the autogeography of a no/body

Jan 30

Data Processing – first draft

How to start? How to start? Coffee. Two cigarettes. Gulp, inhale, swallow, suck it back, drink it down. Two minutes later and she's rooting through her make up basket in the bathroom to find a nail file, then a lipstick. Mirror. Pout. Unpout. She raises her eyebrows. Her forehead crinkles. She wonders when her eyelids became so damn heavy.

“Hello doggie.” His tail wags in blank appreciation. The cats in the kitchen circle, mewing. Their food bowl is empty (she makes them share), the back door is shut, they could not possibly suffer the indignity of crawling through the cat flap. Thank you Sir Isaac Newton, all that wonderful fizzick, yet still you failed to grasp the essential nature of feline. One does not want to be independent, one relies on the constant attention of another and, when that is lacking, one primps and preens and discovers distractions.

The telephone rings. She accidentally sits down at the desk. Sure, she's good, fine, excellent, superlatively settled, everything is progressing perfectly. There are small laughs. Lunch. Yes. Maybe. Some time never. Is he? Is she? Of course, that would be wonderful. She replaces the handset and finds herself, once again, face to face with the computer monitor.

Mr T Walford, The Grange, 57 Sefton Road, Manchester, M15 6DJ, 0161 459380

Malcolm Parry, 22 Brunel Close, Andover, Hants, PO6 4FS, 02392 544396

K J Lloyd, 14 Pleasant View, Colchester, Essex, CO3 9QG, 01206 647329

The work does not interest her, but it fits into her life relatively easily. She starts when her husband leaves for work, taps away for a couple hours and then breaks to push a vacuum around the house. Lunch is a simple affair, eaten while staring at a TV that disgorges its entertainment like a desperate anorexic. After a second cup of tea she returns to the relentless database.

Miss L Atkinson, 26 Thorpe Avenue, Barnstable, North Devon, EX32 0TY, 01271 735651

Mrs Vivian Peterson, Flat 2, 74 Wellington Street, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH10 3RU, 01202 868734

Michael Bellamy, 4 Thompson Drive, Much Wenlock, Shropshire, SY13 7JR, 0773 4573947

Does Mr T Walford think he is in a Jane Austen novel. Perhaps the place was already called 'The Grange'? When he bought it did he imagine how the address would look and sound? Was that a deciding factor? Maybe the suggested superiority pleased his wife, Marjorie, “Yes, we live at 'The Grange', delightful, quite delightful”. Marjorie probably wears chiffon and reads The Sunday Times colour supplement.

Malcolm Parry, now there's a straight forward bloke. He passed his driving test at seventeen and bought a clapped out Ford Fiesta. His friends are called Mike, Lee and Dougie. On Tuesdays he goes to The Cobbler's Thumb and takes part in the pub quiz, usually coming third. Malc. Macolm to his mother. Bullied at school, but he works hard, now lives in a new build, complete with fitted kitchen and polished steel appliances.

As for Mr, Mrs or Ms Lloyd, a pleasant view in Colchester, are you kidding? Bored squaddies, concrete and carefully gridded roads do not make for pleasantry. Another new build. Pictureless walls, magnolia paint, wood chip wallpaper perhaps, a corner bath, in beige (known as 'sand' when they chose the suite), three different types of cleaner, two with squirty action, heaven forbid anything actually gets, or remains, dirty. Exfoliate the shit out of life itself. There is no room in Colchester for scum, dead skin, dead wood. Mouthwash. Bleach. Dental Floss. Brasso. Mr Fucking Muscle.

Laura does not like Colchester.

She surveys the room where she sits. Books, small balls of fluff (cat hair combined with dust and general detritus), an open fire, alternately belching and breathing. They never painted the walls, preferring beached plaster, as if the waves come in and out, leaving their impossible imprint on a vertical horizon. Naked. Yes, she likes to be naked. Vulnerable. Exposed. The shivers excite her.

This morning he made her shiver, ripple, quiver. They wedged sex between coffee in bed and breakfast at the kitchen table, leaving a door ajar somewhere between blowjob and ejaculation. When he mounted her, cool as the cucumber between his legs, she looked askance at the curtains. Did they blame her, for still being in bed at ten in the morning? Probably not. Sometimes the material is immaterial.

