A very human moment of painful insight and personal crisis launches this intriguing multi-layered story. Several apparently disparate lives are examined through episodic and frankly-confessional first-person accounts which in their very different ways explore the question of how far we are free and how much we are constrained. How are we connected and what if we could see through the eyes of others? The style is fast-flowing, the language direct and uncluttered. As the old 50s cop show proclaimed: All human life is here! In this case, life and death …
I had the concept for this novel in 1981. It has been festering annoyingly in the back of my mind for decades until I finally found the way of writing it.
Many of the characters in this book are embellishments and adaptations of real people, likewise with the events; they too are based on real situations. But this is a work of fiction. It has come out of my imagination. Nothing is completely true. The characters I have created are often composites and much of what takes place has been altered – having said that there is a strong element of fact in nearly all of it – particularly the more unlikely parts.
I began writing this in February while on the cruise ship Magellan going up the coast of Australia. I completed the first rough draft in March while cruising around Vietnam.
Opher Goodwin 25.3.2017
Chapter 1 – Perspectives on a Sunny Day
Life goes on. That’s all I know. As far as I’m concerned, right now, life is trivial, pointless and boring – a repetition of the mundane, periodically interspersed with equally nonsensical novelty. Nothing makes sense. There is no purpose to anything. It appears to fall into a reassuring pattern -but that is an illusion. Change is all there really is. You can be sure that nothing will last for long. Everything you do is doomed to be destroyed in the vagaries of time. Nothing lasts. It’s a pretty miserable state of affairs when you really get down to thinking about it.
I stood in the sanitised room, breathed the Dettol and allowed my mind to run freewheel. Well, I didn’t really allow it to run free so much as lose control of it. I’d let go. There was no hand on the rudder. It went where it wanted and that appeared to entail a long string of gloomy observations. Right at this moment in time life looked pretty miserable to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t always been this morbid; my brain has not always flowed in such a melancholy manner. I used to be a happy, easy-going, positive sort of guy. But that seems a long, long time ago now. I’m no longer that person. Life knocked that naïve optimism right out of me a long time before today.
It is days like this that have robbed me of my positive outlook, and I’ve had a few of these kinds of days. Though fortunately not too many on a par with this particular doozy of an example. This was in a category of its own – a kind of one-off. This truth is, for obvious reasons, you can only experience this once.
Back when I was young ….. I could laugh at my own naivety ….. I used to postulate solutions to the world’s problems. I even used to have faith in the intrinsic goodness of human beings and believed there were things worth striving for. What a fool I was back then. That was before I realised the true nature of all those movers and shakers out there, the wealthy and powerful, greedily clawing in all they can, and willing to carve up their own grannies for self-advancement. They are a bunch of callous self-servers.
I woke up to the reality of humankind.
It is strange what pictures play out on your eyeballs as you stand helpless in a situation like this; what horrid thoughts go through your head. I was certainly no longer in control of my own thoughts. My mind was rampaging down an extremely morbid track. The dark thoughts distil out of nothing and chase each other around.
It occurred to me that, when it boils down to it, we are just glutinous sacs of chemistry; bags of minerals dissolved in water and suffused with ionised electricity.
Right now I had a pretty dim view of my species – not surprising, given the circumstances, I suppose.
We’re all to blame.
I was angry. I can’t remember ever being this angry before. I was angry at my Dad, angry at my Mum, angry at that stupid damn doctor, angry at the consultant, the whole fucking system and all those who hadn’t got it sorted. Most of all I was angry with myself.
Selfishness and greed are not just confined to the rich, are they?
I had begun thinking of myself and examining the depths of my own psyche looking for clues – for the evidence to condemn myself. I reckon most people would be just like those wealthy fuckers given half a chance, me included. I have come to believe that the whole human race is a savage, callous, selfish group of mindless monkeys out for nothing more than sex, power and wealth, and they don’t give a toss for anything or anyone – least of all nature or the plight of other creatures. If it isn’t about that trilogy of crassness, then it’s about cretinous fun – usually involving some form of cruelty or abuse.
I’ve always had a soft spot for nature. I detest cruelty.
I gave out a deep sigh which came out more like a sob as I absently pondered my own philosophical views on the nature of humanity. They weren’t currently very flattering, particularly when it came to our record with fellow creatures.
Indeed I have a pretty low impression of mankind and the circumstances were providing me with opportunity to give vent to it. I have come to realise that the majority of people are insane, shallow and stupid. I am convinced that they won’t be happy until they’ve destroyed the whole planet and laughed themselves to death as they busy themselves with slowly frying the last living creature on the sphere.
