The seymour tapes, p.15
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       The Seymour Tapes, p.15

           Tim Lott
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  – I don’t need to write it down. I can remember.

  – It’s easy to miss one of the items when you’re in the middle of a supermarket.

  – Alex, stop fussing. It’ll be fine.

  – I’ll trust you, then. But I still think you should write it down.

  There is the sound of yelling from upstairs.

  – You’d better go and sort that out, Alex.

  – Don’t forget.

  – I won’t.

  Sequence Two: Front-room Camera,

  Tuesday, 15 May, Time Code 08.20

  Again Samantha Seymour is in the front room with Polly, this time watching Tellytubbies on TV. Dr Seymour comes in wearing his bathrobe.

  – Samantha, did you get me the shaving foam?

  – You didn’t ask for any.

  – I most definitely did. I knew you’d forget.

  – I didn’t forget, Alex. You asked me for floss, a toothbrush head, deodorant and some razor blades.

  – And shaving foam. I remember specifically. You’re such a shambles sometimes, Samantha. Well, it doesn’t matter, really. I can use soap. But could you remember today, please?

  – You didn’t ask me last time. I didn’t forget. You’re always so sure that what you remember is true, but nobody’s memory is perfect.

  – You know how absentminded you are, Sam. It doesn’t matter. Forget it.

  – Sure. That’s what I’m good at, apparently. Shouldn’t you be getting to work?

  – Just a minute. Just a minute.

  – What?

  – Nothing. I’ll be back in a minute.

  Dr Seymour leaves the room. Samantha mutters to the oblivious Polly on her knee.

  – You know what your daddy is, darling? You’re daddy is a bighead. A big fat bighead.

  Sequence Three: Front-room Camera,

  Tuesday, 15 May, Time Code 08.29

  Samantha Seymour is still in front of the TV with Polly. Dr Seymour walks in.

  – Sam, I’m sorry.

  – What?

  – I never asked you for shaving foam.

  – I’m right? You’re telling me I’m right?

  – Yes, I am. I’ve thought about it, and I’m sure I never asked you for shaving foam.

  – What’s come over you?

  – Could you get me some today, please? The gel type. I’m sorry I was so unfair.

  – Are you?

  – Yes, I am. See you later.

  He kisses her tenderly.

  – See you later, Alex.

  He leaves the room. She stares after him, astonished.

  – Daddy’s gone crazy, Polly.

  Sequence Four: Front-room Camera,

  Wednesday, 16 May, Time Code 18.00

  This is simply a recording of Victoria watching The Simpsons. The tape shows nothing but her, giggling, for twenty minutes. It reveals nothing hidden. I can only speculate that Dr Seymour retained it for the pleasure of watching his daughter laugh.

  Sequence Five: Bedroom Camera,

  Thursday, 17 May, Time Code 18.33

  This shows Guy Seymour alone in the bedroom he shares with Victoria. He is sitting on the floor with some pieces of coloured card, sticky-tape and scissors. As he works, his tongue protrudes. Music is playing at considerable volume in the background, some kind of rap. Guy has one shoe on and one shoe off; a chair is wedged against the door knob to stop anyone coming in. He gets up, goes to his computer and connects to the Internet.

  Given the chair wedged up against the door, it is tempting to assume that he is about to access something illicit on the web, perhaps pornography. The camera does not show the screen, however. After a while there is a jump cut in the tape. The time code shows that some twenty minutes have passed and now Guy is printing something out. Still we can’t make out what it is, but then he takes it on to the floor and begins to cut it up and stick it on to the pieces of card we saw earlier. In the gaps between the loud music we can hear him humming to himself.

  Here there is another jump cut, this time of ten or so minutes. Now, finally, it becomes clear what Guy is doing. He lifts the assembly from the floor and examines it. The camera can pick up the detail. In carefully drawn multicoloured letters made from downloaded images of flowers, the card reads, ‘Happy Birthday to the Best Mum in the World’.

