Points in Favour of Empathy

The basket was laden with ripe fruit, and Jenny took an apple to munch on while he talked. He liked to talk about himself, she thought. Now and then an odd kind of look would swim across his features,  and she wondered if he might be considering what she was saying, but his face would always slacken again and he would resume staring slightly down, almost a child, the makings of a frown about his forehead. She sat on the great unyielding couch, draped in a bright blanket which was thin enough that she could feel the seams of the sofa cushions beneath her. It was a little cold and she was in a heavy jumper, borrowed from him. She had but resolved to endure discomfort.

He spoke and looked past her through the window behind, shifting his gaze to meet hers when he remembered to. His job, he insisted, was the reason that he could not get anything really important done. She nodded mutely, actually considered his thought for a moment. If, she wondered, he could quit his job and still afford it, would he really get the money he wanted? The fulfilment he wanted? She suspected that he only grasped at the idea of fulfilment to medicate his present discontent, she was not without sympathy. She had, in her time, learnt pity.

He stretched out his legs, recrossed them. His monologue, so earnestly begun, was faltering to a close. He would inwardly seethe now, reaching desperately for the right words but not quite finding them. She bit the crisp flesh gratefully and felt the apple’s juice on her lips. Her ride was almost here.


Armchair Brain

I found myself, yes I did, all alone and weary one Sunday afternoon, arrested by a thought: what IF we really all are just the imagining of a weak and impatient God, a God maybe who couldn’t be bothered with all the little details such as complete self-knowledge, true understanding, infallible trust in our fellow beings, and so forth and suchlike? Am I really to blame for all my many manifold faults? Or rather is it that being just a human being, I come into the world without form and without full disclosure regarding the terms and conditions of existence? The first seemed more appealing whilst the latter more realistic, and I wondered to myself yes I did by George whether I should like to be a realist or a happy man, and then I came to the consideration, in fact that perhaps that was not a decision that I could really make, but rather was in my genes or programming say or else perhaps in the circumstances of my existence, the shaping of me which took place, really, in all chap-like honestly, very much out of my hands, so to speak. And then I thought very well, but aren’t I rather walking around the issue rather than, as it were, plunging into it directly? I thought, and perhaps this was my most sensible thought of the day, that I should make a cup of tea, or maybe, seeing as I had it, some coffee, so that I could really get down to the bones of these issues which, yes, I would say, are rather fundamental to well, life I suppose you’d call it.

Perhaps I’m being over dramatic in all this re-telling, but it seemed to me that I really was onto something, you see, because once I had sat down again, with a cup of steaming tea in hand, anyway, I had the most tremendous idea, it seemed to me, that afternoon, especially seeing as I hadn’t really tackled these kinds of issues before, you know, what with my damned work interfering all the blasted thundering time, as I suppose it does for many men. The splendid idea I had, not to toot my own trumpet with too much self-congratulation, was that the whole issue, that is to say the problem, yes, of humanity itself, life, the fragility of the human mind versus the enormity of the cosmos etc. can in fact be boiled down to a simple analogy which I shall here illustrate: The kettle does not sing. A singer, even an amateur one such as myself, brings differentiation to raw noise. The mere noise produced, yes, by the kettle when it is ready, is not a note. It may be measured as such by clever chaps with glasses and white coats and recorded upon their jolly clever scales, but, by George, the process of doing so is a dilution, if you will, of that raw sound so unique to the kettle when it is keening on the hob announcing my tea. This, I said to myself, is the nature of the universe, and the nature of the human being: the human being, the man, is a kind of creature which divides the raw data into chunks such that they may be easily digested, I suppose, and yet this breaking down, if you will, is the root of all humanity’s great problems. Tea, as it were, or coffee? Yes.


My friend’s a fool

A drag who hangs about

And wears a hat he likes to think is cool.

Given a different life I’d lay him out

But friends are friends,

And I’ve known him since school.

One time we sat

I saw the girls go by

Til Sid came by and said my friend was fat.

I must be dumb

Messed up inside my head

Cos I stood up and fought with Sid for that.

Another time

I saw a bloke outside

Who held my friend and kissed him on the lips.

I thought my mate

Who isn’t very bright

Was drunk again – he makes these kinds of slips.

But when I came to pull the men apart

I saw the feeling trembling in their eyes.

And it was only then I dropped the guise

And it was only then he broke my heart.

Jean 1

Chris was awake in the dead of night, his laptop propped before him casting cold white-blue light on his features, bringing to them a heavy shadow. He lay in his bed on one side, supported by his elbow. His short cut hair sat scruffy on his head, his eyes were undermarked with nocturnal rings. The dawn was two hours away. His attention skirted between first one webpage and then another, his eyes not dead, but glassy – they held that glimpse of distance normally seen on the faces of the enlightened or the dogmatists or the drugged. He wore a slack expression as his eyes tracked and tracked, the motion robotoic, lateral, his brain alive and at once soundless. The night was his thought. His memory was of and in the ceaseless catalogue of images that had gone before him all aswirl with their supernormal colours and hypnotic tactics.

