Sport 35: Winter 2007
Tim Corballis — Janie, Tom
Already at primary school, from billboards, from the clothes that women wore to work, from the way her mother caught glimpses of herself in the hall mirror, Janie knew without knowing that girls were required to be beautiful. She knew it with her fingertips as she played with her hair. Why couldn't she have said it? Her mind, her words had no idea what she knew. When girls played, most of the games had a secret aspect of competition: who could be looked at the most? While the boys were learning to compete for strength, for answers, to outdo their rivals, the girls' own competitions were quieter, and were encouraged and taught by the adults around them. Who could win an extra look (and from whom)?
So when, some years later, she decided to rebel, it was a decision to become ugly. She had a name for all that, for the hair and the painted fingernails, for the ways women were meant to be: it's name was High Street. It was just a name for something, a feeling. She repeated the name to herself as she walked under heavy skies in the winter to and from school, alongside a road that was also heavy, and bent itself to the west.
In his own way Tom knew too—didn't everyone? Boys' rebellions had to be not against looks, but against deeds. Boys, meant to be heroes, had to become the opposite.
They lived in a wide valley, hardly a valley, in the west of the city. They had almost never talked, though they lived in the same street. He followed her to school, not intentionally—they had walked the same noisy road there and back for the few years they had been at the school, a road that ran along the base of the valley. You felt as if the land was flat, until the valley filled with morning fog, thickest at its base, like today, on the road.
His thoughts, if they could have been written down, would have page 184been: Wing along. If I had wings! When I walk it's with wings. I don't know. Wings, not an angel's—wings of anger. I don't care about anger. Ha ha! Angry at anger, what a world. What a way, what a way to walk—look at her. Her feet along, like weights, like hanging feet, too long, like mine? She thinks of what I see, she thinks of what I think, but when I walk in front of her I think of nothing, like now. No. Know. I don't. Does she? My arms make small movements like wings, but I don't notice. Does she? Do hers? Is she?
On the next occasion he spoke to her:
I've seen you. You live on my street.
What's your name?
You look like you're thinking when you walk along.
What do I look like I'm thinking about?
Oh, I don't know.
The next time after that, she saw him first. She thought: Does he look like he's thinking? He looks like he looks. I don't know what he looks like. He doesn't care what he looks like. Nor do I—yes I do. I don't want looks, but I'm looked at. What does thinking look like? Like nothing, a walking body making up its own mind, while a mind walks along other roads. (What our teacher said about paths travelled). My mind walking. I hope it looks both ways when it crosses.
This time they didn't talk, though they saw each other and waved.
Janie's parents were silently disappointed with her appearance—she let herself slump and stopped herself in half-shrug, staying like this. She took herself out of her school uniform and put on clothes that she had stretched until misshapen.
But it was a good day. Did she allow herself to think that? What was she allowed to think?
Earlier, she had turned off the road and into a park. An area of new native seedlings coming up through holes in black polythene, at the edge of a pond where a few ducks put their heads under the page 185surface. A wind moved the grass and trees in waves and pushed up a few feathers on the birds' backs when they turned.
She said, Come and sit on the bench.
What's your name?
Tom. Yours is Janie. Why aren't you walking straight home?
How could they talk to each other? Tom wanted something different from the usual conversations. He felt as if this girl didn't expect what others did. But what could guide him to say something? And her: he was closer than she was used to other people being, especially in such an open space. Normally, she would have wanted to be able to spread out her arms, though she would not have actually spread them. But she had invited him here to sit beside her. It was something outside of her normal life, and the usual rules and expectations couldn't apply. What would happen now? In place of the everyday pressures, ones she could name, here was a more diffuse and nameless fear.
She said, I have names for things.
Wheel is the last hour of the school day. Like a cogwheel, that's how I imagine it. And I call this place The World, even though I know it's not. This street, and the school, and the way it feels a little bit like a bowl here, the way you can see houses on the horizon just slightly raised above the closer ones. We watch television and it's like things are coming in from another planet. Don't you think?
How many names do you have?
A lot. I don't know how many.
It's a good idea. Does it help?
Is that why you do it?
What do you mean?
Oh, I don't know. I thought it might be some way to …
I just do it.
Maybe I should try.
He said, It might help.page 186
She laughed, but silently, enough to show him a smile. He said, The World.
