Damien - The uncopleted masterpiece by jayerasmus


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									   Everything was exactly as Damien had planned. For months it was all he could think
about. Every morning he’d find himself thinking about it even before he started thinking
about cigarettes. And that was quite significant.
   He took another drag and let the cigarette butt drop to the floor, crushed it with his
shoe and wiggled his ankle furiously. It made him feel better. Made him feel like he was
doing his bit for the environment. A mutilated cigarette butt almost seemed like a part of
nature, he’d tell himself, fully aware that it was just another lie to make him feel less
guilty about his filthy addiction.
   He’d started lying to himself quite early on. It suited his life style. His lies were his
dreams. His existence was nothing but a dream to him. A dream that he had become a
part of.
   The bench creaked as he readjusted himself.
   He stared straight ahead, watching the waves rolling in and crashing against the rocks,
a short distance from where he was. The soft mist of the ocean cooled his face. The tide
was coming in, every wave rising just a bit higher. The sun hovered on the horizon,
washing the sky with a dreamy purple paste, splashes of yellow and orange and red
marrying the water and the sky.
   He’d promised himself that he would wait for a clear day, like today. It was so much
more romantic - watching the sunset one last time.
   He opened his right hand, looked at the five little blue pills and, arguing his case one
last time in a split second internal trial, brought his hand up to his mouth and dumped all
five of them on his tongue. He picked up the bottle of cheap red wine next to the bench
and flushed them down his throat, spilling a bit of the wine on his shirt.
   ‘Typical,’ he thought, ‘can’t even kill myself without making a mess…’
   He lit another cigarette and leaned back on the bench, taking in the beautiful scenery
in front of him. The perfect time to revise his plan, before the effect of the antidepressants
had the chance to kick in.

   He had it all worked out. At exactly 21:00, he’d open his bedroom window, step out
onto the ledge and jump. The sharp rocks below would instantly fracture his skull and it
would all be over. He even had a backup plan, watertight. Grasshopper poison, they
called it.
   Betty told him about it. Quite a funny story, actually. One of the more entertaining
stories to escape Betty’s constantly jabbering mouth. She loved to gossip and would keep
him prisoner for what seemed like hours with her ranting.
   Apparently, just before he moved into the lighthouse, the local nursery school teacher
had washed the children’s hair with the very same poison. One of the children had head
lice and she believed that the Grasshopper poison would take care of it. After one of the
parents, a local farmer, found out what she used on his child’s hair, he called a meeting
with the principal and demanded that they immediately fire her. He used the same poison
on his crops and was aware of the dangers associated with it.
   ‘It’s very dangerous,’ Betty told Damien, her eyes wide open, her head tilted,
‘could’ve killed all of them.’
   ‘So, what happened?’ he asked, reluctantly. For once he really was intrigued, but knew
that just the slightest interest from his side could send Betty into a whirlwind of chatter,
that could potentially last until daybreak.

   ‘She got sacked, of course,’ she replied, ‘the poor woman had to move far away. In
this district, she would always be known as the mad woman who had washed children’s
hair with a deadly poison.’
   He felt like saying that he thought it was a bit harsh. If the woman had gotten the
proper head lice shampoo from the pharmacy, nobody would’ve said anything about it.
Head lice shampoo was just poison after all, wasn’t it? He opted to keep his opinion to
himself. He had already made the mistake to challenge Betty’s opinions a few weeks
earlier and she had kept him busy for about two hours, defending her argument viciously,
long after he had given in and told her that she was right. He was definitely not going to
make the same mistake again.
   ‘That’s really sad,’ he said.
   ‘She deserved it,’ said Betty, turning around and waddling out of the kitchen and
down the steep stairs.
   He always wondered how Betty managed to get up the stairs.

   Damien had moved into the lighthouse three years ago. He spent hours on the internet,
scanning through pages and pages of useless information, emailing every authority,
management company and local council that he could think of to find out whether any of
the lighthouses in the country were still operated by guards.
   After countless letters and emails that returned no positive feedback, he finally
received a letter from the local council of a seaside town he had never heard of.
   Mr. Henderson, the council’s big shot, sent him a badly written letter explaining that
their lighthouse was operated by an elderly guard and that he had been taken ill. He asked
Damien to email them his CV and contact the office.
   ‘A CV? To guard a lighthouse,’ Damien thought, ‘What sort of qualification would
you need to switch a light on and off?’
   Mr. Henderson also explained that the lighthouse was a tourist attraction during the
holiday season and that a tour guide, called Betty, took holiday makers up the lighthouse
twice a day, only on the weekends of the holiday seasons. He mentioned that Damien’s
bedroom would be kept private and that he wouldn’t have to deal with the tourists.
   ‘Perfect,’ he thought to himself. He immediately started working on his CV, conjuring
up a relatively believable employment history. He emailed it to Mr. Henderson, picked up
the phone and dialed the number at the top of the badly written letter.

   Mr. Henderson’s voice was surprisingly high pitched. Completely different to what
Damien had expected. It was usually the case, though; people never really looked the way
he imagined them to. And voices obviously had the same deceptive qualities.
   He seemed quite friendly, at least. After a few hugely irrelevant questions, Mr.
Henderson felt content that Damien was the man for the job. They were desperate since
the previous guard had been taken ill on such short notice. Mr. Henderson had been
guarding the lighthouse himself for a week and seemed delighted that Damien could start
as soon as possible.
   That night, Damien stuck all his clothes in his old, raggedy suitcase and loaded his
limited possessions into the back of his car. He left a note on the desk in his room.
   ‘The landlord can keep the deposit,’ he thought. His new life was waiting for him, in a
town he had never heard of.

    The first few nights Damien spent in the lighthouse were quite scary. The wind played
tricks on him, shaking the windows, rattling the doors and howling around the corners of
what he later christened his balcony. Every now and then he’d wake up suddenly,
thinking that he’d heard something breaking somewhere, someone screaming or some
other eerie horror movie scene unfolding right behind his bedroom door.
    He grew accustomed to these noises as the days went on and they became a part of the
lighthouse after a while. After a couple of weeks he didn’t bother jumping up every time
he heard something and he slept better than he had in years.
    His duties were mundane, but it took up so little of his time that he didn’t even notice
doing it after a while. He spent most of his days writing, just as he’d always imagined.
This truly was his calling.

    Ever since he was a teenager, Damien had lived in his own little world. He felt
comfortable there. He liked it.
    ‘Wake up, boy!’ one of his teachers used to say, ‘there’s no room in this life for little
day dreamers.’
    He never argued. He couldn’t really be bothered to. Not because he agreed with what
they were saying, but because he really didn’t care what they thought. Even back in high
school he fantasized about living in a lighthouse one day, writing books and poetry and
songs. He wanted to express himself in a way that nobody would ever understand. Just
like all the great artists, he wanted to be misunderstood during his lifetime and discovered
after his death. It didn’t seem morbid to him at all.
    After high school he forgot about his dream. He adopted a new dream. Somebody
else’s dream. He wanted to be a rock star, touring the world, sleeping with groupies and
taking drugs, slinging TV’s out of hotel windows and spitting in the faces of his fans.
    That didn’t happen. He played in a few bands, got really inspired and gave his best,
but it never lasted long. His heart was never in it. And when he met the girl of his dreams
at twenty one, his fantasies about rock stardom seemed insignificant and, more to the
point, impossible.

   ‘She had such a big impact on my life…,’ Damien thought as he lit another cigarette.
The little pills had started doing their job. He felt calm, tranquil. The swollen red sun was
just peeking over the horizon, saying goodbye to the sea, the town and the sky.
   Damien didn’t even notice as it slipped away behind the horizon. His thoughts were
securely fixed on the girl that changed him to such a great extent. The rush of serotonin in
his brain washed the emotions out of his memories. He saw her face, could almost feel
her. He felt alone, but not lonely. The little pills took care of his loneliness and pain and
replaced them with a dull feeling of emptiness. Tranquility. The memories flooded
through him and he was just a spectator, watching the reels of his fondest recollections
ticking by in his head with no emotion attached to it whatsoever.

   The breeze began nibbling at his skin, not necessarily cold, but uncomfortable. He
decided to go up to the lighthouse. He got up and grabbed his half empty bottle of wine,
taking another big swig and spilling some more down his shirt.
   ‘God, just for once, please,’ he said out loud, ‘what an idiot!’