Behind his back, also in the bed, was Jean, who slept with absolute stillness, no lazy kicks or heavy sighs or disruptions. Her face was motionless, young, her features statuesque, austere. Her dream of Chris resolved as follows:

Chris rolls over and nudges her awake, lust in his eyes. Only hunger, and she’s struggling. Then the situation shifts and she is alone in a space, a white chamber of marble set with gold portraits. She dreams Chris and –

God –” she breathes. His his eyes…”

And his skull held two black pits, still awash with the cold light from the screen, the inside of his head now bathed in that light that had held his gaze so many nights.

She woke. Chris did not roll over, and he would not. She betrayed herself and stayed as she had been – motionless, aside from a slight movement beneath the eyes as her inner cognition amused itself through her generous sleep. 


Hermes: I don’t think it’s worth applying for, Alan.

Alan: Hmm?

Hermes: It’s not worth applying for it mate.

Alan: Why not?

Hermes: Well for a start look at the application form. It’s a fucking labyrinthine mess – Theseus couldn’t figure this thing out. What’s this section here?

Alan: That’s where you put your date of birth.

Hermes: Are you sure?

Alan: Pretty sure.

Hermes: Then what’s that green symbol for?

Alan: The one with the goat’s head and the inverted pentagram?

Hermes: No, this – here.

Alan: Oh. No clue man.

Hermes: You see what I mean? They honestly only want experts – they only want people who know the bureaucratic lingo shit to apply. Know what I mean? I mean this – this frankly is Greek to me.

Alan: That actually is Greek I think.

Hermes: Exactly. It’s Greek to me, and it’s in Greek, which doesn’t help. And what’s this bit? It’s just–

Alan: Would you stop being so negative? I know it’s hard work but I need to be doing something. I need to go for something, even if it is… even if it’s only…

Hermes: You can’t even remember what you’re applying for mate.

Alan: Would you just screw off, Hermes – it’s too many of these damned forms. I’m starting to know how Plato felt.

Hermes: What?

Alan: Never mind, never mind. The point is, this is worth applying for because at least it’s something. 

Hermes: But look at the job description and person specification: “We require a clown (preferably one-legged) with experience with children and animals to fill a vacancy at our hospice. Ideal candidates will have heterochromia iridium, a working knowledge of homoeopathy and no sense of humour.” You barely fulfil half of the essential criteria, and almost none of the desirable criteria. I’m not telling you this because I’m being negative sweetheart, I’m telling you because I honestly don’t think you’re right for the job. What’s more, whilst the pay is actually pretty good, nothing is worth this fucking application form.

Alan: Hmm.

Hermes: I mean even if it were your dream job I’d be sceptical.

Alan: Hmm.

Hermes: Hey – you know what? You could always come work with me.

Alan: That’s nice of you honey, but Olympus is a bit of a trek for me.

Hermes: Oh, yeah. I suppose. Sorry – I forget about your uh. Your um.

Alan: Mortality?

Hermes: Yeah.

Alan: It’s okay. Anyway I’m not working with Dionysus again.

Hermes: Hah.

Alan: I mean Jesus Christ.


Blue-green sharklike entity quivers atop the sky. Miles long, clothed in sky, kept up kite-high it hovers in asymmetry. It peers down on boy and girl. The boy’s look is an ancestral gaze, his grandfather’s bones in the whites of his eyes. He is eight, with tender hands unwashed, his time still set by adult lock & key, his face is mucky and he stands gazing up from the garden which seems, from above, just one square among many in the geometric puzzle of his neighbourhood. His infant heart yearns for something, some kind of contact. She, ten, gazes with red passion, wonder and misapprehension brewing behind her squint.

Her kid cognition brings assessment to an inconclusive finality – this is utter mystery. If it is a plane it is a very big and a close one. If it is a cloud it is a scary one and the wrong colour. She continues to stare. She thinks Rainbow. She wonders.

He has been looking from the sky-thing to her, searching for confirmation, for clues of how to act. He is perhaps still too unknowing to see the blue-green entity above as anything other than brief visual novelty. The gargantuan translucent flukes ripple in emerald. Its motion was hard  – it both swam and flew, creeping amidst corridors of cloud, pulling curving air-scars behind it like jet streams. The boy let his nose run whilst his sun hot cheeks scrunched in the midday light.

A tall woman with black hair bound back in a high ponytail comes out calling to the children, one hand pocketed, the other cradling a bright yellow beaker. She sees their craned necks, the girl’s unmoving stare, and she looks up and sees it. Panic raw like pain, startled inhuman noise in no language and yet universally understood to convey horror as she races for her young, grabs them about the shoulders. Her movements slow as she takes in the entity, its fins and spires bristling along its length. It defies her sense, her adult logic solid and brittle – cracked by the impossible mass above, which, serpentine yet segmented, creeps ever onward with incalculable rhythms contorting it. The sky is dwarfed by it. She crouches by the boy and the girl and fails to comprehend, tears already forming at the corners of her vision, nothing quelling her fear and awe, her composure crumbling.

Looking down, the sky beast thinks in contours fathomless to earthly minds. It considers the carbon creatures based below, grounded by their time, their atoms, their fears. Its black and orange eyes hazard reality and shy away.



Still I’ve tried to call it all back, despite the weight of years. Farms, hills. Landscapes the age of grandfathers beneath the cloud-torn sky, views across the turbulent woods that would interrupt your breath for a moment as you walked barefoot home. Summer and the heat of the sun, the giddy afternoons with brothers and sisters. Winter and the warmth of kin. Imagine it.