For the last five years Robbie has been living in exile. He left behind the “old country” and his old life and moved on, severing all connections with the past. When he left the old country, he hoped to re-create himself, but all he really managed to do was dig himself into a rut. He kids himself on that he is some sort of genius, misunderstood artist, but in moments of lucidity, he recognises that he is a drug-addled waster.
Despite these moments, he is content to carry on living as he has. But fate has other plans for him. Enter Catherine
Like so many other nights before, he meets her at a club and takes her home. But Catherine is different from the nameless woman he has casually fucked over the last five years. There is a fire in her eyes that enchants and mystifies him; and despite his (justified) reservations has him chasing after her for more.
It is the beginning of a love which he is extremely reluctant to acknowledge: a love that will torment him because of a past that he has buried.
From the moment that Robbie meets Catherine, he has an intuition that his life is going to be shaken up, but he has no idea how devastating a force his new found love is going to be.
The devastation comes in the shape of his past, which rears up its ugly head and bites him on the arse. As the novel unfolds, in the form of an Internet Journal, we find out exactly why Robbie has run away from his past.
Eventually Robbie realises that the promises of a new life that Catherine has brought will come to naught, if he doesn’t face up to his past. His Internet Journal becomes a sort of cyber confessional booth where he offers up his sins for atonement. Ultimately, though, he has to learn to forgive himself, rather than looking for forgiveness in the eyes of others.
As he goes through this process his salvation appears to be within grasp, but just as he approaches the final stretch his world is shaken asunder. During a night of drug-fuelled passion he gets his (deserved?) come-uppance. A blood vessel bursts in his brain, causing him both pain and devastation.
He loses Catherine and appears destined to live out the rest of his life as an invalid, as a victim of his own foolish urges. Depressed and at times suicidal, Robbie rails against the gods who so nearly delivered him happiness, then pulled the rug out from under his feet. It would seem that only a miracle could save him from living out the rest of his days in a state of debilitating self pity. But miracles don’t happen in these secular times, do they?
Journal Entry 1: Alone Again Or What?
Sunday 1st July 2001
When I woke up she was gone. There was nothing to tell me that she’d been here, except for the lingering smells of our union.
For a brief moment, I thought it had been a dream, but then I found the rizzla packet where I’d scribbled her name and a mobile phone number. Her name is Catherine. It should have been something more exotic, like Cleopatra.
She was small, thin and dark, almost exotic. Her eyes hypnotised me.
They were fathomless and deep; and I fell in. Once in, I couldn't get out again: not until sleep overcame me.
Then I woke and she was gone.
I didn’t go to the club looking for a fuck. I'm not that sort of person, not anymore. At least, I’m trying not to be that sort of person. I no longer enjoy empty sex.
But this was not empty sex. It was so much more than just another mindless fuck. There was a connection at a deeper level. Maybe enhanced by the chemicals, but not born of them. It was different; and I sensed she felt it was different too.
So I was surprised when I woke up the next day to find only a space where she’d been. A space that was bigger than her. A space full of an emptiness I haven’t felt for some considerable time.
The emptiness makes me lurk by the telephone. My finger hovers over the buttons, but I won’t call her. I can’t. It’s crucial I don’t upset my equilibrium. I’ve been alone now long enough to overcome the loneliness. This emptiness I feel right now is not loneliness
It’s over five years since the end of my last serious relationship. After that I vowed, never again. Never again would I place my care in the hands of another. Never again would I risk the pain.
Since then it’s been strictly one night stands. Fucking has been solely about fucking. I’ve kept it clean and clear, only having sex with prostitutes and strangers. I became a born again solitary. Prowling the clubs and back streets till I was heart sick of it.
Last new year, I made a vow that I’d be celibate. Since then, I’ve had sex with no-one but myself, until now.
Now I am undone. She’s wormed her way into my psyche. Catherine, with her magnificent, inescapable eyes. She fucked me till I was alive again. Now she’s destroyed me: like Kali, the mother-goddess. I’ve drunk her milk; and now everything else tastes like poison.
* * * *
When I woke and she was gone, I took the remaining half tab of acid and another E. I’ve been awake for thirty six hours now. No dreams. No dreaming. The computer is doing strange things to my head.
I look out the window at the city, shadowy in the bright grey summer sky. My head aches and I pray it’ll rain. I need to go and walk in the rain, feel its icy fingers on my skin. I need something to wipe her out. Catherine the Great. Catherine the Beautiful.
A seagull flaps past the window, doing crazy cartwheels in the sky. It’s freedom, a taunt to my ground-bound stasis. How I wish I was a seagull. How I wish I could fly away.
I’m spaced out, vacant, empty, emptied out. I empty myself out further. Spill my words out into this cyber void. Type type typing into this Internet Journal, to an audience of no-one and anyone. An exhibitionist, longing for a decent voyeur. Read me, read me: for Christ’s sake, absolve me.