   He had developed a bit of a problem with that the last year. At least six or seven of his
shirts had red stains down the front. There’s no use in hiding the fact that you drink too
much when your shirts have red wine stains all over them. There was no washing
machine in the lighthouse and the only option he had was to take his laundry down to the
local Laundromat, where the old lady would wash and iron his clothes for a lot less
money than the effort was worth. She commented on the stains a few times and started
harping on about her brother in law’s alcohol problem.
   ‘He rarely gets up, you know?’ she’d say, ‘And when he does, he just gets up to buy
some more booze.’
   ‘That’s terrible,’ Damien usually replied.
   ‘You should be careful, son. Nobody realizes that they’ve got a problem before it’s too
   ‘Thank you, Anna, but I really don’t think that I have a problem.’
   ‘That’s what they all say, son. That’s what they all say.’
   Every time Damien left the Laundromat, he swore to himself that he’d separate the
stained shirts from the rest of his washing next time, and every time he forgot.
   The thought of buying wine glasses never crossed his mind.

   He walked up the steps to the big red door and took his keys from his pocket. One
thing that he felt quite proud of was his meticulous pocket system. He never had to ruffle
through all his pockets to find what he was looking for, like most other people. He knew
exactly where everything was. Cigarettes and lighter in his left front pocket, mobile
phone (and keys-when he was sitting down) in his right front pocket, wallet in his right
back pocket and keys in his left back pocket (when he was standing up). The arrangement
was simple, but effective. As most productivity consultants would argue, a simple system
like Damien’s personal effect layout could save literally hours of senseless labour.

   He opened the door and started climbing the spiral staircase. This was something he
didn’t consider when he pieced together his day dreams in high school. The lighthouse
was such an ideal setting for an artiste of his caliber, but he never thought about the
practicality and drawbacks of actually living in one.
   Betty always told the tourists how many stairs the lighthouse had. The number was
rarely the same. Nobody ever counted them. They just took what Betty said as the truth
and never questioned her wisdom on the subject.
   Damien always thought of counting them when he was already halfway up the stairs,
when he started feeling the strain in the back of his legs, by which time it was obviously
always too late to start counting.

  He got to the landing in front of his bedroom and took the keys from his right back
pocket again, unlocked the door, swung it open and walked in. The place was a mess.

   The wind had obviously felt the need to force his bedroom window, which he always
left slightly ajar, wide open. Nosy as the sea breeze is around these parts, it didn’t rest
there. No, it took it upon itself to browse through the stack of papers on his desk, paying
no attention to the order in which Damien had neatly arranged them, and humorously
continued scattering them all over his bedroom.

   ‘Christ!’ Damien said loudly, ‘I should’ve known.’
   The devastating effect of the wind ruined his carefully considered plan. He’d have to
go through all the paperwork yet again, organizing all of it into a compilation that made
sense. He hated the idea of having to read through all of it again.
   He closed the window and started picking up all the sheets of paper, sat down at his
desk and put the pile down in front of him. He noticed the tiny bottle of grasshopper
poison on the edge of the desk. It had a big yellow label on the side warning the
occasional oblivious farmer of its potential danger. He started wondering what it would
taste like, concluded that it would be horrible and decided to mix it with the remaining
red wine.

   Damien realized that he would have to amend his carefully considered plan. It was
almost 19:00. It would take him at least an hour to reorganize his paperwork, tidy his
room and take a shower. He figured that he needed at least another two hours to say
goodbye to the lighthouse and himself, before slinging his body out of his bedroom
window. He was planning to do it at 21:00, because the tide would rise shortly afterward
and drag his corpse into the sea. He wanted to lay himself to rest in the ocean.

   He started sorting out the pile of paper in front of him. Mostly letters and emails
written in drunken fits of emotional collapse, with the occasional poem and short story or
political rant. This was his final collage, a compilation of his thoughts, life according to
Damien. He wanted to put it all in a box, wrap it up in brown paper and send it to a
publisher. He had already typed up a covering letter, explaining the situation and giving
the publisher full authorization to publish his work.

   Damien had decided to end his life a few months earlier. He felt that it would be the
perfect conclusion to his story. It was the way he’d always imagined it. His life had
become stale and monotonous. The emotional roller coaster ride of his adolescence had
left him exhausted and uninterested. There was nothing to strive for; he’d written the last
chapter of his concealed autobiography and published it on the intranet of his soul. The
void inside him that was once filled by the girl of his dreams consumed him. And he
knew that he would never escape it.

   ‘…I want to be the eight ball
   Your shoulders, your skin
   The strobe, hugging your body
   Something near you

    ‘What was I thinking?’ he thought. This was exactly why Damien never liked reading
his own poetry. He’d get his kicks when he came up with whatever it was that he was
writing, but after reading it way too many times, over and over again, the uncertainty
about the brilliance of his own literature would set in and render it more or less useless.
    He knew that the success of any artist depended on the artist’s appreciation of his own
art. After all, nobody would knock on his door and ask to read his poetry. He’d have to
send his work off to endless lists of publishers, he’d have to believe that his creations

were absolute literary treasures and he’d have to follow up on each and every one of his
little jewels, annoying everybody with his bloated self-worth. He opted for obscure
artistic insignificance instead. He’d stay true to himself and his art.

    He lit a cigarette, leaned back and swiveled his chair to change his perspective and
avoid what he liked to refer to as literary frenzy; a state where words lost their meaning.
It amazed him that repetitive pronunciation of a given word robbed it of its meaning,
almost humorously draining all familiarity from it. But when he wanted to get something
done, it tended to irritate, more than to amaze.
    His bedroom was idyllic. Wooden floors, low ceiling, rough plastered walls. His desk
stood in front of a large window, overlooking the ocean. A million dollar view. Apart
from the awkward circular shape of the room, it was perfect. And although Damien never
wanted to admit it himself, it was a babe magnet. Everything about this place, the mere
thought of the crazy artiste, living in a lighthouse, sent the girls over the edge, melting
their inhibitions away almost instantly. He’d had his fair share of passionate holiday
romance in this very same bedroom. Over the holiday season, there was always some
angst-filled teenage girl, eagerly following him up the spiral staircase after he reluctantly
agreed to show her the view. He’d routinely have to pick up the acoustic guitar next to his
bed to serenade the starry eyed maiden, after making various excuses ranging from the
fear of playing in front of an audience of one to sudden arthritis of the left hand. As soon
as his fingers started choking melodies out of the fret board, the deal would be done and
dusted. He’d make love to her, make her feel like she was the only girl in the world and
when the marathon had come to a complete standstill, get up, light a cigarette and feel
horrible about what he had just done. These episodes of lust, drained of emotional
attachment on his part, satisfied his earthly wants temporarily, but usually left him feeling
empty and deserted. He’d make it clear to his new intimate acquaintance that there was
no room in his life for a partner and no matter how gentle he tried to be, it would mostly
end in tears, slammed doors and pointless screaming matches.

   Damien found an empty cardboard box in the little storage room below his bedroom
and sat down at his desk, carefully laying the sheets of paper to rest, chronologically - a
Quentin Tarantino timeline of sorts. He arranged everything in such a way that, whoever
opened the parcel would be met by the conclusion of his life story first, followed by the
tedious childhood, adolescence etc. He had learnt to grab the attention of the reader first
and tell the chewy crux of the story later. It was nothing new, but it seemed to work.
   He placed the covering letter on top of the pile and closed the box.
   ‘So, that’s it, then,’ he thought, ‘my life story in a shoe box.’

   He quickly tidied his room, had a shower and put some fresh clothes on. He opted for
quite a stylish white shirt, one of the only ones in his closet without red stains down the
front. He sat down on his desk, his legs dangling out of the window.
   ‘There’s enough time for another cigarette and some wine,’ he argued.
   The wind had subsided, the sky was littered with tiny bright dots and the moon cast its
trail of light on the still water, disappearing in the whiteness of the breaking waves.

   Damien looked down at the rocks surrounding the lighthouse and tried to imagine
what the collision would feel like. He flicked his cigarette up into the air and followed its
movement down. It was quite a drop. He loved the tingly sensation of heights. As a child,
he’d climb onto any structure that he could and jump and hang and swing to his mother’s
nagging disapproval.

   He reached for the little bottle of poison, opened it and started pouring the contents
into the wine bottle. The thick, dark liquid released a sharp stench that burnt his nostrils.
He was definitely not looking forward to sculling the foul concoction. He just sat there,
for what seemed like hours, dangling the bottle of deadly poison out the window,
smoking cigarette after cigarette and thinking. He thought about his life, his childhood,
his dreams, his family, his friends, the years and years that passed him by, the way he
always felt like a spectator rather than a participant, the love he’d lost, the pain, the
happiness and the inevitability of his death.
   He cried as he wrapped himself in his own little world, wondering how he’d manage
to detach himself from it enough to take the leap.