  Sequence Six: Front-room Camera,

  Friday, 18 May, Time Code 09.09

  The camera is activated when Samantha Seymour walks into the front room. She hesitates, then moves to the sofa, feels under the cushion, and fishes out a packet of Silk Cut Ultra. She takes one out, puts it into her mouth and leaves it there. Then she removes it, without lighting it, and replaces it in the packet, crushes it, and throws it out of the open window into the street. She gives a small nod, then leaves.

  Cyclops Surveillance Systems, Tape Four, Saturday, 19 May

  Author’s Note: Dr Seymour is dressed smartly: pressed cream slacks, a blue shirt, polished shoes. His hair is combed, and there is a spring in his step. He is carrying a white plastic shopping bag in his left hand. He stares up at the camera, then at the shop. Then his face registers puzzlement and anxiety.

  The shop is closed. He rattles the security grille on the front. He speaks in a low voice but loud enough for the microphone to pick up. (Although it is unusual for external CCTV to have a sound facility, in this case it is on a loop with the internal system.)

  – Sherry?

  He retreats a few paces and examines the shop façade, as if a secret opening or portal might be revealed to him. Then he stares directly at the camera.

  It is unlikely that Dr Seymour could have known for certain that Sherry Thomas had a video link from the shop to her home a mile away – a basement flat somewhere in the no man’s land between Park Royal and the A40 junction known as Gypsy Corner. But it seems that he guesses it’s a possibility, because he addresses the camera directly.

  – Sherry, are you there?

  There is a long pause, as if he is harvesting his next words from thickets of confusion.

  – You like playing games, I know that. You live to watch. To move pieces round the board. I understand that. I know you’re watching.

  Another pause. Then he reaches into the white plastic bag and brings out two videotapes. He holds them up to the camera for more than a minute. The trill of a mobile phone breaks the silence. He fumbles and locates it eventually in his inside jacket pocket.

  – Hello? Sherry?

  It seems that no one answers him.

  – I know you’re there. Please answer me.

  He grows more agitated, pacing up and down in front of the camera.

  – I’ve got the tapes. I need to see you.

  He punches the grille in front of the shop.

  – Look. OK. I know what you’re doing. It’s OK. But it has to stop now. Or I’ll walk away. And, Sherry, I won’t come back. In five seconds I’m going to switch the phone off. If you don’t answer me by then, this is the last time you’ll see me. All right? Five, four…

  The camera, as if listening, pans up and down in a kind of symbolic bow. Now Dr Seymour reacts. His face registers urgency and concentration. Presumably Sherry Thomas has broken her silence.

  – Where are you?… Right… Thirty-one A Adams Street… left, then right, then right again… OK… I’ll find it… How do you know I’ve got an A–Z?… I’d never venture into strange territory without a map. Right.

  He clicks off the phone, face flushed. He takes out a London A–Z from the white plastic bag, and consults it. Then he begins to run, and is out of the sight-line of the camera in seconds.

  Adams Street, Tape One, Saturday, 19 May, Time Code 12.48

  Author’s Note: Adams Street is a stretch of run-down, large Edwardian terraced houses. All the faç;ades are a dirty cream. Unlike similar terraces in more gentrified parts of town, no one has attempted to brighten it with Mediterranean blues and yellows. Some of the houses seem derelict. Others are inhabited, but have blankets for c
urtains, or no curtains at all. The whole street is bleak and depressing, even in the bright sunshine.

  The entrance to 31 a is down a flight of concrete stairs to a small yard, which, although tidy and neat, has no flowers or decorations. The windows of the basement flat are protected with iron bars. A metal grille, with flaking yellow paint, covers the front door. Closed Venetian blinds block any view of the interior. The camera that was originally fixed above the door has since been removed by the police. It is the footage from this camera that we see first.

  Dr Seymour makes his way down the concrete stairs and apparently becomes aware of the camera following his progress. Almost sheepishly, he waves at the lens. Then there is the click of a latch – the internal door – opening. Dr Seymour smiles. In the following dialogue, we see only him: the hall, where Sherry Thomas is standing, is out of the range of any camera.