Oh, no, I mean, I don't mind. I don't mind it. I just call it that. I mean, what else is there? For …
I mean, for now. The World isn't everything. But it's the whole thing. I don't know. High Street isn't The World.
She was getting ahead of herself. Later, he thought: High Street? I've walked about there with my uncle shopping for shoes and that was that; I've caught the bus into the city and walked along it once, on the way somewhere else—to go to the movies. It runs down towards the harbour, but doesn't make it all the way. Cars go down it, or up it, one way only. There are buildings on either side, and cafés where people meet up I suppose and drink coffee. I don't like coffee.
He wasn't there, on the road, one day. What was the name for his absence? It had never before had a name, or needed one. The next day also; she walked more slowly and let the fog, here again today, clutch at her and swaddle her head. She tried not to repeat things to herself. Then she allowed herself to after all: Song, Song. The whistle of passing cars isn't Song, but the whistle they leave in my ears once they've gone is. Song and High Street, Song and Turn, Song and Step, but mostly just Song and Song.
Cars whistled past, then slowed, then sped again; the whistle was more of a hum, the hum more of a growl, but one that faded and hummed rather than growled. To her friend Sally she had pledged not to repeat words to herself, and Sally, for her part, had agreed not to do the same with tunes. Sally could pick up any tune on the piano, and when she did, at first halting as she tried to get the notes right, then quickly more confident, on the keyboards in the school's music room, everyone listened. They listened because they could hear something at first halting, quickly become confident. Sally would look up as if startled, but smile. Janie, for her part, could name anything—except his absence? Well, then there was one less thing to name (so, after all, its name was One Less Thing).
It was a year before she saw him again; she was with Sally and another friend, slowly walking down a side street, when she saw him page 187standing by the road, with overalls on, outside a service station. His boss was Jock D, who looked at the young man talking with three girls in school uniform. Their hair looked extraordinary, and they stood as if lined up, each hunched in some way. They would tidy themselves up one day—give them time. They were a strange sight next to Tom. Jock forgot how young the boy was, quiet like a young man but self-contained and he got on with the job. His own son was twelve, and ran, loved to run! It would be sad when he grew out of it, but Jock was certain that it was only a matter of time, not much now, before his son stopped running. When he ran, ahead on the road (stop! Wait and look, wait at the corners! But the boy isn't a toddler anymore) or just ran in the parks, he would get a look on his face and in his body that seemed to say, Nothing will stop me. He compared Tom with his son, and the girl (no, not one of these, but his daughter) was forgotten for a minute. Sometimes Tom hardly seemed older than his son, but he wouldn't treat this boy like a son. He would be good to him. He would treat him like a worker, if he could.
She said, Why did you leave school?
I didn't want to be there. It wasn't doing me any good.
And you just left!
I asked my parents. Or I told them, I can't remember.
In his overalls, Tom was a sudden stranger—she allowed herself to forget that he had always been a stranger. She allowed herself to dream about getting to know him again. She allowed herself the dream, but not the contents of the dream, not the thought, the imagining, the pictures—as usual she allowed herself only the dream's name: Industrial Safety (the label on the front of the overalls). With her friends, she left him, repeating the name to herself a few times. Sally smiled and walked as if dancing.
She had been out in town one night, dancing and drinking, and had tripped and fallen—not badly—twice. The edges of the streets were lines that pointed you on in the direction you were walking in. Sally, surrounded by dancers, began to cry, but hid it so that only Janie saw, then swallowed. The night had stretched like the edges of the streets, like things slipping out of time. Wait! Wait and cross with me.
Now, in the garage, there was a sound of music and hammering— page 188she stood in the corner, by the open door. Last night, High Street no longer seemed simple. She had come up and touched it, looked at it and looked away. Can you do that with a name? She had touched the hall mirror, looked in it and looked away. Tom saw something new in her. For the first time, he dared to touch her, on the forearm—she seemed hardly to notice, then, after a second, she looked at his hand.
She said, I'm so tired.
It's not your fault!
A laugh: I know. I wish I'd been there with you.
No. You'd have to come in to work and you'd feel as crap as I do now. I mean, I mean you could have come but it would have been strange, with us girls.
I guess so.
It was pretty strange anyway.
It just was. I'm so tired.
