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Angry young man seeks special care facility to cheer him up. He only has his lost smile to survive on, and what could cheer him more than to be locked away from us outside who live the dog life? Anyone who knew him as a little boy would help him now. He really does have a point - life is bad. If only there was a reasonable alternative. Nothing better to do. Nothing else worth talking about either.
Lovely young man, as he once was, has an agoraphobic neighbour. She has her legs removed due to cancer. The forced trip to the hospital cures her agoraphobia. What kind of card do you send? “Congratulations! You can crawl around outside instead of inside the house?”
The neighbour’s husband dies. Now she only has a burning edge on her - the need to be out and about in her wheelchair, facing the world full on. She develops a paranoia that her arms are going to drop off. She becomes so depressed that she would not be able to get up in the morning if she was capable of getting up in the morning.
The caring faceless send an appointed visitor to make her partake in life. He is Lovely Young Man. On his first visit she asks him to take her outside. He slips on a dog turd in the Park and lets go of the wheelchair handles. Park Hill, I should say; the heavily sloping grass covered with friendly squirrels who leap aside as the neighbour flies past. She would scream but she swallowed a gnat on the way down and is still trying to cough it up when she hits the main road.
Robbed of her last scream. Her earlier life was really fabulous, though. She once went on a day trip to Blackpool and wowed the locals. She had the photograph framed in her living room.
I know, because, as a distant relative of the neighbour I went in with a card I had picked out reluctantly after her operation. I plumped for, “Hope You Are Feeling Better”. She thanked me with insulted, wet old eyes and her husband moved slightly in his corner armchair. It may very well have been the last movement he made. He was dead two days later, and after that he was dead for another day before he became ambulance/hospital/burial/officially dead. Assigned to die, like his wife’s legs. At least he got a burial. Her legs were incinerated. At least, that’s what the caring faceless told her.
I met Angry Young Man clearing out the house after the second funeral, during which, appropriately, he had gotten legless. His loveliness had been robbed. He was harsh and sandpapery. We went for a top-up drink and I liked him. I liked his self absorption. Its not every day you meet an atoning murderer who keeps a mangled wheelchair on his wall as a constant reminder of himself. I told him he had done nothing wrong; I had done worse things deliberately, and they had never jarred on me the way his crimes covered him. They rustled softly through his voice. Soothing.
Why did it continue to bother him? How could he find the consistency to care?
My interest lasted a few weeks. But he started talking about death in bed and I knew he had to go. So, no close knit harmonious relationship between us, then, but the weight of knowing someone’s worst guilt. It tied me to him, and I followed him avidly through the next five years of his self flagellation by a series of postcards that he sent to me.
“Working for British Rail - am in Hell.”
“Have taken up Karate. Still thinking about it.”
“Three years ago today. Am television researcher.”
“Trying to move on. Tenerife is hot.”
“Making a fresh start.”
This one was a genuine surprise to me, even more so because he had a written a reply address in careless letters at the bottom of the cartoon postcard. It seemed he considered it my duty to reply. Why is it, when people move on from something they are ashamed of, they want to visit it once more from their new perspective? What is the urge to kick the corpse?
But I did what was expected of me. I wrote a polite letter on blue paper that prompted him for more information, and between us we arranged a meeting in a pub that was local for him, and a long drive away for me. He wanted to call all the shots and my life wasn’t interesting enough for me to refuse him.
I won’t repeat the conversation we had. Conversations have so many boring stumbling blocks as people search for what they want to hear. Both egos to be flattered, and both desires to be hidden. I’ve no doubt that what he told me that day, after the obligatory four pints to loosen his nerve and his tongue, wasn’t the truth anyway. But I shall tell you for the sake of a story, and I shall remove all the parts that could easily have been replaced with bleating noises.
He said that he had travelled after my rejection of him. That he saw the reason for pushing him away, and it had only been the very start of the relationship, and it shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did, but that it had, and so he had left the town and tried on a score of different towns for size.