He slid in



Like a boat

Into water









Miss L Atkinson has squashed her title in as an after thought. Mrs Vivian Peterson might be a divorcee, by virtue of the fact she lives in a flat. Flat? Rice paper is flat. Glass is flat. Does Mrs Vivian Peterson have a heart of glass? Does she wish to be laminated throughout? Laura considers Mrs Vivian Peterson for a moment. Nothing is missing from her information. Similarly, Michael Bellamy, although his marital status remains unclear. On the form is says 'Name', a simple request. What is your name? Laura's name is Laura Miller, it used to be Laura Cunningham. She did not know when she got married that she could have chosen any surname. Her husband, Andrew, did not want to change his name to Cunningham. They had argued. “Cunningham,” he said, “sounds like cunnilingus”. He spat the word out and it landed on the carpet.





Oh God


Do all men becum religious when they have their penis up/in someone? Andrew likes to take the Lord's name in vain. Maybe it spur[t]s him onwards, direct communication, slavish adoration, always outside of himself, on his knees, Laura lying on the bed like a rag doll.

Gary Wood, Ken Cant, 24 Staplehurst Drive and 4 Station Street respectively. There is a Bob Roberts (surely baptised Robert Roberts), a David Betts (does he?) and a Ravenscrowned Byrd (either the unfortunate result of drug addled parents or someone with a misguided sense of their own unique magnetism). The road names dance in front of Laura's eyes. She wonders whether, in keeping with council policy, whole developments are christened thematically. If there is a Lebanon Rise is there also a Gaza Heights and a Basra Buildings? What about Afghanistan Acres or Kosovo Crescent?

Wars do not start with bullet fire, perhaps that is when they are declared, but for a war to be truly successful the participants, at least on one side, must hold acne grievances. Pick, pick, squeeze, a topical treatment of antiseptic does not help. Blight. Lack of recognition. A sense of disease and the prospect of a cure, usually involving cleansing. Unfortunately, Laura is unable to wash away her peony memories, red and blue, shot through with pink flounces, those suffocating wedding dresses, oh to be a bridesmaid and never the bride.

When Andrew asked, she had said yes straight away. The engagement ring never arrived, instead the romance was nullified by practical considerations. He earned a good wage. She earned a good wage. They bought a house in the suburbs, with central heating, double glazing and scope for an extension – “You could add an extra twenty grand to the purchase price,” said the estate agent, rocking back on his heels.

They never did need more space.

Naomi Symonds, 11 Elizabeth Place, Malvern, Worcestershire, WR14 2TS, 01684 249130

Mr P Fielding, 5 Cromwell Road, Fleet, Hants, GU51 4NX, 0208 4263040

And the way people write, some in thin biro, scratched so barely legible. Laura scratches on bad days, but covers the marks quickly with her sleeve. No one notices, except her, and only then after a few hours, or if she showers. Some write in sloppy fibre-tip (black), squashed flat against an unforgiving shiny surface. Ink fares the worst, smudging and smearing, unable to gain purchase with regard to penetration.

Andrew pulls her down the bed like a dog worrying at its quarry. She lies there. She LIES there, making the appropriate groans and gasps, writhing in just enough ecstasy, keeping step with his military formality. Pump, thud, pull, pump, thud, pull, pump, thud, pull, pumpthudpull, pumpthudpull, puthpu, mpudll. Afterwards they eat scrambled eggs, or beans on toast, or bacon sandwiches, or anything else that satisfies his need to reaffirm his atheism. God is for the bedroom, not the kitchen.

Chris Rapley, 32 Kent Avenue, Reading, Berks, RG1 3LG, 0207 1406650

Mrs C Duffy, 27 Queens Road, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, NG18 6TC, 01623 773729

When boredom threatens to overtake her, Laura looks up places she has never been and is unlikely to go. Bracknell she can take or leave, similarly Romford and Ipswich, but Portskewett in Caldicot sounds interesting. Monmouthshire. Big. Expansive. Marlow, very Christopher, maybe there is a church, one of those squat, heart of the village type things that smells musty and has a Norman knight interred under a rubbed-bare-brass-plate set into the floor of the transept. Yes, Marlow would be nice, in Spring, perhaps she could do a tour. “What do you think doggie?” He wags his tail. He does not know he would end up in kennels and she would be in the dog house simply for suggesting the idea.

