Who Turned Out The Light At The End Of My Tunnel Vision?
My time is up.
The clock strikes five and I glance across at Potter, my therapist, a large black man with large black-rimmed spectacles.
“Go on then, bugger off,” he grins, and tosses me an orange from the fruit bowl. I catch and examine it. It has equatorial markings on it in biro, no doubt from when Potter had been demonstrating planet rotation to one of his other patients.
I pause for a moment in silence, and there is more than a hint of ritual about the conversation that follows.
“Same time next week?” I venture. Potter strokes his chin and puts on a mock thoughtful expression, before flipping to the appropriate page in his desktop diary.
“You would appear to be in luck,” he informs me. “I have a window in my schedule.” This is my cue. I collect my jacket from the stand and leave without another word.
Therapy was a last resort, one of many. My mental quest (one of many), was to put an end to the years of confusion and turmoil that are the inevitable consequences of the condition loosely known as a broken heart.
A recurring argument between Potter and I concerns whether or not you must understand something in order to be able to cope with it. If I’m right, and you do, then I’ll never cope with what’s happened to me. At which point Potter likes to remind me that my continued existence and survival are proof of at least some rudimentary level of coping. At which point I like to remind him that he is talking shit.
It’s probably more than a little self-indulgent to imagine that anyone would be interested in the musings of a washed-up acid casualty, but if truth be told, I’m writing this more for the sake of my sanity than the entertainment of others. I’ve been drowning in a sea of random memories, to quote some long forgotten song, and this is my attempt to make sense of them.
It’s hard to know where to start. Our song, You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me by The Beatles. A relatively predictable choice but no less appropriate, and I’ll never tire of hearing it. Our flower, lilies of the valley - those tiny plants that seemed to flourish in damp, shady places and forgotten urban corners, somehow seemed so appropriate to our whole affair.
And then she disappeared, literally. I awoke one morning to an empty bed. All trace of her had disappeared from our communal home. Nobody knew where she had gone.
I want you to imagine it now. Think of the person you’re closest to, and imagine never seeing them again, as if at the click of a celestial mouse button they were suddenly deleted, permanently, from your life. Not a nice thought, I know. Would you cope?
You may survive, but that’s not the same thing as coping.
Her name was Angel. Of course it was.
It happened thirty-three years ago, in the fading hedonism of the late sixties. The previous afternoon, the last day Angel and I had been together, I’d decided to pay a hairdresser friend a visit for the usual trim and the usual argument about why I would never sleep with a black woman. He wasn’t to disappoint me.
“You’ve never given me a good reason,” Howard chided me with the scissors. “I demand to know. Stop evading the question. Why won’t you sleep with a black girl?”
“We’ve been through this a million times.”
“And a million times you insist on tying me up in semantics and logical loops. Answer the damn question. Are you saying you don’t find Pam Grier attractive?”
“Would you sleep with her?”
“Why not? Beauty is universal, what the fuck does skin colour have to do with it?”
“I’m not disputing that. I’m just saying that I don’t find Pam Grier particularly attractive.”
“Are you kidding? She’s gorgeous? She’s got an amazing body. OK, how about Goldie Hawn? A nice stereotypical white actress for you.”
“Yeah, she’s nice. She’s in good shape.”
“So you’d sleep with a white girl…”
“Yeah, I would.”
“But not a black one?”
“Oh my God. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. You are such a fucking xenophobe.” He snapped his scissors viciously. “You obviously have this permanently ingrained image of what the idea woman should look like, and only go for that kind.”
I thought of Angel.
Later that day, back at the house, I relayed the conversation to Steve. He dunked a shortcake into his coffee and lifted the delicate mass into his mouth.
“So why won’t you sleep with a black girl?” he asked, spraying crumbs.
“Well, let’s face it,” I grinned, thinking of Angel once more. “It’d be unfaithful, wouldn’t it?”
Steve thought about this for a moment before breaking out into a huge grin.
“That tosser Howard,” he waggled a biscuit at me before climbing out of the sofa, probably for the first time that day, and padding upstairs to the bathroom. I picked up the newspaper he’d been reading and flicked through it. After glancing through the music reviews, I came across an article on gardening, which informed me that lilies of the valley were particularly poisonous, containing “three constituents that depress the heart”.
The next day she was gone.
Steve was a good bloke. A good friend of Angel’s, yet brave enough to keep his own feelings firmly out of the way when comforting me about her disappearance. Maybe this was his way of dealing with it, feeling like he could make a difference. Either way, his methods of condolence were, it had to be said, somewhat unusual.
On one such occasion, Steve collected a four-pack of lager from the fridge and led me upstairs into a small, dark room. He flipped the light switch and a bare bulb flickered into brightness, illuminating a floor lined with newspapers, the front pages overlapping to form various bizarre, disjointed headlines. A literal splash of blue paint on the walls was the full extent of the decor. In the corner of the room, atop a wooden perch, was a spectacularly colourful parrot.
“And this,” said Steve, with an unnecessary gesture, “is Wizzard, my parrot.” I grinned and raised my hand in greeting.
