Norman Allan
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Short Stories






a short story by

Norman Allan ©


Martin has come to the seance as a skeptic. Really, he is just fascinated with Maggie. He thinks she is very pretty, in a masculine way, and he finds her very, very sexy. For the girls, Maggie and her flat-mates, the seances is a game, an amusement, though for Annie it will soon become more serious.

On the table, near the middle of the room, pieces of cardboard have been arranged in a circle as a Ouija board, numbers and letters and a "yes" and "no" . There’s a small inverted glass tumbler in the middle of the circle which acts as an indicator to channel the spirits. Martin and the three girls have their fingers on the tumbler, the indicator, as it flits among the letters. Martin wonders if he is part of the "medium". Peter, Martin’s friend, records the letters as Jenny calls them out. "I, W, O, R, R, Y, 4, U, R, M, O, H, E, R," recites Jenny.

Jenny is a pretty, a sparkling girl. She’s a hippy. It’s 1969. Hippy is a la mode. Maggie will pass for a hippy too. Her hair is long and dark. Annie, the third flat-mate, is homelier. "A northern lass, without much class," Maggie might say to be cruel.

The room is candle lit. It is a basement apartment. The walls are flickering shadows. There are mirrors on the walls. The girls have hung them to watch their hair glow. There is also psychedelia: Fillmore Hall postures, red green op art flashing. The furniture is cheap - junk shops rather than antique shops - the futon, though, is new.

Peter reads, "I worry for your mother." Peter, the fifth member of the party, is twenty three, relatively "straight" to look at, but his flexible mind shows on his face. He does not cut an exciting figure. He’s serious and, in a quiet way, he’s efficient with everything he does. He jots down his notes with a precise hand.

The tumbler hesitates, then rushes between the letters. "A, R, I, N, G, Q," Jenny calls. The indicator then pauses before bouncing back and forth between the A and Q, gravitating towards and circling the letter Q. (A, Q, R, A, Q, A, Q, Q, Q.)

Annie is stricken, ashen. Agitated, she gets up from the table. "I must go a ring Da. Excuse me." She grabs her scarf and bag and leaves.

"It is iver ever over now," Peter reads. "I worry for "you-are" mother. "A" ring Q. A Q." Jenny explains that Anne’s father is in hospital. "Heart attack. She thinks he’s dying. It’s a Queensbury number."

"Not the best time to be dabbling with the occult," says Martin.

"Au contraire," says Maggie. "It’s the most perspicuous time to tap psychic energies." There is a tinge of hostility there.

Martin dodges her stare. "Do you think the three of us are enough to keep the tumbler turning?"

"We can but try," Maggie darts. They reach out for the tumbler. Martin, as before, stretches out with his right arm. He groans. "Ooh! Man, this is a strain."

"Only ‘cause you’re tense," says Jenny.

Martin stretches his neck and shoulder, raising his shoulder, bending his head into the pain. "In the neck, as it were. I’ve been switching arms all evening. I wonder if my left hand knows what my right hand’s been saying?" He smiles. He’s almost pleased with himself. He shakes and flexes his right arm and shoulder and switches to his left hand.

During this performance of Martin’s, Jenny and Peter evince no interest, but Maggie is "bugged".

They prepare to start again. Jenny asks the ethers, "Is there anybody there?"

The tumble moves to "yes".

"Do you have a message for us?" The tumbler flies back and forth between A and Z. "A, Z, A, Z, A, Z," Jenny recites.

It stops.

Alpha and Omega," pronounces Martin. "The beginning and the end. EverythIng and nothing." This engenders a pause. Peter scans back through his notes. "Looks like everyone’s had a message, except Martin."

"I’m happy," says Martin.

"Oh, no," says Maggie. "We must have something special for Martin." In a theatrical voice she addresses the airs. "Spirits! Spirits! Ghouls and giests, could we please have a message for Martinkipooh."

The tumbler starts to move. Jenny, Martin, Maggie have their fingers on the glass: however, this time it appears to Martin that Maggie is blatantly, consciously, pushing the tumbler.

Jenny calls out, "D R O P D E A…"

"Drop dead," says Martin blandly. With some resentment he accuses Maggie, "You pushed it."

"The spirit moved me," she says like ice. Jenny jumps to her feet. "Coffee?"

Later in the evening. The sitting-room doubles as Maggie’s bedroom at one end, her futon spread on the floor. At the other end of the room there is a thorough-fare to the kitchen from the rest of the flat, the basement apartment that Maggie shares with Jenny and Annie. The room now is lit, side-lit by table lamps and a floor lamp. Maggie’s bed is at the south end of the room. Maggie and Martin are sitting on the bed. Martin is twenty four years old, a graduate student. He is a tall lad, good looking, long hair. He could have been a very impressive figure, but he lacks the confidence.

At the table, at the north end of the room, Peter and Jenny are comforting Annie. Annie is distressed. Between the table and the bed there is a sofa and an armchair. And the stereo. The music on the stereo is the Beach Boys’ "Holland". One of "the hundred inevitables," Maggie would say. "Sail on sail on sailor," sing the Beach Boys. "The album is hauntingly out of character for the Beach Boys," Martin would say. "It’s blithe."

"Maggie, love?" asks Martin.

Maggie answers archly. "Martin, darling,"

"Do you still want to trip on Tuesday?"

Maggie is irritated. "Today is Friday. Tomorrow’s Saturday. Sunday follows that. Then comes Monday. Come round Tuesday, if you like. We’ll see how we feel. I can’t give you more then that. You’ll just have to wait and see."


Another day: Martin sits in a plush leather chair in his father office, waiting. For Martin the office presents some contradictions. It has a spacious old world authority, and an authoritarian claustrophobia. Martin watches the sunlight through the high narrow windows as they light the dust motes. He always finds this creates an experience of "presence" if he’s present enough to experience it. "Be here," tells himself. It’s his mantras for the week.

His father, Dr. Howard, is a leading Thoracic Surgeon at a London teaching hospital. Martin Howard, the son has come up from Brighton where he lives, where he is working on his Ph.D. (Well, it’s a D. Phil. at Sussex. Sussex is modeled on Oxford so it’s a D.Phil. not a Ph.D.) Martin’s doctoral thesis is in psychology; medicines poor cousin.

Martin has taken the train up from Brighton, taken tea in the Pullman car, one of the little luxuries Amy’s working as a teacher affords him beyond his graduate’s grant. Amy is Martin’s wife. Maggie is his mistress. Martin is modeling on his father, Professor Julian Howard. Julian is a larger than life figure. Friend of royalty, TV personality, authority on all things medical. Womanizer, though now with "trophy wife".

The door handle turns. The door is set ajar. Professor Howard voice comes through the door. "No. You can make your incision very low at the side, here… and come up to it from underneath. I’ll try to sit in."

"Thank you, Sir," says a voice.

"Let my secretary know when and where you’re operating." Professor Howard enters his office. He is tall, white haired, suave. "Oh, hello, Martin. And what brings you to our great grey Metropolis?"

"I had some research to do at the British Museum, so, as I was just round the corner, I thought I’d honour my father."

"Well, I’m very pleased you did. We don’t see enough of you nowadays… Have you seen your mother? She’s phoned me twice this week, you know, to ask if I know how you’re getting on." Professor Howard sorts through the papers on his desk. His attention is split, not fully with his son. "You know, Martin, it really wouldn’t hurt you to phone her now and then. She worries about you. Phone her up, oh, say once a week, and just tell her ‘everything’s going fine’. That way she’ll leave us alone."

Martin grins. He does not expect any real communication with his father, but he is enjoying the show. The good Doctor, abstracted, continues. "I wish you wouldn’t provide her with an excuse to keep pestering me. You phone her. I pay a very handsome alimony to keep her out of my hair."

"Well, son," says the Doctor in a "that’s that" voice, confident that these matters are settled, and we all agree, so now let’s change the subject. "How’s your Ph.D. thesis progressing? I still wish you’d taken a medical degree. It’s not too late… Hmm. You and Amy must come up soon and spend and evening with Angela and I. Angela’s often asking after you. We could go out to the theatre. Oh, I forgot. You don’t like the theatre. And you don’t have a television. What do you and Amy do with yourselves for amusement?"


Brighton sleeps. Martin is awake. He sits up in his bedroom, in his bed, writing intently in a small notebook. He glances down at his side at his wife, who is sleeping beside him. Amy is twenty seven with a pretty and interesting face. "Your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm," thinks Martin, quoting Leonard Cohen’s then current album. Another of "the hundred inevitable" as Maggie would say. Martin focuses back on his writing and reads to himself softly, aloud, this evening’s poem. It’s about Maggie, his obsession. "First I free you. Then I tighten the rope and strangle an image of you, freeze an image, a form, fixed form, formless; embodiment of my body want, formless. Ice melting into damp, heat flaring into screaming, leaving me unwarmed, unchanged, unmoved - damp, fearful, small, but unquenched, with winter’s wants and winter’s words set to begin the same again before the early dusk brings the same dark."

