I have been preoccupied with escape. I'm not sure what I want to
escape but it's impossible to mistake the tendency in my imagination.
I watch thrillers, or read books about people in peril, when I see
news stories about women captured and kept prisoner, I find myself
imagining how I'd escape, and how I'd disappear, and how I'd stay disappeared.
Shades of Grey is a good example. If I was Ana, how would I escape
from Christian? Because, eventually, she's going to have to. Anyone
who gives you a mobile phone, uses it to clandestinely track your
movements, and then swoops in to confront you when you are doing an
activity they have unilaterally “forbidden”, is someone you will
eventually have to leave. It doesn't matter how much you love them.
And this man, this man will not take that well. She'll be lucky if
she doesn't end up stuffed on display in the Red Room.
the sadistic billionaire with all his Master of the Universe power
and money at his disposal is obsessed with keeping your prisoner. How
would you escape?
everything else, you can type “how to disappear” into Google and
get a lot of hits. I'm clearly not the only one who wants to do it.
you really wanted to vanish there are manuals, whole websites. The
first thing you need to do is close your bank accounts and use cash
for your travels and expenses. Cards are trackable, so cut them up.
Use public transport, not cars. Cut your hair. Dye your hair. If
you're a man, grow a beard. If you are a woman, get contact lenses if
you wear glasses and plain non-prescription glasses if your
eyesight's good. Wear a bright jacket or headscarf when you're
getting your money out or buying tickets. Sounds a bit odd, I know,
but if someone later asks for a description people will remember the
colour, not your face. Avoid anything which will leave a paper or
computer trail. Delete all your social networks and email addresses.
Get casual cash in hand work.
I don't want to disappear! Not completely. I want Amanda and Gin. I
want Sally. I want Rammstein, how could I take Rammstein on the run?
It would be cruel to him, and I couldn't give him to anyone else; he
might end up abandoned, tipped out of a car onto a motorway shoulder
and left cold and hungry to fend for himself. What about all my
plants, who'd take care of them? I want to be able to buy my morning
latte from the cafe on the way to work. I want to drink margaritas in
the sunshiny garden of my favourite cocktail bar. I want to see
Martin DJ again. I want my life.
guess it comes down to a basic psychological fact – just like the
rest of humanity in general, I want all the things I want and not the
things I don't want.
it's not possible to live a life which is made up entirely of things
you want. Not even if you have enough money to give up work and build
walls, all the alarm systems and doormen and first-rate security and
barrages of lawyers.
things you think you want, things you welcome into your life, turn
into things you absolutely don't want. For example, my relationship -
or whatever it is - with Chris. It's too late now. I wished for
Chris, I wished for him with all my heart, and the universe gave him
to me, and now I have to live with however my wish plays out.
would be so sterile. A life without other people. So lonely. We
aren't meant to live that way, but the deal is that other people are
unpredictable, they all have their own opinions and obsessions and
madnesses, and by accepting them into our lives we have to accept a
lack of control over what they bring with them and sometimes it would
be so nice not to have to do that.
phone pings. It's Amanda. As if to reinforce the point, it simply
hard to tell what brought this expletive on without more information,
but my guess would be a shop assistant has just been rude to her.
Either that, or she's telepathically sensed my mood and is attempting
to bring me back down to earth. Or it was meant for someone else. Who
was another bunch of roses outside the door this morning. Bright
yellow, with red blushing through the petals. Beautiful. A blank
design I've chosen as a tattoo cover-up is ready. I'm waiting for the
tattooist so we can go through it.
first time I got tattooed was in the late 90s. That was the rose I have on my big toe. The tattooist was an almost completely silent
skin-head in a Jack Daniels branded vest, operating out of one room.
He had covered the walls with yellowing, taped-on paper stencil designs, and you
just walked in and pointed to the one you wanted.
were the kind of tattoos you hardly see any more; skeletons riding
flaming motorbikes, chained-up naked girls, the Devil swigging
whisky, blood and crossed pistols. Too Fast To Live, Too Young To
Die. Kind of like the over-the-top covers of 80s rock vinyl; the
tattoos you would expect Spinal Tap to have.
are too clever for those tattoos now. Even if they have something
like that, they have to give it an ironic twist, or theme it round
50s retro, or something like that. After all, you wouldn't want to be
taking it seriously. I hardly noticed they had gone, but I miss them.
