The seymour tapes, p.13
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       The Seymour Tapes, p.13

           Tim Lott
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  – Guy! Give it me!

  Victoria snatches at the mobile, but Guy withdraws it.

  – You give that to me or I’ll tell Dad you’ve got it. And where you got it from.

  – No, you won’t. And you don’t know where I got it from.

  – I will. And I do.

  – If you tell anyone, you’ll be sorry.

  – DAD! Guy’s stolen a –

  Guy slides the mobile into his pocket. Then, without warning, he jumps off the sofa, knocks Victoria on to her back and traps her under his knees. She cries out; Guy puts his hand over her mouth. Although he is younger than Victoria, he is clearly more physically powerful.

  – Shut up. I’ll spit on your face.

  A thin line of saliva appears from Guy’s mouth and hangs a few inches from Victoria’s left cheek. At that moment Dr Seymour appears in the doorway.

  – What’s going on?

  Guy looks up without changing his position.

  – She hit me first!

  – Get off her.

  Dr Seymour, with some effort, drags his son off his daughter.

  – You’re a bully, Guy.

  – I told you, she started it. She slapped me just because I said she had a boyfriend.

  – I didn’t, Dad.

  – I know you didn’t, sweetheart.

  – Shut up. You always take her side.

  – You shut up, Guy. And hand over that mobile phone.

  Now Guy looks stunned.

  – What are you talking about?

  – You know what you’re going to do, Guy? You’re going to do two things. You’re going to stop lying to me. And you’re going to stop bullying your sister.

  – I’m not lying to you! I haven’t got a mobile phone, have I, Vick?

  – Dunno. How would I know?

  – Is that so?

  Dr Seymour is looking pointedly at Guy’s pocket.

  – Guy. I know you have a mobile phone. And I know you were bullying Victoria. You can’t pull the wool over my eyes any more. And Victoria hasn’t told me anything.

  – What are you talking about? There’s nothing to tell.

  – You’ve got half an hour to tell me the truth. If you do, I’m going to ground you for a week and I’m not going to ask you any questions about where you got the phone from. If you don’t, I’m going to ground you for two weeks and I’m going to call the police about the phone if you can’t show me a receipt for it. And if you can show me a receipt for it, I’m going to want to know where you got the money from. Is that clear?

  – Dad!

  – That’s an end to the matter.

  Dr Seymour walks out.

  Sequence Four: Front-room Camera,

  Thursday, 10 May, Time Code 16.59

  Samantha Seymour is feeding Polly on her lap. She doesn’t look up when her husband walks into the room but concentrates on the baby while she speaks.

  – What was all that fuss about upstairs, Alex?

  – Guy was bullying Victoria.

  – What were they fighting about?

  – She wanted to borrow his mobile phone.

  She stops feeding Polly and turns towards her husband.

  – A mobile phone? He hasn’t got one. You confiscated it.

  – He’s got another from somewhere.

  – Where would he get the money?

  – He stole the phone.

  – Alex! Guy wouldn’t do something like that.

  – People can surprise you.

  – Not that much.

  – I’m sure we all have secrets. You have secrets, don’t you, Samantha?

  – Could you pass me Polly’s beaker, please?

  – I suppose no one knows anyone, really.

  Dr Seymour passes the beaker to his wife, who hands it to the baby. Polly throws it on to the floor, then follows it with a handful of mush from her plate. Her mother sighs.

  – What are you talking about now, Alex?

  – Secrets. Do you have any secrets from me?

  – Of course not.

  Polly begins to cry. Samantha hands her to her father, who takes her gingerly to avoid transferring the glops of food from her clothes to his shirt. He holds her with one hand, reaches for a cloth and wipes her down. The crying continues.

  – For God’s sake, give her a cuddle.

  – In a moment. I don’t want to stain this shirt.

  – You hardly ever touch the child. Either you think she’s going to give you some virus, or you think she’s going to crap on you, or she’s too messy. Do you even love her?

  – How can you ask that?