    The door bell rang. The almighty buzzing sound bursting out of his bedroom shook
him out of his dreamy dimension. As he turned around on impulse to face the
approaching danger, his hand relaxed around the neck of the bottle, dropping it. He heard
it smashing against the rocks below.
    He turned around on the desk. ‘Who could it be, this time of the night?’ Damien
thought as he descended from his desk. A peculiar kind of panic took hold of him, as if he
were a child again, caught with his hand inside the forbidden cookie jar.
    He took a few moments to compose himself and tried to rationalize this strange feeling
of guilt that he felt for what he was about to do.
    ‘I guess suicide is against the law.’ Damien explained it to himself. ‘It is just murder,
after all.’

    Another loud buzz ripped through his ears, this time the faceless seeker of entry made
it clear that the case was urgent. The buzzer kept screaming for a few seconds and
Damien hurried out of his room to escape the horrible noise. He started running down the
stairs and heard the buzzing sound in his room growing in frequency and diminishing in
volume. He finally reached the landing downstairs and opened the door.

   Her white dress was soaked, clinging to her tiny, shivering body. Long strands of dark
hair lay tightly strewn across her face and shoulders, chaotically arranged and yet
poetically perfect. Her face gave her distress away, but gripped onto her proud
composure. Her dress was covered in blood, from the waist down, where both her hands
rested on what seemed the principle source of her pain.

   He picked her up and, without saying a word, carried her up the spiral staircase.

    Damien was born in London. His father worked for a big multinational company
based in Cape Town. The family was uprooted and transferred countless times between
the two completely different worlds. His mother stayed at home, mostly, looking after
Damien. She taught him to read and write at a very early age and had great expectations
for the intelligent youngster. He astonished their friends with his vocabulary, maturity
and relative mathematical genius, but what they most admired was his respectful nature.
Damien really was a model child.
    As an only child, though, he struggled to mingle with other children. It worried his
mother. She read books about juvenile social disorders, took him to therapists and
psychologists and became almost neurotically obsessed about his failure to adapt in social
settings with other children. He seemed a lot more comfortable around adults. He loved
sitting on the floor in the lounge, playing with his favourite toys and listening to his mum
and her friends’ conversations.

   Damien’s father tried to convince his wife that there was nothing wrong with the child.
He’d grow out of it. Some children develop different to others and he was convinced that
Damien would adapt very easily once he started going to school. His mother slowly
started letting go of her fears. Instead of forcing him in the areas where he lacked, she
decided to boost the child’s talents. She taught him to play the piano, chess and scrabble.
She bought him stacks and stacks of books. If anything, the over-stimulation that took
place in the first few years of Damien’s existence, probably forced him to retreat into his
own reality, more than the fact that he didn’t have brothers or sisters.
   He was by no means a lethargic home body. He loved playing outside and his physical
development was just as rapid as his intellectual growth.

   By the time Damien went to school he was more than prepared to deal with his
education. He instantly became his teacher’s favourite pupil and the other children
respected him, probably due to his physical size and strength, rather than his intellectual
superiority. He made a few close friends and everything plodded along in the same sort of
vain for most of his primary school career.
   Things changed when he went to high school. His dad was transferred back to Cape
Town. Damien resented the fact that he had to adapt to a completely different
environment at such a critical stage of his life. Although he went to a prestigious private
school in Cape Town, the climate in the country at that stage was inevitably seeping
through the cracks, influencing even the rich little brats he had to face every day.
   He had a very hard time fitting in and, once again, drifted further and further into his
own world. His school work started suffering. He was just not interested. He started
rebelling against the strict rules and regulations and by the time he was sixteen, his
teachers were under the impression that the boy had become seriously unhinged. He
couldn’t stand his teachers, with the exception of his English teacher, Miss Johnson.
   She took a liking in Damien and nurtured his love for English literature. He excelled at
creative writing, prose and poetry. They challenged each other, learnt from each other
and secretly flirted with each other. He fell desperately in love with her. He started
writing endless declarations of his love for her, livid poetry about his desire for the love
he could not have from her and fictional fantasies about their horseback gallop into the
sunset. She called him in after school one day, took him into the store room at the back of

her class room and started kissing him, passionately. They made love there, between all
the study guides and school books without saying a word. She showed him how to please
her, taking control of the teenage boy’s desires, guiding him and introducing him to the
sinful pleasures of the flesh.
   Their affair continued through his second last year of high school and ended abruptly
when Miss Johnson was mysteriously transferred. He never saw her again.
   His last year of high school was pure torture, the exhilaration of his affair with his
English teacher left him empty and desperate. He craved the thrill of the passion they had
shared and failed to attain it with the inexperienced high school girls he slept with.

   Damien discovered his love for music during his last year of school. He bought a drum
kit after convincing his mother that he’d put more effort into his school work if he’d have
something to take his mind off of life. He practiced for hours in the store room next to
their garage. He loved the power of the drums and the raw sexuality of the beats that
seemed to come so natural to him. Visions of rock stardom were nurtured in the fertile
environment of his angst ridden mind and rapidly grew into a great desire to go back to
London and chase his dreams. He kept his end of the bargain and graduated from high
school with relatively good marks.

   Damien got the first possible flight to London and went to stay with his aunt for a
while. He loved being back; the freedom of the city where he was born filled him with a
desire to live, to try new things, to meet interesting people and to infiltrate the music
   It proved to be harder than what he’d anticipated, but before long, he got a job in a
book store in the West End and moved into a shared house full of aspiring musicians.
   The world of music was buzzing with excitement after the unexpected explosion of
grunge onto the scene. The music was real, raw and exhilarating. He got together with a
few of his housemates, started writing and rehearsing and, more to the point, living the
dream. There were endless nights of drunken shenanigans, piles of skunk weed and
devil’s dandruff, wild girls that were more into the idea of the band than into their
members, hangovers that seemed to go on forever and mornings of waking up in a
mysterious embrace with the loo. Damien loved it; for the first time in his life, he felt

   About six months after Damien started working at the book store, the floor manager
was promoted and replaced by a girl from another branch. He couldn’t keep his eyes off
of her. His usual charm and confidence seemed to disappear when she came close to him.
   There was something about her that Damien found irresistible and frightening at the
same time. She intrigued him; the mysterious cloud around her, her confidence and
almost painful politeness. Her dark hair, beautiful big brown eyes, contagious smile and
unusual facial expressions seriously damaged his internal clockwork.
   For weeks Damien did not say a word to her. He wanted to, desperately, but he kept
rehearsing his lines and kept scrapping them just before their execution. He caught
himself staring at her, totally mesmerized by the gorgeous creature, taking note of all her
unique features and attributes, her habits, all the little things that made her so irresistibly
exceptional. He wrote epic love letters and poetry, his thoughts were overtaken by love

and lust and desire for her. The way her eyes squinted in the sun, completely
transforming from the large, innocent windows of her untainted soul into flaming pools
of sexual desire. He couldn’t stop thinking about her.
   He consulted one of his colleagues, Andy, who had worked with her in the other
branch, trying his best to make his enquiry seem like general gossip.
   ‘She’s married, you know,’ Andy said.
   ‘Surely she’s still quite young?’
   ‘You’d have thought, wouldn’t you?’ He continued. ‘She’s 23. Would never have
guessed myself.’
   ‘She’s quite something.’ Damien let it slip.
   ‘I personally don’t like mousy chicks,’ Andy said, as if it to reassure Damien that his
loss wasn’t very significant, ‘I like ‘em busty, ’ya know what I mean?’
   Damien smiled and changed the subject.

   A couple of weeks later, Andy invited everybody from work over to his place for his
30th. Damien prayed that she’d be there. He bought some ridiculously expensive cologne,
had a haircut and scrubbed himself for almost an hour before making his way over to
   She was there, lighting up the room with her magnetic presence.
   Damien sculled beer after beer, waiting impatiently for liquid courage to take control
of his actions and wipe his fear away. It didn’t seem to work. He sat down next to Andy,
who was completely slaughtered by the time his guests showed up. Andy went into a
drunken spiel about the political situation in South Africa. Damien agreed with
everything, trying to avoid unnecessary arguments about things he realized Andy knew
nothing about. His father taught him a valuable lesson in social diplomacy: You choose
your own level of involvement.