I wonder, briefly, about getting some proper old-school outlaw rock
biker tattoos. It might be cool. I've had enough of being clever.
studios have clearly changed too. This is a complex of rooms like an
upmarket beauty salon, with pale wooden floors and walls covered in
framed pictures of vintage tattoos. You can still pick a design, but
the stencils are kept in leather folders on the reclaimed wood coffee
table. There is an orchid on the reception desk. There's a reception
desk. I don't like upmarket beauty salons.
are three other people waiting; a blonde in a floral dress clutching
a vintage handbag, who I hate on sight. A guy in a white vest and a
bowler hat who looks like he is probably the bass player in a
terrible indie band. A n overweight 40ish guy in a charcoal pinstripe
suit, who has floppy blond hair like Boris Johnson's.
there is a white-board on the wall in the staff area behind the desk,
presumably for messages. Someone has neatly written “Please do not
draw dicks on here as clients can see this board” in green marker,
and under that someone else has drawn a very detailed cock, complete
with hairy balls. That makes me feel a bit more at home.
girl working here looks a bit like Kat Von D. I watch her covertly,
studying her style. The moment I get out of here I am going shopping
to buy a red Bardot top and a black velvet choker. And I am
definitely getting more tattoos. I wish I had waist-length black
you can admire the tattoo-studio receptionist without trying to turn
into her, I think. I've tried having black hair before and it
doesn't suit me. But the Bardot top is happening.
wonder what the others are getting done. Boris Johnson looks like a
middle-manager at an insurance firm. I really hope he's getting an
dick piercing, or some roses tattooed on his bum. That would be
awesome. The band guy is probably getting a simple square of black ink, or a
lightbulb, or an ironic Tweety Pie, or some other hipster-by-numbers
blonde...well now, that's interesting. She doesn't look like the kind
of girl who would go for body modification, or even the kind who
stays up past 10pm drinking. And I would have expected her to have
brought a friend or her boyfriend, and she hasn't, she's on her own,
so she's obviously getting something done just for herself. Maybe I
don't hate her after all.
want her to be getting a huge industrial tattoo, an armful of
gleaming Terminator steel. She's so girly that it would be a great
contrast, but looking at her pretty tan Mary Jane shoes I would
imagine it's probably flowers or butterflies, or possibly even a
fucking cupcake. Oh well, you can't have everything.
this point the tattooist arrives with my design. I asked for
something abstract with the following elements; spiderwebs, skulls,
black lace, blue orchid flowers. She's done a great job. It will be
much bigger; extending up on to my shoulder and rolling down to my bicep.
It's going to hurt like fuck. It will be worth it to cover up
Matthew. I don't want a permanent reminder of him on my skin. I can't
remember why I ever thought that was a good idea.
always feel the first effects of alcohol in my thighs. They get
warmer, feel almost liquid. When I smoke weed, I know I'm starting to
get stoned when my thighs go numb.
strange it is. Why do people always say “That drink went to my
look around the table. Jena, Suzy, Michelle.
drink went to my thighs,” I say.
what?” says Michelle.
shaping up to be a strange evening, full of awkward silences and
jokes going flat. I'm tired. I don't want to be here, but I want to
connect with Jena. I haven't seen her for a little while. After the
incident with Chris, I'm concerned about her.
should have told her the truth when she first asked you about him,
Alice, I think.
I should have done. I let her down. She wouldn't have listened, but
that's not the point.
I look at Jena. She's cut her hair. It's gone from elbow-length blonde curls to a
chin-length wavy bob.
lost weight. She's wearing a beautiful burgundy lace dress, but it's
not something I would have thought she'd buy; the high neckline and
knee-length skirt is not to her usual taste. She's wearing less
makeup, but the colours are much better on her skin.
changed her style, I realise, from sexy to elegant. It's an
unnervingly quick transformation. A matter of weeks.
she really does look amazing. She's always been a pretty woman, but
her sense of style was basic; she dressed and did her hair like
everyone else in the bar. Now she's genuinely striking. A proper
blonde femme fatale. When she went to the bathroom I noticed people –
both men and women - staring after her as she walked across the room.
look great,” I say. “I love this whole new look,”
she says, and gives me a quick smile.
brought on the change?” I ask.
shrugs. “I don't know. Bored with myself, I guess.”
something...some imperceptible change in her manner to me that I
don't like. There's a chill on her friendliness. She's being polite,
rather than pleased to see me. No “I haven't seen you for ages!