Martin is pleased with his poem and so, though he feels dark, he is also grimly pleased with himself, again. Smug.

"What’s it mean?" he whispers. He lies back and closes his eyes. He drifts into reverie. He sees Maggie’s face approaching him. She’s cackling like a witch. She draws near. Her laughter becomes less and less devilish, becomes neutral, neither malicious nor merry.

Behind Maggie there is an open doorway. It leads into a church. A large empty space. It’s a barn of a church, very dim. Martin walks slowly over to the pulpit in a trice, and begins to recite. "Before time began I lay and dreamt…" In front of Martin, in his dream, there is an altar with a casket. Candles around it. Martin sees himself laid out in a coffin. Amy, his wife, Maggie, his mistress, his father, Professor Howard stand over the coffin, mourning. Behind them a veiled woman stands in the shadows.

"I don’t like the look of this," thinks Martin. The body in the casket, the corpse Martin, rises in its shroud. It walks towards Martin. Walks through Martin. Martin’s dream reverie segues to…

Martin, in Renascence dress, lying under a willow tree by a stream. He mouths a blade of grass and recites, "Before time began I lay and dreamt, off all the conquest, all the glory…" Maggie rises from the river, a water nymph, dressed only in a towel, and with a towel round her head. Dream Martin continues his recitation, "… all the wonder of the world, and woke…"
Maggie is in front of a doorway. She is laughing again. Her laughter starts neutral, as before, but quickly evolves into a enchanting child-like giggle.
"…and woke to find…"
Maggie turns and walks through the doorway, swinging the door closed behind her, but before it quite closes, it’s closing again, it’s closing again, as Martin completes his recitation…
"… the ever closing door."

Martin dreams that he is awake looking out of the living-room window onto Palmeira Square. He is watching himself. Palmeira Square is a pseudo-Georgian (Victorian) "square" in Brighton landscaped down to the sea. Grand. Old.

Martin and Amy are waking in the square, in the park, hand in hand. Amy says, "Your mother called."

Martin wakes with a start. His eyes are large. His heart is racing. He can almost hear it, his heart. He can certainly feel it. He stares at the ceiling. Then he gets out of bed, naked. (He does not wear pajamas.) He goes to the kitchen. Prepares a bowl of meusli. He walks through to the living-room, looks on the darkened square munching his meusli.

He hears the clink of a milk float. He hears the dawn chorus - sparrows chattering, starling shrieking. Otherwise it is very quiet. Martin feels quiet alone. He sighs and recites, "And woke to find the ever closing door."


Martin and Amy are walking in the park outside their Palmeira Square flat. They walk hand in hand. Martin fingers Amy’s wedding ring. Feels its round unfaceted emerald. It’s a wide silver band. "My marriage band. A cheap but beautiful antique. My marriage vows. Amo, amas, amat…" His mind is far away… from everything. Amy’s voice interrupts… "Your mother called."

Martin’s face briefly registers surprise and shock. This is "deja vu" of his recent dream and he’s not sure, for a moment, whether he’s awake or asleep. He lets go of Amy’s hand and puts his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. He frowns. The square frowns back.

Amy repeats, "Your mother phoned."

Martin collects himself and answers glibly, "She asked the usual. You told her the usual. You said I was fine." They walk on in silence. Amy bends down and picks up a leaf. She looks at it as they walk along. She holds it out for Martin. He shows no sign of noticing or responding to the gesture. Amy is disappointed. "Are you fine?" she asks. Martin stops. "I’m confused. I have been tangled in an obsession with Maggie. It’s over. I’ll be fine next week. That’s a promise." He reaches out for, and takes, her hands. "Just indulge me for a few more days. I know you’re impatient." He moves closer to her. "But I also know that everything’s going to work out fine." He whirls Amy around, "because you, little lady, are my guardian angel."

They both smile briefly. Martin is very proud that he can talk about these things. None the less, his smile is sheepish. Amy’s smile is long-suffering. "Don’t count on it," she says.

They pass a young couple billing and cooing on a park bench. Martin and Amy feel the contrast - they can’t miss it - between the couple’s hope and enthusiasm and Martin’s sad contortions. They walk on, no longer hand in hand. They come to a spot where one of the tall trees in the square has been cut down and sawn into logs. "Look. Isn’t that sad?" says Amy.

Martin kneels to study one of the logs. "Yeah. Look at the colours on the bark! They’re fantastic?" Vivid greens and purples on contrasting greys and blacks. "I’d like to take one home."

"Why?" asks Amy.

"I don’t know. I just fancy it." Martin fancies of himself as a lumberjack chopping at some tall pine tree - though these logs are sycamore. In his fantasy he is lugging his pine tree, a Christmas tree, home through the snow. "Why?" he repeats. "To preserve it a while. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a wooden attempt at eccentricity." "A wooden pun," thinks Martin. The grey bark of the sycamore flakes off in a circular patterning. "I’ll pick it up on the way home," he concludes.

Martin and Amy amble down to the beach. They look out at the grey sea and sky. It’s a pebble beach. The surf’s undertow rattles and roars rhythmically. Martin points upward, away from the noise, with his left hand. "Look there!" Overhead a large flock of ducks is flying in several small "v"ed groups. Martin keeps pointing skyward. "The ducks are writing patterns in the sky," he thinks. "Nature is writing secrets everywhere." He opens his hand and with his arm still extended he makes an expansive, inclusive gesture to accompany his "everywhere." Suddenly he is stricken. Obviously in great pain, he drops his left arm, grabs at his left pectoral muscles (with his right-hand) and collapses his shoulders forward.

"What’s wrong?" asks Amy. "What is it?"

Martin is in considerable, but diminishing pain, yet has difficulty speaking. " Oh, man. I’ve got this sudden… burning… pain in my chest and shoulder… I think we’d better start back."

They walk briskly back towards home, as briskly as they can with Martin drooping and favouring his shoulders. They pass by the log Martin has coveted earlier. "Later," he thinks. "Shit," he lisps.


Martin is in the sitting room. He is doing a sort of Indian war-dance with little skipping steps, gesturing with his right hand to ward off the evil eye. His left arm hangs limp. Amy comes into the sitting room and looks on with good humoured amazement.

"What on earth are you doing?"

Martin is in a good humour too. He does not take himself seriously. "Someone’s trying to put a curse on me. I’m fighting it."


Martin puts his hand to his mouth and whispers, "People." The phone rings. Martin is startled. He redoubles his war-dance as Amy goes off to the phone.

Martin puts a record on the stereo. The Rolling Stones "Between the Buttons". "Another of the hundred inevitable," thinks Martin. He dances crazy awhile. A puzzled expression arrives on his face. He walks up the corridor to the bathroom. Amy is just getting into the bath. Martin peeks his head round the door. "Who was that on the phone?"

"It was for me."

Martin goes back into his shuffling, skipping war-dance as he enters the bathroom. "It’s working," he says.

"Wow!" says Amy. "You really are scared of your mother. Do you think she rides a broom stick…"

"Yes, and she’ll sweep down the phone line, pop out of the receiver…" Martin makes a sort of breast-stroke emerging, leafing-through-the-undergrowth gesture and then shakes his fist in his own face. "…pop out of the receiver and clean me up."

"What are you frightened of?"

"It’s not that I’m scared. It’s just she’s always getting at me." Martin runs the hot water into the basin to shave, and continues, "Subtly putting me down. ‘When are you going to get your hair cut?’ Mind you, there’s nothing subtle about that." He splashes water onto his face. "Yes, I am scared of her. I do think she’s a witch. She’s still got cuttings of my baby hair!" Then he turns to Amy in the middle of lathering his face. "I wish you wouldn’t see her."

"Look," says Amy, "she’s his monster. She’s your mumster. She’s not my monster. She’s got no-one. Someone’s got to see her."

"Poor little old lady," says Martin.

"She’s you mother."

"When I grew up, I left home." Martin starts to shave. He raises his left hand to manipulate his cheek, but he finds that he cannot raise it higher then shoulder height. "I can’t raise my arm."

The telephone rings down the hall. "Could you answer it?" asks Martin.

"I just got into the bath! What! Are you that paralyzed ?"

"It’s not paralysis. It’s principle."

Amy gives an exasperated sigh and gets up and out of the bathtub. Martin continues shaving. After he has finished and rinsed his face, he walks down the hallway wiping his face with a towel. Amy, in a towel, is on her way back to the bath. "It was your father," she says in passing. "He asked me to remind you to phone your mother."