  – I’ve not been well, Alex. My head…

  – I can help.

  – Are you going to come in and examine me, then?

  – Not if you don’t unlock the security gate.

  There is the sound of a lever being turned inside, and the gate can be seen swinging outwards. Dr Seymour disappears and is picked up, moments later, on the internal camera, as is Sherry Thomas. She is wearing loose pink cotton pyjama trousers and a long-sleeved baggy white cotton shirt. Both look cheap, but are carefully pressed. Her feet are bare. Her hair is brushed. Her face is pallid, and she is trembling slightly. Her right hand frequently rubs her temples. She appears unlike she has on any other occasion in the shop – vulnerable, softer, casual. They do not touch in any kind of romantic or suggestive fashion, but Dr Seymour puts his hand on her forehead.

  – You have a slight temperature.

  – Why don’t you come in?

  The interior is murky, almost lightless. The camera just about picks out a cheap three-piece suite, a coffee-table, a sideboard and a rack of what look like technical magazines. There are no pictures on the walls, only a large analogue clock above the fireplace. There is also, on an opposite wall, a large digital clock. Both show precisely, to the second, the same time.

  There is no carpet on the polished wooden floor. The room is plain but immaculately clean and tidy. The only thing that looks remotely luxurious is the television, which is an enormous flat-screen home cinema. A daytime TV chat show is running. The image of the presenters is sharp, vivid and clear.

  Dr Seymour sits down on a sofa facing the TV. A bottle of wine, with a glass poured, stands on the coffee-table. To the left, a set of shelves is filled with what looks like a hundred or so videotapes. There are a few books, whose bulk and colouring suggest airport blockbusters. There is a Bible, and a set of encyclopedias that look pristine and unused.

  The walls are taupe, the doors are painted white. Everything is neutral to the point of dullness. A door to the left leads directly into a bedroom: the headboard of a single bed is visible, with an unframed mirror hanging over it. There is another clock on the bedside table.

  – Nice place.

  – No, it isn’t, but it’s all I can afford to rent in this overpriced hell-hole. It costs more than New York. When I lived there I did better than this. I’m going back some day. Some day soon.

  Sherry Thomas sits down on the armchair facing the sofa.

  – I thought the surveillance business was booming. BMW. The shop.

  – Appearances are everything. The BMW is leased. Shop’s in hock. But, like I told you, I’m not in it for the money. It’s more a hobby that got out of hand.

  – Out of hand? Or out of control?

  – I don’t really care if it’s both or neither. The point is, it absorbs me. Very little in life can do that for me any more. Do you know what I mean, Alex?

  – I think so.

  Dr Seymour fidgets with his bag of tapes. Sherry Thomas runs her fingers through her hair and grimaces.

  – Can you help me? It feels like I’ve got a pile of sharp rocks in my head. Last time – what you did, it was amazing. Like you conjured the pain away into thin air.

  – Maybe you should just take some of your painkillers.

  – They don’t work. Please try. You really do have a special gift.

  He gets up slowly and adopts a position behind her chair. He places his hands on her head, and begins to massage her temples gently.

  – Aaah, God. There it is. Right away. Like someone’s opened a channel for all the poison to sluice away.

  – Really?

  – I’m not kidding. Your talent is extraordinary.

  – It’s good to hear you say that. I stopped believing I had a gift a long time ago. Now I just hand out pills to people looking for perpetual erections, slim hips, thicker hair. I give out sick notes, I refer people to hospitals with six-month waiting lists. I’m not a healer any more. I’m an administrator, a patsy, a slot machine.

  – You’re a healer, Alex. You can take away pain. You just have to believe in yourself.

  – Whether I believe in myself or not is neither here nor there.

  – Perhaps. But I know you can do it. Because you’re doing it.

  Despite his protestations, Dr Seymour looks pleased. He continues to massage Sherry Thomas’s head for several minutes. She sits silently, eyes closed, in an attitude of perfect relaxation. As he massages, Dr Seymour surveys the room. Eventually his eyes settle on the shelves of tapes.

