As he drove out of Hinckley he found his mind playing tricks on him, bringing forth false memories that postured as true history. He found himself thinking of dear aquaintances from the past; then his mind would suddenly jerk back to reality and he’d find himself having no recollection whatsoever of these people that only minutes before he called by their Christian names and knew intimately. It happened again and again: he imagined domestic problems with people in city flats only to find that he’d never known either the people or the flats. These reminiscences were sucking at his imagination and flowering with intricate detail and colour despite knowing he…he had something important to remember. He was at the seaside having an argument with his sister and he had to….. He was driving a car! He span the steering wheel anti-clockwise, automatically, without comprehension, and pulled the car back on to the country lane. Stamping down the brakes he squealed the car to a stop. He had been lucky.
He climbed out of the car and gulped in the warm December air. He broke into a short run. Maybe it would wake him.
The dream reappeared to him. He’d never had a sister, but in the twilight of sleep she had been real enough. He resumed the driving seat.
Fifteen minutes later he approached Copt Oak.
Climbing a hill a ‘Poplar Farm’ sign on the right registered in his mind, then several white cottages. Over the brow, stretched an arid landscape like Scottish heath. Descending the hill led to a bridge spanning the noisey M1. In the distance was a church and behind it were electric pylons and something like a radio telescope.
Over the fields the air was turbulent with seagulls.
Copt Oak didn’t really seem to exist. A few houses and the church. He turned off and parked in the carpark of a pub. Fighting tiredness, he hauled himself out of the car inhaled the fresh air. At last. He was here.
St. Peters Church was next to the pub. A long driveway with two tyred runnels led up from the road. Alongside it was an olive green fence which backed onto detached house gardens. An avenue of trees with bulbous barks arched over either side of the driveway welcoming him as he walked towards the church. The driveway opened out into church grounds. He stopped and listened. Birds twittered cheerfully and the traffic hummed from the main road.
He didn’t like churches at the best of times, but he particularly dislike this one. It seemed insular and unfriendly. Buttressed and spireless it stood self-righteously formal; too neat and compact. Striations of a crazy-paving pattern ran through its brick work. Diamond pattern reflections shone in its leaded windows.
A graveyard ran around the church. There was a flagpole to his right and he smiled as he imagined the congregation running up the American flag and singing the star spangled banner.
While looking around he had been walking towards two cars which were parked outside the front door of the church door. One was a red sports car and the other was a Porche. There was no one in either.
“You’ll be alright, don’t worry.” said a soft voice.
It was a girl with clear eyes and a milky complexion. She was about twenty, and was yet more a little girl than woman. “My name’s Stella,” she said. “That’s where you want to go.” She pointed to the church door and turned and walked away.
Unabashed, David unlatched the church door. He expected to find the church was empty but not so. There were several people sitting spaced apart from each other kneeling in the pews. It was when he moved forward and had gained a better view into the crypt that he saw her. Claudia. There she was.
He remembered her in an instant.The way his body reacted surprised him – shocked him – for he became aroused. He could see her standing with her back to him studying something that was placed behind glass in an exhibition cabinet. She turned slightly away from him towards the pulpit.
She must have noticed him however for as he moved closer she called out to him without looking round. “I’ll be back in a minute, David. I’ve got to play the organ. There’s a letter here for you.” He saw her take a white envelope from her basket-woven handbag and place it on the glass of the cabinet. “Back in a mo.” And she had gone up to the side of the altar and through a door.
He collected the envelope and seated himself in a nearby pew. He tore open the envelope and peered inside. It was a legal document printed on blue paper. He didn’t bother to take it out. He couldn’t remember what his last crime was. Oh yes, he could, stealing that car. It couldn’t be about that. They wouldn’t know he’d be in a church at Copt Oak.
God, he felt raunchy. Sex was a luxuriant dream in his tired state.
More people were entering the church. It seemed strange. It wasn’t a Sunday, although he couldn’t remember exactly what day it was. He pulled himself back from falling into sleep again. Come on Claudia don’t disappear again. If you do, you can sod off. But I do remember that body. And it’s a relief to see you alive.
The organ began to play, quietly at first and then slowly louder, the crecendo of a bride approaching the altar. He didn’t recognise the hymn, which annoyed him because hymns had been the only thing he had liked about his mother’s obsession for Christianity. Then he heard something else that he didn’t recognise. A percusive sound. Like a drum. It was in time with the increasing swirling of the organ. Then the beat became louder. He looked up. David felt the rat in his stomach wake up.
A man of about six feet stood directly in front of the pulpit. It wasn’t his suit and tie that caused immediate prickling of the skin but the black african mask that obscurred his entire head. Nothing could have been more incongruous in a church. The figure, in contrast with his surroundings, suggested something profoundly evil.
The figure was swaying mechanically from side to side and beating two thick milled pieces of mahogany; cracking them together in time to the soaring organ chords. It was an incubus made real; a businessman with a head by Picasso. David didn’t move; he couldn’t. Something strange was going on again. Delerium Tremens? These hullucintions were getting more regular all the time. He saw his dead mother a few days before, and then the angel of death –
His body flinched. He was going to have trouble with his head again. He couldn’t look forward. He looked down at his feet. It was a trap. He’d seen the angel of death as he’d driven somewhere near here last night.
Don’t be ridiculous. He forced his gaze up again, but the black African mask was still there tilting back and forth to the music and still staring at him with its black slitted eyes.
Perhaps he had fallen off to sleep. Perhaps he was dreaming. How the hell do you wake yourself up? He pinched himself but could feel his body. Everything around him seemed real enough. Perhaps he had killed himself in the car and he was dead. Perhaps the Harpies were calling him back for Sandy.
We can’t take you back now, David.
You won’t be able to sleep now, David.
Stay awake David.
Then the organ stopped abruptly.
But the beating of the sticks was still going. David looked around. The church was about a quarter full. Everyone’s face was rapt with attention staring at the figure in the pulpit. The sticks stopped and a resonant voice from behind the mask spoke.
“Arise and sing Hymn Number 217.”
What the hell was going on. Was it multicultural day or something? He twisted his neck as far as it would go in trying to search with his eyes for a hymn book, but as always when he was panic stricken he couldn’t operate his head or his expressions at all. Oh god, everyone was standing up. He tried but he couldn’t do it. He’d try and go to sleep. Cut the world out. Ah what bliss. To cut the world out.