   Whilst blankly staring at Andy and nodding occasionally, just to seem interested,
Damien heard the mesmerizing voice of the girl next to him. He felt contrasting waves of
numbness and elation rising up inside his body and wavered for a few moments, not sure
whether the beautiful, almost melodic sound he heard was addressed to him or not.
   He turned around, blatantly ignoring Andy, who by this time had managed to
miraculously change his topic of banter to issues regarding the hole in the ozone layer.
He immediately cursed himself for the idiotic expression plastered all over his face.
   ‘So, you’re the quiet one?’ she asked.
   ‘Ah, well, you know what it’s like.’
   Was that really the best he could come up with? After infinite rehearsals, carefully
edited and considered potential pick-up-lines, he’d disappointed himself terribly.
   ‘No, I don’t really,’ she smiled.
   He wanted the earth to tear open and swallow him, but her smile kept him dangling
comfortably from her lips. She continued talking:
   ‘I quite like working in the West End. It’s so alive around here. Edgeware really bored
the crap out of me.’
   Damien’s oral spasm seemed to subside a touch. He composed himself, smiled at her
and opened his mouth. Her eyes reassured him. This girl was so easy to talk to, contrary
to what he’d thought.

   ‘Yeah, it’s like God’s waiting room up there, isn’t it?’
   That was more like it. He’d charm her with his sense of humour, he thought.
   She laughed. He smiled.
   ‘Your accent’s very unique, where are you from?’ Damien asked.
   ‘My dad’s Portuguese; he met my mum in Brazil and they moved to England. So it’s a
strange concoction of Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese and North London ponce.’
   She smiled at him again.
   ‘Aaah… That would explain the way you almost hum your sentences, huh? I’ve
always thought of the Brazilian dialect as a musical composition of Portuguese, rather
than just a dialect.’
   He was quite pleased with himself. He’d heard someone saying that on a movie or
something, but felt that his appropriate plagiarism deserved some credit, if not for the
content, at least for the lightening fast association.
   She frowned for a second and tilted her head to the side, as if to process the
information. Just as Damien started doubting his revelation of unfounded worldly
knowledge, she released the cutest little ‘fmmm?’ and her face lit up. Damien sighed
   ‘Yeah, that’s true, now that you mentioned it,’ she said. ‘That’s a very nice way of
looking at it, actually.’

   They kept on chatting, for what seemed like hours. She joined him outside on the
balcony for a smoke. They sat on a couch, overlooking the city, drinking copious
amounts of red wine and exchanging their life stories. The other partygoers dissolved
around them, the buzzing city below seemed to melt away, the night stood still for hours
and ticked over in an instant when her pager ripped both of them out of the little universe
they’d discovered.
   The loud beeping noise changed her. She seemed irritated by it, tense and frail, with a
slight hint of guilt. Her eye contact with Damien stopped abruptly and their conversation
reverted to an uncomfortably shallow exchange of words.
   Damien didn’t bother to ask her who it was, he knew. She didn’t bother to tell him,
she figured he’d know.

   ‘Well, I’m probably gonna have to get going…’ she said.
   Her voice disclosed the fact that she didn’t want to go and Damien had to stop himself
from asking her to stay.
   She got up, gave him a kiss on his cheek and nodded her head, as if to approve of the
evening she spent with him without saying it out loud. She smiled at him.
   ‘It was lovely meeting you,’ he said, reluctantly
   ‘Likewise, Damien.’
   Her eyes locked onto his gaze and she stood there for a few moments, long enough to
send a definite signal, too brief to verify its meaning.

  As she turned around and walked towards the door, Damien remembered something;
something that was an integral ingredient in the prospective progress of their relationship.
  She turned around when she heard his voice.
  ‘This is gonna sound strange, but I still don’t know your name.’

   He ignored the screaming in his head, the voice telling him that his statement could be
taken completely the wrong way. He just let it out.
   She smiled at him and said:
   ‘Maybe you can join me for a smoke break tomorrow and read my name badge.’
   She turned around and walked out the door.

   Damien felt his heart shooting up through his neck, out through his mouth and up into
the dim, pinkish London sky. The sensation of pins and needles followed by complete
exhaustion and invigorating zest spun through his being, visiting every cell in his body
and overwriting all previous data. He’d never felt like this. The evening had given birth
to his successor, clad in a glorious cloak of serenity, speeding through the woods of the
spine-tingling unknown. He was walking on air.


   Damien finally reached the top of the spiral staircase. The girl’s frail little body proved
a lot harder to get up the (God knows how many) stairs than what he’d thought when he
heroically picked her up downstairs.
   From what he could gather, standing on the dimly lit landing at the top of the staircase,
she’d lost consciousness. He laid her down on his bed and sat down on the chair in front
of his desk to catch his breath. In his half-drunk, confused state, the next logical step was
obviously to light a cigarette, as if the toxic gasses filling his tired lungs would answer
the pile of unanswered questions the strange turn of events had unexpectedly dumped in
the inbox of his life.
   He sat there, staring at his curious guest, dragging on his cigarette. It suddenly
occurred to him that she might not be alive and he jumped up, flicked his cigarette out the
window and put his fingers against her cold neck.
   ‘Thank God.’ He thought. There was still a pulse.
   Damien sat down next to her on the bed and started rationalizing. His plans for the
evening were obviously out the window. He took a moment to appreciate the pun.
   He’d have to take her clothes off and get her into something warm and dry. He’d have
to establish where the blood came from and he’d have to phone the police.

   He went up to his bathroom and got a couple of towels, came back, dumped them on
the bed and got some warm flannel pajamas out of his closet. Another unwanted
Christmas gift that he carted around with him because he felt too bad to leave it behind.
They’d finally found a use now, at least.
   Her dress was ripped all over and Damien decided to cut it open all the way down the
front, to make things easier. He hoped that she wouldn’t wake up and see him wielding a
pair of scissors. Luckily, she didn’t and a few moments later her blood soaked dress was
lying on the floor.

   He tried hard not to stare at her naked body, but he couldn’t help noticing; she was
gorgeous. Her petite body was covered in goose bumps, her tanned skin, toned and
immaculate. He shook his head in order to snap back to reality and to remind him of the
urgency of the situation at hand. He dried her body as best he could, turning her around,
gently. He pulled her wet hair back and wrapped a towel around it. When he turned her
on her back, he saw the wound at the top of her thigh. A nasty, deep cut. She’d probably
already lost quite a lot of blood. It looked as if the blood had stalled, luckily. Her arms
and legs were badly bruised and covered in little cuts. She’d had a nasty blow to the head,
   Damien got some warm water and disinfectant and cleaned her wounds. He put a
bandage around her thigh and covered the worst of the smaller cuts with band aids. After
his surprisingly efficient first aid attempt, he started the intricate process of dressing the
sleeping beauty. It was quite an operation, considering the fact that he had to change the
sheets simultaneously.
   Finally, he covered her with a clean, dry blanket and sat down in his chair to enjoy a
victorious cigarette. He felt content for a moment before the questions came knocking.
Confusion set in, guiding his train of thought down clandestine tracks of extremities.
   He opened his last bottle of cheap red wine. It calmed him. The liquid quenched not
only his thirst, but his arid soul, seeping into the cracks left by this strangest of days.
   Damien played the events of the day over and over again in his head, attempting to
make sense of it.
   ‘My very own Damsel in distress,’ Damien whispered, secretly laughing about the
absurdity of it all, ‘you saved my life, didn’t you?’


   ‘Rachel,’ Damien chewed on the name, reorganizing all the relevant folders in his
brain. He liked the name and he was wondering whether to tell her or not. His fear of
sounding banal won the argument, so he decided to keep his thoughts to himself.
   ‘Damien,’ she said, pausing for a while and smiling at him, ‘Andy tells me that you’re
a drummer. You don’t look like a drummer.’
   ‘Yeah, I know. I’m not arrogant enough, right?’
   ‘Mmm… Maybe you’re just too tall.’
   ‘I guess,’ Damien wondered where the conversation was leading, but just wanted to
look at her, so he kept talking, ‘I learnt to play the piano when I was a kid and I played
the guitar for quite a while before I bought my first drum kit. I just loved the power, you
   ‘Yeah, I can imagine.’
   ‘Have you ever tried it?’ Damien tried to sound as nonchalant as possible, failing
terribly. He decided to let go of his insecurities and just go with the flow. There was no
need to consider what he was saying; Rachel was probably the easiest going girl he’d
ever met.