Later the same evening, Amy is in the kitchen chopping vegetables. Martin has just nipped out for a minute - no, he didn’t phone Maggie - he nipped over to the Off License to get some beer. Now he’s back, closing the front door behind him, walking up to the kitchen carrying a couple of brown quart bottles. He arrives in the kitchen, grunts, and goes over to the stove. He picks up the wooden spoon to sample Amy’s vegetable stew. "Il et ya besoin du plus de garlic!" he says with a rather pseudo French accent.

"Your mother phoned again," Amy segues casually.

"Ho ho, she’s persistent. What’d she want?"

Amy screws up her brow in mock concentration. "Let’s see. ‘How are you? How’s my son? Are you feeding him properly? Is he getting enough protein?’ "

"Yeah. She distrusts vegetarians more than homosexuals."

" ‘Did he get the sweater I sent?’ You really should have thanked her."

Martin snorts, "Mmf!" Amy continues, "Oh, yes, and she invited me to the Swedish Bazaar next week."

"You’re not going with her, surely?"

"Well, I think I might. I can pick up a lot of useful Christmas presents. We get on well together, your mother and I."

Martin winces. Now he sits down on the floor in the corner. This action accompanies and, to some extent masks, his next words. "Do you think she really likes you?"

"Pardon," Amy asks.

"I said, ‘Do you think that she really likes you?’ "

"She’s nice to me. That’s usually an indication."

"She sees you to get to me!"

There’s a pause. Then Amy asks, "Martin?"


"Do you like me?"

"I know it’s hard to believe the way I’ve been carrying on of late, but at the deepest most profound levels I really truly love you. We’ll grow into each other."

Amy throws the last of the veggies into the casserole. "That explains it."


"Why it’s at the surface, most superficial levels that it hurts."

The electric kettle has started to boil. Amy fills a large saucepan from the kettle and brings it over to the stove where she stands holding it. It is heavy. "Could you move the casserole onto the back ring for me?" she asks.

Martin gets up and comes over to the stove. He moves the casserole using his right hand only, favouring his left, and this proves awkward. Eventually Amy gets to put down the saucepan. "You’re like Humpty Dumpty fretting over his fall," she says. "Don’t you think you’d better see a doctor?" Amy opens a packet of spaghetti, puts the pasta into the water, and stirs.

"Yes," says Martin. "I will. I’ll see Dr. Griffin tomorrow. But I’m sure it’s only a strained muscle, so I’m a bit apprehensive about taking it to Griffin." Martin sits again on the floor in the corner. "Remember last spring when I had that lump in my ear. They’re always telling you how a lump can be cancer and there’s only hope if they catch it soon enough. So I went along to the clinic and the Sister said it was only a sebaceous cyst. So, I said, ‘thank you’, but she said, ‘if you’re at all worried you can see the doctor’, and I said, ‘no, that’s alright, not to bother’, but she went on insisting. Anyway, I thought, if I’m going to bother the doctor about the cyst, I might as well ask him about the other little medical matters on my mind, like that patch of dead skin on my foot, one inch in the grave, and the grunge between my toes which isn’t quite Athlete’s Foot, me not being an Athlete, and Griffin says to me, ‘What is far more interesting than these symptoms, is why you bring them to me.’ I didn’t bring them for your entertainment. I brought them because the bloody nurse insisted, you silly old fart!"

Martin gets up and Amy says, "You told that very well, but enjoyed it more when it was current. I guess it’s the novelty."

"Oh, did I tell you all that before? I didn’t remember…"

Amy hugs him, with genuine affection. Martin is a little baffled, and remains remote. He starts feeling his chest. "I’ll ask Dr. Griffin about my heart, too. It feels a bit funny. Must be linked with the shoulder strain. I hope it doesn’t stop me tripping with Maggie on Tuesday. You know I told her I’d "trip-guide" her. I want to get that one out of the way. Free myself from her. Resolve things. Once and for all."

Amy heaves a resigned sigh.


Martin is stripped to the waist. Dr. Griffin is examining his shoulder. Dr. Griffin is small, slim, distinguished looking and gentle spoken. Martin, is in a light mood. He is flexing his shoulder, and he comments, "Then I shouldn’t play squish…" It’s a genuine slip of the tongue. He corrects himself, "Squash?"

"No squish or squash," says Dr. Griffin. "No heavy lifting. There’s no need for medication, but be sure you rest it for a few days."

Martin continues with a further inquiry in a hesitant manner. "There’s something else I wanted to mention. Since I strained the shoulder I’ve been strangely aware of my heart. It feels… different, sort of as if it were beating against the chest wall."

"I’d better have a listen," says Dr. Griffin. He picks up his stethoscope. "I hope this isn’t too cold. There." The doctor auscultates for a short while and then reassures Martin, "No, there’s nothing wrong there. You’re sound as a bell."

Martin starts to dress. "Yeah," he says. "It’s just I’ve been aware of it almost continually. Strange? Still, if you say there’s nothing to worry about… Mmm… is there any contraindication for cardiac stimulants?"

"Which stimulants?!"

"Oh, caffeine, nicotine. The usual."

"Here is always a contraindication for nicotine," says Griffin "but no." The doctor goes over to his desk. "The heart is actually a very robust organ. It can sustain a great deal of exertion. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t survive as a species." The doctor glances through Martin's file as he speaks. "The heart can maintain a rate of a hundred and eighty beats, two hundred beats a minute for several days and it would be none the worse. In someone of your age there’s absolutely no cause for concern. Heart disease is still a disease of old age. Put it out of your mind."

Martin prepares to leave. "Well, thank you for your reassurance. Sorry to have troubled you."

Dr. Griffin looks up from Martin’s file. "You seem to have a rather undue concern about your health. A degree of hypochondria. Perhaps you might like to arrange an appointment to discuss this problem?"

"Well, I’ll think about it," says Martin, opening the door. "Thank you."


Martin’s friend Peter’s has a small cubbyhole of a laboratory-come-office in the Biology building. No windows. Peter is projecting a film onto his white walls, a film of microbes bumping together, having "sex" or the microbial equivalent thereof: an exchange of genetic material. Peter jots down the occasional note in the lab book on his lap. He takes his work seriously. This is the dawn of genetic engineering.

There is a knock at the door. "Come in," says Peter. Martin enters. "Oh, hello," says Peter. "Here, have you ever seen bugs making it? That’s what you’re watching. ‘Conjugation’, we call it." Peter is a much more stable personality than his friend Martin but he can’t help but envy what he thinks is Martin’s "flair".

Martin musters some enthusiasm. "It looks fascinating. Yeah!" He pauses. "Peter, I won’t be able to pay squash this afternoon."


"I’ve strained my shoulder. It must have been the Ouija: holding my arm up for hours." Martin gestures with his right arm, weakly. "Dr. Griffin prescribes rest and psychotherapy." Peter rewards him with a chuckle. Martin continues, "I’ve got a curious heart symptom, too. I’m strangely aware of each beat."

"Well, that does sound psycho. Perhaps it’s to tell you that you’re in imminent danger of losing your heart altogether. You stand on the brink of heartbreak, Martin." Peter regards his friend quizzically. "You really are quite heartless."

"Me? Heartless?"

"I don’t know why you protest. If I were Amy I’d have put you out to pasture long ago and found myself something with a seasoning of love and care." During this speech it is Martin, now, who studies Peter with suspicion. "Mmm," says Martin. "No, Peter, I’m not heartless. I’m just powerless and confused. Hopeless, maybe. Ever since I trip-guided Maggie two months ago, I’ve been obsessed with her. I’ve got to work it out: work it through. Oh, that trip was so fantastic. ‘Contact high’, I guess. Perfect communion. She’s so beautiful, and so alone." Peter is disturbed listening to these things and gives his attention to the film. The film runs out, flutters, stutters and, for these moments, the projected square on the wall is a flickering white.

Martin notices that he has inadvertently upset his friend. He tries to soothe him. "There was nothing sexual about it, Peter. It’s a head thing."

Peter switches the projector off and the lights on. "You had a ‘scene’ with her last spring, though, didn’t you?"

"Yes. Then we were lovers. But it wasn’t until she gave me up in the summer that I became fond of her. And then that trip, I fell in love… Shades of Carmen. Bad Karma, I know."

Peter changes the subject. "And how’s your work coming along?"