But he was still awake with his eyes open when the hymn had been sung and they had all retaken their seats. The African mask appeared to read from the notes on the pulpit. Its booming voice reverberated throughout the church.
“We are gathered here on this day for the exultation and praise of god. As today is such important occasion I thought, as a continuation of my speech on Sunday, that it might be appropriate to continue on the development my own philosophical enlightenment….”
David wrenched his head about to look at the congregation. They were all like puppets; as if none of them were real. This didn’t seem to be a Christian service. He could feel the sweat dribbling down his neck as he clung on to the pew.
“….Just to paraphrase my ontological arguments of our last meeting you will remember that I reminisced about the years I’ve looked for the truth,” began the African mask, its voice reverberating and echoing around the church. “I described how I’d attempted to climb the tree of knowledge. Yet the higher I climbed the greater was my fear; I hung on full of anxiety suddenly doubting the soundness of my earliest roots. If they were wrong then everything I’d built on them was wrong also. Every premise had led to another. But if the first was wrong then all was wrong.
“What was actually true?’ I asked myself.
“Is there a really a God? I asked over and over again.
“Philosophical questions are compounded by the way we humans perceive. Our perceptions are subject to a structuring in a certain way that makes us blind to many truths. The nature of our language – which says alot about the way we percieve – obscures the reality of ‘first cause’ and other philosophical difficulties. I realised that the debate between eternal creation and a beginning of creation is impossible for the human to solve with his perception and his language. All earthly languages are so bound up with paradox, grammar and syntax that – even though some truth remains tantalisingly within our grasp in a poetic sense – it is forever locked away as inaccessable and inexpressable in logic. First cause versus beginning of creation, free will versus determinism, induction versus deduction and many other philosophical problems are all paradoxical. It is obvious that the solutions are carried within the pairs themselves; it is having the key to unlock them that is difficult.
“Carneades, the greek philosopher gave a brilliant two hour talk on the ethics of Plato and Aristotle to a Roman audience. He then returned after an interval to brilliantly refute the ethics of Aristotle and Plato. The point that he deftly illustrated was the nature of opposing arguments, and the fundamental core of scepticism which no philosopher has managed to conquer up to this day.
“It is hard to find irrefutable truth and express it in language. And yet how the world does. It builds empires and dynasties on millions and millions of sentences emanating from first premises of unprovable and often dubious reason. Tied deep within our human memories wrapped in the the webbing of paradoxical language is the first paradoxical question: is there a god, is there no god? The answer is that God is a paradox.”
David’s face was now covered with perspiration. Where the hell was he? He must get out of this dream.
“God is paradox,” the voice continued, ” and God is also infinity. Infinity is an impossible concept to grasp because it keeps running away from the mind. Infinity is the ultimate mystery and quite imcomprehensible to human beings. I refute Einsteinian theory that space is finite. Time and space are infinite and because of this an infinite number of ideas and possibilites exist. Because infinity never ends ideas also never end, never run out. God is infinity, and everything within. Every finite part of infinity is a part of god, as large or as infintesimal as the infinity is conceived wrapped around it.
“Anywhere where there is evidence of infinity and paradox there is evidence of God; this is the face of god. Infinity and paradox ask us to doubt the material world and our own perceptions. This can be alarming for some and reassuring for others.
“One common dream that many people have in their childhood is a dream where images form from a minute pin hole in the blackness of our minds. The images begin in the pin hole and grow in size as they get closer. Once these images have become large they disintegrate and reveal a new image now coming forward in the same way. These images seem to come from a central position in the mind’s eye and to approach with an enlargening perpective. Its as if all the images were coming out of a vanishing point of single point perspective.
“Another example of images growing from vanishing points is the fairly common halucination of a small pin-point of light approaching to grow into an enormous white (sometimes coloured) circle. Many of you will have had this experience, it is quite common.”
David remembered something like that happening to him. He knew it had been recently, but his mind wasn’t working too well to be more exact. Where the hell was Claudia? He knew she was here. He wanted to get out of this crazy place.
“The vanishing point, a gateway to infinity, has obviously much to answer for in our perception, which explains its abundant representation in religious icons, films, and the arts.
“Why are we compelled by film images shot from the driving seat of a train driving along a track, or from a sports car? It is because we are heading into impossible infinity; we meditate upon the vanishing point like a moth to light, wishing to be sucked in.
“God is Paradox and Infinity and God is also Hypocrisy.
“All men are part divine and aspire to purity. All men are part sensual and have strong desires. This is reflected by the behaviour of humans and their organisations which display healthy skins in public but have many dirty skeletons in the cupboard. This hypocrisy comes from the nature of our language and paradox. Hypocrisy is never far away. Coping with its presence ensures some measure of individual happiness. Treating it with disgust and vilification ensures some measure of suffering because it is part of ourselves.
“God is paradox, infinity, hypocrisy and also mythology. There is sublime truth of a personal and individual nature in mystery and mythology. Mythology is a man-made vehicle for god to ride in. God is encountered in many forms from the diverse mythologies, religions, cults and folklore explanations that exist about the nature of the universe, its creator and all within it. God has become approachable and anthropomorphicized, made in human or animal image. All the dogma and images have come by divine communication through prophets or god-touched individuals. All human activities and affairs have become ritualised. As humans are fragile, vulnerable, dependent upon factors outside their control. War, poverty, a good harvest, fertility, etc., cannot be controlled from either within or without. They are all in the hands of fortune. Mythology is necessary to the community to provide a sense of confidence that humans have some measure of influence concerning what the future brings. Mythology, through its constituent parts, is also used to raise optimism, and in the case of ill-fortune to console. When people believe they completely control their existence those people are fatally foolish. A society without mythology is doomed.
A person without mythology is doomed. Where there is no vision the people perish.”
“The highest appreciation of existence is found by mankind in and through mythology and creativity. Mythology is the interface required for man to hear God and praise God. Creativity is the expression of infinite possibilites within the finite possibilites of man.”
“At this point we will endeavour to praise god and sing Hymn number 416.”