I played with that image in my head. My mind seemed to attach to it.
They have no scruples – as far as I can see they wouldn’t even want to eat that poor creature, they’d just want to watch it squirm, to make it suffer. That’s how they get their kicks. I believe that. They really would – they would enjoy watching some poor creature, the last creature on earth, as it screams its way to a horrendously painful death and all for nothing more than their own amusement. I believe that.
People are nasty.
Why was I thinking like this? Why was my mind going over this morbid scenario instead of what was happening in front of me. I tried to pull it back to the present but my mind refused to stop going along its depressing rut.
That sort of callous nastiness – it’s beyond me – and I’m human. How can anyone gain pleasure out of inflicting agony on other people or animals? Yet they do. They get off on it.
I shuddered as if to rid myself of the images filling my head. I really did not want them. I tried to reason with myself.
I know – not everyone is like that. I argued pretty unconvincingly. You might even say that it is only a minority. Most people are not cruel.
I considered that for a minute. It was a lame defence.
I lost the argument.
I was in no mood for any amelioration of my stance. I was fucking furious. I disagreed with the very attempt to defend my species. We are all guilty. Our very lifestyle is based on cruelty. That cruelty that we all perpetuate through the very act of living is merely kept out of sight. Most of us do not even think about the various cruelties that are carried out in our name. But I reckon that even mindlessness is no excuse. I suppose, in a way, what is even worse is the way the majority of people live in complete ignorance of the harm they are causing. They do not even see it. But I had such a bad opinion of all of us that I reckon they probably wouldn’t even care if they did.
I stood in the room looking down at the bed standing there as still as a statue. Inside my head it was like an angry cyclone.
Right now the thought of all that cruelty instigated by my own race sends me into great morbid fits of despair. The rage welled up as I looked for a focus for my anger. Deep down I knew it was displacement behaviour. A part of me remained apart, cold and analytical. I watched myself. Who knows? It might do me good to let that pent-up anger out? Who cares what the target was?
I despise them all. I hate them – all of them – even myself – every last human bastard on this planet. I have come to the realisation that we are the stupidest creatures who have ever evolved on this beautiful green sphere – and there have been a few monsters that have evolved here, I can tell you.
I think the worst thing about us is our damn intelligence. We can’t even claim ignorance for the vileness of our acts. That makes it all far worse. Everything we do is consciously done with intent. We know exactly what agonies we inflict and we thoroughly enjoy inflicting it.
But life goes on – at least for a while to come. We’ll eke out the last days of our vainglorious reign and probably still be around to witness our total annihilation of what once was a beautiful green planet full of beauty and potential. We’ll leave behind a legacy of pain, garbage and senseless destruction.
But hey – that’s probably just the mood I’m in right now. It’s chemical. And I have good reason. You’d probably be feeling a tad down if you were standing where I am right now.
Death goes on too.
I’ll feel differently in the morning.
It is strange the morbid, dismal thoughts that go through your mind while you stand in a hospital ward, beside a bed on which lies the remains of your old man, the person who begat you, who looked after you, nursed you, cared for you, loved you without limits and then fucking goes and dies on you – the bastard.
Except that wasn’t him in the bed at all. That was just an ice-cold marble sculpture of some haggard wretch whose cancer-ridden body some master sculptor had seen fit to replicate in stone. He’d done a fucking good job too. The sunken eyes and gaunt cheeks were perfect. The nose stood out like some grotesque beak. He’d captured it. It was a perfect replica of the man he had been yesterday. But he’d got the colour wrong. This marble effigy was as pale as snow. There was none of the sallow, jaundiced pastiness. The smell had gone too. Obviously there are some things even a great artist cannot replicate.
I could tell he wasn’t there the minute I walked into the room. There was no presence. I’m not a big believer in all this spiritual stuff. I don’t believe in gods or heaven and all that indoctrinated crap that they force-feed kids. But life has a presence that you can feel with some sense or other. I only reached out and touched his rock-hard face to confirm what I already knew. He was as cold as ice. The bastard was gone. I was alone in an empty hospital ward. I was in the presence of a big absence – a black hole where my dad had been.
It was over.
All the long days of pretence and acting; all the performance; it was finished with. The chapter was well and truly closed.
The tears streamed down my face. I missed him. Already I missed him. I could not quite believe that I’d never hear his voice again, never dial that number and hear his voice. The thoughts and emotions tumbled away behind my eyes as I stared vacantly out of the window at the world outside and watched it going about its business. Nothing had changed out there. How could that be?
I stood silently and stared out with glazed eyes.
In my world everything had changed – the ground had shifted. Nothing would ever be the same again. But out there it went on as usual.