  – You’ve got an awful lot of videos.

  – They pass the time.

  Dr Seymour stops massaging, walks over to the shelves and inspects the contents. He nods, then returns to his patient. Sherry Thomas opens her eyes, then closes them again almost immediately as she speaks.

  – From Awakenings to Zabriskie Point. All my favourite movies. What were you expecting?

  – I’m not sure.

  – Listen, Alex…

  – Yes?

  – Thanks for coming over. I appreciate it. Really I do. It’s very… caring of you.

  – Not really. I didn’t know you were ill.

  – All the same, thanks. You can stop now. The pain has gone.

  – Really?

  – Pretty much. Still a bit of an edge. But bearable. Would you like a drink?

  – No, thanks.

  Dr Seymour returns to his seat on the sofa.

  – How about a smoke?

  – You know I’ve given up cigarettes.

  – I wasn’t talking about a cigarette.

  Sherry Thomas reaches across to an enamel-inlaid wooden box positioned exactly in the centre of an occasional table adjacent to her chair. She takes out some cigarette papers and a small package of greenish leaf, compressed into what looks like clingfilm. She unwraps it.

  – This helps to remove that last edge. The other great healer.

  She holds the leaf towards Dr Seymour.

  – I know that smell.

  – User?

  – No. Some of my patients reek of it. They must go about with great lumps in their pockets. I’ve never used any kind of illegal drug.

  – Do you object?

  – Not in principle. But are you sure you ought to? You’re unwell, after all.

  – It helps me. Anyway, suddenly I feel a great deal better.

  She rips open a cigarette with the point of a nail, and spreads the marijuana on an outsize Rizla paper.

  – Do you want to get high?

  – It’s not really my thing.

  – Yes, it is, Alex. You just don’t know it yet.

  She adds some more marijuana leaf, rolls deftly, licks the paper and produces a perfect cylinder, then inserts a rolled-up piece of card – a ‘roach’ – into one end, and twists the other. She throws her legs casually over the side of the chair. She lights the joint and blows smoke towards Dr Seymour.

  – I don’t want to get hooked on smoking again.

  – Again? You’re still hooked on it. That’s your trouble. You deny yourself pleasure. All you think about is duty. You need to loosen up a little bit. I fi
nd this helps me a lot.

  – In what way?

  – I told you. I’m like you, Alex. I like to have everything a certain way. A particular arrangement of things. Everything in its place. I’ve got no problem with that. I’m glad I’m that way. Even though I suspect it contributes to the headaches. But there are other ways of being. You can afford to experiment a bit. Slip in and out, this way and that. Not too much. Just enough. Sure you don’t want a toke?

  Dr Seymour smiles.

  – This is highly unusual. And rather immoral. Above all, it’s… strange.

  – Is it?

  – I like the strangeness of it.

  – Why?

  – Because in my life I always seem to know what’s going to happen next. But at the moment I don’t have a clue.

  – Is that good?

  – It frightens me. But yes. It’s good.

  – So, then, in that spirit, do you want some?

  – No.

  – Are you sure?

  – I’m not sure, no. In fact, to tell you the truth, I’m rather tempted.

  – I know you are.

  – You won’t take advantage of me, will you?

  – Is that what we’re here for?

  – I’ve no idea.

  – I expect we’ll find out. Here you are.

  – Just one puff, then.

  Dr Seymour takes the joint and draws deeply on the smoke. He coughs and sinks a little further into the sofa. Sherry Thomas grins widely, showing very white, small teeth. Her face has gained colour. The paleness of her lips has been replaced by a coral pink.

  – What are we going to do now?

  Dr Seymour holds the smouldering joint out towards Sherry Thomas. Languorously, she rises from the chair and takes a step to where he is lounging. As she takes the joint, her hand brushes against his.

  – We could talk.

  There is a long silence while they regard each other through the mist of smoke that separates them. Dr Seymour breaks it.

  – Are we going to have sex?

  – Do you want to?

  – I don’t think so.

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