The man with the mask stood back from the pulpit and could now be seen with the two milled sticks in his hands. Immediately all the congregation rose to their feet leaving David feeling foolish. When he realised he was out of step, something of an eye-sore in the pattern of church conformity, he made to move in line, but he soon relinquished the effort. Sod it. He sat back and let them get on with it. Thank god this God-botherer had finished. When is he going to take that silly mask off? He can’t possibly wear it all through the service.
“Thank you. I now conclude this service but before we come to the second reason why we are here I should like you to give applause to all those who have dedicated themselves to helping out with the ceremonies this morning.”
He called out two people who David have never seen before and watched them graciously take their polite applause.
“..Thankyou, thankyou. And I’d like you to give a particularly big applause to our new organist, Claudia. ” His arm was held out towards the wing of the altar which obscurred the organ.
Up the steps she climbed. David could see her as she emerged, as if she were growing from the ground. Oh hell. He squeezed his hands together as she emerged. His nails pressed hard against his palms. Her hair was long and beautiful and glinted of white gold. David’s nails began to force themselves into his flesh. She was white; like a may queen. His elbows were now juddering uncontrollably. He watched her hands, easily placed inside one another, in casual prayer, as she came level with the dias. Backbreaking fear was down his spine and sweat trickled down his neck; his body was chattering helplessly with overload. Suddenly he was moaning, then screaming, screaming, screaming, screaming. He was shaking to bits. He felt hands all over him, trying to control him, trying to hold him down.
Claudia. She had no face, just a completely blank piece of skin. No eyes, no nose, no mouth. Nothing. She had no face.
“Wake up old chap, come on now, backs against the wall. Never loose your nerve old man. Feel better now, eh?”
He didn’t recognise the voice talking quietly in his ear, nor its owner, a man dressed like one of the Sunday lunch golf-set.
He was in a church. The same church? He tried to remember. None of it could have happened. He shrugged himself to sit up. But he was still there. The man in the African mask was still there. He sat behind the pulpit and now only the mask could be seen. People in the congregation were different somehow; they sat in different places. It was still dreamsville. Had somebody spiked him with LSD? He’d never known it to be as effective as this.
“I think I’m going.”
“Keep your voice down. You’ve just had a short sleep. You needed it. You were wiped out, old boy,” said the man, who was dressed in a tweed sports jacket and had an accent which reminded David of how Biggles would of spoken. Wizard eh? He had a nervous twitch and his left eye seemed to blink twice as often as his right. “I’m here to help you. Don’t worry, old boy,” he said, reassuringly.
“I just dreamed I saw a woman I know without a face?”
“You did, old chap. Haven’t you realised that’s how you see all women. No, you don’t understand, do you? It’s just as well I’m here.”
“I’m going round the bend.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but I’m not here for that reason. I’m here to represent you. The King of Mythology is now in the seat of judgement.”
“The king of…who?” He sat up so he could see more of the church. What the fuck was this all about? He heard a voice shouting. Something about a witness for the prosecution. An echo of voices were relayed down the aisle of the church. It was a name he knew well.
“Am I on trial?”
“Yes.” He turned round and looked at David, rather put out. “You don’t mean to say you didn’t know?”
“What’s to stop me just getting up and going?”
The man with the moustache chuckled and then continued scribbling in his notebook. It was as if he regarded David’s question as an infantile question: ‘Why is the sky blue?’ It was illogical, had great charm and humour and no answer.
David prodded him, “What am I on trial for?”
He looked up again patiently. “So you slept through that bit as well did you? Its quite a complicated legal case: The King V Basnett. You are accused of various crimes but basically it’s murder.”
David slowly turned away. He looked up at the motionless African mask across the wide space. He saw a blonde woman climb the last of several steps – as had Claudia minutes before – and present herself to the congregation. It wasn’t Claudia but someone whom he recognised only too well even before she turned to face him. It was Krystle Meidner. An assistant passed her a Bible which she swore upon.
A fat man from across the aisle got up and walked down the aisle towards the witness. It became quickly apparent that he was the prosecution council.
“You know David Basnett,” he said in commanding tones.
“Yes,” she answered in her cool clear tone.
“You are aware of the indictments?”
“Would you describe him as a violent man?”
“Yes. In a way. I lived with him. He’s an angry man.”
“An angry man? Could you please give the jury an idea of the accused’s character.” The fat man turned and smiled at a group of people placed in the front pews of the church.
“It is my opinion that David is emotionally, morally and spiritually bankrupt. He has no love or faith in himself. He has no love or faith in anyone or anything. He despises everything except his own terrible past which he is always making boasts about. He’s done it all, seen it all, but now lives in a state of emotional – how do you say – rigormortis, running around and going nowhere. He’s a coward. He’s a danger to all around him.” There was no mercy in Krystle’s tone at all.
“Do you see the accused as a murderer. Could you imagine him as a potential murderer?”
“Objection!” The man sitting next to David suddenly stood up waved the piece of paper he had been scribbling on. “Objection, your honour!”
“I shall overule your objection,” said the booming voice of the African mask, “because of the strange nature of this case. The witness may answer.”
“Yes. To both questions.”
David couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Was this Krystle talking about him? It was comical.
“No more questions your honour,” said the fat lawyer and sat down.
David’s barrister went forward and took the place of the prosecution council.
“You answered that you see the accused as guilty of committing this crime, and also guilty of having the potential to commit it. Very well. Nevertheless, as the prosecution council and the learned jury well know speculation is not legal truth: this is the law. Even though you may have shown the prosecution what a strong imagination you have, it’s of little use to the jury who need facts. Isn’t it true that you have no proof whatsoever in the accused’s involvement whatsoever with any such crime? Isn’t it merely that you are a spurned woman seeking revenge?”
“Very well, your honour. I apologise, for that last comment. But I still claim this witness has no proof whatsoever.”