"By degrees. ‘The Patient’s Conception of Schizophrenia’, a complete madman’s guide to insanity. When I started it seemed straight forward. Basically, you know, I was trying to develop the Laingian thesis that the schizophrenic is acting out a role given to him by his family. But the patients are all so confused. Most of them are drugged that madness is chemical, and of course chemistry is involved. Or they think it’s congenital, sort of willed upon them by the new divinity of their spiraling DNA. Oh. A few of them perceive how their destruction is willed upon them in the actual in-fighting of family politics; the Hamlet thesis I’m trying to develop. But mostly, they won’t cooperate." Martin smiles. "They’re confused, and I’m getting confused too. ‘Contact confusion’… No, the more I pursue my theories, the more they recede. All the connections keep breaking down, and I don’t know where I am at all: not with my work and not with my women." Towards the end of his monologue Martin becomes uncomfortable and breaks into a "soft shoe routine". Then, feebly, he mimes a tennis stroke. "I can’t play tennis. Anyone for lunch."

"Sure. I’ll just tidy up."

Peter quickly straightens his domain. Martin watches Peter, stares at him. As Peter passes near to him to reach the door, Martin reaches his right arm to Peter’s shoulder, arresting him. Peter turns. Martin drops his arm to say, "You know, Peter. You don’t fool me."

"What do you mean by that?" They are face to face.

"You’re after Amy. You wanted Maggie and you couldn’t have her, and now you’re making a play for Amy."

"Don’t be ridiculous."

"You’ll never find yourself," says Martin, "following me."


Across the road from the University, across the highway, is Falmer Station. A rustic little station. Maggie is walking towards the low brick building. The colour of the bricks a mix of grey and yellow. Black slate roof.

Martin has been running to catch up with her and is out of breath as he reaches her with an "Hello there." "Oh, hello," she says without enthusiasm. They hurry along the near side platform and across the foot bridge to the far platform. The Brighton train is coming.

"How are you?" asks Martin as they bustle along.

"About the same."

The train slows to a stop.

"How was your day?" asks Martin.

"About the same."

Martin opens a carriage door. He and Maggie board the train. Martin swings the door shut behind them. It closes with a clunk. "How’s Anne’s father?" he asks.

The train starts jerking Maggie forwards. "About the same," she answers.

Countryside and suburbia burn past the window. "He’s not dead then?"

"No. He’s about the same."

Martin studies Maggie’s face. "And Jenny?" he asks.

Maggie is exasperated. "She’s fine. Just fine."

"Has anything changed?"

"No. Everything’s just about the same."

"And tomorrow?"

"What about tomorrow," Maggie asks.

"Do you want to trip?"

"About the same."


"Meaning ‘we’ll see’ ".

The train rickety clatters into town. Martin and Maggie are silent. There is a long brickwork viaduct curving into the station. It affords the passengers a panorama of the urban landscape, but Martin watches the floor.

The train rattles into the station with its grimy glass roof, and to a stop. Maggie and Martin join the crowd walking up the platform to the ticket collector’s barrier. Martin hands in his ticket. Maggie stops and offers the ticket collector a five pound note. "Fourteen pence, please," she states.

The ticket collector speaks with a working-class argot: "‘Ere, I ain’t got that kinda change. How d’ja think you are?"

Maggie looks at him, dismisses him, and starts to walk away.

"’Ere, you! Come back ‘ere!" The ticket collector takes a few quick strides after Maggie, apprehends her, laying hold of her shoulder.

"Take your hands off me, you great British oaf!" Maggie brushes off his hand with her hand and with the power of her disdain. But the Ticket Collector knows his due and his job. "You can’t ride the train without a ticket," he says. "What you think you’re playing at?"

With a sneer Maggie offers him the fiver again.

The Ticket Collector is getting angry. He counters with a, "Don’t you get funny with me. You wait right there. I’ll deal with you in a…"

"If you’ll excuse me, constable, I’m in rather a hurry." She starts to walk off again.

The Ticket Collector loses his cool. Becomes nasty. "Bloody hippy! Little tramp!" He starts to pursue her.

Martin intervenes. "There’s no need…" he begins.

"Dirty little tart!" the Ticket Collector spits, actually spits after her. He makes to push past Martin.

Martin spits in his face.

Both men are shocked and taken aback at this. Martin collects his wits and says mildly, "There’s no cause to insult the young lady."

The Ticket Collector square himself to fight. Martin does likewise. The Ticket Collector is daunted and backs off. Then, turning to run, he shouts for assistance. ""Ere Fred! Agro." Martin himself turns and runs after Maggie. Together they flee the station, cross the fore-court and without stopping, but with some caution, they run across the road and up the street. Up a steep hill and round a corner.

They are not being pursued. They slow down. Maggie is elated. She is skipping and hopping in childish delight. Martin, in contrast, is frightened and perturbed. "Buur," he shivers. "That really put the wind up me."

"What? That nice little man?"

"He spat at you and I spat in his face."

"Sir Gallahad."

"All that violence," says Martin as though in shock.

"Perhaps you’re a violent man, Martin."

"Oh, everyone’s capable of aggression, but you pushed the buttons, and you revel in it." Maggie shrugs her shoulders. "You frighten me, Maggie."

"Fuck off then," she says lightly.

"I can’t. A moth to a flame. I want you."

"So, what am I supposed to do?" asks Maggie. They walk on in silence. Then Maggie says, "You know, Martin, you don’t really like me, either."

Martin is stunned. In his heart he believes what she has just said, but still he is busily rejecting it. "I love this women. Well, fuck it, anyway: I want this women."


It’s evening of Martin’s Ticket Collector encounter. He opens the door to the long hallway of his Palmeira Square apartment. Amy is coming down the hall to greet him cheerfully.

"Hello. You’re late."

"Yep. I got lost again."

Amy embraces and kisses Martin. She is in apparently great spirits. "Dinner’s ready, and not yet cold. Cheese flan, onions and hiziki, and avocado salad." They start back up the hall. "Guess who phoned."

Martin stops and puts his hand to his heart. "Oh… Was she drunk?"

"I couldn’t tell. The phone had hiccups."

"What did she want?"

"Oh, just to chat… ‘How are you.’ She’s lonely."

"What did you chat about?"

"Oh, this and that. Of course I mentioned that you’d strained your shoulder and so couldn’t write your thesis at the moment, but I…"

"I asked you not to tell her anything about me!"

"Martin. I was joking. What’s wrong with you?"

"I don’t know."

"She can’t hurt you."

"I don’t know."

Martin and Amy sit at the kitchen table. Martin sits listlessly kneading his shoulder. He has hardly touched his food. Now he perks up. "I’m still the master of fate," he says. "I’m just taking a few days off." He ponders. Wrinkles his brow. "Why don’t you go out? Go see that film you wanted us to go to. My horoscope says I’ll be excellent company next week. Hold on." Martin sinks again into his despondency. He plays absently with his food.

Amy reaches breaking point. She drops her cutlery onto her plate. "I can’t bear it anymore. I can’t bear it." She gets up, agitatedly. "Yes! I’m going out!" She walks huffily down the hall. Martin just sits there. The front door slams. Martin closes his eyes. Eyes closed, he sees the ever closing door. This time it is Amy who is swinging it closed.


St. Anne’s Well Gardens, a park in Brighton, a sunny morning. Martin walks through the playground. He is relaxed, even happy. He is carrying a shopping bag which he holds now to his chest. He passes a mother pulling her child along by the arm out of the sand-pit. The mother’s voice is strident. "You do as I say!" she shouts. The child is crying. But there are happier children in the park too, on swings, on slides, on the roundabout.

Martin walks on.

Maggie’s room is in morning disarray when the doorbell rings. She gets out of bed dressed in tee-shirt and panties. She walks down the corridor to open the door to Martin. Meeting, they almost embrace, but she’s too ambivalent, standoffish. Martin ends up pecking her on the cheek. The shopping bag hangs from his left hand. Maggie asks what’s in it.

"Some goodies for the trip," Martin answers. "Are we tripping?" They start back down the corridor.

"We’ll see how we feel," says Maggie. "Either way, I’ve got to clean the flat up first." The floor of Maggie’s room, the sitting room, is littered with dirty mugs and cups, the table with assorted dishes. Maggie opens the curtains. "Could you take the crockery through to the kitchen while I get dressed?"

There is a tray on the table. Martin collects the crockery from the table and the floor as Maggie is takes off her tee-shirt and puts on her blouse. She doesn’t wear a bra. Martin stops to watch. She keeps her back to him. Still facing away, she brushes her hair, and Martin continues his task.

Maggie joins Martin in tidying the room. She starts by setting things straight while Martin makes the bed. The stereo is playing the Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’. "She came in through the bathroom window Protected by a silver spoon…" Martin picks up Maggie’s tee-shirt off the bed he is making. He looks around to see that she is not watching and buries his face in the tee-shirt before tucking it under the pillow.