  Samantha sits down wearily on the sofa.

  – What was the outcome with Victoria and Guy?

  Dr Seymour gives Polly a last wipe, then lets her rest her head on his shoulder. She quietens immediately. He pats her back.

  – I told Guy that if he could admit within half an hour that he had a mobile phone and that he’d been bullying Victoria I’d ground him for a week.

  – And what if he doesn’t?

  – I’ll ground him for two weeks and report him to the police.

  Samantha gives a brief dry laugh.

  – He’ll call your bluff.

  – What bluff?

  – You haven’t actually seen this mobile phone, right?

  – Right.

  – And you didn’t actually see him bullying Victoria?

  – No.

  – He knows that. He knows you’re not going to risk punishing him for something he might not have done. You shouldn’t make threats that you can’t follow through. Or won’t follow through.

  – Because I’m too weak.

  – Don’t start that again. Do you want me to take Polly now? I should give her a bath.

  Dr Seymour kisses Polly and hands her over. At that moment Guy appears at the door. He marches up to Dr Seymour, slams down his mobile phone on the coffee-table, and turns to walk out. Samantha stares at the phone, then at her husband, who allows himself the ghost of a smile. Then he turns towards Guy’s receding, hunched figure. When he speaks, his voice sounds different from how it has on any tape before now. It is stronger, more assertive.

  – Guy. Come here.

  Instead of continuing to slouch out of the room, Guy hesitates. Then, slowly, he turns.

  – Would you mind sitting down with us for a moment?

  Guy addresses his mother, clearly expecting support to be forthcoming.

  – What’s come over him?

  – I think you should do as your father says.

  – What? Mum!

  Guy stares at her for several seconds as if appealing to her. Then, having realized that no support is forthcoming, he makes his way morosely to the chair next to his father and sits down.

  – Guy. I’m going to ask you a question, and I promise I won’t be angry whatever answer you give. I just want to talk, that’s all.

  – Dad. I’ve given you the mobile. Let me go back to my room, OK? I don’t want to talk.

  – Just stop. For a minute, just stop. Sit still. Listen to what I’m trying to say to you.

  Guy gives a long, low sigh, but doesn’t move. He throws an imploring glance at his mother, who looks away.

  – This is the question, Guy. Are you a thief?

  – What?

  – Do you steal things?

  – No. Mum!

  – Your father’s worried, Guy. Money has gone missing. You know that’s why we got rid of Miranda.

  – You said she had to go back to New Zealand.

  – We knew you liked her. We wanted to protect you.

  – You lied to me. Dad.

  – We didn’t exactly lie. She has gone back to New Zealand. But partly because she lost her job. We didn’t tell you everything because we thought you might be upset. We were only thinking of you. We got rid of Miranda because we thought she’d been stealing. If she hadn’t been stealing, well, she’s been unjustly treated. And I know she was someone you were fond of.

  – What are you saying?

  – I think you know what I’m saying.

  Dr Seymour picks up the mobile phone and examines it.

  – So, where did this come from?

  – I got it from a friend. Look. I’ve said I’m sorry.

  – You haven’t, as a matter of fact.

  – Don’t shout at me.

  – I’m not shouting.

  – I’m going to my room.

  – Guy.

  Dr Seymour puts a hand on his son’s shoulder, but Guy shrugs it off. Then, incredibly, he slumps and is racked by tears. Unexpectedly, he leans against his father in a childlike, almost infantile gesture. Dr Seymour puts his arms round him and holds him. The next few words are so low and distorted by tears as to be almost inaudible.

  – I’m sorry.

  – It’s OK. We’ll forget all about it, all right? Listen to me. I love you, Guy.

  – Dad…

  – I mean it. I know you find it embarrassing, but I mean it. I know you think I have some ‘special relationship’ with your sister, that’s she’s my favourite, but it’s not true. Guy, I could never love anyone more than you.

  – Dad! Stop it.

  – All right. But you’ll stop taking things, yes? If you need something, just come to me. OK?