“David is destructive,” interjected Krystle. “He wasn’t only intent on self-destruction but of the destruction of the people he came into contact with. Show him any form of innocence and if he couldn’t murder it straight away he would either deny its existence or chip away at it gradually. This applied to both ambitions and people. He would do this through sneering ridicule or cynicism. I have seen this in English men. He hated people to have their personality all together because his was all shot to pieces. He was all up-front and his dirty washing was in public, as you say. He had nowhere left inside him to hide that was clean. Nowhere left inside where he could be at peace with himself. Any place that existed in others must be a lie – “
“Thank you! Thank you!” shouted David’s defence council drowning out the witness. “Just answer the question please. These personal speculations, which are probably interesting enough for the shadey side of fleet street are not what the jury are looking for. What they need is facts, not speculation from your bitter – I take that back. I apologise to my learned council – imagination or opinion. Let me ask you, did the accused ever physically assault you when you were together?”
Krystle wiped her nose daintily on the back of her hand before she answered.
“The accused assaulted my intelligence and my heart. He said he loved me many times but it was a lie because he could never demonstrate it. He was a six year old child, with a big ego and totally selfish. No he never hit me. He’s capable of murder but I don’t think he could ever hurt anyone – he hasn’t got the guts.”
The King of Mythology interupted, “Explain that.”
“Yes. David does horrid things to people because he’s inadequate. He would never assert himself to act directly over something – that would require belief in something. His method is to be underground, making sniping attacks at dignity, honesty, all things of value. He doesn’t destroy by the smote of the sword – that would show principles, and mean having to face his own guilt later on. That would show some courage for his beliefs. No. He neglects things – like a garden, allowing the weeds to strangle the rose while he turns his back and keeps his hands clean. He’s a coward. It’s his fault and he blames the world.”
“Ms. Meidner I would request you to be brief in your answers. Let me ask you once again. In the time that David lived with you, throughout the whole of your relationship, did he ever lay a finger of harm upon you? Did he cause you any physical harm?”
“No further questions.”
“The witness may step down.”
A minute later another woman arrived in the witness box to be quizzed by the prosecution council.
“Your name is Vivien Rookman and you are the former wife of the accused.”
David sat bolt upright. Vivien? She, a prosecution witness?
“Let me ask you how do you regard your former husband now? “
“I feel pretty ashamed of him.”
“Could you tell us more?”
“Well…I feel sad about David and I feel very angry about David. I felt these things before I recently met him. After I’d seen him again the feelings were much stronger. I was quite taken aback. He is now a shadow of his former self. His spirit was ill. He was a dog with its tail between its legs, continually sliding away into dark corners, as if to avoid being beaten again. He looked unhealthy, wan, pale; as if he had not been out in the fresh air for years. I wasn’t surprised. Time must have been hard on him. I knew I had been largely responsible for the way he had gone. After I left him I knew there was still unfinished business.
“He’s down on his luck. Too much drink. Unable to form relationships. He sees no value in them anyway. He needs a psychiatrist. He makes me sad. When I first met him he was beautiful. Such grace, confidence, good lucks, intelligence, compassion and ambition. All those things. But the more ambitious he got in his job the less I began to respect him. Ironically the things I admired him for began to be the things that I later despised him for. He became so ambitious in his work after a while that he had no personality for me.”
“You said you felt angry about David, why did you feel angry?”
“Angry?” She laughed. “David’s brother was a great help to me. Both David and I loved him and yet David was responsible for…David was responsible for Sandy’s demise.”
David couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Surely she wouldn’t tell. Surely If she did she’d have to admit her part in it, in the cover up.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” said the King of Mythology.
“Sandy was a lovely man. He was younger than David by two years, and he was a kind, caring person. I used to tell him he was my favourite youth councillor. Despite David’s love for him he had always been spitting jealous of him….”
David couldn’t believe it. Vivien. This was the ultimate betrayal. It couldn’t be true. This was vengeance. This was what she had come here for.
“…..David thought Sandy got better treatment from his parents because all life was unfair and against him. I didn’t understand until after we were married but David was consumed with self-pity. His childhood wasn’t that bad. He’d exagerated most of the bad things that had happened to him. Sandy was loved by his parents because he was a caring, vulnerable human being. David was always obsessed with himself, always lacking regard for other people’s feelings – even when he was child. I remember Sandy telling me.
“I put up with David and his ego and his drinking for seven years. When I married him I never knew he had a drink problem, and yet I should have. When I first met him in at a Leicester University Dance it was over a pint of beer and two chasers. Somehow I put up with his selfishness, his complete lack of responsibility and his monolithic egotism. After we were married he wouldn’t even let me go out to work. Eventually he agreed to part-time. I was a qualified doctor and I even had to argue with him about leaving the house at all! When I later suggested setting up a consultancy, with two other doctors, concerning fertility problems he wouldn’t hear of it – he screamed at me for having no socialist principles! I certainly wasn’t doing much good for any principles stuck in that marriage. Sandy supported me. Even though Sandy was a socialist himself, he was a real one, a democrat, and could see my point of view.
“I don’t know how we started the affair. It didn’t happen through lust; it wasn’t a mad sex thing or anything like that. It just happened because we found consolation in each other. Sandy was a clever man in many respects, but his most rarified gift was that of listening. He was a fantastic friend. I just loved and respected the man so much. I suppose I was doing more taking than he was, and I wanted to please him. I think he felt very guilty about cuckolding his brother, but I talked him out of it. I could help him at times. He had bad depressions; I gave him medication at times. “
“And when did you begin this affair?” asked the prosecution council.
“I was married at 22, so it must have been about two years later. In 1975.”
“I presume the accused knew nothing about it? How long did it continue for?”
“David knew nothing about it all. He used to come back home late. I always used to persuade him to go for a drink before he came home on the pretense that it relaxed him. I just didn’t want to have to be in the same room as him. I preferred him coming home squiffy than coming home early. I don’t know why I didn’t just pack up and leave then. That’s the question I’ve been asking myself ever since. Oh god, if only I had! Sandy and I were very careful until we finally..” Vivien’s voice throbbed with emotion, “got caught out.”
David watched her face. The mouth of the engaging smiles was now the home of the torrents, the oceans of all lies in past and the present world. The confiding eyes were now skillfully at work on the jury. David was rigid from head to toe. The Harpies were out for execution and had sent her. This was the deafening, defecating stench of public betrayal. Judas and Brutus come and join us. He would go now. It was wet and comfortable.
