funny at the time.

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A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.