An innocent man, p.14
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       An Innocent Man, p.14

           Mark Z. Kammell
was reminiscing with a couple of friends about the most interesting things we learnt at university, and I couldn’t help thinking about a conversation we once had about memory loss and the ability to retrieve it using, if I remember, drugs, as a stimulant, in conjunction with electric shock. When I was telling him about this, my friend says he’s lost some vital hours (too much drinking I am afraid!) and he is desperate to get them back, and I said I’d try and find out. I hope you don’t mind the mail out of the blue after so much time, but it made me think of you and wonder how you are. With fond memories, Sylvain Jones.

  I pressed send before I could change my mind, and then went upstairs to my lab and find my headgear. I had it safely stored away, after having accidentally borrowed it a few years ago from one of the less successful projects that our department undertook. It looked awesome, though, all black and chrome with laser lights and strange wires designed to mess with the brainwaves in your head. I plugged it in, saw it buzz into life and turned the dial up to maximum voltage. I remember taking a deep sigh before tentatively moving it towards my head, then wondering what the hell to do.

  Maybe this was a bad idea. I mean, I didn’t know what drugs to take. What if it went horribly wrong and I was left having a fit on the floor, what if it wiped out what little intelligence I had remaining. I looked down at my t-shirt – still blood stained, unfortunately – and i noticed dark splatters on the top of my jeans too. You’re probably wondering why the first thing I did was not to change my clothes, have a shower, scrub myself clean, then maybe burn my clothes and anything else I may have touched, and make some desperate phone calls to people to try and figure out what happened, or at least shield myself from any of the potential blame, if the worst had happened.

  And I knew of course that this was what I should be doing, but as soon as you set these things in motion, then that’s it, there’s nothing that you can do, the wheels turn, the gears crunch and your fate is outside of your control. Now you’re thinking that you misunderstood me, your assumption that I was a man of compassion is being challenged, who is this person who sits in front of you, that when he wakes up covered in blood, doesn’t panic, doesn’t even get changed, just calmly starts to make plans. But you underestimate me. Self-control doesn’t mean a lack of emotion. Focusing on the truth doesn’t obviate sympathy for the broken.

  When I was much younger, well before I met Sylvia, and well before I established myself and settled down, in a manner of speaking – I knew Mark, actually – of course, I’ve known him for years, and I remember even going for a drink with him and trying to talk to him about my latest disaster, which was getting sacked over a misunderstanding at work a day after my girlfriend dumped me. I had a lot of friends when I was at college and thought myself a popular guy… I can’t understand why, I had no imagination, but I can understand why because I had some money. Like I’ve said before, I’m a simple guy, I don’t pretend to have deep thoughts or understand the socio-political system that we live in, or care for that matter, and I found myself unable to muster any interest in people’s constant diatribes about revolution or class war or the evil of global capitalism, or even their near-religious fervour for sport (football in particular) and music (the more obscure the better, regardless of quality). I did at times wonder idly whether there was any ideological conflict between the two, but to express that would have been effort, a little like going to the gym or doing the washing up or having a career. Instead I drifted towards take away dinners, blockbuster videos, reality TV, and a graduate training scheme in something or other that was attractive only for the fact that the commute was less than fifteen minutes and they offered me a job. Beyond that, the thought of working in a factory was pretty abhorrent to me, and I couldn’t quite believe that I had ended up spending most days from eight in the morning till four in the afternoon pushing stuff into machines so that something else could come out of the other end.

  To be fair, it’s not as if I even did that – I had to look at other people do that, and then tell different people what the first set of people were doing wrong and how they could do it better, so that the second set could pull together plans to get the first set to do different things, even though the first set of people had been working on these machines for five hundred years and I had never even switched one on. I figured out eventually that it didn’t really matter if I spent any time looking at the machines or the people working on them, as I didn’t understand what they did, I didn’t even understand the strange small objects that came out of them. It also didn’t really matter what I wrote in my reports to the second set of people, because the first set never listened to what they were told to do in any case, which meant I could write down pretty much what I wanted and nothing would change. That’s what I started doing, and I spent less and less time at the machines and more and more time upstairs in the offices that overlooked the shop floor like a medieval big brother (before the term had become digested, used up and spat out), the head of production’s office having a huge glass window that enabled him to survey everything and miss nothing.

  Except for me, of course, and the fact that he didn’t notice perfectly summed up the value I was adding, as he would have put it. Luckily, I managed to hide in Yvonne’s office; I never entirely worked out what she did, but she must have been important because she had an office and a lot of time; recently returned from maternity leave, she seemed to be craving the sort of easy, uncomplicated company that I offered, away from the boredom of work and the relentlessness of home. We formed what I took to be a bond based on a mutual lack of respect for everyone around us, that took the form of long chats and illicit sex, as my relationship with a girl I had been with for over two years continued to tilt on the edge of a cliff. Possibly the first of the rocky steps of my wayward journey through my twenties, I just managed to avoid a summary dismissal for indecent behaviour on company premises through a loophole in my contract that I didn’t quite understand, but it did hurt that Yvonne’s interest in me seemed dependent on my being a young, starry eyed graduate; more understandable and predictable was Sam’s (my then girlfriend) reaction.

  My subsequent fall from grace wasn’t spectacular, just dully predictable; even the most basic lifestyle requires money and human company, and it’s so damn easy to lose control when you spiral through mounting debt, dead end jobs and failed relationships. I'm sure you think I'm droning on, getting so far off track that I'm in a different field. And I'm sure you're chuckling to yourself about it, about the stupid adventures and the droll way in which I'm telling you about them. All my friends did, Sylvain, he's a bit of a mess isn't he, ha fucking ha ... but this wasn't funny to me, it wasn't droll, it wasn't a happy go lucky existence, not a care in the world. It was tough and sad and lonely and more than once I wondered how the hell I had got into this place, what the hell I was going to do.

  My friends, if you can call them that, the people I hung around with, they had careers and proper relationships where they planned things like holidays together and getting a mortgage. Seeing that and being outside of it didn't make me feel free, no matter what they might have thought. The strange romantic notions of counter culture didn't apply to me, or if they did then it's all a lie. No, what you have to realise is that I dragged myself out of that place and I put myself back on the map. It took strength and it took discipline and courage which is what I have, whether you choose to recognise it or not, and that’s what I used that morning when faced with my bloody clothes and not a scratch on me. Understood what had happened was key for me to be able to keep control, and a few shocks to the head and some experimental drugs were a price well worth paying. Which drugs, though, did remain a problem, as I’ve said - I didn’t know which drugs to use, or even if I would be able to get hold of them, I was very conscious that those precious memories may start to slip away unless I acted quickly and the chances of getting a reply from Anna, certainly in the next hour or so were pretty remote.

  I’m not really into drugs, not for a long ti
me, but I do know a couple of people who are, and I thought something like LSD would be the sensible choice, given its history. I scrolled down my list of contacts on my phone, hit the name Justin Done and waited as it rang, holding the headset in my hand. Justin worked in the Department, as a technician, and we had got chatting on one of the many team days that X liked to organise as an attempt to avoid anything to do with management or motivation.

  I hadn’t really talked to Justin before, but ended up sitting next to him on board a plane we were just about to jump out of, then parachute down to a private island for an all weekend, all expenses paid, party. Never let it be said that the country’s taxes go to waste. We were both nervous and began chatting inanely as the plane took off and as we approached the drop zone. I remember the huge back door of the plane opening and some mad guy standing in front of us all, his back to the gaping hole and rushing air, shouting out last instructions and reminding us that all we had to do was pull the cord, and if that didn’t work, something else
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