Cycling through the hundred inevitables, Jimy Hendrix sings "Foxy lady! I’m coming to get you!" as Martin finishes vacuuming. Maggie is in the kitchen washing the dishes. Martin walks through to the kitchen. He goes over to Maggie at the sink and embraces her from behind. For a moment she responds, bending her head back against him. Then she squirms free. She hands him the washing-up brush. "Here. You finish," she says. She goes to fetch the broom and starts sweeping the floor while Martin finishes the dishes.

The sitting room, Maggie’s room, is neat and tidy. Maggie is putting on another record. Richie Havens. She drops the needle onto the last track with only a slight scratching. Martin grits his teeth as he comes in with a tray bearing a glass of water and two pills. He raises the tray towards Maggie; it’s a gesture of invitation and inquiry.

"Put it on the table," she says. Richie Havens sings, "Let the river rock you like a cradle. Climb to the tree tops, child, if you are able…" Maggie goes over to the mirror above the mantle. She picks up some mascara and starts making up her eyes. Meanwhile Martin puts the tray down on the table and goes to sit on the bed watching Maggie raptly.

Maggie, finishing, turns her attention to Martin. Through the mirror she watches him watching her. "Don’t look at me like that!"

Martin turns away, hunching up his nagging shoulder even further. But almost instantly he gets up and starts pacing. He starts to talk in a perturbed manner, without looking at Maggie. "That I can’t stand. That prohibition." He addresses Maggie directly. "My mother used to flaunt herself in front of me with that prohibition: ‘don’t look at me’."

"You’re staring, you’re staring, you’re staring at me. What do you want from me?"

"Maggie. I was only looking at you. Savouring you."

"Did you savour your mother?"

"No, good God. Not savour. Let God save her."

"Don’t talk like that!… Do I remind you of her?"

"Yes, and of my father, and you often look just like my sister. Most of all you remind me of me… That’s your attachment to me too, isn’t it? You see yourself in me."

"I didn’t know I had any attachment."

"So," says Martin, "I’m hoping I’ll be able to work out all my family involvements through you. You’re the whole world to me."

Maggie walks over to the table. She takes a tablet from the tray, and the glass. She holds up the glass to toast. "To the whole world," she says. She puts the pill in her mouth, drinks, and swallows. Maggie’s decision, and action, is abrupt, but Martin too takes his tab and the glass and toasts, "To light, life and love."

"Shhh!" Maggie cautions. "Desire is the devil’s whip."

They sit down on the floor opposite one another. Maggie lights a stick of incense and holds it staring into the smoke. Richie Havens is singing, "…don’t mind me cause I ain’t nothing but a dream." Martin is observing himself. Defining himself. He feels that he is distracted, and he feels that he is very focused. Too focused. He watches Maggie and the incense smoke rising round her. Martin judges that he is very ambivalent yet closed minded. Martin’s mind is so busy, so restless. He recites one of his poems to himself silently in his head, perhaps to silence the voices:

"Sister! Black sister, ride forth. I am your chariot. I kiss your spur, and it, and it, I kiss the Gorgon’s lair. I have followed to your deep realm, where I stroked and poked you, where I stoked you, or is that too much? Just what is ‘love’?"

Time flows. The music needs changing. Martin puts on the Rolling Stones, ‘Aftermath’, "Going Home". He’s putting the Creram’s ‘Goodbye’ album back into its sleeve and into its jacket. He kneels to do this beneath a poster of Indian deities coupling. He looks up at Maggie. "How long has it been."

"I don’t know," she says. "Maybe an hour."

"Are you getting anything off the acid?"

"Nope. Not even a paisley. What did you pay for the stuff?’

"A pound a hit."


Martin comes over and sits cross legged across from Maggie. They sit a while without speaking. Maggie asks the classic Zen Koan, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" She extends her arm and very slowly swings it round, slowly swings stopping an inch from Martin’s ear. She has his rapt attention. She rolls backwards, somersaults away from him, to end up kneeling. She shifts to recline on her elbow and asks quietly, "Daddy, where is here?"

Martin, lost in the dust motes, is suspended between the rush of his restless mind and… epiphany.

Maggie has put on some Indian music. The tabla is dancing. Martin has set out a bottle of wine and some wine glasses. He pulls from the carrier bag, like a rabbit from a hat, and arranges on a plate on the floor where Maggie is sitting, "Bagels… cream cheese… a taste, just a taste, of smoked salmon… cheese cake, the food kind… and a pineapple."

"Beautiful," says Maggie, slicing and spreading the bagels, while Martin opens the wine. "How’s Amy?" she asks.

"Oh, well enough. Still very efficient at everything. Still shy and insecure. Still very loyal. Still teaching school…" Martin pops the cork on the bottle and tells Maggie, as he starts to pore the wine, that he thinks that Amy is a bored with her job.

"What Amy needs," says Maggie, "is a man."

"Thank you," says Martin.

"A devoted man. Someone who gives a damn about her."

"I’ll give her your message," says Martin.

They clink their glasses together.

The stereo plays Country Joe and the Fish’s ‘Electric Music…’ - stoned mood music. "Hey, Partner, won’t you pass that reefer round. My head is spinning, yeah, can’t seem to touch the ground…" Martin feels far too sober. The floor is scattered with empty plates. Martin and Maggie sit on the floor in distant poses. Martin is staring out the window as he asks Maggie, "Are you getting anything from the acid?" Outside the window of the basement apartment there are trees, the bass of trees near by, the middles and tops of trees beyond. And there are birds singing.

"No," Maggie answers. "Not a whisper. And you?"

"No," says Martin. "We should’ve stuck to deep breathing. You don’t get as high, but it’s cheaper and much more reliable." He passes a "joint" to Maggie. It’s an "English joint", tobacco and hash, three papers. Etiquette has one sitting with it a while and puffing leisurely on it several times before passing it. "Still," he says, "this is a pleasant enough way to spend the afternoon."

The afternoon sun comes into the room. Dust motes again. The music is the Grateful Dead’s "Come hear Uncle John’s band playing to the tide…" Maggie and Martin are rolling on the floor together, giggling. They end up with Maggie kneeling over Martin, legs astride him, one arm either side on his head, her long dark hair hanging down around his head. He looks up through the cavern of her hair into her shadowed face. "This is a moment I will remember," he thinks. She is smiling.

Jenny and her boy friend, John, enter the room. "Oh, I hope I’m not interrupting anything," she says.

Maggie and Martin disengage. "No," says Martin. "Not at all. Come and join us." He’s joking.

"Later, Maybe," she replies. "Cup of tea?"

Maggie, Jenny and John huddle close together, téte a téte, each with a steaming tea mug. John is Jenny’s boyfriend, twenty year old, a freshman and a hippy. A hippy like a fish in water. The three freshmen sit almost head to head. The conversation is inconsequential. The music is Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s ‘Deja Vu’, "And I feel like I’ve been here before…"

"…so he said he might drop by tonight with an ounce for us…" says Jenny.

"What is it?" John interrupts.

"Oh, black Pak, I think. Anyway, I’ve no idea whether in the event we’ll be so honoured…"

"Well, at least he pays his way…" says Maggie.

"… cause I told him not to bother…’ Jenny continues.

"You what!?" says John.

Martin sits alone at the table with his tea anxiously tapping his fingers to the music. He is bored. Jenny continues: "…or at least, I told him not to put himself to any bother. He may bring the dope, but all he’s gonna do is sit round the walls and drool."

"Oh, Jenny," says Maggie, "I hope you haven’t been too cruel."

"You can talk!" Jenny quips back.

The album has changed It’s the Jefferson Airplanes ‘After Bathing at Baxter’s Beach’; "Saturday Afternoon", a smoky haze. Dusk is falling. Maggie closes the curtains. Annie talks to Peter. They’ve just arrived. Jenny is sitting on John’s lap in the armchair. They relate to each other with laughter.

Martin sits alone. He’s smoking, toking. John reaches towards him. "Don’t Bogart that joint."

And the Doors are playing ‘Strange Days’, "When the music’s over…" The room is getting quite crowded. In addition to Maggie, Martin, Jenny, John, Peter and Annie, there is Matthew Luke and Mark, and a Mary. Luke is rolling a joint. Annie, Peter and Matthew are huddled talking. Maggie is dancing. Round the walls sit Jenny and John, tète a tète, and Mark, Mary, and Martin. Several joints are being smoked and passed around. The music is loud.

Maggie stops dancing and goes over to speak with Annie. Annie nods an affirmation. Maggie comes over to Martin, kneels and leans forward to speak into his ear above the music. "I’ve got a headache, and I think I’m coming down with a cold. I’m going through to Anne’s room."

"Me too!" says Martin.

He follows her down the hall, to Anne’s room. Then sits in the armchair smiling.

Maggie closes the curtains and lights a candle. "What are you so happy about?"