Meet me after work?
She didn't, but he didn't mind. He pictured her asleep. It was a surprise to him that he had asked, but it eased something in him. He walked home. Jock had let him help out in the workshop, and everything now had the weight of metal, its glint. He liked the feel of things in his hands, their weight. Wait! As if she were in front of him, walking, like he used to see her, to school. He laughed at his ideas: the swing of her feet, back then, and still. He laughed at her too, her tiredness. What was she doing last night, with the girls?
Jock D saw her again outside the garage. Was she the boy's girlfriend? She came in the afternoons, and he would see Tom go out to her and stand with her for a few minutes. They shook their heads together, shrugged together, and did she accompany the boy when he left to go home one evening?
Janie got a job in the city. She let herself pretend that she could dress in her work clothes; she took the train in and back. When she and Tom had sex it was something different from what she seemed to be looking for, when she was out at night—but out at night, looking for page 189something, nothing happened. She was careful to look away from the men at the right time, to frown and dismiss with her gestures. Why? Was she, after all, in love with Tom? She didn't think so. When they met at his house in the hours after his work, while his parents and older brother were out, and quickly, nervously had sex in his bed, it released some pressure in each of them. They held each other's faces, then let go.
Should they have had more to talk about? She no longer mentioned the names she had, because this, with him, had its name: The Earth's Orbit. In the few minutes they lay there, she wondered whether he was trying to guess this name—but quickly, too quickly, it became something secret, even impossible. The impossibility of the name meant that it detached itself from her. Because it detached itself from her, she could say that she had no secrets—when she needed to she could smile easily in accordance with High Street. (Did she have to smile like this with Tom?)
Why did she allow herself to do all this? She put on the makeup and wore the clothes, when once she had refused everything of the sort. She did it passably well, well enough for her boss and the customers who came in through the sliding glass doors to give her looks she half-hated. The glass of the doors was the same stuff as the glass of her bedroom window at her parents' house and the glass of the mirror in the hall where she sometimes would avoid her image. Manufactured from opaque substances, then coming, glowing, out of a furnace, it became transparent. It revealed itself through an occasional reflection (the heel and toe of High Street), or the fingerprints and palmprints on its surface caught in sloping light. You could push your face against it as if against nothing, revealing a pushed, flattened and whitened skin surface from the other side. To touch it left you cold. Dirty glass became something substantial again (but clean glass could, it seemed, be walked right through).
Janie had no interest in glass. What was she interested in? Then, she found herself going out with friends, but Sally wasn't with her. She missed Sally's sideways look, the one that snuck out from behind a shrugged shoulder to reveal a tear-ready eye and a lively fling to the shrug. Without Sally there she found herself still searching for Sally's eye, as if without it she, Janie, also couldn't see. She had come straight page 190from work, and it was a time she might have thought of Tom. Instead, later, she kissed a man on the dance floor, and felt his cheek with her hand.
Walking home, Tom was pushed along by thoughtless thoughts, as if the thoughts were following the traffic that moved beside him: That's a very Fast Car. I'd like one of them! Ha ha! No I wouldn't; it would make me an idiot. I'm supposed to have arms like him, for lifting fallen beams from the crushed legs of a child. Poor kid. Don't think of the legs. I'm supposed to wear a uniform. I'm supposed to stand straighter than I stand. And I'll refuse. Though I might try to shift the beam if no one else is around, I'll try it while looking away from the blood. Where, and when, is this likely to take place? The World (her name for it) seems to proceed smoothly enough without me. And I refuse to die, so what does that make me? An optional extra, someone outside of it but in it. Not to be accounted for. Someone else will lift the beam. Where'd this beam come from? I don't see one. My life has no beam and no crushed legs, and seeing them I wouldn't know what to do except feel this feeling of hopelessness, that those legs won't be fixed up. I don't get paid enough, but I don't mind. Jock is an idiot, but I don't mind. So nothing'll fix it. This mess of blood and bone and no money and idiots. The beam—let's just say there might be a beam I'm not aware of—is too heavy, the legs too crushed, anyway. I'm supposed to lift, and keep lifting. Will Janie call me tonight?
