Descent

Water has memory you know. You can’t wash away your own history, it doesn’t fade, it doesn’t disappear because water has memory and we are 60% water. Our evils are in our own water. They form a grease, a slim, which grows a repugnant skin over that liquid memory, repelling all attempts to clean away our past. Our water can never forget no matter how we, in our little minds, form our deceptions.

Are you listening to me? Don’t just sit there with that smug grin. You think you’re comfortable don’t you, safe, well you’re not safe, no-one is. It’s your water you see, it always remembers what you have done.

The small room was smoothed out by florescent light. He talked, she sat and listened.

Where was I? Don’t just sit there, tell me where I was.

I remember, I was telling you how I met her wasn’t I? Well wasn’t I? You’re useless really, aren’t you? You just sit there but never say anything, you just want me to talk. Not like her, that woman. I remember, she’s in my water you see, I remember how I met her.

He looked at his wrists, looked at her and continued.

The rain was the worst type, it penetrated everything and made you wet, soaked through, then the bitter cold wind could do its job of freezing you from the marrow of your bones to the ache of your fingernails. I couldn’t tell you the exact date and maybe I am not sure about the year, perhaps 1992, could be, but what does it matter? There is no mystery about this fuzzy memory because it comes from a time when I lived inside a bottle for every waking hour. Time was simple for me, the pubs were either open or they were not.

I was a dreadful alcoholic, I was a rich one. I was a very rich one. Even worse, it was money that I had not raised a finger to earn. I had never done anything to justify wealth and sponged up life effortlessly before the day the bank transfer arrived in my account. Someone old had died, left £15 million in a fortune, after tax, and it turned out that I was the only descendent he had. The first I knew about it was a solicitor’s letter telling me there was news to my benefit and within a week I had all the money I could possibly wish for.

Naturally, I dumped my wife immediately. She had got fat and, to be honest, I couldn’t stand the smell of her. Strange that isn’t it, we tend to forget that we can smell people, we smell them all the time but it does not really register with us in the same way as our other senses. Emma, that was her name, she cried and said she loved me but I just walked out and left her. Those fat tears running down her chubby cheeks, pathetic, she was just sorry for herself. Thought crying would affect me, make me change my mind, stupid bitch.

I never told her about the money and I haven’t seen her since. Within hours I was in a pub buying everyone a drink and had two young girls competing for my attention. I shagged both of them. That was my life back then. The money was sensibly tied up and I could just take a big income, all that I needed, as I lived in bars, pubs and hotels. I didn’t want a house or a car or anything, I didn’t want anything around me I had to lift a finger for. I had the money you see, everyone else could do the work. But that rain-sodden night changed something in me.

To be honest it terrified me and I have been scared ever since. When you hear a legend like that, it soaks itself into the soft tissue of your brain. A stain which spreads over your consciousness.

I am not sure why I am telling you this, perhaps you are just sheltering from your own particular storm and want to pass some time, perhaps you fancy me, I don’t know.

Still listening eh? You got a fag? No, no you never have any bloody cigarettes. Anyway.

I sort of burst through the doors of that pub and brought a gale of wind and rain with me. Everyone looked round and someone shouted for me to “Close the fucking door.”. I was completely frozen and my coat, jacket, jumper, trousers and even my socks were just icy wet slops that stuck to me and made every movement clumsy and awkward. I got to the bar and shouted up a large whiskey, shot it straight down my throat and before the barman had the chance to take my £10 note, I had demanded a refill, a pint of bitter to go with it and a cheese roll.

It was stale I remember, the cheese roll, the bread, all dry like cardboard and sawdust.

The second whiskey went straight down as well and I lifted the pint off the bar then walked over to a table as close to the fire as I could get. This was a grotty old Victorian pub filled with grotty people, so I fitted in easily. There was no roaring log fire but a cheap 1960’s ugly beige tiled fireplace in front of which was the most ramshackle of gas fires. All around cheap ornaments stared down at a carpet which looked more like biological warfare than something to walk on. Tables were stained and un-wiped, cigarette smoke blurred out the space above the height of the bar and the walls may have been wallpapered, they may have been painted, but who could tell what lay beneath the yellow nicotine stain which poisoned every conceivable surface.

In the florescent room she made a mental note about how practised and honed this story was. He continued.