It's been too long! How are you?”
remember that Michelle texted me about tonight, not Jena. Jena hasn't
texted me for weeks. There was a time I couldn't get her off my
nothing I can put my finger on, but it's there. She's closed off to
me. And she hasn't mentioned Chris once. Suzy asked how it was going
with him and she said: “It's great,” without any detail. That is
not Jena. I knew everything about her last boyfriend, from his habit
of eating Pop Tarts at 3am to the “weird” bend in his penis. I
knew when he took her out to dinner and what they had to eat. I knew
his brand of shower gel.
have a sudden thought. I feel my stomach drop. If I was Chris....I
might not want us talking so much. After all, I could tell Jena about
our relationship, such as it was, and I have – or had – some
influence with her. If I was Chris, I might tell Jena some things
about me. Get in first, so to speak. It would be a win on several
levels; she would end up more isolated and under his thumb, he'd
discredit anything I said to her about him, and he'd have the
pleasure of destroying one of my close relationships into the
bargain. It's the obvious move for the up-to-date modern abuser. Of
course it is.
MAYBE SHE HAS JUST FINALLY WORKED OUT YOU ARE AN IRRITATING ASSHOLE,
offers Matthew. This is unhelpful.
is no way of knowing for sure that Chris has said something to Jena.
Could have done. Or, as Matthew has just observed, she could be
pissed off with me about something else. But either way I don't think
this new Jena likes me any more. I can feel the chill rolling off her
body rebels when I'm in a situation I find emotionally stressful. I
get severe stomach cramps and sometimes diarrhoea. I can feel the
nausea beginning now as I look at the way Jena's eyes are not meeting
mine. This is not conducive to relaxation, nor to thinking about how
I can possibly resolve this with her. “Are you pissed off with me?”
sounds whiny. “Has Chris said something about me?” is obviously
completely fucking impossible.
all right?” I ask. It's a feeble opening, but I'm hoping she'll
take it and talk to me.
am in Derek's office. This is the first time I have seen him since
what Amanda has taken to calling his “indecent proposal”. I think
he has been avoiding me, but in the end I'm his PR officer and he
can't do it forever.
have talked about current and future media issues in his department,
and now a silence has fallen. He has not apologised for his
completely inappropriate invitation, but neither has he pressed the
issue. This surprises me. I was expecting that he would.
realise there is a picture of his wife pinned to the cork-board by
his desk. She looks much younger. She is outside. She is grinning at
the camera, her blonde hair blowing across her face. Her arms are
around two toddlers.
he says, without looking at me, "I think that we work
together well. It would be a shame if anything was to cause a problem
in that relationship."
is fiddling with some paper on his desk, shuffling and reshuffling
it. I suddenly realise he is embarrassed, or doing a very good
imitation of it.
believe there's a distinction between a professional
relationship and a personal one," I say. "We do work well
it's true, we do. I've noticed Derek has an instinct for PR -
what is a good story, what is a bad story, what would interest the
public. He's capable of handling reporters very well and
needs little in the way of media training or hand-holding. He might,
in another life, have made a very good reporter himself.
at working with the media doesn't change the fact that I dislike
and fear him, but as I have just said the professional and the
personal can be kept separate. Some of the people I like best at work
are people I would never let near a journalist. On a personal level I
hate being around Derek; on a professional level he is an asset.
it just is that way.