“Sandy and I were about to slip into bed and David came home unexpectedly. He walked into the bedroom and found me already in bed and Sandy getting undressed. I’ve never seen such a look of confusion on any man’s face from that day to this. He couldn’t believe it. No one would ever let him down. He was the perfect man, the perfect husband; no one could ever do the dirty on him. On others, of course, but not on our dear little principled master achitect David.” She laughed, and swept away the hair which curled up under her chin. “You couldn’t believe it, could you David!” she shouted across the church.
Everyone turned and looked at David. He was as white as a sheet. He seemed to have lost his senses.
“He went crazy. He started pushing Sandy about and I went rushing around trying to pull them apart. They both went out of the door onto the landing and several seconds later I heard a dreadful crash. I ran out and found Sandy at the bottom of the stairs with David staring at him. I quickly checked his pulse.” She stopped for a moment. “I couldn’t find one. The poor, poor, adorable man. I loved him. I loved him so much.
“I looked up and saw David. I asked him what had happened.”I murdered him,” he said. “I kicked him down the stairs.”
The noise of the court suddenly rose and the judge had to quieten it before she continued.
“He admitted to murdering his brother?”
“Is he capable of strangling a girl in a fairground with a scarf?”
“Thankyou.” The barrister returned to his seat.
“Has the Defence any questions,” asked the King of mythology.
“Indeed, your honour.”
David’s council stood before the witness.
“Could you tell us more about your relationship with your husband towards the end of your marriage?”
“I left David because he became a stranger to me. I couldn’t talk to him, or share my feelings with him. All he did was take. I had to provide for him, like a mother figure. I was daily transported from the kitchen to the bedroom.”
“You sound very embittered to the jury.”
“Objection sustained. The jury will ignore that remark and it will be struck from the transcript.”
“I apologise your honour.”
“You said that you used to encourage David to stay out drinking. Were you frightened of him. Are we led to infer that he used to hit you? To beat you up?”
“No. He didn’t hit me.
“You say that you didn’t see David kick his brother down the stairs. Is that correct?”
“So it only a supposition on your part that he kicked him down the stairs.”
“No, he kept saying it, ‘I murdered him, I murdered him. I had to calm him down.”
“This is merely your word against my client’s.”
“It’s the truth.”
“I will endeavour to prove to the jury that you are a wicked scheming woman whose whole mind is bent on black vengeance!”
“Objection! My lord, how long can the defence keep accusing the prosecution’s witness’s of being hell-bent on vengeance because they’ve been hurt or spurned by the accused. He’s surely not that good looking.”
The court erupted with laughter.
“Objection sustained. Please keep your questions to points of law and relevant questioning.”
“Indeed, your honour.” said David’s council. He turned back to the witness and continued, “You say that David Basnett never inflicted any physical harm on you at all during your marriage.”
“That is true.”
“So, he wasn’t – apart from this disputed crime of passion – a violent man?”
“Even though he wasn’t violent to me he could be violent to others.”
“Could you give the jury some examples,” interrupted the King of Mythology turning his mask further towards Vivien’s face.
“Umm….” her eyes flashed around nervously. “He had a fight in a pub went we went on holiday to Margate.”
There was slight tittering in the congregation.
“Yes. That is one example. Can you give us others?
“Its difficult to remember your honour.”
“It is nevertheless important that you sustantiate your claim. You give us one disputed example of violence inside your marriage. You say that the accused was violent outside of the marriage. We need to hear many examples of his violence, and I don’t think one example is enough. Your inability to remember others must imply that his violent streak was hardly common.”
David’s Counsel smiled with satisfaction. The judge had pushed through a confrontation that he would have avoided and it had worked out to his advantage.
“He was a cruel man to both himself and to those around him.”
“Indeed, so we have heard from another witness, but that is not the same as physically violent.”
“I can’t think of any more, off hand.”
“No more questions.”
She was led by a police woman down the aisle, passed by David, and out of the church. As she walked passed him she kept her gaze firmly fixed on the floor.
David took a deep breath as his barrister returned and sat next to him.
“Hey, David, things aren’t going too badly. I’m pleased so far. We might even get you off.”
“This is….crazy?” he said, his voice slurring, as if he were drunk. He couldn’t be; he hadn’t drank for so long. He couldn’t remember when. He’d lost all track of time. “I’m dreaming.”
“No, no, my old boy,” said bright eyed lawyer. “This is reality. You’re not going to wake up from this. You’ve done enough dreaming for a while. Don’t you remember your dream about climbing up a grass verge and coming to a beautiful heavenly landscape. If we’re lucky you might still have a few dreams like that.”
David remembered the dream.
“How the hell do you know about that?”
“Boy oh boy, you are slow, old man. Don’t you know who I am? I’m your agony uncle, don’t you recognise me? I’m Bernard Willis. I’m a bit miffed, old man, that you haven’t already guessed. Hey look! Its our turn. A witness for the defence: it’s Claudia. You know, our old friend Claudia?”
“Claudia? Who’s she?” asked David.
“You are Claudia? Claudia Hope,” asked Bernard Willis.
At last David could see her face to face.
Now she had one. Eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Nothing unusual about her now. He had to squint to see her; his eyes were becoming blurred. He remembered the face. It was friendly, lively, full of the future. He remembered drinking champagne with it and kissing it. He remembered a gnome and a fair ground. He remembered having his arm around her.
“Could you tell the court the first time you met the accused?”
“I only met him for one night and thought he was lovely. I also thought he was very brave.”
“Could you tell us about where you met and what happened.”
“We met one evening in the Haystack, a pub in Hinckley. It was about a month ago. I had been having an awful argument with my mother about leaving home and getting my own flat. It had been awful and had ended in a shouting match. I had stormed out and gone for a walk to calm down. Later I found myself in this pub and drank a couple of ciders. I felt awful and kept bursting into tears. My mum isn’t in the best of health and I felt awful leaving her – but I had to.”
“Oh yes. Well, David came in. When he saw I was crying – I was the only other person in the pub as it was so early – he asked if I was alright. He was quite shy but very sensitive. He cheered me up, and I think I did the same for him, because he got more and more cheerful as the night progressed.
“Later on we joined up with some people he knew and then we all went off together in one of their cars to the the fair. The fair was lovely. Everything was wild and exciting. David won me a coconut on the coconut shy. It was marvellous. David was marvellous. Even though he was a lot older than me he was smashing. He was like no other man I’d ever met.”