The pub itself appeared awful and my fellow drinkers all had a look of slow death about their features. They were dry, cracked and withered people. Smoking and drinking was what they all lived for. Their creased faces, wrinkled hands and the occasional desperate coughing fit, gave the whole place the impression of a waiting room in a morgue.

He paused, looked down at his wrists and back up at her.

You didn’t have to be a psychologist to sense that these people were not exactly friendly, were not in any way nice or approachable or even of good character; decent people do not go into pubs like that.

Cheerful cockney’s and the jolly working class drinking in old pubs, served by a ruddy-faced landlord who is as honest as the day is long; we English specialise in our own delusions. The people were horrible and nasty, if they worked then it was probably criminal, if they didn’t work then it was definitely criminal. They were the scum of the earth. I was safe with them.

Looks up and then looks across at her.

Or so I thought.

Sure you’ve got no fags? Can’t you send someone out to get some? No, well ok, on we go I suppose.

I didn’t care, all I wanted was shelter from the rain and to get more beer inside me. I was well into my life of being a drunk and was far from intimidated by anyone or anything. Alcohol-fuelled an aggressive abusive nature in me which, when backed by the fact I was tall and carried weight, was enough to ensure most people kept their distance. Besides, I had found that people like me, drunken, selfish louts for that is what I am, are really cowards when challenged. The art is just to shout louder and be more aggressive, to drown out all opposition and never to back down. There was no-one in this bar who could lay a glove on me and they all knew that. Scumbags every bloody one of them. But that was before she came in.

I got up and went to the bar to get another pint and another double whiskey. My clothes were slightly less wet and had been letting out a bit of steam under the pathetic influence of the gas fire. I was still uncomfortable and not quite drunk enough to be at the ‘couldn’t give a fuck’ stage. I collected my pint with the whiskey and bought a packet of cigarettes, Players Navy Cut, un-tipped.

You look like the sort of weakling who doesn’t smoke, that’s why you’ve never got any fags, so you probably don’t know what un-tipped means. That was a proper cigarette, thick, rough tobacco and no filter, un-tipped, when you smoked one of those you could feel it burning your lungs, fantastic. A puff on one would dry your throat right out and after a packet, your fingers stained greasy yellow from the tar and nicotine. You can stuff your ‘no smoking’ crap where the sun don’t shine. The world today is full of wimps and toadies, complete wankers, just mummies boys and women who think they can do what the fuck they please.

Am I boring you? Tough, I didn’t ask you to come and listen to me, piss off if you don’t like it.

She nodded at him. She felt he needed some response to carry on with his story. She was fascinated by how he could be so detailed and intricate, almost eloquent but then descend into vulgarity and aggression. Everything was about ’I’. She nodded at him again and he continued.

Anyway, I get back to my seat and some dreadful old whore is sitting in my place. I didn’t see her come in, she must have slipped in whilst my back was turned, she looked like the crafty sort. I told her to get on her bike and fuck off out of my seat before I threw her off of it. All the others turned their heads to look the other way. They didn’t want any involvement in trouble between drunks and not looking was their best defence. She didn’t move and I was just standing over her looking down at this sort of grey haired old bag lady, disgusting she was. She looked like a shrivelled potato.

I shouted at her and told her to fuck off out of my seat. Slowly, she turned her head around and looked up at me.

He appeared lost in his own memory for a moment.

I couldn’t do or say anything, her eyes paralysed me on the spot, I swear, I couldn’t move. She was a scraggy old hag, looked like some tart who’d been a prostitute sucking cock all her life. When she had got to seventy or so, I bet she couldn’t suck hard enough to pay the rent and ended up on the streets.

He laughed, a nasty, dry crackling spiteful sound.

Her clothes were rags, her hair was a rats nest and all around her neck,… grime and dirt where she hadn’t seen a bath for decades. A repulsive bit of human flesh that was no good to anyone. But her eyes, her eyes were astonishing.

His face distorted with something that appeared to be fear.

Maybe they were blue, maybe they were violet, whatever, it was like staring into deep pools of water. I was drowning in her eyes, going under, going down, being submerged. Like any animal trapped and sinking, you either swim or you die. Unless of course, someone pulls you out. The bitch pulled me out. I am sure she could have let me drown if she had wanted. She told me to get another seat and to come and sit with her by the fire. I didn’t argue, I didn’t so much as bark, I just did what I was told and whilst I was doing what I was told I wasn’t even thinking about how or why I was doing it.

