The seymour tapes, p.22
The Seymour Tapes, p.22Tim Lott
Now she gets down on her knees next to the bed. She puts her hands together.
– Shall we confess, then? It’s got to be worth a try. I’ll do it with you. OK. Come on. It might work. It might work on me. I don’t want to go through with this. I want someone to stop me. I want the door to burst open and someone to throw me to the ground and bludgeon me. I want an angel to appear and take away my power. That could happen. It might happen.
Dr Seymour screws up his face in a grimace. He starts to cough blood, and wheeze. Then Sherry Thomas speaks in a clear, distinct, slightly ironic voice.
– I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Alex the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and to all the saints, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word and deed, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin… I’m bored now. This goes on for hours. Will you do something for me? Will you close your eyes? Close your eyes. Go to sleep. You must be so tired. We’ll talk again when you wake up. It’ll be all right. Just be quiet now for a while.
Dr Seymour’s eyes are already closed and he is still. It seems that he is unconscious once more.
– Just go to sleep. I’ll make everything all right. It’ll be fine. Sleep now.
Sherry Thomas stands by the bed, watching the inert figure of Dr Seymour for several minutes. His breathing becomes slow and regular.
Then she produces the bloodstained hammer and strikes Dr Seymour two or three times on the head. It is over very quickly. At the end we can hear no more than her heavy breathing and a few words.
– I loved you, Alex.
It is now that the flaying of Dr Seymour takes place.
Some newspaper reports have suggested that Dr Seymour was flayed alive. The electronically doctored tape, with dubbed-on sound effects of groaning and screaming, is what led to the establishment of this myth. The actual tape proves conclusively that this was not the case. However full of anger and madness Sherry Thomas was on Alex Seymour’s last visit, she was not a torturer.
The question remains, why did she try to remove the skin from the cadaver of Alex Seymour?
Clearly, it was not something to which she had given serious consideration before she began. Flaying, as a cursory inspection of the admittedly limited literature on the subject has shown me, is a reasonably skilled job. From as much of the tape as I can bear to watch Sherry Thomas had little idea of what she was doing, and attempted it with a sharp kitchen knife rather than the precision surgical instrument that would have been necessary. She abandoned her efforts after about ten minutes, leaving exposed little more than part of Dr Seymour’s chest.
It is obvious that she was now severely deranged, but even in the minds of the most deranged, some kind of logic operates. What that logic was can only be guessed at.
Clearly Sherry Thomas was obsessed by seeing what was secret, taboo, hidden from view. It was one reason among several that she was attracted to, indeed compelled by, Dr Seymour – the fact of his profession, which was to see what most people thought of as private, forbidden. All that was normally unseen and unrecorded gave her some kind of charge, sexual or otherwise.
In the end, her attempt to ‘look inside’ Alex Seymour was the logical conclusion of her lifelong torturous reasoning. In the way a cruel or disturbed child pulls the wings off the butterfly out of random curiosity unlimited by empathy, Sherry Thomas was fascinated by interiors. To look inside a body was perhaps the last taboo for her. Maybe an even greater taboo would have been to look inside a living one, but, in the end, she was not a sadist. Just someone in great pain, searching to fulfil a compulsion that was rotting her from the inside. What she found – mere flesh, mere bones, mere blood – did not satisfy her. Nothing could. It was the pornography of existence that she sought to uncover: hidden life, hidden death. And, like all pornography, it left her feeling empty, unsatisfied, self-disgusted.
This seems to have been what triggered the final episode on the tape: Sherry Thomas had now explored every last border of her obsession and it had left her only with despair.
Watched by the camera, on film that would later be watched by others, she watched the inside of Dr Alex Seymour; she was caught inside a terrible hall of mirrors when she suddenly glimpsed herself.
There is a moment during this unbearable sequence when she drops the knife, and turns to the camera. It stares back at her, perpetually disinterested. And Sherry Thomas gives it a look of such desolation that I have to turn away, although until then I have managed to witness the flaying from beginning to end.
Then she switches off the camera.
Handheld Video Camera Tape, Sequence Two, Tuesday, 29 May, Time Code 22.49
According to the time code, it is about seven minutes since the previous sequence ended. Now the camera appears to have been set on a tripod or rested on a flat surface.
Sherry Thomas stands in front of the camera. She is now wearing a simple pink summer dress that seems several sizes too small for her.
The dress is familiar. Then it registers with me that she wore it in the video of her immediately before she was allegedly raped by ‘Ned’ twenty or so years ago.
Sherry Thomas speaks to the camera. She seems unspeakably weary. In her right hand she holds a large gun – a Smith and Wesson .44 revolver. It is clearly the weapon to which Ned referred when he appeared to threaten her with rape.
She stands about three feet from the camera and addresses the lens directly.
– This isn’t really going to be like dying. That happened a long time ago. The thing no one says about loneliness is how boring it is. Boring. An innocent word. Innocuous, even. Doesn’t sound such a disaster. But it’s the worst thing in the world. Still – to my surprise, I’m scared. Perhaps there are worse things than the awfulness of monotony.