  Guy nods. Suddenly, as if he has realized what he’s been doing, he pulls away. He wipes his eyes roughly. The hitherto ever-present expression of surliness and disappointment has been replaced by a raw, helpless look. Embarrassed by his loss of face, he walks out of the room. Dr Seymour calls after him, but with a certain lack of conviction.

  – Guy!

  The look on Samantha Seymour’s face is hard to convey. It is one of astonishment, mixed with mild horror and a degree of admiration for her husband. When she speaks, her voice is low and almost humble.

  – Aren’t you going to go after him?

  – No.

  – I thought you were going to ground him for a week.

  – I don’t want to humiliate him. If he’s been stealing, I think he’ll stop now.

  She gets up and sits next to him.

  – Why do you think that?

  – Because he knows that I’ll know.

  She lets her hand rest on Dr Seymour’s knee.

  – Alex.

  – Yes, Samantha?

  – I’m impressed.

  Then she kisses her husband full of the mouth.

  Dr Alex Seymour’s Video Diary, Excerpt Two, Thursday, 10 May, Time Code 23.53

  Dr Seymour stares at the camera for a few seconds as if it is hard for him to find the words for what he has to say. Then he begins to speak.

  What an incredible day.

  I never did much psychology at med school. I’m like a lot of doctors – good at looking at other people but not so good at examining myself. But now it’s becoming clear why I’m doing this. Partly.

  I have always felt ineffectual. Not because I’m a… a pussycat, like they think, but because I can’t bear to make the wrong decision. And my decisions are always wrong, because too much is hidden.

  Now I have certainty, perhaps for the first time in my life. Or, at least, I’m moving towards it. Before I put in the cameras I was moving away from it at a terrifying rate. I’m still not sure what – if anything – Samantha is up to with Mark Pengelly. But I can find out. Then I can do what’s right. As for Guy and Victoria – that was unbelievable today. Unbelievable. How many times have I heard a scuffle, gone up there and found one blaming the other? But this time I knew. I knew. And it felt good.

  Poor Guy. Yet I understand now that he was craving for me to act as a solid border to his life. That was why he cracked up. It was a kind of gratitude, mixed with shame.

  This feels less wrong than it did a day or two ago. Then I felt guilty about it. I know that if I’m discovered they’re not going to understand. But it’s for the best, I’m sure it is. Now I can do what I need to do. Now I can be a man. A father, a husband. And the amazing thing is, they respect me for it. I can just tell. Sure they’re angry, and sure they’re upset. But on a deeper level they’re reassured. Like they wanted to believe in God all along and now they’ve found out that He really exists.

  OK, OK, I’m getting carried away. Obviously I’m not God. But a father – children want their father to look after them, despite themselves. Perhaps some women are the same. Very un-PC idea, I know. Samantha would be horrified. But it’s a universal desire. I feel it too: the dream of someone to make the rules and take the rap.

  I’ll get rid of the whole set-up soon enough – once I’ve established a few basic understandings about the way the family works, about the things that are hidden that can be shown. I’m not in this for the long haul.

  Like Sherry says, it’s the most normal thing in the world. Everyone is going to feel a bit strange at first.

  Sherry Thomas. She’s the proverbial puzzle wrapped in an enigma. Why does she want to see tapes of my family? That is weird. But harmless enough, I suppose. And, if the truth be told, I find the idea of sharing them with her kind of interesting. No, not interesting – exciting. Yes. Let’s try to be honest. That’s what this whole exercise is about.

  Sherry is… unusual. The paleness of her face. She’s almost the opposite of my usual type – blonde instead of dark, all those business suits, thin lips. And American. Usually, there’s something passionless and clinical about American sexuality. That thin reedy sound, that Midwest whine.

  When I think of her – and I do think of her, as I sit in my surgery prodding joints, listening to coughs, probing abdomens, staring at raw red throats – it isn’t in terms of… of sex. And it isn’t her personality. She’s not charming, or witty, or even particularly intelligent, although she has a weird insight. No. There’s a kind of… corrosive blankness to her. As if she herself were a camera, and all the world the subject of her indifferent gaze.