"Nothing, nothing. Why are you so glum?"

"I’ve got a splitting headache, for God’s sake!" She frowns as she goes over to switch on the lamp by the bed. A thin shawl has been thrown over the shade, veiling it. The light is dim, warm. Maggie starts to undress. She peals off her tee-shirt - she wears no bra. Her bosom is petite. She shrugs out of her tight jeans. Not much waist or hips. A boy’s body. She slips off her panties and sock, and gets into bed.

Martin comes over to the bed. "Move over," he says.

"Oh no you don’t, Martin. There is no way that you are getting into this bed with me."

"I was only going to sit by you. I was going to offer to massage your head and neck."

Says Maggie, coyly, but archly, "Oh, neck is it." She moves over to make room for Martin to sit. He reaches out to massage her brow, but she forestalls him with a sharp, "No, don’t touch me!"

Martin lies down on top of the covers. He stares at the ceiling. "Oh, Mag, I want so much to know you, to comfort you, to feel you, to touch you. Tell me ‘maybe’."


"I really want to trip with you. It means a lot to me."

"We tried."

"I wonder if… Do you think…"

"I don’t think anything. I don’t feel anything. I don’t know anything. I don’t see anything. I don’t hear anything. I have no opinions, no dreams, no plans. I don’t remember anything, and I don’t wish to anticipate anything. There is nothing here for you to query."

"Oh, Maggie, Maggie, I love you."

"Have you ever had some little moon-eyed girl following you round, desperate for you to ball her, dogging you everywhere you go? Making you feel like a heel everytime you turn away? It’s a bore."

"Yes, I know. I can’t help myself."

"Martin, you can’t always have what you want."

"Oh, Maggie, Maggie. If I can’t have you, I wish you didn’t exist. Ohhh, I wish you were dead."

"Charming," says Maggie.

Martin, behind his eyes, watches his ever-closing door slam shut.


Martin and Amy’s sitting room doubles as his study. Martin is sitting at his desk working on his thesis. He writes longhand. He writes, stops to think, writes again, stops, writes… Then he crumples up the paper and throws it at the bin. The bin by now is overflowing in a great mound of crumpled paper. Martin looks at the mound, huffs at the cliché of it. Then he leans forward to rest his face in his hands. "If I sit here long enough something’s bound to come," he thinks. He can hear his heart beating. He listens. He’s been acutely aware of his heart beat for a few days now. Hitherto he has heard his heart beat, as it were, "internally", inside himself. Now he hears it "externally", outside of himself, "thup..thup..thup.." He hears not the "heartbeat" itself, but the heart beating against the chest wall. The sound seems to actually emanate from his chest wall.

Martin gets up. The sound fades. Martin listens, puzzled. He wonders what to do. He leaves the room, walks up the hall to the phone which is off the hook. He picks up the receiver, pushes the "button" to get a dial tone, starts to dial, but stops, biting his lip. He puts down the receiver, again off the hook.

Martin goes back to the sitting room and reclines on the sofa to read. His back rests against the arm of the sofa so that his chest is again hunched forward. The ominous sound returns. "Thup..thup..thup.."

Martin looks up as he hears the sound of the front door opening and closing. "That you, Amy?"

"Hello," she calls.

Martin calls back. "Could you put the phone back on the hook?"

Moments later Amy enters the room. She’s in her work clothes. She looks very school-marmish in a short-skirt, with her hair tied up, carrying a stack of exercise books. "How fared the day?" Martin asks.

"Oh, so so. Biology with 4A is impossible. All they want to do is look inside my nickers. And you?"

Amy passes near to Martin who reaches his hand up under her skirt. "Oh, yes, me too, everytime," he says.

Amy slips away from him. "No, silly. How did your day go?"

"Well… Now don’t get frightened…"

"That’s put the fear of God in me for starters." For a moment Amy looks apprehensive. Then she asks, "What’s happened? Did your mother call?"

"Something’s wrong with my heart."

"That, I know."

"No, really. I don’t know what it’s about, but I can hear my heartbeat externally. Maybe it’s some sort of message."

"Hmm," says Amy.

"It’s not a joke. Really, I can hear it. Not inside my head or chest, but sort of here..." Martin gestures, cupping both hands round the space just before his chest. "…outside. Here, see if you can hear it."

Amy comes over and sits on the edge of the sofa where Martin is reclining. She bends her head down to his chest. "No," says Martin, "try and see if you can hear it from about a foot away, first."

Amy holds her head 8 or 10 inches away from Martin’s chest. Thup..thup..thup. "Yes!" exclaims Amy. "Amazing. I wonder what it could be?"

"It’s my heart, obviously, but what does it mean? I think the heart must be beating against the chest wall. But why? It could be anything. Whatever it is, it’s frightening."

"Yes," say Amy. "Cup of tea and dinner. What else should we do?"

"Take two aspirin, and doctor in the morning."

"Right," says Amy. "Doctor in the morning."

Martin and Amy are having coffee after dinner in the kitchen by candle light. Amy has changes into more elegant clothes, a long skirt, her hair brushed out free. Martin stubs out his cigarette, takes a sip of coffee, and lights up another fag.

"I don’t think you should smoke so much," says Amy.

"Don’t worry. I’m not doing any dope until I’ve sorted out this heart thing. But I don’t think smoke has anything to do with it."

"I meant cigarettes."

"In that case, I’ll do my best." Martin stubs out the newly lit cigarette. He frowns. "You think I’m smoking too much dope? I am getting the thesis done."

"Well, things seem to be getting on top of you." Amy pauses. "You’ll see the doctor again tomorrow about your heart, yes?"

"Yes, I will," says Martin, irritated. "Of course. But I won’t get any light out of Griffin. He doesn’t like discussing symptoms."

"Well, you go along and be nice and polite, and maybe for a change he’ll tell you what’s wrong with you."

Martin gets up and starts to clear the table. "I doubt it. He’s too much the amateur psychologist. Like your 4A, he only wants to crawl into ones sex-life. Antibiotics or the couch. That’s all the Student Centre doctors seem to know of." Martin, as he walks to the sink laden with dishes, sallies on in a loud voice, "Oh, yes, and tranqs. Fill our cranks full of tranqs till they fill up the tanks, then juggle their sensibilities with a jolt of ‘lectricity, and if all else fails, why, lob off a lobe or two… loboo loboo bottomy…" Martin returns to wipe down the table. "Anyway, there’s one redeeming side to all this."

"Mmmm," Amy hums as Martin sits down again.

"I’ve been reading these three apparently very different philosophies: Alan Watts’ "the way of Zen"; Christ, Matthew’s Gospel; and Norman O. Brown’s very fine reinterpretation of Freud, "Life Against Death". You should read it." Amy frowns at this, as Martin continues, "And they all connect together. They’re all preaching that there is only the eternal Now, and that Now is eternal." Martin stares into the candle flame. "And repression, fear and anxiety, darken one’s light. So one has to try to be as aware and awake as possible. There’s nothing else. Reflect everything, like a mirror. Being here and now, and being spontaneous…" Martin gets up and starts wiping down the table again. "…and that way we can avoid Ego and premeditation and living before and after the event. And now I find that it’s a very practical philosophy. I can work it. ‘Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.’ I’m not the least bit frightened… touch wood." Martin lifts the corner of the table cloth to "touch wood". In doing so he overturns and spills the milk jug. He and Amy grab at the jug. Martin rights it with his right hand. He shrugs, but his mouth is clenched in an expression of grim resignation.

Martin is reading in bed. Amy is asleep. The sound of Martin’s heart beating against his chest wall continues incessantly, "Thup..thup..thup". Martin puts down the book, switched off the light. He lies down, pulling the covers up to his neck. A street light plays through the curtains onto his face. Martin lies there thinking. "So far so good. I’m doing alright. Here I am with days, or weeks, or years left to live, and I’m not the least bit frightened." Then the thought occur to him, and he thinks, "What if I do panic?" With this the "thupping" gets louder and louder and faster. Martin becomes very tense. "Oh, my God!" He starts to vibrate and then quite literally to bounce on the bed with every heart beat. He calls out. "Amy!"

Amy wakes. "What’s wrong? What’s the matter?"

"I… I was thinking… how well I was doing… and then… I panicked."

Amy switches on the light. "What do you want me to do?"

"Phone the doctor."

Amy looks at her watch. "It’s two o’clock in the morning."

"Phone the doctor!"

"Alright. Hold on."

Amy gets up. She wears a nighty, and puts on a dressing gown. Meanwhile Martin continues to literally bounce on the bed.

Amy returns from the phone in the hallway. Martin is still in a panic, though it is no longer at its peak. His body jerks spasmodically with his heart beat. "What, what took so long," he asks.

