The Couch

chapter 3 of a novel

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Nexus
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Posted 03/09/08 - 1:42 PM:
Subject: chapter 3 of a novel
3.

Men are seldom privileged to hear the inner lives of women unfiltered; however, as they were living together and Stephen was sometimes within earshot of their conversations he did have some glimpses, though he assumed they had taken into account his being around.

'My first time was sixteen, I'd been going out with this guy for a while, he was ok, you know, it wasn't love or anything,' Jenn was saying to Charlotte.

'So what happened then, give me the gruesome details,' Charlotte responded; at last, she was probably thinking, I am one of the girls.

'Well he just kind of lay down on top of me, we were rocking, he made a noise, it was over; I just thought, is that it?' Jenn began giggling. 'What about you?'

'Well he was one of my sisters boyfriends,' Charlotte began. Stephen had heard the story before and was interested whether it would be edited or embellished for Jenn's sake. He recalled Charlotte's nymphomaniac born again Christian sister, another screw up from a screwed up home counties middle class consciousness; another prime example of retarded parents unable to bring up kids properly. 'He just, well, it wasn't exactly rape but..'

Well both instances had been unremarkable, he assumed that their experiences has grown richer and more rewarding but the conversation didn't get that far. He was left hanging unsatisfied, again to be left unenlightened as to what women really think about men in their inner most selves. Perhaps he was looking in the wrong place; in fact, they don't even tell each other he reflected.

'So what happened with that cute guy you brought to the party?' Charlotte asked with imperfect girlish glee.

'Oh yeah Brad. You know things aren't going perfectly with my boyfriend, in fact he's just turning out to be a complete wanker,' she began.

Stephen thought he might well be a wanker, she saw him so seldom what else could he be? When they did get together it was briefly summed up as 'cocaine and sex' by Jenn; it felt about as satisfying as something from a fast food menu. Ah, the glories he could offer!

'I'm just keeping my options open,' she continued. 'Brad was captain of the football team at Sussex, he's got muscles in all the right places, you know?'

They both fell about laughing; so, Stephen thought, horrible images passing before his inner eye, they've done it already!

'Oh really?' Charlotte gasped.

'Oh no, not that!' Jenn gasped; Stephen relaxed a little, his initial image of her still remained pretty much untarnished. 'We just lay next to each other, it was very romantic. I had on these skimpy little underpants and..'

Stephen's mind quickly turned to the image of Peter with the underpants on his head. He gathered from the conversation, and the observations that he had made, that Jenn was pretty close to being a free agent. Not long after the party he heard her crying after putting down the phone receiver violently, she was sitting on the stairs leading up to their rooms.

'Jenn, are you ok?' Stephen asked in what he felt to be a fairly concerned sounding tone. She was now in a direct trajectory to her room, he felt as though he should carry her up the stairs in his arms like daddy would have with his little girl. However, he would not have just tucked her into bed or read her a bed time story.

'No, that bastard, I think he's cheating on me.' Jenn snapped.

'You're joking!' Stephen was thinking, 'cheat away, old chap, cheat away; and I, you fool, shall enjoy the spoils of war.'

'I don't think this relationship's going anywhere you know? I think I want more than just the occasional shag.'

Stephen thought, 'indeed young lady, and think what could be on tap every day at any hour just beneath you!' However, he said, 'look, you deserve better; you're a really nice girl, you could do better.' It could have been more original but he had been put in the role of comforter and his mind just went immediately to the soap opera's he had observed. She looked at him less with gratitude than a kind of assessment. 'What does he want?' This was what he assumed she was thinking; at least on one of her levels. After a pregnant silence she went up to her room. He felt she was not one to suffer things too deeply, or at least, not unless on proper grounds. Given what he intuited about her, and her young age, still hovering around twenty one, she still had a whole world of womanhood to absorb fully and everything that was needed was installed and ready to function.