   ‘No, but I’d love to,’ she said.
   ‘Slam fucking dunk,’ he thought to himself, frowning in order to keep his enthusiasm
under wraps.
   ‘You’re welcome to come to rehearsal one night. If we’re there an hour before the rest
of the guys get there, you can have a go.’
   ‘Ah, that’d be awesome!’
   ‘Yeah, I’d like to play you some of our stuff, too.’
   ‘What sort of music is it?’ Rachel asked.
   ‘Grunge, I guess. I prefer to call it Indie with a Grunge undertone. As anal as that
sounds. The melodies and guitar riffs are very British Indie, but the beats are tight and the
bass is powerful. We’re getting there.’
   ‘Sounds cool, I’d love to hear it,’ she seemed genuinely interested, unlike most other
people who said exactly the same thing, but meant completely the opposite.
   ‘Well, I’ll let you know when we have our next rehearsal, ok?’
   ‘All right,’ she said, nodding her head and smiling.
   Damien took one more drag, dropped the cigarette butt to the floor, stepped on it and
wriggled his ankle furiously, mutilating it.
   ‘Suppose we’ve gotta get back to work, huh?’

   Damien opened the heavy door of the rehearsal studio. The moldy smell hit him right
between the eyes. There was absolutely no ventilation under the railway arches; it got
quite stuffy and warm down there after four hours of rehearsal, sending the band
members into a strange daze of confusion. The sound proofing kept the thundering noise
of the trains out, as opposed to keeping the noise of the bands in. It was horrible, but
there was something about the place that Damien liked.
   Rachel took a liking in the place, too.
   ‘Wow, this place is eerie!’ she said as she walked into the large dimly lit room.
   Damien stood at the door, looking at her. She looked gorgeous. Her light brown,
hippy-ish dress hugged her tiny, curvy body, emphasizing all the right places. Her hair
flowed down her bare shoulders, brushing elegantly over her back as she skipped around
the studio, like a child at Christmas. She hovered in front of the drum kit, her hands
resting on her hips, her head tilted to the side, her eyes inviting Damien over.
   ‘C’mon, then!’
   He closed the door behind him and walked over to his drum kit. After all the routine
adjustments, he sat down and picked up his drum sticks.
   ‘You’re gonna have to turn around, I can’t play in front of one person. An audience of
one is a thousand times more nerve-racking than an audience of thousands.’
   ‘And you’d know, Mr. Bonham, wouldn’t you?’
   She smiled, made the strangest head-nodding movement with her mouth wide open
and turned around, like a soldier, obeying an order.
   Damien counted the beat in on his hi-hat and kicked off with the fattest, tightest,
funkiest beat he could think of. He completely lost himself in the rhythm that flowed out
of his being. He closed his eyes and thought of nothing. It was just him and the drums,
connecting with every impact, dissolving into each other. When he finally looked up, he
saw Rachel straddling a chair, right in front of him, with her back towards him. Her feet

were tapping to the beat and Damien felt a surge of energy flowing through him. The
mere thought of the control he had over her body, turned him on in a way he’d never
been turned on. He bashed the drums, faster. The beat became more intricate, spicy and
sexual. He caught a whiff of burning weed and realized that she was smoking a spliff.
The thought vanished from his mind, replaced by the nothingness of the pounding pulse,
gushing straight from his soul. He kept on going, transforming the beat from a sexual,
Latin groove, to a sleazy disco beat, more appropriate to the mood created by this sultry
vision unfolding in front of him. She responded by getting up slowly, seemingly unaware
of her observer, following her every move. She moved to the melody-drained music,
lifted her arms in the air and gave her body over to the rhythmic, throbbing sound waves.
She turned around and their eyes met. Damien concluded his drum solo with a majestic
drum roll, cheesily copying the great eighties power ballad drummers. Rachel realized
what he was doing and started laughing. She walked up to him. The noise of the ringing
cymbals slowly faded out, her laughter faded in. Damien sank into the drum stool and
leant up against the wall behind him.

  ‘Wow, that was amazing!’ she said.
  ‘Cheers,’ he said, trying not to seem too full of himself.
  ‘You’re so meek.’
  ‘Yeah, meek’
  ‘Meek,’ he said again. What an unusual adjective.
  ‘I’ll take that as a compliment, then?’
  ‘That’s what it was,’ she replied.

  ‘You wanna have a go?’ Damien said as he got up off the stool behind the drum kit.
  ‘Yeah, all right.’
  They stayed there for hours; the rest of the band never showed up. They smoked
umpteen spliffs, guzzled down liters of red wine and talked about everything and


    A throbbing pain shot through his brain, bounced between his temples and squatted
down in the back of his head. He winked a few times, cleared the sleep from his eyes and
looked around, desperately attempting to make sense of his surroundings. His thoughts
were crowded and yet he seemed strangely detached from them.
    ‘I must’ve fallen asleep on the couch,’ he reasoned, ‘but why?’
    He sat up, stretched himself out in order to force the stagnant pain out of his back and
scanned the room for evidence to establish a concrete timeline of events.
    He saw the blood-soaked dress, bundled up on the wooden floor in front of his bed and
it all came flooding back, rumbling through his mind, grabbing him by the shoulders and
shaking reality into his worn out body.
    ‘Where’s the girl,’ he thought, ‘surely that couldn’t have been a dream.’
    He jumped up and ran up the stairs, all the way to the top of the staircase, through the
control room and out onto the balcony.
    She stood there, clad in Damien’s paisley flannel pajamas, leaning over the white wall
that faithfully kept visitors to the balcony from accidentally plummeting to an untimely
death. When she heard him, she turned around, smiling at him.
    Damien almost fell over. She was stunningly beautiful.
    ‘Hello,’ she said.
    Damien choked on his words – or, rather, the lack thereof - and decided to greet her
with a cynically welcoming grin instead. It was way too early to have a conversation with
this uninvited stranger – whether she was the most beautiful creature he’d seen in years,
or not.
    ‘This is an amazing view,’ she said, ‘you’re very lucky to live in a place like this, you
    ‘Christ,’ Damien thought, ‘how about telling me why the hell you showed up at my
door in the middle of the night, soaked to the bone and bleeding all over my doormat?’
    ‘Yeah, it’s lovely, isn’t it?’
    ‘I’ve never been in a lighthouse before; never even thought of them as buildings. They
seem like such outdated concepts, but there’s really something serene and honorable
about them, don’t you think?’
    Damien wanted her to stop talking. He felt like going over to her, taking her by her
delicate little arms and shaking her. He wanted to scream at her and then kiss her, but he
remembered that he hadn’t brushed his teeth yet.
    He reached down into his left front pocket and got his cigarettes out. He’d damaged
the soft pack in his sleep, but he managed to salvage one of them, carefully straightening
it out. The harsh, toxic, warm smoke filled his mouth, throat and lungs and he felt like
coughing. Oh, the sweet, sweet burning sensation of his foul habit!
    ‘Listen, I’m gonna have a shower,’ Damien said, ‘Make yourself at home; there’s
some… well, there’s not much in the kitchen, but if the milk’s not off yet, you can have
some coffee or something. I wouldn’t have those eggs, though. They’re a couple of
months old.’
    ‘Thank you,’ she said, smiling at him.
    Damien felt slightly guilty about his thoughts earlier; she seemed honestly
appreciative of his hospitality. He turned and headed downstairs.

   Damien got out of the shower, stood in front of the basin and started brushing his
teeth. He looked at his reflection in the mirror and frowned. He felt some kind of
revelation, knocking on the inside of his forehead, desperately trying to get out.
   Suddenly, he sneezed. A big blob of foamy tooth paste flew from his mouth and
collided with his reflection in the mirror, right between his eyes.
   ‘Her accent!’ Damien said out loud, ‘she’s Australian!’
   He lent over to get a towel from the towel rack and noticed her underwear hanging
where his towel was meant to be.
   ‘I don’t remember washing her undies,’ he thought, ‘she must’ve woken up quite
   After another quick internal debate, he plucked her knickers from the towel rack and
had a look at the label on the inside.
   ‘Made in Mauritius,’ he said to himself, ‘that’s quite odd. Maybe she was on a cruise
from Australia, via Mauritius, en route to Africa. Maybe daddy’s yacht capsized close to
the East Coast and maybe she drifted all the way over here. She does have the air of a
rich girl.’
   He felt quite proud of his investigative genius and decided to quiz her as soon as he
got back into his bedroom. Provided that she was still there, of course.
   ‘She’s got quite a long way to swim…’ he laughed.
   Disgusted by his own morbid sense of humour, he wiped the tooth paste off the mirror,
put a towel around his waist, opened the door and started down the stairs.