Derek is wearing a blue tie over a white shirt. I can see he's put on
weight since he bought it; it's cruelly tight around the neck. There
are sweat stains under his arms. I wonder why. It's not especially
leans back in the chair, stares at me.
don't understand you. What's it like in your world?” he says.
day is Hallowe'en,” I say. He laughs.
what I like about you. You're so funny,” he says. “So different
for a second I see, not his life, but my own. And I recognise just
how far I am from anything most people would recognise as “normal”,
and it terrifies me. I'm not quirky; that's Zooey Deschanel doing her
rom-com thing. I've been told I look like her, and I can sort of see
it. We're both pale-skinned brunettes with long curly hair and thick
fringes, except my eyes are light brown where hers are blue. But for
all my long hair and pretty dresses, and my habit of saying whatever
comes into my head, I'm not her, I can't fix your life through the
power of cuteness, and when I say every day is Hallowe'en it's not a
joke and I don't mean candy and dressing up. I mean the dark.
I could pretend for a while, to be that cute girl, and I'm happy to
do it if it makes other people happy. But I'm not cute. I'm alive and
awake, with everything that entails and, Derek, you could take me
back to your house with the huge TV and no books and no art, all your
friends who are sleepwalking through their lives, and I'd be suicidal
within days. I wish it was different. It would be so much easier if I
could just...delude myself. Fall asleep again, forget my life is
ending one minute at a time, and make visiting the mall the highlight
of my week. Stop fighting, stop talking, stop trying to understand.
Just exist. But once you start asking questions – once you wake up
– you can't go back.
truth is that, no matter how badly it hurts, you don't want to fall
asleep again. Knowledge is better than ignorance, even if it's
knowledge you'd rather not have.
is still staring at me with his round owl eyes. He openly looks at my
breasts, my legs, then back to my face. Incredibly, he says: “I've
been married a long time. My wife doesn't understand me any more. We
were in love once, but we've grown apart - ”
on,” I say. “If you can't be good, at least try and be original.”
blinks twice, looks hurt. Oh dear. Not cute, Alice.
****No Contact for the next two weeks as I am on holiday****
walk down the corridor towards my office. I'm safe for now, and I
know it; Chris isn't going to tell on me just yet. That wouldn't be
any fun at all. No. He'll want to play with me a bit first.
was at Martin's house last night. It was the first time I had been
over. We went to the pub and then I went back to his flat and he got some vinyl on the decks.
watched the concentration on Martin's face as he pulled off some
impressively tricky scratching, which I knew was intended to let me
know he wasn't just an amateur. I've known him for years. I had no
idea he could do this. I had no idea he was even interested in it.
He was trying to impress me and he succeeded. I wasn't sure how I felt
about that, and I was feeling disturbingly sexed-up and I wasn't sure
how I felt about that either. So I said goodnight to him and went
home. I wondered afterwards whether I should have done anything about
it. I probably should have done something about it.
there ever a “should” about sex?
always found DJs sexy. It's something about the way they flick the
buttons and rub the records with their fingers. Makes me wonder what
else they can do with their hands.
that scratching is making me itch.
have the same reaction to guitarists, drummers, piano players.
Physical dexterity combined with intense concentration, the
creativity, the beautiful noise. There are men who I wouldn't usually
look twice at in the normal way of things. Then they start fiddling
about on the piano, or pick up a guitar, and I fall in love with
mean, it's only a minor fetish. And as fetishes go, musicians are
pretty socially acceptable. Not quite as socially acceptable as the
big tit fetish which is so common no-one even believes it is one (but
it is; if you require a woman to have large breasts in order to get
turned on, you have a fetish. Sorry, that's the way it is. Same goes
if there's anything else which automatically gets your motor running.
Fetishism is normal; the people society thinks of as “fetishists”
are actually just people whose sexuality is attached to something
different from boobs or abs).
going to get fired. He's been targeted because of me. It's quite
possible I will get fired as well, once Chris has extracted whatever
humiliation he requires.
wonder what I did to deserve Chris. What I did to deserve Matthew.
Why these people keep cropping up in my life. Whoa, not these niggas
again, these grown-ass ignorant men with hair-triggers again....if I
was Dr Dre, I'd deal with Chris and Chris would stay dealt with. I
wish I was Dr Dre. I wish I was anyone else. I wish I was a big
motherfucker with biceps you couldn't get your hand around and
terrifying tattoos, with a samurai sword strapped to my back. I wish
I could grab his neck and pin him up against the wall and talk to him
in a language he would understand. I wish I was someone not to be
I'm only Alice, five foot five and out of shape, with a habit of
looking at the floor when I meet someone intimidating. I look like a
fucking mark, like a big fat “come on over and screw me up”
victim, and I know it.
sometimes have a fantasy about Matthew. How he might turn up in my
life again, asking for my forgiveness. People find God, get raped in
prison and realise the error of their ways, get therapy, get
counselling, it happens. I know exactly what I would ask him for. An simple apology just won't do it. Money? There isn't enough in the world.
