The Rewind Button There were days when all Roger Burton‟s bad decisions came back to haunt him, buzzing round his head like tortured flies and on these days he left work early, mumbling some excuse to his boss, and went home to have a lie down. He would lie in the darkness of his bedroom, a wet flannel over his eyes, and recall all the things he had done wrong in his life. There was that beat-up Holden he wasted good money on back in 1987, the damned thing clapped out after only two weeks; there was the decision to follow his parents‟ advice and study law, rather than following his dreams, his heart, and becoming a painter. The result had been years of monotony, with layers of resentment building up like sediment in his chest. Then there was his marriage; turbulent at best, at worse, downright abusive, with his wife coming home from work and venting her frustrations at him on a daily basis. He should‟ve married Celia, his childhood sweetheart, the girl next door, the girl who‟d woven daisy chains for him in his childhood. He‟d met Cynthia when she‟d been performing a karaoke version of „Simply the Best‟ at a local bar. Cynthia was neuroses-addled, with a two millimetre long fuse – she could snap at any moment. As an adolescent she‟d been a mental inpatient, plied with psychiatric medication and given electric shock treatment; they said it was major depression, but it could have been anything. Roger should‟ve known better than to marry her – a woman with problems, a woman with issues, a woman to whom marriage was bound to be problematic. Roger discovered the rewind button quite by accident; well, of course, he had always known that it existed – he discovered its functionality by accident. The tape recorder was a tatty old thing, battered and worn, salvaged from amongst his aunt‟s belongings after she‟d died. He‟d never used it; it had sat in the corner of the garage gathering dust for over a decade. His work had been, of late, very stressful and, his CD player broken, he‟d bought a relaxation tape to listen to. He took the tape downstairs to the garage, inserted it into the machine and rewound for two minutes then hit play. The years slipped away and he was back in Cynthia‟s apartment, perched on her sofa, clutching the tape recorder, listening to the rattle of ice cubes as Cynthia prepared their drinks. In his pocket was a small velvet box that contained a diamond engagement ring – this was the night that he proposed. Cynthia came through into the living room with two drinks on a plastic tray. “Here you are then,” she said. “One G&T with a twist of lemon.” She sat down next to him on the sofa, knees together, a lady – her brow furrowed, as usual, as if she was watching a slightly disturbing movie on the television screen of her mind. “So,” she began. “You said you had something you wanted to ask me.” “Oh,” said Roger. “Did I?” “Yes, you certainly did.” “Well,” Roger fumbled. “It was just about your job. Is everything going okay?” Cynthia was a junior librarian at the local library. “The boss is still being a bit of a bitch, lording it over me, but apart from that, everything‟s going okay. Why do you ask?” “Oh, just wondering.” Roger leaned over and gave her a kiss. He took a few sips of his drink, then hit fast-forward on the tape recorder, forwarding a couple of minutes, back to where he‟d come from. His life was now a CFZ – a Cynthia Free Zone. He stretched his arms out, expanding in the empty space, spinning on the spot, loving the sense of freedom, of aloneness. If only he could go back now to the moment when he‟d decided to be the good obedient son and study law, he could choose a different path, could choose to follow his dreams, rather than being dictated to by somebody else‟s idea of a future. Noting down the number on the tape recorder‟s dial, he rewound for four minutes and hit play. He wasn‟t in the right place, he was abseiling down a mountain, his university friend Jake a few feet above him. He remembered this moment; a few minutes later, one of Jake‟s crampons was to come loose and Jake was to fall five metres, hit his head on the rockface and be knocked unconscious. Finger on the button again – back a little further now, to an earlier time, a time that Roger recognised as the last week of high school, with everybody discussing what university they intended to attend and passing around garments for everybody else to sign, and girls wondering whether or not their relationships with their boyfriends could be sustained over long distance. Perfect. This was the week he‟d sent away his law school application – all he had to do was grow a bit of a backbone, stand up to his folks, and insist on going to Arts college. It felt so awkward to be in an adolescent body once again – the gangly limbs, the zits. After school, he went home to find his mother, a housewife, pruning the dahlias. “Ma,” he said. “I‟ve made a decision. I‟m not going to law school, I‟m not going to become a painter – you know I‟ve come top of my art class for the last five years running – I really think I could make a career of it.” “Oh Roger,” said his mother. “Do you really want to live a life of poverty, destitution? Don‟t you want a steady income, share plans, a pension?” Roger shrugged. “No Mum. I know what that‟s like. It‟s not the life for me – mine is the life of freedom, of art. If I never make money, then I never make money. So be it. At least I‟ll live as I believe.” “Well, wait until your father gets home and discuss it with him.” “My mind has been made up. I won‟t change it for the world.” Roger‟s mother pursed her lips and frowned. “I think you‟re making a big mistake,” she said. “But then, it‟s your life and you can do as you please.” When the news was broken to Roger‟s father, he flipped his lid. “An artist,” he scoffed. “Don‟t be so ridiculous. Ponsing about in bars and cafes, having epiphanies. Pah! I didn‟t raise my son to be like that. I raised a man of the world, not some airy-fairy…” “Alright.” Roger held up his hand for silence. “It‟s my decision, Dad. There‟s nothing you can do or say that would make me change my mind.” Roger ascended the stairs to his room. Two sets of application forms sat on his desk – one for law school, one for arts college. He tore the law school papers into shreds, filled out the arts school application, pushed it into an envelope, stuck a stamp to the envelope, cycled to the nearest Post Office and pushed the envelope inside. Sealed his fate. Hit fast-forward on the tape recorder and scooted forwards to the number he had recorded. Clearly, as an artist, he‟d been a roaring success. He found himself in a converted Soho loft, white walls hung with his own paintings and those of others. It was an open airy space, a large studio. In on corner was a king size bed upon which lounged not one, not two, but three naked, nubile females, sipping champagne. Roger too held a champagne glass. He took a long swig – the bubbles fizzed in his nose. He walked across to the bed and joined the three women. Life was good. He wasn‟t worried about the Holden – what did a few hundred quid matter to him now? He had everything he needed. A packet of cigarettes and a lighter sat on the dresser beside the bed. He reached out, withdrew a cigarette, lit it. Roger didn‟t notice the fleck of ash that flicked from the tip of his cigarette and landed on the top left hand corner of the mattress. So involved was he with his company that he did not notice the slow smouldering that was taking place and when the mattress finally caught and burst into flame it was to late for Roger Burton to escape, the three women trapped him, held him down on the bed and he burnt where he lay, the tape recorder beside him buckling and melting.
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