   ‘I made you some coffee,’ she said as soon as she saw him, ‘didn’t know if you take
sugar or not, but I put two in. You look like a two sugar kind of guy.’
   ‘What’s that supposed to mean, then?’
   ‘No sorry, my mistake. You look like somebody who puts two and a third spoons of
sugar in your coffee, but only asks for two when somebody else is making the coffee, just
so your own coffee tastes better than theirs.’
   She grinned at him and tilted her head, side to side, like a mischievous Disney
   ‘God,’ Damien said, ‘how did you know that? I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody that
I do that. I suppose a lot of people do the exact same thing, don’t you?’
   ‘I don’t take sugar.’
   ‘She probably doesn’t eat meat either,’ Damien thought to himself.
   ‘And I’m vegetarian.’
   ‘This is getting eerie,’ he thought as he lit a cigarette.
   ‘Do you smoke?’ he asked her, offering up the crumpled pack of cigarettes.
   ‘Yeah, every now and then,’ she said, taking the cigarettes from him, ‘thank you.’
   They sat there in silence for a while. Damien suddenly remembered his eye-opening
discovery in the bathroom, but chose not to quiz her there and then; he’d wait for a more
appropriate time. He found it very strange that the subject hadn’t come up. It was almost
like she’d been trying to avoid the inevitable, blabbering on about completely irrelevant
things. He liked it, though. She managed to take his mind off of… well everything, really.
She was quite a character. He liked her.

   Damien remembered something else as well - his stomach. He hadn’t given much
thought to it the last couple of days and now he started feeling the repercussions caused
by the neglect. His guest would probably need to eat at some point, too.
   ‘I’m gonna head off to the shop and pick up a few bits and pieces,’ he said to his
strange new friend, ‘would you like to join me?’
   ‘I’d prefer to just hang around here, actually,’ she said, ‘sorry; I don’t know how well
the locals will take to a girl dressed in paisley pajamas.’
   ‘Oh, shit, yeah,’ he said, ‘I completely forgot about that. I’ll see if I can find you
something else to wear.’
   ‘Please don’t put yourself out,’ she said ‘I’m really sorry about this – I still haven’t
figured out what happened.’
   Her eyes were filling up with tears. Damien never knew what to do when girls’ eyes
started watering. He usually just felt like running away and waiting for them to dry out.
He couldn’t really comfort her. After all, he needed a great deal of comforting, himself.
And besides, he didn’t even know her from a bar of soap. What was he supposed to say?
   ‘I’ll get some tissues from the shop.’
   She laughed.

   It was a beautiful, sunny day. The wind had obviously decided to have a bit of a rest -
for a change - and the clouds had apparently followed suit. The town was deserted and it
didn’t surprise him at all. The end of February was usually one of the quietest times of
the year; the calm after the storm.
   He walked into the local grocery store and said hello to all the usual suspects. It
occurred to him that he’d have to buy some vegetables after he’d absent mindedly filled
his shopping basket with the standard stack of TV-dinner meals. He went back to the
vegetable section and randomly grabbed another basket-full of vegetables; a concept that
had become very foreign to him, indeed.
   Amy smiled at him as he approached the counter.
   ‘So, you’ve finally decided to start eating healthy food?’ she asked.
   ‘Yeah, the shakes just won’t go away, Amy.’
   ‘How you doin’, Damien?’
   ‘Ah, bit of this, bit of that. You know how it goes.’
   ‘Yeah, it’s all we ever do ‘round here.’
   ‘Managing mula,’ Damien said, referring to a Springbok Nude Girls song that he knew
Amy loved, ‘it’s not that bad, come on.’
   ‘I guess,’ she said, handing over a fistful of change.
   ‘Bye, bye’
   ‘See ya later, Damien.’

   He thought about Amy as he walked down the main road. She came over to the
lighthouse a few times last year. They got smashed and the inevitable happened. He liked
her, though. Her head was screwed on the right way around, and not too tightly. They had
developed a strange form of communication over the last couple of years that not a lot of
mortals would understand, even if they were subjected to it for long periods at a time.
Personally, Damien thought that Amy was a lesbian in the making. He’d seen the way
she looked at girls. She was feminine, fair enough, but there was something about her that

just oozed a distinct whiff of homosexuality. Damien, as ninety nine percent of the male
species, had nothing against lesbians. Unlike the very same ninety nine percent of the
male species, though, he did not consider heterosexuality a prerequisite for masculinity.

   He walked into the only clothes store that wasn’t shut during the quiet months, picked
up an assortment of undergarments and t-shirts, some jeans and quite a nice little dress
that he noticed in the window. He’d have to trust his estimate of his Damsel’s size. He
ignored the flashing lights on the control panel of his experienced mind, warning him that
an incorrect estimation, either way, was usually held against the estimator for months.
   ‘For someone special?’ the lady behind the counter asked, slyly smiling at him.
   ‘God,’ he thought, ‘nothing goes unnoticed in this place.’
   ‘Yeah, it’s my niece’s birthday,’ Damien lied, ‘I never know what to get her, so I
decided to buy a selection.’
   ‘Aowh, how nice of you,’ she said.
   She didn’t buy it. Damien felt very uncomfortable all of a sudden and attempted to
change the subject.
   ‘The weather’s been really strange, hasn’t it?’
   ‘Yeah, quite unusual for this time of year,’ she said, handing over his change.
   ‘Thank you,’ he said, ‘Have a lovely day. Bye.’
   ‘Bye for now,’ she said, sending another sly smile his way, ‘say hello to your niece for
me, ok?’
   Damien felt his ears glowing, but forced himself to keep eye contact with the horrible
lady behind the counter. He grinned and picked up his shopping bags.
   ‘That was cruel,’ he thought as he turned around and walked out of the shop, ‘What a

   One last stop. The liquor store. He figured he’d loosen her up a bit with some
alcoholic lubricant. Maybe her memories would come rushing back after a few drinks. He
picked up a few bottles of his favourite cheap red wine and walked across the park
towards the lighthouse. He felt quite good for someone who had seriously contemplated
suicide less than twelve hours earlier…


   ‘Hi there,’ she said.
   She seemed relieved to see him.
   ‘Beautiful day, isn’t it?’
   ‘Yeah, it’s getting a touch chilly now, though,’ he said.
    ‘I just picked up a few pieces of clothing from the shop. They don’t have a very large
selection. If you don’t like it, I can go and exchange it.’
   Damien handed her the bag full of clothes and dumped the rest of the bags on the
floor. He really hoped that she’d like the clothes - he hated the idea of having to face that
cow at the shop again.
   ‘Oh, thank you!’ she said, smiling at him, ‘You’re so kind.’
   ‘No worries – hope they fit. I’m gonna go make a cup of tea. You wanna keep me
   ‘Sure,’ she said

   The kitchen was quite small. Damien removed the unopened letters and brochures that
lay scattered all over the worktop and threw them straight in the bin.
   ‘There you go,’ he said, ‘you can sit up there if you want.’
   ‘I’m all right, thanks,’ she said, ‘I’ve been sitting all day.’
   He put the kettle on.
   ‘You couldn’t swing a dead cat in this place,’ he said to her, getting two cups out of
the cupboard, ‘my grandma used to say that and I never really understood what she meant
until I moved into a studio flat in London. It’s strange when you suddenly realize
something like that. It almost feels like a part of your life was just a misunderstanding.’
   ‘Yeah, I know what you mean.’
   Damien put two spoons of sugar into his cup and noticed the girl staring at his hands
when he reached inside the sugar bowl again for that all important third of a spoonful.
   He looked up at her and smiled.
   ‘See?’ she said.
   She decided to jump up onto the counter after all. Damien looked at her for a moment.
She looked so beautiful. She’d rolled up the pajama trouser legs, all the way up to her
knees and she was staring at her toes for some bizarre reason. Her calf muscles tightened
as she pointed her toes, bulging gracefully at her request. He wondered what it would feel
like to run his fingers up her smooth legs. The kettle ripped him out of his fantasy with a
loud whistle.
   ‘Are you a writer?’ she asked him.
   ‘I do write occasionally, yeah. Why do you ask?’
   ‘The type writer on your desk in the bedroom?’
   ‘Oh, that’s just an ornament, love,’ he said, ‘don’t think it ever really worked.’
   ‘What do you write?’
   ‘Ah, just bits and pieces. Poetry, sometimes. I’ve only had one or two poems
published and I’ve never finished any of the novels I started writing. It’s always just been
a hobby, I guess.’
   ‘Like your music?’
   ‘Yeah,’ he said.
   She must’ve noticed the pictures on his wall.

   ‘I used to tell myself that a true artist never sells his work for a living. But I realized
that it was just something that unsuccessful artists told themselves to dull the blows of
their own failure. So, now I just call it a hobby.’
   ‘Can I read some of your stuff?’
   ‘Yeah, maybe some other time,’ he said, handing her the cup of tea, ‘there you go.’