I put my pint, whiskey and fags down on the table and pulled up another seat. By the time I had put my seat in place this old hag was already puffing on one of my fags. She didn’t cough. I noticed that. Most people cough when they first try Navy Cut but she didn’t. She just sucked in a huge lungful, held it and then blew out a stream of smoke which travelled across the pub in a smothering cloud. I didn’t say anything, I mean, I just didn’t say anything, she had helped herself to my fags and I didn’t say a word.

I was sitting there and she was looking at me like a heron watches a fish in a stream. Looking right inside me, stripping me to the bone, laying my guts out on the table, eating my life with a stare.

“Bit of a cunt aren’t you!” she said and I was just knocked back by her use of the word ‘cunt’. There she was, a woman, saying it to my face as bold as brass and basically not just calling me one but treating me like one. And this is it is you see, I didn’t do anything, again, I didn’t do anything. By rights, I should have given her a slap.

In the florescent room she wondered about this violence towards women. Maybe it was really just violence towards her. He continued unaware of her questions.

She looked at my whiskey, picked it up and drank it down in one swift gulp. I reached out and put a hand on my pint in case that disappeared as well.

“Don’t worry, can’t stand beer, I prefer wine.”

She sniffed, wiped a straggling hand of fingers under her nose, pinched her nose, glanced around the pub before leaning in towards me.
“I am going to tell you a legend, do you know what a legend is?”

I was about to answer but she just carried on.

“Of course you do, you went to a good school, you had a good education, your mother made sure her little boy never had to do anything, she did it all for him didn’t she?”

I tried to speak but she just looked away, snorted and then looked back.

“Men like you are really disgusting creatures… aren’t you sweetie, disgusting aren’t you. You had every advantage and you’re intelligent but you choose to be disgusting.”

She looked over at the bar.

“Go and get me a bottle of wine, red, bring it here and put it on the table with the biggest glass they’ve got.”

I looked at her and remember feeling in a bit of a daze. I couldn’t say what was happening, she just seemed to have taken control of me and I could not resist.

“Now!” she snapped, “get to it, you loathsome creature.”

Before I realised it, I had done what I was told. I jumped up, bought a bottle of wine and brought it to her like a puppy dog bringing a stick back to its master. The wine wasn’t great, just cheap red plonk. In those days pubs didn’t really do wine like they do now. Sitting back down, I watched as she opened the bottle and poured a full glass out for herself. She then took it up to her nose and sniffed. For a moment or two, she looked as though she was lost in a feeling of happiness. Her eyes were closed, her body motionless but her face softened with just the most subtle trace of a smile I think I have ever seen.

She could again see clearly how practised his story was and wondered if any of it had any truth. He was looking at his wrists again and without looking up suddenly continued.

In some strange way, I was lost in that shadow smile and all of the rest of the world had, well, sort of disappeared. The smell of that wine had seemed to change her and when she opened her eyes she was looking straight at me.

I don’t know how to say this or even properly describe it but she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Like some sort of weird butterfly inside its bony, crinkled chrysalis, there beneath her skin I could see a most beautiful woman, I could see her. She flowed within herself.

“Ahh good,” she said, “so you are not completely a hopeless case then.”

I asked her what she meant.

“Well if you can see me as the person I really am then you are able to see past your own bitter, twisted perception.” She sipped at her wine, smiled and carefully put the glass on the table. With the outstretched fingers of both hands flat on the table surface she pushed the glass around in a little circle and then looked up at me.

“There is still something in you worth considering.”

He appeared frantic.

I didn’t ask any questions about why she thought I could see her. I was like a fly in a web, things were happening and I couldn’t do anything. Everything was beyond my control, it was all just happening to me. You may be cynical, and I can see you are, don’t fucking lie, but it was like she knew everything about me, I mean every fucking thing.

“I am going to tell you a story and in the story, there is a legend and that legend is Adrestia and that Adrestia is me. I am Adrestia, that is my name, Adrestia Cocytus and yes, it is Greek. My parents were from that part of the world.”

That’s what she said.

I could sort of see it in her, the Greek thing I mean, you can sort of tell you know, I mean the Greeks, they have a certain look, like Jews. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a racist it is just that you can tell things about people just by looking at them. Like I can tell that you are not as smart as me, no offence but you are not. I can tell that just by looking at you, in the same way, I can spot a poof or a paedo. Anyway, once she told me her name, I sort of thought that she was obviously a Greek. Stupid of me really not to see that straight away.

