The International Writers Magazine
:Dreamscapes Fiction

Graham Attenborough

here he is. Just look at him. He’s so, so happy or, at least, he thinks he is. He thinks he’s happy in his casual but subtly expensive suit, his plush leather shoes and his poncey briefcase swinging at his side as he strides so happily along. Let him be happy, while he still can. It won’t be long now.

He’s actually smiling. He’s smiling as he walks along, smiling at people in the street, people he doesn’t even know. Incredible. There’s an elderly woman coming towards him, he side steps to let her pass with her shopping trolley and yes, he speaks to her, she replies, he says something else and now their both laughing at the shared joke, his worthless little quip. His blonde head is bobbing up and down now and he waves to the woman as she goes on her way, no doubt he thinks he’s brought a little sunshine to her otherwise miserable existence, that’s what he does you know, that’s his mission, his gift.

God, he makes me sick. That grinning freak of nature has been making me sick since I was five and he’s still at it now, still being so good, so very nice, so fucking happy. He breaths happiness, he sweats happiness, every little bit of him is happy, even is fucking teeth are happy.

Back in the sixties we were classmates. We went to the same junior school; we were in the same class. He was the bright one of course, Mrs. Baker’s favourite and Mr. Lloyd’s too. It didn’t matter what the lesson was, reading, arithmetic, drawing, football, he was always better than me. Oh yes, James Stinton was always the best.
"Lets have a look at your work boy’s." Mrs. Hay, the art teacher would say. She was another fan of James’s. "Very good James. Look everyone, look at James’s picture isn’t it good we’ll put that one up on the wall for everyone to see." And then she’d look at my picture and say… "Em, you could have put some nicer colours in it Barry, its so dark and well, dull. Still, perhaps your mo’ I mean your auntie, might like it." And so it went on.

We were perhaps nine or ten when; one day there was a change from the usual lessons and we were ushered into the assembly hall to watch a film. It was an American public information film about the future. I don’t remember what it was called or even that much about it but I realise now that, being the 1960s, it was basically Cold War propaganda, designed to indoctrinate our young minds into believing in the ‘American Dream’. It didn’t work for me obviously but it really influenced James. Of course, as far as he was concerned the future was already bright and the film simple reinforced what he already knew.

All I remember about the film was that, right from the start, it told us just how lucky we were to be the children of the 1960s. With its authoritative and laconic voice-over, the black and white film introduced us to the wonders awaiting us as future adults. There would be no disease in our future and we could all expect to live into our hundreds so advanced would medical science be. And what would we be expected to do during our longevity? Well, thanks to the enterprise of the freethinking western world, machines would be developed, which would take over all the difficult and menial jobs that people had to do at present. This would happen both in the workplace as well as in the home and would give the happy people of the future (us) much more time to enjoy our lives free from drudgery, illness and war (which, presumably, would also have been eradicated once the filthy commies had been crushed or converted). If there were any doubts in our tiny minds well we need only look to the wonderful advances made in space technology (NASA of course), since the end of the war. In the future, the voice told us, energy would be free because it would be generated by safe, clean nuclear reactors. The Moon and possibly Mars would have colonies for those who wished to strike out for new worlds (go west young man!). There would be no pollution because science was, even then, perfecting new and exciting ways to power our vehicles harnessing gravity so that cars in the future would not travel along roads but would fly through the air free as birds. And, furthermore, just in case any of us were, even at that innocent age, aware of starvation and extreme want in the world, well, the future had that covered to. Oh yes, in the future all our dietary needs would be catered for by instant processed meals (they got that right at least) made from chemicals. There would be no more starving little black children not with Uncle Sam flying into Africa in his gravity powered, fast-food wagon, handing out Macburger pills, Coca-Cola and one-way tickets to Mars… God bless America.

My mum died when I was three. From that time on no one ever expected me to be happy. They were right about that but not about the reason. My mum died and my dad was permanently pissed. They said he took to the drink when she died but my aunty Joan told me he’d been pissed since 1939 and was so drunk by the sixties that he hardly noticed that mum was gone. No, even after my mum died I was as happy as any boy might have been expected to be but that all changed when I was five, pushing six and I met my nemesis, you’ve guessed it, James Stinton.

James Stinton took away my happy childhood. I don’t say that he meant to do it but he stole it just the same. It was gradual. At first I quite liked him, he was fun and made us all laugh but over time the other kids and then the adults, teachers, even aunty Joan began to stop noticing me. It was James this and James that and isn’t James clever and isn’t James handsome, oh, James he’s a wonderful boy he’ll go far, and if only Barry was half as clever and good looking as James but there you are, he isn’t but at least he’s got James as his friend.

It was an hour or so after the film was over when I finally accepted the truth about James, that I hated him, I loathed and despised him and that if I were ever to be happy again then I would have to either get away from him or one day destroy him. Such a realisation is a big thing for a boy of nine and between that day and when I finally left school at sixteen with no qualifications to speak of, I had managed to distance myself from him to the extent that we only ever spoke in passing. It was, I know; a disappointment to my aunty Joan and remarkably she and James remained friends even though I had made it plain that he and I were so dissimilar that we might have been born on different planets.