“Could you tell us something about the fight.”
“Yes. David needed a leak, so –
“I assume you mean by that that he wanted to go to the lavatory,” said the King of Mythology.
“yes.” Another chorus of laughter came from the congregation.
“He went behind one of the caravans. I followed him, a short distance behind, in the dark, giggling and making jokes. We were both very drunk. Then I heard some scuffling and some whimpering. Then David was shouting. He was talking to a youth. He was telling him off for punching a girl in the face. Her mouth was bleeding. In attempting to calm the youth down David tried to pull him away, and as he did the girl ran off. David and the youth started lashing out at each other. They both ended up on the floor and David was on top of the youth with his scarf around his neck. The youth somehow rolled him off into the mud. He ran off, still wrapped in David’s scarf. David was very shocked and unsteady. After a few minutes he was dreadfully sick. I went off to get help.
“I found a woman I knew who had a car. She was with another woman. All three of us helped David to the car and then drove him home. One of them knew him. He’d been in her launderette earlier that afternoon. We put him on the settee and put a blanket on him and then left.”
“So he had absolutely nothing to do with this girl who was murdered. He was simply trying to protect her.”
“That’s right. The youth went running off after the girl, and later strangled her with David’s scarf. “
“Do you consider David to be a violent person?”
“Not at all. I thought he was very considerate: as soft as a lamb. As far as I knew him.”
“So you regard all these charges levelled at him as completely unwarranted?”
A moment later the prosecution council was addressing himself to the witness.
“Miss Hope you said that the accused fought with this youth to protect the girl that the youth was harming.”
“In your description you said, let me see: ‘David found himself lying on top of the youth with his scarf around his neck’. I put it to you, how did this scarf get around the youth’s neck?”
“I don’t know.”
“I suggest the accused put it there.”
“I don’t quite understand?”
“I suggest he put it there to strangle the -“
“I apologise to my learned friend. Let me approach it another way. The accused’s scarf ends up around a boy’s neck, in a fight that the accused starts with hardly any provocation. I submit to the jury this shows a propensity to violent behaviour. I have no further questions.”
Bernard Willis was on his feet. He was waving his notepaper around, exageratedly.
“Regarding some of the accusations that have been levelled against the accused in the testimony of Vivien Rookman we would like to call a late witness, your honour.”
The expressionless surface of the African mask almost seemed to be thinking. At last its voice said, “Very well.”
“David Basnett please take the stand.”
Bernard Willis had been whispering in David’s ear for the previous minute. David was trying to remember what he had said. We can do it. We can get you off. Deny all violence, he had been saying. Dispute it all. It’s old lovers seeking revenge. He remembered. He could do it. Just keep it simple and deny everything. It was only his word against hers. He was being helped along the aisle. He was up on the stage with hundred of eyes staring at him. He took the Bible and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God.
“In the course of these proceedings trying you for the murder of one Linda Taylor at the fairground in Hinckley, another crime has been mooted against you by your wife,” began Bernard Willis. ” Let us take each of these two items separately, and in order. Do you understand?”
“Did you strangle Linda Taylor.”
“No. I didn’t.”
David had managed it, he’d given them the right answer, although he couldn’t really remember whether he had strangled her or not. He didn’t think he had. In the train he must have remembered the scarf around the man’s neck.
“Now to the next question. Vivien Rookman has accused you of killing your own brother by kicking him down the stairs. Even though your ex-wife didn’t see this act take place she claims that you admitted this to her. Could you tell the court whether this is true or a malicious lie.”
David was going to lie if he had the permission. Bernard Willis encouraging him with his face. “Is this a slanderous lie?”
David’s eyes scanned slowly over the congregation. It took him a moment to find her. She was at the back as he knew she would be. She was waving, trying to catch his attention, standing at the back of the church. My children never lie.The whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me god. David you will not lie. Mother says so. You will suffer for your sins in eternal hellfire and damnation.
“Its the truth,” said David.
“Would the witness please speak up,” said the King of Mythology.
“I did it. I kicked my brother down the stairs.”
A roar of noise came from the congregation.
“I think my client is rather confused your honour and wish to remove him from the stand.”
“I did it,” said David his voice loud but trembling. I killed my brother. I loved him. I loved him.” He reached out and held on. His throat ached and his body shivered. He face was screwed-up, his mouth was slobbering, his body was convulsed with grief. He was helped down to his seat.
Fifteen minutes later the Counsel for Prosecution presented their case and claimed that it was obvious by the testimony of all the witnesses – and particularly the last – that the accused was a violent, narcistic, and nihilistic man. Even in Claudia Hope’s testimony, David Basnett had embroiled himself once again in drunken and manipulative behaviour eventually resulting to violent action. Self-neglect had led to a neglect of everything else: respect for other people, for the community, and the jury in its responsibility could do no other than to find the accused guilty of murder and therefore to keep him at her majesty’s expense away from any gullable or unfortunate people that he might come across. Women were particularly at risk, as was most apparent by the accused’s attitudes and misogyny. His inability to handle or express ordinary emotions took a perverted form of expression in drunken binges, sadism, pyschological cruelty and violence. He had completely lost touch with his conscience through the desensitising effect of alcohol. He is pathological, a typical product of modern western society; sick and selfish, a mind and body sick with over-stimulated needs and corruptly pampered with easily gratified desires. He had killed once before and had got away with it, what was to stop him doing it again?
The Defence claimed that the testimonies had not only disproved that David was a violent man, but they had, in fact, proved that he was a kind and considerate and courageous man, ready to risk life and limb in helping a girl in distress. Even though his wife had cited violent behavior in the case of Sansom Basnett it had not been proved that her accusations were indeed accurate. It was apparent that the accused was distressed and felt responsible for the death of his brother, but it would be a very heartless and irresponsible jury that would judge the accused on an alleged misdeed which would have to be judged according to separate legal proceedings.