Ben Mustow, 15 Old Barn Lane, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 3JH, 01892 640663

She stops. She remembers Ben Mustow, her Ben Mustow. It seems so long ago now. He was twenty three and she was nineteen, in her second year at university. Ben, with his sun bleached hair and brown eyes. All the girls liked him, mainly because he had been around, not the block, the world. Instead of the obligatory compulsory gap-year, he took three and crewed a yacht to all the places you could ever possibly want to go, and some you did not. Laura was surprised when he showed an interest in her. She was gangly and inexperienced, had barely read or seen anything. When she asked him “Why?”, wide eyed and somewhat held-in by fear of humiliation, he replied “Because you're you”. That did not make sense to her, but it was unimportant, nothing needed to make sense then.

Now, sitting at her desk, names and addresses dancing in front of her eyes, letters and numbers, she reasons this Ben Mustow cannot possibly be HER Ben Mustow. Both names are fairly common. In entering over five thousand slices of data it was inevitable there would be something recognisable. But Kate had told her, when they met at Julia's wedding, that Ben was living in Tunbridge Wells. Laura nodded, looked slightly to the left, right into the sun. She always did this if she wanted to stop herself from crying. The sudden blast of retina singeing light forced her eyeballs to react by screwing themselves tightly shut, overriding any unchecked bodily function. Then, when she opened her eyes, they were already watering, a result of unfortunate scorching. It was unnecessary to explain the tears, quite natural, completely unemotional.

When she was little Laura used to watch TV with her parents, but only on a Saturday. Dad sat in his usual armchair while Mum fussed about with her usual distractions. The family were particularly fond of The Generation Game, especially the climax. Contestants watched a moving conveyor belt of prizes rattle along in front of their eyes, trying to memorise as many of them as possible. After a couple of minutes, or so, Bruce Forsyth would usher them away, isolate them on a stool and badger them to recall what they had just seen. Inevitably, the stuttering contestants failed to entirely articulate everything and, typically, it went something like “Heated rollers, toaster, cuddly toy, Teasmade, set of luggage, bath towels, cruet set,” and so on, because this is as far as the BBC's budget stretched. At the end Brucie would pipe up with his catch phrase, “Didn't he do well?”, while raising his right arm, palm up, to indicate the audience should concur and applaud.

Laura had not done well.

01892 640663

She drums her fingers on the keyboard.

01892 640663

“What do you think doggie?” He wags his tail.

01892 640663

A decision is either made in a moment or not at all. Potentialities are fraught with the danger of rationality, and people are simply not rational, not when it comes to how they feel. It is impossible to discover what will or will not happen, because the only information available is totally subjective. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Laura makes herself a cup of tea and sits at the kitchen table, her hands wrapped around the mug. She has an overwhelming urge to bite her fingernails. If it is THE Ben Mustow, well, she could suggest a meeting, somewhere half-way between him and her. She just wants to touch base, his name cropped up, it might be good to see each other again. Confidence, that is the thing. Dithering would suggest she was dissembling. Why not? Why the hell not? A cigarette. Another cup of tea. Another cigarette. But it had ended badly. We're older, wiser. Bygones have been allowed to be bygones. What is a bygone?

The phone winks in its cradle, its little red light telling her that its merrily charging away. She clasps and unclasps her hands, remembering the last time she saw him, that picture in her mind's eye, worn and tatty 'round the edges, as if its been pinned to the fridge for too long, absorbing all the airborne filth domesticity produces. He said, right after he withdrew, “When we have children, what colour eyes do you think they'll have?”













The woman's voice on the other end of the line is light and breathy, expectant.

“Hello,” Andrew shouts as he comes through the front door, simultaneously unhinging the coat from his arm and dropping his briefcase onto the hall floor. “How was your day?”

Laura looks up as he enters the kitchen, her hand clapped over the mouthpiece.

“Who's that on the phone?” he asks.

This shakes her out of her shocked reverie. “Oh, no one, wrong number”.