The seymour tapes, p.16
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       The Seymour Tapes, p.16

           Tim Lott
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  – It’s not exactly what I had in mind either.

  – What are we here for, then?

  The expression on her face changes to one of faint puzzlement, as if even the posing of the question betrays some fundamental misunderstanding by Dr Seymour about the nature of their relationship.

  – You know that. We’re here to watch.

  – You want to see these tapes?

  He indicates the plastic bag lying at his feet.

  – Not yet.

  – What, then?

  – Would you like to see some of my tapes?

  – An X-rated movie?

  Dr Seymour giggles. The marijuana is taking effect.

  – Not exactly X-rated. More family viewing.

  Sherry Thomas rises, unsteadily, from her chair and moves across to her bedroom door. She disappears from view. Dr Seymour watches after her, drowsily. She returns holding a videotape. He stares at the spine on which a single word appears to be written in black felt-tip pen.

  – ‘Carl’. Who’s Carl?

  – He was my first boyfriend. In Salt Lake City. He’s married with kids now.

  She feeds the tape into a VCR on the floor beneath the giant TV screen, and presses play.

  An athletic young man with wide shoulders – footballer’s shoulders – concealed under a baggy T-shirt appears on the screen. Sherry Thomas sits down in the chair, and takes another puff of the joint. In the video, Carl has a basketball; the camera pans back to reveal a hoop on a backboard in the front yard of a large wooden house.

  – He lived there with his parents, Ned and Francine. Ned was an a-hole. He tried to make a move on me. I slapped his face. He still tried. The gimp.

  Carl is aiming the basketball at the hoop. It sails into the air and drops through the hoop. He lets out a whoop, does a little dance. The sound of what is recognizably Sherry’s laugh can be heard off shot.

  Now the picture cuts to an interior scene – a dining-room table in a large, vulgarly furnished room. It is laid with an immense turkey and steaming bowls of vegetables. Four people are seated round it, smiling and holding up glasses to the camera. One is Carl, the other a boy who looks about fifteen, weedy with glasses. At either end of the table are two middle-aged adults, an over-weight, red-faced man with an untidy moustache and receding hair, and a petite, tidy woman in a homely pastel pink woollen sweater. She is smiling uncertainly; the man is grinning broadly. The two teenagers look as if they just want to get through it. There is an empty chair in front of a laid place – presumably for Sherry Thomas.

  – Happy Thanksgiving!

  Now she leans forward and puts the image on freeze-frame.

  – The perfect American family. You know, at that time, I really thought I was going to be able to cut it.

  – Cut what?

  – Fit in. Join the monkeys in the zoo. That was what I wanted. Still want, I guess. But I’m outside the cage now.

  – How does that feel?

  – Cold. Clear. Limitless. Look at that woman. Carl’s mother.

  –What was she like?

  – She was scared. Have you ever seen such fear?

  She presses a button on the remote, and the picture zooms in on the woman’s face. The smile is tight, absolutely controlled. Her eyes, as Sherry Thomas has suggested, hold a faint yellow light that seems to conjure the idea of quiet, domestic terror.

  When Dr Seymour speaks, it is more slowly and deliberately than usual, as if he’s having to concentrate very hard.

  – I feel strange.

  Sherry Thomas steadies her gaze on him.

  – Watch this.

  She presses play again. The shot pulls back from the mother’s face to take in the whole scene. There is a clunking sound as the video camera is put down on some flat surface within the room and arranged so that the entire table is visible. Then Sherry Thomas appears in the frame, grinning. She looks about seventeen. Her blonde hair is highlighted and teased, Farrah Fawcett-style. She is wearing a smart red skirt and a crisp blouse. Her cheeks glow.

  The videotape continues. She dances round the table in a pastiche of a high-school cheerleader. Instead of pompoms, she uses cushions from the sofa. Then she puts them down, and plants a kiss on Carl’s cheek. Carl’s father speaks.

  – Don’t give it all to him. Leave some for me.

  – I hated him with all my heart, says Sherry Thomas, her eyes fixed to the screen.