That night Janie did call, and held him afterwards. Some years later, she told me that she was already thinking that it had to be less awkward than this. She felt (though she didn't say it) the pain of incision, where the name for it had been taken away from her. She couldn't mention to Tom the man she had kissed, though she guessed that he wouldn't have minded—he seemed to be calm in the face of everything, and surprised her with it. Why couldn't she say anything to him? Her mind, her words were mute. But she felt it with a kind of trembling. I could see the tremble in her shoulders when she told me the simple facts of the story—a faint tremble, of the sort that comes when a word we utter suddenly makes us angry, or releases anger from us. All at once, she knew something was wrong, and Tom also felt the tremble page 191in her. There was nothing wrong except for this slightest of signs, a sign that, after all, something was wrong. Since she couldn't name what she had with him, she couldn't name what was wrong with it. If she could have articulated it this clearly, she might have laughed, she might have told me about it herself, and she might even have talked to him about it at the time. But her words were taken from her, and there was a danger that this might start an avalanche, a removal of all words from her mind. At times it felt like it might already be happening. What if she lost her own name? What if she became as mute as she seemed to herself? Her voice was her ally; she was never one to keep silent. She talked while Sally played piano, while Sally danced. (I was suspicious of this simple way of putting things, as if each of her and her friend Sally had their special 'gift', but I didn't challenge her.)
Another night, she didn't come back to The World at all, but stayed in town, then went home with a stranger. They tripped and giggled into his flat, where he urged her to be silent. No! Anything but be silent—she would shout! But she stayed silent. She followed him, suddenly seeing her feet, though it was dark, and watching each step, hearing the tap of her heels though she tried to put them down softly. Each tap was also a scrape on the wood. He had flatmates. With each tap he exhaled more of a laugh, until at an open doorway he stopped her and knelt, then took her feet out of her shoes one by one. Though it was dark she saw his face, which seemed amazed by her shoes. She was touched by the look he gave them, her outward signs of High Street. Tomorrow morning, would she (like in the stories) look worse? She repeated to herself, His Amazement At My Shoes. Did he have to kneel like that? Did he have to hold them quite as long as he did? Was he some kind of weirdo? Oh well, he seemed to forget them soon enough, and tomorrow (careful, look both ways) she would return to The World and forget him. He stood and pushed her out of the way then pushed the door shut. He pushed her towards his bed. First, the shoes, now all this pushing. She felt almost sorry for him, though the pushing was a little irritating. In return, she pushed back, then felt between his legs. He wasn't Tom, but (she found herself thinking) he was like Tom. She looked on at herself with this man as if he were Tom. It was as if for a moment she was in love with Tom, page 192but she could only be in love with him if he were represented by a stand-in, a kind of acting Tom, something (to be fair, someone) who signified Tom but wasn't. She probably wouldn't have put it that way herself.
The man was a bit of a fool; he tried to undress her but couldn't quite, so she undressed herself for him; when they were both naked and had lain against each others' bodies, moving and feeling, he searched clumsily for a condom. She was also clumsy, awkward in a different way, as a result of looking at herself from slightly outside of herself. There was something comfortable about this position, this remove, and it allowed her to relax a little, even laugh through her nose, exhale into his ear. Breathe it in through your ear! Before they slept together, she wondered whether he was going to become distracted, look away, concentrate on something else.
Janie saw the world as an endless set of partitions, with walls higher than those of the partitions in the inner office at her workplace, without entrances, and without much room to move inside each cubicle. You were in one of them, and each had a name. They were called Working Day, Waking Day, Motherhood, Wedding Party … You could struggle between them, branching out with a foot on either opposite wall and both hands thrust upwards to grab at the top edge and pull yourself, while the whole wall shook and teetered but remained upright. Strangely, one of the cubicles was called Freedom. In it, there was as little room to move as in the others.
But then, there was another thing that was sensed for a second when, clambering between one cubicle and the next, you managed to stand for a second with a foot on each of two walls, and look out over the whole. You could balance here, standing precariously, and although you weren't in the cubicle called Freedom, you were free. This was something she couldn't quite think, this difference between Freedom and being free. A half-formed picture, something at the edges of her consciousness, once the difference or problem began to be felt (as something under her fingernails, or an inability to sit still) then it seemed possible that other names might hide something, obscure something that could not be contained in them. What of the name Janie? What was there of herself that it couldn't contain? If the page 193name (or any other) couldn't contain her, then what stopped her from calling herself anything else?