Now, for the first time, on a face that was otherwise blank, Sherry Thomas gives an almost-smile that dies at the moment it is born. I have the impression that she is addressing somebody in particular, rather than the anonymity of the camera, but if she is, it is impossible to say who.
– Goodbye, then. Even though, of course, we never met.
Very quickly she puts the gun to her temple and pulls the trigger. Her head appears to explode. She collapses slowly, below the field of the camera. It carries on taping, for the next hour, a wall that was once taupe but is now painted with blood, bone and brain.
Author’s Note: In my first draft of this book, the narrative wound up at this point, apart from a brief postscript that contained a number of fairly unconvincing amateur psychological theories about Sherry Thomas, which I eventually discarded. Contemplating insanity, I concluded, is fruitless. Why? Because madness is like a star so distant that its light can never reach us. Madness is what it is: the submersion of reason in the great oceans of mystery that it surmounts. That vast body of the unconscious is unmappable, unknowable, and its logic must always remain an impenetrable secret to the sane. I was not prepared to embark on a quest that I had no hope of finishing.
Also, my attempts to find out more of Sherry Thomas’s personal history ran up against an endless succession of dead ends. Tidy-minded as ever, she had taken the precaution of destroying, or dumping, her collection of videotapes before her last meeting with Dr Seymour, along with any remaining papers or documents that might have led to her identification.
The conclusion, therefore, focused mainly on the mind and actions of Dr Seymour, who, although clearly in danger at times of losing his reason, seemed to have returned more or less to sanity by the time he arrived that night at Sherry Thomas’s flat.
I summed up my conclusions thus: that, variously, under the pressures of encroaching age, sexual-impropriety allegations, fear of his wife’s infidelity, anxiety about his children, and the weariness caused by a new child, Dr Seymour sought out Sherry Thomas as a desperate measure for taking back control of his life at a time when he felt himself to be losing all se
I wound up what was to be the final chapter with a terse homily about the dangers of surveillance and voyeurism, and decided to put the project to bed. Samantha Seymour had persisted in refusing my requests for another interview, as had Mark Pengelly. There seemed to be no other channel of inquiry worth pursuing. Samantha Seymour, through her lawyers, approved my manuscript for publication with surprisingly few amendments.
I had fulfilled my brief – to be as honest I knew how – my contractual obligations and my unwelcome, extra-contractual compacts with Samantha Seymour to expose myself in the way that she felt she and her family had been exposed. I returned the Seymour videotapes to her for removal to a vault, and the other tapes to the Metropolitan Police.
So convinced was I that the story was now told that I handed the manuscript to my publishers, Viking. They informed me that they were delighted with the results, and intended to begin the production process with the aim of publishing some time in the late summer of the following year.
It was some three months after I had delivered the book to Viking that I received an unexpected phone call.
It was from Victoria Seymour, asking if I could meet her and her brother, Guy, at the earliest opportunity. She said they had something important to tell me.
To say the least, I was surprised. From the beginning Samantha Seymour had vetoed my speaking to them: she said, reasonably, that it was exploitative to involve children. I had accepted her point of view, although I would have been interested to hear their take on events.
When Victoria rang me the first question I asked was whether or not their mother knew about them making contact with me. She said she did not. I pointed out that I would need her consent, but she said that it was unlikely to be forthcoming. She asked me to bear with them, talk to them, and that there was no need to commit myself to using the material they would give me until after we had met. This seemed innocent enough, and I felt less morally bound to Samantha Seymour than I once had since she had effectively blackmailed me into delivering confessions from which I recoiled.
They visited me in my office two days after Victoria’s phone call, on 14 September last year, six months after I had last spoken to their mother. As the videotapes and interviews with Samantha Seymour suggest, Guy is emotional and fiery. He is wiry-looking and highly strung, while Victoria seems depressed and fragile. She has lost weight since her appearance on the video footage, and the tattoo of the phoenix on her upper right arm looks unattractive, and unconvincing as a symbol of her current state of mind. Their father’s death hangs heavily over them: they look several years older than the fourteen and fifteen that they are respectively.
Interview with Guy and Victoria Seymour
Victoria Seymour: Thank you for agreeing to see us.
I’m happy to talk to you, but you must recognize that, for legal reasons, I may not be able to use what you tell me.
Guy Seymour [rather cynically]: I’m sure you’ll find a way.
So, what do you want to talk to me about?
VS: First, we want to talk about Dad. We feel very upset that we were excluded from this book. He was our father. We wanted to say something.
Your mother said that you…
GS: Mum’s been lying.
VS: We always wanted to talk to you. But she wouldn’t let us.
Perhaps she thought it would be too traumatic for you – it has been very painful for her to relive the whole thing.
GS [again cynically]: Terribly painful.