Whatever she was I knew one thing, that she was dangerous to me. Don’t shake your head, yeah I saw you do that. She was dangerous because she knew the truth about me, she knew the truth I never wanted to know, the truth I hid away in dark places.

He looked at her and she noted the anger in his eyes.

That’s the truth we all have in our waters, the hidden truth, the one we don’t like to hear. Oh, you think you are different eh? You think you are perfect do you, well matey, none of us are perfect least of all those who think we fucking are. We’re all 60% water you see.

She kept helping herself to my fags, sipping her wine and talking not to me but at me in a soft voice. Like an accountant of the soul, she laid before me all the things, all those secret nastinesses I had forced on other people, she tallied up my life and put my head on a spike. Now you may think I am mad, I know you all think I am mad but you don’t know, you don’t understand. As she named all of my sins it was like she was getting younger, it was sort of like that beautiful woman I had seen inside was coming out into the open. In every word she spoke about my hidden sins she became more moist, more supple, she was growing younger as I watched.

“Yes dearie,” she said, “that ugly old crone is not about who I am but about the way you see the world. You stare into the waters of life and mistake the reflection of your soul for the lives of others. The ugliness is what you do to other people, it is your own ugliness set upon the lives and feelings of other human beings.”

I can tell you that is what she said, really, I remember it word for word… I mean you would wouldn’t you? She told me that all the hurt and pain I placed on others would not go unpunished.

“People think they can get away with it.” she whispered towards me. “Men like you think there is no consequence but oh, dearie, there is always a cost. No-one can escape, no-one does escape.”

I didn’t escape. I haven’t escaped. She will come and get me. She told me she would be coming and that she would drag me screaming down into the underworld. She would make me pay for my secret histories, she would hold me to account. She told me she was the daughter of beauty and war, the balance between them, the fulcrum on which good and evil rest. She told me she could see my water and in that she could see the memories it had stored away for the day I would need to pay.

When she left the room he had been reduced to ranting.

You’ve been with Miller again?” asked the warder.

She was a short, stumpy woman, too podgy for her uniform size and not really gifted with anything like an intellect. Dr Bainbridge did not really like her, she could not even remember her name and just referred to her as ‘officer’. Women like her were only good for menial jobs, she had no style, her hair was an inappropriately short crop which was badly done and accentuated her flabby double chin. As a qualified medical professional, Dr Bainbridge could not help herself, being around stupid, unfit women with dreadful teeth just made her shudder.

“Yes, officer, Miller again.” Bainbridge said as she made to move on past the warder and escape into her office. Spending a therapy session with Miller was tiring enough without being waylaid by the warder.

Miller was an unpleasant character, quite nasty really. His history of violence, sudden, explosive violence, made him a dangerous man to go into a room with. Consequently he was always handcuffed to his chair. He could seem rational, even eloquent at times but then suddenly turn crude, especially about women. A provocation Bainbridge now recognised was aimed at her.

“I know something you might want to hear.” said the warder.

“About Miller?” Bainbridge asked.

“About Miller.” replied the warder.

Bainbridge pushed a hand down the seam of her tight red skirt and then looked at her left wrist. On a golden Cartier, the time told her she could spare a few moments.

“About Miller?” she asked again and the warder nodded.

There was something in this that Bainbridge could not quite put her finger on. She didn’t like this woman, she despised her in fact, but then she was around Miller a lot more than anyone else and Miller was a difficult case. If she knew anything it might help Bainbridge to make a breakthrough and that would be good for her career.

“Come into my office, I have five minutes.” Bainbridge said, turned immediately away and started walking down the hallway.

The nameplate on the door said Dr Brook Bainbridge, MB ChB, MRCP, CCT. Prison Psychiatrist. Bainbridge unlocked the door and strode purposefully into her office. The warder followed a few paces behind. Bainbridge turned and looked down at the dishevelled figure. The warder could only be five feet four and a good six inches shorter than herself. She looked at the warder’s hair, such a mess, she always kept her shoulder-length blonde hair tied in a neat bun when working and why could a woman not buy a decent pair of shoes for work. The warder was wearing dirty scruffy trainers which were grubby and falling apart.

Bainbridge took off her white jacket and hung it on the back of her chair. Many in her profession kept away from such professional wear when dealing with the mentally ill but she felt that a white jacket defined her status and maintained boundaries. Working in a smart suit just made you look like a secretary in her opinion.