  Dr Seymour doesn’t look at her. On screen, the younger Sherry is disentangling herself from her boyfriend’s embrace and making her way along the table to where Ned is sitting, holding out his arms to her. But she avoids them and instead, playfully, reaches for his cutlery and feeds him some turkey. The rest of the diners laugh as Sherry shovels in the food. At first Ned is playing along, joshing and laughing with the rest of them. But Sherry won’t stop. After he’s swallowed five large forkfuls, the laughter has died down and Ned is holding up his hands in supplication.

  – Enough, enough. You’ll make me fat.

  – You already are fat, you big gorilla.

  Now she picks up another pile of sliced turkey in her hand and tries to stuff it into his mouth. The laughter from the rest of the table is intermittent now, uncertain. Ned seems unsure of what is going on. He opens his mouth as if to continue playing, although it is clear he has had enough. Sherry, seizing her opportunity, stuffs the huge handful into his maw, and presses it home so that he begins to choke. Suddenly, roughly, he pushes her away.

  Carl’s mother freezes with shock. The two teenagers are laughing again, as Ned’s face turns red, and he tries to swallow the mess, then to spit it out.

  The teenage Sherry picks up a glass and raises it to the camera.

  – Happy Thanksgiving.

  The scene changes. A different room, smaller, darker. Now a naked male body can be seen reclining on a bed.

  Dr Seymour takes another deep toke of the joint, examines it, sees that it is finished and stubs it out. During the sequence his eyes hardly leave the screen. Sherry Thomas, on the other hand, watches his face rather than the footage, as if captivated by the possibility of his reactions.

  Onscreen, the camera pans so that the face can be taken in: Carl’s. Then it sweeps down his body to his groin. His penis, rising from an undergrowth of coppery hair, is erect.

  Now Dr Seymour glances at Sherry Thomas. She seems unconcerned. She gives him a sideways glance that is an odd mixture of absolute coolness and tightly controlled excitement. He shifts in his chair.

  The young Sherry now appears in the frame of the TV screen. She has set the camera on a tripod, perhaps, or a piece of furniture. She is naked. The heavy breathing of the young man, Carl, is audible. The seventeen-year-old Sherry’s eyes are fixed on the bedroom camera. She straddles the young man, facing the camera, takes hold of his penis and pushes it into her.

  Dr Seymour looks uncertainly at her: she speaks softly but matter-of-factly.

  – Do what you like. It’s OK.

  Dr Seymour looks puzzled. He watches as Sherry and Carl have sex, at first slowly, then urgently, noisily, almost violently. Sherry stares at the camera, never engaging with Carl.

  Then, slowly, clumsily, Dr Seymour unzips his trousers and begins to masturbate. All the time, he watches the giant TV image. Sherry Thomas ignores the screen and gazes at him, but otherwise does not move. Dr Seymour climaxes quickly. Sherry Thomas, as distant as if she were a doctor observing an operation, speaks in a low voice.

  – There are some tissues to the left of you on the floor. This is the last segment coming up. Watch.

  He picks up some tissues and cleans himself.

  – I thought I couldn’t do that any more. That I had become incapable.

  – Watch. Watch the video.

  Now the setting is different again – an exterior shot in a park somewhere. Carl is sitting on a bench, his head down.

  – What’s happening?

  Carl looks up at the camera. It is immediately apparent that he has been
crying. His eyes are red, his mouth distended in a grimace of misery.

  – Put that away, Sherry.

  – Pictures aren’t just about happy Thanksgivings, Carl. Pictures need to cover it all.

  The sound of weeping echoes from the speakers. Carl puts his head into his hands again.

  – Please, Sherry, We can work this out.

  – There isn’t anything to work out. I don’t want you any more.

  – But why not?

  – Does it matter?

  – I need to know.

  – OK, then. Because you’re clumsy and lazy in bed. Because I don’t like the way you’re happy with so little. Because you have hair on your back. Because I hate the spluttering noise you make when you laugh. But, above all, because you bore me.