    ‘Are you hungry?’ Damien asked, ‘cause I’ll knock something up – I’m getting a bit
   ‘I’m all right, thank you.’
   ‘You should have something to eat, even if it’s just a little bit,’ he said, concerned.
   ‘OK, I’ll have something,’ she said.
   ‘Do you eat fish?’
   ‘Yep,’ she said
   ‘They’re just sea vegetables, huh?’ he said, smiling at her.
   She laughed.
   ‘I haven’t cooked for ages; I find it so pointless to cook for one person. I hope the
oven still works,’ he said.
   ‘You on the old TV dinners?’
   ‘Yeah, kind of ironic, seeing as I don’t own a TV.’

   Damien started rummaging through the cupboards in search of clean cookware and
crockery – he could hardly entertain his guest with the disgusting old stuff that he usually
dug out from under the pile of cockroach infested dishes in the sink. And besides, he
really didn’t feel like washing the dishes at this precise moment in time. He used to be so
painfully neat and tidy. Nowadays, he’d just stand in the kitchen, staring at the sink full
of dirty dishes, wondering what went wrong. He’d have a cigarette and come up with
some ridiculous poetic justification for the unfortunate state of affairs. Damien argued
that if cleanliness were next to Godliness, surely his open mindedness would entitle him
to a seat among the angels, at least.
   He switched the oven on and was relieved when all the relevant lights came on.
   ‘Damien!’ the girl said as if she’d just discovered gold.
   He looked up. She had an envelope in her hand and a priceless look on her beautiful
face. Damien would’ve described the exact same expression on anybody else’s face as a
pompous grin, but with a face like hers, she deserved a description along the lines of…
angelic mischief.
   ‘Ah, no longer your scentless apprentice, then,’ he said, ‘guilty as charged.’
   She smiled and held out her hand.
   ‘I’m Tanya.’
   Damien shook her hand and before his brain had time to start processing the
unforeseen information, she explained:
   ‘This necklace,’ she said holding it and reading it as if to reenact her earlier discovery,
‘has got my name etched into it.’

   Damien stayed in the kitchen while Tanya had a shower next door. He did his best to
cook a relatively decent meal. He felt a strange kind of need to impress her; something he
hadn’t felt in a very long time. He would never have admitted it himself, but he felt
needed. And he liked it. He loved this Damsel in distress business.

   ‘Do you wanna have dinner up on the balcony?’ he asked her when she came out of
the bathroom.
   She stood in the doorway of the kitchen with a towel wrapped around her body - her
wet hair messily rounding off her innocent face. Damien stood there, bowled over,
wishing that he’d left smaller towels out for her.
   ‘That’d be lovely,’ she said, ‘looks like the sun’s just about to set.’
   ‘I’ll take all the stuff up there.’
   ‘Be there in a sec,’ she said and headed downstairs.

    After a few too many carting journeys to his liking, Damien finally sat down at the
little table on the balcony and poured a generous amount of red wine into a mug. He lit a
cigarette and sat back to enjoy the breathtaking scenery unfolding around him. The sun
had begun its final descent, casting long, creepy shadows behind even the most
insignificant obstacles in its way. It lay there, bloated; a flaming scarlet body set in a
pasty crimson socket on the horizon, threatening to deprive the landscape of the last
beams of its daily allowance of light.

  Tanya appeared in the doorway. The dress that Damien picked out for her was
comfortably embracing her petite body, adding to the radiant glow that poured out of her
when she took a moment to appreciate the sunset.

   ‘Wow,’ Damien said without considering his words, ‘you look amazing.’
   ‘Thank you,’ she said, smiling, ‘It’s a great little dress. I love it.’
   She sat down and he poured some wine into a mug for her.
   ‘I’m not the best cook in the world,’ he said, ‘but there you go.’
   ‘It looks wonderful,’ she said, looking at the plate of food in front of her, ‘thank you
so much.’
   ‘No worries.’
   They sat there in a strangely comfortable silence while they dug into the fish fingers,
mash and half-cooked vegetables that Damien had so skillfully prepared. He’d spent
quite a long time making a white sauce to go with the vegetables and was very pleased
with the outcome of it.

   ‘So, how much do you remember?’ Damien asked her after they’d finished eating.
   ‘I’ve been having really bizarre flashbacks,’ she said, ‘I can’t say whether they’re
relevant to what happened at all.’
   ‘The weird thing is that I remember my parents’ house in Melbourne very clearly, but
I can’t seem to remember their faces or even their names.’
   ‘And these flashbacks?’ he asked

   ‘Well, as I said, they’re not really relevant at all. When I was having a shower, I
closed my eyes at some point and it felt like I’d been in a car crash. It was like I was
stuck inside a mangled wreck with loads of people around me and sirens and stuff.’
   ‘Definitely a car and not some kind of boat or yacht, then?’
   ‘No, that’s what I thought – it was definitely a car.’
   ‘And you don’t remember being on a boat at all?’
   ‘No, I never liked going on boat trips. I always got sea sick,’ she said.
   ‘A trip to South Africa?’
   ‘No, I don’t remember anything like that.’
   A melancholic frown had taken over Tanya’s face and Damien decided to steer the
conversation in a different direction. He didn’t want to upset her.
   ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘don’t worry too much about it. I know it must be very difficult for
you, but it won’t help to try and force memories into your mind. I’m sure it’ll all come
back to you. In the meantime, you’re more than welcome to stay here.’
   ‘Thank you, Damien,’ she said, ‘I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me.’
   ‘No bother,’ he said, ‘it’s been lovely having you around. It gets quite lonely here
sometimes. I’ll tell you what: you can use my computer in the bedroom, maybe you’ll
find something on the internet that will jog your memory somehow.’
   ‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘I’ll have a look.’
   ‘Drink up, girl,’ he said, ‘we’ve got a shitload of wine to get through.’
   She smiled at him.
   ‘You tryin’ to get me drunk?’
   ‘No, I’m trying to get myself drunk,’ he lied, blatantly.

    Damien got a couple of bean bags out of the store room and they sat there the whole
night, drinking wine and talking. The lighthouse’s powerful lights came on when the sun
finally dropped away behind the horizon, rhythmically swinging two beams of light
around them. Coupled with the effects of the wine, the influence of the pulsating
illumination dunked Damien in a sweet hypnotic trance and hung him out to dry in the
warmth of Tanya’s voice. They laughed at the ridiculous turn of events; life’s sometimes
cruel, but playful ways of keeping the cynically bored interested. They talked about love,
about dreams and about death until she fell asleep, her head resting in his lap. Damien sat
there for another couple of hours, stroking her hair and thinking about nothing and
everything, all at once. He breathed in her sweet scent and got lost in the whirlwind of
confusion that this beautiful creature had brought with her. Finally, he picked her up and
carried her downstairs, laid her down on his bed and covered her up.

   Another night on the couch lay ahead of him and he didn’t even care.


   Damien sat between the large paws of one of the great bronze lions on Trafalgar
Square for almost an hour, surrounded by a sea of airborne vermin. He’d given up on
shooing the pigeons. These creatures knew no fear. They scurried around, desperately
scanning the pavement for crumbs, bumping into each other, fluttering, pecking and
moaning. He drew lewd comparisons between the birds and the commuters on the
Underground trains he reluctantly had to face a couple of hours earlier.
   ‘At least humans don’t have an annoying mechanism of bones in their necks that force
their heads to move back and forth when they walk,’ he thought as he watched their
spastic movement.
   He wondered whether their lateral vision blurred every time their heads involuntarily
lunged forward.
   ‘How annoying would that be,’ he thought to himself.

   Rachel appeared in the distance. He zoomed in on her and a sudden sense of awe
annexed his mind, flushing all remaining thoughts concerning London’s birdlife right out
of his head. Damien adored the way she walked. A cute little waddle, almost.

   ‘So sorry for being late,’ she said, ‘the busses were all late today.’
   He smiled at her.
   ‘That’s London for you,’ he said, ‘Sunny Sundays…’
   ‘Yeah, sometimes I just feel like running away.’
   ‘I know what you mean,’ Damien replied, instantly conjuring up visions of the two of
them, packing up and doing the off, somewhere, anywhere.
   ‘So, where do you wanna go?’ she asked
   ‘I don’t care, really. Let’s just go for a walk.’