Each day after work, for half an hour she became nameless. High Street slipped from her as she slipped from herself. She took detours on the way to the train station, through back streets where she imagined herself in another country—in these streets, she wanted to stretch out her arms, but didn't; she wanted to stop and lean against a wall, next to green wheelie bins overflowing with black plastic bags, and let tears come. The back streets were a release, a relief, and promised something. She let herself imagine that Tom could see her here while she walked, though on the evenings when she saw him she didn't mention anything, but spoke with him in their usual few whispers. Why did he have to be part of all that, part of The World? When she pictured him, he was floating free of it, but when she saw him, he was as anchored there as anyone she knew.
One day, Tom knew that he and Janie wouldn't meet after work ever again. Well! He was casual about it, walked to work on a sunny day and didn't think. He didn't think: But what am I? (Had he become less?) He couldn't quite see himself, as if he were an outside observer looking on at the empty road. Well! He could let himself be felt, but he wouldn't stand up with pride—there was still too much of the schoolboy in him, trying to work out his rebellions. But all this working out! And he worked nothing out. Nothing worked out, but he didn't mind. Did he? The hero he was supposed to be had no opposites, or too many.
On one of the following days he brought a backpack with him to work, and when Jock D and the other guy were out the back having a smoke, he took a socket set from one of the shelves and put it quickly in his bag. Jock didn't want to press any charges, but had a talk to the boy's parents and gave him a strong warning. He had thought he could trust the boy, and what had happened? If Jock had been told about Janie, and that she had stopped coming, would that have explained anything? Tom could have fetched a reasonable price if he'd sold the socket set on the internet—enough to get him and his mates a few drinks. But the boy didn't come and have a drink with Jock, and maybe that would have helped. It was so sad—had someone talked page 194him into it? Who were the boy's friends? Jock leaned with his back on the inside of the closed garage door, looking back into the darkened space, then squeezed his eyes shut. His own boy hadn't stolen, not yet. Had Tom stolen before? We don't know. Jock wondered whether he needed to go through his inventory and make sure everything was accounted for. No, if he did, he wouldn't be able to look at Tom when he came back to work (after the week he had been given off, to have a good think). If something else was missing, Jock wouldn't be able to look at him. But if nothing was, he would think back to those few hours of ticking off items in the shop, and the weight of those hours would give him a quick shortness of breath, as if he had been running fast. He couldn't run so well now, but he was still strong. What could he do? The boy would come back, he had to. But this would hang in this garage now, for a good while. He would talk about it more with his wife—but in whispers, so that the children wouldn't hear. It was hard, hard with boys and young men.
But Tom did see Janie again, only a few nights later.
She said, You weren't at work.
I'm taking time off.
Did she know? She didn't ask any more. He could imagine them, partners in crimes committed for reasons neither could name. This afternoon, he couldn't understand why they had been keeping their affair secret from his family—he wanted to keep her there until his parents were home and have handshakes all round. She was looking at him as if trying to read his thoughts (in fact she was trying to imagine him as if he were someone else but at the same time himself).
He said, Why don't you meet my family?
Why not then?
Yes, I could. Or, no, I don't know.
I don't know.
Your friends know about me don't they?
What about your family?
I don't know. I don't think so.page 195
You haven't told them.
There's a reason. I want to imagine us away from here. If I meet your parents then we become part of this place.
That would be all right. Anyway, what do you mean?
I don't want to be part of it here. You know, walking down the road holding hands, a couple, like the couples who have wedding receptions at the events centre. I want to be away from here.
Then let's go away.
Let's go away! Let's run off.
Away. It doesn't matter.
How would we live? We both have jobs. And would it be better being a part of somewhere else? Do you think anywhere else is any better than The World?
She laughed, they both laughed at the name. She could feel the pull of his idea. Maybe it would remake him. Maybe it would allow the names that were beginning to pull away from things, to not quite name them, to float truly free. They would be away from the heel and toe, away from the valley whose buried stream tugged gently towards the centre of town … away from the stream of cars tugging in and out of the city.
Yes. I don't know.
When she was gone, he felt afraid. Would he see her again?
But then, he didn't mention the idea of leaving any more. The idea stayed with him as something under his skin, an itch. Why couldn't he bring it up, when they'd all but agreed? Was he afraid of being stranded somewhere, far from here? But wasn't he also stranded here?