"I had to phone Dr. Hertz. It’s not Griffin’s turn to make night calls."

"But Griffin… only lives round the corner…"

"And Hertz lives ten miles away…"

"Oh God…"

"He’ll be about twenty minutes. He said just try to relax… Would you like a cup of tea, or something?"

Martin holds out a shaking hand to Amy. "Just hold my hand."

Amy comes over and sits on the bed holding Martins hand and stroking his forehead.

Dr. Hertz arrives without a smile. Dr. Hertz is a young late thirties, tall and insensitive. He examines Martin, listening to his chest with a stethoscope. Martin tries to explain to himself. "I was thinking what would happen if I panicked, and I panicked."

"Well, you seem calm enough now. You’re perfectly fit, young man. What you’ve just suffered is a panic attack. It is simply fear and adrenalin. It’s really just a bout of tachycardia, that’s all. The heart races. It runs its course in about ten or fifteen minutes. It can be very frightening, but there’s nothing to worry about." Dr. Hertz rummages through his bag, produces and assembles a syringe. "I’ll give you a mild sedative so that you can sleep tonight…’ He injects Martin in the biceps. He moves hastily and without care, and it’s painful. Martin flinches and mouths an agonized "Oh". Dr. Hertz continues, "…and if you’ll call in to see Dr. Griffin in the morning you can discuss the matter more fully with him then, and I can get back to Kingston and perhaps get a little sleep myself."

"But why," Martin asks, "am I hearing my heart beat externally? Why is it beating against the chest wall? What’s displacing it?"

Amy enters the bedroom with a tray bearing a pot of tea, cups, milk, sugar, as Dr. Hertz answers. "Anatomically speaking, the heart does not beat against the thoracic wall. Sensitive people, hypersensitive people are often conscious of their heart beating inside their chest, and project this, so that you think you hear your heart externally. That’s what you’ve done. It’s a trick the mind likes to play."

Martin protests, "But Amy heard it too!"

Hertz glances at Amy, and then back. "Young man, in fifteen years of medical practice I have never come across this "symptom" you describe, nor have I ever come across any mention of it in any medical literature…"

"But Amy…"

Hertz is packing up his bag and preparing to leave. "If you’ll excuse me, I have a long drive ahead of me. Don’t forget to make an appointment to see Dr. Griffin tomorrow." He moves over to the door. "Goodnight," he says curtly. Amy comes over to the bedroom door as Dr. Hertz exits with an, "I’ll see myself out, thank you."

Martin shouts after him, "Thanks for allaying my fears! Very comforting"

Amy pours the tea, two cups. The third cup’s left empty. Martin complains, "My God, doctors! The stupid, arrogant… I’ll get no joy from Griffin tomorrow, I know. I’ll ring up and make an appointment with Dr. Wright, the head of the practice. I think he’s more down to earth. He might be prepared to discuss the symptoms. After all, he is an old family friend, and one of father’s students."

And meanwhile Martin’s heart is calling softly, "thup..thup.."


Mid-morning next day Martin enters the campus Student Health Centre, Drs.Wright, Griffin and Hertz’ "surgery". He goes over to the receptionist. "I’m Martin Howard. I have an appointment to see Dr. Wright at ten thirty."

"One moment. Let me see." She looks at the appointment book. "Ah! Mr. Howard. You are one of Dr. Griffin’s patients, are you not?"

"Yes, but I have an appointment with…"

"In that case you will have to see Dr. Griffin."

"I’m happy too see Dr. Griffin anytime. He’s a very pleasant man and I’m very fond of him, but right now I have an appointment with Dr. Wright."

"Dr. Griffin will see you now."

"Well… alright. I’ll see Dr. Griffin first so long as I get to keep my appointment with Dr. Wright afterwards."

"You will have to consult with Dr. Griffin."

"Do I or don’t I get to see Dr. Wright?"

"You will have to ask Dr. Griffin about your concern…"

"Oh! You silly old zombie! I hope you strangle in your red tape."

Martin rushes out, slamming the door.

Martin has spent the day frantically trying to find a doctor, find out about his symptoms. The library didn’t help. Now he’s pacing the kitchen. Amy is serving tea and trying to be sympathetic. Martin has set up an appointment, for the next day, to see her doctor.

"Dr. Goodwin?" Amy asks.

"No. Dr. MacEwin. I guess he’s a partner." Martin ruminates, "Maybe I don’t need a medical opinion to clarify my heart. Maybe I need to see a spiritualist to clarify the message? Maybe I need a priest? Christ! My realities are falling to pieces."

"Maybe you should see your father? After all, he is a chest specialist."

"No! All I need now is a lecture on my filial duties. That’s what I’d get from Professor Martin Howard. ‘It wouldn’t hurt you to look after your mother.’ That, of course, is called passing the buck. Or is it passing the doe?"

The telephone rings. Martin is startled. Amy looks at him with a hard face. She is getting fed up with his weakness and fear. She gives a huffy sigh and turns to go answer the phone.

Martin sits with his tea. Amy returns. She is hard, cold, cut-off. "Your mother. Confirming the arrangements for the Swedish bazaar."

"I wish you wouldn’t see her."

"What are you going to do when we have children? Will they never see their Granny?" Now Amy softens somewhat. "Martin. Are you at all interested in having children? I’m not getting any younger."

"Amy, Amy, I don’t feel ready yet, Amyamy…" These last words, which fade away, are mumbled and slurred so that they come out somewhat like "Mummy". Martin continues abstractly. "I just want to know if I’m dying or not. I mean, if I’m going to die in a year or so, I don’t want to spend my last few months on my bloody thesis. I’m probably alright, but I just want to know… I hope I don’t panic again." During this monologue Amy gets up and starts tidying the kitchen. She cannot get into his philosophications, his verbal dribble. He rambles on, "Do you remember in Huxley’s ‘Island’ where the old woman is dying. She takes some mushroom and trips out alert and clear as a bell. Huxley did that himself. He was dying of cancer and the morning came he knew he was going to die: he dropped two hundred and fifty micrograms and went out crystal clear, grokking it all...""

For Amy, Martin’s voice, and Martin, are fading away.

Goodwin and MacEwin’s surgery is in a high rise on Hove Boulevard. Dr. MacEwin’s office is large and plush. Dr. MacEwin sits behind his large cherry wood desk. He is in his mid-sixties, rather round, with small lensed glasses. He affects a Viennese manner and accent, though he is, in fact, Scottish.

Martin sits in an armchair on the other side of the desk. The seating is arranged so that Martin has to look up to the doctor. Martin is has just started telling his story. "…So, I need information about this symptom. I don’t think there’s any point in my wasting your time going into why I’ve come to you, rather than my own doctor, but I can’t get any information out of him…"

"I know, I know," says MacEwin solicitously (in his Viennese accent). "You are too big for them," (pronounced ‘zem’).

Martin is surprised by this seemingly irrelevant comment, but he ignores it and goes straight on. "You see, I strained my shoulder and since then my heart has felt as if it were beating against my chest, and I can hear it…"

"Vell now," say MacEwin, "let us see vot ve can do vor you. Are you veeling relaxed and comvortable now?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Good… Now, dzell me, do you have any phobias"

"Yes," says Martin.

"Don’t be afraid. Yust relax… Vot are zese phobias?

Martin’s good at this game - he is into psychology - and he answers quickly off the top of his head, "Heights, fish, my mother’s fanny."

MacEwin, not having listened to Martin’s answer, almost interrupts him to ask, "Dell me, do you ever get a jooting pain up your anus?" With this MacEwin holds out his hand with the middle finger extended upwards, and thrusts it vigorously upwards.

"No," Martin answers, a little bit shocked. "Tell me, doctor, what are your phobias?"

"I am ze doctor. I ask ze questions."

"Yes, but what are your phobias?"

The doctor becomes tense. He begins to raise his voice (and loses most of his Viennese accent). "I am the doctor! I ask the questions!"

Martin, with a mocking face, raises his hand like a school child asking permission to speak. Dr. MacEwin, losing control, rises to his feet, waving his hands about. "You, you get out. Get out of my office. Out, out, out!"

Martin, too, rises. "Zank you, doctor. Good dzay."

Martin and Amy sit in the living room on the sofa. Martin has been recounting his interview with MacEwin. Amy is in hysterics, laughing. "I don’t believe it," she splutters.

"It’s true. Every vord. Cross my heart and hope to die." He crosses his heart, and asks, "Have you ever see the man?"

"No. I’ve always seen the younger one, Dr. Goodwin. He’s quite reasonable, if a bit… gushy… unctuous, that’s the word: and he’s drawn to the 4A complex."

"4A complex?"

"The answer’s in the nicker, silly… Cup of tea?"