    They walked down Pall Mall and turned right down Haymarket. It was getting dark
and the buildings were slowly waking up, one by one. Damien loved this part of London.
There was so much to see, so much to appreciate. No two journeys were ever the same in
the West End. Whenever he got bored of a certain route, he’d just look up at the buildings
and notice architectural details and features, sometimes even whole buildings that he’d
never seen before. The place was alive with history; every building had a story to tell,
every street its own dusty collection of anecdotes and tales. These structures had seen
centuries and centuries pass by and yet they lay humble, still and wise, reminding
Damien of his insignificance and triggering a strange sense of pride in him – pride in the
human species.
    Piccadilly Circus was its usual restless self; buzzing with eager tourists, bubbling with
life - an electrified effervescence. They sat down on the steps at the Eros Statue to have a
smoke with all the other nicotine junkies.
    ‘Ever wonder where all these people are going?’ she asked
    ‘Yeah, I do,’ he said, ‘it always amazes me that all of them have their own little
circles, their own problems and insecurities.’
    ‘They all have someone to go to tonight,’ she went on, ‘their own beds and bread
knives and toilet seat covers.’

   He laughed and looked at her. Damien really couldn’t care less what all these people
were doing and thinking. He just wanted to dissolve into this beautiful creature next to
   ‘It’s so strange to think that someone you bumped into today could be the one to
change your life the next day. By some weird chain of events, that same person could
influence your life in so many ways,’ she said.
   ‘Yeah, and you’d never know.’
   She seemed a bit distant. Her eyes hid a sadness that made him want to comfort her.
He wanted to hold her and tell her that everything was going to be all right, but he didn’t
know how to.
   ‘Do you feel like walking down to the park?’ he asked.
   ‘Yeah, all right.’

    They walked down Regent Street towards St James’ Park. Rachel’s eyes lit up when
she saw the ice-cream van in its usual spot at the top of the stairs leading down to the
park. The man was already packing up, but Rachel employed her girlish charm by the
bucket load and convinced him to sell them two ice cream cones. They walked down the
stairs and crossed the red tarmac road, leading up to Buckingham Palace.
    It was a beautiful summer’s evening, not a trace of wind. People were packing up and
leaving the park after a long hot day in the sun. They walked in the direction of the pond
and found a spot under a massive maple tree.
    Rachel sat down in front of Damien, her legs crossed, one hand resting on her knee
and the other clenching the seriously top heavy ice cream cone. He noticed the way she
lapped up the ice cream, the way she looked so innocently satisfied by the sweet creamy
taste. He smiled at her.
    ‘You’ve got a beautiful smile,’ she said.
    Damien almost choked on his ice cream.
    ‘Thank you,’ he said, wondering whether to run with it.
    ‘Are you ok?’ he asked, startled by his own impulsive enquiry.
    ‘What do you mean?’
    ‘You seem a bit distant.’
    ‘Ah well, there’s a lot going on in my life at the moment,’ she said, ‘I’m sorry, I
should really snap out of it, huh?’
    ‘No, not at all,’ he said, ‘I was just wondering…’
    ‘Thank you for noticing,’ she said, giving away more than Damien knew how to
handle at that stage.
    Her eyes told tales of a suffering relationship, a lack of appreciation and a thirst for
fresh love. Damien knew exactly what the girl needed and he desperately wanted to give
it to her, but he was scared stiff of executing his campaign. She made it clear to him that
she liked him – after all, she wouldn’t have been there if she didn’t – but she kept a
definite virtual distance that completely contradicted the vibrations of attraction, seeping
out through the cracks of her seemingly impenetrable aura . It confused him and intrigued
him. It gave him hope, but kept him from taking any drastic action.

   They sat in silence for quite a while before she started getting restless. He knew that
she was going to start making excuses soon. Her fidgetiness was rubbing off on him and
he decided to act first in order to ease her apparent suffering.
   ‘I’m probably gonna have to get going,’ he said.
   ‘Yeah, suppose it’s getting a bit late.’
   They got up and headed towards the Admiralty Arch. When they reached Trafalgar
Square, Damien stopped and turned to Rachel.
   ‘I’ve gotta get the Tube from here,’ he said.
   ‘OK,’ she said.
   ‘Thank you for coming, it was lovely seeing you.’
   ‘Ditto,’ she said.
   He wavered for a moment, lent forward and hugged her tiny body. She felt so frail in
his arms. He breathed her in, pushing his face up against her hair. He wanted to let her go
before she did, but she kept holding onto him. She clung onto him, squeezing her body up
against his. He let his thoughts drift away and soaked up the moment. She started shaking
in his arms and he realized that she was crying. He stroked her hair, pulling her closer to
   ‘Hey, don’t cry, girl,’ he said.
   She kept sobbing, clinging to his body. Suddenly, she let go of him and stood back,
wiping the tears from her eyes.
   ‘I’m sorry Damien,’ she said, ‘I really shouldn’t involve you in this. I’m gonna go. I’ll
see you on Monday, ok?’
   He didn’t know what to say, just stood there looking at her as she turned around and
walked away.

   Damien couldn’t sleep all night. His thoughts were seriously distorted. Contradicting
voices argued inside his scull for hours on end. He felt detached from them, lonely and
afraid. Rachel had crept into his heart and confused his soul. He loved it, but hated
himself for allowing it to happen. She had become the sole occupier of his thoughts and
was only momentarily put on the backburner whenever he had to avoid oncoming traffic.
He felt exhausted by it - a peculiar euphoric exhaustion.


   Rachel kept Damien at arms length for the whole of the next week. He sank further
and further into his own despair and finally decided to let it go. The girl was married and
nothing was going to come of it. His decisions didn’t last long though - the more he told
himself to leave it alone, the more he noticed her.

   She finally ended the ceasefire of eye contact around the end of the week and Damien
asked her to join him and a few of his mates on a night out in Camden Town. She agreed.

   They all met up in the then brightly coloured Enterprise, close to Chalk Farm Tube
Station. The place would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb, had it been anywhere other than
Camden. It looked like a Nursery School on the outside, painted in flamboyantly big
squares of bright red, yellow, green and blue and like a typical, old English pub on the

   They sat there for hours, got completely drunk and went to the Monarch, down the
road. Rachel grabbed Damien by the hand and pulled him onto the packed dance floor.
They danced for ages, getting lost in the pumping rhythms. They flirted blatantly.
Damien loved it. After a while, he led her outside and told her that he’d like to go
somewhere quiet. They got some beers from a dodgy kebab house that sold beer after
hours and headed towards the canal.

   ‘I love this place!’ she said to him as they walked down the High Street.
   ‘It’s great, isn’t it?

   The filthy water in the canal lay still, like a mirror, reflecting the images of the
buildings on the other side.
   ‘If you squint your eyes and look at the water, it feels like you’re on the roof of a tall
building, looking down,’ he said to her, amazed by his own discovery.
   ‘Yeah, you’re right,’ she said, ‘how cool is that?’

   They walked down beside the canal and found a place to sit. Damien started looking
around for firewood. He was hell bent on making a bond fire. He found some bits of
wood and an old wooden pallet and stacked everything up on the footpath next to the
canal. It took some dedication, but in the end he managed to set the stack alight.
   They sat next to the fire, staring at the flames and drinking beer.

   Damien got up and sat down behind Rachel. The alcohol had dissolved his
insecurities, he didn’t care anymore. He put his arms around her and rested his face on
her bare shoulders. She smelt divine. He felt her hands, taking his, weaving her fingers
into his. They didn’t say a word to each other, just sat there, holding each other and
enjoying the moment. He turned his head and started kissing her neck. His heart went
berserk in his chest, a dull tranquilizing sensation rushed through his blood, robbing the
feeling from the fringes of his body and replacing it with the sweetest sense of
   She turned her head towards him and their lips met. It felt so right to him, almost like
their lips were destined to meet, like this exact event was written in the great dusty books

of fate. Their lips wrestled playfully, their tongues jealously getting involved in the
heavenly conflict. She turned herself around, straddling him and passionately devouring
his mouth. They kissed for what seemed like hours. The fire died as a result of their
neglect and they decided to walk down towards the town to find a bench. Damien sat
down and she straddled him, her tiny body merging with his, her hair brushing against his
face, her lips exploring his. He held her close to him, breathed her in and thrust himself
against her. She responded with subtle moaning sounds in his ear that sent him over the
edge, dangling from her sultry lips. They kissed until the sun came up. Damien heard
people walking past - early risers, walking their dogs, people on their way to work - but
they kept kissing, completely unaffected by the passers by. He sunk into the beautiful
creature on his lap and disappeared, blissfully entering a world of nothingness and pure
ecstasy where time had no relevance and pain, no meaning.

   Finally, the sun forced them to get up. They walked up to the Tube Station and said
their goodbyes. He spent the day delightfully suspended in mid-air, wrapped in a daze of
the sweetest emotions and disbelief. He’d found God. He’d finally reached his own bona
fide and yet strangely synthetic version of Nirvana. His fears lay hidden behind the
glorious elation though, swathed in a cloud of desire and affection, but slyly peeking
through every now and again, just to remind him of their existence.



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