One night he went with Charlotte and James to meet the suffragets at a poetry reading in a pub in town. They were going to meet James in another bar first so Stephen had to walk alone with Charlotte. He never really enjoyed this as they never seemed to have much of a conversation. They were walking down a hill whose road leads directly past the snaking rails leading in and out of Brighton station, that open space everyone encounters in rail towns that seems a little too raw perhaps because it talks of the Twentieth Century; prison camps, mass cruelties, mankind wandering homeless about a Godless world. In his melancholy he felt, like she had mentioned, they were virtual strangers.

'Charlotte, have you ever felt joy?' Stephen muttered, she seemed to speed up as if to avoid answering. 'Charlotte?'

'Joy? No, have you?'

'Not really, but one day I would like to, you know, even if it is just briefly. Do you want to feel it?'
Stephen asked.

'Don't know, maybe it doesn't exist. It's just a word isn't it?'

'Do you ever think about death?'

'Oh God what is this, are you going religious on me? Death? Not really, I suppose I used to a bit but just don't think about it these days..' Charlotte wasn't really giving herself much time to think. Stephen hadn't really expected much of a response but like his philosophical positions whilst drunk he just liked to hear himself speak sometimes. It made him feel more substantial.

They met up with James and then the suffragets, Ursula and Sarah. Ursula wore long dangling ear rings and light make up which made her handsome features stand out all the more. She was seeming increasingly human to him now, as were other women; in other words, he could follow their thought processes to some degree. Sarah was actually working for the council as was James it turned out; though his involvement with the technical aspects of IT meant he was earning much more than she and Jackson. Sarah was in a help desk role; she was a dreamy sort of person and was apparently getting into all kinds of difficulties; James was laughing over some incident. Why she was working with computers he did not know; he remembered her wandering around campus in despair because one of her final essays had been lost somewhere in some devilish computer's memory. The same had occurred with Stephen whose final work had probably been reduced in quality due to the time wasted through lost text. Though the quality, in the distracted state of mind he'd been in then, could never have been that great. Though he'd had potential and had finally got a reasonable degree he now felt with issues at home always unresolved he'd never been able to think or feel clearly enough to really produce good work. James had been working at the university at the time and had saved both of them.

The poetry reading was perhaps more accurately described as an 'open mic' night. It took place in the back of a pub whose atmosphere was quite 'alternative' and youth friendly. Stephen had never really managed to attend live performance or theatre besides the occasional rock concert; he wondered whether he had missed out on something, he saw this was at least a cheap way to view human talent raw, up close. Two acts were to stick in his mind afterwards; the performance poetry which he felt undermined what poetry was supposed to be about was one. The 'poet' seemed to think that the trivial details of everyday life were an object of poetic focus. He dreamily went on about 'chips, beans and egg' and it's glories. Stephen felt if he wanted such enlightenment then he would go and sit next to some working class people in a greasy cafe for the same effect. Then there was a performance that was strange but not unmoving. A man just stood with the mic extending words in a kind of droning, booming, dirth. The 'sentences' eventually formed into images of loneliness and a kind of despair. It worked. He'd never heard anything quite like it. In the same pub was somebody from James' band, a keyboard player. He was fairly lively, it was one of those meetings where somebody's persona reminds a little of ones own. He had a distracted wit that reminded Stephen of his own; he was covering over some inner dis-ease with a pretence of being 'aware in a complex way', at least that was how Stephen beheld it. He was certainly not the same kind of creature, however; Stephen didn't particularly like him. He was living with Janet, the girl that had gone out with Jack and who had shared an interest in Hell Fire; to his surprise she was now the lead singer of the band. They were going to have a performance in a month or so; he was wondering what on earth she would be like. They left the club by taxi, Stephen shared with the suffragets.

'So what did you think of the poetry Stephen?' Ursula asked.

'Not much, you?'

'I thought it was good, you know, just observational.'

'Have you heard of T.S Eliot's essay 'Poetry and the Individual Talent'?' Stephen asked, already regretting he had asked.

'Oh I maybe read it, don't really remember.'