  And there’s something else. Fearlessness. But why would that be attractive?

  Perhaps… perhaps she’s come to represent a sort of freedom in my mind. Not the freedom of youth, with its sudden imagined steps into perfection. Another kind of freedom. A compensating freedom. What is it?

  A few seconds pass. Then he snaps his fingers.

  Perhaps this is it. Sherry is unique, not because she’s a voyeur, not because she wants to see the tapes.

  She’s unique because she’s indifferent.

  She’s free because she doesn’t care. And I’ve spent my whole life caring – about being a better man, a better husband, a better doctor. I’ve had these ideals as long as I can remember. I used to think they might liberate me. They were worthy. Purposeful. They would make me feel good. Virtue being its own reward, et cetera. But so often they feel like a series of chains and weights and harnesses. They chafe. All the time.

  That’s how I am. I can’t do much about it. But none of those things means anything to Sherry. And… that’s strangely wonderful. It’s not that she’s immoral. She’s simply intensely – no, violently – curious. This emotion – it’s so pure. It wipes out all other considerations. That’s what’s special about her. She’s undifferentiated. She’s absolutely pitiless.

  I’m going to have to see her again. Not for more equipment – there’s enough now. I’m not an addict. I just want to talk to her about how I feel. She’s the only one who will understand. My friends will think I’ve gone wacko. Yet how can something that makes me feel so right be wrong? And I’m not doing any harm. It’s no different from a CCTV camera watching for criminals on a street corner. If you do nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear. That’s right. That’s right.

  What about Samantha? How am I going to get to the bottom of this thing with Pengelly?

  I think I have an answer. In the police force they call it entrapment. But in the household, there’s no such thing. There’s only what you can get away with. Sherry is teaching me that.

  The kids are going away this weekend on that camping trip. If I arrange t
o go away too – a last-minute decision to be at that medical conference on Sunday that I told Sam I wasn’t going to bother with – she and Pengelly will have the perfect opportunity to misbehave. When I get back I’ll know all I need to know. I’ll know if I still have a marriage.

  And tomorrow Mrs Madoowbe is coming to the surgery. She has to say what I need her to say.

  She has to.

  Greenside Surgery, Tape One, Friday, 11 May, Time Code 12.04

  Author’s Note: The Greenside surgery is located in the middle of an extensive 1960s low-rise housing estate in Harlesden, northwest London. It is a small, functional building, not particularly attractive but clean and in reasonably good condition. Its waiting room has about thirty seats, and at consultation times it is usually packed.

  Dr Seymour’s room is a fairly typical doctor’s surgery. There is a wall of box files, a desk, a set of scales, a sink, an examination couch and three chairs, including Dr Seymour’s. There are windows, but there is not much of a view – just the surgery car park. The walls are painted cream. There is a goldfish bowl on Dr Seymour’s desk with three fish in it. A pile of soft toys is arranged against the east wall. We cannot see all these toys on camera, because the camera is located in the eye of a large brown teddy bear. However, the wide-angle lens gives a good view of the room: all who enter and leave can be seen clearly.

  Dr Seymour switches on the camera about thirty seconds before Mrs Thibo Madoowbe appears through the surgery door. She is strikingly attractive, apparently in her teens, wearing Western clothing – jeans and T-shirt – but with a Muslim headscarf. Her sister appears considerably older and is dressed in a more traditional style – a full-length Somali guntiino, similar to an Indian sari but made of red cotton. She also wears a headscarf. Dr Seymour has on a white coat over his suit and appears ill at ease.

  Throughout the exchanges that take place, Mrs Madoowbe’s older sister, Yasmin Farah, translates for her.

  – Good afternoon, Mrs Madoowbe. How are you feeling?

  – She says she is well.

  – Any more pain?

  – No. The pain has gone away now.

  – Good. That’s good.

  – She wants to know if you have had the test results.

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