"Yes, that would be nice. Everything’s alright as long as there’s a nice hot cup of tea. One of the two universal panaceas, tea is."

"And the other?"

"Ask 4A," says Martin.

Amy smiles. She gets up and goes to the door where she stops and turns back to Martin. "You’ll have to go to your father, won’t you?"

Martin looks up at the ceiling as if he hadn’t heard. Then, lowering his head, but still not looking at Amy, he answers, "Yes," in the manner of a sigh.


Prof. Howard, having just examined Martin, crosses to his desk. He takes his stethoscope from round his neck, puts it away in it’s case, and puts the case away in his desk. During these maneuvers, and subsequently, Prof. Howard speaks to, but does not often look directly at, Martin. Meanwhile, Martin puts his shirt and jacket back on, and asks, "So, what’s the diagnosis?"

"I hope it doesn’t disappoint you too much, but I don’t think there’s anything seriously wrong. I’d hazard that the trouble is largely psychosomatic, and about such matters I don’t feel qualified to speak."

Martin comes over and sits in the chair on the other side of the desk from his father. "But what about my hearing the heartbeat externally. Amy heard it too!"

"I don’t doubt it. I personally have never come upon this phenomenon, but several of my patients have described it to me. It doesn’t seem to be indicative, diagnostically, of any one thing in particular. There’s nothing seriously wrong with you organically. As to what precisely is going on, well, you’re the psychologist."

"How come nobody else seems to have heard of this?"

"It’s not in the medical textbooks."

"But you’ve heard of it."

"Yes, but then I make a habit of listening to what my patients have to say." Martin places his elbows on the desk and cover his face with his hands as his father continues. "If you feel you need to talk about things to someone… If you want to undertake some psychotherapy, I can finance it…" Martin lifts his head a bit, and brings his hands together, so that the index fingers hold his nose. He stares coldly at his father, who asks, "What’s the matter?"

Martin, making his right hand into a fist, cupped in his left hand, and rests his chin on the left hand, his elbows still on the desk. "I was just thinking about what you were saying."

"About the therapy?"


There is a short pause and then Prof. Howard speaks, slightly flustered. "But I do… I do listen to what my patients say." The Professor gets up and starts to pace. He turns to Martin. "There’s another matter, Martin. Why haven’t you phoned your mother?"

Martin does not answer. The Professor presses on. "She keeps phoning me. To ask about you! I don’t want to speak to her! She called me every night this week! I can’t take any more of it! She’s your mother! It’s driving me crazy! You phone her!"


Martin and Amy sit together talking on the sofa. Martin is telling of his visit with his father. "…And he doesn’t thinks it’s necessarily something to get alarmed over. That’s the most of it, and it’s an immense relief. I was vanishing for a while there, I can tell you. Now maybe I can puzzle out what’s really going on: why my heart, my real, honest to goodness, pumping heart is beating against my real honest to goodness chest, thup, thup, thup. Oh, and he said, when I pressed him, that it would be cool for me to drink or smoke in moderation. Admitted that it might help relax me."

"Well, that’s a great relief," says Amy.

"Yeah… I think I will go and have a drink and a smoke and a think about it all."

Martin is in the bedroom kneeling, sitting on his ankles in front of the wardrobe mirror. There is an empty glass beside him. He is smoking a "joint". His shoulders are characteristically very hunched, and his heart is speaking, whispering out from his chest, "thup.. thup..thup". Martin studies himself in the mirror. He puts his right hand to his left pectoralis, his chest, and eases his shoulder back. As he straightens the "thupping" fades and stops! He straightens his back and shoulder. Light seems to gather in his sight, his field of vision, round his mirror image face, as enlightenment dawns. He jumps up. "I’ve got it!" He hurries into the living room, elated, to explain excitedly to Amy, "I’ve figured it out. It starts with the seance, that "drop dead" message; Maggie wishing me dead, and me wanting to withdraw and cosset myself. Lots of death wishes flashing around that evening; and the shoulder strain. That’s the physical hinge and vehicle of the drama. The conspiring event. See, with the shoulder pain I drop my shoulder…" which he now does, "and that puts me into the attitude and posture of fear. Being in the posture of fear tends to accentuate the anxiety, and to lock me in those anxious spaces, right, and that only tends to accentuate the slooping posture." Martin holds his pectoral muscle again, and straightens. "Now, the pectoral muscle, which helps brace and pull the shoulder, attaches on the breast." He flexes the shoulder and chest. "The pectorals tend to brace and raise the chest itself, and when you shloop your shoulder forward and down, collapse your chest… See? And when I was also bending forward, like when I was hunched up reading on the sofa, collapsing my chest even further, my heart actually did beat against my chest, thup, thup, making all those little shlurpy spaces round the edge, hlurp, hlup: got it Amy? Shllurp, shllurp." With his face he invites and coaxes Amy to "shlurp" along with him.

"Shllurp, shllurp," says Amy joining in with a comic, beaming face as Martin concludes, "And there, that’s my heart symptom. When I straighten my shoulder the symptom disappears,"

Martin goes over to the window and looks out on the square. He sees the cut logs in he distance. "The logs! I can collect that beautiful piece of wood now.

Martin hurries out. He doesn’t stop and bother to put on a coat, but rushes over to the cut logs..

In his fantasies Martin is a lumberjack. He is putting the finishing axe stroke onto a large tree, which starts to fall. He calls out, like his fantasy lumberjack calling "Timber!", he calls out into the cold air of Palmiera Square, "Death and castration!" To himself he says, "I fell and dismember…" He has a memory of the park keepers buzz-sawing the felled elm into logs. This image folds into an image of himself, Martin, dragging an Christmas tree home through the snow. His internal monologue, accompanying these images, identify the image as… "I fell and dismember the father’s phallus." His imaginings continue with a memory of a large, public-square with a tall decorated Christmas tree and with people gathered round, and nativity figures, and carol singing, while he finishes his monologue telling himself that he is "Preserving and celebrating round it," (it: "the father’s phallus"?) "celebrating, round it, my birth." (Martin is a psychologist, practiced in psychobabble.)

Looking down at the logs, at his feet, Martin notices that there is a crocus blooming (unseasonably) next to the cut log he covets. Green leaves and purple flower, yellow stamen. Martin smiles at the flower as he stoops to pick up the log, and hoists it on to his left shoulder.

Martin comes back to the flat, carrying the log into the sitting room. He stands it by the hearth. He hies to the bedroom and returns with some of Amy’s necklaces, which he festoons on the log. He turns around to hunt for some incense and sticks it the bark, lodges it there and lights it. He places a candle by the log, and lights that in turn.

Amy, who is correcting homework, looks up and watches all this bemused. "What is it?" she asks.

"A token," says Martin. "A totem absurdity." He bows down before his totem, head to the ground.

Amy comes over, kneels down, takes a brooch from her blouse, and pins it into the log. She too bows before the totem. They are enjoying themselves. Martin sits up, and looking at Amy, says, ""Perhaps it will sprout?"

They go over and sit together on the sofa. "Ah, I feel much better," says Martin. "And I feel much closer to you. Things are much better between us."

"Yes, you’ve felt you’ve needed me these last few days."

Martin ponders, "Mmmm?"

"And what about Maggie?" Amy asks.

"That’s over now. I’ve worked that one through. Thank you for your patience. Let’s go out together tomorrow night. Let’s go dancing."

"What about tonight?"

"No. I’m tired. Exhausted."

"I’m going to the Swedish bazaar with your mother tomorrow."

"Oh… Well, what about Sunday, then?" asks Martin. "We can go out to the country."

Amy responds hesitantly. "I though you were seeing Maggie Sunday."

"What gave you that idea?"

"Well, you said something a while back about going up to London to some Rock concert."

"Ah, Amy, I’d have told you if I was going. Anyway, it’s you I want to be with, little lady."

Amy gets up, goes over to the mantle piece, touches something on it. She turns round. "Umm… Well, umm… actually… I’ve arranged to go out sailing with Peter, and, mmm, we’re having dinner at his place afterwards."

Martin holds a stunned silence. Then he hums to himself, "Mmmm! Peter?" he queries. "Couldn’t you break the arrangement?"

Amy straightens. "I’m not sure I want to."

There’s another silence. After a moment Amy turns and leaves the room. Martin goes over to his desk, fiddles with his books and papers, and then just sits there. "Everything’s going to be alright," he tells himself. He starts rocking himself gently in his chair. "There’s no mystery. There’s always an answer."

The telephone starts ringing. Amy calls out from the bedroom, "I’m not answering it!"

The phone goes on ringing. "I just have to straighten my shoulders," thinks Martin. The telephone rings on, while Martin tells himself, with no surprise, "I can’t feel my heart anymore."