Janie lingered after work in the city for increasingly long periods, until once she stood suddenly still on the footpath, looked to her left and right, then around her, and didn't recognise where she was. It was an eye-blink, after which, again, she was back into her stride, on familiar streets. But what surprised her was that the lack of page 196recognition was comfortable, a comfortable confusion, the settling of a fog like the valley's fog around her, but a transparent fog, one that obscured not vision but naming. The streets around her had become for an instant nameless, and the shops sold unknown things. People's arched eyebrows and their sex were simply anatomy. In the instant she had half-laughed, but the laughter could hardly be distinguished from a sigh. It was, she might have thought to herself, perfect freedom. It enabled her to leap from the surface of the earth, or feel as if she could. Could she bring on that sensation again (intentionally, she blinked, she stopped suddenly, she tried to catch herself out, but without success).
Tom stole again, not from his work but from a neighbourhood hardware store, and sold the stolen goods. He stole magazines from a bookshop. Why not? Did anything around him encourage loyalty to the goods on the shelves and their place there? They remained just as solid, once transferred to the large pocket at the front of his sweatshirt, and lost none of their gloss. If anything, a shimmer was added to things he stole, making them more real, removing them from the deadening totality of exchange that he found around him. The effect of market value was to make everything equivalent in some measure to everything else, so that an adjustable wrench was worth two surfing magazines. Stealing objects restored them to themselves, and allowed him to feel their weight for a change. The money he sold them for added to his meagre savings.
Were Tom and Janie each in their own way removed from the world? Were they dreamers? Why couldn't they just live in the real world with the rest of us?
Tom moved out of home and into a flat with a couple of friends from school. Janie told him that she had been sleeping with other men. Tom told her he had been stealing. She kissed him on the cheek and left for the night; silently, Tom let himself cry. He was crying for the kiss, the gesture of it. If only he had more of an emotional vocabulary, we would know what was going on in his mind. If we could translate his tears, wouldn't they contain a great deal? Wouldn't they contain the men she had slept with, the hardware he had stolen, her skin that felt incredible even when she angered him or he was afraid never to see her again, all this wound up in a kiss she gave him and unlocked page 197something, and added to that a feeling of the whole universe simply being the way it was. With his tears he understood the appeal of astronomy—why people look and look at stars, across huge distances. The distances involved make you open your mind like opening a hand to receive something; the distances are empty.
Finally, she left town. She travelled south, then out to the east coast where she found work on an orchard. She was hoping for something unknown here, but the days' routine quickly became as familiar as her old one. She wrote emails to Tom from an internet café; here she was surrounded by tourists and students, and felt, while she wrote about her new life, as if she herself were a tourist or a student. When she wrote that she had moved into a caravan on the orchard with the owner's nephew, and that they had been sleeping together, she looked on herself as a tourist might look on a new landscape, with a feeling that this new thing must have some meaning, something evident. The landscape around her was dry and rolling, the colour of straw that darkened as it rose into the ranges inland. She left again and travelled further at the end of the season, stopping at a city where she found a flat with others, and work in an office. At night she went out with her new friends, and the wind grew colder as winter darkened.
Standing at the bus stop, didn't she wonder what she was doing here? She was looking around at her surroundings, still half-seeing the hills visible from the orchard, possibly testing for herself this feeling of being somewhere new, overlaying old and new places in an effort to escape the old. But the names had followed her here. She learnt bus routes, she walked in uncomfortable shoes, she caught sight of herself in a shop window and wondered at how something so strange, herself, could be so familiar. Tom! She couldn't visit him here, and sometimes, when she was lonely, she stood next to someone, closed her eyes, and tried to breathe his smell. When she slept with someone new, she wrote to him about it on her flatmate's computer. She almost wrote and asked him to come—but what would he do here? And wouldn't she want him to leave again? Just as, all those years ago, his absence from her walks to school had made her think she knew him, now she felt again as if she could communicate with him just with her thoughts. When she wrote to him that she had brought someone home last night, she thought to him that the room was as empty with this page 198man as without him. She smiled at the smile she thought she could see on Tom, his smile at her thought.