Here, I am laid bare. Naked and vulnerable. Another angst ridden voice in this confessional universe. Another graphomaniac peddling my private life in the public domain. Anonymous and desperate. Another cog in the zeitgeist. No different from anyone else.
Here. This is me. This is the story of my undoing. In the beginning I was alone. Then along came Catherine.
* * * *
We met last Friday, the 30th June: exactly half way through the year.
I went out that night half hoping that something interesting would happen. I have this thing about significant numbers and dates. It’s a hangover from my schooldays. A mixture of magic and mathematics.
By something interesting, I suppose I meant sex. Okay, I confess: I did go to the club looking for a fuck. After six months of celibacy, I was beginning to feel like an alien.
When I got to the club I was feeling pretty low down, so I dropped my entire party prescription while I was waiting to get in (figuring I could score more inside if need be).
The queue moved slower than anticipated and I started coming up before I got in the door. The bouncers were wound up because there was some sort of confrontation going down. It was an unpleasant scene; and an inauspicious start to the evening.
The club was a dark, dank cavernous place, built into arches underneath the main southbound railway: not the most salubrious of venues, but it was the only place in the city big enough to house the sort of crowds that would come to see big name DJs play.
When I arrived there would’ve been only a couple of hundred punters kicking about: most of them lingering round the bar area; and only a few dozen hard-core nutters on the dance floor.
Normally, I like to arrive early and get the feel of the dance-beast growing. But this night, with the acid kicking in first, the place felt oppressively huge and empty. The music twisted in a spiralling river, squashing me down into my seat, where I remained until the E lifted me up again. It was probably only twenty minutes or so I remained in that state, but it felt like hours. I was totally bombed out.
When the E kicked in I got up and made my way towards the bar, but as I passed the main dance room I felt the music snare me. It was a dark, menacing tech-trance: totally singing to where I was at, like a naked siren on the rocks. The line was cast. The worm turned on the surf; and I bit, my teeth clamping down hard. I was reeled onto the dance floor. Mesmerised. And there I remained until the end of the night.
It was just before the big finale that I noticed Catherine. Caught a flash of her eyes. We ended up dancing together. Dancing to each other. Dancing and hugging as the last big number exploded, the crowd going absolutely fucking wild. And then, when the house lights came on, we held each other, ears ringing to the silence, started kissing. Sucked into each other, until a bouncer started shouting “Come on folks, save it for the bedroom, make your way to the door puh-lease!”
In the taxi back to mine, we were all over each other, hands inside each others’ trousers; and we just stopped short of fucking in the lift.
Back home, something happened to my libido. A mounting panic overwhelmed me and I slumped into a torpor of sexlessness. We stopped the groping and poking and I got up and made us some lemon & ginger tea. I thought she might slip out of the bed, into her clothes and away while I was in the kitchen. In fact, I was praying she would.
But she didn’t.
We spent most of the night talking; and I found I liked her more and more. I enjoyed her stories and her enthusiasm; and I found myself in the strangest of situations, where I was doing less of the talking and more of the listening. Normally, it’s the reverse. Normally, I’m the man with the visions, the ideas, the dreams: hypnotising my “prey” into submissive, admiring silence.
Catherine was, in the old fashioned sense of the word, enchanting. She held me spellbound with wild travel tales and her wildly optimistic homespun philosophy; and she filled me with an excitement I haven’t felt in ages. It was as if years of dead skin had suddenly been peeled away; and I could feel everything with a brilliant, raw, almost painful clarity. It was like coming up on my first ever E all over again.
As the night wore out and the morning encroached, I felt a growing affection for her. For all her big adventures, she seemed somehow fragile, like she needed to be held.
Once we were all talked out, we lay down; and I enveloped her in my arms, like a small child. As I drowsed off, she kissed me on the chest repeatedly and said between kisses, “you’re a lovely, lovely, lovely man.” As her lips moved down my chest to my stomach something strong in me awoke and I lifted her onto me: my cock slipping smoothly into her. We lay like that for several minutes, just feeling each other in coital stillness. Then we started moving: slowly, tenderly at first; and subtly, gradually, the tenderness was suffused with passion, taking us to a dream of dissolving into each other.
The next thing I new, it was a new day. I yawned, opened my eyes, looked over at where she should have been: only to find she was gone.
Now, I’m still lingering by the phone: my fingers thinking, “I want to phone her”; the rest of me screaming, “no way”.
I don’t understand how she’s done this to me. I don’t understand how she’s got under my skin. For all the flesh I’ve ever groped and poked, I’ve never felt like this.
My life was numb and perfect before I fell into Catherine’s eyes.
Now, in the grey light of this morning after, I feel as though I’ve been living the most perfect of lies.