“Hey Wizzard. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“If we can dispense with the formalities,” said Steve, rummaging about in one of his pockets. He soon produced a little bag of sugar cubes. He handed one to me and placed another on his tongue, before winking and swallowing.
“Steve, before we do this, I need to ask you something…” I began, to which Steve responded with only a muted giggle. “It’s about Angel.” Steve’s eyes started to glaze over as the acid took effect. He stumbled towards the door, mumbling something.
“Ask the parrot. Ask Wizzard,” he said as he staggered from the room. I gave the parrot an icy glare and popped the sugar cube into my mouth.
I opened my eyes, to find everything exactly the same as it had been before. I looked at the parrot.
“Some trip, eh?” said Wizzard, in a cartoon squawk. I nodded.
“Some trip”, I replied dumbly. Wizzard flapped his wings appreciatively.
“You certainly can’t beat the feeling,” the bird continued.
“So, is everything back to normal?” Wizzard gave me a lofty gaze.
“My recently acquired powers of speech might be considered somewhat out of the ordinary, but nothing that requires loss of sleep.” I was a little lost for words, yet curiously calm.
“Does Polly want a cracker?” I ventured.
“Polly wants a lager.” Bemused, I passed Wizzard a can. He flapped at me.
“Can you open it for me? I do have my limits.” I flipped open the ring-pull and handed the can back to the parrot.
“So, what’s going on?” I enquired, adjusting to the surrealism. Wizzard sipped at his beer.
“You’re still tripping. While you’re here, you might want to make use of my extensive knowledge.” It was intriguing, if nothing else.
“What do you know?”
“I know everything that you know. Ask me something.”
“Fair enough.” I thought for a moment. “What is two plus two?”
“Four,” Wizzard announced, a little too proudly. “That was easy. Give me a harder one.”
“I didn’t mean to insult your intelligence.” Wizzard shrugged. “OK. What’s the square root of nine thousand?”
“I have absolutely no idea. You were always crap at maths.” Wizzard winked and took another swig of his lager. “Let me reiterate,” continued the parrot. “I know whatever you know, but more than you think you do. Ask me something. If deep down, you know the answer, I’ll be able to help you.”
“OK, I think I understand. So tell me this, how come this whole experience is so realistic? Apart from you talking, everything seems pretty normal.”
“Good question. You have a highly creative mind, as does Steve. Most people are happy to slide into a hallucinogenic world of pink elephants and kaleidoscopic skies, but certain factors allow you to properly articulate your thoughts, even while tripping, in a manner not dissimilar to lucid dreaming.”
As Wizzard explained, I began to gaze around the room. Everything seemed frighteningly real. Any change in the room was imperceptible, except for Steve’s parrot becoming possessed by my subconsciousness.
“In your own time,” Wizzard bobbed his head up and down. “But I must warn you, this effect doesn’t last for long. Is there anything you need to know?”
“Angel,” I spluttered. “Will I ever see her again?”
“Fuck knows,” said the parrot, before exploding into a billion shiny fractions. The sky fragmented also to reveal a passing flock of pink elephants. The back of my head hit the floor and I passed out.
The next morning, I decided that the parrot incident was to be my one and only venture into the occult, if it could indeed be described as such. Dabbling with supernatural forces was all when and good, but Macbeth never woke up covered in newspaper print and parrot shit. I needed professional help.
As it happened, that was the last time I took acid for two years. They say the culture lives on, but it doesn’t. Not unless you count American students getting off their heads on Sherbert Fountains and claiming to have spoken with Jerry Garcia. It’s over.
Meanwhile, I'm standing at the kitchen sink, gazing through the net curtains at the grey suburban panorama outside, my hands immersed in washing up water. A digestive biscuit protrudes foolishly from my mouth. As I rummage about in the sink, I prick my hand on a bread knife and gasp in pain, causing the biscuit to fall into the water. As I watch the soggy snack crumble and dissolve, I come to the conclusion that my life is definitely lacking something.
When I feel like this, I have three options. I could drink myself into a virtual coma, a technique which has served me well over the years despite being responsible for the frequent month long gaps in my memory. I could write more of my memoirs, in another transparently desperate attempt to inject meaning or interest into an otherwise redundant existence.
Or, the likeliest choice of all, I could crawl through town in search of another prostitute that bears even the slightest resemblance to Angel. This is usually enough for my imagination to capitalise on, when assisted by a cocktail of mind-altering catalysts not recommended or prescribed by Potter.
I leave the washing up to drain, happy that self-mutilation is no longer a consideration, and lean with my head against the fridge, wondering what literary criticisms would inevitably apply to my collection of memoirs, should they ever find their way onto the desk of a disaffected publisher.
Over-reliance on shock tactics and surrealism, no doubt. Little or no character emphasis, with the film rights remaining an unattractive proposition due to the fact you never get to “see” the love interest. Hackneyed dialogue and meaningless drug sequences little more than a pointless variation on the classic dream sequence cliche, all in an effort to distract the reader from a fundamentally illogical storyline, inconsistently structured, and symbolic only of nothing.