Empathy

Victor Beautule is known as the ‘coming man’ on his way to the top. He isn’t from a humble background nor has he the studied insouciance of the English aristocracy. He’s a man from the middle, the lower middle, and bitter about the elites he perceives above him. His contempt for the lower orders is unbounded. 

When Vanessa, one of his many girlfriends, whose heart he knowingly broke, accuses him of being emotionally illiterate, unable to put himself in the place of ‘the other’, and having the compassion of a stone gnome he takes this as a challenge. When he receives a personal email promoting a very expensive two-day residential course ‘Empathy for Success’ he sees a way of meeting that challenge and quickly enrols.

Once inside Wandelsham Hall, he discovers, with delight, that it’s even more exclusive than he had hoped: there are only four participants. The therapist, Melvyn, will lead the participants who are Rupert, Nigel, Victor and Natasha – no surnames are shared. Natasha looks vaguely familiar to Victor, but she’s not pretty enough for him to remember who she is, even though she reeks of entitlement. 

There are two sessions a day, structured around role plays based on counselling scenarios: each participant will be, in turn, ‘the sufferer’, the counsellor and observer. 

On Saturday, Victor first plays the role of ‘sufferer’. He’s pleased with his performance but worries he’s revealed too much of himself. Natasha plays the role of counsellor; her condescension, verging on boredom, irritates him, but he bites his tongue. Later, as an observer he thinks he’s done a fine job. Natasha, the other observer, tells him his observations are trite.

On Saturday evening he dines alone. There is no sign of the others; he’s perplexed, Perhaps they couldn’t afford full board? I can, so that’s fine.

During the last session on the Sunday he is counsellor and Natasha ‘sufferer’. Her portrayal of a betrayed utterly bereft wife is superb and, alarmingly, touches a nerve, reminding Victor of how women have reacted to his behaviour toward them. Natasha screams, Help me! Victor shouts, For fuck’s sake, woman, pull yourself together, you pathetic spoilt upper class cow! I don’t blame him for shagging someone else. 

Natasha holds up her hand. Hush. Hush. It’s role-play, Victor. You’ve forgotten that and also forgotten who I am, haven’t you? I’m the wife of the minister, your boss, and, as it happens, Vanessa’s sister. 

The penny drops. Who are you people? 

Vanessa’s brother, Rupert says.

Her other brother, Nigel adds.

I’m their uncle, Melvyn says.

That’s why you weren’t at dinner? 

Natasha smiles. Yes, this is our family home. We were in our own quarters, while you were feeding your face. Vanessa’s right, you’re an utterly self-centred prick and I think I can fairly say that your career is fucked. I’ll see to that. You can go now.

I hate you privileged bastards!

That’s to be expected. Gladly you’ll never be one of us. Goodbye.


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

Emily

I went into service in a country house in Yorkshire when I was fourteen. I could read and write, and my employers, the Bellinghams, unusually, allowed me to use my limited time off to extend my education in their library. It was no Catherine Cookson novel: I worked hard and rose to become their housekeeper; learning along the way that it was best to do your job without fuss and, somehow, to be invisible.

The Bellinghams fell on hard times and they had to let me go; it almost broke my heart. Having no family of my own, I had nowhere else to be; they let me stay in one of the cottages on their estate until it was sold. Despite my excellent references it took months to find new employment with everything being done through the Royal Mail.

Finally, Arthur Broad, a widower and master gardener, employed me as his housekeeper. I was anxious as I moved into his large house as his only servant:a widower and a spinster, whatever next? Tongues wagged in the village – I didn’t care; I needed the job. We became the best of friends – I learnt how to garden and he learnt to be tidy – a miracle. He always kept a diary of his crops and a notebook for his poetry and encouraged me in these new habits. I was no longer invisible.

When he died he left me the house and his wealth. I was both sad and grateful but I also thought there must be some mistake and feared that I would once again be homeless. I was needlessly frugal; I determined to make the money I inherited last all my days. Anyway, I was too old for another job. I grew my own fruit and veg and had meat and fish once a week. I made do and mended my clothes until they looked wretched but I wasn’t going to buy new clothes at my age. My only luxuries were my television and a cream sherry on a Friday night.I lived alone for many years until my arthritis was too painful and I was no longer able to care for myself and reluctantly moved into this care home.