It was apparent, stated Bernard Willis, in his most concerned of tones, that the accused was down on his luck, was suffering from low-esteem and had a drink problem; but many people were in that position and surely they couldn’t all be accused of murder! The idea that this intelligent, and maudlin over-sensitive drunk was involved in a murder was preposterous! He had merely been unfortunate in in getting mixed up in a series of coincidences. Nothing of any value can be attributed to the evidence of his wife that he showed violent behaviour during some holiday stay at Bournemouth. It was submitted to the court that hardly any man alive hadn’t been involved in a fight at some time during his life! There was absolutely – absolutely – no evidence to suggest that David was anything other than a passive man and had never raised a finger to his wife or his subsequent girl friends. In short, David had a drink problem due to life’s misfortunes hitting him hard. He was lonely and insecure. A drink problem is not a criminal act.
“We have established,” began the King of Mythology, summing up,” that the accused, David Basnett, is a person who habitually commits gross negligence to himself and to the community at large. It would also appear conclusive that he is unable to love himself or others. He has an over-inflated sense of self importance – which doesn’t seem to be merited, or even compensated, by any special talent or ability he may have. He shows tendencies to impetuosity and impatience; when he can’t get his own way he becomes frustrated like a tantramatic child. He is both hyper-sensitive to criticism, and yet hypercritical of others; in fact he shows a complete lack of concern or interest for others, apart from disparaging those who are successful in any way. He has completely forgotten how to express his feelings. He believes everybody hates him.
“These are all the classical symtoms of alcoholism. The accused, it would seem from the evidence given and from the psychiatric reports that I have before me, would appear to be an alcoholic. This man’s whole life has been based around alcohol. Every pleasant occasion has been laced with alcohol. Every beautiful emotional experience has been when he’s drunk, and likewise every heart-rending experience has been caused by his drinking. Every anti-social act has been when he’s been drunk. Everytime he’s made a fool of himself, everytime he’s upset someone, everytime he’s felt really wretched has been caused by his drinking. David Basnett is a classical example of someone who suffers from alcoholism.
“But the question that you, the jury, have to answer is not whether David Basnett is dependent upon alcohol, nor whether he is guilty of the murder of Linda Taylor. The prosecution have sought to prove that he is a violent man. The defence, by looking for recordable evidence of his violence, have tried to prove that David Basnett, albeit a drunk, is not a violent drunk. Please note the point of law made by the defence. The jury should not be swayed by the allegation that he killed his own brother – nor by his own admission of it. As has already been stated, such allegations require separate legal proceedings and these allegations should have no bearing upon the verdict you reach. Regarding the rest of the cross examination I suggest that this lack of testified evidence of violence should be considered very carefully.
“It could be a bloody lot worse, old man,” whispered Bernard Willis to David, who had his head in his hands.”You might just get away with this.” David remained bent over. His face was still screwed-up and his throat bulged with grief.
The King of Mythology told the jury to retire.
The jury, twelve members at the front of the church, got out of their seats, walked down the aisle and went out of the back of the church. David watched them and to his complete surprise, by the time the last one had exited, the first one had returned, followed by the second and the others in the order they had just departed. They returned to their seats. They informed the King of Mythology that they had reached a unanimous decision.
“That’s impossible,” croaked David to Bernard Willis.
Bernard Willis payed no attention to David’s comment. He continued watching the King of Mythology, and biting the end of his pencil.
The court sat spellbound as the spokesman of the jury stood up ready to deliver the verdict. David couldn’t focus on him very well. It was as if the man were changing colour. His coat seemed to be changing from a dark grey to a light brown, and his posture was changing.
“You have reached a unanimous decision?”
“Aye, that we have.”
Now all of the jury looked the same funny colour brown. What the hell was going on? His eyesight was all blurred.
“Guilty, your honour.”
“Let the prisoner stand.”
“Get up.” hissed Bernard Willis, whose face had turned ashen. His eyes avoided David’s. He pushed him to his feet.
David Basnett it is my duty to punish you in the eyes of the law. The maximum punishment for this crime is to hang you from the nearest tree.”
There was complete silence from the congregation as the King of Mythology’s punishment reverberated and echoed around the church. “However,” he continued, ” due to various factors in this case I am going to modify your punishment. Bring on the Beer, Brandy and Whisky!”
An attendent brought on a table which was placed in front of the pulpit. Three more attendents came in each carrying a bottle. These were placed carefully on the table: a bottle of beer, a bottle of spirits and a bottle of wine.
“Now listen David, I’m going to tell you a story. I’m going to construct a self portrait. I’m going to describe what you’re like. I want not only you to remember these words but also the whole congregation.
” When you are sober you feel old – so you drink and you feel like a teenager. Ethyl Alcohol makes you feel youthful. When you’re Sober you’re quiet – drunk and you’re the world’s greatest charmer and entertainer. Ethyl Alcohol makes you garrulous. When you’re sober you’re tense, easily irritated, and distant with people. And yet drunk you’re super-relaxed and gregarious. Ethyl Alcohol makes you easy with people. Also, sober you’re very shy of girls and yet drunk you’re a hit with them. Sober you’re frightened of sex and yet drunk, you’re Casanova. Ethyl Alcohol gives you sexual confidence. Sober you’re friendless and lonely, but drunk you’re the rave of the town. You’re ‘favourite mates’ are drunks to socialise with. Drunks like drinking, and offer you no threat. Ethyl Alcohol is often taken in groups. Sober you’re guilty about wasting your life, drunk you’re blameless. You imagine that you’ll start doing all the projects that you always promised yourself you’d do. You’ll start tomorrow. Ethyl Alcohol takes the worries and futility away. Sober you feel under the weather, plagued by mental and physical discomfort, drunk you feel fine. Ethyl Alcohol is liquid sleep. Sober you’re too serious, drunk you’re a stand-up comedian. Ethyl Alcohol is a Woody Allen script. Sober you’re physically cold and unresponsive, drunk you’re a cuddly bear. Ethyl Alcohol makes rejection unimportant. When you’re sober life is boring, when drunk everything is exciting. Ethyl Alcohol boosts reality. Sober you’re tired and bored, drunk you’re full of for whatever’s happening socially. Ethyl Alcohol is a social stimulant to get through boredom. Sober you want to be loved, drunk it’s not so important. Ethyl Alcohol is your only big love affair.