For his petty crimes, Tom was ordered to undertake community work removing graffiti at a sports ground as part of a supervised work group. Jock D kept him on in the meantime, amazed at what had become of him. There was nothing changed about him. He came as ever, and got on with his job, and Jock could imagine him with the same look of concentration with the scrubbing brush (is that how they removed graffiti?), lined up next to the others in his team, and the same look of concentration again as he pocketed something from some shop. The image of his own tools being stolen again formed one of the features of his dreams, but he refused this image in his waking thoughts.
But good, good to see him take off graffiti, the boy shouldn't be locked away. Anyway, he wasn't a boy any longer, and it wasn't because he was a boy that he should be kept out of prison but because he was good at heart. There was something wrong with him, and Jock would have preferred to see him come in late once in a while, tired and hung over, to see him swear or get drunk, to make an excuse and bunk off, and why not? Jock almost thought that the boy's energies were misdirected, strange and quiet. He almost thought that young people (his son would leave school soon) were becoming like that. His son still ran, still, and was doing well in competitions! But sometimes the look in his eyes reminded him uncomfortably of Tom after all—as he lined up ready to be released cross-country, against other boys, and it heartened him when they shoved at each other a little at the line. A small push or shove put Jock in good spirits—it freed the body.
What was the cause of Tom's strange looks? If you were less sensitive than his boss, you might hardly have noticed them. They were the expression of some conflict, that otherwise had no expression. With Janie, the tension in him had been released from time to time. Now they wrote to each other, and the promise of her seemed to wane. But what had she promised? Although he would always forget something when with her, the thing he forgot was nothing to do with her. Where did it come from? What made him, like Jock D's son, in his own way, keep running? page 199Maybe Tom liked her name for the place: The World. Where were its borders? Maybe it was this that kept him thinking about her. What trapped him was the realisation that if she came back, nothing would change—he would still be who he was.
When she saw him again, she came without travelling. She walked into the ward during visiting hours. Unlike most of the visitors, who came as couples or small groups for moral support, she came alone. She didn't seem fazed by the patients, who talked and stared and occasionally loudly interrupted the space, the space itself, with a shout or groan. Tom was quiet and whispered to himself, but then when she said hello he looked at her after all.
He said, Brightness bursting. An angel… Oh, I know you're not. Look at you, you're walking in as if you hardly need to walk. It's been a while. Look at you walk! Where do you live?
I moved again. I live way down south.
What's it like?
Flat and boring.
Flat and boring!
Houses and streets are set out on the plain and you can't see a view from anywhere.
I stopped bothering.
I can see that. How is it here?
It's my second time. I come to recover. Respite, they call it. They've got diagnoses for me. They try them on, as if they're bringing clothes for me. But just sometimes, I think I might be going crazy.
Oh. I wish I could …
You can't. Don't worry.
Of course I'm going to worry. Look at you. And at this place, everyone here's disturbed. Tom you don't seem like them, so disturbed.
I'm not. No, I am. I spin out. I spun out and stopped caring, which seemed like a good idea for a while. How long can you stop caring? I thought it was a good idea. No one else seemed to care any more than I did.page 200
Oh, people care!
Maybe they do.
It's that there are big things moving in the world, and I can't move them. I'm just this thing they blow around. I thought I might ignore them and let them blow me around, and look where they blew me. If you resist they crush you. You don't even know they exist. Actually, come to think of it, how do I know they exist? Maybe they don't?
Well the world moves doesn't it? There's so much on television that seems important.
Oh what do I know, I'm mad.
I don't believe you. You're just, I don't know, finding it hard.
You're no more mad than I am. Or anyone else.
For a second they agreed without talking that neither of them had ever understood the way they were supposed to be. Or was it that they understood but couldn't agree with it? The 'big things moving in the world' pushed both of them. When Janie woke in the morning, she dreaded the clothes she would wear—she wanted to go naked, but even that was a set of clothes. Tom didn't know how long a stride to take when walking. Janie tried to become someone else, someone who bore herself with confidence, by adopting the name 'Jane' (her real name). Tom couldn't stop himself laughing, if silently, when he bought or sold something. Jane looked sidelong at each person she passed in the street. Tom compared himself with no one, but because of that, he forgot he existed. Jane joined clubs, just to be a member of something, but didn't like the other members. Tom wanted to leave The World, but when he thought of leaving, its borders expanded, until it contained the world.