I should have married, had children, but, alas, it never happened. No one visits me, ever. The staff are kind, they know my name, but they don’t know me, and they never will. Despite my arthritis, I still try and write my poems, and for that I thank Arthur.

Once again invisible
I lack the nurture of company
Bereft in my high backed chair
Amidst the piped music of care
I’m quietly avoiding
The embarrassment
Of being visible
I embrace myself
For lack of others’ arms
I wait at idle leisure
For what they call passing
As if it were a game of football
Or an exam to take
To rise victorious
My own arthritic hands
Raised in Pyrrhic victory
Sitting in the waiting room
Invisible at my ending.

 


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

The Stretcher

Adrian, a sprightly, short, sixty year old, is a stickler about his appearance; he thinks of himself as dapper favouring open-necked pastel coloured sea island cotton shirts, Paisley patterned cravats, double-breasted, shiny buttoned blazers, cavalry twill trousers and brown suede shoes that he calls brothel creepers. His coiffure is of particular concern to him; his hair is thick, curly white and in need of constant care – his wife thinks he looks like a senile golden retriever; she is not fond of him, or he of her. He was once a potter and is now the Principal of the School of Art. 

His daily timetable is meticulously kept. He enters his office at precisely 10.00 am and makes himself a cafetiere of coffee that he drinks black with a teaspoon of Fortnum and Mason’s multi coloured granulated sugar. Thereafter he deals with correspondence from the local authority and meets his deputy, Richard Whiteheath, for mutual bullshit and ego polishing. At 12.00 he walks across the road to the Manhattan Bar where he quaffs his first G&T of the day.

But, today, after three handsome G&Ts, there’s no more time to dally with the barmaid, the delightful big bosomed Brenda, as he blows her a kiss and sets forth for the hairdressing salon on the top floor of Binns for his bi-weekly haircut.

In the office in the basement of the School of Art the telephone rings. Sam, the caretaker, answers the phone, Yes, oh … has he? … Again? …Okay, give us ten mins and we’ll be right over. 

His assistant, young Jack, laughs, Again?

Sam sighs, Again. You, lad, pop up to the staff room and let ‘em know, will you?

Ten minutes later, those staff who aren’t still in the pub, are assembled on the top floor, in the conservatory where plants are grown and stored for students to draw. Five male staff stand on the wooden shelves, amidst the plants, to get a better view through the windows of the adjacent empty plot of land that acts as a temporary car park. 

There they are! Ray shouts.

Sam, Jack and Adrian wait at the Pelican crossing, although Adrian is unaware of this delay – he is asleep on the stretcher that Sam and Jack carry.

Slowly they weave their way through the parked cars to raucous cheering of the staff in the conservatory.

Minutes later Adrian is laid on the chaise longue in his office where he will slumber until wakened by Sam and told to drive home. 

The wood and canvas stretcher stands in the corner of Sam’s subterranean office – ready for future us.

In the staff room, Alan, a new member of staff, expresses his surprise at what he’s just seen.

Just think of it as performance art, Ray comforts.

It’s no way to run an art school, Alan objects.

He doesn’t, Ray replies, We do.

The Funeral

Buonconvento is a beautiful mediaeval small town in Tuscany. Its name means happy, lucky, place. There is a bridge over the river Arbia; this is where the Arbia and Ombrone converge. On the northern side of the bridge there is a bus stop where a woman patiently waits in the warm sunlight; she is happy. Shopping bags surround her feet and she carries a large bunch of dark blue lilies.

Two British tourists join her at the bus stop; to their delight she speaks excellent English. They introduce each other – she is Maria, they are Rich and Polly.

You look happy, Polly says. 

Maria smiles. The sun is in the sky. The clouds float on the breeze. The rivers flow clear and are full of fishes. The cypress trees stand as erect sentinels over Tuscany. The air is soft. There is peace. I am happy.

You have a lot of shopping, Polly says. What’s in the bags?