“I believe that you are not guilty of ordinary murder. You are guilty of self-murder. Self murder is the serious act of destroying yourself. This crime carries its own punishment for the crime is directed at the criminal. The persecutor attacks the victim, and the victim is itself the persecutor. Because of this there is no point in further punishing you, as you do it so well yourself. Nevertheless it is still my duty to hand out the sentence but I shall deflect the sentence to the ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is present in every alcoholic drink, and is what causes all the damage.” He stood up.
“David Basnett is free to leave this court.” He turned and pointed. “Those bottles standing before this dock will be strung up from the nearest tree. So be it!”
Suddenly David’s focus, which had been bleary for a few moments while the judge had been talking, began to clear. During this time all the jury members had changed to a light brown and were all standing in a strange way; not like humans at all. All their ears were sticking up at odd angles and they all had bendy tails. They were like kangaroos. They were kangaroos. David could see them now. They had all got out of their seats and were beginning to dance. The organ had begun swirling again, louder and louder, and the King of Mythology was standing and banging two sticks together again. Everyone in the church began clapping and leaving their seats and dancing in the aisles. People was clambouring over the pews to try and shake David’s hand and congratulate him; others were content to just touch him. The Kangaroos were coming up the aisle, as they had when they had been a jury. They were singing; the melody was strange, slow and hypnotic and fitted between the wave crashes of the organ. The whole church knew the words, as David did to his surprise when he began to join in the fourth stanza with gusto. It began slowly, and went:
Sober he is old and warn, drunk he’s a
Ethyl alcohol makes him sexy-young
Sober he’s a sullen one, drunk he’s a chatter-charm
Ethyl alcohol loosens up his tongue
Sober he’s a strung up knot but drunk he’s most convivial
Ethyl alcohol makes him bright and free
Sober he’s shy of girls, drunk he’s a lionheart
Ethyl alcohol puts them on his knee
Sober he is paranoid, drunk he’s the mostest most
Ethyl alcohol needs drinking company
Sober’s a guilty cell, but drinking mates unlock that hell
Ethyl alcohol will get the blind to see
Sober he’s in constant pain, and drink’s like a holiday
Ethyl alcohol comes like liquid sleep
Sober he’s too serious, in drunk he’s just the cheeriest
Ethyl alcohol makes him look so sweet.
Sober he is oh so cold, drunk he will scorch your soul
Ethyl alcohol cuts out fear of no
Sober he’s tired as hell, drunk and he’s so fit and well
Ethyl alcohol makes for thinking fast
Sober he aches for love, drunk he just don’t get enough
Ethyl alcohol is one big heavy pash.
Round and round went the verses as all the congregation came out of the pews and filed up the aisles in carnival spirit. David had been grabbed by many hands and thrown up onto several shoulders and was doing his best to keep his balance.
The noise and confusion increased to a deafening level as the exiting crowd bottle-necked at the doors of the church; then minutes later, amidst all the confusion, David suddenly found himself flooding through with the speed of water breaching a broken damn. He tried to grasp the hands and arms of those holding him up, and exhulting him; outside he was filled with the prescience of an imminent crash onto the gravel. Not so however, for a minute later he was carefully brought him down and laid on the grass. For a few seconds they clapped him and then they turned and ran off. He watched them running off down the drive, occasonally turning to wave and and shout blessings and messages of good luck upon him, as if he’d just got married. He coldly and impassionately watched them; kangaroos and unknown faces, sometimes leaving in groups, then in twos and threes, then only the single stragglers departing down towards the main road.
He was alone. The sky above was blue. He could feel a gentle breeze on his face. It wasn’t cold. He lay on the grass and looked at the sky. He lay for a long time. He began to feel his shirt soaking in the dew from the grass. He knew it would take a supreme effort to move. He knew he was in a state of shock, and didn’t want to increase it in any way. Perhaps he should sleep. Perhaps he was asleep. If he really were lucid dreaming he could imagine himself standing up. But it didn’t work. Eventually he clamboured to his feet.
He stood up and found himself searching in his back pocket for something. His car keys. As was doing so he heard a soft voice. He turned round to see the girl he had met earlier.
“You’ll be alright,” she said.
He looked at her. He looked at her magical eyes. David assumed she was another mirage of his damaged mind.
“Are you going to suddenly turn into a kangaroo?”
“No – don’t be silly – I’m just Stella, remember. I’ve been here for ages. I’m just a common or garden ghost,” she said.
“You need to get home and get some sleep,” she said a minute later.
“You’re probably right. That’s what I’m going to do.”
“Did you understand the purpose of all that?”
“All what happened in there.” She pointed to the church door.
“Not a clue.”
“That’s not true. Being cured is often a bit painful,” she said.
“I haven’t really had time to reflect on the nature of my hullucinations yet.”
“Why do you keep assuming your dreaming. Your not.”
“If I’m not dreaming I must be stark staring mad.”
“No your not. You’re lucky. You’ve been given an insight that very few people are given.”
“Maybe its an insight I could do without.”
“That must be your choice. Where are you going now? Are you going home?”
She became tired of waiting for an answer and walked up to him and took his arm. “Come with me,” she said. She led him amid the graves and along the grass. She led him to a small gap in the hedge that bordered the graveyard.
“It’s a short cut to your car,” she said, grinning like a cat.
“If you were really a ghost you’d know it isn’t my car,” he said. He walked off into the green field. She waved to him but he didn’t look back.
Around him sprawled the green fields of Leicestershire. Directly below him a busy main road cut across the fields adding to the hum of the motorway which was out of sight now. He could see his car parked in the pub car park, but he didn’t head towards it, but directly east of it. He walked at times towards the road and and at other times parallel with it. After a short while he sat down and looked about him.
He became a fixture in the field; a clump of outrock, or granite, a sculpture. Here was the countryside. It didn’t frighten him now; the agraphobia was gone. He watched the heavy lorries rattle down the road belching out smoke from their exhausts. He watched one magpie, then another explode from the heath into the air. He felt the wind breathing on his cheeks. From somewhere in the universe came a movement, a cracking, a breaking, an archaic memory, a shock. The waves resonated in his spine. From somewhere from this two million year life span he felt the freedom of real childhood. From somewhere he felt an embrace. It took him a while to recognise it, but it was definitely there: the unshackling of chains, the release from slavery, the open and welcome arms of optimism.
THE END 10887 (476)