“Take a seat officer.” She said and gestured towards a stiff, cushionless chair. Then she took her place behind her large desk in her equally large, comfortable executive office chair.

The warder looked around the room. There were several framed certificates on the wall behind Dr Bainbridge, a small cabinet under a barred window on which stood a very expensive looking Italian coffee machine. On two bookshelves, which ran the length of one of the side walls, books sat in quiet and undisturbed order. They ran along in sets and the volume marks at the base of the spines showed them to be in perfect precision. Underneath the shelves stood a water dispenser which bubbled and gurgled at random intervals. On the opposing wall was a large framed reproduction of Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream”.

“So what is so important that you need to tell me urgently.” Dr Bainbridge asked. The warder tried to cover a smile, she had said nothing of urgency. She felt this was just Brook Bainbridge subtly asserting her own importance.

“It is Miller Dr Bainbridge…”

“Yes, officer, I know it is Miller, please, get to the point!” Bainbridge replied as though speaking to galley slave.

“Strange nightmares, he has strange nightmares, I know because I hear him talking and even screaming about them.”

“Nothing unexpected, the man is completely unbalanced, a violent sociopath initially but one who has then suffered a further complete mental collapse.”

As she was speaking Bainbridge started to wonder why she was even talking to this woman. What business was it of the officer to be involved in the professional process of assessing a violently insane prisoner? She even began to wonder if she herself was contravening her own professional code of ethics in talking to this idiot. She shook her head, somehow she wanted to hear what this simpleton had to say, she couldn’t explain it but she just felt a need to find out what the officer had discovered, if anything.

“He calls out a word, who knows what it means, I wrote it down, it is something like Adreesta.”

“Adrestia, yes officer I know the name, this is the figure in his paranoid delusions, this is the story he always tells in his sessions. Really, this is just a waste of my time.” Bainbridge snapped.

“No Doctor, no, it’s not the name I wanted to tell you about.” the warder protested. She seemed roused by Bainbridge’s dismissal of what she was saying. The doctor noticed a fire in her eyes she had never seen before. “No, it’s something much more than the screams of a madman.”

“Well go on then, really, I don’t have all day you know.”

Brook Bainbridge was right about that, she actually was in a hurry and she realised that and again wondered why she let this little nobody into her office. The eminent psychiatrist had an appointment with her solicitor and then a court appearance to attend. Much depended on the outcome of the day, she was looking to place a restraining order on her brother and his wife and get them removed from their mother’s house.

Rose Bainbridge, the siblings’ mother, was 79 and suffering serious dementia. Kevin Bainbridge, Brook’s brother, and his artist wife had moved in to supposedly take care of her. Dr Brook Bainbridge wanted her in a home as quickly as possible and those two out of the way of her rightful inheritance. Kevin was a complete waste of space, he was a jobbing gardener who had never made anything of his life. His wife, Carol, called herself an artist but she was just a bad seamstress who made strange costumes. Brook couldn’t stand her.

This idle pair had moved in because they had nowhere else to live. Under the pretence that it was better for Rose to be in her own home they were keeping her out of an institution and in her own cottage. A lovely cottage, very desirable, worth £950,000 or so the estate agent said when Dr Bainbridge had it valued two years previously. Definitely worth more since then. Bainbridge had managed to get her mother psychologically assessed by an old college friend and obtain a report stating that Rose Bainbridge was being bullied by Kevin and Carol. This was the expert testimony she needed to get a restraining order and have them removed from the cottage.

Once they were out Rose could be sent to a nursing home, the cheapest and worse run Brook Bainbridge could find. In such an environment her mother’s decline was guaranteed. In the meantime, she could get power of attorney and take possession of the cottage. She had worked hard to put all these pieces in place and she wasn’t going to be disturbed from her course by some fat, stupid, ugly little prison warder.

“Come on, I have an appointment to get to.”

The warder stood up and firmly faced the psychiatrist.

“Miller is not mad, they are not nightmares, there is someone else in his cell with him.”

Dr Brook Bainbridge found she couldn’t speak. She was transfixed by the officer’s eyes, they seemed as though they framed an eternity. She looked down and saw the name badge on the warder’s chest; “Officer Adrestia Cocytus” it said in small letters easily missed.

“There are always consequences to your actions in life Dr Bainbridge, no-one can escape, not even you. It’s in your own water.”