Pane Toscano; I make my own, but here they have one that is even better than mine. Garlic, my crop failed this year, I don’t know why, so I buy to roast with red peppers from my cantina. Little Carciofi, done Roman style. Early lemons for a Crostata al Limone – with crema! The little new rhubarb for Panna Cotta al Rabarbaro con Rabarbaro Tostato – superb! But tonight we will eat Cavolo Nero and my own home grown dried white beans dressed with olio di Rosmarino – of my own making – washed down with the local Brunello.

Food makes you happy? Rich asks.

Of course, I am a woman of this land. But not just food …. There is also the final reckoning …. You have forgotten what day this is?

We’re on holiday and have lost track of time.

It’s April 17th .

Rich and Polly are perplexed.

Today they bury the Thatcher.

Thatcher’s funeral! Rich roars.

How could we forget that? Polly asks.

Polly takes Maria’s lilies and sets them down on the bags. Rich takes Maria and Polly by the arm and starts to sing, Ding dong! The witch is dead. As they sing they spin like Dervishes in a trance. Ding dong! The witch is dead. Spinning. Dizzy with delight. As Polly and Rich repeat the lines Maria joins in their singing. Passing cars toot their horns as the celebration continues by the side of the road. They stop, breathless.

Why did you hate Thatcher? Polly asks. She didn’t wreak her wrath on the Italian people.

Maria takes a breath. The rich may steal from the rich, but, when they steal the milk from the children, it is too far. Sono del diavolo, del male, Vanno all’inferno! Do you understand me?

I get the meaning, Polly says.

Enough is enough. La morte e la migliore! Death is best.

Their celebration is suddenly sad in this happy, lucky, place.


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

 

God

Simon is lonely, but how could he have a companion living, as he does, on the street. He uses a metal dog’s bowl for donations because he likes the sound coins make when they fall. There have been no coin sounds, so far, today; the bowl is empty. 

It’s a winter’s morning as he sits in his wheelchair in the shelter of the Stonebow arches holding a hand made sign – ‘For God’s sake’. The leafleting Jehovah Witnesses, who share the same space, ignore him – they know who God wants – and it isn’t him. They feel no need to share their vacuum-flasked tea with someone like him: in their terms a worldly failure, and, as such, deserving to be cold, hungry and a beggar. 

He is known. He’s done no harm – just an eyesore. He’s been on the street for nearly two years, sleeping rough in an NHS wheelchair. He can’t walk because of his swollen ulcerated legs; the bandages could do with being changed and the ulcers dressed. He wears a woolly hat and all the clothes he owns to keep warm. At lunchtime, a friendly PSCO brings him a hot coffee and a cheese sandwich and tells him, apologetically, that he’ll have to move on. He counts the money in his bowl; not even enough for some chips and a small bottle of vodka to keep out the cold.

By ten o’clock he’s back under the shelter of the arches, parked out of sight in a dark doorway. The High Street is noisy with young men and women out on the town. At eleven a group of five drunks arrive under the arches and one of them starts to piss. Simon, from his wheelchair, protests. 

Look what we got here, the pissing man shouts, a fucking cripple. Within seconds their laughter intensifies as the men dump Simon out of his chair and give him a good kicking. One of them gets into the chair and another pushes it as they race off into the night cheering. He crawls to the roadside – it takes him twenty-three minutes.

Two hours later he’s in A&E in another wheelchair; he’s grateful for the warmth of the welcome given to one of their regulars. It’s almost like the old days before he fell from grace, when he was respectable, had a job and a house. He’s always known that he, like everyone else, is but a hair’s breadth from the fall. But somehow he never imagined he could go this far down.

Simon sees blue flashing lights through the window and two police officers enter. 

Excuse me, Simon says, as they walk past him. Are you looking for my chair? Some lads nicked it.

They laugh. Call 101. 

I was attacked. They stole it. It’s an NHS chair.

They walk on. He hears them, their words going back and forth. 

Serves him right. 

Fucking asking for it. 

Lazy bastard, should get a fucking job. 

Who does he think he is? God?