'Well he said the poet must always be aware of the tradition, you know; you can't just make up stuff about anything you want.'

'Oh, really?'

Why he wanted to assert himself intellectually he did not know. Perhaps he felt that the intellectual woman tends to under value the male mind a little; a kind of perverse reaction due to empowerment of feminism. He had already heard the two of them reducing one of the tutors he'd had at college to being boring and 'so square'. Stephen had thought him thoroughly intellectual, and valued his calm demeanour and quite plain language. It seemed to him that whether 'thinking' women or not the opposite sex could not help themselves; they had to keep a man within bounds somehow, tame him through their wit; he guessed it had something to do with the fact that one day many off them would have to wipe a potential man's bottom and mop up after he vomited.

There had been more sessions with Charles the psychotherapist. Like the unwanted sessions of piano lessons and swimming club as a kid he felt uneasy before going. However, it was not that he disliked what was happening; it was the routine aspect of the visits, their inescapable formality that provoked a lack of ease. There was also his dislike of 'opening up' and talking about himself. This was seemingly what the whole psychotherapy movement prized most highly; the opening up of the blocked channels of the unconscious yet also, he thought, a belief in repressed personality; that before therapy people just were naturally repressed. Whether he had misconceived the whole business he did not know; during his visits he assumed he was taken as a repressed personality and would finally just have to 'come out with it'; that is, finally admit and then start talking freely like a healthy person and finally become a happy bunny. The confusion is surely inevitable; a movement that has been said to get results but that cannot really define in rational terms than nature of its doctrine is bound to lead to confusion. Sometimes he would sit there in silence for what seemed like ten minutes or more. Charles would not speak until he did. Often Stephen would feel fairly miserable when entering; he eventually learnt to turn to the imagery that is always passing before the mind's eye. Just giving voice to the endless procession of vague notions that drifted like insubstantial streaks of cloud seemed to fill the quiet little room with a whole new reality. If time travel is not yet possible in physical terms it certainly can be achieved when two people earnestly engage in discussion about what has gone on in one of their lives. A typical exchange might be;

'But I don't feel anything much just miserable.' Stephen would say.

'Yes but that is feeling something.'

'I just feel as if I was never allowed to feel much you see, in that house. There was a kind of unwritten rule not to feel much.'

' You couldn't just feel things happily, securely?' Charles would quiz; his usual gnomic silence occasionally giving way to a surprising burst revealing how closely he listened.

'I just thought that was the norm; you carried that reality with you everywhere, a touch stone. Probably when younger, you know childhood is pretty enchanted for most if there is no violence or outright cruelty, I think as a kid there was no real issue. I had this strange fantasy though of them dying in an accident and how romantic it would be to go and live with my grandmother. I could, you know, maybe go to a different school and it would be really interesting to be an orphan. Of course in every day life I didn't seriously think it.'

Stephen imagined many therapists might have answered 'yes, but maybe your unconscious was protesting at something, you weren't quite happy, you felt betrayed somehow..' but not Charles. He would usually, Zen-like, just leave a silence for him to make up his own mind. On reflection Stephen thought this a powerful method, the man didn't meddle, didn't really offer an 'opinion' and hence align himself with some conceptual scheme dreamed up by a 'master' therapist, Freud, Jung, Adler and the rest.

Suddenly the time would be up. Whether he was in the middle of a soul searching monologue or ending a session where barely a thing would be said it was over. He often felt some relief, like he'd found land for a while, that he'd cleared some bush on his island that might never have been cleared alone. The man whose face he rarely looked at directly and about whose life he hardly imagined led him down to the front door. How strange it was yet so charged with that electric atmosphere of concern that was barely ever, he realised now, present in his life from very early. Perhaps some had had it quite often? Long thoughtful walks back were common; he was becoming more and more a street wanderer, looking at strangers passing and wondering about their inner lives, their tragedies and past joy, their hopes and perhaps even crimes.