  The camera remains trained on Carl. His face, contorted with pain and fury, stares into it. Then he turns and walks swiftly away. The camera remains trained on his back, as the sobbing becomes indistinct, and the image recedes to a blur.

  Then the screen goes blank. Dr Seymour stares at it, as if in shock. Sherry gets up, removes the tape from the VCR, and replaces it in its box on the shelf.

  – Would you like a cup of coffee, Alex?

  – OK.

  There is a clatter of crockery from the kitchen. Dr Seymour looks sleepy and confused. He tries to stand, but staggers and sits down again. She returns with two steaming mugs. She sits down next to him with a brisk, businesslike smile.

  – So much for pleasure. This will clear your head a little. Then we need to discuss what’s happening in your work situation.

  – That situation has been resolated… resoltified… resolved.

  His eyes are bleary and red. He sips the coffee carefully.

  – So quickly? You’ve heard nothing from Pamela?

  – No, it’s not that, it’s… How did you know her name?

  – You told me. The first time you came into the shop.

  – I don’t think so.

  He says these last words in a playful, singsong voice.

  – Does it matter?

  – Probably not. Nothing does much.

  – Have you got anything to show me from the surgery?

  – No. Nada. Nix.

  A shadow of puzzlement, even irritation, crosses her face.

  – That’s disappointing.

  Dr Seymour responds with a long, idiotic grin.

  – Don’t get uptight, Sherry. It really wasn’t very interesting. Just a discussion between Mrs Madoowbe, her sister and me. Mrs Madoowbe confirmed that I behaved properly when I examined her. That was all I needed. The camera has served its purpose.

  – Has it?

  – Yes. I was going to return it next week.

  – I don’t think you should do that.

  – Why the dickens not? The ‘dickens’. Where do you think that expression came from?

  – Security. Are you telling me that something similar couldn’t happen again?

  There is a pause. Then Dr Seymour, still under the influence of the marijuana, giggles. Sherry Thomas smiles at him.

  – I must say, I’ve been missing out. All my life. This stuff is top-hole. Now, that’s another odd expression.

  Dr Seymour seems profoundly disoriented and intoxicated, while Sherry Thomas is entirely in control of herself.

  – You certainly have been missing out, Alex.

  – I definitely have.

  – Can I see the tapes from your home at least?

  – No, you can’t.

  – Why?

  – Because they’re behind… they’re behind… Oh, my God, I can’t stand it.

  Dr Seymour collapses into giggles once more. Sherry Thomas joins in, somewhat artificially.

  – You can’t see them because they’re behind the sofa!

  While he is doubled up with laughter, she gets up calmly, walks behind the sofa, retrieves the videotapes and loads one in to the VCR. After a few moments, all the scenes recorded in the Seymour household, over the past three weeks, are played back. Dr Seymour and Sherry Thomas watch them in silence, apart from his occasional inane giggles. Sherry Thomas is straight-faced but fascinated: at no time do her eyes leave the screen. She freezes the tape on the final frame, a second after Samantha Seymour turns to her husband and says, ‘I’m impressed.’

  – So am I.

  – Are you?

  – Your wife is very pretty.

  – I suppose she is. I haven’t thought about it for a long time.

  – Do you think she’s having an affair with this – Mark Pengelly?

  – I don’t know. ‘Affair’. That’s a strange…

  Sherry Thomas, impatient, cuts him off.

  – Speaking professionally, I wouldn’t say there was enough evidence. Speaking as a woman… well, perhaps it’s none of my business.

  – Now that is funny. You’ve just watched recordings of my family in their home and you suddenly think it’s none of your business. God, I’m hungry. Have you got any chocolate?

  She ignores him.

  – Speaking as a professional, I think there’s not enough evidence. But speaking as a woman… there’s something between them. Some bond. I don’t know yet whether it’s sexual or not. But there are indicators. For instance, does she usually wear makeup during the day when she’s looking after Polly?

  – I’m not sure. I haven’t noticed.