Chester had been quaint. The British Rail tea shop he had been working in had been battered with sledge hammers when it was erected in 1967 to give it an old, surviving look. People had taken to it, and requested strong tea and lardy cake instead of the obligatory burger. Angry young man had lost the edge of his anger through his shifts behind the counter. Instead, as he realised how eager everyone was to encourage the lie that this rail station was a shining example of Merrie Olde England, he had slipped painfully to depressed young man. Postcard Number One.
So he moved to the big cough. London. Strictly speaking, to a town that was an hour from Piccadilly Circus by tube but as it had a tube stop, was called London. There he used his unemployment benefit to strengthen his muscles through Karate. He worked hard and long at it to change his body completely: there could be no doubt about it after six months of continuous workouts, that this was a man who would not let go of a little old lady’s wheelchair handles in any situation. The size of his arm muscles began to deny his own past, but he wasn’t prepared to put it down. Not yet. No matter what his body said. Postcard Number Two.
Three years have passed in his story, and to him it is known as the third year anniversary. Not a healthy way to be, he thinks. He buries himself in knowledge by taking a job devising questions for a quiz show, and trying to memorise every single one he prepares. He tops up his income by entering local pub quizzes until he is banned from them all. Then, because the job can be done at a long distance as easily as a short one, he relocates to Scotland. The very northern tip of Scotland. He wears extra woolly jumpers to the one pub quiz he can find until he gets banned from that, too. What could possibly take up his time now? He has a lot of time to spend shivering and alone in which to find out. Postcard Number Three.
An idea begins to form, and to encourage it to germinate he takes a long holiday in the Canaries. The heat turns his now beautiful body a golden cherry colour. He looks new, brand new, just out of the packaging, white teeth glinting new. Sexual acrobatics become a game he perfects, and in the aftermath of a thousand women the idea is born. A proper future. One he could face every day from now on that would be an emphatic rebuttal of that one moment he let define him. Postcard Number Four.
He will become a medical student. And that, in turn, will turn him into a Doctor. A good one. One that saves lives through constant care and consideration. He knows now that he is intelligent enough to survive in that world, and maybe it could even convince him that the death he caused was for a reason. The reason being that it all led him here. Postcard Number Five.
I was about to congratulate him on his noble journey when he continued to speak. He was well into initial training now, and was busily getting used to the smell and texture of the dead as he examined and dissected them. It all offered no immediate problem: that was, until three days ago, when he had been presented with his first leg.
It was old, yellow, stinking of formaldehyde, and cut off precisely at the thigh. The thickness of the ankle and the unique blue marble pattern of the varicose veins gave the sex and age away, and like the sudden clapping of hands from an angry teacher, he is convinced that the leg is hers. You know who. The crackling skin accuses him. The horned toenails stare him down.
His entire body turned colder than it had ever felt in Scotland, and then hotter that it had ever burnt in Tenerife. But he was a harder man - one that was used to his own accusations, and before he had time to crawl off and think for another five years, he had picked up a scalpel and cut deeply into the calf muscle, burrowing inside it to find the veins and bone, just like the rest of the class.
In that moment, all guilt and shame vanished.
Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why. He couldn’t explain it either. But he is well on the way to becoming anything from an awful to a passable doctor, and I have nothing else to say.
If I was feeling particularly honest I would add that I had asked him if he wanted to go out to eat after our final pint, and he had turned me down with a superior, concerned smile on his face. If I could have told him that I had only been after one night of cheap and meaningless sex to dissolve our ties I would have, but I could not face the words. Besides, he was happy to think that I wanted him back forever, that it was my turn to face my own mistake.
I can’t call him Angry Young Man any more. I can call him, in the past tense of no longer knowing him, Well Adjusted Young Man. Adjusted to life, adjusted to death, and adjusted to the purpose of legs.
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