I want the little finger off his left hand. I want him to cut it off
himself. I want to see him fucking bleed. Then maybe I can say he's paid.
sitting under the desk in the disused office on the third floor,
drinking whisky. It is 11.30am and I'm supposed to be in a meeting
about the roll-out of the new online fast-track system.
quite possible I am having a breakdown, I speculate, as I swirl the
whisky around the glass and breathe in its clean disinfectant smell.
Oh well. It's been coming for a while. Just one thing: if I am to be
insane, I don't want to be dirty or badly dressed, please. If I end
up standing in the middle of roundabouts “directing traffic” with
a vibrator, or some similar activity, I fully intend to continue to
look and smell as fabulous as is possible under whatever my current
financial circumstances are at the time.
smelly and unhygenic, and wearing ripped or dirty clothes, is
something I find deeply distressing. It upsets me in myself, and it
disturbs and scares me in other people. It's some kind of deep
fundamental association with lack of control, it's like people are
actually choosing the ugly side of life.
also distressed by rooms where the furniture is all over the place
and doesn't flow properly, and by ugly ornaments and pictures, and by
cluttered environments. It's not just dislike, it is actual, physical
distress and I can't stay in places like that or around people who
don't take care of themselves for very long. One of the reasons this
office has become one of my safe spaces is because it has nothing in
it except a desk, which is in its right place. Calming.
think of the picture of two owls which was doing the rounds on the
internet a while ago. One owl is saying to the other owl: “I have
CDO. It's like OCD, but all the letters are in alphabetical order, AS
THEY SHOULD BE.”
think I probably have some kind of mild OCD, but then I also probably
have post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, and the treatment
for all of these things is the same and involves a lot of pills and
it doesn't get fucking fixed unless you do it yourself anyway because
the doctor's surgeries are full of people with mental health problems
and there are just too many of us to get the concentrated attention
and tailor-made medication required to fix us. You do it yourself, or
you stay ill. Lie down and die, or get up and start fighting. Up to
that point, Chris walks around the front of the desk and squats down
in front of me. He is half-smiling.
been wondering where you and your boyfriend disappear to,” he says.
stare at him. I am under a desk, clutching a glass of whisky. I
didn't hear him come in. How did I not hear him come in? Although, to
be honest, in this situation I was fucked the moment he opened the
not my boyfriend,” I say.
takes out his phone and takes a picture of me.
know I'm with Jena now?” he says. He is still disturbingly hot. It
sickens me that I am fucked up enough to feel turned on by him in
this situation. It's also strange that we are communicating better –
seeing each other better – than we did when we were actually
realise I haven't seen Jena for a while. I need to get in touch with
her. If this is the guy she's with, she needs me.
do you have to say for yourself?” he asks.
what?” I say.
waves a hand. “This,” he says. “All of this.” His lips twist
into a sneer.
would have a comeback – or a roundhouse - that would send him
reeling. Gin would smile, make a joke, charm him till he'd do
anything for her. Sally would play the submissive, oh how he would
am Alice. I say nothing. I realise my skirt is rucked up to my thighs
and my hair is greasy. I say nothing. It's my gift to myself, I will
never say another unnecessary word to this man.
going to get your geek boyfriend fired, you know,” he said. “The
hearing's next week.”
see how much he's enjoying this. I also see that I have done exactly
what I set out to do to him. I've cracked his facade. This is the man
behind the mystery. He is having an emotional response to me, just
like I had one to him. He might be having sex with Jena, but his emotions are with me.
this is actually a love affair. We are tied to each other and,
because he doesn't know how to do anything but hurt and I don't know
how to do anything but get hurt, there is some horrific way in which
we are absolutely perfect for each other.
fuck that train of thought. I replace the cap on the whisky and put
the glass down next to it and stand up.
are you going?” Chris asks. “Where do you think you're going?”