The tension between Stephen and Charlotte became unbearable for him. Though she barely seemed to sense it and wasn't particularly interested in whatever he was going through there was something brewing beneath the surface. The sessions had given an added dynamic to his preoccupations, he felt sharing the same house with her was a kind of lie. He was as if pretending he thought her to be an ok person when he did not. If they didn't have the shared past together and also acquaintances it probably wouldn't have been an issue. He got both of them together one day.

'Look, I've decided. I think it's better that I move out.'

'Really?' Jenn responded, 'has one of us done something to upset you?'

Stephen didn't want to single out Charlotte, he knew her pride couldn't take it.

'It's just me. You might have noticed me and Charlotte aren't getting on so well. You let me move in, I think it is unfair if the air is a bit poisoned you know?'

Jenn clearly hadn't noticed much and Charlotte hadn't connected the dots, at least at that moment; they probably just saw the hole in the monthly incomings. It would be in a few of weeks. Days passed and Charlotte did begin to connect; 'if he's moving out it must be because he doesn't like me! What will people think, what will everybody think!!' Her behaviour started to get stranger. She'd give him odd looks and conversation dwindled. One evening it came to a head for some trivial reason he later couldn't recall.

'I've fucking had enough of you!' Charlotte screamed.

'Well that's fine because I'll be moving out soon enough.'

'What is your problem! I let you stay here, you're so ungrateful!' Charlotte was beginning to scream. Therapeutic for her he thought; he was beginning to believe the more people repressed what was going on in the limbic system the more corrupt they became.

'Why? You can find someone else soon enough. I can't live with you!'

'Well I can't live with you bastard!' Charlotte screamed. Stephen was thinking, 'this is more like it, I can feel something for you now not that silly girl with no sense of who she is; only you can work this out, look in the mirror woman!'

She had been planning to go out somewhere so it decided to push him out of the way to assert her grievance. She was quite surprised to find him push back.

'How dare you push me!' Charlotte cried.

'You pushed me, I was defending myself.'

'Why don't you go and kill yourself, you were always going to do it anyway you fuck up!!'

'Why don't you. Look there aren't many cars out there but go out to the main street, it's getting dark, just walk on out, they're going pretty fast!' Stephen cried. It felt good to express something. Not suicide, maybe, but do something SOMETHING before you become a human wreck. He had himself in mind as well.

'I'm going to tell people you pushed me!'

That clinched it and he felt righteous. She was a hypocrite and she'd lie to save her own image; finally he'd got to the root. Tell people she did, now he was the aggressor; she had kindly offered him a room in his time of need and he'd turned into a violent madman. He didn't know how the message had filtered out but some must have believed her version of events. James came round later in the week and little was said just a brief stare as if he had betrayed him in some way. He felt it was they rather, who were betraying themselves. Stephen knew it was the end of his relationship with these people; he would no longer be considering people friends unless it was due to a mutual respect. It would appear that Stephen's role in the Bohemia novel may well now be demoted to a degraded character, a witty type who nonetheless beats defenceless women. Well, fuck the novel. It would never be any good as the writer would never have a full conception of human nature if he couldn't see why Stephen was walking away.
libertygrl
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Posted 03/12/08 - 5:36 PM:

i like the self-referential style of the ending - reminds me of charlie kaufman - which cements the nature of the narrative as a short story rather than the actual 3rd chapter of a novel as one might have surmised from the title. clever! also a great character study on the main character.
Nexus
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Posted 03/13/08 - 5:43 AM:

It is the third chapter of a novel!
libertygrl
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Posted 03/13/08 - 9:26 AM:

well, it works as a short story as well.

i think it's time for me to stop commenting on your stories as the last 2 times seem to have provoked you to just outright snap at me. my feedback doesn't seem to be appreciated, so unless i'm misunderstanding your tone (and if so, please feel free to let me know what you actually meant), i'll keep my feedback to myself from now on.
Nexus
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Posted 03/14/08 - 7:01 AM:

you misunderstood my tone
Nexus
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Posted 03/14/08 - 7:05 AM:

Thankyou for your comments by the way.
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