Our lives went their separate ways. James (predictably) went to college and on to university my aunty tried to keep me informed of how well he was doing I suppose she hoped that I might be inspired to further my ambitions and try to emulate him. In 1981, I got a part-time job working in a record shop, which then branched out into video rental. It was a crap job really but I felt safe working there and I got all my music and films for free. I continued to live with aunty Joan but in 1994 she fell ill and never really recovered I cooked her meals and looked after her as best I could until she finally died a couple of years ago. She left me the house and there was a bit of money and I was still working at the shop so I got by all right. I don’t have many friends. Well, actually I don’t have any friends apart from some older people I sit with in the George on Wednesday and Friday nights and in a way, perhaps because I didn’t wish for anything more or better, I was, on the whole, what you might call ‘happy’.

Then, a couple of months ago it happened. I was working an evening shift in the shop and, on hearing the little bell as the door opened, looked up to greet the customer and, well yes you’ve guessed it, there was James, tall, handsome and altogether happy, larger than life and grinning.

"Barry! Is it really you? After all this time, it really is you. How fantastic I’m so happy to see you." What could I do? I had to pretend I was happy to see him too when really I felt as though the world had dropped out from beneath my feet. My stomach churned, my heart began to race and I began to sweat uncontrollably. The old intense loathing, which I thought, through absence, had died away, returned instantly and I knew that if I did not act to defend myself that he, James, would take what little contentment I had acquired in my life.

I wasn’t wrong. He couldn’t just be satisfied with seeing me briefly and then going on his way. Oh no, not James. For him this was fate, this was a second chance, an opportunity to resurrect something that, as far as I was concerned, had died a long time ago and that exhumation of it would only reveal a putrid, stinking corpse. He couldn’t let it lie. Over the following days and weeks, he forced his way back into my life or rather; he somehow managed to make me apart of his life. I was under siege, trapped like the Moon by the power of the Earth. I became his satellite almost over night and I joined all the other little Moons that circled about him all of us captured by his force, unable to break free.

Well, I had other plans. A couple of days ago he phoned me at the shop and said that his wife, Angie wanted to meet me, as did Zoe, his teenage daughter, so would I like to come to their house for a meal? I could have refused but I found myself strangely intrigued and so agreed that he should pick me up in his car at 7:00 yesterday evening. As we drove out into the suburbs I asked him if he remembered the film we’d been shown when we were kids. He did and he told me (just as I’d expected) that the film had inspired him to embrace the future and to help make the world a better place.

"That’s why I got into business and public relations Barry. For years now I’ve been working to spread the message that business shouldn’t just be about making money, it should be about making people happy as well." Of course, why hadn’t I thought of that. I didn’t look at him but I knew he was beaming all over his face, freak that he is.

The meal was all that I had expected beautifully cooked and presented by the dutiful and doting Angie. Zoe was pretty and well adjusted with just enough of an attitude problem to make her a relatively normal teenager. The best thing about the evening was that by the end of it I knew exactly how I was going to get James out of my life and how to reclaim my own meagre store of happiness.

That’s why I’m here now watching from the shadows. I knew that he always takes the train to work and I’ve been waiting for him to come home. I’ve got a great view of his front door and he’s just got his keys out but now he’s started chatting to his neighbour and they’re both having a good laugh over some bloody neighbourhood nonsense. Well, he won’t be laughing in a minute, oh shit no; he’ll be screaming his fucking head off.

I called round at lunchtime. Angie had inadvertently let me know that she would be there all day, decorating actually. Well I did some decorating of my own after she’d answered the door. I don’t think she knew who I was at first and when I reminded her she smiled and laughed and invited me in for coffee but I could tell she didn’t want me there. That’s fair enough, I can understand that, I’m not the most likeable of people I’d be the first to admit it. Still, she might have remembered my name. Stuck up bitch.

I shut the door behind me grabbed her hair and slashed her throat with the knife I’d bought from home. It’s a sharp knife and it sliced through her in one quick move. She didn’t make much noise but fuck, there was a lot of blood, it spurted all up the wall and I felt pretty sick at the sight of it.

I was just about to leave when I realised there was music playing upstairs so up I went, following the sound of some band I couldn’t place, which annoyed me because in my job I have to keep up with all the latest bands. When I reached her bedroom door I had to knock quite loudly before she stomped across the room and flung it open. No doubt, she expected to see her mum so you can imagine the confused look on her face when she saw me standing there with a bloody carving knife in my hand. At least she remembered my name, which she just managed to utter as a question before the knife flew up to cut her throat… I felt bad about it. Especially Zoe. After all it wasn’t her fault. No one can choose their father can they?

I can hear the sirens coming closer. The flashing lights are turning the branches of the trees blue and there he is, he’s come out to greet them but he’s not smiling now. He’s got a look on his face that’s almost indescribable. Its how I imagined my face must have looked when I saw him come into the shop, a look of utter disbelief as though whatever it is just can’t really be happening.

The police are there now. I’m in two minds. Should I sneak away and let them take him in for questioning because lets face it, the husband is always the prime suspect. Or should I go over there now and give myself up while he’s still there because then I’ll be able to see his face when it dawns on him that I did it, that I finally got my revenge and took away his happiness. I want to ask him: ‘how does it feel? How does it feel James?

I step out from behind the bushes. I’m smiling. I just can’t help it. He’s seen me and he’s seen the knife… He knows I’m happy now.
© Graham Attenborough Feb 2006
Graham teaches history at the University of Portsmouth and is studying for his Masters in Creative Writing

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