VS: Guy. Please. Let’s just keep it simple. Is your tape running?
VS: I just want to say, for this book, that I loved my father very much. That he was a good man, and I miss him terribly. And whatever he did with that woman, he did it because he wanted to look after us. He just got muddled up. That was typical of Dad. Couldn’t bear the fact that he couldn’t do enough. Thought we didn’t care about him any more. So he went to see that crazy woman.
Do you not feel angry with him?
VS: We did. We were angry with him for getting himself killed. For leaving us. But we’re not angry any more. Not with him, anyway.
The passage of time helps.
GS: It’s nothing to do with the passage of time!
VS: Guy, hold on a minute. Just let me finish what I’m saying. That Dad loved us and would never have done anything to harm us. And that, whatever he did, we forgive him.
Guy, is this how you feel? You seem very angry.
GS: I’m fucking angry. Angry enough to come here and visit a parasite like you.
VS: It’s not his fault, what happened, Guy. He’s just trying to find out the truth.
GS: He’s not interested in the truth. He’s a fucking writer!
Why don’t you try me?
VS: Look, why don’t you just say what you want to put on the record for the book? Then we’ll give him what you want to give him.
GS: What we want to give him.
VS: Then we can go.
[There is a long pause.]
GS: I can’t say it.
VS: Please, Guy. Please. For the book. For Dad.
[Guy begins to sob uncontrollably. Victoria puts her arm round him to console him. Eventually, he speaks.]
I love you, Dad.
[They hold each other for perhaps twenty seconds. Then they separate, and make as if to leave my office.]
Is that all you have to say?
GS: Mum’s doubtless said everything else.
You sound as if it’s her you’re angry with.
GS: I wonder why that could be?
[He spits out these words with almost unutterable bitterness. Then he takes a 10x8 Jiffy envelope out of his shoulder-bag, and puts it on my desk.]
We got this in the post a few days after my dad died.
What are you –
GS: We couldn’t tell anyone about it. We thought Mum might be be arrested.
VS: That’s enough. Come on, Guy. He can draw his own conclusions. We need to leave. Thank you for talking to us.
But what’s on it?
GS: You’ll like it. You’ll love it.
But… but you’ve had this tape for a year and a half! Why now? Why?
[Guy Seymour gives me a hard, resentful stare.]
GS: Because she’s pregnant. By him. And this time she’s not going to get away with it.
[Then they leave, Guy sobbing again.
I open the packet, already sure of what I will find.
Unmarked Tape, Monday, 28 May, Time Code 16.30
The tape is from Adams Street. It begins with a shot from the external camera, which shows Samantha Seymour approaching the front door and pushing the bell. At first it is ignored, but eventually Sherry Thomas answers. She does not unlock the front security grille.
– Are you Sherry Thomas?
– You know who I am.
– I’m Mrs –
– I know who you are. The innocent victim of a terrible transgression.
– I don’t know what that means. But I’ll tell you what I’m not. I’m not a fool. I know what’s been going on.
– How did you get this address?
– It doesn’t matter. You already know more about my business than you have any right to.
– Look, I think you might have got things every which way here. Nothing has happened between me and your husband.
– I know that. He wouldn’t sleep with someone who looked like you. You’re not his type.
– Aren’t I?
– You’re too ugly.
– Have you come here for a cat fight?
– Not really.
– What, then?
There is the sound of a door unlocking. The internal cameras show Sherry Thomas entering her flat with Samantha Seymour behind her.
– Would you care for a cup of tea?
– I don’t want a Tupperware party. I just want to say a few things to you straight. Before all this ends.
– It’s going to end?
– Alex has had enough. He thinks you’re crazy. He’s never going to see you again.
– Is that so? Shall we sit down at least?
– I prefer to stand. Interesting place you’ve got here. Homely, in a very bleak, minimalist kind of way. It’s like a monument.
– To what?
– Aloneness. Have you ever tried buying a copy of The Rules rather than going through all this?
Sherry Thomas sits down. She seems relaxed and unflustered. She takes out a cigarette – not the Marlboros she had when Dr Seymour was with her but a Virginia Slim – and lights it.
– I presume you’ve talked to Alex about your shocking discovery.
– Not only do I have a husband, I share everything with him.
– Yeah. That’s right.
– If you could hear yourself! You don’t know anything about either of us.
– Actually, Samantha, it’s you who doesn’t know anything about your husband. The thing is, I can see what’s there. I knew him immediately. You just have him in two dimensions. You simply have an idea of him that you use to keep your world nice and cosy. But he’s much more than you think. Much braver, much stronger than you think he is. He’s just got some issues he needs to –
– I’m not interested in your American psychobabble.
– If you’re not interested in what I have to say, what is it you want to say, Samantha?
– Don’t call me Samantha. You don’t know me.
– I know a little about you, I would say.
– This is all going to stop. Then you can go and commit suicide or whatever people like you do when they get abandoned. That’s what you do, isn’t it? Get abandoned.
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