  – In the tape, when you’re just at home with the family, she’s isn’t wearing any makeup. But when she’s with Pengelly she is.

  – Could be coincidence.

  – Could be. I’m just saying. And their body language.

  – What about it?

  – They stand a few centimetres closer than they need to.

  – Oh, Sam’s always been a close talker. Gets right up to people as if they were deaf. Whoever it is.

  – This is different. Look at the way she holds her body.

  – God, I feel sleepy. It comes in waves, doesn’t it? I need some fresh air. Are you sure you don’t have any choccy?

  Sherry Thomas rewinds to the scene with Mark Pengelly and freeze-frames half-way through.

  – Look at that. See the way she leans towards him. And this…

  She runs the tape thirty seconds on.

  – See how she brushes against him?

  – That mightn’t mean anything at all.

  – It might not. It might. We’ll have to keep watching.

  – We?

  – You are coming back again, aren’t you?

  – Am I?

  – Yes.

  – Yes.

  They exchange a glance. Then she replaces the tape with the other and presses play. They watch the initial sequence where Victoria is fooling around with Macy.

  – This must be painful for you.

  Now Dr Seymour seems close to tears.

  – God, yes. My little Victoria. I can’t believe that she’s…

  – Girls mature pretty early nowadays.

  – She’s my Victoria. She’s acting like a – like a whore.

  – She’s just experimenting. I’m sure she’s a good girl. Now, Guy, on the other hand…

  She winds to the section where he bullies Victoria.

  – He’s just a teenager.

  – He’s turning into a man. He’s developing a man’s cruelty. He needs to be watched. Carefully.

  – Samantha always says –

  – Let’s talk about Samantha.

  – We already have.

  – How’s your head?

  – Clearing a little.

  – Do you trust your wife?

  There is a long pause before Dr Seymour answers.

  – Yes. I trust her.

  – Good. That’s good. So we won’t need to watch her any more.

  – Won’t we?

  – What do you think?

  – I don’t know. I’m going to a medical conference tomorrow. I’m going to be gone the whole day. The kids are away on a school trip. There’s a
chance for her to misbehave.

  – Perhaps she won’t take it. But it does seem like a good opportunity to find out.

  – Can we talk more generally?

  – In what respect?

  – The whole thing. The… thing. It’s having a kind of positive effect, isn’t it?

  Sherry Thomas reaches over and pats Dr Seymour’s hand in a sisterly fashion.

  – Of course it is. You see, the thing is, Alex, they’re beginning to respect you. They took you for a weak man. And you’re not a weak man, are you?

  – No.

  – You’re a strong man. A strong man, rendered weak by trying to be good.

  – That’s right.

  – And I can help you.

  – You already have.

  – But I can help you more. Right?

  – How?

  – We need to find out some more things. You can get stronger and stronger. They will love you the more. They will respect you the more. You will be safe.

  – Yes.

  Sherry Thomas looks, rather theatrically, at her watch.

  – I think we need to wrap this up now, Alex. It’s one fifty-eight. I have an appointment with my therapist in an hour.

  – Do we have to?

  – Don’t you have to be home?

  – Not especially. Victoria and Guy are away. Samantha’s gone with Pengelly to some baby gym or other.

  – So after this Sunday – after the conference – you’ll probably know about her and Mark Pengelly. Once you’ve watched the tape.

  – Yes.

  – Are you scared?

  – I’m very scared, Sherry. I love Samantha.

  – I know you do. We’ll watch the tape together, then decide what to do.

  – All right. If it’s all for the good.

  – Can I ask you something, Alex?

  – Of course.

  – Just one thing.

  – Go ahead.

  – Why did you bring me these tapes?

  – What?

  – You seem puzzled. It’s a simple question. Why did you bring me these tapes?

  – Because – because you asked me to.

  – Do you do everything that strange women in shops ask you to do?

  Including bringing them videos of your family?

  – Of course not.

  – Then why did you?

  Dr Seymour stands up and paces uncertainly round the room.

  He shakes his head as if to clear it.

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