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

Cabin Fever

Since 2008, when his property was repossessed in the midst of the subprime market crash, Bob has lived totally off-grid in a cabin in Oregon, east of Oakridge between the Willamette Highway and Hills Creek Lake. He is glad to be out of the America he has come to detest. How, in the land of the free and the brave, is abortion legal? How come blacks are so uppity? Why is buggery legal? Why wasn’t he, a civilised white man, allowed to live in comfort? How come Hispanics take all the jobs? Who allowed inter-racial marriage? And after what the Muslims did on 9/11 why are they still walking our streets? He has an answer. All these American disasters came because the USA had a President who wasn’t God’s agent. America must be redeemed.

Bob avoids contact with people and uses the seclusion of the forest to protect him from discovery. Every few months he walks into Oakridge to purchase essential supplies with his remaining cash; otherwise, he lives off what he can kill or forage. 

He isn’t lonely; after a decade of isolation his God, bible, beliefs and evolving obsession with the colour orange keep him company. He knows some people believe orange is the colour of joy and creativity. Others think orange promotes a sense of general ‘wellness’ and emotional energy. Yet others believe it may even heal a broken heart. But it is in the bible that he finds the truth that orange is the colour of fire, of wrath, of ambition and determination. He believes that orange represents the power and presence of God and to dream of forging a weapon with fire represents purification and perfection. He knows that if he has such a dream it will be an omen for the arrival of God’s agent and that he must act. He longs for such a dream. Instead, at night, in his head he hears Satan’s laughter at America’s gullibility. It makes him angry. His gun is always loaded; he is ready to fight Satan’s emissaries.

One morning he awakens from a deep sleep. He’s drenched with sweat. It has happened; he has dreamt the dream. He must leave his isolation to witness the arrival, of God’s agent, and that time is now.

Bob walks to Oakridge and sees a poster; the photograph is enough – it’s tangible proof. He hitches a ride to Eugene. At the rally at the Lane Events Convention Center people carry placards ‘Make America Great Again’ – this pleases him. 

Outside the Center police unsuccessfully try to keep supporters and their opponents apart. Fighting breaks out. 

Bob repeatedly chants, God’s Agent Orange! 

A man, next to Bob, punches him in the head. Dumb fuck – we used that to kill Charlie in ‘Nam. Fucking fascist Trump! 

Bob shouts. Agent Orange! 

Dumb fuck! Fuck Trump! 

Bob shoots the man stone dead, screaming, Agent Orange!

A single bullet from FBI agent Maloney brings Bob’s dream to an end. 

Trump doesn’t notice. 


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

Robin Robertson’s ‘The Long Take’

The new book from the distinguished poet Robin Robertson ‘The Long Take’ is superb; its quality and jaw dropping range make it the most fabulous work I’ve read in a very long time – a bit like when I first discovered Charles Bukowski.
Its subtitle, ‘A Way to Lose More Slowly’, suggests that the central character, the ex GI, sometime newspaper man and alcoholic, Walker, is on a journey and we’re going down there with him all the way. It doesn’t easily fit any category; it’s not a novel, it is & isn’t a poem, it is a many layered narrative, and it’s noir as in film noir. No spoilers, but it refers back to lost love in Nova Scotia before the second world war, is set in California between 1946 & 1953, makes continued use of cinema of the period and locates the origins of Walker’s pain within the horrors of WW2 in Europe. The cities of LA & San Francisco along with their down and out skid row inhabitants are also major players – characters. It feels absolutely authentic and is viscerally thrilling confronting expectations of what to expect next. As with all great writing it not only illuminates the past but informs an understanding of the human condition in the present. Robertson’s research, underpinning his extraordinary imagination, is staggering. It’s hard to single out any lines, paragraphs or stanzas, so I won’t try. It’s beautiful and frightening to read. And perhaps most of all it’s a movie.

As a writer I found this inspiring. I shall read it again. A great book! Do take a look.

News from somewhere

Just a brief post to explain the lack of action here for the last three months.

Two things have been going on.

  1. My new novel (the sequel to ‘Cabal’) a thriller – ‘The Sticks’ – has been out to my editor and readers and I’m now completing the final draft of the manuscript – it should be published in physical and virtual form by September.
  2. I’ve been working on a commissioned screenplay that been pretty much full time since January. Can’t give you the title as yet but I think it’s at the point of going forward – so hovering at amber with my foot trembling over the gas pedal waiting for the green light.

So I am somewhere and not nowhere!