by Bruce Costello
It was 3am.
I was on my knees in the toilet, arms wrapped around the bowl, trying to vomit
ten minutes or so, feeling a little better, I had a quick shower, then went
back to bed and thought over the events of the previous day.
probably wasn’t physically ill, just in a state of shock, having done what the
idiot counsellor suggested and having to face the consequences.
with a visit to Student Counselling in the morning.
have you tried just saying no to the guy?”
the counsellor asked me, “without feeling the need to explain yourself?”
mean saying no just like that, without
saying why?” I said, staring at the counsellor, a thin man in his fifties with
a ring in one ear and a gray pony tail that swayed when he shook his head.
he’s a decent type he’ll respect how you feel, even if he doesn’t understand,
and if he’s not, you’re better off without him.”
that sounds a bit simplistic,” I said. “Rather cold and hard. No without
any explanation to soften
things? How do you think that would make him feel?”
leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head. “You need to stop worrying how
other people feel, Rachel, and think about how you feel yourself.” He crossed
his legs, then uncrossed them, peering at me through half-closed eyes.
“Depression is common among first-year students, especially if it’s the first
time away from home. There’s normally a simple cause that requires a simple
solution. It’s not a good idea to over think.” He nodded sagely, casting a
sideways look at the clock.
maybe, but it’s not as easy as that. I was expecting you’d come up with some
clever strategy. But to just say no
and leave it at that? I couldn’t do it.”
you could now that we’ve floated the idea.”
I had lunch
by myself at the Student Union Cafeteria and in the afternoon went to a couple
of lectures, Psychology and Theology, although I can’t say I took much in.
Afterwards, I walked home to the flat via the public gardens, shuffling my way
through the autumn leaves on the paths. My flat mate was out when I got home,
probably at the pub. I tried to get some study done, but couldn’t concentrate,
so I gave up and blobbed out on Facebook and You Tube.
tea time, Quentin Sullivan turned up with fish and chips. He’d been really nice
to me since I’d told him I was on a downer.
watched the television for a while, kissing and fooling about with each other on
the sofa, then we had a joint and a couple of beers and Quentin said “Let’s go
“No.” The word
just popped out of my mouth.
do you mean - no?”
part of no don’t you understand?”
having me on!”
it because your father’s a minister?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
don’t want to.”
you love me?”
I said. “I don’t.”
thought you did,” he whispered after a lengthy silence, his voice thick with
got up from the sofa and slumped into a chair on the other side of the room, took
off his John Lennon glasses and stared at the ceiling with blinking eyes. Then
he lifted his knees to his chin and covered his face with his arms.
a boy. Weak with softness. The son of a surgeon. Awfully clever, a bit of a
nerd, thinking he could pull chicks like the other guys, though his heart
wasn’t in it. Victim of the student sex/booze culture. Trying to be what he
looked up, breathing heavily. Tears ran down his cheeks. His mouth moved. He
didn’t speak but made a weird moaning noise, which seemed to well up from
somewhere deep inside him. I wondered what old memories my words had triggered
in him. The thought flashed through my head that I knew very little about
then I said…and God knows why…it was as if something in me was enjoying a new
sensation, like a surge of my own power, a sense of control at last. Inserting
the butcher’s knife and then giving it a good twist.
you? Never did. Never will. You’re a dork.”
ran from the room. I think he was genuinely upset, not just doing a Hollywood. I
heard the front door slam, his footsteps running down the path, and his car speeding
off with a scream of tyres, probably to his mother’s place.
I had this weird feeling, like I’m lost in time and space and everything’s
unreal and nothing’s for sure. Was this really me…here in the city, far from
the family, drinking alcohol, having dramas about sex, smoking, doing the very
stuff Mum and Dad had warned me about? Don’t just follow the crowd, they always
said. Stick to your principles. Concentrate on your studies.
year I was Head Prefect at Hampden District High School. I played in the Hockey
1st Eleven and sang in the school choir. I taught Sunday school at
my father’s church and played the guitar during the evening youth service.
that me? Or is this me?
was when I started to feel sick inside and ran to the loo, wanting to vomit.
After the shower, although I felt better, my mind was going a million miles an
hour. I made myself a coffee and collapsed onto the sofa. What if…there
were so many what ifs, too many to count. My
imagination ran wild. All sorts of scenarios ran through my head - what
Ponytail had called ‘catastrophe thinking’ - and I felt the emotions that went
with them, as if they were real.
most disturbing scenario had me really freaking out. Everything was in sharp
detail with cartoon-like colour and clarity. I imagined a loud knocking at the
door. A red faced, blue-eyed policeman was there, together with a tall
policewoman with black eyes, straight yellow hair and a prominent jaw.
had been killed, they said, speaking in a matter-of-fact way. He’d driven
headlong into a logging truck. Can you confirm he was here last night? Had he
been depressed or suicidal? Did he do drugs? How much alcohol had he consumed?
How well did you know him? What was his state of mind when he left?
Quite upset, I said, because of
something that didn’t happen.
What didn’t happen, the policeman wanted to know, flipping
notebook and nodding from time to time, like he’d heard it all before.
that was it, except as they stood to leave, the policewoman asked if I’d been
upset by the news of Quentin’s sudden death and offered to organize a Victim
Support counsellor for me.
bloody likely,” I said. “I’ve had it with counselors,” and showed them out.
head felt like a volcano about to erupt. The minutes seemed to go on for hours.
I paced up
and down, freaking out. Telling myself it was all in my mind and that nothing real
had happened, I’d imagined it all - Quentin wasn’t dead, he was alive. But I
couldn’t stop crying and felt like ringing Mum and Dad, only I couldn’t bring
myself to pick up the phone.
was a loud knocking at the front door and something exploded inside me. I felt
like I was wading through mud as I struggled across the room to answer it.
was only my flat mate drunk, as usual, and couldn’t find the key.
I got a phone call from Quentin. “Sorry I was such a dork. Do you think we could
start again, somehow?”
finished off a half-smoked joint, and then climbed into bed.
A watched clock
never boils. No, that’s not right. A potched watch, ha ha, get it right, girl.
Roll on tomorrow, if it ever comes. Still pitch black. How many days till dawn?
New Zealander Bruce Costello retired from work and city life, retreated to the
seaside village of Hampden, joined the Waitaki Writers’ Group, and took up
writing as a pastime. Since then, he has had 135 short story successes –
publications in literary journals (including Yellow Mama), anthologies,
and popular magazines, and contest places and wins.
Keith C. Walker
born in Leeds in 1939. He studied Ceramics at Leeds College of Art and the Royal College
of Art. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, he was Personal Assistant to Eduardo
Paolozzi. Keith taught at Hull College of Art and Leicester Polytechnic, which is now De
Montfort University. In 994 he retired from Academia.
Keith says, “Digital technology
has made and continues to make big changes to all of our lives: the way we communicate,
the way we are monitored, the way we entertain ourselves, and much, much more.
We now leave a digital footprint
wherever we go, and with whatever we do.
Do we already have
one foot in an Orwellian world?
My collages are an investigation, with a small
“I,” on the impact of digital technology and its possibilities.”